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Tipitaka >> Sutta Pitaka >> Majjhima Nikaya >> Ratthapala Sutta

Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu


I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One, on a wandering tour among the Kurus with a large community of monks, arrived at Thullakotthita, a town of the Kurus. The brahmans & householders of Thullakotthita heard it said, "Gotama the contemplative — the son of the Sakyans, having gone forth from the Sakyan clan — has arrived at Kesaputta. And of that Master Gotama this fine reputation has spread: 'He is indeed a Blessed One, worthy, & rightly self-awakened, consummate in knowledge & conduct, well-gone, a knower of the cosmos, an unexcelled trainer of those persons ready to be tamed, teacher of human & divine beings, awakened, blessed. He has made known — having realized it through direct knowledge — this world with its devas, maras, & brahmas, its generations with their contemplatives & priests, their rulers & common people. He has explained the Dhamma admirable in the beginning, admirable in the middle, admirable in the end; has expounded the holy life both in its particulars & in its essence, entirely perfect, surpassingly pure. It's good to see such a worthy one.'"

So the brahmans & householders of Thullakotthita went to the Blessed One. On arrival, some of them bowed down to the Blessed One and sat to one side. Some of them exchanged courteous greetings with him and, after an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, sat to one side. Some of them sat to one side having saluted him with their hands palm-to-palm over their hearts. Some of them sat to one side having announced their name & clan. Some of them sat to one side in silence. As they were sitting there, the Blessed One instructed, urged, roused, and encouraged them with a talk on Dhamma.

Now at that time a clansman named Ratthapala, the son of the leading clan in that same Thullakotthita, was sitting in that assembly. The thought occurred to him, "As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it's not easy, living at home, to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, a polished shell. What if I, having shaved off my hair & beard and putting on the ochre robe, were to go forth from the household life into ascetic life?"

Then the brahmans & householders of Thullakotthita, having been instructed, urged, roused, & encouraged by the Blessed One's talk on Dhamma, delighted & rejoiced in his words. Rising from their seats, bowing down to him, they left, keeping him on their right.

Then Ratthapala, not long after the brahmans & householders of Thullakotthita had left, approached the Blessed One and, on arrival, said to him, "As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it's not easy, living at home, to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, a polished shell. Lord, I want — having shaved off my hair & beard and putting on the ochre robe — to go forth from the household life into ascetic life. May I receive the going-forth in the Blessed One's presence? May I receive admission?"

"Do you have your parents' permission, Ratthapala, to go forth from the household life into ascetic life?"

"No, lord, I haven't."

"Ratthapala, Tathagatas do not give the going-forth to anyone who doesn't have his parents' permission."

"Lord, I will do what needs to be done so that my parents will give their permission for me to go forth from the household life into ascetic life."

Then Ratthapala, rising from his seat, bowing down to the Blessed One and keeping him on his right, went to his parents and said, "Mom, Dad, as I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it's not easy, living at home, to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, a polished shell. I want — having shaved off my hair & beard and putting on the ochre robe — to go forth from the household life into ascetic life. Please give me your permission to go forth from the household life into ascetic life."

When this was said, Ratthapala's parents said to him, "Ratthapala, dear, you are our only son, dear & appealing, raised in comfort, brought up in comfort. You know nothing of suffering. Eat, drink, & enjoy yourself. While eating, drinking, & looking after yourself, you may enjoy yourself by indulging in sensual pleasures & making merit. We don't give our permission for you to go forth from the household life into ascetic life.1 Even with your death we would not want to be separated from you, so how could we — while you're alive — give our permission for you to go forth from the household life into ascetic life?"

A second time... A third time, Ratthapala said to his parents, "Mom, Dad, as I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it's not easy, living at home, to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, a polished shell. I want — having shaved off my hair & beard and putting on the ochre robe — to go forth from the household life into ascetic life. Please give me your permission to go forth from the household life into ascetic life."

