2. Nidāna Vagga
12. Nidāna Saɱyutta
7. Mahā Vagga
Translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi
Copyright Bhikkhu Bodhi 2000, The Connected Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom Publications, 2000)
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"Bhikkhus, there are these four kinds of nutriment for the maintenance of beings that have already come to be and for the assistance of those about to come to be.
The nutriment edible food, gross or subtle;
third, mental volition;
These are the four kinds of nutriment for the maintenance of beings that have already come to be and for the assistance of those about to come to be.
"And how, bhikkhus, should the nutriment edible food be seen?
Suppose a couple, husband and wife, had taken limited provisions and were travelling through a desert. They have with them their only son, dear and beloved. Then, in the middle of the desert, their limited provisions would be used up and exhausted, while the rest of the desert remains to be crossed. The husband and wife would think: 'Our limited provisions have been used up and exhausted, while the rest of this desert remains to be crossed. Let us kill our only son, dear and beloved, and prepare  dried and spiced meat. By eating our son's flesh we can cross the rest of this desert. Let not all three of us perish!'
"Then, bhikkhus, the husband and wife would kill their only son, dear and beloved, prepare dried and roasted meat, and by eating their son's flesh they would cross the rest of the desert. While they are eating their son's flesh, they would beat their breasts and cry: 'Where are you, our only son? Where are you, our only son?'
"What do you think, bhikkhus? Would they eat that food for amusement or for enjoyment  or for the sake of physical beauty and attractiveness?"
"No, venerable sir."
"Wouldn't they eat that food only for the sake of crossing the desert?"
"Yes, venerable sir."
"It is in such a way, bhikkhus, that I say the nutriment edible food should be seen. When the nutriment edible food is fully understood, lust for the five cords of sensual pleasure is fully understood. When lust for the five cords of sensual pleasure is fully understood, there is no fetter bound by which a noble disciple might come back again to this world.
"And how, bhikkhus, should the nutriment contact be seen?
Suppose there is a flayed cow. If she stands exposed to a wall, the creatures dwelling in the wall would nibble at her. If she stands exposed to a tree, the creatures dwelling in the tree would nibble at her. If she stands exposed to water, the creatures dwelling in the water would nibble at her. If she stands exposed to the open air, the creatures dwelling in the open air would nibble at her. Whatever that flayed cow stands exposed to, the creatures dwelling there would nibble at her.
"It is in such a way, bhikkhus, that I say the nutriment contact should be seen. When the nutriment contact is fully understood, the three kinds of feeling are fully understood. When the three kinds of feeling are fully understood, I say, there is nothing further that a noble disciple needs to do.
"And how, bhikkhus, should the nutriment mental volition be seen? Suppose there is a charcoal pit deeper than a man's height, filled with glowing coals without flame or smoke. A man would come along wanting to live, not wanting to die, desiring happiness and averse to suffering. Then two strong men would grab  him by both arms and drag him towards the charcoal pit. The man's volition would be to get far away, his longing would be to get far away, his wish would be to get far away [from the charcoal pit].  For what reason? Because he knows: 'I will fall into this charcoal pit and on that account I will meet death or deadly suffering.'
"It is in such a way, bhikkhus, that I say the nutriment mental volition should be seen. When the nutriment mental volition is fully understood, the three kinds of craving are fully understood. When the three kinds of craving are fully understood, I say, there is nothing further that a noble disciple needs to do.
"And how, bhikkhus, should the nutriment consciousness be seen? Suppose they were to arrest a bandit, a criminal, and bring him before the king, saying: 'Sire, this man is a bandit, a criminal. Impose on him whatever punishment you wish.' The king says to them: 'Go, men, in the morning strike this man with a hundred spears.' In the morning they strike him with a hundred spears. Then at noon the king asks: 'Men, how's that man?' - 'Still alive, sire.' — 'Then go, and at noon strike him with a hundred spears.' At noon they strike him with a hundred spears. Then in the evening the king asks: 'Men, how's that man?' — 'Still alive, sire.' — 'Then go, and in the evening strike him with a hundred spears.' In the evening they strike him with a hundred spears.
"What do you think, bhikkhus? Would that man, being struck with three hundred spears, experience pain and displeasure on that account?"
"Venerable sir, even if he were struck with one spear he would experience pain and displeasure on that account, not to speak of three hundred spears."
"It is in such a way, bhikkhus, that I say the nutriment consciousness should be seen. When the nutriment consciousness is fully understood, name-and-form is fully understood. When name-and-form is fully understood, I say, there is nothing further that a noble disciple needs to do."
