Showing posts with label Gautama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gautama. Show all posts

06 January 2012

The Son of the Śākyas

Scythian Horseman
Lessing Photo Archive
IN 2009 WHEN I WAS writing about the name of the Buddha I mentioned in passing that some people thought that marriage customs attributed to the Buddha's family in the Pāli Commentarial tradition pointed to the Buddha being Dravidian rather than Aryan. Someone asked for references and at the time I didn't have them to hand. So three years later I'm interested in this again...

The idea seems to go back at least to 1923 when A. M. Hocart tried to use observations from the traditional genealogies Śākyas and Koliyas to explain the relationship between the Buddha and his cousin Devadatta (Cited in Emeneau 1939: 220). The story of the origins of the Śākyas (Pāli Sakya) is found in several places, but particularly the Ambaṭṭha Sutta (DN 3). "The Śākyans regard King Okkāka as their ancestor" (Walsh 1995: 114). This story itself is explored in more detail by Silk (1973). In the version in the Sumaṅgalavilāsinī (the 5th century CE Theravāda commentary on the Dīgha Nikāya) there is some evidence that cross-cousin marriage occurred at the origin of the Śākya and Koliya clans (Emeneau 1939: 222). In addition there are extensive genealogies in the Mahāvaṃsa which show cross-cousin marriages (Trautman 1973: 158-160).

A cross cousin marriage is one in which a boy would marry his mother's brother's daughter, or a girl would marry her father's sister's son. This is one of the preferred matches in South India amongst the Dravidian speaking peoples, and also practised in Sri Lanka. However Good (1996) has been critical of the idea that cross-cousin marriage is the only or most preferred kin relationship, and shows that other marriage matches are made. Be that as it may, cross-cousin marriage is a feature of South Indian kinship, and the Brahmanical law books (the Dharmasūtras) make it clear that cousin marriage is forbidden for Aryas. (Thapar 2010: 306). The perception, then is that if the Buddha's family practised cross-cousin marriage, they cannot have been Aryas and were likely Dravidians.

Already in 1939 Emeneau saw the main flaw in the argument. The earliest sources we have for these propositions are Theravāda commentarial texts. They were written in about the 5th century CE in Sri Lanka. To a great extent they reflect the society of 5th century Sri Lanka. Indeed there is no corroborating evidence from the suttas or Vinaya that cross-cousin marriage took place at all. The obvious conclusion is that when the authors of the Mahāvaṃsa and the commentaries upon which the Sumaṅgalavilāsinī was based sat down to compose a genealogy for the Buddha they used familiar figures from the old texts, but arranged them in a way which seemed natural. In other words they unselfconsciously modelled the Buddha's family on their own. So I concur with Emeneau that the story is not plausible.

In my essay on the Buddha's name I posed the problem of the Buddha having a Brahmin gotra name. The gotra name was a paternal lineage name which in the case of Gautama stretches back to the Ṛgveda. Gotama, the ancestor of the Gautama clan, complied the 4th book of the Ṛgveda and is mentioned in several sūktas. [1] The Gautama clan continued to be prominent before, during and after the time of the Buddha, for example the name appears in lineages in the (pre-Buddhist) Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad and there is a (post-Asoka) Gautama Dharmasūtra.

Some authors have suggested that the name Gautama was adopted by the Śākyas from their purohita (hierophant, or ritual master). (Kosambi 1967: 37; Karve in Patil 1973: 42). This appears to be based on a later tradition whereby a kṣatriya king would adopt the gotra name of his purohita. The implication is that the Buddha's father Suddhodana must have employed a Brahmin purohita. This suggestion has several weaknesses. Firstly there is no mention of any Brahmins in relation to the Buddha's family in the earlier texts - later on we do find a Brahmin in the court, but he is part of a hugely elaborated hagiography in which the Buddha walks and talks immediately after being born. During the time of the Buddha the Brahmins were a presence but not a dominant presence. Secondly although Suddhodana is called a rāja and this is usually interpreted as king in later hagiographies, in the context of the Śākya tribe it was probably more akin to 'chief' or 'head man'. Thirdly the Buddha never has a good word to say about Brahmin ritualists, and often has bad words to say about them - he likens them to dogs in the Aṅguttara Nikāya. The Buddha's attitude, especially with respect to class (varṇa) or caste (jāti) is often taken as evidence that the Śākyas found the is often taken as indicating they these were novel ideas that he found peculiar. Finally the tradition itself is attested in the "post-epic period" (Karve in Patil 1973: 42), and it seems very likely that the compilation of the Epics out of the pre-existing oral traditions was at least partly a response to the success of Buddhism.

