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Majjhima Nikaya

Majjhima Nikāya
82 Raṭṭhapāla Sutta
With Arahant Raṭṭhapāla

A young man becomes a monk and teaches a King about the true nature of life.

Raṭṭhapāla meets the Supreme Buddha

This is how I heard. At one time the Blessed One was wandering in the land of the Kurus together with a large Saṅgha of monks when he arrived at a town of the Kurus named Thullakoṭṭhita.

The people of Thullakoṭṭhita heard, “It seems the ascetic Gotama—a Sakyan, gone forth from a Sakyan family—has arrived at Thullakoṭṭhita, together with a large Saṅgha of monks. He has this good reputation:

itipi so bhagavā arahaṃ sammāsambuddho vijjācaraṇasampanno sugato lokavidū anuttaro purisadammasārathi satthā devamanussānaṃ buddho bhagavā’ti

“‘That Blessed One is liberated, self-enlightened, has true knowledge and pure conduct, attained Nibbāna, knower of worlds, supreme trainer of beings, teacher of gods and humans, the most generous and the most fortunate.’

“He has realized with his own insight this world—with its gods, Māras and Brahmās, this population with its ascetics and brahmins, gods and humans—and he makes it known to others. He teaches Dhamma that’s good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end, meaningful and well phrased. And he reveals a spiritual practice that’s entirely full and pure. It’s good to see such arahants.”

Then the people  of Thullakoṭṭhita went up to the Blessed One. Before sitting down to one side, some bowed, some exchanged greetings and polite conversation, some held up their joined palms toward the Blessed One, some announced their name and clan, while some kept silent. When they were seated, the Blessed One educated, encouraged, fired up, and inspired them with a Dhamma talk.

Now at that time a young man named Raṭṭhapāla, the son of the leading family in Thullakoṭṭhita, was sitting in the group of people. He thought, “As I understand the Blessed One’s teachings, it’s not easy for someone living at home to lead the spiritual life completely full and pure, like a polished shell. Why don’t I cut off my hair and beard, dress in orange robes, and become a monk?”

Then, having approved and agreed with what the Blessed One said, the people  of Thullakoṭṭhita got up from their seat, bowed, and respectfully circled the Blessed One, keeping him on their right, before leaving.

Soon after they left, Raṭṭhapāla went up to the Blessed One, bowed, sat down to one side, and said to him, “Bhante, as I understand the Blessed One’s teachings, it’s not easy for someone living at home to lead the spiritual life completely full and pure, like a polished shell. I wish to cut off my hair and beard, dress in orange robes, and become a monk. Bhante, may I receive the going forth, the ordination in front of the Blessed One? May the Blessed One please ordain me!”

“But, Raṭṭhapāla, do you have your parents’ permission?”

“No, bhante.”

“Raṭṭhapāla, Tathāgatās don’t ordain the child of parents who haven’t given their permission.”

“I’ll make sure, bhante, to get my parents’ permission.”

Then Raṭṭhapāla got up from his seat, bowed, and respectfully circled the Blessed One. 

Getting permission to ordain

Then he went to his parents and said, “Mother and father, as I understand the Blessed One’s teachings, it’s not easy for someone living at home to lead the spiritual life completely full and pure, like a polished shell. I wish to cut off my hair and beard, dress in orange robes, and become a monk. Please give me permission to become a monk.”

When he said this, Raṭṭhapāla’s parents said to him, “But, dear Raṭṭhapāla, you’re our only child. You’re dear to us and we love you. You’re delicate and raised in comfort. You know nothing of suffering. Raṭṭhapāla! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. While enjoying sensual pleasures, be happy in making merit. We don’t allow you to become a monk. We don’t even want to die leaving you here. So how can we allow you to become a monk while we’re still alive?”

For a second time, and a third time, Raṭṭhapāla asked his parents for permission, but got the same reply.

Then Raṭṭhapāla thought, “My parents don’t allow me to become a monk.” He laid down there on the bare ground, saying, “I’ll either die right here or go forth.” And he refused to eat, up to the seventh meal.

