The Mar Ngok Summer Teachings 2022: Day 11
After His Holiness the Karmapa had greeted everyone, he reminded his listeners that he had previously spoken about the different accounts of the First Council found in the Kangyur and Tengyur, which he had divided into two groups and described in two ways. As the first way of describing it had already been covered, His Holiness expressed the necessity to now look at the conclusion of the description of the first account, giving the following outline:
- Ananda teaches Channa the Dharma (according to the “Five-Part Vinaya” of the Mahīśāsaka school)
- How Ananda got Dharma robes offered by the ladies of King Udayana (according to the Theravada “Khandhaka”)
- Ananda tames Channa.
In a brief introduction to the topic, His Holiness mentioned that according to the Indian Scholar S.R. Goyal, one of the most important points of the discussion regarding the results of the First Council was the decision to impose the highest punishment, the brahma penalty, on the Buddha’s charioteer, Channa. He had been the charioteer when Shakyamuni left his palace and went forth. The person who drove the chariot at that time was Channa (‘Dün-pa’ in Tibetan), a rough person who always got into difficulties, saying bad things to other members of the sangha.
The Buddha thought that after his own passing into nirvana, they needed to punish Channa. They needed to impose the highest form of punishment, the ‘brahma penalty’, on him. The reason was that, although Channa had later become a bhikshu, he had a very difficult character, disparaging all the members of the sangha and being extremely proud and obstinate. After the ‘brahma penalty’ was imposed on him, he was not allowed to participate in any of the sangha’s activities. Channa subsequently recognized his faults, confessed with regret from his heart and ultimately even achieved the level of an arhat.
The topic of Channa appears in the Tibetan translation of the Mūlasarvāstivāda “Finer Points of Discipline” (vinaya-kṣudraka-vastu):
When the Buddha was close to passing into nirvana, the venerable Ananda asked the Bhagavan: “Venerable Channa is ill-tempered, badly-behaved, and angry. Whomever he meets, he is always abusive with them. After the Bhagavan has passed away, as we cannot handle it, what should we do?”
Then the Buddha said to Ananda: “Ananda, after I have passed from here, punish the Bhikshu Channa with the brahma penalty, the highest penalty. Once he has been punished this way, he will feel world-weary and recognize that it was not right for him to be that way. Thus, we have to make him feel sad, and once he feels sad and weary, have him receive instructions from Kātyāyana.”
In the Chinese translation of the Mūlasarvāstivāda, His Holiness added, the words are the same, but it does not say that he should be given instructions by Kātyāyana. It says that he needs to be given the ‘brahma penalty’ and made to feel world-weariness. Once he has been punished, he may be allowed to return to the sangha community and live as before. However, in the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya, it does not clearly explain how Channa was actually punished.
In order to discuss how this is described in the “Five-Part Vinaya” of the Mahīśāsaka tradition and in the “Khandhaka” from the Theravada tradition, His Holiness then related stories from these two sources about how Ananda tamed the bhikshu Channa.
Ananda Teaches Channa the Dharma (According to the “Five-Part Vinaya” of the Mahīśāsaka tradition)
One time, there was a bhikshu called Channa who lived in Kauśāmbī. He was always very angry at the sangha and created problems by abusing everyone. And because he was so angry at them, the sangha community was unable to dwell in peace. After the rains retreat was completed, one of the bhikshus went to see Mahākāśyapa and related the situation to him.
When Mahākāśyapa heard that, he immediately called Ananda because all problems and difficulties were referred to Ananda. He said to Ananda, “Now you go to Kauśāmbī, and when you get there, punish him with the words of the Buddha, the words of the sangha, and the brahma penalty (Skt.brahmadaṇḍa).” Ananda accepted the responsibility for this task and left with five hundred bhikshus.
When Channa heard that Ananda was coming with five hundred bhikshus, he went out to welcome him and said, “Why have you come here? You haven’t come to make things difficult for me, have you?”
Ananda replied, “I have not come here to make things hard for you, I have come to help you.”
