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Did Buddha Praise Gayatri Mantra of Hinduism?

gayatrimantra
savittimantra
savitti
bhagavadgita
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#1

Greetings everyone! I wish to ask something about Gayatri/Savitti Mantra of Hinduism and its relation to Buddha. As per MN 92 (Sela Sutta), the Buddha is quoted as saying

"Of sacrifices the fire sacrifice is the chief,
Of Vedic hymns Savitti is the foremost.
The king is chief for humans,
The ocean is chief for all rivers.
To the constellation the moon is chief, to give warmth the Sun is chief,
To those desiring merit the Community of bhikkhus is the chief.”

What do you think that whether was the Buddha speaking from his own point of view or from the point of view of the Vedas? The Wikipedia articles, for example, Gayatri Mantra and Pali Canon reads that Buddha praised Gayatri Mantra. I am asking this because elsewhere he is depicted as often criticising the fire sacrifice and Mantras.


#2

Interesting point, and well spotted on Wikipedia. The Buddhist pages on Wikipedia have a long history of contending with Hindu impositions, and this seems like a somewhat more subtle form of that. As you say, the Buddha very often criticized Brahmanical rituals, texts, and so on. To include this as the only quote on the subject in central articles is clearly biassed and should be removed.

Here’s what’s going on in the Sela Sutta. (We currently have no translation of MN 92, but fortunately the sutta is repeated at Snp 3.7, so it can be read there.) The Buddha meets the brahmin householder-ascetic Keniya. Keniya has faith in the Buddha and offers a meal to the Sangha, which he refers to as a “great sacrifice”. Here, as so often, the offering to the Sangha is a replacement for the Vedic sacrifice.

Note, however, that Keniya still has “faith in the brahmins”. Thus Keniya sees no contradiction in maintaining his traditional brahmanical practices and supporting the Buddha. In this, he is contrasted with the brahmin Sela, who is depicted as senior in the brahmanical tradition and is one of the brahmins in whom Keniya has faith. But while Keniya remains as a householder, offering alms without even going for refuge, Sela goes forth and becomes an arahant. The implied message is that the wiser the brahmin, the more likely they are to understand the Dhamma.

The verse quoted above is given by the Buddha in appreciation of Keniya’s offering. Keniya is his host, and since he shows no interest in the Buddha’s teaching or any further practice, the Buddha respects him by not trying to convert him or criticize his religion. Rather, he graciously acknowledges the best parts of the Vedic practice, the harmless fire sacrifice rather than the violent animal sacrifice, and the revered and beautiful Gayatri mantra. I have done the same kind of thing in a Christian church, but I’m not a closet Christian.

Nevertheless, he still raises the offering to the Sangha higher than the best of the Vedic traditions. The Pali text is quite explicit here, although the point is somewhat lost in translation. The last lines of the verse are:

Puññaṃ ākaṅkhamānānaṃ,
saṅgho ve yajataṃ mukhan
For those who sacrifice hoping for merit,
the Saṅgha is indeed the foremost.

The word yajataṁ is the standard word for the Vedic “sacrifice” (here it is the genitive plural of the present participle.) Thus, while saying it as politely as possible, the Buddha is clearly stating that offerings to the Saṅgha are better than anything in the Vedas. And as we know from other passages, the Buddha rated offerings to the Saṅgha as fairly low on the scale of good practices to be accomplished in his Dhamma. Burn, and double burn.


#3

Much thanks for this explanation, Bhante. Would you mind giving an example reference for those other passages mentioned at the end of your post?


#4

I’ve heard that it wasn’t so much a praise of the meaning as a praise for the meter/rhythm of verse.


#5

Yes, this is possible, as the term chandas primarily refers to metre. The Pali texts are a little ambiguous on this point, and seem to conflate “meter” with “metrical literature, i.e. Vedas”.

However the normal name for the meter as such is gāyatri, whereas the term in the verse itself is sāvitti. Sāvitti is almost certainly a reference to the line from the Gayatri mantra: tat savitur varenyam.

