'BUDDHISM IN PLAIN ENGLISH' in its series by Phrabhavanaviriyakhun (Phadet Dattajeevo)
FOREWORD TO THE SAMA~N~NAPHALA SUTTA
The word "saama~n~naphala" means the result or fruit of being a monk — or the "point" of ordaining within the Buddhist religion.
The Buddha taught that anyone who keeps purely and strictly to his vocation as a Buddhist monk would receive many benefits. Most things in the world, which you can do have both "pros" and "cons" but ordaining as a monk has only benefits (if the ordained follow his vocation purely).
The benefits received by a monk come sequentially starting with superficial benefits, which can be immediately seen — such as being honoured by the general public, peacefulness of body, speech and mind, the wisdom to consider matters of the world in a more thorough way, real understanding of life and the world — allowing one to be a good friend to oneself, conducting one's life in uncompromised accordance with the teachings of the Buddha, extracting oneself from the influence of defilements and being a good friend to others — pointing to the right way of life practice for others — and ultimately to attain the paths, fruits and Nirvana itself.
Even if one is unable to attain Nirvana in this lifetime, one's experience, accumulated merit and efforts have not been wasted — but will accrue as the foundation for progress in practice in future lifetimes in accordance with the Buddhist proverb:
In the same way that droplets of water can eventually fill a large pot, the wise accrue even small merits and will one day become filled with such merit.
Once a person is replete with merit, that is the day they can enter upon Nirvana — the ultimate goal of the practice of Buddhism
Toward the end of his dispensation the Lord Buddha was residing at Ambavana (the Mango Grove) offered by the physician Jiivaka Komaarabhacca close to Raajagaha the capital of the kingdom of Magadha. At that time the reigning monarch was King Ajaatasattu. The King travelled to meet the Buddha for audience with him in order to ask some questions, which had long been on His Majesty's mind — namely the question of the immediate visible point or benefit of ordaining as a monk or becoming an ascetic. The king had asked the same question beforehand of six other contemporary religious leaders but had not received a satisfactory answer.
The Buddha had explained the benefits of ordaining as a monk sequentially starting with the most obvious benefits and continuing with more subtle benefits.
The Buddha explained that the initial fruits of being a monk including elevating one's former status to the status of one worthy for respect.
The benefits at the medium level included the attainment of meditation states at different levels, such as the first absorption, the second absorption, the third absorption, the fourth absorption, all of which make the mind more stable, joyful and peaceful.
The benefits at the high level included the attainment of Eightfold supra-knowledge:
- knowledge that makes you understand your bodily constituents according to reality [vipassanaa~naa.na]
- mental power [manomayiddhi]
- ability to demonstrate miracles [iddhividhi]
- angelic ear [dibbasota]
- ability to read the minds of others [cetopariya~naa.na]
- the recollection of previous existences [pubbenivasanussati~naa.na]
- knowledge of the arising and passing away of living beings [cutuppata~naa.na]
- knowledge that brings one to an end of defilements [aasavakkhaya~naa.na]
Before explaining the benefits of being a monk at the higher and medium level, the Buddha also outlined the monastic discipline:
As a result of the teaching, King Ajaatasattu requested to take refuge in the Triple Gem and to become a Buddhist for the rest of his life. He also asked forgiveness for having caused the death of his own father — King Bimbisaara — and the Buddha granted him forgiveness.
After the return of King Ajaatasattu, the Buddha revealed that if Ajaatasattu had not murdered his own father, he would have attained the fruit of stream-entry as the result of hearing the teaching.
Those qualifying for benefits from monastic practice
Buddhism is a teaching based on cause and effect. The benefits accruing to a monk do not come as the result of the grace bestowed by any god or angel — but as the result of his own earnest efforts and striving in accordance with the Buddhist proverb:
"You shall reap whatever you sow." [DhA. 25/17]
The Buddha laid down clear guidelines for monastic practice. Whoever practices strictly in accordance with those guidelines (not compromising according to his own convenience or whim) i.e. who has set up the proper conditions — then the expected outcomes (the Saama~n~naphala) will arise for him. Thus if a monk wants to see results from his ordination he must practice in accordance with the monastic discipline, not just study it or remember it. He must not be like the monk who can repeat many Buddhist teachings but who never practices in accordance with those teachings and thus has no part in the fruits of ordination just like a cow-herd who does (no more than) count head of cattle for someone else ('s benefit).
Even those who are very familiar with Buddhist teachings but who are reckless with those teachings and do not practice in accordance with them — get no more benefit from the teachings than a herd gets from someone else's cattle despite counting them in the morning as he receives them and making sure he returns the same number in the evening. He never has tasted the curds or the cheese made from the milk.