Although the Buddha is almost always represented as a kṣatriya I see no sign in the Pāli texts that he felt he lacked prestige such that taking a Brahmin name would improve it. There is also no hint of it happening further back in his line. In fact neither the Buddha's father nor any of his male relatives, is ever called Gautama in the suttas. So on the whole this idea of adopting a Brahmin gotra seems unlikely to me.

Very few other Gautamas are met with in Pāli. However both the Buddha's mother (Māyā, or Māyadevī) and his aunt (Mahāprajāpatī) are called Gotamī. The simplest explanation is that the Buddha was a Gautama on his mother's side, and that like several other male figures in the Pāli Canon—notably Śāriputra, the son (putra) of (his mother) Rūpasārī—the Buddha went by his mother's gotra name. I plan a longer essay pulling all this together with a more in-depth argument, but this is an outline and shows the kinds of sources that the ideas draw on.

One more note on the Śākyas. For many years sensible people have been telling overly enthusiastic amateurs that the Indian name for the Scythians (Śaka) is only similar to the name Śākya by coincidence. Recently I found some rough notes on an Indology forum by Harvard Professor Michael Witzel who's work I hold in very high regard. Witzel says that the similarity is not a coincidence, though we still have the solid historical fact that the Śaka did not enter Indian until 140 CE. However he also suggests that the Śākyas, like the Mallas, Licchavis, Vṛjis and other tribes that are found in Great Magadha were not originally from there but migrated only shortly before the lifetime of the Buddha.
"The Malla are a Rajasthan desert tribe in Jaiminiya Brahmana, and are still known on the Middle Indus as Malloi in Alexander's time."
Witzel suggests Iranian links for the Śākyas including their building of funeral mounds (aka stūpas), the names of some of their kings, marriage patterns (based on the origin story in the Ambaṭṭha Sutta [DN 3] and elsewhere, which is better attested than cross-cousin marriage), and also
"Then there also is the new idea of weighing one’s guilt after death. This was first an Egyptian, then a Zoroastrian and Iranian concept. It is connected with the idea of personal responsibility for one’s action (karma). "
The latter is very intriguing indeed. Some of this material, has made it into Witzel's published oeuvre, but it has yet to receive a detailed treatment. Long time readers may recall that I have noted some Persian Influences in Buddhism (20.6.08), and this seems to make the case quite a lot stronger. I would just add that a lot of crazy stuff can be found on the internet regarding the Scythians, and most of it cannot be taken seriously. We even find the suggestions that the Buddha was a Scythian or an Iranian, which are facile. Whatever their origins the Śākyas had lived in India for probably 500 years before the Buddha, and were thoroughly naturalised Indians with very little memory of their background.


  1. There is a potential confusion here. In Sanskrit the ancestor's name is Gotama (he who has the most cows). When the word becomes an adjective describing those associated with Gotama the root vowel o is stretched (vṛddhi) to become au. So Gautama means 'of or associated with Gotama. However in Pāli the vowel au is condensed back down to o, so Gautama becomes Gotama. We need to distinguish between Gotama the Ṛṣi of the Vedas (in Sanskrit), and Gotama the Buddha (in Pāli).

  • Emeneau, M. B. 1939. 'Was There Cross-Cousin Marriage among the Śākyas?' Journal of the American Oriental Society. 59( 2): 220-226.
  • Good, Anthony. 1990. 'On the Non-Existence of "Dravidian Kinship".' Edinburgh Papers In South Asian Studies. 6. Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Edinburgh.
  • Kosambi, D. D. 1967. 'The Vedic "Five Tribes".' Journal of the American Oriental Society. 87 (1): 33-39.
  • Patil, Sharad. 1973. 'Some Aspects of Matriarchy in Ancient India: Clan Mother to Tribal Mother.' Social Scientist. 2 (4): 42-58.
  • Silk, Jonathan A. 2008. 'Incestuous Ancestries: The Family Origins of Gautama Siddhārtha, Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 20:12, and The Status of Scripture in Buddhism.' History of Religions. 47 (4): 253-281.
  • Thapar, Romila. 2010. Ancient Indian Social History: Some Interpretations. 2nd Rev. ed. Orient Blackswan.
  • Trautmann, Thomas R. 1973 'Consanguineous Marriage in Pali Literature.' Journal of the American Oriental Society. 93(2): 158-180.
  • Walsh, Maurice. 1995. The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya. Wisdom Publications.

