Friday, March 20, 2020

What the Buddha did during an epidemic

Ven. Piyadassi Thera (trans.), Ratana Sutta: "Jewel Discourse" (Sn 2.1, PTS Sn 222-238; Khp 6) edited by Dhr. Seven, Ananda (Dharma Buddhist Meditation), Wisdom Quarterly, March 2020, Coronavirus Age
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Translator's introduction: According to the commentary the reason for this sutra (safeguard discourse), in brief, is an epidemic.

The ancient city of Vesali (Bihar, India) was once afflicted by a famine, causing death, especially of the impoverished. The presence of decaying corpses attracted many unclean spirits that began to haunt the city. This was followed by an epidemic.

Plagued by these three fearsome things -- famine, spirits (non-human beings), and disease -- the citizens sought the help of the Buddha, who was then staying in Rajagaha (Rajgir, India).

Followed by a large number of monastics, including Venerable Ananda, his attendant disciple [possibly his son, according to some traditions, born before Rahula, the son of a harem girl named Mrigi], the Buddha visited Vesali. With the arrival of the teacher, there came a torrential rain, which washed away the putrefying corpses.
  • Ānanda asked the Buddha to visit Vesālī. There the Buddha taught the Jewel Discourse (Ratana Sutra) as a paitta, which he then recited, thereby ridding the city of disease, drought, and unclean spirits. (Was Ananda the Buddha's son as some traditions say?)
There really are "unclean spirits" who harm.
The atmosphere was purified, the city was physically clean, and the Buddha delivered the following Jewel Discourse (Ratana Sutta) to Ven. Ananda, and gave him instructions on how to tour the city with the Licchavi citizens reciting (chanting) the discourse as a mark of protection to the people of Vesali.

Ven. Ananda followed the instructions and sprinkled blessed water from the Buddha's alms bowl. As a result the unclean spirits were exorcised, and the epidemic subsided.

Thereafter, Ven. Ananda returned with the citizens of Vesali to the public hall, where the Buddha and a number of disciples had assembled awaiting their arrival. The Buddha then recited the Jewel Discourse to the gathering:

Ratana Sutra: The "Jewel Discourse"


Dispelling fear hand gesture
1. "Whatever (non-human) beings are assembled here, terrestrial or celestial, may they all have peace of mind, and may they listen attentively to these words:

2. "O, beings, listen closely. May you all radiate loving-kindness to human beings who day and night bring offerings to you (share merit). Therefore, protect them diligently.

3. "Whatever treasure there be, whether here or in the world beyond, whatever precious jewel there be in heavenly worlds, there is none comparable to the Tathagata (the Wayfarer, the Thus Come One, the One Arrived at Suchness, the Perfect One). This precious jewel [1] is the Buddha [2]. By this (asseveration of) truth, may there be happiness.

4. "That Cessation, that Letting Go, that Deathlessness (Nirvana) supreme, the calm and collected Scythian (Shakyian) Sage directly realized. There is none comparable to this (Nirvana) Dharma. This precious jewel is the Dharma [3]. By this (asseveration of) truth, may there be happiness.

Fearless be (abhaya mudra)
5. "The Supreme Buddha extolled a path of purification (the Noble Eightfold Path) calling it the path that unfailingly brings concentration. There is nothing comparable to this concentration. This precious jewel is the Dharma. By this (asseveration of) truth, may there be happiness.

6. "The eight persons extolled by virtuous people constitute four pairs. They are the disciples of the Buddha and are worthy of offerings (arhats). Gifts given to them yield rich results. This precious jewel is the Sangha [4]. By this (asseveration of) truth, may there be happiness.

7. "With a steadfast mind and applying themselves well in the dispensation of the Buddha Gautama, free from (defilements), they have attained that which should be attained (arhatship, full enlightenment) encountering the Deathless. They enjoy the peace of Nirvana freely obtained [5]. This precious jewel is the Sangha. By this (asseveration of) truth, may there be happiness.

