A fellow meditator and sutta student sent me the following circumstances (he thought) for the “Fire Sermon;” I copied this to several other friends includiong Bhant Sujato and he replied (see below the first item):
The Fire Sermon: the brahmanical fire god, Agni, worshipped in the Vedic agnihotra ritual vs. actual fires burning at Gaya Head…PART 1
“Others on Sympathetic Joy” - original take on this…
Mudita, by C.F. Knight
One of the most frequently used similes by the Buddha was that of fire. At times it was the destructive quality of fire that was likened to the destructive nature of the passions. At other times it was the ardent nature of fire that was to be emulated in the pursuance of the path to holiness. In its uncontrolled existence fire is a destructive danger. Under control it is one of man’s greatest boons and blessings. In either case it was a motivating force to be reckoned with, at all times active, potent, and energetic.
The three roots of evil—greed, hatred, and delusion—are also known as “the three fires.” On one occasion the Buddha and his band of monks were for the time staying on Gaya Head, a mountain near the city of Gaya. From their elevated position they watched one of the great fires that from time to time ravaged the countryside. This inspired what is known as “The Fire Sermon,” which is the third recorded discourse delivered by the Buddha subsequent to his Enlightenment, and at the beginning of his long ministry. To the Buddha, the world of Samsara was like the flaming plains below, “Everything is burning,” said the Buddha, “burning with the fire of passion, with the fired of hatred, with the fire of stupidity.” (Vin. 21)
It is these three fires that give rise to jealousy, envy, covetousness, avarice, and greed. The craving for possessions, the craving for sensual pleasures, the begrudged success of others, the hatred that is begotten by the gains of others, the odious comparison of greater status compared with our humble circumstances, these are the “fires” that burn within us to our undoing.
It is now evident why mudita is such an important characteristic to be cultivated. When we can view the success of others with the same equanimity, and to the same extent, as we would extend metta and karuna—lovingkindness and compassion—to those who suffer grief and distress, sadness and tribulation, sorrow and mourning, then we are beginning to exercise mudita, and are in the process of eradicating greed and craving. Developed still further, we can reach the stage of sharing with others their joy of possession, their financial or social successes, their elevation to positions of civic or national importance, or their receipt of titles and honorifics. In such a manner mudita is counteractive to conceits of all kinds, and its growth and development checks craving’s grip.
Until we have developed this subjective characteristic within ourselves how can we develop the objective characteristics of metta and karuna? The accumulated possessions, results of our greed, may give us the pleasure and the happiness of the miser gloating over his hoard of gold. The happiness born of shared pleasures, shared love, shared possessions, shared delights in another’s success, will surpass the meager selfish happiness of the miser.
by C.F. Knight
(From Metta, Vol. 12, No. 2.)
“Mudita: The Buddha’s Teaching on Unselfish Joy”, four essays by Nyanaponika Thera, Natasha
Jackson, C.F. Knight, and L.R. Oates. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013
The Fire Sermon: the brahmanical fire god, Agni, worshipped in the Vedic agnihotra ritual vs. actual fires burning at Gaya Head…PART TWO
Just to note, this (below) isn’t the actual background to the sutta. The sutta is provided with an extensive background in the VINAYA, and it has nothing to do with a wildfire. It is, rather, the brahmanical fire god, Agni, worshipped in the Vedic agnihotra ritual, which is the focus of the metaphor here. The Buddha was staying with a community of fire-worshiping ascetics, and the background narrative explores this in various ways before leading up to the Fire Sermon. there, as so often, the Buddha replaced the brahmanical ritual with a psychological and existential teaching.
Bhante Sujato (email received 2016-11-28)