India and Lanka bonds in destiny


by Mervyn Samarakoon

India is the most unique place on earth. Every Samma Sambuddha makes His benign appearance on the hallowed land. So do both Chief Disciples of His, every Pacceka Buddha, and every Chakrawarthi King (World Ruling Monarch). Ancient India was haven to a plethora of philosophers and thinkers of all hues. In the Republic of Lichchavis were a group of Nigantha siblings Sachcha, Lola, Patachara and Sevanthika, four sisters and their brother Saccaca (Sachchaka) renowned for their dogmatic argumentative skills. The last, Sachchaka left an indelible mark on the Indian landscape as one who dared challenge Buddha on no less a topic than "anatta", the deeply shrouded concept of non–soul or egolessness, last in the triad of irresistibly abiding characteristics of existence entirely in the domain of a Supremely Enlightened One’s wisdom. It is he who also figures prominently in liltingly melodious Jayamangala gatha, the household invocative blessings in the name of the Blessed One on all auspicious occasions of our cultural heritage spanning twenty three centuries.

The four sisters were highly articulate debaters on their own, touring the land of the Lichchavis demanding anyone answer at least some of the thousand questions passed down by their ancestors and mastered by them. None could. They came across Ven Sariputta, Chief Disciple of Buddha who accepted their challenge. In the presence of a crowd of people that gathered, he answered all thousand questions with the ease of ‘slashing water lilies with a sword ‘. Stunned by the mighty adversary’s profundity and bravado shattered, they meekly offered to answer his questions if any. The venerable monk asked just one that is put to every novice at ordination –ekanamang king - (what is one?). Clever but flustered, they sought the noble monk’s consent to enter the order of nuns without further ado. Receiving his consent and determined by their samsaric merit they realized the ultimate goal before long to become four great arahat bhikkhunis of the world.

Their brother Sachchaka being the brightest of them all was a sophist of sorts, a clever debater and mentor to the Lichchavis of Vaishali. It is said he constantly wore a steel belt around his corpulent waist. Exhibition of vainglory through external accoutrements was common place then as it is today both among laity and clergy. Being facets of "adhi mana", they are persistent impediments not to material but to refined spiritual prosperity. In contrast the Foremost being in the world the Buddha was the absolute symbol of simplicity, at times covering enormous distances on foot clad in His pansakulika robe in the guise of an ordinary mendicant when the situation so merits, suppressing the spontaneously arisen lustrous halo around His perfect head.

Sachchaka’s conceit was superlative to say the least. He prided himself "there is none, not even one who claims to be fully enlightened who would not shake, shiver, tremble and sweat if he were to engage in debate with me. A lifeless post would shake and shiver, need anything be said of a living man" said he and decided to confront none other than Buddha Himself in debate. Unbeknown, he was fast approaching his watershed in samsara.

In preparation for the showdown he approached Ven Assaji, Ven Sariputta’s first teacher to acquaint himself with the doctrine. "Master Assaji, how does recluse Gotama discipline his disciples, what are his instructions to them? "Maha Thero simply said that the Blessed One’s teaching is that all material form, feelings, perceptions, formations and consciousness are impermanent and impersonal, not one’s own, all notions of existence are non-self; the essence of the Master’s doctrine that separates it from the mass of the world’s religions. For all his intellectual acumen, Sachchaka’s heady reply to Ven Assaji, signified the most hopeless misreckoning of one’s opponent if ever there was one. "It indeed is the single-most unfortunate utterance one can hear" said he. "It is good if I meet him somewhere to extricate him from that base view of his". One could almost feel the deafening silence of the great arahat.

Promising Lichchavis a drama never seen before, he undertook to drag recluse Gotama to and fro and drag him round about like a strong man dragging a ram by its long hair. He promised them more. Some believed him.

Early morning the following day the Great Being observed with His supernormal faculties the unfolding scenario of Sachchaka. To accommodate the large crowd that accompanied Sachchaka, He sat under a tree outside. Having exchanged greetings, Sachchaka directed at Buddha the question he asked Ven Assaji. Buddha replied in identical manner as did the noble monk. Sachchaka pronounced propitiously that a simile occurs to him which Buddha requested he express. "Seeds, plants of every kind take root, attain growth and come to maturation and dispersion upon the earth, based upon the earth. All strenuous industry is performed dependent upon the earth, based upon the earth. So too Master Gotama, a person possesses material form…… feelings…… perceptions…… formations …… consciousness in one’s self, based upon which he produces merit or demerit".

