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[ Dhamma Talk ]

The Fingernail

On the tip of my Nail do you see?

Here's one that puts into perspective the idea of going against the current, or having made the breakthrough to Stream-entry. There are several uses of the fingernail in the suttas.

 

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Nakhasikhā[1]

Evaṃ me sutaṃ|| ||

Ekaṃ samayaṃ Bhagavā Sāvatthiyaṃ viharati Jetavane Anāthapiṇḍikassa ārāme||
Atha kho Bhagavā parittaṃ nakhasikhāyaṃ paṃsuṃ āropetvā bhikkh āmantesi||
Taṃ kiṃ maññathā bhikkhave||
katamaṃ nu kho bahutaraṃ yo cāyam mayā paritto nakhasikhāyaṃ paṃsu āropito ayaṃ vā mahāpathavīti|| ||

Etad eva bhante bahutaraṃ yad idaṃ mahāpāthavī||
appamattako nakhasikhāyam Bhagavatā paritto paṃsu āropito||
n'eva satimaṃ kalam upeti na sahassimaṃ kalam upeti na satasahassimaṃ kalam upeti mahāpathaviṃ upanidhāya Bhagavatā paritto nakhasikhāyaṃ paṃsu āropito ti|| ||

Evam eva kho bhikkhave ariyasāvakassa diṭṭhisampannassa puggalassa abhisametāvino etad eva bahutaraṃ dukkhaṃ yad idaṃ parikkhīṇaṃ pariyādiṇṇaṃ appamattakam avasiṭṭham||
n'eva satimaṃ kalam upeti na sahassimaṃ kalam upeti na satasahassimaṃ kalam upeti purimaṃ dukkhakkhandhaṃ parikkhīṇaṃ pariyādinnaṃ upanidhāya yad idam sattakkhattuṃ paramatā|| ||

Evam mahatthiyo kho bhikkhave dhammābhisamayo evam mahatthiyo dhammacakkhupaṭilābhoti|| ||

 

§

 

Mrs. Rhys Davids:[2]

What think ye, brethren? Whether is this pinch of dust that I have taken up on my finger-nail the greater, or the mighty earth?

The latter, lord, the mighty earth is the greater. Infinitely small is this pinch of dust taken up by the Exalted One on his finger-nail, not by a hundredth part, nor by a thousandth part, not by a hundred thousandth part does it equal the mighty earth when set beside it — this pinch of dust taken up by the Exalted One on his finger-nail

Even so . . . for the person who has understanding this is the greater ill, to wit, that which for him is wholly perished, wholly finished. . . little is the ill that remains . . . a term of seven times.

 

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Bhikkhu Bodhi:[3]

"'Bhikkhus, what do you think, which is more: the little bit of soil that I have taken up in my fingernail or this great earth?' . . .
'It does not amount to a hundredth part, or a thousandth part, or a hundred thousandth part. . .'

'So too. . . who has made the breakthrough, the suffering that has been destroyed and eliminated is more. . .that which remains is trifling . . . a maximum of seven more lives.'"

 

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Thanissaro Bhikkhu:[4]

"What do you think, monks? Which is greater: the little bit of dust I have picked up with the tip of my fingernail, or the great earth?"
"The great earth is far greater, lord. The little bit of dust the Blessed One has picked up with the tip of his fingernail is next to nothing. It's not a hundredth, a thousandth, a one hundred-thousandth — this little bit of Dust the Blessed One has picked up with the tip of his fingernail — when compared with the great earth."

"In the same way, monks, for a disciple of the noble ones who is consummate in view, an individual who has broken through [to stream-entry], the suffering & stress that is totally ended & extinguished is far greater. That which remains in the state of having at most seven remaining lifetimes is next to nothing: it's not a hundredth, a thousandth, a one hundred-thousandth, when compared with the previous mass of suffering. That's how great the benefit is of breaking through to the Dhamma, monks. That's how great the benefit is of obtaining the Dhamma eye."

 

§

 

Here is my version:

The Fingernail[5]

I HEAR TELL:

Once upon a time, Bhagava, round Savatthi revisiting, Jeta woods, Anathapindika's park
There, Bhagava raised up an itty-bitti-bit-a Dust on a nail-tip and said to the Beggars:

Now what do you think, Beggars?
Which is the greater, that bit of Dust I have taken and raised up on my nail-tip or this great Earth?

That which is greater, bhante, is this great Earth of small measure is that bit of dust Bhagava has raised up on his nail-tip not even a hundredth part does it come to, not a thousandth part, not a hundred-thousandth part does that bit of dust Bhagava has raised up on his nail-tip come to compared with this Great Earth, end quote.

Even so, Beggars, the noble listener succeeding in view[6], a person who has overcome, has thoroughly burnt off, thoroughly given up that which is the greater dukkha, of small measure is that which remains not even a hundredth part does it come to, not a thousandth part, not a hundred-thousandth part does it come to; that former pile of dukkha of his which has been thoroughly burnt off, thoroughly given up, is of small measure compared to being here seven more times[7] tops[8] Such a great attainment is it beggars, this overcoming-dhamma, such a great attainment is it, this gaining the eye of dhamma, end quote.

 


[1]Saɱyutta-Nikāya, Nidāna-vaggo, Abhisamaya-saɱyuttam

[2]PTS: The Book of the Kindred Sayings, II:ii:1: The Tip of the Nail, Rhys Davids, trans., pp95

[3]WP: Connected Discourses of the Buddha, Volume 1: III: Connected Discourses on The Breakthrough, 1: The Fingernail, pp 621

[4]ATI: Samyutta Nikaya XIII.1, Nakhasikha Sutta, The Tip of the Fingernail,Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

[5]On the Downbound, Downbound collection, Suttas linked to Overcoming

[6]diṭṭhi; see Bhikkhu Bodhi's remarks on the the paticca samuppada: this means that the person has seen samma ditthi as it really is. The truth of the Four Truths is seen as it really is; the way paticca samuppada works is actually seen. The individual may not be able to accomplish the goal implied by the vision, but they are no longer in doubt as to what that goal is and how and why it is to be obtained.

[7]Usually I footnote this to indicate that in the Pali "satta" "seven" can also mean "100" "1000" "10,000", "100,000" and a very large, but finite amount, but this morning I woke from a very vivid dream wherein I was removing from my toes cloves of garlic. I would pull them out and then I would have to pull out more. The image persisted for most of the morning. I know the meaning: cloven is my hoof, the removal of the Devil within; and I know from experience that when it reaches the point of a vision like this, it is (at least for the most part) over, not something that is ahead, but I cannot express the near nausea and revulsion I am experiencing that there was this there "in me," that needed to be done. The idea of going through this even only seven more times is absolutely intolerable.

[8]Paramatā: PED: the highest quantity, measure on the outside, minimum or maximum. "max; max-measure"

 


 

References:

Samyutta-Nikaya, Nidana-vaggo, Abhisamaya-samyuttam, 1: Nakhasikha;
PTS: The Book of the Kindred Sayings, II:ii:1: The Tip of the Nail, Rhys Davids, trans., pp95;
WP: Connected Discourses of the Buddha, Volume 1: III: Connected Discourses on The Breakthrough, 1: The Fingernail, pp 621
ATI: Samyutta Nikaya XIII.1, Nakhasikha Sutta, The Tip of the Fingernail,Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.


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