Non Buddhists in late Buddhist texts

Recently I had been listening to Bhante @sujato talks on youtube in various things, and he frequently said that later buddhist texts mostly are about buddhists talking to another buddhist.
On contrary EBT have lots of instances when Buddha is speaking to non buddhist. And then he said that he cant find an exception to this (LBT containing non buddhist)

I dont know if this is coincidence or has been eavesdropping his talk, in short interval recentlt they had been releasing two minor and obscure sutras in which non buddhist is the interlocutor.

And release a major and popular sutra in which some of the master figure is non buddhist.

1st is Victory of Ultimate Dharma.

In which a non buddhist Rishi with matted hair interrupt a Bodhisattva who want to ask question, and saying that the miraculous display of the Buddha is irrelevant because Narayana and Mahesvara can also do it. And he ask some question related to the beginning of universe, destruction of universe, and the subtle soul.

2nd sutra, Question on Selflessness

In which some Mahayana followers is questioned about the doctrine of no-self, by Tirthika. Variant version tell us that these Tirthikas are Nirganthas (Jain)

3rd sutra, The Gandhavyuha.
Link is unavailable because they made it available only in app for several days.

This popular sutra narrates the journey of Sudhana to meet spiritual teachers, and some of them are clearly non buddhist in appearance. Although, clearly they are Bodhisattva in disguise, and it is not meant to be historically accurate.

I just want to point out the exceptions, though I still think Bhante Sujato argument is still valid. These exceptions are obscure, minor, very few compared to the body of scriptures, and I dont think they are derived from historical events. I think these are mostly teaching tool or just showing how to refute the doctrine of non buddhist


Great examples, thanks! I’ll have to be sure to acknowledge these if I discuss it again.

It’d be interesting to look at how these discussions proceeded, compared with the EBTs.


Question on Selflessness Sutra basically presented the usual sunyata doctrine, nothing unique.

Victory of Ultimate Dharma Sutra, now that is quite different.
The first scene is Buddha’s miracle and how non buddhist ascetics are feeling down after “being defeated”, but when a young bodhisattva prince going to ask a question, a non buddhist sage interrupt him " Shush, be quiet. That miracle is not important. "

I never saw something like that before :grin:

Ulka the sage asked about origin of the world, and of beings, and the answer given is mostly in accordance with EBT. With some new innovative following questions by the sage, and logically answered.

Then Ulka asked about fire at the end of kalpa, why it happened?
Buddha answered that it is because everything is impermanent. So far so good.

But then Buddha elaborate more, and the following segment is quite confusing, because it seems like The Buddhas are responsible for the fire that destroy the world at the end of kalpa. It looks like Buddha is taking the role of Shiva (or maybe that’s the goal?)

And then following segment is the place in between when previous world is destroyed and next world is not appear yet, the beings are in “a waiting room”, and it was discussed about what happen there.
In the Sutta, beings are reborn in Abhassara realm, so that was different.

Following segment is discussing the existence of “Subtle soul”, maybe it is another word for atman or Self, and the answer given is the standard anatta/ sunyata doctrine.

Considering the questions, I think this is teaching how Buddhists should answer those questions by the non buddhists. Though I would only select logical part !

Thanks for the analysis! I had a brief read of the text, and while I couldn’t say for sure, it seemed to me that there was a subtle difference from the EBTs in how the logic is employed.

In the EBTs, the teachings are empirical and inferential; they describe the world of experience. “See this? See how it’s impermanent? All things are impermanent like this. That’s why the Buddha teaches impermanence, so so that we can let go.”

But in this text it seemed the other way around. “Why are these things impermanent? Because that is in conformity with the Buddha’s teachings.” In other words, the Buddha’s teachings determine reality, they don’t just describe it.

“Next, please explain why the world will be consumed by apocalyptic fire at the end of the eon.”

The Bhagavān replied, “Great Seer, the world will be consumed by apocalyptic fire because the expanse of reality is unconditioned. Great Seer, if it were not consumed by apocalyptic fire, then the expanse of reality would be dual: some things would be impermanent and others permanent. If that were so, the Tathāgata would not be telling the truth. Great Seer, since everything is impermanent and unstable and offers no respite, the Tathāgata attains the title Omniscient.”

The great seer said to a young brahmin, “He’s worthy of the title Omniscient.”

The Bhagavān said, “Great Seer, if the world were not consumed by apocalyptic fire, saying ‘This is a fortunate period’ versus ‘This is an unfortunate period’ would be a meaningless distinction. Also, Great Seer, if it were not consumed by apocalyptic fire, the karmic ripening of good and evil deeds would be indistinguishable. [F.36.b] Great Seer, moreover, the destruction of the world by apocalyptic fire is a skillful means of the tathāgatas. Great Seer, after learning about this destruction by apocalyptic fire, sentient beings gain faith and are attracted to the tathāgatas via their methods of gathering disciples.

Do you think that’s fair? Or am I misreading it?


I think the analysis is quite correct.

I wonder if this is because it tries to take too much burden of proof.
Also, maybe it is trying too hard in convincing non buddhist about the correctness of Buddha’s teaching.

Also, it seems to suggest that things could be permanent but Buddhas through their powers choose to make things impermanent in order to teach beings. At least, that is how I interpret the phrase " moreover, the destruction of the world by apocalyptic fire is a skillful means of the tathāgatas".

Now that I think about it, it is really subtle difference.

  1. The reality is as Buddha had said, therefore Buddha is correct.

  2. Buddha said correctly, and so the reality is just as he said.

  3. If the reality is not like that, Buddha would speak incorrectly; but because Buddha always speak the truth, therefore reality is like that.

I remember a similar scene in Divyavadana. A man ask about Buddha prophecy and accuse him of lying.
Buddha showed his long tongue, proof that he always speak correctly. Therefore, his prophecy and his teaching of karma is correct.

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