Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Medium Discourses

Chapter 17: Potalaka

210. The Nun Dharmadinnā

1. Thus I have heard:[1] 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 laywoman Viśākhā paid a visit to the nun Dharmadinnā.[2] She bowed her head at the nun’s feet, withdrew to sit at one side, and said to Dharmadinnā, “Noble one, I have a question if you’d permit me to ask it.”

The nun Dharmadinnā replied, “Viśākhā, if you’d like to ask a question, then ask. I’ll consider it once I’ve heard it.”

3. The laywoman Viśākhā then asked, “Noble one, there’s the expression ‘oneself, oneself.’ What is this ‘oneself’?”[3]

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “The Bhagavān teaches the five proliferating aggregates.[4] Oneself is the proliferating aggregate of form … feeling … conception … volition, and the proliferating aggregate of consciousness. This is said to be the Bhagavān’s teaching of five proliferating aggregates.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

4. Again, she asked, “Noble one, what is the view of oneself?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “Uneducated and foolish ordinary people don’t meet good friends, don’t know the noble teaching, and aren’t trained in the noble teaching. Their view is that form is the soul, that the soul possesses form, that there’s form in the soul, or that there’s a soul in form. Their view is that feeling … conception … volition … consciousness is the soul, that the soul possesses consciousness, that there’s consciousness in the soul, or that there’s a soul in consciousness. This is called the view of oneself.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

5. Again, she asked, “Noble one, what is the view that there’s no person?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “The learned and noble disciple meets good friends, knows the noble teaching, and is well trained in the noble teaching. It’s not their view that form is the soul, that the soul possesses form, that there’s form in the soul, or that there’s a soul in form. It’s not their view that feeling … conception … volition … consciousness is the soul, that the soul possesses consciousness, that there’s consciousness in the soul, or that there’s a soul in consciousness. This is said to be the view that there’s no person.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

6. Again, she asked, “Noble one, what’s the cessation of oneself?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “The proliferating aggregate of form is eliminated without remainder. It’s abandoned, rejected, ended, not defiling, ceased, stopped, and disappeared. The proliferating aggregate of feeling … conception … volition … consciousness is eliminated without remainder. It’s abandoned, rejected, ended, not defiling, ceased, stopped, and disappeared. This is called the cessation of oneself.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

7. Again, she asked, “Noble one, the aggregates are explained as aggregates that proliferate. The aggregates are explained as proliferating aggregates. Are the aggregates these proliferating aggregates, or are the proliferating aggregates these aggregates? Are the aggregates different than the proliferating aggregates?”

8. The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “The aggregates might be proliferating aggregates, or the aggregates might not be proliferating aggregates. When are the aggregates proliferating aggregates? If form is contaminating and acquiring, feeling … conception … volition … consciousness is contaminating and acquiring, then these aggregates are called proliferating aggregates.

9. “When are the aggregates not proliferating aggregates? When form is not contaminating and acquires nothing, feeling … conception … volition … consciousness is not contaminating and acquires nothing, these aggregates aren’t called the proliferating aggregates.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

10. Again, she asked, “Noble one, what is the noble eightfold path?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “The noble eightfold path is right view … right samādhi. These eight things are called the noble eightfold path.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

11. Again, she asked, “Noble one, is this noble eightfold path conditioned?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “Yes, the noble eightfold path is conditioned.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

12. Again, she asked, “Noble one, how many categories does it have?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “It has three categories: The category of precepts, category of samādhi, and category of wisdom.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

13. Again, she asked, “Noble one, does the noble eightfold path include these three categories, or do these three categories include the noble eightfold path?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “It’s not the noble eightfold path that includes these three categories. These three categories include the noble eightfold path. Right speech, right action, and right livelihood are the three factors of the path that are included in the category of precepts. Right mindfulness and right samādhi are the two factors of the path that are included in the category of samādhi. Right view, right intention, and right method are the three factors of the path that are included in the category of wisdom.[5] This is how it’s not the noble eightfold path that includes the three categories but the three categories that include the noble eightfold path.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

14. Again, she asked, “Noble one, does extinguishment have a counterpart?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “Extinguishment has no counterpart.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

15. Again, she asked, “Noble one, how many factors does the first dhyāna have?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “The first dhyāna has five factors: Perception, examination, joy, happiness, and unified mind. These are said to be the five factors of the first dhyāna.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

16. Again, she asked, “Noble one, what is samādhi? What are samādhi’s attributes? What are samādhi’s powers? What are samādhi’s rewards? How is samādhi cultivated?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “If a good mind becomes unified, this is said to be samādhi. The four abodes of mindfulness are called the attributes of samādhi. The four right abandonments are called samādhi’s powers. The four miraculous abilities are called samādhi’s rewards. If someone trains while clothed in these good things and frequently cultivates them with diligence, that’s called cultivating samādhi.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

