Majjhima Nikaya


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Majjhima Nikāya
II. Majjhima-Paṇṇāsa
5. Brāhmaṇa Vagga

Sacred Books of the Buddhists
Volume VI
Dialogues of the Buddha
Part V

Further Dialogues of the Buddha
Volume II

Translated from the Pali
by Lord Chalmers, G.C.B.
Sometime Governor of Ceylon

London
Humphrey Milford
Oxford University Press
1927
Public Domain

Sutta 93

Assalāyana Suttaɱ

Brahmin Pretensions

 


[147] [84]

[1][pts][than][upal] THUS have I heard:

Once when the Lord was staying at Sāvatthī in Jeta's grove in Anāthapiṇḍika's pleasaunce,
some five hundred brahmins
from divers countries
were stopping in the city
on some business or other.

Thought they: -

Here is this recluse Gotama
preaching that purity extends
to all four classes alike.

Who can refute him?

Now in the city at the time
there was a young brahmin named Assalāyana,
a youth of sixteen,
with shaven head,
who was versed in all three Vedas,
was accomplished in ritual
with the glosses thereon,
in phonology,
and in etymology,
with chronicles as a fifth branch;
he knew exegesis,
and was learned in casuistry
and in the signs that mark a Superman.

This is he,
thought those brahmins,
who can refute the recluse Gotama.

So they asked him to essay the task;
but he replied that Gotama was a thinker
with a Doctrine of his own
and that thinkers with Doctrines of their own
were awkward people to refute;
nor could he personally refute Gotama.

A second time they appealed to Assalāyana,
[148] reminding him that he had been a Wanderer;
but he returned the same answer as before.

A third time the brahmins appealed to him,
adding that he ought not to own defeat without a contest.

And this time Assalāyana answered
that he did not share their view,
that Gotama was a thinker with a Doctrine of his own,
that such independent thinkers were awkward people to refute,
and that he personally could not tackle Gotama, -
but that, at their bidding,
he would go forward.

So, escorted by a numerous company of brahmins,
the young brahmin Assalāyana went to the Lord,
and, after exchange of greetings,
sat down to one side, saying: -

Brahmins maintain, Gotama,
that only brah- [85] mins form the superior class,
all other classes being inferior;
that only brahmins form the white class,
all other classes being black fellows;
that purity resides in brahmins alone
and not in non-brahmins;
and that only brahmins are Brahmā's legitimate sons,
born from his mouth,
offspring of his,
creations of his,
and his heirs. -

What does Gotama say hereon?

Albeit, Assalāyana,
the brahmin wives of brahmins
are known to have their periods,
and to conceive,
and to lie in and give suck,
do brahmins really maintain all this,
though they are themselves born of woman
like everybody else?

[149] In spite of what you say,
that is what brahmins think.

Have you ever heard
that in the Yona and Kamboja countries,
and in other adjacent countries,
there are only two classes,
namely masters and slaves,
and that a master can become a slave
and vice versa?

Yes, I have heard so.

What strength or support does this lend
to the brahmins' claim?

Despite what you say,
brahmins think as I have said.

Suppose a man is a murderer,
or a thief,
or a fornicator,
or a liar,
or suppose he is a slanderer,
or violent of speech,
or tattles,
or covets,
or is malevolent
or holds wrong views, -
will he after death
at the body's dissolution
pass to a state of misery and woe
only if he be a noble
or a middle-class man
or a peasant,
and not if he be a brahmin?

No, Gotama; with such a record
the same doom awaits men of all four classes alike. [150] What strength or support does that lend to the brahmins' claim?

Despite what you say,
brahmins think as I have said.

Suppose now a man refrains from murdering
and stealing and so forth,
will he, after death
at the body's dissolution,
only pass to bliss or heaven
if he be a brahmin
and not if he be a noble
or a middle-class
man or a peasant?

Guerdon. Reward or recompense. O.E.D.

p.p. explains it all — p.p.

[86] No, Gotama; with such a record,
the same guerdon
awaits men of all four classes alike.

What strength or support does that lend to the brahmins' claim?

Despite what you say,
brahmins think as [151] I have said.

Is it only a brahmin,
and not a man of the other three classes,
who, in this country,
can develop in his heart
the love that knows no hate or ill-will?

No, Gotama;
all four classes alike can do this.

What strength or support does that lend to the brahmins' claim?

Despite what you say,
brahmins think as I have said.

Is it only a brahmin,
and not a man of the other three classes,
who can go down to the river
with his string of red bath-balls
to shampoo himself with,
and can there rub off the dust and dirt?

No, Gotama;
all four classes alike can do this.

What strength or support does that lend to the brahmins' claim?

Despite what you say,
brahmins think as I have said.

Suppose a Noble [152] who has been anointed king,
were to assemble a hundred men of mixed origins
and were to say to them: -

All of you who are nobles or brahmins or of royal birth,
take kindling wood of sal or pine or sandal or lotus
and make a blazing fire with it.

And you that come of low stocks -
trappers, rush-plaiters, cartwrights and vermin-killers -
you light your fires with cattle-troughs or hog-troughs or wash-tubs or bits of woodbine.

What would happen, do you think?

