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Cūḷamālukya Suttaṃ

(M.i.426)

The Lesser Discourse to Mālukyaputta

Introduction

Visit any Internet discussion on religion and you will find believers and non-believers arguing endlessly about the origins of the world, the nature of the soul, and other strongly held views. Some views may be right, while others are wrong, but seldom can anyone convince another to change their view. In this discourse the Buddha shows great patience with Mālukyaputta, who was fond of speculating and debating. He weans him away from his addiction to speculation by the famous Simile of the Poisoned Arrow. However, although Mālukyaputta was pleased at the end of the discourse and obviously abandoned his intention to disrobe, no mention is made of him attaining any stages of the path.

The Buddha taught that right-view was an important aspect of the path, as it is the seed from which speech and actions grow (see the Bīja Suttaṃ). However, on some topics he made no statement. Some questions cannot be answered, and should simply be set aside. The doctrine of no soul or not-self (anatta), is not approachable by mere logic. Only insight will reveal the true nature of the mental and physical process. One should know when to ask questions, and when to discuss the teachings, but one should also understand the limitations of the intellect.

Translation

122. Thus have I heard — at one time the Blessed One was dwelling at Sāvatthi, in Prince Jeta’s grove, in the monastery of Anāthapiṇḍika. Then as the Venerable Mālukyaputta ¹ was meditating alone, this train of thought occurred to him: “These speculative views have been left undeclared by the Blessed One, set aside, and rejected — ‘The world is eternal,’ ‘The world is transient,’ ‘The world is finite,’ ‘The world is infinite,’ ‘The soul is the body,’ ‘The soul is one thing, the body is another,’ ‘The Tathāgata exists after death,’ ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death,’ ‘The Tathāgata both exists and does not exist after death,’ ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death,’ — the Blessed One does not declare these things to me. I do not approve of or agree to that, so I will approach the Blessed One, and having approached him I will ask him about this matter. If the Blessed One will declare to me — ‘The world is eternal,’ … ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death,’ then I will lead the holy life under him; if he does not declare these matters to me, I will abandon the training and return to lay life.” [427]

123. Then the Venerable Mālukyaputta, in the evening, having come out of seclusion, approached the Blessed One, have approached, he paid homage to the Blessed One and sat at one side. Sitting at one side, the Venerable Mālukyaputta said to the Blessed One:–

124. “Venerable sir, when I was meditating alone this train of thought occurred to me: ‘These speculative views have been left undeclared by the Blessed One, set aside, and rejected — “The world is eternal,” … “The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death,” — the Blessed One does not declare these things to me. I do not approve of or agree to that, so I will approach the Blessed One, and having approached him I will ask him about this matter. If the Blessed One will declare to me — “The world is eternal,” … “The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death,” then I will lead the holy life under him; if he does not declare these matters to me, I will abandon the training and return to lay life.’ If the Blessed One knows: ‘The world is eternal,’ let him declare to me, ‘The world is eternal,’ if the Blessed One knows: ‘The world is transient,’ let him declare to me, ‘The world is transient.’ If the Blessed One does not know if the world is eternal or not, then it is straightforward for one who does not know and does not see to declare: ‘I do not know, I do not see.’

“If the Blessed One knows: ‘The world is finite,’ let him declare to me, ‘The world is finite,’ if he knows, ‘The world is infinite,’ let him declare to me, ‘The world is infinite.’ If the Blessed One does not know if the world is finite or not, then it is straightforward for one who does not know and does not see to declare: ‘I do not know, I do not see.’

“If the Blessed One knows: ‘The soul is the body,’ …  [428] ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death,’ then it is straightforward for one who does not know and does not see to declare, ‘I do not know, I do not see’.”

125. “Did I ever say to you, Mālukyaputta: ‘Come, Mālukyaputta, live the holy life under me, I will declare: ‘The world is finite,’ or ‘The world is infinite,’ … ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death.’?”

“Indeed not, venerable sir.”

