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 93

Assalāyana Suttaɱ

Discourse with Assalāyana

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

Copyright The Pali Text Society
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Scanned, digitized and proofread by Waiyin Chow.

 


 

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

At one time the Lord was staying near Sāvatthī in the Jeta Grove in Anāthapiṇḍika's monastery.

Now at that time at least five hundred brahmans from a number of districts were residing at Sāvatthī on some business or other.

Then it occurred to these brahmans:

"This recluse Gotama lays down the purity of the four castes.

Now, who is capable of arguing about this saying with the recluse Gotama?"

At that time the brahman youth Assalāyana was residing at Sāvatthī.

He was young, his head shaven, sixteen years of age from his birth; he was master of the three Vedas[1] ... proficient in ... the marks of a Great Man.

Then it occurred to these brahmans:

"This brahman youth Assalāyana is residing at Sāvatthī.

He is young, his head shaven ... proficient in ... the marks of a Great Man.

He is capable of arguing about this saying with the recluse Gotama."

Then these brahmans approached the brahman youth Assalāyana; having approached, they spoke thus to the brahman youth Assalāyana:

"Good Assalāyana, this recluse Gotama lays down the purity of the four castes; you go, good Assalāyana, and argue about this saying with the recluse Gotama."

When this had been said, Assalāyana the brahman youth spoke thus to those brahmans:

"Truly, sirs, is the recluse Gotama a speaker on dhamma but speakers on dhamma are difficult to argue with.

I am not able to argue about this saying with the recluse Gotama."

And a second time these brahmans spoke thus to the brahman youth Assalāyana:

"Good Assalāyana, this recluse Gotama lays down the purity of the four castes; you go, good Assalāyana, and argue about this saying with the recluse Gotama.

A wanderer's (life) is led by the good Assalāyana."

And a second time Assalāyana the brahman youth spoke thus to to those brahmans:

"Truly, sirs, is the recluse Gotama a speaker on dhamma but speakers on dhamma are difficult to argue with.

I am not able to argue about this saying with the recluse Gotama."

[341] And a third time these brahmans spoke thus to the brahman youth Assalāyana:

"Good Assalāyana, this recluse Gotama lays down the purity of the four castes; you go, good Assalāyana, and argue about this saying with the recluse Gotama.

A wanderer's life is led by the good Assalāyana.

Let not the good Assalāyana be defeated in a defeat without resistance."[2]

When this had been said, Assalāyana the brahman youth spoke thus to those brahmans:

"Sirs, truly the recluse Gotama is a speaker on dhamma but speakers on dhamma are difficult to argue with.

I am not able to argue about this saying with the recluse Gotama.

All the same, I will go at the bidding of the reverend ones."

Then Assalāyana the brahman youth together with a large concourse of brahmans approached the Lord; having approached, he exchanged greetings with the Lord; having conversed in a friendly and courteous way, he sat down at a respectful distance.

As he was sitting down at a respectful distance, Assalāyana the brahman youth spoke thus to the Lord:

"Good Gotama, brahmans speak thus:

'Only brahmans form the best caste, all other castes are low; only brahmans form the fair caste, all other castes are dark; only brahmans are pure, not non-brahmans; only brahmans are own sons of Brahmā, born of his mouth, born of Brahmā, formed by Brahmā, heirs to Brahmā.'[3]

What does the good Gotama say about this?"

"But, Assalāyana, brahman wives of brahmans are known[4] to have their seasons and to conceive and to give birth and to give suck.

Yet these brahmans, born of woman like everyone else, speak thus:

'Only brahmans form the best caste ... heirs to Brahmā.'"

"Although the good Gotama speaks thus, yet brahmans still consider it thus:

'Only brahmans ... heirs to Brahmā.'"

"What do you think about this, Assalāyana?

Have you heard that in Yona[5] and Kamboja[6] and other adjacent districts there are only two castes, the master and the slave?

And that having been [342] a master one becomes a slave; having been a slave one becomes a master?"[7]

"Yes, I have heard this, sir.

In Yona and Kamboja ... having been a slave one becomes a master."

"In reference to this then, Assalāyana, on what strength and authority do brahmans speak thus:

'Only brahmans form the best caste ... heirs of Brahmā'?"

"Although the good Gotama speaks thus, yet brahmans still consider it thus:

'Only brahmans form the best caste ... heirs to Brahmā.'"

"What do you think about this, Assalāyana?

