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The Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Law Sutra
Chapter 9: "Prediction of the Destiny of Arhats, Training and Trained"
The present chapter is very similar to the previous one (ch. 8). Like Chapter 8, we can assume from the title, that this chapter deals with the Buddha's predictions visavis the future enlightenment of some of his disciples. Therefore, it might be natural to wonder why the two chapters weren't merged into one? Or perhaps to ask what signficance there might be in predicting these future enlightenments, which we didn't or couldn't get from the previous chapter?This chapter is not simply a 're-hash' of the previous one however. In fact the decision to group the two as seperate chapters is quite deliberate and significant. Unlike the previous chapter, this chapter focuses on the prediction of Ananda and Rahula's future enlightenment. Ananda was one of the Buddha's cousins, and Rahula as you may know, was the Buddha's son. In short it is a prediction that concerns the Buddhas family, and indeed you will come to see why this is seperately discussed.
Before we begin our discussion of the chapter itself, a few points of clarification are in order. In regards to the title, we are to understand that '"Training is to be understood as referring to those disciples still under formal religious study. In other words, it might be useful to think of them as those noviciates still 'enrolled in seminary'."Trained" therefore, refers to those who have completed the formal training set out by the Buddha. Both these qualifications have little bearing on whether or not they are yet enlightened however.
Ananda was one of the Buddha's first cousins. He was the younger brother of Devadatta, another of the Buddha's cousins, although both responded quite differently to the Buddha's Teachings. It is believed that Ananda entered the Sangha quite early on, possibly in the second year of the Buddha's Ministry. After many years of service, Ananda became the personal assistant to The Buddha, providing whatever Shakyamuni Buddha required. Ananda accepted the position on the condition that the Buddha showed him no additional favours or special treatment because of it. Ananda is known to have been a champion of the role of women in early Buddhism, and is said to have personally founded an order of nuns during his lifetime. Finally, we re told time and again that Ananda had a great love of learning, and would assiduously memorize the Buddha's sermons. In fact, his reputation was so extensive that he was asked at the first council after the Buddha's death, to recite the sermons which were to be formally recorded- this is why most Buddhist Sutra begin with the words "Thus have I heard"(Ananda is the person talking).
Rahula was the Buddha's only son, and naturally was born before the Buddhist renounced household life. It is said that when the Buddha returned to his home after his enlightenment, that the boys mother sent Rahula to The Buddha 'asking for his inheritance'. The Buddha asked the boy if he really wanted his inheritance to which he replied in the affirmative. And so, The Buddha ordained his son as a formal member of th Sangha on that day, giving the young man the only inheritance the Buddha had to offer. The Buddha's father (Rahula's Grandfather) protested the decision vehemently, and it is from this that the Buddha is said to have formulated one of the requisite conditions for joining the Sangha: If one is an only child, He/She must ask his parents for permission before joining the Sangha.
With these clarifications in place, we may now turn our attention towards the story of the chapter itself. Following the great predictions given in the previous chapter, we are told that Ananda and Rahula also wondered to themselves what their future might hold. The Buddha knowing the thoughts in their minds, began to describe the future Buddhahood they would achieve, the name and characteristics of their Pure Lands, and the lengths of their lifetimes, and teachings. These predictions are quite similar to the ones we are now familiar with, and so we do not need to repeat them here. Rather we will discuss only those passages which suggest something significant.
The Buddha tells us that after he has attained complete awakening, Ananda will be known as Sovereign Universal King of Wisdom Mountains and Oceans and that his Pure Land will be called Never-Lowered Victorious Banner. His title tells us that his defining characteristic as a Buddha is great and profound wisdom. The name of his Pure Land however, might not be so apparent. In early India, it was a common practice for the different schools of philosophy to publicly debate between each other in much the same way as occured in Ancient Greece. When a Philosopher was victorious in these public debates, the local authority would place a banner over the gate of the respective philosophers temple. Therefore, the fact that the banner is 'never lowered' in this case, is supposed to give us an appreciation for the nature of this Tathagata's teachings.
