The Fire Sermon
“Everything, monks, is burning. What, monks, is everything that is burning? The eye, monks, is burning, form is burning, eye-consciousness is burning, eye-contact is burning. The feeling that arises dependent on eye-contact, whether pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, that also is burning. With what is it burning? It is burning with the fire of passion, the fire of hatred, the fire of delusion. I declare that it is burning with the fire of birth, decay, death, grief, lamentation, pain, sorrow, and despair.
The ear, monks, is burning, sound is burning, … and despair.
The nose, monks, is burning, odour is burning, … and despair.
The tongue, monks, is burning, taste is burning, … and despair.
The body, monks, is burning, touch is burning, … and despair.
The mind, monks, is burning, thought is burning, … and despair.
Seeing thus, monks, the well-informed noble disciple is disgusted with the eye, is disgusted with forms, is disgusted with eye-consciousness, disgusted with eye-contact. He is disgusted with the feeling that arises dependent on eye contact, whether pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. He is disgusted with the ear … with the nose … with the tongue … with the body … with the mind, with thoughts, with mind-contact, with the feeling that arises dependent on mind-contact, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
Being disgusted, he is dispassionate, being dispassionate he is freed. Being freed, he knows he is free, and he knows, “Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been fulfilled, what should be done has been done, there is no more of this.”
Thus spoke the Blessed One. Those monks delighted in what the Blessed One had said. And while this discourse was being delivered the minds of those one thousand monks were liberated from defilements without any remainder.
Saṃyuttanikāya (S.iv.19), Saḷāyatanasaṃyuttaṃ, Sabbavaggo, Ādittasuttaṃ
About the Fire Sermon
This important discourse was given by the Buddha to a thousand fire-worshipping ascetics early in his dispensation. The account of the Buddha’s meeting with the Kassapa brothers at Uruvela is told in the Vinaya Mahāvagga. After giving his first discourse, the » Dhammacakka Sutta and the Anattalakkhaṇa Sutta, the discourse on not-self, to his first five disciples they all attained Arahantship after the first Rains Retreat. The Buddha spent the second Rains Retreat at Uruvela, during which time he performed numerous feats of psychic power to humble the pride of the fire-worshipping ascetics, so that they gained faith in him and became his disciples. After the Buddha taught them the Ādittapariyāya Sutta, all one thousand of these bhikkhus became Arahants.
The Ādittapariiyāya Sutta of the Vinaya Mahāvagga is called the Āditta Sutta in the Saḷāyatanavaggo of the Saṃyuttanikāya. “Pariiyāya” means “instruction.” The Ādittapariiyāya Sutta in the Saḷāyatanavaggo of the Saṃyuttanikāya (S.iv.168) is a different discourse on the fiery nature of the six senses.
All six sense spheres — the eye and forms, the ear and sounds, the nose and odours, the tongue and tastes, the body and touches, the mind and thoughts — are the basis for contact, feeling, and craving. Craving is like a fire that burns everything with which it comes into contact. If we are mindful of the feeling at the moment of sense contact, before feeling gives rise to craving, we can break the link between feeling and craving.
See also the Venerable Mahāsi Sayādaw’s Discourse on the Mālukyaputta Sutta. The knowledge of disgust (nibbidā ñāṇa) is an advanced stage of insight knowledge where the mind sees nothing desirable in any sense object. This leads on to the higher stage of equanimity about formations or dispassion regarding pleasant and unpleasant sense objects, and finally to the realisation of nibbāna.
The early discourses like the Dhammacakka, Anattalakkhaṇa, and Āditta Sutta, seem very simple, but only those with well developed insight knowledge were able to gain the final goal on listening to them. Nowadays, meditators will need to practise insight meditation diligently for many months or years to gain similar realisations. For most of us, the objects of the six senses do not seem to be on fire, nor disgusting. On the contrary, our minds still takes delight in them, pursue them, and cling to them constantly. Unless we can change our perception through gaining insight, we cannot become aware of the danger that lies dormant therein.