Hạnh phúc không tạo thành bởi số lượng những gì ta có, mà từ mức độ vui hưởng cuộc sống của chúng ta. (It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.)Charles Spurgeon
Để sống hạnh phúc bạn cần rất ít, và tất cả đều sẵn có trong chính bạn, trong phương cách suy nghĩ của bạn. (Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.)Marcus Aurelius
Không nên nhìn lỗi người, người làm hay không làm.Nên nhìn tự chính mình, có làm hay không làm.Kinh Pháp cú (Kệ số 50)
Hầu hết mọi người đều cho rằng sự thông minh tạo nên một nhà khoa học lớn. Nhưng họ đã lầm, chính nhân cách mới làm nên điều đó. (Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.)Albert Einstein
Gặp quyển sách hay nên mua ngay, dù đọc được hay không, vì sớm muộn gì ta cũng sẽ cần đến nó.Winston Churchill
Cuộc sống xem như chấm dứt vào ngày mà chúng ta bắt đầu im lặng trước những điều đáng nói. (Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. )Martin Luther King Jr.
Đừng chọn sống an nhàn khi bạn vẫn còn đủ sức vượt qua khó nhọc.Sưu tầm
Hãy làm một người biết chăm sóc tốt hạt giống yêu thương trong tâm hồn mình, và những hoa trái của lòng yêu thương sẽ mang lại cho bạn vô vàn niềm vui và hạnh phúc.Tủ sách Rộng Mở Tâm Hồn
Để có đôi mắt đẹp, hãy chọn nhìn những điều tốt đẹp ở người khác; để có đôi môi đẹp, hãy nói ra toàn những lời tử tế, và để vững vàng trong cuộc sống, hãy bước đi với ý thức rằng bạn không bao giờ cô độc. (For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.)Audrey Hepburn
Hương hoa thơm chỉ bay theo chiều gió, tiếng thơm người hiền lan tỏa khắp nơi nơi. Kinh Pháp cú (Kệ số 54)

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Common Buddhist Text - Guidance and Insight from the Buddha
»» PART I: THE BUDDHA - CHAPTER 1: THE LIFE OF THE HISTORICAL BUDDHA

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Phật Điển Phổ Thông - Dẫn vào tuệ giác Phật - Phần I. Đức Phật - Chương I. Cuộc đời Đức Phật lịch sử

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SÁCH AMAZON



Mua bản sách in

Conception, birth and early life

L.1 The wondrous birth of a great being

Here the Buddha addresses Ānanda, the disciple who acted as his chief personal attendant. The Buddha has previously told him of various wondrous things pertaining to his conception and birth, and now asks him to enunciate them so that other monks can hear of and be inspired by them.

Then the Blessed One addressed Venerable Ānanda: ‘Ānanda, that being so, you may eulogize more fully the wonderful and marvellous qualities of the Tathāgata.’

‘Venerable sir, I heard and learned this from the Blessed One’s own lips:

“Ānanda, mindful and clearly comprehending 33 the bodhisatta appeared in the Tusita heaven.34” Venerable sir, this I consider as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Blessed One.

… “Ānanda, mindful and clearly comprehending the bodhisatta remained in the Tusita heaven.” Venerable sir, this too I consider as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Blessed One.

… “Ānanda, for the whole of his lifespan the bodhisatta remained in the Tusita heaven.”
Venerable sir, this too I consider as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Blessed One.

… “Ānanda, mindful and clearly comprehending the bodhisatta departed from the Tusita heaven and descended into his mother’s womb.” Venerable sir, this too I consider as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Blessed One.

… “Ānanda, when the bodhisatta passed away from the Tusita heaven and descended into his mother’s womb, an immeasurable glorious light surpassing the divine majesty of the gods appeared in the world with its gods, māras and brahmās,35 with its people, renunciants, brahmins, kings and the masses. And even in those awful open world intervals, of gloom and utter darkness, where the sun and the moon, mighty and powerful as they are, cannot make their light prevail; there too an immeasurable glorious light surpassing the divine majesty of the gods appeared. And the beings reborn there perceived each other by that light: ‘Friend, so indeed there are also other beings reborn here.’ And this ten-thousand-fold world-system shook,36 quaked, and trembled, and an immeasurable glorious light surpassing the divine majesty of the gods appeared in the world.” Venerable sir, this too I consider as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Blessed One.

… “Ānanda, when the bodhisatta descended into his mother’s womb, four young gods came to guard him at the four quarters so that no humans or nonhumans or anyone at all could harm the bodhisatta or his mother.” Venerable sir, this too I consider as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Blessed One.

… “Ānanda, when the bodhisatta descended into his mother’s womb, the mother of the bodhisatta was inherently virtuous, refraining from killing living beings, refraining from taking what is not given, refraining from sexual misconduct, refraining from false speech, and refraining from wines, liquors, and intoxicants, the basis of negligence.”37 Venerable sir, this too I consider as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Blessed One. …

… “Ānanda, on the seventh day after the birth of the bodhisatta, the bodhisatta’s mother passed away, and was reborn in the Tusita heaven.” Venerable sir, this too I consider as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Blessed One.

… “Ānanda, other young women give birth after carrying the child in the womb for nine or ten (lunar) months, but not so the bodhisatta’s mother. The bodhisatta’s mother gave birth to him after carrying him in her womb for exactly ten months.” Venerable sir, this too I consider as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Blessed One.

… “Ānanda, other young women give birth seated or lying down, but not so the bodhisatta’s mother. The bodhisatta’s mother gave birth to him standing up.” Venerable sir, this too I consider as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Blessed One.

… “Ānanda, when the bodhisatta came forth from his mother’s womb, gods received him first, then human beings.” Venerable sir, this too I consider as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Blessed One.

… “Ānanda, when the bodhisatta came forth from his mother’s womb, he did not touch the earth. The four young gods received him and set him before his mother saying: ‘O queen, rejoice, a son of great power has been born to you’.” Venerable sir, this too I consider as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Blessed One.

… “Ānanda, when the bodhisatta came forth from his mother’s womb, he did so dirt free, unsmeared by water, humours, blood, or any kind of impurity, clean and dirt free. Ānanda, suppose there were a gem-jewel placed on a Kāsi cloth, then the gem would not smear the cloth or the cloth the gem. Why is that? It is because of the purity of both. Ānanda, so too when the bodhisatta came forth from his mother’s womb, he did so dirt free, unsmeared by water, humours, blood, or any kind of impurity, clean and dirt free.” Venerable sir, this too I consider as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Blessed One.

… “Ānanda, when the bodhisatta came forth from his mother’s womb, two jets of water appeared to pour from the sky, one cool and one warm, for bathing the bodhisatta and his mother.” Venerable sir, this too I consider as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Blessed One.

… “Ānanda, as soon as the bodhisatta was born, he stood firmly with his feet on the ground; then he took seven steps facing north, and with a white parasol held over him, he looked at every quarter and uttered the words establishing his leadership:38

I am the highest in the world;
I am the best in the world;
I am the foremost in the world.
This is my last birth; now no more renewed existence.”

Venerable sir, this too I consider as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Blessed One.

… “When the bodhisatta came forth from his mother’s womb, an immeasurable glorious light surpassing the divine majesty of the gods appeared in the world with its gods, māras and brahmās, with its people, renunciants, brahmins, kings and the masses. And even in those awful open world intervals, of gloom, and utter darkness, where the sun and the moon, mighty and powerful as they are, cannot make their light prevail; there too an immeasurable glorious light surpassing the divine majesty of the gods appeared. And the beings reborn there perceived each other by that light: ‘Friend, so indeed there are also other beings reborn here.’ And this ten-thousand-fold world-system shook, quaked, and trembled, and an immeasurable glorious light surpassing the divine majesty of the gods appeared in the world.” Venerable sir, this too I consider as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Blessed One.’

‘Ānanda, that being so, you should consider this too as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Tathāgata: Ānanda, here for the Tathāgata feelings are known as they arise, as they are present, as they disappear; perceptions are known as they arise, as they are present, as they disappear; thoughts are known as they arise, as they are present, as they disappear; Ānanda, you should consider this too as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Tathāgata.’

‘Venerable sir, since this is so, I consider this too as a wonderful and marvellous quality of the Blessed One.’
Acchariya-abbhuta Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya III.118–120, 122–124, trans. G.A.S.

L.2 Prediction of his future greatness

This passage tells of how the gods informed a sage of the birth of the bodhisatta, and how he eagerly went to see him, and predicted his future attainment of awakening.

The seer Asita saw King Sakka39 and the host of the Thirty gods40 who were joyful and happy and in their clean garments, praising exceedingly, having held up a cloth.

Seeing the gods were pleased in mind and cheerful, having paid his respects, he said this there: ‘Why is the community of gods extremely happy? What do they celebrate holding up a cloth?’

Even when there was a battle with the demi-gods, the victory went to the gods (and) the demi-gods were defeated. Even then there was no such excitement. Having seen what marvel are the Maruts (the gods) elated?

The gods shout, sing, and play music; they slap their arms, and dance. I ask you the inhabitants of the Meru’s crest:41 Sirs, please dispel my doubt quickly.’

‘The bodhisatta, excellent jewel, incomparable, has been born in the village of the Sakyans, in the Lumbinī country, in the human world for our benefit and happiness. So we are jubilant, exceedingly pleased.

He is the best of all beings, the topmost person, the human bull, the greatest among all people. Roaring like a mighty lion, the overlord of animals, he will cause the wheel (of Dhamma) to turn in the grove named after the seers.’42

Having heard the utterance, he descended hastily and arrived at the dwelling of Suddhodana.43 Having sat down there the seer said to the Sakyans: ‘Where is the young boy? I too wish to see him.’

The Sakyans then showed the child, the young boy, who was resplendent with glory, perfect in complexion, like burning gold burnished by an incredibly skilful smith in the very mouth of the furnace, to the one called Asita.

Seeing the young boy blazing like fire, purified like the lord of stars going in the sky, like the glittering sun released from clouds in autumn, he, being joyful, experienced abundant rapture.

The Maruts held in the sky an umbrella with many ribs and a thousand circles. Yak-tail fans with golden handles fluttered up and down; but the holders of the umbrella and the fans were not seen.

The seer called Kaṇhasiri (Asita), the one with matted locks, having seen (the young boy) like a golden ornament on a pale red blanket, and the white umbrella being held above his head, with gladdened mind, cheerful, received him.

Having received the Sakyan bull, examining him, he, an expert in marks and mantras, raised his voice with confidence: ‘This one, incomparable, is supreme among the two legged (humans).’

Then, reflecting on his own departure, being dejected, he shed tears. Seeing the seer wailing, the Sakyans said: ‘Surely, there will not be any danger to the young boy’?

Seeing the Sakyans unhappy, the seer said: ‘I do not see any harm destined for the young boy. Nor will there be any danger for him. This is not an inferior being. Be pleased.

This boy will reach the peak of awakening. Seeing what is supremely purified, having sympathy for the benefit of the great majority, he will turn the wheel of the Dhamma.44 His holy life45 will be widely known.

Little of my life here remains; then there will be death for me. I shall not hear the Dhamma of the peerless one; so I am afflicted, overwhelmed by disaster, miserable.

Nālaka Sutta: Sutta-nipāta 679–694, trans. G.A.S.

L.3 Parents

Here an awakened monk names the Buddha’s parents, with the Buddha’s father as in a certain sense the monk’s ‘grandfather’.

A hero of great wisdom indeed cleanses seven generations in whatever family he is born. I think, Sakiya (Suddhodana), you are the king of gods, for you begot the sage who is truly named.

The father of the great seer is called Suddhodana. The mother of the awakened one was called Māyā, who, having cherished the bodhisatta with her womb, after the breaking up of the body rejoices in the three heavens.

She, Gotamī 46 (Māyā), having died, having descended from here, being possessed of divine sensual pleasures, rejoices in the five strands of sensual pleasures, surrounded by the groups of gods.

I am the son (the disciple) of the Buddha, who endures what is beyond endurance, the son of the incomparable Venerable Aṅgīrasa.47 You, Sakiya (Suddhodana), are my father’s father; truly you are my grandfather, Gotama.

Kāḷudāyī’s verses: Theragāthā 533–536, trans. G.A.S.

L.4 Gotama’s family

This passage refers to the Buddha’s son, who later ordained as a monk under him and attained arahantship. The Buddha’s father remained a layperson and attained stream-entry, the first level of spiritual nobility; his step-mother (Mahā-pajāpatī) became the first nun, and an arahant; his wife also seems to have also become a nun, and an arahant.

They know me as ‘lucky’ Rāhula – lucky for two reasons: one that I am the son of the awakened one, and the other that I am one with vision of truths.

Rāhula’s verses: Theragāthā 295, trans. G.A.S.

L.5 Lavish young life

This passage describes an early life of great comfort, but then moves to reflections on ageing, sickness and death as coming to us all.

Monks, I lived in refinement, utmost refinement, and total refinement. In my father’s home, there were lotus ponds just made for me: one where red-lotuses bloomed, one where white lotuses bloomed, one where blue lotuses bloomed, all for my sake. I used no sandalwood that was not from Kāsi.48 My turban was from Kāsi, as were my tunic, my lower garment, and my outer cloak. A white umbrella was held over me day and night to protect me from cold, heat, dust, dirt, and dew.

Monks, I had three mansions: one for the cold season, one for the hot season, and one for the rainy season. During the four months of the rainy season, being entertained in the mansion for the rainy-season, by musicians without one man among them, I did not once come down from the mansion. Whereas the servants, workers, and retainers in others’ homes are fed meals of broken rice with lentil soup, in my father’s home the servants, workers, and retainers were fed wheat, rice, and meat.

Monks, endowed with such affluence, living in such refinement, I considered: ‘When an untaught ordinary person, himself subject to ageing, not beyond ageing, sees another who is aged, he is horrified, humiliated, and disgusted, oblivious to himself that he too is subject to ageing, not beyond ageing. If I who am subject to ageing, not beyond ageing, were to be horrified, humiliated, and disgusted on seeing another person who is aged, that would not be fitting for me.’ As I pondered thus, the young person’s intoxication with youth entirely dropped away.

... [The same is then said replacing ‘aging’ with ‘illness’ and then ‘death’, such that] the healthy person’s intoxication with health entirely dropped away. … the living person’s intoxication with life entirely dropped away.

Sukhumāla Sutta: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.145, trans. G.A.S.

L.6 Pleasures of the senses

In this passage, the Buddha reflects on the pleasures of his youth, and then on the limitations and dangers of such pleasures.

‘Māgandiya,49 formerly when I lived the home life, I enjoyed myself, provided and endowed with the five strands of sensual pleasure:50 forms discernible by the eye that are wished for, desired, agreeable, likeable, connected with sensual desire and provocative of lust; sounds discernible by the ear; odours discernible by the nose; flavours discernible by the tongue; tangibles discernible by the body, that are wished for, desired, agreeable, likeable, connected with sensual desire and provocative of lust.

… On a later occasion, having understood as they really are the origin, the disappearance, the gratification, the danger of sensual pleasures, and the escape from them, I abandoned craving for sensual pleasures; I removed fever for sensual pleasures; I abide without thirst, with a mind inwardly at peace.

I see other beings who are not free from lust for sensual pleasures, being devoured by craving for sensual pleasures, burning with fever for sensual pleasures, indulging in sensual pleasures. I do not envy them, nor do I delight therein. Why is that? Māgandiya, there is a (meditative) delight apart from sensual pleasures, apart from unwholesome states, which surpasses even divine pleasure. Since I take delight in that, I do not envy what is inferior, nor do I delight therein. …

Māgandiya, suppose there was a leper with sores and blisters on his limbs, being devoured by worms, scratching the scabs off the openings of his wounds with his nails, cauterizing his body over a burning charcoal pit. Then his friends and companions, his kinsmen and relatives, would bring a physician to treat him. The physician would make medicine for him, and by means of that medicine the man would be cured of his leprosy and would become well and happy, independent, master of himself, able to go where he likes. Then he might see another leper with sores and blisters on his limbs, being devoured by worms, scratching the scabs off the openings of his wounds with his nails, cauterizing his body over a burning charcoal pit.

Māgandiya, what do you think? Would the man envy that leper for his cauterizing the body over a burning charcoal pit, or for his use of medicine?’ ‘No, venerable Gotama. Why is that? Venerable Gotama, because when there is sickness, there is need for medicine; when there is no sickness, there is no need for medicine.’ ‘Māgandiya, similarly when I lived the home life before, I enjoyed myself provided and endowed with the five strands of sensual pleasure. … On a later occasion, having understood as they really are the origin, the disappearance, the gratification, the danger of sensual pleasures, and the escape from them, I abandoned craving for sensual pleasures, I removed fever for sensual pleasures, and now I abide without thirst, with a mind inwardly at peace.

Now I see other beings who are not free from lust for sensual pleasures, being devoured by craving for sensual pleasures, burning with fever for sensual pleasures, indulging in sensual pleasures, but I do not envy them, nor do I delight therein. Why is that? Māgandiya, there is a delight apart from sensual pleasures, apart from unwholesome states, which surpasses even divine pleasure. Since I take delight in that, I do not envy what is inferior, nor do I delight therein.

Māgandiya Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.504–506, trans. G.A.S.

The quest for awakening

L.7 The noble search

In this passage, the Buddha describes the ‘noble search’ for that which is beyond the limitations of conditioned existence, and how he began this search.

Monks, there are these two kinds of search: the noble search and the ignoble search. Monks, what is the ignoble search? Monks, here someone being himself subject to birth seeks what is also subject to birth; being himself subject to ageing he seeks what is also subject to ageing; being himself subject to sickness he seeks what is also subject to sickness; being himself subject to death he seeks what is also subject to death; being himself subject to sorrow he seeks what is also subject to sorrow; being himself subject to defilements he seeks what is also subject to defilement.

Monks, what may be spoken of as subject to birth? Wife and children are subject to birth; men and women slaves are subject to birth; goats and sheep are subject to birth; fowl and pigs are subject to birth; elephants, cattle, horses, and mares are subject to birth; gold and silver are subject to birth. Monks, these acquisitions are subject to birth. One who is tied to these things, infatuated with them, and addicted to them, being himself subject to birth seeks what is also subject to birth. …

[‘Wife and children’ etc. are then likewise each explained to be subject to ‘ageing’ and ‘defilement’,51 and all but ‘gold and silver’ to be subject to ‘sickness’, ‘death’, and ‘sorrow’]. One who is tied to these things, infatuated with them, and addicted to them, being himself subject to ageing [etc.] seeks what is also subject to ageing [etc.]. Monks, this is the ignoble search.

Monks, what is the noble search? Here someone, being himself subject to birth, knowing the danger in what is subject to birth, seeks the unborn supreme security from bondage, nirvana; being himself subject to ageing, knowing the danger in what is subject to ageing, he seeks the unageing supreme security from bondage, nirvana; being himself subject to sickness, knowing the danger in what is subject to sickness, he seeks the unailing supreme security from bondage, nirvana; being himself subject to death, knowing the danger in what is subject to death, he seeks the deathless supreme security from bondage, nirvana; being himself subject to sorrow, knowing the danger in what is subject to sorrow, he seeks sorrowless supreme security from bondage, nirvana; being himself subject to defilement, knowing the danger in what is subject to defilement, he seeks the undefiled supreme security from bondage, nirvana. Monks, this is the noble search.

Monks, before my awakening, not yet fully awakened, while I was still a bodhisatta, I too being myself subject to birth, sought what was also subject to birth; being myself subject to ageing … sickness … death … sorrow … and defilement, I sought what was also subject to these.

Monks, then I considered: ‘Why, being myself subject to birth, do I seek what is also subject to birth? Why, being myself subject to ageing … sickness … death … sorrow … and defilement, do I seek what is also subject to these?

Suppose that, being myself subject to birth, knowing the danger in what is subject to birth, I seek the unborn supreme security from bondage, nirvana. Suppose that, being myself subject to ageing [etc.], knowing the danger in what is subject to ageing [etc.], I seek the unageing … the unailing … the deathless … the sorrowless … the undefiled supreme security from bondage, nirvana.

Monks, later while still young, a black-haired young man endowed with the blessing of youth, in the prime of life, though my mother and father wished otherwise and wept with tearful faces, I shaved off my hair and beard, put on the yellow robe, and went forth from the home life into homelessness.52

Ariya-pariyesana Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.161–163, trans. G.A.S.

L.8 Going forth

This passage is on the start of Gotama’s life of renunciation and spiritual seeking.

Aggivessana, before my awakening, not yet fully awakened, while I was still a bodhisatta, I considered: ‘Home life is a constriction, a sphere of dust; 53 the life gone forth54 is an open-air life. It is not easy, while living in a home,55 to lead the holy life absolutely perfect and entirely pure as a polished shell. Suppose I shave off my hair and beard, put on the yellow robe, and go forth from the home life into homelessness?’

Aggivessana, later while still young, a black-haired young man endowed with the blessing of youth, in the prime of life, though my mother and father wished otherwise and wept with tearful faces, I shaved off my hair and beard, put on the yellow robe, and went forth from the home life into homelessness.

Mahā-saccaka Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.240–241, trans. G.A.S.

L.9 Preparing for spiritual striving

I shall praise going-forth, as the one with vision went forth, as he, examining, found delight in going-forth.

Seeing that this home life is a constriction, the sphere of dust, and that going-forth is an open-air life, he went forth.

Having gone forth, he avoided evil deeds with the body; having abandoned bad conduct in word, he purified his mode of living.

The Buddha56 went to Rājagaha;57 the one endowed with the excellent marks58 went to Giribbaja, walked among the Magadhans for collecting alms.

Standing in his palace Bimbisāra59 saw him; seeing the one endowed with the marks he said this:

‘Sirs, look at this one who is handsome, large, pure; he is endowed with good conduct as he looks ahead a yoke’s length only.60

With down-turned eyes, possessing mindfulness, this one is not as though from a lowly family. Let the royal messengers run out to find where the monk will go.’

The royal messengers sent out followed behind him (thinking): ‘Where will the monk go? Where will his dwelling be?’

Going on a continuous round,61 with sense-doors guarded,62 well-restrained, he filled his bowl quickly, being attentive and mindful.

Having wandered on his alms-round, having gone out of the city, the sage took himself to Mt Paṇḍava (thinking): ‘Here will be my dwelling.’

Seeing him taking his dwelling, the three messengers sat down; among them one came back alone and informed the king:

‘Great king, that monk is seated on the eastern side of Mt Paṇḍava, like a tiger or bull, like a lion in a mountain cave.’

Hearing the messenger’s word, the ruler went hurrying in the state vehicle out to Mt Paṇḍava.

That ruler, going by vehicle as far as the vehicle park, descended from the vehicle, and went up to him on foot. Reaching him, he sat down.

Having sat down, the king then exchanged the customary friendly greetings; having exchanged greetings, he said this:

‘You are young and tender, in your first youth, a stripling, having a good complexion and stature, like a ruler of good birth, making beautiful the van of the army, at the head of a community of elephants. I shall give you wealth; enjoy it. Tell me your birth, when asked.’

‘King, straight on in that direction there is a people, living on the flank of the Himalayas, having wealth and vigour, belonging to one who has a long connection to the Kosalans.

They are Ādicca by clan, Sakya by birth. From that family I went forth, not desiring pleasures of the senses.

Having seen the peril in sensual pleasures, having seen going-forth as safety, I shall go in order to strive. In that my mind delights.’

Pabbajjā Sutta: Sutta-nipāta 405–424, trans. G.A.S.

Attaining refined, formless states

In his spiritual quest, Gotama at first went to two teachers who taught him how to attain two ‘formless’ mystical states beyond perception of physical things, that he later incorporated in his own teaching. In the following passages, though, the fact that they fell short of his goal is emphasized.

L.10 The ‘sphere of nothingness’ taught by Āḷāra Kālāma

Monks, having gone forth thus, searching for what is wholesome, seeking the supreme state of sublime peace, I went to meet Āḷāra Kālāma and said to him: ‘Friend Kālāma, I want to lead the holy life in this Dhamma and discipline.’63 Monks, thus being informed, Āḷāra Kālāma said this to me:

‘The venerable one may stay here. This Dhamma (teaching, and what it leads to) is such that a wise man can soon enter upon and dwell in it, realizing for himself through direct insight the Dhamma of his own teacher.’

Monks, before long, so quickly, I learned that Dhamma. Monks, in the sense of mere lip-reciting and rehearsal, I spoke the knowledge-teaching and the elder’s teaching, and I, and others too, claimed: ‘I know and see.’

Monks, I considered: ‘It is not through mere faith alone that Āḷāra Kālāma declares that, by realizing it for himself with direct insight, he enters upon and dwells in this Dhamma. Certainly, Āḷāra Kālāma dwells knowing and seeing this Dhamma.’ Monks, then I went to Āḷāra Kālāma and asked him: ‘Friend Kālāma, in what way do you declare that, by realizing it for yourself with direct insight, you enter upon and dwell in this Dhamma?’ Monks, in replying, Āḷāra Kālāma declared the sphere of nothingness.64

Monks, I considered: ‘Not only Āḷāra Kālāma has faith, I too have faith; not only Āḷāra Kālāma has vigour, I too have vigour; not only Āḷāra Kālāma has mindfulness, I too have mindfulness; not only Āḷāra Kālāma has meditative concentration, I too have meditative concentration; not only Āḷāra Kālāma has wisdom, I too have wisdom.65 Suppose I endeavour to realize the Dhamma that Āḷāra Kālāma declares he enters upon and dwells in by realizing it for himself with direct insight?’ Monks, before long, quickly, I entered upon and dwelled in that Dhamma by realizing it for myself with direct insight.

