Prince Abhaya’s assignment
This is how I heard. At one time the Blessed One was staying near Rājagaha, in the Bamboo Grove, the squirrels’ feeding ground.
Then Prince Abhaya1 went up to Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta2, bowed, and sat down to one side. Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta said to him, “Come, prince, prove the ascetic Gotama’s teachings wrong. Then you will get a good reputation: ‘Prince Abhaya proved the teachings of the ascetic Gotama wrong, so mighty and powerful!’”
“Oh sir, how am I to do this?”
“Here, prince, go to the ascetic Gotama and say to him: ‘Sir, does the Tathāgata use speech that is disliked by others?’ When he’s asked this, if he answers: ‘He might, prince,’ say this to him, ‘Then, sir, what exactly is the difference between you and an ordinary person? For even an ordinary person uses speech that is disliked by others.’
“But if he answers, ‘He would not, prince,’ say this to him: ‘Then, sir, why exactly did you declare of Devadatta: “Devadatta is going to a place of loss, to hell, there to remain for an eon. Devadatta can’t be saved.”? Devadatta was angry and upset with what you said.’
When you put this question to him, the Blessed One won’t be able to either spit it out or swallow it down. He’ll be like a man with an iron ball stuck in his throat, unable to either spit it out or swallow it down.”
“Yes, sir,” replied Abhaya. He got up from his seat, bowed, and respectfully circled Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta, keeping him on his right. Then he went to the Blessed One, bowed, and sat down to one side.
Then he looked up at the sun and thought, “It’s too late to prove the Blessed One’s teaching wrong today. I shall prove his teachings wrong in my own home tomorrow.” He said to the Blessed One, “Sir, may the Blessed One please accept tomorrow’s meal from me, together with three other monks.” The Blessed One consented in silence.
Then, knowing that the Blessed One had approved, Abhaya got up from his seat, bowed, and respectfully circled the Blessed One, keeping him on his right, before leaving.
Prince Abhaya tries to trick the Buddha
Then when the night had passed, the Blessed One put on his robes in the morning and, taking his bowl and outer robe, went to Prince Abhaya’s home, and sat down on the seat spread out. Then Abhaya served and satisfied the Blessed One with his own hands with a variety of delicious foods.
When the Blessed One had eaten and washed his hand and bowl, Prince Abhaya took a low seat, sat to one side, and said to him, “Sir, does the Tathāgata use speech that is disliked by others?”
“There is no simple answer to this question, prince.”
“Then the Nigaṇṭhas have lost in this, sir.”
“But prince, why do you say that the Nigaṇṭhas have lost in this?”
Then Abhaya told the Blessed One all that had happened.
Now at that time a little baby boy was sitting in Prince Abhaya’s lap. Then the Blessed One said to Prince Abhaya, “What do you think, dear prince? If—because of your negligence or his nurse’s negligence—your boy was to put a stick or stone in his mouth, what would you do to him?”
“I’d try to take it out, sir. If that didn’t work, I’d hold his head with my left hand, and take it out using a hooked finger of my right hand, even if it drew blood. Why is that? Because I have compassion for the boy, sir.”
Six types of speech
“In the same way, prince,
- the Tathāgata does not say things that he knows to be untrue, false, and harmful, and which is disliked by others.
- The Tathāgata does not say things that he knows to be true and meaningful, but which is harmful and disliked by others.
- The Tathāgata knows the right time to speak so as to explain what he knows to be true, meaningful, and beneficial, but which is disliked by others.
- The Tathāgata does not say things that he knows to be untrue, false, and harmful, but which is liked by others.
- The Tathāgata does not say things that he knows to be true and meaningful, but which is harmful, even if it is liked by others.
- The Tathāgata knows the right time to speak so as to explain what he knows to be true, meaningful, and beneficial, and which is liked by others. Why is that? Because the Tathāgata has compassion for beings.”
Prince Abhaya asks about the Buddha’s knowledge
“Sir, there are clever kings, brahmins, householders, or ascetics who come to see you with a question already planned. Do you think beforehand that if they ask you like this, you’ll answer like that, or does the answer just appear to you on the spot?”
“Well then, prince, I’ll ask you about this in return, and you can answer as you like. What do you think, prince? Are you skilled in the various parts of a chariot?”
“I am, sir.”
“What do you think, prince? When they come to you and ask: ‘What’s the name of this chariot part?’ Do you think beforehand that if they ask you like this, you’ll answer like that, or does the answer appear to you on the spot?”
“Sir, I’m well-known as a charioteer skilled in a chariot’s parts. All the parts are well-known to me. The answer just appears to me on the spot.”
“In the same way, when clever kings, brahmins, householders, or ascetics come to see me with a question already planned, the answer just appears to me on the spot. Why is that? Because the Tathāgata has clearly understood the way the world works, so that the answer just appears to him on the spot.”
When he had spoken, Prince Abhaya said to the Blessed One, “Excellent, bhante! Excellent! … As if he were turning upright what was overturned, or revealing the hidden, or pointing out the path to the lost, or lighting a lamp in the dark so people with good eyes can see what’s there, Master Gotama has made the Dhamma clear in many ways. I go for refuge to Master Gotama, to the Dhamma, and to the Saṅgha. From this day on, may Master Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Saṅgha for life.”