Chinese Buddhism, by Joseph Edkins, , at sacred-texts.com
Buddha's immortality in his teaching—Death real and final—Object of Nirvâna teaching—Buddha visits the Tau-li heaven—Descends again by Indra's staircase—The first images—Death of Buddha's aunt—Death of Shariputra—Buddha at Kushinagara—Between the Sala trees—Last instructions—Kashiapa made patriarch—Flesh prohibited—Relieves the king of Magadha—Sends for Ananda—Answers to four questions—Brahma comes—Buddha's last words—Death—Gold coffin—Maya comes—Cremation—His relics—Pagodas.
THE fifth period of development in the discourses of Buddha embraces those books which belong to the "Lotus of the Good Law," and the "Nirvâna." They close his public life as a teacher, and are regarded as the mellowest and richest of his productions. They were adapted to excite the longing of his disciples for higher attainments. This was his meaning when he said, "I am not to be destroyed, but shall be constantly on the 'mountain of instruction' (ling-shan, 'efficacious mountain')." This, says the writer, is what is intended by Buddha entering the Nirvâna, where there is neither life nor death. He is not dead, because he lives in his teaching.
Thus interpreted, the claim of the Northern Buddhists on behalf of their sage amounts to an immortality in the results of his instructions. This is the Buddhist non omnis moriar. It is consistent with much scepticism, and may amount by implication to a denial of the future life, and the continued existence of the soul in any form.
We must not forget that the enthusiastic Buddhists
who wrote the treatises we are now examining belonged to the same actual waking, moving world with ourselves. They fell back, not seldom, from a state of metaphysical reverie into the condition of common men under the dominion of the senses. Then they took a firm grasp of the world. Metaphysics vanished. Death they looked on as a real death. The destruction of the material organisation is real. As for the soul, it lives in its actions. A great hero like Buddha lives only in the results of his life work. Perhaps our Sung dynasty author of six centuries ago felt satisfaction occasionally in resting the truth of his philosophy, as an expounder of the Mahayana, on the reality of visible things. In this case he finds the Nirvâna of Shakyamuni in the unbroken continuance of the results of his teaching.
The same tendency to look out on the actual world accounts for the view here taken of the Nirvâna as a system of ultimate doctrine adapted to correct the faults of negligent and misguided monks and others. After the earlier instructions had been delivered, down to the period of the "Lotus of the Good Law," there were still some men who failed to comprehend the full sense of Buddha's teaching. To them it was necessary still to discourse on the true nature of Buddha, that they might learn what is "really permanent" (chen-c‘hang), and so enter the Nirvâna, As the farmer has the early and the late harvest, so Buddha, when the first sowing of instruction had been followed by the ripening and the harvest, proceeded to a later sowing and harvest. It was then that a multitude of disciples, high and low in attainment, came to see, as never before, the true nature of Tathâgata, and to bear the fruit of a ripe experience. After their autumn harvesting and winter garnering, there was no more for them to do. Among them were those who advanced from the Prajna Paramita to the Fa-hwa (lotus), and others who, their perceptions still blunted, found the Fa-hwa beyond their reach, and were only capable of being reduced to a state of mental
and moral submission by the Nirvâna. They find in the Nirvâna doctrine that which enables them to see Buddha's nature.
The historian has his eye upon those monks of later times who like to read other books than those of Buddha himself, and cease to use the books of Buddha for their instruction. They learn to encourage injurious and destructive thoughts, even when under the control of Buddha's law. They shorten wisdom's life, and let go completely from their possession the "embodiment of the law" (fa-shen). It is for such backsliders that the doctrine of permanence was introduced. Its fulness and reality were to furnish them with a firm support. This was why, near the close of his life, Shakyamuni discoursed specially on the Nirvâna before himself entering into that state of blissful extinction. By this means he is stated to have strengthened the authority of the monkish system of rules, and with it that of the three divisions of the Buddhist library.
We see the teaching of the Nirvâna to be the doctrine of Buddha in his old age, when his experience was ripe. It was the result of his observation of the needs of the Buddhist community. It was the completing process in the development of doctrine, and was adapted to affect minds which remained unmoved under earlier and simpler forms of teaching.
