(Continued from issue #257)
Being imprudent, Venerable Ananda did not listen to the Buddha's daily teaching. Due to his habitude to seize on condition, he accepted a special invitation. This Shurangama Sutra was spoken not just for Venerable Ananda but for all people like Ananda. It was spoken for all left-home people who possess Ananda's habitual fault. If this sutra was spoken just for Venerable Ananda, then it has nothing to do with present-day people. If so, there is no need to speak or listen to this sutra, or to investigate this sutra at all. This sutra was spoken not just for Ananda. It was spoken so that all followers in later generations have a process to abide by and discern what is right and wrong.
Why was Ananda said to have a mind that seized on condition? In Buddhism, left-home people do not accept special invitation. To do so is to violate the precept. Nevertheless, Ananda imprudently accepted a special invitation and he went alone. He was not taking the precept seriously. He was started off being careless and ended with jeopardizing himself.
Wherever they go, left-home people should always travel in pairs. Moreover, these two people must know the precepts. For example, bringing along a child does not count since the child knows nothing; or, bringing along a layperson who does not know the rules and precepts of the monastic also does no good. On the same note, the following situations are not acceptable, e.g. a Bhikshu (monk) bringing along a shramanera (novice monk) who does not know the bhikshu precepts, a bhikshuni (nun) bringing along a shramanerika (novice nun) who actually has not even entered the door of bhikshuni precepts and knows nothing about the precepts a monastic needs to abide by. These are indications of an intent to break the precepts, with the pretext, "We are two people!" However, these two people would not serve the purpose. If you pick a second person who is clueless about the precepts you ought to follow, you have the intentions to break the precepts and not follow the rules. If, you choose to take a clueless person along with you and you happen to break any of the precepts, he/she would not know. Using this tactic you can cheat and fool others! The morality and conduct in cultivation stands on this point. All of you must understand this!
Anyone going to the administration office must go in pairs. It is not acceptable for a woman by herself ?to go to the office. If she brings a person who does not understand the rules of a left-home person, although there are two people, it is still indication and intent to violate the precepts; that is why she looks for a pretext. On the surface, it looks like there is no violation of the precept. For example, if a Bhikshu travels with a person who does not know the precepts, although they are two people, the second person would not know if the Bhikshu violate any of the precepts. In a charade, the Bhikshu may say, "You take a rest. I'm going out!" This where he breaks the precept.
To sum it all up, upholding precepts means following rules and regulations. If you do not want to uphold the precepts, then you are not a true cultivator of the Way and are not abiding by the rules of a left-home person. From this, we know that Venerable Ananda probably had this habitual fault. He liked to be alone so he accepted a special invitation. On his return, he did not have food to eat so he went out to beg for food. He did not have the company of a senior-seated monk or an Acharya. In his alms round, he took a wrong turn and found himself in a brothel. Fortunately, the Buddha spoke the Shurangama Mantra and broke the spell of the former Brahman Heaven mantra cast by Mantangi, and commanded Manjushri Bodhisattva to rescue Ananda back. If it was not for Manjushri Bodhisattva, Venerable Ananda would have violated the precept! This section of the text is to let all left-home people know that they have to abide by the rules and maintain the precepts. Do not stealthily do things contrary to the rules. Knowing and abiding by rules is having an understanding of the Shurangama Sutra.
Since he had failed to return in time for the apportioning of the Sangha for that day's vegetarian offering, he had received no offerings, and so at the appropriate time Ananda took out his alms bowl. The word bowl is patra in Sanskrit, meaning "a vessel of appropriate measure." It contains enough, but not more than enough, to satisfy one's needs. As he traveled through the city, he begged in successive order. He went from house to house in Shravasti, from door to door. Since some give more and some give less, it is necessary to stop at more than one house, but according to the rules, one does not stop at more than seven houses. If after stopping at seven of the houses and one has not received any offering, one must do without food that day. Venerable Ananda went out alone to beg for food. He did not have the company of a monastic, neither a senior-seated monk nor an Acharya.
As he started his alms round, he thought of accepting everyone, down to the very last danapati, as his vegetarian host. When Ananda took out his bowl and went to receive food offerings, his very first thought was about his donors: "From the very first to the very last danapati who becomes my vegetarian host." "Danapati" is a Sanskrit word, transliterated into two characters in Chinese. The first character, tan (ÀÈ), representing dana, means "to give,"; the second, yueh (¶V), means "to transcend." The meaning of danapati as based on that transliteration is "one who gives so that he can transcend birth and death." A layperson who gives offerings to left-home people is a 'danapati'. By the "very last donor", Ananda meant the one whose offerings would give him the final amount of food necessary for that day.
The 'vegetarian host' mentioned in this text refers to a person who offers only vegetarian food with no meat. In general, a 'vegetarian host' is just a name for people who make food offerings of vegetarian and/or meat. In the Small Vehicle, left-home people would take their bowl and beg for food. Whoever offered food with meat and vegetables can be called a 'vegetarian host'. This term does not apply to a donor who only makes offerings of just vegetarian food. We have to understand this concept.
He would not question whether they were clean or unclean; whether they were ksatriyas of honorable name or chandalas. He would not care if they were poor or rich. Kshatriyas are known as nobles or the royal class of India. Chandalas are butchers who kill pigs, since killing cattle is forbidden in India. Most people regard the Chandalas as workers who are worthless and lowly. So when Chandalas walk down the road, people would not walk with them or acknowledge them. Chandalas have to walk down a separate path and are mandated to identify themselves as being lower than ordinary people by blowing a type of whistle as they walked down the road.
While practicing equality and compassion he would not merely select the lowly but was determined to perfect all living beings' limitless merit and virtue. He did not discriminate whether the person from whom he was receiving offerings is honorable or lowly. He intended to provide all living beings equal opportunity to plant blessings. When donors make offerings, they plant blessings that will grow and ripen in the future. A person who has accumulated blessings is fulfilled with everything. 'Fields of blessings' refer to left-home people. If you feel you do not have enough blessings and want to seek for blessings, you should make offerings to the Triple Jewel. This is called 'planting blessings'. Ananda was determined to fulfill every living beings wish. His intention was for all living beings to perfect their meritorious virtue.
(To be continued ..)