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Pali Canon - Sigalovada Sutta

by Sangharakshita

The Sigalovada Sutta

The Venerable Sangharakshita in Seminar
Held at Padmaloka, January 1983Present: The Venerable Sangharakshita, Atula, Devapriya, Dhammarati, Padmapani,
Padmavajra, Prasannasiddhi, Ratnapala, Ratnapani, Tejamati, Tejananda; [Padmaraja for one
session?]
Day 1 Tape 1, Side A
Sangharakshita: We're going to be studying the Sigalovada Sutta, using mainly Narada
Thera's translation. So we'll do, first of all, his short introduction which incorporates a few
salient points. Could someone read that first paragraph, and then we'll discuss anything that
needs to be discussed?
"Sigala was the son of a Buddhist family residing at Rajagaha. His parents were devout
followers of the Buddha, but the son was indifferent to religion. The pious father and mother
could not by any means persuade their son to accompany them to visit the Buddha or his
disciples and hear the Noble Doctrine. The son thought it practically useless to pay visits to
the Sangha, as such visits might entail material loss. He was only concerned with material
prosperity; to him spiritual progress was of no avail. Constantly he would say to his father: `I
will have nothing to do with monks. Paying homage to them would make my back ache and
my knees stiff. I should have to sit on the ground, and soil and wear out my clothes. And
when, at the conversations with them, after so sitting, one gets to know them, one has to
invite them and give them offerings, and so one only loses by it."
S: This information, by the way, comes from the commentary. The Sutta itself launches
straight into the subject. It doesn't give us any actual background. That is supplied, as I said,
from the commentary on which Narada Thera is drawing.
Padmavajra: Whose is the commentary?
S: It's one of those attributed to Buddhaghosa - the commentary on the Digha Nikaya. This
Sutta is of course from the Digha Nikaya.
Atula: Where would Buddhaghosa get such information from?
S: Buddhaghosa lived in the seventh century, as far as I remember, maybe the sixth - that is to
say, about 1000 years after the time of the Buddha.[2] Buddhaghosa was an Indian brahmin
who became a bhikkhu in India, and then went to Ceylon. In Ceylon he learned Sinhalese, it
would seem, and he found that Sinhalese commentaries had been preserved in commentaries
on the Pali Tipitaka. The Tipitaka was, of course, introduced, according to tradition, when
Asoka's son Mahindra introduced Buddhism there in the third century BC, and since that time
there'd been an oral tradition of exposition of the Tipitaka which was embodied in Sinhalese
commentaries. So it would seem, according to Buddhaghosa's Life, that he became
acquainted with these commentaries on the Pali texts which were in Sinhalese, and he - as far
as we know - translated or recast or rewrote these Sinhalese commentaries in Pali; and it's
those which we now have, and which we know as the Pali commentaries on the Tipitaka. The
Sinhalese originals have not survived, so we don't know to what extent Buddhaghosa just
translated from Sinhalese into Pali or to what extent he just condensed or recast or even
incorporated materials of his own. But we have these Pali commentaries which contain quite
a lot of information, some of which no doubt was handed down from very early times.
Atula: Where are those commentaries of Buddhaghosa's found? Have they been translated
into English?
S: Some have been translated, yes. I think we have a few here. But quite a few have not been
translated. The word that we translate as commentary is atakatha in Pali. Ata is `meaning' and
katha is `discourse' - discourse on the meaning or, if you like, exposition.
So, as I've said, Narada Thera's information set forth in this little introduction, giving the
background to the Sutta, is drawn from the commentary. The Sutta itself doesn't give us this
information.
So is there anything in that first paragraph that requires any comment or any discussion? Or is
the situation clear? Is it, in a way, a typical situation?
Dhammarati: I'll be quite interested to see how the Buddha tackles it, because it seems that
this ... is not interested in the Dharma.
Ratnapani: It's usually the other way round now: the son is interested and the father isn't.
S: `The son thought it practically useless to pay visits to the Sangha, as such visits might
entail material loss. He was only concerned with material prosperity; to him spiritual progress
was of no avail. Constantly he would say to his father: `I will have nothing to do with [3]
monks. Paying homage to them' - that is to say by bowing down - `would make my back ache
and my knees stiff. I should have to sit on the ground,' - one couldn't sit on a raised seat in
