Ekottarikāgama 21.9

Sense-pleasures, Forms, Feelings & Perception

Thus have I heard. At one time the Buddha was staying in Śrāvastī, at Jetṛ’s Grove, in Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park. Then, in time, many many monks put on their outer robes and took up alms-bowls in order to enter the city to beg for alms-food.

Now the following occurred to that group of monks, “Now all of us could go to the whereabouts of the adherents of other teachings and brahmin ascetics”.

So all of them went to the place where the followers of other teachings and brahmin ascetics were. Having arrived, they exchanged friendly greetings with them and sat down to one side.

The brahmin ascestics asked the Buddhist Śramaṇas, “The hermit Gautama always deals with sense-pleasures, forms, feelings and perception. How does he differ from us when he deals with these topics? What we deal with likewise is what the ascetic Gautama treats, and what he treats is likewise what we deal with. The teaching he sets forth and the teaching we set forth is identical; his instructions and our instructions are the same.”

When that group of monks had heard this statement, they rose from their seats and left together without any good or bad words, thinking, “We should go to the Exalted One and ask him about the meaning of this.”

After their alms-round and meal, that group of monks went to the place where the Exalted One was. On their arrival they bowed down their heads at his feet and sat down at one sideṭhey told the Exalted One what they had been asked by the brahmin ascetics whose statement occasioned the monks’ uncertainty.

“When you are asked this questions by adherents of other teachings and brahmin ascetics,” the Exalted One said to the monks, “You should reply to them with a counter-question, ‘As for sense-pleasures, what is enjoying them like and what is their wretchedness because of which they should be given up? As for forms, … as for feelings, what is enjoying them like and what is their wretchedness because of which desire for them should be given up?’

“When you reply to the brahmin ascetics with a counter-question thus formulated, they will fall silent and make no reply on their part. However, should there be someone who as something to say, he will be unable to explain this matter in a profound way. The followers of other teachings will be all the more confused and at their wits’ end, for this is not their field.

“To be sure, O monks, I tell you that there is nobody in the world with its Māra, Māra gods, Śakra and Brahmā, the four World-Guardians, with its Śramaṇas and brahmins, human and non-human beings who could explain this matter in a profound way except the Tathāgata, the Fully Enlightened One, anyone among the many noble disciples of the Tathāgata or anybody who has received my teaching.

“As for sense pleasures, what is enjoying them like? There are the so-called five sense-pleasures. Which are the five? When the eye sees forms, eye-consciousness is caused to arise followed by excessive fondness for forms, ever-present in mankind and giving it complete satisfaction. When the ear hears sounds, the nose smells scents, the tongue recognises flavours and when tangibles are felt with the body the respective kinds of consciousness are caused to arise followed by excessive fondness for the respective sense-objects, ever-present in mankind and giving it complete satisfaction. Now when on account of these five sense-pleasures one’s mind experiences pleasures and pain, this is called enjoyment of sense-pleasures.

“As for sense-pleasures, what is their wretchedness? Now there is a son of a good family who, for his livelihood, trains to become proficient in many a field: either farming or writing or public service or calculating or pretension to empowerment or courier service or royal service. He does not avoid exposing his body to heat and cold, and in his training he works hard and zealously, taking great pains and without sparing himself. Becoming rich and making a fortune by taking so much trouble—that is great wretchedness for the sake of sense-pleasures. In this world all suffering is due to attachment to and desire for them.

If, however, that son of good family works so hard but does not gain any wealth, he worries too much and his suffering is indescribable. In this situation he thinks to himself, ‘I have applied all methods and carried out all plans, and yet I earn no money, one should think of giving up.’ This points to the desirability of giving up sense-pleasures.

“Furthermore, while carrying out his plans, that son of good family may earn money; and with that earned money he may, in an intelligent manner, undertake a big project. Continually he his on his guard for fear that the king may order his property to be confiscated, that thieves might secretly steal it, water might sweep it away or that fire might consume it. It, moreover, occurs to him, ‘If I try circumspectly to hide my money in a secret storeroom, I will be apprehensive about its future loss. If I want to invest my money in teh hope of making a profit, I will be apprehensive about the risks; or a wicked son will grow up in my family and eventually squander my property.’ On account of all this, sense-pleasures taken to require possessions as a prerequisite create sheer distress. All this suffering is due to and has its roots in sense-pleasures which cause this havoc.

“Now although that son of good family always concerns himself with safeguarding his money, after some time it is confiscated by the king, thieves rob him of it, it is swept away by water, it is consumed by fire, it is hidden in a storeroom and thereafter its whereabouts is uncertain, it is made good use of by way of investment for the sake of high returns, or a wicked son growing up in his house eventually squanders his moneyso that of a considerable fortune not even a fraction is left. Consequently he worries too much and suffers, beating his breast and wailing, ‘The money I had earned before has gone now, it is lost!’ Accordingly, he is thrown into confusion and becomes mentally deranged. This the meaning of sense-pleasures create sheer distress. All this suffering is due to and has its roots in sense-pleasures so that one does not attain the Unconditioned.

