093 Assalāyana Sutta

READ AN ARGUMENT TO SUPPORT THE CASTE SYSTEM TEACHING

§ 1. THUS HAVE I HEARD.
On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park.

§ 2. Now at that time five hundred brahmins from diverse provinces were staying at Sāvatthī for some business or other. Then those brahmins thought:
“This recluse Gotama describes purification for all the four castes.869 Who is there able to dispute with him about this assertion?”

[869 The argument in favour of this thesis is set forth at MN 90.10–12.i.e:-
……………Venerable sir, I was not asking about this present life; I was asking about the life to come.
There are these four castes, venerable sir: the nobles, the brahmins, the merchants, and the workers. Is there any distinction or difference among them?”

“Great king, there are these five factors of striving.
What five?
Here a bhikkhu has faith, he places his faith in the Tathāgata’s enlightenment thus: ‘The Blessed One is accomplished, fully enlightened, perfect in true knowledge and conduct, sublime, knower of worlds, incomparable leader of persons to be tamed, teacher of gods and humans, enlightened, blessed.’ Then he is free from illness and affliction, possessing a good digestion that is neither too cool nor too warm but medium and able to bear the strain of striving. Then he is honest and sincere, and shows himself as he actually is to his teacher and his companions in the holy life. Then he is energetic in abandoning unwholesome states and in undertaking wholesome states, steadfast, launching his effort with firmness and persevering in cultivating wholesome states. Then he is wise; he possesses wisdom regarding rise and disappearance that is noble and penetrative and leads to the complete destruction of suffering. These are the five factors of striving.
“There are these four castes, great king: the nobles, the brahmins, the merchants, and the workers. Now if they possessed these five factors of striving, it would lead to their welfare and happiness for a long time.”

11.“Venerable sir, there are these four castes: the nobles, the brahmins, the merchants, [129] and the workers. Now if they possessed these five factors of striving, would there be any difference among them here in that respect?”
“Here, great king, I say that the difference among them would lie in the diversity of their striving. Suppose there were two tamable elephants or tamable horses or tamable oxen that were well tamed and well disciplined, and two tamable elephants or tamable horses or tamable oxen that were untamed and undisciplined. What do you think, great king? Would the two tamable elephants or tamable horses or tamable oxen that were well tamed and well disciplined, being tamed, acquire the behaviour of the tamed, would they arrive at the grade of the tamed?”
“Yes, venerable sir.”
“And would the two tamable elephants or tamable horses or tamable oxen that were untamed and undisciplined, being untamed, acquire the behaviour of the tamed, would they arrive at the grade of the tamed, like the two elephants or horses or oxen that were well tamed and well disciplined?”
“No, venerable sir.”
“So too, great king, it is not possible that what can be achieved by one who has faith, who is free from illness, who is honest and sincere, who is energetic, and who is wise, can be achieved by one who has no faith, who has much illness, who is fraudulent and deceitful, who is lazy, and who is not wise.”…..]

§ 3. Now on that occasion a brahmin student named Assalāyana was staying at Sāvatthī. Young, shaven-headed, sixteen years old, he was a master of the Three Vedas with their vocabularies, liturgy, phonology, and etymology, and the histories as a fifth; skilled in philology and grammar, he was fully versed in natural philosophy and in the marks of a Great Man. Then the brahmins thought:
“There is this young brahmin student named Assalāyana staying at Sāvatthī.
Young…fully versed in natural philosophy and in the marks of a Great Man. He will be able to dispute with the recluse Gotama about this assertion.”

§4. So the brahmins went to the brahmin student Assalāyana and said to him:
“Master Assalāyana, this recluse Gotama describes purification for all the four castes. Let Master Assalāyana come and dispute with the recluse Gotama about this assertion.”

When this was said, the brahmin student Assalāyana replied:
“Sirs, the recluse Gotama is one who speaks the Dhamma. Now those who speak the Dhamma are difficult to dispute with. I am not able to dispute with the recluse Gotama about this assertion.”