“How will you help me?” Channa asked.
Ananda said, “The Buddha and the sangha have given me instructions: I am going to punish you with the brahma penalty.”
Channa had never heard of the brahma penalty and asked, “What is the brahma penalty?”
“The brahma penalty,” replied Ananda, “is a really severe penalty. If one is punished with the brahma penalty, then all bhikshus, bhikshunis, laymen, and laywomen will sever all relations with you. They may no longer speak with you. Even if you come to them, they are not allowed to speak to you.”
When Channa heard this, he was completely overwhelmed, collapsed onto the ground, and said to Ananda, “Isn’t giving me such a severe penalty the same as killing me? No one is going to speak to me at all, so it is the same as killing me, isn’t it?”
Ananda said in response, “Don’t worry. The Buddha told me in the past and predicted that you would achieve realization through me. Get up and I shall teach you the dharma.” Channa got up and Ananda taught him the dharma. Ananda gave many wonderful and amazing dharma teachings to Channa. He told him what virtue is, what non-virtue is, what it is right to do, what it is not right to do, and how he must free himself of obscurations and achieve the stainless ‘eye of dharma’, that is unclouded toward dharma. On receiving these teachings, the bhikshu Channa achieved the result of arhatship and the brahma penalty was removed immediately.
The TheravadaTheravada “Khandhaka”, account is a little more elaborate than that in the “Five-Part Vinaya”.
The Account in the Theravada
Ananda said to the elder bhikshus, “Before the Buddha passed into nirvana, he said to me, ‘Ananda, I am going to pass into nirvana, and once I have passed away, the sangha should gather and then impose the brahma penalty on Channa.’”
Thus, Ananda informed the sangha upon which the elders said, “Friend Ananda, we have never heard about this, what is the brahma penalty? Did you ask the Buddha what it is?”
Ananda said, “Venerable ones, I did ask the Buddha what the brahma penalty is. The Buddha replied, ‘Ananda, when Channa speaks to the bhikshus, they may not reply to him, speak to him, exhort him, or admonish him, they must not interact with him at all.’ This is what is called the brahma penalty.”
The elders replied by saying, “If that is so, then you friend Ananda, you should go and impose the brahma penalty on Channa.” His Holiness remarked that the others were probably all afraid, thinking they could not impose such a severe penalty. The elders then said, “The Buddha told you to go to impose the brahma penalty.”
“Great venerable ones, please listen to me,” replied Ananda, “How can I go to impose the brahma penalty on Channa? He is so ill-tempered and obstinate; he has such a rough character. If I go to him and say that I am going to give him the highest penalty, he might harm me!”
The elders said, “Friend Ananda, that’s right, maybe it is better to send some bhikshus along with you.” Ananda agreed, saying, “That’s all right,” and he accepted.
Ananda did as the elders instructed and went with a group of five hundred bhikshus as support. At this point, His Holiness added that when reading the Vinaya, there are only the numbers ‘five hundred’ as well as ‘hundred-and-twenty’ and that it seems there were the only numbers used in India at that time. His Holiness thinks that these are actually merely representative and just referring to a large amount, thus not exactly in accordance with the actual number of sangha members.
In any case, Ananda and the five hundred bhikshus then boarded a boat and went toKauśāmbī. They disembarked at King Udayana’s park, where Ananda sat under a tree. At that time, King Udayana and some ladies had also gone to the park, and the ladies said, “We have heard that our teacher Ananda is now sitting beneath a tree near the park.”
Then King Udayana’s ladies asked the king, “Great king, our teacher Ananda is sitting beneath a tree near the park. Great king, we would like to go to see venerable Ananda and ask for your permission to go.”
“That is fine,” said the king. “You may go to see the mendicant Ananda.”
Then the king’s ladies went to where Ananda was, prostrated to him and sat to one side. Ananda taught them the dharma, gave them advice, encouraged them, and inspired them, upon which they were all delighted.
