Ah, what bliss!

2:10 (20) Bhaddiya (Bhaddiya Sutta)

Thus has it been made known. At one time the Blessed One was dwelling near Anupiyā in the Mango Grove. There was a story circulating that the venerable Bhaddiya, Kāḷigodhā’s son, would frequent a wooded-area near the base of a tree or an empty-place and exclaim to himself, “Ah, what bliss! What bliss!”

It happened that a number of monks in the deep wood would hear him exclaiming, “Ah, what bliss! What bliss!” The thought dawned on them, “There appears to be no doubt that the venerable Bhaddiya, Kāḷigodhā’s son, is wholly dissatisfied with leading the holy life, apparently so because when he was living the householder life he knew the bliss of kingship. So now, frequenting the forest his recollection dawns on that former-life with the haunting refrain, ‘Ah, what bliss! Ah, what bliss!”

So the monks decided to go to the Blessed One and inform him about Bhaddiya’s actions. After reverencing him they reiterated the version of what they kept muttering to themselves about Bhaddiya’s dissatisfaction of the holy life and his repeated refrain every time he frequented the deep wood, “Ah, what bliss! Ah, what bliss!”

And so, upon hearing their annoyance over Bhaddiya’s actions the Blessed One asked one of the monks to invite Bhaddiya over for a little chat.

After graciously extending the invitation, Bhaddiya arrived and after reverencing the Blessed One sat down at his feet. The Blessed One then inquired, “Is it true, Bhaddiya, that when you frequent the forest, to the root of a tree or an empty space you keep repeating to yourself, ‘Ah, what bliss! Ah, what bliss!?’”

“Yes, O’ Lord,” responded Bhaddiya.

“But Bhaddiya,” began the Blessed One, “What compels you to do so?”

“Formerly, when I enjoyed the security of royalty as a house holder, with guards being posted about my apartments, it was becoming apparent to me that this guarded-life was causing me great unrest. I was always anxious and afraid, accompanied with a deep sense of dissatisfaction over the present circumstances of my life. But things have changed now since I frequent that noble forest. My uneasiness has subsided and I am now no longer afraid but deeply content, like a deer in great solitude, unafraid and confident within the deep wood.” And so now, out of sheer gratitude, I exclaim to myself, ‘Ah, what bliss! Ah, what bliss’”.

Thereupon, realizing the great significance of this testimony, the Blessed One uttered the following verse:

How blessed the one who has silenced all provocations,
Who has gone well-beyond the distaste of being this or that,
Now wholly free from fear and full of deep satisfaction and unending bliss,
Such a one even the devas cannot perceive.

Anupiyā: A township in the Malla country to the east of Kapilavatthu. In the mango grove there (the Anupiya-ambavana) the Buddha, having arrived from Anomā and having ordained himself, spent the first week after his renunciation, before going to Rājagaha, thirty leagues away (J.i.65-6).

Bhaddiya: An ARHAT whom the Buddha declared foremost among his disciples of aristocratic birth (P. uccakulika). According to Pāli sources, Bhaddiya was the son of lady Kāḷigodhā and belonged to the royal Sākiyan (S. ŚĀKYA) clan of Kapilavatthu (S. KAPILAVASTU) and entered the order together with Anuruddha (S. ANIRUDDHA) and other nobles in the Anupiya mango grove.

Soon after his ordination, Bhaddiya attained arhatship and subsequently dwelled in solitude beneath a tree, exclaiming, “Oh happiness, Oh happiness!,” as he reveled in the bliss of NIRVĀṆA. When the Buddha queried him about his exclamation, he explained that as a prince in his realm he was well guarded but nevertheless always felt anxious of enemies; now, however, having renounced all worldly things, he was finally free from all fear. Bhaddiya was regal in bearing, a consequence of having been born a king five hundred times in previous lives. During the time of Padumuttara Buddha, he was the son of a wealthy family and performed numerous meritorious deeds, which earned him this distinction under the current buddha GAUTAMA.

Buswell  Jr., Robert E.; Donald S., Jr. Lopez. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism (Kindle Locations 8679-8685). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

like a deer in great solitude:  Comy.: “As a deer, living in a forest where men do not travel, stands, sits, and sleeps confidently, and goes wherever it wants unimpeded in its movements, so do I live.”

Such a one even the devas cannot perceive: Comy.: “Except for those who have attained the path (of arahatship), none of those reborn as gods are capable of seeing him; they cannot see him even if they try, in the sense that they cannot see the course of his mind (cittacára).

Much less can humans do so. For like worldlings, even trainees (sekha) do not understand an arahat’s mental process.” Compare with Dhp. 92: “Those who do not accumulate and are wise regarding food, whose object is the Void, the unconditioned freedom—their track cannot be traced, like that of birds in the air.” (Ireland, pg. 214)

I love this story. It reveals the true soul and character of an Arahant. Formally living the façade of homey comforts and security, until one day it dawns that it’s all just so much garbage as witnessed by the constant state of anxiety and tension and yearning for something more that will break the endless drama of samsara. It’s also a tale of hypocrisy, as the supposed good companions of the sangha murmur behind this man’s back with their jealousy over his new-found ecstasy and contentment. Just acting like those “busy-bodies” we discussed earlier in the series. As the Dhammapada teaches, “Not everyone is worthy to wear the yellow-robes of the Arahant.” Bhaddiya has tasted the ultimate and he doesn’t mind celebrating it over and over. He’s found his true home in solitude amidst all the creatures of the forest that just ooze the silent wonder of it all. Occupants of the Great Void wherein no “tracks can be traced”, “Ah, the sheer bliss!”

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