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This is from the Theravada Vinaya:

While he was staying by himself, the Buddha thought, “When I was previously surrounded by people, I was not at ease because of those monks at Kosambī who were quarreling, arguing, and creating legal issues in the Sangha. But now that I’m alone, without a companion, I’m happy and at ease because I’m apart from those monks at Kosambī.”

Pli Tv Kd 10: Kosambakakkhandhaka

How could the Buddha be thinking this way post enlightment? This seems related to this question.


You can find the another account of the same thing in non-Vinaya canon here:

So I have heard. At one time the Buddha was staying near Kosambi, in Ghosita’s Monastery. Now at that time Buddha lived crowded by monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen; by rulers and their ministers, and teachers of other paths and their disciples. Crowded, he lived in suffering and discomfort. Then he thought, “These days I live crowded by monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen; by rulers and their ministers, and teachers of other paths and their disciples. Crowded, I live in suffering and discomfort. Why don’t I live alone, withdrawn from the group?”

Ud 4.5

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  • Why he wouldn't prefer seclusion? Why is this a surprise?
    – Danilo
    Jul 9 at 15:38
  • I don’t think it is.. Jul 9 at 16:40
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Obviously that entire text was authored by someone else, speaking about the Buddha in the third person.

In my understanding, the part about the Buddha leaving the quarreling Sangha is based on real events, while the thoughts going through Buddha's mind must be the author's conjecture.

To be clear, I'm not saying Buddha did not leave the quarreling Sangha for seclusion. That part is in accordance with Dharma. I'm saying, the part that represents Buddha's thoughts as speaking in terms of "before I was X and now I'm Y" must be a simplification and not the exact thought that crossed the Buddha's mind. Why? Because buddhas don't think in such terms. Why don't they? Because that would be "I-making".

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  • Virtually the entire Tripitaka texts start with "thus have I heard" and refer to the Buddha in 3rd person, because the entire canon was written down centuries after the Buddha lived.
    – Codosaur
    Jul 9 at 8:29
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    That's right, and this is why we should be careful and not take every single word there as literally The Dharma.
    – Andrei Volkov
    Jul 9 at 8:37
  • Then on what basis do you conclude that this particular verse does not represent the Dharma? Many teachers are recorded to have lived in seclusion in the years following their attainment.
    – Codosaur
    Jul 9 at 8:41
  • To be clear, I'm not saying Buddha did not leave the quarreling Sangha for seclusion. That part is in accordance with Dharma. I'm saying, the part that represents Buddha's thoughts as speaking in terms of "before I was X and now I'm Y" must be a simplification and not the exact thought that crossed the Buddha's mind. Why? Because buddhas don't think in such terms. Why don't they? Because that would be "I-making".
    – Andrei Volkov
    Jul 9 at 8:51
  • I'm with you on not taking every poetic word as literal and not every literal world as poetic and not taking any word as some magical invocation past the point of being just the tool that it is. @AndreiVolkov as this is a Theravada question do you have or know of a pali reference to the 'I-making' as being something the Buddha utterly gave up? Jul 9 at 14:25
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Similar to Andrei's answer I note (as fact) that it's a narration of what the Buddha thought, not what he said.

Going even further I might speculate that it's similar to Mother's saying to children, "While sitting in his office, Dad thought, 'Isn't it good that the children are playing quietly, and doing their homework'" -- i.e. it's said to convey a message, needn't be understood (except perhaps by children in question) as a direct and verbatim quote.

Lastly I don't get the impression from the suttas that the Buddha had no preferences. Apparently he preferred what's ethical, skillful, conditions for successful practice, compassionate, etc. (and that doctrine may be easier to understand than a doctrine like, "lol, nothing exists: good, bad, it's all the same..." -- especially for inter-personal relationships).

I wonder whether we're meant to see literally-all the Buddha's actions as motivated only by this kind of preference and this kind of intent -- so much so that any spark of evidence to the contrary (like a preference for avoiding quarrels) is seen as questionable and demanding an explanation.

I suppose it is possible -- that the basis for the preference is that his hanging around while people quarrel would be unskillful.

I'm not sure -- which is why I think this is a good question and which I hope someone answers.

Canonically perhaps there are specific types of preference which an arahant is free from:

  • Sensual desire (kāmacchando)
  • Desire for existence and rebirth, both material and immaterial (rūparāgo and arūparāgo)

To be logical perhaps it would be enough to explain that the preference isn't based on one of these fetters.

