[[Life in] any world has no shelter and no protector
Except that the Pali for no protector abhi-issaro
is far more emphatic than the weakly stated “no protector
.” To state that the Buddha would not make a “polemical” statement in a summary of the Dhamma is also not quite true. There is a fair amount of satire and biting humor to be found in the suttas, and it often runs counter to our modern Western sensibilities of how we think the Dhamma should be expressed. The fifth sutta in the Digha, the Kūṭadanta Sutta makes this point. No Brahmin mother is going to name her sweet little baby Kūṭadanta, “Snaggle-tooth.” The Brahmins certainly do get a bit of biting humor directed at them. Another example:
The only thing that comes to mind is the Soṇa Sutta (AN. iii. 221-2), where the Buddha describes the five ways in which dogs are better than brahmins, owing to the latter's discarding of their ancient customs. It's one of a series of suttas where the Buddha decries how the brahmins of his day had degenerated. To paraphrase:
1. Dogs only have sex with other dogs, whereas brahmins, though formerly having sex only with other brahmins, nowadays will do it with women from any caste.
2. Dogs only have sex when the bitch is in season, whereas brahmins will do it at any time.
3. Dogs don't buy and sell bitches, but rather, will mate according to mutual affection. Brahmins do buy and sell lady brahmins.
4. Dogs don't hoard silver, gold, grain etc., but brahmins do.
5. Dogs go looking for their evening meal in the evening and their morning meal in the morning. Brahmins stuff themselves silly and then keep the leftovers for the next meal.
"Verily, bhikkhus, these are the five ancient brahmin dhammas that are nowadays practised by dogs but not by brahmins."
The examples can be multiplied considerably, and the point is that we should not assume how the Dhamma is going to be expressed is going to conform to modern day sensibilities.
Another example that addresses the concern about expressing “polemics” in the expression of the Dhamma can be seen in the Buddha’s response to a claim made by the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, a text - the ideas contained within were - obviously familiar to the Buddha as they were to much of his audience.
Klaus Klostermaier's A SURVEY OF HINDUISM, pgs: 137-8, 149-50 wrote: "In the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad we read a dialogue in which Yajnavalkya is asked the crucial question: Kati devah, how many are the devas [gods]? His first answer is a quotation from a Vedic text:
'Three hundred and three and three thousand and three." Pressed
on, he reduces the number first to thirty-three, then to six, then to
three, to two, to one-and-a-half and finally to One.
'Which is the one deva [god]?' And he answers: "The prana (breath, life). The Brahman. He is called tyat(that).' Though the devas still figure in sacrificial practice and religious debate, the question 'Who is God?' is here answered in terms that has remained the Hindu answer ever since.
10. Verily, in the beginning this world was Brahman. It knew only itself
(atmanam): "I am Brahman!" Therefore it became the All. Whoever of the gods became awakened to this, he indeed became it; likewise in the case of seers (rsi), likewise in the case of men. Seeing this, indeed, the seer Vamadeva began:-
I was Manu and the sun (surya)!
This is so now also. Whoever thus knows "I am Brahman!" becomes this All; even the gods have not power to prevent his becoming thus, for he becomes their self (atman).
So whoever worships another divinity [than his Self], thinking "He is
one and I another," he knows not. He is like a sacrificial animal for the gods. Verily, indeed, as many animals would be of service to a man, even so each single person is of service to the gods. If even one animal is taken away, it is not pleasant. What, then, if many? Therefore it is not pleasing to those [gods] that men should know this.
11. Verily, in the beginning this world was Brahma, one only.
The All. The Buddha directly and radically challenges this statement with this fundamental statement of the Dhamma:
"Monks, I will teach you the all. And what is the all? The eye and forms, the ear and sounds the nose and odors, the tongue and tastes, the body and touch, the mind and mental phenomena. This is called the all. If anyone, monks, should speak thus: ' Having rejected this all, I shall make known another all' - that would be a mere empty boast."
SN IV 15.
What follows a rather biting caricature of the creation story of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad that pre-dates the Buddha.
