SN 55.21 Mahānāma: Body and Mind on Death

SN 55.21 (1) Mahānāma (1)

Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling among the Sakyans at Kapilavatthu in Nigrodha’s Park. Then Mahānāma the Sakyan approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him, sat down to one side, and said to him:

“Venerable sir, this Kapilavatthu is rich and prosperous, populous, crowded, with congested thoroughfares.336 In the evening, when I am entering Kapilavatthu after visiting the Blessed One or the bhikkhus worthy of esteem, I come across a stray elephant, a stray horse, a stray chariot, a stray cart, a stray man.337 On that occasion, venerable sir, my mindfulness regarding the Blessed One becomes muddled, my mindfulness regarding the Dhamma becomes muddled, my mindfulness regarding the Saṅgha becomes muddled. The thought then occurs to me: ‘If at this moment I should die, what would be my destination, what would be my future bourn?’”

“Don’t be afraid, Mahānāma! Don’t be afraid, Mahānāma! Your death will not be a bad one, your demise will not be a bad one.338 When a person’s mind has been fortified over a long time by faith, virtue, learning, generosity, and wisdom, right here crows, vultures, hawks, dogs, jackals, or various creatures eat his body, consisting of form, composed of the four great elements, [370] originating from mother and father, built up out of rice and gruel, subject to impermanence, to being worn and rubbed away away, to breaking apart and dispersal. But his mind, which has been fortified over a long time by faith, virtue, learning, generosity, and wisdom—that goes upwards, goes to distinction.339

“Suppose, Mahānāma, a man submerges a pot of ghee or a pot of oil in a deep pool of water and breaks it. All of its shards and fragments would sink downwards, but the ghee or oil there would rise upwards. So too, Mahānāma, when a person’s mind has been fortified over a long time by faith, virtue, learning, generosity, and wisdom, right here crows … or various creatures eat his body.… But his mind, which has been fortified over a long time by faith, virtue, learning, generosity, and wisdom—that goes upwards, goes to distinction. [371]

“Don’t be afraid, Mahānāma! Don’t be afraid, Mahānāma! Your death will not be a bad one, your demise will not be a bad one.”

339 Taṃ uddhaṅgāmi hoti visesagāmi. The passage shows citta as the principle of personal continuity which survives the death of the body and reaps the fruits of kamma. In the case of a noble disciple it “goes to distinction” by way of a higher rebirth and by evolving onwards to Nibbāna. The following simile of the pot is at 42:6 (IV 313,27-30), differently applied.

Spk: He thought: “The Bhikkhu Saṅgha might speak without knowing, as it lacks omniscient knowledge, but there is no lack of knowledge in the Teacher.” , “issue concerning the Dhamma,” is glossed by Spk . At the same compound has quite a different meaning, rendered “a constellation of mental states.”

22 (2) Mahānāma (2)

(As above down to:)

“Don’t be afraid, Mahānāma! Don’t be afraid, Mahānāma! Your death will not be a bad one, your demise will not be a bad one. A noble disciple who possesses four things slants, slopes, and inclines towards Nibbāna. What four? Here, Mahānāma, a noble disciple possesses confirmed confidence in the Buddha … in the Dhamma … in the Saṅgha.… He possesses the virtues dear to the noble ones, unbroken … leading to concentration.

“Suppose, Mahānāma, a tree was slanting, sloping, and inclining towards the east. If it was cut down at its foot, in what direction would it fall?”

“In whatever direction it was slanting, sloping, and inclining, venerable sir.”

“So too, Mahānāma, a noble disciple who possesses these four things slants, slopes, and inclines towards Nibbāna.”

Published by Vimutta Fellowship Toronto

The Vimutta community is a group of Theravādan supporters in Canada, who share a focus on the practices based on the Buddha's teachings on the path toward liberation. The Pāli term“Vimutta” literally means “liberated, freed” from the cycle of death and rebirth (samsāra). If you share the vision and are interested and want to contribute, please feel free to contact us.