Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Introduction to 3.8.16
Mahāparinibbānasuttaṃ, Veḷuvagāmavassūpagamanaṃ - Be an Island within Yourselves - attadīpā viharatha attasaraṇā

‘‘Attadīpā tato hotha, satipaṭṭhānagocarā;

Bhāvetvā sattabojjhaṅge, dukkhassantaṃ karissathā’’ti.1


“One should develop oneself as an island within, dwelling with satipaṭṭhāna,

Having developed the factors of enlightenment one will reach the end of suffering.”


     Finding shelter by protecting oneself and taking refuge to the island of Dhamma within oneself is an vital request to his disciples formulated by the Enlightened One.

     This advice is presented at various locations in the Tipiṭaka. The current text refers to the Buddha’s final stay in the village of Veḷuvagāma2 where he replied to Ānanda as quoted in the selected text which concludes this chapter on sāmma sati.  

     The Mahāparinibbānasutta describes how the Buddha after his longer stay in the forest that Ambapāli3 had donated to the Saṅgha went to this small village with his monks. Here he asked them to move on to Vesāli where they could be easily supported by their friends or supporters4 as the Buddha desired to dwell secluded and all by himself during the rainy season5. During this rainy season he became so seriously ill that he discerned the approaching time for his passing away. He decided not to leave this world without a final address to the Bhikkhus and by firm determination his disease abated:

     Atha kho bhagavato etadahosi – ‘‘na kho metaṃ patirūpaṃ, yvāhaṃ anāmantetvā6 upaṭṭhāke anapaloketvā7 bhikkhusaṅghaṃ parinibbāyeyyaṃ. Yaṃnūnāhaṃ imaṃ ābādhaṃ vīriyena paṭipaṇāmetvā jīvitasaṅkhāraṃ adhiṭṭhāya vihareyya’’nti.

     Here the Bhagavā thought: ‘It is not befitting if I was to achieve parinibbāna without having addressed my supporters and notified the Bhikkhusaṅgha. I should determine to suppress this disease by energetic effort and to maintain this life-force’

     With this firm determination the Buddha overcame his disease and Ānanda, who had been in pains watching this condition then addressed the Buddha expressing his concern:

     “… Disāpi me na pakkhāyanti8; dhammāpi maṃ na paṭibhanti bhagavato gelaññena, api ca me, bhante, ahosi kācideva assāsamattā9 – ‘na tāva bhagavā parinibbāyissati, na yāva bhagavā bhikkhusaṅghaṃ ārabbha kiñcideva udāharatī10’’’ti.

     “… My bearings were indistinct and all matters were unclear to me because of the sickness that had befallen the Bhagavā. But what brought me some balance was the thought: ‘The Bhagavā will not attain final Nibbāna until he has made some declaration to the Bhikkhusaṅgha.’”

     It was here that the Buddha then replied as presented in the current selection and concluded with the given elucidation to perfect oneself in the four satipaṭṭhānā.

     A concluding reference to the Mahāsatipaṭṭhānasuttavaṇṇanā shall complete this chapter. The Dhammānupassanā nīvaraṇapabbavaṇṇanā points to the purpose that each of the four satipaṭṭhāna opens the gateway to complete grasping of the respective pañcupādānakkhandhā.  Therefore the Buddha addresses his monks by opening each paragraph with: ‘kathañca, bhikkhave’ - ‘and how, Bhikkhus?11

     Apica bhagavatā kāyānupassanāya suddharūpapariggaho12 kathito, vedanācittānupassanāhi suddhaarūpapariggaho. Idāni rūpārūpamissakapariggahaṃ kathetuṃ ‘‘kathañca, bhikkhave’’ tiādimāha. Kāyānupassanāya vā rūpakkhandhapariggahova kathito, vedanānupassanāya vedanākkhandhapariggahova, cittānupassanāya viññāṇakkhandhapariggahova idāni saññāsaṅkhārakkhandhapariggahampi kathetuṃ ‘‘kathañca, bhikkhave’’tiādimāha.13

     Further after the Bhagavā expounded pure grasping of ‘rūpa’ through kāyānupassana, (he exponded) pure grasping of ‘rūpa’ through vedanācittānupassa. These combined grasping of ‘rūparūpa’ is why he started with: ‘kathañca, bhikkhave’.

