Apadana commentary (Atthakatha)

by U Lu Pe Win | 216,848 words

This is the English translation of the commentary on the Apadana (Atthakatha), also known as the Visuddhajana-Vilasini. The Buddhist stories known as apadanas refer to biographies of Buddhas, Buddhist monks and nuns. They are found in the Pali Canon (Khuddaka Nikaya), which is the primary canon of Theravada Buddhism. Alternative titles: Visuddhaja...

Commentary on the Biography of the thera Subhūti

Stanzas starting with himavantassāvidūre constitute the biography of the venerable thera Subhūti. This also, having done devoted deeds of service towards former Buddhas, accumulating meritorious deeds conducive towards escape from the rounds of repeated rebirths (vaṭṭa) in this and that existence, was reborn as the single son of a certain brahmin of vast wealth in the city of hamsavatī, before the appearance of the Glorious One Padumuttara, the protector of the world at the head of a hundred thousand aeons (kappa) ago. They made his name Nandamāṇava (the lad Nanda). On his having come of age, he acquired the knowledge of the three vedas, and not noticing any essence there, he renounced the world together with forty-four thousand lads, who were his own retinue and became ascetic at the foot of a hill, and brought about for himself the eight right attainments of jhāna, as well as five kinds of higher knowledge. He intimated to his resident pupils also the mental exercise (kammaṭṭhāna). They also, before long even, became gainers of jhāna.

On that occasion also the Glorious One Padumuttara arose in the world, resided close to the city of hamsavatī, when, one day, as he looked out into the world early in the morning, noticed the sufficing condition of becoming arahats (upanissaya), of the braided-hair ascetics, the resident pupils of the ascetic Nanda, and the aspiration for the ranking position of the disciple endowed with the two characteristics of the ascetic nanda, performed His bodily ablutions even early in the morning, took His bowl and robe at sun=rise, did not summon any other one whomsoever, became a lonely wanderer like a lion, descended from the sky while the ascetic Nanda was looking on, to let the latter know that He was Buddha, while the resident pupils of the ascetic Nanda had gone for fruits, big and small and landed Himself on the ground. The ascetic nanda noticed the power of Buddha as well as the all-round perfection of characteristics (lakkhaṇa) consulted closely the palmistry science (lakkhaṇa manta) came to know thus:- "Such a One, endowed with these characteristics (lakkhaṇa), becomes a world-king should he choose to lead a house-hold life, but should he renounce the world, he becomes an omniscient Buddha, who cut off links and opens up the door of nibbāna (vivaṭaccheda); this well-bred man is undoubtedly Buddha", went forward to meet Him, paid his homage with five kinds of placements (pañcapatiṭṭhita) prepared a seat and offered it. The Glorious One sat down on the prepared seat. The ascetic nanda also took a seat suited to himself and sat down on one side. At that time (or by then) the forty-four thousand braided-hair ascetics had come back to their teacher's presence bringing tasteful fruits, big and small, of good and excellent quality, looked at the seated sign (nisinnākāram) of Buddha as well as of their teacher and said thus: "O teacher! We wander about with the idea that there exists none greater than you in this world; we think that this person, however, is greater (or higher) than you". The ascetic nanda replied thus: "My sons! What do you all say? You desire to compare (or illustrate) the Sineru, sixty eight hundred thousand yojanas high with a mustard seed; do not example me together with the omniscient Buddha. Then those ascetics, saying to themselves: "If this One were a non-entity, our teacher would not bring about this sort of illustration; this well-bred personage is indeed so much mighty", fell themselves down in prostration at His feet and paid their homage with their heads. Then, their teacher said to them thus:- "Dear Sons! We have no suitable charitable gift (deyyadhamma) to offer to Buddha; the Glorious One also has come here at the time of wandering about for alms-food; therefore, let us offer righteous offering (deyyadhamma) according to our ability, do bring all that whatever are excellent fruits big and small, brought here by you"; when brought, the teacher himself washed the fruits with his own hands and made them placed in the bowl of the Tathāgata himself. At the very moment the fruits, big and small, were accepted by the master, divinities threw into them divine essence. The ascetic himself filtered the water and offered it also. Thereafter, when the Master became seated after having finished doing the duty of eating meal, he summoned all his resident pupils and sat himself down in the presence of the master holding conversation, speaking words of remembrance. The master made His intention thus: "My my clergy of bhikkhus come". Having come to know the mind of the Master, canker-free arahats, to the extent of a hundred thousand came over, and stood themselves adoring the Master.

