The Quarrel at Kosambi
by Ryuei Michael McCormick
The Beginnings of the Dispute
The Buddha spent the ninth rainy season retreat since his awakening in Kosambi, the capital of the kingdom of Vamsa. It was here that the first serious discord within the Sangha of monks arose. This story is very important because it shows that no spiritual community, even the very Sangha established by the Buddha with the Buddha still physically present, is entirely free of human imperfections such as egotism, partisanship, stubbornness, defensiveness, and self-righteousness. This story shows how such a discord arose, how it was eventually resolved, and how the Buddha dealt with it.
The problem began when a respected teacher of the Buddha’s discourses, left some unused water in a jar in the latrine. The water was to be used for washing oneself, and the jar was always supposed to be poured out after use. Today, this offense against monastic propriety might be equivalent to not flushing the toilet. Now this rule, as with the other minor rules of monastic etiquette, was not considered an offense if done unintentionally. Since the offending monk had not intended to leave the water in the jar, he and his supporters did not think he needed to confess to an act of wrongdoing. Other monks, however, believed that he was being deliberately negligent and furthermore recalcitrant. Frustrated with the offender, the monk who first corrected him, an expert in the monastic rules, and his supporters voted to suspend the discourse teacher. The offender’s supporters declared that he had been unjustly suspended and that the suspension was not valid, and so the Sangha at Kosambi split into two factions.
When this was reported to the Buddha, he immediately expressed his concern stating by way of a warning, “There will be schism in the Sangha, there will be schism in the Sangha.” He then went to both factions and requested that they not be so stubborn and one-sided. To the faction of the rules expert he said, “Just because it appears to you that an offense has been committed do not think that a monk must be suspended on every occasion.” He told them that if the offending monk is one who is known to be dedicated and sincere, then he should be given the benefit of the doubt and should not be suspended if he does not believe that he committed an offense lest such a suspension lead to the greater harm of fighting, factionalism, and eventually schism in the Sangha. Then the Buddha went to the faction of the discourse teacher and said, “Just because you think that you did not deliberately commit an offense does not mean that you should not apologize for it.” He further explained that they should have confidence in their fellow monks and apologize so that harmony could be restored and so that neither they nor the others will be led into fighting, quarrels, and division through overzealousness, enmity, foolishness, or fear. Then the Buddha left, trusting them to resolve their differences.
But the monks of Kosambi did not resolve their differences and the fighting escalated. The discourse teacher was unwilling to admit any fault on his part, and the precept master was not willing to let even so slight an offense go without a confession on the part of the offender. Their specific motives are not revealed, but one can well imagine that pride, self-righteousness, and partisanship on the part of their supporters all had a role to play as they continue to do within any group of people today. Both sides took a stand on principle, and no one was willing to compromise or consider the view of the other side, or give anyone the benefit of the doubt. So it was that a disagreement over a minor offense led to many and greater offenses.
Now at that time monks, causing quarrels, causing strife, falling into disputes in a refectory amidst the houses, behaved unsuitably towards one another in gesture, in speech; they came to blows. People looked down upon, criticized, spread it about, saying: “How can these recluses, sons of the Shakyans, causing quarrels…come to blows?” (Book of the Discipline Part 4, p. 488)
As was often the case in these stories of monastic malfeasance, the people of the towns and villages complained first and then more sensible and modest monks reported what was happening to the Buddha. The Buddha then rebuked the monks who had been fighting and said:
“Monks, if the Sangha is divided, if it is behaving not according to the rule, if there is unfriendliness, you should sit down on a seat thinking: ‘At least we will not behave unsuitably to one another in gesture, in speech; we will not come to blows.’ Monks, if the Sangha is divided but if it is behaving according to the rule, if there is friendliness, you may sit down on a seat together.” (Ibid, p. 488)
This is something that is even more important for Buddhist of today to consider, now that there are in fact many schools and sects, and different forms of Buddhism originating from different nations. All of them are coming into contact as never before as the world becomes smaller due to the internet, the ease of modern transportation and communication systems, as well as patterns of immigration and international business. Now more than ever different types of Buddhists must learn to accommodate each other and to display harmony in their interactions despite their myriad differences. The Buddha does not demand that his followers force themselves to become one, but at the very least he asks his followers to behave in a civil and kindly manner so that they can at least get along in situations when they need to sit down together. In this way, they can maintain respect for each other and garner respect from the wider community who most likely would not understand or care about the differences in question.
