Headed for darkness or light? Of world’s 7.5 billion people, Tamonata Sutta says there are four types of people, two headed to darkness

The world clock says there are now 7,508,103,134 people in this world. Of these, according to Holy Sutra, there are only “four types of people” — two types headed to “light” and two types headed to “darkness.” This isn’t meant to be judgmental. Buddha was teaching a way to change this outcome. Unlike “thou shalt not” rules, Buddha taught we are the masters of our own outcomes, free to choose, but also free to change. [Full Tamonata Sutta below.]

Once we die, the opportunity to change is gone. This is why Buddha taught “meditation on death” as an important motivational technique. Sadly, according to the world clock, 120,824 people died today and 24,502,284 died this year.

As of 6:11pm on June 3, 2017, population of the world soared well past 7.5 billion. The birthrate is double the death rate. Source: World Clock. [1]

Buddha, speaking of “four types of people,” was not profiling personalities, personas or psychological classifications; nor, was he judging people. Shakyamuni describes the “four types of people” in terms of their destination, their  karmic consequences. Not, what they are now, but what they will become based on their good — or evil — conduct. And, implied in this (and expounded upon in other Suttas) the path to overcome the “darkness.”

The four could be summarized, albeit too simply, as:

  1. A person already in “darkness” who because of misconduct is headed for greater “darkness.”
  2. A person already in “darkness” who because of virtuous conduct is headed for “light.”
  3. A person already in “light” who because of negative actions and conduct is headed for “darkness.”
  4. A person already in the “light” who conducts themselves with virtue is headed back into the “light.”

 

Buddha teaching the Dharma to disciples.

 

It’s not for nothing we call it Samsara — a cycle of suffering.

Someone born into billions might be born in the light, but because of being spoiled by this wealth, become greedy, selfish, and, sometimes, evil. There are good people who become politicians, then become corrupted by power, and are headed for “darkness” in consequence. There are people with nothing at all, who are sleeping on the street, but who — seeing another person in distress — will stop to help that person. But, there are also people in poor circumstances, so angry with their situation, they spiral down and down into “darkness.”

Despite 7.5 billion people in the world, Shakyamuni Buddha’s words of 2500 years ago (give or take) are still true today. These four cover it all in Dharma and Karma terms. Likewise, the child born into billions (mentioned above) could be kind and virtuous and give themselves to helping others. Then, they, born into the “light” can be assured of staying in the light.

 

Mocking a person, gossip, harsh talk are all “misconducts” that hurt other people and therefore also hurt yourself. The negative karma of these acts is a step towards “darkness.”

 

Don’t believe in Karma? It’s difficult to not believe in cause and effect when our entire universe is a result of cause/effect. Every action has a reaction. If you’re rude to someone, chances are they’ll be rude back — or worse. Get angry and hit someone, you might end up in jail. Karma is part of our lives, whether we are Buddhist or not.

Karma is not destiny: you can steer back out of “darkness.”

Yet, more importantly, it’s a recipe for changing this karmic destination. If we are one of the few who practice Buddhism — up to 22% of the world according to some predictions, 14% of the population according to more conservative sources — who live by the Dharma, we can realize that “darkness” does not have to be our destination. It’s never too late, even for a condemned and evil person, to start doing virtuous deeds. Nor does one have to be Buddhist — virtue is enough to build the causes for “light.”

 

Stealing is also a misconduct with severe negative karmic consequences.

 

The billionaire mentioned above, seeing his/her legacy of destruction, can donate a fortune to charity and mitigate their negative karma. It’s not balancing the books — it’s not that simple — but it’s a simple formula. Virtuous deeds help mitigate negative deeds. Avoiding negative deeds is one step towards the light. Undertaking virtuous, charitable, compassionate acts is to actually stride towards the light.

