World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


Detachment From The Senses

The passions and cravings of the flesh often arise from the perceptions of the senses. Therefore, subduing desire begins by cultivating an attitude of detachment towards sense perceptions, by regarding them as impermanent, transient, and of no account. This teaching is stressed in the Bhagavad Gita and in Buddhist scriptures. Related is the injunction by Jesus that "if your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away," which is illustrated by the story of the Buddhist nun Subha.

Just as one does not touch a sensuous woman entering an empty house, so is he who does not touch the sense objects that have entered into him, a renouncer, an ascetic, a self-sacrificer.

Hinduism. Maitri Upanishad 6.10

All bodhisattvas, lesser and great, should develop a pure, lucid mind, not depending upon sound, flavor, touch, odor, or any quality. A bodhisattva should develop a mind which alights upon no thing whatsoever; and so should he establish it.

Buddhism. Diamond Sutra 10

When the senses contact sense objects, a person experiences cold or heat, pleasure or pain. These experiences are fleeting; they come and go. Bear them patiently, Arjuna. Those who are not affected by these changes, who are the same in pleasure and pain, are truly wise and fit for immortality. Assert your strength and realize this!...

The disunited mind is far from wise; how can it meditate? How can it be at peace? When you know no peace, how can you know joy? When you let your mind follow the call of the senses, they carry away your better judgement as storms drive a boat off its charted course on the sea.

Use all of your power to free the senses from attachment and aversion alike, and live in the full wisdom of the Self.

Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 2.14-15, 66-68

Monks, there are these three feelings. What three? Pleasant feeling, painful feeling, and feeling that is neither painful nor pleasant. Pleasant feeling, monks, should be looked upon as pain, painful feeling should be looked upon as a barb, feeling that is neither painful nor pleasant should be looked upon as impermanent. When these three feelings are looked upon in these ways by a monk, that monk is called "rightly seeing."

Buddhism. Itivuttaka 47

The five colors make man's eyes blind; The five notes make his hears deaf; The five flavors injure his palate; Riding and hunting make his mind go mad. Goods hard to come by serve to hinder his progress. Hence the sage is for the belly and not the eye. Therefore he discards the one and takes the other.

Taoism. Tao Te Ching 12

If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Christianity. Matthew 5.29-30

In Jivaka's pleasant wood walked Subh-a the bhikkuni. A gallant met her there and barred the way. Subh-a said this to him, "What have I done to offend you, that you stand obstructing me? For it is not fitting, sir, that a man should touch a sister in orders. This has my Master ordained in the precepts we honor and follow. So has the Welcome One taught in the training wherein they have trained me to be purified, disciplined, holy. Why do you stand blocking my pathway? I am pure; you impure of heart; I am passionless, you of vile passions; I am wholly freed in spirit and blameless. Why do you obnoxiously stand obstructing me?" "You are young, maiden, and faultless--what do you seek in the holy life? Cast off that yellow robe and come! In the blossoming woodland let us seek our pleasure. Filled with the incense of blossoms, the trees waft sweetness. See, the spring is at the prime, the season of happiness. Come with me then to the flowering woodland, and let us seek our pleasure.... "Dearer and sweeter to me than are you is no creature on earth, you with languid and slow-moving eyes of an elf in the forest. If you will do my bidding, come where the joys of the sheltered life await you; dwell in a house of verandas and terraces, with handmaidens serving you. Robe yourself with delicate garments, don garlands, use unguents. I will give you many and varied ornaments, fashioned with precious stones, gold work, and pearls. You will mount on a couch fair and sumptuous, carved in sandalwood, fragrant with essences, spread with new pillows, coverlets fleecy and soft..." "What so infatuates you about this carcass, filled with carrion, to fill a grave, so fragile, that it seems to warrant such words?" "Eyes you have like a gazelle's, like an elf's in the heart of the mountains--'tis those eyes of yours, sight of which feeds the depth of my passion. Shrined in your dazzling, immaculate face as in the calyx of a lotus, 'tis those eye of yours, sight of which feeds the strength of my passion. Though you be far from me, how could I ever forget you, O maiden, you of long-drawn eyelashes, you of eyes so miraculous?..." "O you are blind! You chase a sham, deluded by puppet shows seen in the midst of the crowd; you deem of value and genuine conjurer's trick- work.... What is this eye but a little ball lodged in the fork of a hollow tree, bubble of film, anointed with tear-brine, exuding slime- drops, compost wrought in the shape of an eye of manifold aspects?" Forthwith the maiden so lovely tore out her eye and gave it to him. "Here, then! Take your eye!" Her heart unattached, she sinned not. Straightaway the lust in him ceased and he begged her pardon. "O pure and holy maid, would that you might recover your sight! Never again will I do such a thing. You have sore smitten my sin; blazing flames have I clasped to my bosom; a poisonous snake I have handled--but O, be healed and forgive me!" Freed from molesting, the bhikkuni went on her way to the Buddha, chief of the Awakened. There in his presence, seeing those features born of utmost merit, her eye was restored.

Buddhism. Therigatha 366-99, Subha Jivakambavanika

Diamond Sutra 10: Cf. Chuang Tzu 7, p. 728. Itivuttaka 47: Cf. Dhammapada 212-14, p. 927. Tao Te Ching 12: Waley interprets this passage as a criticism of attachment to the senses; 'the belly' is man's inner power, or ch'i, which should be cultivated through meditation while ignoring distractions of the senses. Others interpret the passage in a political sense: the extravagances of the court, pleasing to the eye, ear, and palate, should be rejected in favor of providing ample food for the people, 'the belly.' Matthew 5.29-30: Cf. Majjhima Nikaya i.142-45, p. 929. Therigatha 366-99: Cf. Akkamahadevi, Vachana 15 and 33, p. 931; Precious Garland 149-57, p. 930; Sutta Nipata 205-06, p. 914.

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