The Mahaparinibbana Sutta is interesting because it is the oldest and longest biographical account of the Buddha, located in the Digha Nikaya, including his final teachings.
Almost forty fundamental spiritual principles are embedded in the narrative but are easily overlooked if one focuses on the biography. One discovers this if one pays attention to what one is reading.
Thus, the Mahaparinibbana Sutta constitutes one of the most important foundational documents of historical Buddhism.
Note: This commentary was abstracted from a six-hour reading and commentary on the Mahaparinibbana Sutta that took place at the Buddha Center, Second Life, in March and April 2014. The location of each point in the sutta where we paused and commented on that point is indicated in parentheses after the title of each principle.
First Recitation Section
Principle #1: Tathagatas Cannot Lie (1.2)
King Ajatasattu of Magadha uses the Buddha as an oracle because Tathagatas, having achieved self-perfection, are both internally and externally completely self-consistent, as reality must be. This passage highlights the paradox of the coexistence of the corrupt nature of n.e. India during the 5th century BCE and a deep faith in spirituality.
Principle #2: Political Philosophy of the Buddha: Social Democracy/Anarcho-Syndicalism (1.4)
The Buddha sets out a comprehensive political philosophy, thus showing that even a transcendent being continues to care for the inhabitants of the world of samsara. Indeed, the proper political organization of society is a recurring theme of the Pali Canon. These principles include holding assemblies, peace, following the ancient tradition, seniority, women’s rights, a national spiritual practice, and a national spiritual organization. These precepts follow the organizational principles of the quasi-democratic Vajjian republic, which were also similar to the principles of the Shakyan republic of the Buddha’s family.
Principle #3: Precepts for the Sangha: Communitarianism (1.6)
The precepts for the monastics also parallel those of the Vajjians, and includes holding assemblies, peace, rules of training (replacing an ancient tradition), seniority, non-desire (replacing women’s rights), forest dwelling (replacing a national spiritual practice), and mindfulness (replacing a national spiritual organization).
Principle #4: Communism (1.11)
The sangha is to be organized based on commonality of property, but does not supersede civil society, which supports the sangha so that the sangha is a function of civil acceptance, and not the reverse (therefore, the concept of a Buddhist religious government is a contradiction in terms, despite the references to a national spiritual commonality). Interestingly, the fourth continent of Sumeru, Purvavideha, which is the home of the longest-lived and most advanced race of human beings, with longevity of 1,000 years, is communistic! Presumably this will be the social system of Shambhala when, according to the Kalachakra, it manifests in the 25th century of the Common Era.
Principle #5: Wisdom is the Salvific Principle (1.12)
A recurring theme that runs through the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, almost like a refrain, is the mutual relationship between morality, ethics, or virtue; one-pointedness, concentration, or meditation; and wisdom. This is called the threefold training or the threefold partition, and is not attributed to the Buddha, but to the nun Dhammadinna (in the Culavedalla Sutta), who the Buddha declared to be the nun foremost in wisdom. In many sects of religious Buddhism today this threefold division of the Noble Eightfold Path has virtually replaced the Noble Eightfold Path. The path is presented as beginning with the cultivation of virtue, followed by meditation. Because of these two things, wisdom, identified with enlightenment, dawns. The Buddha states that meditation, imbued with morality, brings great fruit and profit, and that wisdom, imbued with meditation, brings great fruit and profit, but that it is the mind imbued with wisdom that brings about emancipation. Thus, the sequence is morality (since meditation cannot be imbued with something that was does not have), meditation, and wisdom. Note, however, the subtle distinction made here between morality and meditation on the one hand and wisdom on the other. Morality and meditation are skilful means (upaya), but it is the mind-imbued wisdom that brings about emancipation. From this, we conclude that it is wisdom that is the essential salvific principle, which brings the threefold partition into conformity with the Noble Eightfold Path, the first limb of which is Right View or Wisdom that leads the aspirant to the attainment of the first crucial stage of the stream winner. It seems, then, that the true sequence of the path is wisdom, morality, meditation. Moreover, wisdom is not merely something that is attained. It is also something that is developed. This view is moreover confirmed in the doctrine of dependent co-origination (pattiyasamuppada), the radical or first principle of which, ignorance (avijja), is overcome by wisdom. Wisdom is also the essential attainment of a Buddha, whereas ethics and meditation, leading to the state of desirelessness or non-attachment, is the essential attainment of an arhant. If one reads the Pali Canon in its entirely, it becomes clear that it is the realization of wisdom that brings about emancipation. There are many stories of aspirants attaining emancipation simply by listening to a dharma talk of the Buddha or another disciple of the Buddha, followed by a period of meditation as short as five days. Similarly, the Buddha himself says that emancipation is available after a period of meditation as short as seven days.
Principle #6: Sariputta and the Buddha Debate on the Greatness of the Buddha (1.16)
Sariputta, renowned amongst the foremost disciples of the Buddha for his wisdom, affirms to the Buddha that the Buddha is the best and most enlightened ascetic or Brahman, past, present, or future. Rather than accept this praise, the Buddha turns it against the Sariputta, first chidingly affirming him – “You have spoken with a bull’s voice, Sariputta, you have roared the lion’s roar of certainty” – and then questioning him – “Have all the Arhant Buddhas of the past appeared to you, and were the minds of all those Lords open to you? Have you perceived all the Arhant Buddhas who will appear in the future? Do you even know me as the Arhant Buddha?” To all of these questions Sariputta was forced to acknowledge that he did not know. Thus, the Buddha ironically concludes, “You have spoken with a bull’s voice, Sariputta; you have roared the lion’s roar of certainty.” Such is my reading of this text, which might be read by a religious as an affirmation of Sariputta’s faith, were it not for the emphasis the Buddha placed on questioning and Sariputta’s defensive reply. Rather, the Buddha challenges Sariputta to justify his claim. Sariputta’s reputation for wisdom was not misplaced, for he turned the tables on the Buddha, and proved to the Buddha that his respect for the Buddha was not based on faith or clairvoyance, but on his knowledge of the “drift of the dharma” (dhammavaya). This recurs to the Buddha’s statement that, although we may not know the dharma, we can judge the dharma by its effect – true dharma always yields positive karma; something that has negative karma cannot be true dharma, reminiscent of the statement by Yeshua that one can judge a tree by its fruits. One must be careful, here, of course, not to conflate real and apparent positiveness. Positiveness does not necessarily “feel good,” whereas something that does not “feel good” is not automatically negative. The Buddha has no response, thus acceding to the wisdom of Sariputta’s reply.