In the year 947 B.C., according to the chronology of the Northern school, Buddha went to the Tau-li heaven, and remained three months. He sent Manjusiri to his mother to ask her for a time to bend before the Three Precious Things. She came. Immediately milk flowed from her and reached Buddha's mouth. She came with Manjusiri to the place where Buddha was, who instructed her. She attained the Su-da-wan fruit. In the third month, when Buddha was about to enter Nirvâna, Indra made three flights of steps. By these Buddha, after saying farewell to his mother, descended to the world, led by a multitude of disciples,
and went to the Jetavana garden in the city of Shravasti. The king Udayana, of Kaushambi, felt for Buddha a loving admiration, and made a golden image. Hearing that Buddha was about to descend by the steps Indra had made, he came with the image and bowed before Buddha. The image was of "sandal-wood" (chan-tan), and five feet high. When the king Prasenajita heard of it, he also caused an image to be made of purple gold. It was five feet high. These were the first two images of Buddha known to have been made in the world of Jambudvipa. These images radiated light while the sky rained flowers.
Buddha joined his hands, and said to the image, "After my entrance into the state of extinction and salvation, I give into your charge my disciples."
Buddha's aunt, Mahâprajâpatî, could not bear the thought of seeing Buddha enter the state of extinction and salvation that would hide him from mortal view for ever. She took with her five hundred women and girls under vows of fasting, and made obeisance to Buddha. They then returned to the house, where they resided according to their rules, and each then exhibited the eighteen movements, attitudes, and marvellous performances. Some walked on the water as on dry land; others, leaving the ground, walked in the air, or sat, or lay down, or stood still, all in the same element. Fire and water were seen flowing from the right side of some, and from the left side of others. In others it was seen issuing from their mouths. They then all together entered the Nirvâna.
Buddha now ordered Ananda to go into the city, and announce to all the resident Buddhist householders, that it would be proper for them to make five hundred coffins. When the burning of the bodies with the coffins was completed, the relics were gathered and placed in temples erected for the purpose, where they might be continually honoured with worship.
Shariputra and Maudgalyayana were also grieved at the prospect of witnessing the entrance of their master into
the Nirvâna, and themselves died first. At the same time 79,000 Lohans also entered the state of extinction. Buddha, seeing that his disciples of all four classes were also exceedingly disturbed in mind, made use of his magical power, and changed the two proficient ones into the form of two attendant disciples, one on his right and the other on his left. All living beings rejoiced when they saw this, and were at once liberated from every anxiety and vexation.
On the fifteenth day of the second month, Buddha was at the city Kushinagara. He went to a spot between two Sala trees, and here in a short time entered Nirvâna. A great voice was heard proclaiming to all the assembly, "To-day the World's Honoured One is about to enter the Nirvâna. Whoever has any doubts, now let him come forward and ask for a solution of them. It is the last opportunity of asking Buddha for instruction."
At this time the great Bodhisattwas, the various kings of the Jambudvipa continent, the kings of the Devas, the kings of the mountains and rivers, and of the birds and beasts, with the personal disciples of Buddha, all arrived with offerings, wishing to administer to the wants of the World's Honoured One. In silence he firmly declined to receive anything. Chunda, a "lay disciple" (Upâsaka), addressed him in the words, "We look to Julai for food in the future. Now we desire to receive sorrowfully the vows of the obedient, and to make our small offering." Buddha replied, "I accept your offering, for it is the last offering you will present to me."
Chunda said in reply, "Though I know the benefit that is derived to mankind from Buddha entering the Nirvâna in a public manner, yet I cannot but grieve." For this Buddha commended him.
At this time the kings of the Devas and Nagas urged Shakyamuni, but in vain, not to enter the Nirvâna at present. In reply, the World's Honoured One discoursed on the symbol "I," written with three dots (∴), arranged as a triangle resting on its base. This he used as a symbol
of the embodied form of Tathâgata when released from the three methods of the Prajna. All the assembly of Bikshus then invited him to discourse on the cessation of permanence, on misery, on emptiness, and on the negation of self. Buddha, in consequence, gave them instruction in the four antitheses, viz., the permanence which is not permanent, the joy that involves sorrow, the I that is not I, and the purity that contains impurity.
The vast audience of Bikshus said, "Julai being without these four contradictions, why will he not remain with us for a kalpa or half a kalpa, that we may be informed how to escape from the four contradictions?"
