The Creed of Half Japan, by Arthur Lloyd, , at sacred-texts.com
The Buddha and his Greatest Disciple
Thanks to the labours of many students of the Buddhist books, both Pali and Sanskrit, we are able to form a vivid mind's eye picture of the ministerial life of the Founder of Buddhism; indeed, the general indications of time are so wonderfully precise that we can trace his labours year by year for quite one-half of the forty-six years which his ministry occupied. There is a gap of about fifteen years near the end of his career for which we have no precise sequence of events; but even here we are not left entirely in the dark, for there are many indications given of the troublous days through which India in general, and the Buddhist community in particular, was then passing. 1
[paragraph continues] We are shown the successes which attended on S’akyamuni's first preaching. Conversions were numerous and rapid, converts of all ages and both sexes flocked into his community from every class of society, and were welcomed without distinction of caste and rank. Thousands caught the enthusiasm of the Buddha, and left all to follow him, while in the crowds who felt no vocation to the monastic life were kings and merchants, who vied with each other in the generosity of their gifts.
Among all these varied personages S’akyamuni moves like a king among men. Bimbisara recognizes the kingship that is in him, and offers to make him the Crown Prince of the Magadhan kingdom, S’akyan noblemen herald hint as the teacher and saint of their clan; and the universal esteem in which he is held is shown by nothing more strikingly than by the settlement of a dispute about rights of water which is referred to his arbitration by the tribes concerned. Evidently, the historical Tathāgata was a practical person, far removed from the ecstatic dreamer of the Hokekyū. 1
Religious India had need of a sound mind with a practical bent, for the times were fraught with evil. Wars and rumours of war vexed the minds of the people; there was civil strife in Magadha, and sounds of more distant thunder came rolling over from Western Asia. All these hindered "the running of the wheel;" so did
also the conflicts with heretics, the dissensions among the disciples, and the many breaches of discipline which weakened the strength and vigour of his Buddhist followers.
S’akyamuni was a brave man and strong, but he felt the dissensions among his disciples most keenly, and there were many moments in which he sank into the lowest pit of despondency, and which his biographers have described as conflicts with the Evil One. These conflicts came at many periods in his life; they cannot be said to have shortened his days, for he lived to be over eighty, but they were evidently the result of the sorrows and anxieties which embittered the later years of his life. 1
The end had probably been drawing on for some time; strange to say, it was hastened by a meal of dried boar's flesh, of which he partook in the house of Chanda, the blacksmith—a proof that abstinence from flesh cannot have been an integral portion of the early rules of Buddhism. 2 His death has been very touchingly described in the "Sūtra of the Great Decease," which gives us also
his last words to his disciples, as well as the account of his obsequies. The extent of his influence and the high esteem in which he was held throughout Central Asia are shown by the eagerness with which the surrounding tribes craved for a portion of his cremated bones for purposes of reverence and adoration.
The evidence to hand seems to show that it was the strong ruling hand of the master that alone was able to preserve the unity of the large number of his disciples and followers in his later years. The Tathāgata had been attended during his last moments by the well-beloved Ananda, the disciple who had for some time been acting as his private secretary and coadjutor; Kaśyapa, the most weighty of all the Sthaviras, or Seniors, did not arrive in time to see his master again in life. When a Council was summoned at Rajagriha soon after the interment, it was Kaśyapa who took the chair, whilst Ananda, in spite of his intimate relations with the master, found himself at first excluded altogether (Kern, "Buddhism," vol. ii. p. 239). There is a northern tradition of a rival Council held outside the Grotto, whilst the official Council within was pursuing its labours. 1 Other traditions (see Kern, l.c.)
make the exclusion of Ananda from the official Council to have been but temporary, but the fact remains that the successions of Patriarchs in north and south were from the very beginning different. Both successions begin with Kaśyapa, but both assign to him only a short tenure of office. He was an old man, older than S’akyamuni, and most probably died soon after his master. After Kaśyapa, we have, in the south, Upali the Barber, who recited the Vinaya-pitakam; then Dāsaka, Sonaka, Siggava, and Chandavajji, and Tishya Maudgalyāyaniputra, who is said to have presided over As’oka's Council. In the north, during the same period, we get Ananda, the coadjutor of Buddha and the reciter of the Sūtra-pitakam; Madhyantika, the Apostle of Kashmir; S’ānavaśas, who was present at the Second Council, Upagupta, who acted as guide to As’oka when that monarch, in the interval between his conversion and his ordination to the priesthood, made a tour of the holy places; 1 and finally Dhītika, who, during the period of missionary fervour which followed the Third Council under As’oka (possibly even independently of that Council's authority), went into Turkestan and there
became a successful apostle of Buddhism. 1 The two lists have no names in common, except the first, and the northern histories ignore As’oka's Council. The inference seems to be a legitimate one, that north and south were independent of one another.
