The article below is based on this video by Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thero
A person needs both wisdom and noble friends.
In one example, Devadatta was able to steal 500 student monks from Sariputta Bhante.
Do you think this was because Sariputta Bhante had less wisdom? Were there any monks in this Buddha’s dispensation who were as wise and clever as Sariputta Bhante in disciplining someone in the path to stream entry?
The Supreme Buddha once preached:
Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, janetā, evaṁ sāriputto
Sāriputto, bhikkhave, sotāpattiphale vineti
(meaning Sariputta Bhante guided and disciplined a person in the path to attain Stream Entry [Sotāpanna] like a mother).
Even though the 500 student monks had a wise teacher such as Sariputta Bhante, they sought the refuge of an unrighteous person (asappurisa) like Devadatta.
Until they get to know the correct path and the noble Dhamma, beings are unable to distinguish between the righteous person (sappurisa) and the unrighteous person (asappurisa). That was what happened to the 500 student monks. Perhaps these students had a stubborn and impatient nature within them…
Some people tend to do things hastily; these are the people who get caught in rubbish. “I need to get this done faster,” that is how impatient people think. Those 500 student monks may have discussed among themselves: “We need to achieve our goals quickly.”
Although the student monks were wise, their impatience led them to Devadatta, who sensed their thoughts and told the students: “Come, I will show you the quickest way,” and took them as his disciples. Once they went to Devadatta, the 500 student monks were eagerly waiting to attain Stream Entry by listening to the Dhamma from an unrighteous person.
The words used by an unrighteous person do not have the power of the words of our great teacher. An unrighteous person may quote our Supreme Buddha’s teachings, but he does not own the teachings. He preaches using words from a person to whom he has not gone for refuge. Therefore, those words do not belong to him.
Two Yakkhas, who were not asappurisas, were discussing the Dhamma in the sky. Although the Yakkhas were not able to attain any stages of enlightenment through conversation, a lady by the name of “Kali” was able to realize the Dhamma by listening to the Yakkhas’ discussion regarding the qualities of the Supreme Buddha.
In the history of Devadatta’s teaching, was there any person who developed confidence towards the Buddha?
None developed confidence in the Buddha. Devadatta told people that he would show them the quickest path to liberation from suffering and help them escape from this cycle of birth and death (saṁsāra).
Devadatta also preached the impermanence of one’s sense faculties, but was not successful in his teachings. An unrighteous person may borrow the words of the Buddha, but has no power over those words.
Nowadays, many listeners are not selective with who preaches the Dhamma or what they preach, as long as they get to hear the Dhamma. These listeners are not concerned as to whether the Dhamma is preached by a righteous person. The Dhamma will never be understood by people with conceit.
(Now, let us go back to the story of the 500 student monks stolen by Devadatta)
The Supreme Buddha immediately sent two great virtuous monks to guide the 500 student monks that were misled, before they were led to the wrong view.
From this example, we can conclude that even though a person is wise, that wisdom will cease if he associates with the unrighteous people.
Before this misfortunate could happen, the great righteous monks approached the 500 student monks. When Devadatta saw Arahant Sāriputta and Arahant Mahā Moggallāna approaching, he thought to himself that he had gained their devotion, and asked them to sit by his side.
Devadatta instructed Arahant Sāriputta to sit on his right side and Arahant Mahā Moggallāna to sit on his left side. In the same way the Buddha preaches, Devadatta told Sāriputta Bhante: “Now that all these student monks are in unity and are no longer lazy, preach the Dhamma to these student monks. I have a slight back ache, and I want to rest for a little while.”
After saying this, Devadatta fell into a deep sleep.
In the meantime, Sāriputta Bhante preached the Dhamma to the student monks. Mahā Moggallāna Bhante, through his psychic powers, presented the Dhamma facts to help the monks contemplate the Dhamma. Within a short period of time, those monks realized the true Dhamma through their wisdom.
A person may be wise, but only through the association of a righteous person, can his entire holy life be helped. Even though all the monks had the same wisdom, in the presence of Devadatta, the wisdom was not even worth a penny.
This is the reason why the Supreme Buddha preached that association with noble friends is entirely necessary for this dispensation to last. Even though the 500 student monks had wisdom, they completely failed to see the evil side of Devadatta. With the help and intervention from the two great righteous monks, the wisdom arose in those monks within a few seconds. This is something unbelievable and amazing.
One must have wisdom and associate with noble friends.
In the Asamaya Samaya Sutta, it is said that there were periods of time where wise people were born who aspire to understand the truth of life, the Dhamma. Unfortunately, neither the Buddha nor the Dhamma existed during this period, and as a result they could not realize the Dhamma. The wisdom of those wise people is like a flower that never bloomed, faded away, and died in isolation.
Similarly, the same fate lies upon the wise people who roam in this saṁsāra, but never meets the Dhamma in this Buddha’s dispensation.
This is the reason why I said you should become a wiser person. You should praise the Buddha and not criticize. Praise the Dhamma and not criticize. Praise the Sangha (community of monks) and not look for faults in them.
Remember, I have told you the way to go for refuge to the Dhamma. You should have a devoted mind towards the Dhamma.
Furthermore, you must be wise and willing to associate with noble friends and not deviate from this association at any time.
You should only have two kinds of desires:
- To become wise; and
- To associate with noble friends,
Regardless as to whether you have food to eat and a place to stay or not.
In the past, the disciples of the Buddha did not join the dispensation looking for a place to stay, or for clothes to wear. The disciples were satisfied with the rags that were found in garbage bins. Even the shade of a tree or a small hut was sufficient. Whatever food the disciples received by going on alms round was sufficient. The disciples were content with herbal medicines.
Despite this, they were not lacking in wisdom and association of noble friends. They only strived for the two desires, and those were the two factors that guided them towards success in their holy path.
There were some monks who went to Devadatta (they were not followers of Devadatta) only because they craved alms food. These monks would travel from the city of Rajagaha in the early morning to the city Devadatta was residing, they consumed the alms food and returned back to Rajagaha in the evening.
These monks would say the hassle of going on alms round is not necessary, as King Ajasatta would provide delicious almsfood. And these monks would say that as long as they focus on their own work, everything will be alright. With that said, some monks went for refuge to Devadatta.
In one instance, some disciples of the Buddha found out that there was a certain monk from their group who was secretly going to Devadatta. When asked as to why he was doing so, the monk explained that he was going to Devadatta only to be served good almsfood. His intention was not to follow Devadatta’s ideas or philosophy, but only due to the convenience of almsfood.
This monk was later brought to the Buddha. The Buddha preached:
“Monk, do not associate with unrighteous people.”
You can see that this monk was indifferent towards unrighteousness. Instead, he was focused on the convenience of the almsfood. The unrighteous person provides comfort and convenience, but not the Dhamma. Though the unrighteous leader would provide comfort, he would also mislead the follower by saying: “I will give you freedom from rebirth and liberation, stay with me.”
Instead, the Supreme Buddha always preached: “The Dhamma will give you liberation, practise the Dhamma.”
Can you see the difference?
Therefore, remember we must have both wisdom and must associate with noble friends.