Kshatriya dominance in Nāstika Sects

There’s a popular misconception that “Buddhism is an anti-caste religion” persists among Neo-Buddhists in India who consider themselves of a modern sect Bhimyana that even rejects the petty concepts of Buddha’s teachings like four noble truths for their own timid interest. On the other hand, the Buddhists on foreign lands who have devotedly studied their religion through the source scriptures know Buddhism is essentially called an Ascetic Reformism patronized by royal elites that had concern for spiritual reform on an individual level than that of some social reform movement.

“What the noble ones say is the truth, what the others say is not true. And why is this? The noble ones understand things as they are, the common folk does not understand. Furthermore, they are called noble truths because they are possessed by those who own the wealth and assets of the noble ones. Furthermore, they are called noble truths because they are possessed by those who are conceived in the womb of a noble person.”

~ Mahāvibhāsā

“Ājāneya” or “the nobly-born” is a frequently used term in Buddhist texts. Lalitavistara preaches, only a Kshatriya and a Brahmin – both of which are the top two castes/varnas of the Brahmanic society – can become Bodhisattvas.

Early followers who were pioneers in Buddha’s movement take pride in Sakyamuni’s clan in Lalitavistara Sūtra:

“Any why, monks, did the Bodhisattva behold the family of his birth? Because a bodhisattva is not born into an inferior family, like a family of outcastes, flute makers, cartwrights, or servants. A bodhisattva is only born into one of two families – a priestly family or a family of the ruiling class. When the priestly families are dominant in the world, the bodhisattva is born into a priestly family. When the ruiling family is dominant in the world, the bodhisattva is born into a ruling-class family. Thus, monks, at this time the ruiling-class families were dominant in the world, so bodhisattvas were born into such families.”

Early Buddhist texts, Mahāvastu suggests the same:

“Bodhisattvas are born in one of the two classes of families, either noble or brahman. The family in which Bodhisattvas are born is endowed with sixty qualities. What sixty? Such a family, MahA-MaudgalyAyana, is distinguished, well-known and dignified. It is of high birth and lineage, with a long, distinguished and powerful ancestry, and rich in women and men. It is not greedy, nor convetous. It is without fear or baseness; it is intelligent, virtuous, not bent on hoarding riched, but rather making use of its wealth. It is steadfast in friendship, grateful and devout. Its conduct is not motived by partiality, nor by malice, nor by folly, nor by fear. It is irreproachable and hospitable. It is manly-minded, and steadfastly heroic. It honours shrines, devas and ancestors. It is zealous in duty, keen on charity, and intent upon religious observances. It maintains its continuity and is well spoken among families, and has ascendancy over other families. It wields great power and has a large, tireless, faithful and loyal retinue. It respects mothers, fathers, recluses, brahmans, and noble families. It is reach in wealth, treasuries and granaries and in servants. It is inviolable by strangers, adversaries and foes. That family, Maha-, in which Bodhisattva is born”

For the Buddha’s own disciples it was unimaginable that somebody belonging to inferior lineage could become a Buddha. They even had no problem Buddha have come from a Brahman caste. The varṇa of all 29 Bodhisattvas known in Buddhism are either Kshatriya or Brahmin. The future Buddha “Maitreya” was predicted by the Sakyamuni with the specification that he would be born in a Brahmin family of Ketumati in UttarPradesh.

Thus Buddha’s sect has preference for Brahmans and Kshyatriyas (khattiya) vaṇṇas – while he has nothing to do with so-called impure castes like vaishyas (vessas) and sudras (suddas). More than 80 percent of the hundreds of men Sakyamuni recruited in monastic order were from the upper castes, with more than 40 percent being Brahmins. Since the importantance of Vaishyas and Sudras in Buddhism is gone case, the rest prevail Brahmins and Kshatriyas. We’ll talk about these two varnas only.

