Vāseṭṭha Sutta | Sn III-9


9. Vāseṭṭha Sutta

Discourse on the Young Brahmin Vāseṭṭha

Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Buddha was staying in the forest of Icchānaṅgala near the market town of Icchānaṅgala.

At that time well-known Brahmins of great wealth such as Sanki, Tarukkha, Pokkharasāti, Jāṇussoṇi, Todeyya, as well as a number of other wealthy Brahmins of distinction, were sojourning in the town.

It was then that 2 young Brahmins named Vāseṭṭha and Bhāradvāja, while taking a stroll, picked up the topic of Who, right and proper, is a Brahman?

Bhāradvāja said,

One comes of parents, of pure caste. The mother’s chastity is never in doubt.

The ancestors, back to the 7th generation, have all been unblemished, with no rejection or disgrace on account of caste.

Friend Vāseṭṭha, that sort of person is a Brāhmaṇa, right and proper.

But Vāseṭṭha (had a different opinion:) he said,

He is virtuous and of good conduct:
these qualities (alone) make a Brāhmaṇa, right and proper.

Thereupon Vāseṭṭha said to Bhāradvāja,

Friend Bhāradvāja, Bhikkhu Gotama, a Śākya Prince of the House of Śākya, who has become a Bhikkhu, is now sojourning in the town of Icchānaṅgala.

This Venerable Gotama’s reputation has spread far and wide as follows: ... (sic.)

He is also known as the Buddha because he discovers the Four Noble Truths; he is also known as Bhagavān because he possesses miraculous powers.

Friend Bhāradvāja, let’s go to him and ask this problem. Let’s take his decision in it: Bhāradvāja agreed All right, friend Vāseṭṭha.

Then the 2 friends approached where the Buddha was staying, and after an exchange of greetings and courteous compliments, they sat at a (suitable) place.

Thus seated, Vāseṭṭha addressed the Buddha in the following stanzas:

599. Sir, both of us Brahmins have been declared by our Masters, and admitted by us too, that we have mastered the 3 Vedas.

I belong (as pupil) to Pokkharasāti, and he to Tarukkha. (1)

600. We are well accomplished in the Pada (the Scholarship) and the analytical grammar, the traditional texts included in the 3 Vedas. We are capable of making exegeses on those Books. In Vedic speech we are (said to be) equal to our masters. (2)

601. Venerable Gotama, we have a dispute bearing on caste:

Bhāradvāja says: A Brahman is one who is born a Brahman, whereas I say a Brahman is one who acts as a Brahman.

Whether by caste, or by deed, a Brahman is to be known this kindly note, Sir, is our dispute in essence. (3)

602. Each of us is unable to convince the other; so have we come, for the answer to the puzzle, to the Buddha, well-renowned as the One who knows all things in their reality. (4)

603. In much the same manner as the Moon-worshipper would worship the full moon that’s past waning; we worship you in all reverence, Gotama, Sir. (5)

604. O Buddha, the-Eye-to-all-the-would, we beg of you to answer this, by caste, or by deed, is a Brahman to be known?

Kindly enlighten us on what a Brāhmaṇa actually means. (6)

605. (The Buddha said:) Vāseṭṭha, I will explain to you all about caste in this world.

Caste, or call it, by right of birth, indeed there are a good many of them, each in his or its own right. (7)

606. You know the grass or the different kinds of grass, now although these grasses do not acknowledge their kind or origin; their characteristics vary according to each kind. (8)

607. Further, you know worms, moths (grass hoppers), ants and fleas. All of them have characteristics peculiar to their own kind. (9)

608. Quadrupeds, too, you know, some small, some big; all of them have characteristics peculiar to their own kind. (10)

609. You know snakes also, the crawling, long bodied things, (animals) all of them have characteristics peculiar to their own kind. (11)

610. Furthermore, fishes also you know them. Those aquatic animals too have characteristics peculiar to their own kind. (12)

611. Then, you know the birds, the winged animals that fly in the sky. They too have characteristics peculiar to their own kind. (13)

612. All the animals as said above, have as many different characteristics as there are kinds of them.

Not so, however, with men. Man is not marked by birth. Diverse origins do not show up in a diversity of human characteristics. (14)

613. No really peculiar characteristics can one notice either in the hair, or in the head, or ears, or eyes, or mouth, or in nose, or lips, or eyebrows that would proclaim a man’s birth. (15)

614. Nor are any peculiar characteristics found in shoulder, stomach back, waist, chest, nor in the sexual practice, that would proclaim a man’s birth. (16)

615. Nor are any peculiar characteristics found in the limps, or finger nails, or calf, or thigh; nor in complexion, nor in voice, which would proclaim a man’s birth.

