Phần 5 – The Self Restraint of the Three Elders


The Self Restraint of the Three Elders

– Satipaṭṭhāna: A Big Heap of Wholesome Kammas

– Diversity  of Views

– Eternity  Belief and Buddhism

– Mahāyāna and Theravāda

– The Ultimate Goal

– Moral Practice of a Candidate for Sakka’s Office

The Self Restraint of the Three Elders

The Commentary mentions the story of three elders whom we should emulate in our efforts to remove unwholesome thoughts and to practise mindfulness. On the first day of their rains-retreat, they admonished one another and pledged that they would have no sensual or aggressive thoughts during the three months. On the Pavāraṇā day, which marks the end of the rains-retreat, the eldest bhikkhu asked the youngest how he had controlled his mind during this time. Pavāraṇā is a ceremony in which one bhikkhu invites another to point out his faults or any breaches of the monastic rules that he has unwittingly committed during the retreat. The young monk said that he had not allowed his mind to leave the monastery but had kept it confined within the building.

By this he meant that if his mind went astray during his meditation, he restricted it to the monastery, so that he never thought of anything outside it. His accomplishment was indeed laudable in view of the fact that, by and large, meditators do not have a firm hold over their minds before they develop concentration. They cannot prevent their minds from wandering when asked to practise mindfulness.

When the eldest asked the second monk the same question, the latter said that he did not allow his mind even to leave his room. So his powers of concentration were better developed than those of the younger monk.

Then the two younger monks asked the eldest how much control he had had over his mind. The elder replied that he had not allowed his mind to leave his own body and mind. This shows that he confined his attention simply to the psycho-physical phenomena that arise at the six senses with every moment of seeing, hearing, etc. The elder’s ability to concentrate is most impressive — perhaps he was an Arahant. This degree of mind-control, which the three elders had attained, is indeed an inspiration for those who practise mindfulness.

The Commentary commends the contemplation of mind-objects together with loving-kindness (mettā) etc., so we should cultivate mettā saying, “May all beings be free from danger” and so forth. Moreover, since the Commentary says “mettā, etc.,” it is to be assumed that all mind-objects should be contemplated for insight knowledge. To summarise, vipassanā contemplation of any kind is commendable because it means the accumulation of wholesome kamma.

Satipaṭṭhāna: A Big Heap of Wholesome Kammas

Of the many kinds of contemplation, the Buddha described the four foundations of mindfulness as the sum total of all wholesome dhammas or kammas. Giving alms frequently or leading a very good moral life may mean a big accumulation of wholesome kammas. However, the donor, though a morally good person, may occasionally be harassed by irrelevant thoughts, and, of course, it is impossible to perform charity or to practise strict morality all day and all night. So it is not really true to call charity or morality a big heap of wholesome kammas.

On the other hand, the practice of satipaṭṭhāna vipassanā requires constant mindfulness of all bodily behaviour, feelings, thoughts, moments of seeing, hearing, etc. Except during sleep, the meditator has to be mindful at every moment. If one makes a note of his feelings, etc., at least once in a second this means one acquires one wholesome dhamma in that brief period. One gains 3,600 wholesome dhammas in an hour, so, if we exclude four sleeping hours, one gains merit to the tune of 72,000 wholesome dhammas in a day. Merit accrues at every moment of noting ‘sitting’, etc. One can acquire it even while urinating, so satipaṭṭhāna is no doubt a big heap of wholesome dhammas that should be cultivated.

Diversity of Views

Sakka was very gratified by the Buddha’s discourse. Before he came to see the Buddha, he had met several self-styled sages and had made enquiries about their teachings, but had found that they held different views. Now that he had attained the first stage of the holy path after hearing the words of the Buddha, he knew the true Dhamma, and hence he knew also the true Buddha and the true Saṅgha. He was now free from all doubts. He did not tell the Buddha explicitly about this but he implied it in his next question.