Six Memorable Qualities that Engender Harmony
The Buddha’s admonition did not put an end to the matter however. The dispute continued and again a monk reported the following to the Buddha:
“Venerable sir, the monks here at Kosambi have taken to quarrelling and brawling and are deep in disputes, stabbing each other with verbal daggers. It would be good, venerable sir, if the Blessed One would go to those monks out of compassion.” (Middle Length Discourses, p. 1008)
So again the Buddha went to the monks of Kosambi and asked them:
“Monks, is it true that you have taken to quarrelling and brawling and are deep in disputes, stabbing each other with verbal daggers; that you can neither convince each other nor be convinced by others, that you can neither persuade each other nor be persuaded by others?” (Ibid, p. 419)
The monks admitted that this was indeed the case. The situation that the Buddha describes, wherein people of different convictions are no longer able to disagree in a reasonable or civil manner is one that still all too familiar, even among Buddhists. Today, on the impersonal and fairly anonymous realm of the internet, it is even easier to get into rancorous debates and “flame wars.” And even though internet opponents will likely never even see each other face-to-face, feelings are still hurt, wrong speech (or writing in this case) and wrong intentions are still made, and those who witness such disputes are far from edified and may even lose their esteem for the disputants or even the Buddha Dharma itself. What is worse, the records of such debates remain and may even be brought up again years later to start the debate and bad feelings anew. Even offline, there are Buddhists and Buddhist groups who defeat the purpose of Buddhist practice and damage the reputation of Buddhism itself in the eyes of other Buddhists and the general public by engaging in sectarian polemics or else speaking or acting in ways that betray a spirit of pride, dogmatism, paranoia, and even vindictiveness rather than non-attachment and selfless compassion. Around the world there have even been occasions in recent times when such disputes has led to physical brawls, street riots, and even murder. The Buddha’s guidance in dealing with such disputes within the Sangha is as important as ever.
After asking the monks about their conduct, the Buddha ascertains that the monks of Kosambi have not been maintaining loving-kindness in regards to one another. Once the situation has been made clear and the monks have owned up to their less than admirable conduct, the Buddha proceeds to teach them how to restore and maintain peace and harmony within the Sangha. As with all the Buddha’s discourses, we should read the following as though the Buddha were directly addressing us:
“So, monks, when you take to quarrelling and brawling and are deep in disputes, stabbing each other with verbal daggers, on that occasion you do not maintain acts of loving-kindness by body, speech, and mind, in public and in private towards your companions in the holy life. Misguided men, what can you possibly know, what can you see, that you take to quarrelling and brawling and are deep in disputes, stabbing each other with verbal daggers? That you can neither convince each other nor be convinced by others, that you can neither persuade each other nor be persuaded by others? Misguided men, that will lead to your harm and suffering for a long time.” (Ibid, p. 420)
Note that the Buddha asks, “What can you possibly know, what can you see, that you take to quarrelling and brawling and are deep in disputes, stabbing each other with verbal daggers?” This rhetorical question can be taken to mean that there is nothing that can be known or seen in regard to the authentic Buddha Dharma that can lead to fighting and ill-will between people. Whatever knowledge or insight the disputants think they have is invalidated insofar as it has led them to such feelings of ill-will. Furthermore, the Buddha again points out that they disputants are no longer able to convince or persuade each other. The fact is, they are no longer really listening to each other at all, and there is no longer even the minimum amount of mutual respect left that could allow for an honest and reasonable discussion. Only the egoistic and tribal qualities of paranoia, aggression, and defensiveness remain.
Then the Blessed One addressed the monks thus: “Monks, there are these six memorable qualities that create love and respect and conduce to helpfulness, to non-dispute, to concord, and to unity. What are the six?”
“Here a monk maintains bodily acts of loving-kindness both in public and in private towards his companions in the holy life. This is a memorable quality that creates love and respect, conduces to helpfulness, to non-dispute, to concord, and to unity.
Again, a monk maintains verbal acts of loving-kindness both in public and in private towards his companions in the holy life. This is a memorable quality that creates love and respect, conduces to helpfulness, to non-dispute, to concord, and to unity.
Again, a monk maintains mental acts of loving-kindness both in public and in private towards his companions in the holy life. This is a memorable quality that creates love and respect, conduces to helpfulness, to non-dispute, to concord, and to unity.” (Ibid, p. 420)
So the first three memorable qualities are bodily, verbal, and mental acts of loving-kindness. Loving-kindness is the translation of the Pali word “metta” and it refers to an attitude of well-wishing towards others. This means that the one cultivating a heart of loving-kindness wishes that others are well and happy, and this sincere wish then manifests in one’s speech and conduct towards them. Related to the cultivation of loving-kindness are the qualities of compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity whereby one respectively wishes that all beings be free of suffering, rejoices in the wholesome accomplishments of others, and regards all beings equally with unconditional love and kindness.
“Again, a monks uses things in common with his virtuous companions in the holy life; without making reservations, he shares with them any gain of a kind that accords with the Dharma and has been obtained in a way that accords with the Dharma, including even the contents of his bowl. This is a memorable quality that creates love and respect, conduces to helpfulness, to non-dispute, to concord, and to unity” (Ibid, p. 420)
This fourth memorable quality refers to the food, clothing, medicine, shelter, and even furnishings that were allowable to the monastics, and also to the proper ways of receiving donations as per the Vinaya, the monastic rule for Buddhist monks and nuns. Though this memorable quality is directed at monks living a simple and communal lifestyle, the point that generosity and sharing is conducive to harmony and good feelings is one that applies to anyone.
