“…Sāriputta, I recall having practiced a spiritual path consisting of four factors. I used to be a self-mortifier, the ultimate self-mortifier. I used to live rough, the ultimate rough-liver. I used to live in disgust at sin, the ultimate one living in disgust at sin. I used to be secluded, in ultimate seclusion.
And this is what my self-mortification was like. I went naked, ignoring conventions. I licked my hands, and didn’t come or stop when asked. I didn’t consent to food brought to me, or food prepared specially for me, or an invitation for a meal. I didn’t receive anything from a pot or bowl; or from someone who keeps sheep, or who has a weapon or a shovel in their home; or where a couple is eating; or where there is a woman who is pregnant, breastfeeding, or who has a man in her home; or where food for distribution is advertised; or where there’s a dog waiting or flies buzzing. I accepted no fish or meat or liquor or wine, and drank no beer. I went to just one house for alms, taking just one mouthful, or two houses and two mouthfuls, up to seven houses and seven mouthfuls. I fed on one saucer a day, two saucers a day, up to seven saucers a day. I ate once a day, once every second day, up to once a week, and so on, even up to once a fortnight. I lived committed to the practice of eating food at set intervals.
I ate herbs, millet, wild rice, poor rice, water lettuce, rice bran, scum from boiling rice, sesame flour, grass, or cow dung. I survived on forest roots and fruits, or eating fallen fruit.
I wore robes of sunn hemp, mixed hemp, corpse-wrapping cloth, rags, lodh tree bark, antelope hide (whole or in strips), kusa grass, bark, wood-chips, human hair, horse-tail hair, or owls’ wings. I tore out hair and beard, committed to this practice. I constantly stood, refusing seats. I squatted, committed to the endeavor of squatting. I lay on a mat of thorns, making a mat of thorns my bed. I was committed to the practice of immersion in water three times a day, including the evening. And so I lived committed to practicing these various ways of mortifying and tormenting the body. Such was my practice of self-mortification.
And this is what my rough living was like. The dust and dirt built up on my body over many years until it started flaking off. It’s like the trunk of a pale-moon ebony tree, which builds up bark over many years until it starts flaking off. But it didn’t occur to me: ‘Oh, this dust and dirt must be rubbed off by my hand or another’s.’ That didn’t occur to me. Such was my rough living.
And this is what my living in disgust of sin was like. I’d step forward or back ever so mindfully. I was full of pity even regarding a drop of water, thinking: ‘May I not accidentally injure any little creatures that happen to be in the wrong place.’ Such was my living in disgust of sin.
And this is what my seclusion was like. I would plunge deep into a wilderness region and stay there. When I saw a cowherd or a shepherd, or someone gathering grass or sticks, or a lumberjack, I’d flee from forest to forest, from thicket to thicket, from valley to valley, from uplands to uplands. Why is that? So that I wouldn’t see them, nor they me. I fled like a wild deer seeing a human being. Such was my practice of seclusion.
I would go on all fours into the cow-pens after the cattle had left and eat the dung of the young suckling calves. As long as my own urine and excrement lasted, I would even eat that. Such was my eating of most unnatural things.
I would plunge deep into an awe-inspiring forest grove and stay there. It was so awe-inspiring that normally it would make your hair stand on end if you weren’t free of greed. And on days such as the cold spell when the snow falls in the dead of winter, I stayed in the open by night and in the forest by day. But in the last month of summer I’d stay in the open by day and in the forest by night. And then these verses, which were neither supernaturally inspired, nor learned before in the past, occurred to me:
‘Scorched and frozen, alone in the awe-inspiring forest. Naked, no fire to sit beside, the sage still pursues his quest.’
I would make my bed in a charnel ground, with the bones of the dead for a pillow. Then the cowboys would come up to me. They’d spit and piss on me, throw mud on me, even poke sticks in my ears. But I don’t recall ever having a bad thought about them. Such was my abiding in equanimity.
Read the entire translation of Majjhima Nikāya 12 Mahāsīhanādasutta: The Longer Discourse on the Lion’s Roar by Bhikkhu Sujato on SuttaCentral.net. Or read a different translation on SuttaCentral.net by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Bhikkhu Suddhāso, or on DhammaTalks.org.