3.6.12 Introduction to Cakkavattisuttaṃ - The Duties of a Righteous King

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Introduction to 3.6.12


The Duties of a Righteous King

…… ‘All men are my children. What I desire for my own children, and I desire their welfare and happiness both in this world and the next, that I desire for all men.

The people of the unconquered territories beyond the borders might think: "What is the king's intention towards us?" My only intention is that they live without fear of me, that they may trust me and that I may give them happiness, not sorrow. Furthermore, they should understand that the king will forgive those who can be forgiven, and that he wishes to encourage them to practice Dhamma so that they may attain happiness in this world and the next. I am telling you this so that I may discharge the debts I owe, and that in instructing you, that you may know that my vow and my promise will not be broken. Therefore acting in this way, you (royal ministers) should perform your duties and assure them (the people beyond the borders) that: "The king is like a father. He feels towards us as he feels towards himself. We are to him like his own children."

By instructing you and informing you (royal ministers) of my vow and my promise I shall be applying myself in complete fullness to achieving this object. You are able indeed to inspire them with confidence and to secure their welfare and happiness in this world and the next, and by acting thus, you will attain heaven as well as discharge the debts you owe to me. And so that the Mahamatras1 can devote themselves at all times to inspiring the border areas with confidence and encouraging them to practice Dhamma, this edict has been written here.’……

Kalinga Rock Edict 22


This statement, perpetuated by the Mauryan Emperor King Asoka3 in one of his Rock Edicts, portrays a rare example in the history of mankind where an emperor, governor or leader expresses his thorough and honest desire for welfare and prosperity of his subjects. It was King Asoka’s determination not only to administer his subjects by embracing them as his children but further by installing a law of righteousness outweighing any law of power by incorporating prescriptions that he based on the Buddha’s teaching.  

Even so he had already accepted the teaching of the Buddha; King Asoka took this firm determination henceforth only to promote peace and to execute the ideals he felt in line with the Buddha’s guidance after he had realized the immense suffering he had caused during his last, the Kalinga war4. He sincerely resolved not only to devote himself to morality and spirituality but also established ethical principles in his administration. In a way King Asoka implemented and accomplished the ideal of a Cakkavatti as described in this sutta.

To inaugurate a government based on the ‘Law of Dhamma’ he established rectitude in all governmental affairs but likewise supported and promoted ethical values amongst his ministers and subjects alike by caring for the underprivileged, the deprived, the general public and the overall wellbeing in the state. The Rock Edicts confirm that he made it a foremost rule to prohibit killing of any living being and also discouraged hunting. He recommended to sidestep funfairs and places of amusement but endorsed spiritual ambition, tolerance and generosity towards all ascetics and the poor. Based on his benevolent intention he used the state’s revenue for the construction of wells and rest-houses, for planting fruit trees and trees to give steady shade, shelter and refuge along the main roads5. He established wildlife-reserves, prohibited cruelty towards domestic animals and imported medical herbs for general use6. He promoted education, nurtured harmonious coexistence and mutual friendship between neighbouring states and generally advocated tolerance and respect.

What a rare example in human history indeed!

This Cakkavattisutta7however seems of dubious character, often characterised as ‘fairy tale’. There is no historical evidence of the kings mentioned in it. Even the tale of King Daḷhanemi and his successors seems to be a later addition to the Dīgha-Nikāya of no historical proof – Still, it is more than worthwhile to contemplate on the valuable ‘guidelines’ provided in this text. Any government of the world in modern times would be wise to take refuge to those principles. While today the upkeep of an economy based on greed, profit and exploitation often dominates over the wellbeing of its citizens, where there is apparently little concern taken account on the risk of permanent confrontation and even war between different states the Cakkavattisutta emphasizes opposite values of care, support, welfare. It evolves a logic thread to demonstrate how from disregard of fostering assistance for the poor by assuring general wellbeing for all from a source of thus generated poverty disharmony, unrest, dissatisfaction, envy, violence and all further vices develop: ‘…… adhanānaṃ dhane ananuppadiyamāne dāliddiyaṃ vepullamagamāsi dāliddiye vepullaṃ gate adinnādānaṃ vepullamagamāsi, adinnādāne vepullaṃ gate satthaṃ vepullamagamāsi, satthe vepullaṃ gate pāṇātipāto vepullamagamāsi8 ……’ – ‘…… thus because of not providing property to the poor poverty increased; from the increase of poverty taking what was not given ensued; because of the increase of theft the use of weapons developed; from the increase of the use of weapons killing of beings arose ……’.

