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The Urban Dharma Newsletter - May 13, 2007

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In This Issue: The Agganna Sutta / On Knowledge of Beginnings

1. Aggañña Sutta - From Wikipedia
2. The Buddha’s Theory of Right - by Nalin Swaris
3. The Agganna Sutta / On Knowledge of Beginnings

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Hi,

I hope the title doesn’t put you off... This is an interesting suttra... Some think of it as the Buddhist Genesis... Others think of it as the evolution of Buddhist morality... Some call it the first discourse on politics... You be the judge.

Peace... Kusala



1. Aggañña Sutta - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agga%C3%B1%C3%B1a_Sutta

Aggañña Sutta is the 27th Sutta of Digha Nikaya collections. The sutta describes a discourse imparted from the Buddha to two Brahmins, Bharadvaja and Vasettha, who left their family and caste to become monks. The two brahmins are insulted and maligned by their own caste for their intention to become member of Sangha. Buddha firstly explains that the caste system has originated from the Truth (Dhamma). Caste and lineage can not be compared to the achievement of morality practice and the Dhamma, as anyone from four castes can become monk and reached the state of Arahant. Then, he explains about the beginning of the Earth, and the birth of social order and its structure, including the castes. The Buddha emphasizes the message of universality in Dhamma and how Dhamma is the best of all things.

The Beginning

The Sutta begins when the Buddha is staying in Savatthi, in the temple donated by Visakkha, the Mother of Migara. At that time, two brahmins, Bharadvaja and Vasettha are training with the Monks (bhikkhu) and aim to be a member of Sangha. As usual in the evening, the Buddha raises from his meditation and strolls in the open yard nearby his dwelling. Vasettha sees his Teacher strolling, and he tells his friend, Bharadvaja, and suggests to meet Buddha; see if they can hear a Dhamma exposition from the Buddha. They both approach the Buddha and after some formal properieties, the Buddha asks the two if they received insults and denigration when they left their caste and layman's life in order to join the order of Sangha. Vasettha and Bharadvaja answer that they did receive a 'flood of insults'. They say that the other Brahmins maintain that the Brahmin caste is the best, as the Brahmins are of high status and authority, pure-bred, have radiant complexion, born from the mouth of God Brahma, unlike the other lower castes. So, by the opinion of the other Brahmins, how can Vasettha and Bharadvaja leave this good caste and status, thus join together with fraud ascetics with shaven head from other castes, lower in status as they are born from the feet of Brahma.

To this remark, Buddha tell them that the Brahmins have indeed forgotten about their past if they said such things. The fact is that the women in Brahmin caste can get pregnant, give birth, and take care of their children. But the Brahmins still speak that they are born from the Mouth of God Brahma and other (castes) are born from Brahma's feet. Thus the Brahmin's words are untrue. Buddha speaks that the Brahmins are not speaking truthfully and they will reap a bad result from their own deeds.

The Buddha then elaborates that if any of the caste does the following deeds: killing, taking anything which is not given, do sexual misconduct, lying, slandering, speaking rough words or nonsense, greedy, cruel, and practise wrong beliefs (miccha ditthi); people would still see that they do negative deeds and therefore doesn't worthy of respect. They even will get trouble from their own deeds, whatever their caste (Brahmin, Khattiya, Vessa, and Sudda) might be.

While those who refrain themselves from: killing, taking anything which is not given, do sexual misconduct, lying, slandering, speaking rough words or nonsense, greedy, cruel, and practised wrong beliefs (miccha ditthi); will be seen by people as positive and will earn respect from the people and the wise ones. They would be profiting from their deeds, no matter what their caste might be.

Logically, as the four castes can do either the negative (demerit) or positive (merit) deeds, so will the wise reject the statement that only the Brahmins is the best of caste. Why? Because anyone from the four castes; if they left the worldly affairs and become a monk, and due to their discipline and struggle, they become arahant, people who conquered their mind's stains, has done whatever it must be done, has relieved themselves from burden, has broken the bondage of birth, achieved freedom, freed due to achieved knowledge, then he is the best among others based on Truth (Dhamma).

The Buddha quoted, "Dhamma is the best thing for people In this life and the next as well."

Further, Buddha proves that Dhamma is indeed the best thing of all things in life. He took an example of King Pasenadi of Kosala Kingdom, who has now conquered the Sakyans. The Sakyans rever, praise, and serve him with respect.

But, towards the Buddha, who came from Sakyan people, King Pasenadi reveres, praises, and serves the Buddha with utmost respect. Even the monarch thinks like this: "The Samana Gotama had perfect birth, while I am not perfect. The Samana Gotama is mighty, while I am weak. The Samana Gotama inspired awe and respect, while I do not. The Samana Gotama is vastly influential and charming, while I only possess small influence." As even the King respects Dhamma, revers Dhamma, obeys Dhamma, therefore he bows and praises the [Tathagatha].

The Buddha then advises Vasettha that whoever has strong, deep rooted, and established belief in the Tathagatha, he can declare that he is the child of Bhagava, born from the mouth of Dhamma, created from Dhamma, and the heir of Dhamma. Because the titles of the Tathagatha are: The Body of Dhamma, The Body of Brahma, the Manifestation of Dhamma, and the Manifestation of Brahma.

The Beginning of Life on Earth

In the second part of the Sutta, Buddha tells the story of how the human beings came to dwell on Earth.

The Buddha told that sooner of later, after a very long time, there would be a time when the world shrink. As the universe shrinks, many of its inhabitants would die. Of these deceased creatures, some were born again (due to good karma) in the Heavenly realm of Abbhasara (Lucid Light). There, they floated for a very - very long time, as a bodiless, radiating extreme light. They don't eat or drink, as they nourish themselves from pure spiritual joy.

