DN 2: Samaññaphala Sutta (The Fruits of Renunciation)


The framing for this sutta takes place during one of the Brahmin Uposatha fast-days.1

On this sacred moonlit night, King Ajātasattu - the ruler of the kingdom of Magadha - found himself in his feelings on the roof of his palace. He told his ministers that the night's beauty had moved him to seek the counsel of a holy man, but his hope that the holy man could bring peace to his heart perhaps betrayed what was really on the king's mind; the guilt of having arranged the death of his father, the good King Bimbisāra, in order to seize the throne.

His ministers, in turn, suggested six such holy men who were in the area: Pūrana Kassapa, Makkahali Gosāla, Ajita Kesakambalī, Pakudha Kaccāyana, Sañjaya Belatthaputta, and Nigantha Nātaputta. The king remained silent after each suggestion. He had previously met with all of these men, and none of them had impressed him. The king's royal physician, Jīvaka Komārabhacca, was also nearby, and he had not yet spoken. The king questioned him, and he said that there was another holy man, not yet mentioned. This was the Buddha, and he was staying in Jīvaka's mango grove with around 1,250 monks.2 Jīvaka suggested the king go and meet him. The king thought this was a great idea, and he told Jīvaka to ready 500 elephants. The king, his 500 wives, some torchbearers, and Jīvaka himself set out for the mango grove in order to meet the Buddha.

As they approached the peaceful grove, the king grew suspicious; if there were over 1,000 monks staying here, how could the place have been as quiet as it was? The silence disturbed him, and he asked Jīvaka if he was being led into a trap. Again, the king's paranoia perhaps betrayed his guilt. Jīvaka assured him everything was okay, and pointed out the Buddha. As the king approached, the tranquilty inspired him, and instead of being frightened, he commented aloud, "if only my son, Prince Udāyabhadda, could be this peaceful..." The Buddha replied directly, "Do your thoughts go to someone you love, king?"

The king and the Buddha spoke for a moment, then the king got to the point: he had a question he would like the Buddha to answer. The Buddha told him to ask his question freely. "There are so many people who live in so many different ways," the king began, "and they enjoy the fruits of their labor here-and-now, in this lifetime. Tell me, why would anyone become a homeless religious devotee? What are the benefits, which can be seen here and now, of following your path?"

The Body of the Sermon

The Answers of the Other Teachers

The Buddha assured the king that he would answer the question, but first, he wished to ask the king a question: "Have you asked any other ascetics or brahmins this question?" The king responded that he had, in fact, asked other religious teachers this question before: he had brought this question to the six men his ministers had previously recommended visiting. The Buddha asked him how these six men answered.

Pūrana Kassapa, the Teacher of "Amoralism"

The king began by recounting how he posed this question to Pūrana Kassapa, who taught the doctrine of "non-action" (or what we may now call Amoralism). Pūrana Kassapa told him that, ultimately, there is no such thing as good or evil - even if someone were to deliberately kill every living being on the planet, no evil has been committed, and nothing bad would result from such an act. Likewise, there is no good deed that can be said to produce merit.

The king tells the Buddha that he was incredibly unsatisfied with this answer, but he did not feel it was his place to question a revered ascetic - after all, the king had his own father's blood on his hands - so he humbly left Pūrana Kassapa in silence. The king did the same with the other teachers, as well, so for the sake of brevity I won't repeat these parts below.

Makkahali Gosāla, the Teacher of "Determinism" and "Purification Through Transmigration"

Next, the king recounts his encounter with Makkahali Gosāla. This man was the leader of the Ājīvikas, a religious group from the Buddha's time. They seem to have been quite influential, given that they are mentioned by name alongside Buddhists and Jains in later sources, but they died out some time in the Common Era. It is difficult to say exactly what their beliefs were, as their doctrines are mostly known through Buddhist and Jain records (such as this very sutta). These sources, obviously, depict the sect in a bad light. It seems they wandered around naked, and they were forbidden from eating food in many circumstances, leading to an extremely sparse diet. They were also described as disregarding social etiquette, with one specific example being that they licked their fingers and hands clean after those rare instances when they did eat.

Makkahali Gosāla said a great many things in response to the question, some of which were finely-detailed ontological or cosmological claims. Most relevant is the fact that he told the king that we are ultimately powerless in the world - everything is pre-determined. There is no such thing as causality, no such thing as conditioning or dependent origination. Beings do not act of their own volition, nor out of the volition of another. People are deluded or enlightened as a mere matter of circumstance, regardless of their own intentions and actions. The pain and pleasure we experience are allotted to us, and we inevitably experience them as we go throughout the six types of rebirth, no matter what sorts of actions we perform.

He also described people on the spiritual path like a ball of yarn which is set rolling; it will simply unwind when the time comes. Just like the ball of yarn can take no action to speed up or slow down its unraveling, people cannot affect their own progression towards enlightenment. People will simply escape the cycle of suffering when their time comes. As the text puts it, "There are 8.4 million great eons through which the foolish and the astute transmigrate before making an end of suffering."

