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Mahānāma Suttaṃ

(A.iii.284)

A Discourse to Mahānāma

Introduction

The six recollection on the Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha, morality, liberality, and the deities are expounded in the Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga).¹ In the footnotes, I summarise the meaning of each in my own words to make it easy to practice these recollections as a meditation method.

Translation

On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling about the Sakyans at Kapilavatthu in Nigrodha’s monastery. Then Mahānāma the Sakyan approached the Blessed One, having approached, having paid homage to the Blessed One, he sat down at one side. Sitting at one said, Mahānāma the Sakyan said to the Blessed One: “Whoever, venerable sir, is a noble disciple who has gained the fruit and understood this dispensation, how does he abide?”

“Whoever, Mahānāma, is a noble disciple [285] who has gained the fruit and understood this dispensation, often abides in this way. Here, Mahānāma, a noble disciple recollects the Tathāgata: ‘Thus indeed is the Blessed One, worthyfully enlightened by himselfendowed with knowledge and conduct,⁴ fortunate,⁵ knower of the world,⁶ an incomparable trainer of trainable persons,⁷ teacher of gods and human beings,⁸ enlightened,⁹ and blessed.¹⁰ Therefore, Mahānāma, whenever a noble disciple thus recollects the Tathāgata, on that occasion his mind is not possessed by lust, is not possessed by anger, is not possessed by delusion, but upright and concerned only with the Tathāgata. A noble disciple, Mahānāma, whose mind is upright, gains enthusiasm for the meaning, enthusiasm for the truth, gains delight connected with the Dhamma. Being delighted, joy arises; being joyful, the body is tranquil; the body being tranquil, he feels bliss; the blissful mind becomes concentrated. This, Mahānāma, is called: ‘A noble disciple who dwells attained to harmony among a disharmonious population, who dwells unoppressed among an oppressed population, having entered the stream of the Dhamma, he develops recollection of the Buddha.’

“Again, Mahānāma, a noble disciple recollects the Dhamma: ‘The Dhamma is well-taught by the Blessed One,¹¹ visible by oneself,¹² timeless,¹³ inviting investigation,¹⁴ leading onwards,¹⁵ personally realisable by the wise.¹⁶ Therefore, Mahānāma, whenever a noble disciple thus recollects the Dhamma, on that occasion his mind is not possessed by lust, is not possessed by anger, is not possessed by delusion, but upright and concerned only with the Dhamma. A noble disciple, Mahānāma, whose mind is upright, gains enthusiasm for the meaning, enthusiasm for the truth, gains delight connected with the Dhamma. Being delighted, joy arises; being joyful, the body is tranquil; the body being tranquil, he feels bliss; the blissful mind becomes concentrated. This, Mahānāma, is called: ‘A noble disciple who dwells attained to harmony among a disharmonious population, who dwells unoppressed among an oppressed population [286], having entered the stream of the Dhamma, he develops recollection of the Dhamma.’

“Again, Mahānāma, a noble disciple recollects the Saṅgha: ‘The noble disciples of the Blessed One practise well,¹⁷ they practise with integrity,¹⁸ they practise correctly,¹⁹ they practise properly,²⁰ that is to say the four pairs of persons, the eight individuals, these noble disciples of the Blessed One are worthy of offerings,²¹ worthy of hospitality,²² worthy of gifts,²³ worthy of reverential salutation,²⁴ an incomparable field of merit for the world.²⁵ Therefore, Mahānāma, whenever a noble disciple thus recollects the Saṅgha, on that occasion his mind is not possessed by lust, is not possessed by anger, is not possessed by delusion, but upright and concerned only with the Saṅgha. A noble disciple, Mahānāma, whose mind is upright, gains enthusiasm for the meaning, enthusiasm for the truth, gains delight connected with the Dhamma. Being delighted, joy arises; being joyful, the body is tranquil; the body being tranquil, he feels bliss; the blissful mind becomes concentrated. This, Mahānāma, is called: ‘A noble disciple who dwells attained to harmony among a disharmonious population, who dwells unoppressed among an oppressed population, having entered the stream of the Dhamma, he develops recollection of the Saṅgha.’

