Dharma Pearls

Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Medium Discourses

Chapter 17: Potalaka

204. Raṃbhaka

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

Introduction

2. It was then that the Bhagavān rose from sitting in repose in the afternoon and came down from the monastery. He told Ānanda, “Now, let’s you and I go to the Ajiravatī River and bathe.”

Venerable Ānanda replied, “Very well.”

3. Venerable Ānanda took the door keys, went to the dwellings, and walked around. When he saw the monks, he would then tell them, “Good men, you can go and visit the priest Raṃbhaka’s home.”[2]

4. After they heard this, the monks then went to visit the priest Raṃbhaka’s home. The Bhagavān led Venerable Ānanda to the Ajiravatī River. They took off their robes on its bank, went into the water, and bathed. After they were done bathing, then came back out, wiped themselves off, and put on their robes.

5. It was then that Venerable Ānanda was standing behind the Bhagavān and fanning him. Thereupon, Venerable Ānanda turned to the Buddha with his palms together and said, “Bhagavān, the home of the priest Raṃbhaka is wonderfully arranged and very delightful. May the Bhagavān out of sympathy go to the priest Raṃbhaka’s home!”

6. The Bhagavān quietly accepted Venerable Ānanda’s request. Thereupon, the Bhagavān led Venerable Ānanda to the priest Raṃbhaka’s home.

7. By that time, a group of many monks had gathered at the priest Raṃbhaka’s home, and they were sitting and discussing the teaching. The Buddha stood outside the door and waited until the monks were finished discussing the teaching. When that group of monks was finished discussing the teaching, they waited quietly. When the Bhagavān perceived this, he cleared his throat and knocked on the door. The monks heard him, and they went and opened the door.

8. The Bhagavān then entered Raṃbhaka’s home, prepared a seat in front of the monks, and sat down. He asked, “Monks, what direction has your discussion led you? What was the reason you came here for a meeting?”

The monks then replied, “Bhagavān, the direction was to discuss the teaching. That was the reason we came here for a meeting.”

9. The Bhagavān commended them. “Good, good! Monks should do two things at meetings: One is to discuss the teaching, and the second is to remain quiet. Why is that? I will also discuss the teaching for you. Listen closely, listen closely. Well consider it.”

The monks then replied, “Very well, we will accept the teaching and listen.”

Pursuits that Aren’t Noble

10. The Buddha said, “There are two kinds of pursuit: One is the noble pursuit, and second are pursuits that aren’t noble. What are pursuits that aren’t noble? There is one real state of illness and pursuit of illness, a real state of old age … state of death … state of grief and sorrow … a real state of defilement and pursuit of defilement.

11. “What are the real state of illness and pursuit of illness? What is the state of illness? Children and brothers are a state of illness. Elephants, horses, cattle, sheep, servants, property, treasure, and grain are states of illness and harm. When sentient beings come into contact with them, they are defiled with greed and attachment. Conceitedness is accepted and enters them. They don’t see the danger or the escape when taking and making use [of these things].

12. “What is the state of old age … death … grief and sorrow … defilement? Children and brothers are a state of defilement. Elephants, horses, sheep, cattle, servants, property, treasure, and grain are states of defilement and harm. When sentient beings come into contact with them, they are defiled with greed and attachment. Conceitedness is accepted and enters them. They don’t see the danger or the escape when taking and making use [of these things].

13. “If those people want to pursue the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks illness, they will never be able to attain the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks illness. If they pursue the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks old age, death, grief and sorrow, and defilement, they will never be able to attain the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks old age, death, grief and sorrow, and defilement. These are called the pursuits that aren’t noble.

The Noble Pursuit

14. “What is the noble pursuit? Someone has the thought, ‘I am myself really in a state of illness, and I don’t go against pursuing a state of illness. I am myself really in a state of old age … death … grief and sorrow … defilement and don’t go against pursuing a state of defilement. Perhaps I should pursue the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks illness and pursue the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks old age, death, grief and sorrow, and defilement.’

15. “When that person then pursues the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks illness, they surely can attain the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks illness. When they pursue the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks old age, death, grief and sorrow, and defilement, they surely can attain the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks old age, death, grief and sorrow, and defilement.

16. “Before I awakened to the unsurpassed, right, and complete enlightenment, I also had this thought: ‘I am myself really in a state of illness, and I don’t go against pursuing a state of illness. I am myself really in a state of old age … death … grief and sorrow … defilement and don’t go against pursuing a state of defilement. Perhaps I should pursue the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks illness and pursue the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks old age, death, grief and sorrow, and defilement.’