It is unlike in the case of vegetation or animals where peculiar characteristics are marked by birth. (17)

616. With man, (be he Brahmin or anyone else), no peculiar characteristics are there on the body of individuals even though there are no differences physically, and people are called Brahmans or Khattiyas by different names, merely by nomenclature. (18)

617. With man, whoever tills the soil for a living is called a cultivator not Brāhmaṇa. Thus should you note, Vāseṭṭha. (19)

618. With man, whoever makes a living on various arts or crafts is called an artisan, not a Brāhmaṇa. Thus should you note, Vāseṭṭha. (20)

619. With man, whoever makes a living by trading is called a trader, not a Brāhmaṇa. Thus should you note, Vāseṭṭha. (21)

620. With man, whoever makes a living by serving others is called a servant, not a Brāhmaṇa. Thus should you note, Vāseṭṭha. (22)

621. With man, whoever makes a living by stealing, is called a thief, not a Brahman. Thus should you note, Vāseṭṭha. (23)

622. With man, whoever makes a living by archery or wielding arms, is called a warrior, not a Brāhmaṇa. Thus should you note, Vāseṭṭha. (24)

623. With man, whoever makes a living as a purohita priest, is called a sacrificial priest, not a Brahman. Thus should you note, Vāseṭṭha. (25)

624. With man, whoever exacts taxes from villages or provinces is called Rāja, not a Brahman. Thus should you note, Vāseṭṭha. (26)

625. (Vāseṭṭha,) One born of a Brahmin mother, I do not call a Brahman, if he has any cares or passion, he is a mere Brahmin! He who has no cares or attachment, I call a Brahmin. (27)

626. (Vāseṭṭha,) he, who had cut off all fetters, remains without anxiety, had overcome attachments and is free from defilements, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (28)

627. (Vāseṭṭha,) he who has broken loose the leather straps (malice) the binding cords (craving), and fetters (inclinations to cling to false views), and removed the main door-bolt (ignorance), thereby gaining knowledge of the Four Truths, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (29)

628. (Vāseṭṭha,) he who bears with abuse, assault or bondage with fortitude, with patience as his prime strength like the strength of an army in array, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (30)

629. (Vāseṭṭha,) he who is not angered, who has clean conduct, Virtuous, devoid of desires, tamed, bearing the last burden of the body, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (31)

630. (Vāseṭṭha,) in as much as lotus-leaf is unwetted by the water or the mustard seed can not stand on the chisel’s blade. So also he who is unpolluted by sensuality, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (32)

631. (Vāseṭṭha,) right here in this existence, he discerns dukkha’s end (Nibbāna), who is bound to lay down the burden of existence, and who is free from defilements, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (33)

632. (Vāseṭṭha,) he who is profound in knowledge, who has discernment and distinguishes right from wrong and who has achieved the highest and (Nibbāna), I call a Brāhmaṇa. (34)

633. (Vāseṭṭha,) not living in the society of either Bhikkhus or laymen, he who strives for freedom from attachment to the world and who has few wants, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (35)

634. (Vāseṭṭha,) he who has laid down the road towards the frail (worldling) or towards the firm (Arahant), and who is above killing or causing killing, I call l Brāhmaṇa. (36)

635. (Vāseṭṭha,) he who seeks concord within the discordant, who meets violence with meekness and peace, who is detached where attachment is prone, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (37)

636. (Vāseṭṭha,) he who has released all passions, anger, vanity and hypocrisy, just like the mustard seed that never stays on the chisel’s blade, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (38)

637. (Vāseṭṭha,) he who is never hard on anyone, who uses soft, plain, truthful language, without a trace of anger, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (39)

638. (Vāseṭṭha,) he who never takes anything in the world that is not given him, whether a long one, or a short one, small or big, good or bad, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (40)

639. (Vāseṭṭha,) he who has no desire for this world or for the next, and being at desire’s end, is free from defilements, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (41)

