Jotiya dhirasekera


CHAPTER II Brahmacarya: The Quest for Emancipation and Immortality



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CHAPTER II
Brahmacarya:
The Quest for Emancipation and Immortality


Throughout the pages of Indian religious thought, in Buddhist as well as non-Buddhist terminology, brahmacarya (Pali brahmacariya) is the term of choice used to designate the life of discipline ordained for the aspirant to spiritual awakening. The life of brahmacarya had a meaning and purpose to many in India even before the appearance of Buddhism. Here we shall be concerned with a survey of the background of Buddhism in which the life of brahmacarya under diverse religious traditions was widely known. A passage in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad in which one seems to get a glimpse of the first beginnings of the Catur Āśrama doctrine of the Brahmins1 refers to the life of brahmacarya as one of `the three dharmaskandhas' each of which is regarded as capable of leading the adherent to a state of spiritual edification or a `world of bliss' (puyaloka). According to the text the result of the pursuit of these dharmaskandha is that thereby one becomes an heir to a punyaloka (Trayo dharmaskandhā yajño'dhyayana dānam iti prathamas. Tapa eva dvitīyas. Brahmacaryā cāryakulavāsī ttīyo' tyantamātmānam ācāryakule' vasādayan. Sarva ete puyalokā bhavanti brahmasamstho'mtatvameti - Chānd.2.23.1.).

Śaṅkara, commenting on this passage in the Chāndogya, identifies these dharmaskandha with the stages of the Āśrama doctrine and goes on to say that each Āśramin reaches a puyaloka by virtue of his own dharma (Sarva ete trayo'pyāśramino yathoktair dharmaih puyalokā bhavanti - ibid.). But we are not certain how far one could look for the pattern of the fully developed Catur Āśrama Dharma in this passage. Belvalkar and Ranade, in their chronological grouping of the Upaniṣadic texts, place this section of the Chāndogya in the early portion of group one which they call Brahmanic.1 Hence we would consider this as one of the earliest references to the institution of brahmacarya, perhaps as a unit in itself or as a part of religious life in the Brahmanic tradition. It is not convincingly clear whether these three dharmaskandha are parts of an integrated whole. Each one of them seems to have a justification in itself and appears capable of producing the desired effect of a puyaloka, although such a state may not be identified with the highest goal which is amtatva. For, over and above these dharmaskandha, the highest premium is set on what is referred to as brahmasastha, because it is the brahmasastha who attains am-tatva or immortality (Brahmasastho amtatvameti - ibid.)

Therefore we would consider brahmacarya here as still being ranked as one of several ways of religious living. It is worth noting the ritualistic bias of some of the other dharmaskandhas which are mentioned along with brahmacarya. They do not reflect a moral or ethical basis of religious life or an intellectual attitude towards it. The inclusion of adhyayana and brahmacarya along with yajña and tapas aproximates to a fusion of old and new ideas about religious life. Brahmacarya here is still neither the religious initiation nor the stepping stone to social uplift among the Brahmins as it was at a later date.1 Those who took to this life of brahmacarya, it may be argued, did so out of their own choice with a view to spiritual edification. It was undoubtedly a life of devotion and dedication as is clear from the passage in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad which describes the brahmacārin as wearing himself away at the house of his teacher (Brahmacāryācāryakulavāsī ttīyo'tyantamātmānamācāryakule' - ibid.). This old Brahmanic institution of brahmacarya which evidently was the choice of a select few underwent a process of popularisation in the formulation of the Catur Āśrama Dharma whereby it was brought into the life of every Brahmin, or in fact of every member of the three principal castes. The religious and secular duties of life were magnificently blended together in this fourfold institution. However, it is clear that the older concept of brahmacarya constituted a way of religious life which was, more or less, complete in itself.

