Is Dependent Origination a parody of Vedic cosmology?

I wrote the following as part of a larger work on Dependent Origination, where I considered it too tangential to include.[1] Instead of throwing it in the bin, I thought I'd share it here, with a few extra thoughts. Perhaps it can lead to some fruitful exchange in your replies.

In an influential article published in 2000 Joanna Jurewicz suggested Dependent Origination to be a polemic response to Vedic myths on the creation of the universe.[2] Various scholars have since voiced their acceptance of these ideas, most notably Richard Gombrich and more recently, though much more tangentially, Venerable Anālayo.[3] Having had a closer look myself, I am not convinced. I will argue here that Jurewicz’ conclusions are based on evidence too inferential to support them and then illustrate how the Buddha actually responded to these myths.

I agree there are some Brahmanic influences on Dependent Origination, most prominently in the factor of nāmarūpa and specifically its relation to viññāṇa. However, I think Jurewicz overreaches when suggesting the Buddha formed the whole teaching of DO as a specific reply to Vedic cosmogenesis, that the underlying concepts the two describe are similar, the only true difference being that the Buddha didn’t suppose a self—or as she paraphrases the Buddha: “That’s right, this is how the whole process develops. However, the only problem is that no one undergoes a transformation here.”

In the introduction Jurewicz says the interpretation of Dependent Origination should remain within the scope of Buddhology. The domain of the Buddhists apparently only go so far, though, for the very next paragraph states Dependent Origination to be about subject-object cognition. Later it is also stated that the factor of craving “is the craving for continued subject-object acts”. Venerable Anālayo already critiqued such views (although without reference to Jurewicz): “The subject-object duality is not problematized in early Buddhist thought.”[4] It also is not how Dependent Origination is generally understood, certainly not in its most widely accepted interpretation, the so-called three-lifetime model, which understands Dependent Origination to focus on rebirth, with the most relative craving being that for existence, not that for “subject-object acts”, whatever they may be. Whether the Vedic creation myths were meant to metaphorically describe a process of subject-object cognition I am not the right person to judge, but at present I am unconvinced by this as well. The myths certainly can be interpreted more literally, as describing the origination of the universe and life within it. As far as I know, this is how Vedic scholars generally interpret them. Be that as it may, differing with Buddhist tradition on some of the fundamentals, the parallels drawn by Jurewicz already don’t start off very persuasively.

But even if we grant that both traditions were describing some sort of subject-object cognition, there is a more significant problem: Occam’s Razor seems to have been left forgotten in its case. As Occam and many others before him told us, the preferred conclusion is the one with the simplest assumptions based on the available data. This is not what is happening here, where minor similarities between the texts are taken as significant confirmations of the hypothesis. The connections are all deemed “too evident to be pure coincidence”, supposed to have been deliberately made by the Buddha. Yet no other possible mechanisms are even considered.

A much less weighty explanation for most connections Jurewicz sees between Dependent Origination and Vedic cosmogenesis is that the two religions simply shared an identical social milieu and language and therefore naturally used similar words in somewhat similar contexts, this context being the creation of life. As an example, the term saṅkhāra in the suttas is also used in a worldly sense, such as the creation of a medicine or raft.[5] According to Monier-Williams the Sanskrit saṃskāra has similar uses.[6] It is not unnatural to assume Buddhists and Brahmins independently decided to use this term (or related ones) to describe the creation of life—not to mention words like existence, birth, and death, which, being commonplace when speaking about life, can not be taken as strong evidence for a didactic connection between the two doctrines.

Whether the Buddha replied to them or not, the link between ignorance and saṅkhāra perceived to be present in the Vedic texts I think is already very inferential by itself. A metaphorical description of the Creator god Prajāpati eating cooked animals is understood to represent him uniting with fire, which is taken to be a reference to the loss of subject-object duality, which is taken to stand for ignorance. These connections seem unlikely to me, and since Jurewicz does not reference others, I would like to know if other Vedic scholars have even taken the first steps, of equating the story to subject-object duality, let alone linking it to ignorance.

The term saṅkhāra is also very rare in this context in the Vedic texts, which for ‘create’ usually use words from root sṛj.[7] The Buddha never uses such words when teaching Dependent Origination, which is not what we might expect if he indeed intended to parody Vedic creation myths and was aware of their specific terminology.

Likewise, the word nidāna, which Jurewicz thinks is “surely significant”, is also used in a phrases which have no link with Dependent Origination at all, such as ‘from Sāvatthī’ (sāvatthi-nidānaṃ).[8] The word just seems a natural pick if you want to talk about the origin of something. I fail to see how this word is of such significance, even more so because Jurewicz only finds one direct reference in the entire Vedic corpus and only two loose connections with somewhat synonymous terms.

It also begs the question. Did Buddha the even know all these specific passages? It appears to be assumed, but it seems improbable to me, given that no Vedic text is ever quoted verbatim in the Pāli discourses. Having a general knowledge of these texts, which most scholars in the field agree Buddha probably did have, is very different from knowing the exact terminology they employed in rare occasions in their creation myths, such as saṃskāra and nidāna.

Some of the connections made are even looser, sometimes almost solely based on encountering the same grammatical root of a word in both corpuses, as with vid for vedāna. In other instances the word isn’t even found at all, and it’s only an assumption the Buddha used it to refer to certain ideas, as with ignorance (avijjā). In this case the article also seem very selective, because while the Nāsadīya Sukta of the Rig Veda may describe the Creator to have no knowledge—although it actually just wonders whether he didn’t—the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad says brahman actually had knowledge before creation. And unlike the Nāsadīya it actually uses the word vidya (vijjā).[9] Jurewicz mentions this text but concludes it instead indirectly refers to a-vijjā, because the Creator only knew himself and not the objects.

