DN23.2.10. The Simile of the Fire-Worshiping Matted-Hair Ascetic

Pāyāsi Sutta ("With Pāyāsi")

“Well then, chieftain, I shall give you a simile. For by means of a simile some sensible people understand the meaning of what is said.

Once upon a time, a certain fire-worshiping matted-hair ascetic settled in a leaf hut in a wilderness region. Then a caravan came out from a certain country. It stayed for one night not far from that ascetic’s hermitage, and then moved on. The ascetic thought, ‘Why don’t I go to that caravan’s campsite? Hopefully I’ll find something useful there.’

So he went, and he saw a young baby boy abandoned there. When he saw this he thought, ‘It’s not proper for me to look on while a human being dies. Why don’t I bring this boy back to my hermitage, nurse him, nourish him, and raise him?’ So that’s what he did.

When the boy was ten or twelve years old, the ascetic had some business come up in the country. So he said to the boy, ‘My dear, I wish to go to the country. Serve the sacred flame. Do not extinguish it. But if you should extinguish it, here is the hatchet, the firewood, and the bundle of drill-sticks. Light the fire and serve it.’ And having instructed the boy, the ascetic went to the country.

But the boy was so intent on his play, the fire went out. He thought, ‘My father told me to serve the sacred flame. Why don’t I light it again and serve it?’

So he chopped the bundle of drill-sticks with the hatchet, thinking, ‘Hopefully I’ll get a fire!’ But he still got no fire.

He split the bundle of drill-sticks into two, three, four, five, ten, or a hundred parts. He chopped them into splinters, pounded them in a mortar, and swept them away in a strong wind, thinking, ‘Hopefully I’ll get a fire!’ But he still got no fire.

Then the matted-hair ascetic, having concluded his business in the country, returned to his own hermitage, and said to the boy, ‘I trust, my dear, that the fire didn’t go out?’ And the boy told him what had happened. Then the ascetic thought, ‘How foolish is this boy, how incompetent! For how can he seek a fire so irrationally?’

So while the boy looked on, he took a bundle of fire-sticks, lit the fire, and said, ‘Dear boy, this is how to light a fire. Not the foolish and incompetent way you sought it so irrationally.’ In the same way, chieftain, being foolish and incompetent, you seek the other world irrationally. Let go of this harmful misconception, chieftain, let go of it! Don’t create lasting harm and suffering for yourself!”

“Even though Master Kassapa says this, still I’m not able to let go of that harmful misconception. King Pasenadi of Kosala knows my views, and so do foreign kings. If I let go of this harmful misconception, people will say, ‘How foolish is the chieftain Pāyāsi, how incompetent, that he should hold on to a mistake!’ I shall carry on with this view out of anger, contempt, and spite!”

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