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Digha Nikaya

Dīgha Nikāya
27 Aggañña Sutta
The Formation of the World

The Buddha explains the arising of the natural world.

Table of Contents

Introduction

This is how I heard. In those days, the Buddha was living in the city of Sāvatthī, at the Pubbārāma Monastery, the Mansion of Migāra’s mother, built by the female lay follower Visākhā.

In those days, novice monks, Vāseṭṭha and Bhāradvāja were living on probation among the monks in hopes of being ordained. One day, in the late afternoon, after finishing the Blessed One’s meditation, the Buddha came downstairs from the monastery and was walking in the open air, beneath the shade of the monastery.

Vāseṭṭha saw him and said to Bhāradvāja, “Friend Bhāradvāja, the Buddha is walking in the open air, beneath the shade of the monastery. Come, friend, let’s go to the Buddha. Hopefully we’ll get to hear a Dhamma talk from him.”

“Yes, friend,” replied Bhāradvāja.

So they went to the Buddha, bowed respectfully, and started walking beside him.

Then the Buddha said to Vāseṭṭha, “Vāseṭṭha, you are both brāhmins by birth and clan, and have gone forth from the lay life to homelessness from a high caste family. I hope you don’t have to suffer abuse and insults from the people of your caste.”

“Actually, Bhante, our people do insult and abuse us with their typical insults to the fullest extent.”

“But how do your people insult you?”

“Bhante, they say: ‘Only we are the highest caste; other castes are lower. Only we are the white caste; other castes are black. Only we are clean, not others. Only we are Brahmā’s sons, born of Brahmā’s mouth, born of Brahmā, created by Brahmā, heirs of the teachings of Brahmā. These bold headed monks are from a lower caste! they’re black! our servants! born from the feet of Brahmā. You’ve both abandoned the best caste to join a lower caste. This is not right, it’s not proper!’ Bhante, that’s how our people insult us.”

“Actually, Vāseṭṭha, your people are forgetting their ancient lineage when they say this to you. Brāhmin women are seen menstruating, being pregnant, giving birth, and breast-feeding. Yet even though they’re born from a mother’s womb, they say: ‘Only brāhmins are the highest caste; other castes are lower. Only brāhmins are the white caste; other castes are black. Only brāhmins are clean, not others. Only brāhmins are Brahmā’s sons, born of his mouth, born of Brahmā, created by Brahmā, heirs of the teachings of Brahmā.’ They insult the Brahmā, speak falsely, and make much bad karma.

1. Purification in the Four Castes

“Vāseṭṭha, there are these four castes: royals, brāhmins, merchants, and servants. Some people of royal caste kill beings, steal, and commit sexual misconduct. They lie, speak divisive words, and harsh words, and engage in idle chatter. They crave for others’ belongings, get angry, and live with wrong view. Vāseṭṭha, these things are unwholesome, wrong, not to be practised, not conducive to be noble—and are reckoned as such. They are black deeds with black results, criticized by wise people. Such bad deeds are seen in some people of royal caste. They are also seen among some brāhmins, merchants, and servants.

“However, Vāseṭṭha, some people of royal caste refrain from killing beings, stealing, and committing sexual misconduct. They refrain from lying, divisive speech, harsh speech, and idle chatter. They don’t crave for others’ belongings, they are kind-hearted, and live with right view. Vāseṭṭha, these things are wholesome, right, to be practised, conducive to be noble —and are reckoned as such. They are white deeds with white results, praised by wise people. Such things are seen in some people of royal caste. And they are also seen among some brāhmins, merchants, and servants.

“Vāseṭṭha, both such actions take place within the four castes; The white actions, that are praised by the wise and black actions that are criticized by wise people. Yet of this, your people, the people of brāhmin caste, say: ‘Only brāhmins are the highest caste; other castes are lower. Only brāhmins are the white caste; other castes are black. Only brāhmins are clean, not others. Only brāhmins are Brahmā’s rightful sons, born of his mouth, born of Brahmā, created by Brahmā, heirs of the teachings of Brahmā.’

“Vāseṭṭha, wise people don’t approve your people’s statement. Why is that? Because any monk from these four castes who is liberated—with defilements ended, who has completed the spiritual journey, done what had to be done, laid down the burden of defilements, achieved their own true goal, totally ended the fetters of rebirth, and is rightly liberated through enlightenment—is said to be the best among the people of any caste. That monk becomes one of the best among humans, based on the Dhamma. He does not become great based on unrighteousness. Vāseṭṭha, Dhamma is the best thing among people in both this life and the next.

