Sakkapañha Sutta: Sakka's Questions

Sakkapañha Sutta: Sakka's Questions

A God Consults the Buddha

1.1. Thus have I heard:

Once the Lord was staying in Magadha, to the east of Rājagaha, near a Brahmin village called Ambasaṇḍā, to the north of the village on Mount Vediya, in the Indasāla Cave.

And at that time Sakka, lord of the gods, felt a strong desire to see the Lord.

And Sakka thought:

'Where is the Blessed Lord, the fully-enlightened Buddha, now staying?'

Then, perceiving where the Lord was, Sakka said to the Thirty-Three Gods:

'Gentlemen, the Blessed Lord is staying in Magadha...in the Indasāla Cave. How would it be if we were to go and visit the Lord?'

'Very good, Lord, and may good fortune go with you', replied the Thirty-Three Gods.

1.2. Then Sakka said to Pañcaśikha of the gandhabbas:

'The Blessed Lord is staying in Magadha...in the Indasāla Cave. I propose to go to visit him.'

'Very good, Lord', said Pañcaśikha and, taking his yellow beluva-wood lute, he followed in attendance on Sakka.

And, just as swiftly as a strong man might stretch forth his flexed arm, or flex it again, Sakka, surrounded by the Thirty-Three Gods and attended by Pañcaśikha, vanished from the heaven of the Thirty-Three and appeared in Magadha...on Mount Vediya.

1.3. Then a tremendous light shone over Mount Vediya, illuminating the village of Ambasaṇḍā — so great was the power of the gods — so that in the surrounding villages they were saying:

'Look, Mount Vediya is on fire today — it's burning — it's in flames! What is the matter that Mount Vediya and Ambasaṇḍā are lit up like this?' and they were so terrified that their hair stood on end.

1.4. Then Sakka said:

'Pañcaśikha, it is hard for the likes of us to get near the Tathagatas when they are enjoying the bliss of meditation, and therefore withdrawn.

But if you, Pañcaśikha, were first to attract the ear of the Blessed Lord, then we might afterwards be able to approach and see the Blessed Lord, the fully-enlightened Buddha.'

'Very good, Lord', said Pañcaśikhā and, taking his yellow beluva-wood lute, he approached the Indasāla Cave.

Thinking: 'As far as this is neither too far nor too near to the Lord, and he will hear my voice', he stood to one side.

Then, to the strains of his lute, he sang these verses extolling the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Arahants, and love:

1.5. 'Lady, your father Timbarū greet,
Oh Sunshine fair, I give him honour due,
By whom was sired a maid as fair as you
Who are the cause of all my heart's delight.

Delightful as the breeze to one who sweats,
Or as a cooling draught to one who thirsts,
Your radiant beauty is to me as dear
As the Dhamma is to Arahants.

Just as medicine to him who's ill,
Or nourishment to one who's starving still,
Bring me, gracious lady, sweet release
With water cool from my consuming flames.

The elephant, oppressed by summer heat,
Seeks out a lotus-pool upon which float
Petals and pollen of that flower,
So into your bosom sweet I'd plunge.

As an elephant, urged by the goad,
Pays no heed to pricks of lance and spear,
So I, unheeding, know not what I do,
Intoxicated by your beauteous form.

By you my heart is tightly bound in bonds,
All my thoughts are quite transformed, and I
Can no longer find my former course:
I'm like a fish that's caught on baited hook.

Come, embrace me, maiden fair of thighs,
Seize and hold me with your lovely eyes,
Take me in your arms, it's all I ask!
My desire was slight at first, O maid
Of waving tresses, but it grew apace,
As grow the gifts that Arahants receive.

Whatever merit I have gained by gifts
To those Noble Ones, may my reward
When it ripens, be your love, most fair!

As the Sakyans' Son in jhāna rapt
Intent and mindful, seeks the deathless goal,
Thus intent I seek your love, my Sun!

Just as that Sage would be rejoiced, if he
Were to gain supreme enlightenment,
So I'd rejoice to be made one with you.

If Sakka, Lord of Three-and-Thirty Gods
Were perchance to grant a boon to me,
It's you I'd crave, my love for you’re so strong.

Your father, maid so wise, I venerate
Like a sāl-tree fairly blossoming,
For his offspring's sake, so sweet and fair.'

1.6. When he heard this, the Lord said:

'Pañcaśikha, the sound of your strings blends so well with your song, and your song with the strings, that neither prevails excessively over the other. When did you compose these verses on the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Arahants, and love?'

'Lord, it was when the Blessed Lord was staying on the bank of the River Nerañjarā, under the goatherd's banyan tree prior to his enlightenment.

