By Ananda Pereira
Gentleness, serenity compassion, through liberation from selfish craving-these are the fundamental teachings of the Buddha.
“Thus it is, Ananda, that because of sensation (vedana) comes craving (tanha); because of craving, pursuit (parlyesana); because of pursuit, gain (labha); because of gain, decision (vinicchaya); because of decision, excitement (chandaraga); because of excitement, clinging (ajihosana); because of clinging, enclosing (pariggaha); because of enclosing, avarice (macchariya); because of avarice, guarding (arakkha); and because of guarding there come to be the seizing of stick and weapon, disunion, strife and quarrelling slander, lying and many other unskillful things”, (Maha Nidana Sutta, Digha Nikaya).
A man sees a block of land (vedana), and desires to own it (tanha). He finds out who the owner is and negotiates for a transfer (pariyesana). He buys the Land (labha) and decides exactly what he is going to plant (vinicchaya). Having so decided, he thinks about the money he will make, and the things he will be able to do with the money, and his thoughts excite him (chandaraga).
Thus excited, he clings to these pleasant dreams and to the land that will make them come true (ajihosana). He encloses the land with a wall or fence (pariggaha) and having so enclosed it he becomes selfish, feeling intensely and personally the intrusion of outsiders (macchariya). He employs security guards, buys a gun, and prepares to protect his property from the rest of the World (arakkha). And this, as we know, leads to strife of various kinds, from civil litigation to murder.
It is the same with other possessions. We cannot help perceiving things, but when we desire them the other consequences follow inevitably. There is no point in telling the owner of an estate that he should not protect it with fences or employ watchers to guard it. Having committed himself by acquiring it, he must do these things in order to ensure his profits. It is ‘common sense,” and the lawrecognizes his rights. This is the man-made Law. Its roots lie deeply bedded in craving. Men accept it as “common sense” because craving is common to all men, and they have no sense.
To the Buddhas and the Arahats, who did have sense, all this is stark lunacy. They say the truth clearly, all the time. Some of us may glimpse it now and then, hazily. The trust is that it is impossible to hold things, and that the effort to do so is both foolish and dangerous. The only thing that a man can be said to own is his character, even this is not an unchanging entity, but at least he has the power to conduct its changing, so that it changes for the better. Here there is no need of fences, watchers and guns: for there is no external force, however powerful, that can affect a man’s character against his will. When a man is set on evil, as Devadatta was not even a Buddha can swerve him from his purpose. So also is the character of a man who is set on good. Opposition only strengthens such character.
But, there is always sensation (vedana): and so long as we are not Arahats, there is always craving (tanha). Craving and its inevitable results are man’s real enemies, not otherrnen. If there was no craving there would be no pursuit’ no gain, no decision, no excitement of desire, no clinging, no enclosing, no selfishness, no guarding, no seizing of weapons, no strife and no bloodshed. Craving is like the root of a long creeper whose fruits are deadly poison.
The Buddha and the Arahats saw this truth dearly, all the time. That is why they urged the utter destruction of craving, as the only means of deliverance. It can be destroyed utterly, never to spring up again. Buddhas and the Arahats were living examples of this supreme achievement, even though to us the task may seem impossible. Enmeshed as we are in craving, its deadly tendrils woven into the very texture of our being, the destruction of craving may seem like the destruction of all that is worthwhile. For, in our insanity, we have created false ideals out of it.
A man is said to tie worthless unless he has ambition. The pursuit of beauty is encouraged as wholesome and right. Poets have even confused beauty with truth. Parents tell their children that they must work hard and “get on inthe world”, What is behind it all?
The Buddha’s teaching may seem cold and alien, suicidal even, especially when we are in the act of pursuing, holding, enclosing or guarding something that we desire very greatly. It is the coldness of truth. If it seems alien, it is because we are sstill lunatics, and the teaching is same. If it seems suicidal, it is because craving forms the greater part of our being. In our rare and hazy glimpses of the truth we must admit that the teaching is true.
Such a glimpse may come on a Vesak day, because of its associations. On this day, so significant to all followers of the Buddha, there is, for a while, a turning away from false, craving-born ideals, and an attempt to see the true ideal. May that vision be clear, and may the memory of it linger. It is the only thing that counts. Until such time as craving is destroyed, this glimpse of truth may serve as ‘guide’. It may help us least to control that which must ultimately be destroyed. Seeing “desirable” things, we may at least curb the tendency to pursue them, knowing where that pursuit will lead.