Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Medium Discourses

Chapter 12: Priests

146. Parable of the Elephant’s Footprint

1. Thus I have heard:[1] One time, the Buddha traveled to the country of Śrāvastī and stayed at Anāthapiṇḍada Park in Jeta Grove.

Pilotika’s Parable

2. The wanderer Pilotika left Śrāvastī at daybreak and went to the Buddha, paid homage by prostrating to him, and withdrew to sit to one side. The Buddha explained the teaching for him, encouraging, rousing, and making him rejoice. After he explained the teaching using measureless methods and encouraging, rousing, and making him rejoice, the Buddha fell silent and waited. Pilotika then bowed his head at the Buddha’s feet, circled him three times, and departed.

3. The priest [Jāṇussoṇi][2] was then riding in his beautiful white chariot accompanied by 500 disciples. They left Śrāvastī at daybreak to go a quiet place where he would instruct his disciples in reciting the scriptures. The priest [Jāṇussoṇi] saw Pilotika ahead and asked him, “Vatsāyana, where are you coming from this morning?”

Pilotika replied, “Priest, I’m returning from paying homage and giving support to the Bhagavān.”

4. [Jāṇussoṇi] asked, “Vatsāyana, would you happen to know the wisdom that the ascetic Gautama studies in that empty and peaceful place?”

5. Pilotika replied, “Priest, who can know the wisdom [656b] that the ascetic Gautama studies in that empty and peaceful place? Priest, if someone knew the wisdom that the ascetic Gautama studies in that empty and peaceful place, they would be like him. But, priest, I’ve only read about four points of meaning from scripture. As a result of those four points of meaning, I believe the Bhagavān is a Tathāgata, Arhat, and Completely Awakened One. The teaching that the Bhagavān explains is good, and the Tathāgata’s disciples are a noble assembly that’s well destined.

6. “Priest, it’s like a skilled elephant trainer who wanders in a quiet place. Among the trees of the forest, he sees the footprint of a large elephant. Seeing it, he believes it belongs to a huge elephant. I’m likewise, priest. I read about four points of meaning in scripture. As a result of those four points of meaning, I believe the Bhagavān is a Tathāgata, Arhat, and Completely Awakened One. The teaching that he explains is good, and the Tathāgata’s disciples are a noble assembly that’s well destined.

7. “What are those four points of meaning? Priest, there are wise warrior philosophers who are learned and certain. They defeat worldly men [in debate], and there’s nothing they don’t know. They create treatises with these views and travel the world. They think, ‘We’ll visit the ascetic Gautama and ask about such-and-such a topic. If he can answer, then we’ll ask another question. If he can’t answer, then he’ll be defeated, and we’ll depart.’ They hear that the Bhagavān has traveled to a certain town, and so they go to visit him there. Upon seeing the Bhagavān, they don’t dare question him, so how could they defeat him? Priest, I’ve read scriptures and thereby ascertained this first point of meaning. As a result of this meaning, I believe the Bhagavān is a Tathāgata, Arhat, and Completely Awakened One. The teaching that he explains is good, and the Tathāgata’s disciples are a noble assembly that’s well destined.

8. “In this way, there are wise priest … householder … ascetic philosophers who are learned and certain. They defeat worldly men, and there’s nothing they don’t know. They create treatises with these views and travel the world. They think, ‘We’ll visit the ascetic Gautama and ask about such-and-such a topic. If he can answer, then we’ll ask another question. If he can’t answer, then he’ll be defeated, and we’ll depart.’ They hear that the Bhagavān has traveled to a certain town, and so they go to visit him there. Upon seeing the Bhagavān, they don’t dare question him, so how could they defeat him? Priest, I’ve read scripture and thereby ascertained this fourth point of meaning. As a result of this meaning, I believe the Bhagavān is a Tathāgata, Arhat, and Completely Awakened One. The teaching that he explains is good, and the Tathāgata’s disciples are a noble assembly that’s well destined.

