THE ESSENCE OF TIPIṬAKA – 6. SAṂYUTTA NIKĀYA: SAGĀTHĀ VAGGA SAṂYUTTA PĀḶI

6. SAṂYUTTA NIKĀYA

This collection of discourses in the Suttanta Piṭaka known as Saṃyutta Nikāya has 7762 suttas of varied length, generally short, arranged in a special order according to subject matter into five major divisions: (1) Sagāthā Vagga (2) Nidāna Vagga (3) Khandha Vagga (4) Saḷāyatana Vagga and (5) Mahā Vagga. Each major vagga is divided into fifty-six groups known as saṃyuttas-related subjects grouped together. The saṃyuttas are named after the subjects they deal with, for example, Bojjhaṅga Saṃyutta on the seven factors of enlightenment, or after some principal personalities such as the Venerable Sāriputta, King Pasenadi of Kosala, or Sakka. Kosala Saṃyutta is a group of discourses concerning King Pasenadi of Kosala, and Devatā Saṃyutta deals with devas like Sakka, Indra, Brahmā, etc. Each saṃyutta is further divided into sections which are made up of individual suttas. Thus the well-known Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta is the first discourse (sutta) in the second section of Sacca Saṃyutta which comes under the Mahāvagga division of Saṃyutta Nikāya. In the following excerpts from Saṃyutta Nikāya, only a few suttas representing each major division are given.

1 Sagāthā Vagga Saṃyutta Pāḷi

This major division of Sagāthā Vagga Saṃyutta Pāḷi contains eleven saṃyuttas with discourses grouped according to characters appearing in them: the king of devas, the devas, the Brahmā, māra, King of Kosala, bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. The name of the vagga, Sagāthā is derived from the fact that various personalities appearing in the discourses conducted their dialogues or interviews with the Buddha mostly in verse.

Devatā Saṃyutta

On the request of a Brahmā, the Buddha explains in the Oghataraṇa Sutta of this saṃyutta that he crossed over the flood of sensuous desire, of existence, of wrong views and of ignorance neither by remaining inactive, nor by making strenuous efforts. By remaining inactive he would have been sucked into the whirlpool; by making frantic efforts he would have been swept away in the current of the flood. He followed a middle course.

The Buddha also teaches in other suttas of this saṃyutta that all beings are entangled in the mesh of attachments brought about by six internal sense bases and six external sense objects. The way to escape from these entanglements is to become established in sīla, to develop concentration meditation and insight meditation in order to be fully accomplished in the higher knowledge of liberation.

Until one becomes fully developed in the knowledge of the path, taṇhācan still give rise to rebirth. This fact is borne out by the story of a devanamed Samaṇa, given in Accharā Sutta. A certain young man having faith in the teaching of the Buddha gets himself admitted into the order. Then taking a meditation subject of his choice, he repairs to a solitary abode in the forest and devotes himself incessantly to the practice of meditation.

His efforts at meditation are very strenuous. Thus striving day and night and getting enervated by lack of sufficient food, he is suddenly seized with a paralytic stroke which causes him instant death. Although he has put in a great deal of effort in the practice of meditation, he passes away without even attaining the stage of sotāpanna, the stream-winner.

Because of taṇhā which he has not yet eradicated, he has to go through the round of existences again; but in the consequence of the merit he has acquired in the practice of meditation, a magnificent celestial palace awaits him in the celestial abode of the Tāvatiṃsa.

By spontaneous manifestation he appears as if just awakened from sleep at the entrance of the palace, a celestial being resplendent in full celestial attire. He does not realize that he has taken a new existence in a new world. He thinks he is still a bhikkhu of the human world. The celestial maidens who are awaiting his arrival bring a body-length mirror and place it in front of the deva. On seeing his reflection in the mirror, he finally realizes that he has left the bhikkhus existence and has arisen in the celestial realm.

The Samaṇa Deva is greatly perturbed then. He reflects that he has taken up meditation not to be reborn in the celestial land but to attain the goal of arahatta fruition. So without entering the palatial building, he repairs hastily to the presence of the Buddha. He asks of the Buddha how to avoid and proceed past the Mohana garden, the Tāvatiṃsa celestial abode, full of celestial maidens who to him appear as demons. The Buddha advises him that the straight path for a quick escape is the Noble Path of Eight Constituents using the two-wheeler Vipassana carriage, fitted with the two wheels of physical exertion and mental exertion. While the Buddha is teaching Dhamma in three verses, Samaṇa Deva is able to develop quickly successive Vipassana ñāṇasstep by step until he attains the first path and fruition.

