What follows is a rough transcript of a Dhamma talk. One can listen to the talk here.
Homage to the Blessed One, Noble One, the Rightly Self-Awakened One
Welcome to all the monks and novices and blessings to all the laity. Today we learn Dhamma about a very interesting topic. On the 20th March 2021, in the Buddhist Mahayana tradition, is the anniversary of when the Buddha practiced nekkhamma parami, the spiritual perfection of renunciation. We probably know quite well about the Life of the Buddha, that after the Bodhisattva, the Buddha-to-be, was born as a prince, he had the utmost worldly happiness. He had all things, complete in all ways. His father the King was very happy that he had a royal son. He tried to give his royal son the most happiness. Because after the Buddha was born, he had received the prediction that if he was to rule the kingdom, and became King, he would be a Wheel-turning Monarch. But if he renounced and went forth and ordained, then he had the parami, the spiritual perfections, to be the foremost Sasada in the world, a Buddha. And it was normal that the King wanted Prince Siddharata to take the position of the great wheel-turning monarch as he was from the Warrior class.
So the King built a palace so that the Bodhisattva (Buddha) could stay there with the utmost happiness and complete with everything. And he tried to have the most beautiful women to look after the Prince. But due to the full parami of Prince Siddhartha, which was deep in the heart, this was to be the final life of his. And the Bodhisattva wanted to know more about life and wanted to go see the city and how the people there lived. Though he himself lived with happiness and all types of enjoyment, the Bodhisattva was not completely happy. Because he still had thoughts of wondering what other places were like. He wanted to know and observe it. So he went outside the palace to see the people in the city. But here, the Bodhisattva saw only beauty as well. As the city had been all adorned beautifully before he left. His father the King had adorned the city to look beautiful, so that Prince Siddharata would see only the beautiful, so that he wouldn’t want to renounce and ordain, and feel that being a ruler was better.
So here, when the Bodhisattva Siddhartha went out, he didn’t see the truth, and so he ordered his servant Channa to sneak him away to another part of the city. On the 1st day, the Bodhisattva met with an old person. On the 2nd day he met a sick person. On the 3rd day he met a person who had died. And when he came back from seeing these 3 sights, he reflected on what he had seen, and asked his servant Channa, “later, will I be like this?” Channa answered, “Yes, master. Old age, sickness and death is not just specific to you the prince, but to all people, including your wife.” When the Bodhisattva heard this, he had dispassion (samvega) arise in his heart. “Why is it that when we have someone we love, we have all the things that we want, why do we have to experience something like this? Why do we need to get old, get sick and have separation and parting?” The Bodhisattva thought and reflected about this all night. On the 4th day he went out as usual, and he saw a samana, a renunciate, who was sitting meditation. But the Bodhisattva did not know who he was, and so he asked Channa. Channa answered that this was a samana who wanted to find the peace within the heart. When the Bodhisattva Siddharta heard this, he had the desire to give up worldly happiness, in order to find the path to liberation from all suffering, liberation from old age, sickness, and death. He had this aspiration in his heart constantly.
Here, when it was the appropriate time for the Bodhisattva, he left and renounced the palace to go into the forest to search for inner peace. He got to the bank of the river, and shaved his head, taking up the practice of one ordained. Then he looked for and met the Teachers, who were the preeminent ones of that time, that had a high level of Samadhi, meditative concentration, and they taught him the absorptions of Rupa jhana and arupa jhana. The Bodhisattva trained and developed it, and after no long time he succeeded in gaining these absorptions. We can reflect that the Bodhisattva was to be a King. He was a Prince who had all the great refinements and enjoyments, had everything complete, but on that day of renunciation he had to go into the forest, with no-one to assist him. And do you think that when he went to go practice in those teacher’s places, that he would meet with people who wanted to take advantage of him? The teachers saw that the Bodhisattva learned quickly, and so they had kindness and care for him.
They knew that Prince Siddharata had merit and great spiritual development, but at the same time we should understand that they had many of their own disciples. There would likely have been a lot of jealousy towards the Bodhisattva Prince Siddharta. He would have had to meet with all various types of moods from others and would have to endure with it all. He was able to practice making his mind peaceful, until he could get to the same level of learning as his teachers. Until the teacher gave him the position to look after all the disciples together. But the Bodhisattva did not aspire to be a teacher and teach like that, because he still hadn’t yet reached the end of suffering. So he went on to go learn with Uddaka Ramaputta, and was able to succeed learning the higher skills, until gaining arupa jhana, a very high level of samadhi. And this level of samadhi was close to Nibbana. And the teacher who was already old saw that the Bodhisattva learnt quickly and so he wanted to give him the position of teaching the disciples. But again, the Bodhisattva did not want this.