The Manusmṛti describes two different types of brahmacārins who are referred to in the Commentary of Medhātithi as naiṣṭhika and upakurvāṇa.2 The former is lifelong studentship. It is described as an effective means of making an end of sasāra.3 This naiṣṭhika evidently refers to the older concept of brahmacarya which was a lifelong institution and which had to be lived under a teacher. This completely religious life which was divorced from social obligations did promise as its goal the attainment of Brahman.1 Thus as a way of life it could not be displaced completely with the inauguration of the Catur Āśrama Dharma. Brahmanic tradition often shows acquaintance with both. The latter, upakurvāṇa, which shows more conformity to the Catur Āśrama Dharma, was a limited period of studentship whereby initiation into true Brahminhood was effected through the mastery of the sacred learning. Manu gives thirty-six years as the maximum period of time for this preparation which he calls the `traivedika vrata' or dedication to the study of the three Vedas.2 He apparently shows no concern for the fourth Veda, the Atharvan, as a part of the sacred learning. Thus each Veda would have a maximum period of twelve years for its study. But the possibility is indicated of completing the study of the Vedas in much less time. It is in fact brought down to a total of nine years thus giving only three years for each Veda. This is considered possible only in the case of exceptionally good students.3

This tradition of twelve years for the study of each Veda during the period of Brahmacarya appears to have been well known to the Buddhists. But the Buddhist texts which speak of the Brahmin institution of brahmacarya apparently go a step further than Manu in this connection. What they describe as komārabrahmacariya of the Brahmins extends over forty-eight years.1 This komārabrahmacariya unmistakably refers to the period of studentship during which the study of the sacred literature was undertaken. Here the Buddhist texts seem to be in accord with Baudhāyana who `alone states that the term of studentship extends over forty-eight years. This rule includes the Atharva-veda.'2 However, we are not in a position here to examine the reasons for this preference shown by the Buddhists.

In the vast complex of Upaniṣadic thought it is difficult to see a singleness either with regard to what constituted the life of brahmacarya or the nature of the goal that was to be attained by means of it. However, there is no doubt that brahmacarya meant a period, limited or otherwise, of training in religious life under the guidance of a teacher. Some of the early Upaniṣads, deviating perhaps from the `older' nai-hika brahmacarya way which was a complete means by itself, use brahmacarya as a vital part of religious life on to which are grafted moral and ethical considerations.

The Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad which has a claim to a relative antiquity1 gives brahmacarya along with truth, austerity and correct knowledge (satyam, tapas and samyagñāna) as a means of reaching the Ātman.2 The Praśna Upaniṣad which chronologically belongs to the succeeding group3 attaches similar importance to brahmacarya when it says the following:

They indeed possess that Brahma-world,

Who possess austerity (tapas) and chastity (brahmacarya)

In Whom truth is established.

To them belongs yon stainless Brahma-world,

In whom there is no crookedness and falsehood, nor trickery (māyā).4


This is a further indication of the insistence on moral values. One cannot fail to notice at this stage the fact that the goal of religious life presented in the Upaniṣads is, in itself, not a fixed concept. Brahma, whatever it may connote in different contexts, comes to be repeatedly given as the goal which is to be reached through brahmacarya. At any rate, the motive underlying this Brahma-reaching was the escape from this whirl of human existence. `He leads them on to Brahma. This is the way to the gods, the way to Brahma. They who proceed by it return not to the human condition here - yea, they return not.'1 The importance of the observance of brahmacarya in the sphere of religious life has been very keenly recognised in the Upaniṣads. Chāndogya 8.4.3 says that only those who find the Brahma-world through brahmacarya possess the Brahma-world.2 The next khaṇḍa of the same text goes so far as to identify brahmacarya with a host of sacrificial duties of varying degrees of importance thus giving brahmacarya the pride of place as the sole means to the attainment of the highest goal.3 Brahmacarya is equated to what people call `sacrifice' (yajña), what people call `what has been sacrificed' (iṣṭa), what people call `the protracted sacrifice' (sattrāyaa), what people call `silent asceticism' (mauna), what people call `a course of fasting' (anāsakāyana) and what people call `betaking oneself to hermit life in the forest' (arayāyana).4 But it should be pointed out that these portions of the Chāndogya belong to the late period of the Upaniṣadic group.5 We are not in a position to determine with any certainty wherher brahmacarya here is completely identified with the first stage of the Catur Āśrama Dharma. Apparently, ti is as a part of this systematised way of life that brahmacarya here eclipses, more or less, the cult of yajña and tapas.