At that time I fell in love with the lady Bhadda, bright as the sun, the daughter of King Timbarū of the gandhabbas.

But the lady was in love with somebody else. It was Sikhaddi, the son of Mātali the charioteer, whom she favoured.

And when I found that I could not win the lady by any manner of means, I took my yellow beluva-wood lute and went to the home of King Timbarū of the gandhabbas, and there I sang these verses:

1.7. (Verses as 5). 'And, Lord, having heard the verses the lady Bhadda Suriyavaccasā said to me:

"Sir, I have not personally seen that Blessed Lord, though I heard of him when I went to the Sudhammā Hall of the Thirty-Three Gods to dance. And since, sir, you praise that Blessed Lord so highly, let us meet today."

And so, Lord, I met the lady, not then but later.'

1.8. Then Sakka thought: 'Pañcaśikha and the Lord are in friendly conversation', so he called to Pañcaśikha:

'My dear Pañcaśikha, salute the Blessed Lord from me, saying:

"Lord, Sakka, king of the gods, together with his ministers and followers, pays homage at the feet of the Blessed Lord."'

'Very good, Lord', said Pañcaśikha, and did so.

'Pañcaśikha, may Sakka, king of the gods, his ministers and followers be happy, for they all desire happiness: devas, humans, asuras, nagas, gandhabbas, and whatever other groups of beings there are!' for that is the way the Tathagatas greet such mighty beings.

After this greeting, Sakka entered the Indasāla Cave, saluted the Lord, and stood to one side, and the Thirty-Three Gods, with Pañcaśikha, did the same.

1.9. Then in the Indasāla Cave the rough passages became smooth, the narrow parts became wide, and in the pitch-dark cavern it became bright, owing to the power of the devas.

Then the Lord said to Sakka:

'It is wonderful, it is marvellous that the Venerable Kosiya, with so much, so many things to do, should come here!'

'Lord, I have long wished to visit the Blessed Lord, but I have always been so busy on behalf of the Thirty-Three that I was unable to come.

Once the Blessed Lord was staying at Sāvatthi in the Salaḷa hut, and I went to Sāvatthi to see the Lord.

1.10. 'At that time the Blessed Lord was seated in some form of meditation, and King Vessavaṇa's wife Bhuñjatī was waiting on him, venerating him with palms together.

I said to her: "Lady, please salute the Blessed Lord for me and say: 'Sakka, the king of the gods, with his ministers and followers, pays homage at the Lord's feet'.

But she said: "Sir, it is not the right time to see the Blessed Lord, he is in retreat."

"Well then, lady, when the Blessed Lord rises from his meditation, please tell him what I have said."

Lord, did the lady salute you on my behalf, and does the Lord remember what she said?'

'She did salute me, King of the Gods, and I remember what she said. I also remember that it was the sound of Your Reverence's chariot-wheels that roused me from my meditation.'

1.11. 'Lord, those gods who arose in the heaven of the Thirty- Three before I did have told me and assured me that whenever a Tathagata, a fully-enlightened Arahant Buddha arises in the world, the ranks of devas increase, and those of the asuras decline in numbers.

In fact I have witnessed this myself.

There was, Lord, right here in Kapilavatthu a Sakyan girl called Gopikā who had faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, and who observed the precepts scrupulously.

She rejected the status of a woman and developed the thought of becoming a man.

Then, after her death, at the breaking-up of the body, she went to a happy destination, being reborn in a heaven-state among the Thirty-Three Gods, as one of our sons, becoming known as Gopaka the devas' son.

Also, there were three monks who, having observed the holy life under the Blessed Lord, had been reborn in the inferior condition of gandhabbas. They lived indulging in the pleasures of the five senses, as our attendants and servants.

At this, Gopaka rebuked them, saying:

"What were you about, sirs, that you did not listen to the Blessed Lord's teaching? I was a woman who had faith in the Buddha...I rejected the status of a woman...and was reborn among the Thirty-Three Gods and am known as Gopaka the devas' son.

But you, after having observed the holy life under the Blessed Lord, have been reborn in the inferior condition of gandhabbas! It is a sorry sight for us to see our fellows in the Dhamma reborn in the inferior condition of gandhabbas!"

And being thus rebuked, two of those devas immediately developed mindfulness, and so attained to the Realm of the Retinue of Brahma.

But one of them remained addicted to sensual pleasures.

