Ajatashutru’s Freedom from Anger and Attachment

This is the fifth piece in the Venerable Geshe Lhundup Sopa’s introductory teachings, the “lessons before the lessons.” Commentary and spiritual writing prompts follow his lesson.

Ajatashutru, who was a cousin of the Buddha, was under the influence of very strong attachment. This story is a good example because it shows us how even a relative of the Buddha can be under the influence of a strong mental delusion. He began to compete with the Buddha for recognition. In this story Ajatashutru met up with a companion in evil, Devadatta, who ignited more aggression and more anger in him, until he ended up killing his own father.

Ajatashutru was then put in jail, where he learned from a cellmate that killing his father is one of the five serious crimes* that result in immediate retribution. They discussed how he would be reborn in a terrible hell-realm due to his actions. Upon hearing the Dharma from his cellmate, Ajatashutru’s faith in the Dharma practice arose. When he died he was indeed reborn into a hell-realm, however, he was only there briefly—like a ball that is dropped and then bounces right back up—and he did not experience extreme suffering while he was there.

* The five heinous crimes (mtshams-med lnga) are (a) killing our fathers, (b) mothers, or (c) an arhat (a liberated being), (d) with bad intentions drawing blood from a Buddha (trying to hurt the Buddha), or (e) causing a split in the monastic community (through ill-will).

The Faith of Conviction

Ajatashutru’s faith in the law of karma occurred after hearing the Dharma, and this then ignited his desire to learn and understand even more. This desire to listen was grounded in faith. The first step toward understanding the relationship between cause and effect— karma—is having an understanding of faith. Just like Ajatashutru, you need to develop the faith of conviction that unwholesome actions (causes) lead to negative results and that wholesome fruits come from positive actions (causes). This is not blind faith. The faith of conviction in causality is founded on studying the scriptures, and by investigating empirical and historical examples such as the stories of Angulimala and Ajatashutru. Clearly seeing the relationship between causes and their results will make you want to eliminate the negative aspects and achieve the positive aspects.

Nanda’s Freedom from Attachment

Nanda was the Buddha’s younger (step) brother. Although he was an ordained monk, his mind was continuously on thoughts of his beautiful former wife. (He had taken the vow of celibacy). He failed to practice virtue or study the doctrine because his mind was always on her. Day and night he longed for his former wife. The Buddha in this case used his mystical powers to take Nanda to heaven and reveal to him something more beautiful and lasting than the love and beauty of his wife. In the past Nanda didn’t know how the cultivation of virtuous actions/good karma would result in positive rebirths. But simply being motivated to get rewards was not enough for Nanda because then he began to desire and focus on what he would get in heaven. Again, he was attached to some outcome.

Therefore the Buddha took Nanda to hell to show him that this was a potential reality. In hell, people were being punished according to what they had done in their past lives, (experiencing the result of strong negative actions/karma).

Nanda became very frightened and was thus motivated to meditate on the path after this miracle of directly witnessing a hell-realm. He was an example of someone who overcame strong senses and attachment. This story reminds us how our attachments obstruct us by holding unreal things in our mind as real. When we do this, as Nanda did, we see them as attractive or unattractive, and from that the mental afflictions of attachment, hatred, jealousy, and so forth develop. Therefore you want to learn to become aware and try not to do things motivated by attachment.

The realization that getting love, power, or recognition, are all just illusions ignited by a mind obstructed by the three poisons can motivate us to practice more seriously. Nanda’s miracle reveals how important it is to follow through on your commitments and to practice the teachings wholeheartedly. You want to reach the point where your practice is ceaseless and where you cease to be obscured by clouds.

The Affliction of Anger

Udayana was someone who was so angry he killed his own mother. He took the vows of ordination but tried to sleep with another’s wife. His mother interfered with his plans and attempted to stop him. He was so caught in his attachment and his anger that he killed her. Anger is like a powerful fire that quickly engulfs and destroys a huge jungle of trees, flowers, and shrubs—it is one of the worst mental afflictions there is.

After killing his mother Udayana was kicked out of the Sangha. But He became strongly regretful of his actions and went on to build a temple, gather many monks, and became the abbot. Even so, after he died, he went to a hell-realm for a short time. He then was born into heaven where he followed the Buddha’s teachings.

The point is that karmic seeds of anger can be damaged by effective antidotes, at which point their full consequences will not arise. Even though, like Udayana, you may not yet have found an antidote that completely destroys the seeds of the afflictions, your practice of trying to find and apply appropriate antidotes can weaken the power of negative karmic seeds. Udayana still was reborn in a hell-realm but did not remain there long. The central point here is that by applying the antidotes you can essentially destroy the ability of negative karmic seeds to ripen into their full, potential negative consequences. You have weakened the seeds that will now only yield minor results.