Devaputta Saṃyutta

In Rohitassa Sutta of this saṃyutta Rohitassa Deva comes to the Buddha with another problem. He tells the Buddha he was in a former existence a hermit endowed with supernormal psychic power which enabled him to traverse throughout the universe with immense speed. He had travelled with that speed for over one hundred years to reach the end of the world but he did not succeed. He wants to know whether it would be possible to know or see or reach the end of the world where there is no birth nor death to be known or seen or reached by travelling there. Yet he does not say there is an end of suffering without reaching nibbāna. It is in the fathom long body of oneself with its perception and its mind that the Buddha describes the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the world, and the way leading to the cessation of the world. The Buddha’s way leading to the cessation of the world is the Noble Path of Eight Constituents.

Kosala Saṃyutta

In this saṃyutta are interesting suttas which describe the frequent meetings of the Buddha with King Pasenadi of Kosala. The King has heard of the fame of the Buddha from his queen Mallikā but has not yet met him. But when at last he meets the Buddha as described in the Dahara Sutta, he puts a direct question whether the Venerable Gotama claims to have attained the supreme enlightenment. He says that there are other religious teachers such as Pūraṇa Kassapa, Makkhali Gosāla, Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta, Sañjaya, Pakudha and Ajita, with their own order, with their own followers, who are much older than the Buddha and are generally regarded to be arahats. Even these teachers do not make claim to supreme enlightenment.

The Buddha replies that if it can be rightly said of anyone to have attained supreme enlightenment, then it is only of himself that it can be rightly said. The Buddha adds that there are four things that should not be looked down and despised because they are young. They are a young prince, a serpent, a fire and a bhikkhu. A young prince of noble parentage should not be despised. He might one day become a powerful ruler and wreak royal vengeance. A writhing snake moves very fast; it might attack and bite a heedless man. A small fire when heedlessly ignored might grow in intensity and cause untold damage. A man treating a virtuous bhikkhu with contempt might bring upon himself unwholesome results such as dwindling prosperity and lack of offspring to inherit from him.

Dutiya Aputtaka Sutta describes another occasion when King Pasenadi calls on the Buddha after he has just taken over an immense accumulation of wealth belonging to a multi-millionaire who has died recently. The dead man has left behind treasure worth over one hundred lakhs which, in the absence of any heirs to claim, becomes the king’s property. The king reports that the dead millionaire was a great miser, a niggardly person, begrudging even to himself the luxury of comfortable living. He wore only very rough, thread-bare clothes, eating poor, coarse food and travelled about in an old, roofless rickety carriage.

The Buddha confirms that what the king says about the millionaire is quite true and tells the king the reason for the millionaire’s miserliness. In one of his past existences, he met a paccekabuddha going around for alms-food. He gave permission to his family to offer food to the paccekabuddha and went out to attend some business. On his way back, he met the paccekabuddha whom he asked whether he had been given any alms-food by his family, and looked into the bowl. On seeing the delicious food in the bowl, an unwholesome thought suddenly arose in his mind that it would have been more profitable to feed his servants with such food than to give it away to apaccekabuddha.

For his good deed of allowing his family to make the offering to thepaccekabuddha he was reborn in the deva world seven times and became a millionaire seven times in the human world. But as a result of the ill thought he had entertained in that previous existence he never had the inclination to lead a luxurious life enjoying fine clothes, good food, and riding in comfortable carriages.

The millionaire has now exhausted the good as well as the bad effects of his thoughts and actions with regard to the offering of food to the paccekabuddha. But unfortunately he has to face the consequences of a more serious evil deed, that of causing the death of his own nephew in a past existence.

The Buddha tells the king that he is therefore reborn, after his death in the human world, in the state of the most intense suffering, Mahāroruva.

Brāhmaṇa Saṃyutta

Many brahmins of the Bhāradvāja clan became devoted disciples of the Buddha, ultimately attaining arahatship. At first, all of them were quite unfriendly, if not openly hostile. Bhāradvāja Gotta, mentioned in the Dhanañjāni Sutta, was such a brahmin. Although his wife Dhanañjāni was a disciple of the Buddha, very much devoted to his teaching, Bhāradvāja Gotta and his brahmin teachers showed great contempt for the Buddha and his teachings.

