https://discourse.suttacentral.net/t/a- ... ion/6210/5
- We don’t really know of many groups of yogis in the Buddha’s time. Alara and Uddaka don’t seem to have been part of the samaṇa movement. The structure of the bodhisatta’s practice pre-awakening seems designed to show how he practiced to the utmost of what was available at the time. Clearly the austerities are Jain-like, so by elimination, Upanishadic yogis are the most likely
At least one of the key contexts, MN 26, is set in a brahmin’s hermitage.
“Rāmaputta” sounds very much like a brahmin name. Uddaka (= Udraka) is the name of a brahmanical rishi 6.
Uddaka’s saying criticized by the Buddha in DN 29, “one sees but does not see”, referring to a razor’s edge, is reminiscent of Upanishadic style teachings about the imminent Self; for example, Uddālaka’s teaching on the split banyan seed in the Chandogya.
The students of Alara and Uddaka began by memorizing the texts (oṭṭhapahatamattena lapitalāpanamattena). We don’t have any evidence for any religious texts other than the Brahmanical at this time. (The Jains and others may well have had texts, but we have no evidence for it.)
The students were practicing within a lineage or tradition. We have reference to theravāda, sakaṃ ācariyakaṃ, as well as the detail that Rāmaputta is following in the footsteps of Rāma, his (spiritual or biological) father. Most of the samana movements claimed, like the Buddha’s, to have been established by their founders (Jainism being an exception.)
The students learned the five faculties, a set of dhammas that have many connections with things in the Upanishads, and which are featured prominently in the (admittedly later and philosophically divergent) Yogasutra (śraddhāvīryasmṛtisamādhiprajñāpūrvaka itareṣām || YS_1.20 ||)
Having mastered the five faculties, including jhana under samādhi, the highest teachings are the arupas. These have many affinities with Upanishadic teachings. And elsewhere, advanced brahmin yogis are cloesely associated with these, especially in the Parayanavagga.
The Pali commentary seems to assume they were brahmins. I haven’t looked into this with any detail, but a quick glance at the commentary to MN 26 shows that they depict Alara as referring to the Marks of a Great Man, which of course was regarded as a brahmanical idea.
As so often in these studies, no single criteria is decisive. But multiple independent criteria are all easily explained by a single, simple, and obvious hypothesis. Since there is, so far as I know, no counter-evidence or convincing alternative hypothesis, I regard this as probably the correct explanation.
This was of course a time when the Upanishads were beginning to be constructed, as some Brahmins moved from ritual and sacrifice to a more contemplative and philosophical spirituality. Now, as we know Āḷāra Kālāma & Uddaka Rāmaputta were masters in the formless attainments. A problem then arises in viewing them as followers of the Upanishads, as in DN1 and it's parallels we are told that the formless attainments are the basis for annihilationist views. This is also found in the parallels to the sutta, as Ven. Anālayo's findings show here:
https://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg ... o/ebms.pdfDN 1 at DN I 37,1 and its parallels DĀ 21 at T I 93b20, T 21 at T I 269c22, a Tibetan discourse parallel in Weller 1934: 58,3 (§191), a discourse quotation in the *Śāriputrābhidharma, T 1548 at T XXVIII 660b24, and a discourse quotation in D 4094 ju 152a4 or Q 5595 tu 175a8. The same versions also attribute the arising of annihilationist views to the immaterial attainments (for Sanskrit fragments corresponding to the section on annihilationism see also Hartmann 1989: 54 and SHT X 4189, Wille 2008: 307).
Regarding the annihilationist doctrine we find a denial of atta, as shown here:
'I would not be, neither would there be what is mine. I will not be, neither will there be what is mine.'
This view is said to be close to non-clinging and out of all of the speculative metaphysics doing the rounds at the time, this is said to be the foremost view:
https://suttacentral.net/an10.29/en/bodhi(8) “Bhikkhus, of the speculative views held by outsiders, this is the foremost, namely: ‘I might not be and it might not be mine; I shall not be, and it will not be mine.’ For it can be expected that one who holds such a view will not be unrepelled by existence and will not be repelled by the cessation of existence. There are beings who hold such a view. But even for beings who hold such a view there is alteration; there is change. Seeing this thus, the instructed noble disciple becomes disenchanted with it; being disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate toward the foremost, not to speak of what is inferior.
Two things in relation to this. First, we are told that upon his awakening the Buddha wanted to find Āḷāra Kālāma & Uddaka Rāmaputta, his former teachers, as they would easily grasp the Dhamma and awakening. Sadly, they had already died but the fact that he sought out Āḷāra Kālāma & Uddaka Rāmaputta first could perhaps be because they held the foremost view among the ascetics, namely the annihilationist doctrine. This would match the general character of the annihilationist doctrine, which is close to non-clinging, and would explain their use of the formless attainments. It is believable that an annihilationist would wish to turn away from conceptualisation and so would seek the gradual abandoning up conceptualisation (or perception, if you prefer), all the way to Nothingness or neither-conceptualisation-nor-non-conceptualisation. In MN 106 we are told the view/reflection of ""I don’t belong to anyone anywhere! And nothing belongs to me anywhere!’" can be an entry into Nothingness, which is perhaps a form of the annihilationist view. The commentaries themselves identify this as being a common non-Buddhist view of the time. If these dots match up and the theory is true then Āḷāra Kālāma & Uddaka Rāmaputta would have been Brahmins who eventually turned their back on the Upanishads in favour of annihilationism, being disgusted and repelled by existence and so seeking oblivion in the formless. The Buddha then would have started his career as an annihilationist who was seeking escape from dukkha via being repelled by existence and conceptualisation/perception, before he turned to more Jain like methods and, eventually, the 4 Jhānā.
If Āḷāra Kālāma & Uddaka Rāmaputta were Brahmins turned annihilationists it could also explain why other Brahmins treated at least Rāmaputta (or his father) with scorn:
AN 4.187This King Eḷeyya is a fool to be so devoted to Rāmaputta. He even shows him the utmost deference by bowing down to him, rising up for him, greeting him with joined palms, and observing proper etiquette for him. Yamaka, Moggalla, Ugga, Nāvindakī, Gandhabba, and Aggivessa—for they show the same kind of deference to Rāmaputta.’