AN 3:60 Do Monks Benefit Others?
Translated from the Pali by Nyanaponika Thera and Bhikkhu Bodhi
Once Sangarava the brahmin approached the Blessed One and said to him:
“We are brahmins, Master Gotama: we sacrifice and enjoin others to make sacrifices. Now one who himself sacrifices and one who enjoins others to do so both engage in a meritorious practice, the offering of sacrifice that extends to many persons. But one of this or that family who goes forth from home into the ascetic life, he tames himself alone, calms himself alone, attains Nibbana for himself alone. If this is so, he then engages in a meritorious practice involving only one person, namely, the act of going forth into the ascetic life.”
“Well, brahmin, I shall ask you a question and you may answer as you think fit. Now, brahmin, what do you think of this: A Tathagata arises in the world, an arahat, fully enlightened, accomplished in true knowledge and conduct, sublime, knower of the world, unsurpassed leader of persons to be tamed, teacher of devas and humans, the Enlightened One, the Blessed One. He speaks thus: ’Come! This is the way, this is the path treading which I have directly known and realised that highest consummation of the holy life which I now proclaim. Come! You too should practise thus, so that you too, by your own effort, may directly know and realise this highest consummation of the holy life and dwell in its attainment!’
“Thus this teacher shows the Dhamma and others too practise in that way. And of such who do so, there are many hundreds, many thousands, many hundreds of thousands. What do you think, brahmin: since this is so, is that act of going forth into ascetic life a meritorious practice involving only one person or many people?”
“Since it is so, Master Gotama, the going forth is a meritorious practice extending to many people.”
When this was said, the Venerable Ananda spoke to the brahmin Sangarava thus: “Of these two practices, brahmin, which appeals to you more as being simpler and less harmful, and as giving richer fruit and greater benefit?”
Thereupon the brahmin Sangarava said to the Venerable Ananda: “I must honour and praise those like Master Gotama and Master Ananda.”
For a second time and third time, the Venerable Ananda addressed the brahmin: “I do not ask you, brahmin, whom you honour and praise, but which of those two practices appeals to you more as being simpler and less harmful, and as giving richer fruit and greater benefit?”
But also for a second time and third time, the brahmin Sangarava replied: “I must honour and praise those like Master Gotama and Master Ananda.”
Then the Blessed One thought: “Even for a third time this brahmin Sangarava, on being asked by Ananda a pertinent question, makes evasions and does not reply to it. Should I not release him from that situation?” And he spoke to the brahmin: “What might have been the topic of conversation, brahmin, among the king’s courtiers when they sat together today in the royal palace?”
“The topic of conversation was this, Master Gotama: ’Formerly there were fewer monks, but there were more who displayed miracles of supernormal power transcending the human level. But now there are more monks, but fewer who display miracles of supernormal power transcending the human level.’ This was the topic of conversation.”
“There are three kinds of miracles, brahmin. What three? The miracle of supernormal power, the miracle of thought-reading, and the miracle of instruction.
“What now is the miracle of supernormal power? There is one who enjoys the various kinds of supernormal power: having been one, he becomes many; having been many, he becomes one; he appears and vanishes; he goes unhindered through a wall, through a rampart, through a mountain as if through space; he dives in and out of the earth as if it were water; he walks on water without sinking as if it were earth; while seated cross-legged he travels through the sky like a bird; with his hand he touches and strokes the sun and the moon, so powerful and mighty; he exercises mastery with his body even as far as the Brahma-world. This, brahmin, is called the miracle of psychic power.
“What now is the miracle of thought-reading? There is one who, by means of a sign, declares: ’Thus is your mind, such and such is your mind, thus is your thought.’ And however many such declarations he makes, they are exactly so and not otherwise.
“Another does not make his declarations by means of a sign, but after hearing voices of humans, of spirits or devas … or by hearing the sound of a person’s thought-vibrations … or by mentally penetrating the direction of his mental dispositions when he is in a thought-free state of meditation. And however many such declarations he makes, they are exactly so and not otherwise. This is called the miracle of thought-reading.
“And what, brahmin, is the miracle of instruction? There is one who instructs thus: ’You should think in this way and should not think in that way! You should attend to this and not to that! You should give up this and should dwell in the attainment of that!’ This is called the miracle of instruction.
“These, O brahmin, are the three kinds of miracles. Of these three miracles, which appeals to you as the most excellent and sublime?”
“As to the miracles of supernormal power and thought-reading, Master Gotama, only one who performs them will experience their outcome; they belong only to one who performs them. These two miracles, Master Gotama, appear to me as having the nature of a conjurer’s trick. But as to the miracle of instruction-this, Master Gotama, appeals to me as the most excellent and sublime among these three.
“It is outstanding and remarkable how well this was spoken by Master Gotama. We shall remember Master Gotama as one endowed with these three miracles. For Master Gotama enjoys the various kinds of supernormal power. He mentally penetrates and knows the minds of others. And Master Gotama instructs others thus: ’You should think in this way and not in that way! You should attend to this and not to that! You should give up this and should dwell in the attainment of that! ’“
“Indeed, brahmin, you have spoken strikingly befitting words. Hence I too shall confirm that I enjoy the various kinds of supernormal power … that I mentally penetrate and know the minds of others … and that I instruct others how to direct their minds.”
“But is there, apart from Master Gotama, any other monk who is endowed with these three miracles?”
“Yes, brahmin. The monks endowed with these three miracles are not just one hundred, or two, three, four or five hundred, but even more monks than that are thus endowed.”
“And where are these monks now dwelling, Master Gotama?”
“In this very Sangha of monks, brahmin.”
“Excellent, Master Gotama! Excellent, Master Gotama! It is just as if one were to set upright what was overturned, or to reveal what was hidden, or to point out the way to one gone astray, or to hold a lamp in the darkness so that those who have eyes might see forms. Even so has the Dhamma been set forth in various ways by Master Gotama. I now go for refuge to Master Gotama, to the Dhamma, and to the Sangha of monks. Let Master Gotama accept me as a lay follower who has gone for refuge from today until life’s end.”