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To Sela and his Praise of the Buddha—Laurence Khantipalo Mills, Bhikkhu Sujato

Sutta Nipāta

Sela Sutta

3.7. To Sela and his Praise of the Buddha

Thus have I heard:

At one time the Radiant One was journeying through the lands of the Aṅguttarāpans, accompanied by a large Saṅgha of bhikkhus, twelve hundred and fifty of them and arrived at a town called Āpaṇa.

The ascetic Keṇiya of the Dreadlocked Hair heard this: “The Samaṇa Gotama, son of the Sakiyans who left home among the Sakyan people has been journeying among the Aṅguttarāpans accompanied by a large Saṅgha of bhikkhus, twelve hundred and fifty of them, and he has arrived in Āpaṇa. Now an excellent report has spread to this effect: “The Radiant One is an Arahant, fully Awakened, perfect in true knowledge and conduct, whose going is auspicious, knower of worlds, incomparable leader of people to be famed, Teacher of devas and humanity, Awakened and Radiant. He declares this world with its devas, Māras, princes and people which he has realized by direct knowledge himself. He teaches Dharma good at the beginning, the middle and the end, complete with purpose and meaning, revealing the good life, that which is completely fulfilled and wholly purified.” Now, it is good to see such Arahants.

Then Keṇiya of the Dreadlocked Hair went to see the Radiant One and exchanged greetings with him and when that courteous and amiable talk was finished he sat down to one side. The Radiant One instructed, urged, roused and encouraged him with Dharma-talk after which Keṇiya said, “Let Master Gotama together with the Saṅgha of bhikkhus consent to accept tomorrow’s meal from me.”

The Radiant One replied to him, “The Saṅgha of bhikkhus Keṇiya, is large, of twelve hundred and fifty. And you have confidence also in the brahmins.”

This request was repeated a second and a third time by Keṇiya, and only on the third occasion did the Buddha accept by remaining silent.

Then Keṇiya, knowing that the Buddha had accepted, paid respects, rose from his seat and went to his own hermitage. He addressed his friends and colleagues, family and relatives, saying “Listen, my good friends and colleagues, family and relatives! I have invited the ascetic Gotama for the meal tomorrow, together with the Saṅgha of bhikkhus. Would you assist me with the various duties?”

“Yes, sir,” agreed Keṇiya’s friends and colleagues, family and relatives. And some dug out the ovens, some chopped wood, some washed the dishes, some put out the water pot, while others prepared the seats. And in the evening, Keṇiya set up a pavilion.

Now at that time the brahmin Sela was visting Āpaṇa. He was an expert in the three Vedas, with the etymologies, the rituals, the phonology and word analysis, and fifthly the legendary histories. He was a linguist, a grammarian, a cosmologist, and an expert in the marks of a Superman. He taught the Vedic texts to three hundred young students.

Now at that time Keṇiya of the Dreadlocked Hair had confidence in the brahmin Sela. Then Sela accompanied by his three hundred students were out for a walk, and they came to the hermitage of Keṇiya. Sela saw the activity in the hermitage and said to Keṇiya, “Master Keṇiya, are your son or daughter being married, or are you preparing a great sacrifice, or have you invited Seniya Bimbisāra, king of Magadha, tomorrow together with his army?”

“No, Sela, there is no marriage, nor has the king been invited. However I am preparing a great sacrifice. There is this ascetic Gotama, who has gone forth from the Sakyan clan, and he has arrived at Āpaṇa together with a great Saṅgha of bhikkhus. Now an excellent report has spread to this effect: ‘The Radiant One is an Arahant, fully Awakened, perfect in true knowledge and conduct, whose going is auspicious, knower of worlds, incomparable leader of people to be famed, Teacher of devas and humanity, Awakened and Radiant.’ I have invited him for the meal tomorrow together with the Saṅgha of bhikkhus.”

“Keṇiya, did you say ‘Awakened’?”

“Yes, Sela, I said ‘Awakened’!”

“Keṇiya, did you say ‘Awakened’?”

“Yes, Sela, I said ‘Awakened’!”

Then it occurred to the brahmin Sela: “It is hard to even hear the word ‘Awakened’ in the world today. There has come down in our sacred scriptures the thirty-two marks of a Superman, possessing which a Superman has two destinies, no other. If he dwells at home he will be a king, a just emperor, a just king, conqueror of the four directions, who has stabilized the realm, and possesses the seven treasures. And these are his seven treasures: the Wheel treasure, the elephant treasure, the horse treasure, the jewel treasure, the woman treasure, the householder treasure, and seventh, the adviser treasure. He has more than a thousand sons who are valiant, heroic, crushers of the armies of foes. Having conquered this earth to the shores of the seas he rules justly, without weapons or violence. But if he goes forth from the home life into homelessness, then he becomes an arahant, a fully awakened Buddha, one who draws back the veil from the world.” “So where now, Master Keṇiya, is that Master Gotama living, the arahant, the fully awakened Buddha?”

When he said this, Keṇiya of the Dreadlocked hair took the brahmin Sela by the right arm and said, “There, where that line of blue forest is, master Sela.” Then Sela with his three hundred students approached the Buddha. Sela addressed his students, saying, “Come quietly, sirs! Place each step one after the other! For the Buddhas are hard to approach, like lions living alone. And when I am conversing with the ascetic Gotama, don’t interrupt our discussion, but wait until we have finished.”

And then Sela approached the Buddha, engaged in polite greetings and conversation, and sat down to one side. He scrutinized the Buddha’s body for the thirty-two marks of a Superman. He saw most of them, except for two, regarding which he had doubts: whether the private parts were sheathed, and the tongue was long.

