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Kevaṭṭa Suttaṃ

(D.i.211)

A Discourse to Kevaṭṭa

The Householder’s Son Kevaṭṭa

481. Thus have I heard — at one time the Blessed One was dwelling at Nāḷandā in Pāvārika’s mango grove. Then the householder’s son Kevaṭṭa approached the Blessed One, and having approached, paid homage, and sat down at one side. Sitting at one side, the householder’s son Kevaṭṭa said to the Blessed One: “Venerable sir, this Nāḷandā is prosperous, wealthy, and populous, full of people who have faith in the Blessed One. It would be good, Venerable sir, if the Blessed One would instruct one monk to perform a superhuman ¹ mystic wonder (pāṭihāriya) of psychic power (iddhi), thus this Nāḷandā would grow in faith for the Blessed One.”

When this was said, the Blessed One said to Kevaṭṭa, the householder’s son: “I do not, Kevaṭṭa, teach the Dhamma to the monks thus: ‘Go and perform a superhuman feat of psychic power for householders dressed in white.”

482. [A second and a third time, Kevaṭṭa, the householder’s son, repeated his request, and the Blessed One replied as before]. [212]

The Mystic Wonder of Psychic Powers

483. “Kevaṭṭa, there are these three mystic wonders (pāṭihāriya) which, having realised them myself by direct knowledge, I explain them. What three? The mystic wonder of psychic power (iddhipāṭihāriya), the mystic wonder of mind-reading (ādesanāpāṭihāriyaṃ), and the mystic wonder of instruction (anusāsanīpāṭihāriyaṃ).

484. “What, Kevaṭṭa, is the mystic wonder of psychic power (iddhipāṭihāriya)? Here, Kevaṭṭa, a monk displays various kinds of psychic power. Having been one, he becomes many; having been many, he becomes one; having been visible, he becomes invisible; having been invisible, he becomes visible; he passes through fences, walls, and mountains unhindered as if it was air; he plunges into the earth and emerges from it as if it was water; he sits cross-legged in the sky like a bird with wings; he touches with his hand the sun and the moon, mighty though they are; [213] he goes with his body even to the Brahma world.

“Then a certain person with faith (saddho) and devotion (passanosees that monk display various kinds of psychic power … Brahma world.

“Then that person with faith and devotion tells a person without faith and devotion: ‘It is wonderful, friend! It is marvellous, friend! The recluses are of great power and skill. Our monk displays various kinds of psychic power. Having been one, he becomes many … even to the Brahma world.

“Then that person without faith and devotion would say: ‘There is, friend, the Gandhārī charm. With that your monk displays various kinds of psychic power … Brahma world.

“What do you think, Kevaṭṭa? Wouldn’t a person without faith and devotion say that?” “They would say that, Venerable sir.” “Seeing that danger in the mystic wonder of psychic powers, Kevaṭṭa, I am troubled by ³ the mystic wonder of psychic powers, I am ashamed of it, and I shun it.”

The Mystic Wonder of Mind-reading

485. “What, Kevaṭṭa, is the mystic wonder of mind-reading? Here, Kevaṭṭa, a monk points out the thoughts of other beings, of other individuals, he points out their thoughts and reflections: ‘Thus is your mind, your wish, thus are your thoughts.’

“Then a certain person with faith and devotion sees that monk sees that monk pointing out the thoughts of other beings, of other individuals … ‘ Thus is your mind, your wish, thus are your thoughts.’ Then that person with faith and devotion tells a person without faith and devotion: [214] ‘It is wonderful, friend! It is marvellous, friend! The recluses are of great power and skill. Our monk points out the thoughts of others … thus are your thoughts.’

“Then that person without faith and devotion would say: ‘There is, friend, the Maṇikā charm. With that your monk reads the thoughts of other beings, or other individuals … ‘ Thus is your mind, your wish, thus are your thoughts.’

“What do you think, Kevaṭṭa? Wouldn’t a person without faith and devotion say that?” “They would say that, Venerable sir.” “Seeing that danger in the mystic wonder of mind-reading, Kevaṭṭa, I am troubled by the mystic wonder of mind-reading, I am ashamed of it, and I shun it.

The Mystic Wonder of Instruction

486. “What, Kevaṭṭa, is the mystic wonder of instruction? Here, Kevaṭṭa, a monk instructs thus: ‘Apply your mind thus, do not apply your mind thus, pay attention thus, do not pay attention thus, reject this, cultivate that and abide in it.’ This, Kevaṭṭa, is called the mystic wonder of instruction.

“Again, Kevaṭṭa, a Tathāgata arises in the world … [continued as in the Sāmaññaphala Sutta, which is similar, but not identical to, the Mahātaṇhāsaṅkhaya Sutta] [215] This, Kevaṭṭa, is called the mystic wonder of instruction.

