From: Did the Buddha have a Sense of Humour?
Sundarika-Bhāradvāja meets the Buddha, who as an ascetic is a likely recipient of the offering, however he is cautious and enquires what caste the Buddha is, or more specifically: “is he a brahmin?” The Buddha answers that caste is irrelevant to a renunciant, but Sundarika-Bhāradvāja insists that it isn’t, and that Brahmins always enquire about caste. The Buddha is not playing that game however, and he says:
Brāhmaṇo hi ce tvaṃ brūsi, mañca brūsi abrāhmaṇaṃ;
Taṃ taṃ sāvittiṃ pucchāmi, tipadaṃ catuvīsatakkharaṃ.
If you call yourself a Brahmin, and say that I am not a Brahmin;
I ask about that Sāvitrī (mantra, of) three lines and twenty-four syllables?
I use the Anglicized ‘Brahmin’ for brāhamaṃa because there are also texts called brāhmaṇa and because it is more familiar. The Sāvitrī (Pāli Sāvitti) mantra is also called Gāyatrī because it is in the gāyatrī metre which has three lines and twenty-four syllables. It comes from the Ṛgveda, and in Sanskrit goes:
Tat savitur vareṭyam bhargo devasya dhīmahi dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt (2)
Which Saddhatissa translates as:
May we attain that excellent glory of Sāvitrī the god, that he may stimulate our thoughts. (3)
The Sāvitrī mantra is pronounced at dawn and dusk in daily Brahminical rituals - and this is as true today as it was in the Buddha’s day when it was a centuries old practice!
Fausböll comments in the introduction to his translation that “The commentator understands by Sâvatti the Buddhistic [going for refuge] formula, which like the Sâvitti, contains twenty-four syllables”. (4) This seems an unlikely interpretation. For a start the refuge formula is definitely prose and not verse, (5) but the Buddha is talking here to someone who has not gone for refuge to the Three Jewels. The Buddhist refuge formula may have had little or no meaning to him. He was a Brahmin, practising Brahminical rituals, and the reference to the Sāvatrī mantra would be completely in context, whereas the going for refuge formula would not. By mentioning the number of lines and syllables the Buddha may well be emphasising that though he is not a hereditary Brahmin he knows a lot about the practices of the Brahmins.
I just found that the Buddha was quoting Brihadâranyaka Upanishad:
FOURTEENTH BRÂHMA N A.
- That Gâyatrî (as described before with its three feet) rests on that fourth foot, the bright one, high above the sky. And that again rests on the True (satyam)…
Thus does that Gâyatrî rest with respect to the self (as life). That Gâyatrî protects (tatre) the vital breaths (gayas); the gayas are the prâ n as (vital breaths), and it protects them. And because it protects (tatre) the vital breaths (gayas), therefore it is called Gâyatrî. And that Savit ri verse which the teacher teaches 2, that is it (the life, the prâ n a, and indirectly the Gâyatrî); and whomsoever he teaches, he protects his vital breaths.
197:2 The teacher teaches his pupil, who is brought to him when eight years old, the Sâvitrî verse, making him repeat each word, and each half verse, till he knows the whole, and by teaching him that Sâvitrî, he is supposed to teach him really the prâ n a, the life, as the self of the world.
- Some teach that Sâvitrî as an Anush t ubh 3 verse, saying that speech is Anush t ubh, and that we teach that speech. Let no one do this, but let him teach the Gâyatrî as Sâvitrî 1. And even if one who knows this receives what seems to be much as his reward (as a teacher), yet this is not equal to one foot of the Gâyatrî.
197:3 The verse would be, Ri g-veda V, 82, 1:
Tat savitur v ri n îmahe vaya m devasya bho g anam
S resh th am sarvadhâtama m turam bhagasya dhîmahi.
198:1 Because Gâyatrî represents life, and the pupil receives life when be learns the Gâyatrî.
The Buddha was asking Sundarika-Bhāradvāja about Sâvitrî, because by his time, some brahmins taught Sâvitrî in a wrong way as mentioned in the Brihadâranyaka Upanishad.
The above story reminds me of a story about Jesus:
The Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version (1611), “The Gospel According to John”, chapter 8, verses 3–7
³And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
⁴They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
⁵Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
⁶This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
⁷So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.