Why did Buddha, a man with thousands of wealthy followers, pick up his bowl every day and go into town to beg?

From a western perspective this practice doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why would one who has so much engage in such a ‘lowly’ activity? This must be related to some religious practice, perhaps rooted in his asceticism roots? (Asceticism is the practice of never owning or taking anything. Not eating unless it’s freely given)

Perhaps. Let’s look deeper.

Buddha was one who achieved perfect enlightenment. At a very simple level, that means “bringing light” to all areas of consciousness. A key feature of this process is that all “rights and rituals” or solid structures and mental formations are let go of. What are rites and rituals? For example, look at the 10 commandments. Those are rituals. Rules. Solid structures.

Why can one such as Buddha let go of rigid structures like this? The depth of his understanding of causality, karma, dharma, the nature of the universe, allows for transcendence of forms. He can see clearly WHY lying, cheating, stealing, killing is ‘bad’. He can also see clearly very specific situations where there may be a reason to go beyond the simple words of these rituals. For example telling a follower something that may be true for them, but not for others…so that they can transcend a certain aspect of self.

Insight into Selflessness

Buddha’s insight was deep enough that he didn’t need the logical, discursive mind to guide his actions. He could put it away like when you put your smartphone in your pocket, and act purely from awareness of the wisdom of the moment. No memory of past conditions required to ‘predict’ the potential outcome. Pure knowledge of the nature of the universe allows for a perfect action within each moment, manifesting the best possible outcome in the next.

This insight means that he would have discarded his Ascetic practices, rules, rituals. Then why did he continue to beg? He certainly didn’t need the money, or to do it himself. With thousands of followers he surely had many willing to do such tasks themselves.

His insight was so deep, that he understood what it takes for a being to transcend that which binds them in suffering, that which prevents them from even trying to transcend their suffering. At a very fundamental level, it takes a ‘turning of the mind’ away from the notion of self.

The notion of self

Watch your thoughts for a few moments. You will eventually note that the VAST majority of these thoughts are focused on ‘I / me / mine’. This notion of self is constantly reinforced by thoughts about ‘what if this affects me’ or ‘what does he think of me’ or ‘I hope that I get….’. Buddha’s insight was that these thoughts are rooted in a poison that is very deep inside our beings. This poison cannot even be dealt with until there’s the ability to look deep. The storm of thoughts about this ‘self’ prevents this looking, or even a willingness to look.

The practice of giving

The antidote is to turn the mind away from self, a little bit at a time. To build merit. As with any true antidote in the spiritual sense, it involves a practice. The practice of giving is one of the most powerful ways to turn your mind away from self. Even if only for a few moments at a time, over time these moments build up inside one’s being, eventually balancing out all the thoughts about the self.

Buddha knew that we are a collection of past experiences, and we rely on those past experiences (samskara) to manifest the next moments of our lives. When our entire lives have been spent thinking about the self, there’s a huge imbalance. A ‘self-fulfilling’ prophecy if you will pardon the pun!

The practice of receiving

Buddha’s antidote was to practice receiving. He had already transcended the self, so there was no problem with him receiving. At the depth he was at, this was the ultimate gift he could give someone. Many people are not yet ready to walk the spiritual path, to meditate, become practitioners, etc. And that’s OK! We all have our own paths.

When he went out to beg in the towns, he was giving beings an opportunity to give. He was providing them the option to turn their minds away from the self, even for a small moment. Those beings that did so, generated great ‘merit’, which I translate as a ‘balancing of thoughts away from the self’.

Receiving is a gift

When you receive that which is freely given, and you have not asked for it, you are providing the same opportunity to others to go beyond their own suffering. This is why you see so many Buddhist teachers engage in the practice of Dana. It is for YOUR benefit that they do not charge for their services.

Next time you receive a teaching of value, and the teacher has not asked for anything, take a moment to turn your mind away from yourself. Think about all the good that teacher can do if they are able to keep teaching, and helping beings transcend the suffering of their self.

(Visited 73 times, 1 visits today)