What is the "refuge" of laypeople & Brahmins in the suttas?

Dear SC forum

There is an interesting topic on DW where it is shown various Brahmins in various suttas took the same refuge in the Buddha as a lay disciple on various different occasions. For example, the brahmin student Subha Todeyya’s son says in MN 99, MN 135 & DN 10 “from this day forth…remember me as a lay follower who has gone for refuge for life”. It was also posted Brahmin Jāṇussoṇi declared several times his going for refuge to the Buddha.

I have some questions, which I think contribute to academic study of sutta:

  1. Are these repeated taking refuge marks of sutta inauthenticity? Or do these stock phrases have a particular nuance that provides for them being used on repeated occasions?

  2. When these laypeople &/or Brahmins took refuge, was it merely a type of respect towards the Buddha rather than becoming a hardcore ‘Buddhists’?

  3. Or did the Buddha on these occasions merely offer teachings to be practised that did not conflict with their existing religious beliefs? In other words, it appears Brahmins, such as Jāṇussoṇi, continued to serve the Brahmin religion. The general impression is the Brahmins, after taking refuge in the Buddha, continued to follow the Brahmin religion.

  4. From AN 8.19, is the term “followers of the Sakyan son (sakyaputtiyā)” only reserved for bhikkhus?

When members of the four social classes—khattiyas, brahmins, vessas, and suddas—go forth from the household life into homelessness in the Dhamma and discipline proclaimed by the Tathāgata, they give up their former names and clans and are simply called ascetics following the Sakyan son.

AN 8.19

Any insights are appreciated. Thank you :slightly_smiling_face:


This is incorrect. When they say they have gone for refuge for life, it means they have abandoned Brahmanism. In MN 93 the Buddha dismantles the Brahmin caste and convinces Brahmins that awakening is not dependent on birth or lineage, showing his radical equality. The white supremacists of today have a parallel with Brahmins here.
The Buddha often used the word ‘brahman’ as synonymous with ascetic or holy man (Dhp. 26), this being part of his strategy to include aspects of Brahmanism that people were familiar with under a new meaning.

“Sakyan son” means the Tathagatha.

Thanks Paul. I would be pleased to be presented with evidence what i wrote was incorrect.

The suttas do not give this impression.

MN 93 appears to not negate caste. It only appears to say purification is not dependent on caste birth. MN 95 says the Buddha wishes no harm towards the community of Brahmins. Since the Buddha used the term ‘puthujjana’ quite often, it appears he did not preach a “radical equality”.

I trust there are many groups, apart from “whites”, that claim to be superior to other groups. I trust we will find throughout human history the tendency of different groups to consider themselves superior to other groups & believe they are a chosen or elect people.

The suttas about brahmins appear to not impute this redefinition. For example, SN 3.59:

Then the brahmin Jāṇussoṇi went up to the Buddha, and exchanged greetings with him. Seated to one side he said to the Buddha:

Master Gotama, whoever has a sacrifice, an offering of food for ancestors, a dish of milk-rice prepared for an auspicious ceremony, or a gift to give, should give it to the brahmins who have mastered the three Vedic knowledges.

But brahmin, how do the brahmins describe a brahmin who is proficient in the three Vedic knowledges?”

Master Gotama, the master of three knowledges according to the brahmins is quite different from a master of the three knowledges in the training of the noble one. And, Master Gotama, a master of three knowledges according to the brahmins is not worth a sixteenth part of a master of the three knowledges in the training of the noble one.

It seems obvious the Brahmana Vagga of the Majjhima Nikaya or the Brahmana Samyutta in the Samyutta Nikaya are not about discourses to Arahants but are about discourses to Brahmins of the Brahministic religion.