Translating Classical Buddhism to Modern English

The Long Discourses

5. The Smaller Teaching on Origination

1. Thus I have heard:[1] One time, the Buddha was staying at Mṛgāramātu Meeting Hall in the Believer’s Park of Śrāvastī.[2] He was accompanied by a large assembly of 1,250 monks.

Vāsiṣṭha and Bhāradvāja

2. It was then that there was a pair of priests who had gone to visit the Buddha with firm faith and left home for the path. One was named Vāsiṣṭha, and the other was named Bhāradvāja.

3. The Buddha had emerged from his quiet abode and was walking back and forth up in the meeting hall, and Vāsiṣṭha saw him while out walking. He quickly went to Bhāradvāja and said to him, “Did you know? The Tathāgata has emerged from his quiet abode, and he’s walking about up in the meeting hall! We could go together and pay the Bhagavān a visit. Perhaps we could hear a teaching from the Tathāgata!” When he heard this, Bhāradvāja went with Vāsiṣṭha to visit the Buddha. They bowed their heads at his feet and then walked alongside the Buddha.

4. The Bhagavān then asked Vāsiṣṭha , “Didn’t the two of you abandon the priest caste and leave home to cultivate the path with firm faith in my teaching?”

He replied, “So it is!”

5. The Buddha asked, “Priest, now that you’ve left home to cultivate the path in my teaching, have the other priests not reproached you for doing so?” He replied, “Indeed! We left home to cultivate the path on account of our great love of the Buddha, but it’s true we’ve been reproached by the other priests who see us.”

6. The Buddha asked, “In what ways have they reproached you?” He quickly replied, “They say, ‘Our caste of priests is the best; the others are inferior. Our caste is pure white; the others are dark. Our caste of priests came out of Brahmā’s own mouth. Being born from Brahmā’s mouth, we can purify our understanding in the present, and it’ll also be pure in later [lives]. Why have you abandoned the pure caste and entered that other teaching of Gautama’s?’ Bhagavān, when they see that we’ve left home to cultivate the path in the Buddha’s teaching, they reproach us with these words.”

The Arrogance of the Priests

7. The Buddha told Vāsiṣṭha, “Observe these people who are ignorant and without awareness like animals. They falsely claim of themselves, ‘The caste of priests is the best; the others are inferior. Our caste is pure white; the others are dark. Our caste of priests came out of Brahmā’s own mouth. Being born from Brahmā’s mouth, we can be purified in the present and will be pure in later [lives], too.’

8. “Vāsiṣṭha, this unsurpassed and true path of mine doesn’t require a caste, nor does it rely on a feeling of self-conceitedness. Worldly teachings require these things, but my teaching doesn’t. If there’s an ascetic or priest who relies on his own caste and feels conceited about it, then they’ll never achieve the unsurpassed realization that’s in my teaching. If they can abandon their caste and eliminate feelings of conceitedness, then they can achieve the realization of the path, being capable of accepting the correct teaching. People dislike those below them, but my teaching isn’t like that.”

9. The Buddha told Vāsiṣṭha, “There are four castes that have good and bad people who are praised and criticized by the wise. What are the four? 1. The warrior caste, 2. priest caste, 3. householder caste, and 4. worker caste.

10. “Vāsiṣṭha, if you pay attention to those in the warrior caste, some kill beings, some steal, some are lustful, some are deceptive, some are duplicitous, some speak harshly, some speak frivolously, some are greedy, some are jealous, and some have wrong views. The priest caste, householder caste, and worker caste are also like this. They practice mixtures of the ten bad deeds.

11. “Vāsiṣṭha, actions that aren’t good have rewards that aren’t good, and actions that are dark have dark results. Suppose these results were only present in the warrior, householder, and worker castes and not present in the priest caste. The priests then could say of themselves, ‘Our priest caste is the best; the others are inferior. Our caste is pure white; the others are dark. Our caste of priests came out of Brahmā’s own mouth. Being born from Brahmā’s mouth, we can be purified in the present and will be pure in later [lives], too.’ If actions that aren’t good and have results that aren’t good and actions that are dark and have dark results are surely present in the priest caste and the warrior, householder, and worker castes, then the priests cannot be the only ones to declare: ‘Our caste is pure and the best!’

12. “Vāsiṣṭha, if there are some among the warrior caste who don’t kill and some who don’t steal, aren’t lustful, don’t speak falsely, aren’t duplicitous, don’t speak harshly, don’t speak frivolously, aren’t greedy, aren’t jealous, and don’t have wrong views, then it’s likewise for the priest caste and the householder and worker castes. They equally cultivate the ten good actions.

