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DN11 Kevaddha Sutta: About Kevaddha

What Brahma Didn’t Know

 
[211] 1. THUS HAVE I HEARD. Once the Lord was staying at Nālanda, in Pāvārika’s mango grove. And the householder Kevaddha 230 came to the Lord, prostrated himself before him, and sat down to one side. He then said: ‘Lord, this Nāḷandā is rich, prosperous, populous, and full of people who have faith in the Lord. It would be well if the Lord were to cause some monk to perform superhuman feats and miracles. In this way Nāḷandā would come to have even more faith in the Lord.’
 
The Lord replied: ‘Kevaddha, this is not the way I teach Dhamma to the monks, by saying: “Go, monks, and perform superhuman feats and miracles for the white-clothed lay-people! ’
 
2. For a second time Kevaddha said: ‘Lord, I would not be importunate, but I still say: “This Nalanda is rich, prosperous ... [212] and would come to have even more faith in the Lord.”’ And the Lord replied as before.
 
3. When Kevaddha repeated his request for a third time, the Lord said: ‘Kevaddha, there are three kinds of miracle that I have declared, having realised them by my own insight. Which three? The miracle of psychic power,231 the miracle of telepathy,232 the miracle of instruction.233
 
4. ‘What is the miracle of psychic power? Here, Kevaddha, a monk displays various psychic powers in different ways. Being one he becomes many, being many he becomes one... (as Sutta 2, verse 87) [213] and he travels in the body as far as the Brahma world. Then someone who has faith and trust sees him doing these things.
 
5. ‘He tells this to someone else who is sceptical and unbelieving, saying: “It is wonderful, sir, it is marvellous, the great power and skill of that ascetic ...” And that man might say: “Sir, there is something called the Gandhāra charm.234 It is by means of this that that monk becomes many...” What do you think, Kevaddha, would not a sceptic say that to a believer?’ ‘He would, Lord.’ ‘And that is why, Kevaddha, seeing the danger of such miracles, I dislike, reject and despise them.
 
6. ‘And what is the miracle of telepathy? Here, a monk reads the minds of other beings, of other people, reads their mental states, their thoughts and ponderings, and says: “That is how your mind is, that is how it inclines, that is in your heart.” Then someone who has faith and trust sees him doing these things.
 
7. ‘He tells this to someone else who is sceptical and unbelieving, saying: “It is [214] wonderful, sir, it is marvellous, the great power and skill of that ascetic ...” And that man might say: “Sir, there is something called the Manika charm.235 It is by means of this that that monk can read the minds of others ...” And that is why, seeing the danger of such miracles, I... despise them.
 
8. ‘And what is the miracle of instruction? Here, Kevaddha, a monk gives instruction as follows: “Consider in this way, don’t consider in that, direct your mind this way, not that way, give up that, gain this and persevere in it.” That, Kevaddha, is called the miracle of instruction.
 
9 — 66. ‘Again, Kevaddha, a Tathāgata arises in the world, an Arahant, fully-enlightened Buddha, endowed with wisdom and conduct, Well-Farer, Knower of the worlds, incomparable Trainer of men to be tamed, Teacher of gods and humans, enlightened and blessed. He, having realised it by his own super-knowledge, proclaims this world with its devas, māras and Brahmās, its princes and people. He preaches the Dhamma which is lovely in its beginning, lovely in its middle, lovely in its ending, in the spirit and in the letter, and displays the fully-perfected and purified holy life. A disciple goes forth and practises the moralities (Sutta 2, verses 41 — 63). He guards the sense-doors and attains the four jhānas (Sutta 2, verses 64 — 82); he attains various insights (Sutta 2, verses 83-84); he realises the Four Noble Truths, the path and the cessation of the corruptions (Sutta 2, verses 85-97),236 and he knows: “...There is nothing further here.” That, Kevaddha, is called the miracle of instruction.
 
67. ‘And I, Kevaddha, have experienced these three miracles by my own super-knowledge. Once, Kevaddha, in this order of monks the thought occurred to a certain monk: “I wonder where the four great elements — the earth element, the water element, the fire element, the air element — cease without remainder.” And that monk attained to such a state of mental concentration that the way to the deva-realms appeared before him.
 
