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Pali Canon - Ariyapariyesana Sutta

by Sangharakshita

The Ariyapariyesana Sutta Seminar

Held at Padmaloka in July-August 1976
Those present: Urgyen Sangharakshita, Padmapani, Padmaraja, Sagaramati, Vessantara, Alan
Angel, Ian Anderson, Mark Barrett, Roy Campbell, Kim Catala, Mike Chivers, Peter Cowen,
Pat Dunlop, Dominic Kennedy, John Rooney, Graham Steven, Mike Thomson.
(The entire sutta (MN26) is read out from The Middle Length Sayings, trans. I.B. Horner, Pali
Text Society)
Sangharakshita: Well, any general impressions of this sutta? I take it some of you haven't read
it or heard it before, but how does it strike you just hearing it read? What sort of impression
does it make on you? What sort of feeling do you get?
Padmaraja: The impact of what is being said is lost by the archaic language. The archaic
English. I really don't think it's something (unclear) translated these things.
___: There are a lot of contradictions.
S: Of course there are also the repetitions. You could hardly imagine the Buddha speaking in
that sort of way, even though it does sound much less awkward in Pali than in English. But no
doubt the repetitions were elaborated just for mnemonic purposes and to help the monks
remember the Buddha's words more easily, and also perhaps to reflect upon them and
meditate upon them. The suttas weren't intended originally for reading; they were meant to be
recited congregationally. So no doubt if one had written the sutta, if one had written an
account of what happened, then one would have written it in a much more condensed and
direct sort of way, which no doubt would have had a much stronger impact on the reader,
though perhaps it is not only a question of translating the text into less archaic English but
also it would be boiling the whole thing down so that you just get that more direct impact. We
do get that more direct impact with works, with Pali texts, which seem to belong to an earlier
phase of development, that is to say works like the Sutta Nipata and the Udana and the
Itivuttaka. That is one of their very great advantages. Has anyone noticed this? Any other
general impressions?
___: It seems a bit strange that when the Buddha was enlightened the two persons that he
chose to tell died within a couple of days of one another. It seems a bit odd.
S: Well perhaps it's used to illustrate the fact that so near but yet so far. Just missed it.
___: Is there any sort of reason for that?
S: Well no reason is given. Perhaps it did simply happen that way. (pause) Any [2] particular
impression about the Buddha himself? After all, the sutta is the Buddha's sort of
autobiography in a condensed form.
Vessantara: Determination and self-confidence.
S: Determination and self-confidence mainly.
Vessantara: Especially in the passages with Uddaka and Kalama. He's saying they have
energy, I too have energy.
S: All right let's go through it paragraph by paragraph: 'Thus have I heard.' I take it you know
who is supposed to be speaking. You notice that these words, 'Thus have I heard' occur at the
beginning of every [sic] sutta, but what do they mean? Who has heard? Who is speaking?
___: Ananda.
S: It's Ananda. So how come it's Ananda who's speaking? When is he speaking?
___: (unclear)
S: According to tradition he's speaking after the Buddha's death, after the Buddha's
parinirvana, and he is rehearsing to the gathering of the other disciples what he remembers of
the Buddha's teaching. For the last twenty-five years of his life Ananda was his constant
companion and the Buddha used to repeat to him whatever teaching he had given to others in
Ananda's absence, and of course Ananda was present on so many occasions when the Buddha
did teach. So Ananda accumulated an enormous number of teachings, he had a very retentive
memory. So after the Buddha's death he was requested to repeat, to recite, whatever he knew,
whatever he remembered, to the other disciples, and they learned from him adding, no doubt,
their own recollections too. So Ananda is supposed to be speaking: 'Thus have I heard: At one
time the Lord was staying near Savatthi in the Jeta Grove in Anathapindika's monastery.' So
Savatthi or Sravasti was the capital of the kingdom of Kosala and the Buddha had two
residences there. One was in the Jeta Grove, a residence built for him by Anathapindika, and
the other was a place called 'the house with the peaked gable', you could say, which had been
built by a wealthy female lay-supporter. So one of the residences was just outside one end of
the city, the other just outside the other end. In secluded spots away from the noise and the
bustle of the city but accessible. The Buddha himself and the monks were near enough to the
