Mar Ngok Summer Teachings 2022 Day 6
As Day 6 of the Mar Ngok teachings fell on Indian Independence Day, His Holiness began by extending auspicious greetings to friends in India, noting the strong connections between India and Buddhism in general, and India and the Tibetan culture in particular. Buddhism developed in India, while the Tibetan script system was modelled on Indian sources. Brief homage was paid to India’s national tree, the nyagrodha or banyan, a type of fig tree plentiful in India; it is shaped like an umbrella, with a width that matches its height.
The Karmapa resumed telling the story of Mahakāśyapa, one of the central figures at the First Buddhist Council. His family name was Kāśyapa. He was known as Mahākāśyapa because he was the eldest of the several Kāśyapa students of the Buddha. According to the tradition in the Tibetan “Bhikshuṇī Vibhaṅga”, his given name was Nyagrodhaja because his father had requested the tree god in the banyan tree for a son.
Despite having little interest in worldly affairs, Nyagrodhaja found it difficult to refuse his parent’s wish that he marry. Obfuscating his parents, he made a statue in the form of a goddess out of gold, stating: “If you can find a woman as beautiful as this statue, with a complexion the colour of gold, then I will marry her.” Nyagrodhaja’s father sent his brahminical students in all directions with replicate golden statues in search of such a woman. Many students who could not find a woman like the statue returned home.
However, in the town of Kapila in the west, a wealthy brahmin also named Kapila had a beautiful daughter named Bhadrā. As her father was Kapila, she became known as Kapila Bhadrā.
When the brahminical students reached the town of Kapila, they put the golden goddess statue in the centre of the market square. They lit incense around the statue, offered flowers, played music, and announced loudly: “Ladies, if you make offerings to this statue, you will fulfill five hopes: You will be born into a high caste, you will be married into a high caste, your husband will not view you with contempt, you will bear sons, and your husband will listen to what you say”.
Many women from Kapila gathered around the statue and made offerings.
Kapila Bhadrā’s mother heard the announcement in the market, and her heart started beating. The mother rushed home and told her daughter, “Go immediately to the market and make offerings to the goddess!”
Kapila Bhadrā asked, “Of what benefit is it to make offerings to this goddess?”
“If you pray to the golden goddess, they say five hopes will be fulfilled,” her mother replied.
“Why would I need that?” asked Kapila Bhadrā. “I’ve already been born in a high caste, and I’m also beautiful. Even though I’m so beautiful, no one has come to marry me, so what’s the point?”
As her mother insisted, Kapila Bhadrā had no choice but take incense, flowers, and silks and make offerings to the statue to appease her mother. [Some accounts explain that Kapila Bhadrā had no intention of getting married. She wanted to stay single and celibate.] Surprisingly, as Kapila Bhadrā began approaching the statue, the statue started turning increasingly blue. By the time she reached the statue, it was as though the golden goddess had transformed into iron, lacking its former radiance.
This seemed like a bad omen to the brahminical students, “Has someone cast a spell? Whose power might have caused this?” They looked around and saw Kapila Bhadrā, whose beauty and radiance outshone the statue.
“Whose daughter are you?” they asked.
“I am Kapila Bhadrā, the daughter of Brahmin Kapila,” she replied.
“This is a special girl,” the students thought, “the one we seek”.
And so the students went to Brahmin Kapila’s house and pretended to ask for alms.
When Brahmin Kapila heard the request for alms, he told his family to give the mendicants flour, butter, sugar, grapes and the like. Kapila Bhadrā, as the daughter of the house, brought the alms to the door according to local custom. However, the brahminical students would not accept the alms from Kapila Bhadrā. A few minutes later, Brahmin Kapila came to the door and asked the students, “What do you need?”
“We have come to ask for the girl, not food,” the students said.
Then Brahmin Kapila grew angry, “I shall not give you my daughter as alms! What audacity!”
“We are not asking for ourselves,” the students explained. And so the entire story was told of their brahmin teacher Nyagrodha and his son Nyagrodhaja of the Mahāsāla caste from Nyagrodhikā in the region of Magadha, how their riches and treasure rivalled Vaishravana, the god of wealth. The students told of Nyagrodhaja’s attractiveness, skill in brahminical rites, learning in the Vedas, and knowledge in all areas.
“The girl is for Nyagrodhaja,” the students said.
Brahmin Kapila said, “I have heard of this brahmin’s son’s qualities. But we live far away, so arranging the marriage is difficult.”
“Even though you live far apart, the connection for marriage will be strong.” The students said many things to convince Brahmin Kapila, who gave them the things they needed to bathe and sent them off to a nearby pond.
