SN 19.1 Aṭṭhi Sutta. A Skeleton.

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SN 19.1 Aṭṭhi Sutta. A Skeleton.

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Jun 11, 2018 10:43 am

SN 19.1 Aṭṭhi Sutta. A Skeleton.
Translated by Bhikkhu Sujato


While walking for alms down Vulture’s Peak, Venerable Moggallāna smiled at something invisible. Later, he told the Buddha it was a skeleton flying through the air, being pecked at by vultures. The Buddha confirmed that the man he had seen had been a butcher in his past life
https://suttacentral.net/sn19.1/

So i have heard. At one time the Buddha was staying near Rājagaha, in the Bamboo Grove, the squirrels’ feeding ground. Now at that time Venerable Lakkhaṇa and Venerable Mahāmoggallāna were staying on the Vulture’s Peak Mountain. Then Mahāmoggallāna robed up in the morning and, taking his bowl and robe, went to Lakkhaṇa and said to him: “Come, Reverend Lakkhaṇa, let’s enter Rājagaha for alms.” “Yes, reverend,” Lakkhaṇa replied. As Mahāmoggallāna was descending from Vulture’s Peak Mountain he smiled at a certain spot. So Lakkhaṇa said to Mahāmoggallāna: “What is the cause, Reverend Moggallāna, what is the reason you smiled?” “Reverend Lakkhaṇa, it’s the wrong time for this question. Ask me when we’re in the Buddha’s presence.”

Then Lakkhaṇa and Mahāmoggallāna wandered for alms in Rājagaha. After the meal, on their return from alms-round, they went to the Buddha, bowed, and sat down to one side. Lakkhaṇa said to Mahāmoggallāna: “Just now, as Mahāmoggallāna was descending from Vulture’s Peak Mountain he smiled at a certain spot. What is the cause, Reverend Moggallāna, what is the reason you smiled?”

“Just now, reverend, as I was descending from Vulture’s Peak Mountain I saw a skeleton flying through the air. Vultures, crows, and hawks kept chasing it, pecking and clawing as it screeched in pain. It occurred to me: ‘It’s incredible, it’s amazing! That there can be such a sentient being, such an entity, such an incarnation!’”

Then the Buddha said to the mendicants: “Mendicants, there are disciples who live full of vision and knowledge, since a disciple knows, sees, and witnesses such a thing. Formerly, I too saw that being, but I did not speak of it. For if I had spoken of it others would not have believed me, which would be for their lasting harm and suffering. That being used to be a cattle butcher right here in Rājagaha. As a result of that deed he burned in hell for many years, many hundreds, many thousands, many hundreds of thousands of years. Now he experiences the residual result of that deed in such an incarnation.”

(All these discourses in SN 19 should be expanded like this.)

The other Suttas include:
..."I saw a piece of meat flying through the air."... “That being used to be a cattle butcher right here in Rājagaha. …”

... "I saw a piece of flesh flying through the air." ... "That being used to be a bird hunter right here in Rājagaha. …”

... "I saw a man with testicles as big as pots flying through the air" ... "That being used to be a corrupt official right here in Rājagaha. …”

... "I saw a man sunk over his head in a sewer. …” … “That being used to be an adulterer right here in Rājagaha. …”

... "I saw a scorched woman, sooty and sweaty, flying through the air" ... "That woman used to be the king of Kaliṅga’s chief queen. She was of jealous nature, and poured a brazier of hot coals over her co-wife. …"

... "I saw a monk flying through the air. His outer robe, bowl, belt, and body were burning, blazing, and glowing as he screamed in pain. …” … “That monk used to be a bad monk in the time of Buddha Kassapa’s dispensation. …”

“I saw a nun flying through the air. Her outer robe was burning …” … “She used to be a bad nun …”

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Re: SN 19.1 Aṭṭhi Sutta. A Skeleton.

