Revised August 5, 2022; May 16, 2023
Attaining the first stage of Nibbāna (Sotāpanna stage) will remove suffering in the apāyā forever, which could be more than billions or even trillions of years. This is not an exaggeration since we have been in this rebirth process from an untraceable beginning; see “Evidence for Rebirth.” Thus, any achievement in this life of 100 years is no match.
- Most people think that Buddha Dhamma is a pessimistic “religion.” It is neither a religion nor a pessimistic one. Let us discuss these two issues a bit first.
- In the “Cakkavattirāja Sutta (SN 55.1),” the Buddha stated that a Noble Person (above the Sotapanna Anugāmi stage) is better than an emperor ruling the whole Earth (rājā cakkavattī.) Let us discuss what that would be so.
1. Buddha Dhamma describes the true nature of “this world,” which is far more complex than most people think.
- A religion promises that if one abides by its tenets/doctrine and lives this life accordingly, one will be rewarded accordingly. In most religions, one is promised birth in heaven for eternity if this is kept.
- But a basic tenet in Buddha Dhamma is that this life of about 100 years is just a blip compared to the countless lives one has had in the past. Even if we live a perfect life during these 100 years, that does not guarantee anything about our future lives because we may have done kamma in PREVIOUS LIVES that could give rebirth in even the lowest four realms, the apāyā, including the niraya (hell).
- The only way to GUARANTEE that one will NOT be reborn in the apāyā is to negate the causes (lobha, dosa, moha) that could give opportunities for all such bad kamma vipāka to come to fruition. And that is possible only via attaining the Sotāpanna stage. Even though attaining the Arahant stage of Nibbāna via complete removal of lobha, dosa, and moha (and thus the ten sanyojana or fetters) will do that too, attaining the Sotāpanna stage does not require all that. It just requires one to comprehend anicca, dukkha, and anatta to the extent that only three sanyojana (fetters) are removed.
- Removal of three (or ten) sanyojana cannot be achieved via following set rules/precepts. One needs to purify one’s mind so that the true nature (anicca, dukkha, anatta) of this complex world of 31 realms is understood. That is why Buddha Dhamma is not a religion per standard definition.
- On the other hand, if one only wants to take what is helpful to lead to a moral life and use Buddha Dhamma as a religion, there is nothing wrong with that. That would be much better than living an immoral life. The deeper Dhamma will become more evident as one proceeds, providing the incentive to “dig deeper.”
2. Now to the second issue: Because the Buddha emphasized the “suffering in this world,” many think Buddha Dhamma is pessimistic. The Buddha did not say that this current life is necessarily filled with suffering (even though it has more suffering than people realize); rather, most suffering is encountered in the lowest four realms of the 31 realms. Thus, this reality of suffering is to be understood in the context of this wider worldview. The Buddha just discovered the true nature of the (more complex) world.
- Furthermore, he showed how to be free from this inevitable suffering in future births and to attain permanent happiness, Nibbāna.
3. Please re-read the above material on those two key points. It is important to look at this “wider world view” when assessing what we should strive for in this life. This analysis leads to a whole new perspective if there is evidence to believe the “wider world view” of the Buddha with repeated rebirths in 31 realms, including the four apāyā with unimaginable suffering.
- Does it make sense to spend 60 years of an 80 to 100-year life to accumulate wealth and fame if one is to lose most of one’s sensory enjoyment over the last few decades (and possibly have a major disease or memory loss)?
- Does it make sense to accrue unimaginable suffering in the apāyā in future births by committing any of the dasa akusala (ten defilements) to make money, get a promotion, live in a big house, get a prestigious position, etc. (for less than 100 years)?
- The realities of old age, disease, and death hold for a king, emperor, billionaire, or famous film star just the same as for an average person. In old age, all these achievements become a mental burden because one constantly thinks about the “good old days” and becomes depressed about not being able to enjoy the sensory pleasures just because the whole sensory system is breaking down.
