1. In Bhikkhunī Samyutta 10 <S.i,135> we find these verses.

Māro pāpimā:
1     Kenāyam pakato satto, kuvam sattassa kārako,
2     Kuvam satto samuppanno, kuvam satto nirujjhatī ti.
Vajirā bhikkhunī:
3    Kin nu Sattoti paccesi, Māra, ditthigatam nu te,
4    Suddhasankhārapuñjo'yam, nayidha sattūpalabbhati;
5    Yathā hi angasambhārā hoti saddo Ratho iti,
6    Evam khandhesu santesu hoti Satto ti sammuti.
7    Dukkham eva hi sambhoti, dukkham titthati veti ca,
8    Nāññatra dukkhā sambhoti, nāññam dukkhā nirujjhatī ti.

Māra the Evil One:
1    By whom is this creature formed? Who is the creature's maker?
2    Who is the arisen creature? Who is the creature that ceases?
Vajirā the nun:
3    Why do you refer to 'the creature', Māra, are you involved in (wrong) view?
4    This is a pile of pure determinations; there is, here, no creature to be found.
5    Just as for an assemblage of parts there is the term 'a chariot',
6    So, when there are the aggregates, convention says 'a creature'.
7    It is merely suffering that comes into being, suffering that stands and disappears,
8    Nothing apart from suffering comes into being, nothing other than suffering ceases.

   2. The speculative questions in the first two lines are of the same order as those of the assutavā puthujjana in the Sabbāsavasutta (Majjhima i,2 <M.i,8>) ending with: Etarahi vā paccuppannam addhānam ajjhattam kathamkathī hoti Ahan nu kho'smi, no nu kho'smi, kin nu kho'smi, kathan nu kho'smi, ayan nu kho satto kuti āgato, so kuhimgāmī bhavissatī ti.
('Or he is a self-questioner about the present period: 'Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? This creature—whence has it come? Whither is it bound?'') The word satta is found in both, and clearly with the same meaning. The puthujjana is speculating about himself, and satta in this context is himself considered, with a certain detachment, as a creature; it is a creature regarded, in one way or another, as a 'self'; for the puthujjana takes what appears to be his 'self' at face value—he regards himself as a 'self' (see ATTĀ). It is the puthujjana's concept of a creature. The third line (the first of the reply to Māra) confirms this; for Māra is asked, a little rhetorically perhaps, why he refers to 'the creature', why he has this involvement in (wrong) view. 'The creature' is an involvement in (wrong) view, ditthigata, precisely when the creature is regarded in some way as 'self'; for this is sakkāyaditthi or 'personality-view', the view that one is, in essence, somebody (see SAKKĀYA). And the following passage: Kim pana tvam Potthapāda attānam paccesī ti. Olārikam kho aham bhante attānam paccemi.... Manomayam kho aham bhante attānam paccemi.... Arūpim kho aham bhante attānam paccemi.... ('– But to what self, Potthapāda, do you refer?—To a coarse self, lord, I refer.... To a made-of-mind self, lord, I refer.... To an immaterial self, lord, I refer....') (Dīgha i,9 <D.i,185>) allows us to understand Satto ti paccesi, reference to 'the creature', in exactly the same way, namely, the taking of the creature as 'self'.

3. Suddhasankhārapuñjo'yam follows at once; for if the regarding of the creature as 'self' is sakkāyaditthi, then the creature so regarded is sakkāya, which is the pañc'upādānakkhandhā (Majjhima v,4 <M.i,299>). And the pañc'upādānakkhandhā are sankhārā if they are what something else depends upon. What depends upon them? Na kho āvuso Visākha taññeva upādānam te pañc'upādānakkhandhā, na pi aññatra pañcah'upādānakkhandhehi upādānam. Yo kho āvuso Visākha pañcas'upādānakkhandhesu chandarāgo tam tattha upādānan ti. ('The five holding aggregates, friend Visākha, are not just holding; but neither is there holding apart from the five holding aggregates. That, friend Visākha, in the five holding aggregates which is desire-&-lust, that therein is holding.') (Majjhima v,4 <M.i,299>) Upādāna, therefore, depends upon the pañc'upādānakkhandhā (as we may also see from the usual paticcasamuppāda formulation). And the fundamental upādāna is attavāda, belief in 'self'. (See A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA §§10, 12, & 13. Compare also Khandha Samy. ix,1 <S.iii,105>: Rūpam upādāya Asmī ti hoti no anupādāya; vedanam...; saññam...; sankhāre...; viññānam upādāya Asmī ti hoti no anupādāya. ('Holding matter there is '(I) am', not not holding; holding feeling...; holding perception...; holding determinations...; holding consciousness there is '(I) am', not not holding.'))

