Buddha’s advice to his son – Part 2


In my last post I shared the story of the lesson the Buddha gave his seven year old son, Rāhula.

Now in his teens, Rāhula get another famous lesson. This time on meditation. The instructions that the Buddha gives to Rāhula are very detailed, so much so that they are still used today as a guide to developing as meditator.

Here is the story:

The Buddha was on an alms round with some of his disciples, including Rāhula. 

Rāhula was preoccupied by his personal appearance, as teenagers sometimes are, and he confessed this to his father. The Buddha advised Rāhula:

“When seen with wisdom, the physical body should not be viewed as me, myself or mine.  In fact, one shouldn’t see any feeling, perception, mental activity or consciousness through concepts of me, myself or mine.”

Rāhula decided he would abandon the alms round and sit under a tree to meditate on the words. One of the Buddha’s closest disciples, Venerable Sarriputa, saw him and gave him some advice on cultivating mindfulness of the breath, and the benefits of this. 

Later that day Rāhula approached the Buddha for further advice on breath mediation – how to do it and how to get the benefits Sariputta talked about.

The Buddha began:

“Develop meditation that is like the earth: as the earth is not troubled by agreeable or disagreeable things it comes into contact with, so if you meditate like the earth, agreeable and disagreeable experiences will not trouble you.

“Develop meditation like water, like fire, like air and like space: as all of these are not troubled by agreeable or disagreeable things they come into contact with, so if you meditate like water, fire, air or space, agreeable and disagreeable experiences will not trouble you.”

Next the Buddha gives Rāhula advice on different subjects of meditation for different issues:

“Develop the meditation on loving-kindness, Rāhula. For by developing loving-kindness, ill-will is abandoned.

“Develop the meditation on compassion, Rāhula. For by developing compassion, cruelty is abandoned.

“Develop the meditation on sympathetic joy, Rāhula. For by developing sympathetic joy, aversion is abandoned.

“Develop the meditation on equanimity, Rāhula. For by developing equanimity, hatred is abandoned.

“Develop the meditation on impurity, Rāhula. For by meditating on impurity, lust is abandoned.

“Develop the meditation on the concept of transience, Rāhula. For by meditating on the concept of transience, pride of self is abandoned.”

Once this is explained, the Buddha then gives detailed instructions to Rāhula on the type of mediation he asked about – mindfulness of breath mediation:

“Inhaling and exhaling with mindfulness, cultivated and frequently practised, has many advantages.

“In order to learn, there are steps to take to train yourself. First find a quiet place, sit with legs crossed and the body held erect. Set an intention to be mindfulful.

“Consciously inhale; consciously exhale.

“When taking a long inspiration know ‘I am taking a long inspiration’; When making a long expiration, know ‘I am making a long expiration.’ When taking a short inspiration, know ‘I am taking a short inspiration’; When making a short expiration, know ‘I am making a short expiration.’

“Once you have mastered this, train yourself to be conscious of the whole body when breathing.

“Next, train yourself to experience calm when inhaling, calm when exhaling.

“Next, train yourself to experience pleasure when inhaling, pleasure when exhaling.

“Next, train yourself to experience happiness when inhaling, happiness when exhaling.

“Next, train yourself to be conscious of the body process when inhaling, and when exhaling.

“The next step is to train yourself to calm the body process when inhaling, and when exhaling.

“Next, perfectly conscious – inhale, perfectly conscious – exhale, thus you should train yourself.

“Next, with enraptured mind – inhale, with enraptured mind – exhale, thus you should train yourself.

“Next, thoroughly composing the mind you will inhale, thoroughly composing the mind will you exhale, thus you train yourself.

“Next, emancipating the mind you will inhale, emancipating the mind will you exhale, thus you train yourself.

“Next, reflecting on transience you inhale, reflecting on transience you exhale, thus you train yourself.

“Next, reflecting on freedom from lust – inhale, reflecting on freedom from lust – exhale, thus you train yourself.

“Next, reflecting on Cessation – inhale, reflecting on Cessation – exhale, thus you train yourself.

“Then, reflecting on complete emancipation you will inhale, reflecting on complete emancipation will you exhale, thus you train yourself.

“Mindfulness on inhaling and exhaling, Rāhula, cultivated in this way and frequently practised, is productive of much fruit and manifold advantage. When, Rāhula, inhaling and exhaling with mindfulness is thus cultivated and frequently-practised, even the last inspiration and expiration ceases consciously, not unconsciously.”

