I’ve posted a rendering of the discourse we will be starting with on Tuesday, The Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta, the Shorter Discourse to the monk Malunkya. If you have the time to read it before class, please do so; we will read it in class – the discourses were meant to be heard, and they still, I believe, carry most meaning when they are read aloud. But reading the discourse in advance may give you a head start on questions you might want to ask.
Like many suttas, the Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta has a richness of texture: we get a vivid picture of the two old monks—the Buddha and his elderly disciple, probably an old friend, almost certainly a cousin or an uncle in one way or another, whose foibles, impatience, old-man irritability, the Buddha had probably known for a good part of his life. We see those qualities in the old monk, and we see the Buddha’s ironic humor, as he draws out the analogy of the man shot by the arrow to Monty Pythonesque threads of detail; we also see, perhaps, a flash of irritation, and we can wonder how many times has Malunkyaputta put these questions to the Teacher.
Most importantly, though, we get some idea of how the Buddha limited the magisterium of the spiritual tradition he founded. Our society is saddled with competing monotheistic traditions, each of which asserts a comprehensive magisterium—the right to speak with final authority over a wide range of issues, including, most painfully for the conduct of a civil society, the nature of the universe, the fact of evolution, the nature and function of the law courts, the proper conduct of marriage and other life passages. The Buddha, in this discourse, placed a good deal of that matter into the realm of the Undeclared, and asserted quite forcefully that if a person following his teachings wished to save his life and sanity, he would focus on those things that the Buddha has declared—dukkha, craving, the cessation of craving, and the path to that cessation.