Sn12.63 A Child’s Flesh

SuttaCentral 10
I am totally lost on this one. Obviously there is much i am not understanding as a “newbee”. Is this whole sutta just metaphoric? Could someone help me out?

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I’ll take a stab at this. Knowledgeable folk can chime in as they like.

SN 12.63 is primarily about fuel. You see the same term in the chain of dependent origination in MN9, “Right View”. Fuel is the origin of craving. When fuel ceases, craving ceases.

The sutta on “child’s flesh” seems to be a series of metaphors showing that the four kinds of fuel are to be entirely let go of. I think food is straight forward. In many monasteries the monks chant a reflection on their meal each day. From MN2:

Reflecting rationally, they make use of almsfood: ‘Not for fun, indulgence, adornment, or decoration, but only to sustain this body, to avoid harm, and to support spiritual practice. In this way, I shall put an end to old discomfort and not give rise to new discomfort, and I will live blamelessly and at ease.’

As for contact, mental intention and consciousness, they seem to be a deeper level of reflection. If I recall correctly, Ajahn Brahm speaks of the will disappearing fully in the second jhana and consciousness beyond the fourth.

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Thank you Bhikku for “taking a stab at it”…
Why not beef jerky, then…why the refference to the child you love?

The Buddha has a track record of gruesome similes. I think the point is that there’s no wiggle room.


Thank you again, Bhikku :upside_down_face:

Oh, no pun intended!

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This is one of my favorite suttas - yes it’s gruesome - but for me it also underscores the point of the First Noble Truth. If one truly understands the suffering inherent in samsaric existence, then one sees the 4 fuels with Right View - as awful as they truly are. When one truly understands this, and sees them as the Buddha saw them, then the fuels become abhorrent and craving is destroyed. It becomes literally impossible to crave for those things.

The final sentence is very profound… and goes to the essence of delusion or ignorance - when consciousness and Nama/Rupa is understood and it’s relation to the illusion of a Self. (Remember in Dependent Origination N/R and Consciousness are mutually dependent - they lean on each other).Once this is fully penetrated, Ignorance is destroyed and the work has been done. :slightly_smiling_face:


Ven. Nyanaponika wrote an excellent essay about this sutta: The Four Nutriments of Life: An Anthology of Buddhist Texts


This has helped immensly. I have read about half of it and will surely finish after i completely wake up this morning. I have said “that’s much food for thought” countless times, and never even realized what i meant!!


Hi. The sutta SN 12.63 is about four nutriments. “Fuels” is probably a too emotive & negative (unwholesome bent) translation. There are suttas where the word ‘nutriment’ (‘ahara’) is used for wholesome dhammas, such as SN 46.2 & AN 10.61.

In SN 12.63, the 1st nutriment provides the meaning for understanding the other three nutriments. The 1st nutriment is about physical food. Here, in the sutta, it is said to only eat enough physical food to complete the journey. Therefore, the four nutriments in this sutta are not things to be completely abandoned but are things to be used with wisdom.

The 2nd nutriment is feeling (vedana). If there was no feeling, it would not be possible to attain enlightenment because what is pleasurable vs painful could not be discerned. The analogy of the cow says it is not possible to be always free from feelings, therefore an Arahant will continue to experience feelings (Iti 44). The 2nd nutriment is about experiencing feelings without the feelings giving rise to greed, hatred & delusion.

The 3rd nutriment is about intention. An Arahant or Buddha must exercise intention, such as the intention to teach others. The analogy about the two strong men is about how both unwise good & bad intention can lead to suffering. Therefore, the 3rd nutriment is about exercising intention without craving; having enlightened/wise intention.

The 4th nutriment is about consciousness. MN 43 says consciousness & wisdom are conjoined therefore there cannot be enlightenment without consciousness. The analogy about the spears & the thief is about attachment to consciousness. Every time consciousness is taken, like a thief, to be “I” & “mine”, there will be punishment with the spears. In SN 35.101 & MN 22, the Buddha advised consciousness is “not yours”. Therefore, the 4th nutriment is about being conscious but not grasping to consciousness like a thief; regarding consciousness to be “mine” when in reality consciousness is “anatta” (not-self, not-mine, not-yours).

This book is well-known but my recollection is it is not particularly helpful because my recollection of it is it caste the four nutriment with a negative perspective.

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Great reply. A remark about this above sentence: Bodhi refers in note 432 to the commentary by this statement and the commentary says: “This statement refers to the wisdom and consciousness on the occasions of both insight and the supramundane path. The two are conjoined in that they arise and cease simultaneously and share a single sense base and object. However, the two are not inseparably conjoined since, while wisdom always requires consciousness, consciousness can occur without wisdom”

…just becouse i am not chiming in does not at all mean that i am not paying attention and learning from this conversation. I have spent a significantly greater amount of time on this sight reading posts than i have spent reading suttas. When i read suttas i just get confused. As i scroll through many many conversations i am getting answers and/or perspectives to questions i didn’t even know i had. I find it much more enlightening to read through a post AND THEN read the sutta being talked about. I really get a kick out of how heated some of these debates get, and often get images of a group of bhikkhus “with fire on their tongues” going for a confrontation with someone with an opposing vue!! I am learning a great deal here, and thank everyone who is involved in this conversation. I read these posts and suttas until my eyes hurt, way past my bedtime every night since i signed up!!