A story of an uncle and nephew

by Kingsley Heendeniya
Kolita and Upatissa, senior disciples of the ascetic Sanjay, were devoted friends seeking the Deathless. They had a pact that whoever reached it first would inform the other. One day, at Rajagaha, Kolita saw venerable Assaji, a novitiate, on his alms round, and impressed by his sedate deportment, he went to meet him after his meal. ‘Friend, your faculties are serene, the colour of your skin is clear and bright. Who is your Teacher? Whose Dhamma do you follow?’ asked Kolita. Venerable Assaji said his teacher was the son of the Sakyans, the Great Monk but as he was a recent disciple, he did not know very much. Yet Kolita requested for even a sketch of the teaching. And then Assaji said, ‘The Perfect One has told the cause of casually arisen things and what brings their cessation too.’

Though these words might appear diffidently spoken, they were in fact an accurate precis of the Dhamma, to be understood by the wise; and their effect on the gifted ascetic Kolita was immediate. He instantly penetrated to the meaning of ‘vayadhamma sankhara’ - all that is subject to arising is subject to cessation and became, there and then, a sotapanna or stream-entrant. So, with his friend Upatissa, they hastened to meet The Great Monk that same evening. The Buddha saw them walking together in the distance and announced, ‘These two are an auspicious pair. They will be my chief disciples, Sariputta and Moggallana.’

This was a time when droves of Magadhan clansmen were leaving their homes and going into homelessness under Master Gotama, the Sakyan. There were mass protests by the people: ‘The monk Gotama is creating childlessness and widowhood. He is obliterating the clan. As if that is not enough, now 250 disciples of Sanjay have deserted him.’ People mocked, ‘Gotama the monk came to Fort Magadha and led away all Sanjay’s band. Whom will they lead away now?" The furore was reported to the Buddha. He said, ‘Let it be. It will pass in seven days time’. And it did. His father, King Suddhodhana, anxious to meet his son, sent Kaludayi, the son of one of his ministers to invite the Buddha to visit his hometown - and Kaludayi became a bhikkhu! One reason why Master Gotama stood out among 62 other peripatetic teachers of that period was his highborn Sakyan lineage and consequent prestigious patronage by the nobility.

The Blessed One was now living in a forest cave at Rajagaha. The wanderer Dighanakha, nephew of Sariputta, heard about it and went to meet him. Dighanakha was a bright, clever young man. After exchanging greetings, he boldly said, ‘Master Gotama, my theory and view is that I have no liking for any view.’ Unfazed, the Buddha, deciding to use one of his elegant technique of teaching by pinning the other to his own words said, with gentle humour, "This view of yours ‘I have no liking for any’: have you no liking for that too?" But not to be undone, the young man bounced back, "Even if I had a liking for this view of mine, it would be all the same, Master Gotama, it would be all the same." "Well, there are plenty in the world who say ‘It would be all the same’ who not only fail to abandon that view but cling to some other view as well. And there are few in the world who say ‘It would be all the same’ who do abandon that view without clinging to some other view." said the Buddha.

The detail conversation of Dighanakha with the Buddha and the discourse that followed is found in Sutta 74 of the Majjhima Nikaya. It is yet another example of the exposition of Dhamma where an incident or remark leads the Buddha to describe the Dhamma impromptu, to fit the occasion as presented to us today in diverse ways. The Buddha explained how stubbornly holding to such doctrines and views ‘Something is acceptable to me, only this is true, anything else is false’ or ‘Nothing is acceptable to me only this is true, anything else is false’ is a cause of needless quarrels and disputes. ‘Foreseeing for himself clashes, disputes, quarrels and vexation, he abandons that view and does not take up some other view. This is how there comes to be the abandoning and the relinquishing of these views.’

The Buddha probably knew that this eager clever young man was a nephew of his recent recruit Sariputta and he now decided to teach him in Dhamma terms about the composition of the human body upon which the entire Teaching is based: impermanent, dukkha, a disease, a tumour, a dart, a calamity, an affliction, alien, disintegrating, void, not-self.

While the discourse was in full flow, Sariputta was standing behind the Buddha fanning him, listening rapt in proper attention [yoniso manasikara]. The Buddha concluded his discourse with the following words: "A bhikkhu, whose mind is liberated thus, sides with none and disputes with none. He employs the speech currently in use in the world without adhering to it."

When he heard these concluding remarks, Sariputta, the novice, reflected thus: The Blessed One indeed speaks of abandoning of these things through direct knowledge. The Sublime One, indeed, speaks of relinquishing of these things though direct knowledge."

The insight was dramatic. Just as the Buddha declares, ‘This Dhamma is immediate, taking no time, inviting inspection, leading, to be experienced privately by the wise", two weeks after joining the order, Sariputta became an arahat. And his nephew Dighanakha, seeing as earlier his uncle did that all conditioned things that arise necessarily cease became as did his uncle, a sotapanna. This is yet another charming event in the Dhamma.