DN 1: Brahmajāla Sutta (The Net of Brahmā)


The Buddha and around 500 monks were traveling along a main road between Rājagaha and Nālanda—two major cities in the kingdom of Magadha. They shared the road with two others, following behind them: the wanderer Suppiya, and his student Brahmadatta. These two were arguing with one another. Suppiya was criticizing the Buddha, his teaching, and his monastic order (collectively referred to as the Three Jewels). Brahmadatta, on the other hand, only had good things to say.

Everyone stopped for the night to camp at a royal park named Ambalatthikā (in ancient India, it was common for rich people to donate land to be used by holy men and their followers). The student and teacher continued their argument.

The next morning, some monks gathered in a pavilion to talk about the two and their bickering. The Buddha joins them, and tells them not to be bothered by criticism or praise. They should only focus on what is true, correcting misinformation when appropriate, and reaffirming when others say something true. Anything beyond that—such as getting angry, or feeling proud—is just a hindrance.

The Buddha goes on to say that when most people praise him, they fail to see the higher points of his teaching which can lead to enlightenment. Instead, they tend to focus on relatively trivial matters of moral conduct, which—despite being important—are not worthy of celebration.

The Buddha then lists these moral practices and qualities. This list is organized into three sections, beginning with basic ethics and progressing into higher ethics.

The Body of the Sermon

The Lesser Ethics

The section on basic ethics roughly corresponds to the 10 precepts observed by novice monks before fully ordaining. The first three are simple: no killing, no taking what isn’t given, and total celibacy. The fourth is refraining from improper speech, including: lies, malicious and divisive words, harsh speech, and useless chatter. The fifth point listed here is interesting; instead of the usual “no intoxicants,” the Buddha says he does not damage seeds or crops, unlike these other ascetics and brahmins he is referring to. Points six through ten resume the standard the formula: no eating more than once per day (never at night), no attending entertainment shows (such as dances, concerts, and performances), no wearing adornments or perfumes, no sleeping in a luxurious bed, and no accepting gold/silver. This tenth point is expanded to include many other things the Buddha does not accept as gifts, such as: raw grains and flesh; women, girls, or slaves; livestock or land (although…). He also discusses how he does not run errands for nobles or powerful men; how he does not cheat, bribe, or deceive; how he does not wound, kill, capture, or rob people; and finally, how he does not take food by force.

The Middle Ethics

Next, the Buddha discusses the “Middle Ethics,” and here he begins to contrast himself with ascetics and Brahmins (other religious figures of his time) who failed to meet even these relatively low standards. These points are framed as things from which the Buddha refrains, while the ascetics and Brahmins remain addicted to them. Several of them are repeated from the previous section.

Again, the Buddha repeats his point about destroying seeds. He does not enjoy stored food, drink, clothes, or other belongings. Again, he repeats the point about not attending entertainment shows, though this time the list is expanded to include more examples, including “shows from the city of Sobha,” the city of celestial beings called gandhabbas, often described as heavenly musicians.

The Buddha says he does not partake in the games which ascetics and Brahmins play. He lists several specific games and toys which must have been popular in India during his time, calling them “idle pursuits.”

Once again, the Buddha brings up the use of luxurious beds, perfumes and adornments, and idle chatter—which here he calls “animal talk,” with “animal” being a derogatory way to refer lowly, unfavorable things.

He says he does not enjoy arguments and bickering about doctrines the way others do. He repeats his point about running errands. Finally, he declares that he does not deceive, speak indirectly or with hidden messages, he does not belittle others, and he does not concern himself with making further gains.

The Greater Ethics

The Buddha then discusses the points of Greater Morality. This list is exhaustive and likely means little to someone unfamiliar with ancient Indian superstition—much of it goes over my head, certainly—but the main idea here is that the Buddha is declaring that he does not make a living through peddling services to people. Many types of divination, such as palm-reading, foretelling someone’s lifespan, and astrology, are listed. He also mentions the use of curses and charms, and various other things which we would now call “witchcraft.”