“Again, Mahānāma, a noble disciple recollects his own morality, unbroken, unperforated, spotless, unblemished.²⁶ Therefore, Mahānāma, whenever a noble disciple thus recollects his morality, on that occasion his mind is not possessed by lust, is not possessed by anger, is not possessed by delusion, but upright and concerned only with morality. A noble disciple, Mahānāma, whose mind is upright, gains enthusiasm for the meaning, enthusiasm for the truth, gains delight connected with the Dhamma. Being delighted, joy arises; being joyful, the body is tranquil; the body being tranquil, he feels bliss; the blissful mind becomes concentrated. [287] This, Mahānāma, is called: ‘A noble disciple who dwells attained to harmony among a disharmonious population, who dwells unoppressed among an oppressed population, having entered the stream of the Dhamma, he develops recollection of morality.’

“Again, Mahānāma, a noble disciple recollects his own liberality:²⁷ ‘It is a gain for me, a great gain for me. Among a generation possessed by the stain of meanness, I dwell at home with a mind free from the stain of meanness, freely liberal, open-handed, delighting in relinquishment, devoted to giving and sharing of gifts. Therefore, Mahānāma, whenever a noble disciple thus recollects his liberality, on that occasion his mind is not possessed by lust, is not possessed by anger, is not possessed by delusion, but upright and concerned only with liberality. A noble disciple, Mahānāma, whose mind is upright, gains enthusiasm for the meaning, enthusiasm for the truth, gains delight connected with the Dhamma. Being delighted, joy arises; being joyful, the body is tranquil; the body being tranquil, he feels bliss; the blissful mind becomes concentrated. This, Mahānāma, is called: ‘A noble disciple who dwells attained to harmony among a disharmonious population, who dwells unoppressed among an oppressed population, having entered the stream of the Dhamma, he develops recollection of liberality.’

“Again, Mahānāma, a noble disciple recollects the deities: ‘There are deities of the Four Great Kings, deities of the Thirty-three, the Yāmā deities, the deities of delight, the deities who delight in creation, the deities who delight in the creations of others,²⁸ the Brahma deities,²⁹ and deities superior to these.³⁰ Whatever faith those deities possessed that led to their rebirth there after death, I also possess that kind of faith. Whatever morality those deities possessed that led to their rebirth there after death, I also possess that kind of morality. Whatever learning those deities possessed that led to their rebirth there after death, I also possess that kind of learning. Whatever liberality those deities possessed that led to their rebirth there after death, I also possess that kind of liberality. Whatever wisdom those deities possessed that led to their rebirth there after death, I also possess that kind of wisdom. [288] Therefore, Mahānāma, whenever a noble disciple thus recollects his own faith, morality, learning, liberality, and wisdom, and that of those deities, on that occasion his mind is not possessed by lust, is not possessed by anger, is not possessed by delusion, but upright and concerned only with liberality. A noble disciple, Mahānāma, whose mind is upright, gains enthusiasm for the meaning, enthusiasm for the truth, gains delight connected with the Dhamma. Being delighted, joy arises; being joyful, the body is tranquil; the body being tranquil, he feels bliss; the blissful mind becomes concentrated. This, Mahānāma, is called: ‘A noble disciple who dwells attained to harmony among a disharmonious population,³¹ who dwells unoppressed among an oppressed population,³² having entered the stream of the Dhamma, he develops recollection of the deities.’

“Whoever, Mahānāma, is a noble disciple who has gained the fruit and understood this dispensation, this is how he often abides.”

Notes:

1. See page 186 (Vism.197).

2. Worthy (arahaṃ) due to having destroyed greed, hatred, and delusion. Among all living beings who are worthy of offerings, hospitality, and reverential salutation, he is the most praiseworthy.

3. Fully Enlightened (sammāsambuddho). There is no defect in his knowledge, which is perfect in all respects. Whatever can be known and understood by any living being, he has realised it. Whatever mystic powers can be attained, such as the recollection of previous lives, or knowing the potential of others and their destinies, he has perfected that knowledge to a greater extent than any disciple. He is perfectly (sammā) awakened (buddho) by himself (sam), without the aid of a teacher. Although he had teachers of secular skills and meditative states, he discovered the Four Noble Truths by his own efforts, and taught the way for others to realise them.

