This is one of the oldest Buddhist sutta and is believed to be very close to what Buddha really preached. For many people, there is a tendency to dismiss the sutta as being exclusively meant for monks. This is because the sutta encourages practitioners to reduce craving for social gathering and social relationship.
Since our mind usually adopt polarity in views. The verses therein, seems to encourage a hermit lifestyle. Beginners became alarmed that Buddha seemed to be preaching an anti-social lifestyle. A requirement that is unacceptable by most people. Consequently, people brand this sutta as a Self-centered approach (Hinayana) in Buddhism, suggesting that this way of practice is for people who wish to become Pratyeka Buddha.
Let’s give this sutta a second chance (I must admit that I used to brush this sutta aside too) Remembering that Buddha’s approach is the middle path, let us see if the Sutta can be applied to the laity’s life.
Renouncing violence for all living beings, harming not even a single one, you would not wish for offspring, so how a companion? Wander alone like a rhinoceros.verse 1, Khaggavisana Sutta
This verse is already a full hit on the nail right? When reading sutta, one has to remember a few things.
- Buddha’s teachings are not commandments or god’s word. You don’t fall into hell by simply not complying with it. Neither is enlightenment made impossible. So do not feel bad that Buddha said the above and you are already married or in love.
- Buddha’s teaching is meant to promote enlightenment. Enlightenment is a state of mind. State of mind is influenced by our lifestyle and environment. More importantly a state of mind is dependent on how we develop it through mental conditioning.
In this first verse, Buddha encourages us to avoid harming others. Without animosity towards anyone, we are not negatively attached to other beings through the force of hatred and ill wills. One of the reasons for rebirth is animosity or hatred. For most of us, it isn’t difficult to accept this message of non-violence.
However, some unfortunate few might have suffered greatly at the hands of others. Being wronged or greatly aggrieved. Being abused and targeted. In such situations, the natural reaction is aversion and hatred. Even a desire for revenge!
According to Buddhism, the negative energy of an angry mind harm ourselves greatly and is a factor that contributes to rebirth in a negative environment / situation.
When we are free from hatred or “negative attachment” towards others, we become free.
The next part of the verse speaks of offspring and companion. They are to be abandoned too.
I interpret this message as renouncing our attachment towards family life to focus on attaining enlightenment. Just like hatred and desire for revenge,our attachment towards people or things we love is another factor that cause rebirth.
When we read about renouncing attachment, we tend to confuse the message as meaning to renounce love. That is wrong and one can learn to love without attachment too. We can continue to fulfill our role as a parent or a spouse and also train our mind to “let go”. This is not an easy feat and requires much mental training.
True renunciation is a state of mind and not limited to an action. People can become a monk and remain attached. Although they do not have offspring, they may become attached to their disciples and look upon them as if their own children.
Therefore, I think it is appropriate for laity to interpret this verse as an encouragement to reduce our aversion and desire. Make sure our mind is not burdened by this 2 mental energies.
May all be well and happy.