“Again, a monk dwells both in public and in private possessing in common with his companions in the holy life those virtues that are unbroken, untorn, unblotched, unmottled, liberating, commended by the wise, not misapprehended, and conducive to concentration. This too is a memorable quality that creates love and respect, conduces to helpfulness, to non-dispute, to concord, and to unity.” (Ibid, pp. 420-421)
This memorable quality is a reference to the observance of the monastic precepts. While those Buddhists who do not chose to become monks or nuns do not observe these precepts, the cultivation of virtuous conduct, speech, and intentions and specifically the observance of the five major precepts against killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and the loss of self-control and mindfulness through indulging in intoxicants do apply to all. In fact, most civilized societies also have many other written and unwritten codes of ethics and standards of conduct and etiquette designed for the purpose of keeping people from harming one another and more positively to the maintenance of mutual respect and dignity. When such codes are disregarded without good reason, people’s conduct becomes coarse, vulgar, callous, and offensive, and an atmosphere of tension and even hostility is the result. If codes of morality, ethics, and even standards of etiquette are cultivated and maintained, then it becomes easier to maintain peace, harmony, and dignity in social relations.
“Again, a monk dwells both in public and in private possessing in common with his companions in the holy life that view that is noble and emancipating, and leads one who practices in accordance with it to the complete destruction of suffering.
“These are the six memorable qualities that create love and respect, and conduce to helpfulness, to non-dispute, to concord, and to unity.
“Of these memorable qualities, the highest, the most comprehensive, the most conclusive is this view that is noble and emancipating, and leads the one who practices in accordance with it to the complete destruction of suffering. Just as the highest, most comprehensive, most conclusive part of a pinnacled building is the pinnacle itself, so too, of these six memorable qualities, the highest, the most comprehensive, the most conclusive is this view that is noble and emancipating, and leads the one who practices in accordance with it to the complete destruction of suffering.” (Ibid, p. 421)
Right view is of course the first part of the eightfold path. In other discourses it is defined as the view that is in accord with the four noble truths. Right view entails understanding that all phenomenal things are impermanent, ultimately unsatisfactory, and lead to suffering; cutting off selfish craving; realizing the cessation of suffering; and cultivating the eightfold path that puts an end to suffering and its causes. The Buddha’s point is that right view is not a matter of opinion to be clung to and defended or pushed on others. Rather, it is a direct realization. Those who have right view will no longer become entangled in disputes. They will instead overcome suffering in all its forms including such conflicts as the monks of Kosambi had fallen into.
Seven Factors for Self-Reflection
Of course, what constitutes right view can itself become a matter of dispute, so the Buddha goes on to explain seven items for self-reflection that will enable a person to discern whether they are in accord with the right view that overcomes suffering.
“Here a monk, gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or to an empty hut, considers thus: ‘Is there any obsession unabandoned in myself that might so obsess my mind that I cannot know or see things as they actually are?’ If a monk is obsessed by sensual lust, then his mind is obsessed. If he is obsessed by ill will, then his mind is obsessed. If he is obsessed by sloth and torpor, then his mind is obsessed. If he is obsessed by restlessness and remorse, then his mind is obsessed. If he is obsessed by doubt, then his mind is obsesses. If a monk if absorbed in speculation about this world, then his mind is obsessed. If a monk is absorbed in speculation about the other world, then his mind is obsessed. If a monk takes to quarrelling and brawling and is deep in disputes, stabbing others with verbal daggers, then his mind is obsessed.
“He understands thus: ‘There is no obsession unabandoned in myself that might so obsess my mind that I cannot know and see things as they actually are. My mind is well disposed for awakening to the truths.’ This is the first knowledge attained by him that is noble, supramundane, not shared by ordinary people.” (Ibid, pp. 421-422)
So the very first thing is to reflect upon whether or not one’s mind is fixated or obsessed. The first five items: lust, ill will, sloth/torpor, restlessness/remorse, and doubt, constitute the five hindrances that prevent meditative concentration and clear awareness. Speculations concerning this world or the other world (by which the afterlife is meant) deal with metaphysical concerns that do not actually help us to overcome suffering even if one’s curiosity were satisfied concerning such things, because such conceptual knowledge can not free us from the selfish craving that gives rise to suffering. Metaphysical and/or theological doctrines and opinions are also things that tend to lead to conflict though rarely, if ever, to direct knowledge of such things. Finally, if one has gone so far as to engage in quarrels and fighting, then that is a sure sign that one’s mind has become obsessed and is not able to see things as they are. On the other hand, one who has freed their mind of all such obsessions is able to see things as they are is well disposed to awakening to the four noble truths that is the point of Buddhist practice.
“Again, a noble disciple considers thus: ‘When I pursue, develop, and cultivate this view, do I obtain internal serenity, do I personally attain stillness?’
“He understands thus: ‘When I pursue develop, and cultivate this view, I obtain internal serenity, I personally obtain stillness.’ This is the second knowledge attained by him that is noble, supramundane, not shared by ordinary people.” (Ibid, p. 422)
Whereas the first item dealt with negative mental states that obsess and agitate the mind preventing the attainment of concentration and clear awareness, this item deals with the positive qualities of serenity and stillness that are typically developed through meditation. Putting these two items together it would seem that right view leads a person to take up and deepen the practice of meditation. It is not about taking up a creed or doctrine, but rather it is seeing the necessity to free the mind of obsessions and to clearly observe the nature of things for oneself in a state of still serenity. In this there are no concepts or opinions to attack or defend, each must simply drop their fixations and take up the practice for themselves in order to see the truth for themselves.
