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© You may print any of these books for your own use. However, all rights are reserved. You may not use any of the site content on your own website, nor for commercial distribution. To publish the books, permission must be sought from the appropriate copyright owners. If you post an extract on a forum, post a link to the appropriate page. Please do not link directly to PDF, MP3, or ZIP files. (Updated on 18 August, 2017)




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Potaliya Suttaṃ

(M.i.359)

A Discourse to Potaliya

Introduction

Only the section on the dangers of sensual pleasures is translated on Access to Insight, but I have translated the entire sutta. I have also filled in the two paragraphs on the recollection of former existences and the attainment of the divine-eye, which are elided in Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation because they are found in the Kandaraka Sutta, MN Sutta 51, (M.i.339), which is in the same book.

Translation

Thus have I heard — At one time the Blessed One was dwelling among the Aṅguttarāpa at a market town called Āpaṇa. Then the Blessed One, having dressed and taken the almsbowl and robe, entered Āpaṇa for alms. Have walked for alms in Āpaṇa and returned from almsround, after the meal he went to a certain forest grove to spend the day. Have entered that forest grove he sat down under a tree to spend the day.

The householder Potaliya dressed in a cloak and carrying an umbrella was walking about here and there for exercise and approached that forest grove, Having approached and entered that forest grove he approached the Blessed One, and having approached him exchanged friendly greetings. Having engaged in polite conversation he stood at one side. The Blessed One said to Potaliya as he stood there: “There are places to sit, householder, sit down if you wish.”

When this was said, the householder Potaliya, thinking: “The recluse Gotama addresses me with the word ‘householder’,” being angry and displeased, remained silent. A second and a third time the Blessed One said to Potaliya: “There are places to sit, householder, sit down if you wish.”

When this was said, the householder Potaliya, thinking: “The recluse Gotama addresses me with the word ‘householder’,” being angry and displeased, said to the Blessed One: “Friend Gotama, it is not suitable, it is not proper that you should address me with the word ‘householder’.”

“Householder, you have the attributes (ākārā), characteristics (liṅgā), and signs (nimittā) of a householder.”

“But, friend Gotama, I have given up all employment and cut off all affairs.”

“Householder, how have you given up all employment and cut off all affairs?”

“Herein, friend Gotama, I have given all of my wealth, grain, silver and money to my children as their inheritance. I do not advise or admonish them, and dwell with just food and clothing. Thus, friend Gotama, I have given up all employment and cut off all affairs.”

“Householder, I speak of another way of cutting off all affairs in the discipline of the noble ones.”

“How does one, venerable sir,¹ cut off all affairs in the discipline of the noble ones? It would be good, venerable sir, if the Blessed One would teach me how one cuts off affairs in the discipline of the noble ones.”

“Then, householder, listen and pay careful attention, I will speak.”

“Very good, venerable sir,” the householder Potaliya replied to the Blessed One. The Blessed One said —

“Householder, for cutting off affairs in the discipline of the nobles ones there are eight things. What eight? The abandoning of killing is by means of the non-killing of living beings. The abandoning of stealing is by means of not stealing. The abandoning of lying is by means of speaking the truth. The abandoning of slandering is by means of not slandering. The abandoning of excessive greed (giddhilobho is by means of not being greedy, the abandoning of scolding (nindāroso) is by means of not scolding, the abandoning of ranting (kodhūpāyāso is by means of not ranting, the abandoning of excessive conceit (atimāna)⁴ is by means of humility (anatimāna). These eight things, householder, stated in brief, but not explained in detail, lead to the cutting off of all affairs in the discipline of the noble ones.”

“Those eight things, venerable sir, stated in brief by the Blessed One, but not explained in detail that lead to the cutting off of all affairs in the discipline of the noble ones, it would be good, venerable sir, if the Blessed One would explain in details this eight things out of compassion for me.”

“Then, householder, listen and pay careful attention, I will speak.”

“Very good, venerable sir,” the householder Potaliya replied to the Blessed One. The Blessed One said —

“It was said, ‘The abandoning of killing is by means of the non-killing of living beings.’ Why was this said? Here, householder, a disciple of the noble ones reflects thus — ‘I am practising for the abandoning and cutting off of those fetters because of which I might kill living beings. And if I were to kill living beings I would blame myself for that, and having found out about me the wise would censure me for killing living beings, and on the break up of the body after death I would expect to arise in an unfortunate destination for killing living beings.’ Thus it was said, ‘The abandoning of killing is by means of the non-killing of living-beings,’ because of that.

