Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – October 4th, 2019
L uang Por Anan: Welcome to all of you from your centers, all the monks and novices. Today is another opportunity for us to learn about Dhamma. In the beginning, we all have some degree of wisdom, we desire to build knowledge and this leads to our faith. If we have more faith than wisdom, then we can end up confused.
The important qualities that we need are mindfulness and wisdom. This is true no matter what we do.
In the Buddha’s time, there were many of his disciples who had great mindfulness and wisdom regardless of whether they were male or female. There was also the chief right hand disciple of the Lord Buddha, Venerable Sariputta, foremost in wisdom. This wisdom is a clear knowing that knows cause and effect. This wisdom knows the good and bad of different actions. So, we will learn about the biography of the chief right hand disciple of the Buddha who was the foremost in wisdom— Venerable Sariputta.
Homage to the Worthy One, the Blessed One, the Rightly Self-awakened One
Welcome to all the monks, novices, and all the laity. Today we will learn the biography of Ven. Sariputta, the right hand chief disciple of the Lord Buddha. He was foremost out of all the monks in wisdom. As for the left hand chief disciple, Ven. Maha Moggallana, he was foremost in psychic abilities. The Ven. Elder Sariputta was declared by the Buddha as “Dhammasenāpati”, the General of the Dhamma, in excellently expounding the teachings of the Buddha. He also praised Ven. Sariputta in many other aspects.
For example, when the monks paid their respects to the Lord Buddha before going off to practice in solitude, they would pay their respects to the Buddha, and the Buddha would ask them, “Have you bid your farewell and paid respects to Ven. Sariputta and Ven. Maha Moggallana yet?” This was because they gave encouragement and blessings to the monks before they go off wandering. The Lord Buddha compared Ven. Sariputta to a mother who gave birth to a child as he would guide the monks to be established in the fruit of sotapanna, the initial fruit of awakening. As for Ven. Maha Moggallana, he was like a mother who raised a newborn baby as he would advise on the higher noble attainments to the monks, such as Sakkadagami, Anagami, and the fruits of Arahantship.
Ven. Sariputta had great expertise in teaching the Dhamma such that the listener could understand easily. In addition, he was also full of the quality of ‘kataññutā kataveditā’, or gratitude— knowing “what others have done for us and what we must do in return”.
Before Ven. Sariputta was ordained, there was an occasion where he listened to the Dhamma from the Ven. Elder Assaji. Sariputta had a lot of wisdom then, as he could see that the Ven. Elder Assaji had graceful composure and radiant complexion. He knew that this was certainly an ascetic who had attained to some noble virtues. He followed him to listen to the Dhamma and was wise to wait until Ven. Elder Assaji finished his meal before paying respects and making a request to listen to the Dhamma. And so, Ven. Elder Assaji, preached the Dhamma:
Of those things that arise from a cause,
The Tathāgata (Buddha) has told the cause,
And also what their cessation is:
This is the doctrine of the Great Recluse (Buddha)
Ven. Sariputta had long been seeking the Dhamma that leads to freedom from suffering. When he listened to the teaching that “all phenomena that arise from a cause or of the nature to cease”, he understood deeply and the stain-free eye of Dhamma arose. He became Awakened (Buddha). He was awakened to the truth that all things are of the nature to arise, persist, and cease.
At this time the Ven. Elder Assaji was going to continue teaching the Dhamma, but Ven. Sariputta stopped him respectfully and asked where was Lord Buddha residing. Ven. Assaji answered, “In Veluvana Monastery”. Ven. Sariputta took the Dhamma he had understood from Ven. Assaji and went to tell Ven. Maha Moggallana. Ven. Maha Moggallana also attained to stream entry at that time. Then, they both went to invite their old teacher, the ascetic Sanjaya to pay respects to the Buddha together. But Sanjaya answered: “I won’t go. In this world are there more ignorant people or intelligent people?” Ven. Sariputta replied that there are more ignorant people. Their old teacher Sanjaya said that he will stay with the ignorant people, because there were more of them, and the intelligent people could go to the Buddha.
The Ven. Elder Sariputta was not only foremost in wisdom, but he was also foremost in gratitude. When he knew in which direction the Ven. Elder Assaji was residing, he would first bow to Ven. Assaji, then he would point his head in that direction and take his rest. A rumour arose that the Ven. Sariputta respected Ven. Assaji more than the Buddha. When the Buddha was asked about this, the Buddha said that this was the respect for his teacher Ven. Assaji, who was the one who brought him into the Dhamma. Here, the Buddha praised Ven. Sariputta as being the foremost in gratitude.
