Sundari Sutta, The Liberation Of Restraint

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Introduction

The Sundari Sutta teaches the unending peace gained through developing the Eightfold Path. [1] This sutta is from the Udana (4.8) which is a collection of short suttas in the Khuddaka Nikaya. In the Sundari Sutta, the Buddha shows that through restraint developed through the Eightfold Path any conflict can be resolved while maintaining a mind of peaceful equanimity.

This sutta is a perfect example of the timelessness of the Buddha’s Dhamma. This sutta and mindful restraint are particularly relevant in our ever-increasing divisive political and social climate. Refraining from reaction or striking back at injustice directly is shown to very quickly diffuse conflict while preserving a calm and peaceful mind.

Sundari Sutta

Udana 4.8

The Buddha was staying at Anathapindika’s monastery, Jeta’s Grove, near Savatthi. The Buddha’s reputation, and those of the monks had grown and they were much revered. They were recipients of much generosity and were treated with honor and respect by the local community.

There were a group of wanderers from another sect that were not revered or honored and did not receive much support from the community. Being unrefined and stuck in self-referential views, they were envious of the Buddha and the Buddha’s sangha. One of their group was a young woman, Sundari. This unrefined group went to her and asked if she would do something to benefit their group.

Sundari replied, “I would do anything, even give up my life, to benefit all of you.”

“Well, Sundari, we would like you to travel often to Jeta’s Grove to make it appear to the townsfolk you are staying with some of the monks.”

Sundari agreed.

Once it became well known that Sundari was (apparently) visiting the monks of the Buddha’s sangha she was murdered by members of her group and left by the side of the road.

This group, suffering self-inflicted confusion and delusion, then went to King Pasenadi Kosala feigning ignorance and concern: “The female wanderer Sundari has vanished, we cannot find her anywhere! We think she may have gone to Jeta’s Grove.”

King Pasenadi instructed them to go to Jeta’s Grove to look for Sundari.

They retrieved Sundari’s body and mounted it on a litter to display to the townsfolk. From street to street they carried the decomposing body, shouting to all that could hear “Look what the shameless followers of the Sakyan-son (The Buddha) have done. Though they claim to follow a true dhamma, they are evil and murderous liars!”

When the monks of the Buddha’s sangha returned to town on their alms-round they were reviled, insulted, and harassed. Returning to the Buddha they recounted their experience.

The Buddha reminded them of the Dhamma with this verse:

“One always suffer in ignorance [2]
who lie about events
As does the one who claims innocence
when guilty.
These are acting without skill
and suffer in this life and beyond.”

The Buddha then tells them to remain calm as “this difficulty will not last long. After a week’s time, this will pass. When you find yourself treated unfairly remind those that “they suffer greatly who continue ignorance and lies as much as the instigator. Both are the same and will suffer the same fate of long-term confusion and suffering.”

For the next week, the monks repeated this phrase when confronted by the misinformed townsfolk. Eventually, the reaction and disturbance in the minds’ of the townsfolk subsided and they realized that the monks of the Buddha’s sangha were innocent of any wrong-doing. The townsfolk understood that they had been taken in by those protecting a false dhamma.

Quickly, the thought came to the townsfolk realized “Those of the Buddha’s sangha are innocent. This act was not done by them, They have honored their other to remain harmless.”

After a week the conflict ended. The monks said to the Buddha “it is amazing, astounding, having practiced restraint and speaking only the truth, the conflict is over!”

The Buddha responds: “Those unrestrained, with no knowledge of the truth, sling arrows at others, like one at war. Those who have developed restraint through the (Eightfold) Path know to dismiss this foolishness and maintain a calm and peaceful mind.”

End of Sutta

A life of integrity – a life lived within the integrity developed through the Eightfold Path – diminishes conflict when conflict arises. Living within the framework of The Eightfold Path provides the assurance that one’s actions are harmless to others. The Sundari Sutta also teaches the comfort and safety that develops from taking true refuge in the Dhamma.

The Buddha describes the profound Right View of an awakened, fully mature, human being as “understanding with regard to suffering, understanding with regard to the cause of suffering, understanding with regard to the cessation of suffering, and understanding with regard to the path developing the cessation of suffering.” (Digha Nikaya 22)

Developing the Eightfold Path brings the profound understanding of our own confusion, delusion, and suffering. Through this understanding, we gain understanding of other’s confusion, delusion, and suffering. Through this direct knowledge, it becomes possible to practice restraint and remain disentangled from the events of the world and free of conflict.

The  Sundari Sutta shows the result of a well-developed Dhamma practice – the release from clinging, and the resulting ongoing calm and peaceful quality of mind. It is through developing the Dhamma that it becomes possible to remain at peace with the people and events of life, including our selves, as life occurs.

Peace.

 

  1. Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
  2. Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta

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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