Ploughing the Realm of Mind – Kasibharadvaja sutta
Conviction (śraddhā) is the seed,
Austerity (tapas) the rain,
Wisdom (prajñā) my yoke and plow,
Shame (hrī) the pole, mind (manas) the strap,
Mindfulness (smrti) my plowshare and goad.
Guarding the body, guarding the speech,
Restrained in food and belly,
Truthfully (satyam) I dig out weeds,
And gently, I cast them away.
Heroic effort (vīrya) is the ox carrying the yoke,
Pulling to Absolute Wellbeing (yogakṣema),
Going without turning back.
Having gone, there is no grief.
Thus I plough.
The harvest is deathlessness. Having farmed,
There is the release from all suffering!
– the Buddha in Kasībhāradvāja-sutta (The sutra instructing the farmer Bharadvaja)
Kasibharadvaja sutta is the teaching that the Buddha gave to the farmer Bharadvaja. Though Bharadwaja was already familiar with some style of meditation to calm the mind, he did not know what mental cultivation really meant.
For Bharadvaja, meditation turned out to be just a way of relaxing at the end of a day’s hard effort. It was very much like how most people nowadays approach meditation. They hear that there is something extraordinary called meditation. Then, they think that they too should meditate because it is so much hyped up, and life is supposedly incomplete without it. So, after a day’s productive work, they just sit idle, blissed out, and withdrawn for a while and think that it is meditation.
Bharadvaja lived in a Brahminical village named Ekanala, in the southern part of Magadha. He possessed vast tracts of farmland that came to him as part of the land-grants that kings made to Brahmins of that time. That day, about five hundred peasants were ploughing his field with yoke and plow pulled by bullocks. Being the day of plowing and sowing the seed for the next crop, Bharadwaja also arranged food for all his peasants. The Buddha saw with his insight that the situation was suitable to introduce the true meaning of contemplation to Bharadvaja. Thus, during his alms round, the Buddha went to the field of the farmer Bharadvaja.
Just as how the Buddha expected, Bharadvaja told, “I too am a contemplative, but I also plough and sow. Don’t you see it? Having plowed and sown, I reap and eat. Instead of begging, you should plough and sow your own food”.
The Buddha, with his smile imbued with kindness answered, “I too, O contemplative, plough and sow. And, having plowed and sown, I eat.”
Bharadvaja was perplexed to hear that. He exclaimed, “You too plough the field! But, we never heard about your field! Where is it? What crops do you cultivate there? Why then are you walking with an alms bowl like this?”
To this, the Buddha responded by singing the above gātha (verse).
Just as we cultivate crops in the field, we can also cultivate excellent qualities in the field of the mind. Yogakshema (yogakhema in Pali) is what the Buddha calls the boundless harvest of inner cultivation. Yogakshema is the state of complete pacification of the emotional fermentation of the mind with the elimination of the causes of suffering and grief. There, one attains the state of perfect wellbeing, peace, and awakening. The Buddha kept spreading the fragrance and peace of that state of absolute wellbeing all around. Because there is no falling back, the yield of this inner cultivation is immortality. In other words, there is no death again from the bliss and freedom of Nirvana.
Conviction comes from having analyzed the teaching, experimented, and thus having developed certainty regarding the Way. So, conviction is not blind faith. Conviction is the seed. It is not an ordinary seed but a seed that totally transforms the field. Conviction gives the zeal for the journey on the Way – the path forward that has been determined to be reasonable.
The austerity is the bountiful rain. It is the readiness to strive and take on difficulties on the Way. The effort there should not be too hard. That would be like having a flood after sowing the seed. Again, it should not be too relaxed to the level of not being mindful. That would be like not having rain or not watering the plants regularly.
The wisdom is the yoke and plough that churn the soil of the mind. Shame works as the pole that the farmer uses to guide the plow to where it should be. The sense of shame makes one naturally abstain from the unwholesome acts. The mind works as the strap that keeps the yoke stable on top of the oxen. The placement of mindfulness acts as the plowshare and goad in doing a fine job of observing whatever arises moment by moment. With restraints of body, speech, and food, one truthfully discerns what is wholesome and unwholesome. Then, the weeds of unwholesome habits are dug out. Once the weeds are removed in this way, and the ground is made fertile, the most refined qualities can flourish within. One’s own heroic and joyous perseverance on the path is the sturdy oxen that carry one forward to welfare without ever turning back.
The Brahmin Bharadvaja had several poor peasants from the downtrodden castes working hard on the field. They worked on the field that was granted to Bharadvaja by the king. Having cultivated with the hard effort of these peasants, Bharadvaja amassed the harvest for himself. In contrast, the field that the Buddha cultivated, one’s own mind, can only be plowed by oneself and not by others. One has to sow, weed, water, and reap oneself. And the Buddha shared the boundless harvest from the field of mind with everyone. He did so by infusing peace all around. He also shared with everyone the techniques for preparing their inner field and cultivating and reaping a boundless harvest from the mind.
The Buddha freely gave the priceless jewels of that knowledge to all and everyone. Then, he walked through the streets begging for alms. Alms round was a way for the Buddha to connect with people and bring benefit to them. Sometimes he received alms from the palace and other times from the villages. Some other times he received from the unfortunate humans who were cast away by the society to live in a terrible condition far from the villages. For him, they were all equal. He gladly accepted alms from anyone willing to give. He also kept the doors of his Sangha open for all.
The Buddha also taught how to be efficient in the world through excelling in inner cultivation. Thus, those who engage in worldly professions found a way in his teachings to face the world with wisdom, compassion, and openness.
Hearing the verse sung by the Buddha, Bharadvaja experienced a new beginning. He realized the right meaning of contemplation. He was totally pleased. Immediately, he arranged a golden bowl with a porridge made of rice and milk and offered that to the Buddha with great reverence. He said, “O the great farmer, the great Gautama who harvests immortality by ploughing the realms of mind, please accept my offering!”
Gently rejecting the offering, the Buddha said, “O Brahmin, the Buddhas do not accept what is gained through singing a gātha (verse). Singing for alms is not appropriate for the bhikshus. Only that which people donate as alms out of their generosity is accepted. So, having sung a gatha, I cannot accept this now.”
As the Buddha was about to return, Bharadvaja prostrated three times in homage to the Buddha and beseeched, “O eminent sage, venerable Gautama, just as how an overturned pot is set upright, just as how what is concealed is revealed, just as how the way is shown for one who is lost, just as how lighting a lamp illuminates an object to those with eyes, you have opened my way to the cultivation of mind and salvation. O venerable Gautama, I go for refuge to the Buddha, I go for refuge to the Dhamma. I go for refuge to the Sangha. O venerable, I too want to plough and cultivate the field of my mind. Please accept me into your Sangha!”
Thus, Bharadvaja went forth and became a bhikshu. He too plowed the realms of his mind zealously. Before long, he attained victory over destructive emotions, overcome sorrow, and attained the immortality of Nirvana.
In fact, a contemplative who prudently cultivates one’s own mind contributes highly to society at large. What do the contemplatives give to the world? They radiate peace. They lead others to peace, and they inspire virtue and harmony. In this process, they lay the foundations of a welfare society with liberty, equality, and fraternity.
(The above narration is based on kasibharadvaja sutta – The sutra instructing the farmer Bharadvaja)
For this article in other languages – Malayalam Post
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