Why did the Buddha not want to teach after he became enlightened?

Dear Friends,

According to the Ayacana Sutta, after becoming enlightened, Buddha felt that the Dharma is too difficult for people to understand and therefore he is not inclined to teach the Dharmma. However after Brahma Sahampati pleaded with him, suggesting that there are people with little dust in their eyes and can therefore understand that Dharmma, Buddha agreed to teach the dharmma.

Why did Buddha need Brahama Sahampati to suggest that there are people with little dust in their eyes before Buddha changed his views about the readiness of the people towards learning the Dharmma?


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Hey :slight_smile:

One of my personal interpretations was that this brahma was actually compassionate part of the mind of the Buddha (something like powerful mindstate of loving-kindness, a brahma-vihara). Maybe it shows that reaching enlightenment gives you this feeling of “leaving the world of suffering”, and just chilling in very high or nibbanic jhanas and general arahanthood, and that it is so great that you no longer want to get “your hands dirty” in the world with all its ups and downs, disrespectful people, possible dangers etc.
But the Heart aspect of compassion was stronger, so Buddha went teaching even when he could just chill in the nibbanic jhanas to the end of his days?

My interpretation is that this sutta shows that going teaching out of compassion was actually a CHOICE and not mandatory, showing that enlightened beings are not a compassionate-machine that is driven by some unstoppable force of Love, but being that can still make a choice, and chooses out compassion and love to help others.

Another importaint aspect in my opinion is that, it shows that at least some brahmas (if not most) are actually on the side of dhamma, and they want good of people, even if it means reaching Nibbana.
It is quite different from the brahma that Buddha met in Brahmanimantanika sutta, which Buddha had to convince that dhamma and Nibbana are better than being in brahmic plane.
Also it shows that this Brahma Sahampati is completely different than deva Mara, who wish for people to stay in samsara, and wanted that Buddha did not teach.
So, it shows that some Brahmas are friends of Dhamma (unlike some Devas who can be very deluded and want just to explore more sensual pleasures) and can be trusted to help us on the Path, if we have minds that can communicate with them.
So, Brahmas are friends of Buddhas if they only see the truth of Dhamma :slight_smile: I think it is importaint to remember that they are on the side of good, and I believe it is part of messege of this sutta.

But that’s just my interpretations :slight_smile:
I’m very curious about others take on this.

With metta


It’s a good question, and as far as I understand it it’s to do with the difficulty of the path - he might have seen that not everyone even wanted to acknowledge dukkha, much less go to the lengths to overcome it. It shows that his ability to access the truth, isn’t always in the ‘on’ position, though immediately afterwards, he could see there were people capable of handling the practice. Also, could it be a myth, inserted later!? Maybe he wanted to find enlightenment first, and it was only later he fully grew into a teaching position.

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While the question is interesting it is open ended and very hard to be met with a correct answer from an EBT source.
I hereby suggest this topic is moved to Water cooler, so to allow personal opinions to be openly discussed without the expectations of a correct answer to be picked and or EBT references to be presented.

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This is Nāgasena’s answer in the Milindapañha:

On the Buddha’s after-doubt

I suspect, however, that it wouldn’t have been the sort of answer that would have been accepted in the EBT days. It dates from a time when all the Indian Buddhist schools had taken to composing ever-growing lists of the ‘regularities’ (dhammatā) that supposedly appear in the career of every Sammāsambuddha. The Theravāda’s list eventually grew to no fewer than 30 dhammatās before they called it a day, while the Sarvāstivāda’s went on growing until there were well over fifty things that allegedly must happen to every Buddha in his final life.


The Buddha was a human being. He seems to have been introverted, that is to say that he needed to charge his batteries alone. You have suttas where he retreats from gatherings into the lonesomeness of the forest to rest, and sees a lonesome elephant, and reflects on their commonality of needing to retreat from the herd. Or how he is tired of people endlessly nagging him about their attainments, or the fate of their dead loved ones. Of course it must have been tempting to relax and bliss out for the rest of his life, but ultimately his compassion and his knowledge that there were people who were ready to be taught won out.


I’m surprised that Analayo’s discussion of the matter is not better known (Brahmā’s Invitation). The passage of unwillingness, Sahampati asking etc. is missing from the Chinese sources. Also Mun-keat Choong discusses it (here) and shows that the only hint of this story in the Chinese texts is EA 19.1. Both authors therefore have reasonable doubt.

Apart from that I find none of the stories where Devas, Sakka, Brahama, Mara etc. are exploited as stooges to illustrate the supreme magnificence of the Buddha historically convincing. If there ever was a kernel of truth to them then it’s buried under a thick layer of impression management and religious propaganda.


Thanks, Gabriel. Yesterday I looked at Analayo’s coverage of the same topic in his book “A Meditator’s Life of the Buddha” but this article of his is much more detailed and shows Brahma in the suttas in a more comprehensive context. There are also a sutta in the Ekottarika Agama at EA 19.1 where Brahma encourages the Buddha to teach.


There is an echo of the Buddha’s enlightenment decision in Ananda’s appeal made during the Buddha’s final days:

If you had begged me, I would have refused you twice, but consented on the third time.

Therefore, Ānanda, the misdeed is yours alone, the mistake is yours alone.

There is another echo of the Buddha’s enlightenment decision in DN33 as the ninth lost opportunity for freedom. It is quite the saddest lost opportunity:

Furthermore, a Realized One has arisen in the world. But he doesn’t teach the Dhamma leading to peace, extinguishment, awakening, as proclaimed by the Holy One. And a person is reborn in a central country. And they’re wise, bright, clever, and able to distinguish what is well said from what is poorly said.

