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CHAPTER 4.

QUESTIONS ON THE MIND OF KING AJAATASATTU

King Ajaatasattu appreciated the silence of the monastic assembly so much that he exclaimed, "If only my own son Bhata could have such a peaceful heart as these monks!"

The nature of people who see something they like is to think one step further to want to possess that thing or be like that thing. Perhaps it was half out of fear of becoming victim of parricide at the hands of his own son.

The Buddha knew what was on Ajatasattu's mind and greeted him with the words "Your majesty has arrived together with love". This put the King immediately at ease and kind admitted "Oh! That my own son could have such a peaceful heart as the assembly of bhikkhus".

The question of the fruits of monkhood

The King bowed to the Buddha, and keeping hands in a gesture of prayer sat down at one side. He then asked permission to ask a question of the Buddha:

"The general public use their knowledge and ability to earn their living to support themselves, their family and their parents. The rest of their wealth they offer in support of the ordained community for benefit in this lifetime and the next. As for becoming a monk - what is the benefit in this lifetime?"

The Buddha knew that King Ajaatasattu had asked the same question of the other six teachers. Before answering, the Buddha intended to show Ajaatasattu the weaknesses of the other six teachings. However, if the Buddha was himself to mention those weaknesses, followers loyal to those teachers would pay no attention to His teaching — but of the criticism came from Ajaatasattu himself, they would accept those observations.

The Responses of Contemporary Teachers

The Buddha asked where King Ajaatasattu had already asked the question and what answer he had received. King Ajaatasattu replied that:

1. Pura.na Kassapa had answered, "There is no such thing as merit or demerit" — no matter how heinous one's action — killing, stealing, committing adultery or lying (also no matter how good your actions of generosity, self-discipline or meditation) — nothing makes a difference to one's quality of life. It is likely that Pura.na Kassapa answered this way to try to win over the King — to make him think that killing his father did not matter. The King had not shown his dissatisfaction with the answer, but had taken his leave.

2. Makkhali Kosaala had answered, "All beings in the world are born and reborn at random. After being born and reborn for long enough, they will become pure of their own accord." It is likely that Makkhali Kosala answered this way to try to win the King over — to make him think there is no need to make any special effort in order to become pure. The answer did not fit the question. The King had not shown his dissatisfaction with the answer, but had taken his leave.

3. Achita Kesakamphol had answered, "Evil or virtuous actions have no effect. This world and the next do not exist. Mother and father have done us no favour, spontaneous birth is non-existent, it is impossible for anyone to become enlightened or to teach others to become enlightened, death is the end of the story. It is likely that Achita Kesakamphol answered this way to try to win over King Ajaatasattu as someone who had killed his own father. The King had not shown his dissatisfaction with the answer, but had taken his leave.

4. Pakuddha Kaccaayana had answered, "Our life consists of seven types of "aggregates" earth, water, fire, air, happiness, suffering and life force. Killing someone is no more than piercing your weapon between the spaces between the various elements. It is likely that Pakuddha Kaccaayana answered this way to try to win over King Ajaatasattu as someone who had killed his own father. The King had not shown his dissatisfaction with the answer, but had taken his leave.

5. Nigantha Naa.taputta had answered, "The purity of people depends on fluid. Jain monks must have restraint of the four senses: Prohibiting water, consisting of water, getting rid of water and being sprinkled [prabram] with water. Restraint of the water can purify you of all defilements. The King had not shown his dissatisfaction with the answer, but had taken his leave.

6. Sa~njaya Vela.t.taputta could not answer so gave a dizzying rendition of his own beliefs. The King had not shown his dissatisfaction with the answer, but had taken his leave.

King Ajaatasattu said it was like asking about a mango and getting an answer about a jackfruit or vice versa. The reason was because none of those six teachers knew the point of being a monk but simply wanted to describe their own beliefs in the hope that the King would support them.

Beliefs contemporary to the Buddha

The beliefs of other contemporary schools at the time of the Buddha can be summarized as follows:

1. Pura.na Kassapa subscribed to 'akiriyadi.t.thi' which is assumption about the non-efficacy of action. According to this school, evil action has no effect if no one sees or knows or catches you red-handed. There is no result of doing evil. Goodness can only have an effect if someone sees you do it and praises or rewards you.

2. Makkhali Kosala subscribed to 'ahetukadi.t.thi' which is assumption that retribution is random and doesn't depend on action. Fortune or misfortune depends on fate. You can do nothing to change it.

3. Ajita Kesakamphol subscribed to 'natthikadi.t.thi' and 'ucchedadi.t.thi' which are the assumptions respectively that there is no self — one is just an aggregate of elements — and that death is the end of the story. Our body consists of nothing but elements so there is no doer for an action. 'Ucchedadi.t.thi' relies on the assumption that there is nothing left to store karmic information beyond death. Thus, because there is no merit or demerit, stupid are those who give and the smart are those who receive.

