Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

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The Teachings of the Buddha: The Bringer of Light and The Search for Enlightenment

by Bhikkhu Bodhi
October 3, 2013
Thu, 10/03/2013 - 10:30 -- bbodhi

Today’s selection fills in the gaps of Tuesday’s narrative with a detailed account of the bodhisatta’s practice of self-mortification, strangely missing from the previous discourse. This text also gives us the classic description of the enlightenment experience as involving the attainment of the four jhānas, states of deep meditation, followed by the three vijjās or higher types of knowledge: the knowledge of the recollection of past lives, the knowledge of the passing away and rebirth of beings, and the knowledge of the destruction of the taints.

“Bhikkhus, before my enlightenment, while I was still only an unenlightened Bodhisatta, I too, being myself subject to birth, sought what was also subject to birth; being myself subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, I sought what was also subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement. Then I considered thus: ‘Why, being myself subject to birth, do I seek what is also subject to birth? Why, being myself subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, do I seek what is also subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement? Suppose that, being myself subject to birth, having understood the danger in what is subject to birth, I seek the unborn supreme security from bondage, Nibbāna. Suppose that, being myself subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, having understood the danger in what is subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, I seek the unageing, unailing, deathless, sorrowless, and undefiled supreme security from bondage, Nibbāna.’

 “Later, while still young, a black-haired young man endowed with the blessing of youth, in the prime of life, though my mother and father wished otherwise and wept with tearful faces, I shaved off my hair and beard, put on the yellow robe, and went forth from the home life into homelessness.

“Having gone forth, bhikkhus, in search of what is wholesome, seeking the supreme state of sublime peace, I went to Āḷāra Kālāma and said to him: ‘Friend Kālāma, I want to lead the holy life in this Dhamma and Discipline.’ Āḷāra Kālāma replied: ‘The venerable one may stay here. This Dhamma is such that a wise man [164] can soon enter upon and abide in it, realising for himself through direct knowledge his own teacher’s doctrine.’ I soon quickly learned that Dhamma. As far as mere lip-reciting and rehearsal of his teaching went, I could speak with knowledge and assurance, and I claimed, ‘I know and see’—and there were others who did likewise.

“I considered: ‘It is not through mere faith alone that Āḷāra Kālāma declares: “By realising for myself with direct knowledge, I enter upon and abide in this Dhamma.” Certainly Āḷāra Kālāma abides knowing and seeing this Dhamma.’ Then I went to Āḷāra Kālāma and asked him: ‘Friend Kālāma, in what way do you declare that by realising for yourself with direct knowledge you enter upon and abide in this Dhamma?’ In reply he declared the base of nothingness.

“I considered: ‘Not only Āḷāra Kālāma has faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. I too have faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. Suppose I endeavour to realise the Dhamma that Āḷāra Kālāma declares he enters upon and abides in by realising for himself with direct knowledge?’

From ML 26: Ariyapariyesana Sutta

To continue reading this sutta, click here.

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