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Apaṇṇaka Suttaṃ

(M.i.400)

The Incontrovertible Discourse

At one time the Blessed one was wandering with a large following of bhikkhus in the Kosala country. In due course he came to the Brahmin village of Sālā. Having heard about the good reputation of the Blessed One, on hearing of his arrival, the Brahmins of Sālā came to greet him. Then the Blessed One asked them if they had found any teacher whose doctrine they approved of, to which they replied that they had not.

The Blessed One then addressed the Brahmins as follows: “Then you should undertake and practise this incontrovertible teaching, it will be for your long term benefit and happiness.

“There are some recluses and Brahmins whose teaching and view is this: ‘There is no giving, offering, or sacrifice, no fruit of good and evil deeds, there is neither this world, nor another world, there is no mother nor father, no spontaneously arisen beings, and no recluses or Brahmins who, having practised correctly, realise the truth about this world and the other world by direct knowledge, and reveal this truth to others.’

“Then there are some recluses and Brahmins whose teaching and view is the direct opposite. Their doctrine and view is this: ‘There is giving, offering, and sacrifice, there is fruit of good and evil deeds, there is this world, and another world, there is mother and father, there are spontaneously arisen beings, and there are recluses and Brahmins who, having practised correctly, realise the truth about this world and the other world by direct knowledge, and reveal this truth to others.’

“What do you think, householders, are the doctrines of these recluses and Brahmins directly opposed?

Indeed they are, Venerable sir.”

“Householders, it is to be expected that those recluses and Brahmins who hold the former view — that there is no fruit of good and evil deeds, and so forth — will avoid wholesome deeds and indulge in evil deeds because they do not see the danger and impurity of evil deeds, nor do they see the benefit and purity of good deeds.

“Since there is another world, one who holds the view that there is not holds a wrong view. Since there is another world, one who thinks that there is not has wrong thoughts. Since there is another world, one who says there is not uses wrong speech and is opposed to those Arahants who know there is another world. One who convinces another to accept this untrue Dhamma praises himself and disparages others, thus any former morality he had is abandoned and replaced with bad conduct. All of these various unwholesome things — wrong thought, wrong speech and so forth — have wrong view as their origin.”

“A wise man reflects thus: ‘If what these recluses and Brahmins say is true, and there is no other world, then on the dissolution of the body after death they are safe enough, but if they are wrong and there is another world, they will be reborn in the lower realms, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, or in hell. He has wrongly undertaken this incontrovertible teaching in a one-sided way that excludes the wholesome alternative.

“Householders, it is to be expected that those recluses and Brahmins who hold the latter view — that there is a fruit of good and evil deeds, and so forth — will avoid evil deeds and cultivate wholesome deeds because they see the danger and impurity of evil deeds, and see the benefit and purity of wholesome deeds.

“Since there is another world, one who holds the view that there is holds a right view. Since there is another world, one who thinks that there is has right thoughts. Since there is another world, one who says there is uses right speech and is not opposed to those Arahants who know there is another world. One who convinces another to accept this true Dhamma does not praise himself and disparage others, thus any former corrupt morality he had is abandoned and replaced with virtuous conduct. All of these various wholesome things — right thought, right speech and so forth — have right view as their origin.”

“A wise man reflects thus: ‘If what these recluses and Brahmins say is true, and there is another world, then on the dissolution of the body after death they will be reborn in a happy destination, or in heaven. Even if there is no other world, this good person is praised by the wise as virtuous and for holding the right view of moral responsibility. He has rightly undertaken this incontrovertible teaching in a two-sided way that excludes the unwholesome alternative.

About This Translation

This discourse is the sixtieth of the Middle Length Discourses. It is quite long, so the above is just an extract of some key passages, summarised for the sake of brevity. The wrong view that there is no heaven or hell, no literal rebirth into other realms of existence, and so forth, is widely prevalent among those materialists who have rejected religion. They find in Buddhism an attractive philosophy with no God, no blind belief, and no slavish reliance on external authorities.

Shortly before his demise, the Buddha said to the Venerable Ānanda, “Take no other guide, Ānanda, take no other refuge. After I am gone, be your own guide and refuge, take the Dhamma as your guide and refuge.”¹ The disciples of the Buddha should take these two things as their guide and refuge: the Dhamma and their own efforts to understand and apply that Dhamma. It is not a recipe to rely solely on one’s own opinions, as some seem to think. If one’s own opinion is at odds with the teachings in the Tipiṭaka then one should continue to examine the teachings and one’s own opinion to see which is right.

The full translation by Bhikkhu Bodhi can be found in “The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha,” published by Wisdom Publications.

Notes

¹ Attadīpā viharatha attasaraṇā anaññasaraṇā, dhammadīpā dhammasaraṇā anaññasaraṇā. The word dīpā can mean both island or lamp. The word saraṇā means refuge. The Buddha was a teacher who illuminated the way like a lamp illuminates a path in the darkness. The disciple must walk on that path with his own efforts. The teacher cannot carry him on his shoulders, he only clarifies the right method of practice. A disciple should depend on himself for protection from danger, but he should also depend on the Dhamma as a guide and protection. That is he should study the Dhamma and accept what is correct and true Dhamma after careful reflection. He should not rely on his own opinions. See the whole of the advice given in the Kesamutti Sutta. To know the distinguishing characteristics of Dhamma and what is not Dhamma see the Brief Discourse to Gotamī.

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