Here at Amaravati, we chant the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta in its traditional form. When the Buddha gave this sermon on the Four Noble Truths, only one of the five disciples who listened to it really understood it; only one had the profound insight. The other four rather liked it, thinking ‘Very nice teaching indeed,’ but only one of them, Kondanna really had the perfect understanding of what the Buddha was saying.
The devas were also listening to the sermon. Devas are celestial, ethereal creatures, vastly superior to us. They do not have coarse bodies like ours; they have ethereal bodies and they are beautiful and lovely, intelligent. Now although they were delighted to hear the sermon, not one of them was enlightened by it.
We are told that they became very happy about the Buddha’s enlightenment and that they shouted up through the heavens when they heard his teaching. First, one level of devata heard it, then they shouted up to the next level and soon all the devas were rejoicing – right up to the highest, the Brahma realm. There was resounding joy that the Wheel of Dhamma was set rolling and these devas and brahmas were rejoicing in it. However, only Kondanna, one of the five disciples, was enlightened when he heard this sermon. At the very end of the sutta, the Buddha called him ‘Anna Kondanna’. ‘Anna’ means profound knowing, so ‘Anna Kondanna’ means ‘Kondanna-who-knows.’
What did Kondanna know? What was his insight that the Buddha praised at the very end of the sermon? It was: ‘All that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing.’ Now this may not sound like any great knowledge but what it really implies is a universal pattern: whatever is subject to arising is subject to ceasing; it is impermanent and not self….So don’t attach, don’t be deluded by what arises and ceases. Don’t look for your refuges, that which you want to abide in and trust, in anything that arises – because those things will cease.
If you want to suffer and waste your life, go around seeking things that arise. They will all take you to the end, to cessation, and you will not be any the wiser for it. You will just go around repeating the same old dreary habits and when you die, you will not have learned anything important from your life.
Rather than just thinking about it, really contemplate:‘All that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing.’ Apply it to life in general, to your own experience. Then you will understand. Just note: beginning….ending. Contemplate how things are. This sensory realm is all about arising and ceasing, beginning and ending; there can be perfect understanding, samma ditthi, in this lifetime. I don’t know how long Kondanna lived after the Buddha’s sermon, but he was enlightened at that moment. Right then, he had perfect understanding.
I would like to emphasise how important it is to develop this way of reflecting. Rather than just developing a method of tranquillising your mind, which certainly is one part of the practice, really see that proper meditation is a commitment to wise investigation. It involves a courageous effort to look deeply into things, not analysing yourself and making judgements about why you suffer on a personal level, but resolving to really follow the path until you have profound understanding. Such perfect understanding is based upon the pattern of arising and ceasing. Once this law is understood, everything is seen as fitting into that pattern.
This is not a metaphysical teaching: ‘All that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing.’ It is not about the ultimate reality – the deathless reality; but if you profoundly understand and know that all that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing, then you will realise the ultimate reality, the deathless, immortal truths. This is a skilful means to that ultimate realisation. Notice the difference: the statement is not a metaphysical one but one which takes us to the metaphysical realisation.