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I stumbled across this sutta yesterday (SN 48.58) with a dialogue between the Buddha and Sariputta, which has the following passage:

Considering what benefit, Sariputta, does a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed conduct himself in a way that shows supreme honor towards the Tathagata and the Tathagata's teaching?

It is, venerable sir, considering as benefit the unsurpassed security from bondage that a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed conducts himself in a way that shows supreme honour towards the Tathagata and the Tathagata's teaching.

So far, the question and answer seem a little curious. In the edition I have by Bhikku Bodhi, he added a note pointing out this was puzzling. But there is more. It continues:

And what, Sariputta, is the unsurpassed security from bondage that a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed considers as the benefit when he conducts himself in a way that shows supreme honour towards the Tathagata and the Tathagata's teaching?

Here, venerable sir, a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed develops the faculty of faith, which leads to peace, leads to enlightenment. He develops the faculty of energy [...]

Good, good, Saripputa. [...]

Now, a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed is, as far as I know, an arahant. Also, even if I were to doubt Bhikku Bodhi's translation, skimming through the pali version (with a dictionary, my pali knowledge is 0) indicated they are not talking about an ordinary bhikkhu ("who has work to be done"), but an arahant -- a khīṇāsavo bhikkhu.

I tried googling for discussions around this text with no success.

So my question is: Are there any clues that shed light into this confusion? The confusion of the Buddha approving Saripputa words (and that Saripputa himself would say them, though its not clear if he was already an Arahant himself at the time), which imply that an Arahant still seeks a state of being, devoted to the development of faculties and to reap assiciated benefits.

While on a practical side this mostly concerns arahants (ie. if I'm to clear my doubts, I better become one), I'm also curious to know other (possibly notable) suttas that present problems (inconsistencies, etc).

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www.palikanon.com has a clearer translation.

The Buddha questions Sāriputta at Sūkarakhatalena as to why a monk who has destroyed the āsavas should revere the Buddha and his teachings. Sāriputta answers that it is because such a monk has secured freedom from the yoke. "What kind of security is it?" asks the Buddha, and Sāriputta explains that it is security obtained by the cultivation of the five indriyas of faith, energy, etc. S.v.233f.

An Arahant reveres the Buddha and his teaching not because he/she has anything left to attain, but because the Buddha and the Dhamma are what led him/her to Nibbana. The faculty of faith peaks out when a being attains Arahantship. The closer you get to Nibbana, the more respect and appreciation you will have for the Buddha and his teachings.

Incidentally, venerable Sariputta attained Arahantship by listening to the Dīghanakha (or Vedanāpariggaha) Sutta at the Sūkarakhata cave.

  • This description does make much more sense. I'm still looking for different translations to have a better understanding of the text itself, since the fact that Bodhi himself was puzzled indicates that it wasn't an accidental translation or interpretation, but that he saw that meaning in the pali words. – Thiago Aug 18 '14 at 17:25

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