023 The Ant-hill

MN 01-03-03 Vammika Sutta

§ 1. THUS HAVE I HEARD.
On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park. Now on that occasion the venerable Kumāra Kassapa was living in the Blind Men’s Grove.275

[275:-Ven. Kum̄ra Kassapa was an adopted son of King Pasenadi of Kosala, born of a woman who, not knowing she was pregnant, had gone forth as a bhikkhunı̄ after having conceived him. At the time this sutta was delivered he was still a sekha; he attained arahantship using this sutta as his subject of meditation. ]

Then, when the night was well advanced, a certain deity of beautiful appearance who illuminated the whole of the Blind Men’s Grove approached the venerable Kumāra Kassapa and stood at one side.276 So standing, the deity said to him:

[276:- According to MA, this deity was a non-returner living in the Pure Abodes. He and Kumāra Kassapa had been members of a group of five fellow monks who, in the Dispensation of the previous Buddha Kassapa, had practised meditation together on a mountain-top. It was this same deity who spurred Bāhiya Dāruciriya, another former member of the group, to visit the Buddha (see Ud 1:10/7).]

§ 2. “Bhikkhu, bhikkhu, this ant-hill fumes by night and flames by day.277

277:- The meaning of the deity’s imagery will be explained later on in the sutta itself.


“Thus spoke the brahmin:
Delve with the knife, thou wise one.’
Delving with the knife, the wise one saw a bar: ‘A bar, O venerable sir.’

“Thus spoke the brahmin:
Throw out the bar; delve with the knife, thou wise one.’
Delving with the knife, the wise one saw a toad: ‘A toad, O venerable sir.’
“Thus spoke the brahmin:
Throw out the toad; delve with the knife, thou wise one.
Delving with the knife, the wise one saw a fork: ‘A fork, O venerable sir.’
“Thus spoke the brahmin:
Throw out the fork; delve with the knife, thou wise one.
Delving with the knife, the wise one saw a sieve: ‘A sieve, O venerable sir.’
“Thus spoke the brahmin: [143]
Throw out the sieve; delve with the knife, thou wise one.’
Delving with the knife, the wise one saw a tortoise: ‘A tortoise, O venerable sir.’
“Thus spoke the brahmin:
Throw out the tortoise; delve with the knife, thou wise one.’
Delving with the knife, the wise one saw a butcher’s knife and block: ‘A butcher’s knife and block, O venerable sir.’
“Thus spoke the brahmin:
Throw out the butcher’s knife and block; delve with the knife, thou wise one.’ Delving with the knife, the wise one saw a piece of meat: ‘A piece of meat, O venerable sir.’
“Thus spoke the brahmin:
Throw out the piece of meat; delve with the knife, thou wise one.’
Delving with the knife, the wise one saw a Nāga serpent: ‘A Nāga serpent, O venerable sir.’
“Thus spoke the brahmin:
‘Leave the Nāga serpent; do not harm the Nāga serpent; honour the Nāga serpent.’


“Bhikkhu, you should go to the Blessed One and ask him about this riddle. As the Blessed One tells you, so should you remember it. Bhikkhu, other than the Tathāgata or a disciple of the Tathāgata or one who has learned it from them, I see no one in this world with its gods, its Māras, and its Brahmās, in this generation with its recluses and brahmins, its princes and its people, whose explanation of this riddle might satisfy the mind.”
That is what was said by the deity, who thereupon vanished at once.

§ 3. Then, when the night was over, the venerable Kumāra Kassapa went to the Blessed One. After paying homage to him, he sat down at one side and told the Blessed One what had occurred. Then he asked:
Venerable sir, what is the ant- hill, what the fuming by night, what the flaming by day? Who is the brahmin, who the wise one? What is the knife, what the delving, what the bar, what the toad, what the fork, what the sieve, what the tortoise, what the butcher’s knife and block, what the piece of meat, what the Nāga serpent?” [144]

§ 4. “Bhikkhu, the ant-hill is a symbol for this body, made of material form, consisting of the four great elements, procreated by a mother and father, built up out of boiled rice and porridge,278 and subject to impermanence, to being worn and rubbed away, to dissolution and disintegration.

