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This Was Said by the Buddha
translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Alternate format: [book icon] This book is no longer in print as a separate volume. It is available in Handful of Leaves (Vol. 4), distributed by the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies.

Translator's Introduction   

The Itivuttaka, a collection of 112 short discourses, takes its name from the statement at the beginning of each of its discourses: this (iti) was said (vuttam) by the Blessed One. The collection as a whole is attributed to a laywoman named Khujjuttara, who worked in the palace of King Udena of Kosambi as a servant to one of his queens, Samavati. Because the Queen could not leave the palace to hear the Buddha's discourses, Khujjuttara went in her place, memorized what the Buddha said, and then returned to the palace to teach the Queen and her 500 ladies-in-waiting. For her efforts, the Buddha cited Khujjuttara as the foremost of his laywomen disciples in terms of her learning. She was also an effective teacher: when the inner apartments of the palace later burned down, killing the Queen and her entourage, the Buddha commented (in Udana VII.10) that all of the women had reached at least the first stage of Awakening.

The name of the Itivuttaka is included in the standard early list of the nine divisions of the Buddha's teachings — a list that predates the organization of the Pali canon as we now know it. It's impossible to determine, though, the extent to which the extant Pali Itivuttaka corresponds to the Itivuttaka mentioned in that list. The Chinese canon contains a translation of an Itivuttaka, attributed to Hsüan-tsang, that strongly resembles the text of the Pali Itivuttaka, the major difference being that parts of the Group of Threes and all of the Group of Fours in the Pali are missing in Hsüan-tsang's translation. Either these parts were later additions to the text that found their way into the Pali but not into the Sanskrit version translated by Hsüan-tsang, or the Sanskrit text was incomplete, or Hsüan-tsang's translation was left unfinished (it dates from the last months of his life).

The early history of the Itivuttaka is made even more complex by the fact that it was originally an oral tradition first written down several centuries after the Buddha's passing away. For a discussion of this issue, see the Historical Notes appended to Dhammapada: A Translation.

Whatever the history of the text, though, it has long been one of the favorite collections in the Pali canon, for it covers a wide range of the Buddha's teachings — from the simplest to the most profound — in a form that is accessible, appealing, and to the point.

However, although the discourses in the Itivuttaka cover many topics, they all relate to a common theme: the consequences of one's actions, or kamma. Because this theme is so central to these discourses, and because it is so commonly misunderstood, I would like briefly to explain it here.

The Buddha's teachings on action, or kamma, and his accompanying teachings on rebirth, are often dismissed as unessential to his teaching, something he simply picked up from his Indian environment. Actually, they are central to his teaching, and form one of his most original insights. Although many people assume that the Buddha derived his teachings on kamma from a view of the cosmos as a whole, the line of experiential proof was actually the other way around. After directly observing and analyzing the role of action in shaping his experience of time, he then followed the implications of his observations to confirm his vision of the process of rebirth and the structure of the cosmos that lies under the sway of time.

In the course of his Awakening, the Buddha discovered that the experience of the present moment consists of three factors: results from past actions, present actions, and the results of present actions. This means that kamma acts in feedback loops, with the present moment being shaped both by past and by present actions; while present actions shape not only the present but also the future. This constant opening for present input into the causal processes shaping one's life makes free will possible. In fact, will — or intention — forms the essence of action. Furthermore, the quality of the intention determines the quality of the act and of its results. On the mundane level there are three types of intentions: skillful, leading to pleasant results; unskillful, leading to painful results; and mixed, leading to mixed results, all these results being experienced within the realm of space and time. However, the fact that the experience of space and time requires not only the results of past actions but also the input of present actions means that it is possible to unravel the experience of space and time by bringing the mind to a point of equilibrium where it contributes no intentions or actions to the present moment. The intentions that converge at this equilibrium are thus a fourth type of intention — transcendent skillful intentions — which lead to release from the results of mundane intentions, and ultimately to the ending of all action.