In this list of occult services, a few mundane activities are sprinkled in, such as various medical practices, philosophizing, and composing poetry. These things may seem out of place, but it is important to remind ourselves of the context here—the Buddha is simply saying it is inappropriate for a religious leader to make a living by offering these services, since ultimately they are “animal arts” and have nothing to do with enlightenment.

The Buddha closes this section by saying there are other things, much more subtle, which he has achieved. These things, he declares, are worthy of praise. He then segues into the final section, discussing the “62 Wrong Views,” false beliefs and conclusions taught by various ascetics and Brahmins. It is because the Buddha has not fallen into these false beliefs that he is worthy of praise.

The 62 Wrong Views

This long list can be broken up into two primary sections: the 18 views regarding the past, and the 44 views regarding the future. These, in turn, have several subcategories.

The 18 Wrong Views Regarding the Past

The 4 Views of Eternalism

Eternalism is the belief that the self and the world are eternal. There are four origins for this belief, each of which the Buddha counts as a separate view. The first three involve people attaining the ability to recall varying numbers of past lives, leading them to the false assumption that the self is reborn forever and that the world is everlasting. The 4th simply originates from someone reaching the same conclusion with logic and reasoning.

The 4 Views of Semi-Eternalism

Semi-Eternalism is the belief that some things are impermanent, while other things are eternal. Again, the first three result from past life recollection; this time, however, the Buddha uses cosmogonic stories to explain how they originated.

In Buddhist cosmology, our world is understood as expanding and contracting throughout vast spans of time. In periods of contraction, beings are no longer reborn here—instead, they are mostly reborn in what is called the Ābhassara Brahmā Realm. These beings are “mind-made” (meaning they are born spontaneously, with mentally-fashioned bodies, as opposed to sexually). They do not feed on food; instead, they subsist on “delight” (pīti), the mental factor experienced during meditative absorption (jhāna). They are luminous, and they move through the air.

Eventually, our world begins to expand once more, and an “empty Brahmā palace” appears. A being in the Ābhassara Brahmā Realm dies, and is reborn into this “empty palace.” At first, he is alone, but eventually he thinks to himself, “If only there were others here with me!” Soon thereafter, purely by coincidence, other beings begin to perish from the Ābhassara Brahmā Realm and take rebirth in the empty palace. The first being—longer lived, more beautiful, and more powerful than the others—comes to the conclusion that he must have willed them into existence, making him “the Great Brahmā” (the creator god). The other beings, not knowing any better, assume this is true as well.

Eventually, one of those lesser beings dies and is reborn into the world as you and I know it. In this new life, he ends up becoming a religious renunciate, giving up the householder’s life in order to pursue the truth. He develops mental concentration and achieves the ability to recall one past life—the one immediately prior, when he was a lesser being in the Brahmā palace. From this incomplete level of attainment, he develops the assumption that “God” (the higher being) is eternal, but everyone else—having been created by that God—must die. This is the 1st source of Semi-Eternalism, bringing us to 5 Wrong Views.

Next, the Buddha talks about a type of deva (a god, more or less) called “Corrupted by Pleasure” (khuddapadosikā). These devas, despite being reborn in a higher state, remain addicted to sense-pleasures, instead of feeding on “delight,” so their mindfulness wavers and they, too, get born into this world. One such being likewise attains the ability to recall their past life, and they reach the conclusion that devas who are not addicted to sense-pleasures are eternal, but those who are must die. This is the second source of Semi-Eternalism, and the 6th Wrong View.

Next, the Buddha tells of the devas called “Corrupted in Mind” (manopadosikā). They are consumed with envy for one another, leading to their falling away from the higher realms and into our world. Once again, such a being recalls their previous life, and assumes that other devas are eternal, but the devas Corrupted in Mind are impermanent. This is the 3rd source of Semi-Eternalism, and the 7th Wrong View.

Finally, the 4th source (and 8th View) is that a brahmin or ascetic reaches this conclusion through logic or reasoning.

The 4 Views Regarding the Span of the Universe

The next set of views are about the span of the universe—beliefs that the universe is either finite, or infinite. There are 4 sources in total: the first three involve a Brahmin or ascetic attaining a state of concentration which leads him to believe the world is either finite, infinite, or both—finite vertically, but infinite horizontally. The 4th source, again, results from logic and reasoning. This brings us to 12 Wrong Views.

