Why Was the Sakyan Republic Destroyed?
(The following is a translation and adaptation of a Hindi article by S. N. Goenka published by the Vipassana Research Institute in December 2003.)
The Sakyan and Koliyan republics were established on the opposite banks of the Rohiṇī river. The members of the ruling assembly in these two republics were called rājās and the chief of the rājās was called mahārājā. They had autonomy over all domestic administrative matters. However, they were not fully independent states like Vesālī because both were vassal states of the neighbouring kingdom of Kosala.
The Sakyans and the Koliyans were both khattiyas of the Ādicca (Ikśvāku) clan of the solar dynasty. There was no other royal khattiya family equal to them in the region, and therefore, members of the royal families of these two republics married only among themselves. Both clans were very proud of the purity of their royal blood and had practised this tradition of inter-marriage since ancient times. For example, Suddhodana’s paternal aunt was married to the Koliyan ruler Anjana. Their daughters, Mahāmāyā and Mahāpajāpati Gotamī, were married to Suddhodhana, the chief of the Sakyans. Similarly, Yashodhara, daughter of Suppabuddha, who was Anjana’s son, was married to the Sakyan prince, Siddhattha. Thus, the two royal families were related by marriage bonds between maternal and paternal cousins since ancient times.
In spite of such close blood-ties, there would be occasional rifts between the two royal families, which sometimes turned into open hostility.
The traditional occupation of both clans was agriculture. The lowlands of the Tarāī province at the foothills of the mighty Himalayas were very fertile. The Rohiṇī river brought abundant water from the Himalayas and irrigated the agricultural lands of both republics. Therefore, the people in both republics were very prosperous.
Initially, as the population in both the Sakyan and the Koliyan states was low, the water of the Rohiṇī was adequate for their farms. However, with the passage of time, the surrounding forestlands were converted into agricultural land to meet the increasing needs of the growing population. The river water was no longer sufficient to meet the increased demand. This scarcity of water soon became a cause of conflict between the two republics.
People on both sides of the riverbank blamed each other for taking excessive water from the river. They would make new water-sharing agreements, which were then repeatedly violated.
As the population continued to grow, the land under cultivation also increased and the Koliyans and the Sakyans could barely get enough water from the upper Rohiṇī for their needs. The Rohiṇī had very little water by the time it reached the capitals of the Sakyans and the Koliyans. Although both republics had built a dam across the river together, the water level in it was very low in summer.
A crisis developed during the lifetime of the Buddha. It was the month of May. The water level of the river was very low. Fields on both sides of the river were scorched by the summer heat. Without sufficient water, the crops would be destroyed. There was so little water left in the dam that it could irrigate the farms only on one side of the river; the crops on the other side were bound to perish.
If the water in the dam were shared equally, the crops on both sides of the river would wither because of the inadequate water supply. If all the water were used to irrigate the fields on one side, at least those crops could be saved.
Therefore, the Sakyan and the Koliyan farm labourers met to discuss the sharing of the meagre water in the reservoir. Each side insisted that their crops be saved and the cultivators from the other side should ask for a share of the harvest. The labourers on both sides were too proud to ask for a share from the other side. Soon, the arguments became more heated. The situation deteriorated to an exchange of verbal abuse and then to an exchange of blows. The labourers of both sides insulted the masters of one another and then abused the ancestors of the ruling clans.
Some labourers reported the exchange of these abuses to the owners of the farms. Upon hearing about the insults to their ancestors, the mutual hostility between the two agricultural communities increased.
The quarrel reached the Sakyan and Koliyan ministers, and then the princes and the kings. When the youthful princes on both sides heard the description of the abuses against their ancestors, they flew into a rage and vowed to avenge the insults to their ancestors. Inflamed with anger, they gathered on their respective riverbanks, fully armed, and challenged the other side to fight. The situation was grim and the possibility of bloodshed seemed imminent.
When the Buddha learned about this outbreak of hostility, he came there himself. On seeing this revered and eminent person from their royal clan, the warriors of both sides became deeply embarrassed. All of them laid down their weapons and paid homage to him. This was the traditional way of paying respects to the Buddha in those days.
Whenever King Pasenadi of Kosala went to pay respects to the Buddha, he would leave the royal insignia such as his sword, turban, fan, parasol and sandals outside with his attendant before entering the chamber of the Buddha.