“Vāseṭṭha, here’s another way to understand how Dhamma is the best thing among people in both this life and the next.

“King Pasenadi knows that the Buddha Gotama has gone forth from the Sakyan clan. And the Sakyans follow King Pasenadi’s orders. The Sakyans show respect to King Pasenadi by bowing down, rising up, greeting him with joined palms, and performing duties for him. Interestingly, Vāseṭṭha, King Pasenadi shows the same kind of respect to the Buddha. It’s not because he thinks: ‘The Buddha Gotama is well-born, I am ill-born. He is powerful, I am weak. He is handsome, I am ugly. He is famous, I am unimportant.’ Rather, he shows such respect to the Buddha based on the honour towards the Dhamma, veneration towards the Dhamma and reverence towards the Dhamma.

“Vāseṭṭha, here’s another way to understand how the Dhamma is the best thing about people in both this life and the next.

“Vāseṭṭha, you previously belonged to different castes, names, and clans, and have gone forth from the lay life to homelessness from different families. When others ask you what you are, you claim to be monks, sons of the Buddha.

“Vāseṭṭha when someone has faith in the Buddha—well-established, well-rooted, and planted deep, strong, not to be shaken by any recluse or god or Māra or Brahmā or by anyone in the world—it is appropriate for him to say: ‘I am the Buddha’s true-born son, born from the Buddha’s mouth, born of Dhamma, created by Dhamma, heir to Dhamma.’ Why is that? Because these are synonyms for the Buddha: ‘the body of Dhamma, and ‘the body of greatness, and ‘the one born of Dhamma’, and ‘the one born of greatness’.

“Vāseṭṭha, there comes a time when, after a very long period has passed, this earth gets destroyed. As the earth gets destroyed, beings are mostly reborn in the Ābhassara brahma world. There, they are mind-made, feeding on happiness, self-luminous, moving through the sky, steadily glorious, and they remain like that for a very long time.

“Vāseṭṭha, there comes a time when, after a very long period has passed, this earth gets formed. As the earth gets formed, beings mostly pass away from the Ābhassara brahma world and come back to this world. Here, they are mind-made, feeding on happiness, self-luminous, moving through the sky, steadily glorious, and they remain like that for a very long time.

2. Solid Nectar Appears

“Vāseṭṭha, at one point, the earth was just a single mass of water and was totally dark. The moon and sun were not found, nor were stars and constellations, day and night, months and fortnights, years and seasons. Also there was no difference between male and female. Beings were simply known as ‘beings’. After a very long period had passed, solid nectar curdled in the water. It appeared just like the curd on top of hot milk as it cools. It was beautiful, fragrant, and delicious, like ghee or butter. And it was as sweet as pure bee-honey. Now, one of those beings was greedy. Thinking, ‘Oh my, what might this be?’ the being tasted the solid nectar with its finger. The being enjoyed it, and craving arose in it. And other beings, following that being’s example, tasted solid nectar with their fingers. They too enjoyed it, and craving arose in them.

3. The Moon and Sun Appear

“Vāseṭṭha, then, those beings started to eat the solid nectar, breaking it into lumps. However, when they did this, their luminosity vanished. And with the vanishing of their luminosity, the moon and sun appeared, stars and constellations appeared, days and nights appeared, and so were months and fortnights, and years and seasons. Vāseṭṭha, to this extent the world had evolved once more.

“Vāseṭṭha, then those beings eating the solid nectar, with that as their food and nourishment, remained for a very long time. But so long as they ate that solid nectar, their bodies became more solid and coarse in appearance; some beautiful, some ugly. And the beautiful beings looked down on the ugly ones: ‘We’re more beautiful, they’re the ugly ones!’ And the vanity of the beautiful ones made the solid nectar vanish.

“They gathered together and cried, ‘Oh, what a taste! Oh, what a taste!’ And even today when people get something tasty they say: ‘Oh, what a taste! Oh, what a taste!’ They’re just remembering an old memory about the forming of the ancient world, but they don’t understand what it means.

4. Ground-Mushrooms

“Vāseṭṭha, when the solid nectar had vanished, ground-mushrooms appeared to those beings. They appeared just like today’s various mushrooms. They were beautiful, fragrant, and delicious, like ghee or butter. And they were as sweet as pure bee-honey.

