August 26, 2019
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    Significance of Esala Poya

    July 16, 2019

    If Vesak is important because Prince Siddhattha was born, then Esala is equally important as the prince was conceived in Queen Mahamaya. If Vesak is important because of the Buddha’s awakening, then Esala is equally important as Siddhartha left all his luxuries for an ascetic life; this is when his son Rahula was born.

    Queen Maya was born to King Anjana and Queen Yasodhara of the Koliya caste. That night she dreamt of gods, arrived from four directions, take her to lake Anotatta. She was bathed and donned in heavenly garb and jewellery. A white baby elephant, after circling around her three times, entered her body. As it is famously known, King Sudhodhana’s prophets predicted this as a sign of a great being’s arrival. The baby was conceived while the queen was on the way to her mother’s.

    The queen’s death, which occurred seven days after the prince’s birth, has caused contention. Some misunderstand that this took place as a result of the prince’s birth. The prince verified five factors, which included the mother’s age-span, before expiring for his last birth. Queen Mahamaya’s life was anyway spanned only up to 40, and when a princely sage is born, that particular womb would not be suitable for another being.

    Rahula, the son of Siddhartha and Yasodhara, was born after a long time the couple got married. When the news was brought, the prince uttered: “A fetter (Rahula) has been born, bondage has been born," and this is how the wee prince got his name. Some scripts believe he was named after a lunar eclipse (Rahu) that might have occurred around the time of his birth. Whatever it is, the little prince made his father take that giant leap, and life to become harder later on. Towards evening Siddhartha finally decided to leave, taking one last look at Rahula and his mother in a peaceful slumber. But mother’s arm was covering the child’s face protectively – just as if to inspire him to go ahead with the decision.

    Leaving the mansions

    King Suddhodana did not ever want his son to leave the throne. It is common knowledge that the prince was given three palaces to spend the different seasons and the common man’s life is kept out of his sight. Siddhattha was already surrounded by the sights of pleasure: beautiful women, dancers, singers and musicians.

    But all this only made the prince curious about life.

    One day while sentries are in deep slumber, the prince is said to have taken a tour in the city with his ally Channa. Then, the scriptures state, deities have sent him the four ominous signs. And then he was determined to leave for sanctity. Another day, the day his son was born, Siddattha renounced. Legend has it that he cut off his hair and threw it up to the sky. Deities from the thirty-three heavens got hold of that and offered saffron robes worn. He exchanged his royal garments with a deity, as scriptures relate. Prince Siddhatta thus became an ascetic.

    The little prince in the meanwhile knew his father was in robes, but his grandfather took every step to give him a proper education. No one can say the Buddha neglected his fatherly duties. He was particularly concerned about the moral education of his son in robes. He put him directly under Sariputta and Moggallana. Genes do wonders, and Rahula could grasp anything in a second. He was always concerned about his teachers’ instructions. The Buddha was happy about him, and named him as the ‘monk most concerned about training’. He gave his entire heritage, no matter how little his son is.

    Prince Siddhattha is much scoffed at, mostly among non-Buddhists, for leaving his son and wife when they needed his warm company. The question is what would happen if he did change mind seeing his own baby’s face – Siddhartha, by all odds, was a 29-year robust young man. Some say the prince left the palace in the broad daylight when everybody was up. In that case, everyone must have attempted to make him stay. Suddhodana’s palace would have looked like a funeral. Becoming a monk, ironically or sadly, is still considered a bad option in many families, unless they have financial issues. Siddhartha had no hard feelings about his small family. A poet sees the Buddha’s giant step in that way:

    ’Twas not through hatred of children sweet,

    ’Twas not through hatred of His lovely wife,

    Whether he left in the broad daylight or at the night in secrecy, is still a mystery.

    First discourse

    Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta comes in the 56th chapter of Samyutta Nikaya of Sutta Pitaka. In English Dhamma can mean ‘nature’ or the Buddha’s teachings. In this case, it is the Buddha’s teachings, and Dhamma Cakka is the ‘wheel of the Buddha’s teachings’. Pavattana is ‘setting in motion’. The sutta is thus named because it was the Buddha’s first discourse, hence it’s the starting point of a long mission. Before us is a list of English translations by authoritative scholars:

    1. Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dhamma (Bodhi, 2000, pp. 1843–7)

    2. Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth (Piyadassi, 1999)

    3. Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth (Ñanamoli, 1993)

    4. Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion (Thanissaro, 1993)

    After enlightenment and the invitation to preach his teachings, the Buddha scanned the world for a being who should be taught first. This is his show of gratitude. He realizes his first teachers - though their teachings did not help in the enlightenment - Alara Kalama and Uddakaramaputta are dead. Then he examines the five ascetics who helped him.

