Introduction to 3.7.10 Soṇakoḷivisavatthu - Balanced Endeavour should Resemble Strings of a Veeṇa properly Tuned
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa
Introduction to 3.7.10 Soṇakoḷivisavatthu –
Endeavour should Resemble properly tuned Strings of a Veeṇa.
‘‘Selo yathā ekagghano, vātena na samīrati1;
Evaṃ rūpā rasā saddā, gandhā phassā ca kevalā.
Iṭṭhā dhammā aniṭṭhā ca, nappavedhenti tādino;
Ṭhitaṃ cittaṃ vippamuttaṃ vayañcassānupassatī’’ti.2
“Like a solid rocky mountain cannot be shaken by any wind
So can no visible object, taste, sound, fragrance nor physical touch of any kind,
Nor anything of pleasant or unpleasant nature someone agitate one,
Who’s mind is firm and freed through observing the passing away of all phenomena”.
These verses were uttered3 by Soṇa Koḷivisa, who showed the quality of putting forth strenuous efforts in such a way that as Venerable Soṇa he later was announced foremost in putting forth energy by the Buddha and was counted amongst the forty-one Mahātheras who received an etadagga-title: ‘Etadaggaṃ, bhikkhave, mama sāvakānaṃ bhikkhūnaṃ āraddhavīriyāṃ4 yadidaṃ Soṇa Koḷiviso’.5
The young Soṇa Koḷivisa came from an extremely wealthy family and had led a well-protected life, where he had been raised aloof of all kinds of hardships. Three different palaces were built for him where he could live in great pleasures with nothing missing, he was nurtured with exquisite food, bathed in scented water and fine carpets were laid out wherever he walked and he was renown for his tender skin and the soft hairs on the sole of his gentle feet.6
At one time King Seniya Bimbisāro of Māgadha had sent a messenger for the youth Soṇa, wanting to see the delicate skin and the feet of this boy. Soṇa was advised by his parents to visit the King, but when there to sit in front of the King to do so in a cross-legged position so his feet could be visible. After the King had witnessed Soṇa’s sensible feet with the delicate skin he sent Soṇa on his way back to join a multitude of villagers who were to pay their respect to the Buddha, who was at that time staying at Gijjhakūṭe pabbate7 near Rājagaha. After their arrival the Buddha held a gradual discourse8 about various mundane themes like giving, morality, the vanity of sensual enjoyments and the benefit of renouncing these. Buddha thus prepared the villagers for an additional talk on the four Noble Truths9 after which they paid their respect with rejoiced spirits and took refuge as lay followers for their entire life10 before returning home.
While the youth Soṇa took part in this gathering and listened to the discourse of the Buddha he reflected on his worldly affairs and realized that it seemed to be difficult for a householder to walk the pure path of Dhamma. He decided to approach the Buddha and asked for ordination, he received admission, took robes and withdrew to the cool, shady grove of Sītavane. The Sītavane-grove was located near a cemetery so Soṇa hoped to remain undisturbed by visitors who used to come and pay their respect to him as they had done in his life as a layman. Reflecting on his situation the thought arose in him that because of his being extremely tender and his unfamiliarity to any effort in his previous life he should henceforth exert special and strenuous additional efforts to invigorate himself. Therefore, he decided to permit himself during his meditation two positions only: standing and walking.
With this extreme mis-interpretation he construed āraddhavīriyā with the result that his feet soon became covered with boils and blood – but not withholding his efforts he continued crawling on his knees and elbows while his entire walkway became red with blood. His path was soon covered with blood as if a slaughter had been performed.
Exhausted and wearied Soṇa then conceived the idea that he would not be able to put forth enough vīriyā and decided to return back home. There he planned to enjoy his possessions and to otherwise perform wholesome good deeds (puññāni ca kareyyaṃ). It was here that the Buddha read the thoughts of the Venerable Soṇa, appeared in front of him and delivered the discourse as partly represented in this lesson. In the presented simile the Buddha refers to the vīṇā (today’s India’s veeṇa) as an instrument that Soṇa used to play in his householder’s life. The veeṇa had been specially selected as the suitable musical instrument for him, because Soṇa could learn it by sitting easily in a relaxed position at any comfortable location.
It may be of interest to note that the Buddha here refers to one of the ‘benefactors’ for the development of the factors of enlightenment – as highlighted in the previous lesson:
‘‘Evamevaṃ kho, soṇa, accāraddhavīriyaṃ uddhaccāya saṃvattati, atisithilavīriyaṃ kosajjāya saṃvattati. Tasmātiha tvaṃ, soṇa, vīriyasamathaṃ adhiṭṭhahaṃ, indriyānañca samataṃ paṭivijjha, tattha ca nimittaṃ gaṇhāhī’’ti.11 – “Now in this very way, Soṇa, putting forth too strenuous energy is conducive to restlessness, if energy is being put forth too sluggish it is conducive to slothfulness. Therefore, Soṇa, you should determine on exerting your energy evenly, likewise mastering the faculties evenly and taking up a meditative object!”
