Chinese Buddhism, by Joseph Edkins, , at sacred-texts.com
Buddha sends for Rahula—Arrangements for instructing Rahula and other boys—Tutors—Boys admitted to the vows—Nuns—Rapid spread of monasticism—Disciplinary rules—Education in metaphysics—Ananda and the Leng-yen-king—Buddha in these works like Socrates in Plato—Buddha said to have gone to Ceylon—Also to the paradise of desire—Offer of Devas to protect Buddhism—Protectors of China—Relation of Buddhism to Hindoo polytheism—Pradjna Paramita—King Prasenajit—Sutra of the Benevolent King—Daily liturgy—Ananda becomes Buddha's attendant disciple—Intrusted with the Sutras in twelve divisions—Buddha teaches his esoteric system—Virtually contained in the "Lotus Sutra"—In this the sun of Buddha culminated—His father's approaching death announced—Buddha reaches the forty-ninth year of his public preaching.
WHEN Buddha was forty-four years old he sent a messenger to his father and wife to say that his son Rahula was now nine years of age, and ought to commence the religious life. Maudgalyayana was the messenger. The mother replied, "When Julai (Tathâgata) was a prince he married me, and before we had been married three years he went away to lead a mountain life. Having after six years become Buddha, and returned to visit his country, he now wishes me to give him my son. What misery can be so great as this?" She was, however, persuaded to consent to this sacrifice, and committed him to the care of the messenger. With him the king
sent fifty sons of noble families to be his companions in taking the vows and receiving instruction.
They were placed, says the legend, under the care of Shariputra and Maudgalyayana as their tutors—Ho-shang (Upâsaka), and A-che-li (Acharya). 1 The original meaning of the ordinary Chinese term for Buddhist priest thus appears to be "tutor." The primary duty of the Ho-shang was to be the guide of young monks. The term was afterwards extended in Eastern Turkestan to all monks. From that country it was introduced into China, where it is still used in the wider sense, all monks being called Ho-Shang.
It was now arranged by Buddha that while boys might be received into the community, if the parents were willing, when still of tender years, as from twelve to seventeen, they should not receive the full vows till they were twenty. He also ordered the erection of an altar for administering the vows. It is called Kiai-t‘an, "Vow altar." It is ascended by three flights of steps. On the top sit the officiating priest and his assessors. The flights of steps are so arranged that the neophyte passes three times round the altar on his way up, to indicate his triple submission to Buddha, the Law, and the Priesthood.
Women began to ask and received permission to take the vows. They were called in India Bikshuni, and in China Niku. Ni is the Sanscrit feminine termination of Bikshu, and ku is a common respectful term used of aunts, young girls, &c.
In twelve years from the commencement of his public teaching Buddha's doctrines had spread over sixteen Indian kingdoms, the monastic system was founded, and the outline of the regulations for the monks and nuns was already drawn.
Shakyamuni taught morality by rules. He hedged
round his community with the strictest regulations, but he made metaphysics the staple article of his oral instructions. He tried first to bring his disciples out of danger from the world's temptations by introducing them to the spiritual association of the Bikshus. Here there was community of goods, brotherhood, the absence of secular cares, strict moral discipline, and regular instruction. The only respite was when the whole community went out into the streets of the city to receive the alms of the householders in the form of money or food. The instruction consisted of high metaphysics and a morality which speaks chiefly of mercy, and only looks at duty on its human side. Obedience to the law of God is in Shakyamuni's morality kept assiduously out of view. Instead of theology he taught metaphysics, and instead of a history of God's dealings with mankind, such as the Bible is to the Christian, he supplied them with an unlimited series of the benevolent actions of the Buddhas and Bodhisattwas.
This is true of Northern and Southern Buddhism, but the system prevailing in Ceylon and Siam has perhaps somewhat less of the metaphysical and more of the moral element than that found in China and Mongolia.
