Assu Sutta: Tears of suffering in Samsara greater than the “ocean of the four great oceans.” Buddha Sutra

In the Assa Sutta — apparently one of the saddest of the teachings — Buddha teaches us to drive our mission to escape Samsara by remembering our endless tears through our countless lives. (Full Sutta below in English.)

Samsara is endless, suffering seems endless, our tears through the endless cycle of suffering is “greater than the water of the four oceans.” In beginningless time, we have wept over the loss of our mothers, over and over, countless times.

Buddha, in the Assu Sutta, said,

“This is the greater: the tears you have shed while transmigrating and wandering this long, long time — crying and weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — not the water in the four great oceans.”

 

Buddha Weekly tears of Buddha dreamstime m 58836690 Buddhism

Tears of the Buddha.

 

Why such seemingly depressing teaching? Buddha explains,

“Why is that? From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating and wandering on. Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries — enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released.”

Meditating on suffering, death and sadness are the ways we remind ourselves to start practicing today, to read the Sutras and teachings today, to listen to our teachers today — to take steps to alleviate the suffering today. Not tomorrow. There have been enough tears.

While countless other Suttas/Sutras from the Buddha are filled with hope and sage advice, topics such as “tears” and “death” are often not emphasized.

Relieving the suffering of all sentient beings is our mission. Nothing gives us the drive to achieve that mission that remembering our endless tears.

In the story of Buddha’s life, it was the four sights that launched him on his mission to alleviate our suffering: old age, sickness, a corpse, and a wandering homeless ascetic. These four sights were Buddha’s “turning point.”

 

Buddha Weekly Preah Prom Rath Monastery Life of Buddha Four sights of old age disease death and recluse dreamstime m 232798705 Buddhism

Buddha encounters the four sights of old age, sickness, death and the homeless ascetic. From a wall painting Preah Prom Rath Monastery.

 

In Assu Sutta, aptly translated as “Tears” Buddha asks us to remember our tears to help us create our own “turning point.” Buddha taught us to remember the tears, to embrace them, as a motivation to practice. He taught us how to escape samsara, and more importantly, how to help all sentient beings escape samsara.

Remember the tears…

Assu Sutta

Tears

Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

At Savatthi. There the Blessed One said: “From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating and wandering on. What do you think, monks: Which is greater, the tears you have shed while transmigrating and wandering this long, long time — crying and weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — or the water in the four great oceans?”

“As we understand the Dhamma taught to us by the Blessed One, this is the greater: the tears we have shed while transmigrating and wandering this long, long time — crying and weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — not the water in the four great oceans.”

“Excellent, monks. Excellent. It is excellent that you thus understand the Dhamma taught by me.

“This is the greater: the tears you have shed while transmigrating and wandering this long, long time — crying and weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — not the water in the four great oceans.

“Long have you (repeatedly) experienced the death of a mother. The tears you have shed over the death of a mother while transmigrating and wandering this long, long time — crying and weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — are greater than the water in the four great oceans.

“Long have you (repeatedly) experienced the death of a father… the death of a brother… the death of a sister… the death of a son… the death of a daughter… loss with regard to relatives… loss with regard to wealth… loss with regard to disease. The tears you have shed over loss with regard to disease while transmigrating and wandering this long, long time — crying and weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — are greater than the water in the four great oceans.

“Why is that? From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating and wandering on. Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries — enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released.”

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Lee Kane

Author | Buddha Weekly

Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
Lee also contributes as a writer to various other online magazines and blogs.

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