Preserving the Buddha’s Teachings
In October 2001 we joined a large group of Thai pilgrims led by our friend in Dhamma and teacher Acharn (the Thai word for teacher) Sujin Boriharnwanaket, to the Buddhist sites in India. We still have the opportunity to pay respect to the excellent qualities of the Buddha and the arahats, and to recollect the teachings contained in the Tipitaka. But for the Buddha, there would be no way to understand our life as it really is: phenomena that arise and then fall away immediately. We would not be able to develop the understanding that sees things as they really are: impermanent, unsatisfactory (dukkha) and non-self. Only this understanding leads to the eradication of ignorance, wrong view and all other defilements. The Buddha’s teachings have been corrupted in the course of time and eventually they will disappear. Today we still have the opportunity to study the teachings, to consider them thoroughly and to apply them, so that we gain understanding of what our life really is: seeing, colour, hearing, sound, feeling, thinking and the other phenomena as they present themselves one at a time at this very moment. In this way we truly take our refuge in the Dhamma.
Throughout our journey Acharn Sujin taught us about the reality appearing at this moment because only understanding of the present moment can lead to the elimination of clinging to the concept of self. She taught with a great sense of urgency in view of the eventual disappearance of the teachings.
Mr. Suwat Chansuvityanant and his son Mr. Pakabutr were in charge of the organisation of the tour, just as many times before when we made this pilgrimage. We visited as usual Lumbini, the Buddha’s birth place, Bodhgaya where he attained enlightenment, Sarnath, the place of his first sermon and Kusinara where he passed finally away. Our journey brought us also again to Savatthi, Rajagaha where we climbed the Vulture’s Peak, Nalanda, the Bamboo Grove and Vesali  . In addition, a few other places were included most people had not visited before. We came to Sankassa, the place were the Buddha descended from the “Heaven of the Thirtythree”, after having explained the Abhidhamma to his mother. We also visited Kapilavatthu in Nepal, where he as a Bodhisatta grew up, and we visited the park where he saw an old man, a sick man, a dead man and a monk. We visited the place where Cunda offered the Buddha his last meal and also the river where he took his last bath before he finally passed away in Kusinara.
Kosambi was also included, but not all of us went there since it was too far.
Most of the holy places we visited were already described by the Chinese monk Chi Fah Hian who in the fifth century A.D. traveled all the way from the China of the Sung Dynasty to India and Sri Lanka in order to seek complete copies of the Buddhist scriptures and the Rules of the Vinaya . It was very striking to find many places exactly as described by this monk 1600 years ago! In Sankassa the remnants of Asoka’s column are still there. In Kapilavatthu we paid respect at the Eastern Gate of the Palace where the royal prince Siddhatta left the city in order to go forth from worldly life. In Savatthi we had Dhamma discussion at the place where, Fah Hian tells us, “the Buddha resided for a long time and expounded the Dhamma for the salvation of men.” With regard to Sarnath, where the Buddha began to turn the Wheel of the Dhamma, the Chinese monk wrote: ” in all these places towers (stupas) have been erected which still exist”. We paid respect at these same stupas!
In the course of time the holy places were neglected for many centuries. Bodhgaya and Sarnath were in a deplorable condition and wild beasts were roaming there. The Head Monk in Sarnath, the Ven. Kahawatte Sri Sumedha, told us about Anagarika Dharmapala who made great efforts to restore the holy places at the beginning of the twentieth century. After a life-long struggle to overcome all problems and legal battles the temple at Sarnath was built under his supervision, and relics of the Buddha that were given to the Maha-Bodhi Society were placed in this temple in a vault underneath the pedestal of the Buddha image.
When we were in Sarnath we had the opportunity to pay respect to the Buddha’s relics which are shown only once a year. However, on the occasion of our visit they were taken out by the Singhalese monks who are guarding them and they were placed on Acharn Sujin’s head. After that we all had the opportunity to pay respect.