King Udayana’s ladies were so delighted by Ananda’s teaching of dharma that they gave him five hundred pieces of cloth in order to make five hundred dharma robes. Then they got up, prostrated to Ananda, circumambulated clockwise, keeping him on their right side as they passed by and returned to the palace where King Udayana was staying.
King Udayana spotted the ladies returning from a distance, and when they drew near, he asked them, “Were you able to see the mendicant Ananda?” The ladies said, “Great king, we have just seen Ananda.”
“Did you give the mendicant Ananda any gifts?” he asked.
“Great king,” they replied, “We gave venerable Ananda five hundred pieces of fabric.” However, when King Udayana heard this, he was upset and got angry. He scolded the ladies and said, “What will Ananda do with so many robes? He is a mendicant, not a businessman. What does he need all this fabric for, he is not going to sell it, is he? Is he going to open a shop, is he going to make a new fabric store?”
Having criticized the ladies, King Udayana decided to go to see Ananda, wondering what he was like and what he was going to do with all this fabric. He found Ananda, and the two discussed dharma in a respectful manner, talking about joyful, inspiring topics. After they ended their small talk, the king sat to one side of Ananda and asked what really interested him, “Ananda, did my ladies come here?”
“Great king,” said Ananda, “Your ladies did in fact come here.”
“Ananda,” said the king, “Did the ladies give you any gifts?”
“Great king,” replied Ananda, “they did. They gave me five hundred pieces of fabric.”
“Venerable Ananda,” asked the king, “What will you do with so much fabric?”
“Great king, I shall make robes for the bhikshus whose robes are old, tattered and completely worn out.”
“Ananda, what will they do with their old robes?”
“Great king, they will make them into quilts.”
“Ananda, what will they do with their old quilts?
“Great King, they will use them as covers for their mattresses.”
“Ananda, what will they do with their old mattress covers?”
“They will use them as mats when they sit on the ground.”
“When the mats get old, what will they use them for?”
“They will use them as towels for their feet.”
“What will they do with the foot towels when they get old?”
“They will use them as dusters.”
“When those get old, what will they do with them?”
“They will tear them into small pieces, mix them with mud, and use them to make floors and use them as a kind of plaster on the outside of the flooring or earthen bunks and so forth.”
In this way, King Udayana asked one question after another and in the end, he understood that the sons of the Shakya used things really well and did not throw them away but used them for what they were supposed to be used for. Thinking about this, the king himself was also very inspired and likewise gave Ananda five hundred more pieces of fabric.
This is the story of how Ananda received enough fabric for a thousand robes.
The reason for sharing this story about the ladies making offerings of fabric for dharma robes to Ananda, His Holiness said, was to make the point that we need to take care of our environment. Thinking about the many things that we use in our lives for our contemporary lifestyles, His Holiness questioned whether we really needed them.
We do not really need them, he asserted but can do without them. Yet, because of advertising, he said, people tend to think they need so many different kinds of things and end up accumulating a great deal. People usually only become aware of this when they have to move from one place to another. They suddenly feel overwhelmed, asking themselves how they could possibly have accumulated so many things.
The lifestyle of the Shakya mendicants, how thrifty they were, and how they used their belongings so well, without needless waste, is something we can learn from and need to understand in order to preserve the environment, he advised.
Ananda Tames Channa
His Holiness then continued the story. After the ladies made their offerings to Ananda, he and the five hundred bhikshus continued on their journey. They arrived at a monastery called the Ghosita-Ārāma (Pāli), donated by a householder called Ghosita (Pāli). There, Ananda sat on the throne that the monastery had prepared for him, at which time bhikshu Channa also came to see Ananda. He prostrated to him and then he sat to one side. Because Channa had been a servant in the Shakyan palace, he was treating Ananda with deference, which was one of the reasons the sangha had sent Ananda in the first place. Then Ananda told Channa, “Friend Channa, the sangha says that it will impose the brahma penalty on you.”
“Venerable Ananda,” said Channa, “What is the brahma penalty?” He was such a badly-behaved monk and he had no idea what the brahma penalty meant.
