The Connected Discourses of the Buddha - Selections

Chapter 56. Saccasaṃyutta: Connected Discourses on the Truths

V. The Precipice

41 (1) Reflection about the World
On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Rājagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrel Sanctuary. There the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus thus:
    “Bhikkhus, once in the past a certain man set out from Rājagaha and went to the Sumāgadhā Lotus Pond, thinking: ‘I will reflect about the world.’ [447] He then sat down on the bank of the Sumāgadhā Lotus Pond reflecting about the world. Then, bhikkhus, the man saw a four-division army entering a lotus stalk on the bank of the pond. Having seen this, he thought: ‘I must be mad! I must be insane! I’ve seen something that doesn’t exist in the world.’ The man returned to the city and informed a great crowd of people: ‘I must be mad, sirs! I must be insane! I’ve seen something that doesn’t exist in the world.’
    “[They said to him:] ‘But how is it, good man, that you are mad? How are you insane? And what have you seen that doesn’t exist in the world?’
    “‘Here, sirs, I left Rājagaha and approached the Sumāgadhā Lotus Pond … (as above) … I saw a four-division army entering a lotus stalk on the bank of the pond. That’s why I’m mad, that’s why I’m insane, and that’s what I’ve seen that doesn’t exist in the world.’
    “‘Surely you’re mad, good man! Surely you’re insane! And what you have seen doesn’t exist in the world.’
    “Nevertheless, bhikkhus, what that man saw was actually real, not unreal. Once in the past the devas and the asuras were arrayed for battle. In that battle the devas won and the asuras were defeated. In their defeat, [448] the asuras were frightened and entered the asura city through the lotus stalk, to the bewilderment of the devas.
    “Therefore, bhikkhus, do not reflect about the world, thinking: ‘The world is eternal’ or ‘The world is not eternal’; or ‘The world is finite’ or ‘The world is infinite’; or ‘The soul and the body are the same’ or ‘The soul is one thing, the body is another’; or ‘The Tathāgata exists after death,’ or ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death,’ or ‘The Tathāgata both exists and does not exist after death,’ or ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.’ For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, this reflection is unbeneficial, irrelevant to the fundamentals of the holy life, and does not lead to revulsion, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.
    “When you reflect, bhikkhus, you should reflect: ‘This is suffering’; you should reflect: ‘This is the origin of suffering’; you should reflect: ‘This is the cessation of suffering’; you should reflect: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’ For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, this reflection is beneficial, relevant to the fundamentals of the holy life, and leads to revulsion, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.
    “Therefore, bhikkhus, an exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is suffering.’… An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’”

42 (2) The Precipice
On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Rājagaha on Mount Vulture Peak. Then the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus thus: “Come, bhikkhus, let us go to Paṭibhāna Peak for the day’s abiding.”
    “Yes, venerable sir,” those bhikkhus replied. [449] Then the Blessed One, together with a number of bhikkhus, went to Paṭibhāna Peak. A certain bhikkhu saw the steep precipice off Paṭibhāna Peak and said to the Blessed One: “That precipice is indeed steep, venerable sir; that precipice is extremely frightful. But is there, venerable sir, any other precipice steeper and more frightful than that one?”
    “There is, bhikkhu.”
    “But what, venerable sir, is that precipice steeper and more frightful than that one?”
    “Those ascetics and brahmins, bhikkhu, who do not understand as it really is: ‘This is suffering’; who do not understand as it really is: ‘This is the origin of suffering’; who do not understand as it really is: ‘This is the cessation of suffering’; who do not understand as it really is: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering’—they delight in volitional formations that lead to birth, in volitional formations that lead to aging, in volitional formations that lead to death, in volitional formations that lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. Delighting in such volitional formations, they generate volitional formations that lead to birth, generate volitional formations that lead to aging, generate volitional formations that lead to death, generate volitional formations that lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. Having generated such volitional formations, they tumble down the precipice of birth, tumble down the precipice of aging, tumble down the precipice of death, tumble down the precipice of sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. They are not freed from birth, aging, and death; not freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair; not freed from suffering, I say. [450]
    “But, bhikkhu, those ascetics and brahmins who understand as it really is: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering’—they do not delight in volitional formations that lead to birth, nor in volitional formations that lead to aging, nor in volitional formations that lead to death, nor in volitional formations that lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. Not delighting in such volitional formations, they do not generate volitional formations that lead to birth, nor generate volitional formations that lead to aging, nor generate volitional formations that lead to death, nor generate volitional formations that lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. Not having generated such volitional formations, they do not tumble down the precipice of birth, nor tumble down the precipice of aging, nor tumble down the precipice of death, nor tumble down the precipice of sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. They are freed from birth, aging, and death; freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair; freed from suffering, I say.
    “Therefore, bhikkhus, an exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is suffering.’… An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’”

