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Vajrasuci of Asvaghosa (The Concept of Varna-Jati Through The Ages)

Vajrasuci of Asvaghosa (The Concept of Varna-Jati Through The Ages)
Item Code: NAE985
Author: Ramesh Bharadwaj
Publisher: Vidyanidhi Prakashan
Language: English
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 8186700749
Pages: 173
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 350 gms
About the Book

Vajrastici of Asvaghosa is a small but unique text which not only criticizes varna-Jati system of Indian society and claims of social distinctions on the ground of birth but also highlights the historical significance of an eternal agelong debate of Indian social philosophy: specially the problem of social inequality.

This volume includes the text of Vajrasuci, Vajrasuchikopnisad and Dhammapada (definition of Brahmana only) with English translation and text of Laghutanka (a replay to Vajrasuci writer in 1837 AD by Soobaji Bapoo an orthodox Scholar) and quotation from Mahabharata and Puranas (about condemnation of the Jati-system).

In introduction a detailed note is presented on Varna-Jati system from the Vedic age to modern era as it is depicted in the literature of those ages which highlights the essence of the thoughts of 2500 years opposing the caste institution right from Buddha to Gandhi. This includes a brief note on such division which prevailed in other societies of the world.


About the Author

Ramesh Chandra Bharadwaja 21-3-1958 (presently, a Reader in the Department of Sanskrit, Motilala Nehru College, university of Delhi) is a scholar of indology who has been trained in both the systems of Sanskrit learning traditional and modern.

He received shastri & Acharay Navyavyakarana Sanskrit Vidyapitha, New Delhi and M.A., M.Phil. and Ph.D. from the university of Delhi.

He has been a visiting research fellow for more than one and half years in the Department of Indian philosophy University of Tokyo, Japan.

He has authored, edited translated and published more than thirty books ranging from indology to Gandhian studies and tribal literature.

His publication include (Hindi) Pramanamimamsako Sarvajnatma Muni ka Yogadana, Karma Mimamsa ko Parthasarathi Misra ka Yogadana and (English) Rajavyavaharaosa of Raghunatha Pandit.



Vajrasuci is a small but unique text, written by Asvaghosa, a great Buddhist scholar of Kusana period. This ancient treatise presents not only the criticism of Varna-Jati system of Indian society and claims of social distinctions on the ground of birth, but also highlights the historical significance of an age-long debate of Indian social philosophy, specially the problem of social inequality. Prof. Lallanji rightly points out the wider relevance of the Vajrasuci by saying, "It is not confined to the historical situation in Indian history and culture. It stares squarely into an attitude which may occur in any society and in any period.” This text is like a holy book for those who wish to spread the message of social equality, dignity of the individual human being and qualities and noble conduct as the determining factors for the status of the individual in the society.

Accordingly, I have presented here the essence of the thoughts of two thousand five hundred years, opposing the institution of caste right from Buddhism to Gandhism. This unbroken continuous chain of thoughts of Indian thinkers in the socio-religious field has contributed to mitigation of rigidity of the caste system.

To understand the origin and initial character of the Varna system and its transformation into watertight compartments of the Jati system I have explored the early Vedic to modem literature. A rational mind wants that in a social system mere lineage or descent in a particular family should not be taken as the blind and invariable basis for assigning status and vocation; man should rather be provided suitably for his own qualities. Scholars think that the Varna system has taken into consideration not merely the biological, but also the moral, not merely the social, but also the individual factors.

Any social system should be conceived to make the best of the potentialities in the individual for social development. The ancient Varna system was not at all based on the factor of birth, as in vogue today. It was based on the rational sharing of certain functions in the society according to the inherent qualities capacities of a man. At the same time, man was also free to make progress and enter into a higher varna if he had merit and competence to do so. This was a sort of organic functional socialism, aimed to synthesize egoism and altruism. This research explores a social order where each man gets equal opportunity to develop his faculties and contributes to the aggregate life by using his capacities.

I am indeed greatful to a number of scholars who have read part or whole of the manuscript at various stages of its progress. Their comments and suggestion have proved extremely vital in finalising the text. In particular, I would like to thank Prof. Mohini Mathur, Prof. V.K. Jain, Sh. P.M. Tripathi and Prof. K. K. Sinha. My thanks are also due to all of my colleagues and library staff, specially at Sahitya Academi for providing a stimulating environment and valuable assistance.