He saw that both the teachers taught correctly, in order to have deep samadhi, but he still did not meet with true peace. Why? Because when the mind left the peace, the Bodhisattva still had worries, and had thoughts of loved ones, of his wife and son Rahula. So here, what did the Bodhisattva do? He had to go find his own path. And at that era, it was favoured to practice torturing the body. By torturing the body, it was believed that it would lead to the highest attainment of enlightenment. So the Bodhisattva did this. And he did things that he had never done before. Like, fasting. Until he was so thin, that when he touched his stomach he would touch his backbone. He was just skin covering bones. And he passed out 3 times in total. He tried holding in his breath, and he tried pressing his tongue on top of his mouth. He tried all types of methods in order to attain to supreme peace and happiness.
But however the Bodhisattva tried, he couldn’t succeed. He couldn’t attain to noble virtue. Until he felt that if he continued to torture himself like this, he would still not be able to attain enlightenment. And that there was no one who had tortured themselves to the extent that he had practiced. And if he continued to torture his body, it would only fall apart and die. But due the power of his full parami, the Bodhisattva did not lose his life. And he went back to partaking in food, making the body to be healthy again. And then like we know, ultimately he attained to becoming the Samma Sambuddha, self awakened Buddha. He attained enlightenment. He contemplated into Paticca Samuppada, contemplated into dependent arising. He saw into dukkha, suffering. That Samudaya, was the cause of dukkha. Nirodha, was the liberation of dukkha. And the path of sila samadhi panya, morality concentration and wisdom. The Buddha developed anapanasati, mindfulness of the breath, and entered the 4th Jhana. Then he contemplated these causal conditions of dependent arising, and attained enlightenment, becoming a Samma-Sambuddha.
And tomorrow, on the 20th March, is the anniversary in the Buddhist Mahayana tradition, that note this is as the day the Buddha practiced nekkhamma parami, and renounced and ordained. So we can reflect on one who was born with full parami, born as the son of the great King Suddhodana, and the Bodhisattva had the parami who could rule over the 4 directions as a wheel-turning monarch. And he had a heart that would rule justly with virtue. But the Buddha had been in a position of ruling over others like this, being a wheel-turning monarch an uncountable number of times. So the Buddha did not aspire to this. Because he saw that no matter how much power and virtue he had like this, it would not lead to freedom from old age , not lead to freedom from sickness, not lead to freedom from death. He must still part from loved ones and loved things. Something he did not want. And the parami that he had built in order to attain to becoming a Buddha was full.
So he was able to renounce everything, and go live and practice bhavana, develop the mind, and eat from the alms of ordinary people, which was hard for the Bodhisattva to do. The first mouthful of alms food he ate, he almost threw it out. Because he had never eaten such coarse food like this. He had only ever eaten refined food. But he endured. He forced his mind to accept that he was practicing as a renunciant now, and so he couldn’t choose his food. So he forced himself to swallow his food. Here, the Bodhisattva who had never experienced with these types of difficulties and troubles, was able to do it. How? Because he had built all types of parami to the utmost already. He had built Upekkha parami, Equanimity, in a previous life, when he was a very wealthy man, and gave up all his money and wealth and built parami. Even when people criticized and blamed him. They harmed him and thought he was a crazy person. So they hit him, but he endured it. So he had practiced all sorts of Khanti parami, Forbearance, so he had the strength to endure in training his mind. And coming to the last life, all this parami came together , and he could overcome all struggles and obstacles. This is the great metta, kindness and compassion of the Buddha. Even though he was born of royalty, yet he came down to be an ordinary renunciant, whose life had to be supported by others. And he could do it perfectly.
And then ultimately he attained enlightenment and spread the Dhamma till it reached us. And we can listen to all the Dhamma, learn Dhamma , practice Dhamma, and can see and understand Dhamma, because of the Parami and Dhamma of our Sasada, the Samma-sambuddha. Because he had practiced and took his body, his life, his flesh, to exchange for the attainment of Bodhinyana, the wisdom of Enlightenment. So that he could gain Bodhinayana. And so that he could attain to becoming a Buddha .
The Buddha said that the Dhamma is in front of us already, may you be diligent, may you practice . For your own benefit . May you recollect in this way. That it is for your own benefit and for the benefit of others too. May you put forth effort. May you be determined in the practice, then you will taste the elixir of the deathless. It is like eating a very refined food. So may you be determined to put forth effort . Just like the Buddha did when he practiced before and even passed out 3 times. May you be determined like this .
So we recollect this on the occasion of the important anniversary of the Buddha, the first day when the Buddha renounced and practiced nekkhamma parami. May this great parami of our Sasada, the Buddha, give us strength of mind and strength of body, strength in our Dhamma practice and meditation, and strength to learn Dhamma. May you all meet with brightness in your life, and in your Dhamma practice.