Volume 18, 2011
The Buddha and the Māgadha-Vajjī War
Ven. Pandita (Burma)
University of Kelaniya
According to an account recorded in Mahāparinibbānasutta, the Buddha had to meet a royal minister named Vassakāra when King Ajātasattu ordered the latter to visit the Buddha and inform him about the king’s plan to subdue the Vajjīs. After hearing Vassakāra, the Buddha spoke on seven Conditions of Welfare (satta aparihāniyā dhammā), which would ensure the prosperity of the Vajjīs as long as its citizens observed them. Vassakāra shrewdly inferred from the Buddha’s discourse how to defeat the Vajjī people and later actually forced them into submission. Regarding that event, there are some perplexing questions:
- Why did King Ajātasattu choose to consult a wandering ascetic on a significant matter of state like fighting a war?
- Vassakāra discerned how to defeat the Vajjīs from the Buddha’s exposition of the Seven Conditions of Welfare. So did the Buddha intend to help Ajātasattu defeat the Vajjīs? If not, what was his purpose in expounding the seven Conditions of Welfare to Vassakāra?
- If the Buddha really did not accept any kind of violence, as the tradition would have it, why did he not openly speak against it?
This paper will attempt to answer these questions and will argue, in the conclusion, that this event shows the Buddha’s disapproving attitude toward a political role of the Buddhist Order.