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Brahma Sahampati - non returner

The Brahma Sahampati was the one who encouraged the Buddha to teach after he became enlightened, despite his inclination not to do so because of how deep and profound the Dhamma is and how few could understand it (see e.g. SN 6.1). I was reading SN and came across this sutta that I hadn’t taken note of before.

SN 48.57

At one time, when he was first awakened, the Buddha was staying near Uruvelā at the goatherd’s banyan tree on the bank of the Nerañjarā River.

Then as he was in private retreat this thought came to his mind, “When these five faculties are developed and cultivated they culminate, finish, and end in the deathless. What five? The faculties of faith, energy, mindfulness, immersion, and wisdom. When these five faculties are developed and cultivated they culminate, finish, and end in the deathless.”

Then Brahmā Sahampati knew what the Buddha was thinking. As easily as a strong person would extend or contract their arm, he vanished from the Brahmā realm and reappeared in front of the Buddha. He arranged his robe over one shoulder, raised his joined palms toward the Buddha, and said:

“That’s so true, Blessed One! That’s so true, Holy One! When these five faculties are developed and cultivated they culminate, finish, and end in the deathless. What five? The faculties of faith, energy, mindfulness, immersion, and wisdom. When these five faculties are developed and cultivated they culminate, finish, and end in the deathless.

Once upon a time, sir, I lived the spiritual life under the fully awakened Buddha Kassapa. There they knew me as the mendicant Sahaka. Because of developing and cultivating these same five faculties I lost desire for sensual pleasures. When my body broke up, after death, I was reborn in a good place, in the Brahmā realm. There they know me as Brahmā Sahampati.

That’s so true, Blessed One! That’s so true, Holy One! I know and see how when these five faculties are developed and cultivated they culminate, finish, and end in the deathless.”

Brahma Sahampati is obviously a brahma deva, but I never thought about his status vis-a-vis enlightenment. Now that I think about it though, it makes sense that he would be and I find that inspiring.

Do the commentaries have anything to say about previous Buddhas being similarly disinclined to teach (like our Buddha was) and likewise encouraged by another to do so?

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What I’ve always wondered about is the idea that the dhamma doesn’t exist in the world at the time of the Bodhisatta, but clearly it does if there are ariyas existing, like Brahma Sahampatti. Perhaps it is simply not being taught to the general public.

Venerable Dhammanando kindly provided the answer on Dhamma Wheel here: Brahma Sahampati - non returner - Dhamma Wheel Buddhist Forum

Does it say somewhere, maybe in the comms, that Sahampati is actually a non-returner? This figure is an interesting case, being the most devout celestial devotee of the Buddha.

According to the later scholastic suttas non-returners go to Tusita heaven, and the Brahma state is associated with the first Jhana. But this logic ist just one of the many attempts to structure the diverse dhamma in a nice neat logical way, as also SN 48.57 shows which you quoted.

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If you look at chinese agamas there’s no brahma Sahampati approaching the buddha scene or buddha refusing to teach scene

The mahayana really believes that buddha is not selfish that buddha comes to teach not just to end his own suffering but others suffering too

The sutta doesn’t say Brahma Sahampati is a non-returner, it is true. I was assuming that he is because he says he’s “lost desire for sensual pleasures” (an attribute of non-returners and arahants only). And if he’s both a non-returner and a Brahma, then it must follow that he dwells in a “pure abode” which only non-returners gain access to. I guess he could also be an arahant, having attained that whilst practicing in the pure abode. Those are the only two options that make sense to me: he’s a non-returner or an arahant.

It is found in the Ekottarika Agama (EA 19.1) as a separate sutra, but it is true that it doesn’t get added to the larger story of the Buddha’s enlightenment in sutras like MA 204 and EA 24.5.

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Losing desire for sense pleasure is a prerequisite for anyone to be reborn in a Brahma abode, even if non-awakened. See, for example, AN 8.35 or AN 7.66.

Wait, really? Where does it say that? I was always under the impression that non-returners can be reborn no lower than a Brahma abode, and this was never a contested point.

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Oops, that was a mistake indeed, Tusita heaven is for the once-returners.

Non-returners are in most suttas reborn in the Pure Abodes - according to MN 12 as Suddhāvāsa Devas. And as Akaniṭṭha Devas according to SN 48.15-17, SN 48.24, SN 55.25, AN 3.88-89, AN 4.131, AN 9.12, AN 10.63-64, DN 21.

Only in AN 7.52 they are reborn as a Brahma, and in AN 3.116 as ‘arupa’ devas.

The path to Brahma-rebirth is diverse, but typically not no-return. In order to get reborn as a Brahma one needs to… do Brahmavihāras (AN 5.192, MN 83, MN 97, MN 99, DN 13, DN 17, DN 19). Or the first jhāna (AN 4.123). Or mettā meditation (AN 8.1, AN 4.125, AN 11.15). Or give donations (AN 7.52, Snp 3.5). Or develop the five Indriyas (SN 48.57).

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Losing desire for sense pleasures is only accomplished by non-returners and arahants, and only non-returners are born into the pure abodes. The pure abodes are a subcategory of Brahma realm, namely the highest and most sublime ones. There are Brahma realms below them that the unenlightened can be born into, some of which are mentioned in those suttas.

See this page for a breakdown: Buddhist rebirth in different planes of existence - Asian and African studies blog

This is true for noble disciples — that is, noble disciples who have lost their sense desire are Anagamis or higher. But it’s possible for people who are not noble disciples to lack sense desire and be born in a Brahma world (though not the 5 pure abodes). For example, check out AN 7.66, which I mentioned before — it mentions a teacher in the past named Sunetta, who was free of sense desire, and was born in the Gods of Streaming Radiance, then Brahma, than Sakka many times over, etc. due to his Metta practice. But he lacked “noble ethics, immersion, wisdom, and freedom.”

In other words, it’s safe to conclude that Brahma Sahampati is an Anagami if he is indeed a noble disciple. But if he’s not a noble disciple, we cannot assume he is an Anagami. He could have just been good at cultivating meditation in a past life.

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Hmmm, it may be we are talking about different things.

I’m talking about the permanent abandoning of sense desire which is only achievable via practicing and understanding Dhamma and only then at non-returning/arahantship. It’s permanent because it’s achieved through fully understanding it with wisdom. And with its achievement, there can no longer be rebirth in sensual realms because the cause for that has been cut off at the root.

A being may temporarily abandon sense desire and through that good kamma, be born into a Brahma realm, as Sakka, etc. perhaps many times. But they haven’t permanently abandoned it through fully understanding it with wisdom. The underlying tendency is still there and thus they can still be reborn in a sensual realm due to the workings of kamma. This would be Sunetta’s situation.

I think that Brahma Sahampati achieved the former given that he practiced under the Buddha Kassapa and had the singular honor of encouraging our Buddha to teach.

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Usually the word used is eradicated sense desires for the permanent case.

Indeed, when abandoning is just used, it can be ambiguous.

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The EA 19.1 does not mention the individual name, Brahma Sahampati; instead it just speaks of a Brahma. Both EA 19.1 and its counterpart SN 6.1 do not have the corresponding SA version.

But I think an ‘adaptation’ of general Indian deities, such as a Brahma shown in EA 19.1 = SN 6.1, could be necessary for early Buddhism to be accepted or to survive in the Indian religious traditions.

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This too may help to answer your question about Brahma Sahampati position in the Celestial hierarchy, and state and freedom of mind.
SC Dictionary of Pali Proper Names

Hmm interesting point. What are the Pali words in question?

Dunno, I was just referring to the english words and concepts.