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Rathavinīta Suttaṃ

(M.i.145)

A Discourse on the Relay of Chariots

Introduction

This dialogue between two eminent disciples — Venerable Sāriputta and Venerable Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta — explains how the seven purifications in the progress of insight lead step-by-step to the final goal.

I have abbreviated the translation in places to avoid some repetitions that are not needed when writing.

Translation

Thus have I heard — At one time the Blessed One was dwelling at Rājagaha in the Squirrels’ Sanctuary in the Bamboo Grove. Then many monks from the birth place of the Blessed One,¹ having spent the Rains Retreat there (in Kapilavatthu), approached the Blessed One and having paid homage, sat at one side. To those monks sitting at one side the Blessed One said — “Among the monks from my birth place is there any monk about whom his companions in the holy life say: ‘Having few wishes (appiccho) himself he speaks to the monks on fewness of wishes; being contented (santuṭṭho) himself he speaks to the monks on contentment; being secluded (pavivitto) himself he speaks to the monks on seclusion;² being aloof (asaṃsaṭṭho) himself he speaks to the monks on aloofness;² being energetic (āraddhavīriyo) himself he speaks to the monk on being energetic; being endowed with virtue (sīlasampanno) himself he speaks to the monks on being endowed with virtue; being endowed with concentration (samādhisampanno) himself he speaks to the monks on being endowed with concentration; being endowed with wisdom (paññāsampanno) himself he speaks to the monks on being endowed with wisdom; being endowed with liberation (vimuttisampanno) himself he speaks to the monks on being endowed with liberation; being endowed with knowledge and vision of liberation (vimuttiñāṇadassanasampanno) himself he speaks to the monks on being endowed with knowledge and vision of liberation; he is one who advises (ovādako), teaches (viññāpako), instructs (sandassako), rouses (samādapako), urges (samuttejako), and gladdens (sampahaṃsako) his fellows in the holy life.”

“Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta, venerable sir, is esteemed as such a monk ³ by his fellows in the holy life from the birth place of the Blessed One.”

On that occasion, the Venerable Sāriputta was sitting not far from the Blessed One. Then the Venerable Sāriputta thought — “It is a great gain for the Venerable Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta that his fellows in the holy life praise him point by point in the presence of the teacher. Perhaps I may meet Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta at some time and have some conversation with him.”

Then when the Blessed One had stayed at Rājagaha as long as he wished, he set out on tour for Sāvatthi, and walking in stages he arrived at Sāvatthi and stayed there. There he stayed in Prince Jeta’s grove in the monastery of Anāthapiṇḍika. The Venerable Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta heard: “The Blessed One has now arrived at Sāvatthi and is dwelling in Prince Jeta’s grove in the monastery of Anāthapiṇḍika.”

Then the Venerable Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta put his dwelling place in order, and taking his robes and bowl, set off for Sāvatthi.⁴ Walking in stages he arrived at Prince Jeta’s grove in Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery and approached the Blessed One. Having approached, he paid homage to the Blessed One and sat down at one side. The Blessed One instructed, roused, urged, and gladdened Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta with talk on the Dhamma as he was sitting at one side. Thus being instructed, roused, urged, and gladdened by talk on the Dhamma, having delighted in and appreciated what the Blessed One had said, rose from his seat, paid homage, and having departed keeping his right side towards the Blessed One, went to a forest grove to spend the day.

Then a certain monk approached the Venerable Sāriputta, and having approached him said: “That bhikkhu, friend Sāriputta, named Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta whom you have often praised, has just left the Blessed One’s presence ⁵ to spend the day in a forest grove.”

Then the Venerable Sāriputta taking a sitting cloth followed behind him, keeping his head in view. Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta having entered a forest grove, sat at the foot of a certain tree to spend the day. Venerable Sāriputta, too, having entered the forest grove, sat at the foot of a certain tree to spend the day.