Indriyānañca samataṃ paṭivijjha or indriyasamattapaṭipādanā was translated as–cultivating consistency of balance in the five controlling faculties and thus points to the sameness and evenness of all five indriya. The commentary explains it as:
· Vīriyasamataṃ adhiṭṭhahāti vīriyasampayuttasamataṃ adhiṭṭhāhi, vīriyaṃ samathena yojehīti12 attho: - Determine on exerting your energy evenly, the meaning is to combine one’s energy with tranquillity.
· Indriyānañca samataṃ paṭivijjhāti saddhādīnaṃ indriyānaṃ samataṃ samabhāvaṃ. Tattha saddhaṃ paññāya, paññañca saddhāya, vīriyaṃ samādhinā, samādhiñca vīriyena yojayamāno indriyānaṃ samataṃ paṭivijjha. Sati pana sabbatthikā, sā sadā balavatīyeva13 vaṭṭati: - Mastering the faculties evenly, the faculties starting with faith should be made evenly balanced. Thus, faith combined with wisdom, wisdom with faith, energy with concentration, concentration with energy – in this way evenly balanced arising of the spiritual faculties is acquired. But resilient sati needs to be established everywhere, sati should always remain strong.
· Tattha ca nimittaṃ gaṇhāhīti tasmiṃ samathe sati, yena ādāse mukhabimbeneva nimittena uppajjitabbaṃ, taṃ samathanimittaṃ vipassanānimittaṃ magganimittaṃ phalanimittañca gaṇhāhi, nibbattehīti attho. - Taking up a meditative object: With such quietude and awareness the object should arise clearly like the image of one’s face in a mirror then one should establish such object like tranquillity, vipassanā, the path and the fruit thereof, this is the meaning.
In this way the Buddha explained the proper mode of meditation14 leading to Arahant-hood to the Venerable Soṇa who thereupon continued in a balanced way as per instruction - putting forth energy and endeavour evenly - upon which he attained liberation and was given the etadagga-title. It is said that in one of his previous lives Soṇa, then called Sirivaḍḍha, had encountered a situation, where Buddha Padumuttara had announced the title of etadagga āraddha vīriya (foremost in putting forth energy) to one monk. Inspired by seeing this Sirivaḍḍha took a vow to follow the example of this very monk and received the prophecy by Padumuttara Buddha of future achievement under Buddha Gotama.
Venerable Soṇa’s tenderness later gave rise to the relaxation of the rule for Bhikkhus to walk with bare feet. When the Buddha recognised that the Venerable Soṇa’s feet started bleeding easily and very quickly, he wanted to allow him to use sandals, but the Venerable Soṇa didn’t accept this relaxation because he feared a bad reputation. Therefore the Buddha allowed the use of sandals for all the members of the Saṅgha likewise. The Cammakkhandhako relates how this regulation had to be modified repeatedly, after a number of Bhikkhus, especially the notorious group of six (chabbaggiyā bhikkhū) misused this allowance by using first thick, then colourful and later all kind of conspicuous material and even started neglecting their duties by preparing sandals themselves. Here is an example depicting why and how regulations in the ancient past were formed, developed and had to be adapted and amended as there had been members of the Saṅgha who misinterpreted these rules due to lack of deeper understanding.
1. samīrati: to be moved
2. Soṇasuttaṃ, Dutiyapaṇṇāsakaṃ, Mahāvaggo, Chakkanipātapāḷi,
3. The account of Soṇathera appears as mentioned above in the Aṅguttaranikāyo and likewise, with more historical details in the Mahāvaggapāḷi, Vinayapiṭake where the current lesson is taken from.
4. vīriya, highlighted as āraddhavīriya comprises the unrelenting, unyielding mental energy behind all endeavors. vīriyaṃ ārabhati is the indispensable constituent of sammāvāyāmo. See lesson 3.7.1: Sammāvāyāmo - Vibhaṅgasuttaṃ-7 - What is Right Effort?
5. Dutiyavaggo, Etadaggavaggo, Ekakanipātapāḷi, Aṅguttaranikāyo
6. Tassa pādatalesu lomāni jātāni honti. For this and the following quotations see: Soṇakoḷivisavatthu, Cammakkhandhako, Mahāvaggapāḷi, Vinayapiṭake
7. Gijjhakūṭe is translated as the ‘Vultures peak’, here the Buddha liked to stay because of its solitude. The hill is located about two and a half miles to the north-east of Rajagaha and its name today is supposed to be Sailagiri.
8. … anupubbiṃ kathaṃ kathesi, seyyathidaṃ – dānakathaṃ sīlakathaṃ saggakathaṃ, kāmānaṃ ādīnavaṃ okāraṃ saṃkilesaṃ, nekkhamme ānisaṃsaṃ pakāsesi.
9. … dhammadesanā, taṃ pakāsesi – dukkhaṃ, samudayaṃ, nirodhaṃ, maggaṃ
10. … Upāsake no bhagavā dhāretu ajjatagge pāṇupete saraṇaṃ gate
11. the vocabulary is provided in the lesson here
12. yojeti – (caus. of) yuñjati: yoke, harness, unite
13. balavatīyeva: balavata + ī + yeva: stronger + even
14. …… evamassa satthā arahatte pakkhipitvā kammaṭṭhānaṃ kathesi.
Pāli lesson (with audio) 3.7.10
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