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Other Teachings of Maha Kaccana

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Not all the discourses spoken by the Venerable Maha Kaccana take the form of commentaries on brief statements by the Buddha. He also delivered Dhamma talks that unfold along independent lines, and he was skilled too in resolving the doubts of inquirers and fellow monks with his own original insights into the Teaching.

The Majjhima Nikaya contains a full-length dialogue between the great elder and King Avantiputta of Madhura, who was (according to the commentary) the grandson of King Candappajjota of Avanti. Once, when the Venerable Maha Kaccana was dwelling at Madhura, the king heard the favorable report that was circulating about him: "He is wise, discerning, sagacious, learned, articulate, and perspicacious; he is aged and he is an arahant." Desiring to converse with such a worthy monk, the king drove out to his hermitage to meet him, and the conversation that resulted has been recorded as the Madhura Sutta (MN 84).

The question with which the king opened this dialogue did not concern a profound problem about the nature of reality or the deeper realizations of insight meditation. It revolved around a practical issue that must have been weighing heavily on the minds of many of the noble-caste rulers of the time: the attempts of the brahmans to establish their own hegemony over the entire Indian social system. The brahmans tried to justify this drive for power by appeal to their divinely ordained status. King Avantiputta relates to Maha Kaccana the claim that they had been putting forth: "The brahmans are the highest caste, those of any other caste are inferior; brahmans are the fairest caste, those of any other caste are dark; only brahmans are purified, not non-brahmans; brahmans alone are the sons of Brahma, the offspring of Brahma, born of his mouth, born of Brahma, created by Brahma, heirs of Brahma."

The Venerable Maha Kaccana, though of pedigree brahman stock himself, is well aware of the presumption and arrogance that lay behind this proclamation. He replies that the claim of the brahmans is "just a saying in the world," one with no divine sanction at all to support it. To prove his point Maha Kaccana brings forth a powerful array of arguments in its favor: one of any social class who gains wealth can command the labor of those in the other castes; even a menial could enrol a brahman in his service. One of any caste who violates the principles of morality would be reborn in hell, while one of any caste who observes the moral precepts would be reborn in a happy realm. One of any caste who breaks the law would be punished. One of any caste who renounces the world and becomes an ascetic would receive homage and respect. As each argument draws to a close, the king proclaims: "These four castes are all the same; there is no difference between them at all."

At the end of the discussion, after expressing his appreciation of Master Kaccana's replies, King Avantiputta declares: "I go to Master Kaccana for refuge and to the Dhamma and to the Sangha of bhikkhus." But Maha Kaccana corrects him: "Do not go to me for refuge, great king. Go for refuge to that same Blessed One to whom I have gone for refuge" — the Fully Enlightened Buddha. When the king asks where the Blessed One is now living, the elder explains that he has attained Parinibbana. This reply indicates that Maha Kaccana's own demise must have taken place at some date after that of the Buddha.

The Samyutta Nikaya includes a sutta (SN 35:132) that shows how the Venerable Maha Kaccana's skill in handling a group of rowdy young brahman boys helped to transform the attitude of a learned old brahman and his entourage of pupils. On one occasion the elder was living in Avanti in a forest hut. Then a number of young brahmans boys, pupils of the renowned brahman teacher Lohicca, drew near to the hut while collecting firewood. As the brahmans of that period often harbored hostile feelings towards the renunciant Buddhist monks, these boys, behaving as boys typically do when on a group outing, trampled around the hut, deliberately making a racket to disturb the meditating monk. They also shouted the words which the brahmans used to taunt the non-brahman ascetics: "These bald-pated ascetic rascals, menials, swarthy offspring of the Lord's feet, are honored, respected, esteemed, worshiped, and venerated by their servile devotees."

The Venerable Maha Kaccana came out from the hut and addressed the boys with verses in which he reminded them of the ancient brahmanical ideals, so badly neglected by the brahmans of that day:

    "Those men of old who excelled in virtue,
    Those brahmans who recalled the ancient rules,
    Their sense doors guarded, well protected,
    Dwelt having vanquished wrath within.
    They took delight in Dhamma and meditation,
    Those brahmans who recalled the ancient rules.

    But these have fallen, claiming 'We recite'
    While puffed up on account of their descent.
    They conduct themselves in unrighteous ways;
    Overcome by anger, armed with various weapons,
    They transgress against both weak and strong.

    For one who does not guard the sense doors
    (All the vows he undertakes) are vain
    Just like the wealth a man gains in a dream:
    Fasting and sleeping on the ground,
    Bathing at dawn, (study of) the Triple Veda,
    Rough hides, matted locks, and dirt;
    Hymns, rules and vows, austerities,
    Hypocrisy, crookedness, rinsing the mouth:
    These are the emblems of the brahmans
    Performed to increase their worldly gains.

    A mind that is well concentrated,
    Purified and free from blemish,
    Tender towards all sentient beings
    That is the path for reaching Brahma."

On hearing this, the brahman boys were angry and displeased. On returning to their teacher, the brahman Lohicca, they reported that the recluse Maha Kaccana was denigrating and scorning the sacred brahman hymns. After his first flush of anger had subsided, Lohicca, being a man of sense, realized that he should not rush to conclusions merely on the basis of hearsay reported by youngsters, but should first inquire from Maha Kaccana himself whether there was any truth in their accusation. When Lohicca went to the Venerable Maha Kaccana and asked him about the conversation he had with the boys, Maha Kaccana reported everything as it occurred. Lohicca was deeply impressed by Maha Kaccana's poem on the proper brahman way of life, and even more so by the elder's following discourse on how to guard the doors of the senses. At the end of the discussion not only did he go for refuge to the Triple Gem, but he invited the elder to visit his household, assuring him that "the brahman boys and maidens there will pay homage to Master Kaccana; they will stand up for him out of respect; they will offer him a seat and water; and that will lead to their welfare and happiness for a long time."

