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The Longer Simile of the Elephant’s Footprint —Bhikkhu Sujato

Middle Discourses 28

The Longer Simile of the Elephant’s Footprint

1.1So I have heard. 1.2At one time the Buddha was staying near Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery. 1.3There Sāriputta addressed the mendicants, 1.4“Reverends, mendicants!”

1.5“Reverend,” they replied. 1.6Sāriputta said this:

2.1“The footprints of all creatures that walk can fit inside an elephant’s footprint, so an elephant’s footprint is said to be the biggest of them all. 2.2In the same way, all skillful qualities can be included in the four noble truths. 2.3What four? 2.4The noble truths of suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering.

3.1And what is the noble truth of suffering? 3.2Rebirth is suffering; old age is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress are suffering; not getting what you wish for is suffering. In brief, the five grasping aggregates are suffering. 3.3And what are the five grasping aggregates? 3.4They are as follows: the grasping aggregates of form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness.

4.1And what is the grasping aggregate of form? 4.2The four primary elements, and form derived from the four primary elements.

5.1And what are the four primary elements? 5.2The elements of earth, water, fire, and air.

6.1And what is the earth element? 6.2The earth element may be interior or exterior. 6.3And what is the interior earth element? 6.4Anything hard, solid, and organic that’s internal, pertaining to an individual. This includes: 6.5head hair, body hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, undigested food, feces, or anything else hard, solid, and organic that’s internal, pertaining to an individual. 6.6This is called the interior earth element. 6.7The interior earth element and the exterior earth element are just the earth element. 6.8This should be truly seen with right understanding like this: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’ 6.9When you truly see with right understanding, you grow disillusioned with the earth element, detaching the mind from the earth element.

7.1There comes a time when the exterior water element flares up. 7.2At that time the exterior earth element vanishes. 7.3So for all its great age, the earth element will be revealed as impermanent, liable to end, vanish, and perish. 7.4What then of this short-lived body derived from craving? Rather than take it to be ‘I’ or ‘mine’ or ‘I am’, they still just consider it to be none of these things.

8.1If others abuse, attack, harass, and trouble that mendicant, they understand: 8.2‘This painful feeling born of ear contact has arisen in me. 8.3That’s dependent, not independent. 8.4Dependent on what? 8.5Dependent on contact.’ 8.6They see that contact, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness are impermanent. 8.7Based on that element alone, their mind becomes eager, confident, settled, and decided.

9.1Others might treat that mendicant with disliking, loathing, and detestation, 9.2striking them with fists, stones, sticks, and swords. 9.3They understand: 9.4‘This body is such that fists, stones, sticks, and swords strike it. 9.5But the Buddha has said in the Simile of the Saw:

9.6“Even if low-down bandits were to sever you limb from limb, anyone who had a malevolent thought on that account would not be following my instructions.” 9.7My energy shall be roused up and unflagging, my mindfulness established and lucid, my body tranquil and undisturbed, and my mind immersed in samādhi. 9.8Gladly now, let fists, stones, sticks, and swords strike this body! For this is how the instructions of the Buddhas are followed.’

10.1While recollecting the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha in this way, equanimity based on the skillful may not become stabilized in them. 10.2In that case they stir up a sense of urgency: 10.3‘It’s my loss, my misfortune, 10.4that while recollecting the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha in this way, equanimity based on the skillful does not become stabilized in me.’ 10.5They’re like a daughter-in-law who stirs up a sense of urgency when they see their father-in-law. 10.6 10.7 10.8But if, while recollecting the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha in this way, equanimity based on the skillful does become stabilized in them, they’re happy with that. 10.9At this point, much has been done by that mendicant.

11.1And what is the water element? 11.2The water element may be interior or exterior. 11.3And what is the interior water element? 11.4Anything that’s water, watery, and organic that’s internal, pertaining to an individual. This includes: 11.5bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, saliva, snot, synovial fluid, urine, or anything else that’s water, watery, and organic that’s internal, pertaining to an individual. 11.6This is called the interior water element. 11.7The interior water element and the exterior water element are just the water element. 11.8This should be truly seen with right understanding like this: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’ 11.9When you truly see with right understanding, you grow disillusioned with the water element, detaching the mind from the water element.

