T 1670B Nāgasena Bhikṣu Sūtra

Part 2: Dialogues

2.4. Breath and Life

In the morning of that day, when they were just about to enter the city, Devamantiya and Mankura asked Nāgasena, “Yesterday you told the king that there is nothing which can be called Nāgasena.”

Nāgasena asked, “Devamantiya and Mankura, what do you think Nāgasena is?”

“The inner breath which comes in and goes out, that we suppose is Nāgasena.”

“But if that breath having gone forth should not return, or having returned and would not go forth, would the person be alive?”

“If the breath goes out and does not come back, the person would certainly die.”

“It is just like a person who blows the trumpet, once when the breath goes out, it does not return. Or just like a person that uses the goldsmith’s pipes to blow the fire, does his breath return to him again?”

“No, Sir, it does not.”

“Again it is like a person who blows the ground with a horn, does the breath return to him again?”

“No Sir.”

“The same breath goes out and does not return, then why does he not die?” asked Nāgasena.

“We are not capable of understanding such a matter as the breath going in and out, please Sir, explain this matter to us.” said Devamantiya and Mankura.

“These inhalations and exhalations are merely constituent powers of the bodily frame.

It is just like when a person thinks over some matter and puts the thoughts into words, it becomes verbal matter or language. When a person has some doubts in his mind and thinks it over, then it become a mind object or mind matter. So each part of the body has its own function. But when we analyze or examine them separately, they are all changing (from moment to moment), any one of them cannot be considered Nāgasena.”

(On hearing these words), Devamantiya and Mankura became enlightened and took the five precepts and became upasaka.

Nāgasena then went to the king in the palace and the king came forward, worshipped Nāgasena who with his eighty sramanas, sat down. The king had delicious food prepared and he himself with his own hands served Nāgasena and the other sramanas. After eating, they washed their mouths and hands. The king presented each sramana with a suit of cotton garments and a pair of sandals, and to Nāgasena and Ayupala three robes and a pair of sandals each.

Then the king said to Nāgasena and Ayupala, “Please remain seated here together with ten brethren. Let the rest of the sramanas depart.”

After Nāgasena asked the other sramanas to depart and only ten were left, the king ordered, “Let all the honorable and noble women and female performers in the palace come to this hall, sit behind a curtain and listen to Nāgasena and me discuss Dharma and the Path.”

At that time all the noble women and the female performers sat behind a curtain, listening to Nāgasena’s preaching. The king took a seat and sat down in front of Nāgasena.