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Majjhima Nikaya

Majjhima Nikāya
21 Kakacūpama Sutta
The Simile of the Saw

Learn how to put up with people saying things we don’t like.

This is how I heard. At one time the Buddha was living in the city of Sāvatthī in Jeta’s garden, Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery.

Those days, the monk Moliya Phagguna was mixing too closely together with the nuns. So much so that if any monk criticized those nuns in his presence, the monk Moliya Phagguna got angry and upset. And if any monk criticized the monk Moliya Phagguna in their presence, those nuns got angry and upset. That’s how much the monk Moliya Phagguna was mixing too closely together with the nuns.

Then a monk went up to the Buddha, bowed respectfully, sat down to one side, and told him what was going on.

So the Buddha said to a certain monk, “Please, monk, in my name tell the monk Moliya Phagguna that the teacher calls him.”

“Yes, Bhante,” that monk replied. He went to the monk Moliya Phagguna and said to him, “Venerable Phagguna, the teacher calls you.”

“Yes, Venerable,” the monk Moliya Phagguna replied. He went to the Buddha, bowed respectfully, and sat down to one side. The Buddha asked him:

“Is it really true, Phagguna, that you’ve been mixing overly closely together with the nuns? So much so that if any monk criticizes those nuns in your presence, you get angry and upset? And if any monk criticizes you in those nuns’ presence, they get angry and upset? Is that how much you’re mixing overly closely together with the nuns?”

“Yes, Bhante.”

“Phagguna, are you not someone who has become a monk out of faith?”

“Yes, Bhante.”

“As such, it’s not appropriate for you to mix so closely with the nuns. So if anyone criticizes those nuns in your presence, you should give up any desires or thoughts of attachment. If that happens, you should train like this: ‘My mind will be unaffected. I will speak no bad words. I will remain full of compassion, with a heart of loving-kindness and no inner hate.’ That’s how you should train.

“So even if someone strikes those nuns with fists, stones, rods, and swords in your presence, you should give up any desires or thoughts of attachment. If that happens, you should train like this: ‘My mind will be unaffected. I will speak no bad words. I will remain full of compassion, with a heart of loving-kindness and no inner hate.’ That’s how you should train.

“So if anyone criticizes you in your presence, you should give up any desires or thoughts of attachment. If that happens, you should train like this: ‘My mind will be unaffected. I will speak no bad words. I will remain full of compassion, with a heart of loving-kindness and no inner hate.’ That’s how you should train.

“So Phagguṇa, even if someone strikes you with fists, stones, rods, and swords, you should give up any desires or thoughts of attachment. If that happens, you should train like this: ‘My mind will be unaffected. I will speak no bad words. I will remain full of compassion, with a heart of loving-kindness and no inner hate.’ That’s how you should train.”

The master charioteer

Then the Buddha said to the monks, “Monks, I used to be satisfied with the monks. Once, I addressed them, ‘I eat only one meal per day. Doing so, I find that I’m healthy and well, light, strong, and living comfortably. You too should eat one meal per day. Doing so, you’ll find that you’re healthy and well, light, strong, and living comfortably.’ I didn’t have to keep on instructing those monks; I just had to prompt their mindfulness.

“Monks, suppose a chariot stood harnessed to the well-trained horses at an intersection on a level ground, with a goad ready. Then a talented horse trainer, a master charioteer, might get up on the chariot, taking the reins in his right hand and goad in the left. He’d drive out and back wherever he wishes, whenever he wishes.

“In the same way, I didn’t have to keep on instructing those monks; I just had to prompt their mindfulness. So, monks, give up what’s unwholesome and dedicate yourselves to develop wholesome qualities. In this way you’ll achieve growth, improvement, and maturity in this Dhamma path.

Sal tree park

“Suppose that not far from a town or village there was a large park of sala trees that was choked with castor-oil weeds. Then along comes a person who wants to help protect and nurture that park. He’d cut down the crooked sala saplings that were robbing the sap, and throw them out. He’d clean up the interior of the park, and properly care for the straight, well-formed sala saplings. Monks, in this way, in time, that sala park would grow, increase, and mature.