If a noble made onslaught on creatures, took what had not been given, wrongly enjoyed pleasures of the senses, were a liar, of slanderous speech, of harsh speech, a gossip, covetous, malevolent in mind, of wrong view - would only he at the breaking up of the body after dying arise in the sorrowful way, the bad bourn, the Downfall, Niraya Hell, and not a brahman?

Nor yet a merchant?

And would a worker if he made onslaught on creatures ... were ... of wrong view - would he at the breaking up of the body after dying, arise in the sorrowful way ... Niraya Hell, and not a brahman?"

"This is not so, good Gotama.

If a noble, good Gotama, made onslaught on creatures, took what had not been given ... at the breaking up of the body after dying he would arise in ... Niraya Hell.

And so would a brahman, good Gotama, and so would a merchant, good Gotama, and so would a worker, good Gotama - so good Gotama, if they made onslaught on creatures, took what had not been given ... were ... of wrong view, all the four castes at the breaking up of the body after dying would arise in the sorrowful way, the bad bourn, the Downfall, Niraya Hell."

"In reference to this then, Assalāyana, on what strength and authority do brahmans speak thus:

'Only brahmans form the best caste ... heirs of Brahmā'?"

"Although the good Gotama speaks thus, yet brahmans still consider it thus:

'Only brahmans form the best caste ... heirs to Brahmā.'"

"What do you think about this, Assalāyana?

If a brahman [343] refrained from onslaught on creatures, from taking what had not been given, from wrong enjoyment of the sense-pleasures, from being a liar, from slanderous speech, from harsh speech, from being a gossip, were not covetous, were not benevolent in mind and of right view - would only he at the breaking up of the body after dying arise in a good bourn, a heaven world, and not a noble, nor a merchant, nor a worker?"

"That is not so, good Gotama.

If a noble refrained from onslaught on creatures ... were benevolent in mind and of right view, at the breaking up of the body after dying he would arise in a good bourn, a heaven world.

And so would a brahman, good Gotama, and so would a merchant, good Gotama, and so would a worker, good Gotama - so, good Gotama, if they refrained from onslaught on creatures, from taking what had not been given ... were benevolent in mind and of right view, all the four castes at the breaking up of the body after dying would arise in a good bourn, a heaven world."

"In reference to this then, Assalāyana, on what strength and authority do brahmans speak thus:

'Only brahmans form the best caste ... heirs to Brahmā'?"

"Although the good Gotama speaks thus, yet brahmans still consider it thus:

'Only brahmans form the best caste ... heirs to Brahmā.'"

"What do you think about this, Assalāyana?

Is it only a brahman who, on this supposition,[8] is capable of developing a mind of friendliness that is without enmity, without malevolence?

And not a noble, not a merchant, not a worker?"

"That is not so, good Gotama.

On this supposition, a noble too, good Gotama, is capable of developing a mind of friendliness that is without enmity, without malevolence; and also a brahman, good Gotama, and also a merchant, good Gotama, and also a worker, good Gotama - so, good Gotama, on this supposition all the four castes are capable of developing a mind of friendliness that is without enmity, without malevolence."

"In reference to this then, Assalāyana, on what strength and authority do brahmans speak thus:

'Only brahmans form the best caste ... heirs to Brahmā'?"

"Although the good Gotama speaks thus, yet brahmans still [344] consider it thus:

'Only brahmans form the best caste ... heirs to Brahmā.'"

"What do you think about this, Assalāyana?

Is it only a brahman who, taking a back-scratcher and bath-powder[9] and going to a river, is capable of cleansing himself of dust and mud?

And not a noble, not a merchant, not a worker?"

"That is not so, good Gotama.

A noble too, good Gotama, who, taking a back-scratcher and bath-powder and going to a river, is capable of cleansing himself of dust and mud.

And so is a brahman ... and so is a merchant ... and so is a worker, good Gotama - so, good Gotama, all the four castes, taking a back-scratcher and bath-powder and going to a river, are capable of cleansing themselves of dust and mud."

"In reference to this then, Assalāyana, on what strength and authority do brahmans speak thus:

'Only brahmans form the best caste ... heirs to Brahmā?"

"Although the good Gotama speaks thus, yet brahmans still consider it thus:

'Only brahmans form the best caste ... heirs to Brahmā.'"

"What do you think about this, Assalāyana?

If[10] a noble anointed king were to assemble a hundred men of varying origins, saying to them:

'Let the good sirs come; and let those who are of noble, priestly and royal families, bringing an upper piece of fire-stick[11] of teak[12] or sāl or of a sweet-scented tree[13] or of sandal or lotus, light a fire and get it to give out heat.

