DN 13 Tevijja Sutta: The threefold knowledge (The Way to Brahma)
Thus have i heard.
Once Buddha was touring Kosala with 500 monks. He came to the Brahmin village called Manasakata and stayed in the mango grove, on the bank of the river Aciravati. During that time, there were a few well-known famous and rich brahmins including Canki, Tarukkha, Pokkharasati, Janussoni and Todeyya.
Brahmins Va̅seṭṭha and Bha̅radva̅ja were strolling down the road when they argued on the subject on which was the true path, and which was the false path. The young Brahmin Va̅seṭṭha said: "This is the only straight direct path to liberation, and this path leads one who follows it to union with Brahma̅. This path is taught by the famous Brahmin Pokkharasati." Whereas the other young Brahmin Bha̅radva̅ja said: 'This is the only straight direct path to liberation, and this path leads one who follows it to union with Brahma̅. This path is taught by the Brahmin Tarukkha."
Both Brahmins could not conclude who's right so Brahmin Va̅seṭṭha suggested to go to ascetic Gotama (Buddha). who is reputable to ask for an answer and see who's right. After paying homage to the Buddha, they sat down to one side and they asked Buddha which path taught by their teachers is the right path to liberation and union with Brahma.
Then buddha asked them : " So Vasettha, you say the right path is taught by Brahmkin Pokkharasati and Bha̅radva̅ja you say that the right path is taught by the Brahmin Tarukkha. So what is the quarrel, dispute, difference of opinion between you two?"
Vasettha: " Reverend Gotama, there are so many brahmins like Addhariyā, Tittiriyā, Chandokā, Chandavā, Bavharijā who all teach various different paths. Do the paths taught by them lead to union with Brahmā (path to enlightenment)? Just like there are various paths leading to a village/town, do all these all meet together at the same place?"
Buddha then asked them if their brahmin teachers, the teachers of their brahmin teachers and the brahmins ancestors 7 generations have seen "Brahma" face to face? Both replied no.
Then Buddha asked if those ancient sages that were well-learned in the three vedas, those who can expound the mantras such as the brahmins like Atthaka, Vamaka, Vamadeva, Vessamitta, Yamataggi, Angirasa, Bha̅radva̅ja, Va̅seṭṭha, Kassapa, and Bhagu, have they ever say things like " we know, we can see when, how and where Brahma appears." The two brahmins replied no again.
Then Buddha concluded for them that none of the Brahmins, nor their teachers, nor their pupils, even up to the seventh generations earlier, has ever seen Brahma̅ face to face. They themselves also admit that they can't see how, when and where Brahma̅ appears. Since they don't know and have not seen Brahma how can these Brahmins teachers who are well-versed in the Three Vedas say that what they teach is the straight path, the direct way to liberation, and that will lead to union with Brahma̅! It's like teaching something that they themselves are unsure of. Then isn't the claims of their teachings on that's the only straight path unfounded and unjustifiable?
Buddha: Vāseṭṭha, just like a line of blind men are clinging one to the other, neither can the foremost see, nor can the middle one see, nor can the hindmost see. So isn't the talk of the Brahmins well-versed in the Three Vedas just blind talk since all of them are teaching things they have not seen or experienced themselves. The talk of these Brahmins versed in the Three Vedas turns out to be ridiculous, mere words, a vain and empty thing.
Buddha gave another example: Vasettha, can these brahmins well-learned in the Three Vedas see the sun and moon, sing praises and worship them with clasped hands like any other people? Vasettha: Yes they can, reverend Gotama. Buddha: Then Can these brahmins point out the way to union with the sun and moon by saying is the only straight path? Vasettha: No. Buddha: So Vasettha, these brahmins who can see the sun and moon can't even point out the path to the sun and moon then how can they point out the only straight path to something they have not seen before like the Brahma? Doesn't this declaration of the only straight path they taught sounds ill-founded? Vasettha: Yes indeed, reverend Gotama.