“Or did you ever say to me: ‘I, venerable sir, will lead the holy life under the Blessed One if the Blessed One will declare to me: ‘The world is eternal,’ ‘The world is transient,’ ‘The world is finite,’ ‘The world is infinite,’ ‘The soul is the body,’ ‘The soul is one thing, the body is another,’ ‘The Tathāgata exists after death,’ ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death,’ ‘The Tathāgata both exists and does not exist after death,’ ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death’.?”

“Indeed not, venerable sir.”

“Thus, surely, Mālukyaputta, neither did I say to you: ‘Come, Mālukyaputta, live the holy life under me, I will declare these things to you,’ and neither did you say to me: ‘Venerable sir, I will lead the life under the Blessed One if he will declare these things to me.’ This being the case, foolish man, who are you and what are you giving up?”

126. “Whoever, Mālukyaputta, would speak thus: ‘I will not lead the holy life under the Blessed One until the Blessed One declares to me: “The world is eternal … the Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death,” [429] that would remain undeclared by the Tathāgata and meanwhile that person would die. It is as if, Mālukyaputta, a man was pierced by an arrow, thickly smeared with poison. His friends, comrades, and relatives would bring a physician to treat him. He would speak thus: ‘I will not let you remove this arrow until I know if the man who shot me was a noble, a brahmin, a merchant, or a worker.’ ² … ‘I will not let you take out this arrow until I know that man’s name and his clan.’ … ‘I will not let you take out this arrow until I know whether the man who shot me was tall or short, or of medium stature.’ … ‘I will not let you take out this arrow until I know whether the man who shot me was of dark, brown, or bronze complexion.’ … ‘I will not let you take out the arrow until I know which village, town, or city he is from.’ … ‘I will not let you take out the arrow until I know what kind of bow was used to shoot me, whether a long-bow or a cross-bow.’ … ‘I will not let you take out the arrow until I know what kind of bow-string was used to shoot me, whether it was plant fibre, bamboo, sinews, hemp, or Indian bow-string ³ (Calotropis gigantea). … ‘I will not let you take out the arrow until I know whether the shaft of the arrow that shot me was a wild reed or cultivated.’ … ‘I will not let you take out the arrow until I know what kind of feathers were used on the arrow used to shoot me, whether they were those of a vulture, a heron, a hawk, a peacock, or a stork.⁴ … ‘I will not let you take out the arrow until I know what kind of sinews the arrows were bound with, whether it was those of a cow, a buffalo, a panther,⁵ or a monkey.’ ⁶ … ‘I will not let you take out the arrow until I know what kind of arrow was used to shoot me, whether it was hoof-tipped, barbed, iron-tipped, calf-toothed, or spiked ⁷ [430] — while this was unknown by that man, Mālukyaputta, that man would die. In the same way, Mālukyaputta, whoever speaks thus: ‘I will not lead the holy life under the Blessed One until the Blessed One declares to me: “The world is eternal … the Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death,” that would remain undeclared by the Tathāgata and meanwhile that person would die.

127. “If there is the view, Mālukyaputta, ‘The world is eternal,’ the holy life cannot be lived, if there is the view, Mālukyaputta, ‘The world is transient,’ the holy life cannot be lived. Whether there is the view, ‘The world is eternal,’ or the view, ‘The world is transient,’ there is birth, there is aging, there is death, there are grief, lamentation, pain, sorrow, and despair; and I make known their destruction here and now.

“If there is the view, Mālukyaputta, ‘The world is finite,’ the holy life cannot be lived, if there is the view, Mālukyaputta, ‘The world is infinite,’ the holy life cannot be lived. Whether there is the view, ‘The world is finite,’ or the view, ‘The world is infinite,’ there is birth, there is aging, there is death, there are grief, lamentation, pain, sorrow, and despair; and I make known their destruction here and now.

“If there is the view, Mālukyaputta, ‘The soul is the body,’ the holy life cannot be lived, if there is the view, Mālukyaputta, ‘The soul is one thing, the body is another,’ the holy life cannot be lived. Whether there is the view, ‘The soul is the body,’ or the view, ‘The soul is one thing, the body is another,’ there is birth, there is aging, there is death, there are grief, lamentation, pain, sorrow, and despair; and I make known their destruction here and now.

