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The Cause of Misery and its Eradication
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The Cause of Misery and its Eradication
- by S. N. Goenka

(The following is an extract from "Was The Buddha A Pessimist?" in which Goenkaji has sought to dispel misconceptions about the Buddha and his teaching.) sought to dispel misconceptions about the Buddha and his teaching.)

The Buddha wanted to create an inclination in the minds of the people to free themselves from misery. This was why he taught the truth about suffering, its cause and how to come out of it. In this light, how can the following statement stand? "The Buddha’s view of life seems to be lacking in courage and confidence. Its emphasis on sorrow, if not false, is not true…." If anything, such a statement only proves the writer’s ignorance of the Buddha’s teaching. Who can deny the reality of suffering associated with birth, decay, disease and death, association with the unpleasant and disassociation from the pleasant; the suffering of wanted things not happening, and of unwanted things happening? Are not these realities true?

We get attached to the five aggregates thinking, "This is my mind," "This is my body," and we cling to them as "me" and "mine". This deep attachment to these five aggregates leads to the repeated cycle of birth and death. Who can deny the truth of this reality of suffering? All the spiritual traditions of India accept the cycle of becoming as misery and aim at getting liberated from this cycle, to attain the deathless.

The Buddha said in this context:
Dukkhā jāti punappunaṃ.
(Before becoming liberated) I took repeated births in this misery.

Before attaining Buddhahood, a Bodhisatta thinks thus:
Kicchaṃ vatāyaṃ loko āpanno.
Oh, all people suffer so much!
Jāyati ca jīyati ca mīyati ca cavati ca upapajjati ca.
Getting born, decaying, dying, passing away and arising again.
Atha ca panimassa dukkhassa nissaraṇaṃ nappajānāti jarāmaraṇassa.
One does not know how to come out of the misery of repeated births and deaths.

A Bodhisatta searches for the answer and rediscovers the noble liberating path of sīla-samādhi-paññā (morality, concentration and experiential wisdom) using which he liberates himself and helps many others to get liberated.

Therefore it is said:
Punappunaṃ gabbhamupeti mando.
An ignorant person repeatedly falls in the womb (takes repeated births).
Punappunaṃ sivathikaṃ haranti.
Again and again, one is taken to the cemetery.

How foolish it is to go through the suffering of dukkhā jāti punappunaṃ repeatedly, out of ignorance!

Maggaṃ ca laddhā apunabbhavāya
Finding out the way out of (the cycle of) becoming,
na punappunaṃ jāyati bhūripañño
Having great wisdom, (the Buddha) does not take birth again and again.

Many others, besides the Buddha, became liberated by taking up this very path. We have a treasury of the joyous utterances of hundreds of bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, wherein they declare their attainment of liberation.

Some examples:

Ekadhammassavaṇiya was the son of a businessman from Setabba. In the joyful mood of liberation, he declared:

Kilesā jhāpitā mayhaṃ
My passion has been extinguished.
Bhavā sabbe samūhatā
All becoming has been eradicated.
Vikkhīṇo jāti saṃsāro
The process of (repeated) births has been ended.
Natthi dāni punabbhavo
Now there is no more birth for me.

Bhikkhu Menḍhasira
Bhikkhu Menḍhasira had gone forth into homelessness from an affluent family of Saket. He proclaimed:

Anekajātisaṃsāraṃ, sandhāvissaṃ anibbisaṃ.
For countless lives I have kept running in this endless cycle of becoming.
Tassa me dukkhajātassa dukkhakkhandho uparaṭṭho.
From the suffering of (repeated) births, I have become liberated. The accumulated stock of misery has been destroyed.

Padmāvatī was a courtesan of Ujjain and the mother of Abhaya. She was ordained by the Buddha as a nun and through her serious practice of meditation, she became an arahat. Padmāvatī utters these words:

Evaṃ viharamānāya
Thus, following the teaching of the Buddha,
Sabbo rāgo samūhato
Uprooting all the craving for sensual pleasure,
Pariḷāho samucchinno
Extinguishing the burning of passion,
Sītibhūtamhi nibbutāti
(I have) attained nibbāna to become transcendently cool and peaceful.

Aparā Uttamā Therī
Aparā Uttamā was born in a prominent Brahmin family of Kosala. Describing her meditation and resulting liberation, she joyfully exclaims:

Suññatassa nimittassa, lābhinīhaṃ yadacchika;
Orasā dhītā buddhassa, nibbānābhiratā sadā.
My dream of experiencing the state where there is nothing to hold on to (nibbāna) has been fulfilled. I, a rightful daughter of the Buddha, ever enjoy the bliss of nibbāna.

Ye ime satta bojjhaṅgā, maggā nibbānapattiyā;
Bhāvitā te mayā sabbā, yathā buddhena desitā.
To attain nibbāna I completed the development of all the seven bojjhaṅgas (factors of enlightenment) as taught by the Buddha.

Sabbe kāmā samucchinnā, ye dibbā ye ca mānusā;
Vikkhīṇo jātisaṃsāro, natthi dāni punabbhavo.
My yearning for all the sensual pleasures, of this world and of heaven, has been eradicated. The cycle of becoming has ceased. Now there is no rebirth for me.

If the scholars of our country had read even a few quotations from the hundreds of utterances of the Buddha and his disciples, they would not have committed the grave error of characterising the liberating teaching of this supreme historic person as fatalistic and pessimistic.

