Sacred Texts  Buddhism  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

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

p. 117


The Missionaries of the Han

If we could construct a comparative Chronological Table of the religious phenomena of Europe and Asia during the first two centuries, we should see that the next Buddhist mission (A.D. 147) coincided with a mission sent by the Kushan sovereigns to the Han emperors, partly, it may be, to carry out negotiations for a matrimonial alliance, and partly, no doubt, to arrange for concerted action for defence against the Huns and other barbarians who were threatening both China and India. Political negotiation and religious propaganda would seem to have gone hand-in-hand.

The two pioneer missionaries were Anshikao (who, from his rank as Prince of Parthia, may well have bad some political commission) and Lokaraksha. The two arrived simultaneously at Lôyang, or, at any rate, with only a comparatively short interval between them; the rest came at intervals during the seventy years that still remained for the Han dynasty to rule. Six of them are mentioned by Nanjo, 1 but none of them can be compared for industrious translation with the first two. There must have been other missionaries as well: there are sixteen translations by unknown hands, and there must surely have been some missionaries whose methods were not literary. In all, ninety-six Sūtras were translated during the latter years of the Han dynasty, of which Anshikao

p. 118

claims fifty-six and Lokaraksha twelve. The other six men only produced twelve Sūtras between them.

The first notable point with regard to these pioneer missionaries is that none came from India proper, and, in particular, none from Magadha and the plains of the Ganges. Two were Parthians; three are described as coming from Thibet; one from the country of the Yuetchi; the others vaguely as from the Western region. They were all subjects of the Kushan kingdom, and had therefore all been more or less influenced by the Gandhāra Buddhism which had come in with the new era.

The leader of this successful mission to China was a Parthian prince known to us as Anshikao. His real personal name is not given (Anshikao merely means "Prince of the Ansi," i.e. Parthians), but it is said that he resigned his throne to his uncle in order to become a monk, and that he was the son of a famous king who had been the enemy of Trajan and the friend of Hadrian. All this enables us to identify him with Axidares, the son of Pachorus, whom his father had nominated to the Armenian throne, shortly after A.D. 100, thereby giving much offence to the Emperor Trajan. Pachorus’ successor on the Parthian throne, his brother Chosroes, at once apologized to Rome for the error in judgment that Pachorus had made, deposed Axidares in haste, nominated his younger nephew Parthamasiris in his stead, and wrote to Rome begging for investiture on his behalf. But Trajan refusing to listen, Parthamasiris surrendered himself, and was at first treated with clemency, but was afterwards murdered about A.D. 115. There seems to be little doubt that the prince Axidares, deposed about A.D. 108 by his uncle, and ousted from his Armenian kingdom, after his brother's death, by a distant relative, retired to a cloister, as others have done who have experienced

p. 119

the sorrows of a vain world, and eventually, as an elderly man and a tried ecclesiastic, became the leader of the Buddhist mission to China.

But Axidares (may we call him by his title Anshikao?) was the nephew of Chosroes, and the son of Pachorus. He was therefore the nephew of King Tiridates, and consequently the nephew of that King of Armenia who had sent an invitation to the Apostle Thomas to preach the gospel in the Parthian dominions. 1

"And here comes in the most remarkable incident in a remarkable story:—Tiridates had been a Mazdean priest, and was so strict an observer of Mazdean rites and ceremonies that, to prevent any possibility of defiling the element water, he, instead of taking the ordinary route and embarking at Antioch direct for Rome, insisted on making the long journey overland through the entire length of Asia Minor to the Hellespont, and thence round the head of the Adriatic to the Capital. His grand-nephew, Axidares, or Vargash, had taken orders in Buddhism. In his desire to quit the vanities of a life of royalty, whose instabilities mocked him at every step, he had found no refuge in Mazdeism and no place in which a sorely tried spirit could find relief. The preaching of the sage As’vaghosha had thrown a bridge over the chasm between Mazdeism and Buddhism, and the doctrines of Christianity as taught by St. Thomas had shown how superior to the bondage of the ceremonial law was the freedom inculcated by it as well as the new Buddhism. Buddhism, without breaking away from Mazdean tradition, offered in its conventional monasticism just that escape for which the soul of the sorely tried

p. 120

prince was longing; was it any wonder that it, with the prospect that it offered of converting a world, should have prevailed." 1

