122 Mahāsuññata Sutta

MN 03-03-02
The Greater Discourse on Voidness
Exposition by Ven Ajahn Brahavamso

§ 1. THUS HAVE I HEARD.1145
On one occasion the Blessed One was living in the Sakyan country at Kapilavatthu in Nigrodha’s Park.

[1145:- This sutta together with its full commentary has been published in translation by Ñm as The Greater Discourse on Voidness.]

§ 2. Then, when it was morning, the Blessed One dressed, and taking his bowl and outer robe, went into Kapilavatthu for alms. When he had wandered for alms in Kapilavatthu and had returned from his almsround, after his meal he went for his daytime abiding to the dwelling of Kāḷakhemaka the Sakyan.

Now on that occasion there were many resting places prepared in Kāḷakhemaka the Sakyan’s dwelling.1146

[1146:- MA: This was a dwelling built in Nigrodha’s Park by Kā˘akhemaka the Sakyan. Beds, chairs, mattresses, and mats were prepared, and they were so close together that the dwelling looked like the residence of a society of bhikkhus. ]

When the Blessed One saw this, [110] he thought:
“There are many resting places prepared in K̄ḷakhemaka the Sakyan’s dwelling. Do many bhikkhus live there?”
Now on that occasion the venerable Ānanda, along with many bhikkhus, was busy making robes at Gh̄ṭ̄ the Sakyan’s dwelling. Then, when it was evening, the Blessed One rose from retreat and went to Ghāṭā the Sakyan’s dwelling. There
he sat down on a seat made ready and asked the venerable Ānanda:
“Ānanda, there are many resting places prepared in Kāḷakhemaka the Sakyan’s dwelling. Do many bhikkhus live there?”1147

[1147:- MA explains that this was merely a rhetorical question, since the Buddhas can know by direct knowledge whatever they wish to know. The Buddha asked this with the thought in mind: “As soon as these bhikkhus form into a society and delight in society, they will act in improper ways. I shall expound the Great Practice of Voidness which will be like a training rule [prohibiting delight in society].

“Venerable sir, many resting places have been prepared in Kāḷakhemaka the Sakyan’s dwelling. Many bhikkhus are living there. This is our time for making robes, venerable sir.”1148

[1148:- MA: Ven. Ānanda intended to say: “These bhikkhus are living this way not just because they delight in being busy, but on account of making robes.”]

§ 3 . “Ānanda, a bhikkhu does not shine by delighting in company, by taking delight in company, by devoting himself to delight in company; by delighting in society, by taking delight in society, by rejoicing in society.

Indeed, Ānanda, it is not possible that a bhikkhu who delights in company, takes delight in company, and devotes himself to delight in company, who delights in society, takes delight in society, and rejoices in society, will ever obtain at will, without trouble or difficulty, the bliss of renunciation, the bliss of seclusion, the bliss of peace, the bliss of enlightenment.1149

[1149:- Here I have departed from Ñm in rendering sukha as “bliss” rather than “pleasure” in order to avoid the awkward-sounding phrases that would result from strict consistency. MA explains the jhānas as nekkhamma sukha because they yield the bliss of renouncing sensual pleasures; as paviveka sukha because they yield the bliss of being secluded from the crowd and from defilements; as upasama sukha because their bliss is for the purpose of quieting down the defilements; and as sambodha sukha because their bliss is for the purpose of attaining enlightenment. The jhānas themselves, of course, are not states of enlightenment.]

But it can be expected that when a bhikkhu lives alone, withdrawn from society, he will obtain at will, without trouble or difficulty, the bliss of renunciation, the bliss of seclusion, the bliss of peace, the bliss of enlightenment.

§ 4. “Indeed, Ānanda, it is not possible that a bhikkhu who delights in company, takes delight in company, and devotes himself to delight in company, who delights in society, takes delight in society, and rejoices in society, will ever enter upon and abide in either the deliverance of mind that is temporary and delectable or in [the deliverance of mind] that is perpetual and unshakeable.1150

[1150:- The former is deliverance through the jhānas and the immaterial attainments, the latter deliverance through the supramundane paths and fruits.
This translation follows BBS and SBJ, which read asamayavimokkhaṁ in the preceding sentence and asamayavimuttiyā in this sentence. The PTS ed., on which both Horner and Ñm based their translations, is evidently mistaken in reading samaya in the two compounds andṭhānaṁ instead of āṭṭhānaṁ. MA cites thePaṭisambhidāmagga (ii.40) for a definition of asamaya-vimokkha (lit., nontemporary or “perpetual” liberation) as the four paths, four fruits, and Nibbāna, and of samayavimokkha (temporary liberation) as the four jhānas and four formless attainments. See also MN 122.4.] See also MN 29.6
]

But it can be expected that when a bhikkhu lives alone, withdrawn from society, he will enter upon and abide in the deliverance of mind that is temporary and delectable or in [the deliverance of mind] that is perpetual and unshakeable. [111]

§ 5. “I do not see even a single kind of form, Ānanda, from the change and alteration of which there would not arise sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair in one who lusts for it and takes delight in it.

§ 6. “However, Ānanda, there is this abiding discovered by the Tathāgata: to enter and abide in voidness internally by giving no attention to all signs.1151 If, while the Tathāgata is abiding thus, he is visited by bhikkhus or bhikkhunīs, by men or women lay followers, by kings or kings’ ministers, by other sectarians or their disciples, then with a mind leaning to seclusion, tending and inclining to seclusion, withdrawn, delighting in renunciation, and altogether done away with things that are the basis for taints, he invariably talks to them in a way concerned with dismissing them.

[1151:- MA: The Buddha begins the present passage in order to ward off the criticism that while he enjoins his disciples to live in solitude, he himself is often surrounded by a large retinue. “Voidness” here is the fruition attainment of voidness;
Suññatāvihāra. The discourse will gradually make it clear that this refers to the fruition attainment of voidness (suññataphala-sam̄patti), the fruition attainment of arahantship that is entered by focusing upon the void aspect of Nibbāna.
]

§ 7. “Therefore, Ānanda, if a bhikkhu should wish: ‘May I enter upon and abide in voidness internally,’ he should steady his mind internally, quiet it, bring it to singleness, and concentrate it. And how does he steady his mind internally, quiet it, bring it to singleness, and concentrate it?

§ 8. “Here, Ānanda, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the first jhāna…the second jhāna…the third jhāna…the fourth jhāna, which has neither-pain-norpleasure and purity of mindfulness due to equanimity. That is how a bhikkhu steadies his mind internally, quiets it, brings it to singleness, and concentrates it. [112]

§ 9. “Then he gives attention to voidness internally.1152 While he is giving attention to voidness internally, his mind does not enter into voidness internally or acquire confidence, steadiness, and decision. When that is so, he understands thus: ‘While I am giving attention to voidness internally, my mind does not enter into voidness internally or acquire confidence, steadiness, and decision.’ In this way he has full awareness of that.

[1152:- MA explains voidness internally as that connected with one’s own five aggregates, voidness externally as that connected with the aggregates of others. The voidness spoken of here thus must be the temporary deliverance of mind reached through the insight contemplation of non-self, as explained at MN 43.33. When the insight into non-self is brought to the level of the path, it issues in the fruition experiencing Nibbāna by way of its aspect of voidness.]

“He gives attention to voidness externally…He gives attention to voidness internally and externally…He gives attention to imperturbability.1153

[1153:- MA: He gives attention to an imperturbable immaterial meditative attainment.]

While he is giving attention to imperturbability, his mind does not enter into imperturbability or acquire confidence, steadiness, and decision. When that is so, he understands thus: ‘While I am giving attention to imperturbability, my mind does not enter into imperturbability or acquire confidence, steadiness, and decision.’ In this way he has full awareness of that.

§ 10. “Then that bhikkhu should steady his mind internally, quiet it, bring it to singleness, and concentrate it on that same sign of concentration as before.1154

[1154:- MA: This refers to the jhāna that was used as the basis for insight. If, after emerging from the basic jhāna, his mind does not enter into voidness through insight contemplation on his own aggregates or those of others, and he also cannot attain the imperturbable immaterial attainment, he should return to the same basic jhāna that he originally developed and attend to it again and again ]

Then he gives attention to voidness internally. While he is giving attention to voidness internally, his mind enters into voidness internally and acquires confidence, steadiness, and decision. When that is so, he understands thus:

‘While I am giving attention to voidness internally, my mind enters into voidness internally and acquires confidence, steadiness, and decision.’ In this way he has full awareness of that.

“He gives attention to voidness externally…He gives attention to voidness internally and externally…He gives attention to imperturbability. While he is giving attention to imperturbability, his mind enters into imperturbability and acquires confidence, steadiness, and decision. When that is so, he understands thus:

‘While I am giving attention to imperturbability, my mind enters into imperturbability and acquires confidence, steadiness, and decision.’ In this way he has full awareness of that.

§ 11. “When a bhikkhu abides thus, if his mind inclines to walking, he walks, thinking: ‘While I am walking thus, no evil unwholesome states of covetousness and grief will beset me.’ [113] In this way he has full awareness of that. And when a bhikkhu abides thus, if his mind inclines to standing, he stands…If his mind inclines to sitting, he sits…If his mind inclines to lying down, he lies down, thinking: ‘While I am lying down thus, no evil unwholesome states will beset me.’ In this way he has full awareness of that.

§ 12. “When a bhikkhu abides thus, if his mind inclines to talking, he resolves:
‘Such talk as is low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble, unbeneficial, and which does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, peace, direct knowledge, enlightenment, and Nibbāna, that is, talk of kings, robbers, ministers, armies, dangers, battles, food, drink, clothing, beds, garlands, perfumes, relatives, vehicles, villages, towns, cities, countries, women, heroes, streets, wells, the dead, trivialities, the origin of the world, the origin of the sea, whether things are so or are not so: such talk I shall not utter.’ In this way he has full awareness of that.

“But he resolves: ‘Such talk as deals with effacement, as favours the mind’s release, and which leads to complete disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, peace, direct knowledge, enlightenment, and Nibbāna, that is, talk on wanting little, on contentment, seclusion, aloofness from society, arousing energy, virtue, concentration, wisdom, deliverance, knowledge and vision of deliverance: such talk I shall utter.’ In this way he has full awareness of that.

§ 13 “When a bhikkhu abides thus, [114] if his mind inclines to thinking, he resolves: ‘Such thoughts as are low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble, unbeneficial, and which do not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, peace, direct knowledge, enlightenment, and Nibbāna, that is, thoughts of sensual desire, thoughts of ill will, and thoughts of cruelty: such thoughts I shall not think.’ In this way he has full awareness of that.
“But he resolves: ‘Such thoughts as are noble and emancipating, and lead the one who practises in accordance with them to the complete destruction of suffering, that is, thoughts of renunciation, thoughts of non-ill will, and thoughts
of non-cruelty: such thoughts I shall think.’ In this way he has full awareness of that.

§ 14. “Ānanda, there are these five cords of sensual pleasure.1155

[1155:- According to MA, up to this point the Buddha has shown the training for the attainment of the first two paths, those of stream-entry and once-returning. He now speaks the present passage (§§14–15) to point out the insight needed to attain the path of non-returning, which culminates in the abandoning of sensual desire. ]

What five?
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 and provocative of lust.
These are the five cords of sensual pleasure.

§ 15. “Herein a bhikkhu should constantly review his own mind thus:
(I) ‘Does any mental excitement concerning any base among these five cords of sensual pleasure ever arise in me?’
If, on reviewing his mind, the bhikkhu understands:
‘Mental excitement concerning a certain base among these five cords of sensual pleasure does arise in me,’
then he understands:
‘Desire and lust for the five cords of sensual pleasure are unabandoned in me.’

