Today we will talk about the Venerable Subhadra. The Venerable One was an externalist from Kusinagara city. His name means "good and worthy," the same “worthy” as in "Universal Worthy" (Samantabhadra). This Venerable One was very intelligent and also highly capable and wise. He practiced asceticism and attained the Five Penetrations, which are: the penetration of the heavenly eye, the penetration of the heavenly ear, the penetration of knowing others' thoughts, the penetration of knowing past lives, and the penetration of the complete spirit. However, he had not attained the penetration of having no outflows. Why not? Because his temperament was peculiar. He had obtained the Samadhi of the Heaven of Neither Perception nor Nonperception, which is one of the Heavens of the Four Stations of Emptiness. It is the highest samadhi a mortal can obtain.Before the samadhi has arisen, there is only a latent consciousness. There is no birth, form, or shape. It is but a mass of energy. In this kind of state, one can enter into a samadhi for 80,000 great eons. Even though he had obtained this state, the Venerable One still had not totally gotten rid of his arrogance. That is why he could not obtain the ultimate samadhi.
It was at this time that he heard that the Buddha was going to enter Nirvana. He quickly went to the Grove of Twin Trees to request Dharma. He came at the last moment, just before the Buddha entered Nirvana. He was an externalist. Perhaps he did not have much association with the disciples of the Buddha. Some of them knew him, but others didn't. Those who knew him did not have high regard for him since he followed an external path. Those who didn't know him thought he was a weird person. Given the situation, his request to see the Buddha was denied. The disciples were concerned that he might speak nonsense and thus disturb the tranquillity of the Buddha. However, the Buddha was endowed with complete wisdom. He recognized that Subhadra's conditions were ripe. So he bid his disciples to let Subhadra in, and he spoke the Dharma of the Eightfold Noble Path for him.
In the Theravada tradition of Buddhism, there are thirty-seven Dharmas Associated with Enlightenment, which are: the Five Roots, the Five Powers, the Four Applications of Mindfulness, the Four Right Efforts, the Four Bases of Psychic Power, the Seven Factors Leading to Enlightenment, and the Eightfold Noble Path. These are all that the Theravada tradition talks about. They do not have the Six Paramitas or any of the Great Vehicle states. They have only the Small Vehicle states. When this Venerable One came, the Buddha spoke for him the Eightfold Noble Path.
The first of the Eight Noble Paths is "proper views." That is to say, one's perception is proper and correct, and not deviant, in that neither emptiness nor existence is emphasized. It is in accord with the Middle Way, neither going too far nor falling short. This view refers to the states you perceive externally. When you see states, do not be confused by them.
The second is "proper thought." Proper thought refers to the internal aspect. Your internal thoughts should be correct and upright. You shouldn't harbor deviant views or deviant thoughts inside.
The third is "proper speech." When you have seen something or thought about something, you may express it in words. Your words should be proper. Don't engage in divisive speech to cause dissension between people. You should not speak in a nasty or mean way, or show bias or favoritism in your speech. Speak only what is right, straightforward, and true.
The fourth is "proper conduct." This means right behavior. Our actions create karma. In other words, karma is the result of what we practice and do. Thus, we must have proper karma.
The fifth is "proper livelihood." "Livelihood" means your career and lifestyle. Both should be proper. Avoid the five kinds of deviant livelihoods. Take care not to fall into those five deviant states.
The sixth is "proper vigor." This means we should walk on a right path. In other words, we must cultivate the proper Way. We must not cultivate with a kind of deviant effort. An example of deviant vigor would be cultivating esoteric (tantric) practices and hoping for quick results. Another example of deviant vigor is to skip eating and sleeping and spend all your time gambling. Perhaps you spend all your time watching plays and movies, or going dancing, totally forgetting everything else. That is also deviant vigor. "Proper vigor" means walking on a right path and seeking progress in proper matters.
The seventh is "proper mindfulness." Our state of mind must also be proper and not deviant. So we must have right ideas.
The eighth is "proper samadhi." This is the right kind, and not a deviant kind, of concentration. Trying to be clever and taking advantage of others, taking short cuts, or seeking spiritual powers are all signs of deviant concentration and not proper concentration.
After the Buddha finished speaking this Dharma, the Venerable One became enlightened. After his enlightenment, he paid no attention to anything whatsoever, but just went ahead and entered Nirvana before the Buddha did. He was not only the Buddha's last disciple, but was also the fastest one to get enlightened--as soon as the Buddha finished speaking, he was enlightened, and right after being enlightened, he entered Nirvana. Thus, Confucius said, "If I hear of the Way in the morning, I can die without regret in the evening." If you awaken to the Way in the early morning, it won't matter if you die that very evening. It won't be any problem.
