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THE early history of the Buddhists should properly begin far enough back before the birth of the Buddha to throw light on the causes that were at work in producing the rise and progress of the Buddhist reformer. Unfortunately, even after all that has been written on the subject of early Buddhist chronology, we are still uncertain as to the exact date of the Buddha's birth. The date 483 BC which is adopted in this History must still be regarded as provisional. The causes of this uncertainty which were explained by the present writer in 1877 still remain the same:

"If the date for Asoka is placed too early in the Ceylon (Sri Lanka) chronicles, can we still trust the 218 years which they allege to have elapsed from the commencement of the Buddhist era down to the time of Asoka? If so we have only to add that number to the correct date of Asoka, and thus fix the Buddhist era [the date of the Buddha's death at 483 BC or shortly after. Of the answer to this question, there can I think, be no doubt. We can not".

This statement was followed by an analysis of the details of the lists of kings and teachers, the length of whose reigns or lives, added together, amount to this period of 218 years. The analysis shows how little the list can be relied on. The fact is that all such calculations are of very doubtful validity when they have to be made backwards for any lengthened period. Sinologists, Assyriologists, Egyptologists have not been able to agree on results sought by this method; and, though Archbishop Usher's attempt to discover in this way, from the Hebrew records, the correct date of the creation was long accepted, it is now mere matter for derision. As is well known, even the Christian chronologists, though the interval they had to cover was very short, were wrong in their calculation of our Christian era. The Ceylon chroniclers may have been as much more wrong as the interval they had to account for was longer. We must admit that they tried their best, and were not so utterly at sea as the Irish church-dignitary. But we do not even know who made the calculation. We first hear of it in the fourth century AD, and are only entitled to conclude that at that date the belief in the 218 years was accepted by most of those Buddhists who continued in possession of the ancient traditions.

There have been endeavors, on the basis of other traditions, to arrive at a more exact date for the birth of the Buddha. It is sufficient to state that each of these is open to still more serious objection. We must be satisfied to accept, as a working hypothesis only, and not as an ascertained fact, the general belief among modern European scholars that the period for the Buddha's activity may be approximately assigned to the sixth century BC.

In previous chapters of this volume will be found the story, drawn from the Brahman literature, of the gradual establishment in Northern India of the Aryan supremacy. For the period just before the rise of Buddhism (say the seventh century BC) this literature tells us very little about political movements. The Buddhist books also are devoted to ideas rather than to historical events, and pass over, as of no value to their main objects, the dates and doings and dynastic vicissitudes of the kinglets before their own time. The fact that they do so is historically important; and we should do wrong in ignoring, in a history of India, the history of the ideas held by the Indian peoples. But the fact remains. It is only quite incidentally that we can gather, from stories, anecdotes, or legends in these books, any information that can be called political. Of that referring to the pre-Buddhist period the most important is perhaps the list of the Sixteen Great Powers, or the Sixteen Great Nations, found in several places in the early books . It is a mere mnemonic list and runs as follows :


1. Anga 2. Magadha 3. Kasi 4. Kosala 5. Vajji 6. Malla 7. Cheti 8. Vamsa 9. Kuru 10. Panchala 11. Maccha 12. Surasena 13. Assaka 14. Avantl 15. Gandhara 16. Kamboja


When a mnemonic phrase or verse of this kind is found in identical terms in different parts of the various anthologies of which the Buddhist canon consists, the most probable explanation is that it had been current in the community before the books were put together as we now have them, and that it is therefore older than those collections in which it is found. As this particular list is found in two of the oldest books in the canon it would follow that it is, comparatively speaking, very old. It may even be pre-Buddhist, a list handed down among the bards, and adopted from them by the early Buddhists. For it does not fitly describe the conditions which, as we know quite well, prevailed during the Buddha's life-time. Then the Kosala mountaineers had already conquered Benares (Kasi), the Angas were absorbed into the kingdom of Magadhas, and the Assakas probably belonged to Avanti. In our list all these three are still regarded as independent and important nations; and that the list is more or less correct for a period before the rise of Buddhism is confirmed by an ancient rune preserved in the Digha , and reproduced (in a very corrupt form, it is true) in one of the oldest Sanskrit-Buddhist texts. It runs :


Dantapura of the Kalingas, and Potana of the Assakas,

Mahissati for the Avantis, Roruka in the Sovira land,

Mithila for the Videhas, and Champa among the Angas,

And Benares for the Kasis all these did Maha-Govinda plan.


We have here seven territories evidently, from the context, regarded as the principal ones, before the rise of Buddhism, in the centre of what was then known as Jambudipa (India). Though quite independent of the list just discussed these mnemonic verses tell a similar story. Here also appear the Assakas, Angas, and Kasis. Only the Kalingas are added; and the name of their capital, Dantapura, “the Tooth city”, shows incidentally that the sacred tooth, afterwards taken from Dantapura to Ceylon was believed, when this list was drawn up, to have been already an object of reverence before the time of the Buddha. This tradition of a pre-Buddhist Dantapura, frequently referred to in the Jatakas, is thus shown to be really of much greater age. And it is clear that at the tune when the four Nikayas were put into their present form it was believed that, before the Buddha's life-time, the distribution of power in Northern India, had been different from what it afterwards became.

In an appendix to the Digha verse the names of the seven kings of the seven nations are given, and it is curious that they are called the seven Bharatas. Their names are Sattabhu, Brahmadatta, Vessabhu, Bharata, Renu, and two Dhataratthas; but the record does not tell us which of the seven nations each belongs to. In an interesting story at Jataka III, 470, the hero is Bharata, king of the Soviras, reigning at Roruva. This is most probably meant for the same man as the Bharata of the Digha passage; and we may therefore apportion him to the Soviras. The mention of Renu in a list of ancient kings of Benares given in the Dip. III, 38-40, probably refers to the Renu of our passage since the same rare name is given in both places as the name of the father of Renu. On the other hand the King Renu of Jataka IV, 144, is evidently not meant to be the same as this one. Three of the other four names also recur (not Sattabhu); but no inference can be drawn that the same people are meant.

