The Buddha’s Lay Disciple Foremost In Teaching The Dharma

(Importance Of Seeking Forgiveness From The Wronged)

Should one person ignorantly do wrong
And another ignorantly become angry (with him),
Who would be at fault?
And who would be without fault?

– Shantideva
(Guide To Bodhisattva’s Way Of Life)

Citta was one of the Buddha’s model lay disciples… [The Buddha] encouraged young men to emulate Citta, by saying, “Should a devoted mother wish to encourage her beloved only son in a proper way, she may tell him to emulate the householders Citta and Hatthaka. They are the guiding students for my lay disciples.” When deciding on the Noble Ones foremost in expounding the Dhamma, the Buddha appointed the Bhikkhu Punna Mantaniputta and the nun Dhammadinna. Likewise, among the laity, the householder Citta was appointed by the Buddha as the lay disciple foremost in expounding the Dhamma

Citta paid great respect and reverence to a certain Bhikkhu named Sudhamma who had entered the Noble Order after hearing the Dhamma from Citta. One day… Sariputta dispensed a profound discourse, which resulted in Citta’s attaining the second stage of sainthood, Sakadagami. Citta immediately invited the distinguished elders for the following day’s meals. Afterwards he realized that he had left out Sudhamma, to whom he had previously extended his hospitality consistently. Approaching Sudhamma, he let him know of the invitation.

When Sudhamma found out about Citta’s invitation to others he was suffused with jealousy and reprimanded Citta for not having informed him earlier. Even though Citta had since invited him, Sudhamma scornfully declined. However, he could not refuse Citta’s invitation. He joined the others as if nothing had happened and praised Citta’s hospitality. But then he showed his true jealousy by adding scornfully that the meal would have been complete if Citta had offered cream cakes. Citta replied that his favourite monk’s behaviour reminded him of a story of a hybrid of a cock and a crow.

The story illustrated the fact that jealousy and the refusal of the invitation were inappropriate behaviours for a monk. And criticizing the food showed poor manners towards a householder. Sudhamma was insulted by this comparison and left abruptly. Citta asked him to visit the Buddha and explain what had happened. Sudhamma went to the Buddha and complained to Him about the unfavourable comparison made by Citta.

The Buddha, however, admonished Sudhamma by saying that his behaviour was inappropriate for a Bhikkhu. Not only was it inappropriate for him to have refused Citta’s invitation through jealousy, but it was also inappropriate that he should have insulted his generous host by complaining about the food served. The Buddha asked, “How could you insult a faithful lay disciple like Citta?” At a meeting of the Sangha where the Bhikkhus’ transgressions were discussed it was decided that Sudhamma should ask Citta’s forgiveness for his behaviour.

Sudhamma then set out to beg forgiveness but on reaching Citta’s house turned back in embarrassment. When the Buddha heard that Sudhamma did not apologize to Citta, he had another monk accompany Sudhamma to give him the confidence required to own up to his inappropriate behaviour. From this incident we see a very significant aspect of the Buddha’s teaching. The Buddha always encouraged persons who had done wrong deeds to ask for forgiveness. But forgiveness was asked from those whom one had wronged. 

The Buddha realized that people make mistakes and even Bhikkhus from time to time behave badly. He did not grant forgiveness for such deeds. Forgiveness for such deeds could only be granted by the person who had been wronged. The wrongdoer reduces the negative effect of his wrong act by genuine regret. But forgiveness can only be received from the wronged. Whilst one may feel better about the misdeed when admitting wrongdoing to a friend or colleague, they cannot reduce or mitigate the wrong. That can be done only through true regret to the wronged. The wronged should then graciously accept the apology and grant forgiveness.

Forgiveness from the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha that Buddhists ask for in their daily reciting is a forgiveness for wrongs done to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Buddhists observe the precepts daily but often break the vows they have taken. As these vows are taken of their own free will, Buddhists ask for forgiveness from the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha when they break the precepts… Buddhists do not ask the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha for forgiveness for wrongful deeds they may have done to another person. Forgiveness for these should be obtained from the person to whom the wrongful deed was done.

– Relatives and Disciples of the Buddha
(Radhika Abeysekera)

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