Majjhima Nikaya

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Majjhima Nikāya
II. Majjhima-Paṇṇāsa
5. Brāhmaṇa Vagga

The Middle Length Sayings
II. The Middle Fifty Discourses
5. The Division on Brahmans

Sutta 98

Vāseṭṭha Suttaɱ[1]

Discourse to Vāseṭṭha

Translated from the Pali by I.B. Horner, O.B.E., M.A.
Associate of Newham College, Cambridge
First Published in 1954

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[1][chlm][upal] Thus have I heard:

At one time the Lord was staying near Icchānaṅkala in a forest glade near Icchānaṅkala.

Now at that time many wealthy and distinguished brahmans
were living in Icchānaṅkala,
such as the brahman Cankī,[2]
the brahman Tārukkha,
the brahman Pokkharasāti,
the brahman Jāṇussoṇi,
the brahman Todeyya,
and other wealthy and distinguished brahmans.[3]

Then as the brahman youths Vāseṭṭha and Bhāradvāja were pacing up and down
and roaming about on foot,
this chance conversation arose:

"How is one a brahman?"

The brahman youth Bhāradvāja spoke thus:

"If one is of pure birth
on both the mother's and the father's side,
[380] and is of pure descent
back through seven generations,
unchallenged and irreproachable in respect of birth,
then is one a brahman."

The brahman youth Vāseṭṭha spoke thus:

"If one is of moral habit
and right practice,[4]
then is one a brahman."

But neither was Bhāradvāja the brahman youth
able to convince Vāseṭṭha the brahman youth,
nor was Vāseṭṭha the brahman youth
able to convince Bhāradvāja the brahman youth.

Then Vāseṭṭha the brahman youth
spoke thus to Bhāradvāja the brahman youth:

"Bhāradvāja, this recluse Gotama,
the son of the Sakyans,
gone forth from a Sakyan clan,
is staying near Icchānaṅkala,
in a forest glade near Icchānaṅkala.

And a lovely report has gone abroad about the recluse Gotama thus:

He is indeed Lord,
perfected one,
fully Self-Awakened One,
endowed with knowledge and (right) conduct,
knower of the worlds,
the matchless charioteer of men to be tamed,
teacher of devas and mankind,
the Awakened One,
the Lord.

Let us go, good Bhāradvāja;
we will approach the recluse Gotama,
and having approached
we will ask the recluse Gotama about this matter,
and as the recluse Gotama explains it to us,
so will we accept it."

"Yes, sir,"
the brahman youth Bhāradvāja answered
the brahman youth Vāseṭṭha in assent.

Then the brahman youths Vāseṭṭha
and Bhāradvāja
approached the Lord;
having approached,
they exchanged greetings with the Lord;
having conversed in a friendly and courteous way,
they sat down at a respectful distance.

As he was sitting down at a respectful distance,
Vāseṭṭha the brahman youth
addressed the Lord in these verses:


"Both of us have been recognised as[5] and we claim to be three-Veda-(men),
I, of Pokkharasāti (a pupil), this brahman youth of Tārukkha.[6]
In what is pointed out of the three Vedas - in that we are whole:
We are versed in the pada-pāṭha,[7] grammarians, in speaking we are like teachers.
[381]There is contention between us, Gotama, in respect of birth:
'By birth one is a brahman' - so speaks Bhāradvāja;
But I say, 'By doing'[8] - let the Visioned One know it thus.
As we are each unable to convince the other,
We come to ask the revered Self-Awakened One, widely famed.
As people salute the moon when it has come to the full,
So, in the world, honouring him, do they thus praise Gotama.
We are asking Gotama, the Eye risen in the world:
Is one by birth a brahman or does one (so) become by doing?
Tell us this who know not, that a brahman we may know."


"Vāseṭṭha, I will expound
To you in gradual and very truth
Division in the kinds[10] of living things;
For kinds divide.[11]
Behold the grass and trees!
They reason not, yet they possess the mark
After their kind, for kinds indeed divide.
Consider then the beetles, moths and ants:
They after their kind too possess the mark
After their kind, for kinds indeed divide.
And so four-footed creatures, great and small
They after their kind too possess the mark
After their kind, for kinds indeed divide.
The reptiles, snakes, the long-backed animals
They after their kind too possess the mark
After their kind, for kinds indeed divide.
[382] Fish and pond-feeders, water-denizens
They after their kind too possess the mark
After their kind, for kinds indeed divide.
Birds and the winged creatures, fowls o' the air,
They after their kind all possess the mark
For kinds indeed divide. Each after his kind bears
His mark; in man there is not manifold.[12]
Not in the hair or head or ears or eyes,
Not in the mouth or nose or lips or brows,
Not in the throat, hips, belly or the back,
Not in the rump, sex-organs or the breast,
Not in the hands or feet, fingers or nails,
Not in the legs or thighs, colour or voice,
Is mark that forms his kind as in all else.
Nothing unique[13] is in men's bodies found:
The difference in men is nominal.