The Buddha took the seat prepared for him on the open ground of the riverbank. The Sakyans and the Koliyans paid homage to the Buddha and sat respectfully on one side before him. The Buddha explained to them that their blood was much more valuable than the river-water. They should not spill blood unnecessarily. Instead, they should find a way to share the water peacefully. The Buddha was a peacemaker filled with compassion. He did not consider it proper that human life should be lost for the sake of trivial material gains.
Sutta Nipāta Aṭṭhakathā 2.362, Sammāparibbājanīyasuttavaṇṇanā
Compared to the powerful neighbouring kingdom of Kosala, both the Sakyan and Koliyan republics were extremely weak. They had surrendered their sovereignty to Kosala. Due to mutual discord, there was the possibility that they would lose their internal autonomy too.
If the Sakyans and Koliyans fought against each other, both would be destroyed. If they were united, both would be strengthened by their combined might. The ruler of Kosala would not be able to stretch them further on the rack of his supremacy. However if they remained united, it is quite possible that they may even be able to free themselves completely from the dominance of Kosala. Keeping this in mind, the Buddha gave them the teaching on the benefits of maintaining unity.
The Buddha discerned that the conflict had intensified because of misunderstanding. The labourers working in the fields had abused the ancestors of the rājās of the other side. But the rājās were informed that the other rājās had abused their ancestors. If it had been made clear to the rājās from both sides that irresponsible farm labourers were at fault, they would have reprimanded their own labourers and the matter would have ended there; the situation would not have reached the brink of bloodshed. Both republics would have remained united.
With this situation in mind, the Buddha narrated a Jataka story. Sometimes, it is easier to clarify matters with the help of a story. Therefore, he narrated the Duddubha Jataka to illustrate how an ignorant being harms itself by becoming a victim of blind belief. The wise, however, investigate the truth and save themselves from harm.
According to this Jataka, a hare was resting under a wood-apple tree. Suddenly a ripe wood-apple fruit fell on the ground nearby. The hare heard the sound of the fruit hitting the ground and panicked. It thought that the sky had split and the earth was breaking up. Terror-stricken, it fled from the spot. It told all the animals that it met on the way that the sky had split and the earth was breaking up. All the other animals such as other hares, deer, pigs, antelopes, buffaloes, bulls, tigers, and elephants that heard this, blindly believed it and started to flee in panic. In their terror-stricken flight, all of them would have plunged into the ocean in front of the forest and drowned.
When the lion, the king of the jungle, saw this danger, it stopped the stampeding animals and admonished them. It said, "Come, let us go to the spot where the hare heard the sound of the earth breaking up." All the animals went with the hare to the tree where it had been resting. When they saw the fallen wood-apple fruit, they realised the truth and were greatly relieved.
When one blindly believes rumours and reacts without thinking, one causes great harm. Expressing this, the Buddha said:
Appatvā padaviññāṇaṃ, paraghosānusārino;
Panādaparamā bālā, te honti parapattiyā
Jātaka 1.4.322, Duddubha Jātaka
Without knowing the truth oneself, one who heeds the statements of others and follows them out of blind belief is a careless fool.
The Buddha explained that by the time the mutual abuse of the foolish farm labourers had reached the farm-owners, the ministers, the nobles, the rājās and the hot-headed princes, they had all been misled and were prepared to destroy themselves. If they had calmly examined the facts, they would have rebuked their labourers and ended the quarrel immediately.
The massacre of the Sakyans
King Pasenadi of Kosala, the overlord of the Sakyans, was a khattiya. But the Sakyans of the Ādicca clan of the solar dynasty were considered to be of a higher caste. The Sakyans were very proud of their high caste. Even though King Pasenadi was their ruler, they considered him to be of a lower caste. This greatly annoyed King Pasenadi. He found the caste-pride of the Sakyans intolerable. But he was helpless. Though he had conquered the republic of the Sakyans, it was impossible for him to breach the strongly established caste system.
He thought of an idea. There was no queen of high caste in his harem. He thought that it would be a good strategy to marry a Sakyan princess and give her the status of chief queen. Her son would become the crown prince. When the crown prince ascended the throne, he and his descendants would be deemed to be high-caste khattiyas because of their maternal lineage. Thus, the Sakyans could no longer claim to be of a higher caste than the royal family of Kosala.
