Who was Jānussoṇi?

Jānussoṇi was a prominent brahmin who features several times in the suttas. The Dictionary of Pali Proper Names has a summary.


I’ve previously discussed this name, but my conclusion is I think incorrect there; I thought his name meant “lame knee”. But I can’t find any support for the reading Jānukṣīṇī.

According to the commentary Jānussoṇi is a title awarded the family priest (purohita) of Kosala, which would make him one of the most powerful brahmins alive.

Jāṇu normally means “knee”. Kaccāyana 671 derives this from √_jan_ (gamanaṁ janetītī jāṇu, “it causes movement, thus it is the knee”). It doesn’t strike me as hugely plausible, but what would I know? It is described as an unnadi derivation, in which the variant spellings n and are equally permissible.

Whether this is the same word as in the name Jānussoṇi is not stated by Kaccāyana.

The Chinese rendering 生聞 (T 125.2.665b18) translates as “Born Famous”, evidently taking jānu also from √jan and soṇi from the Vedic ṣvaṇi (“sound”, RV 1,058.04 etc.).

The latter derivation seems plausible to me, and, albeit indirectly, the Pali and Chinese sources agree on the root jan in the sense of “birth”.

There is a Sanskrit name Janaśruta, better known for the patrynomic forms Jānaśruti or Jānaśruteya. The basic sense is “what is heard among the people” (janaśruti), i.e. “news”, “tidings”, etc.

Thus the Pali and Chinese scholars were on the right track, the root is indeed jan (= birth = those that are born = people), and the second element is “sound”. The sense is “famed among the people”.

It’s not easy to say if there is any connection between the Jānussoṇi of the Pali and the incidental references to Jānaśruti in the Sanskrit texts.

In the Satapatha Brahmana we hear of Aupāvi Jānaśruteya who offered sacrifice and went to heaven, only to return again, setting the model for all who must return again. He was, presumably, a famed brahmin and so might be the same person.

It is this same Aupāvi Jānaśruteya, evidently, whose opinions on the ritual were cited in the Aitareya Brahmana. (Translation at link).

tad u ha smāhopāvir Jānaśruteya, upasadāṃ kila vai tad brāhmaṇe: yasmād apy aślīlasya śrotriyasya mukhaṃ vy eva jñāyate tr̥ptam iva rebhatīvety. ājyahaviṣo hy upasado, grīvāsu mukham adhyāhitaṃ; tasmād dha sma tad āha

In the Chandogya Upanishad 4.1–3 we here of a generous king named Jānaśruti. Or at least the commentary calls him a king, although he is addressed as śudra in the text. Overhearing the gossip among swans (!), he seeks the teacher Raikva to learn more, in which he succeeds after offering his daughter. The commentary to the same book (CU 1.8) mentions him as a very learned person in recital.

It seems we can also establish the etymology clearly: jana (“people”) + soṇi (“sound”, “renown”, from Vedic ṣvaṇi, becoming śruti in Sanskrit).

The long initial a is due to it being a patronymic. Thus Kaccāyana’s unnadi derivation of “knee” does not apply here. Now, it is due to this unnadi derivation that the Pali word for “knee” has two spellings: jānu or jāṇu, reflected in the variants Jānussoṇi and Jāṇussoṇi. Most likely the original form was jāna, and jāṇu with its spelling variation was a contamination.

This suggests that we should prefer the form Jānussoṇi.

While we cannot say whether these legends, if they have any basis in fact at all, refer to the same person, we can at least establish that it is a known name; that the sense of the name is “famed among the people”; and that several accounts tell of a renowned, generous, and learned person, eager for knowledge, who shared the name of the Pali Jānussoṇi.

The Sanskrit texts do tend to argue against the Pali commentarial explanation that it was a title. Rather it was a patronymic used by the descendants of the original Janaśruti. It was probably used by several descendants over the years, making it impossible to determine the relationship between the various people of that name.


