54 Potaliya Sutta

To Potaliya

Exposition by Ven Bhikku Bodhi

§ 1. THUS HAVE I HEARD.
On one occasion the Blessed One was living 
in the country of the Anguttarapans at a town of theirs named Apana.

§2. Then, when it was morning, the Blessed One dressed, and taking his bowl and outer robe, went into Apana for alms. When he had wandered for alms in Apana and had returned from his almsround, after his meal he went to a certain grove for the day’s abiding. Having entered the grove, he sat down at the root of a tree.

§  3. Potaliya the householder, while walking and wandering for exercise, wearing full dress with parasol and sandals, also went to the grove, and having entered the grove, he went to the Blessed One and exchanged greetings with him. When this courteous and amiable talk was finished, he stood at one side. The Blessed One said to him: “There are seats, householder, sit down if you like.”

When this was said, the householder Potaliya thought: “The recluse Gotama addresses me as ‘householder,'” and angry and displeased, he remained silent.

A second time the Blessed One said to him: “There are seats, householder, sit down if you like.” And a second time the householder Potaliya thought: “The recluse Gotama addresses me as ‘householder,'” and angry and displeased, he remained silent.

A third time the Blessed One said to him:
“There are seats, 
householder, sit down if you like.”
When this was said, the 
householder Potaliya thought:
“The recluse Gotama addresses 
me as ‘householder,'”
and angry and displeased, he said to the 
Blessed One: [360]
“Master Gotama, it is neither fitting nor proper 
that you address me as ‘householder.'”

“Householder, you have the aspects, marks, and signs of a householder.”
“Nevertheless, Master Gotama, I have given up all my works and cut off all my affairs.”

“In what way have you given up all your works, householder, and cut off all your affairs?”

“Master Gotama, I have given all my wealth, grain, silver, and gold to my children as their inheritance. Without advising or admonishing them, I live merely on food and clothing. That is how I have given up all my works and cut off all my affairs.”

“Householder, the cutting off of affairs as you describe it is one thing, but in the Noble One’s Discipline the cutting off of affairs is different.”

“What is the cutting off of affairs like in the Noble One’s Discipline, venerable sir? It would be good, venerable sir, if the Blessed One would teach me the Dhamma, showing what the cutting off of affairs is like in the Noble One’s Discipline.”

“Then listen, householder, and attend closely to what I shall say.”

“Yes, venerable sir,” Potaliya the householder replied. The Blessed One said this:

§  4. “Householder, there are these eight things in the Noble One’s Discipline that lead to the cutting off of affairs.

What are the eight?

  1. With the support of the non-killing of living beings, the killing of living beings is to be abandoned.
  2. With the support of taking only what is given, the taking of what is not given is to be abandoned.
  3. With the support of truthful speech, false speech is to be abandoned.
  4. With the support of un-malicious speech, malicious speech is to be abandoned.
  5. With the support of refraining from rapacious greed,567
    [567:-Translated literally the Pali reads simply “no rapacious greed.” Since, in the English idiom, it is difficult to see how the mere absence of an evil can serve as a support, I have added the phrase “refraining from” here and in the next two cases, which are also expressed as simple negatives in the Pali.] rapacious greed is to be abandoned.
  6. With the support of refraining from spiteful scolding, spiteful scolding is to be abandoned.
  7. With the support of refraining from angry despair, angry despair is to be abandoned. 
  8. With the support of non-arrogance, arrogance is to be abandoned.

These are the eight things, stated in brief without being expounded in detail, that lead to the cutting off of affairs in the Noble One’s Discipline.”

§  5. “Venerable sir, it would be good if, out of compassion, the Blessed One would expound to me in detail these eight things that lead to the cutting off of affairs in the Noble One’s Discipline, which have been stated in brief by the Blessed One without being expounded in detail.”

“Then listen, householder, and attend closely to what I shall say.”

“Yes, venerable sir,” Potaliya the householder replied. The Blessed One said this: [361]

§  6.  “‘With the support of the non-killing of living beings, the killing of living beings is to be abandoned.’ So it was said. And with reference to what was this said?

