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Aggi Vacchagotta Sutta

To Vacchagotta on Fire

Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
For free distribution only

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying in Savatthi, at Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's park. Then the wanderer Vacchagotta went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings and courtesies, he sat down to one side. As he was sitting there he asked the Blessed One: "How is it, Master Gotama, does Master Gotama hold the view: 'the cosmos is eternal: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...No."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'the cosmos is not eternal: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...No."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'the cosmos is finite: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...No."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'the cosmos is infinite: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...No."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'the soul and the body are the same: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...No."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'the soul is one thing and the body another: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...No."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'after death a Tathágata exists: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...No."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'after death a Tathágata does not exist: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...No."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'after death a Tathágata both exists and does not exist: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...No."

"Then does Master Gotama hold the view: 'after death a Tathágata neither exists nor does not exist: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless'?"

"...No."

"How is it, Master Gotama, when Master Gotama is asked if he holds the view 'the cosmos is eternal...' 'After death a Tathágata neither exists nor does not exist: only this is true, anything otherwise is worthless,' he says '...no...' in each case. Seeing what drawback, then, is Master Gotama thus entirely dissociated from each of these ten positions?"

"Vaccha, the position that 'the cosmos is eternal' is a thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. It is accompanied by suffering, distress, despair, and fever, and it does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, full Awakening, Unbinding.

"The position that 'the cosmos is not eternal'...

"...’The cosmos is finite'...

"...’The cosmos is infinite'...

"...’The soul and the body are the same'...

"...’the soul is one thing and the body another'...

"...’After death a Tathágata exists'...

"...’After death a Tathágata does not exist'...

"...’After death a Tathágata both exists and does not exist'...

"...’After death a Tathágata neither exists nor does not exist'... does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, full Awakening, Unbinding."

"Does Master Gotama have any position at all?"

"A 'position,' Vaccha, is something that a Tathágata has done away with. What a Tathágata sees is this: 'such is form, such its origin, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origin, such its disappearance; such is perception... such are mental fabrications... such is consciousness, such its origin, such its disappearance.' Because of this, I say, a Tathágata -- with the ending, fading out, cessation, renunciation, and relinquishment of all construings, all excogitations, all I-making and mine-making and obsession with conceit -- is, through lack of clinging/sustenance, released."

"But, Master Gotama, the monk whose mind is thus released: Where does he reappear?"

"'Reappear,' Vaccha, doesn't apply."

"In that case, Master Gotama, he does not reappear."

"'Does not reappear,' Vaccha, doesn't apply."

"...Both does and does not reappear."

"...Doesn’t apply."

"...Neither does nor does not reappear."

"...Doesn’t apply."

"How is it, Master Gotama, when Master Gotama is asked if the monk reappears... does not reappear... both does and does not reappear... neither does nor does not reappear, he says, '...doesn't apply' in each case. At this point, Master Gotama, I am befuddled; at this point, confused. The modicum of clarity coming to me from your earlier conversation is now obscured."

"Of course you're befuddled, Vaccha. Of course you're confused. Deep, Vaccha, is this phenomenon, hard to see, hard to realize, tranquil, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. For those with other views, other practices, other satisfactions, other aims, other teachers, it is difficult to know. That being the case, I will now put some questions to you. Answer as you see fit. How do you construe this, Vaccha: If a fire were burning in front of you, would you know that, 'This fire is burning in front of me'?"

"...yes..."

"And suppose someone were to ask you, Vaccha, 'This fire burning in front of you, dependent on what is it burning?' Thus asked, how would you reply?"

"...I would reply, 'This fire burning in front of me is burning dependent on grass and timber as its sustenance.'"

"If the fire burning in front of you were to go out, would you know that, 'this fire burning in front of me has gone out'?"

"...Yes."

"And suppose someone were to ask you, 'this fire that has gone out in front of you, in which direction from here has it gone? East? West? North? Or south?' Thus asked, how would you reply?"

"That doesn't apply, Master Gotama. Any fire burning dependent on a sustenance of grass and timber, being unnourished -- from having consumed that sustenance and not being offered any other -- is classified simply as 'out' (unbound)."

"Even so, Vaccha, any physical form by which one describing the Tathágata would describe him: That the Tathágata has abandoned, its root destroyed, like an uprooted palm tree, deprived of the conditions of existence, not destined for future arising. Freed from the classification of form, Vaccha, the Tathágata is deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the sea. 'Reappears' doesn't apply. 'Does not reappear' doesn't apply. 'Both does and does not reappear' doesn't apply. 'Neither reappears nor does not reappear' doesn't apply.

"Any feeling... Any perception... Any mental fabrication...

"Any consciousness by which one describing the Tathágata would describe him: That the Tathágata has abandoned, its root destroyed, like an uprooted palm tree, deprived of the conditions of existence, not destined for future arising. Freed from the classification of consciousness, Vaccha, the Tathágata is deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the sea. 'Reappears' doesn't apply. 'Does not reappear' doesn't apply. 'Both does and does not reappear' doesn't apply. 'Neither reappears nor does not reappear' doesn't apply."

When this was said, the wanderer Vacchagotta said to the Blessed One: "Master Gotama, it is as if there were a great sala tree not far from a village or town: From inconstancy, its branches and leaves would wear away, its bark would wear away, its sapwood would wear away, so that on a later occasion -- divested of branches, leaves, bark, and sapwood -- it would stand as pure heartwood. In the same way, Master Gotama's words are divested of branches, leaves, bark, and sapwood and stand as pure heartwood.

"Magnificent, Master Gotama! Magnificent! Just as if he were to place upright what was overturned, to reveal what was hidden, to show the way to one who was lost, or were to carry a lamp into the dark so that those with eyes could see forms, in the same way has Master Gotama has -- through many lines of reasoning -- made the Dhamma clear. I go to Master Gotama for refuge, to the Dhamma, and to the Sangha of monks. May Master Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has gone to him for refuge, from this day forward, for life."

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