Christopher Titmuss: The Buddha and his Meetings with Spiritual Seekers, Parents and Young People | 4

Parents and Children

Parents must set themselves as an example of behaviour in body, speech and mind if they want their children to grow in to happy and mature adults, said the Buddha. When parents keep to ethics of not wishing to harm others, then children will find in themselves the same inspiration.

The Buddha spoke at length to Sigala, a boy, who had lost his father, about the guidance of parents for children and corresponding respect from children to parents. He encouraged actions from parents and children that were “beautiful and virtuous.” (DN 31)

Holding his baby in his lap, Prince Abhaya asked if he would do something harsh to influence a child’s behaviour. The Buddha questioned his response if a stick got caught in the baby’s mouth.

I would take it out even if it meant drawing blood because I have compassion for the child. The Buddha said it is important to know the time for correct speech or action, even if it is unwelcome and disagreeable.

Ratthaphala and wish to leave home

One young man told the Buddha that he was deeply interested to join the Sangha as he knew that it was not easy as a householder with all the expectations from his parents. He said he wanted to shave off his hair and beard and put on the robes but his parents would not give permission. His parents said: “Dear son, you are our only son, dear and beloved. You have been raised in comfort and brought up in comfort. You know nothing of suffering. How could we give you permission to live a homeless way of life?” Rattaphala said he would rather die than continue living at home. Eventually the son’s friends persuaded Rattaphala’s parents to give permission knowing that if their son did not like the lifestyle he could return. The son also promised to visit regularly his parents.

On one trip, Ratthapala met with King Koravya, who told him that people leave the householders life to any of the four kinds of loss – through ageing, sickness, loss of wealth and loss of relatives. As a result, some people wanted to leave the householders life and join the Sangha. Rattaphala said he had not experience any such loss. The Buddha had stated that the world is unstable, has not protector, nothing of its own and unfulfilled. Everybody, rich and poor alike, the wise and the foolish, live in an unstable world. There are lives “stricken with folly.” Realising how true it is, Rattaphala decided to join the wandering sangha. (MLD 82).

Saccaka and the existence of a true self

Saccaka, a clever speaker and debater, who was the son of Nigantha, told his followers that teachers tremble if they engaged in a debate with him (MLD 350) and he would shake the Buddha up with his questioning. He told the Buddha that the self consisted of the body, feelings, perceptions, thoughts and consciousness. In the meeting, he also wanted to know what discipline the Buddha taught. The Buddha refuted Saccaka’s view since the self of the human cannot exercise control over the mind and body to keep it as one would like. The self cannot exercise the power to let my body look like this or my body not be like this,” said the Buddha. The same applies to feelings, perceptions, thoughts and consciousness. Saccaka “dropped his head down and went glum in response.”

Saccaka then reacted to a young man, Dummukha, son of the Liccavhis, who he criticised for expressing a view on the debate with the Buddha. Dummukha offered a simile: a party of boys and girls going to a pond to pull out a crab which they broke up into pieces. The unfortunate crab found it could not get back to the pond. He said that Buddha had broken up the views of Saccaka and so he could not get back to his old position.

The Buddha concluded that authentic liberation reveals three unsurpassable qualities namely vision, practice of the way and unsurpassable freedom.

The Desire for Pleasure and Conflict

The Buddha would meet with wanderers from other sects. He would ask them about their views about the pursuit of pleasure but they would find it difficult to explain the issues and problems around pleasure. Teachers and students/disciples/followers, both young and old, would come to discuss their concerns with the Buddha. They had personal issues to resolve. Some were dealing with an existential crisis. Some were young people who had doubts about what their teachers, secular and religious, had told them. A number of young Brahmin students felt confident they could defeat the Buddha in a debate and thus gain name and fame. They showed the naïve confidence of teenagers. On the whole, the young Brahmin students, the elite of the bright minds of the time, genuinely pursued deep issues with the Buddha.

The Buddha knew that young people had a fascination with the field of pleasure through all the senses. So he expressed numerous concerns about getting caught up in pleasure and encouraged mindfulness and clear comprehension of the perils of addiction to pleasure. He fully recognised the

  • gratification of the senses
  • the danger
  • resolution of the perils.

The pleasurable sensations arising from the senses can feed more desire towards the agreeable. Such sensations provoke lust and lead to more and more dependency to feel good about oneself. The Buddha knew first-hand the importance of pleasure in life so he pointed to deeper forms of pleasure and a sustainable enjoyment that arise through meditation and clarity without rejecting the world around.

He said the danger lies in not getting what one wants, in fruitless striving, resulting in becoming distraught through failing to secure the pursuit of what one wants. The person might pursue property, for example, but then one has to make an effort to protect it. The desire to get what one wants leads to aggression and violence. Home life can become full of conflict. The Buddha said: “Leaders quarrel with leaders. The religious quarrel with the religious. Householders argue with householders. Mother quarrels with child, child with mother, father and child, child with father; brother quarrels with brother, brother and sister, system with brother, friend with friend. There is the danger that these quarrels, brawls and disputes lead to families attacking each other with their fists, sticks or knives incurring suffering or death.” (MLD 13)

He went onto say: “Owing to desire for pleasure, men break into homes, commit burglary, seduce wives and then have to face heavy punishment for their actions. “The Buddha said that the escape from all of this arises through the letting go of this desire for gratification and then seeing life in a completely fresh and liberating way.