01 July 2011

The Buddha's Biography

I'VE ALREADY WRITTEN quite a lot on the confusion surrounding the name of the Buddha, and concluded that we don't really know what his name was. More recently I was pondering the Buddha's biography and considering the two different accounts of his going forth: the familiar elaborate version in which a princely man aged 29 who leaves behind wealth, status, wife, child, and family; and the shorter, less detailed, and probably less familiar story found in the Ariyapariyesanā Sutta [MN 26], but corroborated in other places. Scholars seem to agree that the biography found in the Ariyapariyesanā represents a more primitive version of the story which is likely to predate the more elaborate version. It's a given that the life stories of famous people tend to become more elaborate with time, not less, especially post-mortem. I'm sure many Buddhists will be surprised to discover that there are two different stories, as the more elaborate version is usually presented as a more or less factual, historical account.

Whether or not the Ariyapariyesanā version is the original story we will probably never know. But it provides a valuable insight into how the legend of the Buddha grew after his death. The process is no different from other saintly figures in other cultures and times. It's a case of the medium is the message: the common outlines of hagiographies tell us more about human nature than the content of such stories tell us about the historical Buddha. I want to look at just one paragraph from this earlier, less elaborate biography and draw out the implications it has for our stories about the Buddha.
So kho ahaṃ, bhikkhave, aparena samayena daharova samāno susukāḷakeso, bhadrena yobbanena samannāgato paṭhamena vayasā akāmakānaṃ mātāpitūnaṃ assumukhānaṃ rudantānaṃ kesamassuṃ ohāretvā kāsāyāni vatthāni acchādetvā agārasmā anagāriyaṃ pabbajiṃ. [M i.163]

At a later time, though still only a boy, with much black hair, in the first stage of life, and endowed with youth and good fortune; with my mother and father unwilling, tearful and wailing, I cut off my hair and beard, donned brown robes, and went forth from home, into homelessness.
I don't think it's overstating things to say that this is one of the most important biographical passages in the whole canon, because here much of what we think we know about the Buddha is contradicted.

Let's begin with his age. The text reinforces his young age with several terms: dahara, yobbana and paṭhama vaya. The word dahara means 'little, a young boy, a youth'. Buddhaghosa glosses it with taruṇa 'a tender young age, esp. a young calf'. The second word, yobbana, also means 'a youth'. The phrase paṭhama vaya means in 'the first stage of life', as opposed to middle age and old age. However the text also says he shaves off hair and beard (kesa-massuṃ ohāretvā) and this is common to all of the various narratives of the Buddha's going forth. Unless this is simply a stock phrase the youth must have passed puberty, and had a year or two to grow a beard. But not much more: if we were to describe a grown man as 'a boy' or 'a youth' it would seem awkward at best. I think we could say that this is describing a youth of 15 or 16. The tradition later made him 29, which is into middle-age by the standards of the day. Why 29? I don't think anyone knows, but it is interesting that the Jain leader, Mahāvīra, an elder contemporary of the Buddha, is described as a prince of Magadha who left home aged 30.

Something which is noticeable for being absent here is any mention of wife and child. The youth here is apparently not married. His parents weep and wail as he leaves, but not his wife. In my opinion the whole story of a wife and child is a later fiction, as is everything associated with them, including stories about Rāhula (who calls their child 'fetter'?). Many people are disturbed by the idea that the young bodhisatta left behind a wife and child. Of course had they existed they would not have been trapped in a neurotic nuclear family like most of us, but would have been part of a large extended family, and if we believe the stories they were wealthy and privileged. They were certainly not alone, nor destitute, and Gotama's role in the raising of his infant, and in the day to day life of his wife would most likely have been minimal in any case. I've never had a problem with young aspirant leaving wealth and family to pursue the deathless, because in the story he returns liberated and frees his family from suffering forever. One must take the story as a whole. But this whole story is a probably a fiction anyway.

