Samaññaphala Sutta

The Samaññaphala Sutta is the second discourse (Pali, sutta; Skt., sutra) of all 34 Digha Nikaya discourses. The title means, "The Fruit of Contemplative Life Discourse."

In terms of narrative, this discourse tells the story of King Ajatasattu, son and successor of King Bimbisara of Magadha, who posed the following question to many leading Indian spiritual teachers: What is the benefit of living a contemplative life? After being dissatisfied with the answers provided by these other teachers, the king posed this question to the Buddha whose answer motivated the king to become a lay follower of the Buddha.

In terms of Indian philosophy and spiritual doctrines, this discourse:

Thanissaro Bhikkhu refers to this discourse as "one of the masterpieces of the Pali canon."[1]


The king's unrest

Upon a bright uposatha night, King Ajatasattu, monarch of Magadha Kingdom, who was in the mood to hear a Dhamma discourse, asked his ministers if there was any worthy teacher "who might enlighten and bring peace to our mind."[2] The ministers in turn suggested that the monarch visited a variety of teachers, all of whom the King rejected by being silent. But when the King's physician, Jivaka, who was silent all the time, was asked if he could suggest a teacher to visit, the physician quickly replied that the Buddha was currently staying in the physician's mango groves.

The King immediately agreed to go there. After preparing the elephants and his followers, the King rode to the mango groves. Yet, upon arriving on the Groves, the King was suddenly overcome with worry and doubt. The hairs on his body even stood up as he felt an agonizing fear. He asked his physician nervously and suspiciously, "Are you not deceiving me, Jivaka? Do you not betray me and hand my life to the enemies? How come it happens that there is not a single sound heard at all, not even coughs or sneezes in the huge group of 1,250 Sangha monks?"

To answer his majesty's paranoia, the physician calmly reassured the monarch, "Do not worry, your Majesty. I am not lying, or deceiving, or betraying you to your enemies. Proceed on, your Majesty! There, in the Hall, where the lights are lit."

The King proceeded and when he entered the Hall, he had difficulty in spotting where the Buddha was. To his king's aid, Jivaka answered that the Buddha was sitting on the back of a pillar, surrounded by his disciples.

The King then approached the Buddha and gave his salutation. Then, while standing, he saw how the Monks sat in silence, calm like a still, waveless lake. He exclaimed: "Can my beloved son, Udayi Bhadda, possess such calmness and composure as the Monks show me now?"

The Buddha asked him, "If so, Your Majesty, how do you direct your mind towards compassion and love?"

"Bhante, I love my son very dearly, and I wish for him to possess the calmness as like the monks have now." The Monarch then prostrated himself towards the Buddha, clasped his palms in salutation to the monks, and then proceeded to sit on the Buddha's side. The monarch then asked, "If my teacher doesn't mind, may I ask you a question?"

"Ask what you want to ask, King."

The king's questioning of six ascetics

The views of six samaṇa in the Pāli Canon
(based on the Buddhist text Sāmaññaphala Sutta1)
Śramaṇa view (diṭṭhi)1
Amoralism: denies any reward or
punishment for either good or bad deeds.

Fatalism: we are powerless;
suffering is pre-destined.

live happily;
with death, all is annihilated.
Sassatavada (Eternalism):
Matter, pleasure, pain and the soul are eternal and
do not interact.

Restraint: be endowed with, cleansed by
and suffused with the avoidance of all evil.2

Agnosticism: "I don't think so. I don't think in that
way or otherwise. I don't think not or not not."
Suspension of judgement.
Notes: 1. DN 2 (Thanissaro, 1997; Walshe, 1995, pp. 91-109).
2. DN-a (Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi, 1995, pp. 1258-59, n. 585).