Principle #7: Comprehensive Dharma versus Dharma in Brief (1.18)
If you read the Pali Canon, comprehensive dharma is often contrasted with dharma in brief or “in short” (samkhittena). As Peter Masefield, author of Divine Revelation in the Pali Canon, points out, the distinction is obscure, since the content of comprehensive dharma and dharma in brief often appears to be similar (op. cit. (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1986), pp. 101f.). Dharma in brief is frequently requested before an aspirant would go into the forest for a period of intensive meditation, often culminating in arhantship. It seems like it might be similar to an oral transmission or empowerment, as in the Tantric traditions. This is a concept I intend to study further.
Principle #8: The Motif of the Pillar or Pole (1.22)
The Pali Canon frequently presents the Buddha as sitting with his back against a pole or pillar. The monks sit behind the Buddha, facing the lay followers, who sit in the east facing the Buddha. Thus, to the sangha the Buddha appears in the place of the rising sun, and to the lay followers in the place of the setting sun, foremost of the sangha, with the sangha as support. The motif of the pole or pillar is of course an allusion to the tree of awakening (the Bodhi tree, ficus religiosa), sitting under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. The Buddha also experienced his first meditative state while sitting as a child under a rose apple tree, and died between two sal trees (shorea robusta), while lying on the ground in accordance with Indian custom. He was also born under a sal tree. Similarly, the Buddha enjoined his disciples to live in the forest as a place of refuge. India has a long history of sacred trees and forests, along with many other societies. When the Buddha broke his vow of abstinence when he was on the verge of dying, he was seated under a tree, and Sujata, who offered him a bowl of rice gruel, believed he was the spirit of the tree to which she had come to make a food offering. The sacred tree is representative of the polar axis, like Mount Sumeru, through which communication with the higher worlds becomes possible. The pillars of Ashoka recur to this symbolism also, all of which represent the axis mundi — the cosmic axis, world axis, world pillar, columna cerului, center of the world, or world tree, the omphalos (navel) of the world, and is a universal motif of the philosophia perennis with its origins in prehistoric shamanism.
Principle #9: The Path of the Householder: The Way of Karma (1.24)
Buddhism is not merely a spirituality of monastics, ascetics, and recluses. The Buddha had many disciples who were householders, and many of these disciples attained arhantship. Thus, the Buddhist science of spirituality also includes the path of the householder, which is sometimes called the lunar path. In my book, Fundamental View: Ten Talks on the Pali Canon (2013), I called it the way of the valley. The path of the householder is based primarily, but not exclusively, on the path of karma, i.e., removing negative karma through self-purification and acquiring merit through the cultivation of positive karma. Thus, Buddhism is not divorced from practical life, and reveals itself as a pragmatic spiritual philosophy. This is shown by the Buddha’s summary of the perils and advantages of good and bad morality, which he designates failure and success in morality. The advantages of success in good morality, i.e., good karma, include wealth, reputation, confidence and assurance, dying unconfused, and rebirth in a higher world. It is clear from this and other passages that although the sangha was organized in a communitarian and, indeed, communistic way, the Buddha did not advocate the extension of that system of social organization to civil society as a whole. The Buddha did not oppose property and wealth in civil society, for example, though it is clear from other passages that he saw wealth as imposing special social obligations on the wealthy, and that he advocated social redistribution of property and wealth for the general good.
Principle #10: The Cohabitation of Devas and People (1.26)
The word “deva” is usually translated as “god,” but this is really a very unsatisfactory translation. The English word means “that which is called or invoked,” whereas the Sanskrit/Pali word means “shining,” referring to a celestial being of light, rather like Plato’s bisexual flying spheres. According to the PED, devas are splendid, mobile, beautiful, good, and luminous, as well as continuous with the life of humanity and all beings. They are beings who occupy higher worlds in the system of vertical extension that defines samsara, but it is clear from this passage that some devas also coexist with humanity. Interestingly, Patna or Pataligama is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on earth and the largest city in the world between 300 and 195 BCE. About 300 BCE, a hundred years after the death of the Buddha, its population was 400,000. One can see from the text, thousands of devas invisibly inhabited this city, influencing the minds of people telepathically. This is the only place I know of where this aspect of the life of devas and people is documented.
Principle #11: The Divine Eye: Ajna Cakra (1.27)
The “divine eye” (dibba-cakkhu) is referred to frequently throughout the Pali Canon. In the Pali Canon, this is one of the six gnoses (chalabhiññā). In this context, it refers to knowing the karmic destinations of others. However, it has a larger meaning as well. It is enumerated as one of the three wisdoms (tevijja or tivijja), along with remembering past lives and extinction of mental intoxicants. In the Maha-Saccaka Sutta, the Buddha says he obtained the divine eye during the second watch of the night of his enlightenment. In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, it is by means of the divine eye that the Buddha sees devas. The divine eye is also a universal symbolic motif or archetype. In Egyptian mythology, one finds the eye of Horus. It also appears in Freemasonry, where a semi-circular glory appears below the eye, which is enclosed in a triangle. In Christianity, it represents the Eye of Providence, where clouds or sunbursts surround it. The Eye of Providence also appears on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of the French Revolution.
In the Indian chakra system, the eye appears as the ajna chakra, the eye of intuition and intellect, located in the centre of the forehead. In Tibetan Buddhism, the “third eye” is the upper end of the central energy channel that runs up through the spine to the top of the head. This centre is also important in Qigong, Sufism, and Cabala. In human beings, the divine eye corresponds to the pineal gland, in the centre of the brain, a vestigial third eye that actually appears in lizards, amphibians, and fish. Descartes called this organ “the seat of the soul.” Modern research has discovered that the pineal gland is the source of naturally occurring dimethyltryptamine (DMT), the most powerful psychedelic known, which is also widely found throughout nature. DMT facilitates vivid otherworldly visions including encounters with non-human entities with which one can communicate.
Principle #12: The Buddha Was Not an Extreme Ascetic (1.30)
Although it is well-known that the Buddha rejected the extreme asceticism of the proto-Shaivite samanas with whom he associated prior to his enlightenment, the Buddha is still regarded as a moderate ascetic, illustrated for example by the quite rigid rules of the Vinaya. Nevertheless, it is clear from the Pali Canon that the Buddha’s life, while simple, was not entirely deprived. There are numerous examples in the Pali Canon in which the Buddha and his entourage are invited to the home of a wealthy local person, usually either political figures or celebrities, to be entertained with a fine meal of choice hard and soft food, which they invariably ate to their satisfaction. Since the Buddha travelled extensively, this must have occurred frequently. This fact stands as a useful corrective to the one-sided view that the Buddha was exclusively ascetic.
