The Great Chronicle of Buddhas

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

This page describes The Discourse at Bhoga on the Four Great Authorities (Mahapadesas) 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 29 - The Discourse at Bhoga on the Four Great Authorities (Mahāpadesas)

Then after staying at Bhaṇḍu village for as long as He wished, the Buddha said to the

Venerable Ānanda: “Come, Ānanda, let us go to Hatthi village,... to Amba village,... to Jamba village, and thence the town of Bhoga.”

“Very well, Venerable Sir,” assented Ānanda. And the Buddha, accompanied by a large following of bhikkhus, arrived at the town of Bhoga, where He dwelled at the Ānanda shrine. During His sojourn there, the Buddha discoursed to the bhikkhus on the Four Great Authorities (i.e. principles to assess the doctrines that are being alluded to persons of high esteem):

i) “Bhikkhus, in this Teaching, if a bhikkhu should say thus: ‘Friends, I have heard this exposition from the mouth of the Bhagavā, such and such is the Doctrine (Dhamma);such and such is the Rule of Bhikkhu Conduct (Vinaya); such and such is the Teaching of the Buddha.’

Bhikkhus, the words of that bhikkhu should not be readily accepted or readily rejected. The words and phrases stated by him (attributed to the Buddha) should be carefully noted. They should be collated with the Suttanta and compared with the rules of the Vinaya.

“If, on collation with the Suttanta and comparison with the Vinaya rules, the words and phrases, as stated by the bhikkhu, do not agree with the Suttanta or are not in line with the Vinaya rules, then it must be concluded that ‘This certainly is not what the Bhagavā said. It is something wrongly learnt by the bhikkhu.’ And concluding thus, bhikkhus, those words should be rejected and ignored.

“If, on the other hand, the words and phrases, as stated by the bhikkhu, on being collated with the Suttanta and compared with the Vinaya rules, are found to agree with the Suttanta and are in line with the Vinaya rules, then it must be concluded that, ‘This certainly is what the Bhagavā said. It is something correctly learnt by the bhikkhu.’ Bhikkhus, remember well this first directive principle regarding assertions attributed to a great authority (here, the Buddha).”

ii) “And then, bhikkhus, in the Teaching, if a bhikkhu should say thus: ‘Here is such and such monastery where the community of bhikkhus with a bhikkhu-elder in charge, I have heard (this exposition) from that particular community of bhikkhus: such and such is the Doctrine; such and such is the Vinaya; such and such is the Teaching.’

Bhikkhus, the words of that bhikkhu should not be readily accepted or readily rejected. The words and phrases stated by him (attributed to the Sangha of a certain monastery) should be carefully noted. They should be collated with the Suttanta, and compared with the rules of the Vinaya.

“If, on collation with the Suttanta and comparison with the Vinaya rules, the words and phrases, as stated by the bhikkhu, do not agree with the Suttanta or are not in line with the Vinaya rules, then it must be concluded that, ‘This certainly is not what the Bhagavā said. It is something wrongly learnt by the bhikkhu.’ And concluding thus, bhikkhus, those words should be rejected and ignored.

“If, on the other hand, the words and phrases as stated by the bhikkhu, on being collated with the Suttanta and compared with the Vinaya rules, are found to agree with the Suttanta and are in line with the Vinaya rules, then it must be concluded that, ‘This certainly is what the Bhagavā said, it is something correctly learnt by the bhikkhu.’ Bhikkhus, remember this second directive principle regarding assertions attributed to a great authority.” iii) “And then, bhikkhus, in the Teaching, if a bhikkhu should say thus: ‘There is such and such monastery where many bhikkhu-elders of wide learning who have memorized the Pāli (Text), who abide by the Doctrine and the Vinaya rules, and who are thoroughly versed in the Fundamental Precepts for bhikkhus (Pātimokkha), I have heard (this exposition) from these bhikkhu-elders themselves: such and such is the Doctrine; such and such is the Vinaya; such and such is the Teaching.’

Bhikkhus, the words of that bhikkhu should not be readily accepted or readily rejected. The words and phrases stated by him (attributed to the bhikkhu-elders) should be carefully noted. They should be collated with the Suttanta and compared with the rules of the Vinaya.

“If, on collation with the Suttanta and comparison with the Vinaya rules, the words and phrases, as stated by the bhikkhus, do not agree with the Suttanta or are not in line with the Vinaya rules, then it must be concluded that, ‘This certainly is not what the Bhagava said. It is something wrongly learnt by the bhikkhu.’ And concluding thus, bhikkhus, these words should be rejected and ignored.

“If, on the other hand, the words and phrases as stated by the bhikkhu, on being collated with the Suttanta and compared with the Vinaya rules, are found to agree with the Suttanta and are in line with the Vinaya rules, then it must be concluded that, ‘This certainly is what the Bhagavā said. It is something correctly learnt by the bhikkhu.’ Bhikkhus, remember well this third directive principle regarding assertions attributed to a great authority.” iv) “And then, bhikkhus, in this Teaching, if a bhikkhu should say thus: ‘There is a certain bhikkhu-elder of wide learning who has memorized the Pāli (Texts), who abides by the Doctrine and the Vinaya rules, and who is thoroughly versed in the Fundamental Precepts for bhikkhus. I have heard (this exposition) from that bhikkhu himself: such and such in the Doctrine; such and such is the Vinaya; such and such is the Teaching.’