Monks, then I went to Āḷāra Kālāma and asked him: ‘Friend Kālāma, is it in this way that you declare that you enter upon and dwell in this Dhamma by realizing it for yourself with direct insight?’ ‘Friend, that is the way I declare that I enter upon and dwell in this Dhamma by realizing it for myself with direct insight.’ ‘Friend Kālāma, it is in this way that I also enter upon and dwell in this Dhamma by realizing it for myself with direct insight.’

‘Friend, it is a gain for us, it is an excellent gain for us that we have such a companion in the holy life. So the Dhamma that I declare I enter upon and dwell in by realizing it for myself with direct insight is the Dhamma that you enter upon and dwell in by realizing it for yourself with direct insight. And the Dhamma that you enter upon and dwell in by realizing it for yourself with direct insight is the Dhamma that I declare I enter upon and dwell in by realizing it for myself with direct insight. So you know the Dhamma that I know, and I know the Dhamma that you know. As I am, so are you; as you are, so am I. Come, friend, let us now lead this community together.’

Monks, thus Āḷāra Kālāma, my teacher, placed me, his pupil, on an equal footing with himself and accorded me the highest honour. However, monks, I considered: ‘This Dhamma does not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to higher knowledge, to awakening, to nirvana, but only to rebirth in the sphere of nothingness.’ Monks, not being satisfied with that Dhamma, being disappointed with that Dhamma, I left.

Ariya-pariyesana Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.163–165, trans. G.A.S.

L.11 The ‘sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception’ taught by Rāma and his son

In this passage, Gotama goes beyond his teacher by attaining a state that only the teacher’s father had attained.

Monks, searching for what is wholesome, seeking the supreme state of sublime peace, I went to meet Uddaka the son of Rāma (Rāmaputta) and said to him: ‘Friend, I want to lead the holy life in this Dhamma and discipline.’ Monks, thus being informed, Uddaka the son of Rāma said this to me: ‘The venerable one may stay here. This Dhamma (teaching and what it leads to) is such that a wise man can soon enter upon and dwell in it, realizing it for himself through direct insight the Dhamma of his own teacher.’

Monks, before long, so quickly, I learned that Dhamma. Monks, in the sense of mere lip-reciting and rehearsal, I spoke the knowledge-teaching and the elder’s teaching, and I, and others too, claimed: ‘I know and see.’

Monks, I considered: ‘It was not through mere faith alone that Rāma declared that, by realizing it for himself with higher knowledge, he entered upon and dwelled in this Dhamma. Certainly, Rāma dwelled knowing and seeing this Dhamma.’ Monks, then I went to Uddaka the son of Rāma and asked him: ‘Friend, in what way did Rāma declare that, by realizing it for himself with higher knowledge, he entered upon and dwelled in this Dhamma?’ Monks, in replying, Uddaka the son of Rāma declared the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception.66

Monks, I considered: ‘Not only did Rāma have faith, I too have faith; not only did Rāma have vigour, I too have vigour; not only did Rāma have mindfulness, I too have mindfulness; not only did Rāma have meditative concentration, I too have concentration; not only did Rāma have wisdom, I too have wisdom. Suppose I endeavour to realize the Dhamma that Rāma declared he entered upon and dwelled in by realizing it for himself with direct insight?’ Monks, not long before, so quickly, I entered upon and dwelled in that Dhamma by realizing it for myself with direct insight.

Monks, then I went to Uddaka the son of Rāma and asked him: ‘Friend, was it in this way that Rāma declared that he entered upon and dwelled in this Dhamma by realizing it for himself with direct insight?’ ‘Friend, that is the way that Rāma declared that he entered upon and dwelled in this Dhamma by realizing it for himself with direct insight.’ ‘Friend, it is in this way that I also enter upon and dwell in this Dhamma by realizing it for myself with direct insight.’

‘Friend, it is a gain for us, it is a great gain for us that we have such a companion in the holy life. So the Dhamma that Rāma declared he entered upon and dwelled in by realizing it for himself with direct insight is the Dhamma that you enter upon and dwell in by realizing it for yourself with direct insight. And the Dhamma that you enter upon and dwell in by realizing it for yourself with direct insight is the Dhamma that Rāma declared he entered upon and dwelled in by realizing it for himself with direct insight. So you know the Dhamma that Rāma knew and Rāma knew the Dhamma that you know. As Rāma was, so are you; as you are, so was Rāma. Come, friend, now lead this community.’

Monks, thus Uddaka the son of Rāma, my fellow monk, placed me in the position of the teacher67 and accorded me the highest honour. But I considered: ‘This Dhamma does not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct insight, to awakening, to nirvana, but only to rebirth in the sphere of neither-perception-nor-non-perception.’ Not being satisfied with that Dhamma, being disappointed with that Dhamma, I left.

Ariya-pariyesana Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.165–166, trans. G.A.S.

The ascetic life of rigorous self-denial

In the next phase of his spiritual quest, Gotama tried another available method of spiritual development: the attempt to wilfully master the body and its desires by such things as fasting and holding of the breath for long periods. As will be seen, he later criticised this.

L.12 The extremity of his asceticism

In this passage, the Buddha describes how he practised four modes of austere living that were then common, and are still practised by some non-Buddhist Indian ascetics.

Sāriputta, I recall having lived a holy life consisting of four factors: I have been an ascetic, a supreme ascetic; I have been unkempt, supremely unkempt; I have been scrupulous, supremely scrupulous; I have been secluded, supremely secluded.

Sāriputta, there my practice of asceticism was such that I went naked, rejecting conventions, licking my hands, not coming when asked, not stopping when asked. I did not accept food brought or food specially made or an invitation to a meal; I received nothing from a pot, from a bowl, across a threshold, across a stick, across a pestle, from two eating together, from a pregnant woman, from a woman giving suck, from a woman lying in the midst of men, from where food was advertised to be distributed, from where a dog was waiting, from where flies were bustling. I accepted no fish or meat, I drank no liquor, wine, or fermented brew.

I kept to one house, to one morsel;68 I kept to two houses, to two morsels; I kept to three houses, to three morsels; I kept to four houses, to four morsels; I kept to five houses, to five morsels; I kept to six houses, to six morsels; I kept to seven houses, to seven morsels.

I lived on the food from one donor, from two donors, from three donors, from four donors, from five donors, from six donors, from seven donors; I took food once a day, once every two days, once every three days, once every four days, once every five days, once every six days, once every seven days; thus even up to once every fortnight, I dwelt pursuing the practice of taking food at stated intervals.

I was an eater of greens, eater of millet, eater of wild rice, eater of hide-parings, eater of moss, eater of rice-bran, eater of rice-scum, eater of sesamum flour, eater of grass, eater of cow-dung. I lived on forest roots and fruits; I fed on fallen fruits.

I clothed myself in hemp, in hemp-mixed cloth, in shrouds, in refuse rags, in tree bark, in antelope hide, in strips of antelope hide, in kusa-grass fabric, in bark fabric, in wood-shavings fabric, in head-hair wool, in animal wool, in owls’ wings.

I was one who pulled out hair and beard,69 pursuing the practice of pulling out hair and beard.

I was one who stood continuously, rejecting seats. I was one who squatted continuously, devoted to maintaining the squatting position. I was one who used a mattress of spikes; I made a mattress of spikes my bed.

I dwelt pursuing the practice of (ritual) bathing in (cold) water three times daily including in the evening.

Thus, in such a variety of ways I dwelt pursuing the practice of tormenting and mortifying the body. Sāriputta, such was my practice of asceticism.

Sāriputta, there my pursuit of being unkempt was such that just as the bole of a tindukā tree, accumulating over the years, cakes and flakes off, so too, dust and dirt, accumulating over the years, caked off my body and flaked off. It never occurred to me: ‘Let me rub this dust and dirt off with my hand, or let another rub this dust and dirt off with his hand.’ Sāriputta, such was my practice of being unkempt.

Sāriputta, my practice of scrupulousness was such that I was always mindful in stepping forwards and stepping backwards. I was full of pity in regard to a drop of water70 thus: ‘Let me not hurt the tiny creatures in the crevices of the ground.’ Sāriputta, such was my practice of scrupulousness.

Sāriputta, my practice of seclusion was such that I would plunge into some forest and dwell there. And when I saw a cowherd or a shepherd or someone gathering grass, or sticks, or a woodsman, I would flee from grove to grove, from thicket to thicket, from hollow to hollow, from hillock to hillock. Why was that? So that they should not see me and I should not see them.

Sāriputta, just as a forest-bred deer, on seeing human beings, flees from grove to grove, from thicket to thicket, from hollow to hollow, from hillock to hillock, so too, when I saw a cowherd or a shepherd or someone gathering grass, or sticks, or a woodsman, I would flee from grove to grove, from thicket to thicket, from hollow to hollow, from hillock to hillock. Sāriputta, such was my practice of seclusion.

Sāriputta, I went on all fours to the cow-pens when the cattle had gone out and the cowherd had left them, and I fed on the dung of the young suckling calves. Sāriputta, as long as my own excrement and urine lasted, I fed on my own excrement and urine. Sāriputta, such was my practice of great distortion in feeding.

Sāriputta, I plunged into some awe-inspiring grove and dwelt there: a grove so awe-inspiring that normally it would make a man’s hair stand up if he were not free from lust.

Sāriputta, when those cold wintry nights came during the eight-day interval of frost, I would dwell by night in the open and by day in the grove. In the last month of the hot season I would dwell by day in the open and by night in the grove.

Sāriputta, there came to me spontaneously this verse never heard before:

The sage has engaged in searching, being heated and chilled, alone in the awe-inspiring grove, naked, no fire to sit beside.

Sāriputta, I made my bed in a charnel ground supported on a skeleton.

Sāriputta, cowherd boys came up and spat on me, urinated on me, threw dirt at me, and poked sticks into my ears. Sāriputta, yet I do not recall that I ever aroused an evil mind of hate against them. Sāriputta, such was my abiding in equanimity.

Mahā-sīhanāda Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.77–79, trans. G.A.S.

L.13 Pain in vain

In this passage, the Buddha explains that, prior to his period of extreme asceticism, he realised that awakening was not possible for those religious practitioners who were still attached to sensual pleasures. Having realised that he had to shun sensual pleasures, he then engaged in many kinds of extreme ascetic practices. However, while these did develop great energy and mindfulness, and the physical pain they brought did not affect his mind, they also brought bodily exhaustion, and he came to realize that they were not leading to awakening.

‘Has there never arisen in you, Venerable Gotama, a feeling so pleasant that it could invade his mind and remain? Has there never arisen in Venerable Gotama a feeling so painful that it could invade his mind and remain?’

‘Aggivessana, searching for what is wholesome, seeking the supreme state of sublime peace, I wandered by stages through the Magadhan country until eventually I arrived at Uruvelā near Senānigama. There I saw an agreeable piece of ground, a delightful grove with a clear-flowing river with pleasant, smooth banks and nearby a village for alms resort. Aggivessana, I considered: “Agreeable is this piece of ground; delightful is the grove with a clear-flowing river with pleasant, smooth banks and nearby a village for alms resort. This place will indeed serve for the striving (spiritual exertion) of a clansman intent on striving.” Aggivessana, I sat down there with the thought: “This will serve for striving.”

Aggivessana, now these three similes occurred to me spontaneously, never heard before. [Namely that, just as a submerged or damp piece of sappy wood cannot be set alight with a fire-drill, but a dry one can be set alight, so only] those renunciants and brahmins71 who live bodily withdrawn from sensual pleasures, and whose sensual desire, affection, infatuation, thirst, and fever for sensual pleasures has been fully abandoned and suppressed internally, whether or not they feel painful, racking, piercing feelings due to exertion, they are capable of knowing and seeing and supreme awakening. …

Aggivessana, I considered: “Suppose, with my teeth clenched and my tongue pressed against the roof of my mouth, I beat down, constrain, and crush mind with mind?” Aggivessana, so with my teeth clenched and my tongue pressed against the roof of my mouth, I beat down, constrained, and crushed mind with mind. Aggivessana, while I did so, sweat ran from my armpits. Aggivessana, just as a strong man might seize a weaker man by the head or shoulders and beat him down, constrain him, and crush him, so too, with my teeth clenched and my tongue pressed against the roof of my mouth, I beat down, constrained, and crushed mind with mind, and sweat ran from my armpits.

[Refrain:] Aggivessana, although tireless energy was aroused in me and unremitting mindfulness was established, my body was overwrought and strained because I was exhausted by the painful striving. But such painful feeling that arose in me did not invade my mind and remain.

Aggivessana, I considered: “Suppose I practise the breathless meditation?”72 So I stopped the in-breaths and out-breaths through my mouth and nose. Aggivessana, while I did so, there was a loud sound of winds coming out from my ear holes. Aggivessana, just as there is a loud sound when a smith’s bellows are blown, so too, while I stopped the in-breaths and out-breaths through my nose and ears, there was a loud sound of winds coming out from my ear holes. … [Refrain]

Aggivessana, I considered: “Suppose I practise further the breathless meditation?” So I stopped the in-breaths and out-breaths through my mouth, nose, and ears. While I did so, violent winds cut through my head. Aggivessana, just as if a strong man were pressing against my head with the tip of a sharp sword, so too, while I stopped the in-breaths and out-breaths through my mouth, nose, and ears, violent winds cut through my head. … [Refrain]

Aggivessana, I considered: “Suppose I practise further the breathless meditation?” So I stopped the in-breaths and out-breaths through my mouth, nose, and ears. While I did so there were violent pains in my head. Aggivessana, just as if a strong man were tightening a tough leather strap around my head as a headband, so too while I stopped the in-breaths and out-breaths through my mouth, nose, and ears, there were violent pains in my head. … [Refrain]

Aggivessana, I considered: “Suppose I practise further the breathless meditation?” So I stopped the in-breaths and out-breaths through my mouth, nose, and ears. While I did so, violent winds carved up my belly. Aggivessana, just as if a skilled butcher or his apprentice were to carve up an ox’s belly with a sharp butcher’s knife, so too while I stopped the in-breaths and out-breaths through my mouth, nose, and ears, violent winds carved up my belly. … [Refrain]

Aggivessana, I considered: “Suppose I practise further the breathless meditation?” So I stopped the in-breaths and out-breaths through my mouth, nose, and ears. While I did so, there was a violent burning in my body. Aggivessana, just as if two strong men were to seize a weaker man by both arms and roast him over a pit of hot coals, so too, while I stopped the in-breaths and out-breaths through my mouth, nose, and ears, there was a violent burning in my body. … [Refrain]

Aggivessana, now the gods who saw me said: “The renunciant Gotama is dead.” Some gods said: “The renunciant Gotama is not dead, he is dying.” And other gods said: “The renunciant Gotama is neither dead nor dying; he is an arahant (worthy one), for such is the way arahants dwell.”

Aggivessana, I considered: “Suppose I practise entirely cutting off food?”73 Then gods came to me and said: “Sir, do not practise entirely cutting off food. If you do so, we shall infuse heavenly food into the pores of your skin and this will sustain you.” Aggivessana, I considered: “If I claim to be completely fasting while these gods infuse heavenly food into the pores of my skin and this sustains me, then I shall be lying.” So I dismissed those gods, saying: “There is no need.”

Aggivessana, I considered: “Suppose I take very little food, a handful each time, whether of bean soup or lentil soup or vetch soup or pea soup?” So I took very little food, a handful each time, whether of bean soup or lentil soup or vetch soup or pea soup. While I did so, my body reached a state of extreme emaciation. Because of eating so little: my limbs became like the jointed segments of vine stems or bamboo stems; my backside became like a camel’s hoof; the projections on my spine stood forth like corded beads; my ribs jutted out as gaunt as the crazy rafters of an old roofless barn; the gleam of my eyes sank far down in their sockets, looking like the gleam of water that has sunk far down in a deep well; my scalp shrivelled and withered as a green bitter gourd shrivels and withers in the wind and sun.

Aggivessana, because of eating so little, my belly skin adhered to my backbone; thus if I touched my belly skin I encountered my backbone and if I touched my backbone I encountered my belly skin. Aggivessana, because of eating so little, if I defecated or urinated, I fell over on my face there. Aggivessana, because of eating so little, if I tried to ease my body by rubbing my limbs with my hands, the hair, rotted at its roots, fell from my body as I rubbed.

Aggivessana, now the people who saw me said: “The renunciant Gotama is black.” Some people said: “The renunciant Gotama is not black; he is brown.” Other people said: “The renunciant Gotama is neither black nor brown; he is golden-skinned.” Aggivessana, so much had the clear, bright colour of my skin deteriorated through eating so little.

Aggivessana, I considered: “Whatever renunciants and brahmins in the past have experienced painful, racking, piercing feelings due to exertion, this is the utmost; there is none beyond this. And whatever renunciants and brahmins in the future will experience painful, racking, piercing feelings due to exertion, this is the utmost; there is none beyond this. And whatever renunciants and brahmins at present experience painful, racking, piercing feelings due to exertion, this is the utmost; there is none beyond this.

But by this racking practice of austerities I have not attained any superhuman distinction in knowing and seeing worthy of the noble ones. Could there be another path to awakening?

Mahā-saccaka Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.240–246, trans. G.A.S.

L.14 Rebuffing the temptation of Māra

In this passage, the tempter-deity Māra (also known as Namucī and Kaṇha; see *LI.5 and 7) comes to Gotama (not yet a Buddha) at the end of his ascetic period, urging him to give up his renunciant life-style, and return to normal lay life in which he could generate beneficial karma and its worldly benefits by carrying out Brahmanical sacrifices. Gotama, though, says he has no need of any more beneficial karma (not that doing sacrifices would add to this), and that he is set to attain awakening and teach many disciples. He has the five faculties of faith, vigour, mindfulness, meditative concentration and wisdom, and will conquer Māra’s ‘army’ of moral and spiritual faults.

Devoting to striving, while I was meditating near the river Nerañjarā, making a great effort, for the attainment of the security from bondage,

Namucī approached me, uttering seemingly compassionate words!: ‘You are thin, of bad complexion; death is near you.

There are one thousand parts of death in you; only one part of you is life. Live, sir, life is better. If you live, you will make beneficial karma.

Practising the holy life and performing the fire sacrifice, you could heap up much beneficial karma. What do you want with striving?

The road to striving is hard to travel, hard to perform, hard to achieve.’ Saying these verses, Māra stood near the Buddha.

To Māra who spoke thus, the Blessed One said this: ‘Kinsman of the negligent, evil one, you have come here for your own purpose.

I do not have even the slightest need of (more) beneficial karma; Māra ought to speak to those who do have the need of it.

Faith, vigour, and wisdom are found in me. Why do you ask me, one who is thus devoted to striving, about life?

This wind would dry up even the streams of the rivers; why should my blood, of one devoted to striving, not be dried up?

When my blood is being dried up, then the bile and phlegm are dried up. When the flesh wastes away, the mind becomes clearer, and all the more my mindfulness and wisdom and meditative concentration stand firm.

While I dwell like this, having reached the highest feeling, my mind has no regard for sensual pleasures. See a being’s pure state.

Sensual pleasures are your first army; discontent is called your second; your third is hunger and thirst; the fourth is called craving.

Dullness and lethargy are your fifth; the sixth is called fear; your seventh is vacillating doubt; hypocrisy and obstinacy are your eighth.

Gain, reputation, honour, and whatever fame is falsely received, and whoever both extols himself and disparages others, that is your army.

Namucī, that is the striking force of Kaṇha. One who is not a hero cannot conquer it, but having conquered it one obtains happiness.

Should I wear muñja grass?74 I’ve had enough of life here. Death in battle is better for me than that I should be conquered and live.

Plunged into this battle some renunciants and brahmins are not seen, and they do not know the road by which those with good vows go.

Seeing the army arrayed all around, and Māra with his elephants, I shall go forth into battle.
Do not move me from my place.

That army of yours which the world together with the gods cannot overcome, I shall break with wisdom, as if breaking an unfired pot with a stone.

Bringing my thoughts under control, making my mindfulness well-established, I shall wander from kingdom to kingdom, training many disciples.

Those vigilant devoted performers of my teaching will go, despite you, to where, having gone, they will not grieve.’

(Māra:) For seven years I have followed the Blessed One step by step. I have not obtained an opportunity against the perfectly awakened Buddha who possesses mindfulness.

I once saw a bird circling a stone which looked like fat, thinking: “Perhaps we shall find something soft here; perhaps there may be something sweet.”

Not obtaining anything sweet, the bird went away from there. Like the crow that attacked the stone and became despondent, we, after attacking Gotama and becoming despondent, will go away.’

Overcome by grief, the lute fell from Māra’s armpit, and that discouraged spirit disappeared on that very spot.

Padhāna Sutta: Sutta-nipāta 425–449, trans. G.A.S.

The awakening and its aftermath

L.15 Attaining the meditative absorptions, seeing past lives and the working of karma, and attaining liberation

In this passage the Buddha recalls his awakening/enlightenment. After his ascetic period, and nearly giving up, he had wondered if there was another, effective way to awakening. At that point, he remembered a meditative state he had entered some time in his youth: the first of four meditative absorptions (jhānas: see *Th.140), which was happy and joyful, but nothing to do with sensual pleasures or any negative state of mind. He thus decided to revisit this state as a way through to awakening. Given that it is clear from other passages that this would have been attained by a practice such as mindfulness of breathing, we can see that his path now became one of careful awareness of the body, rather than attaining formless states which completely transcended the body, or extreme asceticism that went for forceful and wilful mastery of the body.

He then regained physical health by ending his fast, so that he could go on to attain the four meditative absorptions in turn, then from the great stillness and sensitivity of the fourth absorption, remembered many of his countless past lives, saw how other beings were then being reborn according to the quality of their karma, their actions, and then, most crucially, attained direct insight into the painful nature of conditioned existence, what originated such states and their mental and physical pains, how they end, and the path to this: these four Truths of the Noble Ones (often called ‘Noble Truths’) later became the subject of his first teaching. Insight into the third of them entailed the realization of nirvana, and hence the ending of the intoxicating inclinations that are a barrier to this. He thus saw that he was now awakened. He was a Buddha.

Aggivesana, I considered: ‘I recall that when my father the Sakyan was occupied, while I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered and dwelled in the first meditative absorption, which is comprised of the joy and easeful pleasure associated with mental application and examination, and born of seclusion. Could this be the path to awakening?’ Aggivessana, then following on that memory was the realization: ‘This indeed is the path to awakening.’

Aggivessana, I considered: ‘Why am I afraid of that easeful pleasure that has nothing to do with sensual pleasures and unwholesome states?’ Aggivessana, I considered: ‘I am not afraid of that easeful pleasure that has nothing to do with sensual pleasures and unwholesome states.’

Aggivessana, I considered: ‘It is not easy to attain that easeful pleasure with a body so excessively emaciated. Suppose I ate some solid food: some boiled rice and porridge?’ And I ate some solid food: some boiled rice and porridge.

Aggivessana, now at that time five monks were waiting upon me, 75 thinking: ‘If our renunciant Gotama achieves some higher state, he will inform us.’ But, Aggivessana, when I ate the boiled rice and porridge, the five monks were disgusted and left me, thinking: ‘The renunciant Gotama now lives luxuriously; he has given up his striving and reverted to luxury.’

Aggivessana, when I had eaten solid food and regained my strength, then, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered and dwelled in the first meditative absorption, which is comprised of the joy and easeful pleasure associated with mental application and examination, But such pleasant feeling that arose in me did not invade my mind and remain.

With the stilling of mental application and examination, I entered and dwelled in the second meditative absorption, which is comprised of the joy and easeful pleasure born from a composed, concentrated state, devoid of mental application and examination, bringing inner clarity, being a one-pointed state of mind. But such pleasant feeling that arose in me did not invade my mind and remain.

With non-attachment towards joy, I dwelled with equanimity, being mindful and with clear comprehension, I experienced happiness with the body; and I entered and dwelled in the third meditative absorption of which the noble ones declare: ‘he is possessed of equanimity, he is mindful, a person abiding in happiness.’ But such pleasant feeling that arose in me did not invade my mind and remain.

Having previously given up pleasure and pain, with the disappearance of happiness and unhappiness, I entered and dwelled in the fourth meditative absorption, which is without any pleasant or painful (feeling) and purified by equanimity and mindfulness. But such pleasant feeling that arose in me did not invade my mind and remain.