The venerable Rāhula, delighted, rejoiced at his words.

Buddha’s advice to his son


As many of you may know, the Buddha (before he was the Buddha) grew up in a wealthy household and had a family. He had a wife (probably from an arranged marriage) and a son, Rāhula. He left his family on the day his son was born, to explore the spiritual life. His son was raised by his wife for his first seven years. When Rāhula reached seven he came under the care of his father who then raised him into adulthood.

There are three famous lessons that the Buddha gave to his son;

  • At age seven – about lying and virtue.
  • As a teen – about meditation.
  • In his twenties – liberating wisdom.

By adulthood it was said that Rahula had reached enlightenment under his father’s guidance.

Here is the story of the teaching given to seven year old Rāhula:

One evening, after meditation, the Buddha went to speak to his son, Rāhula. Seeing his father coming, seven year old Rāhula got a seat ready and got water for washing the feet. The Blessed One sat down on the seat and washed his feet. Rāhula sat to one side.

After washing, the Buddha said to Rāhula, “Do you see, Rāhula, this small quantity of water left in the bowl?”

“Yes, Lord.”, Rāhula replied.

“Similarly, Rāhula, insignificant indeed is the spiritual life of those who are not ashamed of uttering deliberate lies.”

The Buddha threw away the water.

“Did you see, Rāhula, that small quantity of water, thrown away?”

“Yes, Lord.”

“Similarly, Rāhula, discarded indeed is the spiritual life of those who are not ashamed of deliberate lying.”

Then the Blessed One turned the bowl upside down and then set the bowl upright on the table.

“Do you see, Rāhula, this bowl, empty and void”?

“Yes, Lord.”

“Similarly, Rāhula, empty and void indeed is the spiritual life of those who are not ashamed of deliberate lies.”

“When someone is not ashamed to tell a deliberate lie, there is no evil that he or she would not do. Therefore, Rāhula, train yourself to not utter a lie even as a joke.”

“What do you think, Rāhula; for what purpose is a mirror?”

“For the purpose of reflecting, Lord”

“Similarly, Rāhula, you should reflect on your actions to see if they are fit or unfit. Bodily action, verbal action, and mental action should be reflected on.

“Before you do an action, Rāhula, you should reflect: ‘Will this action lead to my own harm, or the harm of others, or both?

If the answer is yes then on no account should you perform the action.

“If, on the other hand, Rāhula, you think the action will not cause harm then feel free to do it.

When you are doing the action, reflect: ‘Now, is this action I am doing causing harm or suffering to me, others, or both?’

If the answer is yes, Rāhula, you must stop doing it.

“If, on the other hand, Rāhula, you think the action is not causing harm or suffering then continue to do it if you wish.”

“After you have done something, Rāhula, you should reflect: ‘Now, did my actions cause harm or suffering?”

If the answer is yes it should be confessed to a Teacher or a wise person. After confessing you should resolve not to do it again.

“If, on the other hand, Rāhula, you think your actions caused no harm or suffering then you should be happy and train yourself to do such things again and again!”

“This is how you should train yourself, Rāhula. By constantly reflecting we can purify our bodily actions; by constantly reflecting we can purify our verbal actions; by constantly reflecting we can purify our mental actions.”

Delighted, Rāhula rejoiced at his words.

The Greedy Crane

There was once a crane living near a pond, and when the dry season set in he said to the fishes with a bland voice:

“Care you not for your future welfare? There is at present very little water and still less food in this pond. What will you do should the whole pond become dry, in this drought?”

“Yes, indeed”, said the fishes, “what should we do?”

The crane replied: “I know a fine, large lake, which never becomes dry. Would you not like me to carry you there in my beak?”

When the fishes began to distrust the honesty of the crane, he proposed to have one of them sent over to the lake to see it; and a big carp at last decided to take the risk for the sake of the others, and the crane carried him to a beautiful lake and brought him back in safety. Then all doubt vanished, and the fishes gained confidence in the crane.

The crane took them one by one out of the pond and devoured them on a big varana tree.

There was also a lobster in the pond, and when the crane wanted to eat him too. The crane said: “Hey Lobster, I’ve taken all the fishes away and put them in a fine, large lake. Come along. I shall take you too!”

“But how will you hold me to carry me along?”, asked the lobster.

“I’ll take hold of you with my beak,” said the crane.

