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What the Buddha Taught Rāhula

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The Buddha and Rāhula. From ariyamagga.net
The Buddha and Rāhula. From ariyamagga.net

Venerable Narada Maha Thera (1898–1983) was one of the foremost Sri Lankan Theravada monk scholars and Pali-English translators of the last century. We can be grateful that he left us with his classic volume, The Buddha and His Teachings (Buddhist Publication Society 1980). 

In this timeless book, Ven. Narada Maha Thera narrates how Rāhula was born to Prince Siddhartha and Princess Yasodharā as their only son—born on the same day that Prince Siddhartha decided to renounce the world.

Contrary to expectations, rather than rejoicing Prince, Siddhartha exclaimed: “Rāhu jāto, bandhanam jātam – a Rāhuis born, a fetter has arisen!” (Narada Maha Thera 94, 1980)

Rāhulawas raised in the palace by his mother and grandfather. When he was seven years old, the Buddha returned to Kapilavatthu for the first time following his Enlightenment. Princess Yasodharātook the opportunity to dress Rāhulain fine clothesand pointed toward the Buddha, telling her child: “Behold, son, that golden-colored ascetic, looking like Brahmā, surrounded by 20,000 ascetics! He is your father, and he had great treasures. Since his renunciation we do not see them. Go up to him and ask for your inheritance, and say: ‘Father, I am the prince. After my consecration I will be a universal monarch. I am in need of wealth. Please give me wealth, for the son is the owner of what belongs to the father.’” (Narada 94–95, 1980)

After the Buddha had eaten and was leaving, Rāhula followed him, asking for his inheritance. Nobody attempted to stop him, nor did the Buddha prevent him from following. Reaching the park the Buddha thought: “He desires his father’s wealth, but it goes with the world and is full of trouble. I shall give him the sevenfold noble wealth, which I received at the foot of the Bodhi tree, and make him an owner of a transcendental inheritance.” (Narada Maha Thera 95, 1980)

He called on Ven. Sāriputta to ordain Rāhula, who was only seven years old. Despite his young age, Rāhula,beingcultured, obedient, and well-disciplined, was eager to accept instructions from his elders.

One of the earliest discourses preached to him, was the Ambalatthika-rāhulovāda Sutta, which emphasizes the importance of truthfulness. (Majjhima Nikāya No.61. See: The Blessing, p. 173)

When the Buddha went to visit the boy one day, Ven. Rāhulasaw him approaching and arranged water to wash his feet. After the Blessed One’s feet had been bathed, the Buddha left a small quantity of water in the vessel, and said to his son: 

“Do you see, Rāhula, this small quantity of water left in the vessel?”

“Yes, Lord.”

“Similarly, Rāhula, insignificant, indeed, is the Samana-ship (monkhood) of those who are not ashamed of uttering deliberate lies.”

Then the Buddha threw away that small quantity of water, and said:

“Discarded, indeed, is the Samanaship of those who are not ashamed of deliberate lying.”

The Buddha turned the vessel upside down, and said—“Overturned, indeed, is the Samanaship of those who are not ashamed of uttering deliberate lies.”

Finally the Buddha set the vessel upright and said—“Empty and void, indeed, is the Samanaship of those who are not ashamed of deliberate lying.”

“I say of anyone who is not ashamed of uttering deliberate lies, that there is no evil that could not be done by him. Accordingly, Rāhula, thus should you train yourself—Not even in play will I tell a lie.” (Narada Maha Thera 96–97, 1980)

Underscoring the importance of honesty, the Buddha explained the value of reflection and the criterion of morality:

“Rāhula, for what purpose is a mirror?” questioned the Buddha.

“For the purpose of reflecting, Lord.”

“Similarly, Rāhula, after reflecting and reflecting should bodily action be done; after reflecting should verbal action be done; after reflecting should mental action be done.

“Whatever action you desire to do with the body, of that particular bodily action you should reflect: ‘Now, this action that I desire to perform with the body—would this, my bodily action be conducive to my own harm, or to the harm of others, or to that of both myself and others?’ Then, unskilful is this bodily action, entailing suffering and producing pain.

“If, when reflecting, you should realize: ‘Now, this bodily action of mine that I am desirous of performing, would be conducive to my own harm or to the harm of others, or to that of both myself and others.’ Then unskilful is this bodily action, entailing suffering and producing pain. Such an action with the body, you must on no account perform.

“If, on the other hand, when reflecting you realize: ‘Now, this bodily action that I am desirous of performing, would conduce neither to the harm of myself, nor to that of others, nor to that of both myself and others.’ Then skilful is this bodily action, entailing pleasure and producing happiness. Such bodily action you should perform.” (Narada Maha Thera 97–98, 1980)

The Buddha and Rāhula. From wikipedia.org
The Buddha and Rāhula. From wikipedia.org

Exhorting Rāhulato reflect inwardly during and after his actions, the Buddha taught: 

“While you are doing an action with the body, of that particular action should you reflect: ‘Now, is this action that I am doing with my body conducive to my own harm, or to the harm of others or to that of both myself and others?’ Then unskilful is this bodily action, entailing suffering and producing pain.”

“If, when reflecting, you realize: ‘Now, this action that I am doing with my body is conducive to my own harm, to the harm of others, and to that of both myself and others.’ Then unskilful is this bodily action, entailing suffering and producing pain. From such a bodily action you must desist.”

“If when reflecting, you should realize: ‘Now, this action of mine that I am doing with the body is conducive neither to my own harm, nor to the harm of others, nor to that of both myself and others.’ Then skilful is this bodily action, entailing pleasure and happiness. Such a bodily action you should do again and again.”

The Buddha adds “If, when reflecting, you should realize: ‘Now, this action that I have done is unskilful.’ Such an action should be confessed, revealed, and made manifest to the Teacher, or to the learned, or to your brethren of the Holy Life. Having confessed, you should acquire restraint in the future.” (Narada Maha Thera 98, 1980)

Then an admonition with regard to skillful and unskillful verbal and mental actions was repeated in the same way. Stating that constant reflection was essential for purification, the Buddha concluded his discourse:

“Thus must you train yourself—By constantly reflecting shall we purify our bodily actions, by constantly reflecting shall we purify our verbal actions, by constantly reflecting, shall we purify our mental actions. (Narada Maha Thera 98, 1980)

Thus Ven. Narada Maha Thera related what the Buddha taught Ven. Rāhula.

References

Narada Maha Thera. 1980. The Buddha and His Teaching. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society.

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