Sallekhana Practice in Jainism & Karma

Dear Shirley,

Yes, AN10:219 is well known for this seemingly un-Buddhist view, and in fact there are a number of other suttas in the Anguttara Nikāya with a similar position. It has been shown by Ven. Analayo that these are likely to be “contaminations”, which at some stage have crept into the Pali Canon, perhaps from Jaina sources. Ven. Analayo’s article can be found in Madhyama-āgama Studies, Taipei: Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation, 2012, but unfortunately it is not available for free download.

Actually, I have just checked what I said above, and it is not quite correct. Ven. Analayo does indeed say that the Pali text appears to have been corrupted. But he says the likely reason for this is an error in transmission, not an influence from Jaina sources.

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Thanks for the links, these are a great resource. At my last w/shop in Sydney, a few people thought i was exaggerating the ascetic practices of the Jains!

Those guys are really serious, aren’t they. And it is tempting to have this kind of “dangerous fascination”, I understand completely where you’re coming from.

I’m not entirely clear as to your question here, can I ask you to rephrase for me? Thanks!


Sorry for the long/confusing question.

The question here could be rephrased as:

  1. What can be said was/is the doctrinal rationale in Jainism to endorse such extreme austerities, and how that rationale relates or not to their own theory of danda/kamma?

  2. What was the exact refutation argument presented by the Buddha to rule out the effectiveness of these extremes practices? ( i.e. Did He refute it by pointing a flawed logic in their argument? Did He actually point out they were missing the whole thing by simply never being able to reach jhanas given the extreme circumstances they put themselves into?)

Okay, actually the best source for this is the Devadaha Sutta, which is on the reading list for this w/shop:

Let me know if this leaves any questions unanswered…

Of course we have to bear in mind that what the Buddhists texts say about the Jains may not be correct; however the Jaina sources are all much later, so they too may not represent the teachings at the time of the Buddha. Still, it does seem as if, on the whole, the Jaina teachings are represented accurately in the Suttas, which one or two exceptions.

Thanks for that Bhante, really.
Yes the sutta answers the questions.
With reverence and respect,

thanks ajahn, can i have the references for the other suttas in the Anguttara that talks about kamma in this way? thanks. and since i don’t have ven analayo’s article, could you summarize briefly ven analayo’s argument for thinking that it’s a contamination? is it late linguistic usage? or simply inconsistency with the rest of the canon? or some contradictions within the sutta? what about the chinese parallel? thank you.

We are discussing this during the course, so let me know if there’s anything that we miss out on.

Unfortunately the relevant article by Analayo was published under copyright provisions that don’t permit free publication, so I’ve had to remove it from here.

Dear Bhante,
I just finished reading Ven. Anālayo’s article you posted. Angulimaala is mentioned as an example of liberation happening before fruit of the kamma of killing 999 innocent people has a chance to be expiated.

Since this workshop is on “myth busting”, I’ve always wondered whether Angulimala and the Jataka Tales are myths or historical truth.

The story of Angulimala is really hard to believe on so many levels and details. The commentary for the Angulimala story gets even more outrageous and hard to believe.

The Jataka tales are bewildering, morally ambiguous, and really don’t seem to fall within the “handful of leaves” that are relevant to spiritual liberation.


Have you read Gombrich’s article on Angulimala? It’s in his “What the Buddha Thought”. I found it very interesting and persuasive. Basically he argued that Angulimala was not a brahmani student, but was one of the guresome class of ascetics, some of whom today are known as aghoras, who do all kinds of black magic and festoon their bodies with, well, bodies. I think there is something to this, but of course there has been some elaboration.

Indeed, but they are also fun, engaging, and diverse. I love the Jatakas, but of course, they are not part of the EBTs. They are mostly descended from fairy stories and morality tales in the Indian culture, which gradually became adopted as part of the Buddha’s past-life.

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It seems to me that what the Buddha said in the MN101 is essentially not much different to the Jain’s idea on Karma. As Shirley had mentioned in an earlier post, it would not be possible to experience the results of our actions particularly those of medium and longer term fruition.
pardon me if i have read the sutra wrongly and welcome any correction of my interpretation of it.

For anyone interested, here is the [link][1] For Ven Anālayo’s papers that are freely available for downloading.
It is immensely helpful to compare the Pali suttas with The Chinese MĀ discourses and other parallel versions available. It can often help clarify tricky or contradictory passages. Ven Anālayo’s work is invaluable in this regard, and even more so for those of us who can’t read all the Canonical languages.

And of course kudos to all who have put together Sutta Central (thanks Bhante Sujato and all)!

Hmm, seems the link does not work. Try this:

Hi Molly,

We discussed the Devadaha Sutta (MN101) during the second and most recent instalment of the Karma and Rebirth course. See what you think of that, and if this still does not answer your question, please get back to us.

