Chinese Buddhism, by Joseph Edkins, , at sacred-texts.com
The four truths—Godinia and his four companions—The first monastic community—The first lay brother—Conversion of five hundred fire worshippers in the kingdom of Magadha—Buddha at Rajagriha—At Shravasti, in Jeta's garden—Appoints punishments for crimes of monks—Goes to see his father after twelve years’ absence—Story of his son Rahula.
IT was exactly thirty-five days after his arriving at perfect wisdom that Buddha opened his public life at Benares, by discoursing to Godinia and others on the four truths. "You should know," he said to his auditors, "the fact of misery (DUK‘A), and the need of becoming separated from the accumulation of entanglements caused by the passions (SAMUDAYA). These two truths belong to the world from which you are now exhorted to take your departure. You should also experience the extinction of these miseries and entanglements (NIRODA), and the path of reformation (MARGA). These two truths belong to the monastic life on which you should now enter."
Having these subjects to discourse on, Buddha went forth to appeal to the youth of India, the hermits, the followers of the Zoroastrian fire-worship, the Brahman who studied the Vedas, and to men of every class.
The wheel of doctrine revolved thrice. There was first didactic statement, then exhortation, and lastly appeal to evidence and personal experience. The image is that of grinding. The chaff and refuse are forced from the
good flour by repeated revolutions of the wheel. The statement of facts, the urgent appeal, and the proof are repeated in the inculcation of each of the "four truths." The wheel of Buddhist preaching was thus made to perform twelve revolutions. 1
Having once launched the subject under these four heads, it was natural that the Hindoo minds of the time, fond as they were of dialectical hair-splitting, should ramify them into numberless subdivisions. They talked of the eighty-one states of misery, the eighty-eight varieties of deception, the thirty-seven methods of reformation, &c.
One of Buddha's earliest converts was Godinia, who was attracted by his teaching upon the four truths, and attained the first grade of clear vision. It was at Benares, the ancient Varanasi, in the Mrigadava garden (Lu-ye-yuen), that this conversion and that of four others took place. Thus began the revolving of the wheel of the Buddhist law, which was destined to spread the new doctrine over so wide a portion of Asia, and to continue for so many centuries. These new disciples asked to be permitted to commence the monkish life. This Shakya allowed, saying, "Bikshus! it is for you to take off your hair, wear the kasha, and become Shramanas." He discoursed of the non-permanence of human actions, of the emptiness of the external world, the non-existence of the Ego, the deliverance of the mind from thraldom by the cessation of faults, and the consequent attainment of the moral and intellectual rank of Arhan.
"Thus," adds the delighted Buddhist historian, "the world for the first time had six Arhans, and (including the new doctrine) the Three Precious Ones (San Pau). The first was Buddha, the second was the revolving of the wheel of the doctrine of the four truths (Dharma), and the third was the company of the five Arhans (Sanga). Well might that garden be regarded as the happy land of men and Devas (T‘ien)."
This was the foundation of the spiritual communities of Buddhism. The Sanga, or assembly of believers, distinguished by common vows of abstinence from marriage, from animal food, and the occupations of social life, now commenced. The Sangarama and Vihara, 1 or monastery, was soon rendered necessary for the residence of the voluntary cœnobites, who daily grew in numbers, and the greatest social revolution that ever took place in India was fairly begun.
Soon afterwards, a youth of great intelligence saw in the night-time a light. He opened the door of the house, and went out in search of the light. He soon reached Buddha's garden, was taught, became an Arhan, and requested permission to take the vows, to which Buddha at once consented. The father of this youth came in search of him, and was also taught by Buddha. He became a convert; with purged vision took the vows of adherence to the Three Precious Ones, and returned home to become the first Upâsaka, or lay brother, keeping the rules, but living at his own house. It was permitted to the neophyte, if he preferred it, to continue in the position which he held in social life, and not to join the monastic community.
As soon as the number had increased to fifty-six, another great step was taken by Shakyamuni. He broke up the community, and dismissed all its members to travel everywhere, giving instruction in the doctrine of the four miseries to all persons with whom they met. This occupation was connected with begging for food. At this time the Buddhist community had no property. It was supported by the liberality of the new members, or by the gifts of rich persons. Whether the monks were in the monastery or upon their travels, the normal mode of gaining support was by the charity of neighbours, of passersby, of kings and nobles, and all the kindly disposed. The system was thus gradually, in the early years of Shakyamuni's
teaching, assuming the form it has taken in all Buddhist countries. Monastic vows, living in spiritual communities, voluntary poverty, and universal preaching—these formed the basis on which the great Buddhist structure was erected. We cannot but admire the wonderful practical genius of the man who conceived the system, and carried it out with such triumphant success. In a few years India was covered, through the labours of the Buddhist preachers, with flourishing communities of monks, and in the cool season of the year the Bikshus, or religious mendicants, were everywhere seen on the roads and in the cities teaching the true path to the Nirvâna.
