The Mar Ngok Summer Teachings 2022: Day 7
Before His Holiness the Karmapa began the teachings, he spoke about the fact that although the Coronavirus pandemic has overall been well contained in China, it is presently spreading in the Autonomous Region of Tibet as well as in all the areas of Xinghai and Sichuan, where there are large Tibetan populations, which, His Holiness continued, has made him feel quite concerned. His Holiness gave the advice that we do not only need to be careful personally, but as Tibetans, who are Buddhists and go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, it is important not to be afraid but to take refuge in and pray to the gurus and yidams as well as the Dharma protectors, recite mantras of the enlightened ones, recite the ‘21 Praises of Tara’, supplications to Guru Padmasambhava and in particular recite the dharanis of Mārīcī, and Parṇaśavarī which will bring great benefit. Yet, what is most important, is to increase one’s mental strength and enthusiasm. His Holiness said that he is offering prayers that all the Tibetans in the Tibetan regions may be healthy and happy and asked everyone to make similar prayers.
The Karmapa began today’s teachings by introducing the Buddha’s attendant, Ananda, whose name in English can be translated as “Joy to all” and who stood out in many ways among the Buddha’s many disciples.
First topic: How Ananda Went Forth and Practiced the Dharma
One reason why Ananda stood out among all the disciples of the Buddha is that according to the oral tradition in the Theravada tradition, both Ananda and the Buddha were born into the Śakya clan on the same day. Ananda’s father Amṛtodana and the Buddha’s father Śuddhodana were brothers or half-brothers, so Ananda and the Buddha were cousins on their fathers’ side. According to the Theravada tradition, they grew up together in the town of Kapilavastu. Amṛtodana was also the father of Aniruddha (Pāli: Anuruddha), the greatest of those with the divine eye, though it remains unclear whether he and Ananda were full or half-brothers.
However, according to the Chinese tradition, Ananda was the second son of the Buddha’s uncle Śuklodana and was born on the day the Buddha achieved enlightenment. When he was born, the king was delighted, and all the courtiers had a feast, which is why he received his name, “Joy to all”. He was Devadatta’s younger brother. His face was like a stainless full moon, and his eyes were like blue utpala flowers. He went forth at the age of eight and took full ordination through a four-part action with a request through the proper ordination ritual. Among all the Buddha’s students, he was the greatest and the most learned in the Dharma. He served the Buddha as his attendant for thirty-one years. He memorized all the Dharma teachings that the buddha taught and thus was like a treasurer of the Dharma.
According to the Vinaya Vastu from the Tibetan Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition, the Buddha’s son Rāhula and Ananda were both born at the same time as the Buddha awoke to enlightenment at the age of 35. It was a day of great happiness. During the six years in which the Buddha practiced asceticism, people in Kapilavastu believed that the Buddha had passed away while practicing austerities, which caused everyone in Kapilavastu a lot of sorrow and pain. Then they heard that the Buddha had not died but had, in fact, achieved enlightenment, thus everyone was joyful, and Ananda was born at this time —on a day when everyone rejoiced and for this reason was named Ananda, “Joy to all” or “All joy”.
When the Buddha returned to his homeland of Kapilavastu six years after his awakening, Ananda was six years old, at which age he went forth. It was Daśabala Kāśyapa who gave him vows and fully ordained him. He was made the Buddha’s attendant when the Buddha was sixty. From then on, he served as the Buddha’s assistant until the Buddha passed away at the age of eighty. This is in accordance with the account in the Mūlasarvāstivāda tradition.
The Śakya family line
There are different ways the Śakya family line is described in the sutras and treatizes. The “Aggañña Sutta”, or “Sutra on Going Forth”, which was translated into Chinese in the 6th century by the Indian master Jñānagupta —at a time when Buddhism had already spread to China but not yet in Tibet—says that the Shakya king Siṃhahanu had four sons and one daughter. The oldest son was Śuddhodana. The second son was Śuklodana, the third called Droṇodana, the fourth Amṛtodana, and his daughter was named Amṛtā. In turn, their offspring can be listed as follows:
- Śuddhodana fathered Sidhārtha and Nanda. Sidhārtha fathered Rāhula
- Śuklodana fathered Tiṣya and Bhadraka
- Amṛtodana fathered Ānanda and Devadatta
According to the “Abhiniṣkramaṇa Sūtra” translated by the same Master Jñānagupta, we find the following presentation:
- Śuddhodana fathered Sidhārtha and Nanda. Sidhārtha fathered Rāhula.
