Fire Sermon

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Gayasisa or Brahmayoni hill, where Buddha taught the Fire Sermon.

The Ādittapariyāya Sutta (Pali, "Fire Sermon Discourse"), sometimes referred to simply as the Āditta Sutta, is a discourse from the Pali Canon, popularly known as the Fire Sermon.[1] In this discourse, the Buddha preaches about achieving liberation from suffering through detachment from the five senses and mind.

In the Pali Canon, the Adittapariyaya Sutta is found in the Samyutta Nikaya ("Connected Collection," abbreviated as either "SN" or "S") and is designated by either "SN 35.28"[2] or "S iv 1.3.6"[3] or "S iv 19".[4] This discourse is also found in the Buddhist monastic code (Vinaya) at Vin I 35.[5]

English speakers might be familiar with the name of this discourse due to T. S. Eliot's entitling the third section of his celebrated poem, The Waste Land, as "The Fire Sermon." In a footnote, Eliot states that this Buddhist discourse "corresponds in importance to the Sermon on the Mount."[6]

Background[edit]

In the Vinaya, the Fire Sermon is the third discourse delivered by the Buddha (after the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta and the Anattalakkhana Sutta), several months after his enlightenment, on top of the Gayasisa Hill, near Gaya, India. He delivered it to a thousand newly converted ascetics who formerly practiced a sacred fire ritual (Pali: aggihutta; Skt.: agnihotra).[7]

The 5th-century CE post-canonical Pali commentary, Sāratthappakāsini (Spk.), attributed to Buddhaghosa, draws a direct connection between the ascetics' prior practices and this discourse's main rhetorical device:

Having led the thousand bhikkhus monks to Gayā's Head, the Blessed One reflected, 'What kind of Dhamma talk would be suitable for them?' He then realized, 'In the past they worshipped the fire morning and evening. I will teach them that the twelve sense bases are burning and blazing. In this way they will be able to attain arahantship.[8]

Text[edit]

In this discourse, the Buddha describes the sense bases and resultant mental phenomena as "burning" with passion, aversion, delusion and suffering. Seeing such, a noble disciple becomes disenchanted with, dispassionate toward and thus liberated from the senses bases, achieving arahantship. This is described in more detail below.[9]

After a prefatory paragraph identifying this discourse's location of deliverance (Gaya) and audience (a thousand monks or bhikkhus), the Buddha proclaims (represented here in English and Pali):

"Bhikkhus, all is burning."[10]Sabbaṃ bhikkhave ādittaṃ[11]
Figure 1: The Pali Canon's Six Sextets:
 
 sense bases 
 
 f
e
e
l
i
n
g
  
 
 c
r
a
v
i
n
g
  
 "internal"
sense
organs
<–>"external"
sense
objects
 
 
contact
  
consciousness
 
 
 
  1. The six internal sense bases are the eye, ear,
    nose, tongue, body & mind.
  2. The six external sense bases are visible forms,
    sound, odor, flavors, touch & mental objects.
  3. Sense-specific consciousness arises dependent
    on an internal & an external sense base.
  4. Contact is the meeting of an internal sense
    base, external sense base & consciousness.
  5. Feeling is dependent on contact.
  6. Craving is dependent on feeling.
 Source: MN 148 (Thanissaro, 1998)    diagram details

The ensuing text reveals that "all" (sabba) refers to:

By "burning" (āditta) is meant:

According to the Buddha, a well-instructed noble disciple (sutavā ariyasāvako) sees this burning and thus becomes disenchanted (nibbindati) with the sense bases and their mental sequelae. The text then uses a formula found in dozens of discourses[13] to describe the manner in which such disenchantment leads to liberation from suffering:

"Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate.
Through dispassion, he is fully released.
With full release, there is the knowledge, 'Fully released.'
He discerns that 'Birth is ended,
the holy life fulfilled,
the task done.
There is nothing further for this world.'"[14]

Nibbindaṃ virajjati
virāgā vimuccati,
vimuttasmiṃ vimuttamiti ñāṇaṃ hoti,
khīṇā jāti,
vusitaṃ brahmacariyaṃ,
kataṃ karaṇīyaṃ
nāparaṃ itthattāyāti pajānātī ti.
[15]

A closing paragraph reports that, during this discourse, the thousand monks in attendance became liberated.

