Mulapariyaya Sutta – The Root of All Things, Majjhima Nikaya 1

The Buddha’s Sermon

In aconversation with his disciples, the Buddha states that an untrained person, an advanced disciple, an Arhat and a Tathagata, perceive phenomena in different ways.

They perceive the elements of form (earth, water, fire and air), bodily beings, gods, Prajapati, Brahma, the gods of Radiance, the Beautiful gods, the gods of the Perfect Fruit, the ruling gods, infinite space, infinite consciousness, emptiness, nonduality, activity of senses and mind, unity and division, the totality of all phenomena and nibbana – differently.

Worlds listed by the Buddha

First, the Buddha lists the levels of the Kamaloka (the world of desires). Among them mentioned are the world of bodies consisting of four great elements (earth, water, fire and air), the heaven of the gods of desires, the world of Prajapati (the forefather from whose body all beings of the human, animal, vegetable and mineral worlds originated) and the world of Brahmas – creators of phenomena.

Then, the Buddha mentions the levels of the Pure Lands of the Rupa sphere, which is the abode for the shining, beautiful, perfect and ruling gods.

Then, the Buddha mentions the four formless concentrations: meditation on the infinite space and consciousness, emptiness and non-duality.

After that, the activities of the mind and feelings and their exploration and termination in the sphere of Arupa (with no forms) are described.

Difference of perceptions

The Buddha says: An untrained person perceives all phenomena as something with an essence, they are fascinated by them, strive to possess them. On the contrary, an advanced disciple, an Arhat and a Tathagata are not fascinated with phenomena and do not seek possession, they see the insubstantiality of all worlds and phenomena.

In turn, the perceptions of an advanced disciple, an Arhat and a Tathagata also differ from each other.

An advanced disciple knows that he must comprehend the Anatta (absence of “I” in phenomena), and is focused on a dispassionate perception that does not develop attachment and aversion (this attitude to perceptions characterizes the development of mirror-like wisdom).

An Arhat (a perfect pupil who has reached the goal) perceives phenomena, having already achieved a dispassionate state. He achieved awareness and cessation of the causes of confusion: lust, hatred and delusion. Therefore, he effortlessly comprehends the qualities of things, without distorting them.

Tathagatas know the causes of the emergence of the formation, dwelling and destruction of all phenomena. The Tathagatas comprehended the truth that any kind of existence and non-existence, or non-dual state (neither existence nor non-existence) is suffering (it is the perception of Tathagatas that defined the name of the given sutta: “the root of all things” – this root is suffering).

Tathagatas have destroyed the dependence of the mind on any kind of perception and have completed the accumulation of true knowledge. Therefore, they perceive all phenomena without ignorance. Through this, they achieve complete Awakening and the cessation of suffering.

Reaction of the disciples

Sutta ends with the words: “But, hearing the words of the Blessed One, the disciples did not rejoice.”

The implied interpretation of these words it that this teaching was difficult for the disciples present at the sermon. Another interpretation – the disciples, practicing the teachings, are captured by the idea of dispassion, and do not develop admiration. But more importantly, the very fact that there is no emotional reaction of the disciples is the impassive statement of Ananda, from whose words the sutta is written.

Vladimir Pyatsky and Smadar Pyatsky
Translation: Natalia Tsimbler