In addition, there occurred another incident. King Pasenadi saw that hundreds of bhikkhus (monks) went to the houses of Anāthapiṇḍika, Cūḷa Anāthapiṇḍika, Visākhā and Suppavāsā to receive alms food. The king also wanted to be a donor of alms food to the Sangha. He requested the Buddha to send five hundred bhikkhus daily for alms food. The bhikkhus went to his palace for alms food but they stopped going after a few days. At the places of the other lay-devotees, the donors would be present themselves and would respectfully offer alms-food after seating the bhikkhus. This was not possible at the royal palace. The king was so busy that it was utterly impossible for him to welcome the bhikkhus daily. The queens of the palace were also unable to fulfil this responsibility satisfactorily. Therefore, the bhikkhus stopped going to the palace. King Pasenadi thought that if he raised a Sakyan princess to the status of chief queen of his palace, she would gladly welcome the invited bhikkhus and take proper care of them because she was a member of the Sakyan clan to which the Buddha belonged when he was a Sakyan prince. Then, the bhikkhus would come daily to his palace for alms food.
Dhammapada Aṭṭhakathā, 1.46, Viṭaṭūbhavatthu
Thinking thus, King Pasenadi sent an ultimatum to the Sakyan princes demanding the hand of a Sakyan princess in marriage. This ultimatum caused uproar among the Sakyans. King Pasenadi was the monarch of their republic and a mighty warrior. If the Sakyans rejected his demand, he would be furious. His empire was vast with a powerful army. If he attacked them, the Sakyans would be routed, and they would lose even the autonomy over their domestic affairs.
The Sakyans were also aware of the painful details of a similar incident in the past. By rejecting the demand of the ruler of Kosala, they faced the fearful possibility of history repeating itself. They did not wish to witness the destruction of their republic again. Yet, they could not accept the ultimatum of King Pasenadi. How could they give any Sakyan princess in marriage to him? He was a low-caste khattiya. The caste-pride of the Sakyans did not allow them to swallow this insult.
Therefore, all the Sakyans gathered in the assembly to discuss the crisis. After much deliberation and consultation, they decided that the daughter of Mahānāma’s slave named Vāsabhakhattiyā should be declared to be a Sakyan princess and given in marriage to King Pasenadi. The Sakyans also resolved that the truth of Vāsabhakhattiyā’s birth should be kept secret forever. They managed to convince King Pasenadi’s royal envoys that she was truly a Sakyan princess by deceiving them into believing that Mahānāma and Vāsabhakhattiyā were eating together from the same plate. The envoys were completely fooled.
Vāsabhakhattiyā was married to King Pasenadi and was made the chief queen. After some time, she gave birth to a son who was named Viṭaṭūbha. When he grew older, he asked his mother to take him to the palace of his maternal grandparents. His friends told him many interesting stories about their maternal grandparents and uncles and showed him the presents they had received from them. He was keen to meet his maternal relatives and to receive royal gifts from them. However, Vāsabhakhattiyā always made some excuse to avoid the visit. She knew very well that if King Pasenadi discovered the secret of her birth, the consequences would be disastrous.
When Viṭaṭūbha was sixteen, he insisted that he would visit his maternal grandparents even if his mother did not accompany him. Vāsabhakhattiyā sent a message to Mahānāma that Viṭaṭūbha would be visiting Kapilavatthu. They should take care to treat him properly so that the conspiracy was not exposed in any way. The Sakyans tackled the situation very cleverly. They welcomed and treated the crown prince with honour worthy of a king. However, they sent the princes younger than Viṭaṭūbha away from the city on some pretext so that though Viṭaṭūbha saluted those elder to him, no one had to salute him.
Viṭaṭūbha was extremely pleased with their lavish hospitality and returned to Sāvatthi. On the way, one of his attendants realised that he had left his sword behind and returned to get it. There, he was amazed to see that the seat on which Viṭaṭūbha had sat to have his meal was being washed with diluted milk. The slave girl who was washing it was cursing aloud that Viṭaṭūbha, the son of the slave girl Vāsabhakhattiyā, had sat on that royal seat and defiled it. Therefore, it had to be washed with milk to be purified. She had been given this extra chore.