4. He is endowed with (sampanno) knowledge (vijjā) and conduct (caraṇa), without any defect in his bodily, verbal, or mental actions. With great compassion he teaches others, with kindness whenever possible, but with strictness too whenever necessary.

5. He is fortunate (sugato) because of having gone (gata) well (su) to the best destiny, that is he has attained nibbāna and final release from the cycle of rebirth. In another sense, it means that his speech is well-spoken (sugato) because it always true and beneficial, even if it is sometimes displeasing to others. Mostly it is pleasing and beneficial. He abstains from speech if he sees that it will be of no benefit.

6. Knower of the world (lokavidū). In some contexts, “the world” refers to the five aggregates. These he knows thoroughly, the causes for their arising, their cessation, and the way leading to their cessation. In another context he knows the heavens and hells, the realms of the hungry ghosts, and all other realms of existence. He knows too, the path of practice leading to those existences. He also knows the spatial world of the sun and moon, the stars and galaxies (cakkavaḷa), and the dark spaces between them.

7. He is the incomparable (anuttaro) guide or charioteer (sāratthi) of trainable (damma) persons (purisa). Here, “purisa” means not only men, but also women, children, deities, and other living beings. There were some who met the Buddha who were untrainable, such as heretics like Makkali Gosala, or Devadatta’s father, King Suppabuddha, but he was able to train even Devadatta to some extent so that in the distant future he will become a Solitary Buddha. If some proved to be untrainable, the Buddha no longer spoke to them. See the Kesi Sutta.

8. He is the teacher (satthā) of gods (deva) and human beings (manussānaṃ). There are many discourses given by the Buddha to his monastic disciples, lay supporters, recluses and wanderers, Brahmins and kings, even some were given to children. Many more were given to deities and Brahmas who were in the habit of visiting him during the night after the monks had retired to their quarters. The Maṅgala Sutta, the Sakkapañha Sutta, and the Hemavata Sutta are examples of well-known discourses given to deities.

9. He is awakened (Buddho) to the truth, having woken from the slumber of delusion. He was dedicated to wakefulness, sleeping only one hour a night. After the lay disciples had returned to their homes, he would exhort the monks. After the monks had retired to their quarters to meditate or sleep, he taught any deities who came to visit him. After they had left, he practised walking meditation. Only then did he lie down mindfully to sleep for an hour before waking in the early hours of the morning to practice the meditation on great compassion, surveying the world with his divine-eye to see who would benefit from hearing the Dhamma.

10. He is blessed (Bhagavā) in having accomplished all attainments, enjoying the greatest reverence, endowed with excellent physical strength and health, provided with the best requisites, having eighty great disciples, and he is completely self-assured and fearless no matter what kind of assembly he enters. To recollect the Buddha’s virtues, one should recite the full passage, “Itipi so Bhagavā arahaṃ sammāsambuddho vijjācaraṇasampanno sugato lokavidū anuttaro purisadammasārathi satthā devamanussānaṃ buddho Bhagavā”ti. After memorising the words, one should learn the meaning of each, then reflect for a moment on each word while reciting slowly: “Arahaṃ … sammāsambuddho … vijjācaraṇasampanno … etc., until one particular attribute becomes clear to the mind, then reflect more deeply on that before continuing to repeat the entire passage.

11. The Dhamma is well-taught (svākkhāto), in detail and specific to the occasion or to individuals in the audience. It is good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good at the end. In the beginning, the benefits of donation (dāna) and morality (sīla) are taught, then the development of concentration (samādhi), culminating with wisdom (paññā) or insight knowledge (vipassanā-ñāṇa), which leads to liberation (vimutti). A typical discourse such as the Maṅgala Sutta begins with the benefits of avoiding fools and cultivating good friendship by associating with the wise and honouring those worthy of respect. It then extols the benefits of wholesome deeds such as learning knowledge and acquiring practical skills, pleasant speech, supporting one’s parents, wife, and children, practising charity, blameless livelihood, and abstaining from intoxicants. In the middle, it teaches mental cultivation through the practice of reverence, humility, contentment, and gratitude. In the end it encourages listening to and discussing the Dhamma, visiting the monks, and culminates with gaining insight into the four noble truths, which is wisdom.

