The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha - Selections

7. Vatthūpama Sutta: The Simile of the Cloth

1. Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park. There he addressed the bhikkhus thus: “Bhikkhus.”—“Venerable sir,” they replied. The Blessed One said this:
    2. “Bhikkhus, suppose a cloth were defiled and stained, and a dyer dipped it in some dye or other, whether blue or yellow or red or pink; it would look poorly dyed and impure in colour. Why is that? Because of the impurity of the cloth. So too, when the mind is defiled, an unhappy destination may be expected. Bhikkhus, suppose a cloth were pure and bright, and a dyer dipped it in some dye or other, whether blue or yellow or red or pink; it would look well dyed and pure in colour. Why is that? Because of the purity of the cloth. So too, when the mind is undefiled, a happy destination may be expected.
    3. “What, bhikkhus, are the imperfections that defile the mind? Covetousness and unrighteous greed is an imperfection that defiles the mind. Ill will … anger … resentment … contempt …  insolence … envy … avarice … deceit … fraud … obstinacy … rivalry … conceit … arrogance … vanity … [37] … negligence is an imperfection that defiles the mind.
    4. “Knowing that covetousness and unrighteous greed is an imperfection that defiles the mind, a bhikkhu abandons it. Knowing that ill will … negligence is an imperfection that defiles the mind, a bhikkhu abandons it.
    5. “When a bhikkhu has known that covetousness and unrighteous greed is an imperfection that defiles the mind and has abandoned it; when a bhikkhu has known that ill will … negligence is an imperfection that defiles the mind and has abandoned it, he acquires perfect confidence in the Buddha thus: ‘The Blessed One is accomplished, fully enlightened, perfect in true knowledge and conduct, sublime, knower of worlds, incomparable leader of persons to be tamed, teacher of gods and humans, enlightened, blessed.’
    6. “He acquires perfect confidence in the Dhamma thus: ‘The Dhamma is well proclaimed by the Blessed One, visible here and now, immediately effective, inviting inspection, onward leading, to be experienced by the wise for themselves.’
    7. “He acquires perfect confidence in the Sangha thus: ‘The Sangha of the Blessed One’s disciples is practising the good way, practising the straight way, practising the true way, practising the proper way, that is, the four pairs of persons, the eight types of individuals; this Sangha of the Blessed One’s disciples is worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, worthy of reverential salutation, the unsurpassed field of merit for the world.’
    8. “When he has given up, expelled, released, abandoned, and relinquished [the imperfections of the mind] in part, he considers thus: ‘I am possessed of perfect confidence in the Buddha,’ and he gains inspiration in the meaning, gains inspiration in the Dhamma, gains gladness connected with the Dhamma. When he is glad, rapture is born in him; in one who is rapturous,
the body becomes tranquil; one whose body is tranquil feels pleasure; in one who feels pleasure, the mind becomes concentrated.
    9. “He considers thus: ‘I am possessed of perfect confidence in the Dhamma,’ and he gains inspiration in the meaning, gains inspiration in the Dhamma, gains gladness connected with the Dhamma. When he is glad … the mind becomes concentrated. [38]
    10. “He considers thus: ‘I am possessed of perfect confidence in the Sangha,’ and he gains inspiration in the meaning, gains inspiration in the Dhamma, gains gladness connected with the Dhamma. When he is glad … the mind becomes concentrated.
    11. “He considers thus: ‘[The imperfections of the mind] have in part been given up, expelled, released, abandoned, and relinquished by me,’ and he gains inspiration in the meaning, gains inspiration in the Dhamma, gains gladness connected with the Dhamma. When he is glad, rapture is born in him; in one who is rapturous, the body becomes tranquil; one whose body is tranquil feels pleasure; in one who feels pleasure, the mind becomes concentrated.
    12. “Bhikkhus, if a bhikkhu of such virtue, such a state [of concentration], and such wisdom eats almsfood consisting of choice hill rice along with various sauces and curries, even that will be no obstacle for him.Just as a cloth that is defiled and stained becomes pure and bright with the help of clear water, or just as gold becomes pure and bright with the help of a furnace, so too, if a bhikkhu of such virtue … eats almsfood … that will be no obstacle for him.
    13. “He abides pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth; so above, below, around, and everywhere, and to all as to himself, he abides pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill will.
    14–16. “He abides pervading one quarter with a mind imbued with compassion … with a mind imbued with altruistic joy … with a mind imbued with equanimity, likewise the second, likewise the third, likewise the fourth; so above, below, around, and everywhere, and to all as to himself, he abides pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with equanimity, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill will.
    17. “He understands thus: ‘There is this, there is the inferior, there is the superior, and beyond there is an escape from this whole field of perception.’
    18. “When he knows and sees thus, his mind is liberated from the taint of sensual desire, from the taint of being, and from the taint of ignorance. When it is liberated there comes the knowledge: ‘It is liberated.’ He understands: ‘Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being.’ [39] Bhikkhus, this bhikkhu is called one bathed with the inner bathing.”
    19. Now on that occasion the brahmin Sundarika Bhāradvāja was sitting not far from the Blessed One. Then he said to the Blessed One: “But does Master Gotama go to the Bāhukā River to bathe?”
    “Why, brahmin, go to the Bāhukā River? What can the Bāhukā River do?”
    “Master Gotama, the Bāhukā River is held by many to give liberation, it is held by many to give merit, and many wash away their evil actions in the Bāhukā River.”
    20. Then the Blessed One addressed the brahmin Sundarika Bhāradvāja in stanzas:

“Bāhukā and Adhikakkā,
Gayā and Sundarikā too,
Payāga and Sarassatī,
And the stream Bahumatī—
A fool may there forever bathe
Yet will not purify dark deeds.

What can the Sundarikā bring to pass?
What the Payāga? What the Bāhukā?
They cannot purify an evil-doer,
A man who has done cruel and brutal deeds.

One pure in heart has evermore
The Feast of Spring, the Holy Day;
One fair in act, one pure in heart
Brings his virtue to perfection.

It is here, brahmin, that you should bathe,
To make yourself a refuge for all beings.
And if you speak no falsehood
Nor work harm for living beings,
Nor take what is offered not,
With faith and free from avarice,
What need for you to go to Gayā?
For any well will be your Gayā.”

21. When this was said, the brahmin Sundarika Bhāradvāja said: “Magnificent, Master Gotama! Magnificent, Master Gotama! Master Gotama has made the Dhamma clear in many ways, as though he were turning upright what had been overthrown, revealing what was hidden, showing the way to one who was lost, or holding up a lamp in the dark for those with eyesight to see forms. I go to Master Gotama for refuge and to
the Dhamma and to the Sangha of bhikkhus. I would receive the going forth under Master Gotama, I would receive the full admission.”
    22. And the brahmin Sundarika Bhāradvāja received the going forth under the Blessed One, and he received the full admission. [40] And soon, not long after his full admission, dwelling alone, withdrawn, diligent, ardent, and resolute, the venerable Bhāradvāja, by realising for himself with direct knowledge, here and now entered upon and abided in that supreme goal of the holy life for the sake of which clansmen rightly go forth from the home life into homelessness. He directly knew: “Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being.” And the venerable Bhāradvāja became one of the arahants.

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© Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom Publications, 2009)

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