"Aggivessana (Sachchaka), do you assert that material form is myself, feelings…… perceptions…… formations …… and consciousness are myself?"

"Master Gotama, I assert thus, and so does this great gathering."

"Aggivessana, what has this great gathering to do with you? Please confine your assertion to yourself". Escape route closed, Sachchaka confined his assertion to himself. The Enlightened one then demanded an answer to a question easy to be grasped.

"Does King Pasenadi Kosol of Maghada or King Vedehiputh Ajasath exercise power in his realm to execute those who should be executed, to fine those who should be fined or to banish those who should be banished?"

"Master Gotama, even such oligarchs as Vajjis or Mallas wield power to impose those punishments, need anything be said of the aforesaid two great kings?"

"Aggivessana, if you say that material form is yourself (athma), can you exercise such power over it so as to say, "Let my form be thus; let my form not be thus? " (let no such punishment be cast upon me ?)

Reality dawned and Sachchake fell silent. Buddha questioned again but he remained speechless. A Thathagatha never repeats a question thrice, since if an answer is refused a fatal calamity befalls one right then. But then, neither should a Great Being’s question go unanswered, hence Sakkha the King of gods assuming the dreadful from of a thunderbolt-wielding demon appeared above Sachchaka’s head threateningly. He was visible only to Buddha and Sachchaka. Sweat poured from Sachchaka’s whole body. He promptly pleaded with Buddha to question him again which Buddha did, whereupon he unequivocally conceded material form is not one’s self, feelings…… perceptions…… formations…… and consciousness are not one’s self, are not one’s own.

Buddha : "Aggivessana, answer carefully, is material form permanent or impermanent?"

"It is impermanent"

"Is what is impermanent suffering or happiness?"

"Suffering, Master Gotama"

"Is what is impermanent, suffering and subject to change fit to be regarded thus: This is mine, this I am, this is myself?"

"No, Master Gotama".

"Aggivessana, when one attached to suffering, immersed in suffering, arrived at suffering considers thus: This suffering is mine, this I am, this is myself, could he ever fully understand suffering or ever hope to destroy suffering fully?"

"How can one, Master Gotama".

"When it is so, are you not one who has come to suffering, attached yourself to suffering and fallen into suffering?"

"I definitely am one, Master Gotama."

"Aggivessana, you said before that a lifeless post would tremble and shake at your arguments. But now you are perspiring profusely. See Aggivessana, there is no sweat on me." So saying the Blessed One lowered his robe two inches from the front of His neck. Multitudes of golden flares sprang up and hovered is the sky above. When awestruck Lichchavis regained their composure and started hurling pungent remarks at Sachchka, he managed to silence them at length and implored the Blessed One to instruct them all on the ways of the arahats with all taints and fetters destroyed, the holy life fully lived, done what had to be done, burdens laid down, their goal reached and absolutely liberated through final knowledge. Buddha did so succinctly, again alluding to the very simile Sachchaka quoted at the inception. Space does not permit elaboration here.

In the end Sachchaka confessed unabashedly "One might attack a mad elephant, a black snake or a blazing inferno and yet be safe, but certainly one could not attack Master Gotama and find safety". Sachchaka then reverentially invited Buddha and the congregation of bhikkhus to alms the following day which Buddha accepted in silence. At conclusion of the meal Buddha made a brief pronouncement on consequences of giving to a recipient free from lust, free from hate and free from delusion. Buddha knew this meal was to bring enormous benefit to Sachchaka in the future.

Sachchaka could not though, suppress his ego for long. This time however, he decided to confront the Great Being alone. A victory for him is well and good. In the event of defeat, like a theatrical comedy enacted in the dark, none would know. The subject he chose, equally complex, was the interaction of insight meditation with tranquility meditation, alleging that Buddha’s disciples lacked development in the former. When Buddha questioned him on the latter he exposed his naivety. "How could you know of insight meditation without an understanding of tranquility mediation" asked the Buddha. He then delved into a fascinating exposition of an interplay of the mind’s nuances with states of the body in relation to a worldling undeveloped alongside a liberated arahat of the world. The arising and ceasing of pleasant and painful feelings in relation to a mundane being and an unfettered noble bhikkhu were presented by the Master in all their wonder. Majjima Nikaya is a must- read on this.