12. It is visible by oneself (sandiṭṭhiko), without accepting teachings merely by hearsay. The Buddha’s teaching always stresses the importance of personal realisation. After listening to discourses, reading books, or discussing the teachings with the learned, one must practise meditation and other wholesome deeds such as morality, charity, reverence, solitude, contentment, patience, etc., in order to see their benefits through direct experience.

13. Timeless (akāliko), means that the benefits follow immediately. The realisation of nibbāna may be far away for most of us, but at the very moment that one relinquishes lust, anger, or other unwholesome mental states, suffering ceases immediately. It is called momentary nibbāna (tadaṅga nibbāna). Anyone who practises the Dhamma respectfully can experience this temporary cessation of suffering. Furthermore, on attaining the path of Stream-winning, the fruition follows at once. The ardent meditator who gains this stage does not need to wait until after death to experience the bliss of nibbāna, but enjoys it at once. Thereafter, if the meditator develops concentration again, he or she can attain the fruition stage for longer and longer periods. As explained above, the Stream-winner can gain mental serenity very often by reflecting on the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha, on his or her morality, liberality, or the virtues of the deities. Ordinary persons (puthujjana) will have to make a concerted effort to cultivate this wholesome concentration, but for the Noble Ones it is very easy.

14. Inviting investigation (ehipassiko), means that it is openly visible, not hidden, and because it is pure and precious like gold. The Buddha does not have the closed fist of those who expound an esoteric doctrine. Those who find it, have no wish to hide it and keep it to themselves like a secret treasure, as it is available to anyone who is willing to make a thorough and impartial investigation. The more people who come and see this excellent teaching, the more it will spread, like a candle light that can be shared with an entire village, by lighting one candle or many candles from another.

15. Leading onwards (opaneyyiko), means that one progresses on the path in stages. After first gaining faith in the special qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha, one strives to practise the teaching, and gains further benefits. Faith consequently grows, and one practises with increased enthusiasm and diligence. It is a virtuous circle, leading onwards to ever deeper insights and greater bliss.

16. Personally (paccattaṃ) realisable (veditabbo) by the wise (viññūhi), means that insight knowledge cannot be shared with others. A learned person or an experienced meditator can teach the right method to others, but the listeners need to practise it properly. If they do not practise it properly, they are unable to gain realisation. Saying is easy, but doing is difficult. Only the wise do the hard work needed. One who wishes to recollect the Dhamma should memorise the entire passage: “Svākkhāto Bhagavatā dhammo sandiṭṭhiko akāliko ehipassiko opaneyyiko paccattaṃ veditabbo viññūhī’ti,” learn the meaning of each term, and reflect on them as for the recollection of the Buddha’s qualities.

17. The noble disciples of the Blessed One practise well (suppaṭipanno), means that they diligently fulfil all eight factors of the path — right-view, right-thought … right-concentration — and attain the goal. N.B. The ariyasaṅgha may be monks, nuns, novices, or lay disciples living the household life. The ordained Saṅgha who wear the yellow robes are the conventional Saṅgha (samutti saṅgha) only. When making offerings, showing reverence, and so forth, one should focus on the virtues of the Noble Saṅgha, overlooking any faults that ordinary ordained Saṅgha may have.

18. They practise with integrity (ujuppaṭipanno), means they are straightforward, and upright, not crooked or devious. As it says in the Metta Sutta: “Sakko ujū ca, suhujū ca,” which means able, upright, perfectly upright (even in thought).

19. They practise correctly (ñāyappaṭipanno), means that they attain the right method (ñāyassa adhigamāya), keeping the mental faculties in perfect balance, with faith balanced by wisdom, effort balanced by tranquillity, and mindfulness firmly established.

