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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3 thoughts on “Well-taught Noble Disciple

  1. Should this be corrected as;

    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. (repeated?)

    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 see

  2. Dear Michael,
    I'm Pradeep Jayatilaka. I'm a Sri Lankan. My town is Wadduwa, 33 km to the south of Colombo. I found your blog, when i was searching about “Na uyana”. It is very interesting and information about “Na uyana” also very valuable. I'm also hope to visit Na Uyana as soon as possible. I hope to follow your blog regularly.Keep writing. I wish all the best for your spiritual journey.
    May triple gem bless you!

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