13. “Actions that are good surely have good results. Actions that are pure white surely have pure white results. If these results were only present among priests and not among warriors, householders, and workers, then the priest caste could say of themselves, ‘Our caste is pure and the best!’ If the four castes equally have these results, then the priests cannot be the only ones to declare, ‘Our caste is pure and the best!’

14. The Buddha told Vāsiṣṭha, “Today, it’s obvious that those in the priest caste marry, are born from wombs like the rest of the world, and fraudulently declare, ‘We are the caste of Brahmā. Being born from Brahmā’s mouth, we can be purified in the present and will be pure in later [lives], too.’

The Buddha’s Teaching Is Egalitarian

15. “Now, Vāsiṣṭha, you should know that my disciples are not all from the same caste but came from different castes before they left home to cultivate the path. Suppose someone asked them, ‘To which caste do you belong?’ They would answer, ‘I am an ascetic son of the Śākya clan.’ They also can declare of themselves, ‘I am from the priest caste. My kin were born from [Brahmā’s] mouth and spontaneously born from Dharma. I can be purified in the present and will be pure in later [lives], too.’

16. “Why is that? The name Mahā-Brahmā is an epithet of the Tathāgata. The Tathāgata is eyes for worldly beings, wisdom for worldly beings, the teaching for worldly beings, Brahmā for worldly beings, the Dharma wheel for worldly beings, the nectar of immortality for worldly beings, and the Dharma lord for worldly beings.

17. “Vāsiṣṭha, suppose some among the warrior caste are devoted to the Buddha, the Tathāgata, Arhat, and Completely Awakened One, who has perfected the ten epithets. Suppose they are devoted to the Dharma, believe the Tathāgata’s teaching that’s sublime and pure, that can be cultivated in the present, and that’s taught without occasion to make plain the goal of Nirvāṇa. It’s known by the wise, but ordinary fools aren’t capable of being taught it.

18. “Suppose they are devoted to the Saṅgha whose nature is good and honest, who accomplish the fruits of the path, being accomplished followers, and accomplish the teachings of the Buddha and his true disciples. That is, it’s an assembly that accomplishes its precepts and accomplishes its samādhi, wisdom, liberation, and knowledge and vision of liberation.

19. “Headed for stream-entry, they attain stream-entry. Headed for once-returning, they attain once-returning. Headed for non-returning, they attain non-returning. Headed for becoming arhats, they become arhats. These eight ranks of four pairs and are the Tathāgata’s assembly of disciples. They’re respectable and honorable fields of merit for the world that should get people’s offerings. They’re devoted to the precepts and perfect the noble percepts without any defect or contamination. Being without defect and immaculate, they are commended by the wise for perfecting what’s good and peaceful.

20. “Vāsiṣṭha, the priest, householder, and worker castes should thus devote themselves to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Saṅgha and accomplish the noble precepts.

21. “Vāsiṣṭha, there are also some among the warrior caste who make offerings to the arhats, and they honor and venerate them. The priests, householders, and workers should make offerings to the arhats and honor and venerate them, too.

22. The Buddha told Vāsiṣṭha, “My kin from the Śākya clan also serve King Prasenajit and honor tradition. King Prasenajit also comes to give offerings and honors to me, but he doesn’t think, ‘The ascetic Gautama left his clan, and my clan is inferior. The ascetic Gautama left a family of great wealth and majesty, and I was born to a poor and unimpressive family. Therefore, I will give offerings and honors to the Tathāgata.’ King Prasenajit examined the principles of the teaching with a clear awareness of what’s genuine and fake. As a result, he became a believer who respects the Tathāgata.

The Origin of Human Society

23. “Vāsiṣṭha, now I will explain the dependent origination of the four castes for you.

24. “When the eons from the beginning to the end of heaven and earth came to an end, the lives of sentient beings ended, and they were born in the Ābhāsvara Heaven. They were born there spontaneously. Thought served as their food, they were naturally radiant, and they had the miraculous ability of flying in the air.

25. “After that, the Earth was destroyed, changing into water which became ubiquitous. At that point, there was no longer a sun, moon, or stars. There were no days, nights, months, or years, only a great darkness.

26. “After that, the water formed into an Earth. The merits of the Ābhāsvara gods came to an end, and they were born here when their lives ended. Although they were born here, thought still served as their food, they had the miraculous ability to fly, and their bodies were naturally radiant. After a long time, they called each other ‘sentient being, sentient being.’

