sketch for a proof of rebir th
my cup; an onlooker who believes that the substance is arsenic says to me ‘Why are you poisoning yourself?’; ‘I don’t understand you,’ I reply ‘I am putting sugar in my tea’. Who is right? Certainly, the consequences of my putting the white substance in my tea will depend on whether it is sugar or arsenic—time will tell. But if I am to investigate my nature there is no doubt at all that my behaviour must be regarded as my intention; for even if the stuff really is arsenic and I do in fact poison myself, yet my nature is clearly to be drinking tea with sugar and not to be putting an end to my life, whatever outside appearances may say. The distinction between my behaviour as it is for other people—externally observed modifications in my body and in the world (of which my body is a part)—and my behaviour as it is for myself—my intention, what I am intending—is of fundamental importance, and if we confound the two we shall condemn ourselves to understand nothing of the matter. See appendix i. Since, therefore, we are concerned with my experience as I myself observe it, my behaviour or action must be understood as my intention, and the external point of view is to be excluded at all times with the utmost rigour. ‘It is intention, monks, that I say is action: in intending one does action by body, speech, or mind.’ (Aπguttaranikåya, VI,vi,9). See appendix vi. My nature, then, is what governs my behaviour, that is to say my intention, in any given circumstances. And it follows from this definition that so long as I have a certain nature my behaviour or intention under similar circumstances must always be the same. Thus, whenever I am given a cup of tea, if I always put sugar in it that is ‘because it is my nature to put sugar in my tea’; and, obviously, so long as this is my nature I shall continue to put sugar in my tea. But what is this nature if not my habit of putting sugar in my tea? It comes to exactly the same thing whether I say that it is my habit to put sugar in my tea, or that I put sugar in my tea because it is my nature to do so. My habit is my nature and my nature is my habit, and we have only to choose which word we prefer. If my behaviour was not always the same under similar circumstances, if in other words it was not habitual, how could I speak of having a nature? (And even if I say that it is my nature to be inconsistent, that can only be because I am inconsistent by habit.) This all sounds very well, but is it correct? While we have been busy examining the credentials of the word behaviour we have allowed the word circumstances to pass unchallenged. What, exactly, do we mean by circumstances? What were the circumstances when I was putting arsenic in my tea under the impression that it was sugar? To the onlooker it was arsenic that I was putting in my tea, but to me, immediately, it was sugar. In other words, if circumstances are seen from the external point
Published on Jun 26, 2013
Part B includes two early essays (Nibbana and Anatta and Sketch for a Proof of Rebirth) as well as notes from a Commonplace Book and Margina...