Well-taught Noble Disciple

In the suttas, the well-taught noble disciple (sutavaa ariyasaavaka) is often contrasted with the un-taught worldling (assutavaa puthujjana). It is useful for us to consider how a well-taught noble disciple behaves in body, speech and mind and then try to emulate that behaviour in daily life. 

M46.4 “The well-taught noble disciple who has regard for the noble ones… and is skilled and disciplined in their Dhamma, knows what things should be cultivated and what things should not be cultivated, what things should be followed and what things should not be followed, what things should be followed and what things should not be followed.  Knowing this he cultivates things that should be cultivated … It is because he does this that unwished for, undesired, disagreeable things diminish for him and wished for, desired and agreeable things increase. Why is that? That is what happens to one who sees.”

“One who sees” is a code for stream enterer (sotapanna) or other noble ones who have attained various stages of awakening.  The stream enterer is sometimes described as having opened the dhammacakkhu (the eye of wisdom) [not to be confused with the “third eye” which has nothing to do with Buddhism at all].

It is wisdom (pa~n~na) that knows what should be cultivated and so forth.

Majjhima Nikaya M64 Mahaamaalunkyaputta Sutta [มหามาลุงโกฺยวาทสูตร] [Sister Upalavanna English translation]

M64.6 “A well-taught noble disciple who has regard for the noble ones and is skilled and disciplined in their Dhamma, has regard for true men and is skilled and disciplined in their Dhamma, does not abide with a mind obsessed and enslaved by identity view; he understands as it actually is the escape from the arisen identity view, and identity view together with the underlying tendency to it is abandoned in him. He does not abide with the a mind obsessed and enslaved by doubt… adherence to rules and observances… sensual lust… ill-will; …”

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation above has True men for the Paali “sappurisa”.  This is a synonym for ariya puggala which is a noble person who has attained one or another of the stages of awakening.  As he did with many other common phrases, it seems that the Blessed One  colonised the word sappurisa for pedagogical purposes. I speculate that perhaps in general conversation prior to the Buddha, the word might have had the meaning of righteous person. That is someone who understands the Dhamma (universal law) as taught in the Vedas, is wise and practices virtuous behaviour.

1. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi translates “ariya saavaka” as a person who has attained one of the eight stages of awakening.  2. Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu sometimes translates ariya saavaka as “disciple of the noble ones.”  This may not necessarily mean that the disciple has any noble attainment themselves though they have confidence in the noble ones (ariya puggala).  It is possible that the term ariya saavaka has two meanings though I currently prefer the first meaning.

Saavaka” is usually now translated as disciple. It literally means “hearer.”  At the time of the Buddha Gotama, the Dhamma was proclaimed verbally then heard by followers.  Writing was not yet widely used for religious or philosophical activities. Followers hearing the Dhamma would memorise it and keep it fresh in their minds by reciting it from time to time or discussing it with others.

In the second excerpt (M64.6), the term identity view (sakkaaya di.t.thi) refers to a belief in a soul or eternal self that persists after death. Those people with identity view may consider one or other of the five aggregates (khanda) of body, feelings, perceptions, thought formations and consciousness to be a self or belonging to a self apart from these five aggregates.

Identity view is one of the ten fetters (sa.myojjana) that bind beings to the round of becoming, birth and death (sa.msaara).  Upon awakening, the sotapanna abandons three of the ten fetters including identity view, doubt and adherence to rules and observances. The doubt here is doubt about the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha (of noble ones – not monastics as such). The adherence to rules and observances refers to a belief such as “bathing in the river will wash away my sins and I can go to heaven and be with God forever” or “if I light sacred fires and worship a deity I will be enlightened.” 

A stream enterer and other noble ones do not abandon fetters through an act of will. It is not as easy as just making a decision or wishing for it.  Maybe I can write about that in another blog.

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Spelling Paali language in Roman characters

Some readers may wonder how I’ve been spelling Paali words and even by the way I spell my second name. I’ve been using the Velthuis method of writing Paali language using the Roman character set.

Sometimes I write in a hurry and don’t check the Paali spelling so maybe there are spelling mistakes in some previous blogs.  Sometimes I spell Paali words in the common way that doesn’t recognise diacriticals, though usually this is when I’m quoting someone else or for some common words.  In most statements on this site I’ve used the Velthuis method.

