Sutra in Forty-Two Sections

Translated by the Buddhist Text Translation Society


When the World Honored One had attained the Way, he thought, "To leave desire behind and to gain calmness and tranquillity is supreme." He abided in deep meditative concentration and subdued every demon and externalist.

In the Deer Park he turned the Dharma-wheel of the Four Noble Truths and took across Ajnata-kaundinya and the other four disciples, who all realized the fruition of the Way.

Then the Bhikshus expressed their doubts and asked the Buddha how to resolve them. The World Honored One taught and exhorted them, until one by one they awakened and gained enlightenment. After that, they each put their palms together, respectfully gave their assent, and followed the Buddha's instructions.


Section 1
Leaving Home and Becoming an Arhat

The Buddha said, "People who take leave of their families and go forth from the householder's life, who know their mind and penetrate to its origin, and who understand the unconditioned Dharma are called Shramanas. They constantly observe the 250 precepts, and they value purity in all that they do. By practicing the four true paths, they can become Arhats."

This is the first section of the Sutra in Forty-two Sections. It says that a Shramana can become an Arhat.

Section  2
Eliminating Desire and Ending Seeking

The Buddha said, "Those who have left the home-life and become Shramanas cut off desire, renounce love, and recognize the source of their minds. They penetrate the Buddha's profound principles and awaken to the unconditioned Dharma. Internally they have nothing to attain, and externally they seek nothing. They are not mentally bound to the Way, nor are they tied to karma. They are free of thought and action; they neither cultivate nor attain certification; they do not pass through the various stages, and yet they are highly revered. This is the meaning of the Way."

Section  3
Severing Love and Renouncing Greed

The Buddha said, "Shaving their hair and beards, they become Shramanas who accept the Dharmas of the Way. They renounce worldly wealth and riches. In receiving alms, they accept only what's enough. They take only one meal a day at noon, pass the night beneath trees, and are careful not to seek more than that. Craving and desire are what cause people to be stupid and dull."

Section  4
Clarifying Good and Evil

The Buddha said, "Living beings may perform Ten Good Deeds or Ten Evil Deeds. What are the ten? Three are done with the body, four are done with the mouth, and three are done with the mind. The three done with the body are killing, stealing, and lust. The four done with the mouth are duplicity, harsh speech, lies, and frivolous speech. The three done with the mind are jealousy, hatred, and stupidity. Thus these ten are not in accord with the Way of Sages and are called the Ten Evil Deeds. To put a stop to these evils is to perform the Ten Good Deeds."

Section  5
Reducing the Severity of Offenses

The Buddha said, "If a person has many offenses and does not repent of them, but cuts off all thought of repentance, the offenses will engulf him, just as water returning to the sea will gradually become deeper and wider. If a person has offenses and, realizing they are wrong, reforms and does good, the offenses will dissolve by themselves, just as a sick person who begins to perspire will gradually be cured."

Section  6
Tolerating Evil-doers and Avoiding Hatred

The Buddha said, "When an evil person hears about your goodness and intentionally comes to cause trouble, you should restrain yourself and not become angry or blame him. Then the one who has come to do evil will do evil to himself."

Section  7
Evil Returns to the Doer

The Buddha said, "There was a person who, upon hearing that I observe the Way and practice great humane kindness, intentionally came to berate me. I was silent and did not reply. When he finished abusing me, I asked, If you are courteous to people and they do not accept your courtesy, the courtesy returns to you, does it not?'

"It does,' he replied. I said, Now you are scolding me, but I do not receive it, so the misfortune returns to you and must remain with you. It is as inevitable as an echo that follows a sound, or as a shadow that follows a form. In the end you cannot avoid it. Therefore, be careful not to do evil.' "

Section  8
Abusing Others Defiles Oneself

The Buddha said, "An evil person who harms a sage is like one who raises his head and spits at heaven. Instead of reaching heaven, the spittle falls back on him. It is the same with someone who throws dust against the wind. Instead of going somewhere else, the dust returns to defile his own body. The sage cannot be harmed. Misdeeds will inevitably destroy the doer."

Section  9
By Returning to the Source, You Find the Way

The Buddha said, "Deep learning and a love of the Way make the Way difficult to attain. When you guard your mind and revere the Way, the Way is truly great!"

Section  10
Joyful Charity Brings Blessings

The Buddha said, "When you see someone who is practicing giving, aid him joyfully, and you will obtain vast and great blessings."
A Shramana asked, "Is there an end to those blessings?"
The Buddha said, "Consider the flame of a single torch. Though hundreds and thousands of people come to light their own torches from it so that they can cook their food and ward off darkness, the first torch remains the same. Blessings, too, are like this."

