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Loṇakapalla Suttaṃ

(A.i.249)

A Ladle of Salt

Introduction

The CSCD Pāḷi text refers to this discourse as the Loṇakapalla Sutta, while other editions call it the Loṇaphala Sutta. Since the CSCD Pāḷi Tipiṭaka is easily available, I use that spelling. Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ajahn Thanissaro both assume the spelling Loṇaphala in translating this as “A Lump of Salt,” and “The Salt Crystal” respectively.

I have removed some repetitions from the translation. The suttas were designed for memorisation to pass down by oral tradition, hence repetitions were commonly used.

The discourse explains why there is one law for the poor and another for the rich and powerful.

Translation

“Monks, if someone says: A man experiences the result of kamma in the exact same way that he did it,’ if that were so there could be no living of the holy life, and there would be no chance for the complete ending of suffering. Monks, if someone says, ‘When a man performs kamma to be experienced in a particular way he experiences its result in that way,’ there could be the living of the holy life, and there would be a chance for the complete ending of suffering.

“Here, monks, one individual performs a trifling evil kamma that leads to hell, but another person experiences the result of that trifling evil kamma in this very life.

“Monks, what kind of individual performs a trifling evil kamma that leads to hell? Here, monks, the kind of individual who is undeveloped in body,¹ morality, mind, and wisdom. This kind of individual, monks, who performs a trifling evil kamma that leads to hell.

“Monks, what kind of individual performs a trifling evil kamma that is experienced in this very life, and only a little, let alone a lot? Here, monks, the kind of individual is developed in body, morality, mind, and wisdom. This kind of individual, monks, who performs a trifling evil kamma experiences the result in this very life, and only a little, let alone a lot.

“It is as if, monks, a man were to drop a ladle of salt (loṇakapallaṃ) ² into a cup of water. What do you think, monks, due to that ladle of salt would the water become salty and undrinkable?”

“Indeed it would, venerable sir.”

“However, monks, if a man were to drop a ladle of salt into the Ganges. What do you think, monks, due to that ladle of salt would the great body of water in the river Ganges become salty and undrinkable?”

“Indeed not, venerable sir.”

“Thus it is, monks, that one kind of individual performs a trifling evil kamma that leads to hell, but another kind of individual who performs a trifling evil kamma experiences the result in this very life, and only a little, let alone a lot.”

“Monks, what kind of individual performs a trifling evil kamma that leads to hell? Here, monks, the kind of individual who is undeveloped in body, morality, mind, and wisdom, who is insignificant, of no account, who dwells in suffering. This kind of individual, monks, performs a trifling evil kamma that leads to hell.

“Monks, what kind of individual performs a trifling evil kamma that is experienced in this very life, and only a little, let alone a lot? Here, monks, the kind of individual who is developed in body, morality, mind, and wisdom, significant, of some account, who dwells with immeasurable good-will. This kind of individual, monks, who performs a trifling evil kamma, experiences the result in this very life, and only a little, let alone a lot.³

“Here, monks, one kind of individual is imprisoned for the sake of half a kahāpaṇa,⁴ for a kahāpaṇa, or for a hundred kahāpaṇas, while another kind of individual is not imprisoned for the sake of half a kahāpaṇa, for a kahāpaṇa, nor even for a hundred kahāpaṇas.

“The kind of individual who is undeveloped in body, morality, mind, and wisdom, who is insignificant, of no account, who dwells in suffering is imprisoned for the sake of half a kahāpaṇa, for a kahāpaṇa, or for a hundred kahāpaṇas. Another kind of individual is developed in body, morality, mind, and wisdom, who is significant, of some account, one who dwells with immeasurable good-will. This kind of individual, monks, who performs a trifling evil kamma, experiences the result in this very life, and only a little, let alone a lot.

“Monks, it is like a seller of sheep or a butcher can kill, imprison, fine, or punish one person who has stolen one of his sheep,⁵ but cannot do the same to another person. What kind of person can a seller of sheep or a butcher kill, imprison, fine, or punish? Here, monks one person is a vagrant, with few possessions, and little wealth. What kind of person can a butcher not kill, imprison, fine, or punish? Here, monks, another person is opulent, of great wealth, with much property, a king or a king’s minister. A seller of sheep or a butcher cannot kill, imprison, fine, or punish this kind of person. He can only plead with him: ‘Sir, please give me back my sheep, or give me the price of a sheep.’ Likewise, monks, one kind of individual performs a trifling evil kamma that leads to hell, while another kind of individual who performs a trifling evil kamma experiences the result in this very life, and only a little, let alone a lot.

“Monks, if someone says: A man experiences the result of kamma in the exact same way that he did it,’ if that were so there could be no living of the holy life, and there would be no chance for the complete ending of suffering. Monks, if someone says, ‘When a man performs kamma to be experienced in a particular way he experiences its result in that way,’ there could be the living of the holy life, and there would be a chance for the complete ending of suffering.” (A.i.249)

Notes:

1. Undeveloped in body (abhāvitakāyo), morality (abhāvitasīlo), mind (abhāvitacitto), and wisdom (abhāvitapañño) means an ordinary person wandering around in saṃsāra who has not cultivated mindfulness of the body, morality, concentration, or wisdom.

2. Only the Burmese edition of the text has loṇakapalla, which is also the title of this Sutta. Other translations have assumed “loṇaphala” here. The PTS dictionary gives “kapalla” as a variant of “kapāla,” which is a tortoise or turtle shell, a skull, a begging bowl used by certain ascetics, or a shard of pottery. Perhaps what is meant is a ladle made from a shell. Although this translation is speculative, the essential meaning of ”loṇakapalla” is clearly a signficant amount of salt that would dissolve and make water in a drinking vessel (udakamalla) unpalatable. Salt crystals tend to be small, so that is an unsatisfactory translation. Perhaps that is why Bhikkhu Bodhi used “A Lump of Salt,” which would be enough to make a cup or jug of water undrinkable.

3. Perhaps the prime example is that of Aṅgulimāla. He murdered 999 people before meeting the Buddha and becoming a monk and an Arahant. These were not trifling evil kammas by a long way, as even killing one human being would normally result in execution in those days, and might well lead to hell after death, what to say of killing 999 people? However, the pious King Pasenadi was awestruck by how the Buddha had managed to tame this multi-murderer, and offered to provide his monastic requisites. Aṅgulimāla did not live much longer, but he became very compassionate as the Aṅgilimāla Sutta shows. He had to endure many injuries caused by people throwing stones at him when he walked for alms, thus experiencing the results of his evil kamma in this very life as physical injuries and pain. The Buddha urged him to practice forbearance. Being an Arahant, he was not born again after death.

4. A copper coin (kahāpaṇa) of some value. The monastic rule on stealing states that the value of the property stolen must be five māsaka or greater to entail defeat. The Buddhist Monastic Code, estimates that this would be the equivalent of 1/24 of a Troy ounce of gold, or about £40 at today’s values. A kahāpaṇa is apparently four times this amount, so it would be about one day’s wages.

5. The price of a sheep in the UK is about £50 at today’s values, so about a quarter of a kahāpaṇa. Petty theft of something of this kind of value would be unlikely to lead to a court appearance for a first offence.