Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – November 15th, 2019
L uang Por Anan: Last month was the month of the kathina. During this month, any monastery that had 5 or more monks staying there for the rains retreat can hold a kathina ceremony, for any monastery around the world. The Buddha’s dispensation grows and prospers today from the mindfulness and wisdom of the community of noble disciples who have purity of mind – the arahants. This inspires faith in the laity from the Buddha’s time until the time of King Asoka, on up until today. King Asoka had great faith and sent Buddhist missionaries around Asia.
Homage to the Worthy One, the Blessed One, the Rightly Self-awakened One
Welcome to all the monks and novices, and blessings to all those with an interest to learn and practice Dhamma.
Today we will learn Dhamma from the period after the Buddha had passed away into parinibbana. There was a King who was deeply interested in Dhamma and had great faith in the Buddha. This King was named Asoka, or Dharmasoka. He was the son of King Bindusara and Queen Subhadrangi. There were in total 11 princes and princesses. Asoka was the grandson of King Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan Dynasty. Since the beginning, King Asoka had firm determination and he succeeded in gaining power over the country. In the process he had to fight against his relatives until he was victorious. Then he turned to come back and be devoted to Buddhism.
This was due to one novice named Nigrodha, who was actually the nephew of King Asoka. Novice Nigrodha was born from Prince Sumana (Sushima), his older brother from a different mother. After King Bindusara passed away, all the princes fought for the throne in the City of Pataliputra. At this time, Asoka was still the Governor in the City of Ujjain. He brought an army to take over the city of Pataliputra, and he was able to conquer and kill Prince Sumana and all of his step-brothers. At this time, Prince Sumana knew that he wouldn’t be saved, so he got his pregnant wife to flee. And she gave birth to a boy named Nigrodha, after the Banyan Tree. In the beginning, King Asoka believed in Brahmanism. He would offer many alms foods to a great number of Brahmin ascetics every day. He would change to offer to different sects in order to find the truth preached by that sect. King Asoka had wisdom to notice the different gestures of each of the Brahmin ascetics. He would notice if their actions were not composed, or whether they were properly clothed, loud, or naked ascetics, or even those who would eat like a dog. This caused King Asoka to try to find a more composed ascetic to receive his alms offerings.
One day, as King Asoka was standing at the window he saw a novice walking in a very composed and beautiful manner. According to the legends, this novice was the grandson of King Asoka the Great. But he didn’t know that it was his grandson as he had previously ordered the killing of all his step-brothers. But one of his sister in laws had survived, along with her son Nigrodha. King Asoka was captivated by the deportment of this novice, and so he invited the novice into the palace to receive alms food from the King. After the meal, the King invited the novice to receive alms food the next day, as well. The King then offered 8 sets of food to the novice, and the novice gave the 8 sets of food to his preceptor. King Asoka again offered food to the novice, and the novice gave it to his teachers and other fellow monks. In total there was 32 monks. After King Asoka saw that all these Buddhist monks were very composed and had peaceful behaviour, he gained faith in them. He was inspired to invite even more monks to come receive alms food each day. He kept increasing his alms offering until he was offering to many hundreds of monks each day.
Ultimately, King Asoka took refuge in the Triple Gem: the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. He built Ashokarama monastery and many other monasteries. He built the stone Asoka Pillars at the sacred sites of the Buddha, and this has enabled these sites to be re-discovered in the present day. His son and daughter ordained in the Buddha sasana and attained to becoming Arahants. As monastics, the Prince’s name was Venerable Mahinda Thera, and the Princess was named Sanghamitta Theri, which translates as the friend of the Sangha. Both of them were responsible for establishing Buddhism in the Island of Ceylon, known in the present day as Sri Lanka.
After King Asoka gained much faith in the Buddha, he had the foresight to send missionaries to propagate Buddhism abroad. He divided these missionaries into 9 missions. The 8th one was to spread Buddhism to Suvarnabhumi, With Ven. Sona and Ven. Uttara as the missionaries. He was also the patron of the Third Buddhist Council held at Asokarama Monastery in Pataliputra. He was the great patron supporter of Buddhism. And a great king in the Indian subcontinent. He was a great supporter of both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhist traditions. He would also support all the other religions, even the Jain religion where he offered many caves to them so that they could conduct their rituals there. He built dams, helped transportation, built hospitals, planted trees, and built public facilities, all according to Buddhist principles. After, he was the first one to go to discover the four holy places of worship of the Buddha’s life. Each of these locations was discovered by Venerable Moggaliputta Tissa Thera, who was an arahant imbued with all the special knowledges. He had the ability to know the exact locations where the Lord Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, first taught the Dhamma, and attained parinibbana.
