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Pali Canon - Samannaphala Sutta

by Sangharakshita

Samannaphala Sutta (Digha-Nikaya) (The Fruits of the Life of a Recluse)

Held in two parts at:
(1) Padmaloka - 17th-18th July 1982(2) Sukhavati - 15th August 1982Those present: Urgyen Sangharakshita, Upasakas Ruchiraketu, Ratnaketu, and Duncan Stein,
David Keefe, Daren DeWitt, Paul Lynch.
Occasion: Friends Building Service Study Group
Text: A.A.G. Bennett's translation published as Long Discourses of the Buddha (Chetana
Publications Ltd, Bombay)
Day 1 - 17th July - Tape 1 - Side One (Voice Prints)
S: Let me just say a few words about the text generally, first. Everybody knows, I think, that
the Buddhist scriptures, as we call them in English, are based on an oral tradition, that is to
say, the Buddha himself did not write anything. The Buddha himself taught orally, by word of
mouth, and his teaching was passed down orally, by word of mouth, for several generations.
And it was only 300 or 400 years after the parinirvana of the Buddha that things started to be
written down at all. So we don't really have books, we have literary versions of oral traditions.
Some of these oral traditions seem to have been earlier than others, even though they might
have all been written down around the same period. But the work that we are going to study
today and tomorrow - that is to say, the Samannaphala Sutta - this is from the Digha-Nikaya,
which as an oral tradition goes back probably, if not to the time of the Buddha himself, very,
very near.
The Digha-Nikaya itself is made up of 32 suttas. And some of these suttas seem to be based
on an older oral tradition than others, and some parts of some suttas seem to be based on oral
traditions on which some other parts, even of the same sutta, are based. Do you get the idea?
(murmurs of acknowledgement) It's as though each sutta is sometimes a sort of composite
work. Sometimes quite old traditions are sort of woven in with somewhat later ones, and the
whole thing is elaborated into something which is eventually written down as a sort of literary
work. So we have to distinguish sometimes between [2] the older and the later material,
though the Digha-Nikaya is based on quite old oral traditions - oral traditions that go back
probably to the time of the Buddha, even though a certain amount of editing and recasting has
also been carried out.
So the Samannaphala Sutta seems to be based on some very old material indeed - even
though the present sort of form of the sutta may be the work of the editors, so to speak, of the
Digha-Nikaya, though even those editors worked when the transmission was still oral. You
can imagine the monks getting together and rehearsing what they knew, reciting what they
knew, and deciding to shape it in a particular way, repeat certain things, or even add in certain
things which seemed important - which they thought the Buddha must have said because he
had said them on occasions - but they weren't actually mentioned on this occasion. So they
added them in for the sake of completeness. All that sort of editorial work was done long
before the sutta was actually written down in the present form.
But the main point here is that we do go back, quite a long way back, to the days of the
Buddha. And the general trend of the teaching certainly goes back to the Buddha himself - we
can be quite sure of that - even though certain details may have been added or elaborated later
Digha-Nikaya, incidentally, means collection of long discourses. The Digha-Nikaya is the
first of the five nikayas which make up the Sutta Pitaka. There is a collection of long
discourses - there are 32; a collection of medium length discourses - 152; then a collection of
passages dealing with the same subjects, roughly - that's the Samyutta-Nikaya, 'Kindred
Sayings'; then a collection of sayings which deal with one thing, then two things, three things,
four things, that's the Anguttara-Nikaya; and then there's a nikaya called miscellaneous, the
Khuddaka-Nikaya - containing 14 books of very different types and very different ages -
though of course originally they weren't books, or most of them weren't originally books: they
also were oral traditions. Here you find such works as the Sutta Nipata, Dhammapada, Jataka,
Udana. Some very old, some very recent, material. So these five nikayas make up the Sutta
Then you've the Vinaya-Pitaka, 'Collection of Discipline', and the Abhidhamma-Pitaka,
'Collection of Higher Teaching'. These three pitakas make up, of course, the Pali canon, of
course handed down in - or written down in - what we call Pali, which is not strictly speaking
the name of a language. That's one particular version. Other versions were written down in
Sanskrit and other languages. Most of them don't survive, but we do have the whole of the
Pali canon. It's the only complete early Buddhist collection to have survived. So it is of some
special importance.
Anyway, we'll go on to the Samannaphala Sutta. Would someone like to read that first
paragraph, and then we'll just discuss it? You can go round, if you like.
Ruchiraketu: 'Ajatasattu, raja of Magadha and son of the Vedeha princess, moved with the
beauty of a festive full-moon night, asked his ministers to suggest a samana or brahman
whom they might visit to satisfy their minds. The names of the well-known teachers and
expounders of doctrines were put forward - Purana, Kassappa, Makkhali Gosala, Ajita
Kesa-kambala, Kaccayana, Sanjaya, Belatthi, and Nigantha Nataputta - but the raja gave no
response to the suggestions. Then Jivaka, the Raja's physician, proposed the Samana Gotama
who was staying in the Mango Grove with a large company of bhikkhus. Gotama, said the
physician, was reported to be an Arahat, fully Enlightened, perfect in knowledge and conduct,
happy, wise as to the worlds, an incomparable guide to man's self-mastery, a teacher of devas
and men, a Buddha, an Exalted One'.
S: So the story, so to speak, starts off with Ajatasattu. Ajatasattu was the son of Bimbisara,
the king of Magadha. And Bimbisara had been a friend and disciple of the Buddha since his
very early days. You may remember in the Sutta-Nipata there is a very short sutta, the
Pabbajja Sutta, where Bimbisara, then only a young man, but king, sees the Buddha, who
hasn't yet become the Buddha, coming in the distance. And sends one of his men just to check
where the Buddha is going, and then visits the Buddha, up on Vulture's Peak. You remember
this episode? It is said that the Buddha was then in the prime of life and Bimbisara was also
in the prime of life - they were about the same age. So their connection, their friendship even,
dates [4] from those days. Even before the Buddha's Enlightenment. So they were in contact
from time to time. There are quite a number of suttas in the Pali canon which mention
different meetings between the Buddha and Bimbisara.
So in some ways there is a bit of a parallel between their careers, because in the same way
that the Buddha had difficulties with Devadatta, who tried to kill the Buddha when he was an
old man - in the same way Bimbisara had difficulties with his son, the crown prince who was
Ajatasattu, who in the end did manage to kill his father and seize the throne.
So when this sutta begins, the Buddha is still alive, Bimbisara is dead, and Ajatasattu is king.
So one mustn't forget this background that Ajatasattu has succeeded to the throne by
murdering his own father, so he doesn't have a very comfortable conscience about that.
So this 'Ajatasattu, Raja of Magadha and son of the Vedeha princess, moved with the beauty
of a festive full-moon night, asked his ministers to suggest a samana or brahman whom they
might visit to satisfy their minds'.
In India you often find, especially after the rainy season, that the night is very brilliant. The
full moon is very bright. I wouldn't say it's as bright as daylight, but you can certainly read a
book by moonlight very easily; and usually, or very often, people don't feel like going to bed.
They don't feel like going to sleep. They don't feel, you know, like doing the things that they
usually do during the day. They don't feel like working, or anything like that. But, on the
other hand, they don't feel like going to bed and going to sleep. They feel like, you know,
visiting their friends, or just going for a walk in the park or something of that sort. So this is
the sort of scene which one is to imagine here. It's a beautiful full-moon night and Ajatasattu
doesn't want to go to sleep. He's very moved by the beauty of the night, because there's a very
strange sort of atmosphere, you know, in India when it's this particular time of year and it's
the full moon. It's quite a magical sort of atmosphere and people are quite affected by it
sometimes. So this seems to have been the case with Ajatasattu.[5]
So he seems to have thought it would be a good idea if he could pay a visit to some religious
teacher. It seems to him a suitable occasion to go and see some religious teacher, some
spiritual, you know, personality. Either a samana or a brahman. Do you understand the
distinction between these two terms? Do you know what a samana is, or was?
Paul: No.
S: 'Samana' is Pali, 'sramana' is Sanskrit. Literally it means someone who is washed, someone
who is purified, and it's used in the sense of a follower of non-Vedic religions or spiritual
traditions. You know about the Vedas? The Vedas were the scriptures of orthodox ...

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