One of the most striking examples of the use of metaphysics as a cure for moral weakness, is found in the Leng-yen-king. The incident, which is of course legendary, is placed by Buddha's biographers in the forty-fifth year of his age and in the city Shravasti. Ananda, the favourite disciple, lingered one evening in the streets, where he proceeded alone from door to door begging. He accidentally met a wicked woman named Matenga. The god Brahma had already resolved to injure Ananda, and now drew him by a spell into the house of Matenga. Buddha, knowing of the spell, after the evening meal returned from the house of the rich man who entertained him, sent forth a bright lotus light from his head and received a charm. He then directed Manjusiri to take the charm
with which he had thus been miraculously furnished, and go to save Ananda. By means of it he was told to bring Ananda and Matenga for instruction. Ananda on arriving made his bow and wept, blaming himself that he had not come before, and that after much teaching his "strength" (tau-li) was so far from perfect. Earnestly he asked the aid of the Buddhas of the ten regions that he might obtain the first benefits of knowledge (Bodhi). Buddha in agreeing to his desire announced to him the doctrine of the Leng-yen-king. The attempt is made to strengthen the disciple against temptation by a grand display of metaphysical skill. The man who founded the monastic institute as a cure for worldliness, might consistently teach philosophical negations as a remedy against bad morality. But it is for ever to be regretted that Shakyamuni failed to see the true foundations of morality. Confucius was able to uncover the secret of the origin of virtue and duty so far as to trace it to conscience and natural light. Judaism found it in the revealed law of God. Christianity combined the law written on the heart with the revealed law of the Divine Ruler. But Shakyamuni failed to express rightly the relation of morality to God or to human nature. Here is the most grievous failure of his system. He knew the longing of humanity for deliverance from misery, and the struggle which takes place perpetually in the heart of mankind between good and evil; but he misunderstood them because he was destitute not only of Christian and Jewish, but even of Confucian light. Fortunately, however, all the imperfect teaching in the world cannot destroy the witness which conscience in every land bears to the distinctions of eternal and immutable morality, or Buddha's teaching would have been still more harmful.
The occurrence of the Leng-yen-king early in Buddha's public life constitutes a difficulty to the Buddhist commentators. Buddha is perfect. He commences with the superficial, and finishes with the profound. How was it
that this most polished specimen of his acumen, acknowledged to be so by noted Chinese Confucianists like Chu-fu-tsï, should equal the Sutras which were delivered at the end of his life? They therefore deny its equality with the Fa-hwa-king, "The Lotus of the Good Law," delivered, so they say, when Shakyamuni was an old man.
It has cost much labour to reduce the Sutras into a self-consistent chronological order. The Northern Buddhists when they added the literature of the Mahayana to that which was composed by Shakyamuni's immediate disciples, felt obliged to show in a harmonious scheme of his long life, to what years the various Sutras of the Hinayana and Mahayana, or "Smaller" and "Greater Development," should be assigned.
Imagine a life of Socrates composed by a modern author on the hypothesis that he really spoke all that Xenophon and Plato said in his name. Each or these authors imparted his own colouring to his account, and introduced his own thoughts in various proportion; and Plato's works certainly constitute the record of his own intellectual life rather than that of Socrates. His rambles in the world of thought have ever since his time been regarded as his own much more than they were those of his revered teacher. How foolish and useless would be the endeavour to construct a biography of Socrates on the principle that he wrote Plato, that the Platonic dialogues were all the products of his mind, that the incidents real or fictitious they record were all capable of arrangement in a self-consistent scheme, and that the philosophical principles they contain were all developed in a symmetrical succession, and at definite epochs in the life of Socrates! Such is the hopeless task undertaken by Buddha's Northern biographers.
Buddha, in the eighteenth year of his public teaching, is said to have gone to Ceylon, called in the Sutras Lenga island. He went to the top of Adam's Peak, and here
delivered the Lenga Sutra. A Bodhisattwa said to him, "Heretics prohibit the eating of flesh. How much more should Buddha enforce abstinence from flesh!" Buddha assented, and gave several reasons why Bodhisattwas and others should conform to this rule. Lenga Island is described as inhabited by Yakshas, and as unapproachable by men except by those who are endowed with magical power.