While the students were busy bathing, Brahmin Kapila discussed the issue with his relatives. “The son Nyagrodhaja is a Mahāsāla,” they said, “So even if he had no concern for our daughter, we would try hard to give the girl to him. Now that he is expressing interest, of course we should offer Kapila Bhadrā as his bride! If we can arrange a wedding between her and the brahmin’s son, then the connection will work out well for everyone: for the girl and for us.”
So the parents bathed the girl, dressed her in white, recited auspicious prayers from the brahminical tradition, and gave her to be the bride of the brahmin’s son Nyagrodhaja.
Meanwhile, according to tradition, the students calculated the most auspicious date and astrological configurations, saying to the parents, “On this particular date and time, she will be married to Nyagrodhaja.”
The students returned home upon fulfilling their mission, declaring: “Master, you should be pleased. As you have wished, we have found an extraordinary girl. She is beautiful and wealthy from a good caste and clan.” They related the events in detail and how they set a date for the wedding. The brahmin father heard the news and was delighted, giving his students many gifts.
When Nyagrodhaja, the brahmin’s son, heard that Kapila Bhadrā had been found with such beauty and a golden complexion, he decided to investigate her secretly. Nyagrodhaja said to his parents, “I would like to go traveling.”
“You are our only son,” they replied. “We have great love for you. You may go but must promise to return in time for your wedding,” granting permission.
Nyagrodhaja and his escort went to the town of Kapila. Upon arrival, they begged for alms in tatty old clothes with a bowl of leaves. When they arrived at Brahmin Kapila’s house, Kāśyapa saw the beautiful daughter Kapila Bhadrā for the first time; she brought the alms, as was the custom, and Kāśyapa thought, “This must be the girl. Women so beautiful are very rare.”
He said to Kapila Bhadrā, “There cannot be another girl as beautiful as you.”
“The way you say that,” she replied, “Has your own bride died?”
Kāśyapa said, “No, no! She is still alive.”
“If that’s the case,” Kapila Bhadrā said, “Why would you say this to me?”
He replied, “She is still alive, but she is not interested in worldly things or desires. When Kapila Bhadrā heard this, she was amazed and voiced her approval. She admitted that she, too, had no interest in worldly desires. As Nyagrodhaja was trying to ascertain whether Kapila Bhadrā had the desires of a householder or not, when he heard her say this, he was delighted.
He then confessed to her that he was Nyagrodhaja, the person she was set to marry. He said, “There is no way to go against my parents’ commands, so I have no choice but to get married, but I promise not to touch any part of your body with my hands.” Both Nyagrodhaja and Kapila Bhadrā agreed on this. Neither had any interest in engaging in the worldly things of the householder life; they both wanted to practice dharma.
They both made this promise to each other, and Nyagrodhaja returned to Nyagrodhikā.
Then Nyagrodhaja’s brahmin father brought Kapila Bhadrā to the region of Magadha to be wed. At their son’s request, Nyagrodhaja’s parents made two beds for the newlyweds’ house. Nyagrodhaja and Kapila Bhadrā reminded each other of their promise not to touch each other, with positive encouragement. They lived together like mother and daughter, it was said.
Nyagrodhaja’s parents asked a servant, “Boy, how are our son and his new bride getting along?”
“They are living like a mother and daughter,” the servant replied.
Nyagrodhaja’s parents blamed themselves for providing two beds for the couple. So the parents removed one of the beds, leaving just one bed and a chair.
Upon this, Nyagrodhaja and Kapila Bhadrā renewed their promise not to touch. Nyagrodhaja said, “Kapila Bhadrā, you are female, so you need more sleep. You sleep in the bed during the first part of the night and in the early morning, and I’ll sleep in the middle of the night. So while Kapila Bhadrā was in bed, Nyagrodhaja either sat in the chair thinking or paced back and forth. And this is how they lived together without physical contact.
One night, a large poisonous snake was coiled up beneath their bed. Nyagrodhaja saw it and thought, “This snake is going to do something bad.” At that time, Kapila Bhadrā was asleep with one of her arms hanging out of the bed. Nyagrodhaja thought, “What should I do? If I don’t wake her up, the snake will bite her?” He couldn’t touch her with his hand, so he touched her arm with the handle of a fly whisk. Kapila Bhadrā woke up with a start and said, “Don’t forget your promise! Don’t forget your promise!”
“Kapila Bhadrā, it was not like that,” he replied. “I thought this poisonous snake would bite you, so I touched you with the handle of the fly whisk.”
“If the snake is going to bite me,” Kapila Bhadrā said, “then it bites me. It is not right for you to touch me with the fly whisk.”
