Majjhima Nikaya


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Majjhima Nikāya
I. Mūlapaṇṇāsa
2. Sīhanāda Vagga

Sutta 14

Cūḷa-Dukkhakkhandha Suttaɱ

The Lesser Discourse on the Mass of Stress

Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
Provenance, terms and conditons

 


 

[1][chlm][pts][ntbb][upal] I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying among the Sakyans at Kapilavatthu in the Banyan Park.

Then Mahanama the Sakyan[1] went to the Blessed One and, on arrival,
having bowed down to him,
sat to one side.
As he was sitting there
he said to the Blessed One,

"For a long time now, lord,
I have understood the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One thus:
'Greed is a defilement of the mind;
aversion is a defilement of the mind;
delusion is a defilement of the mind.'
Yet even though I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One that
greed is a defilement of the mind,
aversion is a defilement of the mind,
delusion is a defilement of the mind,
there are still times
when the mental quality of greed
invades my mind and remains,
when the mental quality of aversion
invades my mind and remains,
the mental quality of delusion
invades my mind and remains.
The thought occurs to me:
What mental quality is unabandoned within me
so that there are times
when the mental quality of greed
invades my mind and remains,
when the mental quality of aversion
invades my mind and remains,
the mental quality of delusion
invades my mind and remains?"

"Mahanama, that very mental quality
(i.e., greed, aversion, or delusion)
is what is unabandoned within you
so that there are times
when the mental quality of greed
invades your mind and remains,
the mental quality of aversion
invades your mind and remains,
the mental quality of delusion
invades your mind and remains.[2]
For if that mental quality
were abandoned in you,
you would not live the household life
and would not partake of sensuality.
It's because that mental quality
is not abandoned in you
that you live the household life
and partake of sensuality.

"Even though a disciple of the noble ones
has clearly seen
as it actually is
with right discernment
that sensuality is of much stress,
much despair,
and greater drawbacks, still
— if he has not attained a rapture and pleasure
apart from sensuality,
apart from unskillful mental qualities,
or something more peaceful than that[3]
he can be tempted by sensuality.

But when he has clearly seen
as it actually is
with right discernment
that sensuality is of much stress,
much despair,
and greater drawbacks,
and he has attained a rapture and pleasure
apart from sensuality,
apart from unskillful mental qualities,
or something more peaceful than that,
he cannot be tempted by sensuality.

"I myself, before my Awakening,
when I was still an unawakened bodhisatta,
saw as it actually was
with right discernment
that sensuality is of much stress,
much despair,
and greater drawbacks,
but as long as I had not attained
a rapture and pleasure apart from sensuality,
apart from unskillful mental qualities,
or something more peaceful than that,
I did not claim
that I could not be tempted by sensuality.

But when I saw
as it actually was
with right discernment
that sensuality is of much stress,
much despair,
and greater drawbacks,
and I had attained a rapture and pleasure
apart from sensuality,
apart from unskillful mental qualities,
or something more peaceful than that,
that was when I claimed
that I could not be tempted by sensuality.

"Now what, Mahanama,
is the allure of sensuality?

These five strings of sensuality.
Which five?

Forms cognizable via the eye
— agreeable, pleasing, charming,
endearing, fostering desire, enticing.
Sounds cognizable via the ear...
Aromas cognizable via the nose...
Flavors cognizable via the tongue...
Tactile sensations cognizable via the body
— agreeable, pleasing, charming,
endearing, fostering desire, enticing.

Now whatever pleasure or joy
arises in dependence
on these five strands of sensuality,
that is the allure of sensuality.

"And what is the drawback of sensuality?

There is the case where,
on account of the occupation
by which a clansman makes a living
— whether checking or accounting or calculating
or plowing or trading or cattle tending
or archery or as a king's man,
or whatever the occupation may be —
he faces cold,
he faces heat,
being harassed by mosquitoes and flies,
wind and sun and creeping things,
dying from hunger and thirst.

"Now this drawback
in the case of sensuality,
this mass of stress
visible here and now,
has sensuality for its reason,
sensuality for its source,
sensuality for its cause,
the reason being simply sensuality.

"If the clansman gains no wealth
while thus working and striving and making effort,
he sorrows, grieves, and laments,
beats his breast, becomes distraught:
'My work is in vain,
my efforts are fruitless!'

Now this drawback too
in the case of sensuality,
this mass of stress visible here and now,
has sensuality for its reason,
sensuality for its source,
sensuality for its cause,
the reason being simply sensuality.

"If the clansman gains wealth
while thus working and striving and making effort,
he experiences pain and distress
in protecting it:
'How will neither kings nor thieves
make off with my property,
nor fire burn it,
nor water sweep it away,
nor hateful heirs make off with it?'

And as he thus guards and watches
over his property,
kings or thieves make off with it,
or fire burns it,
or water sweeps it away,
or hateful heirs make off with it.
And he sorrows, grieves, and laments,
beats his breast, becomes distraught:
'What was mine is no more!'

Now this drawback too
in the case of sensuality,
this mass of stress
visible here and now,
has sensuality for its reason,
sensuality for its source,
sensuality for its cause,
the reason being simply sensuality.