Here a noble disciple considers thus:
‘I am practising the way to the abandoning and cutting off of those fetters because of which I might kill living beings. If I were to kill living beings, I would blame myself for doing so; the wise, having investigated, would censure me for doing so; and on the dissolution of the body, after death, because of killing living beings an unhappy destination would be expected. But this killing of living beings is itself a fetter and a hindrance.568

[MA: Although the killing of living beings is not included among the ten fetters and five hindrances, it may be called a fetter in the sense of binding one to the round of rebirths and a hindrance in the sense of obstructing one’s true welfare.]

§  7. And while taints, vexation, and fever might arise through the killing of living beings, there are no taints, vexation, and fever in one who abstains from killing living beings.’ So it is with reference to this that it was said: ‘With the support of the non-killing of living beings, the killing of living beings is to be abandoned.’

‘”With the support of taking only what is given, the taking of what is not given is to be abandoned.’ So it was said…

§  8. ‘”With the support of truthful speech, false speech is to be abandoned.’ So it was said… [362]

§ 9. ‘”With the support of un-malicious speech, malicious speech is to be abandoned.’ So it was said…

§ 10. ‘”With the support of refraining from rapacious greed, rapacious greed is to be abandoned.’ So it was said…

§  11. ‘”With the support of refraining from spiteful scolding, spiteful scolding is to be abandoned.’ So it was said.. .[363]

§  12. ‘”With the support of refraining from angry despair, angry despair is to be abandoned.’ So it was said…

§  13, ‘”With the support of non-arrogance, arrogance is to be abandoned.’ So it was said. And with reference to what was this said? Here a noble disciple considers thus: ‘I am practising the way to the abandoning and cutting off of those fetters because of which I might be arrogant. If I were to be arrogant, I would blame myself for this; the wise, having investigated, would censure me for this; and on the dissolution of the body, after death, because of being arrogant an unhappy destination would be expected. But this arrogance is itself a fetter and a hindrance- 

And while taints, vexation, and fever might arise through arrogance, there are no taints, vexation, and fever for one who is not arrogant.’ So it is with reference to this that it was said: ‘With the support of non-arrogance, arrogance is to be abandoned.‘569 [364]
[569: MA: Killing and taking what is not given are to be abandoned by bodily virtue; false speech and malicious speech, by verbal virtue; rapacious greed, angry despair, and arrogance, by mental virtue. Spiteful scolding (which can include violent reprisals) is to be abandoned by both bodily and verbal virtue]

§  14. “These eight things that lead to the cutting off of affairs in the Noble One’s Discipline have now been expounded in detail. But the cutting off of affairs in the Noble One’s Discipline has not yet been achieved entirely and in all ways.”

§ 15. “Venerable sir, how is the cutting off of affairs in the Noble One’s Discipline achieved entirely and in all ways? It would be good, venerable sir, if the Blessed One would teach me the Dhamma, showing me how the cutting off of affairs in the Noble One’s Discipline is achieved entirely and in all ways.”

“Then listen, householder, and attend closely to what I shall say.”

“Yes, venerable sir,” Potaliya the householder replied. The Blessed One said this:

“Householder, suppose a dog, overcome by hunger and weakness, was waiting by a butcher’s shop.570
[570:-These similes for the dangers in sensual pleasures are alluded to at MN 22.3, though this sutta does not elaborate on the last three similes mentioned there]

Then a skilled butcher or his apprentice would cut out a skeleton of meatless bones smeared with blood and toss it to the dog.

What do you think, householder?
Would that dog get rid of his hunger and weakness by gnawing such a skeleton of meatless bones smeared with blood?”
“No, venerable sir.

Why is that?
Because that skeleton consisted only of meatless bones smeared with blood. Eventually that dog would reap weariness and disappointment.”

“So too, householder, a noble disciple considers thus: ‘Sensual pleasures have been compared to a skeleton by the Blessed One; they provide much suffering and much despair, while the danger in them is great.’ Haying seen this thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, he avoids the equanimity that is diversified, based on diversity, and develops the equanimity that is unified, based on unity,571

[571:-According to MA, the “equanimity that is based on diversity” is equanimity (i.e., apathy, indifference) related to the five cords of sensual pleasure; the “equanimity that is based on unity” is the equanimity of the fourth jhana]

where clinging to the material things of the world utterly ceases without remainder.

§ 16. “Householder, suppose a vulture, a crow, or a hawk seized a piece of meat and flew away, and then vultures, crows, and hawks flew up and pecked and clawed it. What do you think, householder? If that vulture, crow, or hawk does not quickly let go of that piece of meat, wouldn’t it incur death or deadly suffering because of that?”