The Ten Non-Virtues

Buddha taught the ten non-virtues to help us navigate our path to light. They are simple and straight-forward, but often we “put them off” — oh a little lie now won’t hurt, I’ll make up for it later. The reality is, that purifying all of this negativity requires vast virtue. For example, the great Tibetan Milarepa, who murdered people in revenge for his family, had to give years of hard labour to purify the negativity, then practice Dharma for the rest of this life.

The ten non-virtues are (in modern talk):

  1. Killing
  2. Stealing
  3. Sexual misconduct (refers generally to adultery or cheating)
  4. Lying
  5. Divisive talk
  6. Harsh talk
  7. Idle Talk (gossip)
  8. Craving (coveting)
  9. Ill-will (wishing bad things on others)
  10. Wrong view: it is wrong view that leads us to commit the first nine misdeeds.

 

AN 4.85

PTS: A ii 85
Tamonata Sutta: Darkness
translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

 

“There are these four types of people to be found existing in the world. Which four? One in darkness who is headed for darkness, one in darkness who is headed for light, one in light who is headed for darkness, and one in light who is headed for light.

“And how is one the type of person in darkness who is headed for darkness? There is the case where a person is born into a lowly family — the family of a scavenger, a hunter, a basket-weaver, a wheelwright, or a sweeper — a family that is poor, with little food or drink, living in hardship, where food & clothing are hard to come by. And he is ugly, misshapen, stunted, & sickly: half-blind or deformed or lame or crippled. He doesn’t receive any [gifts of] food, drink, clothing, or vehicles; garlands, perfumes, or ointments; bedding, shelter, or lamps. He engages in bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, & mental misconduct. Having engaged in bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, & mental misconduct, he — on the break-up of the body, after death — reappears in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. This is the type of person in darkness who is headed for darkness.

“And how is one the type of person in darkness who is headed for light? There is the case where a person is born into a lower class family — the family of a scavenger, a hunter, a basket-weaver, a wheelwright, or a sweeper — a family that is poor, with little food or drink, living in hardship, where food & clothing are hard to come by. And he is ugly, misshapen, stunted, & sickly: half-blind or deformed or lame or crippled. He doesn’t receive any [gifts of] food, drink, clothing, or vehicles; garlands, perfumes, or ointments; bedding, shelter, or lamps. He engages in good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, & good mental conduct. Having engaged in good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, & good mental conduct, he — on the break-up of the body, after death — reappears in the good destination, the heavenly world. This is the type of person in darkness who is headed for light.

“And how is one the type of person in light who is headed for darkness? There is the case where a person is born into an upper class family — a noble warrior family, a priestly family, a prosperous householder family — a family that is rich, with much wealth, with many possessions, with a great deal of money, a great many accoutrements of wealth, a great many commodities. And he is well-built, handsome, extremely inspiring, endowed with a lotus-like complexion. He receives [gifts of] food, drink, clothing, & vehicles; garlands, perfumes, & ointments; bedding, shelter, & lamps. He engages in bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, & mental misconduct. Having engaged in bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, & mental misconduct, he — on the break-up of the body, after death — reappears in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. This is the type of person in light who is headed for darkness.

“And how is one the type of person in light who is headed for light? There is the case where a person is born into an upper class family — a noble warrior family, a priestly family, a prosperous householder family — a family that is rich, with much wealth, with many possessions, with a great deal of money, a great many accoutrements of wealth, a great many commodities. And he is well-built, handsome, extremely inspiring, endowed with a lotus-like complexion. He receives [gifts of] food, drink, clothing, & vehicles; garlands, perfumes, & ointments; bedding, shelter, & lamps. He engages in good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, & good mental conduct. Having engaged in good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, & good mental conduct, he — on the break-up of the body, after death — reappears in the good destination, the heavenly world. This is the type of person in light who is headed for light.

“These are the four types of people to be found existing in the world.” [2]

 

NOTES:

[1] World Clock, population live count. http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

[2] Translation of Sutta: Tamonata Sutta: Darkness” (AN 4.85), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 3 July 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an04/an04.085.than.html

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Lee Kane, Editor

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