"Already before the time of As’oka the logical void involved in the acceptance of Nirvana had led to the evolution of a Maitreya Buddha, the "Future Buddha" of Kindness, who was to mitigate the ills of an inflexible Karma; but the movement did not here end, and once started, its mere vis inertiæ carried it on. Pratyeka Buddhas, those who had without regard to others attained an individual Buddhahood, and Bodhisattvas, those whose progressive Karma was insensibly leading them along the "path" to Buddhahood, were the natural outcome of the movement, and of these, two—Manjuśri, the Gracious-one, and Avalokiteśvara, the Pitiful-one—gradually came to the front. At first only mental abstractions, the inevitable tendency was to segregate from the magma, and condense as personal Buddhas. In the process they came under the influence of the school of As’vaghosha, when Manjuśri easily was found to take the place of Cpenta Ârmaita, Holy Wisdom, and Avalokiteśvara in like manner of Khshathra Vairya, Perfect Sovereignty, both lieutenants of Ahura Mazda in ruling mundane affairs. So it was that when Amida came to take in the celestial hierarchy the place of The Buddha, seats beside him were found for the two great Bodhisattvas, Avalokiteśvara and Manjuśri."

Yet it is noteworthy that a very great portion of this literature thus early translated into Chinese is Hīnayāna.

p. 121

[paragraph continues] Many of the extra-Indian provinces of the Kushan Empire, Khotan to wit, and portions of Bactria, had been converted to Buddhism long before the commencement of the Mahāyāna movement, and, having been converted to Hīnayāna, remained constant to their allegiance, though sectarian differences, as well as the nature of the mountainous countries between them, cut them off from their Hīnayāna brethren on the southern slopes of the Himalaya. Besides, the dividing-line between the two Vehicles was hardly as yet sharply drawn.

We may therefore safely conclude that the second-century Buddhist mission to China was mainly an effort made by the Kushans to gain the friendship of that portion of the Chinese people that was predisposed to religion; that its members came from extra-Indian countries which had long since been Buddhist, and which had now passed under the sway of the Kushans; and that, whilst it contained the beginnings of Mahāyānism, it was in the main Hīnayāna.

The next thing that strikes us is the very elementary character of the Hīnayāna Buddhism that these men taught. There are some extremely elementary treatises amongst the Sūtras translated—tracts, for instance, on the Four Truths, the Twelvefold Chain of Causation, the causes of Pain, the duty towards parents, the punishments of sin, the rewards of Virtue. The publication of these tracts seems to show that the Buddhist missionaries were doing pioneer work on untouched ground. The previous mission of Kaśyapa Matanga and Dharmaraksha (if indeed it had been a Buddhist mission at all) had evidently died out completely, and these men had to begin again. It is only thus that we can account for the necessity of publishing these elementary treatises. It is not yet more than fifty years since the re-introduction of

p. 122

[paragraph continues] Christianity into Japan, but the day for elementary treatises is past already. We have our Bibles, our Testaments, our Prayer-books, our Catechisms—all standard books, in fact—in Japanese translations, and it would be next to an impossibility that they should be swept away even by a wholesale "destruction of books" such as the Chinese indulged in.

Had the "Heralding of the Son of Man," 1 as I venture to call it, been a permanent or successful Buddhist mission, it would have left behind it literary memorials which would have made it unnecessary for the successors of those men to insist so much on the elements of Buddhism, the more so as both missions seem to have laboured in the same city of Loyang and its immediate vicinity.

