The Buddha's first name was Gotama—Gotama Ādicca the Sakyan?

(FYI if you use SuttaCentral’s abbreviations they will generate correct hyperlinks: Snp 3.4)

Thanks, I will check it out. If anyone is interested, it is here:

The whole exchange is very odd. Here’s what I wrote in my Introduction:

When he asks the Buddha’s caste, the Buddha begins the verse exchange by asserting that he has no caste, and accuses the brahmin of asking an inappropriate question. The brahmin seems to think this is a little harsh, saying it’s merely a formality among brahmins. Indeed, the Buddha did not object when King Bimbisāra asked the same question (Snp 3.1:17.4), and in SN 7.9 he merely says to ask about conduct rather than caste. This line is unmetrical and is the first of several lines in this passage that appear to be prose.

The rather confrontational tone continues when the Buddha, out of nowhere, challenges the brahmin regarding knowledge of the Gāyatrī Mantra. This most famous of Vedic verses is called the Sāvitti in Pali, but the description of the number of lines and syllables leaves no doubt as to what it refers to. Quite apart from the oddness of the Buddha issuing such a challenge, it’s a lame flex. Everyone knows this verse.

Bausch says:

I was confused by this, but she goes on to say:

Kane and Smith describe how Sūtra literature distinguishes between different Sāvitrī mantras depending on the varṇa of the student. Some Gṛhyasūtras prescribe the same verse for all students; according to other Dharma- and Gṛhya-sūtras, kṣatriyas are to learn the Sāvitrī in the triṣṭubh meter (four padas of eleven syllables each), while vaiśyas are to learn it in the jagatī meter (four padas of twelve syllables each). The Buddha’s claim to have learned the gāyatrī Sāvitrī corresponds to the description of the initiation rite given in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa.

I’ll definitely be looking more closely at this thesis.

It definitely seems like the passage is corrupt.

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Just have to say, from the little I’ve read, the paper heavily supports your post on the Uraga Sutta about the Sutta Nipāta right off the bat showing itself to be familiar with the ideas of Yājñavalkya and critiquing them in a very skilful / nuanced way. It going back to the earlier Brahminical tradition is also quite apt and just what I was looking for. The Upanisads themselves seem to be complex and layered with stratified teachings. Getting to the core of Yājñavalkya in the Buddha’s region and connecting it to earlier Vedic Brahminism contextualizes things quite well. It is quite the thesis! (But academia seems to go in circles about Buddhism’s relationship to Vedic thought lol).

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She seems to have a detailed grasp of the Upanishads, so I hope to learn a lot.


She cites you in the paper.


Ah well then, she must be a scholar of sagacity and insight!


Of course. You should get in touch, I’m sure she would love to meet you. Sounds like @stephen is acquainted. A little magic here and there … things come together in a bit o kindling. Wouldn’t hurt, I don’t think.


A great example of how academia, monastics, and lay practitioners can all come together for mutual benefit.

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earliest strata of the Suttanipāta, which does not distinguish between Brāhminical and Buddhist munis.

My first reaction to this was “uh oh.” As it sank in, it made the Pārāyanavagga make even more sense.

What you have are people who have renounced the household life to find an escape from dukkha and samsāra, practicing celibacy, austerities, meditation, etc. — just trying to escape. They may be following Brahminical teachers or mainly in schools of Brahminical thought, but when they hear of a muni (here named Gotama) who is said to be wise, perhaps to have even reached the farther shore we all aspire to, they go to ask advice and see if he can guide them.

The Brahmins and the muni advisor talk with the same goal in mind: freedom, escape. One is well-travelled on the road, and he’s been in the young Brahmins shoes before. He may be well-versed in the same terminology, conceptual frameworks, and meditation practices even. They speak with the same concepts for attaining the same goal.