Why the monastic life is the most noble
The Buddha taught that, the life of the householder is a narrow path which attracts dust. The ordained life is a spacious path. The Buddha referred to the household life as narrow because the opportunities for accruing merit and practising Dhamma are minimal compared to the opportunities of a monk. Householders have to devote a lot of time to their families, earning their living — sometimes so much so that they do not even have time to venerate the Triple Gem each day. Furthermore householders have so little opportunity to study the Dhamma that even though they might refer to themselves as a Buddhist, they do not know how a Buddhist should regard and discern what is good or evil, what are root causes in the world [yonisomanasikaara] in order to avoid blundering into craving and ignorance. Without such discernment, it is the nature of people just to fall under the sway of their defilements such as greed, hatred and delusion. In such a condition householders tend to use up all their time with worldly matters and lose the opportunity to better themselves spiritually. This is why the Buddha called the household life a "narrow path".
It does not make any difference whether you are a distinguished householder in the aristocracy or disadvantaged householders whose life is from hand-to-mouth — the path is no less narrow. In society our acquaintances comprise both good and evil people — sometimes we can choose who we associate with, sometimes not. The less scrupulous acquaintances can be the reason why we add the toll of bad karma for ourselves in various ways. Trying to get the advantage —trying to be competitive, trying to make a profit, which might ultimately lead us to harm others physically — and this is the reason why the Buddha described the household life as "attracting dust".
For as long as we are still leading the household life, it is hard to find time seriously to work on ourselves to extract ourselves from the influence of defilements — and ultimately that extends the length of time we have to spend undergoing the suffering of the cycle of existence — endlessly perhaps if we blunder into committing serious karma of violence or cruelty — and we have to make amends in the hell realms without anyone else being able to help us in our plight. It is for this reason that the Buddha encouraged ordination and praised the nobility of ordination as a "path of spaciousness".
The importance of the Saama~n~naphala Sutta
The Saama~n~naphala Sutta explains to us the reasons for ordination; once one has ordained, how one must practise and not practise; the results of correct practice at various levels of advantage with the ultimate — that the Buddha called the "utmost of the Brahma-faring [brahmacariya]" — until the monk can understand for himself the meaning of the Buddha's words that one's life as a true monk within the Dhammavinaya is the most noble life.
Apart from giving benefit to monks themselves who are already pursuing the Brahma-faring, the Saama~n~naphala Sutta also has many useful messages for the household reader:
1. The Monastic Standards: The information contained in the Saama~n~naphala Sutra is advice at the level of principals and virtues of a true monk — because the Sutta paints a clear picture of the ideal monk — no matter whether they are a Buddhist monk or a monk from another religion — and the sort of principals as virtues he should have.
Such information is useful for householders — to know and be selective about monks — whether they are practising properly or not. Whether they are earnest or lax, whether they can offer us a refuge or not. In such a way, we can avoid paying too much attention to monks teaching unorthodox or possibly damaging practices — and to protect ourselves from becoming a tool for undisciplined monks or from being gullible in the face of monks practising outside the guidelines laid down by the Buddha.
2. Conduct towards Monks: After reading the Saama~n~naphala Sutta, householders will have a clearer understanding of how they should interact with monks in order to facilitate the way they keep the Vinaya — for example, the lesser discipline [cuulasiila], intermediate discipline [majjhimasiila] and greater discipline [mahaasiila] of the monk. If they wish to procure knowledge, goodness or merit from a monk, how should they conduct themselves? Even though they have not ordained themselves, they can still have extended opportunities for accruing wholesomeness — by being a real support to monastic work, by facilitating the emergence of peace in the world.
3. Preparing Oneself for Ordination: Even though householders may not have decided to ordain in the present time, if one day in the future they should decide to ordain, with the understanding he has obtained from the Saama~n~naphala Sutta he still has sufficient understanding to be able to prepare himself correctly to get real benefit from the ordination experience — and will thereby manage to avoid becoming the sort of monk who undermines the future of Buddhism by confusing the public or creating controversy.
When it comes to his time for ordination, he will be able to be selective about where he ordains and with whom he ordains (his preceptor) in order to get real benefits from the ordination experience.
If he should choose to take lifelong ordination, he will truly be able to align himself to attain the paths and fruits of Nirvana. If he should choose, take temporary ordination (such as men who ordain for the duration of the rainy season according to Thai tradition) then his ordination will not be devoid of the advantages highlighted by the Lord Buddha. Ordination will help him to gain Buddhist discretion of wholesomeness [yonisomanasikaara] which will bring direct benefits when he returns to the household life. It will bring indirect benefits to his family, society, and the nation at large — giving life and perpetuity to Buddhism for future generations.