     Through kāyānupassana he expounded the acquisition of rūpakkhandha, by vedanānupassana the acquisition of vedanākkhandha, by cittānupassana the acquisition of viññāṇakkhandha, by dhammānupassanā he proceeds to illuminate the acquisition of saññāsaṅkhārakkhandha, this is why he started with: ‘kathañca, bhikkhave’.

     The term ‘acquisition’—‘pariggaho’ may be highlighted by the following exhortation to the monks in the Attadīpasutta14 at Sāvatthi. Here the Buddha commences with exactly the same encouragement —‘viharatha attasaraṇā anaññasaraṇā, dhammadīpā dhammasaraṇā anaññasaraṇā’— ‘dwell and develop oneself and the Dhamma within as island and as refuge!’ He proceeds by comparing an uninstructed worldling —assutavā puthujjano with someone who has developed wisdom on the base of insight by directly referring to the pañcakhanda. The first one will always regard the pañcakhanda as ‘atta‘self’, or ‘self as possessing these’, or ‘these as being within self’ or as ‘self within these’.15 With this base of ignorance he sustains his suffering through sorrow, lamentation, pain, mental distress and despair.16 But someone who understands and perceives the impermanence in all pañcakhanda understands the reality as it is:  

     “Rūpassa (… vedanāya, … saññāya, … saṅkhārānaṃ, … viññāṇassa) tveva, bhikkhave, aniccataṃ viditvā vipariṇāmaṃ virāgaṃ nirodhaṃ, pubbe ceva rūpaṃ (… vedanaṃ, … saññaṃ, … saṅkhāre, … viññāṇaṃ) etarahi ca sabbaṃ rūpaṃ (… vedanaṃ, … saññaṃ, … saṅkhāre, … viññāṇaṃ) aniccaṃ dukkhaṃ vipariṇāmadhammanti, evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya passato ye sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā te pahīyanti.”

     “Bhikkhus, when one realised in full wisdom that form (… sensation, … perception, … mental conditioned reactions, ... consciousness) is impermanent, it has the nature of change, its fading and its ceasing and comprehended as it really is and realised that as now also in the past all form (… sensation, … perception, … mental conditioned reactions, ... consciousness) is (was) impermanent, it has (had) the nature of change, its fading and its ceasing then all suffering through sorrow, lamentation, pain, mental distress and despair is abandoned.”

     Having realised this he dwells unagitated, happy and it is said of him that his ‘thirst’ is quenched:

     Tesaṃ pahānā na paritassati, aparitassaṃ sukhaṃ viharati, sukhavihārī bhikkhu ‘tadaṅganibbuto’ti vuccatī’’ti

     Mankind is living in a period where the dutiya sāsana17 (or the second half of the sāsana) allows the opportunity to nurture one’s qualities or pāramitā. In distinction to an area when a Buddha arises and the qualities of beings are near to fulfilment for today’s mankind the chances may be rare to reach accomplishment — so one’s training in walking on the path needs to get nurtured. Thus the full —‘yathābhūtaṃ’— recognition, separation, distinction and acknowledgement of anicca in each of the pañcakhanda may still need to be further developed. That is why the achieved accomplishment of —‘viharatha attasaraṇā anaññasaraṇā’— according to the above perfection of realising impermanence fully in all the pañcakhanda may still be lacking.18 As soothing appeasement the following reply from the Venerable Sāriputto may now terminate this chapter:

     During one time, when the Bhagavā was staying at Sāvatthi in the Jetavane  park the Venerable Āyasmā Mahākoṭṭhiko, after he arose from his meditation, went to Venerable Āyasmā Sāriputto with the intention to address him with a number of inquiries. At one point he asked the following question:

     ‘‘Yā cāvuso, vedanā yā ca saññā yañca viññāṇaṃ – ime dhammā saṃsaṭṭhā udāhu visaṃsaṭṭhā? Labbhā ca panimesaṃ dhammānaṃ vinibbhujitvā19 vinibbhujitvā nānākaraṇaṃ paññāpetu’’nti?

     “Friend, sensation, perception, and consciousness, – are these states conjoined or disjoined? And is it possible to separate each of these states from the others in order to describe any difference between them?”