The Buddha's direct perception of the power of intention confirmed for him the process of rebirth: if experience of the present moment requires the influence of past intentions, then there is no way to account for experience at the beginning of life other than through the intentions of a previous lifetime. At the same time, the power of the quality of intention provided the framework for Buddha's vision of the cosmos in which the process of rebirth takes place: there are pleasant levels of rebirth — the worlds of the Brahmas and the higher devas; unpleasant levels — hell, the realms of the hungry shades, common animals, and the angry demons; and mixed levels — the human realm and some of the lower deva realms. Even in the pleasant levels of rebirth, however, the pleasure is unstable and impermanent, giving no sure release from suffering and pain. The only secure release comes through transcendent skillful intentions, leading to the experience of nibbana, totally beyond the process of rebirth and the constraints of space and time.

Nibbana itself is totally unconditioned and so cannot be analyzed, apart from a distinction in how it is experienced before and after death (see §44). However, the path of practice leading to nibbana can be analyzed. It has eight factors — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration — and goes through four levels of Awakening. The early texts say very little about the content of these Awakening experiences, but are very specific about how these experiences function in effecting lasting changes in the mind. Stream-entry — in which one enters the "stream" to nibbana, gaining one's first glimpse of the deathless and cutting through the mental fetters of self-identity views, uncertainty, and grasping at precepts and practices — ensures that one will be reborn at most only seven more times. Once-returning ensures that one will be reborn only once more on the human level. Non-returning — which cuts through the mental fetters of sensual passion and resistance — ensures that one will never be reborn on the human level. If one goes no further in this life, one will be reborn in one of the five Brahma realms called the Pure Abodes and attain full Awakening there. Arahantship — which cuts through the mental fetters of passion for form, passion for formlessness, restlessness, conceit, and ignorance — frees one entirely from the suffering caused by craving, and from the cycle of rebirth as a whole.

This, then, is the picture of the cosmos that derives from the Buddha's insight into the power of intention. And what shapes skillful intention? Two connected qualities: appropriate attention (§16) and right view (§99). Appropriate attention focuses on questions that help foster skillfulness in one's actions, and avoids questions that get in the way of developing that skill. On the mundane level, right view provides a proper understanding of action and its potential for producing mundane pleasure and pain. On the transcendent level, it reduces experience simply to cause and effect, skillful and unskillful — expressed in terms of the four noble truths — without focusing on whether there is anyone performing the action or experiencing the result. This untangles the mind from issues of space and time, and allows it to act in a way that opens to transcendent release. Simply put, appropriate attention asks the right questions; right view provides the right answers. The interplay between these two mental qualities explains the question-and-answer format used in many of the discourses in the Itivuttaka. And, given the role of right view in skillful action, the fact that all of the discourses deal with right view means that they are all aimed — directly or indirectly — at helping the reader reach true happiness by using those views to foster skillful intentions in his or her own life.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Metta Forest Monastery
March, 2001