“Then those beings started to eat the ground-sprouts. With that as their food and nourishment, they remained for a very long time. But so long as they ate those ground-mushrooms, their bodies became more solid and coarse in appearance; some beautiful, some ugly. And the beautiful beings looked down on the ugly ones: ‘We’re more beautiful, they’re the ugly ones!’ And the vanity of the beautiful ones made the ground-mushrooms vanish.

“They gathered together and cried, ‘Oh, what a taste! Oh, what a taste!’ And even today when people get something tasty they say: ‘Oh, what a taste! Oh, what a taste!’ They’re just remembering an old memory about the forming of the ancient world, but they don’t understand what it means.

5. Badālatā Vines

“Vāseṭṭha, when the ground-mushrooms had vanished, Badālata vines appeared, like the fruit of the kadam tree. They were beautiful, fragrant, and delicious, like ghee or butter. And they were as sweet as pure bee-honey.

“Then those beings started to eat the Badālatā vines. With that as their food and nourishment, they remained for a very long time. But so long as they ate those Badālatā vines, their bodies became more solid and coarse in appearance; some beautiful, some ugly. And the beautiful beings looked down on the ugly ones: ‘We’re more beautiful, they’re the ugly ones!’ And the vanity of the beautiful ones made the Badālatā vines vanish.

“They gathered together and cried, ‘Oh, what a taste! Oh, what a taste!’ And even today when people get something tasty they say: ‘Oh, what a taste! Oh, what a taste!’ They’re just remembering an old memory about the forming of the ancient world, but they don’t understand what it means.

6. Fragrant Rice

“Vāseṭṭha, when the Badālatā vines had vanished, fragrant rice appeared to those beings. It had no dust or husk, clean and fragrant, with only the rice-grain. What they took for supper in the evening, by the morning had grown back and ripened. And what they took for breakfast in the morning had grown back and ripened by the evening, therefore the place where it was cut initially was not visible. Then those beings eating the fragrant rice, with that as their food and nourishment, remained for a very long time.

7. Gender Appears

“Vāseṭṭha, so long as they ate that fragrant rice, their bodies became more solid and coarse in appearance. And female characteristics appeared on women, while male characteristics appeared on men. Women spent too much time gazing at men, and men at women. They became lustful, and their bodies burned with lust. Due to this lust they had sex with each other.

“Those who saw them having sex embarrassed them throwing dirt, ashes, or cow-dung at them, saying, ‘Get lost, filth! Get lost, filth! How on earth can one being do that to another?’ And even today people in some countries, when a bride is carried off, pelt her with dirt, ashes, or cow-dung. They’re just remembering an old memory about the forming of the ancient world, but they don’t understand what it means.

8. Stealing

“Vāseṭṭha, what was reckoned as immoral at that time, these days is reckoned as moral. Vāseṭṭha, the beings who had sex together weren’t allowed to enter a village or town for one or two months. Ever since they excessively engaged in sex, they started to make houses to hide their immoral acts.

“One day, a certain lazy person thought, ‘Hey now, why should I be bothered to gather rice in the evening for supper, and in the morning for breakfast? Why don’t I gather rice for supper and breakfast all at once?’

“So that’s what he did. Then one of his friends approached that person and said, ‘Come, friend, we shall go to gather rice.’ ‘There’s no need, friend! I gathered rice for supper and breakfast all at once.’ So that person, following his friend’s example, gathered rice for two days all at once, thinking: ‘This seems fine.’

“Then another friend approached that person and said, ‘Come, friend we shall go to gather rice.’ ‘There’s no need, friend! I gathered rice for two days all at once.’ So that person, following his friend’s example, gathered rice for four days all at once, thinking: ‘This seems fine.’

“Then still another friend approached that person and said, ‘Come, friend, we shall go to gather rice.’ ‘There’s no need, friend! I gathered rice for four days all at once.’ So that person, following his friend’s example, gathered rice for eight days all at once, thinking: ‘This seems fine.’

“Vāseṭṭha, however, when they started to store up rice to eat, the rice grains became wrapped in dust and husk, it didn’t grow back after reaping, the cutting showed, and the rice stood in clumps.

9. Dividing the Fields

“Vāseṭṭha, then those people gathered together and cried, ‘Oh, how wicked things have appeared among us! We used to be mind-made, feeding on happiness, self-luminous, moving through the sky, steadily glorious, and we remained like that for a very long time. After a very long period had passed, solid nectar curdled in the water. It was beautiful, fragrant, and delicious. We started to eat the solid nectar, breaking it into lumps. Over time, luminosity which spread from our bodies vanished.