[278:- Kummāsa: The Vinaya and commentaries explain it as something made of yava, barley. Ñm had translated the word as bread, but from MN 82.18 it is clear that kummāsa is viscous and spoils overnight. PED defines it as junket; Horner translates it as “sour milk.]


“What one thinks and ponders by night based upon one’s actions during the day is the ‘fuming by night.’
“The actions one undertakes during the day by body, speech, and mind after thinking and pondering by night is the ‘flaming by day.’

“The brahmin is a symbol for the Tathāgata, accomplished and fully enlightened. The wise one is a symbol for a bhikkhu in higher training. The knife is a symbol for noble wisdom. The delving is a symbol for the arousing of energy.

“The bar is a symbol for ignorance.279
‘Throw out the bar: abandon ignorance. Delve with the knife, thou wise one.’ This is the meaning.

[279:- MA: Just as a bar across the entrance to a city prevents people from entering it, so ignorance prevents people from attaining Nibbāna.]

“The toad is a symbol for anger and irritation.
‘Throw out the toad: abandon anger and irritation. Delve with the knife, thou wise one.’ This is the meaning.

[280 :- Dvedhāpatha might also have been rendered “a forked path,” an obvious symbol for doub

‘Throw out the fork: abandon doubt. Delve with the knife, thou wise one.’ This is the meaning.

§ “The sieve is a symbol for the five hindrances,
namely, the hindrance of sensual desire, the hindrance of ill will, the hindrance of sloth and torpor, the hindrance of restlessness and remorse, and the hindrance of doubt.
‘Throw out the sieve: abandon the five hindrances. Delve with the knife, thou wise one.’ This is the meaning.

281:-MA states that the four feet and head of a tortoise are similar to the five aggregates.

“The tortoise is a symbol for the five aggregates affected by clinging’281 namely, the material form aggregate affected by clinging, the feeling aggregate affected by clinging, the perception aggregate affected by clinging, the formations aggregate affected by clinging, and the consciousness aggregate affected by clinging. ‘Throw out the tortoise: abandon the five aggregates affected by clinging. Delve with the knife, thou wise one.’ This is the meaning.

[281:-MA states that the four feet and head of a tortoise are similar to the five aggregates]

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282:-MA: Beings desiring sensual enjoyments are chopped up by the butcher’s knife of sensual desires upon the block of sense objects.

“The butcher’s knife and block is a symbol for the five cords of sensual pleasure 282
forms cognizable by the eye that are wished for, desired, agreeable, and likeable, connected with sensual desire, and provocative of lust; sounds cognizable by the ear…odours cognizable by the nose…flavours cognizable by the tongue…tangibles cognizable by the body that are wished for, desired, agreeable, and likeable, connected with sensual desire, [145] and provocative of lust. ‘Throw out the butcher’s knife and block: abandon the five cords of sensual pleasure. Delve with the knife, thou wise one.’ This is the meaning.
“The piece of meat is a symbol for delight and lust.283

[282: MA: Beings desiring sensual enjoyments are chopped up by the butcher’s knife of sensual desires upon the block of sense objects.]
{283:- The symbolism is explicated at MN 54.16]

‘Throw out the piece of meat: abandon delight and lust. Delve with the knife, thou wise one.’ This is the meaning.
“The Nāga serpent is a symbol for a bhikkhu who has destroyed the taints .284 ‘Leave the Nāga serpent; do not harm the Nāga serpent; honour the Nāga serpent.’

[284:-This is an arahant. For the symbolism .The nāgas are a class of dragonlike beings in Indian mythology believed to inhabit the nether regions of the earth and to be the guardians of hidden treasures. The word comes to represent any gigantic or powerful creature, such as a tusker elephant or a cobra and, by extension, an arahant bhikkhu. See Dhp, ch. 23, Nāga vagga.]

This is the meaning.”
That is what the Blessed One said.

The venerable Kumāra Kassapa was satisfied and delighted in the Blessed One’s words.

The Background Story of The Vammika Sutta

Kumāra Kassapa started Insight-meditation since he was novitiated into the Order, and also learned the Teaching of the Buddha. Thus, he diligently pursued both the learning and the practice of the Doctrine. When the Buddha was residing at the Jetavana monastery in Sāvatthi, Kumāra Kassapa was dwelling in the Andhavana forest which was not far from the Jetavana monastery. At that time, the Mahā Brahmā of Suddhāvāsa, who had been a colleague in pursuit of knowledge, who had went up a steep mountain to meditate, reviewed the lot of his erstwhile friends. And seeing Kumāra Kassapa striving for enlightenment, he decided to give some practical guidance to him in his meditation for Insight. Even before leaving his Brahmā abode for the human world, he planned a fifteenpoint puzzle. In the middle of the night, he appeared in all his splendour before Kumāra Kassapa in the Andhavana forest.

Kumāra Kassapa asked the Brahmā: “Who has appeared here before me?” “Venerable Sir, I am a colleague of yours who previously (during the time of Buddha Kassapa) went into meditation in pursuit of knowledge, and have been reborn in Suddhavasa, after having attained anāgāmīphala.” “What is your purpose of coming to me?”

The Brahmā then made his purpose plain in the following words:

Bhikkhu, (1) This ant-hill (2) emits smoke by night; (3) by day it rises up in flames.

“(4) The brahmin teacher says (5) to the wise pupil: (6) ‘Get hold of the sword and (7) dig diligently.’ The wise pupil does as is asked by the teacher and (8) discovers a door-bolt. And he reports to the teacher: ‘Sir, this is a door-bolt.’

“The brahmin teacher then says to the pupil: ‘Wise pupil, cast away the door-bolt. Get hold of the sword and dig on diligently.’ The wise pupil does as asked by the teacher and (9) discovers a toad. He reports to the teacher: ‘Sir, this is a blown-up (uddhumāyika) toad.’

“The brahmin teacher says again: ‘Wise pupil, cast away the blown-up toad. Get hold of the sword and dig on diligently.’ The wise pupil does as is asked by the teacher, and (10) discovers a forked road. He reports to the teacher: ‘Sir, this is a forked road.’

“The brahmin teacher says again: ‘Wise pupil, abandon the forked road. Take hold of the sword and dig on diligently.’ The wise pupil does as is asked by the teacher, and (11) discovers a water-strainer for sifting off soapy sand. He reports to the teacher: ‘Sir, this is a water strainer for sifting off soapy sand.’

“The brahmin teacher says again: ‘Wise pupil, cast away the water strainer. Get hold of the sword and dig on diligently.’ The wise pupil does as is asked by the teacher, and (12) discovers a tortoise. ‘Sir, this is a tortoise,’ he reports to the teacher.

“The brahmin teacher says again: ‘Wise pupil, cast away the tortoise. Get hold of the sword and dig on diligently.’ The wise pupil does as asked by the teacher, and (13) discovers a knife and a mincing-board. He reports to the teacher: ‘Sir, these are a knife and a mincing-board.’

“The brahmin teacher says again: ‘Wise pupil, cast away the knife and the mincingboard. Get hold of the sword and dig on diligently.’ The wise pupil does as asked by the teacher and (14) discovers a lump of meat. He reports to the teacher: ‘Sir, this is a lump of meat.’

“The brahmin teacher says again: ‘Wise pupil, cast away the lump of meat. Get hold of the sword and dig on diligently.’ The wise pupil does as asked and (15) discovers a nāga. He reports to the teacher: ‘Sir, this is a nāga.’ The brahmin teacher then says to the wise pupil: ‘Let the nāga remain. Do not intrude upon him. Worship him.’

