Explicit references to rebirth in the Aṭṭhakavagga

The Aṭṭhakavagga is best known as the fourth chapter of the Sutta Nipata; a much less studied version exists in Chinese. It’s a perennial favorite, and I’ve loved it for a long time. Over 20 years ago i memorized it in Pali, and have since edited two translations as well as translating several portions myself.

As it is verse, it is much less full and explicit in many areas as compared to the prose texts, and I am frequently bemused by the claims made about it. People say things, and I think, “is that the same text I’ve been reading?” And I go back and check, and see whether I have, after all, got it all wrong. And sometimes I have, so i learn something!

Anyway, here’s a question: does the Aṭṭhakavagga talk about rebirth? Yes it does. Here’s a quick list of some relevant passages, made from a cursory skim of the text. I avoid the many places where rebirth is suggested or alluded to, and stick with those passages that are explicit. About half of the suttas refer explicitly to rebirth, which is pretty much in line with the suttas in general.

Guhaṭṭha­ka­sutta, Snp 4.2

Passāmi loke pari­phanda­mānaṃ,
I see this generation writhing,
Pajaṃ imaṃ taṇhagataṃ bhavesu;
caught in craving for states of rebirth.
Hīnā narā maccumukhe lapanti,
Base men wail in the jaws of death,
Avītataṇhāse bhavābhavesu.
not rid of craving for various states of rebirth.

Abbūḷhasallo caramappamatto,
With dart extracted, living diligently,
Nāsīsatī lokamimaṃ parañcāti.
one cherishes no desire for this world or the next.

Duṭ­ṭhaṭṭha­ka­sutta, Snp 4.3

Dhonassa hi natthi kuhiñci loke,
For the cleansed have not in this world
Pakappitā diṭṭhi bhavābhavesu;
plans or views regarding various states of rebirth.

Paramaṭ­ṭha­kasutta, Snp 4.5

Yassūbhayante paṇidhīdha natthi,
One who has no intentions for either end,
Bhavābhavāya idha vā huraṃ vā;
rebirths in various states, here or elsewhere.

Māgaṇḍiyasutta, Snp 4.9

Santo anissāya bhavaṃ na jappe
Peaceful, independent, one would not long for rebirth.

Purābhedasutta, Snp 4.10

Bhavāya vibhavāya vā,
In whom there is no craving
taṇhā yassa na vijjati.
for either rebirth or annhilation.

Kalaha­vivāda­sutta, Snp 4.11

Phassanidānaṃ sātaṃ asātaṃ,
Contact is the source of the pleasant and unpleasant,
Phasse asante na bhavanti hete;
they do not exist without contact.
Vibhavaṃ bhavañcāpi yametamatthaṃ,
That thing which is rebirth and annihilation,
Etaṃ te pabrūmi itonidānaṃ
that too has its source in this.

Bhavābhavāya na sameti dhīro
The sage does not proceed to the various states of rebirth.

Tuvaṭakasutta, Snp 4.14

Bhavañca nābhijappeyya
One would not long for rebirth.

Sāriputtasutta, Snp 4.16

Evaṃ vagguvado satthā,
Such a sweet-voiced teacher
Tusitā gaṇimāgato.
come here from Tusita heaven.


Thank you so much, Bhante! The Aṭṭhakavagga is one of my absolute favourite collections of texts. More or less without fail reading from it makes me one shade of happy or other, from peacefully smiling to giddy with delight; can’t quite explain it, it just does.

On several occasions, I’ve run into the idea of it being “The Secularist’s” go-to-text, and I’ve always been utterly confused by this. I’ve got nothing against a secularist reading if that works for some folk, I just can’t see why this text above any other would be seen as of particular interest to those oriented in such a way. Up until now, my best explanation was that I was just being a bit thick, so it’s nice to have an alternative possibility presented.