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The Twelve Places
VOLUME 3, Chapter 4
P5 The place of the body and touches.
Q1 Sets the scene to discuss the organ and object.
“Ananda, early every morning you rub your head with your hand.
Buddhist monks are supposed to rub their heads three times every morning, to see if they have any hair. If not, why not? Oh, they are monks. They are people who have left the home life. This practice was adopted because when Shakyamuni Buddha was in the world, the adherents of a lot of externalist sects took refuge with the Buddha.
Afterward, the Buddha taught the monks to rub their own heads three times every day in order to help them remember that they were monks. Ananda was very attentive to the teachings, and so he faithfully put this instruction into practice every day at daybreak without fail.
Ananda, early every morning you rub your head with your hand. You rub your monk’s head with your hand in order to help you remember why you haven’t any hair. It is done to teach people not to forget what they are all about. The Buddha asks Ananda about it in order to begin his explanation of the two places of the body and the defiling objects of touch - the ninth and tenth of the twelve places.
Q2 Questions whether the awareness of touch is dual.
“What do you think? When there is a sensation of the rubbing, where does the ability to make contact lie? Is the ability in the hands or is it in the head?
Where does the sensation of contact lie? Ananda, I’m asking you a question. When you rub your head, a sensation of contact arises. What do you think? When there is a sensation of the rubbing, where does the ability to make contact lie? Your hand is aware of the rubbing, and so is your head. Which is the one that is able to do the touching? Which is the one that is touched? Is the ability in the hands or is it in the head? Does the ability to make contact lie in the hands or in the head? Speak up.
“If it were in the hands, then the head would have no knowledge of it, and how could that be what is called touch? If it were in the head, then the hands would be useless, and how could that be what is called touch?
If it were in the hands, then the head would have no knowledge of it. If you say the touch lies in the hands, then the head would not know when you rubbed it. And how could that be what is called touch? If the head does not know, it cannot be a case of touch. If it were in the head, then the hands would be useless. If you say the power of touch lies in your head, then your hands would not be aware of any sensation. And how could that be what is called touch? Ananda, you explain it for me.
When the monks rub their heads three times, they recite a very meaningful verse, which I will recite for you.
Guard your mouth, collect your mind,
and do not commit transgressions with your body.
Do not bother any sentient being.
Stay far away from non-beneficial ascetic practices.
One who cultivates like this can save the world.
"Guard your mouth” means do not just say whatever you feel like. “Collect your mind” means keep your thoughts from wandering about. Don’t engage in false thinking. Don’t continually seek advantage from circumstances. “And do not commit transgressions with your body.” Make sure you don’t commit offenses with your body.
When the mouth is guarded, it is free of the four evils: it does not engage in abusive language, in lying, in profanity, or in gossip. With a collected mind, one has no greed, hatred, or stupidity. When no transgressions are committed with the body, one does not engage in killing, stealing, or sexual misconduct. Even thinking of such things is not permissible.
"Do not bother any sentient being.” Don’t cause any person or any living being whatever that you come in contact with to give rise to affliction. Don’t give living beings trouble. Even less should you bother the people you are cultivating with. Sometimes you unintentionally make a mistake and cause someone else to be upset. In such a case you should find an opportunity to explain yourself and not just let the problem escalate.
"Stay far away from non-beneficial ascetic practices.” These are bitter practices which are of no benefit, such as the way some people in India imitate the behavior of cows and dogs, sleep on beds of nails, or roll in ashes to cover their bodies with filth. What meaning is there in such practices? What aid is that in cultivating the Way? The filthier you are, the dirtier your mind is. When the outside gets dirty and you are always thinking about filth, your mind is also filthy. These are what are called “non-beneficial ascetic practices.” Do not engage in them. You should do things which are of benefit to people. Do not do things which are of no benefit to people. Stay far away from non-beneficial ascetic practices.
"One who cultivates like this can save the world.” “Like this” means that you do not bother any sentient being, do not engage in non-beneficial ascetic practices, and do not practice the dharmas of externalist sects.
