Sakka asked the Buddha: “Do different religious teachers head for the same goal or practice the same disciplines or aspire to the same thing?” “No, Sakka, they do not. And why? This world is made up of myriad different states of being, and people adhere to one or another of these states and become tenaciously possessive of them, saying, ‘This alone is true, everything else is false.’ It is like a territory that they believe is theirs. So all religious teachers do not teach the same goal or the same discipline, nor do they aspire to the same thing. But if you find truth in any religion or philosophy, then accept that truth without prejudice.
Sakka is a god, and the Buddha is often portrayed as having conversations with deities in which he gives them spiritual instruction or sometimes (notably in the case of Brahma) shows them up as being pompous blowhards.
“Digha Nikaya” means “Long collection” and it contains 34 suttas (discourses), arranged in three chapters. This particular sutta is the Sakkapañha Sutta, or “Discourse on Sakka’s questions.”
And this particular English rendition is from Anne Bancroft’s “The Buddha Speaks.” This is not the American actress, but an English Buddhist who was, many years ago, part of the same order I was ordained into in 1993. She’s now very elderly, but the last I heard of her she was still going strong. She didn’t ever study Pali to the best of my knowledge, and produced a version of the Dhammapada that is really very inaccurate, and that created at least one Fake Buddha Quote. The whole phenomenon of getting people who don’t know a language to do “translations” is very odd.
It’s the sentence at the end of the long quote above that’s the problem. It’s just not in the sutta! I assume that Bancroft added it herself, although it’s conceivable someone else did and she merely copied it.
Version by Sujato
Here’s Bhikkhu Sujato’s version. I’ve gone on a bit beyond the end of the passage above, so that you can see that there’s nothing corresponding to the sentence in question:
And then Sakka asked another question:
“Dear sir, do all ascetics and brahmins have the same doctrine, ethics, desires, and attachments?” “No, lord of gods, they do not.”
“Why not?” “The world has many and diverse elements. Whatever element sentient beings insist on in this world of many and diverse elements, they obstinately stick to it, insisting that: ‘This is the only truth, other ideas are stupid.’ That’s why not all ascetics and brahmins have the same doctrine, ethics, desires, and attachments.”
“Dear sir, have all ascetics and brahmins reached the ultimate end, the ultimate sanctuary, the ultimate spiritual life, the ultimate goal?” “No, lord of gods, they have not.”
Version by Thanissaro
And here’s Thanissaro’s version, which again I’ve run on to the start of the next section:
Then Sakka, having delighted in & expressed his approval of the Blessed One’s words, asked him a further question: “Dear sir, do all brahmans & contemplatives teach the same doctrine, adhere to the same precepts, desire the same thing, aim at the same goal?”
“No, deva-king, not all brahmans & contemplatives teach the same doctrine, adhere to the same precepts, desire the same thing, aim at the same goal.”
“Why, dear sir, don’t all brahmans & contemplatives teach the same doctrine, adhere to the same precepts, desire the same thing, aim at the same goal?”
“The world is made up of many properties, various properties. Because of the many & various properties in the world, then whichever property living beings get fixated on, they become entrenched & latch onto it, saying, ‘Only this is true; anything else is worthless.’ This is why not all brahmans & contemplatives teach the same doctrine, adhere to the same precepts, desire the same thing, aim at the same goal.”
“But, dear sir, are all brahmans & contemplatives utterly complete, utterly free from bonds, followers of the utterly holy life, utterly consummate?”
As far as I’m aware there’s nothing corresponding to “But if you find truth in any religion or philosophy, then accept that truth without prejudice” in the scriptures. If you’ve seen it, please let me know.
Other Corresponding Teachings
I don’t think that the Buddha would have disagreed with the statement, though, based on other things that he said. To the Kalamas, who were confused by the many contradictory teachings they heard, he taught, “When you yourselves know: ‘These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,’ enter on and abide in them.”
And this next one isn’t the Buddha, but Ananda, one of his chief disciples answering a question put to him by the Buddha about whether all paths of practice are valid. But the Buddha, having heard Ananda’s response, approves:
“When — by following a life of precept & practice, a life, a holy life that is followed as of essential worth — one’s unskillful mental qualities decline while one’s skillful mental qualities increase: that sort of precept & practice, life, holy life that is followed as of essential worth is fruitful.”
And at another time Ananda says something along the same lines:
Those who teach a Dhamma [teaching] for the abandoning of passion, for the abandoning of aversion, for the abandoning of delusion — their Dhamma is well-taught. Those who have practiced for the abandoning of passion, for the abandoning of aversion, for the abandoning of delusion — they have practiced well in this world.
So the quote in question is aligned with the Buddha’s teaching but since it doesn’t appear to be something he’s recorded as having said, it would be best not to refer to it as being one of his sayings.
Incidentally, you might have noticed, as you compared the three versions of the Sakkapañha Sutta above, that there’s nothing in Sujato or Thanissaro’s versions that corresponds to “It is like a territory that they believe is theirs.” That seems to be another interpolation.