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Cūḷasaccaka Suttaṃ

(M.i.227)

The Lesser Discourse to Saccaka

Introduction

This discourse on the important topic of not-self reflects the same teaching in the Discourse on Not-self, given to the group of five monks including the Venerable Assaji, who is also featured here. It leads no room for speculation that there is any soul that performs actions or experiences consciousness. Although Saccaka is humbled and offers alms to the Buddha and the Saṅgha the following day, he does not take refuge or seek ordination. Again, aefter the Mahāsaccaka Sutta he expresses great admiration for the Buddha, but does not take refuge or seek ordination. It is said in the Commentary to the Mahāsaccaka Sutta (MA.i.469 f) that, in a later birth, long after the Buddha’s death, Saccaka was born in Sri Lanka as the Thera Kāḷa-Buddharakkhita and attained Arahantship.

Translation

353. Thus have I heard — at one time the Blessed One was staying at Vesāli in the great forest at the peaked hall. Then on that occasion Saccaka, the son of a naked ascetic,¹ was staying at Vesāli. He was regarded as a keen debater, a clever speaker, and virtuous (sādhu). He went about Vesāli proclaiming this statement: “I do not see any recluse or brahmin, any leader and teacher of a group, even one claiming to be a worthy one and a fully enlightened Buddha, who if engaged in debate with me would not tremble and shake, be afraid, and sweat under the armpits. Even a senseless pillar, if it engaged in debate with me, would tremble and shake, and be afraid, so what can be said regarding a human-being‽”

Then the Venerable Assaji, in the early morning, having put on the robes and taken the almsbowl, entered Vesāli for alms. Saccaka, while walking and wandering about, [228] saw the Venerable Assaji coming from a distance. Having seen him, he approached the Venerable Assaji, and having approached, exchanged friendly greetings. Having engaged in friendly conversation he stood at one side. Standing at one side, Saccaka said to the Venerable Assaji: “How, friend Assaji, does the recluse Gotama train his disciples, how does he usually instruct them?”

“This, Aggivessana, is how the Blessed One trains his disciples, this is how he usually instructs them: ‘Form, monks, is impermanent, feeling is impermanent, perception is impermanent, mental formations are impermanent, consciousness is impermanent. Form, monks, is not self, feeling is not self, perception is not self, mental formations are not self, consciousness is not self. All mental formations are impermanent, all phenomena are not self.’ This, Aggivessana, is how the Blessed One trains his disciples, this is how he usually instructs them.”

“This is bad to hear, friend Assaji, if this is what the doctrine of the recluse Gotama. Perhaps we will meet the Venerable Gotama some time, and have some conversation with him. Perhaps we can dissuade him from this evil view.”

354. Then on that occasion five hundred Licchavī were gathered in the council hall on some business. Then Saccaka approached the Licchavī, having approached he said to them: “Come, good Licchavī, come! Today I will have some conversation with the recluse Gotama. If the recluse Gotama maintains what is maintained by his well-known disciple — namely, the Venerable Assaji — it will be as if a strong man, having grabbed a long-haired ram by the fleece, would drag it back and forth and drag it along, in the same way I will drag the recluse Gotama back and forth and drag him along in debate as a strong distiller’s labourer drags a big distiller’s basket in a deep water tank back and forth and drags it along. It will be as if a strong distiller’s washerman [229] having grasped a sieve by the corners would shake and pound it, in the same way I will shake and pound the recluse Gotama in debate. It will be as if a sixty year old elephant, having gone down into a pond, played the game of hemp-washing, in the same way I will play the game of hemp-washing with the recluse Gotama. Come, good Licchavī, come! Today I will have some discussion with the recluse Gotama!”

Some of the Licchavī said: “Who is the recluse Gotama that he can refute Saccaka in debate? Saccaka will refute the recluse Gotama in debate!” Some said: “Who is Saccaka that he can refute the recluse Gotama in debate? The recluse Gotama will refute Saccaka in debate!” Then Saccaka approached the peaked hall in the great forest, surrounded by five hundred Licchavī.

355. Then on that occasion many monks were practising walking meditation in the open. Then Saccaka approached those monks, and having approached said to them: “Where, friends, is the Venerable Gotama now staying? We wish to meet the Venerable Gotama.”

“Aggivessana, the Blessed One has entered the great forest and is sitting at the root of such and such a tree for the day.”

Then Saccaka, with the large following of Licchavī entered the great forest and approached the Blessed One. Having approached, he exchanged friendly greetings, and having engaged in polite conversation, sat down at one side. Some of those Licchavī, having paid homage to the Blessed One, sat down at one side. Some, having exchanged friendly greetings, and having engaged in polite conversation, sat down at one side. Some, having greeted the Blessed One with joined palms, sat down at one side. Some, having announced their name and clan, sat down at one side. Some, remaining silent, sat down at one side

356. Sitting at one side, Saccaka said to the Blessed one: “I would ask the Blessed One a question if the Venerable Gotama would grant me leave to ask it.”