“Then, the moon and sun appeared, stars and constellations appeared, days and nights appeared, and so were months and fortnights, and years and seasons.

“With solid nectar as our food and nourishment, we remained for a very long time. Since wicked things appeared among us, solid nectar vanished. Then, Ground-Mushrooms appeared. They were beautiful, fragrant, and delicious. With Ground-Mushrooms as our food and nourishment, we remained for a very long time. Since wicked things appeared among us, Ground-Mushrooms vanished. Then, Badālatā vines appeared. With Badālatā vines as our food and nourishment, we remained for a very long time. They were beautiful, fragrant, and delicious. With Badālatā vines as our food and nourishment, we remained for a very long time. Since wicked things appeared among us, Badālatā vines vanished. Then, fragrant rice appeared. It had no dust or a husk, clean and fragrant, with only the rice-grain. What we took for supper in the evening, by the morning had grown back and ripened. And what we took for breakfast in the morning had grown back and ripened by the evening, so the cutting didn’t show. Then we ate the fragrant rice. With that as our food and nourishment, we remained for a very long time. Since wicked things have appeared among us, the rice grains became wrapped in dust and a husk, it didn’t grow back after reaping, the cutting showed, and the rice stood in clumps.

“‘We’d better divide up the paddy fields and set boundaries.’ So that’s what they did.

“Vāseṭṭha, a certain lazy person while guarding his own share, he took another’s share without it being given, and ate it.

“Then, people grabbed that person who had done this and said, ‘You have done a bad thing, in that while guarding your own share you took another’s share without it being given, and ate it. Do not do such a thing again.’

‘Yes, friends,’ replied that person. But for a second time, and a third time he did the same thing, and were told not to continue. And then people struck that person, some with fists, others with stones, and still others with sticks. From that day on, stealing was found, and blaming and lying and the taking up of sticks.

10. The Elected King

“Vāseṭṭha, then those people gathered together and cried, ‘Oh, how wicked things have appeared among us, in that stealing is found, and blaming and lying and the taking up of sticks! Let us elect one person who would rightly accuse those who deserve it, blame those who deserve it, and expel those who deserve it. We shall pay him with a share of rice.’

“Then those people approached the person among them who was most attractive, handsome, popular, and powerful, and said, ‘Come, sir, rightly accuse those who deserve it, blame those who deserve it, and banish those who deserve it. We shall pay you with a share of rice.’ ‘Yes, friends,’ replied that person. He acted accordingly, and was paid with a share of rice.

“‘Elected by the people’, Vāseṭṭha, is the meaning of ‘the elected one’ (Mahāsammata), the first term to be specifically invented.

“‘Lord of the fields’ is the meaning of ‘royal’, the second term to be specifically invented.

“‘He pleases others with righteousness is the meaning of ‘king’, the third term to be specifically invented.

“That, Vāseṭṭha, is how the ancient traditional terms for the circle of royal lineage were created; it was among those same beings, not among other beings; it was among equal beings, not among different beings; The lineage was created righteously, not unrighteously. Vāseṭṭha, Dhamma is the best thing among people in both this life and the next.

11. The Lineage of Brāhmins

“Vāseṭṭha, some of those people thought, ‘Oh, how wicked things have appeared among people, in that stealing is found, and blaming and lying and the taking up of sticks and banishment! Therefore, let us stop doing bad, unwholesome things.’ So that’s what they did.

“‘Giving up bad, unwholesome things’ is the meaning of ‘brāhmin’, the first term to be specifically invented.

“They built leaf huts in forests and meditated in them. They didn’t cook for themselves. Therefore, they put aside making fires for cooking and other cooking equipment. They came down in the morning for breakfast and in the evening for supper to the village, town, or royal capital seeking a meal. When they had obtained food they continued to meditate in the leaf huts.

“When people noticed this, they said, ‘These people build leaf huts in forests and meditate in them, They don’t cook for themselves. Therefore, they put aside making fires for cooking and other cooking equipment. They come down in the morning for breakfast and in the evening for supper to the village, town, or royal capital seeking a meal. When they have obtained food they continue to meditate in the leaf huts.’

“‘They meditate’ is the meaning of ‘meditator’, the second term to be specifically invented.

