If you read the Suttas, something you may do on a cold autumn evening such as this, you will infrequently come upon the lines,

‘Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Savitthi, in Jetavana, the monastery of Anathapindaka.’. Of the forty five rainy seasons of his life as teacher, the Buddha spent nineteen in Savitthi in Anathapindaka’s monastery in the Jeta Grove.

Each rainy season the wandering holy men in the time of the Buddha, who mostly live outside under the trees and sky would hole up for the monsoon rains. In the monsoon it more or less rains continuously and heavily, for three or four months. Travel at this period is difficult on account of the mud and incessant rain so, these wanderers would live in caves, under trees or temporary leaf thatch dwellings. They would use this period for more intensive meditation and reflection. Other than at this time they would wander about from place to place collecting food that is offered to them and teaching those who are interested.

Anathapindaka was a great friend and supporter of the Buddha and his disciples. He developed a close friendship with the Buddha as well, as some of his more senior disciples such as Sariputta and Ananda. Anathapindaka  first met the Buddha only about two and half years after the Buddha’s awakening beneath the Bodhi tree.

Anathapindaka was a wealthy merchant who lived in the city of Savitthi on the banks of one of the great tributary rivers of the mighty river Ganges, in north eastern India.

He was known best for his outstanding generosity, which reached almost reckless proportions. At one point when he has given away much of his wealth he faced a financial crisis; a flash flood had destroyed some of his property and debtors had neglected to repay, at this point facing financial ruin he regrets only that he couldn’t have given more. Fortunately, however he was saved by remorseful spirit that lived in his house.

It seems he was a very positive individual, he was naturally ethical, open and emotionally positive and alive. I imagine him as this bright, vital man, successful in his work and business, of wealthy and well educated background, married into wealth and associated with the wealthy and influential members of his society. He was well liked, loved even and much respected, not only in his own city but far and wide in the neighbouring kingdoms and republics.

His name Anathapindaka means ‘one who gives food, pindaka, pinda meaning ball of food, the way one eats in Asia making a little ball of food with the fingers, to the unprotected, anatha. Natha meaning protector or guardian or even saviour, as in Padmanatha, our own Protector of the Lotus. He is also in this vein known as ‘Feeder of the poor’, or ‘Protector of orphans’.

The Buddha’s third rains was coming to an end. He was staying in the Bamboo Grove near the Royal capital of Magadha of Rajagaha. Anathapindaka’s meeting the Buddha is chronicled in the Anathapindaka Sutta of the Vinaya Pitika.

The Anathapindaka Sutta

Anathapindaka’s wife, Punnalakhana (one with the mark of merit) had a wealthy brother in Rajagaha, known as the ‘millionaire of Rajagaha’, according to my translation. Rajagaha was a city someway to the south of Savatthi, on the other side of the Ganges in the neighbouring kingdom of Magadha. Anathapindaka was visiting Rajagaha on business and as usual went to stay at his brother-in-law’s place.

Anathapindaka arrived at his brother-in-law’s place to find the household in chaotic preparations for a feast. Accustomed as he was to his brother-in-law’s rousing welcomes and full attention, he was a little astonished and hurrying after his preoccupied brother-in-law he asked him what was going on, ‘Is there a wedding, a special ritual feast, is the King and all his court visiting?’ he asked.

‘No, no’, his brother-in-law replied, ‘Tomorrow, I have invited the Awakened One and his disciples for dinner.’

‘Did you say Awakened One?’, Anathapindaka said attentively.

‘Indeed, tomorrow the Awakened One is coming’

‘Did you say Awakened One?’, Anathapindaka said attentively.

‘Indeed, tomorrow the Awakened One is coming’, a second and a then a third time Anathapindaka enquired, hardly able to believe his ears.

Breathing a deep sigh of relief, he said, ‘Even the sound alone of these words is indeed rare in the world - Awakened One. ‘Can one really see him?’ He said eagerly.

As nightfall was drawing in, his brother-in-law suggested now was not a suitable time to visit, but early the next day would be and so they soon retired to their rooms for the night to sleep.

Anathapindaka however could not sleep. He lay upon his bed, thinking about the Buddha, the Awakened One and could not sleep. Several times he arose thinking it was already dawn and finally before light he got up, dressed and made his way out of his brother-in-law’s house and proceeded to the city gates. However, the gates were locked and the gatekeeper  was still asleep. Miraculously, beings not human, as the text puts it, opened the gates for him and he started out for the Bamboo Grove, in the woods outside the city, where the Buddha was staying.