Buddha gave another example of how a man long for the most beautiful woman in the land. Then the people around him will ask him - do you know whether she is a noble Khattiya lady, or brahmin rank, or of the trader class, or of artisan class? - doyou know what her name is, or her family name - do you know whether she is tall, or short, or of medium height - do you know if she is dark or fair or golden in color - do you know which village, or town, or city she dwells in? The man would have answered No to all the above questions because he is yearning for someone he doesn't know and has never seen before. Hence don't you think Vasettha, that these talk of this man turn out to be witless? Similarly for those brahmins who taught of the path they have not seen, don't you think that their talk is witless too? Vasettha agreed.
Buddha gave another example: if a man were to build a staircase for a palace at a crossroad. People will ask him which direction the staircase should face, doe he know the height and size of the staircase. He would have to answer: 'No.' Then the people around him will ask why is he making a staircase that he does not know of and has not seen before. So in such a case, Buddha reaffirmed to Vasettha that the talk of the man making a staircase that he has no idea of is actually witless talk. Similarly like those Brahmins who teach a path they do not know and have not seen before, that teaching cannot possibly be right. Vasettha agreed with the Buddha.
Buddha gave another example: If this river Aciravati which were filled to the brim with water, then a man who wish to get to the other bank come along called out to the other bank to join with the side he is on so that he can cross over. Do you think the banks of River Aciravati will join up due to the man's begging and praying? Vasettha: No, it wouldn't. Buddha: Similarly these Brahmins versed in the Three Vedas but they do not practice the real qualities a brahmin should have; they pray and say : "We call upon Indra, Soma, Varuna, Isana, Pajapati, Brahma̅, Mahiddhi and Yama to be united with the Brahma upon death". Do you think these Brahmins who do not practice like what a Brahmin should behave will be united with Brahma upon death just by their invoking and praying,hoping and praising? Such a thing is impossible!
Buddha: If a man on this bank but he was tightly bound with his arms behind his back by a strong chain. Now what do you think, Va̅seṭṭha, would that man be able to get over from this bank of the river Aciravati to the further bank?' Va̅seṭṭha: No, Reverend Gotama. Buddha: similarly there are 5 strands of sense-desires called bonds and fetters. They are pleasurable "forms" seen by the eye, nice "sounds" heard by the ears, arousing "smells' smelt by the nose, attractive "taste" savored by the tongue and desirable "contacts" felt by the body which gives rise to desires for these sensual pleasures. And the brahmins are over-indulged in these sensual desires (bonds and fetters) that they are unaware of their dangers and knowing no way out. The Brahmins versed in the Three Vedas, but not practicing the true qualities which really make them a Brahmin, they cling and are infatuated with these five strands of sense desire, enjoying them, then it is not possible that after death these brahmins will become united with Brahma (path to enlightenment).
Buddha: Again if a man on this bank wish to cross the river Aciravati but instead he covers himself with shawl and goes to sleep. Now what do you think, Va̅seṭṭha, would that man be able to get over from this bank of the river Aciravati to the further bank?' Va̅seṭṭha: No, Reverend Gotama. Buddha:And in the same way, Va̅seṭṭha, there are these Five Hindrances, in the Discipline of the Noble Ones, which are called "veils," "hindrances," "obstacles," and "entanglements". What are the five hindrances that obstruct one on the path to enlightenment? They are the hindrance of sensual desire, the hindrance of ill will, the hindrance of sloth and torpor, the hindrance of restlessness and worry and the hindrance of skeptical doubt. The Brahmins versed in the Three Vedas, but not practicing the true qualities which really make them a Brahmin, they are veiled, hindered, obstructed, and entangled by these Five Hindrances. Then it is not possible that after death these brahmins will become united with Brahma (path to enlightenment).
Buddha: What do you think Vasettha, does Brahma has wives, wealth, full of hatred, full of ill-will, impure, undisciplined ? Vasettha: No Brahma does not have wives, not attached to wealth, not full of hatred, not full of ill-will, pure and disciplined. Buddha: What do you think Vasettha, are the brahmins who are well-versed in the three vedas, do they have wives, wealth, full of hatred, full of ill-will, impure, undisciplined ? Vasettha: Yes to all of the above. Buddha: So you see the differences between the Brahma and the brahmins, there is nothing in common between them. Thus how is it possible that these brahmins who are attached to their wives, wealth, full of hatred, full of ill-will, impure and undisciplined be united with Brahma upon death? It is not possible. Although these brahmins maybe well-versed in the Three Vedas, while they sit down in confidence but are actually sinking down in the mire; thinking that they are crossing over into some happier land. (They think that for sure after death they will be united with Brahma in heavenly state but in fact they are actually stuck in the samsara). In conclusion the threefold knowledge of the Brahmins, is called a threefold desert, a threefold wilderness (a pathless jungle), a threefold destruction. (the path they taught is not the path leading to liberation, it is the fruitless path).