Then, after some very long time, when the World began to expand again, many of this Abbhasara creatures were born to these newly formed Earth. They floated above and around the Earth. At this time, there were not yet seen the Moon and the Sun, there were not yet Night and Day, there were not yet names and identity or female or male. The creatures were only known for creatures.

At that period, Vasettha, there was just one mass of water, and all was darkness, blinding darkness.... And sooner or later, after a very long period of time, savory earth spread itself over the waters where those beings were. It looked just like the skin that forms itself over hot milk as it cools. It was endowed with color, smell, and taste. It was the color of fine ghee or butter and it was very sweet, like pure wild honey (1)

Some of the creatures of light (the Abbhasaras) who had curiosity and greedy nature began to dive and tasted the savory Earth's substance. At that moment, the creature found out that it tasted so delicious. Thus, greed started to seep in and it ate the substance voraciously, greedily, thus calling also its comrades (who were flying above and on earth) to join in the feast. Not long afterwards, the creatures began to eat so greedily and due to the huge amount of the mud substance, they could feed on it for a very long time.

As they ate and ate, their luminous body began to be coated by the mud substance, formed a coarser body, then suddenly, the sun and moon were seen, so did the stars, and also Night and Day began on Earth. The logical explanation of this was that the creatures were the self-luminating, so blinding and luminating that they didn't notice the Sun. The Earth was covered in their light. So, when the materialization took place, the light faded inside their newly conceived 'body' of mud and thus the night and day became apparent to them. Then, as the night and day became apparent, season and years also appeared.

Their body was still coarse and roughly shaped. Thus, after a very long time, the mud-like substance began to exhaust. Then, mushroom-like plants began to grow so fast that it replaced the mud-like ocean. The creatures began to devour them as well, and they found it also so delicious as sweet honey and milk. Their body hardened more and details began to turn finer.

After another very long time, the mushrooms also began to exhaust, replaced by cassava or turnip-class plants. They also began to devour it night and day, and thus they began to notice differences amongst them. As the changes of their body varies one another, concept of difference arose. The beautiful and the ugly concept was born. The beautiful scorns the ugly and they became arrogant of their appearance.

Then, after the turnips, the earth were grown with rice-plants. The first rice plants were without husk and kernels. The sweet and honey-like rice flourished seeds abundantly. The people consumed them for a very long time. But there are people who became greedy and lazy. They took more rice than they needed for one day's meals. They began to take two, four, eight, and sixteen days' of rice reserves as they were too lazy to take rice everyday. Owing to this, many other creatures began to store and hoard the rice. The generation time rice plants became slower and slower. Usually, it took only one night for the plant to grow and ready to be consumed, but by the karmic power, the plant began to grow slower and slower. Also the rice grew in kernel and husks, scattered, of which the creatures must work, nurse, maintain, harvest, and cook them to obtain the white rice.

By this time, the body of the creatures had been finely evolved. There were already distinction of male and female. The man became preoccupied with women and vice versa. Then, as they were deeply attracted to one another, passion and desire aroused, and they enganged in sexual relationship. The people who saw a couple doing sexual activity scold them, and usually the couple were forbidden of entering the village for a certain period of time. Owing to this, the indulgent couple built closed dwellings where they indulged in sexual activity.

The Birth of Social Order and Castes

In the third part, the Buddha explained about the origin of Castes, their titles, and their order in the society system which were still rigidly effective in Buddha's time.

The Khattiya Caste (Rulers)

The rice plants, as mentioned earlier, began to grow in separate plot and people began to divide lands and tend each other's cluster of rice fief. They became preoccupied in tending their own field. Then, as the evil and greed aroused, there were people who begin stealing others' crops. At first, the others only warn the culprit and the culprit promise that he will never repeat it again. But when it does repeat several times, the people begin punishing him with fist, stones, and then sticks. That is the origin of punishment forms. Then, people begin to think that they are too busy to heed every crime and abuse happen in their society. They grieved on the rising of evil amongst their people. But most of their time had already been invested in tending their fief. So, they appointed someone to rectify what is right and what is wrong, give warnings to those who need it, give punishment to those who deserve it, and in return, they will give him share of their rice. So, they went to the fairest, ablest, most likeable, and most intelligent person and appointed him to do the judging and passing out sentences on the reward of a share of rice. The appointed person thus agreed and the people bestowed upon him the title : 'Maha-Sammata' meaning: The People's Choice. Then, they bestowed also the second title: 'Khattiya' meaning the 'Lord of the Rice Field', and finally the third title: 'Raja' which means 'Who gladdens people with Dhamma (or Truth)'. This order was created by the people's wish and need, based on the Dhamma and not from others. The Buddha stated again that Dhamma is indeed the best of all things.

The Brahmin Caste

Then, amongst the people, some of them begin to think like this: "Evil deeds have risen amongst us, like :theft, lies, murders, sexual abuses, punishment, and banishment. Now let us set aside evil, unuseful, and impolite things." The word Brahmins came, as it meant: "They who put aside Evil and unwholesome things" (1). They set up retreats and huts in the forests and meditated there. They come to the city at morning and evening only to gather food and after finished gathering food, they return to their huts and meditations. People notice this and 'Those who meditated' were called 'Jhayanti' or 'Jhayaka'.

There are other people, who can't meditate or dwell in huts in the forest. So, they settled in the cities, not meditate, but compile books. The people called them 'Ajjhayaka' which meant 'They who don't meditate'. At first the Ajjhayaka is viewed lower than Jhayaka but in the Buddha's time, the Ajjhayaka has been viewed higher in status than the Jhayakas.

The Vessa (Traders) and the Suddha (Hunters)

Among the people who had settled and had family, some began to adopt various trade.

