Ānanda and the Sewing Circle

Ānanda excelled in sewing.  As a bhikkhu with few possessions, tending to one’s robe was an important skill to have.  As the Buddha pointed out, it also showed mutual respect between the Sangha and the laity since it was the lay devotees of the Triple Gem who offered the robes to the bhikkhus and bhikkhunis.  So the Buddha praised Ānanda in front of the Sangha for his skills in tending to his robes and gave the instruction that members of the Sangha should care for their robes properly.

One day, the Buddha saw numerous seats prepared in a monastery and asked Ānanda what was the occasion.  Following the Buddha’s order regarding proper care of robes, Ānanda had arranged a sewing circle among the Bhikkhus.  In this way he intended to help the monks help themselves by teaching them how to sew.  But the event turned into an occasion for homelike conversation that resulted in frivolous chit-chat among the monks.

Seeing this, the Buddha gave this injunction to the bhikkhus and Ānanda concerning the danger of frivolous chatter:

A monk does not deserve praise who enjoys socializing, who finds joy in fellowship, finds contentment in it, enjoys togetherness, is pleased with it.  That such a monk should attain at will the bliss of renunciation, the bliss of solitude, the bliss of tranquility, the bliss of awakening, in their totality, that is impossible.

He finished by encouraging Ānanda’s practice and expounding the highest goal: total voidness of concepts, objects, and names.  He told Ānanda that this could only be attained by one who strives to master the mind in solitude.  He finished with the following words:

Therefore, Ānanda, bear amity towards me, not hostility; long shall that be for your benefit and happiness.  I shall not treat you, Ānanda, as the potter treats his unfired pots.  Repeatedly admonishing, I shall speak to you, Ānanda, repeatedly testing.  He who is sound will stand the test.

Ānanda accepted the criticism happily and followed it until his final release from suffering.

(Note: This story about Ānanda and the sewing circle can be found in Great Disciples of the Buddha: Their Lives, Their Works, Their Legacy, pp. 145 – 47.)

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