Disciples of the Buddha

Venue: SBS

Ven Aggacitta (Introduction): 

When first time visitors come to SBS, many express surprise as they expect to see a temple but are greeted instead with more resort-looking chalets or kutis. Actually, we are neither a resort nor a temple. Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary or SBS (Sasanarakkha in Pali means “Guardian of the Sasana”) is a training centre for monks.

Becoming a monk does not just mean shaving the head bald and wearing the saffron robes. A good and capable monk has to learn a lot of things including how to chant, have restraint in thought, speech and action, meditate, and practise other aspects of the Dhamma, to name just a few. He must learn and put into practice sila, samadhi and pañña. Good practising monks are not the pasar malam types who go about doing some very undesirable things like exchanging amulets for money.

Sila for a monk consists of the observance of many thousands of precepts apart from the main 227 better known ones. A monk must not only memorise the precepts but must learn to put them into practice. At SBS, we also train monks to give Dhamma talks. This is anumodana—a way of repaying the layman’s support for the Sangha.

A trainee monk at SBS has to first undergo a year as an eight precept-holder followed by another year as a novice before ‘graduating’ as a full-fledged bhikkhu. In fact, we recently had our first Bhikkhu Ordination Ceremony (BOC) on 8 August and now Ven Balacitta, the first bhikkhu to be ordained here will put anumodana into practice.

Ven Balacitta: 

The Buddha once said “Sabbadanam dhammadanam jinati” – the gift of the Dhamma surpasses all gifts. After the Buddha’s parinibbana, Ven Mahakassapa convened a meeting of 500 arahants to compile and recite the BuddhaDhamma. As a result of this, the Buddha’s teachings were divided into 5 divisions, 4 of which are generally accepted by both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism to be authentic teachings. They are:

    1. Digha Nikaya
    2. Majjhima Nikaya
    3. Samyutta Nikaya
    4. Anguttara Nikaya

Today’s talk is from the Anguttara Nikaya, based on a sutta called Mahanama Sutta (AN 8:25). At one time in Nigrodharama monastery in Kapilavatthu, a devotee named Mahanama, paid his respects to the Buddha and then stood to one side. He then asked the Buddha 4 questions:-

    1. Who is a disciple (upasaka) of the Buddha?
    2. Who is a virtuous disciple of the Buddha?
    3. Which kind of disciple benefits himself but not others?
    4. Which kind of disciple benefits himself as well as others?
    1. Who is a disciple of the Buddha?
      To the first question, the Buddha said that one who accepts Tisarana (the taking of refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha) is a disciple. In this kappa (aeon, or world cycle), we have only 5 Buddhas. Siddhattha Gotama is the fourth Buddha. It is very rare to meet with a Buddha. An upasaka accepts the Buddha as his teacher, and takes refuge in the Dhamma and the Sangha.When I first came to SBS and lived alone in a kuti, I felt discomfort due to—I suspect—the presence of other unseen beings. Then I remembered Bhante telling me to recite the Tisarana whenever such a situation arises. I did as advised and after that, I was able to sleep soundly till daybreak every night. From that time on, it is my practice to chant Tisarana routinely every morning and night.
    2. Who is a virtuous disciple of the Buddha?

      A virtuous disciple practises the basic Five Precepts.

      • One should not kill (or ask people to kill on his behalf), e.g. asking for live seafood to be slaughtered for one’s consumption.
      • One should not steal.
      • One should not lie. A person who tells lies will often find it difficult to gain people’s trust and respect.
      • One should avoid sexual misconduct.
      • One should not imbibe intoxicants. A person who wishes to keep this precept will not be so easily tempted by the offer of pleasure-inducing drugs.
    3. Which kind of disciple benefits himself but not others?
      To this third question, the Buddha said that such an upasaka

      • has faith in the Buddha
      • is virtuous according to the 5 Precepts
      • is liberal or generous
      • desires to see bhikkhus
      • desires to listen to the Dhamma
      • is inclined to remember the Dhamma
      • reflects on the Dhamma
      • practises the Dhamma according to one’s understanding.

      A disciple who has all these qualities but does not encourage others to follow suit will only benefit himself but not others.

    4. Which kind of disciple benefits himself as well as others?

      However, if such a person further encourages others to follow suit, he is one step ahead and benefits both himself and others.So if you all claim to be Buddhists, what type of lay disciples are you?

Ven Aggacitta (Conclusion): 

A number of people equate the taking of refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha with the wearing of amulets. In fact, many people frequently ask me to give them amulets.

Just a few days ago, a man showed me an amulet purportedly obtained from Myanmar and said to cost RM8,000. I looked at it and found it to be from Thailand as there were Thai characters on it. He offered to sell me the amulet but I declined saying that I already have the Refuges in my heart and that was the best protection one can have.

Earlier on when I was staying in Khemarama, a workman approached me for an amulet to give him protection. I told him to see me the next day if he was really keen on it. The following morning when he came, I taught him to chant Tisarana and told him, “This is your ‘amulet’. Chant it frequently with faith and you will be protected.”

Malaysia is an Islamic country and the Muslims pray 5 times a day. They also make sure their children are exposed to the Quran from young by sending them for extra religious classes. We Buddhists don’t even chant regularly, what more study or listen to the Dhamma. There is actually no excuse for this because Dhamma is readily available whether in print or through the media. For example, Ven Suvanno gave a series of good Buddhist talks in Hokkien, which are available in cassettes and compact discs. Ven Bhikkhu Hye (Dhammavuddho) has also published his English and Hokkien Dhamma talks in CDs.

The experiences of devout Buddhists have shown that when we keep the Refuges in our heart and mind all the time, we are actually protected against danger. There was a case of a Burmese writer who was very religious and chanted the word “Arahant” many times a day using prayer beads at every available opportunity, a habit ingrained since childhood. Each prayer bead represents one single word and 1 strand consists of 108 beads.

Let me first explain the meaning of the word “arahant” before continuing with the story. There are 3 meanings to the word Arahant

    1. “A” means “no” and “rahant” means “in seclusion”. The Buddha is an arahant who does not commit any evil even in private.
    2. “Ara” means “enemies” and “hant” means “killed or eliminated”. So an arahant can also mean “one who has eliminated enemies”. Enemy here refers to our kilesa (greed, hatred and delusion), our internal foe. The Buddha has eliminated all of them.
    3. “Arahant” means “a person who is worthy”. Worthy of what? Worthy of the gifts and respect of people. And the Buddha, because of his many virtues, is certainly deserving of this title!*]

Once when he was travelling on a train in Burma, it was bombed by insurgents who wanted to make sure that any survivors were either captured or killed by gunfire. At the time the bomb was detonated, he was chanting the word “Arahant” as usual and miraculously, he escaped unhurt. When the insurgents started killing the remaining survivors, he ran for shelter in a monsoon drain. Again, amidst the hail of bullets, he was not shot. For the whole one and a half hours during the attack, he kept on chanting and at the end of the siege, he emerged as the only survivor.

There is also a Malaysian family who had a maid who could see spirits. The maid told her employer that a malevolent spirit from back home had followed her to her Malaysian workplace. This devotee asked me why that spirit managed to enter her household even though she has a few altars around her house. Although she meditates sometimes, what was missing was that she did not do any chanting at all and that resulted in the lack of protection. I instructed her to do regular chanting of some basic parittas (protective passages) and sure enough, that helped to get rid of the spirit.

Thus, chanting is important. One does not have to chant very lengthy suttas. Simple verses like Tisarana or even a single word like “Arahant” is sufficient as long as it is done with faith, concentration and persistence

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