There are lists of pre-Buddhist Rajas (whatever that term may signify) in the chronicles and commentaries. But they can only be evidence of beliefs held at a late date; they have not yet been tabulated or sifted; and it would not be safe to hazard a prophecy that, even when they shall have been, there will be found anything of much value.



There is no chapter or even paragraph in the early Pali books describing the political conditions of North India during the life-time of the Buddha. But there are a considerable number of incidental references, all the more valuable perhaps because they are purely incidental, that, if collected and arranged, give us a picture, no doubt imperfect, but still fairly correct as far as it goes, of the general conditions, as they appeared to the composers of the paragraphs in which the incidental references occur. They were collected in the present writer's Buddhist India; and to that work the reader is referred for a fuller account. Considerations of space render it possible to state here only the more important of the conclusions which these references compel us to draw.

Of these the most far-reaching, is the fact that we find not only one or two main monarchies, but also a number of republics; some with a more or less modified independence; and two of very considerable power. This reminds us of the political situation at about the same period in Greece. We shall find a similar analogy, due to similar causes, in other matters also. If not pressed too far the analogy will be as useful as it is certainly interesting.

The following is a list of the republics actually referred to by name in the oldest Pali records. Some mentioned by Megasthenes are added to it.

1. The Sakiyas, capital Kapilavatthu

2. The Bulis, capital Allakappa

3. The Kalamas, capital Kesaputta

4. The Bhaggas, capital on Surpsumara Hill

5. The Koliyas, capital Ramagama

6. The Mallas, capital Pava

7. The Mallas, capital Kusinara

8. The Moriyas, capital Pipphalivana

9. The Videhas, capital Mithila

10. The Licchavis, capital Vesali

11-15. Tribes, as yet unidentified, mentioned by Megasthenes


Nos. 1-10 occupied in the sixth century B.C. the whole country east of Kosala between the mountains and the Ganges. Those mentioned, as is reported in other authors, by Megasthenes seem to have dwelt in his time on the sea-coast of the extreme west of India north of the gulf of Cutch . It is naturally in relation to the Sakiyas that we have the greatest amount of detail. Their territory included the lower slopes of the Himalayas, and the glorious view of the long range of snowy peaks is visible, weather permitting, from every part of the land. We do not know its boundaries or how far it extended up into the hills or down into the plains. But the territory must have been considerable. We hear of a number of towns besides the capital Chatuma, Samagama, Khomadussa, Silavati, Medalumpa, Nagaraka, Ulumpa, Devadaha, and Sakkara. And according to an ancient tradition preserved in the Commentary on the Digha there were 80,000 sakiyans, or chief of clans, with a population of at least half a million. It would be absurd to take this tradition as a correct, but it would be equally absurd deliberately to ignore it. It is at least interesting to find that even as late as Buddhaghosa the traditional estimate of the number of the Sakiyans was still, in spite of the temptation to magnify the extent of the kingdom which the Buddha renounced, so limited and so reasonable as this.

The administrative business of the clan, and also the more important judicial acts, were carried out in public assembly, at which young and old were alike present. The meetings were held in a mote-hall a mere roof supported by pillars, without walls. It is called santhagara, a technical term never used of the council chamber of kings.

We have no account of the manner in which the proceedings were conducted in the Sakiya mote-hall. But in the Maha-Govinda Suttanta there is an account of a palaver in Sakka's heaven, evidently modeled more or less on the proceedings in a clan meeting. All are seated in a specified order. After the president has laid the proposed business before the assembly others speak upon it, and Recorders take charge of the unanimous decision arrived at. The actions of gods are drawn in imitation of those of men. We may be sure that the composers and repeaters of this story, themselves for the most part belonging to the free clans (and, if not, to neighboring clans familiar with tribal meetings) would make use of their knowledge of what was constantly done at the mote-hall assemblies. This is confirmed by the proceedings adopted in the rules observed at formal meetings of the Chapters of the Buddhist Order. Quite a number of cases are given in the Canon Law; and in no single case, apparently, is there question of deciding the point at issue by voting on a motion moved. Either the decision is regarded as unanimous; or, if difference of opinion is manifest, then the matter is referred for arbitration to a committee of referees. It is even quite possible that certain of the technical terms found in the Rules of the Order (natti for motion, ubbahika for reference to arbitration, etc.), are taken from those in use at the mote-halls of the free clans. But however that may be, we are justified by this evidence in concluding that the method of procedure generally adopted in the mote-halls was not, as in modern parliaments, by voting on a motion, but rather as just above explained.

A single chief (how or for what period chosen we do not know) was elected as office holder, presiding over the Senate, and, if no senate were in session, over the state. He bore the title of Raja which in this connection does not mean king, but rather something like the Roman consul, or the Greek archon. We hear at one time that Bhaddiya, a young cousin of the Buddha was raja, at another that the Buddha's father Suddhodana (elsewhere spoken of as a simple clansman, Suddhodana the Sakiyan), held that rank.

We hear of mote-halls at some of the other towns besides the capital, Kapilavatthu. And no doubt all the more important places had them. The local affairs of each village were carried on in open assembly of the householders held in the groves which, then as now, formed so distinctive a feature in the long and level alluvial plain.

The clan subsisted on the produce of their rice fields and their cattle. The villages were of grouped, not scattered, huts on the margin of the rice field. The cattle wandered in harvest time, under the charge of a village herdsman, through the adjoining forest (of which the village groves were a remnant), and over which the Sakiyan peasantry had common rights. Men of certain special crafts, most probably not Sakiyans by birth carpenters, smiths, and potters for instance had villages of their own; and so also had the Brahmans whose services were often in request for all kinds of magic. The villages were separated one from another by forest jungle, the remains of the Great Wood (the Mahavana), portions of which are so frequently mentioned as still surviving throughout the clanships. The jungle was infested from time to time by robbers, sometimes runaway slaves. But we hear of no crime (and there was probably not very much) in the villages themselves each of them a tiny self-governed republic.