Following this, an important event was that King Asoka built a chedi containing the relics of the Lord Buddha. This was celebrated for 7 years 7 months and 7 days. During this time, two monks went to invite Venerable Upagupta Thera, who would spend the rains-retreat at the bottom of the sea. His body was not large and inspiring but instead small and thin. King Asoka saw Ven. Upagupta and was not inspired. So he tested him by releasing a raging elephant that rushed at Ven. Upagupta. Ven. Upagupta used his psychic abilities to made the raging elephant frozen like stone. At this time King Asoka gained faith in Ven. Upagupta Thera. Ven. Upagupta Thera was put as the head of maintaining safety and protection during the chedi celebration that lasted for 7 years, 7 months, and 7 days, with King Asoka as the principal lay patron.
Ven. Upagupta Mahathera was able to overcome Mara and make him let go of his wrong view, changing it to right view and gaining faith in the Buddha sasana. And then Mara made the aspiration to become a Buddha in the future. And it is prophesied that he would succeed one day in becoming a Buddha.
During this time there was also another miracle. Ven. Upagupta Mahathera wished to see the physical body of the Buddha as it was back when the Buddha was still alive. He thus asked Mara to transform himself to have the physical form of the Buddha. Mara said that he could do so, but that Ven. Upagupta should absolutely not bow to him as it would be heavy karma. The Venerable agreed to this and Mara transformed his body as the Lord Buddha’s, along with all the chief disciples, Ven. Sariputta and Ven. Maha Moggallana. Ven. Upagupta Maha Thera saw the Lord Buddha with all the aura colours emanating around the Buddha, the Buddha with all the features of a Great Being, with the Chief Disciples, and surrounded by many other great disciples. With all this great splendour, Ven. Upagupta forgot that he would not pay homage and bow to the Buddha. He bowed and worshipped to the form who was actually Mara. Mara was shocked and restored his original form and then rebuked him for making very bad karma. But the Venerable One said that Mara had no need to be worried, as it was natural for everyone to bow and pay homage to the Buddha. Mara did no evil, but instead it was his great merit. After this Mara went back to his abode in the 6th level of the heavenly realm. Mara had faith in the Buddha sasana until the end. He had no more jealousy and would build parami to gain Buddhahood in the future.
Ven. Upagupta is staying to maintain Buddhism for the span of 5000 years. He uses his psychic powers to maintain his lifespan for this period of time. He stays in a crystal dwelling at the bottom of the sea. He will come up to receive alms at midnight on the Wednesdays of the 15th day of the lunar calendar. This is where the tradition of giving alms to Ven. Upagupta comes from. So let us recollect Ven. Upagupta who will protect us from dangers and disaster with his psychic abilities and his parami.
We can see that for Buddhism to come to where it is today, it relies on people with faith such as the great King Asoka, who had enormous faith in Buddhism. He thought for the future generations and so sent many groups of missionaries abroad. This was spread to Sri Lanka through the sending of Ven. Mahinda Thera and Ven. Sanghamitta Theri. And after Sri Lanka, it was spread to Thailand, Suvarnabhumi, through sending Venerable Sona and Ven. Uttara.
The previous generations had foresight and the Venerables then had the self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. They did not tire or think of it as difficult. We can express our gratitude and respect for the virtues, sacrifice and wisdom of the great King Asoka, and we can pay homage to the Arahant disciples who spread Buddhism in many directions, including coming to Sri Lanka and Thailand.
When we recollect in this way, we can see that it hasn’t been easy for Buddhism to come to Thailand and spread around the world. May you all be determined to cultivate the mind and practice Dhamma. When we have this good opportunity and we have the faith, then we should be sincere to practice and train the mind to watch the in and out breath. Train the mind to become calm. Chant itipiso many repetitions a day, 9 repetitions or 18, or even 108 repetitions. Do this so that the mind becomes peaceful. Because the mind that is peaceful, that has mindfulness and samadhi well established, will understand the Dhamma. Or we can contemplate Dhamma, whichever verse that makes the mind peaceful. Then we can see the sacca Dhamma, the truth of reality, that there is changing of compounded things. All things are in this breath of ours. When we have the breath, we have everything. When the breath stops then everything ends with it, as well. The decay and ending of all things comes from this decay and ending of the in and out breath first. So when we travel, we sit, stand, walk and lie down, we have the breath there with us, and these breaths we have left are getting less and less in each passing moment. So may we establish ourselves in not being heedless.
