Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Long Discourses

8. Sandhāna

1. Thus I have heard:[1] One time, the Buddha was staying at Saptaparṇa Cave near Mount Vaibhāra of Rājagṛha.[2] He was accompanied by a large assembly of 1,250 monks.

Sandhāna Visits Udumbarikā’s Grove

2. At the time, there was a householder of Rājagṛha named Sandhāna who liked to go for walks. Every day, he would leave the city to visit the Bhagavān. On this occasion, that householder looked up at the sun and thought to himself, “Now is not the time to go meet the Buddha. The Bhagavān is surely in contemplative samādhi in a quiet place right now, and the assembly of monks will be meditating quietly as well. It would be better to go to Udumbarikā’s Grove[3] and wait for the right time of day. Then, I’ll visit the Bhagavān, pay homage to him, exchange greetings with him, and do the same with the monks.”

3. There was a wanderer[4] at Udumbarikā’s Grove named Nigrodha. He was accompanied by five hundred wanderers who were staying at that grove. At the time, this assembly of wanderers had gathered in one place and were engaged in a loud and boisterous conversation using speech that obstructed the path with confusing words. They would do this until the end of the day. Sometimes, they discussed affairs of state. Sometimes, it was warfare and weapons. Sometimes, it was the harmony of countries. Sometimes, it was ministers and common people. Sometimes it was riding chariots and horses through parks and forests. Sometimes, it was sitting mats, clothing, meals, and women. Sometimes, they discussed tortoises and sea turtles. They would just discuss such things that obstructed the path until the end of the day.

4. When that wanderer saw the householder Sandhāna coming from a distance, he ordered his followers to be quiet: “What’s the reason? A disciple of the ascetic Gautama is coming from outside. He’s the best of the ascetic Gautama’s lay disciples. He’ll surely come here, so you ought to be quiet!” The wanderers then fell silent.

5. Sandhāna went to the wanderer and exchanged greetings with him. He then sat to one side and said, “My teacher, the Bhagavān, always enjoys quiet solitude and doesn’t like noisy places. He’s not like you and your disciples here who engage in loud and boisterous conversations and just discuss things that obstruct the path with useless words.”

6. The wanderer said to the householder, “Hasn’t the ascetic Gautama had conversations with people? How else could his assembly know that the ascetic possesses great wisdom? Your teacher always likes living alone in remote places. He’s like the one-eyed cow that eats grass that chases what it sees in only one direction.[5] Your teacher Gautama is like that. He prefers solitude and enjoys uninhabited places. If your teacher were to come here, we would call him a one-eyed cow. He always says that he possesses great wisdom, but I could finish him with a single word. He’d fall silent like a turtle hiding in its shell. It’d be no trouble take away his escape with a single arrow.”

The Buddha Goes to Udumbarikā’s Grove

7. At that moment, the Bhagavān was in a quiet room and overheard the conversation between that wanderer and householder with his heavenly ear. He emerged from the Saptaparṇa Cave and went to Udumbarikā’s Grove. When that wanderer saw the Buddha coming from a distance, he ordered his disciples: “All of you, be quiet! The ascetic Gautama is coming here! Please don’t rise, greet him, or respectfully worship him. Don’t ask him to sit, either. Choose a particular seat and set it aside for him. Once he sits down, you should ask, ‘Ascetic Gautama, up until now, what teaching do you give your disciples so that they attain peaceful samādhi and purely cultivate the religious life?”

8. The Bhagavān gradually made his way to the park. The wanderers inadvertently rose, and they eventually greeted the Bhagavān, saying, “Welcome, Gautama! Welcome, ascetic! It’s been a long time since we’ve seen you. What has brought you here today? You can have that small seat in the front.”

9. The Bhagavān then prepared his seat, delighted and smiling. He thought to himself, “These fools aren’t capable of staying focused. They were given a command, but they couldn’t follow it. Why was that? The Buddha’s miraculous power caused their bad thoughts to disintegrate naturally.”

10. The householder Sandhāna then bowed at the Bhagavān’s feet and sat to one side. The wanderer Nigrodha exchanged greetings with the Buddha, and then he also sat to one side. He said to the Buddha, “Ascetic Gautama, up until now, what teaching have you given your disciples so that they attain peaceful samādhi and purely cultivate the religious life?”

