On dreams and discourses

In MN 75, the wanderer Māgaṇḍiya criticizes the Buddha as a “life-destroyer” (as discussed in an earlier post), justifying this by saying:

Evañhi no sutte ocarati

Now, this is translated by Ven Bodhi as:

Because this has come down in our discourse.

And various other translators (Chalmers, Horner) render it in a similar way. Ven Nyanatusita in an unpublished note concurs, as does Ven Anālayo in his Comparative Study. This explanation follows the commentary.

Yet, despite this impressive agreement of authority, the phrase is curious on a number of levels.

Firstly, it is usually the case that in the EBTs it is the brahmins who possess scripture. But it is not clear whether Māgaṇḍiya is a brahmin. He’s said to be a “wanderer” (paribbājakā), a generic term that includes both brahmins and non-brahmins. In AN 5.294-302 a group called Māgaṇḍikas, presumably followers of Māgaṇḍiya, is mentioned along with multiple other groups of religious, which again includes both brahmins and non-brahmins. Given that he shows up at a fire chamber of a brahmin, he may well be a brahmin, but I am not entirely sure of this.

Somewhat more interestingly, the brahmanical scriptures are not usually referred to as sutta. Now, the word sūtra is used in Brahmanical contexts, and can be a generic term, so there is no great objection to it being used in this sense. However, I am not aware of any other cases where it is used in the EBTs to refer to non-Buddhist texts.

It is also rather odd to see someone claim that the Buddha is specifically identified in their scriptures. In my previous discussion I speculated that there may have been a prophecy or mention of a religious teacher who would lead people astray by speaking of the “destruction of life”, which Māgaṇḍiya took to mean the Buddha. This is possible, but very speculative. I don’t know of anything like this in any pre-Buddhist scriptures, although, of course, much has been lost.

But the most curious point here is the verb, ocarati. This is glossed in the commentary with āgacchati, a standard term to refer to scriptures that have been “passed down” in the oral tradition (i.e. āgama). But, while the root meanings of the words are similar, this is not the normal meaning of ocarati at all. In fact, it is normally used in the sense of “spying out”, in the literal sense. A spy is an ocaraka, i.e. “one who wanders undercover”, as in SN 3.11, Ud 6.2, Pj 2. The sense is a sneaky observation, spying, surveillance. I don’t think it’s used in any other sense in the EBTs.

Perhaps, then, rather than “passed down in scripture”, the sense is “this is spied out, i.e. revealed, in scripture”. Or perhaps the implication sticks closer to the root meaning of ocarati, ava (under-) carati (wandering), i.e. “This is implicit in our scripture.”

But there is another possibility. As well as meaning thread/discourse, sutta can mean “sleep”. We have already been introduced to this context, as the prompt for the discourse is when Māgaṇḍiya sees the Buddha’s grass mat for sleeping. It is perhaps not irrelevant that in the Upanishads, there is a great concern with the various states of sleep, and the kinds of knowledge that can be revealed thereby, as the self wanders about the world in dreams. Thus to claim something has been revealed in a dream is not, as we might think, a bit mad, but, in a spiritual adept, can be a kind of higher knowledge. Perhaps, then, Māgaṇḍiya’s claim to authority was not ancient scripture, but a mystic revelation:

For so it is revealed in our sleep

It would be understandable for the later Buddhist traditions, unfamiliar with the Upanishadic ideas about sleep, to think of scripture here.

There are, however, a number of objections to this reading. Grammatically, it is not entirely satisfactory. Ocarati is an active verb, which in the case of a scripture would be “so it comes down to us in a discourse” or “it reveals (or implies) this in a discourse”. It’s hard to see how to avoid a passive sense in the case of a dream.

In addition, when the revelations of a dream are spoken of, the Pali uses supina, i.e. “dream”, rather than “sleep”, as in AN 5.196.

Contextually, while the notion of sleep is introduced earlier, the idea of scripture is introduced later, when the Buddha and Māgaṇḍiya discuss a verse of ancient lore. So really either context would work, and this can’t help.

As you may have guessed from the amount of “maybes” and “perhaps” in this, I am really not sure of this. But on the whole, I am leaning to rendering the phrase:

For so it implies in a discourse of ours

By taking ocarati to mean “imply”, it avoids the problem of why there would be an explicit reference to the Buddha. It is a hidden knowledge, something that can only be teased out by a (in his own eyes) insightful guru such as Māgaṇḍiya. This doesn’t solve all the problems, but it seems to be the least implausible reading.


in OUR dream” or “to US in a dream” would also sound odd as dreams are normally personal

He’s using the royal “we” here, which is not unusual in Pali. Normally I translate this as singular to avoid confusion.

but then odd would sound the phrase ‘revealed to ME in a discourse’ as discourses such as scriptures or the lore are normally communal

and you eventually choose to translate this as

For so it implies in a discourse of ours

discarding the royal ‘we’, don’t you?

Why treat it as scripture, when what it literally means is discourse or speech? Maybe Māgaṇḍiya overheard (or spied out) some suttas as taught by the Buddha, but didn’t realize the real meaning and so he came with criticizm.

