Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Gems from the Pali Canon

I have always wondered...what is it that inspired Chiense scholars like Fa Xian (c.337-422 CE) and  Xuanzang (c. 602-664 CE)   to undertake that ardrous trek across the Tibetan plateau, and over the Himalayas to the monastic universities of Bihar? What was so great about getting an education at Nalanda?

 A part of the answer can be found in the Pali Canon, in documents like the Samannaphala Sutta. It gives you a glimpse of the great depth and power of ideas; of concepts communicated in a language acessible to kings and slaves alike; of prose that cuts though 'eternal questions' with startling simplicity.

The Chinese walked thousands of kilometers to understand the Pali Sutras. Some of these documents are now available online, in English translations that also reveal much about life & times of ancient Magadha.

Documents from accesstoinsight.org:
This Sutra describes Buddha's response to King Ajatashatru's question:
"Lord, there are these common craftsmen: elephant-trainers, horse-trainers, charioteers, archers, standard bearers, camp marshals, supply corps officers, high royal officers, commandos, military heroes, armor-clad warriors, leather-clad warriors, domestic slaves, confectioners, barbers, bath attendants, cooks, garland-makers, laundrymen, weavers, basket-makers, potters, calculators, accountants, and any other common craftsmen of a similar sort. They live off the fruits of their crafts, visible in the here and now. They give pleasure and refreshment to themselves, to their parents, wives, and children, to their friends and colleagues. They put in place an excellent presentation of offerings to priests and contemplatives, leading to heaven, resulting in happiness, conducive to a heavenly rebirth. Is it possible, lord, to point out a similar fruit of the contemplative life, visible in the here and now?"

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