Payasi Sutta


At the time when Kassapa traveled with the monk community in the kingdom of Koshala, Prince Payasi, who reigned one of the royal areas of this country, was denying the value of virtue. Once, having seen that the household-brahmans decided to visit Kassapa, Prince Payasi joined them in order to argue and establish his fame as a free-thinker.

Turning to Kassapa, Payasi says that there is no other world, no self-born beings (gods), and no consequences from bad and good deeds. Wanting to turn the mind of Payasi to the sublime, beautiful phenomena, Kassapa asks the prince about the great, wonderful bodies – the Sun and the Moon. Do they belong to the human world or another? Are they gods? Payasi, however, says that observations in the earthly world lead him to disbelief, and Kassapa begins to question Payassi about how he came to his view.

Payasi’s arguments and Kassapa’s objections

Arguments about both bad and good dead relatives

Payasi says that he many times visited dying relatives: some were of bad temper and behavior, while others were virtuous. Payasi asked all the dying to come to him after death and tell him: is there another world, did sinful relatives fall into hells, and pious ones into heavenly worlds? They all promised him to come and tell, but no one came, even those who always kept their promises in life.

About the relatives who committed the bad deeds, Kassapa objects as follows: Imagine, Prince, that a person doomed to execution, to torture, asks the executioners: “Wait a minute, I must leave for a short while at the request of a relative” … Will the executioners leave him? After all, the lower worlds are lacking freedom and are full of suffering, like a prison.

About the relatives who were reborn in heavenly worlds, Kassapa objects: “Imagine, prince, a man living in a pit of sewage. This man was removed from this pit, washed, smeared with fragrant oils, and dressed in fine clothes. Will such a man come down again into a pit of sewage? After all, for beings in the worlds of gods, the earthly world is seen only as a stinking pit. Even those who, having overcome their disgust, would like to come, will not be able to, because time passes differently in the abodes of the gods: during one of their days, many, many years can pass in the visible world.

In addition, Kassapa explains: that which is seen by the Eye of Wisdom is not visible by physical vision, therefore, the holy hermits who see and purify their mind speak of other worlds and gods. They see and know them, in contrast to people immersed in the activities of bodily senses.

The argument that the hermits continue mortal life, not leaving it for the sake of the heavenly world.

Prince Payasi, however, persists in his opinion. Why should holy hermits who see other worlds and gods not do away with their earthly existence in order to reach heavenly worlds quickly? On the contrary, they are trying to support earthly life.

Kassapa objects with a parable: one Brahmin had two wives. From his first wife he had a teenage son, and his second wife was pregnant. It so happened that the brahman died suddenly. Then his son demanded all the inheritance. The second wife, however, asked him to wait until she gave birth: if she has a girl, the young brahman will get everything; if she has a son, then part of the inheritance is due to him. However, the young brahmin insisted on the immediate receipt of the entire inheritance. The woman then ripped open her stomach with a sword to check if she has a girl or a boy. She and the fetus died because of her unreasonable haste.

There is meaning in the lives of virtuous people: as long as they live, their good deeds grow.

The argument about the executed bandits

Payasi continues to persist in his arguments. He describes the various types of execution by which his executioners execute captured bandits. Regardless of the form of execution, the prince couldn’t see how the jiva (living being) leaves the body.

Kassapa objects: it happens so, prince, that during a nap you see beautiful groves and palaces, walk in them and feel joy, don’t you? At this time, while sleeping, you are guarded by hunchbacks, dwarfs and young girls. However, none of them can see how you are traveling. This example shows that living people, who look with ordinary eyes, do not see how a living being leaves the body.

The argument about the weight of the living and the dead body

Payasi says: the living body is lighter, and the dead body is heavier, harder to lift. If there was a certain being in the body, then with death the body has to become lighter, and not heavier.

Kassapa’s objection: if we take an iron ball and heat it until radiance, then filled with heat and wind it will be noticeably lighter, more pliable and softer; when it cools down, it will feel heavier, more unyielding and hard. In the same way, a living being, like heat and wind, makes the body lighter.

The argument about the cessation of activity of feelings

Payasi says: The deceased has the same eyes, ears, and other senses, but he does not see, and does not hear. So, while there are perceptions of senses, there is life – when there are neither senses nor sensory-perceptions – there is no life. Therefore, there are no senses and no sensory-perceptions after death.

Kassapa objects with a parable: a trumpeter with a conch came to one village. Trumpeting into the conch, he gathered all the people. However, the people in that place were wild and undeveloped. They asked the trumpeter for the conch and they then put the conch in a visible spot, demanding it: “Trumpet, Conch! Trumpet!” However, without the trumpeter, the conch made no sound.