“Venerable sir, do all those who call themselves samaṇa-brāhmaṇas hold the same views? Do they all lead the same moral life? Do they all have the same desire or the same goal?”

Of course, Sakka knew the answers to these questions but he asked only as a prelude to his question about their differences. The Buddha answered his second question as follows.

“O Sakka! In this world people do not have the same kind of temperament. Their temperaments are different. Reflecting wrongly, they firmly and obsessively cling to the views that best suit their temperaments. They insist that only their view is right and that all other views are wrong. It is because of their bigotry that all self-styled sages and holy men hold different views. They are committed to different systems of moral values; they have different desires and different goals in life.”

Owing to their different temperaments, people differ from one another in their inclinations and preferences with regard to colour, sound, clothes and so forth. Likewise they talk about the beliefs that they have accepted on the basis of their attachments and speculations. Some cherish the belief in the immortality of the soul. They say that the soul (atta) exists for ever and that it is not subject to destruction like the gross physical body. This is the eternity belief (sassata-diṭṭhi). It has wide appeal, not differing fundamentally from the religions that teach that man is created by God, and that after death those who have pleased Him achieve salvation in heaven, while those who have displeased Him are condemned to eternal damnation. Then there is the annihilation belief (uccheda-diṭṭhi), which denies a future life and insists on the complete extinction of the individual after death. These are the doctrines of those religions that claim a monopoly on the truth and that reject all other teachings as false. Such bigotry is the cause of differences in the beliefs, moral principles, aspirations and objectives of life.

Eternity Belief and Buddhism

According to Buddhism, when a man dies he is reborn, the new existence being conditioned by his kamma. This raises the question as to whether the Buddhist theory of rebirth is the same as the eternity belief, but the Buddha’s teaching is very far removed from the idea of a permanent ego. Buddhism denies the existence of an ego-entity and recognises only the process that involves the ceaseless arising and passing away of all psycho-physical phenomena. When rebirth-consciousness ceases, the life-continuum consciousness (bhavaṅga-citta) arises, which also passes away incessantly. With the life-continuum always in this state of flux, the consciousness that reflects on visual form, sound, etc., arises, and this reflecting consciousness is followed by eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness and so forth. When this ceases, life-continuum takes its place. Thus the two streams of bhavaṅga-citta and ordinary consciousness flow alternately. At the moment of death, the decease-consciousness (cuti-citta), the last moment of life-continuum, passes away. The cessation of cuti-citta is termed death because the process of mind and matter ceases, without the arising of any new consciousness.

Immediately after the cessation of decease-consciousness, the rebirth-consciousness arises, conditioned by one’s kamma. This rebirth-consciousness marks the beginning of a new existence. So it follows that rebirth has nothing to do with any ego-entity or the transfer of mind and matter from the previous life. With the cessation of this new consciousness, the continuous flow of life-continuum, etc. arises, as in the previous existence. We regard this process of mind and matter as a particular person but it does not embody any soul or ego-entity. This fact can be realised by those who practise insight meditation.

Buddhism does not propound eternalism since it teaches that craving leads to rebirth. When the meditator attains Arahantship, he is wholly free from craving and the other defilements. The Arahant is not attached to any sense-object, even on the verge of death, so this rules out the arising of any new process of mind and matter. Nevertheless, it does not follow that Buddhism teaches annihilationism (uccheda-vāda), for the annihilationist view presupposes an ego in a living being — an ego that is the subject of experiences, good or bad. Buddhism rejects the idea of the ego and recognises only that there is a process of mind and matter. At the death of the Arahant, it is not the ego but the process of mind and matter that becomes extinct. This extinction is brought about through the practice of insight meditation, which ensures the end of craving for the continuation of life.

Mahāyāna and Theravāda

There are now four great religions of mankind. Their differences are due to the diverse temperaments and contrasting views among the followers of each religion. There are two schools of Buddhism: Theravāda and Mahāyāna, which have held different views for over 2,000 years. This is due to the different inclinations attributable to the adherents of the two schools.