68. ‘Then, coming to the Realm of the devas of the Four Great Kings,237 he asked those devas: “Friends, where do the four great elements -- earth, water, fire and air — cease without remainder?” At this question the devas of the Four Great Kings [216] said to him: “Monk, we don’t know where the four great elements cease without remainder. But the Four Great Kings are loftier and wiser than we are. They may know where the four great elements cease ... ”
 
69. ‘So that monk went to the Four Great Kings and asked the same question, but they replied: “We don’t know, but the Thirty-Three Gods may know...”
 
70. ‘So that monk went to the Thirty-Three Gods, who said: “We don’t know, but Sakka, lord of the gods, may know...” [217]
 
71. ‘Sakka, lord of the gods, said: “The Yāma devas may know ... ”
 
72. ‘The Yama devas said: “Suyāma, son of the devas,238 may know ... ”
 
73. ‘Suyama said: “The Tusita [218] devas may know...”
 
74. ‘The Tusita devas said: “Santusita, son of the devas, may know...”
 
75. ‘Santusita said: “The Nimmanarati devas may know...”
 
76. [219] ‘The Nimmanarati devas said: “Sunimmita, son of the devas, may know...”
 
77. ‘Sunimitta said: “The Paranimmita-Vasavatti devas may know...”
 
78. ‘The Paranimmita-Vasavatti devas said: “Vasavatti, son of the devas, may know...”
 
79. [220] ‘Vasavatti said: “The devas of Brahmā’s retinue may know ... ”
 
80. ‘Then that monk, by the appropriate concentration, made the way to the Brahmā world appear before him. He went to the devas of Brahmā’s retinue and asked them. They said: “We don’t know. But there is Brahmā, Great Brahmā, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Lord, the Maker and Creator, the Ruler, Appointer and Orderer, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be. He is loftier and wiser than we are. He would know where the four great elements cease without remainder.” “And where, friends, is this Great Brahmā now?” “Monk, we do not know when, how and where Brahmā will appear. But when the signs are seen — when a light appears and a radiance shines forth — then Brahmā will appear. Such signs are an indication that he will appear.”
 
81. ‘Then it was not long before the Great Brahmā [221] appeared. And that monk went up to him and said: “Friend, where do the four great elements — earth, water, fire, air — cease without remainder?” to which the Great Brahmā replied: “Monk, I am Brahmā, Great Brahmā, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Lord, the Maker and Creator, the Ruler, Appointer and Orderer, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be.”
 
82. ‘A second time the monk said: “Friend, I did not ask if you are Brahmā, Great Brahmā ... I asked you where the four great elements cease without remainder.” And a second time the Great Brahmā replied as before.
 
83. ‘And a third time the monk said: “Friend, I did not ask you that, I asked where the four great elements — earth, water, fire, air — cease without remainder.” Then, Kevaddha, the Great Brahmā took that monk by the arm, led him aside and [222] said: “Monk, these devas believe there is nothing Brahmā does not see, there is nothing he does not know, there is nothing he is unaware of. That is why I did not speak in front of them. But, monk, I don’t know where the four great elements cease without remainder. And therefore, monk, you have acted wrongly, you have acted incorrectly by going beyond the Blessed Lord and going in search of an answer to this question elsewhere. Now, monk, you just go to the Blessed Lord and put this question to him, and whatever answer he gives, accept it.”
 
84. ‘So that monk, as swiftly as a strong man might flex or unflex his arm, vanished from the Brahma world and appeared in my presence. He prostrated himself before me, then sat down to one side and said: “Lord, where do the four great elements — the earth element, the water element, the fire element and the air element - cease without remainder?”
 
