In pensive thought (Determining all beings)
short period after the awakenment , while the Lord Buddha stayed
under the Banyan tree , he stated that it was too difficult for
ordinary people to understand dhamma and bring it into practices. He
was discouraged to teach dhamma.
Dhamma that I have found is profound, hard to see, hard to understand;
it is peaceful, sublime, beyond the sphere of mere reasoning, subtle,
to be experienced by the wise. But this generation takes delight in
attachment, is delighted by attachment, rejoices in attachment and as
such it is hard for them to see this truth, namely�Nibbana.
, with his great mercy and loving - kindness , he clearly understood
that living creatures possessed different habits just like nature of a
though the Buddha was inclined not to teach the Dhamma, another part of
him, which was stronger, decided to teach. Having made up his mind, the
Buddha reflected on the different natures of beings in the world and
saw that they could be divided into four levels or groups:
First group: Extremely clever-merely listening to the name of a teaching they immediately understand it.
Second group: very clever: after listening to an explanation of the teaching, they understand it.
Third group: moderately clever: the “veneyya” beings. They must devote a lot of time to training their minds before they can understand.
the “padaparama,” the fools, the idiots, who are unteachable. In other
words they are the people the Buddha had nothing to do with.
The first group are like lotuses that have grown and risen above the water level. As soon as they contact sunlight, they open out. The second group are like lotuses that are just under the surface of the water, ready to rise above it. The third group are like lotuses that are deeper down in the water, which will at a later time grow up and rise above the water level. The fourth group are
like lotuses that are very deep down in the water, so deep that there
is no way they will rise above the surface because they fall food to
fishes and turtles. The Buddha saw the different levels of wisdom among
people like this.
Therefore , he decided to teach dhamma in different level that fit for each living creatures.
A Talk to Upaka
THE Blessed One wondered who was worthy
of being the first to hear the word of salvation. “Where is there a man
of virtue, intelligence and energy, to whom I can teach the law?” he
asked himself. “His heart must be innocent of hatred, his mind must be
tranquil, and he must not keep the knowledge to himself as if it were
some dark secret.”
He thought of Rudraka, son of Rama but he learned that Rudraka, son of Rama, had been dead seven days. He thought of Arata Kalama ,but he learned that Arata Kalama had been dead three days . He
thought again, and he remembered Rudraka’s five disciples who had once
joined him. They were virtuous; they were energetic; they would
certainly understand the law. The Blessed One knew, by virtue of his
intelligence, that Rudraka’s five disciples were living in the
“I had no master,” answered the Blessed One. “There is no one like me. I alone am wise, calm, incorruptible.”
“What a great master you must be!” said Upaka. “Yes, I am the only master in this world; my equal can not be found on earth or in the sky.” “Where are you going?” asked Upaka.
“I am going to
said the Blessed One, “and there I shall light the lamp that will bring
light into the world, a light that will dazzle even the eyes of the
blind. I am going to
there I shall beat the drums that will awaken mankind, the drums that
will sound even in the ears of the deaf. I am going to
Upaka left in disbelief , so Lord Buddha continued on his way.
The first sermon [Dhammachak Kappawattana Sutta]
the full-moon day at the eight month ( Asalha Month) , the Buddha
taught dhamma to Bhadda Vaggi ( a group of five disciples) at Isipatana
forest , Banarasi city , leading to the first monk - Kondanna - in the
world Triple Gems � Buddha , Dhamma and Sangha completed the first time
in this day. The dhamma taught in this day was called the First Sermon
or Dhammacak kappavattanasutta. The First Sermon prohibited two
extremist ways. The first is Kamasukhallikanuyoga or self � indulgence.
The other was Attakilamatanuyoga or self - mortification. The Lord
Buddha taught the middle way or Majjhima � patipada � Magga 8 which
were the ways to cease Dhukka ( suffering) and Catari Ariyasaccani (
the Four Noble Truths) respectively. This day was one of the most
important Buddhist days so called - Asalhapuja Day.
The first sermon (Throne sitting)
The first sermon [standing]
Teaching the five Brahmins
Now the Buddha
wanted to tell other people how to become wise, good and do service for
others. He thought, “Now Asita, Alara and Uddaka are dead but my
friends Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji are in Benares.
I must go there and talk to them.”
Then he set out for
Benares, till at last he came to a grove where his five friends were.
This grove at Sarnath was called the Deer Park. They saw him coming
towards them and one said to another, “Look yonder! There is Gotama,
the luxury-loving fellow who gave up fasting and fell back into a life
of ease and comfort. Don�t speak to him or show him any respect. Let
nobody go and offer to take his bowl or his robe. We�ll just leave a
mat there for him to sit on if he wants to and if he does not, he can
stand. Who is going to attend on a good-for-nothing ascetic like him.”
However, as the Buddha
came nearer and nearer, they began to notice that he had changed. There
was something about him, something noble and majestic such as they had
never seen before. And in spite of themselves, before they knew what
they were doing, they forgot all they had agreed on. One hastened
forward to meet him, and respectfully took his bowl and robe, another
busily prepared a seat for him, while a third hurried off and brought
him water to wash his feet.
After he had taken a
seat the Buddha spoke to them and said, “Listen, ascetics, I have the
way to deathlessness. Let me tell you, let me teach you. And if you
listen and learn and practise as I tell you, very soon you will know
for yourselves, not in some future life but here and now in this
present lifetime, that what I say is true. You will realise for
yourself the state that is beyond all life and death.”
Naturally the five
ascetics were very astonished to hear their old companion talking like
this. They had seen him give up the hard life of fasting and
consequently believed that he had given up all efforts to find the
truth. So initially they simply did not believe him, and they told him
so. But the Buddha replied, “You
are mistaken, Ascetics. I have not given up all effort. I am not living
a life of self-indulgence, idle comfort and ease. Listen to me. I
really have attained supreme knowledge and insight. And I can teach it
to you so you may attain it for yourselves.”
Finally the five were
willing to listen to him and he delivered his first teachings. He
advised his followers to follow the Middle Way, avoiding the two
extremes of self-indulgence and self-torture. For the first time he
taught the Four Noble Truths and how to practise the Eightfold Path,
the Noble Way that would lead to freedom from suffering and to the way
of enlightenment. With the conversion of the five ascetics at the Deer
Park at Sarnath, the order of monks was established.
Granted first Bhikkhu
teaching the First Preach to the Bhadda Vaggi and then Kondanna became awakened , the Lord Buddha allowed Kondanna to adopt the ascetic
life through Ahi� Bhikkhu. Kondanna became the first Buddhist monk. Ahi
� Bhikkhu was provided for those believing in Buddhism by the Buddha
saying � They shall be Bhikkhus and accurately practice dharma for no
, the Buddha taught dhamma to Yasakulbutra who escaped his hectic house
to see the former at Isipatana forest. He persuaded Yasakulbutra to
listen to the following dharma. No hectic ones , no troubles. He also
taught Anupubbikatha ( a gradual instruction) to Yasakulbutra who
became enlightened. Yasakulbutra adopted the ascetic life and later
attained Arahantship. While the Lord Buddha taught dharma , he did it
with strong intention from the first saving to the last one.
Pointing way for Princes (Yasa and friends)
Yasa wearies of his wealth and wanders into the Deer Park; meeting the Buddha, he receives a teaching
The Buddha, together with the five noble disciples, spent the rains retreat at the
at Isipatana, the place of his first teaching. That was the first rains
retreat. At this stage the Buddha did not yet travel around to teach
others because it was the rainy season, but a young man named Yasa did
come to see him.