8. "As a post deep planted in the earth stands unshaken by the winds from the four quarters so, too, I declare is the virtuous person who comprehends with wisdom the Ennobling (Enlightening) Truths. This precious jewel is the (Noble) Sangha. By this (asseveration of) truth, may there be happiness.

9. "Those who realized the Noble Truths well taught by the one profound in wisdom (the Buddha), even though they may be exceedingly heedless, they will not take an eighth rebirth (in the sensual sphere) [6]. This precious jewel is the Sangha. By this (asseveration of) truth, may there be happiness.

10. "With the gaining of insight one abandons three states of mind -- namely self-illusion, skeptical doubt, and belief in meaningless rites and rituals, should there be any. One is also fully freed from the four states of woe and is therefore incapable of committing the six major wrongdoings [7]. This precious jewel is the Sangha. By this (asseveration of) truth, may there be happiness.

11. "Any harmful action (karma) one may still do by deed, word, or thought, one is incapable of concealing it, for it has been proclaimed that such concealing is impossible for one who has seen the Path (of Nirvana) [8]. This precious jewel is the [Noble] Sangha. By this (asseveration of), truth may there be happiness.

12. "As the woodland groves in the early heat of the summer month are crowned with blossoming flowers, even so is the sublime Dharma leading to the (calm) of Nirvana that is taught (by the Buddha) for the highest good. This precious jewel is the Buddha. By this (asseveration of) truth, may there be happiness.

13. "The Peerless One, the Excellent One, the Knower (of Nirvana), the Revealer (of Nirvana), the Bringer (of the Noble Path), taught the excellent Dharma. This precious jewel is the Buddha. By this (asseveration of) truth, may there be happiness.

14. "Their past (karma) is spent, new (karma) no more arises, mind is free from future becoming. The seed (of rebirth-consciousness) has dissolved, they have no more craving for continued rebirth. Those wise one go out (of Samsara, the Wheel of Rebirth and Suffering) as the flame of this lamp (goes out). This precious jewel is the [Noble] Sangha. By this (asseveration of) truth, may there be happiness.

The Buddha washing a sick monk himself.
15. "Whatever (non-human) beings are assembled here, terrestrial or celestial (of earth or sky), come let us salute the Buddha, the Tathagata (the Perfect One, the Wayfarer), honored by devas and humans. May there be happiness [9].

16. "Whatever beings are assembled here, terrestrial or celestial, come let us salute the perfect Dharma, honored by devas and humans. May there be happiness.

17. "Whatever beings are assembled here, terrestrial or celestial, come let us salute the perfect [Noble] Sangha, honored by devas and humans. May there be happiness."

NOTES
1. Ratana means precious "jewel." Here the term is applied to the three jewels or gems, the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
2. Literally, in the Buddha is this precious jewel.
3. Literally, in the Dharma is this precious jewel.
4. Literally, in the Sangha is this precious jewel.
5. Obtained without payment: avyayena (KhpA).
6. The reason why it is stated that there will be no eighth existence for a person who has attained the first stage of enlightenment (stream-entry) is that such a being can be reborn at most only seven times in the sense sphere (kama loka).
7. Abhithanani: i. matricide, ii. patricide, iii. the murder of an arhat (enlightened one, consummate one), iv. the shedding of a buddha's blood, v. causing a schism in the Sangha, vi. pernicious false views/beliefs (niyata micca ditthi) that lead to woeful rebirths.
8. One is a stream-enterer (sotapanna), one who has attained the first stage of awakening.
9. The last three stanzas were recited by Sakka, the King of the Devas (in two celestial world immediately above the human plane) (KhpA).

Citation: "Ratana Sutta: The Jewel Discourse" (Sn 2.1), translated from Pali by Ven. Piyadassi Thera based on Access to Insight (BCBS edition), Nov. 30, 2013. Access to Insight (accesstoinsight.org) is owned and managed by the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies.

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