Monday, July 21, 2008

Fruits of Recluseship

Temporary ordination in Thai tradition (Dhammakaya, USA)

The Fruits of the Monastic Life
Based on the "Fruits of Recluseship Discourse" (Sāmaññaphala Sutra)
Question: "Is it possible to point out the fruit of the life of a recluse visible here and now?"

The King asked the Buddha, "Teacher, there is a number of skills and talents, such as: Elephant-drivers, chariot-drivers, horse riders, archers, palanquin bearers, army commander's adjutants, royal officers, soldiers, warriors with elephant's courage, heroes, fighters, troops in deer-skin uniform, slaves, cooks and chefs, barbers, bathers, bakers, florists, launderers, weavers, craftsmen, potters, mathematicians, accountants, and many other skills. In their current life, they enjoy the real fruits of their skills. They support their life, their family, parents, and friends with their skills in happiness and welfare. They donate valuable gifts and offerings to Brahmin-priests and the wandering ascetics, giving them rewards of a joyful future existence in heaven, and other joys. Might the teacher instruct me on the benefits of the life of a monastic in this life?"

The Buddha then asked, "Your Majesty, have you ever asked this question to any other teachers, brahmins, or ascetics?"

The King replied by repeating what each of six revered ascetic teachers of the day had said to him. Their responses are summarized here:

The views of six (non-Buddhist) wandering ascetics
Question: "Is it possible to point out the fruit of monastic life visible here and now?"
  1. Pūraṇa Kassapa's Amoralism: denies any painful or pleasant consequences for skillful or unskillful deeds (no result of ethical actions).
  2. Makkhali Gosāla's Fatalism: we are powerless; suffering is predestined.
  3. Ajita Kesakambalī's Materialism: at death, everything is annihilated.
  4. Pakudha Kaccāyana's Eternalism: Matter, pleasure, pain and the soul are eternal and do not interact.
  5. Mahavira (Jainism's founder) also known as Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta's Restraint: be endowed with, cleansed by, and suffused with the avoidance of all evil.
  6. Sañjaya Belaṭṭhaputta's Agnosticism: "I don't think so. I don't think in that way or otherwise. I don't think not or not not."

The king had found all of these answers unsatisfying: "Just as if a person, when asked about a mango, were to answer with a breadfruit; or, when asked about a breadfruit, were to answer with a mango."

The fruit of a Buddhist monastic life
The Buddha then elaborated on his perspective regarding the benefits of the life of a recluse (monastic), moving from the material to the spiritual:

  • Solitude's delight: For instance, for slaves and farmers, freedom from servitude resulting in being "content with the simplest food and shelter, delighting in solitude" as well as the veneration of others.
  • Virtue's pleasure: A monastic "consummate in virtue, sees no danger anywhere from one's restraint through virtue. Endowed with this noble aggregate of virtue, one is inwardly sensitive to the pleasure of being blameless."
  • Simplicity's contentment: "Wherever one goes, one takes only one's barest necessities along. This is how a monastic is content."
  • Mental calm: With mindfulness and alertness, a monastic cleanses his/her mind of covetousness and greed, ill-will and anger, sloth and drowsiness, restlessness and anxiety, and sceptical doubt (the Five Mental Hindrances to insight).
  • Meditative bliss: One attains the four meditative-absorptions (jhanas) which are associated with the permeating of one's body with rapture, pleasure, equanimity, and a pure, bright awareness.
  • Insight knowledge: "With mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability — a monastic directs and inclines it to knowledge and vision. One discerns: 'This body of mine is endowed with form, composed of the four primary elements, born from mother and father, nourished with rice and porridge, subject to inconstancy, rubbing, pressing, dissolution, and dispersion. And this consciousness of mine is supported here and bound up here.'"
  • Supernatural powers: "Having been one, the adept becomes many; having been many, the adept becomes one. One appears. One vanishes. One goes unimpeded through walls, ramparts, and mountains as if through space. One dives in and out of the earth as if it were water. One walks on water without sinking as if it were dry land. Sitting cross-legged one flies through the air like a winged bird. With one's hand one touches and strokes even the sun and moon, so mighty and powerful.... One hears — by means of the divine ear-element that is purified and surpassing human capacity — both kinds of sounds, divine and human, whether near or far."
  • Mind reading: One can discern in others states of consciousness such as those with or without passion, lust, delusion, concentration, and so on.
  • Three knowledges: One can recollect past lives, see the rebirth of other beings, and know the ending of suffering and the elaborations of sensuality, becoming, and ignorance.
  • Release from Samsara: "One's heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, is released from the elaboration of sensuality, the elaboration of becoming, the elaboration of ignorance. With release, there is the knowledge, "Released." One discerns that 'Birth is ended, the higher life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'"

Upon hearing the Buddha's explanation, King Ajatasattu declared himself a lay follower of the Buddha.

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