MN97: Why did the Buddha sound disappointed?

Then Sāriputta went to the Buddha, bowed, sat down to one side, and said, “Sir, the brahmin Dhanañjāni is sick, suffering, gravely ill. He bows with his head to your feet.”

“But Sāriputta, after establishing Dhanañjāni in the inferior Brahmā realm, why did you get up from your seat and leave while there was still more left to do?”

“Sir, I thought: ‘These brahmins are devoted to the Brahmā realm. Why don’t I teach him a path to the company of Brahmā?’”

“And Sāriputta, the brahmin Dhanañjāni has passed away and been reborn in the Brahmā realm.”

First time posting on here, not quite sure this is the right spot, but I was lurking and saw this sutta referenced. While I understand that the ideal is that Ven. Sariputta would have established Dhanañjāni further, is Ven. Sariputta at fault for sharing to the man the rebirth he would have preferred to have? Why did the Buddha sound so…disappointed lol.

I guess I’m also trying to see what approach is…kinder, to offer a teaching that may be a better path ultimately but was not what Dhanañjāni would have wanted and may have some regret afterwards or to have given the individual exactly what they were asking for in terms of teachings.

Hopefully this is the right spot to post this. I’ve been enjoying people’s posts on here! :slight_smile:

1 Like

Welcome to the forum!

It would be one thing if Dhanañjāni himself declined stream entry, but it’s another for the teacher to make that decision for him, right? Sariputta didn’t even offer, and hence the mistake. At least that’s my read of the situation. Happy to hear other interpretations. :slight_smile:


That makes good sense. Would it be the case then, in such instances, to offer someone like Dhanañjāni both the path to the Brahma world and to offer the possibility of a higher world/stream-entry…upon discerning what would be most useful at the time of death though.

I would imagine one would not want to disturb the mind of someone who is about to cross from death to birth and ensure they are steady towards any kind of positive rebirth. If a Brahmin was solidly set on the path to Brahma, they would decline anything further I’d imagine.

And apparently so thought Sariputta too, so you’re in good company there :joy:

But this is how the Buddha taught the gradual teaching: he’d first warm up the student with virtue and gladness, etc and then, when their mind was ripe, hit 'em with the four noble truths.

Only with some degree of concentration already established are you actually of sound enough mind to even make that call, in my opinion. Then the Buddha merely points out the way. Even at that time, the hearer has to make the leap themselves.

1 Like

Heard, lol.

Well would the Buddha have explicitly said the Noble truths as a way out of samsara, or would he have hidden the method and left it to the hearer? There’s probably mentions of how he did it in the suttas, but I’m definitely not versed in it.


Even at that time, the hearer has to make the leap themselves.

This sounds like the hearer has to be aware that the method takes them into the stream for it to work?

In an unrelated topic it reminds me of some Mahayanist teachings where they go, “don’t accidentally fall into the stream or else you’ll become a sravaka and never do the Buddhahood thing”.

Otherwise though, this makes sense with regards to how the Buddha would have ideally wanted to teach then, Ven. Sariputta could have done more by pointing the way. I see it. Thank you for the discourse and sadhu, Venerable.

Yeah, not unrelated at all.

You can’t accidentally get enlightened. If Dhananjani really didn’t want to get enlightened, he wouldn’t, even if he were taught the 4NT. :slight_smile: Best and welcome again!


Of course the Mahayanist Bodhisattvas may also point out

" Therefore, Shariputra, because , for bodhisattvas , there is no attainment , they rest , trusting the perfection of wisdom.” - Heart Sutra

… the illusion of choice is in this case an indication of a lack of freedom. Does a conditionally primed potential stream enterer really have a choice when offered the teaching, I wonder? Or is it more like a sponge being offered some water?


Does a conditionally primed potential stream enterer really have a choice when offered the teaching, I wonder? Or is it more like a sponge being offered some water?

Yeah I wonder. Is this what “falling into the stream” is like lol.

But also this is in relation to what I mean–working under the assumption that Dhanañjāni or any other individual would have enough…effects of kamma/causes and conditions/perfections etc, to point them to the stream, but is not Brahma world or whatever desired rebirth they want, is it ethical to nudge them there?

Is it kind (besides the point that sharing Dhamma and the way to Nibbana is inherently kind)–or is that also assuming that to cross the stream is what they want anyway…which is just the flipside of Sariputta’s assumption, which kind of removes agency from the person.

Or was Ven. Sariputta justified in not teaching more even if the Buddha was right in that perhaps Dhanañjāni could have attained further. Does being enlightened while not having the omniscience of a Buddha make it okay to “sneakily” give a teaching without saying where the teaching leads, should Ven. Sariputta have done so? Lots of questions lmao.

But yeah I mean…I think my question about why the Buddha did sound disappointed has been answered. The ideal is that one teaches the way to Nibbana.

Surely it’s always ethical to nudge? All beings wish to be free from suffering. Samsara realms are continued suffering even if one doesn’t understand that yet, whereas stream entry limits suffering to a max of seven lifetimes, and you get to understand that samsara realms are just continued suffering when you enter the stream anyway. It’s a no-brainer isn’t it?

Surely it’s always ethical to nudge?

…yes? I’m just trying to remember any point in the sutta where the Buddha or any of the arahants taught a teaching without explicitly saying: this leads to Nibbana. And in relation to the original question it would be such that if Ven. Sariputta felt that he could not nudge without explicitly saying this was the way to Nibbana, because if he did then Dhanañjāni would decline/be put in an unstable mindstate (imagine questioning your final spiritual goal at the last moment), then it would be the case that to teach a method without explicitly saying it leads to Nibbana, as a nudge, would be unethical.

Just because I wonder too why Ven. Sariputta did not just instead teach the Brahmaviharas then throw in a mindfulness or jhana teaching to tip the scales. It seems like there could be implicit understanding around teaching what and when–although this is perhaps outside the scope of my initial inquiry.

I guess it depends on whether it worked or not. Obviously being a stream enterer is a much more stable mind state than an uneducated worldling, even in the Brahma realm. I don’t think there’s ever a bad time to have your delusions undermined is there? I would certainly want that, even on my death bed. Indeed what better time could there be if the mind is ready for it?

Yes. Maybe we can get @moderators to split off our exchange into a new watercooler topic?

1 Like

Thinking compassion is giving someone what they want is a common misconception. Compassion is giving what is best in the overall view, and often this will be difficult for the recipient. For material compassion to be so it must remove suffering, and that was the Buddha’s aim. In those terms MN 97 has nothing to do with the recipient’s view, it is pointing out the inferiority of the brahma-vihara path.

“I tell you, monks, awareness-release through good will has the beautiful as its excellence — in the case of one who has penetrated to no higher release. [2]”—SN 46.54

The Theravada approach to compassion is to value it along with the other brahma-viharas in terms of its boundless quality of mind, and this aspect is currently being taught by Ven. Analayo.

Thanks for the guide!