Principle #13: A Meaningful Miracle: More Evidence of Proto-Tantra (1.33)
Although the Pali Canon is largely naturalistic, it does attest to the reality of psychic powers, and sometimes these appear as full-blown miracles, as in the story of the Buddha and his entourage teleporting themselves from one side of the Ganges to the other. This is especially ironic in view of the disparagement of miracles by the Buddha in About Patikaputta (Patikaputta Sutta, 1.4). Similarly, Yeshua disparages those who seek for a sign, declaring that no sign will be given to them, yet the Gospels and the Church ascribe miracles to him as the proof of his divinity. The Buddha clearly saw that the belief in miracles leads to a superstitious reverence for the person rather than the one true miracle, the miracle of the dharma itself, which alone leads to emancipation. Therefore, I believe we can reliably state that the Buddha did not perform miracles and that these stories are later inventions. Nevertheless, the presence of miracles of this type in the Pali Canon is another indication of the development of proto-Tantric literary motifs even in the early developmental period of Buddhism, much as Gnosticism appeared early in the development of the Christian tradition. One can, of course, derive valid teachings from such stories even if they are not literally or historically true.
Second Recitation Section
Principle #14: The Mirror of Dhamma (2.8)
The Mirror of Dhamma gives a method whereby the aspirant can realize for themselves the state of stream entry, whereby they realize the fact that they will achieve emancipation within no more than seven lives. The method is to cultivate absolute confidence in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. This method must be differentiated form Christian faith, however, which is virtually defined as belief not based on proof, whereas the Buddha states that the “unwavering confidence” to which he refers is based on “inspection, leading onward, to be comprehended by the wise each one for himself.” Moreover, the morality of such an aspirant must be integral. By this method, one can know by oneself as a matter of certainty that one has achieved stream-entry.
Principle #15: Mindfulness (2.12, 2.13)
The Pali word translated as “mindfulness” is sati. According to the PED, the etymological meaning of this word is “memory, to remember,” also: “recognition, consciousness, intentness of mind, wakefulness of mind, mindfulness, alertness, lucidity of mind, self-possession, conscience, self-consciousness.” The latter is somewhat disconcerting, given the Buddha’s rejection of the atta (atman) theory, commonly identified with the self. Mindfulness is probably also connected with the recollection of past lives, which is strongly emphasized throughout the Pali Canon. Mindfulness begins with mindfulness of the body, and is then extended to feelings, mind, and mind-objects.
Principle #16: A Courtesan Entertains the Buddha (2.14)
As we have seen, although the Buddha clearly lived a very modest and simple life, it was not without its luxuries, in the form of the choicest hard and soft food when prominent people in various communities entertained him and his monastics. It is also clear that the Buddha interacted with and taught women without distinction. A striking confirmation of both of these observations is the Buddha’s interaction with Ambapali, a wealthy ganika who lived in the Licchavi city of Vesali, part of the Vajjian confederacy. Although Walshe renders the Pali word ganika by “courtesan,” comparing her to the Japanese tradition of the geisha, the PED simply renders the word as “harlot,” “one who belongs to the crowd,” i.e., a common woman or, perhaps, a promiscuous woman. Nonetheless, Ambapali was a wealthy and beautiful woman who was a nagavradu, a royal courtesan who was also a prominent citizen of the town. The Buddha stayed in her mango grove, taught her the dhamma, and went to her home for his morning meal, accompanied by his monastics. So much for the Vinaya rule against consorting with women, and a prostitute at that! Clearly, the Buddha was neither a fundamentalist nor a prude. He consorted with women, taught them the dhamma on an equal basis with men, and was not above enjoying a fine meal or the company of a beautiful courtesan. Ambapali made a gift of her mango grove to the sangha, which the Buddha accepted.
Principle #17: Energy, the Force of Life, Health, and Longevity (2.23)
Here we encounter the first indication of the Buddha’s impending illness, characterized by diarrhea and sharp pains so severe as to suggest dying, about ten months before his death. The monastics remained at Ambapali’s park in Vesali, whereas the Buddha spent his last rainy season (July–September) in Beluva, a small town outside the southern gate of Vesali. What is most interesting about this passage, however, is the reference to energy and a “force of life” by which the Buddha was able to overcome his illness and postpone its effects so that he could take his leave of the order of monastics. The Buddha recommends the cultivation of energy throughout the Pali Canon, but only in a few places is it clear that this energy is an iddhi, a psychic power that has intrinsically healing and life-giving effects, comparable in fact to kundalini, which the Buddha appears to have experienced during his ascetic period. This brings the Buddha’s teachings into relation with kundalini yoga, the Tibetan concept of tumo, the Chinese concept of qi, etc.
Principle #18: Inner and Outer Dharma (2.25)
Here and elsewhere the Buddha indicates that his teaching has no “inner” and “outer,” that he has no “teacher’s fist” in respect of doctrines. This is widely interpreted to mean that Buddhism is exoteric, and that there is no esoteric dhamma, no “secret wisdom,” such as Vajrayana, Tantra, Theosophy, etc. imply. However, this is not, strictly speaking, what the Buddha says. The Buddha says that he makes no distinction between inner and outer, teaching everything to everyone openly and without secrecy. Walshe himself recognizes this when he states that there is no contradiction here between this passage and the Simsapa Sutta. In the latter, the Buddha distinguishes between knowledge that leads to liberation and other forms of knowledge, “vast as the leaves in the simsapa forest.” The latter is of the same order as the former, and is realized because of realization. “Even so, bhikshus, much more is the direct knowledge that I have known, but that has not been taught. Few is that which has been taught.” The distinction that the Buddha is making appears to be between praxis and gnosis, the latter the goal of the former. Thus, the latter does in effect constitute a secret wisdom, an untaught knowledge that is nonetheless the object of realization. What the Buddha is actually saying here is that he openly teaches the entirety of wisdom, but that he emphasizes the praxis first, because it is through the latter that one realizes the former. In the Simsapa Sutta, the praxis referred to is the Four Noble Truths. Clearly, however, the Buddha taught a great deal more than the Four Noble Truths. This is the only interpretation that reconciles and harmonizes all relevant passages, and shows the importance of not selected the passages that one likes, but rather referring to and collating all relevant passages in order to arrive at a synthetic interpretation.