Then the Venerable Sāriputta, have spent the day in meditation, when it was evening approached the Venerable Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta and exchanged friendly greetings. Having exchanged friendly greetings and polite conversation he sat down at one side. Sitting at one side, the Venerable Sāriputta said to the Venerable Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta:

Q:Friend,⁶ is the holy life lived under the Blessed One?”

A: “Indeed it is, friend.”

Q: “Is the holy life, friend, lived for the sake of purification of morality?” (sīlavisuddhi)

A: “Indeed it is not, friend.”

Q: “Is the holy life, friend, lived for the sake of purification of mind?” (cittavisuddhi)

A: “Indeed it is not, friend.”

Q: “Is the holy life, friend, lived for the sake of purification of view?” (diṭṭhivisuddhi)

A: “Indeed it is not, friend.”

Q: “Is the holy life, friend, lived for the sake of purification by overcoming doubt?” (kaṅkhāvitaraṇavisuddhi)

A: “Indeed it is not, friend.”

Q: “Is the holy life, friend, lived for the sake of purification of knowledge and vision of what is path and not-path?” (maggāmaggañāṇadassanavisuddhi)

A: “Indeed it is not, friend.”

Q: “Is the holy life, friend, lived for the sake of purification of knowledge and vision of the course of practice?” (paṭipadāñāṇadassanavisuddhi)

A: “Indeed it is not, friend.”

Q: “Is the holy life, friend, lived for the sake of purification by knowledge and vision?” (ñāṇadassanavisuddhi)

A: “Indeed it is not, friend.”

Q: “When asked, ‘Is the holy life, friend, lived for the sake of purification of morality?’ you say, ‘Indeed it is not, friend.’ When asked … you say, ‘Indeed it is not, friend.’ Then for what purpose, friend, is the holy life lived under the Blessed One?”

A: “The holy life, friend, is lived under the Blessed One for final cessation without remainder ⁸ (anupādāparinibbānatthaṃ).”

Q: “Is purification of morality final cessation without remainder?”

A: “Indeed it is not, friend.

Q: “Is purification of mind final cessation without remainder?”

A: “Indeed it is not, friend.

Q: “Is purification of view final cessation without remainder?”

A: “Indeed it is not, friend.

Q: “Is purification by overcoming doubt final cessation without remainder?”

A: “Indeed it is not, friend.

Q: “Is purification of knowledge and vision of what is path and not-path final cessation without remainder?”

A: “Indeed it is not, friend.

Q: “Is purification of knowledge and vision of the course of practice final cessation without remainder?”

A: “Indeed it is not, friend.

Q: “Is purification by knowledge and vision final cessation without remainder?”

A: “Indeed it is not, friend.

Q: “Is something apart from these things final cessation without remainder?”

A: “Indeed it is not, friend.

Q: “When asked, friend, ‘Is purification of morality final cessation without remainder?’ you say, ‘Indeed it is not, friend.’ When asked … you say, ‘Indeed it is not, friend.’ Then how, friend, should your words be understood?”

A: “Friend, if the Blessed One had described purification of morality as final cessation without remainder he would have described something still with attachment as final cessation without remainder. If the Blessed One had described purification of mind … purification by knowledge and vision as final cessation without remainder he would have described something still with attachment as final cessation without remainder. If he had described something apart from these as final cessation without remainder then an ordinary person would have attained final cessation without remainder, but an ordinary person has not attained these states of purification. I will make a simile, friend, by means of which a wise man could understand the meaning.

“It is as if, friend, some urgent matter needed his attention in Sāketa while King Pasenadi of Kosala was living at Sāvatthi. Between Sāvatthi and Sāketa a relay of seven chariots was arranged. Then, friend, King Pasenadi of Kosala having left Sāvatthi by the palace gate would mount the first chariot in the relay and by means of it would reach the second chariot in the relay. Leaving the first chariot behind he would mount the second chariot in the relay and by means of it would reach the third chariot in the relay. Leaving the second chariot behind … by means of the seventh chariot in the relay he would reach the palace gate at Sāketa. Then his associates, friends, and relatives would ask: ‘Did you come to this palace gate by this relay of chariots?’