12.1There comes a time when the exterior water element flares up. 12.2It sweeps away villages, towns, cities, countries, and regions. 12.3There comes a time when the water in the ocean sinks down a hundred leagues, or two, three, four, five, six, up to seven hundred leagues. 12.4There comes a time when the water in the ocean stands just seven palm trees deep, or six, five, four, three, two, or even just one palm tree deep. 12.5There comes a time when the water in the ocean stands just seven fathoms deep, or six, five, four, three, two, or even just one fathom deep. 12.6There comes a time when the water in the ocean stands just half a fathom deep, or waist deep, or knee deep, or even just ankle deep. 12.7There comes a time when there isn’t enough water in the ocean even to wet the tip of your finger. 12.8So for all its great age, the water element will be revealed as impermanent, liable to end, vanish, and perish. 13-15.1What then of this short-lived body produced by craving? Rather than take it to be ‘I’ or ‘mine’ or ‘I am’, they still just consider it to be none of these things. … 13-15.2If, while recollecting the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha in this way, equanimity based on the skillful does become stabilized in them, they’re happy with that. 13-15.3At this point, much has been done by that mendicant.

16.1And what is the fire element? 16.2The fire element may be interior or exterior. 16.3And what is the interior fire element? 16.4Anything that’s fire, fiery, and organic that’s internal, pertaining to an individual. This includes: 16.5that which warms, that which ages, that which heats you up when feverish, that which properly digests food and drink, or anything else that’s fire, fiery, and organic that’s internal, pertaining to an individual. 16.6This is called the interior fire element. 16.7The interior fire element and the exterior fire element are just the fire element. 16.8This should be truly seen with right understanding like this: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’ 16.9When you truly see with right understanding, you grow disillusioned with the fire element, detaching the mind from the fire element.

17.1There comes a time when the exterior fire element flares up. 17.2It burns up villages, towns, cities, countries, and regions until 17.3it reaches a green field, a roadside, a cliff’s edge, a body of water, or cleared parkland, where it’s extinguished for lack of fuel. 17.4There comes a time when they go looking for a fire, taking just chicken feathers and strips of sinew as kindling. 17.5So for all its great age, the fire element will be revealed as impermanent, liable to end, vanish, and perish. 17.6What then of this short-lived body derived from craving? Rather than take it to be ‘I’ or ‘mine’ or ‘I am’, they still just consider it to be none of these things. …

18-20.1If, while recollecting the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha in this way, equanimity based on the skillful does become stabilized in them, they’re happy with that. 18-20.2At this point, much has been done by that mendicant.

21.1And what is the air element? 21.2The air element may be interior or exterior. 21.3And what is the interior air element? 21.4Anything that’s wind, windy, and organic that’s internal, pertaining to an individual. This includes: 21.5winds that go up or down, winds in the belly or the bowels, winds that flow through the limbs, in-breaths and out-breaths, or anything else that’s wind, windy, and organic that’s internal, pertaining to an individual. 21.6This is called the interior air element. 21.7The interior air element and the exterior air element are just the air element. 21.8This should be truly seen with right understanding like this: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’ 21.9When you truly see with right understanding, you reject the air element, detaching the mind from the air element.

22.1There comes a time when the exterior air element flares up. 22.2It sweeps away villages, towns, cities, countries, and regions. 22.3There comes a time, in the last month of summer, when they look for wind by using a palm-leaf or fan, and even the grasses in the drip-fringe of a thatch roof don’t stir. 22.4So for all its great age, the air element will be revealed as impermanent, liable to end, vanish, and perish. 22.5What then of this short-lived body derived from craving? Rather than take it to be ‘I’ or ‘mine’ or ‘I am’, they still just consider it to be none of these things. …

23.1If others abuse, attack, harass, and trouble that mendicant, they understand: 23.2‘This painful feeling born of ear contact has arisen in me. 23.3That’s dependent, not independent. 23.4Dependent on what? 23.5Dependent on contact. 23.6They see that contact, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness are impermanent. 23.7Based on that element alone, their mind becomes eager, confident, settled, and decided.

