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Sutras / Discourse on Youth and Happiness

I heard these words of the Buddha one time when the Lord was staying at the Bamboo Forest Monastery near the town of Rajagriha. At that time there was a bhikshu who, in the very early morning, came to the banks of the river, took off his robe and left it on the bank, and went down to the river to bathe. After bathing, he came out of the river, waited until his body was dry, and then put on his robe. At that time a goddess appeared, whose body, surrounded by light, lit up the entire bank of the river. The goddess said to the bhikshu, “Venerable, you’ve recently become a monk. Your hair is still black; you are still young. At this time in your life, shouldn’t you be perfumed with oils, adorned with gems and fragrant flowers, enjoying the five kinds of sensual desire? Meanwhile you have abandoned your loved ones and turned your back on the worldly life, living alone. You’ve shaved your hair and beard, donned the monk’s robe, and placed your faith in monastic practice. Why have you abandoned the pleasures of this moment to seek pleasures in a distant future?”

The bhikshu replied, “I have not abandoned the present moment in order to seek pleasures in a distant future. I have abandoned pleasures that are untimely for the deepest happiness of this moment.”

The goddess asked, “What is meant by abandoning pleasures that are untimely for the deepest happiness of the present moment?”

And the bhikshu replied, “The World-Honored One has taught: in the untimely joy associated with sensual desire there is little sweetness and much bitterness, tiny benefits, and a great potential to lead to disaster. Now, as I dwell in the Dharma in the here and now, I’ve given up the burning fire of afflictions. The Dharma can be perceived here and now. It is outside of time, and it invites us to come and see it directly. It is to be realized and experienced by each of us for ourselves. That is what is called abandoning untimely pleasures in order to realise true happiness in the present moment.”

The goddess asked the bhikshu again, “Why does the World-Honored One say that in the untimely pleasure of sensual desire there is little sweetness and much bitterness, its benefit is tiny but its potential to lead to disaster is great? Why does he say that if we dwell in the Dharma that can be perceived here and now we are able to give up the flames of the afflictions that burn us? Why does he say that this Dharma can be perceived here and now, is outside of time, invites us to come and see it, directly, and is realized and experienced by each of us for ourselves?”

The bhikshu replied, “I have only been ordained for a short time. I do not have the skill to explain to you the true teachings and the wonderful precepts that the World-Honored One has proclaimed. The Tathagata is staying nearby, in the Bamboo Forest. Why don’t you go to him and ask your questions directly? The Tathagata will teach you the Dharma, and you can receive and put it into practice as you wish.”

The goddess replied, “Venerable bhikshu, at this moment the Tathagata is surrounded by gods and goddesses with special powers. It would be difficult for me to have the chance to approach him and ask about the Dharma. If you would be willing to ask the Tathagata these questions on my behalf, I will follow you.”

The bhikshu replied, “I will help you.”

The goddess said, “Venerable, then I will follow you.”

The bhikshu went to the place where the Buddha was staying, bowed his head and prostrated before the Buddha, then withdrew a little and sat down to one side. He repeated the conversation he had just had with the goddess, and then said, “World-Honored One, if this goddess was sincere, she would be here now. If not, she probably would not have come.” At that moment, the voice of the goddess was heard from afar, “Venerable monk, I am here. I am here.”

The World-Honored One immediately offered this gatha:

“People are caught in desire.
When they do not understand desire clearly,
the delusion that arises from it
takes them on a path to death.”

The Buddha then asked the goddess, “Do you understand this gatha? If not, you may say so.” The goddess addressed the Buddha, “I have not understood, World-Honored One. I have not understood, Well-Gone One.”

So the Buddha recited another gatha for the goddess:

“When you know the true nature of desire,
the mind of desire will not arise.
When the mind of desire does not arise,
no one is able to tempt you.”

Then Buddha asked the goddess, “Have you understood this gatha? If not, you may say so.” The goddess addressed the Buddha: “I have not understood, World-Honored One. I have not understood, Well-Gone One.”

So the Buddha recited another gatha for the goddess:

“The complexes of inferiority, superiority and equality
bring about so many difficulties.
When these three complexes are overcome,
your mind is no longer disturbed.”

Then Buddha asked the goddess, “Have you understood this gatha? If not, you may say so.” The goddess addressed the Buddha, “I have not understood, World-Honored One. I have not understood, Well-Gone One.”

So the Buddha recited another gatha for the goddess:

“Ending desire, overcoming the three complexes,
our mind is stilled, you have nothing to long for.
We lay aside all affliction and sorrow,
in this life and in lives to come.”

Then Buddha asked the goddess, “Have you understood this gatha? If not, you may say so.” The goddess addressed the Buddha, “I have understood, World-Honored One. I have understood, Well-Gone One.”

The Buddha had finished the teaching. The goddess was delighted at what she had heard. practicing in accord with these teachings, she disappeared. Not a trace of her was to be seen anywhere.


Translated by Thich Nhat Hanh from Samiddhi Sutta, Saṃyukta Āgama 1078, Samyutta Nikaya 1.20, Taishō 99.

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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