Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Savatthi, in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. Now at that time Bahiya of the Bark-cloth was living in Supparaka by the seashore. He was worshipped, revered, honored, venerated, given homage — a recipient of robes, almsfood, lodgings, and medical requisites for the sick. Then, when he was alone in seclusion, this line of thinking arose to his awareness: “Now, of those who in this world are arahants or have entered the path of arahantship, am I one?”
Then a devata who had once been a blood relative of Bahiya of the Bark-cloth — compassionate, desiring his welfare, knowing with her own awareness the line of thinking that had arisen in his awareness — went to where he was staying and on arrival said to him: “You, Bahiya, are neither an arahant nor have you entered the path of arahantship. You don’t even have the practice whereby you would become an arahant or enter the path of arahantship.”
“But who, living in this world with its devas, is an arahant or has entered the path to arahantship?”
“Bahiya, there is a city in the northern country named Savatthi. The Blessed One — an arahant, rightly self-awakened — is living there now. He is truly an arahant and he teaches the Dhamma that leads to arahantship. ”
Then Bahiya, deeply chastened by the devata, left Supparaka right then and, in the space of one day and night, went all the way to where the Blessed One was staying near Savatthi, in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. At that time, a large number of monks were doing walking meditation in the open air. He went to them and, on arrival, said, “Where, venerable sirs, is the Blessed One staying — the arahant, right self-awakened? We want to see him.”
“He has gone into the town for alms.”
Then Bahiya, hurriedly leaving Jeta’s Grove and entering Savatthi, saw the Blessed One going for alms in Savatthi — calm, calming, his senses at peace, his mind at peace, tranquil and poised in the ultimate sense, accomplished, trained, guarded, his senses restrained, a Great One (naga). Seeing him, he approached the Blessed One and, on reaching him, threw himself down, with his head at the Blessed One’s feet, and said, “Teach me the Dhamma, O Blessed One! Teach me the Dhamma, O One-Well-Gone, that will be for my long-term welfare and bliss.”
When this was said, the Blessed One said to him: “This is not the time, Bahiya. We have entered the town for alms.”
A second time, Bahiya said to the Blessed One: “But it is hard to know for sure what dangers there may be for the Blessed One’s life, or what dangers there may be for mine. Teach me the Dhamma, O Blessed One! Teach me the Dhamma, O One-Well-Gone, that will be for my long-term welfare and bliss.”
A second time, the Blessed One said to him: “This is not the time, Bahiya. We have entered the town for alms.”
A third time, Bahiya said to the Blessed One: “But it is hard to know for sure what dangers there may be for the Blessed One’s life, or what dangers there may be for mine. Teach me the Dhamma, O Blessed One! Teach me the Dhamma, O One-Well-Gone, that will be for my long-term welfare and bliss.”
“Then, Bahiya, you should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bahiya, there is no you in terms of that. When there is no you in terms of that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress.”
Through hearing this brief explanation of the Dhamma from the Blessed One, the mind of Bahiya of the Bark-cloth right then and there was released from the effluents through lack of clinging/sustenance. Having exhorted Bahiya of the Bark-cloth with this brief explanation of the Dhamma, the Blessed One left.
Now, not long after the Blessed One’s departure, Bahiya — attacked by a cow with a calf — lost his life. Then the Blessed One, having gone for alms in Savatthi, after the meal, returning from his alms round with a large number of monks, saw that Bahiya had died. On seeing him, he said to the monks, “Take Bahiya’s body and, placing it on a litter and carrying it away, cremate it and build him a memorial. Your companion in the holy life has died.”
“As you say, lord,” the monks replied. After placing Bahiya’s body on a litter, carrying it off, cremating it, and building him a memorial, they went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As they were sitting there, they said to him, “Bahiya’s body has been cremated, lord, and his memorial has been built. What is his destination? What is his future state?”
“Monks, Bahiya of the Bark-cloth was wise. He practiced the Dhamma in accordance with the Dhamma and did not pester me with issues related to the Dhamma. Bahiya of the Bark-cloth, monks, is totally unbound.”
Then, on realizing the significance of that, the Blessed One on that occasion exclaimed:
[Where water, earth, fire, & wind have no footing:]
There the stars do not shine,
the sun is not visible,
the moon does not appear,
darkness is not found.
And when a sage,
a brahman through sagacity,
has known [this] for himself,
then from form & formless,
from bliss & pain,
he is freed.
The Sutta About Bahiya (Ud. I.10)
This talk may end up being several talks because it is about one of my favorite suttas in the Pali canon. Part of my training involved becoming deeply familiar with some of the better know sermons of the Buddha, and this literature contains a wealth of wonderful teachings. But because I find much of the Pali literature to be descriptively and emotionally a bit dry, my favorites list is short; the Bahiya Sutta is one of them.