 A translation of the long commentary to this sutta is included in Nyanaponika, The Four Nutriments of Life. Spk explains that the Buddha spoke this discourse because the Bhikkhu Saṅgha was receiving abundant almsfood and other requisites, and the Buddha wanted to place before the bhikkhus "a mirror of the Dhamma for their self control and restraint, so that, contemplating on it again and again, the bhikkhus of the future will make use of the four requisites only after due reflection." The opening paragraph is identical with that of 12:11.
Spk: Edible food should be considered as similar to son's flesh by way of the ninefold repulsiveness: the repulsiveness of having to go out for it, of having to seek it, of eating it, of the bodily secretions, of the receptacle for the food (i.e., the stomach), of digestion and indigestion, of smearing, and of excretion. (For details see Vism 342-46; Ppn 11:5-26; there ten aspects are mentioned, the additional one being "fruit," i.e., the repulsive parts of the body produced by food.) A bhikkhu should use his almsfood in the way the couple eat their son's flesh: without greed and desire, without pickiness, without gorging themselves, without selfishness, without delusion about what they are eating, without longing to eat such food again, without hoarding, without pride, without disdain, and without quarreling.
Spk: When the nutriment edible food is fully understood: It is fully understood by these three kinds of full understanding: (i) the full understanding of the known (ñātapariññā); (ii) the full understanding by scrutinization (tiraṇapariññā); and (iii) the full understanding as abandonment (pahānapariññā). Therein, (i) a bhikkhu understands: "This nutriment edible food is 'form with nutritive essence as the eighth' (see n. 18) together with its base. This impinges on the tongue-sensitivity, which is dependent on the four great elements. Thus nutriment, tongue-sensitivity, and the four elements — these things are the form aggregate. The contact pentad (contact, feeling, perception, volition, consciousness) arisen in one who discerns this — these are the four mental aggregates. All these five aggregates are, in brief, name-and-form." Next he searches out the conditions for these phenomena and sees dependent origination in direct and reverse order. By thus seeing name-and-form with its conditions as it actually is, the nutriment of edible food is fully understood by the full understanding of the known. (ii) Next he ascribes the three characteristics to that same name-and-form and explores it by way of the seven contemplations (of impermanence, suffering, nonself, revulsion, dispassion, cessation, and relinquishment — see Vism 607; Ppn 20:4). Thus it is fully understood by the full understanding by scrutinization. (iii) It is fully understood by the full understanding as abandonment when it is fully understood by the path of nonreturning, which cuts off desire and lust for that same name-and-form.
Lust for the five cords of sensual pleasure is fully understood: It is fully understood by (i) the singlefold full understanding (ekapariññā), namely, that the craving for tastes arisen at the tongue door is the same craving that arises at all five sense doors; (ii) the comprehensive full understanding (sabbapariññā), namely, that lust for all five cords of sensual pleasure arises even in regard to a single morsel of food placed in the bowl (for food stimulates desire in all five senses); (iii) the root full understanding (mūlapariññā), namely, that nutriment is the root for all five types of sensual lust, since sensual desire thrives when people are well fed.
Spk: There is no fetter bound by which: This teaching is taken only as far as the path of nonreturning; but if one develops insight into the five aggregates by way of these same forms, etc., it is possible to explain it as far as arahantship.
Spk: Just as a cow, seeing the danger of being eaten by the creatures living in the places she might be exposed to, would not wish to be honoured and venerated, or to be massaged, rubbed, given hot baths, etc., so a bhikkhu, seeing the danger of being eaten by the defilement-creatures rooted in the nutriment contact, becomes desireless towards contact in the three planes of existence.
Spk explains the full understanding of contact in the same way as for edible food, except that contact is taken as the starting point for the discernment of the five aggregates. When contact is fully understood the three feelings are fully understood because they are rooted in contact and associated with it. The teaching by way of the nutriment contact is carried as far as arahantship.
Spk: The charcoal pit represents the round of existence with its three planes; the man wanting to live, the foolish worldling attached to the round; the two strong men, wholesome and unwholesome kamma. When they grab the man by both arms and drag him towards the pit, this is like the worldling's accumulation of kamma; for the accumulated kamma drags along a rebirth. The pain from falling into the charcoal pit is like the suffering of the round.
 167 Spk: The three kinds of craving are fully understood: The three kinds of craving are craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, and craving for extermination. They are fully understood because craving is the root of mental volition. Here too the teaching is carried as far as arahantship by way of mental volition.
Spk: The king represents kamma; the criminal, the worldling; the three hundred spears, the rebirth-consciousness. The time the king gives his command is like the time the worldling is driven towards rebirth by King Kamma. The pain from being struck by the spears is like the resultant suffering in the course of exlstence once rebirth has taken place.
Spk: Name-and-form is fully understood when consciousness is fully understood because it is rooted in consciousness and arises along with it. By way of consciousness too the teaching is carried as far as arahantship.