When my mind was thus composed, purified, bright, without blemish, the defilements removed, malleable, wieldy, steady and attained to imperturbability, I directed it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives. I recollected my manifold past lives, that is, one birth, two births, three births, four births, five births, ten births, twenty births, thirty births, forty births, fifty births, a hundred births, a thousand births, a hundred thousand births, many eons of world-contraction, many eons of world-expansion, many eons of world-contraction and expansion: ‘There I was so named, of such a clan, with such an appearance, such was my nutriment, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such my lifespan; and passing away from there, I was reborn elsewhere; and there too I was so named, of such a clan, with such an appearance, such was my nutriment, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such my lifespan; and passing away from there, I was reborn here.’

Thus with their aspects and particulars I recollected (many of) my manifold past lives. Aggivessana, this was the first true knowledge attained by me in the first watch of the night. Ignorance was banished and true knowledge arose, darkness was banished and light arose, as happens in one who dwells diligent, ardent, and resolute. But such pleasant feeling that arose in me did not invade my mind and remain.

When my mind was thus composed, purified, bright, without blemish, the defilements removed, malleable, wieldy, steady, and attained to imperturbability, I directed it to knowledge of the passing away and rebirth of beings. With the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, I saw beings passing away and being reborn, of a low or high status, beautiful and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate, and I understood how beings fare on according to their actions (karma) thus: ‘These beings who behaved wrongly by body, speech, and mind, who reviled the noble ones, held wrong view, and undertook actions based on wrong view, with the dissolution of the body, after death, have been reborn in a state of misery, in a bad destination, in the lower world, even in hell; but these beings who behaved well by body, speech, and mind, who did not revile the noble ones, who held right view, and undertook action based on right view, with the breakup of the body, after death, have been reborn in a good destination, in a heavenly world.’

Thus with the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, I saw beings passing away and being reborn, of a low or high status, beautiful and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate, and I understood how beings fare on according to their actions. Aggivessana, this was the second true knowledge attained by me in the middle watch of the night. Ignorance was banished and true knowledge arose, darkness was banished and light arose, as happens in a one who dwells diligent, ardent, and resolute. But such pleasant feeling that arose in me did not invade my mind and remain.

When my mind was thus composed, purified, bright, without blemish, the defilements removed, malleable, wieldy, steady, and attained to imperturbability, I directed it to knowledge of the destruction of the intoxicating inclinations.76 I directly knew as it really is: ‘This is the painful’; ‘this is the origin of the painful’; ‘this is the cessation of the painful’; ‘this is the way leading to the cessation of the painful’.
I directly knew as it really is: ‘These are the intoxicating inclinations’; ‘this is the origin of the intoxicating inclinations’; ‘this is the cessation of the intoxicating inclinations’; ‘this is the way leading to the cessation of the intoxicating inclinations’.

When I knew and saw thus, my mind was liberated from the intoxicating inclination to sensual desire, from the intoxicating inclination to a way of being, and from the intoxicating inclination to ignorance.

When it was liberated, there came the knowledge: ‘It is liberated.’ I directly knew: ‘Birth77 is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, and there is nothing more to be done hereafter.’

Aggivessana, this was the third true knowledge attained by me in the last watch of the night. Ignorance was banished and true knowledge arose, darkness was banished and light arose, as happens in one who dwells diligent, ardent, and resolute. But such pleasant feeling that arose in me did not invade my mind and remain.

Mahā-saccaka Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.246–249, trans. G.A.S.

L.16 Joy at finding the end of wandering on from life to life

Here the Buddha expresses joy at having identified and ended the craving that had been driving him, like all beings, through repeated rebirths and the mental and physical pains that these bring.

Through many a birth I wandered in saṃsāra,78 seeking, but not finding the builder of the house.79 Painful is repeated birth.

O house-builder! You are seen. You shall build no house again. All your rafters are broken. Your ridge-pole is shattered. Mind is free from volitional constructions. Achieved is the destruction of cravings.

Dhammapada 153–154, trans. G.A.S.

L.17 Attaining nirvana on reaching awakening/enlightenment

Monks, searching for what is wholesome, seeking the supreme state of sublime peace, I wandered by stages through the Magadhan country until eventually I arrived at Uruvelā near Senānigama. There I saw an agreeable piece of ground, a delightful grove with a clear-flowing river with pleasant, smooth banks and nearby a village for alms resort.

Monks, I considered: ‘This is an agreeable piece of ground; this is a delightful grove with a clear-flowing river with pleasant, smooth banks and nearby a village for alms resort. This will serve for the striving of a clansman intent on striving.’ And I sat down there, thinking: ‘This will serve for striving.’

Monks, then being myself subject to birth, having understood the danger in what is subject to birth, seeking the unborn supreme security from bondage, nirvana, I attained the unborn supreme security from bondage, nirvana; being myself subject to ageing, having understood the danger in what is subject to ageing, seeking the unaging supreme security from bondage, nirvana, I attained the unaging supreme security from bondage, nirvana; being myself subject to sickness, having understood the danger in what is subject to sickness, seeking the unailing supreme security from bondage, nirvana, I attained the unailing supreme security from bondage, nirvana; being myself subject to death, having understood the danger in what is subject to death, seeking the deathless supreme security from bondage, nirvana, I attained the deathless supreme security from bondage, nirvana; being myself subject to sorrow, having understood the danger in what is subject to sorrow, seeking sorrowless supreme security from bondage, nirvana, I attained the sorrowless supreme security from bondage, nirvana; being myself subject to defilement, having understood the danger in what is subject to defilement, seeking the undefiled supreme security from bondage, nirvana, I attained the undefiled supreme security from bondage, nirvana.

The knowing and seeing arose in me: ‘My liberation is unshakable. This is my last birth. Now there is no more repeated being.’

Ariya-pariyesana Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.166–167, trans. G.A.S.

L.18 The rediscovery of an ancient path

In the passage, the Buddha compares his discovery of the noble eightfold path, which goes to the cessation of the painful bundle of ageing and death etc., as like the re-discovery of a path to a forgotten ancient city. Like other long-past Buddhas before him, he had discovered the path to nirvana, and taught it to others.

Monks, suppose a man wandering through a forest would see an ancient path, an ancient road travelled upon by people in the past. He would follow it and would see an ancient city, an ancient capital that had been inhabited by people in the past, with parks, groves, ponds, and ramparts, a delightful place. Then the man would inform the king or a royal minister of this and say: ‘… Sire, renovate that city!’ Then the king or the royal minister would renovate the city, and some time later that city would become successful and prosperous, well populated, filled with people, attained to growth and expansion.

Monks, so too I saw the ancient path, the ancient road travelled by the perfectly awakened Buddhas of the past. What is that ancient path, that ancient road? It is just this noble eightfold path namely: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditative concentration.

I followed that path and by doing so I have directly known ageing and death, its origin, its cessation, and the way leading to its cessation. …

Having directly known them, I have explained them to the monks, nuns, the male and female lay followers. Monks, this holy life has become successful and prosperous, extended, popular, widespread, well proclaimed among gods and humans.

Nagara Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya II.105–107, trans. G.A.S.

L.19 Honouring the Dhamma

Here the Buddha sees that there is no person he can honour as superior to him in spiritual qualities, but that he should honour the Dhamma he has awakened to. The deity Brahmā Sahampati, a long-lived ‘non-returner’ who had been taught by a past Buddha (Saṃyutta-nikāya V.232–233), appears to him and confirms that all Buddhas honour Dhamma.

On one occasion, when the Blessed One was newly awakened, he was staying at Uruvelā on the bank of the river Nerañjarā, at the foot of the Goatherd’s Banyan tree. Then while he was alone and in seclusion, this line of thinking arose in his mind: ‘One suffers if dwelling without reverence or deference. Now on what renunciant or brahmin can I dwell in dependence, honouring and respecting him?’

Then the Blessed One considered: ‘It would be for the sake of perfecting the unperfected body of ethical discipline that I would dwell in dependence on another renunciant or brahmin, honouring and respecting him. However, in this world with its gods, māras and brahmās, with its people, renunciants, brahmins, kings and the masses, I do not see another renunciant or brahmin more consummate in ethical discipline than I, on whom I could dwell in dependence, honouring and respecting him.

It would be for the sake of perfecting the unperfected body of meditative concentration … the unperfected body of wisdom … the unperfected body of liberation … the unperfected body of knowing and seeing of liberation that I would dwell in dependence on another renunciant or brahmin … However … I do not see another renunciant or brahmin more consummate in these than I …

What if I were to dwell in dependence on this very Dhamma to which I have fully awakened, honouring and respecting it?

Then, having known with his own mind the mind of the Blessed One, just as a strong man might extend his bent arm or bend his extended arm, Brahmā Sahampati disappeared from the Brahmā-world and reappeared in front of the Blessed One. Arranging his upper robe over one shoulder, he saluted the Blessed One with his hands before his heart and said to him: ‘Blessed One, so it is! Fortunate One, so it is! …

Awakened ones in the past, those in the future, and he who is the awakened one now, removing the sorrow of many,

All have dwelt, will dwell, dwell, revering the true Dhamma deeply. This, for Buddhas, is the standard law.

Hence, one who desires his own good, aspiring for greatness, should respect the true Dhamma deeply, recollecting the Buddhas’ teaching.’

Gārava Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya I.138–140 <304–306>,80 trans. G.A.S.

The achievements and nature of the Buddha

L.20 The Tathāgata

This passage explains that the Buddha is the ‘Tathāgata’, one who is Thus-gone or Thus-come.81 The ‘world’ (loka) that the Buddha has transcended is elsewhere described as disintegrating processes of experience: six senses, sensory objects, sensory consciousness, and the feelings that arise conditioned by sensory contacts (Saṃyutta-nikāya IV.52), i.e. all that is in some way painful, however subtly so (Saṃyutta-nikāya IV.38–40).

The world has been fully understood by the Tathāgata. From the world, the Tathāgata is unfettered. The origination of the world has been fully understood by the Tathāgata. The origination of the world has been abandoned by the Tathāgata. The cessation of the world has been fully understood by the Tathāgata. The cessation of the world has been realized by the Tathāgata. The path leading to the cessation of the world has been fully understood by the Tathāgata. The path leading to the cessation of the world has been developed by the Tathāgata.

Whatever in this world with its gods, māras and brahmās, with its people, renunciants, brahmins, kings and the masses, is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, attained, sought after, pondered by the intellect, that has been fully awakened to by the Tathāgata. Thus he is called the Tathāgata.

From the night the Tathāgata attains the unsurpassed full awakening, until the night (of his death when) he attains final nirvana in the nirvana-element with no fuel remaining, whatever the Tathāgata has said, spoken, explained is just so (tath’eva) and not otherwise. Thus he is called the Tathāgata.

In accord with what the Tathāgata says is what he does (tathā-kārī), and in accord with what he does is what he says (tathā-vādī). Thus he is called the Tathāgata.

In this world with its gods, māras and brahmās, with its people, renunciants, brahmins, kings and the masses, the Tathāgata is the unvanquished victor, the all-seeing, the wielder of power. Thus he is called the Tathāgata.

Loka Sutta: Itivuttaka 121–122, trans. G.A.S.

L.21 The Tathāgata as the one person that causes many good things to appear

Monks, there is one person who arises in the world for the welfare of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, welfare, and happiness of gods and humans. Who is that one person? It is the Tathāgata, the arahant (worthy one), the perfectly awakened Buddha. This is that one person.

Monks, there is one person arising in the world who is hard to obtain … who arises as a man of marvels … whose passing away is a distress for the many … who is unique, without a peer, without counterpart, incomparable, unequalled, matchless, unrivalled, the best of humans. Who is that one person? It is the Tathāgata, the arahant, the perfectly awakened Buddha. This is that one person.

Monks, the appearance of one person is the appearance of great vision, of great light, of great radiance … it is the appearance of the six things unsurpassed … the realization of the fourfold analytical knowledge … the penetration of the various elements, of the diversity of elements; … it is the realization of the fruit that is knowledge and freedom … the realization of the fruits that are stream-entry, once-returning, non-returning, and arahantship. Who is that one person? It is the Tathāgata, the arahant, the perfectly awakened Buddha. This is that one person. Monks, the appearance of this one person is the appearance of all these.

The Ones, suttas 171–187: Aṅguttara-nikāya I.22–23, trans. G.A.S.

L.22 The powers of the Buddha

This passage is part of the Buddha’s response when a disgruntled ex-monk slanders him by saying that he teaches based only on reasoning, and lacks any supernormal higher knowledge.

Sāriputta, this foolish man Sunakkhatta will never understand me in line with the Dhamma: “That Blessed One encompasses with his own mind the minds of other beings and other persons: he understands a mind affected by lust as affected by lust, a mind unaffected by lust as unaffected by lust [and likewise a mind affected by or unaffected by hate or delusion]; he understands a contracted mind as contracted, a distracted mind as distracted; he understands an exalted mind as exalted, an unexalted mind as unexalted; … he understands a composed mind as composed, an uncomposed mind as uncomposed; he understands a liberated mind as liberated, an unliberated mind as unliberated.”

Sāriputta, the Tathāgata has these ten Tathāgata’s powers, possessing which he claims the herd-leader’s place, roars his lion’s roar in the assemblies, and sets rolling the wheel of Brahmā.82 What are the ten?

Sāriputta, here the Tathāgata understands as it really is the possible as possible; the impossible as impossible. That is a Tathāgata’s power that the Tathāgata has, by virtue of which he claims the herd-leader’s place, roars his lion’s roar in the assemblies, and sets rolling the wheel of Brahmā.

Sāriputta, here the Tathāgata understands as it really is: the results of actions undertaken, past, future, and present, by way of possibilities and causes; … the ways leading to all (rebirth) destinations; … the world with its many and different elements; … how beings have different inclinations; … disposition of the faculties of other beings, other persons; … the defilement, the cleansing, and the emergence in regard to the meditative absorptions, liberations, concentrations, and attainments. …

Sāriputta, here the Tathāgata recollects his manifold past lives: one birth, two births … many eons of world contraction and expansion … Thus with their aspects and particulars he recollects his manifold past lives. …

Sāriputta, with the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, the Tathāgata sees beings passing away and reappearing, of a low or high status, beautiful and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate …. and understands how beings pass on according to their actions. …

Sāriputta, by realizing for himself with direct insight, the Tathāgata here and now enters upon and abides in the freedom of mind and freedom by wisdom that are without intoxicating inclinations, with the destruction of the intoxicating inclinations. That too is a Tathāgata’s power that the Tathāgata has, by virtue of which he claims the herd-leader’s place, roars his lion’s roar in the assemblies, and sets rolling the wheel of Brahmā.

Mahā-sīhanāda Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.69–71, trans. G.A.S.

L.23 The Buddha as the originator of the path which his disciples follow

Monks, through disenchantment with form, feeling, perception, volitional activities, and consciousness,83 through their fading away and cessation, the Tathāgata, the arahant, the perfectly awakened Buddha, is freed by non-clinging; he is called the perfectly awakened Buddha. The same applies to a monk liberated by wisdom …

Monks, the Tathāgata, the arahant, the perfectly awakened Buddha, is the originator of the path unarisen before, the producer of the path unproduced before, the declarer of the path undeclared before. He is the knower of the path, the discoverer of the path, the one skilled in the path. And his disciples now dwell following that path and become possessed of it afterwards.

Sambuddha Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya III.65–66, trans. G.A.S.

L.24 The appearance of the Buddha brings great light

Monks, so long as the moon and the sun have not arisen in the world, for just so long there is no appearance of great light and radiance, but then blinding darkness prevails, a dense mass of darkness; for just so long day and night are not discerned, the month and fortnight are not discerned, the seasons and the year are not discerned.

But, monks, when the moon and the sun arise in the world, then … [these appear and are discerned].

Monks, so too, so long as the Tathāgata has not arisen in the world, the arahant, the perfectly awakened Buddha, for just so long there is no appearance of great light and radiance, but then blinding darkness prevails, a dense mass of darkness; for just so long there is no explaining, teaching, proclaiming, establishing, disclosing, analysing, or elucidating of the four Truths of the Noble Ones.84 But, monks, when the Tathāgata arises in the world … [then these appear and the Truths of the Noble Ones are disclosed].

Suriya Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya V.442–43, trans. G.A.S.

The Buddha as teacher

L.25 Decision to teach

In this passage, the Buddha hesitates to teach Dhamma, as he thinks that no-one else will be able to understand its profundity. However, at the request of Brahmā Sahampati (on whom, see *L.19), he decides to teach after having seen that there are some who will understand.

On one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Uruvelā, on the river Nerañjarā at the foot of the Goatherd’s Banyan tree, having just realized the full awakening. Then, while being alone and in seclusion, the Blessed One considered: ‘This Dhamma that I have attained is profound, hard to see and hard to understand, peaceful, sublime, unattainable by mere reasoning, subtle, to be experienced by the wise. But this population delights in clinging, enjoys clinging, and rejoices in clinging. It is hard for such a population to see this state, namely, specific conditionality, dependent arising.85 And it is hard to see this state, namely, the stilling of all volitional activities, the relinquishing of all acquisitions, the destruction of craving, non-attachment, cessation, nirvana. If I were to teach the Dhamma, others would not understand me, and that would be wearying and troublesome for me.’

Thus when the Blessed One was considering, his mind inclined towards inaction, to not teaching the Dhamma. Thereupon, there came to the Blessed One spontaneously these verses never heard before:

What is the point of trying to teach the Dhamma that even I found hard to reach? – For it is not easily understood by those who live in lust and hate.

Those dyed in lust, wrapped in darkness, will never discern that which goes against the worldly stream, fine, profound, difficult to see and subtle.

Considering thus, the Blessed One’s mind inclined to inaction rather than to teaching the Dhamma.

Then Brahmā Sahampati knew with his mind the thought in the mind of the Blessed One and considered: ‘The world will be lost; the world will perish; since the mind of the Tathāgata, the arahant, the perfectly awakened Buddha, inclines to inaction rather than to teaching the Dhamma.’

Then, just as quickly as a strong man might extend his bent arm or bend his extended arm, Brahmā Sahampati vanished from the Brahmā world and appeared before the Blessed One. Brahmā Sahampati, arranged his upper robe on one shoulder, and extending his hands in reverential salutation toward the Blessed One, said: ‘Venerable sir, let the Blessed One teach the Dhamma, let the Fortunate One teach the Dhamma. There are beings with little dust in their eyes, who will perish if they were to not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.’

Brahmā Sahampati spoke thus, and then he said further:

In Magadha there have appeared till now impure teachings devised by those still stained.

Open the doors to the deathless! Let them hear the Dhamma that the stainless one has found.

Just as one who stands on a mountain peak can see below the people all around, so, O wise one, all-seeing sage, ascend the palace of the Dhamma. Let the sorrowless one survey this human breed, engulfed in sorrow, overcome by birth and old age.

Arise, victorious hero, caravan leader, debtless one, and wander in the world. Let the Blessed One teach the Dhamma, there will be those who will understand.

Then the Blessed One listened to the pleading of Brahmā, and out of compassion for the beings he surveyed the world with the eye of the awakened one. Surveying the world with the eye of the awakened one, he saw: beings with little dust in their eyes, beings with much dust in their eyes; beings with keen faculties, beings with dull faculties; beings with good qualities, beings with bad qualities; beings who are easy to teach; beings who are hard to teach; and some who dwell seeing fear in blame and in the next world.

Just as in a pond of blue or red or white lotuses: some lotuses that are born and grow in the water thrive immersed in the water without rising out of it; some other lotuses that are born and grow in the water rest on the water’s surface; and some other lotuses that are born and grow in the water rise out of the water and stand clear, unwetted by it – so too, surveying the world with the eye of the awakened one, the Blessed One saw: beings with little dust in their eyes, beings with much dust in their eyes; beings with keen faculties; beings with dull faculties; beings with good qualities, beings with bad qualities; beings who are easy to teach and hard to teach, and some who dwell seeing fear in blame and in the next world.

Then he replied to Brahmā Sahampati in a verse:

Open for them are the doors to the deathless, let those with ears now release their faith. O Brahmā, thinking it would be troublesome, I did not speak the Dhamma subtle and sublime.

Then Brahmā Sahampati, thinking that the Blessed One had consented to his request that he would teach the Dhamma, departed at once, after paying homage to the Blessed One, keeping him on the right.

Ariya-pariyesana Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.167–169, trans. G.A.S.

L.26 The first to receive the Buddha’s teaching

In this passage, the Buddha thinks that the best people for him to teach first are the two people who taught him to attain the spheres of nothingness and of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, Āḷāra Kālāma and Uddaka the son of Rāma (see *L.10 and 11). When deities told him of their recent deaths, which he then confirmed by his meditative powers, he then thought of the five that he had previously practised asceticism with. On the way to teach them, he met a fatalist ascetic who was unimpressed by his claims to awakening. On approaching the five ascetics, they at first resolved to snub him, due to his abandoning asceticism, but his repeated affirmation of his attainment showed them that a change had come over him, and they then accepted his teaching, until they too attained awakening.

Monks, I considered thus: ‘To whom should I first teach the Dhamma? Who will understand the Dhamma quickly?’ Monks, then I considered: ‘Āḷāra Kālāma is wise, intelligent, and discerning; he has long had little dust in his eyes. Suppose I taught the Dhamma first to Āḷāra Kālāma. He will understand it quickly.’ Monks, then the deities approached me and said: ‘Venerable sir, Āḷāra Kālāma died seven days ago.’ And the knowing and seeing arose in me: Āḷāra Kālāma died seven days ago.

Monks, I considered: ‘Āḷāra Kālāma was a great discerner. If he had heard this Dhamma, he would have understood it quickly.’

Monks, I considered thus: ‘To whom should I first teach the Dhamma? Who will understand the Dhamma quickly?’ Monks, then I considered: ‘Uddaka the son of Rāma is wise, intelligent, and discerning; he has long had little dust in his eyes. Suppose I taught the Dhamma first to Uddaka the son of Rāma. He will understand it quickly.’ Monks, then the deities approached me and said: ‘Venerable sir, Uddaka the son of Rāma died last night.’ And the knowing and seeing arose in me: Uddaka the son of Rāma died last night.

Monks, I considered: ‘Uddaka the son of Rāma was a great discerner. If he had heard this Dhamma, he would have understood it quickly.’

Monks, I considered thus: ‘To whom should I first teach the Dhamma? Who will understand the Dhamma quickly?’ Monks, then I considered: ‘The monks of the group of five who attended upon me while I was engaged in my striving were very helpful. Suppose I taught the Dhamma first to them.

Monks, then I considered: ‘Where are the monks of the group of five now living?’ Monks, with the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, I saw the group of five living at Varanasi in the Deer Park at Isipatana. Monks, then when I had stayed at Uruvelā as long as I chose, I set out to wander by stages to Varanasi.

Monks, the Ājīvaka Upaka saw me proceeding on the road between the Bodhi tree and Gayā. He spoke to me: ‘Friend, your sense faculties are clear; the colour of your skin is pure and bright. Friend, under whom have you gone forth? Or who is your teacher? Or whose Dhamma do you profess?’ Monks, being spoken so, I replied to the Ājīvaka Upaka in verses:

I am one who has transcended all, a knower of all, unsullied among all things, renouncing all, released by the cessation of craving. Having known this all for myself, to whom should I point as teacher?

I have no teacher; there is none like me; in the world with its gods, there is no counterpart. Indeed I am the arahant in the world; I am the teacher supreme. I am the only perfectly awakened Buddha; I am one with fires quenched and extinguished.

I go now to the city of Kāsi to set in motion the wheel of the Dhamma. In a world that has become blind, I will beat the drum of the deathless.

(Upaka:) Friend, as you claim, you ought to be the infinite victor.

(The Buddha:) The victorious ones are those like me who have won the destruction of intoxicating inclinations. I have vanquished all evil states; therefore, Upaka, I am a victorious one.

Monks, when this was said, the Ājīvaka Upaka, saying ‘Friend, may it be so’, shaking his head, taking a bypath, departed.

Monks, then wandering by stages, I eventually came to Varanasi, to the Deer Park at Isipatana, and I approached the monks of the group of five. Monks, the monks of the group of five, seeing me coming in the distance, agreed among themselves: ‘Friend, here comes the renunciant Gotama who lives luxuriously, who gave up his striving and reverted to luxury. We should not pay homage to him or rise up for him or receive his bowl and robe. But a seat may be prepared so that if he likes, he may sit down.’ Monks, however, as I approached, the monks of the group of five found themselves unable to keep their pact. Some came to meet me and took my bowl and robe; some prepared a seat; some set out water for my feet; however, they addressed me by name and as ‘friend’.

Monks, thereupon I told the monks of the group of five: ‘Monks, do not address the Tathāgata by name and as “friend”. The Tathāgata is the arahant, the perfectly awakened Buddha. Monks, listen, the deathless has been attained! I shall instruct you, I shall teach you Dhamma. Practising as you are instructed, by realizing it for yourselves here and now through higher knowledge86 you will soon enter and dwell in that supreme goal of the holy life for the sake of which clansmen rightly go forth from the home life into homelessness.’

Monks, when this was said, the monks of the groups of five said this me: ‘Friend Gotama, by the conduct, the practice, and the austerities that you undertook, you did not achieve any superhuman distinction in knowing and seeing worthy of the noble ones. Since you now live luxuriously, having given up your striving and reverted to luxury, how could you have achieved any superhuman distinction in knowing and seeing worthy of the noble ones?’