The attendant learned the entire truth about Vāsabhakhattiyā from the maid and related it to Viṭaṭūbha. On hearing this, the fire of vengeance flared up in Viṭaṭūbha’s heart. He vowed that on ascending the throne, he would destroy the clan of the Sakyan princes who were so proud of their caste. He vowed to wash the seat, which they had washed with milk, with the blood from their throats.
After returning to Sāvatthi, the secret of Vāsabhakhattiyā’s birth was exposed. King Pasenadi was enraged. He withdrew the royal rank, privileges and protection granted to Vāsabhakhattiyā and Viṭaṭūbha. Both of them were allowed only the rank and privileges of ordinary slaves. The fire of revenge in Viṭaṭūbha’s heart became even more intense.
When the Buddha came to know about this, he exhorted King Pasenadi not to give importance to high and low status based on caste. Giving the example of the Kaṭṭhahāri Jataka, the Buddha said that the girl who marries the king becomes the queen, even if she is the daughter of a wood-gatherer. The son born to her is the heir to the throne, like King Kaṭṭhavāhana in that Jataka.
Jātaka 1.1.7, Kaṭṭhahāri Jātaka
What did caste have to do with this? Vāsabhakhattiyā was his wife and not a slave. Viṭaṭūbha was his legitimate son. Why consider him to be low-caste? King Pasenadi was mollified by these words of the Buddha and reinstated Vāsabhakhattiyā and Viṭaṭūbha to their former royal rank and status.
But the fire of revenge burning in Viṭaṭūbha’s heart was not extinguished. He secretly colluded with the chief commander, Dīgha Kārāyana, and, at the first opportunity, usurped the throne. King Pasenadi fled to save his life and went to Rājagaha to seek the help of his son-in-law, Ajātasattu. It was late in the evening when he reached there and the city gates were already closed. While waiting for the gates to open, King Pasenadi passed away outside the gate at dawn. Viṭaṭūbha’s claim to the throne was freed from all obstacles. Burning with vengeance, he advanced towards Kapilavatthu with a large army.
When the Buddha learned of the imminent attack, he went and sat at the foot of a tree with bare branches under the hot afternoon sun near the city of Kapilavatthu. When Viṭaṭūbha saw the Buddha, he felt embarrassed. It was because of the Buddha that he and his mother had regained their former status at the royal palace. Even then, he asked, "How is it that the Exalted One is sitting under this bare tree in the frontier of the Sakyans? May the Exalted One sit under this shady banyan tree within our boundary." The Buddha replied, "Great King, the shelter provided by kinsmen is cooler." Viṭaṭūbha understood that the Buddha was sitting there to protect the Sakyans. Therefore, he withdrew his forces and returned to the capital.
After a few days, he again led an expedition against the Sakyans. Again, he saw the Buddha sitting there and had to return. This happened a third time too.
The fourth time, Viṭaṭūbha set out again in extreme rage, determined that he would not be dissuaded by anyone from avenging his humiliation by the Sakyans. The Buddha discerned his state of mind and also knew that the time had arrived for the past misdeeds of the Sakyans to bear fruit. Therefore, he did not intervene.
Viṭaṭūbha ordered his soldiers not to kill the Sakyans in the palace of Mahānāma. All the others were ruthlessly slain. After the gory slaughter, he began his journey back to Sāvatthi with Mahānāma and his family. Next morning, he told Mahānāma to join him for breakfast. Perhaps he had brought the caste-proud Mahānāma and his family with him to force them to have a meal with him from the same plate. Mahānāma was unwilling to do this. He made the excuse that he wished to bathe in the nearby lake before the meal. He dived into the lake and did not emerge again.
Continuing his way back to Sāvatthi, Viṭaṭūbha reached the Aciravatī river at nightfall. He and his army camped on the riverbank at night. While they were asleep, there was a flash flood in the river. Viṭaṭūbha and many of his soldiers were swept away by the flood and perished.
Dhammapada Aṭṭhakathā 1.46, Viṭaṭūbhavatthu
There is no historical record of what happened to the other members of Mahānāma’s family. Some of them must have escaped because many of them settled in Vediśāgiri in the south. They became merchants and later, the daughter of one of their descendants, Sakyakumarī Vediśādevī, became the first wife of Asoka, before he became emperor.
