Refuge and Ajatasattu and Hell

Hi, in the Samannaphala Sutta, Ajatasattu took refuge in the buddha.

He did kill his father prior to that, which is an anantarika kamma.

And in the Sarakaani Sutta the buddha says, one who has for a long time taken refuge cannot go to states of woe.

How can a follower of the buddha understand that without a contradiction?

All the best to you.


The contradiction shows that we should take the laws of karma as stated in the suttas with a grain of salt. It’s probably much more complicated and subtle that we can conceive or imagine.

The only possible way to solve the contradiction would be to know the laws of karma and rebirth by one own’s experience… until then we have to live with the knowledge that we know next to nothing, particularly when it comes to the rules of the game of the other world.

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Mahākammavibhaṅga Sutta (MN 136) explains that good deeds not always give rise to a birth in a good realm (suggati).

But some other person here refrains from killing living creatures, stealing, committing sexual misconduct, or using speech that’s false, divisive, harsh, or nonsensical. And they’re contented, kind-hearted, and have right view. When their body breaks up, after death, they’re reborn in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell.

Sāmaññaphala Sutta:

“Excellent, sir! Excellent! As if he were righting the overturned, or revealing the hidden, or pointing out the path to the lost, or lighting a lamp in the dark so people with good eyes can see what’s there, the Buddha has made the teaching clear in many ways. I go for refuge to the Buddha, to the teaching, and to the mendicant Saṅgha. From this day forth, may the Buddha remember me as a lay follower who has gone for refuge for life.

Normally, this passage represents the attainment of sotapattipala, not in this case, as the blessed one especially mentioned as follows.

Soon after the king had left, the Buddha addressed the mendicants, “The king is broken, mendicants, he is ruined. If he had not taken the life of his father, a just and principled king, the stainless, immaculate vision of the Dhamma (sotāpanna) would have arisen in him in that very seat.”

Eventhough Ajatasattu took refuge in the buddha, he was not a sotāpanna person. As he killed his own father commiting ānantariyakamma, he lost his chance to arise his sotapattipala. Therefore, at the end of the sutta, the bessed one mentioned that.
In Teravāda point of view, killing one’s own parents considered a garukakamma: a kamma that definite, rewards in the second birth. There is no deed that can suppress this kind of kamma (ānantariya).

With his gaining of insight he abandons three states of mind, namely self-illusion, doubt, and indulgence in meaningless rites and rituals, should there be any. He is also fully freed from the four states of woe, and therefore, incapable of committing the six major wrongdoings. This precious jewel is the Sangha. By this asseveration of the truth may there be happiness.
Kp 6

According to ratana sutta a person who attained sotāpatti pala, is fully feed from four states of woe.

The Pali commentators’ approach to your question would consist in making a distinction between higher and lower senses of “refuge-going”.

One further passage that you might add to your list is this verse from the DN’s Mahāsamayasutta and the SN’s Samayasutta:

ye keci buddhaṃ saraṇaṃ gatāse,
na te gamissanti apāyabhūmiṃ,
pahāya mānusaṃ dehaṃ,
devakāyaṃ paripūressantī ti.

“Those who have gone to the Buddha for refuge
Will not go to the plane of misery.
On discarding the human body,
They will fill the hosts of devas.”

In the endnote to his SN translation Bhikkhu Bodhi quotes from the Saṃyutta atthakathā and ṭīkā:

Spk: This verse refers to those who have gone for refuge by the definitive going for refuge (nibbematikasaraṇagamana ).

Spk-pṭ: By this the supramundane going for refuge is meant (i.e., by the minimal attainment of stream-entry). But those who go for refuge to the Buddha by the mundane going for refuge (i.e., without a noble attainment) will not go to the plane of misery; and if there are other suitable conditions, on leaving the human body they will fill up the hosts of devas.

And so in the case of Ajātasattu, being a puthujjana his refuge-going wasn’t of the supramundane sort; being a patricide, the “other suitable conditions” were lacking in him.


MN 22 says:

“yesaṃ mayi saddhāmattaṃ pemamattaṃ sabbe te saggaparāyanā”
those who have a degree of faith and love for me. All of them are bound for heaven

Any justification?

The commentary apparently limits this to certain cases.

MA says that this refers to persons devoted to the practice of insight meditation who have not reached any supramundane attainment. Note that they are headed only for heaven, not for enlightenment, though if their practice matures they can attain the path of stream-entry and thus gain assurance of enlightenment. The expression saddhāmattaṁ pemamattaṁ might be rendered “simply faith, simply love” or “mere faith, mere love” (as it sometimes is), but this could not explain the guarantee of rebirth in heaven. It therefore seems obligatory to take the suffix matta here as implying a requisite amount of faith and love, not simple possession of these qualities.

  • Bhikkhu Bodhi

This seems to overstate the “legitimate doubt and skepticism” regarding the the clarity of the suttas on this issue. In short, this view seems overly skeptical.

My interpretation to this “contradiction,” as you claim, is that it is only an apparent contradiction, not an actual one. Thus, it is not a legitimate grounds for taking the suttas with a grain of salt - i.e. there doesn’t seem to be any actual basis for valid disbelief in the suttas at least in this case, imo.

The way out of this apparent dilemma conceptually seems to be to take the Dhamma-Vinaya as a whole when considering questions like this.

If one casts extreme doubt over minor apparent discrepancies, it seems like one would go contrary to the Dhamma-Vinaya, especially as stated in one or more discourses where nit-picking and fault-finding in the Dhamma-Vinaya is criticized.

It seems less likely that “there is an actual contradiction in the suttas” and more likely that the Dhamma-Vinaya as a whole must be used as a reference to address and solve any single issue.

While I think the basis for doubt and skepticism towards the topic of “karma as stated in the suttas” was grossly overstated (“we know next to nothing”), I am in complete agreement with you that a conceptual understanding is not as valuable, let alone the same as, developing the mental understanding and skill of observing the law of kamma and phala (actions and fruits) operate in one’s own direct experience.

I think even if one were to be able to do this - like the Buddha who taught the content of the suttas was - one would find themselves in agreement with the suttas, not conclude something about kamma that was not already said in the suttas.

I think that this seems to answer the question satisfactorily.

The most repeatedly definitive condition stated for not falling into states of woe seems to be attainment of first stage of Nibbāna (sotāpatti pala).

All other references to not falling into any states of woe seems to imply the “attainment of first stage of Nibbāna (sotāpatti pala).”

For example,

this might be referring to the degree of faith and love for the Buddha that is necessary for or that naturally accompanies the “attainment of first stage of Nibbāna (sotāpatti pala).”

The key seems to be referencing the Dhamma-Vinaya as a whole and using the whole thing as a context - DV features such as repetition (something said once versus ten times versus hundred times) could provide a clue regarding which principle is more fundamental (likely, the more repetitions, the more fundamental) and which simply naturally or subsequently accompany the more fundamental principles.

This seems to be my current understanding of both kamma-phala and the method by which to address other similar apparent discrepancies (by means of referencing the Dhamma-Vinaya as a whole to use contextual clues and gather evidence to come to a definitive conclusion regarding the Buddha’s view on a particular issue to whatever degree it would be possible to do that).

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Thanks for your answers, yes I also think the distinction between lower and higher refuge is meant here.