Yasa was the son of a rich man in
His parents had built three mansions for him, one for each of the
seasons [hot, rainy and cool], and in each of the mansions there were a
great number of dancing girls to entertain him. One day, at midnight,
Yasa awoke and saw the dancing girls sleeping in various ungainly
postures (here the story is just the same as for the Bodhisatta on the
day he left home for the homeless life) and became wearied of his life.
Yasa ran away from his home in the dead of night, and made for the
muttering to himself as he went, “Here it is confusing, here it is
oppressive!” He was referring to the confusion and oppression he felt
that time a sound came in response from the edge of the forest: “Here
it is not confusing, here there is no obstruction!”. It was the Buddha. At the time of this exchange it was very late, almost dawn in fact. The Buddha said to Yasa, “Come, come here and sit down. I will teach you.”
approached the Buddha and bowed to his feet, then sat down to one side.
The Buddha gave him a teaching, at the completion of which Yasa
attained Arahatship, full enlightenment. He asked for admission to the
Buddha’s order as a monk.
long after Yasa had become a monk, a great number of his friends, 54 of
them, having heard of his going forth, went to see the Buddha, listened
to the teaching and were all, like Yasa, fully enlightened. Thus within
the first vassa, or rains retreat, there were altogether 61 Arahats in
Taking a Meal (at Yasa’s house )
Once , the Buddha taught dhamma to Yasa. Yasa adopted the ascetic life and later attained Arahantship. After
teaching dhamma to Yasa and his father , the Lord Buddha went to have
food at the house of Yasa�s father. This was the first time the Lord
Buddha ever having food inside a house. Then , he taught Anupubbikatha
to Yasa�s mother and ex-wife who later became the first two female
After the rains retreat, on the 15th waxing day of the twelfth lunar month, the Buddha convened a meeting of his 60 disciples (savaka) at the
in Isipatana. All of those disciples were Arahats. The Buddha’s
intention in calling the meeting was to send these disciples out to
spread the teaching to other places.
At the meeting, the Buddha addressed the monks (bhikkhus) as follows:
Released am I from all bonds. Released are you from all bonds. Go ye
forth to declare the teaching in other lands for the benefit and
happiness of the many. Go each of you alone. Give the teaching that is
beautiful in the beginning, in the middle and in the highest levels,
which is pure, and which I have declared to you. Monks! There are in
this world people with only few defilements and with sufficient
intelligence to understand the Dhamma. But because they have had no
chance to hear the Dhamma they do not obtain the benefit that they
rightly should obtain. Go forth. I myself will go to declare the
teaching at Uruvela Senanigama.”
on the morning of the first waning moon of the twelfth lunar month, the
60 disciples split up, each going alone to spread the teaching
according to the Buddha’s instructions. The Buddha himself journeyed to
Uruvela Senanigama, which was where he had gained his own
enlightenment. Reaching there, the Buddha proceeded to the ashram of a
group of famous ascetics there by name of “the three brother ascetics.”
oldest brother’s name was Uruvela Kassapa. He had 500 disciples and had
an ashram for performing religious practice, worshipping fire on the
banks of the northern
The middle brother’s name was Nadi Kassapa. He had a following of 300,
while the youngest brother’s name was Gaya Kassapa, with a following of
200. They had established separate ashrams on sand banks just south of
the oldest brother.
Buddha went first to the ashram of the oldest brother. Approaching the
leader, he asked for a place to stay. The ascetic leader told the
Buddha that the only place left was the fire house, but that a
ferocious and dangerous Naga was living there.
by the stranger?s self-confidence and personality Kashyapa did not dare
refuse, but warned him that the place was haunted by a venomous divine
But the Buddha did not allow himself to be frightened off, and spent
the night in the hut. As soon as he went in the hut the serpent entered
and a terrible struggle ensued. Smoke against smoke appeared, fire
against fire, so that the whole structure seemed to go up in flames.
While the brahmin ascetics seem stricken with horror and the novices
rush forward with jugs of water to put out the fire. In the end the
supernatural power of the Buddha overcame the naga’s fury, and he
placed the serpent in his begging bowl. When morning came, Kashyapa and
his followers went to the hut and said: “The young monk must have been
fiercely burned by the serpent?s fire.” But the Buddha came out of the
hut and presented the distressed brahmins with the serpent quietly
coiled inside his alms bowl. Totally overpowered by this miraculous
feat, Kashyapa and his five hundred threw their ritual utensils into
the river and converted to the Buddhist faith. Sometime after their
conversion the Buddha delivered the well-known Fire Sermon, that if
anyone?s senses are ruled by greed, hatred and delusion, all his
perceptions will kindle, because they arouse further desires and
aversions in him: for him the world is on fire. But whoever exerts
control over the six senses is free from lusts and passions, and will
gain freedom from rebirth.
Stopping the torrent to overflow
a great flood arose, the ascetics thought that the Buddha must have
surely drowned, and took boats to go and find him, only to find that he
was walking meditation amidst the water.
Meditating amidst the water
gathered its volumn to from a circle around the Lord Buddha. Within the
circle where the ground was completely dry, the Lord Buddha brgan to
walk in meditation. This demonstration of his power were softened their
pride. Thus the leader of the ascetic group floated his
fire-worshipping gear on the Neranjara River, bowed at the Buddha’s
feet and asked for acceptance as a disciple. The two younger brothers
who lived downstream, seeing their older brother’s gear floating down
the river, thought that some accident must have befallen him and went
to see what had happened. When the two brothers found out what had happened they also became followers of the Buddha.
Buddha spent two full months converting the ascetics, after which the
ascetic who led the largest group, Uruvela Kassapa, becoming
disillusioned, realized that he was not an Arahat as he had at first
mistakenly believed. His realization was a result of the power of the
Buddha’s silent teaching.
Taking cloth from the corpse
the Lord Buddha stayed at Uruvela � Kassapa , Punnathasi , a female
servant of a millionaire in Uruvelasenanikom , passed away. Her corpse
was brought to be dropped at a place close to where the Lord Buddha
stayed. He went to see the shroud. He cleaned the shroud to eliminate
the corpse smell and made it as his robe. According to life � story of
the Buddha , Indra came down to help the Lord Buddha from washing ,
drying and serving the robe. All were completed in one night.
Sewing his own clothing
Lord Buddha was staying at Veluvana monastery in Rajagaha. At that time
, the robe of Anuruddha monk was so torn so he tried to look for
clothes to do a new robe. Then , an angel named Jalini who once was his
wife in the previous life had offered him the cloth by placing it at a
pile of rags. When the monk had seen the clothes , he took it to do a
new robe. In sewing the new robe, the Lord Buddha along with all the
senior monks including Venerable Kassapa had joined to give the helping
hands. The Lord Buddha himself helped put thread into the needle ,
while other monks helped spin the thread. The action of the Lord Buddha
who presided over the group of monk showed his great leadership and
showed the proper deed of being together and the importance of sewing
the monk�s robe.
Concentration: The way to discernment,
knowledge and release: If we class concentration according to how it’s
practiced in general, there are two sorts: right and wrong.