A third time, Ratthapala's parents said to him, "Ratthapala, dear, you are our only son, dear & appealing, raised in comfort, brought up in comfort. You know nothing of suffering. Eat, drink, & enjoy yourself. While eating, drinking, & looking after yourself, you may enjoy yourself by indulging in sensual pleasures & making merit. We don't give our permission for you to go forth from the household life into ascetic life.2 Even with your death we would not want to be separated from you, so how could we — while you're alive — give our permission for you to go forth from the household life into ascetic life?"

Then Ratthapala, not getting his parents' permission to go forth from the household life into ascetic life, lay down right there on the bare floor, [saying,] "Here will be my death or my going-forth." And he went without food for one day... two days... three days, four... five... six days. He went without food for seven days.3

His parents said to him, "Ratthapala, dear, you are our only son, dear & appealing, raised in comfort, brought up in comfort. You know nothing of suffering. Get up, dear. Eat, drink, & enjoy yourself. While eating, drinking, & looking after yourself, you may enjoy yourself by indulging in sensual pleasures & making merit. We don't give our permission for you to go forth from the household life into ascetic life. Even with your death we would not want to be separated from you, so how could we — while you're alive — give our permission for you to go forth from the household life into ascetic life?"

When this was said, Ratthapala remained silent.

A second time... A third time, Ratthapala's parents said to him, "Ratthapala, dear, you are our only son, dear & appealing, raised in comfort, brought up in comfort. You know nothing of suffering. Get up, dear. Eat, drink, & enjoy yourself. While eating, drinking, & looking after yourself, you may enjoy yourself by indulging in sensual pleasures & making merit. We don't give our permission for you to go forth from the household life into ascetic life. Even with your death we would not want to be separated from you, so how could we — while you're alive — give our permission for you to go forth from the household life into ascetic life?"

A third time, Ratthapala remained silent.

Then Ratthapala's parents went to his friends and said to them, "My dears, Ratthapala has lain down on the bare floor, [saying,] 'Here will be my death or my going-forth.' Please, dears, go to Ratthapala and say to him, 'Friend Ratthapala, you are your parents' only son... Get up, friend Ratthapala. Eat, drink, & enjoy yourself... How could your parents — while you're alive — give their permission for you to go forth from the household life into ascetic life?'"4

So Ratthapala's friends went to Ratthapala and, on arrival, said to him, "Friend Ratthapala, you are your parents' only son... Get up, friend Ratthapala. Eat, drink, & enjoy yourself... How could your parents — while you're alive — give their permission for you to go forth from the household life into ascetic life?"

When this was said, Ratthapala remained silent.

A second time... A third time, his friends said to him, "Friend Ratthapala, you are your parents' only son... Get up, friend Ratthapala. Eat, drink, & enjoy yourself... How could your parents — while you're alive — give their permission for you to go forth from the household life into ascetic life?"

A third time, Ratthapala remained silent.

So Ratthapala's friends went to his parents and, on arrival, said to them, "Mom, Dad, Ratthapala is lying there on the bare floor, [having said,] 'Here will be my death or my going-forth. If you don't give him your permission to go forth from the household life into ascetic life, right there will be his death. But if you do give him your permission... then even when he has gone forth, you will see him. And if he does not enjoy going forth from the household life into ascetic life, where else will he go? He'll return right here. So please give him permission to go forth from the household life into ascetic life."

"Then, dears, we give our permission for Ratthapala to go forth from the household life into ascetic life. But when he has gone forth, he must visit his parents."

Then Ratthapala's friends went to him and said, "Get up, Ratthapala.5 Your parents give their permission for you to go forth from the household life into ascetic life. But when you have gone forth, you must visit your parents."

Then Ratthapala got up and, on regaining strength, went to the Blessed One. On arrival, having bowed down to him, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One, "I have received my parents' permission, lord, to go forth from the household life into ascetic life. May the Blessed One give me the going-forth!"

Then Ratthapala the clansman obtained the going-forth in the Blessed One's presence, he obtained admission. And not long after his admission, one half month after his admission, the Blessed One–having stayed at Thullakotthita as long as he liked — set out wandering to Savatthi. Wandering by stages, he eventually arrived at Savatthi. There he lived at Savatthi in Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's monastery.