But let the good sirs come; and let those who are from a despised family, a trapper family, a bamboo-plaiter family, a cartwright family, a scavenger family,[14] bringing an upper piece of fire-stick from a dog's trough or a pig's trough or from a trough for dyeing or dry sticks from castor-oil shrub, light a fire and get it to give out heat.'

What do you think about this, Assalāyana?

Is the fire that is lit and the heat that is got by someone - no matter whether he be from a noble, priestly or royal family, and no matter whether he bring an upper piece of fire-stick of teak or sāl or of a sweet-scented tree or of sandal or lotus - [345] is it a fire that has flame and hue and brightness[15] and, being this fire, is it able to serve the purposes of a fire?

But is the fire that is lit and the heat that is got by someone - no matter whether he be from a despised family, a trapper family, a bamboo-plaiter family, a cartwright family, a scavenger family, and no matter whether he bring an upper piece of fire-stick from a dog's trough or a pig's trough or from a trough for dyeing or dry sticks from a castor-oil shrub - is it a fire that has neither flame nor hue nor brightness and, being this fire, is it unable to serve the purposes of a fire?"

"That is not so, good Gotama.

Whoever from a noble, priestly or royal family, bringing an upper piece of fire-stick of teak or sāl or of a sweet-scented tree or of sandal or lotus, lights a fire and gets it to give out heat - this fire has flame and hue and brightness and is able to serve the purposes of a fire.

And too, whoever from a despised family, a trapper family, a bamboo-plaiter family, a cartwright family, a scavenger family, bringing an upper piece of fire-stick from a dog's trough or a pig's trough or a trough for dyeing or dry sticks from a castor-oil shrub, lights a fire and gets it to give out heat - this fire too has flame and hue and brightness and is able to serve the purposes of a fire.

So, good Gotama, all these fires have flame and hue and brightness and are able to serve the purposes of a fire."

"In reference to this then, Assalāyana, on what strength and authority do brahmans speak thus:

'Only brahmans form the best caste, all other castes are low; only brahmans form the fair caste, all other castes are dark; only brahmans are pure, not non-brahmans; only brahmans are sons of Brahmā, born of his mouth, born of Brahmā, formed by Brahmā, heirs to Brahmā'?"

"Although the good Gotama speaks thus, yet brahmans still consider it thus:

'Only brahmans form the best caste ... heirs to Brahmā.'"

"What do you think about this, Assalāyana?

Suppose a noble youth were to consort with a brahman girl and as a result a son were born to them.[16]

Would that son of the noble youth and the brahman girl be like his mother and also like his father, and should he be called 'noble' and also 'brahman'?"

"Whatever son, good Gotama, were born to a noble youth with a brahman girl, he would be like his mother and also like his father, and he should be called 'noble' and also 'brahman.'"

[346] "What do you think about this, Assalāyana?

Suppose a brahman youth were to consort with a noble girl and as a result at a son[17] were born to them.

Would that son ... and should he be called 'noble' and also 'brahman'?"

"Whatever son, good Gotama, were born to a brahman youth and a noble girl, he would be like his mother and also like his father, and he should be called 'noble' and also 'brahman.'"

"What do you think about this, Assalāyana?

Suppose a mare were mated with an ass and as a result a foal[18] were born of this mating.

Would that foal of the mare and the ass be like the mother and also like the father, and should it be called 'horse' and also 'ass'?"

"Because of its crossed birth,[19] good Gotama, it is a mule.

This good Gotama, is a difference that I see for it, but elsewhere, for the others, I see no difference at all."

"What do you think about this, Assalāyana?

There might be two brahman youths here, uterine brothers, the one skilled (in the Vedas), educated (in them), the other unskilled, uneducated.

To which of these would brahmans first serve offerings for the dead[20] or cereals or oblations or meals for guests?"

"Good Gotama, brahmans would first serve offerings for the dead or cereals or oblations or meals for guests to that brahman youth who is skilled (in the Vedas), educated (in them).

For, good Gotama, what great fruit could there be of a gift to an unskilled, uneducated (person)?"

"What do you think about this, Assalāyana?

There might be two brahman youths here, uterine brothers, the one skilled (in the Vedas), educated (in them), but of bad moral habit of evil character, and the other not skilled, uneducated, but of moral habit, lovely in character.

To which of these would brahmans first serve offerings for the dead ... or meals for guests?"

"Good Gotama, brahmans would first serve offerings for the dead ... or meals for guests to that brahman youth who is not skilled (in the Vedas), uneducated (in them), but who is of moral habit, lovely [347] in character.