Concentration: Why is it called wrong? Because it doesn’t give rise to the
liberating insight that leads to the transcendent qualities. For example, after
attaining a certain amount of concentration, we may use it in the wrong way, as
in magic — hypnotizing other people or spirits of the dead so as to have them
in our power, or exerting magnetic attraction so as to seduce or dupe other
people — all of which causes the heart to become deceitful and dishonest. Or
we may use concentration to cast spells and practice sorcery, displaying powers
in hopes of material reward. All of these things are based on nothing more than
momentary (khanika) concentration.
type of Wrong Concentration is that used to develop forms of knowledge falling
outside of the Buddha’s teachings and belonging to yogic doctrines and
practices: for example, staring at an external object — such as the sun or the
moon — or at certain kinds of internal objects. When the mind becomes steady
for a moment, you lose your sense of the body and become fastened on the object
to the point where your mindfulness and alertness lose their moorings. You then
drift along in the wake of the object in whatever direction your thoughts may
take you: up to see heaven or down to see hell, seeing true things and false
mixed together, liking or disliking what you see, losing your bearings, lacking
the mindfulness and alertness that form the present.
instance of Wrong Concentration is when — after you’ve begun practicing to the
point where you’ve attained threshold (upacara) concentration — you
then stare down on the present, focusing, say, on the properties of breath,
fire or earth, forbidding the mind to think; staring down, getting into a
trance until the property becomes more and more refined, the mind becomes more
and more refined; using force to suppress the mind until awareness becomes so
dim that you lose mindfulness and alertness and all sense of the body and mind:
Everything is absolutely snuffed out and still, with no self-awareness. This is
called the plane of non-perception (asaññi-bhava), where you have no
perception of anything at all. Your awareness isn’t well-rounded, your
mindfulness lacks circumspection, and as a result discernment has no chance to
arise. This is called Wrong Concentration, Wrong Release, a mental blank — no
awareness of past, present or future.
instance of Wrong Concentration is when we can give rise to momentary
concentration, threshold concentration, all the way to the four levels of
jhana, but aren’t adept at entering and leaving these levels, so that we focus
in until only the property of consciousness is left, with no sense of the body:
This is called arupa jhana. Bodily processes disappear, leaving only the
four types of mental acts, which form the four levels of arupa jhana
Craft of the Heart], the first being when we focus on a feeling of
space or emptiness. The mind attains such a relaxed sense of pleasure that we
may take it to be a transcendent state or nibbana, and so we search no
further, becoming idle and lazy, making no further effort because we assume
that we’ve finished our task.
short, we simply think, or focus, without having any finesse in what we’re
doing — entering, leaving, or staying in place — and as a result our
concentration becomes wrong.
Concentration: This starts with threshold concentration, which acts as the
basis for the four levels of jhana, beginning with the first: vitakka,
thinking of whichever aspect of the body you choose to take as your object,
such as the four physical properties, starting with the in-and-out breath. And
then vicara: adjusting, expanding, letting the breath sensations flow
throughout the body and at the same time evaluating the results you obtain. For
instance, if the body feels uncomfortable or constricted, adjust the breath
until it feels right throughout the body. The mind then sticks to its single
object: This is termed ekaggata. When mindfulness enters into the body,
keeping the breath in mind, and alertness is present in full measure, keeping
track of the causes that produce results congenial to body and mind, then your
sense of the body will benefit. Bathed with mindfulness and alertness, it feels
light, malleable and full — saturated with the power of mindfulness and
alertness. The mind also feels full: This is termed piti. When both body
and mind are full, they grow quiet, like a child who, having eaten his fill,
rests quiet and content. This is the cause of pleasure on the level of the
Dhamma, termed sukha. These factors, taken together, form one stage of
continue practicing for a length of time, the sense of fullness and pleasure in
the body becomes greater. Ekaggata — interest and absorption in your
one object — becomes more intense because you have seen the results it
produces. The mind becomes steady and determined, focused with full mindfulness
and alertness, thoroughly aware of both body and mind, and thus you can let go
of your thinking and evaluating, and enter the second level of jhana.
second level of jhana has three factors. Ekaggata: Keep the mind with
its one object, the breath, which is now more subtle and refined than before,
leaving simply a feeling of piti, fullness of body and mind. The
sensations of the body don’t clash with one another. The four properties –
earth, water, fire, and wind — are properly balanced. The mind and body don’t
interfere with each other, so both feel full and satisfied. The body feels
pleasant (sukha) — solitary and quiet. The mind, too, feels pleasant
and at ease — solitary and quiet. When you’re mindful, alert, and adept at
doing this — entering, staying in place, and withdrawing — side-benefits will
result. For example, knowledge of certain matters will arise either on its own or
after you’ve posed a question in the mind. Doubts about certain issues will be
put to rest. As the sense of bodily pleasure grows stronger, the sense of
mental pleasure and ease grows stronger as well, and thus you can let go of the
sense of fullness. Awareness at this point becomes refined and so can detect a
subtle level of the breath that feels bright, open, soothing, and spacious.
This enables you to go on to the third level of jhana.
third level of jhana has two factors, pleasure and singleness of preoccupation.
The pleasure you’ve been experiencing begins to waver in flashes as it reaches
saturation point and begins to change. You thus become aware of another,
subtler level of sensation, and so the mind shifts to a sense of openness and
emptiness. The breath grows still, with no moving in or out, full in every part
of the body. This allows you to let go of the sense of pleasure. The mind
enters this stage through the power of mindfulness and alertness. Awareness is
tranquil and still, bright in the present, steady and on its own. It lets go of
the breath and is simply observant. The mind is still, with no shifting back
and forth. Both breath and mind are independent. The mind can let down its
burdens and cares. The heart is solitary and one, infused with mindfulness and
alertness. When you reach this stage and stay with it properly, you’re
practicing the fourth level of jhana.
fourth level of jhana has two factors. Ekaggata: Your object becomes
absolutely one. Upekkha: You can let go of all thoughts of past and
future; the five Hindrances are completely cut away. The mind is solitary,
clear, and radiant. The six properties — earth, water, fire, wind, space, and
consciousness — become radiant. The heart feels spacious and clear, thoroughly
aware all around through the power of mindfulness and alertness. As mindfulness
becomes tempered and strong, it turns into intuitive knowledge, enabling you to
see the true nature of body and mind, sensations and mental acts, past,
present, and future.
happens, if you aren’t skilled, you can become excited or upset. In other
words, you may develop pubbenivasanussati-ñana, the ability to remember
previous lives. If what you see is good, you may get engrossed, which will
cause your mindfulness and alertness to weaken. If what you see is bad or
displeasing, you may get upset or distressed, so intent on what you remember
that your sense of the present is weakened.
may develop cutupapata-ñana: The mind focuses on the affairs of other
individuals, and you see them as they die and are reborn on differing levels.
If you get carried away with what you see, your reference to the present will
weaken. If you find this happening, you should take the mind in hand. If
anything pleasing arises, hold back and keep mindfulness firm. Don’t let
yourself fall into kamasukhallikanuyoga, contentment and delight. If
anything bad or displeasing arises, hold back — because it can lead to attakilamathanuyoga,
discontentment and distress. Draw the mind into the present and guard against
all thoughts of approval and disapproval. Keep the mind neutral. This is the
middle way, the mental attitude that forms the Path and gives rise to another
level of awareness in which you realize, for instance, how inconstant it is to
be a living being: When things go well, you’re happy and pleased; when things
go badly, you’re pained and upset. This awareness enables you truly to know the
physical sensations and mental acts you’re experiencing and leads to a sense of
disenchantment, termed nibbida-ñana. You see all fashionings as
inconstant, harmful, stressful, and hard to bear, as lying beyond the control
of the heart.
point, the mind disentangles itself: This is termed viraga-dhamma,
dispassion. It feels no desire or attraction; it doesn’t gulp down or lie
fermenting in sensations or mental acts, past, present, or future. It develops
a special level of intuition that comes from within. What you never before
knew, now you know; what you never before met with, now you see, through the
power of mindfulness and alertness gathering in at a single point and turning
into asavakkhaya-ñana, enabling you to disentangle and free yourself
from mundane states of mind — in proportion to the extent of your practice –
and so attain the transcendent qualities, beginning with stream entry.
this is termed Right Concentration: being skilled at entering, staying in
place, and withdrawing, giving rise to —
Right Intuition: correct, profound and penetrating;
Right View: correct views, in line with the truth;
Right Practice: in which you conduct yourself with full
circumspection in all aspects of the triple training, with virtue,
concentration, and discernment coming together in the heart.
then, is Right Concentration. For the most part, people who have attained true
insight have done so in the four levels of jhana. Although there may be others
who have gone wrong in the practice of jhana, we’ll achieve the proper results
if we study so as to gain an understanding and adjust our practice so as to
bring it into line.
