Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Introduction to 3.6.15 Sīlappabhedakathā

Easy to Fall Prey to Breakage of Sīla


Na gaṅgā yamunā cāpi, sarabhū vā sarasvatī;

Ninnagā1 vāciravatī, mahī vāpi mahānadī2.

Sakkuṇanti3 visodhetuṃ, taṃ malaṃ idha pāṇinaṃ;

Visodhayati sattānaṃ, yaṃ ve sīlajalaṃ malaṃ.


Neither Ganges nor Yamunā, not Sarabhū or Sarassathī;

Not the river Aciravatī, or the great river of Mahī;

Are able to wash away the impurities in beings here in this world;

Only the waters of sīla can clear out the stain in living beings.


     Along with the previous chapters4 the present one on right livelihood concludes to highlight and elucidate the emphasis that is given to the necessity of upholding moral principles throughout one’s life as a healthy base for one’s spiritual growth: sīla!

     Every member of the society may appreciate such values and maintain them as natural requirements for the functioning of a society and for one’s own mental calm. But for someone who desires to follow the path as a kalyāṇa puthujjana they constitute an indispensable foundation for steps forward towards the attainment of a cūla sotāpanna – someone to whom further progress towards liberation from all bonds of craving, aversion and ill will is assured. For such a person vāritta sikkhāpada5 is an indispensable MUST in order to actively get involved and perform wholesomeness: cārittaṃ sikkhāpada – both remain twofold and closely interrelated. A meditator needs to learn and understand through proper mindfulness and observation all volitional aspects behind his actions to realize especially that the more subtle dimensions of sīla need to be maintained in utter purity as well: Not only not to perform any unwholesome deeds by body, speech or mind, nor not to seduce others to do so but likewise not even mentally approve of any such actions in any way!6 Only on such a vital base will someone be able to retain the indispensable calm for the development of proper samādhi and pañña.

     Illustrating how easy it can be to fall astray in safeguarding sīla is the intention of the chosen examples in this present lesson, selected from the chapter Sīlaniddeso from the Visuddhimaggo. The chapter is subtitled: Ājīvapārisuddhisīlaṃ and highlights purification of livelihood by referring to the life and conduct of Bhikkhus. But reading these instances with the proper intention they should stir any layman towards honest self-reflection7:

· How often in one’s daily life does one fall prey to incorrect transactions by taking refuge to self-deception and excuses?

· How often does one speak, hint, flatter out of covetousness, how often does one slightly vary from the truth for a ‘good’ purpose?

· How often does one use words and methods out of expectation and hope for potential future gains? 

     The selection deals in great detail with potential dangers towards crushing the proper livelihood of a monk, who, wishing to acquire requisites or revenue, resting places or admiration may fall prey to unhealthy methods8. These are also mentioned in the Kuhakasutta9 as deriving a Bhikkhu from gain, good renown and respect. Out of the five negative illustrations of misconduct examples are quoted here that refer to kuhanā and nemittikatā10. All patterns reveal minutely how easily one could fall prey to all kinds of dormant impurities which present themselves as desire for sustenance gained through improper methods. They hide and cover in dishonest self-deception11. These minor and major transgressions may even escalate into intentional hypocrisy where a monk may be invited to accept robes, bedding etc. but refuses especially because he eagerly desires them12. His intention is to deport himself as an extremely modest monk who hardly accepts any donation. Only in rare circumstances he would consent because that will involve great merits for the donor. But eventually the monk complies by convincing the donors that he will accept the gifts only out of special compassion towards them: So evamāha – ‘tiṇṇaṃ sammukhībhāvā13 saddho kulaputto bahuṃ puññaṃ pasavati. Saddhāya sammukhībhāvā saddho kulaputto bahuṃ puññaṃ pasavati. Deyyadhammassa sammukhībhāvā saddho kulaputto bahuṃ puññaṃ pasavati dakkhiṇeyyānaṃ sammukhībhāvā saddho kulaputto bahuṃ puññaṃ pasavati. Tumhākañcevāyaṃ saddhā atthi, deyyadhammo ca saṃvijjati, ahañca paṭiggāhako14, sacehaṃ na paṭiggahessāmi, evaṃ tumhe puññena paribāhirā bhavissanti, na mayhaṃ iminā attho. Apica tumhākaṃyeva anukampāya paṭiggaṇhāmī’ti. – He says: “Three conditions need to be fulfilled that a faithful householder gains much merit: Having devotion generates much merit. Giving donations generates much merit. The presence of someone being worthy of gifts generates much merit. Now, you have all the devotion, the gift is available and I, as the recipient, am present. Therefore, if I was not to accept this gift the merits that could be derived thereof would be annihilated through me. So out of compassion for you I will accept this gift!”