The argument about the absence of jiva in some part of the body

Payasi says: in no part or layer of the body, like the skin, muscles, bones or bone marrow, can one see a living being. Therefore, I do not believe in another world, in self-born divine beings, or in consequences of bad and good deeds.

Kassapa objects with a parable: one hermit, a worshiper of fire, raised a boy. Once, he left the child to look after the fire, but the child got carried away playing and the fire went out. The boy began to rekindle the fire: he split a twig and split it again – but the fire did not flare up. The boy split all the twigs into parts, and those parts to others – however all the same, the fire did not flare up. The hermit returned and explained to the child that the fire is neither in the twigs, nor in their parts; fire engulfs them, and they then burn.

Payasi decides to keep his views out of stubbornness.

Payasi, although his own arguments no longer satisfy him, says that his views are known to everyone. How can he change his views now? He must thus hold onto them.

Kassapa persuades Payasi: look, prince, these views may bring you long troubles. He cites a parable about two caravans, who in the desert met a red-eyed, wet, lotus-decorated yaksha riding a cart with wheels smeared in liquid mud. The yaksha told them that rain had passed in the desert, there is water, a lot of grass had grown, and they may now throw up their stocks of straw and water, not bother the bulls, and travel light. One of the caravans listened to the yaksha and went light, and the second went slowly, not believing the yaksha. The one who drove fast did not find water either on the first stop, nor on the second, nor on the third – he and his entire caravan perished in the desert. The second caravan got safely to their destination. Kassapa warns Payasi that one needs to get to the other world in the right way, with proper accumulation of good deeds and good understanding.

Kassapa’s parables about the need to abandon outdated views

Kassapa’s parable about the man with manure

About the habit of holding on to old views, Kassapa provides a parable: One person found a pile of dry manure and decided to take the pile to feed his pigs. He put the dung in his clothes and carried it. On the way he was caught by rain, and the manure became wet and dripped. As a result the man did not bring the manure to his pigs, as he was smeared all over with it.

Kassapa’s parable about the gambler

Kassapa urges Payasi not to hold on to harmful views, either out of pride or out of the desire to profit. He provides a parable about two gamblers. One gambler was a cheat, who swallowed the dice every time his throw was unsuccessful. The second gambler, noticing this, asked to have the dice for a little while, and smeared them with poison. He then returned the dice. The game began, the cheater made an unsuccessful throw, quietly swallowed the dice, and found his doom. As such, Kassapa recommends Payasi not to fear acknowledging past delusions. After all, one who hides his delusions is similar to the gambler that swallowed the poisoned dice.

The parable about the hemp and linen

As Payasi continues with his stubbornness, Kassapa advises him with another parable, encouraging Payasi to change his views. Once, there were two comrades who found an abandoned village. There they saw a bunch of hemp and collected this hemp for themselves. They went on and saw hemp thread. One exchanged hemp for hemp thread (after all, hemp is needed to make hemp thread), and the second did not want to exchange his load, saying that he has laid it well on his shoulder and has become used to it. They went on, and found sackcloth… linen yarn… cloth… The first exchanged his load every time to a more valuable one, and the second held on to the usual old cargo. They returned to their village – one with a valuable load of cloth, and the other – with coarse hemp.

Payasi expresses admiration for Kassapa’s parables

Payasi admired Kassapa’s parable and said that he would have agreed with him long ago, but wanted to listen to more beautiful teachings from the hermit. After that, he took refuge in the Three Jewels.

Further history of Payasi

Later, the sutta narrates that Payasi was negligent towards the accumulation of virtue, and was reborn among lower spirits, not having accumulated merits.


The story of the conversation between Kassapa and Payasi is a collection of arguments made by supporters of nihilism, and the teachings brought against these arguments.

However, the story is not about the possibility of finally and convincingly refuting nihilistic views. After all, only the direct experience of Awakening makes the truth the truth to a person, and the false the false.

It is not without reason, that even by accepting refuge, Payasi could not understand the deep meaning of the accumulation of virtue. Kassapa’s explanations only softened the prince’s temper, but did not change his state radically because a deep understanding can only arise as a result of already acquired accumulated virtues. We recommend comparing the history of Payasi with the history of King Ajasatta (see Samannaphala Sutta, Digha Nikaya 2).

The basic meaning of Kassapa’s teaching comes down to two points: 1) Only by clearing the mind, having tamed oneself, can a person see the truths of heavenly words, about gods, and of consequences of bad and good deeds. 2) Even without seeing the truth, a person can reject harmful notions, if he realizes that he supports them solely out of pride and stagnation.

Vladimir Pyatsky and Smadar Pyatsky
Translation: Roni Sherman