As for Ven. Ratthapala — dwelling alone, secluded, heedful, ardent, & resolute — he in no long time reached & remained in the supreme goal of the holy life, for which clansmen rightly go forth from home into ascetic life, knowing & realizing it for himself in the here & now. He knew: "Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for the sake of this world." And thus Ven. Ratthapala became another one of the arahants.

Then Ven. Ratthapala went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One, "Lord, I want to visit my parents, if you give me permission." Then the Blessed One, encompassing Ven. Ratthapala's awareness with his awareness, considered & understood, "Ven. Ratthapala is incapable of leaving the training and reverting to the lower life." So he said to him, "Now is the time, Ratthapala, for you to do as you see fit."

Then Ven. Ratthapala, rising from his seat, bowing down to the Blessed One and keeping him on his right, [departed]. Putting his lodgings in order and, carrying his bowl & robes, set out wandering toward Thullakotthita. Wandering by stages, he eventually arrived at Thullakotthita. There he stayed in Thullakotthita in King Koravya's Migacira [garden]. Then, early in the morning — putting on his under robe and carrying his bowl & robes — he went into Thullakotthita for alms. As he went for alms from house to house in Thullakotthita, he came to his own father's house.

Now at that time Ven. Ratthapala's father was in the middle door-porch having his hair combed. He saw Ven. Ratthapala coming from afar and, on seeing him, said, "It was by these shaven-headed contemplatives that our only son, dear & appealing, was made to go forth!" So Ven. Ratthapala — instead of receiving a gift or a polite refusal at his own father's house — got nothing but abuse.

Just then a slavewoman belonging to one of his relatives was about to throw away some day-old porridge. So Ven. Ratthapala said to her, "Sister, if that is to be thrown away, pour it here into my bowl." While she was pouring the day-old porridge into this bowl, she recognized his hands, feet, & voice. So she went to his mother and said, "May it please you to know, my lady, that master-son Ratthapala has arrived."

"Hey, if what you say is true, I give you your freedom!"

Then Ven. Ratthapala's mother went to his father and said, "May it please you to know, householder, that they say the clansman Ratthapala has arrived."

Now at that time Ven. Ratthapala was sitting by a wall, eating the day-old porridge. His father went to him and said, "Ratthapala, my dear, isn't there — What? You're eating day-old porridge? Don't you have your own home to go to?"

"How could we have a home, householder? We have gone forth from the household life into ascetic life. We are ascetic, householder. We went to your house, but — instead of receiving a gift or a polite refusal — we got nothing but abuse."

"Come, dear Ratthapala. Let's go home."

"Enough, householder. My meal for today is finished."

"In that case, dear Ratthapala, acquiesce to the meal for tomorrow."

So Ven. Ratthapala acquiesced in silence.

Understanding Ven. Ratthapala's acquiesence, his father went to his house and, having the floor coated with fresh cow dung, had a great heap of gold & silver made, two great heaps made — one of gold, one of silver — so large that a man standing on the near side could not see a man standing on the far side, just as a man standing on the far side could not see a man standing on the near. Hiding them behind screens, he set out a seat between them, surrounded by a curtain.6 Addressing Ven. Ratthapala's former wives, he said to them, "Come, daughters-in-law. Adorn yourself in the ornaments that our son, Ratthapala, used to find dear & appealing."

Then, as the night was ending, Ven. Ratthapala's father had exquisite staple & non-staple foods prepared in his own house and had the time announced to Ven. Ratthapala: "It's time, dear Ratthapala. The meal is ready."

Then, early in the morning — putting on his under robe and carrying his bowl & robes — Ven. Ratthapala went to his father's house and, on arrival, sat down on the seat made ready. Then his father, revealing the heap of gold & silver, said to him, "This, my dear Ratthapala, is your mother's inheritance. The other is your fathers; the other, your grandfather's — [enough that] you can enjoy wealth and make merit. Come, my dear Ratthapala. Leave the training and revert to the lower life. Enjoy wealth and make merit!"

