In the Canki Sutta (MN95) the Buddha talks to a Brahmin youth called Kapathika, but addresses him as "Bharadvaja". Does this litterally mean "supporter of the cow pen"? What might a more poetic translation be?


According to the Buddhist Dictionary of Pali Proper Names entry on "Kāpathika":

A young brahmin, sixteen years old, well versed in the Vedas, and with his head shaven. He was "of good stock, well informed, a good speaker and a scholar of ability." He visited the Buddha at Opasāda, where he interrupted a conversation which the Buddha was holding with some aged brahmins; they rebuked him for interrupting his elders, but Cankī, who happened to arrive at that moment, interceded on his behalf. The Buddha, knowing that Kāpathika had questions to ask of him, gave him an opportunity for so doing, and there followed a discussion on various points, detailed in the Cankī Sutta. At the end of the discussion the youth declared himself a disciple of the Buddha (M.ii.168ff).

In the Sutta the Buddha addresses Kāpathika as Bhāradvāja, perhaps because he belonged to that gotta.

The dictionary here speculates that Kapathika was called Bharadvaja because that's his gotta (in Pali) or gotra (in Sanskrit). Gotra means patrilineal lineage.

That means Kapathika may have belonged to the lineage of the ancient Vedic sage Bharadvaja, who was one of the seven great sages (saptarishis).

In fact, the same sutta mentions Bhāradvāja, the ancient sage, and other ancient great sages by the Pali version of their names.

“How then, Bhāradvāja, the ancient brahmin seers, the creators of the hymns, the composers of the hymns, whose ancient hymns that were formerly chanted, uttered, and compiled, the brahmins nowadays still chant and repeat, repeating what was spoken and reciting what was recited—that is, Aṭṭhaka, Vāmaka, Vāmadeva, Vessāmitta, Yamataggi, Angirasa, Bhāradvāja, Vāseṭṭha, Kassapa, and Bhagu—did even these ancient brahmin seers say thus: ‘We know this, we see this: only this is true, anything else is wrong’?”— “No, Master Gotama.”
MN 95


Apparently Bharadvaja was one of the seven most elite Brahmin gotras. Taken literally this would mean that Kapathika traced his lineage from the ancient sage Bharadvaja by unbroken male descent. Although I doubt we should take it literally, more on that later.

In any case, Bharadvaja is like a family name, so you're not supposed to translate it. But if you really want to, "Bharata" means "maintainer of hearth and home" and "dvaja" means "twice-born" or "born from two fathers" (in the sense of having achieved spiritual realization). Taken together the two parts create connotation of spiritual nobility or noble spirituality, something very elite and traditional.

Whether we take it as a family name or look at the literal translation, it definitely is a very cool name and the fact that Buddha uses it for this Kapathika guy is significant.

From the sutta we see that Kapathika is young and notoriously arrogant. Indeed, he interrupts Buddha's conversation with older Brahmins and Buddha has to rebuke him.

In this context it seems clear that Buddha uses the name of the famous ancient sage in a kind of mocking gesture. It is like calling out an arrogant physics freshman: "Mr. Einstein, would you stop interrupting?"

BTW your nickname is of the same kind, a mocking claim to be a wise and virtuous professor of Dharma. I'm sure you are well aware of this, and since this is your first post, I assume you wanted to make a greeting gesture. Well, hello and welcome, professor :)

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