Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha - Selections

140. Dhātuvibhanga Sutta: The Exposition of the Elements

1. Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was wandering in the Magadhan country and eventually arrived at Rājagaha. There he went to the potter Bhaggava and said to him:
    2. “If it is not inconvenient for you, Bhaggava, I will stay one night in your workshop.”
    “It is not inconvenient for me, venerable sir, but there is a homeless one already staying there. If he agrees, then stay as long as you like, venerable sir.” [238]
    3. Now there was a clansman named Pukkusāti who had gone forth from the home life into homelessness out of faith in the Blessed One, and on that occasion he was already staying in the potter’s workshop. Then the Blessed One went to the venerable Pukkusāti and said to him: “If it is not inconvenient for you, bhikkhu, I will stay one night in the workshop.”
    “The potter’s workshop is large enough, friend. Let the venerable one stay as long as he likes.”
    4. Then the Blessed One entered the potter’s workshop, prepared a spread of grass at one end, and sat down, folding his legs crosswise, setting his body erect, and establishing mindfulness in front of him. Then the Blessed One spent most of the night seated [in meditation], and the venerable Pukkusāti also spent most of the night seated [in meditation]. Then the Blessed One thought: “This clansman conducts himself in a way that inspires confidence. Suppose I were to question him.” So he asked the venerable Pukkusāti:
    5. “Under whom have you gone forth, bhikkhu? Who is your teacher? Whose Dhamma do you profess?”
    “Friend, there is the recluse Gotama, the son of the Sakyans who went forth from a Sakyan clan. Now a good report of that Blessed Gotama has been spread to this effect: ‘That Blessed One is accomplished, fully enlightened, perfect in true knowledge and conduct, sublime, knower of worlds, incomparable leader of persons to be tamed, teacher of gods and humans, enlightened, blessed.’ I have gone forth under that Blessed One; that Blessed One is my teacher; I profess the Dhamma of that Blessed One.”
    “But, bhikkhu, where is that Blessed One, accomplished and fully enlightened, now living?”
    “There is, friend, a city in the northern country named Sāvatthī. The Blessed One, accomplished and fully enlightened, is now living there.”
    “But, bhikkhu, have you ever seen that Blessed One before? Would you recognise him if you saw him?” [239]
    “No, friend, I have never seen that Blessed One before, nor would I recognise him if I saw him.”
    6. Then the Blessed One thought: “This clansman has gone forth from the home life into homelessness under me. Suppose I were to teach him the Dhamma.” So the Blessed One addressed the venerable Pukkusāti thus: “Bhikkhu, I will teach you the Dhamma. Listen and attend closely to what I shall say.”—“Yes, friend,” the venerable Pukkusāti replied. The Blessed One said this:
    7. “Bhikkhu, this person consists of six elements, six bases of contact, and eighteen kinds of mental exploration, and he has four foundations. The tides of conceiving do not sweep over one who stands upon these [foundations], and when the tides of conceiving no longer sweep over him he is called a sage at peace. One should not neglect wisdom, should preserve truth, should cultivate relinquishment, and should train for peace. This is the summary of the exposition of the six elements.
    8. “‘Bhikkhu, this person consists of six elements.’ So it was said. And with reference to what was this said? There are the earth element, the water element, the fire element, the air element, the space element, and the consciousness element. So it was with reference to this that it was said: ‘Bhikkhu, this person consists of six elements.’
    9. “‘Bhikkhu, this person consists of six bases of contact.’ So it was said. And with reference to what was this said? There are the base of eye-contact, the base of ear-contact, the base of nose-contact, the base of tongue-contact, the base of body-contact, and the base of mind-contact. So it was with reference to this that it was said: ‘Bhikkhu, this person consists of six bases of contact.’
    10. “‘Bhikkhu, this person consists of eighteen kinds of mental exploration.’ So it was said. And with reference to what was this said? On seeing a form with the eye, one explores a form productive of joy, one explores a form productive of grief, one explores a form productive of equanimity. On hearing a sound with the ear … [240] On smelling an odour with the nose … On tasting a flavour with the tongue … On touching a tangible with the body … On cognizing a mind-object with the mind, one explores a mind-object productive of joy, one explores a mind-object productive of grief, one explores a mind-object productive of equanimity. So it was with reference to this that it was said: ‘Bhikkhu, this person consists of eighteen kinds of mental exploration.’