front of monks - `and soil and wear out my clothes. And when, at the conversations with
them, after so sitting, one gets to know them, one has to invite them and give them offerings' -
that is to say invite them to the house, give them food and so on - `and so one only loses by it.'
He takes an exclusively material view of religion, it would seem. It's not that he doesn't
exactly believe in it but he doesn't see any material profit in it; in fact, he sees material loss.
Atula: He takes it further, in the sense that he couldn't have made many friends either, in that
way.
S: That's true, if he was concerned not to spend money. One does in fact encounter this sort of
attitude still in India; I think I have commented on this before. It is still the custom that, if you
go to see any holy man, whether Buddhist or Hindu, you sit on the ground; and quite a few
young men nowadays, that is to say modern, Westernized young men, won't go along because
it'll spoil their trousers sitting on the ground. They're quite particular about their clothes, some
of them. So they still do say this very same kind of thing - that they would have to sit on the
ground and it would spoil their new trousers. So they won't go along.
This suggests to some extent that in dealing with people, especially perhaps dealing with
young people, one needs a certain amount of adaptability. If you're going to insist that they sit
on the ground etc. you may not get very many of them coming along. Nowadays in Buddhist
countries quite a few of the monks don't expect this sort of behaviour and don't even
particularly want it from young people, but often one finds the older generation among the lay
people insist on this sort of behaviour, and they reprimand young people for being
`disrespectful' to monks etc. So they tend not to go along, rather than have to conform to these
sorts of customs.
Atula: It's really terrible - not allowing people to have a positive experience of Buddhism
because they're stopped by customs in the first place.
S: On the other hand, one has to understand the basis of the customs. If one does go along to a
monk, you should go along with a reasonable amount of receptivity, and the different
customs, different ways of behaving, are meant originally to encourage that. On the one hand
one mustn't insist on people behaving in a certain way, but on the other hand people should be
sufficiently sensitive to know that a certain mode of [4] behaviour is appropriate, even though
they may not strictly follow the traditional customs.
Dhammarati: I suppose one of the reasons for that kind of custom breaking down was where
receptivity has been exploited.
S: Yes. It's interesting that already, apparently, during the lifetime of the Buddha, one finds
people expressing this kind of attitude - finds a young man (I'm assuming he's young, he's
merely younger than his father; he could be 40 or he could be 60) - but it's interesting to find
him expressing this sort of attitude even during the lifetime of the Buddha.
Atula: We get quite a lot of people who actually come along on retreat and taking part that are
quite into materialism. I don't know quite why they come along, but it's as though they're
wavering somewhere, but they seem to be putting forward materialist views all the time,
trying to cut through what we're trying to do. It's always an interesting experience. It's
happened two or three times.
S: Well, of course, then the question arises, why have they come at all? And sometimes their
critical attitude masks a defensiveness. Sometimes perhaps they're afraid of being taken in.
Perhaps they've been taken in before. Perhaps they've been with the Scientologists for two or
three years, or the Hare Krishna people for a year or two, so that hasn't completely
extinguished any sort of spiritual interest that they've had but has made them rather cautious
about joining some other movement or some other tradition.
Atula: I think there's a great number of people round us at the moment that have had their
fingers burned, and are a bit wary, but still pursuing.
S: Well, if one considers how well known the Scientologists are, how well known the
Moonies are, how well known the Hare Krishna people are, or have been; if one considers
that tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands, have passed through these
organizations and come out the other end, then there must be a lot of people in circulation
who have burned their fingers, as you say, but who nonetheless are still, many of them,
searching, searching for some kind of spiritual path or some kind of meaningful way of life.
We have perhaps to bear that in mind, that their experience of spiritual ...

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