Disturbed by Sangamaji Sutta (Ud 1.8) Anyone have any insights or more positive ways of looking at it?

Here’s the text:

So I have heard. At one time the Buddha was staying near Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s monastery. Now at that time around Venerable Saṅgāmaji had arrived at Sāvatthī to see the Buddha. His former wife heard that he had arrived, and went to the Jetavana, taking their boy.
Now at that time Venerable Saṅgāmaji was sitting at the root of a tree for the day’s meditation. Then his former wife went up to him and said, “I have a little child, ascetic, so please provide for me.” When she said this, Saṅgāmaji kept silent.
For a second time she said, “I have a little child, ascetic, so please provide for me.” For a second time, Saṅgāmaji kept silent.
For a third time she said, “I have a little child, ascetic, so please provide for me.” For a third time, Saṅgāmaji kept silent.
Then she put down the boy in front of Saṅgāmaji, saying, “This is your child, ascetic. Provide for him.”
But Saṅgāmaji neither looked at the boy nor spoke to him. Then his former wife went a little distance away. Looking back, she saw Saṅgāmaji ignoring the boy, and thought, “This ascetic doesn’t even want his child.” She returned to pick up the boy, then left. With clairvoyance that is purified and superhuman, the Buddha saw how Saṅgāmaji’s former wife went back for the child.
Then, understanding this matter, on that occasion the Buddha expressed this heartfelt sentiment:
“When she came he was not glad,
when she left he did not grieve.
Victorious in battle, freed from chains,
that’s who I call a brahmin.”
Ud 1.8 Sujato

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This is what the translator, Bhante @sujato, says about this Sutta:

From here. I think this is the longest comment he made on a single Sutta in his essay on the Udāna.


Hi 1HOAG. My speculations here are, first, I would assume the lady lived as a part of an extended family who looked after her material needs. Second, if the lady did not return for the boy, the monk would have probably taken the boy (if old enough) into the Sangha or otherwise taken the boy to a good home for care. I sense the moral of the story is not so much about the boy but about the ex-wife seeking the monk’s affections. I imagine the same happened with the bhikkhunis, such as MN 44, where, for some reason, the Noble Lady is teaching Dhamma to her ex-husband. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Just wait till you see the suttanipata essay!


Sangāmaji belonged to a rich family. His parents married him and he had a son. When he wanted to join the Order, the Buddha advised him to have his parent’s leave. Time later, his parents tried to persuade him to leave the order and return to home. He would not even speak to them. And then they sent his wife and son.

If there is understanding of the final goal of Dhamma, there is not disturbing thing in that Sutta.

Where is the disturbing thing?

Be aware the Dhamma is not a Semitic Religion to sing songs with the family looking the cumulonimbus. Bhikkhus are people who leave the home and the world. On the contrary, one can remain like a lay follower.

In India everybody known the meaning of that type of renunciation. There is no disturbing thing

I think it’s heading into trouble to try and make everything in the Canon “positive” in the sense it has to make us “feel good”.

Samsara is not positive. I think what it truly takes to escape it is vastly underestimated by those of us here in the West, and stories like this are illustrative of that fact. Additionally, we confuse the cushy circumstances of our lives in the present day with the significantly less pleasant existance of bronze and iron age communities.

I think ultimately what we need is realism, which the Canon has absolutely no qualms about throwing in our face. I am sympathetic to all parties involved, but as Ven. Sujato points out, those few small paragraphs are all we have to go on, with no additional context, so sympathy is where my emotional investment ends. I refrain from judgement.


The woman and child would in the long run derive supreme benefit from the encounter:

“As he observes him, he comes to know, 'There are in this venerable one no such qualities based on delusion… His bodily behavior & verbal behavior are those of one not deluded. And the Dhamma he teaches is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, tranquil, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. This Dhamma can’t easily be taught by a person who’s deluded.”—MN 95

Looking forward to that, and the suttanipata talks…

Venerable Analaylo would reasonably argue that it is commentary, as are all the prose in the Ud. Still, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Personally I don’t find it disturbing.

Do you know what book or paper he presents this argument in?

Maybe I am too attached to the world and my spirituality is underdeveloped, yet.

For me, this is a hard story to read, but it’s even more painful to read the comments here.
I empathize with the perception that some people have about theravadins as individualistic and “self-centered” (not in the sense of protecting or feeding one’s identity or ego).
And, also, I comprehend why the Socially Engaged movement exists.

