Sixteen Brahmins come to the Buddha with Questions.

How would you respond to such profound questions?

 

 

After I spent three years (early 1970’s) as a Buddhist monk in a Vipassana monastery near the city of Nakornsridhammaraj (City of the Kings of Dharma) in southern Thailand, I left to spend nine months in a cave on Ko Pha Nga island. Our teacher, Ajahn Dhammadharo rejected reading as a distraction to practice throughout the day from 4 am with the loud morning gong to 22.00, seven days a week.

 

I took with me to the cave a small book called Sutta Nipata, a collection of 1149 utterances of the Buddha. On a daily basis, I would read a verse or verses, reflect and meditate, especially on the last two chapters of around 400 verses revealing profound truths. These utterances, sometimes two or three short sentences, point the way to liberating realisations.

 

The questions were relevant 2600 years ago and still relevant for us today. The Brahmins, young and old, came together to see the Buddha with numerous questions, none of them easy. Their questions are found in the closing chapter of the book. I have edited the questions and answers while keeping to the spirit and letter of Buddha’s dialogues with the Brahmins. They were not trying to catch the Buddha out. They were seekers. They had heard of the teachings of the awakened one. They turned to the Buddha for answers rather than rely upon the elderly Brahmins.

 

Appreciating the profound wisdom of the Buddha, the 16 Brahmins left with a determination to live a way of life that would go beyond thirsting after the mundane. The Buddha saw his teachings as a  vehicle to the highest (Parayana). Readers might consider their own response if faced with such questions.

 

The Buddha did not consider these questions and answer session as an intellectual exercise. He offered his responses to encourage further reflection and wisdom so the Brahmins could realise a liberating truth through a depth of mindfulness about the process of becoming.

 

I asked my teachers similar kinds of questions. Dharma students have asked me similar questions in public talks, workshops and retreats, as well as over a café latte, phone calls and emails. Yes, the response matters but the consequences of the responses matters most.

 

Does our reply come from our first-hand experience? Does our response to a reply make a genuine difference to a person’s life?

 

QUESTIONS FROM THE 16 BRAHMINS TO THE BUDDHA

 

1. Ajita asked:

 

“What covers up the world?

 

What makes the world so hard to see?

 

What pollutes the world?

 

What threatens the world?

 

The Buddha replied:

 

“Ignorance, not seeing, covers up the world.

 

Carelessness and greed makes the world hard to see.

 

The hunger of desire pollutes the world.

 

Fear threatens the world.

 

Mindfulness and wisdom closes the flood gates.

 

2.  Tiss-Metteyya asked

 

“Who in the world is truly happy?

 

Is there anyone who doesn’t get agitated?

 

Is there anyone who does not get stuck in thinking when faced with alternatives?

 

The Buddha replied:

 

One whose actions come from a pure heart is truly happy.

 

One who is mindful and extinguished problems remains calm.

 

One who understands alternatives does not get stuck in thinking.

 

3. Punnaka asked:

 

Why do wise men, such as Brahmins and rulers, offer sacrifices to God (gods)?

 

Can they go beyond old age through their offerings?

 

If they cannot go beyond through offerings, who has beyond birth and ageing?

 

The Buddha replied:

 

They offer sacrifices because they want to live as long as possible.

 

Their prayers, mantras and offerings were made on the basis of getting a reward.

 

These men cannot go beyond ageing and birth.

 

One who has assessed the world knows there is nothing to raise agitation and the hunger of desire. He has gone beyond ageing and birth.

 

4. Mettagu asked:

 

Where do all the different kinds of suffering come from?

 

How can one go beyond the ageing process and sorrow?

 

The Buddha replied:

 

I found out for myself that all the different forms of suffering develop from a basic clinging.

 

One goes beyond ageing through being a mindful person who releases any hold on the world.

 

5. Dhotaka asked:

 

Can your students put out the fire (of problems) to know nirvana?

 

Can you free me from confusion?

 

Please teach me to be as free as air in space.

 

It can only bring me joy to hear about an ultimate peace.

 

The Buddha replied:

 

Any student who is eager, intelligent and mindful can find the peace of nirvana.

 

It is not my practice to free anyone from confusion.

 

When a mindful person understands, he releases his hold on the world.

 

When you realize there are things which tie you down to the world, then you lose the thirst for craving.

 

6. Upasiva asked:

 

What can I use to cross the ocean (of discontent)?

 

A person is free from dependency, has let go and abides in the supreme freedom. Will he stay in this freedom and not return (to discontent, to suffering)?

 

Does the person exist or not exist?

 

Is he in a state of perpetual well-being?

