by Wayne Ren-Cheng
The Anguttara Nikaya is the fourth section of the Sutta Pitaka. Found there are eleven books (nipatas) arranged as numbered discourses — Book of Ones, Twos, Threes, etc. – numbered for how many lessons are meant to be realized in each discourse. Like any sutta one lesson or topic may be as beautiful as the white lotus that the Buddha held forth at Vulture Mountain, and in the Book of Ones that would be the lesson, that there is beauty in the dharma. The Book of Twos would take the reader deeper to the silence of thousands of disciples viewing that flower. The Book of Threes to Mahakasyapa’s enlightened moment. Each Book of the Anguttara Nikaya requires the reader to engaged in realizing deeper and deeper levels of Buddhist philosophy and practice.
There are also wonderful, and entertaining similes and parables to found in the Anguttara Nikaya. Tales that make the bodymind think differently, to realize in new ways the teachings of the Awakened One. From the Book of Threes comes the – Gadrabha Sutta: The Donkey.
“It is just as if a donkey were following right after a herd of cattle, saying, “I too am a cow! I too am a cow!” It’s color is not that of a cow, it’s voice is not that of a cow, it’s hoof is not that of a cow, and yet it still keeps following right after the herd of cattle, saying, “I too am a cow! I too am a cow!” In the same way, there is the case where a certain person follows right after the community of disciples, saying, “I too am a disciple! I too am a disciple!” He doesn’t have the other disciples’ desire for undertaking the training in heightened virtue, doesn’t have their desire for undertaking the training in heightened mind (concentration), doesn’t have their desire for undertaking the training in heightened discernment, and yet he still keeps following right after the community of disciples, saying, “I too am a disciple! I too am a disciple!”
“So you should train yourselves: ‘Strong will be your desire for undertaking the training in heightened virtue; strong will be your desire for undertaking the training in heightened mind (concentration); strong will be your desire for undertaking the training in heightened discernment.’ That is how you should train yourselves.”
Years ago my young nephew, who had recently joined the U.S. Air Force approached me and asked the question, “Can you tell me something about Buddhism?” He had never shown any interest in Buddhism before so I countered with the question, “Why the sudden interest?”
“Well, in basic training they require all recruits to attend church on Sunday unless they are of a different faith . . . Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist . . . or whatever. I plan to put down that I am a Buddhist so I can get out of it. Just in case they ask me something about being a Buddhist I figure I need to be able to answer.”
I replied, “Sure, what is your question?”
He got a confused look, “Huh . . . I don’t know what question to ask.”
Well, he went on and put down ‘Buddhism’ on the blank line for his religious preference. He has remained just as blank about Buddhism to this day. He saw ease and comfort in following the Buddhist “herd”, yet he had no intention or desire to actual be that which he sought out for camouflage.
Others follow the Buddhist ‘herd’ for different reasons. It seems cool, or avant-garde. They have read the books and watched the videos, and believe that can have the proper appearance, have the appropriate look, and can say the right words. They can appear intellectual and spiritual. Then, there are those that follow the Buddhist ‘herd’ to learn how they act, to begin to emulate them as part of a path to ‘being’ a Buddhist. This last group have the intent to shed the donkey and ‘become’ the cow. The herd teaches them, through example the appropriate moral and ethical character, the effort and concentration, and the mindfulness and compassion they’ll need to develop in order to not only look and think like the herd, but to actually be part of the herd . . . to step off the path of delusion and onto the Noble Path.
“Strong will be your desire for undertaking the training in heightened virtue; strong will be your desire for undertaking the training in heightened mind; strong will be your desire for undertaking the training in heightened discernment.’ That is how you should train yourselves.”
You have to come to the truth within your own bodymind of what will be your desire. Will that goal be one of being viewed as an intellectual and/or a spiritual human being . . . or will it be one of gaining the knowledge of how you, and the encompassing phenomena of the Universe really are, and developing a transformative positive character?
Choosing the latter path is the Noble Path. You’ll undertake the training of appropriate speech, action and livelihood that will lead to a virtuous character . . . and the desire to be a better human being will heighten. You’ll undertake the training of appropriate view and intent that will lead to a mind able to see the emptiness of delusion from the forms of the dharma, and act with the intent needed in each moment . . . and the desire to a better human being will heighten. You’ll undertake the training that will lead to a disciplined bodymind, one able to discern the appropriate effort, mindfulness and concentration needed on the Noble Path . . . and the desire to a better human being will heighten.
It will not be the desire that blinds the bodymind to the realities of a universe of conditioned arisings and falling away. It will be a desire that will lead to a deep understanding of the dharma and how your thoughts and actions can be make you an agent of positive transformation, no matter the obstacles and closed doors that the causal Universe puts in your Way. Obstacles will become possibilities and doors will offer the opportunities to learn the key, apply it and open those doors to new potentials.
You’ll cease to be the donkey mimicking the cows.