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Listening to the breath

Rahula, the son of the Buddha Gotama, had wished to emulate his father’s enlightenment and became a well-practiced monk, even in his early childhood.

When Rahula was seven years old, his father, the Buddha Gotama, instructed him at the Bamboo Grove of the Squirrels’ Feeding Ground near Rajagaha, at the Mango Stone.

Rahula had been meditating in seclusion when he noticed his father arriving. He set out a seat and water for his father, and, out of respect, washed his father’s feet after he had sat down.

Gotama noticed there was a little water left on the water dipper, and said to Rahula, “Rahula, do you see this little bit of leftover water?”

“Yes, Sir,” said Rahula to his father.

“That is how little contemplation there is in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie.”

Gotama then tossed away the little bit of leftover water, and said to Rahula, “Rahula, do you see how easily that water is tossed away?”

“Yes, Sir,” said Rahula.

“Rahula, whatever a person has attained by contemplation is just as easily tossed away when they tell a deliberate lie.”

Gotama then turned the dipper upside down, and righted it. “Rahula, do you see that this water dipper is turned upside down, and is now empty and hollow?”

“Yes, Sir,” said Rahula.

“Whoever feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie is empty and hollow, just like that, Rahula.”

They sat a while. Then Gotama said to Rahula, “Rahula, there is no evil a person who feels no shame in telling a deliberate lie is capable of. Rahula, you should train yourself to not tell a deliberate lie, even in jest.”

They sat a while longer. Then Gotama said to Rahula, “Rahula, what do you think a mirror is for?”

Rahula said, “for reflection, Sir.”

“In the same way, Rahula, bodily actions, verbal actions and mental actions reflect upon the heart, and should be in turn reflected upon. Consider, whenever you want to do something with your body, whenever you want to speak, whenever you think, will your desired action lead to self affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Consider if it would be unskillful, with painful consequences, painful results? If it is unskillful, if it causes harm, it is unfit for you to do. While you undertake the action, be conscious of your action, reflect that what you do was done with prior-contemplation, and reflect upon whether it is, as you anticipated, skillful or unskillful, whether it afflicts yourself, others or both. You need not continue your actions, if you reflect that it is something you should not do.”

“Rahula, it is by continual reflection that you will purify your bodily actions, verbal actions and mental actions.”

Rahula was gratified by his father’s teaching.

When Rahula grew older, his father, the Buddha Gotama, continued to instruct him, raising him righteously. At Rahula’s moments of difficulty, Gotama would first remind Rahula of his vows as a monk. Then, he would encourage him, “associate with good friends and choose a remote lodging, secluded, with little noise. Be moderate in eating. Do not crave for robes, food, medicine or dwelling places. Be restrained, and disciplined. Control your senses. Practice mindfulness and develop dispassion, do not seek pleasure or avoid pain. Cultivate a mind that is concentrated and collected. Get rid of your tendency toward conceit.”

One day, Gotama taught Rahula, “Rahula, any form whatsoever that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: every form is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: ‘This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.’”

Rahula had heard the lesson before, “Just form?”

“Form, Rahula, and feeling. And perception. And imagination. And consciousness.”

It was at that moment that Rahula understood that he was not acting like any other monk. He had received a private lesson from the Buddha Gotama! Other monks, having received private teaching from the man whom he knew only as his father, would be exhorted. Rahula became aware of his own attachments to the form of his father and himself, and how they prevented him from being exhorted like any other monk. To know there was more attachment than to form, but to remain attached to them, was foolish, and disrespectful; it was unskillful. He need not continue acting unskillfully.

Sariputta saw Rahula sit down right there, at the foot of a tree, with mindfulness, struggling with this new awareness. He approached Rahula, and said, “Rahula, practice your breathing meditation. The meditation of breathing is of great benefit.”

Rahula practiced the meditation all afternoon, and then sought Gotama, his father. “Sir, how is breathing meditation to be practiced for greatest benefit?”

Gotama said, “in practicing breathing meditation, a monk will go into the wilderness to the shade of a tree, or into an empty building, sitting down, mindful of his breathing in, and breathing out. Breathing in, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in.’ Breathing out, he discerns ‘I am breathing out.’ If he breathes deeply, he discerns that. If he breathes shallowly, he discerns that. By his breathing, he discerns his entire body, its organs, its tissues, its fluids, its air, its wastes, even his mind. He understands the nature of his form, his feeling, his perception, his imagination, his consciousness. He calms his attachment to his form. He steadies and satisfies his mind, releasing it. He develops good will, and abandons ill will; he develops compassion, and abandons cruelty; he develops appreciation, and abandons resentment; he develops equanimity, and abandons irritation; he becomes aware of beauty, and abandons his desire; he becomes aware of inconstancy, and abandons his conceit of ‘I am.’ Breathe in and out, and be aware of your breathing, your body, its numerous tissues and organs, its form, and the form of the air you are breathing, and the form of the world in which you are sitting. Breathe in and out, and understand, whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation.”

“The form of your body is not yourself. Neither is the form of your world, nor the form of your work, your clothes, your other possessions, your home, nor any other form you take. If form were self, then form would not lead to suffering, and when it did, a person could change their form to avoid that suffering. But since form is not self, it leads to suffering, and no one can change their form to avoid the suffering from their form.

Neither are your emotions yourself. If feeling were self, then emotion would not lead to suffering, and a person could prevent emotions from leading to suffering. But emotions are not self, and they both lead to suffering, and a person cannot prevent them from leading to suffering.

Neither are your perceptions and beliefs yourself. Neither are your thoughts self. Neither is your consciousness yourself.

What do you think, monk? Are form, emotion, perception, thought or consciousness permanent? Or are these things impermanent and changing in nature?

Rahula said, “They are impermanent and changing, Sir.”

“Is that which is impermanent and changing satisfactory or unsatisfactory, monk?”

“Unsatisfactory, Sir.”

The Buddha Gotama then taught,

“Unsatisfactory, impermanent and changing, it would be improper to claim them as your own, or what you are, as your self. Therefore, regard all your forms, past, present or future, internal or external, coarse or fine, lofty or low, far or near, any form you should regard as not yours, not what you are, not yourself. Therefore, also regard your emotions, perceptions, thoughts and consciousness thus: ‘this is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’”

“The novelty of their enchantment diminishes with such wisdom and you shall grow weary of form, weary of emotion, weary of perception, weary of thought, weary of consciousness. Consider that they continue an existence of self, extend and increase your suffering. In this way you shall grow weary of self. Growing weary of self, you shall become free of desire to continue it, free of the fear of its ending, you shall become free of ignorance. In your freedom, you shall understand you are free, and that is a good beginning.”

Rahula delighted in Gotama’s words.

Shortly thereafter, Rahula, son of the Buddha Gotama, attained his own enlightenment, and on that day said:

“I am known as Rahula. It is said I am of noble birth, but now I am of even more noble family. I am fortunate because I am now truly the son of the Buddha Gotama, because I understand the Dharma, because my suffering is ended. Having perceived my past self, gained knowledge of the passing away and rearising of my self, my self shall become no more. I am no longer one of those who are blinded by form. I have cut through Mara’s bond. I am now free.”