The Sutta You Should Learn on Visakha Puja Day

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With Saṅgārava

At one time the Buddha was wandering in the land of the Kosalans together with a large Saṅgha of mendicants. Now at that time a brahmin lady named Dhanañjānī was residing at Caṇḍalakappa. She was devoted to the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha. Once, she tripped and was inspired to exclaim three times:

“Homage to that Blessed One, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha!

Homage to that Blessed One, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha!

Homage to that Blessed One, the perfected one, the fully awakened Buddha!”

Now at that time the brahmin student Saṅgārava was residing in Caṇḍalakappa. He was young, newly tonsured; he was sixteen years old. He had mastered the three Vedas, together with their vocabularies, ritual, phonology and etymology, and the testament as fifth. He knew philology and grammar, and was well versed in cosmology and the marks of a great man.

Hearing Dhanañjānī’s exclamation, he said to her, “The brahmin lady named Dhanañjānī is a disgrace! Though brahmins who are proficient in the three Vedas are found, she praises that shaveling, that fake ascetic.”

“But my little dear, you don’t understand the Buddha’s ethics and wisdom. If you did, you’d never think of abusing or insulting him.”

“Well then, ma’am, let me know when the Buddha arrives in Caṇḍalakappa.”

“I will, dear,” she replied.

And then the Buddha, traveling stage by stage in the Kosalan lands, arrived at Caṇḍalakappa, where he stayed in the mango grove of the Todeyya brahmins.

Dhanañjānī heard that he had arrived. So she went to Saṅgārava and told him, adding, “Please, my little dear, go at your convenience.”

“Yes, ma’am,” replied Saṅgārava. He went to the Buddha and exchanged greetings with him. When the greetings and polite conversation were over, he sat down to one side and said to the Buddha:

“Master Gotama, there are some ascetics and brahmins who claim to have mastered the fundamentals of the spiritual life having attained perfection and consummation of insight in the present life. Where do you stand regarding these?”

“I say there is a diversity among those who claim to have mastered the fundamentals of the spiritual life having attained perfection and consummation of insight in the present life. There are some ascetics and brahmins who are oral transmitters. Through oral transmission they claim to have mastered the fundamentals of the spiritual life. For example, the brahmins who are proficient in the three Vedas. There are some ascetics and brahmins who solely by mere faith claim to have mastered the fundamentals of the spiritual life. For example, those who rely on logic and inquiry. There are some ascetics and brahmins who, having directly known for themselves the principle regarding teachings not learned before from another, claim to have mastered the fundamentals of the spiritual life. I am one of those. And here’s a way to understand that I am one of them.

Before my awakening—when I was still unawakened but intent on awakening—I thought: ‘Living in a house is cramped and dirty, but the life of one gone forth is wide open. It’s not easy for someone living at home to lead the spiritual life utterly full and pure, like a polished shell. Why don’t I shave off my hair and beard, dress in ocher robes, and go forth from the lay life to homelessness?’ Some time later, while still black-haired, blessed with youth, in the prime of life—though my mother and father wished otherwise, weeping with tearful faces—I shaved off my hair and beard, dressed in ocher robes, and went forth from the lay life to homelessness.

Once I had gone forth I set out to discover what is skillful, seeking the supreme state of sublime peace. I approached Āḷāra Kālāma and said to him, ‘Reverend Kālāma, I wish to live the spiritual life in this teaching and training.’

Āḷāra Kālāma replied, ‘Stay, venerable. This teaching is such that a sensible person can soon realize their own teacher’s doctrine with their own insight and live having achieved it.’

I quickly memorized that teaching. So far as lip-recital and oral recitation were concerned, I spoke with knowledge and the authority of the elders. I claimed to know and see, and so did others.

Then it occurred to me, ‘It is not solely by mere faith that Āḷāra Kālāma declares: “I realize this teaching with my own insight, and live having achieved it.” Surely he meditates knowing and seeing this teaching.’

