Cula-Saccaka Sutta – A Fearless And Independent Dhamma

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Introduction

In the Cula-Saccaka Sutta, the Buddha is confronted by Saccaka, a follower of Nigantha Nataputta, the local leader of a Jain sect. Saccaka is accompanied by a group of approximately five hundred Licchavis. The Licchavis were a society ruled by a religious oligarchy. Saccaka was a well respected Jain teacher known for using intense philosophical rhetoric and debate to show his superior knowledge.

Saccaka tells the Licchavis in attendance “There is no contemplative, or leader, or one who claims to be an arahant, a rightly self-awakened one, who would not quiver and break out in sweat when engaged with me in debate.”

Cula-Saccaka Sutta

A Fearless And Independent Dhamma

Majjhima Nikaya 35

One morning Venerable Assaji, one of the monks of the Buddha’s sangha, was in Vesali on his alms round. Saccaka noticed Assaji and recognized him as a follower of Gotama the Contemplative. (The Buddha)

“Master Assaji how does Gotama the Contemplative generally instruct his disciples?”

“Aggivessana, Gotama the Rightly Self-awakened one instructs his disciples, in a general way, as follows: ‘Form is impermanent, feeling is impermanent, perception is impermanent, mental fabrications are impermanent, consciousness is impermanent. Being impermanent, form is not-self, feelings are not-self, perceptions are not-self, mental fabrications are not-self, and consciousness is not-self. All impermanent phenomena is not-self. In short, the Five Clinging-Aggregates are impermanent and so not-self.’ Aggivessana, this is the general way that Gotama the Rightly Self-awakened one instructs his disciples.” (Aggivessana is the name of Saccaka’s clan)

“What an awful thing to hear, Master Assaji, that Gotama the Contemplative teaches this sort of thing. Perhaps someday we could meet with Gotama the Contemplative and change his evil view.”

A short while later a group of Licchavis, about five hundred in total, were gathered at a meeting hall. Saccaka addressed the group: “Come with me to debate Gotama the contemplative. If he takes the same position with me that he does with his followers I will thrash him about statement by statement. I will amuse myself with Gotama.”

The Licchavis, knowing both teacher’s, were mixed as to what to expect. Some thought Saccaka would prevail, some felt the Buddha would prevail. They followed Saccaka to seek out the Buddha.

They found the Buddha in the Great Forest. After exchanging courteous greetings, Saccaka sat to one side. Some of the Licchavis were respectful to the Buddha, clasping their hands in front of them, some remained silent.

Saccaka addressed the Buddha: “I would like to question Master Gotama on a certain point, if you would grant me the favor of an answer.”

“Ask, Aggivessana, as you see fit.”

“In general, what is your instruction to your disciples?”

“I instruct my disciples in this general way: ‘Form is impermanent, feelings are impermanent, perceptions are impermanent, mental fabrications are impermanent, consciousness is impermanent. As such, form is not-self, feelings are not-self, perceptions are not-self, mental fabrications are not-self, and consciousness is not-self. All impermanent phenomena are not-self. This, in general, is how I instruct my disciples.”

“A simile occurs to me, Master Gotama. Any seed that grows and spreads is dependent on the earth. In the same way any individual with form, in connection with form, taking sustenance from form,  produces merit or demerit. Any individual with feelings, taking sustenance from feelings, produces merit or demerit. Any individual with perceptions, with mental fabrications, with consciousness, taking sustenance from perceptions, from fabrications, from consciousness,  produces merit or demerit.”

“Aggivessana, are you saying, ‘Form is my self, feeling is my self, perception is my self, fabrications are my self, consciousness is my self’?”

“Yes, Master Gotama, I’m saying that ‘Form is my self, feeling is my self, perception is my self, fabrications are my self, consciousness is my self, as do all those that came with me.” (Saccaka includes the Licchavis here to gain their support in his debate with the Buddha)

“Very well, I will cross-question you on your statements. What do you think, Aggivessana? Would a noble King wield power in their domain to execute those that deserve execution, or to banish those that deserve banishment, or to tax or fine those that deserve to be taxed or fined? Is such a noble King in control of his domain?”

“Yes Master Gotama, a noble King would be able to control his domain in this manner.”

“Well, Aggivessana, when you say that from is self, do you have power over that from. Can you have your form be any different than it is?”

Saccaka could not answer and remained silent.

Again the Buddha asks Saccaka “Well, Aggivessana, when you say that form is self, do you have power over that form. Can you have your form be any different than it is?”

Again Saccaka could not answer and remained silent.

“Aggivessana, you have engaged me in this debate. It will be to your detriment to not answer. I will ask one more time: When you say that form is self, do you have power over that form. Can you have your form be any different than it is?”

“No Master Gotama.”

