Anguttara Nikaya


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Aŋguttara Nikāya
Chakkanipata
VI. Mahā Vagga

Sutta 61

Majjhe Suttaṃ

The Middle
or
The Seamstress

Translated from the Pali by Michael Olds

 


 

the seamstress

[1][pts] Evaṃ me sutaṃ|| ||

I HEAR TELL:

Once upon a time Bhagava, Baranasi-town residing
Isipatana, Deer Refuge,
and there, many elder beggars
after returning from their beggar's rounds
were sitting around Mandala Hall
involved in this round of talk
that had turned up:[1]

"Bhagava said this, friends,
concerning the way to the beyond
in 'The Questions of Metteyya'":[2]

"Who both ends sees
unstuck by Middle's counsel[3]
'Great man' he,
say I,
who has escaped the seamstress here."

"What then friends is the first end?
What the second,
what the middle,
and who the seamstress, say?"

[2][pts] This said, another beggar addressed the elder beggars and said:

"Contact friends is the first end
the arising of contact is the second end
the ending of contact is the middle
hungar and thirst the seamstress.

For hungar and thirst it is
that ever stitches living
to being reborn again.

With just this much, friends
a bhikkhu has understanding of the understandable
thorough understanding of the thoroughly understandable.

Understanding the understandable
thoroughly understanding the thoroughly understandable
he has got the end of pain
here among visible things,
Say I."

 

[3][pts] This said, another beggar addressed the elder beggars and said:

"The Past friends is the first end
the future is the second end
the present is the middle
hungar and thirst the seamstress.

For hungar and thirst it is
that ever stitches living
to being reborn again.

With just this much, friends
a bhikkhu has understanding of the understandable
thorough understanding of the thoroughly understandable.

Understanding the understandable
thoroughly understanding the thoroughly understandable
he has got the end of pain
here among visible things,
Say I."

 

[4][pts] This said, another beggar addressed the elder beggars and said:

"Pleasure friends is the first end
painful sensation is the second end
neither-painful-nor-pleasant sensation is the middle
hungar and thirst the seamstress.

For hungar and thirst it is
that ever stitches living
to being reborn again.

With just this much, friends
a bhikkhu has understanding of the understandable
thorough understanding of the thoroughly understandable.

Understanding the understandable
thoroughly understanding the thoroughly understandable
he has got the end of pain
here among visible things,
Say I."

 

[5][pts] This said, another beggar addressed the elder beggars and said:

"Name friends is the first end
form is the second end
consciousness is the middle
hungar and thirst the seamstress.

For hungar and thirst it is
that ever stitches living
to being reborn again.

With just this much, friends
a bhikkhu has understanding of the understandable
thorough understanding of the thoroughly understandable.

Understanding the understandable
thoroughly understanding the thoroughly understandable
he has got the end of pain
here among visible things,
Say I."

 

[6][pts] This said, another beggar addressed the elder beggars and said:

"The six internal spheres friends is the first end
the external spheres the second end
consciousness the middle
hungar and thirst the seamstress.

For hungar and thirst it is
that ever stitches living
to being reborn again.

With just this much, friends
a bhikkhu has understanding of the understandable
thorough understanding of the thoroughly understandable.

Understanding the understandable
thoroughly understanding the thoroughly understandable
he has got the end of pain
here among visible things,
Say I."

 

[7][pts] This said, another beggar addressed the elder beggars and said:

"One's own body friends is the first end
the arising of one's own body the second end
the ending of one's own body the middle
hungar and thirst the seamstress.

For hungar and thirst it is
that ever stitches living
to being reborn again.

With just this much, friends
a bhikkhu has understanding of the understandable
thorough understanding of the thoroughly understandable.

Understanding the understandable
thoroughly understanding the thoroughly understandable
he has got the end of pain
here among visible things,
Say I."

 

[8][pts] This said, another beggar addressed the elder beggars and said:

We have all answered, friends,
each in accordance with his own reflection.

How would it be then, friends
if we, approaching Bhagava,
having approached Bhagava,
informed him of this?

Howsoever Bhagava explains it,
that is how we will retain it.

'Even so, friend,'
those elder beggars said
to that beggar in response.

Then those elder beggars, approaching Bhagava,
having approached
and saluting Bhagava with raised palms,
sat down to one side.

Sitting to one side then
the elder beggars informed Bhagava
of all they had said, and asked:
'Which one of us, bhante, spoke well?'

'All of you, beggars, spoke well
according to his bent,
but as for what was said
concerning the way to the beyond
in 'The Questions of Metteyya:

"Who both ends sees
unstuck by Middle's counsel
'Great man' he,
say I,
who has escaped the seamstress here."

listen up,
pay attention
I will speak!

"Even so bhante!'
those elder beggars responded to Bhagava
Bhagava said this to them:

"Contact friends is the first end
the arising of contact is the second end
the ending of contact is the middle
hungar and thirst the seamstress.

For hungar and thirst it is
that ever stitches living
to being reborn again.

With just this much, friends
a bhikkhu has understanding of the understandable
thorough understanding of the thoroughly understandable.

Understanding the understandable
thoroughly understanding the thoroughly understandable
he has got the end of pain
here among visible things,
Say I."

 


[1] This opening is chock full of puns on the notion of circles, but there is no apparent follow up in the sutta itself, except possibly in the idea that this topic went the rounds of the elder beggars and then came around to the Bhagava and the first bhikkhu that spoke...and, of course, that it is the 'round of births' that is the subject. I do not know if at the time stitching was exclusively a matter of loops.

[2] See: Snp 5.2: Tissa-metteyya's Questions, Bhk. Thanissaro, translation. A little odd that this sutta which is included in the Suttas is based on an incident reported only in a book not included in the suttas.

[Metteyya:]
Who
here in the world
is contented?
Who
has no agitations?
What thinker
knowing both sides,
doesn't adhere in between?
Whom
do you call a great person?
Who here
has gone past
the seamstress:
craving.
 
[The Buddha:]
He who
in the midst of sensualities,
follows the holy life,
always mindful, craving-free;
the monk who is
— through fathoming things —
Unbound:
he has no agitations. He,
the thinker
knowing both sides,
doesn't adhere in between. He
I call a great person. He
here has gone past
the seamstress:
craving.

[3] Majjhe mantā na lippati. 'Middle manta not stuck'. This sutta, unfortunately, depends on understanding this phrase, and no one is certain of the meaning of 'manta' here.
Woodward gives us: "Who knows both ends — not midst that sage is soiled:" which I believe incorrectly uses the 'na' to modify 'midst' rather than 'stuck' to make the meaning out to be 'not stuck in the middle' which is also Bhk. Thanissaro's interpretation.
I believe that what is going on here is that Metteyya and the Buddha were having a debate in verse and that what Metteyya had in mind was indeed the middle, but what the Buddha said in response was a pun on that term and his use of the term middle to describe his own smooth path to the beyond ... that is, The Magga.
I believe this is also supported by the description of what this middle stood for, that is, 'the ending of contact', which is another word for Nibbana or what it is that The Way accomplishes.

 


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