"Disciple once of Him-Who-Sees,
'The name I bore then Gopikā.
In Buddha, Dhamma firmly trusting
I served the Sangha cheerfully.
For loyal service paid to him
See me now, a Sakka-son,
Mighty, in the Threefold Heaven,
Resplendent; Gopaka my name.
Then former monks I saw, who'd reached
No higher than gandhabba's rank,
Who before had human birth
And led the life the Buddha taught.
We supplied their food and drink
And waited on them in our homes.
Had they no ears, that they thus blest
Still could not grasp the Buddha's law?
Each for himself must understand
That Dhamma taught by Him-Who-Sees,
And well-proclaimed. I, serving you,
Heard the Noble Ones' good words,
And so I'm born, a Sakka-son,
Mighty, in the Threefold Heaven,
And resplendent, whereas you,
Though you served the Prince of Men
And led the matchless life he taught,
Have reappeared in humble state,
And not attained your proper rank,
A sorry sight it is to see
One's Dhamma-fellows sunk so low
That, gandhabba-spirits, you
But come to wait upon the gods,
While as for me — I am transformed!
From household life, and female, I
Am now reborn a male, a god,
Rejoicing in celestial bliss!"

When thus rebuked by Gopaka,
Disciple true of Gotama,
In sore distress they all replied:
"Alas, let's go, and strive amain,
And be no longer others' slaves!"

And of the three, two struggled hard,
And bore in mind the Teacher's word.
They purified their hearts of lust,
Perceiving peril in desires,
And like the elephant that bursts
All restraining bonds, they broke
The fetters and the bonds of lust,
Those fetters of the evil one
So hard to overcome — and thus
The very gods, the Thirty-Three,
With Indra and Prajāpati,
Who sat enthroned in Council Hall,
These two heroes, passions purged,
Outstripped, and left them far behind.

On seeing which, Vāsava, dismayed,
Chief amidst that throng of gods,
Cried: "See how these of lesser rank
Outstrip the gods, the Thirty-Three!"
Then hearing of his ruler's fears,
Gopaka said to Vāsava:
"Lord Indra, in the world of men
A Buddha, called the Sakyan Sage,
Has gained the mastery of lust,
And these his pupils, who had failed
In mindfulness when claimed by death,
Have now regained it with my help.
Though one of them is left behind
And still among gandhabbas dwells,
These two, on highest wisdom set,
In deep absorption spurn the gods!
Let no disciple ever doubt
That truth may yet be realised
By those who dwell in these abodes.
To him who's crossed the flood and made
An end of doubts, our homage due,
The Buddha, Victor, Lord, we give."

Even here, they gained the truth, and so
Have passed beyond to greater eminence.
Those two have gained a higher place than this
In Realms of Brahma's Retinue. And we
Have come, O Lord, in hope that we may gain
That truth, and, if the Lord will give us leave,
To put our questions to the Blessed Lord.'

1.13. Then the Lord thought: 'Sakka has lived a pure life for a long time. Whatever questions he may ask will be to the point and not frivolous, and he will be quick to understand my answers.'

So the Blessed Lord replied to Sakka in this verse:

'Ask me, Sakka, all that you desire!
On what you ask, I'll put your mind at rest.'

[End of first recitation-section]

2.1. Being thus invited, Sakka, ruler of the gods, put his first question to the Lord:

'By what fetters, sir, are beings bound — gods, humans, asuras, nagas, gandhabbas and whatever other kinds there may be —

whereby, although they wish to live without hate, harming, hostility or malignity, and in peace, they yet live in hate, harming one another, hostile and malign?'

This was Sakka's first question to the Lord, and the Lord replied:

'Ruler of the Gods, it is the bonds of jealousy and avarice that (bind beings so that, though they wish to live without hate,...they yet live in hate, harming one another, hostile and malign.'

This was the Lord's reply, and Sakka, delighted, exclaimed:

'So it is, Lord, so it is, Well-Farer! Through the Lord's answer I have overcome my doubt and got rid of uncertainty!'

2.2. Then Sakka, having expressed his appreciation, asked another question:

'But sir, what gives rise to jealousy find , avarice, what is their origin, how are they born, how do they arise? Owing to the presence of what do they arise, owing to the absence of what do they not arise?'

'Jealousy and avarice, Ruler of the Gods, take rise from like and dislike, this is their origin, this is how they are born, how they arise. When these are present, they arise'; when these are absent, they do not arise.'

'But, sir, what gives rise to like and dislike? ... Owing to the presence of what do they arise, owing to the absence of what do they not arise?'

'They arise, Ruler of the Gods, from desire...Owing to the presence of desire they arise, owing to the absence of desire they do not arise.'

'But, sir, what gives rise to desire?...'

'Desire, Ruler of the Gods, arises from thinking...When the mind thinks about something, desire arises; when the mind thinks about nothing, desire does not arise.'

