How peaceful was the political environment during the time of the Buddha?

Hello all. I don’t know about you all, but here in the US politics is a hard topic to not think about these days. For me at least it has been a struggle to try to focus as far as learning about the Dhamma is concerned.

So here is my attempt to find a path into the EBTs: what do we know about the political stability of the societies in which the Buddha lived? It is my (quite possibly wrong) understanding that many of the parks in which the Buddha and his sangha would congregate were in a sense “protected” by the local ruler. Should this be interpreted to mean that they were protected militarily?

I vaguely recall an incident somewhere in the canon in which tens of thousands (was it 50,000?) of the people of the Buddha’s homeland had been killed through violence.

Was violence ubiquitous then? Or was there some kind of relatively peaceful period in which the various mendicant schools (and there seem to have been many, not just Buddhists) were able to thrive?


I found this interesting article about Kapilavastu: Kapilavastu - Ancient History Encyclopedia

It includes the following text:

Kapilavastu was destroyed by the Kingdom of Kosala (c. 7th-5th centuries BCE), which had assumed control of the region, under their king Vidudabha (c. 6th century BCE) of the Baghochia Dynasty during the Buddha’s lifetime. According to Buddhist tradition, Buddha is said to have wept upon hearing the news that his clan had been nearly annihilated and his city destroyed, an anecdote used to comfort modern Buddhists in their own times of grief and loss in that even the Buddha recognized the importance of mourning.

The kingdom of Kosala was ruled at the time by Virudhaka, and Wikipedia mentions:

Virudhaka (Sanskrit: Virūḍhaka, Pali: Viḍūḍabha) was a king of Kosala during the lifetime of the Buddha. He was the son and successor of Pasenadi (Prasenajit), king of Kosala.[1] Virūḍhaka attacked and virtually annihilated the little autonomous tribe of Shakyas, to which the Buddha belonged, and Koliyas, in the Himalayan foothills. He never returned to his capital, Sravasti, and a little later Ajatshatru, the mighty ruler of Magadha, annexed his kingdom.

Ajatshatru may have converted to Buddhism later in his life after meeting the Buddha, as described in this Wikipedia post: Ajatashatru - Wikipedia

It is clear that the Buddha’s times were indeed very tumultuous and replete with tragic loss of life. An interesting article about Buddhism and political violence is here:

In regards to non-violent protests, I seem to recall a situation where a king wanted to commit a massacre, and Buddha came three times by the side of the road as the Army wanted to pass by. His presence by the side of the road was enough to stop the army. However, the fourth time, Buddha did not come and the army did pass and commit the massacre. The army later perished in a flood as karma for their massacre. However, I regret I cannot recall the specific sutta or source to provide a citation–if anyone knows, please share that with me.


It was a far more violent time. Death and Disease were ubiquitous. The power of the kings extended to very small parts of their villages and towns, mostly enforced by brutal capital punishment… the paths were stalked by thieves and murderers… and the police were no less violent and corrupt! Not to mention that the kings and their ministers were themselves almost always up to their neck in bloody disputes, internecine quarrels and warfare.

The Gracious One said this to venerable Nāgasamāla: “This is the path, Nāgasamāla, let us go by this one.”

Then venerable Nāgasamāla, having put the Gracious One’s bowl and robe on the floor right there and then, went away, saying: “This is the Gracious One’s bowl and robe, reverend Sir.”

Then as venerable Nāgasamāla was going along by that path, thieves who had gone along the road, attacked him with their hands and feet, broke his bowl, and tore his double-robe.

Now at that time in the realm of King Pasenadi of Kosala there was a bandit named Aṅgulimāla. He was violent, bloody-handed, a hardened killer, merciless to living beings. He laid waste to villages, towns, and countries. He was constantly murdering people, and he wore their fingers as a necklace.

