Sacred Texts  Buddhism  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Creed of Half Japan, by Arthur Lloyd, [1911], at

p. 145



When we reach this point in our history of the Mahāyāna, it behoves us to turn a glance to that great religious movement which began in the middle of the third century.

Mani, or Manichæus, 1 to give him the name by which he was generally known, was born in A D. 215, almost contemporaneously with the fall of the Han Dynasty. He was descended from a distinguished Persian family which had emigrated from Ecbatana in Persia, and had settled in Babylonia. His early days were spent amongst the Mugtasilahs, or Baptizers, 2 a sect which his father, Fathak,

p. 146

joined shortly after Mani's birth, a sect out of which sprang in later years the sect of the Mandæans, and which was undoubtedly a form of Gnosticism. But the boy separated himself from this body when he was about fourteen, choosing to spend the next eleven years in travelling in search of a religion. I believe I am right in saying that some of the recently discovered Central Asian manuscripts now in the Berlin Ethnographical Museum show conclusively that his travels at this period embraced Egypt.

It was from Egypt, though indirectly, that he obtained the books which eventually gave a definite shape to his religious speculations. The story is told by St. Cyril of Jerusalem ("Cat. Lect.," vi. 22). It has been almost uniformly rejected by modern scholars; but I hope that what I have been able to show of the existence of Buddhism in Alexandria during the first century of our era may lead some scholars to reconsider their verdicts. I will give St. Cyril's own words, which are mainly taken from the Acta Archelai.

"There was in Egypt one Scythianus, a Saracen 1 by birth, having nothing in common either with Judaism or with Christianity. This man, who dwelt at Alexandria and imitated the life of Aristotle, composed four books—one called a Gospel which had not the Acts of Christ, but

p. 147

the mere name only; and one other called the Book of Chapters; and a third of Mysteries; and a fourth, which they circulate now, the Treasure. This man had a disciple, Terebinthus by name. But when Scythianus purposed to come into Judæa 1 and make havoc of the land, the Lord smote him with a deadly disease, and stayed the pestilence. But Terebinthus, his disciple in this wicked error, inherited his money and books and heresy, and came to Palestine, and becoming known and condemned in Judæa, he resolved to pass into Persia; 2 but lest he should be recognized there also by his name, he changed it and called himself Buddas. 3 However, he found adversaries there also in the priests of Mithras; and being confuted in the discussion of many arguments and controversies, and at last hard pressed, he took refuge with a certain widow."

Here Terebinthus died. "The books, however, which were the records of his impiety, remained; and both these

p. 148

and his money the widow inherited. And having neither kinsmen nor any other friend, she determined to buy with the money a boy named Cubricus; him she adopted and educated as a son in the learning of the Persians, and thus sharpened an evil weapon against mankind. So Cubricus, the vile slave, grew up in the midst of the philosophers, and on the death of the widow inherited both the books and the money. Then, lest the name of slavery might be a reproach, instead of Cubricus he called himself Manes, which in the language of the Persians signifies 'Discourse.'" 1

In the year A.D. 242, at the coronation of King Sapor I., Manes, now twenty-four years of age, and fed upon the doctrines of the Baptizers, and of the Aristotelian and Buddhist philosophy of the Scythianus books, as well as on the varied experiences of his Wanderjahre, proclaims his new religion. It was an auspicious moment. King Sapor was the successor of Ardashir, who had driven out the Parthian dynasty and restored a Persian Empire under the Persian dynasty of the Sassanid House. It was a strictly nationalistic movement, encouraged by the Magian priests, and the new rulers were bent on restoring that ancient faith of the land which had been overthrown when Alexander burnt its sacred books and proscribed its sacred rites. Manes apparently thought it a favourable opportunity for proclaiming a new religion. So he announced himself as the prophet of God to his own people of Babylonia. "What Buddha was to India, Zoroaster to Persia, Jesus to the lands of the West, that am I to Babylonia."

In its first form, his preaching was a protest against the forcing of Zoroastrianism on his own people of Babylon

p. 149

by the victorious Sassanid House, and it is probable that, had he been left alone, his religion would have had nothing but a mere local importance. But the Magians did not want to see Babylonia aroused to national enthusiasm by the preaching of a new national faith, and Manes was driven into exile. His exile, followed later by his martyrdom, changed his system from a merely local cult to one of world-wide significance. He wandered as an exile through the countries north, north-east, and east of the newly constituted Persian kingdom, from which he was an outcast, and when, venturing to return to Persia, e was cruelly put to death by his enemies, his disciples seized upon his memory with enthusiasm, and carried his teachings far and wide through Europe and Asia. Manichæism was for many centuries a serious menace to the Christian Church.

Manichæism may most properly be described as the completion of the Gnostic systems. It seems to have swept them all together, and to have joined them into one cohesive whole. We hear no more of Gnosticism after the rise of Manichæism. It was not a Christian religion, yet it had its Christian side. It could speak to Christians in Christian language, and it made claim for Manes that he was the Paraclete, the Comforter whom Christ had promised. We have but to read the Anti-Manichæan treatises of St. Augustine, or any of the notices of Manichæism in the Greek or Latin Fathers, to understand that Manes could talk, when he pleased, as a Christian. But he faced many ways, and in China the Manichæan clergy rather seem to have aimed at identifying themselves with the Buddhists.

