Under the rose-apple tree

Under the rose-apple tree

Sunday, 7 February 2016

True Mindfulness in the Middle Way: Mahāgosiṅgasuttaṁ

In Mahāgosiṅgasuttaṁ, The Greater Discourse in Gosiṅga, the Buddha is living in parkland in the Gosiṅga Sāla-tree Wood together with several excellent followers. Śariputra asks several of these venerable monks, one by one, the same question: What kind of a monk could illuminate that Gosiṅga Sāla-tree Wood. 

Ānanda tells Śariputra, for example, that learning and then remembering and consolodating what one has learned is important. 

Revata emphasizes the importance of solitary meditation practice. 

Anuruddha speaks of seeing with an eye, i.e., insight, that is pure and transcendent. 

Mahā-kaśyapa refers to virtues of a forest  monk like wanting little, being content, enjoying seclusion, being energetic, et cetera. 

Maudgalyāyana describes two monks talking together in accordance with the Dharma, answering each others' questions without foundering. 

When Maudgalyāyana in turn asks Śariputra, Śariputra describes a monk who wields mastery over his own mind, not letting his mind wield mastery over him. 

Then Śariputra and the others go to the Buddha to report the various answers to him. 

The Buddha affirms what Ānanda has said, noting that Ānanda practises what he preaches, being himself one who has remembered and consolidated what he has learned. 

The Buddha also affirms Revata's answer, noting hat Revata himself enjoys practising meditation in solitary huts. 

The Buddha, again, affirms Anuruddha's answer, since he, with his own transcendent eye, surveys a thousand worlds. 

Mahā-kaśyapa, similarly, is affirmed as a forest dweller who speaks in praise of forest dwelling; and Maudgalyāyana is affirmed as excellent in talking on the Dharma. 

Finally, the Buddha praises Śariputra as one who also practises what he preaches, in manifesting mastery of his own  mind. 

The Sutta concludes as follows: 

When this was said, the venerable Sāriputta asked the Glorious One: “Which of us, Venerable Sir, has spoken well?”

[The Glorious One said:] “All have spoken well, Sāriputta, each in his own way. Hear also from me what kind of bhikkhu could illuminate the Gosiṅga Sāla-tree Wood. Here, Sāriputta, when a bhikkhu has returned from his almsround, after his meal, he sits. Folding his legs into the lotus posture, directing his body up, establishing mindfulness to the fore, [he resolves]: 'I shall not break this sitting posture until, through not clinging, my mind is freed from the polluting influences.' That kind of bhikkhu, Sāriputta, could illuminate the Gosiṅga Sāla-tree Wood.”

Evaṁ vutte āyasmā Sāriputto Bhagavantaṁ etad-avoca: kassa nu kho bhante subhāsitan-ti
Sabbesaṁ vo Sāriputta subhāsitam pariyāyena. Api ca mama pi suṇatha yathārupena bhikkhunā Gosiṅgasālavanaṁ sobheyya. Idha Sāriputta bhikkhu pacchābhattaṁ piṇḍapātapaṭikkanto nisīdati. Pallaṅkaṁ ābhujitvā ujuṁ kāyaṁ paṇidāya parimukhaṁ satiṁ upaṭṭhapetvā: na tāvāham imaṁ pallaṅkaṁ bhindissāmi yāva me nānupādāya āsavehi cittaṁ vimuccissatīti. Evārupena kho Sāriputta bhikkhunā Gosiṅgasālavanaṁ sobheyyati.

Here then is evidence in the Pali Suttas that resonates with Aśvaghoṣa's ironic affirmations of anya, being different. The point is that the Buddha is willing to see and to accept individual differences, and to be different himself. 

At the same time, the concluding paragraph provides one of many examples of the formula of 
  • sits down (nisīdati); 
  • folding the legs into the lotus posture (pallaṅkaṁ ābhujitvā), 
  • directing the body up (ujuṁ kāyaṁ paṇidāya), 
  • and thereby establishing mindfulness to the fore (parimukhaṁ satiṁ upaṭṭhapetvā)... 
At the centre of the Buddha's teaching of the middle way, as a middle practice, or a middle path, is this sequence centred on centering the body -- because directing the body up is neither to slump nor to stiffen up. 

There again, the concluding paragraph of this sutta expresses the will to emptiness in the words na tāvāham imaṁ pallaṅkaṁ bhindissāmi yāva me nānupādāya āsavehi cittaṁ vimuccissatīti,  "I shall not break this sitting posture until, through not clinging, my mind is freed from the polluting influences." And this is a point we will return to shortly, in connection with the Buddha's third discourse, The Instruction about Burning (Ādittapariyāyaṁ). 

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