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8 – Sahassavaggo


Better Than A Thousand Useless Sayings

“Better than a thousand sayings, comprising useless words,
is a single beneficial word, by hearing which one is pacified.”

The Story of Tambadāṭhika

A bloodthirsty villain joined a band of robbers and committed many crimes. When the robbers were caught they were sentenced to death, but no one was willing to execute them. The judges offered to spare the life of any robber who would execute all the others. Only Tambadāṭhika volunteered to do it. His life was spared, and he became the public executioner.

On the day that he was to die, he was about to start his breakfast when he saw the Venerable Sāriputta walking for alms. He thought, “I have done many evil deeds, I should make merit by offering rice gruel to this monk.” He invited the elder, invited him to sit down on the porch, worshipped him, offered the gruel, and stood fanning him. Seeing that the man was famished, the elder told him to eat, and called a man to fan him. Then he taught him the Dhamma. Seeing that he was unable to concentrate due to his remorse, the elder thought, “I will trick him,” and asked him whether he had wished to kill all those people, or whether another had made him do it. He replied that the king made him do it. Then the elder asked, “In that case, what evil have you done?”¹ This was sufficient to relieve his guilt, so that he could concentrate on the Dhamma talk. He gained the knowledge of adaptation (anuloma-ñāṇa), died the same day, and was reborn in the Tusita heaven. When the monks were discussing his destiny, wondering where he had been reborn, the Buddha explained that his fortunate rebirth was due to the excellent advice of the Venerable Sāriputta.

  1. This is an interesting case of being economical with the truth to benefit another. In fact, Tambadāṭhika had done many unwholesome deeds prior to being caught, and even intentional killing to save one’s own life is unwholesome kamma. The elder asked his question in such a way that Tambadāṭhika thought he had done no wrong. The elder didn’t say he hadn’t done any wrong, which would have been untrue.

Better Than A Thousand Useless Verses

“Better than a thousand verses, comprising useless words,
is a single beneficial line, by hearing which one is pacified.”

The Story of Bāhiya Dārucīriya

A ship-wreck victim swam to the shore at the port of Suppāraka (north of Bombay) and saved himself. As he had lost his clothes, he covered himself with bark (Dārucīriya). The locals thought he was an Arahant, and because of their adulation, he soon came to believe it himself. In a former life, Bāhiya had been one of seven monks who, disenchanted with the corruption in the Saṅgha, had isolated themselves on a mountain ledge in a do-or-die attempt to attain the goal. The eldest attained Arahantship, and the second monk attained Non-returning, but Bāhiya and the other four monks¹ had died in the attempt after seven days.

The second monk, who was reborn in the Brahma realm, saw Bāhiya’s plight, and came to advise him that he was not an Arahant, nor even on the path to Arahantship. He told him that the true Arahant, the Buddha, was dwelling at Sāvatthi. At once, Bāhiya set off for Sāvatthi, and with celestial help, he arrived the following morning, while the Buddha was on his almsround. The monks invited Bāhiya to rest while, waiting for the Buddha to return. Bāhiya said that he could not rest without seeing the teacher, as he might die or the Teacher might die before they met, as life was uncertain. He sought out the Buddha and paid homage, taking a firm hold of his ankle, and asked him to teach the Dhamma. Seeing that Bāhiya was not yet quite ready to understand, the Buddha declined to teach the Dhamma, saying that it was not the right time as he was on his almsround. Bāhiya requested again, and again the Buddha said it was not the right time. However, when Bāhiya asked a third time, the Buddha saw that Bāhiya’s mind was now equanimous, so he taught him this:

“Bāhiya, train yourself like this — when you see something, just know that you see it; when you hear something, just know that you hear it; when you cognise something, just know that you cognise it; when you know something, just know that you know it. When, Bāhiya, for you in the seen is merely what is seen… in the known is merely the known, then, Bāhiya, you will not be ‘with that.’ When, Bāhiya, you are not ‘with that,’ then, Bāhiya, you will not be ‘in that.’ When, Bāhiya, you are not ‘in that,’ then, Bāhiya, you will be neither here, nor beyond, nor in between the two. Just this is the end of suffering.”

As the Blessed One was teaching the Dhamma in brief, the mind of Bāhiya Dārucīriya was freed from all defilements without remainder. Shortly afterwards Bāhiya was gored to death by a cow. The Buddha told the monks to cremate his body and build a stūpa as Bāhiya had attained Arahantship.