A second time the brahmins said to him:
“Master Assalāyana, this recluse Gotama describes purification for all the four castes. Let Master Assalāyana come [148] and dispute with the recluse Gotama about this assertion. For the training of a wanderer has been completed by Master Assalāyana.”870

[870:- MA: They speak thus intending to say: “Having studied the Three Vedas, you have trained in the mantras by which those who go forth undertake their going forth and the mantras they maintain after they have gone forth. You have practised their mode of conduct. Therefore, you will not be defeated. Victory will be yours.”]

For the second time the brahmin student Assalāyana replied:
“Sirs, the recluse Gotama is one who speaks the Dhamma. Now those who speak the Dhamma are difficult to dispute with. I am not able to dispute with the recluse Gotama about this assertion.”

A third time the brahmins said to him: “Master Assalāyana, this recluse Gotama describes purification for all the four castes. Let Master Assalāyana come and dispute with the recluse Gotama about this assertion. For the training of a wanderer has been completed by Master Assalāyana. Let not the Master Assalāyana be defeated without having even fought the battle.”

When this was said, the brahmin student Assalāyana replied:
“Surely, Sirs, I am not getting through to you when I say: ’The recluse Gotama is one who speaks the Dhamma.’ Now those who speak the Dhamma are difficult to dispute with. I am not able to dispute with the recluse Gotama about this assertion. Still, sirs, at your bidding I will go.”

§ 5. Then the brahmin student Assalāyana went with a large number of brahmins to the Blessed One and exchanged greetings with him. When this courteous and amiable talk was finished, he sat down at one side and said to the Blessed One:
Master Gotama, the brahmins say thus: ‘Brahmins are the highest caste, those of any other caste are inferior; brahmins are the fairest caste, those of any other caste are dark; only brahmins are purified, not non-brahmins; brahmins alone are the sons of Brahmā, the offspring of Brahmā, born of his mouth, born of Brahm̄, created by Brahm̄, heirs of Brahm̄.’ What does Master Gotama say about that?
“Now, Assalāyana, the brahmin women are seen having their periods, becoming pregnant, giving birth, and giving suck.871

[871:- This statement is intended to show that brahmins are born of women, just like other human beings, and there is thus no substance to their claim that they are born of Brahmā’s mouth.]

And yet those brahmins, though born from the womb, say thus: ‘Brahmins are the highest caste…
brahmins alone are the sons of Brahmā, the offspring of Brahmā, born of his mouth, born of Brahmā, created by Brahmā, heirs of Brahmā.’” [149]

§ 6. “Although Master Gotama says this, still the brahmins think thus:
‘Brahmins are the highest caste…heirs of Brahmā.’”
“What do you think, Assalāyana? Have you heard that in Yona and Kamboja872 and in other outland countries there are only two castes, masters and slaves, and that masters become slaves and slaves masters?”
“So I have heard, sir.”
“Then on the strength of what [argument] or with the support of what [authority] do the brahmins in this case say thus: ‘Brahmins are the highest caste…heirs of Brahmā’?”

[872:- Yona is the Pali transliteration of Ionia. Kamboja is a region to the northwest of the Indian “Middle Country.”]

§ 7. “Although Master Gotama says this, still the brahmins think thus:
‘Brahmins are the highest caste…heirs of Brahmā.’”
“What do you think, Assalāyana?873

[873:- The argument of §§7–8 here is substantially identical with that of MN 84.]

Suppose a noble were to kill living beings, take what is not given, misconduct himself in sensual pleasures, speak falsely, speak maliciously, speak harshly, gossip, be covetous, have a mind of ill will, and hold wrong view. On the dissolution of the body, after death, would only he [be likely to] reappear in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell—and not a brahmin?

Suppose a merchant…
a worker were to kill living beings…and hold wrong view. On the dissolution of the body after death, would only he [be likely to] reappear in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell—and not a brahmin?”

“No, Master Gotama. Whether it be a noble, or a brahmin, or a merchant, or a worker—those of all four castes who kill living beings [150]…and hold wrong view, on the dissolution of the body, after death, [are likely to] reappear in a state of deprivation, in an unhappy destination, in perdition, even in hell.”