If a connection with Brahmanism was intended with avijjā, it more likely parodied the textual knowledge of the priests, an important concept found all throughout the Vedic texts, not a supposed cognitive inability of the Creator only vaguely hinted at here and there. The suttas repeatedly and directly mock knowledge of the three Vedas (the Rig, Yajur, and Sāma) by contrasting it with the Buddha’s threefold knowledge (te-vijjā = “three-veda”).[10] In one such case the Brahmin being challenged is even called Three Ears, an obvious pun. The discourses don’t tend to hide the irony when it’s intended, is what I’m saying. Dependent Origination, on the other hand, is never presented in such a way.

The factor of craving is also explained through an indirect connection. This I think is especially problematic for the argument, because it has a central place in the Buddha’s truth of the origin of suffering, of which Dependent Origination is an extended version.[11] The article supposes that the rays the Vedic poets send forth at creation stand for semen, which implies a sexual act, which implies craving. With this kind of reasoning we can connect about any passage together—which is fine for us to do, but the supposition here is that the Buddha made the exact same connections.

That both traditions use fire as a metaphor also doesn’t mean they refer to the same concepts. It just indicates fire was an important part of their society—where most food, warmth, and light was derived from it—and therefore something the listeners could directly relate to. To assume the Buddha picked this metaphor to refer to the “fiery activity of the poets burning the world in the cosmogenic act of cognition” seems to me far-fetched, especially since the passage Jurewicz refers to here itself does not refer to fire but to light. This is not a “distinct” reference. It’s searching for parallels where none exist, and seems to me a case of confirmation bias.

The factor of phassa (contact) is not discussed at all.

So, while Jurewicz makes a few pertinent points, on the whole I am not convinced they are particularly “striking similarities”, as she calls them. Imagine a society similar to 2500 BC India, one the Buddha never lived in or heard about. It also had a variety of authors composing religious texts in Sanskrit, leaving us a similarly huge body of works where “creation is described in metaphors which have many semantic layers”, as Jurewicz says. I would be very surprised if someone set to discover them wouldn’t find parallels with Dependent Origination that appear just as striking. Case in point, back in 1971 Alex Wayman already suggested Dependent Origination to be a parody of Brahmanic cosmology, but most connections he made are very different from Jurewicz’.[12]

I also can’t accept that such a central principle, one which the Buddha is said to have discovered at the night of his awakening and which he said others could also discover afterwards, would be little more than a parody of cosmological ideas. It would have made these teachings largely meaningless for all but the most well-educated Brahmins, at least from the perspective Jurewicz describes. She says the Buddha addressed “educated people well versed in Brāhmaṇic thought”[13] who, so it is presumed, apparently were able to recognize the exact ideas being satirized with a mere sequence of twelve words (ignorance and so on).

A passage in the Brahmajāla Sutta, however, does parody Brahmanic creation myths. Jurewicz surprisingly doesn’t mention it, so let me discuss it briefly. For comparison, below are first two relevant passages from the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad. Both anthropomorphize the panpsychic essence of brahman into a personal god, much like the Brahmā of the Buddhist texts, which may or may not be allegorical.[14]

In the beginning this world was only brahman, and it knew only itself (ātman), thinking: “I am brahman.” […] In the beginning this world was only the self (ātman), only one. He had this desire: “I wish I had a wife so I could father offspring.”[15]

In the beginning this world was just a single body (ātman) shaped like a man. He looked around and saw nothing but himself. The first thing he said was, “Here I am!” […] That first being became afraid […]. He found no pleasure at all; so [therefore now too] one finds no pleasure when one is alone. He wanted to have a companion.[16]

Out of his wish for company brahman then created other beings.

The thought “I am Brahmā”, the anxiety of loneliness, the wish for company, the creation of other beings—we find all these ideas in the Buddha’s parody:

Because his life-span or merit runs out, a certain being passes on from the company of radiant gods and is reborn in the empty mansion of Brahmā. There he is mind-made, feeding on delight, self-luminous, moving through the sky, ever glorious. He exists there for a very long period of time. But after staying there alone for a long time, he becomes dissatisfied and anxious, thinking: “Oh, if only other beings would come to exist here too!” Then, because their life-span or merit runs out, other beings pass on from the company of radiant gods and are reborn in the mansion of Brahmā too, in the company of that being. They too are mind-made, feeding on delight, self-luminous, moving through the sky, ever glorious. They exist there for a very long period of time.

Then that being who was reborn there first thinks: “I am Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Champion, the Undefeated, the Universal Seer, the Wielder of Power, the Lord, the Maker, the Creator, the Best, the Emanator, the Almighty, the Father of all who are and will be. These beings were created by me. Why? Because I first had the wish, ‘Oh, if only other beings would come to exist here too!’ And then these beings came to exist here.’”[17]

Just imagine being a Brahmin listening to this. The satire is hard to miss,[18] which illustrates what I mentioned before: when the Buddha lampooned other ideas, he didn’t tend to hide it. The concepts being addressed are also much more apparent than those suggested by Jurewicz. They can be understood by a wider public, not just educated Brahmins.