Being still dark, and being outside the safe confines of the city walls, Anathapindaka grew afraid. Fear and trembling came upon him, so that every hair of his body stood on end, and he was fain to go back. Then the Yaksha Sivaka, though unseen, made himself heard. A yaksha is another kind of non human being generally mischievous by nature.

‘A hundred thousand elephants,
A hundred thousand horses,
A hundred thousand mule drawn chariots,
A hundred thousand maidens,
Adorned with jewellery and earrings-
These a not worth a sixteenth part of a single step forward’

‘Go forward, householder! Go forward, householder! Going forward is better for you, not turning back.’

Light shone out all around and his fear was quelled and he made his way through the woods once again, but twice more did fear overcome him and twice more was he urged forwards and soon he arrived at the Bamboo Grove.

In the misty dawn light he saw a figure walking silently up and down and Anathapindaka stopped.

The figure called to him in an indescribably melodious voice, ‘Come Sudatta! Come!’

Anathapindaka was of course startled by this, he was known by all as Anathapindaka, Sudatta was his given name and the Buddha certainly had never met him before and he had come unexpectedly to visit the Buddha.

He was certain now that he was in the presence of the Awakened One and so delighted and elated was he that he came forward to the Buddha and bowed down to his feet and asked him in a stammering voice, if he had slept well.

The Buddha replied rather dramatically and powerfully, expressing a glimpse of his real stature,

‘Always indeed he sleeps well,
The Brahmin who is fully quenched,
Who does not cling to sensual pleasures,
Cool at heart, without acquisitions.

Having cut off all attachments,
Having removed care from his heart,
The peaceful one indeed sleeps well,
For he has attained peace of mind.’

In the course of the morning the Buddha led Anathapindaka on in the Teaching step by step, progressively, elucidating the path before him and before long, Anathapindaka had seen clearly into the nature of the Teaching himself, his Dhamma eye open and he had attained to Stream Entry, irreversible progress towards Awakening.

Before returning to the city, Anathapindaka invited the Buddha and his disciples to his brother-in-law’s house for a meal the next day.

His brother-in-law got wind of this and pointed out that he was in fact the guest of his house and offered to arrange the meal himself. Anathapindaka refused and prepared various foods, soft and hard with his own hands and the next morning sent for the Buddha and his Order. When they arrived he served them himself and before they departed he requested that the Buddha come and stay at Savatthi.

The Buddha said, ‘Tathagatas, delight in solitude.’

Anathapindaka knew exactly what he meant.

After finishing his business in Rajagaha, Anathapindaka  returned home to Savatthi, all along the way telling people that an Awakened One had arisen in the world and that they should prepare the way for him and his disciples.

As soon as he got back he began looking for a place suitable for the Buddha to stay. In the hills around the town he found a beautiful forest glade, an ideal location, neither too far from habitation, nor too near, convenient for coming and going for those who wish to see the Buddha, but not busy in the day or noisy at night: a place sheltered from the wind, remote from the haunts of men and suitable for solitude and meditation.

However the land belonged to Prince Jeta, so Anathapindaka went to see the Prince.

‘I want to buy your park’, says Anathapindaka,

‘It’s not for sale’, says the Prince, not even if you could cover the land with gold pieces.’

‘Done’, replied Anathapindaka.

‘Not so’, says the Prince, ‘it’s not for sale’. ‘Not done!’

However, a man’s word is a man’s word and the price had been named so after a little tussling involving the local lawyers and arbitrators, the sale proceeded and Anathapindaka ordered cart loads of gold coins to be brought from his then abundant coffers. The park was covered with gold in the course of the day. But, as the day went on it was clear that there would still be the area of the gate to the park to cover and Anathapindaka ordered for more gold to be brought in.

Prince Jeta seeing that this could be no ordinary matter intervened and said that he would  give this area to the Buddha and build a gate house on the spot. Anathapindaka realising that this Prince Jeta was a man of great eminence and well famed thought it would be good if he could give the land to the Buddha, encouraging him in his devotion to the Buddha. Anathapindaka then built dwellings and halls, wash rooms and latrines and walkways, lotus pools and gardens,  surrounding the whole site with a wall. From then on it became known as Anathapindaka’s monastery at the Jeta Grove, so that all would know that both Anathapindaka, the merchant and Prince Jeta had given to the Buddha.

This place as I said was much used by the Buddha and his disciples during his forty five years of teaching, and is perhaps the first beginnings of Buddhist monasteries that became an important feature of the Buddhist world in later years.

Points and discussion

So what to make of this Sutta. It communicates well an early episode in the Buddha’s career and we get an impression of Anathapindaka, the bright, energetic and faithful friend and disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha.