1. Vajrasuci and its editions
Brian Honghton Hudgson (Resident, Nepal Darbar, 1833-1843) discovered a great number of Sanskrit to Buddhist manuscripts in Nepal. His discovery entirely revolutionized the history of Buddhism.

This total number of MSS. Presented by Mr. Hudgson to the Asiatic Society of Bengal include 86 bundles containing 170 separate works on various subjects. They vary in extent from a few slokas to a hundred to twenty thousand stanzas. The great bulk of the works refers to the history philosophy morality and rituals of the religion of Buddha; a few are devoted to miscellaneous subjects.

The character of this works was first noticed by Mr. Hodgson in his essays. He was thus not only the discoverer of these most ancient and authentic records, but also the first intelligent exponent of their nature and value both in their ritualistic and in their philosophical aspect. Burnouf very appropriately addressed him in the dedication of his Saddharma-Pundarika as “come fondateur de la veritable etdue de buddhisme.” It should be added however the plan adopted by Mr. Hodgson was to give the result of his researches and not to described at length the contents of the works found by him and his notices therefore served more the excite than to allay curiosity in regard to those texts.!

Out of these manuscripts the Vajrasuci was given the no. B. 34. This text was presented to Hodgson first by an old learned Buddhist in Nepal in 1829.

The work has been translated in a very spirited style, into English by Mr. B.H. Hodgson and published in the transaction of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and also in his Essays on the Language, Literature and religion of Nepal and Tibet (London 1874 pp. 126f.) Mr. Hodgson writes the name of the author Ashugosha but the MS. Gives it as I have put it above. The meaning of the name is he who has the voice” (ghosha) “of a horse” (asva).

It was reproduced by Jhon Wilson in “Indian Castes” (Bombay, 1877, pp. 296-305). The text was first printed by L. willkinson in 1839 with Laghutanka (being a reply to the Vajrasuci) of an orthodox pandit Sooboje Bapoo.

The writer of Lagutnaka Pt. Soobajee Bapoo clearly indicates in the end of his work that he was one of the members of a council of scholars who were dependent on Willkinson an English officer of Bhopal city of Malava region.

These lines give a reference that Willkinson provided a copy of this manuscript to Pt. Bapoo and after that he wrote a scholastic reply to Vajrasuci in 1837 which was published in 1839.

The next edition was published by A. Weber with translation and notes in German language in 1859.

In 1949-50 S.K. Mukherjee published a critical edition with the help of six manuscripts which appeared in Visva Bharti Annals. There are two Hindi translations of Vajrasuci one by R.P. Dwived and second by Sanghsen Dr. J. Takakusu also translated it into Japanese language.

The present edition is based upon the edition of 1893 a copy of which I received from an American friend of mine in Japan while I was studying at Tokyo university as a visiting scholar in 1982.

2. Authorship
The Vajrasuci is attributed to Asvaghosa. The Text declared that this work is written by Asvaghosa. Mr. B.H. Hodgson the discovered of this manuscript is convinced of this in his “Essays”.

Prof. E.H. Johnston in the introduction of his critical edition of Buddhacaritam (acts of the Buddha) says that the Vajrasuci a cleaver piece of polemic arguing against Brahman claims, shows no trace of Asvaghosa style or thought.

It is also not mentioned among Asvaghosa works by the Chinese pilgrim Yi-tsing (7the Century) nor by the bstan hgyur. Chinese translation which was made between 937 and 981 A D, ascribes it to Dharmakriti. S.K. Mukherji hazards the suggestion that it was possibly a Chinese translation of a commentary on the Vajrausuci or may be even a different text a similar work of the same nature probably an adaption of the original Vajrauci by Dharmayasas (Dharmkirti).

The text unequivocally mentions in the interlocutory verse and the colophon that is a composition of Asvaghosa. Its Buddhist stance is undisputed and the opposition to the Brahmanical social system is equally unsuspected.

The same theme of social equality or condemnation of caste-system and superiority of Brahmana we find in fragments of Sariputra Prakarana. In Sariputra Prakarana Sariputra has an interview with Asvajit when he comes to hear about the Buddha. He then discusses the claims of the Buddha to be a teacher with his friend the viduska who raised the objection that a Brahmana like sariputra should not accept the teaching of a Ksatriya. Sariputra does not heed the objection and he and his fired, Maudglayayana go to the Buddha and receive instruction.

