A note on karakārako rāsivaḍḍhako

In DN 2, in the passage on the second fruit of the ascetic life, the Buddha is indicating some of the simple fruits of the spiritual life to King Ajātasattu. A person is described as a working man of some substance, in contrast with the servant of the previous passage. A couple of the terms in the description are rare, and have been rather imperfectly translated hitherto.

idha te assa puriso kassako gahapatiko karakārako rāsivaḍḍhako

Ven Bodhi has:

a farmer, a householder, who pays taxes to maintain the royal revenue

Which seems to follow the paraphrase of Rhys Davids:

a free man who cultivates his land, a householder, who pays taxes and thus increases the king’s wealth

Thanissaro follows suit:

a farmer, a householder, a taxpayer swelling the royal treasury.

Only Walshe differs:

a farmer, a householder, in your service, the steward of an estate

The rendering only partly follows the commentary:

Balisaṅkhātaṃ karaṃ karotīti karakārako. Dhaññarāsiṃ dhanarāsiñca vaḍḍhetīti rāsivaḍḍhako.
A “hard worker” is one who does the duty reckoned as taxes (too literal, it just means one who pays their taxes.) A “heap-increaser” is someone who increases the heap of grain and the heap of wealth.

There’s nothing that specifies that the wealth that is increased is that of the king.

But to return to the suttas, the term karakāraka, perhaps surprisingly, only occurs in one other context. This is in MN 57, in reference to the naked dog-duty ascetic, who is said to be someone who “does a hard thing” or “performs a difficult duty”, dukkarakārako.

So there is nothing in the word itself that suggests it means “tax-payer”. Rather, it just means a “hard worker”, someone who does their job.

Then, given that even the commentary does not associate rāsivaḍḍhaka with paying taxes, it seems simpler to just take it to mean that they are an “investor”, someone who prudently saves and builds up their property, rather than squandering it.

idha te assa puriso kassako gahapatiko karakārako rāsivaḍḍhako
Suppose there was a person of yours who was a farmer, a householder, a hard worker, someone who builds up their capital.

It’s only a minor difference, but I found it an interesting one, because it suggests a different strategy in dealing with Ajātasattu. If we take the terms as referring to taxation, then the Buddha is appealing to Ajātasattu’s self-interest. But if it is simply a good citizen and responsible worker, he is expecting Ajātasattu to respond on an ethical level. Such nuances shed a new light on one of the most fascinating characters in Buddhist history.