24.1Others might treat that mendicant with disliking, loathing, and detestation, striking them with fists, stones, sticks, and swords. 24.2They understand: ‘This body is such that fists, stones, sticks, and swords strike it. 24.3But the Buddha has said in the Simile of the Saw: “Even if low-down bandits were to sever you limb from limb, anyone who had a thought of hate on that account would not be following my instructions.” 24.4My energy shall be roused up and unflagging, my mindfulness established and lucid, my body tranquil and undisturbed, and my mind immersed in samādhi. 24.5Gladly now, let fists, stones, sticks, and swords strike this body! For this is how the instructions of the Buddhas are followed.’

25.1While recollecting the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha in this way, equanimity based on the skillful may not become stabilized in them. 25.2In that case they stir up a sense of urgency: 25.3‘It’s my loss, my misfortune, 25.4that while recollecting the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha in this way, equanimity based on the skillful does not become stabilized in me.’ 25.5They’re like a daughter-in-law who stirs up a sense of urgency when they see their father-in-law. 25.6 25.7 25.8 25.9 25.10But if, while recollecting the Buddha, the teaching, and the Saṅgha in this way, equanimity based on the skillful does become stabilized in them, they’re happy with that. 25.11At this point, much has been done by that mendicant.

26.1When a space is enclosed by sticks, creepers, grass, and mud it becomes known as a ‘building’. 26.2In the same way, when a space is enclosed by bones, sinews, flesh, and skin it becomes known as a ‘form’.

26.3Reverends, though the eye is intact internally, so long as exterior sights don’t come into range and there’s no corresponding engagement, there’s no manifestation of the corresponding type of consciousness. 27.1Though the eye is intact internally and exterior sights come into range, so long as there’s no corresponding engagement, there’s no manifestation of the corresponding type of consciousness. 27.2But when the eye is intact internally and exterior sights come into range and there is corresponding engagement, there is the manifestation of the corresponding type of consciousness.

27.3The form produced in this way is included in the grasping aggregate of form. The feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness produced in this way are each included in the corresponding grasping aggregate.

27.4They understand: 27.5‘So this is how there comes to be inclusion, gathering together, and joining together into these five grasping aggregates. 27.6But the Buddha has said: 27.7“One who sees dependent origination sees the teaching. 27.8One who sees the teaching sees dependent origination.” 27.9And these five grasping aggregates are indeed dependently originated. 27.10The desire, adherence, attraction, and attachment for these five grasping aggregates is the origin of suffering. 27.11Giving up and getting rid of desire and greed for these five grasping aggregates is the cessation of suffering.’ 27.12At this point, much has been done by that mendicant.

29-30.1Though the ear … 31-32.1nose … 33-34.1tongue … 35-36.1body … 37.1mind is intact internally, so long as exterior thoughts don’t come into range and there’s no corresponding engagement, there’s no manifestation of the corresponding type of consciousness.

38.1Though the mind is intact internally and exterior thoughts come into range, so long as there’s no corresponding engagement, there’s no manifestation of the corresponding type of consciousness. 38.2But when the mind is intact internally and exterior thoughts come into range and there is corresponding engagement, there is the manifestation of the corresponding type of consciousness.

38.3The form produced in this way is included in the grasping aggregate of form. The feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness produced in this way are each included in the corresponding grasping aggregate. 38.4They understand: 38.5‘So this is how there comes to be inclusion, gathering together, and joining together into these five grasping aggregates.

38.6But the Buddha has also said: 38.7“One who sees dependent origination sees the teaching. 38.8One who sees the teaching sees dependent origination.” 38.9And these five grasping aggregates are indeed dependently originated. 38.10The desire, adherence, attraction, and attachment for these five grasping aggregates is the origin of suffering. 38.11Giving up and getting rid of desire and greed for these five grasping aggregates is the cessation of suffering.’ 38.12At this point, much has been done by that mendicant.”

38.13That’s what Venerable Sāriputta said. 38.14Satisfied, the mendicants were happy with what Sāriputta said.