Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world.
By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased.
This is a law eternal.
– Dhammapada, verse 5.
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I’ve quoted Buddhaghosa very recently, about anger.
It occurred to me that many of you may be interested to know more about Buddhaghosa himself.
Buddhaghosa lived about 1000 years after the Buddha, in the 5th Century AD. His name means “Voice of the Buddha” in Pali. He was called this because he completed many respected written works on Buddhism.
We don’t know a lot about his life, but it’s likely he was born into a Brahmin family (a priestly caste) in either East or South India.
It’s said that he was a Vedic Master who travelled around ancient India debating spiritual topics with others. He was a debating superstar, with a flawless record of victories. That was until the day he came across a Buddhist monk named Revata.
Buddhaghosa and Revata first debated a Vedic teaching, and afterwards they debated a teaching from the Buddhist texts. Revata triumphed in both debates and Buddhaghosa was so impressed he decided he would become a Buddhist monk.
Buddhaghosa, with his academic leanings, soon became a knowledgeable scholar of the Buddhist texts. One day he came across evidence of a missing text, long lost in Indian records.
Obviously not being one to simply accept this knowledge gap, he began a pilgrimage to Sri Lanka where it was said a preserved version still existed. Whilst there he discovered many other preserved texts that were missing from the Indian collection. As a result he approached the Buddhist Elders for permission to compile a joint collection written in Pali.
Legend has it that the Elders and even deities forced him to undergo several tests before he was granted permission, but the eventual result was a systemised collection of Theravada Teachings and the Visuddhamagga – a comprehensive summary of the teachings of the Buddha, organised into a manual of sorts.
He went on to write several other commentaries on the Pali cannon of texts and his words became respected interpretations of the scriptures.
It’s said that after he finished his work in Sri Lanka he returned to India and pilgrimaged to the Bodhi Tree, under which the Buddha gained enlightenment.
Nothing is known about the rest of his life, or how he died. His commentaries live on and are still respected and studied to this day.
To round off the post, here’s a lovely Visuddhamagga sample I wanted to share; about compassion:
“When there is suffering in others it causes good people’s hearts to be moved, thus it is compassion.
Or alternatively, it combats others’ suffering, attacks and demolishes it, thus it is compassion.
Or alternatively, it is scattered upon those who suffer, it is extended to them by pervasion, thus it is compassion.”
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Here is a lovely story written by Loren Eisley, a man of many titles but I think ‘anthropologist and philosopher’ may be a passable summary.
From time to time we all come across the attitude of “I’m just one person. I can’t make a difference so why bother trying?” Or “The task is so large that I’ll never do it, so I might as well not even bother trying.” Maybe sometimes that attitude is coming from within.
When we practice Buddhism it’s all about small steps leading to a larger goal – a goal that sometimes seems overwhelmingly huge. But step by step we abandon unskillful qualities and nurture skilful ones. De parvis grandis acervus erit.
This story is a reminder of how we can each make a difference. So without further ado:
Once a man was walking along a beach. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. Off in the distance he could see a person going back and forth between the surf’s edge and and the beach. Back and forth this person went. As the man approached he could see that there were hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand as the result of the natural action of the tide.
The man was stuck by the the apparent futility of the task. There were far too many starfish. Many of them were sure to perish. As he approached the person continued the task of picking up starfish one by one and throwing them into the surf.
As he came up to the person he said, “You must be crazy. There are thousands of miles of beach covered with starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The person looked at the man. He then stooped down and pick up one more starfish and threw it back into the ocean. He turned back to the man and said, “It sure made a difference to that one!”
If you enjoyed this post you might find others you like in the Bite-Size Dhamma archive!
“If I am good to someone, he or she will learn goodness and, in turn, will be good to others. If I am not good, he or she will harbor hatred and resentment and will, in turn, pass it on to others. If the world is not good, I have to make more effort to be good myself.
Taking care of others is the same as taking care of myself. When I respect and serve others, I am serving all Buddhas everywhere. This is called great compassion. Compassion is a happy mental state.
When we protect ourselves through mindfulness, we are protecting others as well. When we protect other living beings through compassionate actions, we are also protecting ourselves.”
– Maha Ghosananda, Theravada Tradition
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 thewell 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 only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.
– Pema Chodron, Tibetan Buddhism.
Tetsugen, a devotee of Zen in Japan, decided to publish the sutras, which at that time were available only in Chinese. The books were to be printed with wood blocks in an edition of seven thousand copies, a tremendous undertaking.