  1. One was King Pukkusāti (see the Dhātuvibhaṅga Sutta, M.iii.2n7), the second was Kumāra Kassapa (see A Discourse on the Vammika Sutta, M.i.142), the third was Dabba Mallaputta (Vin.i.142, Diṭṭhadosa-sikkhāpadaṃ), and the fourth was the wanderer Sabhiya (Sn.91, Sabhiya Sutta). Bāhiya’s story is also told in the Bāhiya Sutta (Ud.6). At A.i.24, Bāhiya Dārucīriya is praised as the quickest to attain higher knowledge. His very rapid attainment of Arahantship was the fruit of his strong determination in the distant previous life during the time of Buddha Kassapa, when he died while striving for the goal.

Self-Conquest is the Best Victory

“Though one recites a hundred verses of meaningless words,
better is a single true word, by hearing which one is pacified.”

“Though one should conquer a million men in battle,
yet he is the noblest victor who has conquered himself.”

The Story of Kuṇḍalakesi Therī

A millionaire’s daughter fell in love with a robber. Her parents paid for his release, and she married him. He later took his wife to a cliff top intending to rob and kill her. She pleaded for her life to no avail. Pretending to embrace him one last time, she pushed him off the cliff. Fearing to return home, she became a nun with a group of wanderers. She soon mastered a thousand verses, and toured the country, defeating all-comers in debate. From her custom of challenging others to debate by planting a branch of the Rose-apple tree, she became known as “Jambuparibbājikā.” In time, she came to Sāvatthi, and set up her branch challenging all to debate with her.

When Venerable Sāriputta saw her Rose-apple branch, he asked some boys the meaning and, on being told, urged them to trample it. When she met the Venerable Sāriputta, he could answer all her questions, and he then put one that she couldn’t answer: “What is the one?”¹ The elder told her she would have to enter the Order to learn the answer, so she became a bhikkhuṇī, and attained Arahantship with analytical knowledge (paṭisambhidā) within just a few days.

The monks discussed how she had defeated a robber and, on hearing a few words of the Dhamma, had become an Arahant. The Buddha then spoke on the efficacy of words of truth and on the importance of self-conquest.

  1. This question is answered in “The Novice’s Questions” (Khp.2). “Sabbe satta āhāraṭṭhitikā — All beings depend on nutriment.”

Self Conquest is Best

“Self-conquest is far greater than the conquest of others;
neither a deity nor a gandhabba, nor Māra with Brahmā,
can overturn the victory of one who is self-possessed and restrained.”

The Gambler

A Brahmin asked the Buddha about the causes of loss. The Buddha replied, “Sleeping until sunrise, habitual idleness, being wrathful, a drunkard, squandering one’s wealth alone, seeking others’ wives, these lead to loss.” Knowing his motive for asking the question, the Buddha then asked the Brahmin how he earned his living. When he replied that it was by gambling, which resulted in both gain and loss, the Buddha explained that the best victory was self-conquest.

A Moment’s Honour to the Worthy is Best

“Though month after month with a thousand,
one should make offerings for a hundred years,
if just for a moment, one honours one who has perfected himself —
that is better than a century of sacrifice.”

Venerable Sāriputta’s Uncle

The Venerable Sāriputta’s maternal uncle used to donate monthly to the naked ascetics hoping to be reborn in the Brahma realm. The Venerable Sāriputta told him that neither he, nor his teacher, knew the way to the Brahma realm. The Venerable Sāriputta took him to the Buddha, who directed him onto the proper path.

Better Than A Century of Fire-Sacrifice

“Though for a century one tends the sacred fire in the forest,
if only for a moment one honours one who has perfected himself —
that honour is better than a century of fire-sacrifice.”

Venerable Sāriputta’s Nephew

The Venerable Sāriputta’s nephew used to sacrifice an animal every month to tend the sacrificial fire, hoping for rebirth in the Brahma realm. The Venerable Sāriputta told him that neither he, nor his teacher, knew the way to the Brahma realm. He took him to the Buddha, who taught him the right path.

Better Than Sacrificial Slaughter

“In this world whatever gift or alms a person seeking merit should offer for a year,
all that is not worth a quarter of the reverence towards the upright which is excellent.”

