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Cakkavatti

The special name given in the books to a World ruler. The world itself means “Turner of the Wheel,” the Wheel (cakka) being the well-known Indian symbol of empire. There are certain stock epithets used to describe a Cakkavatti: ruler of the four quarters (dhammiko, dhammarājā, cāturanto), conqueror (vijitāvī), guardian of the people’s good (janapada­tthavāriyappatto), and possessor of the Seven Treasures (satta­ratana­samannāgato). More than one thousand sons are his; his dominions extend throughout the earth to its ocean bounds (sāgarapariyantaṃ); and is established not by the scourge, nor by the sword, but by righteousness (adaṇḍena asatthena dhammen’eva abhivijiva). Particulars are found chiefly in the Mahāsudassana, Mahāpadāna, Cakkavattisīhanāda, Bālapaṇḍita, and Ambaṭṭha Suttas. See also Cakkavatti Sutta S.v.98.

From the Mahāpadāna Sutta it would appear that the birth of a Cakkavatti is attended by the same miracles as that of the birth of a Buddha. A Cakkavatti’s youth is the same as that of Buddha; he, too, possesses on his body the Mahāpurisalakkhaṇāni, and sooth-sayers are able to predict at the child’s birth only that one of two destinies await him.

Of the Seven Treasures of a Cakkavatti, the Cakkaratana is the chief. When he has traversed the Four Continents: Pubbavideha, Jambudīpa, Aparagoyāṇa, and Uttarakuru accompanied by the Cakkaratana, received the allegiance of all the inhabitants and admonished them to lead the righteous life, he returns to his own native city.

After the Wheel, other Treasures make their appearance: first the Elephant, Hatthiratana; it is either the youngest of the Chaddanta-kula or the oldest of the Uposatha-kula. Next the Horse, Assaratana, named Valāhaka, all white with crow black head, and dark mane, able to fly through the air. Then the Veḷuriya-gem from Vepullapabbata, with eight facets, the finest of its species, shedding light for a league around. This is followed by the Woman, belonging either to the royal family of Madda or of Uttarakuru, desirable in every way, both because of her physical beauty and her virtuous character. Then the Treasurer (gahapati) possessed of marvellous vision, enabling him to discover treasures, and then the Adviser (parināyaka), who is generally the Cakkavatti’s eldest son. For descriptions of these see D.ii.174 f; DA.ii.624 f; MA.ii.941 f ).

Judging from the story of Mahāsudassana, who is the typical Cakkavatti, the World emperor has also four other powers (iddhi): a marvellous figure, a life longer than that of other men, good health, and popularity with all classes of his subjects. The perfume of sandalwood issues from his mouth, while his body is like a lily.

When the Cakkavatti is about to die the Wheel slips down from its place and sinks down slightly. When the king sees this he leaves the household life, and retires into homelessness, to taste the joys of contemplation, having handed over the kingdom to his eldest son. At the king’s death, the Elephant, the Horse and the Gem return to where they came from, the Woman loses her beauty, the Treasurer his divine vision, and the Adviser his efficiency (DA.ii.635).

Cakkavattis are rare in the world, and are born in world-cycles in which Buddhas do not arise (SA.iii.131). The Cakkavattisīhanāda Sutta, however, gives the names of seven who succeeded one another. In the case of each of them the Wheel disappeared, but, when his successor practised the noble duty of a Cakkavatti, honouring the Dhamma and following it to perfection, the Wheel re-appeared. In the case of the seventh his virtues gradually disappeared through forgetfulness; crime spread, among his subjects, and the Wheel vanished for ever.

In the earlier literature the term Cakkavatti seems to have been reserved for a World ruler; but later three sorts of Cakkavattis are mentioned: ruling over the four continents (cāturanta-cakkavatti), ruling over one continent (dīpa-cakkavatti), and over part of one continent (padesacakkavatti). (DA.i.249)

No woman can become a Cakkavatti (the reasons for this are given at AA.i.254). A Cakkavatti is as worthy of a thūpa as a Buddha. D.ii.143.



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