By Richard Daley
As we seem to be living through a time rife with those seeking to contradict others, even if only for pure pleasure or fun, I thought it wise to bring us to a time when the Buddha himself was approached by an individual named Paccanikasata—literally “Enjoyer of Contradiction.”
Paccanikasata was a brahman priest, so, somewhat of a holy figure in early Hinduism.
Buddhaghosa, the 5th-century Indian Buddhist monk and philosopher, in one of his commentaries The Revealer of the Essential Meaning, mentions that Paccanikasata had gained the nickname “Gainsayer,” because he took pleasure in opposing everything that anyone else said. Sound like anybody you know?
Gainsayer: One who contradicts or denies what is alleged; an opposer. A person who gainsays others; a disagreeable person
The Buddha was staying at Jeta’s Grove, a park within the city of Savatthi that was built for him by one of his most generous, and dedicated lay followers, Anathapindika. Paccanikasata happened to be in Savatthi, very close by. He said to himself “Let’s go to the contemplative Gotama (the Buddha) and contradict whatever he says.”
At that particular point in time the Buddha was doing walking meditation. This didn’t matter much to Paccanikasata who decided to walk over, and interrupt the Buddha’s meditation. He called out “Speak Dhamma (your teaching, the truth), contemplative.”
The Buddha responded:
isn’t easy to understand
by one who enjoys contradiction,
who’s defiled in mind,
intent on confrontation.
But whoever has subdued confrontation
& suspicion in his awareness,
who has relinquished hatred:
He will understand
The Buddha achieves two things here. Firstly, he refuses to preach to Paccanikasata, because he clearly understands the context of this particular visit. He knows he would be wasting his time explaining his teachings to somebody who does not want to know the truth—who only wants to contradict it for pure amusement.
Secondly, he opens Paccanikasata’s mind to a fact he lays bare in a different sutta to another brahman:
“There are some contemplatives & brahmans, brahman, who have the perception of ‘day’ when it is night, and of ‘night’ when it is day. This, I tell you, is their being in a dwelling of delusion. As for me, I have the perception of ‘day’ when it is day, and of ‘night’ when it is night. If anyone, when speaking rightly, were to say, ‘A being not subject to delusion has appeared in the world for the benefit & happiness of many, out of sympathy for the world, for the welfare, benefit, & happiness of human & divine beings,’ he would rightly be speaking of me.”
– Bhaya-bherava Sutta (MN 4)
Let’s look at an excerpt directly from the end of the source material of this story, the Paccanika Sutta (SN 7:16):
When this was said, the brahman Paccanikasata said to the Blessed One, “Magnificent, Master Gotama! Magnificent! Just as if he were to place upright what was overturned, to reveal what was hidden, to show the way to one who was lost, or to carry a lamp into the dark so that those with eyes could see forms, in the same way has Master Gotama—through many lines of reasoning—made the Dhamma clear. I go to Master Gotama for refuge, to the Dhamma, & to the Saṅgha of monks. May Master Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has gone for refuge from this day forward, for life.”
The Buddha, in the typical fashion of the Buddha, made it clear to Paccanikasata the error of his ways, and earned himself a follower. He did this not by trying to battle him in argumentation; rather, he pointed out his folly by stating a simple fact. This fact is that those who are not willing to understand the truth, will never see truth.
They will fight the truth only for the thrill of battle. He shows that it is through relinquishing cynicism and suspicion, and letting go of hatred, that clear eyes open to understanding will reveal themselves.
Editor: Dana Gornall