Itivuttaka: The Buddha’s Sayings

The Section of the Threes

99. The Threefold Knowledge

This was said by the Lord…

“Bhikkhus, I declare that it is through the Dhamma that one becomes a brahmin possessing the threefold knowledge: (I do not say this) of another merely because he can talk persuasively and recite. And how do I declare that it is through the Dhamma that one becomes a brahmin possessing the threefold knowledge?

“Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu recollects a variety of former lives, that is, one birth, two births, three births, four births, five births, ten births, twenty births, thirty births, forty births, fifty births, a hundred births, a thousand births, a hundred thousand births; many aeons of world-contraction, many aeons of world-expansion, many aeons of both world-contraction and expansion. He recollects in a particular life being such a one by name, of such a clan, of such an appearance, having this kind of nutriment, experiencing these kinds of pleasure and pain, having this lifespan; and deceasing from there he arose here. Thus with all their details and particulars he recollects a variety of former lives. This is the first knowledge attained by him. Ignorance is dispelled, knowledge has arisen; darkness is dispelled, light has arisen, as happens in one who lives diligent, ardent, and resolute.

“Then again, bhikkhus, with the divine eye, purified and surpassing the human, a bhikkhu sees beings passing away and reappearing, inferior and superior, fair and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate, and he understands how beings pass on according to their deeds thus: ‘Those worthy beings practising misconduct by body, speech, and mind, insulters of the noble ones, of wrong view and undertaking deeds in consequence of wrong view, when the body perishes have been reborn after death in a state of misery, a bad bourn, a state of ruin, hell. But those worthy beings practising good conduct by body, speech, and mind, not insulters of the noble ones, of right view and undertaking deeds in consequence of right view, when the body perishes, have been reborn after death in a good bourn, a heavenly world.’ Thus he sees this with the divine eye and he understands how beings pass on according to their deeds. This is the second knowledge attained by him. Ignorance is dispelled, knowledge has arisen; darkness is dispelled, light has arisen, as happens in one who lives diligent, ardent, and resolute.

“Then again, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu, through realization by his own direct knowledge, here and now enters and abides in the mind-release and wisdom-release that is taintless by the destruction of the taints. This is the third knowledge attained by him. Ignorance is dispelled, knowledge has arisen; darkness is dispelled, light has arisen, as happens in one who lives diligent, ardent, and resolute.

“Thus, bhikkhus, do I declare that it is through the Dhamma that one becomes a brahmin possessing the threefold knowledge; (I do not say this) of another merely because he can talk persuasively and recite.”

He who knows his former lives,
Who sees heaven and states of woe,
Who reaches the end of birth,
A sage and master of direct knowledge—

By these three ways of knowing one becomes
A brahmin having the threefold knowledge.
That is what I call the threefold knowledge,
Not another’s babbling and reciting.

This too is the meaning of what was said by the Lord, so I heard.