SuttaSearching: Mahāvīra

I am remembering some Buddhavacana, or purported Buddhavacana, concerning the Buddha engaging in a dialogue about his opinion and insight into the figure of Mahāvīra.

I recall him saying something along the lines of believing that Mahāvīra had some profound insight or another (a kind of enlightenment?), but could not communicate it (succesfully?) like the Buddha could.

But I cannot for the life of me remember where I read that. I think it was in the Pāli Canon, but I am not sure. I am assuming that such potentially sectarian material would be difficult to establish as sufficiently early, but does is this relation to Jainism substantiated in “established” EBTs?

The issue of “established” vs “possible” EBTs has been on my mind recently. The early Buddhist community remembering the Buddha speaking about Mahaāvīra is plausible, but such material is somewhat arguably tangential to the Buddhadharma, I think at least, and as such would not be heavily substantiated like something that wasn’t tangential to the Buddhadharma, such as DO (obv). As such, if I am half-remembering authentic Buddhavacana of any qualification, I imagine it would only be “possible” authentic EBT material, but not confirmable as such, even if it were “objectively” EBT material (unbeknownst to us).

I guess that is the folly of looking for information that is not really the Dhamma in EBTs.

The amount of texts that can be reasonably “confirmed” to be authentic EBTs by the methods of modern inquiry and textual criticism is definitely smaller than the actual amount of authentic EBTs, but it is a matter of how smaller. Some certain texts of the “outlier suttāni” may well be authentic or have some authenticity within them, but often, does it matter if they are or not? They are still outliers. This hasn’t changed.

I guess that is the folly of looking for information that is not really the Dhamma in EBTs.

No, there’s nothing about that in the Pali, nor, I think, in other EBTs. The Buddha denied Mahavira’s omniscience, but it is not recorded whether he had any opinions about what he actually had attained. Obviously the practice of non-harming and simplicity resonates closely with the Dhamma, and in that respect I assume he would think more highly of Mahavira than those ascetics who denied the worth of moral conduct.

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Apart from the Buddha saying there are no Noble (ariya) ones in other dispensations, I recall reading a sutta saying Jains reached up to the second jhana, but my memory about this is shaky.

With metta

It is difficult to find any positive claim in the suttas about any non-Buddhist teacher or teaching. Regarding Nigantha Nataputta (Mahavira) the suttas are either neutral or downright disparaging.

neutral: DN 16, MN 30 and AN 9.38 have in a very similar way somebody saying

Master Gotama, Pūraṇa Kassapa / Nigaṇṭha Nātaputta also claims to be all-knowing and all-seeing and to have all-embracing knowledge and vision: ‘Whether I am walking, standing, sleeping, and awake, knowledge and vision are constantly and continuously present to me.’…

Then the Buddha replies with

“Enough, brahmins, let this be: ‘When these two claimants to knowledge make claims that are mutually contradictory, who speaks truthfully and who falsely?’ I will teach you the Dhamma. Listen and attend closely. "


Enough, Subhadda, never mind whether all, or none, or some of them have realised the truth. I will teach you Dhamma, Subhadda. Listen, pay close attention, and I will speak.’


Enough, brahmin! Let this be!—‘Have they all had direct knowledge as they claim, or have none of them had direct knowledge, or have some of them had direct knowledge and some not?’ I shall teach you the Dhamma, brahmin. Listen and attend closely to what I shall say.

Openly critical of Nataputta

‘Cunda, here is a doctrine and discipline that is ill-proclaimed, unedifyingly displayed and ineffectual in calming the passions because its proclaimer was not fully enlightened… In this case, Cunda, the teacher is to blame, the doctrine is to blame, but the pupil is praiseworthy. (MN 29)

But, Udāyin, who was it that claimed to be omniscient and allseeing…yet when asked a question by you about the past, prevaricated, led the talk aside, and showed anger, hate, and bitterness?” “It was the Nigantha Nātaputta, venerable sir.” (MN 79)

Master Gotama, even those ascetics and brahmins who are the heads of orders and companies, the teachers of companies, well known and famous founders of sects considered by the multitude to be holy men—that is, Purana Kassapa, Makkhali Gosala, Nigantha Nataputta, Sañjaya Belatthiputta, Pakudha Kaccayana, Ajita Kesakambali - even these, when I asked them whether they had awakened to the unsurpassed perfect enlightenment, did not claim to have done so. (SN 3.1)

This is just related to the personal level. Of course in many other places there is open and harsh criticism re. the doctrines.

In fact we have two kinds of attitudes in the suttas - one that criticizes others, and one who explicitly doesn’t. Take for example MN 4 (and many other places)

I am not given to self-praise and disparagement of others