43 (3) The Great Conflagration
“Bhikkhus, there exists a hell named the Great Conflagration. There, whatever form one sees with the eye is undesirable, [451] never desirable; unlovely, never lovely; disagreeable, never agreeable. Whatever sound one hears with the ear … Whatever odour one smells with the nose … Whatever taste one savours with the tongue … Whatever tactile object one feels with the body … Whatever mental phenomenon one cognizes with the mind is undesirable, never desirable; unlovely, never lovely; disagreeable, never agreeable.”
    When this was said, a certain bhikkhu said to the Blessed One: “That conflagration, venerable sir, is indeed terrible; that conflagration is indeed very terrible. But is there, venerable sir, any other conflagration more terrible and frightful than that one?”
    “There is, bhikkhu.”
    “But what, venerable sir, is that conflagration more terrible and frightful than that one?”
    “Those ascetics or brahmins, bhikkhu, who do not understand as it really is: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering’—they delight in volitional formations that lead to birth, in volitional formations that lead to aging, in volitional formations that lead to death, in volitional formations that lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. Delighting in such volitional formations, they generate volitional formations that lead to birth, generate volitional formations that lead to aging, generate volitional formations that lead to death, generate volitional formations that lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. Having generated such volitional formations, they are burnt by the conflagration of birth, burnt by the conflagration of aging, burnt by the conflagration of death, burnt by the conflagration of sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. They are not freed from birth, aging, and death; not freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair; not freed from suffering, I say.
    “But, bhikkhu, those ascetics and brahmins who understand as it really is: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering’—they do not delight in volitional formations that lead to birth, nor in volitional formations that lead to aging, nor in volitional formations that lead to death, nor in volitional formations that lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. Not delighting in such volitional formations, they do not generate volitional formations that lead to birth, nor generate volitional formations that lead to aging, nor generate volitional formations that lead to death, nor generate volitional formations that lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. Not having generated such volitional formations, they are not burnt by the conflagration of birth, nor burnt by the conflagration of aging, nor burnt by the conflagration of death, nor burnt by the conflagration of sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. They are freed from birth, [452] aging, and death; freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair; freed from suffering, I say.
    “Therefore, bhikkhus, an exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is suffering.’… An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’”

44 (4) Peaked House
“Bhikkhus, if anyone should speak thus: ‘Without having made the breakthrough to the noble truth of suffering as it really is, without having made the breakthrough to the noble truth of the origin of suffering as it really is, without having made the breakthrough to the noble truth of the cessation of suffering as it really is, without having made the breakthrough to the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering as it really is, I will completely make an end to suffering’—this is impossible.
    “Just as, bhikkhus, if anyone should speak thus, ‘Without having built the lower storey of a peaked house, I will erect the upper storey,’ this would be impossible; so too, if anyone should speak thus: ‘Without having made the breakthrough to the noble truth of suffering as it really is … I will completely make an end to suffering’—this is impossible.
    “But, bhikkhus, if anyone should speak thus: ‘Having made the breakthrough to the noble truth of suffering as it really is, having made the breakthrough to the noble truth of the origin of suffering as it really is, having made the breakthrough to the noble truth of the cessation of suffering as it really is, having made the breakthrough to the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering as it really is, I will completely make an end to suffering’—this is possible.
    “Just as, bhikkhus, if anyone should speak thus: ‘Having built the lower storey of a peaked house, I will erect the upper storey,’ this would be possible; so too, if anyone should speak thus: ‘Having made the breakthrough to the noble truth of suffering as it really is … I will completely make an end to suffering’—this is possible. [453]
    “Therefore, bhikkhus, an exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is suffering.’… An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’”

