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[ Give Ear ]

Outline of the Canki Sutta

Here's one that adds significantly to three topics often discussed here. The first is a crystal clear delineation of the failings of reliance on authority. The second is a detailing of the steps that lead to a reasonably grounded faith. And the Third is a Paticca Samuppada-like treatment of the steps from a well grounded faith to actual attainment.

This third item has great significance for the discussion of the Paticca Samuppada itself in that in the case of this case it is perfectly clear that what is being described is a linear process laid out in Time (i.e., from A to Z, with B following A). This is important to underscore only in the case of those cases where some student of the Paticca Samuppada is insisting that the ONLY way to view it is in a "three life phase" or as occurring outside of Time[1]. The presentation of this series this way is not conclusive evidence of anything, but it is strong argument for the need to consider the possibility that the Paticca Samuppada is meant to be read exactly as stated (matter-a factly), at least on one level, and before imposing on it exotic interpretations.

the blind leading the blind

This sutta has a long Nidana which ends up describing a situation where a very intelligent Brahman youth called Kāpaṭhika asks Gotama about putting faith in the claim that "The Truth" as it is espoused by the Brahmans of old was the 'One Truth' and all else was falsehood. After Gotama gets Kapathika to admit that no one of these Brahmans from the present to the originators of the sayings ever claimed to actually "know and see" this Truth such as to be able to say that it alone was the Truth and all else was falsehood, Kapathika is then about to ask about going by Oral Tradition that such things are true when Gotama cuts him off and takes the argument to its conclusion. This is the argument:

The Basis for Holding Belief in a Truth

These five things prove to be an unreliable basis for judgment concerning what one should hold to be the truth because they can be shown to have two wrong outcomes before you even start.

What five?

Oral Tradition,
Arriving at by Thinking About, and
Acceptance of A Well-known Theory.


Unreliable Foundations for Judgment














hear-say/oral tradition


oral tradition


arriving at by thinking about

consideration of reasons

reasoned cogitation


acceptance of understood view/theory

reflection on and approval of an opinion

reflective acceptance of a view


What two wrong outcomes?

Something in which one has faith can be wrong; and something in which one has no faith can be correct.

Something of which one approves can be wrong; and something of which one does not approve can be correct.

Something that is Oral Tradition can be wrong; and something that is not Oral Tradition can be correct.

Something that is arrived at by thought can be wrong, and something that has not been thought about may be correct.

Something that is an accepted theory may be wrong, and something that is not an accepted theory may be correct.

So, going no further than holding beliefs (meaning one understands that what one holds to be true is just a belief, has not been 'proven'), one may reasonably say:

"I have faith that such and such is the Truth,"

"The idea that such and such is The Truth is appealing,"

"I agree with the oral tradition that such and such an idea is The Truth,"

"My reason tells me that such and such is The Truth,"

"Such and such is the accepted theory concerning The Truth,"

. . . but should reserve judgment concerning the idea that "This is the One Truth, all other Truths are False."

This far one is not leaving solid ground in holding beliefs.

The Proper way of arriving at Faith

But then, in this case, what is the proper method for arriving at knowing and seeing The Truth for one's self (Horner: "awaken to truth"; Nanamoli/Bodhi: "discovery of truth"; Pali: "saccānubodhaɱ" (awaken to truth))?

This is handled from the point of view of the ordinary (but apparently intelligent, reasonable, and relatively well-read) man. Sucha one should ask about one in whom he is considering placing faith:

In this case he should examine the teacher with the idea of determining his vulnerability to (the likelihood that his perception has been distorted by) lust, hate, and stupidity.


The Three Roots of Unskillfulness


















He should ask: "Does this person possess such states of lust, hate and stupidity that although he did not "know and see" he would say "I know and see"? Or would he because of lust, hate or stupidity teach the sort of doctrine that would lead one who followed to regret it?[2]

And this is the instruction Kāpaṭhika gets.

