An Auspicious Handful of Leaves Talks

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An Auspicious Handful of Leaves – Two Defining Suttas

by

Introduction

In the Simsapa Sutta, the Buddha uses the metaphor of a handful of leaves within a forest grove to skillfully teach the importance of developing his Dhamma as intended while avoiding the continually distracting embellishments, adaptations, and accommodations to his Dhamma.

In the Bhaddekaratta Sutta, the Buddha teaches the Refined Mindfulness required to recognize and abandon these corruptions to his Dhamma and the Refined Mindfulness required to hold in mind his authentic Dhamma.

Both of these suttas are powerful reminders of the simple purpose and direct practical focus of Siddartha Gotama’s Dhamma: Understanding Four Noble Truths.

Simsapa Sutta - A Handful of leaves

INTRODUCTION

The Simsapa Sutta is more commonly known as the “Handful Of Leaves” sutta. Here the Buddha is describing the pure and direct focus of his Dhamma. He knew the foolishness and cruelty of continuing ignorance of Four Noble Truths by teaching any “dharma” that would develop further confusion and deluded thinking. With great clarity and profound insight grounded in unsurpassed wisdom, and from awakened compassion, he taught a Dhamma free of anything extraneous, protective, or self-serving. It is due to this awakened man’s unconditioned commitment to only Four Noble Truths that the Buddha’s Dhamma continues in relevance and effectiveness 2,600 years after he first taught.

SIMSAPA SUTTA, A Handful of Leaves

SAMYUTTA NIKAYA 56.31

On one occasion the Buddha was staying with a group of disciples in a Simsapa (Indian Rosewood) forest in Kosambi. He reached down picking up a handful of leaves. He then asked those gathered: What is greater in number, the leaves in my hand or those in the trees?

The disciples replied “The leaves in your hand are few, the trees have many more.

“Just as the leaves in the trees are more numerous, the things that I know from direct knowledge are far more numerous than what I teach as my Dhamma. The reason I do not teach these other things is that they are not a part of my Dhamma, they are not related to my Dhamma, and they do not support the principles of a life integrated with the Eightfold Path. These other things do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to calm, to direct knowledge, to cessation, or to self-awakening. These other things do not lead to unbinding (from views ignorant of Four Noble Truths.)

“I teach Four Noble Truths: [1]

  1. This is stress.
  2. This is the origination of stress.
  3. This the cessation of stress.
  4. The Eightfold Path [2] is the path developing the cessation of stress.

“This is what I teach. I teach these things because they are related to my Dhamma and they support the principles of a life integrated with the Eightfold Path. These things that I teach lead directly to disenchantment, to dispassion, to calm, to direct knowledge, to cessation, and to self-awakening. These things that I teach lead directly to unbinding (from views ignorant of Four Noble Truths.)

“This is why I teach these things.

“So this is your practice:

  • Understanding stress
  • Understanding the origination of stress
  • Experiencing the cessation of stress.
  • Developing the Eightfold Path leading to the cessation of stress.

End of Sutta

THE BHADDEKARATTA SUTTA – MINDFULNESS OF WHAT IS OCCURRING

INTRODUCTION

The Bhaddekaratta Sutta teaches the importance of being mindfully present of life as life unfolds. Everything the Buddha taught during his forty-five-year teaching career was taught in the context of developing understanding of Four Noble Truths and release from clinging to self-referential views rooted in ignorance of these four truths.

The title of this Sutta means “an auspicious day.” An auspicious day in this context refers to a day that is significantly favorable towards developing awakening as the Buddha defines awakening: Developing a profound understanding of Dukkha and recognizing and abandoning all self-referential views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths.

Here the Buddha references The Five Clinging Aggregates[1] of form, feelings, perceptions, mental fabrications, and confused consciousness to describe an ignorant view of self. The Buddha teaches the importance of not being distracted to the past or to the future and to remain mindfully present with life as life occurs.

My comments below are in italics.

THE BHADDEKARATTA SUTTA

MAJHIMA NIKAYA 131

The Buddha was staying in Savatthi, at Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. There he addressed the monks: “Friends, I will teach you the meaning of an auspicious day:

  • Do not chase after the past or project your thoughts to the future.
  • Not entangled with the world, be mindful only of what is occurring.
  • Free of distraction, well-concentrated, develop compassion informed by wisdom.
  • Mindfully engage with what is skillful.
  • The future is uncertain and death occurs equally for all.
  • Those who remain mindfully engaged with life as life occurs throughout the day have had a truly auspicious day.

“And how does one avoid chasing after the past? One does not get carried away with the delight that ‘in the past, I had such a form (body),  in the past, I had such a feeling, in the past, I had such a perception, in the past I had such a fabrication, in the past I had such a consciousness.’ This is called not chasing after the past.

“And how does one not project their thoughts onto the future? One does not get carried away with delight that ‘in the future I might have such a form, in the future I may have such a feeling, in the future I might have such a perception, in the future I might have such a fabrication in the future, I might have such a consciousness.’ This is called not projecting thoughts onto the future.

Notice the I-making through self-referential views in these statements.

“And how does one become entangled with the world?  An uninstructed ordinary person lacking understanding of the dhamma sees form as the self or the self as form. Confused, they see feeling as self or the self as possessing feeling. Confused, they see their perceptions as self or the self as possessing perceptions. Confused, they see their fabrications as self or their self as their fabrications. Confused, they see their consciousness as self or their self as their consciousness. This is what is meant by becoming entangled with the world.

“And how is one not entangled with the world? A follower of the dhamma, who is well-versed and well-trained in the dhamma does not see form as self or the self possessing form. With Right View established they do not see feeling as the self or the self possessing feelings. With Right View established they do not see perceptions as self or the self possessing perceptions. With Right View established they do not see fabrications as self or the self possessing fabrications. With Right View established they do not see consciousness as the self or the self possessing consciousness. This is called not being entangled with the world.

“To develop an auspicious day remain present with your life as your life occurs. Do not chase the past or project your thoughts to the future. Remain free of entanglements with the world and mindful of what is occurring. Be mindful of impermanence and uncertainty. Those that do so will have an auspicious day. So says this Peaceful Sage.”

End of Sutta

Understanding this short sutta does require a general understanding of the entire Buddha’s dhamma. In this sutta, the Buddha is describing the distraction arising from the preoccupation with dukkha that is rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths. A mind distracted from constantly seeking temporary pleasures or avoiding temporary disappointments is distracted from what is occurring and their mind is agitated.

A distracted mind is always seeking to establish itself as a memory or as a projection driven by self-identification. From initial ignorance of Four Noble Truths a seemingly permanent form arises animated by feelings and the resulting perceptions and mental fabrications that can only continue conditioned, confused thinking.

As wisdom and understanding develop through the Eightfold Path the Five Clinging Aggregates are seen as the vehicle for continued suffering and recognized as a product of ignorance.

Understanding now reveals the reality of the ongoing process of human life free of entanglements with the world while remaining mindfully present with life as life occurs.

An auspicious day is developed with direct engagement with the Buddha’s Dhamma and supports an auspicious life resulting in lasting peace and happiness.

Additional and more recent talks on these suttas are linked below ↓

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