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From Views to the Dharma - 62 Wrong views in the Brahmajala Sutta

by Kamalashila

From Views to the Dharma

by Kamalashila

A talk given at the Western Buddhist Order Men's Convention, 1991

First of all tonight I'd like you to imagine that you've only very recently been ordained
into the Western Buddhist Order. That's probably a bit difficult for some of you, but it's
going to be very, very easy indeed for a number of others. Anyway, take your mind back
as far as necessary, and just imagine that you've recently been ordained, and imagine that
you've just come back here to the U.K., and that you are now in the process of adjusting
to your new life as a member of the Order. Now, that is quite a business. You may find
that there is a particularly demanding aspect to it, which is the totally new attitude that so
many people now seem to have towards you. People seem to see you quite differently,
seem to have very different expectations of you, seem to appreciate you in a different
way. You might wonder why they never seemed to appreciated you in this way before.

And one day you hear some of this appreciation. Perhaps you hear it in a class situation,
or a work situation, or perhaps you just happen to bump into some people – and they are
praising you. They are rejoicing in your merits. They are saying, “Dharmachari so-and-
so is such a wonderful person. Dharmachari so-and-so doesn't go around beating people.
Dharmachari so-and-so doesn't go around stealing things. Dharmachari so-and-so
doesn't chase after other people's wives; Dharmachari so-and-so doesn't lie, and what's
more, he doesn't get drunk. Isn't that wonderful?”

Ok, well, perhaps you'd be fairly pleased to hear this, certainly if it were true. But now,
let's imagine that you've been practising for twenty years. You're no longer newly
ordained, you've been in the Dharma life for twenty years. That's probably difficult to
imagine for those of you who are newly ordained, but on the other hand it's not too much
of a stretch for quite a few of here tonight. It won't be long before quite a number of us
are celebrating our second ten years. So – you've been in the Order for twenty years, and
once again you hear yourself being praised. And they are saying almost exactly the same
things as before. They are saying that this Dharmachari is ever such a good person who
doesn't ever kill anyone – he isn't mean, and he doesn't rape people. He doesn't lie. Have
you never see him getting seriously unaware – no. He's always kind, generous, truthful,
and balanced. You never see him, or even hear of him, doing something really silly – he
always seems to do the right thing. He's never embarrassing – never makes you cringe –
and, d'you know, he's very ethical too. He doesn't carry a weapon – there are no guns,
knives or knuckledusters in his inside pocket. And you can't bribe him, he's a thoroughly
trustworthy man. And what's more, did you know, he's a vegetarian – he doesn't eat any
meat. That's good, isn't it? I think that shows concern. And he speaks well, too – he
doesn't talk down to you, doesn't waste your time, doesn't play games, doesn't chatter
nonsense all the time, doesn't make mysterious little hints, doesn't butt in, interrupting
you all the time. Not like some people that one could mention. No. This Dharmachari is a
thoroughly good chap.

And they go on in this way. It's all really very positive indeed, and you certainly can't
find fault with their rejoicings in your merits. That would be mean. But even so – you
can't help feeling as though you've been sold just a little short. Just a little. You wonder,
is that all they appreciate me for? Well, I don't wish to undermine basic goodness.
Goodness might indeed be good enough for you and I; but we'll see shortly that it wasn't
good enough for the Buddha. On a certain occasion, as they say, the Buddha was
travelling along the highway with a huge company of bhikkhus – there were several
hundred of them, and they were all walking – not just walking, but walking with
awareness – along the road between Rajagaha and Nalanda, travelling north along the
main highway. It must have been quite a sight. Just imagine the whole Western Buddhist
Order doing that, all of us walking together along the main highway, all trying to be
mindful and aware of every movement and every thought.