Then the ascetic Nanda addressed his resident pupils thus: "My dears! Buddha's seat is also low; there is no seat for a hundred thousand monks also; today you should do enormous honour personally to the Glorious One as well as to the clergy of bhikkhus; bring from foot-hill, flowers endowed with good colour and sweet scent. Because of unthinkable sphere of influence of magical powers, they, in but a moment's time brought flowers endowed with fine colours, sweet scent and excellent essence and prepared a flower-seat of the size of a yojana for Buddha, threegāvuta size for chief disciples, a variety of half-a-yojana size for the remaining bhikkhus, and prepared for young members of the clergy seats to the extent of an usabha each. When the seats had thus been made ready, the ascetic nanda raised his clasped hands, stood before the tathāgata and said thus;- "Venerable Sir! For our long period of welfare and happiness, please ascend and be seated on this flower-seat". The Glorious One sat down on the flower-seat. When the Master was thus seated, the bhikkhus came to know the manner of the master and sat themselves down on their respective seats reached by themselves. The ascetic Nanda seized a large flowerumbrella and stood himself holding it above the head of Tathāgata. The master entered upon the trance of cessation (nirodhasamāpattī) with this idea: "Let this personal offering of the ascetics be of great beneficial result". Having come to know the state of the master's trance, the bhikkhus also entered upon the same sort of trance. While the Tathāgata kept seated having entered upon the trance of cessation (nirodha) for seven days, the resident pupils, when the time for wandering about for food arrived, ate fruits big and small originated in the forest, and during the rest of the time they stood themselves raising their clasped hands towards Buddha. The ascetic Nanda, however, did not go even for eating food but spent all the time with zest and happiness only, holding but the flower umbrella even.

The Master, rose up from the trance of cessation (nirodha) and ordered a disciple endowed with two qualifications, namely: the qualification of forest-dwelling (araṇavihāra) and the qualification of being worthy of dedicated donations thus:- "Perform the thanking duty over the flower-seats of the organisation of ascetics". He became mentally satisfied similar to the great warrior who had properly gained big reward from the presence of the world-king, stood in his own sphere of influence consulted the three piṭakas of Buddha's teachings and performed the duty of thanks-giving. At the end of his religious discourse the Master Himself preached the truth (dhamma). At the end of Buddha's preaching all the forty four thousand ascetics also attained arahatship. The Master stretched his hand saying "Come bhikkhus". Then and there their hair and beard disappeared. Eight priestly requisites became attached to (paṭimukkā) their very bodies. They surrounded the Master, similar to sixty-year old theras. The ascetic nanda however, because of unsteady mind did not achieve distinction. It is said that beginning from the time he made his effort to listen to the Truth (dhamma), of the thera forest-dweller, there arose in his mind thus: "It will be wonderful, indeed, if I also in future in the dispensation of a Buddha were to gain the quality received by this thera". On account of that thought, he was not able to perform the proper penetration of noble path and fruition. However, he paid homage to the Tathāgata, raised his clasped hands, stood in front of the Glorious One and asked thus:- "Venerable Sir! In your dispensation, what is the name of this bhikkhu who performed the duty of thanks-giving over the flower-seats of the crowded ascetics? The reply was "This bhikkhu is the one who attained topmost position with the qualification of a forest dweller and the qualification of being worthy of dedicated donations". He made his aspiration thus: "Venerable Sir! For seven days, whatever personal offering of honour of holding the flower-umbrella was done; by means of that devoted deed of service I do not wish for other proper attainments, but I would become a disciple endowed with two qualifications like this thera in the dispensation of a Buddha in furture.

Finding out whether the aspiration of the ascetic would indeed materialise or not by employing His knowledge of the future, the master found the state of accomplishment when a hundred thousand aeons (kappa) had gone past, preached the truth (dhamma) saying "O ascetic! This aspiration of yours will not be in vain; in the time not yet come, when a hundred thousand aeons (kappa) will have gone past, Buddha, Gotama by name, will appear; your aspiration will materialise in His presence", and went up into the sky surrounded by the clergy of bhikkhus. The ascetic nanda stood raising his clasped hands towards the Master and His clergy of monks until they went out of sight. Subsequently, he approached the Master time and again, listened to the truth (dhamma), became never diminished in jhāna, died and was reborn in the brahmā-world. Having passed away thence however, he became monk for a further five hundred births and was but a forest-dweller. At the time of the self-enlightened Buddha Kassapa also, he became a monk of forest-dweller type and fulfilled the duty of going and coming back. It is said that without fulfilling this duty there is namely, no attaining the state of a major disciple. The duty of going and coming, however, should be understood in the self-same manner stated in the āgamas and their commentaries. He fulfilled the duty of going and coming back for twenty thousand years, passed away and was reborn in the heavenly world of Tāvatimsa.

