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Buddhadharma : Summer 2014
56 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SUMMER 2 0 1 4 tried to put Bahiya off saying that this was not the right time as they were on alms round. Bahiya pleaded his case a third time. This time the Buddha relented and said, “Well then Bahiya, you should train yourself like this: when- ever 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 sensa- tion, simply feel; whenever a thought arises, let it be just 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.” Upon hearing this brief explanation from the Buddha, Bahiya was immediately released from all forms of suffering generated by cling- ing, desire, 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 Bahi- ya’s torn and broken body. He instructed his monks to take the body away for cremation and to build him a memorial, saying, “Your compan- ion in the holy life has died.” After carrying out the Buddha’s instructions, the monks returned to join him. One asked, “Bahiya’s body has been cremated and the memorial built. What is the destination of 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 is totally unbound and free.” The Buddha then proclaimed: Where water, earth, fire, and 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 directly, Then from form and formless, From bliss and pain, Are they freed. —from Udana, 1.10, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Published by Access to Insight, 1994 DOUGLAS PHILLIPS is the founder and guiding teacher of Empty Sky Sangha in West Cornwall, Connecticut, and Lexington, Massachusetts, where he teaches both Zen and Vipassana. He is also a clinical psychologist in private practice. The Bahiya Sutta stands out among the Pali suttas, inspiring us 2,500 years later with this dramatic encounter between a student of the Way and the Buddha. It speaks directly to contemplative practice, offering a clear and powerful summation of the Buddha’s teachings on awareness and freedom. When we first meet Bahiya, he is already a well-known and accomplished teacher with many students who take care of him. Today he might be the director of a Buddhist center or may have written a book or two; he might even be regularly published in a journal such as this one. This alone makes Bahiya neither unique nor inspirational; neither does the powerful doubt that will drive him on his quest. Bahiya is struck by what we refer to in Zen practice as “great doubt.” It’s not just that he questions the depth of his understanding, the direction of his prac- tice, or the degree of his liberation, but that he allows this self-questioning, this doubt, to stay around a bit. He doesn’t try to get rid of it by going more deeply into samadhi, nor does he defensively dismiss it. Like the breath or a koan, Bahiya keeps company with his doubt, sincerely taking the role of host to this troublesome guest. This willingness to stay present and open makes possible the visitation of another voice, that of the devata, a spirit-being that may be seen as an embodiment of a feminine wisdom that Bahiya has become cut off from internally. She challenges him with an almost brutal directness, confirming Bahiya’s suspicions about his level of attainment by telling him that despite his many years of hard practice and admiring students, he is not even a beginner on the path. She tells him bluntly that his practice is worthless and his so- called spiritual attainments are a sham. This is not something that happens only in ancient teaching stories. Sooner or later it hap- pens to many of us, and it can be devastating. Maybe we have been practicing with real devo- tion—sitting regularly, doing lots of retreats, tak- ing good care of our bodies, and practicing right livelihood. Or maybe we are just doing a mini- mal maintenance practice, fooling ourselves that it is something more. Whatever our situation, sooner or later a challenge comes along that pre- cipitates real doubt about the worth of our doing this work at all. We lose a job, fall into depres- sion, lose an important relationship, or have health problems, and we find ourselves flailing MEGANPHILLIPS