Once the Lord Buddha was staying at Nalanda in Pavarika's mango-grove. Venerable Sariputta came to see the Lord, saluted him, sat down to one side and said :'It is clear to me, Lord, that there never has been, never will be, nor there is now another ascetic or Brahmin who is greater or more enlightened than the Lord.' Buddha replied: 'You have spoken boldly with a bull's voice, Sariputta, you have roared the lion's roar of certainty. How is this so? Have all the Arahant Buddhas of the past appeared to you, were the minds of them open to you, so as to say: "These Lords were of such virtue, such was their teaching, such was their wisdom, such was their way, such was their liberation"?'
Sariputta: 'No, Lord.' Buddha: 'And have you perceived all the Arahant Buddhas who will appear in the future?' Sariputta: 'No, Lord.' Buddha: 'Well then, Sariputta, you know me as the Arahant Buddha, and do you know: "The Lord is of such virtue, such his teaching, such his wisdom, such his way, such his liberation"?' Sariputta: 'No, Lord.' Buddha: 'So, Sariputta, you do not have knowledge of the minds of the Buddhas of the past, the future or the present. Then Sariputta you have spoken boldly and with certainty on your declaration?' Sariputta: 'Lord, the minds of the Arahant Buddhas of the past, future and present are not open to me. But I know the drift of the Dhamma (unwavering confidence in dhamma) . It is as if there were a royal frontier city, with mighty bastions and a mighty encircling wall in which there was a single gate with a gatekeeper who is wise, skilled and clever who kept out strangers and let in those he knew. He constantly patrols but he might not see the clefts in the bastion such that a cat might creep through. But whatever larger creatures that entered or left the city, must all go through this very gate. And it seems to me, Lord, that the drift of the Dhamma is the same. All those Arahant Buddhas of the past attained to supreme enlightenment by abandoning the five hindrances, abandoning defilements of mind which weaken understanding, having firmly established the four foundations of mindfulness in their minds, they realized the seven factors of enlightenment as they really are. All the Arahant Buddhas of the future. will do likewise, and you, Lord, who are now the Arahant, fully-enlightened Buddha, have done the same.'
Sariputta continue to praise the Dhamma: 'Once, I came to the Blessed Lord to listen to Dhamma and was taught the Dhamma most excellently and perfectly, contrasting the dark with the light. As the blessed lord taught, I gained insight into that Dhamma and I established serene confidences in the Teacher, that the Blessed Lord is a fully-enlightened Buddha, that the Dhamma is well taught by the Blessed Lord, and that the order of monks is well-trained. Also, the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dhamma in regards to the wholesome factors is unsurpassed, that is to say: the four foundations of mindfulness, the four right efforts, the four roads to power, the five spiritual faculties, the five mental powers, the seven factors of enlightenment, the Noble Eightfold path. By these a monk, through the destruction of the corruptions, can in this very life, by his own super-knowledge, realize and attain the corruption-free liberation of heart and liberation by wisdom, and abide therein. This is the unsurpassed teaching in regard to the wholesome factors. This the Blessed Lord fully comprehends the wholesome factors and there is no other ascetic or Brahmin who is greater or more enlightened than the Blessed Lord. '
Sariputta: 'Also unsurpassed is the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dhamma in regard to the elucidation of the sense-spheres: there are the six internal and external sense-bases: eye and visible objects, ear and sounds, nose and smells, tongue and tastes, body and tactile, mind and mind-objects. Also unsurpassed is the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dhamma in regard to the four modes of rebirth: i) descends into the mother's womb unknowing, stays there unknowing and leaves it unknowing. ii) one enters the womb knowing, stays there unknowing and leaves it unknowing. iii) one enters the womb knowing, stays there knowing and leaves it unknowing. iv) one enters the womb knowing, stays there knowing, and leaves it knowing. ' (knowingly and unknowingly refers to the rebirth consciousness from the past being into the new being upon death whether they know their past life or they don't know. Most people doesn't know unless they have attained certain levels of attainment)
Sariputta: 'Also unsurpassed is the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dhamma in regard to the telling of thoughts in four ways. 1. Thus, one tells by a visible sign, saying: "This is what you think, this is in your mind, your thought is like this." 2. One tells not by a visible sign, but through hearing a sound made by humans, non-humans or devas. 3. One tells not by a sound uttered but by applying one's mind and attending to something conveyed by sound. 4. One tells, not by any of these means, when one has attained a state of mental concentration without thinking and pondering by divining another's thoughts in one's mind, and one says: "As far as so-and-so's mind-force is directed, so his thoughts will turn to that thing." This is the unsurpassed teaching in regard to the telling of thoughts in four ways.
Sariputta: 'Also unsurpassed is the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dhamma in regard to the attainment of vision in four ways. Here, some ascetic or Brahmin, by means of ardor, endeavor, application, vigilance and due attention, reaches such a level of concentration that he considers: 1. This body - upwards from the soles of the feet and downwards from the crown of the head, enclosed by the skin and full of manifold impurities 2. Having done above and gone further, he contemplates the bones covered with skin, flesh and blood. 3. Having done above and gone further, he comes to know the unbroken stream of human consciousness as established both in this world and in the next. 4. Having done above and gone still further, he comes to know the unbroken stream of human consciousness that is not established either in this world or in the next.
