November 06, 2009

A Handful of Knowledge

There aren’t that many fundamental, or root, principles of dharma. The Buddha said that his teaching is “a single handful.” A passage in the Samyutta-nikaya makes that clear. While walking through the forest, the Buddha picked up a handful of fallen leaves and asked the monks who were present to decide which was the greater amount, the leaves in his hand or all the leaves in the forest. Of course, they all said that there were more leaves in the forest, that the difference was beyond comparison. Try to imagine the truth of this scene; clearly see how huge the difference is. The Buddha then said that, similarly, those things that he had realized were a great amount, equal to all the leaves in the forest. However, that which was necessary to know, those things that should be taught and practiced, were equal to the number of leaves in his hand.

- Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, from “A Single Handful,” Tricycle, Winter 1996

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Mark's picture

I'm a little wary as to how this quote is applied here. True, the Buddha did not go into much detail (at least in the Pali Canon) concerning "destinations" after death, what dies/is reborn, etc., but to say that he taught nothing on the topic, and that it is not part of the path, is simply not accurate (i.e. Brahmajala Sutta).

alan's picture

Claiming that Karma and Rebirth are not Bhuddhist is simply bizarre.
Using Pali texts to prove a Chinese idea is very unusual.
But my point is: how does he infer Buddha's statements at the end of SN 56.31 to mean "the single handful...was just this principle of not grasping.."?
An odd mashup of traditions. Beware.

Paris Longue's picture

What's unconventional about it?

alan's picture

Yes, but the author of this article takes a very unconventional position on it.

Doug M's picture


For reference, the sutta in question is the Simsapa Sutta:

A great little sutra, if there ever was one. :)