It’s not clear that this is a discussion between a “Buddhist” and a “Brahmin.” It seems like a discussion between a muni and muni-aspirants. If anything, using the same concepts to have a philosophical discussion and discuss detailed points happens in any coherent school of thought—same here. As people are convinced, they may practice accordingly and realize Nibbāna following the advice—they attained the goal of the holy life for which they went forth.

As these people are convinced and have success, you start to get converts following the teacher. Eventually, people who are not even seekers see this, and they join in: now you start having “Buddhists” form. Next thing you know, it’s the Buddhists vs. the Brahmins, not the munis discussing the way to the far-shore they all hope for.

I can really appreciate that idea and thought it could be of value to others here as well!



The analysis of the philosophy in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa is fascinating and groundbreaking.

I’m starting to think that it’s possible that ‘Gotama’ was a gotra inherited from the Buddha’s original teachers, and not his birth. The connections between the Buddha’s ideas and terminology is too strong with the Yājñavalkyan ideas in the Kāṇva Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (incl. the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad) as I dig deeper into this thesis. It’s really cool to understand these ideas in the earlier forms (in the actual Brāhmaṇas) and understand what the Upaniṣad is actually saying more.

As the author discusses, Gotama is associated with the eastern Vedic tradition and even the SB specifically—and comes from the Aṅgīrasas. Considering that a lot of the Buddha’s ideas about becoming a true brāhmaṇa and vedagū via insight into reality, the dispelling of ignorance, and the purification of cognition, etc. come from what Yājñavalkya was teaching already, and that in the Eastern Vedic groups the castes were not fixed (let alone in the larger society, as we already discussed with Sakya and surrounding kingdoms not following the caste system), I assume that people could become brahmans ritually (which is specifically mentioned) and adopt the gotra of their teacher or a figure in the lineage. ‘Gotama’ specifically being associated with light dispelling darkness is almost too perfect for these types of Vedic muni groups; they aim to purify the inner light of pure awareness and knowledge and dispel the darkness of ignorance. I would imagine that they would be fond of a name like this already associated with their tradition.

If the Buddha was initiated in some kind of muni-based Yājñavalkyan meditative tradition where they focused solely on the internalization of the agnihotra and other rituals to purify cognition and know the ātman/attain the unconditioned, then he very well could have been given the name ‘Gotama.’ After all, he was said to have reached the same level as Āḷāra Kālāma, becoming a teacher on the same level, and he even surpassed the ability of Uddaka Rāmaputta. It would onlt make sense that he be given a Brāhmaṇa name if he was considered to have become a true brāhmaṇa in these traditions. I’ve also heard a Vedic scholar speak on how patrilineality in terms of the Vedas and early India was not strictly biological and often teacher-student represented father-son (we see this with Uddaka Rāmaputta even, who may have been a student of Rāma rather than his literal son).

Why he would keep this name and continue using it, I’m not sure. It’s just a possibility. He did claim to be a brāhmaṇa, and he respected his former teachers. On the other hand, his family just being of mixed descent with Aryans who came into the East is very possible as well. We may never know.

Tangentially, learning about all of these connections and digging deeper into the ideology is interesting and really helpful for contextualizing the Buddhist terms (but also a deep rabbit hole of ideas to learn about that is probably best not to get caught in). The Buddha’s original practices were seemingly so much more than just “attain the dimension of nothingness and you’re enlightened” as we Buddhists tend to imagine it nowadays. There is a whole theoretical and textual ideology surrounding these practices—which the Buddha himself is recorded as having learned and mastered beforehand—and this is likely where a lot of his re-purposing of Vedic terminology comes from.


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It’s also possible that the family or clan ancestors followed the ritual/legal school/traditions associated with Gautama, which may or may not be the same as that of the Gautama Dharmasutra.

So you look at the name and know what sort of customs the family has (had). It is a socio-cultural marker that gets passed down, which may or may not be actually related to the choices of individuals in the family. As the link between the name and the individual is not strong, there would have been no need for the Buddha to change it later- it’s just a family name.

The same would be true of other brahmin names like Bharadvaja and Kassapa which are used as ksatriya gotra names: these are generally understood as coming from the priests of the clan founder.