The sutta describes further how as a result of the development of greed and vices longevity diminishes9. Even so the described analogy between increase of depravities and decrease of longevity may seem exaggerated on a first glance – but every meditator will confirm obvious correlation between mental disharmony and agitation caused by greed and ill-will and its negative effects on physical and mental wellbeing.10

The sutta concludes by describing how finally a period occurred that was called ‘Period of Swords’11 – a period where beings killed each other by sharp swords identifying others as wild beasts. There some wise people finally decided to withdraw themselves into deep forests away from all human company into complete seclusion, away from the horrifying effects that this lack of any moral behavior and expiry of all ethical principles had caused.12 After those who could survive later had re-emerged, they happily met and decided to re-establish a new base of moral code. All of them had encountered and realized the truth and negative results that decline of ethical standards causes to one’s wellbeing and they hoped on opposite effects by restoring them13: ‘‘Atha kho tesaṃ, bhikkhave, sattānaṃ evaṃ bhavissati – ‘mayaṃ kho akusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ samādānahetu14 evarūpaṃ āyataṃ ñātikkhayaṃ pattā. Yaṃnūna mayaṃ kusalaṃ kareyyāma. Kiṃ kusalaṃ kareyyāma? Yaṃnūna mayaṃ pāṇātipātā virameyyāma, idaṃ kusalaṃ dhammaṃ samādāya vatteyyāmā’ti. Te pāṇātipātā viramissanti, idaṃ kusalaṃ dhammaṃ samādāya vattissanti. Te kusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ samādānahetu āyunāpi vaḍḍhissanti, vaṇṇenapi vaḍḍhissanti. Tesaṃ āyunāpi vaḍḍhamānānaṃ vaṇṇenapi vaḍḍhamānānaṃ dasavassāyukānaṃ manussānaṃ vīsativassāyukā puttā bhavissanti.

‘‘Atha kho tesaṃ, bhikkhave, sattānaṃ evaṃ bhavissati – ‘mayaṃ kho kusalānaṃ dhammānaṃ samādānahetu āyunāpi vaḍḍhāma, vaṇṇenapi vaḍḍhāma. Yaṃnūna mayaṃ bhiyyosomattāya kusalaṃ kareyyāma. Kiṃ kusalaṃ kareyyāma? Yaṃnūna mayaṃ adinnādānā virameyyāma… kāmesumicchācārā virameyyāma… musāvādā virameyyāma… pisuṇāya vācāya virameyyāma… pharusāya vācāya virameyyāma… samphappalāpā virameyyāma… abhijjhaṃ pajaheyyāma… byāpādaṃ pajaheyyāma… micchādiṭṭhiṃ pajaheyyāma… tayo dhamme pajaheyyāma – adhammarāgaṃ visamalobhaṃ micchādhammaṃ15… yaṃnūna mayaṃ matteyyā assāma petteyyā sāmaññā brahmaññā kule jeṭṭhāpacāyino,16 idaṃ kusalaṃ dhammaṃ samādāya vatteyyāmā’ti.  -  “And then, Bhikkhus, amongst those beings it will occur thus: ‘On the base of engaging in those evil practices we underwent such an extensive bereavement of our families. Now let us engage in wholesome practices! What wholesome practices shall we perform? Let us abstain from killing living beings; this is a wholesome practice that we should determine to engage in!’ And they will abstain from killing living beings, they will engage based on this determination in this wholesome practice. And as a result of undertaking this wholesome practice their lifespan as well as their complexion will improve. And to those, whose lifespan and complexion will improve and who will live for a decade children will be born who live twenty years.

