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I remember reading a sutta where the Buddha compares how much suffering there is, or grief or pain or whatever, as if it were a grain of sand, or a bit of dirt on the ground, compared to all the grains of sand in the ganges river or all the mud or something kind of quantitative imagery like that.

I think his point was a bit like that of the metaphor of the Second Arrow; that there might well be some kind of pain, but then all the rest of the torment is fabricated by the deluded mind through reactivity-obsession or passion-obsession and whatnot. This sutta didn't quote that one, but it had the same tenor: 'you won't believe how little there is to worry about.'

I've tried googling for this sutta but I can't find it.

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These are the suttas under SN 13.

They talk about how little suffering is left for a stream enterer.

Then the Buddha, picking up a little bit of dirt under his fingernail, addressed the mendicants: “What do you think, mendicants? Which is more: the little bit of dirt under my fingernail, or this great earth?”

“Sir, the great earth is far more. The little bit of dirt under your fingernail is tiny. Compared to the great earth, it’s not nearly a hundredth, a thousandth, or a hundred thousandth part.”

“In the same way, for a noble disciple accomplished in view, a person with comprehension, the suffering that’s over and done with is more, what’s left is tiny. Compared to the mass of suffering in the past that’s over and done with, it’s not nearly a hundredth, a thousandth, or a hundred thousandth part, since there are at most seven more lives. That’s how very beneficial it is to comprehend the teaching and gain the vision of the teaching.”.
SN 13.1

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    That's the one! Thanks :) Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 9:04
  • Out of interest how did you find this so quickly? From memory or smart searching? Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 9:06
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    @yellow-saint Please see the rest of the suttas under SN 13. They are all very similar. I remembered the fingernail analogy, so I googled "fingernail sutta".
    – ruben2020
    Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 9:33
  • Where does the Pali for this sutta include a Pali equivalent for the translation "lives"? Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 20:31
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It might be this Mahayana text called the Diamond Sutra. It's an absolute gem of a Sutra to study!

Diamond Sutra: Chapter 11

“Subhuti, if there were as many Ganges rivers as the number of grains of sand in the Ganges, would you say that the number of grains of sand in all those Ganges rivers would be very many?”

Subhuti answered, “Very many indeed, Most Honored One. If the number of Ganges rivers were that large, how much more so would be the number of grains of sand in all those Ganges rivers.”

“Subhuti, I will declare a truth to you. If a good man or a good woman filled over ten thousand galaxies of worlds with the seven treasures for each grain of sand in all those Ganges rivers, and gave it all away for the purpose of compassion, charity and giving alms, would this man or woman not gain great merit and spread much happiness?”

Subhuti replied, “Very much so, Most Honored One.”

“Subhuti, if after studying and observing even a single stanza of this Sutra, another person were to explain it to others, the happiness and merit that would result from this virtuous act would be far greater.”

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    Not the one, but upvoting because I was looking through the Diamond Sutra looking for my specific search query to no avail, but really appreciated the revisit nonetheless and can't recommend it enough. Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 9:05

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