The remainder of these people preferred the work of hunting. The Sudda caste come from the word 'Sudda' which means: 'They Are Base Who Live By The Chase' [1].

All of the castes, from Brahmin, Khattiya, Vessa, and Suddha were originated from these people, and not from others; in accordance to the Dhamma and not by others.

The Ascetics

But from the four clans, there were people who were not satisfied with their living, left their home and became celibate ascetics. These are the origin of the fifth caste formed from all the four castes' people who left their lay life and became an ascetic.

Buddha's Conclusion

The Buddha then concluded his discourse to Vasettha and Bharadvaja: (Due to the governance of Dhamma which became the root of all castes and people,) Anyone, from any the caste, did demerit and wrong doings, live a bad life of speech, thoughts, views, and wrong doings, they would end up after the death, in the realm of sufferings, hell, loss, and torture.

But anyone, from any caste, did merit and good deeds, live a good life of speech, thoughts, and deeds; have the right view, after their death, they would end in realm of happiness and heaven.

Anyone, from any caste, did both merit and demerit, live a good and bad life of speech, thoughts, and deeds; have either right or bad view, after their death, they could end in the realm of suffering or the realm of joy.

Anyone, from any caste, who lived a life of disciplined deeds, speeches, thoughts, who had trained and developed himself in the seven factors of Enlightenment, then he would attain the eradication from the (stains/dust/dirt/filth) of mind in this current life.

Anyone, from four castes, who became a bhikku (Monk), arahant, People who had eradicated stains of Mind, had done what must be done, had relieved himself from burden, who had attained freedom, who had broken the bondage of birth, who had been freed due to knowledge; then they would be declared as the best from all of them, in accordance to the Truth (Dhamma) and not from the basis of not Truth (adhamma).

The Buddha quoted, "Dhamma is the best thing for people In this life and the next as well."

The Buddha quoted the verses of Brahma Sandakumara: "The Khattiya is the best among those who maintain their lineage; He with knowledge and conduct is best of gods and men." then, the Buddha asserted that the verse is indeed true, according to the Dhamma, profitable, and true.

The Khattiya’s best among those who value clan; He with knowledge and conduct is best of gods and men."

Thus the discourse ended with Vasettha and Bharadvaja rejoiced in hearing the words of Buddha.

Digging deeper on the Sutta

While the story of the world's beginning is considered a myth, on the other hand, the buddhist doctrine requires a constant sceptical approach, where one must see and prove it before one believes it (ehipassiko). However, the profound insight of the Buddha in two major fields: science (cosmology) and social structure's origin indeed was revolutionary on his era.

On the science part, Buddha implied the theory of the Evolution of Universe, where it is said to shrink and then expand in repeated cycles.

While on the social science part, the Buddha's words implied on the equality of origin in human race, whether by their sex, appearance, or by another categories which founded later based on physiological differences. Buddha also emphasized that the social structure is formed voluntarily, based on righteousness and necessity, not based on Divine Forces as some theories stated.

The Monarchy is also formed voluntarily, and the people elect the most righteous and capable person, which implied the Democracy concept. The Monarch accept 'share of rice' as his reward to rectify the social order, which is the origin of voluntary reward which evolves into taxation concept. However, the Buddha states that the Monarch is regarded worthy not of his divine right but due to his righteousness in deeds. [2]

The Buddha's message was clear, however, that the best thing in the world is Truth (Dhamma) and everything is created, measured, and valued based on Truth and not from other.



2. The Buddha’s Theory of Right - by Nalin Swaris

In the Vasettha Sutta, Gotama Buddha discloses how the illusion of fixed and unchangeable occupations arises due to social practices repeated from generation to generation. The practice of endogamy in clan societies was adapted to suit new social conditions by the Brahmins. By imposing endogamy on occupational groups, the Brahmins could argue that occupational specialisation was a function of biology and not a historical development. By making people forget its historical origins, they claimed that their normative social order existed from the beginning of time when God created Man and produced the four social ranks out of his body.

With Knowledge of Beginnings

The Agganna Sutta unravels the origins of the social division of labour. The Buddha uses the Law of Conditioned Co-Genesis as a method of historical explanation. The title of this discourse is often translated as a Buddhist ‘genesis’ story. The term may serve as a convenient translation so long as ‘genesis’ is not understood as ‘a beginning out of nothing.’ The Buddha rejected suggestions that his explanation refers to spontaneous generation or divine creation. ‘Genesis’ in the Buddha’s usage is always a conditioned genesis, and human agency is always an intrinsic factor. The word agganna literally means ‘with knowledge of beginnings.’ The term was consciously used to refute the spurious theory of creation propagated by the Brahmins. The Buddha unravels step by step the stages of social evolution that produced the stratified society of his day. He offers a superlative archaeological-genealogical explanation. It is also a study on the archaeology of power because the Buddha explains how power differentials arose with the emergence of property differences during a long historical process culminating in the rise of monarchies and the State.

In striking contrast to most Western social theories, the Agganna Sutta does not begin with an assumption that at the beginning of social evolution there were only separate individuals or, as in most patriarchal genesis stories, a solitary male. The Buddha points out that in the beginning there were just ‘beings.’ Anthropologists and palaeontologists today agree that the human species spent the greater part of its existence on this planet hunting and gathering. The Buddha begins with human groups in this ‘primitive’ food-gathering stage. Society at that initial stage-and contemporary anthropology confirms this-was simple and undifferentiated. There was no social differentiation or hierarchy nor even differentiation between masculine and feminine (not to be confused with ‘sexlessness’ as some celibate commentators have piously imagined). Humans lived as food gatherers for a long period of time, shifting from place to place as local resources were depleted.

