MN 12 The Similes of the Five Destinations and Nibbana

The following similes that explain the Supreme Buddha’s lokavidū quality are found in the Maha Siha Nada sutta. You can read the whole sutta here.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

There are these five destinations. What five? Hell, the animal realm, the ghost realm, humanity, and the gods.

I understand hell, and the path and practice that leads to hell. And I understand how someone practicing that way, when their body breaks up, after death, is reborn in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell. I understand the animal realm … the ghost realm … humanity … gods, and the path and practice that leads to the world of the gods. And I understand how someone practicing that way, when their body breaks up, after death, is reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm. And I understand Nibbāna, and the path and practice that leads to Nibbāna . And I understand how someone practicing that way realizes the undefiled freedom of heart and freedom by wisdom in this very life, and lives having realized it with their own insight due to the ending of defilements.

When I’ve comprehended the mind of a certain person, I understand: ‘This person is practicing in such a way and has entered such a path that when their body breaks up, after death, they will be reborn in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell.’ Then some time later I see that they have indeed been reborn in hell, where they experience exclusively painful feelings, sharp and severe. Suppose there was a pit of glowing coals deeper than a man’s height, full of glowing coals that neither flamed nor smoked. Then along comes a person struggling in the oppressive heat, weary, thirsty, and parched. But the path they’re on heads in one direction only, to that very same pit of coals. If a person with good eyesight saw them, they’d say: ‘This person is proceeding in such a way and has entered such a path that they will arrive at that very pit of coals.’ Then some time later they see that they have indeed fallen into that pit of coals, where they experience exclusively painful feelings, sharp and severe. …

When I’ve comprehended the mind of a certain person, I understand: ‘This person … will be reborn in the animal realm.’ Then some time later I see that they have indeed been reborn in the animal realm, where they experience painful feelings, sharp and severe. Suppose there was a sewer deeper than a man’s height, full to the brim with feces. Then along comes a person struggling in the oppressive heat, weary, thirsty, and parched. But the path they’re on heads in one direction only, to that very same sewer. If a person with good eyesight saw them, they’d say: ‘This person is proceeding in such a way and has entered such a path that they will arrive at that very sewer.’ Then some time later they see that they have indeed fallen into that sewer, where they experience painful feelings, sharp and severe. …

When I’ve comprehended the mind of a certain person, I understand: ‘This person … will be reborn in the ghost realm.’ Then some time later I see that they have indeed been reborn in the ghost realm, where they experience many painful feelings. Suppose there was a tree growing on rugged ground, with thin foliage casting dappled shade. Then along comes a person struggling in the oppressive heat, weary, thirsty, and parched. But the path they’re on heads in one direction only, to that very same tree. If a person with good eyesight saw them, they’d say: ‘This person is proceeding in such a way and has entered such a path that they will arrive at that very tree.’ Then some time later they see them sitting or lying under that tree, where they experience many painful feelings. …

When I’ve comprehended the mind of a certain person, I understand: ‘This person … will be reborn among human beings.’ Then some time later I see that they have indeed been reborn among human beings, where they experience many pleasant feelings. Suppose there was a tree growing on smooth ground, with abundant foliage casting dense shade. Then along comes a person struggling in the oppressive heat, weary, thirsty, and parched. But the path they’re on heads in one direction only, to that very same tree. If a person with good eyesight saw them, they’d say: ‘This person is proceeding in such a way and has entered such a path that they will arrive at that very tree.’ Then some time later they see them sitting or lying under that tree, where they experience many pleasant feelings. …

When I’ve comprehended the mind of a certain person, I understand: ‘This person … will be reborn in a good place, a heavenly realm.’ Then some time later I see that they have indeed been reborn in a heavenly realm, where they experience exclusively pleasant feelings. Suppose there was a palace with a peaked roof, plastered inside and out, draft-free, with latches fastened and windows shuttered. And it had a couch spread with woolen covers—shag-piled, pure white, or embroidered with flowers—and spread with a fine deer hide, with a canopy above and red pillows at both ends. Then along comes a person struggling in the oppressive heat, weary, thirsty, and parched. But the path they’re on heads in one direction only, to that very same palace. If a person with good eyesight saw them, they’d say: ‘This person is proceeding in such a way and has entered such a path that they will arrive at that very stilt longhouse.’ Then some time later they see them sitting or lying in that stilt longhouse, where they experience exclusively pleasant feelings. …

When I’ve comprehended the mind of a certain person, I understand: ‘This person is practicing in such a way and has entered such a path that they will realize the undefiled freedom of heart and freedom by wisdom in this very life, and live having realized it with their own insight due to the ending of defilements.’ Then some time later I see that they have indeed realized the undefiled freedom of heart and freedom by wisdom in this very life, and live having realized it with their own insight due to the ending of defilements, experiencing exclusively pleasant feelings. Suppose there was a lotus pond with clear, sweet, cool water, clean, with smooth banks, delightful. And nearby was a dark forest grove. Then along comes a person struggling in the oppressive heat, weary, thirsty, and parched. But the path they’re on heads in one direction only, to that very same lotus pond. If a person with good eyesight saw them, they’d say: ‘This person is proceeding in such a way and has entered such a path that they will arrive at that very lotus pond.’ Then some time later they would see that person after they had plunged into that lotus pond, bathed and drunk. When all their stress, weariness, and heat exhaustion had faded away, they emerged and sat or lay down in that woodland thicket, where they experienced exclusively pleasant feelings.

In the same way, when I’ve comprehended the mind of a person, I understand: ‘This person is practicing in such a way and has entered such a path that they will realize the undefiled freedom of heart and freedom by wisdom in this very life, and live having realized it with their own insight due to the ending of defilements.’ Then some time later I see that they have indeed realized the undefiled freedom of heart and freedom by wisdom in this very life, and live having realized it with their own insight due to the ending of defilements, experiencing exclusively pleasant feelings. These are the five destinations.

Based on the translation by Bhikkhu Sujato, 2018. Read the original on SuttaCentral.net