    11. “‘Bhikkhu, this person has four foundations.’ So it was said. And with reference to what was this said? There are the foundation of wisdom, the foundation of truth, the foundation of relinquishment, and the foundation of peace. So it was with reference to this that it was said: ‘Bhikkhu, this person has four foundations.’
    12. “‘One should not neglect wisdom, should preserve truth, should cultivate relinquishment, and should train for peace.’ So it was said. And with reference to what was this said?
    13. “How, bhikkhu, does one not neglect wisdom? There are these six elements: the earth element, the water element, the fire element, the air element, the space element, and the consciousness element.
    14. “What, bhikkhu, is the earth element? The earth element may be either internal or external. What is the internal earth element? Whatever internally, belonging to oneself, is solid, solidified, and clung-to, that is, head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesesntery, contents of the stomach, feces, or whatever else internally, belonging to oneself, is solid, solidified, and clung-to: this is called the internal earth element. Now both the internal earth element and the external earth element are simply earth element. And that should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the earth element and makes the mind dispassionate towards the earth element.
    15. “What, bhikkhu, is the water element? The water element may be either [241] internal or external. What is the internal water element? Whatever internally, belonging to oneself, is water, watery, and clung-to, that is, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spittle, snot, oil-of-the-joints, urine, or whatever else internally, belonging to oneself, is water, watery, and clung-to: this is called the internal water element. Now both the internal water element and the external water element are simply water element. And that should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the water element and makes the mind dispassionate towards the water element.
    16. “What, bhikkhu, is the fire element? The fire element may be either internal or external. What is the internal fire element? Whatever internally, belonging to oneself, is fire, fiery, and clung-to, that is, that by which one is warmed, ages, and is consumed, and that by which what is eaten, drunk, consumed, and tasted gets completely digested, or whatever else internally, belonging to oneself, is fire, fiery, and clung-to: this is called the internal fire element. Now both the internal fire element and the external fire element are simply fire element. And that should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the fire element and makes the mind dispassionate towards the fire element.
    17. “What, bhikkhu, is the air element? The air element may be either internal or external. What is the internal air element? Whatever internally, belonging to oneself, is air, airy, and clung-to, that is, up-going winds, down-going winds, winds in the belly, winds in the bowels, winds that course through the limbs, in-breath and out-breath, or whatever else internally, belonging to oneself, is air, airy, and clung-to: this is called the internal air element. Now both the internal air element and the external air element are simply air element. And that should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the air element and makes the mind dispassionate towards the air element.
    18. “What, bhikkhu, is the space element? The space element may be either internal or external. What is the internal [242] space element? Whatever internally, belonging to oneself, is space, spatial, and clung-to, that is, the holes of the ears, the nostrils, the door of the mouth, and that [aperture] whereby what is eaten, drunk, consumed, and tasted gets swallowed, and where it collects, and whereby it is excreted from below, or whatever else internally, belonging to oneself, is space, spatial, and clung-to: this is called the internal space element. Now both the internal space element and the external space element are simply space element. And that should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the space element and makes the mind dispassionate towards the space element.
    19. “Then there remains only consciousness, purified and bright. What does one cognize with that consciousness? One cognizes: ‘[This is] pleasant’; one cognizes: ‘[This is] painful’; one cognizes: ‘[This is] neither-painful-nor-pleasant.’ In dependence on a contact to be felt as pleasant there arises a pleasant feeling. When one feels a pleasant feeling, one understands: ‘I feel a pleasant feeling.’ One understands: ‘With the cessation of that same contact to be felt as pleasant, its corresponding feeling—the pleasant feeling that arose in dependence on that contact to be felt as pleasant—ceases and subsides.’ In dependence on a contact to be felt as painful there arises a painful feeling. When one feels a painful feeling, one understands: ‘I feel a painful feeling.’ One understands: ‘With the cessation of that same contact to be felt as painful, its corresponding feeling—the painful feeling that arose in dependence on that contact to be felt as painful—ceases and subsides.’ In dependence on a contact to be felt as neither-painful-nor-pleasant there arises a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling. When one feels a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, one understands: ‘I feel a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling.’ One understands: ‘With the cessation of that same contact to be felt as neither-painful-nor-pleasant, its corresponding feeling—the neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling that arose in dependence on that contact to be felt as neither-painful-nor-pleasant—ceases and subsides.’ Bhikkhu, just as from the contact and friction of two fire-sticks heat is generated and fire is produced, and with the separation and disjunction of these two fire-sticks the corresponding heat ceases and subsides; so too, [243] in dependence on a contact to be felt as pleasant … to be felt as painful … to be felt as neither-painful-nor-pleasant there arises a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling … One understands: ‘With the cessation of that same contact to be felt as neither-painful-nor-pleasant, its corresponding feeling … ceases and subsides.’
