Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa
2.1.4 Paṭhama-asappurisasuttaṃ- About an Unworthy Person
Āsevanā ca bālānaṃ, paṇḍitānañca sevanā;
pūjā ca pūjanīyānaṃ, etaṃ maṅgalamuttamaṃ.
Not consorting with fools, to associate with the wise;
To honour those worthy of honour, these are the Highest Welfares.1
The Paṭhama-asappurisasuttaṃ, the ‘first discourse about a person who is unworthy’ opens a series of shorter texts selected in this chapter to present the repeated warning of the Buddha. In many discourses he revealed his sole aspiration to point out nothing else but the way out of suffering. Most renown is the Sīsapāvanasutta2 where he parallels the thousands of leaves in a vast forest with the manifold questions one could ask out of curiosity, in contrast to equating the few leaves he holds in his hand with essential, crucial enquiries one should ask.
For this it is essential to avoid the bondages of lobha, dosa and moha. One of the first important steps in doing so is to take care of one’s company and association. The opening verses depict the seriousness of having suitable friends helping one to walk the path. Such kalyāṇamittā (virtuous friends) encourage, guide and support one in realising the Four Noble Truths by walking the Noble Eightfold Path.3 These ‘highest blessings’ are enlisted in the first gāthā of the famous Mahāmaṅgalasuttaṃ, which the Buddha communicated in his reply to the devas.4
Similar to today’s satellites that transmit information to any part of the earth in any imaginable detail, the Buddha clarified that — irrespective of background or foundation, from whatever source or starting point one may set out — nothing but the complete and full realisation of the Noble Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths would lead to liberation. That is why rather repetitive, shorter suttas are chosen in this chapter to convey the same content in ample variations and carry the same substance. They are also chosen to offer a opportunity for the reader to recite this important message by heart.
The Introductions to these suttas hope to shed some light on how such a beneficial teaching could at all disappear. They also express gratitude to so many saintly people by recapitulating how their devout efforts over the centuries succeeded in keeping the teaching intact. Even during the lifetime of the Buddha situations occurred, where one or the other impediments of moha, dosa and lobha overwhelmed some of his direct disciples and disharmony arose. Whether it was Devadatta in his ego-driven desire to lead the Saṅgha instead of the Buddha;5 the notorious group of six, the chabbaggiyā bhikkhū, who persistently worked on displaying their differences and presumed superiority over their fellow companions;6 the Bhikkhu Arittho, who did not agree to admit any wrongdoings; the Bhikkhu Sāti, who maintained his wrong view about the permanence of viññana; the occurrence of when Bhikkhu Kassapagottassa was accused of performing an offence and needed to approach the Buddha for clarification;7 the fraction caused among Bhikkhus dwelling at Kosambi which even the Buddha himself couldn’t pacify;8- all were victims of one of these inner stains. Some even left the Saṅgha.
Looking back in history shows that when the Buddha foretold the duration of the sāsana to Ānanda, he was correct. The teaching of the Buddha, as he foresaw, would be nearly lost in his motherland (today’s India) just about five hundred years after his final passing away. Even up to the second council, fractions developed in the Saṅgha and monks separated into what then were called Theravāda or Vihbajjavāda.9 Deliberate translations of the teaching into Sanskrit resulted into what was called Hīnayāna and further separation into Mahāyāna, Yogācāras and later Vajrayāna and even more splits followed.10 Only traces of the saddhamma had remained and could be found in India five-hundred years after the Buddha’s passing away.
Fortunately King Asoka had sent fully enlightened Theras to the neighbouring countries where the saddhamma remained intact till today and from where we providentially received it.11
1. Mahāmaṅgalasuttaṃ, Khuddakanikāye, Khuddakapāṭhapāḷi.
7. The Buddha rectified this reproach by replying that Kassapagottassa should return to the village of Vāsabha as he has not made any offence, was not fallen and not suspended: ‘‘Anāpatti esā, bhikkhu, nesā āpatti. Anāpannosi, nasi āpanno. Anukkhittosi, nasi ukkhitto. Adhammikenāsi kammena ukkhitto kuppena aṭṭhānārahena. Gaccha tvaṃ, bhikkhu, tattheva vāsabhagāme nivāsaṃ kappehī’’ti.
10. 2.1.11 Paṭhamabrahmannasuttaṃ & Dutiyabrahmaññasuttaṃ - About Being a Brahmañña and the Fruits thereof & The Purpose of Being a Brahmañña.