Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – September 20th, 2019
L uang Por Anan: Welcome to all of those gathered here to build our parami, our spiritual perfections, together. Each time we do this, each occasion, each day, month, year, or lifetime, we build parami; and when our parami becomes full, then we understand the Dhamma—the truth of the way things are. In the Buddha’s time, there were those of full parami like Venerable Sariputta, the right-hand chief disciple, who was foremost in wisdom, and Ven. Maha-Moggallana, the left-hand chief disciple, who was foremost in psychic powers.
The bhikkhunis, or female monastics, also had many individuals with full parami who were foremost in various qualities such as Ven. Uppalavanna, foremost in psychic powers, Ven. Patacara, foremost in monastic discipline (Vinaya), Ven. Bhadda Kundalakesa, foremost in quick understanding of Dhamma, and Ven. Bhaddakaccana, foremost in deep knowledge. Let us now watch the video on the bhikkhuni foremost in wisdom.
Welcome to all the monks and novices and greetings to all the lay people with interest to learn the Dhamma. Today we will learn about one senior nun, who possessed great mindfulness and wisdom. The Buddha pronounced her the foremost of all bhikkhunis in wisdom. This nun was named Venerable Khema Theri. She was born in the royal family of Sagala City in the Magadha country. She was given the name Princess Khema, because of her golden skin colour. After she grew up she was married as Queen of King Bimbisara of the Kingdom of Rajagaha.
Queen Khema was incredibly beautiful and, because of this, she was very deluded in her own beauty. It is normal for those who are beautiful like this to enjoy their own beauty. Whether it is a man or woman, they would be very pleased with their own appearance, because they are far more beautiful or handsome than others. Queen Khema was not interested in listening to the Dhamma of the Buddha, because she was attached to her own beautiful appearance. Though she knew that the Buddha was residing in Veluvana Monastery close to the city of Rajagaha, she did not go to pay respects to the Buddha and listen to his teachings. This is because she knew that if she were to listen to the Buddha’s teachings, the Buddha would teach about the drawbacks of this bodily form – that this form is not beautiful and this form has decay as its nature. So she didn’t want to go to listen to the Buddha’s teachings. She wasn’t brave enough to go pay respects to the Buddha. She was worried that the Buddha would criticise her beauty and that was something she really didn’t like.
King Bimbisara, who was one of the Buddha’s excellent lay attendants, reflected that, though he had great faith in the Buddha’s dispensation and was a noble disciple, still his chief queen was not interested in listening to the Dhamma. She was deluded in her beauty. He didn’t like it that she wasn’t interested in listening to the Buddha’s teachings. Yet King Bimbisara had a lot of mindfulness and wisdom, as well, so he found a method to trick his queen into listening to the Buddha’s teachings. He knew her character well—she liked beautiful flowers and adornments. So he got a gifted poet to compose a story about the virtues and beauty of Veluvana Monastery. And he had him sing this poem close to where Queen Khema resided so that she would hear this melodious poem. When she heard this poem sung melodiously about the beauty of Veluvana Monastery, she then had the wish to visit the Royal Monastery. King Bimbisara was glad that his trick succeeded and immediately granted his permission.
So Queen Khema went to Veluvana Monastery and enjoyed her visit. Time passed by quickly, and ,when it was about the time for her to go back, her entourage followed orders by King Bimbisara to make sure that they took her to the Buddha’s residence before returning to the palace. The entourage led her to the Buddha, and, before she even knew what was happening, the Buddha saw the Queen and her entourage coming towards him. The Buddha knew immediately that this was the trick of King Bimbisara to have the Queen meet the Buddha. The Queen was already in the net of the Buddha’s compassion. The Buddha used his psychic power to make an image of a beautiful maiden appear, fanning him from behind with a palm-leaf fan. Queen Khema liked her own appearance and was deluded in her own beauty, so she was shocked that this maiden was more beautiful than her and was close to the Buddha, as well. Her own beauty couldn’t compare to this maiden. She would look like a maid servant or even worse when she compared her beauty to this maiden fanning the Buddha. She thought, how is it that this maiden was so beautiful beyond comparison? She couldn’t stop staring at her.