Then Raṭṭhapāla’s parents said to him, “Dear Raṭṭhapāla, you’re our only child. You’re dear to us and we love you. You’re delicate and raised in comfort. You know nothing of suffering. We don’t even want to die leaving you here. So how can we allow you to become a monk while you’re still living? Get up, Raṭṭhapāla! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. While enjoying sensual pleasures, be happy in making merit. We don’t allow you to become a monk. We don’t even want to die leaving you here. So how can we allow you to become a monk while you’re still alive?”

When they said this, Raṭṭhapāla kept silent.

For a second time, and a third time, Raṭṭhapāla’s parents made the same request.

And for a third time, Raṭṭhapāla kept silent. Raṭṭhapāla’s parents then went to see his friends. They told them of the situation and asked for their help.

Then Raṭṭhapāla’s friends went to him and said, “Our friend Raṭṭhapāla, you are your parents’ only child. You’re dear to them and they love you. You’re delicate and raised in comfort. You know nothing of suffering. They don’t even want to die leaving you here. So how can they allow you to become a monk while you’re still alive? Get up, Raṭṭhapāla! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. While enjoying sensual pleasures, be happy in making merit. Your parents will not allow you to become a monk. They don’t even want to die leaving you here. So how can they allow you to become a monk while you’re still alive?”

When they said this, Raṭṭhapāla kept silent.

For a second time, and a third time, Raṭṭhapāla’s friends made the same request. And for a third time, Raṭṭhapāla kept silent.

Then Raṭṭhapāla’s friends went to his parents and said, “Mother and father, Raṭṭhapāla is lying there on the bare ground saying: ‘I’ll either die right here or go forth.’ If you don’t allow him to go forth, he’ll die there. But if you do allow him to go forth, you’ll see him again afterwards. And if he doesn’t enjoy the monk life, where else will he have to go? He’ll come right back here. Please give Raṭṭhapāla permission to go forth.”

“Then dears, we give Raṭṭhapāla permission to become a monk. But once ordained he must visit his parents.”

Then Raṭṭhapāla’s friends went to him and said, “Get up, Raṭṭhapāla! Your parents have given you permission to go forth from lay life to homelessness. But once ordained you must visit your parents.”

Raṭṭhapāla got up and regained his strength. 

Arahant Raṭṭhapāla achieves his goal

He went to the Blessed One, bowed respectfully, sat down to one side, and said to him, “Bhante, I have my parents’ permission to become a monk. May the Blessed One please ordain me.”

And Raṭṭhapāla received the ordination in front of the Blessed One. Not long after Venerable Raṭṭhapāla’s ordination, two weeks later, the Blessed One—having stayed in Thullakoṭṭhita as long as he wished—set out for Sāvatthī. Traveling stage by stage, he arrived at Sāvatthī, where he stayed in Jeta’s garden, Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery.

Then Venerable Raṭṭhapāla, living alone, withdrawn, diligent, passionate, and firm, soon realized the supreme goal of the spiritual path in this very life. He achieved with his own wisdom the goal for which a son would leave the lay life to become a monk.

He realized: “Rebirth has ended. The spiritual journey has been completed. What had to be done to end suffering has been done. There will be no rebirth.” Therefore, Venerable Raṭṭhapāla became one of the liberated monks.

Then he went up to the Blessed One, bowed respectfully, sat down to one side, and said to the Blessed One, “Bhante, I’d like to visit my parents, if the Blessed One allows it.”

Then the Blessed One focused on understanding Venerable Raṭṭhapāla’s mind. When he knew that it was impossible for Venerable Raṭṭhapāla to reject the monkshood and return to lay life which is low, the Blessed One said, “Please, Raṭṭhapāla, go at your convenience.”

And then Venerable Raṭṭhapāla got up from his seat, bowed, and respectfully circled the Blessed One, keeping him on his right. 

The visit back home

Then he set his lodgings in order and, taking his bowl and robe, set out for Thullakoṭṭhita. Traveling stage by stage, he arrived at Thullakoṭṭhika, where he stayed in King Koravya’s Migācira garden. Then Raṭṭhapāla dressed in the morning and, taking his bowl and robe, entered Thullakoṭṭhita village for alms. Wandering through every house on the street for alms food, he approached his own father’s house.

