Digha Nikaya 33
Location: the mango grove of Cunda the smith at Pava
Date: after 391 BCE, c. 400 BCE?
In this sutta the Buddha is staying at the mango grove of Cunda the smith, who, we may remember from sutta 16, would later fatally poison the Buddha at the end of his life. Pava is of course the place where Mahavira, the leader of the Jains, had recently died. This sutta may, therefore, be dated towards the end of the Buddha’s life. The Mallan’s had built a new meeting hall, called Ubbhataka (lit. ‘standing tall’), which had not yet been used by anyone. The Mallas invited the Buddha to be the first person to speak there.
The Buddha sat with his back against the central pillar, facing east, with the monastics sitting behind him, against the western wall, also facing east. The Mallas sat against the eastern wall, facing the Buddha. This appears to have been the standard arrangement when the Buddha was giving formal public presentations. He taught dharma well into the night, after which the Mallans left, leaving the Buddha and the monastics alone. The Buddha suggested to Sariputta that he give a dharma talk to the monastics, who were still not drowsy, while the Buddha stretched his back, which was aching. The Buddha lay down on his robe, neatly folded in four, in the so-called “lion posture,” on his right side, within earshot of Sariputta. We know this because the Buddha subsequently approved of Sariputta’s talk.
Sariputta, alluding to the recent death of Mahavira, calls upon the monastics to recite the teachings of the Buddha in order to avoid the disgraceful state of affairs in the Jain order, much as described in sutta 29, which we have already discussed in the talk on that sutta.
The balance of the sutta – thirty pages in Walshe’s English translation – consists of a rehearsal of principles arranged in 230 numbered sets of items starting with groups of one and ending with groups of ten things. Thus, Sariputta speaks the balance of this sutta with the Buddha’s approval.
The principles were chanted as follows:
- Two sets of one thing;
- 33 sets of two things;
- 60 sets of three things;
- 50 sets of four things;
- 26 sets of five things;
- 22 sets of six things;
- 14 sets of seven things;
- 11 sets of eight things;
- six sets of nine things; and
- six sets of ten things.
There are therefore 1,010 principles summarized in this short text – an amazing number that we cannot possibly cover in the next hour. In fact, there are even more principles implied than this, because this list includes references to other groups, such as three unwholesome roots, four foundations of mindfulness, five aggregates, and many more. To attempt to cover it all would allow us just three and a half seconds per item. Nor can we meaningfully discuss the ten groups, because their only relationship with each other is the number of items in that group. This ingenious method, however, allowed the dharma to be passed on from generation to generation in an extremely succinct and comprehensive manner.
Multiples of Ten
Digha Nikaya 34
Locale: the Gaggara lotus pond in Campa
In this sutta, Sariputta is staying at the lotus pond of Gaggara in Campa, in the territory of the Angas. Here Sariputta classifies the dharma into ten sets of ten things, much as in the previous sutta. In fact, this sutta appears to be a distillation of the principles of the previous sutta. These things are inherently and absolutely true (says Sariutta), perfectly realized by the Tathagata. Here however there are “only” 550 items. Walshe points out that about 70% of these items overlap with the items listed in the previous sutta, for which reason we are discussing them together. However, it is still impossible to discuss each principle in the six and a half seconds that would be allowed, so the following should be regarded as a simplification with minimal elaboration.
The organization of the ten sets of things in sutta 34 follows a consistent logic:
- Which things greatly help?
- Which things are to be developed?
- Which things are to be thoroughly known?
- Which things are to be abandoned?
- Which things conduce to diminution?
- Which things conduce to distinction?
- Which things are hard to penetrate?
- Which things are to be made to arise?
- Which things are to be thoroughly learnt?
- Which things are to be realized?
You can see the logic of the progression from things that help to things that are to realized, which makes this list far more accessible than the one in sutta 33. In fact, the series of items may be seen as a summary recapitulation of the path itself. Items #1-3 clearly constitute a group, followed by items #4 and 5, and finally items #6 through 10, thus constituting three groups corresponding roughly to knowledge, morality, and finally meditation or spiritual praxis. Items #1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9, and 10 have a positive character, whereas items #4, 5 and 7 have a negative cast. #4 and 5 also appear to be opposites of each other.
Each set of ten addresses each of these items by including an increasing number of one, two, three, etc. items. Perhaps by cross-referencing each of these groups of things we can gain a summary insight into the Buddhadharma. This will give us 55 principles in each category.
The following summary is a simplification of the items presented in the sutta, so each group may not appear to add up to exactly ten items. I have simplified the list in order to make it more accessible.
SUMMARY OF ESSENTIAL PRINCIPLES
(simplified for oral presentation)
- Things that Greatly Help: Tirelessness in wholesome states, mindfulness, clear awareness, association with good people, hearing the true dharma, dharma practice in its entirety, a favourable place of residence, perfect development of one’s personality, past meritorious acts, factors of endeavour, wisdom in the fundamentals of the holy life, wise consideration, and protective things.
- Things to Be Developed: Mindfulness of the body with pleasure, calm, insight, concentration, foundations of mindfulness, factors of enlightenment, the Noble Eightfold Path, effort toward perfect purity, and absorption in the objects of concentration.
- Things to Be Thoroughly Known: Contact, mind-body, feelings, nutriments, aggregates of grasping, sense-spheres, stations of consciousness, worldly conditions, and abodes of beings.
- Things to Be Abandoned: Ego-conceit, ignorance, cravings, the hindrances, latent proclivities, and the wrong eightfold path plus wrong knowledge and wrong liberation.
- Things Conducive to Diminution: Unwise attention, roughness, friendship with evil, unwholesome roots, attachments, mental blockages, disrespect, wrong practices, indolence, malice, and unwholesome courses of action.
- Things Conducive to Distinction: Wise attention, gentleness, friendship with the good, wholesome roots, freedom from attachments, respect, right practices, effort, overcoming malice, and wholesome courses of action.
- Things Hard to Penetrate: Concentration, the root of the defilement and purification of beings, the elements of deliverance, qualities of the True Person, inopportune times for leading the holy life, ontological differentiation, and the noble dispositions.
- Things to Be Made to Arise: Unshakeable knowledge, the destruction of the defilements, knowledge of past, present, and future, knowledge of the Four Noble Truths, knowledge of right concentration, stability, perception, and thoughts of a Great Person.
- Things to Be Thoroughly Learnt: Nutriment, the conditioned and unconditioned, the elements, the Four Noble Truths, the bases of deliverance, the grounds for commendation, the states of mastery, successive abidings, and the causes of wearing away.
- Things to Be Realized: Unshakeable deliverance of mind, knowledge and liberation, knowledge of karma, the fruits of the ascetic life, the branches of dharma and knowledge and vision of liberation, the superknowledges, the powers of an arhant, the jhanas, and the Noble Eightfold Path plus knowledge and right liberation.