This Sutta was said by Shakyamuni Buddha while he was residing at Indasala Cave, in the province of Magadha. It wasn’t easy for Sakka to meet Buddha. Prior to this discourse, Sakka had tried to meet Buddha unsuccessfully. That was because Sakka wasn’t ready for enlightenment yet. Thus, Buddha had remained in Jhanic Absorption when Sakka visited. Now that, Sakka had experienced the signs of imminent death, he is ready to receive the teachings of Buddha.
The Buddha’s intent was unknown to Sakka and he misunderstood that Buddha had refused to see him because he only had a small entourage and arrived unannounced. Therefore, this time round, he sent a minor deva to announce his request for an audience. Comically, devas of sensual heavens only engage in sensual pleasure. So when the minor deva tried to praise the Triple Gems, his praises were based on sensual love. The lyrics were so amorous that I thought there was a printing mistake. Anyway, Buddha was not offended. (Note: Taking a cue from this, when we chant praises to Buddha etc, do not be overly worried that we may chant wrongly, pronounce foreign language wrongly or praise wrongly. Our motivation for chanting is the most important)
Sakka was so desperate to meet Buddha that he arrived with a full entourage this time and it was the 1st watch of the night. (When most people were still awake) Usually, devas will arrive on Earth in the deep night when most humans are asleep. Naturally, this caused a commotion in nearby village because of the strange lights appearing in the night sky and in the mountains.
Sakka’s objective was to try and learn a way to extend his life as the King of Deva (if possible). Buddha was aware but did not mention anything. The conversation gradually lead to Sakka asking Buddha some questions. These Q&A is the highlight of the sutta and Ithink they are equally beneficial to mankind.
Question 1 – Why is there war and hostility in the world?
Note: I simplified and summarised the question and answer for easy reading. The traditional sutta is intentionally arranged to be repetitive so that it can be orally transmitted down the generations.(chanting and memorising) Using one English word to describe a mixture of emotion is also challenging… But let’s try.
Sakka: ” Although sentient beings such as devas, humans, asuras, nāgas, gandhabbas, etc constantly desire to live in peace, free from violence and ill will, but why is it that they still live in hostility, violence, rivalry, illwill. What causes it?”
Buddha: ” Envy and stinginess is the cause.”
I thought about this and it seems to be the basis of war and strife in this world. Envy in this context means a feeling of displeasure when we see others enjoying gains and benefits. We feel disgusted with others when we see them obtaining gains. So this is one of the factor.
The other factor is stinginess or meanness. This stingy attitude is mixed with selfishness. Besides not wanting to share what we have. It also refer to a mean attitude that no one else can have it. (Example: There can only be one winner!) Basically, our modern education conditions us to be competitive. Competition is hailed as the best for economy etc.
It is interesting to think and reflect further on our own, to observe if these 2 factors cause hostility and war in this world. At home and at work.
Question 2 – What causes Envy and stinginess?
Sakka was delighted after hearing Buddha’s answer, and he asked further.
Sakka: “What is the cause of envy & stinginess, what is their origination, what gives them birth, what is their source? What are the required factors for them to arise?”
Buddha: “Objects that is dear to one (Like) and Objects that is not dear to one (dislike) is their origination, gives them birth, is their source and the factors for them to arise”
Objects here refers to things, persons, beings, situations. circumstances etc. It includes animate and non-animate objects. In short, anything that we experience through our senses.Including our delusion of a Self. (conditioned formation)
The objects that we experience causes likes and dislikes. Likes and dislikes causes envy and stinginess.
Question 3 – What causes Like and dislike?
Buddha: ” Craving causes like and dislike”
This refer to the sense of hankering in us. Many time, it is 2 sided. For example, if we prefer quietness, the guy partying next door gets on our nerves. On the other hand if we prefer actions, the guy sitting in meditation is an irritation. (What will happen to the world if everyone just sit around doing nothing!???)
In that sense, as the experience prolong, we are envious of the guy enjoying his loud music and stingy means only I deserve to enjoy (and I want quiet). We therefore want him to stop immediately and his guests leave at once! So we call the cops.
Question 4 – What causes Craving?
Buddha: “Deliberated decision causes craving”
Deliberated decision refers to making up our mind to adopt a position. To crave for something is not automatic. It is an acquired mental conclusion. That is why one man’s meat is another’s poison and a person can be influenced into changing their position.
This is best observed in religion or culture. Once we made up our mind to crave for certain experience, it kinda stick with us.
For example, the simplicity of a Zen Dojo without even a Buddha statue is appealing to a Zen lover. (Buddhist) On the other hand, the traditional Tibetan Lamasery with deities occupying every inch of space is appealing to Vajrayana practitioner.(Buddhist) Both style differs and there is no right or wrong. Yet when craving takes roots and both practitioners have to share a common space, all hell break loose in “Buddha land”
Another example is food. I remember vividly how I was conditioned to love certain taste that is unique to my culture. Century Eggs! The adults said only adult knows how to appreciate it. I wanted to prove that I am not a kid and gobbled it; delighting the aunties and uncles around me. What used to turn me off becomes a hankered taste once I made up my mind to like it.
Let’s take a break for now and continue with Sakka’s Q&A in the next post.
May all be well and Happy. World peace!