Tetsugen began by traveling and collecting donations for this purpose. A few sympathizers would give him a hundred pieces of gold, but most of the time he received only small coins. He thanked each donor with equal gratitude. After ten years Tetsugen had enough money to begin his task.
It happened that at that time the Uji Rive overflowed. Famine followed. Tetsugen took the funds he had collected for the books and spent them to save others from starvation.
Then he began again his work of collecting.
Several years afterwards an epidemic spread over the country. Tetsugen again gave away what he had collected, to help his people.
For a third time he started his work, and after twenty years his wish was fulfilled. The printing blocks which produced the first edition of sutras can be seen today in the Obaku monastery in Kyoto.
The Japanese tell their children that Tetsugen made three sets of sutras, and that the first two invisible sets surpass even the last.
– Unknown origin, Zen Tradition.
There was once the son of a Brahmin (the highest “priestly” caste in India) in the court of King Pasenadi of Kosala, whose name was Ahimsaka. He was sent to Taxila for his studies. Ahimsaka was intelligent and obedient to this teacher; therefore he was liked by both the teacher and his wife. This made the other pupils jealous of him. So they went to the teacher and falsely accused Ahimsaka of having an immoral relationship with the teacher’s wife. At first, he did not believe them, but after hearing it a number of times, he thought it was true and vowed to have revenge on Ahimsaka. He thought that to kill him would reflect badly on him. His rage prompted him to suggest the unthinkable to the young and innocent Ahimsaka. He told his pupil to kill a thousand human beings and to bring the right thumb of each as payment for teaching him. Of course the youngster would not even think of such a thing, so he was banished from the teacher’s house and returned to his parents.
When his father learned why Ahimsaka had been expelled, he became furious with his son, and would hear no reason. On that very day, with the rain pouring down, he ordered Ahimsaka to leave the house. Ahimsaka went to his mother and asked her advice, but she could not go against the will of her husband. Next Ahimsaka went to the house of his betrothed (in accord with the ancient custom in India calling for betrothal of children long before their actual marriage), but when the family learned why Ahimsaka had been turned out of school, they drove him off. The shame, anger, fear, and despair of Ahimsaka drove him out of his mind. His suffering mind could only recollect the teacher’s order: to collect 1,000 human thumbs. And so he started killing, and as he killed, the thumbs he collected were hung on a tree, but as they were destroyed by crows and vultures, he later wore a garland of the fingers to keep track of the number.
Because of this he came to be known as Angulimala (finger garland) and became the terror of the countryside. The king himself heard about the exploits of Angulimala, and he decided to capture him. When Mantani, Ahimsaka’s mother, heard about the king’s intention, she went to the forest in a desperate bid to save her son. By this time, the chain around the neck of Angulimala had 999 fingers in it, just one finger short of 1,000.
The Buddha learned of the mother’s attempt to dissuade her son, and reflected that if he did not intervene then Angulimala, who was on the lookout for the last person to make up the 1,000, would see his mother and might kill her. In that case, he would have to suffer an even longer period for his evil kamma. Out of compassion, the Buddha left for the forest.
Angulimala, after many sleepless days and nights, was very tired and near exhaustion. At the same time, he was very anxious to kill the last person to make up his full quota of 1,000 and so complete his task. He made up his mind to kill the first person he met. As he looked down from his mountain perch, he saw a woman on the road below. He wanted to fulfil his vow to complete the 1,000 thumbs, but as he approached, he saw it was his mother. At the same time, the Buddha was approaching, and Angulimala had just enough presence of mind to decide to kill the wandering monk instead of his mother. He set out after the Blessed One with his knife raised. But the Buddha kept moving ahead of him. Angulimala just could not catch up with him. Finally, he cried out, “O Bhikkhu, stop, stop!”
And the Enlightened One replied, “I have stopped. It is you who have not stopped.”
Angulimala did not catch the significance of these words, so he asked, “O bhikkhu! Why do you say that you have stopped while I have not?”
The Buddha replied, “I say that I have stopped because I have given up killing all beings. I have given up ill-treating all beings, and have established myself in universal love, patience, and knowledge through reflection. But you have not given up killing or ill treating others and you are not yet established in universal love and patience. Hence, you are the one who has not stopped.”
On hearing these words Angulimala was recalled to reality, and thought, these are the words of a wise man. This monk is so very wise and so very brave that he must be the leader of the monks. Indeed, he must be the Enlightened One himself! He must have come here specially to make me see the light. So thinking, he threw away his weapons and asked the Blessed One to admit to the Order of the bhikkhus, which the Buddha did.