A qualitative change took place when food cultivation techniques were invented. Instead of moving from place to place, ever dependent on the spontaneous products of nature, they could settle down and produce their means of subsistence. The consolidation of production and the creation of food surpluses changed the character of social relations. The primitive, undifferentiated and egalitarian clan began to disintegrate. Pairing marriage, rather than group marriage, became the norm for biological reproduction. Instead of the clan, the separate household became the basic unit of the new society. The settled way of life and the establishment of separate households made possible the accumulation and hoarding of goods. People began to grab and store wealth, and anarchic conditions developed. In the earlier clan societies, the means of production, especially land, were held in common, and wealth was equitably distributed among all members. Under new conditions, it was no longer clear who was entitled to what. Thus, the institution of private property was a historical, not natural, necessity. Boundaries were marked to divide the hitherto undivided earth into privately owned plots. Instead of restoring peace, the right to private property further inflamed greed to accumulate wealth. Unconscionable individuals grabbed the lands of others by force. The institution of property increased theft, lying and violence.

It was at this stage, when egoism and greed had developed under specific historical conditions, that the need for a central institution to regulate social affairs became a necessity. In order to maintain peace and ensure the just distribution of property, the people, the Buddha recalls, came together as they had done in the earlier tribal assemblies and proposed:

‘Come let us appoint a certain being from among ourselves who would show anger where anger is due, censure those who deserve censure and banish those who deserve banishment! And in return, let us grant him a share of the rice. So they went to the one who was the handsomest, the most pleasant and capable and asked him to do this for them in return for a share of the rice, and he agreed.’

A Ruler’s Titles

The Buddha then goes on to explain the titles given by the people to their rulers when they first elected them. A ruler’s ‘first and enduring title’ was Mahajana Sammata: The People’s Consensus. The Buddha calls this ‘the first constituting element.’ In other words, the title indicates the historical genesis and juridical basis of the right to govern.

The second title and constituting element was ‘Ksatriya.’ The Buddha states that originally the term meant ‘Lord of the Fields.’ It was a function created by the people, not a divine institution as the Brahmins claimed. The second title defined the nature and limits of a ruler’s jurisdiction. He was given powers of ‘overlordship’ but not rights of proprietorship over the people or lands. Yet proprietary claims were made by monarchs of the Buddha’s Day by right of conquest. By attributing the original right to rule to a social convention, and not to a privilege of birth or armed conquest, it implies that the people have the right to withdraw the mandate if a ruler violates the contract.

The third title and constituting element was ‘Raja.’ Etymologically, the word means ‘radiant’: this defines the quality that should inform just governance and which gives legitimacy to the rule of the Great Elect. The Buddha states that in the beginning people called a ruler ‘Raja’ because he was expected to ‘gladden others with Dhamma (the Buddha’s Teaching).’ In ancient India, it was used variously as the title of a tribal hero-chief, the head of a settled agricultural community, the elected head of a federation of tribes or the monarch of a kingdom. The rulers of imperial states were addressed as ‘Maharaja’: Great King. ‘Raja’ had come to stand for ‘radiant power.’ The Buddha returns to the term’s preceding ethical connotation and states that in the beginning people understood it to mean ‘radiating righteousness.’

The Original Social Contract

Since the Mahajana Sammata was freed from productive labour in order to govern the people, he would have no personal means of subsistence. Following the ancient tribal custom of balanced reciprocity, the people decided to remunerate him for the services he agreed to perform on their behalf. Here again the Buddha provides a socio-genetic explanation for taxation. In the early Rig Vedic period, the people belonging to a clan brought their produce to a central pool or treasury, kosa. It was then redistributed in equitable shares, bhaga, among all the clanspeople. With the emergence of monarchy, the portion allocated to the Raja as remuneration for services rendered to the community also came to be called bhaga, which, in turn, came to mean ‘tax.’ Similarly, kosa came to stand for the royal or state treasury. It is worth noting that originally bhaga was a share of the produce, but not the principal means of production, land. Taxation, according to the Buddha, began as a voluntary tribute for services rendered, but later it degenerated into extortion and violent expropriation.

The Buddha’s explanation of kingship’s origins is in striking contrast to the Brahmin theory attesting that because of alarming conditions and social anarchy the people turned to the gods for help. Manu agreed to become the humans’ ruler on condition that he would receive lavish gifts (grain, animals and the most beautiful of young women) in return for maintaining law and order. The people’s fear of social anarchy was used to justify the privileges of a king functioning as guardian of the Brahmanic cosmo-social order, which, in turn, provided a theological rationale for overtaxation. Brahmin ideologists placed the first kings outside the varna scheme; kingship resulted from a separate act of creation. Kings were established in office by a divine legate, a Brahmin priest empowered to anoint rulers. Like the Christian kings’ Divine Right, the Brahmin theory provided a descending analysis of power. Power and majesty were privileges that the gods deign to share with the sons of their choice; the priest mediated this election.

In the Agganna Sutta, the Buddha rejects this mystification of royal power. After recalling the circumstances that led to the Mahajana Sammata’s election, he immediately adds that he was ‘a certain being-ekam sattam-chosen from among the people themselves.’ There is no mention of gender, birth, wealth or armed might as qualifications. The qualities stressed are ethical. The Great Elect was expected to rule justly and ‘gladden the hearts of his people.’ The Theory of Constituting Elements clarifies the factors by which legitimate power was established; the limits within which legitimate power can be exercised.

Having traced the archaeology of state power, the Buddha further explained the emergence of various occupational groups with the monogamous household as the principle unit of ownership and production. At each stage marking the emergence of a particular social stratum, including the monarchy and the various occupational groups, the Buddha repeatedly emphasised:

‘They originated among these very same beings, like ourselves, no different, in accordance with Dhamma (conditioned co-genesis) and not contrary to Dhamma.’