Monks, when this was said, I told the monks of the group of five: ‘Monks, the Tathāgata does not live luxuriously, nor has he given up his striving and reverted to luxury. The Tathāgata is an arahant, a perfectly awakened Buddha. Monks, listen, the deathless has been attained! I shall instruct you, I shall teach you Dhamma. Practising as you are instructed, by realizing it for yourselves here and now through higher knowledge you will soon enter and dwell in that supreme goal of the holy life for the sake of which clansmen rightly go forth from the home life into homelessness.

Monks, a second time the monks of the group of five said to me: ‘Friend Gotama … how could you have achieved any superhuman distinction in knowing and seeing worthy of the noble ones?’

Monks, when this was said, for the second time too I told the monks of the group of five: ‘Monks, the Tathāgata does not live luxuriously … I shall instruct you … you will soon enter and dwell in that supreme goal ….’

Monks, a third time the monks of the group of five said to me: ‘Friend Gotama … how could you have achieved any superhuman distinction in knowing and seeing worthy of the noble ones?’

Monks, when this was said I asked the monks of the group of five: ‘Monks, have you ever known me to insist like this before?’ ‘No, venerable sir.’ ‘Monks, the Tathāgata is the arahant, the perfectly awakened Buddha. Monks, listen, the deathless has been attained! I shall instruct you, I shall teach you Dhamma. Practising as you are instructed, by realizing it for yourselves here and now through higher knowledge, you will soon enter and dwell in that supreme goal of the holy life for the sake of which clansmen rightly go forth from home life into homelessness.’

Monks, I was able to convince the monks of the group of five. Monks, then I sometimes instructed two monks while the other three went for collecting alms, and the six of us lived on what those three monks brought back from their alms-round. Monks, sometimes I instructed three monks while the other two went for collecting alms, and the six of us lived on what those two monks brought back from their alms-round.

Monks, then the monks of the group of five, thus taught and instructed by me, being themselves subject to birth, having understood the danger in what is subject to birth, seeking the unborn supreme security from bondage, nirvana, attained the unborn supreme security from bondage, nirvana. They, being themselves subject to ageing, having understood the danger in what is subject to ageing, seeking the unaging supreme security from bondage, nirvana, attained the unaging supreme security from bondage, nirvana. They, being themselves subject to sickness … attained the unaging supreme security from bondage, nirvana. They, being themselves subject to death … attained the deathless supreme security from bondage, nirvana. They, being themselves subject to sorrow … attained the sorrowless supreme security from bondage. They, being themselves subject to defilement … attained the undefiled supreme security from bondage, nirvana.

The knowing and seeing arose in the monks of the group of five: ‘Our release is unshakable; this is our last birth; now there is no more renewed being.’

Ariya-pariyesana Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.167–173, trans. G.A.S.

L.27 The first discourse: The Setting in Motion of the Dhamma-wheel

This passage is the famous first discourse of the Buddha. It introduces the Buddhist path as a ‘middle way’ between the extremes of sensual indulgence and extreme asceticism, and then focuses on 1) various aspects of life that entail mental or physical pain, so as to be ‘the painful’ (dukkha – as more fully explained in passages *Th.150–152), 2) how these arise from craving, or demanding desires, and 3) cease with the end of craving, which is 4) attained by practise of the noble eightfold path. At the end of this teaching, one of the Buddha’s audience gains an experiential realization based on it: he gains the ‘vision of Dhamma’ or ‘Dhamma-eye’, a direct insight into the reality-pattern (dhamma) that anything that arises will in time cease. In particular, the painful phenomena that arise from craving will cease when craving ends. The gaining of the Dhamma-eye marks the attainment of at least stream-entry: becoming the kind of spiritually ennobled person (noble one) that will attain full awakening in a maximum of seven more lives. The noble ones are those with deep spiritual insight, so as to be partially or fully awakened/enlightened (see *Th.201). For them, the most significant truths, in the sense of aspects of reality, are painful phenomena, what causes them, the transcending of what is painful, and the path to this; these are the four ‘Truths of the Noble Ones’.87 The discourse ends with news of the Buddha’s ‘turning of the Dhamma-wheel’, by transmitting insight into Dhamma, spreading up to the various kinds of deities.

Thus have I heard. At one time the Blessed One was dwelling at Varanasi in the Deer Park at Isipatana. There the Blessed One addressed the monks of the group of five thus: ‘Monks, these two extremes should not be followed by one gone forth (into the homeless life). What two? That which is this pursuit of sensual happiness in sensual pleasures, which is low, vulgar, the way of the ordinary person, ignoble, not connected to the goal; and that which is this pursuit of self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, not connected to the goal. Monks, without veering towards either of these two extremes, the Tathāgata has awakened to the middle way, which gives rise to vision, which gives rise to knowledge, which leads to peace, to higher knowledge, to full awakening, to nirvana.

And what, monks, is that middle way awakened to by the Tathāgata, which gives rise to vision, which gives rise to knowledge, which leads to peace, to higher knowledge, to full awakening, to nirvana? It is just this noble eightfold path, that is to say, right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right meditative concentration. This, monks, is that middle way awakened to by the Tathāgata, which gives rise to vision, which gives rise to knowledge, which leads to peace, to higher knowledge, to full awakening, to nirvana.

Now this, monks, is the Truth of the Noble Ones that is the painful: birth is painful, ageing is painful, illness is painful, death is painful; sorrow, lamentation, (physical) pain, unhappiness and distress are painful; union with what is disliked is painful; separation from what is liked is painful; not to get what one wants is painful; in brief, the five grasped-at categories of existence88 are painful.

Now this, monks, is the Truth of the Noble Ones that is the origin of the painful. It is this craving which leads to repeated existence, accompanied by delight and attachment, seeking delight now here, now there; that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for being (something), craving for (something’s) non-existence.

Now this, monks, is the Truth of the Noble Ones that is the cessation of the painful. It is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, non-reliance on it. 89

Now this, monks, is the Truth of the Noble Ones that is the way leading to the cessation of the painful. It is this noble eightfold path, that is to say, right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right meditative concentration.

“This is the Truth of the Noble Ones that is the painful”: in me, monks, in regard to things unheard before, there arose vision, knowledge, wisdom, insight and light. Now on this, “This – the Truth of the Noble Ones that is the painful – is to be fully understood”: in me, monks, in regard to things unheard before, there arose vision, knowledge, wisdom, insight, and light. Now on this, “This – the Truth of the Noble Ones that is the painful – has been fully understood”: in me, monks, in regard to things unheard before, there arose vision, knowledge, wisdom, insight and light.

(Likewise,) in me, monks, in regard to things unheard before, there arose vision, knowledge, wisdom, insight and light, with respect to: “This is the Truth of the Noble Ones that is the origin of the painful”, “This – the Truth of the Noble Ones that is the origin of the painful – is to be abandoned”, and “This – Truth of the Noble Ones that is the origin of the painful – has been abandoned.”

(Likewise,) in me, monks, in regard to things unheard before, there arose vision, knowledge, wisdom, insight and light, with respect to: “This is the Truth of the Noble Ones that is the cessation of the painful”, “This – the Truth of the Noble Ones that is the cessation of the painful – is to be personally experienced” and “This – the Truth of the Noble Ones that is the cessation of the painful – has been personally experienced”.

(Likewise,) in me, monks, in regard to things unheard before, there arose vision, knowledge, wisdom, insight and light, with respect to: “This is the Truth of the Noble Ones that is the way leading to the cessation of the painful”, “This – the Truth of the Noble Ones that is the way leading to the cessation of the painful – is to be developed”, and “This the Truth of the Noble Ones that is the way leading to the cessation of the painful – has been developed.”

So long, monks, as my knowing and seeing of these four Truths of the Noble Ones, as they really are in their three phases (each) and twelve modes (altogether) was not thoroughly purified in this way, then so long, in the world with its gods, māras and brahmās, with its people, renunciants, brahmins, kings and the masses, I did not claim to be fully awakened to the unsurpassed perfect awakening. But when, monks, my knowing and seeing of these four Truths of the Noble Ones, as they really are, in their three phases and twelve modes, was thoroughly purified in this way, then, in the world with its gods, māras and brahmās, with its people, renunciants, brahmins, kings and the masses, I claimed to be fully awakened to the unsurpassed perfect awakening. The knowledge and the vision arose in me: “Unshakeable is the liberation of my mind; this is my last birth: now there is no more rebirth.”

This is what the Blessed One said. Elated, the monks of the group of five delighted in the Blessed One’s statement. And while this explanation was being spoken, there arose in the Venerable Koṇḍañña the dust-free, stainless vision of Dhamma: ‘whatever is subject to origination, all that is subject to cessation.’

And when the Dhamma-wheel had been set in motion by the Blessed One, the earth-dwelling gods raised a cry: ‘At Varanasi, in the Deer Park at Isipatana, the unsurpassed Dhamma-wheel has been set in motion by the Blessed One, which cannot be stopped by any renunciant or brahmin or māra or brahmā or by anyone in the world.’ Having heard the cry of the earth-dwelling gods, the gods of the Four Great Kings raised the same cry. Having heard it, the Thirty-three gods took it up, then the Yāma gods, then the Contented gods, then the Delighting in Creating gods, then the gods who are Masters of the Creations of Others, and then the gods of the brahmā group.

Thus at that moment, at that instant, at that second, the cry spread as far as the brahmā world, and this ten thousandfold world-system shook, quaked, and trembled, and an immeasurable glorious radiance appeared in the world, surpassing the divine majesty of the gods.

Then the Blessed One uttered this inspiring utterance: ‘The honourable Koṇḍañña has indeed understood! The honourable Koṇḍañña has indeed understood! In this way, the Venerable Koṇḍañña acquired the name Aññāta(Who Has Understood)-Koṇḍañña.

Dhamma-cakka-ppavattana Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya V.420–424, trans. P.H.

L.28 Teacher of the Dhamma

Great king, a Tathāgata arises in the world, an arahant, perfectly awakened Buddha, one endowed with knowledge and conduct, Fortunate One, knower of the worlds, incomparable trainer of persons to be tamed, teacher of gods and humans, awakened one, Blessed One. He, having realized it by his own higher knowledge, proclaims this world with its gods, māras and brahmās, with its people, renunciants, brahmins, rulers, and the masses. He teaches the Dhamma, which is good in its beginning, good in its middle, good in its culmination, with the right meaning and phrasing. He reveals the perfectly complete and purified holy life.

Sāmañña-phala Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya I.62, trans. G.A.S.

L.29 Sending out sixty awakened disciples to teach the Dhamma

This passage describes how the Buddha, having gathered sixty awakened disciples who were arahants like himself, sends them out to compassionately teach Dhamma to others.

At that time, there were sixty-one arahants in the world.

The Blessed One said this: ‘Monks, I am free from all snares, both celestial and human. Monks, you too are free from all snares, both celestial and human. Monks, wander forth for the welfare of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, welfare, and happiness of gods and humans. Let not two go the same way.

Monks, teach the Dhamma that is good in its beginning, good in its middle, good in its culmination, with the right meaning and phrasing. Reveal the perfectly complete and purified holy life. There are beings with little dust in their eyes, who will fall away if they were to not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.

Monks, I too will go to Senānigama in Uruvelā in order to teach the Dhamma.

Mahāvagga I.10–11: Vinaya I.20–21, trans. G.A.S.

L.30 Ensuring that a man was not too hungry to understand the Dhamma

This passage illustrates the compassionate way in which the Buddha taught.

One day, as the teacher was seated in the Perfumed Chamber at Jeta Grove, surveying the world at dawn, he saw a certain poor man at Āḷavi. Perceiving that he had the basis for attainment, he surrounded himself with a company of five hundred monks and went to Āḷavi, where the inhabitants immediately invited the teacher to be their guest. The poor man also heard that the teacher had arrived and decided to go and hear him teach the Dhamma. But that very day an ox of his strayed off. So he reflected, ‘Shall I seek the ox, or shall I go and hear the Dhamma?’ And he decided, ‘I will first seek the ox and then go and hear the Dhamma.’ Accordingly, early in the morning, he set out to seek his ox.

The residents of Āḷavi provided seats for the Sangha of monks presided over by the Buddha, served them food, and after the meal took the teacher’s bowl, that he might recite words of blessing. The teacher said, ‘he for whose sake I came here a journey of thirty leagues has gone into the forest to seek his ox, which is lost. Not until he returns will I teach Dhamma.’ And he held his peace.

While it was still day, the poor man found his ox and immediately drove it back to the herd. Then he thought, ‘Even if I can do nothing else, I will at least pay my respects to the teacher.’ Accordingly, though he was oppressed with pangs of hunger, he decided not to go home but went quickly to the teacher, and having paid respect to him, sat down to one side. When the poor man came and stood before the teacher, the teacher said to the steward of the alms, ‘Is there any food remaining of that given to the Sangha of monks?’ ‘Venerable sir, the food has not been touched’ ‘Well then, serve this poor man with food.’

... As soon as the poor man’s physical sufferings had been relieved, his mind became tranquil. Then the teacher taught the Dhamma the step-by-step discourse,90 then pointed out the (four) Truths (of the Noble Ones). At the conclusion of the teaching, the poor man attained the fruition that is stream-entry. ... [Later the Buddha explained to the monks that he had known of the poor man’s situation and had thought:] ‘If I teach Dhamma to this man while he is suffering the pangs of hunger, he will not be able to understand it.’

Dhammapada commentary, III.261–63, trans. P.H.

L.31 A lowly person becomes honoured by gods through ordination and awakening

I was born in a humble family, poor, having little food; my work was lowly: I was a disposer of withered flowers.

Despised by men, disregarded and reviled, making my mind humble I paid homage to many people.

Then I saw the awakened one, revered by the Sangha of monks, the great hero, entering the supreme city of the Magadha people.

Throwing down my carrying-pole, I approached to pay homage to him; out of sympathy for me the best of humans stood still.

Having paid homage to the teacher’s feet, standing on one side I then asked the best of all living beings for admission into the monastic community.

Then the merciful teacher, sympathetic to the whole world, said to me: ‘Come, monk.’ That was my full admission.

Dwelling alone in the forest, not relaxing, I myself performed the teacher’s bidding, just as the Victorious One had exhorted me.

For the first watch of the night I recollected my previous births; for the middle of the night, I purified my divine-eye91; in the last watch of the night, I tore asunder the mass of darkness.

Then at the end of the night, towards sunrise, (the gods) Inda (Sakka) and Brahmā came and revered me with cupped hands (saying):

‘Homage to you thoroughbred of humans; homage to you, best of humans; to you whose intoxicating inclinations are annihilated; you are worthy of gifts, sir.’

Then seeing me revered by the assembly of gods, giving a smile the teacher said this:

‘By austerity, by living the holy life, by self-restraint and self-taming, by this one is a brahmin; this is the supreme state of being a brahmin.’

Verses of Sunīta: Theragāthā 620–631, trans. G.A.S.

L.32 A skilful teacher: effort needs to be neither too taut nor too slack

This passage illustrates the skilful way in which the Buddha taught. It concerns a recently ordained monk who was too forceful in the energy that he applied to meditative walking, and who nearly gives up being a monk as he gains no beneficial results. The Buddha advises him to approach things more gently, though not in a slack way. While this advice relates to a monk, it is of more general relevance to spiritual practice.

Because of the excessive application of vigour in pacing up and down the (skin of) Venerable Soṇa’s feet broke, the place for pacing up and down became stained with blood as though there had been slaughter of cattle. Then the following thought arose in Venerable Soṇa’s mind as he was meditating alone: ‘The Blessed One’s disciples dwell applying vigour. I am one of them, yet my mind is not freed from the intoxicating inclinations with no grasping. I have my family’s possessions. So it might be possible to enjoy the possessions and do karmically beneficial actions?92 Suppose that I, having returned to the low life, should enjoy the possessions and should do karmically beneficial actions?’

Then the Blessed One, knowing by his mind the mind of the Venerable Soṇa, just as a strong man might stretch out his bent arm, or might bend back his outstretched arm, vanishing from Mount Vulture Peak appeared in the Cool Grove. … [He approached Soṇa and asked him if he was thinking of returning to lay life due to the failure of his spiritual efforts. When he said that this was true, the Buddha said:] ‘Soṇa, what do you think about this? Were you clever at the lute’s stringed music when formerly you were a householder?’ ‘Yes, venerable sir.’ ‘Soṇa, what do you think about this? When the strings of your lute were too taut, was your lute at that time tuneful and fit for playing?’ ‘No indeed not, venerable sir.’ ‘Soṇa, what do you think about this? When the strings of your lute were too slack, was your lute at that time tuneful and fit for playing?’ ‘No indeed not, venerable sir.’ ‘Soṇa, what do you think about this? When the strings of your lute were neither too taut nor too slack, but were keyed to an even pitch, was your lute at that time tuneful and fit for playing?’ ‘Yes indeed, venerable sir.’ ‘Soṇa, even so does excessive application of vigour conduce to restlessness, and too feeble vigour conduces to slothfulness. Soṇa, therefore do you determine upon an even balance in vigour and pierce the even balance of the spiritual faculties93 and reflect upon it.’ ‘Yes indeed, venerable sir’, the Venerable Soṇa answered the Blessed One in assent.

Then the Blessed One, having exhorted the Venerable Soṇa with this exhortation, just like a strong man might extend his bent arm or bend his extended arm, he, vanishing from in front of the Venerable Soṇa in the Cool Grove, appeared on Mount Vulture Peak.

Then the Venerable Soṇa determined upon evenness in vigour and he pierced the evenness of the faculties and reflected upon it. Then the Venerable Soṇa, dwelling alone, secluded, earnest, ardent, self-resolute, having soon realized here and now by his own higher knowledge that supreme goal of the holy life for the sake of which sons of good families rightly go forth from home life into homeless life, abided in it, and he understood: ‘Birth is destroyed, the requirements of the holy life have been fulfilled, what ought to be done has been done, and there is nothing more to be done hereafter.’ And so the Venerable Soṇa became one of the arahants.

Mahāvagga V.1.13–18: Vinaya I.182–183, trans. G.A.S.

L.33 The Buddha’s skilful means as a teacher

In this passage, the Buddha teaches the monk Nanda, his cousin and step-brother, to ensure he remains as a monk after he had expressed his intention to return to lay life. He asks him why he intends this, then helps him see that if it is a beautiful female he is after, the heavens have plenty of these, more beautiful than any human. Having thus got him to remain a monk, Nanda then comes to see that doing so to attain beautiful goddesses is a low reason, and spurred on by the criticism of other monks, properly applies himself and attains awakening. Thus the Buddha skilfully guides him to the highest goal, by first offering him a tempting lower goal.

Another story of the Buddha’s skilfulness as a teacher comes from the Dhammapada commentary (III.425–28). It describes a goldsmith’s son who is particularly bad at doing all the meditation practices he is given, which have been focused mostly on the unlovely aspects of the body, so that he thinks he will never be able to concentrate. In despair, he visits his teacher Sāriputta several times. Sāriputta takes him to the Buddha, who realizes that in many previous lives, as well as this one, he had been a goldsmith, and just needed an object that was beautiful to settle his mind so that he can attain the meditations; a negative object would never, at first, be helpful for him. He conjures up a golden red lotus for the boy, and asks him to practise meditation on that object. The boy quickly attains the four meditative absorptions. The Buddha sees that only now, with his mind calmed, is the time right for the boy to see the signs of decay and decomposition. He causes the lotus to wither. The boy sees this, and then other lotuses, naturally occurring, all at various stages of development, from newly budding to fully mature, to decayed. After a verse (Dhammapada 285) from the Buddha, the boy becomes enlightened.

Another Dhammapada commentary (II.272-75) story is on the death of Kisā Gotamī’s toddler. She is unable to accept this and, carrying the child, goes in search of medicine to ‘cure’ him. People think her mad, but a kind person directs her to the Buddha. He says he can cure the child if she gets him a pinch of mustard seed – but only if it is from a house where no-one has died. Going in search of this ‘medicine’, she comes to realise that she is not alone in losing someone to death, and accepts its reality. The Buddha then teaches her and she becomes a stream-enterer.

‘The Sakyan lady, to me, Blessed One, the loveliest in the land, looked on with half-combed hair as I was coming out of the house and said this to me, “May you come back quickly, master.” Now it is in recollecting this that I, Blessed One, lead the holy life without finding delight in it, that I am unable to continue the holy life properly, that I will disavow the training and revert to the lower life’

Then the Blessed One seized the Venerable Nanda by the arm and, just as a strong man might stretch out a bent arm, or bend an outstretched arm, just so did he disappear from Jeta’s Grove and appear amongst the gods of the Thirty-three. And on that occasion as many as five hundred nymphs, known as ‘dove-footed’, had come in attendance upon Sakka, lord of gods, as a result of which the Blessed One addressed the Venerable Nanda, saying … ‘What do you think, Nanda? Which is more excessively beautiful, the more fair to behold or the more to inspire serenity: the Sakyan lady who is the loveliest in the land, or these five hundred nymphs who are known as “dove-footed”?’ ‘It is as if she were a mutilated monkey … when contrasted with these five hundred nymphs ….’

‘Find delight there, Nanda, find delight there. I will be your surety as regards acquisition of the five hundred nymphs ….’ ‘If the Blessed One will be my surety … then I, Blessed One, will find delight, Blessed One, in the holy life.’

… [After they returned to the Jeta Grove] The monks came to hear that, ‘It is said that the Venerable Nanda, brother of the Blessed One and son of his maternal aunt, leads the holy life for the sake of nymphs ….’ Then the monks who were companions of the Venerable Nanda (now) addressed him with the titles ‘hireling’ and ‘buyer’ …

Then the Venerable Nanda, being plagued, humiliated and horrified by his companions’ title of ‘hireling’ and ‘buyer’, dwelling alone, secluded, diligent, ardent and dedicated, mature, not long afterwards … entered upon and then abided in that unsurpassed culmination of the holy life for the sake of which young men rightly go forth from home into homelessness … And the Venerable Nanda became one of the arahants.

Nanda Sutta: Udāna 22–23, trans. P.H.

L.34 Seek within, and the step-by-step discourse

In this passage, the Buddha has urged a group of men to look within for what is worth finding, rather than be concerned with external matters. He then gives what is known as the step-by-step discourse (see *Th.28), in which he prepares his audience’s mind before giving them his highest teaching.

Then the Blessed One, having dwelt at Varanasi for as long as he thought fit, set out on tour for Uruvelā. Then the Blessed One left the road and went to a certain woodland grove; having gone there, and having entered it he sat down at the foot of a tree. At that time a group of thirty friends of high standing were sporting in that same grove together with their wives. One of them had no wife; for him they had procured a harlot. Now while they were heedlessly indulging in their sports, that harlot took the articles belonging to them, and ran away.

Then those companions, helping their friend, went in search of that woman; roaming about that woodland grove, they saw the Blessed One sitting at the foot of a tree. Seeing him they went to the place where the Blessed One was; having approached him, they spoke to the Blessed One: ‘Venerable sir, has the Blessed One seen a woman passing by?’ ‘Young men, what have you to do with the woman?’ ‘Venerable sir, we the thirty friends of high standing, together with our wives were sporting in this woodland grove. One of us had no wife; for him we had procured a harlot. Now, venerable sir, while we were heedlessly indulging in our sports, that harlot has taken the articles belonging to us, and has run away. Venerable sir, helping our friend, we companions go in search of that woman and roam about this woodland grove.’

‘Young men, now what do you think? Which is better for you: that you should go in search of a woman, or that you should go in search of yourselves?’ ‘Venerable sir, of these, that we should go in search of ourselves is indeed better for us.’ ‘Young men, if so sit down, I will teach you Dhamma.’ The rich young companions replied: ‘Yes, venerable sir.’ They respectfully greeted the Blessed One, and sat down at a respectful distance.

Then the Blessed One delivered a step-by-step discourse, that is, talk on giving, talk on ethical discipline, talk on the heaven worlds; he made known the danger, the inferior nature and tendency to defilement of sensual pleasures, and the advantage of renouncing them; thus they obtained, while sitting there, the pure and spotless eye of the Dhamma: ‘Whatsoever is subject to origination is also subject to cessation.’

And having seen Dhamma, attained Dhamma, known Dhamma, plunged into Dhamma, overcome uncertainty, dispelled all doubts, gained full insight, and having had full confidence in the Dhamma of the teacher independent of anyone else, they said to the Blessed One: ‘Venerable sir, may we receive the admission (into the monastic order) and the full admission in the presence of the Blessed One?’ ‘Come, monks’, said the Blessed One, ‘well-taught is the Dhamma; lead a holy life for the sake of complete extinction of the painful. Thus it was the venerable ones’ receiving of the full admission.

Mahāvagga: Vinaya I.23–24, trans. G.A.S.

