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BSQ Tracts on Buddhism No. 15

The Buddha's Sermon at the Bamboo Gate

[Veludvâreyya Sutta]

To Men and Women in Society
Grossly Involved in their Social Commitments

by Ven Bhikkhu Dhammavihâri


  1. Publishers Note
  2. The Preamble
  3. The Silas
  4. The Reward
  5. APPENDIX Extracts from the Sutta


This Essay was first issued by the Washington Buddhist Vihara, Washington DC 20011, USA (n.d.)

It was published by the BSQ to mark the visit of the author to Brisbane, April 1994.

The Veludvârasutta occurs is the Sayutta Nikâya, Book XI (Sotâpatti Sayutta) Ch. 1 vii (PTS edition V, pp. 353-357) and is translated by F. L. Woodward, The Book of Kindred Sayings, Vol. V., pp 307-11.

It is a classic statement of the four principal "rules of training" undertaken by Buddhists (sikkhâpada). The fifth rule of the pancasîla (on intoxicating drinks) is not mentioned in this Sutta, as is the case with many of the other early ethical discourses of the Buddha recorded in the Pali Canon. In contrast to suttas given to bhikkhus emphasising higher disciplines this is a typical sutta given to "laypersons". The author (Ven Dhammavihâri) has given a clear and lucid exposition of this sutta, which has not generally received the recognition that it deserves.

The Appendix and subtitles have been added by the Publisher for this edition.

The Buddha's Sermon at the Bamboo Gate

1. The Preamble

The preamble to this sutta, like in most cases of excellent counselling of the Buddha to his disciples, such as the Mangala, Parabhava and Vasala suttas of the Sutta Nipâta (pp 46f, 18ff, 21ff) is dextrously presented in the most convincing style. As the Pali Buddhist texts consistently record, the Buddha was very regular in his journeying through the villages and towns of India, in the hope and belief that some among the suffering masses of the world, suffering materially as well as spiritually, would benefit from his words of wisdom. He was very conscious of the need for mankind to know his message, and to regulate their lives in terms of it.

The Buddha was not a mere emissary on earth, canvassing for or speaking on behalf of a Master who was believed to be dwelling elsewhere, away from the men and women whom he was addressing. He was the Master himself, par excellence, the Buddha said (aham hi arahâ loke aham satthâ anuttaro [Vin I, 8]). He is the one who sees, knows and understands their problems. Wherever he arrived, during fortyfive years of his missionary activity, the story soon got round from mouth to mouth, not only extolling him as a great teacher of gods and men (satthâ devamanussâna), but also as preaching a dhamma or way of life which was absolutely clean and wholesome (parisuddha and kalyâna) and fruitfully productive (paripunna and satta) for the success and happiness of mankind.

Even in legendary form we are told that Brahmâ Sahampati, the greatest of the heavenly beings of the Indian pantheon of the day, insisted that there would be many in the world of men and women who would suffer decline and deterioration through their inability to listen to his teaching (asavanâta dhammassa parihayanti [M 1 168]). Therefore Brahma prevailed upon the Buddha to preach his doctrine of compassion to the world assuring him that there would be many who would comprehend his teaching (bhavissanti dhamassa aññataro). In the Sutta Nipâta (vv 1120-23), we hear the words of the venerable Pingiya, the aged and decrepit brahmin who decided to join the order of the Buddha in spite of his advanced years. In his words we observe the highest level of assessment in which the world held the message of the Buddha. Thera Pingiya was, no doubt, looking up to the Buddha with a more definitely transcendental yearning. Pingiya whose vision was failing (netta na suddha), and who was short of hearing (savana na phasu) does not, as he himself says, wish to die in total ignorance (ma'ham nassam momuho), without knowing from the Buddha the way of escape from birth and decay, here and now (jatijaraya idha vippahana).

Little wonder then that wherever the Buddha went, there would gather to listen to him a massive audience for the most part of non-converts. They would often be traditional Brahmins who constituted the bulk of the native population of India during his time. Such was the gathering at the village of Veludvara or Bamboo Gate (S V 352f). It is interesting to note the very mixed and varied manner in which Brahmins approached and addressed the Buddha as they gathered there. Before taking their seats in his presence, some would offer his greetings (abhivâdetvâ), others would engage in pleasant conversation with him (sammodaniya katha saraniyam vitisaretvâ), and others would fold their hands together in adoration towards him (anjalim panametva). There were yet others who just sat down silently without a word (tunhi buta).