17. Again, she asked, “Noble one, how many things arise after the body dies and is discarded on the charnel ground like senseless wood?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “There are three things that arise after the body dies and is discarded on the charnel ground like senseless wood. What are the three? The first is life, second is warmth, and third is consciousness. They are said to be three things that arise after the body dies and is discarded on the charnel ground like senseless wood.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

18. Again, she asked, “Noble one, what’s the difference between death and entering the samādhi of complete cessation?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “Death extinguishes one’s life. Once warmth has left the body, one’s faculties disintegrate. When a monk enters the samādhi of complete cessation, his life isn’t extinguished. Heat doesn’t leave his body, and his faculties don’t disintegrate. This is called the difference between death and entering the samādhi of complete cessation.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

19. Again, she asked, “Noble one, what’s the difference between entering the samādhi of complete cessation and the samādhi of no conception?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “A monk who enters the samādhi of complete cessation has ceased conception and perception. When he enters the samādhi of no conception, conception and perception don’t cease. This is called the difference between entering the samādhi of complete cessation and samādhi of no conception.

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

20. Again, she asked, “Noble one, what’s the difference between emerging from the samādhi of complete cessation and from the samādhi of no conception?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “When he emerges from the samādhi of complete cessation, a monk doesn’t think, ‘I’m emerging from the samādhi of complete cessation.’ When he emerges from the samādhi of no conception, he thinks, ‘Do I have conception, or do I have no conception?’ This is called the difference between emerging from the samādhi of complete cessation and the samādhi of no conception.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

21. Again, she asked, “Noble one, when a monk enters the samādhi of complete cessation, does he think this, ‘I’m entering the samādhi of complete cessation’?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “When a monk enters the samādhi of complete cessation, he doesn’t think, ‘I’m entering the samādhi of complete cessation.’ He heads towards it because of his past cultivation of mind.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

22. Again, she asked, “Noble one, when a monk emerges from the samādhi of complete cessation, does he think, ‘I’m emerging from the samādhi of complete cessation’?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “When a monk emerges from the samādhi of complete cessation, he doesn’t think, ‘I’m emerging from the samādhi of complete cessation.’ His emergence from that samādhi is caused by his body and the six sense fields, and it’s conditioned by his life faculty.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

23. Again, she asked, “Noble one, what delights, inclinations, and agrees with a monk’s mind have after he emerges from the samādhi of complete cessation?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “After a monk emerges from the samādhi of complete cessation, his mind delights in seclusion, inclines toward seclusion, and agrees with seclusion.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

24. Again, she asked, “Noble one, how many feelings are there?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “There are three feelings: Pleasant feeling, painful feeling, and neither pleasant nor painful feeling. What’s the condition for them to exist? They exist conditioned by contact.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

25. Again, she asked, “Noble one, what is pleasant feeling? What is painful feeling? What is neither pleasant nor painful feeling?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “If a pleasant contact gives rise to a pleasant touch and one’s body and mind delights in a good feeling, this feeling is called a pleasant feeling. If a painful contact gives rise to a painful touch and one’s body and mind are pained by a feeling that isn’t good, this feeling is called a painful feeling. If a neither painful nor pleasant contact gives rise to a pleasant touch and the body and mind are neither pained nor delighted by a feeling that’s neither good nor not good, this feeling is called a neither painful nor pleasant feeling.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

26. Again, she asked, “Noble one, regarding pleasant feeling, how is it pleasant? How is it painful? How is it impermanent? What is its danger? What is its tendency? Regarding painful feeling, how is it pleasant? How is it painful? How is it impermanent? What is its danger? What is its tendency? Regarding neither painful nor pleasant feeling, how is it pleasant? How is it painful? How is it impermanent? What is its danger? What is its tendency?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “Regarding pleasant feeling, it gives rise to pleasure and sustains pleasure. Change is its pain, impermanence is its danger, and desire is its tendency. Regarding painful feeling, it gives rise to pain and sustains pain. Change is its pleasure, impermanence is its danger, and anger is its tendency. Regarding neither painful nor pleasant feeling, it doesn’t perceive pain and doesn’t perceive pleasure. Its impermanence is change, and ignorance is its tendency.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

27. Again, she asked, “Noble one, do all pleasant feelings have desire as their tendency? Do all painful feelings have anger as their tendency? Do all neither painful nor pleasant feelings have ignorance as their tendency?”

28. The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “Not all pleasant feelings have desire as their tendency. Not all painful feelings have anger as their tendency. Not all neither painful nor pleasant feelings have ignorance as their tendency.

29. “What pleasant feeling doesn’t have desire as its tendency? Suppose a monk is secluded from desire and secluded from bad and unskillful things. With perception and examination, that seclusion gives rise to joy and happiness, and he accomplishes and dwells in the first dhyāna. This is called pleasant feeling that doesn’t have desire as its tendency. Why is that? Because this feeling stops desire.