The Vasettha and Agganna Suttas assert the same universal principle: whether conventionally labelled ‘Brahmin,’ ‘king’ or ‘outcaste,’ everyone shares a common human nature. They belong to the same species. Birth does not differentiate; the mind and social conventions do.

Implications of the Agganna Sutta

(1) The Buddha was the first thinker in world history to formulate a theory of contractual power. The Agganna Sutta is the earliest known discourse on politics where the source of state power is traced to popular consensus. Unlike Western philosophers of the 18th century, the Buddha did not argue that a social contract was necessary because the human species consists essentially of separate and egoistic individuals. The Buddha disclosed that individualism and egoism manifest themselves under specific, historically arisen conditions: the transition from a mobile to a settled way of life after humans had developed techniques for the production of their means of subsistence, the breakdown of clan solidarity and the setting of separate households as the principle unit of ownership and production all changed people’s moral sentiments:

‘What was once regarded as immoral (the private ownership of the means of production) came to be regarded as moral.’

(2) The Buddha rejected Brahmin theory about the divine origin of language, which was the basis for their theory of creation. The Brahmins traced language to the Creative Word of God. In Brahmin fantasy, all realties originate with a Father-God who begot a Word-Son from his mouth. This Divine Word-Son was the exteriorisation of the invisible mind of God. All perceivable realities are fragmentary reflections of the Divine Mind. Every separate individual is a partial, imperfect and finite incarnation of the Divine Word. To know the hidden meaning of a thing or a person, we must know its true meaning as conceived and uttered by the Word. All words are made up of stable sound elements that have fixed and immutable meanings that are revealed in the Vedas: the Word of God. To understand the meaning and the purpose of everything on earth, one must know the Vedas. The Brahmins have been chosen by God to act as custodians and interpreters of the Word; they alone have access to the true meaning determined by God. By tracing the power of their words to God, the Brahmins could claim that their discourse about social order was based on divine revelation.

Before commencing his genealogical study of power, the Buddha demolished the Brahmin theory of creation by the Word of God. He wielded a two-edged sword in the Agganna Sutta, undercutting not only the Brahmin theological view of society, but also the very language used to substantiate it. He provided a historical explanation for the origin of the Vedas: language, like society, is a constructed reality. The meaning attached to a word is a social convention, not divine creation. Caught in the web of language, humans break even impersonal events into subject-predicate differences and say, ‘it rains,’ ‘the river flows.’ Language reinforces delusion that the conceptualised world is real, whereas outside the thinking head the perceived form from which a concept is derived and fixed by a verbal signifier is subject to the law of impermanence and flux. One never steps into the same river twice. It is human recognition that makes it the same river and not an underlying, unchanging essence of ‘riverness.’ The Buddha further ridiculed the notion that Father-Gods could beget Word-Sons from their mouths. The Brahmins, he said, could cook up such a fantasy only by cultivating amnesia about their real origins. However much they might like to forget it, everyone knows that Brahmin women, like those of other social strata, menstruate, conceive their children and feed them at their breasts. These ‘vulva-born’ Brahmins, bandying the view that they were conceived in the head of Brahma and born out of his mouth, must first come out of the nether-mouth of woman before making their silly claims.

By emphasising real origins and rejecting the meaningless practice of ritual rebirth by male priests, the Buddha revalidated the feminine-maternal order which the Brahmins disqualified as intrinsically impure. Birth from woman does not differentiate; king and pauper alike share the same process. Patriarchal, empirically non-verifiable discourse about a Creative Word differentiates and sets people against one another, not nature. In the beginning, there is a matrix, not a patrix. The Buddha exposed the fallacy of paternal creation and returned it to the feminine-maternal side.

(3) From the Buddha’s point of view, every just social order must begin by recognising the common species-nature of all human beings. There is no basis for discrimination between human beings before the Law (Dhamma), individually or collectively. This Law is not a social convention or positive legislation enacted by an authority. It is inferred through insight into the conditioned co-genesis of perceived differences. Among humans, these are nominal, not essential. The transformation of perceived differences into substantial differences enables hierarchies of things and beings. Thus, justification of dominance over many by a few can be made to appear ‘natural.’ Institutionalised violence can be argued as necessary and, according to ‘reason,’ divine and human. From the Buddha’s viewpoint, these are violent reasons masquerading as reasonable violence. He concluded the Agganna Sutta with this declaration:

‘Human beings are not different from one another. They are equal, not unequal. This is in accordance with Dhamma.’

The Buddha’s ascending analysis of power demolishes conventional theories of right. Power does not come down from a divine or mysterious source; it is the crystallisation and concentration of relationships developed in society under specific historical conditions. Neither the decentralisation of power nor the ‘empowerment’ of people are necessary, but rather renunciation of power accumulated through gradual appropria-tion of its circuits, which arose and began to circulate in ever wider circles through society. Oppressive ideologies, like Brahminism, seek to inscribe dominant-submissive relationships into the consciousness and very bodies of people. The greatest victims of this demonology-that is what this ‘theology’ of power is-are women, sudras and ‘untouchables.’

(4) The Vasettha and Agganna Suttas together provide the basic principles for the formulation of a bill of fundamental human rights:

# All men and women are equal according to a fundamental Law.

# Rulers, whether by dynastic succession or election, have been elevated to a position of power through an original contract with the people. Governments not enjoying a free mandate from the people violate the people’s rights and are illegitimate. The people have the right to oust them from power.