Ajita Kesakambalī, the Teacher of "Materialist Skepticism" and "Annihilationism"

The next man the king questioned was Ajita Kesakambalī, or "Ajita Who Has a Garment of Hair." He earned this name by wearing a cloth made out of human hair, and he was well-known in the Buddha's time. Like the other two men, he claimed that actions did not produce any fruits, either positive or negative - as such, he taught that charity, sacrifice, and giving offerings were meaningless. He denied the existence of any afterlife, rebirth, or meditative attainments. He also denied the authenticty of any ascetic or Brahmin who claimed to have achieved any such attainments. Furthermore, he taught that the body is merely made up of the four great elements, and when someone dies, the body falls apart and the person ceases to exist entirely.

Pakudha Kaccāyana, the Teacher of "Eternalist Atomism"

This next man was Pakudha Kaccāyana, the founder of a type of eternalist philosophy called "Atomism." He told the king that reality consists entirely of seven great substances: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, Pleasure, Pain, and the Soul. These substances are eternal, having never been created and never being destroyed - they have always been, and will always be. Everything in reality is simply the play of these elements, and on an ultimate level, these substances do not interact with or obstruct one another. Even if you were to cut off someone's head, ultimately, no one is dying, and no one is committing any evil - it is a mundane act of the blade passing through the space between these seven substances.

Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta, the Jain Teacher of "The Fourfold Restraint"

The king had also brought his question to Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta, perhaps better remembered by history as Vardhamāna Mahāvira, the founder of Jainism. He was a little older than the Buddha, and certainly proved to be the most enduring of these rival teachers, as Jainism is still practiced today.

He told the king that a Nigaṇṭha - the word he and his followers used to refer to themselves, meaning "free from bondage" - has four restraints which keep him perfectly self-controlled. It's difficult to make sense of what, exactly, these four restraints are; part of this is due to the obscurity of the Pali word "vāri," which can mean "water" or "restraint."

Bhikku Sujato's translation renders the passage as follows: a Jain ascetic practices the four restraints by being "obstructed by all water, devoted to all water, shaking off all water, pervaded by all water."

Both Sujato and Maurice Walshe note that it's difficult to say whether or not this passage reflects Jain philosophy at the time; it does not correspond directly to any known Jain text, but Jain ethics do include rules regarding water (meant to protect aquatic life). Likewise, they both note the possibility of this passage being satirical.

Sujato errs on the side of caution and assumes that the passage refers to actual Jain practices which would have been well-known at the time. Specifically, he believes "obstructed by all water" refers to the way Jains forbade swimming in rivers or crossing bodies of water in ways that could harm aquatic life. Next, "devoted to all water" refers to the way that Jains were devoted to protecting the life of creatures which live in water. "Shaking off all water" could be a poetic way of portraying renunciation of worldly things, or more specifically, a rule forbidding Jains from drying their bodies using towels or heat. Finally, "pervaded by all water" might refer to the way that the human body contains water along with a multitude of organisms that inhabit it.3

Walshe, on the other hand, states confidently that the passage is simply a piece of satire at the expense of the Jains. He translates "vāri" as "curb" (or restraint), but ultimately concludes that the exact translation of the word is less important than the apparent contradiction. The point is to demonstrate how absurd it is that a Nigaṇṭha - one "free from bondage" - is restrained in four different ways.4

I won't draw a conclusion here - to do so would be beyond my understanding. Let us, instead, continue the story... the king was unhappy with this answer.

Sañjaya Belatthaputta, the Eel-Wriggling Teacher of "Agnosticism"

Finally, the king consulted Sañjaya Belatthaputta5, who was one of the extreme agnostics whom the Buddha called "eel-wrigglers" (see DN 1). In classic eel-wriggling fasion, Sañjaya simply responded by doubling down on his commitment to never consider or answer any sort of "big-picture" philosophical or cosmological issue. Amusingly, the king noted that this man was the stupidest of all the ascetics he had questioned, demonstrating how critical Buddhism was of "eel-wriggling" agnostics.

The Buddha's Answer

The king repeated his question to the Buddha: "What are the benefits, which can be seen here and now, of renouncing the world?" Once more, the Buddha assured the king that he would answer the question, but he wished to pose another question to the king first.

The 1st Fruit: Freedom & Delight in Solitude

The Buddha asked the king to imagine a scenario involving one of his slaves. This slave reflects on how both he and the king are mortal men, but the king enjoys pleasures like a god while he toils away. He thinks about meritorious deeds, and how the kammic fruits of such deeds can lead can to different rebirths in different stations of life. This slave then decides to renounce the worldly life, becoming a homeless religious practitioner. He becomes content, living off of simple food and living in simple shelter. He experiences delight in his newfound solitude.

Having put forward this hypothetical, the Buddha asked if the king would demand this former slave, now liberated by his religious lifestyle, to return to servitude. The king responded, "Of course I wouldn't - renunciates must be treated with the utmost respect, and have their necessities provided for them."

The Buddha concluded by convincing the king that this was one fruit of renunciation; it was a means of liberation from class inequality, and provided an opportunity for those under the weight of societal expectations to live a happy life free from any such burdens. During the Buddha's time, renouncing the life of a householder and joining a religious order was a means of social liberation for many lower-class people.6

The 2nd Fruit: Freedom & Delight, Again

The king asked the Buddha for more examples. This passage is almost exactly the same as the previous one, only with the Buddha's hypothetical involving a farmer employed by the king instead of a slave. Once again, the king asked for another example, this time "more excellent and perfect."

