On the name Koṇḍañña

As I go through my annotation project, I have the chance to review at my leisure many details that I took for granted when translating. In DN 14, I notice that three of the past Buddhas are said to have belonged to the Koṇḍañña clan, namely Vipassī, Sikhī, and Vessabhū. Notably, these are the same three past Buddhas who are identified as khattiyas.

Now, in recent years there has been a welcome discussion as to the role of brahmanism in the Buddha’s time, and among the questions that have been raised regards the Buddha’s clan name, Gotama. He too was a khattiya, yet Gotama is one of the names of the famous rishis of the past, and thus closely associated with the brahmins.

So I wonder what the name Koṇḍañña signifies. It is most famously the name of the Koṇḍañña who, as one of the five ascetics, was first to see the Dhamma and first to attain arahantship. After that time, it seems, he kept a low profile in seclusion, only returning occasionally to the Sangha. He was formerly a practitioner of either Jainism or a Jain-like sramana system, which does not tell us what his caste was (since all the sramanas, like the Buddha, accepted those from any caste).

The Sanskrit dictionaries speak of certain Kauṇḍinyas. Let’s see what we can dig up on them!

It seems that the name is a patronymic stemming from the town Kuṇḍina, the capital Vidarbha. The presence of retroflexes in the name suggest it may have a non-Indo-European origin, but I haven’t been able to confirm this.

It seems this is nearby, or perhaps an alternate name for, the city of Bhoja or Bhojakata, a city on which I have written before. Kuṇḍina is famous for the story of how Krishna abducted and married by the Rākṣasa (demonic) vows the beautiful princess Rukmini, incurring the wrath of the dread king Bhishmaka. It’s all very dramatic!

This is the northern part of the Deccan, i.e. just a little to the south of the Buddha’s regular orbit. If it is the case that the Koṇḍaññas hail from this city, then it seems likely they were leading landowners of the region, i.e. khattiyas rather than brahmins. The Bṛhadāraṇyaka (2,6.3) mentions a certain vidarbhīkauṇḍinya, which confirms the connection of the Koṇḍaññas with Vidarbha.

As that reference shows, however, if it was the case that the Koṇḍaññas originated as khattiyas, they were soon absorbed in the brahmanical fold. The Bṛhadāraṇyaka attributes the famous "honey knowledge) (madhuvidya) to a lineage that includes the above vidarbhīkauṇḍinya as well as another kauṇḍinya. This is one of the earliest and most important of the Brahmanical lineage lists, and includes Koṇḍañña alongside other famous Brahmanical names, including Gautama.

Kauṇḍinya crops up also in the Taittirīya Prātiśākhya, an ancient book of phonetics. There (5.38) he is cited (alongside Gautama) as an authority on Sanskrit grammar ; another time (17.4)—although it seems this is in the commentary (?)—he is called sthavira (“elder”).

As background, there were various branches of brahmanical learning, each influential in a different region. This grammar belongs to the Taittirīyaśākhā.

The related Brahmana text was said to be:

prevalent in southern India in areas such in Andhra Pradesh, south and east of Narmada (Gujarat), and areas on the banks of the Godavari river down to the sea.

In fact, the city of Kuṇḍina lies beside the bounteous Wardha river, which is a tributary of the Godavari.

So this tracks. Kuṇḍina was a prominent city at the north of the Deccan, or in other words, on the gateway to the south of India. Its leading clan was known as Kauṇḍinya, which is spelled Koṇḍañña in Pali. They were missionized by the brahmins at some point before the Buddha, becoming part of the broader Taittirīya branch. One or more of their members were acknowledged as experts in old Brahmanical texts, although the paucity of details makes it hard to say much about them.

We have identified three ancient sources for them: the EBTs, the Bṛhadāraṇyaka, and the Taittirīya Prātiśākhya. This is based solely on the references in the dictionaries, and there may well be more. But it is rather curious that in all three cases their name appears in a list alongside Gautama/Gotama. Probably it’s just coincidence, I guess.

In any case, it does speak to the apparent paradox of the name Gotama being used for both brahmins and khattiyas. I’ve always felt that the boundaries between the two are nowhere near as clear as we might think.


BTW, I proposed here that the Buddha’s ascetic practices were Brahmanical — or at least some continuation of Brahmanical-like mysticism which he learned from Ālāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta, perhaps influenced by experimental mortification practices. I think all of the circumstantial evidence and fragmentary clues point to this being the case. Snp 3.2 is a good example as well: Māra temps the Buddha to perform the agnihotra and make merit while he is doing extreme austerity, though seemingly less extreme than the earliest period.

The Buddha’s other first sermons were plays on the controlling ātman, and the burning of fire / maintaining the sacrificial fire. Extreme asceticism was a Brahmanical practice, not just a Jain one, and the breath control meditations are specifically brahmanical.

Also: I wish I had included this originally. I haven’t seen it discussed much (or ever), but at SN 35.103, the Buddha says that Uddaka Rāmaputta used to call himself a ‘vedagū’ (master of the Veda) — precisely what the Upanisads say — and a ‘sabbajī,’ which if we read in a more pregnant philosophical sense, this would be ‘sabba’ as in ‘the Whole/All,’ related to brahmán and the cosmic ātman. This doesn’t directly relate, but this is yet another time where Uddaka Rāmaputta comes up in a Brahmanical context or saying something Upanisadic.


You did, but I wasn’t persuaded. Obviously there are lots of things shared between traditions, but you ignored a lot of the reasons for thinking the Bodhisatta experimented with Jain-like teachings.