Bhikkhu, ask the Buddha for the answers to these questions. Note the answers as given by the Buddha. With the exception of the Buddha, His disciples, and someone who has heard the answers from me, I do not see anyone in the world of the various abodes with devasmāras and Brahmās, and the sentient world of recluses, brahmins, kings and other human beings, who can answer them satisfactorily.”

After saying so, the Brahmā vanished. Early the next morning, Kumāra Kassapa went to the Buddha, made obeisance to Him, and related the meeting with the Brahmā the previous night. Then he asked:

  • (1) Venerable Sir, what is meant by the ‘ant-hill’?
    (2) What is meant by ‘emitting smoke by night’?
    (3) What is meant by ‘rising up in flames by day’?
    (4) What is meant by the ‘brahmin teacher’?
    (5) What is meant by the ‘wise pupil’?
    (6) What is meant by the ‘sword’?
    (7) What is meant by ‘digging diligently’?
    (8) What is meant by the ‘door-bolt’?
    (9) What is meant by the ‘blown-up toad’?
    (10) What is meant by the ‘forked road’?
    (11) What is meant by the ‘water-strainer for sifting off soapy sand’?
    (12) What is meant by the ‘tortoise’?
    (13) What is meant by the ‘knife’ and the ‘mincing-board’?
    (14) What is meant by the ‘lump of meat’?
    (15) What is meant by the ‘nāga’?

To those fifteen questions that were puzzles to the Venerable Kumāra Kassapa, the Buddha gave the answers as follows:

(1) Bhikkhu, ‘ant-hill’ is the name for this body.

(2) Bhikkhu, one ruminates at night what one has done in the day; this is ‘emitting smoke by night’.

(3) Bhikkhu, one does physically, verbal, mentally, deeds by day as one has thought out at night; this is the ‘rising of flames by day’.

(4) Bhikkhu, ‘brahmin teacher’ is the name for the Tathāgata (Buddha).

(5) Bhikkhu, the ‘wise pupil’ is a bhikkhu who is still training himself for arahatship according to the threefold training.

(6) Bhikkhu, ‘sword’ is the name for knowledge, both mundane (lokiya) and supramundane (lokuttara).

(7) Bhikkhu, ‘digging diligently’ means ‘persistent effort’.

(8) Bhikkhu, ‘door-bolt’ is the name for ignorance (bewilderment). ‘Cast away the door-bolt’ means ‘get rid of ignorance’. ‘Wise pupil, take hold of the sword and dig diligently’ means ‘strive well with knowledge to get rid of ignorance.’

(9) Bhikkhu, ‘blown-up’ toad is the name of wrath. ‘Cast away the blown-up toad’ means ‘Get rid of deep anger’. ‘Wise pupil, take hold of the sword and dig diligently’ means ‘strive well with knowledge to overcome deep resentment.’

(10) Bhikkhu, ‘forked road’ is the name for uncertainty (vicikicchā). ‘Abandon the forked road’ means ‘strive well with knowledge to overcome uncertainty’.

(11) Bhikkhu, ‘water-strainer’ for sifting off soapy sand is the name for the five hindrances (nīvaraṇa) that stand in the way of jhāna and Path-Knowledge, namely: (i) Sensual desire (kāmacchanda) (ii) ill will (vyāpāda) (iii) sloth and torpor (thinamiddha) (iv) distractedness (uddhacca-kukkucca) (v) uncertainty (vicikicchā). ‘Cast away the water-strainer’ means ‘Strive well with Knowledge to overcome the five hindrances’.

(12) Bhikkhu, ‘tortoise’ is the name for the five objects of clinging (upādāna), namely: (i) the aggregate of corporeality (rūpakkhanda) that is subject to change (ii) the aggregate of sensation (vedānakkhandha) that is capable of feeling, (iii) the aggregate of perception (saññākkhanda) that has the nature of perceiving, (iv) the aggregate of volitional activities (saṅkhārakkhandha) that help in the formation of all actions, (v) the aggregate of consciousness (viññāṇakkhandha) that has the nature to knowing things. ‘Cast away the tortoise’ means ‘strive well with knowledge to get rid of the five aggregates which are the objects of clinging’.