“If there is the view, Mālukyaputta, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death,’ the holy life cannot be lived, if there is the view, Mālukyaputta, ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death,’ the holy life cannot be lived. Whether there is the view, ‘The Tathāgata exists after death,’ or the view, ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death,’ there is birth, there is aging, there is death, there are grief, lamentation, pain, sorrow, and despair; and I make known their destruction here and now. [431]

“If there is the view, Mālukyaputta, ‘The Tathāgata both exists and does not exist after death,’ the holy life cannot be lived, if there is the view, Mālukyaputta, ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death,’ the holy life cannot be lived. Whether there is the view, ‘The Tathāgata both exists after death and does not exist after death,’ or the view, ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death,’ there is birth, there is aging, there is death, there are grief, lamentation, pain, sorrow, and despair; and I make known their destruction here and now.

128. “Therefore, Mālukyaputta, remember what I have not declared as undeclared; and remember what I have declared as declared. What, Mālukyaputta, have I not declared? ‘The world is eternal,’ Mālukyaputta, that I have not declared; ‘The world is transient,’ that I have not declared; ‘The world is finite,’ that I have not declared; ‘The world is infinite,’ that I have not declared; ‘The soul is the body,’ that I have not declared; ‘The soul is one thing, the body is another,’ that I have not declared; ‘The Tathāgata exists after death,’ that I have not declared; ‘The Tathāgata does not exist after death,’ that I have not declared; ‘The Tathāgata both exists and does not exist after death,’ that I have not declared; ‘The Tathāgata neither exists nor does not exist after death,’ that I have not declared. Why, Mālukyaputta, have I not declared these things? These things, Mālukyaputta, are not connected with benefit,  are not fundamental to the holy life, and do not lead to the cessation of suffering (nibbāna). Therefore I have not declared them.

“And what have I declared? ‘This is suffering,’ that I have declared; ‘This is the cause of suffering,’ that I have declared; ‘This is the cessation of suffering,’ that I have declared; ‘This the way of practise leading to the end of suffering,’ that I have declared. Why, Mālukyaputta, have I declared those things? These things, Mālukyaputta are connected with benefit, they are fundamental to the holy life, and lead to the cessation of suffering. Therefore I have declared them. Therefore, Mālukyaputta, [432] remember what I have not declared as undeclared, and remember what I have declared as declared.”

Thus spoke the Blessed One. Delighted, Venerable Mālukyaputta rejoiced in what the Blessed One had said.

#CūḷamālukyaSuttaṃTopNotes:

1.  The spelling is Māluṅkyaputta in the Sihala, Thai, Cambodian, and Roman texts. Mālukyaputta was the son of Mālukya. He became a wanderer when he came of age, and later ordained on hearing the Buddha teach. The Buddha taught him two other discourses — the Mahāmālukyaputta Sutta, where the Buddha criticises Mālukyaputta for his faulty understanding of the five lower fetters, and the Mālukyaputta Sutta, after which he attained Arahantship. See the Venerable Mahāsi Sayādaw’s Discourse on the Mālukyaputta Sutta.

2. The four castes: khattiya, brāhmaṇa, vessa, and sudda. In the Buddha’s time, and still today in India, these four castes often define a man’s position in society.

3.  This plant has strong fibres, and is known as Indian Bowstring. Its latex is an effective poison, so using this plant for bow-strings is doubly useful.

4. Vulture (gijjha), heron (kaṅka), peacock (mora), stork (sithilahanu), lit. a loose jaw.

5. The Burmese text has bheravassa (terrifying), which the Commentary glosses as a black lion (kālasīhassa). The Sihala text has a variant reading of roruvassa, which is a red deer (rohitā rurū).

6. The Commentary glosses semhāra as a monkey (makkaṭa).

7. Oleander-leaf (karavīrapatta). The flower has a spiked leaf.