I’m going to read the sutta in its entirety to give you an overall sense of the dramatic narrative. (And by the way, the words “dramatic narrative” are words I would not use to describe most suttas.) Then I’ll go over the parts that I have found most interesting and useful. So the sutta goes like this:
I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Savatthi, in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. At that time Bahiya of the Bark-cloth was living in Supparaka by the seashore. He was worshipped, revered, honored, venerated and given homage—a recipient of robes, almsfood, lodgings and medical requisites for the sick. While he was alone in seclusion he began to have the following thoughts: “Of those who in this world are arahants or have entered the path of arahantship, am I one of those?” (An arahant is one who has “dropped the burden” and is liberated from suffering.)
Then a devata who had once been a blood relative of Bahiya and who was compassionate, desiring his welfare and knowing with her own awareness the line of thinking that had arisen within his awareness, went to where he was staying and on arrival said to him “You, Bahiya, are neither an arahant nor have you entered into the path of arahantship. You don’t even have the practice whereby you would ever become an arahant or enter that path.
Bahiya questioned her without hesitation asking, “But who in this world with all its devas is actually an arahant or has entered that path?”
She said, “Bahiya, in the northern city of Savatthi the Blessed One, a rightly self-awakened arahant, is living there now. His is truly an arahant and teaches the Dhamma that leads to arahantship.”
Then Bahiya, deeply chastened by the devata, left Supparaka right then and in the space of one day and night went all the way to where the Buddha was staying. He found there a number of monks doing walking meditation outside and went directly up to them and asked, “Where, venerable sirs, is the Blessed one staying? I must see him immediately.” He was told that the Buddha had gone into town for alms.
Bahyia hurried immediately to the city where he found the Buddha on alms round moving with great calm, his mind at peace, tranquil and poised with the restrained senses of a Great One. He approached the Buddha, threw himself to the ground before him with his head to His feet and said, “Teach me the Dhamma, O Blessed One! Teach me the Dhamma, O Holy One, so that it will be for my long-term welfare and bliss.”
The Buddha then said to him, “This is not the time, Bahiya. We have entered the town for alms.”
A second time Bahiya pleaded with the Buddha, “But Holy One it is hard to know for sure what dangers there may be for the Buddha’s life, or what dangers there may be for mine. Please teach me the Dhamma, O Blessed One, so that I may be happy and free.” And again the Buddha tried to put Bahyia off saying that this was not the right time for they were on alms round. And for a third time Bahyia pleaded his case with urgency again citing the uncertainty of the future for both he and the Buddha and begging to be taught the Dhamma that would free him from his suffering.
This time the Buddha relented and said, “Well then Bahyia, you should train yourself like this: Whenever you see a form, simply see; whenever you hear a sound, simply hear; whenever you smell an aroma, simply smell; whenever you taste a flavor, simply taste; whenever you feel a sensation, simply feel; whenever a thought arises, let it just be a thought. Then “you” will not exist; whenever “you” do not exist, you will not be found in this world, another world or in between. That is the end of suffering.”
In that moment of hearing this brief explanation of the Dhamma from the Buddha, Bahiya was immediately released from all forms of suffering generated by clinging, desiring, aversion and ignorance. The Buddha then went on his way.
Not long after this encounter, Bahiya was attacked by a cow protecting her calf and was killed. Later as the Buddha was returning from his meal following the alms round he saw Bahiya’s torn and broken body. His instructed his monks to take the body away for cremation and to build him a memorial, saying “Your companion in the holy life has died.”
Later after carrying out the Buddha’s instructions the monks returned to join him. As they were sitting there one of them said, “Bahiya’s body has been cremated and the memorial built. What is his destination and his future state?”
“Monks,” the Buddha said, “Bahiya of the Bark-cloth was wise. He practiced the Dhamma in accordance with the Dhamma and he did not pester me with issues related to the Dhamma. Monks, Bahiya of the Bark-cloth is totally unbound and free.”
Realizing the significance of this the Buddha exclaimed:
Where water, earth, fire & wind have no footing,
There the stars do not shine,
the sun is not visible,
the moon does not appear
darkness is not found.
And when a sage through wisdom and insight
has known this for her/himself,
then from form and formless,
from bliss and pain,
she is freed.
Ok, this may not be Oscar quality stuff, but as Pali scriptures go it’s not too bad. Let’s start with Bahiya.
