Iccha for Anicca
Desire for Impermanence
“Bhikkhus, a certain foolish man learns the prose sections, prose and verse sections, the answers and explanation expositions, stanzas, solemn utterances, thus said sections, birth stories, wonderful things, a series of questions and answers. He thoroughly learns the Teaching but does not examine the meanings with wisdom. So he cannot take pleasure in the Teaching. He learns the Teaching for the purpose of finding fault. He takes a wrong grasp of the Teaching and that conduces for his unpleasantness for a long time. The reason is the wrong grasp of the Teaching. ” – Majjhima Nikaya I, Alagagaddapamasutta. (all English translations are from the publication at www.metta.lk)
This passage came to my mind as I had to listen to a ‘damma desana’ by a layman. He informed us that the Tripitaka had been mistranslated and misinterpreted. One example he gave was on the meaning of ‘Anicca’. His etymological interpretation was ‘an’ + ‘iccha’, or dispassion. Thus we were informed that Anicca does not mean impermanence, that it is a mistranslation.
The lay preacher was either not aware, or refused to accept, that the terms ‘Iccha’ (P. 117) ‘Aniccha (P. 33) and ‘Anicca’ (P. 335) have been spelled differently even by Rhys Davids, because there is a difference in the letter ‘ca’ and ‘cha’. (Pali-English Dictionary, Rhys Davids & William Stede). The Pali language does not have a script of its own, and hence we in Sri Lanka use the Sinhala script, in the samw way we can use the English or Thai or Hindi script.
If we are to take the same examples from the Tripitaka, which were used by the lay preacher – (quotes from Buddha Jayanthi Tripitaka edition),
“…Jatidhammanati avuso, sattanati evati iccha uppajjati..” (P. 516). “..beings have such desires about birth..” Majjima Nikaya, Saccavibhanga Sutta)
“Idha Bhikkhave, bhikkhuno pavittassa viharato nirayattavuttino iccha uppajjati labhaya”. (P258) “Here, bhikkhus, to the bhikkhu abiding secluded without making effort, desire arise for gain”. (Anguttara Nikaya, Labhacca Sutta)
“Cakkam Bhikkhave aniccan, yadaniccan tan dukkhan, yan dukkhan tadanatta”. “the eye is impermanent. That which is impermanent is unpleasant. In unpleasantness there is no self” Samyutta Nikaya, Salayanana Sutta, Anicca vagga (P. 2)
“Sabban bhikkhave aniccati, kinca bhikkhave sabbati aniccan: cakkubhikkhave aniccan” (p 62). “Everything is impermanent. What is impermanent? The eye is impermanent.” S.N. Sabbaniccavagga.
“katamo ca bhikkhave, paticcasamuppanna dhamma? Jaramaranan bhikkhave, aniccan sankhatan paticcasamupannan” (P42) “Monks, what are the things that arise dependently? Monks, decay and death are impermanent, produced by a combination of causes, arise on account of causes” S.N. Aharavagga, paccaya sutta.
The lay preacher’s interpretation was that because death is permanent, the word anicca cannot mean impermanence, probably because he ignored the rest of the line, about the causes and what arises on account of causes. This was just one of the many words which were given different meanings and interpretations. There are other preachers who are attempting to rewrite the entire Tripitaka, unless they have the confidence to also rewrite the Atuwa and Tika, they could give any interpretation they wish, or what some hidden hand wants them to give.
As I listened to the ‘sermon’ I wondered why we are still dependent on listening to what someone had heard. We still go by Evan Mesutan, thugh we are proud that our nation is over 95% literate. We have almost all the teachings of the Buddha written down and available in Sinhala and English.
When we were children, on the poya day as we observed ‘Sil’, we would listen to one sermon. The rest of the day we would read the Buddhist publications available, and during the night, in the calm silent surroundings of the temple, we would meditate and discuss issues which we had read about on that day. But today the ‘Sil’ programs are mostly limited to the day only, with everyone going home at 6.00 p.m. back to their routine. During the day, they have to listen to a sermon by a monk, then another on TV or radio, then another sermon in the afternoon, leaving no time for meditation, reading or discussions.
In the early days, when most lay devotees were ‘illiterate’ or semi-literate’ by today’s standards, the learned monks had to preach to them. But even today when we listen to a sermon, how many of us could concentrate totally on what was said, and understand what was said. If our minds drift away for a moment we miss some of the sermon, and would not be able to hear it again. Yet, when we read, we can pause, think about what we had read, go back a few pages to clarify an issue, discuss with other who have read the same book.
Then why is it that literate, educated, intelligent people still want to listen to sermons. Sometimes, sermons for which we have to pay large sums of money? Before we light many thousands of lamps, before we offer millions of flowers, before we recite the five precepts, before we aim for Nibbana and as the first step to reach the stage of Sotapanna, we should think of our responsibilities, as true followers of the Buddha’s teachings, to our family, to our society, to our country and to our world. Before we think of attaining Nibbana, should we not try to practice loving kindness towards all living things on earth? Should we not try to control our greed and envy?
Today reciting the Five Precepts has become another act out of habit, like the way we recite the national anthem. Today we hear of being able to attain Sotapanna by just listening to a few sermons, even by a lay person, who himself may not have attained such a state. We also hear of institutions where we could receive a certificate confirming we have attained Sotapanna. There are those who preach that no one could attain Sotapanna state by meditation and by contemplation on what the Buddha had taught. It could be achieved only by listening to sermons.
The time has come for the learned Bhikkhus, the Buddhist and Pali scholars and those who believe in the teachings of the Buddha to come together, and take up these threats we are facing today from among our own people. Before we could face threats from external forces who try to undermine the Buddha’s teachings, and the Buddhist way of life, before we try to prevent them from unethical conversions, we should protect the Dhamma from internal threats. We have to expose the false Buddhas, the false preachers, the misinterpretation of the teachings, the intentional confusion created in the minds of the Buddhists by mixing the Buddhist literature with Buddha’s teachings, and about the birth place of the Buddha.
Perhaps we should also look at who is sponsoring and funding these organizations and institutions.
This essay is written only with the intention of drawing the attention of the true followers of the Buddha’s teachings, among us, so we could develop a dialogue urgently and earnestly.