The Creed of Half Japan, by Arthur Lloyd, , at sacred-texts.com
Buddhism just before the Coming of Christianity
It is my intention in this chapter to estimate as far as I can the condition of Buddhism just before the coming of Christianity to India, and consequently just before the first visible development of the Greater Vehicle. This will clear the ground for the consideration of the Mahāyāna itself in later chapters.
Our most trustworthy guides for the dark period between As’oka and Christ are the remains of ancient Buddhist temples of the earlier or Persian period of Indian art. From these 1 we may gather that long before the dawn of the Christian era Buddhism had, for all practical intents and purposes, formulated for itself a demi-god in S’akyamuni, whom it worshipped with far more fervour than the Greeks worshipped Herakles, whom in Asia they identified with S’akyamuni. Round Herakles in Greece many myths formed themselves; the person of S’akyamuni was likewise enveloped in a robe of legends and sayings, and it comes to a Christian reader as an unpleasant and unwelcome shock to find S’akyamuni provided with stories very similar to those which have always endeared to us the Nativity and Infant life of Christ our Saviour. There is
no use for us to try and blink the fact. It stands there in the clear-cut stone monuments of India that pre-Christian India believed in Buddha as a Being whose Birth was supernatural, the result of a spiritual power overshadowing the mother; as one whose Birth was rejoiced over by angels and testified to by an aged seer; as one who had been tempted by the Evil One and had overcome; as one whose life had been one of good deeds and holy teachings; as one who had passed into the unseen, leaving behind him a feeling of longing regret for him who had thus gone away. 1
Buddhism was also by this time provided with books, or at least with a body of doctrines orally embodied in set forms, and recited by the monks with that verbal exactness for which the Indians have always been so famous. On one of his rock inscriptions, in the edict at Bairât in Rajputâna, As’oka mentions the names of seven such Sūtras, of which five have been identified as still existing in the Pali Sutta Pitakam, 2 while the sixth and seventh have been with considerable reason supposed to be, respectively, the germ of the Vinaya Pitakam, or books of Discipline, and the First Sermon delivered by Buddha after his Enlightenment. Shortly after As’oka's death, about B.C. 200 (and therefore before the accession of Pushyamitra), on the rail around the stupa of Barhut, 3 are inscribed the "names of pious Buddhists," who are described as "reciters," "versed in the Dialogues," "versed in the Baskets," and "versed in the Five Collections," 4 and
these inscriptions bear witness to the continual tradition of these oral records. And, finally, if we may trust the Ceylon Chronicles, these oral records were committed to writing in Ceylon about 40 B.C., and thus the Hīnayāna books assumed their stereotyped form.
We may assume, further, that the pre-Christian Buddhism, possessing the books, possessed also the doctrines of Hīnayāna Buddhism, such as it is still to be found in Ceylon and other Buddhist countries of the Southern School. It does not fall within the scope of this work to give an account of these doctrines. The student will find them admirably summarized in books like Hardy's "Manual of Buddhism," or Warren's "Buddhism in Translation." 1 But it is also certain that while the doctrinal standards had been faithfully handed down until the time came for them to be committed to writing, there had also been a steady downward tendency in the life of the Buddhist Church, accompanied by a corresponding relaxation of the firmness with which the doctrines of Buddha were held. This downgrade movement has been graphically described for us in the "Ten Dreams of Kaśyapa," which may be taken as coming to us from the latter end of this period of Buddhist decay. 2
According to that book, the great disciple Kaśyapa, who is reckoned by north and south alike as the first Patriarch of Buddhism after the death of S’akyamuni, had ten dreams: (1) An elephant, having squeezed its body through a narrow door, failed to get its tail through. (2) Thirsty men were seen running away from a fountain
of water which pursued them. (3) A measure of pearls was given as payment for a mess of porridge. (4) A load of costly sandal-wood was sold at the price of common fuel logs. (5) A garden full of flowers and fruits was stripped by thieves. (6) Elephants during the rutting season, when they are usually fierce and pugnacious, were driven away by a knot of little children. (7) A dirty monkey was seen covering another monkey with dirt. (8) A monkey was crowned and anointed as king. (9) A piece of cloth was torn into eighteen pieces. (10) A crowd of people were quarrelling in the streets. 1
The dreams had their interpretations, and in those interpretations we may see the gradual decay of the institutions which S’akyamuni had founded, and which As’oka had been at such trouble to propagate. (1) The disciples had, in obedience to their master's commands, left their homes to follow him, but the surrender had not been complete. The elephant's tail had refused to pass through the door, and presently the monks made new homes for themselves, and became attached to their comfortable monasteries, as they had once been to their mansions and villas. (2) The disciples were like a well, bubbling over with the water of life; but the laity had no thought of religion, and possibly a contempt, more or less openly expressed, for the comfortable recluse. So the fountain had to pursue thirsty men, who, while perhaps craving for the truth, were yet unwilling to quench their thirst at that particular fountain. (3) Thus there resulted a