And to those beings the thought will occur: ‘Indeed, through our undertaking of the wholesome practice our lifespan and complexion has improved. Now let us engage in even more wholesome practices! What wholesome practices shall we perform? Let us abstain from taking anything that is not given to us; …… let us abstain from all sexual misconduct; ……. let us abstain from false speech; …… let us abstain from malicious speech; …… let us abstain from uttering harsh speech; …… let us abstain from idle talk; …… let us abandon covetousness; ……. let us abandon malevolence; …… let us abandon wrong views; …… let us abandon the practices of illicit desire, excessive greed and indecorous conduct, let us maintain filial duty towards parents, let us pay due respect to ascetics, Brahmins and the elders of our clan: these are wholesome practices that we should determine to engage in!’


The sutta then shows how according to the improvement of wholesomeness in general lifespan increases, complexion and welfare improve up to a time where once again a cakkavatti will appear in the royal city named Ketumatī and a Sammāsambuddha by the name of Metteyya will arise.

However spurious such correlation may appear, however much the Cakkavattisutta reminds of a ‘fairy tale’ – every ‘fairy tale’ contains a ‘moral of the story’! If the essence of the moral of this Cakkavattisutta was taken into account by present rulers and governments – societies, life and the world in general would have a better chance to be filled with more peace, more harmony and mutual friendship between all states!

1 Mahamatras – royal officers, ministers

2 Quoted from the translation into English by Ven. S. Dhammika, Wheel Publication No. 386/387

3 King Asoka, his support for the Third Council at Patāliputra and his ‘missionary’ efforts that helped to spread and maintain of the Buddha’s teaching are described at: lesson 2.1.9 Paṭhamasāmaññasuttaṃ  - About Being a Sāmañña and the Fruits thereof - and - 2.1.10 Dutiyasāmaññasuttaṃ - The Purpose of Being a Sāmañña

4 “…… Indeed, Beloved-of-the-Gods is deeply pained by the killing, dying and deportation that take place when an unconquered country is conquered. But Beloved-of-the-Gods is pained even more by this — that Brahmans, ascetics, and householders of different religions who live in those countries, and who are respectful to superiors, to mother and father, to elders, and who behave properly and have strong loyalty towards friends, acquaintances, companions, relatives, servants and employees — that they are injured, killed or separated from their loved ones. Even those who are not affected (by all this) suffer when they see friends, acquaintances, companions and relatives affected. These misfortunes befall all (as a result of war), and this pains Beloved-of-the-Gods…….” Rock Edict XIII

5 “…… Along roads I have had banyan trees planted so that they can give shade to animals and men, and I have had mango groves planted. At intervals of eight krosas, I have had wells dug, rest-houses built, and in various places, I have had watering-places made for the use of animals and men…….” Pillar Edict VII

6 “…… King Piyadasi, made provision for two types of medical treatment: medical treatment for humans and medical treatment for animals. Wherever medical herbs suitable for humans or animals are not available, I have had them imported and grown…….” Rock Edict II

7 also called Cakkavattisīhanādasutta

8 see for vocabulary in the sutta

9 The decrease of lifespan in analogy to the increase of unwholesomeness according to the sutta diminishes from eighty thousand years down to ten years during the ‘Period of Swords’.

10 The positive influence of mental calm on the physical functions, complexion and general wellbeing is mentioned in 1.4.4 Araññasuttaṃ - Serene Dwelling in the Forest

11 manussesu sattāhaṃ satthantarakappo bhavissati’ – a phase called ‘period of swords’ amongst mankind developed

12 Note: The underlying truth in the ‘fancy’ of this sutta and the message it wants to convey received a sad late testimony: While working on this sutta a further horrible terrorist attack occurred in France, Nizza, where one man kills nearly 100 innocent people by driving into celebrating people with a truck over the distance of more than one mile. Various further previously unimaginable attacks followed in Germany and other parts of Europe. The increase of those incidents demonstrates how much hatred – here mainly caused by religious fanaticism – can influence the mental condition of people, eradicate all ethical and moral consideration and eliminate all human sensitivity: How otherwise can someone massacre completely innocent people by disregarding all his congenital, natural instincts?