When we meet him he is an accomplished and respected teacher who, as we might say, has it all. If he were around today he would probably have a fancy meditation center with lots of adoring students, have written a book or two, maybe appeared on Oprah and would definitely have full color spreads in the Kripalu and Omega program books and probably Yoga Journal. This does not make Bahyia either unique or inspirational. Neither does his doubt. It’s not just that he wonders about the depth of his understanding, the quality of his practice or the degree of his liberation; Bahiya allows this self-questioning, this doubt, to stay around a bit. He doesn’t try to rid himself of it by going deeper into concentration, nor does he dismiss it out of hand. Like the breath or a koan, Bahiya keeps company with his doubt and sincerely takes on the role of host to this troublesome guest. Then the “devata”, a spirit being which might be seen as representing the aspect of feminine wisdom and inquiry makes her appearance. She challenges him with brutal directness and essentially not only confirms Bahiya’s suspicions about his level of attainment, but tells him despite all of his so-called attainments he is not even a beginner on the path. Basically she tells him in no uncertain terms that his practice is worthless and his spiritual attainments are a sham.
This is not something that happens only in ancient teaching stories. It happens to us and it can happen with devastating effects. Maybe we have been practicing with some real devotion; we sit regularly, eat right, maybe practice yoga asana under the guidance of a skilled teacher, maybe we get trained as teacher or have aspirations in that direction and life seems to be going pretty well. Or maybe we’re just struggling along with a minimal practice which we may or may not recognize to be minimal. Whatever our situation, life can come along with a challenge that precipitates real doubt about the worth of doing this work at all. We lose a job, fall into a depression, suffer some major blow to our self-image, lose an important relationship or our health fails and we find ourselves flailing around in the middle of fear, anger, betrayal or whatever the mixture of soupy stuff we find ourselves in. We question our worth, the worth of our practice, the worth of a teacher and the teachings. Or maybe the nagging of doubt occurs because we find that after so many months or even years of practice we still find ourselves yelling at other drivers or our children or partners. Somehow our expectations of the results of practice don’t match up with the current realities.
Deep doubt is a crucial fork-in-the road for our work in the contemplative life. How shall we proceed? One fork in the road is the path of helplessness, resignation, self-judgment, despair and bitterness. We might call this “d” doubt. We simply run away. This is different from making a strategic retreat to re-group, let the heat diminish a bit and then re-enter the fray. And sometimes we have to travel down this road a considerable distance to realize its futility. This is the path of death, and it is not the Great Death that leads to life renewed and fully lived. It is just dead. The other fork is the path of practice in which through right effort, persistence and courage we use what seems to be an assault as an invitation to examine the ways of the self; to know the self more deeply; to know its attachments and fears and the ways it imposes arbitrary limitations, using what has happened to us and our reactions to it as a mirror to see ourselves more clearly even if this involves considerable pain. We recognize the urgency of life’s call to itself to see where we restrict ourselves to narrowness, how we hold back from living fully, vibrantly and joyfully because of unresolved fear, aversion, self-image and ignorance. Do we recognize this small but clear voice which suggests that how we are living may really be just a form of slow dying? The voice that suggests that we are often just fooling ourselves with the belief that we are living fully and courageously, when we are really not valuing the incredible gift of the moments we have? That voice that points exactly to those places we pull back in fear and challenges us to stop fooling ourselves? Are we willing to even ask ourselves the questions that Bahyia asked himself? Willing to ask and really listen to the answer?
Once Mother Theresa was asked what she said when she prayed. She answered that she didn’t say anything, she listened. When asked what God said to her, she said that God didn’t say anything; He listened back. She added that if you didn’t understand, she couldn’t explain it further. Are we willing to really listen to our life; to listen throughout the day with our whole being, alert to feeling, sensation, sight, smell, taste and sound; whatever appears in our awareness? Maybe we really don’t want to listen like that because we know that what we hear might just revolutionize our life as it did Bahiya’s. And maybe that’s just a little bit too scary. I have to tell you that it is dangerous because real freedom can upset ours and others lives. But if we don’t do this our life will be lived significantly in the shadows and the consequence to living such a life is being shadowed by both doubt and a kind of pestering discontent that somehow something is missing. If we are not careful we can live that incompleteness right into the grave. What a waste.