Because these / such discourses / speeches were overheard / eavesdropped by us

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The use of the word “implies” seems like a good fit for the context. It would seem unusual that a Buddha or Tathagata would be mentioned specifically in the Brahmin discourses (perhaps there are these cases), but a mention of a “false prophet” of sorts would seem likely, some teacher that would seek to derail the Brahmins off of their path. Perhaps Māgaṇḍiya perceives the Buddha as occupying a special status, residing in the fire chamber of Bhāradvāja. Seeing this great Master, Māgaṇḍiya assumes this Master to be exactly the kind of “false prophet” warned of in his Brahmin scriptures.

on the other hand why would he have to overhear or spy out? the Buddha after all taught openly, i believe anyone could just come and listen to his discourses

Good point - I have no idea :wink:

Magandiya specifies that the sutta is “ours” (no), i.e. belongs to Magandiya’s tradition, not the Buddha’s.

There is the curious case of the 32 Marks, which according to the Buddhist texts are a brahmanical prophecy of the Buddha, but which are not found in any actual brahmanical texts.

Maybe, it is an interesting location. The Buddha also stayed in a fire chamber for the events preceding the Fire Sermon, when he converted the three Kassapa brothers. At that time he got into some fun stuff, including a fire-battle with a dragon.


I am not sure. Idioms are flexible. If you take ocarati as equivalent to āgacchati, you have, “It came to us while sleeping,” which is active. Even if ocarati means something like “implied”, as you suggest, I don’t think we can rule out an active meaning in the Pali.

As for sutte meaning “sleep” instead of “dream”, this is certainly true, and yet there is obviously a lot of overlap between the two.


Well, at least you didn’t think the idea was completely nuts, so that’s a plus!

Indeed. The whole conception of sleep/dream is quite complex, and I think there is a lot of different assumptions going on that we don’t necessarily understand. The difference between a dream prompted by oneself, and that brought by an outside force such as a deva, for example. Or else, to say it came while asleep could simply refer to the phenomenon of solving a problem by sleeping on it: he woke up with this idea in his head, and seeing the Buddha’s bed confirmed it.

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I quite liked the idea. That’s why I wanted to support it.

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Can you think of any cases where sutta is used of non-Buddhist texts in the EBTs?

Not straightaway, but I’ll give it some thought.

Emerson: A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of lesser minds.

But yes, you’re right!

Isn’t it possible that what Magandiya is referring to here is not a teaching in his scriptures or traditions - whatever they are - that refers negatively to the Buddha specifically as an individual, but rather a teaching that refers negatively to all people who teach doctrines such as the Buddha teaches? In this case, presumably the teaching the health-minded Magandiya disapproves of has something to do with renunciation, celibacy and the holy life, since the Buddha’s subsequent discourse in defense of his teaching focuses on the abandonment of the sensual pleasures that lead to lust (and hence procreation).

If that’s all he means, it wouldn’t matter too much whether the negative judgement is tacitly implied by Magandiya’s traditions, or explicitly passed down in those traditions. However, one possibility, maybe halfway between the two readings and using the “spying out” connection, might be that the negative judgment on Gotama’s teaching and way of life can be discerned in (espied in) Magandiya’s traditions.

Just one extra-textual suggestion: I frequently read that many scholars think that some aspects of the anti-Brahmanical apologetics in the suttas are later impositions. It could be that, even if the discourse is on the whole authentic, at some later point in the transmission when Brahmins were known by the Buddhists to teach negative views about the Buddha himself, the transmitter inserted into Magandiya’s mouth the kind of negative judgement that he knew a Brahmin of his own time might have offered about the historical Buddha.

Even if Magadiya does belong to some sect of wanderers, his views do seem somewhat Brahmanical. My impression is that he believes in a hearty philosophy of health, wealth and reproduction, keeping the cosmic circle of life going via the performance of appropriate kamma, as Brahmins would understand it, and so the Buddha’s teachings about renouncing worldly life and bringing an end to kamma altogether is something (initially) appalling to Magandiya, and paints the Buddha therefore as a destroyer of life. It seems highly significant that the whole discourse takes place in the Brahmin’s fire chamber, where the Buddha can then offer a teaching about fire as an example of our tendency to misperceive the unpleasant as pleasant.

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The Buddha puts Magandiya on the defensive by performing a psychic feat of divine ear:

'…with the divine ear, which is purified and surpasses the human, the Blessed One heard this conversation between the brahmin of the Bhāradvāja clan and the wanderer Māgandiya…

“Bhāradvāja, did you have any conversation with the wanderer Māgandiya about this very same spread of grass? When this was said, the brahmin, awestruck and with his hair standing on end, replied: “We wanted to tell Master Gotama about that very thing, but Master Gotama has anticipated us.”

Magandiya, IMO, tries his best to defend himself and I think he offers a story of a (counter) phychic feat (perhaps by someone else in his religion):

‘Evañhi no sutte ocaratī’

Evañhi: just in the same way

sutte -.sutta:In phrase °-pabuddha “awakened from sleep” referring to the awakening (entrance) in the deva-world -PTS Pali-English dictionary

ocaratī.- to go into, to search, reconnoitre, investigate

Divine eye, which apparently can be developed by anybody, would have been accessible to some of these wanderers who were renunciates, who may well have been meditating deeply into jhanas. The act of the divine eye would be an active one involving seeking. It would be dream like. Possibly the wanders may not have had the developed vocabulary developed by the Buddha (due to the six patisambhida nana?) to describe clearly what they were experiencing as an act of ‘divine eye’.

It is of course difficult to know for certain, but it seems by the end of the sutta there definitely was a meeting of minds!

with metta