“Yes, venerable sir.”

“So too, householder, a noble disciple considers thus: ‘Sensual pleasures have been compared to a piece of meat by the Blessed One; they provide much suffering and much despair, while the danger in them is great.’ [365] Having seen this thus as it actually is with proper wisdom…clinging to the material things of the world utterly ceases without remainder.

grass-torch

§ 17. “Householder, suppose a man took a blazing grass torch and went against the wind. What do you think, householder? If that man does not quickly let go of that blazing grass torch, wouldn’t that blazing grass torch burn his hand or his arm or some other part of his body, so that he might incur death or deadly suffering because of that?”

“Yes, venerable sir.”

“So too, householder, a noble disciple considers thus: ‘Sensual pleasures have been compared to a grass torch by the Blessed One; they provide much suffering and much despair, while the danger in them is great.’ Having seen this thus as it actually is with proper wisdom…clinging to the material things of the world utterly ceases without remainder.

How to Build a Fire: Tips for Fireplaces, Campfires, and Dealing with Rain  | The Manual

§ 18. “Householder, suppose there were a charcoal pit deeper than a man’s height full of glowing coals without flame or smoke. Then a man came who wanted to live and not to die, who wanted pleasure and recoiled from pain, and two strong men seized him by both arms and dragged him towards that charcoal pit. What do you think, householder? Would that man twist his body this way and that?”

“Yes, venerable sir. Why is that? Because that man knows that if he falls into that charcoal pit, he will incur death or deadly suffering because of that.”

“So too, householder, a noble disciple considers thus: ‘Sensual pleasures have been compared to a charcoal pit by the Blessed One; they provide much suffering and much despair, while the danger in them is great.’ Having seen this thus as it actually is with proper wisdom…clinging to the material things of the world utterly ceases without remainder.

§ 19. “Householder, suppose a man dreamt about lovely parks, lovely groves, lovely meadows, and lovely lakes, and on waking he saw nothing of it. So too, householder, a noble disciple considers thus: ‘Sensual pleasures have been compared to a dream by the Blessed One; they provide much suffering and much despair, while the danger in them is great.’ Having seen this thus as it actually is with proper wisdom…clinging to the material things of the world utterly ceases without remainder.

§ 20. “Householder, suppose a man borrowed goods on loan [366] – a fancy carriage and fine-jewelled earrings – and preceded and surrounded by those borrowed goods he went to the marketplace. Then people, seeing him, would say:
‘Sirs, that is a rich man! That is how the rich enjoy their wealth!’
Then the owners, whenever they saw him, would take back their things.
What do you think, householder?
Would that be enough for that man to become dejected?”

“Yes, venerable sir.
Why is that?
Because the owners took back their things.”

“So too, householder, a noble disciple considers thus:
‘Sensual pleasures have been compared to borrowed goods by the Blessed One; they provide much suffering and much despair, while the danger in them is great.’
Having seen this thus as it actually is with proper wisdom…clinging to material things of the world utterly ceases without remainder.

§ 21. “Householder, suppose there were a dense grove not far from some village or town, within which there was a tree laden with fruit but none of its fruit had fallen to the ground. Then a man came needing fruit, seeking fruit, wandering in search of fruit, and he entered the grove and saw the tree laden with fruit.

Thereupon he thought: ‘This tree is laden with fruit but none of its fruit has fallen to the ground. I know how to climb a tree, so let me climb this tree, eat as much fruit as I want, and fill my bag.’ And he did so. Then a second man came needing fruit, seeking fruit, wandering in search of fruit, and taking a sharp axe, he too entered the grove and saw that tree laden with fruit.

Thereupon he thought: ‘This tree is laden with fruit but none of its fruit has fallen to the ground. I do not know how to climb a tree, so let me cut this tree down at its root, eat as much fruit as I want, and fill my bag.’ And he did so. What do you think, householder? If that first man who had climbed the tree doesn’t come down quickly, when the tree falls, wouldn’t he break his hand or his foot or some other part of his body, [367] so that he might incur death or deadly suffering because of that?”

“Yes, venerable sir.”

“So too, householder, a noble disciple considers thus:
‘Sensual pleasures have been compared to a fruit tree by the Blessed One; they provide much suffering and much despair, while the danger in them is great.’ Having seen this thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, he avoids the equanimity that is diversified, based on diversity, and develops the equanimity that is unified, based on unity, where clinging to the material things of the world utterly ceases without remainder.