“Ask whatever you wish, Aggivessana.” [230]

“How does the Venerable Gotama train his disciples, how does he usually instruct them?”

“This, Aggivessana,³ is how I train my disciples, ‘Form, monks, is impermanent, feeling is impermanent, perception is impermanent, mental formations are impermanent, consciousness is impermanent. Form, monks, is not self, feeling is not self, perception is not self, mental formations are not self, consciousness is not self. All mental formations are impermanent, all phenomena are not self.’ This, Aggivessana, is how I train my disciples, this is how I usually instruct them.”

“A simile occurs to me, friend Gotama.”

“How does it occur to you, Aggivessana,” the Blessed One said.

“It is as if, friend Gotama, whatever plants grow, increase, and prosper, all of them do so dependent on the earth; and, friend Gotama, just as whatever work needing strength is carried out, it is carried out dependent on the earth; in the same way, friend Gotama, a person has physical form as self, and dependent on physical form performs merit and demerit. A person has feeling as self, and dependent on feeling performs merit and demerit. A person has perception as self, and dependent on perception performs merit and demerit. A person has mental formations as self, and dependent on mental formations performs merit and demerit. A person has consciousness as self, and dependent on consciousness performs merit and demerit.”

“Do you, Aggivessana, not declare: ‘Form is my self, feeling is my self, perception is my self, mental formations are my self, consciousness is my self’?”

“I do, friend Gotama, thus declare: ‘Form is my self, feeling is my self, perception is my self, mental formations are my self, consciousness is my self’ and so does this multitude of people.”

“What does this multitude of people have to do with you, Aggivessana? Please clarify your own position only.”

“I do, friend Gotama, thus declare: ‘Form is my self, feeling is my self, perception is my self, mental formations are my self, consciousness is my self’.”

357. “Then indeed, Aggivessana, I will cross-question you, please reply as you see fit. [231] What do you think, Aggivessana, would a head-anointed king living in his own kingdom, for example King Pasenadi of Kosala or King Ajātasattu of Māgadha, be able to execute whomsoever deserved execution, to fine whomsoever deserved to be fined, to banish whoever deserved to be banished?”

“Yes, friend Gotama, a head anointed king living in his own kingdom, for example King Pasenadi of Kosala or King Ajātasattu of Māgadha, would be able to execute whomsoever deserved execution, to fine whomsoever deserved to be fined, to banish whoever deserved to be banished. Even these groups of Vajjī and Mallā would be able to do that, let alone head-anointed kings such as King Pasenadi or King Ajātasattu. They would have the power, friend Gotama, and would be worthy of it.”

“What do you think, Aggivessana? You declare: ‘Physical form is my self,’ do you have the power to say ‘May my physical form be thus, may my physical form not be thus’?”

When this was said, Saccaka was silent. A second time the Blessed One asked the same question, and again Saccaka was silent. Then the Blessed One said: “Answer now, Aggivessana, it is not the time to remain silent. Whoever, Aggivessana, when rightfully asked a question by a Tathāgata up to the third time, does not answer, his head will split into seven pieces here and now.”

Then on that occasion, the spirit thunderbolt-in-hand,⁴ having taken up an iron thunderbolt that was burning and blazing, was poised in the air above Saccaka: “If Saccaka does not answer the Blessed One even when asked for the third time, I will split his head into seven pieces.’ The Blessed One and Saccaka could see the spirit thunderbolt-in-hand. Then Saccaka, terrified, agitated with his hair standing on end, [232] seeking protection, shelter, and refuge from the Blessed One himself, said: “Ask me Venerable Gotama, I will answer.”

358. “What do you think, Aggivessana, you declare: ‘Physical form is my self,’ do you have the power to say ‘May my physical form be thus, may my physical form not be thus’?”

“Indeed not, friend Gotama.”

“Pay attention, Aggivessana, pay attention to how you reply, Aggivessana. What you said before does not agree with what you said afterwards. What you said afterwards does not agree with what you said before. “What do you think, Aggivessana, you declare: ‘Feeling is my self,’ do you have the power to say ‘May my feeling be thus, may my feeling not be thus’?”

“Indeed not, friend Gotama.”

“Pay attention, Aggivessana, pay attention to how you reply, Aggivessana. What you said before does not agree with what you said afterwards. What you said afterwards does not agree with what you said before. “What do you think, Aggivessana, you declare: ‘Perception is my self,’ do you have the power to say ‘May my perception be thus, may my perception not be thus’?”

“Indeed not, friend Gotama.”