There are, however, certain very distinctly Mahāyānistic elements to be found in these ninety-six books of the Han translators, and notably in the twelve books attributed to Lokaraksha, who comes from the country of the Yuetchi, the very heart of the Kushan Empire. There are likewise Mahāyānistic traces to be found in the writings of Anshikao, who was very possibly a Parthian hostage at the court of the Kushan kings.

Thus we find the use both of mudrā and of mantra, of mystic gesticulations and of apparently meaningless

p. 123

formulæ of incantation. 1 These formulæ and practices, which have not as yet received much attention from scholars, are valuable to the student of religion as showing how far-spread was the use of cognate practices during the second century. We find the mudrā and mantra in Egypt; we find them in the Gnosticism of Asia Minor, e.g. amongst the Marcosians mentioned by Irenæus, in North-Western India, in China, and, in process of time, in Japan. The sacred language used for the mantras differs; in the West it is Hebrew, in the East it is Sanskrit; but the manual signs made by the worshippers are the same, as are also the seals or characters used conventionally to denote certain objects. One most interesting case in point is the so-called sixteen-petalled Imperial Chrysanthemum of Japan. Dr. Munro of Yokohama 2 has, as I have said, found it in Egypt on a tomb. It is also given in the newly discovered book of Jao 3 as a "seal," with its appropriate though meaningless mantra: it comes to Japan viâ China and appears at Kyoto as the "seal" of the god of Peace. In the twelfth century it appears as the mon or crest of the Emperor Toba, who was a religious-minded person, much devoted to the worship of the "god of Peace." It is to-day the Imperial Crest, sacred to the uses of the Imperial House. No subject may have it on anything that belongs to him; and yet, for the modest outlay of a halfpenny, he can procure at the (modern) Heian-Jingū, or Temple of the God of Peace, at Kyoto, amulets and charms, protective against evil, which bear the Imperial Chrysanthemum Crest. 4

p. 124

Another Mahāyāna trace will be found in the Sutra on the use of Images of the Buddha, ascribed to Lokaraksha. 1 That it was not until the inauguration of the Gandhāra Buddhism that images were made to represent the Buddha and other prominent personages, is shown in Japan by the use of the term "Image Law" to denote the second phase of their religion. For five centuries after the Nirvana, so they say, the "Upright Law" continued. This was to be followed by a thousand years of "Image Law," after which should come the Age of the Destruction of the Law in which we now are. It was, apparently, the Image Worship of the Buddhists that incited the Confucianists to make images of their own revered master. The Buddhists were inspired by Gandhāra art, that art was Greek and Roman in its ideals, and thus it has come to pass that the art of China, and eventually that of Japan, has drawn its inspiration from Antioch and Alexandria.

Another trace, again, of the Mahāyāna teachings may be found in the presence of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas other than S’akyamuni. The Hīnayāna knows of S’akyamuni's predecessors, Five Previous Buddhas, as they are called. The Mahāyāna has many of them. In the "Sukhāvati Vyūha," for instance, which is one of the Han versions, there are eighty-one Buddhas previous to Hōzō Biku, who is afterwards known as Amitābha, besides a large number of Buddhas exercising their functions simultaneously with and independently of S’akyamuni. One of these is Akshobya, another Amitābha, the one representing the East, the other the West; the one that perfect wisdom which is unmovable because it rests firmly on the thought of Buddha, the other that same perfect wisdom which has run its course and destroyed its doubts, and so is at rest. Many new Bodhisattvas appear: S’ariputra,