27. “After that, a sweet spring welled up from the Earth, which was like yoghurt or honey in form. Those gods who first arrived had shallow dispositions. When they saw this spring, they thought to themselves, ‘What substance is this? I’ll give it a taste.’ They dipped a finger into the spring and tasted it. They did this three times until they realized that it was delicious. They indulgently consumed it in this way, and thus became attached to enjoying it without tire.

28. “The other sentient beings emulated them by consuming it three times in this way, and they also realized it was delicious. They didn’t stop consuming it, and their bodies became crude with skin, flesh, and hard parts. They lost their sublime heavenly forms and no longer had miraculous abilities. They walked on the ground, the radiance of their bodies gradually disappeared, and then heaven and the earth fell into total darkness.

29. “Vāsiṣṭha, you should know that heaven and earth was always dark after that, and a sun, moon, and stars appeared in the sky, as a rule. Afterward, the regions [of the Earth] had day and night, gloom and brightness, and the days, months, and years could be counted.

30. “At that point, sentient beings only ate the Earth’s juice, and this continued in the world for a long time. Those that ate a great deal of it became crude and ugly in appearance. Those that ate a little of it were still delightful in appearance. That was when attractiveness, ugliness, and handsomeness first came to be. Those who were handsome became arrogant and slighted those who were ugly. Those who were ugly became spiteful and hated those who were handsome. Sentient beings became angry and fought with each other. At that point, the sweet spring naturally dried up.

31. “After that, the Earth naturally grew earth fat, which was complete in appearance and flavor, fragrant, and edible. Sentient beings also took this and ate it, and it continued in the world for a long time. Those who ate a great deal of it had a crude and ugly appearance, and those who ate a little of it still had a delightful appearance. Those who were handsome became arrogant and slighted those who were ugly. Those who were ugly became spiteful and hated those who were handsome. Sentient beings then fought with each other. At that point, the earth fat didn’t grow anymore.

32. “After that, the Earth again grew a crude form of earth fat, which was also fragrant, delicious, and edible, but not as much as before. The sentient beings again took and ate it, and it continued in the world for a long time. Those who ate a great deal of it had a crude and ugly appearance, and those who ate a little of it still had a delightful appearance. The handsome and the ugly beings disagreed with each other, which caused them to fight. At that point, the earth fat didn’t grow anymore.

33. “After that, the Earth grew naturally polished rice that lacked any chaff. It was perfect in appearance and flavor, fragrant, and edible. Sentient beings again took and ate it, and it continued in the world for a long time. Thereupon, male and female beings appeared who were mutually attracted to each other, and slowly their affection developed into intimacy. The other sentient beings saw this and said, ‘You are wrongdoers! You are wrongdoers!’ They then chased and drove those people away, but they returned after three months.”

34. The Buddha told Vāsiṣṭha, “Those wrongdoers in the past are like those today. At the time, those sentient beings learned wrong customs, and felt strongly about doing what they wanted without any moderation. They built homes because they were ashamed of it. This was when homes first appeared in the world. They learned wrong customs that increased lust, and then the womb appeared, which was the cause of impure birth. This was when wombs first appeared in the world.

35. “Those sentient beings then ate the naturally polished rice, and it grew where they took it without any end. The sentient beings who were lazy thought to themselves, ‘I work hard eating in the morning what I take in the morning and eating in the evening what I take in the evening. Now, I’ll take enough to last a whole day.’

36. “They then would combine what they took [for the day]. Afterward, when a friend called them to go collect rice together, they replied, ‘I’ve already combined my takings to make provisions for the day. If you want to take some, you can do as you like.’

37. “The friend again thought, ‘This person is smart! They were the first to stock up on [rice]. Now, I’ll store up food, too, making provisions for three days!’

38. “That person then stored three days’ worth of food. Other sentient beings again came and asked, ‘Can we go collect rice together?’

“They replied, ‘I’ve already stored three days’ worth of food. You can go and collect some yourself if you want.’

39. “Those other people again thought, ‘This person is smart! They were the first to store up food to make provisions for three days. I’ll emulate them by storing food to make provisions for five days.’ They then went to collect [that much food].

40. “After those sentient beings emulated each other storing up food, the polished rice became wild and began to grow with chaff, and it stopped growing after it was harvested.

