An Outline of The Buddha’s Discourse
on the All-Embracing Net of Views
It would be understandable if you have overlooked the first Discourse of the Long Discourse of the Buddha. In this discourse, the All-Embracing New of Views, the Buddha identified a total of 62 views that people get caught up in like fish in a net. Despite its paramount importance, this discourse is one of the hardest discourses to comprehend, as well being one of longest - running to 23 pages in the English translation and more than 8000 words. Those who compiled the Buddha’s discourses clearly regarded it very highly to make it the first discourse of the 34 long discourses.
Even with its complexity and sometimes obscure differences of view, the All-Embracing Net of Views is worth meditating on since it address a wide range of religious, spiritual, philosophical and scientific standpoints. The Buddha treated all these views with an equal eye, regardless of how much reverence we treat any of them. In other words, he perceived them as views about ourselves and our relationship to the world and the universe.
In this pivotal discourse, the Buddha also reminded us that our procrastination around views is just another view. He stated that we cling to fixed views, speculative views, views about self and views about the world. The discourse acts as a methodical overview of the range of perceptions, views and opinion through a simple classification of each one.
I remember when I was a monk living in the forest of southern Thailand, under the wise stewardship of Ajahn Buddhadassa, with much time on my hands to meditate on such obscure texts until the wisdom of a discourse shone through – transforming a text from an intellectual exercise into an intuitive depth of realisation. The discourse, the Brahmajala Sutta (Brahma – Divine or All Embracing; jala - net, Sutta – Discourse), was a particularly hard one to comprehend but well worth persevering with. To use a well known analogy of the Buddha, I have tried to squeeze the pure honey’ out of this discourse since countless millions of people today still hold to one or more of these 62 views.
At the beginning of the discourse, it states that the Buddha was travelling along the road between Rajgir and Nalanda in Bihar, India. In the area was another teacher, Suppiya who kept finding fault with the Buddha. Rather than react to praise and blame, the Buddha spoke about ethics encouraging citizens to give support to life, live simply, speak the truth and protect plants. He warned against the 'base arts,' such as ‘making arms, earning a living out of predictions, using animals for sport and mimicking disabled people.’ He said he regarded all of the above as ‘elementary matters of ethics’ that ‘worldly people praise him for’.
Then he made it clear to his audience that what he was about to speak would be ‘hard to see, hard to understand, beyond mere thoughts, subtle, to be experienced by the wise.’ It was a kind of sharp reminder to listen (or in our case read) with total attention.
Warming up to his theme for the day, the Buddha then examined the 62 primary views that he realised obsessed human beings. First he turned his attention to the way we look at the past, and beliefs that we or others cherish, then he turned his attention to view about the future and then the present.
I have summarised the essential views; kept essentially to the spirit and letter of what is stated in the discourse. We may have strongly expressed some of these views ourselves or recognise that many of the views are still commonly held as truth among authorities in the religious, philosophical and scientific communities.
The universe and the self are eternal (indicating that the appearance of change is an illusion)
Eternity through becoming, change and evolution. We are one with Eternity, even while passing away and re-arising, and so we remain forever.
There are those who are eternalists and also non-eternalists. God is eternal, the stable, the permanent, the Creator, the father of all that has been and will be, and we experience mortal lives and appeared after God.
Some beings proclaim themselves as one with God, said the Buddha.
Some beings believe they were originally one with God in heaven but then think ‘oh, if only some other beings would come here” and so come down from heaven as they want others to enter into heaven as well.”
Others have the view that the Eternal is forgotten so we have become addicted to play and pleasure and so have become unstable, shortlived and fated to fall away.
For some whose ‘mindfulness has not dissipated, not addicted to merriment’, believe they ‘will always remain stable and steady, not fated to fall away.
Others, said the Buddha, argue that only the Self is permanent and stable, even though the senses are impermanent.
There are those who believe the universe is infinite, and there are others who believe the universe is finite, while others believe the universe is both infinite and finite.
There are those who are ‘eel wrigglers.’ The Buddha said: “When asked about this or that matter, they resort to evasive statements and wriggle like eels. 'I do not know if this is good or bad,’ they say.
Fearing to make a mistakes, some resort to evasive statements. ‘I don’t say this. I don’t say that. I don’t say otherwise.”
Or they fear being cross-examined and might not be able to reply. Fearing debate, again some resort to evasive statements.
There are those who believe they arose in this world by chance. It is by chance that I now exist. Before I was born I didn’t exist. I have gone from non-being to being. And the same thing happened for the world, too. It was by chance that the world came into being.
Having examined predominant views about the past, the Buddha then turns his attention to the future and especially the views about what happens to us when we die. Some specify that the self exists after we die – either in a material form, immaterial, both or neither, commented the Buddha.
Others deny the continuity of the self. who proclaim our destruction and non-existence after death. The self is annihilated with the break up of the body.
Others say some of the self dissolves with death and something continues that enters a realm of infinite and formless space, infinite consciousness, infinite no-thingness or a realm of neither perception nor non-perception.
Having examined such religious, philosophical and scientific viewpoints about the past and future, the Buddha then turns his attention to those who believe in the power of now.
There are those, he says, who proclaim Nirvana here and now for an existent being. By becoming detached from sense desire and unhealthy states of mind, one abides in different deep absorptions ranging from happiness to deep inner peace and with every deep experience some proclaim it as ‘Nirvana here and now for the self.’
The net of views that humans proclaim involve the past, present or future whether fixed views, speculative ones or evasive.
‘These views grasped and adhered to bring their consequences’ said the Buddha. ‘Having understood the arising and passing away of feelings (and the views that go with them), one sees the attraction, danger and liberation from all views.
He concluded that the eternalists, eternalists and non-eternalists, the infinitists and the non-infinitists, the eel wrigglers, the believers in chance, the self existing or not existing after death, the proclaimers of Nirvana for the self here and now are expressing ‘merely the feeling of those who do not know and see. There will be agitation for those immersed in their desire’ (to hold onto their views), said the Buddha.
As forthright as ever, he concluded: ‘They are all trapped in the net with its 62 divisions.
Just as a skilled fisherman or his apprentice might cover a small piece of water with a fine mesh net, thinking ‘whatever large creature there may be in this water, they are all trapped in the net.’
In meditating on this discourse, we see that these views arise about the past, present and future partly due to belief in the self, and use it as the reference point. Having made contact with thoughts and believing in the self, the range of views arise. For the awakened ones, there is no such reference point, said the Buddha. Standpoints, speculation or equivocation have no meaning.
In other words, a view is a view, an interpretation of the way things are. The description is not the described. No view is worth clinging to. It is said that at the end of this discourse, there was a major earth tremor. Hardly surprising!
Long Discourses of the Buddha (hardback, 648 pages)
A Translation by Maurice Walshe of the Digha Nikaya
Published by Wisdom Publications, Boston. USA.
Discourse on the All Embracing New of views
The Sutta and Its Commentaries
Translated from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi
Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Sri Lanka