All that Glitters is not Gold

4: Meghiya

4:1 (31) Meghiya (Meghiya Sutta)

Thus it was made known. On one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Cālikā, on Cālikā mountain. It was during this time that Venerable Meghiya was his sole attendant. Venerable Medhiya approached the Dharma Lord and asked for permission to go into Jantu Village for alms-gathering.

“If you feel it’s the time to do so,” responded the Blessed One, “then proceed.”

Early in the morning Venerable Meghiya entered Jantu Village and after his meal he approached the banks of the Kimikālā (Black-Worm River). While strolling along the bank he espied a delightful mango grove. He thought to himself, “This would be an ideal setting for meditation. If the Lord gives me permission, I would like to settle here for a while.”

So the Venerable Meghan approached the Blessed One, did him homage and inquired, “If the Lord would kindly give me leave, I should like to go to a little mango-grove I came across in my walk and enter into meditation there.”

Upon hearing his request, the Blessed One responded, “Wait for a more opportune time, Venerable Meghiya, for presently you are my sole attendant as we are quite alone.”

But a second time the Venerable Meghiya implored the Lord, “O’ Lord, without question you have already done what needs to be done and do not need to add to what has already been done. As for me, I am far from complete in what needs to be done and need to add to what still needs to be done. So, please. O’ Lord, give me permission to go to that mango grove for contemplation. The Blessed One responded in the same manner as before. A third time the Venerable Meghiya insisted upon going, adding, “I need to accomplish further strivings in my meditation practice.”  

The Blessed One responded, “Well, if you insist upon talking about strivings and accomplishments, then do what you think it is time to do.”

Thereupon the Venerable Meghiya rose from his seat, prostrated himself before his Dharma-Lord, and proceeded on his way to the mango grove. Upon arriving there, he seated himself accordingly and engaged in his meditation.

Now while the Venerable Meghiya was seated there in the mango grove beside a favored tree, his quietude was suddenly assailed by three unwholesome thought patterns: sensual thoughts, malevolent thoughts, and hateful thoughts. He then reflected, “This is odd, very odd. Why am I being assaulted by these thoughts since I have left home for the homeless state? He then departed from his reverie and traveled back to the Blessed One explaining to him what had transpired during this meditation, with these three unwholesome thought patterns afflicting him.   

The Blessed One expounded, “Since you mind-deliverance is as yet immature, Meghiya, five things must occur which lead to its maturity. What five?

“In the beginning, Meghiya, a monk is required to be in the company of noble companions. These type of early associations need to be in place before one is entitled to live alone in reaching mind-maturity.  

“Then again, Meghiya, a monk needs to live a virtuous life. He restrains his ways and habit-energies, this occurs by living-out the Pātimokkha code. Even the smallest faults need to be curtailed.

“While in these early stages of mind-formation, the monk develops good listening skills, engages only in helpful conversation, learns to turn-about (revulsion) from all former aggressive and self-defeating thought patterns, and abides with a discerning heart whatever the situation.

“Then again, Meghiya, a monk learns to abide resolute in energy, for the abandoning of unwholesome things, for the acquiring of wholesome things, in this he needs to remain stout and strong in effort. Perseverance is key.  

 “Then again, Meghiya, a monk possessed of such insights is endowed with Right Discernment leading to the Ariyan penetration which goes on to produce the perfect ending in all situations.

“These five-things lead to maturity of mind and spirit. Furthermore, the one who is firmly established in this early mind-training still needs to cultivate the following four qualities: turning-about from all carnal delights by contemplating the impermanence of the rotting human form; amity needs to be cultivated for the abandonment of all malice; mindfulness of remaining prior-to-the-breath in the suppression of all discursive thought; the awareness of impermanence is to be cultivated for the uprooting of the pride of egoism. In such fashion, Meghiya, the one who is conscious of what is not-self wins in this very lifetime, nibbana.

Thereupon, realizing the profound significance of his discourse, the Blessed One uttered the following verse:

Menial thoughts, apparent subtle thoughts,
These are the mental jerkings that string one along:
When not properly attuned to the nature of these mental strangulations,
The wandering mind leads one around to and fro like on a leash.
But when properly attuned to the nature of these thought patterns,
The ardent-minded one knows how best to restrain them.
Thus abandoning the false stirrings of the heart,
The awakened-one abandons them along the wayside.

Cālikā & Meghiya: (From Masefield Commentary)

he espied a delightful mango grove: It is said that that place had been a park that the elder had formally enjoyed over five hundred births during which he had successively been one and the same king, for which reason his heart had inclined to stay there as soon as he saw it. (Masefield)

you are my sole attendant: apparently this sutta was written before Ānanda became the Buddha’s permanent attendant.

you have already done what needs to be done and do not need to add to what has already been done: (Masefield)

sensual thoughts, malevolent thoughts, and hateful thoughts:

According to Comy., in five hundred successive births Meghiya had been a king. His royal park was located where that mango grove now stood, and he used to sit together with his dancing girls at the very spot under the tree where he had sat down for meditation. Thus, when he sat down at that spot, he felt as if his monkhood had left him and his mind was overrun by fantasies of beautiful dancing girls. Also, in his lives as a king, at that same spot he had ordered the execution and imprisonment of bandits, and thus when he sat there as Meghiya, malevolent and cruel thoughts arose in him. (Ireland)

Pātimokkha code: the code of disciplinary rules of the Buddhist monastic order. (Ireland)

Apart from all the Karmic stuff that came back to haunt him beneath that desirable tree in the mango grove, other factors are coming into play here regarding that time and setting. Meghiya simply wasn’t mature enough in his spirituality to go out there and do it all alone, like an eremitical hermit. The Buddha thus rebukes him with his exposition on maturity, and the factors that need to be met before that vital spiritual maturity can be reached. Time needs to be set aside in the sangha discussing with other companion-adepts as to the nature of their particular junction in spiritual cultivation. Thus, meditation sessions were always done in common without anyone being ready to do it solo. I can remember an instance here during my own formation in becoming a priest. There was an annual “desert-retreat” format for upper-classmen to attend with an opportunity to be exclusively alone in silence for a month’s duration. Well, I pushed for it during my second theological year and set off for the experience which occurred in the dead of winter at an Ursuline Retreat House in Blue Point Long Island near the shore. While there was time set-aside for walking alone outside near the shoreline, which was fascinating at the time watching all the fisherman going about it ice-fishing, the majority of time was spent in an isolated room for the rest of the day. Well, similar to Meghiya’s account, the “silence” for me was an absolute dreadful occurrence: it was deafening! I just wasn’t ready for going it alone in silence without any other stimulation present. So, after about two weeks I had to return back to seminary alone feeling like an abject failure. But it was a good learning experience from which I was able to recover from. So yes, all that apparently glitters is not gold when you’re still mining-it in a cave—there’s a lot of darkness present that needs to be worked through before the golden-stuff of spiritual treasures can be refined and brought forth into the light of Right Understanding. As the old Orson Welles’ commercial pined, “We will serve no wine, before it’s TIME.”

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