Wisdom acquired through countess eons of indulgence in the ten perfections (parami) endowed the Supremely Enlightened Being with the extraordinary faculty of identifying with absolute precision the mental state of all creatures celestial, human or other at any given time in the past, present or future.
This prowess, combined with all-pervading compassion for humanity made Him the unique individual He was, with an infallible capacity to adopt the perfect strategy to plod man towards the sorrowless sphere.
- ‘Practice (meditation) generates, and non-practice debilitates wisdom
- He was there referring to the thirty eight objects of meditation
On this score, the case of the scholar monk Pothila stands apart. As a monk in the dispensations of seven Buddhas from Vipassi Buddha downwards, he taught Tripitaka to five hundred monks at any given time. The Blessed One thought, this bhikkhu is of no mind to escape the endless journey of woe. Then he thought whether he must instill some fear in him? The plot employed was marvelous. Whenever the monk arrives to pay homage to the Blessed one, he would pronounce, “Come here empty Pothila, worship empty Pothila, sit sown empty Pothila, you may now go empty Pothila”. When he left Buddha would declares, “Empty Pothila is gone”.
The bhikkhu told himself, “Here I am, the absolute master of Tripitaka and the commentaries, imparting the profound Teaching to all others, instructing 500 monks at any point of time, yet Buddha continuously addresses me as ‘empty Pothila’. May be because I don’t possess any Jnana (Wisdom)”. Much shaken, after taking his class one morning, he headed towards a forest hermitage which was one hundred yojuns (a term used to calculate distance) away taking with him his bowl and robes. All thirty inmates in the hermitage were Arahants. He pleaded with the ‘Sangha Thera’ to help him. “Friend, what are you saying? Thoroughly versed in the three chapters, an erudite preacher, we ought to learn a thing or two from you”. “ Venerable Sir, please do not say so” he begged. Having seen through his pride, the Maha Thera directed him to the Deputy Monk who in turn sent him down to the next until he finally ended up with the last of them; a seven year old Samanera Arahant. Pride now shattered, he clasped his hands towards the child monk and appealed that he be rescued. The response he received was the same as that of the Chief Monk. After much persuasion the Samanera agreed, but on condition that he was willing to be obedient to him. The bhikkhu said he would jump into a fire if ordered.
Having seen through his pride, the Maha Thera directed him to the Deputy Monk who in turn sent him down to the next until he finally ended up with the last of them; a seven year old Samanera Arahant
Noting the expensive robe, the samanera told him to get in the pond nearby. Immediately he stepped into it and the moment the robe touched the water he was told to come out. He did as he was told and stood in front of the seven-year-old who used a fine parable. “A lizard entered a snakes’ clay den through one of the six holes in it. A man desirous of getting the lizard closed the other five holes and got hold of it from the sixth through which it entered. So you should shut the five sense doors and keep vigil on the sixth, the mind” said the Samanera monk. To the scholar what he heard was the equivalent to a lamp being lit. “Noble one, that would do” said he and placed his concentration on the thirty two impurities, the sublime practice of the Great Sages.
In order to assist the eminently wise monk who had come from a hundred yojuns away, the Blessed One said a short stanza.
‘Practice (meditation) generates, and non-practice debilitates wisdom. Having understood the above, one places oneself on that path as wide as the earth itself”. He was there referring to the thirty eight objects of meditation. The homily suffices for the bhikkhu to attain Arahanthood.
A similar ploy was adopted on none other than Bhikkhu Upasena, younger brother of the first chief disciple Arahant Sariputta. An year after receiving higher ordination, he accepted a novice to be under his wing with the intention of increasing the numbers in the Bhikkhu Order. When he was two years into higher ordination and the novice just one, he decided to visit Gautama Buddha with the intention of pleasing him with his deed. Questioned by the Blessed one, he divulged the respective durations of their monkhoods. When he confessed that the other was his pupil The Enlightened One was forthright in His rebuke of the monk’s presumptuousness .
“An empty man, steeped in naivety pretending to be great” he had said. Thus shamed, he vowed to some day elicit exultations from the same face with a moon-like glow on account of the very numbers he would bring under the fold. That very day he sat down in insight meditation in earnest, attaining Arahanthood in no time. Many were young men eager to become his pupils considering his noble family lineage and the ability to preach Dhamma that made the earth tremble. The great Arahant then informed the would be novices that he is a strict hermitage dweller so only those willing to dwell on the harsh ascetic practices could join him. He was himself a devout follower of all thirteen of the sacred rules of asceticism.