45 (5) The Hair
On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Vesālī in the Great Wood in the Hall with the Peaked Roof. Then, in the morning, the Venerable Ānanda dressed and, taking bowl and robe, entered Vesālī for alms. The Venerable Ānanda saw a number of Licchavi youths practising archery in the training hall, shooting arrows from a distance through a very small keyhole, head through butt, without missing. When he saw this, the thought occurred to him: “These Licchavi youths are indeed trained! These Licchavi youths are indeed well trained, in that they shoot arrows from a distance through a very small keyhole, head through butt, without missing.”
    Then, when the Venerable Ānanda had walked for alms in Vesālī and had returned from his alms round, after his meal he approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him, sat down to one side, and reported what he had seen. [454]
    [The Blessed One said:] “What do you think, Ānanda, which is more difficult and challenging: to shoot arrows from a distance through a very small keyhole, head through butt, without missing, or to pierce with the arrowhead the tip of a hair split into seven strands?”
    “It is more difficult and challenging, venerable sir, to pierce with the arrowhead the tip of a hair split into seven strands.”
    “But, Ānanda, they pierce something even more difficult to pierce who pierce as it really is: ‘This is suffering’ …; who pierce as it really is: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’
    “Therefore, Ānanda, an exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is suffering.’… An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’”

46 (6) Darkness
“Bhikkhus, there are world interstices, vacant and abysmal regions of blinding darkness and gloom, where the light of the sun and moon, so powerful and mighty, does not reach.”
    When this was said, a certain bhikkhu said to the Blessed One: “That darkness, venerable sir, is indeed great; that darkness is indeed very great. But is there, venerable sir, any other darkness greater and more frightful than that one?”
    “There is, bhikkhu.”
    “But what, venerable sir, is that darkness greater and more frightful than that one?”
    “Those ascetics and brahmins, bhikkhu, who do not understand as it really is: ‘This is suffering’; [455] who do not understand as it really is: ‘This is the origin of suffering’; who do not understand as it really is: ‘This is the cessation of suffering’; who do not understand as it really is: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering’—they delight in volitional formations that lead to birth, in volitional formations that lead to aging, in volitional formations that lead to death, in volitional formations that lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. Delighting in such volitional formations, they generate volitional formations that lead to birth, generate volitional formations that lead to aging, generate volitional formations that lead to death, generate volitional formations that lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. Having generated such volitional formations, they tumble into the darkness of birth, tumble into the darkness of aging, tumble into the darkness of death, tumble into the darkness of sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. They are not freed from birth, aging, and death; not freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair; not freed from suffering, I say.
    “But, bhikkhu, those ascetics and brahmins who understand as it really is: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering’—they do not delight in volitional formations that lead to birth, nor in volitional formations that lead to aging, nor in volitional formations that lead to death, nor in volitional formations that lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. Not delighting in such volitional formations, they do not generate volitional formations that lead to birth, nor generate volitional formations that lead to aging, nor generate volitional formations that lead to death, nor generate volitional formations that lead to sorrow, lamentation, pain,
displeasure, and despair. Not having generated such volitional formations, they do not tumble into the darkness of birth, nor tumble into the darkness of aging, nor tumble into the darkness of death, nor tumble into the darkness of sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair. They are freed from birth, aging, and death; freed from sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair; freed from suffering, I say.
    “Therefore, bhikkhus, an exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is suffering.’… An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’”