Another holy place
that was until recently neglected is the place where the Buddha preached
the Maha-Satipatthana Sutta, the Discourse on Mindfulness. This is in Kailash,
in the region which was formerly called Kuru. The place is marked by a
rock with an old inscription commemorating the preaching of the Sutta and
a concrete roof has been erected over it. Even two years ago we had to
step over dirt to reach this stone. I had written about the state of this
place to a friend and former colleague of us of the Indian diplomatic service,
Mr. S.K. Singh. He visited the people living around this place, belonging
to the lowest caste, the caste of the “Untouchables”. He spoke to the families,
especially to the mothers, explaining that the parents should educate their
children in good morality according to the principles of the Lord Buddha.
He persuaded the Department of Archaeology and the New Delhi Development
Authority to take care of the place and as a consequence a high iron fence
has been erected around it and a caretaker has been engaged to clean up
the grounds. The Forest Department arranged for trees to be planted and
we could see the young trees placed in pots. Lodewijk, my husband, and
I were happily surprised of the change in outlook of this place and are
most grateful to S.K. Singh. As soon as
the group from Thailand arrived in Delhi we told them about this and Acharn Sujin wanted to go there immediately. We all climbed up to the old rock with the inscription and paid respect.
In this place the development of satipatthana has been explained which is specifically the teaching of the Buddha; no other teacher has taught this. Mindfulness of all realities, mental phenomena and physical phenomena, as they appear in our daily life is the greatest respect shown to the Buddha. Acharn Sujin spoke untiringly and with great patience about the development of right understanding. I am most grateful for the way she has given us guidance by explaining about the realities appearing at the present moment. I greatly appreciate all her Dhamma talks given day after day.
For the writing of this book I used the discussions we held, material from tapes and from the scriptures and commentaries which relate to the subjects we discussed.
1. For the description
of these places, see my “In Asoka’s Footsteps”.
2. Travels of Fah-Hian and Sung-Yam, translated by Samuel Beal, Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, 1996. ISBN: 81-206-0824-0.
The Disappearance of the Teachings
We live in a time close to the disappearance of the teachings. The Sangha, the order of the monks have as their foremost responsibility to preserve the teachings in explaining Dhamma and in developing right understanding. When we were in Sarnath, our group presented a meal to a large group of monks of different nationalities in the building of the Maha-Bodhi Society. Acharn Sujin had requested my husband Lodewijk to address words of thanks to the monks after the meal. He spoke the following words:
“I know that it is conceit, but I cannot help feeling pleased and proud that, as one of the few foreigners in this group of Thai pilgrims of the Dhamma Study and Support Foundation, I may speak to you, venerable monks, to thank you for giving us the opportunity to perform dana.
As foreigners, Nina and I came to Thailand more than thirtyfive years ago. This was kusala vipaka of a high degree, because in Thailand we received the highest gift one can receive in life: the gift of Dhamma. We received this gift through the hands of Acharn Sujin Boriharnwanaket, the spiritual leader of our group. We shall always remain most grateful to her. Also during this tour she never tires of explaining with great vigour the teachings of the Lord Buddha and she keeps exhorting us to study the present moment in order to understand the truth of impermanence and anatta.
At the end of one of these Dhamma discussions, she asked each person present to tell her what part of the teachings he or she found most striking. Each person answered according to his own conditions and accumulations. If I would have been present I would have answered: the Ten Perfections, Paramis. For me, the Ten Perfections are an unique, unsurpassed, unequalled set of moral and spiritual ideals to be pursued in everday life, covering all aspects of human life.
In presenting these gifts to you, venerable monks, we wish to pay tribute and respect to you. We admire your courage, because you have chosen the difficult path of going forth from home into homelessness. By observing the Vinaya, penetrating the four noble Truths and by preserving the teachings, you perform sila to a very high degree for the benefit of all mankind. For that, we are most grateful to you. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to perform dana.”
