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Buddhadharma : Winter 2008
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 08 78 Sabba is the Abraham Lincoln of the Pali lexicon. A word could hardly hail from more humble origins or rise to such giddy heights. Sabba is homespun yet eloquent: it speaks the matter-of-fact and it insinuates the sublime. Sabba realized is the Great Emancipator: “Without directly know- ing and fully recognizing sabba,” says the Buddha, “you will not be able to eliminate distress (dukkha) (Samyuttanikaya, Sabbavagga 5). Sabba means “all.” That’s all. It belongs to the lowly class of linguistic laborers known as pronominal adjectives. That is, when it stands in for a noun or a noun phrase (like “it” just substituted for “the word sabba”), it’s working as a pronoun; but when it further explains, or modifies, a subsequent word (like “subsequent” just did), then it is clocking in as an adjec- tive. All was lost in the flood. All, alas, is never as simple as it appears, is it? As each of us knows, all is everywhere. All is entire, whole, complete in itself. It is total and, well, all-encompassing. “The whole,” as Aristotle reminds, “is something besides its parts ... a unity” (Metaphysics 8.5.1045a). And so religion, from the Mekong to the Mississippi, gives us the grandest Alls of all: the One, the Absolute, the Ever-Present and All-Knowing, the Summum, the Sublime, the Cosmic Father, and the Universal Mother. All, by definition, knows no bounds—particularly when it transmutes into a noun. The German word for “universe” is “das All.” But Gotama was a farmer, not an astronomer. Although he, too, posited an “all,” what he had in mind was something closer to earth than dirt. Let’s listen in on the Buddha’s suc- cinct teaching on sabba: I will teach you the all (sabba). Listen to what I say. What is the all? The eye and forms, the ear and sounds, the nose and scents, the tongue and tastes, the body and tactile objects, the mind and thoughts. This is called the all. Someone might say, “I reject this all, I will declare another all.” But because that is simply a groundless assertion, such a person, when asked about it, would not be able to explain, and would, moreover, meet with distress. What is the reason for that distress? Because that all is not within his or her sensorium. (Samyuttanikaya, Sabbavagga 1.) Sabba kimscafuro Dharma Dictionary glenn Wallis is chair of the applied meditation studies program at the Won institute for graduate studies near Philadelphia, and the author of Basic Teachings of the Buddha (modern librar y). defined by Glenn Wallis