Chinese Buddhism, by Joseph Edkins, , at sacred-texts.com
Buddhism accepted the Hindoo mythology, with the sacred books of the Brahmans, so far as it agreed with its own dogmas—The gods Indra, Brahma, and Ishwara listen as disciples to Buddha—Eight classes of Devas—Four kings of Devas—Yakshas—Mahoragas—Pretas—Maras—Yama, king of the dead—Creation is denied to the Hindoo gods in the Chung-lun and other works.
FOLLOWING the guidance of the Buddhist books, the existence of the Vedas and their mythology at least five or six centuries before the Christian era must be regarded as an established fact. Religious divisions had then already arisen in the social life of the Hindoos, and numerous adherents of all castes were joining the newly-raised standard of Buddhism. Colonel Sykes and others have maintained the hypothesis that Buddhism was the original religion of Hindostan, and that the Vedas with their religion, the four castes, and the Sanscrit language itself were all invented at a later date by the Brahmans. This conjecture has little to support it from any source of evidence, and is perfectly untenable when recourse is had for information to the Buddhist books. From them it is clear that the Brahmans were in antagonism with the system of Shakyamuni from the first, that the four Vedas were already venerated as the sacred books of the nation, and that the truth of their mythology was not denied by the founder of Buddhism or his followers. So far from opposing the popular belief in such beings as
[paragraph continues] Indra and Yama, the Asuras, Devas, and Gandharvas, they are included in the mythological personnel of the new religion, and these names have thus become known from Japan to Persia, and from Java to the Altai mountains. No mythology perhaps has ever spread so far as the Hindoo, forming as it does a part of the people's religion in all Buddhist countries, as well as in its mother-land.
An account of the opening scene of the Saddharma-pundarika, or "Lotus of the Good Law," in Chinese Fa-hwa-king, will show the place assigned in the Sutras of the Great Development class to these fictitious beings. The Sanscrit names in most instances are taken from Burnouf's translation of the Nepaulese original.
"Thus have I heard. On a time Buddha was residing at the city 'Rajagriha' (Wang-she), on the mountain Gridhrakuta, with two thousand Bikshus, all of them Arhans." Here follow the names of many of Buddha's disciples. "There were also two thousand more, some having knowledge and some having none. Ma-ha-pa-ja-pa-ti 1 (Mahâprajâpatî) came with female disciples and their followers, in all six thousand." "Of Bodhisattwas, eighty thousand also came." "Their names are Manjusiri, Kwan-shï-yin, &c." There came also Shak-de-wan-yin (Shakra, the Indra of the Devas), 2 with a retinue of twenty thousand sons of Devas. There were also the sons of the Devas Chandra, Samantagandha, and Ratnaprabha. Besides these there were the four "Great kings" of the Devas (Maharaja), with a suite of ten thousand sons of Devas. Then there were the sons of the 'Deva Ishwara' (Tsï-tsai-t‘ien) and of the 'Deva Mahêshwara' (Ta-tsï-tsai-t‘ien), and their retinue of thirty thousand sons of Devas. The lord of the universe "Saba" (Saha), the 'King of the Brahma
heaven' (Fan-t‘ien-wang) also came, with the two great Brahmas, Shikhin and Jyotishprabha, and their retinue of twenty thousand. There were also eight 'Dragon kings' (Nagaraja), with their retinues, four kings of the Kinnaras, four of the Gandharvas, four of the Asuras, and four of the Garudas. The son of Waîdêhî, Ajatashatru king of Magadha (Bahar) and father of Ashôka, with a suite of many thousands, was also there."
These constitute Buddha's audience while he delivers the instructions contained in this Sutra. Most of the names, the descriptive passages, and many notices of the retinues of the kings, are omitted for brevity. The whole account, however, in the Chinese version is one-third shorter than in that of the French translator, who has followed the Sanscrit text. Kumarajiva did not scruple to pare off the redundancies of this and other works that he translated, which is perhaps one reason of their permanent popularity.
Two of the principal Hindoo divinities occur in this extract, Shakra and Brahma. The latter is the first in the well-known triumvirate of gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, or the "Creator," "Preserver," and "Destroyer." Here he occupies a humbler position, being merely the disciple of Buddha. Shakra or Indra is met with in Buddhist legends more frequently than Brahma. In some Chinese temples their images are said to form a pair among the auditors of Shakyamuni. The Buddhist compilation, Fa-yuen-chu-lin, contains an extract from the "Central Agama Sutra," where several names by which Shakra is commonly known are explained. Indra, his most frequent appellation, is a term of office, "Lord" or "Ruler," and as such is translated into Chinese by Ti or Chu. It is often applied to others of the chief Devas or gods with distinctive names. Two other Brahmas will be observed to accompany the chief Brahma.