Now at that time Venerable Raṭṭhapāla’s father was having his hair done in the hall of the middle floor. He saw Venerable Raṭṭhapāla coming off in the distance and said, “Our dear and beloved only son was made to go forth by these shavelings, these fake monks!” And at his own father’s house Raṭṭhapāla received neither alms nor a polite refusal, but only abuse.

Now at that time a family slave wanted to throw away the previous night’s porridge. So Venerable Raṭṭhapāla said to her, “If that’s to be thrown away, sister, pour it here in my bowl.” As she was pouring the porridge into his bowl, she recognized the features of his hands, feet, and voice.

She then went to his mother and said, “Please, madam, you should know this. My lord Raṭṭhapāla has arrived.”

“Wow! If you speak the truth, I’ll make you a free woman!”

Then Venerable Raṭṭhapāla’s mother went to his father and said, “Please householder, you should know this. It seems our son Raṭṭhapāla has arrived.”

Now at that time Venerable Raṭṭhapāla was eating last night’s porridge leaning against a wall. Then Venerable Raṭṭhapāla’s father went up to him and said, “Dear Raṭṭhapāla! You’re eating last night’s porridge! Why not go to your own home?”

“Householder, how could those of us who have gone forth from the lay life to homelessness have a house? We’re homeless, householder. I came to your house, but there I received neither alms nor a polite refusal, but only abuse.”

“Come, dear Raṭṭhapāla, let’s go to the house.”

“Enough, householder. My meal is finished for today.”

“Well then, dear Raṭṭhapāla, please accept tomorrow’s meal from me.” Venerable Raṭṭhapāla consented in silence.

The father prepares a trap

Then knowing that Raṭṭhapāla had consented, his father went back to his own house. He made a heap of gold coins and gold bars and hid it under mats. Then he addressed Raṭṭhapāla’s former wives, “Please, daughters-in-law, decorate yourselves in the way that our son Raṭṭhapāla found you most adorable.”

And when the night had passed, Venerable Raṭṭhapāla’s father had a variety of delicious foods prepared in his own home, and announced the time to the Venerable Raṭṭhapāla, saying, “Sir, it’s time. The meal is ready.”

Then Venerable Raṭṭhapāla dressed in the morning, taking his bowl and robe, went to his father’s home, and sat down on the seat spread out. Venerable Raṭṭhapāla’s father, revealing the heap of gold coins and gold bars, said to him, “Dear Raṭṭhapāla, this is your wealth from your mother’s side. This is from your father’s side, and one from your ancestors. You can both enjoy your wealth and make merit. Come, return to lay life, enjoy wealth, and make merit!”

“If you’d follow my advice, householder, you’d have this heap of gold loaded on a cart and carried away to be dumped in the middle of the Ganges river. Why is that? Because this will bring you nothing but stress, crying, pain, sadness and anxiety”

Then Venerable Raṭṭhapāla’s former wives each grabbed his feet and said, “What are they like, lord, the nymphs for whom you lead the spiritual life?”

“Sisters, I don’t lead the spiritual life for the sake of nymphs.”

Saying, “Our lord Raṭṭhapāla refers to us as sisters!” they fainted right away.

Then Venerable Raṭṭhapāla said to his father, “If there is food to be given, householder, please give it. But don’t harass me.”

“Eat, dear Raṭṭhapāla. The meal is ready.” Then Venerable Raṭṭhapāla’s father served and satisfied Venerable Raṭṭhapāla with his own hands with a variety of delicious foods.

When he had eaten and washed his hand and bowl, he recited these verses while standing right there:

“See the true nature of this body, which is created by putting together tendons and bones, even though it seems to be like a beautiful painted puppet. Foolish people delight in and appreciate this body. This body is subject to diseases and doesn’t have any permanent stability.

“One should see the true nature of this body even though it is decorated with jewels and ornaments. This skeleton wrapped up in skin is made attractive by its clothes.

“The feet are painted with colours and the mouth produces fragrances having chewed mint. These things are enough to trick a fool but do nothing for one who seeks Nibbāna.

“The hair is braided stylishly, and the eyes are painted with makeup. These things are enough to trick a fool but do nothing for one who seeks Nibbāna.

“This filthy body is kept as a nicely decorated pot. This is enough to trick a fool but does nothing for one who seeks Nibbāna.