Indeed, this dilemma is also posed to those on the path to non-return versus perfection. I.e., why would anyone choose to be an arahant vs. non-returner?

The only answer I’ve been able to come up with is this: Because non-returners still have the conceit “I am”, they would have a slight aversion to the perfect lifelong labors of teaching others and dealing with pesky Devadattas. In other words, perfection is not effortless, so a decision is required. Would you rather toil in perfection or not return?

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Venerable Anālayo found that there is no parallel to this.
Source: Dīrgha-āgama Studies

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Another hint is at MN 67, where Brahmā Sahampati convinces the Buddha to teach some noisy monks, whom previously the Buddha had dismissed as a nuisance.

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Do you, by any chance, remember where those Suttas are, or any further details about them? You got me very curious.

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I think who ever giving interpretations to this would consider few facts before interpretating the stuation,

  1. The thought (or line of thinking) in the ayacana sutta was never a decision.
    The blessed one was in seclusion, this line of thinking arose since the dhamma is hard to realize, subtle, etc. Then he was thinking about dhamma for a while where the brahma came and invited. We can clearly see in the sutta there was no decision not to deliver dhamma before the invitation.
    Therefore, the invitation doesn’t seem to be a must to deliver of dhamma.

  2. The notion of omniscience in buddhism is a way different from other religions with a belief of superhuman controlling power ( the god in monotheism).

In monotheism,

omniscience means all-knowing. God is all all-knowing in the sense that he is aware of the past, present, and future. Nothing takes him by surprise. His knowledge is total. He knows all that there is to know and all that can be known.
They further explain the god knows, even if you lose one single hair. It’s hard to believe that kind of knowladge where uncountable organisms are present.

In buddhism definition of omniscience is different.
If buddha don’t contemplate the incident or the fact, that is to be known, there is no chance of knowing the particular issue beforehand.
As we can see in mahaparinibbana sutta
If blessed one wanted to know a particular thing he contemplate it as we can see in the ayacana sutta after the invitation the blessed one looked over the beings in the world, whether they are capable of attaining nibbana or understanding dhamma (path of purification). Thus, we can conclude the omniscience that buddha had is a way different from the one in monotheism.


I think some sense stimuli, are a natural disturbance to the peace of Samadhi.

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Well, perhaps not a decision, but don’t you think the words marked below in bold would indicate at least a velleity towards non-action?

“I considered: ‘This Dhamma that I have attained is profound, hard to see and hard to understand, peaceful and sublime, unattainable by mere reasoning, subtle, to be experienced by the wise. But this generation delights in attachment, takes delight in attachment, rejoices in attachment. It is hard for such a generation to see this truth, namely, specific conditionality, dependent origination. And it is hard to see this truth, namely, the stilling of all formations, the relinquishing of all acquisitions, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, Nibbāna. If I were to teach the Dhamma, others would not understand me, and that would be wearying and troublesome for me.’ Thereupon there came to me spontaneously these stanzas never heard before:

‘Enough with teaching the Dhamma
That even I found hard to reach;
For it will never be perceived
By those who live in lust and hate.

Those dyed in lust, wrapped in darkness
Will never discern this abstruse Dhamma
Which goes against the worldly stream,
Subtle, deep, and difficult to see.’

Considering thus, my mind inclined to inaction rather than to teaching the Dhamma.

“Then, bhikkhus, the Brahmā Sahampati knew with his mind the thought in my mind and he considered: ‘The world will be lost, the world will perish, since the mind of the Tathāgata, accomplished and fully enlightened, inclines to inaction rather than to teaching the Dhamma.’


Bhante, @Dhammanando
I appreciate your reply on the topic.
As you mentioned there were lot of reasons in the line of thinking favorable to non-action.
Lets think about another example from suttas, before a solid interpretation.

The blessed one once had a thought whether it is possible to exercise rulership righteously: without killing and without instigating others to kill, etc. (Rajja sutta)

But using this is it possible to conclude that blessed one had a thought of incline to sensual pleasures?
We can think of the case of the ayacana sutta same way with this one.
However bhante, I agree the fact that there was a velleity towards non-action. That doesn’t mean, buddha was not to deliver dhamma.


Thank you for the reference to AN4.20. That was a new one for me. :pray:

Since the Buddha had previously recalled his own past life as a wheel-turning monarch (i.e., a ruler), the question he asks in AN4.20 is almost rhetorical. And his answer there is also the answer to why he went beyond simple enlightenment:

it’s still not enough for one!

As with ruling, simple enlightenment simply wasn’t enough, so he decided to teach.

Oddly, magically, the Buddha invited us to be ruled by the Teachings, but he himself let go of ruling as well as solitary enlightenment.

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There is only one nibbana, and the term simple nibbana/enlightenment is not applicable.

What is a simple enlightenment?

There is no difference between nibbana achieved by an arahant or the buddha (arahato- one who achieved final emacipation.) However, the four stages of enlightenment in Theravada and Early Buddhism are the four progressive stages culminating in full enlightenment as an Arahant. (Sotāpanna,Sakadāgāmi, Anāgāmi and Arahant) This path has no difference to the Buddha himself. But, the Buddha has more super-human powers than other arahants.


Oops. Yes. I updated my post. :pray:

Piya Tan has written an interesting essay regarding this question, with some additional perspectives. For anyone (still) interested:

Why the Buddha hesitated