Thus have I heard:

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One day the Buddha was visited by Punna, an ox-duty ascetic, and by Seniya, a dog-duty ascetic. Each of them hoped to be reborn as a great god in reward for their arduous ascetic practices. Punna, the ox-duty ascetic, paid homage to the Blessed One, and sat down to one side, while Seniya, the dog-duty ascetic, spoke cheerfully with the Blessed One. Then he sat down on the other side, curling up comfortably like a dog before the hearth.

The ox-duty ascetic gestured to his companion and asked the Buddha, “This Seniya is a naked dog-duty ascetic with a difficult religious practice: he eats food that is thrown upon the ground, he crawls all day on all-fours, he wears no clothing, he urinates on trees, and he follows people about most loyally. He has been practicing this dog-duty for a long time. What will be his future rebirth?”

The Buddha replied, “Enough, Punna, don’t ask that question.”

A second time the ox-duty ascetic asked his question, and the Buddha declined to answer. Still Punna would not be satisfied. “Please sir, what will be the fruit of this dog-duty ascetic’s karma?”

The Buddha sighed. “Well, Punna, since I certainly can’t seem to persuade you to drop the matter, I shall therefore have to answer you. When someone develops the dog-duty fully and without interruption, develops the dog-mind, develops dog behavior, then when he dies, naturally he is reborn in the body of a dog. If he holds in his mind the idea ‘By this difficult asceticism I shall be reborn as a great god,’ that is a wrong view. Now there are two possible destinations for someone with such a wrong view: a hell realm or the animal realm. So, Punna, if his dog-duty is successful, Seniya will become a dog, and if it is unsuccessful, he will go to hell.”

When the Blessed One was finished, the dog-duty ascetic burst into tears. The Buddha looked concerned, but Seniya said, “I am not crying because the Buddha has said this about me, but because I have worked so long at a project that will only lead me to ruin. How terrible! What of my friend Punna, the ox-duty ascetic—what will be his fate?”

The Buddha said, “Enough, Seniya, don’t ask that question.”

But Seniya asked again and again. Finally the Buddha replied, “His fate will be the same: if he successfully carries out his ox-duty asceticism, he will be reborn as an ox, toiling in the fields. If he is unsuccessful, he will end up in one of the hells.”

At this the ox-duty ascetic cried out and began to weep. “For a long time I have behaved like an ox, and Seniya has behaved like a dog. Please teach us how we may abandon these practices and come to a good end.”

The Buddha nodded. “Very well, then please listen closely to what I say: There are four kinds of actions—evil actions which lead to evil results, good actions which lead to good results, mixed actions which lead to mixed results, and actions which transcend both good and evil, which belong to the path of enlightenment.

“Evil actions include evil thoughts, evil speech, and evil deeds. They cause one to be reborn in a lower realm, where they will suffer. Good actions include good thoughts, good speech, and good deeds. They lead one to happiness and a pleasurable rebirth. Mixed actions include thoughts, speech, and deeds which are somewhat good, somewhat unwholesome. They lead to a rebirth marked by both happiness and suffering. This is the lot of most people.

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“The highest path is to abandon all such thoughts, good, bad, and mixed alike, and to focus on achieving enlightenment. This way leads to escape from all rebirth and establishment in nirvana.”

When the Buddha finished, Punna said, “Wonderful, most excellent, thank you! The Blessed One has made the path clear to me. Today I request to be accepted as a lay follower of the Buddha.”

Seniya, the dog-duty ascetic, said, “The Blessed One has explained the true way, revealed the hidden wisdom, and pointed out the proper path! I go to the Buddha, the dharma, and the Sangha for refuge. Today I request to be ordained as a monk in the community of the Buddha.”

The Buddha smiled, but said, “Seniya, one who formerly belonged to another sect must wait four months before full admission to the Sangha. At the end of four months, if the monks are satisfied with him, then he may join the community.”

Seniya replied, “I will wait for four years if need be, to demonstrate my sincerity.”

When the Buddha accepted him as an official monk, he proved to be an excellent student. Not long after his admission to the Sangha, Seniya, the former naked dog-duty ascetic, directly realized his goal and became enlightened.

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