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Jun 11, 2018 11:03 am

Comments from Bhikkhu Bodhi.
  • The series of suttas included in this saṃyutta also occurs at Vin III 104-8. https://suttacentral.net/pli-tv-bu-vb-p ... mali#sc209

    Spk: The Venerable Lakkhaṇa, a great disciple, had been one of the thousand jaṭila ascetics who received higher ordination by the “Come, bhikkhu” utterance (see Vin I 32-34 https://suttacentral.net/pli-tv-bu-vb-p ... hmali#sc87). He attained arahantship at the end of the Discourse on Burning (SN 35.28). Since he possessed a Brahmā-like body that was endowed with auspicious marks (lakkhaṇasampanna), perfect in all respects, he was called “Lakkhaṇa.”
Then, as he was coming down from Mount Vulture Peak, the Venerable Mahāmoggallāna displayed a smile in a certain place.
  • Spk: The reason for Moggallāna’s smile, as is mentioned in the text below, is that he saw a being reborn in the world of ghosts whose body was a skeleton. Having seen such a form of individual existence, he should have felt compassion, so why did he display a smile? Because he recollected his own success in gaining release from the prospect of such forms of rebirth and the success of the Buddha-knowledge; for the Buddhas teach such things through their own direct cognition (paccakkhaṃ katvā) and have thoroughly penetrated the element of phenomena (suppaṭividdhā buddhānaṃ dhammadhātu).
“Here, friend, as I was coming down from Mount Vulture Peak, I saw a skeleton moving through the air. Vultures, crows, and hawks, following it in hot pursuit, were pecking at it between the ribs, stabbing it, and tearing it apart while it uttered cries of pain.
  • I follow Be: vitudenti vitacchenti virājenti. Se reads vitudanti only, while Ee has vitacchenti vibhajenti.
    Spk comments only on vitudenti: “They ran and moved here and there, piercing him again and again with their metal beaks as sharp as sword blades.”
    According to Spk, the vultures, etc., were actually yakkhas (yakkhagijjhā, yakkhakākā, yakkhakulalā); for such a form does not come into the visual range of natural vultures, etc.
It occurred to me: ‘It is wonderful, indeed! It is amazing, indeed! That there could be such a being, that there could be such a spirit, that there could be such a form of individual existence!’”
  • Evarūpo pi nāma satto bhavissati evarūpo pi nāma yakkho bhavissati evarūpo pi nāma attabhāvapaṭilābho bhavissati.
    Spk: In saying this Moggallāna shows his sense of urgency in the Dhamma, arisen out of compassion for such beings.

    The expression attabhāvapaṭilābho, which literally means “acquisition of selfhood,” is used idiomatically to denote a concrete form of individual identity. Attabhāva sometimes occurs in a more restricted sense with reference to the physical body, for instance at Ud 54,17-19.
“That being, bhikkhus, used to be a cattle butcher in this same Rājagaha. Having been tormented in hell for many years, for many hundreds of years, for many thousands of years, for many hundreds of thousands of years as a result of that kamma, as a residual result of that same kamma he is experiencing such a form of individual existence.”
  • Spk: As a residual result of that same kamma (tass’ eva kammassa vipākāvasesena): of that “kamma (to be experienced) in subsequent lives” (aparāpariyakamma) accumulated by different volitions. For the rebirth in hell is produced by a certain volition, and when its result is exhausted rebirth is produced among the ghosts, etc., having as its object the residue of that kamma or the sign of the kamma (see CMA 5:35-38). https://store.pariyatti.org/Comprehensi ... _4362.html
    Therefore, because that rebirth comes about through correspondence of kamma or correspondence of object (kammasabhāgatāya ārammaṇasabhāgatāya vā), it is called “a residual result of that same kamma.” It is said that at the time he passed away from hell, a heap of flesh-less cows’ bones became the sign (i.e., the object of the last conscious process, which then becomes the object of the rebirth-consciousness). Thus he became a ghost (in the form of) a skeleton, as if making manifest to the wise the hidden kamma.

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Re: SN 19.1 Aṭṭhi Sutta. A Skeleton.

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Jun 11, 2018 11:43 am

There are plenty of parallels in the Agamas, preserved in Chinese, but currently no translations on Sutta Central. https://suttacentral.net/sn19.1

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Re: SN 19.1 Aṭṭhi Sutta. A Skeleton.