13 Âyuvaṇṇâdivaḍḍhanakathâ

14 samādānahetu: samādāna + hetu: undertaking + cause

15 adhammarāgaṃ visamalobhaṃ micchādhammaṃ: a + dhamma + rāgaṃ, visama + lobhaṃ, micchā + dhammaṃ - literal translation: lust, desire not in accordance to dhamma, inappropriate craving, wrong practices, wrong behavior. It is translated here with: illicit desire, improper greed and indecorous behavior

As a general guideline adhammarāgaṃ visamalobhaṃ micchādhammaṃ point to the obvious truth that whenever deterioration in moral conduct and ethical values takes place an overall decline in well-being can be expected. As long as the basic principles of sīla are kept and property, privacy and personal affairs of others remain respected along with prevailing ethical standards welfare and concurrence will remain intact. But whenever desire, greed or inappropriate behaviour develop within mankind – easily to be observed by any mediator – agitation, unrest and quarrel manifest themselves in the outside world as well. According to the texts this finds its expression in spiteful behaviour amongst beings and also in natural disasters.

Interestingly it seems that these somehow obscure terms - adhammarāgaṃ visamalobhaṃ micchādhammaṃ - are used only twice in the texts. The other occurrence is found in the Palokasuttaṃ (Aṅguttaranikāyo, Tikanipātapāḷi, Dutiyapaṇṇāsakaṃ. Brāhmaṇavaggo). Here a Brahmin enquires with the Buddha if he could explain the reasons why, as he has observed, population seems to have decreased compared to former times. The Buddha replies that the number of people has declined because they had taken to ways of discarding morality by falling to adhammarāgaṃ visamalobhaṃ micchādhammaṃ. As a result people started using weapons and killing each other, then rains stopped falling sufficiently and evil forces caused the death of many people.

Even so it is considered that the same author, Rha Buddhaghosa, commented on both the texts, the Sumagalavisālanīaṭṭhakathā as well as on the Manorathapūraṇīaṭṭhakathā, they are interpreted and related to different contexts. The context in the palokasuttavaṇṇanâ - while indicating that any kind of greed is not in line with Dhamma - points to social misbehaviour that disrespects the possessions of others and people taken to desires yearn after those: -Adhammarâgarattâti râgo nâma ekanteneva adhammo, attano parikkhâresu pana uppajjamâno na adhammarâgoti adhippeto, paraparikkhâresu uppajjamânova adhammarâgoti. Visamalobhâbhibhûtâti lobhassa samakâlo nâma natthi, ekantaṃ visamova esa. Attanâ pariggahitavatthumhi pana uppajjamâno samalobho nâma, parapariggahitavatthumhi uppajjamânova visamoti adhippeto. Micchâdhammaparetâti avatthupaṭisevanasaṅkhâtena micchâdhammena samannâgatâ. In respect to lust here the Tikanipāta-ṭīkā summarizes micchâdhamma with the following outline:It is indulgence in some base of lust other than what is considered appropriate in the world’s norms. - Avatthupaṭisevanasaṅkhātenā ti yaṃ lokiyasādhusamanuññātaṃ rāgassa vatthuṭṭhānaṃ, tato aññasmiṃ vatthusmiṃ paṭisevanasaṅkhātena.

In the present text however the commentary, the āyuvaṇṇādiparihānikathāvaṇṇanā clearly refers to the disregard of moral standards in the context of sexual misconduct: Adhammarāgoti mātā mātucchā pitucchā mātulānītiādike ayuttaṭṭhāne rāgo. Visamalobhoti paribhogayuttesupi ṭhānesu atibalavalobho. Micchādhammoti purisānaṃ purisesu itthīnañca itthīsu chandarāgo.

16 jeṭṭhāpacāyino: jeṭṭha +apacāyino: elder + paying respect


Pāli lesson (with audio) 3.6.12

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Last modified: Wednesday, 22 February 2017, 2:06 PM