“Then on the strength of what [argument] or with the support of what [authority] do the brahmins in this case say thus: ‘Brahmins are the highest caste…heirs of Brahmā’?”

§ 8. “Although Master Gotama says this, still the brahmins think thus:
‘Brahmins are the highest caste…heirs of Brahmā.’”

“What do you think, Assalāyana?
Suppose a brahmin were to abstain from killing living beings, from taking what is not given, from misconduct in sensual pleasures, from false speech, from malicious speech, from harsh speech, and from gossip, and were to be uncovetous, to have a mind without ill will, and to hold right view. On the dissolution of the body, after death, would only he [be likely to] reappear in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world—
and not a noble, or a merchant, or a worker?”
“No, Master Gotama. Whether it be a noble, or a brahmin, or a merchant, or a worker—those of all four castes who abstain from killing living beings…and hold right view, on the dissolution of the body, after death, [are likely to] reappear in a happy destination, even in the heavenly world.”

“Then on the strength of what [argument] or with the support of what [authority] do the brahmins in this case say thus: ‘Brahmins are the highest caste…heirs of Brahmā’?”

§ 9. “Although Master Gotama says this, [151] still the brahmins think thus:
‘Brahmins are the highest caste…heirs of Brahmā.’”

“What do you think, Assalāyana?
Is only a brahmin capable of developing a mind of loving-kindness towards this region, without hostility and without ill will, and not a noble, or a merchant, or a worker?”
“No, Master Gotama. Whether it be a noble, or a brahmin, or a merchant, or a worker—those of all four castes are capable of developing a mind of lovingkindness towards this region, without hostility and without ill will.”

“Then on the strength of what [argument] or with the support of what [authority] do the brahmins in this case say thus: ‘Brahmins are the highest caste…heirs of Brahmā’?”

§ 10. “Although Master Gotama says this, still the brahmins think thus:
‘Brahmins are the highest caste…heirs of Brahmā.’”

“What do you think, Assalāyana?
Is only a brahmin capable of taking a loofah and bath powder, going to the river, and washing off dust and dirt, and not a noble, or a merchant, or a worker?”

“No, Master Gotama. Whether it be a noble, or a brahmin, or a merchant, or a worker—those of all four castes are capable of taking a loofah and bath powder, going to the river, and washing off dust and dirt.”

“Then on the strength of what [argument] or with the support of what [authority] do the brahmins in this case say thus: ‘Brahmins are the highest caste…heirs of Brahmā’?”

§ 11. “Although Master Gotama says this, still the brahmins think thus:
‘Brahmins are the highest caste…heirs of Brahmā.’”

“What do you think, Assalāyana? [152]
Suppose a head-anointed noble king were to assemble here a hundred men of different birth and say to them: ‘Come, sirs, let any here who have been born into a noble clan or a brahmin clan or a royal clan take an upper fire-stick of sāla wood, salala wood, sandalwood, or padumaka wood and light a fire and produce heat. And also let any who have been born into an outcast clan, a trapper clan, a wicker workers’ clan, a cartwrights’ clan, or a scavengers’ clan take an upper fire-stick made from a dog’s drinking trough, from a pig’s trough, from a dustbin, or from castor-oil wood and light a fire and produce heat.’

“What do you think, Assalāyana?
When a fire is lit and heat is produced by someone in the first group, would that fire have a flame, a colour, and a radiance, and would it be possible to use it for the purposes of fire, while when a fire is lit and heat is produced by someone of the second group, that fire would have no flame, no colour, and no radiance, and it would not be possible to use it for the purposes of fire?”
“No, Master Gotama. When a fire is lit and heat is produced by someone in the first group, that fire would have a flame, a colour, and a radiance, and it would be possible to use it for the purposes of fire. And when a fire is lit and heat is produced by someone of the second group, that fire too would have a flame, a colour, and a radiance, and it would be possible to use it for the purposes of fire. For all fire has a flame, [153] a colour, and a radiance, and it is possible to use all fire for the purposes of fire.”

