Vīmaṃsaka Sutta

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The Vīmaṃsaka Sutta (MN 47, The Inquirer) is a sutta of the Pali Canon with a parallel text in the Madhyama Agama of the Chinese Canon (MA 186 T 26.186).

According to Bhikkhu Analayo this sutta and its Chinese parallel presents "a remarkable advocacy of free inquiry" by making the Buddha's claim to awakening the object of "the most searching scrutiny." [1]

Overview

The sutta outlines the various ways that one can evaluate the Buddha himself (and by extension any spiritual teacher) to determine if their teaching is genuine and if they are truly liberated.[2] The sutta begins thus:

“Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu who is an inquirer, not knowing how to gauge another’s mind, should make an investigation of the Tathāgata in order to find out whether or not he is fully enlightened.”

One of these ways is seeing if the Buddha has a totally pure mind free of all defilements and mixed states of mind by using evidence such as their bodily actions and speech ("through the eye and through the ear"). The Buddha also encourages a monk to directly ask him about his mental states thus: ‘Are there found in the Tathāgata or not any defiled states cognizable through the eye or through the ear?’

Other questions that the student should investigate include whether the teacher attained his current state long ago or only recently (in the Chinese version this question is whether he has been practicing in a wholesome way for a long time or not) and whether he practices for the sake of fame or gain. Once the student gains a certain confidence in the Buddha and his teachings, they then put them into practice and verify their effectiveness through direct personal experience which leads to confidence (saddhā). If one has investigated and practiced well, one's faith and confidence will be strong:

“Bhikkhus, when anyone’s faith has been planted, rooted, and established in the Tathāgata through these reasons, terms, and phrases, his faith is said to be supported by reasons, rooted in vision, firm; it is invincible by any recluse or brahmin or god or Māra or Brahmā or by anyone in the world. That is how, bhikkhus, there is an investigation of the Tathāgata in accordance with the Dhamma, and that is how the Tathāgata is well investigated in accordance with the Dhamma.”

In this way, an initial doubt about the Buddha and his dhamma is encouraged and seen as central to the growth of faith through evaluation and investigation of the teacher and their teachings. Thus, while doubt (vicikiccha) is seen as an obstacle and a hindrance to Buddhist practice, it is to be removed by a process of personal critical inquiry.[3]

Translation from SuttaCentral

This translation of the text The Inquirer is published by SuttaCentral under license CC0 1.0. Translation by Bhikkhu Sujato. SuttaCentral icon square 170px.png


The Inquirer (MN 47)

SO I HAVE HEARD. At one time the Buddha was staying near Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery. There the Buddha addressed the mendicants, “Mendicants!”

“Venerable sir,” they replied. The Buddha said this:

“Mendicants, a mendicant who is an inquirer, unable to comprehend another’s mind, should scrutinize the Realized One to see whether he is a fully awakened Buddha or not.”

“Our teachings are rooted in the Buddha. He is our guide and our refuge. Sir, may the Buddha himself please clarify the meaning of this. The mendicants will listen and remember it.”

“Well then, mendicants, listen and pay close attention, I will speak.”

“Yes, sir,” they replied. The Buddha said this:

“Mendicants, a mendicant who is an inquirer, unable to comprehend another’s mind, should scrutinize the Realized One for two things—things that can be seen and heard: ‘Can anything corrupt be seen or heard in the Realized One or not?’ Scrutinizing him they find that nothing corrupt can be seen or heard in the Realized One.

They scrutinize further: ‘Can anything mixed be seen or heard in the Realized One or not?’ Scrutinizing him they find that nothing mixed can be seen or heard in the Realized One.

They scrutinize further: ‘Can anything clean be seen or heard in the Realized One or not?’ Scrutinizing him they find that clean things can be seen and heard in the Realized One.

They scrutinize further: ‘Did the venerable attain this skillful state a long time ago, or just recently?’ Scrutinizing him they find that the venerable attained this skillful state a long time ago, not just recently.