[I will write an essay specifically about Buddhist perspective on Chandalas another time]

Let’s begin with Ambattha Sutta of Pali canon where Sakyamuni Gautama had a conversation with a young Brahmin, Ambattha.

Gautama asks, “What think you, Ambattha? Suppose a young Kshatriya should have a connection with Brahman maiden, and from their intercourse a son should be born. Now would the son thus come to the Brahman maiden through the Kshatriya youth receive a seat and water (as tokens of respect) from the Brahmans?”

“Yes, he would Gotama.”

‘But would the Brahmans allow him to partake of the feast offered to the dead, or of the food boiled in milk, or of the offerings to the gods, or of food sent as a present?’

‘Yes, they would, Gotama.’

‘But would the Brahmans teach him their verses or not?’

‘They would, Gotama.’

‘But would he be shut off, or not, from their women?’

‘He would not be shut off.’

‘But would the Kshatriyas allow him to receive the consecration ceremony of a Kshatriya?’

‘Certainly not, Gotama.’

‘Why not that?’

‘Because he is not of pure descent on the mother’s side.’

25. ‘Then what think you, Ambattha? Suppose a Brahman youth should have connection with a Kshatriya maiden, and from their intercourse a son should be born. Now would the son thus come to the Kshatriya maiden through the Brahman youth receive a seat and water (as tokens of respect) from the Brahmans?’

‘Yes, he would, Gotama.’

‘But would the Brahmans allow him to partake of the feast offered to the dead, or of food boiled in milk, or of an offering to the gods, or of food sent as a present?’

‘Yes, they would, Gotama.’

‘But would the Brahmans teach him their verses or not?’

‘They would, Gotama.’

‘But would he be shut off, or not, from their women?’

‘He would not, Gotama.’

‘But would the Kshatriyas allow him to receive the consecration ceremony of a Kshatriya?’

‘Certainly not, Gotama.’

‘Why not that?’

‘Because he is not of pure descent on the father’s side.’

26. ‘Then, Ambattha, whether one compares women with women, or men with men, the Kshatriyas are higher and the Brahmans inferior.

‘And what think you, Ambattha? Suppose the Brahmans, for some offence or other, were to outlaw a Brahman by shaving him and pouring ashes over his head, were to banish him from the land or from the township. Would he be offered a seat or water among the Brahmans?’

‘Certainly not, Gotama.’

‘Or would the Brahmans allow him to partake of the food offered to the dead, or of the food boiled in milk, or of the offerings to the gods, or of food sent as a present?’

‘Certainly not, Gotama.’

‘Or would the Brahmans teach him their verses or not?’

‘Certainly not, Gotama.’

‘And would he be shut off, or not, from their women?’

‘He would be shut off.’

27. ‘But what think you, Ambattha? If the Kshatriyas had in the same way outlawed a Kshatriya, and banished him from the land or the township, would he, among the Brahmans, be offered water and a seat?’

‘Yes, he would, Gotama.’

‘And would he be allowed to partake of the food offered to the dead, or of the food boiled in milk, or of the offerings to the gods, or of food sent as a present?’

‘He would, Gotama.’

‘And would the Brahmans teach him their verses?’

‘They would, Gotama?’

‘And would he be shut off, or not, from their women?’

‘He would not, Gotama.’

‘But thereby, Ambattha, the Kshatriya would have fallen into the deepest degradation, shaven as to his head, cut dead with the ash-basket, banished from land and township. So that, even when a Kshatriya has fallen into the deepest degradation. still it holds good that the Kshatriyas are higher, and the Brahmans inferior.

Okay, so now that you know who’s superior and who’s inferior from Sakyamuni’s perspective, let’s move on to another term “chakravartin” a term fondly seen in both the Astika (theist) sects And NAstika (atheistic) sects like Buddhism and Jainism. Buddhist Mahaparinibbana sutta records Buddha’s last wish to treat this body like a Kshytriya chakravrtin after his demise. Who were Chakravrtins and what it has to do with a caste if Buddhism is anti-caste?

