2. Samaññaphala Sutta (Fruits of reclusion)


Ajatasattu Vedehiputta, the King of Magadha , delighted with the beautiful moonlight night, decides to visit some holy man and listen to his inspired instructions. He asks his retinue for advice: which hermit should be honored with his visit? His advisors offer him several respectable mentors to visit, but the king remains silent after having listened to their advice. Noticing that one man from his retinue observes silence, the king asks for advice from him too. The man offers the king to visit the Buddha.

This recommendation is accepted by the king with delight and he gives an order that the magnificent royal procession on elephants, consisting of the king, the royal wives and royal retinue, be immediately assembled to visit the hermit.

However, when approaching the mango grove, where the Blessed (Buddha) is, the king suddenly experiences anxiety and fear. He asks his advisor: “Do not you give me into the hands of a foe? How does such a large gathering of monks that surround the Buddha not produce noise? “But the advisor calms the king, and, approaching the Buddha sitting among the monks, the king admires the atmosphere of calm and silence reigning in this place. He enthusiastically wishes his son to have the same peace as the one that reigns in this place.

After exchanging pleasant greetings with the Buddha, the king asks him his question.

The Question of Ajatasattu Vedehiputta

The king recounts various crafts, starting from the warrior’s craft to the bathhouse attendant to the weaver of birch whisks, and indicates that all the people engaged in these crafts live by the fruits of their crafts, please themselves and friends, feed on these fruits and give them to their loved ones, and make offerings. The fruits of their activities are visible. Is it possible in the same way to indicate the fruit of hermitry that would be visible in this world?

Counterquestions of the Buddha

The Buddha expresses a desire to answer this question, but asks the king to answer his counterquestion: did the king previously happen to ask other hermits the same question? And if so, what were their answers?

The king answers in the affirmative and recites a series of conversations in which he asked other hermits the same question. He says the same names that his retinue people recalled, being asked about the name of the hermit who should be honored by his visit. And now it turns out why the king kept silent in response to their advice. The reason is that the conversations with these hermits did not satisfy the king. He says that when he talked with them, he felt like a person who, having asked about the fruits of a mango tree, gets an answer about the fruit of the bread tree, or the person who asked about the fruits of the bread tree gets an answer about the fruits of mango tree. One of the hermits in response began to talk about the insignificance of any action; the other – about the purification of the mind in the transition from one state to another; the third – about the destruction of the “I”; the fourth – about the existence of elements and non-existence of interaction between them; the fifth – about asceticism; the sixth answered evasively, like a slippery fish. Describing his disappointment from these conversations, the king repeats his original question, asking the Buddha for answer.

The Buddha answers: it is possible to indicate the visible fruit of hermitry. And he asks the king another counterquestion. If the king had a slave, diligent and faithful, and this slave said to himself: “My lord is a man and I am a man too. But my lord lives, enjoying, like the gods, and I spend the whole day in hard work. Why wouldn’t I collect the same merits as my master? “And then this slave renounces the world, dresses in the clothes of a poor hermit and wanders with a shaved head (in India the slave had the opportunity to leave his master by taking hermitry). If this former slave meets again with the king, will the latter command him, as if this man continued to be a slave?

The king answers: not at all. On the contrary, he will receive all the respect and assistance that befit the hermits.

Buddha: is not this the first visible fruit of asceticism?

King: yes, it is.

Then the Buddha repeats the same inquiry with respect to the farmer and the householder who pays taxes to the king. And again it turns out that as a hermit, the farmer and the householder will receive more freedoms and reverence. But the king asks to indicate fruits more beautiful, more exalted and superior to those indicated by the Buddha. And the Buddha continues the explanation, this time talking about the visible fruits of asceticism, which are found by the followers of the Awakened Arhat.

The visible fruits of asceticism, obtained by the followers of the Arhat

In the beginning, the follower of the Arhat acquires a sense of moral security. This is due to the fact that the hermit observes the purity of morality, does not commit violence towards the world around him and does not want to rule over it, does not want benefits and honors, and thus feels protected from harm and anxiety caused by these desires. The visible fruit here is the tranquility, the happiness of the hermit, who is protected from the bad qualities of his own mind. Buddha compares this happiness with the happiness of the king, anointed to the throne and redeemed (spared) from enemies. Further, the Buddha recites certain qualities that accompany the attainment of a state of moral security.