“Friend Channa,” replied Ananda, “The brahma penalty means that when you wish to speak to the bhikshus, the bhikshus are not allowed to speak to you, not allowed to advise you, to counsel you or give you direction, they are not allowed to say anything to you.” When the bhikshu Channa heard these words, he immediately said, “Venerable Ananda, if the bhikshus will not speak to me, counsel me, or give me direction, is that not the same as killing me?” He was overwhelmed with grief and writhed on the ground, unable to get up.
In brief, after the brahma penalty was imposed on him, Channa’s life became very difficult because no one would pay attention to him; monastics and laypeople alike –all ignored him, which made Channa suffer mentally. Yet, he also gradually developed a sense of conscience and a sense of propriety and felt some regret. The feeling that everyone was ignoring him and had given up on him made him go beyond his previous carelessness. With great interest and zeal, he gave rise to diligence on his own; before long, he reached the culmination of the chaste conduct and in this very life achieved the state of an arhat.
After Channa had reached arhatship, he went to see Ananda and asked, “Venerable Ananda, would it be okay to release me from the brahma penalty?” Ananda said, “Friend Channa, from the moment you became an arhat, the brahma penalty was removed, and you can now continue to live with the bhikshus as before.”
His Holiness then summarized: in the Theravada “Khandhaka”, it says in the section on the minor points of discipline, “At this council on the Vinaya, there was not one more nor one less than five hundred bhikshus, so this council on the Vinaya is called the ‘council of the five hundred’.
The Second Account: From the “Great Commentary on the Hundred Thousand”
Having discussed accounts of the First Council found in the Vinaya literature of different schools, His Holiness then examined an example of the accounts found in the Mahayana literature. However, he pointed out that making a division into two different accounts, was something he had done for this particular Mar Ngok Summer Teaching and did not imply that there is a tradition of explaining it in this way.
The first account is primarily based on the Vinaya literature taking the “Four-Part Vinaya” of the Dharmaguptaka school as the basis and supplementing it with the “Five-Part Vinaya” of the Mahīśāsaka school and the “Khandhaka” from the Theravada, and the vinayas of other schools. From these, one can learn the general outlines of the First Council as described in the Vinaya literature. In terms of the division between Mahayana and Foundation vehicles, this account is primarily from the Foundation vehicle of the shravakas in the Vinaya literature.
The “Great Commentary on the Hundred Thousand”, on the other hand, is an example of the accounts found in Mahayana literature. It was translated into Chinese in the fourth century by the renowned translator, Kumārajīva, who came from Chotse in an area of present-day Xinjiang. Kumārajīva was a very important and famous translator in ancient China. A comparison in the Tibetan tradition would beVairocana, a very well-known Tibetan translator: they both held the same status. Many stories in the life story of Vairocana are very similar to the stories of Kumārajīva.
One might wonder whether the life story of Kumārajīva had some influence on the life of the Tibetan translator, Vairocana.
In any case, the “Great Commentary on the Hundred Thousand” is a commentary on the “Hundred Thousand Prajñāpāramitā” sutra which does not exist in Tibetan. Most people seem to accept that this was written by Nāgārjuna, though some disagree.
His Holiness then continued his teachings by elaborating on the First Council as described in this text. The way it is described in the “Hundred Thousand” can be divided into different sections.
1. The Buddha’s Parinirvana
The “Great Commentary on the Hundred Thousand”, says that it has taken the “Sutra of Reciting the Dharma” (Dharmasaṃgīti-sūtra) as a basis for the account:
When the Buddha passed into parinirvāṇa, the earth quaked six times. However, these earthquakes did not cause harm to any sentient being. The rivers reversed direction and flew uphill, and a great wind blew. Dark clouds gathered from all directions, lightning flashed and thunder rumbled. A strong hailstorm suddenly fell. Meteors fell from the sky in all directions. Lions and other animals roared. Gods and humans were grieving, and all wailed in lament. The gods and humans cried, “In the blink of an eye the Buddha has passed into nirvana. The eye of the world has been blinded.” At that time, the plants, medicinal herbs, flowers, and petals all cracked in an instant. Great mountains crumbled, great waves crashed continuously in the oceans, the great earth quaked, the mountains cracked open, trees broke, and clouds gathered from all four directions; thus, there were many terrifying signs. Likewise, lakes, springs, and rivers and all the waters seethed and became unclean and turgid. Even in the middle of the day, people saw meteors falling. In brief, all the gods and humans were overwhelmed with grief.
