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Brahmanavagga – Culmination Of The Path – Dhammapada 26
The twenty-sixth chapter of the Dhammapada is known as the Brahmanavagga. This concluding chapter is direct and concise teaching on what is to be developed through a well-focused Dhamma practice and the profound benefits of practicing the Dhamma as intended and originally taught.
The Brahmanavagga provides clear and profound guidance on how to distinguish between ordinary abstract views and confusing and contradictory “dharmas” rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths and useful and authentic Dhamma practice. The Buddha defines the result of a confused (or non-existent) “dharma” practice and his Dhamma by showing the practical and observable attainments developed by a skillful disciple of the Dhamma.
A Brahman refers to Vedic priests of the highest religious class during the Buddha’s life. The Buddha rejected the common Vedic-based religions but he often used the word “Brahman” to refer to Arahants, those who awakened through the Eightfold Path.  The Buddha’s Noble Search For The Noble Path
Most translations use “monks” referring to a person developing the Buddha’s Dhamma. The Buddha never intended his Dhamma to be only accessible and useful only to men who took vows. He presented his Dhamma without restrictions or bias of any kind, a truly equalitarian Dhamma unique in his time and today. Also, by adhering to only one word to describe those committed to developing the Dhamma does not provide a means to distinguish between “skillful disciples” and skillful disciples that have reached the culmination of the Eightfold Path, Arahants as intended by the Buddha.
My comments below are italicized.
Brahmanavagga – Culmination Of The Path
Engage in Right Effort! Root out the constant stream of craving! Abandon sense desires! Know the destruction of all conditioned things. Know the cool, calm peace of cessation.
This initial paragraph describes the effort and focus necessary to develop the Buddha’s Dhamma and the results that will be gained.
When an arahant has developed profound concentration and skillful insight they know the Four Noble Truths and have abandoned all fetters.
The Buddha taught to develop Jhana – increasing concentration – that provides a calm focus for gaining insight into the relationship between Anicca, Anatta, and Dukkha – Three Marks Of Existence.  Three Marks Of Existence – Anicca, Anatta, Dukkha
The skillful disciple is carefree and unfettered. They have abandoned craving and the objects of their craving. This one I call an Arahant.
Most translations use the metaphor of a near and far shore to represent sense-based craving as the “near shore” and the object desired as the “far shore.” The near shore is the immediate continuation of I-making and the far shore is the fabricated identity created by craving and resulting in clinging to the self-created, self-imposed “me” that now must be continually defended.
Those who are established in Jhana, free of the defilements, passions cooled, calm, the task complete, liberated from ignorance, having reached the goal, these I call Arahants.
The single purpose of meditation as one factor of the Eightfold Path is to develop Jhana – increasing concentration – that provides the calm focus for gaining insight into the relationship between Anicca, Anatta, and Dukkha – Three Marks Of Existence.[5,6] Three Marks Of Existence – Anicca, Anatta, Dukkha | Right Meditation
The sun illuminates the day, the moon illuminates the night. The warrior shines in their armor, the skillful disciple shines in Jhana. Arahants illuminate day and night.
The Arahant has abandoned all unskillful behavior, their mind concentrated and serene. Having renounced all of their impurities they are true renunciates.
A disciple should not be struck. If they are struck they should renounce anger. Shame on those who injure anyone, or gives in to anger.
Nothing is superior for the skillful disciple than wise restraint. To the extent that anger and ill-will is abandoned is the extent that suffering will subside.
Practicing wise restraint at the point of contact with phenomena arising and passing away is the essence of a well-informed and well-concentrated skillful Disciple’s Dhamma practice.  Wisdom Of Restraint
Those restrained in thought, word, and deed, I call skillful disciples.
Just as a Brahman priest revere’s his sacrificial fire, so should a skillful disciple revere the Dhamma taught by me.
It is not by matted hair, or lineage, or birth does one become a skillful disciple. Those that know the (Four Noble) Truths and are free of conflict are skillful disciples.
What is the use of your matted hair or antelope hide, foolish one? Within you is the tangle of passion! It is only outwardly that you cleanse yourself.
These last three paragraphs reflect the ongoing caution the Buddha emphasizes against engaging in speculative rites and rituals seeking magical intervention or magical self-establishment in fabricated and speculative non-physical realms. An obvious aspect of grasping after magical self-establishments is the common practice of fabricating the appearance of a Dhamma disciple without actually practicing the Dhamma.
The person who wears robes made of rags, lean, veins showing everywhere, who develop Jhana in seclusion, this one can be called a skillful disciple.
I do not call a person a skillful disciple because of their lineage or their birth. If they continue to cling to worldly entanglements, they are just arrogant. Those who are free of craving and free of clinging (to false Dhammas) I call skillful disciples.
Here again is the Buddha’s emphasis on recognizing the foolishness of clinging to any fabricated hierarchy. The only lineage-relevant to the Buddha’s Dhamma is the “lineage” of the Dhamma itself as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon.  Pali Canon
The concluding section of this chapter describes in clear detail the entirely attainable qualities of a disciple who has completed the Eightfold Path, an Arahant.  Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
A person who has abandoned all fetters and clinging, (to wrong views) liberated from ignorance, trembles no more. I call this person an Arahant.
The Buddha consistently described the quality of mind of an Arahant as calm and released from clinging to views ignorant of Four Noble Truths.  Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
A skillful disciple who has cut the bonds of hatred and craving, abandoned all wrong views, abandoned all defilements, released from ignorance, I call them an Arahant.