"Householder, if you'd do as I say, you would have this heap of gold & silver loaded on carts and hauled away to be dumped midstream in the river Ganges. Why is that? This [wealth] will be the cause of your sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair."

Then, clasping each of his feet, Ven. Ratthapala's former wives said to him, "What are they like, dear master-son: those nymphs for whose sake you lead the holy life?"

"Sisters, we don't lead the holy life for the sake of nymphs."

"'Sisters' he calls us!" And they fell down right there in a faint.

Then Ven. Ratthapala said to his father, "Householder, if there's food to be given, then give it. Don't harass us."

"Eat, then, my dear Ratthapala. The meal is ready."

So, with his own hands, Ven. Ratthapala's father served and satisfied him with exquisite staple and non-staple foods. When he had finished his meal and withdrawn his hand from the bowl, Ven. Ratthapala stood up and recited these verses:

Look at the image beautified, a heap of festering wounds, shored up: ill, but the object of many resolves, where there is nothing lasting or sure.7


Look at the form beautified with earrings & gems: a skeleton wrapped in skin, made attractive with clothes.

Feet reddened with henna, a face smeared with powder: enough to deceive a fool, but not a seeker for the further shore.

Hair plaited in eight pleats, eyes smeared with unguent: enough to deceive a fool, but not a seeker for the further shore. Like a newly painted unguent pot — a putrid body adorned: enough to deceive a fool, but not a seeker for the further shore.

The hunter set out the snares, but the deer didn't go near the trap. Having eaten the bait, we go, leaving the hunters to weep.

After reciting these verses while standing, Ven. Ratthapala went to King Koravya's Migacira. On arrival, he sat down in the shade of a tree for the day's abiding.



Then King Koravya said to his gamekeeper: "Clean up the Migacira pleasure garden. I am going there to see the beautiful grounds."

"As you say, your majesty," the gamekeeper responded to the king. As he was cleaning up Migacira he saw Ven. Ratthapala sitting in the shade of a tree for the day's abiding. On seeing him, he went to the king and said, "Migacira has been cleaned up for you, your majesty. And the clansman Ratthapala — the son of the leading clan in this Thullakotthita, of whom you have often spoken highly — is there, sitting in the shade of a tree for the day's abiding."

"In that case, my dear gamekeeper, never mind about the pleasure garden for today. I am now going to pay my respects to that Master Ratthapala."

Then, saying, "Give away all the staple and non-staple foods that have been prepared," King Koravya had auspicious vehicles harnessed. Mounting an auspicious vehicle he set out from Thullakotthita accompanied by other auspicious vehicles in full royal pomp to see Ven. Ratthapala. Going as far by vehicle as the ground would permit, he dismounted and went to Ven. Ratthapala, accompanied by many eminent members of his court. On arrival, he exchanged courteous greetings with Ven. Ratthapala. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he stood to one side. As he was standing there, he said to Ven. Ratthapala, "May Master Ratthapala sit here on the elephant rug."

"Never mind, great king. You sit there. I am sitting on my own seat."

So King Koravya sat down on the seat prepared. As he was sitting there, he said to Ven. Ratthapala, "There are cases where, having suffered these four kinds of loss, men shave off their hair & beard, put on the ochre robe, and go forth from the home life into ascetic life. Which four? Loss through aging, loss through illness, loss of wealth, & loss of relatives... But Master Ratthapala has suffered none of these. What did he know or see or hear that Master Ratthapala went forth from the home life into ascetic life?"

"Great king, there are four Dhamma summaries stated by the Blessed One who knows & sees, worthy & rightly self-awakened. Having known & seen & heard them, I went forth from the home life into ascetic life. Which four?

"'The world8 is swept away. It does not endure': This is the first Dhamma summary stated by the Blessed One who knows & sees, worthy & rightly self-awakened. Having known & seen & heard it, I went forth from the home life into ascetic life.

"'The world is without shelter, without protector': This is the second Dhamma summary...

"'The world is without ownership. One has to pass on, leaving everything behind': This is the third Dhamma summary...

"'The world is insufficient, insatiable, a slave to craving': This is the fourth Dhamma summary...

