The Mindfulness of Bahiya

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Bahiya Sutta

Udana 1.10

Bahiya was revered in his community as a person of great understanding. One day in seclusion Bahiya entertained the idea of whether he was an Arahant, an enlightened being, or was he lacking in some key understanding.

In meditation, a female deva told him that he was not yet an Arahant. In fact, his current practice did not have the qualities that could give rise to enlightenment. (the deva is metaphor for Bahiya’s own heightened awareness) He asked the deva (insight arose within him) if there was one in the world who knew the way to enlightenment.

The deva told Bahiya of the Arahant, a rightly self-awakened one who teaches his Dhamma. The Buddha was in Savatthi at the time. Bahiya immediately left to find the Buddha and learn the Dhamma.

He came upon a group of monks and asked if they knew where to find the Buddha. The monks told Bahiya that the Buddha was on his alms round. Bahiya went into town and came upon the Buddha. Bahiya feared impermanence and uncertainty and was concerned that he or the Buddha may die before he, Bahiya, received the Dhamma.

The Buddha was serene, at peace. Bahiya placed himself at the Buddha’s feet and asked: “Teach me the Dhamma Awakened one. Teach me the Dhamma for my long-term welfare and lasting happiness.”

The Buddha replied, “This is not the time, Bahiya, I am on my alms round.”

Bahiya pleaded “Awakened one, no one can know for sure the dangers there may be for you or for me. Teach me the Dhamma for my long-term welfare and lasting happiness.”

A second time the Buddha responded, “This is not the time, Bahiya, I am on my alms round.”

Again Bahiya pleaded “Awakened one, no one can know for sure the dangers there may be for you or for me. Teach me the Dhamma for my long-term welfare and lasting happiness.”

Finally, the Buddha relented: “I will teach you the Dhamma, Bahiya. Listen carefully to my words. Train your self in this manner: In what is seen, there is only the seen. In what is heard, there is only the heard. In what is sensed, there is only the sensed. In what is cognized, only the cognized.

This is how you should train yourself. When for you there is in what is seen only the seen, in what is heard only the heard, in what is sensed only the sensed and in what is cognized only the cognized, then Bahiya there is no you in connection with what is seen, heard, sensed or cognized, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor there nor anywhere in-between. This and only this is the end of stress and unhappiness.”

Upon hearing the words of the Buddha Bahiya’s mind cleared. Clinging and grasping, greed and aversion ended, and all self-referential views were extinguished. Bahiya awakened gaining full human maturity.

Shortly after Bahiya’s encounter with the Buddha and his enlightenment, he was attacked and killed by a cow. The Buddha, upon hearing of Bahiya’s death instructed some monks to retrieve the body, to cremate it properly and to prepare a memorial to Bahiya.

When completed the monks, knowing Bahiya’s awakening, asked the Buddha what Bahiya’s future state would be. The Buddha replied:

“Monks, Bāhiya was wise. He practiced the Dhamma in accordance with the Dhamma and did not pester me with issues not related to the Dhamma. Bāhiya, monks, is totally unbound.”

“Where water, earth, fire, & wind have no footing there the stars don’t shine, the sun isn’t visible. There the moon doesn’t appear. There darkness is not found. And when a sage, a brahman through great wisdom and discernment, has realized [this] for himself, then from form & formless, from bliss & pain, he is freed.”

End of Sutta

It is by being fully present with dispassionate mindfulness that we are able to truly see our attachments. In this brief teaching, the Buddha taught Bahiya to put aside all views of self arising from confused and deluded thoughts based on clinging and craving.

To truly understand any problem, the problem must be observed clearly, without discriminating thought and without a view of self attached to what is observed. This includes the immediate and mundane problems of the ever-changing physical world, and the individual and immediate problem of the distraction of stress and unhappiness.

In Dhamma practice, as dispassionate mindfulness develops, the distraction of the physical world and the distraction of our own individual stress and unhappiness is understood as the same distraction. The ego-personalities’ need for the people and events of the phenomenal world to be different than they appear to be is the distraction of stress.

It is the distraction of stress that leads to mindlessness and maintains stress and unhappiness, and the confusion of the ego-personality.

It is the very first teaching when the Buddha set the wheel of truth in motion that he describes the truth of all stress and unhappiness:

“Now this, monks, is the Noble Truth of stress, disappointment, unhappiness and suffering: birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful; separation from the loved is stressful; not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.” [2]

As a consequence of being born in this world, we are all subject to stress arising from impermanence and clinging. The five clinging aggregates describe the mental/physical components of the ego-personality in the phenomenal world. This is a Noble Truth in that it transcends time. It was true at the time of the Buddha and it is true today.

In describing the Noble Truth of Stress the Buddha is teaching to see clearly and with dispassion that these experiences are inevitable and are to be understood as impermanent manifestations of non-self or the ego-personality. Stress arises from the ego-personality wanting these and all other experiences to be different than they are. The ego-personality is what has taken form through the five clinging-aggregates. [A]

By putting aside all views of self, by letting go of the attachment to the ego-personality, no views are left to influence the experience of the present moment.  Clear vision and Right View then define our experience.

This is mindfulness of the Buddha’s Dhamma. Whole-hearted practice of Shamatha-Vipassana meditation within the framework of the Eightfold Path is what the Buddha taught to develop dispassionate mindfulness free of the ego-personalities discriminating and discursive views.

Through knowledge developed through whole-hearted engagement with the Dhamma the distraction of the world is overcome, stress and unhappiness are abandoned, and lasting peace and happiness prevails.

Bahiya was right to understand the immediacy of needing to awaken through the Dhamma. No one can know when sickness, aging and death will arise and this is why the Buddha gave these final instructions moments before he himself passed:

“Impermanence and decay are inevitable. Work diligently for your own salvation.” [3]

Enjoy your practice. Peace.

 

  1. Bahiya Sutta
  2. Samyutta Nikaya 56.11
  3. Mahaparinibbana Sutta

A. Five Clinging-Aggregates

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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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Becoming-Buddha.com and Dhamma articles and recordings by John Haspel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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