As Shakyamuni was the first in time of the founders of monastic communities, so he surpassed them all in the originality of his conceptions, in the success of his system, and in the force of his influence.
The Buddhist preachers left their master, who proceeded from Benares to Magadha. At evening he slept in the house of Uluvilva Kashiapa. He there subdued a fiery snake, and administered to him the vows of adherence to Buddha, the Law, and the Priesthood. To produce an impression on Kashiapa's mind, he enclosed the snake in a rice bowl. Kashiapa was still deficient in knowledge, but from this time he ripened and progressed visibly.
On the banks of the Nairanjana river, Shakyamuni had an interview, says the legend, with his old enemy, the king of the Maras (the Chinese mo in mo-kwei, "devil"),who wished to enter the Nirvâna. But Buddha refused his thrice repeated request, on the ground that he was not mentally prepared for the change. Thus, legend—which was never more active in inventing wonderful stories about any one than about Shakyamuni—makes him sovereign over the most powerful supernatural beings. He did not, however, always refuse applicants for salvation from other worlds. He is said to have gone up to the Tushita paradise to instruct his mother Maya in the new law.
On the banks of the same river, five hundred fire-worshippers, after hearing his discourse on the four miseries, became Arhans, and threw their implements of worship into the river. Their religion—frequently mentioned in early Buddhist history—was, as it would appear, propagated from Persia to India not long before the time of Cyrus. In Persia, fire-worship had been added to the old Magian worship of the heavenly bodies. But while it had triumphed through Zoroaster's influence in Persia, it was destined to be expelled from India by Buddhism. With these new converts, Buddha went to the city of Rajagriha, and was received there with perfect confidence and admiration. The king Vimbasâra, Ajatashatru's father, 1 and all the principal persons in the city, Brahmans, officers, and people, became his disciples.
The ruins of this city are still visited by the Jains, at a spot sixteen miles south-west of Bahar. 2 It was the metropolis of the Magadha princes till the era of Ashôka, the Buddhist monarch who ruled all India about two hundred years after the time of Shakyamuni. Here Buddha taught for many years, and received some of his most celebrated disciples, such as Shariputra, Maudgalyayana, and Kashiapa. At this time Buddha began to appoint the wearing of the shangati, or upper robe, reaching to the knees. It is worn outside the kasha, or long robe, which was in use from the commencement of the monastic institute.
Three years later, Shakya was invited to Shravasti, to occupy a house and garden expressly provided for him by the king's eldest son and a rich noble, as already described. It was the Jetavana Vihara, or Monastery of Jeta's Garden. Here he was in the kingdom of Kosala, then ruled by Prasenajita; who, with the chief. persons of influence, were all in favour of the new doctrine.
Buddha was obliged to become a legislator. As thefts, assassination, and evil-speaking occurred in his community,
he made special rules for the punishment of such crimes (Fo-tsu-t‘ung-ki, iii. 30).
His father sent a messenger to him, after he had been absent from home for twelve years, to inform him that he wished to see him, and to invite him to come for a visit. The messenger was a Brahmachâri (a religious student or observer of Brahmanical rules of purity), named Udaya. On hearing Buddha discourse, Udaya at once attained to the state of Arhan (Lohan). Buddha now resolved to go to see his father, and attempt, by teaching, to save both him and his mother. He sent forward Udaya to inform the king, and perform before him the eighteen changes—a series of magical effects. The king was delighted, and went out of the city thirteen miles, accompanied with an escort of ten thousand persons, to welcome Shakyamuni, who was conspicuous for his stature—being sixteen feet in height—and his brilliant golden colour. He appeared like the moon among the clouds. Around him were many Brahmachâri who had long been in the woods and mountains, and whose bodies were black. They seemed like those black-winged birds that fly round the purple-golden mountain. The king then ordered five hundred youths of distinguished families to become monks and attend on Buddha, like phoenixes round Mount Sumeru.
The hermit life in India preceded the monastic life. Buddha himself was at first a hermit, like the Brahmachâri of the time. But while they aimed at the old Brahmanical purity, his mind swelled with new thoughts and aims. They were content to avoid the stains of a secular life. He was bent on saving multitudes by teaching.
When Buddha was come to see his father after twelve years’ absence, his wife brought his little son, Rahula, to see him. The boy was just six years old, and the courtiers doubted if Buddha was his father. Buddha said to the doubters, "Yashodara has been true to her duty. I will give proof of it." He then, by his magical power, caused the monks present all to become Buddhas in
appearance. Yashodara then took a signet ring and gave it to the boy, saying to him, "This is your father's; give it to him." Rahula took it and gave it at once to Buddha. The king and all the courtiers said, "Good! this boy is truly the son of Buddha." 1
29:1 Sanga, "assembly;" arâma, "garden;" Vihâra, "a place for walking about in."
31:1 From Vimba, "shadow;" sâra, "strength." In old Chinese, Bimbasala.
31:2 Eitel's Handbook of Chinese Buddhism.
33:1 Other stories take the place of this in Mr. Beal's translation of The Romantic Legend of Sâkya Buddha.