9. “Priest, I’ve read scripture with these four points of meaning. As a result of these four points of meaning, I believe the Bhagavān is a Tathāgata, Arhat, and Completely Awakened One. The teaching that he explains is good, and the Tathāgata’s disciples are a noble assembly that’s well destined.”

10. [Jāṇussoṇi] said, “Vatsāyana, you support the ascetic Gautama [656c] a great deal. What’s the cause and what’s the reason that you rejoice and approve of him?”

Pilotika replied, “So it is, priest! So it is! I support the Bhagavān a great deal, and I praise him a great deal. The whole world should support him, too!”

The Complete Parable

11. After hearing these points of meaning, [Jāṇussoṇi] dismounted his chariot and knelt on his right knee with his palms together facing Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park in Jeta’s Grove. He paid homage three times: “Devotion to the Tathāgata, Arhat, and Completely Awakened One!” After doing this three times, he got back on his beautiful white chariot and went to Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park in Jeta’s Grove. When he arrived at the chariot grounds, he dismounted and proceeded to the Buddha on foot. He exchanged greetings with him and withdrew to sit to one side.

12. [Jāṇussoṇi] then recounted his conversation with Pilotika for the Buddha in its entirety. After he heard it, the Bhagavān said, “Priest, Pilotika explained the parable of the elephant’s footprint, but he didn’t tell it very well, and it was incomplete. Here is the parable of the elephant’s footprint told well and completely: I’ll explain it for you, so listen well to it.

13. “Priest, suppose a skilled elephant trainer wanders in a peaceful place and sees among the trees a large elephant footprint. Seeing it, he believes that it belongs to a huge elephant. Priest, that skilled elephant trainer might not feel confident about it. There’s also an elephant mother named [Kaṇerukā] in the forest. She’s tall and huge, and she possesses such a footprint. Searching for this footprint, the trainer again sees that large elephant print. Seeing it, he believes that the footprint belongs to [another] huge elephant.

14. “Priest, that skilled elephant trainer still might not feel confident. There’s another elephant mother named [Kāḷārikā] in the forest. She’s very tall and huge, and she possesses such a footprint. Searching for this footprint, the trainer again sees a large elephant footprint. Seeing it, he believes that the footprint belongs to [another] huge elephant.

15. “Priest, that skilled elephant trainer still might not feel confident. There’s another elephant mother named [Vāmanikā] in this forest. She’s very tall and huge, and she possesses such a footprint. Searching for this footprint, he again sees a large elephant print. Seeing it, he believes that the footprint belongs to a huge elephant. After searching for this footprint, he sees that this large elephant print is very long and wide, circular, and sunk into the earth, and he sees that elephant, either when it’s coming, going, standing, or walking. Perhaps it’s standing up or laying down. After he sees that elephant, the trainer thinks, ‘If it has this footprint, that surely is the huge elephant.’

16. “Thus, priest, a Tathāgata, Arhat, and Completely Awakened One arises in the world who’s accomplished in knowledge and conduct, well gone, an understander of the world, an unsurpassed man, a trainer in the principles of the path, a teacher to gods and humans, and called the Buddha, the Blessed One. Among the gods, Māra, Brahmā, ascetics, and priests of this world, from humans up to the gods, [657a] his own knowledge and awakening was accomplished with this self-realization: ‘My births have ended, the religious practice has been established, and the task has been accomplished. I’ll not be subject to existence any longer, and I know it as it truly is.’

17. “He explains a teaching that’s wonderful in the beginning, middle, and end. Both its meaning and words are complete and pure, and it demonstrates the religious practice. When he explains the teaching to a householder or a householder’s son, they become faithful after hearing it.

Going Forth

18. “After they have faith in the Tathāgata’s correct teaching and discipline, they think, ‘A home becomes cramped, a place of dust and toil; leaving home and training on the path reveals a clear expanse. Now, I’m confined at home, and I’m confining. I’m not able to fully live and cultivate the religious life. Wouldn’t it be better to discard this small or large amount of wealth and these few or many friends and family? I’ll shave my beard and hair, put on the reddish-brown robes, become faithful, leave home, go homeless, and train on the path.’