“Pay attention, Aggivessana, pay attention to how you reply, Aggivessana. What you said before does not agree with what you said afterwards. What you said afterwards does not agree with what you said before. “What do you think, Aggivessana, you declare: ‘Mental formations are my self,’ do you have the power to say ‘May my mental formations be thus, may my mental formations not be thus’?”

“Indeed not, friend Gotama.”

“Pay attention, Aggivessana, pay attention to how you reply, Aggivessana. What you said before does not agree with what you said afterwards. What you said afterwards does not agree with what you said before. “What do you think, Aggivessana, you declare: ‘Consciousness is my self,’ do you have the power to say ‘May my consciousness be thus, may my consciousness not be thus’?”

“Indeed not, friend Gotama.”

“Pay attention, Aggivessana, pay attention to how you reply, Aggivessana. What you said before does not agree with what you said afterwards. What you said afterwards does not agree with what you said before. What do you think, Aggivessana, is physical form permanent or impermanent?”

“It is impermanent, friend Gotama.”

“Is that which is impermanent, suffering or happiness?”

“It is suffering, friend Gotama.”

“That which is suffering and subject to change, is it suitable to regard it as: ‘This is mine, I am this, [233] this is my self’?”

“Indeed not, friend Gotama.”

“What do you think, Aggivessana, is feeling ... perception ... mental formations ... consciousness permanent or impermanent?”

“It is impermanent, friend Gotama.”

“Is that which is impermanent, suffering or happiness?”

“It is suffering, friend Gotama.”

“That which is suffering and subject to change, is it suitable to regard it as: ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self’?”

“Indeed not, friend Gotama.”

“What do you think, Aggivessana, could one who is suffering, who clings to suffering, is overpowered by suffering, intent on suffering, regarding suffering as ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self,’ fully understand suffering or abide having destroyed suffering?”

“How could one, friend Gotama, indeed not, friend Gotama.”

“What do you think, Aggivessana, are you suffering, clinging to suffering, overpowered by suffering, intent on suffering, regarding suffering as ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self’?”

“How could I not, friend Gotama, indeed I am, friend Gotama.”

359. “It is as if, Aggivessana, a man in need of heartwood, seeking heartwood, on a quest for heartwood, having taken a sharp axe, should enter a forest grove. There he might see a big plantain trunk, straight, young, not of great height. He would cut it down at the root, cut off the crown, and unroll the sheaves. When unrolling the sheaves he would not find any sapwood, let alone any heartwood. In the same way, Aggivessana, when you are cross-questioned, pressed, and examined by me about your view you are found to be empty, foolish, and wrong. However, you made this statement in the assembly at Vesāli: ‘I do not see any recluse or brahmin, any leader and teacher of a group, even one claiming to be a worthy one and a fully enlightened Buddha, who if engaged in debate with me would not tremble and shake, be afraid, and sweat under the armpits. Even a senseless pillar, if it engaged in debate with me, would tremble and shake, and be afraid, so what can be said regarding a human-being‽’ Yet, Aggivessana, you are sweating from the armpits, with beads of perspiration on your forehead, and having soaked through your upper robe sweat is dripping on the ground. There is no sweat on my body, Aggivessana, and saying this the Blessed One exposed his golden body to the assembly.” [234]

When this was said, Saccaka sat silent, crest-fallen, with shoulders drooping, with his face cast down, overcome with remorse, and unable to reply.

360. Then Dummukha,⁵ the son of a Licchavī, seeing Saccaka sitting silent, crest-fallen, with shoulders drooping, with his face cast down, overcome with remorse, and unable to reply, said this to the Blessed One: “A simile occurs to me, Blessed One.”

“Explain it, Dummukha, the Blessed One said.”

“It is as if, venerable sir, there was a pond not far from a village or a market town, wherein there was a crab. Then, venerable sir, many boys or girls from that village, having come out, approached that pond, and having approached, descended into that pond, and having dragged that crab out of the pond, put it on dry ground. Whichever direction, venerable sir, the crab would extend a claw, there a boy or a girl would cut it off, break it, or crush it with a stick or a stone. Thus, venerable sir, with all of its claws cut off, broken, or crushed it would be unable to descend into the pond as before. In the same way, venerable sir, all of Saccaka’s twisting, trickery, and wriggling have been cut off, broken, and crushed by the Blessed One, and Saccaka is now unable to approach the Blessed One again for the purpose of debate.”

When this was said, Saccaka said to Dummukha: “Wait, Dummukha, wait. We are not discussing with you, here we are discussing with the good Gotama.”

361. “Set aside, friend Gotama, our talk and that of ordinary recluses and priests; I think it was idle-chatter. In what way, good Gotama, does a disciple who carries out his teaching, who follows his advice, transcend doubt, become free from uncertainty, gain assurance, and become independent of others in the teacher’s dispensation?”