He is claimed to have been a former Jain by the Jains; he believed in the doctrine “pleasure is not to be gained through pleasure, pleasure is to be gained through pain”, which is fundamental to Jainism but, so far as I know, not Brahmanism, and in fact is quite antithetical to their madhuvidya and other doctrines; the specific ascetic practices include things like nakedness, tearing out hair, not bathing, extreme fasting, taking food in hands; and so on and so on, all of which are associated with the Jains.

A modern Jain here argues the case with a list of detailed prescriptions common to the ascetic practices as listed in Buddhism and Jainism.


This is misleading and the text rather proves the opposite point: Mara tempts him to abandon austerities and take up something else, namely agnihotra.

In your former post you said that there was no evidence that the Bodhisatta abandoned the former doctrine. But this is exactly what it says: on his disillusionment with Alara and Uddaka, he said he left “that Dhamma”, i.e. the entire religious theory and practice, beginning with the memorized texts.


In ‘Ascetics and Brahmins,’ Patrick Olivelle describes various ascetic practices of brahmin renunciants. An especially important one that the texts spend a lot of time discussing is food: How much food one eats, how many handfulls/houses one approaches, and how one eats it. Taking only a few bites/morsels or approaching only a limited number of houses, receiving food in one’s bare hands, and even off the ground were main practices described along with extreme fasting. Not bathing was another one.

Why? Because they were intentionally going against mainstream ritualistic Brahmanism. Eating food was sacred: so they ate it less, fasted, and threw out all the pure ways associated with it. Bathing purified one and was part of ritual: so they got rid of bathing to do inner purity. The same is true of the agnihotra and maintaining a fire: they specifically gave up serving the flame to serve the inner flame and perform ‘tapas.’ This dichotomy between fire ritualists and tapas ascetics was a major influence even on orthodox Brahmanism. Which is why:

This is precisely the tension that existed in the tradition. Give up agnihotra and perform tapas, or give up tapas and perform agnihotra.

Do you know where he says he believed this, bhante? It is said by the Jains at MN 14

sukhena sukhaṁ adhigantabbaṁ, dukkhena kho sukhaṁ adhigantabbaṁ

But I can’t find a sutta where the Buddha claims to have believed this doctrine. I may be missing the obvious, but MN 26, MN 36 and MN 85 don’t seem to mention it. They mention the Bodhisatta practicing vegetarian fasting and practicing a breath-restraint meditation which caused him to be heated (both mentioned in Brahmanical ascetic texts). They also mention that the reason he started dropping sensuality was his own insight into the simile of the sticks and the sticks being wet or dry, not that he heard this from another teacher.

I’d imagine if for centuries Buddhists say “the Buddha already practiced your austerities, and they are ineffective” they would claim this. They have sutras which reject the ‘momentary khandhas’ and we know there was plenty of dialogue. Hindus claim the Buddha for their own as well, as do the Catholics, etc.

This I missed. Thank you for calling that out, bhante :pray: I think this is good to consider, but I also would respond that he left the Dhamma of his former teachers but not necessarily some of their practices. The Buddha taught the five faculties, the formless meditations, perhaps the jhānas, and used other theoretical terms that his former teachers used (vedagū for instance as I mentioned above). So it seems he retained a lot of practice from them, but dropped their theory that X was nibbāna/the ultimate goal, along with the theoretical texts.

At MN 79, Sakuludāyī says he believes in a fully blissful self which survives death, and that he practices for this by taking precepts and doing several types of mortification. This sounds quite Upanisadic and like what the Bodhisattta did, and the Buddha has a lot to say of it. He equated this pure bliss to a rūpa, i.e. brahmā, world/state realized in fourth jhāna. This could easily just be him responding to other theories so it isn’t the most solid of ‘evidence,’ but I find it relevant.

These are just some reasons why I think the connection to Jainism is a lot weaker than it may seem at first. We associate the Jains with mortification, but this was a common practice, and the ascetic brahmins in the area probably copied a lot of theory from other srāmanas. It was presumably not the same Dhamma as his teachers—hence why he left them. But what the Bodhisatta did was precedented in the same ascetic/mystic Brahmanical tradition and he may have just been pursuing other well-known ascetic practices in the same general tradition, following the footsteps of others, while having his own insights along the way.

There may be more of a connection here though than would seem on the surface if there was such cross-over between “samanabrāhmana.” The Ājīvika seem to have lots in common with Jain ideas, and so maybe these mortification practices among Eastern ascetic Brahmanical mystics were more than just unknowingly influenced?


“mn85:10.1”: "“Mayhampi kho, rājakumāra, pubbeva sambodhā anabhisambuddhassa bodhisattasseva sato etadahosi: ",
55: “mn85:10.2”: "‘na kho sukhena sukhaṁ adhigantabbaṁ, dukkhena kho sukhaṁ adhigantabban’ti. ",


Thank you bhante! :pray: Looks like it slipped right under my nose.

There is something strange though: the Buddha says he thought this, and some time later he went forth, then learned under Ālāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta. He doesn’t mention it for his time doing mortification practices, which he chalks up to his insight with the stick simile. Maybe you suspect the order is off or that it applies to the asceticism specifically? It certainly could be that the formulaic passage on his going forth is misleading and that the story culminates in asceticism with that view.

I think it’s definitely reasonable that Kondañña and the others were doing some non-Brahmanical srāmana practices. There just seems to be a lack of knowledge or recognition of Jain doctrine from the Buddha and more continuity with Brahmanical ascetics, but :man_shrugging: He was doing asceticism either way, whatever the details.


Hmm, maybe just an editing problem?

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