How does the Buddha’s story about the election of the first king reflect this social history?
How does the Brahmans’ story underscore the role of the priests in upholding the monarchy? Why do you suppose the Brahman priests were so concerned that the king worship gods and follow traditional rituals?
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The Buddha's story reflects this social history through an illustration of how crime came about before kings came into power. While Buddha describes this origination of nihilistic chaos through the actions of 'some being' who first starts to steal from his neighbor, we can be sure that this story represents but a microcosmic sketch of a universal plight.
When this 'being' first begins stealing from his neighbor, he is admonished not to do it again. However, he repeats his original crime at least two more times, which leads to great frustration among the people. At their wits end, they resort to beating him. The Buddha tells his disciple, Vasettha, that this individual's act of larceny represents the beginning of how stealing, 'censure and lying and punishment became known.' The people wanted a king who would be able to preserve the stability and integrity of their society.
The Brahmans' story underscored the role of the priests in upholding the monarchy through an illustration of the power and influence the priests enjoyed. It was the priests who chose the kings and deposed any monarch who did not submit to their authority in all matters. In King Vena's case, the stubborn monarch refused to worship the traditional gods of the Vedic order, and the Brahmans removed him from power by murdering him. So, the Brahman priests only upheld the position of a king if the king did not veer from established royal prerogatives; refusing to worship the necessary deities just happens to not be one of those prerogatives.
The Brahman priests were adamant that the kings worshiped the traditional gods and upheld established rituals because their power depended on the king setting an example for the people. You see, the Brahman priests had long ago established their influence in the realm of religion by presiding over an intense reconfiguration of their nation's religious practices. Monotheistic faiths were subverted with the introduction of multiple deities into daily religious worship. Old gods were infused with Vedic features, and established rituals for purification were pronounced necessary elements for sanctification. New sacrificial rites necessitated great expenditures.
Above all this, the Brahmans established a caste system which saw them settled at the very top of the chain. These Brahman priests also sabotaged the positions of non-Brahman priests by deposing these religious leaders and establishing themselves as the new priests in their place. Therefore, no sect was safe from the political machinations of the Brahmans. Once in control of all religious practices, the priests used the power of the king to keep the common populace in line. So, it was imperative that any king on the throne submit himself willingly to the authority of the Brahman priests. This was the way the Brahman caste enriched themselves at the expense of impoverished worshipers and preserved their hold on political and religious power.
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