If I recall correctly, I once read (in a book which I no longer have) that:

  • The Fire Sermon happened (soon) after the Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion
  • The Buddha spoke it to a believer/theorist/priest-like person of a non-Buddhist sect
  • The other person spoke first, giving their theory first
  • When the Buddha replies, the book said,

    "The fire of life must be put out!", he thundered.

This version of the Fire Sermon isn't like that at all:

  • Delivered to 1000 monks
  • No thundering

Is there any text (including e.g. Mahayana) that you know of, that's like what I quoted above?

Are there any reports, any reliable report, on whether or how much the Buddha displayed emotional affect? Did he seem cheerful? Angry? Did he pretend to get angry?

If this question cannot be answered about the Buddha (e.g. because it was too long ago and not recorded), is there other people more recent who are "like the Buddha", about whom this is known?

It's usually difficult to judge how much affect a person displays (so it's useless to be judgmental); I'm wondering whether the Buddha is known to have "displayed affect" to an unusually high (very obvious) or to an unusually low degree.

  • I guess you could add to your question "should a Buddha display affect, or is it compatible with everything else?" In case nobody knows the answer to your actual Q. Awesome question btw.
    – DLV
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 16:20
  • Yes, this does ring a bell. I remember reading about a period when Buddha stayed with the Dreaded Kassapa and his fire worshippers (which is who he gave the Fire Sermon to). One episode depicted Buddha spending all night fighting with a naga (an archetype of wise man) both naga and Buddha using fire (a symbol of anger). Another episode depicted Kassapa yelling "You are not an Arahant!" at Buddha etc... Looks like the two did have some issues :)
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Oct 11, 2014 at 16:56
  • There is an anecdote in Autobiography Of A Yogi where Paramahansa Yoganandaji displayed anger yet also was using it for good reason. Jesus drove out the moneychangers. Gandhi spoke harshly once that I heard of.
    – user2341
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 1:52

3 Answers 3


For a full account of the events surrounding the fire sermon, you have to look in the vinaya pitaka. An old translation of the complete account is here.

The closest he comes to "thundering" is when he defeats the naga:

3. Then the Blessed One entered the room where the fire was kept, made himself a couch of grass, and sat down cross-legged, keeping the body erect and surrounding himself with watchfulness of mind2. And the Nâga saw that the Blessed One had entered; when he saw that, he became annoyed, and irritated, and sent forth a cloud of smoke. Then the Blessed One thought: 'What if I were to leave intact the skin, and hide, and flesh, and ligaments, and bones, p. 120 and marrow of this Nâga; but were to conquer the fire, which he will send forth, by my fire.'

4. And the Blessed One effected the appropriate exercise of miraculous power and sent forth a cloud of smoke. Then the Nâga, who could not master his rage1, sent forth flames. And the Blessed One, converting his body into fire2, sent forth flames. When they both shone forth with their flames, the fire room looked as if it were burning and blazing, as if it were all in flames. And the Gatilas, surrounding the fire room, said: 'Truly, the countenance of the great Samana is beautiful, but the Nâga will do harm to him3.'

5. That night having elapsed, the Blessed One, leaving intact the skin and hide and flesh and ligaments and bones and marrow of that Nâga, and conquering the Nâga's fire by his fire, threw him into his alms-bowl, and showed him to the Gatila Uruvelâ Kassapa (saying), 'Here you see the Nâga, Kassapa; his fire has been conquered by my fire.' Then the Gatila Uruvelâ Kassapa thought: 'Truly the great Samana possesses high magical powers and great faculties, in that he is able to conquer by his fire the fire of that savage Nâga king, who is possessed of magical power, that dreadfully venomous serpent. He is not, however, holy (arahâ) as I am.'

Pretty clear that there wasn't actually any affectation on the Buddha's part. The word "threw" is a mistranslation; it would better be "placed".

The closest he gets to actual disturbance is when he finally confronts Uruvela Kassapa:

17. Then the Blessed One thought: 'This foolish man will still for a long time think thus: "Truly the great Samana possesses high magical powers and great faculties; he is not, however, holy like me." What if I were to move the mind of this Gatila (in order to show him my superiority).'

And the Blessed One said to the Gatila Uruvelâ Kassapa: 'You are not holy (arahâ), Kassapa, nor have you entered the path of Arahatship, nor do you walk in such a practice as will lead you to Arahatship. or to entering the path of Arahatship.'

Pretty tame, but then that's to be expected; he was, after all, a fully enlightened Buddha. There are a couple of examples I can think of where does affect an emotional disposition to get his point across, if only in the words he chooses:

  • His words to Vakkali, who spent all his time staring at the Buddha's majesty:

But in spite of the Teacher’s admonition, Vakkali could not let the Teacher get out of his sight or leave the Teacher’s presence. Finally the Teacher thought to himself, “Unless this monk receives a shock, he will never come to understand.” Now the season of the rains was at hand, and the Teacher desired to enter upon residence. So on the day appointed to enter upon residence, the Teacher went to Rājagaha, turning Vakkali away with the words, “Go back, Vakkali.” So for the space of three months Vakkali was unable to be with the Teacher and kept saying to himself, “The Teacher speaks to me no more.” Finally he said to himself, “What is the use of my living any longer? I will throw myself headlong from the top of a mountain.” And with this thought in mind, he climbed to the top of Mount Vulture Peak.

-- Dhp-A 381 (Burlingame, trans)

The English here is poor; apehi means "Go away!", or even "Get lost!", so it was a bit like a slap in the face to the poor deluded man.