There was a phase in history, between the
early years of the14th century, when Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka enjoyed very
close ties, thanks to a shared interest in the words of the
Exalted, Noble, Blessed, Awakened One with full awareness.
At that time, the
was not seen as a divider. The words of the Exalted, Noble, Blessed, Awakened
One with full awareness had many adherents in Tamil Nadu, especially in the
influential urban cum trading centers.
As the religion of the elite, the words of the
Exalted, Noble, Blessed, Awakened One with full awareness contributed
tremendously to Tamil Nadu’s art, literature and culture. This was so even when
the Tamil Nadu kings, namely, the Pallavas, Cholas, Cheras, and Pandyas. Contrary
to the general impression, Tamil kings patronised Buddhism.
Close ties developed between the Buddhist monasteries, monks
and scholars in Tamil Nadu and those in
Buddhist country. The interactions between Buddhist scholars and institutions
and develop Buddhist thought and action in both countries.
The fascinating story of the historical links between the
Buddhists of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka was narrated by Dr S Pathmanathan,
Professor of History at the University of Peradeniya, in his Fourth Vesak
Commemoration Lecture delivered under the auspices of the Deputy High
Commission of Sri Lanka at Chennai on May 14.
Buddhism in Tamil Nadu Buddhism began to make an impact on
Tamil Nadu only in 4th century AD, says Prof Pathmanathan. According to him,
Buddhism flourished in Tamil Nadu in two phases: (a) The early years of Pallava
rule (400-650 AD) (b) The Chola period (mid 9th to early 14th century AD).
During the Pallava period, Tamil Nadu boasted of “outstanding”
Buddhist monks who had made “remarkable” contributions to Buddhist
thought and learning, he says.
The commentaries of Buddhadutta (5th century AD) had won him
“wide and enduring” reputation in the history of the Theravada
which in subsequent years, became the predominant form of Buddhism in
During this period, the other great Buddhist commentator
from Tamil Nadu was Dharmapala, a resident of Kanchi or Kanchipuram, near
Chennai. Nagapattinam, further south, along the Tamil Nadu coast, was another
major seat of Buddhist learning.
This was where Dharmapala wrote “Paramatta Dipani”
and the “Paramatta Manjusha”, the latter a commentary on
Buddhaghosa’s “Visuddhimagga”. Dinnaga (early 6th century AD) and
Bodhidharma were two other renowned Buddhist scholars associated with Kanchi. An
adherent of the Mahayana
occupies a “special” position as the founder of Buddhist logic.
Bodhidharma was an exponent of the Dhyana school of thought.
Manimekalai The 6th century Tamil Buddhist work
“Manimekalai” by Sattanar, is perhaps the most famous of the work
done in Tamil Nadu. “The Manimekalai is a product of a tradition of
learning cultivated in the leading monastic centers in Tamilakam (another name
for Tamil Nadu).
It is essentially a work expounding the doctrines and
propagating the values of Buddhism,” says Prof Pathmanathan. “The
Manimekalai does not seem to have been written with a view to promoting the
claims of any particular sect of Buddhism to superiority over others.
It is essentially synthetic in character and the emphasis is
uniformly on the fundamentals of Buddhist teaching and practice,” he
notes. Manimekalai was not about individual salvation only. It stressed the
need for giving relief to those who were distressed and in want.
“Kuntalakesi” was another great Tamil work written to propagate
Under the Cholas (9th to the 13th century AD)
Nagapattinam became a major centre of Buddhism. Pathmanathan says that Rajaraja
Perumpalli and the Rajendra Chola Perumpalli were the principal monastic
establishments during Chola rule in the
These were named after Chola Kings. These
establishments were handsomely funded by merchants and artisans as well as
royalty. Under the Cholas, the Tamil Nadu Buddhists produced exquisite bronzes
for which the Tamil country is well known even now. Among the great religious
works of this period, Pathmanathan mentions “Veeracholiyam” a
treatise on grammar and poetics.
It was written by the monk Puttamittirar (Buddhamitra) of
Ponparri during the reign of Vira Rajendra. Chola rule also saw the revival of
the Theravada school in terms of the growth of study centers. Prof Pathmanathan
notes that this also led to the revival of Pali studies in Tamil Nadu.
The monk Anuruddha from Kaverinagara of Kanchi, was one of
the earliest exponents of Theravada Buddhism in Tamil Nadu. He summarized the
“Abbidhamma” in two works called “Paramattha-Vinicchaya”
and “Namarupa”. Kassapa, from the Chola country, also won acclaim. A
Brahmin, he was a strong advocate of the strict observance of Vinaya rules.
The interaction between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan monks
finds mention in “Manimekalai” which is set in the Tamil towns of
Kaveripumpattinam, Kanchi and Vanchi.
There is mention about the presence of wandering monks from
in Vanchi, which was the capital of the Chera kings of
wrote that there were around 300 Sri Lankan monks in the monastery at the
southern sector of Kanchipuram.
The “Pattini” cult, which was
mentioned in “Manimekalai” was later to become a major cult in
Pattini, the heroine of another Tamil classic “Silapadikaram” was
deified in Tamil Nadu. Later, she went on to become one of the
had been, and is, the bastion of Theravada Buddhism. But Mahayana Buddhism
appeared on the scene in
centuries. Prof Pathmanathan attributes this to South Indian influence.
Mahayana Buddhism created schisms in Anuradhapura, then the
seat of Buddhism in
three “Nikayas” or chapters, namely, Maha Vihara, Abhayagiri Vihara
and Dakkhina Vihara.
The conversion of Mahasena to the Mahayana school was
brought about by Sanghamitta, a monk from Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu, who had
been invited by Mahasena’s father, King Gothabhaya (253-266 AD) to teach his
The arrival of the disciples of the South Indian monk,
Dhammaruchi, from Pallavarama (probably Andhra Pradesh), made a great deal of
difference to the Abhayagiri Vihara.
It became a seat of Mahayana Buddhism. Abhayagiri Vihara and
the Dakkhina Vihara prospered. According to the Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hsien, the
orders had 5,000 monks.
The arrival in
of Vajrabodhi, (7th.century AD) a monk from
was a shot-in-the-arm for the Mahayana school in the island. His disciple,
Amoghavajra, who came to
is credited with “having fixed the Mahayana doctrine in its final form,”
says Prof Pathmanathan. The Maha Vihara too had a Tamil Nadu connection.
It was associated with the famous Tamil monk-scholar
Buddhadutta (5th century AD). Hailing from Uraiyur in Tamil Nadu, Buddhadutta
was ordained at the Maha Vihara in
He later became a great exponent of Theravada Buddhism and the Pali language in
“A Sri Lankan tradition attributes to Buddhadutta the
authorship of Maduratta Vilasini and the Jinalankara. The former is a
commentary on the Buddhavamsa, which is a compilation of legends dealing with
the lives of Gotama,” says Prof Pathmanathan. Tamil Nadu gave shelter to
fleeing Lankan monks When Magha of Kalinga persecuted Buddhists during his rule
in Sri Lanka in the early 13th century, monks from the island fled to Tamil
The great Pali chronicle of Sri Lankan history, the
“Mahawamsa” mentions this exodus and says that monks found shelter in
the land of the “Pandus” “Cholas” and “other
peoples”. The Sinhala monks were looked after by Chudaganga, a Vanniyar
feudatory of the Pandya king of
A Sinhala monk, Bhadanta Ananda, who had sought refuge in
Gunakara Perumpalli, had left for posterity valuable information on Buddhism in
Tamil Nadu. Vijayabahu III facilitates return Later, in the same century, King
Vijayabahu III (1232-1235 AD) brought the Buddhist refugees back, after having
established peace in
with Tamil Nadu continued to be maintained.