Furthermore, for the sake of sensual pleasures they break into houses, plunder wealth, steal from isolated buildings, commit highway robbery, and commit adultery. The rulers would arrest them and subject them to various punishments—whipping, caning, and clubbing; cutting off hands or feet, or both; cutting off ears or nose, or both; the ‘porridge pot’, the ‘shell-shave’, the ‘demon’s mouth’, the ‘garland of fire’, the ‘burning hand’, the ‘grass blades’, the ‘bark dress’, the ‘antelope’, the ‘meat hook’, the ‘coins’, the ‘acid pickle’, the ‘twisting bar’, the ‘straw mat’; being splashed with hot oil, being fed to the dogs, being impaled alive, and being beheaded. These result in death and deadly pain.

What do you think, chief? Do you know the Koliyan officers with drooping headdresses?”

“I know them, sir.”

“And what’s their job?”

“To put a stop to bandits and to deliver messages for the Koliyans.”

“What do you think, chief? Are the Koliyan officers with drooping headdresses moral or immoral?”

“I know that they’re immoral, of bad character, sir. They are among those in the world who are immoral and of bad character.”

What kind of person is thrown in jail for stealing half a dollar, a dollar, or a hundred dollars? A person who is poor, with few possessions and > little wealth. That kind of person is thrown in jail for stealing half a dollar, a dollar, or a hundred dollars.

What kind of person isn’t thrown in jail for stealing half a dollar, a dollar, or a hundred dollars? A person who is rich, affluent, and wealthy. That kind of person isn’t thrown in jail for stealing half a dollar, a dollar, or a hundred dollars.

The Gracious One addressed venerable Ānanda, saying: “Now who, Ānanda, is building a city at Pāṭaligāma?”

“The Magadhan chief ministers Sunīdha and Vassakāra, reverend Sir, are building up a city at Pāṭaligāma to ward off the Vajjians.”

Now at that time King Ajātasattu Vedehiputta of Māgadha wanted to invade the Vajjis. He declared: “I shall wipe out these Vajjis, so mighty and powerful! I shall destroy them, and lay ruin and devastation upon them!”

Here, reverend Sir, when King Udena had gone to the pleasure park, the inner quarters of the palace were burnt down, and five hundred women died with Queen Sāmāvatī at their head.

Yet the Buddha was always at pains to remind people of what are their greatest blessings…

Not to associate with the foolish, but to associate with the wise; and to honor those who are worthy of honor—this is the greatest blessing.

To reside in a suitable locality, to have done meritorious actions in the past and to set oneself in the right course—this is the greatest blessing…

To have much learning, to be skillful in handicraft, well-trained in discipline, and to be of good speech—this is the greatest blessing.

To support mother and father, to cherish wife and children, and to be engaged in peaceful occupation—this is the greatest blessing.

To be generous in giving, to be righteous in conduct, to help one’s relatives, and to be blameless in action—this is the greatest blessing.


It was not peaceful, and the Buddha’s travels were driven by political events of the time:


This is the story (and also here) of how King Pasenadi’s son King Vidhudabha attacked and destroyed the Sakyan Republic.


What is the ultimate source for this version of events? Commentaries? :anjal:


AFAIK a mixture of suttas, dhammapada, jatakas and commentary. SN Goenka’s article has the citations.


In addition to numerous sutta quotes above, in Snp 4.15 the Buddha expressed his feeling of vertigo because he was seeing the world around him is tremble of violence and warfare (perhaps this happened soon after he left his native land and witnessed the world outside his hometown). In Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation, it said:

  1. “Fear has arisen from one who has taken up the rod:
    see the people engaged in strife.
    I will tell you of my sense of urgency,
    how I was stirred by a sense of urgency. (1) [183]

  2. “Having seen the population trembling
    like fish in a pool with little water,
    having seen them hostile to one another,
    fear came upon me. (2)

  3. “The world was insubstantial all around;
    all the directions were in turmoil.
    Desiring an abode for myself,
    I did not see [any place] unoccupied. (3)