Thanissaro Bhikkhu, the maddeningly prolific (at least to other dharma writers, that is) monk from the Thai forest tradition pictured at right, has a new book out: Skill in Questions. It’s available as a free PDF (3 PDfs, actually) downloadable from dhammatalks.org.

The book begins:

When we read the account of the Buddha’s last night, it’s easy to sense the importance of his final teaching before entering total nibbana: “Now, then, monks, I exhort you: All fabrications are subject to decay. Bring about completion by being heedful.” These words call attention to themselves because they were the last he ever said.

That may be why it’s so easy to overlook the importance of what the Buddha did right before saying them. In a gesture extremely gracious—given that he had been walking all day, had fallen severely ill along the way, and now was about to die—he offered one last opportunity for his followers to question him. He even made the offer four times to show that it wasn’t just a gesture. He seriously wanted to clear up any remaining doubts in their minds before closing his mouth for good:

Then the Blessed One addressed the monks, “If even a single monk has any doubt or indecision concerning the Buddha, Dhamma, or Sangha, the path or the practice, ask. Don’t later regret that ‘The Teacher was face-to-face with us, but we didn’t bring ourselves to cross-question him in his presence.’”

When this was said, the monks were silent.

A second time… A third time, the Blessed One said, “If even a single monk has any doubt or indecision concerning the Buddha, Dhamma, or Sangha, the path or the practice, ask. Don’t later regret that ‘The Teacher was face-to-face with us, but we didn’t bring ourselves to cross-question him in his presence.’”

A third time, the monks were silent.

Then the Blessed One addressed the monks, “Now, if it’s out of respect for the Teacher that you don’t ask, let a friend inform a friend.” When this was said, the monks were silent.

Then Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One, “It’s amazing, lord. It’s astounding. I’m confident that in this community of monks there isn’t even a single monk who has any doubt or indecision concerning the Buddha, Dhamma, or Sangha, the path or the practice.”

“You, Ananda, speak out of confidence, while there is knowledge in the Tathagata that in this community of monks there isn’t even a single monk who has any doubt or indecision concerning the Buddha, Dhamma, or Sangha, the path or the practice. Of these 500 monks, the most backward is a stream-winner, not destined for the planes of deprivation, headed to self-awakening for sure.” — DN 16

Thanissaro Bhikkhu, or Than Geoff, as he’s known to friends, will be leading a Tricycle retreat in January at tricycle.com. Become a Tricycle Community Sustaining Member to take part.

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