To point out some of the ideas behind the actual parody:

  • Brahmā was never the only being, as opposed to the Upaniṣads where brahman is the only thing that existed pre-creation. This suggests the universe may have no single start like the Upaniṣadic myths portray, aligning with the Buddha’s reflection on saṃsāra having no discoverable beginning.
  • Beings are born in Brahmā’s company on their own accord, and Brahmā is simply deluded about his creative power. This denies there being a divine entity that created other beings and brings responsibility for their birth back to the beings themselves.
  • Brahmā thinks he is the highest being, the Lord, the Best, and so forth. (These terms all sound very Brahmanic.) But other beings come to exist in the exact same place for the exact same reasons, meaning all beings can attain these states of existence and none is intrinsically higher than another.
  • There are realms even higher than Brahmā’s, including the radiant gods, which is an allusion that brahman isn’t the highest goal, like some Brahmins believed.
  • Even Brahmā is reborn, meaning even the most powerful being in the universe (according to Brahmins) is subject to saṃsāra. In contrast, the Vedic creation myths do not mention rebirth even for humans. We may even question whether their composers even considered it, since a common opinion among scholars is that the Vedic religion did not initially contain rebirth but only (hesitantly) incorporated the belief after coming into contact with native Indian religions.[19] In any case, if the Buddha’s parody didn’t introduce rebirth to Brahmins, at least it reminded them of it.
  • All beings die, including Brahmā. This surely challenged the Brahmins who aimed for an immortal existence in union with brahman.

Many of these ideas are also central tenets of Dependent Origination: the inevitability of death, the endless cyclical nature of life, the inability to find a state of everlasting existence, the being’s own responsibility for creating rebirth, etc.

The parody also gives us an idea of how the Buddha’s soteriology (his ideas on liberation) differed from the Upaniṣads, where a state of nāmarūpa-less consciousness in union with brahman was the end goal. To the Buddha, there was no such state. This difference I believe is actually responsible (at least in part) for the inclusion of nāmarūpa in Dependent Origination, which in a future writing I will discuss in detail. This connection between the two traditions has been suggested by others before, and the evidence for it is quite persuasive.

But the specific connections made in Jurewicz’ paper I think are of a different nature, being too loose. Dependent Origination is not a parody of Vedic creation myths.

I further think that if we considered any of the various teachings of Dependent Origination that do not present the twelvefold sequence—for instance SN12.38—most of the suggested concepts will also fail to make sense.


  1. Sunyo, to be published in 2024
  2. Jurewicz
  3. Gombrich 2009 p.127; Anālayo 2018. Also Jones p.252
  4. Anālayo 2021 p.108
  5. Snp 1.2
  6. Monier-Williams
  7. E.g. in BU 1.4.5, BU 1.4.12, BU 1.5.21, BU 5.8.1, TU 1.1.
  8. E.g. SN 1.2
  9. RV 10.129; BU 1.4.9
  10. For example SN 7.8, AN 3.58 (on Three Ears), AN 3.59, Iti 99, MN 91, Snp 3.9, Thag 3.1. See also Gombrich 1980 p.29f.
  11. AN 3.61
  12. Wayman p.198
  13. Jurewicz p.179
  14. See also Gombrich 1980 p.21, Ellis p.220.
  15. BU 1.4.14–17, translation Olivelle
  16. BU 1.4.1, translation Olivelle
  17. DN 1 at I 18, DN 24 at III 29
  18. See also Gombrich 2009 p.183
  19. E.g. Keith p.415, Jayatilleke, Joshi p.18, Warder p.22, Reat p.163, O'Flaherty p.3, Jaini in O'Flaherty p.218, Flood p.86, Masih p.37, Bronkhorst p.75, Dhammika p.6.


Anālayo 2018
Rebirth in Early Buddhism and Current Research (pdf edition), Bhikkhu Anālayo, 2018.
Anālayo 2021
Clearing the Path Continues: Notes on Ñāṇavīra Thera’s ‘Notes of Dhamma’ in Journal of Journal of Buddhist Studies vol.18, Bhikkhu Anālayo, 2021.
Greater Magadha: Studies in the Culture of Early India, Johannes Bronkhorst, 2007.
Good Karma! Bad Karma! What Exactly is Karma?, S. Dhammika, 2015.
Early Buddhism and its Relation to Brahmanism: A Comparative and Doctrinal Investigation, Gabriel Ellis, 2021.
An Introduction to Hinduism, Gavin D. Flood, 1996.
Gombrich 1980
How Buddhism Began: The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings, R.F. Gombrich, 1980.
Gombrich 2009
What the Buddha Thought, R.F. Gombrich, 2009.
Survival and Karma In Buddhist Perspective in The Wheel vol.141–143, K.N. Jayatilleke, 1969.
New Light on the Twelve Nidānas in Contemporary Buddhism vol.10.2, Dhivan Thomas Jones, 2009.
Brahmanism, Buddhism, and Hinduism: An Essay on Their Origins and Interactions in The Wheel vol.150-151, Lal Mani Joshi, 1970.
Playing with Fire: The Pratītyasamutpāda From the Perspective of Vedic Thought in Journal of the Pali Text Society vol.26 pp.77–103, Joanna Jurewicz, 2000.
The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads, Arthur Berriedale Keith, 1925.
A Comparative Study of Religions, Masih, 2000.
A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (New Edition), Monier Monier-Williams, 1899-1986.
Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty (ed.), 1980.
The Early Upaniṣads, Patrick Olivelle, 1998.
Karma and Rebirth in the Upaniṣads and Buddhism in Numen vol.24.3 pp.163–185, Noble Ross Reat, 1977.
Seeds, Paintings and a Beam of Light: Similes for Consciousness in Dependent Arising, Bhikkhu Sunyo, 2023.
Indian Buddhism, A.K. Warder, 1970.
Buddhist Dependent Origination in History of Religions vol.10.3 pp.185–203, Alex Wayman, 1971.


