Rahulavada Sutta – The Buddha Teaches His Son

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In the Rahulavada Sutta, the Buddha teaches his son the proper application of refined mindfulness. The Buddha’s teachings of personal behavior are found in the virtuous factors of the Eightfold Path. Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood can be summarized as remaining harmless and free of clinging (including clinging to views of self) in thought, word and deed.

Rahulavada Sutta: Instructions to Rahula at Mango Stone

Majjhima Nikaya N 61

The Buddha was sitting with his son Rahula who was seven at the time. The Buddha asked Rahula if he saw the few drops of water left in the ladle the Buddha was holding.

Rahula replied that he did. The Buddha tells Rahula “that is how little understanding one has who tells deliberate lies.”

The Buddha then tosses away the few drops of water and tells Rahula “A person who feels no shame in telling deliberate lies has tossed away their mindfulness.”

The Buddha then turns the ladle upside down and tells Rahula “A person who feels no shame in telling deliberate lies has turned their mindfulness upside down.”

The Buddha then shows Rahula the empty ladle and says “Whoever feels no shame in telling a deliberate lie is as empty and hollow as this ladle. Anyone who feels no shame in telling deliberate lies is capable of any wrong-doing. Train yourself, Rahula, ‘I will not tell a deliberate lie for any reason, even jokingly.”

The Buddha asks Rahula if he knows what a mirror is for and Rahula replies “for reflection, sir.” The Buddha responds “In the same way your thoughts, words and deeds must be done with constant reflection. Reflect in this manner, Rahula: ‘Is this thought, word or deed skillful? Will it lead to harm for myself or others, or will it lead to release? Will this thought, word or deed bring more suffering for myself or others, or will it have a peaceful result? If upon reflection your thoughts words and deeds will have peaceful results then this is fit for you and fit for a person developing understanding.”

“Rahula, all those who purify their minds through continual reflection (mindfulness) will do so in just this way. Rahula you should train yourself in just this way through continual mindfulness of your thoughts, words, and deeds.”

End of Sutta

Of course, it takes great wisdom, developed through the Eightfold Path, to completely understand all of the effects of our thoughts, words and deeds. Mindfulness of thoughts, words, and deeds is supported by Right View and Right Intention and deepens as concentration develops through Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Meditation.

Even at a young age, Rahula was able to develop mindfulness of his thoughts, words, and actions and to develop heightened virtue. Rahula, guided by his father’s wisdom and direct path to awakening, became a monk, and in his lifetime put aside all clinging and awakened.

To some, mindfulness of personal behavior as behavior unfolds seems too mundane to be of much importance. Analyzing behavior becomes more important than simple recognition and renunciation. Rituals, conceptual applications, and outer forms often are more appealing means of practice. Developing and occupying a view of what it means to be a “Buddhist” can be as empty and hollow as an empty ladle if the virtuous factors of the Eightfold Path are overlooked or diminished in importance.

Mindfulness of thoughts, words, and deeds brings immediate understanding of clinging to objects and views. Mindfulness of clinging in the moment then brings the possibility of release, of unbinding, of Nibbana.

My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made contextual edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

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