In this way he enjoyed heavenly prosperity by way of springing up now and then in the Tāvatimsa mansion, having passed away thence, became many a hundred times, world-king and regional sovereign, in the world of human-beings, enjoyed human prosperity, and was reborn in the house of the banker Sumana, having become the youngest brother of Anāthapiṇḍika at the time of the appearance of our Glorious One. His name was Subhūti.

On that occasion also, out Glorious One, having arisen in the world, kept on turning the wheel of excellent dhamma, in due course went to Rājagaha, performed there such upliftings of the world as accepting the bamboo grove and so on, and resided at Sītavana (cool forest) depending on Rājagaha. At that time, the banker Anāthapiṇḍika, took along with him the treasure that was raised by him at Sāvatthi, went to the house of his own associate, the banker of Rājagaha, heard about the appearance of Buddha, approached the Master dwelling at Sītavana (cool forest), became established in the fruition of the first stage of sanctification (sotāpatti) requested the Master to come to Sāvatthi, thereafter, he had monasteries built at the cost of a hundred thousand at every yojana, along the forty-five yojana-journey, brought by spreading crores, the garden grounds of a Jeta prince an area measuring eight bigger acres at Sāvatthi; there he had a monastery built and offered to the Glorious One. On the day of the monastery festival, this estate owner Subhūti went together with Anāthapiṇḍika, listened to the truth (dhamma) properly gained pious faith and became a monk. When he became ordained he committed into memory two tables of contents (mātikā) had mental exercise spoken to him did duties of a monk in the forest, aroused the jhāna of loving kindness, made it his basis, developed spiritual insight (vipassanā) and attained arahatship.

In preaching the truth (dhamma), because he preached making it objectively, not subjectively in the conventional manner as preached by the Masters, therefore he became, namely, chief among dwellers unattached (araṇa), because on his wandering round for almsfood, he would enter upon jhāna of loving kindness at each and every house, rise up and accept alms-food, saying to himself: "In this way there will be great fruition for the donors"; therefore, he became known as topmost among those worthy of dedicated donation. Therefore, the Glorious One placed him at the top-most position endowed with two qualifications, thus: "O monks! This one is the chief among my disciples, bhikkhus, who live unattached (araṇa) and are worthy of dedicated donations, this, namely, Subhūti. Having thus attained arahatship, the topplace of fruition of having fulfilled perfections himself, this great thera became exceedingly known, extremely well-marked, in the world, wandered about the districts for the welfare of many men, in due course, went to Rājagaha.

King Bimbisāra heard about the coming of the thera, approached him, paid his homage to the thera and said thus:- "Venerable Sir! Please live here only; I shall build a residential abode for you", made his departure, and forgot about it. Not getting a monastery, the thera spent his time in the open air. Because of thera's power, the rain did not shower. Because of no rain, people became afflicted with lack of water and made an uproar at the door of the royal palace. Investigating as to why the rain did not shower, the king concluded that there was no rain because of the thera's living in the open air, had a leaf-hut built for the thera, told the latter to kindly dwell in the leaf-hut, paid his homage to the thera and made his departure. The thera entered the building and sat himself down on the grass spread, cross-legged. Then the rain showered down a few drops, it did not supply sufficient water (lit. bestow water all along). Then the thera, being desirous of dispelling the danger of draught of the world, uttered a stanza starting with "Channā me Kuṭikā (my dwelling is roofed)" in order to acknowledge the absence of danger to his own internal and external objects. The meaning of the stanza has but been stated in the Theragāthā.

Why, however, did the great theras make mention of these qualities of themselves? Having reflected on the transcendental truth (dhamma), achieved by themselves absolutely profound, exceedingly excellent and calm achievement which they had never gained before, nobles (ariya), who have absolutely scanty desire used to make manifest their own qualities for the purpose of bringing to light their elation (udāna), properly propped up by the excitement of zest (pītivega), as well as for the purpose of rendering clear the condition of Buddha's teaching (sāsana), being conducive towards escape into nibbāna, just as the world-protector does make manifest His own qualities thus: "O monks! The Tathāgata is endowed with ten kinds of strength, four kinds of self-confidence, and so on, by way of the intention of enlightening that matter. In the same way were also the stanzas signifying the arahatship of the thera.