"Again, it is with sensuality for the reason,
sensuality for the source,
sensuality for the cause,
the reason being simply sensuality,
that kings quarrel with kings,
nobles with nobles,
priests with priests,
householders with householders,
mother with child,
child with mother,
father with child,
child with father,
brother with brother,
sister with sister,
brother with sister,
sister with brother,
friend with friend.

And then in their quarrels, brawls, and disputes,
they attack one another with fists
or with clods
or with sticks
or with knives,
so that they incur death
or deadly pain.

Now this drawback too
in the case of sensuality,
this mass of stress
visible here and now,
has sensuality for its reason,
sensuality for its source,
sensuality for its cause,
the reason being simply sensuality.

"Again, it is with sensuality for the reason,
sensuality for the source,
sensuality for the cause,
the reason being simply sensuality,
that (men), taking swords and shields
and buckling on bows and quivers,
charge into battle
massed in double array
while arrows and spears are flying
and swords are flashing;
and there they are wounded by arrows and spears,
and their heads are cut off by swords,
so that they incur death
or deadly pain.

Now this drawback too
in the case of sensuality,
this mass of stress
visible here and now,
has sensuality for its reason,
sensuality for its source,
sensuality for its cause,
the reason being simply sensuality.

"Again, it is with sensuality for the reason,
sensuality for the source,
sensuality for the cause,
the reason being simply sensuality,
that (men), taking swords and shields
and buckling on bows and quivers,
charge slippery bastions
while arrows and spears are flying
and swords are flashing;
and there they are splashed
with boiling cow dung
and crushed under heavy weights,
and their heads are cut off by swords,
so that they incur death
or deadly pain.

Now this drawback too
in the case of sensuality,
this mass of stress
visible here and now,
has sensuality for its reason,
sensuality for its source,
sensuality for its cause,
the reason being simply sensuality.

"Again, it is with sensuality for the reason,
sensuality for the source,
sensuality for the cause,
the reason being simply sensuality,
that (men) break into windows,
seize plunder,
commit burglary,
ambush highways,
commit adultery,
and when they are captured,
kings have them tortured in many ways.

They flog them with whips,
beat them with canes,
beat them with clubs.
They cut off their hands,
cut off their feet,
cut off their hands and feet.
They cut off their ears,
cut off their noses,
cut off their ears and noses.
They subject them to the 'porridge pot,'
the 'polished-shell shave,'
the 'Rahu's mouth,'
the 'flaming garland,'
the 'blazing hand,'
the 'grass-duty (ascetic),'
the 'bark-dress (ascetic),'
the 'burning antelope,'
the 'meat hooks,'
the 'coin-gouging,'
the 'lye pickling,'
the 'pivot on a stake,'
the 'rolled-up bed.'
They have them splashed with boiling oil,
devoured by dogs,
impaled alive on stakes.
They have their heads cut off with swords,
so that they incur death
or deadly pain.

Now this drawback too
in the case of sensuality,
this mass of stress
visible here and now,
has sensuality for its reason,
sensuality for its source,
sensuality for its cause,
the reason being simply sensuality.

"Again, it is with sensuality for the reason,
sensuality for the source,
sensuality for the cause,
the reason being simply sensuality,
that (people) engaged in bodily misconduct,
verbal misconduct,
mental misconduct.

Having engaged in bodily, verbal, and mental misconduct, they
— on the break-up of the body, after death —
re-appear in the plane of deprivation,
the bad destination,
the lower realms,
in hell.

Now this drawback too
in the case of sensuality,
this mass of stress
visible here and now,
has sensuality for its reason,
sensuality for its source,
sensuality for its cause,
the reason being simply sensuality.

"Once, Mahanama,
when I was staying near Rajagaha on Vulture Peak Mountain,
a number of Niganthas were at Black Rock
on the slopes of Isigili,
practicing continuous standing:
rejecting seats,
experiencing fierce, sharp, racking pains
due to exertion.

So in the evening,
rising from seclusion,
I went to the Niganthas at Black Rock
on the slopes of Isigili
and on arrival asked them,
'Why are you practicing continuous standing:
rejecting seats,
experiencing fierce, sharp, racking pains
due to exertion?'

When this was said,
the Niganthas said to me,

'Friend, the Nigantha Nataputta[4] is all-knowing, all-seeing,
and claims total knowledge and vision thus:
"Whether I am walking or standing,
sleeping or awake,
knowledge and vision
are continuously and continually established in me."

He has told us,
"Niganthas, there are evil actions
that you have done in the past.
Exhaust them with these painful austerities.
When in the present
you are restrained in body,
restrained in speech,
and restrained in mind,
that is the non-doing of evil action for the future.
Thus, with the destruction of old actions
through asceticism,
and with the non-doing of new actions,
there will be no flow into the future.
With no flow into the future,
there is the ending of action.
With the ending of action,
the ending of stress.
With the ending of stress,
the ending of feeling.
With the ending of feeling,
all suffering and stress will be exhausted."[5]
We approve of that [teaching],
prefer it,
and are gratified by it.'

