Vinaya Pitaka (1): The Analysis of Monks’ Rules (Bhikkhu-vibhanga)

by I. B. Horner | 2014 | 345,334 words | ISBN-13: 9781921842160

The English translation of the Bhikkhu-vibhanga: the first part of the Suttavibhanga, which itself is the first book of the Pali Vinaya Pitaka, one of the three major ‘baskets’ of Therevada canonical literature. It is a collection of rules for Buddhist monks. The English translation of the Vinaya-pitaka (first part, bhikkhu-vibhanga) contains many...

Translation of the term brāhmaṇa (brahmin)

I have left brāhmaṇa in its anglicised form of brahmin. The time is perhaps not yet ripe to draw an infallible distinction between brahmins as members of a sect opposed to Sakya, and brahmins as men, as monks, who had attained, or who had failed to attain, some of the ethical attributes and mental development inculcated by Sakya. A verse in the Dhammapada clearly identifies the three, for it ends: so brāhmaṇo so samaṇo sa bhikkhu (Dhp.142). To differentiate between the Sakyan and non-Sakyan uses of brāhmaṇa, as this word occurs in the Pali canon, would be to emphasise the new meaning which, under Sakya, accrued to brāhmaṇa, as a word adopted from earlier times.

For there is no doubt that the three terms—bhikkhu, brāhmaṇa and samaṇa—were, in their Sanskrit forms of bhikṣu, brāhmaṇa, śramaṇa, already in the terminology of pre-Sakyan days.[1] Each word will therefore have some pre-Sakyan history, even though this is, in many respects, still obscure. Brāhmaṇa is of course a term of enormously long and complicated history, of indisputable antiquity. Professor B.M. Barua says[2] that “śramaṇas became known, perhaps from the practice of begging, as bhikṣus (mendicants).” And referring to a passage in the Aṅguttara Commentary, he further points out that “by the bhikṣus must have been meant the members of the fourth Brahminic order, that is, the Brahminist ascetics in the fourth stage of efforts and fruitions who are designated bhikṣu, yati or parivrājaka in the Dharma-Sūtras and the Dharma-Sāstras.”[3] It is worth while to mention that, according to Jacob’s Concordance, in the early Upāniṣads, śramaṇa appears but once,[4] brāhmaṇa many times, and bhikṣu not at all. Śramaṇa occurs, however, in the Satapatha Brāhmaṇa.

If bhikkhu were equivalent in fact to samaṇa, and if this were, on some occasions at least, equivalent to the Sakyan usage of brāhmaṇa, ‘it is not difficult to see why the life of monks continued to be called brahmacariya under Sakya.[5] But as the most suitable translation of brahma has still to be decided upon, when it occurs in the compounds brahmacariya and brahmacārin, I have left it untranslated.[6] The difficulty is to determine what was meant by the “best life.” Whether at one time brahma, as part of the compound brahmacariya, may not have possessed the deep and essential meaning of the All, the All-Real, the Highest that it possessed in the Upaniṣadic teaching is as yet a matter of controversy. I find it hard to believe that Sakya arose either in ignorance of this teaching or uninfluenced by it. And even if, as seems highly probable, brahmacariya and brahmacārin are words taken over by Sakya (and Jainism) from pre-Sakyan sects, it has still BD.1.lvi to be established that for these brahma did not contain some profound philosophical or religious significance.

Footnotes and references:


Cf. interesting Jaina tradition that Mahāvīra’s parents were followers of the śramaṇas, Sacred Books of the East xxii.194.


History of Pre-Buddhist Philosophy, p.240.


Maskarī as an Epithet of Gośāla, Indian History Quarterly, iii.2, p.254.


Bṛhadārannyaka 4,3,22.


See Dialogues of the Buddha i.212–215. The word brahmacārin occurs once in the Ṛg Veda in the (later) Maṇḍala, Ṛg Veda 10.109.


Vin.3.164 = BD.1.282 below.