The Ādittapariyāya Sutta – or “The Fire Sermon” – is a famous discourse that the Buddha delivered to a thousand or so newly converted ascetics (from Hinduism, who had previously practised a sacred fire ritual) on a hill near the city of Gaya in the Indian state of Bihar. In this sermon, the founder of Buddhism preaches the ways in which one may attain liberation from suffering through detachment from the five senses and the mind.
The title of the discourse was borrowed by T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) for a portion of his long and strange poem of 1922 The Wasteland. For Eliot, the Fire Sermon was something of an Eastern equivalent of Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount.”
A good translation of the Fire Sermon (by Japanese scholar of Indian religions Hajime Nakamura) with a brief explanation is mentioned in the book An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World by London-based Indian writer Pankaj Mishra. Mishra highlights the hypnotic quality of the discourse and points out that, for the Buddha, there was no better metaphor than fire “for the volatile nature of the senses and the desires they perpetually engendered.”
Read the full sermon:
Everything is ablaze. What is ablaze? The eyes are ablaze. The form (objects seen by the eyes) is ablaze. The mental functions (based on eyes) are ablaze. The contact of the eye (with visible objects and mental functions) is ablaze. The sensations produced by the contact of the eye, whether pleasant, unpleasant, or neither one nor the other, are ablaze.
The ears are ablaze. Sounds are ablaze…the nose is ablaze. Smells are ablaze. The tongue is ablaze. Tastes are ablaze…The body is ablaze. The objects (felt by the body) are ablaze. The mind is ablaze. Objects of thought are ablaze. The mental functions based on the mind are ablaze. The contact of the mind (with audible objects and mental functions) is ablaze. The sensations produced by the contact of the mind, whether pleasant, unpleasant, or neither one nor the other, are ablaze.
By what are they ablaze? I tell you they are ablaze with the fire of greed, with the fire of hatred, with the fire of delusion, ablaze with birth, old age, death, grief, lamentation, suffering, sorrow, and despair…A disciple who is well-learned, Bhikshus, when he considers things in this way, grows…weary of the eye…He grows weary of the ear, grows weary of objects seen by the eye, grows weary of the mental functions (based on) the eyes, grows weary of the contact of the eye…Growing weary of them, he rids himself of greed. Being rid of greed, he is liberated. Being liberated, he becomes aware of his liberation and realizes that birth is exhausted, that the pure practice is fulfilled, that what is necessary has been done, and that he will not return to this world again.
The words strike as a sobering admonition in our digital age of never-ending distractions and wants.
The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation (1997) by Thich Nhat Hanh