A second Council (for we must consider the meetings at Rājagriha to have constituted but one Council) was held at Vaiśāli just about one hundred years after the Parinirvana of the Master to settle some questions of discipline which had arisen within the community of monks. Was it permissible for the monks to keep a little salt in a horn, in case the food supplied by the charitable should contain none? Was it permissible to dine after midday, when the sun cast shadows more than two inches in length? Was it permissible for brethren belonging to the same community to keep the sabbaths separately? Might the brethren drink palm-wine, sit on elaborate cushions, handle gold and silver, etc.? 2 These and similar questions were brought before the Council of Vaiśāli by the monks of Vaiśāli, who maintained their lawfulness. We can see how strong was the current of party feeling from the question about the sabbath. The opposing parties could evidently no longer meet together for the joint celebration of the customary observances, and the tension between the monks of the east and west was very great. A leading part in the Synod was taken (Kern, vol. ii. p. 248) by Yaśas, whose identification with S’ānavaśas, the Mahāyāna patriarch, would, if accepted, 3
show that the breach between Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna was not yet definitely recognized. The decision went against the Vaiśāli monks, who seem to have belonged chiefly to the proud Vrijji clan of S’akyans, and from that moment Buddhism began to be hopelessly shattered by ever-increasing schisms and divisions. 1
Before a third Council was summoned, India had undergone the shock of invasion, and Alexander's victorious arms had penetrated as far as the Punjaub. The immediate effect on Buddhism of the Macedonian invasion was not so great as might be imagined. 2 When the Greek armies came to a check in the Punjaub, there were still several hundreds of unconquered miles between them and the kingdom of Magadha. The strictly Hellenistic influences came later: the immediate effect lay in the shock and terror with which the weak princelets and peoples of India must have viewed the advancing invader, and the despair which must have paralyzed every one. With the sole exception of King Pōrus, there does not
seem to have been a single native prince of any power or weight, and the kingdom of Magadha was especially helpless under the rule of the effeminate Nanda dynasty. A mere adventurer, the son of a barber, who had found his way to Alexander's camp, conceived the bold idea of raising himself to the throne which its feeble occupants left practically unprotected. After trying in vain to engage Alexander in further enterprises, Chandragupta bided his time till the conqueror's death gave him the opportunity for action. Then a successful mutiny made him master of the Punjaub, the possession of which secured for him the command of the necessary sinews of war. A few months later we see him master of Magadha, with a capital at Pataliputra and dominions extending from the mouths of the Ganges to the Indus, from the Himalayas to the Vindhya. Chandragupta was the founder of the so-called Mauryan dynasty; he first defied Seleucus Nicator, and then entered into an alliance with him, compacted by a marriage with the Greek king's daughter. It was to his court that Megasthenes 1 was sent as minister resident of the Seleucid monarch, and it is to Megasthenes that Europe owes its first just notions of India. Chandragupta was not a Buddhist, and he has no importance for the historian of religions. He is, nevertheless, a personage far too weighty to be passed over without mention.
Chandragupta's grandson was the celebrated As’oka, who changed Buddhism from the form of belief adopted by a few unimportant tribes in Central India to a creed of world-wide importance. Chandragupta (B.C. 320–297) was succeeded by his son Bindusara (297–272), a sovereign of whom very little is known beyond the fact that he extended his dominions considerably; that, whilst he was
on the throne, the King of Egypt sent an embassy, under a certain Dionysus, to Pataliputra; and that on one occasion he wrote a letter to Antiochus, King of Syria, asking to have a professor of Greek sent to him. Greek writers speak of him as Ἀμιτροχάτης, a name which suggests that he adopted the Sanskrit title Amitraghāti, "the slayer of his foes." He was succeeded in B.C. 272 by his son As’oka, one of the greatest of the rulers of India. Of As’oka we know that in his early days he bore anything but a good reputation; indeed, it was said of him that, like a traditional Oriental potentate, he waded to the throne through the blood of his near kinsmen and their friends. His coronation, for some unknown reason, was deferred for some two or three years after his accession, a fact which inclines us to believe that in the early years of his reign he may have met with a good deal of opposition. In B.C. 261 he was engaged in a successful war with the Kalingas in southern India, a war so full of horrors and misery that the contemplation of it filled the conqueror with remorse and pity, and caused his conversion, not necessarily to Buddhism, but at any rate to religion. He soon took political measures for acquainting his subjects with his change of views; and he has left us a series of edicts, inscribed on rocks and pillars in different parts of India, which give us our best insight into the character of his religious aspirations. Whatever his religious views were, he was not ashamed to publish them abroad, for he sent embassies 1 to many of the leading
[paragraph continues] Hellenic sovereigns of Western Asia, and the treaty of amity which he concluded with Antiochus Theos in B.C. 256 must have given him a much-desired opportunity for impressing his beliefs on the Hellenic mind.
