Saṅkhakathā or Saṅkha’s Story
Paccekabuddhas Teach Awakening
(from the Commentary to Dhammapada 290)

Edited & Translated by Anandajoti Bhikkhu
(October 2012)




The following story is extracted from the Dhammapada Commentary to verse 290. The commentarial story tells how Vesālī, the capital of the Vajjian country, at one point suffered from famine, ghosts and disease. After trying other teachers who were unable to solve the crisis, they decided to request the Buddha to help. The Buddha, who was residing at Rājagaha, knowing that by reciting the Ratanasuttaṁ The Discourse on the Treasures, Khp. 6.1 all problems will be resolved, agreed.

Bimbisāra, the King of Magadhā, on the southern side of the Ganges, and the Licchavī princes of the Vajjīs on the northern side, clear the road for him and establish a great festival, which Sakka, the King of the Gods, also joins.

The Buddha instructs his faithful disciple Ānanda in the discourse, and he recites it while walking round the city. Not only are the inhabitants saved, but thousands attain Path and Fruit. After these successes the monks gather and talk about the parade from Rājagaha to Vesālī, and the Buddha explains how such a magnificent festival came about as a result of a previous deed he had performed, and relates a previous life-story. This is one of many previous life stories not found in the Jātaka collection.2

The main interest in the story is that it shows Paccekabuddhas teaching, and even to the point where their pupil attains Awakening, which goes against the oft-heard statement that Paccekabuddhas do not teach. The situation, however, is that they do not set up a Dispensation (Sāsana), which is something very different.

The story is retold in the Khuddhapāṭha Commentary, with much elaboration and some variations; An important one is noted at the relevant place below.3 and also compare Mahāvastu, Mahāvastu 1. pp. 267-270.4 where the setting is the same, but a somewhat different story is told: there the pupil becomes a Buddha, and his (unnamed) Father erects parasols over him, the outcome of which is glory in many future lives, and eventually he becomes the Buddha having the parasols raised up to Heaven at Vaiśālī.

[The Occasion]

...bhikkhū piṇḍapātapaṭikkantā,
...(amongst) the monks, after returning from the alms-round,

sāyanhasamaye Dhammasabhāyaṁ sannisinnā,
in the evening time, while sitting in the Dhamma Hall,

kathaṁ samuṭṭhāpesuṁ:
this conversion arose:

“Aho Buddhānaṁ mahānubhāvo!
“Indeed, the Buddhas are very powerful!

Aho Satthari devamanussānaṁ pasādo!
Indeed gods and men have faith in the Teacher!

Gaṅgāya nāma orato ca pārato ca aṭṭhayojane magge,
Both on this side and the other side of the Ganges along a pathway for eight leagues,

Buddhagatena pasādena,
because of gaining faith in the Buddha,

Rājūhi samatalaṁ bhūmiṁ katvā,
after the ground was made smooth by the Kings,

vālukā okiṇṇā, jaṇṇumattena odhinā nānāvaṇṇāni pupphāni santhatāni,
sand was scattered, and various coloured flowers were strewn about knee-deep,

Gaṅgāya udakaṁ Nāgānubhāvena pañcavaṇṇehi padumehi sañchannaṁ,
through the power of the Nāgas the waters of the Ganges were covered with lotuses of five colours,

yāva Akaniṭṭhabhavanā chattātichattāni ussāpitāni,
as far as the dwelling place of the Highest of the High Divinities That is, in the highest Brahmā realms.5 parasols upon parasols were raised on high,

sakalacakkavāḷagabbhaṁ ekālaṅkāraṁ ekussavaṁ viya jātan”-ti.
the inside of the whole universe became like one great ornament and festival.”

Satthā āgantvā: “Kāyanuttha, bhikkhave, etarahi kathāya sannisinnā?” ti pucchitvā,
After the Teacher came and asked: “What is the talk about, monks, amongst those who have assembled together at present?”

“Imāya nāmā,” ti vutte.
They said: “It is just so.”

