hy respect the Bhikkhu? He symbolizes the most subtle, most refined doctrine ever disclosed to man. He is the shining beacon that beckons mankind towards the solitary path of escape from illusory happiness of a shackled existence to a timeless plane of supra-mundane freedom. He represents the stupendous discovery of the unfathomable speed of flux of minuscule particles many million parts of an atom that form all things animate and seemingly inanimate where they cease to be static physical matter, but flowing tides of kinetic energy. He signifies the discovery of an unbelievably swift mental process seventeen times quicker than above. He upholds a lifestyle of incredulous humility and near impossible frugality and patience. He is worthy of being worshipped with both hands placed on one’s forehead (anjalikaraneiya). He is worthy of being offered the most munificent offerings known to man (dakshineiya). Leave him aside, the discarded, soiled robe that once protected him from the elements verily behoves veneration as the hallowed emblem of the rishis. Understandably, an affront on a bhikkhu entails ten grave repercussions. Certain mitigatory factors that militate in favour of the offender in mundane jurisdictions have no application here.
It is also in this context that certain aspects of the present day laity –clergy relationship have to be viewed. It hurts the disciple deeply to see the bhikkhu being trifled with by the layman, being treated as one of his own kind. The yellow robe that nurtured the unique culture of this island nation has to be respected and revered at all times. One is jarred on a daily basis, as a matter of course to witness the ugly spectacle of laymen seated with monks next to each other at gatherings and meetings with total nonchalance. The monks themselves seem not to mind, making the situation an absolute faux pas. Respect for the robe is to be earned by its bearer, acknowledged by the beholder. That alone remains the way to ensure the great doctrine will run its full course on the land.
Around 230 years after Buddha’s demise, seven year old Nigrodha Samanera attained supreme enlightenment when his head was being shaved for ordination, a rare karmic marvel. Mighty Emperor Asoka was so impressed by the samanera’s demeanour while walking past the palace one day that he decided to invite him in.
Upon entering the palace he walked up to the throne and stood beside it, for two reasons. First to indicate his rightful place in the palace, a birthright. Second, to pre-empt the emperor from occupying it in the presence of a liberated arahant of the world and thereby accumulating enormous demerit. The wise monarch grasped the message conveyed and helped the little samanera to the throne from where he delivered a sermon that was to kindle the most remarkable transformation of a nation the world would encounter in recorded history. This blessed isle is rightful heir to the marvellous heritage which resonates with endless spiritual wonder. The great commentary Attakatha endorses there isn’t a single hamlet in the entire “Sihala Dweepa” where a bhikkhu has not partaken of alms offered by a devotee and attained enlightenment.Still another disturbing scenario one comes across frequently today is that of monks high in the order jostling in the crowd to stand shoulder to shoulder with the highest in the land. It brings to mind another poignant incident the scripture records. Chaththapani the Anagami lay follower whilst in conversation with Buddha, refused to rise from his seat when Great King Kosala called upon the Blessed One. An ariya sravaka would respect the king, but he worships the Buddha; no force on earth will change that stand. As expected, the king was much offended, but Buddha who read his mind started recounting the virtues of the upasaka, which naturally diffused the king’s anger. A later meeting between the two established the king’s unwavering devotion to the lay disciple.
"One occasionally witnesses certain monks fumbling with pirith thread on females’ wrists. Sadly, Buddha’s last utterance from His deathbed in response to a question from Ven. Ananda as to the bhikkhu’s correct approach towards womenfolk in general, seem to be lost on them"
Yet again, one occasionally witnesses certain monks fumbling with pirith thread on females’ wrists. Sadly, Buddha’s last utterance from His deathbed in response to a question from Ven. Ananda as to the bhikkhu’s correct approach towards womenfolk in general, seem to be lost on them. Imagine Ven. Udai tying a pirith thread on the brahmin lady! A bhikkhu - tying a pirith thread isn’t a sine qua non for the female lay disciple to reach higher states of mental development. On the contrary, the act of tying it could eventually lead to the loss of whatever spiritual development already achieved by one of them or by both. Buddhist literature mentions similar instances of impropriety which led to unforeseen calamities. Unrecorded episodes are countless. In fact it is not the accepted custom for a monk to purposely touch even another male, unless on an occasion where the latter comes in the way of physical harm, for example. On the other hand, the noblest of monks wouldn’t think twice of foregoing their lives for the sake of another being. Worldly concepts of love and endearment are alien to the Buddhist monk, compassion is his by-word. Buddha’s compassion towards beings defied description.
Once more, the disciple is thrown into total confusion when at times he sees the second robe resting on a monk’s left shoulder many shades lighter than the other. The sanctified attire prescribed by the Exalted One wasn’t meant to be in a combination of matching colours, but the three robes in dusty rust. Above are a few of the incongruities that a layman observes at random today, which make him feel that something is terribly amiss.
Finally on the question of enacting legislation to regularize the Bhikkhu Order, wiser counsel would dictate that bhikkhu ethics is best left in the hands of the bhikkhus themselves. A layman is woefully inadequate to assume the role of disciplinarian over the sacrosanct Theravada entity whose quintessential ethos is clearly beyond the narrow realm of the mundane intellect. Its latent force within the confines of rigorous Vinaya rules is of enormous potent.
Verahachchani Sutta in Sangyutta Nikaya cited earlier is small in volume, large in context. The message it conveys reverberates through centuries, across continents. It upholds a credo close to the heart of every Buddhist who admires the great philosophy. It supplicates in absolute earnest from both sides of the divide that the sanctified lesson Ven. Udai taught the lady that day be venerated like the brahmin the sacred fire. The noble institution is to be protected as Ven. Udai did from degradation and abuse from within and from derogation and ridicule without, so it remains an unsurpassed source of inspiration for generations to come. The unique identity of the saffron robe is to be admired both by its user and beholder. Its mere sight in adulatory respect begets enormous merit as pronounced by the Blessed One. The ultimate dictum on its sanctity came from the Blessed One Himself.
" Respect for the robe is to be earned by its bearer, acknowledged by the beholder. That alone remains the way to ensure the great doctrine will run its full course on the land"
“The day I gathered this robe worn by the slave-maid Punna abandoned in the burial ground after removing a handful of worms that lay on it, ten thousand world systems trembled and shook with sounds of thunder. Winds swept across the skies. Celestial beings rejoiced in unison. One who bears this robe has to be ‘pansakulika’ by birth, a hermitage dweller by birth, user of a single seat by birth, seeker of alms by birth. Kassapa, you are entitled to bear it”. Incomparable Third Chief Disciple of the Order, samsaric claimant to the full thirteen ascetic practices of the dispensation, follower of the discipline to the letter, did it proud.
Have the likes of Ven. Udai disappeared from the face of the earth forever, or at least is a vestige of theirs still to be found somewhere? We need not lose hope just yet, the pious and the erudite are still out there in the hermitages and temples, For instance, a particular chief bhikkhu of a chain of meditation monasteries quotes the entire Tripitaka from memory, a living legend of the 21st century.
Thus, Sangyuttanikayattakatha of the arahants observed knowingly, “One who probes, explores the sagely truth will find his own leader who will guide him towards the path”.