1. Thus, having attained the fruition of arahatship and the top-most position, the thera remembered his own former deeds, became delighted and uttered a stanza starting with Himavantassavidūre and so on, in order to make manifest his deeds done previously. There Himavantassa (of the Himavanta), of the Himalaya hill; avidūre (not far), close-by, near, at the foot of the hill, endowed with facility of going and coming for human-beings, at the place of good conduct. Thus, is the meaning. Nisabho nāma pabbato (a hill, Nisabha, by name), there was a stone-made hill known by the name of Nisabha because of its being the biggest of the hills, thus, is the connection. Assamo sukatomayham (a hermitage was well-built for me), there, at that hill a forest-abode, a hermitage, for my residence had been properly built; it was built in a good manner by way of a chamber, place for night, place for day with fence (and enclosures all around) and so on; thus, is the meaning. Paṇṇasālā sumāpitā (leaf-hall well created) the hall roofed with leaves was well created and finished for the benefit of my residence; thus, is the meaning.

2. Kosiyo nāma nāmena (known by the name of Kosiya) named Kosiya as named by the parents; Uggatāpano (highly austere), well-known terrible austerity;ekākiyo (alone), because of the absence of others, I was but single;adutiyo (without a second), devoid of a second ascetic; jaṭilo (plaited hair) an ascetic who wore braided hair; tadā (then), at that time, Nisabhe, on the Nisabha hill; vasāmi, I lived; thus, is the connection.

3. Phalam mulañ ca paṇṇañca na bhuñjāmi aham tadā (I did not eat then fruit, root and leaf), then, when I was dwelling on the Nisabha hill, I did not eat such fruit as fig and so on, such leaf as oblation vegetables (kāra), having plucked them down from the tree; thus, is the meaning. If thus is the case, how did he live? In order to explain it he uttered these words: Pavattam va supātāham. There, pavattam (turn out to be), produced but automatically; supātam (welldropped), I made my nourishment depending upon leaves and so on which fell down of their own accord; tāvade (then), at that time; jīvāmi (I live), I made my living, I kept myself alive;thus, is the connection. The alternative reading is: "Pavattapaṇḍupaṇṇāni, the fallen yellowleaves", paṇḍupaṇṇāni rukkhapattāni (yellow leaves fallen from trees); I live relying on the very self-fallen tree-leaves; thus, is the meaning.

4.Nāham kopemi ājīvam (I do not corrupt my good livelihood), in sacrificing my life, in making my all-round sacrifice, I did neither corrupt nor ruin my good, right livelihood for the sake of seeking such sustenance as fruits, roots and so on under the influence of craving (taṇhā); thus, is the connection. Ārādhemi sakam cittam (I win over my own mind), by means of scanty needs as well as by contentment I won over my own mind and made my mind clearly pleasant; vivajjemi anesanam (I avoid sinful way of life), I abstained from and kept myself far off from improper and unbecoming ways of livelihood, in the form of such occupations as that of a physician, a messenger and so on.

5. Rāgūpasamhitam cittam (the mind connected with lust) when at any time there arose my mind mixed up with lust, then I myself reflected upon it with wisdom and I dispelled it after properly scrutinising it; ekaggo tam damemaham (being one-pointed in mind I subdue it) being concentrated with my mind one-pointedly on a single fixed object of mental exercise (kammaṭṭhāna, I subdued and brought under my subjugation that lustful mind).

6. Rajjase rajjaniye ca (you were attached to the attachable also) you were and you became adhered to and stained by such things as visible objects of appearance and so on which are stainable and attachable; dussanīye ca dussase (you became offended by enrageable matters) you were furious over the matter which provoked anger and worthy of getting offended; muyhasemohaniye (you get deluded in in deludable matter) you were and you became deluded and misled over matters that make delusion and deludable affairs; therefore, vanā nikkhamassu (you go out from the forest) you should go away elsewhere from the forest-residence, far from the forest; thus, in this manner, I subdued myself; thus, is the connection.

24. Timbarusakavaṇṇābho (O you having own complexion of a fig fruit!) O friend! You have your own skin-colour similar to a golden big fruit, golden complexion of the colour of Jambu-river gold; thus, is the meaning. The rest is but easily comprehensible.

The commentary on the biography of the thera Subhūti has ended

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