city to be able to go for alms easily, and the two residences were near enough to the city for it
to be possible for people to go off to see the Buddha and the monks. So on this occasion the
Buddha was staying near Sravasti in the Jeta Grove in Anathapindika's - 'monastery' it's
translated but I've refrained from using that word - I've been saying 'residence'. It is arama in
Pali, which is more like a rest place, it's a place where you just stay or you repose. It may be
just a temporary shelter. We mustn't imagine anything very grand, you mustn't imagine [3] an
enormous monastery like those of Tibet in later days. It was probably more like a very simple
bungalow or chalet or something of that kind. 'Then the Lord, having dressed early, taking his
bowl and robe, entered Savatthi for almsfood.' It probably would be eight or nine in the
morning. The monks used to go into the city or the town or the village for alms just at about
the time when people would have finished preparing the morning meal.
Usually people would eat at about nine or ten in the morning and then they'd go and work in
the fields or attend to other business. So the monks had to catch them just at the right time. So
when the Buddha had gone 'a number of monks approached the venerable Ananda.'
Apparently he'd been left behind - 'Having approached, they spoke thus to the venerable
Ananda: 'It is long since we, reverend Ananda, heard a talk on dhamma face to face with the
Lord. It is good if we, reverend Ananda, got a chance of hearing a talk on dhamma face to
face with the Lord.' So what does one gather from this little exchange?
___: That already the Sangha's quite big.
S: The Sangha's quite big, yes. These monks have also been staying at Savatthi apparently,
but it's a long time since they had an opportunity of hearing the Dhamma, hearing a talk on
the Dhamma face to face with the Lord. You notice this expression 'face to face'. No doubt
Ananda could have repeated to them many things - Ananda could have taught them from his
own recollection all the teachings that the Buddha had given, but they seem to attach great
importance to hearing a talk on the Dhamma face to face with the Lord. They don't even say
'from the Buddha' but 'face to face'. They make that point, even they emphasize it. Why do
you think that is?
___: Personal contact.
S: Personal contact. It's not just a question of the words of the Dharma, not even a question of
the ideas, not even a question of the teaching. It's 'from the Buddha', directly from the
Buddha, face to face. In that way they get something that is very difficult for words repeated
to transmit. So 'it is good if we, reverend Ananda, got a chance of hearing a talk on dhamma
face to face with the Lord.' And then Ananda says, 'Well then, the venerable ones should go to
the hermitage of brahman Rammaka, and probably you would get a chance of hearing a talk
on dhamma face to face with the Lord.' Ananda already has started laying his plan but he
doesn't make any promise. He says probably. Why do you think he doesn't make any
promise?
___: You can't really legislate for a Buddha.
S: You can't legislate; not only legislate, you can't predict. A Buddha may do anything. He
can't give any undertaking on the Buddha's behalf, as it were, close as he is. The best he can
say, or the most he can say, is 'probably you would get a chance of hearing a talk on dhamma
face to face with the Lord.' He's going to do his best. He's going to try but he can't guarantee
anything. He's making no promises. At best he can say 'probably'. 'Yes, your reverence, these
monks answered the venerable Ananda in assent. Then the Lord, having [4] walked for alms
in Savatthi, returning from the quest for alms, after the meal, said to the venerable Ananda:
'We will go along Ananda and approach the Eastern Park, the palace of Migara's mother, for
the day-sojourn.' So what happens? The Buddha having collected alms in Savatthi returns to
Anathapindika's residence, eats there the food that he has collected, after he'd sat a little
while, digested it, he suggests to Ananda that they spend the remainder of the day quietly in
the other residence outside the other end of the town. That will give them a little walk, a little
exercise. They'll spend the day there quietly. The translator says the palace of Migara's mother
- it's a storeyed building, sometimes translated as a building with peaks or gables, and Ananda
or course agrees. ' Very well, Lord,' the venerable Ananda answered in assent. Then the Lord
together with the venerable Ananda approached the Eastern Park, the palace of Migara's
mother, for the day-sojourn. Then the Lord, emerging from seclusion towards evening, said to
the venerable Ananda, 'We will go along Ananda and ...

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