This complexity of the idea of brahmacarya which we find in the Upaniṣads is simplified by the commentators who readily identify this brahmacarya with the first stage of the Catur Āśrama Dharma. At Chānd.2.23.1 Śaṅkara identifies the three dharmaskandha which include brahmacarya with three of the four āśramas. The commentators associate the following ideas with this institution of brahmacarya:



  1. That one lives the life of brahmacarya under a teacher for the purpose of religious education.1 The importance of brahmacarya for the acquisition of sacred knowledge is reaffirmed by øaïkara in his comment on Brh. 5.2.1 where he points out that brahmacarya is the basis of studentship.2




  1. That the practice of celibacy and renunciation of all desire for women constitute the hallmark of this institution of brahmacarya. Commenting on Chānd 8. 4. 3. øaïkara says that brahmacarya is the renunciation of desire for women.3 At Muõó. 3. 1. 5 he defines brahmacarya as the negation of the enjoyment of the company of women.4 In the wake of this negative virtue comes the acquisition of instruction from one's teacher to which we have already referred above. Rāmānuja puts this effectively as `instruction and guidance from the teacher is preceded by the life of brahmacarya, which in turn is characterised by the renunciation of desire for women.'5




  1. That brahmacarya is the initiation into true Brahminhood through which every Brahmin must pass. It is clearly brought out in øaõkara's comment on Chānd. 6.1.1.1

The pattern of brahmacarya in the Upaniṣads which we have discussed so far does not seem to be identifiable with that formulated in Buddhism. In the Upaniṣads the life of brahmacarya has a different end in view. It is the attainment of Brahma or the Brahma-world and the way to it is distinctly prescribed. In summing up the Upaniṣadic position the commentators recommend brahmacarya as a particular stage in life which is to be gone through for the purpose of religious and social accomplishment. However, the life of brahmacarya in the Upaniṣads and that in Buddhism seem to be drawn very close to each other in the remarks of Śaṅkara on Chānd. 8.7.3. Describing the practice of brahmacarya by Indra and Vairocana under Prajāpati, Śaṅkara goes on to say that although these two were jealous of each other before they came to Prajāpati, they gave up their failings such as greed, hatred, delusion and jealousy before commencing the life of brahmacarya under Prajāpati.2 It should be noted that these commentarial observations are peculiar to Śaṅkara alone. He seems thereby to make this ethical purge a pre-requisite of brahmacarya. Although this same ethical purge, viz. the elimination of rāga, dosa and moha is the fundamental concern of Buddhism, the Buddhist life of brahmacarya does not begin with it. On the other hand, the life of brahmacarya is undertaken in Buddhism, as will be shown below, for the purpose of eliminating rāga, dosa and moha by a gradual process of development. Their elimination is given as the goal of brahmacarya.1 The disciples of the Buddha are thus guided through brahmacarya towards this end.2

The Atharva-veda which lies outside the Brahmaṇic tradition of the three Vedas presents to us at 11. 5 a very different character in the person of the brahmacārin. Bloomfield makes the following observations on this hymn: `Here a Brahma disciple - brahmacārin - in the full glory of his holy functions and monastic habits is treated as an incarnation of the brahma; from him the brahma springs, and in his holy life - brāhmaa - the brahma is glorified.'3 Griffith too refers to this hymn as a glorification of the brahmacārin or religious student.4 According to this Atharvan hymn the brahmacārin is infinitely powerful and controls the universe and the gods therein. `He hath established firmly earth and heaven.'5 He has command over both worlds. `Stirring both worlds the Brahmacāri moveth.'6 He takes precedence over Brahma too, and all this power he derives through tapas. `The Brahmacāri, earlier born than Brahma, sprang up through Fervour, robed in hot libation.'1 His power of tapas is repeatedly mentioned. He is the most potent factor in the universe. He is the source from which the highest Brahma sprang and all the gods owe their origin to him. `From him sprang the heavenly lore, the highest Brahma, and all the Gods, with life that lasts for ever.'2 All life, both animate and inanimate, sprang from him. `The plants, what is and what shall be, day, night, the tall tree of the wood, the year with seasons of the year, all from the Brahmacāri sprang. All creatures of the earth and heaven, tame animals and sylvan beasts, winged and wingless creatures, from the Brahmacāri sprang to life.'3 In him lay the ultimate guardianship of all. `The Brahma that is stored within the Brahmacāri guards them all.'4 The contents of this hymn seems to give an indication that the brahmacārin of the Atharva-veda belongs to a different tradition. Religiously he may be regarded as being more primitive in character, deriving his power mainly through tapas and yajña. Nevertheless, it shows the wide acceptance and unchallenged importance which the institution of brahmacarya had acquired.

