Introduction to the sutta

“Monks, an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person feels feelings of pleasure, feelings of pain, feelings of neither-pleasure-nor-pain. A well-instructed disciple of the noble ones also feels feelings of pleasure, feelings of pain, feelings of neither-pleasure-nor-pain. So what difference, what distinction, what distinguishing factor is there between the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones and the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person?”

“For us, lord, the teachings have the Blessed One as their root, their guide, and their arbitrator. It would be good if the Blessed One himself would explicate the meaning of this statement. Having heard it from the Blessed One, the monks will remember it.”

“In that case, monks, listen and pay close attention. I will speak.”

“As you say, lord,” the monks responded.

So this is a fairly standard opening: the Buddha asks the monks a question, which amounts to what’s the difference between “ordinary people” — that is those who have not trained in spiritual disciplines — and those who have trained in those disciplines, when both sets of people experience pleasure and pain.

It’s a good question, actually. The main impetus for exploring spiritual practice is to decrease the amount of suffering we experience, or to put it in terms of what we want, it’s to find greater happiness and wellbeing.

And yet a certain amount of suffering is inevitable. It doesn’t matter how spiritual you are, you’re going to get sick, get old (if you’re lucky), and die. And people you care about are going to get sick, get old, and die, and experience the usual variety of sufferings on the way.

So suffering is unavoidable. And even the least spiritual person is going to experience happiness. So what’s the point of spiritual practice?

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