As the Gāyatri mantra AKA Sāvitrī mantra is the most famous example of the meter, it’s possible that it is being taken as emblematic of the meter as a whole. Nevertheless, given that the specific word is quoted, I think it’s best to retain the connection with the Gāyatri mantra.

I have consulted my usual go-to sources for this verse (Norman’s Sutta Nipata, Horner’s Vinaya, Bodhi’s Majjhima, Analayo’s essays) and I am a little surprised that none of them have any substantive discussion of this point. It is however discussed in some detail in the useful essay by Brett Shults, On the Buddha’s Use of Some Brahmanical Motifs in Pali Texts, available for free download from the Oxford Center for Buddhist Studies.


Incidentally, in checking this I referred to Analayo’s study on this sutta, where I learned that the sole Chinese parallel for this sutta does not contain this verse. In fact, apart from the two sutta occurrences already noted, and the additional parallel in the Vinaya, the only recognized parallel for these verses occurs in the Mahāvastu, (Mvu 108#3-4) where we find:

agnihotramukhā yajñā sāvitrī chandasāṃ mukhaṃ |
rājā mukhaṃ manuṣyāṇāṃ nadīnāṃ sāgaro mukhaṃ ||

nakṣatrāṇāṃ candro mukhaṃ + + + + + + + + + |
ādityo tapasāṃ ūrdhvaṃ tiryag adhas tapasvatāṃ |
sadevakasya lokasya saṃbuddho vadatāṃ varo ||

In the Mahavastu, these occur not in the context of a discourse to Sela and Keniya, but as part of the long narrative of the conversion of the fire ascetics shortly after the Buddha’s awakening.

Notice that the most substantive change is the last line, where praise of the Buddha is substituted for the praise of the Sangha. But here the Mahavastu version lacks the characteristic term mukha, otherwise found in every phrase. Given this, and given the generally late and erratic character of the Mahavastu, I have no hesitation in concluding that the Pali version is the original. Nonetheless, this shows that these verses do exist outside the Pali tradition and that they were well known.

Reading Shults’ very interesting essay on this, I find that he refers to a parallel to this verse in the Mahabharata, where we find:

agnihotramukhā vedā gāyatrī chandasā mukham

From Shults’ remarks, it seems the textual situation for the Mahābharata is complex. One thing he does say is that the passage includes a reference to the “above, below, across” motif, which he has previously identified as a point of commonality in Buddhist and Brahmanical texts. He doesn’t note, however, that this very phrase is also found added to the Mahāvastu (ūrdhvaṃ tiryag adhas). Is it possible that the Mahābharata is drawing from the Mahāvastu specifically?

@vimala, it seems that this parallel is missing from our data. Would you be so kind as to add it? Thanks.


#6

The Velāma Sutta, AN9.21, is often quoted in this regard.


#7

Done! I just find it a bit strange that snp3.7#verse-num-sc574-#verse-num-sc575 is also in the list but does not show up in the list below:

http://staging.suttacentral.net/ll/mn92

It does show up here:
http://staging.suttacentral.net/ll/skt-lo-mvu108
http://staging.suttacentral.net/ll/pi-tv-kd6


#8

That is odd, let us keep that in mind for testing the new site.


#9

While answer is already given in your text but confusion is occurring because context around criticism is missing.

Let me try to make this clear…

 Buddha did not go along and said I am not Hindu, or these people are Hindu, and my followers are non-Hindus, etc.
 Strong identification came later on in the followers and was never in the teacher.
 Religions ( or *isms) are started with Greeks and later on Muslim and British invasion in India till then India (or entire Bharat Varsh) was under one culture identity called Santana Dharma (though with various sects)
 Even now, the majority see this as one cultural identity between Hindus, Buddha, Jain, and Sikhism.

 Having said above …

o Gautama the Buddha was not against rituals, but he was against animal sacrifice based rituals, and that was a major problem during that era lot of Vedic rituals were converted into animal sacrifice rituals, and he should be credited for eliminating that
o When Shankracharya came, he continued pushing the topic and help further removing that.
o Lets put some context around Vedas…
 It is thousands of years old and written for all kinds of people, from novice to monks.
 Vedic Upanishads are for monks and spirituals seekers
 Rituals are for people who are leading proper life but dont hv full blown desire to understand the truth (like monks or monk is a new name for Brahamins!)
 Rituals are also to bring relief to the common people from diseases and other calamities.