Buddha thereupon embarked on an equally sensational narrative beginning from the time of His decision as a raven–haired young man in the prime of youth to go forth from home to homelessness on an unspeakably arduous journey leading up to His gaining ultimate knowledge of the liberating law of the world that was lost to humankind since the passing away of Kassapa Buddha untold aeons before. Where, taints that defile, give trouble, ripen in suffering, that lead to future birth, aging and death were cut off at the root.

Not coming to a state of being (banishment of rebirth) is a terribly fearsome prospect to the undeveloped and the ignorant stated Buddha movingly in Udana Sutta, Sangutta Nikaya. Likewise to the initiated, nothing is sweeter.

When aforesaid pronouncements were made by Thathagatha, Sachchaka said "It is wonderful Master Gotama how when Master Gotama is spoken to disparagingly, assailed by offensive words, the complexion of his skin brightens, the colour of his face glistens as is to be expected of one who is accomplished and fully enlightened…… "So saying he took leave of himself from the Blessed One. A canine fed with the best of milk rice cooked with the purest of ghee would still not forego a meal of faeces if he finds one, at least sniff it, if not it suffers a headache says the pithy commentary. Two stupendous sermons delivered by the Great Being covering the time span from abandonment of home (mahabinikkamana) to abandonment of the world and disciplines beyond did not impact this Nigantha. Then again, Buddhas never preached dhamma in vacuo, and neither was it this time.

Two hundred years after parinibbhana when Buddhism takes root in Thambapanni, Sachchaka would receive birth there, enter the order of monks, learn the Tripitaka and become a maha arahat by the name of Kalabuddharakkhitha. Unfathomable indeed are Buddhas’ foresight. Indriyaparopariyatta and Asayanusaya gnana are Theirs alone.

He departed the heavenly world where he gained birth after Vaishali and was born to a ministerial family in Anuradhapura, donned the saffron robe and mastered the Tripitaka. He once paid a visit to his teacher surrounded by a large group of his student monks. Do we see here a trace of his irrepressible pomposity? He was roundly rebuked by the Elder for base display of his learning instead of pursuit of the path in solitude. Shaken to the core, he embraced his teacher’s admonition this time in absolute humility and as foreseen by the Enlightened One over two hundred years earlier, reached the final goal to become the maha arahat he was, possessed of all supernormal powers. One’s samsaric journey is brain wracking, to say the least.

It was a moonless night that he was due to preach dhamma to bhikkhus. He sat under the Kaluthimbiriya tree near Kaludiyapokuna at Mihintale after paying homage to Kanthaka chethiya. A mendicant monk asked him a question from Kalakarama Sutta encompassing virtues of a Buddha. King Saddhatissa arrived incognito, as did great kings at times in the past, to hear the sermon when the opening stanza had just been cited by the learned arahat. The king stood at the perimeter of the gathering of bhikkus through the night until the sermon was concluded the following morning. The noble monk identified his voice when he uttered the salutary exclamation at the end of the preaching.

"Great King, what time did you arrive?"

"Ven Sir, I came soon after you recited the opening stanza".

"Indeed, you have performed a very difficult task".

"No Sir, it is not the difficult task. If I forgot a single verse you pronounced in the discourse, my writ would cease to apply in Thambapanni island. Venerable Sir, are there further virtues of the Perfect One than what you preached?"

"What I said was very little like the space of a swallow flipping its wings in the air, the virtues of Buddha are limitless like the blue sky".

"Venerable Sir, splendid was the sermon comparing virtues of the Noble Being to the blue sky. We are thoroughly convinced. I make my humble offering of this "yojun" long Thambapanni to you". Whither kingdoms and empires when one isn’t for oneself, was not the noble monk told by Gautama Buddha at Vaishali?

"Great King, I give back the country to you, rule it with compassion".

Chroniclers record the island nation reached great heights in all spheres of development during his benevolent reign.

Though the pristine teaching has all but disappeared from the country of its origin in keeping with impermanence as foretold by Buddha many centuries ago, the immutable bond between the two great nations remains strong as ever for the single reason of being the gracious giver of the one timeless truth of the world to a grateful neighbour who has kept it alive as the most vibrant force on its soil to date.


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