To the Clothless Ascetic
Acela Sutta  (SN 12:17)

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Rājagaha in the Bamboo Forest, the Squirrels’ Sanctuary. Then early in the morning the Blessed One, having adjusted his lower robe and taking his bowl & outer robe, went into Rājagaha for alms. Kassapa the clothless1 ascetic saw him coming from afar. On seeing him, he went to him and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he stood to one side. As he was standing there, he said to the Blessed One, “We would like to question Master Gotama about a certain point, if he would take the time to answer our question.”

“This is not the time for a question, Kassapa. We have entered among houses.”

A second time.… A third time Kassapa the clothless ascetic said to him, “We would like to question Master Gotama about a certain point, if he would take the time to answer our question.”

“This is not the time for a question, Kassapa. We have entered among houses.”

When this was said, Kassapa the clothless ascetic said, “What we want to ask isn’t much.”

“Then ask as you like.”

“Master Gotama, is pain self-made?”

“Don’t say that, Kassapa.”

“Then is it other-made?”

“Don’t say that, Kassapa.”

“Then is it both self-made and other-made?”

“Don’t say that, Kassapa.”

“Then is it the case that pain, without self-making or other-making, is spontaneously arisen?”

“Don’t say that, Kassapa.”

“Then is there no pain?”

“It’s not the case, Kassapa, that there is no pain. There is pain.”

“Then, in that case, does Master Gotama not know or see pain?”

“Kassapa, it’s not the case that I don’t know or see pain. I know pain. I see pain.”

“Now, Master Gotama, when asked, ‘Is pain self-made?’ you say, ‘Don’t say that, Kassapa.‘ When asked, ‘Then is it other-made?‘ you say, ‘Don’t say that, Kassapa.‘ When asked, ‘Then is it both self-made and other-made?’ you say, ‘Don’t say that, Kassapa.‘ When asked, ‘Then is it the case that pain, being neither self-made nor other-made, arises spontaneously?’ you say, ‘Don’t say that, Kassapa.‘ When asked, ‘Then is there no pain?’ you say, ‘It’s not the case, Kassapa, that there is no pain. There is pain.‘ When asked, ‘Well, in that case, does Master Gotama not know or see pain?’ you say, ‘Kassapa, it’s not the case that I don’t know or see pain. I know pain. I see pain.’ Then tell me about pain, lord Blessed One. Teach me about pain, lord Blessed One!”

“Kassapa, the statement, ‘With the one who acts being the same as the one who experiences, existing from the beginning, pain is self-made’: This circles around eternalism. And the statement, ‘With the one who acts being one thing, and the one who experiences being another, existing as the one struck by the feeling’: This circles around annihilationism.2 Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathāgata teaches the Dhamma via the middle:

From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications.

From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness.

From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form.

From name-&-form as a requisite condition come the six sense media.

From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact.

From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling.

From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving.

From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance.

From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming.

From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth.

From birth as a requisite condition, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.

“Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications. From the cessation of fabrications comes the cessation of consciousness. From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form. From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging-&-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering.”

When this was said, Kassapa the clothless ascetic said, “Magnificent, lord! Magnificent! Just as if he were to place upright what was overturned, to reveal what was hidden, to show the way to one who was lost, or to carry a lamp into the dark so that those with eyes could see forms, in the same way has the Blessed One—through many lines of reasoning—made the Dhamma clear. I go to the Blessed One for refuge, to the Dhamma, and to the Saṅgha of monks. Let me obtain the Going-forth in the Blessed One’s presence, let me obtain Acceptance [into the Saṅgha of monks].”

“Anyone, Kassapa, who has previously belonged to another sect and who desires the Going-forth & Acceptance in this Dhamma & Vinaya, must first undergo probation for four months. If, at the end of four months, the monks feel so moved, they give him the Going-forth & accept him to the monk’s state. But I know distinctions among individuals in this matter.”

“Lord, if that is so, I am willing to undergo probation for four years. If, at the end of four years, the monks feel so moved, let them give me the going forth & accept me to the monk’s state.”

Then Kassapa the clothless ascetic obtained the Going-forth in the Blessed One’s presence, he obtained Acceptance. And not long after his Acceptance—dwelling alone, secluded, heedful, ardent, & resolute—he in no long time entered & remained in the supreme goal of the holy life, for which clansmen rightly go forth from home into homelessness, directly 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. Kassapa became another one of the arahants.”

Notes

1. Acela: “One without cloth.” Often translated as “naked,” but as MN 45 shows, such a person might wear garments made of something other than cloth.

2. This statement tends toward annihilationism in implying that personal identity is simply a series of radically different persons, one disappearing to be replaced by another repeatedly throughout time. In other words, the X who did the action whose fruit X is now experiencing is a radically different X from the X who is now experiencing it. That first X has disappeared and has been replaced by a different one. The Buddha avoids this error—and the eternalist error of self-causation—by refusing to get entangled in questions of personal identity. See MN 109, SN 12:12, and SN 12:35.

See also: SN 12:18; SN 12:25; SN 12:46; SN 12:67