Training Under Ārāḍa Kālāma

17. “When I was a young man, I had pure blue-black hair and flourished from year to year until I was 29. That period was my happiest and most fun. I was handsome, decked out, and traveled about. Back then, my father and mother cried and my friends were unhappy when I shaved off my hair and beard, put on the reddish-brown robes, became faithful, renounced home, went homeless, and trained on the path. I guarded myself physically and my livelihood was pure. I guarded my words and thoughts, and my livelihood was pure.

18. After I had accomplished this body of precepts, I wanted to pursue the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks illness and the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks old age, lacks death, grief and sorrow, and defilement. I therefore went to Ārāḍa Kālāma and asked him, “Ārāḍa, I want to practice the religious life under you. May I do so?”

Ārāḍa replied to me, “Good man, there’s no reason for me not to allow it. If you want to practice, then practice.”

19. Again, I asked, “Ārāḍa, how did you yourself know, awaken to, and realize this teaching?”

Ārāḍa answered, “Good man, I transcended the abode of all consciousness and attained the accomplishment of the abode of nothingness. This was how I myself knew, awakened to, and realized this teaching.”

20. “Again, I had the thought, “It’s not just Ārāḍa alone who has this faith; I also have this faith. It’s not just Ārāḍa alone who has this effort; I also have this effort. It’s not just Ārāḍa alone who has this wisdom; I also have this wisdom. Ārāḍa himself knows, is awakened to, and has realized this teaching.” I then went alone into seclusion because I wanted to realize this teaching in an empty and peaceful abode. My mind lacking carelessness, I cultivated diligently. After going alone into seclusion in an empty and quiet place, lacking carelessness, and cultivating diligently, it was not long before I attained realization of that teaching.

21. “After realizing that teaching, I again went to Ārāḍa Kālāma and asked him, ‘Ārāḍa, does this teaching that I’ve known, awakened to, and realized for myself transcend the abode of all measureless consciousness and attain the accomplishment of the abode of nothingness?’

“Ārāḍa Kālāma answered me, ‘Good man, this is the teaching that I’ve known, awakened to, and realized myself that transcends the abode of measureless consciousness and attains the accomplishment of the abode of nothingness.’

22. “Ārāḍa Kālāma also said to me, ‘Good man, just as I’ve realized this teaching, you’ve done so, too. Just as you’ve realized this teaching, I’ve done so, too. Come, good man, and lead this assembly with me.’

23. “I lived there with Ārāḍa Kālāma, and I was made his equal, supremely respected, supremely supported, and supremely joyous. Again, I thought, ‘This teaching doesn’t lead to knowledge, doesn’t lead to awakening, and doesn’t lead to nirvāṇa. Perhaps now I should abandon this teaching and pursue the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks illness and pursue the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks old age, death, grief and sorrow, and defilement.’

Training Under Udraka Rāmaputra

24. “After I abandoned that teaching, I then pursued the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks illness and pursued the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks old age, death, grief and sorrow, and defilement. I went to visit Udraka Rāmaputra and asked him, ‘Udraka, I wish to train in your teaching. May I do so?’

25. “Udraka Rāmaputra replied to me, ‘Good man, there’s no reason for me not to allow it. If you want to train, then train.’

26. “Again, I asked, ‘Udraka, what teaching did you Rāmaputra yourself know, awaken to, and realize?’

“Udraka Rāmaputra replied to me, ‘Good man, I transcended the abode of all nothingness and attained accomplishment of the abode with neither perception nor no perception. Good man, I Rāmaputra myself have known, awakened to, and realized this teaching.’

27. “I again thought, ‘It’s not just Rāmaputra alone who has this faith; I also have this faith. It’s not just Rāmaputra alone who has this effort; I also have this effort. It’s not just Rāmaputra alone who has this wisdom; I also have this wisdom. Rāmaputra himself has known, awakened to, and realized this teaching, so why can’t I know, awaken to, and realize this teaching myself?’

28. “I then went alone into seclusion because I wanted to realize this teaching in an empty and peaceful abode. My mind lacking carelessness, I cultivated diligently. After going alone into seclusion in an empty and quiet place, lacking carelessness, and cultivating diligently, it was not long before I attained realization of that teaching.

29. “After realizing that teaching, I again went to Udraka Rāmaputra and asked him, ‘Udraka, is this the teaching that you Rāmaputra have known, awakened to, and realized yourself that transcends the abode of all nothingness and attains the accomplishment of the abode with neither perception nor no perception?’