4. Nayidha sattūpalabbhati now presents no difficulty. The puthujjana takes his apparent 'self' at face value and identifies it with the creature: the creature, for him, is 'self'—Satto ti pacceti. He does not see, however, that this identification is dependent upon his holding a belief in 'self', attavād'upādāna, and that this, too, is anicca sankhata paticcasamuppanna; for were he to see it, upādāna would vanish, and the deception would become clear—Evam eva kho Māgandiya ahañ c'eva te dhammam deseyyam, Idan tam ārogyam idan tam nibbānan ti, so tvam ārogyam jāneyyāsi nibbānam passeyyāsi, tassa te saha cakkhuppādā yo pañcas'upādānakkhandhesu chandarāgo so pahīyetha; api ca te evam assa, Dīgharattam vata bho aham iminā cittena nikato vañcito paladdho; aham hi rūpam yeva upādiyamāno upādiyim, vedanam yeva..., saññam yeva..., sankhāre yeva..., viññānam yeva upādiyamāno upādiyim. ('Just so, Māgandiya, if I were to set you forth the Teaching, 'This is that good health, this is that extinction', you might know good health, you might see extinction; with the arising of the eye, that in the five holding aggregates which is desire-&-lust would be eliminated for you; moreover it would occur to you, 'For a long time, indeed, have I been cheated and deceived and defrauded by this mind (or heart—citta): I was holding just matter, holding just feeling, holding just perception, holding just determinations, holding just consciousness'.') (Majjhima viii,5 <M.i,511>). With the vanishing of belief in 'self' the identification would cease. The ariyasāvaka, on the other hand, sees the creature as pañc'upādānakkhandhā; he sees that upādāna is dependent upon these pañc'upādānakkhandhā; and he sees that the puthujjana is a victim of upādāna and is making a mistaken identification. He sees that since the creature is pañc'upādānakkhandhā it cannot in any way be identified as 'self'; for if it could, 'self' would be impermanent, determined, dependently arisen; and the ariyasāvaka knows direct from his own experience, as the puthujjana does not, that perception of selfhood, of an inherent mastery over things, and perception of impermanence are incompatible. Thus nayidha sattūpalabbhati, 'there is, here, no "creature" to be found', means simply 'there is, in this pile of pure determinations, no creature to be found such as conceived by the puthujjana, as a "self"'. The Alagaddūpamasutta (Majjhima iii,2 <M.i,138>) has Attani ca bhikkhave attaniye ca saccato thetato anupalabbhamāne... ('Since both self, monks, and what belongs to self actually and in truth are not to be found...'), and the meaning is no different. The words saccato thetato, 'in truth, actually', mean 'in the (right) view of the ariyasāvaka, who sees paticcasamuppāda and its cessation'.[a]

5. The next two lines (5 & 6) contain the simile of the chariot. Just as the word 'chariot' is the name given to an assemblage of parts, so when the khandhā are present common usage speaks of a 'creature'. What is the purpose of this simile? In view of what has been said above the answer is not difficult. The assutavā puthujjana sees clearly enough that a chariot is an assemblage of parts: what he does not see is that the creature is an assemblage of khandhā (suddhasankhārapuñja), and this for the reason that he regards it as 'self'. For the puthujjana the creature exists as a 'self' exists, that is to say, as an extra-temporal monolithic whole ('self' could never be either a thing of parts or part of a thing).[b] The simile shows him his mistake by pointing out that a creature exists as a chariot exists, that is to say, as a temporal complex of parts. When he sees this he no longer regards the creature as 'self', and, with the giving up of sakkāyaditthi, he ceases to be a puthujjana.

