Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Introduction to 1.4.0
Cūḷahatthipadopamasuttaṃ, part one - Saddhā, Confidence is the Necessary Base for Walking the Path

Tathārūpo ayaṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhusaṅgho; tathārūpā ayaṃ, bhikkhave, parisā yathārūpaṃ parisaṃ alaṃ yojanagaṇanāni dassanāya gantuṃ puṭosenāpi.1

Such is this Bhikkhusaṅgha, Bhikkhus, of such nature is this assembly, Bhikkhus, that to be able to encounter an assembly like this it is surely worthwhile to walk with a provision bag even for a number of yojanas.2


At certain occasions the Buddha surveyed the members of the Saṅgha discerning their achievements. He then usually addressed them with a respective discourse to inspire them to develop further in order to accomplish the final goal.3 This is likewise the intention of this sub-chapter titled Tena me samaṇā piyā (That Is Why the Samaṇās Are Dear to Me) with its texts selected to stir, motivate and foster saddhā (confidence, faith and devotion) in order to walk and progress on the path.

One gains saddhā by witnessing inspirational models of those who have walked the path and by beholding their conduct, demeanor, merits and attainments. Therefore, this chapter quotes amongst others Therī Rohinī who as a girl praises the bearing of the Bhikkhus,4 analyzes the recollection of their qualities,5 portrays benefitting good qualities6 and their mutual conduct to others,7 and refers to the advice of the Buddha as to how one should act in practicing goodwill, compassion and metta.8

Saddhā (confidence, devotion or faith) is the essential element and basis for anyone to become attracted, interested and inspired to take further steps along the way. Saddha is an esteemed quality and a foundation of the path but it only provides a foundation in one’s development if it is especially based not only on devotional faith or intellectual confidence but on experiential wisdom. This experiential wisdom then turns into, what the meditation teacher S. N. Goenka calls, ‘enlightened devotion’ or ‘enlightening saddhā’. ‘Enlightened’ in the sense that hesitation and doubt diminish, ‘enlightening’ in the sense that with every step on the path one’s confidence increases and grows as insight develops. Examples of those who have grown in the Dhamma by their conduct and perceivable achievements only provide the initial encouragement. When King Milinda asked the Venerable Nagāsena about the special importance and characteristic of saddhā9,10 he received the following reply.

Sampasādanalakkhaṇā11 ca, mahārāja, saddhā, sampakkhandanalakkhaṇā12 cā’ti.

 Kathaṃ, bhante, sampasādanalakkhaṇā saddhā’ti?

Saddhā kho, mahārāja, uppajjamānā nīvaraṇe13 vikkhambheti,14 vinīvaraṇaṃ cittaṃ hoti acchaṃ vippasannaṃ anāvilaṃ. Evaṃ kho, mahārāja, sampasādanalakkhaṇā saddhā’ti.15

Saddhā, O’ King, has tranquillizing as its characteristic mark, it has further aspiration as its characteristic mark.

And how does saddhā have tranquillizing as its characteristic mark?

When saddhā arises in the mind, O’ King, then it extirpates the veil of the hindrances, when the mind has rejected these hindrances it becomes clear, serene and untroubled. Thus saddhā has tranquillizing as its characteristic mark.16


The respective current selection from the Cūḷahatthipadopamasutta has been chosen for the purpose of fostering saddhā.17 Cūḷa means ‘short’, hatthī/hatthi is an ‘elephant’, pada means ‘foot’, and upama/opamma is a ‘simile’ that is used to portray by a comparison. Thus the sutta is translated as the ‘Shorter Simile of an Elephant’s Footprint’. At one time the Venerable Sāriputta18 also made use of a similar analogy where he illustrated the ‘Larger Simile of an Elephant’s Footprint’.

Āyasmā sāriputto etadavoca – ‘‘seyyathāpi yāni kānici jaṅgalānaṃ19 pāṇānaṃ padajātāni20 sabbāni tāni hatthipade samodhānaṃ21 gacchanti, hatthipadaṃ tesaṃ aggamakkhāyati yadidaṃ mahantattena; evameva kho, āvuso, ye keci kusalā dhammā sabbete catūsu ariyasaccesu saṅgahaṃ gacchanti.’’ 22

“… any footprint of any living and walking being in any jungle can be positioned within an elephant’s footprint which because of its great size is declared the chief of them all. Similar to that all wholesome states can be included in the Four Noble Truths.” 

The Cūḷahatthipadopamasutta originates in an exchange between the Brāhmiṇ Jāṇussoṇi23 and the wanderer24 Pilotika. During this conversation Pilotika informs Jāṇussoṇi that he has become a follower of the Enlightened One because he had observed that many accomplished Brāhmiṇs, householders and even recluses of different faith were ‘converted’ by the Buddha and turned into his followers. Taking these observations as a ‘footprint’ Pilotika came to the conclusion that the Buddha was a Fully Enlightened One.