King Parakramabahu II (1236-1271 AD) invited leading monks
like Dhammakitti from the Chola country “to render assistance in
re-establishing the community of monks on a formal basis.” The Mahawamsa
lauds Dhammakitti as being “radiant in the glory of moral discipline.”
Prof Pathmanathan quotes fellow Sri Lankan historian,
Amaradasa Liyanagamage, to say that King Parakramabahu II revived Buddhism in
from Jambudvipa (
“Although Jambudvipa meant the entire Indian
sub-continent and even much more, in this context, in all probability, it meant
the Chola country, where Theravada Buddhism was very much alive during this
period,” Liyanagamage says. Sri Lanka preserves documents By the 5th
century AD, confrontation between the Maha Vihara, Abhayagiri Vihara and
Dakkhina Vihara orders ceased, and they started documentation and preservation
of texts for mutual benefit.
There was a regular exchange of visits between the three
orders and between
significant that in the conservation and transmission of Buddhist literary
heritage the Buddhist establishments of
held a unique position,” says Prof Pathmanathan.
“The whole range of Early Buddhist
literature that had been transmitted to them from India during the early stages
of their development were preserved, copied and distributed among leading
monasteries where they were deposited and studied with assiduity by generations
of learned monks.
“Early Buddhist literary heritage, which is also an
important component of Indian cultural heritage, was preserved almost in its
entirety in the island, and transmitted from Sri Lankan monasteries to Myanmar,
Thailand and other South East Asian countries.”
“Another notable contribution by the Sri Lankan
monastic orders was the development of a wide range of commentarial
literature,” he notes. Sri Lankan monks pioneer recording history It was
that the recording of history commenced in a systematic way, following an early
Buddhist tradition of chronicling the life and work of the Buddha.
The Sri Lankan Pali chronicles “Mahavamsa” and
“Dipavamsa” have helped historians with valuable material on the life
and times of ancient
“A notable feature of this tradition was the development of a scheme of
chronology reckoned from the ‘parinibbana’ (pari nirvana) of the Buddha,”
says Prof. Pathmanathan.
“This tradition was the precursor and the prototype for
historical traditions that were developed in the island,” he says. (
body are revealed beneath the barest amount of flesh that still remains.
The realism characteristic of this work, and in particular the
familiarity with the details of human anatomy, is inherited from the Hellenic
worlds in which there was a preoccupation with detailed depictions of physical
Tamilakum was a region which had the north-east Ventcata
hill or the Tiruppati hill, the southern part of the modern Andhra Pradesh, as
its northern border, Kanniya Kumari or
bay of Bengal and the
eastern and western borders respectively.
The ancient Tamilakum encompassed modern Kerala too.
Tamilakum was actually located in the southern part of the Indian peninsula.
Now Tamil Nadu is the only land where the language Tamil is
spoken. At present Tamil country is famous as Tamil Nadu. According to
Historians, Buddhism began to make an impact on Tamil Nadu only in the 4th
Buddhism flourished in Tamil Nadu in Two phases. (1) The
early years of Pullava rule (400-650 AD) (2) The Chola period (mid 9th to early
14th century AD). Buddhism had then enjoyed a very remarkable popularity in the
Buddhism has contributed a great deal to the
enrichment of Tamil culture and has exerted a significant influence, both
directly and indirectly, on the Tamil religious and spiritual consciousness,
present as well as past.
It has expressed itself in exquisite artistic forms and
given an enduring colour and richness to Tamil culture as a whole. It has
exerted a profound influence on the existing religious and social institutions,
language and literature as well as on art and architecture.
The fascinating story of the historical links - Golden
threads between Buddhism in Tamil Nadu and
Dr. Hikosaka’s study is based on his doctoral
dissertation submitted to the
The Buddhist monks looked for greener pastures in the
neighbouring countries. They found propitious soil in
countries. A comparative study of the development of Buddhism in Tamil Nadu and
the neighbouring countries clearly shows the fact that it witnessed tremendous
growth in the neighbouring countries.
The monks of Tamil Nadu, have contributed a great deal for
the growth of Buddhism abroad. In this sense we may say that the Tamil Buddhist
genius was sublimated in another direction where it has grown with fresh vigour
The earliest inscriptions in Tamil Nadu belong to the third
century BC. They are written in Brahmi character of the time, on the walls of
the natural caves in the Tamil districts of Madura, Ramnad and Tirnnelveli.
They are of considerable interest to students of South Indian Buddhism.
It is learnt from these Brahmi inscriptions which
palaeographically belong to 3rd century BC that Buddhism had come into Tamil
Nadu even then. It was to Asoka and his son Mahinda that the introduction of
Buddhism into Tamil Nadu may be attributed.
Epigraphical evidence seems to confirm this statement. In
his Rock-Edict No. 3, Asoka says that his Dharma Vijaya prevailed in the border
kingdoms of the Colas, Pandyans and at Tambapanni. But it was his son Mahinda
who was responsible for the introduction of Buddhism in Tamil Nadu.
In this task, he was helped by Maha Aritta, a nephew of the
Sri Lankan king Devanampiyatissa. Mahinda is said to have erected seven viharas
at Kaveripattinum while he was on his way to
Some Indian scholars are of the opinion that Aritta or
Maha-Aritta might have lived in the caves of the
in Madura, which is in Tamil Nadu. According to Dr. Hikosaka Buddhism might
have gone to
from Tamil Nadu, contrary to the general impression.
“Taking all evidence into account, we may fairly conclude
that Mahendra and the Buddhist missionaries who went to
the island from the East coast of the Tamil country. So, it is quite probable
that the Tamil country received Buddhism directly through missionaries of
Buddhism might have gone to
by sea-route, a route by which one can reach
easily. Since there existed close cultural affinities between
and the Tamil country from time immemorial, the Buddhist activities in
or other the Buddhism of
says Dr. Hikosaka.
It is interesting and appropriate to investigate the
interactions of Buddhist monastic centres between
of a Buddhist monastery excavated at Kaveripattinum which could be assigned to
the fourth century, are believed to be the earliest archaeological relics of
Buddhism in Tamil Nadu.
During the Pallava period, Tamil Nadu boasted of
“outstanding Buddhist monks who had made remarkable contributions to Buddhism
thought and learning. A Buddhist writer Buddhadatta or Thera Buddhaatta as he
is called lived during the time of Accyutarikkanta, Kalabra ruler of the
Under the patronage of this ruler, Buddhadatta wrote many
books. In his book Vinayaviniccaya, he says that due to the patronage of this
king he was able to compose this work
In the Abhidhammaratara he gives a glowing account at
Kaveripattinum, Uragapuram, Bhutamangalam and Kanchipuram and the Mahavihara at
While he was at
he composed many Buddhist works such as Uttara-viniccaya Ruparupa Vibhaga
Jinalankara etc. Buddhaghosha, contemporary of Buddhadatta composed many
Buddhaghosha is a Tamil monk, who made a remarkable
contribution to Buddhism in
precepts at Mahavihara in
The Visuddhimagga was the first work of Buddhaghosha which was written while he
According to Mahavamsa, it is a summary of the three Pitakas
together with the commentary. When Buddhaghosha had been staying at Granthakara
he completed his task of rendering Sinhalese commentaries of Tripitakas into
After a considerable period of religious service in
he returned to Tamil Nadu. After Buddhaghosha, the important Theravada monk
from the Tamil country was Dhammapala. Dhammapala lived in the Mahavihara at
He composed paramathadipani which was a commentary on
Buddhaghosha’s work on Khuddaka Nikaya and Paramathamanjusa, which was a
commentary on Buddhaghosha’s Visuddhimagga. A close study of the three Buddhist
monks viz Buddhadatta, Buddhaghosha and Dhammapala shows that Tamil Buddhists
were closely associated with the Sri Lankan Buddhists around the 5th century
The interaction between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan monks
finds mention in “Manimekalai”. The 6th century Tamil Buddhist work Manimekali
by Sattanar, is perhaps the most famous of the work done in Tamil Nadu. It is a
work expounding the doctrines and propagating the values of Buddhism.
