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Sakka and the Parrot

Once on a time many parrots lived in a grove of fig-trees in the Himalaya country on the bank of the Ganges. When the fruits of the tree he lived in had withered away, one of them did not move to another tree or place, but ate whatever he found remaining on his tree, whether shoot or leaf or bark, and drank water from the Ganges. Happy and contented he remained where he was.

The parrot was so happy and contented that heaven began to quake for it. The Lord of heaven meant that the excessive happiness of the parrot was the cause of it, and so he withered up the tree. The tree became a mere stump, full of holes and cracks. When the wind beat on it, there came forth from the tree a hollow sound, and out of the holes and cracks came dust. The parrot then ate the dust, drank water from the Ganges, and, going nowhere else, remained perched on the top of the fig-tree in wind and sunshine alike.

When the Lord of heaven noticed how very happy and contented the parrot still was, he said to himself, "I will go to him and grant him that the fig-tree will bear plenty of excellent fruit."

Sakka then came down from heaven in the form of a goose, and alighted on a branch of a tree near the parrot, and then said:

"There are trees with green leaves, trees that are full of fruit.
Why does a parrot delight in a tree that is withered and hollow?"

The parrot answered, "This tree has been good to me in the past. Why should I forsake it now?"

Then Sakka made the tree bloom anew and bear abundant fruit. (Burlingame 1921, I: 327-28)


The Soil of the Heart

Once there were five hundred monks who spent their time talking about types of soil after they had travelled through the country, from one village to another. They talked about even and uneven types of soil, soil abounding in mud, abounding in gravel, and about black clay and red clay.

Their Teacher overheard them, and asked: "Monks, what are you are sitting here now talking about?"

"Sir, we were talking about the different kinds of soil we saw in the places we visited."

"All of that is outer soil. Better cleanse the inner soil of the heart," said the Teacher, adding: "The disciple shall pluck the well-taught Words of Truth, even as a good man plucks a flower." (Burlingame 1921, II: 29)


The Holy One

Once a time a party of men put to sea in a boat. When they were well out to sea, the boat sprang a leak. All of the men but one became food for fishes and tortoises. Only one man, who seized a plank and struggled with all his might, reached land. When he came to land, he lacked both under and upper garments. So for lack of anything better, he wrapped himself with dry twigs and sticks and bark, and got a potsherd and went to a port town. All who saw him gave him broth, rice-porridge and other kinds of food, and said reverently, "He is a holy one!"

The man got the idea: "If I clothe myself in under and upper garments of fine texture, I shall no longer receive gain and honor." Therefore he avoided such garments, and used only the bark of trees to clothe himself with.

After many persons had greeted him as a holy one, one night he came to wonder: "Perhaps I am really one of the holy ones?"

A god perceived his thoughts and appeared to him while hovering in the air, saying: " Bahiya, you are not a holy one, and have not entered on the path that leads to holiness either. To the contrary."

Bahiya looked at the god and thought to himself, "Oh, what a plight I am in!"

He asked the god if there were any real holy ones in the world, and the god said, "Yes, in a city to the north there is one -"

The next day Bahiya walked a long way and came to the city in the nort and reached the house where the truly holy one stayed at the time. When they met, Bahiya at once took him firmly by the ankles and said, trembling with fatigue from his long journey: "Good sir, will you please teach me the Law for my welfare and salvation?"

But the other turned him away, saying, "This is not a fit time, Bahiya; for it is time for me to go among the houses for alms now."

When Bahiya heard this, he said, "Oh sir! I don't know when when you or I shall die: please teach me the Law!"

The other thought, "He is weary from his long journey. Let him rest and get restored first." Therefore he turned away Bahiya again.

When Bahiya asked him a third time, the most holy one remained where he was in the street, saying to him: "Bahiya, you need to learn that in the seen there can be only what is seen by you; in the heard there can be only what is heard by you; in the thought there can be only what is thought in your mind; in the known to you there can be only what is known to you."

As Bahiya listened, he asked the most holy one to admit him to his order of monks.

"Have you got a bowl and robe?"

"No," answered Bahiya.

Then the other told him, "Well then, seek bowl and robe first."

So saying, the other went his way. (Burlingame 1921, II: 222-26, retold)

White narcissus

The Practice of Meditation, based on Morality and leading to the Higher Wisdom, is . . . essential to the attainment of Nibbana according to the Buddhist scheme of Salvation. - Buddhaghosa (Burlingame 1921, I: 20)

Q and A

Sriputta asks: "Why live the religious Buddhist life? Do we live the religious Buddhist life for the sake of purity of conduct?"