“Furthermore, due to sense-pleasures and being rooted in them, adversaries put on armour and attack each other. In doing so, they face units of war elephants, of cavalry, infantry or war chariots. On seeing the elephants, cavalry, war chariots or infantry they charge at them. They put each other to the sword or shoot each other dead; with lances and battle axes they cause blood and gore. As sense-pleasures are related to this, they create sheer distress which is due to and has its roots in them, causing this havoc. Moreover, due to sense-pleasures and being rooted in them, adversaries launch fierce attacks either on city gates or on its ramparts, putting each other to the sword, shooting each other dead, piercing each other with their lances, knocking down and cutting off each other’s heads with iron discs or killing each other with molten iron. As a result of all this, they suffer too much and die in huge numbers. Accordingly, those who enjoy sense-pleasures are subject to impermanence. Everybody one day meets his end, being subject to transformation from youth to old age to death without there being any real standstill. Being in the grip of sense-pleasures and therefore subject to impermanence and re-birth, this is what is called sense-pleasures creating sheer distress.

“How should one give up sense-pleasures? When someone succeeds in practising the overcoming of sensuous greed, this is called their renunciation. The so-called Śramaṇas and brahmin ascetics who do not know of sense-pleasures as entailing sheer distress, also do not know where to begin in order to give them up. Those Śramaṇas and brahmin ascetics do not really know of the deportment pertaining to them; they are not real Śramaṇas and brahmin ascetics and are unable to give rise to their realising the ultimate goal and perfect mastery over themselves. The Śramaṇas and brahmin ascetics who perfectly know of sense-pleasures as entailing sheer distress, are capable of really and unpretentiously giving them up. They know of the deportment pertaining to Śramaṇas and brahmin ascetics. They have give rise to their realising the ultimate goal and perfect mastery over themselves. This is what is meant by giving up sense pleasures.”

“What is the enjoyment of forms? Let us suppose someone sees a girl either of noble descent, of brahminic descent or of a householder’s family, fourteen, fifteen or sixteen years old, neither tall nor short, neither plump nor thin, neither too fair not too dark, being respectable and of incomparable beauty seldom to be found in the world. hardly has one seen her complexion when one experiences pleasure and joy—this is called enjoyment of forms.

“How do forms create sheer distress? If one sees that ‘girl’ again after a time, being eighty, ninety or even a hundred years of age, her complexion has totally changed; with the passage of time her vigour is gone, her teeth are broken and her hair is as white as snow; her body is blotchy, the skin is flaccid, the face all wrinkles, the spine deformed, the body resembling a creaking and groaning old cart; with shaking frame she stumbles along, leaning on a stick. What do you think, monks? The girl endowed with such pleasing appearance before and afterwards having totally changed, is that not sheer distress?”

“It is, Exalted One,” replied the monks.

“That is how forms create sheer distress,” the Exalted One went on saying to the monks.

“Moreover, if one sees that woman with her body exposed to great affliction, being confined to bed, incontinent and unable to rise and stand, what do you think, monks? The girl originally being endowed with such a pleasing appearance and now exposed to this affliction, is that not sheer distress?”

“It is, Exalted One,” replied the monks.

“That is how forms create sheer distress,” the Exalted One went on saying to the monks.

“Furthermore, monks, if one sees that woman’s body, broken up, lifeless, and on its way to the cemetery—how is that, monks? Formerly beholding that pleasing form and now—what a transformation! When in this situation one’s mind experiences pleasure and pain welling up, is that not sheer distress?”

“It is, Exalted One,” replied the monks …

“And again, if one sees that woman in one place being dead for one day, two, three, four, five, up to seven days, her body being bloated, putrid, nauseating and decomposing—how is that, bhikkus? That originally pleasing form which has now undergone this transformation, is that not sheer distress?”

“It is, Exalted One,” replied the monks …

“In addition, if one sees crows and magpies, kites and vultures come squabbling over that woman prey, or if one sees her being devoured by foxes, dogs, wolves or tigers or being infested and fed on by mosquio larvae rapidly worming their way into flesh, and by other extremely small wriggling worms—how is that monks? Originally she was endowed with such a pleasing appearance, and now she has undergone this transformation! When in this situation one’s mind experiences extreme pleasure and pain welling up, is that not sheer distress?”

“It is, Exalted One,” replied the monks …

“Additionally, if one sees that woman’s body half eaten away by birds of prey and worms, with its bowels, stomach, bloody flesh and various kinds of impure substances exposed … That is how forms create sheer distress,” the Exalted One went on saying to the monks.