     When it is so easy for a Bhikkhu to fall prey to his desires, how much more difficult it seems to be for a householder where a vast field of opportunities to become victim to craving obtrude on a day to day base, if not even every moment? These are the subtle dangers where an upright follower of the path should put forth special resolution to maintain all necessary and correct means for sammāājīvo: So micchāājīvassa pahānāya vāyamati, sammāājīvassa upasampadāya; svāssa hoti sammāvāyāmo. So sato micchāājīvaṃ pajahati, sato sammāājīvaṃ upasampajja viharati; sāssa hoti sammāsati15.

1. ninnagā:  river

2. mahānadī: mahā + nadī: great + river

3. sakkuṇāti: be able

4. see section on 3.4.2 sammāvācā - right speech and 3.5 sammākammanto - right actions

7. See also lesson 3.5.8 Methunasuttaṃ - How to Live a Real Celibate Life? – Which presents detailed explanation of various subtle modes how an upright life of a Brahmacariya can get corrupted by passion: ‘‘Kiṃ pana, bho gotama, brahmacariyassa khaṇḍampi chiddampi sabalampi kammāsampī’’ti? Understanding those depicted snares of lust should also stir any serious layman to honest self-reflection by observing and clearing his own intrinsic mental irritations and deceptive detours.

8. Katamo ca, bhikkhave, micchāājīvo? Kuhanā, lapanā, nemittikatā, nippesikatā, lābhena lābhaṃ nijigīsanatā – ayaṃ, bhikkhave, micchāājīvo. - These characteristics designate micchāājīvo for a Bhikkhu – see 3.6.14 Mahācattārīsakasuttaṃ cont. - Discerning Wrong Livelihood and Developing Right Livelihood

9. ‘‘Pañcahi, bhikkhave, dhammehi samannāgato thero bhikkhu sabrahmacārīnaṃ appiyo ca hoti amanāpo ca agaru ca abhāvanīyo ca. Katamehi pañcahi? Kuhako ca hoti, lapako ca, nemittiko ca, nippesiko ca, lābhena ca lābhaṃ nijigīsitā– imehi kho, bhikkhave, pañcahi dhammehi samannāgato thero bhikkhu sabrahmacārīnaṃ appiyo ca hoti amanāpo ca agaru ca abhāvanīyo ca.” – If being engaged in five methods, Bhikkhus, an Elder is not dear or agreeable to them, not respected or honoured by his fellow monks. What are the five? He uses deceitful talk, flattery, disparaging and pursuing gain with gain! If engaged in these five methods, Bhikkhu, an Elder will not be dear or agreeable to them, not respected or honoured by his fellow monks. Theravaggo, Dutiyapaṇṇāsakaṃ, Pañcakanipātapāḷi, Aṅguttaranikāyo

10. The others are as mentioned: lapanā – various kinds of excessive talk and flattery, nippesikatā – all kinds of belittleing, denigration and backbiting, lābhena lābham nijigimsanatā – various improper means by which the Bhikkhu hopes to gain benefit.

11. Kuhananiddese tāva lābhasakkārasilokasannissitassāti lābhañca sakkārañca kittisaddañca sannissitassa, patthayantassāti attho. Pāpicchassāti asantaguṇadīpanakāmassa. Icchāpakatassāti icchāya apakatassa, upaddutassāti attho. – In the specification of deceitful talk the meaning is: being desirous of gain, honor and good renown, he is attached to and longs for gifts, honor and good renown. Being of evil wishes, the meaning is: being desirous to demonstrate qualities that he does not have. Being prey to wishes, the meaning is: Being beset and oppressed by his desires.

12. see the example presented in the text

13. sammukhībhāvā: face to face + condition

14. paṭiggāhako: recipient

15. See again 3.6.14 Mahācattārīsakasuttaṃ cont. - Discerning Wrong Livelihood and Developing Right Livelihood


Pāli lesson (with audio) 3.6.15

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Last modified: Tuesday, 9 August 2022, 7:11 PM