“Vāseṭṭha, some of those people were unable to keep up with their meditation in the leaf huts in the forests. They came down to the neighborhood of a village or town. There, they started to live compiling books.

“When people noticed this, they said, ‘These people were unable to keep up with their meditation in the leaf huts in the forests. They came down to the neighborhood of a village or town. There, they have started to live compiling books. Now they don’t meditate.’

“‘Now they don’t meditate’ is the meaning of ‘non-meditators’, the third term to be specifically invented.

“What was reckoned as bad at that time, these days is reckoned as great.

“Vāseṭṭha, that is how the ancient traditional terms for the lineage of brāhmins were created; it was among those same beings, not among other beings; it was among equal beings, not among different beings; The lineage was created righteously, not unrighteously. Vāseṭṭha, Dhamma is the best thing among people in both this life and the next.

12. The Lineage of Merchants

“Vāseṭṭha, Some of those people, desiring to lead a family life, applied themselves to various jobs.

“‘Desiring to lead a family life, they apply themselves to various jobs’ is the meaning of ‘merchant’, the term specifically invented for them.

“And that, Vāseṭṭha, is how the ancient traditional term for the lineage of merchants was created; it was among those same beings, not among other beings; it was among equal beings, not among different beings; The lineage was created righteously, not unrighteously. Vāseṭṭha, Dhamma is the best thing among people in both this life and the next.

13. The Lineage of Servants

“The remaining people lived by cruel behaviours and by doing dirty tasks.

“‘They live by cruel behaviours and by doing dirty tasks’ is the meaning of ‘servant’, the term specifically invented for them.

“Vāseṭṭha, that is how the ancient traditional term for the lineage of servant was created; it was among those same beings, not among other beings; it was among equal beings, not among different beings; The lineage was created righteously, not unrighteously. Vāseṭṭha, Dhamma is the best thing among people in both this life and the next.

14. The Order of Recluses

“Vāseṭṭha, there came a time when a member of a royal caste, a member of brāhmin caste, a member of merchant caste, or a member of servant caste, disapproving their caste’s life style, went forth from the lay life to homelessness, thinking, ‘I will be a recluse.’

“Vāseṭṭha, that is how the order of recluses was created; it was among those same beings, not among other beings; it was among equal beings, not among different beings; The lineage was created righteously, not unrighteously. Vāseṭṭha, Dhamma is the best thing among people in both this life and the next.

15. On Bad Conduct

“Vāseṭṭha, a member of the royal caste, brāhmin caste, merchant caste, servant caste, or a recluse may do bad things by body, speech, and mind. They have wrong view, and they act out of that wrong view. And because of that, after death, they’re reborn in hell.

“A member of the royal caste, brāhmin caste, merchant caste, servant caste, or a recluse may do good things by body, speech, and mind. They have right view, and they act out of that right view. And because of that, after death, they’re reborn in heaven.

16. The Qualities That Lead to Enlightenment

“A member of the royal caste, brāhmin caste, merchant caste, servant caste, or a recluse who is restrained in body, speech, and mind, and develops the seven qualities that lead to enlightenment, attains final Nibbāna, in this very life.

“Any monk from these four castes who is liberated—with defilements destroyed, who has completed the spiritual journey, done what had to be done, laid down the burden, achieved their own true goal, totally ended the fetters of rebirth, and is rightly liberated through enlightenment— is said to be the best among people of any caste. That monk becomes one of the best among humans, based on the Dhamma. He does not become great based on unrighteousness. Vāseṭṭha, Dhamma is the best thing among people in both this life and the next.

“Vāseṭṭha, Brahmā Sanaṅkumāra also spoke this verse:

“‘The member of the royal family is best among those people
who take the clan as the standard.
However, the Buddha accomplished in true knowledge and pure conduct
is the best among gods and humans.’

“Vāseṭṭha, that verse was well sung by Brahmā Sanaṅkumāra, not poorly sung; well spoken, not poorly spoken; beneficial, not harmful, and I agree with it. Vāseṭṭha, I also say:

“The member of the royal family is best among those people
who take the clan as the standard.
However, the Buddha accomplished in true knowledge and pure conduct
is the best among gods and humans.”

“That is what the Buddha said. Satisfied, Vāseṭṭha and Bhāradvāja were happy with what the Buddha said.

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Dīgha Nikāya 27 Aggañña Sutta: The Formation of the World

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