Aṅguttara Nikāya
Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad
Dīgha Nikāya
Pāli Khandhaka
Majjhima Nikāya
Ṛg Veda
Saṃyutta Nikāya
Sutta Nipāta
Taittirīya Upaniṣad

Perhaps by coincidence, but I was reading Prof Joanna Jurewicz’s paper “Playing with Fire: The Pratītyasamutpāda From the Perspective of Vedic Thought” recently and probably thinking similar thoughts.

I wouldn’t say that the formulation of Dependent Origination was strictly for the purpose of parodying or refuting Vedic cosmogony, but I would say it is probable the Buddha was aware of the Ṛg Veda and the Upanisads in particular, since Buddhist philosophy seems to be an evolution of the ideas in Bṛhadāraṇyaka.

I would suggest the Buddha started by considering the Vedic creation myth, and then specifically rejected it, and his thought processes therefore are in the sequence expounded in the Dependent Origination formulation. Of course, this is just speculation, it is equally likely the Buddha had a completely different thought process, but then over time the notion of overlaying with Vedic philosophy was crafted afterwards as an aid to help someone well acquainted with Vedic cosmogony to transition to the Buddha’s approach.

I do agree that the Vedic metaphor of fire is different from the Buddhist metaphor, and similarly the notion of desire in Vedic philosophy (where it has an important role as the genesis of consciousness) is different from the Buddhist notion of craving.

On the whole, I still have an open mind. You raise some very important points, which I shall mull over the coming days, but I am not discarding Jurewicz’s thesis just yet.


Dependent Origination is certainly not a parody of Vedic creation myths. This is because there are different numbers of factors of Dependent Origination indicated in the Nidana Samyutta of SN/SA (cf. Choong Mun-keat, Chapter 6. Causal Condition (pp. 150-204), in The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism, pp. 169-192):
Pages 169-192 from The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism Choong Mun-keat 2000.pdf (1.6 MB)

1 Like

Hi. Debunking the easy pickings of Jurewicz does not necessarily make one’s own personal work on Dependent Origination correct.

Nāmarūpa is found in two Upanishads. Only the earlier Upanishad became part of the Vedas (either in whole or in part). The Buddha only knew about the Vedas. In this earlier Upanishad, nāmarūpa is related to intention rather than to consciousness, which is looks like why the early (not DN 15) SN 12.2 definition of nāmarūpa includes intention (cetana) & revolves around intention. I suggest to read both of the early Upanishads carefully, where the earlier nāmarūpa correlates with SN 12.2 and the later nāmarūpa correlates with DN 15.

This is the later Upanishad and not the Upanishad that was part of the Vedas. Its best to study the earlier Upanishad.

SN 12.2 literally says this is kaya, vaci & citta sankhara. I know Theravada Commentary Buddhists will quibble over the meaning of these terms but, in reality, according the “Dhamma Well-Spoken By The Blessed One”, these three terms are only defined in one way in the Suttas (SN 41.6). However, this SN 41.6 interpretation, while clearly visible for minds with samadhi, does not accommodate the Visuddhimagga three-lifetime model.

The Suttas lack overt evidence for this; as does the Abhidhamma. For dependent origination, the Suttas (SN 12.2; MN 87) say death results in sorrow rather than in ‘rebirth’. While many suttas refer to destinations of kamma after death, these suttas are not about dependent origination. I hope we are not mixing up the mundane & supramundane as Buddhaghosa did. Early Buddhism keeps the mundane & supramundane distinctly separate. Refer to MN 117 if the fetter of doubt remains.

focus on rebirth

Jati does not appear to mean ‘rebirth’. In MN 86, when Buddha said to Angulimala “born into the noble birth”, this did not appear to refer to ‘rebirth’.

the Buddha is said to have discovered at the night of his awakening

SN 12.10 does not support the above idea. SN 12.10 looks like it describes the stream-entry of Gotama rather than the night of full awakening.

Here I am!” […] That first being… Out of his wish for company brahman then created other beings.

SN 12.2 defines jati as birth of beings in various classes of beings. SN 23.2 looks like it says ‘beings’ are self-ideas. MN 98 looks to confirm this when it says differences in classes of beings are generated by conventions or verbal designations. It looks like Jurewicz here is closer to the truth than what sounds like the same old same old Visuddhimagga view you possibly may be proposing. Since the ultimate goal of the Buddha’s Path is the destruction of jati, it looks like a view similar to Jurewicz about jati makes the destruction of jati very practically possible. Just give up ideas of self/beings both internally & externally & attain instant Nibbana. I recall SN 5.10 says the view of ‘beings’ is the view of Mara/marana. This supports Jurewicz’s “I am” & “other I am” hypothesis. :pray:

1 Like

Awesome essay, Venerable, thanks for this. I read Jurewicz long ago, so I can’t say too much about specifics there. But yes, it’s waaaaay overstating the case to consider DO a “parody” in any meaningful sense.

The parallels drawn with the Vedas can just as easily be drawn with pretty much any creation myth, that of Genesis being a good example. I do think the shape and purpose of DO functions in some respects as a Buddhist version of a creation myth, one that is demythologized unlike the more obviously narrative texts that do indeed contain parodic elements (which is very characteristic of myth in general).

Just to clarify, what I mean by demythologized is that when rational formulations are made that supersede myth, at least as naturalistic explanations, they often reflect or echo aspects of the myth in some way, whether conscious or unconscious. An obvious example would be Western mind/body dualism, which replaces the Genesis idea that the body of mud is injected with the soul. It’s not correct to call this a “parody” of the myth, or even directly related to it really. But you can see how the assumptions underlying the story can be picked up and inform the development of a philosophy.