The 4 Views of the Eel-Wrigglers (Evasive Agnostics)

Here, the Buddha addresses what he calls the “Eel-Wrigglers,” or people who rest on extreme agnosticism instead of truly investigating possibilities for the truth. When pressed on any issue, they resort to evasion, wriggling like eels instead of wrestling with any of these ideas. There are 4 sources for this kind of agnosticism: the person fears making a themselves a liar by being wrong (and thus damaging their prospects of spiritual advancement or a better rebirth); the person fears feeling strong emotions about the objects which would be considered and pondered (and the ensuing effect on spiritual progress); the person fears being bested in a debate, and the resulting distress which would be an obstacle; and finally, the person is simply too unintelligent to make heads or tails of any greater religious/philosophical concerns, so they simply don’t bother. This brings us to 16 wrong views.

The 2 Views of Acausality

These last two are beliefs that the world and the Self exist merely by chance. There are two sources for this, and to explain the first one, the Buddha once again talks about a certain kind of deva. This time, the devas are called “Unconscious,” and these beings exist for most of their lives not experiencing feeling or perception. The moment any perception arises, they perish. One such being is reborn in our world, and becomes able to recall only his previous life. He mistakenly believes that he did not exist, since he was entirely unconscious, and reaches the conclusion that life must exist by mere chance. The universe, and the living being, must be the product of random happenstance. This is the 17th wrong view.

The 18th wrong view simply stems from someone reaching that same conclusion through logic and reasoning. This concludes the 18 Views regarding the past.

The 44 Wrong Views Regarding the Future

This section is organized in much the same way, but is more repetitive, so we may brush over it with broad strokes for the sake of brevity.

The 16 Views Regarding the Post-Mortem Conscious Self

This set of views involves the belief that, after death, the self remains healthy and conscious. There are 16 variations of this belief, expressing differing opinions on the exact nature of the self in this post-mortem state—whether or not it is material, or both, or neither; whether it is finite, infinite, both, or neither; whether it is of uniform/varied or limited/unlimited perception; and whether it is happy/miserable. Altogether, this makes 34 Wrong Views.

The 8 Views Regarding the Post-Mortem Unconscious Self

This set of views is similar, but this time, there is a belief in an *unconscious* self which persists after death. There are 8 differing opinions: whether or not the self is material, immaterial, both, or neither; and whether it is finite, infinite, both, or neither. This makes 42 views.

The 8 Views Regarding the Post-Mortem Self Which is Neither-Conscious-nor-Unconscious

These views purport that there is a self which survives after death, but it is neither conscious nor unconscious. They have the same variations as the set above, bringing us to 50 Views.

The 7 Views Regarding Annihilationism

These views declare, in differing ways, that the self is annihilated after death. The first declares quite simply that the self is merely the physical body. Since the body breaks up after death, the self is annihilated when you die. Each of the successive views introduce a new self; they all acknowledge the existence of the previous selves, but insist that each newly-introduced self is the truer self, and it is through the destruction of that self, after death, that one can be said to be truly annihilated.

The second Annihilationist view proposes the existence of a self which is divine, yet still material (meaning it is within the body); like the body, it exists in the Sense Realm (the lowest of the three cosmological realms - this can also mean that it experiences sense desires), and it is fed by material food (like the lower gods).

The third proposes a self which is likewise divine and material, but is "mind-made," being the product of mental activity. It is complete in all its parts (limbs and faculties).

The fourth proposes another self, which belongs to the Sphere of Infinite Space, completely beyond bodily sensations. This corresponds to the 1st Formless Jhāna - an advanced state of meditative absorption.

The fifth view proposes a self which belongs to the Sphere of Infinite Consciousness, corresponding to the 2nd Formless Jhāna.

The sixth view proposes a self which belongs to the Sphere of Nothingness, completely beyond consciousness, corresponding to the 3rd Formless Jhāna.

The seventh view proposes a self which belongs to the Sphere of Neither-Perception-nor-non-Perception, completely beyond nothingness, corresponding to the 4th Formless Jhāna.