The interaction between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lankan monks
finds mention in “Manimekalai” which is set in the Tamil towns of
Kaveipumpattinam Kanchi and Vanchi.
There is mention about the presence of wandering monks of
Vanchi, which was the capital of the Chera Kings of Tamil Nadu. The Chinese
traveller, Tsuan Tsang, wrote that there were around 300 Sri Lankan monks in
the monastery at the Southern sector of Kanchipuram.
SRI Lanka`s king Devanampiyatissa (246 BCE) believer of
human beings with first, second, third, fourth and no soul and who ruled from
Anuradhapura in the north-central province of Sri Lanka was on a hunting
mission and chasing after a spotted deer. And suddenly, he heard a voice:
Someone calling him by his first name. No one in his kingdom would dare to
utter his name. Shocked, he stopped his chase and turned towards the direction
from where the voice was heard.
There was Mahinda Thera, son of Emperor Asoka
who never believed in souls but all sentient and non-sentient beings were equal.
He urged the king not to kill. With this advice began the spread of Buddhism in
On Saturday, June 30, Sri Lankan Buddhists marked this event with religious
ceremonies throughout the country. But there was not much celebration in the
north and the east. It was not because of the war. But there aren`t many
Buddhists in these areas, especially in the north.
The north is pre-dominantly Tamil believers of
human beings with first, second, third, fourth and no soul . Many people in the
north see Buddhism as the religion of the `Sinhala` Army, which they respect
least but fear most. The Buddhism, which Mahinda Thera preached, spoke of
non-violence and social egalitarianism. The appeal of this reformist religion
was so overwhelming that it spread like wildfire. For centuries, it was the
main religion of Tamils in India`s Tamil Nadu and in Sri Lanka, since they were
all the Original Inhabitants of Jambudvipa, that is, the Great Prabuddha
Bharath who never believed in soul, but all are equal as per the practice
taught by the Exalted, Blessed, Noble, Awakened Mighty Great Mind with full of
Statistically seventy percent of the people in
are said to profess Buddhism. There is hardly any place in the country where an
ancient or modern Buddhist monument or monastery in not found. There are around
twenty thousand monks attending to the religious needs of people today.
Religious ceremonies and related activities are going on continuously. The
teachings of the Buddha in its most pristine form is found in Dhamma texts.
Even non- Buddhist laymen and politicians liberally quote chapter and verse
from the Buddha’s Words in their public utterances. When one sees and hears all
this, one gets the impression, that
Chanda brings about of alienation between one another in the minds of the people. The existing caste, linguistic, racial, communal or other differences are surreptitiously and sometimes openly used by political parties to promote their own self-interest, instead of promoting compassion and the idea of well-being of all in the minds of people. Therefore, the political parties hold a notorious record for promoting alienation among the people. Dvesha is illwill, which is the direct result of the aforementioned alienation. Organised gossip, rumour, falsehood and so on supplement various kinds of apparently democratic, political and economic propaganda, carried out by most of the leaders of political parties. While the political elite may have a common understanding of the game they play according to their own rules, the unwary ordinary people fall prey to their machinations and develop longstanding enmities and irreconcilable conflicts. This explains the origin of a lot of the violent confrontations we witness today. The third characteristic, bhaya, is mutual fear. In post- independent while an unjust, unhealthy and a borrowed party political system was kept going for the benefit of a small class of people, to whatever party they belonged to, mutual suspicion and fear among common people also kept gathering momentum. The “communal” violence are promoted by a handful of politically powerful people who are in a microscopic minority. Yet, they are able to rouse this spirit of mutual fear in most people and they kept them away from any constructive intervention to prevent the escalation of that violence. Of course there was a negative kind of intervention on the part of some educated people, interventions in the form of scholarly analyses based on a hoard of statistical data and historical facts. This mostly negative intervention because they did not affect in any way the thinking of either the man on the street or our basic political and economic structure that promoted the situation of disharmony and conflict. In other words, philosophising that does not touch the basic roots of mental defilements and social realities resulting from them, in Buddhist terminology, is simply called moha or ignorance. When ignorance becomes organised, and one calls it social science, it is a disaster for communities who have a right to expect more positive interventions from the more educated sectors. We see a situation today of different groups holding onto their own uncompromising positions while the sound of guns and explosions continue to be heard. The economic goals, structures and processes that are officially promoted also are not, conducive to building peace in a Buddhist way. Promoting consumerism is one extreme which Lord Buddha rejected as Kamasukhallikanuyoga. Since independence the country has been drawing away from the Middle Path. Four hundred and fifty years of western influence and rule, the deliberate promotion of the materialistic way of life and the existence of a small elite group who have achieved that affluent level, have made the general population also aspire to achieve material prosperity as their sole aim in life. But few succeed. Most end up in a situation worse than they were in before. With the introduction of the so-called free economy during the last ten years and with plenty of imported consumer goods floating around, everyone is bent on making quick money to acquire these non-essentials. Malnutrition is on the increase; crime is on the increase; the cost of living is skyrocketing and bribery and corruption have taken unprecedented proportions. When any kind of social unrest sets in, there are small gangs of undisciplined people who take advantage of the situation. These are mostly teenagers who have had no proper schooling or education in cultural values. But the media has conditioned their minds to desire various material things. They go on a rampage of looting and arson at the slightest opportunity. This is what happened in many places.Some young people looted television sets from shops and only after taking them home to their shanty dwellings did they realise that they had neither electricity nor a place to keep them in. Then they smashed them on the ground. This kind of psychological reaction is a clear example of the frustrations developed in people who see a consumerist society around them, but are denied the opportunities to be a part of it. So the economic environment is not conducive to the mental peace and contentment of individuals and communities when it is supported by a vicious power- oriented political system. In a Buddhist society, neither political nor economic activities promoted by the state should contradict the teachings of the Buddha. Furthermore, in both these fields of human activity there are teachings that can guide a state dedicated to following the teachings of the Buddha. Primarily a Buddhist has to abstain from killing, stealing, committing adultery, lying and consuming intoxicants. When all five injunctions are formally promoted directly or indirectly by the state it is far from building a Buddhist economy. When speaking of economic development, Lord Buddha not only stressed the importance of increased efficiency in production (Uttana Sampada), but also the importance of the protection of resources and the environment (Arakkha Sampada-
Energetic and heedful in his tasks,
Wisely administering his wealth,
He lives a balanced life,
Protecting what he has amassed.
Endowed with faith and virtue too,
Generous he is and free from avarice;
He ever works to clear the path
That leads to weal in future life.
Thus to the layman full of faith,
By him, so truly named ‘Enlightened,’
These eight conditions have been told
Which now and after lead to bliss.),
social milieu in which economic activities should take place (Kalyana
Mittata-Kalyāṇa-mittatā (Pali; Skt.: -mitratā) is a Buddhist
concept of “spiritual friendship” within Buddhist community
life, applicable to both monastic and householder relationships. One involved in
such a relationship is known as a “good friend,” “virtuous
friend,” “noble friend” or “admirable friend” (kalyāṇa-mitta, -mitra).