Acquisition (upadhi).
The mental "baggage" that the unawakened mind carries around. The Culaniddesa lists ten types of acquisition: craving, views, defilement, action, misconduct, nutriment (physical and mental), resistance, the four physical properties sustained in the body (earth, water, wind, and fire), the six external sense media (forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and ideas), and the six forms of sensory consciousness (eye-consciousness, ear-, nose-, tongue-, body-, and intellect-consciousness). The state without acquisitions is Unbinding (see below).
Aggregate (khandha).
Any one of the five bases for clinging to a sense of self: form (physical phenomena, including the body), feelings, perceptions (mental labels), thought-fabrications, consciousness.
A "worthy one" or "pure one;" a person whose mind is free of defilement and thus is not destined for further rebirth. A title for the Buddha and the highest level of his noble disciples.
The lowest level of hell. Hells in Buddhism are places of temporary, not eternal, torment. A being goes to hell, not because any outside power has sent him/her there, but through the power of his/her own actions. When the results of the actions come to their end, the being is released from hell.
Becoming (bhava).
States of being that develop first in the mind and allow for birth on any of three levels: the level of sensuality, the level of form, and the level of formlessness.
An inhabitant of the highest, non-sensual levels of heaven. The Great Brahma is one of the more powerful inhabitants of these heavens. As an adjective, brahma means "sublime," "ideal," "embodying the best qualities. As such, it is often used to describe the arahant or the highest qualities of the Dhamma.
The Brahmans of India have long maintained that they, by their birth, are worthy of the highest respect. Buddhists borrowed the term "brahman" to apply to arahants to show that respect is earned not by birth, race, or caste, but by spiritual attainment through following the right path of practice. Some of the passages in the Itivuttaka use the word brahman in this special sense; others in a more ordinary sense. The intended sense should be obvious from the context.
Literally, "shining one." An inhabitant of the heavenly realms.
(1) Event; a phenomenon in and of itself; (2) mental quality; (3) doctrine, teaching; (4) nibbana. Sanskrit form: Dharma.
Enlightened one (dhira).
Throughout this translation I have rendered buddha as "Awakened," and dhira as "enlightened." As Jan Gonda points out in his book, The Vision of the Vedic Poets, the word dhira was used in Vedic and Buddhist poetry to mean a person who has the heightened powers of mental vision needed to perceive the "light" of the underlying principles of the cosmos, together with the expertise to implement those principles in the affairs of life and to reveal them to others. A person enlightened in this sense may also be awakened, but is not necessarily so.
Fabrication (sankhara).
Sankhara literally means "putting together," and carries connotations of jerry-rigged artificiality. It is applied to physical and to mental processes, as well as to the products of those processes. In some contexts it functions as the fourth of the five aggregates — thought-fabrications; in others, it covers all five.
Fermentation (asava).
One of four qualities — sensuality, views, becoming, and ignorance — that ferment in the mind and flow out of it, creating the flood of the round of death and rebirth.
Heart (manas).
The mind in its role as will and intention.
Meditative absorption. A state of strong concentration, devoid of sensuality or unskillful thoughts, focused on a single physical sensation or mental notion which is then expanded to fill the whole range of one's awareness. Jhana is synonymous with right concentration, the eighth factor in the noble eightfold path.
Intentional act, bearing fruit in terms of states of becoming and birth. Sanskrit form: karma.
The personification of temptation and death.
The basic code of monastic discipline, composed of 227 rules for monks and 310 for nuns.
King of the devas in the Heaven of the Thirty-three.
Transmigration; the "wandering-on"; the round of death and rebirth.
On the conventional (sammati) level, this term denotes the communities of Buddhist monks and nuns; on the ideal (ariya) level, it denotes those followers of the Buddha, lay or ordained, who have attained at least stream-entry.
Stress (dukkha).
Alternative translations for dukkha include suffering, burdensomeness, and pain. However — despite the unfortunate connotations it has picked up from programs in "stress-management" and "stress-reduction" — the English word stress, in its basic meaning as the reaction to strain on the body or mind, has the advantage of covering much the same range as the Pali word dukkha. It applies both to physical and mental phenomena, ranging from the intense stress of acute anguish or pain to the innate burdensomeness of even the most subtle mental or physical fabrications. It also has the advantage of being universally recognized as something directly experienced in all life, and is at the same time a useful tool for cutting through the spiritual pride that keeps people attached to especially refined or sophisticated forms of suffering: once all suffering, no matter how noble or refined, is recognized as being nothing more than stress, the mind can abandon the pride that keeps it attached to that suffering, and so gain release from it. Still, in some of the verses of the Itivuttaka, stress seems too weak to convey the meaning, so in those verses I have rendered dukkha as pain, suffering, or suffering & stress.
Literally, "one who has become authentic (tatha-agata)," or "one who is really gone (tatha-gata)," an epithet used in ancient India for a person who has attained the highest religious goal. (For other etymologies, see §112.) In Buddhism, it usually denotes the Buddha, although occasionally it also denotes any of his arahant disciples.
Unbinding (nibbana).
Because nibbana is used to denote not only the Buddhist goal, but also the extinguishing of a fire, it is usually rendered as "extinguishing" or, even worse, "extinction." However, a study of ancient Indian views of the workings of fire (see The Mind Like Fire Unbound) reveals that people of the Buddha's time felt that a fire, in going out, did not go out of existence but was simply freed from its agitation, entrapment, and attachment to its fuel. Thus, when applied to the Buddhist goal, the primary connotation of nibbana is one of release, along with cooling and peace. Sanskrit form: nirvana.
The monastic discipline. The Buddha's name for his own teaching was, "this Dhamma-and Vinaya," this doctrine and discipline.