6. The final two lines (7 & 8) may be discussed briefly. It is in the nature of the pañc'upādānakkhandhā to press for recognition, in one way or another, as 'self'; but the ariyasāvaka, with his perception of impermanence, can no longer heed their persistent solicitation; for a mastery over things (which is what selfhood would claim to be; cf. Majjhima iv,5 <M.i,231-2> & Khandha Samy. vi,7 <S.iii,66> [7])—a mastery over things that is seen to be undermined by impermanence is at once also seen to be no mastery at all, but a false security, for ever ending in betrayal. And this is dukkha. (See DHAMMA.) Thus, when attavād'upādāna has been removed, there supervenes the right view that it is only dukkha that arises and dukkha that ceases. Upāy'upādānābhinivesavinibaddho khvāyam Kaccāyana loko yebhuyyena; tañ cāyam upāy'upādānam cetaso adhitthānābhinivesānusayam na upeti na upādiyati nādhitthāti, Attā me ti. Dukkham eva uppajjamānam uppajjati, dukkham nirujjhamānam nirujjhatī ti na kankhati na vicikicchati, aparapaccayā ñānam ev'assa ettha hoti. Ettāvatā kho Kaccāyana sammāditthi hoti. ('This world for the most part, Kaccāyana, is bound by engaging, holding, and adherence; and this one [i.e. this individual] does not engage or hold or resolve that engaging or holding, that mental resolving adherence and tendency: 'My self'. 'It is just suffering that arises, suffering that ceases'—about this he does not hesitate or doubt, his knowledge herein is independent of others. So far, Kaccāyana, is there right view.') Nidāna/Abhisamaya Samy. ii,5 <S.ii,17>

7. The question now arises whether the word satta, which we have been translating as 'creature', can be used to denote an arahat. Once it is clear that, in a right view, nothing is to be found that can be identified as 'self', the application of the word satta becomes a question of usage. Is satta simply pañc'upādānakkhandhā—in which case it is equivalent to sakkāya --, or can it be applied also to pañcakkhandhā, as the sixth line might seem to suggest? If the latter, then (at least as applied to deities and human beings) it is equivalent to puggala, which is certainly used in the Suttas to refer to an arahat (who is the first of the atthapurisapuggalā),[c] and which can be understood in the obvious sense of one set of pañcakkhandhā as distinct from all other sets—an arahat is an 'individual' in the sense that one arahat can be distinguished from another. It is not a matter of great importance to settle this question (which is simply a matter of finding Sutta passages—e.g. Khandha Samy. iii,7 <S.iii,30>; Rādha Samy. 2 <S.iii,190>; Anguttara V,iv,2 <A.iii,35>—that illustrate and fix the actual usage of the word). It is of infinitely more importance to understand that the puthujjana will misapprehend any word of this nature that is used (attā, 'self'; bhuta, 'being'; pāna, 'animal'; sakkāya, 'person, somebody'; purisa, 'man'; manussa, 'human being'; and so on), and that the ariyasāvaka will not.

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8. It is quite possible that the notion of paramattha sacca, 'truth in the highest, or ultimate, or absolute, sense' was in existence before the time of the Milindapañha; but its use there (Pt. II, Ch. 1) is so clear and unambiguous that that book is the obvious point of departure for any discussion about it. The passage quotes the two lines (5 & 6) containing the simile of the chariot. They are used to justify the following argument. The word 'chariot' is the conventional name given to an assemblage of parts; but if each part is examined individually it cannot be said of any one of them that it is the chariot, nor do we find any chariot in the parts collectively, nor do we find any chariot outside the parts. Therefore, 'in the highest sense', there exists no chariot. Similarly, an 'individual' (the word puggala is used) is merely a conventional name given to an assemblage of parts (parts of the body, as well as khandhā), and, 'in the highest sense', there exists no individual. That is all.