L.35 Teaching is a wonder that is superior to supernormal powers and mind-reading

In this passage, the Buddha criticises the suggestion that monks should perform displays of supernormal power so as to increase people’s faith in him. Monks might be able to genuinely perform psycho-kinetic wonders and mind-reading, based on the power of their meditation, but this would not impress skeptics to develop faith, as they would see such things as done by some kind of magic charm. The really beneficial ‘wonder’ is teaching others the way to awakening. While the Buddha expresses disgust at the first two ‘wonders’, it is clear that his criticism is directed at performing them simply as a display to attract support. Elsewhere, he uses such powers to better enable him to teach people, and he does not criticise monks who use such powers in this way. Once, the Buddha is said to have performed the ‘wonder of the pairs’, that only he was capable of: producing fire and water from various parts of his body, and emitting rays of six colours (Paṭisambhidāmagga I.125–126). He rebuffs Māra’s temptation to turn the Himālayas into gold, though (Saṃyutta-nikāya I.116 <258>).

On one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Nālandā, in the Pāvārika mango grove. Then the householder Kevaṭṭa94 came to the Blessed One and, after paying him respect, sat down to one side. So seated, he said to the Blessed One: ‘Venerable sir, this Nālandā is rich, prosperous, populous, and full of people who have faith in the Blessed One. It would be well if the Blessed One were to instruct a monk to perform superhuman wonders of psychic potency. In this way, the people of Nālandā would come to have more faith in the Blessed One.’ So being said, the Blessed One spoke to the householder Kevaṭṭa: ‘Kevaṭṭa, this is not the way I teach the Dhamma to the monks, saying: Monks, go and perform superhuman wonders of psychic potency for the white-clothed laypeople.

… When the householder Kevaṭṭa repeated his request for a third time, the Blessed One said: ‘Kevaṭṭa, there are three kinds of wonder that I have declared, having realized them by my own insight. Which three? They are the wonder of supernormal power, the wonder of mind-reading, and the wonder of instruction. Kevaṭṭa, what is the wonder of supernormal power? Kevaṭṭa, here a monk wields various kinds of supernormal powers: Having been one he becomes many; having been many he becomes one. He appears and disappears. He goes unimpeded through walls, ramparts, and mountains as if through sky. He dives in and out of the earth as if it were water. He walks on water without sinking as if it were on earth. Sitting cross-legged, he flies through the air like a winged bird. With his hand he touches and strokes even the moon and the sun, so mighty and powerful. He exercises influence with his body even as far as the brahmā worlds.

Then someone who has faith and trust sees that monk wield such varying kinds of supernormal powers. … That faithful and believing person tells this to someone else who is skeptical and unbelieving. … And that unfaithful and unbelieving man might say: ‘Sir, there is something called the Gandhāra charm. It is by means of this that the monk wields such miracles as having been one he becomes many … He exercises influence with his body even as far as the brahmā worlds.’

Kevaṭṭa, what do you think, would not a skeptic say that to a believer?’ ‘Venerable sir, he would say thus.’ ‘Kevaṭṭa, that is why, seeing the danger of the wonder of supernormal power, I am disgusted with, ashamed of and shun it. Kevaṭṭa, what is the wonder of mind-reading? Here a monk reads the minds of other beings, of other people, reads their mental states, their thoughts and ponderings, and says: ‘That is how your mind is; that is how it inclines; that is in your heart.’ Then someone who has faith and trust sees him doing these things. He tells this to someone else who is skeptical and unbelieving. … And that unfaithful and unbelieving man might say: ‘sir, there is something called the Maṇikā charm. It is by means of this that that monk can read the minds of others …’

Kevaṭṭa, what do you think, would not a skeptic say that to a believer?’ ‘Venerable sir, he would say thus.’ ‘Kevaṭṭa, that is why, seeing the danger the wonder of mind-reading, I am disgusted with, ashamed of and shun it. Kevaṭṭa, what is the wonder of instruction? Kevaṭṭa, here a monk gives instruction as follows: “Think in this way, not that way, attend in this way, not that way, abandon this, and abide having entered on that.” Kevaṭṭa, that is called the miracle of instruction.

… [The Buddha goes on to describe guiding a person up to attaining arahantship.] Kevaṭṭa, that is called the wonder of instruction.’ And I, Kevaṭṭa, have experienced these three wonders by my own higher knowledge.

Kevaṭṭa Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya I.211–215, trans. G.A.S.

Praise of the Buddha

L.36 Praise by the gods

Venerable sir, Sakka the king of gods, then seeing their satisfaction, said to the gods of the Thirty-three: ‘Gentlemen, would you like to hear eight truthful statements in praise of the Blessed One?’ ‘Yes, sir ….’ On receiving their assent, Sakka the king of gods declared the eight truthful statements in praise of the Blessed One:

‘Gods of the Thirty-three, what do you think? As regards the way in which the Blessed One has striven for the welfare of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the welfare and happiness of gods and humans, we can find no teacher endowed with such qualities, whether we consider the past or the present, other than the Blessed One.

Well-proclaimed by the Blessed One is the Dhamma, directly visible (as to is truth and reality), not delayed (in its results), inviting investigation, applicable and onward leading, to be individually understood by the wise, and we can find no proclaimer of such an onward-leading Dhamma, either in the past or in the present, other than the Blessed One.

Well explained by the Blessed One is what is wholesome and what is unwholesome, what is blameworthy and what is blameless, what is to be followed and what is not to be followed, what is low and what is excellent, what is dark, bright and mixed in quality. And we can find none who is a proclaimer of such things, either in the past or in the present other than the Blessed One.

Well explained by the Blessed One to his disciples is the path leading to nirvana, and the two, nirvana and the path, coalesce, just as the waters of the river Ganges and the river Yamuna coalesce and flow on together. And we can find no proclaimer of the path leading to nirvana either in the past or in the present other than the Blessed One.

And the Blessed One has gained companions, both learners who have entered the path and the ones without intoxicating inclinations who have lived the holy life, and the Blessed One dwells together with them, all rejoicing in the one thing. And we can find no such teacher either in the past or in the present other than the Blessed One.

To the Blessed One both gains and fame are well-secured, so much so that, I think, the members of the ruling class will continue to be attached to him, yet the Blessed One takes his food without conceit. And we can find no teacher who does this either in the past or in the present other than the Blessed One.

In accord with what the Blessed One says is what he does, and in accord with what he does is what he says. Acting thus, he practises Dhamma in accord with Dhamma. And we can find no teacher who does this either in the past or in the present other than the Blessed One.

The Blessed One has transcended vacillation, passed beyond all uncertainty, he has accomplished his aim in regard to his goal and the supreme holy life. And we can find no teacher who has done the like, whether we consider the past or the present, other than the Blessed One’.

And when Sakka the king of gods had thus proclaimed these eight truthful statements in praise of the Blessed One, the gods of the Thirty-three were even more pleased, overjoyed and filled with delight and happiness at what they had heard in the Blessed One’s praise.

Then certain gods exclaimed: ‘Oh, if only four perfectly awakened Buddhas were to arise in the world and teach the Dhamma just like the Blessed One! That would be for the benefit of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit and happiness of gods and humans!’ And some said: ‘Never mind four perfectly awakened Buddhas, three would suffice!’
Others said: ‘Never mind three, two would suffice!’

This being said, Sakka the king of gods said: ‘Gentlemen, it is impossible, it cannot happen, that two perfectly awakened Buddhas should arise simultaneously in a single world-system.95 That cannot be. May this Blessed One continue to live long, for many years to come, free from sickness and disease! That would be for the benefit of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit and happiness of gods and humans!’

Mahā-govinda Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya II.222–225, trans. G.A.S.

The Buddha’s appearance and manner

L.37 The Buddha as looking like any other monk

While it is said that the Buddha could adapt his appearance and speech to those of people he talked to (Dīgha-nikāya II.109), in this passage, a disciple of the Buddha who has never seen him at first fails to recognise him when he shares accommodation with him, but then realises who he is when he receives a detailed teaching from him.

On one occasion the Blessed One was wandering in the Magadhan country and eventually arrived at Rājagaha. There he went to the potter Bhaggava and said to him: ‘Bhaggava, if it is not inconvenient for you, I will stay one night in your workshop.’ ‘Venerable sir, it is not inconvenient for me, but there is a homeless one (a renunciant) already staying there. If he agrees, then stay as long as you like.’

Now there was a clansman named Pukkusāti who had gone forth from the home life into homelessness out of faith in the Blessed One, and on that occasion he was already staying in the potter’s workshop. Then the Blessed One went to the Venerable Pukkusāti and said to him: ‘Monk, if it is not inconvenient for you, I will stay one night in the workshop.’ ‘Friend, the potter’s workshop is large enough. Let the venerable one stay as long as he likes.’

Then the Blessed One entered the potter’s workshop, prepared a spread of grass at one end, and sat down, folding his legs crosswise setting his body erect, and establishing mindfulness in front of him. Then the Blessed One spent most of the night seated in meditation, and the Venerable Pukkusāti also spent most of the night seated in meditation.

Then the Blessed One considered: ‘This clansman conducts himself in a way that inspires confidence. Suppose I were to question him?’ So the Blessed One asked the Venerable Pukkusāti: ‘Monk, under whom have you gone forth? Who is your teacher? Whose Dhamma do you profess?’

‘Friend, there is the renunciant Gotama, a Sakyan, who went forth from the Sakyan clan. Now a good report of that Venerable Gotama has arisen: “That Blessed One is the arahant, the perfectly awakened Buddha, endowed with knowledge and conduct, Fortunate One, knower of the worlds, incomparable leader of persons to be tamed, teacher of gods and humans, awakened one, Blessed One.” I have gone forth under that Blessed One; that Blessed One is my teacher; I profess the Dhamma of that Blessed One.’

‘Monk, where is that Blessed One, the arahant, the perfectly awakened Buddha, now living?’ ‘Friend, there is a city in the northern country named Sāvatthī. The Blessed One, the arahant, the perfectly awakened Buddha, is now living there.’ ‘Monk, have you ever seen that Blessed One before? Would you recognize that Blessed One if you see him?’ ‘No, friend, I have never seen that Blessed One before, nor would I recognize him if I saw him.’

Then the Blessed One considered: This clansman has gone forth from the home life into homelessness under me. Suppose I were to teach him Dhamma. So the Blessed One addressed the Venerable Pukkusāti thus: ‘Monk, I will teach you Dhamma. Listen and attend closely to what I shall say.’ ‘Yes, friend’, the Venerable Pukkusāti replied. …

Then the Venerable Pukkusāti, having delighted and rejoiced in the Blessed One’s words, rose from his seat, and after paying homage to the Blessed One, keeping him on his right, he departed in order to search for a bowl and robes. Then, while the Venerable Pukkusāti was searching for a bowl and robes, a stray cow killed him.

Then a number of monks went to the Blessed One, and after paying homage to him, they sat down at one side and told him: ‘Venerable sir, the clansman Pukkusāti, who was given a brief instruction by the Blessed One, has died. What is his destination? What is his future course?’

Monks, the clansman Pukkusāti was wise. He practised in accordance with the Dhamma and did not trouble me in the interpretation of the Dhamma. With the destruction of the five lower fetters, the clansman Pukkusāti has reappeared spontaneously in the pure abodes96 and will attain final nirvana there without ever returning from that world.

Dhātu-vibhaṅga Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya III.237–247, trans. G.A.S.

L.38 The Buddha’s bodily characteristics as shaped by his excellent past actions

This passage is extracted from one that describes thirty-two bodily characteristics that Gotama was born with, indicative of a future as either a Buddha or a Cakkavatti, a compassionate ‘Wheel-turning’ monarch. These characteristics or ‘marks’ may be regarded as physical in the normal sense, or as aspects of a ‘spiritual’ body which only sensitive people could see. Either way, some of them came to be used as a basis for visualizing the Buddha, and the qualities he embodied, and then for the form of Buddha-images, when these developed. Each characteristic is said to be the karmic result of a particular excellence in a past life, and to be indicative of a particular quality of the life of a Buddha or Cakkavatti. They include such things as the marks of wheels on the soles of his feet, soft hands, a beautiful voice, very blue eyes, a white filament of hair between his eye-brows, and seeming to be crowned by a turban. The past actions that the marks are seen as caused by are as follows.

The Tathāgata in previous birth … when formerly he was born as a human being, was firm in undertaking, steadfast in undertaking wholesome actions: good conduct of body, speech and mind, generosity, ethical discipline, observances on days of special restraint, reverence towards mother, father, renunciants, brahmins, honouring the eldest of the family, and every kind of higher skilful state. … He acted for the happiness of many people, dispelling agitation, terror, and fear, providing guard and defence and protection in accordance with Dhamma, and gave alms with all the accompaniments. ... Having renounced onslaught on living beings, he refrained from harming living beings; the stick laid down, the sword laid down, he dwelt conscientiously, full of pity, sympathetic to the good of all living beings. … He was a giver of excellent and delightful hard and soft foods, delicious and refreshing drinks.

… He was one who united people through the four means of drawing together harmoniously: giving, endearing speech, helpful conduct, and impartiality. … He was one who uttered speech to people concerned with both their welfare and the Dhamma, and explained these in detail to them. He performed the sacrificial act of giving Dhamma, bringing happiness and welfare to living beings. … He taught thoroughly craft or science or conduct or activity, thinking ‘May they understand me quickly, discern quickly, quickly succeed, may they not suffer long.’

… He approached renunciants and brahmins, and questioned them thoroughly: ‘What is wholesome, venerable sir, what is unwholesome? What is blameworthy, what blameless? What is to be practised, what not practised? What, if done by me, would bring harm and suffering for a long time? Or on the other hand, what if done by me would be beneficial and cause happiness for a long time?’

… He was free from anger, filled with serenity; even when spoken to much, he did not take offence, become angry, show ill-will, or become obdurate, and he manifested neither wrath nor anger or discontent; and he was one who gave fine and soft carpets and coverings of fine linen, of fine cotton, fine silk and fine wool. … He was one who brought together long-lost and long-separated relatives, associates, friends and companions; he was one who united mother with child and child with mother, likewise father and child, brother and brother, brother and sister, he was one who took pleasure in having made harmony. … He sought harmony among the populace, knew who each person was similar to, knew it by himself, knew each person, knew each person’s special qualities. He was formerly one who did what was required in accordance with people’s special qualities: ‘This one is worthy of this, this one is worthy of that.’ … He was desirous of the welfare of many people, of their benefit, of their comfort and of their rest from labours, he thought constantly: ‘How may they increase in faith, in ethical discipline, learning, generosity, (knowledge of) Dhamma, wisdom, increase in wealth and grain, in land and property, beasts and fowl, sons and wives, servants and workers, relatives, associates, and in connexions by marriage?’

… He was one whose nature was such as not to harm other beings, whether by hands, stones, sticks, or swords. … He was one who was not shifty, not acting in a crooked way and not looking in a calculated way; he was one who looked at people in a direct way, courteous, with a straightforward mind and with loving eyes. … He was a leader of the people in wholesome actions: foremost among the people in good conduct of body, speech and mind; in providing alms, undertaking ethical discipline, observances on days of special restraint, honouring mother and father, brahmins and renunciants, and respecting the head of the clan, and in the manifold kinds of higher skilful states.

… He was a speaker of truth, united with truthfulness, reliable, trustworthy, not a deceiver of people. … He, having abandoned divisive speech, abstained from divisive speech: having heard something from one group of people, he was not one to tell it somewhere else, causing others to be in conflict with them; or having heard something from those others, he was not one to tell it to the first group, causing them to be in conflict with the other people. Thus he was a uniter of those divided, a sustainer of those united, fond of harmony, delighting in harmony, rejoicing in harmony, he was one who uttered speech which brought about harmony.

… He had abandoned harsh speech, abstained from harsh speech: he was one who uttered the kind of speech which is gentle, pleasant to hear, affectionate, reaching to the heart, courteous, pleasing and attractive to the many. … He had abandoned idle chatter, abstained from idle chatter: he spoke at the right time, what is correct and to the point, of Dhamma and ethical discipline; he was one who uttered speech to be treasured, timely, for a reason, measured, meaningful.

… Having abandoned wrong livelihood, he was one who earned his living by right livelihood: he was one who abstained from crooked ways such as cheating with weights, false metal and measure, taking bribes, deceiving and fraud and from such acts of violence as maiming, beating, binding, mugging and looting.

Lakkhaṇa Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya III.142–176, trans. P.H.

L.39 The calm and measured movement and behaviour of the Buddha

In this passage, someone closely observes the Buddha for seven months, not only noting the thirty-two special characteristics of his body, but how he moves and conducts himself in a calm, measured, relaxed, attentive, ungreedy and caring way.

Then the brahmin student Uttara considered: ‘The renunciant Gotama is endowed with the thirty-two characteristics of a great man. Suppose I were to follow the renunciant Gotama and observe his behaviour?’ Then the brahmin student Uttara followed the Blessed One for seven months like a shadow, never leaving him. At the end of the seven months in the country of the Videhans, he set out to journey to Mithilā where the brahmin Brahmāyu was. When he arrived, he paid homage to him and sat down at one side.

Thereupon, the brahmin Brahmāyu asked him: ‘Well, my dear Uttara, is the report that has been spread about the Venerable Gotama true or not? And is the Venerable Gotama one such as this or not?’ ‘Sire, the report that has been spread about the Venerable Gotama is true, and not otherwise; and the Venerable Gotama is one such as this and not otherwise. He possesses the thirty-two characteristic of a great man. …

When he walks, he steps out with the right foot first. He does not extend his foot too far or put it down too near. He walks neither too quickly nor too slowly. He does not walk knocking knee against knee or ankle against ankle. He walks without raising or lowering his thighs, or bringing them together or keeping them apart. When he walks, only the lower part of his body moves, and he does not walk with bodily effort. When he turns to look, he does so with his whole body. He does not look straight up; he does not look straight down. He does not walk looking about. He looks a plough-yoke’s length before him, beyond that he has unhindered knowing and seeing.

When he goes indoors, he does not raise or lower his body, or bend it forward or back. He turns round neither too far from the seat nor too near it. He does not lean on the seat with his hand. He does not throw his body onto the seat. When seated indoors, he does not fidget with his hands. He does not fidget with his feet. He does not sit with his knees crossed. He does not sit with his ankles crossed.97 He does not sit with his hand holding his chin. When seated indoors he is not afraid, he does not shiver and tremble, he is not nervous. Being unafraid, not shivering or trembling or nervous, his hair does not stand up and he is intent on seclusion.

When he receives the water for his alms-bowl, he does not raise or lower the bowl or tip it forwards or backwards. He receives neither too little nor too much water for the bowl. He washes the bowl without making a splashing noise. He washes the bowl without turning it round. Not until he has put the bowl down on the ground does he wash his hands; by the time his hands are washed, the bowl is washed; by the time the bowl is washed, the hands are washed. He pours the water for the bowl neither too far nor too near, and he does not scatter it.

When he receives rice, he does not raise or lower the bowl or tip it forwards or backwards. He receives neither too little rice nor too much rice. He adds sauces in the right proportion; he does not exceed the right amount of sauce in the mouthful. He turns the mouthful over two or three times in his mouth and then swallows it, and no rice kernel enters his body unchewed, and no rice kernel remains in his mouth; then he takes another mouthful. He takes his food experiencing the taste, though not experiencing greed for the taste. The food he takes has eight factors: it is neither for amusement, nor for intoxication, nor for the sake of physical beauty and attractiveness, but only for the endurance and continuance of his body, for the ending of discomfort, and for assisting the holy life; he considers: ‘Thus I shall terminate old feelings (hunger) without arousing new feelings (from over-eating) and I shall be healthy and blameless and shall live in comfort.’

When he has eaten and receives water for the bowl, he does not raise or lower the bowl or tip it forwards or backwards. He receives neither too little nor too much water for the bowl. He washes the bowl without making a splashing noise. He washes the bowl without turning it round … [as above]. When he has eaten, he puts the bowl on the floor neither too far nor too near; and he is neither careless of the bowl nor over-solicitous about it.

When he has eaten, he sits in silence for a while, but he does not let the time for the blessing go by. When he has eaten and gives the blessing, he does not do so criticizing the meal or expecting another meal; he instructs, urges, rouses, and gladdens that audience with talk purely on the Dhamma. When he has done so, he rises from his seat and departs. He walks neither too fast nor too slow, and he does not go as one who wants to get away.

His robe is worn neither too high nor too low on his body, not too tight against his body, nor too loose on his body, nor does the wind blow his robe away from his body. Dust and dirt do not soil his body.

When he has gone to the monastery, he sits down on a seat made ready. Having sat down, he washes his feet, though he does not concern himself with grooming his feet. Having washed his feet, he seats himself cross-legged, sets his body erect, and establishes mindfulness in front of him. He does not occupy his mind with self-affliction, or the affliction of others, or the affliction of both; he sits with his mind set on his own welfare, on the welfare of others, and on the welfare of both, even on the welfare of the whole world.

When he has gone to the monastery, he teaches the Dhamma to an audience. He neither flatters nor berates that audience; he instructs, urges, rouses, and encourages it with talk purely on the Dhamma. The speech that issues from his mouth has eight qualities; it is distinct, intelligible, melodious, audible, fluent, clear, deep, and sonorous. But while his voice is intelligible as far as the audience extends, his speech does not issue out beyond the audience. When the people have been instructed, urged, roused, and gladdened by him, they rise from their seats and depart looking only at him and concerned with nothing else.

Sire, we have seen the Venerable Gotama walking, we have seen him standing, we have seen him entering indoors, we have seen him indoors seated in silence, we have seen him eating indoors, we have seen him seated in silence after eating, we have seen him giving the blessing after eating, we have seen him going to the monastery, we have seen him in the monastery seated in silence, we have seen him in the monastery teaching the Dhamma to an audience. Such is the Venerable Gotama; such he is, and more than that.

When this was said, the brahmin Brahmāyu rose from his seat, and after arranging his upper robe on one shoulder, he extended his hands in reverential salutation towards the Blessed One and uttered this exclamation three times: ‘Homage to the Blessed One, the arahant, the perfectly awakened Buddha! Homage to the Blessed One, the arahant, the perfectly awakened Buddha! Homage to the Blessed One, the arahant, the perfectly awakened Buddha!’, and then, ‘Perhaps sometime or other we might meet the Venerable Gotama, perhaps we might have some conversation with him.’

Brahmāyu Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya II.136–141, trans. G.A.S.

Taming and teaching those who resisted or threatened him

L.40 Showing an angry man the error of his ways

Here the Buddha tames a bad tempered man, such that he goes on to ordain, and later attains awakening.

Akkosaka (Abusive), a brahmin of the Bhāradvāja clan, heard: ‘It is said that a brahmin of the Bhāradvāja clan has gone forth from the household life into homelessness under the renunciant Gotama.’ Angry and displeased, he approached the Blessed One and abused and reviled him with rude, harsh words.

When he had finished speaking, the Blessed One said to him: ‘Brahmin, what do you think? Do your friends and colleagues, kinsmen and relatives, as well as guests come to visit you?’ ‘Venerable Gotama, sometimes they come to visit me.’ ‘Do you then offer them some food or a meal or a snack?’ ‘Venerable Gotama, sometimes I do.’

‘But if they do not accept it from you, then to whom does the food belong?’ ‘If they do not accept it from me, then the food still belongs to us.’

‘Brahmin, so too, we who do not abuse anyone, who do not scold anyone, who do not rail against anyone, refuse to accept from you the abuse and scolding and tirade you let loose at us. Brahmin, it still belongs to you! Brahmin, it still belongs to you!

Brahmin, one who abuses his own abuser, who scolds the one who scolds him, who rails against the one who rails at him, he is said to partake of the meal, to enter upon an exchange. But we do not partake of the meal; we do not enter upon an exchange. Brahmin, it still belongs to you! Brahmin, it still belongs to you!’

(Akkosaka:) ‘The king and his retinue understand the renunciant Gotama to be an arahant, yet the Venerable Gotama still gets angry.’

(The Buddha:) How can anger arise in one who is angerless, in the tamed living calmly, in one liberated by perfect knowledge, in the stable one who abides in peace?

One who repays an angry man with anger thereby makes things worse for himself. Not repaying an angry man with anger, one wins a battle hard to win.

One practices for the welfare of both, one’s own and the other’s, when, knowing that one’s foe is angry, one mindfully maintains his peace.

When one achieves the cure of both oneself and the other, people who think one a fool are unskilled in Dhamma.

When this was said, the brahmin Akkosaka of the Bhāradvāja clan said to the Blessed One; ‘Magnificent, Master Gotama! Magnificent, Master Gotama! The Dhamma has been made clear in many ways by Master Gotama, as though he were turning the right way up what had been turned upside down, revealing what was hidden, showing the way to one who was lost, or holding up a lamp in the dark for those with eyesight to see visible forms. I go for refuge to the Master Gotama, and to the Dhamma, and to the Sangha of monks. May I receive the going forth under Master Gotama, may I receive higher ordination?

Akkosa Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya I.161–163 <347–349>, trans. G.A.S.

L.41 Taming a layperson who arrogantly thought he already had the non-attachment of a renunciant

Then when it was morning, the Blessed One dressed, and taking his bowl and outer robe, went to Āpana for the alms-round. When he had wandered for alms in Āpana and had returned from his alms-round, after his meal he went to a certain grove for the day’s (meditative) abiding. Having entered the grove, he sat down at one root of a tree.

