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Anuraadho Sutta

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Anuraadha is Caught Out
translated from the Pali by
Maurice O'Connell Walshe

[The Ven. Anuraadha, dwelling alone in a forest hut, is quizzed by wanderers of another sect. He takes his problem to the Buddha, who is staying at Vesali:] "I am staying, Lord, in a forest hut not far away. Now a number of wanderers of another sect came to me... and said: 'Friend Anuraadha, a Tathaagata, a superman, a man supreme, one who has gained the Highest, must be describable in [one of] four ways: a Tathaagata comes to be after death; he does not come to be after death; he both comes to be and does not come to be after death; he neither comes to be nor does not come to be after death.'[1] To this Lord, I replied...: 'A Tathaagata can be described otherwise than in these four ways...' At my reply the wanderers of another sect said: 'This monk must be a novice, not long ordained, or if he is an elder, he is an ignorant fool.' Then the wanderers, abusing me as a novice and a fool, got up and went away. Soon after they had left, Lord, I thought: 'If these wanderers were to ply me with further questions,[2] how should I answer them so as to express correctly the Blessed One's standpoint without misrepresentation, in accordance with the true doctrine, so that no follower of his teacher would incur reproach?'"

"Now what do you think Anuraadha, is the body permanent or impermanent?"

"Impermanent, Lord."...

"Well then, Anuraadha, do you equate the Tathaagata with his body,[3]... feelings,... perceptions,... mental formations,... consciousness?"[4]

"No indeed, Lord."

"Do you consider he has no body,... feelings,... perceptions,... mental formations,... consciousness?"

"No indeed, Lord."

"Then, Anuraadha, since in this very life the Tathaagata is not to be regarded as really and truly existing, is it proper for you to declare of him: 'Friends, he who is a Tathaagata... can be described otherwise than in these four ways...'?"[5]

"No indeed, Lord."

"Good, good, Anuraadha. As before, so now I proclaim just suffering and the ceasing of suffering."


1. The fourfold division of Indian Logic: a thing (1) is, (2) is not, (3) both is and is not, (4) neither is nor is not.

2. Or: "were to ask me the same question again."

3. Here, as in other similar passages, SA [SN commentary] glosses Tathaagata (SN 12.15, n. 10) with satta "a being," to the confusion of scholars. The point seems to be that even in this life any "being," and not merely the Tathaagata, is only real in terms of conventional, not of ultimate truth (see SN 1.20, n. 8). The difference lies in what happens after death.

4. The identification of a person with "consciousness" is strongly condemned by the Buddha's rebuke to "Saati the fisherman's son" in MN 38.

5. Anuraadha was of course wrong to say that a Tathaagata can be described otherwise than in one of these four ways, since he cannot after death be described at all. He would have been right to deny that any one of the four ways of description (n. 1) was correct, but not to suggest that there is any other possible description. We may note that the "wanderers of another sect" were obviously extremely well informed about the Buddha's teaching (even though they did not really understand it!), and laid a careful trap for Anuraadha. They had the terminology off pat, and were only too ready to pounce on a seeming weakness.