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VOLUME 1, Chapter 4
C2 The prologue.
D1 The king and officials prepare offerings.
Then King Prasenajit, for the sake of his father, the late king, arranged on the day of mourning a vegetarian feast and invited the Buddha to the side rooms of the palace. He welcomed the Tathagata in person with a vast array of superb delicacies of unsurpassed wonderful flavors and himself invited the great Bodhisattvas.
King Prasenajit, whose name means “moonlight,” was born in India on the same day the Buddha was. When the Buddha entered the world, a light illumined the entire country. King Prasenajit’s father thought the light was connected with the birth of his son, so he named him “Moonlight.” The child later succeeded the father to become the ruler of a country in India.
For the sake of his father, the late king. The fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month marked the close of the summer retreat for people who had left the home-life. On the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth days of the month the Pravarana is held, as I explained earlier. The fifteenth marks the Ullambana festival. The fifteenth day of the seventh month was also the day King Prasenajit recognized to be the anniversary of his father’s death. It is referred to indirectly as the day of mourning, since one did not speak explicitly of one’s father’s death because of the pain and sorrow involved.
Filial people find it very difficult to be reminded of their parents’ deaths; remembering how good their parents were to them and how they have been unable to be sufficiently filial in return, they experience deep regret. Although mention of the anniversary of King Prasenajit’s father’s death was avoided, everyone knew of it, and the king chose that day to make offerings to the Triple Jewel and to do various good deeds. One does good deeds and makes offerings on such a day in order to rescue one’s father and mother from the hells and secure for them rebirth in the heavens.
When Mahamaudgalyayana first obtained the six spiritual penetrations, he went exploring to find out where his mother was and discovered that she had fallen into the hells. Why had his mother fallen into the hells? It was because when she was alive she liked to eat seafood, and most especially enjoyed fish-eggs. How many lives do you suppose there are in a mess of fish-eggs? A vast number. Because she ate quantities of fish-eggs, thereby taking a vast number of lives, and because she did not believe in the Triple Jewel - because she did not believe in the Buddha, did not believe in the Dharma, and did not respect the Sangha - she fell into the hells upon her death. And then even Maudgalyayana with his six spiritual penetrations could not save her.
It upset Maudgalyayana to see his mother in the hells enduring so much suffering. His samadhi-power was shaken. And so he used his spiritual penetrations to go to the hells, and he took with him a bowl of rice, which he gave to his mother.
When his mother was alive, she had been very stingy. If she was asked to give a little money, her heart and liver began to ache and her very flesh hurt. It is said that parting with money is like cutting off a piece of one’s own flesh. That’s the way it was with her. She couldn’t bear to give it up. As a result of her stingy habits, what do you suppose she did when her son brought her the bowl of food? She grabbed it with her left hand and covered it with her right arm. Why did she cover it? She was afraid someone would steal her food. The place was full of ghosts, but she found a spot where there were none, and she stealthily took a bite of food. Who would have guessed that as soon as she put the food in her mouth it would turn to burning coals so that she couldn’t eat it? Why was this? She was a hungry ghost, and - like all such ghosts - had a stomach as big as a bass drum and a throat as narrow as a needle. As a result, she couldn’t eat. Even when she tried, her karmic obstacles caused the food to turn to fire.
Confronted with this situation, Maudgalyayana, despite his spiritual penetrations, was powerless. He had no mantra to recite. And so he returned to his teacher. He used his spiritual penetrations to bring himself before the Buddha; he knelt and said, “My mother has fallen into the hells. I have come seeking the Buddha’s compassion to help me rescue her.”
The Buddha answered, “Your mother has fallen into the hells because she slandered the Triple Jewel, was not respectful toward the Triple Jewel, and did not believe in the Triple Jewel. You can’t save her by yourself, Maudgalyayana. You must rely on the united strength of the Sangha of the ten directions in order to save your mother. On the fifteenth day of the seventh month you should make an offering of the finest vegetarian foods and drinks that have not been tasted by anyone before being offered to the Buddha and the Sangha. By making this offering, the Way-karma of the virtuous high Sangha-members of the ten directions will then be able to save your mother. Otherwise there is no way you can save her.”
