Looking for sutta with a discussion between the Buddha and Brahma on whether Being is good

I am looking for a sutta about which Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote in an introduction to one of the Nikayas (can’t remember which one) outlining its philosophical importance since it’s a discussion between the Buddha and Brahma (if I rememeber correctly) where the latter states that what exists is good (perhaps because he believes he created it(?)) which in a way echos the myth of Genesis underpinning the Judeo-Chrstian view of the world (what exists is good because it was created by God) whereas the Buddha if I remember correctly negates the value of Being because of dhukkha. I only remember vaguely the sutta but remember how Bhikkhu Bodhi stressed its philosophical importance in the context of the affirmation or negation of existence. I am travelling so I don’t have access to the Nikayas published by Wisdom and I would be grateful if anyone could point me to the sutta in question. :pray:

There’s a big discussion with Baka the Brahmā in MN 49, where the Brahmā’s misconception is described as follows:

‘This is permanent, this is everlasting, this is eternal, this is whole, this is imperishable. For this is where there’s no being born, growing old, dying, passing away, or being reborn. And there’s no other escape beyond this.’

Perhaps this is not quite what you have in mind?

The Buddha’s first response is:

‘Alas, Baka the Brahmā is lost in ignorance! Alas, Baka the Brahmā is lost in ignorance! Because what is actually impermanent, not lasting, transient, incomplete, and perishable, he says is permanent, everlasting, eternal, complete, and imperishable. And where there is being born, growing old, dying, passing away, and being reborn, he says that there’s no being born, growing old, dying, passing away, or being reborn. And although there is another escape beyond this, he says that there’s no other escape beyond this.’

They go still on with a long discussion in which Māra also gets involved, and some amazing psychic powers are shown.


:pray: Thank you, this is the sutta in question, though indeed it does not precisely deal with the issue I had in mind (I read the comments by Bhikkhu Bodhi on it in 2015 so I had forgotten the real context of those remarks)

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Perhaps it’s this passage that has been stuck in your memory:

‘Seeing the danger in continued existence—
that life in any existence will cease to be—
I didn’t welcome any kind of existence,
and didn’t grasp at relishing.’
(recited by the Buddha)

Then Brahmā, his assembly, and his retinue, their minds full of wonder and amazement, thought,

‘Oh, how incredible, how amazing! The ascetic Gotama has such psychic power and might! We’ve never before seen or heard of any other ascetic or brahmin with psychic power and might like the ascetic Gotama, who has gone forth from the Sakyan clan. Though people enjoy continued existence, loving it so much, he has extracted it, root and all.’


I think the brilliance of the Buddha’s teaching was exactly that his system transcended this question - it works for everybody in that it purely focuses on the end of suffering.

Many different cults in antiquity worked that way: Their teachings make a point or are symbolic in such a way that they yield the same result in anybody who studies them, no matter their philosophical or religious backgrounds. The freemasons with their symbols are one such prominent example (going back to ancient Egypt cults).

Suttas that are especially interesting in this context I think are, for example AN 3.61 and AN 3.65 (too long to paste them here).

Edit @sujato please record a class on this and similar topics (Antinatalism etc.) ! I know that you have previously jokingly referred to them.

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Exactly! I was about to amend my reply quoting precisely this passage! :pray: It’s cool that you understand the problem I am grappling with; I began developing these thoughts in a Buddhist Monastery last night during a discussion on interfaith meetings but was not yet able to articulate them properly.

However ths passage would seem to imply that the Buddhist idea regarding the justification of existence is the opposite of that in the Bible, where say according to the myth in the book of Genesis God saw that what he created was good. So, in that view, the fact that something exists (in spite of there being suffering) is preferable to nothing.

In contrast it seems that the Buddha, when saying that he did not welcome any kind of existence, implies that existence is not justified (because it is dhukkha).

I am familiar with this argument in philosophy (for example Nietzsche’s work can be seen as a way to justify reality in spite of suffering whereas say for Schopenhauer existence is not justified because for him life was like a business in which the costs were much superior to the profits). So I guess Buddhism would be in the camp of worldviews or religions according to which existence is not justified.

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But the end of suffering is understood by many as putting an end to rebirth and attaining nibbana, which is understood by many as extinguishment and thus leads to nothingness. Thus Nothing is preferable to the existence of the world as it is (come to think of it, I remember that Ajahn Brahm has a joke about the disirability of nothingness)

And Heidegger’s Seinslehre. (You may find the two suttas I posted above interesting)

With Heidegger, Being equals Nothing. But it is still not “nothing” :wink: Dependent origination I think can be equaled to Das Seiende in Heidegger, contrasted to Sein.

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I think Heidegger was certainly affirming Being. In relation to Schopenhauer’s quote in my post above, he rejected it not because profits are higher than costs, but because in his view life is not a business.

Do you think that there are many? My impression is that this is a small minority in Buddhism.

I also feel that Buddha did not welcome any existence because he had a deeper sense of safety, protection. He searched for saftey and protection and i feel it is quit cynical that the only protection is a mere cessation after death. That is, i feel, a kind of nihilistic interpretation of safety or another shore.

Any existence is construction, so liable to cease and unstable, not safe, not a real refuge, but i believe Buddha intuitively felt there is unconstructed reality, the unborn, unconditioned, emptiness. It is unfabricated and as such safe, it does not de-construct. It is reliable.

Ok I am not sure whether that’s the view of many Buddhists. It is Ajahn Brahm’s interpretation, though you are correct many monks I spoke to imply that there’s a deathless state worthy of affirmation after enlightenment.

I feel that EBTs teach that only knowledge of that which arises, ceases, and changes in the meantime, cannot be seen as noble right view or real understanding. One must also have knowledge of what is not seen arising, ceasing and changing in the meantime ((MN115). Both elements.

I think bhava always refers to a certain kind of existence. That is based upon tanha and upadana, a constructed or build up reality, temporary. When the Buddha teaches that he did not welcome any kind of existence, i believe, he meant this constructed reality, the buiding of a new house, as it were (dhammapada).

I believe the emphasize must lay on Buddha’s not welcoming of a constructed reality, of that what is temporary, that what is build up and breaks down. That is the bhava he did not welcome anymore and this is also the characteristic of bhava, any bhava.

The question now is? When he did not welcome this, is this the same as not welcoming life, not welcoming reality? I feel not. It is exactly the opposite. He welcomed Truth, Life, Oneness, Health, Reality by breaking the allure for what will desintegrate. This is his Noble Path. Welcoming Truth, welcoming reality. Welcoming the unailing, not desintegrating, the stable, dispassion, purity.
See: SN 43.14–43: Anāsavādisutta—Bhikkhu Bodhi (suttacentral.net)

Not welcoming bhava does not mean, i believe, not welcoming Truth, not welcoming life, not welcoming reality but exactly the opposite. It is the Path to Life. To wholeness.