So I approached Āḷāra Kālāma and said to him: ‘Reverend Kālāma, to what extent do you say you’ve realized this teaching with your own insight?’ When I said this, he declared the dimension of nothingness.

Then it occurred to me, ‘It’s not just Āḷāra Kālāma who has faith, energy, mindfulness, immersion, and wisdom; I too have these things. Why don’t I make an effort to realize the same teaching that Āḷāra Kālāma says he has realized with his own insight?’ I quickly realized that teaching with my own insight, and lived having achieved it.

So I approached Āḷāra Kālāma and said to him, ‘Reverend Kālāma, have you realized this teaching with your own insight up to this point, and declare having achieved it?’

‘I have, reverend.’

‘I too have realized this teaching with my own insight up to this point, and live having achieved it.’

‘We are fortunate, reverend, so very fortunate to see a venerable such as yourself as one of our spiritual companions! So the teaching that I’ve realized with my own insight, and declare having achieved it, you’ve realized with your own insight, and live having achieved it. The teaching that you’ve realized with your own insight, and live having achieved it, I’ve realized with my own insight, and declare having achieved it. So the teaching that I know, you know, and the teaching you know, I know. I am like you and you are like me. Come now, reverend! We should both lead this community together.’

And that is how my teacher Āḷāra Kālāma placed me, his student, on the same position as him, and honored me with lofty praise.

Then it occurred to me, ‘This teaching doesn’t lead to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. It only leads as far as rebirth in the dimension of nothingness.’ Realizing that this teaching was inadequate, I left disappointed.

I set out to discover what is skillful, seeking the supreme state of sublime peace. I approached Uddaka, son of Rāma, and said to him, ‘Reverend, I wish to live the spiritual life in this teaching and training.’

Uddaka replied, ‘Stay, venerable. This teaching is such that a sensible person can soon realize their own teacher’s doctrine with their own insight and live having achieved it.’

I quickly memorized that teaching. So far as lip-recital and oral recitation were concerned, I spoke with knowledge and the authority of the elders. I claimed to know and see, and so did others.

Then it occurred to me, ‘It is not solely by mere faith that Rāma declared: “I realize this teaching with my own insight, and live having achieved it.” Surely he meditated knowing and seeing this teaching.’

So I approached Uddaka, son of Rāma, and said to him, ‘Reverend, to what extent did Rāma say he’d realized this teaching with his own insight?’ When I said this, Uddaka, son of Rāma, declared the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.

Then it occurred to me, ‘It’s not just Rāma who had faith, energy, mindfulness, immersion, and wisdom; I too have these things. Why don’t I make an effort to realize the same teaching that Rāma said he had realized with his own insight?’ I quickly realized that teaching with my own insight, and lived having achieved it.

So I approached Uddaka, son of Rāma, and said to him, ‘Reverend, had Rāma realized this teaching with his own insight up to this point, and declared having achieved it?’

‘He had, reverend.’

‘I too have realized this teaching with my own insight up to this point, and live having achieved it.’

‘We are fortunate, reverend, so very fortunate to see a venerable such as yourself as one of our spiritual companions! So the teaching that Rāma had realized with his own insight, and declared having achieved it, you’ve realized with your own insight, and live having achieved it. The teaching that you’ve realized with your own insight, and live having achieved it, Rāma had realized with his own insight, and declared having achieved it. So the teaching that Rāma directly knew, you know, and the teaching you know, Rāma directly knew. Rāma was like you and you are like Rāma. Come now, reverend! You should lead this community.’ And that is how my spiritual companion Uddaka, son of Rāma, placed me in the position of a teacher, and honored me with lofty praise.

Then it occurred to me, ‘This teaching doesn’t lead to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. It only leads as far as rebirth in dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.’ Realizing that this teaching was inadequate, I left disappointed.