Tradition tells that the neighboring clan, the Koliyas, were closely related by descent with the Sakiyas; but we are not told much about the former. Five of their townships besides the capital are referred to by name: Halidda-vasana, Sajjanela, Sapuga, Uttara, and Kakkara-patta. Every Koliyan was a Vyagghapajja by surname, just as every Sakiyan was a Gotama; and in tradition the name of their capital Ramagama, so called after the Rama who founded it, is once given as either Kolanagara or Vyagghapajja. The central authorities of the clan were served by a body of peons or police, distinguished, as by a kind of uniform, by a special form of head-dress. These men had a bad reputation for extortion and violence. In the other clans we are told only of ordinary servants. The tradition that the Koliyans and Sakiyans built a dam over the river Rohini which separated their territories, and that they afterwards quarreled over the distribution of the store of water, may very well be founded on fact.

Of the form of government in the Vajjian confederacy, comprising the Licchavis, the Videhas, and other clans, we have two traditions, Jain and Buddhist. They are not very clear, and do not refer to the same matters, the Jain being on military affairs, while the Buddhist refers to judicial procedure.




Kosala was the most important of the kingdoms in North India during the lifetime of the Buddha. Its exact boundaries are not known. But it must have bordered on the Ganges in its sweep downwards in a south-easterly direction from the Himalayas to the plains at the modern Allahabad. Its northern frontier must have been in the hills, in what is now Nepal; its southern boundary was the Ganges; and its eastern boundary was the eastern limit of the Sakiya territory. For the Sakiyas, as one of our oldest documents leads us to infer, claimed to be Kosalans. The total extent of Kosala was therefore but little less than that of France today. At the same time it is not probable that the administration was very much centralized. The instance of the very thorough Home Rule enjoyed, as we have seen, by the Sakiyas should make us alive to the greater probability that autonomous local bodies, with larger power than the village communities, which were of course left undisturbed, were still in existence throughout this wide territory.

One or two of the technical terms in use to describe such powers have survived. Raja-bhogga for example is the expression for a form of tenure peculiar to India. The holder of such a tenure, the raja-bhoggo, was empowered to exact all dues accruing to the government within the boundaries of the district or estate granted to him. But he had not to render to government any account of the dues thus received by him. They were his perquisite. He could hold his own courts, and occupied in many ways the position of a baron, or lord of the manor. But there was a striking difference. He could draw no rent. The peasantry had to pay him the tithe of the rice grown; and though the amount was not always strictly a tithe, and by royal decree could be varied in different localities, the grantee could not vary it. So with the import, or ferry, or octroi duties. The rate of payment, and the places at which the levy could be made, were fixed by the government. We have not enough cases of this tenure to be able to interpret with certainty the meaning of all the details, and limits of space prevent a discussion of them here. But the general principle is quite clear. It shows how easy would be the grant to local notabilities of local government to this extent, and how narrow was the line of distinction between the collection of dues by civil servants or farmers of the taxes and their collection by a grantee in this way. This custom, thus traced back to so early a period in the history of India, seems never to have fallen into abeyance. It certainly, in the period under discussion, was of manifest advantage. But it must be admitted that it is, to English ideas, very strange so strange that our civilians made the mistake, in Bengal, of regarding all such persons legally empowered to collect the land-tax as landlords, and of endowing them accordingly with the much greater privileges and powers of the English landlord. In the Buddhist period there is no evidence of the existence, in North India, of landlords in our sense of that term.

It was the rise of this great power, Kosala, in the very centre of Northern India, which was the paramount factor in the politics of the time before the Buddhist reform. We do not know the details of this rise. But there are purely incidental references imbedded in the ethical teachings in the Buddhist books which afford us at least hints as to the final manner of it, and as to the date of it. For instance we have the story of Dighavu in the Vinaya. There Brahmadatta, king of Kasi, invades Kosala, when Dighiti was king at Savatthi, and conquered and annexed the whole country; but finally restored it to Dighiti's son, with whom he had become on very friendly terms. Other traditions inform us on the other hand of several invasions of the Kasi country by the then kings of Kosala, Vanka, Dabbasena, and Kamsa. And when that most excellent story, the Rajovada Jataka-  as good in humor as it is in ethics - was first put together to represent two kings in conflict, the quite natural idea was to fix upon kings of Kosala and Kasi, and the author does so accordingly.

No references have so far been found in the books as to any contests between Kosala and any other tribe or nationality. It would seem therefore that the gradual absorption into Kosala of the clans and tribes in the northern part of Kosala as we know it in the Buddha’s time took place without any such battle, campaign, or siege as was sufficiently striking to impress the popular imagination; but that when Kosala came into contact with Kasi there ensued a struggle, with varying result and lasting through several reigns, which ended in the complete subjugation of the Kasi country by Kamsa, king of Kosala.

As to the approximate period of these events, we see that they were supposed to have taken place not only, before the time of Pasenadi, who was born about the same time as the Buddha and lived about as long, but also before the time of his father the Great Kosalan. We have four kings of Kosala mentioned as taking part in these wars, and cannot be sure that there were not others who had quieter reigns. It would be enough and more than enough to allow, in round numbers, a century for all these kings. And the period cannot be much longer than that. For the name Brahmadatta could not have been older than towards the close of the Brahmana literature; and a century and a half before the birth of the Buddha would about bring us to that.

The king of Kosala in the Buddha's time was Pasenadi. He was of the same age as the Teacher; and though never actually converted, was very favorable to the new movement, adopted its more elementary teachings, and was fond of calling upon the Buddha either to consult him or simply for conversation. A whole book of the Samyutta is devoted to such talks, and others are recorded elsewhere. They are mostly on religion or ethics, but some political and personal matters are occasionally mentioned incidentally.

