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Buddhadharma : Fall 2006
fall 2006| 44 |buddhadharma to survive by floating ashore on a plank of wood. Having lost all his clothes, he made temporary garments out of bark and went begging for food in the town of Supparaka. The townspeople were impressed with his appearance and offered him food, respect, and even a costly set of clothes. When Bahiya refused the new clothes, the people esteemed him even more. Bahiya had gained a comfortable living and so did not return to sea. The people regarded Bahiya as an arahant. Soon, Bahiya thought he was an arahant too! At that point, a deva discerned the wrong thought of Bahiya and, out of compassion, repri- manded him. That deva was none other than his former fellow monk who had become an anagami. The anagama-deva informed Bahiya about a true arahant, the Buddha, living at that time on the other side of India, at Savatthi. Bahiya immediately left Supparaka (present day Sopara, just north of Mumbai) and reached Savatthi in only one night. Bahiya met the Buddha while he was on alms round and asked for a teaching. The Buddha at first refused, for it was an inappropriate time. But on being asked a third time, the Buddha inter- rupted his alms gathering and gave the famous teaching presented above. Within seconds of hear- ing that dhamma, Bahiya was fully enlightened. A few minutes later, the arahant Bahiya was killed by a cow with calf. So, Bahiya’s background was exceptional. He had been a monk under the previous Buddha, Kas- sapa. His powers of determination were so strong that he went to meditate on the mountain with the resolve to become enlightened or die. In this life, he could hear devas speak to him and he could travel more than halfway across India, some 1,300 kilometers, as the levitator flies, in only one night. If you had such a background from your previ- ous life, and had such psychic powers already in this life, then perhaps you, too, would have been enlightened when you read Bahiya’s teaching a few minutes ago! It is usually the case that one requires very deep samadhi – jhanas – to achieve such psychic powers. Certainly Bahiya would have had a predisposition for meditation, taking into account his previous life. Also, both the psychic power of the “divine ear” that enabled him to hear the deva, and the other psychic power that enabled him to travel so fast, suggest that he was practicing jhana before he heard the deva. Perhaps this was another rea- son why he considered himself an arahant. But there is more evidence to suggest that Bahiya had already been practicing jhanas, though it was not mentioned in the texts. Few people are aware that the very same teach- ing, which here I call Bahiya’s teaching, was also given by the Buddha to the old monk Malunkya- putta (Samyutta Nikaya 35.95). Malunkyaputta appears several times in the suttas. In particular, in sutta 64 of the Majjhima Nikaya (MN), occurring certainly before the occasion when Malunkyaputta was given Bahiya’s teaching, the Buddha first dis- parages Malunkyaputta for his wrong view and then teaches the necessity of attaining at least one of the jhanas in order to destroy the five lower fet- ters 2 (and thereby attain the level just below full enlightenment called non-returning). The Buddha said in front of Venerable Malunkyaputta that it was impossible to achieve non-returning (let alone full enlightenment) without a jhana, just as it was impossible to reach the heartwood of a tree with- out first going through its bark and sapwood. Think about it. So, Venerable Malunkyaputta was first taught the necessity of jhana, and then later he was given Bahiya’s teaching. After hearing Bahiya’s teaching, “dwelling alone, withdrawn, diligent, ardent, and resolute,” Malunkyaputta soon became an ara- hant. It is therefore certain that Malunkyaputta achieved jhana before Bahiya’s teaching could be effective, or else the Buddha would be blatantly inconsistent. It also adds weight to the inference that Bahiya also had experience of jhana before he heard the same teaching – otherwise he would have reached the heartwood of the tree without going through its bark and sapwood! Distorting the View So what did Bahiya and Venerable Malunkyaputta see in the Buddha’s words that generated the ara- hant experience? What is the meaning of “in the seen will merely be what is seen”? It means to see without any distortion of the data, without adding or subtracting from it. As modern psychology knows, what comes to our attention as “the seen” has already been sifted and distorted by our desires and aversions. This process of distortion occurs prior to the event of cognition. It is impossible to see this process as it occurs. It is subconscious. We can only infer its occurrence: we discover that our preferences have embellished the data in order to present to our mind what we want to see, while hostility has denied any access to the mind those features that we don’t want to see. What we see is rarely merely the seen. That which we see with so-called bare attention, not based on That which we see with so-called bare attention, not based on jhana, is seldom the truth. It is not the way things are; it is only the way things seem. 2 The ten fetters: 1. Personality belief 2. Skeptical doubt 3. Belief in purification by the external observance of rites and rituals 4. Sensual desire 5. Ill will 6. Craving for fine material existence 7. Craving for nonmaterial existence 8. Conceit 9. Restlessness 10. Ignorance