The Dependent Uprising of Knowing and Seeing

Born of faith, approaching
of approaching, sticking around
of sticking around, giving ear
of giving ear, hearing Dhamma
of hearing Dhamma, keeping it in mind
of keeping it in mind, testing retained Dhamma
of testing retained Dhamma, accepting the understood
of accepting the understood is born wanting.
born of wanting, determination
of determination, weighing
of weighing, taking a stand
taking a stand one in this very body reaches the truth
and penetrating it with wisdom, sees.


The Dependant Uprising of Knowing and Seeing











drawing close



sticking around

sits down

pays respect

sotaṃ odahati

give ear

lends ear

gives ear

ohitasoto dhammaṃ suṇāti

giving ear he hears dhamma

hears Dhamma

hears the Dhamma

sutvā dhammaṃ dhāreti

hearing dhamma he bears it in mind

remembers it

memorises it

dhammānaṃ atthaṃ upaparikkhati

testing retained dhamma

tests the meaning of the things he remembers

examines the meaning of the teachings he has memorized

nijjhānaṃ khamanti

acceptance of the understood

approves of

gains a reflective acceptance of those teachings

chando jāyati

wanting is born

desire is born

zeal springs up



makes an effort

applies his will



weighs it up



taking a stand



pahitatto samāno kāyena c'eva paramasaccaṃ sacchikaroti, paññāya ca taṃ ativijjha passati. taking a stand he becomes one who in this very body reaches the truth and penetrating it with wisdom, he sees being self-resolute he realises with his person the highest truth itself; and penetrating it by means of intuitive wisdom, he sees resolutely striving, he realises with the body the ultimate truth and sees it by penetrating it with wisdom


[1] For an articulation of the Akalika (outside time) view of the paticca-samuppada, see Nanavira, Clearing the Path.

[2] At this point I would interrupt to ask, (... and of course to answer): "How should we apply this today to a teacher who is dead and gone?" That is, to Gotama?
In this case we can take the three basic ethical principles which are just about universal ... if these are not acceptable, we have no hope!:
Lies are not good
Harming living creatures is not good
Taking what is not given is not good
Then we review that material we have here that is internally referenced as being "The Word of the Buddha" that is, the Suttas and the Vinaya, and we review them for any instance in them where Gotama is reported to have lied, harmed a living creature or taken what was not given.
In the case of such a massive document as we have in these works, we can reach an internally confirming conclusion: If the work is an utter fraud and had nothing to do with a completely awakened individual, then the ones who perpetrated such a fraud were themselves of such a scrupulous nature as to be able to recognize even the subtlest form of lust, hate and stupidity in any form of lie, harm, or theft and eliminate it from these works because there is none such to be found in them[3] (this much you must do for yourself, that is, examine the works to your satisfaction in this regard). But then one must reflect: persons of such scruples would not perpetrate such a fraud! So in this way we are able to arrive at the conclusion:
This teacher whom we know to be The Buddha does not possess such states of lust, hate and stupidity that although he did not "know and see" he would say "I know and see"; or would, because of lust, hate or stupidity teach the sort of doctrine that would lead one who followed to regret it.
And we can go as far as placing our faith in such a one.

[3] At this point I must digress from this digression to qualify this statement. Any reasonable person playing detective with what we now call "The Suttas" and "The Vinaya" will be able to find statements that are made that are not true. Some suttas could not have been delivered as they are presented, or by whom they are said to have been presented, or at the times they are said to have been presented. Some of the surrounding stories do not fit. But this is actually not what should be understood as "Sutta" or "Vinaya". What should be understood as Sutta or Vinaya is what is said to be said by the Buddha within a sutta or within the Vinaya. The inconsistancies in the details surrounding the lessons are interesting, but are the work of editors who have collected these suttas, not the Buddha. They should be separated from such an evaluation as is being suggested here.




[MN 95]Majjhima Nikaya II #95: Ca.nkiisutta (pp 168ff);
PTS, Middle Length Sayings, II, #95: With Ca.nkii, Horner, trans, pp 359ff;
WP, The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, Nanamoli/Bodhi, trans, pp 781ff
ATI: Thanassaro, Canki Sutta — With Canki(excerpt)

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