Principle #19: The Sangha Has No Leader (2.25)
In this very significant passage, the Buddha makes it clear that he does not want to be succeeded as head of the sangha. In other passages the Buddha disdains being thought of as a “leader,” referring to himself rather as a friend amongst friends. Later in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, the Buddha states that the monastics should take the dhamma as their head. Nevertheless, after the Buddha’s death the sangha appointed Mahakassapa as its leader at the First Buddhist Council, followed by Ananda. Since the appointment of a leader violated the Buddha’s dictum with respect to the organization of the sangha, one may question the legitimacy of the early Buddhist councils, and in fact, their legitimacy did become an issue when the Mahasamghikas – the majority – and the Sthaviras split following the Second Buddhist Council over questions concerning the rules of the Vinaya and the infallibility of the arhants.
Principle #20: The Dharma Is the Only Refuge (2.26)
The monastics are to live freely as individuals, within a cooperative sangha, with themselves and the dhamma as their only retreat. Again, the reliance on the self is paradoxical in light of the anatta doctrine. Some scholars believe that the formula of the Triple Jewel, i.e., taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha is a later innovation that arose about the time of Ashoka (3rd cent. BCE), and that the original refuge formula referred to the Dhamma only. Clearly, the kind of sangha described by the Buddha is very different from the hierarchical, authoritarian sangha that we often see today. Although the Buddha did substitute respect for seniority for egalitarianism after his death, the sangha is still supposed to emphasize independent self-inquiry and free thought and consensus (failing which, majority rule), without excessive attachment to rules, rituals, or beliefs and without a singular leader. Recently, the Dalai Lama, to his credit, has honoured the Buddha’s dictum by stepping down as political leader of the Tibetan Administration in Exile and fostering a democratic constitution. In this regard, Buddhism appears to be exceptionally modern.
Third Recitation Section
Principle #21: The Four Roads to Power (3.3)
The Four Roads to Power are another example of magical or proto-Tantric thinking in the Pali Canon. This practice is not aimed only at awakening or enlightenment but also the development of psychic powers, in this context, longevity. In Walshe’s translation, success in this practice would enable the practitioner to live for a hundred years, close to the maximum longevity of a human being. Specifically, had Ananda taken the hint, he might have asked the Buddha to extend his life by this means and live another 20 years. However, Ananda – who is represented in the suttas as a bit of a dullard – did not take the hint.
The four roads to power (iddhipada) are not explained further in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, but we know what was involved from Viraddha Sutta (SN 51.2). In this sutta, the Buddha states that the practice consists of the development of four qualities: will (chanda), energy (viriya), intention (citta), and investigation (vimamsa), which are in turn based on the cultivation of concentration (samadhi) and concentrated mental aspiration (padhana-sankhara).
Principle #22: The Dharma, the Power of Truth, and Merit (3.7)
We see again a reference in the “dhamma of wondrous effect” to the universal idea that pervades the Pali Canon, especially the Jatakas, of the power of truth or the act of truth. This is a pan-Indian idea that we have discussed before, in which the ultimate truth of things itself exercises an influence that is beneficial and powerful. Mahatma Gandhi utilized the power of truth as a political principle, which he called satyagraha. This is also the principle by which merit may be acquired. The study, teaching, or recitation of dhamma is itself held to be intrinsically efficacious and beneficial.
Principle #23: Conscious Dying (3.10)
According to this passage, the Buddha did not die as a matter of accident or involuntarily, he deliberately renounced the life principle, mindfully and with full awareness. One might be inclined to regard this as mythologization, but one would be mistaken. This principle of conscious dying is also found amongst the Tibetan Buddhists, some of whose high lamas are reputedly able intentionally to will themselves to death. This is widely attested. This practice is portrayed in the movie, Little Buddha (1993). In Tibetan Buddhism, this practice is called phowa. It is the highest of the Six Yogas of Naropa. Dzogchen meditation is considered the highest and greatest phowa practice.
Principle #24: Two Nibbanas: With and Without Remainder (3.20)
Those who attended my series of talks on the Pali Canon last year will remember that there is not one but two types of nibbana, the final “blowing out” or extinction of desirous attachment: one with and one without “remainder.” The arhant who attains nibbana ceases to produce new karma due to the absence of desirous attachment, but existing karma still needs to play itself out. This suggests that karma is not destroyed by nibbana. If all karma were destroyed by nibbana, then one would die immediately. If the destruction of karma were the precondition of attaining nibbana, then the attainment of nibbana would be impossible. The Buddha does appear to teach that the attainment of nibbana destroys much karma, but not all. This point requires further research. This view of nibbana also corresponds to the Buddha’s life. After he attained enlightenment, the Buddha remained in an altered state of consciousness for a week, after which he returned to normal consciousness. He continued to live, and the evidence of the Pali Canon is that he continued to engage in spiritual retreats, practising mindfulness of the breath – this behaviour makes no sense if the Buddha were a perfected being, does it? Rather, it implies a being who still needs and benefits from spiritual practice. Finally, the Buddha exhausted his remaining karma and renounced the last vestige of attachment to life. He died, attaining the state of perfection called parinibbana, “final emancipation,” characterized by absolute transcendence.
Principle #25: Eight Liberations: The Eight Jhanas (3.33)
1. Rapture and happiness born of seclusion.
2. Delight and happiness born of concentration without applied or sustained thought.
3. Quiet, subtle and pervasive happiness, subtle enjoyment of mindful and equanimous mind, without rapture.
4. Stability, stillness, and equanimity, without happiness.
5. Infinite space.
6. Infinite consciousness.
8. Neither perception nor non-perception – opening to the transdual.
Cessation of Feeling and Perception (this level is not attested in all sources, and does not appear to correspond to complete transcendence)
Principle #26: The Buddha’s Enlightenment Experience (3.34)
Here we have a succinct statement of the Buddha’s monumental enlightenment experience, the reference to having just attained supreme enlightenment. This appears to be an early statement, there being no reference to the three watches of the night, consisting of the recollection of past lives, karma, and dependent co-origination (pattiyasamuppada), respectively. Then at sunrise, he attained full enlightenment, characterized by the encounter with Mara and the cessation of desirous attachment. Here, however, the Buddha simply attains supreme enlightenment in a moment, suggesting the instantaneous theory of liberation. Here we learn the name of the place, Uruvela, located in the state of Bihar; the river – Neranjara –and the tree – the Goatherd’s Banyan tree. Goat herders, having gone to the shade of the Banyan tree, would sit there, hence the name. Interestingly, the commentaries claim that this tree was located to the east of the awakening tree, whereas the sutta seems to suggest that this was the awakening tree.