We are also aware that the term brahmacarya was something familiar to the other contemporary religious circles as well. The term was used by them to mean the ideal life prescribed by each. The Bodhisatta5 himself refers to the religious life he opted to live under Ālāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta as brahmacariya.1 The Mahāvagga of the Vinaya Piṭaka refers to the religious life of the Jaṭilas who were contemporaries of the Buddha as brahmacariya. It is said that after the Buddha converted the Jaṭila chief, Uruvela Kassapa, people were still in doubt as to who really was converted, the Buddha or Uruvela Kassapa. So they questioned, `Has Samaṇa Gotama taken up the life of brahmacariya under Kassapa or vice versa?'2 It is also said that Sāriputta and Moggallāna, prior to their conversion to Buddhism, lived the life of brahmacariya of the Paribbājakas under the Paribbājaka chief Sañjaya.3 In the Assalāyana Sutta it is associated with the Seven Brahmin Sages of yore.4 The Sandaka Sutta mentions eight such courses, which when judged by the criteria of the Buddhists, fall below standard. Hence they are termed abrahmacariyavāsa (no real abodes of brahmacariya) or anassāsika-brahmacariya (rewardless life of brahmacariya). They seem to include the Materialists (under the doctrine associated with Ajita Kesakambalī) and the Ājīvakas (under the doctrines of Pūraṇa Kassapa, Makkhali Gosāla and Pakudha Kaccāyana). None of these teachers, however, are referred to by name in the Sutta.1 In the Sutta, the venerable Ānanda explains to Sandaka Paribbājaka why the Buddha declared the religious life lived under most of the contemporary teachers as being void and worthless. In all cases it is pointed out that no wise man would choose to practise the brahmacariya under them and that if one ever did he would thereby never gain enlightenment. Under the four abrahmacariyavāsa the doctrines of Ajita Kesakambalī, Pūraṇa Kassapa, Makkhalī Gosāla and Pakudha Kaccāyana are critically examined and the verdict is given that no true brahmacariya life could be lived under them. The four anassāsikāni brahmacariyāni refer to the following four types of teachers whose doctrines are similarly scrutinised and dismissed: 1.The teacher who claims omniscience. 2.The traditionalist. 3.The rationalist. 4.The sceptic.

In the Mahāsīhanāda Sutta the Buddha tells the venerable Sāriputta of another form of brahmacariya which he himself is said to have practised. It also, no doubt, stands outside the pale of Buddhism. It was a form of severe asceticism characterised by fourfold austerities such as abstemious partaking of food, seeking the solitude of forest retreats, etc.2

Buddhaghosa places before us a list in which he tries to indicate the connotation of the term brahmacariya in different circles at different times. He says: `This term brahmacariya here is used in the following senses.'3 But one is not quite sure whether Buddhaghosa refers to the use of the term only in Buddhism. What is clear from the evidence of Buddhaghosa is that brahmacariya in all these cases, not necessarily Buddhist, meant virtuous living. But the concept and magnitude of virtue apparently varied. Here are the different applications of the term according to Buddhaghosa:



dāna - charity.

veyyāvacca - rendering a service or being dedicated to.

pañcasikkhāpadasīla - observance of the five precepts.

appamaññā - practice of brahmavihāra.

methunavirati - celibacy.

sadārasantosa - chastity.

viriya - striving.

uposathaṅga - observance of the full-day of the fast.