Ten years on, with a congregation of five hundred pupils, each an ascetic and a recipient of higher ordination, he went to pay homage to Gautama Buddha at Savaththi. To raise a dialogue Gautama Buddha asked one of the young monks whether he fancied his garb, a robe presented as an offering during pansakula ( A ritual performed at a funeral during which monks are present). The monk replied that he did not, but with deference to his teacher he was wearing it. Buddha exclaimed, “ Sadhu, sadhu Upasena” and heaped praise upon the Arahant. On a later day He pronounced that Bhikkha Upasena was foremost among the disciples for being able to repose others’ faith in the Discipline. The monk was presented with the title ‘Samantha Pasadika’.
The Sutta Pitaka resonates endlessly with the vibrant majesty of Gautama Buddha’s fertile mind that at times makes use of the subtlest of guises to assist the disciple to reach the supreme goal. Once Arahant Upali apprised the Blessed One that he wished to take up residence in a jungle monastery. Gautama Buddha merely drew a simile. An elephant entered a large pond, drank water and made the water splash. A hare wanting to follow suit jumped into the pond. It either drowned or floated in the water. “So Upali”, said Buddha “You remain here with me, partake of alms offered by the faithful and accept robes given by them.” Later he was to be bearer of the immense code of discipline for monks; the ‘Vinaya’. He later declared that this was his abode. It was his samsaric wish.
The depth of a Buddha’s wisdom is unimaginable. The unique ability to fathom another’s psyche (indriyaparopariyaththa gnana) rests solely with him. Once, seven hundred Bhikkhus having received meditation topics returned to inform Gautama Buddha of their final liberation from worldly shackles, whereas in reality their defilement had only been suppressed by achievement of gnanas (absorption). Gautama Buddha informed Ven. Ananda Thero that there was no purpose in their meeting him and instead instructed Ananda Thero to direct them to the charnel ground. Dejected they were with the revulsive sight of two to three day old corpses and attracted by the ones just brought in. Projecting an image of Himself before them He pronounced “Monks, it is improper. Seeing a body of skin, bone and sinew, it is improper of you to develop lustful thoughts.” All seven hundred of them attained Arahanthood and venerated the Blessed One at Jetawanarama.
Scholastic achievements and academic excellence are not the criteria that govern one’s capacity to comprehend Buddha’s radical insights into human nature. Numberless were those who tilled the fields, herded cattle and tended the kitchen fires that grasped the deep philosophy the instant it fell in the ear. The plots Gautama Buddha employed for the purpose were unique as in the case of Kisagothami. She was running from house to house deranged in mind, seeking medicine to revive her dead child straddled on her hip, when a kind man directed her to Jetawanaramaya where Gautama Buddha was seated on the pulpit ready to begin a sermon. She did as was told and sought medicine from the Blessed One.
Observing the latent merit in her, He said, “Gothami, you have come to the right place. Go into the city and bring some mustard from a house where no one has died”. She left, but did not go far, threw the corpse into a cemetery and went back to where Buddha was. “Gothami, did you get the mustard?” “Lord, the work with mustard is over. Please do help me”. She was the Arahant Bhikkuni known for the most coarse of robes worn by anyone in the Bhikkhuni order, again in accordance with a prayer made before Piyamathura Buddha a hundred thousand kalpas before.
Nanda, a Sakyan princess, hopelessly infatuated with her own beauty avoided seeing Buddha because He always spoke disparagingly of superficial appearance. One day however she could not avoid visiting Him with a crowd, but hid herself from Gautama Buddha’s view. Having created a life like image of a celestial nymph fanning him from behind and visible only to her, The Enlightened One made the heavenly one gradually grow old, decay, wallow in her own filth and perish. Transfixed by the horrible sight, it did not take long for her to realize the stark nature of things, where upon Gautama Buddha uttered a verse which transmitted her to that state of irreversible iridescence.
Gautama Buddha’s wisdom in all its colorful glory makes the canon the most readable material in the world.