(13) Bhikkhu, ‘knife’ and ‘mincing-board’ are the names for the five kinds of sensepleasure that appear desirable, agreeable, attractive and lovely and that cause the arising of sensual attachment to them, namely: (i) visual objects (rūpā-rammaṇa) cognizable by eye-consciousness (cakkhuviññāṇa), (ii) sounds (saddā-rammaṇa) cognizable by ear consciousness (sota-viññāṇa), (iii) odours (gandhā-rammaṇa) cognizable by nose-consciousness (ghāna-viññāṇa), (iv) tastes (rasā-rammaṇa) cognizable by tongue consciousness (jivhā-viññāṇa), (v) tangible objects (phoṭṭhabbā-rammaṇa) cognizable by body-consciousness (kāya-viññāṇa). ‘Cast away the knife and the mincing-board’ means ‘strive well with knowledge to get rid of the five kinds of sense-pleasure’.

(14) Bhikkhu, ‘lump of meat’ is the name for sensual attachment or craving (nandīrāgataṇhā). ‘Cast away the lump of meat’ means ‘strive well with knowledge to get rid of sensual attachment or craving.’

(15) Bhikkhu, ‘Nāga’ is the name for the arahat. You are enjoined to let alone an arahat without intruding upon him. You are also enjoined to revere the arahat

[Myanmar rhymes here are left untranslated because they are of the same substance as the foregoing Translator]

Some more elaboration:

(1) The body is likened to an ‘ant-hill’ because just as an ant-hill lets out snakes, mongoose, rodents, lizards and ants, the body discharges all kinds of loathsome matter through its nine holes. (There are also other reasons that explain the simile. Refer to the Commentary on the Mahāvagga.)

(2) ‘Emitting smoke by night’ signifies the things thought out in the night for the next day’s activities.

(3) ‘Flames rising up by day’ signifies physical, verbal, and mental actions that are performed in the day as thought out in the night.

(4), (5), (6) & (7): These similes do not need elaboration.

(8) The ‘door-bolt’ at the city gate shuts up the passage of people. So also ignorance shuts the arising of knowledge that leads to Nibbāna.

(9) The ‘blown-up toad’ exemplifies wrath: A toad gets angry and puffing itself whenever something strikes against it. It may get overblown with anger and become flat on its back, unable to move about, and falls a prey to crows or other enemies. Likewise, when anger begins to arise, one becomes muddled. If one is careful, one may curb it by wise reflection. If not checked in this way, the resentment shows in one’s expression, and if left unchecked, it leads one to evil verbalisation, i.e. cursing or using harsh speech. If anger is allowed to grow, one starts thinking of some dreadful physical action. At that, one is apt to look around to see if there is anyone to join the other side. Then one would pick up a fight, and unless one would restrain oneself, one is apt to find some weapons to strike the other party. If there is no effective checking of oneself, one is apt to commit assault. In extreme cases death may result, either of the adversary or of oneself, or both.

Just as the blown-up toad renders itself immobile, lying on its back, and becomes a ready victim of crows and other enemies, so also a person, under the influence of deep anger, cannot concentrate in meditation and knowledge is thus hampered. Lacking knowledge, he is liable to be the ready victim of all kinds of māra (evil) and become the docile slave of baser instincts.

(10) When a traveller, carrying valuable possessions, comes to a forked road and wastes much time there, being unable to choose which way he should proceed, he is inviting highway robbers who would cause him ruin. Similarly, if a bhikkhu, who has taken instruction from his teacher on the basic method of meditation and has started practicing, entertains doubts about the truth of the Triple Gem, he is incapable of meditating. As he sits alone with a mind troubled by uncertainty, he succumbs to defilements and māra and other evil forces.

(11) When a washer-man pours water into a water-strainer to sift soapy sand, the water flows down the strainer freely. Not a cupful of water that is poured into it, be it a hundred potfulls, remains in it; likewise, in the mind of a meditator which has the five hindrances, no merit can remain.

