In this discourse, King Ajātasattu first visits six ascetics in hope that they will bring some peace to his mind.
– The king’s question: “Is it possible to point out the fruit of the contemplative life, visible in the here and now?”
– Answers (or means) given by the six ascetics to point out the fruit of the contemplative life, visible in the here and now:
Pūraṇa Kassapa: “Non-action”
Makkhali Gosāla: “Purification through wandering-on”
Ajita Kesakambalī: “Annihilation”
Pakudha Kaccāyana: “Non-relatedness”
Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta: “Fourfold restraint”
Sañjaya Belaṭṭhaputta: “Evasion”
King Ajātasattu was neither delighted in these answers nor did he protest against them. Neither delighting nor protesting, he was dissatisfied. Without expressing dissatisfaction, without accepting their teachings, without adopting them, he got up from his seat and left.
Thus, the king puts the same question to the Buddha. This question shows the limited level of his own understanding, so the Buddha patiently describes the steps of the training, beginning at a very basic level and gradually moving up, as a way of raising the king’s spiritual horizons. In this way the king is being provided with a satisfactory answer on the rewards of a samaṇa (=ascetic) practising the Buddhist way. The answer is built up as follows: the first visible fruit of the contemplative life, the second visible fruit of the contemplative life, the higher fruits of the contemplative life, the lesser section on virtue, the intermediate section on virtue, and the great section on virtue.
The Buddha then elaborated on his perspective regarding the benefits of the contemplative life, moving from the material to the spiritual.
– Virtue: “Whereas some priests and contemplatives, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, he abstains from wrong livelihood, from lowly arts. A monk consummate in virtue sees no danger anywhere from his restraint through virtue. Endowed with this noble aggregate of virtue, he is inwardly sensitive to the pleasure of being blameless.”
– Sense restraint: “[T]he [monk] does not grasp at any theme or details by which — if he were to dwell without restraint over the faculties of the senses — evil, unskillful qualities such as greed or distress might assail him. Endowed with noble restraint over the sense faculties, he is inwardly sensitive to the pleasure of being blameless.”
– Mindfulness & alertness: When going forward and returning, he acts with alertness. When looking toward and looking away… when bending and extending his limbs… when carrying his outer cloak, his upper robe, and his bowl… when eating, drinking, chewing, and tasting… when urinating and defecating… when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and remaining silent, he acts with alertness.
– Contentedness: “Wherever he goes, he takes only his barest necessities along. This is how a monk is content.”
– Abandoning the Five Hindrances: “[T]he [monk] cleanses his mind of (1) covetousness, (2) ill will and anger, (3) sloth and drowsiness, (4) restlessness and anxiety, and (5) uncertainty.” (The Five Hindrances).
– The four jhanas: He attains the four jhanas which are associated with the permeating of his body with rapture, pleasure, equanimity, and a pure, bright awareness.
– Insight knowledge: “The monk directs and inclines his mind to knowledge and vision. He discerns: ‘This body of mine is endowed with form, composed of the four primary elements, born from mother and father, nourished with rice and porridge, subject to inconstancy, rubbing, pressing, dissolution, and dispersion. And this consciousness of mine is supported here and bound up here.’”
The Mind-made body: “The monk directs and inclines his mind to creating a mind-made body. From this body he creates another body, endowed with form, made of the mind, complete in all its parts, not inferior in its faculties.”
Supernatural powers: “Having been one he (the monk) becomes many; having been many he becomes one. He appears. He vanishes. He goes unimpeded through walls, ramparts, and mountains as if through space. He dives in and out of the earth as if it were water. He walks on water without sinking as if it were dry land. Sitting cross-legged he flies through the air like a winged bird. With his hand he touches and strokes even the sun and moon, so mighty and powerful. He hears — by means of the divine ear-element, purified and surpassing the human — both kinds of sounds: divine and human, whether near or far.” (Clairaudience).
Mind reading: The monk can discern in others states of consciousness such as those with or without passion, lust, delusion, concentration, etc.
Threefold knowledge (tevijjā):
1. Recollection of past lives: “The monk directs and inclines his mind to knowledge of the recollection of past lives. He recollects his manifold past lives in their modes and details.”
2. The passing away & re-appearance of beings: “The monk directs and inclines his mind to knowledge of the passing away and re-appearance of beings. He sees — by means of the divine eye, purified and surpassing the human — beings passing away and re-appearing, and he discerns how they are inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate in accordance with their kamma, knows the ending of suffering and the fermentations of sensuality, becoming and ignorance.”
3. The ending of mental fermentations: “The monk directs and inclines his mind to the knowledge of the ending of the mental fermentations. He discerns, as it has come to be, that ‘This is stress. This is the origination of stress. This is the cessation of stress. This is the way leading to the cessation of stress. These are mental fermentations. This is the origination of fermentations. This is the cessation of fermentations. This is the way leading to the cessation of fermentations.’”
Release from saṃsāra: “His heart, thus knowing, thus seeing [the ending of mental fermentations], is released from the fermentation of sensuality, the fermentation of becoming, the fermentation of ignorance. With release, there is the knowledge, ‘Released.’ He discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'”
Upon hearing the Buddha’s explanation, King Ajātasattu declared himself a lay follower of the Buddha. And then the king confessed that he himself killed his own father so as to become king. His confession was accepted by the Buddha because the king had seen his transgression as such and made amends in accordance with the Dhamma. For it is a cause of growth in the Dhamma and Discipline of the noble ones when, seeing a transgression as such, one makes amends in accordance with the Dhamma and exercises restraint in the future.
Reference: Sāmaññaphalasutta: The Fruits of the Contemplative Life, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, from DN.II (PTS D.I.47).