    The ascetics accept only the extreme of self-mortification. This is why they left Siddattha when he took up the middle path. They saw their erstwhile companion approaching towards them, and they had a resolution not to attend to him.

    But things took a different shape when the Buddha got closer. They noted something different, positive. They just forgot about their resolution and attended to him with care. In the discourse, the Buddha warns the ascetics against the two extremes: pleasure and mortification, and praised the middle path.

    The Buddha introduces four noble truths and the noble eightfold path to explain the middle path. The path leads to the right path of the journey of which the destination is enlightenment and Nibbana. The revelation was simple - basically the four noble truths - yet it was so deep to grasp. The truths, the Buddha explained, must be achieved in three aspects: recognizing, pursuing and fully achieving.

    Only Kondanna, of the five ascetics, could attain the first sainthood.

    Bhikkhu Thanissaro’s translation of the Sutta - it bears such significance being the first discourse - is reproduced.

    I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Varanasi in the Game Refuge at Isipatana. There he addressed the group of five monks:

    "There are these two extremes that are not to be indulged in by one who has gone forth. Which two? That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects: base, vulgar, common, ignoble, unprofitable; and that which is devoted to self-affliction: painful, ignoble, unprofitable. Avoiding both of these extremes, the middle way realized by the Tathagata — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.

    "And what is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding? Precisely this Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is the middle way realized by the Tathagata that — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding.

    "Now this, monks, is the noble truth of stress: Birth is stressful, ageing is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, and despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.

    "And this, monks, is the noble truth of the origination of stress: the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion and delight, relishing now here and now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming.

    "And this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of stress: the remainderless fading and cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, and letting go of that very craving.

    "And this, monks, is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress: precisely this Noble Eightfold Path — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

    "Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: 'This is the noble truth of stress.' Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: 'This noble truth of stress is to be comprehended.' Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before:' This noble truth of stress has been comprehended.'

    "Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: 'This is the noble truth of the origination of stress'... 'This noble truth of the origination of stress is to be abandoned'... 'This noble truth of the origination of stress has been abandoned.'

    "Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: 'This is the noble truth of the cessation of stress'... 'This noble truth of the cessation of stress is to be directly experienced'... 'This noble truth of the cessation of stress has been directly experienced.'

    "Vision arose, insight arose, discernment arose, knowledge arose, illumination arose within me with regard to things never heard before: 'This is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress'... 'This noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress is to be developed'... 'This noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress has been developed.'

    "And, monks, as long as this — my three-round, twelve-permutation knowledge and vision concerning these four noble truths as they have come to be — was not pure, I did not claim to have directly awakened to the right self-awakening unexcelled in the cosmos with its deities, Maras, and Brahmas, with its contemplatives and priests, its royalty and common folk. But as soon as this — my three-round, twelve-permutation knowledge and vision concerning these four noble truths as they have come to be — was truly pure, then I did claim to have directly awakened to the right self-awakening unexcelled in the cosmos with its deities, Maras and Brahmas, with its contemplatives and priests, its royalty and common folk. Knowledge and vision arose in me: 'Unprovoked is my release. This is the last birth. There is now no further becoming.'"

    That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, the group of five monks delighted at his words. And while this explanation was being given, there arose to Ven. Kondañña the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye: Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation.

    And when the Blessed One had set the Wheel of Dhamma in motion, the earth devas cried out: "At Varanasi, in the Game Refuge at Isipatana, the Blessed One has set in motion the unexcelled Wheel of Dhamma that cannot be stopped by priest or contemplative, deva, Mara or God or anyone in the cosmos." On hearing the earth devas' cry, the devas of the Four Kings' Heaven took up the cry... the devas of the Thirty-three... the Yama devas... the Tusita devas... the Nimmanarati devas... the Paranimmita-vasavatti devas... the devas of Brahma's retinue took up the cry: "At Varanasi, in the Game Refuge at Isipatana, the Blessed One has set in motion the unexcelled Wheel of Dhamma that cannot be stopped by priest or contemplative, deva, Mara, or God or anyone at all in the cosmos."

    So at that moment, that instant, the cry shot right up to the Brahma worlds. And this ten-thousand fold cosmos shivered and quivered and quaked, while a great, measureless radiance appeared in the cosmos, surpassing the effulgence of the devas.

    Then the Blessed One exclaimed: "So you really know, Kondañña? So you really know?" And that is how Ven. Kondañña acquired the name Añña-Kondañña — Kondañña who knows.

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