“Udraka Rāmaputra replied to me, ‘Good man, this is the teaching that I Rāmaputra have known, awakened to, and realized that transcends the abode of all nothingness and attains the accomplishment of the abode with neither perception nor no perception.”

30. “Udraka also said to me, ‘Just as I Rāmaputra have realized this teaching, you have done so, too. Just as you have realized this teaching, I have done so, too. Come, good man, and lead this assembly together with me.’

31. “I lived with Udraka Rāmaputra as an equal teacher. I was also supremely respected, supremely supported, and supremely joyous like the teacher. Again, I thought, ‘This teaching doesn’t lead to knowledge, doesn’t lead to awakening, and doesn’t lead to nirvāṇa. Perhaps now I should abandon this teaching and pursue the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks illness and pursue the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks old age, death, grief and sorrow, and defilement.’

Attaining Complete Awakening

32. “After I abandoned that teaching, I pursued the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks illness and pursued the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks old age, death, grief and sorrow, and defilement, I went south of Elephant Head Mountain to a priest town in Uruvilvā named Sena.

33. “While I was in that land, I reach the lovely mountain forest of Uruvilvā and bathed on the bank of the Nairañjanā River. After seeing that, I then thought, ‘This land is so lovely with this mountain forest of Uruvilvā and this pure current on the bank of the Nairañjanā river. If a clansman wanted to train in something, they could do that training here. I also should train; perhaps I will train here.’

34. “Then I carried grass to the bodhi tree. Arriving there, I prepared a sitting mat and sat down cross-legged. I could not stop sitting there until I attained the end of the contaminants, and so I did not stop sitting there until I attained the end of the contaminants.

35. “I pursued the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks illness, and then I attained the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks illness. I pursued the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks old age, death, grief and sorrow, and defilement, and then I attained the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that lacks old age, death, grief and sorrow, and defilement. Knowing arose and seeing arose, and I was certain about the things that are factors of the path: ‘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.’

Who Will Be First to Learn the Teaching?

36. “After I first awakened to the unsurpassed, right, and complete enlightenment, I had the thought, ‘Who will be the first person to whom I’ll explain this teaching?’ Again, I thought, ‘Now, perhaps Ārāḍa Kālāma should be the first to whom I’ll explain this teaching?’

37. “Just then, there was a god in the sky who said to me, ‘Great sage, you should know that it’s now been seven days since Ārāḍa Kālāma’s life ended.’ I also knew for myself that Ārāḍa Kālāma’s life had ended seven days before.

38. “I then thought, ‘That man Ārāḍa Kālāma will not hear this teaching because of age’s decay. If he had heard it, he would have quickly known one thing and the next.’

39. “After I first awakened to the unsurpassed, right, and complete enlightenment, I had the thought, ‘Who will be the first person to whom I’ll explain this teaching?’ Again, I thought, ‘Now, perhaps Udraka Rāmaputra should be the first to whom I’ll explain this teaching?’

40. “Again, a god in the sky said to me, ‘Great sage, you should know that Udraka Rāmaputra’s life ended two weeks ago.’ I also knew for myself that Udraka Rāmaputra’s life had ended two weeks before.

41. “Again, I thought, ‘That man Udraka Rāmaputra will not hear this teaching because of age’s decay. If he had heard this teaching, he would have quickly known one thing and the next.’

42. “After I first awakened to the unsurpassed, right, and complete enlightenment, I had the thought, ‘Who will be the first person to whom I’ll explain this teaching?’ Again, I thought, ‘There were the five monks with whom I was attached to hardship. There were many benefits when I practiced asceticism, and those five monks had attended to me. Now, perhaps those five monks should be the first to whom I’ll explain this teaching?’

43. “Again, I thought, ‘Where are those five monks now?’ With the clear divine eye that goes beyond that of humans, I saw the five monks staying in Bārāṇasī at Ṛṣipatana in the Deer Preserve. I then stood up under the bodhi tree, gathered my robes, took my bowl, and went to the city of Bārāṇasī.

The Encounter with [Upaka]

44. “It was then that the heretic [Upaka] saw me coming from a distance and said, ‘Good man, Gautama, your faculties are clear, your appearance is wonderful, and your face is radiant. Good man, Gautama, who is your teacher? From whom do you train on the path? Whose teaching do you have faith in?’

“At that point, I replied to [Upaka] in verse:

45. “[Upaka] asked me, ‘Good man, Gautama, you call yourself supreme?’

“I again responded to him in verse:

46. “[Upaka] again asked me, ‘Good man, Gautama, where are you going?’