The word Ishwara, rendered by tsï-tsai, "self-existent," is the term used by missionaries in India for God, in the
[paragraph continues] Christian sense. Mr. Wenger's letter, inserted in Dr. Legge's Notions of the Chinese concerning God and Spirits, says, that this term is applied to Shiva and Vishnu as a title of authority; "but should any other of the innumerable devatas be called Ishwara, it would be an unusual thing, and call for something like an explanation." In the Buddhist passage cited above, the term is applied as a distinctive name to two of these devatas, indicating a difference in the Brahmanical and Buddhist use of the word. The commentator on the "Fan-wang Sutra" identifies the great Ishwara with Brahma, but this is not authorised by the text, and disagrees with common usage, which makes them different personages. He adds, "In the whole universe there is but one king, and this is he." According to the Chinese rendering, "Self-existent," the term Ishwara strongly resembles the Hebrew name Jehovah.
The four Maharajas, or "Great kings" of the Devas, preside each over one of the four continents into which the Hindoos divide the world. Visitors in Chinese temples will have noticed two warlike images on each side, just within the entering door. They are the Devas here alluded to. Each leads an army of spiritual beings to protect mankind and Buddhism. At the head of the Gandharvas and Vaishajas is Dhritarâshtra, for the Eastern continent. The inhabitants of the South, Jambudvipa, are protected by Virudhaka with an army of Kubândas. In the West, Virupaksha commands an army of "dragons" (nagas) and Putanas. In the North, Vaishramana is at the head of the Yakshas and Rakshasas.
The names of various classes of mythological beings are sometimes translated, and at other times transferred, in Chinese Buddhist works. The "Nagas," from their form, are rendered by the word Lung, 'Dragon.' The Apsaras are called T‘ien-nü or "Female Devas." The Devas, including all the Hindoo gods that are mentioned, whether great or small, are called T‘ien (Heaven). The Kinnaras are celestial choristers looking like horses with horned
heads. The Gandharvas are also musicians who play and sing for the amusement of the Devas. The Asuras are beings of gigantic size, dwelling in solitary woods and mountain hollows. They make war with the Devas, and are connected with eclipses (vide Hardy's Manual of Buddhism). The Garudas are golden-winged birds who are large enough to devour the Nagas. Beings inferior to the Devas are called collectively the "Eight classes" (Pa-pu). They are called Nats by the Birmese.
It will be observed that all these beings, including the most venerated and powerful of the gods, are introduced as disciples of Buddha. The combination of ascetic eminence and profound philosophy in Shakyamuni raise him to a position higher than any of them. Beings of every rank in earth or heaven confess their inferiority to the human Buddha by becoming his humble and attentive auditors.
The Hindoos having become acute metaphysicians, thought themselves superior to every being in the universe.
Further on in the same work other names occur. The Yakshas are a species of demons living in the earth and waters, often represented as malignant in their disposition towards man. The Mahoragas are the genii of the large serpent called in Chinese the Mang. The Rakshasas resemble the Yakshas, but they have not the power like them to assume any shape at pleasure. When they appear to men it must be in their own form. They live in the forest of Himâla, and feed on the flesh of the dead (vide Hardy's Manual of Buddhism). The "Brahmas" (Fan; formerly Bam, or Vam) are the inhabitants of the heaven called "Brahma-loka" (Fan-t‘ien), over which Fan-t‘ien-wang (Mahabrahma) or the chief Brahma presides. The Pretas, in Chinese, kwei, "demon," are the inhabitants of the narakas or "subterranean" and "other prisons" called ti-yü, "hell." Many of them formerly belonged to the world of men. Some are condemned by Yama to certain prisons. Others haunt the graves where their former
bodies are interred. The Pretas, hunger for food, and hence the custom so prevalent in China of feeding the hungry ghosts both of relatives and of others. The Maras are enemies of Buddha's doctrine. On this account they are considered as demons, although they inhabit one of the lokas or "heavens" of the Hindoo cosmogony. The king of the "Maras" (Mo-kwei) is called Po-siün and Mo-(Ma) wang. The word Mara is explained, "he who kills," also "the culprit." The kwei are, in some instances, of a good disposition. Among such are reckoned—as a Buddhist work quoted in the Fa-yuen-chu-lin informs us—the shen or "genii" of mountains, seas, and other natural objects. The word shen is also used generically for the eight classes of beings before mentioned, from the dragons downwards, and is very frequently employed by the Buddhists for the soul of man, perhaps more than in any other sense. The early Buddhist apologists, in pleading for the immortality of the soul as a part of the doctrine of metempsychosis, constantly used shen for "soul."
