Comments on Salient Points in the Sampasadaniya Sutta
by U Ko Lay
But when a Buddha appears after the lapse of an incalculably long period of time (asankhyeyya), the world is slow and hesitant to take advantage of his appearance, not fully appreciating his virtues and attributes, not realizing his main objective—that of helping beings to escape from rebirth, the endless cycle of suffering.
Gotama Buddha had to take great pains to show a and prove, through precepts and practice, that, unlike other religious teachers, he was truly the Exalted One, the, Homage-Worthy, the Perfectly Self-Enlightened.
Even as long ago as the time of the Dipankara Buddha, the Bodhisatta, the Future Gotama Buddha, as Hermit Sumedha, had made a firm resolve in three bold declarations "Tinno tareyam, mutto moceyam, buddho bodheyam" which means:
"I will not go alone to the Other Side (i.e. Nibbana),
I will help other beings too to cross to the Other Side;
I will not seek liberation for myself alone,
I will help other beings too to attain liberation;
I will not get enlightened for myself alone,
I will help other beings too to get enlightenment,
to come to know the Four Noble Truths."
After that momentous event, during the following long period of four asankhyeyya and one hundred thousand worlds, as a Bodhisatta he had subjected him self to a rigorous course of training for perfection in ten virtues known as paramis (ten perfected virtues).
(For details, see Comments on the Brahmajala Sutta )
Even the group of Five Bhikkhus who had been his attendants for six years were at first hesitant to accept his word that he had truly become a Supremely Enlightened Buddha, capable of helping them to get liberation if they would listen to his Teaching and practise as he would instruct.
Even when ultimately the five bhikkhus and hundreds of others following them came to accept him as their Teacher and walk along the Path shown by him, they could not fully appreciate and understand all the virtues of a Buddha.
Thus in Brahmajala Sutta of Silakkhandha Vagga, Digha Nikaya, it was pointed out that although Brahmadatta was praising the Buddha, he could do so only in terms of sila which he as a puthujjana grasped and understood.
As such he could not adequately bring forth all the virtues of a Buddha he was not developed enough even to have a glimpse of the Buddha's Sabbannuta Nana which is "profound, hard to see, hard to comprehend, tranquil, noble, surpassing logic, subtle and intelligible only to the Ariyas".
The Buddha therefore took the opportunity to provide, by means of a detailed discourse, a glimpse of certain aspects of the Sabbannuta Nana which had enabled him to see through the sixty-two wrong views prevalent at that time.
In the Sampasadaniya Sutta, the Buddha appeared to be gently chiding the Venerable Sariputta for stating boldly that he had such a firm faith in the virtues of the Buddha, that he believed that there had never been,
But by asking the Venerable Sariputta whether he had the Cetopariya Nana to make such a brave utterance and a definite statement, the Buddha gave him an opportunity to bring out for the benefit of the audience assembled round him the virtues of a Buddha in greater detail to the extent possible for a Chief Disciple to know them.
But he could not fathom the full extent and depth of these 'virtues.
A brief explanation,, is needed with regard to the term Savaka Parami Nana.
they have realized what is to be realized (Cessation of Dukkha); they have eliminated what is to be eliminated (Tanha, Craving); they have practised what is to be practised (the Noble Path, the Life of Purity); and they have attained what is to be attained (Nibbana).
A Paccekabuddha is superior to a Chief Disciple because he has attained the four maggas by himself like a Buddha. But unlike a Buddha, he does not possess Sabbannuta Nana and is not capable of teaching the Four Noble Truths.
A Buddha achieves the four maggas and simultaneously becomes endowed with Sabbannuta Nana, which enables him to know all there is to know. He also comes to possess the ten special nanas of a Buddha, which form a part of the Sabbannuta Nana.
(See Comments on Brahmajala Sutta.)
This set him wondering.
He at once endeavoured to survey the event and depth of the virtues of sila, samadhi and panna of a Buddha by going over them in groups of twos, threes, fours, fives, etc., until he arrived at the Mahavajira Nana of the Buddha.
In his investigation of the virtues of the Buddha, the Chief Disciple of the Buddha, who was equipped with superior intellect and panna, could fathom these virtues only up to the level of the Mahavajira Nana.
A disciple of lower grade cannot possibly know the state of mind of a higher disciple; thus even a Chief Disciple is not in a position to know the complete extent and depth of a Buddha's Nana and mind.
Marvelling at the immensity, profundity, and subtlety of the Dhammas set forth by means of this limitless Sabbannuta Nana, the Venerable Sariputta reflected on how he had strongly resolved in the presence of the Anomadassi Buddha to become a Chief Disciple of a Buddha,
how he was fortunate to become now a Chief Disciple of the Gotama Buddha whose Sabbannuta nana was beyond his mental range, whose knowledge of the Dhamma was unfathomable, whose ability to teach the Dhamma was peerless.
The tide of piti (delightful satisfaction) that flushed through him was so overwhelming that he was impelled to proceed to the presence of the Buddha in order to express his fervent faith in and devotion to the Buddha.
When the Venerable Sariputta came out with the bold utterance of unshakable faith in him, the Buddha of course was well aware that the Venerable Sariputta was in no position to know the entire range of the Buddha's mind.
For the benefit of the community of the bhikkhus seated round him, the Buddha gave the Venerable Sariputta the opportunity to express an appreciation of the virtues of the Buddha and his Teaching, to the extent possible with the Savaka Parami Nana of a Chief Disciple.
He was fully convinced, therefore, that the Bhagava had truly cultivated the thirty-seven factors of Enlightenment and had fully attained the unsurpassed knowledge of the highest Path and the Supreme Enlightenment.
As was expected by the Buddha, the Venerable Sariputta's discourse on the sixteen categories of the Dhamma, in appreciation of the virtues of the Buddha, inspired intense devotional faith and piety in the minds of the assembled bhikkhus to their great benefit.
The Buddha advised the Venerable Sariputta to keep on giving repeatedly this discourse to the bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, to the layman and laywoman disciples in order to dispel any doubt and scepticism about the Tathagata and to promote their welfare.