And this is where we come to what I consider one of the two or three most important parts of this sutta and the part that I find both inspirational and awe-inspiring: When told that his practice and his attainment are completely bogus, Bahiya does not defend, rationalize, deny or counterattack. Bahiya does two things: First he asks if there is such an enlightened person around who can teach him how to get free. And when told that there is and where he can be found, Bahiya immediately and without hesitation goes to find him. He doesn’t ask how much this new guy might charge him for lessons or whether or not there is a monthly fee to join the sangha. He doesn’t wait to collect a retinue to carry his stuff and he doesn’t wait to get things in just the right order for his departure. Bahiya drops everything and literally runs towards the Truth, towards the Enlightened One. There is an urgency, a complete and unhesitating commitment to one thing and one thing only; Bahyia desperately and urgently wants to be free. When I think of the great efforts my own teachers have made in this direction, their complete devotion to the Path of Awakening, when I read of Bahiya’s example and when I read of others who have made extraordinary sacrifices to charge headlong down this sacred path, I can experience my own efforts as small and paltry; inadequate and sham-like. I can feel humbled and almost ashamed. And yet, here too is this wonderful voice challenging me, challenging you, and we are all just like Bahiya. We can see that this practice, as the poet said, is a condition of complete simplicity which demands absolutely everything, and we can acknowledge that we still have work to do. Maybe we don’t drop everything, but maybe we can begin to wonder about the attachments we do have and so vigorously and mindlessly cultivate. Maybe we just become a bit more honest with ourselves, a little less willing to fool ourselves both in our dealings with ourselves and with others. Maybe we stop believing the rationalization that says, “I’m really sitting enough,” or “I don’t really need to go on retreats,” or whatever way in which we cheat ourselves out of living beyond fear-based, self-imposed limits and those things that inhibit ever deeper commitment to the path of awakening and freedom. Maybe we begin to wonder seriously why I’m just walking slowly towards the Truth of my being alive in this world instead of really running towards it full tilt like Bahiya. And maybe we can begin to wonder about just what this Truth really is, and what we are we willing to sacrifice for that Truth and when? Is Truth something to be “found” or discovered somewhere in an imagined future? Or is Truth something which happens right now? Look carefully; what is most true, most real for you right now? Are there not sensations, sounds, thoughts? Is all of this changing or unchanging? Does it come and go on its own, with or without your asking? Can you predict what will appear in the next present moment? Running headlong towards the Truth of your life may not mean going somewhere or attaining something that you think you don’t already have and need. It may be about being willing to turn directly into this very moment in this very place. It may be that what is most true is very close indeed and that the journey there happens right here and now in this moment, completely out of time.
Real practice is not about setting up some ideal of practice or the spiritual life; something to strive towards and attain in some distant future. This just creates more conflict in the mind between the so-called “ideal” and the actual and leaves us living in the future rather than learning how to live fully right here and right now. This is about doing what Bahyia did; having some willingness to honestly assess our lives and how we are living them and then to act directly and immediately on that information. This means a willingness to be attentive to our actual life as it actually unfolds in this moment. Begin to take a look and see where and when there is a gap between your understanding and how you are actually living in the light of that understanding. This practice alone can revolutionize our life.
One more aspect that I find highly impressive about the attitude that Bahiya exemplifies: that is his persistence and urgency.
He is respectful, but tenacious; gentle, but unwilling to be deflected or put off until another time. There is a clear and penetrating understanding that there is no other time but now. Nothing can be put off into the future, because the future is not only uncertain, it does not exist. Now is now and that is all that there is. Krishnamurti comes back to this repeatedly; wake up now; understand now; end fear and suffering now. Now is the only time you can do what is most important for you to do. We say we’ll do it tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes. It is always today. It is this moment when transformation and freedom will occur. It is this moment when we will live, when we will love, when we will die. It will always be a present moment just like this one.
The urgency and fire of Bahiya’s persistence is also fed by his knowledge of impermanence. We do not know what the future will hold. It is uncertain, unpredictable and we live in a body that is exquisitely fragile. A bump on the head with the right force and we are suddenly someone else. Bahiya has a clear sense that death is always close at hand and he uses this awareness with great skill in his pursuit of freedom. What is it that feeds the fire of our urgency? Death awareness practice can certainly do this. An unwelcome medical diagnosis or a close brush with death often has the effect of waking us up to the fact that the next moment is promised to no one and that we have a choice right now as to how we will live this moment. And there are other less dramatic ways that Life calls us back to the perfect completeness of the eternal present; the ringing telephone, the crying baby, holding someone we love, the golden light of late afternoon sun high up in the pines, the call of a distant crow. Life is continuously calling out to itself; we only have to listen.
So here is Bahiya and here are we. Bahiya is the ideal student. We are the actual one. Can we begin to examine how we are in pursuit of our own freedom? Begin to question the priorities regarding how we set up our day? Begin to wonder about why we are living and look at exactly how we are doing that. Can we begin to look closely at how we are really living, moment-to-moment and day-to-day? To what extent are we willing to challenge ourselves by confronting ourselves with the worthiness of the choices we make? The first question is “how do I want to live?” The second question is “How am I actually living?” Staying with that can be very useful, if humbling, practice.
So, that’s probably more than enough for tonight. Next time we’ll take a look at the Buddha’s response to Bahiya’s heartfelt request.
So we continue on with Bahiya’s meeting with the Buddha and the Buddha’s response to Bahiya’s urgent pleading to teach him how to truly enter the Great Way of freedom and happiness. Remember that although Bahiya has sought out the Buddha as a result of deep doubt and the realization that he is neither free nor practicing in a manner that will lead to freedom, he is nonetheless completely ripe to receive a teaching that will utterly transform him. He has dropped literally everything, emptied himself of everything except his completely focused urgency for awakening. The Buddha meets his simple openness with a simple and powerful response:
“Bahiya, this is how you should train yourself: Whenever you see a form, simply see; whenever you hear a sound, simply hear; whenever you taste a flavor, simply taste; whenever you feel a sensation, simply feel; whenever a thought arises, let it be simply a thought. Then “you” will not exist; whenever “you” do not exist, you will not be found in this world, another world or in between. That is the end of suffering.”