For instance five rajas are introduced discussing a point in psychology with Pasenadi. Whatever the title may exactly imply it is probable that we have the leaders of five clans or communities that, formerly independent, had, at that time, been absorbed into Kosala. Again we hear of a double campaign. In the first Ajatasattu, king of Magadha, attacks Pasenadi in the Kasi country and compels him to take refuge in Savatthi. In the second, Pasenadi comes down again into the plains, defeats Ajatasattu, and captures him alive. Then he restores to him the possession of his camp and army, and lets him go free. The commentaries inform us that he also gave him, on this occasion his daughter Vajira, to wife. They also give the reasons for the dispute between the two kings; but this will be better dealt with under the next heading. Another conversation arises when the king comes to tell the teacher of the death of his (the king's) grand-mother for whom he expressed his deep devotion and esteem. She had died at a great age, specified as 120 years, no doubt a round number. At another talk Sumana, the king's sister, is present, and becomes converted. Desiring to enter the Order she refrains from doing so in order to take care of this same old lady, and attains Arahantship while still a lay-woman. The last and longest talk between the two friends took place at Medalumpa in the Sakiya country. The king, in much trouble with his family and ministers, expressed his admiration, and possibly also some envy, at the manner in which the teacher preserved peace in his Order. He then took his last leave with a striking declaration of his devotion. But even as they were talking the crisis had come. The tradition records that the minister in whose charge the insignia had been left when the king went on alone, had in his absence, proclaimed the king's son, Vidudabha, as king. Pasenadi found himself deserted by all his people. He hurried away to Rajagaha to get help from Ajatasattu, and, worn out by worry and fatigue, he died outside the gates of the city. Ajatasattu gave him a state funeral, but naturally enough left Vidudabha un- disturbed.

The first use the latter made of his new position was to invade the Sakiya territory, and slaughter as many of the clan men, women, and children as he could catch. Many however escaped, and it is, perhaps, to this remnant that we owe the Piprahwa Tope discovered by Mr Peppé. Elsewhere it has been shown that the reasons given for this invasion were probably not the real ones. But why should the Buddhists have taken pains so elaborately to explain away the fact, unless the fact itself had been indisputable? This is the last we know of Kosala. We hear nothing more of Vidudabha, or of his successors if he had any. When the curtain rises again Kosala has been absorbed into Magadha.



This was a narrow strip of country of some considerable length from north to south, and about twelve to fifteen per cent, in area of the size of Kosala. Just as Kosala corresponded very nearly to the present province of Oudh, but was somewhat larger, so Magadha corresponded in the time of the Buddha to the modern district of Patna, but with the addition of the northern half of the modern district of Gaya. The inhabitants of this region still call it Maga, a name doubtless derived from Magadha. The boundaries were probably the Ganges to the north, the Son to the west, a dense forest reaching to the plateau of Chota Nagpur to the south, and Anga to the east. The river Champa had been the boundary between Magadha and Anga; but in the Buddha's time Anga was subject to Magadha it is the king, not of Anga, but of Magadha, who makes a land-grant in Anga (that is a grant of the government tithe), and an Anga village is one of the eighty thousand parishes over which the king of Magadha holds rule and sovereignty. All the clansmen in each of these two countries are called by Buddhaghosa, princes (exactly as he elsewhere calls the Sakiyas and Licchavis). The same writer says that the two kingdoms amounted together to three hundred leagues. It is reasonable to suppose, as he was born and bred in Magadha, that he was not so very far wrong. But this is said in reference to the time of Bimbisara. Later on he estimates the area of the whole of the United Kingdom of Magadha, in the time of Ajatasattu, at five hundred leagues. We may conclude from this that, according to the tradition handed down to Buddhaghosa, the size of the kingdom had nearly doubled in the interval. This would be about correct if the allusion were to Ajatasattu’s conquests north of the Ganges. As Buddhaghosa however seems to use the larger figures of a date, not after, but at the beginning of those conquests, other wars of which we have no record, to the east or south, may be meant.

The king of Magadha in the Buddha's time, was Bimbisara. Of his principal queens one was the Kosala Devi, daughter of Maha-Kosala, and sister therefore of Pasenadi; another was Chellana, daughter of a chieftain of the Licchavis; and a third was Khema, daughter of the king of Madda in the Punjab. If the traditions of these relationships be correct they are eloquent witnesses to the high estimate held in other countries of the then political importance of Magadha.

Bimbisara had a son known as Vedehi-putto Ajatasattu in the canonical Pali texts, and as Kunika by the Jains. The later Buddhist tradition makes him a son of the Kosala-Devi; the Jain tradition, confirmed by the standing epithet of Vedehi-putto, son of the princess of Videha, in the older Buddhist books, makes him a son of Chellana. Buddhaghosa has preserved what is no doubt the traditional way of explaining away the evidence contained in the epithet. But the matter cannot be further discussed here.

One of the very oldest fragments preserved in the canon is a ballad on the first meeting of Bimbisara and Gotama. In the ballad the latter is called “the Buddha”. But the meeting took place about seven years before he became the Buddha in our modern sense; and this unwonted use of a now familiar title would have been impossible in any later document. Gotama has only just started on his search for truth. The king, with curious density, offers to make him a captain, and give him wealth. It will be noticed that the king still resides in the palace of the old capital at the Giribbaja, the Hill Fort. Some years afterwards when Gotama returns as a teacher, the king was lodged in the new palace that gave its name to the new capital, Rajagaha, the King's House. The ruins of both these places are still extant; and the stone walls of the Giribbaja are probably the oldest identified remains in India. Dhammapala says that the place was originally built or planned by Maha-Govinda, the famous architect, to whom it was the proper thing to ascribe the laying out of ancient cities.

On Gotama's second visit to Rajagaha Bimbisara presented him with the Bamboo Grove, where huts could be built for the accommodation of the Order - just as he endowed also the opposite teaching . We hear very little about him in the books. He is not even mentioned in three out of the four Nikayas, and the few references in the fourth are of the most meagre kind. But the Vinaya gives a short account of an attempt made by Ajatasattu to kill his father with a sword  and in the closing words of the Samanna-phala there is an allusion to the actual murder which he afterward committed. The commentary on that Suttanta gives a long account of  how it happened . The details may or may not be true; but the main fact that Bimbisara was put to death by his son Ajatasattu may be accepted as historical. The Ceylon chronologist place this event eight years before the Buddha's death, at the time when Bimbisara, who had come to the throne when he was fifteen had reigned fifty-two years.