p. 125

[paragraph continues] Maudgalyâyana, Kâtyâyana, have not attained to Buddhahood, but Samantaprabha, Manjuśri, Avalokiteśvara, Maitreya, Bhadrapāla, are all mentioned. Some of these are evidently human Bodhisattvas. Bhadrapāla, said to have been one of the few laymen to attain to the Bodisattvaship, is now sometimes installed in Japan as the patron-deity of a temple bathroom. Manjuśri and Maitreya, once fabled as disciples of S’akyamuni's, appear again in re-incarnations. The one appears in China at Wutaishan; the other, while dwelling permanently in the Tushita Heaven, is fabled at a later time to have come down on earth to preach for Asangha. Only Avalokiteśvara is an eternal Being. He is the son of Amitābha. He has no earthly history; he has come down to earth at divers times and in sundry manners, but always to help man. He is intimately connected with Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future, for whose coming Japan still waits. 1

p. 126

It is no longer the old canon of the Tripitaka that is in use. Kaśyapa's collection of the Tripitaka is discussed, as are also the charges against Ananda which kept him outside the first Council of the Sthavira held in the Rajagriha Cave after S’akyamuni's death. But Anshikao to some extent, and Lokaraksha almost exclusively, uses the third canon of the Scriptures, the collection fabled to have been made, independently of Sthaviras and Mahāsanghikas, by S’ariputra and Maudgalyayana, parts of which were brought back to India by Katyāyana at the close of the last century B.C., and the remainder by Nāgārjuna from the Dragon's Palace. There is also some mention of the books which Nāgārjuna is said to have received from Vajrasattva at the Iron Temple in South India. There are selections from the Prajnāparāmitā, from the Avataṃsakas, from Abhidharma S’āstras, all of which are books of late origin.

Five accounts are given of S’akyamuni's life. The Mahāyānists were as busy with the life of their Founder as were the Gnostics with their Apocryphal Lives of Christ. (The most advanced of higher critics will, I think, allow that the received Gospels had all been written before the latter half of the second century.) There is a striking resemblance between the Apocryphal Gospels and the Mahāyāna Lives of S’akyamuni. In both, the whole stress is laid on the events connected with the infancy. Only one of the Apocryphal Gospels, that of Nicodemus, deals with the Death of Christ. Not one of the lives of S’akyamuni taken to China by the Han missionaries touches on the Nirvana of the Buddha. The silence is not without its significance. Gnostic and Mahāyānist alike were by this time face to face with the higher claims of the Resurrection. The insistence on the mysteries of the Nativity of the Buddha may have

p. 127

seemed to be the right way to offset the Crucifixion of the "Son of Man" and the Gospel of His Resurrection. 1

A great number of the Sūtras deal with quite practical subjects—the curse of drunkenness, the evils of impurity, the twelvefold chain of causation, the causes of death the duty of kindness to children, etc. Many of this class are to be found in the various Agama Collections. Of those which deal with the life of S’akyamuni, from his birth to the commencement of his ministry, one especially, the Adbhūta-dharmapariyaya by an unknown translator, treats the whole subject in a theological and supernatural manner. Some introduce Bodhisattvas unknown to earlier Sūtras, e.g. Maitreya and Manjuśri, sometimes as interlocutors, and sometimes as principal exponents of the doctrines taught, and we may notice the gradual development of the Mahāyāna in the fact that whereas the Sutra of Forty-two Sections constantly speaks of Arhats, the books translated by the missioners from Central Asia often speak of Bodhisattvas2 and there is a Sūtra given which contains an explanation of the office, duties, and

p. 128

privileges of a Bodhisattva. The new school of Prajnã philosophy is represented by a translation of the Prajnã Parāmitā Sūtra 1 in 10,000 couplets, but without Nāgārjuna's commentary, which was possibly not accepted until the following century (say about A.D. 220). Little is apparently said about the Previous Buddhas, but two of the Dhyāni Buddhas are mentioned, Akshobya and Amitābha, although the whole system of the Five Dhyāni Buddhas does not yet seem to have been elaborated.

Akshobya appears in the completed system of the Dhyāni Buddhas as the Buddha specially connected with the East. There is practically only one Sūtra devoted to him either in the Chinese Tripitaka or in the Thibetan Collection. I believe the Sūtra has never yet been translated into English, but a translation into modern Japanese has recently been published, which is, however, in its modern form, almost as obscure as the Chinese original. 2 Akshobya is especially connected with Manjuśri. He is the author of long life, and much worshipped by means of Dharani.