The same could be said for the role of ignorance in the Nasadiya. It establishes a world where ignorance can characterize even those who are most knowledgeable and thus make the concept of universal ignorance thinkable in a culture.

All I’m really saying here is that there are various ways of conceiving relations that fall somewhere between “completely disconnected” and “mere parody”. I’ve been doing a lot of research into Vedic/Buddhist connections, and one of the things that is to me the most elusive questions is, what exactly are these connections? How did they come about? Was it the Buddha, the community, the editors of the texts? None of these things seem obvious to me.

Consider even in a case of cut-and-dried connection, like when Uddaka Ramaputta is quoted saying a razor is seen but not seen, and there is a passage in the Brihadaranyaka that speaks of a razor being seen but not seen. It must be related. But the exact force of the metaphor is different. And the Buddha’s critique is that it was a statement about a mere razor, when in context it was obviously a metaphor. So who got it wrong? Uddaka? The Buddha? The editors? Hard to say.

I think first we have to get a better idea of what actual connections there are, which means considering possible links and winnowing them down over time.

Anyway, I’ve got to go now. I’ll have to reread Jurewicz!


I do not know the analyses of Analayo, but i know subject-object duality is the core of the problem in EBT and the main characteristic of having a wrong view/understanding. Because when there is subject-object duality in the mind, in the seen, sensed, perceived, felt is more then the seen, sensed, perceived, felt etc. There is also a sense of Me sensing, Me feeling, Me seeing etc. That is the clue.

EBT certaintly sees this as wrong view. If subject duality arises, wrong view arises. That is the main message of EBT and buddhist teachings.

I also agree with @Nickelii saying:

Supra mundane right noble view does not tolerate any subject-object duality. It is free of Me and mine-making. But mundane right noble view tolerates this duality. That is also why mundane right view is still connected to defilements and not with purity.

Whereever there arises a sense of Me knowing, seeing, feeling, there is subject-object duality. Ones view or understanding at that moment is wrong, deluded, distorted.

Hi Bhante, :slightly_smiling_face:

I also find it enlightening (in the limited sense of the word!) to put the Buddha’s teaching in a historical context. What I get out of it is primarily that it humanizes the Buddha. It shows how he taught skilfully, how he interacted with other ideas—which is quite contrary to the style of the Abhidhamma, for example, which I think unknowingly influences the way many people look at the suttas. Or at least how I used to.

How exactly the Buddha responded to other ideas, as you say, is much more difficult if not impossible to determine. Or, indeed, was it even the Buddha himself who did so? Especially in the Digha I think this is can be doubtful at times. We also aren’t helped by the fact that the Vedic texts are very mythological. It seems to me very difficult if not impossible to say what of it is metaphor and what isn’t, which texts the Buddha knew of and which he didn’t, and so forth. And if he did, whether he himself was able to tell metaphor from literal!

This is why I actually appreciate works like Jurewicz’. Looking at connections with Brahmanism can be helpful. However, the more speculative and specific the suggested connections are, the less likely I think it gets.

To @Nickelii and @Green, thanks for your thoughts, but I will refrain from discussing the interpretation of Dependent Origination here. That wasn’t really the intent behind this topic. :slightly_smiling_face:

1 Like

indeed, such discussion should be moved to its own thread.

1 Like

Bhante, I understood the sentence differently .

I understand it as the Buddha saying that the metaphor of Uddaka’s is a foolish one, because in reality it just applies to a razor blade. In other words, he’s saying it’s a groundless and irrational analogy. A razor blade is a very thin object, so of course it will be easy to not see from a particular angle, but that is a deceiving example as it makes it seem like the ātman philosophy is very rational and obvious as an everyday object.

‘Don’t be convinced of this teaching so fast, actually that analogy just describes how a razor blade works to make the theory seem experiential without actually basing it in experience.’ The Buddha’s teaching, by contrast, yields real life results and is based in things that one can practice and benefit from outside mere philosophical word-play.

I think this is very skilful that it was pointed out. I’ve come to notice how easy it is to use metaphors to describe something and convince people that something is rational and sensible because they can relate to it, when there may be many flaws in the correspondences or the metaphor may justify something that is groundless. An example is the rivers to the ocean for universal consciousness analogy, which the Buddha gave his own example of with dependent origination in a different way.


One of “dangers” I have to guard myself against is the tendency to see a Vedic connection in every phrase the Buddha utters, and that acts as confirmation bias for even further connections.

The problem is it becomes a game, and it’s so tempting to draw parallels. Of course, it doesn’t help that many Pali words have meanings that are associated with Vedic thinking, our good friend atta being one such example.

1 Like

Okay, I’m reading Jurewicz now and making some remarks along the way.

Another commonality, although less precise, is that the created beings first reflect on Brahma and their status in relation to him.

I think what she’s getting at is that the Upanishads constantly speak of “the unseen seer, the unheard hearer, the unthought thinker, the unknown knower”. The Upanishads and the suttas treat the situation of ordinary cognition as complex and unstable. The Upanishads resolve it by merging into to ocean of consciousness, the suttas by the ending of consciousness.

To phrase the discussion as “subject-object duality” is to introduce an idea from later thought which I would avoid personally. The concept of “object” is just as problematic when applied to Vedism as it is in early Buddhism. The very idea of an “object” is something that exists “objectively”, but in Vedism everything is ultimately an aspect of the self, so that even things that appear to exist externally only do so in a transient way that will ultimately resolve back to the Self. Likewise in the suttas, things externally exist in relation to cognition, not as independent “objects”.

