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24 - Taṇhavaggo


Craving Grows in the Heedless

“The craving of one who lives heedlessly grows like a creeper.
He jumps from life to life like a monkey seeking fruits in the forest.”

“Whomsoever craving overcomes in this world,
his sorrows flourish like well-watered bīraṇa grass.”

“Whoever overcomes this unruly craving in this world,
his sorrows fall away like water-drops from a lotus-leaf.”

“I say this to you: Good luck to all who have assembled here!
Dig up the root of craving like one in quest of bīraṇa’s sweet root.
Do not let Māra crush you again and again as a flood (crushes) a reed.”

Kapila the Fish

After the parinibbāna of the Buddha Kassapa, two brothers went forth. The elder brother, named Sāgata, took upon himself the burden of meditation, while the younger brother, named Kapila, thought he could meditate when he was older, so took upon himself the burden of study. The Elder Sāgata lived with his preceptor for five years, then having taken a meditation subject, lived in the forest and gained Arahantship. The Elder Kapila gained a large following and many material gains due to his learning, and, becoming proud, began to disparage others. The well-behaved monks reported his behaviour to his brother, who admonished him three times, but Kapila wouldn’t listen and became wicked. One day, taking a fan, he began reciting the Pātimokkha in the usual way asking if any of the monks had any offence to confess. Thinking, “What is the use of answering this fellow, the monks said nothing.” Observing their silence, Kapila said, “What difference does it make if I recite the Pātimokkha or not?” So saying, he arose from his seat.¹ Thus did he retard the dispensation of the Buddha Kassapa. After his death he was reborn in Avīci hell where he stayed until the time of the Buddha Gotama when he was reborn in the River Aciravatī as a golden fish. His mother and sister, having abused well behaved monks, were also reborn in Avīci hell.

Also during the time of the Buddha Kassapa, five hundred bandits fled into the forest to escape their pursuers. Seeing a forest monk they begged him for protection. The elder administered the five precepts to them, and admonished them to guard the precepts even at the cost of their own lives. They agreed. When the householders caught them, they executed the bandits, who were reborn as devas. During the time of the Buddha Gotama they were reborn at the same time in a fishing village by the Aciravatī river, and grew up together.

One day the fish was caught by the fishermen, and due to his remarkable golden colour the fishermen put it in a boat and took it to the king. The king thought, “The Buddha will know the reason for this, and had the fish taken to the teacher.” As soon as the fish opened its mouth, the bad smell of his breath pervaded the monastery. The Buddha questioned the fish and made him answer. “Are you Kapila?” “Yes venerable sir.” “Where have you come from?” “From Avīci hell, venerable sir.” “Where has your elder brother Sāgata gone?” “He attained parinibbāna, venerable sir.” “Where are you mother and sister?” “In the great hell, venerable sir.” “Where are you going now?” “To Avīci hell, venerable sir.” Then the fish knocked its head against the side of the boat and died. Most in the audience became alarmed and horrified. The Buddha then taught the Kapila Sutta for the benefit of the audience. The five hundred fishermen, being stirred with religious emotion, requested the going forth from the Teacher.

  1. Before entering the Uposatha hall for the recitation of the Pātimokkha, the monks confess any offences that they might have to one another in groups of two or three. Thus when the reciter asks, “If any monk has any offence, let him confess it” they always remain silent. The Elder Kapila was apparently blissfully unaware of this tradition as he had never bothered to train himself properly in the Vinaya discipline, thus when he asked the question he thought that the monks would confess their offences to him. Since they remained silent, he assumed that they were shameless, though they were just diffident to say anything to Kapila who had proved himself impossible to admonish.

Craving is the Root of Suffering

“Just as a tree with roots unharmed and firm, though hewn down, sprouts again, even so while latent craving is not rooted out, this sorrow springs up again and again.”338

”If, in anyone, the thirty-six streams (of craving) that rush towards pleasurable thoughts are strong, torrential thoughts of lust carry him off.339

“The streams flow everywhere. The creeper sprouts and stands.
Seeing the creeper that has sprung up, with wisdom cut off root.”