“Chakravrtin” are characterized as wheel turning universal monarch or the ruler of the rulers. Buddhist text Lakkhana Sutta describes a man with thirty two noble marks is designated to be either a Bodhisattva or a righteous Chakravrti who’s conqueror of four quarter and possesses seven treasures (the Wheel treasure, the Elephant treasure, the Horse treasure, the Jewel treasure, the Woman treasure, the Householder treasure, the Counsellor treasure).

It’s further elaborated in Mahasudassana sutta telling only an anointed Kshatriya can become a Chakravartin:

Once, on a fast-day, the divine Wheel appeared to king Maha Sudassana,with its thousand spokes, rim and hub,
and complete in all aspects.On seeing it, King Mahasudassana thought: ‘I have heard that when a properly anointed Kshatriya king sees such a wheel on the fast-day of the fifteenth, he will become a wheel-turning monarch(Chakravartin). May I become such a monarch!’

The funeral of Sakyamuni Gautama was performed according to royal Kshatriya rituals as per his own advice recorded in Mahanirvana sutta:

“The body of a universal monarch, Vasetthas, is first wrapped around with new linen and the then with teased cotton wool. And again it is wrapped round with new linen and again with teased cotton wool, and so it is done upto five hundred layers of linen and five hundred of cotton wool. When that is done, the body of the universal monarch is placed in an iron oil-vessel, which is enclosed in another iron vessel and a funeral pyre is built of all kinds of perfumed wood, and so the body of the universal monarch is burned. And at a crossroads a stupa is raised for the universal monarch. So it is done, Vasetthas, with the body of a universal monarch”.

Following his demise, the relics of Buddha were claimed by various Vedic Kshatriya clans on basis of their caste identity just like Buddha did. Ajatasattu, King of Magadha, Licchavis of Vesali, Sakyas of Kapilavatthu, Bulis of Allakappa, Kolis of Ramagama, Vethadipa brahman, Mallas of Pava – were considered as worthy to receive portions of the relics based on their warrior clan identity. This royal patronage was the main reason why Buddhism succeeded in becoming a world religion where most other contemporary sects disappeared in time.

Similar to Buddhist texts, the Jain sect also equates the ideal Chakravatin monarch with the enlightened Tīrthaṅkara but without any mention of thirty-two noble marks. Unlike Buddhism, the Jain version states that the mother of Chakravartin or Tīrthaṅkara would see sixteen auspicious dreams before becoming pregnant with a Chakravartin or Tīrthaṅkara in her womb.

Bharata, the eldest son of Rishabhanatha, was the first chakravartin according to the Jain texts. In fact, according to source texts, it was Bharata who established a new caste Brahmin in addition to the three-tiered caste system (consisting of Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Sudras) initiated by his father and the first Tīrthaṅkara Rishabhanatha. Bharata like all the other Chakravrtins and Jain was born in a prestigious Kṣatriya family of the Ikshvaku dynasty.

In Jain text Kalpasūtra, it’s written the last Jain Tīrthaṅkara Mahavira was first destined to born from the womb of a Brāhmaṇa woman. Since Tīrthaṅkara-s should only take birth in superior families like Kṣatriyas and not in the Brāhmaṇa families, the Gods transplanted the embryo in the womb of a Kṣatriya woman. Morever, all the 24 Tirthankaras in Jainism were born in high caste Kṣatriya lineage.

Like their parent tradition, the Jain adherents also practice the institution of caste, perform 16 samskaras prescribed for the first three varna (castes) of Hindus: Brahmin, Kshyatriya, Vaishya and adore deities of the Hindu pantheons like Buddhism does.

Thus even though Nāstika sects like Buddhism and Jainism rejected the core Vedic rituals and the authority of Veda, they didn’t reject Vedic Culture altogether. To make a long story short, they should be viewed as Kṣatriya revisionism questioning the Brāhmaṇa authority of its times and as integral elements of Sanatan Hindu Dharma.

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