Yes, he is perhaps the most prominent brahmin in the suttas, at least among those who have a real presence there. In addition to Jāṇussoṇi, the suttas mention a number of prominent brahmins, such as Caṅkī, Tārukkha, Pokkharasāti, Todeyya, Soṇadaṇḍa, Kūṭadanta, and Bāvarī, yet they are either on the sidelines, seemingly present merely to give weight to the occasion (Caṅkī, Pokkharasāti, Soṇadaṇḍa, Kūṭadanta, and Bāvarī), or they are just mentioned in passing, as if they have a legendary kind of status, as in the case of Tārukkha and Todeyya. Among them, Jāṇussoṇi stands out as being both important and as having real and meaningful interactions with the Buddha.

We know Jāṇussoṇi must have been prominent. He is mentioned as one of five especially prominent brahmins, e.g. at MN98. At MN27 and MN99 he is described as driving an all-white chariot, drawn by mares. According SN45.4, not only was the chariot white, but so were the horses, the ornaments, the upholstery, the reins, the goad, the canopy, as well as his turban, robes, sandals, and the chowry fanning him.

He interacts directly with the Buddha in a number of suttas (not just “several” times). He is particularly concerned about the afterlife and has a number of conversations with the Buddha on this topic, for instance at AN2.17, AN4.184, AN10.60, and AN10.177. At AN6.52 he asks the Buddha about the inclinations and aims of various groups of people. At AN 10.119 and AN10.167 he converses with the Buddha about the real meaning of “descent”. Jāṇussoṇi is the Buddha’s main interlocutor in the important autobiographical suttas MN4 and MN27. He also shows an interest in the philosophical questions of whether all exists or does not exist (SN 12.47) and the nature of Nibbāna (AN3.56).

In sum, in contrast to most of the prominent brahmins mentioned in the suttas, Jāṇussoṇi comes across a real historical individual. In fact, he is even more prominent than you seem to indicate. He deserves the attention you pay him here.


Pokkharasādi may be on the sidelines, but there’s a reason his conversion happens in DN 3; it reverberates through the whole DN. Both people, and most of the others you mention, were from the circle of Kosalan brahmins, which have been illuminated by Lauren Bausch. It would be interesting to do a deep dive on the topic, to see what his views really were.


Indeed. I won’t be doing this, but I would be interested in the results. I mean, the interaction between the brahmins and Buddhism is doctrinally illuminating.

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You’re referring to her 2018 article in JIABS? :pray:

Maybe it’s a case of “kneel” versus “Niel”?

Professor Lauren Bausch Receives Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award

May 17, 2023

Professor Bausch’s project aims to shed light on the philosophy of language and causality in middle and late Vedic texts, and explore its connections with early Buddhism. This research will result in a book that promises to make significant contributions to our understanding of these ancient traditions.


I’m digging in to this as I go along with my notes, finding out lots of new stuff!

Sometimes it’s just simple things. In MN 7, the brahmin says that bathing leads to lokkha, which PTS corrects to mokkha and Bodhi translates as “liberation”. But the correction is incorrect: lokkha is Sanskrit lokya which in the Satapathabrahmana has the sense “leading to heaven”. This harks back to the roots of loka from “light”, i.e. “sky”, i.e. the place the devas are.

Yes, and her Phd.

OMG congratulations! So well deserved, her work really is outstanding. One feature that impressed me, when studying the relation between the Sutta Nipata and Brahmanical texts, she went to Sri Lanka and studied Pali at Kelaniya, and went to India and studied the Sanskrit there. Very few have taken the time and trouble to study with the foremost local experts in this way, and it really shows. I read her work on the Sutta Nipata after completing my translation and notes, and I was really surprised and impressed to see how accurate and precise her translations were, in some cases better than extant versions by Pali specialists.


What I find puzzling about Jānussoṇi is that almost each time he figures in a Sutta he goes for refuge in the end. Is it sure that it’s always the same person?

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I found ‘Jānu’ has another meaning in Indian Hindu context, it means birthplace, soul, life force and ‘soṇi’ could be Pali from sanskrit ‘sreni’ or class. Brahmins in India even today falls under many class names, ranks and hierarchy. Jānussoṇi could be a ranking lineage of brahmins like 'kulin brahmins’ in Bengal. Just my two cents.