“Again, a noble disciple considers thus: ‘Is there any other recluse or brahmin outside [the Buddha’s Dispensation] possessed of a view such as I possess?’
“He understands thus: ‘There is no other recluse or brahmin outside [the Buddha’s Dispensation] possessed of a view such as I possess.’ This is the third knowledge attained by him that is noble, supramundane, not shared by ordinary people.” (Ibid, p. 422)
This is a curious item as it seems to play on an egocentric desire to have something no one else has, or to know something that no one else knows. On the other hand, this probably indicates an honest appraisal of the uniqueness of the Buddha Dharma. Whereas other sages and teachers existed in India at the time of the Buddha, those who came to Buddhism were not satisfied by these other teachings because they had to be taken on faith, or were impractical, or did not seem to lead to the spiritual awakening that their adherents promised. The Buddha Dharma, on the other hand, was something new and untried, and was presented as something that one could put into practice to realize the truth of it for oneself. This item, expresses a deep appreciation of the rare opportunity to encounter the Buddha Dharma, learn it, and put it into practice. Instead of taking the Dharma for granted, or wondering if there is another better teacher or teaching elsewhere, the practitioner should have the conviction and confidence that everything they need to overcome suffering has been taught to them. All that needs to be done is to make the actual effort of putting it into practice to see the truth of it for oneself.
“Again, a noble disciple considers thus: ‘Do I possess the character of a person who possesses right view?’ What is the character of a person who possesses right view? This is the character of a person who possesses right view: although he may commit some kind of offence for which a means of rehabilitation has been laid down, still he at once confesses, reveals, and discloses it to the Teacher or to wise companions in the holy life, and having done that, he enters upon restraint for the future. Just as a young, tender infant lying prone at once draws back when he puts his hand or foot on a live coal, so too, that is the character of a person who possesses right view.
“He understands thus: ‘I possess the character of a person who possesses right view.’ This is the fourth knowledge attained by him that is noble, supramundane, not shared by ordinary people.” (Ibid, p. 422)
Here again the reference is to the Vinaya, the monastic rule. There are four offenses for which a monk is expelled permanently from the Sangha: killing, stealing, engaging in sexual intercourse, and lying about their spiritual attainments. Lesser offences must be confessed and only in a few cases does expiation require a period of probation or the forfeiture of certain items. In most cases it was enough to simply acknowledge that one had acted in a manner unbecoming to a monastic and express a resolve to do better. So, excepting the four major offences, all the other offences permit rehabilitation in the sense of restoration of one’s good standing as a monastic. It is human nature, however, to want to hide our faults or to rationalize our conduct so as to argue that we did nothing wrong. The universal application of this item is that if we are holding right view in the Buddha’s sense, then we will acknowledge our faults, apologize when we have given offence or harmed others (even if inadvertently), and resolve to do better in the future. In this way we overcome our pride and egotism and transform our character for the better.
“Again, a noble disciple considers thus: ‘Do I possess the character of a person who possesses right view?’ What is the character of a person who possesses right view? This is the character of a person who possesses right view: although he may be active in various matters for his companions in the holy life, yet he has a keen regard for training in the higher virtue, training in the higher mind, and training in the higher wisdom. Just as a cow with a new calf, while she grazes watches her calf, so too, that is the character of a person who possesses right view.
“He understands thus: ‘I possess the character of a person who possesses right view.’ This is the fifth knowledge attained by him that is noble, supramundane, not shared by ordinary people.” (Ibid, pp. 422-423)
This item is in regard to the threefold training of precepts, meditation, and wisdom. The threefold training is a different way of enumerating the eightfold path. Training in precepts or higher virtue encompasses right speech, right action, and right livelihood. Training in the higher mind refers to the practice of right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Training in higher wisdom refers to right view and right intention. This item points out that even if a monastic has taken on many responsibilities for the care and possibly teaching of their fellow monastics, they should not neglect their own training and practice. It is not that monastics should not take on mundane responsibilities, but that is not to be used as an excuse to neglect the primary purpose of monasticism, spiritual cultivation. In the same way, those of us who are not monastics but who are serious about Buddhist practice should find ways to make time in our schedules for a regular and consistent practice. Without sincere practice, there is no right view in the Buddhist sense.
“Again a noble disciple considers thus: ‘Do I possess the strength of a person who possesses right view?’ What is the strength of a person who possesses right view? This is the strength of a person who possesses right view: when the Dharma and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathagata is being taught, he heeds it, gives it attention, engages it with all his mind, hears the Dharma as with eager ears.
“He understands thus: ‘I possess the strength of a person who possesses right view.’ This is the sixth knowledge attained by him that is noble, supramundane, not shared by ordinary people.” (Ibid, p. 423)
This item means that the attentive reception of the Dharma as taught by the Buddha is another sign that one has right view in the Buddhist sense. This means that those claiming to be Buddhists should not take the teachings for granted or receive them half-heartedly. One should deeply consider what exactly the Buddha has taught and resolve to put the teachings into practice. It would seem strange to claim to be a Buddhist, but then to not care to hear, or read, or ponder the Buddha’s actual teachings. However, this is all to often the situation among too many Buddhists for whom Buddhism is just part of an ethnic heritage, or perhaps among those taking up Buddhism because it seems exotic and magical, or among those attracted to certain practices but with no accompanying interest to learn more about the Buddha’s actual teaching which provides context and guidance in regard to practice. While it is fortunate if people encounter Buddhism as part of their heritage, or because they find it aesthetically engaging, or because they are attracted to certain meditative practices, it is unfortunate that without attentive reception and reflection upon the Dharma itself the tradition will be misunderstood and distorted. So here it could be said that without study of the Buddha’s teaching there is no right view in the Buddhist sense.
