Wammika Sutta – Anthill, Majjhima Nikaya 23

An Amazing Mystery

On one night, a beautiful deity surrounded by radiance approached Kumara Kassapa, a disciple of Buddha. This deity gave a riddle to Kumara Kassapa:

The anthill emits smoke at night and burns during the day.

Brahman teaches the wise: “Dig the earth with a knife!” The wise man digs with a knife and digs out a Hasp.
Brahman says: “Throw away the Hasp, and dig the earth further”. The wise man digs further and finds a Toad.
Brahman says: “Throw away the Toad and dig further!” The wise continues to dig and finds a Bear Spear.
Brahman says: “Throw away the Bear Spear and continue!” The wise continues to dig and finds a Strainer.
Brahman says: “Throw away the Strainer and continue!” The wise digs and finds a Turtle.
Brahman says: “Throw away the Turtle and continue!” The wise continue to dig and finds a Butcher’s knife and a Cutting Board.
Brahman says: “Throw away the knife and the Cutting Board and continue to dig” The wise digs and finds a Piece of Meat.
Brahman says: “Throw away the Meat and continue to dig!” The wise continues to dig and finds a Naga (a Great Serpent).
Brahman says: “Do not throw away the Naga, do not bring harm to the Naga, respect Him!
Posing the riddle, the deity instructed Kumar Kassapa: “Ask the Blessed Tathagata about this riddle. No one but Him or His disciples can explain this riddle”.

The explanation of Buddha’s riddle

After the night passed, Kumar Kassapa went to the Buddha and asked Him to explain the riddle.
The Buddha explained that the Anthill is an image of the visible body, consisting of Wind, Fire, Water, and Earth, united by form. The visible body is replenished from food, comes from the father and the mother, is non permanent, wearing, decaying, and disappearing.
Smoke at night – these impressions, which a person continues to think about at night, are based on actions done during the day.
Burning by day, these are actions performed by the mind, speech, and body.
Brahman – that is Buddha, and a Wise is the disciple of the Buddha.
The knife with which the Wise is digging the earth is a diligent use of wisdom.
Hasp is an ignorance that locks doors leading to Awakening.
The Toad is the form of malice and hostility.
Bear Spear – Doubt in the Teaching, splitting the mind.
Strainer – the five obstacles: immersion in the activity of feelings; malevolence; stagnation and underdevelopment of good qualities; restlessness and dispars; indecision in following wisdom.
The four legs and head of the Turtle, which it pulls into its shell, are the aggregates to which the mind clings.
The Butcher’s knife divides the activity of senses into five strands: visual perception, auditory perception, smell, taste, and body perception.
The Butcher’s Cutting Board – that is a phenomenon, perceived by the senses.
A Piece of Meat – that is pleasure and passion, appetence.
Nag – that is the One, who has destroyed the spots that pollute the mind.

Conclusion

Delighted with his vision of the deity and the explanations of the Buddha, Kumar Kassapa comprehended the riddle, which was given to him in a vision, through his regular practice.
Subsequently, success in this practice allowed him to achieve Arhatship. The ability for figurative understanding of the Teachings acquired by Kumara Kassapa is also described in Payasi Sutta, DN 23.

Vladimir Pyatsky
Translation: Roni Sherman