Magandiya and Gratification through Sex and Pleasure

Magandiya, who believed in a hedonistic/materialistic way of life, took the view that the Buddha taught the suppression of pleasure through any of the senses as he told people to guard their sense rather than indulge in pleasure and the endless pursuit for self-gratification. (MLD 76).

Magandiya share the view of millions today, sometimes summarised as the American Dream, where making money leads to the maximisation of pleasure to give meaning to life. Sex, alcohol and gross materialistic excess become a feature of such lives. Surveys show that more than 90% of young people see the pursuit and gaining of wealth as their dream so they can gratify all their desires. The Buddha sees such desire as robbing people of happiness and liberation revealing a freedom from dependency on the acquisition of objects.

The Buddha gave Magandiya an example of the desire for gratification with a beautiful young woman.

“Suppose they were a girl noble class of Brahmin in the 15th or 16th year, neither too fat nor thin with her beauty and loveliness at its best. There is the necessity to see the same woman at 90 who is supported by the walking stick; frail, youth gone, fatigue, scanty head and wrinkled. One might see the same woman gravely ill and lying foul in her own excrement. The former beauty and loveliness has gone. One might see that same woman as a corpse and bloated. There is the danger of not seeing the ageing process and thus still pursuing gratification.” The Buddha then pointed to the exit from such dependency through a “proper wisdom.”

He warned men about becoming a ‘’woman hunter’ and painful consequences for women and men. (Sn 106,108)

The Buddha recalled his youth when he had all the pleasure he could ask for. “I enjoyed myself. I had everything I could wish for. I had three palaces – for the rainy, winter and summer season. I had musicians to entertain me, who were all women.”

He then went onto say that we need to be clear about the desire for gratification through the senses, the danger (of dependency, habit and addiction) and the exit through wisdom in our relationship to the senses to safeguard us from obsession, suffering and despair through abuse of the senses.

He told Magandiya that that a really rich person found himself in heaven as a young god surrounded by a group of beautiful nymphs enjoying divine pleasures with them. Would that young guy want to return to the mundane world of human pleasure? Magandiya said “No.”

The Buddha then went onto proclaim a delight apart from the desire for gratification and the associated unwholesome states of mind which surpasses divine pleasure with the nymphs.

“I do not envy what is inferior, nor do I need to take delight in mundane pleasure. The greatest of all gains is health. Nirvana is the greatest bliss. The spiritual path is the best way to live for it leads to the Deathless.”

Devadatta and murderous intent

The Buddha said there are four kinds of happiness available for families – to be free from debts, ownership, wealth and to live a blameless way of life. (A. ii.69). He also made clear that the truly rich person knows mindfulness, enquiry, calmness, energy, concentration and equanimity to make up a body for awakening, otherwise corruption in the family will set in through ownership and wealth.

The wish to resolve family disputes were a constant feature that brought people to the Buddha. These disputes impacted on the most powerful families in the land, as well as on the poorest. Blame, threats and murder could emerge from these disputes. The Buddha knew this first-hand. As a young man, Prince Ajattsu, the son of King Bimbisara of Magadha, helped Devadatta, the Buddha’s cousin, in his attempt to kill the Buddha. Desire for power over the Sangha and jealousy drove Devadatta to an obsessive desire to murder Gautama and seize control of the Sangha. (Bodh Gaya was situated in Magandiya where the Buddha sat under the enlightenment tree)

Devadatta, the cousin of the Buddha, attempted three times to assassinate him. Prince Ajattsu provided an archer to kill the Buddha but the archer changed his mind on meeting the Buddha. (Vin ii vii). Devadatta hurled a huge rock down on the Buddha, which missed him but a splinter of the rock badly cut his foot. His cousin then tried to frighten a wild elephant to stampede and crush the Buddha to death. This attempt failed. Some of the Buddha’s friends then wanted to provide bodyguards for the Buddha but he refused. The Buddha said Devadatta was destined for a hell MLD 58. M i 393) for his attempts to murder him. He concluded that the joy and happiness of the depths of meditation generator feeling free from affliction adding to know a depth of happiness means to fully understand one’s feelings. He said the highest gratification knows the freedom from affliction of feelings.

The Perils of being a Parent

The Buddha spoke of the peril of separation of mother and son. Their separation could come from a fire, a flood, a storm as well as the peril of old age, sickness and death. (A I 178).

The Buddha said: “When the mother grows old, gets sick and is dying, the mother cannot fulfil her wish that her son does not have to face old age, sickness and dying. The development of the spiritual path will lead to overcome these perils.

“The mother cannot fulfil her wish. “Let me die but not my son.”

“Nor can the son fulfil his wish. Let me die but may my mother not die.”

“Fault finding, miserliness, denigration and envy will break up families, rich or poor.” A ii 249.