In each of the above cases, the self is believed to be destroyed at death upon with the perishing of the body. Altogether, this makes 57 Wrong Views.

The 5 Views Regarding the Self's Attainment of Nibbana, Here-and-Now

These final five views are centered on mistaken beliefs about how nibbana (more commonly known as "nirvana" in Sanskrit) can be attained within this lifetime. Each successive view denies the one before it, proposing an alternative means of nibbana.

The first proposes that the self may attain nibbana through the experience of sense-pleasures. The second view acknowledges that sense-pleasures are impermanent, and proposes the attainment of nibbana through the first jhāna. The third view acknowledges that the first jhāna still involves vitakka-vicara (a state of applied and sustained thought), it cannot lead to nibbana; instead, it proposes nibbana through the second jhāna. The fourth view argues that the second jhāna cannot lead to nibbana because of the presence of pīti (a mental delight which stimulates and energizes the meditator); instead, it proposes nibbana through the third jhāna. Finally, the fifth view argues that the third jhāna cannot lead to nibbana because of the presence of sukha (a calm, pleasurable mental bliss); instead, it proposes nibbana through the fourth jhāna.

The Buddha's Closing Remarks

The Buddha now wraps up his sermon, and he begins by saying that he understands how the 62 Wrong Views lead to continued rebirth, instead of liberation from dukkha. He also understands the truth which these wrong views fail to reach - the truth of the arising and cessation of feelings, the ways in which we find them appealing, the dangers they present to us, and how to overcome them. Through this understanding, the Buddha has uprooted craving, and has attained liberation through non-attachment. This is a truth which is deep and difficult to understand, and it is precisely because the Buddha has realized and spread this truth that he is worthy of praise - not for the relatively basic matters of ethics ordinary people focus on.

He goes on to explain that all of these false beliefs are adopted by people who have yet to overcome ignorance and are still bound by craving. Adherents of these beliefs adopt them in response to the feelings which arise from sensory contact. From those feelings, craving arises, and due to craving, they cling to the various beliefs and modes of existence. This clinging leads to "becoming," or continued existence in the cycle of dukkha. Becoming leads to rebirth, and from rebirth necessary follows aging, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and despair. When the Buddha's monks understand and overcome this sensory process, they may also attain the liberation found by the Buddha.

The Buddha boldly states that the 62 Wrong Views are like a broad net, and like fish, the people who fall into these beliefs become trapped. The Buddha's body stands free and triumphant, having severed the bond which had, for so long, kept him tied to becoming and rebirth. This powerful imagery evokes the idea of cutting open the net of false views, and we may imagine ourselves also finding this freedom. He concludes his sermon by stating that as long as his body remains, humans and devas will be able to see him - once it perishes, however, humans and devas will not be able to see him, (since he will have attained final nibbana). This is meant to contrast with those ascetics and Brahmins who believe and teach the 62 Wrong Views, who will remain trapped in the cycle of dukkha.


The sutta ends with Ānanda asking the Buddha what to call this sermon, and he replies with a few options: the one which has stuck over the ages is "The Brahmā Net." The scripture then records how the monks delighted, and the ten-thousand worlds (or, in other words, the universe) shook.

Comparing Parallels

Different Versions

There are many different versions of this sermon preserved throughout Buddhist traditions. The summary on this page is, of course, based on the first sutta of the Dīgha Nikāya from the Pāli Canon, as preserved by the Theravāda lineage. It will be referred to as “DN 1.”

The primary Chinese parallel is found as the 21st sūtra in the Dīrgha Āgama, preserved by the Dharmaguptaka lineage. It will be referred to as “DĀ 21.”

There is another version in the Chinese canon, which stands alone, outside of any larger collection of sermons. I don’t know what tradition preserved this version. It will be referred to as “T 21” (referring to its position in the Taishō edition of the Chinese canon).

Sanskrit fragments of this sermon have been found, which would have been preserved as the 47th sūtra in the Dīrgha Āgama collection of either the Sarvāstivāda or Mūlasarvāstivāda lineage. These will simply be referred to as “the Sanskrit fragments.”

There are also Tibetan translations of a version preserved by the Mūlasarvāstivādins. Anālayo notes that it was likely based on a Sanskrit version, which would have been, itself, based on an earlier Indian Prākrit version. These will be referred to as “the Tibetan translations.”

