Sāti’s encounter with the Buddha

Alexander Wynne


The Mahā-taṇhā-saṅkhaya Sutta (MN 38: MTSS) is famous for the entertaining and illuminating episode involving Sāti, a fisherman’s son and Buddhist bhikkhu who got it wrong. Sāti’s mistake was to have understood the Buddha’s teaching on consciousness and personal identity as a form of Upaniṣadic essentialism:

As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, it is the very same consciousness which transmigrates, and not another’.

Sāti is of course condemned, both by the bhikkhus who first hear this view, and then by the Buddha himself. After asking whether Sāti has ‘become warm’ (usmī-kato) in the Dhamma-vinaya (‘no’ is the inevitable answer), the Buddha states that Sāti ‘insults us, destroys himself, and keeps on generating much demerit.’ The episode involving Sāti is reminiscent of the Buddha’s encounter with Ariṭṭha, recorded in the Alagaddūpama Sutta (MN 22). Both texts have a complicated narrative structure, and are of considerable importance for the correct understanding of early Buddhist thought.

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