He said that the happiness of “wealthy families will not last long because they do not seek what has been lost; they do not repair what has become corrupt, they overindulge in food, drink and the senses and they appoint people who disregard ethical responsibilities. (A ii 258 (5)

“There are families who dwell with God when the children revere their parents and receive gifts from their children. The mother and father are “helpful to their children; they raise them nurture them and show them the world.” The parents are the first Gods in the lives of the children. They are the divine messengers of God. Mother and father and the first teachers are like God to the children. Parents and teachers are worthy of gifts and service from the children.” (A I 31 (1).

Malunkypaputta and Facing up to old age

Plenty of fresh insights abound in the words of the Buddha. A cursory reading of his words reveals much common sense wisdom. That is easy to recognise. The challenge is to go from listening to application. We could conclude that there is little that we don’t know already in what the Buddha states, even if we have never explored ethics, meditation or inquired into the experience of life. The context of these exchanges with the Buddha matter. The questioner asks out of a sincere motivation to elicit a response from Gautama that will provide a genuine emergence of understanding for the questioner. These sincere concerns meant that they could receive the Buddha’s words and then apply them to their circumstances. The common sense advice requires the follow up otherwise the words of the Buddha are meaningless.

Malunkypaputta asked the Buddha to give him a few supportive words for his meditations, as he wanted to go into solitude. The Buddha agreed that Malunkyputta was “decrepit and advanced in years.” The monk then asked the Buddha what he should say to the young men, who want a few words of wisdom.

The Buddha said problematic desires arise around clothes, food, accommodation and holding onto life here or later. “Having uprooted such desires and conceit, suffering ends.” Malunkyputta left with these words and soon realised the truth of them that brought about the “unsurpassed consummation of the spiritual life. (A ii 257)

Life does not offer any guarantee that we can stop old age, sickness, death nor unhealthy karma bearing fruit. A ii 182

Sandaka and Different kinds of teachings

Sandaka came to speak to Ananda to find out about the teachings of the Buddha. The Buddha commented that four kinds of teachings were not conducive to the exploration of the spiritual life, to a deep aspiration and a full awakening. (MLD 76)

  • One kind of teacher claims that no kind of activity made any real difference to anything since everybody ended up in the same place.
  • Second kind of teacher claims that everybody is already equal and therefore it is superfluous to follow the spiritual life under a teacher.
  • Third kind of teacher says there is no cause or condition for defilements or for purity of heart since all beings are moulded by destiny, circumstances and nature. People can only experiencing pleasure and pain and nothing else.
  • Fourth kind of teacher claims that we consist purely of elements. There is no killer, no slaughterer, no hero, no speaker, no coloniser, and no intimate. There are only elements.

Other teachers regarded their tradition as truth, which has been handed down from one generation to the next. From his numerous conversations, the Buddha showed that he was not a traditionalist, nor sought revolutionary change. The Buddha neither accepted the past religious/social traditions nor rejected them. He made his priority the resolution of suffering. He neither accepted belief in God nor rejected belief in God. If belief in God contributed to an ethical way of life, generosity, kindness and wisdom, he supported the belief while reminding questioners of the divine power of the heart.

Appreciation for Kajangala, a woman teacher

Living in a patriarchal society, the Buddha took significant steps towards the emancipation of women. After some uncertainty, he agreed to enable women, many of them young and unmarried, to join the Sangha. The tradition keeps a whole book of utterances from women of their insights and understanding, along with poems and prose communicating liberating truths. The Buddha praised their presence and their wisdom. For example, Kajangala offered teachings from her hermitage. Listeners were unsure in her veracity and checked it out with the Buddha. Her replied: “Her answer is excellent. She is a wise woman. I would give the same explanation. What you heard is the correct response and so you should bear it in mind.” (AN 10). Such words were a radical break from the tradition of male superiority and little reference to women. People would listen to a talk from the Buddha and then go to Kajangala to listen to an expanded explanation.(A v 54)

Kisa Gautami and Grieving Parents over the loss of a child

Loving parents would prefer to die before their children. A grieving father went to the Buddha about the loss of his child. The father could no longer eat or work and spent his time crying in the cemetery. “My only child, where are you? My only child, where are you?” (MLD 97). The Buddha explained that pain, grief and despair arises from holding onto those who dear. The sorrowing father got upset with what the Buddha said so he got up from his seat and left. Anguish can increase when words of truth, even spoke with a heart of compassion, become hard to hear.

Married to a merchant, Kisa Gautami has a little boy who suddenly died. She experienced immense grief and could not bear the thought of her loss. With her dead baby in her arms, she went to see the Buddha thinking perhaps his power could bring her son back to life. With compassion, the Buddha advised her to find a home in the nearby village where nobody knows anybody who died. He told her to bring some mustard seeds back to him from that house. Kisa Gautami went to every home. She could not find a home where there was no knowledge of a person who died. She returned to the Buddha empty-handed. Kisa understood that death impacts on every family. As a result, she came to terms with her loss and her grief subsided. Ever since, it has often been said in the tradition that the living are few but the dead are many.

Later she joined the Sangha. Walking through the forest near Savatthi, she heard Mara (the voice of deception) ask her why she did not have a tearful face having lost her only son and why she did not miss a man. She then reminded herself “I have gone past the death of my son and I do not search for a man. I do not sorrow. I do not weep.” (SN 5:3 Gotami). Through seeing emptiness of clinging to death, Kisa realised the deathless nature of liberation.

