To Two Brahmans
Brāhmaṇa Sutta (AN 9:38)
Then two brahman cosmologists [Ājīvakas] went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, they sat to one side. As they were sitting there, they said to the Blessed One, “Master Gotama, Pūraṇa Kassapa—all-knowing, all-seeing—claims exhaustive knowledge & vision: ‘Whether I am standing or walking, awake or asleep, continual, unflagging knowledge & vision is established within me.’ He says, ‘I dwell with infinite knowledge, knowing & seeing the finite cosmos.’ Yet Nigaṇṭha Nāṭaputta—all-knowing, all-seeing—also claims exhaustive knowledge & vision: ‘Whether I am standing or walking, awake or asleep, continual, unflagging knowledge & vision is established within me.’ He says, ‘I dwell with infinite knowledge, knowing & seeing the infinite cosmos.’ Of these two speakers of knowledge, these two who contradict each other, which is telling the truth, and which is lying?”
“Enough, brahmans. Put this question aside. I will teach you the Dhamma. Listen and pay close attention. I will speak.”
“Yes, sir,” the brahmans responded to the Blessed One, and the Blessed One said, “Suppose that there were four men standing at the four directions, endowed with supreme speed & stride. Like that of a strong archer—well-trained, a practiced hand, a practiced sharp-shooter—shooting a light arrow across the shadow of a palm tree: Such would be the speed with which they were endowed. As far as the east sea is from the west: Such would be the stride with which they were endowed. Then the man standing at the eastern direction would say, ‘I, by walking, will reach the end [or: edge (anta)] of the cosmos.’ He—with a one-hundred year life, a one-hundred year span—would spend one hundred years traveling—apart from the time spent on eating, drinking, chewing & tasting, urinating & defecating, and sleeping to fight off weariness—but without reaching the end of the cosmos he would die along the way. [Similarly with the men standing at the western, southern, & northern directions.] Why is that? I tell you, it isn’t through that sort of traveling that the end of the cosmos is known, seen, or reached. But at the same time, I tell you that there is no making an end of suffering & stress without reaching the end of the cosmos.
“These five strings of sensuality are, in the discipline of the noble ones, called the cosmos. Which five? Forms cognizable via the eye—agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, enticing, linked to sensual desire; sounds cognizable via the ear… aromas cognizable via the nose… flavors cognizable via the tongue… tactile sensations cognizable via the body—agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, enticing, linked to sensual desire. These are the five strings of sensuality that, in the discipline of the noble ones, are called the cosmos.1
“There is the case where a monk—quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful qualities—enters & remains in the first jhāna: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. This is called a monk who, coming to the end of the cosmos, remains at the end of the cosmos.2 Others say of him, ‘He is encompassed in the cosmos; he has not escaped from the cosmos.’ And I too say of him, ‘He is encompassed in the cosmos; he has not escaped from the cosmos.’
[Similarly with the second, third, & fourth jhānas, and with the attainment of the dimensions of the infinitude of space, the infinitude of consciousness, nothingness, and neither perception nor non-perception.]
“And further, with the complete transcending of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, he enters & remains in the cessation of perception & feeling. And as he sees (that) with discernment, effluents are completely ended. This is called a monk who, coming to the end of the cosmos, remains at the end of the cosmos, having crossed over attachment in the cosmos.”
2. This passage has been cited as proof that a person in the first jhāna cannot have awareness of the five senses, inasmuch as he/she has come to the end/edge of the cosmos, defined as the objects of the five senses. The passage, however, does not support that interpretation at all because it defines “cosmos” not as the five senses but as the five strings of sensuality. In other words, a person in the first jhāna who still has effluents has, for the duration of the jhāna, simply gone beyond the power of enticing sights, sounds, etc. As the Buddha states further here, such a person is still encompassed in the cosmos—i.e., has not totally transcended it—until his/her attachment for the strings of sensuality has been cut with the ending of the effluents. See also MN 43, note 2, AN 9:37, note 2, and AN 10:72, note 3.