The "Fire Sermon," SN 35.28 and its context

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…
This from:
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

Fire Sermon:

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.
with metta
Bhante Sujato (email received 2016-11-28)


Thanks, Fred, for this post, and the links; it gave me a chance to read the four essays again and reflect on mudita.

I’ve often wondered why the Brahmavihara of Mudita does not enjoy the same capacity for directing it and infusing it upon and within oneself, just as we would naturally in a Metta bhavana, or Karuna bhavana. I did a quick survey of the word “mudita,” and haven’t yet found an article that describes the root and etymology of the word. I’ll keep looking and invite any inputs from my more learned kalyana mitta here. I’m still unsure that Mudita is necessarily limited to direction outward, when its capacity for direction inward, as well, is so profound and needed.

The have this Dhamma and the chance to practice it cultivates joy, it seems to me. To be energized, and grateful to have this Dhamma, and to be grateful for the skilled and generous teachers that we have here on SC, brings joy (how lucky we are to be living in this age!), and counterbalances the potential drift into tedium, boredom and torpor of a joyless practice. Ever seen a joyless monk?..I have. I feel joy is essential, and it is expressed as altruism for oneself as well, and with as much energy and effect, as to others.

So, as the practice of Mudita “above, below, around, everywhere and equally,” seems to me an important practice analogous to Metta, where the cultivation of goodwill, or loving-kindness for oneself, as as important as that which we direct toward others. If anyone has any articles that offer this expression, I’d be happy to see the links. Actually, more than happy…joyful. :slight_smile: With Metta, and Mudita

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Hi friend!

Not sure if you checked out SC’s dictionary? Anyway, here’s the entry on the definition of muditā. Looks like it’s abstracted from mudu meaning soft or tender, perhaps related to the English word “mud”? …though that seems a bit dark and lifeless for it’s usage in a brahmāvihāra context. But maybe something like soft-hearted or tender-hearted as the “literal” meaning of the word. Personally, I have come to use “cheerfulness” in my understanding, it has a more immediate meaning than something more abstract and technical-sounding like “sympathetic joy”.

Totally agree here, and I think the suttas are in accordance too.

The way I understand it the main cultivation is mettā love (that is always first). I’ve heard it explained before that it’s what mettā encounters that changes it to muditā or karuṇā. In other words, when encountering suffering or negative states — becoming compassionate, when encountering genuine joy or positive states — becoming cheerful. Of course, those states could be in self or others, internal or external, why not?



Thanks, Matt!

Having used Google to search the term, I feel like the guy that used his shoe to pound a nail, when there was a new and shiny hammer in the kitchen drawer…I’ll now make SC’s dictionary my first tool of choice for word definitions…it is much better.

Thanks to you, I did use the SC search and saw that there is Mudita (glad) and the Muditā that also connotes mudu, soft, tender, mud; the latter has the diacritic, and I wonder if that changes the meaning in any way?

Above, a great perspective! I like the sense of Metta being the wave that is shaped by the shore that it finds, as you described, Matt. This is a very powerful view of Metta in relationship with Mudita and Karuna. Good stuff!

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lol, now I’m the guy who used the shiny hammer but pounded the wrong nail. Although I give the appearance of actually knowing something by going wild with the diacritics, I’m actually still very much a Pāḷi noob, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I was off.

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Matt, even if I had the shiny hammer, where Pali is concerned and things like diacritics, I’d be hitting my thumb!

Thankfully we have a master carpenter in Bhante Sujato…I’m going to let him handle all the Pali power tools, so as to keep all of my fingers. :slight_smile:

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This teacher teaches teaches the Brahma-Viharas according to the method in the Visuddhimagga, i.e. using phrases to focus the mind, cultivate and direct the quality to oneself and various classes of beings, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. And she does teach mudita in the same way as the others, that is first directing it to oneself. If you scroll down on this page to the talk on ‘Appreciative Joy’ you’ll see she suggest starting mudita practice this way.

Although I know what you mean in that it’s usually not taught that way, that may be due at least in part to the fact that the main way the Brahma-Viharas are taught in the ‘Vipassana’ tradition seems to be that of using certain phrases to focus the mind and cultivate the quality and direct it. And since mudita is seen as a way to uproot selfishness and envy/jealousy, an ‘other’ is seen as the appropriate object.

But in a more general, less directed approach to practicing the B-Vs, such as simply in terms of a boundless radiation as described in the suttas, it seems to me that as the specific quality of each B-V is cultivated it naturally infuses/fills one’s own heart-mind and in that way, mudita would be no different than the others. Of course, this is not to say that this can’t happen using other ‘methodologies’ but just to point out that there’s not inherently such an inner/outer, self/other distinction in that there’s not a specific object taken in the same way as in the more commonly taught approach.


Thanks for this, @Linda, and I will spend some time with Daeja Napier’s website later today.

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Anagarika and friends,

I keep files on many of these topics, and it is interesting when I searched my computer files that I only had one file on mudita; here is the first part of it with an URL, so you can find all of it as you please:


The Heart Awakened

by Eileen Siriwardhana, © 1995


(she also treats metta as well)

MUDITA MEANS APPRECIATIVE JOY AT THE SUCCESS AND GOOD FORTUNE OF OTHERS. Evaluation of achievement is a precursor to mudita, and appreciation a component of mudita. Seeing the good in others and learning to recognize and admire what good there is, is what mudita tacitly implies. Laughter and exhilaration are not characteristics of mudita. Mudita is joy and appreciation flowing quietly out of the core of one’s heart towards others like the waters from a spring flowing outwards from the bowels of the earth. Spontaneous and sincere participation in another’s glorious hour is possible only when the quality of mudita is developed to its fullest.

Genuine joy in the prosperity of others is indeed a rare quality. The virtue of mudita may be best noticed at work in the joy of parents over the success of their offspring, and in the genuine ecstasy of teachers over the success of their pupils, particularly in the latter situation when the threat of the younger eclipsing the older is always imminent. While it is easy to practice mudita within the narrow circle of one’s family and friends, to identify oneself with the joys and triumphs of outsiders requires deliberate effort. Yet the capacity for doing so is rooted in man’s nature. Smiling faces of adults make children respond readily with their own smiles. This potential in the child should be nurtured and activated by parents and educationists. For the seed of mudita planted early in a child will grow and blossom and bear fruit in his adolescence and in his adult life. To some extent, man is a product of his environment — with this in mind, adults, parents, teachers and wardens who handle children should be of a cheerful disposition and an appreciative nature.

With metta… Fred

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I took a short break in the day, and did a Mudita cruise through the internet. I found a video from the Wildmind site, and could not resist sharing it. Perhaps I’m feeling a bit rough around the edges, with the days short and dark here, the weather cold, and my daily tasks piling up as I await the new years’ resolve to be more productive ( a pledge made every year).

It’s a lovely video, described this way: > “Angel-A” is about an angel, played by Danish actress Rie Rasmussen, who intervenes to rescue André (Jamel Debbouze), a self-loathing scam artist on the verge of killing himself, and teaches him to love himself."

Now, most of us don’t have Rie Rasmussen visiting us as a kind of deva (this would do me more harm than good…) but the clip itself is a wonderful representation of the Dhamma and the Brahmaviharas in our lives, cultivating our capacities for Metta and Mudita towards ourselves and others.