Even when an elderly brahmin named Radha gave just one spoon of rice during alms to Ven Sariputta, Ven. Sariputta later accepted this brahmin to ordain him, looked after him, and taught him until, eventually, Ven. Radha attained to becoming an arahant. On top of that Ven. Sariputta was praised as being foremost in being easy to teach and instruct. He had gratitude and recollected the virtue of his mother, and went to teach his mother before he passed away and entered into parinibbana.
We also can see the refined nature of Ven. Sariputta’s wisdom.
At one time the Buddha taught the Dhamma beautifully. After the sermon finished, the Buddha asked Ven. Sariputta, “Sariputta, do you believe in this Dhamma that I have taught?” Ven. Sariputta respectfully replied, “I do not yet believe.” The Lord Buddha said, “Wise people shouldn’t believe easily. Investigate and take it into practice before you believe. Don’t believe easily. See the results first, then you can believe.” Here, you can see a person with all-encompassing and deep wisdom.
Even though it was the Lord Buddha who was giving the Dhamma teaching, Ven. Sariputta would not believe it until he had investigated and contemplated it. He was an arahant whose mind was purified, and he had the mindfulness and wisdom to contemplate everything that he perceived. This is because in the Buddha’s time, all the other teachers who taught would say that their teaching and way of practice was good and they would then criticise the others.
For example, there was one town called Kesaputta, in the Kosala Kingdom. The people of that town were called the Kalama people. The Buddha then taught the Kalama Sutta. When the Kalama people knew that the Buddha came to their town, the Kalama people came to ask for advice from the Lord Buddha. They then asked the Lord Buddha, “There was one Brahmin who came to visit this area, and he said that only his view was the correct view, and he criticized others’ views as incorrect, so, is this true or not?” The Lord Buddha said,”Kalamas, your doubts about this are correct”. So the Buddha gave a teaching to the Kalama people that:
Do not just believe based on tradition
Do not just believe based on scriptures
Do not believe based on one’s speculation
Do not believe based on one’s logic and reasoning
Or even if one’s thoughts and others’ are compatible, do not believe
Or more than that, do not believe just because that person inspires confidence.
And at the highest, even if that person who speaks is our teacher, if we haven’t yet contemplated it for ourselves, then do not just believe.
Instead, one should reflect: is that thing harmful? If it is harmful, then one should give it up. If it is of benefit, then one should follow and practice it. This is the origin of the Kalama Sutta, which the Lord Buddha taught the Kalama people. It can be seen that this contemplation on faith based on the principles in the Kalama Sutta will give us great wisdom. Therefore, we should listen to the teachings of various teachers and traditions, and then compare and contemplate them. Is what they said correct? Is it of benefit? Is it of harm? This requires mindfulness and wisdom. So we have to build and instruct our wisdom, following the example of the chief disciple, the Ven. Elder Sariputta.
Each person differs in their level of mindfulness and wisdom. Whether rough or refined, it differs according to people’s spiritual development. One who has trained and developed a lot will have refined mindfulness and wisdom, and their minds will be refined. Whereas one who has little training and spiritual development will have a mind that is rough. When they do various work, it won’t be refined. But for those who have trained and developed spiritually, they will do a more refined work in every aspect.
I have heard there’s a saying, “The thorns don’t become sharp only when the tree has grown big. Even when the tree is small, the thorns that are small are already sharp.” That is, a person born with the mindfulness and wisdom they have previously built, they will be intelligent even if they are a child. When they grow older, their intelligence increases. They have better mindfulness and wisdom than the others. This is up to their spiritual development.
May you all build your parami through mindfulness and wisdom. May you clearly contemplate the things that you perceive. This is called having wisdom arise. It is an important aspect in our learning of Dhamma. May you all prosper in the Dhamma. May you all grow in blessings.
Questions and Answers:
1. Q: If a normal person wants to have good mindfulness and wisdom, what type of merit do they have to make or do?
Luang Por Anan: This mindfulness and wisdom, it doesn’t just arise on its own. It is not like it comes out automatically. It has its own causes for it to arise. So one needs to listen to Dhamma teachings, associate with wise people, and contemplate and investigate the things that they have heard or read. One must also train the mind to develop and cultivate mindfulness and wisdom, whether it is through meditation or other methods to make the mind peaceful. When listening to Dhamma teachings, one needs to contemplate and investigate the things that one hears and understand them clearly. All this requires training. One needs the right supports in order to train the mind.
