Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Fruits of Recluseship (sutra)

Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven, Wisdom Quarterly; Tipitaka Network (Digha Nikaya 2)
Golden Buddha cloth hanging on city street (Georgie_girl/
(Matthew Ahmet/
The Samannaphala Sutta [samana = recluse, shaman, hermit, wandering ascetic, Buddhist monastic; phala=fruit; sutta=sutra, discourse] is second among the Long Discourses of the Buddha

This sutra gives the background and explains how an ancient Indian royal, King Ajatasattu, became a Buddhist lay disciple. It starts with the king in his palace seeking advice from his Brahmin ministers about which wandering ascetic or Brahmin to go see.
Ignoring the recommendations of those six ministers, the king turns to the royal physician Jivaka Komarabhacca for advice. Jivaka informs him that the Buddha is staying at a Mango Grove in Rajagaha, the capital of Magadha, and suggests visiting him there. 

Monks and novices in Theravada Thailand (T.O. Johnson/T.O.OtisPhoto/

Accepting this suggestion, Ajatasattu sets out on his royal mount together with Jivaka, a large number of women on elephants, and a procession of torch-bearing attendants.
Later, we learn that the king had already spoken to the other six ascetics his ministers recommended and was not pleased with their teachings.
According to the Buddha, on hearing the Dharma (the Buddha's teaching), King Ajatasattu would have become a stream-winner -- if it were not for his "heinous" karma, patricide, as he had recently killed and deposed his father, the beloved Buddhist King Bimbisara, who was himself a stream-winner. Such action is especially weighty karma with results that are certain to ripen in the very next rebirth. (Killing a stream-enterer is also very heavy karma to bear but is not among the Five Heinous Actions: harming a buddha, killing one's mother, killing one's father, killing an arhat, or creating a schism in the Sangha).
Japanese Zen (Arashiyama)
It is the night of Komudi, the full-moon day in the month of Kattika, at a time after Ajatasattu has already deposed his father Bimbisara, former king of Magadha, who was a devoted noble disciple of the Buddha (a stream enterer, the first stage of sainthood).
The dialogue is mainly between the Buddha and young Ajatasattu. Other personalities mentioned are Queen Vedehi, his mother, Prince Udayibhadda, his newborn son, and the six rival ascetic teachers of the Buddha's day. The six includes the founder of Jainism, Mahavira, who is known in Buddhist texts as the Nigantha Nataputta ["Possessionless Son-of-Nata"], whose family name is Aggivessana.

The Six Rival Teachers
The rival teachers mentioned are characterized as representative of various Indian philosophical movements at that time. They are Purana Kassapa, Makkhali Gosala, Ajita Kesakambala, Pakudha Kaccayana, Sancaya Belatthaputta, and Nigantha Nataputta (Mahavira, which like the name "the Buddha" is simply a title meaning "Great Hero," an epithet used for the Buddha in earlier times).

This discourse opens a window into their individual teachings, as reported by King Ajatasattu to the Buddha. Unfortunately, each of these accounts is very brief.

Respect of Ascetics
Novice with candle in Shwe Yan Pyay, Burma (

Indian culture respects ascetics. Here an "ascetic" (samana) refers to a person who has given up his or her family and social life to search for greater happiness by finding answers to the ultimate questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? What is the meaning of life?
This goal of asceticism was later expanded in Buddhism to include the greater happiness of the world. King Ajatasattu, one of the most powerful royals of the day in India, expressed his respect for recluses, even if that person was formerly his servant.

Prior to Mahavira and the Buddha accepting female disciples into their wandering ascetic orders (sanghas), all samanas were male. Mahavira was first to admit them. But the Buddha, whose mission was to establish the Dharma with male and female monastics and male and female lay disciples, was the first to do so as a world-religion, a universal teaching that spread all around the world. 

Jainism, on the other hand, though slightly older, never traveled beyond India to become a universal teaching. Jains did travel and therefore there are communities elsewhere but not Mahavira's teaching itself. 

Females were given the same duties and responsibilities as their male counterparts  in the Buddhist monastic order. (The widespread belief that the Buddha imposed eight additional rules on his stepmother, the first Buddhist nun, is not the case, as a textual analysis of the Bhikkhuni Vinaya reveals, according to Ven. Ayya Tathaaloka).

Fruits of becoming a Buddhist recluse
Theravada Buddhist nuns of California, with Ayya Tathaaloka, fourth on the right (AFB)
The title of the sutra literally means "recluseship-fruits," the benefits of becoming an wandering ascetic, a Buddhist monk or nun.

Basic rewards
When asked what these fruits are, the Buddha provides the king with satisfactory answers on the many rewards of practicing in accordance with the Buddha's Dharma and (Monastic) Discipline.
  • One is respected even by kings, as well as being provided with one's basic necessities, safety, and protection.
  • One is endowed with restraint and virtue (as explained in the The Net of All-Embracing Views).
  • One remains with guarded sense faculties.
  • One is mindful and clearly aware (sati-sampajana).
  • One is contented.
Intermediate rewards
Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhist nuns with prayer wheel and beads (
By withdrawing and detaching from the Five Hindrances, further spiritual benefits arise as one succeeds in the practice of "meditation" (bhavana, jhana, jhaneti, kammathana):
  1. the first four meditative absorptions (rupa-jhanas),
  2. insight-knowledges (vipassanā-ñāṇa),
  3. advanced capacities.
The Highest reward
The highest reward, which is the ultimate goal of the Buddhist path, is the realization and full penetration of the Four Noble Truths, which leads to enlightenment and NIRVANA, which is complete freedom from samsara (the otherwise endless round of death and rebirth and suffering).

Bodhi Bytes and Campus News

The title of this sutra is from Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation. Other translations are "The Fruits of the Homeless Life" (Maurice Walshe), "The Fruits of the Life of a Recluse" (Rhys Davis), "The Fruits of the Life of a Samana" (BPA), and "The Rewards of Spiritual Practice" (by Ayya Khema in German as Die Früchte des spirituellen Lebens and Visible Here and Now in English), another German version is available from Pali Kanon.

No comments: