Majjhima Nikaya


[Site Map]  [Home]  [Sutta Indexes]  [Glossology]  [Site Sub-Sections]


 

Majjhima Nikāya
I. Mūlapaṇṇāsa
3. Tatiya Vagga

The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha

Sutta 28

Mahā Hatthi-Padopama Suttaɱ

The Greater Discourse
on the
Simile of the Elephant's Footprint

Translated from the Pali by Ñanamoli Thera.
edited and revised by Bhikkhu Bodhi.

© 1995 Bhikkhu Bodhi
Published by
Wisdom Publications
Boston, MA 02115

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

 


 

[1][chlm][pts][than][upal] THUS HAVE I HEARD.[327] On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Sāvatthī in Jeta's Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika's Park. There the venerable Sāriputta addressed the bhikkhus thus: "Friends, bhikkhus." - "Friend," they replied. The venerable Sāriputta said this:

2. "Friends, just as the footprint of any living being that walks can be placed within an elephant's footprint, and so the elephant's footprint is declared the chief of them because of its great size; so too, all wholesome states can be included in the Four Noble Truths.[328] In what four? In the noble truth of suffering, [185] in the noble truth of the origin of suffering, in the noble truth of the cessation of suffering, and in the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering.

3. "And what is the noble truth of suffering? Birth is suffering, ageing is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering; not to obtain what one wants is suffering; in short, the five aggregates affected by clinging are suffering.

4. "And what are the five aggregates affected by clinging? They are: 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.

5. "And what is the material form aggregate affected by clinging? It is the four great elements and the material form derived from the four great elements. And what are the four great elements? They are the earth element, the water element, the fire element, and the air element.

The Earth Element

6. "What, friends, is the earth element? The earth element may be either internal or external. What is the internal earth element? Whatever internally, belonging to oneself, is solid, solidified, and clung-to; that is, head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, large intestines, small intestines, contents of the stomach, feces, or whatever else internally, belonging to oneself, is solid, solidified, and clung-to: this is called the internal earth element.[329] Now both the internal earth element and the external earth element are simply earth element.[330] And that should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: 'This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.' When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the earth element and makes the mind dispassionate toward the earth element.

7. "Now there comes a time when the water element is disturbed and then the external earth element vanishes.[331][ed1] When even this external earth element, great as it is, is seen to be impermanent, subject to destruction, disappearance, and change, what of this body, which is clung to by craving and lasts but a while? There can be no considering that as 'I' or 'mine' or 'I am.'[332]

8. "So then, if others abuse, revile, scold, and harass a bhikkhu [who has seen this element as it actually is], he understands thus: 'This painful feeling born of ear-contact has arisen in me. That is dependent, not independent. Dependent on what? [186] Dependent on contact.'[333] Then he sees that contact is impermanent, that feeling is impermanent, that perception is impermanent, that formations are impermanent, and that consciousness is impermanent. And his mind, having made an element its objective support, enters into [that new objective support] and acquires confidence, steadiness, and decision.[334]

9. "Now, if others attack that bhikkhu in ways that are unwished for, undesired, and disagreeable, by contact with fists, clods, sticks, or knives, he understands thus: 'This body is of such a nature that contact with fists, clods, sticks, and knives assail it.[335] But this has been said by the Blessed One in his "advice on the simile of the saw": "Bhikkhus, even if bandits were to sever you savagely limb by limb with a two-handled saw, he who gave rise to a mind of hate towards them would not be carrying out my teaching."[336] So tireless energy shall be aroused in me and unremitting mindfulness established, my body shall be tranquil and untroubled, my mind concentrated and unified. And now let contact with fists, clods, sticks, and knives assail this body; for this is just how the Buddha's teaching is practised.'

10. "When that bhikkhu thus recollects the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Saŋgha, if equanimity supported by the wholesome does not become established in him, then he arouses a sense of urgency thus: 'It is a loss for me, it is no gain for me, it is bad for me, it is no good for me, that when I thus recollect the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Saŋgha, equanimity supported by the wholesome does not become established in me.'[337] Just as when a daughter-in-law sees her father-in-law, she arouses a sense of urgency [to please him], so too, when that bhikkhu thus recollects the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Saŋgha, if equanimity supported by the wholesome does not become established in him, then he arouses a sense of urgency. But if, when he recollects the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Saŋgha, equanimity supported by the wholesome becomes established in him, [187] then he is satisfied with it. At that point, friends, much has been done by that bhikkhu.

