Majjhima Nikaya


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Majjhima Nikāya
II. Majjhima-Paṇṇāsa
5. Brāhmaṇa Vagga

Sutta 93

Assalāyana Suttaɱ

With Assalayana

Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
© 2010 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Provenance, terms and conditons

 


 

[1][chlm][pts][upal] I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Savatthi in Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's monstery.

And on that occasion five hundred brahmans from various provinces were staying at Savatthi on some business or other.

The thought occurred to them,
"This Gotama the contemplative prescribes purity for the four castes.
Now who is capable of disputing with him on this statement?

And on that occasion the brahman student Assalayana was staying at Savatthi.
Young, shaven-headed, sixteen years old,
he was a master of the Three Vedas
with their vocabularies, liturgy, phonology,
etymology, and histories as a fifth;
skilled in philology and grammar,
he was fully versed in cosmology
and in the marks of a Great Man.

The thought occurred to the brahmans,
"This brahman student Assalayana is staying in Savatthi...
He is capable of disputing with Gotama the contemplative on this statement."

So the brahmans went to the brahman student Assalayana and said to him,
"Master Assalayana,
this Gotama the contemplative
prescribes purity for the four castes.
Come and dispute with him on this statement."

When this was said,
the brahman student Assalayana said to the brahmans,
"Sirs, Gotama the contemplative
is one who speaks Dhamma.
And those who speak Dhamma
are hard to dispute with.
I can't dispute with him on this statement."

A second time...

A third time,
the brahmans said to the brahman student Assalayana,
"Master Assalayana,
this Gotama the contemplative
prescribes purity for the four castes.
Come and dispute with him on this statement,
for you have lived the life of a wanderer.
Don't be defeated without being defeated in battle."

When this was said, the brahman student Assalayana said to the brahmans,
"Apparently, sirs,
I don't get leave from you
(to avoid the matter by saying),
'Gotama the contemplative
is one who speaks Dhamma.
And those who speak Dhamma
are hard to dispute with.
I can't dispute with him on this statement.'
But at your bidding I will go."

The the brahman student Assalayana
went with a large group of brahmans
to the Blessed One and, on arrival,
exchanged courteous greetings with him.
After an exchange of friendly greetings and courtesies,
he sat to one side.
As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One:

"Master Gotama, the brahmans say,
'Brahmans are the superior caste;
any other caste is inferior.
Only brahmans are the fair caste;
any other caste is dark.
Only brahmans are pure,
not non-brahmans.
Only brahmans are the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma.'
What does Master Gotama have to say with regard to that?"

"But, Assalayana,
the brahmans' brahman-women
are plainly seen having their periods,
becoming pregnant,
giving birth,
and nursing [their children].
And yet the brahmans,
being born through the birth canal, say,
'Brahmans are the superior caste;
any other caste is inferior.
Only brahmans are the fair caste;
any other caste is dark.
Only brahmans are pure,
not non-brahmans.
Only brahmans are the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma.'"

"Even though Master Gotama says that,
still the brahmans think,
'Brahmans are the superior caste...
the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma.'"

"What do you think, Assalayana?
Have you heard that in Yana and Kamboja
and other outlying countries
there are only two castes
— masters and slaves —
and that having been a master
one (can) become a slave,
and that having been a slave
one (can) become a master?"

"Yes, Master Gotama..."

"So what strength is there, Assalayana,
what assurance,
when the brahmans say,
'Brahmans are the superior caste...
the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma'?"

"Even though Master Gotama says that,
still the brahmans think,
'Brahmans are the superior caste...
the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma.'"

"What do you think, Assalayana?
Is it only a noble warrior who
— taking life,
stealing,
engaging in sexual misconduct,
telling lies,
speaking divisively,
speaking harshly,
engaging in idle chatter,
greedy,
bearing thoughts of ill will,
and holding wrong views —
on the break-up of the body, after death,
reappears in the plane of deprivation,
the bad destination,
the lower realms,
in hell,
and not a brahman?

Is it only a merchant...?

Is it only a worker who
— taking life,
stealing,
engaging in sexual misconduct,
telling lies,
speaking divisively,
speaking harshly,
engaging in idle chatter,
greedy,
bearing thoughts of ill will,
and holding wrong views —
on the break-up of the body,
after death,
reappears in the plane of deprivation,
the bad destination,
the lower realms,
in hell,
and not a brahman?"