cheapening of religious instruction. In their anxiety to win adherents, the preachers tickled the ears of their audience with the highest truths, when the simpler ones would have been more suitable; and in return for the measure of pearls they offered received but a poor meed of gratitude—a mess of porridge. (4) In the same way, the fear of losing disciples caused the monks to tolerate the existence of heresy in the community; the teachings of heretics were esteemed as highly as those of the orthodox—sandalwood was sold at the same price as common fuel. (5) The monasteries were rich and well endowed with lands and estates. The revenues should have been for the poor; the monks used them for their own profit. (6) Good disciples (the rutting elephants) were driven away by worthless ones (children). As early as the days of As’oka complaints were made of this, the better sort of monks preferring to retire rather than be forced into religious contact with worthless and evil brethren. (7) These worthless men were like dirty monkeys, covered with mud. They threw the dirty mud of slander at their fellows, and so made them appear as dirty as they were themselves. (8) Then, having got rid of the worthy monks, they proceeded to elect superiors of their own type in the monasteries, till it came that the monkey was anointed as king. (9) Thus it came to pass that the Buddhist community, which, like Christ's garment, had once been a seamless vesture of whole cloth, had been torn and rent into eighteen pieces, corresponding to the eighteen sects 1
into which the Hīnayāna had been torn. (10) And the result of sectarianism was religious strife.
One of the most important books for the study of the Dark Period is the so-called "Questions of King Milinda," of which there is an English version by Professor Rhys Davids in the "Sacred Books of the East." Menander (for that is the proper reading of Milinda) was one of the Greek princes that ruled in India during the last century before Christ. The book fixes its own date, for it alludes to S’akyamuni's prophecy that his religion would not last for more than 500 years after his death, and yet betrays no consciousness of the fact that it had already lasted beyond that period. We may take it, therefore, that the five centuries had not quite elapsed when the book was written, and may place the composition of it somewhere about the time "of the Flavian Emperors of Rome." 1
The book has been called the "Irenæus" of Buddhism. The Pali Pitakas are "immanent" in its pages, just "as the New Testament is immanent in the pages of Irenæus." It bears a strong testimony to the existence and nature of the Hīnayāna books, as also to the Hīnayāna doctrine, and, better than any other book, enables us to see what was the state of Buddhist thought at the end of its first period, when the Age of the Upright Law (as it has since been called) was all but over, and the Age of Image Law was about to be introduced. 2
The author of the book speaks of the period of Five Hundred years as being the duration of S’akyamuni's teachings in the world. The Five Centuries were just elapsing, when the new faith of Christ came into the
From this it would seem that the Mahāsānghika (Great Minster) School of the Hīnayāna has continued itself in Ceylon.
world. There was everything to fill a Buddhist monk possessing a statesman's mind, one capable of taking a wide outlook over the world, with anxiety as to the future. India was a political cypher, divided among weakling princes. On its north-western frontier lay the dreaded Scythian, whose invasion of the land would certainly not be delayed for many years to come. He was very possibly a Buddhist, but his Buddhism, already mixed with alien elements, was not of the same type as that of Magadha. If he came, he would not help the poor distracted Hīnayānist; if he only threatened to come, he was still a Buddhist and an alien enemy, and the patriotism of India was asserting itself by a return to the old Indian gods whom As’oka had persuaded it to lay aside. Go away he certainly would not. Is it to be wondered at that at such a time our monk should turn his thoughts to him that had "thus gone"? I have already, in a previous chapter, spoken of the change that comes over the Buddhist architecture, and of the significant change in the Chinese word for the Tathāgata. I will now quote from another of the Pali Sūtras, one which surely referred not merely to the Buddha that once was and now had gone, but much more to him that was to come, and whose coming was to give new hope of life. 1
"Ananda, the future Buddha, is mindful and conscious when he is born with the Tushita Body… . 2 (he) is mindful and conscious when he vanishes from the Tushita Body and descends into his mother's womb… When he vanishes from the Tushita Body and descends into his
mother's womb, then, in the world of the angels, of Māra, of Brahmā, unto the philosophers and Brahmans, princes and peoples, there appears a splendour, limitless and eminent, transcending the angelic might of the angels," etc.
