“My hut is well roofed. No wind can enter, and it is comfortable. Gods, make it rain as hard as you like. My mind, making diligence its abode, is wholly tranquil and liberated. Gods, make it rain as hard as you like.” - Subhuti
This passage in the Theragatha is attributed to Subhuti, who was revered as foremost among the Buddha's disciples in non belligerence and in understanding of the doctrine of the Void,
the teaching that there is no fixed, permanent self.
The above passage is said to have been composed to mark the presentation of a house to Subhuti by King Bimbisara of Magadha. Though the day of the presentation ceremony drew near, the carpenter had still not thatched the roof. The king prayed that it would not rain until the building was finished, but this alarmed the peasants, who were afraid their crops would wither. Sympathetic to the peasants, Subhuti is said to have recited this prayer for rain, which he had no need to fear, since diligence was the true abode of his mind.
Before becoming one of Shakyamuni's disciples, Subhuti had been a man plagued by anger. Once he had freed himself from that emotion, however, he was able to remain calm even at the thought of being drenched by rain pouring through the roof of his house. He was able to say, “My true abode is the secure house of the knowledge that all things in the universe are insubstantial, homogeneous, and equal. Thus 1 am at ease no matter what the weather. Therefore, gods, for the sake of the peasants and their crops, let it rain.” His verse overflows with the joy of
freedom from attachment to transient phenomena that understanding of the doctrine of the Void brings.
Subhuti was the son of Sumana, who was the younger brother of Sudatta, the wealthy merchant who donated the Jetavana Monastery to Shakyamuni. As a child Subhuti was so attractive and intelligent that his parents had high hopes for him and took great care in his upbringing. But as he grew older, people came to dislike him. Even neighbors who had formerly been friendly would frown at the very sight of him. This was due to his habit of speaking ill of everyone he encountered.
After a while his anger was directed not only at human beings but at other creatures as well. He even hurled stones and curses at birds in the sky. His parents and relatives could do nothing to control his raging. After a series of quarrels with his mother and father, one day a reprimand of theirs caused Subhuti to run away from home. He dashed into the nearby mountains and refused to rerurn.
But the quiet of the forest and mountains did not calm his anger. Stamping on the ground
and throwing stones at birds, he moved deeper and deeper into the woods. Suddenly he was surprised by the abrupt appearance of an old man, who asked gently, “Why have you come alone into this forest?”
Subhuti retorted brusquely, “Everyone makes a fool of me. Today my father scolded me and made me so angry that I ran away from home.”
Remaining calm in the face of Subhuti's curtness, the old man said, “Being angry without doing good will only increase your suffering. It cannot benefit you in any way. At the Jetavana Monastery, near Savatthi, ,there is a noble man who teaches human beings how to abandon evil and do good. You should go to him and ask to be allowed to hear his teaching.”
Subhuti had become tired of the vicious circle of being shunned by others because of his angry outbursts and then of taking their attitude as cause for further irritation. He decided to follow the old man's advice. The knowledge that the Jetavana Monastery had been built by his uncle Sudatta may also have influenced his decision. That morning Savatthi was bustled with people. This was the day on which the Jetavana Monastery, donated by Sudatta as a place where the Buddhist teachings could be expounded, was to be presented to Shakyamuni. Subhuti entered the building with a group eager to hear the Buddha's teaching. When he beheld Shakyamuni's radiant countenance and welcoming smile, Subhuti felt the mass of discontent that had built up within him dissipate. He made up his mind then and there to request acceptance as one of the Buddha's disciples.
After the presentation ceremony he approached Shakyamuni and asked to be admitted to the Sangha. Shakyamuni gazed at Subhuti and said, “Short temper is clearly written on your face. There is no room for irritability in the discipline of a monk's life. You must have patience and forbearance. Do you think you can develop these traits?”
Subhuti was silent. Shakyamuni continued, “If you are constantly angry, without trying to
alter your mental attitude, evil will increase day by day until finally the very seeds of goodness will disappear. An irascible man's anger makes him suffer the torments of hell, since he is constantly poisoning his own mind with a venom that leads to faultfinding and killing. He shuts himself up in his own suffering until ultimately, he is unable to find a way, out of it.”
Through Shakyamuni's words, Subhuti came to see clearly the cause of his own ceaseless suffering. His constantly finding fault with others had robbed him of the flexibility necessary for peace of mind, and he had been continually, hounded by the fear that the people he had abused would attack him in retaliation. The thought of the retribution he would have to suffer for the countless sins he had committed in his rage terrified Subhuti, and he repented profoundly of the harm he had done not only to people but also to animals and birds.
After Subhuti had become a disciple, Shakyamuni taught him. “The attitude of blaming
others arises from the idea that others exist because one exists oneself and from the self-centered notion that all others are mistaken.” Subhuti was also taught that the way to eliminate the effects of his past sins was to assimilate thoroughly the doctrine of causal origination and thus to realize that his own existence depended on the existence of others.
”It is wrong to be obsessed by desires and to yearn for pleasure,” Shakyamuni told him. “It
is also wrong to find the source of desires in one's own physical being and consequently torment one's body. The follower of the Way avoids both extremes. The follower of the Way does not speak of others behind their back, since doing so leads to falsehood. The follower of the Way does not speak rapidly though the fast talker understands his own meaning, others may misunderstand.”
The follower of the Way does not speak in his own local tongue. The same vessel is called
by different names in different regions, and it may be taken for its very opposite. Thinking that only what one says oneself is correct invites misunderstanding on the part of others.
“Failure to keep these teachings arises from attachment to one's own being. And this is the origin of all conflict.”
For the rest or his life, Subhuti abided by these teachings and never again became angry no matter how much he was persecuted. Severing all attachment to his own being, he achieved a state of selflessness and was revered as the disciple who understood the doctrine of the Void better than all others.
Without faith, the difficult task of attaining selflessness is impossible. At one point, after paying reverence to Shakyamuni, Subhuti asked him, “Revered teacher, what is the nature of
faith? What should a person do to become ardently faithful?”
Shakyamuni replied, “Revere and keep the precepts. Hear, understand and follow the Dharma. Establish good relations with your fellow monks in the Sangha. Be submissive when exhorted, be diligent in discipline, and be joyful in carrying out the teachings.”
Although he was inconspicuous among the Buddha's ten great disciples, Subhuti loved and respected his master and, thoroughly disciplining himself in the teaching that his own existence depended on the existence of others, ultimately attained enlightenment.