The Water Element

11. "What, friends, is the water element? The water element may be either internal or external. What is the internal water element? Whatever internally, belonging to oneself, is water, watery, and clung to; that is, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, spittle, snot, oil-of-the-joints, urine, or whatever else internally, belonging to oneself, is water, watery, and clung to: this is called the internal water element. Now both the internal water element and the external water element are simply water element. And that should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: 'This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.' When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the water element and makes the mind dispassionate toward the water element.

12. "Now there comes a time when the external water element is disturbed. It carries away villages, towns, cities, districts, and countries. There comes a time when the waters in the great ocean sink down a hundred leagues, two hundred leagues, three hundred leagues, four hundred leagues, five hundred leagues, six hundred leagues, seven hundred leagues. There comes a time when the waters in the great ocean stand seven palms deep, six palms deep...two palms deep, only a palm deep. There comes a time when the waters in the great ocean stand seven fathoms deep, six fathoms deep...two fathoms deep, only a fathom deep. There comes a time when the waters in the great ocean stand half a fathom deep, only waist deep, only knee deep, only ankle deep. There comes a time when the waters in the great ocean are not enough to wet even the joint of a finger. When even this external water element, great as it is, [188] is seen to be impermanent, subject to destruction, disappearance, and change, what of this body, which is clung to by craving and lasts but a while? There can be no considering that as 'I' or 'mine' or 'I am.'

13-15. "So then, if others abuse, revile, scold, and harass a bhikkhu [who has seen this element as it actually is], he understands thus:... (repeat §§8-1O).. .At that point too, friends, much has been done by that bhikkhu.

The Fire Element

16. "What, friends, is the fire element? The fire element may be either internal or external. What is the internal fire element? Whatever internally, belonging to oneself, is fire, fiery, and clung to; that is, that by which one is warmed, ages, and is consumed, and that by which what is eaten, drunk, consumed, and tasted gets completely digested, or whatever else internally, belonging to oneself, is fire, fiery, and clung-to: this is called the internal fire element. Now both the internal fire element and the external fire element are simply fire element. And that should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: 'This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.' When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the fire element and makes the mind dispassionate toward the fire element.

17. "Now there comes a time when the external fire element is disturbed. It burns up villages, towns, cities, districts, and countries. It goes out due to lack of fuel only when it comes to green grass, or to a road, or to a rock, or to water, or to a fair open space. There comes a time when they seek to make a fire even with cocks' feathers and hide-parings. When even this external fire element, great as it is, is seen to be impermanent, subject to destruction, disappearance, and change, what of this body, which is clung to by craving and lasts but a while? There can be no considering that as 'I' or 'mine' or 'I am.'

18-20. "So then, if others abuse, revile, scold, and harass a bhikkhu [who has seen this element as it actually is], he understands thus:...(repeat §§8-10)...At that point too, friends, much has been done by that bhikkhu.

The Air Element

21. "What, friends, is the air element? The air element may be either internal or external. What is the internal air element? Whatever internally, belonging to oneself, is air, airy, and clung to; that is, up-going winds, down-going winds, winds in the belly, winds in the bowels, winds that course through the limbs, in-breath and out-breath, or whatever else internally, belonging to oneself, is air, airy, and clung-to: this is called the internal air element. Now both the internal air element and the external air element are simply air element. And that should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: 'This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.' When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the air element and makes the mind dispassionate toward the air element.

[189] 22. "Now there comes a time when the external air element is disturbed. It sweeps away villages, towns, cities, districts, and countries. There comes a time in the last month of the hot season when they seek wind by means of a fan or bellows and even the strands of straw in the drip-fringe of the thatch do not stir. When even this external air element, great as it is, is seen to be impermanent subject to destruction, disappearance, and change, what of this body, which is clung to by craving and lasts but a while? There can be no considering that as 'I' or 'mine' or 'I am.'

23-25. "So then, if others abuse, revile, scold, and harass a bhikkhu [who has seen this element as it actually is], he understands thus:...[190] (repeat §§8-10)...At that point too, friends, much has been done by that bhikkhu.

26. "Friends, just as when a space is enclosed by timber and creepers, grass, and clay, it comes to be termed 'house' so too, when a space is enclosed by bones and sinews, flesh and skin, it comes to be termed 'material form.'[338]

27. "If, friends, internally the eye is intact but no external forms come into its range, and there is no corresponding [conscious] engagement, then there is no manifestation of the corresponding class of consciousness.[339] If internally the eye is intact and external forms come into its range, but there is no corresponding [conscious] engagement, then there is no manifestation of the corresponding class of consciousness. But when internally the eye is intact and external forms come into its range and there is the corresponding [conscious] engagement, then there is the manifestation of the corresponding class of consciousness.