Words such as these, written in all probability before the birth of Christ, and applicable to the Nativity of S’akyamuni as it lives in Buddhist legend and belief, do not at all necessarily imply that the Nativity stories of the New Testament are merely faked-up fables, borrowed from an older cycle of fiction. Rather they show that when He was born, in the way in which His birth is recorded, He was fulfilling more than one prophecy. It is thus that it behoves a Divine Saviour to be born; that is the testimony of Isaiah, of Virgil, of the Buddhist Sūtra, of many another great teacher that has appeared. It was part of the stock-in-trade (if I may so call it) of S’akyamuni; it was also a part of the stock-in-trade of Christ. If Christ's superhuman credentials had gone no further than the Nativity cycle, Christ would in no sense have differed from S’akyamuni. But Christ's claim of supernatural testimony went farther than S’akyamuni's. He claims our allegiance not merely because "He was conceived of the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary," but more especially so because, having been crucified and slain, He rose again the third day from the dead. It is on the Resurrection that St. Paul bases Christ's claim to be the Son of God; it is this that makes Him unique in religious history. This places Christ at the head of all things in the religious world; its absence puts S’akyamuni into his proper place, a place in which he may yet claim the ungrudging respect of Christian people. It constitutes him a great witness and forerunner of Christ, and no Japanese can be offended at having him placed in such a seemingly humble position, for it is the place
which they themselves assign to him when they say, with their own poet, that the sole reason for S’akyamuni's appearance in the world was that he might point men to Amitābha. 1
85:1 E.g. those at Amarâvati, Ajânta, Sanchi, Barhut, Gayā, Nalanda, etc. For a convenient summary reviewing all that has been written on the subject, see Grünwedel, "Buddhistische Kunst in Indien" (Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin). Also Rhys Davids’ "Buddhist India."
86:1 See, e.g., "Buddhist and Christian Gospels," by A. J. Edmunds. I have used the Tokyo (1905) edition with notes by M. Anesaki.
86:2 Edmunds and Anesaki, l.c., p. 2. See above, p. 42.
86:3 Ibid., p. 3. The writers also refer to Ferguson's "History of Indian and Eastern Architecture" (London, 1876), p. 5, and to Cunningham, "The Stupa of Barhut."
86:4 I.e. The Five Nikayas, or, as they are termed in the Mahāyāna, the Five Agamas. Professor Anesaki has given the Asiatic Society of Japan an exhaustive comparative study of the Pali Nikayas and Sanskrit Agamas.
87:1 Cf. also Neumann's "Die Reden Gotamo Buddhas." I have also learned very much from Léon Feer's Buddhist articles in the Journal Asiatique.
87:2 See J.R.A.S for 1893, p. 512. The dreams are found in Thibetan; also in Nanjo's Catalogue, 543, 631, 632 (connected with Prasenajit). They have likewise made their way into Russian folklore.
88:1 It is a testimony to the early existence of a schism in Buddhism that the two lists of patriarchs of the Northern and Southern Schools respectively agree only in one name—that of Kaśyapa, the immediate successor of S’akyamuni. This implies that the two parties went each its own way immediately after Kaśyapa's death, which occurred not long after that of S’akyamuni. As’oka possibly tried to effect a reunion, and may indeed have had some temporary success.
89:1 I here give the eighteen Hīnayāna sects as found in Japanese books. There were two main divisions which were ṃade very early, some would have it as early as the Council of the Grotto immediately after S’akyamuni's death, others at the Second Council of Vais’āli, a hundred years later. According to this view, the Mahāsānghikas, who were the liberally inclined amongst the monks, being unable to communicate any longer with the conservative Sthaviras, broke loose and p. 90 formed themselves into separate communities outside the limits of the Magadhan kingdom. In this way the germs were planted out of which later grew the two Vehicles. The Mahāsānghikas (Daishūbu, ) were divided into (i) Issetsubu ( ), (ii) Sesshusebu ( ), (iii) Kei-in-bu ( ), (iv) Tamonbu ( ), (v) Setsu-ge bu ( ), (vi) Seitasanbu ( ), (vii) Seisanjubu ( ), (viii) Hokusanjūbu ( ).
The Sthaviras ( ) were not so numerously subdivided. Their sub-sects were (ix) Setsuissaiubu ( ), (x) Tokushibu ( ), (xi) Hōjōbu ( ) (xii) Kenchōbu ( ), (xiii) Shōryōbu ( ), (xiv) Mitsurinsanbu ( ), (xv) Ketabu ( ) (xvi) Hōzōbu ( ), (xvii) Onkōbu ( ), (xviii) Kyōryōbu ( ).