Bhikkhus, the words of that bhikkhu should not the readily accepted or readily rejected. The words and phrases stated by him (attributed to the learned bhikkhu-elder) should be carefully noted. They should be collated with the Suttanta and compared with the rules of the Vinaya.

“If, on collation with the Suttanta and comparison with the Vinaya rules, the words and phrases, as stated by the bhikkhus, do not agree with the Suttanta or are not in line with the Vinaya rules, then it must be concluded that, ‘This certainly is not what the Bhagavā said. It is something wrongly learnt by the bhikkhu.’ And concluding thus, bhikkhus, these words should be rejected and ignored.

“If, on the other hand, the words and phrases, as stated by the bhikkhu, on being collated with the Suttanta and are in line with the Vinaya rules, then it must be concluded that, ‘This certainly is what the Bhagavā said. It is something correctly learned by the bhikkhu.’ Bhikkhus, remember well this fourth directive principle regarding assertions attributed to a great authority.”

Bhikkhus, remember well these four directive principles regarding assertions attributed to the Great Authorities.”

Miscellaneous Points on The Subject

On this subject of the Four Great Authorities, the Commentary draws the attention of the reader to miscellaneous points touching on it. A brief note follows:

Herein,

i) there are the four directive principles concerning the four great authorities; (in Dīgha Nikāya) ii) four directive Principles on the subject as taught in Vinaya Mahāvagga;

iii) four types of answers corresponding to four types of questions called the four Vyakaraṇas; iv) the four Vinayas;

v) the three Great Councils.

(i) The Four Great Authorities as taught in the Suttanta Piṭka

There are what has been described above.

(ii) The Four Great Authorities as taught in the Vinaya Piṭaka

(Matavagga;6 Bhesajjakkhandhaka)

Four directive principles are laid down by the Buddha regarding what sort of medicinal preparation is proper for bhikkhus:

(a) Bhikkhus, a certain item of drug is not specifically mentioned by Me as improper for use by bhikkhus, yet if it tends towards impropriety and rules out any possibility of its propriety, in the light of Vinaya rules, then consider it as being improper for use.

(b) Bhikkhus, a certain item of drug is not specifically mentioned by Me as improper for use by bhikkhus, and if, in the light of Vinaya rules, it tends towards propriety and rules out any possibility of its impropriety, then consider it as being proper for use.

(c) Bhikkhus, a certain item of drug is not specifically mentioned by Me as proper for use by bhikkhus, and if it tends towards impropriety and rules out any possibility of propriety in the light of Vinaya rules, then consider it as being improper of use.

(d) Bhikkhus, a certain item of drug is not specifically mentioned by Me as proper for use by bhikkhus, and if it tends towards impropriety and rules out any possibility of propriety in the light of Vinaya rules, then consider it as being improper of use by bhikkhus, and if it tends towards propriety and rules out any possibility of its impropriety in the light of Vinaya rules, then consider it as being proper for use.

(iii) Four Types of Answer

There are four types of answers to match the four types of questions:

(a) A straight question is answered by a categorical statement, e.g. if the question is: “Is the eye impermanent?” the appropriate answer is: “Yes, the eye is impermanent.”

(b) A question requiring an analysis to answer e.g. “Is the eye the only thing that is impermanent?” The answer needs an analysis: “The eye is not the only thing that is impermanent: the ear also is impermanent; the tongue also is impermanent; etc.”

(c) A question to be replaced by question, e.g. “Is the ear to be regarded as being the same as the eye? Is the eye to be regarded as being the same as the ear?” The appropriate reply is: “In what sense is this question put?” Then if the inquirer says: “In the sense of seeing: is the ear capable of seeing as the eye is?” The answer then is: “No, it is not.” If again, the inquirer says: “In respect of its impermanence: is the ear the same as the eye is?” The answer then is: “Yes, it is.”

(d) The type of question that is ignored, e.g. To believers in attā, there is java (life), sarīra (body), which are mere names but which do not exist in the ultimate sense, Therefore if the question is, “Is life the same as the body?” the proper answer is silence because one understands that the Buddha Himself ignores such a question. The question is of the nature of saying, “the son of a barren woman”, which is absurd.

(iv) The Four Vinayas.

(a) Sutta: here refers to the Three Piṭakas.

(b) Suttānuloma: the four Mahāpadesas (Great Authorities) described in the Vinaya and the four Mahāpadesas described in the Suttanta.