The Karmapa added that according to the Tibetan translation of the “Bhikshuni Vibhaṅga”, the poisonous snake was an emanation of the god Shakra who wanted to test the couple to see whether any lust existed between the two. When people live together like this, he explained, there is usually desire, so why was there no desire between them? Previously, Nyagrodhaja had been a god in the form realm where he had meditated on dhyana for aeons and no longer had desire or lust.
And in this way, Nyagrodhaja and Kapila Bhadrā spent twelve years living in one house with only one bed in a platonic marriage.
After Nyagrodhaja’s parents had both died, he ruminated with Kapila Bhadrā, “Now that my parents have died, we need to take responsibility for the household. So you look after the work within the household, and I’ll manage the farm work.”
When Nyagrodhaja oversaw the work in his father’s fields, he had no previous experience with this type of work. His father had many fields, and Nyagrodhaja was horrified to see how many insects were killed by the 999 yoked oxen when they plowed.
Furthermore, the oxen were suffering because their noses were pierced and they were beaten on their rumps with iron rods.
Moreover, the farm workers were in very poor condition: they were exhausted. They had long hair and beards and cracked hands and feet. Their bodies were so covered in mud that they looked like burned tree trunks and ghosts. In addition, they would argue and fight each other about minor things.
Upon witnessing this state of affairs, Nyagrodhaja asked the workers, “Who are you?” They replied, “We are Brahmin Nyagrodhaja’s workers.” Nyagrodhaja was puzzled because he hadn’t issued any orders to them. They explained they were just continuing the work as they had done before, during his father’s time. Nyagrodhaja asked them, “Why are you yelling and fighting each other? Won’t the ripening of such actions of body and speech be experiencing suffering for a long time in samsara?” It was the first time that Nyagrodhaja had seen with his own eyes the hardships that poor people and their families experienced. This engendered a strong feeling of renunciation and a wish for liberation. He thought to himself that even though he was not committing misdeeds with body, speech, and mind, he was accumulating misdeeds because of his workers because they were working for his sake. Nyagrodhaja returned home and told Kapila Bhadrā that he wanted to practice asceticism in the forest.
Similarly, while Kapila Bhadrā was overseeing the work within the household, she noticed that the servants had cracked hands and feet, and wore bandages. Their hair was tangled, and the servants would disagree and scold each other for minor reasons. She also felt a wish for liberation from samsara’s suffering.
This was before the Buddha appeared, so Nyagrodhaja and his wife made sizeable donations to practitioners of non-Buddhist dharma, gave to the poor, emancipated their servants and workers, and divided all the remaining wealth among their relatives. Nyagrodhaja took some of the lowest quality fabric he could find in the storehouse and made this into an outer robe, giving a similar one to Kapila Bhadrā. They bequeathed the house to his relatives and left.
He asked Kapila Bhadrā, “Where would you like to go?”
“I would like to go practice asceticism with you,” she replied, but he said it would not be good conduct to go into the forest to practice asceticism with a woman.
“If that is so, please let me leave home before you do,” she said. “Otherwise, it will be very difficult for me.” So they left the house together.
After Kapila Bhadrā and Nyagrodhaja had traveled together for some distance, they each went their own way. Kapila Bhadrā eventually went forth in the presence of the teacher Pūraṇa and stayed with him. She experienced many difficulties because of her previous karma. But ultimately, she came to the Buddha, went forth, and became an arhat. Her story is long and moving but ends here for now.
So Nyagrodhaja left home and practiced under unnamed non-Buddhist teachers.
It has been said that Nyagrodhaja was 12 years older than the Buddha. The Buddha went forth at the age of twenty-nine. He practiced asceticism for six years, but that did not help him realize the fundamental nature. Then he washed in the Nairañjanā River and accepted the milk porridge from the girls Nandā and Nandabalā. He accepted grass from the grass seller Brāhmana, sat beneath the Bodhi Tree, and awakened to buddhahood. Then he traveled to Varanasi and gave the first dharma teaching to the Good Group of Five. Then there were the next group of five, then fifty students from Varanasi who became bhikshus, and the good group of sixty, and, following that, Nanda and Nandabalā. Then there were the three Kāśyāpa brothers, and immediately there were over a thousand sangha members. Then he tamed King Bimbisāra and his retinue, who gave him Bamboo Grove (Veṇuvana).
Kāśyapa probably first met the Buddha after Shariputra and Maudgalyayana. The Buddha realized it was time to tame Kāśyapa, so he went to the Bahuputraka stupa in Rajgir. In order to attract Kāśyapa, the Buddha displayed the miracle of light shining from his body, like a great mountain of gold. Kāśyapa went to investigate, and from a distance, he saw that the Buddha’s body had all the marks and signs. Kāśyapa’s faculties became peaceful and subdued. He thought, “Now I have met the real teacher. I have met a real arhat. I have met the real Bhagavan.” He prostrated at the Buddha’s feet and said, “Please be my teacher. I will be your disciple.”