Manichæism did not, like Christianity, "present itself to man as a power to save him by cleansing his heart from sin; but, like Gnosticism, it simply proposed to

p. 150

gratify man's craving for knowledge by explaining the very problem of his existence." 1 It had a phrase in China which well sums up its principal teaching—a word pronounced in Japanese as Dai-un-Kōmyō, "the Light on the Great Cloud." 2 It recognized two elements—the Light and the Cloud; and the Light, which is all good, is God. The personality of God comprises five spiritual and five material sub-elements, a division clearly corresponding to the five Dhyāni Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. "But God is not alone in the light: His fulness comprehends an air of light, an earth of light, and numberless glories and magnificences. Upwards and sidewise this realm of light is unbounded; but from below it is met by the realm of darkness, the Cloud." Thus "Light resting on the Great Cloud" becomes the symbol of the Manichæan system. The term is found in China and Japan, often as a name for temples. I believe that in every case it can be traced back to a Manichæan origin or connection.

The ethical system of Manichæism is more clearly allied with Buddhism. Whether Manes, coming to India, found the Dharmagupta system at work and incorporated it into his own, or whether the later Vinayists borrowed from the Manichæans, I cannot tell. It all depends on the date to be assigned to books like the Brahmajāla Sūtra. But there is no doubt that the "Perfect" of the Manichæan system are remarkably like the candidates for Buddhaship who take upon themselves the 250 Rules of the Bodhisattva. In both systems there is the same threefold arrangement of sins according as they concern the hand, the mouth, or the heart. In both there is the same prohibition of marriage, and of every sort of sensual pleasure; Bodhisattvas and "Perfect" are alike forbidden

p. 151

to dig the earth, to build houses, to engage in industry or commerce. The Bodhisattva and the Perfect alike are forbidden to partake of the "five strong herbs," known in Japan as "Go Shin." 1

It is impossible to deny the influence exercised upon the plastic Mahāyāna by Manichæism. From the middle of the third century onwards the two religions were constantly side by side, and whatever person we consider after that date, we must always take into consideration the fact that most probably he knew something of Manichæism. Zoroastrianism also comes into account, but the Zoroastrians were not a proselytizing community like the Manichæans, and it is not until the Tang period that we find them side by side with Buddhism.

Manichæism did not set itself to work to preach Christ, but it had its Christian aspect, and wherever in Central Asia we find, as we often do, a Manichæan temple almost side by side with a Buddhist monastery, we may safely infer that there must have been some indirect knowledge among the Buddhists of the fact of Christ.


145:1 Mani means a painter. I have often wondered if there can be any connection between the name Manichæus and the famous Buddhist monastery of Manikyala. I draw my materials for this chapter mainly, though not entirely, from Kessler's article on Mani in the "Schaff-Herzog Encyclopædia." It is probable that in the course of a few years our knowledge of Manichæism will be much increased as a result of recent finds in Central Asia.

145:2 The Mendæans or Mandæans still subsist, in a very small community, on the eastern banks of the Tigris. They are sometimes called the Christians of St. John, on account of the great veneration they pay to St. John the Baptist, whom they consider to have been a true prophet, in contradistinction to Abraham, Moses, Solomon, Jesus the Sorcerer, and Mahomet, all of whom they consider to have been false prophets. The true religion, they say, still existed in the days of Moses, and was in the possession of the Egyptians, and was brought back into the world by St. John. It was this, doubtless, that turned Mani's thoughts towards Egypt in his travels in search of religion. The official name, among themselves, for their religion is Mandā, which is Gnosis. But Mandā is personified, as it is among the p. 146 Buddhists, and so becomes a sort of counterpart of the personified though indefinite Butsu of which many Japanese Buddhists speak (especially the followers of the old Ritsu or Vinaya sect, now amalgamated with the Shingon). They also talk of themselves as "Subbā," i.e. "Baptists," and their Baptismal rites, oft repeated, are again, like those of the Marcosians mentioned in a previous chapter, very similar to those of the Shingon Kwanjo. Like many Japanese Buddhists, they have a special veneration for the Polar Star (Jap. myōken), towards which they turn when praying.

146:1 I have already shown how widely, even in As’oka's days, was the expansion of Buddhism among non-Indian peoples.

147:1 In the "Acta Archelai" we read, "Scythianus thought of making an excursion into Judaea, with the purpose of meeting all those that had a reputation there as teachers." And this is said to have been in the days of the Apostles. See my paper on the "Formative Elements of Japanese Buddhism," in Trans. As. Soc. Japan, vol. xxxv.

147:2 In the "Acta Archelai" it is "Babylon, a province which is now held by the Persians."

147:3 Does the name of some great Mahāyānist doctor—for instance, Nāgārjuna—lurk behind Terebinthus? Nag is the name of a tree, "the arjuna tree sacred to the worship of the Nagas," and always appears in Japanese as Ryū ju, the "tree of the Dragon" or Nāga. Can it be that the name of Nāgārjuna was similarly translated into Greek, and that the terebinthus was the "sacred tree of the Nāgas"? Nāgārjuna's date corresponds roughly with that assigned to Terebinthus. There is a great similarity of ideas between Nag. and Manichaeism; the "Thibetan Life of Nāgārjuna," translated by Mr. Das in J.A.S. Bengal, speaks of a journey westwards undertaken by Nāgārjuna, and Nāgārjuna, like Terebinthus, was known amongst his contemporaries as "Buddha." The establishment of this conjectural identification would clear up many difficulties.

148:1 The name also means "painter." The Greeks, not unnaturally perhaps, nicknamed him the Maniac.

150:1 Kessler, l.c.

150:2 See my "Shinran and His Work," p. 166.

151:1 Cf. "Shinran and His Work." The lower class of Manichæan disciples, the "Hearers," corresponds, even philologically, with the S’ravakas of Buddhism. The distinction lies at the basis of the distinction, common in Japanese sects, of Shintai and Zokutai.

Next: Chapter XVI. China in the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Centuries