Buddha said in answer, "I have already committed to Maha Kashiapa the complete and unsurpassed doctrine, to keep in trust, that you may all have a form of teaching on which you can rely. It will be the same as if you had Buddha himself." He then added, "I also intrust to you, kings of countries and leaders of supernatural armies, the deposit of sound doctrine that you may defend it by punishments and lawful force, in case of want of diligence, negligence, or wilful breaking of monkish rules."
The prohibition of animal food is referred by the Great Development school to this period. The compiler takes the opportunity here to throw blame on the Lesser Development school, because it allows fish and flesh to be eaten on certain occasions. This refers to the teaching of Shakyamuni in the Deer garden at Benares, where the Agama Sutras of the Lesser Development school were delivered.
In the first Sutras, those of the Hwa-yen and Fan-wang class, the Bodhisattwas could not eat animal food. This was the state of the question also at the time of the teaching in Benares. It occurs again in the Lenga Sutra, as a restriction on the Bodhisattwa. In the work called Shih tsien, "Tallies of the Shakya communities," it is said, that the restriction on the entire Buddhist community began subsequent to the Agama period. In the Nirvâna teaching
of Buddha it was that the law was first made binding on all disciples of the Buddhist religion. Thus the Nirvâna teaching made an important addition to the Buddhist code of discipline.
Ajatashatru, king of Magadha, had killed his father, and in consequence, by natural retribution, suffered from a painful ulcer. He had six ministers of depraved minds who counselled him, in their deceptive way, to apply for relief to the six heretical teachers, Purana Kashiapa, &c., who taught that there is no need to honour prince or parents, and that happiness and misery do not depend on the moral character of actions, but come by chance.
Another adviser informed the king that Buddha could cure him. While the king was lamenting that Buddha was about to enter the Nirvâna, Shakyamuni himself went into a remarkable state of samadhi, by which he was enabled to radiate pure and cool light as far as to the body of the king, whose ulcer was at once healed. The king, with the queen and 580,000 of his subjects, then proceeded to Kushinagara to see the sage, who there taught them. In consequence, the heavy crime of Ajatashatru became much lightened. He, his wife and daughters, made high attainments in the Bodhi wisdom, and then bade farewell to the sage, and returned to their palace.
Buddha now said to Godinia, "Where is Ananda?" Godinia replied, that he was beyond Salaribhu, involved in the delusions of sixty-four thousand millions of demons. These demons had transformed themselves into so many Buddhas, discoursing on the law and displaying marvellous powers. Ananda was led to think himself receiving instruction from true Buddhas, while he was at the same time entangled in a demon thrall. Consequently he did not come, and remained in this state of great unhappiness. Buddha then addressed Manjusiri in the words, "Ananda has been my disciple and has served me for more than twenty years. My teaching of the law has been heard by him in its entireness. As water flows into
a vessel, so he received my instructions. Therefore, I ask, Where is he? I wish him to hear from me the Nirvâna Sutra. He is now vexed with demons. Take in your hand this 'charm' (dharani) of mighty power, and go and save him." Manjusiri took it and went. The kings of the Maras, on hearing the charm recited, at once began to feel "wise thoughts" (Bodhi) stirring within them. They immediately abandoned the devices of Maras, and released Ananda, who returned to Buddha.
Buddha now informed Ananda that Subhadra, an "ascetic" (Brahmachâri) of a hundred and twenty years old, who lived beyond the Salaribhu kingdom, although he had acquired the eyesight and hearing of a Deva, and the power to search into other persons' minds and purposes, had not been able to put away his pride. He directed Ananda to go to him and say that Buddha, who came into the world like the "Udumbara tree" (Ficus glomerata), 1 would to-night enter the Nirvâna. If he would do anything he should do it quickly.
Ananda went as commanded. Subhadra came with him to see Buddha, who discoursed to him so effectively that he attained the rank of Arhan, and immediately used his endeavours to induce Buddha to delay entering the Nirvâna. The sage made silent signs that his resolution was unchanged, and Subhadra, not able to bear the pain of witnessing the entrance into the Nirvâna, himself first entered the state of destruction. On this, Buddha said to the assembled multitude, "From the time that I attained wisdom I have been engaged in saving men. The first was Godinia, the last was Subhadra. I have now nothing more to do."
Ananda, at the instance of Anuruddha, asked him four questions:—"With whom should we live? Whom shall we take as our teacher? Where shall we live? What words shall we use as a sign?"
Buddha replied, “In regard to your first question, my judgment is that, after my death (entrance into the Nirvâna), such men as Chandaka, belonging to the six classes of unreformed Bikshus, must come under the yoke, and put away their evil dispositions.