Though one should live a hundred years
without seeing the Deathless State,
yet better indeed, is a single day’s life
of one who sees the Deathless State. (Dp 114)

This story of Kisa has become one of the best known stories in the Buddhist tradition striking a chord with many Buddhists and others. It is regularly re-enacted in schools and plays to remind all of us of the vulnerability of human life

A householder lost her son. Her grief and despair reached the point where she was no longer in control of her mind and had gone mad. She couldn’t eat. King Pasenadi of Kosala and Queen Mallika heard the story of the Buddha’s meeting with the deranged woman to help her out of her despair. Again, he restated the fact that sorrow and lamentation arise due to holding onto loved ones whom one holds very dear. In other words, the more we hold onto their presence or their memory, the more we suffer.

A man in Savatthi, where the Buddha spent a season every year for 25 years, lost his mother. His father died, his brother died, his sister died, daughter died, his wife died. Owing to his wife’s death he also lost his mind and went from street to street “Have you seen my wife?” In another situation the Buddha said that the relatives of a married woman wanted her to leave her husband and go and live with another man she refused. She told her husband. They did not want to break up. Finally, they committed suicide rather than divorce. Change and alteration in what and with whom one identifies brings grief and despair, said the Buddha. The Buddha took an accepting view of suicide to bring an end to continuous physical pain which had no relief. He offered the resources of wise counsel, practical exercises and supportive inquiry to deal with the depths of psychological/emotional pain. He understood that there are people who cannot face living any longer.

Subha, a young Brahmin student, asks about the true way

Many young Brahmin students came to visit the Buddha. A group of 16 students of Bavari came together with every one of them with a question to ask. These students were also established as teachers with their own students. One after the other sat before the Buddha to ask their questions. (Sn 1006 – 1149)The questions included:
What pollutes the world?
What threatens it most?
Who in the world is happy?
Is there anyone who isn’t full of agitation?
Where do all the different kinds of suffering come from?
What can I use to help me across the ocean (of discontent)?
(see summary of these questions in my blog)

A young Brahmin student Subha went to the Buddha with questions (MLD 99). He said that the Brahmins criticise the Sangha and only praised the householders who followed the ‘true way.’’ Subha wanted to know what the Buddha said about this. The Buddha said he praised the right way of practice for both householders and the Sangha. Then the young man said to him that the Brahmins claim that those who do the most work, namely the householders, get the most benefit from practice. Those who do little work, namely the Sangha, receive small fruit from their practice because they do such little work.

“What does the Buddha say about this,” he asked. The Buddha revealed the sharpness of his mind. He said farming can involve a great deal of work but when the crops fail, due to climate, it brings all that work to little fruit. A person can sell or trade in a business venture. It is a small undertaking but brings great fruit when it succeeds. (MLD 99).

The Buddha also had to deal with religious issues such as the way to God. Rather than dismiss belief in God, the Buddha responded to the sincerity of the question, even though the Buddha himself did not believe in God, but in causation for which he showed the evidence. Subha asked about the way to God. Buddha asked the student if he knew the village of Nalakara. The student replied that he did and it was nearby. The Buddha said if a man lived in the village would he know the paths to the village. He replied that he would. In the same way, the Buddha said he knew the way to the kingdom of God (Brahma Vihara). To be in the company of God, he encouraged Subha to develop friendship, love and kindness to pervade all the directions, above below, around and everywhere including Subha, himself. He told Subha to embraces the all-encompassing world with love so the mind is without hostility and ill will.

“Through the development of loving kindness, no limiting action remains. A vigorous trumpeter can make himself heard without difficulty. The same principle applies with compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. This is the path to God.”

Assalayana, a bright student, aged 16, asked if Brahmins were the sons of Brahma (God)

A Brahmin student, Assalayana was staying at Savatthi. Young, shaven headed, 16 years old, he was a master of the three Vedas, the liturgy, etymology and skilled in philology and grammar. The Brahmins were confident that the young man could dispute some of the Buddha’s teachings. But the young Brahmin declined to enter into any kind of public debate. The Brahmins told Assalayana that the Brahmins were the sons of God (Brahma), born of his mouth and created by Brahma. They told the young Brahmin to find out if the Brahmins were the sons of Brahma. (MLD 93).

The Buddha did not dismiss the Brahmins view of themselves but, instead, offered a different meaning to the word Brahmin. He replied that those who kill living beings, take what is not given, engage in sexual abuse, tell lies and hold to harmful views experience a hellish mind regardless of their caste. He then asked the questioner if only a Brahmin is capable of developing love, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. The questioner agreed that everybody was capable of developing these four divine qualities of the heart.

Bharadvaja, a student, on the Preservation of Truth

A young Brahmin student came to ask about the preservation of Truth with a large group of Brahmin teachers and students listening to the Buddha’s response. What way is the preservation of Truth? How does one preserve truth? The Buddha replied: “If a person has faith, he preserves truth when he says: “my faith is thus”, but he does not yet come to the definite conclusion: Only this is true, anything else is wrong.” In this way, there is the preservation of truth but has yet there is no discovery of truth. Canki then asked the Buddha about the discovery of Truth.

