Channa’s Suicide in the Samyukta-āgama

Posted: March 15, 2011 by pathpress in Vinaya Article
by Bhikkhu Analayo
The present article offers a translation of the Saṃyukta-āgama parallel to the Channa-sutta of the Saṃyutta-nikāya, which describes the events surrounding the suicide of a monk who might have been an arahant. Ven. Analayo also offers some reflections on misunderstanding some Vinaya points regarding suicide. Full Text: PDF
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  1. pathpress says:

    by Bhante Varado

    When Venerable Channa was dwelling on Vulture’s Peak, very sick and in great pain, he told his visitors, Venerable Sariputta and Venerable MahaCunda, that he had no desire to live and would therefore “use the knife” (PTS:S.4.55; BJT:S.4.126)1. Venerable Sariputta urged him not to do this, and offered to get him food and medicine and even offered to be his attendant. Venerable Channa replied that he had all he needed, and abruptly added that for a long time he had lovingly worshipped the Teacher, not unlovingly, as is proper for a disciple to do (pariciṇṇo dīgharattaṃ manāpeneva no amanāpena). This is a coded message by which Venerable Channa meant he was an arahant, and was used by Venerable Vacchagotta for this same purpose (pariciṇṇo me bhagavā pariciṇṇo me sugato ti: M.1.497; BJT M.2.278) but Venerable Sariputta apparently did not realise this. Then, attempting another coded message, Venerable Channa said “Friend Sariputta, remember this: the monk Channa will use the knife blamelessly” (anupavajjaṃ channo bhikkhu satthaṃ āharissatī ti). This also implies arahantship, because the Buddha said “when one lays down this body and takes up a new body, then I say one is blameworthy”, and only arahants do not take up new bodies.

    Neither Venerable Sariputta nor Venerable MahaCunda realised the significance of these statements, for they both continued to treat Venerable Channa as if he was an ordinary unenlightened person needing basic Dhamma instruction. Perhaps Venerable Channa’s claim to have, for a long time “lovingly worshipped the teacher” led them to suppose that he was a mere saddhānusārī, a ‘follower in faith’, for whom love for the Tathagata is said to be a prominent feature, therefore someone who had not even reached streamentry: M.1.479; M.2.246.

    Venerable Sariputta asked Venerable Channa whether he saw the six senses as himself or as belonging to himself, to which Venerable Channa replied that he did not, because, he explained, he had seen the cessation in these things. This self-assured response possibly alarmed Venerable MahaCunda for he not only reminded Venerable Channa of a saying of the Buddha – ‘There is trembling in one who is personally involved; but no trembling in one who is not personally involved” – but reinforced it by adding that “this teaching of the Sublime One is to be given constant careful attention” (niccakappaṃ sādhukaṃ manasikātabbaṃ).

    All this good advice left unchanged Venerable Channa’s resolve to die, so the monks
    left, and shortly afterwards Venerable Channa committed suicide.

    Venerable Sariputta, concerned by this turn of events, immediately went to the Buddha and asked where Venerable Channa had been reborn. But the Buddha apparently wanted to firstly instruct Venerable Sariputta about blamelessness and would eventually tell Venerable Sariputta to “remember it”. So he avoided the simple reply, and instead asked Venerable Sariputta “Didn’t the monk Channa declare to you his blamelessness (anupavajjatā)?” Venerable Sariputta, unaware of what the Buddha meant by this, repeated his question. He explained that Venerable Channa had had hospitable families as lay supporters (upavajjakulāni), meaning that these people would like to know about Channa’s rebirth and would appreciate some comforting news after the recent trauma. But upavajjakulāni can also mean ‘blameworthy families’ – being obviously similar to anupavajjatā. So when the Buddha then replied that he did not hold Channa to blame in this regard, he humorously made it seem that Venerable Sariputta was blaming Venerable Channa for his relationships with his lay supporters. And cleverly reintroduced the topic of blameworthiness.

    Venerable Sariputta may have been amused, but would patiently have awaited a proper response. So the Buddha told him that he would regard someone to blame who laid down one body and took up another, and said that Venerable Channa had not taken up a new body. Then, echoing Venerable Channa’s cryptic claim to arahantship he added: “The bhikkhu Channa used the knife blamelessly. Thus should you remember it” (S.4.55; S.4.132).

    1
    PTS and BJT: page numbers of the Pali Text Society and Buddha Jayanti Tripitika series.

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