  • Control over feelings, through which greed, dissatisfaction and other inapt qualities do not develop in the mind of the hermit;
  • Self-awareness and thoughtfulness, related to the observation of the body and its activities;
  • Contentment stemming from restraint.

Then, the Buddha describes the fruits of the practice of concentration, overcoming five hindrances: greed, malice, stagnation, anxiety and torment, doubt. These fruits are described by allegories:

  • Getting rid of greed is compared to a man who, having borrowed, has opened a business, and this business, while flourishing, gave him the opportunity to pay off his debts and support himself and his wife;
  • Getting rid of malice is compared to a person who is healed from a serious illness, and food does him good, and strength appears in his body;
  • Getting rid of stagnation is the state of the prisoner, who was freed from imprisonment healthy and unharmed, and lost nothing from his property;
  • Getting rid of anxiety and torment is as a state of a slave who was dependent on someone else’s orders, but became free and has the right to go where he wants;
  • Getting rid of doubts is like a condition of a rich man who was walking with his riches, feeling hunger and fear, through hard-to-reach places, but finally reached the edge of the village.

The Buddha describes the state of a person who has overcome five hindrances, as joy in the heart, fullness of mind with happiness, relaxation of the body and filling it with bliss. Next, the Buddha applies four metaphors to explain the four stages of deepening the concentration (four Dhyānas or Jhānas):

Buddha compares the first stage, on which the conscious mind subordinates the activity of the senses, with the skill of a bathhouse attendant, who makes a piece of soap from a soapy powder, sprinkling it with water from all sides, so that there is no part left in this piece of soap which is not saturated with moisture. So do the feelings turn out to be entirely saturated with the mind; they are embraced by it into a single whole.

The second stage, the stage in which concentration in the heart controlling the activities of the consciousness is comprehended, is compared to a lake formed by a fountain of groundwater. This lake is independent of external sources of water, whether it is rivers or rains.

The third stage, the stage of balance, controlling the concentration in the heart, is likened to blue and red lotuses born in the pond, growing in the pond, saturated with the moisture of the pond, completely expressing the pleasant coolness of the pond. So is the condition of the contemplator, free from the vibrations of the mind.

The fourth stage, pure awareness which embraces the state of balance, is compared with the contemplator who sits wrapping the whole body in white clothing, so that there is no place on his body not enveloped in white clothing. Similarly, awareness fully envelops the state of the contemplator.

Continuing the explanation of the fruits reached by the contemplator, the Buddha lists various supernatural abilities (siddhis). Initially, the contemplator creates an illusory body, endowed with perfect qualities. The qualities of an illusory body are manifested in many aspects: the ability to manifest in many bodies and collect them again in one body; the ability to be visible (in it) and invisible; to pass through walls and obstacles; to submerge into the earth and emerge from it, as if from water; to walk on water as on the ground; to ascend to the sky sitting cross-legged; to touch the sun and the moon by hand.

Next, the Buddha explains the various siddhis:

  • Clairaudience is the ability to hear the sounds of the world of the gods.
  • Knowledge embracing the heart – the ability to comprehend quality of thoughts of other beings (qualities of skillfulness and unskillfulness). As a man looking into a vessel with water and seeing his face and his qualities, so is the contemplator comprehending the knowledge of the heart of other beings.
  • Remembering past lives and knowing future births.
  • Finally, the Buddha speaks of attainment of a state in which the secondary birth is destroyed (the need to return to samsara), vows are fulfilled, everything that is to be done is done, there is nothing following this state (nothing is more beautiful and sublime than this state).

The reaction of King Ajatasattu

After listening to the instructions of the Buddha, the king feels confidence in them, and suddenly it becomes clear what exactly motivated him to seek explanations for his own question so persistently. The king repents in a crime committed in a state of blindness caused by the thirst for power and greed. Ajatasattu killed his father for the possession of the throne. It becomes clear why the king, impressed by the peace of the monastic community, wants the same peace of mind for his son – for he fears that his son will do the same to Ajatasattu himself. Therefore, the king sought that instruction, which can soothe fear and thirst.

When the king, having taken refuge in the Three Jewels, leaves the Buddha, the latter explains to the monks that if the king had not committed such a grave crime, then after this conversation he would have acquired a vision of truth.

By Vladimir Pyatsky & Smadar Pyatsky

Translation: Natalia Tsimbler