'But, sir, what gives rise to thinking?

...' 'Thinking, Ruler of the Gods, arises from the tendency to proliferation...When this tendency is present, thinking arises; when it is absent, thinking does not arise.'

2.3. 'Well, sir, what practice has that monk undertaken, who has reached the right way which is needful and leading to the cessation of the tendency to proliferation?'

'Ruler of the Gods, I declare that there are two kinds of happiness: the kind to be pursued, and the kind to be avoided. The same applies to unhappiness and equanimity.

Why have I declared this in regard to happiness?

This is how I understood happiness:

When I observed that in the pursuit of such happiness, unwholesome factors increased and wholesome factors decreased, then that happiness was to be avoided.

And when I observed that in the pursuit of such happiness unwholesome factors decreased and wholesome ones increased, then that happiness was to be sought after.

Now, of such happiness as is accompanied by thinking and pondering, and of that which is not so accompanied, the latter is the more excellent. The same applies to unhappiness, and to equanimity.

And this, Ruler of the Gods, is the practice that monk has undertaken who has reached the right way...leading to the cessation of the tendency to proliferation.'

And Sakka expressed his delight at the Lord's answer.

2.4. Then Sakka, having expressed his appreciation, asked another question:

'Well, sir, what practice has that monk undertaken who has acquired the restraint required by the rules?'

'Ruler of the Gods, I declare that there are two kinds of bodily conduct: the kind to be pursued, and the kind to be avoided. The same applies to conduct of speech and to the pursuit of goals.

Why have I declared this in regard to bodily conduct?

This is how I understood bodily conduct:

When I observed that by the performance of certain actions, unwholesome factors increased and wholesome factors decreased, then that form of bodily action was to be avoided.

And when I observed that by the performance of such actions unwholesome factors decreased and wholesome ones increased, then such bodily action was to be followed.

That is why I make this distinction. The same applies to conduct of speech and the pursuit of goals.

And this, Ruler of the Gods, is the practice that monk has undertaken who has acquired the restraint required by the rules.'

And Sakka expressed his delight at the Lord's answer.

2.3. Then Sakka asked another question:

'Well, sir, what practice has that monk undertaken who has acquired control of his sense-faculties?'

'Ruler of the Gods, I declare that things perceived by the eye are of two kinds: the kind to be pursued, and the kind to be avoided. The same applies to things perceived by the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body and the mind.'

At this, Sakka said:

'Lord, I understand in full the true meaning of what the Blessed Lord has outlined in brief:

Lord, whatever object perceived by the eye, if its pursuit leads to the increase of unwholesome factors and the decrease of wholesome ones, that is not to be sought after;

if its pursuit leads to the decrease of unwholesome factors and the increase of wholesome ones, such an object is to be sought after. And the same applies to things perceived by the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body and the mind.

Thus I understand in full the true meaning of what the Blessed Lord has outlined in brief, and thus through the Lord's answer I have overcome my doubt and got rid of uncertainty.'

2.6. Then Sakka asked another question:

'Sir, do all ascetics and Brahmins teach the same doctrine, practise the same discipline, want the same thing and pursue the same goal?'

'No, Ruler of the Gods, they do not.'

'But why, sir, do they not do so?'

'The world, Ruler of the Gods, is made up of many and various elements.

Such being the case, beings adhere to one or other of these various things, and whatever they adhere to they become powerfully addicted to, and declare:

'This alone is the truth, everything else is false!'

Therefore they do not all teach the same doctrine, practise the same discipline, want the same thing, pursue the same goal.'

'Sir, are all ascetics and Brahmins fully proficient, freed from bonds, perfect in the holy life, have they perfectly reached the goal?'

'No, Ruler of the Gods.'

'Why is that, sir?'

'Only those, Ruler of the Gods, who are liberated by the destruction of craving are fully proficient, freed from the bonds, perfect in the holy life, and have perfectly reached the goal.'

And Sakka rejoiced at the answer as before.

2.7. Then Sakka said:

'Passion, sir, is a disease, a boil, a dart. It seduces a man, drawing him into this or that state of becoming, so that he is reborn in high states or low.

Whereas other ascetics and Brahmins of differing viewpoints gave me no chance to ask these questions, the Lord has instructed me at length, and thus removed the dart of doubt and uncertainty from me.'

'Ruler of the Gods, do you admit to having asked the same question of other ascetics and Brahmins?'

'Yes, Lord.'

'Then, if you don't mind, please tell me what they said.'

'I do not mind telling the Blessed Lord, or one like him.'

'Then tell me, Ruler of the Gods.'

