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Dhammika Suttaṃ

(Sn.66)

Skilful Practice

Introduction

The translation of this discourse on Access to Insight is abridged, so I have made my own translation of the full Sutta by consulting the PTS dictionary. It is a free translation to convey the essential meaning.

Translation

Thus have I heard:– At one time the Blessed one was dwelling at Prince Jeta’s grove, at Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery. Then the lay-disciple Dhammika, together with five hundred disciples, approached the Blessed One; having approached, they paid homage to the Blessed One and sat down at once side. Sitting there, the lay-disciple Dhammika addressed the Blessed One in verse:–

“I ask Gotama of profound wisdom, what is the skilful practice for a disciple.
For one who has gone forth into homelessness, and for one who is a householder.

“For you know the destiny of the world with its gods, and the way to the beyond.
There is no-one comparable to you in seeing the most subtle truth.

“Having perfectly realised all knowledge, out of compassion you show it to living beings
You reveal what is hidden, you are omniscient, stainless, and enlighten the world.

“The elephant god Erāvaṇa, having heard that you were the conqueror, came to see you.
Having heard what you said, he expressed his appreciation saying “Well said!”

“The king of gods, Vessavaṇa, too, came to question you.
He was also delighted with your answer when you spoke to him.

“None of those disputing heretics, neither the Ājīvakā nor the Nigaṇṭhā
Can overcome you in debate, as one standing still cannot overtake one walking swiftly.

“These disputing brahmins, whoever they may be,
All of the disputants expect an explanation from you.

“This profound and blissful teaching, which is well taught by the Blessed One
We are all desirous of hearing, please teach us as requested.

“Let all of these monks and lay discples seated here to listen to you,
Heed the stainless Buddha’s teaching as gods heed the well-spoken words of Vasava.

The Buddha:

“O monks, listen to me, I will teach the scrupulous practice.
Let the wise man intent on progress practice suitably for one gone forth.

“Let a monk not walk for alms into the village at the wrong time
Temptations assail one who walks at the wrong time, so the wise avoid it.

“Sight, sounds, tastes, smells, and touches intoxicate living beings.
Abandoning desire for these things, one should go at the right time for breakfast

“Having obtained alms, he should sit alone (to eat)
Reflecting inwardly, composed, and undistracted.

“If he should speak to a lay disciple, to a monk or anyone,
He should speak only of the Dhamma, not slandering or denigrating others.

“Some engage in controversy, but we do not praise those of inferior wisdom.
They are trapped by defilements as they are deeply attached to controversy.

“Almsfood, dwellings, furniture, and robes should be used with due care,
By a disciple of the supremely wise one who has heard the Dhamma.

“Therefore, being unattached to these requisites,
A monk should be like a drop of water on a lotus leaf.

“I will tell you the duty of a householder, how he becomes a good disciple.
For it is not possible to fulfil the monk’s duty if one possess property.

“Let him not kill, nor destroy life, nor cause others to do it.
Laying aside the stick, let him not punish the strong or the weak.

“Let a disciple not take the property of others knowing that it belongs to them.
Not grabbing, or causing others to grab, he should abandon all stealing

“A wise man shuns unchastity as a pit of glowing embers,
If he is unable to lead a life of chastity, he does not go to another man’s wife.

“When in an assembly or in public let him not speak falsehood.
Neither lying nor causing others to lie, he should abandon all unntruthfulness.

“A householder who delights in the Dhamma should not drink intoxicants.
Neither drinking himself or urging others to drink, he does not praise intoxication.

“Fools commit evil due to drunkeness, and make others heedless too.
One should avoid this demerit, the maddness and delusion of fools.

“Neither killing, stealing, telling lies, nor drinking intoxicants,
Avoding unchastity and not eating at the wrong time at night.

“Not wearing ornaments or perfumes, sleeping on the floor too,
This will be an eightfold observance taught by the Buddha to remove suffering.

“One should observe the uposatha on the full-moon, new-moon, and half moon days.
During the three months of the Rains Retreat, and the preceding and following months.⁴

“Then, on the following morning, the wise one who has observed the uposatha
Should provide suitable food and drink to the community of monks.

“Let him support his mother and father by pursuing a righteous livelihood.
The householder who is diligent in these duties is reborn among the radiant gods.”

Notes:

1. The wrong time is during the hours of darkness, or during the day when many people will be in the streets. The right time is after dawn, but before sunrise. This allows householders to offer alms before they have to leave for work, and the monks can be on their way back to the monastery before the streets become crowded and before the sun gets high in the sky.

2. A monk can enter the town at the wrong time on some business, e.g. to visit a doctor, or to set out on a journey, but unless there is a valid reason he should stay in the monastery to avoid sense-objects that might defile the mind if he is careless. Normally, he should enter the town only to collect his morning meal (pātarāsaṃ). The current practice of having the main meal just before midday and a light breakfast is back to front. The original practice was to take only one meal a day. The Buddha allowed monks to keep back some almsfood to eat later if they were unable to observe the practice of eating only one meal a day, which is what he recommended for health. Forest monks who live properly, rise before dawn, perform some religious duties, then set out for alms at first light. On returning, they eat their meal, wash their almsbowl, then eat nothing else until the following day. They will be famished by 7:00 or 8:00 am if returning to a remote lodging, so they might stop on the return journey to eat their meal.

3. There are many ways to take what is not given. The precept covers all dishonest means of obtaining property, whether that be by robbery, protection rackets, theft, fraud, blackmail, or overcharging by manipulating the price of scarce commodities. A good disciple should not engage in profiteering, coersion, misleading advertising, or deceit of any kind to make a living. Being free from excessive greed, he should be content with a small profit, and do an honest day’s work.

4. The text says the uposatha days of the fourteenth, fifteenth, and eighth. A lunar month is about 29¼ days. If there are 30 days in a lunar month, then both the full-moon and the new-moon will be fifteen days after the preceding uposatha; if there are 29 days, the second uposatha will fall fourteen days after the preceding one. This Sutta shows that the traditional practice during the Buddha’s time was for lay devotees to observe four uposatha days a month during five months of the year. This was during the month preceding Āsāḷha (July/August) when the Rains Retreat begins, and the month following the Rains, when the Kathina ceremony is held. During the remaining seven months of the year, the Buddha would set off on a tour of the countryside, stopping only one or two nights at each place on the way, before returning to the place where he would observe the Rains.

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