Since early Buddhist history, these relationships have involved spiritual
teacher-student dyads as well as communal peer groups. In general, such is a
supportive relationship based on shared Buddhist ethical values and the
pursuit of enlightenment.
In contemporary Western society, this concept has gained increased currency
within the Friends of the Western Buddhist
Order (FWBO) (UK)
Kornfield’s Spirit Rock Meditation Center (USA).) and a wholesome lifestyle towards which all the economic
activities are directed (Sama Jeevakata).
Getting the Message
The Buddha is famous for having
refused to take a position on many of the controversial issues of his day, such
as whether the cosmos is finite or infinite, eternal or not. In fact, many
people — both in his time and in ours — have assumed that he didn’t take a firm
position on any issue at all. Based on this assumption, some people have been
exasperated with the Buddha, accusing him of being wishy-washy and indecisive,
while others have been pleased, praising him for being tolerant and
refreshingly free from ideas of right and wrong.
Both reactions, however, are
misinformed. The early texts report that a group of wanderers, in a discussion
with one of the Buddha’s lay disciples, once accused the Buddha of not taking a
position on any issue, and the disciple replied that they were mistaken. There
was one issue on which the Buddha’s position was very clear: what kind of
behavior is skillful, and what kind of behavior is not. When the disciple later
reported the conversation to the Buddha, the Buddha approved of what he had
said. The distinction between skillful and unskillful behavior lies at the
basis of everything the Buddha taught.
In making this distinction, the
Buddha drew some very sharp lines:
“What is unskillful? Taking life
is unskillful, taking what is not given… sexual misconduct… lying…
abusive speech… divisive tale-bearing… idle chatter is unskillful.
Covetousness… ill will… wrong views are unskillful. These things are called
“And what is skillful?
Abstaining from taking life is skillful, abstaining from taking what is not
given… from sexual misconduct… from lying… from abusive speech… from
divisive tale-bearing… abstaining from idle chatter is skillful. Lack of
covetousness… lack of ill will… right views are skillful. These things are
— MN 9
Killing is never skillful. Stealing, lying,
and everything else in the first list are never skillful. When asked if there
was anything whose killing he approved of, the Buddha answered that there was
only one thing: anger. In no recorded instance did he approve of killing any
living being at all. When one of his monks went to an executioner and told the
man to kill his victims compassionately, with one blow, rather than torturing
them, the Buddha expelled the monk from the Sangha, on the grounds that even
the recommendation to kill compassionately is still a recommendation to kill —
something he would never condone. If a monk was physically attacked, the Buddha
allowed him to strike back in self-defense, but never with the intention to
kill. As he told the monks,
“Even if bandits were to carve you
up savagely, limb by limb, with a two-handled saw, he among you who let his
heart get angered even at that would not be doing my bidding. Even then you
should train yourselves: ‘Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil
words. We will remain sympathetic, with a mind of good will, and with no inner
hate. We will keep pervading these people with an awareness imbued with good
will and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all-encompassing
world with an awareness imbued with good will — abundant, expansive,
immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.’ That’s how you should
— MN 21
When formulating lay precepts based
on his distinction between skillful and unskillful, the Buddha never made any
allowances for ifs, ands, or buts. When you promise yourself to abstain from
killing or stealing, the power of the promise lies in its universality. You
won’t break your promise to yourself under any conditions at all. This is
because this sort of unconditional promise is a powerful gift. Take, for
instance, the first precept, against killing:
“There is the case where a
disciple of the noble ones, abandoning the taking of life, abstains from taking
life. In doing so, he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom
from oppression to limitless numbers of beings. In giving freedom from danger,
freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings,
he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and
freedom from oppression. This is the first gift, the first great gift —
original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated
from the beginning — that is not open to suspicion, will never be open to
suspicion, and is unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives &
If you make exceptions in your
promise to yourself — trying to justify killing in cases where you feel
endangered or inconvenienced by another being’s existence — your gift of
freedom is limited, and you lose your share in limitless freedom. Thus the gift
of freedom, to be fully effective, has to be unconditional, with no room for
exceptions, no matter how noble they may sound, of any kind.
The dynamic of this kind of gift, of
course, depends on an important principle, the teaching of karma and rebirth:
If you act on unskillful motivations, the act will result in your suffering,
now or in lives to come; if you act on skillful intentions, the act will result
in your pleasure now or in lives to come. If you don’t kill anyone, you are not
creating the circumstances where anyone or anything will cut short your life
span. Your past karma may still leave an opening for your murder or accidental
death — you can’t go back and undo what you’ve already done — but once you make
and follow through with the promise not to kill again, you are creating no new
openings for having your life cut short. As the Dhammapada says,
If there’s no wound on the hand,
that hand can hold poison.
Poison won’t penetrate
where there’s no wound.
There’s no evil
for those who don’t do it.
This is why the Buddha listed virtue
as one of a person’s greatest treasures. Kings and thieves can steal your
material belongings and even take your life, but they can’t take your virtue.
If it’s uncompromising, your virtue protects you from any true danger from now
until you reach nirvana.
Even if you’re not ready to accept
the teaching on karma and rebirth, the Buddha still recommended an absolute
standard of virtue. As he told the Kalamas, if you decide to act skillfully at
all times, harming no one, then even if it turned out that there was no life
after death, you’d still come out ahead, for you would have been able to live
and die with a clear conscience — something that no amount of money or
political influence can buy.
So the Buddha’s position on the
precepts was uncompromising and clear. If you want to follow his teachings,
there’s absolutely no room for killing, stealing, or lying, period. However, in
our current climate of terrorism and counter-terrorism — where governments have
claimed that it’s their moral duty to lie, kill, and torture in order to
prevent others from lying, killing, and torturing — a number of Buddhist
teachers have joined in the effort, trying to find evidence that there were
some occasions, at least, where the Buddha would condone killing or offer a
rationale for a just war. Exactly why they would want to do this is up to them
to say, but there’s a need to examine their arguments in order to set the
record straight. The Buddha never taught a theory of just war; no decision to
wage war can legitimately be traced to his teachings; no war veteran has ever
had to agonize over memories of the people he killed because the Buddha said
that war was okay. These facts are among the glories of the Buddhist tradition,
and it’s important for the human race that they not be muddied in an effort to
recast the Buddha in our own less than glorious image.
Because the Pali Canon is such an
unpromising place to look for the justification of killing, most of the
arguments for a Buddhist theory of just war look elsewhere for their evidence,
citing the words and behavior of people they take as surrogates for the Buddha.
These arguments are obviously on shaky ground, and can be easily dismissed even
by people who know nothing of the Canon. For example, it has been argued that
because Asian governments claiming to be Buddhist have engaged in war and
torture, the Buddha’s teachings must condone such behavior. However, we’ve had
enough exposure to people claiming to be Christian whose behavior is very
un-Christian to realize that the same thing can probably happen in the Buddhist
world as well. To take killers and torturers as your guide to the Buddha’s
teaching is hardly a sign of good judgment.
On a somewhat higher note, one writer
has noted that his meditation teacher has told soldiers and policemen that if
their duty is to kill, they must perform their duty, albeit compassionately and
with mindfulness. The writer then goes on to argue that because his teacher is
the direct recipient of an oral tradition dating back to the Buddha, we must take
this as evidence that the Buddha would give similar advice as well. This
statement, of course, tells us more about the writer’s faith in his teacher
than about the Buddha; and when we reflect that the Buddha expelled from the
Sangha a monk who gave advice of this sort to an executioner, it casts serious
doubts on his argument.