During the massacre by Viṭaṭūbha’s army at Kapilavatthu, some of the Sakyans were able to save themselves. So, the Sakyan republic was not completely destroyed. A few days after the slaughter of the Sakyans, the Buddha attained parinibbāna at Kusinārā. The Sakyans of Kapilavatthu and the Koliyans of Rāmagāma claimed one portion each of the relics of the Buddha and enshrined them in magnificent stupas in their respective capitals.
Dīghanikāya 2.239, Mahāparinibbāna Sutta
This proves that Viṭaṭūbha did not kill all the Sakyans, though undoubtedly, he massacred a large number of them.
Considering these events, let us examine whether the allegations that the teaching of the Buddha were responsible for the defeat of the Sakyans are based on truth.
One important fact is that the Sakyan republic was very small compared to the vast empire of Kosala. Just before the massacre by Viṭaṭūbha’s army, five hundred Sakyan and Koliyan princes had become recluses. Before this time too, some Sakyan and Koliyan youth had renounced the household life. This could not have caused a substantial difference in the relative strengths of the two armies. Even if the five hundred princes had not been ordained, the army of Kosala was fully capable of destroying the Sakyan republic.
A more significant fact is that the Sakyan republic was not fully independent like the Vajjian republic. It was just a province of the kingdom of Kosala. There are many incidents in the Tipitaka that prove that the Sakyan republic was a part of the kingdom of Kosala.
When Siddhāttha Gotama left his home in search of the ultimate truth, he first went to Rājagaha, the capital of Magadha. Impressed by the regal bearing of this youthful recluse, King Bimbisāra came to meet him. Offering him a part of his kingdom, he asked him who he was. Then Siddhāttha replied,
Ujuṃ janapado rāja, himavantassa passato;
Dhanavīriyena sampanno, kosalesu niketino.
In the Himalayan Tarāī province, there is a king endowed with wealth and energy, belonging to Kosala.
Ādiccā nāma gottena, sākiyā nāma jātiyā;
Tumhā kulā pabbajitemhī, na kāme abhipatthayaṃ
Sutta Nipāta 424-5, Pabbajjāsutta
He is Ādicca by clan and Sakyan by birth. From that family, I have gone forth, not desiring sensual pleasures.
From this it is clear that the province of the Sakyans was a part of Kosala. Therefore, all the Sakyans, even their ruler, were called Kosalan.
The Sakyans were subjects of the king of Kosala, and however unwillingly, they had to pay respects to him. They resented this situation but were helpless. On the other hand, King Pasenadi worshipped the feet of the Buddha, who was a Sakyan by birth. When the Buddha asked him the reason for doing such supreme honour, he said that he paid homage to the feet of the Buddha because the Buddha was fully enlightened, the Dhamma was well taught by him and his disciples were practising in the right way. Finally, establishing a direct personal relationship with the Buddha, he said, "The Blessed One is a khattiya and I am a khattiya; The Blessed One is a Kosalan and I am a Kosalan."
Majjhima Nikāya 2.366-374, Dhammacetiya Sutta
It is clear that the Sakyan republic was a part of Kosala, and therefore, he called the Buddha a Kosalan.
There is another strong evidence. King Pasenadi had to tour all vassal states to inspect their security arrangements. He frequently toured the Sakyan republic too. During one such inspection tour, he visited a town called Nagaraka in the Sakyan republic accompanied by Dīgha Kārāyana, the chief commander of the Kosalan army.
Majjhima Nikāya 2.364-366, Dhammacetiyasutta
The presence of the chief commander during this inspection tour indicates two things: Firstly, the ruler of Kosala must have stationed units of his army at different places in the subordinate states. The subordinate states had to bear the expenses of the Kosalan army units. Therefore, the Kosalan king had to ensure that the local rulers took proper care of his troops.
Secondly, he had to ensure that the subordinate states were not secretly strengthening the army, which was permitted only for local security. Otherwise, it could give the subordinate states a chance to revolt. It was natural to be vigilant about this latent threat and the commander was the proper person to investigate this possibility. Therefore, it was essential for the commander to accompany the king on his tours of the subordinate states.
During one such tour, King Pasenadi completed the administrative work of inspection in the town of Nagaraka by early afternoon and decided to visit the local park in the evening. He went in his state carriage accompanied by other carriages and proceeded towards the park.