Practitioners and those traveling on the path were stricken with great suffering and pain and were unable to speak. Those who had achieved the path of no-more learning and had become arhats, thought to themselves, “All phenomena are impermanent. The Buddha, too, must pass into nirvana.” Gods, humans, yakṣas, rakṣasas, gandharvas, garuḍas, mahārājas, and nāgas felt great suffering and sorrow.
At that time, there were many arhats who had been liberated from birth and death and they said:
We have crossed the rivers of ordinary beings’ desires.
We are freed from birth, aging, sickness, and death.
But we still have the five aggregates.
They saw living in a body with the five aggregates as like being caught in a cage with four poisonous snakes and thought, “Today I will pass into nirvana without remainder.”
Those great arhats who lived in mountain retreats, in forests, on riverbanks, on lakeshores, or in valleys, according to their wishes, let go of this life and passed into nirvana. Thus, when the Buddha passed away, they also did the same. Some among them levitated into the sky and flew like swans, rose up to the clouds and displayed many miracles. They inspired faith in many sentient beings and then passed into nirvana.
The gods from the six classes of the desire realm up through the fourth level of dhyana of the form realm witnessed the arhats letting go of this conditioned life, and passing into nirvana, and they thought, “After the Buddha passed into nirvana, all the students who attained liberation have also passed into nirvana. The wanderers of these days are stricken with various illnesses of desirous craving, hatred, and delusion. The spiritual masters and elders, who are like their physicians, are gradually passing away. In the future, there will no longer be physicians who can cure them.”
His Holiness clarified that these were not ordinary physicians but physicians able to cure beings of the illnesses of greed, hatred and delusion. It was as if all the students, who were like lotuses growing from the ocean of boundless prajna (wisdom), had wilted and decayed. Even the tree of dharma was decaying and broken. The clouds of dharma were dissipating. The great elephants of prajna were passing away, and all the elephants’ calves, the Buddha’s students, were also passing away, after the Buddha’s parinirvana. They were saying that it was not good, as this meant that the world was going to be bereft of prajna, just like there being no more lamps to illuminate the way out of the darkness of unknowing.
2. The Gods Prostrate to Kāśyapa
While the gods of the formless realms do not think very much but are always in a deep state of samādhi, the gods of the six desire realms up to the form realm thought about the world being plunged in darkness and worried about there being no one to show them what should be done and what should be avoided. At that time, they all went to Mahākāśyapa, prostrated at Mahākāśyapa’s feet and then recited a praise of Mahākāśyapa:
You have lived long and given up desire, anger, and pride.
Your body is the color of gold from the river Jambu.
You are splendid and marvelous above and below.
Your eyes are as pure as a lotus.
His Holiness added that Mahākāśyapa’s body was indeed golden in color, that he looked very handsome, and his eyes were like a stainless lotus. After thus praising Mahākāśyapa, they said, “Great venerable Kāśyapa, do you know what is happening? This is a really terrible situation; the ship of dharma is sinking! The city of dharma is collapsing. The ocean of dharma is drying up. The banner of dharma is being lowered. The lamp of dharma is going out. The teachers of dharma have all left and gone far away. The people actually practicing dharma are becoming fewer and fewer, and wicked people will become more powerful. It is appropriate for you right here and now, with loving kindness and compassion, to plant the true dharma and make it remain stably.”