 

The Buddha replied:

 

Use the perception that there is no “thing” (there is only a product of causes and conditions) and then be free from doubts. You will then come to an end to wanting and craving.

 

When a person is free from all wanting and dependency, he will stay there and not return.

 

There is nothing more to be known about the person (there is no more grasping after identity). There is nothing left for you to measure in that person. You cannot say the person does not exist.

 

When all ways of being are gone, then all ways of description have gone.

 

7. Nanda asked:

 

When someone is called wise, are they talking about the person’s knowledge or the way they live.

All religious teachers and Brahmins talk about the way to be pure. They say it comes from views, teachings, good deeds, rituals, and from other means. Have they gone beyond?

 

Who has gone beyond?

 

The Buddha replied:

A wise person lives without fear and the hunger of desire.

 

No, they have not gone beyond.

 

I do not say all religious teachers and Brahmins are caught up. Those who  have no inner poison have crossed the ocean.

 

8. Hemaka asked:

 

All teachings claim everything was based on tradition. Explain to me the way.

 

The Buddha replied:

 

The ending of running after pleasure and thought realise Nirvana. Those who are mindful and understand this know calmness and have stopping inflaming anything.

 

9. Todeyya asked:

 

What is the nature of freedom?

 

How can I recognise a wise person when I meet such a one?

 

Is the wise person without desire?

 

Does he or she still need to learn or is his wisdom complete?

 

The Buddha replied:

 

The person knows the final freedom has gone beyond doubt, knows no more craving. For such a person, there is nothing more to be freed.

 

A wise person has no demands upon the world. He does not need to learn.

 

He is not hanging onto mundane pleasure or being.

 

10. Kappa asked:

 

Where is there solid ground beyond the reach of all this pain?

 

The Buddha replied:

 

There is an island of no-thingness, a place of non-possession and non-attachment. It is the total end of death and decay. I call it Nirvana. There are people, who, in mindfulness, have realized this.

 

11. Jatukanni asked:

 

Tell me about this eye of instant seeing-knowing. What is the state of peace? Please explain to me as it really is.

 

The Buddha replied:

 

Lose the greed for pleasure. See how letting go is peaceful. There is nothing to hold onto, or push away. Dry up the remains of your past and have nothing for your present. If you do not cling to the present, you can go from place to place in peace. Greed fixes on the mind-body. When that greed has gone, there are no more inner poison drives. You are immune from death.

 

12. Bhadravudha asked:

 

All kinds of people coming from different places listen to your words. What have you found and known?

The Buddha replied:

 

There is in taking things, a thirst, a clinging, and a grasping. You must lose it. You must lose it altogether, above, below, around and within. When a person grasps, Mara stands beside that person. Being mindful, one does not grasp at anything. Creatures of attachment are tied to the power of death.

 

13. Udaya asked:

 

Can you tell me about the knowledge that frees? Can you tell me how to remove ignorance?

 

How does the mindful wanderer bring his mind flow to an end?

 

The Buddha replied:

The removal of intense desire, grief, laziness and worry (removes ignorance). A balanced mindfulness is built on seeing things as they become. This is liberation knowledge and the destruction of ignorance.

The sensations that he feels from within have no more fascination for him. And the sensations that he feels from without no longer fascinate.

 

14. Posala asked:

 

If a man has discarded seeing forms and the materialistic,  he has no limitations, and there is no inner and outer substance to things, is there anything more for him to know?

 

The Buddha replied:


When a person has set his sights on freedom and reaches the goal, the One thus Gone knows what stage he has reached. He has realized the binding power of pleasure is rooted in no-thingness. With this knowledge, he is completely accomplished.

 

15. Mogharaja asked:

 

I do not know Gautama what attitude you take towards this world, and to the other world, of Brahma (God) and the gods. What is the best way to regard this world so the Lord of Death won’t see him.

 

The Buddha replied:

 

You will look at the world and see its emptiness (of anything with a self existence). Give up identifying with your ‘self.’ Then you know the way beyond death. Then the Lord of Death will not see you.

 

16. Pingiya asked:

 

I am old and weak. I can hardly see and hear. Don’t let me die while I am still in confusion. Teach me the way things have become so that I can leave birth and ageing behind me.

 

Look how many people are tormented by pain. Look how careless they are. How greatly they suffer because of body and forms. If you do not want to go on and on (in confusion), let go of the  body (as me, myself, who I am) and forms (as belonging to me, myself).

 

The 16 questions reveal an exceptional depth of interest in the exploration of truth. May all share the same depth of interest.

 

Sutta Nipata

Translated by H. Saddhatissa

Curzon Press, London.

135 pages.

 

 

 May all beings enquire into the experience of being human 

 Christopher Titmuss's

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