Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Numerical Discourses

50. Venerating the Three Treasures

6. Knowledge of Rebirth

1. Thus I have heard:[1] One time, the Buddha was staying at Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park in Jeta’s Grove of Śrāvastī.

2. [811b] It was then that the Bhagavān addressed the monks, “Now, hell is quite clear to me. I know the way that leads to hell, and I know the origins of those sentient beings in hell. Supposing, again, a sentient being does bad and unskillful actions, and they enter hell after their body breaks up and their life ends, I know of that, too.

3. “Furthermore, monks, I clearly know the births as animals. I know the way that leads to birth as animals, and I know the origins of those sentient beings that are born as animals. I fully and clearly understand the evils that are the origin for those beings.

4. “Now, I know the way of the hungry ghosts and the evil roots they make that were their origins. I know those born among hungry ghosts, too.

5. “Now, I know the human destiny and the way leading to humans, and I know those sentient beings that’ve obtained a human body, too.

6. “I know the way leading to heaven, the merits that sentient beings make that are its origins, and I know those born up in the heavens, too.

7. “I also know the way to Nirvāṇa and those sentient beings who’ve ended the contaminants. Becoming uncontaminated, their minds are liberated, and their wisdom is liberated. In the present life, they’ve grasped and realized that result. I know of them, too.

8. “Monks, you should know, ‘I know the way to hell.’ What are the causes and conditions for saying this?”

9. The Buddha told the monks, “I observe the minds of sentient beings, which is to say, ‘When this person’s body breaks up and their life ends, they will enter hell.’ Afterward, I observe that this person had entered hell and is experiencing numberless painful, bitter, and torturous punishments. Their anguish and misery are indescribable.

10. “It’s like a huge firepit without any dust or smoke. Suppose that someone comes passing through the area, and a man with eyes observes that their route will surely make them fall into the fire, without a doubt. Afterward, he sees that they did fall into the firepit. ‘I said that person will fall into the firepit.’

11. “Now, I observe the thoughts in the mind of a sentient being, and they surely will enter hell, undoubtedly. Afterward, I observe that this person has certainly entered hell and is experiencing painful, bitter, and torturous punishments that are indescribable.

12. “How did this person enter hell? I observe the bad practices and unskillful actions performed by sentient beings that lead to hell. When their bodies break up and their lives end, they enter hell. I fully know of them. What I say about it is correct; it’s simply what it is.

13. “‘I know the destiny of animal births, and I know what leads to birth as animals.’ What’s the basis for saying this? Here, monks, I observe the thoughts in the mind of a sentient being: ‘After this person’s body breaks up and their life ends, they will be born as an animal.’ Afterward, I observe that this person has been born as an animal, and their anguish and [811c] misery are indescribable.

14. “How did this person fall to a birth as an animal? It’s like a village with a large latrine that’s full of excrement. Suppose that a person is walking along towards it, and a man with eyes sees the person walking that way. It won’t be long before they fall into that latrine. Afterward, he sees that this person has fallen into the latrine, and they’re experiencing misfortune and distress that’s indescribable. How did this person fall into that latrine? Now, I observe this type of sentient being in the same way: ‘When this person’s life ends, they will be born as an animal.’

15. “Furthermore, after I observe that, they are born as an animal and experience measureless suffering. I observe those sentient beings born as an animal. They are all quite clear to me. What I say about it is correct; it’s simply what it is.

16. “I also know sentient beings that are hungry ghosts and the destiny of hungry ghosts. I know those who are born as hungry ghosts when their bodies break up and their lives, too. ‘There’s a sentient being that’s headed for the destiny of hungry ghosts after its body breaks up and its life ends’: I fully know that as well. Afterward, I again observe that the sentient being did enter the realm of hungry ghosts and are experiencing both painful and pleasant feelings.

17. “How did this person end up among hungry ghosts? It’s like a village that has a large tree beside it growing on a dangerous precipice where the limbs and foliage wither and fall. Suppose there’s a person who comes along headed for this place, and a man with eyes observes them from a distance surely headed for that tree, undoubtedly. Again, he later observes the person perhaps sitting or lying there, experiencing his result of pain or pleasure.

18. “How did this person end up sitting or lying under that tree? Now, I observe this type of sentient being in the same way. After their bodies break up and their lives end, they are surely headed for [birth as] hungry ghosts, undoubtedly. They experience the results of pain and pleasure that are indescribable. I know what leads to hungry ghosts and the destiny of hungry ghosts. It’s all quite clear. What I say about it is correct; it’s simply what it is.