“As to the question, Whom after Buddha's death you should take as your teacher? I reply that your teacher will be the Shipara system of discipline.
“As to the question, Where shall you reside? I reply, In the four places of meditation. 1. Meditation on the body. The body and the moral nature are identical in vacancy. 2. Meditation on receptiveness. Reception is not inside; nor is it outside; nor is it in the middle. 3. Meditation on the heart. It is only a name. The name differs from the nature. 4. Meditation on 'the Law' (Dharma). The good Dharma cannot be attained; nor can the evil Dharma be attained.
"As to the words you should regard as a sign, there should be in all Sutras, at the beginning, the sentence Ju-shi-wo-wen—'Thus have I heard.' This should be followed by an announcement of the place where Buddha was teaching, and of whom his audience was composed."
Ananda again asked, "After Julai has entered the Nirvâna, how should the burial be conducted?" Answer, "Like that of the wheel kings. The body should be wrapped in fine white hair-cloth, 1 and coated with a pulp of odoriferous dust. The inner coffin should be of gold, the outer of iron. When the body of the king is placed in it, it should be sprinkled with melted butter and burned with fragrant wood. When the burning is completed, let the remaining fragments of bone be taken up and placed under a pagoda, tower, or other monumental building. Those who see it will both rejoice and grieve as they think of the king who ruled his country justly. In this our land the multitudes of men still to live will continue to bury with washing, and with burning, and construct
tombs and pagodas with a great variety of customary practices."
"Within the Jambu continent is the kingdom of China. I will send three sages to renovate and instruct the people there, so that in pity and sympathy, and in the institution of all needful ceremonies, there may be completeness."
This passage is founded on statements in the Sutra Tsung-mu-yin-yuen-king, "Sutra of Tombs in connection with sympathetically operating causes." The three sages are Confucius, Laou-tsï, and Yen Hwei. They are called the Bodhisattwa of light and purity, the Kashiapa Bodhisattwa and the Bodhisattwa of moonlight.
Northern Buddhism gives its approval to the morality of Confucius, the ascetic philosophy of Li Laou-tan, and the high purpose of Yen Hwei. It also looks benevolently on the funeral customs of the Chinese.
Brahma not appearing in the assembly when Buddha was about to enter the Nirvâna, was sent for by the angry multitude, who appointed the immortal man of a hundred thousand charms to go on this mission. Brahma's city was found to be in a filthy condition. Filthy things filled the moat, and the hermit died.
Buddha created a diamond king by the exercise of his magical power, who went to Brahma's abode, and pointing to the filth, transformed the moat into good land. He then pointed to Brahma, and made use of a small portion of his adamantine and indestructible strength. This had its effect in inducing Brahma to come to the place where Buddha was.
Buddha then proceeded to tell his disciples that they must follow the instructions of the book of discipline called Pratimoksha Sutra. This work details the laws by which the priests are to conduct their lives. They must not trade, or tell fortunes, or make profit by land, or train slaves and serving girls for families. They must not cultivate plantations for gain, or concoct medicines, or study astrology. The rules he ordered them to maintain
were of this kind. This treatise was to be their teacher in place of himself.
The last words ascribed to Buddha by the author of Fo-tsu-t‘ung-ki (iv. 12) are, "While I have been in this continent of Jambudvipa, I have appeared several times; and though I have entered the Nirvâna, it has not been a complete Nirvâna. Therefore you ought to know the 'Law' (Dharma) that constantly remains, the unchanging law."
Buddha then, as he lay on the couch of the Seven Precious Things, reclined on his right side, with his head to the north, his feet to the south, his face to the west, and his back to the east. At midnight, without a sound, he entered the Paranirvâna. He lay between eight Sala trees, arranged in four pairs. When he had entered the Nirvâna, the two pairs that lay east and west became one tree, as did also the two pairs that lay north and south. They united to spread their shade over Buddha, and through extreme grief changed to a storklike whiteness.
The grief of the multitude, manifested in loud cries, now filled the universe with sadness. A large number going into the city made a gold coffin, ornamented with the Seven Precious Things. They also prepared banners and canopies of sandal-wood, aloes, and other fragrant substances. They came to where Buddha was, and presented them respectfully. With sincere grief the multitude raised Buddha and placed him in the coffin of gold. Four strong men were appointed to invite the coffin to enter the city. They could not raise it. Then sixteen strong men tried to lift it, but failed.