By the year 249 his mind was turning definitely towards the acceptance of the teachings of S’akyamuni in preference to those of any other of the religious teachers who laid claim to the allegiance of religious India. He went on a solemn pilgrimage to the sacred places of India with Upagupta, the patriarch of the Northern School, as his guide, and the sight of the Lumbini grove, where S’akyamuni was born, of Bodhigaya, where he attained to Enlightenment, of Benares, where the Wheel of the Law was set in motion, and of the Sacred Grove, in which he died, moved him apparently to a further step. In 240 he was ordained as a monk, and in the Bhābhrā Edict, dated, soon after that, he proclaimed himself definitely as a Buddhist. Between As’oka's ordination and his death (which Vincent Smith assigns to B.C. 231) must be placed his Council, the data for which are so confusing that writers like Kern have come to the conclusion that it never took place at all, but was a mere figment of chronologists and history-writers of the Southern School. Northern Buddhism, it is true, knows nothing of As’oka's Council, but there is nothing in this fact to justify a denial of its having taken place. It is probable that the Council took place, and that it was an effort on As’oka's part to procure reforms of abuses which had crept in during the 230 years which had elapsed since the death of the Founder. It is also reasonable to suppose that he laboured at the Council for the promotion of those views which he had so persistently advocated in the long succession of rock edicts.
18:1 Northern Buddhists assign to the closing years of this period of silence the pronouncement of two or three most important Sūtras. The "Saddharmapundarika Sūtra" is said to have taken seven years to deliver in its fulness, and (as we have seen) the three Sūtras relating to the Mercies and Vow of Amitābha are all ascribed to this period. It is hard to believe that they can all have come from the same mouth at about the same time, for in the one set Amitābha is exalted to the highest of all places; in the other, he occupies only a very inferior position. It seems certain that these Sūtras in their present form were not composed until long after S’akyamuni's time. It is possible, however, that in the case of Vaidehi, the Queen of Bimbisara, S’akyamuni may actually have pointed the distressed lady to the Mercies of Amitābha. That amongst the Kshatriyas many monotheistic ideas were afloat about the period of S’akyamuni's activity seems very probable. The worship given by the Bhāgavatis to Krishna Vasudeva, which Dr. Grierson has treated of in J.R.A.S, is very much akin to the cult of p. 19 Amitābha. Clearly such conceptions as the unity of the Godhead and salvation by faith were known in India at a very early date. The troubles in Magadha, the civil wars which ended in the destruction of Kapilavastu, as well as some of the conspiracies against S’akyamuni's life, all fall into this "period of silence." Beyond the limits of India all Asia was in the excitement of the great preparations for the expedition of Xerxes against Greece. Dr. Maeda, in the appendix to "Bukkyō Seiten," gives a very convenient chronology of S’akyamuni's life, which is probably, however, based on the work of Western scholars.
19:1 This is the Japanese name for the "Saddharmapundarika Sūtra."
20:1 I have heard a Buddhist preacher draw a contrast between Buddha and Christ. The latter, he said, lived all His life in the midst of enemies who were constantly seeking opportunities to destroy Him. He was therefore perpetually in an atmosphere of suspicion, fear, and danger, and the quiet and repose which are so necessary for the teacher of religion, and which were so conspicuous a feature in the life of S’akyamuni, were lacking in the case of Christ. But a perusal of S’akyamuni's life, as it is given, e.g., in the pages of Kern's scholarly work on Buddhism, tends to show that Buddha was a fighter quite as much as was our Lord or St. Paul, and that there was in his ministerial life just as little of rest and quietude as there was for Christ during His three years of similar activities.