47 (7) Yoke with a Hole (1)
“Bhikkhus, suppose a man would throw a yoke with a single hole into the great ocean, and there was a blind turtle which would come to the surface once every hundred years. What do you think, bhikkhus, would that blind turtle, coming to the surface once every hundred years, insert its neck into that yoke with a single hole?” [456]
    “If it would ever do so, venerable sir, it would be only after a very long time.”
    “Sooner, I say, would that blind turtle, coming to the surface once every hundred years, insert its neck into that yoke with a single hole than the fool who has gone once to the nether world [would regain] the human state. For what reason? Because here, bhikkhus, there is no conduct guided by the Dhamma, no righteous conduct, no wholesome activity, no meritorious activity. Here there prevails mutual devouring, the devouring of the weak. For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, they have not seen the Four Noble Truths. What four? The noble truth of suffering … the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering.
    “Therefore, bhikkhus, an exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is suffering.’… An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’”

48 (8) Yoke with a Hole (2)
“Bhikkhus, suppose that this great earth had become one mass of water, and a man would throw a yoke with a single hole upon it. An easterly wind would drive it westward; a westerly wind would drive it eastward; a northerly wind would drive it southward; a southerly wind would drive it northward. There was a blind turtle which would come to the surface once every hundred years. What do you think, bhikkhus, would that blind turtle, coming to the surface once every hundred years, [457] insert its neck into that yoke with a single hole?”
    “It would be by chance, venerable sir, that that blind turtle, coming to the surface once every hundred years, would insert its neck into that yoke with a single hole.”
    “So too, bhikkhus, it is by chance that one obtains the human state; by chance that a Tathāgata, an Arahant, a Perfectly Enlightened One arises in the world; by chance that the Dhamma and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathāgata shines in the world.
    “You have obtained that human state, bhikkhus; a Tathāgata, an Arahant, a Perfectly Enlightened One has arisen in the world; the Dhamma and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathāgata shines in the world.
    “Therefore, bhikkhus, an exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is suffering.’… An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’”

49 (9) Sineru (1)
“Bhikkhus, suppose that a man would place on Sineru, the king of mountains, seven grains of gravel the size of mung beans. What do you think, bhikkhus, which is more: the seven grains of gravel the size of mung beans that have been placed there or Sineru, the king of mountains?”
    “Venerable sir, Sineru, the king of mountains, is more. The seven grains of gravel the size of mung beans are trifling. Compared to Sineru, the king of mountains, the seven grains of gravel the size of mung beans are not calculable, do not bear comparison, do not amount even to a fraction.” [458]
    “So too, bhikkhus, for a noble disciple, a person accomplished in view who has made the breakthrough, the suffering that has been utterly destroyed and eliminated is more, while that which remains is trifling. Compared to the former mass of suffering that has been destroyed and eliminated, the latter is not calculable, does not bear comparison, does not amount even to a fraction, as there is a maximum of seven more lives. He is one who understands as it really is: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’
    “Therefore, bhikkhus, an exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is suffering.’… An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’”

50 (10) Sineru (2)
“Bhikkhus, suppose that Sineru, the king of mountains, would be destroyed and eliminated except for seven grains of gravel the size of mung beans. What do you think, bhikkhus, which is more: the portion of Sineru, the king of mountains, that has been destroyed and eliminated or the seven grains of gravel the size of mung beans that remain?”
    “Venerable sir, the portion of Sineru, the king of mountains, that has been destroyed and eliminated is more. The seven grains of gravel the size of mung beans that remain are trifling. Compared to the portion of Sineru that would be destroyed and eliminated, the seven grains of gravel the size of mung beans that remain are not calculable, do not bear comparison, do not amount even to a fraction.”
    “So too, bhikkhus, for a noble disciple, a person accomplished in view who has made the breakthrough, [459] the suffering that has been utterly destroyed and eliminated is more, while that which remains is trifling. Compared to the former mass of suffering that has been destroyed and eliminated, the latter is not calculable, does not bear comparison, does not amount even to a fraction, as there is a maximum of seven more lives. He is one who understands as it really is: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’
    “Therefore, bhikkhus, an exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is suffering.’… An exertion should be made to understand: ‘This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’”
 

How to cite this document:
© Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Connected Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom Publications, 2000)

Creative Commons License
This selection from The Connected Discourses of the Buddha by Bhikkhu Bodhi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://www.wisdompubs.org/book/connected-discourses-buddha.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.wisdompubs.org/terms-use.