"These, great king, are the four Dhamma summaries stated by the Blessed One who knows & sees, worthy & rightly self-awakened. Having known & seen & heard them, I went forth from the home life into ascetic life."

"Master Ratthapala, you say, 'The world is swept away. It does not endure.' Now how is the meaning of this statement to be understood?"

"What do you think, great king: When you were twenty or twenty-five years old — an expert elephant rider, an expert horseman, an expert charioteer, an expert archer, an expert swordsman — were you strong in arm & strong in thigh, fit, & seasoned in warfare?"

"Yes, Master Ratthapala, when I was twenty or twenty-five years old... I was strong in arm & strong in thigh, fit, & seasoned in warfare. It was as if I had supernormal power. I do not see anyone who was my equal in strength."

"And what do you think, great king: Are you even now as strong in arm & strong in thigh, as fit, & as seasoned in warfare?"

"Not at all, Master Ratthapala. I'm now a feeble old man, aged, advanced in years, having come to the last stage of life, 80 years old. Sometimes, thinking, 'I will place my foot here,' I place it somewhere else."

"It was in reference to this, great king, that the Blessed One who knows & sees, worthy & rightly self-awakened, said: 'The world is swept away. It does not endure.' Having known & seen & heard this, I went forth from the home life into ascetic life."

"It's amazing, Master Ratthapala. It's astounding, how well that has been said by the Blessed One who knows & sees, worthy & rightly self-awakened: 'The world is swept away. It does not endure.' For the world really is swept away, Master Ratthapala. It does not endure.

"Now, in this royal court there are elephant troops & cavalry & chariot troops & infantry that will serve to defend us from dangers. And yet you say, 'The world is without shelter, without protector.' How is the meaning of this statement to be understood?"

"What do you think, great king: Do you have any recurring illness?"

"Yes, Master Ratthapala, I have a recurring wind-illness.9 Sometimes my friends & advisors, relatives & blood-kinsmen, stand around me saying, 'This time King Koravya will die. This time King Koravya will die.'"

"And what do you think, great king: Can you say to your friends & advisors, relatives & blood-kinsmen, 'My friends & advisors, relatives & blood-kinsmen are commanded: all of you who are present, share out this pain so that I may feel less pain'? Or do you have to feel that pain all alone?"

"Oh, no, Master Ratthapala, I can't say to my friends & advisors, relatives & blood-kinsmen, 'All of you who are present, share out this pain so that I may feel less pain.' I have to feel that pain all alone."

"It was in reference to this, great king, that the Blessed One who knows & sees, worthy & rightly self-awakened, said: 'The world is without shelter, without protector.' Having known & seen & heard this, I went forth from the home life into ascetic life."

"It's amazing, Master Ratthapala. It's astounding, how well that has been said by the Blessed One who knows & sees, worthy & rightly self-awakened: 'The world is without shelter, without protector.' For the world really is without shelter, Master Ratthapala. It is without protector.

"Now, in this royal court there is a great deal of gold & silver stashed away underground & in attic vaults. And yet you say, 'The world is without ownership. One has to pass on, leaving everything behind.' How is the meaning of this statement to be understood?"

"What do you think, great king? As you now enjoy yourself endowed & replete with the pleasures of the five senses, can you say, 'Even in the afterlife I will enjoy myself in the same way, endowed & replete with the very same pleasures of the five senses'? Or will this wealth fall to others, while you pass on in accordance with your kamma?"

"Oh, no, Master Ratthapala, I can't say, 'Even in the afterlife I will enjoy myself in the same way, endowed & replete with the very same pleasures of the five senses.' This wealth will fall to others, while I pass on in accordance with my kamma."

"It was in reference to this, great king, that the Blessed One who knows & sees, worthy & rightly self-awakened, said: 'The world is without ownership. One has to pass on, leaving everything behind.' Having known & seen & heard this, I went forth from the home life into ascetic life."

"It's amazing, Master Ratthapala. It's astounding, how well that has been said by the Blessed One who knows & sees, worthy & rightly self-awakened: 'The world is without ownership. One has to pass on, leaving everything behind.' For the world really is without ownership, Master Ratthapala. One has to pass on, leaving everything behind.

