The Buddha on the Trained and the Tamed

Ven. Sujato (trans.), Dantabhūmi Sutra (MN 125) edited by Dhr. Seven, Wisdom Quarterly

Thus have I heard. At one time the Buddha was staying near Rājagaha [the royal city of Magadha, now Rajgir, India], in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrels’ Feeding Ground.
Now at that time the noviceAciravata was staying in a wilderness hut. Then as Prince Jayasena was going for a walk he approached Aciravata and exchanged greetings with him.
When the greetings and polite conversation were over, he sat down respectfully to one side and said to Aciravata:
“Master Aggivessana [his clan name], I have heard that a meditator who meditates diligently, keenly, and resolutely can experience unification of mind (samadhi).”
“That’s true, prince, that’s true! A meditator who meditates diligently, keenly, and resolutely can experience unification of mind.”
“Master Aggivessana, please teach me the Doctrine (Dhamma) as you have learned (heard) and memorized it.”
“Alas, I’m not competent to do so, prince. For if I were to teach you the Doctrine as I have learned and memorized it, you might not understand the meaning, which would be wearisome and troublesome for me.”
“Master Aggivessana, please teach me the Doctrine as you have learned and memorized it. I hope I will understand the meaning of what you say.”
“Then I shall teach you. If you understand the meaning of what I say, that’s good. But if not then let’s leave each to his own -- and do not question me about it further.”
“Master Aggivessana, please teach me the Doctrine as you have learned and memorized it. If I understand the meaning of what you say, that’s good. And if not then I will leave each of us to his own -- and I will not question you about it further.”
Then the novice Aciravata taught Prince Jayasena the Doctrine as he had learned and memorized it. When he had spoken, Jayasena said to him:
“It’s impossible, Master Aggivessana, it cannot happen that a meditator who meditates diligently, keenly, and resolutely can experience unification of mind.” Having declared that this was impossible, Prince Jayasena got up from his seat and left.
Seeing the Buddha
How could it be otherwise?
Not long after he had left, Aciravata went to the Buddha, bowed, sat respectfully to one side, and informed the Buddha of all they had discussed.
When he had spoken, the Buddha said to him:
“How could it possibly be otherwise, Aggivessana? Prince Jayasena dwells in the immersed in sensual pleasures, delighting in them, consumed by thoughts of them, burning with fever for them, and eagerly seeking more. It’s simply impossible for him to know or see or realize what can only be known, seen, and realized by renunciation (inner letting go).
The Tamed
Suppose there were a pair of elephants or horse or oxen in training who were well tamed and well trained. And suppose there were a pair who were neither tamed nor trained. What do you think, Aggivessana? Wouldn’t the pair that was well tamed and well trained perform the tasks of the tamed and reach the level of the tamed?”
“Yes, venerable sir.”
“Would the pair that was not tamed and not trained perform the tasks of the tamed and reach the level of the tamed like the tamed pair?”
“No, venerable sir.”
“In the same way, Prince Jayasena dwells immersed in sensual pleasures, delighting in them, consumed by thoughts of them, burning with fever for them, and eagerly seeking more. Therefore, it’s simply impossible for him to know or see or realize what can only be known, seen, and realized by letting go.
Seeing
“Suppose there were a big mountain not far from a town or village. And suppose two friends set out from that village or town, lending each other a hand up to the mountain. Once there one friend remains at the foot of the mountain, while the other climbs to the peak. The one standing at the foot says to the one on the peak:
“‘Friend, what do you see from the peak?’ That friend would reply: ‘Here from the peak I see delightful parks, woods, meadows, and lotus ponds!’
“The other says, ‘That’s impossible! It cannot happen that from that peak you see delightful parks, woods, meadows, and lotus ponds!’ So the friend comes down from the peak, take the other by the arm, and together climbs to the peak.
“After a moment of catching their breath, one says: ‘Friend, what do you see from here on the peak?’ The other replies, ‘From here on the peak, I see delightful parks, woods, meadows, and lotus ponds!’
“The first says, ‘But just now I understood you to say, “That’s impossible! It cannot happen that from the peak one can see delightful parks, woods, meadows, and lotus ponds!” Yet now you say, “From here on the peak, I see delightful parks, woods, meadows, and lotus ponds!”’
“The second says, ‘But, friend, it was because I was obstructed by this giant mountain that I couldn’t see what was there to see.’
“Far bigger than that is the mass of ignorance by which Prince Jayasena is hindered, obstructed, covered, and engulfed. Prince Jayasena dwells immersed in sensual pleasures, delighting in them, consumed by thoughts of them, burning with fever for them, and eagerly seeking more.
