Why was the Buddha offended by Saccaka's "compliment" in MN36?

In MN36, there’s a passage which I don’t understand…

I have confidence in Master Gotama thus: ‘Master Gotama is developed in body and developed in mind.’”

“Surely, Aggivessana, your words are offensive and discourteous, but still I will answer you. Since I shaved off my hair and beard, put on the yellow robe, and went forth from the home life into homelessness, it has not been possible for arisen pleasant feeling to invade my mind and remain or for arisen painful feeling to invade my mind and remain.”

Why does the Buddha state that Saccaka’s words are offensive and discourteous? To this modern Westerner it sounds like Saccaka was complimenting him? Or perhaps there is a subtext I’m missing…

perhaps it is an underhanded compliment as a denial of full awakening?

This is not a perfectly objective explanation and can be rejected by a knowledgeable specialist of the Ancient Indian etiquette and manners of speech, but to me Aggivessana sounds a bit sarcastic. Let’s imagine this dialogue would happen today.

‘You and your disciples are undeveloped in body.’
‘So, what does it mean"undeveloped in body".’
‘You are not like naked ascetics.’
‘Wait a minute, Aggivessana, do you call naked ascetics developed in body? That is not true, let me tell you what “developed in body” and “developed in mind” means <…> So, what do you think?’
‘Oh, yeah, sure, of course, Master Gotama is the most developed one, isn’t he?’ (wink-wink)

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In this idiom, which is found in a few places, the problem is that the questioner is making an overly personal assumption. It’s a bit like if you make a comment on the internet, and someone proceeds to psychoanalyze why you’re exactly the kind of person who would say that. You’re like, “you don’t know me!”

But in this context it is more specific, because it relates to the question of personal spiritual development. By making statements like this, he’s prodding the Buddha to reveal things rather than leaving it up to him. It’s a loaded question. If the Buddha says nothing, it would be assumed he confirmed it. As we know, the Buddha was not shy about speaking of his own spiritual accomplishments, and he did go on to do this. But it is up to him to do this, not to be wheedled out by sly interlocuters.


It would be so inspiring (and re-assuring that it is possible to make it) if lay and monastics were doing the same today.
It will also allow all of us to take real refuge in the Noble Sangha instead of guessing where people are re the four stages of awakening. As Jesus said mind the false prophets.


Sorry to say but I wouldn’t trust someone saying that they’re attained. If they’re vain enough to say they are, what use is for me to take refuge in them? They’re in the same mire as me. Stuck in the same mire as me. What merit would that be? I’d respect a person, whether monastic or lay, Buddhist or non-Buddhist, by their character, peacefulness, kindness, and wisdom, rather than what they say. I can blow up smoke up someone’s arse all day long and pretend to be something else but in the end where would that get me? Only distrust and a bad repute. For some, as long as they get name and fame, they’ll stoop to the lowest. Disgusting really. Even worse for people who wear robes, to do such things and still take dana from people. Criminal I say! It is possible however, because people expect their spiritual leaders to be perfect, they want them to be so perfect they’ll turn blind to the signs. Gives meaning to the old adage, ask and you shall receive LOL.:laughing:

The Buddha said you can only know a person through prolonged observance and by living with them. Take refuge in the Saṅgha, not the so called attainments. Ugh, we’re supposed to let go of materialism, yet we’re even pining for them spiritually. Isn’t it high time to stop such things already? How sad is our state really?

Just my honest thoughts.

Happy vassa!

in mettā,


There is a very good reason for at least monastics not doing the same today: they were free to do it in the early days and a very messy situation was the result.

I would suggest you checking the fourth chapter of the Bhikkhu Vibhanga: https://suttacentral.net/en/pi-tv-bu-vb-pj4

In a nutshell it went like this: in a time of famine and drought - the ancient India’s equivalent of an economic crisis - monks saw themselves anxious about how to make sure they could get their requisites supplied. Some considered working for the laity until some ‘smart ones’ came up with a brilliant idea:

“There is no need to do work for the householders, nor to take messages for them.
Let us instead praise one another’s super-human achievements to the householders: ‘Such a monk has the first jhāna, such a monk the second jhāna, such a monk the third, such a monk the fourth; such a monk is stream-enterer, such a monk a once-returner, such a non-returner, such an arahant; such a monk has the three true knowledges, and such the six direct knowledges.’
And then they will give to us. In this way we will be united and in harmony, and we will spend the rains in comfort and have no problems getting almsfood.
Indeed, this is the better way, that we praise one another’s super-human achievements to the householders.”