I set out to discover what is skillful, seeking the supreme state of sublime peace. Traveling stage by stage in the Magadhan lands, I arrived at Senanigama near Uruvelā. There I saw a delightful park, a lovely grove with a flowing river that was clean and charming, with smooth banks. And nearby was a village to go for alms. Then it occurred to me, ‘This park is truly delightful, a lovely grove with a flowing river that’s clean and charming, with smooth banks. And nearby there’s a village to go for alms. This is good enough for a gentleman who wishes to put forth effort in meditation.’ So I sat down right there, thinking: ‘This is good enough for meditation.’

And then these three examples, which were neither supernaturally inspired, nor learned before in the past, occurred to me. Suppose there was a green, sappy log, and it was lying in water. Then a person comes along with a drill-stick, thinking to light a fire and produce heat. What do you think, Bhāradvāja? By drilling the stick against that green, sappy log lying in water, could they light a fire and produce heat?”

“No, Master Gotama. Why is that? Because it’s a green, sappy log, and it’s lying in the water. That person will eventually get weary and frustrated.”

“In the same way, there are ascetics and brahmins who don’t live withdrawn in body and mind from sensual pleasures. They haven’t internally given up or stilled desire, affection, infatuation, thirst, and passion for sensual pleasures. Regardless of whether or not they feel painful, sharp, severe, acute feelings due to overexertion, they are incapable of knowledge and vision, of supreme awakening. This was the first example that occurred to me.

Then a second example occurred to me. Suppose there was a green, sappy log, and it was lying on dry land far from the water. Then a person comes along with a drill-stick, thinking to light a fire and produce heat. What do you think, Bhāradvāja? By drilling the stick against that green, sappy log on dry land far from water, could they light a fire and produce heat?”

“No, Master Gotama. Why is that? Because it’s still a green, sappy log, despite the fact that it’s lying on dry land far from water. That person will eventually get weary and frustrated.” “In the same way, there are ascetics and brahmins who live withdrawn in body and mind from sensual pleasures. But they haven’t internally given up or stilled desire, affection, infatuation, thirst, and passion for sensual pleasures. Regardless of whether or not they feel painful, sharp, severe, acute feelings due to overexertion, they are incapable of knowledge and vision, of supreme awakening. This was the second example that occurred to me.

Then a third example occurred to me. Suppose there was a dried up, withered log, and it was lying on dry land far from the water. Then a person comes along with a drill-stick, thinking to light a fire and produce heat. What do you think, Bhāradvāja? By drilling the stick against that dried up, withered log on dry land far from water, could they light a fire and produce heat?”

“Yes, Master Gotama. Why is that? Because it’s a dried up, withered log, and it’s lying on dry land far from water.”

“In the same way, there are ascetics and brahmins who live withdrawn in body and mind from sensual pleasures. And they have internally given up and stilled desire, affection, infatuation, thirst, and passion for sensual pleasures. Regardless of whether or not they feel painful, sharp, severe, acute feelings due to overexertion, they are capable of knowledge and vision, of supreme awakening. This was the third example that occurred to me. These are the three examples, which were neither supernaturally inspired, nor learned before in the past, that occurred to me.

Then it occurred to me, ‘Why don’t I, with teeth clenched and tongue pressed against the roof of my mouth, squeeze, squash, and torture mind with mind.’ So that’s what I did, until sweat ran from my armpits. It was like when a strong man grabs a weaker man by the head or throat or shoulder and squeezes, squashes, and tortures them. In the same way, with teeth clenched and tongue pressed against the roof of my mouth, I squeezed, squashed, and tortured mind with mind until sweat ran from my armpits. My energy was roused up and unflagging, and my mindfulness was established and lucid, but my body was disturbed, not tranquil, because I’d pushed too hard with that painful striving.

Then it occurred to me, ‘Why don’t I practice the breathless absorption?’ So I cut off my breathing through my mouth and nose. But then winds came out my ears making a loud noise, like the puffing of a blacksmith’s bellows. My energy was roused up and unflagging, and my mindfulness was established and lucid, but my body was disturbed, not tranquil, because I’d pushed too hard with that painful striving.