30. “What painful feeling doesn’t have anger as its tendency? If one pursues the higher pleasure of liberation, the dejection from that pursuit gives rise to sorrow and pain. This is said to be painful feeling that doesn’t have anger as its tendency. Why is that? Because this feeling stops anger.

31. “What neither painful nor pleasant feeling doesn’t have ignorance as its tendency? When pleasure ceases and pain ceases, then the roots of joy and sorrow have ceased. Neither pained nor delighted, one is equanimous, mindful, and pure, and they accomplish and dwell in the fourth dhyāna. This is called neither painful nor pleasant feeling that doesn’t have ignorance as its tendency. Why is that? Because this feeling stops ignorance.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

32. Again, she asked, “Noble one, what’s the counterpart to pleasant feeling?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “Painful feeling is the counterpart pleasant feeling.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

33. Again, she asked, “Noble one, what’s the counterpart to painful feeling?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “Pleasant feeling is the counterpart to painful feeling.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

34. Again, she asked, “Noble one, what’s the counterpart to pleasant feeling and painful feeling?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “Neither painful nor pleasant feeling is the counterpart to pleasant feeling and painful feeling.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

35. Again, she asked, “Noble one, what is the counterpart to neither painful nor pleasant feeling?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “Ignorance is the counterpart to neither painful nor pleasant feeling.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

36. Again, she asked, “Noble one, what is the counterpart to ignorance?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “Insight is the counterpart to ignorance.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

37. Again, she asked, “Noble one, what is the counterpart to insight?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “Nirvāṇa is the counterpart to insight.”

Hearing this, the laywoman Viśākhā praised it, “Good, Noble one! Good!” After praising her, the laywoman Viśākhā rejoiced and approved.

38. Again, she asked, “Noble one, what is the counterpart to Nirvāṇa?”

The nun Dharmadinnā answered, “Madam, you’re asking about an endless subject. Indeed, madam, you’ve asked about something that would be unending; it’s my limit. Nirvāṇa has no counterpart. Because it has no net of errors or entangling snares, Nirvāṇa is extinguishment. The Bhagavān’s practice of the religious life derives from this meaning.”

39. The laywoman Viśākhā heard what the nun Dharmadinnā had taught, and she well accepted, well remembered, and well recited it. She then rose from her seat, bowed her head reverently to the nun Dharmadinnā, circled her three times, and departed.

40. Not long after the nun Dharmadinnā watched the laywoman Viśākha go, she went to the Buddha. She bowed her head at the Buddha’s feet and withdrew to sit at one side. She related to him the entire conversation she had had with the laywoman Viśākha. Then, with her palms together, she said, “Bhagavān, thus did I speak and thus did I answer. Did any of it slander the Bhagavān? Did I speak the truth, speak according to the teaching, and explain one teaching after the other? Did any of it contradict the teaching, conflict with it, or was mistaken?”

41. The Bhagavān replied, “Nun, thus did you speak and thus did you answer. You didn’t slander me. You spoke the truth, spoke according to the teaching, and explained one teacher after the other. None of it contradicted the teaching, none was in conflict with it, nor was any of it mistaken.

42. “Nun, if the laywoman Viśākhā had come to ask me about this phrase or that expression, I would’ve answered her with these meanings using those phrases and expressions. Nun, this doctrine is as you’ve explained it. You should thus retain it. Why is that? Because these explanations are the doctrine.”

43. Thus did the Buddha speak. The nun Dharmadinnā and the monks who heard what the Buddha taught rejoiced and approved.

Notes

  1. The Pali parallel to this sūtra is MN 44. [back]
  2. laywoman Viśākhā. Some sources, such as MN 44 and the later Mahāvibhāṣā translation by Xuanzang, have a man named Viśākha as Dharmadinnā’s interlocutor, but there are also sources that agree with this version. Some sources say the laywoman Viśākhā had a husband named Viśākha, and others say it was Dharmadinnā who had a husband (or nearly married a man) by this name. These backstories appear to have become a bit confused over time, though they all agree on Viśākha as the name of the interlocutor (just not on the name’s gender). [back]
  3. oneself. Ch. 自身, Skt. svakāya, P. sakkāya. A literal reading of the Chinese might be ‘own body,’ but as we shall see, it’s defined as equivalent to a person or individual that includes all five aggregates. [back]
  4. proliferating aggregates. Ch. 盛陰, P. upādāna-khandha. 盛 was an early translation of upādāna in the expression P. upādāna-khandha. In normal contexts, 盛 has positive meanings like “flourishing, prosperous, waxing.” I take it here to mean something that multiplies or accumulates. [back]
  5. right method. Ch. 正方便, P. samma-padhāna. This term and right abandonment (samyak-prahāṇa) below are different names for the same practice called right effort in Pali sources. Note that right effort is placed in the category of samādhi in MN 44 rather than in the category of wisdom here.[back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 19 June 2022