Section  11
The Increase in Merit Gained by Bestowing Food

The Buddha said, "Giving food to a hundred bad people is not as good as giving food to a single good person. Giving food to a thousand good people is not as good as giving food to one person who holds the Five Precepts. Giving food to ten thousand people who hold the Five Precepts is not as good as giving food to a single Srotaapanna. Giving food to a million Srotaapannas is not as good as giving food to a single Sakridagamin. Giving food to ten million Sakridagamins is not as good as giving food to a single Anagamin. Giving food to a hundred million Anagamins is not as good as giving food to a single Arhat. Giving food to one billion Arhats is not as good as giving food to a single Pratyekabuddha. Giving food to ten billion Pratyekabuddhas is not as good as giving food to a Buddha of the three periods of time. Giving food to a hundred billion Buddhas of the three periods of time is not as good as giving food to a single person who is without thoughts, without dwelling, without cultivation, and without accomplishment."

Section  12
A List of Difficulties and an Exhortation to Cultivate

The Buddha said, "People encounter twenty different kinds of difficulties: It is difficult to give when one is poor. It is difficult to study the Way when one has wealth and status. It is difficult to abandon life and face the certainty of death. It is difficult to encounter the Buddhist sutras. It is difficult to be born at the time of a Buddha. It is difficult to be patient with lust and desire. It is difficult to see fine things and not seek them. It is difficult to be insulted and not become angry. It is difficult to have power and not abuse it. It is difficult to come in contact with things and have no thought of them. It is difficult to be vastly learned and well-read. It is difficult to get rid of pride. It is difficult not to slight those who have not yet studied. It is difficult to practice equanimity of mind. It is difficult not to gossip. It is difficult to meet a Good and Wise Advisor. It is difficult to see one's own nature and study the Way. It is difficult to teach and save people according to their potentials. It is difficult to see a state and not be moved by it. It is difficult to have a good understanding of  skill-in-means."

Section  13
Questions about the Way and Past Lives

A Shramana asked the Buddha, "By what causes and conditions can I know my past lives and understand the ultimate Way?"
The Buddha said, "By purifying your mind and preserving your resolve, you can understand the ultimate Way. Just as when you polish a mirror, the dust vanishes and brightness remains, so too, if you cut off desire and do not seek, you then can know past lives."

Section  14
Asking about Goodness and Greatness

A Shramana asked the Buddha, "What is goodness? What is the foremost greatness?" The Buddha said, "To practice the Way and uphold the truth is goodness. To unite your will with the Way is greatness."

Section  15
Asking about Strength and Brilliance

A Shramana asked the Buddha, "What is the greatest strength? What is the utmost brilliance?"
The Buddha said, "Patience under insult is the greatest strength, because people who are patient do not harbor hatred, and they gradually grow more peaceful and strong. Patient people, since they are not evil, will surely gain the respect of others.
"When the mind's defilements are gone completely, so that it is pure and untainted, that is the utmost brilliance. When there is nothing, from before the formation of the heavens and the earth until now, in any of the ten directions that you do not see, know, or hear; when you have attained omniscience, that may be called brilliance."

Section  16
Casting Aside Love and Attaining the Way

The Buddha said, "People who cherish love and desire do not see the Way. Just as when you stir clear water with your hand, those who stand beside it cannot see their reflections, so, too, people who are entangled in love and desire have turbidity in their minds, and therefore they cannot see the Way. You Shramanas should cast aside love and desire. When the stains of love and desire disappear, you will be able to see the Way."

Section  17
When Light Arrives, Darkness Departs

The Buddha said, "Those who see the Way are like someone holding a torch who enters a dark room, dispelling the darkness so that only light remains. When you study the Way and see the truth, ignorance vanishes and light remains forever."

Section  18
Thoughts and So Forth Are Basically Empty

The Buddha said, "My Dharma is the mindfulness that is both mindfulness and non-mindfulness. It is the practice that is both practice and non-practice. It is words that are words and non-words, and cultivation that is cultivation and non-cultivation. Those who understand are near to it; those who are confused are far away, indeed. It is not accessible by the path of language. It is not hindered by physical objects. If you are off by a hairsbreadth, you will lose it in an instant."

Section  19
Contemplating Both the False and the True

The Buddha said, "Contemplate heaven and earth, and be mindful of their impermanence. Contemplate the world, and be mindful of its impermanence. Contem-plate the efficacious, enlightened nature: it is the Bodhi nature. With this awareness, one quickly attains the Way."