11. The Bhagavān told him, “Enough, wanderer! My teaching is profound and broad. Up until now, I’ve taught my disciples, and they dwell peacefully and purely cultivate the religious life. It isn’t comparable to your [teaching].”

The Ascetic Practice

12. He also told the wanderer, “Even if your teacher and your disciples were to practice the path, some would be pure and some would be impure. I could fully explain this to you.”

The wanderer’s five hundred disciples all raised their voices, telling each other, “The ascetic Gautama possesses great might and great power! When someone asks about his doctrine, he instead discusses their doctrine!”

The wanderer Nigrodha then said to the Buddha, “Excellent, Gautama! Please explain it.”

13. The Buddha told the wanderer, “Listen closely, listen closely! I’ll explain it for you.”

The wanderer replied, “I’d be glad to listen.”

14. The Buddha told the wanderer, “Your practices are crude. You go naked without clothes and cover yourselves with your hands. You don’t accept food in pots or bowls. You don’t accept food while between two walls, between two people, between two blades, or between two bowls. You don’t accept food when a family is eating together, when there’s a pregnancy in the household, when you see a dog at the door, or when a home has many flies. You don’t accept invitations to meals or food from someone who says they know you. You don’t eat fish or meat and don’t drink wine. You don’t take two bowls of food, considering one swallow to be a meal up to seven meals and stopping. When you accept a person’s beneficial food, you don’t do so more than seven times. Sometimes, you eat one meal a day or one every two days, three days, four days, five days, six days, or seven days. Sometimes, you eat fruit or weeds and drink juice. You eat flax seed, rice, long-grain rice, cow dung, deer dung, tree roots, branches, leaves, and fruit, or fruit that has fallen naturally.

15. “Sometimes, you wear clothes, throw on sedge as clothes, wear tree bark, curtain yourselves in grass, or wear deerskin. Sometimes, you fasten head hair to yourselves, wear plaited hair, or wear clothes from a charnel ground.

16. “Sometimes, you keep your arms raised all the time, don’t sit on couches or mats, or crouch all the time. Sometimes, you cut your hair and fasten it to your beard, lie on thorns, lie on fruits and berries, or lie naked on cow dung. Sometimes, you bath three times a day or three times a night. You torment your bodies with these countless hardships. How is it, Nigrodha? Can such practices be called a pure teaching?”

17. The wanderer answered, “This teaching is pure. It isn’t impure.”

Defilements in the Ascetic Practice

18. The Buddha told the wanderer, “You call it pure, but I will explain the defilement that’s in your pure teaching.”

The wanderer said, “Good, Gautama! Explain it now. I’d be glad to listen.”

19. The Buddha told the ascetic, “Those practitioners of asceticism often think to themselves, ‘Practicing in this way, I’ll obtain offerings, respect, and veneration.’ This is a defilement. After they obtain offerings, that practitioner’s attachment to pleasure is made firm, and the stain of craving isn’t abandoned. They don’t realize how to distance themselves from it or know how to escape it. This is a defilement.

20. “Those practitioners of asceticism see someone coming from a distance, and they all sit together in meditation. If no one is present, they sit and lie down as they like. This is a defilement.

21. “Those practitioners of asceticism hear correct doctrines from others, but they refuse to accept them. This is a defilement.

22. “When those practitioners of asceticism are asked correct questions by others, they are stingy and don’t answer. This is a defilement.

23. “If those practitioners of asceticism see someone giving offerings to ascetics and priests, they rebuke them for it. This is a defilement.

24. “If those practitioners of asceticism see ascetics and priests eating living things, they rebuke them. This is a defilement.

25. “When those practitioners of asceticism have impure food, they refuse a pure meal from a donor. If there’s pure food, they are attached to desire for their own food. They don’t see this is a mistake and don’t know how to escape from it. This is a defilement.

26. “Those practitioners of asceticism declare their own goodness and slander other people. This is a defilement.

27. “Those practitioners of asceticism kill, steal, engage in sex, speak duplicitously, harshly, falsely, and frivolously. They are greedy, jealous, have wrong views, and are deluded. This is a defilement.

28. “Those practitioners of asceticism are lazy, forgetful, and don’t train in meditative concentration. They lack wisdom like animals. This is a defilement.

29. “Those practitioners of asceticism are conceited, proud, and arrogant. This is a defilement.