For your convenience I have cut and pasted John Bullitt’s explanation of Velthuis method from the Access to Insight website.

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Representing Pali diacritics using the Velthuis method
Some books and articles on Access to Insight contain substantial amounts of Pali text. Many of them use the Velthuis method [5] to represent romanized Pali’s accented characters (diacritics) that are not part of the standard roman and ASCII alphabets. In this scheme two basic rules are observed:

  1. Long vowels (those usually typeset with a macron (bar) above them) are doubled: aa ii uu
  2. For consonants, the diacritic mark precedes the letter it affects. Thus, the retroflex (cerebral) consonants (usually typeset with a dot underneath) are: .t .th .d .dh .n .l. The pure nasal (niggahiita) m, also typeset with a dot underneath, is .m. The guttural nasal (n with a dot above) is represented as “n . The palatal nasal (n with a tilde) is ~n.

For example: paa.naatipaataa verama.nii sikkhaa-pada.m samaadiyaami and itihida.m aayasmato ko.n.da~n~nassa a~n~na-ko.n.da~n~no’tveva naama.m ahosiiti.

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You can read about alternative methods for writing Paali in Roman characters at Access to Insight.

Why does MK use Velthuis?
I chose to use Velthuis method in this blog because it does not require special fonts or software. One can use the standard Roman alphabet to display Paali words.  I have found a few Paali texts that attempt to use diacritical marks such as bars over long vowels but because the fonts are not available in the browser or operating system of the computer I was using at the time, many strange characters appeared mixed in the text, making it very difficult to read or understand. Sometimes these strange characters are even encoded into PDF files and are quite distracting.  Some people who are unfamiliar with Paali pronunciation, may attempt to pronounce Paali with a short “a” sound and incorrectly say “pallee.”

Velthuis is the most fail-safe method.  I encourage everyone to become familiar with it.

Six principles of cordiality and a seven-point test for stream-entry

I paraphrased this sutta using Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ven. Nanamoli’s English translation.