- Here is a video that summarizes what I tried to explain in the above paragraph :
4. This predicament holds for ANY being in ANY realm unless at least the Sotāpanna stage is attained. A deva or a Brahma could enjoy millions of years of pleasurable lives but WILL end up in the apāyā at some point in the future unless at least the Sotāpanna stage of Nibbāna is attained. There are several incidents mentioned in the Tipiṭaka where the Buddha emphasized how critically important is the Sotāpanna stage compared to any existence in the 31 realms:
- One time, the Buddha was crossing a paddy field with 500 bhikkhus where many cattle were grazing and smiled. A Buddha (or an Arahant) does not smile frequently, so Ven. Ananda asked the Buddha why he smiled. The Buddha said, “Each one of these has been the king of the devas at some in the past.” Ven. Ananda asked why that was a reason to smile. Then the Buddha said, “All these 500 bhikkhus, who are Sotāpannas or above, will never be born an animal. That is why I smiled”.
- Another time, the Buddha and Ven. Ananda was walking and saw a piglet by the roadside, and the Buddha again smiled. Asked why, he said, “This piglet had been a princess in a life way back; she cultivated all anariya jhānās, attained the highest arupāvacara samāpatti, and had abhiññā powers. She was born in the highest Brahma world, but now she is just an animal. On the other hand, those who have attained the Sotāpanna stage in my säsana will never be born in the apāyā“. See “Dhammapada Verses 338 to 343.” (Note that the background story uses “sow” for “piglet.”) A longer description at “In Brahma World, He Shines Bright, In Pig’s Pen, too, He Finds Delight.”
5. Many people do not believe in rebirth. But having a belief will not help if it is a wrong view. Considering the possible dire consequences IF one gets this worldview wrong, it makes a lot of sense to spend some time and critically examine the evidence for rebirth in particular (see “Evidence for Rebirth“) and the wider worldview of the 31 realms in general (see, “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma“).
6. The niyata micchā diṭṭhi (established wrong views) is one of the stronger ones of the dasa akusala that could lead to birth in the apāyā; the key word there is “niyata,” or “established,” i.e., one firmly believes, for example, that there is no rebirth process. One could avoid this by at least having an open mind and NOT ruling out those possibilities. Even a Sotāpanna may not be truly convinced of some aspects of the broader worldview (but not rebirth): for example, he/she may not have any strong conviction on the existence of deva worlds or may not even think about such matters.
- Another point to consider is how the standard world views have changed since the Buddha revealed his Dhamma about a complex world with no discernible beginning. Philosophers since that time (Socrates was a contemporary of the Buddha) put forth many world views that have been discarded one by one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superseded_scientific_theories#Astronomy_and_cosmology
- Within the past 100 years, the Buddha’s worldview has gained much support from science, and that pace is accelerating with the new string theories and quantum mechanics. With all these impressive advances science has made, it cannot account for 96% of the universe’s mass; see https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-is-dark-energy/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_matter. This is because there is so much that we cannot “see” with our eyes or even with the current scientific instruments; see “What Happens in Other Dimensions?“.
- There are good reasons to believe that science will reveal more of these currently hidden aspects of the universe in the future. Just imagine that even a hundred years ago, scientists believed the universe had only a few galaxies and was stable. Now we know that there are billions of galaxies in our universe, that there could be numerous universes, and all those are not stable, i.e., they are born and will perish in the future.
- Until recently, humans also had the wrong impression that the Earth is a special place in the universe. But now we know it is an insignificant “speck of dust” in a vast universe; see the video in “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma.”
7. Please spend some quiet time contemplating these issues. These posts are not for reading pleasure; these are issues that have far more severe consequences than making a billion dollars. Some friends tell me I should “tone down” the content because the “realities of the world turn many people off.”
