I didn't get it upon first reading "The Lion's Roar on the Turning of the Wheel" (Digha Nikaya #26), but that's what this sutta is all about. I read it on a Sunday afternoon and then went with a friend to see "Dead Man Walking". The underlying cause of Sean Penn's misery in the movie was "bein' poor". The underlying cause of the misery in the Monarch's Realm was that the first non-wheel- turning monarch "did not give property to the needy, and as a result poverty became rife. (verse 10)" And "bein' poor" begat the whole misery of the Realm.

Look at how close "MISERY" is to "MISERlY". This is exactly what the 2nd Noble Truth is all about. This sutta may be presented as a "History of Humans", but that is only the style. The heart of the sutta is that greed, grasping, taking so much that some fall into poverty, leads to misery.

Hoarding is what leads to the misery in the following sutta: "On Knowledge of Beginnings." From laziness comes the the thought "why should I gather rice in the evening for supper and in the morning for breakfast? Why shouldn't I gather it all at once for both meals. (verse 17)" The greed preceding this had not become so strong as to lead to misery (only to coarser kinds of food, just your ordinary everyday unsatifactoriness). But after the hoarding gets underway, thing have gotten so bad by verse 20, that "beings came together and lamented the arising of these evil things among them: taking what was not given, censuring, lying and punishment." "The People's Choice" became the ruler and we know that sort of stuff leads inevitably to Pat Buchanan.

I grew up in the rural South. I saw poverty first hand, though I myself was quite insulated from its ravages. Not all the wild kids I grew up with were poor, but the ones who wound up in bigger trouble sure were. And there did seem to be a greater proportion of wild kids from the poorer families than from those who weren't poor. The town I grew up in was totally segregated into Black and White. It was a relatively peaceful place, even during the height of the Civil Rights movement in the mid 60's when I lived there. But we all knew that those "taking what was not given, lying and [receiving] punishment" were from the Black part of town. And that was the part of town where I really saw poverty first hand.

Sean Penn's character in "Dead Man Walking" grew up dirt poor in the rural South. I know what kind of life poor white trash had, I went to school with those kids, I picked peaches with them in the summertime. Most were fine people, but always somebody slipped through the cracks. The movie did a terrific job of making this "monster" into a human being. And without the least bit of preaching, it pointed directly at poverty, both Black and White, as the underlying cause of much misery.

We are too interconnected to get away with poverty in our midst. The parents of Sean Penn's victims suffered as much as his victims and as much as he himself. We cannot expect to live in a world where greed abounds and to not have the misery of the ensuing poverty flow into our comfortable existence. We can't even expect the overflow to happen in a logical way - we are so interconnected, that when the system is out of balance, we are all touched in ways beyond comprehension.

But despite all this misery, all is not lost. Somebody figures out what to do to get out of misery in both suttas. In the first sutta, the Buddha teaches the King how to end his misery and the King "gives up [his palace] to the ascetics and Brahmins, the beggars, the wayfarers, the destitute (verse 26)" and achieves enlightenment by practicing the path he is taught. The sutta concludes with the listeners being exhorted to also practice the path and achieve enlightenment.

In "On Knowledge of Beginnings" (Digha Nikaya #27), anyone from any caste can follow the path, do the practices, and achieve enlightenment. However, the caste of "He Gladdens Others With Dhamma" (verse 21) is proclaimed to be the best caste because "He with knowledge and conduct is best of gods and men." Both suttas seem to imply that it is the duty of a true leader, a wheel turning monarch, to lead others by both example and by wisdom.

There weren't any wheel-turing monarchs in the movie. Just ordinary folks, doing their best to try and get by. But the light that shone the brightest from the depths of this dark misery was the light of love. Someone was able to reach out a hand to even the lowest in this tragedy. And only that made watching this movie bearable. And only that makes living this life, with its many shades of dukkha, bearable/wonderful.

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Leigh Brasington / / Revised 16 July 12