1

There seems to be this reoccurring phrase to describe a specific type of person in the suttas. For example in MN 45

"And what is the taking on of a practice that is painful in the present and yields pain in the future?"

"There is the case where someone is a cloth-less1 ascetic, rejecting conventions, licking his hands, not coming when asked, not staying when asked. He doesn't consent to food brought to him or food dedicated to him or to an invitation to a meal. He accepts nothing from the mouth of a pot or from the mouth of a bowl. He accepts nothing from across a stick, across a pestle, from two eating together, from a pregnant woman, from a nursing woman, from a woman lying with a man, from a food collection, from where a dog is waiting or flies are buzzing. He takes no fish or meat. He drinks no liquor, wine, or fermented drink. He limits himself to one house & one morsel a day, or two houses & two morsels... seven houses & seven morsels. He lives on one saucerful a day, two... seven saucerfuls a day. He takes food once a day, once every two days... once every seven days, and so on up to a fortnight, devoted to regulating his intake of food. He is an eater of greens, millet, wild rice, hide-parings, moss, rice bran, rice-scum, sesame flour, grass, or cow dung. He lives on forest roots & berries. He feeds on fallen fruits. He wears hemp, canvas, shrouds, refuse rags, tree bark, antelope hide, strips of antelope hide, kusa-grass garments, bark garments, wood-shaving garments, head-hair garments, animal wool, owl's wings. He is a hair-&-beard puller, one devoted to the practice of pulling out his hair & beard. He is a stander, one who rejects seats. He is a hands-around-the-knees sitter, one devoted to the exertion of sitting with his hands around his knees. He is a spike-mattresser, one who makes his bed on a bed of spikes. He is a third-time-in-the-evening bather, one who stays devoted to the practice of bathing in water. Thus in a variety of ways he stays devoted to the practice of tormenting & afflicting the body. With the break-up of the body, after death, he goes to a bad bourn, destitution, the realm of the hungry shades, hell."

I really don't understand what is meant by this. Can anyone please give a simple explanation or some reference to other translation or commentaries?

  • 3
    This describes someone who practices asceticism ... not a Buddhist who practice a Middle Way. The practices (the ascetic way of life or rituals) are onerous (refusing food, sleeping on a bed of nails, "devoted to the practice of tormenting & afflicting the body", etc.). What do you not understand about this? – ChrisW Oct 1 '16 at 19:27
  • @ChrisW So the details are not important, just the fact that one tortures oneself? I was quite irritated by the long list. – OidaOudenEidos Oct 1 '16 at 19:32
1

Can anyone please give a simple explanation or some reference to other translation or commentaries?

The sutta is describing four ways to practice:

  1. "practice that is pleasant in the present but yields pain in the future" -- seeing no harm in sensual pleasures
  2. "practice that is painful in the present and yields pain in the future" -- an ascetic life, which is "devoted to the practice of tormenting & afflicting the body"
  3. "practice that is painful in the present but yields pleasure in the future" -- someone who is passionate/aversive/deluded and consequently experiences grief (in the present), yet lives the holy life
  4. "practice that is pleasant in the present and yields pleasure in the future" -- someone who is not passionate/aversive/deluded, who is equanimous, withdrawn from sensuality, entering the four jhanas

What you quoted in the OP is a list of various (several) ascetic practices. I presume these were actual (current/contemporary) behaviour practiced by some people at the time.

There's a bit about Ascetism in Indian religions on Wikipedia.

Siddhārtha Gautama tried to practice austerities himself, but found it unhelpful; e.g. MN 36 describes many types of austerities he practiced, which end with his thinking:

But with this racking practice of austerities I haven't attained any superior human state, any distinction in knowledge or vision worthy of the noble ones. Could there be another path to Awakening?'

That "other path" is the Middle Way which he tells to his five (former) companions when he meets them again after his enlightenment.

So the details are not important, just the fact that one tortures oneself?

They were presumably actual practices, which the sutta is listing as explicitly austere (unnecessary).

See also Dhutanga practices which are optional (regarding which this commentary says these are not extreme, and may optionally be adopted to further simplify a monk's life).

I'm not sure what the motive is or was for asceticism; I could guess (e.g. ascetism is also associated with devotees of Shiva), but with the Buddha stating that asceticism is fruitless (or, more specifically, is painful in the present and leads to hell in the future) I don't see much point in pursuing that topic.

0

I think ChrisW gave a clear and concise answer to your question. That is,

"This describes someone who practices asceticism ... not a Buddhist who practice a Middle Way."

I would like to comment on your follow up question by saying the details are un-important. There are many forms of asceticism. The description of asceticism Buddha is describing can be found in Indian asceticism (for obvious reasons), but the principle extends to all forms of asceticism. He is encouraging his followers to avoid living their lives in extremes, such as only craving pain and discipline while neglecting the natural pleasures in life. These natural pleasures he concluded are blessings because they bring us momentary happiness. On the other hand, he encouraged us not to live only for pleasure and lack discipline. You'll never achieve ultimate happiness if you can't let go of lower forms of happiness and practice self-control. Both will eventually lead to suffering, but if balanced, will lead to happiness and joy.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.