8. Kassapa Sihanada Sutta (The Lion’s Roar to Kassapa)

Kassapa’s Question

The naked ascetic Kassapa asks the Buddha a question: Is it true that the Buddha condemns all kinds of asceticism (austerity)?

The Buddha’s Answer

It is not so, – the Buddha answers. By divine vision, the Buddha sees the following: there are hermits who subject themselves to severe trials (of asceticism), and some of them are reborn in the lower worlds after their death, and a part – in the higher. There are also hermits living only with insignificant burdens (without serious restrictions), and some of them are reborn into misfortune, and some – in happiness. Therefore, the Buddha does not condemn all asceticism and does not condemn all ascetics (i.e., degree and type of asceticism do not determine whether the ascetic will attain liberation from suffering).

The Buddha continues to explain

The Buddha tells Kassapa that there are some hermits and Brahmans that are wise, sophisticated, capable of piercing a hair (by the acuteness of understanding), that move, splitting false views by a course of their comprehension. In some positions, their views coincide with the views of the Buddha, in some they do not. Therefore, the Buddha proposes to leave at rest those positions in which there is a difference of views and to explore those positions about which both the Buddha and other hermits and Brahmans think in the same way. What does this study mean? Buddha suggests asking – teacher – another teacher, community – another community; ask for evidence and come to judgment about who more avoids unholy actions – the Buddha or other mentors? Who is more devoted to good things – the Buddha or other mentors? And so it happens, the Buddha says, that the people who have done the research conclude that the Buddha renounced all bad things to a greater extent than others and is more devoted to all that is worthy of praise. Moreover, they come to the same conclusion about the community of disciples of the Buddha: namely, that the community of disciples of the Buddha has largely renounced all the unworthy, and follows all the good to a much greater extent than the communities of other teachers.

Explaining the essence of hermitry and Brahmanism

Kassapa lists types of asceticism that are prevalent among ascetics. Among them, there are limitations in types and amounts of food; deprivations connected with rough and unpleasant clothes or absence of clothes; passing various tests, such as refusal to sit down, squatting, lying on a bed with spikes, etc.

The Buddha emphasizes again that it is not a matter of specific methods of asceticism, but whether or not an ascetic has acquired proper morality and amicability. Only such an amiable ascetic who destroyed hostility and purified his consciousness, the Buddha calls “Brahmana” and a “hermit”.

Kassapa’s heavy sigh

After listening to the Buddha’s reminder that only by purification of morality and the mind, asceticism and Brahmanism are achieved, Kassapa says: “It is difficult to achieve hermitage, the venerable Gautama, it is difficult to attain Brahmanism.” The Buddha confirms this. He says that if the aforementioned types of asceticism led to achievement, then anyone, even an untrained person, could achieve the Truth. Since only austerity alone is not enough to achieve liberation, therefore liberation is difficult to achieve.

“It is difficult to recognize a hermit, it is difficult to recognize a Brahmana,” Kassapa says. And again the Buddha agrees. After all, if true ascetics and Brahmans could be recognized by the external signs of asceticism, then it would be easy. But those who have reached Brahmanism must be recognized by the achievements of morality and wisdom, which are internal signs.

“Honored Gautama, what is a perfection in morality and wisdom?” – asks Kassapa.

The Buddha’s sermon of perfection in morality, thought and comprehension

The Buddha preaches to Kassapa about the path of moral and meditative purification, in the same way as described in other suttas. First, the Buddha explains the principles of non-violence, non-covetousness, rejection of slander, rudeness and frivolity in speech and need to control senses. Then, the Buddha explains the elimination of five disturbances (malice, stagnation, anxiety and torment, greed and doubt). After this follows the story of the four stages of meditative concentration (Jhānas; for details about the Jhānas and the removal of barriers see Samaññaphala Sutta, Digha Nikaya 2). The contemplator turns his perfected thought to the study of the impermanence of the body, its susceptibility to suffering and disintegration. The Buddha compares perfected thought aimed at a perfect vision, to a the colored thread, embedded in the transparent gem of velorium (it can be assumed that this is blue beryl).

The lion’s roar of the Buddha to the ascetic Kassapa

In the final part of the sutta, its name becomes clear. “Kassapa Sihanada” means literally “The Lion’s Roar to Kassapa”. The concept of “lion’s roar” is widely used in yoga. As a lion, confident in its strength, roars its authority over other beasts, so is a sage, confident in his comprehension of wisdom, declares his highest position without hesitation. In this statement, there is an ecstatic shade, which in the later Buddhist literature we can find in the Doha (inspired songs) of the Mahasiddhis, for example, in the Songs of Milarepa. The Buddha, referring to Kassapa, asserts that the morality of His Teaching is the best. In renunciation of the world, He, the Buddha, is the best. There are hermits and Brahmans preaching comprehension, but He is the best among them. There are hermits and Brahmans preaching liberation, but the Buddha does not see anyone in this respect equal to himself, and even more so – no one is superior to Him.

Further, the Buddha tells Kassapa that He roars like a lion not only in solitude, but also in a congregation of people; not only He roars, but also answers questions (i.e. does not show ignorance); not only He answers questions, but also His answers satisfy the thought; not only they satisfy the thought, but also cause faith; the Buddha’s listeners not only gain faith, but follow the path of truth; not only the disciples of the Buddha follow the path of truth, but also they achieve the goal.

Kassapa becomes a member of the Sangha

An ascetic Kassapa, also known as Kashyapa (Mahakashyapa), became one of the Buddha’s most famous disciples who helped the Buddha lead the whole Sangha to Awakening. The final lines of the Sutta mention the arrival of Kassapa in the Sangha. Since Kassapa previously belonged to another sect, he became a member of the Sangha after a four-month trial period.

A special nature of the Buddha’s conversation with Kassapa

The conversation between Buddha and Kassapa, described in the Sutta, takes place in a special atmosphere. The Buddha shows Kassapa the appearance of the Guru, because He foresees in Kassapa his exceptional devotion to the Dharma. The lion does not roar, asserting his dominance over mice and small animals. He roars at other lions. The hearts of Buddha and Kassapa meet.

Vladimir Pyatsky & Smadar Pyatsky
Translation: Natalia Tsimbler