As he walked in the park, the silent, serene, solitary and peaceful natural beauty of the garden reminded him that he often met the Buddha in such delightful surroundings. Wherever the Buddha dwells even for a while, the natural atmosphere becomes attractive and charming. The Buddha has said,
Gāme vā yadi vāraññe, ninne vā yadi vā thale;
yattha arahanto viharanti, taṃ bhūmirāmaṇeyyakaṃ.
Whether in a village or in a forest, in a valley or on a hill,
Wherever arahants dwell—delightful, indeed, is that spot.
Dhammapada 98, Arahantavagga
King Pasenadi was certain that the Buddha was staying nearby. He asked Dīgha Kārāyana whether the Buddha was dwelling in the vicinity. Dīgha Kārāyana replied that the Buddha was dwelling in a Sakyan town called Medāḷupa, which was only three yojanas away. King Pasenadi was delighted and went to meet the Buddha.
Majjhima Nikāya 2.4.365-366, Dhammacetiyasutta
This entire narrative indicates that the Sakyan province was under King Pasenadi’s direct rule, so he was free to go wherever he wanted. It was not necessary for him to inform the Sakyans, let alone take their permission.
It seems that the relationship between the kingdom of Kosala and the Sakyan republic was similar to that between the Indian princely states and the British administration in Delhi during the British rule of India.
The kings and nawabs had autonomy over all domestic administrative matters in their states. They also maintained a police force for local administration but they were not allowed to keep an army that could pose a threat to the British administration. Compared to the imperial army of Delhi, the strength of their police force was negligible. If the army of the British administration invaded a principality for any reason, it would be impossible for that state to face the British army on its own.
Similarly, if the ruler of Kosala sent his army to attack the vassal Sakyan state, it would be impossible for the Sakyans to face the mighty Kosalan armed forces with the soldiers who were meant only for domestic security. It is clear that the Sakyan republic could not have resisted the Kosalan army, regardless of whether they were influenced by the Buddha’s teaching of non-violence.
Nevertheless, there is a common misconception that the teaching of the Buddha led to the destruction of the Sakyan republic. However, it is evident that the Buddha’s teaching helped to maintain harmony between the Sakyans and the Koliyans. Similarly, the Buddha gave the discourse on the seven principles of non-decline of rulers to the Licchavi princes to enable them to be constantly vigilant about protecting their republic.
When did the Sakyan Republic become a vassal of Kosala?
It is clearly established from the Tipitaka that the Sakyan republic was a weak vassal state of the mighty Kosalan empire. But it is not clear when and how the Sakyans were subjugated.
We find the answer in the history of the ancient royal dynasty of Myanmar. This incident occurred a few centuries before the lifetime of the Buddha. The Sakyans of Kapilavatthu and the Koliyans of Devadaha were khattiyas of the solar dynasty. Being the direct descendants of King Ikśvāku, both clans were very proud of the purity of their royal blood and married only among themselves. They neither gave a woman from their clan in marriage to any other clan nor accepted a woman from any other clan.
The Sakyans and the Koliyans were small republics in those days too. In comparison, Kosala and Pañcāla in the west were powerful kingdoms. The king of Pañcāla subjugated Kosala. His pride was greatly increased by this increase of his power. He was a khattiya but was considered inferior to the Sakyans and the Koliyans. With the ambition of gaining the pure blood of the Ikśvāku clan so as not to be inferior even in the matter of caste, he sent an ultimatum to the Sakyans and the Koliyans demanding that one of their princesses be married to him.
Normally, any person would consider himself fortunate if his daughter married such a powerful emperor and became an empress. However, the Sakyans and the Koliyans were so proud about the purity of their blood that they rejected this demand from the ruler of Pañcāla. As a result, the enraged Pañcāla king invaded and destroyed both republics.
After this defeat, the Sakyan leader Abhirājā set out with some of his companions, and proceeded eastward through Kāmarūpa (Assam). Crossing the almost inaccessible mountains bordering Myanmar, they reached the land between the Chindwin and Ayeyarwady rivers.
