The Ambattha Sutta is the third sutta in the Digha Nikaya. The title, Ambattha, refers to a main character in this discourse.
The main theme surrounds the Vedic four-va.n.na (class) social hierarchy, which was strongly favored and promoted by the brahmins. In this regard, the Buddha gave Ambattha very practical advices, which are still valid and relevant today.
An interesting account of the ancestry of the Sakyas, alongside that of the Kanhayanas and the shared heritage of both, arises out of Ambattha's claim of the superiority of the brahmins over all other people. From the dialog, the event may have well taken place when the Buddha was more advanced in years.
This is the first sutta in the Sutta Pitaka to mention the thirty-two physical traits of a "great man" (Vedic physiognomy), as well as the belief, according to legend, that such a person would either become a universal monarch (a righteous king ruling the entire world) or a Buddha (an awakened one), but not both.
It is also the first to make reference, briefly though, to the Four Noble Truths, a core teaching of the Buddha.
The main characters of the sutta include:
Also mentioned in the sutta:
Pokkharasadi learnt that the Buddha is staying in the Icchanankala Wood, so he sent Ambattha to check whether Gotama was a genuine Buddha endowed with the thirty-two physical traits of a "great man". When Ambattha met the Buddha, his insolent behavior (towards the Buddha) resulted in reprimand from the Buddha. Ambattha got upset with the remarks, and accused the Sakyas as being menials with three allegations:
* The four vannas are: khattiya, brahmana (or brahmin), vessa and sudda.
The Buddha rebutted all the allegations, and recounted the origin of the Kanhayanas, the clan to which Ambattha belonged. The story of the king Okkaka and Kanha served to remind Ambattha that even brahmins can have very humble beginnings.
The Buddha moved on to contrast the contemporary social status of the khattiyas and brahmins. The Buddha started by discussing about mixed marriages. The discussion applies to both a Brahmin man marrying a Khattiya woman, and a Khattiya man marrying a Brahmin woman. The Buddha pointed out that the offspring of a khattiya and a brahmin would be well-received by the brahmins since one of his parents is a brahmin. However, the child would not be equally treated by the khattiyas because of his mixed parentage. The Buddha continued to mention that a khattiya, even if he is an outlaw, would be well-regarded by the brahmins, so much so that they may even offer him a brahmin bride. The above discussions also show that the khattiyas are more rigorous than the brahmins in ensuring a pure lineage.
Even so, the Buddha continued, the best of gods and men is not the one who is pure in lineage, but the one who is perfect in wisdom and righteousness. Bondage to the notions of birth or lineage, or pride of social position or connection by marriage, is far from perfection in wisdom and righteousness. The Buddha continued to discuss the perfection in wisdom and righteousness, and the four "leakages" (nonfulfillments) to perfection. Ambattha confessed that he had received training in neither the perfection of wisdom and conduct, nor the four "leakages" from his teacher Pokkharasadi. The Buddha asserted that not only has Pokkharasadi failed as a teacher, he does not live the way of the ancient sages, and he is also not well-received by the king, even though the king granted him a royal garden.
At the end of the dialog, the Buddha took the opportunity to reveal the thirty-two physical traits on his body to Ambattha. Ambattha was pleased and departed. On his way back, Ambattha met Pokkharasadi with a retinue of brahmins. He reported to Pokkharasadi his encounter and conversation with the Buddha. Knowing Ambattha was rude to the Buddha, Pokkharasadi became furious and gave him a good beating.
The next morning, Pokkharasadi went to Icchanankala Wood, without Ambattha, to meet the Buddha. As before, the Buddha revealed his thirty-two marks to Pokkharasadi, who was pleased and invited the Buddha to a meal the following day.
After the meal the following day, the Buddha gave a discourse to Ambattha. Upon hearing the Four Noble Truths, Pokkharasadi became a Sotapanna. Thereafter, he became a lay Buddhist follower by taking refuge in the Triple Gems.
English translations for this title include A Young Brahman's Rudeness and an Old One's Faith (T. W. Rhys Davids) and About Ambattha - Pride Humbled (Maurice Walshe).
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