At that time, King Ajatashatru had begun making his own plans for the military conquest of the Vriji Federation. Trusting in the Buddha’s judgment, King Ajatashatru sent his minister Varshakara to Vulture Peak near the city of Rajagriha in order to seek out the Buddha’s advice in this matter. The Buddha informed Varshakara that the last time he had been in the city of Vaishali he had taught the Vrijis seven principles that would lead to prosperity and prevent decline if followed. For the benefit of Varshakara, the Buddha asked his attendant Ananda if the Vrijis had continued to follow these principles. Ananda confirmed that they were and so the Buddha stated:

1. As long as the Vrijis hold regular and frequent assemblies, they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

2. As long as the Vrijis meet in harmony, break up in harmony, and carry on their business in harmony, they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

3. As long as the Vrijis do not authorize what has not been authorized already, and do not abolish what has been authorized, but proceed according to what has been authorized by their ancient traditions, they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

4. As long as the Vrijis honor, respect, revere and salute the elders among them, and consider them worth listening to, they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

5. As long as the Vrijis do not forcibly abduct others’ wives and daughters and compel them to live with them, they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

6. As long as the Vrijis honor, respect, revere and salute the Vriji shrines at home and abroad, not withdrawing the proper support made and given before, they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

7. As long as the Vrijis ensure that proper provision is made for the safety of the arhats, so that such arhats may come in future to live there, and those already there may dwell in comfort, they may be expected to prosper and not decline. (Adapted from Long Discourses of the Buddha, pp. 321-232)

These principles are very conservative in nature and point to a very stable, traditional, and law abiding society. Basically, as long as the tribes of the Vriji Federation stick together and cooperate in terms of agreed upon values, traditions, and reverence for the wise they will not be vulnerable to the depredations of their neighbors, including the ambitious King Ajatashatru of Magadha. Unfortunately for the Vrijis, while Varshakara saw that it would not be advisable to march against them at that time, he saw how they might be made vulnerable in the future if they could be undermined from within.

At this, Varshakara replied: “Reverend Gautama, if the Vrijis keep to even one of these principles, they may be expected to prosper and not decline – far less all seven. Certainly the Vrijians will never be conquered by King Ajatashatru by force of arms, but only by means of propaganda and setting them against one another. And now Reverend Gautama, may I depart? I am busy and have much to do.” “Brahmin, do as you think fit.” Then Varshakara, rejoicing and delighted at the Lord’s words, rose from his seat and departed. (Ibid, p. 232)

If the Buddha was disappointed that his attempt to dissuade the Magadhans from war backfired, or was at least pleased to have bought the Vrijians a temporary reprieve the sutras do not say. It may be that the Buddha knew that the Magadhan conquest of the Vrijis was inevitable and that he simply reported honestly what he knew of the situation. While the Buddha always seemed to do what he could to convince people to stop killing and to avoid war, he also remained strictly apolitical and never chose sides. He also never tried to use his spiritual authority to tell kings and brahmins what to do. He simply taught the Dharma and left it to the conscience of his lay followers to decide how to act, saying, “do as you think fit,” before they departed.

In any case, the Buddha asked Ananda to gather the monks in the assembly hall so that he could teach them a version of the seven principles adapted to the monastic Sangha so that they too would prosper and not decline, even after the passing of the Buddha.

1. As long as the monks hold regular and frequent assemblies, they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

2. As long as they meet in harmony, break up in harmony, and carry on their business in harmony, they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

3. As long as they do not authorize what has not been authorized already, and do not abolish what has been authorized, but proceed according to what has been authorized by the rules of training, they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

4. As long as they honor, respect, revere and salute the elders of long standing who are long ordained, fathers and leaders of the order, they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

5. As long as they do not fall prey to desires that arise in them and lead to rebirth, they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

6. As long as they are devoted to forest-lodgings, they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

7. As long as they preserve their personal mindfulness, so that in future the good among their companions will come to them, and those who have already come will feel at ease with them, they may be expected to prosper and not decline.

As long as the monks hold to these seven things and are seen to do so, they may be expected to prosper and not decline. (Ibid, p. 233)

Modern Buddhists, particularly those without a monastic Sangha, might wonder if these principles have any relevance. Perhaps if “monk” is understood to mean whoever is designated as the senior teachers, leaders, or facilitators then it can be seen to have some relevance. It should not be too much to expect that the designated clergy or leaders of the Sangha should meet frequently and conduct their business harmoniously and in accordance with whatever rules they have established and not arbitrarily or according to personal whims. They should honor those who are senior and have more practical experience and training, though wisdom should be given more weight than mere seniority. Those entrusted with teaching or leadership positions should also be able to demonstrate at least a modicum of emotional and social maturity and a sense of responsibility. While people may no longer live in forest hermitages, those who are teachers should live frugally and avail themselves of opportunities to deepen their practice rather than living in luxury and indulging in worldly pursuits. Finally, those entrusted to be teachers or leaders should be self-aware and even self-transcending, because if those who lead or teach the Sangha have nothing to recommend them or to show for their practice, than the Sangha will eventually fall apart. Of course these principles could be extended to include the Sangha as a whole, both leaders or ministers and the other members or laity.