There, the group found refuge and much more. The generous people of the country to which they had fled were deeply impressed by the newcomers’ long experience in governance, and so they chose the refugee leader Abhirājā to be the ruler of their land. Abhirāja founded the kingdom of Ta Gaung, about 70 miles north of the present-day city of Shwebo. Relics of this ancient city are found even today. According to the Myanmar historians, the royal dynasty of Myanmar, as well as the history of the Myanmar race, started with Abhirāja.
Hman Nan Yarzawin (Glass Palace Chronicles)
Both the Koliyan and the Sakyan republics were subjugated by the ruler of Pañcāla after Pañcāla and Kosala had been merged into a single kingdom. Later, Pañcāla was divided into two kingdoms again. Kosala was closer than Pañcāla to the Sakyan and the Koliyan republics, therefore both of them came under Kosalan control. It is likely that both became vassal states of Kosala from that period.
When the Pañcāla king demanded a princess from the Sakyans and Koliyans, and they, overcome by pride about the purity of their blood, offended him by rejecting his demand and were destroyed by his armed forces, the Buddha and his teaching did not exist. Then why were these two republics defeated? Similarly, when King Viṭaṭūbha of Kosala attacked them, the root cause of the war was the caste-pride of the Sakyans.
Kosala had always been very powerful and the Sakyans were no match for its armed might. Therefore, the defeat of the Sakyans was certain. Compared to the previous occasion, they were in a worse position this time because both republics were vassal states of Kosala. Under such conditions, it was not surprising that the Kosalan army attacked and utterly routed them. So why were the Buddha and his teaching blamed for the downfall of the Sakyans? Clearly, this was just one more false pretext to malign the teaching of the Buddha.
The reason for the destruction of the Sakyans was clearly their great pride about their caste. During the time of King Abhirāja, they were destroyed because of this caste-pride and during the time of Viṭaṭūbha, they were again slaughtered for the same reason. But today, brushing aside these historical truths, a totally false accusation has been fabricated. The sole intention of whoever created and spread this fabrication was to defame the teaching of the Buddha by any means.
It is clear from the entire teaching of the Buddha that even if the system of four castes is to be accepted, it should not be based on birth. When this happens, it is a devaluation of Dhamma and causes harm and injury to Dhamma. According to this belief, a person who is living a grossly immoral life is revered because of birth in a high-caste family. On the other hand, a person living a moral life is considered to be an outcaste because of birth in a low-caste family. This means that the caste of one’s family has become more important than living a moral life. To get rid of this destructive way of thinking and to re-establish the pure Dhamma, the Buddha emphasised that one becomes high or low, superior or inferior, honourable or dishonourable, not on the basis of one’s birth but on the basis of one’s deeds and virtues.
However, the Sakyans went against the teaching of the Buddha and encouraged the belief in high and low status on the basis of birth. This bigotry resulted in their destruction for a second time.
The Vajjians were ruined because they became a victim of the deceit of the Brahmin minister Vassakāra and started to neglect the teaching of the Buddha. Similarly, the Sakyans were ruined not because they followed the teaching of the Buddha but because they disregarded his teaching that birth should not be the basis for high or low status. The khattiyas of the Sakyan and the Koliya clans were so haughty about the superiority of their clan that they were not ready to marry their daughters even to other khattiyas.
In this regard, the Buddha’s teaching is very clear:
Jātitthaddho dhanatthaddho, gottatthaddho ca yo naro;
saññātiṃ atimaññeti, taṃ parābhavato mukhaṃ
Sutta Nipāta 104, Parābhavasutta
If any man out of pride of his birth, wealth and clan despises his own relatives—that is the cause of his downfall.
This is exactly what happened. The Sakyans and the Koliyans were so intoxicated by caste-pride that, in the past, they insulted the ruler of Pañcāla by refusing to give one of their maidens in marriage to him, even though he was a khattiya. Similarly, they considered King Pasenadi to be of inferior caste and deceived him, instead of offering him a princess for marriage.
In both situations, they were defeated and ruined. Therefore the true cause of their downfall was their great pride in belonging to a high caste. The Sakyans did not follow the teaching of the Buddha; they acted contrary to his teaching. That is the reason why they were defeated.
The real cause of India’s decline as a nation has been the destructive caste system, which has divided the people into factions and weakened them. The nation has never been able to unite for its own defence and has been suffering the dire consequences of this disunity. Let us resolve to get rid of this scourge of the caste system from our society.