3:3 (23) Yasoja (Yasoja Sutta)
Thus has it been made known. At one time the Blessed One was residing near Sāvatthī, at the Jeta Grove in Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park. It was during this time that 500 monks, supervised by Yasoja, had arrived in Sāvatthī with the purpose of seeing the Blessed One. The new arrivals greeted the resident monks, set-up their bedding and arranging their bowls and robes, while creating a great commotion as they engaged in these actions. Upon hearing this disconcerting sound, the Blessed One called upon the Venerable Ānanda and asked, “Ānanda, what is that awfully loud noise? It sounds like the racket fishermen make with their catch.”
Ānanda responded, “It is coming from the newly arrived, 500 strong, assembly of monks, headed by Yasoja; yes, the racket they are making is creating a ruckus, a most unsettling sound.”
The Blessed One then told Ānanda to gather up the monks so that he could address them. Upon their arrival in his presence, the Blessed One inquired, “Monks, what is that awful racket you are making upon your arrival here—it’s a most unsettling sound.”
Yasoja answered the Blessed One, “O’ Lord, these 500 monks have arrived here to be in your blessed-presence. During their exchange of greetings with your resident monks, they were engaged in getting their lodgings in order, such as making their beds and putting away their bowls and robes. And while doing so a loud commotion ensued.”
“Then you and your monks are invited to leave, immediately. I will not tolerate such disturbances in my sangha.”
“As you say, O’ Lord,” responded Yasoja and his entourage of monks. They then gathered their belongings and departed towards the Vajjians. Soon they came to the River Vaggumudā and began to construct leaf-huts in preparation for the rainy season and retreat.
Thereupon the Venerable Yasoja addressed the monks: “My friends, we were dismissed by the Blessed One out of his concern and deep compassion and only for our own benefit. So, let us now abide together in such a fashion that the Lord will be pleased.”
The 500 monks responded affirmatively and began to live-out their life of seclusion in a most responsible and diligent manner. Throughout the entire rain-retreat they all soon realized the three knowledges.
It came to pass that the Blessed One departed from Sāvatthī and proceeded in the direction of Vesālī and soon settled-down in that vicinity. He took-up residency in the Great Wood in the Hall of the Peaked Roof Pavilion. With his one-pointed sense of concentration, the Dharma Lord’s Mind became one with the thoughts of those 500 monks who were staying at the banks of the River Vaggumudā. He then called upon Ānanda and shared with him the great-link he now shared with Yasoja and his entourage: “There is a bright illumination within these quarters; it is fast becoming dazzlingly light and I’m no longer adverse to those 500 monks staying along the Vaggumudā River. Send someone to inform them that I now desire their company.”
Following the instructions Ānanda gave him from the Blessed One, this singular monk—just as a strong man might extend his flexed arm or flex his extended arm—disappeared from the Peaked Roof Pavilion in the Great Wood and rematerialized in front of the monks on the bank of the River Vaggumudā. Then he informed the 500 monks of the Blessed One’s invitation to come and see him.
“Let it be as you say,” responded those 500 monks and after gathering their beddings and robes and bowls they then, as did that singular monk, miraculously disappeared from the banks of the Vaggumudā River and rematerialized at the Pagoda Hall of the Peaked Roof Pavilion sitting face to face with the Blessed One.
Now it was at this junction that the Blessed One was sitting in an exalted state of Imperturbable Concentration.
Being aware of what was transpiring before their very eyes, those 500 monks likewise entranced themselves in the same motionless concentration.
Afterwards when the night was far-advanced with the first watch long-ended, Ānanda arose from his seated position and reverently approaching the Blessed One with his robe over one shoulder and folded hands, spoke thus to the Dharma-Lord, “O’ Lord, the night is now far-advanced and the first watch has just concluded; those newly-arrived monks have been sitting for an extended period of time, so may the Lord now address them.”
Yet at the sound of Ānanda’s words the Blessed One remained silent.
Again, as the second and last watch of the night were passing Ānanda addressed the Blessed One in the same fashion but once more the Dharma-Lord remained silent.
Soon the long-night subsided as the golden rays of the early dawn broke over the horizon and the sun’s glistening rays fell upon the Blessed One’s face. He then spoke thus to Ānanda: “If only you knew, Ānanda, it would not have invoked your incessant question. For these 500 monks, as well as myself, have been sitting in Imperturbable Concentration.”