On the death of Bimbisara, his wife, the Kosala Devi, is said by tradition to have died of grief. The government revenues of an estate in Kasi had been settled upon her by Maha-Kosala as pin-money on her marriage. At her death the payment of course ceased. Ajatasattu then invaded Kasi. It seems incredible that this could have been the real motive of the war, unless the kings of that place and time were less expert in inventing pretexts for a war which they wanted than modern kings in Europe. The war itself is however mentioned in the Canon, and with some detail. In the first campaign Ajatasattu outmaneuvered his aged uncle, and drove him back upon Savatthi. In the next, however, Pasenadi lured his nephew into an ambush, and he was compelled to surrender with all his force. But Pasenadi soon set him at liberty, gave him back his army, and, according to the commentary, gave him also one of his daughters in marriage.

In the opening paragraph of the Maha-parinibbana Suttanta we hear of Ajatasattu’s intention to attack the Vajjian confederacy, and, as the first step in the attack, of his building a fortress at Pataliputta, the modern Patna, on the south bank of the Ganges, the then boundary between his territory and theirs. The minister in charge of this work was a Brahman, known to us only by his official title, 'the Rain-maker' (Vassakara). He fled suddenly to the Vajjian capital Vesali, giving out that he had barely escaped with his life from Ajatasattu. The Vajjians gave him refuge and hospitality. He then dwelt among them, carefully disseminating lies and slanders until he judged the unity of the confederation to be finally broken. Three years after his kindly reception he gave the hint to his master, who swooped down on Vesali, and destroyed it, and treated his relatives very much as Vidudabha had treated his. We can only hope this ghastly story of dishonor, treachery, and slaughter is a fairy-tale. The question can only be discussed with profit when we have the whole of the commentary before us.

The son of Ajatasattu is mentioned in the Canon. His name was Udayi-bhadda, and it follows from the statements of the Ceylon Chronicles that he succeeded his father on the throne. This is confirmed in the commentaries. The name also occurs in medieval Jain and Hindu lists, independent no doubt, both of them, of the Buddhist books.



The king of Avanti in the Buddha's time was Pajjota the Fierce, who reigned at the capital Ujjeni. There is a legend about him which shows that he and his neighbor king Udena of Kosambi were believed to have been contemporaries, connected by marriage, and engaged in war. The boundary is not given, but a commentary mentions incidentally that the two capitals were in have seen that when the Nikayas were composed Avanti was considered to have been one of the important kingdoms of India before the Buddha's time. Shortly after the Buddha's death Ajatasattu is said to have been fortifying his capital, Rajagaha, in anticipation of an attack by Pajjota of Avanti. The king of the Surasenas, at Madhura, in the Buddha's time, was called Avanti-putto; and was therefore almost certainly the son of a princess of Avanti. The Lalita-vistara gives the personal name of the king of Madhura in the year of the Buddha's birth as Subahu, and this may be the same person.

Avanti became from the first an important centre of the new doctrine we now call Buddhism (in India it was not so called till centuries later). Several of the most earnest and zealous adherents of the Dhamma were either born or resided there. Abhaya Kumara is mentioned and Isidasi and Isidatta and Dhammapala and Sona Kutikanna, and especially Maha-Kaccana . The last of these is stated to have been called by the Buddha the most preeminent of those of his disciples able to expound at length, both as to form and meaning, that which had been said in short. The last but one, Sona, was in a similar way declared to be the most eminent of the disciples distinguished for beauty of expression. In what language were they supposed to have exercised these literary gifts? It was certainly not the religious language then current in the priestly schools of Brahmanism. This archaic form of speech which has been preserved in the Brahmanas and Upanishads was called by the grammarians chhandasa, the language of chhandas or Vedic poetry, to distinguish it from the laukika or secular language; and the Buddha had expressly forbidden his 'word' to be put into chhandas. Each disciple was to speak the word in his own dialect. It would be a mistake, however, to be misled by the ambiguities of the word dialect, and to suppose it to mean here the language as spoken by any peasantry. The higher ethics and philosophy of 'the Word' could not be discussed in any such dialect. Now for two or three generations before the birth of the Buddha, the so-called Wanderers  were in the habit of passing from Avanti to Savatthi, from Takkasila to Champa, discussing in the vernacular, wherever they went or stayed, precisely such questions. They had invented or adapted abstract words and philosophical or ethical terms useful for their purpose, and equally current in all the dialects; while during the same period there had been developed in the rising kingdoms, and especially in Kosala (in the very centre of the regions covered by the Wanderers, and by far the largest and most important of them all) the higher terms necessary for legal and administrative purposes. Just as the Christians adopted for their propaganda, not classical Greek but the Greek of the Koiné, the varying dialect understood through all the coasts and islands of the Eastern Mediterranean, which they found ready to their hands; so the Buddha and his followers adopted this common form of vernacular speech, varying no doubt slightly from district to district, which they found ready to their hands. The particular form of this common speech, the then Hindustani, in which the Pali Canon was composed, was almost certainly, as the present writer ventured to suggest nearly forty years ago on historical grounds, and as Professor Franke contends on philological grounds, the form that was current in Avanti. If that be so, it could be said that Buddhism, born in Nepal, received the garb in which we now know it in Avanti, in the far West of India. It is true that no such curt summary of a great movement can be sufficient. But this would be nearer to the facts than that other summary, so often put forward as convenient, that Buddhism arose in Magadha and that its original tongue was Magadhi.