And to any innocent bystander this would have been an even more interesting sight,
because it just so happened that behind the Buddha and his disciples there walked another
large company of wanderering ascetics. These were the followers of a teacher called
Suppiya. This was one of those glorious coincidences that sometimes happen – Suppiya
hadn't known that the Buddha would be travelling on this particular road at this particular
same time. If he had known, he might have thought twice about travelling to Nalanda that
day. But anyway, to any innocent bystander the Buddha's company was a magnificent
sight. The traditional commentary likens it to 'the shimmering crest of a golden mountain
enveloped in a crimson mantle.' I'll read you some more of it:

'At that time, it is told, the six-coloured rays of the Bearer of the Ten Powers issued forth
from his body, filling and pervading an area eighty feet on all sides. The forest clearing
through which they were walking appeared then as though it were bestrewn with
garlands and wreaths made of gems, or with the dust of pulverised gems, as though it
were a beautiful golden cloth embroidered with gems, as though it were sprinkled over
with the essence of ruddish gold, or filled with a hundred meteors, or bestrewn with
clustered Kanikara flowers,.. or as though it were irradiated and illuninated throughout
by the splendour of rainbows, streaks of lightning, and the multitudinous host of stars.

The exalted One's body, adorned with the eighty minor marks of physical beauty, was like
a lake filled with blooming lotus-flowers and water lilies, like a Paricchattaka tree in full
blossom, like the canopy of the sky sparkling with the light of the stars, smiling down with
glory from above.. Surrounding the Exalted One stood bhikkhus, all of few wishes,
content, fond of solitude, aloof, exhorters, censors of evil, teachers, tolerant of
correction, endowed with virtue, concentration, wisdom, emancipation, and the
knowledge and vision of emancipation.. The sight filled the eyes even of the birds and
beasts with joy, much more then the eyes of gods and men. On that day most of the eighty
great disciples accompanied the Exalted One, [with] their cloud coloured rag-robes
arranged over one shoulder.. All [were] free from corruptions, their corruptions ejected,
their defilements shattered, their tangles disentangled, their bonds cut. The Exalted One,
himself free from lust, hatred, and delusion, stood surrounded by those free from lust,
hatred and delusion.'

The commentary carries on in this vein for a while. Then Suppiya, the other leader,
surveys the scene – his own disciples, the disciples of the Buddha – and he can't help
comparing... The wanderer Suppiya then surveyed his own assembly. He saw his
followers leaning on their carrying poles, [which were] heaped up with a big load of
requisites – dilapidated stools, tridents, peacock fans, earthen bowls, sacks, water
pots, etc. They were loose-tongued, noisy, vociferous, unsightly, and uninspiring.

Unfortunately, Suppiya became extremely jealous of the Buddha, and as he walked along
at the head of his own company of wandering ascetics, he gave way to this feeling and
began to disparage the Buddha, his teaching, and his disciples as they all walked in front
of him. He accused the Buddha of claiming falsely to be Enlightened, and even of lacking
common manners. He said that the Buddha's Dharma was basically all wrong, and that
the Sangha practised wrongly and perversely. The bhikkhus at the rear of the Buddha's
company of course had to bear the brunt of all this. But, surprisingly, Suppiya doesn't get
away with it from his own disciples. His own chief disciple, Brahmadatta, counters each
unjust criticism with a praise of the Buddha. Brahmadatta realises that speaking in this
way is highly unskilful on his teacher's part. He reflects that:

'[Even] if the teacher were to tread upon dung, fire, thorns, or a black viper, or to mount
a stake, eat deadly poison, step into a violent stream, or throw himself down from a cliff,
there is no reason for [this] disciple to follow suit. Beings are owners of their own
kamma, and they each go their own way according to their own kamma'.

This little episode introduces the ‘Brahmajala Sutta’, which is the very first of all the
suttas in the Pali Buddhist scriptures. The Buddha uses it the very next day to illustrate a
very important teaching. He begins by giving some advice as to how to handle that sort of
situation, when others either praise or dispraise the Buddha, Dharma, or Sangha. Indeed,
both praise and blame are very testing – they are two of eight 'worldly winds' by which
we are very easily ...

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