Section  20
Realize that the Self Is Truly Empty

The Buddha said, "You should be mindful of the four elements within the body. Though each has a name, none of them is the self. Since they are not the self, they are like an illusion."

Section  21
Fame Destroys Life's Roots

The Buddha said, "There are people who follow emotion and desire and seek to be famous. By the time their reputation is established, they are already dead. Those who are greedy for worldly fame and do not study the Way simply waste their effort and wear themselves out. By way of analogy, although burning incense gives off fragrance, when it has burned down, the remaining embers bring the danger of a fire that can burn one up."

Section  22
Wealth and Sex Cause Suffering

The Buddha said, "People are unable to renounce wealth and sex. They are just like a child who cannot resist honey on the blade of a knife. Even though the amount is not even enough for a single meal's serving, he will lick it and risk cutting his tongue in the process."

Section  23
A Family Is Worse than a Prison

The Buddha said, "People are bound to their families and homes to such an extent that these are worse than a prison. Eventually one is released from prison, but people never think of leaving their families. Don't they fear the control that emotion, love, and sex have over them? Although they are in a tiger's jaws, their hearts are blissfully oblivious. Because they throw themselves into a swamp and drown, they are known as ordinary people. Pass through the gateway! Get out of the defilement and become an Arhat!"

Section  24
Sexual Desire Obstructs the Way

The Buddha said, "Of all longings and desires, there is none as strong as sex. Sexual desire has no equal. Fortunately, it is one of a kind. If there were something else like it, no one in the entire world would be able to cultivate the Way."

Section  25
The Fire of Desire Burns

The Buddha said, "A person with love and desire is like one who carries a torch while walking against the wind: he is certain to burn his hand."

Section  26
Demons from the Heavens Try to Tempt the Buddha

The heaven spirit offered beautiful maidens to the Buddha, hoping to destroy his resolve. The Buddha said, "What have you skin-bags full of filth come here for? Go away, I've got no use for you."
Then the heaven spirit became very respectful and asked about the meaning of the Way. The Buddha explained it for him, and he immediately attained the fruition of Srotaapanna.

Section  27
One Attains the Way after Letting Go of Attachments

The Buddha said, "A person who follows the Way is like a floating piece of wood that courses along with the current. If it does not touch either shore; if people do not pluck it out; if ghosts and spirits do not intercept it; if it is not trapped in whirlpools; and if it does not rot, I guarantee that the piece of wood will reach the sea. If students of the Way are not deluded by emotion and desire, and if they are not caught up in the many crooked views, but are vigorous in their cultivation of the unconditioned, I guarantee that they will certainly attain the Way."

Section  28
Don't Indulge the Wild Mind

The Buddha said, "Be careful not to believe your own mind; your mind is not to be believed. Be careful not to get involved with sex; involvement with sex leads to disaster. After you have attained Arhatship, you can believe your own mind."

Section  29
Proper Contemplation Counteracts Sexual Desire

The Buddha said, "Be careful not to look at women, and do not talk with them. If you must speak with them, be properly mindful and think, am a Shramana living in a turbid world. I should be like the lotus flower, which is not stained by the mud.' Think of elderly women as your mothers, of those who are older than you as your elder sisters, of those who are younger as your younger sisters, and of very young girls as your daughters. Bring forth thoughts to rescue them, and put an end to bad thoughts."

Section  30
Stay Far Away from the Fire of Desire

The Buddha said, "People who cultivate the Way are like dry grass: it is essential to keep it away from an oncoming fire. People who cultivate the Way look upon desire as something they must stay far away from."

Section  31
When the Mind Is Still, Desire Is Dispelled

The Buddha said, "There was once someone who was plagued by ceaseless sexual desire and wished to castrate himself. The Buddha said to him, 'To cut off your sexual organ would not be as good as to cut off your mind. Your mind is like a supervisor: if the supervisor stops, his employees will also quit. If the deviant mind is not stopped, what good does it do to cut off the organ?'"

The Buddha spoke a verse for him:

   Desire is born from your intentions.
   Intentions are born from thoughts.
   When both aspects of the mind are still,
   There is neither form nor activity.

The Buddha said, "This verse was spoken by the  Buddha Kashyapa."

Section  32
Emptying out the Self Quells Fear

The Buddha said, "People worry because of love and desire. That worry then leads to fear. If you transcend love, what worries will there be? What will be left to fear?"