“The deer hunter set out the traps, but the deer did not get caught by the trap. While the deer trapper was crying, having eaten the bait, we left quickly.

Then Venerable Raṭṭhapāla, having spoken these verses while standing, went to King Koravya’s Migācira garden and sat at the root of a tree for the day’s meditation.

The king meets the Arahant Raṭṭhapāla

Then King Koravya addressed his gamekeeper, “My good groundskeeper, tidy up the Migācira garden. We will go to see the scenery.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” replied the groundskeeper. While tidying the Migācira garden, he saw Raṭṭhapāla sitting in meditation. Seeing this, he went to the king, and said, “The Migācira garden is tidy, sire. And the gentleman named Raṭṭhapāla, the son of the leading family in Thullakoṭṭhita, of whom you have often spoken highly, is meditating there at the root of a tree.”

“Well then, my good groundskeeper, that’s enough of going to see the scenery for today. Now I shall go to see the Master Raṭṭhapāla.”

And then King Koravya said, “Give away all the different foods that have been prepared there.” He had the finest carriages harnessed. Then he mounted a fine carriage and, along with other fine carriages, set out in full royal pomp from Thullakoṭṭhita to see Venerable Raṭṭhapāla. He went by carriage as far as the ground allowed, then got down and approached Venerable Raṭṭhapāla on foot, together with a group of eminent officials. They exchanged greetings, and when the greetings and polite conversation were over, he stood to one side, and said to Venerable Raṭṭhapāla:

“Here, Master Raṭṭhapāla, sit on this elephant rug.”

“Enough, Great King, you sit on it. I’m sitting on my own seat.”

Four kinds of Failure

So the king sat down on the seat spread out, and said, “Master Raṭṭhapāla, there are these four kinds of failure in the world. Because of these, some people shave off their hair and beard, dress in orange robes, and go forth from the lay life to homelessness. What four?

  1. Failure due to old age,
  2. failure due to sickness,
  3. failure of losing wealth, and
  4. failure of losing relatives.

“And what is the failure due to old age? It’s when someone is old, elderly, and senior, advanced in years, and has reached the final stage of life. They reflect: ‘I’m now old, elderly, and senior. I’m advanced in years and have reached the final stage of life. It’s not easy for me to get more wealth or to increase the wealth I’ve already gotten. Why don’t I shave off my hair and beard, dress in orange robes, and go forth from lay life to homelessness?’ So because of that failure due to old age, they go forth. This is called the failure due to old age. But Master Raṭṭhapāla is now a youth, young, black-haired, blessed with youth, in the prime of life. You have no failure due to old age. So what did you know or see or hear that made you become a monk?

“And what is the failure due to sickness? It’s when someone is sick, suffering, seriously ill. They reflect: ‘I’m now sick, suffering, seriously ill. It’s not easy for me to get more wealth or to increase the wealth I’ve already gotten. Why don’t I go forth from  lay life to homelessness?’ So because of that failure due to sickness, they go forth. This is called the failure due to sickness. But Master Raṭṭhapāla is now rarely ill or unwell. Your stomach digests well, being neither too hot nor too cold. You have no failure due to sickness. So what did you know or see or hear that made you become a monk?

“And what is the failure of losing wealth? It’s when someone is rich, affluent, and wealthy. But gradually their wealth decreases. They reflect: ‘I used to be rich, affluent, and wealthy. But gradually my wealth has decreased. It’s not easy for me to get more wealth or to increase the wealth I’ve already gotten. Why don’t I go forth from  lay life to homelessness?’ So because of that failure of losing wealth, they go forth. This is called failure of losing wealth. But Master Raṭṭhapāla is the son of the leading family here in Thullakoṭṭhita. You have no failure of losing wealth. So what did you know or see or hear that made you become a monk?

“And what is the failure of losing relatives? It’s when someone has many friends and associates, relatives and kin. But gradually their relatives dwindle away. They reflect: ‘I used to have many friends and associates, relatives and kin. But gradually they’ve dwindled away. It’s not easy for me to get more wealth or to increase the wealth I’ve already gotten. Why don’t I shave off my hair and beard, dress in orange robes, and go forth from lay life to homelessness?’ So because of that failure of losing relatives, they go forth. This is called failure of losing relatives. But Master Raṭṭhapāla has many friends and colleagues, relatives and kin right here in Thullakoṭṭhita. You have no decay of relatives. So what did you know or see or hear that made you become a monk?