“These three mystic wonders, Kevaṭṭa, having realised them myself with direct knowledge, I explain them.”

The Story of a Monk and the Cessation of the Four Elements

487. “At one time, Kevaṭṭa, in this order of monks, this train of thought arose in a certain monk: ‘Where do these four great elements cease without remainder, that is to say, the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element?’

488. “Then, Kevaṭṭa, that monk attained such a state of concentration that the path to the realm of gods arose in him.⁴ Then, Kevaṭṭa, that monk approached the deities of the Four Great Kings, and having approached them said to those deities: ‘Where do these four great elements cease without remainder, that is to say, the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element?’

“When this was said, Kevaṭṭa, the deities of the Four Great Kings said to that monk: ‘Monk, we also do not know where the four great elements cease without remainder, that is to say, the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element. There are, monk, the Four Great Kings who surpass us and are superior to us. They may know where the four great elements cease without remainder … ’

489. “Then, Kevaṭṭa, that monk approached the Four Great Kings … the deities of the Thirty-three (Tāvatiṃsa) …[216]

490. “Then, Kevaṭṭa, that monk approached the deities of the Thirty-three …[217]

491. “Then, Kevaṭṭa, that monk approached Sakka the king of the gods … the Yāma gods … the deity Suyāma … [218] the gods of Tusita … the god Santussito … the Nimmānaratī gods … [219] the god Sunimmito … the Paranimmitavasavattī gods … the god Vasavattī …

492. “Then, Kevaṭṭa, that monk approached the god Vasavattī … the Brahmakāyika gods who surpass me and are superior to me. [220] They may know where the four great elements cease without remainder … ’

493. Then, Kevaṭṭa, that monk attained such a state of concentration that the path to the realm of Brahma arose in him. Then, Kevaṭṭa, that monk approached the Brahmakāyika gods, and having approached them said to those deities: ‘Where, friends, do these four great elements cease without remainder, that is to say, the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element?’

“When this was said, Kevaṭṭa, the Brahmakāyika deities said to that monk: ‘Monk, we also do not know where the four great elements cease without remainder, that is to say, the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element. There is, monk, Brahma, the Great Brahma, the Almighty (abhibhū), the invincible (anabhibhūto), the Omniscient (aññadatthudaso), the Lord (vasavattī), the ruler (issaro), the maker (katta), the Creator (nimmātā), the supreme (seṭṭho), the originator (sajitā), the master (vasī), the father (pitā) of all that exists and will exist (bhūtabhabyānaṃ) who surpasses us and is superior to us. He may know where the four great elements cease without remainder … ’

“Where, friends, is that Great Brahma now?” “We do not know, monk, where Brahma is, nor from where he will appear, nor when he will appear. However, monk, when a sign is seen, a light is born, radiance appears, Brahma will appear, these are signs of his appearance. Then, Kevaṭṭa, before long the Great Brahma appeared. [221]

494. “Then, Kevaṭṭa, that monk approached the Great Brahma, and having approached, said to that Great Brahma: ‘Where, friend, do these four great elements cease without remainder, that is to say, the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element?’ When this was said, Kevaṭṭa, the Great Brahma said to that monk: ‘I am, monk, Brahma, the Great Brahma, the Almighty, the invincible, the Omniscient, the Lord, the ruler, the maker, the Creator, the supreme, the originator, the master, the father of all that exists and will exist.’

“Then a second time, Kevaṭṭa, that bhikkhu spoke to the Great Brahma: ‘I did not, friend ask you thus: ‘Are you Brahma, the Great Brahma, the Almighty, the invincible, the Omniscient, the Lord, the ruler, the maker, the Creator, the supreme, the originator, the master, the father of all that exists and will exist.’ I asked you thus, friend, ‘Where do these four great elements cease without remainder, that is to say, the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element?’

“Then a second time, Kevaṭṭa, the Great Brahma said to that monk: ‘I am, monk, Brahma, the Great Brahma, the Almighty, the invincible, the Omniscient, the Lord, the ruler, the maker, the Creator, the supreme, the originator, the master, the father of all that exists and will exist.’

“Then a third time, Kevaṭṭa, that bhikkhu spoke to the Great Brahma: ‘I did not, friend ask you thus: ‘Are you Brahma, the Great Brahma, the Almighty, the invincible, the Omniscient, the Lord, the ruler, the maker, the Creator, the supreme, the originator, the master, the father of all that exists and will exist.’ I asked you thus, friend, ‘Where do these four great elements cease without remainder, that is to say, the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element?’