“In beings there arise pleasures that rush (towards sense-objects)
and (such beings) are steeped in craving.
Bent on happiness, they seek happiness.
Truly, such men come to birth and decay.”

“Folk enwrapped in craving are terrified like a captive hare.
Held fast by fetters and bonds, for long they come to sorrow again and again.”

“Folk, enwrapped in craving, are terrified like a captive hare.
Therefore a monk who desires dispassion should discard craving.”

The Sow

One day, while was entering Rājagaha for alms, the Buddha smiled when he saw a certain sow. Seeing him smile, the Elder Ānanda asked him the reason, and the Buddha related the sow’s past life.

During the time of Buddha Kakusandha she was a hen who used to listen to the sound of a monk reciting a formula for insight meditation. When she died, she was reborn as a princess named Ubbarī in the royal household. One day, Ubbarī saw a heap of maggots and gained the first jhāna. When she died, she was reborn as a Brahma. Passing away from that existence and wandering through saṃsāra, she has now been reborn as this sow. Then the Buddha uttered the above verses on the dangers of craving for the benefit of the monks we were listening to this conversation.

Returning to Lay Life is Foolish

“Whoever with no desire (for the household) finds pleasure in the forest (of asceticism) and though freed from desire (for the household), (yet) runs back to that very home. Come, behold that man! Freed, he runs back into that very bondage.”344

The Back-sliding Monk

A certain young man entered the Saṅgha under the guidance of the Elder Mahākassapa and gained the fourth jhāna. Seeing the gold and other rare objects in the household of his maternal uncle he developed a strong attachment for them and disrobed. However, because he was too lazy to do any work, he was thrown out of the house, and fell into the company of thieves. One day he was caught, and with his hands bound, was being led off for execution, and being lashed with whips at every cross-roads. While walking for alms, the Elder Mahākassapa recognised him, and urged him to meditate as he had done before. When the executioners were making ready to kill him, they marvelled that he was completely unafraid. The king was informed, who ordered his release and went to see the Teacher. The Buddha manifested an image of himself before the man, and uttered the above verse, on hearing which the man attained Stream-winning. He then rose into the air, went to where the Teacher was sitting with the king, paid homage, and attained Arahantship in the midst of the assembly.

Attachment is Stronger Than Chains

“That which is made of iron, wood or hemp, is not a strong bond, say the wise;
the longing for jewels, ornaments, children, and wives is a far greater attachment.”

“That bond is strong, say the wise.
It hurls down, is supple, and is hard to loosen.
This too the wise cut off, and leave the world,
with no longing, renouncing sensual pleasures.

The Prison House

While walking for alms, some monks from the countryside noticed criminals bound by chains while passing a prison. They asked the Buddha whether there were other bonds stronger than those they had seen. The Buddha replied that the bonds of craving for wealth, crops, wives, and children, was much stronger. Nevertheless, wise men of former times, having broken these bonds, went forth into the Himalayas. Then he related a story of the past when Brahmadatta was the king of Benares. Then a young man whose father had died, worked for hire to support his mother. Contrary to his wishes, she brought him a wife, and passed away after some time. He then told his wife to support herself by working for hire as he wished to go forth as a monk. She told him that she was pregnant, and asked him to wait until the baby had been born. When the baby was born she asked him to wait until it was weaned from the breast. Meanwhile she became pregnant again. Thinking that he would never escape if he did as his wife wished, he decided to leave secretly. He went to the Himalayas and became a recluse, developing the jhānas and the superhuman faculties, rejoicing in having escaped from the bondage of household life. Having related this story of the past, the Buddha uttered the above verses.

The Lustful Are Caught in Their Own Web

“Those who are infatuated with lust fall back into the stream
as (does) a spider into the web spun by itself.
This too the wise cut off and wander,
with no longing, released from all sorrow.”

