Buddha’s advice to his son – Part 3

This is the last of a three-part post about the lessons given to Rāhula, Buddha’s son. 

At this point Rāhula is now in his twenties. He has devoted his life to Buddhist training and was known to enjoy his practice very much. His father now saw that he was close to enlightenment and decides to give him a push in the right direction. 

Here is the story:

Buddha was staying near a place called Sāvatthī. Whilst meditating, the following thought arose in his mind:

“Mature are in Rāhula those qualities that bring deliverance to maturity. Should I not now give further guidance to Rāhula, for the extinction of the corruptions?”

Having robed himself in the forenoon, the Buddha took his bowl and robe, and entered Sāvatthī for alms. Having completed his alms round he returned and ate. After the meal he addressed the venerable Rāhula:

“Take your mat, Rāhula. We shall go to the Andha Grove, and spend the day there.”

“Yes, Lord,” replied Rāhula. He took his mat and followed close behind his father.

Having entered the Andha Grove they sat down at the foot of a certain tree.

The Buddha asked Rāhula: “What do you think, Rāhula; is the eye permanent or impermanent?”

“Impermanent, Lord.”

“Is that which is impermanent, painful or pleasant”?

“It is painful Lord.”

“Is it justifiable, then, to think, of that which is impermanent, pain-laden and subject to change—’This is mine;” this I am; this is my self’ ?”

“Certainly not, Lord.”

“What do you think, Rāhula, are forms (visual objects) permanent or impermanent?”

“Impermanent, Lord.”

“Is that which is impermanent, painful or pleasant?”

“It is painful, Lord.”

“Is it justifiable, then, to think, of that which is impermanent, pain-laden and subject to change—’This is mine; this I am; this is my self ‘?”

“Certainly not, Lord.”

The Buddha continued in this manner, asking about eye-consciousness (visual contact), smells, sounds, tastes, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.

Rāhula answer each one in turn.

The Buddha then said: “The learned noble disciple, Rāhula, who sees thus, gets disenchanted by the eye, for forms, for visual consciousness, visual contact, and for that which arises conditioned by visual contact, namely all feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness.”

“He gets disenchanted by the ear and sounds, nose and smells, tongue and tastes, body and tangibles, mind and ideas, gets disenchanted for the corresponding types of consciousness and contact, and for that which arises conditioned by that contact, namely all that belongs to feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness.”

“In him who gets disenchanted, Rāhula, passion fades out.”

“With the fading out of passion he is liberated.”

“Thus liberated, the knowledge arises in him: ‘Liberated am I, birth is exhausted, fulfilled is the Holy Life, done what should be done, and nothing further remains after this’. Thus he knows.”

Glad at heart, the venerable Rāhula rejoiced in the words of the Blessed One.

During this lesson the mind of the venerable Rāhula was freed from the corruptions – clinging no more.

“Whatever is subject to origination is subject to cessation.”

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.

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. 

So Hither And So Hence

The way of which men come we cannot know;
Nor can we see the path by which they go.
Why mourn then for him who came to you,
Lamenting through the tears?…
Weep not, for such is the life of man.
Unasked he came and unbidden he went.
Ask yourself again whence came your child
To live on earth this little time?
By one way come and by another gone,
As human to die, and pass to other births — So hither and so hence — why should you weep?

– Poem attributed to Bhikkhuni Patacara, taken from a speech given by her to a group of women who were struggling with the loss of children.