Ekottarika Āgama, Book of Ones, Chapter 10

This month the remainder of Chapter 10 of the Ekottarika Āgama (EĀ) was released at Dharma Pearls.

Chapter 10 is a set of ten sūtras that revolve around themes of making merit, especially through generosity. This group of sutras, whose subject is often perceived as primarily a concern for lay Buddhists, are directed at both lay and monastic audiences. This chapter also includes a pair of sūtras that make mention of bodhisattvas in a context that appears inspired by Mahāyāna teachings or their precursors in paracanonical sources like the Jātaka and Avadāna stories. Below is a quick summary of the Chapter.

EĀ 10.1 No Pride

EĀ 10.2 No Pride (2)

This first pair of sūtras take carefulness as their subject, despite their titles which reference their concluding verses. EĀ 10.1 defines carefulness as taking care not to let contaminating things affect them. Guarding their mind, a monk can be around such things without being contaminated with ignorance, desire, or existence. The three contaminants are equated with the five hindrances, for their absence makes it possible for the practitioner to seclude themselves and achieve liberation. EĀ 10.2 defines carefulness as taking care not to harm any sentient being while practicing the good teaching. Here, the good teaching is the eightfold path.

Both of these sūtras appear to expand upon some older sūtra similar to Iti 23. This is especially true of EĀ 10.2 because it shares the same basic statement (“carefulness in the good teaching”) with the Pali parallel (translated by Sujato as “diligence in good qualities”).

EĀ 10.3 Recollecting Generosity

This sūtra takes up the topic of the relationship between a donor and the monk that they support, from the point of view of the monastic involved. The Buddha says that donors should be properly devoted in the way a son or daughter is toward their parents. Conversely, the monk should treat donors with kindness in all three kinds of action, for doing so ensures that the donor’s gifts will get them a great reward (i.e., the monk will be a proper field of merit). Thus, the relationship serves as a way for a monk train himself in kind behavior. The sūtra is concluded with five stanzas on the rewards of generosity, which range from rewards of wealth in this world to birth in heavens and achievement of the Buddha path. The last stanza appears to indirectly reference to the perfection of generosity practiced by bodhisattvas.

EĀ 10.4 Generosity

This sūtra takes up a similar topic as the previous sutra, but here Anāthapiṇḍada makes an appearance. The Buddha begins by telling the monks that a proper donor renders service and support to the sangha is like someone who helps lost people find their way or needy people to get food. They are like a farmer who removes rocks and debris from the fields that he tends. At this point, Anāthapiṇḍada comes forward and praises the Buddha, saying that both donors and their recipients are like auspicious vases (meaning magical containers that provide anything a person needs). Anāthapiṇḍada then invites the Buddha and monks to his home for a meal. After the meal, he invites the monks to get whatever they need from his home. After the Buddha departs, we are informed that Anāthapiṇḍada held five different charitable events around the city, which causes the Buddha to declare him the best layman at generosity.

EĀ 10.5 Generosity (2)

This sūtra serves as a follow-up to EĀ 10.4. Anāthapiṇḍada pays the Buddha a visit, and the Buddha asks him if he’s still holding charitable events like the ones described before. He confesses to wanting to give to all living things, even wild birds and other animals, because all sentient beings rely on food to continue to live. The Buddha agrees and commends Anāthapiṇḍada for understanding the heart of a bodhisattva’s generosity, again apparently referencing the perfection of generosity.

This sūtra is quite interesting for two reasons: First, it references a layman practicing as a bodhisattva. What distinguishes his bodhisattva practice is his feeling of universal altruism, which is similar to what we find in many Jataka stories. This principle was clearly an early underpinning of the bodhisattva ideal, that one that ideally eliminates prejudices about good and bad recipients of charity. The second reason this sūtra is interesting is because it provides us with some commentary about the famous saying that “all sentient beings rely on food,” which we find enshrined at the beginning of all versions of the Saṅgīti Sūtra (e.g., DĀ 9 and DN 33). This expression usually goes without much commentary, leaving many to assume it refers to the four nutriments. Here, however, it’s an expression of altruism, that all beings are in need of alms, not just mendicants.

EĀ 10.6 The Stingy and the Tireless

This sūtra is very similar to Iti 26, sharing a number of common expressions with the Pali parallel. That these two parallels are so similar from two clearly very different Buddhist traditions indicates that it must be quite old. Here, stinginess is identified as a moral failing that obstructs generosity. A monk should share even the last lump of food that he doesn’t eat and not begrudge it from others. Doing so equitably is a great virtue that leads to rewards that most people don’t realize, but the Buddha does.

EĀ 10.7 Merits of Generosity

Like the previous sūtra, this one is a close parallel to a Pali Iti equivalent, in this cause Iti 22. It shares many of the same details, such as the Buddha recounting various good rebirths as Śakra or as wheel-turning kings. For this reason, he tells the monks not to be afraid of making merits. The concluding verses make it clear that making merits creates the conditions for achieving Nirvāṇa, so it wasn’t considered to be contradictory to that goal.

EĀ 10.8 Māra the Wicked One

Here, another argument is made for monks to make merit: Because it stops Māra from being able to corrupt or obstruct them. This sūtra references the battle between the Buddha and Māra’s army of demons, which the Buddha won because of the merits he had made as a bodhisattva. The details found about this scene seem to match the Lalitavistara better than other sources, especially the mention of bodhisattvas having gathered at the bodhi tree.

EĀ 10.9 Bad Destinies

This simple sūtra identifies three things: A reason for not eliminating future births in bad destinies, for being born in good destinies, and for reaching Nirvāṇa. The first is a heart of disbelief, the second is a heart of belief, and the third is continuous mindfulness.

EĀ 10.10 One Person

The final sūtra of this chapter brings the reader back to recollection of the Buddha with a One Person sūtra that praises him as bringing fortune to all sentient beings in the world. This sūtra would seem to belong in Chapter 8, which was dedicated to this type of discourse.

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