Furthermore, the sermon appears in a couple of later texts outside of the discourses. First, there is a complete version which is included as a quotation in Śamathadeva’s “Abhidharmakośapāyikā-tīkā,” which is a commentary on Vasubandhu’s “Abhidharmakośa” (Treasury of Abhidharma). This commentary is preserved in the Tibetan Canon’s “Tengyur” division, and quotes passages from the Mūlasarvāstivādin Tripitaka which were cited by Vasubandhu. The version of the sermon found here will be referred to as “ADKPT.”

Finally, a quotation of the section on wrong views is found in a text called the “the Śāriputrābhidharma,” preserved in the Chinese canon (T 28), likely from a Dharmaguptaka lineage. This will be referred to as “SPAD.”

Name of the Sermon

First, let’s look at some differences in the titles given to this sermon. DN 1 is titled the “Brahmajāla Sutta,” which means “The Net of Brahmā.” Here, I believe “Brahmā” should not be understood as a proper noun referring to the Vedic god, but as a modifying word meant to emphasize the importance and vastness of this metaphorical net.

DĀ 21 is titled “梵動經,” which means “The Stirring of Brahmā.” Anālayo states that this is almost certainly a translation error — “jāla” (net) was likely confused with “cāla” (stirring, movement).

Placement of the Sermon in the Collections

The Pāli Canon includes this sermon as the very first sutta of its very first collection (the Dīgha Nikāya), which has 34 suttas in total.

The Dharmaguptaka Dīrgha Āgama preserved in the Chinese Canon has 30 sūtras in all, with the relevant sermon being #21.

The version of the sermon found in the Sanskrit fragments was most likely the last of 47 sūtras in the version of the Dīrgha Āgama from which it came.

Regarding the Theravāda tradition’s placement of this sermon as the first in the entire canon, Bhikku Bodhi declares that this reflects a strategic decision made by the Elders responsible for compiling the Pāli Canon. The tradition seems to have held it as “the sentry at the gateway to the Doctrine.” Right View is the first step in the Noble Eightfold Path, and is described in the suttas as being part of the foundational groundwork upon which the practice is built - it makes sense for this sutta, then, which establishes the sorts of rival teachings which lead to Wrong Views, to be the beginning of the suttas.

This sentiment has also been echoed by Bhikku Sujato, who has suggested that the doctrine of the 62 Wrong Views was of particular polemical interest to the Mahāvihāravāsins - the tradition now commonly called the Theravādins - who used the list to identify other traditions as heretical. Anālayo has pointed out a couple of things which support this idea: first, there is another sutta in the Pāli Canon which mentions the 62 Wrong Views, SN 41.3. Its Chinese parallel in the Samyukta Āgama (SĀ 570), preserved by the Sarvāstivādins, does not include the 62 Wrong Views at all.

Secondly, the Samantapāsādikā - a collection of Sinhalese commentaries on the Vinaya translated into Pāli by Buddhaghosa - records that some monks were ejected from the Third Buddhist Council for teaching the types of views found in the Brahmajāla Sutta. The Dharmaguptaka Vinaya’s version of this event is shorter, and doesn’t match up as closely to the views as described in the sūtra.

It’s also worth noting, as pointed out by Bhikku Anālayo, that the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya records how, before the recitation of the sermons during the first Buddhist council following the Buddha’s death, Mahākassapa asked Ānanda where the Brahmajāla Sūtra was taught. This suggests that this sermon, at one point, was also first among the Dharmaguptaka Dīrgha Āgama sūtras.

Who casts the net?

In DN 1, the imagery of the net appears as a simple metaphor demonstrating the way that Wrong Views trap people in the cycle of birth and rebirth, like fish caught in a great net. The sutta implies the imagery of the Buddha “cutting open” the net of Wrong Views, showing us the way to freedom.

Anālayo points out that the Pāli commentary interprets “the supreme net” as one spread by the Buddha himself, “rounding up” all of the different wrong views in one comprehensive sermon, and succinctly demonstrating the problems with all of them.