It’s good to read the forums from India, as there are still Indian ksatriyas today who are wondering where their brahmin gotra names came from: an example is below.

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So here I was assuming that gotama = go (cow) + tama (dark). I never thought too much of this, I guess I assumed it simply meant the originator of the clan was known for having dark cows?

But Bausch explains it as “the light dispelling the dark”. It seems that in Vedic metaphors, go can be understood as the “herds of the sky”, i.e. the stars or rays of light.

I’m honestly not sure what to think.

Another potential meaning would be “best of cows” (i.e. go + -tama in superlative), but I haven’t seen that meaning anywhere. The sanskrit attests gotara however, “better cow”.

The Buddha sometimes refers to himself by the metaphor of the “bull, leader of the heard”.

Indeed, it certainly fits the imagery.

Often names are so old any implicit meaning or metaphor is completely worn away. My name is “Best”, which comes from “beast”, so I guess my ancestors were hunters or herders? Or just super wild!

I don’t really think “Gotama” conveyed much more than a name.


Yeah, I’m not either. A lot of people nowadays explain the name as meaning something along the lines of “dispeller of ignorance” too, apparently (as Wikipedia does) because of this. I’m still torn on the Gotama references in toponyms vs. the cow-gotama vs. light gotama. It seems almost impossible to sort this out though because of the ambiguity. This is one of the reasons in my recent comment here I thought maybe ‘Gotama,’ being associated with the Eastern Vedic tradition and the region, was a popular and valued name because of its connotations of dispelling ignorance (darkness) via light (cognition, wisdom, the Sun), and that the Buddha was given it as a ritual brāhmana or something. Here’s the comment.

With the Vedic texts being so fond of word play and (folk) etymology, I wouldn’t be surprised if the word originally referred to cows and then was construed as meaning light. Another possibility though is that Gotama was a non-Aryan word originally (hence why we find it as a river name, shrine names, etc.) that was then adopted by the Aryans, leaving it with an unclear meaning/origin and ambiguity because it was actually a loanword. This definitely happened plenty in Sanskrit, so it could have happened here maybe.

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According to the Pāli Sn 1.7 Vasala-sutta and its Chinese versions, SA 102 and ASA 268, the Buddha is regarded as ‘outcaste’ (vasala/vasala-ka ‘wicked outcaste’) by a Brāhmaṇa:

Sn 1.7: ‘ “tatr’ eva samaṇaka, tatr’ eva vasalaka tiṭṭhāhī” ti.’ (Sn 21). SA 102: ‘住。住。領群特 。慎勿近我門。’ (CSA iii, 147; FSA 3, 1880; T 2, 28b). ASA 268: ‘住住旃陀羅 。莫來至此。’ (T2, 467c). (lingqunte 領群特 = vasala/vasala-ka; Zhantuolo 旃陀羅 = caṇḍāla).

The texts describe in common how a Brāhmaṇa, while performing the fire ritual with a food offering in his house, sees the Buddha coming at a distance, and says to him, “You are an outcaste, do not approach”.

See p. 375 in Choong Mun-keat “A comparison of the Pali and Chinese versions of the Brahmana Samyutta, a collection of early Buddhist discourses on the priestly Brahmanas”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society , vol. 19, issue 03, July 2009 (Cambridge University Press), pp. 371-382.

It seems the Buddha was not an Aryan at that time.

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Yes, as I said, the Sakyans were mostly mixed, and the Buddha almost certainly was as well. It’s very possible he even spoke a Dravidian or Munda language of some sort, or at least that many of the Sakyans did. They are described as rough / poorly spoken and as much less civilized, characteristic of a description of a foreign ethno-linguistic community.

