Today is an important day of the Buddha Sasana, the commemoration of the full moon of Asalha Puja. It has been 2599 years since the time of the Buddha, when the Buddha taught the Pancavaggiya, the 5 ascetics, with Ven. Anya Kodanya gaining the eye of the Dhamma. The Buddha taught in brief that “Whatever has the nature to arise, also has the nature to cease.” We all likely understand the significance of the day of Asalha Puja already.
So here I would like to talk about the Jambudvīpa, the Indian Subcontinent first. In the olden days, more than 2500 years ago, Jambudvīpa, was called the land of the arising of Sasanas, many different religious sects which had been around for thousands of years. There were some groups of individuals who were weary. They saw no meaning in life, of the endless cycling around birth and death, indulging under the power of wealth. So they renounced and took up the homeless life, in order to seek for their own liberation. They had the hope that they could attain to something sublime, which was higher than the worldly happiness that they already had and experienced. So they trained themselves, by disassociating from the world for the whole of their lives. It was like an opposite way of living in the world. For example, they would practise austerities and tortured themselves through various methods, and then believing that they had attained the highest attainment. But that is not the path.
As for the other group of individuals, they would search for the answer to be able to liberate themselves, by creating philosophies through contemplation and theories. Some groups would argue and debate about different issues, in order to gain more knowledge. They may have argued about whether the world was permanent, or if the world was impermanent. If the world was finite, or if the world was infinite. Questions like this. But there was no one who really knew. They were wasting their time, spending their physical and mental strength, with excessive thinking.
So here, it was the Lord Buddha who gained success and attained enlightenment on the 15th day of the 6th lunar month. The Buddha had tried out all sorts of methods. He had practised the most extreme torturing of the body and did not gain success that way. The Buddha had passed lots of sense-pleasure, and that clearly wasn’t the path. The commonly accepted practice of that time of torturing oneself did not work, and so he came back to eat food, and attained to becoming a Buddha. He enjoyed the bliss of liberation for 49 days in 7 places. And the Buddha reviewed the enlightenment that he had experienced. He reviewed the Dhamma, that which has causes and conditions, and the way those causes and conditions cease. And the Buddha exclaimed about this peace and cessation, that it was far from the pleasure in form, sounds, tastes, odours, bodily sensations and mental objects, and that it was an excellent/sublime happiness.
And when it was time, the Buddha had the metta, loving-kindness and compassion to travel to teach the pancavaggiya, in the Isipatana Deer Park. And the heart of that teaching he gave was separated into 2 aspects. The first is majjhimā patipada. The practice that was the middle way, or the Middle Path. The 2nd, is the 4 Noble Truths. The 4 fundamental truths of a Noble Being. Or the 4 Saccadhammas. And this is what makes the one who knows it to be a noble being. And the Majjhima Patipada, we should understand as the middle path, which is not indulging in the 2 sides. So not being deluded and lost in form, sounds, tastes, odours, bodily sensations, or indulging in the sense-pleasures. Letting the mind follow the current of the kilesas, the mental defilements. And letting oneself, one’s heart be defeated by them. This is being a slave of the world, a slave to the flesh and skin. This is being a slave to the defilements. And dedicating oneself in finding more germs of the defilements. Continually indulging oneself. This is called Kamāsukhallikānuyoga . Indulging in sense pleasures.
And the other side is the practice of torturing oneself, making it difficult and troublesome, wearing out the body and brain, tiring out the thoughts. This is called Attakilamatānuyoga.
So the Buddha attained to the Middle Path. Practising the Middle Path, makes one know and see the Dhamma. It can be done easily if one’s parami, spiritual development is sufficient. And the fundamentals of walking the middle path is made up of 8 aspects. We call this the Noble Eightfold Path. There is Right View, Right Thoughts, Right Speech, Right Action, and occupation that is correct, which is Right Livelihood. The effort to try to give up evil, make merit, and to purify the mind, Right Mindfulness. That is recollecting constantly in the mind, trying to have mindfulness, for the purpose of knowing the truth. Making the mind concentrated, making the mind have wisdom, seeing correctly and rightly, according to the truth. We know the true nature of the Sankharas, conditioned phenomena.
Like Ven. Anya Kodanya, who knew that the Sankharas, have arising and ceasing as normal. As the Buddha gave this teaching, Ven. Anya Kodanya saw the Dhamma.
With regards to the 4 noble truths, everyone will meet dukkha, suffering. This is the condition in this human world that we have to meet with. Even though everyone wants happiness, it does not mean that we will get that happiness. There will still be suffering constantly. And it is because we have suffered a lot, which is why people want to have happiness. But they walk the wrong way. Yet we are able to understand that suffering has a cause, which is called samudaya. This is the cause and reason for suffering to arise. If we can know it, we know the suffering in time as it arises, then we can understand this condition/problem. We try to find for ourselves the original reason for why it arose. We may look for the real reason outside of us. That it was because of this cause or that cause that makes us suffer. But if we look inside, that what makes us suffer is upadana, clinging, which we have in our hearts. It makes our hearts a slave to ignorance, craving and clinging. And so we practise Dhamma. Like the Buddha found nirodha, the cessation of suffering. The state of which ends all conditions. It is freedom, release, and sublime. It is being free of the world, or being above the world, which we call lokuttara. This is not being dragged and pulled around by the string of desire/craving. The mind has only joy. It is Buddho, the knowing one, the awakened one, the joyous one.
The Lord Buddha taught us to practise in magga. This is the path of practice, which is sila–morality, samadhi–concentration, panya–wisdom. And when they gather together then we will see the Dhamma.
