Racism, Exceptionalism, and the Demise of the Sakyans

The Buddha came from the oligarchic republic of the Sakyan people. This state was actually the vassal of the larger and more powerful Kingdom of Kosala. Though subjugated under Kosala, the Sakyans proudly enjoyed the honor and privileges of being of a higher caste than the Kosala King Pasenadi.

In order to increase his prestige, the king sent emissaries to the Sakyans, requesting a woman to wed so that his heir would be of nobler blood. The Sakyans, proud of their position and caste, were not willing to let him marry into the Sakyan fold. However, they knew he was quick tempered, his kingdom was powerful, and they were a mere province under his rule.

It was then that one of the Sakyans, Mahanama, offered the he could pass off a slave girl by the name of Vasabha as his Sakyan daughter and have her marry Pasenadi. Having accepted Vasabha, King Pasenadi had a son with her, known as Vidudabha.

After some time, Vidubabha visited the capital of the Sakyan republic, Kapilavatthu. Though he was warmly met, the Sakyans sent away their younger princes so that the younger generation would not salute the prince Vidudabha. Upon the conclusion of the visit, a servant was told to clean with milk the seat where the prince had sat because he was the son of a slave. While the servant was cleaning the seat, a member of the prince’s envoy heard her remark that the son of a slave had sat there. It was not long before the member of the envoy took the news to Vidudabha. Feeling humiliated and enraged, the prince vowed to destroy the Sakyan people.

Vidudabha’s anger festered over time and, after usurping the throne from his father, he decided to set his sights on the Sakyans. Not even the counsel of the Buddha would stop him. He and his army slaughtered almost all of the Sakyan people. When he left with Mahanama and his family, the rains came and the river Acirawati flooded, taking the prince and his army with it. Apparently Mahanama’s family escaped. Mahanama himself disappeared.

When hearing the news of this tragedy, the Buddha recounted that in past lives, the Sakyan princes poisoned that river long go, killing it’s fish, and that was the karmic reason for their demise. Regarding the prince and his army, the Buddha said that their unawakened states prevented them from seeing that their actions would also have consequences.

Though it would seem a little odd that the Buddha would attribute something other than the more recent act of racism to the downfall of the Sakyans, it may point to something quite relevant today. Maybe the story of the poisoning of the river points to a collective karma that has been perpetuated over centuries. Perhaps Vidudaha’s actions were the result of a long tradition of exceptionalism upheld by the Sakyan nobility. In the end, that racism and sense of exceptionalism swallowed the nation.

Considering the cyclic functions of samsara, is history repeating itself?

Namo Amida Bu

Image from Pixabay

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