Here we must understand what “dying after hearing the Way” means. Does it mean that if you don't hear of the Way, you can live a little longer. If so, then maybe we don't want to hear the Way, so we can live longer. No, this is not the meaning. After hearing the Way, you are free to come and go. You can go, or you can stay. “I can die without regret in the evening” doesn't mean I should die after hearing the Way. After hearing the Way, if you understand it, then you can live or die as you wish. You are free to decide. No one is forcing you, saying,“Now that you've attained the Way, you must die quickly.” If that were the case, no one would want to attain the Way, especially those who are afraid of dying. When Confucius said, “If I hear of the Way in the morning, I can die without regret in the evening,” it was because he had truly understood and had obtained real freedom and independence.
Despite his advanced age of 120, the Venerable One “Good and Worthy” was still so diligent in his learning. He was one who really sought the Way. How can we, who are in the prime of life, be so lazy and perfunctory? We should want to emulate a worthy individual when we see one. We should strive be like this Venerable One, who was so diligent in his study and who never wearied in his search for the Way. You say, "I'm still young. I'm going to wait till I get old to study the Way." Don't think like that! There's a saying, "Don't wait until you get old to study the Way. Do you not see that most of the lonely graves belong to young people?"
A verse in praise says:
The older he got, the stronger he was.
How sincere was his wish to seek the Way!
Having requested Dharma from the Buddha,
He entered Nirvana first.
He was free and at ease,
With no worries or impediments.
Seeing his proper enlightenment and liberation,
Let us urge ourselves on!
The older he got, the stronger he was. He was quite advanced in age, and yet his resolve for the Way was firmer and stronger than anyone else's. How sincere was his wish to seek the Way! His wish for the Way was especially sincere. Having requested Dharma from the Buddha, he entered Nirvana first. He sought Dharma from the Buddha, who spoke the Eightfold Noble Path for him. After that, he entered Nirvana. He was free and at ease, with no worries or impediments. How carefree and liberated he was! He was free in coming and going, with nothing to burden or restrict him. Seeing his proper enlightenment and liberation, let's urge ourselves on! Upon hearing the Eightfold Noble Path, he became enlightened and liberated, and had no more worries or obstacles to restrict him. We should all encourage ourselves with his example, and not waste any more time or procrastinate any longer.
Another verse says:
Knowing that his external path was not ultimate,
And that the state of Neither Perception nor Nonperception was also useless,
He went to the Grove of Twin Trees to respectfully request the truth.
He himself realized the wonder and mystery of the Eightfold Noble Path.
So it is, so it is! It is originally so!
Wonderful, wonderful, it's really wonderful.
The teaching and the potential meshed, and he recognized his original substance.
He entered Nirvana without waiting for the Thus Come One.
Another verse goes like this: Knowing that his external path was not ultimate, / And that the state of Neither Perception nor Nonperception was also useless, / He went to the Grove of Twin Trees to respectfully request the truth. He knew that the external teaching he followed was not an ultimate Dharma door with which one could end birth and death. Though he had reached the state of Neither Perception non Nonperception, it was not of much use. It was not ultimate, and he would still fall in the future. And so, with the Dharma on his mind, he respectfully went to seek the truth. He himself realized the wonder and mystery of the Eightfold Noble Path. He personally realized how unspeakably wonderful the Eightfold Noble Path was.
So it is, so it is! It is originally so! After he came to the realization, he told the Buddha the state he had attained. The Buddha gave him his approval, saying, "So it is! So it is!" And he said, "Oh! So this is how it was all along!” Wonderful, wonderful, it's really wonderful. Many of us have heard this Dharma of the Eightfold Noble Path; why hasn't anyone become enlightened? It's because we are not as earnest and sincere in seeking the Dharma. That's why we're still here, being confused and casual. We lack sincerity. Although the Eightfold Noble Path belongs to Theravadan Buddhism, it is very special and wonderful. And so when the Venerable One became enlightened, he felt that it was the most wonderful of the wonderful. And so the next line says: The teaching and the potential meshed, and he recognized his original substance. The Buddha's teaching meshed with his disciple's potential. Venerable Subhadra's conditions were ripe, and so as soon as the Buddha spoke Dharma for him, his confusion was shattered and he became enlightened. He recognized his original face. Having recognized his original face, he entered Nirvana without waiting for the Thus Come One. He saw no need to wait for the Buddha to enter Nirvana before he himself did. He wanted to enter Nirvana ahead of the Buddha.