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.
This Friday, we learn Dhamma about the topic of humbling and lowering oneself. In Pali, this is called nivāto ca. This is not inflating oneself, being modest, being humble, lowering one’s head, having beautiful manners, being refined and gentle, not being coarse and rough. Like a poisonous snake whose fangs have been taken out and is not vicious anymore. One who is deferential through body, speech and mind has a great blessing in one’s life. And in Pali, this is the word nivata. Which translates as ‘no wind’, not inflated. One can control oneself to be in a normal state, according to the truth. Like a ball that has not been inflated. Not showing off one’s skill that one knows one has to others, or using these skills to belittle others, or to boast. Not boasting that one is good, and not being arrogant, but behaving as modest and reserved. Being someone who is very humble and meek. It’s characteristics are similar to having respect. But it has a different meaning. Respect and reverence is being aware of the goodness and virtue of others or of other things. And then one behaves to that person with respect and reverence, mainly shown through one’s body and speech. In regards to humility and lowering oneself, this is being aware of oneself and one is able to behave correctly and appropriately. Not being arrogant in any way. Not boasting and exaggerating the truth. Not raising oneself up, and putting others down. One is polite and has manners that give respect appropriate to another’s status. And one knows the appropriate time, what time is appropriate, or what time is inappropriate. This is important.
And for the person who behaves arrogantly and conceitedly, this has many faults. It can ruin a person. That is, they aren’t able to go back to being ordinary, the ways things were before. They ruin their future. Like some people are good people. But when they receive praise, or changing from someone who doesn’t have much, and they suddenly become a multi-millionaire, then they will usually be showing off, dressing up to look rich, and boasting about their wealth. Or those who gain wisdom, then they boast of the wisdom they have, in their knowledge and education. There are many like this. This can ruin a person. And, it makes one lose friends. No one wants to be friends with one. And even if one has friends, they won’t likely be true and real friends.
And, it ruins the group. Each person holds themselves as being good. And they won’t be able to agree on anything. In the end, they won’t be able to get to their goal. And it makes other people around them tired.
But being humble and lowering oneself, has 3 outstanding characteristics. One has manners that are humble and refined, their words are sweet, and their mind is gentle. There are 3 characteristics.
And making oneself be humble and lowering one’s self, has principles as well. One needs to meet and associate with kalyana-mittas, that is, good friends who have sila-dhamma, morality. They will warn us and pull us to go in a good and correct way. Because it is normal that we people, don’t have knowledge, understanding, and wisdom all the time. Sometimes we can forget. But if we associate with wise people, we have excellent kalyana-mittas, then they can warn us so that we will see the virtue in moderation and being content. We will see the virtues in humility and lowering one’s conceit. They will warn us and pull us to go in a good way. And we ourselves need to know how to think and reflect, observing causes and results constantly. Because the nature of humans is that each person’s minds are different. Each person thinks differently, and of different things. But we need to contemplate and investigate causes and results, and keep oneself on a good path. And there needs to be harmony in one’s group, that it can go according to basic principles. Sometimes we can admonish each other. So that is why the Buddha laid down the principle that after the rains-retreat, the Sangha can admonish each other. To listen and respect the thoughts of others that has logic and reasoning. So it’s not that we are stubborn in our own views. That leads to arguments and disagreements. It comes from attachment to that I am right. Being attached to oneself as right, one can then be wrong.
There was one time, when I was assisting Ven. Ajahn Chah. I wrote a letter that Ajahn Chah was going to send one monk to be an abbot of a branch monastery in Ayutthaya Province. But there was a problem with the wording, sent to ‘go there’, or sent to ‘come there’. Some monks in the group, said the wording was ‘sent to go there’. But some monks said the wording should be ‘sent to come there’. And there were 2 senior monks who started to argue, that sent to go was correct, and the other monk said sent to come there had to be used. So Ven. Ajahn Chah said out loud, there is no flag, and there is no wind. When there is a flag and there is wind, then there will be arguments that the flag flaps because of the wind. Or, it’s only because there is the flag that it can flap. So they argued. Each monk had their own attachments. So Ven Ajahn Chah said the Dhamma verse, there is no flag, and there is no wind. This is beyond causes and above results. So there was no more argument. So humility and lowering oneself is an important virtue. Especially when one is one of few wishes and contented, then they will be praised by all people.