# These truths are in accordance with the Law of Righteousness to which both rulers and ruled are subject.

The Buddha’s trace of power to an original contract suggests he favoured a polity in which rulers are subject to the same Rule of Law as everyone else. In this, he anticipated the constitutional monarchies and republics of modern times. The Buddha saw the social miseries spawned by the absolute monarchies of his day. In his youth, he was trained in the art of governance and understood the necessity of containing power within clearly defined legal and moral limits. This is clear from the answer he gave when asked, ‘Who, Master, is the King of Kings?’ He replied:

‘The Dhamma alone is the King of Kings.’ (The Gradual Sayings III.114)



3. The Agganna Sutta / On Knowledge of Beginnings

http://www.buddhistinformation.com/ida_b_wells_memorial_sutra_library/agganna_sutta.htm

Thus have I heard. Once the Lord was staying at Savatthi, at the mansion of Migara’s mother in the East Park. And at that time Vasettha and Bharadvaja were living among the monks, hoping to become monks themselves. And in the evening, the Lord rose from his secluded meditation and came out of the mansion, and started walking up and down in its shade.

Vasettha noticed this and he said to Bharadvaja: ‘Friend Bharadvaja, the Lord has come out and is walking up and down. Let us approach him. We might be fortunate enough to hear a talk on Dhamma from the lord himself.’ Yes, indeed,’ said Bharadvaja, so they went up to the lord, saluted him, and fell into step with him.

Then the lord said to Vasettha: ‘Vasettha, you two are Brahmins born and bred, and you have gone forth from the household life into homelessness from Brahmin families. Do not the Brahmins revile and abuse you?’

‘Indeed, lord, the Brahmins do revile and abuse us. They don’t hold back with their usual flood of reproaches.’

‘Well, Vasettha, what kind of reproaches do they fling at you?’

‘Lord, what the Brahmins say is this, "The Brahmins caste is the highest caste—other castes are base; the Brahmin caste is fair, other castes are dark; Brahmins are purified, non-Brahmins are not, the Brahmins are the true children of Brahma, [1] born from his mouth, born of Brahma, heirs of Brahma. And you, you have deserted the highest class and gone over to the base class of shave-ling petty ascetics, servants, dark fellows born of Brahma’s Foot! It’s not right, it’s not proper for you to mix with such people!" That is the way the Brahmins abuse us, lord.’

‘Then, Vasettha, the Brahmins have forgotten their ancient tradition when they say that. Because we can see Brahmin women, the wives of Brahmins, who menstruate and become pregnant, have babies, and give milk. And yet these womb-born Brahmins talk about being born from Brahma’s mouth…These Brahmins misrepresent Brahma, tell lies and earn much demerit.

‘There are, Vasettha, these four castes: The Khattiyas, The Brahmins, the merchants and the artisans. And sometimes a Khattiya takes life, takes what is not given, commits sexual misconduct, tells lies, indulges in slander, harsh speech or idle chatter, is grasping, malicious, or of wrong views. Thus such things as are immoral and considered so, blameworthy and considered so, to be avoided and considered so, ways unbefitting an Ariyan and considered so, black with black result and blamed by the wise, are sometimes to found among the Khattiyas, and the same applies to Brahmins, merchants, and artisans.

‘Sometimes too, a Khattiya refrains from taking life, does not take what is not given, refrains from sexual misconduct, speaks truth, shuns slander, harsh speech or idle chatter, is not grasping, malicious, or of wrong views. Thus such things are moral and considered so, blameless and considered so, to be followed and considered so, ways befitting an Ariyan and considered so, bright with bright results and praised by the wise, are sometimes found among the Khattiyas, and likewise among Brahmins, merchants, and artisans.

‘Now since both dark and bright qualities, which are blamed and praised by the wise, are scattered indiscriminately among the four castes, the wise do not recognize the claim about the Brahmin caste being the highest. Why is that? Because, Vasettha, anyone from the four castes who becomes a monk, an Arahant who has destroyed the corruptions, who has lived the life, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, reached the highest goal, destroyed the fetter of becoming, and become emancipated through super-knowledge—he is proclaims supreme by virtue of Dhamma and not of non-Dhamma.

Dhamma is the best thing for people

In this life and the next as well.

‘This illustration will make clear to you how Dhamma is best in this world and the next. King Pasenadi of Kosala knows: "The ascetic Gotama has gone forth from the neighboring clan of the Sakyans." Now the Sakyans are vassals of the King of Kosala. They offer him humble service and salute him, rise and do him homage and pay him fitting service and just as the Sakyans offer the King humble service and salute him, rise and do him homage and pay him fitting service so likewise does the King offer humble service to the Tathágata, thinking, "If the ascetic Gotama is well-born, I am ill-born; if the ascetic Gotama is strong, I am weak; if the ascetic Gotama is pleasant to look at, I am ill-favored; if the ascetic Gotama is influential, I am of little influence." Now it is because of honoring the Dhamma, making much of the Dhamma, esteeming the Dhamma, doing reverent homage to the Dhamma that King Pasenadi does humble service to the Tathágata and pays him fitting service:

Dhamma is the best thing for people

In this life and the next as well.

Vasettha, all of you, though of different birth, name, clan and family, who have gone forth from the household life into homelessness, if you are asked who you are, you should reply: "We are ascetics, followers of the Sakyan." [2] He whose faith in the Tathágata is settled, rooted, established, solid, unshakable by any ascetic or Brahmin, any deva or mara or Brahma or anyone in the world, can truly say: "I am a true son of the Blessed Lord, born of his mouth, born of Dhamma, created by Dhamma, an heir of Dhamma." Why is that? Because, Vasettha, this designates the Tathágata: "The Body of Dhamma," that is "The Body of Brahma," [3] or "Become Dhamma," that is "Become Brahma." [4]

‘There comes a time, Vasettha, when, sooner or later after a long period this world contracts. At a time of contraction, beings are mostly born in the Abhassara Brahma world. And there they dwell, mind-made, feeding on delight, self luminous, moving through the air, glorious—and they stay like that for a very long time. But sooner or later, after a very long period, this world begins to expand again. At a time of expansion, the beings from the Abhassara Brahma world, having passed away from there, are mostly reborn in this world. Here they dwell, mind-made, feeding on delight, self-luminous, moving through the air, glorious—[5] and they stay like that for a very long time.