Venerable Sāriputta’s Friend

The Venerable Sāriputta’s friend made an annual sacrificial slaughter at great expense. The elder took him to the Buddha who convinced him of the right kind of homage.

Blessed Are They Who Honour the Elders

“For one who constantly honours and respects the elders,
four blessings increase — long-life, beauty, bliss, and strength.”

The Story of Āyuvaḍḍhana

Two ascetics lived as companions depending on the city of Dīghalaṅghika. After forty-eight years, one returned to household life, took a wife, and started a family. When his son was born, he visited his former companion to pay his respects. The ascetic blessed him and his wife with the words, “Long-life to you” but he did not bless his newborn son. On being asked the reason, the ascetic said that the boy would die within seven days, but the recluse Gotama might know how to prevent it.

The father, as advised by the Buddha, erected a pavilion at the door of his house, and invited the monks to recite the Protection Discourses continuously for seven days and nights. On the last day, the Buddha himself came to recite the texts, and on the following morning blessed the child with long life, saying that he would live for a hundred and twenty years. The boy was given the name “Āyuvaḍḍhana — increase of life.”

When the monks discussed how the child gained long life through the Buddha’s compassion, the Buddha spoke on the blessings that accrue to one who honours the worthy.

Better than a Hundred Years

“Though one lives a hundred years, immoral and uncontrolled,
better is a single day’s life if one is moral and meditative.”

The Novice Saṃkicca

Thirty men became monks in old age and wished to retire to a certain forest to meditate. Foreseeing danger, the Buddha advised them to take the novice Saṃkicca.¹ A band of thieves, learning of their presence in the forest, approached them and demanded a monk to be given as a sacrifice. All of the monks volunteered to offer their lives, but Saṃkicca obtained their permission to sacrifice his life for the sake of the others, explaining that was the reason why the Buddha had sent him.

The bandits took him to their lair and made preparations to kill him. The novice attained to jhāna. The bandits’ ringleader tried to execute him with his sword, but it just bounced off his neck. He tried again, but his sword shattered. He prostrated himself before the novice, begged for forgiveness, listened to the Dhamma, and asked to become a monk. All of the bandits did likewise. The novice gave them the going forth and returned to the other monks who were still meditating in the forest. He took leave of them and took his disciples to the Buddha, telling him what had happened. The Buddha spoke on the value of a virtuous life.

  1. His mother died suddenly before he was born. When her body was cremated, Saṃkicca was discovered to be still alive. He was taken home and cared for by his relatives. When he was seven years old he learnt the circumstances of his birth. Realising how fortunate he was to survive, he sought ordination at once from Venerable Sāriputta, and while his head was being shaved he attained Arahantship.

Better Than a Hundred Years

“Though one lives a hundred years, unwise and uncomposed,
better is a single day’s life if one is wise and meditative.”

Tree-stump Koṇḍañña

A monk, having attained Arahantship in a forest, was coming to see the Buddha. As he was tired he sat on a flat rock and entered jhāna. A large number of thieves, having plundered a village, were carrying their loot when they came up to the rock where the elder was meditating. Mistaking him for a tree stump in the dark they piled their stolen goods over his head and slept. At dawn they took fright, thinking him to be a non-human being. He told them not to be alarmed. They asked for his forgiveness and he gave them the going-forth. He brought them to the Buddha. Hearing of their conversion, the Buddha praised a life of wisdom.

Better Than A Century of Laziness

“Though one should live a hundred years idle and inactive
better is a single day’s life if one makes an intense effort.”

The Snake-Slave Elder

A son of a reputable family in Sāvatthi became a monk. Discontented with his progress he wanted to kill himself. When the monks caught a snake in the fire-house he offered to get rid of it. He tried to make it bite him, but it did not, even when he put his finger in its mouth. He told the monks that it was a harmless snake, but they disagreed. Then he took a razor to cut his own windpipe. At that moment he reflected on his flawless life, meditated, and attained Arahantship. He told the monks that he had intended to cut his own throat, but instead had cut off his defilements. They thought he was lying and told the Buddha, who said it was true. They asked why the snake didn’t bite him, and why he became discontented.