640. (Vāseṭṭha,) he who has no interests either in the meritorious or unmeritorious actions, who has cast aside attachments, and therefore is free from sorrow, free from any mote of defilement and pure, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (42)

641. (Vāseṭṭha,) he has no more worldly interest knowing the Truth, he has no scepticism. Such a one who has conquered death, realised Nibbāna, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (43)

642. (Vāseṭṭha,) like the moon in a clear sky, he, whose mind is pure and clear due to its serenity, wherein lust for life is extinct, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (44)

643. (Vāseṭṭha,) he who has crossed the dangerous quagmire (human passion), the impassable route (defilements), the vast ocean (saṁsāra), and has reached the other shore,

who, having passed through the greatest darkness (delusion), is burning away all defilements so that desire and scepticism are extinct, and dwells in supreme calmness resulting from an absence of clinging I call a Brāhmaṇa. (45)

644. (Vāseṭṭha,) he who in this world has abandoned sensuality, and not setting up a home, become a Bhikkhu, who has exhausted sensuality and existence, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (46)

645. (Vāseṭṭha,) he who in this world has abandoned craving, and not setting up a home, becomes a Bhikkhu, who has exhausted craving and existence, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (47)

646. (Vāseṭṭha,) he who has abandoned hankering after any form of existence, be it human or celestial—and remains detached to existence, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (48)

647. (Vāseṭṭha,) he, who has surpassed love of pleasure and a distaste for seclusion, who has found peace, who has without any substrata of existence, and who has conquered life with resolve, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (49)

648. (Vāseṭṭha,) he, who has won penetrative Insight-knowledge concerning all death and all rebirths of all beings, who is free from attachment, who walks the Noble Path, and who discerns the Noble Truths, I call a Brahman. (50)

649. (Vāseṭṭha,) he, whose destiny (hereafter) no Deva nor Gandharva nor Man could know, who has rid of all moral taint and attained Arahatship, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (51)

650. (Vāseṭṭha,) he, who does not care for all existence, whether of the past, or the future, or the present, who is undefiled, who does not crave, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (52)

651. (Vāseṭṭha,) he, who is great as the leader-bull in a herd, diligent, prone to self-purification, victorious evil, devoid of defilements, having washed off all moral taints, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (53)

652. (Vāseṭṭha,) he, who knows by Insight-knowledge past existence, who can see the celestial worlds and the neither words, who has attained Arahatship wherein rebirth ceases, I call a Brāhmaṇa. (54)

653. In this world, various schemes exist to signify caste or lineage, but all of those are mere nomenclature, nothing else; what’s a name, after all? Just verbal expression. (Yet) from the time of a person’s birth, various names are suggested for the newly-born. (55)

654. For a long, long time, the ignorant labour under false views; unknowingly they claim, A Brāhmaṇa is one who is born a Brāhmaṇa. (56)

655. Birth does not either confer or deny Brahman hood; It is, by one’s volitional actions that Brāhmaṇa is made, and by one’s volitional actions that Brahman hood is denied. (57)

656. One who does cultivation is a cultivator; who carries on arts and crafts - an artisan; who carries on trade - a trader; who serves - a servant. (58)

657. One who steals is a thief; who bears arms and fights, a warrior; who undertakes sacrifices, a sacrificial priest; who rules and exacts taxes, a king. (59)

658. Wise men who understand the causal-origination of life and see the worldlings of actions and their resultants know the above said truth as it really is. (60)

659. The world is made up of actions. All beings are the product of (their own) actions.

Just like the turning wheel is put in place by the linchpin so also they are bound where they are, by their own actions. (61)

660. Through self-denial the noble practice, abstinence and self-discipline, a Brāhmaṇa is made. In this way is a Brāhmaṇa a great man. (62)

661. One, who is endowed with the Three Kinds of Great Knowledge, whose passions have been stilled, who has reached the end of rebirth, is, according to the knowing ones, a Brahma, a Sakka; Thus should you note, Vāseṭṭha. (63)

When the Buddha had said thus, Vāseṭṭha and Bhāradvāja both gleefully said, Excellent, Venerable Gotama, excellent; ... (sic) From this day on, till we die, please take us as your disciples.

End of the Ninth Vāseṭṭha Sutta