During the next year Buddha is said to have visited one of the heavenly paradises, in the middle of the second range of the heaven of colour and desire, where an assemblage of Buddhas and Bodhisattwas from the ten regions gathered before him. Here he delivered the Ta-tsi-king. Each P‘usa appeared in the form of the element he governed, whether it were "air" (k‘ung), water, or any other. The Devas and Nagas now came forward, and said, "We will henceforth protect correct doctrine. If any kings scourge members of the monkish community, we will not protect their kingdoms. The disciples of Buddha will abandon their inhospitable territories, which will then remain unblessed. Not having the religious establishments which bring happiness on a country, pestilence, famine, and war will commence, while wind, and rain, and drought will bring ruin on the agriculture."
After the gods and dragons had finished this speech, Buddha addressed himself to a son of a Deva called Vishvakarma, the patron of artisans, 1 the Yaksha Kapila, and fifteen daughters of Devas, having eyes with two pupils, and directed them to become the patrons of China. Each of them was told to take 5000 followers and wherever there was strife, litigation, war, or pestilence, to put a stop to those evils, so that the eye of Buddha's law might long remain in that land.
The mythology of India appears in this description in its true light. The aboriginal inhabitants of a distant
island like Ceylon were thought of as a race of demons. The beings called Devas, the Theoi of Greece, and the Dei of the Latins, were a class subordinate to Buddha, the self-elevated sage. For want of a better word, the Chinese term for "Heaven," T‘ien, is applied to them. The "dragons," or nagas,—with which the Hebrew nahash 1 and English snake may be compared,—are here viewed as a class of celestial beings.
All these beings, however exalted, are regarded by the Buddhists as subject to the commands of their sage. Continuing to rule the world, they do so in the interest of the new law which Shakyamuni has introduced. Hence in Buddhist temples they are placed at the door, and are worshipped as invisible protectors of all faithful Buddhists.
When the legend says that "gods" (Devas) and "dragons" (Nagas) agreed to protect Buddhism, the meaning is, that at this period in Buddha's life the Indian kings began to favour his religion in a more public and extended manner than before.
Shakyamuni next delivered—according to the Chinese account of him—the Prajna Paramita (Pat-no-pa-la-mit-ta). Prajna is "wisdom." Para is "the farther side" of a river. Mita is "known," "measured," "arrived at." There are six means of arriving at the farther shore of the sea of misery. They constitute the six Paramitas. Of these, that called the Prajna is the highest. The original works containing this system were thought too voluminous to be translated in full by Kumarajiva. It was not till the seventh century that Hiuen-tsang the traveller, after his return from India, undertook the laborious task of translating one of these works, which extended to six hundred chapters, and one hundred and twenty volumes. Nagarjuna, the most noted writer among the twenty-eight patriarchs, founded on some of these works the Shastra
of the "Measure of Wisdom." 1 The Chinese Chï-k‘ai, the sage of T‘ien-t‘ai, made much use of the Prajna in constructing his system. He had only Kumarajiva's fragmentary translations, such as the "Diamond Classic."
The "Benevolent King" (Jen-wang), here takes his place in the Chinese narrative of Shakyamuni's life. This of t-mentioned personage was Prasenajita, king of Shravasti. It was to him that Buddha is said to have delivered one of the Prajna discourses, and to have given the advice that he should, for the avoidance of national calamities, invite a hundred priests to recite this Sutra upon a hundred elevated seats twice in one day. Thus he would be able to prevent rebellion, the invasion of hostile armies, portents in the sun, moon, and stars, great fires, inundations, dearth, destructive winds, and drought. The king, when travelling, should have the Sutra placed upon a table ornamented with the Seven Precious Things, viz., articles of gold, silver, crystal, glass, cornelian, coral, and pearls, and it should be fully a hundred paces in advance of himself. When at home, it should be kept on an elevated throne, over which hang curtains ornamented with the same precious things. It should be honoured daily with reverential bows, as a man would honour his father and mother.
