Samannaphala Sutta (DN 2)

Presented to the Buddha Center on Saturday, November 8, 2014.

The Fruits of the Monastic Regimen

Digha Nikaya 2

The second sutta of the Digha Nikaya is called the Samannaphala Sutta. Contrary to appearances, the immediate source of this title is not samana, ‘wanderer,’ but rather samanna, which refers to the state of being a monastic (lit. ‘conformity, generality’). According to the Access to Insight website, it also refers to an instrument tuned on pitch (from sama, ‘even,’ + anna, ‘reciprocally’), the subject of a famous metaphor of the Buddha.The root sam refers to ‘calmness,’ ‘tranquility,’ ‘mental quiet,’ whereas anna also has the meaning of ‘knowledge,’ especially the knowledge of an arhant. In Sanskrit, sama has the meaning of ‘middling,’ ‘good,’ and ‘happy,’ whereas anya has the meaning of ‘extraordinary.’ Phala means ‘product, fruit, reward.’

King Ajatasattu
King Ajatasattu

In this second sutta, the Buddha is staying in the Magahan capital of Rajagaha, in the mango grove of Jivaka Komarabhacca, the royal physician, with a large monastic entourage. The king, Ajatasattu Vedeheputta, is reclining on the roof of his palace, on the sacred Catumasya festival, surrounded by his ministers, yet stricken in heart. The king was a patricide, having murdered his father to gain the throne, yet despite this appalling fact he had grown contrite. This festival marks the night of the full moon (uposatha) of the final month of the four-month hybrid rainy-autumn season ending in November, the month of Kattika. This was when the water lily bloomed. Hence, it was called Komudi (‘water lily’). It is sacred to Krishna, and is the holiest month of the year for Vaishnavites.

The evening being fine and clear, the king expressed the desire to visit a holy man, so his ministers listed off the well-known teachers who were still around: Purana Kassapa, Makkhali Gosala, Ajita Kesakambali, Pakudha Kaccayana, Sanja Belatthaputta the agnostic, who we met in sutta 1, and Nigantha Nataputta (Mahavira), the leader of the Jains, but the king showed no interest in visiting any of them. The royal physician remained silent during all this time. The king asked Jivaka why he was silent. Jivaka told the king that Gotama the Buddha was residing with his entourage in Jivaka’s own mango grove, and invited the king to meet the Buddha, to which proposal the king readily agreed. Apparently, the Buddha was the only one of the seven that the king had not yet met.

King Ajajtasattu assembled his royal household, and he and his harem of wives, and Jivaka presumably, proceeded by elephant to the mango grove. When the king came near to the grove, it was dark and deathly quiet; the king suspected a trap, but Jivaka assured him that it was safe. In the distance, he was able to see torches inside a round pavilion, so he made his way there on foot, to find the Buddha sitting inside against the middle column of the pavilion, with many monastics sitting, facing him, all dressed in simple ochre stained robes. The king had to ask Jovaka which monastic was the Buddha, although the Buddha was sitting against the middle column of the pavilion, perhaps contradicting the notion that the Buddha was so charismatic and handsome that he was unmistakable. Alternatively, the sutta states that the unlikely figure of 1,250 monastics were present in the Round Pavilion, so perhaps he was lost in the crowd.

As the king approaches the Buddha and stands beside him, the sutta says, “the order of monks continued in silence like a clear lake.” The king, marvelling at the composure of the assembly, compared the calm of the monks unfavourably to his son, Udayabhadda. (Udayabhadda would later murder Ajatasattu, so he had reason to be concerned. Udayabhadda is not present in this sutta.) The Buddha’s first words were, “Do your thoughts go to the one you love, Your Majesty?” referring to the king’s son.

The king prostrates to the Buddha, and, turning, makes namaste to the monks, and then sits to one side, facing the Buddha. Ajatasattu asks the Buddha to if there is any fruit or reward to leading a homeless life instead of contributing to society through productive work and thereby gaining merit for a favourable rebirth. Before answering, the Buddha asks the king to tell him what the other ascetics and Brahmins he has consulted say, so the king tells him:

Purana Kassapa expresses the view that there is no good or evil karma and therefore neither merit nor demerit, from which he draws the conclusion that “if with a razor-sharp wheel one were to make of this earth one single mass and heap of flesh, there would be no evil as a result of that.” Today we would call him a nihilist.

Makkhali Gosala holds that defilement is the inherent state of man, who has to proceed through a preordained sequence of events, in a cosmological scheme extending over 4,800,000 eons, each eon an incalculable interval, and a bewildering diversity of types and classes of beings. When all of this is finished, one achieves final liberation, but there is nothing that can be done to accelerate the process so yoga is meaningless. Gosala might be called a fatalist.

