kulaputta: noble young man

kulaputta: of noble ancestry

kulaputta: a member of the gentry

kulaputta: son of a genteel family

kulaputta: son of an aristocratic family


Kulaputta: sonship, youth, and high social background

DOP says kulaputta means either

1) the son of a good or noble family

2) a noble youth.

So –putta does not necessarily mean ‘son.’ We will see that it more often indicates ‘youth.’ In some cases it indicates a high social background (‘of the genteel classes’). That –putta indicates youth but not boyhood is our next point.

Kulaputta: youth not boyhood, part 1

Although –putta means youth, it does not mean boyhood. For example, when Venerable Anuruddha is called kulaputta at M.1.205, he would have been at least 35 years old for the following reasons:

1) At that time he was an arahant (M.1.205).

2) Th.v.904 says it took him 30 years to overcome torpor (middhaṃ samūhataṃ), which is therefore when he attained arahantship, because only arahants have completely abandoned lethargy and torpor (thīnamiddhanīvaraṇaṃ, S.5.327).

3) His age at ordination is uncertain, but given that his brother informed him of the duties that would fall to him if he remained a layperson, he was likely between 5-20 years old (Vin.2.180-1).

Kulaputta: youth not boyhood, part 2

That kulaputta means youth not boyhood is also obvious in the Licchavikumāra Sutta, which says this:

• Mahānāma, in whatever kulaputta five qualities are found―whether he is a consecrated noble king, a country gentleman, an army general, a village headman, a guildmaster, or someone who exercises personal authority over various families―only growth (in spiritually wholesome factors) is to be expected for him, not a falling away (from them). What five?
Yassa kassaci mahānāma kulaputtassa pañcadhammā saṃvijjanti yadi vā rañño khattiyassa muddhābhisittassa yadi vā raṭṭhikassa pettanikassa yadi vā senāya senāpatikassa yadi vā gāmagāmikassa yadi vā pūgagāmaṇikassa ye vā pana kulesu paccekādhipaccaṃ kārenti vuddhiyeva pāṭikaṅkhā no parihāni. Katame pañca? (A.3.76).

If army generals and village headmen are kulaputtas, then kulaputta does not mean boyhood. We also see that kulaputta is associated with the gentry, which suggests the rendering ‘noble young man.’

Kulaputto: of noble ancestry

Although Ambaṭṭha considered himself a brahman, the Buddha said he was in fact descended from a slavegirl (dāsiputto D.1.92). Ambaṭṭha’s friends initially defended him, saying he was of pure ancestry (sujāto) and a kulaputto. But on discovering the truth, they said he was of impure ancestry (dujjāto), an akulaputto, descended from a slave (dāsiputto).

So, according to brahmans, kulaputto was an exalted term associated with the most prestigious members of their group, the sujāto, and incompatible with slavish forebears. Kulaputta therefore means ‘of noble ancestry.’

The significance of sujāto can be seen in the following conversation, where it is the first quality expected of a brahman who is a master of threefold Vedic knowledge:

―’In what way, brahman, do brahmans declare a brahman to be a master of threefold Vedic knowledge?’
Yathākathaṃ pana brāhmaṇa brāhmaṇā brāhmaṇaṃ tevijjaṃ paññāpentī ti?

―In this regard, Master Gotama, a brahman is of pure ancestry (sujāto hoti) on both sides of his family, of pure descent, unimpeachable and irreproachable with respect to birth as far back as the seventh generation.
Idha pana bho gotama brāhmaṇo ubhato sujāto hoti mātito ca pitito ca saṃsuddhagahaṇiko yāva sattamā pitāmahāyugā akkhitto anupakkuṭṭho jātivādena (A.1.166).

Kulaputto: member of the gentry

Related to noble ancestry is gentility. When Venerable Upananda asked a certain great merchant (aññataro seṭṭhiputto) to give him one of his two robes, the man replied:

• But, bhante, for us who are members of the gentry, it is awkward to walk around with only one piece of cloth.
Amhākaṃ kho bhante kulaputtānaṃ kismiṃ viya ekasāṭakaṃ gantuṃ (Vin.3.211).


We call seṭṭhiputto ‘great merchant’ not ‘son of a great merchant,’ taking -putto as pleonastic.