The 3rd Fruit: Practices Leading to the First Jhāna

This next section is actually quite lengthy, listing many different things, though the Buddha only concluded with the previously-established statement "This, great king, is a fruit of renunciation..." after discussing the first jhāna. I have attempted to organize this summary in a way which reflects the structure of the sutta.

He declared that, eventually, a fully-enlightened Buddha arises in the world, and goes forth to teach the Dhamma. This set the stage for another hypothetical: he asked the king to consider a man who hears this message and decides to join the Buddha's order. This man, now a monk, lives according to the monastic code and becomes "accomplished in ethics." He "guards the sense-gates." He is mindful, alert, and content. The following subsections consist of the Buddha's explanations of these statements.


This subsection segues into the three categories of ethics, repeated from DN 1. For the sake of brevity, I will not reproduce them in their entirety here. In short, they are ethical practices observed by the Buddha's followers which distinguished them from the "ascetics and brahmins" who belonged to rival groups in the Buddha's time.

The Buddha used them to explain what it meant for his hypothetical monk to be "accomplished in ethics." The Buddha told the king that a monk accomplished in ethics is free from the dangers of immorality, just as a ruler who has conquered his enemies is no longer threatened by them. As a result of his morality, he experiences "blameless happiness" inside himself.

Guarding the Sense-Gates

The Buddha explained to the king that "guarding the sense-gates" means practicing restraint during the sensory process.7 When one of the sense-gates becomes engaged by a sense-object, and sense-consciousness arises, someone who is practicing restraint is able to process the experience without becoming fascinated with the "signs" of that sense-object. Someone who is unrestrained during this process, however, may become infatuated with the qualities of whatever thing has engaged their senses, and in this way they may become overwhelmed by desire for (or aversion toward) that sense-object.

A monk who is restrained in his senses is able to experience "unsullied happiness" inside himself.

Being Mindful and Alert

The Buddha explained that a monk always acts mindfully and with alertness, no matter what it is they're doing. They don't allow themselves to get lost in daydreams and they don't let their mind wander. They control their minds when doing anything and everything.

Being Content

A monk is content with the bare essentials: his robes, and alms donated to him as food. He is as free a bird, unburdened by unncessary possessions.

Abandoning the 5 Hindrances

Having become established in ethics, guarding his sense-gates, mindful and alert during all activities, and having contentment, our hypothetical monk is now ready to go to some secluded place and practice meditation. Legs crossed, body straight, he is able to abandon the 5 Hindrances - states of mind which act as obstacles to enlightenment and inhibit wisdom (SN 46.37).

He abandons desire by giving up longing for worldly things. He abandons ill-will by meditating with compassion for all living beings. He abandons sloth-and-torpor by being mindful and alert, "meditating on the perception of light" - visualizing the brightness of daylight (see AN 4.41 & 7.58). He abandons restlessness-and-worry by calming the mind. Finally, he abandons doubt by being certain about what sorts of things are skillful.

Having abandoned the 5 Hindrances, a monk attains freedom, like a debtor who has paid his debt, or a sickly person who has recovered, or a prisoner released from jail. During his meditation, he becomes joyful, and from this joy, a state of mental delight arises. With the mind feeling delighted, the body grows tranquil. From this tranquility, they experience bliss. From this bliss, he begins to become immersed in "samādhi," a profound quality of concentration, which leads to transition into the first jhāna.

The First Jhāna

In the 1st jhāna, one now experiences rapture and bliss which arise through the absence of sense-desires as well as the absence of any unskillful mental states. In this stage, he is still using his discursive, thinking mental faculties to gently guide the mind and contemplate the experience of the first jhāna. Although this should be understood as a type of thinking, it is important to understand that this is much more refined than the mind’s usual process of thought—there is no mental chatter, no train of internal dialogue. Having been freed from the unskillful mental states that cloud our usual thoughts, the mind is now functioning in a much more subtle, productive way.

The Buddha explained to the king that, in the first jhāna, a monk's body - head to toe - is completely filled with this rapture and bliss. He concluded by saying this is another fruit of renunication.

The 3rd Fruit: The Second Jhāna

Eventually, he is able to bring even this subtle process of thinking to a stop. This leads to entry into the 2nd jhāna. Rapture and bliss now arise from a more refined state of samādhi. The mind becomes "one-pointed," completely focused, and a powerful state of confidence and mental clarity arises.

Once again, the Buddha explained that a monk's body is completely filled with this new kind of rapture and bliss. He told the king that this was another fruit of renunication.

The 4th Fruit: The Third Jhāna

In the third jhāna, the previous feeling of "rapture" fades away, leaving a monk with "bliss free from rapture" which fills and permeates his entire body. While meditating, he experiences equanimity and mindful awareness.

The Buddha told the king that this "bliss free from rapture" was another fruit of renunciation.

The 5th Fruit: The Fourth Jhāna

In the fourth jhāna, a monk goes beyond all feelings, even the previous jhānic feeling of bliss which had permeated his body. He has "given up all pleasure and pain," and his mind experiences the purity of equanimity and mindfulness. The Buddha explained this as a "pure, bright awareness" which fills the entire body.

The 6th Fruit: Attaining Insight

After having progressed through these four jhānas, a monk's mind is "immersed in samādhi," a state of sublime concentration. In this state, his mind is purified in such a way which enables him to direct it toward "knowledge and vision." In doing so, he attains direct insight into the teachings of the Buddha.