     Here the Veneable Sāriputto replied:

     ‘‘Yā cāvuso, vedanā yā ca saññā yañca viññāṇaṃ – ime dhammā saṃsaṭṭhā, no visaṃsaṭṭhā. Na ca labbhā imesaṃ dhammānaṃ vinibbhujitvā vinibbhujitvā nānākaraṇaṃ paññāpetuṃ. Yaṃ hāvuso, vedeti taṃ sañjānāti, yaṃ sañjānāti taṃ vijānāti. Tasmā ime dhammā saṃsaṭṭhā no visaṃsaṭṭhā. Na ca labbhā imesaṃ dhammānaṃ vinibbhujitvā vinibbhujitvā nānākaraṇaṃ paññāpetu’’nti.20

     “Friend, sensation, perception, and consciousness, – these states are conjoined, not disjoined, and it is impossible to separate each of these states from the others in order to describe any difference between them. For what one feels, that one perceives; and what one perceives, that one cognizes. That is why these states are conjoined, not disjoined, and it is impossible to separate each of these states from the others in order to describe any difference between them.”

‘‘Ye attadīpā vicaranti loke,

akiñcanā21 sabbadhi vippamuttā;

Kālena tesu habyaṃ22 pavecche,

yo brāhmaṇo puññapekkho23 yajetha24.”25


Those who move about in this world with only themselves as an island,

Having nothing and liberated in all respect,

To them at proper time a gift bestowed,

Such sacrifice should be given by one (a Brāhmin) desirous for merit.

1. Mahāpajāpatigotamītherīgāthāvaṇṇanā

2. also known as Beḷuvagāma

3. About Ambapāli and her history as a courtesan and the gift presented to the Saṅgha see: 3.8.2 Satisuttaṃ - Remaining Sato and Sampajāno

4. ‘‘etha tumhe, bhikkhave, samantā vesāliṃ yathāmittaṃ yathāsandiṭṭhaṃ yathāsambhattaṃ vassaṃ upetha

5. Bhagavā pana tattheva veḷuvagāmake vassaṃ upagacchi

6. anāmantetvā: an + āmantetvā: not + having addressed

7. anapaloketvā: an + apaloketvā: not + having notified, informed

8. pakkhāyati: appear, shine forth, be visible

9. assāsamattā: assa + samattā: of this + evenness, equanimity

10. udāharati: speak, recite

11. In each chapter of the Satipaṭṭhānasutta the Buddha addresses the monks with:

‘‘Kathañca pana, bhikkhave, bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī viharati? …

‘‘Kathañca pana, bhikkhave, bhikkhu vedanāsu vedanānupassī viharati?...

‘‘Kathañca pana, bhikkhave, bhikkhu citte cittānupassī viharati?...

‘‘Kathañca pana, bhikkhave, bhikkhu dhammesu dhammānupassī viharati?...

12. suddharūpapariggaho: suddha + rūpa + pariggaho: pure, clean + body, material element of form + taking possession, full comprehension, grasping the truth about

13. Dhammānupassanā nīvaraṇapabbavaṇṇanā

14. Attadīpavaggo, Saṃyuttanikāyo, Khandhavaggo, Khandhasaṃyuttaṃ

15. rūpaṃ (vedanaṃ, saññaṃ, saṅkhāre, viññāṇaṃ) attato samanupassati, rūpavantaṃ vā attānaṃ; attani vā rūpaṃ, rūpasmiṃ vā attānaṃ

16. sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā

17. About this belief and the prophesy of Phussathera see: 3.1.2 Sīsapāvanasuttaṃ - Like a Handful of Leaves and also: 2.1.11 Paṭhamabrahmaññasuttaṃ & Dutiyabrahmaññasuttaṃ (About Being a Brahmañña and the Fruits thereof & The Purpose of Being a Brahmañña)

18. The definition according to the commentary is: Attadīpāti attano guṇe eva attano dīpaṃ katvā vicarantā khīṇāsavā vuccanti. (Māghasuttavaṇṇanā) - ‘Dwelling with oneself as an island’ refers to the quality that ‘having made oneself an island’ means abiding without any impurities remaining’

19. vinibbhujitvā: having discriminated, separated, cleansed

20. Mahāvedallasuttaṃ, Cūḷayamakavaggo, Majjhimanikāyo, Mūlapaṇṇāsapāḷi  

21. akiñcanā: having nothing

22. habyaṃ, havyaṃ, huññaṃ: oblation (Habyaṃ katvāti hunitabbaṃ deyyadhammaṃ upakappetvā)

23. puññapekkho: merit + wishing, intending upon

24. yajetha: yajeti (caus., imp.): will cause to sacrifice

25. Māghasuttaṃ, Mahāvaggo, Suttanipātapāḷi

Last modified: Thursday, 17 November 2022, 11:43 AM