Another interesting thing about this passage is that his mother and father -- mātāpita -- are unwilling witnesses to his leaving. He doesn't sneak out at night, there is no servant, no horse, none of the rich symbolism of later times. Notice in particular that his mother is present. The Buddha's mother seems not to have died in childbirth in this account. The stories of her death were presumably part of some important legendary strand that is not unlike the sanctity attached to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Though early Buddhists rejected most notions of Brahmanical ritual purity this is not true of later Buddhists. For example in the eighth century Śāntideva wrote:
If you have no passion for what is foul, why do you embrace another, born in a field of filth, seeded by filth, nourished by filth? [Bodhicaryāvatā ch8 8 v.59; translation by Skilton & Crosby]
This reflects Brahmanical notions of the polluting nature of bodily fluids, which with the Brahmanisation of the subcontinent, became pan-Indian concerns. The Buddha himself is shown to mock the Brahmins for this attitude in the Agañña Sutta (DN 27.4). He says their creation myth (Ṛgveda 10.90) which tells that the Brahmins were born from the mouth of Brahmā is a lie, since they were born in the usual way -- with all the implications of ritual pollution that entailed in the Brahmins own belief system. So in the later stories the Buddha is not born from his mother's (polluted and polluting) vagina covered in amniotic fluid and other nasty substances, but miraculously and pollution free from her side. And then she, rather too conveniently, dies and is transported to heaven where she can not cast any doubt on the sanctity of the Buddha himself. One is reminded of those 1950's and 60's American sitcoms that featured a family without a mother, ostensibly to play down the subject of where children come from. If indeed this represents a Brahmanical spin, then we can observe that the Brahmanisation of India was not completed until after the reign of Aśoka, ca. 2nd century BCE, about 150 years after the most likely date Buddha's death, which may give us a limit for dating these stories.

Finally observe that when he leaves the bodhisatta dons robes (vatthāni) which are brown (kāyāsa). It's well known that the wanderers of the day would stain the cloth of their simple robes with dirt to make them unattractive to bandits. The samaṇas who didn't go naked did not originally wear elaborate robes, or use expensive fabrics (unlike many Buddhist monks these days) but the cheapest cloth, or even rags, stained with dirt. The word kāyāsa means 'brown', but is often interpreted as 'yellow'. I think the latter is because of the brightly coloured robes that many modern Theravādins wear. PED links kāyāsa to Sanskrit śyāma 'dark' which can mean anything from black to dark blue or green; or śyāva 'dark brown, brown'. Neither of which suggest yellow, orange or red! There is a direct cognate kāṣāya but PED says this is a Sanskritisation of a Pāli word, and in any case it also means 'brown, or reddish-brown'. So the word means 'brown, dark', except in the context of bhikkhu's robes. Which suggests that changes in the colour of the robes lead to the change in meaning of the word in this specific context.

Though it is not related to this particular text, there is another little oddity about the way we see the Buddha. All of the early literature describes the Buddha as having a shaved head, and cutting of his hair and beard, as I have already mentioned is a central part of all of the Buddhist biographies of the Buddha. And yet more or less all images of the Buddha show him with tightly curled hair. Eisel Mazard goes into this puzzling discontinuity in some depth in an essay entitled The Buddha was Bald. I think Mazard makes a mountain from a mole hill (he seems to see depicting the Buddha with hair as a sinister conspiracy to defraud us), but it does confirm that the popular conception of the Buddha has changed over time, and that earlier versions of his life story get over-written.

So this 'man', who's name we are unsure of, was probably a 16 year old, unmarried youth when he left his (still living) mother and father, against their wishes. And this is not so far fetched really. Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), with whom there are other biographical parallels, was this age when he left his home to go forth. Sangharakshita was about this age when he had his first mystical experiences also, and had be been living in India at the time might have wandered off at that point (as it was he had to wait 6 years to go forth aged 22.).

It's probably meaningless to talk about the "historical Buddha". I forget now where I first came across the distinction, but I like to see the information we do have as pertaining to the traditional or legendary Buddha. The historical Buddha is lost in the mists of time, though it seems very likely that the traditional Buddha is based on an historical person. Another important character, the mythic Buddha, is a product of our imaginations - which is not a criticism, or a pejorative. I think myth -- a word I use in the same spirit as Joseph Campbell -- is very important and significant aspect of our traditions. Myths are vital for a living spiritual tradition. I've written about how a much later figure went from being an historical figure, to a legendary one, and finally attained to the mythic dimension as a kind of Avalokiteśvara-like figure who intercedes to ensure one gets into the pureland. (see: Kūkai: Buddhist Hero of Japan.)

Reginald Ray's book Buddhist Saints in India documents the way that the Buddha's life story became the archetype for stories of later Buddhist saints, with the biographical details being recapitulated throughout history. And indeed the same thing has happened in other world religions. There is no reason to think this process began with the Buddha, or that the biographies that have come down to us are not influenced by his predecessors even if they are even less clearly visible than he himself is.