Just Like the Buddha

These stories reflect how, following a time of acting out of ignorance and committing negative, evil acts, one can later tap into one’s basic intelligence in order to be free of these onerous past actions. You can liberate yourself. Whatever wrong you committed in the past, or if you wasted your life and you have done nothing valuable or beneficial, you can completely change and become liberated in this one lifetime. You can reintroduce and completely change your life’s path and affect your immediate and long-term future. Even in this one lifetime you can become quieter and calmer and this too is of great benefit to you and others. These stories show how this is so. Even if you don’t experience full liberation as a result of confession and adopting good behaviors and abandoning negative ones (becoming careful) you will have gotten on the right path and you will experience some immediate freedom.

There is temporary cessation and permanent cessation, temporary freedom (cessation) and permanent freedom. Nagarjuna was teaching both of these to the kings. You come to understand that you do not want to be born in a lower realm, even one step down. People are often uncomfortable when these lower realms are brought up, especially the lowest hell-realms. But it is important to discuss this idea here, just as the Buddha brought it up to Angulimala to help liberate him. Even though we cannot see these realms, many stories and teachings warning us that these lower realms exist. Not seeing something is not saying it doesn’t exist.

Temporary cessation may help in not going to a lower rebirth but permanent cessation would be final cessation from suffering and result in total liberation. Nagarjuna was teaching the king both temporary and final cessation (freedom). Once you abstain from mental delusions and the causes of suffering you achieve temporary cessation. A perfect and pure life, where you never fall down, means that you have attained full cessation.

Even if you don’t experience full liberation you can be on the path to liberation. You now have this precious opportunity for liberation from suffering. You have the means to clear your life of obstructions. You have this natural, basic intelligence giving you the opportunity to hear and practice the Dharma. You, like all other living beings, have a capacity for full liberation, just like the Buddha.

Remember, the Buddha was just like us and then later found the special path and achieved freedom and complete enlightenment. The Buddha left many, many teachings—one hundred volumes of scriptures—on how to live and achieve liberation. Then came more commentaries on the Buddha’s teachings. As a result, we have much material available to us from which to learn and practice the Dharma. All these teachings are to help us achieve liberation from suffering and obstructions.

We humans have such short lives but such huge minds. Our mind is unlimited and, if properly trained, has the great potential in our own lifetime to help us achieve enlightenment. It gives us the means to protect our self from a lower rebirth and to be born into a higher one.

My Commentary

I often witness how we create heaven and hell states right here based on our beliefs, choices and actions. Whether or not we take this story above literally or metaphorically, the message remains the same­­–our present actions are the foundation for our future experiences whether they be in this or future lives. Nature points to this all the time–what any living thing becomes is based on what it is now.  The key for a happy present or future life is an awareness of karma. How can we transform any negative states if we remain unaware of there impact?

Being aware of what obstructs our happiness in the moment can bring great results now and later.

Many people comment on how generous I am. And I am. But I also carry a seed of jealousy inside of me. Therefore, generosity is both my antidote and highest expression of who I am. When jealousy comes knocking I know it arises from the false perception that there is a limited amount of goodies to go around. It is my pain story of “entitlement” kicking in. (“I am entitled and there is only so much to go around so when someone else gets it there may not be enough left for me”). For me “it” is usually recognition of some sort. Every time I choose to take the path of generosity, through my maintaining the spirit of my Lojong practice, I strengthen my generosity and joy. When I foolishly believe my pain story and fester any jealousy I strengthen its story-line.

So, I choose to plant the seed of generosity now so as to harvest the results of this seed later.

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”–Rumi

Spiritual Writing Prompts

  • Write about a relationship that has had a negative influence on you.
  • Write about one of your negative (afflictive) states, be it jealousy, anger, or (choose one). Write first a real story of how it has arisen in your life. Than re-write (re-myth) the story by bringing in an antidote. Witness in your exploration how regret, compassion, generosity, mindfulness, etc., transform a pain story into a story of freedom.
  • Write about a tree’s next life. Find a tree that you appreciate, imagine its death and “rebirth.” What will it be . . .

“The sun rises each morning to shed light on the things we may have overlooked the day before.” –Tyler J. Herbert

17 thoughts on “Ajatashutru’s Freedom from Anger and Attachment

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