Principle #27: Energy, the Force of Life, Health, and Longevity (3.40)
What is most interesting about this passage is the reference to energy and a “force of life” by which the Buddha was able to overcome his illness and postpone its effects so that he could take his leave of the order of monastics. The Buddha recommends the cultivation of energy throughout the Pali Canon, but only in a few places is it clear that this energy is an iddhi, a psychic power that has intrinsically healing and life-giving effects, comparable in fact to kundalini, which the Buddha appears to have experienced during his ascetic period. This brings the Buddha’s teachings into relation with kundalini yoga, the Tibetan concept of tumo, the Chinese concept of qi, etc. and is indicative of an authentic science of enlightenment (see Principle #17).
Principle #28: The Intercourse of Devas and People (3.50)
This passage is interesting because it implies several things. First, that the Buddha’s dharma is not directed at humans only, but that it is also directed at spiritual beings (devas). We have already alluded to this principle (see Principle #10).
Fourth Recitation Section
Principle #29: The Criteria of Authentic Dharma (4.8)
After the death of the Buddha, the Buddha’s dialogues were remembered and recited by the sangha, especially by Ananda, who had been the Buddha’s personal attendant for the last 25 years of his life. Since only Buddhist arhants were permitted to participate in the First Buddhist Council, we are fortunate that Ananda, rather conveniently it seems, attained arhantship on the night before the council met, since without his participation many of the Buddha’s teachings would have been lost. Thenceforth, the sangha would come together to rehearse the teachings of the Buddha based on the memories of the participants. Of course, as the participants died off, the nature of this transmission changed. From being memories of the actual hearers, the recollections increasingly focused on questions of doctrine and codification. These traditions were handed down in this way for 300 years. With the passage of time, it became increasingly important to verify the validity of these teachings.
It is therefore of interest to read in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta the criteria that were applied to verify the validity of the teachings that were passed down. The sutta identifies four primary sources of such teachings that may be considered: the Buddha himself, but also the community of elders and teachers, a group of many elders, and a single elder. The difference between the community of elders and a group of many elders is not clear, but the sources of authority are clearly the Buddha himself and the senior bhikkhus or theras, both as individuals and in concert with others. According to the PED, any bhikkhu of any seniority may be called “thera” because of his wisdom, and in fact, the Mahaparinibbana Sutta says that any monk may claim to have heard a teaching from “the Lord’s own lips.”
So much for the admissible sources of teachings. The Buddha then cautions that any such claim is neither to be approved nor disapproved. Rather, “his words and expressions should be carefully noted and compared with the Suttas and reviewed in the light of the discipline [Vinaya].” If the teaching conforms to the Suttas or the discipline, it is to be accepted. If it does not conform, it is to be rejected. Thus, a continuous preservation of established tradition is guaranteed. The Buddha does not say who is sanctioned to verify the teachings. However, elsewhere he says that decisions are to be made by consensus of the sangha, or, failing consensus, by majority rule.
An important point to note in this validation structure is that it is ideological, not historical. The primary criterion is not whether the words and circumstances of the teaching are historically accurate or not, but whether they conform to the established truth of the dharma based on previously accepted teachings. In other words, is there a reasonable continuity of teaching. Receiving a teaching from the Lord’s own lips is the first criterion, but not the only one. Thus, the accusation that is frequently made against the Mahayana sutras that they are false because they are ahistorical is proved irrelevant. The truth or falsity of the Mahayana sutras is to be validated based on the same criteria as the Pali suttas themselves, i.e., do they conform with the established teachings of the Buddha as handed down by tradition. In this context, therefore, do they conform to the Pali suttas, which are doubtless older than all but the oldest Mahayana sutras (circa first century BCE). In the same way, the conformity of the Pali texts with each other must also be subject to the same scrutiny.
Principle #30: The Buddha’s Last Meal: Not Food Poisoning (4.18)
The Buddha’s final meal is translated by Maurice Walshe as “pig’s delight,” thus glossing over the obscurity of the Pali phrase, sukara-maddava, which may refer to pork or a kind of truffle. This story has led to the speculation that the Buddha died of food poisoning. However, Dr. Mettanando Bhikkhu, in his article, “How the Buddha Died” (2001, May 15 – http://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebdha192.htm), suggests that food poisoning is an unlikely explanation of the Buddha’s sickness, first, because the Buddha felt the onset of the sickness very quickly, whereas food poisoning takes several hours to incubate, and second, because food poisoning does not cause the bloody diarrhea described in the sutta. He also rejects chemical poisoning, peptic ulcer, and haemorrhoids. Dr. Mettanando’s conclusion, based on the medical information provided in the suttas, is that the Buddha died of mesenteric infarction, a medical condition in which inflammation and injury of the small intestine result from inadequate blood supply – a common disease of the elderly that is lethal after ten to twenty hours. Thus, it was not the final meal that killed the Buddha, but old age, although the size of the meal that the Buddha consumed may have been the trigger that brought about the second and final episode of the disease that we know from previous passages had begun to afflict the Buddha some ten months’ before. The cogency of Dr. Mettanando’s analysis also gives us confidence in the historical accuracy of the Mahaparinibbana Sutta.
Fifth Recitation Section
Principle #31: Women Again (5.9)
Hearers of my talk, “The Status of Women in Ancient India and the Pali Tradition,” will be aware that there are two distinct attitudes towards women expressed in the Pali Canon. One attitude disparages women, grudgingly admits that women are capable of enlightenment, and admits women to the sangha on that basis, whereas the other makes no distinction of any kind between men and women, and admits women to the sangha, apparently on an equal basis to men. As we have seen in our discussion of the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, the Buddha was not above enjoying a fine meal with a high-class prostitute. Here, however, we see another, quite incompatible attitude towards women: we should not look at them, we should not speak to them, and if they speak to us, we should be very careful. The Buddha, of course, did speak to Ambapali. He delivered a talk on the dhamma to her, which (the text states) instructed, inspired, fired, and delighted her. Of course, it is possible that the rest of his entourage remained discreetly silent throughout the meal. Perhaps. On the other hand, perhaps what we are seeing here is two opposed views of women that are mutually incompatible, as Bhikkhu Bodhi has suggested in his introduction to the Anguttara Nikaya. If we accept Bodhi’s view, then we must either believe that the Buddha held two incompatible views simultaneously; that he abandoned one view in favour of the other at some point in his career – perhaps when Ananda “convinced” him to allow women to be admitted to the sangha; or that one of these views is an imposition by anonymous misogynistic monastic redactors of the Pali Canon. Hearers of my talk will know that my view, which I consider the common sense one, is the last one, since the first two views imply that the Buddha was unenlightened.