Here, the Buddha specifically used the example of the body and consciousness; he told the king that a monk discerns that his body is a physical thing, made up of the four great elements, born from sexual union, sustained on food, impermanent, and will eventually be destroyed. He also discerns that his consciousness is "supported by and bound to" his body.

It should be noted that this is not a mere intellectual understanding - it is a direct experience of this reality. The Buddha told the king that this insight is another fruit of renunciation.

The 7th Fruit: The Ability to Mentally Create a Body

A monk immersed in samādhi may also direct the mind to the creation of a "manomaya-kaya," or a "mind-made body." In Buddhism, the belief is that a highly-advanced meditator is able to literally produce another body - complete with limbs and faculties - through the power of their purified mind. This is described like pulling a sword from its scabbard; the sword comes from its sheath, but they can both exist separately and be used apart from one another. This mind-made body can be used to visit other realms of existence, or simply to be in two places at once here in the mundane world.8

The Buddha told the king that this was yet another fruit of renunciation.

The 8th Fruit: Various Supernatural Powers

Immersed in samādhi, a monk may also direct his mind to a number of different supernatural feats. He can multiply himself, pass through solid barriers, descend into the earth and return to the surface (as if it were water), walk on water (as if it were earth), fly through the air while sitting cross-legged, "touch and stroke the sun and the moon,"9 and travel as far as the Brahmā realm.

The Buddha told the king that the ability to perform feats such as these is another fruit of renunciation.

The 9th Fruit: The Divine Ear

In addition to the above abilities, a monk immersed in samādhi may become capable of clairaudience (supernatural hearing). This allows him to hear sounds both near and far, in both the human and divine worlds. The Buddha said this is another fruit of renunication.

The 10th Fruit: Mind-Reading

Another supernatural feat gained in samādhi is the ability to read minds. The Buddha describes this less like the usual understanding of mind-reading, where you hear someone's internal monologue, and more like a sort of empathy which allows you to understand someone's mental state - detecting whether or not someone's mind has greed, hatred, delusion, or various qualities associated with spiritual attainment. The Buddha said this is another fruit of renunciation.

The 11th Fruit: Recollection of Past Lives

A monk immersed in samādhi may recollect their past lives. This recollection may span innumerable eons back, and include a great level of detail: names, clans/families, the pleasures and pains experienced, and the ways they died. The Buddha said this is another fruit of renunciation.

The 12th Fruit: Observing Death & Rebirth With The Divine Eye

When his mind is immersed in samādhi, a monk may use the "divine eye" (dibbacakkhu) to discern how other beings die and are reborn according to their kamma (more commonly known by the Sanskrit word, karma). He can see these beings rising and falling from the various realms of rebirth, and he understands the way the fruits of their volitions cause these states of existence. This, the Buddha told the king, is another fruit of renunciation.

The 13th Fruit: The Destruction of the Corruptions

Finally, while immersed in samādhi, a monk may apply his mind to the knowledge of destroying the corruptions (āsavās - tainted mental states which lead us to rebirth). In the suttas, the corruptions are usually three in number: 1- The weakness for sensual pleasure (kāmāsava). 2- The weakness for continued existence (bhavāsava). 3- The weakness for ignorance (avijjāsava).

Someone whose mind is still under the power of the corruptions is made vulnerable to the allure of sensual pleasure, continued existence, and ignorance. The corruptions subtly work beneath the surface and influence the way a person behaves. Destroying them is equivalent to enlightenment and the attainment of nibbana. A monk is able to achieve this while immersed in samādhi.

He is able to directly comprehend the Four Noble Truths: he gains an experiential understanding of dukkha, its origin, its cessation, and the Eightfold Path which leads to its cessation. Likewise, he gains an experiential understanding of the corruptions, their origin, their cessation, and the practice which results in their destruction. Having done so, he has become enlightened - his journey has come to an end, and he has escaped the cycle of rebirth. Upon death, no continued existence will follow.

The Buddha told the king that this is the greatest fruit of renunciation.

Conclusion: The King's Conversion

After the Buddha finished speaking, King Ajātasattu was delighted; finally, he had received an answer to his question. On the spot, he declared himself a lay follower of the Buddha. Suddenly, he confessed his guilt, admitting that he had his father killed in order to steal his crown. Of his own accord, he admonished himself for being foolish and immoral. The Buddha agreed, but accepted his confession, since he acknowledged his error and had resolved to behave properly in the future.

As we will see throughout the canon, whether or not Ajātasattu was truly reformed could be a matter of debate. The king's hesitance to fully commit is betrayed here by the fact that the king immediately rose up, leaving to tend to the worldly concerns which pressed on him. He did so respectfully, however, paying all proper respects to the Buddha and observing decorum - he bowed, circumabulated the Buddha with the right of his body towards the Buddha, and then took his leave.

After the king had gone, the Buddha told his monks that the king was "broken." He explained that the king could have attained the "Dhamma eye" (dhammacakkhu)10 after receiving this teaching, if only he didn't bear the weight of his father's death. This concludes the Samaññaphala Sutta.

Comparing Parallels

I want to begin this section with a note: I do not have access to English translations for the parallel versions of this text. I was able to find a couple of scholarly articles which compare the different versions, but they seem to disagree in some minor details, and neither one gives a clear, comprehensive explanation of the contents of the texts. All the same, I was able to use these sources to cobble together what I feel is a decent overview of the differences between the parallel versions of this text.