“A person may prove something which he or she listens to and reaches a conclusion after patiently comprehending the view. Here s/he preserves truth when it is said that there is patient comprehension of the Dharma. One scrutinises truth, resolutely endeavours to realise the supreme truth, and sees through penetrating it with wisdom.”

Canki finally asked about the final arrival at Truth. The Buddha said that the final arrival also lies in the development and cultivation through the application – “listening to teachings on truth, remembering, recollecting, examines the meaning and coming to a patient comprehension of the Dharma. The “scrutiny is the most helpful. Hearing is the most memorable way for remembering teachings.” (MLD 95).

In contemporary society, we have various ways to know about the Buddha’s teachings and many other teachings: YouTube, DVDs, CDs, Skype, blogs, MP3, audio, download, books, eBooks, pdf texts, websites, links and much else. There is no substitute for listening directly and first hand to a wise teacher of any background or tradition. We can come to more insights and understanding in an hour, including questions and answers, than hours spent reading a book. A power of communication directly between a speaker and listeners often make more impact than an indirect teaching through technology. Although indirect approaches can bring much benefit, the power of transmission lies primarily through presence at the time of the teaching.

Brahmayu, aged 120, asks if a Buddha was free from sickness

Brahmayu had reached the age of 120 years. He had mastered the three Vedas, fully versed in natural philosophy, foremost in knowledge and wealth in his area and famous for his age and reputation. A respected Brahmin teacher, he went to the Mango Grove with his students to meet the Buddha telling one student, Uttara, a master of the religious tradition of India to ask the Buddha about health and sickness. Since the Buddha claimed to be fully enlightened, the teenager wanted to know whether the Buddha abided free from illness. (MLD 91).

The Buddha pointed directly to the ultimate Dharma teachings aimed to reveal the ageless, the deathless.

“Who has abandoned birth and death,
Who is complete in the spiritual life
Who has transcended everything
One such as this is called a Buddha.

At the end of the week, the Buddha set off a walking pilgrimage (yatra). A few days later Brahmayu died. The monks asked about the realisation of the Brahmin. “He was wise. He entered into the way of the Dharma, purified much of his mind in order to attain final nirvana.”

Vasettha asks if a Brahmin is through birth or action

Two Brahmin students, Vasettha an Bharadvaja, went to meet with Buddha, to ask whether birth or action shows a Brahmin. The Buddha adopted a biological viewpoint:
“In human beings, nothing distinctive can be found.
Distinction among human being is purely verbal designation.
Who is peaceful among those given to violence
Who does not cling among those who cling
This is the one I call a Brahmin.
By action one is a Brahmin
By non-action is one a non Brahmin.
The truly wise see action as it really is. They see dependent arising and are skilled in action and results “
The two students described the Buddha’s response as ‘magnificent.’ (MLD 98)

Elsewhere the Buddha said: “I do not say one is a better or worse off person because of one’s birth in rich or royal family. I do not say one is better or worse off because of beauty or colour. I do not say one is better off or worse off because of one’s wealth. “MLD 96.

Uttara discusses development of the senses

Uttara, a young Brahmin and a pupil of Parasariya, visited the Buddha who asked Uttara what his teacher taught in terms of development through the senses. The young man said Parasariya taught not to see forms through the eyes, ears and so on (to safeguard the mind against attraction and aversion). The Buddha responded that the blind and the deaf must be developed since they cannot see forms. Young Uttara looked dismayed. (MLD 152).

Ananda, the Buddha’s attendant, asked the Buddha to expand. The Buddha said to develop the senses means to see what is agreeable, disagreeable and what is both. One sees what dependently arises through the senses, to see what is gross and what is sublime. The Buddha said this is the supreme development of the senses. He advised Ananda to meditate on such development.

A group of 16 students of the Brahmin tradition wanted to meet with the Buddha. They said they would not know him but Bavari, a respect senior Brahmin, said the Buddha had 32 marks on his body to distinguish him. They brought with them many questions that the Buddha patiently answered one after the other.

Five qualities needed to attend to the sick

Numerous people from every background came to the Buddha with questions on every conceivable issue. For example, he said five qualities were needed to attend the sick whether doctors, nurses, attendants, friends or family members. The qualities were capacity to

  • offer the proper medicine
  • knows what is beneficial for the patient
  • gives loving kindness to the patient (rather than working for money)
  • does not experience repulsion at the sight of faeces, urine and vomit
  • and inspire and gladden the patient with words of wisdom.

The Buddha said such an attendant is qualified to serve the needs of the patient. (A. iii 145).

He went onto say that a patient is easy to take care of who does

  • what is beneficial
  • observes moderation
  • takes his medicine
  • discloses all his/her symptoms to the kind attendant
  • reporting if s/he is getting better or worse
  • and patiently endures the different kinds of bodily pain.