“Again, a noble disciple considers thus: ‘Do I possess the strength of a person who possesses right view?’ What is the strength of a person who possesses right view? This is the strength of a person who possesses right view: When the Dharma and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathagata is being taught, he gains inspiration in the meaning, gains inspiration in the Dharma, gains gladness connected with the Dharma.
“He understands thus: ‘I possess the strength of a person who possesses right view.’ This is the seventh knowledge attained by him that is noble, supramundane, not shared by ordinary people.” (Ibid, p. 423)
In this item, the attentive reception of the Dharma has become active inspiration and even gladness. Without this inspiration and gladness, one would not be motivated to put it into practice. The Buddha’s teachings would remain merely another system of religion or philosophy to consider in the comfort of one’s armchair. If the Dharma is to lead its hearers to awakening and liberation, then it must inspire actual practice. There must be faith in the Dharma, in the sense of having the kind deep confidence and joy that leads to living in accord with it. So it can be said that without faith in the Dharma, there is no right view in the Buddhist sense.
“When a noble disciple is thus possessed of seven factors, he has well sought the character for realization of the fruit of stream-entry. When a noble disciple is thus possessed of seven factors, he possesses the fruit of stream-entry.”
This is what the Blessed One said. The monks were satisfied and delighted in the Buddha’s words. (Ibid, p. 423)
The seven items (or factors as the Buddha calls them) are what lead to the state of stream-entry. Stream-entry is the initial stage of actual progress into the liberation from suffering which is the point of the Buddha’s teaching. Stream-enterers are no longer confused about right view and while they have not yet overcome greed, anger, and ignorance, they are no longer prone to acting in ways that harm themselves or others. So stream-entry is a significant accomplishment, the turning point at which one goes from simply learning about Buddhism to fulfilling its aims. The Buddha, in saying this here, is implying that the monks of Kosambi are not as yet fulfilling the aims of Buddhism even though they consider themselves Buddhist monks. It is not enough to just read about Buddhism, or have a membership with a Buddhist group, or even to have credentials of some sort as a Buddhist teacher. Certainly the robes and shaved heads of the monks of Kosambi did not keep them from acting in a way that defeated the purpose of their monastic training. What is really needed is stream-entry, an inner transformation from a life of egocentrism to a life of selfless compassion. This is what the Buddha hoped that the monks of Kosambi would realize after hearing his teaching of the six memorable qualities that bring about harmony and seven items for self-reflection in regard to right view.
No Companionship with Fools
Though the monks were apparently “satisfied and delighted in the Buddha’s words” at that time, the disputes flared up again. Finally, the Buddha simply told the monks to desist. At that point, however, the two factions were so committed to their positions that they were not willing to drop the matter even when the Buddha directly told them to. They insisted that they would resolve it themselves, and in so many words told the Buddha to stay out of it. They had clearly gotten to a point where their stubbornness had made them incapable of receiving any further instruction or guidance and so the Buddha quietly left them to themselves and their conflict. In our day, we can take this to mean that when a Sangha becomes a place of clashing egos and endless conflict, then the spirit of the Buddha will depart.
Then the Blessed One went to those monks and said to them: “Enough, monks, let there be no quarrelling, brawling, wrangling, or dispute.” When this was said, a certain monk said to the Blessed One: “Wait, venerable sir! Let the Blessed One, the Lord of the Dharma, live at ease devoted to a pleasant abiding here and now. We are the ones who will be responsible for this quarrelling, brawling, wrangling, and dispute.”
Then, when it was morning, the Blessed One dressed, and taking his bowl and outer robe, entered Kosambi for alms. When he had wandered for alms in Kosambi and had returned from his almsround, after his meal he set his resting place in order, took his bowl and outer robe, and while still standing uttered these stanzas:
“When many voices shout at once
None considers himself a fool;
Though the Sangha is being split
None thinks himself to be at fault.
They have forgotten thoughtful speech,
They talk obsessed by words alone.
Uncurbed their mouths, they bawl at will;
None knows what leads him so to act.
‘He abused me, he struck me,
He defeated me, he robbed me’ –
In those who harbor thoughts like these
Hatred will never be allayed.
For in this world hatred is never
Allayed by further acts of hate.
It is allayed by non-hatred:
That is the fixed and ageless law.
Those others do not recognize
That here we should restrain ourselves.
But those wise ones who realize this
At once end all enmity.
Breakers of bones and murderers,
Those who steal cattle, horses, wealth,
Those who pillage the entire realm –
When even these can act together
Why can you not do so too?
If one can find a worthy friend,
A virtuous, steadfast companion,
Then overcome all threats of danger
And walk with him content and mindful.
But if one finds no worthy friend,
No virtuous, steadfast companion,
Then as a king leaves his conquered realm,
Walk like a tusker in the woods alone.