- Śuklodana fathered Tiṣya and Bhadraka
- Droṇodana fathered Devadatta and Ānanda
- Amṛtodana fathered Anirudha and Mahānāman
- Amṛtarasa fathered Tiṣya
In the “Chapter of the Schism” from the “Vinaya Vastu” translated into Tibetan in the 8th century by the Tibetan translator Kawa Paltsek, King Siṃhahanu had four sons: Śuddhodana, Śuklodana, Droṇodana, and Amṛtodana and their respective offsprings were:
- Śuddhodana fathered Sidhārtha and Nanda. Sidhārtha had Rāhula.
- Śuklodana fathered Tiṣya and Bhadraka
- Droṇodana fathered Mahānāman and Aniruddha.
- Amṛtodana fathered Ānanda and Devadatta
According to many Chinese sources including the “Śakya Family Line” written during the Tang dynasty:
- Śuddhodana fathered Sidhārtha and Nanda. Sidhārtha fathered Rāhula.
- Śuklodana fathered Ānanda and Devadatta
- Droṇodana fathered Mahānāman and Aniruddha
- Amṛtodana fathered Tiṣya and Bhadraka
When we look at the descriptions of the Śakya family line, they all agree that the Buddha and Nanda’s father was Śuddhodana and that the Buddha’s son was Rahula, but they disagree as to whether Ananda’s father was Śuklodana, Amṛtodana, or Droṇodana. Except for the Theravada, all other traditions say that Devadatta and Ananda had the same father, but there are differences regarding who was elder or younger.
The Karmapa pointed out how important it is for the nuns and monks to know the relationship between the Tibetan tradition and accounts in other Buddhist traditions and their differences.
According to the Theravada tradition, when Ananda reached the age of 37, he entered the sangha with his half-brother Aniruddha, Devadatta, and many other high-status people of the Śakya clan. The Khenpo, who gave him the full ordination, was the Arhat Belaṭṭhasīsa (Pāli), and as Ananda was very diligent, he reached the result of stream-entry during his first rains retreat.
Later, when Ananda was teaching the bhikshus, he told them that Puṇṇa Mantāniputta (Pali; Skt. Pūrṇa Maitrayāṇīputra) had been very helpful for him in his practice. Puṇṇa taught the Dharma to new bhikshus and particularly gave profound explanations of the relationship between the five aggregates and the self and how the self is established on the basis of the five aggregates. Because of listening to Puṇṇa’s teachings, Ananda’s understanding of the impermanence, suffering, and selflessness of the five aggregates deepened. Ultimately, his prajñā, or wisdom, was fully ripened and he achieved the result of stream-entry.
Ananda was from a wealthy royal family but nevertheless became ordained and went forth to join the Buddha’s sangha. He was fully satisfied with the monastic lifestyle and recognized that embarking on the path to liberation and going forth was very fortunate. In his first year of living a bhikshu’s lifestyle, he only had interest and enthusiasm for the different methods to tame his own being, so he had no difficulty with the monastic lifestyle after he was ordained.
Over the course of those 25 years, his practice improved continuously.
Though Ananda was later made the Buddha’s attendant, he continued to practice as he had before. He realized that continuing to strive to achieve liberation was serving the Buddha, so he did not in any way take a break from those practices. He wrote some verses about this, which are in the Pali tradition. To translate them roughly:
Through the full twenty-five years,
My dharma practice progressed.
I never felt worldly cravings
And realized the nature of true Dharma. (Thag. 1039-1040)
For the full twenty-five years,
My Dharma practice progressed.
I never felt any hatred
And realized the nature of true Dharma.
His Holiness commented that these verses say that Ananda was genuinely worthy of being the Buddha’s attendant and that – even though Ananda was no more than someone on the path of learning – for twenty-five years of offering service to the Buddha, his practice continually improved. Ananda never felt any desire or anger, showing his profound connection to the Buddha, whom he served with great faith and dedication, never feeling that he was anything special. He practiced as if he were an ordinary monk and was not overcome by pride.
