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Kimsila Sutta

With What Virtue?

Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
For free distribution only.

Translator's note: This discourse mentions the metaphorical notion of "heartwood" (sara) three times. Although sara as a metaphor is often translated as "essence," this misses some of the metaphor's implications. When x is said to have y as its heartwood, that means that the proper development of x yields y, and that y is the most valuable part of x -- just as a tree, as it matures, develops heartwood, and the heartwood is the most valuable part of the tree.

"With what virtue,
what behavior,
nurturing what actions,
would a person become rightly based
and attain the ultimate goal?"

"One should be respectful
of one's superiors[1]
& not envious;
should have a sense of the time
for seeing teachers[2];
should value the opportunity
when a talk on Dhamma's in progress;
should listen intently
to well-spoken words;
should go at the proper time,
humbly, casting off stubborness,
to one's teacher's presence;
should both recollect & follow
the Dhamma, its meaning,
restraint, & the holy life.

Delighting in Dhamma,
savoring Dhamma,
established in Dhamma,
with a sense of how
to investigate Dhamma,
one should not speak in ways
destructive of Dhamma,[3]
should guide oneself
with true, well-spoken words.

laughter, chattering,
lamentation, hatred,
deception, deviousness,
greed, pride,
confrontation, roughness,
astringency, infatuation,
one should go about free
of intoxication,
steadfast within.

Understanding's the heartwood
of well-spoken words;
concentration, the heartwood
of learning & understanding.

When a person is hasty & heedless
his discernment & learning
don't grow.
While those who delight
in the doctrines taught by the noble ones,
are unexcelled
in word, action, & mind.
They, established in
composure, &
have reached
what discernment & learning
have as their heartwood."[4]


1. According to the Commentary, one's superiors include those who have more wisdom than oneself, more skill in concentration and other aspects of the path than oneself, and those senior to oneself.

2. The Commentary says that the right time to see a teacher is when one is overcome with passion, aversion, and delusion, and cannot find a way out on one's own. This echoes a passage in AN VI.26, in which Ven. Maha Kaccana says that the right time to visit a "monk worthy of esteem" is when one needs help in overcoming any of the five hindrances or when one doesn't yet have an appropriate theme to focus on to put an end to the mind's fermentations.  

3. The Commentary equates "words destructive of the Dhamma" with "animal talk." See the discussion under Pacittiya 85 in The Buddhist Monastic Code.  

4. The heartwood of learning & discernment is release.

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