In this way he has full awareness of that. But if, on reviewing his mind, the bhikkhu understands: ‘No mental excitement concerning any base among these five cords of sensual pleasure arises in me,’ then he understands: ‘Desire and lust for the five cords of sensual pleasure are abandoned in me.’ In this way he has full awareness of that.

§ 16. “Ānanda, there are these five aggregates affected by clinging, 1156 in regard to which a bhikkhu should abide contemplating rise and fall thus:
‘Such is material form, such its arising, such its disappearance;
such is feeling, such [115] its arising,
such its disappearance; such is perception, such its arising, such its disappearance; such are formations, such their arising, such their disappearance;
such is consciousness, such its arising, such its disappearance.’

[1156:- This passage (§§16–17) points out the insight needed to attain the path of arahantship, which culminates in the abandoning of the conceit “I am.”]

§ 17. “When he abides contemplating rise and fall in these five aggregates affected by clinging, the conceit ‘I am’ based on these five aggregates affected by clinging is abandoned in him. When that is so, that bhikkhu understands:
‘The conceit “I am” based on these five aggregates affected by clinging is abandoned in me.’ In that way he has full awareness of that.

§ 18. “These states are entirely wholesome and have a wholesome outcome; they are noble, supramundane, and inaccessible to the Evil One.

§ 19. “What do you think, Ānanda? What good does a disciple see that he should seek the Teacher’s company even if he is told to go away?”
“Venerable sir, our teachings are rooted in the Blessed One, guided by the Blessed One, have the Blessed One as their resort. It would be good if the Blessed One would explain the meaning of these words. Having heard it from the Blessed One, the bhikkhus will remember it.”

§ 20. “Ānanda, a disciple should not seek the Teacher’s company for the sake of discourses, stanzas, and expositions.
Why is that?

For a long time, Ānanda, you have learned the teachings, remembered them, recited them verbally, examined them with the mind, and penetrated them well by view. But such talk as deals with effacement, as favours the mind’s release, and which leads to complete disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, peace, direct knowledge, enlightenment, and Nibbāna, that is, talk on wanting little, on contentment, seclusion, aloofness from society, arousing energy, virtue, concentration, wisdom, deliverance, knowledge and vision of deliverance: for the sake of such talk a disciple should seek the Teacher’s company even if he is told to go away.

§ 21. “Since this is so, Ānanda, a teacher’s undoing may come about, a pupil’s undoing may come about, and the undoing of one who lives the holy life may come about.1157

[1157:- Ācariya ūpaddava, antevāsa ūpaddava, brahmacariya ūpaddava. Upaddava (upadrawa) may also be rendered as disaster, calamity. MA explains that the Buddha speaks the present passage to show the danger in solitude when one does not fulfil the proper purpose of solitary living. The “teacher” is a teacher outside the Buddha’s Dispensation. ]

§ 22 . “And how does a teacher’s undoing come about?
Here some teacher resorts to a secluded resting place: the forest, the root of a tree, a mountain, a ravine, a hillside cave, a charnel ground, [116] a jungle thicket, an open space, a heap of straw. While he lives thus withdrawn, brahmins and householders from town and country visit him, and as a result he goes astray, becomes filled with desire, succumbs to craving, and reverts to luxury. This teacher is said to be undone by the teacher’s undoing. He has been struck down by evil unwholesome states that defile, bring renewal of being, give trouble, ripen in suffering, and lead to future birth, ageing, and death. This is how the teacher’s undoing comes about.

