Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire

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Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire

Postby klqv » Tue Oct 25, 2011 6:47 pm

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

hi,

can anyone please explain this sutta to me? i may have some questions after your first post - thanks :)
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Re: Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire

Postby Madhyama Pratipada » Tue Oct 25, 2011 8:55 pm

The Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta is one of the earliest Buddhist references to the classical Indian logical system of catuskoti, the tetralemma (a four-way variation of the philosophical dilemma - the four options in this case being "is", "is not", "both" and "neither"). In it, the Buddha dismisses a number of questions put forth to him by a recurring character, the wanderer Vacchagotta. These questions constitute a small portion of what the Buddha calls avyakrtavastuni - the undetermined, unelucidated, unprofitable questions. They are commonly summarized as the antagahika micchaditthi - the ten wrong views. Different traditions vary in the number of these views they address, with some including "both" and "neither" after every "is" and "is not" to amount to fourteen in total. In the Pali Canon where the Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta originates, there are generally ten:

1. The cosmos is eternal.
2. The cosmos is not eternal.
3. The cosmos is finite.
4. The cosmos is infinite.
5. The soul and body are the same.
6. The soul and body are different.
7. The Tathagata exists after death.
8. The Tathagata does not exist after death.
9. The Tathagata both exists and does not exist after death.
10. The Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after death.

The Buddha begins by dismissing all of these views and their corresponding inquiries as unrelated to the path to Awakening. The answers to these questions are utterly disconnected from his liberative teachings. In subscribing to any of these positions, one brings upon oneself unnecessary suffering. The search for absolute truths with regard to these wrong views will be an unending one.

Many have interpreted the Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta and related discourses as the Buddha's attempt to do away with speculative metaphysics. The Buddha himself says that he has no views, no position on any of these questions, and that their answers are undeclared by him. One need not concern oneself with them. In understanding the impermanence of the skandhas (the aggregates that constitute what we take to be our "self" - form, feelings, perceptions, mental fabrications, and consciousness), one comes to the realization that all activities of the ego, all clinging and possessiveness, are fruitless.

Later in the Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta, the Buddha describes Nirvana as the exhaustion of sustenance, like a fire no longer fed by grass and timber. Nirvana is the end of suffering, and suffering's fuel is craving. Tanha/trishna (literally thirst, desire) is the sustenance for the fire. Nirvana is the blowing out of this fire. Vacchagotta has reason to be confused. If the Tathagata (Buddha) neither exists, nor does not exist, nor both, nor neither, then what happens to him? The Buddha makes it clear that speaking of the enlightened person as if he/she exists (eternalism), does not exist (annihilationism), both, or neither, do not apply to the situation. To speak of existence or non-existence would invite obvious contradictions. The Buddha merely says the flame is blown out: the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion, all of which play a role in craving (which conditions repeated becoming) are cooled. Through Nirvana (blowing out, cooling), one leaves the fuel of craving behind, and thus extinguishes suffering for good.
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Re: Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire

Postby klqv » Wed Oct 26, 2011 6:11 pm

In subscribing to any of these positions, one brings upon oneself unnecessary suffering. The search for absolute truths with regard to these wrong views will be an unending one.

Many have interpreted the Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta and related discourses as the Buddha's attempt to do away with speculative metaphysics. The Buddha himself says that he has no views, no position on any of these questions, and that their answers are undeclared by him. One need not concern oneself with them.

i am confused because i don't know why [even how] there is no answer to whether the buddha exists after death. there is a metaphor with fire going somewhere - like you said - some questions don't have answers.

but does it make sense to say that the buddha's existence is one of those sorts of questions? persons as a bundle of phenomenal aggregates must, it seems to me anyway, either exist or not. what could be the case about such that this is not the case with his mental life?
fire doesn't go anywhere when it's put out because it no longer exists to have gone anywhere... what is it about the buiddha that means that his existence and non existence are similar qualities?

thanks!
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Re: Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire

Postby catmoon » Thu Oct 27, 2011 5:36 am

Your difficulty arises from a human flaw. Our minds are just not built to see alternatives to existence and non existence.


Suppose I have a piece of cloth in a box. Suppose you ask me, "Is it a red cloth?" and I say no. Suppose you then ask me "Is it some other color?" and I say no.

You might even ask if it is colorless and I would reply no. And you might be confused.

The reason is, the cloth is not a solid color. It's a paisley print.

Now, if you were incapable of even conceiving a paisley print, if you were absolutely sure that red and not-red exhausted all possibilities, then you would be in the same position of someone contemplating the Buddha's existence/non-existence.

The Buddha's mode of being is not accurately described by the ideas "existence" and "non-existence". It's something completely different from both. And that's about as far as you can get with convention language and the human mind.
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Re: Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire

Postby klqv » Thu Oct 27, 2011 5:24 pm

that's about as far as you can get
oh ok.
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Re: Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire

Postby klqv » Thu Oct 27, 2011 6:47 pm

hi, i wanted to add... i wouldn't say that what i'm asking in this particular post is a buddhist objection exactly, i don't know why i approach things like this. but... i think we can imagine an alternative to neither A nor ~A, in that such linguistic statements can be worked out to mean a third term which is merely neither A nor ~A when the two are not seen as mutually exclusive. several buddhist examples spring to mind... e.g. emptiness meaning neither existence nor non existence but the non existence of svabhava. see? when we say that it is empty things do not exist we are not opposing 'exist' to 'non existence'....

so is it orthodoxy that the question vacchagotta was asking was framing two alternatives that are mutually exclusive? that the meaning of the fourfold negation cannot be unpacked to mean anything or leave some conventional alternative open, other than the inaccessibility of the answer to conventional speak? the problem with that, as i see it is.... well that that does seem, logically speaking, to be tantamount to saying that the buddha is ineffable - at least after death; and it seems very out of vogue to say make appeals to ineffability....

:)
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Re: Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire

Postby catmoon » Fri Oct 28, 2011 5:51 am

Well the orthodox approach is to say that this is one of the ten or so subjects that Buddha warned us not to discuss, for the reasons that first, there is no answer in human terms, and second, such discussions merely distract and eat up massive amounts of time without contributing to cessation.

It has been said that consideration of these topics can drive you crazy if you push hard enough. But I don't know if there is a scriptural basis for that belief.

BTW other questions on the list include "what are the limits of a Buddha's powers" and "how did the universe begin". To latter, Buddha's answer was that when one seeks the beginning of the universe, a beginning is not seen.
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