However, in the Sanskrit fragments, the Tibetan versions, and ADKPT, the net is explicitly associated with Māra. The temptor-figure is described as spreading the net of false views in order to trap ascetics and Brahmins in the cycle of birth and rebirth. This sort of imagery is found elsewhere throughout Buddhist literature.

Translation of the term “Tathāgata”

This sermon, like so many others, makes use of the word “Tathāgata” as an epithet for the Buddha. Anālayo points out the ambiguity of this term in Indian languages - it can mean either “thus come” (emphasizing the Buddha’s emergence in this world) or “thus gone” (emphasizing the Buddha’s cessation of continued existence and rebirth). The Tibetan translation preserves this ambiguity.

The standard Chinese translation explicitly translates as “thus come,” and though there are exceptions in the Chinese canon, the Chinese versions of this sermon use the standard term.

Anālayo argues that inspection of this sermon supports the translation “thus gone,” since the Buddha isn’t talking about his appearance in the world, but instead is teaching about how to go beyond views and future birth.

Narrative Framing

DN 1 and DĀ 21 align closely with one another, but the narrative framing in DĀ 21 is shortened a little bit. It begins with the Buddha traveling with a much larger retinue of monks than the Pāli version claims (1,250 monks instead of “around 500”). The park is named “Veluvana” in DĀ 21 (instead of “Ambalatthikā” in DN 1). Interestingly, DĀ 21 makes more explicit reference to the Buddha’s supramundane abilities, specifically that he was able to hear what the monks were talking about before he approached them. This would be due to the “divine ear,” which is an “iddhi” - a psychic ability attained through meditation. The Pāli canon elsewhere depicts the Buddha as hearing what monks were discussing through the divine ear, and joining them by skillfully asking them what they had just been discussing. In these cases, the Buddha is understood as doing this in order to facilitate a conversation and create an opportunity to teach. This idea, then, is perfectly compatible with the Pāli Canon, but this specific sutta doesn’t specify that this is what happened here. DĀ 21, on the other hand, does.

Anālayo points out that no other version of the sermon makes this claim. This, he argues, is evidence of late interpolation, inspired by a tendency to see the Buddha as omniscient in later stages of the Buddhist tradition. Furthermore, he points out other examples from the DĀ that make this claim when other DN parallels don’t - DĀ 1 (DN 14), DĀ 2 (DN 16), and DĀ 30 (no known parallels). This, combined with the fact that the Pāli commentary also claims that the Buddha heard the conversation beforehand with his divine ear, leads Anālayo to suggest that this could have once been found in a Dharmaguptaka commentary as well, which would have shared a common Indian source with the Pāli commentary. This commentarial detail could have been absorbed into the sermon itself in the Dharmaguptaka preservation, something which we can see happening elsewhere throughout Buddhist texts, including later in this very sermon.

The Section on Ethics

In the Tibetan versions, this section is much shorter. It lists the first two precepts, with the rest being implied through abbreviation - in other words, it assumes the audience should fill in the omitted details for themselves. It follows this with a similarly brief description of the various forms of Wrong Livelihood practiced by certain holy men criticized by the Buddha.

The version found in ADKPT is even shorter, listing only the first precept completely, with the rest being abbreviated. Anālayo points out that this means the sūtra itself must have been shorter in the Mūlasarvāstivāda canon than it is in the Theravāda and Dharmaguptaka canons.

Lesser (Cūla) Section

All versions share the same basic structure for the Short Section: a listing of the precepts followed by a discussion of wrong livelihood. As mentioned above, the Tibetan and ADKPT versions are considerably shorter than DN 1 and DĀ 21. Both of the latter two versions align closely with one another for the first four precepts.

However, at the fifth precept, they diverge. In DĀ 21 we find the usual 5th Buddhist precept: abstaining from intoxicants. In DN 1, however, the fifth precept involves refraining from harming seeds. Anālayo quotes Reat in pointing out that abstinence from intoxicants is usually not included in discussions of Right Action in the Pāli suttas, suggesting that this was not nearly as important a moral concern in early Buddhism as it became later in the tradition.