30. “Those practitioners of asceticism lack trustworthiness, nor do they repay favors. They don’t observe pure precepts and aren’t able to diligently accept other’s instruction. They associate with bad people, consider them comrades, and don’t stop doing bad things. This is a defilement.

31. “Those practitioners of asceticism often harbor resentment, favor being deceitful, depend on their own views, look for the faults of others, and harbor long-standing wrong and extreme views. This is a defilement.

32. “How is it, Nigrodha? Can these practices be called pure and not wrong?” He replied, “They are impure. They aren’t pure.”

Undefiled Things in the Ascetic Practice

33. The Buddha said, “Now, I’ll explain the things that are pure and undefiled in your defiled teaching.”

The wanderer said, “Please explain them.”

34. The Buddha said, “Those ascetic practitioners don’t think to themselves, ‘Practicing in this way, I’ll obtain offerings, respect, and veneration.’ This is an ascetic practice that’s undefiled.

35. “Once those ascetic practitioners obtain offerings, their minds aren’t attached to desire. They understand how to distance themselves from it and know how to escape it. This is an ascetic practice that’s undefiled.

36. “Those ascetic practitioners are always meditating whether people are present or not. It makes no difference to them. This is an ascetic practice that’s undefiled.

37. “Those ascetic practitioners hear correct doctrines from others, and they joyfully accept them. This is an ascetic practice that’s undefiled.

38. “When those ascetic practitioners are asked correct questions, they joyfully give explanations. This is an ascetic practice that’s undefiled.

39. “If those ascetic practitioners see someone give offerings to ascetics and priests, they rejoice for them and don’t tell rebuke the person. This is an ascetic practice that’s undefiled.

40. “When those ascetic practitioners see ascetics and priests eat living things, they don’t rebuke them. This is an ascetic practice that’s undefiled.

41. “When those ascetic practitioners have impure food, they don’t feel stingy. If they have pure food, then they aren’t attached to it. They can see their own defects and know how to escape them. This is an ascetic practice that’s undefiled.

42. “Those ascetic practitioners don’t praise themselves and criticize other people. This is an ascetic practice that’s undefiled.

43. “Those ascetic practitioners don’t kill, steal, engage in sex, speak duplicitously, harshly, or frivolously, nor are they greedy, jealous, or have wrong views. This is an ascetic practice that’s undefiled.

44. “Those ascetic practitioners are diligent, not forgetful, prefer the practice of meditation, and often cultivate wisdom. They aren’t foolish like animals. This is an ascetic practice that’s undefiled.

45. “Those ascetic practitioners aren’t conceited, proud, or arrogant. This is an ascetic practice that’s undefiled.

46. “Those ascetic practitioners are always trustworthy and cultivate the practice of repaying favors. They can observe pure precepts and diligently accept instruction. They associate with good people, consider them comrades, and don’t stop accumulating goodness. This is an ascetic practice that’s undefiled.

47. “Those ascetic practitioners don’t harbor resentment, aren’t deceptive, don’t rely on their own views, don’t look for other people’s shortcomings, and don’t harbor wrong or extreme views. This is an ascetic practice that’s undefiled.

48. “How is it, wanderer? Is such an ascetic practice pure and undefiled?”

He answered, “So it is! It really is pure and undefiled.”

The Best and Essential Ascetic Practices

49. The wanderer said to the Buddha, “That’s the extent of these ascetic practices, but are they called the best and essential practice?”

The Buddha said, “Not yet. We’ve just begun with the bark.”

50. The wanderer said, “Please explain the tree’s knot!” [6]

The Buddha told the wanderer, “You should listen well. I will now explain it.”

The wanderer said, “Very well! I’d be glad to listen.”

51. “Wanderer, those ascetic practitioners don’t themselves kill beings and don’t instruct others to kill. They don’t themselves steal and don’t instruct others to steal. They don’t themselves engage in wrong sex and don’t instruct others to engage in sex. They don’t themselves speak falsely and don’t instruct others to do so.

52. “They completely fill one direction with kindness and the other directions as well. Their kindness is vast, without duality, measureless, and lacking resentments. They completely fill the world with compassion, joy, and equanimity in the same way. That’s the extent of the ascetic practice that’s called the tree’s knot.”

53. The wanderer said to the Buddha, “Please explain the essential meaning of ascetic practice.”

The Buddha told the ascetic, “Listen closely, listen closely! I will explain it.”

The ascetic said, “Very well, Bhagavān. I’d be glad to listen.”