Although I think the phrasing is unfortunate, I don’t think the point she’s getting at is too far off the mark. Of course this is just an aspect of DO, it’s not really the problem DO sets out to solve.

On pg. 171 she says DO is a “simple linear process” which is an oversimplification at best.

One valid point she makes is that the Buddha expressed himself in “explicit language”, this being one of the key features of the Buddha’s teaching as compared to the Vedas and Upanishads (“for the gods love hidden things”, parokṣapriyā iva hi devāḥ).

On avijja she makes the rather subtle but, I think, valid point that asat conveys unknowability. Generally speaking words for knowability and existence are closer in Indic than in English (eg. paññāyati, loka, etc.). Still, it remains the fact that this is not very convincing if considered as a direct response.

More directly, “darkness” is an obvious metaphor for ignorance. The creative power that births the One from darkness is tapas, which regardless of whether it is an actual parallel or not, is functionally equivalent to sankhara in DO, which is oddly not noted by Jurewicz.

In this whole passage she basically discusses only the Satapathabrahmana, which begs the question, what of the Nasadiya? I’m surprised on rereading how little use she actually makes of the Nasadiya. She says that it was the first creation myth, then others followed along the same lines. Okay, there is truth to that, but it also allows her to cherry-pick things she thinks are similar, without really giving due value to the ways the ideas change and evolve, and why they are presented in a certain way in a certain text.

And I agree, the inferences in this passage are absurdly distant. In no way is DO an actual response or polemic related to this passage. At best it shows some contextual usage of saṅkhāra before Buddhism.

On vijñāna, her discussion is based on the Taittiriya Upanishad, again not mentioning the Nasadiya at all, and using a method that actually gives the opposite of an actual parallel. She points to the five koshas, fine, then says we can reverse them to make a cosmogenesis (which, dubious but okay). The problem is that in the direct order mano leads to vijñāna. Now mano is frequently used in active contexts where it has a similar sense to saṅkhāra, and of course we find manosaṅkhāra at this point in DO. So the forward order from mano to vijñāna is in fact similar to DO’s saṅkhāra to viññāṇa, but she flips it for obscure reasons missing the actual parallel to create a false one.

In any case, if it is a parallel it is a slim one.

Again, it seems to me there is a simpler and more direct parallel in the Nasadiya, since the One was birthed by tapas, and that One (= brahman) is elsewhere equated with vijñāna. It’s a pretty small step from tapas (heat) birthing the One, to saṅkhāra (energy) birthing consciousness.

Interesting. It has the sense “to pour out” and clearly invokes the offering of soma to the fire. The Buddha’s terminology is more “scientific”.

The discussion of āyatana refers to two occurrences of the word in a creation myth in the Aitareya Upanishad, where the “senses” find an “abode”, which is the puruṣa. Hmm, interesting. It certainly argues against the implausible commentarial idea that āyatana means “base” as a cause.

Also note that the Sanskrit Cologne dictionary notes a huge range of meanings for āyatana, which it says are mostly attested in Buddhist texts. So it seems that, for whatever reason the Buddha used the term, he did employ it much more prominently.

Right, and even more odd because once again she prefers, like the Vedas themselves, the hidden and obscure to the obvious and clear. It doesn’t take a Buddha to see that desire lies at the root of human activity. And there are countless cases in the Upanishads where thirst motivates creation.

The Aitareya Upanishad, which she has just quoted, is a good example. When the “deities”, i.e. the separate aspects of a sentient beings , still lost and formless in the ocean, experience hunger and thirst, and for this reason He creates the purusha for them, so that they can eat. No need for a detour via a fire metaphor.

I mean fair enough, fire metaphors are common and important, and in some cases clearly draw on a Vedic context (eg. the Aditapariyayasutta). But there’s a difference between postulating an affinity and using this connection to prove a point.

She says (p. 178)

the last three links of the pratityasamutpada evidently may refer to the activity of fire which may come into being, be born, and die because it burns the fuel. This is how the Buddha interpreted it.

To support this rather bold claim, she refers to a Polish translation of a 1924 German article by Oldenberg (!) It’s an odd way to argue, and not really true as it stands. Sure, there’s a metaphorical connection, but DO isn’t talking about fire, and never explains these terms in this way.

On bhava, she refers to a passage where the causative form is used in the sense to “nourish” or “make grow” the child. Okay, but again, bhava has deep roots in the idea “to grow”, so this is hardly a meaningful connection.

She also points a couple of times to usages in later Buddhism as possible correlations, but this is extremely unlikely, as later Buddhists apparently almost entirely worked internally by developing the ideas of the suttas, not responding to Vedism.

More specifically, she says it is “surely significant that the locus classicus for DO is called the mahanidanasutta”. I mean, no? It’s just a long sutta on causality? This is really just cherry-picking off the surface. Anyway, DN 15 is no locus classicus: it’s a late expanded sutta.

I mean, there are just as many parallels with the Genesis story of creation. Creation stories tend to follow a pattern. And that pattern reflects multiple layers of reality in a complex way:

  • metaphysical postulation
  • evolution of earth and life
  • growth of the individual

You can find these layers in pretty much any creation myth. And it also seems to me that, in its own way, DO serves some of the purposes of a creation myth, and echoes these different layers.

Ultimately, I’d have to say I agree with you. I think the correlations she proposes are nowhere near as convincing as she thinks. In many cases it seems to me that we could actually make a stronger and simpler case. Nonetheless, it is still an interesting argument and raises a range of important issues in challenging ways.