The Buddha knew that Sela saw most of the thirty-two marks, but doubted two. So he performed an act of psychic power such that Sela could see that his private parts were sheathed. Then he put out his tongue and licked both his ears, and both his nostrils, and covered his whole forehead with his tongue.

Then it occurred to Sela: “The ascetic Gotama does indeed possess all of the thirty-two marks of a Superman. But I do not know whether he is awakened or not. I have heard it said by elder and respected brahmins, the teachers of teachers, that whoever is an arahant, a fully awakened Buddha, will reveal themselves when their own praise is spoken. Why don’t I praise the ascetic Gotama in his presence with suitable verses?” Then the brahmin Sela spoke the following.

Sela
O you of perfect form and beauty rare,
proportioned well and lovely to behold,
in colour like fine gold, with shining teeth,
You are the Exalted, the Energetic One.

Whose body shows forth all the minor marks
distinguishing a well-proportioned man,
while all upon your body can be seen
the signs peculiar to the Superman.

You with eyes so clear, so fair your countenance,
and you so tall, so straight, majestical
amidst the order of the samaṇas
do blazon forth as does the sun on high.

O you a bhikkhu good to gaze upon,
having a skin resembling finest gold,
what is this life of samaṇas to you,
having a presence so supremely fair?

You deserve to be a King who turns the wheel,
riding in state a chariot of war,
lord of the earth from end to end four square,
a Conqueror of Jambudīpa chief.

Nobles and wealth lords your vassals be
You Sovran Lord of lords, You King of men,
take then your power, O Gotama, and reign.

Buddha
I am a king, Sela,
The unexcelled King of Dhamma;
By Dhamma I roll forth the Wheel,
The Wheel that cannot be turned back.

Sela
You say you are awakened,
The unexcelled King of Dhamma;
“By Dhamma I roll forth the Wheel”,
So you say, Gotama.

Who then is your general,
The student who follows the teacher;
Who keeps the Wheel of Dhamma
rolling after you?

Buddha
By me is the Wheel rolled forth,
The unexcelled Wheel of Dhamma,
Sāriputta keeps the Wheel of Dhamma
rolling after me.

What should be Known is Known;
What should be developed has been developed;
What should be abandoned I have abandoned:
That, brahmin, is why I am awakened.

Dispell doubts in me,
Have confidence, brahmin;
This sight is hard to find,
For Buddhas arise only rarely.

That which is hard to find in the world,
Manifesting only rarely;
I, brahmin, am awakened,
The unexcelled surgeon.

I am supreme, I am incomparable,
Crusher of Māra’s armies;
Having subjugated all my enemies,
I rejoice, afraid of nothing.

Sela
Good sirs, listen up
As the seer speaks,
The surgeon, the great hero,
Roars like a lion in the forest.

He is supreme, he is incomparable,
Crusher of Māra’s armies;
Who seeing him would not be inspired,
Unless their nature was dark?

What I wished for has arrived,
What I didn’t wish for has departed;
Right now I will go forth,
In the presence of the one of excellent wisdom.

Pupils
If this is your pleasure, sir,
We too will go forth
In the teaching of the fully awakened Buddha,
In the presence of the one of excellent wisdom.

Narrator
Then these three hundred brahmins
Asked, with palms folded:
“We would live the Holy Life
In the presence of the Buddha.”

Buddha
The Holy Life is well-explained,
Apparent here and now, realizable in this very life,
Wherein the going forth is not fruitless,
For one who trains themselves diligently.

Then the brahmin Sela and his following gained the going forth and ordination in the Buddha’s presence. When the night had passed, Keṇiya of the Dreadlocked Hair, having prepared much fine food in his hermitage, had the time announced to the Buddha: “It is time, Master Gotama, the meal is ready.” In the morning, the Buddha dressed, took his bowl and robe, went to Keṇiya’s hermitage, and sat on the prepared seat together with the Saṅgha of bhikkhus.

Then Keṇiya served and satisfied the Saṅgha of bhikkhus with the Buddha at its head with fine food. Then when the Buddha had finished eating and had taken his hand from his bowl, Keṇiya sat at one side on a low seat, where the Buddha expressed his appreciation with the following verses.

Buddha
The fire-oblation is the foremost of sacrifices;
The Sāvitrī is the foremost of poetic styles;
A king is the foremost of humans;
The ocean is the foremost of rivers.

The moon is the foremost of heavenly bodies;
The sun the foremost of fires;
But for those wishing to do good,
An offering to the Saṅgha is foremost.

When the Buddha had expressed his appreciation to Keṇiya with these verses, he got up from his seat and left.

Then venerable Sela and his following, living in solitude, secluded, diligent and zealous by realizing for themselves with Direct Knowledge here and now entered upon and abided in that supreme goal of the Holy Life for the sake of which clansmen rightly leave home for homelessness. They Knew directly: birth is destroyed, the Holy Life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being. And the venerable Sela and his following became arahants.

Then Sela and his following approached the Buddha, arranged their robes over one shoulder, extended their folded palms, and spoke the following verses:

Sela
Eight days have passed, All-seeing Sage,
since for refuge we have gone.
In seven nights, O Radiant One,
in your teaching we’ve been tamed.

The Buddha you are, the Teacher you are,
the Sage overcomer of Māra,
so sheared of all evil tendencies,
gone across and taken all others.

All attachments have been surmounted,
all inflows are removed,
as a lion ungrasping,
abandoned fear and dread.

Here stand three hundred bhikkhus,
with hands held out as lotuses:
stretch forth your feet, O Hero great,
that these now unblemished ones
may bow at their Teacher’s feet.