Once the Buddha was living with the Sakyans at Kapilavatthu in the Banyan Park. The Sakyans came respectfully to the Buddha and said, “We have just built a new meeting hall. No spiritual seeker, priest, or anyone else has been there. Would you please honor us by being the first to use it? Only then will we use it. It would be a blessing to us.”
The Buddha agreed in silence. The Sakyans went at once to the meeting hall and outfitted it with rugs, seats, water jugs, and an oil lamp. The Buddha followed with a group of monks. When he got there, they washed their feet and sat with their backs along the western wall around the Buddha. The Buddha spent most of the evening giving a rousing Dhamma talk to the Sakyans.
But late in the evening, the Buddha said to Ānanda, “My back aches. I need a rest. Please continue teaching these Sakyans about how to practice the spiritual life.” The Buddha then folded his outer robe, lay down in the Lion’s Posture with his left foot on top of his right, and mindfully made a note of when he would get up.
Ānanda then said, “Mahanama [one of the Sakyans], a disciple of the Buddha:
- is perfectly wholesome,
- carefully controls what he pays attention to,
- doesn’t eat too much,
- doesn’t sleep too much,
- embodies seven qualities,
- and can do the four jhanas (which are both a kind of elevated awareness and a pleasurable way to spend time now) with ease.
How is a disciple perfectly wholesome? He followed the rules that the Buddha laid out in the Patimokkha to the letter. He carefully watches his behavior for even the smallest flaw. This is the way to behave.
And how a disciple carefully control what he pays attention to? When he sees something, he doesn’t grasp at that sight. I understands that if he were to linger over that sight he might be overwhelmed by greed or dislike for it. So he practices restraint. He carefully controls what he looks at.
Similarly for sounds, smells, tastes, touches, and even thoughts he does not grasp at them. He understands that if he lingers over them he might be overwhelmed by greed or dislike for them. So he practices restraint. He carefully controls what he hears, smells, tastes, touches, or thinks about. This is how a disciple carefully controls what he pays attention to.
And how does a disciple be sure not to eat too much? He thinks about his food in the right way. He doesn’t eat for pleasure or beauty. He eats for health and life, for assuaging hunger, and for providing energy for the spiritual life. He reminds himself, “I will alleviate my hunger without creating new problems by overeating. I will survive without guilt and leave in comfort.” This is how to be sure not to eat too much.
And how does a disciple be sure not to sleep too much? During the day and into the evening he does sitting and walking meditation to cleanse his mind of unskillful qualities. At night he sleeps on his right side in the Lion’s Posture with his left foot on top of his right. Early in the morning before sunrise he wakes up to do more sitting and walking meditation. This is how to be sure not to sleep too much.
And how does a disciple embody seven qualities?
- He has deep abiding confidence that the Buddha was truly enlightened, perfectly wise, perfectly ethical, knowledgeable, the most excellent teacher of people and gods.
- He feels shame at the thought of immoral actions, words, or thoughts.
- He takes seriously the results of immoral actions, words, or thoughts.
- He has studied deeply and remembered what he has learned. When teachings are good through and through, both in content and style, and teach the pure holy life, he remembers, discusses, and examines them over and over in his mind.
- He persistently works to cultivate skillful states of mind and avoid unskillful states of mind. He is steadfast and resolute.
- He is mind, conscientious, and able to remember things said and done long ago.
- He is perceptive, especially as to how all things are constantly changing. His insight is powerful and leads to the end of suffering.
This is how does a disciple embodies the seven qualities.
And how does a disciple do the four jhanas (which are both a kind of elevated awareness and a pleasurable way to spend time now) with ease?
- He withdraws his mind from the world of the 6 senses, calms all unskillful mental states, and enters into the first jhana. The first jhana is full of happiness and bliss, but still requires mental exertion and persistence.
- When he stills the last bit of mental exertion and persistence, he enters the second jhana. The second jhana is also full of happiness and bliss but is now completely undivided and filled with confidence.
- When the bliss of second jhana stills, he enters the third jhana. He remains peaceful, mindful, and alert. He experiences the happiness that wise people say, “Peaceful and mindful, he is in a happy state.”
- When the happiness of third jhana stills, he enters the fourth jhana. The fourth jhana is a state of pure peace and mindfulness. There is neither happiness or suffering.
This is how does a disciple does the four jhanas with ease.
When a disciple is perfect in these virtues, he is truly a noble disciple. He follows the spiritual path. His eggs are not spoiled. He is ready for enlightenment, ready to rest from carrying the yoke of suffering.
Once a hen had a dozen or so eggs that she was carefully warming. But never in that time did the thought occur to her, “Oh I so hope that my dozen little chicks can use their beak and claws to safely hatch for their shells.” Even if she never had such a thought, the chicks would still most likely do exactly that.
In just this way, when a noble disciple is perfect in these virtues, even if he does not say to himself, “I wish to make progress along the spiritual path,” nevertheless he will make progress. He will prepare himself for enlightenment. His eggs will not be spoiled. He will be ready to rest from carrying the yoke of suffering.
And when a disciple like this has purified his peace and mindfulness, he could remember all of his paths lives. Thousands of past lives. Many eons of world contraction and expansion. He remembers his name, family, appearance, and support. He remembers his pleasures and his miseries. He remembers his own death and rebirth. This is the first escape, like that chick from its shell.
And when a disciple like this has purified his peace and mindfulness, he could remember the past lives of other people. He sees directly how they are reborn according to their past actions: powerful or weak, beautiful or ugly, lucky or unfortunate. These people who behaved unethically in body, speech, or mind; insulting wise people; having wrong views of the world and acting accordingly are reborn in a terrible situation, even into hell. But people who act ethically in body, speech, and mind; don’t insult wise people; having right views and acting accordingly are reborn in a good situation, even heaven. This is the Divine Eye. This is the second escape, like that chick from its shell.
And when a disciple like this has purified his peace and mindfulness, he is free of all corruptions having been liberated by awareness and understanding. He directly knows and understands for himself right here and now this release. This is the third escape, like that chick from its shell.
-Sekha Sutta MN 53 (M i 353)