Amitābha we have mentioned before. It is claimed by the Buddhists of Japan that he was preached about by S’akyamuni himself during the last years of his ministry. After S’akyamuni's time he apparently vanished from Buddhist consciousness; possibly he was taken across the Himalayas along with some travelling Buddhists, and so disappeared from the eyes of India. As’vaghosha 3 and Nāgārjuna both worshipped from afar; with Anshikao and

p. 129

[paragraph continues] Lokaraksha he reappears in a literary form, fully developed. As’vaghosha and Nāgārjuna would only know him by repute, as being natives of India proper; Anshikao and Lokaraksha, as coming from Central Asia, knew him more fully.

The doctrine of Amitābha is more fully developed now. When S’akyamuni consoled the Queen of Bimbisara he merely pointed her to Amitābha, whose mercies are Infinite, and who is ever near to comfort the distressed 1 In the Sukhāvati Vyūha, nearly every Chinese translation of which is by Central Asian hands, Amitābha is strangely and significantly changed. He has (more Buddhico again) been euhemerized, so to say; his genealogy is given; he is practically God Almighty; but he was once a man, and his present high station as the Lord of the Western Paradise, the Father and Saviour of them that trust in him, the ψυχοπομπός meeting the soul at death and placing it in the mansion prepared for it, is all the result of a vow made countless centuries ago by a mere man, and pursued diligently through many lives, till it has resulted in the formation of a Paradise, and the opening of a salvation through Faith for them that invoke his name.

And, again significantly strange, more than a century after the Christian revelation, in a country in which Jews, Israelites, and Christians dwelt side by side with Buddhists and others, Amitābha is produced in literary form, developed into the first member of a quasi-Trinity. He is accompanied by his son, Avalokiteśvara, the bisexual expression of his mercy, who in many forms and as many persons, was manifested upon earth to save the suffering, 2

p. 130

just as in the account of Peratæ and other Gnostics, given in the "Philosophumena," 1 the Christ is manifested, in many forms and characters, with the Birth at Bethlehem among them, to give expression to the mercy of His Father. Avalokiteśvara (the "Lord that looked down") descended even into Hell to manifest the mercies of Amitābha; his companion Mahāsthāmaprāpta 2 is the embodiment of Amitābha's strength, the Spirit of Might, and the three together are a significant shadow of the Persons of the Christian Trinity. It is hard to avoid drawing an inference. 3


117:1 Nanjo, "Catalogue of the Tripitaka," Appendix II.

119:1 This and the following paragraphs I take from a kind review of my book "The Wheat amongst the Tares," published in The Anglican (Shanghai, June, 1909) by the late Mr. T. W. Kingsmill. See also East and West for July, 1911.

120:1 I quote another passage from Mr. Kingsmill's essay, because it seems to throw some light on the origin of that remarkable Trinity—Amida, Seishi, Kwannon, which plays such an important part in the later developments of the Mahāyāna. He traces the origin of these ideas to the religion of Parthia during the Arsacid sovereigns, a theory not at all inconsistent with the few traces we get of the worship of Amida in the time of Anshikao and his brother translators.

122:1 I have already pointed out that the character for Fo or Butsu ( ) consists of three elements, "man," "arrows," "bow"—a reminiscence of Ming-ti's Vision, which bears a striking analogy to the three first letters of our Lord's name. But the symbols for "arrows" and "bow" ( ) are also used in combination, e.g. in translating the name S’ariputra into Chinese, as an equivalent for the Sanskrit word putra, "a son." Bearing this in mind, we shall see that the addition of the element "man" ( ), which completes the whole compound ( ), produces a word which may mean "Son of Man." See the Sūtra on the True Man (Nanjo, "Cat. Trip.," No. 565).