For, good Gotama, what great fruit could there be of a gift to (a person of) bad moral habit, of evil character?"

"First you, Assalāyana, went on about birth; leaving birth you went on about mantras; leaving mantras you arrived at the purity of the four castes which is just what I lay down."

When this had been said, the brahman youth Assalāyana sat silent, ashamed, his shoulders drooped, his face cast down, overcome with disappointment, at a loss for an answer.

Then the Lord, understanding why Assalāyana the brahman youth was silent, ashamed, his shoulders drooped, his face cast down, overcome with disappointment, at a loss for an answer, spoke thus to Assalāyana the brahman youth:

"Once upon a time,[21] Assalāyana, while seven brahman seers were living in leaf huts in a stretch of forest a pernicious view like this arose in them:

'Only brahmans form the best caste, [155] all other castes are low ... heirs to Brahmā.'

And Assalāyana, the seer Asita Devala[22] heard:

'Indeed seven brahman seers are living in leaf huts in a stretch of forest and a pernicious view like this has arisen in them:

"Only brahmans form the best caste ... heirs to Brahmā."'

Then, Assalāyana, the seer Asita Devala, having trimmed his hair and beard, having clothed himself in a pair of crimson coloured cloths, having put on sandals with many linings[23] and taking a staff made of gold, appeared in a cell in a hall[24] of the seven brahman seers.

And then, Assalāyana, as the seer Asita Devala was pacing up and down in the cell in a hall of the seven brahman seers, he spoke thus:

'Now, where have these revered brahman seers gone?

Now, where have these revered brahman seers gone?'

Then, Assalāyana, it occurred to the seven brahman seers:

'Who is it who, while pacing up and down like a village lad[25] in a cell in a hall of the seven brahman [348] seers, speaks thus:

"Now, where have these revered brahman seers gone?

Now, where have these revered brahman seers gone?"'

Then, Assalāyana, the seven brahman seers put a curse on the seer Asita Devala, saying:

'Become a vile cinder.'[26]

But, Assalāyana, the more the seven brahman seers cursed the seer Asita Devala, the more lovely became the seer Asita Devala, the more good to look upon and the more charming.

Then, Assalāyana, it occurred to the seven brahman seers:

'Vain is austerity[27] for us, fruitless the Brahma-faring.

Formerly when we put a curse on anyone, saying:

'Become a vile cinder', he became as a cinder; but the more we put a curse on this one the more lovely he becomes, the more good to look upon, the more charming.'

'Austerity is not vain for the revered ones, nor fruitless the Brahma-faring.

But, revered sirs, please get rid of your misapprehension about me.'

[156] 'We will get rid of whatever misapprehension there is.

But who is the revered sir?'

'Is the seer Asita Devala known to the revered sirs?'

'Yes, sir.'

'I, sirs, am he.'

Then, Assalāyana, the seven brahman seers approached the seer Asita Devala in order to honour him.

Then, Assalāyana, the seer Asita Devala spake thus to those seven brahman seers:

'I have heard this, good sirs:

While seven brahman seers were living in leaf huts in a stretch of forest a pernicious view like this arose in them:

"Only brahmans form the best caste, all other castes are low; only brahmans form the fair caste, all other castes are dark; only brahmans are pure, not non-brahmans; only brahmans are own sons of Brahmā, born of his mouth, born of Brahmā, formed by Brahmā, heirs to Brahmā."'

'Yes, sir.'

'But do you, sirs, know whether their mothers consorted only with brahmans, not with non-brahmans?'

'No, sir.'

'And do you, sirs, know whether their mothers' mothers back through seven generations consorted only with brahmans, not with non-brahmans?'

[349] 'No, sir.'

'And do you, sirs, know whether their fathers consorted only with brahman women, not with non-brahman women?'

'No, sir.'

'And do you, sirs, know whether their fathers' fathers back through seven generations consorted only with brahman women, not non-brahman women?'

'No, sir.'

'But do you, sirs, know how there is conception?'

'We do know, sir, how there is conception.

There is here a coitus of the parents,
it is the mother's season
and the gandhabba is present;
it is on the conjunction of these three things
that there is conception.'[28]

'But do you, sirs, know whether that gandhabba is a noble or brahman or merchant or worker?'

'We do not know, sir, whether that gandhabba is a noble or a brahman or a merchant or a worker.'

'This being so, do you know, sirs, who you are?'

'This being so, sir, we do not know who we are.'

Assalāyana, these seven so called brahman seers, on being questioned, cross-questioned and pressed for an answer by the seer Asita Devala concerning their own claims to lineage were not able to explain.