But my goal is not to have a vast readership. Instead, if I could convey the Buddha’s true message to even a few people, I would have accomplished my goal. There is ONLY ONE set of natural laws, and we cannot alter them, just like we cannot alter the laws of motion: If a car is headed to a brick wall, the vehicle needs to be stopped, or the consequences will not be good. Let me give a few examples of how the Buddha assessed this situation:
- Some Brahmins complained to the Buddha that he was not spending enough time debating them but would spend much time with even a few of his disciples. The Buddha asked this question: “Suppose a farmer has three paddy fields: one is extremely productive, another is OK but requires considerably more time to yield a good harvest, and the third field is of such poor condition it is impossible to get any harvest. Which field would the farmer put his efforts on? He will take care of the most productive field, disregard the third field, and spend whatever extra time he has on the second field. It is the same way with me. I want to help those interested and capable of learning my Dhamma. Debating with those who have closed minds is a waste of time”. See “Khettūpama Sutta (SN 42.7).”
- One day, the Buddha and Ven. Ananda walked for many miles to a village to deliver a discourse. Everybody gathered, and the Buddha sat there for a few hours without starting the discourse. Finally, a farmer who had lost a cow and was out in the forest looking for it found the cow, went home, bathed, ate, and came hurrying to the event. The Buddha started the discourse right after he came in. When they were walking back after the discourse, Ven. Ananda asked the Buddha why he kept everyone waiting until that one farmer came in. The Buddha said, “Ananda, I walked all this way to give the discourse because of that farmer. I saw that he could grasp the Dhamma, and he did attain the Sotāpanna stage”.
8. The Buddha said, “This Dhamma is different from anything the world has ever seen.” And that is true. It takes time to grasp the complexity of this world, much of which is hidden from us (and only a Buddha is capable of finding them; see “Dhamma and Science – Introduction“). There is no need to rush and embrace everything; one needs to spend time contemplating the validity of Buddha Dhamma.
- There are many introductory but critical posts in the “Moral Living and Fundamentals” section. That section is more about the basic concepts of Buddha Dhamma. I would encourage even those familiar with “Buddhism” to peruse that section because, without the correct basics, one cannot grasp more advanced concepts. And I am certain that 90% of “Buddhists” are unaware of some of these basic concepts. Please comment on anything at this site, and don’t hesitate to point out incorrect concepts.
9. We can, in a way, compare this situation with the situation a parent faces with a teenager. The teenager wants to go out and have a good time with friends. But the parent says, “Do not just think about the immediate pleasures. If you do not study well and get good grades at school, you will not have a good job when you grow up”.
- It is the same here. We are trapped in a “rat race” to keep up with day-to-day pleasures and activities. The Buddha’s message is that there is a much longer time to think about.
- This life is just a drop of water compared to the vast ocean that is the samsaric journey of rebirths. It is imperative to take some time and contemplate the “bigger picture.” We may not get another chance of a human birth for millions or billions of years; this is NOT an exaggeration.
10. But the best part of the Buddha’s message, which has been lost for over a thousand years, is that the niramisa sukha is better than any sensory pleasure. We are under the illusion that sense pleasures are to be pursued. If one can taste the happiness from staying away from sense pleasures, one will NEVER value the sense pleasures. Those who have experienced even anariya jhānic experiences will have some idea of such niramisa sukha.
- It is a feeling of huge release more than a pleasure in consuming tasty food, for example. And it is not temporary, especially if one can reach the Sotāpanna stage. Then that “base level” of relief is never lost, even in future births.
- When one starts on the Path by comprehending anicca, dukkha, and anatta, the sense of peacefulness, the release from stresses, is felt; that gives the incentive to stay on the Path even before attaining the Sotāpanna stage.
- The best part is the realization that one will never be born in the apāyā. Any king, emperor, or billionaire is not assured of that; on the contrary, the efforts to attain such temporary status may CAUSE one to be born in the apāyā if one engaged in dasa akusala to attain them.
- As Carl Sagan pointed out in the video in the post”The Pale Blue Dot……..“, it is worthwhile to contemplate, “Where are all those kings and emperors who gained fame through the suffering of so many people?”. They will likely be in an apāya suffering for millions of years.
Next, “Myths about the Sotāpanna Stage“, ………..