There are however three episodes I would like to elucidate and explore in the Sutta and consider what relevance they may have to us now.

1. Anathapindaka’s response to hearing about the Buddha.

2. Anathapindaka’s journey to see the Buddha.

3. The giving of the Jeta Grove and Anathapindaka’s generosity.

1. Firstly, we may be struck by Anathapindaka’s response to hearing about the Buddha.

As we saw he grew very excited simply at the words, ‘Awakened One’. It meant a great deal to him that a Buddha, a realized being was in existence. It meant a great deal to him that a being of spiritual attainment was in the world. Anathapindaka seems to have been a man of faith, a man of sraddha.

Faith or sraddha (in Sanskrit) in Buddhism is not blind belief. It can be best simply defined as our response, a natural response to value, our response to something higher. It is a confidence trust in the ideal. Sraddha is said to be present in all skilful mental states. Sraddha has three aspects or streams; reason, intuition and experience.  One has an intuitive sense that say, meditation is a useful and beneficial activity, our heart tells us so. And this may motivate and inspire us to practice. One can see also with reason, applying our intellect that through meditation for example we can cultivate a clearer mind and open heart. Our intellect plays an important and valid role in deciding upon any course of action. And then through our actual experience of meditation practice we discover meditation does actually work and this goes on to give us more confidence and trust in the practice. We use faith or sraddha in this way all the time, working out how to act, trying to act in the best way, trying to embody our higher aspirations.

Anathapindaka had faith in the possibility of spiritual growth, of spiritual attainment and it delighted him to hear that someone had achieved it. It was a relief even. On some level of his being there was a deep sigh of relief, a sense of satisfaction and affirmation.

The traditional explanation for his positive response to the ideal and, in fact his wealth and good fortune, is that he had lots of merit, punya (in Sanskrit), just like his wife Punnalakhana (Mark of Merit). He was reaping the fruit of  past skilful actions, he had acquired merit. Skilful actions he made in the past resulted in the good and fortunate conditions he was now experiencing.

So we could perhaps reflect on this, what is our own response to the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, those that practice and are committed to following the path that the Awakened One has illumined for us? Is it a great relief to know that there is a way? Are we convinced by it? If not, why not? And what part does Sridhar play in our own approach to the spiritual life. 

So that is Anathapindaka’s response to the Awakened One.

2. Now we have his meeting with the Awakened One.

This episode is potentially very rich and there are a few points I would like to make here.

If we remember Anathapindaka had some difficulties in finding his way to The Bamboo Grove outside the city walls of Rajagaha. He was impatient to make the journey waking several times in the night. When he finally decided to get up, the city gates were locked. Beings not human helped him, but then he was overcome by fear and trembling and several times he considered going back home only once again he was aided by forces greater than he and encouraged on his way. The Yaksha Sivaka, though unseen, made himself heard with the words;

‘Go forward, householder! Go forward, householder! Going forward is better for you, not turning back.’

It seems to me that Anathapindaka’s journey from the city to see the Buddha was a significant and symbolic journey that many of us also make in the course of our own lives. It is the journey from the known to the unknown.

It is a journey from the familiar world, which though comfortable may feel dusty and cramp, to the less familiar, perhaps less comfortable world of the unknown, where all is new and bright, open and uncertain.  The Buddha lives in the forest, the wilderness, the wild, untamed places. He is the magician, the sorcerer, the Vajraguru who in habit’s dangerous, threatening places we don‘t like to go. Anathapindaka comes from the city, the world of business and commerce and domestic life. In his quest for truth and meaning, in his pursuit of value, Anathapindaka chose to go alone into the forest, he could not wait. He was compelled, even against his brother-in-law’s wishes. His spiritual quest was a personal, individual journey that he alone had to make. A journey we must all have to make in our own spiritual quest. It is the journey from our limited, confined and predictable existence to the expansive, unlimited state of the liberated mind, a journey some of us may be compelled to make too.

What about the help and aid he receives from the supernatural? We could the this literally, maybe, why not? Or we could  take this symbolically. In a sense Anathapindaka can’t do it on his own although he makes the initial decision. Or you could say his conscious mind couldn‘t do it, he becomes afraid and wants to turn back. But we could say deeper, unconscious forces, his own creative energies come to his aid and unlock the pathway for him. Like Anathapindaka we may wish to stride forth upon the spiritual quest but then resistance arises which we must then overcome through inspiration and determination. By drawing upon deeper forces within, drawing upon our sources of inspiration.