Q: How should he reply?”

A: “Speaking thus, friend, King Pasenadi of Kosala would be speaking correctly: ‘While living at Sāvatthi some urgent matter needed attention here in Sāketa. Between Sāvatthi and Sāketa a relay of seven chariots was arranged. Having left Sāvatthi by the palace gate I mounted the first chariot in the relay and by means of it reached the second chariot in the relay. Leaving the first chariot behind I mounted the second chariot in the relay and by means of it reached the third chariot in the relay. Leaving the second chariot behind … by means of the seventh chariot in the relay I reached the palace gate at Sāketa.’ Speaking thus, friend, King Pasenadi of Kosala would be speaking correctly.”

“In the same way, friend, purification of morality is for the sake of reaching purification of mind. Purification of mind is for the sake of reaching purification of view. Purification of view is for the sake of reaching purification by overcoming doubt. Purification by overcoming doubt is for the sake of reaching purification of knowledge and vision of what is path and not-path. Purification of knowledge and vision of what is path and not-path is for the sake of purification of knowledge and vision of the course of practice. Purification of knowledge and vision of the course of practice is for the sake by knowledge and vision. Purification by knowledge and vision is for the sake of final cessation without remainder. The holy life is lived under the Blessed One, friend, for the sake of final cessation without remainder.”

When this was said, the Venerable Sāriputta said to the Venerable Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta: “What is your name,⁹ venerable sir, and how do your fellows in the holy life know you?”

“My name is Puṇṇā, venerable sir, and my fellows in the holy life know me as Mantāṇiputta.”

“It is wonderful, friend, it is marvellous, friend. As a learned disciple who understands the teacher’s dispensation correctly, each profound question was answered point by point by the Venerable Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta. It is a gain for his fellows in the holy life, a great gain, that they have the opportunity to meet (dassanāya)¹⁰ and attend on (payirūpasanāya) the Venerable Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta. Even if they were to carry him around on their heads using a cushion it would be a great opportunity to see and honour him. It is a gain for us too, a great gain, that we have had an opportunity to meet and attend upon the Venerable Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta.”

When this was said, the Venerable Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta said to the Venerable Sāriputta: “What is your name,¹¹ venerable sir, and how do your fellows in the holy life know you?”

“My name, friend, is Upatissa, and my fellows in the holy life know me as Sāriputta.”

“I did not know that we were discussing with one on par with the teacher (satthusadisena),¹² the Venerable Sāriputta. If we had known, we would not have said so much. It is wonderful, friend, it is marvellous, friend. As a learned disciple who understands the teacher’s dispensation correctly, each profound question was asked point by point by the Venerable Sāriputta. It is a gain for his fellows in the holy life, a great gain, that they have the opportunity to meet and attend upon the Venerable Sāriputta. Even if they were to carry him around on their heads using a cushion it would be a great opportunity to see and honour him. It is a gain for us too, a great gain, that we have had an opportunity to meet and attend upon the Venerable Sāriputta.”

In this way, both of these great Arahants appreciate the well-spoken words of each other. (M.i.145)

Notes:

1. The commentary explains that from the birth place of the Blessed One (jātibhūmakā), means the monks living in the birth place of the Blessed One, i.e. at or near Kapilavatthu.

2. Secluded (pavivitto) means practising meditation to achieve absorption (jhāna); being aloof (asaṃsaṭṭho) means not associating much with other monks. One can practise seclusion at a meditation centre even while sharing accommodation and meals with other meditators if one maintains noble silence.

3. The whole of the previous passage from being of few wishes to gladdening his fellows in the holy life is repeated here, but I have omitted it for brevity. Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta is honoured as the most eminent of the Buddha’s disciples in teaching the Dhamma — “Etadaggaṃ, bhikkhave, mama sāvakānaṃ bhikkhūnaṃ Dhammakathikānaṃ yadidaṃ Puṇṇo Mantāṇiputto.”(A.i.23)

4. From Kapilavatthu to Sāvatthi is about a 100 miles. However, a journey to Rājagaha is over 300 miles, and would entail crossing the Ganges at some point. The journey from Sāvatthi to Sāketa, which would take a relay of seven chariots, would presumably take several weeks on foot.