“There are these four kinds of failure . Because of these, some people shave off their hair and beard, dress in orange robes, and go forth from the lay life to homelessness. Master Raṭṭhapāla has none of these. So what did you know or see or hear that made you become a monk?”

Four themes of the Dhamma

“Great King, the Blessed One who knows the truth and sees the truth, the Arahant, the fully awakened Buddha has taught these four themes of the Dhamma. It was after knowing and seeing and hearing these that I became a monk.

“What four?

  1. ‘All beings are swept away toward old age and death. Therefore, the world is unstable.’ This is the first theme.
  2. ‘Life is insecure and everything is out of one’s control.’ This is the second theme.
  3. ‘We own nothing—we  must leave it all behind and pass on.’ This is the third theme.
  4. ‘Something is lacking in everybody’s life, no one is fully satisfied, beings are slaves of craving.’ This is the fourth theme.

“The Blessed One who knows and sees, the Arahant, the fully awakened Buddha taught these four themes of the Dhamma. It was after knowing and seeing and hearing these that I became a monk.”

All beings are swept away

“‘All beings are swept away toward old age and death. Therefore, the world is unstable.’ So Master Raṭṭhapāla said. How should I see the meaning of this statement?”

“What do you think, Great King? When you were twenty or twenty-five years of age, were you skilled at riding elephants, horses, and chariots, and at archery? Were you strong in thigh and arm, capable, and battle-hardened?”

“I was, Master Raṭṭhapāla. Sometimes it seems as if I had superpowers then. I didn’t see anyone who could have equalled me in strength.”

“What do you think, Great King? Are you just as strong in thigh and arm, capable, and battle-hardened these days too?”

“No, Master Raṭṭhapāla. For now I am old, elderly, and senior, I’m advanced in years and have reached the final stage of life. I am eighty years old. Sometimes I intend to step in one place, but my foot goes somewhere else.”

“This is what the Blessed One was referring to when he said: ‘All beings are swept away toward old age and death. Therefore, the world is unstable.’ And it was after knowing and seeing and hearing this that I became a monk.”

“It’s incredible, Master Raṭṭhapāla, it’s amazing, how well said this was by the Blessed One. For all beings are indeed swept away toward old age and death. Therefore, the world is unstable.

Life is insecure

“Master Raṭṭhapāla, in this royal court you can find divisions of elephants, cavalry, chariots, and infantry. They will serve to defend us from any threats. Yet you said: ‘Life is insecure and everything is out of one’s control.’ How should I see the meaning of this statement?”

“What do you think, Great King? Do you have any illnesses that never go away?”

“Yes, I do have an illness caused by the disorder of wind. Sometimes my friends and colleagues, relatives and family members surround me, thinking: ‘Now the king will die! Now the king will die!’”

“What do you think, Great King? Can you get your friends and colleagues, relatives and family members to help: ‘Please, my dear friends and colleagues, relatives and family members, all of you here share my pain so that I may feel less pain.’ Or must you alone feel that pain?”

“I can’t get my friends to share my pain. Rather, I alone must feel it.”

“This is what the Blessed One was referring to when he said: ‘Life is insecure and everything is out of one’s control.’ And it was after knowing and seeing and hearing this that I became a monk.”

“It’s incredible, Master Raṭṭhapāla, it’s amazing, how well said this was by the Blessed One. For life indeed is insecure and everything is out of one’s control.

We own nothing

“Master Raṭṭhapāla, in this royal court you can find abundant gold coin and gold bars stored in dungeons and towers. Yet you said: ‘We own nothing—we must leave it all behind and pass on.’ How should I see the meaning of this statement?”

“What do you think, Great King? These days you entertain yourself, supplied and provided with the five kinds of sensual pleasures. But is there any way to ensure that in the next life you will continue to entertain yourself in the same way, supplied and provided with the same five kinds of sensual pleasures? Or will others make use of this property, while you pass on according to your kamma?”

