It’s been said that a lesson can be learned from every sutta. I’ve been reading the Udāna after mostly overlooking it. I believed that this collection, like much of Khuddaka Nikāya, was inessential; I was sorely mistaken.
I came across the Muccalinda Sutta (translations: Anandajoti / Ṭhānissaro / Ireland), and I was wondering how the community would interpret it, particularly the events leading up to the closing verse.
While the Buddha was in deep meditation, a strong out-of-season storm comes. Muccalinda, the naga king, appears and protects him. When the storm finally subsides, the naga king assumes the appearance of a young man. He pays homage to the Buddha, who replies with the following realization:
“There is happiness and detachment for the one who is satisfied,
who has heard the Dhamma, and who sees,
There is happiness for him who is free from ill-will in the world,
who is restrained towards breathing beings.
“The state of dispassion in the world is happiness,
the complete transcending of sense desires,
But for he who has removed the conceit ‘I am’—
this is indeed the highest happiness.”
I think each time a person reads this sutta, they may associate the storm with whatever obstructions are arising for them in their practice at that time, and also associate the naga with inner resoruces they can call on to assist them in overcoming those obstructions. That is one reason such mythical tales are powerful - each reader can interpret them according to their needs at that time. There are some hints in the verse for what the storm might represent: searching for satisfaction from unsatisfactory things, ill-will, lack of restraint towards breathing beings, attachment to sense desires, holding the conceit ‘I am’. Take your pick - there is not one correct answer.
As I understand it the Buddha would not be hurt by a storm anyway and the narrative shows how even gods (or nagas) venerate the Buddha.
There is a hint for that in the sutta I think. The naga wants to protect the Buddha from “cold and heat, from gadflies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, and the touch of creeping things.” In other suttas (e.g. MN 2) these are explicitly taught as things to be endured.
Hence I see the expression of a veneration, devotion and love more than a real danger.
I believe Venerable Analayo has advanced the theory that the first four books in the Udana were originally transmitted as the inspired utterances only, and that the framing narratives were added later. He thinks the utterances and narratives in the later books were compiled at about the same time.
What stands out for me about the utterance and framing story in this particular instance is that they seem to be directed at different audiences. The inspired utterance itself seems aimed at the practitioner or spiritual seeker who is in search of the “highest happiness”, something that can only be attained by transcending sense desires and the sense of an existing “I”.
The framing narrative, on the other hand, seems pointed at the would-be protectors of the dhamma, those who are not necessarily active seekers of the highest happiness, but who protect those do. However, by protecting these seekers, lower beings (nagas) might be transformed into higher beings (humans capable of hearing the dhamma), who then get their first instructions on what the dhamma is really all about.
I don’t really have a clear interpretation, hence this thread.
I try not to worry too much about the authenticity of the texts. For all we know, every framework could be a fabrication. Regardless, the frameworks are generally very compelling, and demonstrate how the teachings are applicable.
There was a venerable I think, I can’t recall their name, who was confronted by a skeptic about how it was possible that Siddhārtha Gautama may have never existed. They responded, and I’m paraphrasing, “then whoever gave the teachings is the Buddha.”
The common path in the east for lay people to approach the Dhamma is:
Dana (generosity) --> Sila (morality)–>Bhavana (the practice of meditation). They might offer food to monks- and in this case protection from the weather- and in this case this makes him more human (literally!) and the Buddha leads him deeper into the Dhamma. Its a gradual path, of becoming closer to the Sangha, lending an ear, and practicing further, seeing the truths/benefits for oneself etc.
I wondered about whether the myth here is about the local pagan deities worshipping the Buddha, as well, and being subsumed under Buddhism.
Yes, I wasn’t really trying to focus on questions about which part of the suttas are “authentic” and which are not, but just on the fact that the narrative and verse portions of the udanas might not in all cases fit together to provide a single organically unified teaching. In some cases, the narrative might be only loosely related to the udana that prompted it. In this particular case, there is no obvious direct connection between Muccalinda and inspired verses.