“I then responded to him with verse:

47. “[Upaka] said to me, ‘Good man, Gautama, perhaps that may be so.’ After he said this, that heretic continued on and departed, and I went to Ṛṣipatana in the Deer Preserve.

The Five Monks

48. “Those five monks then saw me coming. They conferred with each other and made a rule: ‘Good men, you should know this ascetic Gautama is coming. He has many desires, many pursuits, eats delicious meals of good rice, barley, milk, and honey, and rubs his body with sesame oil. Now, he has returned. All of you, just sit and take care not to rise or look up. Don’t even make a bow. Provide a seat for a visit, but don’t ask him to sit down. Once he arrives, say, “Sir, if you want to sit, then you can do as you like.”’

49. “When I went to those five monks, they didn’t treat me as being wonderful or dignified. Some rose from their seats with their bowls and robes, some prepared seats, some brought water, or some went to wash their feet. I then thought, ‘These are foolish people. How can they be so unreliable? They stand and arrange things freely, and then they go back to where they were!’ After I recognized that, I sat on the seat that the five monks had prepared.

50. “Then the five monks called me by my clan and ‘friend.’ I said to them, ‘Five monks, I am a Tathāgata, Arhat, and Rightly and Completely Enlightened One. Don’t call me by my original clan, and don’t call me ‘friend.’ Why is that? I sought the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that’s without illness and attained the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that’s without illness. I sought the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that’s without old age … death … grief and sorrow … defilement, and I attained the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa that’s without old age … death … grief and sorrow … defilement. I produced knowing, seeing, and certainty about the factors of the path. Birth has 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.’

“They said to me, ‘Friend, Gautama. Before, you had such a practice, such a path, and such an asceticism, but you weren’t able to attain the higher state of a human or the distinctly noble knowing and seeing. How could do that today having many desires, many pursuits, eating delicious meals of good rice, barley, milk, and honey, and rubbing your body with sesame oil?’

51. “I then said, ‘Five monks, have you seen my faculties so pure and radiant before?’

“Then the five monks replied to me, ‘We haven’t seen your faculties so pure and radiant before. Friend, Gautama, now your faculties are pure, your appearance is wonderful, and your face is radiant.’

52. “I then told them, ‘Five monks, you should know there are two extreme practices, ways that practitioners shouldn’t train. The first is attachment to desires and base acts that are done by ordinary people. The second is self-torments and self-mortifications, which are not teachings sought by noble people and have no purpose associated with them.

53. “‘Five monks, abandon these two extremes and take up the middle way. It accomplishes insight, accomplishes knowledge, and accomplishes concentration, and then you’ll attain the freedom to head for knowledge, awakening, and Nirvāṇa. It’s the eightfold right path, which is right view … right concentration. These are the eight.’

54. “As they wished, I instructed the five monks as it was appropriate. I taught two of them while three of them solicited food. Those three brought food enough for six people to eat. I taught three of them while two of them solicited food. Those two brought enough food for six people to eat. I thus taught and thus converted them.

55. “Seeking the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa without illness, they attained the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa without illness. Seeking the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa without old age … death … grief and sorrow … defilement, they attained the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa without old age … death … grief and sorrow … defilement. Giving rise to knowing and seeing, they were certain about the factors of the path. Birth was ended, the religious practice was established, and the task was accomplished. They weren’t subject to existence and knew it as it really was.

56. “Thereupon, the I again told them, ‘Five monks, there are five desires that are lovely, pleasing, and memorable to think about, and they are associated with good desire. What are the five? The eye perceives form, the ear perceives sound, the nose perceives odor, the tongue perceives flavor, and the body perceives touch. Five monks, the foolish ordinary person who is not well-versed doesn’t meet good friends, doesn’t know the noble teaching, and isn’t steered by the noble teaching. When they contact [those sensory objects], they are defiled by greed and attachment. Conceited, they accept and enter them. They don’t see the danger or the escape when taking and making use [of these things].

57. “‘You should know that they follow corrupt Māra and themselves make corrupt Māra. These people fall into corrupt Māra’s hands, get entangled in Māra’s net, and caught in Māra’s trap. Five monks, they are like a wild deer that gets entangled in a net. You should know that [the net] follows the hunter and itself made the hunter. The deer falls into the hunter’s hands and gets entangled in the hunter’s net. When the hunter comes, the deer won’t be able to escape.