2. Q: Does the disciple of the Buddha who is foremost in wisdom build their parami in a different and harder way compared to a normal person?
Luang Por Anan: The disciple of the Buddha who is the foremost in wisdom, they need to build their parami much greater than an ordinary disciple of the Buddha. One would need to build parami a lot and for a much longer duration of time, as well.
3. Q: Why is it that we are not able to recollect or remember our past lives or even sometimes past events from 3 days ago?
Luang Por Anan: This comes down to a question of training the mind. The mind is said to be the forerunner of all things and the predominant factor of things. If we train the mind, we can bring to the mind to have special abilities. The reason that we can’t remember is because our minds simply do not have the the level of development required. This level of development of the mind depends on using samadhi to control the mind. This control of mind is very important. We can imagine: if we were able to recall all of our past lives then it might be the case that we could remember times in past lives where people we know from this life had insulted us or harmed us in various ways. If we did not have control over the mind, then it would be likely that we would get very upset. We can see how just remembering past events from this life tends to make us angry and upset at certain people. So to use this ability skilfully, we would need to be able to have a great deal of control over our minds.
Luang Por Anan: Can you remember everything that has happened in this one life of yours?
Q : No, Ajahn.
Luang Por Anan: So you have to practice well in the present.
Q: Yes, Thank you Ajahn.
4. Q: How does one investigate the Dhamma?
Luang Por Anan: You can say that everything is Dhamma. All phenomena are Dhamma. In the Satipatthana Sutta, The Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness, the contemplation of Dhamma is taught. That sutta begins with mindfulness of the body, then contemplation of feelings, then contemplation of the mind whether it has greed, anger or delusion present. All of these things, body, feelings and the mind itself, we can say all fall under the category of Dhamma. Dhamma includes the defilements of the mind as well as the factors which bring the defilements to an end, which are sila, samadhi and wisdom. It is necessary to have a lot of wisdom to see the whole picture and to understand everything that falls under the broad category of Dhamma. The important thing for now is that our mindfulness and wisdom hasn’t progressed into that stage yet, so in the present we practice and cultivate mindfulness of the body first.
5. Luang Por Anan: Question for Mysore. Among the young people there, is everyone good friends with one another? Is there any argument or conflict?
Q: No, Ajahn, here we are living in harmony without any difficulties.
Luang Por Anan: So, these qualities of harmony and unity in a group are Dhamma. You can also say that even if sometimes we might feel jealous, or two different personalities might not be compatible and there might be friction between them, then we can say that all these feelings are a kind of Dhamma as well.
6. Q: What different types of training did Venerable Sariputta (Foremost in Wisdom) undergo compared to Venerable Moggallana (Foremost in Psychic abilities)?
Luang Por Anan: They built their causes or parami differently. For Venerable Sariputta, it’s not that he didn’t have psychic powers, it’s just that he wasn’t foremost in them, and it is the same for Venerable Maha Moggallana where he also had wisdom, its just that he wasn’t the foremost in that quality. They built their parami differently.
Venerable Maha-Moggallana had very strong samadhi and his practice was led by his samadhi. He trained a lot to be skilled in this, but he didn’t contemplate a lot. His samadhi was stronger than his wisdom. With that strong samadhi, the wisdom would arise from samadhi. In his last life, he listened to the teachings of the Buddha and practiced for 7 days. His samadhi was built to a very high level, and he attained to becoming an Arahant.
Venerable Sariputta contemplated and investigated for 15 days after hearing the teachings of the Buddha and then attained to becoming an Arahant. So, he had to train, investigate, and contemplate for a longer time compared to Venerable Maha-Moggallana.
This also comes down to different character traits that people have developed in the past. For instance, some people don’t like to think very much, and, for those people, it’s very easy to calm the mind and develop peace. For ourselves, we need to build and train in all aspects of parami or spiritual qualities.
We should determine our minds to build in goodness, and, with all the goodness that we have built, we make an aspiration: may we develop and be full of wisdom and psychic abilities, and then we spread loving-kindness to all beings. May they be well and happy, and may all the merits and parami that one has made take care of oneself. May all these causes lead one to develop both wisdom and psychic abilities.
We build in all the parami and in all aspects of merit. Building in dana, sila, and bhavana. We build goodness along with wholesome qualities to purify our minds. With all the goodness that we build, we share and dedicate this to others, and, when we see others doing good deeds, we rejoice and anumodana. With all this, then we train our mind and these are all the causes that allow us to develop wisdom and samadhi. These factors will help us and be the causes for us to attain, to see the Dhamma.