Sariputta: 'Also unsurpassed is the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dhamma in regard to the designation of individuals. There are these seven types: 1. The Both-Ways-Liberated (one who has attained both the jhanas and insight). 2. The Wisdom-liberated (one who has attained wisdom or insight only) 3. The body Witness 4. The Vision-Attainer 5. The Faith-Liberated 6. The Dhamma-Devotee 7.The Faith-Devotee
Sariputta:'Also unsurpassed is the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dhamma in regard to the exertions. There are these seven factors of enlightenment: mindfulness, investigation of states, energy, delight, tranquility, concentration and equanimity. Also unsurpassed in the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dhamma in regard to the four modes of practice or progress: 1. painful progress with slow comprehension (progress is poor as its painful and slow) 2. painful progress with quick comprehension (progress is poor as there's pain) 3.pleasant progress with slow comprehension (progress is slow) 4. pleasant progress with quick comprehension. (progress is considered excellent).
Buddha: 'Also unsurpassed is the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dhamma in regard to proper conduct in speech: how one should avoid lying, divisive speech or sneeringly triumphant but instead one should use wise words, words to be treasured, words in season. Also unsurpassed is the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dhamma in regard to a person's proper ethical conduct. One should be truthful and faithful, not using deception, patter, hinting or belittling, always being on the make for further gains but with sense-doors guarded, one should be truthful, faithful, abstemious, a peacemaker, watchful, active, strenuous in effort, a meditator, mindful, fitting in conversation, steady-going, resolute, sensible and not hankering after sense-pleasures but mindful and prudent.
Sariputta: 'Also unsurpassed is the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dhamma in regard to four modes of receptivity to instructions by four means of accomplishments by following instructions: 1. Stream Winner : by the complete destruction of three fetters, no more subject to rebirth in lower worlds, firmly established, destined for full enlightenment 2. Once-Returner: by the complete destruction of three fetters and the reduction of greed, hatred and delusion only having returned once more to this world, will put an end to suffering 3. Non-returner: by the complete destruction of the five lower fetters, be spontaneously reborn, one will reach Nibbana without returning from that world 4. Arahant: by the destruction of the corruptions, gain in this very life the deliverance of mind, the deliverance through wisdom which is un-corrupted and which one has understood and realized by one's own super-knowledge.
Sariputta: 'Also unsurpassed is the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dharnma in regard to the knowledge of the liberation of others which is the ability of a Buddha to perceive the grade of accomplishment of others which is the four stages of enlightenment mentioned above. Also unsurpassed is the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dhamma in regard to the doctrine of Eternalism. There are 3 theories: 1. Here, some ascetic or Brahmin, by means of ardor, endeavor recalls various past existences up to several hundred thousand births. He remembers the details of his various past lives, and he says: "I know the past, whether the universe was expanding or contracting but I do not know the future whether it will expand or contract. The self and the world are eternal, beings transmigrate, pass away and re-arise, yet these persist eternally.'' 2. Again, some ascetic or Brahmin recalls various existences up to twenty aeons. 3. Again, some ascetic or Brahmin recalls various existences up to ten, twenty, thirty, forty aeons This is the unsurpassed teaching in regard to the doctrine of Eternalism.
Sariputta: "Also unsurpassed is the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dharnma in regard to past lives. Here, some ascetic or Brahmin recalls various past existences - one birth, two births... ten births, twenty... a hundred births, a thousand, a hundred thousand lives, many aeons of contraction, of expansion, of contraction and expansion: "They recalled they was called so-and-so, their clan, their caste, their happy and unhappy experiences, lived for so long. Recalled their passing away, they are reborn in such circumstances. " In this way they remember the details of various past lives. There are devas whose life-span is not to be reckoned by counting or computation yet whatever existences they have previously experienced, whether in the World of Form or in the Formless World, whether conscious, unconscious or neither-conscious-nor-unconscious, they remember the details of those past lives. This is the unsurpassed teaching in regard to remembrance of past lives. "
Sariputta: 'Also unsurpassed is the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dhamma in regard to knowledge of the death and rebirth of beings. Here, some ascetic or Brahmin attains to such concentration of the mind that he sees with the divine eye how beings pass away and arise: base and noble, well-favored and ill-favored, to happy and unhappy destinations as kamma directs them and he knows: "These beings, on account of misconduct of body, speech or thought or disparaging the Noble Ones, have wrong views and will suffer the kammic fate of wrong view. Upon death they are reborn in a lower world, a bad destination, a state of suffering. But other beings on account of good conduct of body, speech or thought, of praising the Noble Ones, have right view and will reap the kammic reward of right view. Upon death they are reborn in a good destination, a heavenly world."