“Therefore, it’s simply impossible for him to know or see or realize what can only be known, seen, and realized by letting go (renouncing craving and clinging).
“It would not be surprising if, had these two similes occurred to you, Prince Jayasena might have gained confidence (faith) in you [as a teacher] and shown his confidence.”
“But, venerable sir, how could these two similes have occurred to me as they did to the Buddha, since they were neither supernaturally inspired nor learned in the past?”
“Suppose, Aggivessana, an anointed noble king were to address the elephant tracker in this way: ‘Please, good elephant tracker, mount the royal [tamed] bull elephant and enter the elephant wood. When you see a wild bull elephant, tether it by the neck to the royal elephant.’
“‘Yes, your majesty,’ replies the elephant tracker and does as he is asked. The royal elephant leads the wild elephant out into the open. It’s only then that it comes out into the open, for a wild bull elephant clings to the wilderness, to the elephant wood.
“The elephant tracker informs the king, ‘Sire, the wild elephant has come out into the open.’ Then the king addresses the elephant trainer, ‘Please, good elephant trainer, tame the wild bull elephant. Subdue its wild behavior, its wild memories and thoughts, and its wild distress, weariness, and fever. Make it happy to be in the neighborhood of a village, and instill in it behaviors pleasing to humans.’
“‘Yes, your majesty,’ replies the elephant trainer, who then plants a large post in the earth and tethers the elephant to it by the neck, so as to subdue its wild behavior, its wild memories and thoughts, and its wild distress, weariness, and fever. Make it happy to be in the neighborhood of a village, and instill in it behavior pleasing to humans.
“The elephant trainer speaks in a way that is smooth, pleasing to the ear, lovely, going directly to the heart, polite, likable, and agreeable to the many.
“Spoken to in such a way by the elephant trainer, the wild elephant wants to listen. It lends an ear and applies its mind to understand. So the elephant trainer rewards it with grass, fodder, and water.
“When the wild elephant accepts the grass, fodder, and water, the trainer knows, ‘Now the wild elephant will survive’ then sets it a further task: ‘Pick it up, sir! Put it down, sir!’ When the wild elephant follows instructions and picks up and puts down as the trainer instructs, the trainer sets it a further task:
“‘Forward, sir! Back, sir!’ When the wild elephant follows instructions to go forward and back, the trainer sets it a further task: ‘Stand, sir! Sit, sir!’
“When the wild elephant follows instructions to stand and sit, the trainer sets the task called imperturbability, which is to say, fastening a large plank to its trunk, a lancer sits on its neck, and other lancers surround it on all sides.
“The trainer stands in front with a long lance. While practicing this task, it does not budge its fore-feet or hind-feet, its fore-quarters or hind-quarters, its head, ears, tusks, tail, or trunk. Instead, the wild bull elephant endures being struck by spears, swords, arrows, and axes.
“It endures the thunder of drums, kettles, horns, and cymbals. Cleansed of all crooks and flaws, and purged of defects, it is now worthy of a royal, fit to serve a royal, and considered a factor of rulership.
“In the same way, Aggivessana, an Awakened One arises in the world, perfected, a fully awakened buddha, accomplished in knowledge and conduct, pure, knower of the world, supreme guide for those who wish to be trained, a teacher of devas and humans, awakened, blessed.
“Such a Teacher realizes with his own insight this world — with its devas, māras, and brahmās [shining ones, demons, and divinities], this population with its ascetics and Brahmins, devas and humans — and he makes it known to others.
“Such a one teaches Dhamma (a Doctrine) that’s good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end, meaningful and well-phrased. And he reveals a practice that is complete in all aspects and pure.
“A householder hears that Teaching, or a householder’s child, or someone reborn in some clan or other. That person gains confidence (faith) in the Awakened One and reflects: ‘Living in a house is cramped and dirty, but the life of one gone forth is wide open. It is not easy for someone living at home to lead the supreme life utterly complete and pure as a polished shell.
“‘Why don’t I shave off all my hair, dress in saffron robes, and go forth from the lay life to  the left-home life?’
“After some time one gives up one’s fortune, large or small, and one’s circle of familiars, large or small. One shaves off one’s hair, dresses in saffron robes, and goes forth from the lay life to left-home life.
“It’s only then that a noble disciple comes out into the open, for devas and humans [crave, grasp at, and] cling to the five kinds of sensual stimulation.
Then the Awakened One guides further: ‘Come, monastic, be ethical and restrained in accordance with the Monastic Disciplinary Code, conducting yourself well and gathering alms in suitable places. Seeing danger in the slightest fault, keep the rules you’ve undertaken.’