The gods were very agitated and worried that the Buddha’s teachings would disappear, but Mahākāśyapa’s thought was as stainless and calm as a great ocean. After a long while, he replied, “What you say is true. As you say, before long in this world there will be no more ‘prajna’ at all. It will be filled with ignorant delusion, and people will be unable to distinguish virtue from non-virtue, proper from improper, what should be done and what should not be done. The world will be in complete darkness.” In this way, without specifically saying that he would establish the basis for the Dharma, Mahākāśyapa agreed to do something about it The gods prostrated at Mahākāśyapa’s feet and returned to their own places in an instant.
3. Kāśyapa Gathers the Arhats
The way this is described in the “Great Commentary on the Hundred Thousand” is very different from the Shravaka accounts. Because the accounts from the Vinaya literature are primarily describing the events that occurred in accordance with the common perceptions of ordinary people, the Mahayana literature mentions gods and nagas and so forth.
In any case, what Mahākāśyapa did was to gather all the arhats. At that time, Mahākāśyapa asked himself, “What can I do so that these teachings that are so difficult to obtain, even after three uncountable aeons, are able to remain a long time?” He then continued, “I believe that the teachings must remain for a long time, and thus we must compile the teachings on the sutras, abhidharma and Vinaya; we need to compile all of the Buddha’s teachings into three baskets of the teachings. Only then will the teachings remain for a long time; it will prevent them from becoming scattered or dispersed. The people of the future will have something to praise, because in many lifetimes, the Buddha underwent many hardships and effort out of loving-kindness and compassion for boundless beings, discovered the true dharma, and taught it to beings. So, if we are able to gather and spread the dharma, then we will be able to help sentient beings.” Thus, Mahākāśyapa made up his mind, went to the top of Mount Meru and struck a copper ‘gaṇḍī’. A ‘gaṇḍī’ is the shaped board beaten at the sojong ceremony, usually made from wood and similar in use to a gong, but Mahākāśyapa’s was made from copper. Then Mahākāśyapa spoke this verse:
Students of the Buddha, please listen to me.
If you feel gratitude towards the Buddha for his teachings,
Today, in order to repay the Victor’s kindness,
Do not pass into nirvana.
Mahākāśyapa particularly addressed the arhats who had the ability to immediately pass away if they wanted to and said that there was no need to pass into nirvana as the Buddha’s teachings needed to be compiled. The sound of the ‘gaṇḍī’ and of Kāśyapa’s voice filled the entire world realm of the great three thousand and everyone with miraculous powers heard it; all of those students came to Mahākāśyapa and gathered around him. At that time, Mahākāśyapa said to them all, “The Buddha’s teachings are disappearing. Solely out of love for all sentient beings, the Buddha attained this true dharma, ignoring suffering and many hardships for three uncountable eons. And if the dharma disappeared, then that would not be good. The Buddha has passed into nirvana, and those students who know the dharma, are able to uphold it, able to recite it, are also following the footsteps of the Buddha and passing into nirvana. If the Buddha’s teachings disappear now, sentient beings of the future will be especially worthy of compassion. That would be a terrible situation, as they will have no more prajna, ignorance and delusion will grow. Therefore, just as the Buddha had such great love for all sentient beings, we also need to use the Dharma well and we have to uphold the lineage of dharma. So, we have to first compile the three baskets of the dharma, and once we have done that, each one of you may pass into nirvana, but before that you may not do so.”
In Chinese, there is a text that is called the “Precious Grove of Dharma”, a large compendium of many different dharma stories, from the time of the Tang dynasty which is very similar to the Mahayana. What it says, is that seven days after the Buddha passed into parinirvana, Mahākāśyapa said to five hundred arhats, “You five hundred arhats strike the ‘gaṇḍī’ to summon all the arhats who have the six clairvoyances in the buddha realms of the ten directions to come here to the Two Śāla Tree Grove (Yamakaśālavana). The Teacher Shakyamuṇi has passed into nirvana, and we have built a stupa of seven types of jewels. You all need to go off into your individual directions and gather all the arhats to tell them to come back here. Now it is time for everyone to gather here to compile the Buddha’s teachings. As soon as Mahākāśyapa said this, in the time it takes to stretch out one’s arm, the five hundred arhats went to as many realms in the universes in the ten directions and brought eight hundred million eight thousand arhats, who all gathered in the Sāla Tree Grove to listen to the dharma.