9. Let us first consider the validity of the argument. If a chariot is taken to pieces, and a man is then shown the pieces one by one, each time with the question 'Is this a chariot?', it is obvious that he will always say no. And if these pieces are gathered together in a heap, and he is shown the heap, then also he will say that there is no chariot. If, finally, he is asked whether apart from these pieces he sees any chariot, he will still say no. But suppose now that he is shown these pieces assembled together in such a way that the assemblage can be used for conveying a man from place to place; when he is asked he will undoubtedly assert that there is a chariot, that the chariot exists. According to the argument, the man was speaking in the conventional sense when he asserted the existence of the chariot, and in the highest sense when he denied it. But, clearly enough, the man (who has had no training in such subtleties) is using ordinary conventional language throughout; and the reason for the difference between his two statements is to be found in the fact that on one occasion he was shown a chariot and on the others he was not. If a chariot is taken to pieces (even in imagination) it ceases to be a chariot; for a chariot is, precisely, a vehicle, and a heap of components is not a vehicle—it is a heap of components. (If the man is shown the heap of components and asked 'Is this a heap of components?', he will say yes.) In other words, a chariot is most certainly an assemblage of parts, but it is an assemblage of parts in a particular functional arrangement, and to alter this arrangement is to destroy the chariot. It is no great wonder that a chariot cannot be found if we have taken the precaution of destroying it before starting to look for it. If a man sees a chariot in working order and says 'In the highest sense there is no chariot; for it is a mere assemblage of parts', all he is saying is 'It is possible to take this chariot to pieces and to gather them in a heap; and when this is done there will no longer be a chariot'. The argument, then, does not show the non-existence of the chariot; at best it merely asserts that an existing chariot can be destroyed. And when it is applied to an individual (i.e. a set of pañcakkhandhā) it is even less valid; for not only does it not show the non-existence of the individual, but since the functional arrangement of the pañcakkhandhā cannot be altered, even in imagination, it asserts an impossibility, that an existing individual can be destroyed. As applied to an individual (or a creature) the argument runs into contradiction; and to say of an individual 'In the highest sense there is no individual; for it is a mere asemblage of khandhā' is to be unintelligible.

10. What, now, is the reason for this argument? Why has this notion of 'truth in the highest sense' been invented? We find the clue in the Visuddhimagga. This work (Ch. XVIII) quotes the last four lines (5, 6, 7, & 8) and then repeats in essence the argument of the Milindapañha, using the word satta as well as puggala. It goes on, however, to make clear what was only implicit in the Milindapañha, namely that the purpose of the argument is to remove the conceit '(I) am' (asmimāna): if it is seen that 'in the highest sense', paramatthato, no creature exists, there will be no ground for conceiving that I exist. This allows us to understand why the argument was felt to be necessary. The assutavā puthujjana identifies himself with the individual or the creature, which he proceeds to regard as 'self'. He learns, however, that the Buddha has said that 'actually and in truth neither self nor what belongs to self are to be found' (see the second Sutta passage in §4). Since he cannot conceive of the individual except in terms of 'self', he finds that in order to abolish 'self' he must abolish the individual; and he does it by this device. But the device, as we have seen, abolishes nothing. It is noteworthy that the passage in the Milindapañha makes no mention at all of 'self': the identification of 'self' with the individual is so much taken for granted that once it is established that 'in the highest sense there is no individual' no further discussion is thought to be necessary. Not the least of the dangers of the facile and fallacious notion 'truth in the highest sense' is its power to lull the unreflecting mind into a false sense of security. The unwary thinker comes to believe that he understands what, in fact, he does not understand, and thereby effectively blocks his own progress.




[a] The question discussed here, whether saccato thetato a 'self' is to be found, must be kept clearly distinct from another question, discussed in A NOTE ON PATICCASAMUPPĀDA §22, viz whether saccato thetato the Tathāgata (or an arahat) is to be found (ditth'eva dhamme saccato thetato Tathāgate anupalabbhamāne... ('since here and now the Tathāgata actually and in truth is not to be found...') Avyākata Samy. 2 <S.iv,384>). The reason why the Tathāgata is not to be found (even here and now) is that he is rūpa-, vedanā-, saññā-, sankhāra-, and viññāna-sankhāya vimutto (ibid. 1 <S.iv,378-9>), i.e. free from reckoning as matter, feeling, perception, determinations, or consciousness. This is precisely not the case with the puthujjana, who, in this sense, actually and in truth is to be found. [Back to text]

[b] Cf. 'La nature même de notre être répugne à ce qui a des parties et des successions.' --- J. Grenier, Absolu et Choix, P.U.F., Paris 1961, p. 44. ('What has parts and successions is repugnant to the very nature of our being.') [Back to text]

[c] The ditthisampanna (or sotāpanna) is the sattama puggala or 'seventh individual'. Anguttara VI,v,12 <A.iii,373> [Back to text]