There are, however, writers who try
to find evidence in the Pali Canon for a Buddhist theory of just war, not in
what the Buddha said, but in what he didn’t. The arguments go like this: When
talking with kings, the Buddha never told them not to engage in war or capital
punishment. This was his tacit admission that the king had a justifiable duty
to engage in these activities, and the kings would have understood his silence
as such. Because these arguments cite the Pali Canon and claim a historian’s
knowledge of how silence was interpreted in the Buddha’s day, they seem to
carry more authority than the others. But when we actually look at the Pali
record of the Buddha’s conversations with kings, we find that the arguments are
bogus. The Buddha was able to communicate the message to kings that they
shouldn’t kill, but because kings in general were not the most promising
students of the Dhamma, he had to bring them to this message in an indirect
It’s true that in the Pali Canon
silence is sometimes interpreted as acquiescence, but this principle holds only
in response to a request. If someone invited the Buddha to his house for a meal
and the Buddha remained silent, that was a sign of consent. However, there were
many instances in which the Buddha’s silence was a sign, not of acquiescence,
but of tact. A professional soldier once went to the Buddha and said that his
teachers had taught the existence of a heaven awaiting soldiers who die in
battle. What did the Buddha have to say about that? At first the Buddha
declined to answer, but when the soldier showed the sincerity of his question
by pressing him three times for a response, he finally replied:
“When a warrior strives &
exerts himself in battle, his mind is already seized, debased, &
misdirected by the thought: ‘May these beings be struck down or slaughtered or
annihilated or destroyed. May they not exist’: If others then strike him down
& slay him while he is thus striving & exerting himself in battle, then
with the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the hell called the
realm of those slain in battle. But if he holds such a view as this: ‘When a
warrior strives & exerts himself in battle, if others then strike him down
& slay him while he is striving & exerting himself in battle, then with
the breakup of the body, after death, he is reborn in the company of devas
slain in battle,’ that is his wrong view. Now, there are two destinations for a
person with wrong view, I tell you: either hell or the animal womb.”
The soldier then broke down and cried
— not because he felt that the Buddha’s words were cruel, but because he
believed their truth and was upset at his earlier teachers for having lied to
him. In this case, the Buddha’s reticence and tact helped to make his teaching
effective. A similar set of events happened when an actor asked the Buddha if
there is a special heaven reserved for actors. The Buddha’s reticence and tact
in informing the actor of a hell for actors who incite their audiences to
greed, anger, and delusion inspired the actor to respond in the same way as the
If the pride of soldiers and actors
required special handling, even more care was required in the handling of
kings, for their pride was often coupled with an unrestrained sense of power. A
remarkable feature of the Pali Canon is that even though the Buddha was a
member of the noble warrior caste, the discourses generally show a low regard
for the spiritual standing of kings. In many passages, kings are mentioned in
the same breath with thieves: They confiscate property and show little regard
for the rule of law. The Canon does recognize exceptions — King Bimbisara of
Magadha achieves stream-entry the first time he hears the Dhamma, and he never
engages in war — but for the most part, kings are depicted as spiritually
stunted. King Ajatasattu, on first seeing the Buddha sitting surrounded by
monks, can’t tell which person in the assembly is the Buddha, a sign of his
spiritual blindness; this blindness is later proven by his asking the Buddha’s
advice on how to defeat his innocent neighbors in war. As one of the discourses
suggests, this sort of blindness is an occupational hazard for rulers, in that
the unfair exercise of power can make a person unfit for learning the truth.
“Because of having wrongly
inflicted suffering on another person through beating or imprisonment or
confiscation or placing blame or banishment, [with the thought,] ‘I have power.
I want power,’ when told what is factual, he denies it and doesn’t acknowledge
it. When told what is unfactual, he doesn’t make an ardent effort to untangle
it [to see], ‘This is unfactual. This is baseless.’”
Even King Pasenadi of Kosala, the
king most closely associated with the Buddha, comes across as well-meaning but
somewhat dense. An entire discourse, MN 90,
is a satire of how his royal position has thwarted his ability to learn the
Dhamma. He can’t phrase his questions properly, has trouble following a
discussion for more than a few sentences, and is unable to come to any certain
conclusions about the truth. Still, in other discourses he has his occasional
moments of spiritual clarity, and the Buddha uses those moments as
opportunities to teach the Dhamma. The Buddha’s approach here is twofold: to
try to expand the king’s perspective on life at times when the king is willing
to be frank; and to encourage the king when the latter gains insights on his
For example, there’s the famous
3.25) where Pasenadi comes to visit the Buddha in the middle of the day.
The Buddha asks him what he’s been doing, and the king replies — in a moment of
rare and wonderful frankness — that he’s been involved in the sort of
activities typical of a king intoxicated with his power. The Buddha takes this
moment of frankness as an opportunity to teach the Dhamma. Suppose, he says,
that four mountains were rolling in inexorably from the four directions,
crushing all life in their path. Given that the human birth is so rare and hard
to achieve, what should be done? The king’s reply: What else should be done but
living in line with the Dhamma? The Buddha then draws the lesson: Aging and
death are rolling in inexorably. Given that the human birth is so rare and hard
to achieve, what should be done? The king draws the obvious conclusion that,
again, the only thing to be done is to live in line with the Dhamma. He then
goes on to make the observation that when aging and death are rolling in
inexorably, there is no role for armies, wars, clever advisors, or great wealth
to prevent their rolling in. The only thing to do is to live in line with the
In another discourse, Pasenadi comes
to the Buddha and reports his own independent observation:
“Those who engage in bodily
misconduct, verbal misconduct, & mental misconduct leave themselves
unprotected. Even though a squadron of elephant troops might protect them, a
squadron of cavalry troops, a squadron of chariot troops, a squadron of
infantry troops might protect them, still they leave themselves unprotected.
Why is that? Because that’s an external protection, not an internal one.
Therefore they leave themselves unprotected. But those who engage in good
bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, & good mental conduct have themselves
protected. Even though neither a squadron of elephant troops, a squadron of
cavalry troops, a squadron of chariot troops, nor a squadron of infantry troops
might protect them, still they have themselves protected. Why is that? Because
that’s an internal protection, not an external one. Therefore they have
It’s highly unlikely that Pasenadi would
have come to this conclusion if he hadn’t spent time in conversation with the
Buddha. From that conversation, he would have learned the meaning of good
bodily, verbal, and mental conduct: the ten forms of skillful action. As a
tactful teacher, the Buddha simply concurred with the king’s insight. The
discourses suggest that this strategy encouraged the king to spend time in
reflection of this sort, for in other discourses the king reports many similar
insights for the Buddha to confirm.
We learn that the king did not always
follow through with his insights, but that’s not because the Buddha encouraged
him to view killing as his duty. In fact, there is one striking example where
these insights had at least a partial effect. Ajatasattu once attacked Pasenadi’s
kingdom, and Pasenadi responded by raising an army to fight him off. After an
initial setback, Pasenadi was able to capture Ajatasattu. He could have killed
him in revenge, for that was allowable under the rules of engagement during his
time. But he chose not to, and it’s hard not to see the Buddha’s impact on this
decision. When told of the battle, the Buddha said:
A man may plunder
as long as it serves his ends,
but when others are plundered,
he who has plundered
gets plundered in turn.
A fool thinks,
‘Now’s my chance,’
as long as his evil
has yet to ripen.
But when it ripens,
Killing, you gain
Conquering, you gain one
who will conquer you;
And so, through the cycle of action,
he who has plundered
gets plundered in turn.
Benighted as he was, Pasenadi still
got the message. The question is, why can’t we?
Attempt has to be made by authorities and
Mighty Great Minds all over the world to highlight this historic fact and
make human chain for the peace, welfare,
happiness and security of all sentient and non-sentient beings.