The basic teaching of Mahāyāna Buddhism is that all living beings achieve complete freedom from the suffering of saṃsāra only after attaining Buddhahood. Being an Arahant or a Paccekabuddha does not mean full liberation. After becoming a Buddha, the Mahāyānist does not enter nibbāna alone. He enjoys the peace of nibbāna only in the company of other beings, that is, only after all other beings have become Buddhas.

This is an indirect repudiation of egoism but the view is quite untenable. For, if the Buddhas are to defer their parinibbāna and wait until all other living beings have attained Buddhahood, where and how are they to live for such a long time? Insects and other forms of lower life are innumerable. Are the Buddhas to wait and suffer old age, sickness and death until the liberation of the lowest living being? This view makes little sense and yet it is acceptable to some people because it suits their temperaments.

It differs from the doctrine of the Theravāda, which is the true Dhamma based on the Buddha’s teaching in the Pāḷi Canon. According to this view, among meditators who reach the last stage of the holy path, there are those who aspire to be the close disciples of the Buddha. On the Arahant’s attainment of parinibbāna the process of mind and matter, which conditions rebirth, ceases, so there is an end to their suffering in saṃsāra. They need not wait for anybody nor is it possible for them to do so. This is also the destiny of Paccekabuddhas and Sammāsambuddhas. This view is quite reasonable.

Mahāyāna Buddhists identify their nibbāna with the Sukhavati abode. They describe it as a paradise, and say that, as Buddhas, all living beings live happily there forever, being free from old age, sickness and death. Sukhavati does not differ essentially from the heaven that is glorified by those who believe in immortality. This belief is probably based on the writings of those who sought to spread the eternity view among Buddhists.

Later on, many Mahāyāna sects arose, which was also due to the different temperaments of their followers.

The Commentaries tell us how the Theravāda split into eighteen sects. In Burma today there are also differences of opinion regarding the Buddha’s teaching. There is no doubt that the Buddha emphasised the four noble truths, and the noble eightfold path comprising morality, concentration and wisdom; but some say that it is not necessary to practise insight meditation, that they can follow their easy way to salvation. Some dismiss morality as irrelevant to the goal of Buddhism, a view that is shared by those who do not care for morality. They express such views because they do not accept the teaching in the Sakkapañha Sutta and other discourses.

The Buddha’s teaching to the wandering ascetic, Subhadda, provides a criterion for deciding whether any doctrine is really the true Dhamma for conquering defilements. The gist of the teaching, which is found in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, is that no doctrine that is devoid of the noble eightfold path can lead to stream-winning and the other stages of the holy path. The eightfold path is found only in the Buddha-dhamma, and thus it is only this Dhamma that will make a man a Stream-winner, and so forth. We can judge any doctrine by this criterion and so tell whether it accords with the Buddha’s teaching.

Nevertheless, the fact is that most people accept only those teachings that accord with their inclinations. There are some Buddhists who believe that theirs is Ariyan morality if they regard what they practise as Ariyan morality. Others want to enjoy life only as human beings, devas, etc. They do not relish the prospect of the process of mind and matter ceasing. Some people do not wish to be reborn in the brahmā worlds, which are devoid of sensual pleasure, because they prefer rebirth in the sensual world. Then there are some who crave for the renewal of both mind and matter, while others want only one of these renewed. However, wise men, who realise the evils of the endless cycle of saṃsāra, seek the extinction of both mind and matter.

Some people believe in eternal happiness in heaven or annihilation after death as their destiny. For some, the supreme goal is the perceptionless Asaññā world, which they believe is free from all suffering. Again, some regard the formless world (arūpaloka) as their ultimate objective, while others say that their goal is to make a clear distinction between the soul (atta) and the mind-body complex. These various goals depend on the different temperaments of the people who pursue them. Actually, the highest goal of life is the nibbāna of the Arahant, which means the complete cessation of the mind and matter continuum after death, as a result of the total extinction of defilements.