‘At that period, Vasettha, there was just one mass of water, and all was darkness, blinding darkness. Neither moon or sun appeared, no constellations or stars appeared, night and day were not yet distinguished, nor months and fortnights, nor years and seasons; there was no male and female, beings being reckoned just as beings. [6] And sooner or later, after a very long period of time, savory earth spread itself over the waters where those beings were. It looked just like the skin that forms itself over hot milk as it cools. It was endowed with color, smell, and taste. It was the color of fine ghee or butter and it was very sweet, like pure wild honey.

‘Then some being of a greedy nature said: "I say, what can this be?" and tasted the savory earth on its finger. In so doing, it became taken with the flavor, and craving arose in it. Then other beings, taking their cue from that one, also tasted the stuff with their fingers. They too were taken with the flavor, and craving arose in them. So they set to with their hands, breaking off pieces of the stuff in order to eat it. And the result was that their self luminance disappeared. And as a result of the disappearance of their self luminance the moon and the sun appeared, night and day were distinguished, months and fortnights appeared, and the year and its seasons. To that extent the world re-evolved.

‘And those beings continued for a very long time feasting on this savory earth, feeding on it and being nourished by it. And as they did so, their bodies became coarser, and a difference in looks developed among them. Some beings became good looking, others ugly. And the good looking ones despised the others, saying: "We are better looking than they are." And because they became arrogant and conceited about their looks, the savory earth disappeared. At this they came together and lamented, crying, "Oh, that flavor! Oh, that flavor!" and so nowadays when people say, "Oh, that flavor!" when they get something nice, they are repeating an ancient saying without realizing it.

‘And then, when the savory earth disappeared, a fungus cropped up, in the manner of a mushroom. It was of good color, smell, and taste. It was the color of fine ghee or butter, and it was very sweet, like pure wild honey. And those beings set to and ate the fungus. And this lasted for a very long time. And as they continued to feed on the fungus, so their bodies become coarser still, and the difference in their looks increased still more. And the good looking ones despised the others…and because they became arrogant and conceited about their looks, the sweet fungus disappeared. Next, creepers appeared, shooting up like bamboo…and they too were very sweet, like pure wild honey.

‘And those beings set to and fed on those creepers. And as they did so, their bodies became even coarser, and the difference in their looks increased still more…and they became still more arrogant, and so the creepers disappeared too. At this they came together and lamented, crying: "Alas, our creepers gone! What have we lost!" and so now today when people, one being asked why they are upset, say: "Oh what have we lost!" they are repeating an ancient saying without realizing it.

‘And then, after the creepers had disappeared, rice appeared in open spaces, free from powder and from husks, fragrant and clean grained. And what they had taken in the evening for supper had grown again and was ripe in the morning, and what they had taken in the morning for breakfast was ripe again by evening, with no sign of reaping. And these beings set to and fed on this rice, and this lasted for a very long time. And as they did so, their bodies became coarser still, and the difference in their looks became even greater. And the females developed female sex organs and the males developed male sex organs. And the women became excessively preoccupied with the men, and the men with the women. Owing to this excessive preoccupation with each other, passion was aroused, and their bodies burnt with lust. And later because of this burning, they indulged in sexual activity. But those who saw them indulging threw dust, ashes, or cow-dung at them, crying: "Die, you filthy beast! How can one being do such things to another!" Just as today, in some districts, when a daughter-in-law is led out, some people throw dirt at her, some ashes, and some cow dung, without realizing that they are repeating an ancient observance. What was considered bad form in those days is now considered good form.

‘And those beings who in those days indulged in sex were not allowed into a village or town for one or two months. Accordingly those who indulged for an excessively long period in such immoral practices began to build themselves dwellings so as to indulge under cover.

‘Now it occurred to one of those beings who was inclined to laziness, "Well now, why should I be bothered to gather rice in the evening for supper and in the morning for breakfast? Why shouldn’t I gather it all at once for both meals?" And he did so. Then another one came to him and said, "Come on, lets go rice-gathering." "No need, my friend, I’ve gathered enough for both meals." Then the other, following his example, gathered enough rice for two days at a time, saying, "That should be about enough." Then another being came to that second one, "Come on, lets go rice gathering." "No need my friend, I’ve gathered enough for two days." (The same for four, then eight days.) However, when those beings made a store of rice and lived on that, husk-powder and husk began to envelop the grain, and where it was reaped it did not grow again, and the cut place showed, and the rice grew in separate clusters.

‘And then those beings came together lamenting, "Wicked ways have become rife among us: at first we were mind made, feeding on delight…(All the events are repeated down to the latest development, each fresh change being said to be due to ‘wicked and unwholesome ways)…and the rice grows in separate clusters! So now let us divide up the rice into fields with boundaries." So they did so.

‘Then, Vasettha, one greedy-natured being, while watching over his own plot, took another plot that was not given to him, and enjoyed the fruits of it. So they seized hold of him and said, "You’ve done a wicked thing, taking another’s plot like that! Don’t ever do such a thing again!" "I won’t," he said, but he did the same thing a second and a third time. Again, he was seized and rebuked, and some hit him with their fists, some with stones, and some with sticks. And in this way, Vasettha, taking what was not given, and censuring, and lying, and punishment took their origin.

