The Medium Discourses
Chapter 11: Great
127. Fields of Merit
1. Thus I have heard: One time, the Buddha traveled to the country of Śrāvastī and stayed at Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park in Jeta’s Grove.
2. It was then that the householder Anāthapiṇḍada paid the Buddha a visit. He bowed his head at the Buddha’s feet, withdrew to sit at one side, and said, “Bhagavān, how many kinds of people are there in the world who are fields of merit?”
3. The Bhagavān told him, “Householder, the world has altogether two kinds of people who are fields of merit. Which two? First are the trainees, and second are the adepts. There are eighteen kinds of trainees and nine kinds of adepts.
4. “Householder, what are the eighteen kinds of trainees? Faithful practitioners, Dharma practitioners, those freed by faith, those who’ve arrived at [right] view, those of self-realization, those born from family to family, those of a single seed, those headed for stream-entry, those who’ve attained stream-entry, those headed for once-returning, those who’ve attained once-returning, those headed for non-returning, those who’ve attained non-returning, those who parinirvāṇa in the interim, those who parinirvāṇa at birth, those who parinirvāṇa with practice, those who parinirvāṇa without practice, and those who [parinirvāṇa] upstream to Akaniṣṭha. These are the eighteen kinds of trainees.
5. “Householder, what are the nine kinds of adepts? Those who are intent, those who are ascending, those who are imperturbable, those who retreat, those who don’t retreat, those who are guarding (those who guard don’t retreat; and those who don’t guard do retreat), those who truly abide, those liberated by wisdom, and those liberated in both ways. These are the nine kinds of adepts.”
6. The Bhagavān then spoke in verse:
- “The trainees and adepts in the world
Are honorable and worthy of respect.
They can correct their physical deeds,
And their verbal and mental deeds, too.
Householder, they are excellent fields
That yield great merits when given gifts.”
8. The Buddha spoke thus. The householder Anāthapiṇḍada and the monks who heard what he taught rejoiced and approved.
- This sūtra is parallel to AN 2.35, SĀ 48.13 (992), and EĀ 42.8 [back]
- The names that follow represent an outline of progress in realization up to but not including the arhat. It becomes apparent that the list has grown from five to eighteen when we compare it to Pali parallels (cf. MN 70). In the Pali tradition, practitioners progressing through the four fruits of ascetics up to the non-returners were all considered self-realizers (身證, kāyasakkhi), but they’ve been added to this list. To this, the five kinds of non-returner parinirvāṇas are also added, which brings this list of trainees to sixteen. A sixth and seventh stage has been inserted after the self-realizers to make it eighteen: those born from one good family to another two or three more times (家家, kolaṃkolo), and once-returners born in the human world (一種, ekabījī). See MN 70 & MĀ 195 for passages that interpret the first five stages. See SN 48.24 and AN 3.88 for glosses of the sixth and seventh stages. [back]
- The first seven adepts in this list adds one to the six kinds of arhats found in later Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma (e.g. in the Abhidharma Hṛdaya by Upaśānta at T1551.28.851a1). Huiyuan (慧遠, 334–416 CE) discusses this passage in his Encyclopedia of Mahāyāna Doctrine (大乘義章, T1851.44.797a24), explaining the addition of the non-retreating adept (不退法) as a result of splitting the imperturbable adept (不動法) into a present and future attainment. Someone has also inserted a parenthetical comment directly into the list in an apparent attempt to explain the added item. It’s quite possible that not retreating was a spurious addition to begin with, and both these explanations are retrospective rationalizations. [back]
Translator: Charles Patton
Last Revised: 28 November 2022