“The best of paths is the Eightfold Path. The best of truths are the four Sayings.
Non-attachment is the best of states. The best of bipeds is the Seeing One.”273
Five Hundred Monks
When the Buddha returned to the monastery at Sāvatthī after his touring the country some monks were discussing the routes they had taken. The Buddha remarked that those paths were irrelevant to their emancipation and advised them to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, uttering the above verses.
“All conditions are impermanent:” when one sees this with wisdom,
one is disgusted with suffering; this is the path to purity.”277
The Characteristic of Impermanence
The Buddha, perceiving that many monks had meditated on impermanence in the past, advised them to continue that meditation.
“‘All conditions are unsatisfactory:’ when one sees this with wisdom,
one is disgusted with suffering; this is the path to purity.”278
The Characteristic of Unsatisfactoriness
The Buddha, perceiving that many monks had meditated on unsatisfactoriness in the past, advised them to continue that meditation.
“‘All phenomena are not-self:’ when one sees this with wisdom,
one is disgusted with suffering; this is the path to purity.”279
The Characteristic of Not-self
The Buddha, perceiving that many monks had meditated on not-self¹ in the past, advised them to continue that meditation.
“The inactive idler who strives not when he should strive,
who, though young and strong, is slothful,
with (good) thoughts depressed,
does not by wisdom realise the Path.”280
Striving Tissa’s Story
Five hundred sons of good families went forth together, and having obtained a meditation object, they went to the forest and attained Arahantship, except for one idle monk who remained behind in the monastery. When they returned to Sāvatthī, the Buddha exchanged friendly greetings with them, but not with the one who had been negligent. This stimulated him to strive to attain Arahantship. He strove hard in the night, but overcome by drowsiness he stumbled and broke his thigh. His cries brought his fellow monks to attend on him. The Buddha commented on the difficulty of an idle person gaining realisation.
“Watchful of speech, well restrained in mind,
let him do nought unskillful through his body.
Let him purify these three ways of action
and win the path realised by the sages.”281
The Pig Ghost
In the time of the Buddha Kassapa, a monk divided two monks who were friends. When he died he was reborn in Avīci hell, and during the time of the Buddha Gotama was reborn as a hideous Peta. The Elder Moggallāna saw him and mentioned it to the Buddha, who said that he had also seen him on an earlier occasion. The Buddha related the story of his previous life to warn of the evil consequences of slandering, and uttered the above verse.
“From meditation arises wisdom.
Without meditation wisdom wanes.
Knowing this twofold path of gain and loss,
let one so conduct oneself so that wisdom increases.”282
The Elder Poṭṭhila’s Story
The Elder Poṭṭhila, though well versed in the Tipiṭaka, was constantly addressed by the Buddha as “Empty Poṭṭhila” in order to stimulate him to attain Arahantship. He took the hint and went to a distant forest monastery where lived thirty Arahants. He asked the seniormost elder for meditation instruction, but thinking he would be too proud to instruct, the elder sent him to the next elder. He thought the same and sent him to the next most senior elder. Finally, he begged the youngest novice to be his teacher. The novice asked if he would do his bidding. The elder said he would enter a fire if told to. The novice told him to plunge into a nearby pool to test his sincerity. At once, the elder plunged into the pool with all his robes on. The novice told him to come out, and instructed him. “To catch a lizard that had entered an ant-hill with six holes, one would cover five holes and keep watch at the sixth. Thus one should close the five sense, and watch the mind. The elder understood, and meditated thus to gain Arahantship. Seeing him with his Divine Eye, the Buddha projected his image before him and uttered the above verse. At the conclusion of the discourse, the elder gained Arahantship.
“Cut down the entire forest, not just a single tree. From the forest springs fear.
Cutting down both forest¹ and brushwood, be passionless, O monks.”283
Five Elderly Monks
Five elderly men went forth as monks. They built for themselves a hermitage at the edge of the monastery, went for alms to the houses of their sons and daughters, and ate their meal at the house of the former wife of one of the monks, who offered curries and sauces. When she died of some disease, the monks gathered back at the hermitage and wept. The monks reported this to the Buddha who advised them to practise non-attachment.
“Cut off your affection, as though it were an autumn lily, with the hand.
Cultivate the path of peace.
Nibbāna has been expounded by the Auspicious One.”285
The Goldsmith Elder
A young monk went forth under the Elder Sāriputta. Thinking, “Young men are lustful,” he taught him to meditate on the impurities of the body. After a month, he had had no success, so he returned to the elder who explained the meditation object again. After a second and a third month the elder took him to see the Buddha, who, perceiving his disposition, created for him a lotus of ruddy gold as a focus for mental concentration. The monk succeeded in his meditation, gained the jhānas and developing his faculties as advised by the Buddha. The Buddha then made the lotus fade, and gaining the perception of impermanence, the young monk attained Arahantship within a single day.
“Here will I live in the rainy season, here in the autumn and in the summer:
thus muses the fool. He realises not the danger (of death).”286
The Merchant of Great Wealth
A merchant from Benares travelled to Sāvatthī with five hundred carts to sell his merchandise during an annual festival, but his progress was halted by a river in flood. Since had come a long way (about 300 miles) he thought of selling his goods and spending the rainy season, cold season, and hot season there, trading his goods. The Buddha smiled when he saw that the man would fall into the jaws of death within seven days. The Elder Ānanda asked him why he smiled, and on being told the reason, he walked for alms where the merchant was staying and the merchant respectfully offered him alms. When the elder asked the merchant how long he would stay there, the merchant informed him of his plans. The Elder Ānanda said that though one’s death might be near it was hard to realise it. When the merchant asked, the elder informed him of what the Buddha had said about his impending death. He was filled with urgency and, inviting the Buddha and the Saṅgha, offered alms for seven days. The Buddha advised him to meditate on death. He attained the first state of Sainthood and on the seventh day passed away as predicted.
“The doting man with mind set on children and herds, death seizes and carries away,
as a great flood (sweeps away) a slumbering village.”287
This story is related in the Sahassavaggo, verse 114.
“There are no sons for one’s protection, neither father nor even kinsmen;
for one who is overcome by death no protection is to be found among kinsmen.”288
This story is related in the Sahassavaggo, verse 113.