The Buddha then taught the monks four more sets of seven things to keep in mind:

I will tell you another seven things conducive to welfare… As long as monks do not rejoice, delight and become absorbed in works, … in chattering, … in sleeping, … in company, … in evil desires, … in mixing and associating with evil friends, … as long as they do not rest content with partial achievements… ; as long as the monks hold to these seven things and are seen to do so, they may be expected to prosper and not decline. (Ibid, p. 233)

This set of seven points to concentration on the practice of meditation and contemplation of the Buddha Dharma. It is a warning to not allow one’s practice to decline due to unnecessary busy work (let alone secular pursuits for worldly gain), or socializing (esp. with “bad company”), or sleeping, or self-indulgence, or complacence. This can easily be applied to non-monastic practitioners.

I will tell you another seven things conducive to welfare… As long as monks continue with faith, with modesty, with fear of doing wrong, with learning, with aroused vigor, with established mindfulness, with wisdom, they may be expected to prosper and not decline. (Ibid, p. 233)

This set of seven is straightforward and also easily applicable to non-monastic practitioners. Though perhaps it needs to be pointed out that “faith” does not mean “blind belief” in some creed or dogma. It refers to trust and confidence in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha and one’s own ability to practice and realize awakening for oneself.

I will tell you another seven things… As long as monks develop the enlightenment-factors of mindfulness, of investigation of phenomena, of energy, of rapture, of tranquility, of concentration, of equanimity, they may be expected to prosper and not decline. (Ibid, p. 233)

This set lists the seven factors of enlightenment that describe the different elements of insight meditation. They are an important part of the thirty-seven requisites for enlightenment that are discussed in more detail in another article.

I will tell you another seven things… As long as monks develop the perception of impermanence, of non-self, of impurity, of danger, of overcoming, of dispassion, of cessation, they may be expected to prosper and not decline. (Ibid, pp. 233-234)

This set of seven refers to the result of practice, whereby practitioners sees the true nature of all things that arise due to causes and conditions and thereby gains freedom.  They see that all things are impermanent, do not have any fixed or independent self-nature, and are therefore not able to provide pure happiness without many drawbacks not the least of which is the aforementioned fact of impermanence. Seeing the danger in becoming attached to things the practitioners are able to overcome their selfish and deluded craving, they become dispassionate, and realize the cessation of suffering.

Finally the Buddha taught the monks six principles conducive to communal living:

As long as monks both in public and in private show loving-kindness to their fellows in acts of (1) body, (2) speech, and (3) thought, (4) share with their virtuous fellows whatever they receive as a rightful gift, including the contents of their alms-bowls, which they do not keep to themselves, (5) keep consistently, unbroken and unaltered those rules of conduct that are spotless, leading to liberation, praised by the wise, unstained and conducive to concentration, and persist therein with their fellows both in public and in private, (6) continue in that noble view that leads to liberation, to the utter destruction of suffering, remaining in such awareness with their fellows both in public and in private… As long as monks hold these six things and are seen to do so, they may be expected to prosper and not decline. (Ibid, p. 234)

Those are pretty straightforward and require no further comment.

The Buddha then ended this discourse to the monks at Vulture Peak with what is called a “comprehensive discourse” that is a reiteration of the threefold training of morality, concentration, and wisdom:

This is morality, this is concentration, this is wisdom. Concentration, when imbued with morality, brings great fruit and profit. Wisdom, when imbued with concentration, brings great fruit and profit. The mind imbued with wisdom becomes completely free from the corruptions, that is, from the corruption of sensuality, of becoming, of false views and of ignorance. (Ibid, p. 234)

This comprehensive discourse shows how each part of the threefold training is the basis for the next, culminating in freedom from suffering. The threefold training is itself a summary of the eightfold path wherein morality encompasses right speech, right action, and right livelihood; concentration encompasses right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration; and wisdom encompasses right view and right intention. The comprehensive discourse, given as a summary of the Buddha’s teachings on practice, was repeated again and again by the Buddha as he toured the countryside for the last time. It was this practice that he wised to reiterate and underscore as his life drew to a close.