There are, Bhaggava, some ascetics and Brahmins who declare as their doctrine that all things began with the creation by a god [issara, or ishvara, skt], or Brahma. I have gone to them and said: "Reverend sirs, is it true that you declare that all things began with the creation by a god, or Brahma?" "Yes", they replied. Then I asked: "In that case, how do the reverend teachers declare that this came about?" But they could not give an answer, and so they asked me in return. And I replied:
'There comes a time, monks, sooner or later after a long period, when this world contracts. At a time of contraction, beings are mostly reborn in the Abhassara Brahma world. And there they dwell, mind-made,' feeding on delight," self-luminous, moving through the air, glorious - and they stay like that for a very long time.
'But the time comes, sooner or later after a long period, when this world begins to expand. In this expanding world an empty palace of Brahma" appears. And then one being, from exhaustion of his life-span or of merits, falls from the Abhassara world and arises in empty Brahma- palace. And there he dwells, mind-made, feeding on delight, self- luminous, moving through the glorious - and he stays like that for a very long time.
'Then in this being who has been alone for so long there arises unrest, discontent and worry, and he thinks: "Oh, if only some other beings would come here!" And other beings, from exhaustion of their life-span or of their merits, fall from the Abhassara world and arise in the Brahma-palace as companions for this being. And there they dwell, mind-made. ... and they stayed like that for a very long time.
'And then, monks, that being who first arose there thinks: "I am Brahma, the Great God, the Omnipotent, the Omniscient, the Organizer, the Protection, the Creator, the Most Perfect Ruler, the Designer and Orderer, the Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be, He by Whom we were created, He is permanent, Constant, Eternal, Unchanging, and I will remain so for ever and ever."
These beings were created by me. How so? Because I first had this thought: 'Oh, if only some other beings would come here!' That was my wish, and then these beings came into this existence!" But those beings who arose subsequently think: "This, friends, is Brahma, the Great God, the Omnipotent, the Omniscient, the Organizer, the Protection, the Creator, the Most Perfect Ruler, the Designer and Orderer, the Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be, He by Whom we were created, He is permanent, Constant, Eternal, Unchanging, and He will remain so for ever and ever."
How so? We have seen that he was here first, and that we arose after him."
'And this being that arose first is longer-lived, more beautiful and more powerful than they are. And it may happen that some being falls from that realm and arises in this world. Having arisen in this world, he goes forth from the household life into homelessness. Having gone forth, he by means of effort, exertion, application, earnestness and right attention attains to such a degree of mental concentration that he thereby recalls his last existence, but recalls none before that. And he thinks: "That Brahma, ... he made us, and he is permanent, stable, eternal, not subject to change, the same for ever and ever. But we who were created by that Brahma, we are impermanent, unstable, short-lived, fated to fall away, and we have come to this world."
-- Digha Nikaya 24
Anguttara Nikaya 3.61: "Again, monks, I [the Buddha] approached those ascetic and brahmins and said to them: 'Is it true, as they say, that you venerable ones teach and hold the view that whatever a person experiences...all that is caused by God's creation?' When they affirmed it, I said to them: 'If that is so, venerable sirs, then it is due to God's creation that people kill, steal ... [and otherwise act badly]. But those who have recourse to God's creation as the decisive factor, will lack the impulse and the effort doing this or not doing that. Since for them, really and truly, no (motive) obtains that this or that ought to be done or not be done...."'
"If the pleasure and pain that beings feel are caused the creative act of a Supreme God [Issara-nimmana-hetu], then the Niganthas [Jains] surely must have been created by an evil Supreme God."
- MN II 222.
The idea of a god, issara
, who was characterized so: "That Worshipful Brahma, the Great God, the Omnipotent, the Omniscient, the Organizer, the Protection, the Creator, the Most Perfect Ruler, the Designer and Orderer, the Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be, He by Whom we were created, He is permanent, Constant, Eternal, Unchanging, and He will remain so for ever and ever."
(DN 24: iii 28) was obviously part of the very well known and accepted background within which the Buddha taught and to which he responded.
That the Buddha would say The universe is without a refuge, without a Supreme God
- is not at all out of keeping with statements made elsewhere in the suttas (as we see above), nor is it out of keeping with “four summaries of the Dhamma" of the Ratthapala Sutta, and the point of such a statement would not be lost on the audience who would be steeped in such ideas of a singular, unchanging issara
to whom we can appeal for protection and of which we imagine we are a part. The point is clearly stated there is no singular, unchanging thing to be found within the universe to which we can cling or hide behind or grasp onto or which we somehow are.