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A Mahā Brahmā. In the Nikāyas (D.i.121; M.i.358; S.i.153; A.v.327) he is mentioned as the author of a famous verse, there quoted:

Khattiyo seṭṭho jane tasmiṃ ye gottapaṭisārino

Vijjācaraṇasampanno so seṭṭho devamānuse.

In one place (S.ii.284) the verse is attributed to the Buddha, thus endowing it with the authoritativeness of a pronouncement by the Buddha himself. Sanaṅkumāra is represented as a very devout follower of the Buddha.

In a sutta of the Saṃyuttanikāya (S.i.153), he is spoken of as visiting the Buddha on the banks of the Sappinī, and it was during this visit that the above verse was spoken. Sanaṅkumāra was present at the teaching of the Mahāsamaya Sutta (D.ii.261).

In the Janavasabha Sutta, Janavasabha describes to the Buddha an occasion on which Sanaṅkumāra attended an assembly of the devas, presided over by Sakka and the Four Regent Gods. There was suddenly a vast radiance, and the devas knew of the approach of Sanaṅkumāra. As the usual appearance of the Brahmā is not sufficiently materialized for him to be perceived by the devas of Tāvatiṃsa, he is forced to appear as a relatively gross personality which he specially creates. As he arrives, the devas sit in their places with clasped hands waiting for him to choose his seat. Then Sanaṅkumāra takes on the form of Pañcasikha (because all devas like Pañcasikha, says the Commentary, DA.ii.640) and sits, above the assembly, cross-legged, in the air. So seated, he expresses his satisfaction that Sakka and all the Tāvatiṃsa devas should honour and follow the Buddha. His voice has all the eight characteristics of a Brahmā’s voice. (These are given at D.ii.211). He then proceeds to create thirty-three shapes, of himself, each sitting on the divan of a Tāvatiṃsa deva, and addresses the devas, speaking of the advantages of taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Saṅgha. Each deva fancies that only the shape sitting on his own divan has spoken and that the others are silent. Then Sanaṅkumāra goes to the end of the Hall, and, seated on Sakka’s throne, addresses the whole assembly on the four bases of success; on the three avenues leading to Bliss, as manifested by the Buddha; on the four four foundations of mindfulness, and the seven supports for concentration (samādhiparikkhārā). He declares that more than two hundred and forty thousand Magadha disciples, having followed the teachings of the Buddha, have been born in the deva worlds. When Sanaṅkumāra has finished his address, Vessavaṇa wonders if there have been Buddhas in the past and will be in the future. The Brahmā reads his thoughts and says there certainly were and will be.

Sanaṅkumāra means “ever young.” Buddhaghosa says (MA.ii.584; cf. SA.i.171) that, in his former birth, he practised the absorptions (jhāna) while yet a boy with his hair tied in five knots (pañcacūḷakakumārakāle), and was reborn in the Brahma world with the thāna intact. He liked the guise of youth and continued in the same, hence the name. Rhys Davids (Dial.ii.292, n.3; cf.i.121, n.1) sees in the legend of Sanaṅkumāra the Indian counterpart of the European legend of Galahad. The oldest mention of it is in the Chāndogya Upanishad (Chap. VII), where the ideal, yet saintly knight, teaches a typical brahmin the highest truths. In the Mahābhārata (iii.185, Bombay Edition) he expresses a sentiment very similar to that expressed in the stanza quoted above. In mediaeval literature he is said to have been one of five or seven mind born sons of Brahma who remained pure and innocent. A later and debased Jaina version of the legend tells in detail of the love adventures and wives of this knight, with a few words at the end on his conversion to the saintly life. See J.R.A.S.1894, p.344; 1897, p.585 f; Revue de Histoire des Religions, vol.xxxi.pp.29 ff.

Sanaṅkumāra Sutta.– Brahmā Sanaṅkumāra visits the Buddha on the banks of the Sappinī, and speaks a verse (S.i.153; for the verse see Saṇaṅkumāsanara) in praise of learning and good conduct. The Buddha approves of the sentiment contained in the verse.