Both monks and layfollowers have the duty to study the teachings in detail and to develop understanding of the Dhamma. Throughout our journey Acharn Sujin explained the Dhamma to us with a great sense of urgency and she encouraged us to develop understanding of the reality that appears now. She said:
“Dhamma is the truth and it can be verified. All that has been explained in the Tipitaka is appearing now, while we are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, experiencing tactile object and experiencing objects through the mind-door. The Buddha had through his enlightenment penetrated the true nature of all realities. It was not known before that seeing arises and falls away, and that seeing does not belong to anybody. By listening and considering the Dhamma we can come to see realities appearing now. There is no self, but it is a reality that can see, hear or experience objects through the other doorways.”
We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Twos, Ch II, § 10) that the Buddha said:
Monks, these two things
conduce to the confusion and disappearance of true Dhamma. What two?
The wrong expression of the letter (of the text) and wrong interpretation of the meaning of it. For if the letter be wrongly expressed, the interpretation of the meaning is also wrong.....
Monks, these two things conduce to the establishment, the non-confusion, to the non-disappearance of true Dhamma. What two?
The right expression of the letter and right interpretation of the meaning. For if the letter be rightly expressed, the interpretation of the meaning is also right....
In the course of time the Buddha’s teachings will be corrupted and then disappear. The last holy site we visited was Bodhgaya. Here one of our group read a text about the disappearance of the teachings. The “Dispeller of Delusion” (the commentary to the Book of Analysis, commentary to Ch 16, Classification of Knowledge) is one of the texts explaining about the disappearance of the teachings . We read (431):
For there are three kinds of disappearance: disappearance of theoretical understanding (pariyatti), disappearance of penetration (pativedha) and disappearance of practice (patipatti). Herein, pariyatti is the three parts of the Tipitaka; the penetration is the penetration of the Truths; the practice is the way....
Further on we read that of the Scriptures first the Book of the Patthana (Conditional Relations) of the Abhidhamma disappears, and then successively the other Books of the Abhidamma. After that the Books of the Suttanta will successively disappear. We read:
But when the two Pitakas  have disappeared, while the Vinaya Pitaka endures, the teachings (sasana) endure.
Also the Vinaya will disappear. Further on the text states that there are three kinds of complete extinction:
Complete extinction of defilements, complete extinction of the aggregates (khandhas) 3 and complete extinction of the relics. Herein, complete extinction of the defilements took place on the Wisdom Seat, the complete extinction of the aggregates at Kusinara 4 and the complete extinction of the relics will take place in the future.
It is then explained that all the relics will gather together and will go to the “Great Wisdom Seat” in Bodhgaya. We read:
Heaped up on the Great Wisdom Seat, they will become one solid mass like a pile of gold and will emit six-coloured rays...
We read that they will be burnt by the fire element and that then the teachings have come to an end.
The Buddha’s attainment of enlightenment under the Bodhi-tree was the beginning of the teachings. He taught satipatthana, the development of right understanding, from then on until his passing away. When the relics disappear on the Great Wisdom Seat the teachings have come to an end. Therefore, it was very meaningful that the text of the disappearance of the teachings was read near the Bodhi-tree. It reminds us not to neglect the study of the Dhamma the Buddha had penetrated at the time of his enlightenment, and above all, to develop right understanding in daily life, so that the meaning of the teachings can be realized.
After the reading of this text we all asked the Triple Gem for forgiveness of our faults and shortcomings through action, speech or thought. This is done each time we visit the holy sites, at the very end of our visit, and in this case it was near the Bodhi-tree.
The Buddha explained the eightfold Path so that people could develop it and realize the four noble Truths, the Truth of dukkha, unsatisfactoriness of all conditioned realities that arise and fall away; the Truth of the origination of dukkha that is clinging; the truth of the cessation of dukkha that is nibbana; the Truth of the Path leading to the cessation of dukkha, that is the eightfold path. When there isn’t anybody who can clearly explain the right practice, the development of the eightfold Path, people cannot develop it and they cannot realize the four noble Truths. When nobody in this world can penetrate the four noble Truths anymore, the world will be dark. The Dhamma will gradually disappear.
