Samaṇabrāhmaṇā correct translation?

I do not know yet how to send private messages but I want to recommend Ven @Sujato the books of the author of How the Brahmins won. Many other interesting books. But I think you probably know already about the word but I think a better translation is needed. Since maybe it means as said in this Ekottarāgama

Sorry I want do want to quote since I don’t know about rights. It seems a old website link and there is other suttas if you go home. And it refers to you.

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Is this sutra giving us what was the common meaning of brāhmaṇa, or is it redefining it for rhetorical effect?

I think here the latter is the case. The Buddhists are criticizing the concept of a brahmin as someone who simply performs ceremonies and rituals to gain the favor of gods by saying, “No, a real brahmin has cultivated himself spiritually, too. Our way is what brahmins ought to do.”

It’s a good example of how complex translation can be. There are the usual meanings of words in the source language, and then the authors in the original language redefine them to make arguments, use humor, or express ironies. It can be next to impossible sometimes to communicate that well–puns are especially difficult to translate.


In the book How the Brahmins Won there is chapter how this word is actually referring in suttas in whole list of all those that are considered actually in sramanas tradition. So Buddha for example always talked about that there good Jains in a city and thinking something like that one should not try to do something that expose yourself infront them. So sramanas movement was more respected.

Let me quote the chapter. I don’t know if I would do it correctly still learning

Santi, bhikkhave, eke samaṇabrāhmaṇā evaṃ-vādino evaṃ-diṭṭhino: yaṃ kiñcāyaṃ purisapuggalo paṭisaṃvedeti, sukhaṃ vā dukkhaṃ vā adukkhamasukhaṃ vā, sab- ban taṃ pubbekatahetu; iti purāṇānaṃ kammānaṃ tapasā vyantībhāvā, navānaṃ kammānaṃ akaraṇā āyatiṃ anavassavo, āyatiṃ anavassavā kammakkhayo, kammakkhayā dukkhakkhayo, dukkhakkhayā vedanākkhayo, vedanākkhayā sabbaṃ dukkhaṃ nijjiṇṇaṃ bhavissatī’ti. Evaṃvādino, bhikkhave, Nigaṇṭhā.
Bhikkhus, there are some Śramaṇas and Brahmins (samaṇabrāhmaṇā) who hold such a doctrine and view as this: “Whatever this person feels, whether plea- sure or pain or neither-pain-nor-pleasure, all that is caused by what was done in the past. So by annihilating with asceticism past actions and by doing no fresh actions, there will be no consequence in the future. With no consequence in the future, there is the destruction of action. With the destruction of action, there is the destruction of suffering. With the destruction of suffering, there is the destruction of feeling. With the destruction of feeling, all suffering will be exhausted.” So speak the Nigaṇṭhas, bhikkhus.
The ‘Śramaṇas and Brahmins’ referred to in this passage are, as is clear from the pas- sage itself, Jainas.
Another interesting passage is the question addressed by the wanderer (paribbājaka) Subhadda to the dying Buddha, which has the following shape

ye ’me bho Gotama samaṇabrāhmaṇā saṃghino gaṇino gaṇācariyā ñātā yas- assino titthakarā sādhusammatā ca bahujanassa, seyyathīdaṃ Pūraṇo Kassapo, Makkhali Gosālo, Ajita-Kesakambalī, Pakudho Kaccāyano, Sañjayo Belaṭṭha-putto, Nigaṇṭho Nāthaputto, sabbe te sakāya paṭiññāya abbhaññaṃsu, sabbe ‘va na abbhaññaṃsu, ekacce abbhaññaṃsu ekacce na abbhaññaṃsūti?

Venerable Gotama, all those Śramaṇas and Brahmins (samaṇabrāhmaṇā) who have orders and followings, who are teachers, well-known and famous as found- ers of schools, and popularly regarded as saints, like Pūraṇa Kassapa, Makkhali Gosāla, Ajita Kesakambalī, Pakudha Kaccāyana, Sañjaya Belaṭṭhaputta and the Nigaṇṭha Nāthaputta—have they all realised the truth as they all make out, or have none of them realised it, or have some realised it and some not?
The names enumerated are those of the six heretics frequently mentioned in the Pāli canon, and prominently in the Sāmaññaphala Sutta of the Dīgha Nikāya (DN I p. 47 ff.).7 Sāmañña means Śramaṇaship, so that it is clear that the teachers figuring in it are Śramaṇas. In other words, there are once again no Brahmins among the “Śramaṇas and Brahmins” of this passage. Why then are they called ‘Śramaṇas and Brahmins’? Clearly this expression globally refers to wanderers, without any guarantee that there are Brahmins among them.

This interesting. In sutta like that We should just translate as Sramanas. Or Wanderers. I wonder if in Brahmajala sutta also. I remember it saying Ascetics and Brahmins. I think this translation makes the whole Digha feel as if something against Brahmins. But with correct translation it might not. And Hinduism will appreciate maybe the change. Because if clarify that might mean sramanas movement. Then which one? There was only a few. But using And Brahmins seems to focus on the majority.

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I think the ordinary use of the term samaṇabrāhmaṇa is a catchall for spiritual adepts who meditate among the wanderers and the brahmins. It’s not that all brahmins were priests who simply conducted rituals, but some of them did little else than that. So, in EA 18.4, there’s a bit of a irony or joke set up when the brahmin women asks the Buddha if he’s seen an brāhmaṇa, so he points to Mahā-Kāśyapa and says, “There’s one right there.” It’s implied that the woman didn’t have that idea of a brāhmaṇa in mind when she asked.

So, yes, I think what exactly a brāhmaṇa was at the time was a matter of debate, and the Buddhists attempted to argue for brāhmaṇa to be like samaṇa in practicing spiritual attainments rather than simply serve as ceremonial priests. Still, the two were part of different traditions, and many suttas depicts brahmins as being quite hostile toward the ascetics.


In English you might say, “monks and priests”, without being overly concerned about the technical differences between the two: just a bunch of clerics!


I read in Digha Nikaya in chinese is the only that agrees more with Pali canon. Maybe such a word is really coming from time of Asoka when Sri Lanka got The transmission.

Aśoka’s thirteenth Rock Edict states that “there is no country where these (two) classes (nikāya), (viz.) the Brahmins and the Śramaṇas, do not exist, except among the Greeks ( yona)”.1 Can we conclude from this that there were Brahmins as well as Śramaṇas in all ‘countries’, i.e., presumably, in all parts of Aśoka’s empire?
Such a conclusion may not be justified. It appears that the expression ‘Brahmins and Śramaṇas’, or ‘Śramaṇas and Brahmins’, was used as a single expression that referred to all those who were either Brahmins or Śramaṇas.2 In concrete terms, this would mean that Aśoka’s statement implies that there were either Brahmins or Śramaṇas in all parts of his empire, but not necessarily both at the same time. Conceivably there were ‘countries’ with Brahmins but without Śramaṇas, and others with Śramaṇas but without Brahmins. Clearly, Aśoka’s testimony must be dealt with with much care.
What reason is there to look upon the expression ‘Brahmins and Śramaṇas’ in this manner? Note to begin with that Aśoka’s inscriptions often refer to Brahmins and Śramaṇas together, but never to Śramaṇas separately, and only occasionally to Brahmins.3
Then there is the observation by the grammarian Patañjali (after 150 BCE) that the two terms form a singular neuter compound śramaṇabrāhmaṇam, presumably because they are in constant opposition to each other.4 For our present purposes the crucial fact is that, also in Patañjali’s time and culture, Brahmins and Śramaṇas were apparently frequently referred to together, so much so that this specific compound had come into existence.