They scrutinize further: ‘Are certain dangers found in that venerable mendicant who has achieved fame and renown?’ For, mendicants, so long as a mendicant has not achieved fame and renown, certain dangers are not found in them. But when they achieve fame and renown, those dangers appear. Scrutinizing him they find that those dangers are not found in that venerable mendicant who has achieved fame and renown.

They scrutinize further: ‘Is this venerable securely stopped or insecurely stopped? Is the reason they don’t indulge in sensual pleasures that they’re free of greed because greed has ended?’ Scrutinizing him they find that that venerable is securely stopped, not insecurely stopped. The reason they don’t indulge in sensual pleasures is that they’re free of greed because greed has ended.

If others should ask that mendicant, ‘But what reason and evidence does the venerable have for saying this?’ Answering rightly, the mendicant should say, ‘Because, whether that venerable is staying in a community or alone, some people there are in a good state or a sorry state, some instruct a group, and some indulge in material pleasures, while others remain unsullied. Yet that venerable doesn’t look down on them for that. Also, I have heard and learned this in the presence of the Buddha: “I am securely stopped, not insecurely stopped. The reason I don’t indulge in sensual pleasures is that I’m free of greed because greed has ended.”’

Next, they should ask the Realized One himself about this, ‘Can anything corrupt be seen or heard in the Realized One or not?’ The Realized One would answer, ‘Nothing corrupt can be seen or heard in the Realized One.’

‘Can anything mixed be seen or heard in the Realized One or not?’ The Realized One would answer, ‘Nothing mixed can be seen or heard in the Realized One.’

‘Can anything clean be seen or heard in the Realized One or not?’ The Realized One would answer, ‘Clean things can be seen and heard in the Realized One. I am that range and that territory, but I do not identify with that.’

A disciple ought to approach a teacher who has such a doctrine in order to listen to the teaching. The teacher explains Dhamma with its higher and higher stages, with its better and better stages, with its dark and bright sides. When they directly know a certain principle of those teachings, in accordance with how they were taught, the mendicant comes to a conclusion about the teachings. They have confidence in the teacher: ‘The Blessed One is a fully awakened Buddha! The teaching is well explained! The Saṅgha is practicing well!’

If others should ask that mendicant, ‘But what reason and evidence does the venerable have for saying this?’ Answering rightly, the mendicant should say, ‘Reverends, I approached the Buddha to listen to the teaching. He explained Dhamma with its higher and higher stages, with its better and better stages, with its dark and bright sides. When I directly knew a certain principle of those teachings, in accordance with how I was taught, I came to a conclusion about the teachings. I had confidence in the Teacher: “The Blessed One is a fully awakened Buddha! The teaching is well explained! The Saṅgha is practicing well!”’

When someone’s faith is settled, rooted, and planted in the Realized One in this manner, with these words and phrases, it’s said to be grounded faith that’s based on evidence. It is firm, and cannot be shifted by any ascetic or brahmin or god or Māra or Brahmā or by anyone in the world. This is how to scrutinize the Realized One’s qualities. But the Realized One has already been properly searched in this way by nature.”

That is what the Buddha said. Satisfied, the mendicants were happy with what the Buddha said.

  - Translated by Bhikkhu Sujato, SuttaCentral

See also

References

  1. Anālayo, The Scope of Free Inquiry According to the Vīmaṃsakasutta and its Madhyama- āgama Parallel;Rivista di studi sudasiatici, 4 ∙ 2010, 7–20.
  2. Bhikkhu Bodhi, In the Buddha’s Words, Introduction to Part III, “Approaching the Dhamma”, http://wisdompubs.org/book/buddhas-words/selections/buddhas-words-introduction-part-iii-approaching-dhamma
  3. K N Jayatilleke, Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge


External links

This article includes content from Vīmaṃsaka Sutta on Wikipedia (view authors). License under CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikipedia logo