Principle #32: Who Was Ananda? (5.13)
It is ironic that Ananda, who was called the Guardian of the Dharma due to his photographic memory, was both the Buddha’s closest disciple and the least accomplished. In many ways, he is portrayed in the suttas as being a bit thick. Nevertheless, he served the Buddha faithfully as his personal attendant during the final 25 years of the Buddha’s mission, when the Buddha was 55 to 80 years old, and became the source of much of the sutta tradition collected in the Pali Canon. Ananda and the Buddha were first cousins through their father, King Suddhodhana. The Buddha described him as kind, unselfish, popular, and thoughtful, as well as chief in conduct, service, and memory. Nevertheless, Ananda’s participation in the First Buddhist Council, convened by Mahakassapa, the Buddha’s disciple who was foremost in asceticism, was contested because he was only a stream winner. The Pali Canon portrays Ananda as an imperfect, albeit sympathetic, figure, lonely and isolated following the death of the Buddha. Nevertheless, he rather conveniently attains nibbana on the eve prior to the convention of the First Buddhist Council, during which he was heavily criticized by the arhants for persuading the Buddha to ordain women, as well as his failure to ascertain from the Buddha which were the major and which were the minor rules of the Vinaya.
Principle #33: The Gradual versus the Instantaneous Path (5.27)
The reference to four grades of attainment recalls the discussion that one finds in various places between advocates of the view of the gradual path and advocates of the view of the non-gradual path. That is, is enlightenment a process of gradual development or is enlightenment attained instantaneously? The four grades are of course the attainments of stream winner, once-returner, non-returner, and arhant. This is an interesting problem and there are various allusions that bear on the topic that I hope to bring together into a coherent discussion in the future, which I am not prepared to discuss further today. It is, however, interesting that this path, that path of the arhant, which the Buddha doubtless taught, is not the path of the bodhisattva (lit. “wisdom-being”), which the Buddha himself followed, and the Pali Canon does make it clear that the ten powers of an arhant are not the same as the ten powers of a Buddha. An essential difference, moreover, is that a bodhisattva/Buddha is self-ordained by definition, as in the original samana tradition, which appears later in the Brahma Net and Srimala sutras, whereas an arhant always receives the dhamma from a Buddha. The Buddha himself is also referred to as an arhant, but an arhant is never referred to as a Buddha. The distinction between an arhant and a Buddha became a point of contention following the Second Buddhist Council, which resulted in the great schism between the Mahasamghika majority, which subsequently developed into the Mahayana, and the Staviravada minority, which subsequently developed into the Hinayana, including the Theravada.
Sixth Recitation Section
Principle #34: The Dharma Retreat (6.1)
The imminent death of the Buddha obviously raised the problem of how the sangha should be organized after the Buddha’s death. In these passages, the Buddha addresses this issue. First and foremost, the Buddha states that the dharma and the discipline – the Dharma-Vinaya, which is the name the Buddha always gave to his teaching – is to be the teacher after his death. In addition, whereas during the Buddha’s lifetime the sangha was egalitarian, in which all members of the community addressed each other – even the Buddha – as “friend” (avuso), rather like the Quakers, after his death, the Buddha declared, the sangha should be organized as a decentralized hierarchy based on seniority, in which the junior monastics would address the senior monastics as “Lord” (bhante) or “Venerable Sir” (ayasma). Some scholars also hold that the formula of the Triple Jewel, i.e., the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, originated with Ashoka (3rd cent. BCE), whereas the original formula was singular. That is to say, the original Buddhists only took their refuge (more properly, “retreat”) in the Dharma alone.
Principle #35: The Minor Rules of the Vinaya (6.3)
Contrary to the fundamentalism that appears to affect many followers of the Vinaya today, the Buddha further declared that the “lesser and minor” rules of the Vinaya might be abolished. Unfortunately, when the Buddha said this, it did not occur to Ananda to ask the Buddha which of the rules were major and which were minor, so the First Buddhist Council led by Mahakassapa, the so-called Father of the Sangha, took the conservative approach of abolishing none of them. There are six Vinayas known today – that of the Theravada, Mahasamghika, Mahisasaka, Dharmaguptaka, Sarvativada, and Mulasarvastivada, three of which are still followed by the Theravada, East Asian Buddhists, and Tibetan Buddhists, but the scholarly consensus is that the Mahasamghika Vinaya is the oldest. The Mahasamghika subsequently developed into the Mahayana. Although many religious Buddhists strongly emphasize the rules of the Vinaya, the original Buddhist sangha did not follow any fixed set of rules. These developed gradually over the course of the Buddha’s life in response to specific situations. Apparently, the Buddha was quite flexible about the observance of rules. For example, according to the Vinaya itself the rules may be abrogated if required to do so for reasons of health or to prevent a crime. The Buddha frequently warns the monastics against attachment to rules, rituals, and beliefs. A Vajjian monk complained to the Buddha that he could not stand such training with so many rules and regulations. Far from reprimanding him, the Buddha then asked him whether he could stand the threefold training in higher morality, higher thought, and higher insight. In Mahayana, these became the three higher trainings. Once proficient in this, lust, malice and delusion would be abandoned and no wrong deed would be performed without needing to follow the rules to the letter. The implication, then, is that slavish adherence to the letter of the rules is not required to attain emancipation. Interestingly, the Vajjians also brought about the great schism in the Buddhist order during the Second Buddhist Council on this very question of rules. The core of the Vinaya is given in the pattimokkha. When one analyzes these rules, one finds just about ten essential rules, very similar in fact to the bodhisattva precepts. You can find them in various places online including at http://en.dhammadana.org/sangha/vinaya/227.htm, grouped into rules that entail automatic expulsion from the sangha for life (parajikas), rules requiring an initial and subsequent meeting of the sangha (sanghadisesa) that result in a period of probation, indefinite rules (aniyata) based on acknowledgement of the offence, rules entailing confession with forfeiture (nissagiyyas), rules entailing confession (paccitiyya), violations that must be verbally acknowledged (patidesaniyas), and training rules (sekhiyavattas). The Brahma Net Sutra (mid-5th century) is one of the oldest summaries of the bodhisattva precepts, many variations of which exist. The ten major bodhisatta precepts are:
1. Not to kill or encourage others to kill.
2. Not to steal or encourage others to steal.
3. Not to engage in licentious acts or encourage others to do so.
4. Not to use false words and speech, or encourage others to do so.
5. Not to trade or sell alcoholic beverages or encourage others to do so.
6. Not to broadcast the misdeeds or faults of the Buddhist assembly, nor encourage others to do so.
7. Not to praise oneself and speak ill of others, or encourage others to do so.
8. Not to be stingy, or encourage others to be so.
9. Not to harbor anger or encourage others to be angry.
10. Not to speak ill of the Buddha, the Dharma or the Sangha (lit. the Triple Jewel) or encourage others to do so.
In addition, there are 48 minor rules, which are not always regarded as mandatory. Note that the consumption of alcohol is not expressly forbidden, only trade. Mrs. Rhys Davids argues in the introduction to her translation of the Khuddaka-Patha that it is not the “sensible use” of liquors, but rather the habit, frequency, and occasions for indulging in them, that was originally prohibited (The Minor Anthologies of the Pali Canon (Oxford: Pali Text Society, 1996), p. xlvii). In any case, it is clear that the Vinaya regards it as a relatively minor offence, being #51 of the 92 pacittiyas, requiring confession only, preceded by “not to witness military activities” and followed by “not to tickle.” We know of course from the first sutta of the Digha Nikaya, the Supreme Net (Brahmajala Sutta), that the Buddha regarded ethical and moral rules to be oramattakaṃ sīlamattakaṃ – “merely profane (mundane), merely ethical (practices),” a statement that may surprise some religious.
Principle #36: Earthbound Devas (6.11)
In a previous section of the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, we learned that at least some lower devas, the spiritual or celestial beings of light who occupy the higher planes of the 31 planes of existence, co-exist with human beings and influence them telepathically. The Buddha himself claimed to be aware of such devas and to have received actual teachings (dharma) from them. We know from our talk on the 31 planes of existence that at least three deva realms have intercourse with human beings, including the Four Great Kings, Thirty-Three Gods, and Brahma realms, and that the asuras (anti-gods) appear to occupy the same plane as humans, viz., the one world ocean. Here we encounter another interesting bit of lore with regard to the devas, for Ananda asks Anuruddha, a cousin of the Buddha and one of the five principal disciples, which devas he is aware of. Anuruddha was ranked as one of the foremost in the attainment of the divine eye (dibba-cakkhu). Anuruddha refers to sky devas whose minds are earth-bound and earth devas whose minds are earth bound in contrast to devas who are free from craving. The last category implies that devas are capable of practising dharma and of attainment, something that is implied throughout the Pali Canon despite the dogma that one often hears expressed that only human beings are capable of emancipation. I alluded to this question in a previous talk. The asuras of course are another example of earth-bound devas, having been cast down from the realm of the 33 Gods due to their association with samsara and the powers of nature. The earth devas may refer to the Four Great Kings, the realm of what we refer to when we refer to the sprites, tree spirits, elves, fairies, pixies, gnomes, Japanese yokai, the Spanish and Latin-American duende, and various Slavic fairies, and other similar beings of all times and climes. (See also Principle #28.)
Principle #37: Subhadda and the First Buddhist Council (6.20)
Those of you who attended my last talk might remember Subhadda, who was the last monastic to be ordained by the Buddha. Maurice Walshe states in a note that this Subhudda is not the same as that one, perhaps because this Subhadda, a barber, is stated to have ordained late in life, whereas the other Subhadda was a samana (wandering ascetic) of another sect. It is certainly a coincidence that two monastics with the same name were associated with the Buddha’s death and the period immediately afterward, but not impossible. On the other hand, some translations of the Mahaparinibbana Sutta refer to Subhadda the barber as “the late-received one,” referring perhaps to his being the last disciple to be personally ordained by the Buddha rather than to his age. The Pali Canon denigrates him, and this may be the reason why he is distinguished from the samana Subhadda, but this may also reflect a sectarian prejudice. We know that the First Buddhist Council was contentious, and that this contentiousness persisted in later councils too. In any case, Subhadda the barber’s suggestion that the rules might be relaxed is what precipitated the First Buddhist Council.
The First Buddhist Council was called together shortly after the Buddha’s death by Mahakassapa, who was regarded as foremost in asceticism, despite the fact that Buddha said that the sangha should have no leader other than the dharma. Presumably, Mahakassapa also brought an ascetic orientation to the council and, as with all organizations, had both supporters and detractors. Indeed, it is clear from the Cullavagga that the council was sponsored by Mahakassapa’s group, and that others were excluded (see I.B. Horner, trans., The Book of Discipline (Vinaya-Pitaka) (London: Luzac, 1952; rpt. 1963), Vol. 5, p. 395, n.1). The First Buddhist Council was held during the rainy season three months after the Buddha’s death. Since the rainy season retreat begins in June-July, it seems likely that the Buddha died in February or March, which is consistent with the statement that the sal trees between which the Buddha died bloomed prematurely. I have already talked about how the arhants at this council castigated Ananda for convincing the Buddha to ordain women and for failing to clarify which were the major and which were the minor rules of the Vinaya. Indeed, so deep was the misogyny of the arhants of this council that Ananda was castigated for allowing women to view the Buddha’s body after his death, which (they claimed) was defiled by their tears (op. cit., pp. 400f.). Presumably, Ananda too had his supporters and detractors, so we see here how the politics of the First Buddhist Council may have played out. It is an open question whether all the monastics present at the First Council were men. Dr. Chatsumarn Kabilsingh, in her article, “The History of the Bhikkuni Sangha” (http://www.thubtenchodron.org/BuddhistNunsMonasticLife/LifeAsAWesternBuddhistNun/the_history_of_the_bhikkhuni_sangha.html), argues that female monastics were also present.
If you are interested in learning more about the First Buddhist Council in the primary sources, you can read the 11th chapter of the Cullavagga in the Vinaya section of the Pali Canon here: https://archive.org/stream/p3sacredbooksofb20londuoft#page/392/mode/2up.