"No, Master Gotama.
Even a noble warrior...
Even a brahman...
Even a merchant...
Even a worker...
(Members of) all four castes —
if they take life,
steal,
engage in sexual misconduct,
tell lies,
speak divisively,
speak harshly,
engage in idle chatter,
are greedy,
bear thoughts of ill will,
and hold wrong views —
on the break-up of the body,
after death,
reappear in the plane of deprivation,
the bad destination,
the lower realms,
in hell."

"So what strength is there, Assalayana,
what assurance,
when the brahmans say,
'Brahmans are the superior caste...
the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma'?"

"Even though Master Gotama says that,
still the brahmans think,
'Brahmans are the superior caste...
the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma.'"

"What do you think, Assalayana?
Is it only a brahman who
— refraining from taking life,
from stealing,
from sexual misconduct,
from telling lies,
from speaking divisive speech,
from harsh speech,
and from idle chatter,
not greedy,
bearing no thoughts of ill-will,
and holding to right view —
on the break-up of the body,
after death,
reappears in the good destination,
the heavenly world,
and not a noble warrior,
not a merchant,
not a worker?"

"No, Master Gotama.
Even a noble warrior...
Even a brahman...
Even a merchant...
Even a worker...
(Members of) all four castes —
if they refrain from taking life,
from stealing,
from sexual misconduct,
from telling lies,
from speaking divisive speech,
from harsh speech,
and from idle chatter,
are not greedy,
bear no thoughts of ill-will,
and hold to right view —
on the break-up of the body,
after death,
reappear in the good destination,
the heavenly world."

"So what strength is there, Assalayana,
what assurance,
when the brahmans say,
'Brahmans are the superior caste...
the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma'?"

"Even though Master Gotama says that,
still the brahmans think,
'Brahmans are the superior caste...
the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma.'"

"What do you think, Assalayana?
Is it only a brahman
who is capable of developing
in any direction
a heart of good will
— free from animosity,
free from ill will —
and not a noble warrior,
not a merchant,
not a worker?"

"No, Master Gotama.
Even a noble warrior...
Even a brahman...
Even a merchant...
Even a worker...
(Members of) all four castes
are capable of developing
in any direction
a heart of good will —
free from animosity,
free from ill will."

"So what strength is there, Assalayana,
what assurance,
when the brahmans say,
'Brahmans are the superior caste...
the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma'?"

"Even though Master Gotama says that,
still the brahmans think,
'Brahmans are the superior caste...
the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma.'"

"What do you think, Assalayana?
Is it only a brahman
who is capable of taking a loofah and bath powder,
going to a river,
and scrubbing off dust and dirt,
and not a noble warrior,
not a merchant,
not a worker?"

"No, Master Gotama.
Even a noble warrior...
Even a brahman...
Even a merchant...
Even a worker...
(Members of) all four castes
are capable of taking a loofah and bath powder,
going to a river,
and scrubbing off dust and dirt."

"So what strength is there, Assalayana,
what assurance,
when the brahmans say,
'Brahmans are the superior caste...
Only brahmans are pure,
not non-brahmans.
Only brahmans are the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma'?"

"Even though Master Gotama says that,
still the brahmans think,
'Brahmans are the superior caste...
Only brahmans are pure,
not non-brahmans.
Only brahmans are the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma.'"

"What do you think, Assalayana?
There is the case
where a consecrated noble warrior king
might call together one hundred men of different births
(and say to them),
'Come, masters.
Those of you there born from a noble warrior clan,
from a brahman clan,
or from a royal clan:
taking an upper fire-stick of saala wood,
salala wood,
sandalwood,
or padumaka wood,
produce fire and make heat appear.

And come, masters.
Those of you there born from an outcast clan,
a trapper clan,
a wicker workers' clan,
a cartwrights' clan,
or a scavengers' clan:
taking an upper fire-stick
from a dog's drinking trough,
from a pig's trough,
from a dustbin,
or of castor-oil wood,
produce fire and make heat appear.'

What do you think, Assalayana?
Would the fire made
by those born from a noble warrior clan,
a brahman clan,
or a royal clan
— who had produced fire
and made heat appear
by taking an upper fire-stick of saala wood,
salala wood,
sandalwood,
or padumaka wood —
be the only one with flame,
color,
and radiance,
able to do whatever a fire might be needed to do?