    20. “Then there remains only equanimity, purified and bright, malleable, wieldy, and radiant. Suppose, bhikkhu, a skilled goldsmith or his apprentice were to prepare a furnace, heat up the crucible, take some gold with tongs, and put it into the crucible. From time to time he would blow on it, from time to time he would sprinkle water over it, and from time to time he would just look on. That gold would become refined, well refined, completely refined, faultless, rid of dross, malleable, wieldy, and radiant. Then whatever kind of ornament he wished to make from it, whether a golden chain or earrings or a necklace or a golden garland, it would serve his purpose. So too, bhikkhu, then there remains only equanimity, purified and bright, malleable, wieldy, and radiant.
    21. “He understands thus: ‘If I were to direct this equanimity, so purified and bright, to the base of infinite space and to develop my mind accordingly, then this equanimity of mine, supported by that base, clinging to it, would remain for a very long time. If I were to direct this equanimity, so purified and bright, to the base of infinite consciousness … [244] … to the base of nothingness … to the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception and to develop my mind accordingly, then this equanimity of mine, supported by that base, clinging to it, would remain for a very long time.’
    22. “He understands thus: ‘If I were to direct this equanimity, so purified and bright, to the base of infinite space and to develop my mind accordingly, this would be conditioned. If I were to direct this equanimity, so purified and bright, to the base of infinite consciousness … to the base of nothingness … to the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception and to develop my mind accordingly, this would be conditioned.’ He does not form any condition or generate any volition tending towards either being or non-being. Since he does not form any condition or generate any volition tending towards either being or non-being, he does not cling to anything in this world. When he does not cling, he is not agitated. When he is not agitated, he personally attains Nibbāna. He understands thus: ‘Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being.’
    23. “If he feels a pleasant feeling, he understands: ‘It is impermanent; there is no holding to it; there is no delight in it.’ If he feels a painful feeling, he understands: ‘It is impermanent; there is no holding to it; there is no delight in it.’ If he feels a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he understands: ‘It is impermanent; there is no holding to it; there is no delight in it.’
    24. “If he feels a pleasant feeling, he feels it detached; if he feels a painful feeling, he feels it detached; if he feels a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he feels it detached. When he feels a feeling terminating with the body, he understands: ‘I feel a feeling terminating with the body.’ [245] When he feels a feeling terminating with life, he understands: ‘I feel a feeling terminating with life.’ He understands: ‘On the dissolution of the body, with the ending of life, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here.’ Bhikkhu, just as an oil-lamp burns in dependence on oil and a wick, and when the oil and wick are used up, if it does not get any more fuel, it is extinguished from lack of fuel; so too when he feels a feeling terminating with the body … a feeling terminating with life, he understands: ‘I feel a feeling terminating with life.’ He understands: ‘On the dissolution of the body, with the ending of life, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here.’
    25. “Therefore a bhikkhu possessing [this wisdom] possesses the supreme foundation of wisdom. For this, bhikkhu, is the supreme noble wisdom, namely, the knowledge of the destruction of all suffering.
    26. “His deliverance, being founded upon truth, is unshakeable. For that is false, bhikkhu, which has a deceptive nature, and that is true which has an undeceptive nature—Nibbāna. Therefore a bhikkhu possessing [this truth] possesses the supreme foundation of truth. For this, bhikkhu, is the supreme noble truth, namely, Nibbāna, which has an undeceptive nature.
    27. “Formerly, when he was ignorant, he undertook and accepted acquisitions; now he has abandoned them, cut them off at the root, made them like a palm stump, done away with them so that they are no longer subject to future arising. Therefore a bhikkhu possessing [this relinquishment] possesses the supreme foundation of relinquishment. For this, bhikkhu, is the supreme noble relinquishment, namely, the relinquishing of all acquisitions.
