Preached at Jetavana to Arittha concerning his heresy. Arittha held that according to the Doctrine, as he understood it, the states of mind, e.g. pleasures of sense, declared by the Buddha to be stumbling-blocks, are not such at all to the man who indulges in them. The Buddha questioned Arittha regarding this, and when Arittha acknowledged that such was his view, the Buddha rebuked him as having not even a spark of illumination regarding the Dhamma and the Vinaya.
Foolish persons, who have learned the Doctrine by heart but fail to study its import, quite miss the real meaning of their memorising and find no joy in it, using it solely as a means of stricture on others or of bandying verbal quotations; they are like a man who, finding a serpent, seizes it by its tail or coils and gets bitten, meeting thereby death or deadly hurt. But those, who comprehend all that the Doctrine embodies, resemble a man who pins a serpent securely down with a forked stick and grasps it firmly by its neck.
This sutta also contains the parable of the raft. The Doctrine is like a raft to be used in crossing the flood and then to be abandoned. Even good things must eventually be discarded, therefore, how much more bad things?
The last part of the sutta contains questions, chiefly on the mastery of self, asked by various monks, which the Buddha proceeds to explain (M.i.130ff.; MA.i.321ff). The sutta is quoted by Buddhaghosa (MA.i.136) as an example of a discourse of which the meaning is illustrated by a variety of similes (atthena upamam pariváretvá). (v.l. Alagadda Sutta.)