Realizing the significance of that, the Blessed One uttered the following verse:
All those who have pulled-out the thorn of lustful desires,
Who have broken the chains of abuse, punishment and thus self-incarceration,
Standing resilient like the mountain that is unperturbed,
That monk by pain or pleasure is not stirred.
Yasoja: He was born outside the gates of Sāvatthi in a fishing village, where his father was the headman of five hundred families. When he came of age, he was fishing one day in the Aciravatī, and, casting his net, caught a large golden colour fish. Yasoja and his companions took the fish to Pasenadi who sent them to the Buddha. The Buddha told them that the fish had been a wicked monk in the time of Kassapa Buddha, and had since suffered in purgatory, where his mother and sisters still were. He then preached to them the Kapila Sutta, and Yasoja and his companions, greatly moved, renounced the world.
The Udāna mentions that when Yasoja and his 500 companions [rematerialized] before the Lord who was in deep samadhis, they likewise joined in that immovable contemplative state. Later when Ānanda attempted to interrupt the Lord in his motionless state, the Buddha ignored his warnings and in the morning explained to him that it was more joy for them all to live in the bliss of samādhi than to indulge in mere conversation. The Buddha spent the night in samādhi in order to show Yasoja and his companions that he regarded them as equals. [Pāḷi Dictionary]
It sounds like the racket fishermen make with their catch: another tongue-in cheek moment when this allusion refers to Yasoja since he was a fisherman. It seems that his large entourage had already garnered an unruly reputation.
Vajjians: (Sanskrit: Vṛji) or Vrijji was a confederacy of neighbouring clans including the Licchavis and one of the principal mahājanapadas of Ancient India. The area they ruled constitutes the region of Mithila in northern Bihar and their capital was the city of Vaishali. (Wiki)
rainy season and retreat: The traditional three-month retreat during the Indian rainy season, from mid-July to mid-October, when bhikkhus are prohibited from undertaking extensive travel. It is intended to be a period of intensive training in mind-development and meditation. (Ireland)
three knowledges: The knowledge of past births, of the arising and passing away of other beings, and of the destruction of the taints. (Ireland)
Imperturbable Concentration: According to the commentary on the Udana, “imperturbable absorption is either the five aspects of absorption in the fourth jhāna or one of the five kinds of concentration that serve as a basis on which the attainment of fruition is entered for an arahant. This concentration is said to be so strong and steady that one who is absorbed in it does not even hear the roar of thunder overhead.”
If only you knew, Ānanda: Ānanda was never privy to extra-sensory occurrences. As Woodward’s footnote states: this is an allusion to the non-psychic nature of Ananda.
What strikes me as the most esoteric account in this sutta is when Yasoja and his companions, like that singular monk who rematerialized before them, suddenly also vanish from the banks of the Vaggumudā River and then rematerialize in the Buddha’s presence. Of course, within the literature many such phenomena do occur but mostly by those salient characters like Vimalakirti who has the know-it-all to initiate such en-masse teleportations. We need to look beyond the surface representation to the far wider and more comprehensive interpretation. The most prominent factor that stands out in this sutta is the Buddha’s Imperturbable Concentration. As we discovered this singular-samadhi was not meant exclusively for the Buddha alone. The reader is also encouraged to engage in it as well. Space and location does not matter; what does is trusting in the continuous Mind-Meld not only with the historical Buddha as he is portrayed in the suttas and sutras, but also with all past [and future] Buddhas as well as all Bodhisattvas and Dharma-Protectors. Keep in mind that in this matter mind *Melds* with the Tathatic-Mind. When in meditation-contemplation, you are never alone. But it’s also true that when one is in such close proximity to the spirit of the Buddha, it needs to be done alone and without any outside disturbances. The earlier mark when the Buddha expressed his anger at Yasoja and his companions was not out of condemnation, but a true wake-up call to be about the One thing that really matters—an unequivocal union with the Unborn. Yes, earlier they were quite the rambunctious lot, but when settling-down according to the Buddha’s own urging, they slowly learned what it meant to be a true sannyasin of the Dharma-Lord and later became his true companions as well.