And our Lord Buddha, he praised Ven. Maha Kassapa Thera, that he was one who was humble, one who had few wishes and had contentment. In the Mahayana Tradition, there is a story about Ven. Maha Kassapa that is worth listening to and learning from. Let us watch together from the Dhamma of the Mahayana Tradition:
I would like to ask to retell it like this, that if you were the richest, you had the most money in that city, what would you want to do?
Something incredible happened in the city of Rajgir, more than 2500 years ago. The boy Pippali, the son of a wealthy family, was weary of the world, wanted to find the sacca-dhamma, the truth of existence. He wanted to live peacefully and learn the Dhamma. But because of his gratitude, he couldn’t go against his parents. His parents wanted him to get married and have a family. So they found one wealthy family who had a daughter called Kapilānī. And they arranged it and held the wedding. When the two had married, there was the 2nd incredible occurrence, that it was opposite of what it seemed on the outside. Both of them felt the same way inside, they were weary of the world. They wanted to find the truth of existence. After the parents of the couple had passed away, Pippali consulted with Kapilani, that he wanted to renounce the world and ordain, to look for the truth of existence. All the wealth he would give to their workers, and their lands to give to the villagers. And she agreed. Is that incredible? Before Pippali would go travel to find a teacher, he made a promise with Kapilani that if he found a teacher who had found the truth of existence, then he would come to take Kapilani to practice Dhamma following in that way. Pippali went to go look for a teacher and he travelled many years before he found a teacher. Ultimately he travelled and met the Buddha. Pippali quickly bowed to the Buddha and asked to be his disciple. The Buddha said that I know the truth of existence. And the Buddha said the truth, that if the Tathagatha does not know and says he knows, if he does not understand, but pretends that he understands, then the body of the Tathagatha would break apart into 7 parts in this moment. Pippali heard this and gained even more faith. So he requested ordination to become a monk, and received the name Venerable Kassapa. And he listened to the teachings of the Buddha. He listened continuously, and not even one word was missed. Later, he followed the Buddha to go back to Veluvana Monastery, to practice Dhamma there. And he practiced as a disciple of the Lord Buddha. And though there was the Vinaya with many rules, and that the practice must be strict as well, this was not a problem for Venerable Kassapa. He practised them all completely.
And later one day in a Sangha gathering, the Buddha was giving the most difficult Dhamma teaching. He taught that all Dhammas arise from the mind. Everything arises from causes, and ceases due to causes. After the Buddha asked his disciples if they understood. And all the disciples there did not understand, there was only Ven. Kassapa who understood. The Buddha asked for Ven. Kassapa to come sit next to him to explain to the group, the meaning of this Dhamma teaching. But due to Ven. Kassapa’s restraint, he thanked the kindness of the Buddha, and answered, I have no right to sit next to the Buddha. And more so to explain the teaching in the Buddha’s place, I cannot accept. May I simply be in the group of disciples of the Buddha, and listen to the Dhamma of the Buddha. This is sufficient. After he spoke, he stood and walked off. And the Buddha did not fault him and was not upset. And the Buddha said to his disciples there, that 8 days after Kassapa met the Tathagatha, he understood into true nature of the Dhamma. He practices seclusion and being of few wishes, he does not speak what is not beneficial. He practises in line with the Vinaya. Herein, everyone should practise following Maha Kassapa. And after this incident, they called Ven. Kassapa, Kassapa the Great who cultivates peace.
Being humble was a characteristic of Ven. Kassapa.
Though he had met a teacher who had realized the truth of existence, the Buddha, he was not able to go get Kapilani to practice Dhamma together. Only until the Buddha accepted female disciples, then did he take her to practice in the same place. She was determined to practice. And the Buddha praised her as a Bhikkhuni who was skilled in recollecting her past lives. And other than this, there were instances of teachings and practice that were significant.