ariyamagga - the noble path.

sāsana - the complete Buddhist way of life.
While some of these practices may fall in line with the Buddhist concept of morality still there is evidence to show that at least a few of these forms of brahmacariya were not at all Buddhist in outlook. Illustrating the use of the term brahmacariya in the sense of viriya or striving Buddhaghosa refers to the Lomahaṃsana Sutta1 which is the same as the Mahāsīhanāda Sutta which was quoted earlier. There the Buddha describes the fourfold austerities which he had practised. Those debased practices with regard to food, lodgings etc. as they are described in the Sutta are evidently among those which the Buddha rejects in more places than one. We discover clear proof of this as we examine the story in the Jātaka collection which goes by the same name, namely the Lomahaṃsana Jātaka.1 The Jātaka story which summarises the contents of the Lomahaṃsana Sutta2 goes into great detail in the narration of the story. Perhaps, in an attempt to avoid any mistaken association of these practices with what were genuinely Buddhist, the Jātaka story makes the Buddha state that he practised these austerities to see whether there was any value in them.3 It is further added that these constituted a form of Ājīvaka life.4 Thereafter the Jātaka story goes on to stigmatise these practices completely by stating that these practices invariably lead to birth in hell.5

Buddhism seems to have found in the setting in which it grew up a number of terms of very great popularity and wide acceptance. Their connotations had been established through continued usage and as religious concepts they had reached an unchallenged position. The term Brahma and its derivatives seem to occupy the foremost place among them and they are our main interest here. In the Upaniṣadic schools of thought the Highest Being, Brahman, is sometimes conceived personally and at other times as an Impersonal Absolute.1 To reach it and be merged in it or be identified with it was the aim of all their religious endeavours. It is as the fountain-head of all existence that Brahman was accorded this position. Brahman is believed to be the source whence everything originated.2 In the more developed later Upaniṣadic thought we get a pantheistic conception where Brahman is identified with the universe.3 Buddhism too, seems to use the term Brahma to mean the Highest and the Perfect, but apparently with none of the theological and metaphysical associations. The term is always defined by Buddhaghosa in this sense, giving the word brahma the meaning of seṭṭha. The Buddha, however, was aware of the earlier connotations of the term. This becomes quite evident in the new definitions and explanations which the Buddha offers to the exponents of these ideas.

In the Saṃyutta, the Buddha is seen giving a new interpretation which accords with his teaching to the Brahmanic concept of Brahma-reaching. He tells the Brahmins that it is essentially based on moral achievements like honesty, self-restraint and holy life: Sacca dhammo sayamo brahmacariya majjhe sitā brāhmaa brahmapatti.4 In Buddhism these concepts of `Becoming Brahma' (brahmabhūta) and `Attaining Brahma' (brahmapatti) had no associations of a higher power, an absolute with which an alliance was sought. As far as the Buddha was concerned, these terms implied only the attainment of the goal, the perfection of the religious life which he propounded. It is the enlightenment which leads to perfect liberation from the cycle of sasāra. It is also the purge of all the defiling traits of human life which hence comes to be called āsavāna khaya. The Buddha, while he was once resting in a forest glade, was asked by Bhāradvājagotta Brāhmaṇa whether he was there practising austerities (tapas) in order to reach Brahma (brahmapattiyā) and to gain companionship with him (lokādhipatisahavyata ākakhamāno).1 The Commentary on the above passage gives the concept of Brahma here the more personal character by explaining lokādhipatisahavyata as lokādhipatimahābrahmunā sahabhāva.2 We have already observed that such a concept of Brahman was not unknown among the Brahmins. The Buddha, in his reply to the Brahmin, not only points out that as Buddha he is supremely enlightened and possesses a clarified vision into the nature of all things, but also indicates the way whereby he attained to that state. This shows that the talk of Brahma-reaching in the way in which the Brahmins understood it had no relevance to the Buddha or to the religious life he advocated. What the Buddha valued most was his victory in the battle against craving and desire which are rooted in ignorance. Freed from craving and desire, and seeing things in their true perspective, the Buddha is wise and enlightened. He is happy and for him there are no further attainments beyond this.3

