Sakkapañha Sutta (Sakka’s Questions), Digha Nikaya 21

Introduction

Once, when the Blessed One was in the cave of the sal tree of Indra, the leader of the gods, Sakka, decided to visit Him. Sakka approached the cave accompanied by the gandharva called Five Fires and asked the gandharva, as the gandharva was on friendly terms with Buddha (see Digha Nikaya 19), to start a conversation with Buddha, and afterwards, when the moment was favourable, to invite Sakka himself into the cave.

Five Fires’ Song

Standing not far from Buddha, the gandharva sang a song, accompanying himself with a veena. In his song, the gandharva glorified the daughter of the king of gandharvas. He compares his devotion to the girl and the joy from thinking about her, to the devotion and joy that the Arhats experience towards Dhamma.

Buddha praised Five Fires’ song, and asked him from where he learned it. The gandharva answered, that he fell in love with the daughter of the king Timbara, but the beautiful lady of the gandharvas chose another. Then, Five Fires, with the help of music and song, decided to win over her heart, and composed this song himself. Hearing the singing of the gandharva, the daughter of the king became favourable towards Five Fires.

Sakka’s Appearance

Seeing that the Blessed One was having a friendly conversation with Five Fires, Sakka asked to be allowed in, and Buddha greeted Sakka and his retinue. When the gods entered the cave, the rough and dirty walls of the cave became smooth, clean, and luminescent.

Sakka told Buddha that he has long ago noticed that with the appearance of the Blessed One  in the earthly world, the congregation of gods has been strengthening and replenishing. He remembered the story of a girl named Goppika, who found refuge in the Three Jewels, and, having lived a pure and righteous life, full of decisiveness, that of the ranks of a warrior, with the decomposition of the body, was reborn as one of the male gods in Sakka’s congregation. Around the same time, three of the followers of Buddha, who took monastic vows, with the decomposition of their body, were reborn as ghandaravas of lower level, serving the gods. Goppika, who now, in the congregation of gods, was called Gopaka, shamed the former monks: how could you, being in communication with the Blessed One himself, remain so enmeshed in the bonds of desires? During my lifetime, I served you, and yet attained freedom in the world of gods. You served Buddha himself, but so foolishly indulged in the activity of feelings!

Two of the former monks soberred from the words of Gopaka, and, having renounced the bonds, attained the assembly of Brahma, yet one remained in delusion, a servant to the gods.

“Sakka has been leading a righteous life for a long time”, – thought Buddha. “The time is favourable to Teach him Dhamma”, and Buddha invited Sakka to ask any questions that he would like to ask.

Sakka’s Questions

“Why do all beings: gods, people, asuras, Nagas, Garudas, Gandharvas, and all other beings, understanding that it is good to live without hostility, hatred, and in friendship, nevertheless live in hostility, hatred, and strife”? – Sakka asked Buddha.

“From jealousy and greed in beings hostility flares up and strife arises”, Buddha replied.

“But jealousy and greed”, Sakka continued: “From what do they emerge”?

“Attraction for the pleasant and aversion to the unpleasant – that is what gives birth to jealousy and greed”

“What is the reason for the separation of things into pleasant and unpleasant?”

“Desire evokes the appearance of ideas about pleasant and unpleasant”

“What, then, is the reason for the appearance of a desire?”

“An unstable thought is the cause for the appearance of desire”.

“And what is the cause for an unstable thought?”

“Captivation by the activity of feelings is the cause of an unstable thought”

“How, O The Blessed One, does one who wishes to become free of captivation, need to act?” 

Happiness is of two kinds, O leader of the gods: leading to an increase of good qualities and leading to an increase of bad qualities; sadness and sorrow are also of two kinds; equal-regard is also of the same two kinds. The wise choose happiness, sadness and sorrow, and equal-regard, of the kind that leads to the increase of goods qualities. And, at the same time, the wise renounce the happiness, sadness and sorrow, and equal-regard, that lead to the increase of bad qualities.”

“How should one who strives towards the increase of good qualities, and avoids the increase of bad qualities, act?”

“The behaviour of body, speech, and mind, is also of two kinds: leading to the increase of good qualities, or, the kind that increases bad qualities. The one who follows the Noble Path, chooses the behaviour, speech, and mindfulness that increase good qualities, renouncing bad qualities.”

“The same applies to the ayatans (the consciousness of the six organs of senses) – there are images, sounds, sensations, scents, tastes, ideas, that lead to good, one needs to follow them. If it becomes known that they lead to no good, then one should not follow them”

“I thank you, The Blessed One! My confusion has passed. Do all hermits and brahmins follow such an understanding? Do all of them become freed from the bonds of strive towards the pleasant and aversion to the unpleasant?”

“No, Sakka, not all hermits and brahmins follow such an understanding. Many of them, finding something familiar or convincing, or convenient for them in one or another way, experience pleasantness from that, and become trapped in the shackles of one or another idea, one or another experience, one or another directive. Only those brahmins and hermits, who have overcome greed and jealousy, are freed from the bonds of delusion and hostility.”

Sakka expressed his amazement to Buddha for His answers, answers, which liberate from captivation. 

The Questions of Buddha to Sakka

“Answer me, too, Sakka”. Have you discussed the same question with other hermits or brahmins?”

“Yes, Blessed One” But they, as soon as I started talking with them, asked me questions: Who are you? How did you reach your position? And, finding out, that I – Sakka, am the ruler of gods, were happy that they saw me, that they learned things about me, and instead of becoming my Teachers, became my students. But now I – am the student of the Blessed One.”

“Tell me, leader of the gods, have you experienced such joy before?”

“Yes. I have experienced such joy in the past, when the gods, led by me, defeated the asuras, and won not only their own nectar of immortality, but also the nectar of the asuras. But that joy, accompanied with violence, did not lead to peace, did not lead to cessation of captivity, did not lead to nibbana. Now, the joy I currently experience is full of peace, cessation of captivity, it leads to nibbana.

My present joy, has six transcending qualities: first, I know that I am now god born thanks to virtuous strive in the past; second, I know that having exhausted my merits in the godly realm, I would choose a favorable human birth; Thirdly, I give rise in myself to a strive towards a righteous and wise life in the human world; Fourthly, I see the goal of Awakening. Fifth, I know that having left the human birth, I will again be reborn a ruler of gods. Sixth, I know that above the world of gods, lie the worlds of perfect beings (worlds of no-fall) – and my further path lies there! In the last rebirth, before attainment of nibbana, I will reside there.

While Sakka was talking with Buddha, a flawless understanding arose in his mind: “Everything that has appeared, has to disappear”.

Conclusion

Sakka, the leader of gods, personifies the quality of pride. He – both, at the same time, is the external and inner reality¹. Most beings turn towards visualization for the sake of receiving heavenly experiences, cultivating unskillful pride, but the Buddha instructs the quality of pride, both the internal and external aspects of it, letting that quality find a correct attitude towards wisdom. Like so, appears the enlightened pride of Sakka, described by him in six points. Such pride develops good qualities in the consciousness, qualities that lead to nibbana.

¹external, as Sakka, and inner, as the inner reality of pride in a person

Vova Pyatsky and Smadar Pyatsky

Translated by Roni Sherman