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Pali Canon - Sigalovada Sutta

by Sangharakshita

... groups hitherto may
not have been entirely fortunate.
Atula: I think you've got to really be able to talk to those people and allow all those objections
to come out.
Ratnapala: I think apart from people who have had their fingers burned there does seem to be
a general scepticism in Western society; they are being more scientific in their approach.
Anything that doesn't express itself in scientific terms is viewed with great scepticism.
S: Well, in a sense everybody has had their fingers burned. The whole culture, the whole
civilization has had its fingers burned through contact with Christianity, one might say, or at
least certain aspects of Christianity. So it isn't surprising that people, if they do break free
from Christianity to any extent at all, should be a little cautious in many cases about
transferring their allegiance to some other tradition.
Prasannasiddhi: What we're doing in the Friends does seem quite radical, quite different from
the normal modes of behaviour within society. And it also seems to go quite deep into a
person's psyche in a way, these various things, so that it's not something quite superficial that
you're asking people to accept, it's something that has the implications to go quite far.
S: Well, you're asking them to give their whole lives as it were, so you mustn't be surprised if
they want time to think it all over, and they want to have a good look at what you're doing and
what it is that they're being asked to give their whole lives to. It would be strange if they
didn't. In fact, it would be suspicious if they didn't. If they surrendered immediately, you
might think it was simply your personal charisma or good looks or something of that sort that
they'd fallen for, not the Dharma.
Tejamati: I think nowadays we'd be tempted to stop that sort of thing happening - people just
surrendering themselves.
S: Well, after all there are lots of people around, as you know, who want to be ordained but
haven't been ordained yet. So we certainly don't snatch at people. We certainly don't fail to
give them proper time for consideration before committing themselves.
Atula: It seems as though sometimes it's good to see it beforehand. I think some people get a
very good experience on retreat, and then sort of come back and give everything up, and a
reaction sets in much later, and usually, when it happens in those extreme cases, people take
off ... in such a way that you lose contact with them, which is a real ...
S: It does seem as though no problem is entirely new. Anyway, let's pass on to paragraph two.
"Finally as the father was about to die, he called his son to his deathbed and inquired whether
he would at least listen to his parting advice. `Most assuredly, dear father, I shall carry out any
order you may be pleased to enjoin on me,' he replied. `Well, then, dear son, after your
morning bath, worship the six quarters.' The father asked him to do so hoping that one day or
other, while the son was so engaged, the Buddha or his disciples would see him and make it
an occasion to preach an appropriate discourse to him. And since deathbed wishes are to be
remembered, Sigala carried out his father's wish, not however knowing its true significance."
S: This is all still from the commentary. `Finally as the father was about to die' - we don't
know how many years passed by; we are simply told `finally,' after 10 years, 15 years, 20years, 30 years, all this could have been going on. But `Finally as the father was about to die,
he called his son to his deathbed and inquired whether he would at least listen to his parting
advice. 'Most assuredly, dear father, I shall carry out any order you may be pleased to enjoin
on me,' he replied. 'Well, then, dear son, after your morning bath, worship the six quarters.'
A few points needing comment here. This used, apparently, to be quite common in the West
as well - your father's or your mother's or some other relation's, or even a friend's, deathbed
wish. I don't know whether it is so common nowadays. Perhaps we don't have deathbeds in
the old sense. But a person's last wishes were usually taken very seriously, I think in all
traditions, in all cultures. So what do you think that is, what's the psychological reason for
that - that you take very seriously something that someone tells you on their deathbed or asks
you to do on their deathbed? One thinks in this connection of the Buddha. I mean, there's a
whole sutta, the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, describing the Buddha's last days and giving his last
injunctions to the monks, and these are usually considered to have a specially solemn
character because the Buddha was on his deathbed, he was about to pass away. So why do
you think this is generally so?
Atula: I should think when you're dying you think of the most important things to you. Also I
should think, regarding the wish of the dead, that you would set the mind of the person about
to die at peace to die.
S: Yes. There may be something on the dying person's mind, something he's very concerned
about, something he wishes he could have done himself, but which he's not been able to do,
which he'd like his heirs perhaps to carry out.
Dhammarati: So you're down to the very quintessence of the relationship [at the moment of
death], where all the extraneous details are gone.
S: Yes, and the relations or the friends are anxious no doubt at such a moment to set the mind
of the dying person at rest. Whatever disagreements there might have been up to that point are
just all put aside. Here we find the son saying, `Most assuredly, dear father, I shall carry out
any order you may be pleased to enjoin on me.' They may have disagreed very strongly about
religion all those years. The son may have consistently refused to go along with his father to
the Buddha, to the monks, but when it comes to the point where his father is on his deathbed,
he so to speak forgets all that. He's willing to do anything the father may ask.
So it is as though the time of death is, as we know in any case, a sort of existential moment.
But here the existential moment is sort of placed within the context of, one might say, human
communication, of human relationships, because you very often don't die alone, people are
gathered round you, maybe your closest relations, your closest friends, people that you've
lived with for years and years in one way or another, and at that moment the dying person
thinks of something that is of great importance to him or her, something that perhaps is on
their mind or something they want carried out. So they give expression to that, under those
conditions, in those circumstances. The people round about, those who are near and dear, are
only too willing to satisfy that person. Perhaps they are even regretting that they hadn't carried
out that person's wishes before. We don't know. In this case, we don't know.
Padmapani: It seems to be a sort of amnesty period, if there has been any strife in the family;
a period where the wishes of the dying person are respected even though there has been
trouble. It's like an area where, if there is anything that has been unsettled but has been put off
during the life, because the person is not going to be around that last wish is respected. I don't
know if amnesty is the right word. It's a sort of truce.
: `No go'.
Dhammarati: There's a shift in perspective, isn't there, from ... death into the much more ... ?
S: It's as though one has got to settle it. One has got to sort it out now or never, otherwise it
will be unfinished business for ever. There's a verse in the Dhammapada where the Buddha
says words to this effect - what is it, in the first chapter of the Dhammapada? What he says, in
[8] effect - I can't quote the exact words - is that we don't know when we are going to die, so
we should settle our quarrels. It would be a great pity to die with them unsettled. You may
have had a quarrel. You may have had a misunderstanding with someone of whom you are
quite fond. But supposing there was to be an accident. Supposing you were to have an
accident, or they were to have an accident, and one of you was to die, or even both of you
died, before that could be settled, before that could be sorted out. If you were the survivor
you'd feel quite unhappy about that, that for ever and ever that would be the situation, at least
as far as this life is concerned - that you'd died unreconciled.
There's an incident of this sort, I was reading recently, in the life of Dickens to the effect that
there was a quite serious quarrel between Dickens and Thackeray, and neither spoke to the
other for years, even though they were going to the same club. But, for some reason or other,
Thackeray, I think it was, decided that he should bring that quarrel to an end. So the next time
he saw Dickens he just went up to him and put out his hand and said: `It's time we just
finished this foolish quarrel.' So Dickens said: `I'm very glad to do so,' and they shook hands;
and only a week later, I think it was, Thackeray heard that Dickens had died. So he was very
pleased that he had taken that action. Otherwise it would have been an unresolved quarrel for
ever and ever, so to speak.
Ratnapala: Would that have karmic [consequences]?
S: Well, any unskilful action has karmic consequences, but in a way you would make it worse
because you couldn't help brooding over it, perhaps, and regretting that ...

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