Fruits of the Homeless Life

An overview of the first few sections of the Samaññaphala Sutta: The Fruits of the Contemplative Life. Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.


King Ajatasattu visited the Buddha and asked about the practical, immediate fruits of the homeless life. He had the chance to meet with many other popular teachers, but had already experienced, and had been disappointed, by their teachings. Hearing of the opportunity to visit the Buddha, he commanded that elephants be made ready for their journey.

Upon approaching the Buddha and his followers, the King was amazed. He could not hear anyone talking, coughing, sneezing, etc.. He actually suspected he was being led into a trap. It was dark, but he eventually saw light emanating from the Buddha’s central hut. Reading the Sutta evokes powerful imagery. I suggest you read it for yourself.

When King Ajatasattu saw the monks, and heard how silent they were, he thought of his son and how he wished that his son could also experience such calm. He must have been thinking that this calm was a display of one of the fruits of the homeless life with the Buddha.

Finally getting the chance to ask the Buddha his questions, the Buddha questions King Ajatasattu! He asked Ajatasattu about his experience with these other popular teachers (in an effort to have the King come to his own conclusions, to become ‘correctly self-awakened’).

Ajatasattu explains that the teachers, instead of answering his question about the fruits of the practice, asserted other, irrelevant, teachings.

The other doctrines are (I’d love to dig into each of the following, but instead I’ll suggest you read the sutta and analyze for yourself):

  • Non-action

  • Purification through Wandering-on

  • Annihilation

  • Non-relatedness

  • Fourfold Restraint

  • Evasion

These must have been the various philosophies available to King Ajatasattu. They were all irrelevant. In each case, as the King went to the teacher, the teacher answered with some irrelevant teaching and the King left without saying a word.

First Fruit

After hearing about the King’s journey, the Buddha explained the first fruit.

The first fruit is about benefits received through supremely compassionate conduct. The Buddha tells a story about a slave that leaves and becomes a great teacher, benefiting beings of all sorts, and asks about how that slave would be received by his previous master if he were to return. It is then suggested that instead of being angry, and enslaving the person again, the previous master would celebrate the opportunity of being able to support such a holy person.

This benefit received, “support through admiration”, is a fruit of the homeless life and it is visible in the here and now.

Second Fruit

This second fruit, visible in the here and now, is about the bliss of release from indentured servitude, taxation, capitalism.. freedom from the demands of economic slavery.

The Buddha tells a story about a householder who once helped fill the royal treasury by paying taxes. The householder becomes a Śramaṇa, the King hears about the loss of tax money, and receives news that the householder has become a Śramaṇa. It is again suggested that the King would likely be pleased at the news, and wouldn’t demand that the Śramaṇa becomes a householder once again.

This benefit received, “freedom from economic slavery”, is a fruit of the homeless life and it is visible in the here and now.

Third Fruit

The last mention of a fruit, visible in the here and now, is the actual life of a Śramaṇa. The last fruit is the collection of characteristics displayed by those engaged in the noble life. Aware of karmic danger, capable of acting virtuously (with boundless compassion), with ceaseless attention and constant Mindfulness, the homeless sage is alert and content wherever she finds herself.

When she has thus gone forth, she lives restrained by the rules of the monastic code, seeing danger in the slightest faults. Consummate in her virtue, she guards the doors of her senses, is possessed of mindfulness and alertness, and is content.

Read the  Samaññaphala Sutta here.

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