The Ultimate Goal

Sakka was pleased with the Buddha’s answer and so asked another question: “Venerable sir, do the so-called samaṇa-brāhmaṇas really attain their ultimate goal? Is there any real end to their striving? Do they live the genuine noble life? Do they really have the ultimate Dhamma?” 

Here the ultimate goal, the real end to striving (iccantayogakkhemi) and the ultimate Dhamma (iccantapariyosana) refer to nibbāna. By the noble life he meant the practice of insight meditation and the noble path. In other words, with these four questions Sakka asked the Buddha whether the ascetics and the brāhmaṇas practise insight meditation and the eightfold path, and whether they have attained nibbāna.

The Buddha answered in the negative. According to the Buddha, only those bhikkhus who are liberated through practice of the path leading to the extinction of craving achieve the supreme goal, put an end to striving, lead the noble life and attain the ultimate Dhamma.

Here the bhikkhus referred to in the Buddha’s statement are the Buddhas, Paccekabuddhas and Arahants. The Arahant is one who has done away with the four biases (āsava), which give rise to a new existence. In fact, he has uprooted the fetters (yoga) and so has attained the ultimate goal and the ultimate Dhamma; and his final victory is due to his practice of the noble path.

Those who have not yet freed themselves from the fetters and biases through the eightfold path are far from nibbāna. They continue to be subject to rebirth and suffering. So, when Baka Brahmā invited the Buddha to what he regarded as his eternal paradise, the Buddha told him to have no illusions about his mortality, and to have no craving for any kind of existence.

The Buddha said, “Having seen the perils of all kinds of existence, whether it be that of a human being, a deva, a brahmā or the denizens of the lower worlds … I do not glorify any kind of existence, but deprecate it.”

Every kind of existence is subject to suffering. It is worst in the lower worlds, but human existence is also afflicted with the suffering of old age, sickness, and death. Even the devas have to suffer because of their frustrated desires, and in the brahmā world they are not free from the suffering of thinking, planning, and ceaseless change.

The Buddha said, “I have seen the perils of every kind of existence; I have also seen the path of those who do not want existence and who therefore seek its extinction. So I deprecate all kinds of existence.”

Being aware of the evils of existence, some wise men became ascetics so that they could seek liberation, but they did not know nibbāna or the eightfold path leading to it. Some attained rūpajhāna and believed that they would enjoy immortality in the rūpavacarabrahmā world, the goal of such jhāna. For some ascetics, eternal life was to be found in the Asaññā (perceptionless) abode of the rūpavacarabrahmā world, whilst for others it was to be enjoyed only in the arūpavacara world. So these ascetics were content with the rūpajhāna and the arūpajhāna that they had attained.

Contrary to their expectations, these yogis were not immortal in the brahmā worlds, and so after death they returned to the sensual world of devas and human beings. From there they passed on according to their kamma. As a result of some evil kamma they might have found themselves in the lower worlds. Thus, although they had sought the extinction of existence, they did not achieve their objective, and had to go on suffering. Hence the Buddha’s disdain for all kinds of existence. The renewal of existence is due to attachment to life. This attachment is the same as the sensuous bias (kāmayoga) and the bias for existence (bhavayoga). The Buddha repudiated and overcame this attachment.

According to the Commentary, there were altogether fourteen questions that Sakka put to the Buddha. Sakka was very pleased with the answers that he was given and, after expressing his deep appreciation, he stated his view about craving as follows:

“Venerable sir, this virulent craving is a disease; it is like a boil, an arrow or a thorn in the flesh. It attracts living beings to existence and so they live miserably.”

“Craving is virulent because it thirsts first for this and then for that. It attaches itself to pleasant objects and longs to consume them. Like a leaf rustling in the wind, it is always in a flurry, restless, hungry and greedy. Craving is a chronic disease that is incurable, but it is not so critical as to cause immediate death. It sets a man at ease when it is gratified, yet however much he pampers it with the sense-objects that it likes, it is insatiable; it longs for all sense-objects, which it seeks to enjoy repeatedly.”