The King asks, "Bhante (Teacher), there are a number of skills and talents, such as: elephant-drivers, chariot-drivers, horse riders, archers, palanquin bearers, army commander's adjutants, royal officers, soldiers, warriors with elephant's courage, heroes, fighters, troops in deer-skin uniform, slaves, cooks and chefs, barbers, bathers, bakers, florists, launderers, weavers, crafters, potters, mathematicians, accountants, and many other skills. In their current life, they enjoy the real fruits of their skills. They support their life, their family, parents, and friends with their skills in happiness and welfare. They donate high-valued gifts and offerings to the Brahmins and the ascetics, giving them rewards of a joyful next life in heaven, and other joys. Can the Bhante instruct me in what are the real benefits of a contemplative life in this current life?"

The Buddha then replied, "Your Majesty, have you ever asked this question to any other teachers, brahmins, or ascetics?"

The King replied by repeating what each of six revered ascetic teachers allegedly[3] told him. (These responses are summarized in the adjacent table.) The king found each of these answers to be dissatisfying: "Just as if a person, when asked about a mango, were to answer with a breadfruit; or, when asked about a breadfruit, were to answer with a mango."

The Buddhist fruit of the contemplative life

The Buddha then elaborated on his perspective regarding the benefits of the contemplative life, moving from the material to the spiritual:[4]

Upon hearing the Buddha's explanation, King Ajatasattu declared himself a lay follower of the Buddha.

The king's patricide and its karmic consequences

The king then confessed that he himself had killed his own father so as to become king. The Buddha replied:

"Yes, great king, a transgression overcame you in that you were so foolish, so muddle-headed, and so unskilled as to kill your father — a righteous man, a righteous king — for the sake of sovereign rulership. But because you see your transgression as such and make amends in accordance with the Dhamma, we accept your confession. For it is a cause of growth in the Dhamma & Discipline of the noble ones when, seeing a transgression as such, one makes amends in accordance with the Dhamma and exercises restraint in the future."[2]

The Buddha subsequently declared: "... Had [King Ajatasattu] not killed his father [King Bimbisara] — that righteous man, that righteous king — the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye would have arisen to him as he sat in this very seat."[6]


See also


  1. In the introduction to his translation, Thanissaro (1997) states:
    "This discourse is one of the masterpieces of the Pali canon. At heart, it is a comprehensive portrait of the Buddhist path of training, illustrating each stage of the training with vivid similes. This portrait is placed in juxtaposition to the Buddhist view of the teachings of rival philosophical teachers of the time, showing how the Buddha — in contradistinction to the inflexible, party-line approach of his contemporaries — presented his teaching in a way that was pertinent and sensitive to the needs of his listeners. This larger portrait of the intellectual landscape of early Buddhist India is then presented in a moving narrative frame: the sad story of King Ajatasattu."
  2. 1 2 Thanissaro (1997).
  3. The king's recollection and/or the Canon's recording of the non-Buddhist ascetics' statements can be viewed with some caution. For instance, Walshe (1995), p. 545 n. 115, notes that the king's restatements of the alleged response by Nigantha Nataputta (which is the Pali Canon's appellation for the Jain's seminal leader, Mahavira) "do not represent the genuine Jain teaching but seem to parody it in punning form." Moreover, Walshe further states that the "reference to one 'free from bonds' [the literal meaning of Nigantha] and yet bound by these [aforementioned] restraints (whatever they are) is a deliberate paradox." These same statements of parody/paradox are found in MN 56, Upāli Sutta.
  4. For instance, Thanissaro (1997) notes in the introduction to his translation: "The question [the king] puts to the Buddha shows the limited level of his own understanding, so the Buddha patiently describes the steps of the training, beginning at a very basic level and gradually moving up, as a way of raising the king's spiritual horizons."
  5. This and all subsequent quotes on this list are from Thanissaro (1997).
  6. Thanissaro (1997). Based on the Pali commentarial literature and tradition, Thanissaro (1997) provides additional details about the king's life: after the Buddha's death, King Ajatasattu sponsored the First Buddhist Council; King Ajatasattu was ultimately killed by his own son, Udayibhadda; because of King Ajatasattu's killing of his own father, upon King Ajatasattu's death he is immediately destined for a hell realm; and yet because of King Ajatasattu's merit in sponsoring the Council, after the hell realm the former king is to be reborn as a human and awakened as a pratyekabuddha.


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