19. “Sometime later, he discards his small or large amount of wealth and few or many friends and family. He shaves his beard and hair, puts on the reddish-brown robes, becomes faithful, leaves home, goes homeless, and trains on the path. After leaving home and discarding his family, he accepts the monk’s training, cultivates the precepts, and guards himself from [acting] freely. Moreover, he well attends to his comportment and the rules of propriety. Seeing the smallest misdeeds and constantly fearing them, he upholds the training and precepts.

The 20 Renunciations

20. “He parts with killing, stops killing, and he discards blades and bludgeons. With conscience and modesty and with kindness and compassion, he’s beneficial to all living things, even insects and worms. He purifies his mind and rids it of killing living things.

21. “He parts with taking what’s not given, stops taking what’s not given, and takes after something is given. He’s happy with taking what’s given and always likes generosity. Rejoicing in having no stinginess, he doesn’t expect any reward. He purifies his mind and rids it of taking what’s not given.

22. “He parts with what’s not the religious life, stops what’s not the religious life, and diligently cultivates the religious life. Diligent is his wondrous conduct. He is pure and undefiled, parting with desire and stopping lust. He purifies his mind and rids it of what’s not the religious life.

23. “He parts with false speech, stops false speech, and speaks truly. He enjoys truth, abides in truth, and doesn’t budge from it. He’s believed by all and doesn’t deceive the world. He purifies his mind and rids it of false speech.

24. “He parts with duplicity, stops duplicity, and practices what’s not duplicitous. He doesn’t divide others. He doesn’t hear something here and tell it there with the desire to divide those here. He doesn’t hear something there and tell it here with the desire to divide those there. He wants to bring the estranged together, and he rejoices for those who are united. He doesn’t act partisan, doesn’t enjoy partisanship, and doesn’t commend partisanship. He purifies his mind and rids it of duplicity.

25. “He parts with coarse speech and stops coarse speech. If something said is in expression or feeling coarse and mean, bad sounding and disagreeable to the ear, that displeases many and isn’t loved by many, that causes others [657b] to suffer, or that makes concentration impossible, he stops such words. If some expression is clear, peaceful, and flexible, that agrees with the ear and enters the mind, that’s pleasing and lovely, that causes the well-being of others, that uses words and sounds that are completely understandable, that doesn’t cause people to be frightened, and that allows others to concentrate, then he speaks such words. He purifies his mind and rids it of coarse speech.

26. “He parts with fancy speech and stops fancy speech. [He speaks] timely speech, true speech, Dharma speech, purposeful speech, and calming speech. He enjoys calming speech, performs tasks in a timely way as is appropriate, and he well teaches and well admonishes [others]. He purifies his mind and rids it of fancy speech.

27. “He renounces making a living, stops making a living, and discards measurements and weights. He doesn’t accept money and doesn’t fetter people. He doesn’t hope to bend weights and measures in order to cheat people for a small profit. He purifies his mind and rids it of making a living.

28. “He parts with accepting widowed women and girls and stops accepting widowed women and girls. He purifies his mind and rids it of accepting widowed women and girls.

29. “He parts with accepting servants and stops accepting servants. He purifies his mind and rids it of accepting servants.

30. “He parts with accepting elephants, horses, cattle, and sheep and stops accepting elephants, horses, cattle, and sheep. He purifies his mind and rids it of accepting elephants, horses, cattle, and sheep.

31. “He parts with accepting chickens and pigs and stops accepting chickens and pigs. He purifies his mind and rids it of accepting chickens and pigs.

32. “He parts with accepting farm work and selling goods at markets and stops accepting farm work and selling goods at markets. He purifies his mind and rids it of accepting farm work and selling goods at markets.

33. “He parts with accepting and growing rice, barley, and beans and stops accepting and growing rice, barley, and beans. He purifies his mind and rids it of accepting and growing rice, barley, and beans.

34. “He parts with wine and stops drinking wine. He purifies his mind and rids it of drinking wine.