“Na, bhikkhave, esa pūjāsakkāro mayhaṁ Buddhānubhāvena nibbatto,
“Monks, this worship and respect didn’t arise through the power of my being an Buddha,

na Nāgadevabrahmānubhāvena.
nor through the powers of the Nāgas, Gods and High Divinities.

Atīte pana appamattakapariccāgānubhāvena nibbatto.” ti
It arose through the power of trifling donations (I made) in the past.”

Vatvā, bhikkhūhi yācito atītaṁ āhari.
After hearing that, he was begged by the monks to show them the past.

[The Past Deeds]

Atīte Takkasilāyaṁ Saṅkho nāma brāhmaṇo ahosi.
In the past, in Takkasilā, there was a brāhmaṇa called Saṅkha.

Tassa putto Susīmo nāma māṇavo soḷasavassuddesiko
His son, a sixteen year old student called Susīma,

ekadivasaṁ Pitaraṁ upasaṅkamitvā āha:
after approaching his Father one day said:

“Icchāmahaṁ, Tāta, Bārāṇasiṁ gantvā mante ajjhāyitun.”-ti
“After going to Bārāṇasī, Dear, I wish to learn the scriptures.” Lit: the mantras; the verses of the Vedas, or ancient Hindu texts, is what it means.6

Atha naṁ Pitā āha:
Then his Father said to him:

“Tena hi, Tāta, asuko nāma brāhmaṇo mama sahāyako,
“Alright, Dear, a brāhmaṇa called so-and-so is my friend,

tassa santikaṁ gantvā adhīyassū.” ti
after going into his presence, you could learn (them).”

So: “Sādhū!” ti paṭissuṇitvā, anupubbena Bārāṇasiṁ gantvā,
After agreeing by saying: “Good!” he gradually went to Bārāṇasī,

taṁ brāhmaṇaṁ upasaṅkamitvā Pitarā pahitabhāvam-ācikkhi.
and after approaching the brāhmaṇa he explained he had been sent by his Father.

Atha naṁ so: “Sahāyakassa me putto,” ti sampaṭicchitvā,
Then after accepting him, saying: “He is my friend’s son,”

and relieving his anxiety,

bhaddakena divasena, mante vācetum-ārabhi.
on an auspicious day, he began to recite the scriptures.

So lahuñ-ca gaṇhanto bahuñ-ca gaṇhanto attano uggahituggahitaṁ,
Quickly learning (it) and learning a great deal he retained it (all) himself,

suvaṇṇabhājane pakkhittasīhatelam-iva avinassamānaṁ dhārento,
just like precious oil Lit: Lion’s oil, but it is unclear whether this means the oil was taken from Lions, or whether it just indicated its preciosity.7 placed in a golden vessel is borne without loss,

na cirasseva ācariyassa sammukhato uggaṇhitabbaṁ,
in no long time he learned (it) from his teacher’s lips,

sabbaṁ uggaṇhitvā, sajjhāyaṁ karonto attano uggahitasippassa,
and having learned all, he became skilled in making recitation of the teaching,

ādimajjham-eva passati, no pariyosānaṁ.
and he could understand the beginning and middle of (it), but not the end.

So ācariyaṁ upasaṅkamitvā:
After approaching his teacher, he said:

“Ahaṁ imassa sippassa ādimajjham-eva passāmi, no pariyosānan.”-ti
“I see the beginning and the middle of this teaching, but not the end.”

Vatvā, ācariyena: “Aham-pi, Tāta, na passāmī.” ti
Having heard (that), the teacher said: “I also do not see (it), Dear.”

Vutte: “Atha ko, ācariya, pariyosānaṁ jānātī?” ti
When this was said, he said: “Then who knows the end, teacher?”

Pucchitvā: “Ime, Tāta, isayo Isipatane viharanti, te jāneyyuṁ,
After being asked, he said: “There are seers living in Isipatana, The name means the Seer’s Park, it is just outside Bārāṇasī, where the Buddha gave his first teaching.8 Dear, they know,

tesaṁ santikaṁ upasaṅkamitvā pucchassū.” ti
after approaching you could ask them.”