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  • I'd say it's a transcription of what the Buddha said about what he thought :) That is, if you trust the compilers of the Theravada suttas and vinaya to have done an accurate job. Jul 9 at 15:26
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    You know "the four great references", right? So some isolated detail which doesn't fit other suttas, I might be skeptical of (see e.g. this answer). But what's mentioned again and again in different suttas becomes a memorable theme that I wouldn't want to deny -- and there are many which admonish quarrelling; maybe another where he won't speak unless everyone is listening (paying attention) properly; others where he praises seclusion ...
    – ChrisW
    Jul 9 at 16:36
  • I don’t disagree in the slightest Jul 9 at 16:39
  • ... another, AN 10.70 where talk about "kings and ministers" and so on isn't a fit topic of conversation; so the bits you quoted in the OP seem easy to believe. I'm not sure about the question -- about feeling unease due to material or social conditions/surroundings. Apparently he up and left, and felt just fine, no remorse, about doing so (I don't know how he came to be there, perhaps the place evolved). I'm not sure what to answer to "how could he be thinking this way?" I guess it implies that "post enlightenment" ...
    – ChrisW
    Jul 9 at 17:04
  • ... isn't entirely other-worldly, it isn't him losing his senses.
    – ChrisW
    Jul 9 at 17:05
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All of the following quotes come from MN 44.

One of the five aggregates is feeling (vedana) or sensations.

It's a mental process.

Perception and feeling are mental. They’re tied up with the mind, that’s why perception and feeling are mental processes.”

There are 3 types of feeling.

“There are three feelings: pleasant, painful, and neutral feeling.”

“What are these three feelings?”

“Anything felt physically or mentally as pleasant or enjoyable. This is pleasant feeling. Anything felt physically or mentally as painful or unpleasant. This is painful feeling. Anything felt physically or mentally as neither pleasurable nor painful. This is neutral feeling.”

“What is pleasant and what is painful in each of the three feelings?”

“Pleasant feeling is pleasant when it remains and painful when it perishes. Painful feeling is painful when it remains and pleasant when it perishes. Neutral feeling is pleasant when there is knowledge, and painful when there is ignorance.”

The Buddha has discarded identity view or self view.

“It’s when an educated noble disciple has seen the noble ones, and is skilled and trained in the teaching of the noble ones. They’ve seen good persons, and are skilled and trained in the teaching of the good persons. They don’t regard form as self, self as having form, form in self, or self in form. They don’t regard feeling … perception … choices … consciousness as self, self as having consciousness, consciousness in self, or self in consciousness. That’s how identity view does not come about.”

So, based on your quote, the Buddha experienced painful feelings from the six sense media but it doesn't mean that he clung to them, or had self view associated with them, or suffered from them. These painful feelings did not give rise to aversion or hate (dosa), in the absence of clinging and defilements.

Furthermore, an enlightened being is inclined to seclusion.

“But ma’am, when a mendicant has emerged from the attainment of the cessation of perception and feeling, what does their mind slant, slope, and incline to?”

“Their mind slants, slopes, and inclines to seclusion.”

Living arahants having five aggregates still functional but without defilements and clinging is discussed in Iti 44.

And what is the Unbinding property with fuel remaining? There is the case where a monk is an arahant whose fermentations have ended, who has reached fulfillment, finished the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, ended the fetter of becoming, and is released through right gnosis. His five sense faculties still remain and, owing to their being intact, he is cognizant of the agreeable & the disagreeable, and is sensitive to pleasure & pain. His ending of passion, aversion, & delusion is termed the Unbinding property with fuel remaining.

And what is the Unbinding property with no fuel remaining? There is the case where a monk is an arahant whose fermentations have ended, who has reached fulfillment, finished the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, ended the fetter of becoming, and is released through right gnosis. For him, all that is sensed, being unrelished, will grow cold right here. This is termed the Unbinding property with no fuel remaining."
Iti 44

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In many traditions, attainment is not regarded as a permanent mental state, but requires constant practice. This is why, for example, Dogen Zenji wrote: "we do not practice to become enlightened, we practice because we are enlightened".

Before his enlightenment the Buddha spent extended periods alone in the forests:

“Such was my seclusion that I would plunge into some forest and live there. If I saw a cowherd, shepherd, grass-cutter, wood-gatherer or forester, I would flee so that they would not see me or me them” (M.I,79).

Even after attaining enlightenment he would occasionally go into solitude. In the Saüyutta Nikàya he is recorded as saying:

“I wish to go into solitude for half a month. No one is to come to see me except the one who brings my food” (S.V,12).

Many teachers from different lineages lived in physical seclusion before they took students. Famous examples include Bodhidharma & Hanshan.

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