  • His words to Devadatta, when he challenged the Buddha to enforce his five extreme rules:

'I would not give over the Bhikkhu-samgha, Devadatta, even to Sâriputta and Moggallâna. How much less, then, to so vile and evil-living a person as you.'


The actual Pali of this one is actually closer to "lick-spittle", as per the footnote:

In the text read khavassa khelâpakassa. On the first word, compare V, 2, 8. For the second the Dhammapada commentator (Fausböll, p. 143) reads, as does the Sinhalese MS. in our passage, khelâsika. Buddhaghosa, explaining it, says, 'In this passage (we should recollect) that those who obtain the requisites (of a Bhikkhu) by an evil mode of life are said by the Noble Ones to be like unto spittle. The Blessed One calls him khelâpaka (to ex-press that) he eats, (that is, 'gains a living) in sin like that.' (For the Pâli, see the edition of the text, p. 323, where the comma after khelasadisâ should be before it.)


'Thundering' may imply 'bold' or 'loud', not 'angry'.

From The Buddha's Last Days,

The the venerable Sariputta came to see the Lord, saluted him, sat down on one side, and said, "It is clear to me Lord that there never has been, will be, or is now another ascetic or Brahmin who is better or more enlightened than the Lord.

You have spoken boldly with a bull's voice, Sariputta, you have roared the lion's roar of certainty! How is this? Have all the Arahant Buddhas of the past appeared to yu, and were their minds [etc.]

Loudness and/or confidence must have been useful, in a crowd: from The Lion's Roar,

It is not typical of the Buddha to extol himself, for he did not intend his Dispensation to evolve into a personality cult centered around himself as a charismatic and powerful leader.

[...] "Here, the Tathagata understands as it actually is the possible as possible and the impossible as impossible. And that is a Tathagata's power that the Tathagata has, by virtue of which he claims the herd-leader's place, roars his lion's roar in the assemblies, and sets rolling the Wheel of Brahma.

Maybe too it was part of a style of oratory: from Kim,

Hereat, simply as a child engrossed in a new game, the lama threw back his head and began the full-throated invocation of the Doctor of Divinity ere he opens the full doctrine.

The "Lion's Roar" seems to be repeated in this Zen story: from The Last Poem of Hoshin,

Hoshin, with the roar of a conquering lion, shouted "Kaa!" and was gone.

As for displaying affect, No Attachment to Dust suggests,

Even though alone in a dark room, be as if you were facing a noble guest. Express your feelings, but become no more expressive than your true nature.

The Buddha explicitly warns against reacting to an insult with anger: from Akkosa Sutta: Insult

Whence is there anger
for one free from anger,
    living in tune —
one released through right knowing,
    & Such.

You make things worse
when you flare up
at someone who's angry.
Whoever doesn't flare up
at someone who's angry
    wins a battle
    hard to win.

You live for the good of both
    — your own, the other's —
when, knowing the other's provoked,
    you mindfully grow calm.

When you work the cure of both
    — your own, the other's —
those who think you a fool
know nothing of Dhamma.

As most spiritual founders, the Buddha's life and actions are conveyed orally for 500 years and are prone to be expanded upon, embellished or even invented. I see the Flower Sermon as more representative of Buddha because for him the lesson was so simple. No need for words. No need for fiery emotions. Just hold up a flower - he is whispering inside, can't you see what is plain as day. One person saw it and became an important conveyor of the dharma.

A later Buddhist is Dogen. He wrote the Shobo Genzo or True Dharma Eye in order to demystify Buddhism in Japan from a religion of beliefs to a practice of realization. Here is a link that describes this in more depth. http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-PHIL/shaner.htm

It is important to emphasize Dogen's descriptive phenomenological methodology in Shobogenzo. Shobogenzo is a collection of Dogen's discourses, given orally and written, from 1231 until his death in 1253. The apparent phenomenological tenor of Shobogenzo is characterized by Dogen's argumentation based upon reference to everyday experience. Dogen's foremost objective in Shobogenzo is to describe the most primordial mode of experience in which the world is presented to consciousness. He is concerned with faithfully describing a mode of experience void of unjustified presuppositions, metaphysical conceptualizations, ontological presuppositions, or any other impairment of an authentic direct encounter with th world as it is originally given to consciousness. Each fascicle focuses upon specific aspects of experience, for example, its istructure, temporal component, ethical dimension, and so forth. Dogen's appeal to cultivate (shugyo(d)) an unimpaired experience one's situation (jisetsu(e)) was intended to justify his insistence on practicing zazen (seated meditation). Dogen abandoned his initial description of how to perform zazen (Fukanzazengi(f)) and -------------------------- David E. Shaner is Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Furman University, Creenville, South Carolina. Philosophy East and West 35, no. 1 (January 1985).

                            p. 18

    justification of its prominent role in the history of
    Buddhist practice (Bendowa(g)) in favor of describing
    the experience  of zazen itself  (Shobogenzo).  Since
    Dogen's  endeavor  is to describe  the  structure  of
    paradigmatic  modes  of experience  that authenticate
    Buddhist doctrines, a phenomenological interpretation
    is a more appropriate methodology  than, for example,
    a historical or analytical approach.(1)

Dogen tried to demystify the practice of meditation and put things in an experiential reference point. One must choose a path that is inclined to the ways that are your own inner orientation. Both of these examples offer evidence of the Buddha and Dogen being free of being firebrand preaching in favor of sticking to the plain, essentials of the path. This question remains open to various interpretation as long as no reliable sources exist directly from the time of Buddha. However, Dogen's life is well documented and may give us clues to the Buddha's style and intensity.


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