4. Offering the Principals of Buddhism in a Nutshell: the Saama~n~naphala Sutta offers a succinct understanding of both Buddhist principles and methods of practice. From the Sutta the picture is clear that Buddhism is a religion of cause and effect.
Cause in this case means the ways of practice the Buddha gave as guidelines for monastics to follow or avoid.
Effect is the outcome, which the practitioner can expect to receive as a result of practice — there are many successive levels.
The Saama~n~naphala Sutta is thus an incomparable source of information for both monks and religionists who can take its principles as a blueprint for successful administration of religion towards success stability and harmony. For this reason monks need to understand and apply the principles and practices of the Saama~n~naphala Sutra in their own lives, throughout their lives.
Those who master the Saama~n~naphala Sutta will be able to explain Buddhism correctly, succinctly and lucidly to others — even five or ten minutes is enough to give newcomers the knowledge for them to think Buddhism through to an understanding for themselves. Even those subscribing to other religions can learn much from the Saama~n~naphala Sutta in a comparative way to find similarity of principles and practice between their religion and Buddhism — and to reach a state of peaceful co-existence with Buddhists instead of coming into dogmatic conflict.
5. The Acquisition of Perfections: the Saama~n~naphala Sutta is of particular interest to those interested to pursue perfections. The understanding gained from this Sutta will allow those pursuing perfections to do so to the utmost, following confidently in the footsteps of the Lord Buddha and the arahants, without mistake — with the capacity to attain the paths and fruits of Nirvana — and even while still training oneself, to gain guidelines for what it is beneficial to pursue and what to avoid.
From all that has been outlined above, the reader will see that the Saama~n~naphala Sutra is indeed a miraculous teaching — indicating the correct path of practice for monks and those pursuing enlightenment while also giving a precious outlook for practising householders.
BACKGROUND TO THE SAAMA~N~NAPHALA SUTTA
Magadha: Buddhism's First Foothold
The kingdom of Magadha was prosperous in the time of the Buddha because it contained three rivers. It was bounded on the east by the River Campa, on the west by the River Sona and on the north by the River Ganges. Its capital city was Raajagaha. The kingdom was endowed with wealthy bankers such as Mendaka, Jotiya, Jatila, Punnaka and Kakavaliya. Magadha was also the home kingdom of knowledgeable scholars such as Moggallaana, Saariputta and Kassapa. In the (five) mountains called the Pa~ncakiri surrounding the capital of Raajagaha, there were caves where it was traditional for hermits and ascetics to take up residence in order to train themselves.
Bimbisaara: A King of Righteousness
The king of Magadha, Bimbisaara was also a man of great talent and sensitivity. He was expert in diplomacy and built up an alliance with the neighbouring kingdom of Kosala by taking the Kosala Devii as his Queen. He also annexed the kingdom of A"ngaa (by killing King Brahmadatta in the times before he learned the teachings of the Buddha — after meeting the Buddha and attaining stream-entry, he subsequently lost interest in power). He also made an alliance to King Pukkusaati of Gaandharaa by corresponding with him on subjects of Dhamma. He was to send Jiivaka to heal King Ca.n.dappajjota of Avanti and he was the one to donate Ve.luvana Monastery for the use of the Buddhist monastic community. Although Bimbisaara was a benefactor for the best part of his life, the bad karma from having slain Brahmadatta of A"ngaa was eventually to catch up with him. Soothsayers predicted that he would be murdered by his own son Ajaatasattu as a result of his waging war in his earlier days. Seeing that Prince Ajaatasattu was indeed growing up into a strong and ambitious youth he tried to instil virtue in his son by taking him to see the Buddha. His efforts, were however to no avail because Ajaatasattu was to kill him in the end.
Devadatta: The Jealous One
Ajatasattu's murderous intentions were elicited through his association with the Buddha's jealous cousin Devadatta. Devadatta was a monk, but in spite of his efforts in meditation because his mind was clouded by jealousy, he could attain only the absorptions [jhaana] and could not progress to any higher states. Devadatta conceived a plan whereby he could murder the Buddha and lead the monastic community in his place. He decided to try and win over Ajaatasattu as a fellow conspirator. He used the mental powers attained by his meditation to appear to Ajaatasattu as child to Ajaatasattu and before his very eyes, turned gradually back to his normal appearance. Ajaatasattu was thus beguiled into faith for Devadatta and would do all he said. Devadatta's mental attainments (ability to enter the absorptions in meditation) subsequently disappeared because of all his evil intentions and False View, but Prince Ajatasattu's support for him did not wane. Subsequently, Devadatta interrupted the Buddha in the middle of a sermon to royalty to request the Buddha to retire from his position as leader of the Buddhist monastic community and let him reign in his place. Devadatta said the Buddha was too old to lead the Sa"ngha any more. The Buddha politely turned down Devadatta's offer to take over from him. Not easily dissuaded from his efforts, Devadatta made the same request three times. After the third request, the Buddha explained:
"Devadatta! Even though Saariputta and Moggallaana are very accomplished, I have never considered to let them lead the Sa"ngha in my place — much less would I ever consider to allow you — who are no better than a corpse frittering away the monastic requisites as if they were no more than worthless spittle — to lead the Sa"ngha."