May you all grow in blessings.
Questions and Answers:
1. Q: What are the benefits of paying homage to Ven. Upagupta Mahathera?
Luang Por Anan: Ven. Upagupta Mahathera is an arahant, a perfectly awakened being. Recollecting him is Sanghanusati, the recollection of noble disciples, which is an important recollection. Just like we do in the daily chanting, we recollect that the Sangha are worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, well-practiced, who have practiced directly, insightfully, and with integrity. This makes the mind peaceful, one gains samadhi, then one can gain wisdom. One can pay homage to Ven. Upagupta Mahathera for good fortune, luck, and perfection in virtues. I visited Luang Pu Pitsadu, who was a bodhisattva monk in Chanthaburi, and he said the Ven. Upagupta Mahathera would visit his monastery often. He said Ven. Upagupta Mahathera has metta all the time, and that paying homage to Ven. Upagupta Mahathera would result in development and prosperity in the world and in the Dhamma.
2. Q: How do we recollect and pay homage to Ven. Upagupta Mahathera?
Luang Por Anan: Chant his mantra. Recollect him and his lovingkindness for us. Luang Pu Pitsadu recommended this. The mantra is, in pali: Upagutto upaguttang piya mama
3. Q: What is the difference between the Mara in the story and the Mara that disturbs our mind?
Luang Por Anan: The Mara in the mind is called kilesa Mara, or the Mara of mental obstruction. Mara means obstructor or destroyer. Kilesa Mara in the mind destroys and obstructs goodness. The Mara in the story is a deva of great power and parami in the 6 level of the deva realms. Kilesa Mara in the mind is like not wanting to chant, not wanting to wake up to chant, worry and greed that make one not want to be generous, and feelings of not wanting to follow morality, for instance.
4. Q: If one lies with a good intention to protect someone, is this bad karma?
Luang Por Anan: Look at one’s intention first and foremost – is the intention good or not? If the intention is metta and karuna, lovingkindness and compassion, then this is not bad karma. Intention is the most important. If one really wants to help then this is not against morality. If one tries to cheat, hurt, do no benefit, or has greed, aversion, and delusion, then this is breaking morality.
5. Q: King Asoka was a warrior who killed many people, then he did great acts of merit. What happened to him later in life and after he died?
Luang Por Anan: In a past life, King Asoka was a sibling of Ven. Nigrodha. They built parami together. In another life, King Asoka was a merchant and offered honey to a Buddha. Before King Asoka died, he still had faith to do generosity and support the Buddha’s dispensation. But, later on, his ministers did not let him do more generous acts, even though King Asoka wanted to. This made King Asoka sad, angry, and deluded when he died. So he was reborn as a python. His son, Ven. Mahinda Thera, found his former father using his psychic powers and taught the python to be moral and not eat other animals. After the python died the former King Asoka was reborn as a deva.
So we can see the Buddha’s dispensation spread since the Buddha’s time, with Ven. Assaji inspiring Ven. Sariputta, who, at that time, was not in the Buddha’s teaching. Luang Pu Chah taught his disciples to be composed and do things beautifully. Luang Pu Chah taught that this is spreading the Buddha’s teachings.
6. Q: Should one just keep repeating the Ven. Upagupta Mahathera mantra?
Luang Por Anan: Yes, just keep repeating it. Ven. Upagupta Mahathera built parami a lot. The Buddha foretold that in the future, during the reign of a great Dhamma king, there would be someone who would change Mara and convert him. Ven. Upagupta Mahathera put a necklace of a corpse around Mara’s neck. Then Mara went to many devas to try to get it removed, but no one could help, not even Sakka, king of the realm of the 33 gods. This lowered the ego and conceit of Mara. Mara tried to become big, but Ven. Upagupta Mahathera became bigger, Mara became a naga, and Ven. Upagupta Mahathera became a bigger naga. Ven. Upagupta Mahathera was always bigger and better. Mara asked him, “Even the Buddha did not torture me so much, so why do you?” Then Mara accepted the compassion of the Buddha. After 7 years, 7 months, and 7 days, Mara was released from the corpse around his neck. Mara recollected the qualities of the Buddha at this time and developed the desire to realize Buddhahood himself.
So may you have strength, may you meditate a lot and do generosity, morality, and concentration. When you have bodily and mental strength, do a lot of practice, because one does not know when one will get sick, which can be an obstacle to building goodness.