Six principles of cordiality that create love and respect and conduce to cohesion, to non-dispute, to concord, and to unity.
1.  Maintain bodily acts of loving-kindness both in public and private towards companions.
2.  Maintain verbal acts of loving-kindness both in public and private towards companions.
3.  Maintain mental acts of loving-kindness both in public and private towards companions.
4. Use things in common with virtuous companions in the holy life, without making reservations, sharing any gains which accord with the Dhamma and that has been obtained in a way that accords with the Dhamma, including (for monastics) the contents of one’s bowl [one is generous-caaga, not stingy or miserly].
5. Possess in common with virtuous companions those virtues (siila) that are unbroken, untorn, unblemished, liberating, commended by the wise, not misapprehended and conducive to concentration [five precepts are the basic precepts].
6. Possess in common with companions the view that is noble and liberating and leads one who practices in accord with it to the complete destruction of suffering [sammaaditthi right view].
Of these… the chief, the most cohesive, the most unifying, is (6) the view that is noble and liberating…  And how does one know whether this view is held?
Seven-point test for stream-entry-sotapanna
1.  Ask yourself:  Is my mind obsessed with sensual lust, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, [five hindrances] speculation about this world and the other world [life after death or annihilation etc.], taken to quarrelling and brawling and deep in disputes, stabbing others with verbal daggers. Obsessed in this way one’s mind is not well disposed for awakening to truths.
If there are no such obsessions, this is the first knowledge that is noble, supramundane, not shared by ordinary people. [Sotapanna and sakadagaami people occasionally experience sensual lust, ill-will and so forth. However, they are less bothered by these hindrances and can easily concentrate their minds if they wish to. Anaagaamii have destroyed lust and ill-will and have very highly developed samaadhi-concentration. Arahats have destroyed all the aasava-taints and are not disturbed by these hindrances at any time. Some puthujjana-worldlings who have not attained any stage of awakening, but have skill in attaining deep concentration states such as the four jhaana-mental absorptions and the four formless bases may rarely be bothered by these hindrances.  However, most puthujjana who have never trained their minds or studied the Buddha Dhamma are obsessed in this way.]
2. Ask yourself: when I pursue, develop and cultivate this view (that is noble and liberating), do I obtain internal serenity, do I obtain stillness? – If yes then this is the second knowledge… [this refers to the ability to calm the mind through samatha meditation. For those sotapanna who have not attained jhaana-absorption, they are still able to obtain internal serenity by practicing the six recollections such as Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, Siila, Caaga and Deva. They can also practice recollection of peace and use other meditation objects to obtain internal serenity with relative ease. ].
3. Ask yourself: is there any other recluse or teacher outside (the Buddha’s dispensation) possessed of a view such as I possess? If no, then this is the third knowledge… [this means that one believes that right view is only possible within the Buddha’s dispensation and one doesn’t believe that anyone outside Buddhism can attain a stage of awakening such as stream entry-sotapanna].
4. Ask yourself: do I possess the (first) characteristic of a person with right view?  Such a person immediately confesses any offence for which a means of rehabilitation has been laid down. Just as a baby at once draws back when he puts his hand or his foot on a live coal…  If yes this is the fourth knowledge … [This refers to moral shame and fear of wrong doing – hiri and ottappa.]
5. Ask yourself: do I possess the (second) characteristic of a person with right view? Although such a person may be active in various matters for his companions in the holy life, yet he has regard for training in the higher virtue, higher mind and higher wisdom.  Just as a cow with a new calf, while she grazes, watches her calf. If yes this is the fifth knowledge… (heedfulness – apamaada) [A sotapanna may sometimes neglect training but not for long. Because they wish to help fellow monastics or fellow lay Buddhists, or even non-Buddhists, they usually find contentment and satisfaction in the training. Heedfulness is closely related to mindfulness and other skilful qualities that sotapanna have in abundance].
6. Ask yourself: do I possess the (first) strength of a person with right  view? When the Dhamma and Discipline (Dhamma-vinaaya) proclaimed by the Tathaagata is being taught, one heeds it, gives it attention, engages it with all one’s mind, hears the Dhamma with eagerness.  If yes, this is the sixth knowledge… [in this way one would suppress the nivaarana-hindrances to samaadhi-concentration and one’s mind would be pliable, bright and in the best possible state for understanding the Dhamma].
7.  Ask yourself: do I possess the (second) strength of a person with right view?  When the Dhamma and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathaagata is being taught, one gains inspiration in the meaning, gains inspiration in the Dhamma, gains gladness connected with the Dhamma. If yes, this is the seventh knowledge… [this is not something that a sotapanna would have to consciously cultivate – it would be natural and automatic].
A noble disciple possessed of these seven factors is well on the way toward the realisation of the fruit of stream entry [this is someone who possesses the path of stream entry – sotapanna magga]. A noble disciple who possesses these seven factors, possesses the fruit of stream entry [sotapanna phala].  

In the relatively well-known eightfold classification of noble ones (ariyapuggala) there are two pairs of four and eight individuals. Two sotapanna, two sakadagaamii, two anaagaamii and two arahata. In each pair, the inferior one is on the path (magga) while the superior one has attained the fruit (phala).  Here is a list of eight ariyapuggala in descending order of superiority:

Arahata phala
Arahata magga
Anaagaamii phala
Anaagaamii magga
Sakadagaamii phala
Sakadagaami magga
Sotapanna phala

Sotapanna magga
The sotapanna phala person is not equivalent to a sakadagaamii magga person. Though they both have already attained sotapanna phala, the sakadagaamii magga person is superior because they are on the path to the higher attainment whereas the sotapanna phala person is for the time being stable and not making significant efforts to reach a higher state. This principle applies to other stages in the table above until finally the arahata phala person has no more work to do since they are fully awakened. 

The exegetical Paali Commentaries to the Abhidhamma Pitaka prepared by Ven. Buddhaghosa (about 1500 years ago) and the tradition of later abhidhammika scholars divert from the teachings in the Sutta Pitaka (basket of discourses). 