 Now lets talk about Gyatri Mantra:
First, Bijaakshar is Ta: That is associated with one of the Granthis (knot) in our subtle body called Tapini, and when we recite the mantra it generates vibration in this knot and helps unblock problems on the path of the devotee.
Second Bijakshar is Sa: That is associated with another granthi (knot) in our subtle body called Saphalata. This brings Valor to the body. Also associated with Pran Shakti through the vibration on various nadis.
Third Bijaakshar is Vi : That is asscouated with another granthi … etc… ( there are many other benefits obviously goal is for Nirvana … - read more for high level meaning
 Another example Maha mrityunjaya mantra : Another vedic mantra. Associated with Agni and very well known to remove any disease from the body. Have personally seen the benefit. You can do homa with that too or just simple chat.
 Another example Agnihotra Homa: This is supposed to be performed at exact sunrise and sunset and can regenerate the environment in surrounding areas. So well known and so many scientific studies done on this that it is considered no less than a miracle. Scientists have proven the effects but not able to show how!!

In short: What Gautama the Buddha said and not said needs to be tested with your own experience and should always be seen with proper context. Strong identification or attachment with anything, including Buddha, will only hamper spiritual progress.
Please ignore typos and grammatical mistakes


#10

That is not correct, the Buddha in presenting his religion was in competition with the Jains and brahmins, and often refuted their arguments as in MN 101 where he deals with beliefs of the Jains (Niganthas), or MN 93 those of the brahmins (Hindus) in the form of disproving the caste system, so there was definite distinction drawn between different erroneous philosophies addressed by name.

One of the conditions of stream entry is the abandonment of reliance on rites and rituals in favour of direct personal experience.
" “Endowed with these five qualities, a lay follower is an outcaste of a lay follower, a stain of a lay follower, a dregs of a lay follower. Which five? He/she does not have conviction [in the Buddha’s Awakening]; is unvirtuous; is eager for protective charms & ceremonies; trusts protective charms & ceremonies, not kamma.” —AN 5.175

Overall, unless combined with insight, the absorption experience to which Hinduism is limited cannot lead to nibbana.


#11

Again here you are missing the context. That country and culture is very old and one needs to put the context of that time. Also, don’t forget the essence of the teachings.

Debating on a certain topic and challenging someone does not make discard the whole thing. During those times and till 1000ce spiritual debates were considered healthy.

The advantage taken by bad Monks (brahmans or Pandit’s ) of simple people was prevalent. Buddha and many spirituals teachers and yogis try to reset such things from time to time.

this is almost like if you put too much sugar …keep eating …Entire population start becoming sick …then one can teach you sugar is bad for you. That does not mean sugar it self is bad. In right proportion it is very good :slight_smile:

Caste system though started off with correct notion later on became birth based is one such thing.

Point from me is one should stick to essence of the teaching not stretch to create divisions … :pray:

Pls ignore typos


#12

Greetings @anand , and welcome to the forum :slight_smile:

It is really great to see you contributing, but this site is a little different to most internet forums. It started as an forum for people working on the translations and their hosting, to be able to discuss matters. Hence as you would have seen in the Guidelines (linked below), the focus is on grounding all discussions in EBT’s. So rather than just making a statement, we would appreciate it if you could quote your sources, and the EBT’s in particular that you are using as a guide. This way we can all participate, and will keep the posts ‘on topic’ :slight_smile:
There are many internet forums that discuss buddhism in a general manner, and we work hard to maintain our specific focus. If you need any assistance, please just ask or contact the moderators by sending a PM or tagging @moderators

Metta :slight_smile:

https://discourse.suttacentral.net/guidelines


#13

Well, Anand, I hope you are not following me on Internet. Seems like I am being watched. :eyes: