Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Long Discourses

26. Knowledge of the Three Vedas

1. Thus I have heard:[1] One time, the Buddha was travelling among the people of Kośala accompanied by a large assembly of 1,250 monks. He went to the Kośala priest village of Icchānaṅgala and stopped to rest in a citron grove.

2. A priest named Puṣkarasārin and another named [Tārukkha][2] had gone to the village of Icchānaṅgala for some minor reason.

3. This priest Puṣkarasārin was descended from seven generations of fathers and mothers who were genuine [priests], so he wasn’t slighted by others. He had mastered the three Vedas and could discern all the various kinds of scriptures. He was also skilled in the techniques of [recognizing] the great man’s signs, divining fortune and misfortune, and [performing] sacrifices and rituals. He had 500 disciples whom he taught without exception.

4. He had a disciple named Vasiṣṭha who was descended from seven generations of fathers and mothers who were genuine [priests], so he wasn’t slighted by others. He had mastered the three Vedas and could discern all the various kinds of scriptures. He was also skilled in the techniques of [recognizing] the great man’s signs, divining fortune and misfortune, and [performing] sacrifices and rituals. He also had 500 disciples whom he taught without exception.

5. The priest [Tārukkha] was descended from seven generations of fathers and mothers who were genuine [priests], so he wasn’t slighted by others. He had mastered the three Vedas and could discern all the various kinds of scriptures. He was also skilled in the techniques of [recognizing] the great man’s signs, divining fortune and misfortune, and [performing] sacrifices and rituals. He had 500 disciples whom he taught without exception.

6. He had a disciple named Bhāradvāja who was descended from seven generations of fathers and mothers who were genuine [priests], so he wasn’t slighted by others. He had mastered the three Vedas and could discern all the various kinds of scriptures. He was also skilled in the techniques of [recognizing] the great man’s signs, divining fortune and misfortune, and [performing] sacrifices and rituals. He also had 500 disciples whom he taught without exception.

7. These two men, Vasiṣṭha and Bhāradvāja went to a park in the early morning. When they discussed doctrines, they contradicted one another. Vasiṣṭha said to Bhāradvāja, “My path is true. It can attain escape and arrive in Brahmā’s Heaven. This is the teaching of the priest Puṣkarasārin.” Bhāradvāja also said, “My path is true. It can attain escape and arrive in Brahmā’s Heaven. This is the teaching of the priest [Tārukkha].” Vasiṣṭha thus praised his own path as true three times, and Bhāradvāja also praised his own path as true three times. They continued their discussion, but neither was able to be decisive.

8. Vasiṣṭha then said to Bhāradvāja, “I heard that the ascetic Gautama of the Śākya clan, who had left the home life and achieved awakening, was travelling among the people of Kośala and now is staying in the grove at Icchānaṅgala. He possesses a great reputation that’s heard throughout the world: ‘He’s a Tathāgata, an Arhat, and a Completely Awakened One who has perfected the ten epithets. Among gods, worldly men, and demons, whether they’re in the assemblies of Māra and gods or ascetics and priests, he is self-realized and teaches the Dharma for others. It’s good in the beginning, middle, and end, complete in content and expression, and purifies the religious life.’

9. “Since he’s a realized person, we should go and meet him! I’ve heard that Gautama knows the way to Brahmā’s Heaven and teaches it for others. He frequently visits Brahmā’s Heaven to speak with him. We should go together to visit Gautama. He’ll settle this matter. If the ascetic Gautama has something to tell us, we should uphold it together, too.”

10. Vasiṣṭha and Bhāradvāja both went to the citron grove to visit the Bhagavān. After exchanging greetings, they sat to one side.

11. Knowing the thoughts in their minds, the Bhagavān then told Vasiṣṭha, “Both of you went to a grove in the early morning. When you had a discussion, you contradicted each other. One of you said, ‘My path is true. It can attain escape and arrive in Brahmā’s Heaven. This is the teaching of the priest Puṣkarasārin.’

“The other said, ‘My path is true. It can attain escape and arrive in Brahmā’s Heaven. This is the teaching of the priest [Tārukkha].’

“Thus, you contradicted each other three times. Is that what happened?”

12. Vasiṣṭha and Bhāradvāja were shocked when they heard the Buddha say this, and their hair stood up. They thought, “The ascetic Gautama possesses great miraculous virtue. He knows a person’s thoughts beforehand. The ascetic Gautama was the first to mention what we came wanting to discuss!”

13. Vasiṣṭha said to the Buddha, “My path and his path are both praised as true, achieving the escape and arriving at Brahmā’s Heaven. Is what’s taught by the priest Puṣkarasārin correct, or is it what’s taught by the priest [Tārukkha] that’s correct?”

14. The Buddha said, “Vasiṣṭha, even if it were this path or that path which is truly the escape and arrives at Brahmā’s Heaven, why did you contradict each other three times while you were in a grove this morning?”

15. Vasiṣṭha then said to the Buddha, “The priests possessing the three Vedas[3] teach various paths, such as the path of free desires, the self-realized path, and the path to Brahmā’s Heaven. All three paths lead to Brahmā’s heaven. Gautama, it’s like a village that has many roads that lead to its citadel. Although the priests teach various paths, they all lead to Brahmā’s Heaven.”

16. The Buddha asked Vasiṣṭha, “Do all of those paths arrive at Brahmā’s Heaven?”

He replied, “All of them arrive there.”

17. The Buddha asked him three times, “Do those various paths all arrive at Brahmā’s Heaven?”

He replied, “They all arrive there.”

18. After being certain of what he was saying, the Bhagavān asked Vasiṣṭha, “Is there anyone among those priests who possess the three Vedas who have seen Brahmā’s Heaven?”

He replied, “None of them have seen it.”

19. “How is it, Vasiṣṭha? Did any previous teacher of those priests who possess the three Vedas see Brahmā’s Heaven?”

He replied, “None of them saw it.”

20. “How is it, Vasiṣṭha? Going back to the priests of antiquity, there were sages who possessed the three insights who recited and mastered [the Vedas], taught the recitations for others, and chanted the hymns. Their names were the priests Aṣṭaka, [Vāmaka], Vāmadeva, Viśvāmitra, Aṅgiras, [Yamataggi], Vasiṣṭha, Kāśyapa, Aruṇa, Gautama, [Suyiva], and Sundara.[4] Did any of them see Brahmā’s Heaven?”

He answered, “None of them saw it.”

21. The Buddha said, “If not one of the priests who possess the three insights have seen Brahmā’s Heaven, none of the previous teachers of the priests who possess the three Vedas have seen Brahmā’s Heaven, and even the great sages of antiquity like the priest Aṣṭaka didn’t see Brahmā’s Heaven, we should know that the teachings of the priests who possess the three Vedas are untrue.”

22. He also told Vāsiṣṭha, “It’s like a lustful man who says, ‘I have a relationship with that beautiful woman. Praise the way of lust!’

23. “Someone else says, ‘Do you know that woman? Where is she? To the east, west, south, or north?’

“The man replied, ‘I don’t know.’

24. “He’s again asked, ‘Don’t you know the region, city, town, or village where that woman lives?’

“He replies, ‘I don’t know.’

25. “He’s again asked, ‘Do you know the family name of that woman’s parents?’

“He replies, ‘I don’t know.’

26. “Again, he’s asked, ‘Do you know if that woman is a warrior woman or a priest, householder, or worker woman?’

“He replies, ‘I don’t know.’

27. “Again, he’s asked, ‘Do you know if that woman is tall or short, crude or fine, dark or light, and beautiful or ugly?’

“He replies, ‘I don’t know.’

28. “How is it, Vāsiṣṭha? Does that man praise something that’s true?” Vāsiṣṭha replied, “It’s not true.”

29. “So it is, Vāsiṣṭha. The teachings of these priests who possess the three Vedas are the same. They have no reality. How is it, Vāsiṣṭha? Do your priests who possess the three Vedas watch the sun and moon travel between the places where they rise and set? Do they salute them with their hands together, make offerings, and say, ‘This path is true that attains the escape to the sun and moon’?”

He replied, “Yes, the priests who possess the three Vedas do see the sun and moon travel between the places where they rise and set. They salute them with their hands together and make offerings, but they can’t say, ‘This path is true that will attain the escape to the sun and moon.’”

30. “So it is, Vāsiṣṭha. The priests who possess the three Vedas watch the sun and moon travel between the places where they rise and set. They salute them with their hands together and make offerings, but they can’t say, ‘This path is true that will attain the escape to the sun and moon.’ Still, they routinely salute them with their hands together and make offerings. Isn’t that done in vain?”

He answered, “Yes, Gautama. That’s actually done in vain.”

31. The Buddha said, “They are like a man who builds a ladder in an empty place. Someone else asks him, ‘What’s the purpose of building a ladder here?’

“The man answers, ‘I want to ascend the hall.’

32. “Again, he’s asked, ‘Where is this hall? Is it east, west, south or north of here?’

“He answers, ‘I don’t know.’

33. “How is it, Vāsiṣṭha? Didn’t this man who built a ladder to ascend a hall do so in vain?”

He replied, “Yes, it’s actually done in vain.”

34. The Buddha said, “The priests who possess the three Vedas are likewise. They are deceptive and untrue.

35. “Vāsiṣṭha, the five desires are pure and extremely delightful. What are the five? Images seen by the eye are extremely delightful … ear … sounds … nose … odors … tongue … flavors … body … touches … are extremely delightful. In my noble teaching, they are attachments, fetters, and binding chains. Those priests who possess the three Vedas are defiled by these five desires, and their addiction to them is strong. They don’t see their drawback and don’t know their escape, so they are bound by these five desires. Even if they worshipped the sun and moon or water and fire and declared, ‘Support my rebirth in Brahmā’s Heaven!’ it would be impossible.

36. “It’s like the Ajiravatī River when its current is as high as its banks and a crow could drink from it. Suppose a person on the near shore who’s been tightly bound called in vain to the other shore, ‘Cross over to me!’ Would the other shore cross over to this person?”

He replied, “No.”

37. “Vāsiṣṭha, the five desires are pure and extremely delightful, but they are still binding chains in my noble teaching. Those priests who possess the three Vedas are defiled by these five desires, and their addiction to them is strong. They don’t see their drawback and don’t know their escape, so they are bound by these five desires. Even if they worshipped the sun and moon or water and fire and declared, ‘Support my rebirth in Brahmā’s Heaven!’ it would likewise never be possible.

38. “Vāsiṣṭha, it’s like the Ajiravatī River when its current is as high as its banks and a crow could drink from it. Could someone without a boat or the strength to swim cross it if they wanted?”

He answered, “They couldn’t.”

39. “Vāsiṣṭha, the priests who possess the three Vedas are likewise. They don’t cultivate the ascetic’s pure religious life, instead cultivating other paths that are impure practices. Their goal of being born in Brahmā’s Heaven isn’t possible.

40. “Vāsiṣṭha, it’s like many people caught in a flash flood in the mountains without boats or a bridge. A traveler comes upon it and wants to cross over to the other shore. Seeing the mountain river’s torrent and the people floating in it, they realize they also lack a boat or bridge. That person thinks, ‘Now, I’d better collect many reeds and branches and bind them into a raft. Perhaps I could then cross to the other shore using my own power?’ They then bind a raft and use their own power to cross over to safety.

41. “Vāsiṣṭha, this is likewise. If a monk abandons the impure practices of non-ascetics and practices the ascetic’s pure religious practice, then his desire to be born in Brahmā’s Heaven is possible. How is it, Vāsiṣṭha? Does Brahmā have resentment, or does he not?”

He answered, “He doesn’t have resentment.”

42. Again, the Buddha asked, “Do the priests who possess the three Vedas have resentment, or do they not?”

He answered, “They have resentment.”

43. “Vāsiṣṭha, Brahmā has no resentment, but the priests who possess the three Vedas have resentment. They don’t equally have or have no resentment. They aren’t both free of it and headed the same way. Therefore, Brahmā and the priests aren’t equals. How is it, Vāsiṣṭha? Does Brahmā have anger, or does he not?”

He answered, “He doesn’t have anger.”

44. The Buddha again asked, “Do the priests who possess three insights have anger, or do they not?”

He answered, “They have anger.”

45. The Buddha said, “Brahmā has no anger, but the priests who possess the three Vedas have anger. They don’t equally have or have no anger. They aren’t both free of it and headed the same way. Therefore, Brahmā and the priests aren’t equals. How is it, Vāsiṣṭha? Does Brahmā have enmity, or does he not?”

He answered, “He doesn’t have enmity.”

46. The Buddha again asked, “Do the priests who possess the three Vedas have enmity, or do they not?”

He answered, “They have enmity.”

47. The Buddha said, “Brahmā has no enmity, but the priests of three insights do have enmity. They don’t equally have or have no enmity. They aren’t both free of it and headed the same way. Therefore, Brahmā and the priests aren’t equals. How is it, Vāsiṣṭha? Does Brahmā have a household and property?”

He answered, “He doesn’t.”

48. The Buddha again asked, “Do the priests who possess the three Vedas have households and property?”

He answered, “They do.”

49. The Buddha said, “Brahmā has no household or property, but the priests who possess the three Vedas have households and property. They don’t equally have or have no household and property. They aren’t both free of them and headed the same way. Therefore, Brahmā and the priests aren’t equals. How is it, Vāsiṣṭha? Has Brahmā attained sovereignty or has he not?”

He answered, “He has attained sovereignty.”

50. The Buddha also asked, “Do the priests who possess the three Vedas attain sovereignty, or do they not?”

He answered, “They don’t attain sovereignty.”

51. The Buddha said, “Brahmā has attained sovereignty, but the priests who possess the three Vedas haven’t attained sovereignty. They aren’t equally sovereign or not sovereign. They aren’t both sovereign and headed the same way. Therefore, Brahmā and the priests aren’t equals.”

52. The Buddha said, “Suppose someone were to approach those priests who possess the three Vedas and ask them about a profound and hard subject, and they can’t provide an answer. Is that the way it actually is?”

He answered, “Yes.”

53. Both Vāsiṣṭha and Bhāradvāja then said to the Buddha, “Setting aside other discussions, we’ve heard that the ascetic Gautama is clearly aware of the way to Brahmā and explains it for others, and he relates how he sees them reborn with Brahmā. Please let the ascetic Gautama discuss the way to Brahmā out of compassion for us. Make it a plain and detailed explanation!”

54. The Buddha addressed Vāsiṣṭha, “Now, I’ll ask you a question, and you tell me what you think. How is it, Vāsiṣṭha? Would it be far or near to go to the country of Manasākaṭa?”[5]

He answered, “It’s nearby.”

55. “Suppose someone who was born and grew up in that country was asked by someone else about the way to that country. How would it be, Vāsiṣṭha? Would that person who was from that country tell him the way there, or would he be uncertain about it?”

He answered, “He wouldn’t be uncertain. Why is that? It’s his native country.”

56. The Buddha said, “Even so, that person who’s from that country might have some uncertainty. If someone approached me and asked the way to Brahmā, I’d have no uncertainty. Why is that? I frequently explain the way to Brahmā.”

57. Vāsiṣṭha and Bhāradvāja then both said to the Buddha, “Setting aside this discussion, we’ve heard that the ascetic Gautama is clearly aware of the way to Brahmā and explains it for others. He also relates how he sees others reborn with Brahmā. Please let the ascetic Gautama discuss the way to Brahmā out of compassion for us. Make it a plain and detailed explanation!”

58. The Buddha said, “Listen closely, and well consider it. I’ll explain it for you.”

They answered, “Very well. We’d like to hear it.”

59. The Buddha said, “Suppose a Tathāgata, Arhat, and Completely Awakened One arises in the world who perfects the ten epithets … four dhyānas, and lives leisurely in the present life. Why is that? These things come from diligence, focused attention that’s not lost, happily living in seclusion, and not being negligent.

60. “He completely fills one direction with kindness and the other directions as well. It’s vast, without end, without duality, measureless, and lacks resentment or harmfulness. He’s entertained by this mental state and enjoys himself. How is it, Vāsiṣṭha? Does Brahmā have resentment, or does he not?”