Teenage gang joins the Sangha

Sincere spiritual seekers can appreciate the deep concerns of the many people who came to the Buddha. The Buddha treated all with the greatest respect whether from children up to the very eldest. Many young people then had no interest in the religiosity of the beliefs in God the creator or the orthodox religion along with chanting, mantras and hymns. They found a like-minded person in the Buddha, who had also turned his back on having faith in such religious beliefs. As today, plenty of teenagers were wild, adventurous and noisy, who enjoyed being away from parents and home. Teenagers from one generation to the next share much in common.

A gang of 17 teenagers decided to join the wandering Sangha having got permission from their parents. Their leader, Upali, said he planned to join the Sangha and then others all followed. They had little idea of what they were getting themselves into. During their first night, they were hungry as the Sangha did not eat food for about 18 hours between 12 noon and dawn the following morning. The teenagers started shouting out they wanted to eat. Their voices woke up the Buddha.

As a result of the fracas, the Buddha decided that full ordination should start at the age of 20 years. He felt the teenagers and younger could not handle the lifestyle, live out in the open on hot days and cold nights, deal with mosquitoes and gadflies in the forest and handle with any pain in the four postures of sitting, walking, standing and reclining. The Buddha said the youngsters could take novice ordination. Those ordained need to spend five years under the guidance of their preceptor to develop the necessary qualities before becoming solitary wanderers as well as time with the (Sangha. Vn 1 47).

It would have amused the young people that the Buddha did not show any deference to the powerful religious authorities that came to see him. He was not impressed with fame, power, knowledge or status. He offered no special access to him for the powerful and the rich. He showed an independent spirit and non-hierarchical approach to rulers and religious alike, as well as undermining the caste system. His attitude to authority did not go unnoticed.

One respected Brahmin said: “We heard that you do not pay respect to elderly Brahmins, nor do you stand for us or offer a seat.”

The Buddha said it occurred to him that the “elderly Brahmins do not know an elder. Someone is young, with black hair, with the blessings of youth, and in the prime of life, speaks what is true and beneficial on the Dharma, then he is a wise elder. An elder is mindful, engages in training the mind, knows the right meaning of the teaching, lives the spiritual life and investigates the teachings to penetrate to truth.”

Young practitioners in the Sangha would have enjoyed the respect the paid them by calling them the Elders rather than agreeing to the widespread social view that the elders were old Brahmins.

The Buddha gave authority to those with wisdom with special qualities of heart and mind – regardless of age, caste or prior social standing. The Buddha declared Upali, a former barber, as the one most proficient in the practice and application of the Vinaya the daily disciplines showing respect to the Dharma way of life). (A I 24). Monks and nuns had great affection for Upali who gave guidance in the spiritual disciplines to members of the Buddha’s family, the rich, the royalty and the powerful, who had committed themselves to following the Buddha Dharma. Once again, the Buddha showed his indifference to social standing. He made the decision for a former uneducated barber from a poor family giving teachings on personal discipline to the rich and powerful, questioning their behaviour and checking on their spiritual development. The anarchic youth of the day would have loved such initiatives from the Buddha.

The Buddha reminded people of all ages there were four kinds of speakers/teachers. Those who spoke a little or a lot but everything they said was pointless and meaningless. There are those who speak a little or a lot which was meaningful.

Elsewhere, he referred to five kinds of teachers, whose receives the basic necessities for their activities and livelihood, and are known for what they offer and they receive respect from their students as the teacher’s knowledge and vision is untainted. (A iii 127).

A Child’s Realisation

A mother holding the hand of her young son, and carrying her baby daughter overheard the Buddha giving a talk in the Jeta Grove, Savatthi, to the Sangha. “Be quiet,” she whispered to her children, as the Buddha spoke of Nirvana. “Let me listen to the Dharma on freedom from ageing and death.” Her boy said: I am not talking nor is my sister. Listening to the true Dharma is pleasant.”

“The noble truths are seen,” she said. The boy also understood and realised wisdom about life, too. It is said that he became a stream enterer – meaning one who cannot go back to a mundane way of having tasted the deepest truths. S I 210.

Kali and domestic violence

The Buddha also had to deal with issues of domestic violence. A servant, Kali, believed her employer, Mistress Vedehika to be a gentle person who never showed any anger so Kali decided to test Vedehika to see if she could make her angry. So Kali began to get up late in the day and then later and later. Frustrated Vehika hit her servant with a rolling pin and cut her head. Kali told everybody until the gossip of her anger spread. (MLD 21)

The Buddha said practitioners also can be kind and gentle until they have to listen to disagreeable speech. Then one knows if he is truly kind and gentle. You should train yourself: ‘ Our minds will remain unaffected and we shall utter no harmful words. We shall abide compassionate for their welfare, without inner hate. Even if bandits were to sever you savagely limb by limb with a two handled saw, he who gave rise to hate would not be carrying out my teaching.” The Buddha set the crossbar for love at the highest level.

Young hunters meet the Buddha in the forest

Uppalavanna, a nun, and the daughter of a banker, became highly respected for the power of her trust and spiritual attainments. (AN. 5.5). The Buddha encouraged other women practitioners to aspire to be like her. One morning the Buddha walked into a great forest and sat down under a tree outside of Vesali. At that time, some youths from nearby Licchavi were out hunting in the same wood with their bows and arrows and a pack of dogs. Then another youth, Mahanama spotted these young guys standing in front of the Buddha and said: “They will be from Vajjia. These youths are violent, rough and brash. They plunder families and hit women.”