85. ‘I replied: “Monk, once upon a time seafaring merchants, when they set sail on the ocean, took in their ship a land-sighting bird. When they could not see the land themselves, they released this bird. The bird flew to the east, to the south, to the west, to the north, it flew to the zenith and to the intermediate points of the compass. If it saw land anywhere, it flew there. But if it saw no land, it returned to the ship. In the same way, monk, you have been [223] as far as the Brahma world searching for an answer to your question and not finding it, and now you come back to me. But, monk, you should not ask your question in this way: ‘Where do the four great elements — the earth element, the water element, the fire element, the air element — cease without remainder?’ Instead, this is how the question should have been put:
‘Where do earth, water, fire and air no footing find?
 
Where are long and short, small and great, fair and foul -
 
Where are “name-and-form” wholly destroyed?’239
 
 
 
And the answer is:
‘Where consciousness is signless,240 boundless, all-luminous, 241
 
That’s where earth, water, fire and air find no footing,
 
There both long and short, small and great, fair and foul -
 
There “name-and-form” are wholly destroyed.
 
With the cessation of consciousness this is all destroyed.”” 242
 
 
 
Thus the Lord spoke, and the householder Kevaddha, delighted, rejoiced at his words.


230 Or Kevatta (‘Fisher’) as several manuscripts have it. RD admits that ‘it may turn out to be the better of the two.’
 
231 Iddhi-pāṭihāriya: ‘miracle of iddhi’ (see n.128).
 
232 Ādesanā-pāṭihāriya. This is actual telepathy, not the same as manesika ‘mind-searching’ or guessing another’s thoughts mentioned in DN 1.1.14.
 
233 Anusāsani-pāṭihāriya. The Buddha’s teaching can be called miraculous because it leads to the most wonderful results.
 
234 A charm for making oneself invisible.
 
235 Or cintamani vijjā (DA), the ‘jewel of thought’ charm which enabled one to know the thoughts of others. The sceptic, of course, does not have a really convincing way of explaining things away. Modem parallels suggest themselves.
 
236 Omitting DN 2.85 — 96, which deal with the powers disparagingly mentioned in verse 4ff.
 
237 For all these realms and their inhabitants (verses 68-81) see Introduction p. 38f.
 
238 Devaputta here denotes the ruler of a certain group of devas. In other contexts it simply means ‘male deva’.
 
239 Mind and body, i.e. ‘subject and object’ (Neumann quoted by RD).
 
240 Anidassanaṁ: or ‘invisible’. Ñāṇananda (n.242) renders it ‘non-manifesting’.
 
241 This word (pabhaṁ or pahaṁ) has been variously interpreted. DA takes it in the sense of a ford, or a place to enter the water ‘accessible from all sides’, by means of which one can reach Nibbana. There is an improbable suggestion that the meaning is ‘rejecting’, and Mrs Bennett translates the line: ‘Where the consciousness that makes endless comparisons is entirely abandoned’, which seems to involve a misunderstanding of anidassanaṁ. (But see next note). The same sequence also occurs at MN 49.11rendered by I.B. Horner (MLS i, 392): ‘Discriminative consciousness (= viññāṇaṁ) which cannot be characterised (= anidassanaṁ), which is unending, lucid in every respect (= sabbato pabhaṁ).’ The two passages should be studied in conjunction. Cf. also AN 1.6: ‘This mind (citta) is luminous, but is defiled by adventitious defilements.’ See important discussion by Ñāṇananda, 57-63.
 
242 G.C. Pande (Studies in the Origins of Buddhism, 92, n.21) says: ‘Buddha says that the question should not be asked in the manner in which it is done in the prose quotation above, but thus — as in the metrical lines that follow. One may pertinently ask: “Why? what is wrong with the prose formulation?” The only answer would seem to be: “Nothing. But the verses have to be brought in!”.
Ñāṇananda (Concept and Reality, 59) explains it thus: ‘The last line of the verse stresses the fact that the four great elements do not find a footing — and that ‘Name-and-Form’ (comprehending them) can be cut-off completely — in that ‘anidassana-viññāṇa’ (the ‘nonmanifestative consciousness’) of the Arahant, by the cessation of his normal consciousness which rests on the data of sense-experience. This is a corrective to that monk’s notion that the four elements can cease altogether somewhere — a notion which has its roots in the popular conception of self-existing material elements. The Buddha’s reformulation of the original question and this concluding line are meant to combat this wrong notion.’
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