The King of the Vamsas in the Buddha's time is called in the Canon Udena. His father's name was Parantapa, and his son's name Bodhi Kumara. But Udena survived the Buddha, and we are not informed whether Bodhi did or did not succeed him on the throne. Tradition has preserved a long story of the adventures of Udena and his three wives. We have it in two recensions a Pali one, the Udena-vatthu; and a Sanskrit one, the Makandika-avadana. It is quite a good story, but how far each episode may be founded on fact is another question. The capital was Kosambi, the site of which has been much discussed. It seems to have been on the south bank of the Jumna, at a point about 400 miles by road from Ujjeni, and about 230 miles up stream from Benares. One route from Ujjeni to Kosambi lay through Vedisa, and other places whose names are given but of which nothing else is at present known. There were already in the time of the Buddha four establishments or settlements of the Order in or near Kosambi, each of them a group of huts under trees. One of them was in the arama or pleasance of Ghosita, two more in similar parks, and one in Pavariya's Mango Grove. The Buddha was often there, at one or other of these settlements; and discourses he held on those occasions have been handed down in the Canon. King Udena was at first indifferent or even unfriendly. On one occasion, in a fit of drunken jealousy he tortured a leading member of the Order, Pindola Bharadvaja, by having a basket full of brown ants tied to his body. But long afterwards, in consequence of a conversation he had with this same man Pindola, he professed himself a disciple. We have no evidence that he progressed very far along the path; but his fame has lasted in a curious way in Buddhist legends. For instance there is an early list of the seven Con-natals (sahajata), persons born on the same day as the Buddha. The details of the lists differ; and already in the Lalita-vistara it has grown into several tens of thousands, still arranged however in seven groups. Many centuries afterwards we find the name of Udena appearing in similar lists recurring in Tibetan and Chinese books.



The passages referred to above tell us a good deal of the political condition of India during the Buddha's life, and enable us to draw certain conclusions as to previous conditions for some time before the birth of the Buddha. There are also one or two passages in the Canon which must refer to dates after the Buddha's death. Perhaps the most remarkable is the verse in the Parayana (a poem now included in the Sutta Nipata) which, referring to a time when the Buddha was alive, calls Vesali a Magadha city. Now we know from the Maha-parinibbana Suttanta that (at the time when that very composite work was put together in its present shape) Vesali and the whole Vajjian confederacy was considered to have remained independent of Magadha up to the end of the Buddha's life. If therefore the reading in our text of the Parayana be correct, the expression 'Magadha city' must be taken in the sense of “now a Magadha city” and as alluding to the conquest of Vesali as described above. But it is apparently the only passage in the Canon which takes cognizance of that event. Again in the Anguttara we have a sutta in which a king Munda, dwelling at Pataliputta, is so overwhelmed with grief at the death of his wife Bhadda that he refuses to have the cremation carried out according to custom. But after a simple talk with a thera named Narada he recovers his self-possession. We learn from the chronicles that King Munda was the grandson of Ajatasattu and began to reign about the year 40 AB.  It is a fair inference from this episode that Pataliputta had already at that time become the capital of Magadha. Narada is said to have lived in the Kukkutarama, no doubt consisting of a few huts or cottages scattered under the trees in the pleasaunce so called. It was a well-known resting-place for the Buddhist Wanderers, and Asoka is said to have built a monastery on the site of i.

The long poem of old Parapariya, a laudator temporis acti, on the decay of religion since the death of the Master, adds nothing to political history. So also the edifying ghost-story recorded in the Peta-vatthu (II, 10) can only, at most, give us the name of a sort of public- works officer at Kosambi shortly after the Buddha's death.

These few details are all that we can glean from the Theravada Canon concerning the history of India for more than a hundred and sixty years. And the chroniclers and commentators do not add very much more. They have preserved indeed a dynastic list of the kings of Magadha with regnal years of most of the kings.

The list is as follows :

Ajatasattu reigned 32 years; Udayi-bhadda, 16; Anuruddha, 8; Munda, 8; Nagadasaka, 24; Susunaga, 18; Kalasoka, 28; His sons, 22; Nine Nandas, 22; Chandagutta, 24,

There are other lists extant, not so complete, and not always with the regnal years given, in Jain, Hindu, or Buddhist Sanskrit works. They have been carefully compared and discussed by W. Geiger, in a very reasonable and scholarly way. He comes to the conclusion that, on the whole, the above list is better supported than the others. This may well be the case; but at the same time it must be confessed that the numbers seem much too regular, with their multiples of six and eight, to be very probably in accordance with fact. And we are told nothing at all of any of the other kingdoms in India, or even of the acts of the kings thus named, or of the extent of the growing kingdom of Magadha during any of their reigns. The list gives us only the bare bones of the skeleton of the history of one district.



When the curtain rises again we have before us a picture blurred and indistinct in detail, but in its main features made more or less intelligible by what has been set out above.

India, as shown in the authorities there quoted, appeared as a number of kingdoms and republics with a constant tendency towards amalgamation. This process had proceeded further in Kosala than elsewhere; that great kingdom being by far the most important state in Northern India, and very nearly if not quite as large as modern France. It occupied the very centre of the territories mentioned in those authorities; it had its capital near the borders of what is now Nepal; and it included all the previous states or duchies between the Himalayas on the north and the Ganges on the west and south. The original nucleus of this great kingdom was the territory now the seat of the Gurkhas, and these Kosalans were almost certainly, in the main at least, of Aryan race. For the heads of houses among them (the gahapatis) are called rajano, the same as the clansmen (the kula-putta) in the free republics. Of the surrounding kingdoms Magadha, though much smaller, was the most progressive. It had just absorbed Anga, and at the last moment we saw it attacking, and with success, the powerful Vajjian confederation. The rise of this new star in the extreme South-East was the most interesting factor in the older picture.

The new picture as shown in the Ceylon chronicles and in the classical authors (especially those based on the statements in the Indika of Megasthenes) show us Magadha triumphant. All the kingdoms, duchies, and clans have lost their independence. Even the great Kosalan dominion has been absorbed. And for the first time in the history there is one paramount authority from Bengal to Afghanistan, and from the Himalayas down to the Vindhya range.

