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Alabbhanīyaṭhāna Suttaṃ

(A.iii.54)

Five Unattainable Conditions

“These five conditions, monks, are unattainable by a recluse, or a priest, or a deity, or a māra, or a Brahma, or by anyone in the world. What five? ‘May something subject to aging,¹ not get old,’ is a condition that is unattainable by a recluse … or by anyone in the world. ‘May something subject to sickness not get sick,’ is a condition that is unattainable by a recluse … or by anyone in the world. ‘May something subject to death not die,’ is a condition that is unattainable by a recluse … or by anyone in the world. ‘May something subject to destruction not be destroyed,’ is a condition that is unattainable by a recluse … or by anyone in the world. ‘May something subject to loss not be lost,’ is a condition that is unattainable by a recluse, or a priest, or a deity, or a māra, or a Brahma, or by anyone in the world.

“For the uninstructed ordinary person,² monks, something subject to aging gets old. He or she does not reflect thus about something subject to aging that gets old: ‘I am not the only one for whom what is subject to aging gets old, it is the same for all living beings who decease and are reborn. If I were to grieve, get depressed, lament, beat my breast, become confused, and stop eating because something subject to aging got old, my body would become of bad colour and I would be unable to do my work, my enemies would be pleased, and my friends would be displeased.’ He or she grieves, gets depressed, laments, beats their breast, becomes confused, and stops eating because something subject to aging gets old. This, monks, is called: ‘An uninstructed ordinary person torturing himself or herself when pierced by the poisonous arrow³ of grief.’

“Again, monks, for the uninstructed ordinary person, [55] something subject to sickness gets sick … something subject to death dies … something subject to destruction gets destroyed … something subject to loss gets lost. He or she does not reflect thus about something subject to loss that gets lost: ‘I am not the only one for whom what is subject to loss gets loss, it is the same for all living beings who decease and are reborn. If I were to grieve, get depressed, lament, beat my breast, become confused, and  stop eating because something subject to loss got lost, my body would become of bad colour and I would be unable to do my work, my enemies would be pleased, and my friends would be displeased.’ He or she grieves, gets depressed, laments, beats their breast, becomes confused, and stops eating because something subject to loss gets lost. This, monks, is called: ‘An uninstructed ordinary person torturing himself or herself when pierced by the poisonous arrow of grief.’

“For the well-instructed noble disciple, monks, something subject to aging gets old. He or she reflects thus about something subject to aging that gets old: ‘I am not the only one for whom what is subject to aging gets old, it is the same for all living beings who decease and are reborn. If I were to grieve, get depressed, lament, beat my breast, become confused, and  stop eating because something subject to aging got old, my body would become of bad colour and I would be unable to do my work, my enemies would be pleased, and my friends would be displeased.’ He or she does not grieve, get depressed, lament, beat their breast, become confused, and stop eating because something subject to aging gets old. This, monks, is called: ‘A well-instructed noble disciple who has taken out the poisonous arrow of grief, pierced by which, an uninstructed ordinary person tortures himself or herself. Sorrowless and free from arrows, the noble disciple does not torture himself or herself.’

“Again, monks, for the well-instructed noble disciple, something subject to sickness gets sick … something subject to death dies … something subject to destruction gets destroyed … something subject to loss gets lost. He or she reflects thus about something subject to loss that gets lost: ‘I am not the only one for whom what is subject to loss gets loss, it is the same for all living beings who decease and are reborn. If I were to grieve, get depressed, lament, beat my breast, become confused, and  stop eating because something subject to loss [56] got lost, my body would become of bad colour and I would be unable to do my work, my enemies would be pleased, and my friends would be displeased.’ He or she does not grieve, get depressed, lament, beat their breast, become confused, and stop eating because something subject to loss gets lost. This, monks, is called: ‘A well-instructed noble disciple who has taken out the poisonous arrow of grieve, pierced by which, an uninstructed ordinary person tortures himself or herself. Sorrowless and free from arrows, the noble disciple does not torture himself or herself.’

“These five conditions, monks, are unattainable by a recluse, or a priest, or a deity, or a māra, or a Brahma, or by anyone in the world.”

“Neither by grieving, nor lamenting,
Can the slightest benefit be gained.
Seeing that one is suffering and grieving,
One’s enemies become pleased.

“When a wise person meets adversity,
He or she does not tremble, knowing what is beneficial.
His or her enemies become dejected,
Having seen that their facial expression does not change.

“By recitations, mantras, and well-spoken words,⁴
Traditional gifts and customs.
Wherever benefit can be obtained,
Just there one should exert oneself.

“However, if benefit cannot be obtained,
By me or by any other.
Without grieving one should accept conditions,⁵
The Kamma is powerful, what can be done now?” [57]

Notes

1. This refers to decay of property as well as to the aging.

2. The uninstructed ordinary person (puthujjana) does not reflect well on impermanence.

3. See the An Exposition of the Salla Sutta.

4. Buddhists will invite monks to chant reflections on impermanence at funerals or memorial services. They recite verses to share the merit of charity and other wholesome deeds to the departed relatives, or they may practise meditation on loving-kindness. Whatever one finds effective should be done to assuage grief, which harms oneself and helps no one. Not only Buddhists, but many grieving over departed relatives find that the most effective remedy is to do some charity in the name of their relatives.

5. Buddhism is not fatalism. If anything can be done it should be done, but if it is clear that the kamma is very heavy and must inevitably give its results, then one must abide in equanimity. Even the Buddha could not intervene to save Moggallāna from being murdered. Due to the past evil kamma of murdering his own parents, Moggallāna had to die in that way and even his own psychic powers were unable to prevent him from being beaten to death.