Making the suttas accessible

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom

Making the suttas accessible

Postby THancock » Mon Feb 23, 2009 3:28 pm

I am interested in presenting material from the Tipitaka in a truly accessible form for modern American readers. Even excellent works such as those by Bikkhu Bodhi (whom I thank deeply for his efforts) contain some unfamiliar words that could be off-putting. In a sense, I want to create a way to sneak into the camp of those unfamiliar with Buddhism and lead them to the more solid food later. Of course the wisdom of this approach is debatable.

The following is an attempt at presenting an excerpt of the Assalayana Sutta. For technical words which are unavoidable I will provide a glossary. See the link at:
http://www.catbert.us/purification_is_f ... castes.htm to see the HTML-formatted excerpt.

Please let me know what you think. I live in an area of the world where there is very little known about Buddhism among the general citizenry and so I welcome your comments.

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Purification is available to all people
From the Majjihima Nikaya 93: Assalayana Sutta (abridged)
To the young man Assalayana


Thus have I heard: The Blessed One was abiding in the monastery offered by Anaathapindika in Jeta’s grove in Saavatthi. At that time about 500 Brahmins had come to Saavatthi for some business and were living in Saavatthi.

It occurred to the Brahmins:

"This recluse Gotama declares the purity of the four castes. Who is able to dispute with the recluse Gotama on these words?"

At that time a young man named Assalayana lived in Saavatthi. He was 16 years old, with a shaved head, and was learned in the three Vedas. He knew the rites and rituals as officiating priest; he knew the phonology and etymology of words; he could recognized the traits of a Great Man.

Then it occurred to the Brahmins:

"This learned young man Assalayana . . . is able to dispute with the recluse Gotama on this matter of the purity of the four castes."

The Brahmins approached the young man and said:

"The recluse Gotama declares the purity of the four castes. Come, good Assalayana, dispute with the recluse Gotama on this subject."

"The recluse Gotama speaks the truth," Assalayana said to the Brahmins. "It is difficult to dispute with those speaking the truth. It is not possible that I could dispute this with him."

The Brahmins urged him several more times. Finally Assalayana agreed to dispute with Gotama, but he said, "Indeed I will not win, because the good recluse Gotama tells the truth, and it is difficult to dispute with those who speak the truth. Yet I will go to satisfy you good ones."

So Assalayana, together with a large gathering of Brahmins, approached the Blessed One, exchanged friendly greetings and sat at his side.

Assalayana said:

"Good Gotama, Brahmins say, 'Brahmins are from the highest caste, the others are low. Brahmins are pure, the others impure. Brahmins become pure, the others do not. Brahmins are the legitimate sons of Brahmaa, born of his mouth, born of him, with his sign and heritage.' What has good Gotama to say about this?"

Equality at Birth

The Blessed One said, "Assalayana, among Brahmins I see women giving birth in the usual way. Since they are born from a womb, can the Brahmins say, 'Brahmins are from the highest caste, the others are low. Brahmins are pure, the others impure. Brahmins become pure, the others do not. Brahmins are the legitimate sons of Brahmaa, born of his mouth, born of him, with his sign and heritage?’"

Assalayana replied, "Whatever good Gotama says, the Brahmins still think they are born, in the highest caste, the others are low . . . and Brahmans are born with Brahmaa's sign and heritage."

One's Caste Can Change

The Blessed One said,"Assalayana, have you heard of Greece, Cambodiya, and other bordering states? They have only two castes, masters and slaves. In the course of time a master may become a slave, and a slave becomes a master."

"Yes Gotama, I have heard of this," Assalayana replied.

"Assalayana, when this is so, with what powers and convictions do the Brahmins say that they are the highest caste, the others are low . . . ?"

Assalayana replied, "Whatever good Gotama says, the Brahmins still think they are born, in the highest caste, the others are low . . . and Brahmans are born with Brahmaa's sign and heritage."

Neglecting the Path Harms All

The Blessed One said, "Assalayana, is not any person--a warrior, an ordinary man, or a slave--who destroys life, takes what is not given, misbehaves in sexuality, lies, slanders, talks roughly, talks frivolously, covets, bears an angry mind and has wrong view--after death is he not born in hell and not as a Brahmin?"

"Yes, Gotama," Assalayana replied, "a warrior, a Brahmin, an ordinary man or a slave, who destroys life, takes what is not given, misbehaves in sexuality, lies, slanders, talks roughly, talks frivolously, covets, bears an angry mind and has wrong view--after death any would be born in hell."

The Blessed One said, "Asslaayana, when this is so, with what powers and convictions do the Brahmins say that they are the highest caste and that the others are low. . . . and Brahmans are born with Brahmaa's sign and heritage?"

Assalayana replied, " Whatever good Gotama says, the Brahmins think they are born, in the highest caste, the others are low. . . . and Brahmans are born with Brahmaa's sign and heritage.’’

Following the Path Benefits All

The Blessed One said, "Assalayana, is it only a Brahmin--who abstains from destroying life, taking what is not given, does not misbehave in sexuality, does not lie, slander, talk roughly, or talk frivolously, does not covet and bear an angry mind and has right view--who after death would be born in heaven?