Vasettha: I have heard, Reverend Gotama, that you know the way to the state of union with Brahma̅, the path to liberation (nibanna). Buddha: Va̅seṭṭha, suppose there were a man born and lived his whole life in Manasakata, and if people were to ask him which was the way to Manasakata, would that man have any doubt or difficulty in answering that question?Vasettha: Certainly not, Gotama! Since that man had been born and brought up in Manasakata, every road that leads to Manasakata would be perfectly familiar to him. Buddha: The Tathagata, when asked about the path which leads to the world of Brahma̅, has neither doubt nor difficulty. Because I know Brahma and the world of Brahma̅, and the path which leads to it. Yes, I know it just as one who has entered the Brahma̅-world, and has been born within it.
Vasettha: Excellent! I have heard that reverend gotama knows the path that leads to union with Brahma, the path to enlightenment. May Reverend Gotama help the brahmins and teach them the right path. " Buddha: “A Tathágata arises in the world, an Arahant, fully-enlightened Buddha (he has realized the four noble truths and discovered the noble eightfold path by himself) , endowed with wisdom and conduct, Well-Farer, Knower of the worlds (he knows the arising, the cessation and the means to the cessation of the worlds), incomparable Trainer of men to be tamed (he surpasses in terms of virtue, knowledge, concentration, deliverance and understanding), Teacher of Gods and humans, enlightened and blessed. He, having realized it by his own super-knowledge, preaches the Dhamma, which is lovely in it’s beginning, lovely in its middle, lovely in it’s ending, in the spirit and in the letter, and displays the fully-perfected and purified holy life."
Buddha: "The disciples of Tathágata goes forth into the ascetic life, practices the moralities, guards his senses doors and attains deep meditative Jhana states and develops insight wisdom. The disciples realized the four noble truths and understood the noble eightfold path. The disciples are then released from the corruption of sensual desires, the corruption of becoming, the corruption of ignorance. With these releases, he gains the knowledge and wisdom. Rebirth has ended, the holy life has been fulfilled, the task is done. There is nothing further for this world and he will be released from the cycle of samsara. With the heart filled with loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity (the four sublime abodes), he has no hatred and no ill-will. He leaves nothing untouched, nothing unaffected in the sensuous sphere. This is the way to the union with Brahma. "
Buddha: What do you think, Vasettha? Is a monk trained and disciplined like this do they have wives, wealth, are they full of hatred, full of ill-will, impure, undisciplined ? Vasettha: No, Such a trained monk is pure, disciplined, does not have wives, does not possess wealth, is not full of hatred or ill-will. Buddha: Then does such a disciplined and well-trained monk behave similarly as the Brahma? Vasettha: Yes indeed, reverend Gotama. Buddha: Hence such a pure, disciplined and well trained monk who is without hatred and ill-will, after death can be united with the Brahma. That is possible.
After listening to the discourse given by Buddha, the young Brahmins Va̅seṭṭha and Bha̅radva̅ja said : "Magnificent, Blessed One! Magnificent! It's just as if one were to turn upright what had been turned upside down, or to reveal what was hidden, or to point out the right path to one who was lost, or to bring a lamp into a dark place so that those with sight could see forms, in the same way, Lord, the Blessed One has expounded the Dhamma in numerous ways. I shall go to the Buddha, to the Dhamma, and to the Sangha for refuge. May the Blessed One accept us as a lay follower gone for refuge from this day onward for as long as I live."
In other words, if one does not have good moral conduct (sila), one is not a good role model then the teachings taught cannot be true. Only if one guards their senses, have good moral conduct (sila), is a good role model who knows the truth then what he teaches is the true path, the path to liberation. By WHH
References: 1. www.accesstoinsight.org 2. https://suttacentral.net/ 3. The long discourses of the Buddha (Bhikkhu Bodhi)