“Then on the strength of what [argument] or with the support of what [authority] do the brahmins in this case say thus: ‘Brahmins are the highest caste…heirs of Brahmā’?”

§ 12. “Although Master Gotama says this, still the brahmins think thus:
‘Brahmins are the highest caste…heirs of Brahmā.’”

“What do you think, Assalāyana?
Suppose a noble youth were to cohabit with a brahmin girl, and a son was born from their cohabitation. Should a son born from a noble youth and a brahmin girl be called a noble after the father or a brahmin after the mother?”
“He could be called both, Master Gotama.”

§ 13. “What do you think, Assalāyana?
Suppose a brahmin youth here were to cohabit with a noble girl, and a son were to be born from their cohabitation.
Should the son born from a brahmin youth and a noble girl be called a noble after the mother or a brahmin after the father?”
“He could be called both, Master Gotama.”

§ 14. “What do you think, Assalāyana?
Suppose a mare were to be mated with a male donkey, and a foal were to be born as the result. Should the foal be called a horse after the mother or a donkey after the father?”
“It is a mule, Master Gotama, since it does not belong to either kind. [154] I see the difference in this last case, but I see no difference in either of the former cases.”

§ 15. “What do you think, Assalāyana?
Suppose there were two brahmin students who were brothers, born of the same mother, one studious and acute, and one neither studious nor acute. Which of them would brahmins feed first at a funeral feast, or at a ceremonial milk-rice offering, or at a sacrificial feast, or at a feast for guests?”

“On such occasions, brahmins would feed first the one who was studious and acute, Master Gotama; for how could what is given to one who is neither studious nor acute bring great fruit?”

§ 16. “What do you think, Assalāyana?
Suppose there were two brahmin students who were brothers, born of the same mother, one studious and acute, but immoral and of bad character, and one neither studious nor acute, but virtuous and of good character.
Which of them would brahmins feed first at a funeral feast, or at a ceremonial milk-rice offering, or at a sacrificial feast, or at a feast for guests?”

“On such occasions, brahmins would feed first the one who was neither studious nor acute, but virtuous and of good character, Master Gotama; for how could what is given to one who is immoral and of bad character bring great fruit?”

§ 17. “First, Assalāyana, you took your stand on birth, and after that you took your stand on scriptural learning, and after that you have come to take your stand on the very ground that purification is for all four castes, as I describe it.”
When this was said, the brahmin student Assalāyana sat silent and dismayed, with shoulders drooping and head down, glum, and without response. Knowing this, the Blessed One said to him:

§ 18. “Once, Assalāyana, when seven brahmin seers were consulting together in leaf huts in the forest, this pernicious view arose in them: ‘Brahmins are the highest caste…[155]…heirs of Brahmā.’ Now the seer Devala the Dark heard this.874

[874:- MA identifies Devala the Dark, Asita Devala, with the Buddha in an earlier life. The Buddha undertakes this teaching to show: “In the past, when you were of a superior birth and I was of an inferior birth, you could not answer a question I asked you about an assertion concerning birth. So how can you do so now, when you are inferior and I have become a Buddha?”]

Then he arranged his hair and beard, dressed in ochre-coloured garments, put on stout sandals, and taking a staff made of gold, he appeared in the courtyard of the seven brahmin seers. Then, while walking up and down the courtyard of the seven brahmin seers, the seer Devala the Dark spoke thus:
‘Where have those worthy brahmin seers gone? Where have those worthy brahmin seers gone?’ Then the seven brahmin seers thought:
‘Who is walking up and down in the courtyard of the seven brahmin seers like a village lout speaking thus: “Where have those worthy brahmin seers gone? Where have those worthy brahmin seers gone?” Let us curse him!’

Then the seven brahmin seers cursed the seer Devala the Dark thus: ‘Be ashes, vile one! Be ashes, vile one!’ But the more the seven brahmin seers cursed him, the more comely, beautiful, and handsome the seer Devala the Dark became.