He answered, “He doesn’t have resentment.”

61. The Buddha again asked, “Does a monk practicing kindness have resentment, or does he not?”

He answered, “He doesn’t have resentment.”

62. The Buddha said, “Brahmā has no resentment, and a monk practicing kindness has no resentment. They’re equal in not having resentments. They’re both free of it and headed in the same way. Therefore, Brahmā and the monk are equals. How is it, Vāsiṣṭha? Does Brahmā have anger, or does he not?”

He answered, “He doesn’t have anger.”

63. The Buddha again asked, “Does a monk practicing kindness have anger, or does he not?”

He answered, “He doesn’t have anger.”

64. The Buddha said, “Brahmā has no anger, and a monk practicing kindness has no anger. They’re equal in not having anger. They’re both free of it and headed in the same way. Therefore, Brahmā and the monk are equals. How is it, Vāsiṣṭha? Does Brahmā have enmity, or does he not?”

He answered, “He doesn’t have enmity.”

65. The Buddha again asked, “Does a monk practicing kindness have enmity, or does he not?”

He answered, “He doesn’t have enmity.”

66. The Buddha said, “Brahmā has no enmity, and a monk practicing kindness has no enmity. They’re equal in not having enmity. They’re both free of it and headed in the same way. Therefore, Brahmā and the monk are equals. How is it, Vāsiṣṭha? Does Brahmā have a household and property?”

He answered, “He doesn’t.”

67. The Buddha again asked, “Does a monk practicing kindness have a household and property?”

He answered, “He doesn’t.”

68. The Buddha said, “Brahmā has no household or property, and a monk practicing kindness has no household or property. They’re equal in not having a household or property. They’re both free of them and headed in the same way Therefore, Brahmā and the monk are equals. How is it, Vāsiṣṭha? Does Brahmā attain sovereignty?”

He answered, “He does.”

69. The Buddha again asked, “Does a monk practicing kindness attain sovereignty?”

He answered, “He does.”

70. The Buddha said, “Brahmā attains sovereignty, and a monk practicing kindness attains sovereignty. They’re equal in attaining sovereignty. They’re both free and headed in the same way Therefore, Brahmā and the monk are equals.”

71. The Buddha told Vāsiṣṭha, “You should know that when such a monk’s body breaks up and his life ends, he’s born up in Brahmā’s Heaven in an instant like shooting an arrow.” When the Buddha taught this Dharma, Vāsiṣṭha and Bhāradvāja had their defilements and dust removed right where they were sitting, and the Dharma eye arose in them.

72. When Vāsiṣṭha and Bhāradvāja heard what the Buddha taught, they rejoiced and approved.

Notes

  1. The direct parallel for this sutra is DN 13. [back]
  2. [Tārukkha]. Ch. 多梨車, MCh. ta-lɪi-tʃ’ɪă = *Tariṣya(?). I’ve not found a Skt. attestation, so I’ve adopted the Pali parallel. [back]
  3. priests possessing the three Vedas. Ch. 有三明婆羅門, P. tevijjāna brāhmaṇā. The Chinese translator interpreted P. tevijja as “three insights” (三明). Given that the term implied knowledge of the three Vedas, which wasn’t considered particularly insightful by the Buddha, I’ve opted to translate it as “three Vedas.” This also avoids confusion with the Buddhist redefinition of P. vijja to refer to three of the P. abhiññā rather than knowledge of the Vedas. [back]
  4. This list of names occurs in DĀ 20, and the transliterations are detailed in note 19. Here, there are a couple departures from that list. First, the name Vāmaka was omitted in early editions but added back in during the Song dynasty. I’ve added it tentatively, assuming the omission was an oversight. Second, the last name is transliterated as Ch. 婆羅損陀 (MCh. bua-la-suən-da = *Varasunda). This is not a name that I’ve found in Sanskrit sources, so I’ve insert the name found in DĀ 20 (Sundara). [back]
  5. Manasākata. Ch. 心念. The Chinese is a translation meaning “mind-thought” ( = Mānasaka?). [back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 9 August 2021