Home » Features » Was The Buddha Reluctant To Teach?

Those reluctant
to study, practise, realise and share the Dharma
are those with much dust in their eyes.

Stonepeace

According to the Ayacana Sutta, shortly after the Buddha became fully enlightened, he was dwelling alone at Uruvela by the Neranjara River under a Banyan Tree, when he reflected that the Dharma (the truth; the path to the truth) he had realised, despite the deep peace it brings, is subtly refined, profound and not easy to realise by experience. Many in his time indulged in attachment, which made the Dharma difficult to know and see. As such, if he were to teach, it would be likened to going against the flow. And if others could not understand, it would be ‘tiresome and troublesome’. Thus, his mind inclined towards dwelling at ease and not teaching. Just then, Brahma Sahampati, the highest god of the highest form heavens (Akanistha, of Suddhavasa with Anagamis; Pure Abodes with Anagamis; Non-returners), became aware of this, and realised that the world would be spiritually lost if the Buddha continued thinking so. As such, as swiftly as a strong man extends or flexes his arm, he appeared before the Buddha, knelt before and saluted him sincerely with his palms together before his heart. He pleaded, ‘Lord, let the Blessed One (the Buddha) teach the Dharma! Let the One-Well-Gone (gone beyond sorrow) teach the Dharma! There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dharma. There will be those who will understand the Dharma.’

He added that as the impure Dharma had been devised by the spiritually stained, may the Buddha open the door to the Deathless (liberation from life and death; enlightenment), by letting them hear the true Dharma realised by the Stainless One (the Buddha). He next requested that the Buddha, from his all-rounded vantage point of the ‘palace of the Dharma’, high as if on a crag, see all beings, that may he, being victoriously freed from sorrow, behold those still submerged in it. The Buddha then surveyed the world with his compassion, and saw indeed, that there are beings with little dust in their eyes, just as there are those with much – those easy and hard to teach. They were like lotuses. Some might blossom immersed, while some at the water surface, while some above, unstained by the water. These stand for beings who can blossom spiritually to different extents. Seeing so, the Buddha exclaimed, ‘Open are the doors to the Deathless to those with ears. Let them show their conviction…’ Hearing the consent to teaching, Brahma Sahampati bowed before him in gratitude, circumambulated and disappeared. As many Brahma gods dwell in great loving-kindness, compassion, rejoice and equanimity, this ‘meeting’ is sometimes interpreted as the metaphorical arising of these highest and boundless Brahma Viharas (Four Sublime Immeasurables or Abodes) within the Buddha’s mind, as an inner dialogue, which led to selfless transcendence of ‘tiresomeness and troublesomeness’! Surely, this incident can be both literal and figurative!

If the Buddha needed a god to ‘teach him to teach others’, he must have yet to realise the Dharma fully; he must still be a non-Buddha. The inviting god, having ‘clearer’ vision and compassion, would be more like an actual Buddha! However, the Buddha is known as a ‘Teacher of humans and gods’, for his vision is complete. He had already completed his detailed survey of the universe prior to his enlightenment – through which he attained it, and already saw the spiritual capacities of all beings. What the sutta skilfully illustrates is that the Dharma is so profound, yet precious and supreme, that even the greatest god already bound for liberation treasures it. All the more should we ordinary humans treasure and pay attention to it! If the Buddha was truly reluctant to teach, he would not be so easily urged. He would be but a Silent-Buddha (Pratyekabuddha), with little conditions to teach, whom we might not even hear of. If he were to enter Parinirvana quickly, he would not qualify to be a Buddha in the first place, one with perfect compassion and wisdom. Even if he was not invited by anyone to teach, he would eventually. It is however such that every time a Buddha arises in a world, the most awakened god would become aware of his great significance, and anxiously urge him to teach, even while he is in the midst of reflecting on how to deliver the Dharma to those who are ready!

As the Buddha aspired to attain Buddhahood to best guide all to liberation,
it was impossible for him to not guide anyone to it after attaining it himself.

– Stonepeace

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2 Responses to “Was The Buddha Reluctant To Teach?”

  1. wherever December 3, 2014

    “What the sutta skilfully illustrates is that the Dharma is so profound, yet precious and supreme, that even the greatest god already bound for liberation treasures it. All the more should we ordinary humans treasure and pay attention to it! If the Buddha was truly reluctant to teach, he would not be so easily urged”.

    Well-said. On the other hand, there would be others who think to themselves, since the Buddha is “one with perfect compassion and wisdom”, the slightest hint of reluctance should not have appeared at all in his answer to Brahma Sahampati.

    If the Buddha had followed up by saying the Awakened One needs no reminder from any heavenly being,but his remark was made for the benefit of the said heavenly being – to create an opportunity for the said heavenly being to express his compassion for all sentient beings and to show his deep reverence for the Triple Gems. If there is such a similar clarification later on in the sutta, any reader, regardless of his familarity with Buddhism, would almost immediately have little doubt about the perfect wisdom and compassion of an Awakened One.

    In addition,the Buddha does not need to do any form of reflection on how to deliver the Dharma to those who are ready or who are not yet ready – simply because his wisdom is perfect.

  2. The Buddha had to ‘behave’ in a manner that the average human could understand, and as a teaching. The expression of some initial ‘reluctance’ could be to let Brahma Sahampati express his invitation fully, and in so show the preciousness of the Dharma. His scrutiny of beings’ readiness is also to let us realise not all can appreciate the Dharma, which can urge us treasure it more. Without these processes, what the Buddha does and says can appear out of the blue, without rhyme or reason.

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