At that moment, the Buddha read Queen Khema’s mind and he made the beautiful maiden’s body gradually age and change little by little. From young age to middle age and gradually changing to old age. The Queen grew dispassionate at seeing that sight, and, when the beautiful maiden changed to being old, the maiden’s beauty disappeared. Her gaze was fixed on that woman, and the Buddha made it so that the woman’s skin went all wrinkled, her hair grey, her teeth broken, and then falling over in front of her. Queen Khema gazed, and her mind became peaceful. Samadhi concentration was firmly established in her because of her past parami, her spiritual accumulations. She saw the form of that woman since the beginning, when it was surpassingly beautiful, up until it turned into an old woman falling over. She saw impermanence. Then she brought this contemplation back to herself and reflected that her own body would be like this as well, and that she couldn’t escape this fate. Even that beautiful woman changed and decayed. Her bodily form was uncertain and changing. Therefore her own bodily form would have this same fate. Then during this time, the Buddha taught:
“Those who are infatuated with lust, fall back into the stream of craving, just like a spider caught in the web it has spun. The wise cut off the stream of craving and become free from longing for sense-pleasures.”
After the Buddha said this, Queen Khema, who had full spiritual development, attained to becoming an arahant with full mindfulness and wisdom, imbued with all the psychic powers, right at that time she was standing there.
So we can see that this was a layperson who was lost in beauty and deluded in the happiness that she had in that life, being the chief queen of King Bimbisara. If we reflect on this, someone with this much happiness and with this much beauty, probably wouldn’t be able to attain to become an arahant just like that. However, this was possible because she made great parami over many lifetimes. She met many Buddhas and practiced a lot, developing mindfulness and wisdom. She made the determination in the past, in front of a Buddha, that she would be able to listen to the teachings of a Buddha and become an arahant.
Though she was in the status of a householder, after attaining to arahantship she couldn’t live in the householder’s life anymore. So, she asked for the permission from King Bimbisara to ordain as a bhikkhuni. The King could understand because he was already a sotapanna, but, as for himself, he couldn’t ordain as he had his royal duties in leading his country. So he gave permission for his chief Queen Khema to ordain. He ordered all the officials to accompany her on a golden seat to the Order of bhikkhunis to ordain. She was then named, Venerable Khema Theri.
We can see that she made the most of her mindfulness and wisdom in attaining to becoming an arahant. Even though she was still a lay person, she could still attain very quickly. The Buddha praised her as being the foremost of all the bhikkhunis in wisdom, and she also held the special status of being a chief bhikkhuni of the Buddha.
Here we can see that this wisdom may be latent in a child, a middle-aged person, a woman, a man, a lay person, a bhikkhu, a bhikkhuni, a samanera, or a samaneri. Before that individual attains to Dhamma, they may still kill or take lives, even of human-beings, or they may have strong delusion in their own bodies. But when the old, latent parami comes up as they listen to the teachings from the Buddha, then they, too, can attain Dhamma easily.
And for us here, we have already built a lot of parami before. It may well be that in our past lives we have already met with the Buddha, and made parami with the Buddha. In this life, the Buddha has already attained parinibbana, but his Dhamma is still here. So may we study the Dhamma, practice the Dhamma, and contemplate the Dhamma, so that our minds can understand the Dhamma deeply. And, one day when we are listening to Dhamma, learning Dhamma, and contemplating Dhamma, we may gain clear insight into the Dhamma.
So be established in heedfulness. Do not think that in this life we are too late to meet the Buddha. We don’t know whether or not we have already met the Buddha in the past. So may all of you who are interested in Dhamma be sincere and determined in having mindfulness and wisdom. May you “Sadhu” and rejoice with the mindfulness and wisdom of Ven. Khema Theri. May you contemplate on this and reflect on the Dhamma. May you grow in blessings.
Questions and Answers:
1. Q: If Ven. Khema did not listen to the Buddha, could she have attained to arahantship?
Luang Por Anan: The Buddha was the only one capable of teaching her. Without listening to the Buddha she would not have attained to Dhamma in this way. She had built parami for a long time in order to listen to the Dhamma of the Buddha. She had already met many Buddhas. All of this was so that she would meet with the Buddha in her last life, listen to the Dhamma, and realize arahantship. She aspired to this since the time of Padumuttara Buddha. She had done all the requisite causes to succeed in her determination. One must have the appropriate causes in place.
2. Q: I have heard that the path to freedom from suffering can be more complicated or different for those of more parami as compared to those with less parami.
Luang Por Anan: If one becomes a normal enlightened disciple of a Buddha, then one can realize this quickly if one’s parami is full—one can realize arahantship. If one has more parami and determines to do something greater, then this takes more time. One must build parami like patient endurance, mindfulness, and wisdom. In order to meet with the Buddha one needs more parami.
3. Q: If Ven. Khema had a lot of parami, then why did she not want to listen to the Buddha? Was it because she was deluded in her beauty? How can we make sure past merits give fruit quickly in the present lifetime?