Potaliya the householder, while walking and wandering for exercise, wearing full dress with parasol and sandals, also went to the grove, and having entered the grove, he went to the Blessed One and exchanged greetings with him. When this courteous and amiable talk was finished, he stood at one side.

The Blessed One said to him: ‘Householder, there are seats, sit down if you like.’ When this was said, the householder Potaliya considered, ‘The renunciant Gotama addresses me as “householder”’, and angry and displeased, he remained silent. A second time the Blessed One said to him, ‘Householder, there are seats, sit down if you like.’ And a second time the householder Potaliya considered: ‘The renunciant Gotama addresses me as “householder”‘, and angry and displeased, he remained silent. A third time the Blessed One said to him, ‘Householder, there are seats, sit down if you like.’

When this was said, the householder Potaliya considered: ‘The renunciant Gotama addresses me as “householder”’, and angry and displeased, he said to the Blessed One, ‘Venerable Gotama, it is neither fitting nor proper that you address me as householder.’ ‘Householder, you have the aspects, marks, and signs of a householder.’ ‘Venerable Gotama, nevertheless I have given up all my works and cut off all my affairs.’ ‘Householder, in what way have you given up all your works and cut off all your affairs?’ ‘Venerable Gotama, I have given all my wealth, grain, silver, and gold to my children as their inheritance. Without advising or admonishing them, I live merely on food and clothing. That is how I have given up all my works and cut off all my affairs.’

‘Householder, the cutting off of affairs as you describe it is one thing, but in the noble one’s discipline the cutting off of affairs is different. … Householder, there are these eight things in the noble one’s discipline that lead to the cutting off of affairs. What are the eight? With the support of the non-killing of living beings, the killing of living beings is to be abandoned. With the support of taking only what is given, the taking of what is not given is to be abandoned. With the support of truthful speech, false speech is to be abandoned. With the support of undivisive speech, divisive speech is to be abandoned. With the support of refraining from rapacious greed, rapacious greed is to be abandoned. With the support of refraining from spiteful scolding, spiteful scolding is to be abandoned. With the support of refraining from angry despair, angry despair is to be abandoned. With the support of non-arrogance, arrogance is to be abandoned. These are the eight things, stated in brief without being expounded in detail, that lead to the cutting off of affairs in the noble one’s discipline.’

… [The Buddha goes on to explain that each of the above faults is to be abandoned by realizing that if one did not abandon it, one would blame oneself, the wise would censure one, one would have a bad rebirth, and one would see that not abandoning it was a ‘fetter and a hindrance’.

He also gives many similes to illustrate the dangers of sensual pleasures, and the benefit of transcending them.]

‘Venerable sir, the Blessed One has inspired in me love for renunciants, confidence in renunciants, and reverence for renunciants.’

Potaliya Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.359–368, trans. G.A.S.

L.42 Taming the conceited Mānatthaddha

Now on that occasion a brahmin named Mānatthaddha98 was residing at Sāvatthī. He did not pay respect to his mother or father, nor to his teacher or eldest brother. Now on that occasion the Blessed One was teaching Dhamma surrounded by a large assembly. Then the brahmin Mānatthaddha considered, ‘The renunciant Gotama is teaching Dhamma surrounded by a large assembly. Let me approach him. If the renunciant Gotama addresses me, then I will address him in turn. But if he does not address me, neither will I address him.’

Then the brahmin Mānatthaddha approached the Blessed One and stood silently to one side, but the Blessed One did not address him. Then the brahmin Mānatthaddha, thinking, ‘This renunciant Gotama does not know anything’, wanted to turn back, but the Blessed One, having known with his own mind the reflection in the brahmin’s mind, addressed the brahmin Mānatthaddha in verse:

Brahmin, the fostering of conceit is never good for one keen on his own welfare.
You should instead foster that purpose for which you have come here.

Then the brahmin Mānatthaddha, thinking, ‘The renunciant Gotama knows my mind’, prostrated himself right there with his head at the Blessed One’s feet. He kissed the Blessed One’s feet, stroked them with his hands, and announced his name thus, Venerable Gotama, I am Mānatthaddha! Venerable Gotama, I am Mānatthaddha!’

Then that assembly was struck with amazement and the people said, ‘Sir, it is wonderful indeed! Sir, it is amazing indeed! This brahmin Mānatthaddha does not pay respect to his mother and father, nor to his teacher or eldest brother, yet he shows such supreme honour towards the renunciant Gotama.’

Then the Blessed One said to the brahmin Mānatthaddha, ‘Brahmin, enough! Get up and sit in your own seat, as your mind has confidence in me.’

Mānatthadddha Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya I.177–178 <381–383>, trans. G.A.S.

L.43 Teaching those sent to kill him

The Buddha’s cousin Devadatta was an evil monk who was jealous of the Buddha’s influence. He thus asked his friend prince Ajatasattu to have the Buddha assassinated so that he could become leader of the Sangha. A man was sent to kill the Buddha, and men sent to kill the returning assassin, and others to kill them, to ensure secrecy.

Then that man who was alone, having grasped a sword and shield, having bound on a bow and quiver, approached the Blessed One; having approached, when he was quite near the Blessed One he stood still, his body quite rigid, afraid, anxious, fearful, alarmed. The Blessed One saw that man standing still, his body quite rigid, afraid, anxious, fearful, alarmed, and seeing him spoke thus to him: ‘Come, friend, do not be afraid.’ Then the man, having put his sword and shield and bow and quiver to one side, approached the Blessed One, and having approached, inclined his head to the Blessed One’s feet, and said to him, ‘Venerable sir, a transgression has overcome me, foolish, misguided, unskilful that I was, in that I was coming here with a malignant mind, my mind set on murder. Venerable one, may the Blessed One acknowledge for me the transgression as a transgression for the sake of restraint in the future.’

‘Truly, friend, a transgression overcame you … But if you, friend, having seen a transgression as a transgression, and confess it according to what is right, we acknowledge it for you; for, friend, in the discipline of the noble one, this is growth: whoever, having seen a transgression as a transgression, acknowledges it according to what is right, he attains restraint in the future.’ … [The Buddha then taught him and he attained stream-entry and became a lay disciple. The Buddha then warned him to avoid the other assassins, though when they arrived, each was taught by the Buddha and also attained stream-entry.]

Cullavagga VII.3.6–8: Vinaya II.191–192, trans. P.H.

L.44 Taming a fierce elephant sent to kill him

After the above failed attempt on his life, Devadatta himself tried to kill the Buddha by rolling down a large stone at him; but it missed and only a shard of it cut the Buddha’s foot. Devadatta then tried a third time to kill the Buddha, by having a fierce, man-killing elephant, Nāḷāgiri , let loose on the road along which the Buddha was coming.

The elephant Nāḷāgiri saw the Blessed One coming from afar; seeing him, having lifted up his trunk, he rushed towards the Blessed One, his ears and tail erect. Monks with the Buddha saw this and said to the Blessed One, ‘Venerable sir, this elephant Nāḷāgiri , coming along this carriage-road, is a fierce man-slayer. Venerable sir, let the Blessed One turn back, let the Fortunate One turn back.’

‘Wait, monks, do not be afraid, it is impossible, monks, it cannot come to pass that anyone could deprive the Tathāgata of life by aggression; monks, Tathāgatas attain final nirvana not because of an attack.’ … [The monks repeated their request twice more, and the Buddha replied in the same way each time.]

Now at that time people, having mounted up on to the (safety of) the long houses and the curved houses and the roofs, waited there … Then the Blessed One suffused the elephant Nāḷāgiri with a mind of loving kindness. Then the elephant Nāḷāgiri , having been suffused by the Blessed One with a mind of loving kindness, having lowered his trunk, approached the Blessed One, and having approached, stood in front of him. Then the Blessed One, stroking the elephant Nāḷāgiri ’s forehead with his right hand, addressed him with verses …

Then the elephant Nāḷāgiri , having taken the dust of the Blessed One’s feet with his trunk, having scattered it over his head, moved back bowing while he gazed upon the Blessed One. Then the elephant Nāḷāgiri , having returned to the elephant stable, stood in his own place, and it was in that way that he became tamed.

Cullavagga VII.3.11–12: Vinaya II.194–195, trans. P.H.

L.45 Taming the murderous bandit Aṅgulimāla (Finger-garland)

This passage describes how the Buddha tamed this murderous bandit who had terrified everyone else, so that he then ordained as a monk, and a king seeking to overcome him came to respect him as a monk. Beyond the section below, Aṅgulimāla goes on to help a woman with a difficult childbirth by the power of his truth-utterance that he had never killed anyone since his birth – i.e. since his birth as a noble person. He goes on to attain awakening, though later he becomes bloodied from people throwing things at him when they recognise him. The Buddha urges him to patiently endure this as the karmic results of his past actions, which would have led to thousands of years in a hellish rebirth if he had not radically changed his ways. The passage contains a message about the reformability of criminals.

Now on that occasion there was a bandit in the territory of King Pasenadi of Kosala named Aṅgulimāla, who was murderous, bloody-handed, given to blows and violence, merciless to living beings. Villages, towns, and districts were laid waste by him. He was constantly murdering people and he wore their fingers as a garland.

Then, when it was morning, the Blessed One dressed, and taking his bowl and robe, went into Sāvatthī for alms. When he had wandered for alms in Sāvatthī and had returned from his alms-round, after his meal he set his resting place in order, and taking his bowl and robe, set out on the road leading towards Aṅgulimāla.

Cowherds, shepherds, ploughmen, and travellers saw the Blessed One walking along the road leading towards Aṅgulimāla and told him: ‘Renunciant, do not take this road. On this road is the bandit Aṅgulimāla, who is murderous, bloody-handed … he wears their fingers as a garland. Men have come along this road in groups of ten, twenty, thirty, and even forty, but still they have fallen into Aṅgulimāla’s hands.’ When this was said the Blessed One went on in silence. For the second time … for the third time the cowherds, shepherds, ploughmen, and travellers … told this to the Blessed One … [as before]. When this was said for a third time, still the Blessed One went on in silence.

The bandit Aṅgulimāla saw the Blessed One coming in the distance. When he saw him, he considered: ‘It is wonderful, it is marvellous! Men have come along this road in groups of ten, twenty, thirty, and even forty, but still they have fallen into my hands. But now this renunciant comes alone, unaccompanied, as if driven by fate. Why shouldn’t I take this renunciant’s life?’

Aṅgulimāla then took up his sword and shield, buckled on his bow and quiver, and followed close behind the Blessed One. Then the Blessed One performed such a feat of supernormal power that the bandit Aṅgulimāla, though walking as fast as he could, could not catch up with the Blessed One, who was walking at his normal pace.

Then the bandit Aṅgulimāla considered: ‘It is wonderful, it is marvellous! Formerly I could catch up even with a swift elephant and seize it; I could catch up even with a swift horse and seize it; I could catch up even with a swift chariot and seize it; I could catch up even with a swift deer and seize it; but now, though I am walking as fast as I can, I cannot catch up with this renunciant, who is walking at his normal pace!’

Then the bandit Aṅgulimāla stopped and called out to the Blessed One, ‘Stop, renunciant! Stop renunciant!’ (The Blessed One replied:) ‘Aṅgulimāla, I have stopped, you stop too.’ Then the bandit Aṅgulimāla considered, ‘These renunciants, the Sakyans, speak truth, assert truth; but though this renunciant is still walking, he says: “Aṅgulimāla, I have stopped, you stop too.” Suppose I question this renunciant.’ Then the bandit Aṅgulimāla addressed the Blessed One in verses thus:

‘Renunciant, while you are walking, you tell me you have stopped; but now, when I have stopped, you say I have not stopped. Renunciant, I ask you now about the meaning: How is it that you have stopped and I have not?’

‘Aṅgulimāla, I have stopped forever, I abstain from violence towards living beings; but you have no restraint towards things that live: That is why I have stopped and you have not.’

‘Oh, at long last this renunciant, a venerated sage, has come to this great forest for my sake. Having heard your stanza teaching me Dhamma, I will indeed renounce evil forever.’

So saying, the bandit took his sword and weapons and flung them in a gaping chasm’s pit; the bandit worshipped the Fortunate One’s feet, and then and there asked for the going forth.99

The awakened one, the sage of great compassion, the teacher of the world with all its gods, addressed him with these words: ‘Come, monk.’ And that was how he came to be a monk.

Then the Blessed One set out to wander back to Sāvatthī with Aṅgulimāla as his attendant. Wandering by stages, he eventually arrived at Sāvatthī, and there he lived at Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park.

Now at that occasion great crowds of people were gathering at the gates of King Pasenadi’s inner palace, very loud and noisy, crying: ‘Sire, the bandit Aṅgulimāla is in your territory; he is murderous, bloody-handed, given to blows and violence, merciless to living beings! Villages, towns, and districts have been laid waste by him! He is constantly murdering people and he wears their fingers as a garland! The king must put him down!’

Then in the middle of the day King Pasenadi of Kosala drove out of Sāvatthī with a cavalry of five hundred men and set out for the park. He drove thus as far as the road was passable for carriages, and then he dismounted from his carriage and went forward on foot to the Blessed One. After paying homage to the Blessed One, he sat down at one side, and the Blessed One said to him, ‘Great King, what is it? Is the king Seniya Bimbisāra of Magadha attacking you, or the Licchavis of Vesāli, or other hostile kings?’ ‘Venerable sir, the king Seniya Bimbisāra of Magadha is not attacking me, nor are the Licchavis of Vesāli, nor are other hostile kings. But there is a bandit in my territory named Aṅgulimāla, who is murderous, bloody-handed …. Venerable sir, I shall never be able to put him down.’

‘Great king, suppose you were to see that Aṅgulimāla has shaved off his hair and beard, put on the yellow robe, and gone forth from the home life into homelessness; that he was abstaining from killing living beings, from taking what is not given and from false speech; that he was eating only one meal a day, and was celibate, virtuous, of good character. If you were to see him thus, how would you treat him?’

‘Venerable sir, we would pay respect to him, or rise up for him, or invite him to be seated; or we would invite him to accept robes, alms-food, a resting place, or medicinal requisites; or we would arrange for him lawful guarding, defence, and protection. But, venerable sir, how could such an immoral man, one of evil character, ever have such ethical discipline and restraint?’

Now on that occasion the Venerable Aṅgulimāla was sitting not far from the Blessed One. Then the Blessed One extended his right arm and said to King Pasenadi of Kosala, ‘Great king, this is Aṅgulimāla.’ Then King Pasenadi was frightened, alarmed, and terrified. Knowing this, the Blessed One told him, ‘Great king, do not be afraid, do not be afraid. There is nothing for you to fear from him.’ Then the king’s fear, alarm, and terror subsided. He went over to the Venerable Aṅgulimāla and said, ‘Master, are you, venerable sir, really Aṅgulimāla?’ ‘Yes, great king.’ ‘Venerable sir, of what family is the master’s father? Of what family is his mother?’ ‘Great king, my father is a Gagga; my mother is Mantāṇī.’ ‘Let the noble Gagga, son of Mantāṇī rest content. I shall provide robes, alms-food, resting place, and medicinal requisites for the noble Gagga son of Mantāṇī.’

Now at that time the Venerable Aṅgulimāla was a forest dweller, an alms-food eater, a refuse-rag wearer, and restricted himself to three robes. He replied: ‘Great king, enough, my triple robe is complete.’ King Pasenadi then returned to the Blessed One, and after paying respect to him, he sat down at one side and said: ‘Venerable sir, it is wonderful, it is marvellous how the Blessed One tames the untamed, brings peace to the unpeaceful, and leads to nirvana those who have not attained nirvana. Venerable sir, we ourselves could not tame him with force or weapons. Venerable sir, and now we depart. We are busy and have much to do.’

Aṅgulimāla Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya II.98–102, trans. G.A.S.

The Buddha’s meditative life and praise for quietness and contentment

L.46 Meditating alone

In this passage, a brahmin has been told by some of his young students that while wood-gathering they have seen a renunciant (the Buddha) meditating in a nearby woodland thicket. He therefore goes there and addresses the Buddha in verse.

‘Having entered the empty, desolate forest, deep in the woods, where many terrors lurk, with a motionless body, steady, lovely, how do you meditate, O monk, so beautifully!

In the forest where no song or music sounds, a solitary sage has resorted to the woods! This strikes me as a wonder that you dwell with joyful mind alone in the woods.

I suppose you desire the supreme triple heaven, the company of the world’s divine lord; therefore you resort to the desolate forest: You practise penance here for attaining Brahmā.’

(The Buddha:) ‘Whatever be the many wishes and delights that are always attached to the manifold elements, the longings sprung from the root that is unknowing: All I have demolished along with their root.

I have no wishes, I’m unattached, disengaged; my vision of all things has been purified. O brahmin, having attained the auspicious, supreme awakening, self-confident, I meditate alone.’

Kaṭṭhahāra Sutta Saṃyutta-nikāya I.180–181 <389–390>, trans. G.A.S.

L.47 Quietly attentive disciples

In this passage, a non-Buddhist wanderer, who has noisy and over-talkative disciples, receives the Buddha and repeats to him that he has heard that, while other teachers lose disciples who are critical of them, the Buddha’s disciples are quietly attentive, and even if they return to lay life, they remain respectful of the Buddha for practising and praising such qualities as contentment.

Then the Blessed One went to the Peacocks’ Sanctuary, Wanderers’ Park. Now on that occasion the wanderer Sakuludāyin was seated with a large assembly of wanderers who were making an uproar, loudly and noisily talking many kinds of pointless talk, such as talks of kings, robbers, ministers, armies, dangers, battles, food, drink, clothing, beds, garlands, perfumes, relatives, vehicles, villages, towns, cities, countries, women, heroes, streets, wells, the dead, trifles, the origin of the world, the origin of the sea, whether the things are so or are not so.

Then the wanderer Sakuludāyin saw the Blessed One coming in the distance. Seeing him coming afar, he requested his own assembly to be quiet thus: ‘Sirs, be quiet; sirs, make no noise. Here comes the renunciant Gotama. This venerable one likes quiet and commends quiet. Perhaps if he finds our assembly a quiet one, he will think to join us.’ Then the wanderers became silent.

The Blessed One went to the wanderer Sakuludāyin, who said to him: ‘Let the venerable one come! Welcome to the venerable one! It is long since the venerable one found an opportunity to come here. Let the venerable one be seated; this seat is ready.’ The Blessed One sat down on the seat made ready, and the wanderer Sakuludāyin took a low seat and sat down at one side. When he had done so, the Blessed One asked him: ‘Udāyin, for what discussion are you sitting together here now? And what was your discussion that was interrupted?’

‘Venerable sir, let be the discussion for which we are now sitting together here. The Blessed One can well hear about it later. Venerable sir, in recent days when renunciants and brahmins of various sects have been gathering together and sitting together in the debating hall, this topic has arisen: “It is a gain for the people of Aṅga and Magadha that these renunciants and brahmins, heads of orders, heads of groups, teachers of groups, well-known and famous founders of sects regarded by many as saints, have to spend the rainy season at Rājagaha … [Various sect leaders are mentioned by name, and then it is said that many of their disciples had left them after criticising them.]

And some said this: “This renunciant Gotama is the head of an order, the head of a group, the teacher of a group, the well-known and famous founder of a sect regarded by many as a saint. He is honoured, respected, revered, and venerated by his disciples, and his disciples live in dependence on him, honouring and respecting him. Once the renunciant Gotama was teaching his Dhamma to an assembly of several hundred followers and there a certain disciple of his cleared his throat. Thereupon one of his companions in the holy life nudged him with his knee to indicate: ‘Venerable one, be quiet, make no noise; the Blessed One the teacher is teaching us the Dhamma.’

When the renunciant Gotama is teaching the Dhamma to an assembly of several hundred followers, on that occasion there is no sound of his disciples’ coughing or clearing their throats. For then that large assembly is poised in expectancy: ‘Let us here the Dhamma the Blessed One is about to teach.’ Just as though a man were at a crossroads pressing out pure honey and a large group of people were poised in expectancy, so too, when the renunciant Gotama is teaching the Dhamma to an assembly of several hundred followers, on that occasion there is no sound of his disciples’ coughing or clearing their throats. For then that large assembly is poised in expectancy: ‘Let us hear the Dhamma the Blessed One is about to teach.’

And even those disciples of his who fall out with their companions in the holy life and abandon the training to return to the low life, even they praise the Blessed One and the Dhamma and the community; they blame themselves instead of others, saying: ‘We were unlucky, we have little beneficial karma; for though we went forth into homelessness in such a well-proclaimed Dhamma, we were unable to live the perfect and pure holy life for the rest of our lives.’ Having become monastery attendants or lay followers, they undertake and observe the five precepts.100 Thus the renunciant Gotama is honoured, respected, revered, and venerated by his disciples, and his disciples live in dependence on him, honouring and respecting him.’

‘Udāyin, how many qualities do you see in me because of which my disciples honour, respect, revere, and venerate me, and live in dependence on me, honouring and respecting me?’

‘Venerable sir, I see five qualities in the Blessed One because of which his disciples honour, respect, revere, and venerate him, and live in dependence on him, honouring and respecting him. What are the five? Venerable sir, the Blessed One eats little and commends eating little; this I see as the first quality of the Blessed One because of which his disciples honour, respect, revere, and venerate him, and live in dependence on him, honouring and respecting him. Venerable sir, the Blessed One is content with any kind of robe and commends contentment with any kind of robe … the Blessed One is content with any kind of alms-food and commends contentment with any kind of alms-food … the Blessed One is content with any kind of resting place and commends contentment with any kind of resting place … the Blessed One is secluded and commends seclusion … Venerable sir, these are the five qualities I see in the Blessed One because of which his disciples honour, respect, revere, and venerate him, and live in dependence on him, honouring and respecting him.

Mahā-sakuludāyi Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya II.1–7, trans. G.A.S.

L.48 Attracting help from an elephant who also sought solitude

This passage comes at a time when the Buddha had gone off into the forest for some solitude, after having experienced some quarrelling and disputing monks at Kosambī. He receives help from a bull-elephant also seeking solitude.

Walking on tour in due course the Blessed One arrived at Pārileyya, and stayed there in the Guarded Woodland Thicket at the root of a lovely sāl-tree. Then when the Blessed One was meditating in private, a reasoning arose in his mind thus: ‘Formerly, beset by those monks of Kosambī, makers of strife, makers of quarrels … I did not live in comfort; but now that I am alone with no other, I am living in comfort removed from those monks ….’

Now a certain large bull-elephant was beset by elephants and cow-elephants, by elephant calves and sucklings; he ate grass already cropped by them, and they ate bundles of branches as he broke them off; and he drank muddied water and when he crossed over at a ford, the cow-elephants went pushing against his body. Then it occurred to that large bull-elephant: ‘Now I am living beset by elephants and cow elephants … Suppose I were to live alone, secluded from the crowd?’

Then the large bull-elephant, leaving the herd, approached Pārileyya, the Guarded Woodland Thicket, the lovely sāl-tree and the Blessed One; having approached, by means of his trunk he set out drinking water for the Blessed One and water for washing, and he kept the grass down. Then it occurred to the large bull-elephant: ‘Now formerly, I was beset by elephants and cow elephants…; but now that I am alone with no other, I am living in comfort….’

Mahāvagga X.4.6–7: Vinaya I.352 –353, trans. P.H.

Physical ailments of the Buddha, and compassionate help for the sick

L.49 Tired and stretching an aching back

The suttas contain some very ‘human’ information on the Buddha.

Then the Blessed One dressed, and taking his bowl and robe, went with the community of monks to the assembly hall. When he arrived, he washed his feet and then entered the hall and sat down by the central pillar facing the east. And the monks washed their feet and entered the hall and sat down by the western wall facing the east, with the Blessed One before them. And the Sakyans of Kapilavatthu washed their feet and entered the hall and sat down by the eastern wall facing the west, with the Blessed One before them.

Then when the Blessed One had instructed, urged, roused, and gladdened the Sakyans of Kapilavatthu with talk on Dhamma for much of the night, he said to the Venerable Ānanda: ‘Ānanda, speak to the Sakyans of Kapilavatthu about the disciple in higher training who has entered upon the way. My back is uncomfortable. I will rest it.’ ‘Yes, venerable sir, Venerable Ānanda replied.’

Then the Blessed One prepared his patchwork cloak folded in four and lay down on his right side in the lion’s pose, with one foot overlapping the other, mindful and clearly comprehending, after noting in his mind the time for rising (after sleeping).

Sekha Sutta Majjhima-nikāya I.354,101 trans. G.A.S.

L.50 Request for hot water

Now on that occasion the Blessed One was afflicted by winds and the Venerable Upavāna was his attendant. Then the Blessed One addressed Venerable Upavāna thus, ‘Come, Upavāna, find some hot water for me.’ ‘Yes, venerable sir, Venerable Upavāna replied.’

Then Venerable Upavāna dressed and, taking bowl and robe, went to the residence of Devahita, a brahmin, where he stood silently to one side. The brahmin Devahita saw Venerable Upavāna standing silently to one side and addressed him in verse:

‘Silent, the arahant stands, shaven-headed, clad in a stitched robe, what do you want, what do you seek, what have you come here to beg?’