The Elder Sister Khemā

Khemā was the chief queen of King Bimbisāra. As a result of an earnest wish she had made at the feet of Buddha Padumuttara, she was extremely beautiful. She avoided the Teacher’s presence as she feared that he would speak in dispraise of beauty. Knowing of her vanity, the king had songs composed praising the beauty of the Bamboo Grove. Hearing these songs, Khemā developed a longing to go and see for herself the beauty of the Bamboo Grove (Veḷuvana), and decided to go there. Knowing that she had come, the Buddha created a phantom of a beautiful young woman, who sat fanning him. Khemā was fascinated by the young woman, who seemed far more beautiful than herself, and decided that the Teacher’s dislike of physical beauty had been misrepresented. As Khemā sat enthralled by the young woman, the Buddha made the phantom age rapidly as he was teaching the Dhamma. After a while, the phantom became middle-aged, then old, then she collapsed and died, and became a heap of bones. As Khemā watched this happen, she gained insight. Knowing this, the Buddha said:

“Khemā, look at this diseased heap of filth, oozing and trickling, longed for by fools.”

On hearing this verse, Khemā attained Stream-winning. Admonishing her further on the difficulty of crossing the stream of craving, the Buddha uttered the above verse: “Those who are infatuated with lust …” on the conclusion of which she attained Arahantship. The Buddha advised the king that she should either enter the Saṅgha or would attain parinibbāna (“Mahārāja, Khemāya pabbajituṃ vā parinibbāyituṃ vā vaṭṭatī”ti).¹ The king asked for her to be admitted to the community of nuns. Thus Khemā Therī became one of the leading nuns.

  1. It is said that a lay arahant must ordain or else will die that very day.

Let Go!

“Let go of the past. Let go of the future. Let go of the present.
Crossing to the farther shore of existence, with mind released from everything,
do not again undergo birth and decay.”

Uggasena’s Story

A troupe of five hundred circus performers came to Rājagaha every six months and drew big crowds, earning much wealth. The people piled up stacks of beds in order to watch. A young man named Uggasena, who was the son of a millionaire, fell in love with a certain female acrobat. He told his parents he would die unless he could marry her, and refused to eat in spite of being urged repeatedly to take a wife more suited to his family’s wealth. Unable to dissuade their son, they sent a messenger to seek the girl’s hand in marriage. Her father refused, saying that if their son wanted to marry her, he would have to join their troupe and travel with them.

Uggasena joined the troupe to marry the acrobat’s daughter, and wandered from place to place, looking after the carts, and so forth. In due course, his wife became pregnant and gave birth. As she played with her son, she called him “Son of a cart-driver,” “Son of a firewood gatherer,” “Son of a water-carrier,” “Son of a know-nothing.” Hearing her talk like this, Uggasena decided to learn the art of tumbling. He went to her father and asked him to teach him. After a year, he mastered the art, and prepared to display his skill to the crowd for the first time at Rājagaha.

An announcement was made to the crowd that Uggasena, the son of the millionaire, would perform, and he climbed to the top of a bamboo pole sixty cubits high. Poised on top of the pole, he called for the crowd’s attention, ready to perform somersaults. At that very moment, the Buddha entered the city for alms, and everyone paid attention to him. Uggasena performed seven somersaults, landing safely back on top of the pole each time, but there was no applause as no one was watching. Utterly deflated, he just stood there thinking that his performance had been a complete failure.

Knowing his thoughts, the Buddha sent the Elder Moggallāna to ask Uggasena to perform his feat again. Thinking, “The Teacher wishes to see my performance,” Uggasena turned fourteen somersaults, and stood on top of the pole. The Buddha spoke to him, “Uggasena, a wise man should give up attachment to the past, future, and present to gain release from birth, old age, disease, and death.”

Then the Buddha uttered the above verse, and on its conclusion, Uggasena gained Arahantship together with analytical knowledge (paṭisambhidā ñāṇa), even while stood on top of the bamboo pole. Uggasena descended from the pole, approached the Buddha, paid homage, and requested the Going Forth. The Buddha ordained him with the words, “Come, monk.”

Later, the monks asked him, “Were you not afraid as you descended from the pole?” Uggasena replied that he had no fear, and the Buddha confirmed it, uttering this verse:

“He who has cut off all fetters, who trembles not,
who has gone beyond ties, who is unbound — him I call a Brahmaṇa.”

On another occasion, the monks talked about Uggasena, wondering how the son of a millionaire could become a wandering circus performer, and how could such a person be endowed with the perfections for Arahantship. Having inquired about the subject of their conversation, the Buddha related a story of the past.

