The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw | 1990 | 1,044,401 words

This page describes The Noble Practice of Fraternal Living (Saraniya) contained within the book called the Great Chronicle of Buddhas (maha-buddha-vamsa), a large compilation of stories revolving around the Buddhas and Buddhist disciples. This page is part of the series known as the Buddha Declared the Seven Factors of Non-Decline for Rulers. This great chronicle of Buddhas was compiled by Ven. Mingun Sayadaw who had a thorough understanding of the thousands and thousands of Buddhist teachings (suttas).

Part 7 - The Noble Practice of Fraternal Living (Sāranīya)

Notes on Sāranīya Practice:

What kind of bhikkhu is competent or qualified to take up this Sāranīya Practice? An immoral bhikkhu is not in a position to practise Sāranīya. Only a bhikkhu endowed with morality can take up this practice. The reason is that virtuous bhikkhus cannot receive offerings from a bhikkhu of immoral conduct. They will always refuse it.

Only a bhikkhu with impeccable morality is qualified to take up the Sāranīya Practice. Once taken up;the practice must be fulfilled without break, flawlessly. The details of the practice are given below:

Where a bhikkhu gives discriminately the alms-food to his mother, or father, or preceptor, or any such person, he is sharing it with someone whom he is bound to offer. But his sharing is not Sāranīya Practice: it is merely removing an impediment (patibodha), by fulfilling an obligation, as is termed in the Teaching. That indeed is so. For Sāranīya practice is of a superior nobler way of sharing which is suitable only for a bhikkhu who is free from impediments, obstructions, personal obligations.

A practitioner of Sāranīya may give, in fulfilment of his practice, the share of his almsfood to a sick bhikkhu, or to a bhikkhu tending a sick bhikkhu, or a guest bhikkhu, or a way-faring bhikkhu or a newly admitted bhikkhu who has not learnt the proper way to robe himself or to hold his alms-bowl. After giving the alms-food to these types of bhikkhus, if any alms-food is left, he offers it to the bhikkhus beginning from the most senior of the bhikkhu-elders who should be allowed to partake of it as much as they like (and not in a small quantity only). If the food runs out and if there is time to collect alms-food for the day, he may go on another round of alms-gathering and then continue the distribution of whatever food he has collected. If there is any food left after the distribution, he eats it. If none is left and if there is no time to go on another round of alms-gathering, he stays without any food for that day and his sole sustenance then is the delightful satisfaction (pita) derived from the successful undertaking of the Sāranīya practice.

(Note that although the text mentions of sharing with virtuous fellow bhikkhus, a practitioner of the Sāranīya practice may deny his alms-food to an immoral bhikkhu, or he may, out of pity, give it to him, in which latter case it is not by way of fulfilling the practice.)

In actual practice, the practitioner of Sāranīya practice will find it not too difficult, if it is to be undertaken in the company of bhikkhus who are skilful in this practice, but will find it rather difficult if in the company of bhikkhus who are not so skilled. The reason is as follows:

Where the associate bhikkhus are skilful in Sāranīya practice, those who have collected alms-food themselves do not partake of the practitioner’s food, (considering the trouble that would otherwise cause to the practitioner). Other bhikkhus who do not get alms-food elsewhere would partake of the food just to satisfy their need. Thus, no unnecessary burden is placed on the practitioner. Where the associate bhikkhus do not know how stringent the Sāranīya practice is, those bhikkhus who have got alms somewhere else would, under the influence of greed, also partake of the food offered by the practitioner. Other bhikkhus who do not get alms-food elsewhere would take more than what they actually need. In such a situation the practitioner has to make repeated rounds of alms-collection within the (morning)time proper to do so, and has, more often than not, to go without food as all his collection having been distributed to others.

Twelve Years Continuous Practice is the Norm

This (self-assigned) task of feeding one’s associates must be pursued for twelve years without break so that it can be called a success. A full twelve years self-denial regarding daily sustenance is the unique character of this practice.

If, (supposing) on the last day of the twelve years, there should occur the slightest vexation in the mind of the practitioner, then he fails. For instance, if the practitioner were away to bathe, leaving his alms-bowl containing alms-food gathered by him, and if it was seen by a senior bhikkhu and its contents distributed according to seniority of bhikkhuhood and nothing were left in it, the practitioner must be able to take it in the proper attitude. Otherwise, if he had the slightest indignant attitude towards his associates for leaving nothing for him, his twelve year long practice goes to waste. If he is still willing, he has to start it all over again for twelve more years. In this respect, the rule is as stringent as in the case of the probationary service period of Titthiyaparivāsa;once broken, a fresh period must be undertaken by the incumbent.

If the practitioner, under the same circumstances, instead of being vexed, feels joy to know that his fellow-bhikkhus have partaken of all his food, his practice is then accomplished. It is a success.

The Benefits of Fulfilling the Sāranīya Practice

(i) The primary benefit in fulfilling the Sāranīya practice is the abandonment of covetousness (issā) and stinginess (macchariya) through his prolonged cultivation of overcoming these defilements. (ii) His charitableness, having been established, he is adored by everyone. (iii) Since a strong desire to act in charity has the benign effect of bountiful fruit, in the present existence, the practitioner is blessed with the four requisites all the time. (iv) The twelve-year long practice of offering food to virtuous fellow-bhikkhus out of his alms-bowl has the effect of rendering his alms-bowl an inexhaustible source of almsfood. He can give as much as he wishes out of it without depleting it. (v) As the result of giving priority to the most senior bhikkhu-elders in his act of charity for such a long period every day, whenever the common acquisitions of offerings are divided, the best things go to him. (vi) As the result of the gladdening effect, he had produced in others through his act of self-denial in offering food in them, whenever famine visits, devas are ready to help him.

Some Stories related to The Sāranīya Practice

(1) Venerable Tissa feeds fifty wayfaring bhikkhus

Venerable Tissa was a forest dweller who lived in the forest abode known as Sena. His place for the alms-gathering was a village named Mahāgiri. A group of fifty theras, who were on a pilgrimage to the Nāgadipa Shrine, went on the alms-round in Mahāgiri village but they collected none. As they were leaving the village, they met Venerable Tissa, the local resident bhikkhu, who was entering the village for alms-food. Tissa asked the fifty theras whether they had got alms-food. The theras did not give a straight answer but merely replied: “Friend, we had been on the alms-round there.” Tissa knew that the theras had got no alms-food and so he said to them: “May the venerable ones wait here till I come back.” The theras then said to him: “None of us fifty bhikkhus got an alms-food there. How could you alone get it?” “Venerable Sir,” Tissa replied, “resident bhikkhus can manage somehow;though not possessing great power, they know where alms-food can be collected.”

The fifty theras remained waiting there.

As Venerable Tissa entered Mahāgiri village, the very first house was ready with the alms-food, the lady of the house had milk rice prepared to offer to him. As soon as Tissa called in front of her house, she poured the milk rice into his alms-bowl to the full.

Tissa returned to the group of theras and respectfully offered the aims-food, addressing to the most senior bhikkhu: “May the venerable ones accept my offering.” The Venerable looked surprised. “Fifty of us had been in that village, none of us have collected any almsfood whatever. This bhikkhu has got milk rice in no time. How could it happen?” These thoughts, though not spoken out, were reflected in their expressions. Venerable Tissa then said to them: “Venerable Sirs, this alms-food is righteously obtained. Do not have any misgivings about it.” The fifty theras partook of the rice meal to their satisfaction. After they had finished, Venerable Tissa ate the leftover to his satisfaction too.

After Venerable Tissa had finished his meal, the theras asked: “Friend, when did you gain penetrative knowledge of the Supramundane?”

To this he replied: “Venerable Sirs, I have not attained the Supramundane.”

“In that case, are you endowed with jhāna?”

“No, Venerable Sirs.”

“Why, friend, you could easily get milk-rice where fifty of us failed to get even a morsel. Is that not a miraculous feat?”

Venerable Tissa was obliged to admit his attainment to dispel doubts in those bhikkhus. Since the attainment of Sāranīya is not supramundane dhamma (uttarimanussa dhamma), he considered it proper to admit to it: “Venerable Sirs, I have fulfilled the Sāranīya practice. Since I had done that, I could provide food to even a hundred thousand fellow bhikkhus out of my alms-bowl.”

“O Virtuous One! Excellent it is! Excellent it is! this miraculous feat is just befitting a virtuous one like yourself.”

This is an instance of the alms-bowl that has virtually become an inexhaustible source of food; the fourth benefit of Sāranīya practice. This story also proves the second benefit of being adored by everyone, and the third benefit of being blessed with the four requisites all the time. The Commentary picks up this story to exemplify the fourth benefit which is the most significant here.

(2) Venerable Tissa at the National Offerings Ceremony

In ancient Sri Lanka, there was the Giribhanda Mahāpūjā, (an annual festival of offerings held on Mount Cetīya which was a grand national occasion.) When Venerable Tissa arrived there, he inquired from fellow-bhikkhus what was the most significant item of offering (that year,). Being told that two finest fabrics intended for robe-making were the most significant item, Tissa said: “Those two pieces will come to my lot.” This was overheard by an official who reported to the King: “Your Excellency, there is a junior bhikkhu who says that the two fine fabrics will come to his lot.” The King said: “That is what he imagines. But those fabrics are worthy of bhikkhu-elders only.” And he thought of making the offering of the fabrics to the bhikkhu-elders.

When the procession of bhikkhu-donees arrived, the King himself headed the offerings.

The two choicest fabrics were placed foremost, ready to hand. But they did not reach the King’s hand, when he was presenting the gifts to the bhikkhu-elders. Only other items reached his hand. When Tissa came along, the two pieces of fabrics strangely reached the King’s hand. The King offered them to Tissa. He also signalled (by facial expression) to the official who reported to him about the fabrics to ask Tissa to sit there awhile. After the procession had passed by, the King asked Tissa: “Venerable Sir, when did you become endowed with this special apperception?” Tissa did not want to give even a faint suggestion of him having attained magga-phala and so he simply replied: “Great King, I have not attained the supramundane.”

“But Venerable Sir, you had said even before the gift-making that the two fabrics would come to you.”

“That is true, O King, That was because since I had successfully completed the Sāranīya practice, whenever common property of gifts are distributed among the Sangha the choicest items always come to me.”

“Venerable Sir! Excellent it is! Excellent it is! This miraculous happening becomes you well.”

After respectfully paying obeisance to Venerable Tissa, the King went back to the palace. This is an example of the fifth benefit.

(3) Therī Nāga

At one time, ancient Sri Lanka underwent troubled times due to insurgency headed by one Brāhamaṇatissa. At a village known as Bhārata where Therī Nāga resided, the whole village fled for fear of insurgents, without letting it known to the Therī. Early in the morning Therī Nāga noticed the strange silence of the village and said to her pupils: “Bhārata village is strangely silent. Go and enquire what’s the matter.” The younger bhikkhunīs went into the village and having seen that no one was left, reported it to their teacher.

Therī Nāga said to her pupils: “Do not be alarmed or upset by the flight of the whole village. You go on as usual with your learning (the text, the Commentary) and meditation. When the time came for the alms-round, she robed herself and went to the great banyan tree near the village gate, leading her eleven disciples. The guardian spirit of the banyan tree came down and offered the twelve bhikkhunīs sufficient alms-food. He then said to them: “Venerable Ones, do not move away to another place. Always come to this banyan tree for your alms food.”

Now, Therī Nāga had a younger brother, a bhikkhu by the name of Nāga. He assessed the situation and decided that Sri Lanka was no safe place and that he could not find sustenance here. So he left the monastery accompanied by eleven disciples meaning to cross the sea to the mainland. Before leaving Sri Lanka he went to bid farewell to his elder sister Therī Nāga. Learning of their arrival at Bhārata village, Therī Nāga went to see them and was told by Bhikkhu Nāga of his plan to cross over to the mainland. Therī Nāga then said to him: “Would the venerable ones stay at the monastery for tonight, and proceed the next day.” The twelve venerables accepted the invitation.

Therī Nāga collected the alms-food in the morning as usual from the banyan tree. She offered the food to Bhikkhu Nāga and his disciples. “Venerable Therī, is this alms-food properly gotten?” Bhikkhu Nāga asked his elder sister and then remained silent.

“Brother, this aims-food is righteously obtained. Do not have any doubts about this.” But Bhikkhu Nāga was still doubtful: “Venerable Therī would it be proper?”

The Self-confidence of Bhikkhu Nāga.

Thereupon, Therī Nāga took the alms-bowl and threw it upwards where it remained for awhile. Bhikkhu Nāga said: “Even if the alms-bowl stays aloft at seven palm-trees high, it is still the alms-food collected by a bhikkhunī, is it not Venerable Therī?” Then he continued: “This disturbance and danger is not to last forever. After the famine has passed, I, who speak in praise of the contented nature of the ariyas (with the four requisites) will be asking myself: ‘O virtuous one, trained in the ascetic practice regarding food, you have survived the Brāhmaṇatissa scourge by eating the alms-food of a bhikkhunī. I shall not be able to bear such criticism of myself. (I must go now) you remain in mindfulness, Therīs.”

The guardian spirit of the banyan tree was watching. If Bhikkhu Nāga partook of Therī Nāga alms-food, he would say nothing to the bhikkhu; but if the bhikkhu were to refuse it, he would intervene, and ask him to drop the idea of going away. When he saw that the bhikkhu refused the alms-food, he descended from his abode in the tree and asked Bhikkhu Nāga to hand over the alms-bowl, and inviting him and his company to the foot of the banyan tree, offered them the meal on prepared seats. After the meal, he got an undertaking from Bhikkhu Nāga not to go abroad. And from that day onwards the guardian spirit of the banyan tree offered meals daily to twelve bhikkhunīs and twelve bhikkhus for seven years.

This is an example of the sixth benefit.

In this story Therī Nāga was unaffected by famine, thanks to her fulfilment of the Sāranīya practice whereas Bhikkhu Nāga was helped by the guardian spirit on account of his morality.

Regarding the Fifth Factor of Non-decline:

“Morality that is unbroken, intact, unchequered and unspotted” is explained thus: for bhikkhus, there are seven groups of breach of morality in brief outline. Of the list of precepts to be observed, if the first precept or the last precept is broken, it is called ‘broken’ (like in a piece of cloth whose edge are frayed); if the precepts in the middle are broken, it is no more ‘intact’ (like in a piece of cloth that has holes in the middle part); if two or three precepts in a series are broken, it is ‘chequered’ (like a cow whose skin is of different colours either on her back or underneath); if there is breach of precepts at alternate places, it is ‘spotted’ (like a cow with spots). Morality to be unbroken, intact, unchequered, and unspotted must be such that no manner of breach of the above four ways occurs anywhere in the observance of bhikkhu precepts.

(Refer to Anudīpanī)

Morality that is flawless in those above four ways is sufficing condition for maggaphala. One, who is endowed with it, is free from the bond of craving and is therefore a truly happy person. Since it is very pure, it is extolled by the Buddha and ariyas. Since that morality is not conceived as a means of glorious future existences, such as a deva of any specific name or unspecified name, it is not misconception due to craving for existence; or not wrongly conceived as something permanent or eternal, a misconception due to wrong view; it is said to be not subject to misconception. Further, since none of the four deviations (vipattis) can be alluded to this kind of morality, it is said to be not subject to misconception. Since it provides sufficient precondition for the attainment of approach concentration (upareara samādho) and absorption concentration (appanā samādho), it is also called morality conducive to concentration. Since the Four Purity in Morality (Catupānsudhi sīla) of worldlings cannot, in reality, be equal as between one person to another, the fifth factor here is meant as morality of the Path, the supramundane sīla which is the same for all ariyas. In the sixth factor also, Right View as the Path Factor is meant. (These six factors of non-decline are taught by the Buddha also as the six sāranīya factors, vide Aṅguttara (Twos); Dīgha, iii).

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