Out of this exchange the Brāhmiṇ Jāṇussoṇi developed the urge to visit the Buddha and when he reported about the inference of the wanderer Pilotika the Buddha advised him not to draw false suppositions by just seeing a ‘footprint’. Before making any assumptions one should directly encounter and experience what one considers correct and not merely out of pure faith or analytical deduction. Then the Buddha proceeds by describing the conduct and deportment of the members of the Saṅgha as presented in the current selection.25 Using the simile of a Tathāgatapadaṃ (footprint of a Tathāgata), the Buddha then highlights that only once the final goal is attained, one could claim that one really witnessed the Tathāgatapadaṃ.

Vimuttasmiṃ vimuttamiti ñāṇaṃ hoti. ‘Khīṇā jāti, vusitaṃ brahmacariyaṃ, kataṃ karaṇīyaṃ, nāparaṃ itthattāyā’ti pajānāti.26 Idampi vuccati, brāhmaṇa, tathāgatapadaṃ itipi …

… When liberated, the knowledge: ‘I am liberated’ arises. He understands: ‘Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more becoming to any further existence. This, Brahmin, is called a footprint of the Tathāgata. … 

May the reader get confidence from the selection of suttas in this subchapter and gain reinforced saddhā for oneself!

1. Ānāpānassatisuttaṃ, Anupadavaggo, Uparipaṇṇāsapāḷi, Majjhimanikāye.

2. The measurement of yojana was explained at 1.1.0 Bahujanahitasuttaṃ - For the Benefit of Many.

3. See for example Lesson 1.4.6 - Ānāpānassatisuttaṃ - Free from Prattle and Chatter is this Assembly.

4. 1.4.1 Rohinītherīgāthā - That Is Why They Are So Dear to Me.

5. 1.4.2 Esa Bhagavato sāvaka-saṅgho – Inspiration Gained through the Ariyan Disciples.

6. 1.4.4 Sekhasuttaṃ - Seven Befitting Qualities of an Ariyan Disciple.

7. 1.4.6 Cūḷagosiṅgasuttaṃ - Like Milk and Water Dwelling in Harmony.

8. 1.4.8 Karaṇīyamettasuttaṃ - Pursuing One’s Own Good and the Wellbeing of Others.

9. More notes on the significance of saddhā are provided in 1.4.3 Dhajaggasuttaṃ - Verses for Protection. Saddhā is also important and fundamental constituent of the 37 bodhipakkhiyadhammā. For more details refer to 3.7.0: Right Effort – SīlalakkhaṇapañhoProceeding Further on the Path - the Wholesome Base of Sīla Is Only a Precondition.

10. Rājā āha ‘‘bhante nāgasena, kiṃlakkhaṇā saddhā’’ti?

11. sampasādanalakkhaṇā: sam + pasādana + lakkhaṇā – with + serenity, tranquillization + characteristic mark

12. sampakkhandanalakkhaṇā: sam + pakkhandana + lakkhaṇā – with + aspiration, leaping + characteristic mark

13. nīvaraṇa: hindrance, obstacle, the ‘five hindrances’ (pañca nīvaraṇāni) are: sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, agitation and feeling of remorse and all kinds of doubt  (kāmacchando, byāpādo, thīnamiddha, uddhaccakukkucca vicikicchā). For more detail see 3.7.8 Nīvaraṇapabbaṃ – Mastering the Hindrances.

14. vikkhambheti: extirpate, reject, discard.

15. Sampasādanalakkhaṇasaddhāpañho, Milindapañhapāḷi, Khuddakanikāye.

16. For further answers and similes of the Venerable Nagāsena under this heading see 1.4.2 Vandana: Esa Bhagavato sāvaka-saṅgho – Inspiration Gained through the Ariyan Disciples.

17. One more reason for choosing the Cūḷahatthipadopamasutta to introduce this sub-chapter is that is provides information and prepares one with vocabulary that then gets refreshed and repeated in later texts. See for example 3.4.5 Upālisuttaṃ-1 - How to Conduct Oneself Correctly in Right Speech or 3.5.5 Potaliyasuttaṃ - Pāṇātipātaṃ pahāya pāṇātipātā paṭivirato – How to Abandon the Destruction of Life?

18. About the history of the Venerable Sāriputta and the Venerable Mahā Moggallāna see 1.3.8 Caṅkamasuttaṃ - Bound Together by Inclinations.

19. jaṅgala: jungle.

20. padajāta: various kinds of footprints.

21. samodhāna: to be contained, collocation, combination.

22. Mahāhatthipadopamasuttaṃ, Opammavaggo, Mūlapaṇṇāsapāḷi, Majjhimanikāyo.

23. See also about this Brāhmiṇ 3.1.7 Jāṇussoṇibrāhmaṇasuttaṃ - The Maggayāna, the Vehicle of the Path That Is Produced from Within.

24. Pilotikaṃ paribbājaka: paribbājati – wonder about.

25. The selection is subdivided into two parts with the second describing the achievements of those who out of faith proceed towards the goal 3.9.3 Cūḷahatthipadopamasuttaṃ, part two – Reaching the Aim of Walking the Path Based on Enlightened Saddhā.

26. This phrase is, in general, used to express the attainment of Arahanthood.

Last modified: Saturday, 2 December 2023, 4:23 PM