There was a layperson in the time of the Buddha whose name was Sudatta, but was called Anathapindika. Anathapindika means “feeder of the orphans or helpless”.
Anathapindika was a very wealthy man who was unmatched in his generosity. As an example, he once bought a beautiful park from a Prince and offered it to the Buddha to make a practice center. This was the famous Jeta Park or Jeta Grove, a location where Buddha gave many of his teachings.
When Anathapindika was close to death, the Buddha sent two beloved disciples – Sariputta and Ananda- to help him to die peacefully.
When they arrived, Sariputta asked; “How is your illness? Is it getting better or worse? Is the physical pain easing at all or is it getting greater?”
Anathapindika replied,”Venerable monks, it does not seem to be getting better. The pain is not easing. It is getting greater all the time.”
Sariputta said, “Friend Anathapindika, now is the time to practice the meditation on the Three Jewels – the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. Meditating in this way, you can destroy the obstacles of wrong deeds and the afflictions. You can harvest a fruit that is as fresh and sweet as the balm of compassion. A woman or a man practicing an upright way of life who knows how to meditate on the Three Jewels will have no chance of falling into the three lower realms but will be reborn as a human or a god.”
After that, Sariputta gave him a guided meditation on the six sense bases: Eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind.
“Breathing in, I know this body is not me. I am much more than this body.”
“Breathing in, I know that this mind is not me. I am much more than this mind.”
The purpose of the meditation is to help a person see that s/he is not limited to the six sense organs.
The meditation continues for:
- the Six Sense Objects (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, mental objects),
- the Six Sense Consciousnesses (visual consciousness, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and mental conciousness),
- the Six Elements (earth, water, fire, air, space, consciousness)
- the Five Aggregates (form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, consciousness), and
- the Three Times (past, present, future).
Once complete, Sariputta explained: “Anathapindika, everything that arises is due to causes and conditions. Everything that is has the nature not to be born and not to die, not to arrive and not to depart. When eyes arise, they arise, but they do not come from anywhere. When eyes cease to be, they cease to be, but they do not go anywhere. Eyes are neither nonexistent before they arise, nor are they existent after they arise. Everything that is comes to be because of a combination of causes and conditions. When the causes and conditions are sufficient, eyes are present. When the causes and conditions are not sufficient, eyes are absent. The same is true of ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind; form, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought; sight, hearing, and the consciousnesses based on the nose, tongue, body, and mind; the Six Elements, the Five Aggregates, and the Three Times.
“In the Five Aggregates, there is nothing that we can call ‘I,’ a ‘person,’ or a ‘soul.’ Ignorance is the inability to see this truth. Because there is ignorance, there are mistaken impulses. Because there are mistaken impulses, there is mistaken consciousness. Because there is mistaken consciousness, there is the distinction between the perceiver and the perceived. Because there is the distinction between the perceiver and the perceived, there is the distinction between the six organs and the six objects of sense. Because there is the distinction between the six organs and the six objects of sense, there is contact. Because there is contact, there is feeling. Because there is feeling, there is thirst. Because there is thirst, there is grasping. Because there is grasping, there is being. Because there is becoming, there are birth, death, and the subsequent pain and grief.
“Friend Anathapindika, you have meditated that everything that arises is due to causes and conditions and does not have a separate self. That is called ‘the meditation on emptiness.’ It is the highest and the most profound meditation.”
When he had practiced to this point, Anathapindika began to cry.
Ananda asked him, “Friend, why are you crying? Has your meditation not been successful? Do you have some regret?”
Anathapindika replied, “Venerable Ananda, I do not regret anything. The meditation has been most successful. I am crying because I am so deeply moved. I have been fortunate to have been able to serve the Buddha and his community for many years, yet I have never heard a teaching so wonderful and precious as the teaching transmitted by the Venerable Sariputta today.”
Ananda said, “Do you not know, friend, that the Buddha often gives this teaching to monks and nuns?”
Anathapindika replied, “Venerable Ananda, please tell the Buddha that there are also laypeople with the capacity to listen, understand, and put into practice these deep and wonderful teachings.”
Venerable Ananda agreed to go home and tell the Buddha of Anathapindika’s request.
That was the last request made by the layman Anathapindika. After that, he passed away peacefully and happily. Even to his last request he was generous, thinking of others.
– Based on the Anathapindikovada Sutta: Instructions to Anathapindika, from the Pali Cannon (also present in the Chinese Cannon).
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