It is shocking for me how the “empathy/ethical radar” that a lot of humans around the world have (even across cultures) seem to be off for some practitioners.
And there seems to be some process similar to racionalization (in the psychological use of the term) that makes others buddhist change the common use of the concept of ‘ethics’ to mean something along the lines of “not doing (kammic) unwholesome deeds”. Personally, I think there is some relation and overlapping between the class of acts usually labeled “unethical” in ordinary language and in modern philosophy (in most positions of ethics, not all), and the class of the unwholesome deeds in the buddhist sense; but such overlapping is partial, and both concepts are different to me, and have to be treated differently.
So, not all eschewing of unwholesome traits and deeds, and not all cultivation and execution of wholesome deeds lead or is equal to ethical deeds; sometimes, buddhists seem to evade social responsability, undervalue altruism or reduce ethical deeds and altruism to the buddhist sense of not doing the unwholesome.

Maybe, I’ll be reading this in the future and I’ll be disagreeing with everything I wrote and thought. Today is not the day. I cannot and don’t want to ignore socially urgent issues, justifying negligence if it’s done for religious reasons.
In my eyes, it is socially, ethically and politically dangerous.

If I were to follow the buddhist path (as it’s taught in the EBTs) to the last consequences, and dedicating completely to attain the goal, maybe I’ll have to recognize that by taking the path I’m intentionally not focusing on (or even straight ignoring) politics, and on ethics (of the care of material and psychological conditions of wellbeing of the majority of people) as well, and that the only ethical deeds I’ll do are those that intersect with the cultivation of the wholesome and the destruction of the unwholesome.

Good luck to those following the buddhist path strictly. Maybe, in some future time, I’ll be taking such strict adherence myself; I don’t know what the future might bring to me.
Kind regards.


‘Going forth’ has always been a formal public process in which the person concerned, after obtaining parental permission, severs all ties with the family while handing over all possessions to their relatives and leaving with nothing… not even the clothes on their back. The renunciate gives up all rights of material inheritance and even any moral expectations of care from the family in exchange for ‘Freedom’.

In today’s parlance it would be as if someone was to undergo a divorce, handing over all his material possessions to the family and retaining no visitation or other rights, while becoming homeless in the process. All he has left is ‘Freedom’.

Once such a decree has been finalized, how should we view the ex-wife’s action of turning up some time later at the person’s doorstep (mind you, he’s homeless and living at the foot of a tree!) basically trying to get him to provide (yet more!) for her? And using the child as a pawn??

Personally, its the former wife’s actions I find disturbing. :thinking:


“Thus from an original nucleus of Udānas two lines of development can be discerned, one of which leads to the Udāna now preserved in Pāli by adding a prose commentary to the Udānas, while the other incorporated Udānas from the Dhammapada/Dharmapada collections, resulting in the Udāna collection preserved in Sanskrit.”

udana.pdf (uni-hamburg.de)

Not only certain words or parts of a discourse, but at times entire prose sections appear
to be later additions of a commentarial nature. This can be seen, for example, in
the Udana collection, whose verses are embedded in prose narrations that often appear
to have been added at a later time.

A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikaya: Volume 2


philosophically this is not strange thing in Ethics. In example the Hippocratic Oath establish “First, do no harm”. A very similar approach

This can be applied to bigger realities where we lack of a more exact knowledge, in example with floodings attributed to climate changes, Myanmar revolts, Ukraine, and such problems. Therefore it is not strange that many Buddhist people avoid a position. It doesn’t mean there is no empathy with the people in these troubles.

Maybe what we miss is seeing how the individuals are leaving their own discernment into collective slogans to defend noble causes. What do you think?

Buddhist ethics is developed with both compassion and wisdom. Historically, besides the top clergy relations with governments, the main focus for a social engagement were the beings and the environment in the own reach. Although note if everybody would do the same, all the world problems would be solved quickly.

The slavery to slogans and political narratives frequently are an obstacle for empathy. In example, these days probably there are Buddhists in the Netherlands who are socially engaged to avoid the expropriation of lands with the argument of a global Climate Change. It happens in a country with a size smaller than any USA state, and being the Dutch farmers world leaders in Ecological production.

However, the Climate Change activists won’t say anything because they should keep the coherence with their adopted slogans and narratives.

The bigger realities are complex and frequently deceiving. A typical advice is the best space to develop social actions exist in the own reach, be individual and the own community. This is not a lack of social concern but a different way.

Thanks for your honesty, i agree completely.

This is a subtle topic, and I agree that there is need for a more careful analysis.

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