'Lord, I went to those I considered to be ascetics and Brahmins because of their solitary life in the woods, and I put these questions to them.

But instead of giving me a proper answer, they asked me in return: "Who are you, Venerable Sir?" I replied that I was Sakka, ruler of the gods, and they asked me what had brought me there.

Then I taught them the Dhamma as far as I had heard it and practised it. But they were very pleased with even that much, and they said:

"We have seen Sakka, the ruler of the gods, and he has answered the questions we put to him!" And they became my pupils instead of my becoming theirs.

But I, Lord, am a disciple of the Blessed Lord, a Stream-Winner, not subject to rebirth in states of woe, firmly established and destined for full enlightenment.'

'Ruler of the Gods, do you admit to having ever previously experienced rejoicing and happiness such as you experience now?'

‘Yes, Lord.'

'And what was that about?'

'In the past, Lord, war had broken out between the gods and the asuras, and the gods had defeated the asuras. And after the battle, as victor, I thought: "Whatever is now the food of the gods, and what is the food of the asuras, henceforth we shall enjoy both."

But, Lord, such happiness and satisfaction, which was due to blows and wounds, does not conduce to dispassion, detachment, cessation, peace, higher knowledge, enlightenment, Nibbāna.

But that happiness and satisfaction that is obtained by hearing the Dhamma from the Blessed Lord, which is not due to blows and wounds, does conduce to dispassion, detachment, cessation, peace, higher knowledge, enlightenment, Nibbāna.’

2.8. 'And, Ruler of the Gods, what things do you call to mind when you admit to experiencing such satisfaction and happiness as this?'

'Lord, at such a time, six things come to mind at which I rejoice:

"I who merely as a god exist, have gained
The chance, by kamma, of another earthly life."

That, Lord, is the first thing that occurs to me.

"Leaving this non-human realm of gods behind,
Unerringly I'll seek the womb I wish to find."

That, Lord, is the second thing...

"My problems solved, I'll gladly live by Buddha's law,
Controlled and mindful, and with clear awareness filled."

That, Lord, is the third thing...

"And should thereby enlightenment arise in me,
As one-who-knows I'll dwell, and there await my end."

That, Lord, is the fourth thing ...

"Then when I leave the human world again, I'll be
Once more a god, and one of highest rank."

That, Lord, is the fifth thing...

"More glorious than devas are the Peerless Gods,
Among whom dwelling I shall make my final home."

That, Lord, is the sixth thing that occurs to me, and these are the six things at which I rejoice.

2.9. 'Long I wandered, unfulfilled, in doubt,
In quest of the Tathagata. I thought
Hermits who live secluded and austere
Must surely be enlightened: I'll seek them.
"What must I do to gain success, and what
Course but leads to failure?" — but, thus asked,
They could not tell me how to tread the path.
Instead, when they found out that I am king
Of gods, they asked me why I'd come to them,
And I it was who taught them what I knew
Of Dhamma, and at that, rejoicing, they
Cried: "It's Vāsava, the Lord, we've seen!"
But now — I've seen the Buddha, and my doubts
Are all dispelled, my fears are allayed,
And now to the Enlightened One I pay
Homage due, to him who's drawn the dart
Of craving, to the Buddha, peerless Lord,
Mighty hero, kinsman of the Sun!
Just as Brahma's worshipped by the gods,
So likewise today we worship you,
Enlightened One, and Teacher unsurpassed,
Whom none can equal in the human world,
Or in the heavens, dwelling of the gods!'

2.10. Then Sakka, ruler of the gods, said to Pañcaśikha of the gandhabbas:

'My dear Pañcaśikha, you have been of great help to me for gaining the ear of the Blessed Lord.

For it was through your gaining his ear that we were admitted to the presence of the Blessed Lord, the Arahant, the supremely enlightened Buddha.

I will be a father to you, you shall be king of the gandhabbas, and I will give you Bhadda Suriyavaccasā, whom you desired.'

And then Sakka, ruler of the gods, touched the earth with his hand and called out three times:

'Homage to the Blessed One, the Arahant, the supremely enlightened Buddha!
Homage to the Blessed One, the Arahant, the supremely enlightened Buddha!
Homage to the Blessed One, the Arahant, the supremely enlightened Buddha!'

And while he had been speaking in this dialogue, the pure and spotless Dhamma-Eye arose within Sakka, ruler of the gods, and he knew: 'Whatever things have an origin must come to cessation.' And the same thing happened to eighty thousand devas as well.

Such were the questions which Sakka, ruler of the gods, was desirous to ask, and which the Lord answered for him. Therefore this discourse is called 'Sakka's Questions.'