§ 20. “Having arrived at that same supreme mindfulness whose purity is due to equanimity, this noble disciple recollects his manifold past lives, that is, 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 world contraction, many aeons of world-expansion, many aeons of world-contraction and expansion: ‘There I was so named, of such a clan, with such an appearance, such was my nutriment, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such my lifeterm; and passing away from there, I reappeared elsewhere; and there too I was so named, of such a clan, with such an appearance, such was my nutriment, such my experience of pleasure and pain, [348] such my life-term; and passing away from there, I reappeared here.’ Thus with their aspects and particulars he recollects his manifold past lives.

§ 23. “Having arrived at that same supreme mindfulness whose purity is due to equanimity, with the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, this noble disciple sees beings passing away and reappearing, inferior and superior, fair and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate. He understands how beings pass on according to their actions thus:
‘These worthy beings who were ill conducted in body, speech, and mind, revilers of noble ones, wrong in their views, giving effect to wrong view in their actions, on the dissolution of the body, after death, have reappeared in a state of deprivation, in a bad destination, in perdition, even in hell; but these worthy beings who were well conducted in body, speech, and mind, not revilers of noble ones, right in their views, giving effect to right view in their actions, on the dissolution of the body, after death, have reappeared in a good destination, even in the heavenly world.’ Thus with the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, he sees beings passing away and reappearing, inferior and superior, fair and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate, and he understands how beings pass on according to their actions.

§ 24. “Having arrived at that same supreme mindfulness whose purity is due to equanimity, by realising for himself with direct knowledge, this noble disciple here and now enters upon and abides in the deliverance of mind and deliverance by wisdom that are taintless with the destruction of the taints.

§ 25, “At this point, householder, the cutting off of affairs in the Noble One’s Discipline has been achieved entirely and in all ways. What do you think, householder? Do you see in yourself any cutting off of affairs like this cutting off of affairs in the Noble One’s Discipline when it is achieved entirely and in all ways?”

“Venerable sir, who am I that I should possess any cutting off of affairs entirely and in all ways like that in the Noble One’s Discipline? I am far indeed, venerable sir, from that cutting off of affairs in the Noble One’s Discipline when it has been achieved entirely and in all ways. For, venerable sir, though the wanderers of other sects are not thoroughbreds, we imagined that they are thoroughbreds;572

[572:- In Ms, Nm had followed the gloss of MA in rendering ajaniya as “those who know” (taking the word as derived from ajanti); it seems far preferable, however, to understand the word here as a metaphorical expression in its literal meaning “thoroughbred.” See MN 65.32 for assajan iya,  “thoroughbred colt”, and for purisajaniya, “thoroughbred man” (i.e., an arahant), see AN 9:10/v, 324.] 

though they are not thoroughbreds, we fed them the food of thoroughbreds; though they are not thoroughbreds, we set them in the place of thoroughbreds.

But though the bhikkhus are thoroughbreds, we imagined that they are not thoroughbreds; though they are thoroughbreds, we fed them the food of those who are not thoroughbreds; though they are thoroughbreds, we set them in the place of those who are not thoroughbreds. But now, venerable sir, [368] as the wanderers of other sects are not thoroughbreds, we shall understand that they are not thoroughbreds; as they are not thoroughbreds, we shall feed them the food of those who are not thoroughbreds; as they are not thoroughbreds, we shall set them in the place of those who are not thoroughbreds. But as the bhikkhus are thoroughbreds, we shall understand that they are thoroughbreds; as they are thoroughbreds, we shall feed them the food of thoroughbreds; as they are thoroughbreds, we shall set them in the place of those who are thoroughbreds. Venerable sir, the Blessed One has inspired in me love for recluses, confidence in recluses, reverence for recluses.

§  26. “Magnificent, Master Gotama! Magnificent, Master Gotama! Master Gotama has made the Dhamma clear in many ways, as though he were turning upright what had been overthrown, revealing what was hidden, showing the way to one who was lost, or holding up a lamp in the dark for those with eyesight to see forms. I go to Master Gotama for refuge and to the Dhamma and to the Sangha of bhikkhus. From today let Master Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has gone to him for refuge for life.”

Talks by Dr Dhammananda

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