“Master Raṭṭhapāla, there’s no way to ensure that I will continue to entertain myself in the same way. Rather, others will take over this property, while I pass on according to my kamma.”

“This is what the Blessed One was referring to when he said: ‘We own nothing—we must leave it all behind and pass on.’ And it was after knowing and seeing and hearing this that I became a monk.”

“It’s incredible, Master Raṭṭhapāla, it’s amazing, how well said this was by the Blessed One. For we own nothing—we must leave it all behind and pass on.

Something is lacking

“Master Raṭṭhapāla, you also said this: ‘Something is lacking in everybody’s life, no one is fully satisfied, beings are slaves of craving.’ How should I see the meaning of this statement?”

“What do you think, Great King? Do you live in the prosperous land of Kuru?”

“Indeed I do, Master Raṭṭhapāla.”

“What do you think, Great King? Suppose a trustworthy and reliable man were to come from the east. He’d approach you and say: ‘Please sir, you should know this. I come from the east. There I saw a large country that is successful and prosperous and full of people. They have many divisions of elephants, cavalry, chariots, and infantry. And there’s plenty of money and grain, plenty of gold coins and gold bars, both worked and unworked, and plenty of women for the taking. With your current forces you can conquer it. Conquer it, Great King!’ What would you do?”

“I would conquer it and rule.”

“What do you think, Great King? Suppose a trustworthy and reliable man were to come from the west, north, south, or from over the ocean. He’d approach you and say the same thing. What would you do?”

“I would conquer it and rule.”

“This is what the Blessed One was referring to when he said: ‘Something is lacking in everybody’s life, no one is fully satisfied, beings are slaves of craving.’ And it was after knowing and seeing and hearing this that I became a monk.”

“It’s incredible, Master Raṭṭhapāla, it’s amazing, how well said this was by the Blessed One. For something is lacking in everybody’s life, no one is fully satisfied, beings are slaves of craving.”

This is what Venerable Raṭṭhapāla said. Then he went on to say:

“I have seen the wealthy people in this world. When they obtain wealth, they become deluded. They don’t give it away to anybody. Having gathered wealth greedily, they desire more and more sensual pleasures.

“A king who has conquered all the land on this shore and rules over the ocean-bound world is still unsatisfied. He hungers to rule over a country even beyond the ocean.

“That king and many other people die with craving. They give up their life unsatisfied. There is no satisfaction in this world from sensual pleasures.

“When someone dies, their relatives with messy hair, mourn over them. They say, ‘Oh, may our relative become immortal!’ Then they carry the dead body out, wrap it in a cloth, place it on a pile of wood and burn it. Leaving his entire wealth, wrapped in a single cloth and poked by spears, he burns. When he dies, neither his relatives nor his friends can protect him.

“Heirs take his wealth. He went on his journey after death according to his actions but his wealth does not follow him, nor does his wife, children or country.

“One does not obtain long life by wealth, nor does one escape from old age by riches. That is why wise sages say that this life is short, non-eternal and subject to change.

“The rich and the poor both feel the contact of senses through objects. The wise and the fool both feel the contact of senses through objects. But the fool, due to his lack of wisdom, suffers by that contact and sleeps uncomfortably. The wise sage is not shaken by any contact.

“Therefore, it is very clear that wisdom is better than wealth. It is through this very wisdom one can end suffering. But the beings who have clung to this existence commit evil deeds due to their delusion.

“After death they again fall into saṁsāra, suffering. They come again into a womb. Those who approve of others’ misdeeds also fall into the same tragedy.

“A thief, who is caught, suffers because of his own evil deed. In the same way, beings suffer in the next world because of their own evil deeds.

“Dear king, it is true that these sensual pleasures are sweet, delightful and attractive. But they disturb the mind by their various forms. Having understood this danger of sensual pleasures, I became a monk.

“Young and old, everybody dies as fruits fall from a tree. Dear  king, having seen how people die, I became a monk. The monk life is very peaceful and highly praised by the wise.”

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Majjhima Nikāya 82 Raṭṭhapāla Sutta: With Arahant Raṭṭhapāla

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Further Reading:

  • You can read all of Arahant Raṭṭhapāla's verses at Thag 16.4

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