‘The arahant, the master in the world, the sage, is afflicted with winds. Brahmin, if there is any hot water, please give it for the sage.

He is worshipped by those worthy of worship, honoured by those worthy of honour, respected by those worthy of respect: It is to him that I wish to take it.’

Then the brahmin Devahita ordered a man to bring a carrying pole with hot water and presented a bag of molasses to Venerable Upavāna. Then Venerable Upavāna approached the Blessed One. He had the Blessed One bathed with the hot water, and he mixed the molasses with hot water and offered it to him. Then the Blessed One’s ailment subsided.

Devahita Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya I.174–175 <375–377>, trans. G.A.S.

L.51 Enduring pain from an injury, and sleeping it off

On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Rājagaha in the Maddakucchi Deer Park. Now on that occasion the Blessed One’s foot had been cut by a stone splinter. Severe pains assailed the Blessed One, bodily feelings that were painful, racking, sharp, piercing, harrowing, and disagreeable. But the Blessed One endured them, mindful and clearly comprehending, without becoming distressed.

Then the Blessed One had his robe folded in four, and he lay down on his right side in the lion’s posture with one leg overlapping the other, mindful and clearly comprehending.

Then Māra the evil one approached the Blessed One and addressed him in verse:

‘Do you lie down in a daze or drunk on poetry? Don’t you have sufficient goals to meet? Being alone in a secluded lodging, why do you sleep with a drowsy face?’

‘I do not lie in a daze or drunk on poetry; having reached the goal, I am rid of sorrow. Being alone in a secluded lodging, I lie down full of compassion for all beings.

Even those with a dart struck in the breast piercing their heart moment by moment, even these here, stricken, get to sleep; so why should I not get to sleep when my dart has been drawn out?

I do not lie awake in dread, nor am I afraid to sleep. The nights and days do not afflict me; I see for myself no decline in the world. Therefore I can sleep in peace, full of compassion for all beings.’

Then Māra the evil one … disappeared right there.

Sakalika Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya I.110–111 <245–246>, trans. G.A.S.

L.52 Recovering from an illness by having the seven factors of awakening, recited

In this passage, the Buddha recovers from an illness by having seven factors conducive to awakening (bojjhaṅga) recited; in the two previous discourses, he himself recited these to the monks Mahā-kassapa and Mahā-moggallāna to help them recover from their illnesses.

On one occasion, the Blessed One was dwelling at Rājagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrel Sanctuary. Now on that occasion the Blessed One was sick, afflicted, gravely ill. Then Venerable Mahā-cunda approached the Blessed One, paid respect to him, and sat down to one side. The Blessed One then said to Venerable Mahā-cunda, ‘Recite the factors of awakening, Cunda.’

‘These seven factors of awakening, venerable sir, have been rightly expounded by the Blessed One; when developed and cultivated, they lead to higher knowledge, to awakening, to nirvana. What seven? The awakening factor of mindfulness … of investigation of Dhamma … of vigour… of joy … of tranquillity, of meditative concentration … of equanimity …’

‘Surely, Cunda, they are factors of awakening! Surely, Cunda, they are factors of awakening!’

This is what Venerable Mahā-cunda said. The teacher approved. And the Blessed One recovered from that illness. In such a way the Blessed One was cured of his illness.

Gilāna Sutta no.3: Saṃyutta-nikāya V.81, trans. P.H.

L.53 Compassionate help for a sick monk

This passage shows the practical compassion of the Buddha, caring for a sick monk and urging monks to look after sick co-monks as they would do for a family member.

Now at that time a certain monk was sick with dysentery. He lay fouled in his own urine and excrement. Then the Blessed One, on an inspection tour of the lodgings with Venerable Ānanda as his attendant, went to the dwelling of that monk and, on arrival, saw the monk lying fouled in his own urine and excrement.

On seeing him, the Blessed One went to the monk and said, ‘Monk, what is your sickness?’ ‘Venerable sir, I have dysentery.’ ‘Monk, do you have an attendant?’ ‘No, venerable sir, I do not have one.’ ‘Monk, why don’t the monks attend to you?’ ‘Venerable sir, I do not do anything for the monks, which is why they do not attend to me.’

Then the Blessed One addressed Venerable Ānanda, ‘Ānanda, go and bring some water. We will wash this monk.’ ‘Yes, venerable sir’, Venerable Ānanda replied, and fetched some water. The Blessed One sprinkled water on the monk, and Venerable Ānanda washed him off. Then, with the Blessed One taking the monk by the head, and Venerable Ānanda taking him by the feet, they lifted him up and placed him on a bed.

Then the Blessed One, from this cause, because of this event, had the monks assembled. He asked them, ‘Monks, is there a sick monk in that dwelling over there?’ ‘Yes, venerable sir, there is.’ ‘Monks, what is his sickness?’ ‘Venerable sir, he has dysentery.’ ‘Monks, does he have an attendant?’ ‘No, venerable sir, he does not.’ ‘Monks, then why don’t the monks attend to him?’ ‘Venerable sir, he doesn’t do anything for the monks, which is why they don’t attend to him.’

‘Monks, you have no mother, you have no father, who might tend to you. If you do not tend to one another, who then will tend to you? Monks, whoever would tend to me should tend to the sick.’

Mahāvagga VIII.26: Vinaya I.301–302, trans. G.A.S.

L.54 Helping a woman in labour

This passage concerns Suppavāsā, a woman who had had a long pregnancy and had been in labour for several days, in great pain. She had great faith in the Buddha, and when she called on him for help, at a distance, he used his power to ensure she had an easy delivery.

Afflicted by painful, sharp, grating and stabbing pains, she put up with this with three thoughts: ‘A perfectly awakened Buddha, truly, is the Blessed One, who teaches Dhamma for the sake of abandoning the pain of such a form as this; well conducted, truly, is the Blessed One’s Sangha of disciples, which practises for the sake of abandoning pain of such a form as this; perfect happiness, truly, is nirvana, wherein pain of such a form as this is not found.’

Then Suppavāsā, the Koliyan’s daughter, addressed her husband, saying, ‘You should go and approach the Blessed One; and having approached him, you should pay respects to him with your head at his feet on my behalf and ask for my freedom from affliction, freedom from impediment, lightness of body, strength and moving about in comfort … [and tell him of my painful conditions and three thoughts].’

… [So he did so, and the Blessed One replied:] ‘May Suppavāsā, the Koliyan’s daughter, be at ease; may she be healthy, may she give birth to a healthy son.’ And with that utterance, moreover, from the Blessed One, Suppavāsā, the Koliyan’s’ daughter, became at ease, healthy, and gave birth to a healthy son.

… [When the husband returned to his wife and saw what had happened, he said:] ‘It is truly a marvel, my lady, it is truly an unprecedented thing, my lady, this state of great psychic potency, this state of great majesty, of the Tathāgata, inasmuch, namely, as this Suppavāsa … can with this utterance from the Blessed One, have become at ease, healthy and have given birth to a healthy son’, at which he became delighted, jubilant, filled with joy and happiness.

Suppavāsa Sutta: Udāna 15-16, trans. P.H.

Sleeping and eating

L.55 How the Buddha slept

These passages say how the Buddha mindfully went to sleep and slept well.

On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Rājagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrel Sanctuary. Then when the night was fading, the Blessed One, having spent much of the night walking back and forth in the open, washed his feet, entered his dwelling, and lay down on his right side in the lion’s posture with one leg overlapping the other, mindful and clearly comprehending, having attended to the idea of rising.

Supati Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya I.107 < 239–240>, trans. G.A. Somaratne.

‘But does Venerable Gotama recall sleeping during the day?’ ‘Aggivessana, I recall that In the last month of the hot season, on returning from my alms-round, after my meal, I lay out my robe folded in four, and lying down on my right side, I fall asleep mindful and fully aware.

Mahā-saccaka Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.249, trans. G.A.S.

He indeed always sleeps well, the brahmin who is fully quenched, who does not cling to sensual pleasures, and is cool at heart, without acquisitions.

Having cut off all attachments, having removed care from the heart, the peaceful one sleeps well, having attained peace of mind.

Sudatta Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya I.212 <458>, trans. G.A.S.

L.56 Can meat be accepted in a renunciant’s alms-bowl?

This passage makes it clear that monks and nuns should not accept alms-food containing flesh if they have seen, heard or suspected that the flesh came from a being that was killed specifically to feed them. It also sees anyone involved in slaughtering an animal as generating bad karmic results for themselves. Monastics, though, may accept meat bought by a lay donor in a market. For a lay Buddhist to kill animals or fish and sell their flesh would be wrong livelihood, though many lay Buddhists do include some meat, such as fish, in their own diets.

Then Jīvaka Komārabhacca went to the Blessed One, and after paying homage to him, he sat down at one side and said to the Blessed One: ‘Venerable sir, I have heard this: They slaughter living beings for the renunciant Gotama; the renunciant Gotama knowingly eats meat prepared for him from animals killed for his sake. Venerable sir, do those who speak thus say what has been said by the Blessed One, and not misrepresent him with what is contrary to fact? Do they explain in accordance with the Dhamma in such a way that nothing which provides a ground for censure can be legitimately deduced from their assertions?’

‘Jīvaka, those who speak thus do not say what has been said by me, but misrepresent me with what is untrue and contrary to fact.

Jīvaka, I say that there are three instances in which meat should not be eaten: when it is seen, heard, or suspected that the living being has been slaughtered for oneself. I say that meat should not be eaten in these three instances. I say that there are three instances in which meat may be eaten: when it is not seen, not heard, and not suspected that the living being has been slaughtered for oneself. I say that meat may be eaten in these three instances. … .’

‘Venerable sir, I have heard this: “Brahmā abides in loving kindness.” Venerable sir, the Blessed One is my visible witness to that; for the Blessed One abides in loving kindness.” ’ …

‘Venerable sir, I have heard this: “Brahmā abides in equanimity.” Venerable sir, the Blessed One is my visible witness to that; for the Blessed One abides in equanimity.’

‘Jīvaka, any attachment, any hate, any delusion whereby cruelty or discontent or aversion might arise have been abandoned by the Tathāgata, cut off at the root, made like a palm stump, done away with so that they are no longer subject to future arising. If what you said referred to that, then I allow it to you.’

‘Venerable sir, what I said referred to precisely that.’

‘Jīvaka, if anyone slaughters a living being for the Tathāgata or his disciple, he accumulates much detrimental karma in five instances: When he says: “Go and fetch that living being”, this is the first instance in which he accumulates much detrimental karma. When that living being experiences pain and grief on being led along with a neck-halter, this is the second instance in which he accumulates much detrimental karma. When he says: “Go and slaughter that living being, this is the third instance in which he accumulates much detrimental karma. When that living being experiences pain and grief on being slaughtered, this is the fourth instance in which he accumulates much detrimental karma. When he provides the Tathāgata or his disciple with food that is not permissible, that is the fifth instance in which he accumulates much detrimental karma. Anyone who slaughters a living being for the Tathāgata or his disciple lays up much detrimental karma in these five instances.

Jīvaka Sutta: Majjhima-nikāya I.368–371, trans. G.A.S.

L.57 Material support for Buddhism need not be exclusive

In this passage, a well-off supporter of Jainism has, after a conversation with the Buddha, declared that he wishes to be his follower. The Buddha’s response is an open and generous one.

‘Now Sīha, make a proper investigation: this is appropriate in the case of well-known men like yourself.’

‘I, Blessed One, am truly very pleased and satisfied with what the Blessed One said to me. … For if members of other sects had gained me as a disciple, they would have paraded a banner all around Vesāli, saying “General Sīha has joined our disciples.” … So ... may the Blessed One accept me as a lay follower going for refuge from this day onwards for as long as life lasts.’

‘For a long time, Sīha, your family has given generous support to the Nigaṇṭhas (Jains). Will you think to still give alms when they approach you?’

‘I, Blessed One, am truly very pleased and satisfied with what the Blessed One said to me. … I have heard, Blessed One, “The renunciant Gotama speaks thus, ‘Gifts should be given to me only, not to others ....; gifts should be given to my disciples only, not to the disciples of others …’.” But then the Blessed One urged me to give to the Nigaṇṭhas too. Indeed, Blessed One, we will know the right time for that.’

Mahāvagga: Vinaya I.236–237, trans. P.H.

Composing and enjoying poetry

L.58 Responding to verses with verses

Here the Buddha playfully exchanges verses with a cattleman on the happiness of lay life and renunciant life.

‘I am with my rice cooked, milking done’, said Dhaniya the cattleman. ‘I live with my people along the banks of the Mahī. My hut is roofed, fire is lit; so if you want, (rain) god, go ahead and rain.’

‘I am free from anger, with stubbornness gone’, said the Blessed One. I live for one night along the banks of the Mahī. My hut is open, fire is out; so if you want, god, go ahead and rain.’

‘No mosquitoes or gadflies are to be found’, said Dhaniya the cattleman; ‘the cows roam in the marshy meadow where the grasses flourish. They could stand the rain if it came; so if you want, god, go ahead and rain.’

‘A raft, well-made, has been lashed together’, said the Blessed One; having crossed over, gone to the far shore (nirvana), I have subdued the flood. There is (now) no need of a raft; so if you want, god, go ahead and rain.’

‘My wife is compliant, not careless’, said Dhaniya, the cattleman; ‘she has lived with me long, and is charming. I hear no evil about her at all; so if you want, god, go ahead and rain.’

‘My mind is compliant, released’, said the Blessed One, ‘and has long been nurtured, well-tamed. No evil is to be found in me; so if you want, god, go ahead and rain.’

‘I support myself on my earnings’, said Dhaniya the cattleman; ‘and my sons live in harmony, in good health. I hear no evil about them at all; so if you want, god, go ahead and rain.’

‘I am no one’s employee’, said the Blessed One. ‘I wander the whole world on gains (given). I have no need of earnings; so if you want, god, go ahead and rain.’

‘There are cows, young bulls’, said Dhaniya the cattleman, ‘and cows in calf, also breeding cows. There is a great bull, the leader of the herd; so if you want, god, go ahead and rain.’

‘There are no cows, no young bulls, said the Blessed One, ‘no cows in calf or breeding cows. There is no great bull, the leader of the herd; so if you want, god, go ahead and rain.’

‘The stakes are dug-in, immovable’, said Dhaniya the cattleman; ‘the new muñja-grass halters, well-woven; not even young bulls could break; so if you want, god, go ahead and rain.’

‘Having broken my bonds like a great bull, like a great elephant tearing a rotting vine; I never again will lie in a womb; so if you want, god, go ahead and rain.’

The great cloud rained down straightaway, filling the lowlands and high. Hearing the god pour down, Dhaniya stated this meaning:

‘How great our gain that we have gazed on the Blessed One! We go to him, the one with vision, for refuge. May you be our teacher, O great sage?’

My wife and I are compliant. Let us follow the holy life under the Fortunate One. Gone to the far shore of ageing and death, let us put an end to the painful.’

‘Those with children delight because of their children’, said Māra, the evil one. ‘Those with cattle delight because of their cows. A person’s delight comes from acquisitions, since a person with no acquisitions does not delight.’

‘Those with children grieve because of their children’, said the Blessed One. ‘Those with cattle grieve because of their cows. A person’s grief comes from acquisitions, since a person with no acquisitions does not grieve.’

Dhaniya Sutta: Sutta-nipāta 18–34, trans. G.A.S.

L.59 Enjoying poetry

In this passage, the Buddha enjoys the poetry of the monk Vaṅgīsa, who was the foremost disciple of those gifted with inspirational speech (Aṅguttara-nikāya I.24). He had the skill in composing spontaneous verses.

On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park, together with a large community of monks, with 1,250 monks. Now on that occasion the Blessed One was instructing, exhorting, inspiring, and gladdening the monks with a talk on Dhamma concerning nirvana. And those monks were listening to Dhamma with eager ears, attending to it as a matter of vital concern, directing their whole mind to it.

Then it occurred to Venerable Vaṅgīsa: ‘The Blessed One is instructing the monks … Let me extol the Blessed One to his face with suitable verses.’ Then Venerable Vaṅgīsa rose from his seat, arranged his upper robe over one shoulder, and raising his joined hands in reverential salutation towards the Blessed One, said to him, ‘Exalted One, an inspiration has come to me! Blessed One, an inspiration has come to me!’ ‘Vaṅgīsa, then express your inspiration.’ Then Venerable Vaṅgīsa extolled the Blessed One to his face with suitable verses:

‘Over a thousand monks here attend upon the Blessed One as he teaches the dust-free Dhamma, nirvana, inaccessible to fear.

They listen to the stainless Dhamma taught by the perfectly awakened Buddha. Indeed, the awakened one shines honoured by the community of monks.

Venerable sir, your name is Nāga,102 the best seer of the seers. Like a great cloud bearing rain you pour down on the disciples.

Having emerged from his daytime abode from desire to behold the teacher, your disciple Vaṅgīsa, O great hero, bows down in devout respect at your feet.’

‘Vaṅgīsa, had you already thought out these verses, or did they occur to you spontaneously?’

‘Venerable sir, I had not already thought out these verses; they occurred to me spontaneously.’

‘Vaṅgīsa, in that case, let some more verses, not already thought out, occur to you.’

‘Yes, venerable sir’, Venerable Vaṅgīsa replied. Then Venerable Vaṅgīsa extolled the Blessed One with some more verses that had not been previously thought out:

Having overcome the deviant course of Māra’s path, you fare having demolished barrenness of mind. Behold one who is the liberator from bondage, unattached, analysing into parts.

For the sake of leading us across the flood you declared the path with its many aspects. The seers of Dhamma stand immovable in that deathless declared by you.

The light-maker, having pierced right through, saw the transcendence of all stations (of rebirth consciousness); having known and realized it himself, he taught the chief matter to the five.

When the Dhamma has been so well taught, what negligence is there for those who understand it? Therefore, living diligent in the Blessed One’s teaching, one should always reverently train in it.

Parosahassa Sutta: Saṃyutta-nikāya I.192–193 <414–417>, trans. G.A.S.

The last months of the Buddha’s life

The Mahā-parinibbāna Sutta of the Dīgha-nikāya (II.72–168) is the longest single sutta in the Pāli Canon. It deals with the last three months of the Buddha’s life, in his eightieth year, culminating with his great (mahā) parinibbāna: the final nirvana that comes at the death of an awakened person.

L.60 Overcoming a severe illness, and teaching mindfulness as the way to take refuge in oneself and the Dhamma

At that time the Blessed One spoke to the monks: ‘Monks, go now and seek shelter anywhere in the neighbourhood of Vesāli where you are welcome, among acquaintances and friends, and there spend the rainy season. As for me, I shall spend the rainy season in this very place, in the village of Beluva.’ ‘Very well, venerable sir, the monks said.’

When the Blessed One had entered upon the rainy season, there arose in him a severe illness. Sharp and deadly pains came upon him. And the Blessed One endured them mindfully, clearly comprehending and unperturbed.

Then the Blessed One considered: ‘It would not be fitting if I came to my final nirvana (at death) without addressing those who attended on me, without taking leave of the community of monks. Then let me suppress this illness by strength of will, resolve to maintain the life-sustaining activities, and live on.’ And the Blessed One suppressed the illness by strength of will, resolved to maintain the life-sustaining activities, and lived on. So it came about that the Blessed One’s illness was allayed. And the Blessed One recovered from that illness; and soon after his recovery he came out from his dwelling place and sat down in the shade of a building, on a seat prepared for him.

Then Venerable Ānanda approached the Blessed One, respectfully greeted him, and sitting down at one side, he spoke to the Blessed One: ‘Venerable sir, fortunate it is for me to see the Blessed One at ease again! Venerable sir, fortunate it is for me to see the Blessed One recovered! Venerable sir, for truly, when I saw the Blessed One’s sickness it was as though my own body became weak as a creeper, everything around became dim to me, and my senses failed me. Yet, venerable sir, I still had some little comfort in the thought that the Blessed One would not come to his final nirvana until he had given some last instructions respecting the community of monks.’ Thus spoke Venerable Ānanda.

The Blessed One answered him: ‘Ānanda, what more does the community of monks expect from me? I have set forth the Dhamma without making any distinction of esoteric and exoteric Dhamma. Ānanda, there is nothing with regard to the teachings that the Tathāgata holds to the last with the closed fist of a teacher who keeps some things back. Whoever may think that it is he who should lead the community of monks, or that the community depends upon him, it is such a one that would have to give last instructions respecting them. But, Ānanda, the Tathāgata has no such idea as that it is he who should lead the community of monks, or that the community depends upon him. So what instructions should he have to give respecting the community of monks?

Ānanda, now I am frail, old, aged, far gone in years. This is my eightieth year, and my life is spent. Ānanda, even as an old cart is held together with much difficulty, so the body of the Tathāgata is kept going only with supports. Ānanda, it is only when the Tathāgata, disregarding any characteristics of things in the meditative concentration that is free of characteristics,103 that his body is more comfortable.

Therefore, Ānanda, dwell with yourselves as islands (of safety), yourselves as refuges, with no other (person as) refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, with no other (teaching as) refuge. And, Ānanda, how does a monk dwell with himself as an island, himself as refuge, with no other as refuge, with Dhamma as his island, the Dhamma as refuge, with no other as refuge?

When he dwells, in respect of the body, contemplating the body, possessed of effort, clearly comprehending, and mindful, removing intense desire for and unhappiness with the world; when he dwells contemplating feelings in feelings, the mind in the mind, and reality-patterns104 in reality-patterns, possessed of effort, clearly comprehending, and mindful, removing intense desire for and unhappiness with the world, then, truly, he dwells with himself as an island, himself as refuge, with no other as his refuge, with the Dhamma as his island, the Dhamma as refuge, with no other as refuge.

Ānanda, those monks of mine, who now or after I am gone, dwell with themselves as islands, themselves as refuges, with no other (person) as refuge, with the Dhamma as island, with the Dhamma as refuge, with no other (teaching)as refuge: it is they who will become the highest, if they have the desire to learn.’

Mahā-parinibbāna Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya II.98–101, trans. G.A.S.

L.61 Relinquishing the impetus for a full life-span

In this passage, the old and ill Buddha, having seen that he has accomplished his task, abandons impetus for sustaining the longest human life-span, and accepts that he will live for only three more months.

Then the Blessed One, getting ready in the forenoon, took bowl and robe and went into Vesāli for alms. After the alms-round and meal, on his return, he spoke to Venerable Ānanda, ‘Ānanda, take up a mat, and let us spend the day at the Cāpāla shrine.’ ‘Very well, venerable sir.’ And Venerable Ānanda took up a mat and followed behind the Blessed One, step by step. And the Blessed One went to the Cāpāla shrine and sat down on the seat prepared for him. And when Venerable Ānanda had seated himself at one side after he had paid respect to the Blessed One, the Blessed One said to him, ‘Ānanda, delightful is Vesāli; delightful are the shrines of Udena, Gotamaka, Sattambaka, Bahuputta, Sārandada, and Cāpāla.’

…And when Venerable Ānanda had gone away, Māra the evil one approached the Blessed One. And standing at one side he spoke to the Blessed One: ‘Venerable sir, now let the Blessed One come to his final nirvana (by dying). Let the Fortunate One attain final nirvana! The time has come for the final nirvana of the Blessed One. Venerable sir, for the Blessed One spoke these words to me (soon after my awakening): “Evil one, I shall not come to my final nirvana until I have monk disciples …nun disciples … laymen disciples … and laywomen disciples who are accomplished, trained, skilled, learned, versed in Dhamma, practising Dhamma in accordance with Dhamma, practising the proper way, conducting themselves according to Dhamma, who will pass on what they have gained from their own teacher, teach it, declare it, establish it, expound it, analyse it, make it clear, till they shall be able by means of Dhamma to refute false teachings that have arisen, and teach the Dhamma of wondrous effect.” Venerable sir, now the Blessed Ones’ disciples, monks and nuns, laymen and laywomen have … [become in just this way]. So, venerable sir, let the Blessed One come to his final nirvana. The time has come for the final nirvana of the Blessed One.

Venerable sir, for the Blessed One spoke these words to me: “Evil one, I shall not come to my final nirvana until this holy life taught by me has become successful, prosperous, far-renowned, popular, and widespread, until it is well proclaimed among gods and humans.” Venerable sir, this too has come to pass in just this way. So, venerable sir, let the Blessed One come to his final nirvana. Let the Fortunate One attain final nirvana! The time has come for the final nirvana of the Blessed One.’

When this was said, the Blessed One spoke to Māra the evil one, ‘Evil one, do not trouble yourself. Before long the final nirvana of the Tathāgata will come about. Three months hence the Tathāgata will attain final nirvana.

So the Blessed One at the Cāpāla shrine, mindfully and clearly comprehending, relinquished the impetus for a full life-span, and when this occurred there was a great earthquake, terrible, hair-raising, and accompanied by thunder.

Mahā-parinibbāna Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya II.102–107, trans. G.A.S.

L.62 The last admonition

In this teaching, the Buddha sums up the path he had taught as seven sets of qualities which are known as the thirty-seven qualities conducive to awakening.