Ācariyena vutte, Paccekabuddhe upasaṅkamitvā pucchi:
When this was said by the teacher, after approaching the Paccekabuddhas, he asked:

“Tumhe kira pariyosānaṁ jānāthā?” ti
“Do you know the end (of the teaching)?”

“Āma, jānāmā.” ti
“Yes, we know.”

“Tena hi me ācikkhathā?” ti
“Will you teach it to me?”

“Na mayaṁ apabbajitassa ācikkhāma,
“We will not teach one who has not gone-forth,

sace te pariyosānen’ attho, pabbajassū.” ti
if you want (to know) the meaning of the end, you should go forth.” In the Commentary to the Khuddakapāṭha, which is based on earlier accounts (and is therefore itself later), it is at pains to mention that the Paccekabuddhas only taught minor things like wearing the robes; but the strong implication here is that they were able to teach not just the beginning (like wearing of robes), but also the end, which was the condition for Susīma’s Awakening. 9

So: “Sādhū!” ti sampaṭicchitvā tesaṁ santike pabbaji.
After replying: “Good!” he went forth in their presence.

Athassa te: “Idaṁ tāva sikkhassū,” ti
They said to him: “You should learn this,”

vatvā: “Evaṁ te nivāsetabbaṁ, evaṁ pārupitabban”-ti-ādinā,
and saying: “You should dress thus, and you should cover yourself thus,” and so on,

nayena ābhisamācārikaṁ ācikkhiṁsu.
they methodically taught him good conduct.

So tattha sikkhanto, upanissayasampannattā,
Training right there, and having the supporting conditions,

na cirasseva, Paccekasambodhiṁ abhisambujjhitvā,
in no long time, after attaining the Pacceka Awakening,

sakala-Bārāṇasinagare, gaganatale puṇṇacando viya,
throughout the whole of the city of Bārāṇasī, like a full-moon in the sky,

pākaṭo lābhaggayasaggappatto ahosi.
he attained the highest gains and the highest fame.

So appāyukasaṁvattanikassa kammassa katattā,
As the deeds he had performed (in past lives) led only to a short lifespan,

na cirasseva Parinibbāyi.
in no long time he was Finally Emancipated.

Athassa Paccekabuddhā ca mahājano ca, sarīrakiccaṁ katvā,
Then the Paccekabuddhas and the populace, after performing the funeral ceremonies,

dhātuyo ca gahetvā, nagaradvāre Thūpaṁ kāresuṁ.
and gathering the relics, had a Shrine built at the gate to the city.

Saṅkho pi brāhmaṇo: ‘Putto me ciraṁ gato, pavattimassa jānissāmī,’ ti
The brāhmaṇa Saṅkha, thinking: ‘My son has been gone a long time, I would (like to) know what happened,’

taṁ daṭṭhukāmo, Takkasilāto nikkhamitvā,
and desiring to see him, after leaving from Takkasilā,

anupubbena Bārāṇasiṁ patvā,
gradually reaching Bārāṇasī,

mahājanakāyaṁ sannipatitaṁ disvā,
and seeing the populace gathered round,

‘Addhā imesu eko pi me puttassa pavattiṁ jānissatī,’ ti
thinking: ‘Surely one of these will know what happened to my son,’

upasaṅkamitvā pucchi:
after approaching, asked:

“Susīmo nāma māṇavo idhāgami,
“A student called Susīma came here,

api nu kho tassa pavattiṁ jānāthā?” ti
does anyone know what happened to him?”

“Āma, brāhmaṇa, jānāma:
“Yes, brāhmaṇa, we know:

asukassa brāhmaṇassa santike Tayo Vede sajjhāyitvā, pabbajitvā,
after learning the Three Vedas from a certain brāhmaṇa, and going-forth

Paccekasambodhiṁ sacchikatvā Parinibbuto,
and attaining Independent Awakening, he was Finally Emancipated,

ayamassa thūpo patiṭṭhāpito.” ti
and this is the Shrine we established.”