And would the fire
made by those born those born from an outcast clan,
a trapper clan,
a wicker workers' clan,
a cartwrights' clan,
or a scavengers' clan
— who had produced fire
and made heat appear
by taking an upper fire-stick
from a dog's drinking trough,
from a pig's trough,
from a dustbin,
or of castor-oil wood —
be without flame,
color,
and radiance,
unable to do what a fire might be needed to do?"

"No, Master Gotama.
The fire made
by those born from a noble warrior clan,
a brahman clan,
or a royal clan...
would have flame,
color,
and radiance,
able to do whatever a fire might be needed to do.

And the fire made
by those born from an outcast clan,
a trapper clan,
a wicker workers' clan,
a cartwrights' clan,
or a scavengers' clan...
would have flame,
color,
and radiance,
able to do whatever a fire might be needed to do.

For all fire has flame,
color,
and radiance,
and is able to do
whatever a fire might be needed to do."

"So what strength is there, Assalayana,
what assurance,
when the brahmans say,
'Brahmans are the superior caste...
Only brahmans are pure,
not non-brahmans.
Only brahmans are the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma'?"

"Even though Master Gotama says that,
still the brahmans think,
'Brahmans are the superior caste...
Only brahmans are pure,
not non-brahmans.
Only brahmans are the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma.'"

"What do you think, Assalayana?
There is the case
where a noble warrior youth
might cohabit with a brahman maiden,
and from their cohabitation
a son would be born.
Would the son born from the noble warrior youth
and brahman maiden
be like the father
and like the mother?
Should it be called
a noble warrior and a brahman?"

"Yes, Master Gotama..."

"What do you think, Assalayana?
There is the case
where a brahman youth
might cohabit with a noble warrior maiden,
and from their cohabitation
a son would be born.
Would the son born from the brahman youth
and noble warrior maiden
be like the father and like the mother?
Should it be called
a noble warrior and a brahman?"

"Yes, Master Gotama..."

"What do you think, Assalayana?
There is the case
where a mare might mate with a donkey,
and from their mating a foal would be born.
Would the foal born
from the mare and the donkey
be like the father and like the mother?
Should it be called a horse and a donkey?"

"Master Gotama,
from the mixed breeding it would be a mule.

Here I see that it [the mixed breeding]
makes a difference,
but there [in the other two cases]
I don't see that it makes a difference."

"What do you think, Assalayana?
There is the case
where there might be two brahman-student brothers,
born of the same mother:
one learned and initiated,
the other not learned and uninitiated.

Which of the two
would the brahmans serve first
at a funeral feast,
a milk-rice offering,
a sacrifice,
or a feast for guests?"

"The brahman student
who was learned and initiated, Master Gotama...
For what great fruit would there be
for what is given to one
who is not learned and uninitiated?"

"What do you think, Assalayana?
There is the case
where there might be two brahman-student brothers,
born of the same mother:
one learned and initiated (but)
unvirtuous and of evil character,
the other not learned and uninitiated, (but)
virtuous and of fine character.

Which of the two
would the brahmans serve first
at a funeral feast,
a milk-rice offering,
a sacrifice,
or a feast for guests?"

"The brahman student
who was not learned and uninitiated, (but)
virtuous and of fine character, Master Gotama...
For what great fruit would there be
for what is given to one
who is unvirtuous and of evil character?"

"First, Assalayana, you went by birth.
Then, having gone by birth,
you went by mantras.
Then, having gone by mantras,
putting them both aside,
you have come around
to the purity of the four castes
that I prescribe."

When this was said,
the brahman student Assalayana sat silent,
abashed,
his shoulders drooping,
his head down,
brooding,
at a loss for words.

Then the Blessed One
— seeing that the brahman student Assalayana
was sitting silent,
abashed,
his shoulders drooping,
his head down,
brooding,
at a loss for words —
said to him,
"Once, Assalayana,
this evil viewpoint arose
in the seven brahman seers
as they were consulting together
in leaf huts in the wilderness:

'Brahmans are the superior caste;
any other caste is inferior.
Only brahmans are the fair caste;
any other caste is dark.
Only brahmans are pure,
not non-brahmans.
Only brahmans are the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma.'