‘Ānanda, let us go to the hall of the gabled house, in the Great Forest.’ ‘Very well, venerable sir’, said Venerable Ānanda. Then the Blessed One, with Venerable Ānanda, went to the hall of the gabled house, in the Great Forest. And there he spoke to Venerable Ānanda, ‘Ānanda, go now and assemble in the hall of audience all the monks who dwell in the neighbourhood of Vesāli.’ ‘Very well, venerable sir’, said Venerable Ānanda.

And Venerable Ānanda gathered all the monks who dwelt in the neighbourhood of Vesāli, and assembled them in the hall of audience. And then, paying respect to the Blessed One and standing at one side, he said, ‘Venerable sir, the community of monks is assembled. Now let the Blessed One do as he wishes.’

Thereupon the Blessed One entered the hall of audience, and taking the seat prepared for him, he exhorted the monks: ‘Monks, now I say to you that these qualities of which I have higher knowledge and which I have made known to you – these you should thoroughly learn, cultivate, develop, and frequently practise, that the holy life may be established and may long endure, for the welfare and happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, wellbeing, and happiness of gods and humans.

Monks, what are these qualities? They are the four foundations of mindfulness, the four right efforts, the four bases of success, the five spiritual faculties, the five powers, the seven factors of awakening, and the noble eightfold path.105 Monks, these are the qualities of which I have higher knowledge, which I have made known to you, and which you should thoroughly learn, cultivate, develop, and frequently practise, that the holy life may be established and may long endure, for the welfare and happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, wellbeing, and happiness of gods and humans.’

The Blessed One said to the monks further: ‘Monks, I exhort you: conditioned things are of a nature to decay, but by attentiveness you will succeed. The time of the Tathāgata’s final nirvana is near. Three months hence the Tathāgata will attain final nirvana.’

And having spoken these words, the Fortunate One, the teacher, spoke again:

My years are now fully ripe. The life left is short.
Departing, I go hence from you, relying on myself alone.
Monks, be heedful, mindful and of ethical discipline!
With firm resolve, guard your own minds!
Who heedfully pursues the Dhamma and the discipline
Shall go beyond the round of births and make an end of the painful.

Mahā-parinibbāna Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya II.119–121, trans. G.A.S.

L.63 The last meal

Here we see the Buddha eating a meal that brought on his final illness, leading to his death, as well as his concern that no-one would blame the person who had given him the meal.

At one time, while walking on tour among the Mallas together with a large community of monks, the Blessed One arrived at Pāvā. And the Blessed One stayed at Pāvā in the mango grove of Cunda the smith. Now Cunda the smith heard, ‘It is said that the Blessed One, while walking on tour among the Mallas together with a large community of monks, has arrived at Pāvā and is staying at Pāvā in the mango grove.’

Then Cunda the smith approached the Blessed One, paid respect, and sat down to one side. The Blessed One instructed, roused, inspired, and gladdened him by Dhamma-talk. Then Cunda the smith said to the Blessed One, ‘Venerable sir, please consent to my providing a meal tomorrow for the Blessed One together with the community of monks.’ The Blessed One consented by remaining silent.

Then, on seeing that the Blessed One had consented, Cunda the smith arose from his seat, paid respect to the Blessed One, and keeping his right side towards him, went away. When the night had ended Cunda the smith prepared in his own dwelling choice solid and soft food including a quantity of soft pork,106 and announced to the Blessed One the time for the meal, ‘Venerable sir, it is time; the meal is ready.’

Then the Blessed One, in the forenoon, putting on his robe and taking his bowl and robe, together with the community of monks, went to the dwelling of Cunda the smith. On arriving he sat down on the seat prepared for him and said to Cunda the smith, ‘Cunda, serve me with the soft pork you have prepared, and serve the community of monks with the other food.’ ‘Very well, venerable sir’, said Cunda the smith.

He served the Blessed One with the soft pork and the community of monks with the other prepared food. Then the Blessed One said to Cunda the smith, ‘Cunda, bury in a pit what is left over of the soft pork, for I do not see in the world with its gods, māras and brahmās, with its people, renunciants, brahmins, kings and the masses, anyone here who could eat and fully digest it other than the Tathāgata.’ ‘Very well, venerable sir’, said Cunda the smith. He buried what was left over of the soft pork in a pit. Then he turned to the Blessed One, paid respect, and sat down to one side. As he sat there the Blessed One instructed, roused, inspired, and gladdened him with Dhamma-talk. Then he rose from his seat and departed.

Then, after the Blessed One had eaten the food of Cunda the smith, a severe sickness arose in him, dysentery accompanied by the passing of blood and dire and deadly pains. These pains the Blessed One endured, mindful and clearly comprehending, without complaint. Then the Blessed One said to Venerable Ānanda, ‘Come, Ānanda, we will go to Kusinārā.’ And Venerable Ānanda gave his consent to the Blessed One, saying, ‘Yes, venerable sir.’

On eating the food given by Cunda the smith, so I heard,

The wise one felt a dire sickness, as to end in death.

When he ate the soft pork, a dire sickness arose in the teacher.

Then being purged, the Blessed One announced, ‘I will go to the city of Kusinārā.’

Then the Blessed One stepped off the road, went up to the foot of a tree, and said to Venerable Ānanda, ‘Come, Ānanda, fold my robe in four and prepare a seat. I am tired and will sit down.’ ‘Yes, venerable sir’, Venerable Ānanda replied to the Blessed One, and folding the robe in four, he prepared a seat and the Blessed One sat down. Sitting there the Blessed One addressed Venerable Ānanda, ‘Come, Ānanda, fetch me some water, Ānanda, I am thirsty and would drink.’

Thereupon Venerable Ānanda said to the Blessed One: ‘Venerable sir, just now as many as five hundred wagons have crossed over the stream and the shallow water stirred up by the wheels flows muddied. But there is the river Kukudhā close by, with clear, pleasant, cool, pure water easily approachable and delightfully situated. Here the Blessed One can drink the water and refresh his body.’

Then a second time and a third time the Blessed One said, ‘Come, Ānanda, fetch me some water ….’ ‘Very well, venerable sir’, Venerable Ānanda replied to the Blessed One, and taking a bowl, he went to the stream. Then, as Venerable Ānanda approached, that shallow water, stirred up by the wheels and flowing muddied, flowed pure, clear, and unmuddied. Then Venerable Ānanda considered, ‘It is indeed wonderful, it is indeed marvellous, the great supernormal potency and power of the Tathāgata! This stream … now flows pure, clear, and unmuddied.’

And taking some water in the bowl, he approached the Blessed One and said, ‘It is indeed wonderful, it is indeed marvellous, the great supernormal potency and power of the Tathāgata! … Venerable sir, drink the water. Fortunate One, drink the water.’

And the Blessed One drank the water. Then the Blessed One, together with a large community of monks, went to the river Kukudhā, and entering into the water, he bathed and drank. Having come out of the water, he went to a mango grove and said to Venerable Cundaka, ‘Come, Cundaka, fold my robe in four and prepare a couch. I am tired and will lie down’. ‘Yes, venerable sir’, Venerable Cundaka replied, and folding the robe in four, he prepared a couch. And the Blessed One lay down on his right side in the lion’s resting posture, placing one foot on the other, mindful and clearly comprehending, determining the time of arising. And Venerable Cundaka sat down in front of the Blessed One.

The awakened one came to the river Kukudhā, with pure, pleasant, clear waters.

The teacher immersed his weary frame, the Tathāgata, incomparable in the world.

Having bathed, drunk, and come back out, the honoured teacher amid the group of monks, the foremost teacher, the Blessed One here now, the great sage went to the mango grove.

To the monk called Cundaka he said, ‘Prepare my robe folded into four.’
Asked by the composed one, Cunda quickly laid out the four-folded robe.

The teacher lay down his weary frame and Cunda sat down there in front.

Then the Blessed One said to Venerable Ānanda: ‘Ānanda, it may be that someone will cause remorse in Cunda the smith by saying, “Friend Cunda, it is a loss for you, it is an ill gain for you, that the Tathāgata attained final nirvana after he received his last alms food from you.” That remorse of Cunda the smith should be dispelled in this way: “Friend Cunda, it is a gain for you, it is a great gain for you, that the Tathāgata attained final nirvana after he received his last alms food from you. Friend Cunda, face to face I heard it from the Blessed One, face to face I learnt it: ‘These two offerings of alms food are of equal fruit, of equal result, of very much greater fruit and profit than any other offering of alms food. What two? That offering of alms food after having eaten which the Tathāgata realized supreme awakening and that offering of alms food after having eaten which the Tathāgata attained final nirvana in the nirvana-element with no fuel left. These two offerings of alms food are of equal fruit, of equal result, of very much greater fruit and profit than any other offering of alms food’.” A deed has been performed by the worthy Cunda the smith conducive to long life, beauty, happiness, heaven, fame, and supremacy. In this way the remorse of Cunda the smith should be dispelled.’

Cunda Sutta: Udāna 81–85,107 trans. G.A.S.

L.64 The last rest

This passage shows deities causing trees to flower and rain down flowers in devotion to the Buddha, yet he says that true devotion to him is to be shown by practising the Dhamma he taught.

Then the Blessed One addressed Venerable Ānanda, saying, ‘Come, Ānanda, let us cross to the farther bank of the river Hiraññavatī, and go to the Mallas’ sāla grove, in the vicinity of Kusinārā.’ ‘Yes, venerable sir.’ And the Blessed One, together with a large company of monks, went to the further bank of the river Hiraññavatī, to the sāla grove of the Mallas, in the vicinity of Kusinārā.

And there Blessed One spoke to Venerable Ānanda, ‘Ānanda, please prepare for me a couch between the twin sāla trees, with the head to the north. Ānanda, I am weary and want to lie down.’ ‘Yes, venerable sir.’ And Venerable Ānanda did as the Bless ed One asked him to do. Then the Blessed One lay down on his right side, in the lion’s posture, resting one foot upon the other, and so disposed himself, mindfully and clearly comprehending.

At that time the twin sāla trees broke out in full bloom, though it was not the season of flowering. And the blossoms rained upon the mortal body of the Tathāgata and dropped and scattered and were strewn upon it in devotion to the Tathāgata. And celestial mandārava flowers and heavenly sandalwood powder from the sky rained down upon the mortal body of the Tathāgata, and dropped and scattered and were strewn upon it in devotion to the Tathāgata. And the sound of heavenly voices and heavenly instruments made music in the air out in devotion to the Tathāgata.

And the Blessed One spoke to Venerable Ānanda, saying: ‘Ānanda, the twin sāla trees are in full bloom, though it is not the season of flowering. … And the sound of heavenly voices and heavenly instruments makes music in the air in devotion to the Tathāgata.

Ānanda, yet it is not thus that the Tathāgata is respected, venerated, esteemed, shown devotion, and honoured in the highest degree. But, Ānanda, whatever monk or nun, layman or laywoman, practises Dhamma in accordance with Dhamma, practises rightly, walks in the way of Dhamma, it is by such a one that the Tathāgata is respected, venerated, esteemed, shown devotion, and honoured in the highest degree. Therefore, Ānanda, thus should you train yourselves: “We shall practise Dhamma in accordance with Dhamma, practise rightly, and walk in the way of Dhamma.”’

Mahā-parinibbāna Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya II.137–138, trans. G.A.S.

L.65 Ānanda’s grief

Here the Buddha seeks to assuage the grief of Ānanda, the monk who had been his personal attendant for many years.

Then Venerable Ānanda went into the dwelling and leaned against the doorpost and wept, (thinking), ‘I am still but a learner, with much to do (to attain arahantship). But, alas, my teacher, who was so compassionate towards me, is about to attain final nirvana!

And the Blessed One spoke to the monks, ‘Monks, where is Ānanda?’ ‘Venerable sir, Venerable Ānanda has gone into the dwelling and there stands leaning against the doorpost, weeping, “I am still but a learner, with much to do (to attain arahantship). But, alas, my teacher, who was so compassionate towards me, is about to attain final nirvana!’

Then the Blessed One asked a certain monk to bring Venerable Ānanda to him, saying, ‘Go, monk, and say to Ānanda, “Friend Ānanda, the teacher calls you.”’ And that monk went and spoke to Venerable Ānanda as the Blessed One had asked him to. And Venerable Ānanda went to the Blessed One, paid respect to him, and sat down on one side.

Then the Blessed One spoke to Venerable Ānanda: ‘Enough, Ānanda! Do not grieve, do not lament! For have I not taught from the very beginning that with all that is dear and beloved there must be change, separation, and severance? So how could anything else be obtained here, Ānanda? Of that which is born, come into being, conditioned, and subject to decay, how can one say, “May it not come to dissolution!”? There can be no such state of things.

Ānanda, now for a long time, you have served the Tathāgata with loving kindness in deed, word, and thought, graciously, pleasantly, wholeheartedly and beyond measure. Ānanda, you are one who has done good! Now you should put forth energy, and soon you too will be free from the intoxicating inclinations.’

Mahā-parinibbāna Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya II.143–144, trans. G.A.S.

L.66 The Mallas’ alarm at the impending death of the Buddha

‘Ānanda, go now to Kusinārā and announce to the Mallas: “Vāseṭṭhas, today in the last watch of the night, the Tathāgata’s final nirvana will take place. O Vāseṭṭhas, approach, draw near! Do not be remorseful later at the thought, ‘In our township it was that the Tathāgata’s final nirvana took place, but we failed to see him at the end!’ ”.’ ‘Very well, venerable sir.’ And Venerable Ānanda prepared himself, and taking his bowl and outer robe, went with a companion to Kusinārā.

Now at that time the Mallas had gathered in the council hall for some public business. And Venerable Ānanda approached them and announced: ‘Vāseṭṭhas, today in the last watch of the night, the Tathāgata’s final nirvana will take place. Vāseṭṭhas, approach, draw near! Do not be remorseful later at the thought, “In our township it was that the Tathāgata’s final nirvana took place, but we failed to see him at the end.”’

When they heard Venerable Ānanda speak these words, the Mallas with their sons, their wives, and the wives of their sons, were sorely grieved, grieved at heart and afflicted; and some, with their hair all dishevelled, with arms uplifted in despair, wept; flinging themselves on the ground, they rolled from side to side, lamenting, ‘Too soon has the Blessed One come to his final nirvana! Too soon has the Fortunate One come to his final nirvana! Too soon will the eye of the world vanish from sight!’

And thus afflicted and filled with grief, the Mallas, with their sons, their wives, and the wives of their sons, went to the sāla grove, the recreation park of the Mallas, to the place where Venerable Ānanda was. And Venerable Ānanda considered, ‘If I were to allow the Mallas of Kusinārā to pay reverence to the Blessed One one by one, the night will have given way to dawn before they are all presented to him. Therefore let me divide them up according to clan, each family in a group, and so present them to the Blessed One thus: “The Malla of such and such a name, venerable sir, with his wives and children, his attendants and his friends, pays homage at the feet of the Blessed One.”’

And Venerable Ānanda divided the Mallas up according to clan, each family in a group, and presented them to the Blessed One. So it was that Venerable Ānanda caused the Mallas of Kusinārā to be presented to the Blessed One by clans, each family in a group, even in the first watch of the night.

Mahā-parinibbāna Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya II.147–148, trans. G.A.S.

L.67 The last convert, and a question on other teachers

Now at that time a wandering ascetic named Subhadda was dwelling at Kusinārā. And Subhadda the wandering ascetic heard it said, ‘Today in the third watch of the night, the final nirvana of the renunciant Gotama will take place.’

And the wandering ascetic Subhadda considered: ‘I have heard it said by old and venerable wandering ascetics, teachers of teachers, that the arising of Tathāgatas, the arahants, perfectly awakened Buddhas, is rare in the world. Yet this very day, in the last watch of the night, the final nirvana of the renunciant Gotama will take place. Now there is in me a doubt; but to this extent I have faith in the renunciant Gotama, that he could so teach me Dhamma as to remove that doubt.’

Then the wandering ascetic Subhadda went to the sāla grove, the recreation park of the Mallas, and drew near to Venerable Ānanda, and informed Venerable Ānanda of his concern, saying, ‘Friend Ānanda, it would be good if I could be allowed into the presence of the renunciant Gotama.’ But Venerable Ānanda answered him, ‘Enough, friend Subhadda! Do not trouble the Tathāgata. The Blessed One is weary.’ Yet a second and a third time the wandering ascetic Subhadda made his request, and a second and a third time Venerable Ānanda refused him.

And the Blessed One heard the talk between them, and he called Venerable Ānanda and said: ‘Stop, Ānanda! Do not refuse Subhadda. Ānanda, Subhadda may be allowed into the presence of the Tathāgata. For whatever he will ask me, he will ask for the sake of knowledge, and not as an offence. And the answer I give him, that he will readily understand.’

Thereupon Venerable Ānanda said to the wandering ascetic Subhadda, ‘Friend Subhadda, go then, the Blessed One gives you leave.’

Then the wandering ascetic Subhadda approached the Blessed One and saluted him courteously. And having exchanged with him pleasant and civil greetings, the wandering ascetic Subhadda seated himself at one side and addressed the Blessed One: ‘Venerable Gotama, there are renunciants and brahmins who are chiefs of great communities of disciples, who have large retinues, who are leaders of schools, well known and renowned, and held in high esteem by the multitude, such teachers as Pūraṇa Kassapa, Makkhali Gosāla, Ajita Kesakambala, Pakudha Kaccāyana, Sañjaya Belaṭṭhaputta, Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta.108 Have all of these attained realization, as each of them would have it believed, or has none of them, or is it that some have attained realization and others not?’

‘Enough, Subhadda! Let it be as it may, whether all of them have attained realization, as each of them would have it believed, or whether none of them has, or whether some have attained realization and others not. Subhadda, I will teach you Dhamma; listen and heed it well, and I will speak.’ ‘Very well, venerable sir.’

And the Blessed One spoke thus: ‘Subhadda, in whatsoever Dhamma and discipline there is not found the noble eightfold path, neither is there found a true renunciant of the first, second, third, or fourth degree of saintliness.109 But in whatsoever Dhamma and discipline there is found the noble eightfold path, there is found a true renunciant of the first, second, third, and fourth degrees of saintliness. Now, Subhadda, in this Dhamma and discipline is found the noble eightfold path; and certainly here are also found true renunciants of the first, second, third, and fourth degrees of saintliness. Devoid of true renunciants are the systems of the other renunciants. But, Subhadda, if the monks live rightly, the world will not be destitute of arahants. …

When this was said, the wandering ascetic Subhadda spoke to the Blessed One: ‘Excellent, venerable sir, most excellent, venerable sir! Venerable sir, it is as if one were to set upright what had been overthrown, or to reveal what had been hidden, or to show the path to one who had gone astray, or to light a lamp in the darkness so that those with eyes might see – even so has the Blessed One set forth Dhamma in many ways. And so, venerable sir, I take my refuge in the Blessed One, the Dhamma, and the Sangha of monks. May I receive from the Blessed One going forth and higher ordination?’

‘Subhadda, whoever having been formerly a follower of another creed wishes to receive going forth and higher ordination110 in this Dhamma and discipline remains on probation for a period of four months. At the end of those four months, if the monks are satisfied with him, they grant him going forth and higher ordination as a monk. Yet in this matter I recognize differences of personalities.’

‘Venerable sir, if whoever having been formerly a follower of another creed wishes to receive going forth and higher ordination in this Dhamma and discipline remains on probation for a period of four months, and at the end of those four months, if the monks are satisfied with him, they grant him going forth and higher ordination as a monk – then I will remain on probation for a period of four years. And at the end of those four years, if the monks are satisfied with me, let them grant me going forth and higher ordination as a monk.’

But the Blessed One called Venerable Ānanda and said to him: ‘Ānanda, let Subhadda go forth.’ And Venerable Ānanda replied: ‘Very well, venerable sir.’ Then the wandering ascetic Subhadda said to Venerable Ānanda, ‘Friend Ānanda, it is a gain for you all, a blessing, that in the presence of the teacher himself you have received the sprinkling of consecration as resident pupils.’

So it came about that the wandering ascetic Subhadda, in the presence of the Blessed One, received the going forth and higher ordination. And from the time of his ordination Venerable Subhadda remained alone, secluded, heedful, ardent, and resolute. And before long he attained to the goal for which a worthy man goes forth rightly from home to homelessness, the supreme goal of the holy life; and having by himself realized it with higher knowledge, he dwelt therein. He knew: ‘Birth is destroyed, the requirements of the holy life have been fulfilled, what ought to be done has been done, and there is nothing more to be done hereafter.’

And Venerable Subhadda became yet another among the arahants and he was the last personal disciple of the Blessed One himself.

Mahā-parinibbāna Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya II.148–153, trans. G.A.S.

L.68 The Buddha’s last words

In this passage, the Buddha checks that his disciples have no remaining questions, before uttering his last words after he is sure that they do not have any.

Now the Blessed One spoke to Venerable Ānanda, ‘Ānanda, it may be that some among you may consider, “The teacher’s instruction has ceased; now we have no teacher.” But, Ānanda, it should not be so considered. Ānanda, for that which I have proclaimed and made known as the Dhamma and the monastic discipline, that shall be your teacher when I am gone.

And, Ānanda, whereas now the monks address one another as “friend”, let it not be so when I am gone. Ānanda, the senior monks may address the junior ones by their name, their family name, or as “friend”; but the junior monks should address the senior ones as “venerable sir” or “your reverence.”

Ānanda, if it is desired, the community may, when I am gone, abolish the lesser and minor rules.

Ānanda, when I am gone, let the brahmā penalty be imposed upon the monk Channa.’111

‘Venerable sir, what is the brahmā penalty?’ ‘Ānanda, the monk Channa may say what he will, but the monks should neither converse with him, nor exhort him, nor admonish him.’

Then the Blessed One addressed the monks: ‘Monks, it may be that one of you is in doubt or perplexity as to the Buddha, the Dhamma, or the Sangha, the path or the practice. Then question, monks! Do not be given to remorse later on with the thought, “The teacher was with us face to face, yet face to face we failed to ask him.”’

But when this was said, the monks were silent. And yet a second and a third time the Blessed One said to them: ‘Monks, it may be that one of you is in doubt or perplexity as to the Buddha, the Dhamma, or the Sangha, the path or the practice. Then question, monks! Do not be given to remorse later on with the thought, “The teacher was with us face to face, yet face to face we failed to ask him.”’

And for a second and a third time the monks were silent. Then the Blessed One said to them: ‘Monks, it may be out of respect for the teacher that you ask no questions. Then, monks, let friend communicate it to friend (to ask on his behalf).’ Yet still the monks were silent. And Venerable Ānanda spoke to the Blessed One: ‘Marvellous it is, venerable sir, most wonderful it is! This faith I have in the community of monks that not even one monk is in doubt or perplexity as to the Buddha, the Dhamma, or the Sangha, the path or the practice.’

‘Ānanda, out of faith you speak thus. But, Ānanda, here the Tathāgata knows for certain that among this community of monks there is not even one monk who is in doubt or perplexity as to the Buddha, the Dhamma, or the Sangha, the path or the practice. For, Ānanda, among these five hundred monks even the lowest is a stream-enterer, secure from downfall, assured, and bound for awakening.’

And the Blessed One addressed the monks, ‘Monks, behold now, I address you: conditioned things are of a nature to decay, but by attentiveness you will succeed!’ This was the last utterance of the Tathāgata.

Mahā-parinibbāna Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya II.154–156, trans. G.A.S.

L.69 The Buddha’s passing away

After his last words, the Buddha goes through a series of meditative states: from the first meditative absorption (jhāna) to the second, third and fourth of these (see *Th.140); then through the four formless states (see *Th.142) – the spheres of infinite space, infinite consciousness, nothingness, and neither-perception nor-non-perception – then to the state of the cessation of perception and feeling. He then goes back down through all these states to the first absorption, then back up to the fourth absorption, from which he had attained awakening. Having demonstrated full self-mastery, he then passed away.

Having emerged from the fourth meditative absorption, immediately after this the Blessed One directly attained final nirvana.

When the Blessed One attained final nirvana, simultaneously with his final nirvana, Brahmā Sahampati112 recited this verse:

All beings in the world will finally lay the body down,
Since such a one as the teacher, the peerless person in the world,
The Tathāgata, one endowed with powers, the awakened one, attained final nirvana.

When the Blessed One attained final nirvana, simultaneously with his final nirvana, Sakka113 the king of gods recited this verse:

Impermanent indeed are conditioned things,
Their nature is to arise and decay.
Having arisen, they cease:
Happy is their stilling.

When the Blessed One attained final nirvana, simultaneously with his final nirvana, Venerable Ānanda recited this verse: 114

Then there was terror, then there was trepidation,

When the awakened one who is perfect in all excellent qualities attained final nirvana.

When the Blessed One attained final nirvana, simultaneously with his final nirvana, Venerable Anuruddha recited these verses:

There was no more in-and-out breathing in the stable one of steady mind

When unstirred, bent on peace, the one with vision attained final nirvana.

With unshrinking mind he endured the pain;

Like the quenching of a lamp was the deliverance of the mind.

Mahā-parinibbāna Sutta: Dīgha-nikāya II.156–157, trans. G.A.S.

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