Majjhima Nikaya

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Majjhima Nikāya
1. Mūla-Paṇṇāsa
3. Tatiya Vagga

Sacred Books of the Buddhists
Volume V
Dialogues of the Buddha
Part IV

Further Dialogues of the Buddha
Volume I

Translated from the Pali
by Lord Chalmers, G.C.B.
Sometime Governor of Ceylon

Humphrey Milford
Oxford University Press
Public Domain

Sutta 23

Vammīka Suttaɱ

The Smouldering Ant-Hill



[1][pts][olds][upal] THUS have I heard:

Once when the Lord was staying at Sāvatthī in Jeta's grove in Anāthapiṇḍika's pleasaunce,
the reverend Kumāra-Kassapa was staying in the Andha-vana,
to whom towards dawn
there came a deity of dazzling beauty,
flooding the whole woodland with radiance.

Standing to one side, [101] the deity said:

Almsman, Almsman!

There's an ant-hill which smokes by day and flames up at night.

The brahmin said:

Take your tool, sage,[1] and dig.

The sage dug away
till he found a bar and cried:

Here's a bar, Lord.

Said the brahmin:

Cast it out, sage,
and dig on.

As the sage dug on,
he came on a frog.

Cast it out, sage,
and dig on,
said the brahmin.

As the sage dug,
he came on a passage which forked.

Said the brahmin:

Cast it out, sage,
and dig on.

As he dug on,
he came successively on -
a strainer -
a tortoise -
a cleaver -
and a joint of meat;
all of which he was successively told to cast out
and dig on.

At last he came on a cobra.[2]

Sage, leave the cobra alone,
said the brahmin;
do not harm the cobra;
pay homage to the cobra.

Now, Almsman,
take these questions to the Lord
and treasure up his explanations.

I see no one in the whole universe -
with all its gods,
with its recluses and brahmins,
and all gods and mankind -
whose interpretation of these questions
can prove convincing,
save only the Truth-finder
or a disciple of the Truth-finder
or from someone who has been told by him or them.

With these words the deity vanished from sight.

When the night was at an end,
the reverend Kumāra-Kassapa came to the Lord
and after salutations
sat down to one side,
there to relate the whole story
and to end with the following questions:

What is the ant-hill?

What is the smoking by night?

What is the flaming by day?

Who is the brahmin?

Who is the sage?

What is his tool?

What is his digging?

What is the bar?

What is the frog?

What is the passage which forked?

What is the strainer?

What is the tortoise?

What is the cleaver?

What is the joint of meat?

What is the cobra?


The ant-hill, Almsman,
typifies the body,
which is made up of the four elements,
starts from a mother and father,
is sustained by rice and other foods,
and is impermanent,
being subject to attrition,
and dispersal.

The smoking by night
is what by night a man thinks about,
and ponders on,
with reference to the day's doings.

The flames by day
are what, after thinking and pondering by night,
a man executes by day,
with body, voice, or mind.

The brahmin
typifies the Truth-finder,
the Arahat all-enlightened.

The sage
is an Almsman under training.

His tool
is noble wisdom.

His digging
is perseverance in effort.

The bar
signifies ignorance,
which he is bidden to cast out and fling away.

The frog
is the emblem of the unrest arising from wrath,
which he is bidden to cast out and fling away.

The passage which forked
typifies doubting,
which he is bidden to cast out and fling away.

The strain
represents the five hindrances, -
of passion,
and doubting.

The tortoise
means the five-fold grip on continuing existence -
through visible forms,
plastic forces,
and consciousness -
which he is bidden to cast out and fling away.

The cleaver
indicates the five pleasures of sense -
proceeding from sights,
and touch,
all of them pleasant,
and delightful,
all of them bound up with passion and lust -
which he is bidden to cast out and fling away.

The joint
typifies passions delights,
which he is bidden to cast out and fling away.

Lastly, the cobra
is the symbol of the Almsman
in whom the Cankers are no more.

Leave him alone,
harm him not,
pay him homage.[3]

Thus spoke the Lord.

Glad at heart, the reverend Kumāra-Kassapa rejoiced in what the Lord had said.


[1] The title Su-medha, here used of an Almsman, is given by Brahmā to the Buddha in Sutta 26 (infra p. 119).

[2] Cobras (says Bu. ) guard buried treasure for seven generations, a belief which perhaps dictated the story here turned into an allegory.

Nāga. An elephant or serpant, yes; but of a man "an elephant of a man" as we would say "a giant of a man"; also used of any extraordinarily large or powerful thing.

p.p. explains it all — p.p.

[3] Cf. the end of the next Sutta and of Sutta No. 5 for styling an Arahat nāga (cobra or elephant); and cf. the designation of manussa-nāga for Mahā-Kassapa at Vinaya Texts I, 121.

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