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Vāsijaṭa Suttaṃ

(S.iii.152)

The Adze Handle

Thus have I heard — On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Sāvatthi in Prince Jeta’s grove at the monastery of Anāthapiṇḍika. Then the Blessed One addressed the monk: “Monks.”

“Venerable sir,” the monks replied to the Blessed One.

The Blessed One said —

“The destruction of the outflows (āsavā),¹ monks, I declare is for one who knows and sees, not for one who does not know and does not see. Knowing what, and seeing what, monks are the outflows destroyed? ‘Thus is matter, thus is the arising of matter, thus is the cessation of matter. Thus is feeling … Thus is perception … Thus are mental formations … Thus is consciousness, thus is the arising of consciousness, thus is the cessation of consciousness — knowing thus, monks, seeing thus the outflows are destroyed.

“A monk who dwells not devoted to mental development, monks, might wish thus: ‘Oh, if only my mind could be free from outflows without any grasping,’ nevertheless his mind would not become free from the outflows without grasping. What is the reason? It should be said, ‘Due to his lack of mental development.’  What is undeveloped? The four foundations of mindfulness are undeveloped, the four right efforts are undeveloped, the four bases of success are undeveloped, the five controlling faculties are undeveloped, the five powers are undeveloped, the seven factors of enlightenment are undeveloped, the Noble Eightfold Path is undeveloped

“It is like, monks, a hen that has laid eight, ten, or twelve eggs. If that hen does not sit on them properly, does not hatch them properly, does not incubate them properly. Even though that hen might wish: ‘Oh, may my chicks break through the shells with their claws and beaks,’ it is not possible for those chicks to break through the shells with their claws and beaks. What is the reason? Because the hen did not sit on them properly, hatch them properly, and incubate them properly. Similarly, monks, even though a monk who does not dwell devoted to mental development might wish thus: ‘Oh, if only my mind could be free from outflows without any grasping,’ it is not possible. What is the reason? Because that monk has not properly developed the four foundations of mindfulness, the four right efforts, the four bases of success, the five control faculties, the five powers, the seven factors of enlightenment, he has not properly developed the Noble Eightfold Path.

“A monk who dwells devoted to mental development, monks, might not wish thus: ‘Oh, if only my mind could be free from outflows without any grasping,’ nevertheless his mind would become free from the outflows without grasping. What is the reason? It should be said, ‘Due to his mental development.’  What is developed? The four foundations of mindfulness are developed, the four right efforts are developed, the four bases of success are developed, the five controlling faculties are developed, the five powers are developed, the seven factors of enlightenment are developed, the Noble Eightfold Path is developed.

“It is like, monks, a hen that has laid eight, ten, or twelve eggs. If that hen sits on them properly, hatches them properly, incubates them properly. Even though that hen might not wish: ‘Oh, may my chicks break through the shells with their claws and beaks,’ it is possible for those chicks to break through the shells with their claws and beaks. What is the reason? Because the hen sits on them properly, hatches them properly, and incubates them properly. Similarly, monks, even though a monk who dwells devoted to mental development might not wish thus: ‘Oh, if only my mind could be free from outflows without any grasping,’ it is possible that his mind would become free from the outflows without grasping. What is the reason? Because that monk has developed the four foundations of mindfulness, the four right efforts, the four bases of success, the five control faculties, the five powers, the seven factors of enlightenment, he has developed the Noble Eightfold Path.

“It is like, monks, a mason (palagaṇḍa or a mason’s apprentice who, having looked at the handle of his adze, would see the wear made by his fingers and thumbs, but would not know: ‘This much was worn away today, that much was worn away yesterday, or that much on the day before yesterday.’ Nevertheless, he knows that it has become worn away. In the same way, monks, a monk who dwells devoted to mental development does not know: ‘Today so many outflows were worn way, yesterday so many were worn away, or so many were warn away on the day before yesterday.’ Nevertheless, he knows that they are worn away when they are worn away.

“It is like, monks, an ocean-going ship, rigged with masts and ropes, after six months or a year (vassamāsāni) on the ocean, is pulled up on shore for the winter, where it stays, weathered by the sun and wind, moistened by the storms of the rainy season, easily withers and rots away. In the same way, monks, when a monk dwells devoted to mental development, his fetters easily wither and rot away."

Notes

1. See note 4 to the Kīṭāgiri Sutta. The four outflows are sensuality (kāmāsava), becoming (bhavāsava), views (diṭṭhāsava), and ignorance (āvijjāsava).

2. These spiritual qualities that should be developed are collectively known as the thirty-seven requisites of enlightenment. See “A Manual of the Requisites of Enlightenment” for details.

3. The PTS Dictionary gives “Palagaṇḍa” as a mason, bricklayer, or plasterer, but the Commentary explains this word as “vaḍḍhakissa,”which is a carpenter, builder, architect, or mason. He shapes wood with his adze (vāsijaṭa). The key point is that it is a craftsman who uses the same hand-tool all day in his work so that the handle becomes worn to the shape of his hand. To remove the fetters and outflows from mind requires constant daily work and is a gradual process requiring great persistence and patience. If diligence is lacking, progress will be slow. Even with persistent practice, progress is barely perceptible after one day or one week. It may take years for signs of progress to become obvious, so meditators should never despair, but just work harder and more effectively if they wish to see results.

4. This last simile accounts for the alternative title of this discourse as the Nava Sutta.

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