We shall probably never know how these great changes, and especially the fall of Kosala, were brought about. And we have no information as to the degree in which the various local authorities retained any shadow of power. Were the taxes fixed by the central power and collected by its own officers? Or were the local rates maintained and collected by a local authority? If the latter, were the actual sums received paid over to the central office at Pataliputta, or was a yearly tribute fixed by the paramount power? On these and similar questions we are still quite in the dark. But our two sets of authorities, which are quite independent of one another, agree in the little they do tell us.

Unfortunately each set is open to very serious objections. The Chronicles are quite good as chronicles go, and we have them not only complete but well edited and translated. But of course we cannot expect from documents written fifteen hundred years or more ago, any of that historical criticism that we are only just beginning to use in the West. They are written throughout for edification, and in the Mahavamsa sometimes also for amusement; they are in verse, and are not infrequently nearer to poetry than history; and though based on a continuous tradition, that tradition is now lost. On the other hand, the work of Megasthenes, written during the life-time of Chandragupta, is itself lost. What we have are fragments preserved more or less accurately, and with the best intentions, by later Latin and Greek authors. Where what is evidently intended as a quotation from the same passage in Megasthenes is found in more than one of these later authors the presentations of it do not, in several cases, agree. This throws doubt on the correctness of those quotations which, being found in one author only, cannot be so tested. A number of the quotations contain statements that, as they stand, are glaringly absurd stories of gold-digging ants, men with ears large enough to sleep in, men without mouths, and so on. Strabo therefore calls Megasthenes mendacious. But surely such stories (and other things) only show that Megasthenes was just as ignorant of the modern rules of historical evidence as the Chroniclers were, and for the same reason. Strabo's idea of criticism is no better than that of those who ignore the Chroniclers on the ground that they are mendacious. As will be seen in Chapter XVI which deals more fully with the Greek and Latin writers on Ancient India, it is more probable that in these fairy-tales of his Megasthenes, like Herodotus before him, had either accepted in good faith stories which were current in the India of his day, or had merely misunderstood some Indian expression.



It remains now to give some account of the literature from which our knowledge of early Buddhism is chiefly derived, and so form some estimate of its value as a source of history. This literature which deals mainly with ethics and religion, grew up gradually among those followers of the Buddha who dwelt in the republics and kingdoms specified above. There are now 27 books, and only three of them deal with the rules of the Order. But these 27 are mostly anthologies of earlier shorter passages. The Patimokkha for instance one of the earliest documents has 227 suttas, and they are of the average length of about three lines; and the Silas, a string of moral injunctions, are, if taken separately, quite short. But neither of these tracts, each of them already a compilation, now exists as a separate book. They are found only as imbedded in longer works of later date. It took about a century for the more important works, the Vinaya and the four Nikayas, to be nearly finished about as we have them.

The next century and a half saw the completion of the supplementary works the supplements to the Vinaya and the four Nikayas; the thirteen books of the supplementary fifth Nikaya (much of it based on older material); and the seven Abhidhamma books, mainly a new classification of the psychological ethics of the four Nikayas.

So far the books had been divided into Dhamma and Vinaya; that is to say, religion and the regulations of the Order. Now, after the close of the canon, a new division begins to appear, that into three Pitakas (or Baskets) of Vinaya, Sutta, and Abhidhamma. We do not yet know exactly when or why this new division arose and superseded the older one. As late as the fifth cent. A.D. we find Buddhaghosha still putting the Vinaya and the Abhidhamma into the supplementary fifth Nikaya, though he and other commentators also use the newer phrase.

The authorities on which our account of early Buddhist history is based are therefore the four Nikayas, with occasional use of other works mainly of such as are included in the fifth or supplementary Nikaya. Concerning the period to which the Nikayas belong we have some evidence, partly internal and partly external.

To take the latter first:

Asoka in the Bhabra Edict recommends his co-religionists the special study of seven selected passages. Two of the titles given are ambiguous. Four of the others are from the four Nikayas, and the remaining one from the Sutta Nipata now included in the fifth Nikaya. As was pointed out a quarter of a century ago it is a critical mistake to take these titles as the names of books extant in Asoka's time. They are the names of edifying passages selected from an existing literature. It is as if an old inscription had been found asking Christians to learn and ponder over the Beatitudes, the Prodigal Son, the exhortation to the Corinthians on Charity, and so on. There are no such titles in the New Testament. Before short passages could be spoken of by name in this familiar manner a certain period of time must have elapsed; and we should be justified in assuming that the literature in which the passages were found was therefore older than the inscription.

Further, in certain inscriptions in the Asoka characters of a somewhat later date there are recorded names of donors to Buddhist monuments. The names being similar, distinguishing epithets are used - X. who knows Suttantas, X. who knows the Pitaka (or perhaps the Pitakas, Petdki) X. who knows the five Nikayas. These technical terms as names for books are, with one exception, found only in that collection we now call the Pali Pitakas. The exception is the word Pitaka. That is not found in the four Nikayas in that sense; and even in the fifth Nikaya it is only approximating to that sense and has not yet reached it. One would naturally think, if these Nikayas had been put together after these inscriptions, that they would have used the term in the sense it then had, and has ever since continued to have; more especially as that sense - the whole collection of the books - is so very convenient, and expresses an idea for which they have no other word.

Thirdly, the commentators both in India and Ceylon say that the Katha-vatthu, the latest book in the three Pitakas, as we now have them, was composed by Moggliputta Tissa at Asoka's court at Pataliputta in N. India at the time of the Council held there in the eighteenth year of Asoka's reign. At the time when they made this entry, the commentators held the Pitakas to be the word of the Buddha, and believed also that the Dhamma had been already recited at the Council held at Rajagaha after the death of the Buddha. It seems quite impossible, therefore, that they could have invented this information about Tissa. They found it in the records on which their works were based; and felt compelled to hand it on. Being evidence, as it were, against themselves, it is especially worthy of credit. And it is in accord with all that we otherwise know. Anyone at all acquainted with the history of the gradual change in Buddhist doctrine, and able to read the Katha-vatthu, will find that it is just what we should expect for a book composed in Asoka's time. It has now been edited and translated for the Pali Text Society; and not a single phrase or even word has been found in it referable to a later date. It quotes largely from all five Nikayas.