I just want to be clear that what I present below is likely inaccurate regarding some fine details - particularly where the different doctrines of the heretical teachers are concerned. This is because the boundaries between one view and another overlap and become blurred from one version to the next. I aimed for simplicity over accuracy in instances where things were unclear.

Different Versions

The version of the text summarized above is, of course, the Pāli version from the Dīgha Nikāya as preserved by the Theravāda tradition. Theravādins hold that the Pāli Canon was finalized in writing in the 1st century BCE. Whether or not this is the case, the Pāli texts were, by and large, codified and closed considerably earlier than the texts of rival traditions. It is likely that this version of the sermon is the oldest, and most closely resembles the original text - though this is not enough to say that it is identical to the original.

There are also 4 Chinese versions, a Tibetan version, and a Sanskrit version. One of the Chinese versions (C4), the Tibetan version, and the Sanskrit version all come from the same sect and are more or less identical.

The first Chinese version I will discuss was translated between 381 to 395 CE by Zhu Tanwulan - whether this was based on a written or an oral source is unknown. This version is found in the Taishō edition of the Chinese Canon at T 22, preserved as an individual sūtra, outside of any Āgama collection. The sect responsible for the transmission of this version is unknown. It will be referred to as "T 22."

Next, there is an abridged version of the sūtra found in the Ekottara Āgama of the Chinese Canon (T 124, EĀ 43.7). Its title translates to "Faith Without Roots." There is some uncertainty regarding its translation, with two possibilities: it was either translated in 384 CE by Dharmanandin (Chinese name: T’an-mo-nan-t’i) or in 397 CE by Gautama Sanghadeva (Chinese name: Chü-t’an Seng-chia-t’i-po). In the former case, Dharmanandin likely translated it from memory (having memorized the entire Ekottara Āgama). In the latter case, Gautama Sanghadeva probably translated it from a written copy. The sect responsible for this version is unknown. A popular theory among Japanese scholars is that it belonged to the Mahāsanghikas. This version will be referred to as "EĀ 43.7."

The primary parallel in the Chinese Canon is the 27th sūtra of the Dīrgha Āgama (which was most likely transmitted by the Dharmaguptaka sect). It was translated in 413 CE by Buddhayaśas (sometimes called Dharmayaśas), with Zhu Fonian acting as an assistant. Buddhayaśas was famous for his memory and probably orally transmitted the Dīrgha Āgama as a whole, but it's possible the source text had been committed to writing previously. This version will be referred to as "DĀ 27."

The Sanskrit version, along with the 4th Chinese version and the Tibetan version, is found within the last section of the Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya - the Sanghabhedavastu. It is presented without a title. The dating is a matter of debate, but Nalinaksha Dutt believes that the material containing this version, discovered in the village of Naupur (modern day Pakistan, once known as the city of Gilgit, a major Buddhist cultural center), dates back to the 6th century. This version will simply be referred to as "the Sanskrit version."

The 4th Chinese version is the only incomplete version of the text. It was translated from a written copy by I-Ching in 710 CE. It will be referred to by its position in the Taishō edition of the Chinese Canon, "T 1450."

Finally, we have the Tibetan version, dating back to the reign of King Trisong Detsen between the late 8th century and early 9th century. The entire Mūlasarvāstivādin Vinaya was translated - quite accurately -into Tibetan by by Sarvajñadeva, Dharmākara, and Vidyākataprabha, with Pelgyi Lhunpo acting as an assistant. Since information about this version is more readily available than the previous two, and they're all said to be almost identical, this version will stand as representative for all three. It will simply be referred to as "the Tibetan version."

T 22

Narrative Framing

This version begins similarly to the Pāli sutta, but in this version, the king doesn't immediately ask about visiting a holy man. Instead, he asks his ministers more generally what they should do. Some ministers first suggest enjoying the sense-pleasures, but the king isn't interested. Only then do other ministers start suggesting paying visits to the various holy men, but in each instance, the king declines. Finally, he asks Jīvaka - here specified as a royal pediatrician - who, of course, suggests visiting the Buddha. The text seems to continue in agreement with the Pāli version, with an additional detail: when in the calming presence of the sangha, a prince named Pai-hsien comments that he wishes live like that. The texts diverge more significantly when the king tells the Buddha about his previous conversations with the other teachers. As we will see, the different versions of this text have significant disagreements about which teachers taught what doctrines.

The Teachers and Their Doctrines

Pūrna Kāśyapa (Pūrana Kassapa) - "Materialist Skepticism" (actions do not produce good/bad fruits; good deeds are meaningless; there is no afterlife or rebirth, and there are no meditative attainments) and "Annihilationism" (the body is merely made up of the four great elements, and when someone dies, the body falls apart and the person ceases to exist entirely).

Maskarin Gośālīputra (Makkahali Gosāla) - "Determinism" (one does not act with volition; people are powerless, being shaped only by destiny, circumstance, and nature; everything is pre-determined; there is no causality or conditioned arising; people become deluded or enlightened as a mere matter of circumstance; throughout the six classes of rebirth, we experience the pleasure and pain which are allotted to us regardless of our actions).

