3. Ambattha Sutta

Ambattha Sutta contains two special moments: 1) the mention of the possession by the Buddha of an illusory body (this can be seen in the scenes of the appearance of Vajrapani and the creation of visions of the hidden signs of a great man by the Buddha) 2) a version of the story of Kanha (Krishna), which, in Buddhist sources, is also mentioned in the “84 siddhas of Mahamudra.”


Young Brahmin Ambattha is sent by his mentor Pokkharasadi to the hermit Gotama in order to verify whether the Buddha is really as great as people say he is. To test the truth of the greatness of the Buddha, the teacher gives Ambattha a doctrine of the 32 bodily attributes of a great man. This teaching itself is not described in the Sutta, it is said only that Ambattha receives those texts.

Ambattha, accompanied by his comrades, goes to the Buddha and meets with the Tathagata, but from the very beginning of the conversation, he demonstratively shows disrespect and contempt for Gotama and the Sakya caste, to which the Enlightened was born. Buddha told that Ambattha is extremely ill-mannered – after all, the young man does not restrain irritation, despite the fact that Gotama is older than him and has renounced the world. However, Ambattha, now even more incensed, continues to express dislike of Buddha and the Sakyas. Buddha asks Ambattha about the reasons for such hostility, and it turns out that Ambattha once visited a city ruled by the Sakyas, and he did not receive befitting respect, according to Ambattha. The Buddha accommodatingly tells the young man that even a small bird sings in its nest as it wishes – one should not be offended because of such trifles. However, Ambattha continues to talk pejoratively about the Buddha, reproaching Gotama for His low caste and calling Him a “shaved-head hermit”.

Then the Buddha explains that the clan from which Ambattha originates (the Kanha clan) is lower in origin than the Sakya clan. He demands from Ambattha to answer – is this so? But Ambattha remains silent. Then the Buddha evokes the vision of a yaksha Vajrapani (a wrathful deity) holding a large burning iron mace above Ambattha’s head, making this vision accessible to the young man as well. “Answer my question about the truth, or your head will split!” says Buddha to Ambattha and the latter has to confirm that the Buddha has told the truth. After that, the comrades of Ambattha express contempt for the latter, but the Buddha stops them, explaining that the mother of Kanha, the ancestor of Ambattha, was a slave, but Kanha became a great sage and belonging to his family is not at all humiliating, but, on the contrary, honorable. Only after this the Buddha proclaims that what deserves respect and reverence is the morality of a man, and not his ancestry.

Statement of the fundamentals of morality

Further, the Buddha sets out a set of rules for monastic discipline (which is repeated in all the suttas). If, however, in the Brahmajala Sutta (Digha Nikaya 1), the Buddha speaks of the insignificance of praise for high morality in comparison with praise for wisdom, then in this sutta the description of moral rules has a special weight, because their superiority over Ambattha’s worldly values is shown.

Among the highest values, the Buddha teaches non-injury to living beings, including seeds and plants (a monk lives by alms, wandering without a stick or a weapon, refusing to take what is not given to him).

A monk (for the sake of maintaining calm of thoughts), moves away from the world, from the common custom of copulation.

An overcoming of the four vices of speech is then detailed: lies, slander, rudeness and lightheadedness.

Further, the Buddha contrasts the behavior of serious, reserved monks to the behavior of those who are engaged in the accumulation of worldly values and the delights of their senses. After this, as well as in the Samaññaphala Sutta (Digha Nikaya 2), a detailed description of the stages of attaining visible fruits of asceticism follows. This description includes the idea that the contemplator sees in his mind inept skills leading to suffering, like a man who sees shells and shellfish in the lake. After this, a natural for this situation conversation about the correction of Ambattha’s ill manners and bad education is being continued. The Buddha tells the young man, that those revered gurus of Brahmins, whose texts they study, whose songs they sing, did not serve their senses, as Ambattha and his teacher Pokkharasadi do.

Moreover, Ambattha and his teacher are deprived of four “ports” (small “gates” or “openings” to withdraw a person from a state of ignorance) smaller than the righteousness and knowledge of the Buddha: they did not retire from the world for strictest austerity, did not retire from the world for the sake of asceticism, did not serve fire detachedly and did not open a hospice home for hermits.

The disclosure of hidden signs by the Buddha

Seeing that Ambattha’s doubts are not yet completely dispersed, the Buddha magically reveals him a vision of a sign hidden in a deepening under his clothing and also a large tongue with which Buddha can reach to the holes in his ears and reach his forehead. Convinced by these visions, Ambatta returns to his mentor.

Pokkharasadi’s reaction

Brahman Pokkharasadi is angry at Ambattha because the latter caused a negative opinion from the Buddha not only about himself, but also about him. Pokkharasadi is rude and not restrained – he kicks Ambattha with his foot. Then he goes to the Buddha himself. He also sees a vision of the wonderful signs of the Buddha. A convinced Brahman listens to the sermon, and asks the Buddha to visit his house when the Arhat comes to their village. So he opens the lesser of the “ports” – the “port” of hospitality for the members of the Sangha. From what was said earlier, it is obvious that the higher stages of morality are not yet available for this Brahman.

Vladimir Pyatsky & Smadar Pyatsky

Translation: Natalia Tsimbler