(12) Just as a tortoise has five protrusions, i.e. the head and four limbs, so also all the conditioned phenomena, under the eye of knowledge, resolves into five aggregates which are objects of clinging.

(13) Meat is minced with a knife on a mincing-board. Sensual enjoyment, the defilements, seek the sense objects. The defilements are likened to the ‘knife’ and sense objects to the ‘mincing-board’.

(14) A lump of meat is sought after by everyone, high or low, kings or commoners, liking it also are birds and beasts. All sorts of trouble originate from pursuit of a lump of meat. Similarly, sensual attachment or craving is the source of all woes. But this truth is shrouded by ignorance. Craving or sensual attachment lures all beings into the cycle of rebirth which turns on relentlessly. Taken in another sense, a lump of meat becomes attached to anywhere it is placed. So also sensual attachment tends to bind beings to the cycle of rebirth which is cherished by them, not realizing its woeful nature.

(15) An arahat is called ‘nāga’ because an arahat is not led astray by four misleading factors, namely, fondness or liking, hatred, fear and bewilderment. (Chandādīhi na gacchantīti nāga.——Mahāvagga Commentary.) In another sense, an arahat never reverts to those defilements that have been got rid of at the (four) levels of purification. (Tena tena maggena pahīne kilese na āgacchantī ti nāga.——Ibid) Yet in another sense, an arahat is incapable of committing any kind of evil (Nānappakārakaṃ āguṃ na karontī nāga.——Ibid.)

In paying homage to the Buddha, the nāga, the arahat, who is free from the moral intoxicants, the Commentary recommends this mode of veneration:

Buddho bodhāya deseti, danto yo damathāya ca;
samathāya santo dhammaṃ, tiṇṇo’va taraṇāya ca,
nibbuto nibbānatthāya, taṃ lokasaraṇaṃ name
.

The Buddha, the Enlightened One, the refuge of the three worlds, the arahat (Nāga), having known the Four Ariya Truths by Himself and wishing to enlighten others that deserve to be enlightened like Himself; having tamed Himself in respect of the six faculties and wishing to tame others that are fit to be tamed like Himself; having attained peace Himself and wishing others that are worthy to attain peace like Himself; having crossed over the other side of the ocean of saṃsāra and wishing others that are worthy to cross over to the other shore like Himself;having extinguished the fires of defilement at the four stages and wishing others that are worthy to extinguish the fires of defilement like Himself; out of compassion, expounded the glorious Dhamma to devas and humans for forty-five years. To Him, the Buddha, the Nāga, the Refuge of the three worlds, I pay homage physically, verbally and mentally in all humility with joined palms raised.

Attainment of Arahatship

The Ant-hill Discourse or Vammika Sutta, the Commentary notes, is the meditation lesson for the Venerable Kumāra Kassapa. (Iti idaṃ suttaṃ Therassa kammaṭṭhānaṃ ahosi.)

The Venerable Kumāra Kassapa learnt the Buddha’s answer to the fifteen point puzzle, retired into seclusion in the Andhavana (forest), meditated with diligence and not long after he attained arahatship.

(c) Etadagga Title achieved

From the time of his becoming a bhikkhu, the Venerable Kumāra Kassapa in his discourses to the four classes of disciples, viz., bhikkhus, bhikkhunīsmale lay devotees and female lay devotees, used a variety of similes and allegories.

When the Venerable Kumāra Kassapa discoursed to pāyāsi (holder of wrong views) by employing fifteen similes, the Buddha, referring to that discourse known as Pāyāsirājañña Sutta, declared:

Etadaggaṃ bhikkhave mama sāvakānaṃ bhikkhūnaṃ cittakathikānaṃ yadidaṃ Kumāra Kassapo.”

Bhikkhus, among my bhikkhu-disciples who employ imagery in their discourses, Bhikkhu Kumāra Kassapa is the foremost (etadagga).” (Read this Sutta in the Dīgha Nikāya Mahā Vagga, the tenth Sutta therein.)

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