Ajita Keśakambalin (Ajita Kesakambalī) - "Eel-wriggling Agnosticism" (refusing to take or deny any position)

Kakudha Kātyāyana (Pakudha Kaccāyana) - "Purification Through Transmigration" (people cannot affect their own progression towards enlightenment as they go through the cycle of rebirth; one will simply escape the cycle of suffering when their time comes)

Sañjayin Vairatīputra (Sañjaya Belatthaputta) - "Amoralism" (ultimately, there is no such thing as good or evil - even if someone were to deliberately kill every living being on the planet, no evil has been committed, and nothing bad would result from such an act; likewise, there is no good deed that can be said to produce merit).

Nirgrantha Jñātiputra - "Past Causes of Present Conditions" (one performs good or evil deeds according to the views they hold; one's present condition is the result of love or craving from past lives; this causes one to be born, grow old, and experience disease; through penance, this previous karma can be eradicated; by refraining from performing new deeds and accruing new karma, one puts an end to suffering; if one is well-disposed to the religious life, they may practice it after having sons and grandsons) [This has no parallel in DN 2]

Ending of the Text

The rest of the text plays out much like DN 2, although in this version, it concludes with the king inviting the Buddha and his sangha to a meal-offering, which they attend.

EĀ 43.7

Narrative Framing

In this version, the king is lounging with his princes and ministers - who are specified by their Chinese names - as well as some Brahmins and his harem of women. While discussing their plans for the night, the ladies of the harem suggest enjoying the sense pleasures with a performance of dancing women. The king declines, and begins asking different people for suggestions. He starts with two of his sons - Prince Udāyi and Prince Abhaya - who suggest invading neighboring enemies and visiting Pūrna Kāśyapa, respectively. Minister Sun Ni Mo suggests visiting Ajita Keśakambali. The Brahmin P’o-sa suggests visiting Maskarin Gośālīputra. The Brahmin Mo-t’ê suggests visiting Pakudha Kātyāyana. Army Chief So-mo suggests visiting Sañjaya Belatthaputta. "The most distinguished minister," who is - funnily enough - unnamed, suggests visiting Nirgrantha Jñātrputra. At this point, Jīvaka (said here to be a prince, and not a physician) speaks up, suggesting a visit to Gautama Buddha.

This presents a problem - King Ajātaśatru (Ajātasattu) had recently seized the throne by murdering his father Bimbisāra, who was a close devotee of the Buddha. Jīvaka and the king go back and forth discussing whether or not this is a good idea, but eventually, the king is convinced, and they set out. Things play out more or less the same as the other versions until the king recounts the doctrines of the rival teachers.

The Teachers and Their Doctrines

Pūrna Kāśyapa - "Materialist Skepticism"

Ajita Keśakambalin - partially taught "Amoralism" [I couldn't determine to what degree this version of the doctrine was "partial"]

Maskarin Gośālīputra - partially taught "Amoralism" [I couldn't determine to what degree this version of the doctrine was "partial"]

Kakudha Kātyāyana - "One dies, is reborn, and experiences sorrow or happiness according to their actions" [This has no parallel in DN 2]

Sañjayin Vairatīputra - "Denial of the Three Temporal Realms" (the past is gone; the future hasn't appeared; the present doesn't stay) [This has no parallel in DN 2]

Nirgrantha Jñātiputra - "Purification Through Transmigration"

The Buddha's Sermon

Following the teaching on ethics, this version omits any discussion of concentration (samādhi) and insight (prajña), instead skipping to the Buddha stating that when the hypothetical practitioner reaches the "final stage" - here, defined with the technical term anupādiśesa-nirvāna-dhātu (which, as far as I'm aware, doesn't correspond precisely with anything in the Pāli suttas) - they become divine, no longer merely human. The king declares that such a person is worthy of being honored with a shrine.

Ending of the Text

The text then ends much like the Pāli version. There is no mention of a meal-offering.

DĀ 27

Narrative Framing

This version also gives names to the king's men who suggest visiting the various teachers. The Brahmin Yu-se suggests Pūrna Kāśyapa. His younger brother, Su-ni-t'o, suggests Maskarin Gośālīputra. Minister Tien-tso suggests Ajita Keśakambalin. General Kia-lo-su-men suggests Kakudha Kātyāyana. Prince Udāyi suggests Sañjayin Vairatīputra. Prince Abhaya suggests Nirgrantha Jñātiputra. Jīvaka, as usual, suggests Gautama.

The Teachers and Their Doctrines

Pūrna Kāśyapa - "Amoralism"

Maskarin Gośālīputra - "Materialist Skepticism"

Ajita Keśakambalin - "Annihilationism"

Kakudha Kātyāyana - "Purification Through Transmigration" and "Determinism"

Sañjayin Vairatīputra - "Eel-wriggling Agnosticism"

Nirgrantha Jñātiputra - "Claim of Omniscience" (he claimed to be all-knowing and all-seeing) [This has no parallel in DN 2]

The Buddha's Sermon

This text only gives the first 2 fruits of the ascetic life, and then skips to the end of the usual pericope, where the Buddha talks about the three knowledges and the attainment of nirvāna with the insight of the destruction of the āsavas.

Ending of the Text

This version also has the king inviting the Buddha and his sangha to a meal-offering. When they attend the following day, he repeatedly asks for forgiveness again, and takes refuge. This version seems to heavily emphasize the king's remorse in a way the others don't.

The Tibetan Version (+ the Sanskrit Version & T 1450)

Due to the similarity of these three versions, and the fact information about the Tibetan version is more readily available, the Tibetan version will stand as a representative for the remaining parallel texts.