‘Then those beings came together and lamented the arising of these evil things among them: taking what was not given, censuring, lying, and punishment. And they thought: "Suppose we were to appoint a certain being who would show anger where anger was due, censure those who deserved it, and banish those who deserved banishment! And in return we would grant him a share of the rice." So they went to the one among them who was the handsomest, the best-looking, most pleasant and capable, and asked him to do this for them in return for a share of the rice, and he agreed.

"The People’s Choice" is the meaning of Maha-Sammata, [7] which is the first regular title to be introduced. "Lord of the Fields" is the meaning of Khattiya, the second such title. And "He Gladdens Others With Dhamma" is the meaning of Raja, the third title to be introduced. This, then, Vasettha, is the origin of the class of Khattiyas, in accordance with the ancient titles that were introduced for them. They originated among the very same beings, like ourselves, no different and in accordance with Dhamma, not otherwise.

Dhamma is the best thing for people

In this life and the next as well.

‘Then some beings thought, "Evil things have appeared among beings, such as taking what is not given, censuring, lying, punishment and banishment. We ought to put aside evil and unwholesome things." And they did so. "They Put Aside Evil and Unwholesome Things" is the meaning of Brahmin, which is the first regular title to be introduced for such people. They made leaf-huts in forest places and meditated in them. With the smoking fire gone out, with pestle cast aside, gathering alms for their evening and morning meals, they went away to a village, town, or royal city to seek their food, and then they returned to their leaf-huts to meditate. People saw this and noted how they meditated. "They Meditate" is the meaning of Jhayaka, which is the second regular title to be introduced.

‘However, some of those beings, not being able to meditate in leaf huts, settled around towns and villages and compiled books. People saw them doing this and not meditating.

‘Now "These Do Not Meditate" is the meaning of Ajjhayaka, which is the third regular title to be introduced. At that time it was regarded as a low designation, but now it is the higher. This, then, Vasettha, is the origin of the class of Brahmins in accordance with the ancient titles that were introduced for them. Their origin was from among the very same beings, like themselves, not different, and in accordance with Dhamma, not otherwise.

Dhamma is the best thing for people

In this life and the next as well.

‘And then, Vasettha, some of those beings, having paired off, adopted various trades, and this "various" is the meaning of Vessa, which came to be the regular title for such people. This then is the origin of the class of Vessas, in accordance with the ancient titles that were introduced for them. Their origin was from among these very same beings like themselves, no different, and in accordance with Dhamma, not otherwise.

‘And then, Vasettha, those beings that remained went in for hunting. "They Are Base Who Live By The Chase," and that is the meaning of Sudda, which came to be the regular title for such people. This, then, is the origin of the class of Suddas [8] in accordance with the ancient titles that were introduced for them. Their origin was from among these very same beings like themselves, no different, and in accordance with Dhamma, not otherwise.

‘And then, Vasettha, it came about that some Khattiya, dissatisfied with his own Dhamma, went forth from the household life into homelessness, thinking, "I will become an ascetic." And a Brahmin did likewise, a Vessa did likewise, and so did a Sudda. And from these four classes the class of ascetics came into existence. Their origin was from among these very same beings, like themselves, no different, and in accordance with Dhamma, not otherwise.

Dhamma is the best thing for people

In this life and the next as well.

‘And, Vasettha, a Khattiya who has led a bad life in body, speech and thought, and who has wrong view will, in consequence of such wrong views and deeds, at the breaking up of the body after death, be reborn in a state of loss, an ill fate, the downfall, the hell-state. So too will a Brahmin, a Vessa or a Sudda.

‘Likewise, a Khattiya who has led a good life in body, speech, and thought, and who has right view will, in consequence of such right view and deeds, at the breaking up of the body after death, be reborn in a good destiny, in a heaven-state. So too will a Brahmin, a Vessa or a Sudda.

‘And a Khattiya who has performed deeds of both kinds in body, speech and thought, and whose view is mixed will, in consequence of such mixed views and deeds, at the breaking-up of the body after death, experience both pleasure and pain. So too will a Brahmin, a Vessa, or a Sudda.

‘And a Khattiya who is restrained in Body, speech and thougth, and who has developed the seven requisites of enlightenment, will attain to parinirvana in this very life. So too will a Brahmin, a Vessa, or a Sudda.

And, Vasettha, whoever of these four castes, as a monk, becomes an Arahant who has destroyed the corruptions, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, attained to the highest goal, completely destroyed the fetter of becoming, and become liberated by the highest insight, he is declared to be chief among them in accordance with Dhamma, and not otherwise.

Dhamma’s the best thing for people

In this life and the next as well.

Vasettha, it was Brahma Sanankumara who spoke this verse:

The Khattiya’s best among those who value clan;
He with knowledge and conduct is best of gods and men.

This verse was rightly sung, not wrongly, rightly spoken, not wrongly, connected with profit, not unconnected. I too say, Vasettha:

The Khattiya’s best among those who value clan;
He with knowledge and conduct is best of gods and men.

Thus the lord spoke, and Vasettha and Bharadvaja were delighted and rejoiced at his words.

Footnotes:

[1] These are, naturally, the Priests of Brahma.
[2] Literally, "Son of the Sakyans"
[3] ‘Brahma’ in this passage means ‘Highest.’ The Buddha used it because he was speaking to Brahmins.
[4] The Tathágata, by his gaining of Enlightenment by his own efforts, has become ‘The Highest.’
[5] Though born on Earth they are still Devas, not human beings.
[6] As Devas from the Brahma World, they are Sexless.
[7] The Name of the First King of the Solar Race and Ancestor, among others, of the Sakyan rulers (and hence of Gotama.)
[8] Literally, "Artisans" or "Craftsmen


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