When the king and his men came to capture Angulimala, they found him at the monastery of the Buddha. Finding that Angulimala had given up his evil ways and become a bhikkhu, the king and his men agreed to leave him alone. During his stay at the monastery, Angulimala ardently practiced meditation.
Angulimala had no peace of mind because even in his solitary meditation he used to recall memories of his past and the pathetic cries of his unfortunate victims. As a result of his evil kamma, while seeking alms in the streets he would become a target of stray stones and sticks and he would return to the Jetavana monastery with broken head and blood flowing, cut and bruised, to be reminded by the Buddha: “My son Angulimala. You have done away with evil. Have patience. This is the effect of the evil deeds you have committed in the existence. Your evil kamma would have made you suffer through innumerable existences had I not met you.”
One morning while going on an almsround in Savatthi, Angulimala heard someone crying out in pain. When he came to know that a pregnant lady was having labor pains and facing difficulty to deliver the child, he reflected, all worldly beings are subject to suffering. Moved by compassion, he reported the suffering of this poor woman to the Buddha who advised him to recite the following words of truth, which later came to be known as Angulimala Paritta. Going to the presence of the suffering woman, he sat on a seat separated from her by a screen, and uttered these words:
“Sister, since the day I became an arahat
I have not consciously destroyed
The life of any living beings.
By this truth, may you be well
And may your unborn child be well.”
Instantly the woman delivered her child with ease. Both the mother and chid were well and healthy. Even today many resort to this paritta.
Angulimala liked living in solitude and in seclusion. Later he passed away peacefully. As an arahant, he attained parinibbana.
Other bhikkhus asked the Buddha where Angulimala was reborn, and when the Blessed One replied, my son Angulimala has attained parinibbana, they could hardly believe it. So they asked whether it was possible that such a man who had in fact killed so many people could have attained parinibbana. To this question, the Buddha replied, “Bhikkhus, Angulimala had done much evil because he did not have good friends. But later, he hound good friends and with their help and good advice he became steadfast and mindful in practicing the dhamma and meditation. Thus, his evil deeds have been overwhelmed by good kamma and his mind has been completely rid of all defilements.”
The Buddha said of Angulimala:
“Whose evil deed is obscured by good,
he illumines this world like the
moon freed from a cloud.”
The power of love and compassion are stronger than any evil, and are absolute conditions for awakening.
– The story as told by Ven. Walpola Piyananda Thera.
The original version from the Majjhima Nikaya can be found at Access to Insight, translated by the wonderful Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.
– Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Tradition.
“On this particular afternoon a fly fell into my tea. This was, of course, a minor occurrence. After a year in India I considered myself to be unperturbed by insects — by ants in the sugar bin, spiders in the cupboard, and even scorpions in my shoes in the morning. Still, as I lifted my cup, I must have registered, by my facial expression, or a small grunt, the presence of the fly. Choegyal Rinpoche, the eighteen-year-old tulku leaned forward in sympathy and consternation.
“What is the matter?”
“Oh, nothing,” I said. “It’s nothing — just a fly in my tea.” I laughed lightly to convey my acceptance and composure. I did not want him to suppose that mere insects were a problem for me; after all, I was a seaseoned India-wallah, relatively free of Western phobias and attachments to modern sanitation.
Choegyal crooned softly, in apparent commiseration with my plight, “Oh, oh, a fly in the tea.”
“It’s no problem,” I reiterated, smiling at him reassuringly. But he continued to focus great concern on my cup. Rising from his chair, he leaned over and inserted his finger into my tea. With great care he lifted out the offending fly — and then exited from the room. The conversation at the table resumed. I was eager to secure Khamtul Rinpoche’s agreement on plans to secure the high-altitude wool he desired for the carpet production.
When Choegyal Rinpoche reentered the cottage he was beaming. “He is going to be all right,” he told me quietly. He explained how he had placed the fly on the leaf of a branch of a bush by the door, where his wings could dry. And the fly was still alive, because he began fanning his wings, and we could confidently expect him to take flight soon…
That is what I remember of that afternoon — not the agreements we reached or plans we devised, but Choegyal’s report that the fly would live. And I recall, too, the laughter in my heart. I could not, truth to tell, share Choegyal’s dimensions of compassion, but the pleasure in his face revealed how much I was missing by not extending my self-concern to all beings, even to flies. Yet the very notion that it was possible gave me boundless delight.”
– Joanna Macy