That said, he likely did have some Aryan descent, and the brahmin calling him an outcast was doing so more on his appearance as a bald sramana living in the wilderness. There were brahmins who dressed/live like this, though, as we see in Snp 3.4 for instance:

When he heard Sundarikabhāradvāja’s footsteps the Buddha uncovered his head. Sundarikabhāradvāja thought, “This man is shaven, he is shaven!” And he wanted to turn back. But he thought, “Even some brahmins are shaven. Why don’t I go to him and ask about his birth?” Then the brahmin Sundarikabhāradvāja went up to the Buddha, and said to him, “Sir, in what caste were you born?”

Notice how this brahmin also immediately assumes the Buddha is a ‘shaveling’ (derogatory term for non-Aryan ascetics and perhaps indigenous people groups), but then he realizes that there are some brahmins who look like this as well (ascetic ones), and so he asks the Buddha his caste.

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The rsi Gotama Rāhūgaṇa is listed as poet for suktam of Mandala 1.74-93, which are among the oldest strata of the Rgveda. It is a rsi clan family name. If you take Buddha as kshatriya, it would have come to him somehow through a purohita of rsi clan Gotama for some kshatriya.

Buddha was supposedly married and had a son. Per the SB:

A full half of one’s self is one’s wife. As long as one does not obtain a wife, therefore, for so long one is not reborn and remains incomplete. As soon as he obtains a wife, however, he is reborn and becomes complete” (SB

So he was second-born, able to light the five fires. You can draw out further, on the basis of Bausch’s dissertation.

It looks like Gotama may be descendants of the Āṅgirasas, the archaic pathikṛt, path-makers, of the Atharvaveda.

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This is why I theorized he may have gotten the name Gotama as a brahmacarin initiate under his first teachers, who were likely brahminical ascetics / contemplatives. The Buddha definitely continued using the term brahmacariya as did other brahmins with him, and we can almost be certain he was initiated into some kind of contemplative circle for spiritual liberation based on Brahminical ideas (from the Brahmanas / Upanisads). Gotama being associated with the east and light make a lot of sense. But, again, we really can’t know. I still think it’s plenty plausible that it’s just a family name due to him being of mixed descent in a society without the same strict caste system.

Upanayana (Sanskrit: उपनयन upanayana) is a Brahmin educational sacrament,[2] one of the traditional saṃskāras or rites of passage that marked the acceptance of a student by a preceptor, such as a guru or acharya , and an individual’s initiation into a school in Brahminism. Some traditions consider the ceremony as a spiritual rebirth for the child or future dvija , twice born. It signifies the acquisition of the knowledge of Godand the start of a new and disciplined life as a brahmachari.Its applicable only those who are in Brahmin, Kshatriya or Vaishya Varna according to Hinduism.

As a counter-idea, if these men were Brahminical mystics who did as Yājñavalkya taught and focused on becoming brahmins and knowing the Vedas by understanding the ātman / non-dual knowing (as an example; whether they were familiar specifically with the BAU or not is not directly relevant here) rather than external ritual and recitation, then they may very well have left behind their birth and identity to go forth like other samanas did. As such, for them to give Brahminical gotras out may not be in-character, considering a brahmin was someone who had become spiritually distinguished via mystic knowledge in this school of thought.

(Just one of several quotes from Yājñavalkya on becoming a brahmin via mystical knowledge rather than mere externals)
Ālāra Kālāma doesn’t seem to have taken a brahminical gotra either. Leaving behind a worldly identity only to give out external worldly names is somewhat contradictory, so this something my hyopthesis would have to be able to defend if considered plausible.

Oh that’s interesting. It would fit with the general idea that the Buddha must come from a segment of society that is acceptable as authority to all.

I’m not familiar with the idea of pathikṛt?

Um, pathikṛt is referred to in several different places in the vedah. It is used as a name for Agni in the Taittiriya … Samhita, I do believe. But I think the clearest story of the pathikṛt comes from the Bhagavad Gita. Let me check around. They’re these primordial fire priests, sons of Agni that opened up the vault of wisdom, type of thing. Magic’s not just in the Atharvaveda, the world was a super cool place in 2000 BCE.