28. "The-material form in what has thus come to be is included in the material form aggregate affected by clinging.[340] The feeling in what has thus come to be is included in the feeling aggregate affected by clinging. The perception in what has thus come to be is included in the perception aggregate affected by clinging. The formations in what has thus come to be are included in the formations aggregate affected by clinging. The consciousness in what has thus come to be is included in the consciousness aggregate affected by clinging. He understands thus: 'This, indeed, is how there comes to be the inclusion, gathering, and amassing of things into these five aggregates affected by clinging. Now this has been said by the Blessed One: "One who sees [191] dependent origination sees the Dhamma; one who sees the Dhamma sees dependent origination.[341] And these five aggregates affected by clinging are dependently arisen. The desire, indulgence, inclination, and holding based on these five aggregates affected by clinging is the origin of suffering.[342] The removal of desire and lust, the abandonment of desire and lust for these five aggregates affected by clinging is the cessation of suffering.' At that point too, friends.l much has been done by that bhikkhu.[343]

29-30. "If, friends, internally the ear is intact but no external sounds come into its range. ..(as in §§27-28).. .At that point too, friends, much has been done by that bhikkhu.

31-32. "If, friends, internally the nose is intact but no external smells come into its range.. .At that point too, friends, much has been done by that bhikkhu.

33-34. "If, friends, internally the tongue is intact but no external flavours come into its range...At that point too, friends, much has been done by that bhikkhu.

35-36. "If, friends, internally the body is intact but no external tangibles come into its range.. .At that point too, friends, much has been done by that bhikkhu.

37. "If, friends, internally the mind is intact but no external mind-objects come into its range, and there is no corresponding [conscious] engagement, then there is no manifestation of the corresponding class of consciousness.[344] If internally the mind is intact and external mind-objects come into its range, but there is no corresponding [conscious] engagement, then there is no manifestation of the corresponding class of consciousness.[345] But when internally the mind is intact and external mind-objects come into its range and there is the corresponding [conscious] engagement, then there is the manifestation of the corresponding class of consciousness.

38. "The material form in what has thus come to be is included in the material form aggregate affected by clinging. The feeling in what has thus come to be is included in the feeling aggregate affected by clinging. The perception in what has thus come to be is included in the perception aggregate affected by clinging. The formations in what has thus come to be are included in the formations aggregate affected by clinging. The consciousness in what has thus come to be is included in the consciousness aggregate affected by clinging. He understands thus: 'This, indeed, is how there comes to be the inclusion, gathering, and amassing of things into these five aggregates affected by clinging. Now this has been said by the Blessed One: "One who sees dependent origination sees the Dhamma; one who sees the Dhamma sees dependent origination." And these five aggregates affected by clinging are dependently arisen. The desire, indulgence, inclination, and holding based on these five aggregates affected by clinging is the origin of suffering. The removal of desire and lust, the abandonment of desire and lust for these five aggregates affected by clinging is the cessation of suffering.' At that point too, friends, much has been done by that bhikkhu."

That is what the venerable Sāriputta said. The bhikkhus were satisfied and delighted in the venerable Sāriputta's words.

 


[327] This discourse has been published separately with introduction and notes by Nyanaponika Thera, The Greater Discourse on the Elephant-Footprint Simile.

[328] The structure of this discourse may be outlined as follows: Ven. Sāriputta first enumerates the Four Noble Truths (§2). He then takes up the truth of suffering for analysis into its various aspects (§3). From among these, he selects the last and enumerates the five aggregates affected by clinging (§4). He next selects the first aggregate, that of material form (§5). Taking up each of the great elements in turn, he shows it as having two aspects _ internal and external - the former being selected for detailed analysis, the latter only briefly mentioned for the sake of completeness and comparison (e.g., §§6-7). Each of the elements is expounded as a basis for insight meditation as well as for developing patience, faith, and equanimity (e.g., §§8-10). Having finished examining the elements, Yen. Sāriputta next takes up the aspects of the Four Noble Truths he earlier had put aside. He introduces derivative material form by way of the sense faculties and their objects (§27, etc.), then he relates this to the other four aggregates of the first noble truth, a. nd finally he sets this whole complex of ideas in relation to the other three noble truths (§28, etc.).

[329] Upādinna, "clung-to," is used in the Abhidhamma as a technical term applicable to bodily phenomena that are produced by kamma. Here, however, it is used in a more general sense as applicable to the entire body insofar as it is grasped as "mine" and misapprehended as a self. The phrase "whatever else" is intended to include the earth element comprised in those parts of the body not included in the above enumeration. According to the Abhidhamma analysis of matter, the four primary elements are inseparable, and thus each element is also included, though in a subordinate role, in the bodily phenomena listed under the other three elements.