The Teachers and Their Doctrines

Pūrna Kāśyapa - "Materialist Skepticism" and "Annihilationism"

Maskarin Gośālīputra - "Determinism"

Sañjayin Vairatīputra - "Amoralism"

Ajita Keśakambalin - "Eternalist Atomism" (reality consists entirely of seven great substances: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, Pleasure, Pain, and the Soul; these substances are eternal, having never been created and never being destroyed - they have always been, and will always be; everything in reality is simply the play of these elements, and on an ultimate level, these substances do not interact with or obstruct one another; even if you were to cut off someone's head, ultimately, no one is dying, and no one is committing any evil - it is a mundane act of the blade passing through the space between these seven substances) and "Purification Through Transmigration"

Nirgrantha Jñātiputra - "Past Causes of Present Conditions"

Kakudha Kātyāyana - "Eel-Wriggling Agnosticism"

Conclusions Regarding the Different Versions

Salient Disagreements & Overlaps

Interestingly, DN 2 seems to be the only version which depicts the king as specifically wanting to spend the uposatha evening visiting a holy man. The other versions depict the king asking broadly how best to pass the time (with the possible exception of DĀ 27 - I don't have access to a full translation and neither article I referenced specified). In these instances, the first suggestions are usually mundane, unskillful activities.

EĀ 43.7 stands out from the other versions. It has two unique doctrines not found in any of the other parallels: the one declared by Kakudha Kātyāyana (one dies, is reborn, and experiences sorrow or happiness according to their actions) and the one declared by Sañjayin Vairatīputra (Denial of the Three Temporal Realms). Furthermore, it only agrees with two texts regarding one teacher's doctrine: Pūrna Kaśyapa’s teaching (Materialist Skepticism), corroborated by T 22 and the Tibetan version. In all other instances, it stands alone.

DN 2 and DĀ 27 have significant agreements. The texts wholly agree regarding Pūrna Kāśyapa and Sañjayin Vairatīputra, and partially agree regarding Ajita Keśakambalin. T 22 and the Tibetan versions also have significant agreements. They wholly agree on Pūrna Kaśyapa and Nirgrantha Jñātiputra, and partially agree regarding Maskarin Gośālīputra and Sañjayin Vairatīputra.

T 22 and EĀ 43.7 are the only versions which mention the names of the king's men who suggested visiting the various teachers. T 22 and DĀ 27 have the king inviting the Buddha and his sangha to a meal-offering at the end of the discourse.

Trends Regarding the Teachers

There are two trends regarding Pūrana Kaśyapa. DN 2 and DĀ 27 have him teaching Amoralism, while T 22, EĀ 43.7, and the Tibetan version (along with the other Mūlasarvāstivādin versions) have him teaching both Materialist Skepticism and Annihilationism.

Regarding Maskarin Gośālīputra, there is strong agreement for his doctrine being Determinism, corroborated by DN 2, T 22, and the Mūlasarvāstivādin versions. DN 2 is alone in giving him the additional doctrine of Purification Through Transmigration.

Things are murky with Ajita Keśakambalīn. The only agreement is found between DN 2 and DĀ 27, which give him Annihilationism. Even then, DN 2 gives him the additional doctrine of Materialist Skepticism.

Kakudha Kātyāyana has a different doctrine in every version of the text.

Regarding Sañjayin Vairatīputra, DN 2 and DĀ 27 make him the "Eel-Wriggling Agnostic." T 22 and the Mūlasarvāstivādin versions give him Amoralism.

Nirgrantha Jñātrputra is given the doctrine of "Past Causes of Present Conditions" by T 22 and the Mūlasarvāstivādin versions. Otherwise, the texts disagree. This disagreement is interesting, given that Jainism is the only surving tradition from these rival teachers.

Looking at the above points, we can note that DN 2 and DĀ 27 often overlap, while T 22 often overlaps with the Mūlasarvāstivādin versions. Even with these parallels, however, all versions of the texts may be said to be considerably different.

The Two Lists of the Rival Teachers, and the Orders of the Names

Each text lists the rival teachers twice: first, in the narrative framing, when the king's men are suggesting who they should visit; second, when the king is recounting his conversations with these teachers to the Buddha. The texts sometimes diverge on the order in which the teachers are mentioned, with DN 2 and the Mūlasarvāstivādin versions even differing internally between the first list and the second list.

The First List

DN 2, DĀ 27, and T 22 all agree on the first order: 1. Pūrna Kāśyapa 2. Maskarin Gośālīputra 3. Ajita Keśakambalin 4. Kakudha Kātyāyana 5. Sañjayin Vairatīputra 6. Nirgrantha Jñātiputra.

EĀ 43.7 preserves a similar list, with the only difference being that Maskarin Gośālīputra and Ajita Keśakambalin are swapped (with Ajita Keśakambalin being #2, and Maskarin Gośālīputra being #3).

The Mūlasarvāstivādin version is much different: 1. Pūrna Kāśyapa 2. Maskarin Gośālīputra 3. Sañjayin Vairatīputra 4. Ajita Keśakambalin 5. Kakudha Kātyāyana 6. Nirgrantha Jñātiputra.

