Buddhism without the Bull 5: Bahiya

Buddhist Sutras are hard to read.  They’re full of repetition, brown-nosing and tangents.  For instance, take the Bahiya Sutra.

Only 10% of this Sutra contains anything useful.  The other 90% is Bahiya asking to be taught, Buddha telling him to go to hell, him asking again, then getting taken out by a cow (!) after being taught, blah blah blah.  It’s hard to sell people on Buddhism when they have to wade through so much chaff to get to the wheat.

Still, the wheat in this one is good, if tiny.  Here’s Bahiya without all the BS:

“[…] you should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. […] When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, [etc…], then […] there is no you in connection with that. When there is no you in connection with that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress.”

Yep, that’s all of what Bahiya has to teach.  Compare it to the lengthy original which runs at over 1,000 words 🙂

Suffering isn’t in the things, it’s in what we add, the most critical of which is “I” or “me”.  But it’s not useful to simply assert this, we must see it.  So we develop the practice of bare attention — of simply attending to raw experience without adding anything (like judgments) onto it.  Even apparently benign judgments like “I’m seeing this”, or “this is a…” are out.  Suffering diminishes to the extent that this is done.

This forms a complete practice that can stand independently of anything else Buddhism teaches.

It also puts Buddhism in an different light and it’s interesting to compare Bahiya with Buddhist methods of deconstruction.  The logic of Bahiya is:

  • Suffering arises because of the “I”.
  • The “I” is illusory — it’s added to experience
  • Therefore, practice not adding to experience to keep the “I” from being created.

Bahiya actually goes further; by not adding anything onto experience, we’re removing valuations of an object’s worth, etc… However, if “I” is the root of all suffering, then “I” creation is the most important thing to focus on.

The logic of the Skhandas or the Dharmas (other deconstructions) is:

  • Suffering arises because of the “I”.
  • The “I” is illusory.
  • Therefore, deconstruct experience to see there’s no “I” anywhere.

These are compatible, they just take different paths.  Further, they can be seen as specific implementations of a useful summary of Buddhism: Nothing should be clung to as me or mine.


13 thoughts on “Buddhism without the Bull 5: Bahiya

  1. I believe it to be so that for ancients in India, time was something of an irrelevance, and so recounting apparent superfluity – which of course would have been a verbal transmission – was neither here nor there, and at least had the merit of providing context. Perhaps one of the pitfalls of reducing teachings to their essence is that we risk rejecting critical aspects – rather in the way that Neo-Advaitism has done with respect to Classical Advaita. That said, one has to be in the mood to wander slowly through the Visuddhimagga or other Pali texts, yet if we have time, a helpful contemplative state of mind may come about I find. Or rather, ‘it is found’. 😉

    1. Yes, they wrote it that way for a reason. However, do those reasons hold today? We can try to understand the context in which those writings occurred (assuming we have the time) or we can only retain elements consistent with our context today. Either method requires a critical frame of mind, which requires moving away from the “text is sacred” attitude that all too many have, an attitude that ironically keeps people from getting the most out of the text.

      Just my two cents 😀

    2. I think we agree my friend, save that in my view there is merit in both. For the Buddhist recluse or retreatant, then the laboured, almost pedantic, nature of the orthodox Pali texts can be something to be savoured as it takes the reader back to the time, back to the oral repetitions and traditions, of the early days of their lineage, and this can be useful, inculcating faith and reverence for the meanings contained therein. The average reader of Buddhism these days of course does not turn to orthodox scriptures for their information, and that is why secular Buddhism is the predominant strand of the teaching. Good to see you blogging again BIAR! 🙂

      1. Yes, for those for whom faith in the Buddha or lineage is a main consideration (the vast majority of Buddhists, I believe) this is very important.

        I’m writing from the perspective of a secular Buddhist, but this perspective is a minority one. Most Buddhists treat Buddhism as a religion, treat the Buddha and other figures as sacred, and therefore would not take such an irreverent view of the texts as I have done. Further, historical beliefs in certain things (which these texts establish) would be a key part of their faith and perhaps even practice.

        Thanks for welcoming me back; between being busy and not having a whole lot to say, I hadn’t had much to blog about lately 🙂

      2. Ah, we seem to have a difference of opinion as to whether secular Buddhism is more widespread than classical forms. I think over here in England it is undoubtedly so that secular Buddhism is the more popular, albeit without dismissing tradition altogether. Where secular Buddhism wins people over is of course in not positing any religious cosmology, and in remaining largely mute on Rebirth, Kamma/Vipāka, etc. – I had thought the same applied in North America, though perhaps not.

      3. I was taking all the Buddhists on the planet into account when I said that secular Buddhists were in the minority. The balance may shift when taking specific countries into account.

        Is secular Buddhism bigger in the US? It depends. If you take Asian immigrants into account, I think not. However, if you restrict the count to Western adopters of Buddhism, then perhaps.

        It may also hinge on how we define secular.

  2. The short essence is good and all. Its like nagarjuna’s emptiness. Good to think about, and analyze etc. etc., What then ?

    we need to go next step…what does this mean in reality.

    It means, “No Manipulation” consciously, or sub-consciously.

    And this means wholesomeness, perfection, in living our lives. And this means, right(wholesome) view/intention, right speech/action/livelihood, and right effort, right wisdom and concentration for doing all this.

    All these are how one can truly reach that end-state where one can be in that state 24/7 involuntarily.

    This is noble eight fold path. Its like a sports training manual. Think of golf. Do not believe any body (including “self”) who claim golf is just hitting a ball in a hole. There is more to that.

      1. what specifically.

        Most of core of buddha’s teachings are about 4 noble truths, and the practice of solution (noble eightfold path). Some of the suttas (supposedly) were oral, and they tend to be repetitive.

        I was just pointing out that we need to highlight the practice too…not just wisdom.

      2. bahiya points out the “essence”. Its like saying “be the ball”.

        While that might be enough for some, I believe that falls woefully short.

        What about having a strong foundation, and the groundwork for that foundation. What about focus/concentration to achieve it (become it, be it). what about right maturity, equanimity. right perspective/wisdom etc.etc

        mental tendencies (karma) are no illusions.

      3. Beautifully put. Even though I believe Bahiya is sufficient for practice, additional elements can facilitate that practice. For instance, renunciation and morality can help take away a lot of the anguish over past events or what to do, which frees attention for seeing things as seeing, etc…

        A lot of what’s in Buddhism forms islands of independent practice, but this is not to say that those islands can’t benefit from each other. I just don’t think they’re strictly necessary (although they can be very helpful).

      4. The problem is, unlike “be the ball”, here we have to be the ball without being the ball. Go figure! 🙂

        The essence in bahiya can be very misleading, wrongly interpreted literally (by someone new to this whole buddha’s teachings thing).

        Being selfless(no-self rather) is a very tricky proposition. For this reason, I prefer to (re)visit full eightfold path often and try to be “aware” always.

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