In the Introduction to the Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma: The Philosophical Psychology of Buddhism, Abhidhammaattha Sangaha, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi writes:
… a few of the Abhidhamma conceptions that are characteristic of the Commentaries but either unknown or recessive in the Abhidhamma Pitaka itself. One is the detailed account of the cognitive process (cittaviithi).  While this conception seems to be tacitly recognised in the canonical books [of the abhidhamma pitaka], it now comes to be drawn out for use as an explanatory tool in its own right. The functions of the cittas come to be designated by way of their functions. The term khana, “moment,” replaces the canonical samaya “occasion,” as the basic unit for delimiting the occurrence of events, and the duration of a material phenomenon is determined to be seventeen moments of mental phenomenon. The division of a moment into three sub-moments–arising, presence, and dissolution–also seems to be new to the Commentaries…

In relation to awakening, proponents of the Commentary theory of cognitive process claim that during awakening there is a single very brief moment of sotapanna magga citta immediately followed by a similarly very brief moment of sotapanna phala citta with no other citta (moment of cognitive process) in between magga and phala. However, this theory is not supported by the suttas. There are many suttas where noble ones who are path attainers (magga) are walking around without yet having attained the fruit (phala). We should always prefer the suttas to later teachings elaborated in exegetical literature.

In later blogs I intend to write some short articles on the less well-known sevenfold classification of ariyapuggala and on the first stage of awakening – sotapanna magga based on reading suttas. 

Negombo, Kuala Lumpur, Perth

Negombo
On Tuesday, 11 May, I travelled from Kandy to Negombo by regular bus.  It was a hot 4 hour journey sitting next to my luggage on the seat next to me. I bought two seat tickets (one for my luggage). The conductor alerted me to the stop where I wanted to get off, Parakrama Road close to a Nayomi Bakery just about 5km just south of Negombo town. I drank some tea and ate some cakes before taking a 3 wheeler with my 3 pieces of luggage 1km down Parakrama Road to Srilal Fernando’s guest-house. I had booked the room a few days earlier.  I did not wish to go to the Negombo beach which is north of town. Srilal Fernando’s place is relatively close to the Bandaranaike International Airport (Sri Lanka’s international airport). It is very clean, comfortable and economical.

Kuala Lumpur
I flew AirAsia to KL arriving about 2pm, stored my luggage at the airport and rode a shuttle bus into town to visit a Dhamma book distribution centre where I picked up two books and made a donation. I ate roti and dal and drank milk with Mrs Lim from the distribution centre at a nearby restaurant. We chatted about Dhamma and life in KL. Then I went back to the KL airport by shuttle bus and a short while later boarded the flight to Perth.

Perth

I arrived in Perth on Saturday, 15 May 2010 before dawn. The air was crisp and cool. Someone told me the temperature of around 2.5 degrees Celsius though the minimum is usually around 6-8 degrees rising to a maximum of around 22. It was a huge contrast with Negombo, Sri Lanka which was very very humid last week and had a temperature range between 31-27 degrees C.  The southern hemisphere is in autumn now. I enjoyed passing through Perth on my way to my mother’s house. There were few vehicles or people to be seen. There is so much space between things. I travelled by shuttle van from the airport to the city and then by light rail and local bus. Everything seems so clean and luxurious. So much space, so few people… I have experienced this many times and yet each time I return to Australia after some time away, I am always delighted.

I’ve caught up with many family members. The adults haven’t changed during the past year or so while the children have noticeably grown taller and one now talks incessantly.  I have already begun looking for employment.

Advantages of hearing the Dhamma or thinking on the Dhamma even when suffering great pain

A6.56 Phagguna Sutta [Piya Tan’s translation as a PDF] paraphrased by MK from The Book of the Gradual Sayings (Anguttara Nikaaya) vol. 4, translated by F.L. Woodward [translation by Sister Upalavanna] [ผัคคุณสูตร]


Ven. Phagguna is very sick and is visited by the Blessed One and Ven. Aananda. The sutta says that Ven. Phagguna was already a stream enterer (sotapanna) or once returner (sakadagaami) and while the Blessed One talks with him, he attains anaagaami.  On dying he attains arahat.  It is significant that Ven. Phagguna who is in great physical pain throughout the conversation with the Blessed One and yet is able to focus on the Dhamma talk and attain anaagaami.  The sutta also doesn’t mention whether Ven. Phagguna had previously attained any jhaana (mental absorption). In the sutta he graphically describes his pains thus:

Violent winds are cutting through my head like a strong man cleaving it open with a sharp sword. I cannot bear it, venerable sir;
Violent pains are crushing my head as if a strong man were tightening a strong leather strap around my head as a headband. I cannot bear it, venerable sir;
Violent winds are rending my belly as if a skilled butcher or his apprentice were to carve up a cow’s belly with a sharp butcher’s knife. I cannot bear it, venerable sir;
Violent pains are burning up my body as if two strong men were to seize a weaker man by both arms, and burn and roast him over a pit of burning coal. I cannot bear it, venerable sir; 

I am unable to keep going, and my pains are not subsiding, but rising; their rising is evident, not their subsiding. 