When the golden cetiya of the Buddha Kassapa was being constructed, a husband and wife, having taken abundant food, set out to work as labourers. On the way they saw an elder walking for alms. The wife urged her husband to fetch his almsbowl, and they offered him alms, both making an earnest wish to attain the knowledge that he had gained. The elder, being an Arahant endowed with psychic powers, looked into their futures and smiled. Seeing him smile, the wife said that he must have been an actor, and her husband agreed. Thus due to these words, the pair became actors, but due to their earnest wish they also attained Arahantship. Uggasena’s wife also retired from the world and gained Arahantship, according to her wish in her previous life.

Craving Grows in the Passionate

“For the person who is perturbed by (evil) thoughts, who is exceedingly lustful,
who contemplates pleasant things, craving increases more and more.
Surely, he makes the bond (of Māra) stronger.”

“He who delights in subduing (evil) thoughts,
who meditates on “the loathsomeness” (of the body)
who is ever mindful — he will make an end (of craving).
He will sever Māra’s bond.”

Young Archer the Wise

A young monk in need of drinking water went to a certain house. As soon as the young woman in the house saw the monk, she fell in love with him. She asked him to come again whenever he needed water. Later, she offered him rice gruel, and later provided him with a seat and offered boiled rice. Seating herself near him, she started talking about how lonely she was, as no visitors came to that house. Thinking about her, the young monk became discontented, and was taken to his preceptor and to the Buddha. He admitted the cause of his discontent. The Buddha then related an incident from the young monk’s previous life to show how he had been betrayed by her before.

At that time he had been known as Young Archer the Wise. Having acquired the skills of archery and sword-fighting in Takkasila, his teacher was so pleased with his ability that he gave his own daughter to him in marriage. On the return journey to Benares they were waylaid by bandits, but Young Archer killed fifty of them with arrows. Having run out of arrows, he asked his wife for his sword, but when she saw the bandit chief she fell in love with him at once, and put the sword in the bandit’s hand. The bandit slew Young Archer, took the woman with him and went his way. Realising that such a woman would kill him too, just as she had killed her husband, he abandoned her by a river, taking her jewels and crossing over to continue his journey alone. In order to teach the woman a lesson, Sakka appeared before her in the form of a jackal with some meat in his mouth. As a fish leaped out of the water, the jackal dropped the meat to catch the fish, but missed, and a bird flew away with the meat. When the woman laughed at this, the Jackal (Sakka) admonished her that she was even more foolish, as she had lost both her husband and her lover, but could not see her own fault. She understood and vowed to be faithful in future. Sakka scolded her again, saying that one who stole a clay pot would also steal a copper one, and that she would do evil again. When the Teacher had finished relating this Cūḷadhanuggaha Jātaka (Jā. 374) he told the monk that at that time he had been Sakka, the young monk had been Young Archer the Wise, and the young woman had been his unfaithful wife who had deprived him of life. On the conclusion of the above verse, the young monk attained Stream-winning.

He Who Has Reached the Goal is Fearless

“He who has reached the goal is fearless. Void of craving, he is passionless,
having cut off the barbs of life. This is his final body.”

“He who is without craving and grasping, who is skilled in etymology and terms,
who knows the grouping of letters and their sequence —
it is he who is called the bearer of the final body,
one of profound wisdom, a great man.”

Māra Tries to Frighten Rāhula

One day, several elders arrived during the night, and woke up the novice Rāhula. Not seeing any other place to sleep, Rāhula went to lie down in front of the Buddha’s Perfumed Chamber. Māra Vasavatti, hoping to annoy the Buddha by frightening his son, took the form of a bull-elephant, encircled the head of Rāhula with his trunk, and trumpeted loudly. Sitting in the Perfumed Chamber, the Buddha told Māra that even a thousand like himself would not be able to frighten his son who was fearless, free from craving, courageous, and wise. So saying, he uttered the above verses.

The Omniscient One Has No Teacher

“All have I overcome, all do I know.
From all am I detached. All have I renounced.
Wholly absorbed am I in “the destruction of craving.”
Having comprehended all by myself, whom shall I call my teacher?”