What is meant by the dharmas of externalist sects?
Shakyamuni Buddha practiced the Middle Way. According to his method of cultivation, he taught his disciples to eat vegetarian food, not to eat meat. Or, if they ate meat, to eat the three kinds of pure meat:
- What I did not see killed. You did not see the animal being killed.
- What I did not hear killed. You did not hear the sounds of the slaughter.
- What was not killed for me. The pig or cow or sheep was not killed especially for me.
According to the Buddha’s teaching, it is permissible to eat these three kinds of pure meat if one’s body is not strong.
Thus, the Buddha taught his disciples to eat vegetarian food, and what do you suppose Devadatta did, with his deviant knowledge and deviant views? He thought, “Huh. You teach your disciples to eat vegetarian food, do you? I teach my disciples not to eat salt. They don’t even eat salt.” This practice also exists in Taoism, and is referred to as superior pure vegetarianism.
Actually, it is not in accord with the Middle Way. But, that’s the way Devadatta did it. The Buddha taught his disciples to not eat after noon. In the morning they ate rice gruel and at noon they had a full meal. Every day they ate twice, although the Buddha himself ate only once a day, at noon. He did not eat in the morning, and he did not eat at night. What did Devadatta teach his disciples to do? He taught them to fast for a hundred days. “You eat once a day? I eat once every hundred days. See how much higher I am than you? You eat vegetarian food? I don’t even eat salt. I’m always a bit higher than you.”
He constantly wanted to compete with the Buddha. He kept wanting to pit his dharmas against the Buddha’s, and he always said that the Buddha could not compare with him. So Devadatta provoked King Ajatashatru into killing his father and mother and then told Ajatashatru to become the new king, saying that he himself would become the new Buddha, that Shakyamuni Buddha was the old, decrepit Buddha - Devadatta wanted to overthrow the Buddha so he could become the new Buddha.
But, in the end he messed things up so badly that he fell alive into the hells. He just took his flesh body right along with him to hell. He was intent upon doing things differently from the Buddha, different from the way it is done in Buddhism. This is how externalist sects are. You could also say that Devadatta was battling to be number one. He wanted to be first. He wanted this and wanted that - and in the end his retribution was to fall into the hells! So it is useless to cultivate non-beneficial ascetic practices.
The ancients said about eating meat:
The pots of stew simmered
during hundreds of thousands of years,
Have brewed oceans of deep resentment
into hatred that’s hard to contain.
If you want to know the reason
for the disaster of weapons and troops,
Try listening at the door of a slaughterhouse
to the haunting midnight cries.
"The pots of stew simmered during hundreds of thousands of years,” refers to the meat broths and meat soups which people have been cooking day in and day out for hundreds of millennia.
The pots, “Have brewed oceans of deep resentment into hatred that’s hard to contain”. Resentment as vast as the sea is contained in those pots of beef stew. Such hate and resentment cannot be smoothed over. “If you want to know the reason for the disaster of weapons and troops.” In the past, only hand weapons were used in battle. It was not like the present, when rockets, bombs, and guns make it possible to strike from long range.
Before, soldiers engaged in hand to hand combat. The way it is nowadays is much more vicious. If you want to know why there are wars in the world, “Try listening at the door of a slaughterhouse to the haunting midnight cries.” Go to a slaughterhouse at night - go to a place where cows, pigs, and sheep are killed and listen to the sounds. What do you hear at midnight at a slaughterhouse? Nowadays, slaughterhouses are usually located far away from populated areas, and so the sounds are not easy to hear.
But, we can think about it. People have killed so many living creatures! And, as those creatures are reborn as people, they will want to get revenge. That is why day by day the resentment deepens, day by day the resentment grows. There is no way to resolve it. It has reached the point that the cycle doesn’t even wait for those who have killed to die and become animals before the revenge is taken, people have simply taken to killing off their own kind. You kill me, and I kill you. You killed me in a past life, so now I am going to kill you.