Second topic: Ananda’s Fame
A living embodiment of the Dharma
Ananda had many great qualities, all of which would be too difficult to cover, His Holiness continued, and therefore he pointed out just a few of them. Ananda can be considered a living embodiment of the Dharma as he had a very high level of understanding of the Dharma; even the Buddha said that Ananda was like the living Dharma or the Dharma in flesh and blood. His Holiness recounted how on one occasion, a lay student asked the Buddha, “After I have prostrated to the Buddha and Sangha, how should I prostrate to the Dharma?” At that time, the Dharma had not been written down, so the Buddha said, “Child of noble family, if you wish to prostrate to the true Dharma, you should prostrate to the treasurer of true Dharma, Ananda.” Because of this, the lay student invited Ananda and made offerings to him, including a valuable piece of cloth. Ananda offered the cloth to noble Shariputra, to whom he was very close, and Shariputra offered it to the Buddha, as he was the supreme field of merit. This shows how Ananda was the living representative of the Dharma.
On another occasion, Ananda asked the Buddha a question and then went outside. After he had left, the Buddha commented, “Ananda may only be a learner (i.e. not yet an arhat), but if you had to look for someone with as much prajñā as him, it wouldn’t be easy.”
A person without enemies
The Karmapa spoke about Ananda’s fame and how this could have been a reason for people becoming jealous or resentful of him. But in actuality, Ananda had no such enemies, which, His Holiness said, was very remarkable, as even the Buddha himself had enemies who intentionally tried to harm and create obstacles for him, such as Devadatta. The reason for Ananda having no enemies was due to events from Ananda’s previous lives and his clear intentions from the moment he entered the gate of the Dharma. Due to this, his renown and fame did not affect him in any way or make him feel proud or arrogant. And modest people with no pride or arrogance but wholesome intentions have naturally fewer enemies or people who feel envious of them.
According to the Theravada tradition, Aniruddha was his half-brother who severed all ties to society and concentrated entirely on resting in deep meditation. Thus, it was relatively easy to have no enemies. But Ananda’s situation was the opposite: He was caught in the middle between the Buddha and the Buddha’s students and could have easily met with the malice and enmity of small-minded people. So, for him to have no particular enemies or adversaries can be called an exceptional quality of Ananda’s.
The ‘treasury of much listening’
His Holiness then touched on the “Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra”, in which the Buddha said that Ananda had eight inconceivable qualities and that he was a ‘treasury of much listening’. It may seem strange, His Holiness observed, to quote from the Mahayana Sutras when discussing the First Council [which predates them] but they provide invaluable information on how the disciples of the Buddha practiced and studied the Dharma, which in turn will be helpful for us to see what is important for our own minds.
The Eight Inconceivable Qualities
1. Though he had spent twenty years serving the Buddha as his attendant, Ananda never followed the Buddha upon an invitation as a guest or tried to look impressive.
2. During the entire time that Ananda had served the Buddha, he had never wanted the Buddha’s old robes.
3. Since the time that Ananda began serving the Buddha, he had never come to the Buddha at an inappropriate time, always being aware when the time was appropriate.
4. Ananda had not abandoned all his afflictions of desire, yet he never experienced desire or lust during the long time he was the Buddha’s attendant. While accompanying the Buddha, he had gone to royal palaces and the harems of high-caste queens and seen beautiful women, goddesses and naga maidens, but he had never felt desire or lust.
5. Since becoming the Buddha’s servant, Ananda was able to memorize the twelve different types of sutras that the Buddha had taught, even if he had heard them merely once; he did not forget even one word, and thus there was no need for him to ask any questions. His Holiness compared this quality to pouring all the water from one jug into another or copying files from a pen drive onto a computer without missing anything.
6. Although Ananda did not have the wisdom to read others’ minds, he nevertheless always knew when the Tathāgata was in samadhi and which type of samadhi the Buddha was resting in.
7. Even though Ananda had not achieved the wisdom of aspirations, even without clairvoyance, he nevertheless had been able to perceive which sentient beings would, if they came into the Tathāgata’s presence, achieve the results of spiritual practice immediately, later, or whether they would achieve a divine or human body.
8. Since Ananda became the Buddha’s attendant, he had understood everything the Tathāgata had thought and then said; in other words, he would immediately know what the Buddha thought without actually saying it.
His Holiness remarked that these are some of the qualities not only possessed by the Buddha but also qualities an attendant needs to have. For this reason, Ananda is known as the ‘treasury of much listening’.
The same applies to the attendant of a lama, or guru these days, the Karmapa reflected. Choosing the right attendant, one with pure intentions and a broad mind, is not easy. Sometimes attendants are too small-minded and this can cause difficulties for the lama who has ways of thinking which are larger and broader than those of ordinary people. The effect can be like putting the lama into a pressure cooker. The lama cannot do anything, and the pressure cooker will explode one day. People often criticized lamas and tulkus, but some of the responsibility lay with the attendants.