Following the fifth precept, the two versions realign once again for the remaining precepts, along with discussions of proper conduct for holy men - things which the Buddha’s rivals did, and from which he abstained.

Middle (Majjhima) Section

This section, in both DN 1 and DĀ 21, appears to be the result of commentarial material becoming absorbed into the recitation of the sermon itself. It expands upon the content of the shorter section in a way which feels internally redundant, repeating and explicating statements which were made just before this section in the sermon. As evidence for this, Anālayo points to the fact that two Pāli commentaries - one on this sutta, and another on MN 27 - both gloss on refraining from harming seeds in the same way we find in DN 1’s Middle Section. Furthermore, the latter commentary has an exposition on morality which corresponds to the Shorter Section of DN 1, elaborating with additional details in the same way this Middle Section does.

For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into detail regarding the contents of this section in both versions. Let it suffice to say that they closely align, with minor differences in ordering and wording. One difference worth pointing out is that DĀ 21 is less specific regarding the sorts of games which should be avoided by holy men. The Pāli version is quite specific and lists various different games and toys, while DĀ 21 seems to “paint with a broad stroke,” so-to-speak, by simply describing different forms of “chess” with differing numbers of rows on the game boards. I wonder if this is because the Chinese translator couldn’t be bothered to find equivalent terms for the many different types of Indian games and toys. This is pure speculation on my part, though.

The 62 Wrong Views

DN 1 and DĀ 21 align closely for most of this part of the sermon, with most differences being minor. DĀ 21 uses “recurrent irregularities” where DN 1 is much more formulaic. This, as noted by Zürcher (quoted by Anālayo), is a tendency found throughout early Chinese translations, and seems to have been a deliberate choice to avoid the mundane repetitions characteristic of oral texts.

The 18 Wrong Views Regarding the Past

The 4 Wrong Views of Eternalism

The different versions align closely regarding what leads to the first 3 types of Eternalist views - the recollection of past lives stretching back for different time-spans. The differences lie in the lengths of those time spans. In DN 1, the first comes from recollecting several hundred thousand past lives; the second from recollecting up to 10 aeons of past lives; and the third from recollecting up to 40 aeons of past lives.

The other versions expand the scale of time. The first type of Eternalist view comes from recollecting up to 20 aeons; the second, up to 40 aeons; and the third, up to 80 aeons. T 21 specifies that the first ground comes from recollecting 20 aeons of past lives; the second from 40 aeons of future lifetimes; and the third, from 80 aeons of both past and future lifetimes.

The versions diverge more significantly regarding the 4th type of Eternalism. In DN 1, DĀ 21, and SPAD, what leads to the 4th Eternalist view is speculation - someone reaching this conclusion by way of (misguided) logic and reasoning. In T 21 and two Tibetan versions, however, this is also founded on meditative experiences. In T 21, the person develops concentration, but their recollection of past lives is “confounded.” In the Tibetan versions, the person achieves the “divine eye,” and they are able to see beings dying and being reborn - however, they have not yet achieved insight into the full nature of rebirth.

The 4 Wrong Views of Semi-Eternalism

DN 1, DĀ 21, and SPAD generally align regarding all four types of this view. With the first, however, DĀ 21 and SPAD forego some of the background information in which DN 1 indulges. DN 1 begins by discussing the way a previous aeon comes to an end and describes how the world contracts, with beings mostly being reborn in Ābhassara realm, until eventually the cosmos begins to expand again and one such being dies and is reborn in the newly-appeared “Brahmā palace.” DĀ 21 and SPAD don’t discuss the ending of a previous aeon or the expansion/contraction of the cosmos. Instead, they begin right at the new aeon where an Ābhassara being is reborn in “an empty Brahmā world,” without much elaboration.

There is also a minor difference in the 3rd type, regarding the devas called “Corrupted in Mind.” In DN 1, it describes how, after they see one another, they are consumed with envy, and the disturbance of this emotion causes them to fall from the higher realms and be reborn in our world. DĀ 21 and SPAD only indicates that such beings die after looking at one another, with the exact reason this causes death and rebirth being left vague.