A bigger danger IMHO is that a lot of Buddhist teachers confidently state things as the Buddha’s teachings when they are are in fact Upanishadic teachings refuted by the Buddha. :person_shrugging:

One basic principle: look where the sutta points. If it says, “Brahma said this”, and you look in the Upanishads and yep, Brahma does in fact say that, then, as with the example cited by Sunyo above, you’re on solid ground.

OTOH, DO is said to be something that came from the Buddha’s meditative insight, so there’s no real reason from the Buddhist side to think the Buddha connected it with the Vedas…


Agree, thank you Bhante. I find a lot of the Buddhist books I read when I was young were guilty of this, and now in my old age I have to unlearn some of them :frowning:

Even now we hear people claiming the Buddha said the world is an illusion, or when we become enlightened we become “one” with the “universe” etc. etc.


If we are actually willing to consider it, I think there is evidence of interest in subject-object dualism in the EBTs, at least in the experience of duality and non duality of subject and object, if not a developed philosophy. I think that if we are willing to open our eyes in meditation both literally and figuratively, we see this in MN 119. Note: nowhere in the canon are there instructions to close our eyes.

What are we mindful of when we are mindful of what is in front “us”. When I look at what is in front of me I see the world, all objects. These objects are “not us”. “Us” being the subject.

What is unified? The only candidates are “us” and what is in front of us. What is left after unification? I think the answer is in Ud 1.10, “there is no you in that.” I take it we are left with just “that” which is what was “in front of us” minus the “us”.

Experientially, we experience an “us” and a world in front of us and around us. In other words, we are “in that”. That is, we sense our bodies and minds being back here instead of out there in front of us. We feel our bodies and minds located in space and when we look down we feel the weight of our feet down where we see our feet. I believe these is called proprioception and binding in brain science parlance. If these two processes are stilled then the sense of you being in the world ends, at least for the time being.

Added later: proprioception applies even when eyes are closed so this could work even with eyes closed. That said, MN 119 does say “establish mindfulness in front them.”


Yes, Buddha does in fact say there is no ‘I’ in seeing/hearing/thinking etc. But also teaches dependent origination as in “Things that rise due to conditions ceases when conditions cease”. As such there is an “I” that we see arisen due to craving, ignorance and other conditions. We also makes choices, do things etc which is evident in our daily lives.

Buddha makes no claim to deny such a reality and substitute a different one.
Vedism seems to support an ultimate reality - an Atman. Similarly Mahayana seems to suggest an emptiness as the reality.

[Tagging @Sunyo]

I tend to agree as well.

I know in the past on this forum I have drawn a lot from Jurewicz, and if anybody is interested I made a rather elaborate post connecting the Aggañña Sutta, Dependent Arising, and specific myth from the Brhadaranyaka in more precise ways [here]. I haven’t looked at it in some time but I found interesting things to my mind at least.

But I think that the Aggañña Sutta and the connections found there to Vedic myth + dependent arising are as Bhante @sujato has said: they raise more questions about the compilers and the spread of ideas. Did the Buddha make these connections? It’s very probable not exactly. Are they direct responses or just cultural trends of thinking and formulating creation? What is the relationship between the myth form and the more concrete and abstracted dependent arising expression — broad similarity, one influenced by the other, etc.

Personally, I think the most valuable thing is to be able to see correspondences with the way people of the Buddha’s time thought, expressed ideas, and responded to relevant philosophical and ethical matters. So we know fire, eating, thirst, desire, creation, etc. were important concepts for many aspects of the discourse. We can look at these elements across traditions and build a deeper understanding of potential implications in the suttas. But we cannot say, usually, that they are direct responses, from the Buddha himself, or much else with any certainty beyond the bare bones correlation.

So as far as my prior post and the “conclusions” I saw, I wouldn’t think the same today. A better way of phrasing it is that there is no doubt that descriptions, depictions, and terminology surrounding dependent arising are embedded within a culture familiar with Vedic thought, and that the various reciters and redactors of the suttas were able to make these connections. But not that dependent arising is intended to be a re-framing and confirmation of Vedic cosmogony itself.



Hello everyone,

I’ve finally had a chance to reread Jurewicz’s paper, and would like to humbly offer my thoughts.

An upfront disclaimer: my knowledge of Vedic philosophy and thinking can only be described as rudimentary, and therefore my ruminations, as they were, are emerging and nascent. I apologise if they come across as naive or undeveloped, and I welcome any feedback on errors and improvements. I also will like to disclose in parallel I have been reading Gombrich’s “Theravada Buddhism” and my views are no doubt influenced and coloured by Gombrich’s own views on Buddhism. In mitigation, I can only observe that I seem to be in illustrious company, as Jurewicz herself quotes Gombrich in her paper, and the paper was published by the PTS during Gombrich’s tenure as president, and was evidently sponsored by Gombrich himself, as he is so taken by the paper he quotes it in no less than 3 of his books and in some of his lectures.

On the surface, I would agree with @Sunyo and @sujato - the connections described by Jurewicz between DO and Vedic cosmogony would appear somewhat tenuous, even to my inexperienced and uneducated eyes. However, I also note that Jurewicz pointed out in paragraph 2 of her paper that she is well aware that the specific contexts of Vedic creation and Buddha’s DO are fundamentally different. I don’t think she is claiming isomorphic equivalence between the two, but merely that one can be taken as an allegory or allusion to the other, perhaps for pedagogical reasons, either by the Buddha himself or perhaps retroactively reconstructed by his followers as a response to Brahmanic or Vedic viewpoints.