(c) Ācariyavāda: miscellaneous exposition in elucidation of the doctrines of the Buddha that were made even during His lifetime at different places. Since they explain the Pāli texts, they were also called Commentaries (aṭṭhakathā). At the great Councils, the bhikkhu-elders recited the Pāli first and at the end of it, they prescribed the respective Commentaries to each division of the texts as the regular syllabus for elucidation. These learned sayings which were miscellaneous discourses as well as Commentaries, being written by learned teachers, come to be known also as Ācariyavāda. These learned observations or treatises which are referred to by three different names, which are Ācariyavāda, Aṭṭhakathā, Pakiṇṇakadesanā, were carried by the Venerable Mahinda to Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka bhikkhu-elders translated them into Sinhalese to ensure, for Sinhalese bhikkhus, the tradition against doctrines that might be introduced by other sects later. The Venerable Mahā Buddhaghosa studied the Sinhalese Aṭṭhakathā, (i.e. the Mūḷa Pakiṇṇaka) cleared up repetitive statements and condensed them wherever suitable, classified them under suitable headings which were appropriate to the Piṭaka texts, elucidating wherever necessary, and thereby produced a new Commentary in Māgadī, adding the traditional views held by bhikkhu-elder (Theravāda) which came to be called ‘own views’ (attanomati), wherever necessary. Thus, Ācariyavāda, the third of the four Vinayas, is for practical purposes as used today, refers to (This new) Commentary.

(d) Attanomati: this is a reference to the ‘own views’ i.e. considered opinions held by bhikkhu-elders after following the principles contained in the Sutta, Suttanuloma and Ācariyavāda. Attanomate is also known as Theravāda, the doctrines upheld traditionally by bhikkhu-elders. Thus these four Vinayas are Sutta, Suttānuloma, Ācariyavāda and Attanomati, should be noted..

(v) The Three Great Buddhist Councils.

(a) The first Great Council of five hundred arahats headed by the Venerable Mahā Kassapa.

(b) The Second Great Council of seven thousand arahats headed by the Venerable Mahā Yasa.

(c) The Third Great Council of one thousand arahats headed by the Venerable Mahā Moggaliputta.

These are the three great official Buddhist Councils.

First, remember, (i) the four Great Authorities as taught in the Suttanta, (ii) the four Great Authorities as taught in the Vinaya, (iii) the four types of Questions and Answers, (iv) the four Vinayas and (v) the three Great official Councils.

Then apply them to practical problems thus:

(i) If a bhikkhu says: “This is the Doctrine, this is the Vinaya, this is the Buddha’s Teaching,” citing the authority of the Buddha, or of the Sangha, or of a number of bhikkhu-elders, or a certain bhikkhu-elder. To decide the veracity of his statement, apply the test of the four Great Authorities as taught in the Suttanta: if only the statement accords with these four Great Directive Principles, the statement should be taken as true. Otherwise it must be regarded as mere hearsay, a case of irresponsible talk.

(ii) Where a certain problem arises as to “whether a certain thing is proper for a bhikkhu or not,” the test is the Four Great Authorities as taught in the Vinaya Mahāvagga. (The Commentary on the Vinaya Mahāvagga should be consulted for detailed information on the subject). If, on examining the subject of controversy or doubt in the light of the Four Great Authorities taught in the Vinaya Piṭaka, it tends to agree with the rules, it should be accepted as being proper; otherwise it should be considered as being improper.

(iii) If a question on the Doctrine arise, as illustrated above, the answer should be appropriate to the type of question taught as the four Types of Questions.

(iv) Of the four Vinayas, if the assertion by someone is part of the Suttanta Piṭaka i.e. as contained in the three Piṭakas approved at the Councils, the statement should not be rejected, for rejection of the Piṭaka amounts to the rejection of the Buddha Himself. If the assertion is a Suttānuloma statement, it should be collated with the Suttanta (i.e. the Pāli Tipiṭaka.) If it agrees with the Suttanta, it should be accepted otherwise it should be rejected. As regards Ariyavāda or the miscellaneous exposition, there is the possibility the commentary not conforming to the Piṭaka due to slackness. Therefore, Āriyavāda should be collated with the Pāli Piṭaka. Only if it agree with the Pāli then it should be accepted; otherwise it should be rejected as something carelessly said. Attanomati (own opinion) is the weakest of authorities. It is to be accepted only if it accords with the Suttanta i.e. the Pāli text.

(v) If someone quotes a passage as being part of the Pāli, “which had been approved by the Councils”, it must conform to the texts approved at the three Great Councils. If it is not part of the Pāli text approved at the three Great Councils, it is to be regarded as spurious.

(The above are miscellaneous points to remember.)

While the Buddha was staying at the Ānanda shrine, in the town of Bhoga also, being thoughtful of His approaching death, He exhorted the bhikkhus, where there was occasion to do so, in the following words:

“Such is Morality; such is Concentration; such is Wisdom. Concentration developed through Morality is efficacious and productive. Wisdom developed through Concentration is efficacious and productive. The mind that is developed through Wisdom is thoroughly liberated from the moral taints, namely, the taint of sense desire, the taint of hankering after continued existence, and the taint of ignorance of the Four Ariya Truths.”

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