So the result of the Buddha teaching the Dhamma, was that Ven. Anya Kodanya, who was the head of the Pancavaggiya, knew and saw clearly into the truth, that we call the eye of Dhamma, or the Dhammacakksu. This is seeing the chain of causation, the dependent arising of phenomena. That is, “Whatever is of the nature to arise, is of the nature to cease.” If we organise it into stages, this seeing in the beginning is called being a sotapanna. The one who has entered the stream of Dhamma. So the Buddha exclaimed, “Aññāsi vata bho, koṇḍañño, aññāsi vata bho, koṇḍañño”! This translates to “Kodanya has indeed understood, Kodanya has indeed understood.” What did he understand? He understood the Dhamma, he saw the Dhamma, he saw the truth.
And the Buddha had to build all his parami, and attained to becoming a Buddha for the purpose of teaching those who could be trained. And Ven. Anya Kodanya was the first disciple. He was the pathama savaka.
So Asalha Puja is important because it is the day that the Triple Gem was complete in the world. Because after Ven. Anya Kodanya had seen the Dhamma, he requested for ordination, and was ordained as the first monk in the Buddha Sasana. So the Buddha taught the Dhamma for the first time, and exclaimed the teachings for the first time. And there was a noble Sangha arising for the first time, which was Ven. Anya Kodanya, who was a noble monk. And it was the first ordination as well, because he had listened to Dhamma, saw the Dhamma, and so ordained. So the Buddha gained his first disciple, Ven. Anya Kodanya. And after that Ven. Vappa, Ven. Mahānāma, Ven. Bhaddiya, and Ven. Assaji saw the Dhamma. And in the end they all attained arahantship.
So we can see that on the day of Asalha Puja, we will build goodness, we build merit and parami, and recollect this important day. We may have traditions of chanting, doing group pujas, Dhamma practice, meditation, making merit, giving alms, keeping the moral precepts, candle circumambulation, and listening to Dhamma. This is the tradition and culture, which those with faith will practice like this.
So we have come today and we reflect that 2599 years have passed already. Ven. Anya Kodanya was the first to see the Dhamma. And after this, there were many individuals who saw Dhamma and attained to Dhamma. And we have faith in Venerable Ajahn Mun and Venerable Ajahn Chah, that they were arahants, fully enlightened. Venerable Ajahn Mun was the one who made the meditation lineage flourish, following the practices and observances of Ven Maha Kassapa Thera. There were the great teachers, which continued in an unbroken lineage till Venerable Ajahn Chah. And we have faith that he was an arahant. And to become an arahant, he practised following the Buddha’s teaching, that is sila–morality, samadhi–concentration, and panya–wisdom.
So will we ourselves have a chance to know and see the Dhamma like this? All of us, everyone, has the knowing element. And we have the virtue and goodness to be able to be born as a human. We have a human brain that is fully-functioning. We are able to know and to see. The word fully-functioning here, like a body that is fully-functioning, means that we have faith and knowledge. It does not mean we need to have lots of worldly wisdom. We just need enough to walk the path of sila, samadhi, panya. We have the mindfulness to give up evil, to be a person who is established in sila. We give up evil, making merit, and purify the mind. We practise like this and ultimately one day the mind will gather together, and it will be amazing what we can see. We see emptiness. We see rupa, form. But there is emptiness in that form. Or in that emptiness, there is form in that as well. Why is that? Because they are not different. Form isn’t different from emptiness, emptiness is not different from form. Because that form is emptiness. When we separate the elements, we take the khandas, the 5 aggregates of body and mind, and we separate the form out from it. Whether it is the form of material objects and things, or the form of living beings, when we separate them out, they are emptiness. So the form is emptiness. Emptiness is form. They have become one. There isn’t anything. There is no me, no mine. When the knowing element progresses to know this, then we will see arising, persisting and ceasing. We see arising and ceasing. This is seeing the Dhamma.
And in this era, we are able to see the Dhamma without difficulty. That is, if we practise the right way, we practise correctly. We follow the path of the great teachers who had practiced following the teachings of the Buddha.
Sometimes disciples ask that when they are practising Dhamma, who should they believe? Should they believe the great teachers? Or how should they believe?
Venerable Ajahn Chah answered, not to believe him. But to believe the teachings of the Buddha. However the Buddha taught, to practise that way. But if we think and contemplate about this, the great teachers had practised following the teachings of the Buddha to 100%. This is what made them be able to gain wisdom, the knowledge, attaining to be an arahant. To see arising and ceasing. To attain to the highest level. They were able to become Noble beings to the highest level.
If we practise following them, then what will we get? If we are close to them, then be close to them in the Dhamma. Then we will get good things from them. Even though our body may be far away physically, we are close to them in terms of the practice. And then we will see the Dhamma.
Even though we live in this era, and are not able to meet the great teachers, if we take their teachings to practise with, then we will see the Dhamma of the Lord Buddha.
So Ven. Ajahn Chah said, “Doesn’t Buddha arise in Thailand? Buddha, here, is the knowing in the mind, being a Savaka Buddha, a disciple of the Buddha. So may we be determined and sincere in the practice. May you all gain the eye of wisdom and see the Dhamma. May you have wisdom in the world to be able to look after your life and your family. May your livelihood be safe. May you be protected from sickness. And may the wisdom in the Dhamma arise in this life. So that it may look after your minds, so that our mind doesn’t run after the power of all the defilements. Come back to having Dhamma. May all of you have Dhamma arise in your hearts. May you be determined in your practice. May you grow in blessings.