Thank you Bhante Bramali for the prompt response. i was at that session and I read the Devadaha sutra - though i might not have understood it correctly.
from my understanding, the Buddha said that the Niganthas should not be teaching that what a person experiences - pain or no pain etc- are all caused by past actions if they have not experienced the past life. Isn’t that essentially the same as the Karmic results - particularly those results that will come to fruition in the mid or longer term. with regards to those mid and longer term results, we would not be able to recall or claim that we had committed those actions that would bring the results - hence we cannot claim to have experienced the past life. so karma is just like what the Niganthas taught. How is it different to the Buddha’s interpretation of Karma.

Dear Molly,
my post became quite long. in case you do not want to read the whole thing, I highlighted the most important parts in bold font.

My understanding of the main differences of the Jaina path is (as presented in the Suttas), that

  1. For the Jains the bodily acts have a stronger impact on Kamma than the mind (see MN56 the Upali Sutta). This is in contrast to the Buddhas teaching, who sees the mind as the forerunner of all things (see Dhammapada), where intention has the strongest impact on Kamma (see again MN56 the Upali Sutta).
    This view on Kamma on account of the Jains also explains their austere practices of standing on one leg and not moving, because not moving means no bodily action and therefore making no new Kamma.

2) The Jaina belief is that they have to burn all old Kamma in order to get enlightened. They do this by adhering to these extremely austere practices. In the workshop the practices were described as non-action (standing on one leg) and painful (the burning feeling of burning old kamma).

Compared to this the Buddhist idea is that the path is started by making wholesome kamma through virtue (Siila). In the Workshop, Bhante Brahmali also said, that at the very end of the Buddhist path one makes “that special Buddhist kamma, which will eventuall lead [to parinibbaana] the ending of all kamma”. It is explicitly part of the Buddhist idea that not all Kamma has to be burned before liberation can be reached. I would think, that it is even tacitly assumed within Buddhism, that burning all Kamma is impossible, as most beeings have been roaming Samsaara for very long times (the Buddha could not see a beginning of Samsaara) accumulating endless heaps of wholesome and unwholesome Kamma. Also, I am not sure if the wording “burning kamma”, is a skilfull way of expression in Buddhism, because the Buddha usually just spoke of Kamma coming to fruition (merely an ethical cause and effect relationship).
Additionally, Buddhists often believe that one can try to bend the conditions so that certain Kamma cannot come to fruition. I am not sure where this is said in the Suttas, but, for example, Mettaa is often said to have a protective function. If you keep a mind with strong mettaa the conditions for certain unwholesome Kamma to ripen simply cannot come into place.

  1. The Jainas have the idea that every action results in Kamma, also the unintentional killing of beings. Therefore, they always sweep the path in front of them. For a full discussion of this, see the separate topic “Kamma of unintentional actions” that was created by Claralynn exactly for this point.

The Jains also beliefe that everything they experience is due to Kamma, but this was ruled out as a wrong view for Buddhism in the first workshop on “Myth Busting”. What we experience is all the result of causes and conditions, but not all of these consequences are due to our Kamma (not all have an ethical notion attached). Some of the difficulties we face are simply because we are in the wrong place at the wrong time (bad luck). Ultimately, of course, whatwever we experience in this life is a consequence of the Kamma that lead to a human rebirth…

Coming back to your question: I think on some aspects of the Buddha Dhamma, such as rebirth and that there is an ethical cause and effect process (Kamma - Vipaaka) active in the universe, which includes three types of Kamma (fruition in this life, fruition in next life, or in any later life) … , we simply have to treat these as a working hypothisis and have to wait until we can see for ourselves. The main difference to the Jain teaching is (if you belief in Buddhism), that at least all these things decribed by the Buddha are real and can be experienced and are therefore “potentially knowable” (as Bhante Sujato mentioned in one of his posts under “Kamma of unintentional actions”). This implies that, if one could see ones own past lives and the rebirth of beings due to their Kamma, as the Buddha said he did, then one would see the Buddhas teachings verified and the Jaina belief rejected. So yes, as a beginning practicioner, there is no way, but to take certain teachings on board as a working hypothesis, but ultimately these things are knowable.