58. “‘Thus, five monks, the foolish ordinary person is not well-versed, doesn’t meet good friends, doesn’t know the noble teaching, and isn’t steered by the noble teaching. When they contact with these five desirable qualities, they are defiled by greed and attachment. Conceited, they accept and enter them. They don’t see the danger or the escape when taking and making use [of these things]. You should know they follow corrupt Māra and themselves make corrupt Māra. These people fall into corrupt Māra’s hands, get entangled in Māra’s net, and caught in Māra’s trap. They don’t get free of Māra’s trap.

59. “‘Five monks, the well-versed noble disciple meets good friends, knows the noble teaching, and also steers by the noble teaching. They don’t contact these five desires, and they aren’t defiled, aren’t greedy, and aren’t attached to them. They aren’t conceited and don’t accept and enter them, either. They see the danger and the escape when taking and making use [of these things].

60. “You should know that they don’t follow corrupt Māra and don’t themselves make Māra’s. Noble disciples don’t fall into Māra’s hands, get entangled in Māra’s net, or caught by Māra’s trap. They then are freed from Māra’s trap.

61. “Five monks, they are like the wild deer that gets free of a trap. You should know that it doesn’t follow the hunter and won’t itself make the hunter. The deer won’t fall into the hunter’s hands or get entangled in the hunter’s net, so when the hunter comes it’ll be able to get free. So it is, five monks. The well-versed noble disciple meets good friends, knows the noble teaching, and then they are steered by the noble teaching. They don’t come into contact with these five desires, aren’t defiled, aren’t greedy, and aren’t attached to them. They aren’t conceited and don’t accept or enter them. They see the danger and the escape when taking and making use [of these things]. You should know that they don’t follow corrupt Māra and don’t themselves make Māra. Noble disciples don’t fall into Māra’s hands, get entangled in Māra’s net, and aren’t caught by Māra’s trap. They are freed from Māra’s trap.

62. “Five monks, when a Tathāgata arises in the world who is an Arhat, Rightly and Completely Enlightened One and 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 who’s called the Buddha, the Blessed One, he ends … the five hindrances, mental defilement, and weakness of wisdom. He parts with desire and parts with bad and unwholesome things … attains the accomplishment of the fourth meditation. Thus, his concentrated mind is pure, without defilement, and without disturbance. It’s flexible and well-abiding, and he attains an imperturbable mental state. He cultivates the end of contaminants and realizes the penetrating knowledges.

63. “He knows as it really is, ‘This is suffering.’ He knows as it really is, ‘This is suffering’s accumulation.’ He knows as it really is, ‘This is the suffering’s cessation.’ He knows as it really is, ‘This is the path to suffering’s cessation.’ He knows as it really is, ‘These are contaminants.’ He knows, ‘This is the accumulation of contaminants.’ He knows, ‘This is the cessation of contaminants.’ He knows, ‘This is the path to the cessation of contaminants.’ He thus knows and thus sees liberation from the mind’s contaminants of desire and liberation from the mind’s contaminants of existence and ignorance.

64. “Once he’s liberated, then he knows his liberation: ‘Birth has 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.’ At that point, he can practice as he likes, abide as he likes, sit as he likes, and lie down as he likes. Why is that? He has seen it for himself that bad and unwholesome things are ended; therefore, he can practice as he likes, abide as he likes, sit as he likes, and lie down as he likes.

65. “Five monks, it’s like a place where there’s no business and no people. A wild deer that’s there goes where it likes, abides as it likes, shelters as it likes, and lies down as it likes. Why is that? That wild deer doesn’t live in the domain of hunters; therefore, it goes as it likes, abides as it likes, shelters as it likes, and lies down as it likes.

66. “Thus, five monks, a monk who ends the contaminants attains the absence of contaminants. His mind is liberated, and his wisdom is liberated. He knows, awakens, and realizes that accomplishment for himself: ‘Birth has 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.’ At that point, he practices as he likes, abides as he likes, sits as he likes, and lies down as he likes. Why is that? He sees for himself that measureless bad and unwholesome things are ended; therefore, he practices as he likes, abides as he likes, sits as he likes, and lies down as he likes.

67. “Five monks, this is the teaching of liberation without remainder. This is the teaching of the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa without illness. This is the teaching of the unsurpassed safety of nirvāṇa without old age … death … grief and sorrow … defilement.”

68. The Buddha spoke thus. Venerable Ānanda and the monks who heard what he taught rejoiced and approved.

Notes

  1. Parallels to this sutra include MN 26, MN 85, SN 6.1, SN 56.11, DN 14, EA 19.1, EA 24.5, T 109, and T 765.2.23. [back]
  2. Raṃbhaka. This Skt. attestation for P. Rammaka is found in SHT 1332+1476. [back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 14 September 2020