“Craving is loathsome and terrible like a boil. It is also like a thorn in the flesh.” A thorn may be hidden in the flesh so that we cannot see any sign of it. As we cannot remove it, it will keep on causing pain. Likewise, it is hard to get rid of craving, which is always harassing us. We worry so much about the objects of our desire that we cannot sleep at night, and because of our attachment to life we have to wander from one existence to another, the nature of each existence depending on our kamma.”

After commenting thus on the Buddha’s teaching, Sakka declared himself free from all doubts, as a result of hearing the Buddha’s discourse. He had attained the first stage of the holy path, which obviously ruled out the possibility of his rebirth in the lower worlds after his death. He was assured of a good rebirth, which meant that he could now attain the higher stages of insight independently.

Moral Practice of a Candidate for Sakka’s Office

The Commentary mentions the seven duties of a man who aspires to be king of the gods. These are enumerated in the Sagāthāvagga Saṃyutta as follows:

  1. He supports and looks after his parents throughout his life.
  2. He always reveres the old people among his relatives.
  3. He speaks gently and sweetly.
  4. He never speaks ill of another person.
  5. He manages his household with a mind free from the taint of meanness.
  6. He always speaks the truth.
  7. He sees to it that he is never angry. If he sometimes gets angry, he removes his anger instantly.

As for Sakka, the king of the gods who had the dialogue with the Buddha in the Sakkapañha Sutta, the Commentary on that discourse gives an account of his previous life as the youth Māgha in Macala village in the kingdom of Māgadha, long before the rise of Buddhism.

Māgha was the leader of thirty-three young men who repaired roads and bridges, built rest-houses and together did other good deeds for the welfare of the community. The headman of the village was corrupt and so he hated them. Formerly he had been used to getting money from them, when they were given to drinking and doing unlawful things, but now that they were devoting themselves entirely to serving the community, there was an end to this source of income. So he went to the king and presented false charges against them. Without making any enquiries, the king ordered them to be arrested and trampled to death by elephants.

Then Māgha said to his friends, “It is natural that misfortunes befall all beings who are immersed in the round of rebirths. The real refuge for people in this world is in speaking the truth. So we should declare solemnly, ‘If we are thieves or robbers, let the elephant trample us. If we are not, let it not trample us’.”

Māgha’s friends acted on his advice, and so the elephant did not even approach them, but ran away trumpeting loudly. The king’s men goaded the animal in vain with their spears. So the young men were brought before the king. Questioned by him, Māgha said that it was their invocation of the power of truth that had repelled the elephant. He also told the king what they had been doing before this, and how it was greed that had prompted the village headman to lay false charges against them.

On hearing this, the king at once set them free, gave them gifts, and conferred on them permanent ownership of Macala village. The young men devoted themselves to community service more zealously and vigorously than ever. After death, Māgha became Sakka and his thirty-three comrades became devas in his celestial abode.

Such, in brief, is the account of Māgha’s good deeds that led to his rebirth as Sakka. There is one thing that we should note in this story of Māgha. The good deeds they did were not due to their thorough knowledge of the Buddha-dhamma. Perhaps they might have heard only that good deeds have good results, and it was this simple teaching that motivated Māgha to do good. He did not hope to attain the holy path or nibbāna by doing this, but because of his good deeds he became the king of the gods, and after hearing the Buddha’s discourse, he attained the first stage of the holy path.

This shows that a person may not have nibbāna in mind while he is doing good deeds, but if he believes in the law of kamma and does those good deeds sincerely, he will, as a result, pass on to the celestial or human worlds. There he will be reborn with three wholesome predispositions. Thanks to such predispositions he can attain special insights, after hearing and practising the Dhamma. So when we do good deeds our actions should be based on belief in kamma. The best thing, of course, is to do good in the hope of attaining the path or nibbāna.



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