The Creed of Half Japan, by Arthur Lloyd, , at sacred-texts.com
Pusityamitra was an important factor in the development of the Mahāyāna, whose claims to distinction have generally been overlooked.
As’oka, it is evident, ruled over a very extensive kingdom, and was one of the great monarchs of the day. It has always been a matter of wonder how his empire, so great, and apparently so firmly based on righteousness and judgment, should, after his death, have come to such a speedy ruin that the Mauryan family practically disappears from the annals of India.
A recent writer in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 1 calls attention to the fact that As’oka's policy was one of unmerciful antagonism to the Brahmans, whose most cherished prejudices he took a pride in shocking. As’oka had, by precept and example, discouraged the taking of animal life, and had thereby put an end to much of the worship of the Brahman rites. He had appointed "superintendents of morals," Dharma Mahāmātās, whose functions necessarily superseded those of the Brahmans as expositors of the law. He had proclaimed the principle of Vyavahāra Samatā, "equality of punishment," "equality in lawsuits," which did away with the peculiar privileges
of the sacerdotal caste, and secured fair treatment for all subjects, irrespective of caste, creed, or colour. Above all, he had boasted that he had, in a short period of time, reduced "those who were once regarded as gods," i.e. the Brahmans (whose privileges as the twice-born seemed to entitle them to a quasi-divine position in the eyes of India), to the position of false gods whose claims to respect he had demonstrated to be baseless.
It could not reasonably be expected that the Brahmans should acquiesce without any feelings of resentment in such drastic changes. They were not fighting men, however, and their only course of action was to bow before the storm and wait for a good opportunity.
The opportunity came about B.C. 185, in the reign of one of As’oka's weakling successors, the last of the Mauryan house. The Greeks were still active, pushing their conquests further and further to the east, and founding principalities, some of which seem to have been still in existence at the beginning of the first century A.D. As’oka bad lived on good terms with his Greek neighbours; his successors found it necessary to fight against them for the defence of their own shrunken territories, and the commander-in-chief of the Mauryan army was a certain Pushyamitra. It has been conjectured, from the termination of this man's name, that he was of Persian stock. He was certainly a very determined enemy of the Buddhist religion, and he had the confidence of the Brahmans, who had been biding their time and quietly growing in numbers and influence.
After a successful campaign against the Greeks, who had advanced into the very heart of the Mauryan country, Pushyamitra returned in triumph to Pataliputra. A review of the troops was held; in the midst of the festivities, the Mauryan emperor suddenly fell dead, slain
by an arrow from an unknown hand. The successful general, whose triumph was being celebrated, was at once proclaimed emperor in his stead—and the hour of vengeance had come for the Brahmans. In the very city where As’oka had prohibited animal sacrifices, Pushyamitra celebrated (B.C. 184) the Hindu rite of As’vamedha, the "sacrifice of the horse"; the equality in the eyes of the law, which As’oka had established, disappeared once more. Hinduism was once more the dominant faith, though a Hinduism more elaborate, more philosophical than it had been, and one that had come into fertilizing contact with foreign influences. Buddhism was in its turn downtrodden and oppressed.
But beyond the limits of the kingdom ruled over by the new dynasty, there were principalities and kingdoms in which Buddhism found a welcome and a home, the principalities of the Greeks, the Parthians, the Yuetchi, S’akas, who come and go round the north-western confines of India during the two troubled centuries which precede the Christian era.
It is here, rather than in India itself, that must be sought those germs of thought which ended by making the Mahāyāna so very different from its more southerly and more purely Indian sister. Buddhism has always been a faith that has readily taken into itself whatever in its immediate surroundings it has found suitable for its purposes. Even Jewish influences would not necessarily be excluded. "Woe is me," says the Hebrew pilgrim, "that I am constrained to dwell in Mesech." 1 There
were Buddhists in Mesech as well as Israelites; there were also Zoroastrians and Greeks, and the remnants of the old Babylonian cults.
Presently, with Kanishka, this Buddhism returns to India, and in As’vaghosha's time appears as a conqueror before the walls of Benares. And in process of time As’vaghosha is converted to the Mahāyāna.
47:1 See Journal and Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. vi., No. 5 (May, 1910), "Causes of the Dismemberment of the Maurya Empire," by Mahamahopadhyaya Haraprasad S’astri.
49:1 The Jewish diaspora went as far as China. The Chinese Jews at Kaifongfu, in Honan, seem to have entered China between B.C. 170 and the Nativity of Christ, though laying claim to an even earlier date. But it is clear that they must be post-Captivity Jews. They are acquainted with the name of Ezra, and they possess portions of the books of Daniel, Zechariah, Malachi, Esther, They reckon time p. 50 by the Seleucid era; they are ignorant of the name of Jesus, and equally so of the Rabbinical traditions. They know of Shiloh, which they interpret as the "great one descending man" (which is practically the Buddhist Nyorai). And they wear a veil over the face in reading the Law (Chinese Recorder, vol. xiv. p. 325).