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You are here: Index Nonduality & Spirituality The Roots of Good and Evil: An Anthology by Nyanaponika Thera

The Roots of Good and Evil: An Anthology by Nyanaponika Thera
|Contents| I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII |

IV.The Social Significance of the Roots

  16.    From the Kalama Sutta
  17.    Why Give Up the Roots of Evil?
  18.    The Visible Teaching
           Comment
  19.    Four Types of People
  20.    The Roots of Violence and Oppression
           Comment

16. FROM THE KALAMA SUTTA  

'What do you think, Kalamas? When greed, hatred and delusion arise in a man, is it for his benefit or harm?'-'For his harm, venerable sir.' - 'Kalamas, a person who is greedy, hating and deluded, overpowered by greed, hatred and delusion, his thoughts controlled by them, will take life, take what is not given, indulge in sexual misconduct, and tell lies; he will also prompt others to do likewise. Will that conduce to his harm and his suffering for a long time?' 'Yes, venerable sir.'

    'What do you think, Kalamas? Are these things wholesome or unwholesome?' - 'Unwholesome, venerable sir.' 'Blamable or blameless?' - 'Blamable, venerable sir.' 'Censured or praised by the wise?' - 'Censured, venerable sir.'-'Undertaken and practised, do these things lead to harm and suffering, or not? Or how is it in this case?'-'Undertaken and practised, these things lead to harm and to suffering. So does it appear to us in this case.'

    'Therefore, Kalamas, did we say: Do not go upon repeated hearing (of orally transmitted religious tradition), nor upon a linear succession (of teachers), nor upon hearsay, nor upon the authority of scriptures, nor upon speculative and logical grounds, nor upon thought-out theories, nor on preference for views pondered upon, nor upon another's seeming competence, nor on the consideration that "The monk is our teacher."

    'But when you yourselves know: "These things are unwholesome, blamable, censured by the wise and if undertaken and practised they will lead to harm and suffering, " then give them up.' 


Anguttara Nikaya, 3: 65.


17. WHY GIVE UP THE ROOTS OF EVIL?  

Once a wandering ascetic, Channa by name, visited the venerable Ananda and spoke to him as follows:

    'You, friend Ananda, teach the giving up of greed, hatred and delusion, and we, too, teach it. But, friend Ananda, what disadvantage have you seen in greed, hatred and delusion that you teach that they ought to be given up?'

    'Friend, a person who is greedy, hating and deluded, overpowered by greed, hatred and delusion, his thoughts controlled by them, aims at his own harm, aims at others' harm, aims at the harm of both, and he suffers pain and grief in his mind. But when greed, hatred and delusion are given up, he will not aim at his own harm, nor at the harm of others, nor at the harm of both, and he will not suffer pain and grief in his mind.

    'A person who is greedy, hating and deluded, overpowered by greed, hatred and delusion, his thoughts controlled by them, leads an evil way of life in deeds, words and thoughts; he does not know his own true advantage, nor that of others, nor that of both. But when greed, hatred and delusion are given up, he will not lead an evil way of life in deeds, words and thoughts: and he will understand his own true advantage, that of others, and that of both.

    'Greed, hatred and delusion, friend, make one blind, unseeing and ignorant; they destroy wisdom, are bound up with distress, and do not lead to Nibbana.

    'Because we have seen these disadvantages in greed, hatred and delusion, therefore, friend, do we teach that they ought to be given up.

    'This Noble Eightfold Path, namely: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration - this, friend, is the path, this is the way to the giving up of greed, hatred and delusion.' 


Anguttara Nikaya, 3: 71


18. THE VISIBLE TEACHING  

'People speak of the "visible teaching". In how far, Lord, is the teaching visible here and now, of immediate result, inviting to come and see, onward-leading, to be directly experienced by the wise?'

    'A person who is greedy, hating and deluded, overpowered by greed, hatred and delusion, aims at his own harm, at others' harm, at the harm of both, and he suffers pain and grief in his mind. He also leads an evil way of life in deeds, words and thoughts, and he does not know his own true advantage, that of others and that of both.

    'But when greed, hatred and delusion are given up, he will not aim at his own harm, at others' harm, at the harm of both, and he will not suffer pain and grief in his mind. He will not lead an evil life and he will understand his own true advantage, that of others and that of both.

    'In that sense is the teaching visible here and now, of immediate result, inviting to come and see, onward-leading, to be directly experienced by the wise.'

Anguttara Nikaya, 3: 53


Comment  

The description of the teaching (Dhamma) as being 'visible here and now' and so forth, is the same as in the traditional text of homage to the Dhamma.

    The Dhamma taught by the Buddha is the Four Noble Truths. If that Dhamma is here identified with the teaching on the unwholesome roots and their abandonment, we may understand the connection thus: the presence of greed, hate and delusion corresponds to the truths of suffering and its origin, their abandonment to the truths of the path and its goal, Nibbana, the cessation of suffering.