At the last day of our pilgrimage, when we were in Patna, Acharn Sujin said: “The teachings are almost dying, let us develop right understanding”. We do not have to feel depressed when thinking of the disappearance of the teachings. On the contrary, we should have courage and cheerfulness to begin again and again developing right understanding. Each day Acharn Sujin exhorted us to take courage and to be cheerful. We read in the “Kindred Sayings” (I, Sagatha vagga, IV, Mara, Ch II, §6, The Bowl):
On one occasion, at Savatthi, the Exalted One was instructing, inciting and inspiring the monks by a sermon on the five khandhas of grasping (upadana khandhas). And the monks with their whole mind applied, attentive and intent, listened with rapt hearing to the Dhamma.
The Commentary (the Saratthappakasini) explains that the Buddha was instructing, teaching under different aspects the specific and general characteristics of the khandhas of grasping. The Buddha was enlightening, inciting and inspiring them. The Commentary explains that he exhorted them to have energy and endeavour. As we read in the sutta text, the monks listened with enthousiasm, with rapture, to the dhamma. Thus, this text reminds us to be courageous and not to give up developing understanding, and to be cheerful, glad about the Dhamma. We discussed courage and cheerfulness because of the Dhamma several times. Acharn Sujin explained that when akusala citta arises we may dislike it, we may feel bad about it, but akusala can be realized as only a conditioned reality. Then we shall not try to do something else but the development of right understanding of what appears now, even if it is akusala. We have accumulated akusala for countless lives, and thus there are conditions for its arising. We shall not be downhearted but we can be courageous and glad to be able to know the truth. We may be discouraged about our lack of awareness and understanding, our lack of progress. We should not expect the arising of a great deal of understanding when it has not yet been accumulated. Understanding should be developed very naturally in our daily life and in that way we can live happily, without anxiety. We can rejoice in the Dhamma we learnt and take courage to continue developing right understanding.
Acharn Sujin reminded us also time and again to have patience (khanti). She remarked that people may be able to be patient when they have lack of sleep or when they have to sit for a long time, but that it is most difficult to be patient with regard to the development of right understanding. Usually people wish for the arising of mindfulness and right understanding and they are impatient when they do not notice any progress. Acharn Sujin often recited the text of the “Dhammapada”(vs. 184) about patience which is the highest form of ascetism:
Forbearing patience is the highest asceticism, nibbana is supreme say the Buddhas; he verily, is not a recluse who harms another; nor is he an ascetic who oppresses others.
Patience is the highest ascetism (tapo). We read in the Commentary to the Cariyapitaka, about the perfection of patience the Bodhisatta developed . It is defined as follows:
Patience has the characteristic of acceptance; its function is to endure the desirable and undesirable; its manifestation is tolerance or non-opposition; seeing things as they really are is its proximate cause.
We can have patience with regard to the desirable and the undesirable when there is no attachment to a pleasant object nor aversion towards an unpleasant object. When there is more understanding we can see that whatever arises is conditioned, no matter it is pleasant or unpleasant, and then there are conditions for patience. As we read, “seeing things as they really are is the proximate cause of patience”. The Dhamma can be our refuge when we have patience while listening to the Dhamma, while studying and considering it. Then there will be conditions for mindfulness of realities and the development of right understanding.
Time and again Acharn Sujin said that understanding very gradually develops. During this journey we listened to the Dhamma and heard things that we had heard before, but do we have the patience to really consider what we hear? We are still able to listen to the Dhamma, but the Dhamma will not last forever. Therefore, we should not waste time but develop more understanding now. We are reminded to be aware of the realities that appear by the following text in the “Gradual Sayings” (Book of the Ones, Ch X):
Monks, I know not of any other single thing that conduces to the confusion, to the disappearance of true Dhamma as does negligence. Negligence indeed conduces to the confusion and disappearance of true Dhamma.
Monks, I know not of any single thing so conducive to the establishment, to the non-disappearnace of true Dhamma as earnestness 6 . Earnestness indeed conduces to the establishment, to the non-disappearance of true Dhamma.
1. This has also been explained in the Commentary to the “Dialogues of the Buddha”, the “Sumangala Vilasini” (III, no. 28, the Faith that satisfied).