There was the group of Ven. Upanandi, who went to go for alms in one village. But it was shocking that all the rich and poor people closed their doors and windows and ran away. This was because Ven. Upanandi forced the villagers to donate so he could build a dwelling for himself. Ven, Kassapa saw this and he felt he had to reprimand his fellow friend. But his method to reprimand , he did so through his actions. Ven. Kassapa walked alms until he met one sick, old woman. On her body were boils of pus, as she was sick and close to death. She had no wealth or money. She only had a bowl of old, stale porridge. When Ven. Kassapa met her, he asked for alms. She said she was poor and she had nothing to give. Ven. Kassapa answered, what about your heart, what is important is your willingness to give. She was able to have a heart that wished to give. Whoever had a heart who wanted to help others is not a poor person. This old woman, upon hearing this, her heart was uplifted, so she poured the porridge to offer to Ven. Kassapa. But do you know from her wound, the pus on her finger fell into the bowl of V Kassapa. And Ven. Upanandhi and the group standing watching, hiding from behind, they were disgusted, and made disgusted faces, which was opposite of Ven. Kassapa who was not disgusted. Because he ate that bowl of porridge until he finished it. And he thanked the old lady. And he told the lady that he had finished todays meal, and he had enough strength to keep going with this life till the next day. This is because of your gift that you have offered. Thank you very much. And Ven. Upanandhi’s group who was hiding watching behind, were ashamed. Some of the monks fell to the ground. When they came back to the monastery, and told the Buddha what had happened. The Buddha praised Ven. Kassapa, that he was someone who spoke little, but used his actions to teach. He relieved the suffering of people. And he used his actions to teach the Sangha as well.
And on the day that it was the Buddha’s parinibbana, during that time, Ven. Kassapa and his group were going wandering on tudong, so they did not come in time for the Buddha’s parinibbana. And when he heard the news he was shocked. But there was something else that was even more shocking. It made him very worried. This was the behaviour of his disciples. There were ones like Ven. Upanandi, who were pleased that there was no Buddha to reprimand and control them, and they could do whatever they wanted to. And there was the 2nd group that were crying and saddened, without mindfulness. Ven. Kassapa thought that if it was like that when only 7 days had passed, how would the Sasana continue on for a long time. So he paid his respects to the Buddha’s body. In the cremation, Ven. Ananda had tried to light the fire many times but it would keep going out. Until Ven. Kassapa came, and he paid his respects to the Buddha’s body, and determined his mind to make the vow, to the Buddha , that now I have been reborn, after this point, I wont drink the elixir of Dhamma only myself. I will be like the sun, and burn myself up in order to spread the correct Dhamma , for the rest of this life. May the Buddha rest his heart at ease, I will follow my vow.
After Ven. Kassapa made this vow, not long after the fire that Ven. Ananda had tried to light many times, it lit itself and came ablaze.
90 days after the Buddha’s Parinibbana, Ven. Maha Kassapa held a Sangha meeting of 500 monks, holding the first Sangha Council of the Tripitaka in the Sattapanni Cave. Ven. Maha Kassapa saw Ven. Upanandi outside, so called him to join the meeting, Ven. Upanandi wasn’t sure if he was allowed in because of his past actions. Ven. Kassapa, said, if there was no you or the Buddha, I would be a silent and lone renunciant. Only enjoying happiness being by myself. I have made the vow to get everyone together to hold the first Sangha Council, and this merit belongs to you. Ven. Upanandi was deeply impressed and started to cry.
We have learned now from the Mahayana cartoon, and we can see the Buddha held Ven. Maha Kassapa to be like a close friend. Not just as a disciple. This was deep within the Buddha’s heart and greater than that of other disciples. Though the other disciples did not understand the teaching, but Ven. Maha Kassapa understood. And the Buddha gave teachings to Ven. Ananda and Ven. Maha Kassapa until the end of his life. Ven. Ananda listened to all the Buddha’s teachings and memorised them. And, Ven. Maha Kassapa was like the 2nd Buddha. He practised to know for himself. So may you learn about the history of Ven. Maha Kassapa. He was foremost of all the monks in the dhutanga austere practices of the Buddha. And he continued the Dhamma Vinaya, the monastic discipline, and held the first Sangha Council as well.
And we can imagine that if we were that sick, old woman, that we would be extremely lucky, that she was able to pay respects to Ven. Maha Kassapa. The Buddha said that no matter how much prestige and status one has, being born like this for thousands of lifetimes, it would not be equal to bowing to Ven. Maha Kassapa just one time. Although we can’t remember if we were born at that time, but when we are aware of this, we can homage our minds to bow to Ven. Maha Kassapa. Bowing with our heart that has faith in the Ven. Arahant, free of defilements, the one who had practised upholding the Dhutanga Practices, and who held the First Sangha Council. So this is our great merit and goodness that Ven. Maha Kassapa had the thought to hold the First Sangha Council, so that there would be strong lineage of the Dhamma Vinaya, carried on to the present day. So may you all, the monks and novices be firmly established in the Dhamma Vinaya, and all the laity be established in sila-dhamma, and then puja the Buddha, Dhamma Sangha with your Dhamma practice. May all prosperity come to the laity.