Across cultures saints often share common features. It would be interesting for instance to compare the Buddha with St. Francis of Assisi. This is not to devalue the methods of Buddhism, or of religion generally. Though I am not in favour of superstition, I think there are remarkable people who rise above the ordinary concerns of the rest of us: saints, for want of a better word. And these people leave us with a legacy of alternatives to: "the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." (Hobbes. Leviathan. Chap. 13, para. 9).

In writing on this subject, critically and even polemically, I ask readers to opt for an honest confrontation with history, rather than a dishonest collusion with either tradition or secular humanism. The former blinds us and leaves us mired in eternalistic superstition, and the latter urges us to lives of nihilistic mediocrity. One of the main ideas communicated by the biography of the Buddha is that we do not have to accept either common superstitions or the general consensus; nor do we have to accept ourselves as we are, as limited and earth bound. We can be free. However the confrontation with history can be painful as it challenges our beliefs and calls into question aspects of our religious faith. I think in the end this makes us stronger, and forces us to focus less on belief and ideology, and more on practical matters, i.e. on doing the practices. Everything changes, and it seems very likely indeed that the stories we tell of the Buddha have changed too.


20 November 2009

What was the Buddha's name?

In the Pāli texts his followers called him Bhagavan. Other people tended to call him Gotama or 'sāmaṇa' depending on whether they were being polite or impolite. Later is was established that his name was Siddhartha Gautama. In this essay I want to take a brief look at the evidence we have for what the Buddha's name was, or as we shall see, what it probably wasn't.

The name Siddhartha occurs in the Pāli texts, in the form Siddhattha, only in the Jātakas and later commentarial works. It is not used in the Nikāyas or Vinaya as the name of the Buddha, though it is used for other people. The Jātakas are legendary material which we can't take seriously as historical accounts. Siddhartha is used in the Sanskrit Mahāvastu - technically a vinaya text of the Mahāsaṅghika sect but actually an extended and much elaborated biography, really a hagiography of the Buddha. The fact is that the more strictly biographical accounts of the Buddha, such as the Ariyapariyesanā Sutta, make no mention of his given name at all! The best we can say is that apart from the name Siddhartha there is no other name mentioned as a contender.

Gautama (P. Gotama) is something of a puzzle because it is a distinctively Brahmin name. There are several well known Brahmin philosophers called Gautama, and even a Brahminical Gautama Sūtra. Gautama is a traditional Brahmin gotra (P. gotta) name. The gotra is like a clan name, and indicates people descended from a particular ancestor. While the Vedic Brahmins did not worship their ancestors, whom they referred to as the pitaraḥ 'the fathers', they did revere them and in earlier versions of rebirth theories the good Brahmin would leave this world and go to the world of his fathers (women were not included in this scheme) for a time before coming back to this world. A hint into the original use of this term is that it also means a cow (go) shed (tra, 'protection') - the image is of the herd of cows enclosed and protected, similar to the relationship of the individual to the clan group. Only a few dozen traditional gotra names are recorded (there are lists in the pre-Buddhist Bṛhadāranyaka Upaniṣad for instance). Monier-Williams' Dictionary suggests there are 49, and gives Gautama as one of his examples in his Sanskrit dictionary.

It is mentioned many times through the Buddhist canon that the Buddha was a kṣatriya - that is of the class (varṇa) [1] which is associated with rulers and secular leadership - sometimes kṣatriya and rāja 'king, ruler' are treated as synonyms. The other three classes were priests (brāhmaṇa) merchants (vaiṣya) and peasants (śudra). Although the Buddha's father was referred to as a 'rāja' at that time the Śākya nation was more like an oligarchy or republic. Rāja cannot really mean king or royalty in this context, and probably just means 'leader' and even then one leader amongst many. In the commentarial traditions we find that the Śākyas did not follow Vedic, but Dravidian marriage customs, suggesting that perhaps they were not Āryans [2] at all (though this is a late tradition it must have had the ring of truth to survive since it contradicts his being a kṣatriya, which is a more convenient appellation in caste conscious India). There are pockets of Dravidian speaking peoples in North India still and it is usually assumed that they were the aboriginal inhabitants of the Ganges plain and were displaced by the encroaching Vedic/Sanskrit speaking peoples. There is some doubt about this theory now, and of course it tends to ignore the other major language group in India - Muṇḍa - traces of which can be found in the Ṛgveda (see my discussion of the Dhp 1 and 2 for an example of a Muṇḍa loan word in Sanskrit and Pāli). In any case politically and it seems socially the Śākyas were distinct from the Brahmins - making the fact of the Buddha's Brahmin surname even more odd.