Ajaatasattu commits patricide
Undissuaded from his mission, Devadatta hoped to find an ally in Ajaatasattu. He hoped to undermine the Buddha's power by disposing of King Bimbisaara who was one of his most influential supporters. He visited Ajaatasattu often and persuaded him with arguments such as:
"In the olden days our lifespans were much longer, but nowadays we cannot be sure — who knows if you will live to succede to throne while still in the prime of life…"
Even though the plan to kill his own father was monstrous, because of his trust in Devadatta, he was convinced. Even though Ajaatasattu was convinced to follow through with the patricide, it didn't mean that his mind wasn't full of guilt and hesitation. He had always had great respect for his father. When his plans were overheard by the courtiers, he confessed all of his plans to them. In response to the plans, the courtiers in the palace became divided amongst themselves, subscribing to one of three different types of opinion about what should be done.
The third group was in the majority and King Bimbisaara was informed of the whole affair. When King Bimbisaara heard the news, instead of being angry, gave up the throne to Ajaatasattu immediately and wholeheartedly. At the same time he ordered the courtiers in the first group to be dismissed, the courtiers of the second group to be demoted and the courtiers of the third group to be promoted and given a special pension! The king's punishment and rewards for the courtiers created disharmony in the palace. From that day on, although Ajaatasattu was anointed King of Magadha, he was still suspicious of his father. Devadatta fanned the flames of suspicion saying that for as long as Bimbisaara was still alive, Ajaatasattu would not be safe — the courtiers in the palace still had their old allegiances. Accordingly, Ajaatasattu decided to put an end to the matter by putting his father to death by torture in the most cruel way possible. Bimbisaara was imprisoned by his son in a prison cell — and there he was left to starve. As if that wasn't enough, his prison cell was constantly filled with smoke by Ajaatasattu. However, because Bimbisaara had already attained the level of stream-entry in his meditation, he was able to survive the smoke and starvation inflicted on him, by walking meditation keeping his mind full of the bliss of his meditation. Hearing that Bimbisaara was not yet dead, Ajaatasattu had his barber slice the soles of Bimbisaara's feet with a razor and had salted ghee rubbed into the wounds. The soles of Bimbisaara's feet were then roasted with red-hot embers in an attempt to stop Bimbisaara from his walking meditation. Eventually Bimbisaara died from the extreme suffering inflicted upon him. (Some wonder what such highly attained and righteous king should have done to die in such a violent way — but in a previous lifetime he had refused to remove his shoes before entering a pagoda and had soiled both the pagoda and mats laid for the congregation to hear a Dhamma sermon with the dirt on his shoes). This bad karma combined with the murderous karma he had accrued for himself earlier in life when he fought on the battlefield against neighbouring kingdoms.)
On the very day Bimbisaara passed away, a first son was born to Ajaatasattu. Experiencing for the first time the love of a father for his son, Ajaatasattu realized with remorse the error of his ways in imprisoning his father — but his intention to release his father came too late and Ajaatasattu learned of his father's death with grief and guilt. Bimbisaara's queen, the Kosala Devii, was so filled with grief by the news of Bimbisaara's death that she could not bear to set eyes on Ajaatasattu ever again. She returned to Savatthii, the capital of Kosala and was to die there of grief. The queen's death earned Ajaatasattu yet more enemies in Kosala and King Pasendi marched against Magadha, capturing back the town of Kaasi as a punishment. King Candapajjota of Avanti also mustered troops in preparation to march against Magadha on hearing news of Ajatasattu's ingratitude. From the time of Bimbisaara's death, Ajatasattu's mind was so filled with remorse and unrest that even though he was to go to bed at night, he could no longer get a wink of sleep — all he could do was to lie awake at night thinking about his sorrows.
Ajaatasattu wondered about the point of being a monk.