The man forsooth who earns his livelihood
By minding cows and fields, know, Vāseṭṭha,
He is a farmer, not a brahmana!
Who works at diverse crafts, know him to be
An artisan and not a brahmana!
Who plies a trade for livelihood, know him
To be a trader, not a brahmana!
Who toils in service for another man,
Know as a servant, not a brahmana!
Who lives by taking things not giv'n, know him
To be a thief and not a brahmana!
Who lives indeed by archery, know him
To be a soldier, not a brahmana!
Who lives by priestly craft, know him to be
A celebrant and not a brahmana!
And he who owns the village, countryside,
Know him as a rajah and no brahmana!

I call none 'brahman' from mere parentage,
Tho' he be 'Sir'-ed and wealthy too: the man
Of naught, who grasps not, brahman him I call!

Who cuts all fetters, thirsting not, fears not,
Fetter-free, boundless, brahman him I call.

Who cuts thong, halter, strap, and cord, throws off
[383] The bar,[14] has woken, brahman him I call.

Who, blameless, bears blows, bonds, abuse, well armed
With strength of patience, brahman him I call.

Him wrathless, spotless, moral, free of pride,[15]
Last body bearing, tamed, I brahman call.

As water on a leaf, as seed on awl,
Who to lust clings not, brahman him I call.

Who knows here now that ill for self is quenched,
Burden-dropped,[16] boundless, brahman him I call.

Him of deep wisdom, sage, skilled in all ways,
Won to the goal supreme, I brahman call.

Who not with homeless nor with householder sorts,
Frugal, resort-less, brahman him I call.

Who rod lays by 'gainst weak and strong, slays not,
To slay incites none, brahman him I call.

Him cool[17] mid violence, mid foes no foe,
Mid grasping grasping not, I brahman call.

From whom hate, passion, pride, and guile have fall'n,
As seed from needle, brahman him I call.

Who teaches gently, utters words of truth,
And none offendeth, brahman him I call.

Who here takes naught, long, short, small, large, good, bad,
Nothing not given, brahman him I call.

In whom no hopes are found for here or yon,
Fetter-free, hope-free, brahman him I call.

In whom no grooves are found, gone doubt, who knows,
Won to depths deathless,[18] brahman him I call.

Who here has passed bond of both good and ill
Griefless, cleansed, dustless, brahman him I call.

[384] Him spotless, cleansed, unclouded, clear as moon,
With 'life'[19] and pleasure quenched, I brahman call.

Who hath this bog, false, painful round, passed o'er,
Crossed and yon-fared, a muser, doubt gone, still,
Cool[20] in detachment, brahman him I call.

Who pleasures here forsakes and homeless fares,
Lust and 'life'[19] ended, brahman him I call.

Who craving here forsakes and homeless fares,
Craving, 'life'[19] ended, brahman him I call.

Him rid of human yoke, passed deva-yoke,
Fetterless, free of yokes, I brahman call.

Him rid of likes and dislikes, cool,[21] detached,
Vigorous, world-conqueror, I brahman call.

Who knows of all men the rise and fall, uncaught,
Awake, well-faring, brahman him I call.

Whose lot men, devas, gandharvas know not,
Cankerless, worthy,[22] brahman him I call.

Him for whom present, future, past, holds naught,
Who grasps not, man-of-naught, I brahman call.

The bull, elect, the hero, victor, sage,
Awake, still, washen, brahman him I call.

[647] Who knows his former life, sees heaven and hell,
Won to birth's ending, brahman him I call.

What the world holds as 'name' and 'lineage'
Is indeed nominal, terms risen here
And there by popular opinion,

Adhered to long, views of the ignorant!
The ignorant declare: 'A brahman is

[650] By birth.' None is by birth a brahman; none
By birth no brahmana; by deeds is one
A brahmana, by deeds no brahmana!

[385] By deeds one is a farmer and by deeds
An artisan, by deeds a trader too;

By deeds one is a servant and a thief,
By deeds a soldier and a celebrant,
And even so a rajah is by deeds.

'Tis thus in truth the wise perceive the deed,
Seers of origin by way of cause,[23]
Men expert in result of deeds. The world

Revolves by deeds, mankind revolves by deeds;
As pin holds fast the rolling chariot's wheel,
So beings are in bondage held by deeds.