Murakami enumerates twenty sects by reckoning in a parent Sthavira and a parent Mahāsānghika sect. Some of these sects, e.g. those in which the character , san ("mountain"), appears, were most probably local. No. ix., known in Sanskrit as Sarvāstivādins, were the most powerful. It was for this sect that Kanishka erected the great stupa for Buddha's relics lately unearthed near Peshawur. No. xvi, the Dharmaguptas, were very strong on the Vinaya, and through it exercised much influence in China. Nothing is known about the majority of the sects here enumerated. It must not be supposed that the Hīnayāna disappeared before the rising Mahāyāna. It continued side by side with its rival, not only in India, but also in China and Japan. It seems probable, however, that the Mahāyāna ultimately absorbed many of the Mahāsānghika subjects.
The following extract from a Burmese book (quoted by Edmunds and Anesaki, op. cit., p. 5) deserves a thought:—
"In the time of the king named Nāgo the Robber, when the whole of Ceylon was vexed by the fear of the bad monks, the monks who kept up the Tripitaka went to India (compare No. 6 of Kaśyapa's dreams). Those monks who did not go thither, but stayed at home, being vexed by fear of famine, tightened their waistbands, encased their bodies in sand, and kept up the Tripitaka. … When the fear of bad monks was appeased, the monks came back from India, and, together with the monks who had stayed in Ceylon, they reconciled the Tripitaka with the recension of the Great Minster (Mahāsanghikā), and when the two p. 91 were made harmonious, they established them. Then when they were established, they kept them up in Ceylon only."
91:1 Edmunds and Anesaki, p. 4. The date coincides with the dawn of the new era in the religious history of the world.
91:2 This is the chronological theory adopted by Japanese Buddhism.
92:1 I quote from the "Dialogue on Wonders and Marvels," given by Edmunds and Anesaki, pp. 54–60.
92:2 The Tushita Heaven, one of the lower heavens in the Buddhist cosmology, is one in which beings with form can appear. The Highest Heaven is beyond form, and consequently beyond thought.
94:1 See my "Shinran and His Work" (Tokyo, 1910), p. 47.
A good instance of the moral bankruptcy of the Hīnayāna at this period will be found in the "Katha Vatthu," translated by Rhys Davids in J.R.A.S, 1892. Also in the Jātaka stories (published in English by the Cambridge University Press). Æsop esteemed these rightly in making them the basis of many of his fables, and they have left their traces in much of the folklore of many peoples in Asia and Europe. But the religion which produced them must first have lost a large part of its moral vigour. They do not speak the language of men who are terribly in earnest about some teaching of faith. One cannot imagine Tertullian or Augustine gravely telling a Jātaka story. The "Katha Vatthu" contains a discussion, from the standpoints of the various Hīnayāna sects, of certain questions concerning Buddhist philosophy, ethics, and discipline. On very few of these questions were the answers given unanimously in the same sense. Here are some of the questions—
"Is there, in the truest and highest sense, a soul?" "No." [To this question two sects gave an affirmative answer. One of these sects must have been that of the Sarvāstivādins, for the existence of the soul was one of their tenets.]
"Does the universe exist?" "No; there is nothing that is not transient." [But here again the Sarvāstivādins affirmed the real existence of the universe.]
"Can an Arhat fall from grace? Can he be guilty (unwittingly or through diabolic temptation) of indecency? Can he have ignorance, doubt, or error? Is there moral restraint among the gods?" "To all these questions, No" [unanimous].
"Is the Noble Path self-existent? or the Chain of Causation? or the Four Noble Truths? or Nirvana?" Again "No." [And yet these four things are the very groundwork of S’akyamuni's personal teachings. The very foundations of the Buddhist Faith had gone!]
"Is Nirvana a virtuous (moral) state?" "No."
There are also some very interesting points raised in what we may perhaps call "Buddhology."
"Was Buddha a true man? "Yes," [said most of the sects; but one sect affirmed that this was not so. The Buddha had remained all the time in the Tushita Heaven, and that which appeared upon p. 95 earth was only a phantom. It was exactly what, at that very moment, heretics further west were saying about Christ!].
"Did Buddha himself preach the Law?" "No," said one sect; he never preached. It was Ananda that preached. [It was Ananda, it will be remembered, whose memory supplied so many of the Sūtras after the death of S’akyamuni].
"Did the Councils alter S’akyamuni's doctrines or make it afresh?" [With one dissentient voice they all agreed that they had so tampered with the deposit of the Faith.]
"If there should be another Buddha, would it be possible for him to be born out of India?" "Impossible," said they all; "a Buddha can only be born within the limits of Jambudvīpa." [And accordingly the Japanese, who want to have their share in everything that is great, have extended the limits of Jambudvīpa (Ichi-Embudai) to include China and Japan as well.]
The lowest depth was reached by the question, "Were the Buddha's excretions of exceeding sweet savour?" And to this some answered one thing, and some another.