20:2 The doctrine of transmigration is given as one of the reasons for abstinence from animal food. If S’akyamuni on this occasion deliberately partook of boar's flesh, it will strengthen the position taken up by many that the Twelvefold Chain of Causation implies, not transmigration or re-birth, but heredity.
21:1 In "Bukkyō Kakushū Kōyō" (vol. i. fol. 1 and 2), a semi-official manual of Buddhism published in Tokyo in the twenty-second year of Meiji (1889), mention is made of three Councils, one within the grotto ( ) at Rajagriha, consisting of 500 arhats under the presidency of Kaśyapa, which drew up the Canon of three Pitakas; another outside the Grotto ( ), at which Bashika ( ) and others drew up a Canon of five Pitakas; and again a third, a Council of the Mahāyāna, under the presidency of Ananda and Maitreya (not to be confounded with the Buddha of the Future). The two Hīnayāna Councils represent the Sthavira and Mahāsanghika respectively; the third is possibly an invention of later times, fabricated as a means of accounting for the existence of the Northern or Mahāyāna Canon. This account is based on Hiouen Thsang (Kern). The five Pitakas will be found in Nanjo's catalogue. They comprise nothing but Mahāyāna Sūtras (no Vinaya or Abhidharma), there being in the p. 22 Chinese Canon a special section for the Hīnayāna Sūtras, and a miscellaneous section for Sūtras of later addition. The five sections are: (i.) Prajnāpāramitā, 22 works; (ii.) Ratna Kūta, 37; (iii.) Mahāsannipāta, 27; (iv.) Avatamsaka or Kegon, 35; and (v.) Nirvana, 12. It seems probable that these sections represent each the books cultivated by a particular school, sect, or country, and that they have thus been grouped together so as to preserve the characteristic features of the different schools. Thus the Amitābha books fall entirely into the Ratnakūta class, etc. Strange to say, the Saddharmapundarika, which plays so important a part in Japanese Buddhism, is classed among the miscellaneous Sūtras of later addition.
22:1 According to the Record of the Transmission of the Dharmapitaka (Nanjo Cat. Trip., No. 1340), both Dhītika and his successor Micchaka laboured in Turkestan, their activities coming somewhat after the times of As’oka.
23:1 This tour, according to the Chinese (see Prof. Pelliot in Bulletin de l’École Française de l’Extrēme Orient), extended as far as to Wu-tai-shan in North China, the traditional home of the mythological Manjuśri.
23:2 These are technically known as the Ten Indulgences.
23:3 Whilst some traditions seem to identify the two, the authorities quoted by Kern treat them as distinct persons, and represent Yaśas as p. 24 appealing to S’ānavaśas for his advice and assistance. But the accounts are hopelessly inconsistent and confusing. Kāla As’oka was the king under whom the Council met.
24:1 Murakami, in his "Handbook of Buddhism," gives the 18 Hīnayāna sects immediately after the Second Council. A fuller list will be found in J.R.A.S for January, 1892, p. 5. It is impossible and un-advisable to burden the memory with what are after all mere names, though some of the sects, the Dharmaguptas, for instance, and the Sarvāstivādins, appear frequently in Chinese Buddhism. The followers of the two Vehicles lived side by side for several centuries after Christ: sometimes we have cases of a teacher following the Mahāyāna in his theological speculations, and the Hīnayāna in his tenets on discipline.
24:2 It would almost seem as though, in the interval between the Parinirvana of S’akyamuni and the accession of As’oka, Buddhism in India had lost a great deal of ground, and that it was the patronage of As’oka only that saved S’akyamuni from the oblivion which befel his predecessors in the Buddhaship. Megasthenes describes Brahmanic religious rites and life, but is practically silent about Buddhism.
25:1 Megasthenes was the author of a book, still extant, which gives a very detailed account of the life at the court of Chandragupta.
26:1 These embassies must have been sent in the early part of his reign, soon after his conversion to religion. One of the kings thus approached was Magas, King of Cyrene, who died in B.C. 258. One can see a possible reason for the alliances between As’oka and Antiochus Theos in the fact that the year B.C. 256, in which it was concluded, also saw the establishment of the Parthian kingdom of the Arsacides, and the revolt of Bactria under Diodotus. In such a crisis the friendship of As’oka, who was practically sole ruler of Hindustan (as may be gathered from p. 27 the locations of the inscriptions), must have been of paramount importance to the Seleucid government.