The above is all the external evidence as yet discovered, and the third point, though external as regards the Nikayas, is internal as regards the Pitakas. The internal evidence for the age of the Nikayas is very small, but it is very curious.

Firstly, the four Nikayas quote one another. Thus Anguttara V, 46 quotes Samyutta I, 126; but in giving the name of the work quoted it does not say Samyutta, but Kumari-panha - the title of the particular Sutta quoted. The Samyutta quotes two Suttantas in the Digha by name - the Sakka-panha and the Brahma-jala. It follows that, at the time when the four Nikayas were put together in their present form, Suttas and Suttantas known by their present titles were already current, and handed down by memory, in the community.

More than that there are, in each of the four Nikayas, a very large number of stock passages on ethics found in identical words in one or more of the others. These accepted forms of teaching, varying in length from half a page to a page or more, formed part of the already existing material out of which the Nikayas were composed. Some of the longer Suttantas consist almost entirely of strings of such stock passages.

There are also entire episodes containing names of persons and places and accounts of events episodes which recur in identical terms in two or more of the Nikayas. About two-thirds of the Maha-parinibbana Suttanta consists of such recurring episodes or stock passages. This will help to show the manner in which the books were built up.

Several conversations recorded in the Nikayas relate to events which occurred two or three years after the Buddha's death  and one passage (Anguttara III, 57-62) is based on an event about 40 years after it.

The four Nikayas occupy sixteen volumes of Pali text. They contain a very large number of references to places. No place on the East of India south of Kalinga, and no place on the West of India, south of the Godavari, is mentioned. The Asoka Edicts, dealing in a few pages with similar matter, show a much wider knowledge of South India, and even of Ceylon. We must allow some generations for this increase of knowledge.

At the end of each of the four Nikayas there are added portions which are later, both in language and in psychological theory, than the bulk of each Nikaya.

All the facts thus emphasized would be explained if these collections had been put together out of older material at a period about half way between the death of the Buddha and the accession of Asoka. Everything has had to be stated here with the utmost brevity. But it is important to add that this is the only working hypothesis that has been put forward. It is true that the old battle cries, such as “Ceylon books” or “Southern Buddhism” are still sometimes heard. But what do they mean? The obvious interpretation is that the Pali Pitakas were composed in Ceylon, that is, that when the Ceylon bhikkhus began to write in Pali (which was about Buddhaghosa's time) they wrote the works on which Buddhaghosa had already commented. This involves so many palpable absurdities that it cannot be the meaning intended. Until those who use such terms tell us what they mean by them, we must decline to accept as a working hypothesis the vague insinuation of question-begging epithets. We do not demand too much. A working hypothesis need not propose to settle all questions. But it must take into consideration the evidence set out above; and it must give a rational explanation of such facts as that this literature does not mention Asoka, or S. India, or Ceylon; and that, though there is a clear progress in its psychology and its Buddhology, it gives no connected life of the Buddha, such as we find in Sanskrit poems and Pali commentaries.

On the last point the evidence, being very short, may be given here. There are a large number of references to the places at which the Buddha was stopping, when some conversation or other on an ethical or philosophical question took place. These have not yet been collected and analyzed. Then there are a small number of short references, in a sentence or two or a page or two, to some incident in his life. And lastly we have two episodes, of a considerable number of pages, describing the two important crises in his career, the beginning and the close of his mission. Out of approximately 6000 pages of text in the four Nikayas less than two hundred in all are devoted to the Buddha's life.

Of the long episodes the first is in the Majjhima, and describes the events of the period from the time when he had first become a Wanderer down to his attainment of Nibbana (or Arahantship) under the Bodhi Tree. The events are not the names and dates of kings and battles, but events in religious experience, the gradually increased grasp of ethical and philosophical concepts, the victory won over oneself. The Vinaya, very naturally, continues this episode down to the time of the founding of the Order, the sending forth of the sixty and the accession of the most famous of the Arahants. This episode covers about seven years, the Vinaya addition to it being responsible for one. The other long episode, about twice as long as the first, describes in detail the events of the last month of the Buddha's life. It is contained in the Digha, and forms a whole Suttanta, the Maha-parinibbana Suttanta, referred to above as a composite document.

We have no space to consider the shorter references; but the following table specifies the more important, arranged chronologically:

1. Youth; 2. The going forth; 3. His teachers; 4. His trial of asceticism; 5. Nibbana; 6. Explanation of the Path; 7. Sending out of the Sixty; 8. The last month.

The relative age, within the Canon, of each of these passages, has to be considered as a question distinct from that of the books into which they are now incorporated. Towards the solution of these questions some little progress has been made, and the tentative conclusions so far reached are shown in the following table.





1. The simple statements of doctrine now found in identical words recurring in two or more of the present books the stock passages or Suttas.

2. Episodes (not of doctrine only) similarly recurring.

3. Books quoted in the present books but no longer existing separately the Silas, the Parayana, the Octades, the Patimokkha, etc.

4. Certain poems, ballads, or prose passages found similarly recurring in the present anthologies, or otherwise showing signs of greater age.

5. The four Nikayas, the Sutta Vibhanga and the Khandakas. Approximate dates 100 A.B.

6. Sutta Nipata, Thera- and Theri-gatha, the Udanas, the Khuddaka Patha.

7. The Jatakas (verses only), and the Dhammapadas.

8. The Niddesa, the Iti-vuttakas, and the Patisanibhida.

9. The Peta- and Vimana-vatthu, the Apadanas, and the Buddhavamsa.

10. The Abhidhamma books, the latest of which is the Katha-vatthu and the oldest, perhaps, the Dhamma-sangani.