On the appointed day Mahamaudgalyayana did as the Buddha had instructed; he asked the great virtuous high Sanghans of the ten directions to come and rescue his mother. He prepared a vast array of superb delicacies of unsurpassed wonderful flavors, and made offerings to the Buddha. His mother was reborn in the heavens as a result of the strength of the greatly virtuous ones of the ten directions. Since that time, the Ullambana festival has become an annual celebration, a day upon which anyone can rescue his parents of seven lives past.
Ullambana is a Sanskrit word which means “rescuing those who are hanging upside down.” This refers to the extreme suffering of the ghosts in the hells who are as tormented as one hanging upside down would be. The Ullambana is performed especially for releasing those undergoing the painful suffering of being hungry ghosts and enabling them to be reborn in the heavens.
The fifteenth day of the seventh month is the day of the Buddha’s rejoicing and the Sangha’s pravarana. On that day the merit and virtue derived from making offerings to the Triple Jewel is several million times greater than that derived from offerings made on ordinary days. That was the day King Prasenajit chose to offer a vegetarian feast to the Buddha and to make offerings to the Triple Jewel on behalf of his father.
No meat was served, nor any of the five edible members of the allium family - onions, leeks, garlic, chives, or shallots - for all of those foods make people murky and confused.
He invited the Buddha to the side rooms of the palace. Why wasn’t the banquet held in the main hall? The main hall was where orders were signed, governmental matters were carried on, and where humane and beneficent policy-making took place. The side rooms were reserved for banquets.
He welcomed the Tathagata in person with a vast array of superb delicacies of unsurpassed wonderful flavors. The king himself went out to welcome the Buddha. The banquet consisted of the finest array of foods and drinks - vegetarian dishes that were cooked to perfection - and their flavors were the finest to be had.
And himself invited the great Bodhisattvas. The king himself signed the invitation, or perhaps he himself went to invite them, saying, “I wish to request the presence of all the great Bodhisattvas to come and accept my offerings.” He invited all the great Bodhisattvas, as many as the sands in the Ganges River. How much food do you suppose he had to prepare for such a gathering? It must have taken a lot of money, but King Prasenajit was probably not stingy like Maudgalyayana’s mother, so he prepared a great offering.
In the city were also elders and laypeople who were also prepared to feed the Sangha at the same time, and they stood waiting for the Buddha to come and receive offerings.
The king wasn’t the only one who was prepared to make offerings to the Buddha. There were also elders and laypeople in the city.
These are the ten virtues of an elder:
- honorable name;
- lofty position;
- great wealth;
- heroic deportment;
- deep wisdom;
- maturity in years;
- pure practice;
- perfect propriety;
- the praise of their superiors;
- the trust of those below them.
They are perhaps of royal blood or of otherwise noble birth. They hold high-ranking positions as officials. They are really rich. Their awesome air is stern and severe; their sanguine energies are powerful and sure. They are courageous, awesome, magnanimous, and forthright. They are decisive and never procrastinate. Their wisdom is great and profound. Elders are usually between fifty and seventy years old. They conduct their affairs in a clean, undefiled, correct, and straightforward manner, and their integrity is impeccable. They are very lofty in their ideals. They are extremely courteous to everyone, never arrogant or condescending.
Although their manner is heroic, they do not bully people. When meeting someone they first bow from the waist and then ask after his health. They are never in the least bit crude. They are spoken of highly by their superiors. The people put their trust in the elder. They all wish the best for him - wish him to be a great official, hope he will be wealthy, hope that all good things come his way. Why? He in turn will use his wealth and position for the good of the people. He enjoys giving; the more money he has, the more it pleases everyone. As a great official his every effort is bent on pleasing the people, and the masses look up to him.
Laypeople refers to cultivators who are householders. They cultivate in their households.
The elders and laypeople were also prepared to feed the Sangha at the same time. The elders and laypeople were also aware of the merit and virtue derived from making offerings to the Triple Jewel on such an important day, the day of the Buddha’s rejoicing, the day of the Sangha’s pravarana. Probably the vegetarian food they prepared in no way compared to the delicacies offered by the king, however, so the text makes no mention of superb or wonderful flavors.
And they stood waiting for the Buddha to come and receive offerings. They stood in their doorways waiting for the Buddha to come and receive their offerings, speculating among themselves, “He’ll come to my house today.” “He’s going to receive my offerings.”