These phrases are familiar and used in other suttas where sick people are describing their pains. I slightly modified Piya Tan’s translation in the above excerpt. We don’t know the precise nature of Ven. Phagguna’s illness, only that it is grave and shortly leads to his death.  Perhaps, if a person were in a modern hospital in Australia suffering in such a manner they would be given strong anesthesia such as morphine and perhaps encouraged to sleep until passing away (assuming the case was untreatable).

The sutta does not record precisely what the Blessed One said to Ven. Phagguna only that he taught him and then left.  Piya Tan’s excellent notes to his translation explain this well, I encourage you to read his entire translation and notes.

All this is background and provides an interesting context for the main teaching which are six general principles for timely hearing or thinking on the Dhamma that go way beyond Ven. Phagguna’s particular case. Four principles cover timely hearing of the Dhamma and two principles cover timely thinking on the Dhamma.

I have summarised these principles as follows:
A. sakadagaami attains anaagaami by:
1. hearing the Dhamma from the Tathaagata
2. hearing the Dhamma from a disciple of the Tathaagata
3. continues to reflect in mind on Dhamma s heard, as learned, ponders and investigates it.

B. anaagaami attains arahat by the same three methods.

These principles show that it is possible for Noble Disciples hearing the Dhamma to attain higher paths and fruitions (magga and phala) even when in great pain (as in Ven. Phagguna’s case) without necessarily requiring jhaana. If jhaana were a requirement, then it would be mentioned.

If Ven. Phaguna were able to enter jhaana while in pain, he may be able to experience exclusively mental pleasure or exclusively equanimity and not feel physical pain. Either he is incapable of entering jhaana or he prefers to investigate the dhammas arising and passing as they are. In other words he may prefer to use his last moments to do vipassana meditation.  Or, following the cases in the sutta itself, he prefers to listen to the Dhamma expounded by the Blessed One (so fortunate to have this opportunity) and then think over, ponder over and turn over in his mind the Dhamma as he has heard it…, thus attaining either another level of enlightenment or final Nibbaana.

Piya Tan’s translation of the A.3 case above he writes: “On account of his thinking over, pondering over, turning over in his mind, the Dhamma as he has heard it, as he has learned it, his mind is freed through the supreme destruction of acquisitions.”  It seems that not only by listening to the Dhamma can there be a breakthrough, but also by “thinking it over, pondering over, turning over in his mind…” This is significant because most meditation teachers these days discourage thinking.  I refer here to teachers of vipassana (insight) and samatha (calm) meditation and claim that only by meditation can there be enlightenment. I quite agree with those meditation teachers that vipassana and samatha meditation are beneficial and strongly encouraged by the Blessed One and that they both can lead to enlightenment. I also want to open readers minds to the possibility that “thinking it over, pondering over, turning over in his mind…”is also a valid way for attaining Nibbaana.

However, this sutta is a teaching for Noble Disciples (ariyasaavaka) and may not be so effective for those disciples who have not yet attained at least the path of stream-entry (sotapanna).  A stream-enterer is one who has “opened the Dhamma eye”, has right view, has confirmed confidence in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, has unbroken ethical conduct and so on.The stream-enterer has also eliminated the three gross fetters (sa.myojana) that bind one to sa.msaara (the round of existence) for more than seven further existences or to a future unfortunate existence in hell, as a peta (ghost) or animal. These three fetters are (1) identity view, (2) doubt about the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, the laws of kamma or the efficacy of the Four Noble Truths, and (3) attachment to rites and rituals as a way to attain enlightenment. If you haven’t heard of these fetters, I recommend you study them.