The Naked Ascetic Upaka

Shortly after his Enlightenment, while on his way to the deer park to teach the Dhamma to the group of five ascetics, he met Upaka, a naked ascetic.¹ Pleased with the Buddha’s serene appearance, Upaka asked who were his preceptor and teacher. The Buddha replied that he had no preceptor or teacher, and uttered the above verse. Neither approving nor disapproving, Upaka departed, shaking his head and wagging his tongue.

  1. Ājīvaka: the followers of Makkhali Gosāla.

The Gift of Truth Excels All Other Gifts

“The gift of Truth excels all (other) gifts.
The flavour of Truth excels all (other) flavours.
The pleasure in Truth excels all (other) pleasures.
He who has destroyed craving overcomes all sorrow.”

Sakka’s Questions

The deities assembled and debated these four questions: “Which is the best gift? Which is the best taste? Which is the greatest bliss? Why is the destruction of craving said to be the best of all? Unable to obtain an answer, they took their questions to Sakka, the king of Tāvatiṃsa, and Sakka decided that this was a question that only the Buddha could answer. Sakka went to the Jeta grove with a large retinue of deities and put the questions to the Buddha, who replied with the above verse. Sakka then requested that, since the gift of Dhamma was the best of gifts, that the merit of teaching the Dhamma should be shared with the deities whenever the monks taught. The Buddha told the monks to share the merits of teaching the Dhamma to all beings from that day on.

Riches Ruin the Fool

“Riches ruin the foolish, but not those in quest of the beyond (nibbāna).
Through craving for riches the ignorant man ruins himself
as (if he were ruining) others.”

The Childless Millionaire

A childless millionaire died leaving all his wealth. King Pasenadi ordered all of his wealth to be removed to the royal treasury. There was so much wealth, that this process took seven days. Then the king went to see the Buddha. He related what had happened and remarked that although the Buddha dwelt close by, the treasurer had not given any alms. The Buddha related the previous life of the millionaire. At one time he was a millionaire. When a Solitary Buddha named Tagarasikhim came to his house for alms, he told his wife to give him something, and got up and left. His wife, seizing this rare opportunity, took his almsbowl and filled it with delicious food. On coming back, the man asked THE Solitary Buddha if he had been given anything, so he lifted the lid of his bowl. Seeing and smelling the delicious food given by his wife, the householder thought that it would have been better to give that food to his servants, as they would work hard, but this monk would just go and have a good sleep after eating. In that life, the householder had a nephew who would frequently point out his father’s property when walking with his uncle. Not wishing for his nephew to inherit his brother’s property, he took the boy and murdered him in a wood. Having suffered in hell for many hundreds of thousands of years for this evil deed, he was reborn in Sāvatthi as a multi-millionaire due to the fruition of his offering of choice alms to Tagarasikhiṃ. However, because he regretted giving it, he was unable to enjoy any benefit of this wealth, and lived on only sour rice gruel. Due to killing his nephew in his previous existence, he remained childless, and his property was confiscated by the king. After death, he was again reborn in the Roruva hell.

Blemishes of Mankind

“Weeds are the bane of fields, lust is the bane of mankind.
Hence what is given to those free from lust yields abundant fruit.”

“Weeds are the bane of fields, hatred is the bane of mankind.
Hence what is given to those free from hatred yields abundant fruit.”

“Weeds are the bane of fields, delusion is the bane of mankind.
Hence what is given to those free from delusion yields abundant fruit.”

[“Weeds are the bane of fields, longing is the bane of mankind.
Hence what is given to those free from longing yields abundant fruit.”]¹
“Weeds are the bane of fields, craving is the bane of mankind.
Hence what is given to those free from craving yields abundant fruit.”

Aṅkura’s Story

When Indaka gave a spoonful of his own food to the Elder Anuruddha as alms, the fruit of his merit was greater than that of Aṅkura who for thousands of years offered abundant alms. When the Buddha taught the Abhidhamma in Tāvatiṃsa, Indaka sat by his right side, while Aṅkura had to sit far away. Explaining the importance of giving alms with wise discrimination, by giving to the virtuous, the Buddha uttered the above verses.

  1. This verse is found only in the Burmese text. Icchā means longing or covetousness.