Post by Sam Vara » Mon Jun 11, 2018 12:38 pm

Many thanks for these, Mike. These are very strong teachings, and I remember being quite surprised by this little set when I first read through the SN. It's all the more shocking because we probably know people whose conduct is not too different from that which is being criticised here, and I guess that few of us could say that we were completely beyond such actions, were circumstances to change.

Before I read Bhikkhu Bodhi's comments, I was puzzled by Ven. Mogallana's smile. Schadenfreude being extremely unlikely, recollection of his own success doesn't seem to be much more credible, given that the spur to that success would probably have included Mogallana's prior understanding of such beings and states of woe. I think it is likely that the smile is the dramatic means of registering the fact that one monk can see a being that another cannot, and that the Buddha himself has both seen the being and understood its kammic significance.

The phrase translating the Buddha's reference to this fact is puzzling:
there are disciples who live full of vision and knowledge, since a disciple knows, sees, and witnesses such a thing.
Does this mean that one is only truly a disciple when one knows, sees, and witnesses such things? Apparently not, as Venerable Lakkhana is also a disciple (the term is merely savaka) and yet does not know and see. Does it mean that because the disciple Mogallana knows, then one can safely say that disciples include those with such powers and insight (i.e. the Buddha is rejoicing in the fact that his Sangha contains some monks who have attained that level)? Bhikkhu Bodhi renders this:
there are disciples who dwell having become vision, having become knowledge, in that a disciple can know, see, and witness such a sight


This doesn't seem to help much, and adds an intriguing extra layer of meaning. The disciples have become vision and knowledge, as opposed to living full of them. That seems to signify a big difference in translations.

A final point on the Buddha not previously speaking about his witnessing the being, because of the disbelief with which others would have met his claim being harmful to them. I can't remember any other examples of this, but it is really interesting. Is it, I wonder, that claiming the Buddha to be mistaken or lying involves a more serious form of dark kamma than merely missing out on his report (which is merely an omitted experience, and therefore blameless)? Or is it that disbelief in weird apparitions would have led listeners to doubt some more essential teachings? Presumably, the same did not apply to the many other things that the Buddha taught and which were not immediately believed by those who heard.

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Re: SN 19.1 Aṭṭhi Sutta. A Skeleton.

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Jun 11, 2018 7:52 pm

Hi Sam,

Great comment!

Perhaps it's clearer if you turn on the Pali, not only because you see the Pali, but because it breaks up the phrases:
https://suttacentral.net/sn19.1/en/sujato#4.2--4.3

“cakkhubhūtā vata, bhikkhave, sāvakā viharanti;
Sujato: “Mendicants, there are disciples who live full of vision and knowledge,
Bodhi: there are disciples who dwell having become vision, having become knowledge,

ñāṇabhūtā vata, bhikkhave, sāvakā viharanti, yatra hi nāma sāvako evarūpaṃ ñassati vā dakkhati vā sakkhiṃ vā karissati.
Sujato: since a disciple knows, sees, and witnesses such a thing.
Bodhi: in that a disciple can know, see, and witness such a sight

In the first phrase BB uses the more literal "dwells in", rather than "live in", and "becomes" rather than "full".
My Pali doesn't go much beyond the automatic dictionary lookup (hover over the Pali, having turned lookup on), but the key words are:
cakkhubhūtā: possessor of right understanding
viharanti: lives
It's hard to see how to render it less clumsily in English.

The translations of the second phrase really don't disagree, I think.

The phrase-by-phrase translation sometimes makes a flowing translation difficult. In English one might well change it around:
"A disciple is knowledgeable when they are able to see such things."

There has been some interesting discussion of these issues on Sutta Central.
See, for example:
https://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/a- ... ttana/9600
https://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/th ... ation/9576

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Re: SN 19.1 Aṭṭhi Sutta. A Skeleton.

Post by Dhammarakkhito » Tue Jun 12, 2018 1:46 am

i read this before work... i have been hating my job, and today i remembered this sutta and thought at least i'm not that skeleton
"Just as the ocean has a single taste — that of salt — in the same way, this Dhamma-Vinaya has a single taste: that of release."
— Ud 5.5

https://www.facebook.com/noblebuddhadha ... 34/?type=3

http://seeingthroughthenet.net/
https://sites.google.com/site/santipada ... allytaught

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Re: SN 19.1 Aṭṭhi Sutta. A Skeleton.