Related canonical discourses[edit]

While the central metaphor of burning combined with "the all" (sense bases, etc.) make this discourse unique in the Pali Canon, its core message can be found throughout, condensed and embellished in a number of instructive ways.

Andhabhūta/Addhabhūta Sutta (SN 35.29)[edit]

The very next discourse listed in the Samyutta Nikaya (SN 35.29) is nearly identical with the Fire Sermon with the significant exception that, instead of the central metaphor of the senses being "aflame" (āditta), this next discourse uses a different metaphor.[16] Bhikkhu Bodhi notes that different editions of the Tipitaka vary as to what this subsequent discourse's central metaphor is: Sinhala editions use the term andhabhūta – meaning "figuratively blinded" or "ignorant" – while the Burmese edition and commentary use addhabhūta – meaning "weighed down."[17] Regardless which edition is referenced, both the Fire Sermon and this subsequent discourse, with their seemingly diametric similes of burning and oppressiveness, underline that the senses, their objects and associated mental impressions are unto themselves beyond our complete control and are aversive; and, thus provide the escape of disenchantment, dispassion and release.

Āditta Sutta (SN 22.61)[edit]

In this discourse, instead of describing the sense bases (ayatana) as being aflame, the Buddha describes the five aggregates (khandha) in this manner:

"Bhikkhus, form is burning, feeling is burning, perception is burning, volitional formations are burning, consciousness is burning. Seeing thus, bhikkhus, the instructed noble disciple experiences revulsion towards form ... feeling ... perception ... volitional formations ... consciousness .... Through dispassion [this mind] is liberated...."[18]

Kukkuḷa Sutta (SN 22.136)[edit]

Like the Fire Sermon, this discourse has a central metaphor related to fire – likening our physical and mental apparatus to hot embers (Pali: kukkuḷa) – and concludes with the well-instructed noble disciple becoming disenchanted with, dispassionate about and liberated from these burning constituents. Unlike the Fire Sermon, instead of using the sense bases and their mental sequelae as the basis for this burning and disenchantment, this discourse uses the five aggregates (khandha) for the underlying physical-mental framework.[19]

Ādittapariyāya Sutta (SN 35.235)[edit]