“In the same way, monks, give up what’s unwholesome and dedicate yourselves to developing wholesome qualities. In this way you’ll achieve growth, improvement, and maturity in this Dhamma path.

Vedehikā & Kālī

“Once upon a time, monks, right here in the city of Sāvatthī there was a housewife named Vedehikā. She had this good reputation: ‘The housewife Vedehikā is sweet, patient, and calm.’ Now, Vedehikā had a maid named Kāḷī who was skilled, tireless, and well organized in her work.

“Then Kāḷī thought, ‘My mistress has a good reputation as being sweet, patient, and calm. But does she actually have anger in her and just not show it? Or does she have no anger? Or is it just because my work is well organized that she doesn’t show anger, even though she still has it inside? Why don’t I test my mistress?’

“So Kāḷī got up late one day. Vedehikā said to her, ‘Hey, Kāḷī!’

“‘What is it, madam?’

“‘You’re getting up late—what’s up with you, girl?’

“‘Nothing, madam.’

“‘Nothing’s up, you bad girl, but you get up late!’ Angry and upset, she scowled.

“Then Kāḷī thought, ‘My mistress actually has anger in her and just doesn’t show it; it’s not that she has no anger. It’s just because my work is well organized that she doesn’t show anger, even though she still has it inside. Why don’t I test my mistress further?’

“So Kāḷī got up later the following day. Vedehikā said to her, ‘Hey, Kāḷī!’

“‘What is it, madam?’

“‘You’re getting up later today —what’s up with you, girl?’

“‘Nothing, madam.’

“‘Nothing’s up, you bad girl, but you get up later!’ Angry and upset, she spoke angry words.

“Then Kāḷī thought, ‘My mistress actually has anger in her and just doesn’t show it; it’s not that she has no anger. It’s just because my work is well organized that she doesn’t show anger, even though she still has it inside. Why don’t I test my mistress further?’

“So Kāḷī got up even later the next time. Vedehikā said to her, ‘Hey, Kāḷī!’

“‘What is it, madam?’

“‘You’re getting up even later today—what’s up with you, girl?’

“‘Nothing, madam.’

“‘Nothing’s up, you bad girl, but you get up even later today!’ Angry and upset, she grabbed a rolling pin and hit Kāḷī on the head, cracking it open.

“Then Kāḷī, with blood pouring from her cracked skull, denounced her mistress to the neighbors, ‘See, ladies, what the sweet one did! See what the patient one did! See what the calm one did! How on earth can she grab a rolling pin and hit her only maid on the head, cracking it open, just for getting up late?’

“Monks, then after some time the housewife Vedehikā got this bad reputation: ‘The housewife Vedehikā is fierce, mean, and not calm at all.’

“In the same way, monks, a monk may be the sweetest of the sweet, the most patient of the patient, the calmest of the calm, so long as he is not told bad words by others. But it’s when he is told bad words by others that you’ll know whether he’s really sweet, patient, and calm. Monks, I don’t say that a monk is obedient if he is obedient only for the sake of robes, alms food, lodgings, and medicines and supplies for the sick. Why is that? Because when he doesn’t get robes, alms food, lodgings, and medicines and supplies for the sick, he’s no longer patient. But when a monk is patient purely by honoring, respecting, revering, worshiping, and venerating the Dhamma, then I say that he’s patient. So, monks, you should train yourselves: ‘We will be patient, purely by honoring, respecting, revering, worshiping, and venerating the Dhamma.’ That’s how you should train.

Ways people might speak to us

“Monks, there are these five ways in which others might speak to you. Their speech may be 1) said at a good time or said at a bad time, 2) true or false, 3) gentle or harsh, 4) beneficial or harmful, 5) from a heart of love or from inner hate. When others speak to you, they may do so in any of these ways. If that happens, you should train like this: ‘Our minds will remain unaffected. We will speak no bad words. We will remain full of compassion, with a heart of loving-kindness and no inner hate. We will meditate spreading a heart of loving-kindness to that person. And with them as a basis, we will meditate spreading a heart full of loving-kindness to everyone in the world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of hate and ill will.’ That’s how you should train.