There are at least two approaches to understanding this teaching. The first is to follow closely just what the Buddha says; that this is an approach to training the mind and training one’s life; a teaching to be practiced and worked with as a process. Bahiya gets it in one deep jolt which he swallows whole, digests instantly and is fully awakened.
Most of us have to work at this as a practice for a very long time, and yet we don’t know how long Bahiya worked at his in order to come to this place, available for this encounter. And it doesn’t really matter whether we have gradual cultivation and sudden awakening, or sudden awakening followed by gradual cultivation. In fact both are not only true, together they encompass the whole of the life of practice-realization.
So the Buddha speaks to Bahiya, but he is also speaking directly to us. Each of us is Bahiya being told, “Please train yourself like this.” What does this mean and how are we to do it? First we have to understand what it means to just hear, just see, simply taste, simply feel, just sense. The key, of course, is in the word “simply” or “just.” For example, we could look at the tree outside the window. Maybe we look over and see the tree and think, “That’s an oak tree.” Or we look at the sky and wonder if it’s going to snow, and how much and will I be able to get out of here at the end of retreat. We smell the aromas coming from the kitchen and wonder about lunch and how much longer until we eat and won’t it be great to have a break. Seeing, hearing, sensing, tasting, smelling is followed quickly by the felt sense of pleasant or unpleasant which is following by thinking which often involves some form of aversion, desire or confusion and then the mind takes off with its own story about all of this. We are suddenly far away from the present moment and the substance of our real life. This is often the recipe for suffering rather than freedom and joy. This is the act of separation and not, I suspect, what the Buddha meant when using the word “just.” “Just” means what is there when there is no image, thought or memory between us and our immediate, direct experience of the content of this present moment. The Buddha is inviting us to encounter the moment-to-moment content of our life exactly as we find it, which is just like this. Our life in this moment is not necessarily how we want it to be, think it should be or imagine how it might be. It is always, just exactly the way it is. Always just this. The sensation in the back, the rustling sound of someone moving has its own life, its own quality, its own definition that is not what we think about it or imagine it to be. When there is the absence of all of the mind-stuff that conditioning, memory and experience put between the observer and what is observed; when there is just the seeing, hearing and so on without separation, then there is intimacy. There is no “you” or “me”, there is just THIS! Then, drop the “just” and drop the “This” and what do you have?
When there is no “me” and “mine,” no “you” which fractures the natural wholeness of Life then we have cut to the root in a very direct way of that which divides and separates; the inherent tendency of thinking to identify with itself and break things apart. Someone once said that the most fatal of human delusions is to believe our own thinking. So when in the hearing there is only what is heard, just complete intimacy with hearing, then there is no place for thinking to arise and if it does there is no-one to identify with it.
But please do understand that the gateway to the wonderful simplicity and wholeness of Life in this moment is through what stands before us right now. If there is fear, judgment, irritation, a fogginess in the mind… whatever is here now, it is also just THIS!
And things get really interesting when we begin to apply this to living relationships in our daily living. Sitting here in these really quite simplified conditions which are carefully constructed to limit complexity is a very different environment than getting up at 3am with a sick or frightened young child; or being criticized by a partner, or being stuck in traffic and running late for an important appointment. And yet the practice is exactly the same. How we train our selves in exactly the same. Life, wherever and however we find it, is just like this, and our work is to increasingly meet it fully and directly. Meeting fear, loneliness, grief and despair with full and complete attention. This is the work of learning to love Life as it is, rather than as I want it to be. This is a steep practice.
Now during our sitting practice, especially on retreat, this comes up for us with great frequency and can be the occasion to refine our skill in wholeheartedly attentive. For example, when we’re sitting for extended periods like this the body has lots of sensations that it produces, many of them registering as unpleasant. Rather than meeting them directly as just sensation and leaving them alone, we often allow thoughts to arise which then can become a story which can often resemble a Stephen King novel in terms of its potential to disturb us. This is the “practice” of suffering not liberation. When we do this in our daily lives when we are not held by the rules and structure of retreat practice, we typically then come up with ways to escape from these self-created mini-hells. Most of these escapes are not very helpful and usually result in their own form of suffering. Eating late at night avoids the feeling of loneliness, but may result in later self recrimination, and so on. The mind generates a story in reaction to something unpleasant, doesn’t like the story and then tries to find ways to escape from itself. And we wonder why we feel a bit off and out of focus and in conflict so much of the time!