Also entitled "Fire Sermon," this discourse cautions that it is better for an internal sense base (eye, ear, etc.) to be lacerated by a burning implement than for one to "grasp the sign" (nimittaggāho) of an external sense base (visible form, sound, etc.); for such grasping might lead to rebirth in a lower realm. Instead of grasping, the well-instructed noble disciple discriminates (paisañcikkhati) the impermance of the internal sense base, external sense base, related consciousness and contact, and the resultant feeling. Such discrimination leads to liberation.[20]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ For instance, while the Sinhala SLTP edition refers to this discourse as the Ādittapariyāyasuttaṃ, the Burmese CSCD edition refers to it as Ādittasuttaṃ. Ñanamoli (1981), Thanissaro (1993) and other English translators consistently refer to this (or mention its being referred to) as "The Fire Sermon."
  2. ^ "SN 35.28" denotes that this discourse is the twenty-eighth discourse in the 35th group (Saḷāyatanasaṃyutta) in the Samyutta Nikaya. (Note that in the Sri Lankan edition of the Canon, the Saḷāyatanasaṃyutta is the 34th group.) As an example, Thanissaro (1993) uses this designation.
  3. ^ "S iv 1.3.6" denotes that this is the sixth discourse in third group of ten discourses (Sabbavaggo) in the fourth book (Catutthobhāgo) in the Samyutta Nikaya. As an example, Bodhgaya News (n.d.) uses this designation.
  4. ^ "S iv 19" denotes that, in the Pali Text Society edition of the Canon, this discourse starts on page 19 of the fourth volume of the Samyutta Nikaya.
  5. ^ Bodhgaya News (n.d.), Vinaya Pitaka, Mahavagga, BJT p. 72; Rhys Davids & Oldenberg (1881), the Mahavagga, First Khandhaka, ch. 21; Bodhi (2005), p. 449, n. 38; and, Gombrich (1990), p. 16.
  6. ^ Allison et al.. (1975), p. 1042 n. 9. Eliot concludes "The Fire Sermon" section with: "Burning burning burning burning / O Lord Thou pluckest me out / O Lord Thou pluckest // burning" and associates the identified footnote with the first line represented here ("Burning burning....").
  7. ^ Rhys Davids & Oldenberg (1881), the Mahavagga, First Khandhaka, chs. 15 - 21; Gombrich (1990), p. 16; Ñanamoli (1981), "Introduction"; and, Bodhgaya News (n.d.), Vinaya Pitaka, Mahavagga, BJT pp. 70ff.
  8. ^ Bodhi (2000), p. 1401, n. 13.
  9. ^ English based on Ñanamoli (1981) and Thanissaro (1993). Pali based on Bodhgaya News (n.d.), Samyutta Nikaya, book 4, BJT pp. 38 - 42.
  10. ^ Ñanamoli (1981).
  11. ^ Bodhgaya News (n.d.), Samyutta Nikaya, Book iv, BJT p. 38 (retrieved 28 Sep 2007).
  12. ^ While this discourse does not explicitly use the word dukkha to designate what is here called "suffering" (and, in fact, the word dukkha is used in the specific physical notion of "pain"), nonetheless the frequently repeated formula for the Buddhist technical notion of dukkha is repeatedly stated, translated here as "birth, aging and death, sorrows, lamentations, pains, distresses and despairs" (Pali: jātiyā jarāmaraṇena, sokehi paridevehi dukkhehi domanassehi upāyāsehi).
  13. ^ For instance, using the search engine at Bodhgaya News (n.d.), this formulaic phrase (with varying punctuation) was found in MN 11, MN 147, SN 12.61, SN 22.79, SN 22.95, SN 22.136, SN 35.28, SN 35.29, SN 35.60, SN 35.73, SN 35.74, etc.
  14. ^ Thanissaro (1993).
  15. ^ Bodhgaya News (n.d.), Samyutta Nikaya, Book iv, BJT p. 42 (retrieved 28 Sep 2007).
  16. ^ For instance, see Bodhi (2000), p. 1144; Bodhgaya News (n.d.), BJT p. 42; and, Vipassana Research Institute (n.d.), Saḷāyatanasaṃyuttaṃ.
    Beside the central metaphor, the Fire Sermon and the Andhabhuta/Addhabuta Sutta differ in terms of locale and in regards to whom is being addressed; additionally, the last paragraph in the Fire Sermon (regarding the congregation's gratification, delight and release) is not present in the subsequent discourse.
  17. ^ Bodhi (2000), p. 1401, n. 14. Bodhi himself uses the Burmese edition as the basis for his own translation. The translation of andhabhūta here is based on Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 49, entry for "Andha". The translation of addhabhūta is from Bodhi (2000), p. 1144. To compare the different editions, see the Sinhala SLTP and Burmese CSCD.
  18. ^ Bodhi (2000), pp. 904-5. Square brackets are included in the original. In an associated end note to this discourse (p. 1067, n. 94), Bodhi writes: "This [SN 22.61] is a compressed version of the fuller Āditta Sutta at [SN] 35:28 ...."
  19. ^ English based on Bodhi (2000), p. 976. Pali based on Bodhgaya News (n.d.), SN iii, BJT p. 314.
  20. ^ Quoted English text from Bodhi (2000), pp. 1233-36. Bodhi translates this discourse's title as "The Exposition on Burning." Pali from Vipassana Research Institute (n.d.) at http://www.tipitaka.org/romn/cscd/s0304m.mul0.xml.

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