A good question to ponder, as raised by @Sunyo in the original post, is how much was the Buddha aware of Vedic philosophy and ideas, and why would he want to reference the Vedic creation myth in his awakening?

The traditionally accepted and popular view of the Buddha’s life is that he is of noble birth (from the kṣatriya caste) and he would have been exposed to Vedic doctrine by his clan’s purohita (royal brahmin adviser and chief priest), and therefore he should be familiar with the Ṛg Veda and some of the earlier Upanisads. In any case, it has been observed that Buddhism itself seems like an evolution of the ideas contained in the Bṛhad-āraṇyaka.

However, there is an alternate (and perhaps more historically accurate) view that the Buddha came from a community called the Śākyas (the Buddha himself noted that his disciples should call themselves followers of Sakya, and arguably the Sangha is modelled after the Sakyan community that Buddha grew up in). Although the Buddha’s father was undoubtedly the head of a household, and perhaps even a leader of the tribe, Buddha wouldn’t have grown up exposed to Vedic teachings and perhaps would have acquired them either as a wandering ascetic or later in life when confronted with brahmin opponents during his travels.

We do know that much of the Buddha’s teachings can be seen as a refutal of central Vedic principles and concepts, whilst others appear to be a logical extension. By my analysis (happy to receive feedback), the core points that the Buddha refuted are:

  1. the Vedic sacrifice as a ritual that reaffirms the Cosmic Man’s cosmogonic sacrifice (referenced by Jurewicz) and intricately tied to the notion of fire as the vital principle that represented the origin of life and consciousness. In Buddhist philosophy, the “fire” is the craving caused by the fuel of the 5 khandhas.
  2. the Vedic notion of the eternal unchanging self (ātman/attā). In Buddhist philosophy, what we perceive as a “self” is in fact ever changing and driven by the 5 khandhas.
  3. the Vedic caste system. The Buddha didn’t actually refute this, but stated that anyone can attain realisation rather than just the upper castes, and a “true” brahmin is one defined by knowledge rather than birth. The Buddha does lean upon Vedic reliance on the “householder” (gahapati) responsibilities to the other castes, particularly in providing support to religious practitioners such as himself.
  4. the Vedic notion of kamma as ritualistic practice that gains merit. The Buddha asserts that karma is wholly determined by intentions and not by the observance of an action itself.
  5. the Vedic notion of gnosis as the union between the ātman and the universal principle of brahman and ultimately with the God Brahma himself. The Buddhist gnosis is self-realisation and liberation through the cessation of craving.
  6. the Vedic dhamma as a sacred law of nature. The Buddhist dhamma is meant to be independently verified through direct experience.

I believe that in order to provide an infrastructure supporting the above refutals, at some point the Buddha (or his followers) would have wanted to reference the Vedic creation myth. And hence the connections between the specific ordering of the DO elements against the Vedic framework would appear plausible, even if they may not have represented the Buddha’s actual thought processes upon awakening. Whether we like it or not, Vedic doctrine and it’s proponents was the main “competitor” to the Buddha in his lifetime. To be able to address prevailing Vedic philosophy and ideas would be a priority for the Buddha and his followers, in order to attract new recruits and address objections proposed by his opponents.

I suspect the Buddha’s teachings would have a different emphasis were he alive today. He may have contrasted and compared the Buddhist conceptual model with Christianity or Islam instead. It seems ironic that many of us studying or practising Buddhism today would be largely ignorant of Vedic thinking and therefore a lot of the references, comparisons and refutals are not immediately obvious to us. As @sujato points out, many Buddhist teachers even can’t differentiate between Buddhist and Vedic doctrine and mistakenly confuse one for the other.

1 Like

Sure, but the problem is, he did. Several times, quite explicitly. You’ll find it in the quote by Sunyo above, in the Agganna sutta, in the Brahmanadhammika sutta, and elsewhere. All of these cases are clearly responding to Vedic myth, and they are explicitly framed as such. So there’s no gap that to fill here, nothing missing.

Not sure what the point is here: obviously the Buddha was a Sakya. Some have argued that the Sakyans would not have had a Vedic background, but the problem is, we know little about them except from the Suttas and Vinaya, and the evidence there clearly indicates a connection with Vedism.

Just as one example, take DN 20. There we find reference to Vessanava (= Kuvera), gandhabbas, Vessamitta, Upamanyu, Matali, Sakka, Citrasena, various groups of nagas, garuḍā, Vajirahattha, Dānavas, Vepacitti, Pahārāda, Namuci, Bali, Virocana, Varuṇa, Soma, Vishnu, the Yamas, Purindada, and more. These are all attested in Vedas and other Brahmanical literature, and here they are literally in the Buddha’s home town.

It takes a special type of scholarship to say, “Let’s dispose of the only evidence that we have and assume the opposite conclusion”. I wish I could say this is unique, or even unusual, in Buddhist scholarship. Alas, it seems that what makes waves is contrarianism. Meanwhile, I’ll just keep on every day finding and documenting actual evidence of Vedic connections. :person_shrugging:


I think the key difference is the idea of conditionality, which the buddha articulated first.

I think that there is ample evidence to sugest that ALL of the then current vedic cosmology, the then current jhana practice of the annihilationists, and the then cureent sceptical hieronomy of the abayakata where critiqed and reformulated as examples of conditionality.

Its pretty much all already there in DN1


I rhink this is clearly true, in fact i think ots more or less taken for granted in the ebt, indeed relied upon, to pint out that any subject, (being) has an object, (experience, perception), and that therfore we have conditionality.