“Furthermore, if one sees that woman’s body without flesh and blood, the bar skeleton with its bones still joined together … That is how forms create sheer distress … if one sees that woman’s body without flesh and blood and only with dry bones held together by tendons like a bundle of firewood … That is how forms create sheer distress … if one sees the remains of that woman’s body, disconnected bones scattered in different places—here a bone of the foot, there a humerus, here another bone, there a hip bone, ribs, a shoulder blade, vertebrae of the neck and the skull … That is how forms create sheer distress … if one sees the shining white or dove-grey bones of that woman’s body … That is how forms create sheer distress … if one sees the dry bones of that woman, after countless years putrid, rotten and finally indistinguishable from earth … That is how forms create sheer distress.

“Moreover, these forms are impermanent, subject to change and ephemeral; there is nothing that remains young. That is how forms create sheer distress.

“How should one escape from forms? When someone succeeds in giving up and getting rid of all stupefaction with regard to forms, this is called giving up with regard to forms.

“As for forms, the so-called Śramaṇas and brahmin ascetics cling to them; they do not know of their entailing sheer distress, and they do not overcome clinging because they do not know forms in accordance with fact. They are not real Śramaṇas and brahmin ascetics and do not really know how to overcome all attachment. That is what is called with Śramaṇas and brahmin ascetics their knowing of the deportment pertaining to them; by themselves they realise the ultimate goal and perfect mastery over themselves. This is what is meant by giving up stupefaction with regard to forms.

“What is that which has been referred to as enjoyment of feelings? When there is a monk experiencing a pleasant feeling, he knows, ‘I am experiencing a pleasant feeling.’ When experiencing a painful feeling, he knows, ‘I am experiencing a painful feeling.’ When experiencing a neither painful nor pleasant feeling, he knows, ‘I am experiencing neither a painful nor pleasant feeling.’ When experiencing a pleasant sensual feeling, he knows, ‘I am experiencing a pleasant sensual feeling.’ When a experiencing a painful sensual feeling, he knows, ‘I am experiencing a painful sensual feeling.’ When experiencing a neither painful nor pleasant sensual feeling, he knows, ‘I am experiencing neither a painful nor pleasant sensual feeling.’ When experiencing a painful spiritual feeling, he knows, ‘I am experiencing a painful spiritual feeling.’ When experiencing a pleasant spiritual feeling, he knows, ‘I am experiencing a painful spiritual feeling.’ When experiencing a neither painful nor pleasant feeling, he knows, ‘I am experiencing neither a painful nor pleasant spiritual feeling.’

“Moreover, when the monk is experiencing a pleasant feeling, he does not experience a painful feeling; and neither does he experience a neutral feeling; at that time he knows ‘I am just experiencing a pleasant feeling.’ When he is experiencing a painful feeling, he does not experience a pleasant feeling and neither does he experience a neutral feeling, he knows, I am just experiencing a painful feeling. When the monk is experiencing a neutral feeling, he does not experience either a pleasant or a painful feeling and thus knows, ‘I am just experiencing a neutral feeling.’ Again, feelings are indeed impermanent and subject to change. So considering the impermanence of the feelings certainly being subject to change—that is how feelings create sheer distress.

“How should one escape from feelings? When someone succeeds in giving up and getting rid of all stupefaction with regard to feelings, this is called giving up with regard to feelings. As for feelings, those Śramaṇas and brahmin ascetics who cling to them, do not know of their entailing sheer distress, and they do not overcome clinging because they do not know feelings in accordance with fact. They are not real Śramaṇas and brahmin ascetics and do not really know of the deportment pertaining to them, being unable to personally realise the ultimate goal and perfect mastery over themselves. The Śramaṇas and brahmin ascetics who, as for feelings, do not cling to them, profoundly knowing of their entailing sheer distress, certainly know how to overcome all attachment. That is what is called with Śramaṇas and brahmin ascetics their knowing of the deportment pertaining to them; personally they realise the ultimate goal and perfect mastery over themselves. This is what is meant by giving up stupefaction with regard to feelings.

“In addition, monks, if a Śramaṇa or brahmin ascetic does not discern painful, pleasant or neutral feelings and does not know them in accordance with fact, but if they teach other persons, such action is improper. If a Śramaṇa or brahmin ascetic succeeds in giving up clinging to feelings by dint of knowing them in accordance with fact and if he inspires other persons through his teachings to become detached from them too, this is correct and proper. This is what is meant by giving up stupefaction with regard to feelings.

“Now monks, I have availed myself of the occasion to speak about sense-pleasures, one’s clinging to and enjoying them, about their creating sheer distress and about those who succeed in giving them up. I have spoken likewise about forms, one’s clinging to and enjoying them, about their creating sheer distress and about those who succeed in getting rid of all stupefaction with regard to forms; I have availed myself of the occasion to speak about feelings, one’s clinging … to them, … succeed in giving up clinging to them. As to what behoves all Tathāgatas to do, viz. to teach, I have discharged my duty now. Always practise mindfulness; meditate under trees; wisely reflect in empty spaces, do not be negligent. That is what would like to bring home to you.”

Having listened to the Exalted One’s words, the monks were pleased and respectfully applied themselves to practice.