Buddha 5

THE UNPROFITABLE QUESTIONS

 

Chûla Mâlunkya Sutta, Majjhima Nikâya

(1)

Thus have I heard.

(2)

On one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Sâvatthi, in the Jetavana monastery in Anâthapindika’s park.  And it happened that the venerable Mâlunkyaputta was sitting in  seclusion and absorbed in meditation,... thinking to himself:

(3)

There are some problems that the Blessed One has left unexplained....  If he will explain them to me...  I will lead the religious life under him;  if he will not explain them to me...  I will abandon religious training and return to the lower life of a layman...

(4)

At eventide the venerable Mâlunkyaputta arose from his seclusion and approached the Blessed One.  Having greeted the Blessed One, he sat down respectfully beside him...

[He spoke his mind to the Blessed One, who replied:]

(5)

Mâlunkyaputta, any one who says, I will not lead the religious life under the Blessed One until he explains to me:

whether the world is eternal or not eternal;

whether the world is finite or infinite;

whether the soul and the body are identical,

or the soul is one thing and the body another;

whether the arahat exists after death,

or the arahat does not exist after death,

or the arahat both exists and does not exist after death,

or the arahat neither exists nor does not exist after death;

that person would die, without the Tathâgata ever explaining these things for him.

(6)

It is like a man who has been wounded by a poisoned arrow, and his friends and his family fetch a physician or surgeon for him, but the patient says:  I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learned whether the man who wounded me belongs to the Kshatriya class, or the Brahmana class, or the Vaishya class, or the Shudra class. 

Or:  I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learned the name of the man who wounded me, and the clan he belongs to.

Or:  I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learned whether the man who wounded me was tall, or short, or of medium height.

Or:  I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learned whether the man who wounded me was black, brown, or yellow-skinned.

Or:... what village, or town, or city he comes from.

Or... the kind of bow that I was shot with,... the kind of bowstring used,... the type of arrow,... what sort of feather was used on the arrow, and what kind of material the point of the arrow was made of.

That man would die, Mâlunkyaputta, without ever having learned any of this.

(7)

In exactly the same way, Mâlunkyaputta, if someone says, I will not lead the religious life under the Blessed One until he explains to me:

either that the world is eternal,

or that the world is not eternal;

either that the world is finite,

or that the world is infinite;

either that the soul and the body are identical,

or that the soul is one thing and the body another;

either that the arahat exists after death,

or that the arahat does not exist after death,

or that the arahat both exists and does not exist after death,

or that the arahat neither exists nor does not exist after death,

that person would die without the Tathâgata ever having explained any of this to him.

(8)

The religious life, Mâlunkyaputta, does not depend on the doctrine that the world is eternal;  nor does the religious life depend on the doctrine that the world is not eternal. Whichever doctrine holds true, that the world is eternal or that the world is not eternal, there still remains the problem of birth, old age, death, sorrow, lamentation, misery, grief, and despair;  and I am giving a prescription for their extinction in the present life....

(9)

Therefore, Mâlunkyaputta, be aware of what I have not explained, and what I have explained.  And what are the things I have not explained?  I have not explained whether the world is eternal... [and so on].

(10)

And why, Mâlunkyaputta, have I not explained all this.  Because it is not profitable, nor does it relate to the fundamentals of the religious life, nor does it lead to aversion, detachment, cessation, tranquillity, supernatural faculties, supreme wisdom, and nibbana.  That is why I have not explained those things.

(11)

And what Mâlunkyaputta, are the things I have explained?  I have explained suffering (dukkha), the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path leading to the cessation of suffering.

(12)

And why, Maâunkyaputta, have I explained all this?  Because this is profitable, it relates to the fundamentals of the religious life, and leads to aversion, detachment, cessation, tranquillity, supernatural faculties, supreme wisdom, and nibbâna.  That is why I have explained those things.

NOTES

This is a free and abridged translation of the Chûla-Mâlunkya-Sutta, discourse 63 in the Majjhima-Nikâya section of the Sutta-Pitaka of the Pali Canon.  A complete translation is available in H.C. Warren, Buddhism in Translations, 117-122.  From this dialogue between Malunkyaputta and ‘the Blessed One’ (bhagavat), we learn that the Buddha was not concerned about metaphysical questions, but about the problem of dukkha (pain, suffering, misery) in this life, and nibbana (nirvana) in this life and beyond.  He uses an amusing parable about a wounded man who refuses to have a poisoned arrow taken out until all his questions about its source have been answered.  But if the surgeon is to save him, the patient will have to put all such irrelevant questions aside, or he will die in agony.  The ascetic Malunkyaputta seems to have learned his lesson from this encounter;  we are told elsewhere (Anguttara-Nikâya) that after further instruction from the Buddha he too became an arahat (achieved enlightenment).  Note that it is ‘the four noble truths’ that the Buddha is intent on explaining (in 11-12).  


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