Samyukta Āgama (2) 18

Bhikkhu Saṃyutta

The parable of the smoking burrow

Thus have I heard, once, the Buddha was staying in Rājagaha in the Bamboo Grove of Kalanda.

At that time a monk went to the river in the early morning hours, undressed, and bathed. When he came out to dry his body on the riverside, there was a deva there, emitting rays and illuminating the riverbank. The deva addressed him with a riddle saying: “Monk! There is a burrow, from which smoke arises at night, but which is ablaze with fire during the day. A brāhmaṇa having seen this, had it broken open and dug up. There was a clever man doing the digging, who told the brāhmaṇa: ‘Digging with the blade I found a tortoise’ And the brāhmaṇa said: ‘Bring this tortoise out!’ Again he said: ‘Digging up the ground I found a viper,’and the brāhmaṇa ordered him to catch it. Again he said: ‘Digging up the ground I found a piece of meat,’ and the brāhmaṇa ordered him to pull it out. Again he said: ‘Digging up the ground I found a slaughter-house.’ The brāhmaṇa said: ‘This is a slaughter-house’ and ordered him to take it out. Again he said: ‘Digging up the ground I found the laṅgiman poisonous insects,’ and the brāhmaṇa ordered him to dig them out. Again he said: ‘Digging up the ground I found a forked path,’ and the brāhmaṇa said: ‘Out with it!’. Again he said: ‘Further digging up the ground I found a heap of stones’ and the brāhmaṇa ordered him to take out the stones. Again he said: ‘Digging up the ground I found a cobra.’ The brāhmaṇa said: ‘Do not disturb it’ and knelt before the cobra.’”

The deva said to the monk: “Don’t forget my words! Ask the Buddha about this and remember all he says! Why? Because I see no-one, whether deva, demon, or brahmā with the ability to analyse this, no-one who could explain this riddle, but the Buddha and his disciples, the monks.”

Then the monk went to the Buddha, paid homage at his feet and stood to one side. He told the Buddha what the deva had said and asked: “World-honored One! What is this burrow that emits smoke at night and is on fire at day? Who is the brāhmaṇa? Who is the clever person? What is the blade? What does it mean ‘to dig’? What is the tortoise? What is the viper? What the piece of meat? What the slaughter-house? What the laṅgiman poisonous insects? What the forked path? What the heap of stones? What is the cobra?”

The Buddha replied: “Listen carefully! Listen carefully! I will tell you. The burrow is the body. Conceived through the essences of father and mother, made up from the four elements, sustained by clothing and food: by these a body comes to be. But in the end the body will fail, swell up, become worm-eaten and break up. The smoke that arises at night is the various kinds of thoughts. The fire of the day is the karma engendered by body and speech. The brāhmaṇa is the Tathāgata. The clever man is the disciple (sāvaka). The blade is a metaphor for wisdom, and digging means diligent effort. The tortoise stands for the five hindrances, the viper for hatred and harming. The piece of meat means stinginess, greed and jealousy. The slaughter-house is the five sensual pleasures. The laṅgiman poisonous insects are a metaphor for ignorance, and the forked path stands for doubt. The stones are for arrogance, and the cobra is the Arahat, who has ended all bonds of becoming that lead to rebirth.”

Then the Buddha spoke this verse:

“A burrow is the body /
coarse and subtle thought is the smoke,
deeds are like the fire /
the brāhmaṇa is the Tathāgata,
the clever person is the sāvaka /
the blade is wisdom,
digging stands for diligent effort /
the five hindrances are like the tortoise,
hatred is like the viper /
greed and jealousy are like the piece of meat,
the five sensual pleasures are like the slaughter-house /
stupidity is like the bar,
Doubt is like the forked path /
belief in a self like the heap of stones.

But do not disturb the cobra /
the cobra is the true Arahat
To answer these questions well /
is only for the Buddha, the World-honored One.”

When the Buddha had finished speaking, the monks, having listened to what he had said, were happy and remembered it well.