Here is the first mention of the daily service, and of the superstitious reverence for the sacred books called Sutras common among the Buddhists of all countries. The possession of a "Sutra" or nom among the Mongols, and a king among the Chinese, is believed to bring good luck to the family and the state. They are often written in gilt letters, and occupy an honourable position near the domestic idol. The rulers of nature will protect those who honour Buddha's true words. Such is the Asiatic fetishism. Buddha himself, and the books containing his teaching, become worshipped objects; and the grand liturgical services performed by large companies of priests at
the call of emperors and rich men in times of drought, sickness, death, and other calamities, are believed by the people to be beneficial on the ground of such passages as that just given.
When the same Sutra—the Prajna Paramita—was heard by the kings of sixteen Indian States, they were, says the enthusiastic but evidently not truthful narrator, so delighted, that they gave over the affairs of their governments to their brothers, adopted the monastic life, and became devoted seekers after Buddhist perfection. The names of the countries or cities they ruled were—Shravasti, Magadha, Paranai or Benares, Vaishali the seat of the second synod, Kapilavastu Buddha's birthplace, Kushinara the city where he died, Kosala the modern Oude and Berar, Cophen the modern Cabul, Kulu, Gatakana, Kucha, &c.—(Fo-tsu-t‘ung-ki).
In the sixtieth year of his age, Ananda was selected to be the personal attendant of Shakyamuni, and in his care were deposited the Sutras in twelve great divisions. This statement means that Ananda was the most active of the disciples in preserving the sayings of his teacher, and perhaps in composing the older Sutras. Godinia's offer of service was declined on account of his age. Maudgalyayana, in a state of reverie, saw that Shakyamuni's thoughts were on Ananda. He told Godinia, who persuaded Ananda to accept the duty.
In temples Ananda is placed on the right hand of Buddha, for, says the legend, Shakyamuni set his heart upon him, as the sun at his rising sheds his light straight on the western wall. In Singhalese temples Ananda's image is not placed in that close proximity to Buddha which is common in China. 1 This circumstance suggests that he does not, among the Southern Buddhists, occupy so prominent a position as keeper of the Sutras and personal attendant on Shakyamuni as he is entitled to in the opinion of their Northern brethren. In the sentence "Thus
have I heard," which opens all the Sutras, the person who speaks is Ananda.
At seventy-one years of age, Buddha gave instruction in his esoteric or mystic doctrine. It was in answer to thirty-six questions propounded to him by Kashiapa. Nagarjuna lays it down as a rule that "every Buddha has both a revealed and a mystic doctrine." The exoteric is for the multitude of new disciples. The esoteric is for the Bodhisattwas and advanced pupils, such as Kashiapa. It is not communicated in the form of definite language, and could not, therefore, be transmitted by Ananda as definite doctrine among the Sutras. Yet it is virtually contained in the Sutras. For example, the Fa-hwa-king, or "Sutra of the Lotus of the Good Law," which is regarded as containing the cream of the revealed doctrine, is to be viewed as a sort of original document of the esoteric teaching, while it is in form exoteric.
This work, the Saddharma Pundarika, or "Great Lotus of the Good Law," takes its name from the illustrations employed in it. The good law is made plain by flowers of rhetoric. For example, in the fifth chapter, Maitreya rises in the assembly and addresses Buddha, reminding him of the time, forty and more years before, when he became an ascetic, left the palace of the Shakya clan, and lived near the city of Gaya as a hermit. He then points to the multitude of immeasurably exalted Bodhisattwas, the fruit of his teaching. "The wonderful result is," he says, "to men incredible. It is as if a man of beautiful countenance and black hair, about twenty-five years of age, should say, pointing to an old man of a hundred, 'This is my son;' and the old man should point to the young man and say, 'This is my father.' Their words would be hard to believe, but it is not less so to credit the fact of the marvellous results of Buddha's exertions in so short a space of time. How is it, too," he asks, "that these innumerable disciples have, during past periods of boundless time, been practising Buddha's law, exercising magical powers, studying the doctrines of the Bodhisattwas
escaping the stains of the world, emerging, like the lotus from its miry bed, and now appear here with reverence in the presence of the World's Honoured one?"