The Buddha said, “As you wish, I can be your teacher.” According to the Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition, Kāśyapa gained the vows of going forth simply by being accepted by the Buddha as a student.
The Buddha continued: “Generally, people will say to students with faith such as you, ‘I am omniscient.’ Though they are not tathagatas, they say that they are. Though they are not arhats, they claim that they are. In the end, they can only end up splitting their own skulls. But I am not deceiving anyone. I can assert that I am omniscient. Because I actually am a tathagata, I assert that I am a tathagata. Because I have actually awakened, I can assert I am a buddha.”
The Buddha gave more such advice or instructions to Kāśyapa:
No matter what virtuous dharma you hear, you must listen to it well, be respectful of it, contemplate it well, and be able to practice it.
When entering the sangha community, staying with the Teacher and dharma friends, you must have a sense of conscience and propriety.
You must always have mindfulness and awareness, no matter what you are doing, at any time, you must not forget the commitments you have made, and must not be careless and distracted.
The Buddha inspired Kāśyapa and increased his interest and faith.
Then Kāśyapa followed the Buddha as he went, and on the way, when the Buddha was preparing to sit and take some rest, Kāśyapa took his own outer robe, folded it, laid it down as a seat, and invited the Buddha to sit on it. The robe was made from very good quality cloth, even though it had been the cheapest that Kāśyapa could find at the time.
The Buddha sat on it and said to Kāśyapa, “This robe of yours is very soft.” Kāśyapa immediately said, “As you said, Buddha, this robe is really soft, so please accept it.” The Buddha then asked, “Can you wear this robe made of discarded rags?”
“If the Buddha can wear my robe out of love, then I can also wear your robe made of rags.” The Buddha accepted Kāśyapa’s robe of fine cloth and, with his own hands, gave his own robe of discarded rags to Kāśyapa. And so, Kāśyapa wore that robe, went for daily alms, and achieved the state of arhatship within eight or nine days.
This exchange of robes is very good fortune, as this experience was unique to Kāśyapa among the Buddha’s disciples. The Buddha giving Kāśyapa his robe of discarded rags was a great inspiration for Kāśyapa to live by the twelve qualities of training. After the Buddha had awakened to buddhahood, he saw that practicing strict asceticism was unnecessary suffering and prohibited it. But he did not prohibit practicing asceticism that was not too extreme. A lifestyle that does not fall into the two extremes or the middle way does not necessarily mean an extremely easy, carefree life. You must be able to stay alone, be content with meager food and clothing, and forebear various hardships. Therefore the Buddha praised those bhikshus who did not seek the pleasures of food and clothing and led a life of contentment and few desires. Kāśyapa became the most well-known for abiding by the twelve qualities of training because he stayed in remote places. The Karmapa reminded people that the term for a monastery in Tibetan —‘gönpa’—means a remote place. In addition, Kāśyapa only lived off alms and would never go to feasts organized for the sangha.
His Holiness concluded the day’s teaching by reviewing the 12 (or 13, depending on how they are counted) qualities of training, an ascetic practice from original Buddhist sources. They are called ‘qualities of training’ because training in them increases your qualities.
The Karmapa explained them according to the Śrāvaka Levels section of the“Yogācārabhūmi-Śāstra” (Yogacara Levels) usually attributed to Asanga:
The three regarding food:
1.Living on alms. When divided into two, alms allowable from being received, and alms received gradually:
- Alms allowable from being received: Coming by one house and eating however much food one receives from that household and not going to other households.
- Alms received gradually: Going to the door of each house and eating whatever alms you received, instead of thinking, “I’ll get better and more food in this house.”
2. Single meal. Sitting on a single seat and eating only as much as one can, and not eating after rising from the seat.
3. Not accepting more food: Eating what has been given and no more.
The three regarding robes:
- Three robes: living with the outer robe, upper robe, and lower robe and not keeping any more robes.
- Wearing felt. Only keeping three dharma robes or an extra robe made of rough wool fabric and not keeping any other.
- Wearing rags. Taking rags discarded along roads and so forth that are not unclean from contact with feces or urine; taking suitable rags, washing, sewing, and dying them an appropriate color.
Six with regard to lodging:
- Living in the wilderness. Staying in wilderness or forests remote from towns and villages.
- Living by trees. Staying seated at the foot of a tree.
- Roofless. Staying in places that are not covered by a roof above.
- Charnel grounds. Staying in charnel grounds.
- Sitting. Sitting on seats, low seats, or grass without your back or side resting on the seat.
- The seat as it is. Sitting on grass, leaves, and such that have been spread out just as they have been first spread out instead of repeatedly exchanging or rearranging the grass.