There is evidence that Brahmins were not above adopting clans into the Āryan class/caste system - sometimes making their priests honorary Brahmins. It has been suggested that perhaps the Śākyans employed a Brahmin purohita (a priest) and adopted his gotra name. If this is true it shows how very powerful the influence of the Brahmins was on the culture of Greater Magadha even at this early stage when it was dominated by the various śramaṇa groups. The Vedic languages were a powerful means of cultural imperialism.

To summarise then: while there is no other contender the name Siddhartha is not associated with the Buddha in the earliest texts, though Gautama is. Gautama however is a distinctive traditional Brahmin name which does not fit the general picture of the Buddha's non-Brahmin, probably non-Āryan background.

Such uncertainty does not sit well with religious sentiments, and so the legends which filled the gaps in our knowledge gained the status of facts: the Buddha's name simply is Siddhartha Gautama and we 'know' many details of his parentage and life. Of course it is possible that the legend is based on a fact not recorded in the suttas, however unlikely this seems. Perhaps the Buddha deliberately obscured aspects of his pre-enlightenment existence. I've noticed that occasionally when people wish to belittle me they will insist on using my birth name instead of my Buddhist name - particularly when denying the validity of my ordination. Perhaps the Buddha wished to create a bit of distance between that old identity and 'the Tathāgata'. Other details of his life are equally vague, and even more elaborately filled in by Buddhists. Indeed the further we get from the actual life the more elaborate the stories become until they leave behind any sense of historicity.

Does it matter? I think not. The Buddha is a symbol of our potential - every human being if they pursue the dhamma can become 'like that' (tathāgata), i.e. we can all have that experience which the Buddha had. The fact is that people have been having that experience ever since the Buddha's first disciples and right down to the present. Buddhists do not rely on the divinity of the Buddha. We have the dhamma - the ways and means of following the Buddha. We have the Saṅgha - each other, but more especially those with experience, with the experience, to support and guide us. The main reason for pointing out the problems with the hagiographic narratives is to prevent us from deifying that version of the Buddha who is more a product of human imagination than of history. Such a figure must remain a symbol and not become an idol if we are to retain the spirit of the Buddha's teaching.

30.7.10 Update:
See also Some Additional Notes which looks again at the issue of the name Gautama.
18.5.2011 Update:
The word śākyamuni is used in the Lalitavisatara and the Mahāvastu, two of the earliest Mahāyāna texts. It also occurs in the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā [Sūtra] where several times we find the phrase:
śākyamunirnāma tathāgato 'rhan samyaksaṃbuddho vidyācaraṇasaṃpannaḥ sugato lokavid anuttaraḥ puruṣadamyasārathiḥ śāstā devānāṃ ca manuṣyānāṃ ca buddho bhagavāniti 

The tathāgata named Śākyamuni: the worthy, the fully and perfectly awoken, endowed with knowledge and conduct, in a good state, excelled in understanding the world, a trainer of people, a charioteer for gods and humans, awakened, fortunate.
More or less this same phrase is found in the Ajitasenavyākaraṇa which Williams discusses as a Mahāyāna sūtra that originally belonged to a pre-mahāyāna tradition (Mahāyāna Buddhism, p.26). The phrase śākyamuniṃ tathāgataṃ appears to occur only once in both the long and short Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtras.

However the name Śākyamuni appears not to occur at all in the Śālistambasūtram, nor in the Ratnaguṇasaṃcayagāthā (though 'śakya' does).

This is a brief and far from comprehensive survey of the Mahāyāna sūtras generally acknowledged to be early, and which can be found online and searched electronically. While not universal, nor always prominent, the name does seem to be established by the time these texts were composed - by perhaps the first century before the common era or a little before, but probably post Aśoka (to take him as a reference point).

  1. Class' better captures the higher level fourfold division of Indian society. 'Caste' is a translation of jāti 'birth' which is also used this way in Pāli - see e.g. the Pūraḷāsa Sutta in the Suttanipāta. Jāti often referred to one's specific occupation.
  2. 'Āryan' as a cultural description is falling out of favour because it is seen as politically incorrect. The people in question probably spoke a range of dialects all related very closely to Vedic or Sanskrit and to Iranian languages of the same period - I've seen it said for instance that Pāli is not descended directly from the Vedic of the Vedas, but from a near relative. Anyway I'm now uncertain how to refer to the people (if they were a people) or this family of languages. Vedic is not quite right, and Sanskrit has only limited applicability.