Finally, there is a minor difference in the 4th type. DN 1, DĀ 21, and SPAD once again claim the cause for this 4th type is speculation, just like with Eternalism. DN 1 specifies that someone concludes that the bodily senses are impermanent, but the mind is permanent and unchanging. DĀ 21 simply states that one reaches the conclusion that “the self and the world are partially eternal and partially impermanent,” without going into the particulars.

In T 21, the Tibetan versions, and ADKPT, all four types of Partial Eternalism are based on incomplete meditation experiences, much like how they present the grounds for the previous view of Eternalism. Despite this, the 4th type in DN 1/DĀ 21 is similar to the 2nd type in the other texts. There is a minor difference on this point between the two groups of texts: what gets assumed to be permanent and what gets assumed to be impermanent. In T 21, the person believes that the 5 Aggregates are permanent, but the 5 elements (earth, wind, fire, water, and space) are impermanent. In the Tibetan versions, the person believes that the 5 elements are impermanent, but the mind is permanent.

The 4 Wrong Views Regarding the Span of the Universe

DN 1 and DĀ 21 align closely here. In the Tibetan versions, the 4th view - that the cosmos are both limited and unlimited - is once again based on incomplete meditation experience instead of speculation. T 21 actually doesn’t specify whether or not these 4 views are founded on meditation experience or speculation. It simply describes the 4 different kinds of views related to the dimensions of the world.

The 4 Wrong Views of the Eel-Wrigglers (Evasive Agnostics)

The first 3 types of evasive agnosticism - or, as DN 1 describes it, “eel-wriggling” - differ considerably between the different texts.

In DĀ 21 and SPAD, each type results from the person lacking a certain kind of knowledge, and refusing to take a stand because of a certain fear or anxiety. In the first case, ignorance of the fruits of good/evil deeds leads to the person avoiding a position out of fear of being embarrassed in debate; in the second case, ignorance about the existence of another world leads to the person avoiding a position out of fear of speaking falsely; in the third case, ignorance about what is wholesome and what is unwholesome leads to the person avoiding a position out of fear of giving rise to craving and aversion.

In DN 1, the knowledge which is lacking is the same in the three cases: what is wholesome and what is unwholesome. In the first case, what motivates the person to be an “eel-wriggler” is the fear of speaking falsely; in the second, it is the fear of attachment; in the third, it is the fear of being embarrassed in a debate.

In the Tibetan versions and the Sanskrit fragments, the ignorance is also regarding what is wholesome or unwholesome. In the first case, eel-wriggling comes from the fear of speaking falsely; in the second, it is the fear holding wrong views; in the third, it is the fear of another world.

In T 21, the first case concerns taking a stance on the existence of another world. The reason for eel-wriggling is the fear of holding a wrong view when confronted in debate, leading to disturbances which would lead to a bad rebirth. The second case concerns taking a stance on the fruits of good/evil deeds. The reason for eel-wriggling is fear of attachment and of being interrogated by other thinkers. The third case concerns taking a stance on what is wholesome and what is unwholesome. The reason for eel-wriggling is fear of falling into an evil practice, and a desire to avoid criticism.

Regarding the 4th ground for eel-wriggling, DN 1 and the Chinese versions agree that it is caused simply by foolishness. DĀ 21, T 21, and SPAD don’t specify any matters on which such a person refuses to take a stand. DN 1 lists several possible topics: the existence of another world; the existence of spontaneously-born beings; the fruits of good/evil deeds; and what happens to a Tathāgata after death.

In the Tibetan versions, the topic in question is the existence (and nature) of another world. Taking a stance is avoided out of the fear of appearing foolish - not necessarily because of actually being foolish.

The 2 Wrong Views of Acausality

All versions align regarding the two grounds for this view: first, one recalls a former life as an unconscious deva; second, one reaches this conclusion by speculation. The difference lies in where this passage falls in the overall scheme of Wrong Views. In T 21, the Tibetan versions, and a Sanskrit fragment, this comes in between Partial Eternalism and Equivocation.

Any sections I have omitted do not have considerable differences between the parallel versions.


[1] "Dīrgha Āgama Studies" by Bhikku Anālayo

Here is another work by Anālayo, specifically regarding the parallel versions of the 62 Views. I did not rely on it for this page, but you may be interested in reading it.