123:1 Nanjo, "Cat. Trip.," Nos. 451, 478.

123:2 In a lecture delivered before the Asiatic Society of Japan, in April, 1910.

123:3 I. Book of Jao., cap. 12; in Schmidt's German translation, p. 269.

123:4 Heian was the old name of Kyoto; it means "the city of peace," the haven of refuge to which Kwammu fled from the turbulence and intrigues of the Nara monks.

124:1 Nanjo, "Cat. Trip," No. 289.

125:1 It is said that the great Kōbō Daishi is still awaiting in his tomb at Kōya San the coming of Maitreya, the friendly one, to restore the old Faith to Japan. His body, it is said, does not decay, though from time to time he requires a new suit of clothes. Thousands of devout Buddhists lie buried round him at Kōya San. They want to be present when Maitreya comes to wake Kōbō from his sleep. That Maitreya and Avalokiteśvara are connected may be shown from the following mantra in debased Sanskrit, which I do not pretend to be able to understand, but which evidently contains both names: Nobaratanno Tarayāya nōmaku Aryāvalokitei jimbaraya Bodhisattvaya Mahasattvāya Mahākiyaronikyāya taniyata on, Maitareyi, Maitararano sei maitarakiu babei maitrōto banbei mahamammaya sovaka. Om Maitreya sōvaka. Christian imagination has always fixed itself on Maitreya as the type of Christ; but the Buddhist sees more clearly the analogies in Avalokiteśvara. Avalokiteśvara, they say, is the spiritual son of Amitābha, and it is only through Avalokiteśvara that Amitābha can manifest himself. Thus when Amitābha came down to fulfil his vow, he came as Avalokiteśvara under the earthly name of Hōzō Biku. And many Japanese have told me that Christ is an incarnation of this same Avalokiteśvara, the son of Amida, who is the one, self-originated, Buddha.

127:1 In connection with the A.D. 67 Mission to China, it must be remembered that early in the first century a rumour was current in China that Sū Wang Mu, the goddess of the West, had given birth to a child who should be the Saviour of the world. This event is, as it were, crystallized in Buddhism, in the female Kwan-yin, the goddess of Mercy, who is so constantly represented with a babe in her arms. It is said of this babe that he was originally an enemy to Buddhism, but was afterwards converted. I seem to see in this a trace of that very early "heralding of the Son of Man" in China. It was merely a heralding, merely a preaching for a witness. The remaining converts of that early mission, or their descendants, may have offered some resistance to the Buddhist onslaught, and then in the end agreed to some compromise.

127:2 Arhat is the Hīnayāna term for the full-blown disciple. In the Mahāyāna, such a person is termed a Bodhisattva, the distinction between the two consisting in the fact that the Bodhisattva's faith is the more altruistic.

128:1 This work forms one of the great books of the Nepaulese Canon, which does not, however, seem to have been finally drawn up before the time of Vasubandhu, circ. A.D. 300.

128:2 In a popular book called "Jusan Butsu no Yūrai" (Tokyo, 1908).

128:3 For As’vaghosha, see Suzuki's "Awakening of the Faith," p. 146. Nāgārjuna is said to have died with his face directed to the Western Paradise.

129:1 In the "Amitāyur-dhyāni Sūtra," S.B.E., vol. xlix. With the help of some Buddhist friends, I have nearly completed an English translation of Lokaraksha's edition of the S.V.

129:2 I have a small Japanese "Catechism of Kwannon," which states the doctrine about this deity very succinctly.

130:1 "Philosoph.," vi. 12.

130:2 The Japanese Seishi. He is sometimes spoken of as having "destroyed death." He is not a very popular deity.

130:3 I would strongly recommend, in connection with this chapter, a perusal of a paper by the late Dr. Rehatsek on "Christianity in the Persian Dominions," published in the Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. xiii., 1877. It shows very clearly the knowledge of Christianity which Anshikao and his companion must have had.

Next: Chapter XIV. Dharmagupta