Ajita Kesakambali is a materialist who believes that the body disintegrates into the elements at death and that mind dissolves into space and ceases to exist. Today we would call him a modernist.

Pakudha Kaccayana has a strange theory of seven bodies that somehow are indestructible despite the appearance of mortality.

Niganta Nataputta
Niganta Nataputta

Niganta Nataputta (Mahavira) declares that liberation is attainable by servitude. In Jainism, only action counts. In Buddhism, action counts, but only as the expression of intention. Thus, intention is the essential karmic factor.

Sanjaya Belatthaputta we know as the agnostic who denies knowing anything.

What all of these teachers have in common is that they offer no fruits for the homeless life. Thus, the king’s quest was quite literally fruitless.

In the next section of the Samanaphala Sutta we see another side of King Ajatusattu, in addition to being a patricide, viz., that of a devout man, for only a devout man would so approve of the “going forth” so readily. The dialogue provides the Buddha with the opportunity to instruct the king, the sangha, and thus us in the fruits of the homeless life, illustrated by the use of metaphors. For example, in the first illustration a slave of the king is delivered from his slavery by joining the sangha. When the Buddha asks him if the king would demand his reclamation, the king protests that instead he would worship him. These are the words of a devout man. So devout is Ajatasattu that when he departs, the Buddha says to the sangha, “the King is done for, his fate is sealed, monks. But if the king had not deprived his father that good man and just king of his life, then, as he sat here the pure and spotless Dhamma–eye would have arisen in him” (italics added). Here we see the axiom that negative karma can inhibit realization.

The king is sold with the first fruit of liberation from the state of being a slave, and is eager for more. The Buddha goes on to cite the following fruits of the homeless life:

  1. Freedom from servitude (36);
  2. Solitude (38);
  3. Joy of detachment (first jhana) (76);
  4. Joy of concentration (second jhana) (78);
  5. Joy devoid of delight (third jhana) (80);
  6. Mental purity and clarification (fourth jhana) (82);
  7. Perfection of insight (84);
  8. Production of a mind-made body (86);
  9. “Psychedelic” Experiences (88);
  10. Clairaudience (90);
  11. Telepathy (92);
  12. Recollection of previous lives (94);
  13. The Divine Eye (whereby one perceives the karma of others) (96);
  14. Perfect mindfulness and full awakening (98).

Following the fruit of solitude, the king asks the Buddha if he can name another fruit of the homeless life. To answer, the Buddha describes the coming of a Tathagata, who is described as an Arhant and a Buddha; fully enlightened; endowed with both wisdom (dharma) and morality (conduct); one who follows the path and knows the worlds; trains men who are capable of training; and teaches devas and men. This is the stock description of the spiritual accomplishments of a Tathagata. He is self-ordained, possessed of superknowledge, and proclaims the world with its devas, maras, Brahmas, princes, and people – presumably a reference to his understanding of metaphysics, ontology, and cosmology, contrary to the view that the Buddha has no such teaching.

The householder, having heard the Tathagata, gains faith in him, and resolves to go forth into the homeless life to acquire merit. In this state, he cultivates four qualities – morality, guarding the sense doors, and contentment. Finally, he cultivates mindfulness and clear awareness, and rejoices and becomes glad, freed of the five hindrances (or obstructions) of  sensory desire, anger or ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt. He is  like one freed from debt, sickness, bonds, slavery, or the perils of the desert. This leads to the realization of the first jhana, the third fruit of the homeless life.

The Samannaphala Sutta presents a comprehensive overview of the whole Buddhist path, and is widely regarded as a masterpiece of the Pali Canon.

In his description of the path throughout the Pali Canon, the Buddha repeatedly emphasizes the body. Thus, he says, “just as a skilled bathman or his assistant, kneading the soap powder which he has sprinkled with water, forms from it, in a metal dish, a soft lump, so that the ball of soap powder becomes one oleaginous mass, bound with oil so that nothing escapes – so this monk suffuses, drenches, fills and irradiates his body so that no spot remains untouched.” The somewhat sensual character of the description is surprising. The Buddha’s emphasis on the body is remarkable. Sarah Shaw, in her anthology of Pali meditation texts, writes,

One of the distinguishing features of the Buddha’s system of meditation is the emphasis placed upon the physical body both as a foundation for practice and the means of experiencing and exploring reality. … Because there is also a mixture of painful and happy experience, the human bodily form is considered the most suitable for spiritual development. … the suttas of the Pali canon do not dismiss bodily and sensory experiences as illusion, or a delusion, or sensory experience as in itself negative or debilitating. … The comprehensiveness of the practice, and its applicability to so many diverse areas of life is, I think, also peculiarly Buddhist. Buddhagosa says that as a meditation subject it is only taught in the dispensation of a Buddha. (Sarah Shaw, Buddhist Meditaiton: An Anthology of Texts from the Pali Canon (London: Routledge, 2006), pp. 140-142. See also p. 217, n. 20 and Visuddhimaga, VIII: 42).