Reflecting on the reason for all his new-found troubles, Ajaatasattu realized that they had come from one single cause — the advice of Devadatta. King Ajaatasattu wondered what possible reason could be behind a monk, who should be an exemplar of virtue and morality and who furthermore was a cousin of the Buddha himself, wanting to persuade someone to commit patricide? Serious doubt arose in Ajatasattu's mind of the virtue of being a monk at all — if this was way monks in general conducted themselves. He wondered if his whole kingdom was full of other "monks" creating exactly the same harm as Devadatta had done to him. Ajaatasattu was seriously perplexed by such a prospect. Even though he knew that in any spiritual community, there must be extremes of both good and bad members — how could an outsider recognize whether a monk could be trusted or not? Not only would there be many varieties of monks — the disciplined and the undisciplined — but the differences did not stop there — there were a wide variety of spiritual traditions in India to choose from too — and each had their own definitions of what represented a good monk. The question of the definition of a 'true monk' so perplexed Ajaatasattu that he took every opportunity to seek an answer to his question — partly to satisfy his own curiosity and partly to protect his citizens from being cajoled by shameless monks into actions of karma so heavy as patricide. In Buddhism there are five actions of karma as heavy as that of patricide. This category of karma is called the heaviest karma [anantariyakamma]:
1. killing one's own mother [maatughaata] 2. killing one's own father [pitughaata] 3. killing an arahant [arahantaghaata] 4. harming a Buddha to the degree that the Buddha is bruised [lohituppaada]. An example of such karma was caused by Devadatta himself who tried to kill the Buddha by dislodging a boulder onto him from high up in the Gijjhakuta mountain. The murder attempt caused a stone splinter to bruise the Buddha's foot (this being the maximum harm someone can inflict on a Buddha). 5. creating a schism in the monastic community [sa"nghabheda]. Inciting conflict in the monastic community or leading the monastic community divisively to the point that two parts of the monastic community can no longer share in monastic rites [sa"nghakamma] such as revision of the patimokkha every fifteen days or the ceremony of "inviting criticism" [pavaara.naa]. An example of such karma was caused by Devadatta out of spite after being defeated in his attempt to have the Buddha adopt five new 'holier-than-thou' rules by the monastic community. Even though the Buddha refused to adopt the rules, Devadatta persuaded many of his fellows to divide themselves from the rest of the monastic community by adopting the "Five Rules" and to go for revision of the monastic discipline [paa.timokkha] separately at Gayaasiisa.
After making the rounds of six major teachers in vain, trying to find a comprehensible answer to his dilemma, King Ajaatasattu was to receive a clear answer from the Lord Buddha and from that time onwards was to adopt the Triple Gem as his refuge. This is the background to the Saama~n~naphala Sutta.
SEEKING AUDIENCE WITH THE BUDDHA RESIDES AT AMBHAVARA
Ambhavana Temple was situated between Raajagaha city wall and Gijjhakuta Mountain. Formerly the temple grounds had belonged to Jiivaka Komaarabhacca, but later he was to offer it to the Lord Buddha. At that time, Jiivaka had offered healing to Buddha until the Buddha had regained health. Jiivaka had offered two fine robes and had consequently attained stream-entry. Subsequently it occurred to him that he should follow up the health of the Buddha more often (two or three times per day) but found that neither Gijjhaku.ta or Ve.luvana Temple were sufficiently close to Raajagaha to allow him to make his medical visits. Thus Jiivaka had a temple built on his own land at Ambhavana and had a red-painted wall eighteen-cubits high wall built around it together with sufficient accommodation to serve the needs of the Buddha and the monastic community. He offered the completed temple to the Sa"ngha.
On this occasion, the Buddha was in residence at Ambhavana with 1,250 monks and the news of his sojourn reached all people of Raajagaha — news which greatly interested King Ajaatasattu.
After killing his own father King Ajaatasattu had become full of guilt — so much so that he hadn't been able to sleep from the day of his father's death. King Ajaatasattu felt need to search for holy men who could give him advice to relieve his anguish.
The tradition of the Ariyan people in those days was that every full-moon day, disciples would go to their respective temples in order to discuss spiritual matters with their teacher. Seeing that it was the full-moon night, Ajaatasattu exclaimed:
"Which holy master should I go to hear the teachings of tonight who will help to lighten my heavy heart"
Each of the courtiers suggested their favourite holy master of the time for the king's consideration. Each waxed lyrical about how great a community leader, how famous, how honoured, how publicly praised, how senior, how long-ordained was their sect leader. Each of the six contemporary religious gurus were mentioned:
1. Pura.na Kassapa
2. Makkhali Kosaala
3. Ajita Kesakamphol
4. Pakuddha Kaccaayana
5. Sa~njaya Vela.t.thaputta
6. Nigantha Naa.taputta
Each of the courtiers wanted to attract the king to be patron to their favourite teacher so they could receive a more trusted position from the king. In fact King Ajaatasattu had already been disappointed at the hands of all six teachers but was too polite to say so. He just looked at Jiivaka. Jiivaka kept his silence wanting to measure the King's strength of interest to visit the Buddha. King Ajaatasattu asked "Jiivaka why are keeping quiet?" Jiivaka knew that the King wanted to visit the Buddha but was scared to go himself because of guilt about his killing his own father Jiivaka told the King that the Buddha was at Ambhavana with 1,250 monks.