54. The Buddha said, “Those ascetic practitioners don’t themselves kill beings and don’t instruct others to kill. They don’t themselves steal and don’t instruct others to steal. They don’t themselves engage in wrong sex and don’t instruct others to engage in sex. They don’t themselves speak falsely and don’t instruct others to speak falsely.

55. “They completely fill one direction with kindness and the other directions as well. Their kindness is vast, without duality, measureless, and lacking resentments. They completely fill the world with compassion, joy, and equanimity in the same way.

56. “Those ascetic practitioners are themselves aware of the events of countless eons in the past, whether it’s one, two, or countless births, the formation and destruction of countries, and numerous eons from beginning to end. They fully see and fully know them.

57. “Furthermore, they themselves know, ‘I once was born in that clan with such a name, had such meals, such a life span, and such pleasant and painful experiences. I was born from here to there and from there to here.’ They fully remember such events of countless eons. This is the ascetic practice of wanderers that’s essential and undestroyed.”

58. The wanderer said to the Buddha, “What is the best?”

The Buddha said, “Wanderer, listen closely, listen closely! I will explain it.”

The wanderer said, “Very well, Bhagavān. I’d be glad to listen.”

59. The Buddha said, “Those ascetic practitioners don’t themselves kill beings and don’t instruct others to kill. They don’t themselves steal and don’t instruct others to steal. They don’t themselves engage in wrong sex and don’t instruct others to engage in sex. They don’t themselves speak falsely and don’t instruct others to speak falsely.

60. “They completely fill one direction with kindness and the other directions as well. Their kindness is vast, without duality, measureless, and lacking resentments. They completely fill the world with compassion, joy, and equanimity in the same way.

61. “Those ascetic practitioners are themselves aware of the events of countless eons in the past, whether it’s one, two, or countless births, the formation and destruction of countries, and numerous eons from beginning to end. They fully see and fully know them.

62. “Furthermore, they themselves see and know, ‘I once was born in that clan with such a name, had such meals, such a life span, and such pleasant and painful experiences. I was born from here to there and from there to here.’ They full remember such events of countless eons.

63. “They clearly observe sentient beings with the heavenly eye as they die here and are born there. They appear beautiful and ugly and fall into good and bad destinations according to their actions. They fully see and fully know them.

64. ‘Furthermore, they know the unskillful physical, verbal, and mental actions of sentient beings who slander noble people, believe deluded views, and fall to the three bad destinies when their bodies break up and their lives end. They also know the skillful physical, verbal, and mental actions of sentient beings who don’t slander noble people, see what’s correct and practice it faithfully, and who are born in heaven or among humans when their bodies break up and their lives end. The practitioner’s heavenly eye is purified and observes sentient beings … falling into destinations according to their actions. There’s none whom they don’t see and know. This is the supreme ascetic practice.”

The Superior Teaching of the Buddha

65. The Buddha told the wanderer, “Among these teachings, there is another that’s superior. I always teach disciples with this teaching, and they are able to cultivate the religious life with it.”

The wanderer’s five hundred disciples each raised their voices, saying to each other, “Now look! The Bhagavān is the most exalted one. Our teacher doesn’t compare to him.”

66. The householder Sandhāna then said to the wanderer, “You yourself had said, ‘If Gautama were to come here, we would call him a one-eyed cow.’ The Bhagavān has come now. Why don’t you call him that? You also said, ‘I’d finish that Gautama with a single word. He’d fall silent like a turtle hiding in its shell. It’d be no trouble to take away his escape with a single arrow.’ Why don’t you finish the Tathāgata with a single word now?”

67. The Buddha asked the wanderer, “Do you recall saying that before?”

He replied, “It’s true, I did.”

68. The Buddha told the wanderer, “Haven’t you heard from wanderers in the past that Buddhas and Tathāgatas dwell alone in mountains and forests and enjoy quiet places? They enjoyed seclusion just I do today. How could they enjoy noisy discussions of useless subjects lasting until the end of the day the way you do?”

The wanderer said, “I have heard that Buddhas in the past enjoyed peace and dwelled alone in mountains and forests as the Bhagavān does today. How could they enjoy noisy discussions of useless subjects lasting until the end of the day the way we do?”

