Names and Dates at Vedisa

Note: Accompanying my book Sects & Sectarianism I wrote a series of short articles on related matters. I recently came across these, tidied them up, and present them here for your enjoyment.

Gotiputa

Willis attempts to determine the likely time of Gotiputa’s death. Assuming that the stupa was built soon after the death of Gotiputa’s students, and that there was a 25–30 year gap between Gotiputa’s death and the death of his students, he estimates that Gotiputa died around 140 BCE. But these assumptions are highly tenuous. If we assume that the stupa was built a few decades after the death of the students, and that there was, say, 50 years between Gotiputa’s death and the death of his last student, we can place Gotiputa’s death before 200 BCE. In this case he could have been a senior monk at the time of the Third Council.

We must admit that the only date we can really give for Gotiputa and his disciples is that they must have lived in between the mission period and the erection of the stupas. There are verified Aśokan remnants at this site, so the Buddhist presence could have been any time since then. Willis remarks that there seems to have been a gap between the Aśokan monuments and the later buildings, attributing the renewal to the arrival of Gotiputa and the Hemavatas. But again, there is no objection to thinking that Gotiputa may have lived in Sāñchī at an earlier time, but when the religion flowered due to favourable conditions, the community wished to honour the teacher who they looked back on as the ‘Light of Sāñchī’, and whose relics they had been carefully preserving.

We must be careful not to reify archaeological findings in the same way that textual data has sometimes been treated. What we can ascertain beyond reasonable doubt from the reliquaries is little, and we must be careful before condemning as ‘impossible’ explanations that are merely based on a different set of assumptions.

If I understand Willis correctly, Gotiputa’s chronology works like this. Here I extend Willis’ timeline to Gotiputa’s probable ordination.

Gotiputa’s dates according to Willis

BCE Event Assumptions
110 Railings of stupa 2 at Sāñchī built Relics placed inside stupa not long before railings built.
115 Death of Gotiputa’s last student Stupa was built soon after the death of Gotiputa’s last direct disciple.
140 Gotiputa’s death There was approx 25-30 years between Gotiputa’s death and those of hislast disciple.
150 Gotiputa arrives in Sāñchī He lived in Sāñchī for 10 years to be deserving of the title ‘Light of Sāñchī’
200 Gotiputa’s ordination Gotiputa ordained as a young man of 20 and lived a full 80 years.
239 Aśoka’sdeath
242 Schism edicts
245 Hemavata mission The missions were organized some time after the Third Council.
251 Third council
268 Aśoka’s coronation

We can see that Willis, by ignoring the fact that Gotiputa was likely to have been ordained long before his death, has overstated his case in asserting that there is a century between Gotiputa and the original Hemavata teachers. The missions were sent out after the Third Council in the 17th year of Aśoka’s reign, so there is every reason to believe the missionaries lived for some decades after Aśoka. Even under Willis’ assumptions, there is no reason why Gotiputa should not have been already ordained as a monk while the original Hemavata teachers were alive. But let us try stretching Willis’ admittedly flexible assumptions a little and see where we end up.

Gotiputa’s dates—another possibility

BCE Event Assumptions
120 Relics placed inside Sāñchī stupa 2 Relics placed inside stupa 10 years before railings built.
140 Death of Gotiputa’s last student Stupa was built 20 years after the death of Gotiputa’s last direct disciple. It is common to build stupas for the Buddha or disciples even centuries after they have died.
190 Gotiputa’s death Gotiputa’s last disciple dies 50 years after him, i.e. when 70 he took on a disciple aged 20. This is entirely normal. Willis’ 25–30 years is too short, entailing Gotiputa stopped taking on disciples at 50. At maximum, if a monk in his 90s were to take on a novice student, we could have a gap of over 80 years.1
200 Gotiputa arrives in Sāñchī He lived in Sāñchī for 10 years to be deserving of the title ‘Light of Sāñchī’
239 Aśoka’s death
242 Schism edicts
245 Hemavata mission The missions were organized some time after the Third Council.
250 Gotiputa’s ordination Gotiputa ordained as a young man of 20 and lived a full 80 years.
251 Third council
268 Aśoka’s coronation

We now see Gotiputa as a full contemporary of the original Hemavata teachers, one who may have accompanied them or followed them as a young monk, and who, due to his well–attested spiritual eminence, was regarded as the monk who was truly worthy of carrying on their tradition. But we are not finished. Let us stretch the assumptions one more degree.

Gotiputa’s dates—a final possibility

BCE Event Assumptions
120 Relics placed inside stupa 2 Relics placed inside stupa 10 years before railings built.
170 Death of Gotiputa’s last student Stupa was built 50 years after the death of Gotiputa’s last directdisciple.
220 Gotiputa’s death Gotiputa’s last disciple dies 50 years after him.
230 Gotiputa arrives in Sāñchī He lived in Sāñchī for 10 years to be deserving of the title ‘Light of Sāñchī’
239 Aśoka’s death
242 Schism edicts
245 Hemavata mission The missions were organized some time after the Third Council.
251 Third council
268 Aśoka’s coronation
280 Gotiputa’s ordination Gotiputa ordained as a young man of 20 and lived a full 80 years.

So by the mere expedient of assuming that Gotiputa lived until a ripe old age; that he was taking on young disciples when an old man; and that there was a gap of several decades between the death of the last disciple and the building of the stupa, we have returned Gotiputa’s ordination date to well before Aśoka’s coronation, suggesting that he could have been a senior monk of standing at the time of the Third Council.

These measures have hardly exhausted the possible margin of error in the dates. The date of stupa 2 may easily be 10–20 years earlier. There could well have been more than 10 years between building the body of the stupa and the railings; even today such projects take many years to complete. The gap between the death of the monks and their interment could be anything at all: in modern times there are stupas built to house relics 2000 years old.

Kosikiputa

One of the names is a certain Kosikiputa/Kosikīputa, which Willis suggests may be a metrynomic for the Sahadeva of the Pali texts. This is an ancient name, occurring in the Bṛhadāraññaka’s lineage lists.2 The Dictionary of Pali Proper Names mentions only one Kosikī: ‘A river, probably a branch of the Ganges. It flowed from Himavā, and on its bank was a mango-grove three leagues in extent. J.v.2, 5, 6.’ We also find two references to a Kosika connected with this region: ‘A rock near Himavā where Nārada Kassapa had a hermitage. Ap.ii.381.’ And: ‘A Pacceka Buddha. He once lived in Cittakūta, and Ukkāsatika, in a previous birth, seeing him wandering about Himavā, lit round him at night one hundred torches and gave him alms. Ap.ii.414.’ We are thus justified in seeing the use of this name, closely associated with the Himalayan region, as also having a geographical implication in this name of a teacher from the Haimavata school. Perhaps it was at ‘Kosika’—wherever that may be—that the Haimavatas had one of their centres.


1 There is a modern example. Luang Ta Bua, the senior patriarch of the Thai forest tradition, was active well into his nineties. His teacher, Ajahn Mun, died in 1949, leaving nearly 60 years between their deaths.

2 BrhUp 6,5.1: kauśikīputra

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