The way of practice, the way to train ourselves, is simply by learning to be with what is, exactly as-it-is, allowing this moment to express itself fully and completely in this vast and spacious field of awareness and then to flow back from whence it came; endlessly arising and passing away, time without end; clouds coming and going through a vast and empty sky. One could say that seeing is our true and natural state. Hearing is our true and natural state. Seeing, hearing is awakening. We awake to the moment of the breath, the sound of the fan. This awakening is an active, dynamic, moving condition. When in the seeing there is only the seen, that split between self and other is gone and there is no room for suffering to arise. “We” don’t do anything, because in that timeless moment of no-thought and complete union there is “no-one” to do. There is no past, present or future because when there is just this, there is no time which is the creation of thought. You are not found in the future, the past or the present because in this place of no separation, no coming and no going, there is no “you” created by the thinking mind. The moment might hurt like hell, but there is no one there to make a problem out of it.
Now, of course, this too is not a static state but one in which “we” are always moving in and out of. Life is always calling us to wake up to “just this” because “this” is always new, unique, fresh. Life is continuously asking us if we will meet It now, in this form of anger, fear, betrayal, sorrow, joy, happiness; always presented in a slightly different expression. This is why we call this work the “practice” of awakening. We may have significant “experiences” of this where there is deep clarity and letting go which may seem momentary or which may seem to last “a long time.” A dear friend of mine says that she is becoming increasingly distrustful of “awakening” experiences, and in a way she is completely correct. Because one of the dangers in these openings is that we turn them into trophies we collect and experiences reified in memory that support the ego in ways that increase self-centeredness and the self that acquires, strives and separates. On the other hand, they are important as an indication of what is possible and they do over time deepen and enhance our capacity for freedom and love by re-defining who “we” are. The balance here is the observation of Hui-neng, the 6th ancestor of Zen in China: “As far as Buddha Nature is concerned, there is no difference between a sinner and a saint. One moment of awakening and an ordinary person is a Buddha. One moment of delusion and a Buddha is once again an ordinary person.” And so it goes.
Let me try to give you an example of how this works. I had started my drive down here yesterday and was listening to a CD by Allison Kraus. For those of you not familiar with her, she’s a wonderful singer backed up by some very talented musicians, but she can sing some really, really sad songs. So I was driving along starting to be affected by the music, feeling sadder and having some pretty sad thoughts, (which as we all know is just really helpful!) and there was a simple awareness that my body had begun to slump a bit. You know how we begin to kind of collapse into our selves physically when we are sad, and the breathing began to feel short and constricted. But in that simple awareness, without “me” doing anything at all, the breath lengthened a bit, the body expanded a bit, my vision opened up a bit and suddenly into seeing came the sight of so many trees covered with ice from the recent storm and absolutely ablaze with the reflected sunlight. Through all of this there was no thinking. There was just sensing, just seeing and in that timeless moment the mind was completely awake and suddenly out of intimacy with sadness and into complete intimacy with the next THIS. It didn’t last long, I suppose, but mind and body were in a different condition as a result, and I decided to turn off Allison and just drive for awhile. Note that the dharma gate for this was the awareness of sadness and the simple meeting of it with no attempt to make it different in any way. Also note that there is nothing particularly extraordinary about any of this. It is just about attention to the ordinary mind states, feeling, sensing, seeing that make up what we call living. We don’t have to go looking somewhere else for this. We just have to begin to appreciate the fact that we have all we need right here and now for waking up and being free.
This takes us to another way to understand the Buddha’s teaching to Bahiya and to us and it is as an invitation to spacious and choiceless awareness. We can practice with each of the sense doors, we can work with the hindrances and so on in this direct, simple and intimate way, and we can also open up everything at once. See, hear, sense, touch, taste; everything happening all at once with no discrimination, preference or choice. Every sense door completely open, welcoming, receptive, alert, completely alive. So that listening is with the whole body/mind; every pore of our skin, every hair on the body, one whole receptive, alive field of listening. In this there is no “who”, is there? No “me” listening, is there? Check it out for yourself. It may be a little slippery to catch, because when “you” are only hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, smelling; there may not be anyone there to record or reflect on the experience; no “you” there! See what happens when you notice there is separation from what is; when the mind is wanting this to be some other way than just how it is. What happens in that moment of just seeing separation? What happens when you’ve traveled down the mind road and there is a sudden seeing of that? Was there a “you” in that moment of awareness? What if seeing is awakening? What is hearing is awakening? What if it is just as simple and as obvious as that? Then you might wonder what you are doing here on this retreat! What happens if there is just awareness of that thought? This is the practice of awakening, but it might be more accurate to say that it is really awakening which is practicing us!