Jiivaka praises the Buddha
Jivaka praised the nine virtues of the Buddha with the words:
1. the Lord Buddha is pure of defilement, worthy to teach others, worthy of homage [namo tassa bhagavato arahato].
2. the Buddha is endowed with the highest mindfulness able to gain enlightenment by his own efforts [sammaa sambuddho].
3. the Lord Buddha is endowed with wisdom to have insight into all things, past, present and future, of the mundane and transcendental. Endowed with the highest conduct - with no-one his equal [vijjaa cara.na sampanno].
4. The Lord Buddha is "Well-gone" — bringing benefit wherever He sets foot, can lead beings to Nirvana (that has happiness alone and no suffering) [sugato].
5. The Lord Buddha is a seer of the world — knowing the nature of worldly existence, the suffering of cycle of existence - knows nature of being of the world who himself has nature of freedom from worldly ways, and is a refuge to beings of the world who are still caught up in worldly ways [lokavidu].
6. The Lord Buddha can train those suitable for training — being an unsurpassed excellent trainer of men knowing the mind of people of the world so that he can give training according to the disposition of the these people [anuttaro purisadammasaaratthi].
7. the Lord Buddha is a leader of men and angels because of the excellent qualities with which he is endowed, he is accepted and respected without question by both angels and men as their teacher [sattha sevaamanussaana.m].
8. the Lord Buddha is awakened and joyous — awakened from superstition practices, and able to awaken others from such gullibility — because He is no longer attached, deluded, or grasping — He is joyous, refreshed and unendingly happy [buddho].
9. the Lord Buddha is one able through His higher wisdom to analyse the Dhamma into groupings, headings and points — convenient for study and choice of practice according to disposition of the practitioner — unsurpassed and unequalled by any other world teacher [bhagavaa].
All other courtiers remained silent because they were amazed that any world teacher could be to well endowed with virtue. Meanwhile, King Ajaatasattu had many reasons for wanting audience with the Buddha:
Ajaatasattu agreed to go to see the Buddha and had Jiivaka prepare the royal procession.
The procession consisted primarily of elephants - one for Ajaatasattu and five-hundred for his followers. Five-hundred (female) consorts were disguised as soldiers with swords, spears and daggers to frighten away enemies. Jiivaka positioned himself close by the king to be the first to lay down his life for the king if there should be any danger. Ajaatasattu was suspicious by nature and it was not often that the king would travel outside the closed city gates at night. The women would be no risk themselves to the king and would shield the king in case of ambush because enemies would never harm women. There was a section of the route where the moonlight would be obscured by Gijjhaku.ta's peak — presenting an obvious lair for ambush. Jiivaka wanted to avoid the king even suspecting danger. Furthermore, if Ajaatasattu had gone alone, maybe the Buddha would not have taught anything seeing that Ajaatasattu was beyond help — but if accompanied by a retinue, the Buddha would decide to teach for the benefit of the followers.
When the intention of the king was announced in the town, the people of the town forgot their festivities and brought flowers and incense to line roadside where the royal procession would pass.
Evil-doers are wont to suspicion
As procession neared Ambhavana the music was stopped out of respect. The elephants walked quietly. At the part of the route where the moon was obscured by the mountains, the king suddenly became fearful of ambush. The king feared deceit by Jiivaka because he could hear no single sound made by the 1,250 monks supposed to be there.
"You are not trying to trick me, are you, friend Jiivaka? You are not deceiving me, are you, friend Jiivaka? You are not betraying me to my enemies, are you friend Jiivaka? How indeed can it possibly be that with twelve hundred and fifty members of the bhikkhu community here, there should be no voice to be heard, not even a sneeze or a cough?"
Jiivaka's was within a hair's breadth of his life, but he reassured the king that the Buddha would not cheat him and that the large number of monks could be clearly seen by the number of lamps lit ahead.
As he came closer to the Buddha and all the assembly was still in silence without even a cough. The next fear of the Buddha was that the Buddha would not receive him.
The king asked, "Which monk is the Buddha?"
Jiivaka replied, "The Buddha is the monk sitting with his back against the central pillar facing East sitting in honour among the members of the bhikkhu community."
QUESTIONS ON THE MIND OF KING AJAATASATTU
King Ajaatasattu appreciated the silence of the monastic assembly so much that he exclaimed, "If only my own son Bhata could have such a peaceful heart as these monks!"