"When this was said, I asked them,
'But friends, do you know
that you existed in the past,
and that you did not not exist?'

"'No, friend.'

"'And do you know
that you did evil actions in the past,
and that you did not not do them?'

"'No, friend.'

"'And do you know
that you did such-and-such evil actions in the past?'

"'No, friend.'

"'And do you know
that so-and-so much stress
has been exhausted,
or that so-and-so much stress
remains to be exhausted,
or that with the exhaustion
of so-and-so much stress
all stress will be exhausted?'

"'No, friend.'

"'But do you know
what is the abandoning
of unskillful mental qualities
and the attainment
of skillful mental qualities
in the here-and-now?'

"'No, friend.'

"'So, friends, it seems that you don't know
that you existed in the past,
and that you did not not exist;
you don't know
that you did evil actions in the past,
and that you did not not do them;
you don't know
that you did such-and-such evil actions in the past;
you don't know
that so-and-so much stress
has been exhausted,
or that so-and-so much stress
remains to be exhausted,
or that with the exhaustion
of so-and-so much stress
all stress will be exhausted;
you don't know
what is the abandoning of unskillful mental qualities
and the attainment of skillful mental qualities
in the here-and-now.
That being the case,
those in the world who are murderers,
bloody-handed doers of what is cruel,
when they are later reborn among human beings,
go forth with the Niganthas.'

"'But, friend Gotama,
it's not the case
that pleasure is to be attained through pleasure.
Pleasure is to be attained through pain.
For if pleasure were to be attained through pleasure,
then King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha
would attain pleasure,
for he lives in greater pleasure than you,
friend Gotama.'

"'Surely the venerable Niganthas said that rashly
and without reflecting:
'But, friend Gotama,
it's not the case
that pleasure is to be attained through pleasure.
Pleasure is to be attained through pain.
For if pleasure were to be attained through pleasure,
then King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha
would attain pleasure,
for he lives in greater pleasure than you,
friend Gotama.'
for instead, I should be asked,
"Who lives in greater pleasure:
King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha
or venerable Gotama?"'

"'Yes, friend Gotama,
we said that rashly and without reflecting:
'But, friend Gotama,
it's not the case
that pleasure is to be attained through pleasure.
Pleasure is to be attained through pain.
For if pleasure were to be attained through pleasure,
then King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha
would attain pleasure,
for he lives in greater pleasure than you,
friend Gotama.'
but let that be.
We now ask you, venerable Gotama:
Who lives in greater pleasure:
King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha
or venerable Gotama?'

"'In that case, Niganthas,
I will question you in return.
Answer as you like.
What do you think:
Can King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha
— without moving his body,
without uttering a word,
dwell sensitive to unalloyed pleasure
for seven days and nights?'

"'No, friend."

"'Can King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha
— without moving his body,
without uttering a word,
dwell sensitive to unalloyed pleasure
for six days and nights?

"'No, friend."

"'Can King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha
— without moving his body,
without uttering a word,
dwell sensitive to unalloyed pleasure
for five days and nights?

"'No, friend."

"'Can King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha
— without moving his body,
without uttering a word,
dwell sensitive to unalloyed pleasure
for a day and a night?'

"'No, friend."

"'Now, I — without moving my body,
without uttering a word,
can dwell sensitive to unalloyed pleasure
for a day and a night...
for two days and nights...
for three...
four...
five...
six...
seven days and nights.
So what do you think:
That being the case,
who dwells in greater pleasure:
King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha or me?'

"'That being the case,
venerable Gotama dwells in greater pleasure
than King Seniya Bimbisara of Magadha.'"

That is what the Blessed One said.
Gratified, Mahanama the Sakyan delighted in the Blessed One's words.

 


[1]A cousin of the Buddha. The Commentary claims that he was already a once-returner when this discourse took place, but there is nothing in the Canon to indicate that this is so.

[2]This sentence is mistranslated in both "Middle length sayings (I.B.Horner, tr.; PTS)"MLS and "Middle length discourses of the Buddha (Bh. Bodhi, tr.; wisdom Publications)"MLDB. Its point is that the mental qualities that invade Mahanama's mind are precisely the ones he has not yet abandoned. In practical terms, this means that he does not have to look for another quality lurking behind them, but instead can focus his attention on abandoning these qualities directly as they arise. The remainder of the sutta gives a lesson in how greed, aversion, and delusion can be abandoned by understanding the object on which they most frequently focus: sensuality.

[3]The rapture and pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, is a factor of the first or second jhana. "Something more peaceful than that" would be any attainments higher than the second jhana.

[4]See DN 2.

[5]One of the great ironies in the history of Buddhism is the extent to which teachings that the Buddha clearly disapproved of, such as this one, have later been taught as quintessentially Buddhist. In some circles, a teaching similar to this one — that non-reactivity to pain burns away the impurity of past kamma and creates no new kamma for the future — is still taught as Buddhist to this day.

 


 

References:

See also:
MN 54;
SN XXXV.63;
SN XXXV.115;
SN XXXV.189;
SN XXXVI.6;
AN II.30;
AN VI.63.


 

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