Attending the Buddha
Ananda’s main distinction is that the Buddha praised him as being the best among his many attendants. Yet, merely saying that he was the Buddha’s “attendant” or “servant” does not suffice to describe how he served the Buddha. He was also his secretary, helper and administrator. He was what could be called a ‘jack of all trades’ – the person who does everything. Normally, when we say ‘attendant’, we think of a servant, someone of lower status. Generally speaking, Ananda administered the Buddha’s internal and external affairs and offered his opinions to the Buddha with pure intentions. So Ananda was much more than an ’attendant’.
The eight conditions for Ananda to be the attendant
According to the Theravada tradition, the Buddha and Ananda were born on the same day. And when they got to the age of fifty-two, the Buddha convened a meeting of the bhikshus, at which time he said:
“During the twenty years that I have guided the sangha, I have had many different attendants. However, until now, I have not had any adequate or appropriate one. Now that I have reached the age of fifty-two, I need an attendant I can have confidence in and rely upon.”
At that time, many said, “I’ll do it” or “He’ll do it,” but the Buddha disagreed with them. So, the elder bhikshus expressed their hope to Ananda, who was modest, knew how to think, and in their opinion would be the best to serve as the Buddha’s attendant.
His Holiness then shared a story told in the Theravada tradition of the time before Ananda became the Buddha’s attendant. He said that there were many different attendants before Ananda, yet none of them served the Buddha continuously like Ananda did. When the Buddha went on alms round, the bhikshus would take turns, carrying his robes and alms bowl. Yet, probably none of them turned out well, as they often failed to listen to what the Buddha said. For example, a bhikshu called Nagasamala was the attendant at one time. One day they came to a fork in the road. The attendant wanted to go one way and the Buddha wanted to go the other way. The Buddha warned that they should not go down the way which Nagasamala favoured. However, Nagasamala disregarded what the Buddha said and set off down the road, still carrying the Buddha’s alms bowl and robes and leaving the Buddha behind. Further down the road, bandits attacked Nagasamala, beat him badly and stole the Buddha’s alms bowl and robes.
Both the Chinese and the Tibetan traditions mention another attendant by name, Lekpe Karma, or Shunarakshita in Sanskrit.
When the question arose as to who should be the Buddha’s attendant, everyone else was saying “I’ll do it,” but Ananda kept silent, and the Buddha asked him why. He replied, “The Buddha knows clearly who would be appropriate as an attendant. It should be someone in whom the Buddha has confidence. So even though I would like to be the Buddha’s attendant, at that time, I said nothing. The Buddha should decide. Other than that I have nothing to say.”
Later, the Buddha declared, “The one who is appropriate to be my attendant is Ananda.” However, Ananda felt no pride to have received that opportunity, and moreover made eight conditions for him to be the attendant, which the Buddha accepted:
The first four conditions were things that were not allowed:
- The Buddha could not give Ananda robes.
- The Buddha could not share food he had been offered with Ananda.
- Ananda could not be given lodgings that had been offered to the Buddha
- When the Buddha was invited by an individual (for example to teach Dharma or receive offerings), Ananda could not be brought along in the retinue.
The last four conditions were things that were allowed:
- If Ananda was invited to receive offerings, he was allowed to invite the Buddha also.
- If a traveler arrived from far away, Ananda could welcome them and arrange an audience with the Buddha.
- If Ananda had any questions or doubts about the true Dharma, he could ask the Buddha at any time.
- If the Buddha taught Dharma when Ananda was absent, he would repeat it to Ananda.
One might think that it was disrespectful to bring up these conditions, yet, Ananda said the reason for the first four conditions was that people might say that he had become the Buddha’s attendant to be close to him, receive offerings and in order to accumulate things. The last four requests were because people might think that while he served the Buddha, he took no interest in practicing the Dharma.
Understanding that Ananda’s eight conditions accorded with the Dharma, the Buddha accepted them all. From then on, Ananda was responsible for attending to the Buddha, and he continued to serve the Buddha for twenty-five years (according to the Theravada tradition).
In the Mūlasarvāstivādin tradition, whether in the Vinaya or the middle-length discourse of the Chinese scriptures, it is said that Ananda set out three conditions: Firstly, Ananda requested the Buddha not to give him his old robes; secondly, Ananda asked not to be taken along when the Buddha was invited by someone to receive offerings; and thirdly, Ananda wished to see the Buddha at any time.