Of course, as a result, the Buddha had to intervene and issue the rule:

“If a monk falsely claims for himself a super-human achievement, knowledge and insight worthy of the noble ones, saying, ‘This I know, this I see,’ but after some time—whether questioned or not, but having committed the offence and desiring purification—should say, ‘Not knowing I said that I know, not seeing that I see; what I said was empty and false,’ except if it is through overestimation, he too is expelled and not in communion.”

Since then, the overal etiquette is to avoid as much as possible talking about this kind of stuff. All in all, the Dhamma is timeless and to be seen by oneself, ehipassiko, no?!

It’s a pity that because of some bad monks we are now facing the situation that we don’t know who is what.
IMHO the rules are for preventing liars to pretend what they are not but they should not prevent the genuine ones to come forward and inspire us.
Imagine you meet a Stream-Enterer wouldn’t it be nice to ask her : how did you do it , what was the issues you faced and resolved ?
Imagine you meet a Once-Returner wouldn’t it be nice to ask her : how much sensual desires and aversions are left in you ?
Imagine you meet a Non-Returner wouldn’t it be nice to ask her : how did you get rid of the last sensual desires and aversions that were left in you ?
Imagine you meet an Arahat wouldn’t it be nice to ask her : how did you get rid of these last five fetters, what aspects of ignorance did you have to work on specifically ?

I imagine that must have been the kind of dialogs happening at the time of the Buddha not only involving him but also all the other Noble Ones and the not-yet-noble-ones.


I think the “how” part is pretty clear from the suttas…its the “do it” part that is hard :smiley:

The more I practice, the clearer it becomes that we have all the information needed, it’s just that the mind doesn’t want to believe it’s so and constantly tries to lead you to shortcuts that actually turn out to be detours…


i share the sentiment however the quoted rule doesn’t forbid claiming achievement, it only establishes excommunication in the event the claim turns out false

if the achievement is genuine in which case the attainer would be 100% certain of it, it can safely be confessed


I think we have to read through the text and assume that Saccaka’s tone throughout most of the conversation is cheeky and sarcastic.

Later in the conversation he says:

“This is a matter about which Master Gotama can be trusted, as an accomplished and fully enlightened one should be. But does Master Gotama recall sleeping during the day?”

and after the Buddha answers, and says he is able to sleep mindful and fully aware, Saccaka says:

“Some recluses and brahmins call that abiding in delusion, Master Gotama.”

It is easy to imagine Saccaka’s words in these cases being delivered in a biting and mocking tone. The evidence that they in fact were delivered in that tone seems to come at the end, when Saccaka, now sincerely impressed, says,

“It is wonderful, Master Gotama, it is marvellous how when Master Gotama is spoken to offensively again and again, assailed by discourteous courses of speech, the colour of his skin brightens and the colour of his face clears, as is to be expected of one who is accomplished and fully enlightened."

… and contrasts Gotama’s response with that of other supposedly accomplished teachers. It looks like Saccaka is now convinced that the pain of rough and offensive speech has indeed not “invaded” the Buddha’s mind, despite how aggressively he has been “assailed” with it, and that this cheerful and equanimous response has not been found in other teachers who have been assailed in the same way.

Since sutta transmission was originally oral, I wonder if the the early traditions of recitation included standardized tones of voice and affective coloring that were lost when the suttas were committed to writing.


i doubt that as sutta recitation isn’t supposed to be theatrical performance, otherwise it wouldn’t be consistent with principles of renunciation and monastic conduct

That’s a good point. But including some inflection, tone and affect in a recitation need not be theatrical - in the sense of a performance that aims to entertain or excite the senses in order to give heightened sensory pleasure. It might just be part of preserving an accurate record of both what was said and how it was said.

It is also possible that different varieties of affective tone could have been represented or conventionally indicated in some standardized way - by formulaic patterns of rising or falling tones or by specialized vocabulary elements, for example - even if it was “toned down” and not exactly an emotional imitation of the original.