Such a distinctive emphasis, noted by Buddaghosa and others, is surely key to comprehending Buddhadharma, suggestive of the similar emphasis of cognate practices such as hatha yoga, kundalini yoga, Chöd, Qigong, etc., based on a hypothesized psychophysical energy variously referred to as kundalini, tumo, qi, etc. in the Hindu, Tibetan, and Chinese traditions respectively. Thus, there is something singularly significant about the body in the context of spiritual development in the Buddhist world-view.

The second fruit had answered the king’s question, but the Buddha continues to elaborate twelve more fruits of the homeless life. The first two pertain to the outer (or bodily) life. The next five (#3-7) pertain to the cultivation of the mind and the path of meditation based on the jhanas.

Jhana is another of those words for which no completely satisfactory translation exists. It comes from Sanskrit dhyana, root DHI, “to shine” or “perceive.” The PED says it “never means vaguely meditation. It is the technical term for a special religious experience, reached in a certain order of mental states.” The PED goes on to itemize these states:

1. The mystic, with his mind free from sensuous and worldly ideas, concentrates his thoughts on some special subject (for instance, the impermanence of all things). This he thinks out by attention to the facts, and by reasoning.

2. Then uplifted above attention & reasoning, he experiences joy & ease both of body and mind.

3. Then the bliss passes away, & he becomes suffused with a sense of ease, and

4. He becomes aware of pure lucidity of mind & equanimity of heart.

The whole really forms one series of mental states … The state of mind left after the experience of the four jhanas is described as follows … ‘with his heart thus serene, made pure, translucent, cultured, void of evil, supple, ready to act, firm and imperturbable.’ It will be seen that there is no suggestion of trance, but rather of an enhanced vitality. In the description of the crises in the religious experiences of the Christian saints and mystics, expressions similar to those used in the jhanas are frequent … Laymen could pass through the four jhanas … The jhanas are only a means, not the end.

The seventh fruit, “Perfection of Insight,” is the imperturbable perfection of metaphysical understanding stemming from complete freedom from all impurities and hindrances to true seeing. This is a transitional element to the next group of six (#8-13) which can only be referred to as magical, including clairaudience, telepathy, recalling previous lives, and the Divine Eye.

The psychic powers, so-called, including  multi-corporeality, invisibility, the ability to pass through matter, levitation, and travelling in a mental body, as well as what can only be described as cosmological or astronomical visions, are very suggestive of psychedelic experiences. Interestingly, these are also typical characteristics of the UFO phenomenon.[1]

The essence of the Divine Eye may be interpreted as the intense realization of the truth of karma, whereby one actually perceives and experiences it as real, but it might also be taken as a psychic power in which one perceives the karmas of others. It is also transitional, leading to the final and singular fruit – the attainment of a Tathagata, awakening itself. This last item is uniquely Buddhist. This list of fruits is an alternative twelvefold model of the path of the monastic life, leading from ordination to the attainment of a Tathagata.

I would now like to consider the image used by the Buddha in connection with the third jhana, the ‘joy devoid of delight’ or happiness that is the fifth fruit of the homeless life. The Buddha says, “Just as if, in a pond of blue, red or white lotuses in which the flowers, born in the water, grown in the water, not growing out of the water, are fed from the water’s depths, those blue, red or white lotuses would be suffused … with the cool water – so with this joy devoid of delight the monk so suffuses his body that no spot remains untouched.” (80)

Say what? What’s this about lotuses?

Sacred LotusFirst, notice the occasion of the sutta – the uposatha of Komudi, the water lilly or sacred lotus.

The lotus is one of the right auspicious symbols of Buddhism. The Buddhanet website says, “Lotuses are symbols of purity and ‘spontaneous’ generation and hence symbolize divine birth. According to the Lalitavistara, ‘the spirit of the best of men is spotless, like the new lotus in the [muddy] water which does not adhere to it’, and, according to esoteric Buddhism, the heart of the beings is like an unopened lotus: when the virtues of the Buddha develop therein the lotus blossoms. This is why the Buddha sits on a lotus in bloom. In Tantrism, it is the symbol of the feminine principle.”

The lotus is also the name of the highest chakra, the sahasrara or ‘lotus’ chakra situated at or above the crown of the head, associated with the state of pure consciousness. Although the chakras were not elaborated systematically until the eighth century CE, ‘breath channels’ or nadis had already been discussed in the classical Upanishads. All of the chakras are also referred to as “lotuses.” It is also the name of the posture of perfect spiritual equilibrium in Yoga. In the chakra system, the third jhana corresponds to the ajna chakra, corresponding to the white OM seed syllable in the Guru Yoga of Padmasambhava. This is the location of the pineal gland, linked to the brain’s production of dimethyltryptamine, our brain’s natural psychedelic.