Accompanying the Buddha like a shadow
In the “Verses of the Elders” (Theraghātā) of the Theravada school, there are three stanzas by Ananda. In them, he speaks briefly of how he served as the Buddha’s attendant for one third of the Buddha’s life. To translate them in brief:
“I, Ananda, have served the Buddha for twenty-five years, and while I served the Buddha, I have had respectful and loving intentions, actions, and speech. I have accompanied him as inseparable as a shadow and a body.”
As the Buddha was the greatest being in the world, it was very hard to find someone with good understanding and discernment to serve him. Thinking about the situation in Tibet, His Holiness went on, there have been many lamas who were great scholars and protectors, but very few who have been able to understand them and serve them in the way they want.
Ananda served the Buddha with genuine care for a very long time. For example, Ananda would fetch water in the mornings and help the Buddha wash his face. At the same time, as it was the custom in India at that time, he would offer him a tooth-stick and help him clean his teeth. Likewise, he would prepare his seat, wash his feet, massage his back, fan him, clean and tidy his residence, sew his robes, and so forth. According to one text, Ananda was an excellent tailor and sewed most of the Buddha’s robes. At night, Ananda would sleep near the Buddha so that he could be called quickly.
At this point, His Holiness shared a detail he had been told, that His Holiness the 16th Karmapa used to have an attendant or chamberlain who never loosened his belt at night in order to be ready to get up for the Karmapa at any time. If the 16th Karmapa said, “Come!”, this attendant would get up immediately. Similarly, Ananda would escort the Buddha to the temple and meetings of the sangha and look to see if anything had been left behind. Similarly, when the Buddha summoned the sangha, Ananda was the one who would make the announcements; sometimes, he would even have to call the bhikshus at midnight.
When the Buddha was ill, Ananda was responsible for giving him his medicine. One day, the sangha neglected to take care of a severely ill bhikshu, so the Buddha and Ananda cooperated to bathe the patient and carry him to the medical clinic. In brief, Ananda spent every day doing many internal and external tasks, looking after the Buddha, who was both his elder paternal cousin and his guru, like a good mother or a loving wife.
How he was like a bridge between the Buddha and the public
Ananda was like a good personal secretary or helper who would make smooth connections between the Buddha and the several thousand bhikshus. Likewise, many non-Buddhists came. He, Shariputra, and Maudgalyayana tried to sort out the many different problems that arose from conflicts within the sangha. When there was a dispute amongst the bhikshus in Kauśāmbī, for instance, or when Devadatta created a dispute that led to the schism within the sangha and most of the bhikshus started following Devadatta, Ananda, Shariputra, and Maudgalyayana tried many different ways to resolve these disputes.
Ananda was the primary person who clarified others’ doubts and questions and maintained order through stable rules. He was like an impartial, unbiased observer among the bhikshus. Usually, he was the one who arranged audiences with the Buddha for the bhikshus, and he also disseminated the Buddha’s instructions to the bhikshus. Thus, Ananda had great responsibilities. He understood well that he was like a bridge; no matter who had a request, he tried to fulfill it instead of creating barriers.
How he had the affection to sacrifice himself
Ananda had a great affection for the Buddha and the willingness to sacrifice himself for the sake of the Buddha. For example, when Devadatta loosed a wild elephant on the Buddha in order to harm him, Ananda stood in front of the Buddha without any regard for his own life or limb and did what he could to prevent the Buddha from being killed or hurt, even at the cost of his own life. At that time, the Buddha remonstrated with him, ordering him to come back, but Ananda would not listen. Only after the Buddha had tamed the elephant with his miraculous powers did Ananda stop trying to sacrifice himself.
Because of how he acted then, Ananda’s fame grew even greater than before, and the Buddha told the bhikshus that Ananda had protected the Buddha’s life four times in previous lives. This shows the character and qualities that Ananda had, and how the connection between the Buddha and Ananda had endured for many lifetimes and aeons.
Third Topic: Ananda’s Attitude toward Women
Ananda had a particular connection with women. When women were ordained, for instance, Ananda supported them and played a crucial role in the formation of the bhikshuni sangha. Because Ananda was naturally very loving, compassionate and caring, he was greatly concerned about those in difficult circumstances as well as the joys and sorrows of all four sangha communities. He had great care and concern not only for the bhikshus and male lay practitioners but also for the bhikshunis and female lay practitioners. This, however, brought him a lot of problems.
At this point, His Holiness concluded the teachings for the day.