So how can you, on being questioned, cross-questioned and pressed for an answer by me now explain your own claims to lineage - you who have the same teacher as they have, but not Puṇṇa the holder of the oblation-ladle?"[29]

When this had been said, Assalāyana the brahman youth spoke thus to the Lord:

"It is excellent, good Gotama, it is excellent, good Gotama.

May the good Gotama accept me as a lay-disciple going for refuge from this day forth for as long as life lasts."[30]

Discourse with Assalāyana: The Third

 


[1] As in Sta. 91 (M. ii. 133).

[2] Wanderers preserve the mantras and behave as they have learnt and been taught. Therefor Assalāyana will not be defeated, but will be the victor. MA. iii. 408.

[3] As at M. ii. 84.

[4] Brahman women are seen being led to weddings so as to provide Brahmans with sons, MA. iii. 408.

[5] See DPPN, where "probably the Pali equivalent for Ionians, Bactrian Greeks ... In later times, the name Yavanā and Yonā  seems to have included all westerners living in India."

[6] A Mahājanapada belonging not to the Middle Country but to Uttarāpatha.

[7] MA. iii. 409 says that if a Brahman and his wife go trading in adjacent districts he may die there leaving no son, and the wife may have intercourse with a slave or workman. Any son born is a slave, although "pure" on his mother's side. If this son goes to trade in the Middle Country and marries a Brahman girl, any son born will be "pure" only on his mother's side.

[8] asmiṁ padese. The meaning of padesa as "showing, pointing out, decision, appealing to precedent" seems unknown to the Pali Dictionaries. But see Moinier-Williams under pra-diś, "to point out, show, announce, communicate," etc.

[9] Cf. M. ii. 46, 182; and cf. MA. iii. 280 with Vin. ii. 106.

[10] As at M. ii. 183.

[11] Cf. M. i. 240.

[12] sākassā vā, as in two versions, and as at M. ii. 183. Cf. also sākakaṭṭhaṁ ... sākakaṭṭhaṁ at M. ii. 129

[13] salaḷa as at e.g. Budv. II. 51. Translators (Min. Anth. iii. p. 11) say this is probably a pine tree, Pinus Devadars.

[14] For notes on these five kinds of "low birth" see B.D. ii. 173 f.

[15] pabhassara here; ābhā at M. ii. 130.

[16] Cf. D. i. 97.

[17] Cf. D. i. 97.

[18] kusora, with v. 11. kissero, kissaro. Childers gives "colt." Kisora in Sanskrit.

[19] vekurañjāya, with v. 11 kuṇḍaṁ, kumāṇḍu. Neumann (II. 554) says: read vekuranvāya = vaikriyānvayāya.

[20] These four kinds of offerings also mentioned at D. i. 97. The first, "a gift for departed relatives," is saddha.

[21] Before Gotama's birth, MA. iii. 411.

[22] Cf. Jā. iii. 466. MA. iii. 411 says Asita was Kālaka, Devala was his name, and at that time the Lord was he. The name Kālaka probably identifies Asita with Kāla (or Asita) Devala of the Indriya jātaka, Jā. iii. 463 ff. At Mhvu. ii. 37 the seer Asita, who prophesied that the infant Gotama would become a Buddha, calls himself Kāla.

[23] ataliyo, also at S. i. 226; explained at MA. iii. 411, SA. i. 346 by gaṇaṅyaṇa, for which see Vin. i. 185.

[24] patthaṇdila; MA. iii. 411 explains by paṇṇasālapariveṇa, a cell in a leaf hall.

[25] gānaṇḍala, as at Thag. 1143. MA. iii. 411 explains by gāmadāraka, a village youngster; cf. ThagA. on ver. 1143. There is probably also a hidden idea of "an ox (go) walking round and round on a threshing-floor."

[26] Or, "becoming a cinder, vile one."

[27] tapo, perhaps magical heat produced by ascetic practice. As this was used to reduce one's enemies or opponents to cinders, so here tapo may have the double meaning of austerity (balancing the Brahma-faring) and of power to burn up others.

[28] See M. i. 265-266.

[29] dabbigāha. MA. iii. 412: "Puṇṇa was the name of a benefector of those seven seers; he took a ladle and cooked paṇṇa, leaves. He knew the art of handling the ladle. But he is not one of their teachers whom you (Assalāyana) also have; therefore you do not even know the art of handling a ladle."

[30] The usual formula for asking to become a lay disciple does not appear to occur here in full. The text does not even give abbreviation or omission marks.


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