Differentiated Teaching by The Buddha


For 49 years, the Buddha had dedicated his life to teaching sentient beings the Four Noble Truth and the Noble Eightfold path to help them end endless suffering from the sea of samsara. 

Buddha said that everyone can attain enlightenment, even for slow learner. He used differentiated teaching to teach his many disciples with different abilities and interests. The following stories showed the different methods the Buddha used to help his many disciples to attain enlightenment. 


Direct Instruction Teaching: Most of the time, the Buddha will give Dharma talk to the monks in the open field and verbally explain to all. This is like direct teaching in the classroom. The benefit is many disciples can hear his teaching. 


Body Kinesthetic and Verbal: (The story is from Fo Guang Shan)

In the following story, Buddha taught Ksudranpanthaka using kinesthetic and verbal method. As he sweeps the floor holding the broom using his hands, he repeats sweep and clean till one day he attained enlightenment. 


One day the Buddha heard Ksudrapanthaka sobbing loudly. The Buddha approached Ksudrapanthaka and asked him why he was crying.

“What has made you cry so hard?” he asked.

“Oh, Lord Buddha,” He said. “I am just a stupid person. I followed my brother into the monastic life, but I seem to be unable to remember anything I am taught. My brother has tried to teach me the Dharma many times, but I always forget what he tells me. Today he told me that since I have such a bad memory, I should leave the monastery and go back home. Oh, Lord Buddha! I don’t want to leave. Please help me!”


When he finished speaking, the Buddha replied very softly, “Don’t worry about how much you know or don’t know. That’s not important. It is a form of wisdom to realize that one is ignorant, and it is a form of ignorance to believe one is wise.Come with me now.”

He began to teach him to repeat the phrase, “Sweep and clean, sweep and clean.” Ksudrapanthaka, however, proved unable to remember even these simple words. When the other monks learned of this, they decided that Ksudrapanthaka was beyond all hope. The Buddha, however, having unending compassion, continued trying to teach him the phrase.

“Take this broom,” the Buddha said to him. “As you sweep the ground, say the words I have taught you over and over again.”


Ksudrapanthaka did as the Buddha told him, He worked at it day after day until he was able to say it without any help from anyone. Then, slowly, he began to really think about the words as he swept back and forth across the grounds of the monastery. He thought to himself, “There are really two things that must be swept and cleaned. One of them is outside and the other is inside. The dirt and dust outside of us is easy to clean away, but the dust and dirt inside of us requires great wisdom to clean away. The dirt and dust inside us is nothing other than our suffering, our greed, our anger and our selfishness.”

Ksudrapanthaka continued sweeping and he continued thinking. And as he continued, his mind gradually started becoming brighter. Things he had been unable to understand before gradually became understandable to him. He thought, “All of the dust inside of human beings originally is caused by only one thing: desire. Only wisdom can overcome desire. If desire is not overcome, then the cycle of birth and death cannot be escaped and suffering can never end. Desire causes suffering and it causes karma, which keeps us lashed to the wheel of birth and death. As long as we are victims of our own desires, we can never be free.

 “As soon as we get rid ourselves of all desire, however, our minds will be pure. We will see the Truth and we will be free forever.”

 As Ksudrapanthaka continued sweeping and thinking like that, he slowly managed to clean his mind of all its impurities. Gradually, he entered a state of complete equanimity wherein he had neither desire nor aversion, wherein he saw neither good nor bad, and wherein all his previous ignorance was entirely eradicated.

Ksudrapanthaka became enlightened.

With his new understanding, he went joyfully to the Buddha and said, “Lord Buddha, I am liberated! I have swept and cleaned just as you told me, and by doing so I have swept away all the impurities in my mind!”

Buddha was full of joy to hear that Ksudrapanthaka had said, and from that day on Ksudrapanthaka became one of Buddha’s most respected disciples. 


Motivation through Interests


Since his half-brother, Nanda was ordained, he had not been practising the Dhamma but was thinking of his beautiful wife Janapada Kalyān.

Learning of this, the Buddha took Nanda on a journey to Tavatimsa Heaven. Nanda saw beautiful Apsara goddesses. 

The Buddha asked Nanda: “Which do you consider more beautiful? Those nymphs or Janapada Kalyāni?”


Nanda said the Apasara are more beautiful as compared to his wife. 

The Buddha said: “Nanda, can you see that what you thought to be exceedingly beautiful now pales in comparison to greater beauty?”

Upon hearing this, Nanda practiced diligently and eventually attained Arhatship.

Investigative and Questioning


The Buddha never expected people to accept his Teaching out of blind faith and superstition. He encouraged people to investigate the truth of His Teaching for themselves before accepting it. People should only practise what they find to be beneficial physically and mentally. The following story is taken from Fo Guang Shan FB.


The Buddha was strict with his son Rahula. Rahula, the first sramanera to join the Sangha, was intelligent but liked to tell lies. After the Buddha found out, he ordered Rahula to bring him some water. The Buddha then washed his feet, pointed at the water, and asked, “Is the water in this basin fit for drinking?” Rahula responded, “This water is dirty and thus undrinkable.” The Buddha said, “You are like this water. Originally pure, but because of your dishonesty, you have become just like dirty water.” After Rahula emptied the basin, the Buddha asked, “Can this basin be used to hold food?” Rahula responded, “No, this basin is not clean and thus not fit to hold food.” The Buddha said, “You are like this basin. Although you have become a monk, you do not purify your body, speech, and mind, so how can the Dharma enter your heart?” 

After this, Rahula abandoned his mischievous habits, strictly upheld the precepts, and practice diligently. Eventually he also became an Arahant. 


There are different ways to attain the fruit of enlightenment.


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