A brahman one becomes by Brahma-faring,
By temperance, austerity, restraint:
This is indeed supreme for brahmanhood.

Who by three Vedas is accomplished,
With no more coming here, and man-of-calm,
Know thou, Vāseṭṭha, even thus of him:
He is of knowers Sakka[24] and Brahmā!"

When this had been said, the brahman youths Vāseṭṭha and Bhāradvāja spoke thus to the Lord:

"It is wonderful, good Gotama,
wonderful, good Gotama.

It is as if, good Gotama,
one might set upright what had been upset,
or might disclose what was covered,
or point out the way
to one who had gone astray,
or might bring an oil-lamp into the darkness
so that those with vision might see material shapes -
even so is Dhamma made clear
in many a figure by the good Gotama.

We are going to the revered Gotama for refuge,[25]
and to Dhamma
and to the Order of monks.

May the good Gotama accept us
as lay-disciples,
going for refuge from today forth
for as long as life lasts."

Discourse to Vāseṭṭha


[1] The text of this Discourse is not given in M. ii. It is the same as the Vāseṭṭha Sutta at Sn. p. 115 ff. The Comys (SnA 462 ff. and MA. iii. 431 ff.) show several interesting variations. Cf. also D. i. 235 ff.

[2] MA. iii. 431 says that Cankī and the four others were priests of King Pasenadi.

[3] MA. iii. 431: "every six months they gather together in two places: if they want to purify (their) birth (jātiɱ sodhetukāmā), then for this purpose they gather together at Ukkaṭṭhā under Pokkharasāti. If they want to purify the mantras, then they gather together at Icchānaṅkala. At this time they gathered together there for purifying the mantras." SnA 462 says that they were there for meditating upon and thoroughly examining the Vedas.

[4] MA. iii. 432 = SnA. 463, in explanation of kammanā (Sn. 696) say: "to say one 'is of moral habit' (sīlava) refers to the sevenfold ways of skilled kamma in gesture and speech; referring to the threefold kamma of mind, one says 'endowed with right practice' (vat(t)a-sampanna)". See M. Sta. 41 for this tenfold way of skilled action.

[5] By their teachers.

[6] For passages parallel to these verses see the Concordance in Wov. Cads., p. 199 f.

[7] An educated brahman who can pronounce each word in a mantra separately "without coalescence or saɱdhi and with its own specific accent" is a padaka, i.e. versed in Vedic lines and words. See R. N. Dandekar, Cultural Background of the Vedas, UCR. vol. XI, Nos. 3 and 4, July-October, 1953, p. 139.

[8] kammanā, see above, p. 380, n. 1. It therefore appears to mean by accomplished training, that is in sīla and mind development; and thus has no pronounced reference to past kamma working in the present. P.E.D. gives "by character." In the following verses, e.g. 650 ff., I follow E. M. Hare in translating as "deeds." Cf. Sn. 136: kammanā vasalo hoti kammanā hoti brāhmano, which SnA. 183 explains as: "he is an outcaste from thriving on impure kamma, a brahman from driving out what is impure by means of pure kamma "(or, "doing," kammunā, where kammunā, is but a variant of the instrumental kammanā).

[9] From here to the end of the verses I give E. M. Hare's translation in Woven Cadences.

[10] jāti, kind or birth.

[11] There is a diversity of kind.

[12] I.e. no variety of native marks.

[13] Or specific.

[14] Or, lifts the barrier, ukkhittapaligha, as at M. i. 139.

[15] anussadaɱ.

[16] pannabhāra, as at M. i. 139.

[17] nibbuta.

[18] amatogadha, the plunge into deathlessness.

[19] bhava.

[20] nibbuta.

[21] sītibhūta, cooled, become cool.

[22] arahaniaɱ.

[23] paṭicca-samuppāda-dasā.

Tīhi vijjāhi. The three knowledges of the arahant: knowledge of past lives; knowledge of the outcome of deeds; knowledge that the corrupting influences (lust, existence, blindness) have been destroyed.

p.p. explains it all — p.p.

[24] Note at Woo. Gads. p. 97 reads; "Sn. Index suggests word-play; so perhaps 'best possible of knowers.' Tīhi vijjāhi may refer to the 'triple lore' given in verse 647 above, see K.S. i. 208 and G.S. i. 149."

[25] According to DA. 406 this was their first time of going for refuge. The second was after they had heard the Tevijja Sutlanta (D. Sta. 13); a few days afterwards they "went forth", were ordained and attained arahantship. DA. 406 refers to the Aggañña Sutta (D. Sta. 27) for this event, which DA. 872 states to be the case.

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