“It was said, ‘The abandoning of stealing is by means of not stealing.’ Why was this said? Here, householder, a disciple of the noble ones (ariyasāvako)⁵ reflects thus — ‘I am practising for the abandoning and cutting off of those fetters because of which I might steal. And if I were to steal I would blame myself for that, and having found out about me the wise would censure me for stealing, and on the break up of the body after death I would expect to arise in an unfortunate destination for stealing.’ Thus it was said, ‘The abandoning of stealing is by means of not stealing,’ because of that.

“It was said, ‘The abandoning of lying is by means of speaking the truth.’ Why was this said? Here, householder, a disciple of the noble ones reflects thus — ‘I am practising for the abandoning and cutting off of those fetters because of which I might tell lies. And if I were to tell lies I would blame myself for that, and having found out about me the wise would censure me for telling lies, and on the break up of the body after death I would expect to arise in an unfortunate destination for telling lies.’ Thus it was said, ‘The abandoning of telling lies is by means of speaking the truth,’ because of that.

“It was said, ‘The abandoning of slandering is by means of not slandering.’ Why was this said? Here, householder, a disciple of the noble ones reflects thus — ‘I am practising for the abandoning and cutting off of those fetters because of which I might slander. And if I were to slander I would blame myself for that, and having found out about me the wise would censure me for slandering, and on the break up of the body after death I would expect to arise in an unfortunate destination for slandering.’ Thus it was said, ‘The abandoning of slandering is by means of not slandering,’ because of that.

“It was said, ‘The abandoning of excessive greed is by means of not being greedy.’ Why was this said? Here, householder, a disciple of the noble ones reflects thus — ‘I am practising for the abandoning and cutting off of those fetters because of which I might have excessive greed. And if I were to have excessive greed I would blame myself for that, and having found out about me the wise would censure me for having excessive greed, and on the break up of the body after death I would expect to arise in an unfortunate destination for having excessive greed.’ Thus it was said, ‘The abandoning of excessive greed is by means of not having excessive greed,’ because of that.

“It was said, ‘The abandoning of scolding is by means of not scolding.’ Why was this said? Here, householder, a disciple of the noble ones reflects thus — ‘I am practising for the abandoning and cutting off of those fetters because of which I might disparage. And if I were to disparage I would blame myself for that, and having found out about me the wise would censure me for scolding, and on the break up of the body after death I would expect to arise in an unfortunate destination for scolding.’ Thus it was said, ‘The abandoning of scolding is by means of not scolding,’ because of that.

“It was said, ‘The abandoning of ranting is by means of not ranting.’ Why was this said? Here, householder, a disciple of the noble ones reflects thus — ‘I am practising for the abandoning and cutting off of those fetters because of which I might rant. And if I were to rant I would blame myself for that, and having found out about me the wise would censure me for ranting, and on the break up of the body after death I would expect to arise in an unfortunate destination for ranting.’ Thus it was said, ‘The abandoning of ranting is by means of not ranting,’ because of that.

“It was said, ‘The abandoning of excessive conceit is by means of humility.’ Why was this said? Here, householder, a disciple of the noble ones reflects thus — ‘I am practising for the abandoning and cutting off of those fetters because of which I might be excessively conceited. And if I were to be excessively conceited I would blame myself for that, and having found out about me the wise would censure me for being excessively conceited, and on the break up of the body after death I would expect to arise in an unfortunate destination for being excessively conceited.’ Thus it was said, ‘The abandoning of excessive conceit is by means of humility,’ because of that.

“These eight things stated in brief, householder, now explained in detail lead to the cutting off of affairs in the noble one’s discipline. However, the cutting off of affairs has not yet been fully achieved in all ways in the noble one’s discipline.”

“How then, venerable sir, is the cutting off of affairs fully achieved in all ways in the noble one’s discipline? It would be good, venerable sir, if the Blessed One would teach me how the cutting off of affairs is fully achieved in all ways in the noble one’s discipline.”

“Then, householder, listen, and pay careful attention. I will speak.”

“Very good, venerable sir,” the householder Potaliya replied to the Blessed one. The Blessed One said —

Talk on the Dangers of Sensual Pleasures

“It is as if, householder, a starving dog was waiting by the door of a butcher’s. Then a skilful butcher or butcher’s apprentice tossed him a chain of bones, well-scraped, without meat, smeared with blood. What do you think, householder, would that starving dog appease its hunger by gnawing on that chain of bones, well-scraped, without meat, smeared with blood?”

“Indeed not, venerable sir.”

“Why is that?”

