Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Differences among Enlightened Beings

Bhante G., Abbot of Bhavana Society, The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation

...The highest respect goes to those monastics who possess not only liberation in both ways but the six abhiññas [magical powers] or "super-knowledges," which are the exercise of:
  1. psychic powers
  2. the divine ear
  3. the ability to read the minds of others
  4. the recollection of past lives
  5. knowledge of the death and rebirth of beings
  6. knowledge of final liberation.

The Buddha declares that a monastic endowed with the six abhiññas [although the exact same thing is said of all arhats] is worthy of gifts and hospitality, worthy of offerings and reverential salutations, a supreme field of merit for the world (A.iii,280-81).

In the period after the Buddha's demise, what qualified a monastic to give guidance to others was endowment with [these] qualities:

  • moral virtue
  • learning
  • contentment
  • mastery over the four jhanas (absorptions)
  • the five mundane abhiññas (superpowers)
  • attainment of the cankerless liberation of mind
  • liberation by wisdom (M.iii,11-12).

Perhaps it was because he was extolled by the Buddha for his facility in the meditative attainments and the abhiññas that the Venerable Maha Kassapa assumed the presidency of the First Buddhist Council held in Rajagaha [modern Rajgir, India] after the Buddha's passing away.

The graduation in the veneration given to arhats on the basis of their mundane spiritual achievements implies something about the value system of early Buddhism that is not often recognized. It suggests that while final liberation may be the ultimate and most important value, it is not the sole value even in the spiritual domain.

Alongside it, as embellishments rather than alternatives, stand mastery over the range of the mind and mastery over the sphere of the knowable. The first is accomplished by the attainment of the eight mundane jhanas, the second by the attainment of the abhiññas.

Together, final liberation adorned with this twofold mastery is esteemed as the highest and most desirable way of actualizing the ultimate goal. See full book>>

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