Introduction

Recently I published a text and translation of the Ariyapariyesanasutta (MN 26), which is probably the best known of the discourses in which the Buddha discusses his practice as a Bodhisatta, his Awakening and decision to teach.

The remarkable thing in connection with that work was the finding, contrary to popular belief, that the Buddha did not identify Uddaka as a teacher, but only as a friend in the spiritual life, and that the Bodhisatta, on his own account, therefore had only acknowledged one teacher during this period, not two.

That discourse, however, presents an incomplete story, that needs to be supplemented by the information given in the Mahāsaccakasutta (MN 36), which again only tells a partial story, there being information available in MN 26 that is not in MN 36, as well as the other way round. MN 100, the Discourse to Saṅgārava, contains the same information as Mahāsaccaka, which is again incomplete. 01

Later, however, in the second collection of 50 discourses (Majjhimapaṇṇāsa) we have a discourse given to Prince Bodhi in which both sections of the story are amalgamated and presented in a clear beginning-to-end type narrative.

Unfortunately this discourse has not gathered the attention it deserves because it has been so heavily abbreviated in both the text and translation versions, The PTS text, and Bhikkhu Nyanamoli’s translation both take up a meagre six pages because of this, and refer back to the two discourses in the earlier collection with instruction on how to reassemble the material.02 quite unlike the situation in the traditional Theravāda countries where both have been written out more or less in full.

The text and translation presented here aims to rectify that situation and give a proper picture of both the text and translation, and the important story it contains in full. This introduction though needs to be supplemented by a reading of the important findings contained in the Introduction to the Discourse about the Noble Search.

Here is a synopsis of this part of the story and the sections found in the various discourses discussed above.

Noble Search

Mahāsaccaka

Prince Bodhi

moving to Uruvelā

moving to Uruvelā

moving to Uruvelā

meeting with Āḷāra

meeting with Āḷāra

meeting with Āḷāra

meeting with Uddaka

meeting with Uddaka

meeting with Uddaka

 

the three similes

the three similes

 

suppression of thought

suppression of thought

 

suppression of breath

suppression of breath

 

suppression of food

suppression of food

 

discovery of the true path

discovery of the true path

 

attainment of absorption

attainment of absorption

 

attainment of three knowledges

attainment of three knowledges

Awakening

Awakening

Awakening

Brahma’s request

 

Brahma’s request

deciding who to teach

 

deciding who to teach

journey to Bārāṇasī, and meeting with Upaka

 

journey to Bārāṇasī, and meeting with Upaka

meeting with the group-of-five monks

 

meeting with the group-of-five monks

the group-of-five monks’ attainment

 

the group-of-five monks’ attainment

The discourse here opens with Prince Bodhi’s desire to offer a meal to the Buddha and his disciples at his newly built Pink Lotus Palace in the Bhagga country, which was west of Bārāṇasī, somewhere near Kosambī.

There is a curious incident at the beginning of the discourse when the Buddha refuses to enter the Palace until the white cloth that has been spread on the steps is taken up. After the meal, Prince Bodhi tells the Buddha that he had had the following thought: “Happiness is not gained through pleasure, happiness is only gained through pain.”

This prompts the Buddha to admit, that he too had had that thought at one time, and he relates the story of his going-forth, his meeting with Āḷāra and Uddaka, his move to Uruvelā and practice of severe austerities, like thought, breath and food control, before his realisation that because his body was unbalanced, his mind was unable to make progress.

I should note here that the section about the three similes must be out of place as it stands, as it is hardly credible that someone who had realised that asceticism, no matter how painful, was irrelevant to the attainment of Awakening, would then go on to practice extreme asceticism for the following six years.

The proper place for the similes, therefore, seems to be at the end of the austerity period, although it is placed at this position by the three discourses which contain it. In the Sanskrit parallel to this discourse found in fragments, the similes are indeed placed after the austerities. See Ven. Analayo’s A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya, p. 236.03

He then finds the right path by remembering an incident in his childhood in which he had attained absorption (jhāna), which though pleasant, was not entangled with sensual desire, and was a way to a higher level of insight.

The discourse then relates the practice through the successive levels of absorption, and with that as basis to the three knowledges and Awakening, followed by his initial hesitation and final decision to teach after being prompted by the Great Brahma.

He then traveled to Isipatana, where he met his former disciples and started his teaching career, which led after one week to all five becoming Arahats. Unfortunately the teachings he gave, now known as the The Discourse that Set the Dhamma Wheel Rolling (Dhammacakkapavattanasutta) and the Discourse about the Characteristic of Non-Self (Anattalakkhaṇasutta) are not included, though they evidently form the backdrop to the results recorded here.

At the end of the present discourse, Prince Bodhi asks how long the training under the Lord Buddha may take, who answers with a succession of diminishing periods up to being taught in the evening and realising in the morning and vica versa, if the disciple is ready and has the necessary qualifications.

Prince Bodhi then confirms his lay discipleship of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, which had first been taken on his behalf by his Mother, while still in the womb, and by his wet-nurse, while dangling him on her hip, and which he now reconfirms.

The interest in the discourse mainly lies in the narrative of his striving, Awakening and decision to teach, and results gained from that, which now form the backbone of the Buddha Legend, and are certainly the most authentic part of it.

Ānandajoti Bhikkhu
June 2014