1. According to the Jataka, Queen Maya travelled from King Suddhodana’s estate in Kapilavastu to her parent’s place in Devadaha “when she was far gone in pregnancy.” The distance from Kapilavastu to Devadaha is approximately 145 km. Assuming she travelled with an entourage, some of whom were on foot, it is unlikely that the queen travelled much faster than about 5km/hour. Assuming she travelled 7 hours per day, she would have covered no more than 35 km per day, making this a 4 day trip or, in round numbers, the better part of a week. It seems unlikely that she would have waited much longer than eight or eight and a half months into her pregnancy to return to her family for the birth (this is still the custom in Nepal – personal communication). The texts report that when she reached Lumbini at the heat of the day, about 35 km west of Devadaha (a day’s journey), the Sal trees were in full blossom. It appears that she was overcome by the exertion of the trip, and merely a day away from her family’s home, gave birth to the Buddha in Lumbini Grove, approximately 1 to 3 weeks early. The Jatakas also state that the Buddha was conceived during the Full Moon of the eighth lunar month (June-July), under the constellation of uttarasalha. Thus, the “due date” of the Buddha’s birth was March-April. Therefore, the earliest the Buddha might have been born would be March 1 and the latest, April 14. The detail that the sal trees were in full blossom implies a later rather than an earlier date. According to Omesh Bajpai et al. (Omesh Bajpai, Anoop Kumar, Ashish K. Mishra, Nayan Sahu , Soumit K. Behera and Lal Babu Chaudhary , 2012. Phenological Study of Two Dominant Tree Species in Tropical Moist Deciduous Forest from the Northern India. International Journal of Botany, 8: 66-72), “The formation of flower buds starts in the month of March which converted into matured flowers in April.” In fact, in Japan the Buddha’s birthday is celebrated on April 8 (Hana-Matsuri). This would imply a due date of April 14 and a conception date of July 14. (The Japanese commemorate the enlightenment and death of the Buddha on December 8 and February 8 respectively, the latter also corresponding very well to the view presented herein). If one credits the tradition that the Buddha was conceived and born on the day of the Full Moon, as well as the modern view that the Buddha was probably born between 500 BCE and 460 BCE, then two years present themselves as possibilities: April 8, 483 BCE (conception on July 15, 484 BCE on the day of a partial eclipse of the moon at 14:58 UMT) and April 8, 464 BCE (conception on July 16, 465 on the day of a penumbral eclipse of the moon at 10:32 UMT), when, according to the NASA Eclipse Website, the moon was full at 5:24am and 3:34am UMT respectively (Lumbini is about 82 degrees or 5:28 later than UMT, so in both cases the moon reached fullness after sunrise). However, it is quite certain from the foregoing that the Buddha was not born on the Full Moon day of May. These dates suggest that the Buddha died in 403 or 384 BCE. The former is quite close to the estimate of Richard Gombrich, the latter to that of Hajime Nakamura.
2. Ajahn Brahm suggests that “concentration” is a bad translation of samadhi, for which he prefers the English word “stillness” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-QlSW5KwxI). According to Brahm, samadhi should never be translated by the word “concentration.” Since I was asked about this during the presentation of this talk, let us take a further look at this word. Samadhi is both a Sanskrit and a Pali word. According to the Spoken Sanskrit dictionary (http://spokensanskrit.de/index.php?page=1), “samadhi” has no less than 30 meanings, including: justification of a statement, aggregate, putting together, intense application or fixing the mind on, set, bringing into harmony, joint or a particular position of the neck, settlement, adjustment, joining with, intense absorption or a kind of trance, sanctuary or tomb of a saint, attention, joining or combining with, whole, accomplishment, trance, conclusion, proof, assent, concentration of mind, intentness, union, concentration of the thoughts, profound or abstract meditation, agreement, intense contemplation of any particular object, setting to rights, completion, deep concentration, meditation. Can it be that a word that is as rich as to have 30 different meanings can never be translated by any word other than “stillness”? The Indo-European root of stillness is *stel, meaning “to put” or “stand” (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=still&allowed_in_frame=0). If one looks at the different translations of the Sanskrit word, one can pick out several threads of meaning, including ideas of putting together, intense application, and the mind. Interestingly, these three threads of meaning correspond exactly to the three elements of which the word “samadhi” is etymologically constructed: sam + a + dhi. The word prefix sam, root of the English word “sum,” means “with, together, completely, absolutely.” The central A means “near, toward, up to” (http://www.learnsanskrit.org/start/words/prefixes), implying the vector. Finally, the Sanskrit root dhi is a fundamental Sanskrit root the meanings of which include “understanding, reflection, religious thought, mind, design, intelligence, opinion, meditation, imagination, notion, intellect, speech, thought,” and “intellect” as well as “put” or “place” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhi_(Hindu_thought)). Going on to Pali, the Pali-English Dictionary has “concentration; a concentrated, self-collected, intent state of mind and meditation.” Tamilcube (http://dictionary.tamilcube.com/pali-dictionary.aspx), an online Pali-English dictionary, has “composure, concentration, trance, meditation, one-pointedness, agreement, peace, reconciliation, tranquility, self-concentration, calm.” If we look again at the etymology, we can see that the essential idea is that of the will putting the whole mind into a state of complete, harmonious, balanced self-awareness by means of intense concentration. We can see here why Brahm thinks that “stillness” is a good translation of samadhi. The technical term for this is hypomotility, as I have discussed in my paper on shamanic techniques for the induction of ecstasy (see http://palisuttas.com/2013/04/18/deconstructing-tantra/). This is one of the primary techniques of all yogic and shamanic practice. Unfortunately, as a universal translation for samadhi, “stillness” does not quite cut it, however, for samadhi is not merely a noun, it is, primarily, a verb. Thus, it is the eighth and highest “limb” of the Noble Eightfold Path, generally translated as Right Concentration. What is the action of “stillness”? The verb “to still” is certainly valid, but what is it that stills? It is the mind, and, in particular, the will, which is the force, power, energy of concentrated intention or attention, the kinetic power of awareness that is the source of enlightenment and illusion, whereby the state of stillness is attained, and this is the primary meaning of samadhi. Stillness is not passive. “Stillness” is altogether too Chinese to stand as a universal translation of the Indian Buddhist concept of samadhi, but is certainly included in its range of meanings as one essential implication.
3. All of the patimokkha (pratimoksha) rules may be reduced to eight essential principles, as follows:
1. Not to indulge in lust or the appearance of lust (par 1, sam 1-5, ani 1-2, pac 6-7, 21-30, 43-45, 67, pat 1-2)
2. Not to take what is not given (par 2, nis 1-30, pac 14-15, 19, 31, 46-47, 58-60, 82-92, pat 3)
3. Not to kill or cause harm or hurt to beings (par 3, sam 6-7, pac 10-11, pac 16-18, 20, 48-50, 56-57, 61-62, 74-75)
4. Not to lie or gossip or use speech to cause harm or hurt to beings (par 4, 8, sam 8-13, pac 1-4, pac 8-9, 12-13, 63-64, 66, 68, 71-73, 76-81, pat 4)
5. Not to eat except when and as necessary to maintain health (pac 31-42)
6. Not to frequent drinking places or indulge in drunkenness (pac 51)
7. Not to elevate or indulge oneself (pac 52-55, 87)
8. Not to be a cause of any of these things.
These eight principles constitute the so-called “higher morality” or “higher training,” sans the lesser and minor rules that the Buddha said could be abolished. They are not “lesser” than the Vinaya, but identical with its essence. Consequently, anyone who follows these rules with bodhicitta is no different than an ordained person. Therefore, one who takes the bodhisattva vows is ordained.