Loving Kindness
When a householder invites a bhikkhu to offer him food and thus avails the opportunity of earning merits, the bhikkhu usually chants a mettāsutta (verses of loving kindness). One feels great joy to hear these words of benediction. The same words of loving-kindness are heard in the early morning chanting in a ten-day Vipassana course permeating selfless love and creating a delightful atmosphere for meditation.

Na ca khuddamācare kiñci,
yena viññū pare upavadeyyuṃ;
sukhino va khemino hontu,
sabbasattā bhavantu sukhitattā.
One should not do any mean thing that would invite censure from wise men. Let all creatures indeed be content, secure and happy within.

Ye keci pāṇabhūtatthi,
tasā vā thāvarā vanavasesā;
dīghā vā ye va mahantā,
majjhimā rassakā aṇukathūlā.
diṭṭhā vā ye va adiṭṭhā,
ye va‚ dūre vasanti avidūre;
bhūtā va sambhavesī va‚
sabbasattā bhavantu sukhitattā.
Whatever living creatures there are, moving or still, without exception, long or large, middle-sized or short, small or big, visible or invisible, living far or near, whether they already exist or are coming into being, let all creatures be happy within.

Na paro paraṃ nikubbetha,
nātimaññetha katthaci na kañci.
byārosanā paṭighasaññā,
nāññamaññassa dukkhamiccheyya.
One should not humiliate another; one should not despise anyone anywhere. One should not wish another misery out of anger or repugnance.

Mātā yathā niyaṃ puttaṃ,
āyusā ekaputtamanurakkhe;
evampi sabbabhūtesu,
mānasaṃ bhāvaye aparimāṇaṃ.
Just as a mother would protect her son, her only son, with her life, so one should cultivate infinite selfless love towards all beings.

mettāñca sabbalokasmi,
mānasaṃ bhāvaye aparimāṇaṃ;
uddhaṃ adho ca tiriyañca,
asambādhaṃ averamasapattaṃ.
All loving-kindness towards the entire world. One should cultivate an unbounded mind, above and below and across, without obstruction, without enmity, without rivalry.

Tiṭṭhaṃ caraṃ nisinno va‚
sayāno yāvatāssa vitamiddho.
etaṃ satiṃ adhiṭṭheyya,
brahmametaṃ vihāramidhamāhu.
Standing or walking or seated or lying down, as long as one is free from drowsiness, one should practise this mindfulness. This (they say) is the brahma state.

Similar delightful words are found at many places in the Pali literature. If this country had preserved only the Dhammapada, a tiny fraction of this huge literature, its scholars would not have mistakenly come to view the Buddha as a negative, pessimistic person.

The first two verses of the Dhammapada are:
Manopubbaṅgamā dhammā, manoseṭṭhā manomayā;
Manasā ce paduṭṭhena, bhāsati vā karoti vā;
Tato naṃ dukkhamanveti, cakkaṃva vahato padaṃ.
All bodily and vocal actions have mind as their precursor, mind as their supreme leader; of mind they are made. If one speaks or acts with an impure mind, suffering follows him as the wheel follows the hoof of the animal yoked to the chariot.

Manopubbaṅgamā dhammā, manoseṭṭhā manomayā;
Manasā ce pasannena, bhāsati vā karoti vā;
Tato naṃ sukhamanveti, chāyā va anapāyinī.
All bodily and vocal actions have mind as their precursor, mind as their supreme leader; of mind they are made. If one speaks or acts with a pure mind, happiness follows him like his shadow that never leaves him.

It is clear that whatever one does with an impure mind will be unwholesome and will definitely result in misery. Similarly, whatever one does with a pure mind will be wholesome and will definitely result in happiness. These two verses alone would have clarified to anyone that the Buddha’s teaching is not fatalistic and that he is stating truths about both suffering and happiness.

If one looks at the Dhammapada, one finds that there are twenty-six chapters on various aspects of Dhamma, which teach one to live happily here and hereafter. One such chapter is Sukha Vagga (Chapter on Happiness). We note that there is no chapter on misery! This should prevent anyone from saying that the Buddha was pessimistic or that he was lacking in a positive attitude.
Whenever the Buddha talked about suffering, he did so only to bring to light its root causes and to encourage people to eradicate these causes. Whenever the Buddha talked about happiness, he did so to bring to light its basis and to encourage people to develop it.

Instead of talking of the cause of misery and its eradication, if the Buddha had said:
There is only misery everywhere now, and there is going to be only misery everywhere in future; it is futile to even try to come out of it; one should not waste one’s energy on this endeavour-
then, he could be truly called a fatalist, a pessimist, and a cynic lacking positive attitude and promoting inaction. If so, certainly the Buddha would have been the cause of harm not only to this country, but also to the entire human society. In that case, it would have been commendable to end his teaching not only in India but in the rest of the world as well.

But the truth is that the Buddha never said, "There is no escape from misery." Instead, he gave a practical, here-and-now method to come out of all misery. We in India lost the experiential aspect of his teaching. Our repeated distortion of the theoretical aspect of his teaching deprived us of its benefit. Whosoever around the world preserved it, benefited from it. The time has come now for us to understand the real facts, to heed their manifest lesson and to follow the practical path taught by the Buddha.

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