Punna Mantaniputta answers: "No."

"For the sake of purity of heart [only]?"


"Of purity of belief?"


"Of purity of certitude?"


"Of purity of insight through knowledge of what is the Way and what is not the Way?"


"Of purity of insight through knowledge of the Path?"


"For the sake of purity of insight through knowledge?"

"No. They are only the means to an end."

"Why, then, do we live the religious Buddhist life?"

"That we may attain to Great Nirvana."


The series of questions and answers cover partial sides to good Buddhism, to be fair, and they should lead to the happy end goal of Nirvanahood. "Every little helps," and purity and insights may serve as great helps too.


Buddhaghosa and His Visuddhimagga

Buddhaghosa was an Indian Theravadin Buddhist commentator and scholar from the 400s CE. His name means "Voice of the Buddha" in the Pali language. His best-known work is a comprehensive summary and analysis of the Theravada understanding of the Buddha's path to liberation. His interpretations form the orthodox understanding of Theravada scriptures. He is recognized by both Western scholars and Theravadins as the most important commentator of the Theravada.

There is little information about the life of Buddhaghosa. However, short biographical excerpts describe him as having come to Sri Lanka from India and settled in Anuradhapura.

Buddhaghosa was born into a Brahmin family in the kingdom of Magadhi in Northern India, near Bodh Gaya - some say Kanci in southern India - scholars do not agree about his birth-place - and became skilled in the Hindu Vedas. But when he encountered a Buddhist monk named Revata, the impressed Buddhaghosa became a Buddhist monk and undertook the study of the Tipitaka and its commentaries. Buddhaghosa decided to go to Sri Lanka to study a very large volume of commentarial texts that had been assembled and preserved by the monks, and got their permission to synthesise the assembled commentaries into a comprehensive single commentary in Pali.

The elder monks tested his qualifications, and then he summarised the whole Tripitaka so proficiently that the monks provided Buddhaghosa with the full body of their commentaries. Buddhaghosa went on to write commentaries on most of the other major books of the Pali Canon. After he had translated and synthesised a large body of Singhalese commentaries, Buddhaghosa returned to India, we are told.

Scholars currently agree to accept as Buddhaghosa's work only the commentaries on the first four nikayas, which summarises current Buddhist doctrines, and his Visuddhimagga, which translates to "The Path of Purification. It is "a manual condensing and systematizing the 5th century understanding and interpretation of the Buddhist path as maintained by the elders of the Mahavihara Monastery in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka." (Wikipedia, "Visuddhimagga").

The Visuddhimagga is centered around a form of concentration-meditation in which the mind is focused on a (mental) object. and then tries to fit all other meditation methods into the mold of such practice. But "breath meditation does not fit well into the mold," observes Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Buddha describes a form of breath-meditation. (Ib.)

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana notes that the Buddhaghosa's emphasis on concentration-meditation (kasina-meditation) is not to be found in the suttas, where dhyana is always combined with mindfulness. So Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga departs from the Pali Canon, in which dhyana is the central meditative practice. By that, "jhana [meditative absorption] in the commentaries differs from what it means in the Canon itself." (Ib.) That is not as it should be.

The work deals with themes like Purification of Conduct; of Mind; of View; of Overcoming Doubt; by Knowledge and Vision of What Is Path and Not Path; by Knowledge and Vision of the Course of Practice; of contemplation of reflection. "Purification by Knowledge and Vision" is the culmination of the practice, in four stages leading to liberation and Nirvana. The Visuddhimagga further gives explicit details about how spiritual masters were thought to manifest supernormal abilities, such as flying through the air, walking on water and so forth.

Be that as it may, in the 1100s the Sri Lankan monk Sariputta incorporated many of the works of Buddhaghosa into his own interpretations. In time the teachings of his tradition - and thus those of Buddhaghosa - were spread throughout the Theravada countries.

In India, new schools of Buddhist philosophy (such as the Mahayana) were emerging, many of them making use of Sanskrit both as a scriptural language and as a language of philosophical discourse. [Wikipedia, "Buddhaghosa"; Britannica, "Buddhaghosha"]


Buddhaghosa, Budhaghosa stories, Buddhist legends of Buddhism, Literature  

Buddhaghosa. 1921. Buddhist Legends. Vols 1-3. Tr. Eugene Watson Burlingame. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Buddhaghosa. 1991. The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga) 5th ed. Tr. Bhikkhu Nanamoli. Kandy, LK: Buddhist Publication Society.

Law, Bimala Churn. 1946. Buddhaghosa. Bombay: The Bombay Royal Branch Royal Asiatic Society.

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