Then the seven brahmin seers thought: ‘Our asceticism is in vain, our holy life is fruitless; for formerly when we cursed anyone thus: “Be ashes, vile one! Be ashes, vile one!” he always became ashes; but the more we curse this one, the more comely, beautiful, and handsome he becomes.’

“‘Your asceticism is not in vain, sirs, your holy life is not fruitless. But, sirs, put away your hatred towards me.’ [156]
“‘We have put away our hatred towards you, sir. Who are you?’
“‘Have you heard of the seer Devala the Dark, sirs?’—
‘Yes, sir.’—
‘I am he, sirs.’

“Then the seven brahmin seers went to the seer Devala the Dark and paid homage to him. Then he said to them: ‘Sirs, I heard that while the seven brahmin seers were dwelling in leaf huts in the forest, this pernicious view arose in them:
“Brahmins are the highest caste…heirs of Brahmā.”’—
‘That is so, sir.’
“‘But, sirs, do you know if the mother who bore you went only with a brahmin and never with a non-brahmin?’—
‘No, sir.’
“‘But, sirs, do you know if your mother’s mothers back to the seventh generation went only with brahmins and never with non-brahmins?’—
‘No, sir.’
“‘But, sirs, do you know if the father who begot you went only with a brahmin woman and never with a non-brahmin woman?’—
‘No, sir.’
“‘But, sirs, do you know if your father’s fathers back to the seventh generation went only with brahmin women and never with non-brahmin women?’—
‘No, sir.’
“‘But, sirs, do you know how the descent of an embryo comes about?’

§ 19. “‘Sir, we know how the descent of an embryo comes about. [157] Here, there is the union of the mother and father, and the mother is in season, and the gandhabba is present. Thus the descent of an embryo comes about through the union of these three things.’875

[875:- As in MN 38.26. MA: The gandhabba is the being arriving there. It is not someone (i.e., a disembodied spirit) standing nearby watching the future parents having intercourse, but a being driven on by the mechanism of kamma, due to be reborn on that occasion.
The exact import of the word gandhabba in relation to the rebirth process is not explained in the Nikāyas, and the word in this sense occurs only here and at 93.18. DN 15 Maha Nidana Sutta/ii.63 speaks of consciousness as “descending into the mother’s womb,” this being a condition for rebirth to take place. Thus we might identify the gandhabba here as the stream of consciousness, conceived more animistically as coming over from the previous existence and bringing along its
total accumulation of kammic tendencies and personality traits. The fullest study of the concept of the gandhabba is Wijesekera, “Vedic Gandharva and Pali Gandhabba,” in Buddhist and Vedic Studies, pp. 191–202.

. Note that the dialogue just below establishes the meaning of gandhabba as the deceased being about to be reborn.]

‘Then, sirs, do you know for sure whether that gandhabba is a noble, or a brahmin, or a merchant, or a worker?’
“‘Sir, we do not know for sure whether that gandhabba is a noble, or a brahmin, or a merchant, or a worker.’
“‘That being so, sirs, then what are you?’
“‘That being so, sir, we do not know what we are.’
“Now, Assalāyana, even those seven brahmin seers, on being pressed and questioned and cross-questioned by the seer Devala the Dark on their own assertion about birth, were unable to support it. But how shall you, on being pressed and questioned and cross-questioned by me now on your assertion about birth, be able to support it? You, who rely on the teachers’ doctrines, are not [even fit to be] their spoon-holder Puṇṇa.”876

[876:- MA: Punna was the name of a servant of the seven seers; he would take a spoon, cook leaves, and serve them.]

§ 19. When this was said, the brahmin student Assalāyana said to the Blessed One:
“Magnificent, Master Gotama! Magnificent, Master Gotama! Master Gotama has made the Dhamma clear in many ways, as though he were turning upright what had been overthrown, revealing what was hidden, showing the way to one who was lost, or holding up a lamp in the dark for those with eyesight to see forms.

I go to Master Gotama for refuge and to the Dhamma and to the Sangha of bhikkhus. From today let Master Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has gone to him for refuge for life.”

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