495. “Then, Kevaṭṭa, the Great Brahma, having taken that monk by the arm and led him aside,⁵ [222] said to that monk: ‘These Brahmakāyika gods believe (jānanti) thus: “There is nothing that the Brahma does not know, there is nothing that the Brahma does not see, there is nothing that the Brahma does not understand, there is nothing that the Brahma does not realise.” Therefore, I did not speak in their presence. I too, monk, do not know where the four great elements cease without remainder, that is to say, the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element. Therefore, monk, the fault is yours, the mistake is yours, that you have bypassed the Blessed One and sought the answer to your question elsewhere. Go, monk, to that Blessed One, and having approached him, ask him this question, however the Blessed One replies, that is how you should bear it in mind.”

496. “Then, Kevaṭṭa, that monk as a strong man would stretch out his bent arm, or bend his outstretched arm he departed from the Brahma realm and appeared in front of me. Then, Kevaṭṭa, that monk, having paid homage, sat down at one side. Sitting at one side, Kevaṭṭa, that monk said to me, ‘Where do these four great elements cease without remainder, that is to say, the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element?’”

The Simile of the Shore-finding Bird

497. “When this was said, Kevaṭṭa, I said to that monk: ‘At one time, monk, ocean-going merchants, taking a shore-finding bird entered the ocean with their ship. Not able to see the shore, they would release the shore-finding bird from the ship. It would fly to the east, south, west, and north, up and down, flying in all directions. If it saw the shore, it would fly in that direction. If it was not able to see the shore, it would return to the ship. Thus in this way, monk, you have sought the answer to your question [223] as far as the Brahma realm, but not finding it, you have returned to my presence. However, monk, this question should not be asked thus: ‘Where do these four great elements cease without remainder, that is to say, the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element?’

498. “This is how, monk, the question should be asked —

“Where do water and earth, fire and air, find no firm footing? ⁶
Where are long and short, small and large, beautiful and ugly,
Where are mind and matter annihilated without remainder?

499. “The answer to that is —

“In that consciousness that is invisible,⁷ immeasurable, radiant in every respect.
Here, water and earth, fire and air, find no firm footing.
Here, long and short, small and large, beautiful and ugly,
Here, mind and matter are annihilated without remainder.
With the cessation of consciousness, here this is annihilated.”

500. Thus spoke the Blessed One. Delighted, Kevaṭṭa the householder’s son rejoiced in what the Blessed One had said.

Notes:

1. Superhuman (uttarimanussadhamma). A state that is beyond the capability of ordinary human beings. A Vinaya rule forbids monks from exhibiting such powers. I do not know if the rule was laid down before or after the events described here.

2. Maurice Walshe translates these two terms (saddho passano) as “one with faith and trust,” and their opposites (assaddho appassano) as “one who is sceptical and unbelieving.” Ajahn Thanissaro translates them as “faith and conviction,” and “without faith and conviction.” The word “passano” is from the verb pasīdati = to be pleased, calm, peaceful, to find satisfaction.

3. Troubled by (aṭṭīyāmi), ashamed of it (harāyāmi), and shun it (jigucchāmi). The Buddha is free from anxiety and all other mental defilements, but he is concerned for the welfare of all beings. In this case, one without faith and devotion would have unwholesome thoughts that monks exhibiting mystic wonders are using magic tricks to deceive others. When illusionists perform magic tricks, some gullible people are deceived and shocked, while those who know how the tricks are done, or those who are sceptical are not deceived, even if they do not know the method, they know that is just an illusion. Superhuman feats are not tricks, but genuine psychic powers gained by those with deep concentration. To convince the sceptical it is better to use the miracle of instruction.

4. When relating this long account of a monk with psychic powers who is able to visit the various celestial realms, the Buddha is not troubled that Kevaṭṭa, who has faith and devotion, might not believe him. The Buddhist texts contain many such accounts of psychic powers, mind-reading, predictions, and deities visiting the Buddha or a forest monk to ask questions. The well known Maṅgala Sutta is just one example, where the Buddha replies to a question asked by a deity.

5. The irony of this passage is hilarious. Whoever says that the Buddha lacked a sense of humour is not familiar with such passages. The Great Brahma who is extolled, and extols himself in such magnificent terms as Almighty, Omniscient, the Lord of all beings that exist or that will exist, and so forth, knows himself that it just a vain pretence that he has to maintain to save face with his sycophantic junior deities. That is why I translate “jānanti,” as “believe,” rather than with its usual meaning of “know.” The Buddha often mocked the Brahmins, who believed that Brahma was their Almighty Creator.

6. This is, of course, a very different question. The four elements do not cease when an Arahant attains nibbāna.

7. The consciousness that is invisible (anidassanaṃ) is a term for the mind that knows nibbāna. One who realises nibbāna is not unconscious; the mind takes nibbāna as its object. Nibbāna cannot be seen, heard, smelt, tasted, nor touched. However, it can be known by the mind.


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