It is said that when the Buddha had finished predicting Ananda's future enlightenment, some of the disciples in the assembly asked the Buddha why he had given such an eloquent prediction to Ananda, when there were many Senior Bodhisattvas who had not yet received such predictions. The Buddha responds by telling them that in the past, for many numberless lifetimes, Ananda and Shakyamuni Buddha trained together under a number of Buddhas in the past. The point here is that although Ananda may appear to be a simple Monk, or even as an accomplished Arhat, He is in fact, and has long been a Bodhisattva. The implication is that a Bodhisattva is not just a beautifully adorned being in a buddhist painting. A Bodhisattva can be a '...baker and a candle stick maker' provided they have right mindfulness (the omission of butcher is intentional- wrong livelihood). A Bodhisattva can be anyone.
The Buddha pre-empts a potential question that the disciples may ask here; specifically: if Ananda trained for many aeons alongside Shakymuni, why has Ananda not yet reached Buddhahood just like Shakyamuni? The Buddha replies to this potential question with the following: "Ananda took constant pleasure in learning, while I was devoted to active progress." In other words, Ananda was overly concerned with academic understanding, while the Buddha had learn't the importance of actually living the teachings, of practice. And this is why Shakyamuni has attained Complete Enlightenment, and Ananda has not. For us the message is quite clear. We must not neglect the actual practice of the teachings for mere intellectual stimulation. We must dilligently apply what we learn in our day to day endevours. It is important not to take this passage to mean that the Buddha abhors intellectual study, in other places he says that practice and study are like the two wings of a bird; both necessary to fly straight. The point here is simply to warn against practice becoming simply intellectual amusement.
Having predicted Ananda's future attainment, The Buddha now predicts Rahula's future awakening in much the same way. Again these predictions are quite similar to those others that we have become accustomed to. There is in this section however, one passage that requires specific clarification: "Of the hidden course of Rahula only I am able to know."This verse describes on the one hand the knowledge of a Buddha, and on the other, the 'subtlety' of true spiritual attainment. Firstly, the Buddha is reminding us that a Buddha's knowledge is complete, a Buddha understand and sees all- in this sense 'hidden' means those qualities in Rahula that others cant quite see. And secondly, we come to get a sense of what a truly spiritual person is like. To most, Rahula was a normal Monk with no 'outstanding achievements'. But here the Buddha is telling us that that has little to do with anything. A genuinely enlightened or spiritual person is one who blends into the crowd. Someone who, although enlightened seems just like you in almost every way. There is no pretence, and there is a skillful recognition that he/she must meet people where they are.
Finally, the Buddha makes another prediction that covers the future enlightenment of two thousand other disciples gathered in the assembly. This 'blanket' prediction like the one in the preceding chapter, is to remind us that its not just these famous figures who will attain enlightenment, but all of us. It is a reminder that all have the Buddha nature.
So why did the Buddha teach these predictions as a seperate sermon/chapter to the last one (chapter 8)? And why did The Buddha give the predictions to his family after he had given predictions to other disciples? The first reason is that both Ananda and Rahula were family, and this had a deletorious impact on their progress. Why? Because it is often quite easy for us to muster great respect and dedication for the teachings of a stranger, but it is very hard to muster anything comparable for those closest to us. One is reminded of the old expression that "non-believers struggle most with Christ's divinity, while Christians struggle most with Jesus's humanity."In other words, Ananda and Rahula's close proximity to The Buddha impacted their approach to the teachings, more so than disciples with a less intimate connection. We might be able to compare this with how difficult it might be to influence or give heeded advice to our nearest and dearest. Yet for those who do not know us on an intimate basis, it is quite a different matter entirely. For us, this is a useful reflection; do we do the same? Is there someone in our lives who is close to us but notheless wise? It i also useful for us to critically reflect upon our contemporary approach to formality in this respect. These days, we often treat our teachers, mentors and spiritual advisors as if they were our 'best spiritual friends', rather than the more traditional respect oriented approach. This in and of itself is not necessarily a problem. But it is useful for us to ask if we have in some way 'become too informal'? Is there value to the more respectful model inasmuch as it affects our approach to the teachings?
And finally, we might think of this as part of the
Buddha's application of skillful means. If the Buddha had first predicted the
future destiny of his relatives, there may have been some in the assembly who
would have felt like special treatment had been given to the Tathagata's
Rev Jikai Dehn