    28. “Formerly, when he was ignorant, he experienced covetousness, desire, and lust; now he has abandoned them, cut them off at the root, made them like a palm stump, done away with them so that they are no longer subject to future arising. Formerly, when he was ignorant, he experienced anger, ill will, and hate; now he has abandoned them, cut them off at the root, made them like a palm stump, done away with them so that they are no longer subject to future arising. Formerly, when he was ignorant, he experienced ignorance and delusion; now he has abandoned them, cut them off [246] at the root, made them like a palm stump, done away with them so that they are no longer subject to future arising. Therefore a bhikkhu possessing [this peace] possesses the supreme foundation of peace. For this, bhikkhu, is the supreme noble peace, namely, the pacification of lust, hate, and delusion.
    29. “So it was with reference to this that it was said: ‘One should not neglect wisdom, should preserve truth, should cultivate relinquishment, and should train for peace.’
    30. “‘The tides of conceiving do not sweep over one who stands upon these [foundations], and when the tides of conceiving no longer sweep over him he is called a sage at peace.’ So it was said. And with reference to what was this said?
    31. “Bhikkhu, ‘I am’ is a conceiving; ‘I am this’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall not be’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be possessed of form’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be formless’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be percipient’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be non-percipient’ is a conceiving; ‘I shall be neither-percipient-nor-non-percipient’ is a conceiving. Conceiving is a disease, conceiving is a tumour, conceiving is a dart. By overcoming all conceivings, bhikkhu, one is called a sage at peace. And the sage at peace is not born, does not age, does not die; he is not shaken and is not agitated. For there is nothing present in him by which he might be born. Not being born, how could he age? Not ageing, how could he die? Not dying, how could he be shaken? Not being shaken, why should he be agitated?
    32. “So it was with reference to this that it was said: ‘The tides of conceiving do not sweep over one who stands upon these [foundations], and when the tides of conceiving no longer sweep over him he is called a sage at peace.’ Bhikkhu, bear in mind this brief exposition of the six elements.”
    33. Thereupon the venerable Pukkusāti thought: “Indeed, the Teacher has come to me! The Sublime One has come to me! The Fully Enlightened One has come to me!” Then he rose from his seat, arranged his upper robe over one shoulder, and prostrating himself with his head at the Blessed One’s feet, he said: “Venerable sir, a transgression overcame me, in that like a fool, confused [247] and blundering, I presumed to address the Blessed One as ‘friend.’ Venerable sir, may the Blessed One forgive my transgression seen as such for the sake of restraint in the future.”
    “Surely, bhikkhu, a transgression overcame you, in that like a fool, confused and blundering, you presumed to address me as ‘friend.’ But since you see your transgression as such and make amends in accordance with the Dhamma, we forgive you. For it is growth in the Noble One’s Discipline when one sees one’s transgression as such, makes amends in accordance with the Dhamma, and undertakes restraint in the future.”
    34. “Venerable sir, I would receive the full admission under the Blessed One.”
    “But are your bowl and robes complete, bhikkhu?”
    “Venerable sir, my bowl and robes are not complete.”
    “Bhikkhu, Tathāgatas do not give the full admission to anyone whose bowl and robes are not complete.”
    35. Then the venerable Pukkusāti, having delighted and rejoiced in the Blessed One’s words, rose from his seat, and after paying homage to the Blessed One, keeping him on his right, he departed in order to search for a bowl and robes. Then, while the venerable Pukkusāti was searching for a bowl and robes, a stray cow killed him.
    36. Then a number of bhikkhus went to the Blessed One, and after paying homage to him, they sat down at one side and told him: “Venerable sir, the clansman Pukkusāti, who was given brief instruction by the Blessed One, has died. What is his destination? What is his future course?”
    “Bhikkhus, the clansman Pukkusāti was wise. He practised in accordance with the Dhamma and did not trouble me in the interpretation of the Dhamma. With the destruction of the five lower fetters, the clansman Pukkusāti has reappeared spontaneously [in the Pure Abodes] and will attain final Nibbāna there without ever returning from that world.”
    That is what the Blessed One said. The bhikkhus were satisfied and delighted in the Blessed One’s words.
 

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© Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom Publications, 2009)

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