The nature of people who see something they like is to think one step further to want to possess that thing or be like that thing. Perhaps it was half out of fear of becoming victim of parricide at the hands of his own son.
The Buddha knew what was on Ajatasattu's mind and greeted him with the words "Your majesty has arrived together with love". This put the King immediately at ease and kind admitted "Oh! That my own son could have such a peaceful heart as the assembly of bhikkhus".
The question of the fruits of monkhood
The King bowed to the Buddha, and keeping hands in a gesture of prayer sat down at one side. He then asked permission to ask a question of the Buddha:
"The general public use their knowledge and ability to earn their living to support themselves, their family and their parents. The rest of their wealth they offer in support of the ordained community for benefit in this lifetime and the next. As for becoming a monk - what is the benefit in this lifetime?"
The Buddha knew that King Ajaatasattu had asked the same question of the other six teachers. Before answering, the Buddha intended to show Ajaatasattu the weaknesses of the other six teachings. However, if the Buddha was himself to mention those weaknesses, followers loyal to those teachers would pay no attention to His teaching — but of the criticism came from Ajaatasattu himself, they would accept those observations.
The Responses of Contemporary Teachers
The Buddha asked where King Ajaatasattu had already asked the question and what answer he had received. King Ajaatasattu replied that:
1. Pura.na Kassapa had answered, "There is no such thing as merit or demerit" — no matter how heinous one's action — killing, stealing, committing adultery or lying (also no matter how good your actions of generosity, self-discipline or meditation) — nothing makes a difference to one's quality of life. It is likely that Pura.na Kassapa answered this way to try to win over the King — to make him think that killing his father did not matter. The King had not shown his dissatisfaction with the answer, but had taken his leave.
2. Makkhali Kosaala had answered, "All beings in the world are born and reborn at random. After being born and reborn for long enough, they will become pure of their own accord." It is likely that Makkhali Kosala answered this way to try to win the King over — to make him think there is no need to make any special effort in order to become pure. The answer did not fit the question. The King had not shown his dissatisfaction with the answer, but had taken his leave.
3. Achita Kesakamphol had answered, "Evil or virtuous actions have no effect. This world and the next do not exist. Mother and father have done us no favour, spontaneous birth is non-existent, it is impossible for anyone to become enlightened or to teach others to become enlightened, death is the end of the story. It is likely that Achita Kesakamphol answered this way to try to win over King Ajaatasattu as someone who had killed his own father. The King had not shown his dissatisfaction with the answer, but had taken his leave.
4. Pakuddha Kaccaayana had answered, "Our life consists of seven types of "aggregates" earth, water, fire, air, happiness, suffering and life force. Killing someone is no more than piercing your weapon between the spaces between the various elements. It is likely that Pakuddha Kaccaayana answered this way to try to win over King Ajaatasattu as someone who had killed his own father. The King had not shown his dissatisfaction with the answer, but had taken his leave.
5. Nigantha Naa.taputta had answered, "The purity of people depends on fluid. Jain monks must have restraint of the four senses: Prohibiting water, consisting of water, getting rid of water and being sprinkled [prabram] with water. Restraint of the water can purify you of all defilements. The King had not shown his dissatisfaction with the answer, but had taken his leave.
6. Sa~njaya Vela.t.taputta could not answer so gave a dizzying rendition of his own beliefs. The King had not shown his dissatisfaction with the answer, but had taken his leave.
King Ajaatasattu said it was like asking about a mango and getting an answer about a jackfruit or vice versa. The reason was because none of those six teachers knew the point of being a monk but simply wanted to describe their own beliefs in the hope that the King would support them.
Beliefs contemporary to the Buddha
The beliefs of other contemporary schools at the time of the Buddha can be summarized as follows:
1. Pura.na Kassapa subscribed to 'akiriyadi.t.thi' which is assumption about the non-efficacy of action. According to this school, evil action has no effect if no one sees or knows or catches you red-handed. There is no result of doing evil. Goodness can only have an effect if someone sees you do it and praises or rewards you.
2. Makkhali Kosala subscribed to 'ahetukadi.t.thi' which is assumption that retribution is random and doesn't depend on action. Fortune or misfortune depends on fate. You can do nothing to change it.
3. Ajita Kesakamphol subscribed to 'natthikadi.t.thi' and 'ucchedadi.t.thi' which are the assumptions respectively that there is no self — one is just an aggregate of elements — and that death is the end of the story. Our body consists of nothing but elements so there is no doer for an action. 'Ucchedadi.t.thi' relies on the assumption that there is nothing left to store karmic information beyond death. Thus, because there is no merit or demerit, stupid are those who give and the smart are those who receive.
