At Kālaka’s Park (AN.IV.24)

Translated from Pāli by Christopher J. Ash

At one time the flourishing one (the Buddha) was staying at Sāketa, in Kālaka’s monastery, where he addressed the mendicants:


“Sir,” they replied.

“Practitioners, whatever there is – in the world, with its gods, it Māras and Brahmas; among the beings consisting of recluses, brahmins, gods and men – whatsoever is seen, heard, sensed, and cognised, attained, sought after, and ruminated on by the mind: I know all that. I have fully comprehended all that; all that is known to a Tathāgata,** but a Tathāgata does not place himself under that knowledge.

“If I were to say: ‘Practitioners, whatsoever in the world . . . . whatsoever is seen and heard . . . . . by the mind, all that I do not know,’ It would be false of me.  If I were to say: ‘I both know it and know it not,’ that, too, would be false of me. If I were to say: ‘I neither know it, nor am I ignorant of it,’ it would be a fault in me.

“Practitioners, when seeing, a Tathāgata does not conceive of a seen; she does not conceive of an unseen; she does not conceive of a ‘possible-to-see’;*** and, she does not conceive of a seer.

“When hearing, she does not conceive of a thing heard; she does not conceive of an unheard; she does not conceive of a ‘possible-to-hear’; and, she does not conceive of a hearer.

“When sensing, he does not conceive of a thing sensed; she does not conceive of an un-sensed; she does not conceive of a ‘possible-to-sense’; and, she does not conceive of one sensing.

“When cognizing, she does not conceive of a thing cognized; she does not conceive of an uncognized; she does not conceive of a ‘possible-to-cognize’; and, he does not conceive of a cognizer.

“Thus, Practitioners, a Tathāgata being ‘such’ in regard to all phenomena seen, heard, sensed and cognized, is ‘such.’ Moreover, I say: Than one who is ‘such,’ there is none greater or more excellent.

“Whatever is seen, heard, sensed, or clung to,
is valued as ‘truth’ by other folk.
Amid those who are stuck in their views,
I hold nothing as true or false, being ‘such.’

“This snag I beheld, long before,
whereupon humankind is hooked, is impaled:
‘I know, I see. It is truly so.’
No such clinging for Tathāgatas.”

© 2021, Christopher J. Ash


*The sutta presents two ways of speaking about ‘This’ – the big activity that this ‘whatever-it-is’ is. The two ways are the valid knowing, and the non-conceiving. I suspect this and similar passages elsewhere in the Nikāyas are what gave rise to the later ‘Two truths’ doctrine.

** It is helpful to think of Tathagāta as referring to a person who comes and goes in suchness – that is, who is not identified with anything that comes and goes; who, for that reason, can’t be found by Death.
The one for whom there is no attachment, with its net,
No craving to lead him anywhere –
By what path will you lead him,
The trackless Buddha of infinite range?

Trans by Valerie Roebuck, The Dhammapada (Penguin Classics), verse 180. Penguin Books Ltd.

*** This is literally ‘to-be-seen,’ which could refer to a future seeing. Ñāṇananda translates it as ‘a thing-worth-seeing.’ Bodhi: ‘What can be seen.’ Thanissaro: ‘to-be-seen.’ Given the context, I’ve taken it as closer to  Ñāṇananda’s translation, and Bodhi’s. I suggest it represents some desire for a different kind of object, wishing for another kind of experience.
So, I suggest that the Tathagāta  doesn’t conceive of objects as actual, independent, and over there; objects in any condition – an object seen, an object not seen, an object possible to see (imagined). Neither does she doesn’t conceive of a seer.