“When ethical in conduct, the Awakened One guides further: ‘Come, monastic, guard the sense doors. When you see a sight with your eyes, don’t get hung up in the features and details.…”
  • (This expands as in MN 107, the “Discourse with Moggallāna the Accountant”)
“Such a monastic gives up the Five Hindrances, corruptions of the heart/mind that weaken wisdom. Then that monastic meditates, observing some aspect of the body — keen, aware, and mindful, free of craving and aversion toward the world.
“Such a monastic meditates, observing an aspect of feelings… mind… and mind objects — keen, aware, and mindful, free of craving and aversion toward the world.
“This is like when the elephant trainer planted the large post in the earth and tethered the elephant to it by the neck, so as to subdue its wild behavior, its wild memories and thoughts, its wild distress, weariness, and fever -- to make it happy to be in the neighborhood of a village, and to instill in it behavior pleasing to humans.
“In the same way, a noble disciple has these four kinds of mindfulness meditation as tethers for the heart/mind so as to subdue the behavior of lay life, memories and thoughts of the lay life, the distress, weariness, and fever of the lay life -- to bring to an end the Cycle of Suffering and realize extinguishing [the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion, of all ignorance and suffering].
“Then the Awakened One guides further: ‘Come, monastic, meditate observing some aspect of the body but not indulging thoughts connected with sensual pleasures. Meditate observing some aspect of feelings… mind… and mind objects but not thoughts connected with sensual pleasures.’
“As the placing of the mind and keeping it connected are stilled, one enters and remains in the second meditative absorption… the third absorption… the fourth absorption.
“When the mind has become immersed in samādhi (drenched in unification of mind) like this — purified, bright, flawless, free of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable — one extends it toward the recollection of past lives.
“One recollects many kinds of past lives. That is to say, one, two, three, four, five, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 100, 1,000, 100,000 rebirths; many aeons of the world contracting, many aeons of the world again expanding, many aeons of the world contracting and expanding.
“So one recollects many past lives, with their general features and specific details.
“When the mind has become unified (coherent, immersed in samādhi) like this — purified, bright, flawless, free of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable — one extends it toward knowledge of the passing away and rebirth of other sentient beings.
“With clairvoyance [the divine eye or dibba-cakkhu] that is purified and become superhuman, one sees sentient beings passing away and being reborn — inferior and superior, beautiful and repulsive, in a fortunate place or an unfortunate destination.
“One understands how sentient beings are reborn according to their own deeds (karma).
“When the mind has become unified (immersed in samādhi) like this — purified, bright, flawless, free of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable — one extends it toward the knowledge of  putting an end to the defilements.
“One truly understands:
  1. ‘This is suffering (dukkha)’…
  2. ‘This is the origin of suffering’…
  3. ‘This is the cessation of suffering’…
  4. ‘This is the path-of-practice that leads to the cessation of suffering.’
“One truly understands:
  • ‘These are the defilements (kilesas)’…
  • ‘This is the origin of the defilements’…
  • ‘This is the cessation of the defilements’…
  • ‘This is the path-of-practice that leads to the cessation of the defilements.’
I get it, I get it! - Calm down. We're still novices.
“Knowing and seeing like this, the mind is freed from the defilements of sensuality, the craving for endless rebirth [eternal life], and ignorance. And when one is freed, one knows one is freed.
“One understands: ‘Rebirth is ended, the journey has been completed, what had to be done has been done, there is no return to any state of becoming.’
“Such a (monastic) meditator endures cold, heat, hunger, and thirst; the touch of flies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, and reptiles; rude and unwelcome criticism; and puts up with physical pain — sharp, severe, acute, unpleasant, disagreeable, and life-threatening.
“Freed of all greed, hatred, and delusion, and purged of defects, one has become worthy of offerings dedicated to the devas, worthy of hospitality, worthy of donations, worthy of greeting with joined palms, and are the supreme field of merit for the world.
“If a royal bull elephant passes away untrained and untamed — whether in old age, middle age, or youth — one is considered a royal bull elephant who passed away untamed.
“In the same way, if a meditator passes away without having put an end to the defilements — whether as an elder, middle, or junior — one is considered a meditator who passed away untamed.
“If a royal bull elephant passes away trained and tamed — whether in old age, middle age, or youth — one is considered a royal bull elephant who passed away tamed.
“In the same way, if a meditator passes away having put an end to the defilements — whether as an elder, middle, or junior — one is considered a meditator who passed away tamed.”
That is what the Buddha said. Satisfied, the novice Aciravata was happy with what the Buddha had said.


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