OM AH HUMThe Buddha makes a point of emphasizing three distinct colours of lotus, and the fact that the flowers appear on the surface of the water, neither above nor below, that they are fed from the depths, and that the joy devoid of delight is experienced in and suffuses the body with positive feeling detached even from its own delight. These colours recur in the rays of light that emanate from the forehead (ajna), throat (vishuddha), and heart (anahata) of the Absolute Guru, the top three chakras, white, red, and blue respectively, corresponding to the seed syllables OM, AH, and HUM, and to body, speech, and mind. Studies have shown that plant growth is maximized under the influence of just this combination of lights (called RBW light).

The seed or root of the lotus is the mud of samsara, a remarkable fact in that the lotus is a symbol of enlightenment itself. This indicates the possibility of a function for samsara within the scheme of reality. Since reality is all, and includes all, it must also include samsara; even if samsara is illusory, it is still experienced. Therefore, it must be part of the scheme. The root of the lotus binds us to samsara, but it is also the source of enlightenment itself, and it must be drawn on before it can be cut. Nevertheless, the lotus does not rise above the level of the water; it is the intersection of the two realities, water/mud and sun/light.  In this respect, the lotus is more like the bodhisattva than the arhant.

If the lotus is the crown of the head, then the lotus itself is the brain and the root of the lotus is the spine, with all that this implies. 

Summary

King Ajatasattu, a worldling and a patricide, challenges the Buddha to demonstrate the practical value of the monastic life, compared to the social contribution of householders, yet the king is also represented as a devout man who demands little to be convinced of the value of renunciation. The question is important to the king, who has asked it of at least six other teachers prior to the Buddha. To us he appears as the classic neurotic, afflicted by a bad conscience, vicious yet sentimentally pious, desperately asking an unanswerable question. Against this backdrop, the religious teachers of the Buddha’s time have little to offer Ajatusattu, whose interest in spiritual matters may be related to the impending karmic punishment for his own crime, which he confesses to the Buddha in the presence of the sangha, apparently searching for some sort of expiation.

When the king comes upon the sangha, his overwhelming impression is peace, so different from the agitation and violence of his own family. Thus, the king has already answered his own question, without realizing it, as is often the case with questions. The Buddha answers the king’s question by showing him the opportunity that the monastic life provides to the householder to get free of social restrictions, but also uses it as an opportunity to segue into a description of the spiritual path, articulating fourteen fruits of the monastic regimen, including the four jhanas or ‘ecstatic illuminations,’ six psychic powers, and the culminating realization of a Tathagata that is identical with complete awakening and liberation or “enlightenment.” The path thus laid out starts with faith, followed by physical and mental withdrawal, morality (Vinaya, ‘self-control’ or ‘self-discipline’), and meditation.

We then segued into a discussion of the special Buddhist character of mindfulness of the body, recognizing that other traditions are also rooted in a concept that emphasizes the centrality of the body in spiritual development, based the kundalini, tumo, and qi ideas, amongst others. We also noted the similarity between psychedelic experience and some of the so-called “psychic powers,” which are also typical characteristics of the UFO phenomenon.[1]

Finally, we concluded with a consideration of the Buddhist lotus symbol, one of the eight auspicious symbols, from a trans-historicist dharma perspective. The lotus was introduced as an image in connection with the third jhana and the fifth fruit. The significance of the lotus as a symbol of the relationship between samsara and nirvana was examined, as well as the correspondence between the blue, red, and white lotuses and the same number and colour of light rays that emanate from the head of the Absolute Guru, representing the purification of body, speech, and mind by the mantra, OM AH HUM, asking our own question – What, if any, is the soteriological function of samsara?

Note

1. For a critical review of this topic from an objective historical perspective by the foremost expert in the field, see Jacques Vallee (accessed 2014, Nov. 8), Dimensions, http://iosisrecords.com/libraryofzar/Site/DOWNLOAD_files/Dimensions.pdf. 

References

Buddhanet. “The Buddhist Calendar.” http://www.buddhanet.net/cal_year.htm. Accessed Nov. 8, 2014.

———-. “The Symbol of the Lotus.” http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/b_lotus.htm. Accessed Nov. 8, 2014.

Shaw, Sarah. Buddhist Meditation: An Anthology of Texts from the Pali Canon. London: Routledge, 2006, pp. 140-142. See also p. 217, n. 20 and Visuddhimaga, VIII: 42.

Vallee, Jacques. Dimensions. http://iosisrecords.com/libraryofzar/Site/DOWNLOAD_files/Dimensions.pdf. Accessed Nov. 8, 2014.

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