The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

The Teachings of the Buddha: The Path to Liberation and the Cūḷamālunkya Sutta

by Bhikkhu Bodhi
November 6, 2013
Wed, 11/06/2013 - 09:30 -- bbodhi

Today's selection is the Cūḷamālunkya Sutta: The Shorter Discourse to Mālunkyāputta. This sutta shows that the Buddhist path is not designed to provide theoretical answers to philosophical questions. In this sutta the monk Mālunkyāputta approaches the Buddha and demands answers to ten speculative questions, threatening to leave the Sangha if this demand is not satisfied. Scholars have debated whether the Buddha refused to answer such questions because they are in principle unanswerable or simply because they are irrelevant to a practical resolution of the problem of suffering.

63. Cūḷamālunkya Sutta: The Shorter Discourse to Mālunkyāputta

1. Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park.

    2. Then, while the venerable Mālunkyāputta was alone in meditation, the following thought arose in his mind:

    “These speculative views have been left undeclared by the Blessed One, set aside and rejected by him, namely: ‘the world is eternal’ and ‘the world is not eternal’; ‘the world is finite’ and ‘the world is infinite’; ‘the soul is the same as the body’ and ‘the soul is one thing and the body another’; and ‘after death a Tathāgata exists’ and ‘after death a Tathāgata does not exist’ and ‘after death a Tathāgata both exists and does not exist’ and ‘after death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist.’ The Blessed One does not declare these to me, and I do not approve of and accept the fact that he does not declare these to me, so I shall go to the Blessed One and ask him the meaning of this. If he declares to me either ‘the world is eternal’ or ‘the world is not eternal’ … or ‘after death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist,’ then I will lead the holy life under him; if he does not declare these to me, then I will abandon the training and return to the low life.”

    3. Then, when it was evening, the venerable Mālunkyāputta rose from meditation and went to the Blessed One. After paying homage to him, he sat down at one side and told him:

    “Here, venerable sir, while I was alone in meditation, the following thought arose in my mind: ‘These speculative views have been left undeclared by the Blessed One … If he does not declare these to me, then I will abandon the training and return to the low life.’ If the Blessed One knows ‘the world is eternal,’ let the Blessed One declare to me ‘the world is eternal’; if the Blessed One knows ‘the world is not eternal,’ let the Blessed One declare to me ‘the world is not eternal.’ If the Blessed One does not know either ‘the world is eternal’ or ‘the world is not eternal,’ then it is straightforward for one who does not know and does not see to say: ‘I do not know, I do not see.’

    “If the Blessed One knows ‘the world is finite,’ … ‘the world is infinite,’ … ‘the soul is the same as the body,’ … ‘the soul is one thing and the body another,’ … ‘after death a Tathāgata exists,’ … ’after death a Tathāgata does not exist,’ … If the Blessed One knows ‘after death a Tathāgata both exists and does not exist,’ let the Blessed One declare that to me; if the Blessed One knows ‘after death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist,’ let the Blessed One declare that to me. If the Blessed One does not know either ‘after death a Tathāgata both exists and does not exist’ or ‘after death a Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist,’ then it is straightforward for one who does not know and does not see to say: ‘I do not know, I do not see.’”

To continue reading the Cūḷamālunkya Sutta, click here.

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