Discourse on Youth and Happiness

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This translation of the Discourse on Youth and Happiness has been prepared by Thich Nhat Hanh from Samiddhi Sutta, Samyukta Agama 1078, Samyutta Nikaya 1.20, Taisho 99).  It appears in Thich Nhat Hanh, Chanting From The Heart (Parallax Press, Rev.Ed., 2006)

It is recited regularly at Plum Village practice centers around the world, as part of our daily sitting and chanting sessions.

 

 


Discourse on Youth and Happiness

I heard these words of the Buddha one time when the Lord was staying at the Bamboo Forest Monastery near the town of Rajagriha. At that time there was a bhikshu who, in the very early morning, came to the banks of the river, took off his upper robe and left it on the bank, and went down to the river to bathe. After bathing, he came out of the river, waited until his body was dry, and then put on his upper robe. At that time a goddess appeared, whose body, surrounded by light, lit up the entire bank of the river. The goddess said to the bhikshu, “Venerable, you’ve recently become a monk. Your hair is still black; you are very young. At this time in your life, shouldn’t you be perfumed with oils, adorned with gems and fragrant flowers, enjoying the five kinds of sensual desire? Why have you abandoned your loved ones and turned your back on the worldly life, living alone? You’ve shaved your hair and beard, donned the monk’s robe, and placed your faith in monastic practice. Why have you abandoned the pleasures of this moment to seek pleasures in a distant future?”

The bhikshu replied, “I have not abandoned the present moment in order to seek pleasures in a distant future. I have abandoned pleasures that are untimely for the deepest happiness of this moment.”

The goddess asked, “What do you mean?”

And the bhikshu replied, “The World-Honored One has taught: in the joy associated with sensual desire there is little sweetness and much bitterness, tiny benefits, and a great potential to lead to disaster. Now, as I dwell in the Dharma that is available here and now, I’ve given up the burning fire of afflictions. The Dharma is available here and now. It is outside of time, and it always invites us to come and see it. It is to be realized and experienced by each of us for ourselves. That is what is meant by abandoning untimely pleasures in order to arrive at the deepest happiness of the present moment.”

The goddess asked the bhikshu again, “Why does the World-Honored One say that in the untimely pleasure of sensual desire there is little sweetness and much bitterness, its benefit is tiny but its potential to lead to disaster is great? Why does he say that if we dwell in the Dharma that is available here and now we are able to give up the flames of the afflictions that burn us? Why does he say that this Dharma belongs to the present moment, is outside of time, always invites us to come and see it, is available here and now, and is realized and experienced by each of us for ourselves?”

The bhikshu replied, “I have only been ordained for two years. I do not have the skill to explain to you the true teachings and the wonderful precepts that the World-Honored One has proclaimed. The World-Honored One is presently nearby, in the Bamboo Forest. Why don’t you go to him and ask your questions directly? The Tathagata will offer you the Right Dharma, and you will be able to receive and practice his guidance as you see fit.”

The goddess replied, “Venerable bhikshu, at this moment the Tathagata is surrounded by powerful and influential gods and goddesses. It would be difficult for me to have the chance to approach him and ask about the Dharma. If you would be willing to ask the Tathagata these questions on my behalf, I will accompany you.”

The bhikshu replied, “I will help you.”

The goddess said, “Venerable, then I will follow you.”

The bhikshu went to the place where the Buddha was staying, bowed his head and prostrated before the Buddha, then withdrew a little and sat down to one side. He repeated the conversation he had just had with the goddess, and then said, “World-Honored One, if this goddess had not spoken sincerely, she would not have come here with me.” At that moment, there was a sound from afar, “Venerable monk, I am here. I am here.”

The World-Honored One immediately offered this gatha:

 

“Beings produce wrong perceptions

concerning objects of desire.

That is why they are caught in desire.

Because they do not know what desire really is,

they proceed on the path to Death.”

 

The Buddha then asked the goddess, “Do you understand this gatha? If not, please say so.”

The goddess addressed the Buddha, “I have not understood, World-Honored One. I have not understood, Well-Gone One.”

So the Buddha recited another gatha for the goddess:

 

“When you know the true nature of desire,

the desiring mind will not be born.

When there is no desire, and no perception based on it,

at that time, no one is able to tempt you.”

 

Then Buddha asked the goddess, “Have you understood this gatha? If not, please say so.”

The goddess addressed the Buddha: “I have not understood, World-Honored One. I have not understood, Well-Gone One.”

So the Buddha recited another gatha for the goddess:

 

“If you think you are greater, less than, or equal,

you cause dissension.

When those three complexes have ended,

nothing can agitate your mind.”

 

Then Buddha asked the goddess, “Have you understood this gatha? If not, please say so.”

The goddess addressed the Buddha, “I have not understood, World-Honored One. I have not understood, Well-Gone One.”

So the Buddha recited another gatha for the goddess:

 

“Ending desire, overcoming the three complexes,

our mind is stilled, we have nothing to long for.

We lay aside all affliction and sorrow,

in this life and in lives to come.”

 

Then Buddha asked the goddess, “Have you understood this gatha? If not, please say so.”

The goddess addressed the Buddha, “I have understood, World-Honored One. I have understood, Well-Gone One.”

The Buddha had finished the teaching. The goddess was delighted at what she had heard. Practicing in accord with these teachings, she disappeared. Not a trace of her was to be seen anywhere.

 

Samiddhi Sutta,Samyukta Agama 1078

(Corresponds to Samyutta Nikaya 1.20.  Also Taisho 99)

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