Buddhaghosa and Buddha Recollection: Notes and Resources

The Visuddhi-magga (the path of purification), written by Buddhaghosa, is an amazing step-by-step breakdown of the Buddhist path. I’ve been looking at it for the last few months and I’m happy to find little things that remind me of my favorite Pure Land Buddhist teachings. Here, now, I’m going to share a passage about the Elder Phussadeva and explore this character in more detail.

Namo Amitabha Buddha!

The Elder’s Vision

First, here is the excerpt we’re thinking about:

Still, though this is so, they [the recollections] can be brought to mind by an ordinary man too [these practices are not restricted to monks alone], if he possesses the special qualities of purified virtue, and the rest.

For when he is recollecting the special qualities of the Buddha, etc., even only according to hearsay, his consciousness settles down, by virtue of which the hindrances are suppressed. In his supreme gladness he initiates insight, and Concentration (Samádhi) he even attains to Arahantship, like the Elder Phussadeva who dwelt at Kaþakandhakára.

That venerable one, it seems, saw a figure of the Enlightened One created by Mára.

He thought, “How good this appears despite its having greed, hate and delusion! What can the Blessed One’s goodness have been like? For he was quite without greed, hate and delusion!”

He acquired happiness with the Blessed One as object, and by augmenting his insight he reached Arahantship!

Laypeople can benefit from the recollections

Laypeople can benefit from the practice of the recollections if they posses ‘the special qualities of purified virtue and the rest’. (Recollection of the Buddha is relevant to Pure Land practices)

What are ‘the rest’ of these qualities?

I imagine that these qualities are the prerequisites mentioned in the Mahanama Sutta — but I’m not quite sure.

Either way, here are those qualities:

  1. : “One who has faith is successful, Mahánáma, not one who has no faith.
  2. One who is energetic …
  3. One whose mindfulness is established …
  4. One who is concentrated …
  5. One who has understanding is successful, Mahánáma, not one who has no understanding.

Also, just before we reach this passage, Buddhaghosa shows us a passage (from Anguttara Nikaya 3 314-315) that declares our Buddha has realized the ‘wide-open in the crowded houselife’:

“It is wonderful, friends, it is marvellous how the realization of the wide-open in the crowded [house life] has been discovered by the Blessed One who knows and sees”

This seems to be suggesting that the wide open can be realized in the crowded house life.

If we read the Mahanama Sutta, we will see further evidence that Buddha taught a method for laypeople! After each description of the six recollections, the Buddha tells Mahanama that he should practice these recollections at work or at home with children! (Obviously, this is a statement directed at laypeople with families)

Here is the passage from the Mahanama Sutta [linked above]:

“Mahanama, you should develop this recollection of the Buddha [Dharma, Sangha, Virtue, Generosity, Devas] while you are walking, while you are standing, while you are sitting, while you are lying down, while you are busy at work, while you are resting in your home crowded with children.

Recollection of Buddha leads to suppression of the hindrances even if our knowledge of Buddha is only derived from hearsay.

Again, from the Mahanama Sutta:

“At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting the Tathagata, his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on the Tathagata. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.”

The Elder Phussadeva beheld an illusory form of Buddha, became happy, and by augmenting the insight he attained by this style of Buddha Recollection, reached Arahantship.

In many ways, this mirrors the aim of the Pure Land practitioner!

But, who is Phussadeva?

What is Buddhaghosa talking about!?

In the Jātaka: Or, Stories of the Buddha’s Former Births, we learn that the Elder Phussadeva is a citizen of Katakan hakara. But! Where is that?

There is more information in a book called The Legend and Cult of Upagupta: Sanskrit Buddhism in North India. Information about Phussadeva can be found in the Sihalavatthuppakarana, an important and often-neglected Pali collection of tales dating from perhaps the fourth century.

The Elder Phussadeva was a Sri Lankan monk who resided at the Kalankandra Monastery. One day, when he had finished sweeping the courtyard of the Bodhi tree and was contemplating the tree, recollecting the qualities of the Buddha, Mara arrived and created a sudden gust of wind. The dust raised made the elder close his eyes, and, in that moment of blindness, Mara threw some trash into the Bodhi-tree enclosure and went away. The elder had to sweep it again.

‘Then once more’ the text goes on, ‘the elder recollected the qualities of the Buddha, but Mara came again, as a monkey; he grabbed this and that branch of the Bodhi tree and made a mess. Again the elder swept and recollected the qualities of the Buddha. Then, Mara became an old ox, and, walking back and forth, he trampled the courtyard of the Bodhi tree.’

At this point, Phussadeva wonders who is causing all of these disturbances, and, realizing it is Mara, he denounces him. Mara, knowing he has been found out, shows himself in his true form. Then, Phussadeva declares:

“You are able to fashion magically and manifest the form of the Buddha. I wish to see that form, Evil One, and I ask you to show it.”

“Very well,” Mara consented, and he made clearly manifest the figure of the Great Sage, in the seated posture of a Buddha under a Bodhi tree and bearing the thirty-two excellent bodily marks. The elder Phussadeva, seeing the form of the Buddha, proffered an anjali, and, with tears in his eyes, with great faith, pondering the conduct of the bodhisattva from the time of the wholly enlightened Dipankara, he recollected the qualities of the Buddha”

Question answered!

Now we know a bit about Phussadeva. Go read that book for a bit more information.