The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

Teachings of the Buddha: Deepening One's Perspective on the World and the Potaliya Sutta

by Bhikkhu Bodhi
October 31, 2013
Thu, 10/31/2013 - 10:30 -- bbodhi

Today's selection is the Potaliya Sutta. Here the Buddha teaches the meaning of “the cutting off of affairs” in discipline. The sutta offers a striking series of similes on the dangers in sensual pleasures. In this text, the Buddha appears in dialogue with a pompous householder who imagines that he has “cut off all worldly affairs.” To dispel his complacency, the Buddha uses a series of similes that expose the deceptiveness of sensual pleasures to show him what the “cutting off of affairs” means in his own system of training.

1. Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living in the country of the Anguttarāpans where there was a town of theirs named Āpaṇa.
    2. Then, when it was morning, the Blessed One dressed, and taking his bowl and outer robe, went into Āpaṇa for alms. When he had wandered for alms in Āpaṇa and had returned from his almsround, after his meal he went to a certain grove for the day’s abiding. Having entered the grove, he sat down at the root of a tree.
    3. Potaliya the householder, while walking and wandering for exercise, wearing full dress with parasol and sandals, also went to the grove, and having entered the grove, he went to the Blessed One and exchanged greetings with him. When this courteous and amiable talk was finished, he stood at one side. The Blessed One said to him: “There are seats, householder, sit down if you like.”
    When this was said, the householder Potaliya thought: “The recluse Gotama addresses me as ‘householder,’” and angry and displeased, he remained silent.
    A second time the Blessed One said to him: “There are seats, householder, sit down if you like.” And a second time the householder Potaliya thought: “The recluse Gotama addresses me as ‘householder,’” and angry and displeased, he remained silent.
    A third time the Blessed One said to him: “There are seats, householder, sit down if you like.” When this was said, the householder Potaliya thought: “The recluse Gotama addresses me as ‘householder,’” and angry and displeased, he said to the Blessed One: [360] “Master Gotama, it is neither fitting nor proper that you address me as ‘householder.’”
    “Householder, you have the aspects, marks, and signs of a householder.”
    “Nevertheless, Master Gotama, I have given up all my works and cut off all my affairs.”
    “In what way, householder, have you given up all your works and cut off all your affairs?”
    “Master Gotama, I have given all my wealth, grain, silver, and gold to my children as their inheritance. Without advising or admonishing them, I live merely on food and clothing. That is how I have given up all my works and cut off all my affairs.”
    “Householder, the cutting off of affairs as you describe it is one thing, but in the Noble One’s Discipline the cutting off of affairs is different.”
    “What is the cutting off of affairs like in the Noble One’s Discipline, venerable sir? It would be good, venerable sir, if the Blessed One would teach me the Dhamma, showing what the cutting off of affairs is like in the Noble One’s Discipline.”
    “Then listen, householder, and attend closely to what I shall say.”
    “Yes, venerable sir,” Potaliya the householder replied. The Blessed One said this:
    4. “Householder, there are these eight things in the Noble One’s Discipline that lead to the cutting off of affairs. What are the eight? With the support of the non-killing of living beings, the killing of living beings is to be abandoned. With the support of taking only what is given, the taking of what is not given is to be abandoned. With the support of truthful speech, false speech is to be abandoned. With the support of unmalicious speech, malicious speech is to be abandoned. With the support of refraining from rapacious greed, rapacious greed is to be abandoned. With the support of refraining from spiteful scolding, spiteful scolding is to be abandoned. With the support of refraining from angry despair, angry despair is to be abandoned. With the support of non-arrogance, arrogance is to be abandoned. These are the eight things, stated in brief without being expounded in detail, that lead to the cutting off of affairs in the Noble One’s Discipline.”

MN 54

To continue reading the Potaliya Sutta, click here.

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