“No, you’ll let me fall if you carry me like that. I will not go with you.” replied the lobster.

“You need not fear,” tried the crane, “I shall hold you quite tight all the way.”

Then said the lobster to himself: If this crane once gets hold of a fish, he will certainly never let him go in a lake! Now if he should really put me into the lake it would be splendid; but if he does not, then I will cut his throat and kill him!

So he said to the crane: “Look here, friend, you will not be able to hold me tight enough; but we lobsters have a famous grip. If you will let me catch hold of you round the neck with my claws, I shall be glad to go with you.”

The crane did not see that the lobster was trying to outwit him, and agreed. So the lobster caught hold of his neck with his claws as securely as with a pair of blacksmiths pincers, and called out:

“Ready, ready, go!”

The crane took him and showed him the lake, and then turned off toward the varana tree.

“Wait friend!” cried the lobster, “The lake lies that way, but you’re taking me this other way.”

The crane answered: “Think so? Am I your friend? You want me to understand, I suppose, that I am your slave, who has to lift you up and carry you about with him where ever you please! Now cast your eye upon that heap of fish bones at the root of yonder varana tree. Just as I have eaten those fish, every one of them, just so will I devour you also!”

“Ah! those fishes got eaten through their own stupidity,” answered the lobster, “but I am not going to let you kill me. On the contrary, it is you that I am going to destroy. For you, in your folly, have not seen that I have outwitted you. If we die, we both die together; for I will cut off this head of yours and cast it to the ground!”

So saying, he gave the cranes neck a pinch with his claws as with a vise.

Then gasping, and with tears trickling from his eyes, and trembling with the fear of death, the crane besought the lobster, saying:

“O, my Lord! Indeed I did not intend to eat you. Grant me my life!”

“Very well! Fly down and put me into the lake,” replied the lobster.

The crane turned round and stepped down into the lake, to place the lobster on the mud at its edge. Then the lobster cut the cranes neck through as clean as one would cut a lotus stalk with a hunting knife, and then entered the water!

– Unknown origin.

Judging others

A King, named Pasenadi Kosala, went to visit the Buddha. He bowed down to the Buddha and sat to one side, as was customary. Just then a number of wandering spiritual ascetics walked past. Seeing them, the King knelt and saluted them.

He sat back to one side of the Buddha and asked:

“Blessed One, would you say that those men are on the path to wisdom?”

The Buddha replied:

“Your Majesty, as a laymen enjoying sensual pleasures, living crowded with wives and children, using expensive fabrics and sandalwood, wearing garlands, scents, and creams, handling gold and silver: it is hard for you to know whether these are wise men or on the path to wisdom.

“It’s through living together that a person’s virtue may be known, and then only after a long period, not a short period; by one who is attentive, not by one who is inattentive; by one who is discerning, not by one who isn’t discerning.

“It’s through trading with a person that his purity may be known..

“It’s through adversity that a person’s endurance may be known…

“It’s through discussion that a person’s discernment may be known.”

The King praised the Buddha’s response and then revealed:

“These men are my spies, my scouts, returning after going out through the countryside in disguise. They go out first, and then I go. Now, when they have scrubbed off the dirt and mud, are well-bathed and well-perfumed, have trimmed their hair and beards, and have put on white clothes, they will go back to their normal lives of money and sensuality. ”

The King had tested the Buddha, but the Buddha’s wisdom had prevented him from making quick judgements and being fooled.

“Not by appearance
is a man rightly known,
nor should trust be based
on a quick glance,
— for, disguised as well-restrained,
the unrestrained go through this world.
A counterfeit earring made of clay,
a bronze coin coated in gold:
They go about in this world
hidden all around:
impure inside,
beautiful out.”

– This is a story from the Pali Buddhist texts, specifically the Paṭisalla Sutta.

The gift of insults

The Buddha saw how much misery came from foolish offences done only out of vanity and pride. The Buddha said:

“If a man foolishly does me wrong, I will return to him the protection of my ungrudging love; the more evil comes from him, the more good shall go from me; the fragrance of goodness always comes to me, and the harmful air of evil goes to him.”

A foolish man learning that the Buddha observed the principle of great love which commends the return of good for evil, came and abused him. The Buddha was silent, pitying his folly. When the man had finished his abuse, the Buddha asked him, saying:

“If a man declined to accept a gift made to him, to whom would it belong?”