7. Q: How do the 5 precepts benefit us?
The benefit of not killing, the first precept, is giving oneself long life. If we kill animals, then we will tend to receive the results as diseases that will shorten our life. When we refrain from stealing and we respect other people’s property, then the result is that our own property doesn’t get stolen or taken away from us. When we practice the third precept and we respect other people’s families and their relationships, then we will experience happiness in our own families and relationships. The benefit of the fourth precept, speaking truthfully, is that we become trusted and respected member of society. Finally the fifth precept, the benefit of refraining from drinking alcohol and taking intoxicants is that we have a high level of mindfulness, wisdom, and intelligence as a result. Another quality of keeping precepts is that, over time this quality of being virtuous is like a noble treasure that develops in our own hearts and minds. This virtue is something that can’t be taken away by anyone else and it can’t be washed away by floods or destroyed the way material possessions in the world can be destroyed. So, you can say that virtue is like a noble treasure that we have in ourselves.
8. Q: How did Venerable Moggallana pass away?
Luang Por Anan: Even though Ven. Moggallana had great psychic powers, he also had a certain amount of old kamma that brought up its results in his lifetime. There was a group of monks outside of the Buddhist religion who saw that Venerable Moggallana was a treasure to the Buddhist religion. They attacked Venerable Moggallana. At first Venerable Moggallana would use his psychic powers to escape, but these assassins would come back and attack again. After many rounds, he saw that this was his old kamma coming up, and that it was the end of his life or Parinibbana. Finally, when these assassins attacked again, they left Venerable Moggallana for dead. After this, he used his psychic powers to pay final respects to the Buddha then enter Parinibbana.
9. Q: Why do Bhikkhunis have more Vinaya compared to Bhikkhus?
Luang Por Anan: You can compare this to laws in different countries. One country might have a smaller number of laws than another country, and those laws would be suitable for those different places. In the Vinaya, the Buddha laid down each rule in response to a situation that had come up. A greater number of situations had come up for the Bhikkhunis. The rules for the Bhikkhunis are suitable for their practice and the rules for Bhikkhus are suitable for the Bhikkhus’ practice. Men and women are different, so they have different conditions. For example, there is a rule that Bhikkhunis can’t spend time in a monastery alone, they need to have a Bhikkhu Sangha nearby, whereas the reverse is not true for the Bhikkhus.
10. Q: The Buddha was once injured by a rock that had been thrown by Devadatta to the point where he bled from that injury. What past kamma did he do to receive that result?
Luang Por Anan: There was a past life where maybe he was a child playing by throwing rocks, and the rocks either hit a Pacceka Buddha or a Samma Sambuddha in the heel. That may have been one cause. There was a past life, as well, where the Bodhisatta had killed his younger brother in a dispute over property. That would be another kammic condition that could cause him to receive that injury from the stone.
11. Q: Some Kruba Ajahns say that when one lets go, one must let go with awareness. How does one let go with awareness? How does one know that the letting go is correct?
Luang Por Anan: When one says awareness, we can also say that we let go with mindfulness. However, when there’s mindfulness there needs to be wisdom, as well. One needs to see suffering clearly. If one sees suffering clearly, then one will see the cause of suffering, which is attachment. One then contemplates the drawbacks of that attachment and the drawbacks of having suffering. Wisdom arises from that, and one lets go of that particular thing to which one is attached.
It doesn’t mean that one can let go of everything or that one can do this all the time. However, if one is able to contemplate and see clearly with mindfulness and clear comprehension what the cause of that suffering is, then one is able to let it go. Despite that, sometimes one just forgets about it and one lets go without wisdom. One doesn’t see yet the cause of that suffering, and this isn’t yet true knowing. There is still delusion there, so one needs to build awareness in order to let go properly.
12. Q: What do the colours mean in the International Buddhist Flag?
Luang Por Anan: They are the six colours in the Buddha’s aura, which are the results of the parami that the Buddha built as a Bodhisatta. Those colours are symbolized in the flag. The blue colour is the symbol of the limitless compassion of the Buddha. The yellow colour is the colour of the Middle Way (Noble Eightfold Path) that the Buddha cultivates and then teaches. The red colour symbolizes the blessings of success and victory from mindfulness and wisdom. The white colour symbolizes purity. Orange is the quality of the Buddha’s wisdom. The combination of five colours or the clear colour is the colour of the universal Dhamma or the Buddha’s attainment to the clear perception of the truth. Each colour has a deep meaning.