A young brahmin, sixteen years old, of Sāvatthi, very learned in the Vedas and allied subjects. Five hundred brahmins staying in the city asked him to hold a discussion with the Buddha and refute his views. He agreed only after repeated requests, because, he said, Gotama was a thinker with views of his own and, therefore, difficult to defeat in debate.
He visits the Buddha and asks what he has to say concerning the claims of the brahmins to be the only superior class, the legitimate sons of Brahma.
The Buddha points out to him that such pretensions are baseless, and that virtue, which alone leads to purity, can be cultivated by any of the four classes.
Assalāyana sits silent and upset at the end of the discourse, but when the Buddha relates to him a story of the past where Asita Devala had defeated brahmins who held these same views, Assalāyana feels relieved and expresses his admiration of the Buddha’s exposition. He declares himself a follower of the Buddha (M.ii.147 ﬀ).
Buddhaghosa (MA.ii.785) tells us further that Assalāyana became a devoted follower of the faith and built a cetiya in his own residence for worship, and that all his descendants, down to Buddhaghosa’s day, built similar cetiyas in their houses.
Assalāyana is probably to be identified with the father of MahāKoṭṭhika, his wife being Candavati. There is, however, one difficulty connected with this theory: MahāKoṭṭhika says that he was won over to the faith after hearing the same discourse of the Buddha as converted his father (yadā me pitaraṃ Buddho vinayī sabbasuddhiyā) (ThagA.i.31; Ap.ii.480). It is unlikely, if the identification be correct, that this refers to the Assalāyana Sutta, because at the time of that Sutta, Assalāyana was only sixteen years old; but there exists no record of any other sutta taught to Assalāyana, dealing with “sabbasuddhi.”
Assalayāna’s name occurs in a list of eminent brahmins found in the Suttanipāta Commentary (i.372).