§ 23. “And how does a pupil’s undoing come about?
A pupil of that teacher, emulating the teacher’s seclusion, resorts to a secluded resting place: the forest…a heap of straw. While he lives thus withdrawn, brahmins and householders from town and country visit him, and as a result he goes astray, becomes filled with desire, succumbs to craving, and reverts to luxury. This pupil is said to be undone by the pupil’s undoing. He has been struck down by evil unwholesome states that defile, bring renewal of being, give trouble, ripen in suffering, and lead to future birth, ageing, and death. This is how the pupil’s undoing comes about.

§ 24 . “And how does the undoing of one who lives the holy life come about?
Here a Tathāgata appears in the world, accomplished and fully enlightened, perfect in true knowledge and conduct, sublime, knower of worlds, incomparable leader of persons to be tamed, teacher of gods and humans, enlightened, blessed. He resorts to a secluded resting place: the forest…a heap of straw. While he lives thus withdrawn, brahmins and householders from town and country visit him, yet he does not go astray, or become filled with desire, succumb to craving, and revert to luxury. [117]

But a disciple of this teacher, emulating his teacher’s seclusion, resorts to a secluded resting place: the forest…a heap of straw. While he lives thus withdrawn, brahmins and householders from town and country visit him, and as a result he goes astray, becomes filled with desire, succumbs to craving, and reverts to luxury.

This one who lives the holy life is said to be undone by the undoing of one who lives the holy life. He has been struck down by evil unwholesome states that defile, bring renewal of being, give trouble, ripen in suffering, and lead to future birth, ageing, and death. Thus there comes to be the undoing of one who leads the holy life. And herein, Ānanda, the undoing of one who leads the holy life has a more painful result, a more bitter result, than the teacher’s undoing or the pupil’s undoing, and it even leads to perdition.1158

[1158:- MA: The going forth into homelessness outside the Dispensation brings small gain, so one who falls away from that falls away only from mundane attainment; he meets with no great suffering, as one who falls from the back of a donkey merely becomes covered with dust. But the going forth in the Buddha’s Dispensation brings great gain—the paths, fruits, and Nibbāna. Thus one who falls away from this meets great suffering, like one who falls from the back of an elephant ]

§ 25. “Therefore, Ānanda, behave towards me with friendliness, not with hostility. That will lead to your welfare and happiness for a long time. And how do disciples behave towards the Teacher with hostility, not with friendliness?

Here, Ānanda, compassionate and seeking their welfare, the Teacher teaches the Dhamma to the disciples out of compassion: ‘This is for your welfare, this is for your happiness.’ His disciples do not want to hear or give ear or exert their minds to understand; they err and turn aside from the Teacher’s Dispensation. Thus do disciples behave towards the Teacher with hostility, not with friendliness.

§ 26. “And how do disciples behave towards the Teacher with friendliness, not with hostility?
Here, Ānanda, compassionate and seeking their welfare, the Teacher teaches the Dhamma to the disciples out of compassion: ‘This is for your welfare, this is for your happiness.’ His disciples want to hear and give ear and exert their minds to understand; they do not err and turn aside from the Teacher’s Dispensation. Thus do disciples behave towards the Teacher with friendliness, not with hostility. [118] Therefore, Ānanda, behave towards me with friendliness, not with hostility. That will lead to your welfare and happiness for a long time.

§ 27. “I shall not treat you as the potter treats the raw damp clay. Repeatedly restraining you, I shall speak to you, Ānanda. Repeatedly admonishing you, I shall speak to you, Ānanda. The sound core will stand [the test].”1159

[1159:- The contrast in this simile is between the way the potter treats the raw damp clay and the way he treats the baked pots produced from the clay. MA paraphrases: “After advising once I shall not be silent; I shall advise and instruct by repeatedly admonishing you. Just as the potter tests the baked pots, puts aside those that are cracked, split, or faulty, and keeps only those that pass the test, so I shall advise and instruct by repeatedly testing you. Those among you who are sound, having reached the paths and fruits, will stand the test.” MA adds that the mundane virtuous qualities are also intended as a criterion of soundness.]

That is what the Blessed One said.
The venerable Ānanda was satisfied and delighted in the Blessed One’s words.

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