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Samyutta Nikaya
Kosala Saṁyutta

3.11 Satta Jatila Sutta
Seven Matted-Hair Ascetics

The Buddha explains how to judge a person’s character.

At one time, the Buddha was living in the city of Sāvatthī in the Eastern Monastery, which was called Pubbārāma, the mansion built by Migāra’s mother, Vishākā.

Then in the late afternoon, the Buddha finished his evening meditation and was sitting on the porch. Then King Pasenadi went up to the Buddha, bowed respectfully, and sat down to one side.

Now at that time seven matted-hair ascetics, seven Jain ascetics, seven naked ascetics, seven one-cloth ascetics, and seven wanderers passed by not far from the Buddha. Their armpits and bodies were hairy, and their nails were long; and they carried their stuff with shoulder-poles.

Then King Pasenadi got up from his seat, arranged his robe over one shoulder, knelt with his right knee on the ground, raised his joined palms towards those various ascetics, and pronounced his name three times: “Sirs, I am King Pasenadi! Sirs, I am King Pasenadi! Sirs, I am King Pasenadi!”

Then soon after those ascetics had left, King Pasenadi went up to the Buddha, bowed respectfully, sat down to one side, and said to him, “Bhante, some of those ascetics are enlightened and some are practising the path to enlightenment.”

“Great king, as a layman enjoying worldly pleasures, living at home with wives and children, using various perfumes, decorating the body with ornaments and flowers, using makeup, and using gold and money, it’s hard for you to know who is enlightened or who is on the path to enlightenment.

“Great king, you can only get to know a person’s virtue by living with him. But only after a long time, not casually; only when paying attention, not when inattentive; and only by the wise, not by the unwise.

“Great king, you can only get to know a person’s honesty by talking to him. But only after a long time, not casually; only when paying attention, not when inattentive; and only by the wise, not by the unwise.

“Great king, you can only get to know a person’s courage, in times of trouble. But only after a long time, not casually; only when paying attention, not when inattentive; and only by the wise, not by the unwise.

“Great king, you can only get to know a person’s wisdom by conversing with him. But only after a long time, not casually; only when paying attention, not when inattentive; and only by the wise, not by the unwise.”

“It’s incredible, bhante, it’s amazing, how well said this was by the Buddha! Bhante, those ascetics are my spies, my undercover agents returning after spying in different provinces. First they go undercover, and then I have them report to me. Bhante, soon they will wash off the dust and dirt, bathe, apply perfume, decorate hair and beard and dress in fashion. Then, they will entertain themselves surrounded by worldly pleasures.”

Then on that occasion the Buddha recited these verses in relation to this incident:

“It’s not easy to know a person by his or her appearance.
You shouldn’t trust them at first sight.
Because dishonest people live in this world
disguised as the honest.

“Like a clay bracelet coated with gold,
like a copper plate coated with gold,
they deceive others,
their lives are corrupt inside but impressive outside.”

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Saṁyutta Nikāya 3.11 Satta Jatila Sutta: Seven Matted-Hair Ascetics

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