Dharma Wondrous Strange: A Bad Apple

Dharma Wondrous Strange: A Bad Apple

In this fourth talk of eight, Ratnaguna suggests that the only way we can really be part of a spiritual community is by being authentic: revealing who we truly are. This is the only real basis both for friendship and spiritual growth.

Unfortunately, the first ten minutes failed to record

Ratnaguna has kindly provided us some notes detailing what he said:


A Bad Apple

The Buddha’s teaching on the Eight Strange and Wonderful Things comes from the Uposatha Sutta, which is found in the Udana. And he gives this teaching immediately after an incident – a rather shocking incident.

It occurs in a wooden building, on an uposatha night – the night of the full moon or the new moon – when the bhikkhus would get together and meditate, and if he was present, the Buddha would give a talk.

So the Buddha was meditating in this building, along with an unspecified number of bhikkhus. Then, the text tells us that Ānanda . . .

“. . . when the night was far advanced, at the end of the first watch – got up from his seat, arranged his robe over one shoulder, stood facing the Blessed One, paying homage with his hands placed palm-to-palm over his heart, and said to him, “Lord, the night is far advanced. The first watch has ended. The community of monks has been sitting here long. May the Blessed One recite the Pāṭimokkha to them.” When this was said, the Blessed One remained silent.”

You may be wondering what the first watch means. There are three watches of the night, probably to do with changes of guard from a military context. Probably the first started at dusk, the second in the middle of the night, the third at dawn.

Pāṭimokkha means liberation from, and although in later days this came to mean a recitation of all the rules bhikkhus lived by (or tried to live by), it’s likely that at the time of the Buddha, he would give a talk, leading to liberation. (It seems unlikely that the Buddha would spend the night reciting 150 rules!)

At the end of the second watch, Ānanda asked again, and again the Buddha remained silent.

And then, “a third time, when the night was far advanced, at the end of the last watch, as dawn was approaching and the face of the night was beaming,” Ānanda asked once more. This time, the Buddha said, simply, “Ānanda, the gathering isn’t pure.”

Another one of the Buddha’s chief disciples, Mahā Moggallāna, was apparently able to read people’s minds, so he knew exactly who the Buddha was referring to, and the text says:

“He saw that individual – unprincipled, evil, unclean and suspect in his undertakings, hidden in his actions, not a contemplative though claiming to be one, not leading the holy life though claiming to do so, inwardly rotten, oozing with desire, filthy by nature – sitting in the midst of the community of monks.”

So he got up and spoke to that bhikkhu, telling him that he had no affiliation with the bhikkhus, and that he should, therefore, leave. Well, he didn’t leave, and after Moggallāna had asked him three times, and still he refused to leave, Moggallāna took him by the arm, guided him outside and then bolted the door. After which he told the Buddha that the assembly was now pure, and so he could teach the remaining bhikkhus.

The Buddha responded with:

“Isn’t it amazing, Moggallāna. Isn’t it astounding, how that worthless man waited until he was grabbed by the arm?”

It’s as if the Buddha was puzzled by the bhikkhu’s behaviour – how can anyone behave like that? Why was he so obstinate? But then the Buddha says that he’s not going to attend any more of these uposatha nights, because “it is impossible, it cannot happen,” that a Buddha can teach in such a circumstance.

And that’s when he talked about the Eight Strange and Wonderful Things about The Dharma.

I’ll only quote what he says about the third of these, because that is the subject of this talk. First, the third strange and wonderful thing about the ocean:

“And furthermore, the ocean does not tolerate a dead body. Any dead body in the ocean gets quickly washed to the shore and thrown up on dry land . . . This is the third amazing and astounding quality of the ocean because of which, as they see it again and again, the asuras take great joy in the ocean.”

And now the Dharma:

“And furthermore, just as the ocean does not tolerate a dead body – any dead body in the ocean getting quickly washed to the shore and thrown up on dry land – in the same way, if an individual is unprincipled, evil, unclean and suspect in his undertakings, hidden in his actions – not a contemplative though claiming to be one, not leading the holy life though claiming to do so, inwardly rotten, oozing with desire, filthy by nature – the community has no affiliation with him. Having quickly gathered together, they suspend him from the community. Even though he may be sitting in the midst of the community of monks, he is far from the community, and the community far from him . . . This is the third amazing and astounding quality of this Dhamma and Vinaya because of which, as they see it again and again, the monks take great joy in this Dhamma and Vinaya.”

So you can see how this teaching follows from the incident, and this is why I’m only telling you about the context of this teaching now. The first thing I want to discuss is what the Buddha says about it being impossible for him to teach when “the gathering is impure”.

And now go to the film of the talk, where I take up this theme . . .

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