Removing the earth

“Monks, suppose a person was to come along carrying a shovel and basket and say, ‘I shall make this great earth be without earth!’ And he’d dig all over, scatter all over, spit all over, and urinate all over, saying, ‘Be without earth! Be without earth!’

“What do you think, monks? Could that person make this great earth be without earth?”

“No, Bhante. Why is that? Because this great earth is deep and limitless. It’s not easy to make it be without earth. That person will eventually get tired and frustrated.”

“In the same way, monks, there are these five ways in which others might speak to you. Their speech may be said at a good time or said at a bad time, true or false, gentle or harsh, beneficial or harmful, from a heart of love or from inner hate. When others speak to you, they may do so in any of these ways. If that happens, you should train like this: ‘Our minds will remain unaffected. We will speak no bad words. We will remain full of compassion, with a heart of loving-kindness and no inner hate. We will meditate spreading a heart of loving-kindness to that person. And with them as a basis, we will meditate spreading a heart full of loving-kindness to everyone in the world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of hate and ill will.’ That’s how you should train.

Painting in the sky

“Monks, suppose a person was to come along with yellow paint, blue paint or red paint, and say, ‘I shall draw pictures on the sky, making pictures appear there.’ What do you think, monks? Could that person draw pictures on the sky?”

“No, Bhante. Why is that? Because the sky is formless and invisible. It’s not easy to draw pictures there. That person will eventually get tired and frustrated.”

“In the same way, monks there are these five ways in which others might speak to you   …

Burning a river

“Suppose a person was to come along carrying a blazing grass torch, and say, ‘I shall burn and heat up the river Ganges with this blazing grass torch.’ What do you think, monks? Could that person burn and heat up the river Ganges with a blazing grass torch?”

“No, Bhante. Why is that? Because the river Ganges is deep and limitless. It’s not easy to burn and heat it up with a blazing grass torch. That person will eventually get tired and frustrated.”

“In the same way, monks, there are these five ways in which others might criticize you…

Cat skin bag

“Suppose there was a cat skin bag that was rubbed, well rubbed, very well rubbed, soft, silky, rid of rustling and crackling. Then a person comes along carrying a stick or a stone, and says, ‘I shall make this soft cat skin bag rustle and crackle with this stick or stone.’ What do you think, monks? Could that person make that soft cat skin bag rustle and crackle with that stick or stone?”

“No, Bhante. Why is that? Because that cat skin bag is rubbed, well rubbed, very well rubbed, soft, silky, rid of rustling and crackling. It’s not easy to make it rustle or crackle with a stick or stone. That person will eventually get tired and frustrated.”

“In the same way, monks, there are these five ways in which others might speak to you. Their speech may be said at a good time or said at a bad time, true or false, gentle or harsh, beneficial or harmful, from a heart of love or from inner hate. When others speak to you, they may do so in any of these ways. If that happens, you should train like this: ‘Our minds will remain unaffected. We will speak no bad words. We will remain full of compassion, with a heart of loving-kindness and no inner hate. We will meditate spreading a heart of loving-kindness to that person. And with them as a basis, we will meditate spreading a heart full of loving-kindness to everyone in the world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of hate and ill will.’ That’s how you should train.

Simile of the saw

“Even if robbers with a sharp saw were to cut your body into pieces, anyone who had an angry thought because of that would not be following my instructions. If that happens, you should train like this: ‘Our minds will remain unaffected. We will speak no bad words. We will remain full of compassion, with a heart of loving-kindness and no inner hate. We will meditate spreading a heart of loving-kindness to that person. And with them as a basis, we will meditate spreading a heart full of loving-kindness to everyone in the world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of hate and ill will.’ That’s how you should train.

“If you frequently reflect on this advice—the simile of the saw—do you see any bad word, large or small, that you could not put up with?”

“No, Bhante.”

“So, monks, you should frequently reflect on this advice, the simile of the saw. This will be for your lasting peace and happiness.”

That is what the Buddha said. Satisfied, the monks were happy with what the Buddha said.

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Majjhima Nikāya 21 Kakacūpama Sutta: The Simile of the Saw

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Questions for Reflection:

Have you ever had someone speak to you with bad words? Do you remember what happened in your mind?

Is there someone who always speaks badly to you? How can you plan to react the next time they do?

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