This Sutra marks the time when, say the biographers, Buddha's sun reached the zenith and cast no shadow. They take the opportunity to remark here that Central India, where Buddha lived, is in fact the Middle kingdom, as shown by the gnomon, which, at the summer solstice, in that latitude casts no shadow. China, they say, cannot so well be called the Central kingdom, because there is a shadow there on the day mentioned.
When Buddha's father was an old man, and was seized with a threatening sickness, the son sent him a comforting message by Ananda. Having, by attending to the prohibitions of purity, caused the removal of pollution from his heart, he should rejoice and meditate on the doctrine of the Sutras. The messenger was directed first to leap in the air, so as to produce a supernatural light, which should shine upon the sick king, causing relief from pain. Then he was to put his hand upon his forehead, and state the message. Immediately afterwards, the king, placing his hand on his heart in an attitude of worship, suddenly took his departure preparatory to his next transmigration. Members of the Shakya clan placed him in his coffin, and set him upon the throne ornamented with lions. At the funeral, the four kings of the Devas, at their own request, officiated as coffin-bearers, having for this purpose assumed the human form. Buddha himself went in front carrying an incense-holder. The coffin was burnt, with sandal-wood for fuel, and the bones were collected in gold caskets by various kings, who afterwards erected Dagobas and Stupas over them. Buddha informed his followers that the deceased, on account of his purity of life, had been born into one of the higher paradises above the Sumeru mountain.
Early Buddhism favoured no castes. Persons of all castes were equal in the eyes of Buddha. This circumstance made the new religion very popular with men of humble origin. This, perhaps, was the cause of the preservation
of Buddha and Ananda when the clan of Shakya, to which they belonged, was massacred. Prasenajita had a son by a woman of low caste. This boy, when eight years old, had been insulted by the Shakya clan. He was learning archery in the house of a tutor. A new house for Buddha to discourse in had just been completed, and the sage had been invited with his followers. Ruli, the young prince, mounted the lion throne, when he was sarcastically reviled by members of the Shakya clan for presuming to sit on the throne, he being of ignoble birth. On succeeding to the kingdom, he went to make war on the Shakyas, and had an immense number of them trodden to death by elephants in pits. His brother, Jeta, giver of the garden of that name, was also killed by him for refusing to take part in this cruel act.
Buddha told his followers that Jeta was born anew in the Paradise of Indra, usually called in Chinese "The thirty-three heavens." He also foretold the early destruction of Ruli and his soldiers in a thunder-storm, which took place, it is said, according to the prediction, when they all went to the hell called Avichi. Buddha also said that the unhappy fate of the Shakyas was due to their mode of life. They were fishermen, and, as they had been destroyers of life, so were they destroyed.
In the view of Shakyamuni, a moral fate rules the world. Innumerable causes are constantly working out their retributive effects. These are the yin-yuen of which we hear the Chinese Buddhists say so much. This moral fate is impersonal, but it operates with rigid justice. Every good action is a good yin-yuen, securing at some future time an infallible reward. All virtuous and wise persons are supposed to be so, as the result of good actions accumulated in former lives.
Buddha was now approaching the last year of his life. In the eleventh month he said to the Bikshus gathered round him in the city Vaishali, "I shall enter the Nirvâna in the third month of next year."
35:1 Eitel's Handbook. The word Ho-shang is translated from Upâsaka into the former language of Khoten. From Turkestan it was introduced into China.—(Fan-yi-ming-i).
39:1 Eitel's Handbook.
40:1 Nahash in Hebrew, "serpent," is said to be named from the hissing sound of the animal. To "utter incantations" is nahash or lahash.
41:1 Chi-tu-lun. See Fo-tsu-t‘ung-ki, xxx. 13.
42:1 When at Galle in 1858 I noticed this.