5. The monk repeated the entire preceding passage, but I have paraphrased it here.

6. Friend (āvuso) was the informal mode of address between monks. They would address the Buddha himself as Venerable Sir (bhante). In the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta the Buddha stipulates that senior monks should address juniors with the word “āvuso,” while juniors should address their seniors with the word “bhante.” Monastic seniority has nothing to do with physical age, but is measured from the time of the higher ordination (upasampadā). Both of these Arahants were ordained early in the Buddha’s dispensation. After the first rains retreat, there were sixty-one Arahants including the Buddha, the first five disciples, and Yasa and his friends. The first to become a bhikkhu with the “Ehi bhikkhu,” (Come monk) formula was Aññāta-Koṇḍañña. He returned to Kapilavatthu and there ordained Puṇṇa Mantāṇiputta and 500 others. The Buddha proceeded to Uruvela, where he converted the 1,000 Kassapa brothers. Then he went on to Rājagaha to meet King Bimbisāra whom he had earlier promised to visit. It was at Rājagaha that Upatissa and Kolita (Sāriputta and Moggallāna) became the Buddha’s two chief disciples after their meeting with Assaji — the fifth of the first five disciples.

7. More details are given to the relevant sections in the Mahāsi Sayādaw’s Progress of Insight (wherein sīlavisuddhi is translated as Purification of Conduct).

8. This refers to the final end of all suffering after the demise of an Arahant. While an Arahant remains alive, he or she still has to carry the burden of the body. The physical suffering of cold, heat, hungry and thirst, pain and disease remain for the living Arahant, although he or she does not suffer mental distress on account of that.

9. In those days, monks often had two names, the one given at their birth and another by which they were more widely known. This practice continues today. The Venerable Mahāsi Sayādaw’s name given at his ordination is “Sobhaṇa,” a Pāḷi word meaning shining or good, but only a few disciples will know this name. His popular name means “The abbot of the monastery where there is a big drum.” Mantāṇi was famous as the sister of the Buddha’s first disciple, Aññāta-Koṇḍaññā, and her son was Puṇṇa, who was known as Mantāṇiputta. Sāriputta was the son of Rūpasāri who had seven sons, all of whom became Arahants.

10. Literally to see (dassanāya), but merely seeing monks (samaṇānṃ dassanaṃ), which is one of the blessings enumerated in the Maṅgala Sutta, would not be of much benefit if one had no idea about their attainments, knowledge, or other virtues. On seeing a serene and graceful monk or nun one might well feel inspired to pay respects with joined palms (añjali) or pay homage (abhivādeti), but then one should attend on them, and ask questions about the teachings. Only then could one obtain the full benefit of their knowledge and insight. The disciples of Puṇṇa clearly relied on him for teaching, meditation instruction, and spiritual guidance.

11. Venerable Sāriputta already knew Puṇṇa’s name, but Puṇṇa had ordained at Kapilavatthu and had never met the Venerable Sāriputta, though he would surely have heard about him.

12. Among the eighty great disciples, Sāriputta and Moggallāna were the two Chief Disciples. Puṇṇa himself was one of the eighty great Arahant disciples. However, Sāriputta was singled out by the Buddha as the disciple most able to set in motion the wheel of the dhamma — “Nāhaṃ bhikkhave, aññaṃ ekapuggalampi samanupassāmi yo evaṃ Tathāgatena anuttaraṃ dhammacakkaṃ pavattitaṃ sammadeva anuppavatteti yathayidaṃ, bhikkhave, Sāriputto. Sāriputto, bhikkhave, Tathāgatena anuttaraṃ dhammacakkaṃ pavattitaṃ sammadeva anuppavattetī”ti. (A.i.23)

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