So bhūmiṁ hatthena paharitvā roditvā kanditvā,
After beating the ground with his hand, crying and weeping,

taṁ Cetiyaṅgaṇaṁ gantvā tiṇāni uddharitvā,
going to the courtyard of the Shrine and removing the grass,

uttarasāṭakena vālukaṁ āharitvā, cetiyaṅgaṇe ākiritvā,
carrying sand in his outer robe, and sprinkling it in the courtyard of the Shrine,

kamaṇḍaluto udakena paripphositvā,
and sprinkling water all round from his water pitcher,

vanapupphehi pūjaṁ katvā,
worshipping with wild flowers,

sāṭakena paṭākaṁ āropetvā,
erecting his robe as a flag,

Thūpassa upari attano chattakaṁ bandhitvā, pakkāmi.
and binding his own parasol over the Shrine, he departed.

[The Result of the Deeds]

Satthā idaṁ atītaṁ āharitvā:
The Teacher, after showing them the past, said:

“Tadā, bhikkhave, ahaṁ Saṅkho brāhmaṇo ahosiṁ.
“Then, monks, I was the brāhmaṇa Saṅkha.

Mayā Susīmassa Paccekabuddhassa cetiyaṅgaṇe tiṇāni uddhaṭāni.
I removed the grass in the courtyard of the Paccekabuddha Susīma’s Shrine.

Tassa me kammassa nissandena
Because of that deed of mine

aṭṭhayojanamaggaṁ vihatakhāṇukakaṇṭakaṁ katvā,
after clearing the road for eight leagues around of thorns and stumps,

suddhaṁ samatalaṁ kariṁsu.
the (Kings) made the ground clean and even.

Mayā tattha vālukā okiṇṇā.
I sprinkled sand there.

Tassa me nissandena
Because of that (deed) of mine

aṭṭhayojanamagge vālukaṁ okiriṁsu.
sand was sprinkled on the road for eight leagues.

Mayā tattha vanakusumehi pūjā katā.
I worshiped there with wild flowers.

Tassa me nissandena
Because of that (deed) of mine

aṭṭhayojanamagge nānāvaṇṇāni pupphāni okiṇṇāni,
various coloured flowers were sprinkled round the road for eight leagues,

ekayojanaṭṭhāne Gaṅgāya udakaṁ pañcavaṇṇehi padumehi sañchannaṁ.
and five-coloured lotuses covered the top of the waters of the Ganges for one league.

Mayā tattha kamaṇḍalūdakena bhūmi paripphositā.
I sprinkled the ground all round with water from my water pitcher.

Tassa me nissandena
Because of that (deed) of mine

Vesāliyaṁ pokkharavassaṁ vassi.
it rained flowers down on Vesālī.

Mayā tattha paṭākā āropitā chattakañ-ca baddhaṁ.
There I erected my robe, and bound the parasol.

Tassa me nissandena
Because of that (deed) of mine

yāva Akaniṭṭhabhavanā dhajapaṭākachattātichattādīhi
as far as the dwelling place of the Highest of the High Divinities there were flags, robes and parasols upon parasols and so on raised on high,

sakalacakkavāḷagabbhaṁ ekussavaṁ viya jātaṁ.
and the inside of the whole universe became like one great ornament and festival.

Iti kho, bhikkhave, esa pūjāsakkāro
Thus, monks, this worship and honour

mayhaṁ neva Buddhānubhāvena nibbatto,
did not arise for me because of the power of being an Buddha,

na Nāgadevabrahmānubhāvena,
nor through the powers of the Nāgas, Gods and High Divinities,

atīte pana appamattakapariccāgānubhāvenā.” ti
but because of the power of trifling donations (I made) in the past.”

Vatvā, Dhammaṁ desento imaṁ gātham-āha:
After saying that, teaching the Dhamma he recited this verse:

“Mattāsukhapariccāgā passe ce vipulaṁ sukhaṁ,
“If he could see a great happiness by abandoning a limited happiness,

Caje mattāsukhaṁ dhīro, sampassaṁ vipulaṁ sukhan.”-ti
A wise man should give up that limited happiness, considering the greater happiness.” As many times happens the story hardly fits in with the verse; the story tells of someone who did a small deed and got a great reward, whereas the verse is about someone who gave up a little in order to gain a greater good. 10