41. “When those sentient beings saw this, they weren’t pleased. They became dejected, and they each thought, ‘When I was first born, thought served as my food, I had the miraculous ability to fly, and my body was naturally radiant. That continued for a long time in the world.

42. “‘After that, a sweet spring welled up from the Earth that was like yoghurt or honey in form. It was fragrant, delicious, and edible, and then we consumed it together. We continued consuming it for a long time. Those who ate a great deal of it became crude and ugly in appearance. Those who ate a little of it were still delightful in appearance. Because of this food, our appearances became different. Sentient beings harbored disagreements about this, disliking and feeling jealous of each other. At that point, the sweet spring naturally dried up.

43. “‘After that, the Earth naturally grew earth fat, which was complete in appearance and flavor, fragrant, and edible. Again, we took this and ate it. Those who ate a great deal of it had a crude and ugly appearance, and those who ate a little of it still had a delightful appearance. Sentient beings each harbored disagreements about this, disliking and feeling jealous of each other. At that point, the earth fat didn’t grow anymore.

44. “‘After that, a crude form of earth fat grew, which was also fragrant, delicious, and edible. We again took and ate it. Those who ate a great deal of it had a crude and ugly appearance, and those who ate a little of it had a delightful appearance. Again, disagreements arose, and we felt dislike and jealousy for each other. At that point, the earth fat didn’t grow anymore.

45. “‘Then, there was naturally polished rice grew that didn’t have any chaff. We again took and ate it, and it continued in the world for a long time. Those who were lazy emulated each other in storing it up. As a result, the polished rice became wild and began to grow with chaff, and it stopped growing after it was harvested. Now what will happen?’

46. “They also said to each other, ‘Let’s divide the land and establish different flags.’ Straightaway, they divided the land and established different flags.

47. “Vāsiṣṭha, the name ‘farmland’ first came to be as a result of these circumstances. At the time, the sentient beings were allotted separate farmland, and they each established their boundaries.

The Origin of the Four Castes

48. “Eventually, the notion of stealing arose to rob another of their crop. When the other sentient being saw this, they said, ‘You are a wrongdoer! You are a wrongdoer! You have your own farmland, but you took another’s property. Don’t ever do that again!’

49. “Still, the sentient being didn’t stop stealing. The other sentient being again rebuked them seriously, but they still didn’t stop. The other sentient being then struck them with their hand and said, ‘This person has their own land and crops, but they stole another’s property.’

“The [thief] also said, ‘This person struck me!’

50. “The people who saw these two people fighting were saddened and displeased. Aggrieved, they said, ‘Sentient beings have become evil, and the world as it has come to exist is not good. It creates defilement, evil, and impurity. This is the origin of birth, old age, illness, and death. The affliction and pain results in falling to the three bad destinies. As a result of there being farmland, this fighting has come to pass. Now, we would rather designate one man as chief to govern properly, safeguard what should be safeguarded, and censure what should be censured. Let everyone share a portion of rice to provide for this and manage to this fighting.’

51. “A man was then selected from that assembly who was physically large and appeared handsome. Being someone with authority, he said to them, ‘Now, you have made me the chief of the peace to safeguard what should be safeguarded, censure what should be censured, and banish what should be banished. We’ll collect rice together to provide for each other.’

52. “That man then listened to what people had to say, they provided for this chief to judge disputes, and they collected rice to provide for each other.

53. “That man again offered skillful words to console the people. When the people heard him, they rejoiced and together praised him: ‘Good, great king! Good, great king!’ This was when the title ‘king’ appeared in the world. In order to govern the populace with the correct teaching, he was called a warrior. This was when that the name ‘warrior’ first arose in the world.

54. “There then was a solitary man among the people who had this thought: ‘A family is such trouble. A family is a poison thorn. Now, I’d rather renounce this family life and live alone in the mountains and forests. In the quiet tranquility there, I’ll cultivate the path.’ So, he renounced the family life and went to the mountains and forests where he quietly contemplated. A time came when he took a bowl into a town to ask for food.

55. “When people saw him, they were happy to give him their support. They praised him joyfully: ‘Excellent! This person renounced family life and dwells alone in the mountains and forests where he quietly cultivates the path and abandons the myriad evils.’ This was the first time the title ‘priest’ arose in the world.

56. “Among those priests, there was one who wasn’t happy quietly sitting in meditation and contemplating, so he went among the people and chanted [scripture] as his profession. He also declared of himself, ‘I am not a meditator!’ This was when worldly people claimed to be non-meditating priests. As a result of being among people, they were called priests among people. This was when the worldly priest caste came to be.

