The Great Discourse on the Lion's Roar
The Maha-sihanada Sutta, the Great Discourse on the Lion's Roar, is a text of awesome scope and power, one of those rare suttas in which the Buddha discloses the greatness and loftiness of his own spiritual endowments.
Towards the end of the sutta, the Buddha says that he has reached his eightieth year, which allows us to place the discourse in the final year of his life.
Thus the sutta serves as a convenient summation of the exalted qualities that enabled the Buddha to function so effectively as teacher and spiritual guide through the forty-five years of his mission.
It is not typical of the Buddha to extol himself, for he did not intend his Dispensation to evolve into a personality cult centered around himself as a charismatic and powerful leader.
Throughout his ministry he constantly emphasized the primacy of his role as guide, as the discoverer and proclaimer of the path.
His task is not to command reverence,
but to steer his disciples onto and along the path,
for it is only the practice of the path,
the cultivation of the training,
that can effect the deep interior purification
by which one can reach the extinction of the defilements and liberation from suffering.
However, while the Buddha functions primarily as the revealer of the path, confidence in him as the Supreme Teacher remains an essential element of the training.
It is this confidence, freshly arisen, that induces the curious inquirer to cross the great divide that separates the admirer of the Dhamma from the practitioner, and it is this same confidence that drives the aspirant forward until the task of self-cultivation has been completed.
Frequent reflection on the greatness of the Master inspires joy and courage, sustaining one's commitment during those dark periods when prospects for progress appear bleak, and
desire and doubt — those twin conspirators — combine forces to attempt to persuade one of the futility of one's efforts.
Hence, in order to provide a spur to awaken and nurture the confidence necessary to tread the path through its downward turns as well as its ascents,
the Buddha on occasion offers us revelations of his "Buddha-gunas,"
the excellent qualities of a Fully Enlightened One that entitle him to serve as the first of the Three Gems and Three Refuges.
One of the most impressive of these rare disclosures is the Great Discourse on the Lion's Roar. Spoken as a rebuttal to the charges of a renegade disciple who, in the midst of the populous city of Vesali, had been denouncing the Buddha and attempting to dissuade others from following his teaching,
the sutta recapitulates the various distinguished qualities of the Blessed One,
with special emphasis upon his "ten Tathagata powers"(tathagatabala)
and "four intrepidities" (vesarajja);
the sutta also affords us a glimpse of the demanding ordeal he underwent over many past aeons seeking the path to deliverance.
When it was first spoken, the sutta had such a powerful impact on one monk in the assembly that his bodily hairs stood on end, and thus, during an early period, the sutta was known by the alternative title "The Hair-raising Discourse."
Even today, centuries later, the Great Discourse on the Lion's Roar can continue to serve as a fecund source of inspiration.