But on the other hand, we notice that the concept of `Becoming Brahma' (brahmabhūta and brahmabhūya) as found in the Bhagavadgītā is always coupled with the idea of identification of the individual self with Brahman. The consequence of this seems to be the final mergence of the ātman in Brahman which the Gītā refers to as Brahmanirvāṇa.1 A commentarial note explains this clearly. With remarkable consistency the term brahmabhūta is defined in a number of places in more or less identical terms which amounts to an identifcation of oneself with Brahman.2 Similar observations are made in the comment on brahmabhūya.3 Brahmabhūta is also defined as the reciprocal identification of Brahman and ātman.4 It should also be noted that the Gītā too, like Buddhism, reckons with moral values.5 But these are subordinated to the absolutism of its Brahma ideal.

In Buddhism, the term brahmabhūta is used in two different contexts. It is used with reference to the Buddha along with a host of other attributes which describe him as a wise and reliable teacher.6 In all instances, the term brahmabhūta as an epithet of the Buddha is closely associated with the term dhammabhūta. In the Aggañña Sutta, these two terms are declared to be epithets of the Buddha and are associated with two other terms derived from the same concepts of Dhamma and Brahma.1 The Buddha is also described as dhammakāyo and brahmakāyo. He is the symbol of the Dhamma (dhammakāyo) and he is identified with it. Hence th is also dhammabhūto. The Commentary on the above passage adds that the Dhamma, on account of its supreme nature, is called Brahma which is the recognised and accepted term to signify the highest and the perfect in contemporary religious thought. Here comes the identification of Dhamma with Brahma and perhaps this gave further support for the adoption of the term Brahma by the Buddhists to describe their own state of religious perfection.2 Now it becomes clear that the term brahmabhūta is used to stress the Buddha's perfection and pre-eminence. The Commentaries regularly explain it as seṭṭhabhūta: Seṭṭhaṭṭhena brahmabhūto -MA.II.76. It is also used as an attribute of the Arahant, i.e. the disciple who, in this very life, has reached peace and perfection, is tranquil and blissful.3 Here too, the idea does not seem to be far from what was stated above, for it seems to emphasise the transcendent character of the Arahant as compared with the rest of the worldlings.1 But neither in the descriptions of the spiritual progress of one who aspires to Arahantship nor in the accounts of the achievements and attainments of the Arahant do we ever get any associations with Brahma, personal or impersonal, as the highest and the absolute.

The term Brahma, however, does appear in Buddhism in such contexts as brahmacariya, brahmabhūta and brahmapatti. Here the term connotes only the idea of noble, worthy and supreme. It is this same phenomenon of adapting terms with already established connotations that we find in the use of the word brāhmaa with reference to the worthy Buddhist disciple.2 During the days of the Buddha, the Brahmins as a group had attained an unassailable position in society, and the Buddha too, seems to have conceded this up to a point. He always had a word of praise for those whom he called the virtuous Brahmins of old. His lament was that the Brahmins of his day did not live up to the worthy Brahmin ideals set up by the ancestors of the clan.3 The following are some of the virtues he ascribed to them: `The sages of yore were full of restraint and given to austerity. Rejecting the pleasures of the senses they sought their own salvation.'4 `They considered the life of brahmacariya, morality, honesty, austerity, benevolence, compassion and tolerance as great virtues.'1 It would have been both futile and almost impossible to dislodge the Brahmin from the social position which he had acquired for himself. The Buddha accepted the concept of the ideal Brahmin and redefined the qualifications for the title of Brāhmaṇa with the stress on ethics and morality. He challenged the accepted value attached to birth as the exclusive qualification for Brahminship.2 It is the mode of a man's life, according to the Buddha's new criterion, that determines a man's social and religious pre-eminence.3