Not only did they wait for the Buddha, they also were waiting for the lofty and virtuous members of the Sangha to come and accept their offerings, and so sincere were they that they remained standing during their wait.
Today in Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka, donors kneel to make their offerings to the Sangha. When a member of the Sangha comes along, they add their offering to his bowl and then bow to him. Then he returns to the monastery to eat.
D2 The Buddha and Sangha go to accept the invitation.
The Buddha commanded Manjushri to assign the Bodhisattvas and Arhats to receive offerings from the various vegetarian hosts.
The Buddha commanded Manjushri. Kings can issue commands and so can the King of Dharma. Thus, the text says that the Buddha “commanded” Manjushri Bodhisattva to assign the Bodhisattvas and Arhats. How were they assigned? That would depend upon how many Bodhisattvas there were. Perhaps they were assigned to go on the rounds individually or perhaps they were divided into groups of twos and threes.
The great bhikshus and the great Arhats, as well as the Bodhisattvas, were commanded to receive offerings from the various vegetarian hosts. This means that they went to the homes of the elders and laypeople and received their offerings. Although the Buddha has millions of transformation bodies, he would never display his spiritual penetrations just for the sake of a meal and go to the various donors’ homes to appear as transformation Buddhas and seek alms at each door. It would never be done that way. If the Buddha were like that then spiritual penetrations would be cheaper than bean curd. And so he said to Manjushri, “You assign the Bodhisattvas and great Arhats so that they can go to each home and receive offerings.”
D3 Ananda’s fall is revealed.
E1 The circumstances leading to his fall.
Only Ananda, who, having accepted a special invitation earlier, had traveled far and had not yet returned, was late for the apportioning of the Sangha. No senior-seated one or acharya was with him, so he was returning alone on the road.
Only Ananda. This is the whole reason he got into trouble. He was alone. What had Ananda done? He had accepted a special invitation earlier. Perhaps a month or so in advance, someone had made an appointment and said, “On the fourteenth day of the seventh month you certainly should come and receive offerings from us.”
So he went. In fact, he went early. And so on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, the day when everyone was receiving offerings, he had traveled far and had not yet returned. Basically, bhikshus should not accept special invitations. For instance, if there are ten Sanghans here and you invite only one to go to your home to eat, you are issuing a special invitation. The one who has received the special invitation should not go. Why? The rule in Buddhism is that all the Sanghans of a Way-place should be invited for the offerings together; but sometimes people who like good food ignore the rule and accept the special invitations they are given, thinking, “Why should I look after all of you? What counts is that I get my fill. My special invitation is a response to my blessings and virtue.” They pay no attention to others.
Ananda probably had a bit of fondness for eating good food. Now think about it; during the close of the summer retreat it was absolutely impermissible to travel, and yet Ananda had accepted a special invitation and went out to receive offerings. And so he had already gone against the rules; he had already committed an offense. He was invited for the fourteenth of the month, and so he probably went on the thirteenth. After eating on the fourteenth he stayed the night, planning to return early the next day, and he was late for the apportioning of the Sangha. He didn’t make it in time.
No senior-seated one or acharya was with him, so he was returning alone on the road. People who have left the home-life should go in twos and threes. The three would perhaps consist of a young bhikshu, a senior bhikshu and an acharya. A “senior” is one who has held the precepts purely for more than twenty years, and therefore is seated in the front of the assembly. “Acharya” is a Sanskrit word, which means “a teacher who exemplifies the rules.” He is a master who follows the rules and understands them. There are five kinds of acharya:
- an acharya under whom others may leave the home-life;
- an acharya who transmits the precepts;
- a karmadana acharya;
- an acharya upon whom others may rely;
- an acharya who transmits the teachings.
One person can be all five kinds of acharya. A person who is qualified to lecture the sutras and speak dharma is an acharya who transmits the teachings. He may also have a Way-place where people may draw near him to study and practice, which makes him an acharya upon whom others can rely. He may also teach people the rules and transfer merit to them every day before the Buddhas, asking the Buddhas to wash away their karmic offenses and to cause their good roots to increase. That makes him a karmadana acharya.