20. They practise properly (sāmīcippaṭipanno). That is to say (yadidaṃ) the four pairs (yugāni) of persons (purisa), the eight (aṭṭha) individuals (puggalā). The moment of attaining each of the four paths (magga) is immediately followed by each the four respective fruits (phala). After attaining the path of Stream-winning, the fruition of Stream-winning follows it immediately. The path is not thereafter attained again, but the fruition can be attained repeatedly later whenever the Stream-winner develops concentration and resolves to enjoy fruition. The Stream-winner can forgo that bliss, and strive for the higher path. Therefore, there are four pairs and eight individuals. The Visuddhimagga groups these four virtues of the Saṅgha into one.

21. Worthy of offerings (āhuneyyo), means worthy of sacrifice, worship, veneration, and invitation to accept the requisites. Because the Noble Ones are not greedy or avaricious, they accept only what is allowable and appropriate if and when invited. They take little and give a lot.

22. Worthy of hospitality (pāhuneyyo), means they are worthy of inviting to one’s house, preparing a seat, giving drinking water, etc.

23. Worthy of gifts (dakkhiṇeyyo), means that gifts given to them bear abundant fruit. As expounded in the Dakkhiṇavibhaṅga Sutta (M.iii.252), gifts to Noble Ones bring immeasurable results.

“Herein, Ānanda, a gift given to an animal can be expected to yield 100 times (sataguṇā) the result, to an unvirtuous ordinary person 1,000 times the result, to a virtuous ordinary person 100,000 times the result, to an outsider who is free from lust 1,000,000,000,000 times (koṭisatasahassaguṇā) the result, gifts given to one who is striving for the attainment of Stream-winning can be expected to yield immeasurable results, so what can be said about gifts to a Stream-winner, one striving for Once-returning, a Once-returner, one striving for Non-returning, a Non-returner, one striving for Arahantship, or an Arahant? What can be said about gifts given to a Solitary Buddha or a Tathāgata?”

24. Worthy of reverential salutation (añjalikaṇīyo), means to show due respect by joining the palms in front of one’s face. (The Visuddhimagga says placing them above the head. The way of showing reverence varies across different cultures).

25. An incomparable (anuttaraṃ) field (khettaṃ) of merit (puñña) for the world (lokassā). Performing meritorious deeds is like planting seeds. If the soil is fertile, and if it rains well, the harvest will be good. One who wishes to recollect the Saṅgha should memorise the entire passage: “Suppaṭipanno Bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho, ujuppaṭipanno Bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho, ñāyappaṭipanno Bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho, sāmīcippaṭipanno Bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho, yadidaṃ cattāri purisayugāni aṭṭha purisapuggalā esa Bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho āhuneyyo pāhuneyyo dakkhiṇeyyo añjalikaraṇīyo anuttaraṃ puññakkhettaṃ lokassā’ti,” learn the meaning of each term, and reflect on them as for the recollection of the qualities of the Buddha or Dhamma.

26. The Noble Ones keep the five precepts automatically as their morality is stable. Ordinary persons who undertaking the five precepts break them easily if they are not also well-trained in mindfulness.

27. Liberality (cāga) is lack of meanness (macchariyā). The Noble Ones willingly share with others, and are free from meanness, which can drag one to the lower realms. “Endowed with five things, monks, one falls into hell as if taken and thrown there. What five? Meanness about dwellings, meanness about supporters, meanness about gains, meanness about virtues, meanness about the Dhamma.” (A.iii.266)

28. The deities of the six sensual realms: Cātumahārājikā, Tāvatiṃsā, Yāmā, Tusitā, Nimmānaratino, Paranimmitavasavattino. See the 31 Planes of Existence.

29. The deities of the Brahma realms reached by practising absorption on forms (rūpajhāna).

30. The deities of the formless realms reached by the formless absorptions (arūpajhāna).

31. This generation (pajāya) frequently come into conflict (visamagatāya) due to defective morality. The Noble Ones dwell without coming into conflict with anyone.

32. This generation are constantly oppressed by greed, ill-will, envy, and meanness. The Noble Ones dwell without excessive greed, and so usually dwell free from the fear and anxiety that plague ordinary persons.