Philosophical Demographics of the Sāvakas

Is there any way to tell what the “philosophical demographics” of the early Sangha was? (percent Brahmin, Cārvāka, etc.)

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They are all Buddhists. Or else they wouldn’t be successful in the 4 months probation period of conversion. You mean to ask pre-conversion?

Given that the suttas is not likely to be exhaustive, I don’t think it’s so fruitful to count one by one. You can use it as your own project when reading through one round of the sutta to take note if the sutta mentioned the previous belief of a person before being converted by the Buddha and ordained.

Should’ve been more clear, yea, pre-conversion. I’m not so concerned with exact numbers as the general composition. Trying to determine if the audience was coming from a generally theist background or non-theist, I’d imagine there’d be different ways of teaching depending on the follower’s philosophical/theological background.

Read the whole DN then.

The following book might be of interest to you:

It can also (partly) be found on Google books: The Historical Buddha: The Times, Life, and Teachings of the Founder of Buddhism - Hans Wolfgang Schumann - Google Boeken

I found the following table in this book:

Screenshot 2020-04-29 at 09.46.57
Page 187


This must be named people? Otherwise it’s missing the mass ordination of the Kassapa brothers’ 500 disciples.

To know the composition of the entire sangha is impossible. You will only end up with useless numbers as in the table above.

If you are interested in how the Buddha tailored his teachings to individuals, then just look at the examples we have.

True, it doesn’t tell us much about the makeup of the Sangha. But it does tell us that the redactors wanted us to know that lots of upper-class people, especially brahmins, ordained.

But does it? Do we have some counter information that tells us that there weren’t really that many Brahmins who ordained but yet we have all of these accounts? Couldn’t it also just be that lots of Brahmins ordained? Or maybe just that their conversion stories were interesting?

ETA: I’m not trying to be argumentative. I’m just not so familiar with how you come to your conclusions.

Cārvaka is a worldview (darśana), like vaidika-dharma & buddhist-dharma so there wouldnt be a mutual incompatibility between being brahmin and being buddhist. Brāhmaṇa, Kṣatriya, Vaiśya & Śūdra were varṇas (loosely called ‘social-classes’, castes are a different later social-construct). A brahmin could be a buddhist or a cārvāka while being brahmin. Similarly a vaiśya could be a buddhist and still a vaiśya (even if their social-class didnt matter doctrinally in Buddhism).

Even if the the majority of the Saṅgha were people of other social backgrounds, which is plausible, the most prominent of the Buddha’s disciples were still Brāhmaṇa & Kṣatriya, as was the Buddha himself.

The most loss of power in the Saṅgha was to the Kṣatriyas, not to the Brahmins, as Kṣatriyas were forbidden from doing entirely what they were good at i.e. exercise violence and hold political power and attendant material comforts. They were all made to live like mendicant Brahmins, giving up physical comforts and pleasures, and meditating daily.