It is not the purpose of the present study to go into details of the development of Buddhist cosmological ideas. However, it must be mentioned that Buddhist texts know of references to Brahmā as a personal being. He is referred to as Mahābrahmā and is recognised as the head of the thousand world systems.4 But the interest of the Buddhist texts here is not so much to stress the greatness of Brahmā as to show that he himself is subject to the law of change and therefore is not an ideal or absolute position to aspire to, although it is, no doubt, regarded as a very high one.5 According to the Buddhist texts, it is to this great Brahmā that the Brahmins of the day addressed their prayers and sacrifices.1 It is a very ritualistic Brahmanism that is portrayed here. It is centered on the cult of a personal Brahma. The world of Brahmā was the religious goal of the Brahmins and companionship with him was the consummation of their religious life. The Brahmins themselves are seen professing it to be so.2 A passage from the Dhānañjāni Sutta makes it further clear that this was the manner in which the Buddhists explained the position of the Brahmins of the day who aspired to reach the world of Brahma (brahmalokādhimuttā).3 Here the Buddha questions the venerable Sāriputta why he aided Dhānañjāni to be born in the Brahma-world which according to the religious considerations of the Buddhists was an inferior goal. But in the Tevijjā Sutta, the Buddha himself, being questioned by the Brahmin pupils of Pokkharasāti and Tārukkha, is seen redefining the path to the world of Brahmā and the way to Brahma-union.4 What strikes us in both these instances is that birth in the world of Brahmā as a reward for the practice of the religious life is conceded. However, nowhere is it recognised as the final end. On the other hand, the Buddha asks Sāriputta why he set Dhānañjāni in the world of Brahmā when something further could have been achieved (sati uttari karaṇīye).1 Brahmā himself is declared to be subject to change (mahābrahmuno'pi atth'eva aññattatta atthi vipariṇāmo).2 Consequently a high premium is never set on life in the Brahma-world for the Buddhists who always regard it as a relatively inferior position in relation to nibbāna (hīne brahmaloke).3

At the same time we notice that the idea of birth in the Brahma-world is closely bound up with the practice and development of the four virtues of mettā, karuṇā, muditā and upekkhā which in Buddhism have come to be known as the four Brahma-vihāra or divine abodes. However, in the early texts the term Brahma-vihāra is not always used for the practice of these virtues. The Saṅgīti Sutta refers to them as catasso appamaññāyo or the fourfold boundlessness.4 In the Dhānañjāni Sutta, it is the practice of these four virtues which the venerable Sāriputta recommends to the Brahmin Dhānañjāni as the way to reach the Brahma-world. Each one of these is spoken of as leading to that much coveted goal.5 Here, the practice of the Brahma-vihāra seems to stand on its own without any leanings on Buddhism, except for the fact that the Sutta simply says that a Bhikkhu does practise these. Dhānañjāni was thus able, apparently without any radical change of his ways, to practise it in his Brahmin setting and be born in the Brahma-world. In the Tevijjā Sutta, the position is different. It is admitted that the development of these practices leads to Brahma-companionship, but it is to come only after the fulfilment of the preliminary duties which are to be carried out by a Buddhist disciple. The grounding in morality (sīlakkhandha), restraint of the sense faculties (indriyasamvara), mental alertness (satisampajañña) and contentment (santuṭṭhi) are all basic requirements, possessed of which the Buddhist disciple is to purge his mind of the five evil traits (pañcanīvaraa). Then alone has he reached the necessary mental poise for the effective practice of the above virtues referred to as Brahma-vihāra. We see in this Sutta the practice of the Brahma-vihāra adequately garbed in Buddhist fashion, even though it is recognised that this practice leads to Brahma-companionship.1 This being so, no difficulty of incompatibility seems to be encountered here.2

But in the Makhādeva Sutta, the Brahma-vihāra are valued differently. King Makhādeva who is recognised as the Buddha in one of his earlier existences, is said to have renounced the household life at the first appearance of the signs of old age. Living the life of brahmacariya, he practised not one, but all the four Brahma-vihāra and after death was born in the Brahma-world.3 But after he became the Buddha, he was in a position to point out the limitations of the practice of the Brahma-vihāra as a way of religious life. It leads not to detachment, tranquility and cessation. It leads not to enlightenment but only confers birth in the Brahma-world. The Buddha is happy to be able to offer a new way of religious life which leads to detachment, cessation and tranquility. It is the way to enlightenment which is none other than the noble eightfold path.1 We notice that there is a definite attempt in this Sutta (Tevijja) to reject this alien way of the practice of Brahma-vihāra, with its limitations, perhaps because of its strong ties with the Brahma-world, the relative inferiority of which the Buddha repeatedly stressed. The scope of the religious life of a Buddhist disciple would not only thereby be limited but also misdirected. The same criticism is made when a Buddhist disciple practises the life of brahmacariya, aspiring to be born in a particular heavenly world. The Cetokhila Sutta considers it a definite hindrance to spiritual progress.2