19. “I know the destiny of humans, and I know what leads to the destiny of humans. What practices they performed to be born among humans after their bodies break up and their lives end is something I also know. Here, monks, I observe the thoughts in the mind of that type of sentient being: ‘This person will be born among humans after their body breaks up and their life ends.’ Again, after that, I observe that this person was born among humans.

20. “How did this person come to be born among humans? It’s like a village that has a large tree beside it that’s situated on even ground and provides an area of refreshing shade. Suppose someone comes along following a path, and a man with eyes sees them and knows, ‘The way this person is headed, they’ll certainly arrive at that tree, undoubtedly.’ Again, after that: ‘I see that this person arrived at that tree and is experiencing measureless pleasure.’

21. “How [812a] did this person arrive there? This is likewise. I observe the thoughts in a sentient being’s mind in the same way: ‘After their body breaks up and their life ends, they will surely be born among humans, undoubtedly.’ Again, I later observe this person was born among humans and is experiencing measureless pleasures. I know the destiny of humans, and I know the way to the destiny of humans. I also know those who now have been born among humans. What I say about it is correct; it’s simply what it is.

22. “‘I also know heaven and the way leading to heaven. The meritorious actions performed by sentient beings born in heaven are also known to me.’ What are the reasons for saying this? Now, I observe the thoughts in the mind of a type of sentient being, ‘This person surely will be born in a good place up in heaven after their body breaks up and their life ends.’ Afterward, I observe this person was born in a good place up in heaven after their body broke up and their life ended, and they are experiencing what’s natural for their merits. The delights are incomparable. This is called a person who was born up in heaven and is experiencing what’s natural for their merits. The delights are incomparable.

23. “It’s like a village that has a wonderful, tall, and broad meeting hall with inscriptions, hanging banners, and canopies. The grounds are sprinkled with fragrance, and sitting areas are prepared wonderfully with wool mats and rugs and embroidered fine cloth. Suppose a person came along on a path, and a man with eyes sees them coming on that path: ‘The way this person is headed, they’ll certainly arrive at that tall and broad meeting hall, undoubtedly.’ Again, he later sees this person after they arrive and go up to the meeting hall. Perhaps they are sitting or lying down, experiencing merits and delights that are incomparable.

24. “This is likewise. Now, I observe this type of sentient being, ‘After their body breaks up and their life ends, they would be born in a good place up in heaven where they will experience delights that aren’t imaginable.’ How was this person born in a good place up in heaven? I know the destiny of heaven and the path leading to heaven. What I say about it is correct; it’s simply what it is.

25. “Now, I know Nirvāṇa, and I know the path to Nirvāṇa. I also know that a sentient will [enter] parinirvāṇa. Perhaps there’s a sentient being that ends the contaminants. Becoming uncontaminated, their mind is liberated, and their wisdom is liberated. In their present body, they grasp this realization and become a wandering teacher. I fully know of them.

26. “What are the causes and conditions for saying this? Here, monks, I observe the thoughts in the mind of a type of sentient being: ‘This person will end the contaminants. Becoming uncontaminated, their mind will be liberated, and their wisdom will be liberated.’ Saying this, the person ends the contaminants and becomes uncontaminated.

27. “It’s like a village that has a large lake not far away, and its water is crystal clear. Suppose someone comes along on a path, and a man with eyes sees this person coming and knows: ‘This person will surely arrive at this lake, [812b] undoubtedly.’ Again, he later observes this person after they arrive at the lake, bathing and washing away their defilements until the dirt is removed. They then sit on the shore without any quarrel with anyone else.

28. “Now, I observe this type of sentient being likewise who ends the contaminants. Becoming uncontaminated, their mind is liberated, and their wisdom is liberated: ‘Birth has been ended, the religious practice has been established, and the task has been accomplished.’ This is called a realized person. This person has arrived there. I know the path of Nirvāṇa, and I know the sentient beings who [enter] parinirvāṇa. I fully know of them.

29. “The Tathāgata, Arhat, and Completely Awakened One has this knowledge, fearlessness, and power that he has fully accomplished. The Tathāgata’s knowledge is without measure. The Tathāgata can observe past limitless, measureless, and unimaginable events. He fully knows them. He fully discerns future and present events that are limitless and measureless, too. Therefore, monks, you should seek the methods to perfect the ten powers and [four] types of fearlessness. Thus, monks, should you train.”

30. The monks who heard what the Buddha taught then rejoiced and approved.

Notes

  1. Parallels include MN 12. [back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 7 July 2021