Also unsurpassed is the Blessed Lord's way of teaching Dhamma in regard to the super-normal powers. These are of two kinds. There is the kind that is bound up with the corruptions and with attachment which is called "un-Ariyan" and the other that is free of the corruptions and not bound up with attachment, which is called "Ariyan". What is the "un-Ariyan" super-normal power? Here some ascetic or Brahmin enjoys various supernormal powers: being one, he becomes many, being many, he becomes one; he appears and disappears; he passes through fences, walls and mountains unhindered as if through air; he sinks into the ground and emerges from it as if it were water; he walks on the water without breaking the surface as if on land; he flies cross-legged through the sky like a bird with wings; he even touches and strokes with his hand the sun and moon, mighty and powerful as they are; and he travels in the body as far as the Brahma world. That is the "un-Ariyan" super-normal power. Then what is the "Ariyan" supernormal power? Here a monk, if he wishes: "Let me abide with the disgusting without feeling disgust" and if he wishes: "Let me abide with the non-disgusting feeling disgust"and also "abide feeling either disgust or non-disgust in the presence of both". Then the monk wishes: "Ignoring both the disgusting and the non-disgusting, may I abide in equanimity, mindful and clearly aware". That is the "Ariyan" super-normal power, that is free of the corruptions and not bound up with attachment. This is the unsurpassed teaching in regard to the super-normal powers. The Blessed Lord fully comprehends and beyond it lies nothing further to be comprehended thus there is no other ascetic or Brahmin who is greater or more enlightened than the Blessed Lord with regards to the super-normal powers.
Sariputta: 'Lord, it is possible for a clansman endowed with confidence to achieve by putting forth effort and by persistence, by human effort, human exertion and human endurance that the Blessed Lord has achieved. For as the Blessed Lord gives himself up neither to the pleasures of the senses (Not for the Noble and unprofitable) nor to self-torment which is painful, ignoble and unprofitable. The Blessed Lord is able and to enjoy the surpassing happiness of dwelling in the four jhanas. If I were asked: "Well now, friend Sariputta, have there ever been in the past any ascetics and Brahmins more exalted in enlightenment than the Blessed Lord?" I should say: "No." If asked: "Will there be any such in the future?' I should say: "No." If asked: "Is there any such at present?" I should say: "No." Again, if I were asked: "Have there been any such in the past equal in enlightenment to the Blessed Lord?" I should say: "Yes." If asked: "Will there be any such in the future?" I should say: "Yes." But if I were asked: "Are there any such at present who is equal in enlightenment to the Blessed Lord?" should say: "No." And if I were the asked: "Venerable Sariputta, why do you accord this highest recognition to one and not the other?" I should say: "I have heard and received it from the Blessed Lord's himself: 'There have been in the past and there will be in the future, Arahant Buddhas equal in enlightenment to myself. It is impossible, it cannot be that in one and the same world-system two Arahant supreme Buddhas should arise simultaneously as no such situation can exist."
Sariputta: 'Lord, if I were to reply as above to such questions posted to me, would I be speaking in conformity with the Blessed Lord's word and not misrepresenting him by departing from the truth? Would I be explaining Dhamma correctly, so that no fellow-follower of the Dhamma could contest it or find occasion for censure?' Buddha: 'Certainly Sariputta, if you answered like this you would not misrepresent me, you would be explaining Dhamma correctly and not laying yourself open to censure.'
At this point, the Venerable Udayi said to the Lord: 'It is wonderful, Lord, it is marvellous how content the Blessed Lord is, how satisfied and restrained when being endowed with such power and influence he does not make a display of himself! If the wanderers professing other doctrines were able to discern in themselves even one of such qualities, they would show-off with a banner!' Buddha: 'Well then Udayi, just observe: so it is. If such wanderers were able to discern in themselves even one of such qualities, they would proclaim it with a banner. But the Tathagata is contented and he does not make a display of himself.'
Then Buddha said to Sariputta: 'So Sariputta, you should frequently speak about this matter to monks and nuns, to male and female lay-followers. Should any ignorant people have doubts or queries about the Tathagata, they will clear their doubts and queries after listening to such talk.'
This was how the Venerable Sariputta proclaimed his confidence and faith in the Buddha. Thus the discourse is also known as "The Serene Faith".
In summary, this discourse is also known as "The Serene Faith" as Sariputta at the start of the sutta confidently proclaimed his faith in the Buddha and his teachings (Dhamma) that no other ascetics can surpassed. He then told Buddha why he has so much faith to make such a declaration. Sariputta then summarized what Buddha had taught namely : wholesome factors, sense spheres, four modes of rebirth, four ways of telling of thoughts, attainment of vision, 7 designation of individuals, 7 factors of enlightenment, modes of progress, proper conduct in speech , proper ethical conduct, modes of receptivity to instruction, knowledge of liberation of others, doctrine of eternalism, past lives, knowledge of death and rebirth and super-normal powers.
References: 1. www.accesstoinsight.org 2. https://suttacentral.net/ 3. The long discourses of the Buddha (Bhikkhu Bodhi)