Asvaghosa is very much influenced by the stories thought and phraseology of the Mahabharata in Buddhacharita and saundaranadaa as described by Jhonston in his introduction (pp. xlvi-xlvii). In Vajrasuci also he quotes from the Mahabharata in the concluding parts.

Rahul sankrityayan (Volga se Ganga) sees an autobiographical element in the Vajrasuci. According to him Asvaghosa in referring to the birth of some renowned sages from non-Brahmana mothers (verses 22-26) wanted to plead with his mother in support of his own love for Prabha a foreigner.

Some scholars may say that in the introductory verse the writer referes to Manjughosa a deity of Buddhists of later age therefore it can not be a writing of 1at century. But I have stated in a footnote of the English translation of the text that according to alex wayman Manjusri cult was well established by the 1st or 2nd century.

Prof. Lallanji Gopal says “Sanskrit scholars find it difficult to accept the Vajrasi as a creation of Asvaghosa. They argue that there is hardly anything in its from and content that may conclusively prove it to be a work of such a gifted poet as Asvaghosa. Asvaghosa has to his credit two literary masterpieces Buddhacarita and Saundaranada. Asvaghosa was a versatile genius. He was not a mere poet. He was greater still as a philosopher and a scholar. It would be unfair to expect the philosopher and a scholar. It would be unfair to expect the philosopher Asvaghosa to remain the poet Asvaghosa at one and the same time. The present text has a purpose. As a work of social philosophy it has to argue in favour of a point employing all the skills of a forceful pleading. Its author cannot be expected to demonstrate the charms of literary embellishments in the from content syle and expression. A writer has to adopt the requirement of the genre of work in which he is composing. Here it is pertinent to note the opinion of S. Levi about the Mahayana sraddhotpadasastra another work written by Asvaghos. The poet of the Buddhacharita shows himself here as profound metaphysician as an intrepid reviver of a doctrine which was destined to regenerate Buddhism. Criticism of the caste system occurs in Asvaghosa two other works the Buddhacharita and the Sutralankara. There is thus nothing incongruous in Asvaghosa being the author of the vajrasuci.

Above statement show that scholars of asvaghosa and his school generally agree that Asvaghosa had nothing to do with its composition. But Majority of the scholars think that vajrasuci is the work of Asvaghosa.




  Part One  
1 The editions of Vajrasuci 1
2 Authorship 3
3 The life and date of Asvaghosa 6
4 Works of Asvaghosa 10
5 His thought and contribution 11
6 Subject Matter of the Text 13
6.1 Similar thought in other books 16
6.1.1 Vajrasuci Upanisad 16
6.1.2 Sardulakarna Avadana 19
6.1.3 Chavaka Jataka 22
7 Varna – Jati system through the Ages  
7.1 Early Period  
7.1.1 Vedic age 23
7.1.2 The epics, Puranas and Dharmasastras 27 Epics 27 Puranas 28 Dharmasastras 31
7.1.3 Buddhist 35 Dhammapada 36 Milindapanho 41 Avadana Literature 41
7.1.4 Gita 43
7.1.5 Social division in other societies 44
7.2 Medieval Period 49
7.2.1 Tantric Tradition 51
7.2.2 Sri Chaitanya Vaisnava Movement 52
7.2.3 Sant Kabir 53
7.2.4 Sri Sankaradeva’s Vaisnava Movement of Assam 54
7.2.5 Guru Nanak 55
7.2.6 Bhakti Movement of Maharashtra 56
7.2.7 Pranami movement 57
7.2.8 Vedantic and bhakti movement of deccan Penninsula 58 Adi Sankaracharya 59 Ramanuja 61
7.2.9 Virasaivism of Basaveshvara 61
7.3 Modern Period  
7.3.1 Brahmo Samaj 63
7.3.2 Prathana Samaj 64
7.3.3 Ramakrishna mission 64
7.3.4 Social issues and the Aryas Samaj 66
7.3.5 Sri Narayana Guru 68
7.3.6 Maharshi Aurobindo 70
7.3.7 M.K. Gandhi 74
7.3.8 B.R. Ambedkar 90
7.4 Epilogue 92
  Part Two  
1 Text – vajrasuci 97
2 Translation 105
  Part Three  
1 Laghutanka 118
2 Vajrasuci – upanisad – text 141
3 Text of Dhammapada (About Definition of Brahmana) 143
4 Biography of Asvaghosa from Chinese sources 148
5 Condemnation of Jati in Mahabharata and Puranas 154
  Bibliography 160
  Index 170
Sample Pages

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