As described in the Paticca Samuppada Sutta, the primary sutta on Dependent Origination, the Buddha awakened to the profound understanding that it is ignorance Four Noble Truths that is the condition that all manner of stress, confusion, delusion, and ongoing disappointing life experiences, Dukka, Originates in and is Dependent on.  Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
A skillful disciple without ill will, who endures abuse and beatings and punishment, whose real power is patience. I call them an Arahant.
A skillful disciple who is free from anger, devoted to the dhamma, virtuous, free of craving, well restrained, unprovoked by ignorance, I call them an Arahant.
Like water on a Lotus leaf or a mustard seed on the point of a needle, the skillful disciple who is free of clinging to sensual pleasures, I call them an Arahant.
A skillful disciple who in this very lifetime realizes the end of suffering, who has put down the burden (of self-referential views) and became liberated, I call them an Arahant.
Though most modern Buddhist religions that present awakening as nearly impossible, and often beyond any human capability, the Buddha taught that anyone who wholeheartedly engages with his Dhamma could awaken in here and now. In fact, awakening here and now is the only possible culmination of wholehearted engagement with the Dhamma.  Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views
A skillful disciple with profound knowledge, wise, skilled in understanding the right and the wrong path, who has reached the highest goal, I call them an Arahant.
Here again is the Buddha’s emphasis on developing his Dhamma and recognizing and abandoning false dharmas. The compulsive notion, then and now, rooted in greed, aversion, and deluded thinking, is to ignore the Buddha’s Dhamma for adapted, accommodated, and embellished “dharmas.” This 2,600 year long continual re-establishment of ignorance is the most accurate and most troubling example of the ignorance described in Dependent Origination.  Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
A skillful disciple who is disentangled from householders and ascetics alike, who wanders freely with no fixed abode, wanting little, I call them an Arhant.
A skillful disciple who has abandoned violence towards all living beings, whether weak or strong, who neither kills nor causes others to kill, I call them an Arahant.
A skillful disciple who remains friendly in a hostile world, peaceful in the midst of violence, free of clinging amongst a clinging world, I call them an Arahant.
A timeless caution from an awakened human being with remarkable relevance to the modern “engaged Buddhism” movement seeking “social justice” through targeted ideological hatred.
A skillful disciple whose lust, hatred, pride, and hypocrisy, have fallen away like a mustard seed from the point of a needle, I call them an Arahant.
A skillful disciple who speaks with gentle, useful, and truthful words, free of ill-will, I call them an Arahant.
A skillful disciple who takes nothing not freely given to them, free of grasping, I call them an Arahant.
A skillful disciple who grasps after nothing in this world or any other world, free of desire, liberated, I call them an Arahant.
A skillful disciple who has developed perfect insight and is free of clinging to wrong views, free of doubt, free of the living death of ignorance, I call them an Arahant.
This last points to the primary importance of “Perfect insight” into Three Marks Of Existence and a caution against grasping after wrong views and a broad and fabricated view of “all impermanent phenomena.”
A skillful disciple who has abandoned the yoke of grasping after merit or clinging to demerit, free of sorrow and regret, stain-free and pure, I call them an Arahant.
The skillful disciple who is as spotless, pure, clear, and serene as a full moon on a cloudless night, taking no delight in a fabricated existence, I call them an Arahant.
A skillful disciple who is no longer mired in this perilous and deluded world, who has crossed over the swamp of ignorance, their minds free of all doubt, resting in Jhana, their passions extinguished, who have reached the goal, I call them an Arahant.
A skillful disciple who has abandoned sensual pleasures and the continuation of clinging to ignorance in any (speculated and imaginary) realms, free of all worldly entanglements, I call them an Arahant.
A skillful disciple who has cast off the yoke of I-making in this world and in all fabricated realms, free of ignorance, I call them an Arahant.
A skillful disciple who has abandoned likes and dislikes, greed and aversion, who has abandoned all conditioned beliefs, who has established a calm mind through Jhana, a conqueror of all worlds, I call them an Arahant.
A skillful disciple who understands impermanence and the arising and passing away of all beings, free of all clinging, truly fortunate and liberated, I call them an Arahant.
A skillful disciple who does not chase gods, angels, devas, or human ideology, who has overcome all defilements, I call them an Arahant.
A skillful disciple who does not cling to the past, present, or future, who is not holding onto or grasping after anything of the world, I call them an Arahant.
A skillful disciple, Nole, heroic, excellent, passionless, pure, a true conqueror of the world, totally liberated from ignorance, I call them an Arahant.
A skillful disciple who knows the arising and passing away of all phenomena, who understands pleasure and pain, who has gained true insight into Three Marks Of Existence, who can no longer give birth to even a moment of ignorance, who has reached the highest goal of understanding and calm, I call them an Arahant, indeed.
This closing statement again points to gaining insight into Three Marks Of Existence as the focused purpose of the Buddha’s Dhamma – the highest goal.
End Of Chapter
For Further Study
- Pali Canon
- Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
- Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
- The Buddha’s Noble Search For The Noble Path
- Three Marks Of Existence – Anicca, Anatta, Dukkha
- Right Meditation
- Wisdom Of Restraint
- Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
- Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views
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My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Acharya Buddharakkhita, Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.
Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.
I have made edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.
Becoming-Buddha.com and Dhamma articles and recordings by John Haspel are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.