Aganiya Sutta (Origin of the World, Genders and Castes), Digha Nikaya 27

Introduction

Two young Brahmins, Bharadwaja and Vasethha, to whom the Tevijja Sutta’ (Digha Nikaya 13) first conversation is devoted, took refuge in the Three Jewels and began to live among the world renounced followers of the Blessed, preparing to be accepted into the Sangha. Other Brahmins strongly criticized and insulted them in every which way, arguing that by becoming a hermit, young men disgrace the highest caste to which they belong from birth. The relatives of Bharadwaja and Vasethha said that Brahmins are born from the mouth of Brahma, and wandering  hermits are born from his foot. Thus according to the relatives, by rejecting higher birth the young men have become trampled and insignificant.

One summer evening, when, after sitting meditation, the Buddha took a stroll under the shadows, the young novices approached Him and bowed, hoping to receive the instructions of the Blessed One. Seeing the perplexity of their  hearts, the Buddha spoke about how the world unfolds, men and women appear and afterwards emerges a division of society into castes. Above all, the Buddha rejected the false argument that the caste of Brahmins is more noble  than others.

Origins and Dhamma

The wives of the Brahmins, like the wives of other people, give birth to children and breastfeed them. Therefore the Brahmins’ claim that they originate from the mouth of Brahma is a lie. However, disciples of the Arhat originating from different clans and castes, whose behavior, speech and thoughts correspond to the Higher Law of Dhamma, may call themselves the sons of Truth, who are born from the mouth of the Arhat and follow his Dhamma.

The Sakyas of the clan from which the Buddha descended, by the time of the described conversation, have come under the rule of king Pasenadi. The Sakyas respectfully rose when Pasenadi appeared and bowed to him. However, king Pasenadi himself respectfully stood up and bowed to the recluse Gautama upon meeting him, since he revered Buddha’s holiness above his own worldly power.

The Buddha also explained that it is not the origin, but only the sublime behaviour, speech and mind that make a person noble. Indeed, it depends only on the kamma (karma) created by a person whether he(or she) will be reborn after the decay of the body in the higher realms or in the worlds of suffering.

Unfolding of the World

After a period of the world folding, conscious beings surrounded by radiance abide in the light and move in space. Long time passes, after which on the surface of the vast ocean the earth rises. This land is similar to melted butter and tastes like honey, it is fragrant and stimulates the desire to eat it. Beings begin to try it, taking it on a finger and then eating until their luminosity disappears.

After hiding the light of their consciousness, the light of the Sun, the Moon, and the stars become visible. The world becomes larger and expands.

The emergence of bodies and gender differences

Afterwards, beings who continue to eat the delicious land develop bodies and some come to have beautiful bodies while others don’t. The beautiful beings begin to despise the ugly ones, the tasty earth disappears, and in its place the ordinary earth arises. Then the creatures recall with affection: “Oh, what taste that was!”

On the new earth mushrooms appear, and later crawling plants and bamboo shoots which taste and smell like the disappeared earth. Beings continue to eat these mushrooms and plants, and their bodies become increasingly varied in beauty, becoming coarser and more tangible. Due to the development among beings of greed for food and aversion towards ugly creatures, the beautiful mushrooms and plants disappear, and the beings, after realizing their loss, get used to complaining.

Instead of the lost plants resembling the first earth, beings now feed on pure and sparkling rice which has no husks, grows and ripens in one day. Beings eat this rice and their bodies acquire sexual characteristics. Men and women look at each other and passion arises in them. Some beings copulate and other beings express contempt and disgust at them for what they do. They decry them and throw mud, ashes, and dung at them.

The emergence of societal classes and the laws of society

The beings, wishing to hide from one another, built houses and began to stockpile rice. They not only took food needed for one day, but also stocked for the next day, week, and for longer periods. From this, the sparkling rice became covered with dust and husk, disappeared in some places, and its’ ripening became long.

Having learned about the lack of food, people began to enclose the areas on which their rice grows, steal food from one another, developed cruelty, and invented punishments.

Afterwards, people chose the person who is the most influential and stronger among them, so that this person would punish the guilty. From such people arose the class of rulers, the Kshatriyas. The Kshatriyas established their own law.

Some people thought: “evil has spread among people who live together”, and retired to the forest, building huts from leaves, living from donations, meditating, and purifying the mind. From these people the Brahmin castes emerged. Amongst them, those who happened to be incapable of devout life, began to live near other people and write holy books, considering themselves superior to others by descent.

Some, leading a family lifestyle, have mastered various crafts. This is how the Vaishya caste arose.

Others began to hunt for food, and this is how the Shudra caste came into being.

The search for the Supreme Law in hermitage

One day one of the Kshatriyas, dissatisfied with his own law, left the house and became a hermit. So did one Brahmin, and one of the Vaishyas, and one of the Shudras. Thus arose the community of hermits, in which neither the protection of possessions nor castes (classes) determined the law of life, but the Teaching.

Hearing the Buddha’s sermon, Vasethha and Bharadwaja experienced joy and became confident in their Path.

Conclusion

Vasethha and Bharadwaja, brought up among the Brahmins, thought about the world and the people in it in terms of the tales preserved in holy scriptures. Therefore, Buddha used tales as the basis for explaining Dhamma to them. The tale Buddha describes about the unfolding of the world contains a profound aspect of the practice of awareness of the three states of consciousness: from the beginning of the description to the moment the beings begin to eat the earth, the Arupa sphere is being described (deep dreamless sleep, formless “I”); from the moment of eating the tasty earth to the beginning of constructing homes with stocked supplies, is the sphere of Rupa (dream with forms, the subtle “I”); from the moment of concealment in dwellings (the emergence of physical birth given by parents) to the end of the story, Kamaloka sphere (the world of desires, the waking state of consciousness) is revealed.

Vladimir Pyatsky
Translation: Roni Sherman