Even so, there are two famous cases of Ven. Saariputta and Ven. Mahaamoggallana who both attained Sotapanna by hearing a short verse. Neither appears to have been in jhaana before realising this attainment. Later Ven. Saariputta attained arahat phala while listening to the Dighanaka Sutta. Ven. Mahaamoggallana seems to have attained arahat phala through meditation.  There are many other cases in the suttas where lay people and monastics attained sotapanna or sakadaagaami simply by listening attentively to a Dhamma discourse given by the Buddha or a disciple.

There are also instances in the Tipitaka where members of the audience hearing a Dhamma talk may not be able to realise path and fruitions.  A famous case in point is in the Sama~n~naphala Sutta [สามัญญผลสูตร] where King Ajatasattu, a paricide (killed his father), is unable to make a breakthrough to stream-entry on account of his previous crime. Killing either of one’s parents will form an insurmountable barrier to noble attainment in the existence in which the crime is committed though in future existences noble attainment becomes possible once again. This was despite King Ajatasattu having all other perfections ready for noble attainment. 
Here is a quote from the second last paragraph in Bhikkhu Thanissaro’s translation of the Sama~n~naphala Sutta. 

So King Ajatasattu, delighting and rejoicing in the Blessed One’s words, rose from his seat, bowed down to him, and — after circumambulating him — left. Not long after King Ajatasattu had left, the Blessed One addressed the monks: “The king is wounded, monks. The king is incapacitated. Had he not killed his father — that righteous man, that righteous king — the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye would have arisen to him as he sat in this very seat.” 

The “stainless Dhamma eye” is another way of saying “sotapanna”.   So what ever you do, take good care of your parents!

Theravada tradition holds that after spending a long time in the hell realm, Ajatasattu will return to the human realm and then attain Nibbaana as a Pacekkhabuddha.

(the Thai translation of this section below is from http://www.84000.org//) 

[๑๔๐] เมื่อพระผู้มีพระภาคตรัสอย่างนี้แล้ว ท้าวเธอได้กราบทูลลาว่า ข้าแต่พระองค์
ผู้เจริญ ถ้าเช่นนั้นหม่อมฉันขอทูลลาไปในบัดนี้ หม่อมฉันมีกิจมาก มีกรณียะมาก พระผู้มีพระภาค
ตรัสว่า ขอมหาบพิตรทรงสำคัญเวลา ณ บัดนี้เถิด. ครั้งนั้นแล พระเจ้าแผ่นดินมคธพระนามว่า
อชาตศัตรู เวเทหีบุตร ทรงเพลิดเพลินยินดีภาษิตของพระผู้มีพระภาคแล้ว เสด็จลุกจากอาสนะ
ถวายบังคมพระผู้มีพระภาค ทรงกระทำประทักษิณแล้วเสด็จไป. เมื่อท้าวเธอเสด็จไปไม่นาน
พระผู้มีพระภาคตรัสกะภิกษุทั้งหลายว่า ดูกรภิกษุทั้งหลาย พระราชาพระองค์นี้ถูกขุดเสียแล้ว
พระราชาพระองค์นี้ถูกขจัดเสียแล้ว หากท้าวเธอจักไม่ปลงพระชนมชีพพระบิดาผู้ดำรงธรรม เป็น
พระราชาโดยธรรมไซร้ ธรรมจักษุ ปราศจากธุลี ปราศจากมลทิน จักเกิดขึ้นแก่ท้าวเธอ ณ ที่
ประทับนี้ทีเดียว. พระผู้มีพระภาคได้ตรัสคำเป็นไวยากรณ์นี้แล้ว. ภิกษุเหล่านั้นชื่นชมยินดีภาษิต
ของพระผู้มีพระภาคแล้วแล.
[สามัญญผลสูตร]

Out of Retreat Again and Returning to Perth

Monday, 3 May 2010: I left Na Uyana Aranya and came to Kandy which is cooler and is the home of the Buddhist Publication Society – a wonderful bookshop with attached Buddhist library.  I plan to go to Negombo on Tuesday, 12 May and then depart Sri Lanka on Friday, 14 May, stopping over in KL for about 12 hours before continuing on and arriving in Perth on Saturday, 15 May.  While in KL I will try to visit the W.A.V.E shop and maybe obtain even more Dhamma books.