The Buddha told these young guys that people develop, whether they are a king, country gentleman, army general or ruler, if they remember five things, namely wealth come though energetic striving, strength of limbs, sweat and parents have compassion for their child. One also respects those with whom one does business, respects religious authorities and spiritual practitioners who have compassion. The wise person is charitable and virtuous. Having done what is good, the person is worthy of veneration and praise.”

People cannot be well known by their appearances
Nor can they be trusted after a brief impression
Yet, the undisciplined may roam in the world
In the attire of the well-disciplined. (SN 1. 173)

The Buddha said that there are two kinds of fools. One who does not see his harmful behaviour and one who refuses to accept the remedy. Si 239.

The Buddha always offered his teachings as a gift (dana). Aggika offered to pay the Buddha a fee for his teachings but the Buddha replied: “The Buddhas do not accept wages.” (S i 66).

Kapathika, 16, asks about religious tradition

The Buddha was having amiable talk with some Brahmins, when Kapathik, a 16 year old Brahmin student, known as a master of the Vedas, interrupted the meeting with questions. He asked if the truth was only found in the hymns and Sanskrit texts had come down through the tradition, as the Brahmins believe.

The Buddha commented: “It seems like not a single Brahmin going back seven generations can say ‘I know this and see everything else is false.’’ He said such views of the Brahmins were ‘like a file of blind men. Their faith is groundless. They can approve their view of but it may be empty, false and hollow and something else not reflected on may be true and factual.” (MLD 95)

The teenager asked another profound question, not easy to answer. “How then does one preserve truth?”

The Buddha gave a profound reply to a profound question. “One says ‘My faith is such’ but does not come to the definite conclusion only this is true, everything else is wrong.

Subha asks why people are so different

A student, Subha, son of Todeyya, asked the Buddha for the causes and conditions that make people so different from each other – short lived and long lived, sick and healthy, ugly and beautiful, uninfluential and influential, poor and rich, low born and high born, stupid and wise. (MD iii 202)

The Buddha replied: “Human beings are bound to actions, originate from actions, heirs to actions. This distinguishes people.”

An initial reading of his response could give the impression that our physical and mental condition is entirely self-created. The Buddha did not teach that we create our own happiness and suffering. He said we are bound to the outcome of causes and conditions that make up actions and their outcome. He also does not state that selves of others originate actions. Outside of liberation, human beings dwell tied to actions and what arises originates from actions. Yes, we can contribute to wise action but we also receive the outcome of unwelcome actions from wherever they originate. It is an encouragement to inquire into causes and conditions for actions rather than believe in praise and blame for our actions on ourselves or heap praise or blame upon others.

Young Subha did not understand. The Buddha then referred to the value of developing an ethical way of life free from violence and exploitation. He said a non-violent way of life leads to compassion while a violent way of life leads to pain. An irritable and angry person will show an ugly face while a happy person is beautiful. A person who offers gifts and donations shows their wealth while a person who does not give is poor.

He added that a student who asks questions the wise about life such as ‘What actions lead to welfare and happiness for a long time?’ will come to wisdom.

Subha understood. He replied: ‘Magnificent. Master Gotama has made the Dharma clear in many ways. He has revealed what was hidden and shown the way to one who was lost. You held up a lamp for those with eyesight to see forms. I go for refuge to Gotama, the Dharma and the Sangha as a layperson for life.

Most questioners used respectful epithets to the Buddha such as The Buddha, the teacher or the Venerable One but Subha spoke in first name terms. He spoke like a typical teenager who preferred informality in communication rather than formality. I go for refuge in Gotama rather than I go for refuge in the Buddha. He friends probably thought it was a cool thing for Subha to use the Buddha’s first name when going go refuge.

The Way that Couple live together

The Buddha never liked to mince his words. He would make a few points in a very direct style, such as a short list, so that the questioner could leave knowing that the Buddha had squeezed the essentials out of the dialogue. Numerous dialogues with the nomadic Sangha applied to householders and much Dharma for householders applied to monks and nuns. To encourage, men and women to stay in the ordained Sangha he would make comments on problems of the life of a householder and living in an intimate relationship. (A iv 59). He told the Sangha there are four ways that couples can live together.

  • A wretch lives with a wretch.
  • A wretch lives with an angel.
  • An angel lives with a wretch.
  • An angel lives with an angel.

He said wretches in a relationship supports violence, takes what is not given sexually abusive and lies becomes heedless through alcohol and insults and reviles the partner and others. An angel is virtuous, generous, endowed with trust, speaks kindly and lives with a quiet discipline. Two angels in a relationship, respectful to each other, live at ease with each other, he said.

A man may be of unshakeable character but if frequently visits prostitute, widows, unmarried women and nuns, then he will be suspected and distrusted. (A 111 128).

After meeting with the Buddha, a family, a couple, the young or a man or woman could return home after talking to the Buddha with a clear sense of what they needed to develop a change.