On one occasion, when Bhāradvāja was giving a feast to his brahmin teachers, his wife in the course of waiting upon these brahmins slipped accidentally and as she tried to regain her balance, blurted out three times in excitement the formula of adoration to the Buddha: “Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa.” Upon hearing the word “Buddha”, the brahmin teachers rose up from their seats and ran away helter-skelter in all directions just like a flock of crows in whose midst a stone has been thrown.

Telling his wife in a fury that he would defeat the Buddha in a contest of doctrines, Bhāradvāja goes to see the Buddha. The interview ends up with Bhāradvāja asking the Buddha’s permission to enter his order. He finally attains arahatship.

Akkosa Sutta mentions Bhāradvāja Gotta’s younger brother Akkosaka Bhāradvāja, who on hearing that his elder brother has joined the Buddha’s order, was highly exasperated. Raging with fury, he stormed into the presence of the Buddha whom he reviled and reproached in the most vulgar, offensive language.

Very calmly and with great compassion the Buddha asked the young Bhāradvāja if he has ever given gifts to his friends and relatives. When the young Bhāradvāja replies that he indeed has made offers of gifts to his friends and relatives, the Buddha asked him, “What happens to the gifts if your friends and relatives do not accept them?”

“Well then they remain with me as my own property,” replies Bhāradvāja.

Then the Buddha says, “You have heaped abusive language on us who have not uttered a single word of abuse to you; you have been very offensive and quarrelsome with us who do not offend you nor quarrel with you. Young Bhāradvāja, we do not accept your words of abuse, your offensive quarrelsome language. They remain with you as your own property.”

Taken by surprise by this unexpected reaction, Bhāradvāja is frightened with the thought that this might be a recluse’s method of casting a spell on him by way of retaliation. He asks the Buddha if he is angry with him for his rude behaviour. The Buddha states that he has long left anger behind. Being free from all mental defilements how could he take offence with him! To meet anger with anger is to sink lower than the original reviler. He is the conqueror who wins a hard won battle by not retaliating anger with anger.

At the end of the discourse, Akkosaka Bhāradvāja, the younger brother, also left homelife to join the Buddha’s order. In time, he too became accomplished in higher knowledge and attained arahatship.

In Kasī Bhāradvāja Sutta is an account of the Buddha’s encounter with the brahmin Kasī Bhāradvāja who was a rich landowner.

It was sowing time and the Kasī Bhāradvāja was preparing to start ploughing operations with five hundred ploughs. It was made an auspicious occasion with the distribution of food and with festivities. The Buddha went to where food was being distributed and stood at one side. Kasī Bhāradvāja, seeing him waiting for food, said to him, “I plough, samaṇa, and I sow. Having ploughed and sown, I eat. You too, samaṇa, should plough and sow; having ploughed and sown, you shall eat.”

The Buddha replies, “I too plough, brahmin, and I sow, and having ploughed and sown, I eat.”

“We see no yoke or plough or pole or oxen of yours. Yet you claim to be a ploughman. How do you explain yourself?” asked the brahmin.

“The faith which I have had since the time of Sumedha, the hermit, is the seed. It will grow to bear the fruit of nibbāna. The sīla with which I keep control of my sense doors is the rain. The two kinds of knowledge, the mundane and supramundane, I possess are my plough and yoke. Sense of shame for doing evil and fear of evil deeds are the pole and the handle of the plough. My energy is the ox, and my concentration is the rope with which I put the ox to the yoke. My mindfulness is the ploughshare and the goad. Guarded in my speech and modest in the use of food, these self-restraints serve as a fence around my field of Dhamma. With my harnessed ox as my energy, I have ploughed on never turning back until the seed produces the fruit of nibbāna, the deathless. Having done such ploughing, I eat now what I have sown and I am free from every kind of suffering.”

Kasī Bhāradvāja was so delighted and impressed with the Buddha’s words, that he requests to be regarded as a disciple of the Buddha from that day until the end of his life.

In Gahatthavandana Sutta the Buddha explains that the brahmins well versed in the Vedas as well as kings ruling over human dominions and devas of Cātumahārājika and Tāvatiṃsa realm bow in homage to the Sakka, the king of the devas. The Sakka himself shows respect and makes obeisance not only to the samaṇas who have lived their holy life without any breach of moral conduct for many years but also to the lay disciples of the Buddha who are well established in their faith and who have done meritorious deeds of giving charity, observing the five, the eight or the ten precepts, and dutifully maintaining their families.

 

 

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