Sutta Nipāta

Nālaka Sutta

3.11. The Sages Asita and Nālaka and the Buddha’s advice

Prologue—Telling the story

Narrator
In midday meditation the sage Asita saw
brilliantly arrayed the thrice-ten deva troop,
happy and joyful waving flags the while,
with Sakka their superior all highly elated.
Then when he had seen the devas so delighted
respectfully he greeted them and questioned them like this:

Why is this deva-Saṅgha so exceedingly joyful
they’ve brought along banners for brandishing about?
Even when the devas battled anti-gods
with a win for deva-hosts, and loss for demon-hordes,
then was no such celebration— so what have devas seen?
What wonder have they heard? Why devas are delighted?
They whistle and they sing, clap hands and strum sitars;
with dancing and with music, so they celebrate.
O you deva-dwellers on Meru’s airy peaks,
I beg you, good sirs, soon dispel my doubts.

Devas
A Bodhisattva has been born in the Sakyans’ city,
in lands along Lumbini. Precious gem beyond compare,
for the weal and welfare of those in the human realm.
That’s why we’re delighted and completely overjoyed.
He, best being of all, foremost among mankind,
mighty bull among men, of creatures all supreme,
will revolve the wheel in ancient seers’ woods,
likened to a roaring lion, mightiest of beasts.

Narrator
Having known this news, then the sage in haste
in mind descended to Suddhodana’s abode,
sat he down and said:

Asita Where then is this prince? I wish to see him now!

Narrator
So Sakyans he beseeched.
Then to him Asita named did Sakyans show their son,
the prince in colour clear as rays from shining gold,
burnished and illustrious both of supernal hue.
Joy with rapture great filled Asita’s heart
on perceiving this young prince, bright as crested flame,
pure like the lunar lord stars herding through the sky,
dazzling as the sun on cloudless autumn days.
Sky beings all above carried canopy of state
of many-tiered parasols as well as gold-handled whisks—
but no one saw the bearers of the whisks and parasols.
The sage with dreadlocked hair, also Kaṇhasiri called,
seeing then the prince— golden jewel upon brocade,
white parasols of state held above his head—
received him in his arms with gladdened mind and joy.
As soon as he received the foremost Sakyan man,
he, skilled in lore of signs and mastery of mantras,
exclaimed:

Asita
Highest, unexcelled among the race of men!

Narrator
But recollected then that soon, so soon, he’d die.
Seeing the sobbing prince, the Sakyans asked of him:

Sakyans
Surely for this prince no peril will befall?

Narrator
The sage in answer said to anxious Sakyan’s throng:

Asita
“No fears do I foresee to come upon the prince,
nor any harm at all in future will befall,
nor he’s unfortunate, so do not be depressed,
for he will touch upon Enlightenment divine
and turn the Dharma wheel. Seer of perfect purity,
with compassion for the many, he will set forth the goodly life.
But I’ve only brief time left within my life,
while in this time I’ll die, having no chance to hear
the Dharma of that one of power incomparable;
this saddens me so, such loss distresses me.”

Narrator
Having roused in Sakyans this joy profound, the sage,
keeper of pure precepts, left inner palace suites.
Then of his compassion to his sister’s son set out,
arousing in him interest in the Dharma deep:

Asita
From persons having heard the sound of “Buddha” word
who Sambodhi attained, practising the Dharma-path,
go there, then question him, as his disciples live with him.
Practice with that radiant lord precepts of purity.

Narrator
So, instructed by him, whose mind set on benefit,
who foresaw in future time perfect purity complete,
that Nālaka, his nephew much merit stored away,
with guarded senses waited in expectation of the victor.
Having heard of the victor’s revolution of the noble wheel,
he went to him and saw him, that prime among the saviours,
and trust arose in him in the greatest sage.
Then he enquired upon the Silentness supreme,
thus coming to fulfil the sages wish.

Nālaka
Having understood Asita’s speech—
that it accords with truthfulness,
Gotama, we question you
on dharmas gone to the further shore.

I came to homelessness but now I wish
as a bhikkhu to behave,
speak to me, Sage, as I request
on the highest state of Silentness.

Buddha
Knowledge of Silence I’ll convey,
hard to do, to master difficult,
so be both firm and resolute
and I’ll speak upon this thing.

In town there’s always praise and blame,
so practise even-mindedness,
guard against faults of mind—
fare calm and free from arrogance.

As crown-fire crests
and forest-fuel flies up,
so do women tempt the sage—
but be not by them tempted.

Refrain from sexual dharmas,
whether pleasures fine or coarse,
be not attached, repelled,
for beings weak or strong.

Comparing others with oneself—
“As I am so are they” and
“As they are so am I”—
kill not nor cause to kill.

Wishes and greed give up to which
ordinary persons are attached,
be one-with-vision and set out
to go across this hellish state.

Empty-bellied, with little food,
few in wishes, greedless too,
the wishless he, and hungerless,
the wishless come quite Cool.

The sage on almsround having walked,
going then to lonely woods
and drawing near the roots of a tree,
takes a seat just there.

Firmly intent on jhāna
and delighting in the woods;
who at the tree-roots meditates,
satisfies himself.

Until the end of night,
when to a village he goes,
there, by gifts not pleased
nor by invitations.

The sage to village come,
hastens not among the houses,
but cuts off talk while seeking food,
and refrains from hints.

“Good it is that I have gained”,
“good that I have not as well”.
One such thinks both alike
returning to his tree.

Going about with bowl in hand
not dumb but others think him so;
he does not scorn a trifling gift,
nor despise its donor.

Refined and basic practices
the Samaṇa’s made clear;
but Beyond with both they not go,
nor through one only experience.

In whom no craving’s left—
that bhikkhu cut across the stream,
“should do, should not do”, given up,
in him no fever’s found.

Further than this, wisdom still I teach:
Be like a razor’s edge,
tongue-tip upon the palate,
thus be restrained in belly.

Be not indolent in mind,
but neither think too much,
and be free from all carrion-stench:
aim at life of purity.

Train yourself in solitary life,
the way of life of samaṇas,
take high delight in being one
its called the Singleness.

With this you will shine forth
in all directions ten,
then the praises of the wise, those skilled
in meditation—sensuality let go,
as one loving me, you’ll all the more
grow in faith and modesty.

Know this from waters’ flow—
those by rocks and pools—
such rills and becks gush noisily,
great waterways flow quiet.

What is unfilled makes noise
but silent is what’s full,
the fool is like the pot half-filled,
the wise one’s like a lake that’s full.

When a samaṇa speaks much
full of goodness and meaning:
Knowing Dharma he speaks,
Knowing he speaks so much.

But who, Knowing, is self-restrained,
Knowing, he speaks not much:
That Sage is worth to Silence,
a Sage to Silence reached.