“Herein, Aggivessana, my disciple regards whatever physical form, past, future, or present, interior or exterior, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, all of it: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self,’ thus seeing and understanding it with perfect wisdom as it really is; [235] whatever feeling … perception … mental formation … whatever consciousness past, future, or present, interior or exterior, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, all of it: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self,’ thus seeing and understanding it with perfect wisdom as it really is. In this way, Aggivessana, my disciple carries out my teaching, follows my advice, transcends doubt, becomes free from uncertainty, gains assurance, and becomes independent of others in the teacher’s dispensation.”

“In what way, good Gotama, is a monk a worthy one, with the outflows destroyed, having lived the holy life, having put down the burden, having reached the goal, destroyed the fetters of becoming, and is liberated by perfect knowledge?”

“Herein, Aggivessana, my disciple regards whatever physical form, past, future, or present, interior or exterior, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, all of it: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self,’ thus seeing and understanding it with perfect wisdom as it really is, he is liberated without remainder; [235] whatever feeling … perception … mental formation … whatever consciousness past, future, or present, interior or exterior, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, all of it: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self,’ thus seeing and understanding it with perfect wisdom as it really is, he is liberated without remainder. In this way, Aggivessana, a monk is a worthy one, with the outflows destroyed, having lived the holy life, having put down the burden, having reached the goal, destroyed the fetters of becoming, and is liberated by perfect knowledge. With the mind thus liberated, Aggivessana, a monk is endowed with three incomparable qualities: incomparable vision, incomparable practice, and incomparable liberation. Thus with the mind liberated, Aggivessana, a monk still respects, honours, praises, and pays homage — the Blessed One is awakened and teaches the Dhamma for awakening, the Blessed One is tamed, and teaches the Dhamma for taming, the Blessed One is at peace and teaches the Dhamma for peace, the Blessed One has transcended (suffering) and teaches the Dhamma for transcendence (of suffering), the Blessed One has attained final cessation and teaches the Dhamma for the final cessation (of suffering).”

362. When this was said, Saccaka said to the Blessed One: [236] “Friend Gotama, we were offensive, we were impudent, in that we thought we could assail the Venerable Gotama in debate. A man might attack an elephant in rut, yet escape safely, but he could not assail the Venerable Gotama, and escape safely. A man might assail a blazing fire, yet escape safely, but he could not assail the Venerable Gotama, and escape safely. A man might attack a terrifying venomous snake, yet escape safely, but he could not assail the Venerable Gotama, and escape safely. We were offensive, friend Gotama, we were impudent, that we thought we could assail the Venerable Gotama in debate. May the Venerable Gotama consent to accept tomorrow’s meal together with the community of monks.” The Blessed One consented by remaining silent.

363. Then Saccaka, having understood that the Blessed One had consented, addressed the Licchavī: “Listen to me, good Licchavī, the recluse Gotama has been invited for tomorrow’s meal together with the community of monks. You may bring me whatever you think would be suitable.”

Then those Licchavī, when the night had passed, brought five hundred dishes of milk rice to Saccaka. Then Saccaka, having had superior soft and hard food prepared in his own monastery, sent a message to announce that the meal was ready: “It is time, friend Gotama, the meal is complete.” Then in the early morning, the Blessed One put on the robes, and taking the almsbowl, approached the monastery of Saccaka, having approached, he sat down on the prepared seat, accompanied by the community of monks. Then Saccaka served and satisfied with his own hand the community of monks with the Blessed One at the head with superior soft and hard food. Then when the Blessed One had eaten and withdrawn his hand from the bowl, Saccaka took a certain low seat and sat at one side. Sitting at one side, Saccaka said to the Blessed One: “Friend Gotama, may the merit of this almsgiving be for the happiness of the givers.”

“Whatever, Aggivessana, accrues from giving to one who is not free from passion, ill-will, and delusion, that will be for the givers.⁶ Whatever, Aggivessana, accrues from giving to one like me who is free from passion, ill-will, and delusion, that will be for you.”

Notes:

1. His parents — both naked ascetics — were great debaters. The Licchavī were his supporters.

2. Clearly, some of the Licchavī already had faith in the Buddha, while others did not.

3. The Buddha addressed Saccaka by the name of his clan.

4. Thunderbolt-in-hand (Vajirapāṇi), the Commentary says is Sakka.

5. The name means “sad or unfriendly looking.” However, the Commentary explains that he was good-looking and amiable.

6. This is an important point. Those who prepare almsfood for the monks and bring it to offer to the monks, should give it with their own hand, not just leave it for others to offer it. The monks are not allowed to partake of the almsfood unless it is given to them by someone standing within arms-reach, at the right time, which is after first light and before midday on the day that it is to be eaten. To make the greatest possible merit, the donors should offer the food to the Saṅgha. Any monk can accept the food on behalf of the Saṅgha.