    When, through earnest effort in practising the Dhamma, one succeeds in weakening the evil roots, the truth of the teaching becomes clearly visible. The Dhamma indeed yields immediate results. Having accepted its invitation to 'come and see', one has tested it and seen its benefits for oneself. Encouraged by these partial results, one will be led onwards towards the goal - the final eradication of greed, hatred and delusion. But the experience has to be personal- gone through by each one himself, alone, through wisdom and energy devoted to the work of liberation.
 

19. FOUR TYPES OF PEOPLE  

There are four types of people in the world. One who works for his own good, but not for the good of others; one who works for the good of others, but not for his own good; one who works neither for his own good nor for the good of others; and one who works for his own good as well as for the good of others.

    And which is the person who works for his own good, but not for the good of others? It is he who strives for the abolishing of greed, hatred and delusion in himself, but does not encourage others to abolish greed, hatred and delusion.

    And which is the person who works for the good of others, but not for his own good? It is he who encourages others to abolish greed, hatred and delusion, but does not strive for the abolishing of greed, hatred and delusion in himself.

    And which is the person who works neither for his own good nor for the good of others? It is he who neither strives for the abolishing of greed, hatred and delusion in himself, nor encourages others to abolish greed, hatred and delusion.

    And which is the person who works for his own good as well as for the good of others? It is he who strives for the abolishing of greed, hatred and delusion in himself, and also encourages others to abolish greed, hatred and delusion. 


Anguttara Nikaya, 4: 76


20. THE ROOTS OF VIOLENCE AND OPPRESSION  

There are, O monks, three roots of the unwholesome: greed, hatred and delusion.

    Greed, hatred and delusion of every kind are unwholesome. Whatever kamma a greedy, hating and deluded person heaps up, by deeds, words or thoughts, that, too, is unwholesome.14 Whatever suffering such a person, overpowered by greed, hatred and delusion, his thoughts controlled by them, inflicts under false pretexts 15 upon another by killing, imprisonment, confiscation of property, false accusations or expulsion, being prompted in this by the thought, 'I have power and I want power' - all this is unwholesome too. In this manner, there arise in him many evil unwholesome states of mind, born of and originating from greed, hatred and delusion, caused and conditioned by greed, hatred and delusion.

Anguttara Nikaya, 3: 69


Comment  

As our text vividly shows, the three roots of evil have dreadful repercussions on society, as causes of cruelty and the infliction of suffering. The Buddha speaks of the three as motives for the unrestrained use of power, and the examples given in the texts make it clear that he refers to political power: a ruler's abuse of power whether in time of war against his country's enemy, or in peacetime towards its own population. During his lifetime, the Buddha must have observed many cases of violence and oppression. He also must have known that the false pretexts justifying such abuses of power are used in war as well as in peace. False propaganda against a country's enemy, and slander of the chosen victims in the ruler's own country, obviously existed even 2500 years ago. In fact, all those instances of violence and oppression mentioned by the Buddha have quite a familiar ring today. And of course, the driving forces behind them are still the same: greed, hatred and delusion. In modern history, however, the central role has shifted towards delusion, which runs beneath various aggressive ideologies of a religious, political or racial character.

    The Buddha may have been recalling his life as a prince at his father's court when he spoke those moving verses opening the sutta called 'The Use of Violence' (Atta-danda Sutta):

    The use of violence breeds terror:
    See the nation embroiled in strife!
    How this has moved my heart,
    How I was stirred, I shall now tell.

    Seeing the crowds in frantic movement,
    Like swarms of fish when the pond dries up;
    Seeing how people fight each other,
    By fear and horror I was struck.

                        Sutta Nipata, vv. 935-936

Only rarely did the Buddha speak about those darker sides of contemporary society, but these few texts show that he was a keen and compassionate observer.

    Generally, all three roots of evil operate in those acts of violence and oppression which our text mentions. But in specific cases any of the three might be dominant, though an element of delusion, or ignorance, will always be present. In war, rulers might be motivated chiefly by greed for territory, wealth, economic dominance or political supremacy; but to make the war popular among their own people, they will employ hate-propaganda to whip up their will to fight. Delusion was a prominent motive in the religious wars of the past, and in our present time it still crops up in ideological wars and revolutions, as well as in religious, political and racial persecutions within a country. In all these cases, delusion produces hate, with greed too often lurking in the background. Oppressive regimes, in their acts directed against sections of their own people, share the same motives. The interaction of the roots is sometimes quite complex, as they grow in strength by feeding each other.

    The Buddha understood well the psychology of the mighty, which basically has not changed through the millenia. All those wrongful acts, from killing down to expulsion of innocent victims, are committed out of the lust for power - the enjoyment of power, the wish to secure it and the drive to expand its range. This power craze is, of course, an obsessive delusion intricately bound up with authority. It threatens to overcome all those who exercise authority over others, from the old-style monarchs to the modern dictator. Even the petty bureaucrat does not escape: he too delights in wielding his own little share of power and displaying his stamp of authority.

|Contents| I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII |

You are here: Index Nonduality & Spirituality The Roots of Good and Evil: An Anthology by Nyanaponika Thera



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