The Buddha did not appear to spend much time in examining the psychological dynamics in families or individuals but placed the priority on practice, on development. Certain passages explore the actual causes and conditions that lead to suffering. He adopted an impersonal view for reflection –

  • contact/impression depend on the senses,
  • the senses depend on mind-body
  • mind-body depends on the conditions of consciousness,
  • consciousness depends on unhealthy volition of body, speech and mind
  • and volition depends upon not seeing clearly.(M.38)

The Buddha inspired listeners to change their behaviour so they lived an ethical, friendly and clear way of life leading onto complete awakening and liberation.

Mindfulness at Work

The Buddha mentions five kinds of wrong livelihood for laypeople: dealing in arms, dealing in beings, meat, intoxicants, poison. (At AN 5: 177/iii 208).

The Buddha said him that there are four things which are conducive to happiness in this world. One

  • is skilled, efficient, earnest, and energetic in whatever profession one is engaged, and one should know the livelihood well
  • protects one’s income, which he has thus earned righteously
  • has good friends (kalyana-mitta) who are faithful, learned, virtuous, liberal and intelligent
  • help others along the right path away from evil
  • spends reasonably, in proportion to his income, neither too much nor too little
  • does not hoard wealth nor be extravagant
  • lives within one’s means.

Sigalaka on how to pay respect to parents

In the Bamboo Grove in Rajghir, two days walk from Bodh Gaya, Sigalaka, the son of a householder, met the Buddha who asked him why he was up so early. He said his dying father asked him to get up early every morning to pay respect to life (by bowing in six directions – bowing and raising eyebrows to the above, to below, to bow in front, to turn around and bow behind, and turning to bow to the two sides). “Out of respect for my father’s words, which I revere, honour and hold sacred, I have done this.”

How does one pay homage and respect in the noble discipline? the young man asked the Buddha.

The Buddha replied that the six directions denotes paying respect to all those who are worthy of respect in terms of six kinds of people – parents, teachers, partner/children, friends and workers and spiritual practitioners/religious.

He then went into more detail with Sigalaka. As a son, he supports his parents, does tasks for them, keeps the best of the family tradition, lives worthy of his heritage and distributes dana on their behalf after they die.

Parents support their children by showing the way not to cause harm, to develop wholesome activities, teach them various skills, to find a suitable partner and in due time hand over their inheritance.

Though 2600 years has passed, along with differences in culture, the majority of the bulks of the teachings remain relevant today as then. Although sons and daughters choose their partner/husband/wife with very little input from parents, there is no evidence to show that an arranged marriage or an agreed marriage between the two people works any better than the other. Appreciation for a happy marriage/partnership can go in any direction. So can blame. In an arranged marriage, we can blame the parents, the partner or ourselves and in a non-arranged marriage the couple can blame each other. It is still blame and it is still painful to deal with stress and tension at home. Strong feelings of failure also can arise in the breakdown of a marriage whether it leads to separation/divorce of not.

The Buddha said trust in the Dharma (knowledge/application of the teachings), morality, generosity and wisdom support family life. Wealth and happiness for families comes together through a healthy livelihood, support of family members, workers and friends. There is a prudent application of wealth to make provisions against loss, not to squander money and employs any significant income for a worthy cause.

A wealthy person can then say to themselves: “I have achieved. Whatever purpose a wise person might have done in desiring wealth; I have done and this brings me no regret.” Recollecting this, a person remains firm in the noble Dharma. The Buddha said to Sivaloka there is the pleasure of ownership and wealth but it is not worth a 16th part of a blameless way of life. Wisdom and liberation always remained the foremost priority. The Buddha then went onto to give a comprehensive discourse to Sigalaka on the householders’ life offering a wide range of advice. He addressed ethics and desire and blame. He cited the cost of addiction

  • apathy
  • waste of money
  • quarrels
  • sickness
  • loss of good name
  • indecent behaviour
  • weakening of the mind.

He spoke about true friends compared to superficial friends. The Buddha frequently referred to the benefits of the practise of generosity, of giving, of making donations. He said the best kind of giving to others occurs when the giver offers with purity of heart and the recipient receives the gift with purity of heart. The practise of generosity still matters even if the recipient is not of good character. “The givers virtue purifies the offering,” he said.

The Buddha would surely not have welcomed the gradual movement in the Western Dharma towards an orthodoxy of practice and vision that excludes the original free spirited approach of the Buddha. Both the secular and religious strands of Buddhism share a conservative viewpoint in an enclose system of thought. Far too many of the young travellers who went to the East to explore the Dharma have become the new Brahmins within two or three decades. Secular beliefs around mindfulness/mind/body/science and religious beliefs around the ordained Sangha and preservation of the past neglect the adventure of the Dharma, a care free way of life and a passion for the formless regardless of the reactions of the conservative Buddhist culture, secular and religious.

The Sangha of the young, teenagers, travellers, spiritual seekers, parents and the elderly, who love the Dharma of non-clinging, non-orthodoxy, non-consumerism and non-identity, keep the spirit and letter alive of the Buddha-Dharma. Secular and religious Dharma practices need to guard against complacency on one side or endless disputes on the other side.

May all beings live with love
May all beings live with wisdom
May all beings live a free spirited way of life



Source: Christopher Titmuss Dhrama Blog | A Buddhist Perspective

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