[330] MA: This statement is made to underscore the insentient nature (acetanābhāva) of the internal earth element by yoking it to the external earth element, the insentient nature of which is much more easily discerned.

[331] According to ancient Indian cosmology the cyclical destruction of the world may be due to either water, fire, or wind. See Vsm XIII, 30-65.

[332] The notions "I," "mine," and "I am," represent the three obsessions of personality view, craving, and conceit, respectively.

[333] MA explains that this passage, referring to a bhikkhu who practises meditation on the elements, is intended to show his strength of mind in applying his comprehension of things to undesirable objects arisen at the "door" of the ear. By contemplating the experience by way of conditionality and impermanence, he transforms the potentially provocative situation of being subjected to abuse into an opportunity for insight.

[334] Tassa dhātārammaṇam eva cittaɱ pakkhandati. This sentence can be construed in two alternative ways, depending on how the compound dhātārammaṇam is understood. Ven. Nyanaponika takes it as the object of the verb pakkhandati, and he understands dhātu here as "an impersonal element in general" capable of including sound, contact. feeling, etc. Thus he translates: "And his mind enters into that very object [taking it just as an impersonal] element." Nm reads the compound as an adjunct qualifying citta, and supplies the object of the verb in parenthesis. MA seems to support the former reading; MT explicitly identifies dhātu as the earth element, thus supporting the latter reading. MA explains the phrase "acquires decision" to mean that the meditator contemplates the situation by way of elements and thus has neither attachment nor aversion concerning it.

[335] MA: This passage is intended to show the strength of the meditating bhikkhu on an occasion when he is subjected to affliction by way of the body.

[336] See MN 21.20.

[337] MA: The recollection of the Buddha is undertaken here by recalling that the Blessed One spoke this simile of the saw, the recollection of the Dhamma by recalling the advice given in the simile of the saw, and the recollection of the Saŋgha by recalling the virtues of the bhikkhu who can endure such abuse without giving rise to a mind of hate. "Equanimity supported by the wholesome" (upekkhā kusalanissitā) is the equanimity of insight, the sixfold equanimity of neither attraction nor aversion towards agreeable and disagreeable objects that appear at the six sense doors. Strictly speaking, the sixfold equanimity pertains only to the arahant, but it is here ascribed to the monk in training because his insight approximates to the perfect equanimity of the arahant.

[338] This is said to stress once again the egoless nature of the body. MT: He shows that the four elements are only mere elements not belonging to a self; they are without a being, without a soul.

[339] This section is set forth, according to MA, to introduce the material form derived from the four great elements. Derived material form, according to the Abhidhamma analysis of matter, includes the five sense faculties (pasādarūpa) and the first four kinds of sense object, the tangible object being identified with the primary elements themselves. "Corresponding (conscious) engagement" (tajjo samannāhāro) is explained by MA as attention (manasikāra) arising in dependence on the eye and forms; it is identified with the "five-door adverting consciousness" (pañcadvārāvajjanacitta), which breaks off the flow of the life continuum (bhavanga) to initiate a process of cognition. Even when forms come into range of the eye, if attention is not engaged by the form because one is occupied with something else, there is still no manifestation of the "corresponding class of consciousness," i.e., eye-consciousness.

[340] This section is set forth to show the Four Noble Truths by way of the sense doors. "What has thus come to be" (tathābhuta) is the entire complex of factors arisen by way of eye-consciousness. By analysing this complex into the five aggregates, Ven. Sāriputta shows that any occasion of sense experience is comprised within the truth of suffering.

[341] This statement has not been traced directly to the Buddha in any of the existing suttas in the Pali Canon. MA glosses, perhaps with too little sensitivity to the statement's profounder implications: "One who sees dependent origination sees dependently arisen states (paṭicca samuppanne dhamme); one who sees dependently arisen states sees dependent origination."

[342] The four terms — chanda, ālaya, anunaya, ajjhosāna — are synonyms for craving (taṇhā).

[343] Though only three of the Four Noble Truths are explicitly shown in the text, the fourth truth is implied. According to MA, it is the penetration of these three truths by the development of the eight factors of the path.

[344] MA identifies "mind" (mano) in this passage with the life-continuum consciousness (bhavangacitta).

[345] MA illustrates this case by the mind's preoccupation with a familiar object when it does not notice the familiar details of that object. The "corresponding class of consciouss" here is mind-consciousness (manoviññāṇa"), which takes non-sensuous objects as its sphere of cognition.'

 


[ed1] This is a correct translation, but the text is incorrect, reading āpodhātu. It should be earth-element, paṭhavīdhātu.


Contact:
E-mail
Copyright Statement