4. Pakuddha Kaccayana subscribed to 'sassatadi.t.thi' which is the assumption that the body is made of permanent elements, that the mind is also unchangeable — eternal even when body breaks up. Nirvana is no more than knowing the relationship between body and mind.
5. Nigantha Naa.taputta subscribed to 'atthakilanathanuyoga' (the major tenet of Jainism) which is the assumption of the efficacy of self-mortification as a means of spiritual furtherance. This is a religion of naked ascetics where reality depends on your point of view.
6. Sa~njaya Vela.t.thaputta subscribed to 'amaravikkhepikadi.t.thi' which is an assumption of uncertainty, a mistrust of principles like an eel moving through water. Followers of this tradition would negate everything because: they were scared of telling lies, scared of dogma, scared they will be asked and basically ignorant.
All of these categories of heretical views are considered as 'False Views' [micchaa di.t.thi] by the Lord Buddha.
The Positive Backlash of Extreme Evil
If you were to analyse the thoughts and assumptions in the mind of King Ajaatasattu you would find that he was not unintelligent because at the very least he had the conscience to realize the gravity of the evil deed he had done. The king even tried to do his own spiritual research to find a way to make amends for what he had done, and not to allow himself to slide further down the slippery slope of unwholesomeness, by seeking out the leaders of various spiritual traditions — especially those of the six contemporary spiritual leaders mentioned above.
Having heard the teachings of those six contemporary teachers, the king was able to discern that the beliefs propounded by those teachers were in fact 'False View' and he had left the ashrams of those teachers without indicating any displeasure at those teachings but without taking them seriously either. From the king's behaviour, two things can be concluded:
1. his discretion was sufficiently sharp to 'see through' the pretence of those six teachers — which might come as a surprise for those who thought him gullible in his reasoning, to have been so easily 'taken in' by Devadatta.
2. he didn't give his patronage to those contemporary teachers, but at the same time, he didn't openly dismiss them or discredit them.
To analyse what must have happened to King Ajaatasattu to abandon his usual discretion and be 'taken in' by Devadatta to the point he did the extreme evil deeds Devadatta suggested can only be accounted for by his mind having been obscured by the darkness of defilements, to the degree he could find no way out of his delusion.
The key defilement to which King Ajaatasattu succumbed was 'delusion' [moha]. The first count of delusion by which King Ajaatasattu was overcome was by being 'taken in' by Devadatta's ability to perform 'miracles' — thinking that he must be superior to all others. Another factor contributing to Ajatasattu's gullibility was his young age and lack of worldly experience, not allowing him to see through the deceit of someone bent on evil.
A second defilement to which Ajaatasattu had succumbed was that of greed [lobha]. Ajaatasattu was no different from other unenlightened beings [puthujana] in desiring for power and wealth. When delusion was added to such greed in sufficient measure, in keeping with Devadatta's evil designs, Ajaatasattu became no different from a traveller groping in the dark, who must put himself completely in the hands of his guide.
Even if Ajaatasattu had such strong trust in Devadatta, it might still seem incredible to readers that he would go as far as to execute his own father at Devadatta's behest. It is difficult for us to know if we would react any differently in such a situation — sometimes if you have never been through a situation personally, you have no way of knowing how you would react. We cannot blame Ajaatasattu for what he did in his circumstances — any more than you can say that it is stupid for some people to want to commit suicide — you could not guarantee you would never be put in the same situation.
Even after having committed the heavy karma of parricide and having obtained the throne of Magadha for himself, Ajaatasattu was to find that his new power brought him no happiness — on the contrary, it caused him spiritual unrest, firing his quest for the truth — eventually seeking audience with the Lord Buddha. Thus one might say that such a quest is the 'positive backlash of extreme evil deeds'.
As for Ajaatasattu not giving his patronage to the six contemporary teachers, but at the same time not dismissing or discrediting them — this is something we can learn much from in the society of modern Buddhism. In the Theravaada Buddhist tradition, monks can only survive dependent on the support in alms given by the lay-supporters. When Buddhists support and respect the monastic community, it is important for them to reflect whether the behaviour or teachings of the monks is suitable or not, represents Right View or Wrong View. If it happens that monks practice or teach unsuitable things, the congregation should withdraw their support in the same way as Ajaatasattu withdrew his. All it takes is for a congregation to withdraw their support for undisciplined or heretical monks and this will be the prime-mover causing those monks to have to 'pull their socks up', re-establishing themselves in proper monastic discipline — or else disrobing — either of which are better than leading the life of a householder while masquerading as a monk.
In the case readers doubt which criteria to use for considering whether monks conform with proper monastic discipline, detail can be found in the chapters to follow.