On padesarāja as a late-ish term

The EBTs a number of times (eg. AN 7.62) depict the Buddha speaking of his past lives as a universal monarch:

Many hundreds of times I was a king, a wheel-turning monarch, a just and principled king. My dominion extended to all four sides, I achieved stability in the country, and I possessed the seven treasures.

The Itivuttaka (Iti 22) appends to the stock description the phrase:

Ko pana vādo padesarajjassa.
Let alone local kingship.

The phrase is not a problematic one. But curiously enough the notion of “local” king—i.e. the king of a specific nation, such as, presumably, one of the 16 janapadas extant at the time of the Buddha—does not appear in the early strata of the texts. It makes an appearance through a range of texts considered to be somewhat later.

The Itivuttaka is one such text. Padesarāja also appears in the Vinaya (Pj 2), Milinda (Mil 5.4.7, Mil 6.2.4), the Netti (Ne 37), the Khuddakapatha (Kp 8), and frequently in the Apadānas.

The emergence of the term possibly relates to the changing political situation. In the time of the Buddha, all kings were “local”, and the universal monarch was spoken of solely in mythic terms. But a century or so later, the Magadhan kingdom had grown to cover virtually all of the India that the Buddha knew, and soon after, much further. It would seem natural that in such a state, when the “king” was in fact a world-spanning emperor, that the more humble local kings of an earlier day were distinguished with a specific title.

I don’t personally think of the Itivuttaka as a particularly late text. I think it was probably compiled during the same period as the main nikayas, although perhaps fixed in form towards the end of that period. But this one word, although hardly significant by itself, perhaps hints at an affinity with the later canon rather than the early.


The word is present in second defeat rule definitions.

rājāno nāma pathabyārājā padesarājā maṇḍalikā antarabhogikā akkhadassā mahāmattā, ye vā pana chejjabhejjaṃ karontā anusāsanti. Ete rājāno nāma (Dutiyapārājikaṃ)
kings of the earth, kings of a region, rulers of islands, rulers of border areas, judges, government officials, or whoever metes out physical punishment— these are called “kings.”

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Thank you, this is interesting. I suspect such analysis of vocabulary has a lot of potential in dating various parts of the Canon. It is a shame that so little research has been done in this area.

Well, it could be more complex than it seems. I recall Ven. Anālayo’s comparative study of the Udāna, where he concluded - quite persuasively, in my opinion - that the verses are older, perhaps significantly older, than the prose. This is a recurring phenomenon for the Khuddaka Nikāya. For the Dhammapada there are only verses, and the background stories - the prose - are found only in the commentary. In the Jātakas the situation is similar. It would hardly seems strange, then, if a similar situation obtains in the Itivuttaka.

What I am suggesting is that it may well be that the prose of the Itivuttaka, which is where the word padesarājā occurs, may be significantly more recent than the verses. This would match the occurrence of the word in the Vinaya Piṭaka, where padesarājā is found in the word commentary, which is generally regarded as significantly later than the pātimokkha rules.


Indeed, but I wonder whether a different process applies in this case. In the Udana, there is clearly the common form whereby an existing verse (or short saying) is placed in a prose framework, as in the Jatakas, etc.

The Itivuttaka, however, follows more closely the Anguttara style, and there it seems that often the verse was created after the prose to summarize the suttas.

In several of the Itivuttaka texts the verses betray the fact that the composers of the verses were not trying to present them as original Buddhavacana. Consider cases such as Iti 21:

Etamatthañca byākāsi,
the Buddha explained this matter
buddho bhikkhūna santike.
in the mendicants’ presence.

Or in Iti 24:

Siyā pabbatasamo rāsi,
they’d make a pile the size of a mountain:
iti vuttaṃ mahesinā.
so said the great hermit.

The prose is, of course, always attributed to the Buddha.

On the other hand, in quite a few cases, possibly the majority, the verses are in fact derived from elsewhere in the canon: Dhp, AN, SN, etc.

So possibly there is, as in AN, a mixed situation, where some verses are older than the prose, and formed the kernel around which the prose was formed, while others are younger, and were added to summarize the prose. But this is only an initial impression and may be quite wrong! Of course a detailed comparison with the Chinese would be required.