The Buddha explained that in a previous life, the snake had been his slave, so it didn’t bite him. (This is how he became known as the Snake-Slave Elder). In a previous life during the time of Buddha Kassapa when he had been a monk for twenty thousand years he had also become discontented. The monks wondered if it was possible to attain Arahantship so quickly. The Buddha spoke in praise of energetic striving, saying that it was possible for an energetic monk to achieve Arahantship within the lifting and dropping of the foot, but that a lazy monk could not achieve it within a hundred years.

Realising Impermanence is Best

“Though one should live a hundred years
not understanding how all things arise and pass away,
better is a single day’s life if one sees how all things arise and pass away.”

The Story of Paṭācārā

Paṭācārā was the daughter of a millionaire of Sāvatthi. When she was sixteen she fell in love and ran away with a servant. They lived a simple life in a remote village. When she was pregnant she wished to return to give birth in her family home. Her husband refused, fearing that he would be severely punished. Eventually, she left secretly on her own. He found out, and caught up with her. She gave birth on the way, and so turned back. When she became pregnant a second time, all happened as before, but it started to rain. Her husband went to cut wood to build a shelter, but was bitten by a poisonous snake and died. Paṭācārā waited in vain for her husband to return. She gave birth to her second child, and had to endure the storm the whole night, protecting her children with her own body. In the morning, she found her dead husband. She could do nothing but continue her journey, lamenting her loss. The river Aciravatī, which she had to cross, was in flood. Too weak to carry both children across at once, she left her little boy to wait on the bank, and carried her baby across, leaving it on the far bank. When she was halfway back, a hawk flew down to take her baby. She screamed at it, but it was too far away to be scared off. Her elder son, seeing his mother waving her arms, and hearing her shout, thought she was calling him. He jumped into the river, but was swept away by the current. Completely distraught now, she had to continue alone to Sāvatthi.

When she arrived near her home, a certain man told her that her family home had been destroyed in the storm, and her parents and only brother had all perished, and were now being cremated. On hearing this, she went completely out of her mind. She lost her clothes, and as she wander naked around Sāvatthi, people pelted her with clods of earth and rubbish.

She arrived at Jetavana monastery, where the Buddha was teaching the Dhamma. When the Buddha addressed her as “sister,” she regained her sanity, and became ashamed of her nakedness. A man threw her his cloak, which she put on. The Buddha listened to the story of her grief, and taught her about the suffering of saṃsāra, how the water of the tears shed while grieving over loved ones throughout this infinite saṃsāra are greater than the water in the four great oceans, and how relatives are no protection for one still subject to birth and death. As she listened to the Dhamma, Paṭācārā realised nibbāna, gained Stream-winning, and asked to become a nun. From her patient and pleasant demeanour (patitā cārattā) she became known as Paṭācārā.

Some time later, while she was washing her feet, she noticed how the water flowed away in three stages — some drops of water flowed and subsided close to her, some farther away from her, some still farther away. This induced her to meditate on impermanence. The Buddha saw her with his Divine Eye and, projecting himself before her, uttered the above verse: “Though one should live a hundred years not understanding how all things arise and pass away…” At the conclusion of the verse Paṭācārā attained Arahantship.

Seeing the Deathless is Best

“Though one should live a hundred years not seeing the deathless,
better is a single day’s life if one sees the deathless.”

The Story of Kisāgotamī

A young mother named Kisāgotamī, lost her only child. As she had never come across an instance of death she carried the corpse on her hip believing the child to be ill, searching for a remedy. A wise man directed her to the Buddha who advised her to collect some mustard seed from a household where none had died. She got mustard seed at every house, but found no household where none had died. The truth gradually dawned upon her. When she returned, the Buddha preached the Dhamma, and she became a nun. One day she observed the flickering of a lamp and reflected on the impermanence of life. The Buddha projected his image before her and uttered this stanza comparing life to a flickering lamp.

On the conclusion of the verse, Kisāgotamī attained Arahantship with the supernormal faculties.

Realising the Dhamma is Best

“Though one should live a hundred years not seeing the highest truth,
better is a single day’s life if one sees the highest truth.”

The Ungrateful Children

A wealthy widow had seven sons and seven daughters. At the request of the children, who promised to support her, she distributed her property among them. However, the ungrateful children neglected her. Greatly disappointed, she became a nun. Constantly she reflected on the Dhamma. The Buddha taught her the importance of the Dhamma and she attained Arahantship.