Luang Por Anan: Do not think of getting the fruits quickly. Past causes already exist and the present is the result of those causes. Building wholesome causes in the present is the most important thing. If one plants a fruit tree and wants fruit quickly, then what should one do?
Take care of the fertilizer, the pests, water, and so on, and the causes will lead to fruition on their own. Focus on doing morality, concentration, and wisdom in the present, and this will give future results automatically. The tree gives fruits at its own pace.
4. Q: What are the different ways of developing wisdom?
Luang Por Anan: Listen to Dhamma a lot, contemplate Dhamma, reflect and reason about cause and effect, and associate with the wise. Think of Ven. Ananda: he studied a lot and kept close to the Buddha/Bodhisattva in the past. Great disciples were close to the Bodhisattva, the future Buddha, in past lives, like Ven. Khema. For example, in a monastery, there are some good elder monks, learned in Dhamma and Vinaya, who have kindness, and the new monks or novices should study with a monk like that and emulate that monk. The new monks can then develop those same good qualities to become good senior monks, themselves. They should recite Dhamma, understand, reflect, and remember those teachings. Doing all these things is necessary.
5. Q: Did the bhikkhunis do alms round and listen to the Buddha’s teachings along with the bhikkhus?
Luang Por Anan: The Buddha would send monks like Ven. Ananda to give Dhamma discourses to the bhikkhunis. On one occasion, a monk named Ven. Culapanthaka gave a very short talk to the bhikkhunis. The bhikkhunis were disappointed and did not have faith in Ven. Culapanthaka. After this, Ven. Culapanthaka displayed psychic powers like walking in the air, then the bhikkhunis gained faith. The bhikkhus and bhikkhunis lived separately. The bhikkhunis would go on alms round.
6. Q: Why did the Buddha give more Vinaya, or monastic rules, to the bhikkhunis?
Luang Por Anan: Vinaya rules arise from certain situations or events in the time of the Buddha. When there was uninspiring or unsuitable behavior in body or speech from the bhikkhus or bhikkhunis, then the Buddha laid down a rule to correct this. The Vinaya was made to be just enough for the male and female monastics. The bhikkhunis had more incidents arise.
7. Q: How should one make a determination/vow (adhitthana)? In front of a Buddha statue?
Luang Por Anan: Do good—do dana, sila, and mental development as much as one can—all the time. Recollect the Buddha. Then make a determination based on the goodness that one has done in order to be successful in wisdom and so on. One can do this in front of a Buddha statue.
8. Q: Why would someone aspire to be a great disciple? Since samsara is suffering, then why would one be in samsara and be born again for even longer? This would be more suffering.
Luang Por Anan: This is up to one’s development. One still sees suffering, but has more loving kindness and compassion, and wants to help others more. Others see suffering, or dukkha, and feel that this is enough—they decide to attain stream entry, to once-returning, to non-returning, then to arahantship. But others want to build more parami. Those individuals still see suffering, but they want to build more wisdom, meet a Buddha, and help others. Who was the person that opened up your meditation center today? Its like the person who opens up the meditation center before the others arrive. That person wants to overcome suffering just like the others who come, but they have the self-sacrifice heart to help others.
If no one comes to help others in this way, then others do not gain benefit. If no one does any more than anyone else, then no one has the opportunity to listen to the Dhamma. So, it is necessary to have someone who builds more parami in order to help others. Like Ven. Ananda—if he did not build parami to fill his post, then there would have been no one to remember all the suttas that we still read and listen to today. He sacrificed and built parami in order to help others. It is necessary to have the great disciples, otherwise we would not know the teachings. To be a great disciple one does go through more difficulties, but one does it to benefit others, the later generations.
9. Q: What qualities should one have—I know I should build mindfulness and wisdom, but what else should I build?
Luang Por Anan: If one aspires to be a great disciple, one can develop a certain parami as a special focus. If one wants to overcome suffering, then develop morality, concentration, and wisdom, cultivate the parami of renunciation, and doing all of this is enough to see the Dhamma.
10. Q: Two days ago, a friend of mine had seizures and became unconscious. What advice do you have to pass on?
Luang Por Anan: Chant a lot and ask for the parami of the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, and Bodhisattvas to help them get better and recover. Make a determination to help them get better.
And, lastly, here is another story of a great bhikkhuni disciple who had a similar story to Ven. Khema: Ven. Sundari Nanda Theri was the bhikkhuni foremost in meditation, or jhana. She was the half-sister of the Buddha. She was very beautiful. The Buddha created an image of a beautiful woman that aged and died in front of her eyes, then the Buddha gave her a teaching. Ven. Sundari Nanda Theri then attained to stream entry and later arahantship, full enlightenment.