In any case, we have a wonderful opportunity during the rest of this retreat to continue this ongoing practice of awakening and self-knowing. Being called back to our true self, to simple awareness, by sound, sight, smell, touch, mood, sensation, by the fresh unique call of each moment of our life as it unfolds in what ever way it does. When “you” are not there, then the call and response are happening in complete harmony and with complete ease. And when there is struggle, conflict or suffering then that too is happening and can also be known simply as, just this. Nothing excluded; a place at the table for each of these many beings which show up. Fear sits beside hope which sits beside sadness which sits across from joy which is next to anger which is next to love and so on. They come, hang around for as long as they do and are then back on their way, if “we” are not there to block their journey. When there is just this, then the host of awareness and the guest of whatever is visiting are in complete harmony.
What the Buddha taught to Bahiya of the Bark Garment.
By Bhikkhu T. Seelananda
Bahiya was a Master lived in 6th Century B. C. in India. He had many followers and highly honoured ,esteemed and worshipped by the many. He lived at the Place called Supparaka on the West coast of India. (At present it is the Sopara in the Thana district, just North of Bombay). According to the Chronicle Mahavamsa Supparaka was the place where Prince Vijaya landed before he embarked again and landed Lanka (see.P.54.Geiger Trans).
Once the Master Bahiya got plenty of robes, alms-food, beds and seats, comforts and medicines from his followers. Having received all these a thought arose in him, as followers.” I wonder whether I am one of those who are Arahants in the world or have attained the Arahants’ Path.” Then a certain deity who was formerly a blood relation of Bahiya, out of compassion and desire for his welfare, knowing Bahiya’s mental desire, approached him and said” Bahiaya neither are you Arahant nor have you reached the Arahants’ Path. Yours is not that course by which you could be an Arahant or reach the Arahants’ Path.” Then Bahiya asked ” Who in the world with its devas are Arahants or have reached the Arahants’Path?”
Replying, the deity stated thus” There is a town in the far–off district named Savatthi . There now dwells the Buddha who is Arahanat, a rightly awakened One. He indeed ,Bahiya is Arahanat and teaches Dhamma for reaching Arahants’ Path.” Being stirred by that deity, Bahiya left Supparaka on the same day and the following day approached Savatthi in order to meet the Buddha. He went to the Jeta’s Grove to see the Buddha .On this occasion a great number of monks were walking about in the open air. Then he went up to them and asked whether he could meet the Buddha. ” The Buddha, Bahiya, has gone among the houses in quest of alms-food. ” they said. Thereupon Bahiya turned about hastily and entered the route seeking the assistance of the Buddha.
Seeing the Buddha, senses calmed, tranquil of mind, in full attainment of composure by masterly control, tamed, alert, like a perfectly trained elephant, going from house to house for his alms, Bahiya went up to him and fell with his head at the feet of the Buddha and said ” Sir ,let the Buddha teach me the Dhamma !,Let the Buddha teach me the Dhamma such as may be to my profit and happiness for a long time !” On hearing his words the Buddha said ” You come unseasonably , Bahiya. We have entered in quest of alms-food” But Bahiya repeatedly asked thrice the Buddha to teach him the Dhamma on the way. He further said ” Sir ,this thing is hard to know, the danger to the span of the life of the Buddha and myself. Therefore let the Buddha teach me the Dhamma! Let the Well-farer teach me the Dhamma such as may be to my profit and happiness for a long time !”.
Then, addressing Bahiya on the way to his alms, the Buddha said in brief” Bahiya, thus must you train yourself: “In the seen there will be just the seen, in the heard there will be just the heard, in the imagined just the imagined, in the cognized just the cognized”(Ditthe ditthamattam sute sutamattam mute muta mattam vinnate vinnata mattam). After listening to this concise teaching of the Buddha attentively and vigilantly, Bahiya ,by not clinging ,not grasping to any, released his mind from defilements.
Then the Buddha continued his alms-round . But, not long after the departure of the Buddha, a young calf attacked Bahiya and caused his death. Later on the Buddha came to know this and he asked the monks to take up his body ,burn it and pile a cairn thereon. They did so and when the Buddha was asked about Bahiya’s bourn, his future destiny, by the monks, the Buddha said” A sage monks, was Bahiya of the Bark Garment. He went in accordance with the Dhamma and he has won utter freedom.”
This lesson of the Dhamma taught by the Buddha to Bahiya is very significant to all of us. Today most of our people do not think of life and its brevity. They attach to things and say “this is mine”, “that is mine” or tenaciously grasp and say “I” “my” and so on. They never try to give others or give up things even after their sixties and seventies. We must not forget that the Buddha gave this admonition on the way to his alms. It is very brief and comprehensive. What he said was to be vigilant and mindful enough to understand things as they are. He advised “Ditthe ditthamattam”. That is to see things as they are but not as they appear to be. “Sute suta mattam” That is to hear things as they are but not as they appear to be and so on. When one sees things as they are one does not want to cling to it or take it as if it were his or her own .