Then it occurred to me, ‘Why don’t I keep practicing the breathless absorption?’ So I cut off my breathing through my mouth and nose. But then strong winds ground my head, like a strong man was drilling into my head with a sharp point. My energy was roused up and unflagging, and my mindfulness was established and lucid, but my body was disturbed, not tranquil, because I’d pushed too hard with that painful striving.

Then it occurred to me, ‘Why don’t I keep practicing the breathless absorption?’ So I cut off my breathing through my mouth and nose. But then I got a severe headache, like a strong man was tightening a tough leather strap around my head. My energy was roused up and unflagging, and my mindfulness was established and lucid, but my body was disturbed, not tranquil, because I’d pushed too hard with that painful striving.

Then it occurred to me, ‘Why don’t I keep practicing the breathless absorption?’ So I cut off my breathing through my mouth and nose. But then strong winds carved up my belly, like a deft butcher or their apprentice was slicing my belly open with a meat cleaver. My energy was roused up and unflagging, and my mindfulness was established and lucid, but my body was disturbed, not tranquil, because I’d pushed too hard with that painful striving.

Then it occurred to me, ‘Why don’t I keep practicing the breathless absorption?’ So I cut off my breathing through my mouth and nose. But then there was an intense burning in my body, like two strong men grabbing a weaker man by the arms to burn and scorch him on a pit of glowing coals. My energy was roused up and unflagging, and my mindfulness was established and lucid, but my body was disturbed, not tranquil, because I’d pushed too hard with that painful striving.

Then some deities saw me and said, ‘The ascetic Gotama is dead.’ Others said, ‘He’s not dead, but he’s dying.’ Others said, ‘He’s not dead or dying. The ascetic Gotama is a perfected one, for that is how the perfected ones live.’

Then it occurred to me, ‘Why don’t I practice completely cutting off food?’

But deities came to me and said, ‘Good sir, don’t practice totally cutting off food. If you do, we’ll infuse divine nectar into your pores and you will live on that.’

Then it occurred to me, ‘If I claim to be completely fasting while these deities are infusing divine nectar in my pores, that would be a lie on my part.’ So I dismissed those deities, saying, ‘There’s no need.’

Then it occurred to me, ‘Why don’t I just take a little bit of food each time, a cup of broth made from mung beans, lentils, chickpeas, or green gram.’ So that’s what I did, until my body became extremely emaciated. Due to eating so little, my limbs became like the joints of an eighty-year-old or a corpse, my bottom became like a camel’s hoof, my vertebrae stuck out like beads on a string, and my ribs were as gaunt as the broken-down rafters on an old barn. Due to eating so little, the gleam of my eyes sank deep in their sockets, like the gleam of water sunk deep down a well. Due to eating so little, my scalp shriveled and withered like a green bitter-gourd in the wind and sun. Due to eating so little, the skin of my belly stuck to my backbone, so that when I tried to rub the skin of my belly I grabbed my backbone, and when I tried to rub my backbone I rubbed the skin of my belly. Due to eating so little, when I tried to urinate or defecate I fell face down right there. Due to eating so little, when I tried to relieve my body by rubbing my limbs with my hands, the hair, rotted at its roots, fell out.

Then some people saw me and said: ‘The ascetic Gotama is black.’ Some said: ‘He’s not black, he’s brown.’ Some said: ‘He’s neither black nor brown. The ascetic Gotama has tawny skin.’ That’s how far the pure, bright complexion of my skin had been ruined by taking so little food.

Then it occurred to me, ‘Whatever ascetics and brahmins have experienced painful, sharp, severe, acute feelings due to overexertion—whether in the past, future, or present—this is as far as it goes, no-one has done more than this. But I have not achieved any superhuman distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones by this severe, grueling work. Could there be another path to awakening?’