Better it is to walk alone,
There is no companionship with fools,
Walk alone and do no evil,
At ease like a tusker in the woods.”
(Ibid, pp. 1009 – 1010)
These verses are very straightforward and do not really need any comment. Some of them are in fact very well known and often quoted. In particular the third, fourth and fifth stanzas are also found in the “Twin Verses” chapter of the Dhammapada and are often cited as a prime example of the Buddha’s teaching of non-violence and the principle of returning love for hate in order to end conflicts and vendettas. The last three stanzas are also found in the Dhammapada. The “tusker” is a term for an elephant, and while elephants are herd animals, there are occasions when one will tire of the herd and retire to the forest alone in peace. As we shall see, there will be more on this later.
Different in Body but One in Mind
After exclaiming these verses, the Buddha then left Kosambi and wandered on. He visited briefly with a disciple named Bhagu who was living alone peacefully at a nearby village. Then the Buddha moved on to the Eastern Bamboo Park where he found the monks Aniruddha, Nandiya, and Kimbila living together in harmony. Apparently they were living in seclusion as the park-keeper asked the Buddha not to disturb them. Aniruddha however, overheard this and informed the park-keeper that this was his teacher and he was more than welcome. Note that this incident shows that the Buddha was indistinguishable in outward appearance from any other monk. The Buddha was then made welcome by all three and what follows provides a wonderful example of how people can live together in harmony.
Now on that occasion the venerable Aniruddha, the venerable Nandiya, and the venerable Kimbila were living at the Eastern Bamboo Park. The park keeper saw the Blessed One coming in the distance and told him: “Do not enter this park, recluse. There are three clansmen here seeking their own good. Do not disturb them.
The venerable Aniruddha heard the park keeper speaking to the Blessed One and told him: “Friend park keeper, do not keep the Blessed One out. It is our Teacher, the Blessed One, who has come.” Then the venerable Aniruddha went to the venerable Nandiya and the venerable Kimbila and said: “Come out, venerable sirs, come out! Our Teacher, the Blessed One, has come.”
Then all three went to meet the Blessed One. One took his bowl and outer robe, one prepared a seat, and one set out water for washing the feet. The Blessed One sat down on the seat made ready and washed his feet. Then those three venerable ones paid homage to the Blessed One and sat down at one side, and the Blessed One said to them: “I hope you are all keeping well, Anirudda, I hope you are comfortable, I hope you are not having trouble getting almsfood.”
“We are keeping well, Blessed One, we are comfortable, and we are not having any trouble getting almsfood.”
“I hope, Aniruddha, that you are all living in concord, with mutual appreciation, without disputing, blending like milk and water, viewing each other with kindly eyes.”
“Surely, venerable sir, we are living in concord, with mutual appreciation, without disputing, blending like milk and water, viewing each other with kindly eyes.” (Ibid, pp. 1010-1011)
The Buddha could see for himself that Aniruddha and his two companions were living in harmony and showing great consideration and kindness to each other as well as to their honored guest. They had done what the monks of Kosambi could not. The Buddha asked them how they did it.
“But Aniruddha, how do you live thus?”
“Venerable sir, as to that, I think thus: ‘It is a gain for me, it is a great gain for me that I am living with such companions in the holy life.’ I maintain bodily acts of loving-kindness towards these venerable ones both openly and privately; I maintain verbal acts of loving-kindness towards them both openly and privately; I maintain mental acts of loving-kindness towards them both openly and privately. I consider: ‘Why should I not set aside what I wish to do and do what these venerable ones wish to do?’ Then I set aside what I wish to do and do what these venerable ones wish to do. We are different in body, venerable sir, but one in mind.’ (Ibid, p. 1011)
Aniruddha’s answer repeats the first three of the six memorable qualities that the Buddha had earlier taught to the monks at Kosambi. Here we see the result of putting this teaching into practice – Aniruddha and his companions are able to live “different in body…but one in mind.” This principle does not mean that they forego their individuality for an enforced conformism or doctrinal party line. Rather, it means that they deliberately cultivate an attitude of appreciation, kindness, and consideration for each other. What they forego is egoism and selfishness in order to foster harmony and cooperation. The Buddha then asks them about the quality of their life and practice together.
“Good, good, Aniruddha. I hope that you all abide diligent, ardent, and resolute.”
“Surely, venerable sir, we abide diligent, ardent, and resolute.”
“But, Aniruddha, how do you abide thus?”