In light of this, MacQueen hypothesizes that the first list, as would have been found in the original (or "ancestral") version of this text - now lost to to time - would have certainly featured Pūrna Kāśyapa first, Maskarin Gośālīputra second, and Nirgrantha Jñātiputra last. Less certainly, he theorizes that Ajita Keśakambalin would have been third, Kakudha Kātyāyana fourth, and Sañjayin Vairatīputra fifth.

The Second List

In the second list, DN 2 switches the positions of Sañjayin Vairatīputra and Nirgrantha Jñātiputra (with Sañjayin now being last). Similarly, the Mūlasarvāstivādin versions switch the positions of Kakudha Kātyāyana and Nirgrantha Jñātiputra (with Kakudha now being last). In all versions of the first list, Nirgrantha is listed last; why do these two versions move him to the penultimate position in the second list?

MacQueen points out that in both instances, the text's Eel-Wriggler is moved to the last spot. This serves a narrative function, allowing the king to conclude his account of the rival teachers with the "cherry on top" comment that the Eel-Wriggling teacher was the stupidest of all six, demonstrating the Buddhist tradition's distate for that doctrine (as is also seen in DN 1). Such a comment is found in every version except DĀ 27. In T 22, it comes after the 3rd teacher (Ajita Keśakambalin, who is also the Eel-Wriggler of that version). In EĀ 43.7, the comment appears after the conclusion of the king's descriptions of the rival doctrines.

MacQueen draws a few conclusions from this: 1. the ancestral text certainly contained a comment about which teacher was the stupidest 2. it must have been meant to apply to the Eel-Wriggler 3. T 22 and EĀ 43.7 have been corrupted in these instances, where the former preserves the remark after the Eel-Wriggler, but did not place that teacher last, and the latter preserves the remark as a concluding statement, but has completely lost any reference to the doctrine of Eel-Wriggling Agnosticism. 4. the fact that DĀ 27, T 22, and EĀ 43.7 show signs of corruptions by keeping the same order between the two different lists, instead of - what might be argued instead - showing a preservation of a more ancient state of the text.

At this point, the one question remaining for MacQueen is "Which teacher was the Eel-Wriggler?" Through his analysis of all of the information presented here (and a good deal I left out for the sake of brevity), he concludes that it must have been Sañjayin. He concludes his article with a couple of other declarations regarding the ancestral version of the text: the order of the first list must have been: 1. Pūrna Kāśyapa 2. Maskarin Gośālīputra 3. Ajita Keśakambalin 4. Kakudha Kātyāyana 5. Sañjayin Vairatīputra 6. Nirgrantha Jñātiputra; Maskarin Gośālīputra taught the doctrine of Determinism.

He also states that DN 2 - while not unchanged - is the most conservative version of this text, closest to what would have been the ancestral version.


[1] "Uposatha" was a word used for holy days in various traditions during the Buddha's time, and would come to be used by the Buddha and his sangha to refer to days observed by both monastics and lay followers. Lay followers simply observe more precepts more intensely, allowing them to "emulate the arahants" for a day (as described in the Muluposatha Sutta). Monks gather and confess if they have violated any of the monastic codes, then recite the rules together. Uposatha days are determined by a lunar calendar. The sutta tells us this particular story took place on the 15th day (Komudi) of the 4th month (Kattika), on the night of a full moon. In his translation of the DN, Maurice Walshe notes that this corresponds to mid-October to mid-November in our own calendar.

[2] It was common for wealthy people to donate some of their land to be used for holy men and their followers, either as a temporary shelter while traveling, or as a permanent establishment for teachers to whom they were specifically devoted. This was seen as a noble, charitable thing for wealthy people to do.

[3] https://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/the-fourfold-restraint-of-the-jains-dn2-mn56/4154

[4] See "Long Discourses of the Buddha," translated by Maurice Walshe, Sutta 2, note 115

[5] It's never explicitly stated in the suttas, but Buddhist history treats Sañjaya Belatthaputta and Sañjaya Parabajjaka as one and the same.

[6] Even in India today, Buddhism remains a powerful vehicle for class struggles among the socially disenfranchised. This is most evidently embodied in the movement inspired by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.

[7] For a more detailed explanation of this sensory process, and its importance in Buddhist philosophy, read my summary of the Buddha's basic teachings here.

[8] It's possible that this idea is shocking to you. Many people who discuss Buddhism try to downplay more fantastic beliefs such as this, particularly those who are interested in portraying Buddhism as some kind of ancient psychotherapy. The simple truth is this: Buddhism is a religion, and it is filled with religious ideas and beliefs. It should not be held to the standards of a science.

[9] Walshe notes that this line likely refers to some kind of psychic experience, and isn't meant to be taken literally. However, given that the other supernatural feats presumably are meant to be taken literally, a direct reading isn't exactly out-of-place.

[10] Rhys Davids, referenced in Walshe's translation, notes that this is one of the supernatural powers of "vision," similar to the previously mentioned "divine eye." There are three such powers, beginning with the lowest, the divine eye. The Dhamma-eye is the middle power, and the highest is the "wisdom eye" (paññacakkhu).


[1] “The Śrāmanyaphala-Sūtra and Its Different Versions in Buddhist Literature” by P.V. Bapat, published in “Indian Culture, Vol. XV”

[2] “The Doctrines of the Six Heretics According to the ‘Śrāmanyaphala Sūtra’” by G. MacQueen, published in the Indo-Iranian Journal, Vol. 27 No. 4