The disaster of weapons and troops is based on killing, and nothing else. That is why Buddhism explains that we must refrain from killing. Instead, we should liberate life and take the precepts.
If one person refrains from killing, the world has that much less violent energy in it - that much less evil influence. If ten people do not kill, then there are ten spots of auspicious energy in the world. Those spots are devoid of negative influences and contain only positive ones. As with a single person, so with the entire world. If you are murderous and kill living beings, then living beings will not have any good feelings toward you. If you are kind to living beings, then the living beings will be good to you. Thus, there is a definite connection between the human realm and the realm of animals.
Time prohibits me from going into detail about this matter of refraining from killing, liberating life, and protecting the precepts. I could easily speak for three months on that topic alone. In fact, in three years I couldn’t exhaust the subject. But, I won’t say any more now. I’ll continue with the sutra text.
“If each had it, then you, Ananda, would have two bodies.
If each had it - if you propose that both your hand and your head have the ability to make contact, so that there is touch in both places - then you, Ananda, would have two bodies. You would have two bodies, because you would have two sensations of touch.
Q3 Questions whether the sensation of touch is singular.
“If there were only one touch in the head and the hand, then the hand and the head would be of one substance. If they were one substance, then no touch would be possible.
If there were only one touch in the head and the hand - you proposed before that there were two powers of touch, one in the head and one in the hand; now you propose that there is only one power to touch - only one contact - not two. But, then the hand and the head would be of one substance. They would be one. If they were, there would be no sensation of contact. If they were one substance, then no touch would be possible. If there is only one touch in the head and the hand, how can touch be experienced? Do you see how this principle is being explained? - wonderful to the ultimate point.
“If they were two substances, to which would the touch belong? The one which was capable of touch would not be the one that was touched. The one that was touched would not be the one that was capable of touch. Nor should it be that the touch came into being between you and emptiness.
If they were two substances, to which would the touch belong? The Buddha has just shown that a single substance cannot be said to experience touch. “If, then, you propose that the head and hand are two substances, making two kinds of touch, in which one does the touch reside? The actual sensation of touch should lie in one of them. Which one is it? It is clear that one will be capable of touch, and the other will be the thing touched. The one which was capable of touch would not be the one that was touched. The one that was touched would not be the one that was capable of touch. You cannot say that they are both capable of initiating the sensation of touch.
For instance, I am now touching this table. Basically the table hasn’t any awareness; but my hand is the one that is capable of touch; while the table is the one that is touched. In the case of the hand and the head, though, which would be which? The one that was touched would not be the one capable of touch. The one that was capable of touch would not be the one that was touched. So, then, which would you say touched which? Would the hand touch the head, or would the head touch the hand? Speak up! Nor should it be that the touch came into being between you and emptiness, since empty space is basically nothing at all.”
Q4 Concludes by returning the false to the true.
“Therefore, you should know that neither the sensation of touch nor the body has a location. And so the two places of the body and touch are empty and false. Their origin is not in causes and conditions, nor do their natures arise spontaneously.
Therefore, you should know - because of the various principles that I have just explained, you ought to know that neither the sensation of touch nor the body - neither the existence of a reaction to touch nor the body - has a location. The sensation of touch does not have a fixed place. You cannot say for certain what it is like.
And so the two places of the body and touch - the place of the body and the place of touch - are empty and false. They are not actual. Don’t become attached to the objects of touch. Don’t get attached and think, “So and so is the fairest of the fair,” and give rise to greed and attachment. It’s empty and false, so what are you doing getting attached to it?
Their origin is not in causes and conditions. The awareness of touch is not produced from causes and conditions, nor do their natures arise spontaneously. Nor are they spontaneously produced from within emptiness. They flow forth from the wonderful nature of true suchness of the Thus Come One’s treasury. But, they are empty and false just the same. Don’t become attached to them. You should return to your origin and return to your own treasury of the Thus Come One. Put down those false characteristics, and return to your genuine basic nature.