35. “He parts with high, wide, and large beds and stops using high, wide, and large beds. He purifies his mind and rids it of using high, wide, and large beds.

36. “He parts with flower garlands, jewelry, perfume, and cosmetics and stops using flower garlands, jewelry, perfume, and cosmetics. He purifies his mind and rids it of using flower garlands, jewelry, perfume, and cosmetics.

37. “He parts with singing, dancing, and going to watch and listen to them and stops singing, dancing, and watching and listening to them. He purifies his mind and rids it of singing, dancing, and going to watch and listen to them.

38. “He parts with being born with valuable physical forms and stops being born with valuable physical forms. He purifies his mind and rids it of being born with valuable physical forms.

39. “He parts with eating after midday and stops eating after midday. He eats one meal and not at night but during the training time. He purifies his mind and rids it of eating after midday.

The Stages of Training

40. “After he accomplishes this group of noble precepts, he again has to practice being quite satisfied, taking clothing to cover his form and food to fill his body. Wherever he goes, he has his robes and bowl, traveling without a care like a hawk flying through the sky [657c] with a pair of wings.

41. “After he accomplishes this group of noble precepts and is quite satisfied, he also guards his faculties. He accomplishes being constantly mindful and closed off, mindfully wanting clear understanding, and guarding that mindful state of mind. He continuously produces correct knowing.

42. “If his eye sees forms, he still doesn’t accept the perceptions and doesn’t partake of the forms. That is, because of resentment and arguing, he guards the eye faculty, and then longing, grief, and bad and unwholesome things won’t arise in his mind. Because it leads to them, he guards the eye faculty. So it is with his ear, nose, tongue, and body. If his mind knows things, he still doesn’t accept the perceptions and doesn’t partake of those things. That is, because of resentment and arguing, he guards the mind faculty, and then longing, grief, and bad and unwholesome things won’t arise in his mind. Because it leads to them, he guards the mind faculty.

43. “After he accomplishes this group of noble precepts, is quite satisfied, and guards his faculties, he again has to learn correct knowing of exiting and entering. Well observing and discerning while bending and stretching or rising and sitting down, his comportment and expression are serene. He wears his outer and inner robes and holds his bowl well. While walking, standing, sitting, and laying, sleeping and waking, and speaking and remaining silent, he correctly knows them.

44. “After he accomplishes this group of noble precepts, is quite satisfied, guards his faculties, and correctly knows exiting and entering, he again lives secluded in a peaceful place. It might be under a tree, in an empty and peaceful dwelling, or in a mountain cave. Sometimes it’s on bare ground or a pile of straw. Perhaps he goes to a forest, or maybe he stays in a cemetery.

45. “After he’s staying in a peaceful place, perhaps under a tree or in an empty and peaceful dwelling, he spreads out his sitting mat and sits down crossed-legged. With correct posture and correct intent, he avoids what’s contrary to mindfulness and puts a stop to longing. Without any arguing, he sees another’s property and requirements for living without longing or wanting them for himself. He purifies his mind and rids it of longing. So it is with hatred, drowsiness, regret, and doubt. It not having any resemblance to good qualities, he purifies his mind and rids it of doubt.

46. “After he has stopped these five hindrances and mental defilements that weaken wisdom, he parts with desires and bad, unwholesome things. With perception and contemplation, this seclusion gives rise joy and happiness, and he accomplishes the first meditation.

47. “Priest, this is what’s exhausted by the Tathāgata, what’s practiced by the Tathāgata, and what’s worn by the Tathāgata. Still, this isn’t entirely what makes the Bhagavān a Tathāgata, Arhat, and Completely Awakened One, nor why the Bhagavān’s teaching is good and the Tathāgata’s disciples are a noble assembly that’s well destined.

48. “After his perception and contemplation stops, he’s internally stilled, and his mind is unified. Without perception or contemplation, concentration gives rise to joy and happiness, and he accomplishes the second meditation.