“That chain of bones, venerable sir, is well-scraped, without meat, smeared with blood. However much that dog would get nothing but weariness and vexation.”

“Even so, householder, a disciple of the noble ones reflects thus — ‘The Blessed One has compared sensual pleasures to a chain of bones, of great suffering and despair, fraught with grave danger. Having seen this as it really is with perfect wisdom, having avoided the equanimity of diversity depending on diversity he develops the equanimity of unity depending on unity where the attachment to material things ceases without remainder.

“It is as if, householder, a vulture, a heron, or a hawk, having seized a piece of flesh should fly away, and other vultures, herons, or hawks would attack it, pecking and clawing it. What do you think, householder, if that vulture, heron, or hawk, did not drop that lump of flesh at once, would it not because of that experience death or deadly suffering?”

“Indeed it would, venerable sir.”

“In the same way, householder, a disciple of the noble ones reflects — ‘The Blessed One has compared sensual pleasures to a chain of bones, of great suffering and despair, fraught with grave danger. Having seen this as it really is with perfect wisdom, having avoided the equanimity of diversity depending on diversity he develops the equanimity of unity depending on unity where the attachment to material things ceases without remainder.’

“It is as if, householder, a man carrying a torch of burning grass should walk into the wind. What do you think, householder, if that man did not quickly discard that burning torch would his hand or arm or some other part of his body not get badly burnt because of that leading to death or deadly suffering?

“Indeed it would, venerable sir.”

“In the same way, householder, a disciple of the noble ones reflects — ‘The Blessed One has compared sensual pleasures to a burning torch, of great suffering and despair, fraught with grave danger. Having seen this as it really is with perfect wisdom, having avoided the equanimity of diversity depending on diversity he develops the equanimity of unity depending on unity where the attachment to material things ceases without remainder.’

“It is as if, householder, there were a burning pit of glowing charcoal, without flames or smoke, deeper than the height of a man. A man comes there, loving life and not wishing to die, desiring pleasure and averse to pain. Two strong men having taken him by each arm drag him towards it. What do you think, householder, would that man not twist his body and struggle?”

“Indeed he would, venerable sir.”

“Why is that?”

“Because, venerable sir, the man knows that if he should fall into the pit of burning charcoal, because of that he would experience death of deadly suffering.”

“In the same way, householder, a disciple of the noble ones reflects — ‘The Blessed One has compared sensual pleasures to a burning pit of charcoal, of great suffering and despair, fraught with grave danger. Having seen this as it really is with perfect wisdom, having avoided the equanimity of diversity ⁶ depending on diversity he develops the equanimity of unity depending on unity where the attachment to material things ceases without remainder.’

“It is as if, householder, a man should dream of lovely parks, forest groves, meadows, and ponds. On waking up he should see none of them.

“In the same way, householder, a disciple of the noble ones reflects — ‘The Blessed One has compared sensual pleasures to a dream, of great suffering and despair, fraught with grave danger. Having seen this as it really is with perfect wisdom, having avoided the equanimity of diversity depending on diversity he develops the equanimity of unity depending on unity where the attachment to material things ceases without remainder.’

“It is as if, householder, a man having borrowed wealth, hired a luxurious carriage decorated with jewels, and went to the marketplace. Having seen him the people would say — ‘This man is wealthy, this is how the wealthy enjoy their wealth.’ Then the owners, on seeing him, would take away what is their own property. What do you think, householder, would that man become dejected?”

“Indeed he would, venerable sir.”

“Why is that?”

“Because the owners had taken what is their own property.”

“In the same way, householder, a disciple of the noble ones reflects — ‘The Blessed One has compared sensual pleasures to borrowed wealth, of great suffering and despair, fraught with grave danger. Having seen this as it really is with perfect wisdom, having avoided the equanimity of diversity depending on diversity he develops the equanimity of unity depending on unity where the attachment to material things ceases without remainder.’

“It is as if, householder, there were a dense forest not far from a village or a market town. There stood a tree laden with fruit, but none had fallen to the ground, and a man having come there in search of fruit and seeing the tree thought, ‘Let me climb the tree eat as much as I want and fill my bag with fruits,’ and he did so. Then a second man might come there in search of fruits carrying a sharp axe. He thinks thus, ‘The tree is laden with fruit but none have fallen to the ground and I do not know how to climb the tree. If I cut down the tree I can eat as much as I want and fill my bag with fruits.’ Then he starts cutting down the tree. What do you think, householder, if the first man who had climbed that tree did not come down quickly, would he not suffer injury or death when the tree fell?”