Then it occurred to me, ‘I recall sitting in the cool shade of the rose-apple tree while my father the Sakyan was off working. Quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, I entered and remained in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected. Could that be the path to awakening?’ Stemming from that memory came the realization: ‘*That* is the path to awakening!’

Then it occurred to me, ‘Why am I afraid of that pleasure, for it has nothing to do with sensual pleasures or unskillful qualities?’ I thought, ‘I’m not afraid of that pleasure, for it has nothing to do with sensual pleasures or unskillful qualities.’

Then it occurred to me, ‘I can’t achieve that pleasure with a body so excessively emaciated. Why don’t I eat some solid food, some rice and porridge?’ So I ate some solid food.

Now at that time the five mendicants were attending on me, thinking, ‘The ascetic Gotama will tell us of any truth that he realizes.’ But when I ate some solid food, they left disappointed in me, saying, ‘The ascetic Gotama has become indulgent; he has strayed from the struggle and returned to indulgence.’

After eating solid food and gathering my strength, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, I entered and remained in the first absorption … As the placing of the mind and keeping it connected were stilled, I entered and remained in the second absorption … third absorption … fourth absorption.

When my mind had immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—I extended it toward recollection of past lives. I recollected many past lives. That is: one, two, three, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand rebirths; many eons of the world contracting, many eons of the world expanding, many eons of the world contracting and expanding. And so I recollected my many kinds of past lives, with features and details.

This was the first knowledge, which I achieved in the first watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed and knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed and light arose, as happens for a meditator who is diligent, keen, and resolute.

When my mind had immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—I extended it toward knowledge of the death and rebirth of sentient beings. With clairvoyance that is purified and superhuman, I saw sentient beings passing away and being reborn—inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, in a good place or a bad place. I understood how sentient beings are reborn according to their deeds …

This was the second knowledge, which I achieved in the middle watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed and knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed and light arose, as happens for a meditator who is diligent, keen, and resolute.

When my mind had immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, flawless, rid of corruptions, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—I extended it toward knowledge of the ending of defilements. I truly understood: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the origin of suffering’ … ‘This is the cessation of suffering’ … ‘This is the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering’. I truly understood: ‘These are defilements’ … ‘This is the origin of defilements’ … ‘This is the cessation of defilements’ … ‘This is the practice that leads to the cessation of defilements’.

Knowing and seeing like this, my mind was freed from the defilements of sensuality, desire to be reborn, and ignorance. When it was freed, I knew it was freed.

I understood: ‘Rebirth is ended; the spiritual journey has been completed; what had to be done has been done; there is no return to any state of existence.’

This was the third knowledge, which I achieved in the last watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed and knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed and light arose, as happens for a meditator who is diligent, keen, and resolute.”

When he had spoken, Saṅgārava said to the Buddha, “Master Gotama’s effort was steadfast and appropriate for a good person, since he is a perfected one, a fully awakened Buddha. But Master Gotama, do devas absolutely exist?”

“I’ve understood the existence of devas in terms of causes.”

“But Master Gotama, when asked ‘Do devas exist?’ why did you say that you have understood the existence of devas in terms of causes? If that’s the case, isn’t it a hollow lie?”

“When asked ‘Do devas exist’, whether you reply ‘Devas exist’ or ‘I’ve understood it in terms of causes’ a sensible person would come to the definite conclusion that Devas exist.”

“But why didn’t you say that in the first place?”

“It’s widely agreed in the world that devas exist.”

When he had spoken, Saṅgārava said to the Buddha, “Excellent, Master Gotama! Excellent! As if he were righting the overturned, or revealing the hidden, or pointing out the path to the lost, or lighting a lamp in the dark so people with good eyes can see what’s there, Master Gotama has made the Teaching clear in many ways. I go for refuge to Master Gotama, to the teaching, and to the mendicant Saṅgha. From this day forth, may Master Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has gone for refuge for life.”

Source: https://suttacentral.net/mn100 Saṅgārava Sutta MN 100  MN ii 209

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