49. “Priest, this is what’s exhausted by the Tathāgata, what’s practiced by the Tathāgata, and what’s worn by the Tathāgata. Still, this isn’t entirely what makes the Bhagavān a Tathāgata, Arhat, and Completely Awakened One, nor why the Bhagavān’s teaching is good [658a] and the Tathāgata’s disciples are a noble assembly that’s well destined.

50. “He parts with joy and desire, and he is equanimous without further pursuit. With right mindfulness and right knowledge, he personally experiences the happiness that’s described by the nobles and that’s the noble’s equanimity, mindfulness, happy abode, and emptiness. He accomplishes the third meditation.

51. “Priest, this is what’s exhausted by the Tathāgata, what’s practiced by the Tathāgata, and what’s worn by the Tathāgata. Still, this isn’t entirely what makes the Bhagavān a Tathāgata, Arhat, and Completely Awakened One, nor why the Bhagavān’s teaching is good and the Tathāgata’s disciples are a noble assembly that’s well destined.

52. “His pleasure and pain ceases. The basis of joy and sorrow having ceased, he is neither discomforted nor delighted. Equanimous, mindful, and pure, he accomplishes the fourth meditation.

53. “Priest, this is what’s exhausted by the Tathāgata, what’s practiced by the Tathāgata, and what’s worn by the Tathāgata. Still, this isn’t entirely what makes the Bhagavān a Tathāgata, Arhat, and Completely Awakened One, nor why the Bhagavān’s teaching is good and the Tathāgata’s disciples are a noble assembly that’s well destined.

54. “After he attains a concentrated mind in this way, he is pure, undefiled, untroubled, flexible, and well abiding. He attains an imperturbable mind that’s headed for the end of contaminants and realization of the penetrating knowledges.

55. “He knows as it truly is, ‘This is suffering.’ He knows as they truly are, ‘This is the accumulation of suffering,’ ‘This is the cessation of suffering, and ‘This is the path to the cessation of suffering.’ He knows as they truly are, ‘These are contaminants,’ ‘This is the accumulation of contaminants,’ ‘This is the cessation of contaminants,’ and ‘This is the path to the cessation of contaminants.’

56. “Thus knowing and thus seeing, his mind is liberated from the contaminants of desire and liberated from the contaminants of existence and ignorance. Once he’s liberated, he readily knows that he’s liberated: ‘Birth has been ended, the religious practice has been established, and the task has been accomplished. I’m no longer subject to existence and know it as it really is.’

57. “Priest, this is what’s exhausted by the Tathāgata, what’s practiced by the Tathāgata, and what’s worn by the Tathāgata. Still, this isn’t entirely what makes the Bhagavān a Tathāgata, Arhat, and Completely Awakened One, nor why the Bhagavān’s teaching is good and the Tathāgata’s disciples are a noble assembly that’s well destined.

Conclusion

58. “Priest, what do you think? Is this parable of the elephant’s footprint in this way well told and complete?”

[Jāṇussoṇi] replied, “Indeed, Gautama! The parable of the elephant’s footprint is in this way well told and complete.”

59. The priest [Jāṇussoṇi] said, “Bhagavān, I have known it. Sugata, I have understood it. Bhagavān, now I take refuge in the Buddha, the teaching, and the community of monks. Please, Bhagavān, accept me as a layman. From this day to the end of my life, I’ll devote myself to them.”

60. The Buddha spoke thus. The priest [Jāṇussoṇi] and the wanderer Pilotika who heard what the Buddha taught rejoiced and approved.

Notes

  1. This sutra is parallel to MN 27. A large part (§ 18-56) of this sutra is also parallel with MĀ 80 (§ 14-43 and § 55) and a couple other MĀ sutras. The main difference between these two sutras is that MĀ 80 gives a full description of the supernormal powers, while MĀ 146 gives a full description of the four meditations. This material is itself parallel to the stock description of a monk’s training found in several Pali suttas including MN 27. [back]
  2. The Chinese translates his name as “Born Hearing” (生聞), which agrees with the Pali Jāṇussoṇi, but I have not found a Skt. attestation for this name yet. [back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 15 November 2020