The Venerable Maha Kaccana seems to have had a particularly deep insight into the causal basis of human quarrels and disputes. We have already seen how he traces out the causal roots of conflict in his exposition in the Madhupindika Sutta and his skill in transforming Lohicca's retinue of disciples. On another occasion (AN 2:4:6) a brahman named Aramadanda came to him and asked: "Why is society rent by such bitter conflicts — conflicts that pit nobles against nobles, brahmans against brahmans, householders against householders?" To this the elder replies: "It is because of sensual lust, attachment, greed, and obsession with sensual pleasures, that nobles fight with nobles, brahmans with brahmans, householders with householders." Next Aramadanda asked: "Why is it that recluses fight with recluses?" And Maha Kaccana replies: "It is because of lust for views, attachment, greed, and obsession with views, that recluses fight with recluses." Finally the brahman asked whether there was anyone in the world who had transcended both sensual lust and lust for views. Although Maha Kaccana, as an arahant, could have put himself forth as an example of such a one, with characteristic modesty and self-effacement he named instead the Blessed One, who was dwelling at Savatthi at the time. When this was said, the brahman Aramadanda knelt down on the ground, held out his hands in reverential salutation, and exclaimed three times: "Homage to the Blessed One, the Arahant, the Fully Enlightened One."

In the next sutta (AN 2:4:7) a brahman named Kandarayana reproaches Maha Kaccana for not showing proper respect towards aged brahmans. The elder defends himself by distinguishing the conventional usage of the words "aged" and "young" from their proper meaning within the Discipline of the Noble One. On this latter criterion, even if a person is eighty, ninety, or a hundred years from birth, if he is still addicted to sensual pleasures he is reckoned as a fool, not an elder. But even if a person is young, with jet black hair, endowed with the blessing of youth, if he has broken free from sensual desires, he is then reckoned as an elder.

Once the Venerable Maha Kaccana gave the monks a discourse on the six recollections (cha anussati) — the contemplations of the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, virtue, generosity, and the devas (AN 6:26). He declared that it is wonderful and marvellous how the Blessed One has discovered these six recollections as the way to freedom for those still trapped in the confines of the world. He describes the six recollections in exactly the same terms that the Buddha himself has used to describe the four foundations of mindfulness. They are the means "for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the passing away of pain and grief, for the arrival at the right method, and for the realization of Nibbana."

On another occasion (AN 6:28) some elder bhikkhus were holding a discussion about the right time to approach "a monk worthy of esteem" (manobhavaniyo bhikkhu). One said he should be approached after he has finished his meal, another said he should he approached in the evening, while still another contended that the early morning was the most fitting time to speak with him. Unable to reach accord, they came to Maha Kaccana with their problem. The elder replied that there were six proper times for approaching a worthy monk. The first five are when the mind is overcome and obsessed by the five mental hindrancessensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, and doubt — and one cannot find an outlet from them on one's own. The sixth occasion to approach is when one does not know a suitable object to attend to in order to reach the destruction of the cankers (asavakkhaya).

It was not always with words that the Venerable Maha Kaccana taught, but also by silent example. On one such occasion the Buddha was moved to extol Maha Kaccana in an udana — an inspired utterance — preserved for us in the canonical collection of that name (Ud. 7:8). One evening the Buddha was seated in his cottage at Jeta's Grove in Savatthi when he saw the Venerable Maha Kaccana nearby "sitting cross-legged, holding his body erect, having mindfulness with regard to the body set up and well established within him." On realizing the significance of this, the Blessed One uttered this inspired utterance:

    "He who always has mindfulness
    Continually established on the body thus:
    'If there had not been, there would not be for me;
    There will not be, so there will not be for me,'
    If he dwell therein in graded steps
    In time he will pass beyond attachment."

In its explanation of this sutta, the Udana Commentary helps shed light on the approach that the Venerable Maha Kaccana adopted to reach arahantship. While this explanation conflicts with the account of the elder's "instantaneous enlightenment" found in the biographical sketch of the Anguttara Commentary (see above, p. 7), it appears more realistic. The Udana Commentary explains that in his endeavor to attain arahantship, Maha Kaccana first developed jhana using mindfulness of the body (kayagata sati) as his subject of meditation. Utilizing that jhana as his foundation of calm concentration, he then redirected mindfulness of the body on to the track of insight meditation (vipassana). With the wisdom of insight that arose from the contemplation of the body, he reached the supramundane paths and fruits, culminating in the final fruit of arahantship. Thereafter he would regularly resort to this same approach in order to enter upon the fruition attainment of arahantship (arahattaphala-samapatti), the special meditative absorption, unique to the arahant, in which the bliss of Nibbana is experienced even in this very life. It was just on such an occasion, when the elder was sitting absorbed in fruition attainment, that the Buddha caught sight of him and extolled him in this inspirational verse. The couplet by which the Buddha expresses the theme of contemplation is taken, by the commentary, to signify "four-cornered emptiness" (catukoti-suññata): the absence of "I" and "mine" in the past and present ("If there had not been, there would not be for me"), and the absence of "I" and "mine" in the future ("There will not be, so there will not be for me"). By applauding the Venerable Maha Kaccana with this inspired utterance, the Buddha has held him up as a model for others to emulate in their own quest to overcome attachment to the world.