“Indeed he would, venerable sir.”

“In the same way, householder, a disciple of the noble ones reflects — ‘The Blessed One has compared sensual pleasures to the fruits of a tree, of great suffering and despair, fraught with grave danger. Having seen this as it really is with perfect wisdom, having avoided the equanimity of diversity depending on diversity he develops the equanimity of unity depending on unity where the attachment to material things ceases without remainder.’

“That disciple of the noble ones, householder, based on this incomparable equanimity purified by mindfulness, recollects his former existences — one birth, two births, three births, four births, five births, ten births, twenty births, thirty births, forty births, fifty births, a hundred births, a thousand births, a hundred thousand births, many aeons of evolution (saṃvaṭṭakappe), many aeons of devolution (vivaṭṭakappe), many aeons of evolution and devolution, ‘Thus was my name, thus was my clan, thus was my appearance, thus was my food, thus was the pleasure and pain that I experienced, thus was the manner of my death, having passed away here, I arose there.’ Thus he recollects many existences with the characteristics and details.

“That disciple of the noble ones, householder, based on this incomparable equanimity purified by mindfulness, with the divine-eye purified beyond the ability of human beings, he sees living beings dying and reappearing in inferior or superior states, being beautiful or ugly, happy or unhappy, knowing how they fare according to their kamma — ‘These beings having performed bodily, verbal, and mental misconduct, being revilers of noble ones, holders of wrong-views, undertaking actions with wrong-view, after death they arose in unfortunate destinations, states of loss, in hell; these other beings having performed bodily, verbal, and mental good conduct, not being revilers of noble ones, holders of right-views, undertaking actions with right-view, after death they arose in fortunate destinations, in heavenly realms.’ Thus with the divine-eye purified beyond the ability of human beings he sees beings passing away and reappearing in inferior or superior states, being beautiful or ugly, happy or unhappy, knowing how beings fare according to their kamma.

“That disciple of the noble ones, householder, based on this incomparable equanimity purified by mindfulness, destroys the outflows being liberated in mind and liberated by wisdom, realising it in this very life by direct knowledge, and abiding in that attainment. Thus, householder, a disciple of the noble ones achieves the cutting off of affairs in all ways in the noble one’s discipline.

“What do you think, householder, have you cut off all affairs like this cutting off of affairs in the noble one’s discipline, when it is fully achieved in all ways?”

“How could I be, venerable sir? I am far away from this cutting off of affairs in the noble one’s discipline, when it is fully achieved in all ways. Venerable sir, we formerly thought that only the wanderers of other sects were well-bred, though they are not; we fed them with food for the well-bred, though they were not well-bred, and set them in the place of the well-bred. However, venerable sir, we now see that the wanderers of other sects are not well-bred, we will feed them with the food for those not well-bred, and set them in the place of those not well-bred. However, as we see that the bhikkhus are well-bred, we will feed them with the food of the well-bred, and set them in the place of the well-bred. The Blessed One has inspired me with affection for recluses, confidence for recluses, reverence for recluses.

“It is wonderful, venerable sir, it is marvellous, venerable sir! It is as if, venerable sir, someone had set upright what had been overturned, revealed what was hidden, pointed out the path to one who was lost, brought a light into the darkness so that those with eyes can see. Thus, venerable sir, the Blessed One has explained the Dhamma in various ways. I go for refuge to the Blessed One, to the Dhamma, and to the Saṅgha. May the Blessed One regard me as a disciple who has taken refuge from today for as long as I shall live.”(M.i.359)

Notes:

1. Earlier, Potaliya addressed the Blessed One with the words “Friend Gotama (bho Gotama),” which is a familiar form of address between equals. Apparently, Potaliya’s anger has been quickly calmed by the Buddha’s loving-kindness, as Potaliya now addresses him as “Venerable sir (bhante).” 

2. Greed is to be expected among ordinary persons — anyone who is not a non-returner will not be entirely free from desire for sensual pleasure. What is meant here is insatiable greed.

3. Anger (kodha) and mental turbulence (upāyāsa). Bhikkhu Bodhi translates this as “angry despair.”

4. Excessive conceit (atimāna) is to imagine that one has qualities that one does not have. Non-returners are not free from conceit (māna), but they do not over-estimate their virtues.

5. I have translated it this way rather than as “a noble disciple,” because those who have not yet attained the Path of Stream-winning will also practice in this way.

6. The Commentary says that this equanimity regarding the five strands of sensual desire. The equanimity of unity is that of the absorptions (jhāna).