“Venerable sir, as to that, whichever of us returns first from the village with almsfood prepares the seats, sets out the water for drinking and for washing, and puts the refuse bucket in its place. Whichever of us returns last eats any food left over, if he wishes; otherwise he throws it away where there is no greenery or drops it into water where there is no life. He puts away the seats and the water for drinking and for washing. He puts away the refuse bucket after washing it, and he sweeps out the refectory. Whoever notices that the pots of water for drinking, washing, or the latrine are low or empty takes care of them. If they are too heavy for him, he calls someone else by a signal of the hand and they move it by joining hands, but because of this we do not break out into speech. But every five days we sit together all night discussing the Dharma. That is how we abide diligent, ardent, and resolute.” (Ibid, pp. 1011-1012)
Aniruddha explains how he and his companions share not only their resources but also make sure that everyone shares responsibility for the chores and tasks that need to be done. They also do not engage in unnecessary talking, but do make sure that every five days they discuss the Dharma together. Behind the drivers on the buses in San Francisco is a sign that reads “Information gladly given, but safety requires avoiding unnecessary conversation.” This means that the drivers will tell you about their route and what stops they will make, but one is not to pester them with general questions about the city or gossip with them when they need to keep their attention on driving the bus. In the same way, when living with others for the sake of spiritual practice one should not be engaging in gossip or complaints or idle trivia but should concentrate on the task at hand. Discussing and clarifying the meaning of the Dharma and the fine points of practice is important and even necessary. This information should be gladly given and pondered at the right times. Those not living a monastic life or engaged in a retreat should not be so taciturn perhaps. With one’s family, friends, and co-workers we should certainly be sociable and not silent, but even then we should be mindful of the kind of talk we engage in, refraining from lying, harsh or abusive speech, malicious gossip, slander, sniping, boasting, or criticism that is not constructive. Instead, we should try to engage in speech that is truthful, pleasant, to the point, edifying, and conducive to good feelings between people. This is a very difficult practice of course, and one that requires constant vigilance and self-reflection – and also frequent apologies when we almost invariably lapse into various forms of wrong speech. This is why even those who are not monastics or full-time religious practitioners like Aniruddha and his friends, should come together once a week or so to discuss the Dharma for mutual encouragement and edification.
The Buddha stayed with Aniruddha, Kimbila, and Nandiya and instructed them on the finer points of meditation. After that he went out alone into the jungle to live in peace for a time. The Buddha reflected: “Formerly I lived in discomfort, pestered by those Kosambi monks who quarrel, brawl, wrangle, harangue and litigate in the midst of the Sangha. Now I am alone and companionless, living at ease and in comfort, away from all of them.” (Life of the Buddha, p. 115)
At that time, a bull-elephant or “tusker” also came alone into the forest, as it too felt harassed living amidst the herd. There the tusker discovered the Buddha and the two lived together in the jungle looking after one another. The tusker reflected: “Formerly I lived pestered by elephants… Now, alone and withdrawn from the herd, I live at ease and in comfort away from all those elephants.” (Ibid, p. 116) The Buddha, empathizing with his tusker companion said the following:
Herein agrees mind with mind, of sage
And bull-elephant with plough-pole tusks,
Since each delights in forest (solitude).
(Book of the Discipline Part 4, p. 504)
So the Buddha parted for a time from his own unruly herd. It does not seem too unlikely that his only companion would have been a lone elephant in the jungle, though the appearance of the elephant also conveniently illustrates his earlier stanzas regarding walking alone and at ease like a tusker in the woods that he exclaimed upon leaving the quarreling monks of Kosambi. The lesson here seems pretty straightforward, if it is possible to cultivate our practice with those who are serious, diligent, and considerate of each other and not obsessed with conflicts; then we should do so. But if that is not possible, then like the tusker or the Buddha, we should get away from the herd and practice on our own away from needless conflict and other distractions.
Note that the Buddha did what he could to reconcile the monks at Kosambi before he left them. But in the end, he saw that they would have to learn the hard way. So instead of letting them drag him down, the Buddha left them to their own devices and went to visit those like Bhagu and Aniruddha and his friends who were practicing sincerely. Then the Buddha took some time out for himself before returning once again into the world where he would be available to those who needed his teaching and guidance – including the monks of Kosambi.
The Buddha spent his tenth rainy season retreat there in the jungle under the Sal trees near the village of Parileyyaka. When the rainy season retreat was over he went to the Jeta Grove Monastery in Shravasti. In the meantime, things were not going so well for the monks at Kosambi as the consequences of their actions caught up with them.
Meanwhile the lay followers of Kosambi thought: “These venerable Kosambi monks are doing us great harm. They have plagued the Blessed One till he has gone away. Let us no longer pay homage to them or rise up for them or give them reverential salutation or treat them with courtesy, let us not honor, respect, revere or venerate them, let us give them no more almsfood even when they have come for it. So when they get no honor, respect, reverence or veneration from us, when they are regularly ignored, they will either go elsewhere or leave the Sangha or make amends to the Blessed One.”
They acted accordingly. In consequence the Kosambi monks decided: “Let us go to Shravasti, friends, and settle this litigation in the Blessed One’s presence.” So they put their resting places in order, took their bowls and outer robes and set out for Shravasti. (Life of the Buddha, p. 117)
The householders of Kosambi did not act rudely to the monks, but they did not any longer support them or give them special treatment. This reveals something about the relationship between the monastics and the householders. The householders were not members of an institution that they were obligated to support. Rather, their contributions of food, robes, medicine, and other items was part of an understanding. The monastic side of the understanding was that the monks and nuns would dedicate their lives to practicing the Dharma, teaching the Dharma, attaining liberation, and upholding a pure and admirable way of life in harmony with each other and the householders as spelled out by the precepts. If the monks and nuns did not fulfill their end of the bargain, then they were misusing the contributions of the householders who would then no longer have any obligation to support them. So the monastics were very much accountable to the householders, and the householders in the Buddha’s time did not hesitate to criticize the behavior of the monastics.
