Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa


Introduction to 3.3.6
Ambalaṭṭhikarāhulovādasuttaṃ
(How to Train Oneself and to Confess Shortcomings to One`s Elders – part one)


This sutta presents the first of the three Suttas from Majjhimanikāya addressed to the Venerable Rāhula1. The Venerable Rāhula was the only son of the Buddha, who was born to him on the night when as prince Siddhattha he left his palace. The name: ‘rāhulo—bondage, hindrance’ was given to the baby so it could function as a reminder to his father to leave the household without delay in spite of his son’s birth. When the Buddha later returned to his hometown of Kapilavatthu on invitation of his father, King Suddhodana, his former wife, Queen Yasodharā sent Rāhula to ask for his inheritance. The Buddha remained silent and simply left the palace. Rāhula followed him and repeated his request. Then the Buddha introduced him to the Venerable Sariputta and asked him to ordain Rāhula then and there at the age of seven. It is said that this Ambalaṭṭhikarāhulovādasuttaṃ had been taught to Venerable Rāhula shortly after this ordination. Later King Suddhodana asked a boon that no more children should be ordained without the consent of his parents.

It is said that the Venerable Rāhula spent most of his days at Ambalaṭṭhikā from the period of his ordination at seven, onwards. Ambalaṭṭhikā was a pāsāda, a kind of meditation hall in the outskirts of veḷuvana kalandakanivāpe, the bamboo-grove, which was also a favorite resting place of the Buddha. It had been the pleasure park of King Bimbimsāra2 who, had fallen asleep after a picnic and was left all by himself. While a snake, attracted through the scent of the food approached the king, a squirrel chirped loudly and thus saved the king. Out of gratitude Bimbimsāra ordered that food—nivāpe—should be given regularly to the squirrels –kalandaka– in this bamboo –veḷu– forest -vane-, hence the name.

The sutta introduces primarily two similes to alert Rāhula: The Buddha shows Rāhula the water vessel after having washed his feet with only little water left. He further throws all the water away, turns the vessel upside down and shows the fully empty vessel. Every time he compares this with a monk, who by telling a –sampajānamusāvāde– a deliberate lie has only little of his holy life left, has thrown it away, turned it upside down and who's sāmañña-ship is fully hollow. Vain and purposeless like this empty vessel would such a life turn out for such a recluse. Buddha continues with a further metaphor, the story of a royal elephant who would give up his life from the very moment onwards once he starts using his trunk in battle. Again the elephant is compared to any recluse, who deliberately tells a lie and thus gives up his recluseship - ready to perform any unhealthy action resulting from this lie.3

The Buddha then exhorts with the following words: “Tasmātiha te, rāhula, ‘hassāpi na musā bhaṇissāmī’ti – evañhi te, rāhula, sikkhitabbaṃ.” - “Therefore you should train yourself, Rāhulo: I will not utter any false speech!’” then proceeds to exhort the Venerable Rāhula to reflect his actions of body, word and mind in a threefold manner like saints of all times have done.


[1] These are the Mahārāhulovādasuttaṃ where the Venerable Rāhula gets stirred by the Venerable Sariputta to develop Ānāpāna: ‘ānāpānassatiṃ, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvehi’. Thus instructed he inquires with the Buddha and receives detailed guidance in Ānāpāna-meditation and the four mahābhūta. The Cūḷarāhulovādasuttaṃ, is a shorter discourse where the Venerable Rāhula is instructed by the Buddha on the impermanence of the saḷāyatana, the six sensual organs after which he attains final release with the words: ‘yaṃ kiñci samudayadhammaṃ sabbaṃ taṃ nirodhadhamma’.

[2] King Bimbimsāra was king of the country of Rājagaha till he was finally superseded by his son Ajātasattu and later even killed after he had survived his ban in prison with the intention to starve him to death.

[3] Compare with lesson 3.4.4: Musāvādasuttaṃ

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Pāli lesson (with audio) 3.3.6

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Last modified: Tuesday, 21 February 2017, 7:16 PM