Saturday, 8 May 2010: I have visited the Buddhist Publication Society shop many times during this week and purchased many books that the BPS has posted by surface mail to Perth. I also spent a lot of time in one of the Kandy Internet cafes, writing e-mails, doing research and catching up on news. On Wednesday, I went back to Na Uyana to donate some items and pick up a letter that arrived after I left. I only stayed one hour.

This morning I visited Venerable Nyanatusita at the Forest Hermitage on the outskirts of Kandy. He is the current editor of the BPS and has a Dutch background. He told me that he was ordained in Sri Lanka in the Galduva tradition and has spent a few years living at Bodhinyana Monastery with Ajahn Brahmavamso.

Vimuttimagga and Visuddhimagga
I asked many Dhamma questions and Bhante very patiently answered with humour and wisdom. I was delighted to learn that Bhante is currently translating the Vimuttimagga from Chinese into English. This is excellent news. The first English translation of the Vimuttimagga by Soma Thera and Kheminda Thera et.al. was done quickly and not originally intended for publication.  Nevertheless, the first English translation has been translated from English into other languages including Thai. Surely it would be better for those Thai translators and other language translators to have translated from the Chinese text rather than compound the errors in the first English translation.  For the sake of Buddhists who use languages other than English and Chinese, I do hope that in future translators into Thai and Burmese etc. will base their efforts on the Chinese text. 

Many people seem to prefer the Vimuttimagga over the Visuddhimagga because of the latter’s abhidhamma influences and divergance from the suttas. I’m sure that a new English translation of the Vimuttimagga will recieve a lot of attention by meditators and scholars alike.

Ven. Nyanatusita also told me that the next edition of the Visuddhimagga is not far off and that the publication of the next edition will coincide with its release on the Internet, possibly as a PDF.  I gave away my previous copy of the Visuddhimagga when I was in Myanmar last year and was keen to get another copy. I finally obtained a new hard bound edition for 1000 Sri Lankan Rupees (about $10). It must weigh more than 1kg on its own.  There was only one more copy at the BPS. These two were recently found in storage. It is almost impossible to find new copies for sale now so the new edition will be warmly welcomed. Having it on the Internet will also make it convenient for casual readers or those who can tolerate reading books on computer screens.

There is an interesting article about the Visuddhimagga and Vimuttimagga by Venerable Analayo which I recommend you read. We live in good times for Buddhist studies and practice. The standard of scholarship seems to have improved vastly during the past century. I hope to see more advances in this life time.

Na Uyana Aranya in the hot season

At this time of year Na Uyana Aranya is hot and humid. My own kuti was not shaded from the afternoon sun and the concrete walls and ceiling absorbed the heat during the day only to slowly release during the evening.

ABOVE: A view looking south east toward Kuti M37 Na Uyana Aranya, Sri Lanka, January 2010

ABOVE: A view looking west toward Kuti M37 Na Uyana Aranya, Sri Lanka, February 2010

My walking path was also exposed to direct sunlight during the day. Many ant trails crossed the path at random places. The kuti was located about 15 minutes walk up a steep rugged path that is muddy and slippery after rain. The steps are high and awkward. Walking around in thongs is also inherently dangerous, all the more so when the feet are wet and the ground muddy. There are many concrete paths at Na Uyana Aranya but not on the way to the kuti I was in.  One needs to climb the paths at least once a day to eat at least one meal a day. There is breakfast and lunch available. Some people also attend morning chanting, evening chanting and group meditation sessions and inevitably climb up and down many times in a day. My 50 year old knees complained a lot, especially if I was loaded with a 25kg backpack which was not very often. It usually took one or two weeks for the knee pain to subside after carrying the pack up or down.

ABOVE: A view of a fork in the path looking north on the ‘mountain side’ at Na Uyana Aranya, Sri Lanka, February 2010
 ABOVE: A view of a covered path in an old growth area of the forest at Na Uyana Aranya, Sri Lanka, February 2010

My kuti also had many very small mosquito-like biting insects “hopitos” [not sure of the spelling or even if I’ve remembered the name correctly].  Despite their small size, they seem to be vastly more persistent in finding ways to repeatedly bite one than any mosquito I’ve encountered. My feet, elbows and to a lesser extent head were covered in their bites which are very itchy. I used incense to discourage them to some extent and always slept under a mosquito net in my kuti. These relentless insects are active from about 4pm to 9am every day.