The man answered:

“In that case it would belong to the man who offered it.”

“Well,” said the Buddha, “you have railed at me, but I decline to accept your abuse, and request you to keep it yourself. Will it not be a source of misery to you? As the echo belongs to the sound, and the shadow to the substance, so misery will overtake the evil doer without fail.”

The abuser made no reply, and Buddha continued:

“A wicked man who reproaches a virtuous one is like one who looks up and spits at heaven; the spittle soils not the heaven, but comes back and lands on the person. The slanderer is like one who flings dust at another when the wind is contrary; the dust does but return on him who threw it. The virtuous man cannot be hurt and the misery that the other would inflict comes back on himself.”

The abuser went away ashamed, but he came again one day and took refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

– A story from the Buddhist texts. 

The woman at the well

Ananda, the favorite disciple of the Buddha, having been sent by the Buddha on a mission, passed by a well near a village. He saw a girl by the well who was called Pakati, a girl of the Matanga caste. He asked her for water to drink. Pakati said:

“O Brahman, I am too humble and mean to give you water to drink, do not ask any service of me lest your holiness be contaminated, for I am of low caste.”

And Ananda replied:

“I ask not for caste but for water”;

And the Matanga girls heart leaped joyfully and she gave Ananda a drink.

Ananda thanked her and went away; but she followed him at a distance. Having heard that Ananda was a disciple of Gotama Sakyamuni, the girl followed him back to the Buddha and cried:

“O Lord help me, and let me live in the place where Ananda your disciple dwells, so that I may see him and minister unto him, for I love Ananda.”

The Blessed One understood the emotions of her heart and he said:

“Pakati, your heart is full of love, but you do not understand your own sentiments. It is not Ananda that you love, but his kindness. Accept, then, the kindness you have seen him practice unto you, and in the humility of your station practice it unto others. Verily there is great merit in the generosity of a king when he is kind to a slave; but there is a greater merit in the slave when he ignores the wrongs which he suffers and cherishes kindness and good will to all mankind. He will cease to hate his oppressors, and even when powerless to resist their usurpation will with compassion pity their arrogance and supercilious demeanor.

“Blessed are you, Pakati, for though you are a Matanga you will be a model for noblemen and noble women. You are of low caste, but Brahmans may learn a lesson from you. Swerve not from the path of justice and righteousness and you will outshine the royal glory of queens on the throne.”

– An old Buddhist story.

The taste of Banzo’s sword

Matajuro Yagyu was the son of a famous swordsman. His father, believing that his son’s work was too mediocre to anticipate mastership, disowned him.

So Matajuro went to Mount Futara and there found the famous swordsman Banzo. But Banzo confirmed the father’s judgment. “You wish to learn swordsmanship under my guidance?” asked Banzo. “You cannot fulfill the requirements.”

“But if I work hard, how many years will it take to become a master?” persisted the youth.

“The rest of your life,” replied Banzo.

“I cannot wait that long,” explained Matajuro. “I am willing to pass through any hardship if only you will teach me. If I become your devoted servant, how long might it be?”

“Oh, maybe ten years,” Banzo relented.

“My father is getting old, and soon I must take care of him,” continued Matajuro. “If I work far more intensively, how long would it take me?”

“Oh, maybe thirty years,” said Banzo.

“Why is that?” asked Matajuro. “First you say ten and now thirty years. I will undergo any hardship to master this art in the shortest time!”

“Well,” said Banzo, “in that case you will have to remain with me for seventy years. A man in such a hurry as you are to get results seldom learns quickly.”

“Very well,” declared the youth, understanding at last that he was being rebuked for impatience, “I agree.”

Matajuro was told never to speak of fencing and never to touch a sword. He cooked for his master, washed the dishes, made his bed, cleaned the yard, cared for the garden, all without a word of swordmanship.

Three years passed. Still Matajuro labored on. Thinking of his future, he was sad. He had not even begun to learn the art to which he had devoted his life.

But one day Banzo crept up behind him and gave him a terrific blow with a wooden sword.

The following day, when Matajuro was cooking rice, Banzo again sprang upon him unexpectedly.

After that, day and night, Matajuro had to defend himself from unexpected thrusts. Not a moment passed in any day that he did not have to think of the taste of Banzo’s sword.

He learned so rapidly he brought smiles to the face of his master. Matajuro became the greatest swordsman in the land.

– Zen story from the Collection of Stone and Sand.