Post by thomaslaw » Tue Jun 12, 2018 2:16 am

mikenz66 wrote:
Mon Jun 11, 2018 11:43 am
There are plenty of parallels in the Agamas, preserved in Chinese, but currently no translations on Sutta Central. https://suttacentral.net/sn19.1

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Mike
Hi

A comparison of this SN 19 Lakkhana Samyutta and its Chinese version is presented by Choong Mun-keat in the following article pp. 78-81 (S 19.1-21 = SA 508-534):

"A comparison of the Chinese and Pāli Saṃyukta/Saṃyuttas on the Venerable Mahā-Maudgalyāyana (Mahā-Moggallāna)", Buddhist Studies Review (Journal of the UK Association for Buddhist Studies), v. 34.1 (2017), pp. 67-84.

SN 19 is closely connected with SN 40 Moggallana Samyutta.

Aslo, Choong in the article suggests that SN 40 and 19 "bears certain resemblances to the structure of the Chinese Sariputra Samyukta of SA in relation to its Pali parallels." (p. 81). For this, see also his another article on Ven. Sariputra:

“A comparison of the Chinese and Pali versions of the Sariputra Samyukta, a collection of early Buddhist discourses on the Venerable Sariputra”, in Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, Vol.10, May 2016, pp. 27-52.

Kind regards,

Thomas

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Re: SN 19.1 Aṭṭhi Sutta. A Skeleton.

Post by mikenz66 » Thu Jun 14, 2018 9:58 pm

In these suttas Mahāmoggallāna sees a particular being in a bad destination, and the Buddha comments on the past kamma of the being:
“Just now, as Mahāmoggallāna was descending from Vulture’s Peak Mountain he smiled at a certain spot. What is the cause, Reverend Moggallāna, what is the reason you smiled?”

“Just now, reverend, as I was descending from Vulture’s Peak Mountain I saw a skeleton flying through the air. Vultures, crows, and hawks kept chasing it, pecking and clawing as it screeched in pain. It occurred to me: ‘It’s incredible, it’s amazing! That there can be such a sentient being, such an entity, such an incarnation!’”

Then the Buddha said to the mendicants: “Mendicants, there are disciples who live full of vision and knowledge, since a disciple knows, sees, and witnesses such a thing. Formerly, I too saw that being, but I did not speak of it. For if I had spoken of it others would not have believed me, which would be for their lasting harm and suffering. That being used to be a cattle butcher right here in Rājagaha. As a result of that deed he burned in hell for many years, many hundreds, many thousands, many hundreds of thousands of years. Now he experiences the residual result of that deed in such an incarnation.”
The commentary makes this observation:
Spk: The reason for Moggallāna’s smile, as is mentioned in the text below, is that he saw a being reborn in the world of ghosts whose body was a skeleton. Having seen such a form of individual existence, he should have felt compassion, so why did he display a smile? Because he recollected his own success in gaining release from the prospect of such forms of rebirth and the success of the Buddha-knowledge; for the Buddhas teach such things through their own direct cognition (paccakkhaṃ katvā) and have thoroughly penetrated the element of phenomena (suppaṭividdhā buddhānaṃ dhammadhātu).
It might be useful to compare this passage from MN 36 about the Buddha's awakening:
When my mind had immersed in samādhi like this—purified, bright, spotless, rid of taints, pliable, workable, steady, and imperturbable—I extended it toward knowledge of the death and rebirth of sentient beings. With clairvoyance that is purified and superhuman, I saw sentient beings passing away and being reborn—inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, in a good place or a bad place. I understood how sentient beings are reborn according to their deeds. This was the second knowledge, which I achieved in the middle watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed and knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed and light arose, as happens for a meditator who is diligent, keen, and resolute. But even such pleasant feeling did not occupy my mind.

https://suttacentral.net/mn36/en/sujato#nya40
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