I learned from Sri Lankan monks to paint the columns of my kuti with smelly black sump oil which inevitably soiled my white upasaaka clothes. To some extent this prevented the trails of ants climbing the columns and entering the kuti. Even so, the ants still found ways to enter. Maybe they drop from trees over the roof? Fortunately, the ants did not bite the body. My concern was not to inadvertently kill them while moving about or while bathing.

The monastics eat food in a daana saala (food hall) above ground while upaasaka would eat on the ground floor sitting on benches. This area is not so clean and there are many flies.

ABOVE: Michael and Stuart in front of the food hall, Na Uyana Aranya May 2010. Monastics eat upstairs and lay men eat at ground level.
Meditation 

Previously, I have meditated in cooler more convenient conditions. No situation is perfect. There will always be some condition or another that we may struggle with. Even in the conditions I experienced at Na Uyana Aranya, there are other monastics and upaasaka (lay men on 8 precepts) who appeared to survive and thrive. Many of my previous teachers, even as long ago as 1983, have told me that I indulge in restlessness.

I found that aanaapaanasati is excellent practice and will continue to practice this way for the time being. I experience a relative calmness and sensed that I was making progress though slowly.  Besides the difficult physical conditions mentioned above, I also hampered progress by talking with others for short periods almost every day and reading Dhamma books borrowed from the Na Uyana library. Usually conversations were of a practical nature concerned with getting things done or they were related to the Dhamma. Ideally, there should be no conversation except with the teacher at meditation interviews.

Gardening Service at Na Uyana

I probably made conditions worse for myself by voluntarily gardening along various sections of the paths around the monastery.  There is a type of long grass (which may have originated in Africa and been introduced by the British colonizers) and a few other plants that tend to take over paths rather quickly. I borrowed a short machete from another yogi and slashed away at the grass or pulled out clumps of grass after rain had softened the soil holding its roots.  Bhikkhus are constrained by a vinaaya rule prohibiting them from damaging plant life and if they ever saw me working, they would smile or thank me for my efforts.  Of course there are regular work gangs organised to eventually clear the paths but I felt it was an opportunity to make merit.

ABOVE: Long grass near eastern side of the lake in Kandy, Sri Lanka May 2010. This same grass infested Na Uyana Aranya. It grows 2-3 metres tall, has sharp blades, prickles on the stalks and its sap seems to burn exposed skin.
ABOVE: Closer view of long grass near eastern side of the lake in Kandy, Sri Lanka May 2010

While gardening, I would cheerfully recall the effort of Sumedha making a path with his own body for the Blessed One Diipankaara and the Sangha before taking his bodhisatta vow, 4 innumerables and 100,000 aeons ago.  I would recall the development of the Noble Eightfold Path, even though gardening service is not one of the Path factors.  I would recall the Visuddhimagga notes on preparing for meditation, cleaning one’s kuti, one’s body and surroundings in order to improve concentration. I therefore imagined that by clearing the paths, I would be helping the monastics and upaasakas to develop deep and stable concentration. I would recall that Na Uyana Aranya has many snakes, scorpions, centipedes and other creatures that dwell in grass. By clearing the long grass and weeds away from the path, these creatures and the people using the paths were likely to notice one another before direct contact and possible harm. Perhaps in some way this work prevented loss of life, pain and injury.   Hmmm… that is a lot of thinking, even if it is wholesome-kusala. I relate these thoughts in this blog to encourage readers to consider their own daily work in a wholesome way. It is possible to derive merit from many kinds of work even work that is not so directly involved in serving the Sangha and other virtuous people.  I shall try to give more such examples in later blogs.

Even so, this physical work was not so good for my lower back, knees, shoulders or hands. I was lucky to have gloves which protected the skin of my hands but the sinews and muscles were a bit strained by the effort of grasping and pulling the clumps of grass. They are still sore now.  Sacrificing the comfort of the body is necessary for accumulating merit and developing those skillful qualities – kusala that will eventually lead to Nibbaana.  There are too few opportunities for making merit. How often do we have direct encounters with the Sangha, with virtuous people striving for penetration and higher mental states? The Sangha is the unsurpassed field of merit. So what is a bit of pain in the back or the hands?