He may teach others how to request the precepts, what to say when they receive them, and how to reveal violations of precepts or other offenses before he bestows the precepts upon them. Then he is an acharya who transmits precepts. He may receive people as left-home disciples, in which case he is an acharya under whom others can leave the home-life.
An acharya is one who helps you realize the Way. He aids you in your cultivation of the Way. He stands beside you and admonishes you, “Don’t commit offenses.” That is an acharya. But Ananda didn’t have a senior-seated one or acharya with him in order to help him “guard the mind and be apart from offenses,” and so he walked right into trouble. The worst thing he did was to be out returning alone on the road.
Basically, people who have left the home-life should always travel in pairs. If you truly have samadhi-power, then to do things on your own is not a problem. But if your samadhi-power is not sufficient, then it is very easy to encounter a demonic-obstacle. It is very easy to be affected by external states. These days there are many young monks who travel around by themselves, and that’s very dangerous.
Still we should all thank Ananda. If he hadn’t gone out alone and gotten into trouble, how could he have come to understand the Shurangama Sutra? We wouldn’t have any opportunity to understand the sutra ourselves because Shakyamuni Buddha wouldn’t have been presented with the opportunity to speak the Shurangama Sutra to teach us how to cultivate samadhi. The fact remains that Ananda benefited us a great deal by his action.
On that day he had received no offerings, and so at the appropriate time Ananda took up his begging bowl and, as he traveled through the city, begged in successive order.
Since he had failed to return in time for the apportioning of the Sangha for that day’s vegetarian offering, he had received no offerings, and so at the appropriate time Ananda took up his begging bowl. Bowl is patra in Sanskrit, meaning “a vessel of appropriate measure.” It contains enough, but not more than enough, to satisfy one’s needs.
As he traveled through the city, he begged in successive order. He went from house to house in Shravasti, from door to door. Since some give more and some give less, it is necessary to stop at more than one house, but according to the rules one does not stop at more than seven houses. If after stopping at seven houses one has not received any offerings, one must do without food that day.
As he first began to beg, he thought to himself that down to the very last danapati who would be his vegetarian host he would not question whether they were clean or unclean; whether they were ksatriyas of honorable name or chandalas. While practicing equality and compassion he would not merely select the lowly but was determined to perfect all living beings’ limitless merit and virtue.
As he first began to beg, he thought to himself that down to the very last danapati who would be his vegetarian host. When Ananda took up his bowl and went to receive food offerings, his very first thought was about his donors: “From the very first to the very last danapati who becomes my vegetarian host.” “Danapati” is a Sanskrit word which is transliterated into Chinese by two characters which also shed light on its meaning: the first, tan, represents the Sanskrit dana, and means “to give,” and the second, yue, means “to transcend.” The meaning of danapati as based on that transliteration, then, is “one who gives so that he can transcend birth and death.” A layperson who gives offerings to people who have left the home-life is called a danapati, “one who gives in order to transcend.”
By the “very last donor” Ananda meant the one whose offerings would give him the final amount of food necessary for that day.
He would not question whether they were clean or unclean; whether they were ksatriyas of honorable name or chandalas. He would not notice if they were poor or rich. Kshatriyas are the noble or royal class of India. Chandalas are butchers, interpreted in Chinese to be “those who kill pigs,” because in India the killing of cattle is forbidden. This caste also included other classes of India, trades such as removing dead bodies, butchering animals, and so forth. And so when chandalas walked down the road, most people would not walk with them. They had to walk on separate roads. In order to identify themselves as being lower than ordinary people, they were required to ring bells and hold banners as they walked down the road.
While practicing equality and compassion he would not merely select the lowly but was determined to perfect all living beings’ limitless merit and virtue. He paid no attention to how honorable might be the person from whom he was receiving offerings, nor did he receive offerings exclusively from the lowly. He intended to give all living beings the opportunity to plant blessings.
When donors make offerings, they plant blessings that will grow and ripen in the future. Thus people who have left the home-life are called “fields of blessings.” One who has the reward of many blessings is in all ways content. So if you feel your reward of blessings is not sufficient, you should make offerings to the Triple Jewel and plant more blessings.
Ananda was determined that every wish of every living being be fulfilled. His hope was that the boundless merit and virtue which living beings seek would be completely fulfilled through him.