SOME SAYINGS OF THE BUDDHA – According to the Pali Canon

Homage to Him, The Exalted One, The Arhat, The All-Enlightened One


   ‘Now I, Bhikkhus, before my enlightenment, when I was not yet a perfected Buddha, but was a Bodhisattva, being myself still of nature to be born again – I sought after things that are of nature to be reborn.  Being myself of nature to decay, being subject to disease and death, being myself subject to sorrow, to the impurities, I sought after things of like nature.

   Then there came to me the thought:  ‘Why do I, being of nature to be reborn, being subject to death, to sorrow, to the impurities…  thus search after things of like nature?  What if I, being myself… of such nature, and seeing the disadvantage of what is subject to rebirth, were to search after the unsurpassed, perfect security which is Nirvana?  Being myself subject to decay, disease, death, sorrow, and the impurities, and seeing the disadvantage (of what is subject to these things), what if I were to search after the untainted, unsurpassed, perfect security, which is Nirvana?’

   Then I, Bhikkhus, some time after this, when I was a young lad, a black-haired stripling, endowed with happy youth,  in the first flush of manhood, against my father’s wish, who lamented with tearful eyes, I had the hair of  head and face shaved off, I donned the saffron robes, and I went forth from my home to the homeless life.

   Thus become a wanderer and a searcher for what is good, searching after the unsurpassed peaceful state most excellent, I approached Alara Kalama, and drawing near I said to Alara Kalama: ‘Friend Alara, I desire to live the holy life in this Norm-Discipline (of yours)…’

   (He then soon acquired all that Alara Kalama had to teach, the path of yoga for reaching in meditation the Realm of the Void, but no further. So leaving him he went to Rama, who took him a step further, to the realm where there is no more perception of anything.  Dissatisfied with this he went to Udaka, disciple of Rama, who professed to go a little further, but who, confessing that he could not go beyond a certain point, himself accepted Siddharta Gautama as his master.  So Sidharta Gautama resolved to struggle on alone to reach the Goal, the ‘incomparable security which is Nirvana’).


   ‘So I, Bhikkhus, thinking lightly of that teaching (of Alara and the others), being averse from that doctrine, went away.

   Then I, Bhikkhus, in my search for what is good, searching after the unsurpassed state of peace most excellent, while roaming about among the folk of Magadha, came to Uruvela, a suburb of the Captain of the Host.  There I beheld a lovely spot, a pleasant forest grove and a river of clear water flowing by, easy of access and delightful, and hard by was a village where I could beg my food.  Then, Bhikkhus, I thought thus:

   “Delightful in truth is this spot, pleasant this forest grove and this river of pure water flowing by, easy of access and delightful, and hard by was a village where I could beg my food.  Then, Bhikkhus, I thought thus:

   “Delightful in truth is this spot, pleasant this forest grove and this river of pure water flowing by, easy of access and delightful, and this village hard by where I can beg my food!  Truly a proper place is this for a clansman bent on striving for his welfare, to strive therein!’

   So, Bhikkhus, there and then I sat down, saying to myself:  ‘A proper place is this for striving in!’

   Then I, being of nature to be reborn, perceived the disadvantage of things of like nature… (as above)… and searching after the unsurpassed state of security, that is Nirvana, free from the impurities, I did attain unto the utter peace of Nirvana that is free from the impurities, so that the Knowledge arose in me, the Insight arose in me thus: ‘Sure is my release. This is my last birth. There is no more birth for me!’  [Majjhima-Nikaya, i. 166].


   ‘Then, Bhikkhus, I had this thought:

   ‘This Reality(1) that I have reached is profound, hard to see, hard to understand, excellent, preeminent, beyond the sphere of thinking, subtle and to be penetrated by the wise alone.

   But this world of men is attached to what it clings to, takes pleasure in what it clings to, delights in what it clings to.  Since then this world is thus attached (to things)… a hard task it is for them (to grasp)… namely, the Originating of things, by Dependence or Causes. (2)   A hard task it is for them to see the meaning of the fact that all activities may be set at rest, that all the bases of being may be left behind, the destruction of craving, Passionlessness, Cessation, which is Nirvana.