The king of the kwei or "demons" is Yama, in Hindoo mythology the ruler of the dead. From his office as judge of future punishments, his name constantly occurs in the conversation of the common people in China. He is called Yen-mo-lo-she (formerly Jam-ma-la-ja), which is abbreviated to Yen-lo. The usual Hindoo name may be recognised in Yen-ma and Yem-ma, which are other designations applied to him in Chinese books. Jam-ma-raja means the "Royal pair," a brother and sister, who judge men and women respectively. Associated with Yen-lo are nine kings who preside together over the state of the dead. His image is placed with theirs in temples, accompanied with various representations suited to remind the spectator of the world of torment. In the Ti-tsang Sutra, he is described as coming from the iron mountain wall where the Buddhist hell is situated, to the Tau-li heaven, to hear Shakyamuni Buddha deliver a Sutra there. He is classed among the sons of Devas, and is attended by many thousand
kings of demons. He may be pointed to as the most remarkable example of the influence of Hindoo mythology on the popular mind of China. The common people all expect to meet Yen-lo-wang (Yama) after death, and be judged by him with the strictest impartiality. They believe that he fixes the hour of dissolution, and that the decision once made, nothing can alter or postpone it.
These various beings, when in the Sutras they appear before Buddha, perform to him an act of worship, and ask for instruction like any other of his auditors. Their power is great, but it is surpassed by that of Buddha, and it is all employed to extend his fame and doctrines. Their authority as rulers of the world is still recognised, but Buddhism by a simple stretch of the imagination makes a universe a thousand times as large to form the kingdom of Buddha. They promote virtue and the Buddhist religion. For this they live and rule. The very highest acts of deity, such as the creation of all things, or in the language of idealism the causation of all sensational phenomena, are denied them. The "Central Shastra" (Chung-lun) sets out with proving that creation was not the act of the great "Self-existent god" (Ishwara Deva), nor of the god "Vishnu" (Ve-nu Deva; also written Ve-shi-nu); nor did concourse and commixture, or time, or the nature of things, or change, or necessity, or minute atoms, cause the creation of the universe. In the Buddhist view, these deities are also subject to death, and men by certain virtuous acts which are specified, may be born at some future period to become their successors.
Buddhism, while it thus aimed to find some intelligence and power higher than those of the popular divinities, failed to perceive that the creation and government of the universe are united in one all-wise eternal mind. It looked no further than the wisdom of a human sage, and the innate goodness and self-elevating power of the human mind. It gives to the wise man the honour that is due only to God.
In forming an estimate of the extent to which the older
[paragraph continues] Hindoo mythology has been spread in China, it should be remembered that the Tauists have copied from the Buddhist books in the most slavish manner. Some names are new, but the majority are adopted without alteration. Brahmas, Devas, Asuras, and Maras figure in the writings of this native sect. The prayer-books used in chanting by the Tauist priests are from beginning to end an imitation of the Buddhist Sutras. By the combined influence of these two religions, the Hindoo view of the universe, with its numerous classes of beings higher than and inferior to man, and its multiplicity of worlds, some for happiness, and others for torment, has become the common belief of the Chinese people.
Other Hindoo gods, such as the modern Shiva and Durga, Rama and Krishna, do not occur, unless concealed under names which closer examination may decipher. The rise of their worship in India was at too recent a date to allow of their being introduced into the early Buddhist literature. The unexampled viciousness of the recent Hindoo worship would also he an insuperable bar to its adoption in China. In the Buddhist books of China there is abundance of what is puerile, superstitious, and incredible, but nothing openly opposed to good morality. In such a country only what is decorous in the images and worship of any sect could be tolerated.
Since neither Vishnu nor Shiva occur among the auditors of Buddha, on occasions when all the chief persons in the universe are present, it must be supposed that the extended popular worship of both these well-known deities was subsequent to the time when the Buddhist books were written, and within the Christian era.
214:1 This was Shakyamuni's aunt, who took care of him when an infant at the death of his mother. She became a leader in the female propaganda of Buddhism, and acted a conspicuous part in the scene of Buddha's entrance into the Nirvâna.
214:2 De-wan is "the Devas." Yin is "Indra."