69. The Buddha told the wanderer, “Don’t you think, ‘The ascetic Gautama teaches awakening. Having disciplined himself, he disciplines others. He could stop his breath and makes it possible for others to stop their breath. He crossed over to the other shore and makes it possible for others to cross over. He attained liberation and makes it possible for others to attain liberation. He attained extinguishment and makes it possible for others to attain extinguishment’?”

70. That wanderer then rose from his seat and bowed his head with his hands touching the Buddha’s feet. He declared of himself, “I am Nigrodha the wanderer! I am Nigrodha the wanderer! I bow to the Bhagavān’s feet!”

71. The Buddha addressed the wanderer, “Stop, stop! You ought to stand up. You can bow to me when your mind is freed.”

The wanderer bowed deeply at the Buddha’s feet and sat to one side.

72. The Buddha told the wanderer, “Did you think the Buddha teaches the Dharma for no reason other than gain? Don’t have such a thought. If there’s gain, it’ll all go to you. The Dharma I teach is sublime and supreme. It ceases what’s unskillful and increases skillful qualities.”

73. He also told the wanderer, “Did you think the Buddha teaches the Dharma for no reason other than being honored, being a leader, and having followers or a great assembly? Don’t have such a thought. Now, your followers are all your own. The Dharma I teach is for ceasing what’s unskillful and increasing skillful qualities.”

74. He also told the wanderer, “Did you think the Buddha would put you in the unskillful category or the category of darkness for no reason? Don’t have such a thought. You should simply abandon those categories of unskillfulness and darkness. I’ll teach you the skillful and pure teaching.”

75. He also told the wanderer, “Were you thinking the Buddha would drive you away from the category of skillful things and the category of clean things for no reason? Don’t have such a thought. Simply cultivate the categories of skillful and clean things with diligence. I’ll teach for you the skillful and pure teaching that ceases unskillful practices and increases skillful qualities.”

76. The wanderer’s five hundred disciples then rectified their hearts and corrected their thinking as they listened to what the Buddha taught. Māra the Evil One then thought, “These five hundred disciples of the wanderer rectified their hearts and corrected their thinking as they listened to what the Buddha taught. Now, I better go and destroy that thinking!”

Evil Māra then confounded their thinking with his own power.

77. The Bhagavān then told Sandhāna, “These five hundred disciples of the wanderer had rectified their hearts and corrected their thinking as they listened to what I taught, but Māra the Evil One has confounded their thinking. Now, I’d like to return. Let’s you and I leave together.”

78. The Bhagavān then offered his right hand to the householder Sandhāna, who took it in his palm, and they flew back through the sky.

79. The householder Sandhāna, the wanderer Nigrodha, and the five hundred wanderer disciples who heard what the Buddha taught rejoiced and approved.

Notes

  1. The direct parallels for this sutra are DN 25 and MĀ 104. [back]
  2. Saptaparṇa Cave. Ch. 七葉樹窟, P. Sattapaṇṇiguhā, Skt. Saptaparṇaguhā. The Chinese translates the location’s name as “Seven-Leaf Tree Cave.”
    Mount Vaibhāra. Ch. 毗訶羅山. The Chinese transliteration appears to be Vaihāra, which is attested rarely in BHS. [back]
  3. Udumbarikā’s Grove. Ch. 烏暫婆利梵志女林. The Chinese translator included that Udumbarikā was an ascetic woman in the place name just as the Pali does, but it’s not called a monastery. [back]
  4. wanderer. Ch. 梵志. P. paribbājaka. In most Chinese translations, 梵志 is a translation of brāhmaṇa; however, there’s a clear pattern in the Dīrgha Āgama of transliterating brāhmaṇa as 婆羅門 and using 梵志 to refer to the wanderers of other sects. This is true of a couple other Chinese translators of the same time period, most notably Kumārajīva. [back]
  5. one-eyed cow. Pali sources suggest that this describes a large species of antelope in India commonly known today as the nilgai. They stayed away from human settlements and often ran in circles. [back]
  6. tree’s knot. Ch. 樹節. On the face of it, it seems unlikely that the original said “heartwood” here. Chinese has words to express that concept if it had been, whereas 節 usually means a joint or knot, and it can be applied to trees, the human body, or even a rope. It would be an awkward way to translate P. sārappatta. In fact, it’s 堅固 that translates P/Skt. sāra, and 第一堅固行 is equivalent to P. aggappattā ca sārappatta, but these Chinese terms don’t appear to be part of a tree metaphor. [back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 29 April 2021