   Verily, if I were to teach them the Truth, this Reality, others would not understand, and that would be labour in vain for me, vexatious would it be to me.’

   (Then Brahma Sahampati, the great Deva, appeared and begged the Buddha to preach the Truth for the sake of a few.)


   Then said Brahma Sahampati:

   ‘Let my Lord the Exalted One teach the Truth; let the Happy One teach the Truth.  For there are some creatures whose sight is but little clouded with dust.  They are perishing through not hearing the Truth.  They will become knowers of the Truth.’  So spake Brahma Sahampati, and so saying added this further:

In Magadha was hitherto a Norm – A Norm not pure, by minds impure thought out.  Open this Door to what is ‘Deathless’ called.   Let men hear this Norm by the Pure discerned.

As standing on a rocky mountain-peak,  one may look down upon the folk below:  so, Wise One, climbing up the Norm-built steps,  do thou, with eye that seeth all around,  look down upon the folk in sorrow plunged –  Thou who art freed from sorrow – O look down  on folk by birth, age and decay overwhelmed.

Rise up, brave hear, victorious in battle,   Debt-freed, Band-Leader, roam through all the world!  Let the Exalted One show us the Norm! Hearing, there shall be some to understand.

Lo! the sage that drives away  the cloud of sloth by  heedfulness,  climbing up the heights of wisdom sorrowless looks down upon all the miserable beings,  as a hillman on the plains.  [Cf. Dhammapada, 28].


   ‘Then I, Bhikkhus, seeing the wish of Brahma Sahampati, out of compassion for all beings, looked down upon the world with the eye of a Buddha.  And as I looked down upon the world with a Buddha’s eye, I beheld beings whose eyes were but little clouded with dust, also beings whose eyes were much clouded with dust; beings of sharp wits and beings of dull wits, beings of good and beings of evil natures; beings docile and beings of stubborn sort, and some of these abode in understanding of the danger of lives to come and fear of evil deeds.

   As in a pond of lotuses blue and red and white, some plants which spring and grow in the water come not to the surface, but flourish underneath, and some spring and grow in the water and reach up to the surface; and yet others in like manner push up above the surface and are not wetted by the water – even so, Bhikkhus, did I, looking over the world with a Buddha’s eye, behold beings whose eyes were but little clouded with dust…  

   Then, Bhikkhus, did I make answer to Brahma Sahampati in verse:

Open for such is the Door to the Deathless State. Ye that have ears, renounce the creed ye hold!(3)

Conscious of danger in its depth, Brahma, I would not preach the Norm of Norms to men.'(4)



(*) – Note from Majjhima-Nikaya, i. 163 (Ariya-pariyesana-sutta or The Sutra of the Ariyan Searching).  The popular legend of the Great Renunciation is not in the Pali Tipitaka, but is based on the story of the young noble Yasa (Vinaya, i.7) and is expanded in Lalita Vistara and the late Commentary of the Jataka Tales.

(1) – Dhamma, The Norm, The Law, The Truth.

(2) – Paticca-samuppada.

(3) – Pamuncantu saddham – a much discussed phrase and wrongly translated by the early Pali scholars by ‘give faith’,  ‘put forth belief’, etc. – but it undoubtedly means ‘put away.’

(4) – Note – In other passages the Buddha has pointed out that if a Buddha give out occult truth to an unbelieving generation, harm befalls the man who rejects it.  E.g. Samyutta-Nikaya, ii. 261:- ‘I also, Bhikkhus, have seen these things before, yet I did not reveal them. I might have revealed it, and others would not have believed it.  Now, had they not believed me, it would have been to their loss and sorrow.’

(To be continued).


(Some Sayings of the Buddha – According to the Pali Canon, translated by F.L. Woodward, Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, Madras, 1925).