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 [Dhamma Talk]


 

SN 2.12.70

Susima enters the order to learn the secret of Gotama's ability to generate respect and donatives. There he hears about bhikkhus gaining Arahantship and quesions them about super-normal powers. These bhikkhus tell him they have no super-normal powers and have been awakened through wisdom. Questioning the Buddha about this he learns to appreciate the Dhamma and confesses his earlier bad intentions.

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Index of Available translations: SN 2.12.70

 


 

In SN 2.12.70 Susima enters the order to learn the secret of Gotama's ability to generate respect and donatives. There he hears about bhikkhus gaining Arahantship and quesions them about super-normal powers. These bhikkhus tell him they have no super-normal powers and have been awakened through wisdom. Questioning the Buddha about this he learns to appreciate the Dhamma and confesses his earlier bad intentions.

This sutta figures prominantly in the discussion of whether or not the jhānas are necessary for the attainment of Arahantship. Bhk. Bodhi deals with this in a footnote where he points out that the idea that these bhikkhus did not attain jhāna is a statement made by the commentator, not something found in the sutta. May be not stated directly in the sutta but possibly something that can be deduced from the situation. They have declared arahantship through Wisdom. That is the seeing as it is of the Paticca Samuppada and, presumably the working back of it in their practice to the point where there is no further own-making. There is nothing in that process which explicitly states that jhana is necessary for that. On the other hand the conditions for the first jhana at least, will have been accomplished. It is really a matter of terminology. Do you call it jhana or is it just a fact.

Apart from the controversy as to whether or not this sutta is evidence that Arahantship can be gained without experience of jhana this sutta has another difficult issue to deal with.

What is interesting is to ask yourself what it is that Susima sees that has convinced him of the error of his ways and the superior nature of the Buddha's Dhamma.

What we have here is a number of bhikkhus that have declared arahantship who also say they do not have a number of supernormal powers usually associated with arahantship. Then Susima is lead by the Buddha through the Paṭicca Samuppāda step-by-step and he shows that he has full comprehension of this doctrine.

Then Gotama makes a comparison between the knowledge of the bhikkhus with the knowledge of Susima which would indicate that the knowledge of Susima and the knowledge of the bhikkhus is the same.

And both parties do not have supernormal powers.

But the Bhikkhus are arahants and Susima is not.

What is the difference?

Two things:

Susima has not asked about the third 'vision' of the Arahant: the perception that the corrupting influences (āsavas) are destroyed;

and

the bhikkhus say they are liberated 'through wisdom'.

"First comes attaining knowledge of Dhamma, following that comes knowledge of Nibbāna."

This is as much as to say:

'Forget about magic powers, what is important is to take knowledge of the Dhamma and using wisdom so reconstruct your behavior as to lead to Nibbāna.

By the not-doing of that;
There will be the not-experiencing of this.

As for those supernormal powers: All the powers mentioned by Susima are relative to this world. For the Arahant they are 'optional,' or possibly 'later' developments. That is: what the Buddha is describing is that wisdom indicates a progression from attaining knowledge to attaining Nibbāna and that attaining supernormal powers or not, should come after.

Susima sees the wisdom, recognizes that he has been pursuing the worldly and that it has lead him into becoming a thief and to the danger of a very bad outcome.

In the middle of the Pali for this sutta there is a huge or insignificant mistake which has led to Mrs. Rhys davids making a completely incomprehensible translation of a paragraph pretty much necessary for the understanding of the sutta. Bhikkhus Bodhi and Thanissaro come up with alternative, certainly more comprehensible translations. I have suggested in a note in the Pali that the problem is what looks like a messed up abridgment. The Nidana book seems to have a number of unusual ways of abridging. This could mean it was early and a 'style' had not yet been worked out, or that it came later and represents an effort to change the usual style.


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