Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Introduction to 3.4.14
Buddhānussatikathā—sugato – Which Speech does a Buddha Utter?

The chapter Buddhānussati of the Visuddhimaggo explains the qualities and characteristics of the Buddha in great detail along with different grammatical derivations. The present quote refers to Buddha’s quality of sugato. Sugato here for example does not only get derived from sobhaṇagamana (the manner of going which is good); su—gacchati (gone rightly), but in this context the prefix su- added to the verb: -gadati relates it to: well expressed speech.

The Visuddhimaggo refers to the “Abhayarājakumārasuttaṃ” found in the Majjhimanikāye, Majjhimapaṇṇāsapāḷi, Gahapativaggo. There Prince Abhaya1 is enticed by his teacher Nigathanathaputta to confront the Buddha with a dilemma by asking him the question whether the Venerable Gotama would speak words that are unwelcoming and disagreeable to others. If the Buddha replied that he would utter these words then Prince Abhaya should ask him what would then be the difference between him and ordinary people who would also speak the same kind of words. But if the Buddha replied that he would not speak such kind of words then Prince Abhaya should contradict him in quoting the situation where Gotama had prophesised that Devadatta was headed for hell and he would go to the lower fields for an aeon. These words were definitely unwelcoming and disagreeable to Devadatta.2

Following the advice of his teacher, Prince Abhaya invited the Buddha to his house for a meal and after the meal asked these questions. Buddha replied that neither yes nor no would be a suitable answer but used the method of vibhajjabyākaraṇīyo3 instead. He asked the prince what he would do if his son was to swallow a stick? The prince replied, that out of compassion he would even risk force to remove it from the boys throat. Here the Buddha replied that in the same way but out of compassion he would use the following six ways of speech, as quoted in this sutta.

Again the emphasis is given on the volition that is most important. Although words may be true and factual, they need to be placed at the appropriate time, beneficial for those they are addressed to and they are uttered out of deep compassion: “……tatra kālaññū tathāgato hoti tassā vācāya veyyākaraṇāya. Taṃ kissa hetu? Atthi, rājakumāra, tathāgatassa sattesu anukampā’’

Although amongst those variations the expression of something that carries the qualities of ‘abhūtaṃ atacchaṃ anatthasañhitaṃ, sā ca paresaṃ piyā manāpā’ - speech neither true nor beneficial but still amusing - may be alien to somebody walking uprightly on the path, the Mahābuddhavaṃsa illustrates this with the following story of an old rustic farmer. An old farmer encountered a group of six swindlers who lived on story-telling and swindling. They decided that each one would tell a story and if anybody who listened to their story did not believe it, he would lose all his possessions. So each one of these six told his story, but the old farmer just replied that, “In this vast country there are so many things, why should I not believe it?” When it was his turn to tell his story he related a situation in the past where he went in the field to pick six flowers, but instead of flowers he got hold of six strong slaves. But unfortunately these six slaves later had run away and he had been looking for them a long time and now he had found them. Then he mentioned the names of these very six. This group of six now could not say that his story would be untrue in order not to lose their possessions. So according to his story they now became his slaves and the court officially branded them as his slaves.

This kind of speech which is found in all kinds of nonsensical talks, humour and fiction and is widely spread in today’s media. Although one may find it amusing, it is especially detrimental for someone striving for spiritual growth, wasting one’s precious opportunities as a human being by simply squandering one’s valuable time.

Prince Abhaya asked at last, whether the Buddha knew beforehand whatever questions that were placed before him by anybody, the Buddha replied with a simile of a charioteer that would automatically know the proper reply if someone asked him about any of the parts of his chariot, thus pointing to the quality of paṭibhāṇa, of a Tathāgata: Sā hi, rājakumāra, tathāgatassa dhammadhātu suppaṭividdhā4 yassā dhammadhātuyā suppaṭividdhattā ṭhānasovetaṃ tathāgataṃ paṭibhātī”ti. –“Because the element of Dhamma (the principles and truth of nature) has been fully penetrated by a Tathāgata, thus on base of this full comprehension his reply would always be immediate and on the spot!”

[1] Prince Abhaya was the son of King Bimbisāra, who had different children from different wives. Abhaya’s mother is said to have been Padumavatī, a former courtesan from Ujjenī, the capital of Avanti. Prince Abhaya’s halfbrother was Ajātasattu, who later killed his father enticed by Devadatta.

[2] These words were: ‘‘Katamehi aṭṭhahi? Lābhena hi, bhikkhave, abhibhūto pariyādinnacitto devadatto āpāyiko nerayiko kappaṭṭho atekiccho. Alābhena, bhikkhave…pe… yasena, bhikkhave… ayasena, bhikkhave… sakkārena, bhikkhave… asakkārena, bhikkhave… pāpicchatāya, bhikkhave… pāpamittatāya, bhikkhave, abhibhūto pariyādinnacitto devadatto āpāyiko nerayiko kappaṭṭho atekiccho. Imehi kho, bhikkhave, aṭṭhahi asaddhammehi abhibhūto pariyādinnacitto devadatto āpāyiko nerayiko kappaṭṭho atekiccho”. - “These eight evil conditions were present in Devadatta: He was overcome and obsessed by gain; likewise by loss; by fame and disrepute; respect and lack of it; by evil desires and unwholesome friends; these were the eight conditions that Devadatta was overcome and obsessed with and therefor bound to the plane of misery, bound to remain there for an eon irredeemable.” These words, although inacceptable for Devadatta were beneficial all the more because in his last moment he realized the truth behind them and took final refuge in the Buddha. See Devadattavipattisuttaṃ, Mettāvaggo, Paṭhamapaṇṇāsakaṃ, Aṭṭhakanipātapāḷi, Aṅguttaranikāyo

[3] See 3.4.12

[4] suppaṭividdhā: su + p + paṭi + viddhā: well + thoroughly + pierced through: thoroughly understood
Pāli lesson (with audio) 3.4.14

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Last modified: Friday, 22 February 2019, 2:31 PM