(Sutta Nipāta, Hammalawa Saddhātissa, Curzon Press)
Commentary to the Āmagandha Sutta
Where was the Āmagandha Sutta taught? By whom was it taught, and to whom? The Commentary to a Sutta often adds important information about the context in which the teaching was given. Out of context, some discourses can easily be misunderstood.
The Commentary traces the origin of this sutta to a period before the appearance of Buddha Gotama. A Brahmin named Āmagandha led the life of a hermit along with five hundred disciples. They lived in the Himalayan foot hills where they had a hermitage and lived on forest fruits and roots. They abstained completely from fish and meat. Due to a deficiency of salt in their diet, all of the hermits suffered from jaundice. For this reason they went to a border village to beg for salt and vinegar. Being warmly invited by the villagers who respectfully provided them with almsfood, they spent four months a year in dwellings built by the villagers.
Then the Buddha arose in the world and after setting in motion the Wheel of the Dhamma, he arrived at Sāvatthi after some years. While residing there, the Buddha saw these hermits in his divine eye and realised that they had the necessary perfections for the attainment of Arahantship. Accordingly, the Buddha went to the village where they stayed for four months of the year, and taught the Dhamma to the villagers. The villagers became Stream-winners, Once-returners, and Non-returners, while a few of them entered the Saṅgha and became Arahants.
When the hermits led by Āmagandha came to the village to seek salt as usual, they noticed a conspicuous change in the behaviour of the villagers. The villagers no longer greeted them with the great excitement that they had shown previously. Āmagandha asked whether there was a famine, or if they had been punished by the king, or whether there was some fault in the conduct of the hermits to explain the transformation of the village. The villagers told him about the arrival of the Buddha, whose teaching of the Dhamma they had heard, and from which they had all benefited immensely. When the hermit Āmagandha heard the word “Buddha,” he asked, “Did you say ‘Buddha,’ householder? Even this sound is rare to hear in this world.” When the householder confirmed it he was pleased and asked further, “Does the Buddha eat stench?” The householder asked, “What is this stench?” Āmagandha replied, “Fish and meat is called stench.” The householder replied, “Venerable sir, the Buddha does eat fish and meat.” Disappointed at this, Āmagandha resolved to go and see the Buddha and ask him about it himself.
Having asked where the Buddha stayed, Āmagandha set off hastily towards the Jetavana grove at Sāvatthī, accompanied by the five hundred hermits. When the hermits arrived, the Buddha was seated in the fourfold assembly to teach the Dhamma. After mutual exchange of friendly greetings, the hermit Āmagandha asked the Buddha if he avoided eating fish and meat, which he considered to be stench. The Buddha replied that fish and meat should not be considered as stench. On the other hand, all kinds of mental defilements and unwholesome deeds should be regarded as stench. To convince Āmagandha completely, the Buddha recollected the same dialogue between himself and the Buddha Kassapa.
At that time the Bodhisatta had been a Brahmin by the name of Tissa who had asked the same question. Āmagandha’s pride was humbled, and he entered the Saṅgha along with his five hundred disciples, who all attained Arahantship.