According to ordinary perception, one would think that there were five hundred arhats gathered there but according to particular perceptions, there were eight hundred million eight thousand arhats from all the universes in the ten directions. It was like a different dimension. Thus, the Mahayana descriptions sometimes do not match our ordinary way of seeing things.
According to the “Precious Grove of Dharma”, Mahākāśyapa then selected one thousand bhikshus, excluding Ananda, which accords with the “Great Commentary on the Hundred Thousand”, but differs from the Vinaya literature, which just mentions five hundred arhats. They were all arhats who possessed the six clairvoyances, rested evenly in liberation, who were unobstructed in liberation, had gained the three knowledges, mastered dhyana, knew the three baskets of the scriptures, and so they were the best among the arhats.
4. The Reason Why There Had to Be One Thousand Bhikshus
What it says in the “Great Commentary on the Hundred Thousand” is that there were a thousand bhikshus at the Council. Then, the question arose why there had to be a thousand. What it says in the “Great Commentary” is that innumerable arhats came, yet Mahākāśyapa only selected one thousand. Why was that?
The reason is that when King Bimbisāra and the 84000 ministers in his retinue achieved arhatship, the king made an offering of food to one thousand bhikshus This custom continued until the time of King Ajātaśatru, King Bimbisāra’s son. Thus, Mahākāśyapa thought, “If we always need to go out for alms while holding the Council, non-Buddhists might harass us, rouse suspicions, and so forth and therefore, we must not go out at all during this time; when people need to go outside, the Council will not turn our well. For this reason, we will go to a particular place in Rajagriha where people have the custom to offer food to the sangha. So, if we go to Rajagriha, there will be food offered for one thousand bhikshus, which will make it easier to hold the Council and to compile the teachings.” Thinking thus, Kāśyapa did not select more than one thousand bhikshus.
5.Holding the Council in Rājagṛiha
At that time, Mahākāśyapa and the thousand bhikshus went to Vulture Peak Mountain in Rajagriha, and when they arrived there, Mahākāśyapa said to King Ajātaśatru, the king of Rajagriha, “Please prepare food for us every day and bring it to us. Starting from today, we are compiling the three baskets of the sutras and may not leave this place while holding the Council and cannot go on alms round.”
The “Precious Grove of Dharma” cites the Mahāsāṃghika vinaya scriptures to describe the compilation:
When Mahākāśyapa and the thousand bhikshus arrived in Rajagriha, they prepared their lodgings, mattresses and cushions. In the middle, they also made a throne for the Buddha. To its right was a seat for Śāriputra and to its left one for Maudgayāyana. Beneath, they prepared a seat for Kāśyapa, and all the other seats. Then they prepared all the provisions they needed for four months – three months of the rains retreat and an additional month – so that there would be no contact with anyone on the outside for the four months of the council, they prepared everything they would need ahead of time.
Then, all the bhikshus gathered, most of whom were arhats. Some of them had heard the vinaya once from the Buddha, others had heard it once from the Buddha’s disciples, some had heard it twice from the Buddha, and some had heard it twice from the disciples. At that time, the sangha discussed who should be in the Council: “We should invite those who have the three knowledges and six clairvoyances and in addition have heard the vinaya twice from the Buddha or from the disciples.”
It appears that after they had applied these criteria, there were just 498 bhikshus who qualified. But they needed 500 bhikshus. They knew that the elder Aniruddha (Pali: Anuruddha) would join them later, but they were still one short.
At that time, there was an elder called Li pó tí [in the Chinese text], who had taken vows from Maudgalyāyana. Mahākāśyapa said to him, “You have to go to the heaven of the thirty-three and summon bhikshu Shuò tí nà. Tell him that the Buddha has passed into parinirvana and the bhikshus are to compile the Buddha’s scriptures.”