Then the seer
Devala the Dark heard,
'This evil viewpoint has arisen
in the seven brahman seers
as they are consulting together
in leaf huts in the wilderness:
'Brahmans are the superior caste;
any other caste is inferior...
Only brahmans are the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma.'

So, arranging his hair and beard,
putting on crimson garments,
wearing multi-layered sandals,
and carrying a staff made of gold,
he appeared in the courtyard
of the seven brahman seers.
Then he walked back and forth
in the courtyard of the seven brahman seers saying,
"Well, now, where have these masters,
the brahman seers, gone?
Well, now, where have these masters,
the brahman seers, gone?"

"Then the seven brahman seers
said to the seer Devala the Dark,
'Now who is this,
walking back and forth
in the courtyard of the seven brahman seers
like a village lout, saying,
"Well, now, where have these masters,
the brahman seers, gone?
Well, now, where have these masters,
the brahman seers, gone?"
Let's curse him!'

So the seven brahman seers
cursed the seer Devala the Dark:
"Be ashes, dribble-spit![1]
Be ashes, dribble-spit!
Be ashes, dribble-spit!"'

But the more they cursed him,
the more beautiful,
good-looking,
and inspiring he became.

Then the thought occurred to the seven brahman seers,
'Our asceticism is in vain!
Our holy-life is fruitless!
For before, whenever we cursed anyone,
"Be ashes, dribble-spit!"
he would always become ashes.
But the more we curse this one,
the more beautiful,
good-looking,
and inspiring he becomes!'

"'Masters, your asceticism is not in vain,
and your holy-life not fruitless.
Please, masters,
abandon your hatred toward me.'

"'We abandon our hatred toward you, master.
Who are you?'

"'Have you heard of the seer Devala the Dark?'

"'Yes, master.'

"'I am he.'

"Then the seven brahman seers approached him
to bow down to him,
and he said to them,
'I have heard that this evil viewpoint has arisen
in the seven brahman seers
as they are consulting together
in leaf huts in the wilderness:
"Brahmans are the superior caste;
any other caste is inferior...
Only brahmans are the sons and offspring of Brahma:
born of his mouth,
born of Brahma,
created by Brahma,
heirs of Brahma."'

"That is so, master.'

"'But do you know, masters,
if the mother who bore you
went only with a brahman,
and not with a non-brahman?'

"'No, master.'

"'And do you know
if the mothers of the mother who bore you
— back seven generations of mothers —
went only with brahmans,
and not with non-brahmans?'

"'No, master.'

"'And do you know
if the father who sired you
went only with a brahman woman,
and not with a non-brahman woman?'

"'No, master.'

"'And do you know
if the fathers of the father who bore you
— back seven generations of fathers —
went only with brahman women,
and not with non-brahman women?'

"'No, master.'

"'Do you know how there is the descent of an embryo?'

"'Yes, master, we know how there is the descent of an embryo.

There is the case
where the mother and father have come together,
the mother is fertile,
and a gandhabba [the being about to be reborn]
is standing present.
The coming together of these three
is the descent of the embryo.'

"'But do you know for sure
whether the gandhabba is a noble warrior,
a brahman,
a merchant,
or a worker?'

"'No, master.'

"'That being the case,
do you know who you are?'

"'That being the case, master,
we don't know who we are.'

"Now, Assalayana,
when those seven brahman seers
couldn't defend their own birth-statement
when interrogated,
pressed,
and rebuked by the seer Devala the Dark,
how can you now defend
your own birth-statement
when interrogated,
pressed,
and rebuked by me

— you, their lineage holder,
but not (the equal of) Punna,
their ladle holder?"

When this was said,
the brahman student Assalayana said to the Blessed One:
Magnificent, Master Gotama!
Magnificent!

Just as if he were to place upright
what was overturned,
to reveal what was hidden,
to show the way
to one who was lost,
or to carry a lamp into the dark
so that those with eyes could see forms,
in the same way has Master Gotama
— through many lines of reasoning —
made the Dhamma clear.

I go to Master Gotama for refuge,
to the Dhamma,
and to the Sangha of monks.

May Master Gotama remember me
as a lay follower
who has gone to him for refuge,
from this day forward,
for life."

 


[1] Reading capalī with the Thai edition of the Canon. The PTS edition has vasalī ("one having a vile person (as a mother?)"); the Sri Lankan edition, vasala, "vile person."


 

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