But when they took their turn to speak to him, they had but one single question to ask in one voice. They told him that they were men and women living in the household, who as elders in the families had to put up with being worried by the younger, i.e. their progeny (puttasambâdhasayanam ajjhavaseyyama). They said that they also enjoyed as laymen and laywomen the use of flowers, perfumes and make-up, and handled a lot of god and silver. Such were their desires and needs. They also, at the same time, aspired as much to be born in blissful heavenly worlds after death. Having thus declared to the Buddha their true philosophy of life and their aspiration, they wanted him to preach to them a dhamma whereby they would successfully achieve their heart's desires.

2. The Sîlas

The Buddha, opening his discourse to them spoke thus: "I teach you now this doctrine. Put yourself in the position of others. Imagine and experience both their comforts and discomforts, their joys and their sorrows. Feel for yourself their likes and dislikes. Live truly in the midst of others all the time" (Attupanayikam vo gahaptayo dhammapraiyayam dessissami. Tam sunatha sadhukam manasi karotha. bhavissami ti" [S V 353]). Thereupon, very convincingly he introduced to them the three bodily misdeeds of homicide or man slaughter, theft and sexual improprieties of premarital, marital and extramarital misbehaviour. These are repulsive misdeeds into which humanity at large seems to be slipping all the time. But a person of culture and refinement (ariyasâvaka), the Buddha says, would reflect thus: "I love to live and I do not wish to die. I love comfort and detest pain and suffering. This being so, if one were to attempt to kill me, it would certainly neither please me nor comfort me (na me tam assa piyam manapam). On the other hand, if I were to attempt to kill another who like me, loves and to live and loves to be happy and comfortable, it would not please him either. What is unpleasant and disagreeable to me would be equally unpleasant disagreeable to the other. How then could I inflict such injury on another?". Reflecting thus, he abstains from destruction of life. He prevents others from kill and destroying life. He speaks in praise of such abstention in this manner, the area of bis bodily activity is totally pure and refined (kâyâsamâcaro koiparisuddho).

He then reflects on the crime of theft and robbing others of their legitimate possessions and gives his verdict on it as being unworthy and socially unacceptable. On impropriety of sex relationships, he argues thus: "Any violence done to the virginity or chastity of the females of my household by any one (Yo kho me daresu carittam apajjeyuya) would distress me and cause me pain of mind on other?". Thus restraining himself he disapproves and discourages others from such action in society, in them idelst of men and women who equally well have a right to think and feel like himself.

Thereafter the Buddha introduces the fourfold offences through speech, namely lying, slander, harsh speech, and worthless and frivolous speech and points out their total disagreeability in society (appiyam amanâpam), both to oneself and to others. Pondering over these crimes through speech, he concludes that dishonestly in speech shatters plans and disrupts order (attham bhanjeyya), slander brings about disunity among friends and breaks up alliances (mittehi bhedeyya), harsh words hurt, and that worthless an frivolous speech serves no purpose and is by no means pleasing. Through this evaluative process of scanning and screening one's own conduct, one observes the baneful effects of one's misdeeds on others, and thus restrains oneself and contributes thereby to bring about the much needed restraint in the entire society.

In all these seven cases, the Buddha said that such standards of exemplary behaviour of abstention from the above quoted social crimes would be deemed totally perfect and blameless (koiparisuddho). What a perfect guarantee of comfort and happiness to each one, man or woman, when none inflicts on another what one does not like oneself to suffer. There could be no better universal ethic, with which a down-to-earth moral justification for international acceptance and inter-religious advocacy. Basing himself on the efficacy and worth of this ethical code and its prima facie value, the Buddha proceeds to recommend the acceptance with unwavering faith (aveccappasadena) of the Buddha, his unfailing philosophy of life or dhamma and his exemplary body of disciples or sangha whose lives prove the efficacy and the wroth of his philosophy as the bed rock of one's success in this human world.

This position of the acceptance of the Buddha, dhamma and sangha (referred to in Buddhist texts as saranagamana or taking refuge) brings one immediately within the fold of Buddhism as a religious creed. Therefore the Buddha further reinforces the religious and spiritual stability and solidarity of such a convert by recommending the acceptance and adhering to the pancasila and fivefold moral precepts which are assessed as being both cherished by the worthy ones (ariyakanta) and as leaîng to spiritual tranquillity or samadhi (samadhisamvattanika) on one's path to liberation or attainment of nibbana. The pancasila referred to here consists of the abstention from the three bodily misdeeds of killing, stealing and sexual impropriety and the fourth one of dishonesty in speech already indicated by the Buddha above. The fifth specific item of the pancasila is the precept which bars a person from partaking drugs and intoxicants which are declared to be impairing sanity of one's judgement (vissani)and disastrously damaging one's physical and mental soundness by destroying the structure of one's brain (pannâya dubbalikarani) and exposing one seriously to heath hazards (roganam ayatanam).