Things are there in the world not to grasp as ours or mine but to use them in wise manner for our survival and the co-existence. If we grasp things in the world as ours or mine, then certainly, we fall into suffer because whatever thing we grasp to is in the nature of changing. Things are ever-changing. If we are wise enough to understand this properly, we are then free from grasping, becoming, birth, decay, death, lamentation, weeping etc.
Usually when we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, or cognize things through our six senses what happen is that there arises the false notion of “I”. Once this idea of “I” has arisen, it inevitably follows the idea “I am such-and-such”. For instance, “I am a doctor” , “I am a good typist” or “I am a good journalist “or such thing of the sort. When this idea of “I am such-and such” has arisen ,there follows the idea of comparison:” I am better than so-and-so” “I am not as good as so and-so” “I am equal to so-and-so” like that. All these ideas are part of the false notion “I am”. When no such idea arises ,there is no birth, and this freedom from birth is a state of coolness (sitibhuta).
If we engage in some practise of the Dhamma in our daily life, we can develop our mind, little by little, so that the idea of “I” “mine” cannot arise. Mindfulness is the most important thing to be practised to understand all these. Therefore let us strive to understand this concise teaching of the Buddha which he taught to Bahiya and practise it in our daily life. Let us practise the Dhamma, while we are in the bus ,in the office, kitchen, on road or at home.
An arahant. He was born in the family of a householder of Bāhiya (Ap.ii.476 says he was born in Bhārukaccha) – hence his name – and engaged himself in trade, voyaging in a ship. Seven times he sailed down the Indus and across the sea and returned safely home. On the eighth occasion, while on his way to Suvannabhūmi, his ship was wrecked, and he floated ashore on a plank, reaching land near Suppāraka. Having lost all his clothes, he made himself a bark garment, and went about, bowl in hand, for alms in Suppāraka. Men, seeing his garment and struck with his demeanour, paid him great honour. Though they offered him costly robes and many other luxuries, he refused them all and his fame increased. Because of his bark garment he was known as Dārucīriya. In due course he came himself to believe that he had attained arahantship, but a devatā (a Suddhāvāsa-brahmā, who had been his fellow celibate in the time of Kassapa Buddha, says the Commentary, see below and also MA.i.340), reading his thoughts and wishing him well, pointed out to him his error and advised him to seek the Buddha at Sāvatthi. By the power of the devatā, Bāhiya reached Sāvatthi in one night, a distance of one hundred and twenty leagues, and was told that the Buddha was in the city begging alms. Bāhiya followed him thither and begged to be taught something for his salvation. Twice he asked and twice the Buddha refused, saying that it was not the hour for teaching. But Bāhiya insisted, saying that life was uncertain and that the Buddha or he might die.
The Commentaries say that Bāhiya was excited by his meeting with the Buddha and that the Buddha wished to give him time to regain his calm, hence his refusal. The Buddha knew of his impending death and of his upanissaya for arahantship. He was a pacchimabhavika.
The Buddha then taught him the proper method of regarding all sense experiences – namely, as experiences and no more. Even as he listened, Bāhiya became an arahant and the Buddha left him. Shortly after, Bāhiya was gored to death by a cow with calf (cp. the story of Pukkusāti). The Buddha, seeing his body lying on the dung heap, asked the monks to remove it and to have it burnt, erecting a thūpa over the remains. In the assembly he declared Bāhiya to be foremost among those who instantly comprehended the Truth (khippābhiññānam) (A.i.24; Ud.i.10).
Bāhiya’s resolve to attain to this eminence was made in the time of Padumuttara Buddha when he heard the Buddha declare a monk foremost in instantaneous comprehension. In the time of Kassapa Buddha, when the Buddha’s teachings were fading from the minds of men, Bāhiya was one of seven monks who climbed a rock, determined not to leave it until they had attained their goal. Their leader became an arahant and the second an anāgāmī – passing into the Suddhāvāsa world; the rest were reborn in this age as Pukkusāti, Kumāra Kassapa, Dabba-Mallaputta, Sabhiya and Bāhiya. Although Bāhiya had kept the precepts in previous births, he had never given a bowl or a robe to a monk. For this reason the Buddha did not, at the end of his sermon, ordain him by the “ehi bhikkhu pabbajā.” The Buddha knew that Bāhiya had not sufficient merit to obtain divine robes. Some say that he was once a brigand and had shot a Pacceka Buddha with an arrow and had taken possession of the Pacceka Buddha’s begging bowl and robe.
Bāhiya met his death while searching for a robe in which to be ordained (UdA.77ff.; AA.i.156ff.; DhA.ii.209ff.; Ap.ii.475ff). The cow, which killed Bāhiya was identical with the one which killed Pukkusāti, Tambadāthika and Suppabuddha (for her story see DhA.ii.35f).