Anuruddha now said, "If all the people in the city were to try to lift it, they would be unable. The Devas must be appealed to, for they can do it." Before he had finished speaking, Indra Shakra appeared in the air carrying a magnificent canopy. A host of Devas of the visible heavens came with Shakra offering service. Buddha was moved with pity. He himself lifted the coffin into the
air to the height of a Sala tree. The coffin of itself entered the west gate, and came out by the east. It then entered the south gate, and came out by the north. In this way Buddha went the round of the city gates seven times, and arrived at last slowly at the place of cremation.
When the coffin reached the grove of the Seven Precious Things, the four kings of the Devas arrived carrying branches of sandal-wood and aloes.
On the twenty-second of the second month, Buddha, having entered the Nirvâna seven days, wished to leave his coffin. His disciples carried him weeping to the grove of the Seven Precious Things. They then took odoriferous water and sprinkled him with it, and wrapped him from head to foot in silk and fine hair-cloth. After this they lifted him into the coffin, and placed him as he lay in the coffin upon a high framework constructed of fragrant wood. Each of them then took a torch of fragrant wood, proceeded to the wooden structure, and all was consumed.
Anuruddha went up to the Tushita heaven to announce these events to Maya, the mother of Buddha. Maya at once came down, and the coffin opened of itself. The Honoured One of the world rose up, joined his hands, and said, "You have condescended to come down here from your abode far away." Then he said to Ananda, "You should know that it is for an example to the unfilial of after ages that I have risen from my coffin to address inquiries to my mother."
Kashiapa was instructing five hundred disciples at the Gridhrakuta mountain when an earthquake occurred, from which he knew that Buddha had entered the Nirvâna. At once he set out with his disciples to go to the spot where the coffin was. Buddha compassionated him. The coffin opened of itself, and presented to view the golden and purple body of Buddha, strong and beautiful. Kashiapa, weeping, sprinkled it with fragrant water, and wrapped it again with the hair-cloth.
The coffin again closed, and a Gatha was chanted by
[paragraph continues] Kashiapa, when the feet of Buddha became again visible, and the representations of the wheel of a thousand spokes (on which Buddha sits) appeared outside of the coffin. Kashiapa performed reverent salutations to the feet indestructible as the diamond, and saw them return within the coffin. Another wonder was added. Flame from the heart and bones of Buddha was seen extending out of the coffin. The process of cremation went gradually on till the seventh day, when the entire frame of fragrant wood on which the coffin rested was consumed.
According to another account, Kashiapa took fire and lit the pile of fragrant wood. The Sung dynasty author, Chï-p‘an, prefers the statement that the cremation was caused by a flame issuing from Buddha's own body.
Seven days had passed after the death (literally destruction and extrication) of Buddha, when Kashiapa announced to 500 Arhans that they should go to all worlds and gather Arhans who possess the six powers of penetration. 1 No fewer than 808,000 came and received instruction in Dharma near the two trees.
On the twenty-ninth of the second month, seven days after the cremation of Buddha, Indra Shakra opened the coffin and took out a right tooth of Buddha. He caused two pagodas to be erected in his paradise. A Raksha also took two teeth. The people of the city came and filled eight golden pots with relics. They took them into the city, and made offerings to them for seven days in succession.
There was much contention among those who desired a share in the relics. Those who struggled were the kings of the Devas, the kings of the Nagas, and eight kings of India. To end the strife, Upakutta proposed a division into three parts for the Devas, the dragon kings, and the Indian kings respectively. His advice was followed.
King Ashôka obtained 84,000 relics, and also the moustaches
of Buddha. On his way home he met Nanda, a king of the Nagas, who begged relics from him, threatening to destroy his kingdom if he refused. Ashôka gave him a hair of Buddha's moustaches, which he took to the Sumeru mountain. He there erected a pagoda of rock-crystal for its safe keeping. In various parts of the Jambudvipa continent ten pagodas were soon erected with a similar object in view.
53:1 This tree, a fig-bearing fruit without distinct flowers, is said to bloom once in three thousand years.
54:1 Tie, 8, dip, "Fine hair-cloth," cf. tapis, tapestry.
58:1 These are such as the power of distinguishing all sounds, the feelings and aims of all persons, varieties of form, life, death, and retribution, &c.