3. The Reward

Now we come to the grand finale of this rightly famous Sermon of the Bamboo Gate. We would recollect that the people of Veludvara, brahamins as they were, asked the Buddha for recipe to make their lives here on earth rich and resplendent, and to assure them of birth the blissful heavenly world after death. The way the Buddha indicated to them was unmistakably capable of guaranteeing both. What is exciting about this sermon is that it promises and guarantees a great deal more.

Here is the Buddha's own summing up of what he enunciated. The seven items of standardised conduct through word and deep (Issattahi saddhmmehi samannagoto hoti), and the four unassailable positions of the threefold refuge and the pancasila (imehi catuhi akankhiyehi thanehi samannagato) enables one in this very life to declare of oneself that he is a stream entrant or sotapanna and therefore that he shall not be born after death in any lower states of existence like the hells, animal existence or the hungry ghosts and that he is also definitely entitled to infallibly reach his enlightenment (niyato sambodhiparayano). What a precise lift off, religiously and spiritually, from earth and its mundane complications and being put in orbit, on a livelier and loftier transcendental plane.

On the completion of this Sermon at the Bamboo Gate, the Brahmin residents of Velkudvara who had assemble to listen to the Buddha declared, all in one voice, that they were all exceedingly delighted and that they were seeking refuge in the Buddha, dhamma an the sangha (Ete mayam bhagantam Gotamam saranam gacchâma, dhamman ca bhikkhusangham ca [S V 356). They told the Buddha that they wished to be assocaited with him as close disciples who would follow him and be loyal and faithful to him all their life. (Upâsake no bhavam Gotamo dharetu ajjatagge panupetam saranam gate ti).

As it was to the Brahmins of the Bamboo Gate, so shall it be to all mankind. Such is the precise and smooth passage of man from samsara or the world of mundane existence, with its manifold pleasures no doubt, but also with its multiple limitations, to nirvana which is the transcendental bliss. often described as unconditioned and therefore beyond birth and death. But this shall always be on the ground that the required precision and perfection needed of the lift off are acquired without any attempt at self-deception. As the Buddhist texts repeatedly put it: "To thine own self be true. For you shall indeed know the truth from falsehood" (atta te purisa janati saccam va yadi va musa [A I 149)].

APPENDIX: Extracts from the Sutta

A. The Supplication of the Veludvârins

Mayam bho Gotama evakâmâ evachandâ evamadhippâyâ, puttasambâdha-sayanam ajjhâvaseyyâma, kâsikacandanam paccanubhaveyyâma, mâlâgandha-vilepanam dhâreyyâma, jâtarûparajata sâdiyeyyâma, kâyassa bhedâ param maraâ sugati sagga lokam upapajjeyyâma. Tesa no bhava Gotamo amhâkam eva-kâmânam evachandânam evamadhippâyâna tathâ dhamma desetu yathâ maya puttasambâdgasataban ahhgâvasettâna sugati saggam lokam upapajjeyyâmâ ti.

B. The Buddha's Response

Idha gahapatayo ariyasâvako iti pausañcujjghatu, Aha kho smi jîvitukâmo sukhakâmo dukkhapaikkûlo yo kho ma jîvitukâmam amaritukâmam dukkha-paikkûlam jîvitâ voropeyya na me tam assa piyam manâpa. Ahañceva kho pana para jîvitukâmam amaritukâmam sukhakâmam dukkhapaikûla jîvitâ voropeyyam, parassa tam assa appiyam amanâpam. Yo kho myâya dhammo appiyo amanâpo parassa peso dhamma appiyo amanâpo, yo kho myâyam dhammo appiyo amanâpo kathaha para tena sayojeyyan ti. So iti paisakhâya attanâ ca pânâtipâta paivrato hoti, param ca panatipata vemaniya samadapiti., panatipata veramniya vannam bhasati. Evam assayam kayasamacaro ti kotiparisuddho hhoti.

[Similarly for the other six rules: adinnâdânâ, kâmesu miccâcârâ, musâvâdâ, pisunâya vâcâ, pharusâya vâcâ, and samphappalâpâ.]

C. The Denouement.

Yato kho gahapatayo ariyasâvako imehi sattahi saddhammehi samannâgato hoti. Imehi catuhi âkakhiyehi hânehi so âkakhamâno attanâ vâ attâna vyâkareyya. Khîanirayo mhi khîatiraccânayoniko khîapittivsayo khîâpâyaduggativinipâto sotâpanno ham asmi avinipâtadhammo niyato sambodhiparâyano ti.