However, the virtues developed under the Brahma-vihāra are in no way incompatible with the spiritual progress of a Buddhist disciple. They are, in fact, associated with the Buddha too. In the Jīvaka Sutta, Jīvaka tells the Buddha about these four virtues which are believed to be characteristics of Brahmā and adds that he feels that the Buddha also possesses them. The Buddha admits that he possesses them but not as the result of a direct process of practice. On the other hand, it is by virtue of the fact that rāga, dosa and moha are completely eliminated in the Buddha. For it is these which give rise to vyāpāda, vihesā, arati and paigha which are the opposites of these four virtues.1 Thus, in him they are only derivative virtues resulting from a higher achievement. But the Buddha speaks of his disciples as developing these virtues in their daily life.2 In the Mahārāhulovāda Sutta, the disciples are asked to develop these with the primary idea of eliminating their opposites, viz. vyāpāda, vihesā, arati and paigha.3 The Commentary adds that these virtues are essential as the means to the attainment of Arahantship.4 We notice here an attempt to offer a different motive which is more in keeping with Buddhist values for the practice of these much recognised virtues. It is particularly interesting to note how the elimination of arati is held out as an incentive for the practice of muditā.

The explanation of arati as given in the Commentaries gives the virtue of muditā an essentially monastic character which it need not necessarily have. Arati is accordingly the apathy and indifference to the cloistered life and the lack of initiative in the striving for higher spiritual attainments.5 Also note the comment on arati which is given in the Suttanipāta Aṭṭhakathā. There it is indicated that the pabbajita, even after the conquest of kāma on entering the monastic life, may yet fall a victim to arati if he fails to engage himself actively in the pursuit of the monastic aspirations.1 As we examine the interpretation given here to muditā and arati with this distinctly monastic bias we begin to see that the Brahma-vihāra which originally were meant to bring about a mental purge and secure an equipoise of mind are also being used to serve partly as a stimulant in Buddhist monasticism. There is a statement in the Saṃyutta Nikāya which tries to make out that the difficult task for a pabbajita is the devotion and dedication to his mission of good monastic living.2 The Saṃyutta has repeated laments over the falling standards of the Buddhist Saṅgha and we may safely infer that this statement reflects a similar attitude.3 At such a stage in the history of the order it is understandable that muditā is called upon to play this additional role of battling against spiritual lethargy and indifference.

The practice of these four virtues is also called appamāṇā cetovimutti and this cetovimutti is esteemed high in so far as it is stable and has led in that state of mental perfection to the elimination of rāga, dosa and moha.4 Of these four, mettā alone as a virtue by itself, is advocated by the Buddha in the Kakacūpama Sutta. This sermon which refers to the elimination of feelings of anger under all circumstances became, more or less, a standard injunction to his disciples. They are called upon to bear in mind the simile of the saw (kakacūpama) at all times.1 Consequently it became a guiding principle in their life as is borne out by the Theragāthā.2 The Māgha Sutta too, seems to single out mettā as a virtue to be developed by the Buddhist disciple.3 The Metta Sutta goes further to recommend the development of mettā and calls it, in its isolation, the Brahma-vihāra.4

The Aṭṭhakanāgara Sutta points out that a disciple, realising the limitations of the mental purge resulting from the practice of these virtues under the Brahma-vihāra, would be propelled thereby to strive for further attainments.5 Thus it becomes abundantly clear that in spite of the allusions to their transcendent character the Brahma-vihāra have only a limited significance in Buddhism in relation to the Buddhist life of brahmacariya.




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