Would it be only the fire kindled by the high-born
which would blaze up with a bright flame
and serve the purposes of a fire?

And would the fire of the low people fail herein?

No, Gotama; it would be just the same with high and low;
every fire alike [153] would blaze up
with the same bright flame
and equally serve the purposes of a fire.

What strength or support does that lend to the brahmins' claim?

Despite what you say,
brahmins think as I have said.

Suppose a young noble
consorts with a brahmin maiden
and a son is born to them.

Is that son of theirs
like both parents
and is he to be styled
both a noble and a brahmin?

Yes.

If a young brahmin
consorts with a noble maiden
and a son is born to them,
is that son of theirs like both [87] parents
and is he to be styled
both a noble and a brahmin?

Yes.

If a mare were put to a jackass
and the union resulted in a foal,
would their foal be like both parents
and be called both a horse and an ass?

Her foal would be a mule.

[154] This difference I see,
but no other.

Suppose, Assalāyana,
there were two young brahmins,
uterine brothers, -
the one an educated (Vedic) scholar,
the other uneducated and no scholar at all.

Which of these would be served first by brahmins
with rice from oblations to the dead,
or with rice cooked in milk for festivals,
or with a portion of a sacrifice,
or with hospitality as a guest?

Why, the educated scholar.

For, what benefits could accrue
from gifts made to the uneducated man?

Now suppose the scholar was profligate and wicked,
whereas his uneducated brother was virtuous and good.

Which of the two would be served first by brahmins?

Why, the uneducated one,
who was virtuous and good.

For, what benefits could accrue
from gifts made to a wicked profligate.

You started off with birth, Assalāyana;
then you passed to runes,
from which you have come round
to that equal purity of all four classes alike
for which I contend.

At this, Assalāyana sat silent and upset,
with his shoulders hunched up
and with eyes downcast,
much exercised in mind
but without any rejoinder to hand.

Seeing the young brahmin's plight,
the Lord went on to say: -

Once on a time
there were seven brahmin sages
in thatched cabins in the wilds,
who conceived the erroneous view
that brahmins were the superior class [155]
and all the rest of it.

Hearing of this,
the sage Āsita Devala arranged his hair and beard,
donned his orange attire,
got into his stout sandals,
took his staff
and made his appearance in the precincts of these seven brahmins' hermitage.

As he walked about the precincts,
he exclaimed: -

Where can those brahmin sages have got to?

Where can they have got to?

[88] Who, thought they, is this
that, like a neatherd,
trots round our precincts
wondering where we can have got to?

Let us put a curse on him!

So they cursed the sage Āsita Devala, saying

Shrivel to a vile cinder!

But the more they cursed,
the more goodly and comely and handsome grew the sage Āsita,
so that the seven brahmin sages cried: -

In vain have been our austerities,
fruitless our higher life!

For, never a man have we cursed heretofore
who did not shrivel to a cinder, -
whereas the more we curse this man,
the more goodly and comely and handsome he grows!

No, said Āsita;
your austerities have not been in vain
nor your higher life fruitless;
but I urge you to discard
the delusion which besets you about me.

[156] Yes, we will.

Who, sir, are you?

Have you ever heard of the sage Āsita Devala?

Hereupon the seven brahmin sages
advanced to salute Āsita,
who proceeded to tell them
that he had heard how
in their cabins
they had conceived the erroneous view
that brahmins were the superior class
and so forth.

Yes, they admitted it was so.

Do you know for certain
that the mother who bore you
had commerce with a brahmin only
and not with a non-brahmin?

No.

Do you know for certain
that your mother's mother
and your grandmothers for seven generations back
had commerce with brahmins only
and never with nonbrahmins?

No.

Do you know for certain
that the father who begat you
had commerce with a brahmin-woman only
and not with non-brahmins?

No.

Do you know for certain
that your father's father
and your grandfathers for seven generations back
had [89] commerce with brahmin-women only
and not with nonbrahmins?

No.

Do you know how conception comes about?

Yes; [157] if there is coitus of the parents,
and if it is the mother's period,
and if the tutelary deity of generation be present, -
then this triple conjunction
brings about conception.

Conception. This construction is not quite correct. It is that when the mother is 'in season' and there is coitus of the parents, and if the spirit of the being to be reborn (not a presiding deity with the power to make sure everything goes all right - this should be obvious from the follow up questions which would be irrelevant if this were not the being to be reborn), then there is conception. Perhaps 'period' had a different meaning in Lord Chalmer's time.

p.p. explains it all — p.p.

Do you know whether the tutelary deity there present is a noble,
or a brahmin,
or from the middle class,
or from the peasantry?

No.

This being so,
do you know who you are?

No, we do not.

When, Assalāyana,
those seven brahmin sages
were pressed and examined and cross-questioned
about their pretensions with regard to lineage,
they could not find a rejoinder.

And what rejoinder have you
when I press you, -
you who inherit the same tradition as they
and are not a mere server
to hold their oblation ladles for them?

At this point,
the young brahmin Assalāyana said to the Lord:

-Wonderful, Gotama;
wonderful!

I pray you to accept me as a disciple
who has found an abiding refuge while life lasts.


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