Kulaputto: sons of genteel families

Related to noble ancestry and gentility is a delicate upbringing. For example, Anuruddha the Sakyan had three palaces. When his brother invited him to become a bhikkhu, he complained:

• But I have been delicately nurtured, I am not able to go forth from the household life into the ascetic life.
Ahaṃ kho sukhumālo. Nāhaṃ sakkomi agārasmā anagāriyaṃ pabbajituṃ (Vin.2.180).

The Buddha helped such individuals by providing them with sufficient clothing. He reflected:

• Even those in this teaching and training system who are sons of genteel families and susceptible to cold, afraid of cold, even these are able to keep themselves going with three robes.
yepi kho te kulaputtā imasmiṃ dhammavinaye pabbajitā sītālukā sītabhīrukā tepi sakkonti ticīvarena yāpetu (Vin.1.288).

Kulaputto: sons of aristocratic families

In relation to ‘highly distinguished,’ we give kulaputtā the meaning ‘sons of the aristocratic families’:

• Now at that time highly distinguished sons of the aristocratic families of Magadha were living the religious life under the Blessed One.
Tena kho pana samayena abhiññātā abhiññātā māgadhakā kulaputtā bhagavati brahmacariyaṃ caranti (Vin.1.43).

Kulaputta: spiritual nobility

When Venerables Anuruddha, Nandiya, and Kimbila were living together in the Gosinga Sāla-tree Wood, their utmost harmony was shielded by a zealous gatekeeper who so diligently defended the place against visitors, that when on one occasion the Buddha dared enter uninvited, he was told ‘Do not enter this grove, ascetic! There are three kulaputtas here seeking their Soul. Do not disturb them!’
mā samaṇa etaṃ dāyaṃ pāvisi sant’ettha tayo kulaputtā attakāmarūpā viharanti mā tesaṃ aphāsumakāsī ti, M.1.206).

The gatekeeper would hardly have meant this with social connotations ‘There are three member of the gentry living here,’ and kulaputta here seems to imply spiritual nobility. We have seen above that this sense is not just for bhikkhus. We render it as ‘noble young man.’

Kulaputta versus moghapurisā: noble young man

That the elevated connotations of kulaputto extend to the spiritual sphere can be discerned when the Buddha contrasted kulaputtā and moghapurisā:

• Thus do noble young men (kulaputtā) declare their (attainment of) arahantship. The matter is spoken of without any reference to themselves.
evaṃ kho bhikkhave kulaputtā aññaṃ vyākaronti attho ca vutto attā ca anupanīto.

… Yet there are some worthless men (moghapurisā) here who apparently declare (that they have attained) arahantship for fun.
Atha ca pana idhekacce moghapurisā hasamānakā maññe aññaṃ vyākaronti (A.3.359).

Kulaputta versus ‘persons’ (puggalā)

Similarly, Gaṇaka Moggallāna contrasted kulaputtā with puggalā:

a) persons (puggalā) without faith who have gone forth from the household life into the ascetic life merely for the sake of a livelihood
puggalā assaddhā jīvikatthā agārasmā anagāriyaṃ pabbajitā

b) noble young men (kulaputtā) who have gone forth from the household life into the ascetic life out of faith
kulaputtā saddhā agārasmā anagāriyaṃ pabbajitā (M.3.6).


Illustration: kulaputto, noble young man

By whatever profession a noble young man makes his living, whether counting, accountancy, calculation, farming, trading, animal husbandry, archery, or in the royal service, or whatever the profession may be, he is exposed to cold and heat.
kulaputto yena sippaṭṭhānena jīvikaṃ kappeti yadi muddāya yadi gaṇanāya yadi saṅkhānena yadi kasiyā yadi gorakkhena yadi issatthena yadi rājaporisena yadi sippaññatarena sītassa purakkhato uṇhassa purakkhato (M.1.85).

Illustration: kulaputtānaṃ, noble young men

It is fitting for all you noble young men who have gone forth from the household life into the ascetic life to take delight (in the celibate life).
etaṃ kho anuruddhā tumhākaṃ patirūpaṃ kulaputtānaṃ saddhā agārasmā anagāriyaṃ pabbajitānaṃ yaṃ tumhe abhirameyyātha brahmacariye

As you are still endowed with the blessing of youth, black-haired young men in the prime of life, you could have been indulging in sensuous pleasures.
☸ Yena tumhe anuruddhā bhadrena yobbanena samannāgatā paṭhamena vayasā susu kālakesā kāme paribhuñjeyyātha (M.1.463).