4. Pakuddha Kaccayana subscribed to 'sassatadi.t.thi' which is the assumption that the body is made of permanent elements, that the mind is also unchangeable — eternal even when body breaks up. Nirvana is no more than knowing the relationship between body and mind.

5. Nigantha Naa.taputta subscribed to 'atthakilanathanuyoga' (the major tenet of Jainism) which is the assumption of the efficacy of self-mortification as a means of spiritual furtherance. This is a religion of naked ascetics where reality depends on your point of view.

6. Sa~njaya Vela.t.thaputta subscribed to 'amaravikkhepikadi.t.thi' which is an assumption of uncertainty, a mistrust of principles like an eel moving through water. Followers of this tradition would negate everything because: they were scared of telling lies, scared of dogma, scared they will be asked and basically ignorant.

All of these categories of heretical views are considered as 'False Views' [micchaa di.t.thi] by the Lord Buddha.

The Positive Backlash of Extreme Evil

If you were to analyse the thoughts and assumptions in the mind of King Ajaatasattu you would find that he was not unintelligent because at the very least he had the conscience to realize the gravity of the evil deed he had done. The king even tried to do his own spiritual research to find a way to make amends for what he had done, and not to allow himself to slide further down the slippery slope of unwholesomeness, by seeking out the leaders of various spiritual traditions — especially those of the six contemporary spiritual leaders mentioned above.

Having heard the teachings of those six contemporary teachers, the king was able to discern that the beliefs propounded by those teachers were in fact 'False View' and he had left the ashrams of those teachers without indicating any displeasure at those teachings but without taking them seriously either. From the king's behaviour, two things can be concluded:

1. his discretion was sufficiently sharp to 'see through' the pretence of those six teachers — which might come as a surprise for those who thought him gullible in his reasoning, to have been so easily 'taken in' by Devadatta.

2. he didn't give his patronage to those contemporary teachers, but at the same time, he didn't openly dismiss them or discredit them.

To analyse what must have happened to King Ajaatasattu to abandon his usual discretion and be 'taken in' by Devadatta to the point he did the extreme evil deeds Devadatta suggested can only be accounted for by his mind having been obscured by the darkness of defilements, to the degree he could find no way out of his delusion.

The key defilement to which King Ajaatasattu succumbed was 'delusion' [moha]. The first count of delusion by which King Ajaatasattu was overcome was by being 'taken in' by Devadatta's ability to perform 'miracles' — thinking that he must be superior to all others. Another factor contributing to Ajatasattu's gullibility was his young age and lack of worldly experience, not allowing him to see through the deceit of someone bent on evil.

A second defilement to which Ajaatasattu had succumbed was that of greed [lobha]. Ajaatasattu was no different from other unenlightened beings [puthujana] in desiring for power and wealth. When delusion was added to such greed in sufficient measure, in keeping with Devadatta's evil designs, Ajaatasattu became no different from a traveller groping in the dark, who must put himself completely in the hands of his guide.

Even if Ajaatasattu had such strong trust in Devadatta, it might still seem incredible to readers that he would go as far as to execute his own father at Devadatta's behest. It is difficult for us to know if we would react any differently in such a situation — sometimes if you have never been through a situation personally, you have no way of knowing how you would react. We cannot blame Ajaatasattu for what he did in his circumstances — any more than you can say that it is stupid for some people to want to commit suicide — you could not guarantee you would never be put in the same situation.

Even after having committed the heavy karma of parricide and having obtained the throne of Magadha for himself, Ajaatasattu was to find that his new power brought him no happiness — on the contrary, it caused him spiritual unrest, firing his quest for the truth — eventually seeking audience with the Lord Buddha. Thus one might say that such a quest is the 'positive backlash of extreme evil deeds'.

As for Ajaatasattu not giving his patronage to the six contemporary teachers, but at the same time not dismissing or discrediting them — this is something we can learn much from in the society of modern Buddhism. In the Theravaada Buddhist tradition, monks can only survive dependent on the support in alms given by the lay-supporters. When Buddhists support and respect the monastic community, it is important for them to reflect whether the behaviour or teachings of the monks is suitable or not, represents Right View or Wrong View. If it happens that monks practice or teach unsuitable things, the congregation should withdraw their support in the same way as Ajaatasattu withdrew his. All it takes is for a congregation to withdraw their support for undisciplined or heretical monks and this will be the prime-mover causing those monks to have to 'pull their socks up', re-establishing themselves in proper monastic discipline — or else disrobing — either of which are better than leading the life of a householder while masquerading as a monk.

In the case readers doubt which criteria to use for considering whether monks conform with proper monastic discipline, detail can be found in the chapters to follow.

 

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