As instructed, Elder Lí pó tí went to the realm of the thirty-three, where he met the bhikshu Shuò tí nà to whom he said, “Elder, the Buddha has passed into parinirvana. All the bhikshus have to compile the Buddha’s scriptures, and you have been invited.” As soon as the bhikshu heard the events, he was saddened and asked, “Has the Buddha really passed into nirvana? If the Buddha were in the world, I would certainly come. But now the eye of the world has gone blind.” He miraculously levitated into the sky, entered the samādhi of fire, his body burnt up and he passed into parinirvana.
After Elder Lí pó tí saw this occur, he returned to Mahākāśyapa and the sangha and described what he had seen and heard. Then, Mahākāśyapa sent Lí pó tí once again to the palace in the thirty-three realm to summon the arhat Jiāo fàn bō tí and several others, all arhats. It was a hard time for Lí pó tí, going to see each one of them. He told them that the sangha had asked him to invite them all – yet when they heard about the Buddha’s passing into parinirvana, their response was that if the Buddha were still there, they would certainly have gone, but now they were not going, and they all passed into nirvana.
At the very end, Lí pó tí went to the palace of the great king Vaiśravaṇa, one of the four great kings, to invite another arhat there. Lí pó tí repeated his request whereupon the arhat was really saddened by the news and also passed into parinirvana himself.
Elder Lí pó tí returned to Mahākāśyapa and the sangha and related the events, saying that he had done all he could and had gone everywhere he was asked to go, but to no avail. Mahākāśyapa said, “Great elders, it’s better to put an end to this and stop inviting arhats, because everyone we summon passes into nirvana. If we keep on searching, they’ll all pass into nirvana and in the end, there will be no more arhats left and no more field of merit in this world.”
One bhikshu spoke up, “Elders, Venerable Ananda is right here, he was the Buddha’s attendant and heard the dharma directly from him. In the past, the Buddha said Ananda was the foremost in three qualities, so we should invite him.”
Mahākāśyapa immediately said, “It is not right to summon Ananda. He is still on the path of learning, whereas we are on the path of no-more learning, we are all arhats. If we include him in the ranks of those on the path of no-more learning, it would be the same as seating a jackal among lions. Thus, we cannot include Ananda among us.”
6. The Accusations Against Ananda
At that time, as they spent the three months of the rains retreat, the sangha gathered for their bi-monthly confession ceremony (Tib. sojong). When they all gathered, they discussed the vinaya. Mahākāśyapa entered samādhi and, looking with the divine eye, saw that among everyone gathered only Ananda had not abandoned the afflictions.
He knew that Ananda needed to be expelled. Then, Mahākāśyapa rose from his samādhi and from where everyone could see him, grabbed Ananda’s arm and said, “All bhikshus here are free and stainless, they are all arhats. We are here to compile the sutras, but you have not extinguished your defilements, you are not an arhat,” pulled his arm and expelled him from the community.
When that happened, as he was not an arhat yet, Ananda was extremely embarrassed. He felt extremely sad and cried, saying to himself, “I served the Buddha as his attendant for twenty-five years, staying close to him, and have never had such a difficult situation as I have now. The Buddha is truly compassionate, so he would forgive and understand even someone like me. If I had abandoned all my afflictions, that would not have made a difference to the Buddha. He would be able to forgive me.” As he thought thus, he said to Kāśyapa, “I have abilities and practice, so give me a bit of time and I shall immediately achieve arhatship. Don’t expel me from the community. The reason why I have not yet achieved arhatship is not because I lack abilities or I did not practice, but because I had to serve the Buddha as his attendant. Because, if I had achieved arhatship, then [according to the Shravaka tradition] the Buddha and I would have been the same, having the same level of attainment. In that case, the Buddha could not have put me to work and order me about, so I intentionally did not free myself from the bonds and did not achieve arhatship. I did this so I could serve the Buddha. Therefore, just give me a little bit of time and I will immediately achieve arhatship.”
At this point, His Holiness concluded the teachings.