The Yaksha’s words remind us that of the priceless quality of a step on the path. A step made on the path to spiritual growth and unfoldment cannot be compared to even;

‘A hundred thousand elephants,
A hundred thousand horses,
A hundred thousand mule drawn chariots,
Or even, a hundred thousand maidens,
Adorned with jewellery and earrings.’

In a sense the spiritual journey is incomparable to the worldly mundane one.

Some degree of Awakening, however small is worth a great deal more than anything we may derive from the world in a mundane sense. By mundane I mean a world  and experience predominated by unskilful ness; greed, hatred and delusion. Cultivating skilful states of mind; love, generosity, kindness, patience, energy, clarity, understanding and wisdom is worth far more than allowing unskilful states of mind; greed, hatred and confusion in their myriad forms to dominate our lives. 

As we see in the Sutta Anathapindaka’s encounter with the Buddha is fruitful and he very quickly makes irreversible progress on the path becoming a Stream Entrant.

So, there are a few points there.

How much do we value our efforts to practice? Do we value spiritual practice at all, if so in what way?

Do we see the journey to Awakening as a path moving us from the known and familiar, though perhaps limited state we predominantly experience to a brighter, less familiar world where we experience ourselves more fully, more fulfilled even, more expansive, less constricted?

Do we experience resistance to practice? I don’t doubt it, but how do we contend with our resistances? To what extent do deeper forces in our being motivate and inspire us to practice. Do we acknowledge that they are there? Do we respond to them? Do we give credibility to them? Do we allow them to unfold?

3. The purchasing and giving of the Jeta Grove and Monastery to the Buddha and Sangha.

Anathapindaka’s generosity seems overwhelming to us, spontaneous and abundant. Buddhism makes much of generosity, (dana in Sanskrit). Dana could be seen as the first step on the Buddhist path. It is the exemplary Buddhist quality. It is the first of the Six Perfections of the Bodhisattva Path. If we can do nothing else, we can give, even if other ethical practices seem far away, meditation seems far away. We can always give. Giving has  fundamental spiritual value. On a simple and basic level it is a going beyond ourselves, it is a going beyond our own self cherishing to a more other regarding perspective and this is intrinsically liberating, freeing us from our own ‘tight’, limited selfishness to a more expansive and open handed state of being. Clearly sometimes we may have what are called ‘mixed motives’ for giving, that is, we may be giving for something particular in return or we may be giving because we feel obliged to do so or a variety of other maleficent or even nefarious reasons. But being a skilful action these motives will become purified in time. Through time and awareness we will come to purify and clarify our motivations behind giving.

Anathapindaka seems to have possessed an innate and abundant quality for giving. He gave very freely and likewise encouraged others to do so. Prince Jeta, watching him cover his Grove with thousands of gold coins was moved himself to make a gift of the gatehouse to the Buddha. Giving here was infectious and Anathapindaka had created about him an atmosphere of  giving, of dana which drew others in, inspired others to give also. Dana in this respect cultivates the positive conditions for the growth and harmony of the Sangha and those involved with them. Prince Jeta like Anathapindaka, was an influential fellow, who likewise was much loved and had many friends. Anathapindaka was by encouraging Price Jeta and others to give, was encouraging others to practice the Dharma, to follow the spiritual path for themselves.

Clearly we can learn from this. We may not be able to give parks and monasteries to the Sangha but we can certainly give. We can give our time and our money, thereby helping and encouraging others to meet the Dharma, encounter the Buddha. We can share our experience of practice with others. Share our knowledge, enthusiasm and understanding with others. We can give our friendship. We can be friendly and kind to others, give our time, energy and patience to others not just to our friends, not just to other Buddhists, whomever we meet.

Giving, and giving again and then giving again will gradually enable us to re-orientate our being to others, shifting our selfish preoccupation to a more other regarding perspective, enabling us to journey from the limited, cramp and reactive mind to the unlimited and open state of being that is Awakening, the Bodhi mind of Buddhahood.

Concluding remarks

In the course of this talk I have introduced you to Anathapindaka, and the Anathapindaka Sutta of the Vinaya Pitika. I have looked at Faith or Sraddha and it’s place in the spiritual life, that faith is not blind faith but based in intuition, reasoning and experience.

I have looked at the encounter with the Buddha and his teaching as the movement from the known to the unknown, limited to the unlimited.

Finally I looked at generosity as perhaps the first tentative step on that path, a means to going beyond ourselves.

So I wish that you may be inspired by this encounter and make progress in your own lives.

Dharmacari Sudaka, October 2001