Assalayana replied, "No, good Gotama. A warrior, a Brahmin, an ordinary man, or a slave: all who abstain from destroying life, taking what is not given, do not misbehave in sexuality, do not lie, slander, talk roughly, or talk frivolously, do not covet and bear an angry mind and have right view--any after death would be born in heaven.

The Blessed One said, "Asslaayana, when this is so, with what powers and convictions do the Brahmins say that they are the highest caste and that the others are low. . . . and Brahmans are born with Brahmaa's sign and heritage?’’

Assalayana replied, "Whatever good Gotama says, the Brahmins say they are born in the highest caste, the others are low. . . . and Brahmans are born with Brahmaa's sign and heritage.’’

Everyone Can Develop Loving-Kindness

The Blessed One said, "Assalayana, are only the Brahmins in this region capable, to develop the thought of loving-kindness without anger and ill will, not the warriors, the ordinary class, or the slaves?"

Assalayana replied, "Good Gotama, that is not so, the warriors in this region are able to develop the thought of loving-kindness without anger and ill will, also the Brahmins, the ordinary class and the slaves. It is possible for all four castes in this region to develop the thought of loving-kindness."

The Blessed One said, "Assalayana, when this is so, with what powers and convictions do the Brahmins say that they are the highest caste and that the others are low. . . . and Brahmans are born with Brahmaa's sign and heritage?’’

Assalayana replied, "Whatever good Gotama says, the Brahmins say they are born in the highest caste, the others are low. . . . and Brahmans are born with Brahmaa's sign and heritage.’’

Nature Knows No Discrimination

The Blessed One said, "Assalayana, a fire is lit by each: one born in a great hall, one under a sweet scented tree, one under a Chandana tree, one in a lotus. Likewsie is a fire lit by one born among animals or in a wild field. Would not each fire give the flame, color, and lustre that is common to all fires?"

Assalayana replied, "Good Gotama, it is the same for a fire lit by each: one born in a great hall, one under a sweet scented tree, one under a Chandana tree, one in a lotus. Likewise it is the same of a fire lit by one born among animals or in a wild field. Each fire would give the flame, color, and lustre that is common to all fires and it is possible to do whatever work that has to be done with fire."

The Blessed One said, "Asslaayana, when this is so, with what powers and convictions do the Brahmins say that they are the highest caste and that the others are low. . . . and Brahmans are born with Brahmaa's sign and heritage?’’

Assalayana replied, "Whatever good Gotama says, the Brahmins say they are born in the highest caste, the others are low. . . . and Brahmans are born with Brahmaa's sign and heritage.’’

Individuals Are Born Outside of Caste

The Blessed One said, "Assalayana, a warrior prince lives with a Brahmin maiden and to them a son is born. Is that son known as a warrior, for the prince, or a Brahmin, for the maiden?

"Good Gotama," Assalayana replied, "that son born of the warrior prince and the Brahmin maiden, according to the father should be known a ‘warrior’ and according to the mother a ‘brahmin.' "

The Blessed One said, "Assalayana, a Brahmin prince lives with a warrior maiden and to them a son is born. Is that son known as a warrior after the maiden, or a Brahmin after the prince?

‘Good Gotama, that son born of the Brahmin prince and the warrior maiden, according to the father should be known a ‘Brahmin’ and according to the mother a ‘warrior.’ "

The Blessed One said, "Assalayana, suppose a mare were to be mated with a male donkey. Is that foal known as a 'horse' after the mother or as a 'donkey' after the male?

Assalayana replied, "Good Gotama, neither is the case because the foal is of neither kind. A mule is born."

Neither Caste Nor Learning Is Sufficient

The Blessed One said, "Assalayana, there are two young brothers, sons of the same mother, one is a Brahmin scholar, of mature age, the other is neither a scholar nor of mature age. Of them which one do the Brahmins first attend with faith, with milk rice, with the sacrificial cake, or with hospitality?"

"Good Gotama, the Brahmins would first attend on the brahmanic scholar who has come of age, with faith, with milk rice, the sacrificial cake, with hospitality. Will there be much merit making offerings to the non-scholar not come of age?"

"Assalayana, there are two young brothers, sons of the same mother. One is a Brahmin scholar, of mature age, but unvirtuous and evil. The other is neither a scholar nor of mature age, but practices virtue and good conduct. Of them which one do the Brahmins first attend with faith, with milk rice, with the sacrificial cake, or with hospitality?"

"Good Gotama, the Brahmins would first attend on the non-scholar, who has not come of age, who is virtuous and with good conduct, with faith, with milk rice, with the sacrificial cake, with hospitality. How could there be much merit making offerings to the unvirtuous evil one?"

The Blessed One said, "Assalayana, first you came with the purity of the Brahmins, then came with the brahmanic scriptures. Now you have turned away from 'the purity of the four castes,' as I have shown it to you."

When this was said the young man Assalayana became silent and confused, his body bent, and face cast down. He sat down not knowing what to say.

Then the Blessed One knew that the young man had become distraught with confusion and consoled him with his teaching.
THancock
 
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