“Listen closely to what I am saying, Aggivessana, and answer only after you have paid attention! Your answer is inconsistent with your statements. You also said that feelings are self, that perceptions are self, that metal fabrications are self, and that consciousness is self. Can your feelings be different than as they occur? Can your perceptions, or you fabrications, or your consciousness be any different than they occur?”

“No, Master Gotama.”

“Listen closely to what I am saying, Aggivessana, and answer only after you have paid attention! Your answer is inconsistent with your statements. Is form impermanent or constant?”

“Impermanent, Master Gotama.”

“And is that which is impermanent easeful or stressful?”

“Stressful, Master Gotama.”

“Likewise, are feelings, perceptions, mental fabrications, or consciousness impermanent or constant?”

“Impermanent, Master Gotama.”

“And is that which is impermanent easeful or stressful?”

“Stressful, Master Gotama.”

“And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: ‘This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am’?”

“No, Master Gotama.”

“What do you think, Aggivessana? When one holds to stress, is attached to stress, and thinks of stress as ‘This is mine; this is my self; this is what I am,’ would he understand stress or be able to be free of stress?”

“No, Master Gotama.”

“Aggivessana, don’t you hold to stress, aren’t you attached to stress, and don’t you think of stress as ‘This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am’?

“Yes, Master Gotama. Please tell  me how a disciple of Master Gotama develops this instruction, to end all doubt, to end all questions, to be fearless and independent of others and their teachings?”

“Aggivessana, when a disciple of mine develops Right View (through the Eightfold Path) they then see any form, past, present or future, internal or external, common or sublime, near or far, clearly as form has come to be: ‘this is not me, this is not mine, this not myself, this not what I am.”

“Through Right View my disciples know that any feeling, perception, mental fabrication, or consciousness, past, present or future, internal or external, common or sublime, near or far, clearly as form has come to be: ‘this is not me, this is not mine, this not myself, this not what I am.”

“Aggivessana, this is how my disciples carry my message and my instruction to end all doubt, to end all questions, to be fearless and independent of others and their teachings.”

“Master Gotama, how does one complete the path, to end all defilements, to lay down the burden and the fetter of becoming, become an arahant, released through Right Understanding?”

“Aggivessana, when anyone through Right View knows that form, feelings, perceptions, fabrications, or consciousness, whether past, present, future, internal or external, common or sublime that this is not me, this is not mine, this is not my self, this is not what I am, through lack of clinging (to ignorant views) as sustenance, they are released. Through their Right Effort they have ended the defilements, laid down the burden and the fetter of becoming, completed the path, and are released through Right Understanding.

“Released they are endowed with unsurpassed Right View, unsurpassed practice, and unsurpassed release. Released, they honor and respect the Tathagata in this manner: The Buddha teaches the Dhamma for awakening (to Four Noble Truths), the Buddha teaches the Dhamma to develop restraint, the Buddha teaches the Dhamma for developing tranquility, the Buddha teaches the Dhamma for ending samsara (ignorance). The Buddha teaches the Dhamma for total unbinding.”

Saccaka then said to the Buddha, “It is we, Master Gotama, who were insolent, we who were reckless, in that we construed that Master Gotama could be attacked statement by statement. May Master Gotama, together with the community of monks, acquiesce to my offer of tomorrow’s meal.”

The Buddha acknowledged Saccaka with his silence.

The next day a lavish meal was prepared by the Licchavis for the Buddha and his sangha. Saccaka himself served the Buddha and upon completion of the meal said “Master Gotama, may the merits of  this gift be exclusively for the happiness of the donors.”

“Aggivessana, what has been given to you, not without passions, not without aversions, not without delusion, that will be for the donors. Whatever has come to me, without passion, without aversion, without delusion, free of ignorant views, that will be for you.”

End Of Sutta

The Buddha’s closing words reiterate that the greatest honor one can give to the Buddha, and the only useful “merit” to be gained, is to be authentic to his Dhamma and through whole-hearted engagement with the Dhamma, free oneself from all views rooted in ignorance of the Four Noble Truths.

This sutta gets to the heart of the Buddha’s teachings on The Four Noble Truths. What is impermanent – form, feelings, perceptions, mental fabrications, consciousness – cannot be realistically called a self as there is nothing within these Five Clinging-Aggregates that any individual can direct. As such, what is impermanent is stressful. It is only by ignorance (of The Four Noble Truths) that one “clings” to stress and stress causing objects, events, and ideas.

What is impermanent is stressful. What is stressful cannot constitute a self – it is anatta – not-self.

The Four Noble Truths

  1. Dukkha (stress) occurs
  2. Craving originates and clinging perpetuates Dukkha
  3. Cessation of this ongoing process is possible (“This is not me, this is not mine, this is not what I am”)
  4. The Eightfold Path is the path developing the cessation of the process rooted in ignorance.

My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland and Maurice Walsh, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made contextual edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

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