There is lots of evidence for near death experiences (mind can exist independent of the body). There is also lots of evidence for rebirth (see interview with Jim Tucker and the topic on “Past life on Fox news”). As long as we do not have these superhuman powers and as long as we are not Ariyans (as long as our vision is clouded by the 5 hindrances) , I think the best we can do is, stay open, listen to the teachers, ponder about these teachings and consider if they seem plausible or at least potentially possible. Also, confidence in the teaching can be build up, by verifying the bits and pieces which are subject to your own experience (as Raivo also suggested). Also, one can gain confidence in the Dhamma, if one finds nuns or monks who practice the Dhamma and who largely have greed, hatred and delusion reduced. Of course, you can never be completely sure, but you can have a gut feeling about it. See how these monks deal with criticism. See if you feel more at peace in their presence. See if the way they teach touches your heart and try to put the Dhamma to a test, where possible - try to see if the basics work for you (e.g. more virtue -> more peace). Seeing that some parts of the Dhamma work usually gives good confidence that also the rest cannot be too far off.

I tried to summarize some points which I considered relevant to your question, also trying to sense the origin of your question. I hope I did not misunderstand you and that these lines contain at least a little somthing relevant to you.

With much mettaa,


Dear Bhante,
I did not see Anguimala in “What the Buddha Taught”, googled “gombrich angulimala” and saw that it’s in a different book, “How Buddhism Began”… Will comment later after I read that section. But the part I’m most interested in is whether it’s possible to become an Arahant in the same life that one kills 999 people. That’s really the only “myth” part of the whole Angulimala story that I’m interested in. There doesn’t seem to be anything else in the EBT remotely similar. Devadatta tries to kill the Buddha, goes to hell. King Ajatasattu killed his father the King, and is wracked by guilt, remorse, sleepless nights. In DN 2, the Buddha says if he had not committed patricide, he would have attained stream entry after then DN 2 discourse. Instead, Ajatasattu goes to hell, and Buddha says he will become a paccekkha buddha in a future life. These seem to be much more reasonable consequences to intentional killing. We see how modern soldiers who don’t even want to kill enemy soldiers experience PTS(?) and have trouble returning to worldly life and just functioning in a ordinary lay life. If I even accidentally commit wrong speech that gets people very upset at me that could seriously hinder my ability to enter samadhi easily, let alone killing one, or 1000 people.

I could believe how Angulimala instantly reformed, ordained, and became established in virtue upon his first encounter with Buddha, but stream entry in the same lifetime where he has to deal with remorse, let alone arahantship is inconceivable.

With regard to Jataka tales, I too could enjoy them and see value in it if it was presented truthfully as fairy stories, morality tales in Indian Culture. But to put it in KN, and present it as literal truth, i.e. past lives of Buddha and arahants, that causes big problems! I haven’t taken a census, but it feels like a majority of Theravadan buddhists believe Jataka Tales are literal historical truth of Buddha and chief disciples’ past lives.

My mistake.

In the sutta he doesn’t kill 999, just an unspecified large number.

Well, it’s meant to be an amazing story. The point, ultimately, is that redemption is possible. Even in the other cases you mention, the tradition says that they will find redemption, just not in this life. It might sound extreme to say they have gone to hell, but remember that in Buddhism, we’ve all been there, as have the great arahants.

This is very true, and kind of annoying. It is so obvious that these are late texts, yet even such basic insights, universally taken for granted by scholars for 150 years, seem to be too much for otherwise intelligent and educated people to accept. Literalism is the scourge of Theravada.

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Thank you Robert. You have given a clear and more than sufficient explanation. I will work out the rest myself and set to reading MN56.

you mentioned your post was quite long - i do not mind reading it - where do i find it?

also if you attend Bhante Sujato’s class at the Buddhist Library i would certainly like to meet you in person and thank you for taking time to answer my question.

Dear Molly,

you are very welcome. It would be great, if we would meet in person during a workshop some time in the future. Because I live in Germany, I am not certain when this will be, but who knows. :smile:

Maybe there was a small misunderstanding about the “long post”. I am not an English native speaker, so I do not know all the right technical terms. When I said, I had written a “long post”, I just meant my reply to your question: The internet is usually very short-lived, and some people would consider my reply as too long and time consuming to read. So, in order to make the reply more convenient for reading, I highlighted the most important parts in bold font. That’s all I meant. :smile: So, thanks to you, for having the patience to read the whole text and many thanks for your kind feedback.

All the best to you and with much mettaa,

at least he himself wasn’t able to get awakened by practicing austerities, that’s how he knew they don’t work

And here’re excerpts from Aranavibhanga sutta (MN 139) on the matter

4. “A man should not pursue sensual desires, which are low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble, and connected with harm; and he should not pursue self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble and connected with harm.” So it was said. And with reference to what was this said?

Such pursuit of self-mortification, painful, ignoble and connected with pain, is a state beset by pain, by vexation, by despair and by fever, and it is the wrong way. Disengagement from such pursuit of self-mortification, painful, ignoble and connected with harm, is a state without pain, without vexation, without despair and without fever, and it is the right way.

5. “The Middle Way avoiding both these extremes has been discovered by the Perfect One (Tathāgata), giving sight, giving knowledge, which leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.”

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