"Now, Master Ratthapala, you say, 'The world is insufficient, insatiable, a slave to craving.' How is the meaning of this statement to be understood?"

"What do you think, great king: Do you now rule over the prosperous country of Kuru?"

"That is so, Master Ratthapala. I rule over the prosperous country of Kuru."

"What do you think, great king: Suppose a trustworthy, reliable man of yours were to come to you from the east. On arrival he would say to you, 'May it please your majesty to know, I have come from the east. There I saw a great country, powerful & prosperous, populous & crowded with people. Plenty are the elephant troops there, plenty the cavalry troops, chariot troops, & infantry troops. Plenty is the ivory-work there, plenty the gold & silver, both worked & unworked. Plenty are the women for the taking. It is possible, with the forces you now have, to conquer it. Conquer it, great king!' What would you do?"

"Having conquered it, Master Ratthapala, I would rule over it."

"Now what do you think, great king? Suppose a trustworthy, reliable man of yours were to come to you from the west... the north... the south... the other side of the ocean. On arrival he would say to you, 'May it please your majesty to know, I have come from the other side of the ocean. There I saw a great country, powerful & prosperous, populous & crowded with people. Plenty are the elephant troops there, plenty the cavalry troops, chariot troops, & infantry troops. Plenty is the ivory-work there, plenty the gold & silver, both worked & unworked. Plenty are the women for the taking. It is possible, with the forces you now have, to conquer it. Conquer it, great king!' What would you do?"

"Having conquered it, Master Ratthapala, I would rule over it, too."

"It was in reference to this, great king, that the Blessed One who knows & sees, worthy & rightly self-awakened, said: 'The world is insufficient, insatiable, a slave to craving.' Having known & seen & heard this, I went forth from the home life into ascetic life."

"It's amazing, Master Ratthapala. It's astounding, how well that has been said by the Blessed One who knows & sees, worthy & rightly self-awakened: 'The world is insufficient, insatiable, a slave to craving.' For the world really is insufficient, Master Ratthapala. It's insatiable, a slave to craving."

That is what Ven. Ratthapala said. Having said that, he further said this:

I see in the world people with wealth who, from delusion, don't make a gift of the treasure they've gained. Greedy, they stash it away, hoping for even more sensual pleasures.


A king who, by force, has conquered the world and rules over the earth to the edge of the sea, dissatisfied with the ocean's near shore, longs for the ocean's far shore as well.

Kings & others — plenty of people — go to death with craving unabated. Unsated, they leave the body behind, having not had enough of the world's sensual pleasures.

One's relatives weep & pull out their hair. 'Oh woe, our loved one is dead,' they cry. Carrying him off, wrapped in a piece of cloth, they place him on a pyre, then set him on fire.

So he burns, poked with sticks, in just one piece of cloth, leaving all his possessions behind. They are not shelters for one who has died — not relatives, friends, or companions.

His heirs take over his wealth, while the being goes on, in line with his kamma. No wealth at all follows the dead one — not children, wives, dominion, or riches.

Long life can't be gotten with wealth, nor aging warded off with treasure. The wise say this life is next to nothing — impermanent, subject to change.

The rich & the poor touch the touch of Death. The foolish & wise are touched by it, too. But while fools lie as if slain by their folly, the wise don't tremble when touched by the touch.

Thus the discernment by which one attains to mastery, is better than wealth — for those who haven't reached mastery go from existence to existence, out of delusion, doing bad deeds.

One goes to a womb & to the next world, falling into the wandering on — one thing after another — while those of weak discernment, trusting in one, also go to a womb & to the next world.

Just as an evil thief caught at the break-in is destroyed by his own act, so evil people — after dying, in the next world — are destroyed by their own acts.

Sensual pleasures — variegated, enticing, sweet — in various ways disturb the mind. Seeing the drawbacks in sensual objects: that's why, O king, I went forth.

Just like fruits, people fall — young & old — at the break-up of the body. Knowing this, O king, I went forth. The contemplative life is better for sure.

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