13. Tevijja Sutta – The Three Knowledges

Introduction

At a time when the Buddha was in the village Manasakata, He stopped in a mango grove by the river Acharavati. At that time, many noble and wealthy Brahmins lived in Manasakata. They, each in their own way, preached the teachings of the Three Vedas. (The Vedas are ancient scriptures, consisting mainly of hymns accompanying ritual actions. The study and singing of the Vedic texts was practiced in among Brahmans). The two young Brahmans Vasettha and Bharadwaja had a dispute about which one of the known Brahmans’ paths leads to the comprehension of the truth and to unification with Brahma after death. They decide to resolve their dispute with the help of the hermit Gautama. They approach Him and ask about which Brahman’s path is direct and whether it leads to the goal.

Buddha’s Questions to the young Brahmans

From the question of the young Brahmans, it is clear that they doubt the knowledge of their teachers and have confidence in the knowledge of the Buddha. Therefore, this conversation is distinguished by their mutual trust. Questions asked by the Buddha allow young Brahmans to get rid of the sense of superiority that is characteristic of people who belong to the Brahmana caste.

The question of direct acquaintance with Brahma

First, the Buddha asks the young Brahmans about whether one of their teachers has seen Brahma. Receiving a negative response, the Buddha asks about whether one of their predecessors, who composed the songs of the Vedas, communicated with Brahma directly. Their answer is still negative. Then the Buddha gives an example of a man approaching the river Acharavati and asking and praying for the other side of the river to come to him. Will the other side of the river come to this man because of his prayers and requests? Vasettha and Bharadwaja respond negatively. Then the Buddha asserts that the knowledge of people preaching what neither they nor their teachers have learned from personal experience is unfounded. They themselves are like a procession of blind people leading each other.

The question about the qualities of Brahma in comparison with the qualities of Brahmins

The Buddha asks Vasettha and Bharadwaja about the qualities of Brahma: Does Brahma have any property? Is Brahma hostile in thought? Is Brahma defiled (by sensual desires)? Is Brahma in control of himself (composed)?

Vasettha and Bharadwaja answer thus: Brahma has no possessions, He is not hostile, not defiled (by sensual desires), Brahma is in control of himself (composed).

Then the Buddha asks about the manifestation of the same qualities among the Brahmans who preach the Three Vedas. Young Brahmans respond as follows: they possess property, are hostile in thought, defiled (with sensual desires), and are not composed/control themselves.

How, then, asks the Buddha, can these Brahmans connect with Brahma after the dissolution of the visible body? Is this not possible? And again the Buddha’s interlocutors agree.

Summing up, the Buddha says that the Three Vedas do not lead to liberation. Therefore, to rely on them is like to wander in a barren desert or thicket, risking dying.

Vasettha’s question about the Buddha’s knowledge

Vasettha asks the Buddha whether he knows the path to union with Brahma.

The Buddha’s answer to the question about the path to union with Brahma

When asked by Vasettha, the Buddha responds with an ironical counter-question: could a person, who has been born and who lives in the village of Manasakata, explain the way there? After all, just as it is easy for this person to explain the way to his native village, so it is easy to the Arhat, the Awakened, to explain the way to Brahma. What is this Path?

The Buddha consistently expounds the three sets of instructions (for their exposition see Subha Sutta, Digha Nikaya 10). This exposition is the main part of the sutta, as in all the first 13 suttas of Digha Nikaya.

After explaining the three sets of instructions, the Buddha describes the state of a person who has realized them in his behavior of the body, mind and speech. Such a person dwells, piercing with his mind filled with loving kindness, all sides of the world. His cleansed mind is like the sound of a shell, into which a strong man blows: this sound penetrates everywhere. Together with benevolence, the mind of this person is filled with compassion, joy from communicating with virtuous friends, and serenity. The good qualities of the mind of this person (brahmaviharas) fill the world across, up and down, so that no single one of its dimensions is left untouched by this beautiful and sublime purity. A person in this state does not need to accumulate property, is not hostile, not desecrated by desires, is in control of himself. Therefore, having the qualities of Brahma, after death, he attains union with Brahma.

The young Brahmans, accepting the profound explanations of the Buddha, become His worldly followers.

Brahmaviharas

Literally, brahmavihara is the abode of Brahma. The four brahmaviharas in the center of the Buddhist Dhamma are metta, karuna, mudita and upekha. In this text, we settled on this way of interpreting them: benevolence, compassion, the joy of communicating with virtuous friends, and serenity. The interpretation of the meanings of brahmaviharas (the term itself) is ambiguous. Perhaps the best way to handle these concepts is to understand that they are not limited to either the number four or the exact, fixed values. Since brahmaviharas are a description of a perfect state of consciousness in the language of emotions, it makes sense to look for inspiration in them, and not final definiteness.

Differences in the descriptions of the Brahma state in the Suttas of Digha Nikaya

It is interesting to compare the description of the state of Brahma in the Tevijja Sutta to the descriptions in the Kevaddha Sutta (Digha Nikaya 11) and the Brahmajala Sutta (Digha Nikaya 1). Only in Tevijja Sutta, the state of Brahma is represented as identical to the state of Arahatship, to which the three sets of instructions lead. The ground for a striking difference in the descriptions is the difference in the level of development of the Buddha’s listeners. In the Brahmajala Sutta, the Buddha explains the subtlest understanding of Brahma to the close disciple Ananda. In Kevadha Sutta, the Buddha ironically talks with his inexperienced worldly follower Kevaddha. In Tevijja Sutta, the interlocutors of the Buddha are two young Brahmans who take shelter in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha only after the end of the sermon. Their spiritual ideal is to merge with Brahma, so the Buddha, in the language of the Chinese stratagem, leaves alone the house and replaces its columns. Buddha leaves alone the faith of the Brahmans, that the supreme state is merging with Brahma. Instead of a dispute about the name and definition of this state, Buddha explains the qualities of the state of liberation itself. Therefore, the doctrine of Arhat and nirvana in this sutta takes the form of the Brahmavihara teachings – the Four Infinite senses.

Vladimir Pyatsky & Smadar Pyatsky
Translation: Natalia Tsimbler