57. “Among those sentient beings, there were people skilled at conducting business from a home and accumulated many treasures. As a result, these many people were called ‘householders.’ Among those sentient beings, some possessed many skills and could make many things. This was when the name ‘artisan’ first appeared in the world.

The Fifth Caste of Ascetics

58. “Vāsiṣṭha, the world today has the names of these four castes. The name of the fifth community is ‘ascetic.’ Why is that? Vāsiṣṭha, at some point there was a person in the warrior assembly who was disillusioned with his own teaching. He shaved his hair and beard and put on Dharma robes. This was when the name ‘ascetic’ first appeared. At some point, people from in the priest caste, householder caste, and worker caste had was disillusioned with their own teaching. They shaved their hair and beard and put on the Dharma robe. They were called ‘ascetics.’

59. “Vāsiṣṭha, there are those in the warrior caste whose physical conduct is unskillful, verbal conduct is unskillful, and mental conduct is unskillful. When their bodies break up and their lives end, they’re surely subject to painful results. There are those in the priest caste, householder caste, and worker caste whose physical conduct is unskillful, verbal conduct is unskillful, and mental conduct is unskillful. When their bodies break up and their lives end, they’ll surely be subject to painful results.

60. “Vāsiṣṭha, there are those in the warrior caste whose physical conduct is skillful, verbal conduct is skillful, and mental conduct is skillful. When their bodies break up and their lives end, they’ll surely be subject to pleasant results. There are those in the priest caste, householder caste, and worker caste whose physical conduct is skillful, verbal conduct is skillful, and mental conduct is skillful. When their bodies break up and their lives end, they’ll surely be subject to pleasant results.

61. “Vāsiṣṭha, there are those in the warrior caste whose physical conduct is of both kinds and whose verbal and mental conduct is of both kinds. When their bodies break up and their lives end, they’ll be subject to painful and pleasant results. There are those in priest caste, householder caste, and worker caste whose physical conduct is of both kinds and whose verbal and mental conduct of is both kinds. When their bodies break up and their lives end, they’ll be subject to painful and pleasant results.

62. “Vāsiṣṭha, there are those in the warrior caste who some shave their hair and beard, wear the Dharma clothes, and cultivate the path. They cultivate the seven factors of awakening and soon achieve the path. Why is that? The sons of those clans leave home wearing Dharma clothes and cultivate the unsurpassed religious practice. In the present life, they realize for themselves, ‘Birth and death has been ended, the religious practice has been established, and the task has been accomplished. I’m no longer subject to existence.’ There are those in the priest, householder, and worker castes who shave their hair and beard, wear the Dharma clothes, and cultivate the path. They cultivate the seven factors of awakening and soon achieve the path. Why is that? The sons of those clans leave home wearing Dharma clothes and cultivate the unsurpassed religious practice. In the present life, they realize for themselves, ‘Birth and death has been ended, the religious practice has been established, and the task has been accomplished. I’m no longer subject to existence.’

63. “Vāsiṣṭha, there are those in these four castes who produce the accomplished wisdom and conduct of arhats, but those in the fifth caste are the best of them.”

Brahma’s Declaration

64. The Buddha told Vāsiṣṭha, “The Brahmā King spoke this verse:

65. The Buddha told Vāsiṣṭha, “This was well said by Brahmā; it wasn’t not well said. It was well received by Brahmā; it wasn’t not well received. I endorsed his words at the time. Why was that? Today, I am the Tathāgata, the Arhat, and I also declare this meaning:

66. When the Bhagavān spoke this sūtra, Vāsiṣṭha and Bhāradvāja’s uncontaminated minds were liberated. Hearing what the Buddha taught, they rejoiced and approved.

Notes

  1. The direct parallel for this sutra is DN 27, MĀ 154, and T 10. [back]
  2. Mṛgāramātu Meeting Hall in the Believer’s Park. Ch. 鹿母講堂 … 清信園林, P. Migāramātupāsāda … Pubbārāma. Both these place names are translated in Chinese. While 鹿母講堂 matches the meaning of P. Migāramātupāsāda, 清信園林 appears to name the park in which Viśākha built Migāramātupāsāda the “Believer’s Park.” The Chinese term 清信 (lit. “pure faith”) translates Skt. upāsaka and Skt. upāsikā in DĀ by adding a male or female noun to it. I therefore interpret the name as meaning it was a park donated by the laity. [back]

Translator: Charles Patton

Last Revised: 1 June 2021