“World Conqueror and World Renouncer”

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The Aggañña Suttanta is a Buddhist cosmological representation, and a statement contrary to the brahmanical version of the origins of the world and societal order (such as the varnas, which also are in this case given in a different sequence regarding the first two varnas where the ruling stratum is placed above the brahmans). Then, there are also mentioned two grand movements in which this myth of genesis developed; the first movement states the story from the differentiation in nature and among men, while the second movement describes men getting together, as a result, and instituting kingship to regulate affairs from which a graded society develops (from which the bhikkhu breaks through its bonds). There are only two central personages; the king – who is the mediator between social disorder and the social order – and, the bhikkhu – who is the mediator between home and the homeless. The king is the fountainhead of society, and the bhikkhu is of that society and transcends it.

In the Buddhist myth we find that social order/society occurs together with and as a result of the institution of kingship by the voluntary acts of men. Thus it could be said that whereas in the Hindu theory, dharma (as morality and lawful conduct in general) and society are thought to have more inclusive competence than the code of artha, in Buddhist theory they are all conjoined (so that dharma of kingship becomes the encompassing code). Here the Buddhist doctrine of non-self (anatta) had to face the crucial problem concerning moral responsibility as the Hindu insists on a Self (atman). Therefore, from the beginning the Buddha’s initial teachings had collective social and moral implications.

The Buddhist, theory having swept away with the doctrine of anatta the world of social forms as legitimated by the brahman, substituted first the sovereignty of cosmic law, and through it a notion of a corrective process (performed by a righteous ruler; dhammiko dhammaraja), which gave some semblance of order and direction to the disorderly interconnection of karmic processes and retributions.


Reference: Tambiah, S.J., World Conqueror and World Renouncer: a Study of Buddhism and Polity in Thailand Against a Historical Background, New York, Cambridge University Press 1976.

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