Today, it is Buddhist teachers and Buddhist institutions and organizations that need to be held accountable to their membership. In turn, the members should feel no obligation to support teachers, leaders or organizations that are not practicing or teaching the Dharma correctly. This means that the members themselves need to educate themselves about the teachings and develop a discerning mind. They need to make sure they are being led towards liberation and not being exploited or manipulated for ulterior purposes. And if the teachers, leaders, or organizations are not conducting themselves in a way that does credit to the Buddha Dharma, then the general membership must also take responsibility and either vote with their feet and/or their wallets. This is what the householders of Kosambi did, and in doing so they succeeded in doing what even the Buddha was unable to do – they got the monks of Kosambi to stop fighting and seek out a way to reconcile their differences.
When the Buddha’s followers at Shravasti heard that the monks of Kosambi were coming, they were perplexed about how to deal with them. Shariputra, followed by the other leading monk disciples, all asked the same question: “Lord, it seems that those Kosambi monks who quarrel, brawl, dispute, wrangle and litigate in the midst of the Sangha are coming here to Shravasti. How am I to treat them, Lord?” (Ibid, p. 117)
The Buddha told them all to “Follow the Dharma.” When asked to clarify this, the Buddha explained in so many words that they should listen carefully and then double check to make sure that what anyone claims is actually a part of the teaching or monastic rules is actually in accord with what the Buddha has taught. In regard to the Vinaya, the monastic rules, they should make sure that they are not being abrogated by some or that offences are not being made more or less severe than the Vinaya specifies. Basically, the Buddha is telling them to “go by the book” and not to take sides. The Dharma and the Discipline set down by the Buddha are to function as an objective standard by which to weigh the merits of each side’s case.
Then Mahaprajapati on behalf of the nuns asked the Buddha how they should treat the monks from Kosambi. The Buddha’s replied along the same lines as before: “Hear the Dharma from both sides, Gotami. When you have done so, approve the views, the liking, the opinions and judgments of those who say what is Dharma. What the Sangha of nuns has to expect from the Sangha of monks should be expected from those who speak according to Dharma.” (Ibid, p. 118)
Then the householder supporters of the Sangha like Sudatta and Visakha asked the Buddha for guidance. He told them: “Give gifts to both sides. Approve the views of those who speak according to the Dharma.” (Ibid, p. 118) In this case, the Buddha approved their giving of food and other essentials to the monks of Kosambi because they were coming not to cause trouble but to seek reconciliation with each other and with the Buddha.
So in the cases of the monks, the nuns, and the householders, the Buddha asked them not to take sides but to give each faction a fair hearing. He trusted that they all knew the Dharma and Discipline well enough to listen impartially to both sides and discern for themselves who is in accord with the Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha expected his followers not to take the word of others for anything, especially disputing factions, but to always find out the truth for themselves. In this, the Buddha showed great respect for his followers and insisted that the Dharma be the final authority and not the opinions of factions or authority figures. This is something that applies to us today more than ever, as there are many more factions and differing opinions among those who call themselves Buddhists, but at the same time more people than ever are literate enough that they can read the Buddha’s teachings and judge for themselves what makes sense and what would be the best way to practice. This does not mean that we should not avail ourselves of teachers, guides, and senior practitioners, but it does mean that we should not regard anyone as infallible and that ultimately the responsibility to discern what is correct lies with ourselves.
When the monks finally arrived, the Buddha directed Shariputra to lodge the different factions in separate quarters until they had worked out their differences. At the same time he cautioned Shariputra to follow the rules in regard to lodging the monks by seniority, and to make sure that food is distributed evenly. In other words, all the usual monastic procedures are to be followed even while making an effort to separate the two groups for the time being to give them a chance to cool off.
After arriving at Shravasti the discourse teacher who had forgotten to empty the water jar admitted his negligence and the rules expert who had suspended him agreed to reinstate him without any further recriminations. The discourse teacher and the rules expert dropped the banners of their pride and both they and their supporters reconciled with each other in the presence of the Buddha.
After peace had been restored, Upali approached the Buddha and asked him if unanimity could really be legally restored within the Sangha if the root of the problem had not been investigated. The Buddha replied that it could not. It would not be enough to simply create an artificial harmony for the sake of appearances. The Sangha would need to investigate the problem, get to the root of it, and then restore unanimity according to both the letter and meaning of the rule. Or as we would say, the Sangha should restore harmony according to both the letter and spirit of the law. In the case of the monks from Kosambi, the rules and procedures were followed in order to restore harmony, but more importantly the disputants had put aside the pride and self-righteousness that had been the root of the problem. Mutual respect and loving-kindness had finally prevailed.
Horner, I.B., trans., The Book of the Discipline Volumes 1-6. Oxford: Pali Text Society, 1993.
Nanamoli, Bhikkhu, The Life of the Buddha. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1992.
Nanamoli, Bhikkhu and Bodhi, Bhikkhu, The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. Boston, Wisdom Publication, 1995.
Schumann, H.W., The Historical Buddha: The Times, Life and Teachings of the Founder of Buddhism. New York: Arkana, 1989
Thomas, Edward J., The Life of Buddha: As Legend and History. Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000.