In this sutta the Buddha outlines various views about the nature of the real, essential self and the world, past, future and present and points out that these views are all speculative and that for true satisfaction and liberation one must let go of all that which has been constructed, including speculative opinions.
Read the Sutta
This sutta is seriously flawed as we have received it. There is an obvious section missing, it begins in an untypical way, and there is a disjoint between it's stated purpose in the beginning and the way it concludes. It looks like a fragment that has been expanded by the commentator(s) blindly appending an orthodox set of teachings which are nevertheless out of place here. Neither Chalmers nor Horner notice the missing segment. Bhk. Bodhi has it correctly (though he leaves it explained in a doubtful manner by the commentator) but his version of this sutta was not among those released for free distrbution. Put this one aside, or take just the beginning 'summary' and see how the point is understanding how the set of five can be encompassed by the set of three. Here is my version of the opening section:
I HEAR TELL:
Once Upon a Time, The Lucky Man, Saavatthii-town
Anaathapi.n.dika's Jeta Grove,
There then, the Lucky Man addressed the beggars:
"Beggars!" he said.
And, the beggars responding "Bhante!",
the Lucky man said this to them:
There are, beggars, some shaman-brahmin,
of Time hereafter,
undertaking of the herafter
a view-theory of the herafter,
that propose, in various formulations,
a definitive claim.
1. Thus some claim:
'Percipient, the self is fine after death.'
2. Thus some claim:
'Non-percipient, the self is fine after death.'
3. Thus some claim:
'Neither-percipient-nor-non-percipient, the self is fine after death.'
4. Or they declare the chopping off,
non-existence of any future mind for beings.
5. Or some claim Nibbaana in this seen thing.
1. Thus they declare of self it's being fine after death.
2. Or they declare that any future mind for beings
is chopped off,
3. Or again some claim Nibbaana in this seen thing.
Thus do these five come to three
the three come to five.
Thus is the encapsulation of the three-from-five.