Section  33
Wisdom and Clarity Defeat the Demons

The Buddha said, "People who cultivate the Way are like a soldier who goes into battle alone against ten thousand enemies. He dons his armor and goes out the gate. He may prove to be a coward; he may get halfway to the battlefield and retreat; he may be killed in combat; or he may return victorious.

"Shramanas who study the Way must make their minds resolute and be vigorous, courageous, and valiant. Not fearing what lies ahead, they should defeat the hordes of demons and obtain the fruition of the Way."

Section  34
By Staying in the Middle, One Attains the Way

One evening a Shramana was reciting the Sutra of the Teaching Bequeathed by the Buddha Kashyapa. The sound of his voice was mournful as he reflected remorsefully on his wish to retreat in cultivation. The Buddha asked him, "In the past when you were a householder, what did you do?"
He replied, "I was fond of playing the lute."
The Buddha said, "What happened when the strings were slack?"
He replied, "They didn't sound."
"What happened when they were too tight?"
He replied, "The sounds were cut short."
"What happened when they were tuned just right between slack and tight?"
He replied, "The sounds car-ried."
The Buddha said, "It is the same with a Shrama-na who studies the Way.

If his mind is harmonious, he can attain the Way. If he is impetuous about the Way, his impetuousness will tire out his body; and if his body is tired, his mind will become afflicted. If his mind becomes afflicted, then he will retreat from his practice. If he retreats from his practice, his offenses will certainly increase. You need only be pure, peaceful, and happy, and you will not lose the Way."

Section  35
When One Is Purified of Defilements, the Brilliance Remains

The Buddha said, "People smelt metal by burning the dross out of it in order to make high quality implements. It is the same with people who study the Way: first they must get rid of the defilements in their minds; then their practice becomes pure."

Section  36
The Sequence that Leads to Success

The Buddha said, "It is difficult for one to leave the evil destinies and become a human being.
"Even if one does become a human being, it is still difficult to become a man rather than a woman.
"Even if one does become a man, it is still difficult to have the six sense organs complete and perfect.
"Even if the six sense organs are complete and perfect, it is still difficult for one to be born in a central country.
"Even if one is born in a central country, it is still difficult to be born at a time when there is a Buddha in the world.
"Even if one is born at a time when there is a Buddha in the world, it is still difficult to encounter the Way.
"Even if one does encounter the Way, it is still difficult to bring forth faith.
"Even if one brings forth faith, it is still difficult to resolve one's mind on Bodhi.
"Even if one does resolve one's mind on Bodhi, it is still difficult to be beyond cultivation and attainment."

Section  37
Staying Mindful of Moral Precepts Brings Us Close to the Way

The Buddha said, "My disciples may be several thousand miles away from me, but if they remember my moral precepts, they will certainly attain the fruition of the Way.
"If those who are by my side do not follow my moral precepts, they may see me constantly, but in the end they will not attain the Way."

Section  38
Birth Leads to Death

The Buddha asked a Shramana, "How long is the human life span?" He replied, "A few days." The Buddha said, "You have not yet understood the Way."
He asked another Shramana, "How long is the human life span?" The reply was, "The space of a meal." The Buddha said, "You have not yet understood the Way."
He asked another Shramana, "How long is the human life span?" He replied, "The length of a single breath." The Buddha said, "Excellent. You have understood the Way."

Section  39
The Buddha's Instructions Are Not Biased

The Buddha said, "Students of the Buddha's Way should believe in and accord with everything that the Buddha teaches. When you eat honey, it is sweet on the surface and sweet in the center; it is the same with my sutras."

Section  40
The Way Is Practiced in the Mind

The Buddha said, "A Shramana who practices the Way should not be like an ox turning a millstone. Such a one walks the Way with his body, but his mind is not on the Way. If the mind is concentrated on the Way, what further need is there to practice?"

Section  41
A Straight Mind Gets Rid of Desire

The Buddha said, "One who practices the Way is like an ox pulling a heavy load through deep mud. The ox is so extremely exhausted that it dares not glance to the left or right. Only when it gets out of the mud can it rest. The Shramana should regard emotion and desire as being worse than deep mud; and with an undeviating mind, he should be mindful of the Way. Then he can avoid suffering."

Section  42
Understanding that the World Is Illusory

The Buddha said, "I look upon royalty and high positions as upon the dust that floats through a crack. I look upon treasures of gold and jade as upon broken tiles. I look upon fine silk clothing as upon cheap cotton. I look upon a great thousand-world universe as upon a small nut kernel. I look upon the waters of the Anavatapta Lake as upon oil used to anoint the feet."

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