HotFreeBooks.com
Hinduism And Buddhism, Volume II. (of 3) - An Historical Sketch
by Charles Eliot
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Mahayanist metaphysics, like all other departments of this theology, are beset by the difficulty that the authorities who treat of them are not always in accord and do not pretend to be in accord. The idea that variety is permissible in belief and conduct is deeply rooted in later Buddhism: there are many vehicles, some better than others no doubt and some very ramshackle, but all are capable of conveying their passengers to salvation. Nominally the Mahayana was divided into only two schools of philosophy: practically every important treatise propounds a system with features of its own. The two schools are the Yogacaras and Madhyamikas.[101] Both are idealists and deny the reality of the external world, but whereas the Yogacaras (also called Vijnanavadins) admit that Vijnana or consciousness and the series of states of which it consists are real, the Madhyamikas refuse the title of reality to both the subjective and the objective world and hence gained a reputation of being complete nihilists. Probably the Madhyamikas are the older school.

Both schools attach importance to the distinction between relative and absolute knowledge. Relative knowledge is true for human beings living in the world: that is to say it is not more false than the world of appearance in which they live. The Hinayanist doctrines are true in this sense. Absolute knowledge rises above the world of appearance and is altogether true but difficult to express in words. The Yogacara makes three divisions, dividing the inferior knowledge into two. It distinguishes first illusory knowledge (parikalpita) such as mistaking a piece of rope for a snake or belief in the existence of individual souls. Secondly knowledge which depends on the relations of things (paratantra) and which though not absolutely wrong is necessarily limited, such as belief in the real existence of ropes and snakes. And thirdly absolute knowledge (parinishpanna), which understands all things as the manifestation of an underlying principle. The Madhyamikas more simply divide knowledge into samvriti-satya and paramartha-satya, that is the truth of every-day life and transcendental truth. The world and ordinary religion with its doctrines and injunctions about good works are real and true as samvriti but in absolute truth (paramartham) we attain Nirvana and then the world with its human Buddhas and its gods exists no more. The word sunyam or sunyata, that is void, is often used as the equivalent of paramartham. Void must be understood as meaning not an abyss of nothingness but that which is found to be devoid of all the attributes which we try to ascribe to it. The world of ordinary experience is not void, for a great number of statements can be made about it, but absolute truth is void, because nothing whatever can be predicated of it. Yet even this colourless designation is not perfectly accurate,[102] because neither being nor not-being can be predicated of absolute truth. It is for this reason, namely that they admit neither being nor not-being but something between the two, that the followers of Nagarjuna are known as the Madhyamikas or school of the middle doctrine, though the European reader is tempted to say that their theories are extreme to the point of being a reductio ad absurdum of the whole system. Yet though much of their logic seems late and useless sophistry, its affinity to early Buddhism cannot be denied. The fourfold proposition that the answer to certain questions cannot be any of the statements "is," "is not," "both is and is not," "neither is nor is not," is part of the earliest known stratum of Buddhism. The Buddha himself is represented as saying[103] that most people hold either to a belief in being or to a belief in not being. But neither belief is possible for one who considers the question with full knowledge. "That things have being is one extreme: that things have no being is the other extreme. These extremes have been avoided by the Tathagata and it is a middle doctrine that he teaches," namely, dependent origination as explained in the chain of twelve links. The Madhyamika theory that objects have no absolute and independent existence but appear to exist in virtue of their relations is a restatement of this ancient dictum.

The Mahayanist doctors find an ethical meaning in their negations. If things possessed svabhava, real, absolute, self-determined existence, then the four truths and especially the cessation of suffering and attainment of sanctity would be impossible. For if things were due not to causation but to their own self-determining nature (and the Hindus always seem to understand real existence in this sense) cessation of evil and attainment of the good would be alike impossible: the four Noble Truths imply a world which is in a state of constant becoming, that is a world which is not really existent.

But for all that the doctrine of sunyata as stated in the Madhyamika aphorisms ascribed to Nagarjuna leaves an impression of audacious and ingenious sophistry. After laying down that every object in the world exists only in relation to every other object and has no self-existence, the treatise proceeds to prove that rest and motion are alike impossible. We speak about the path along which we are passing but there is really no such thing, for if we divide the path accurately, it always proves separable into the part which has been passed over and the part which will be passed over. There is no part which is being passed over. This of course amounts to a denial of the existence of present time. Time consists of past and future separated by an indivisible and immeasurable instant. The minimum of time which has any meaning for us implies a change, and two elements, a former and a subsequent. The present minute or the present hour are fallacious expressions.[104]

Therefore no one ever is passing along a path. Again you cannot logically say that the passer is passing, for the sentence is redundant: the verb adds nothing to the noun and vice versa: but on the other hand you clearly cannot say that the non-passer is passing. Again if you say that the passer and the passing are identical, you overlook the distinction between the agent and the act and both become unreal. But you cannot maintain that the passer is different from the passing, for a passer as distinct from passing and passing as distinct from a passer have no meaning. "But how can two entities exist at all, if they exist neither as identical with one another nor as different from one another?"

The above, though much abridged, gives an idea of the logic of these sutras. They proceed to show that all manner of things, such as the five skandhas, the elements, contact, attachment, fire and fuel, origination, continuation and extinction have no real existence. Similar reasoning is then applied to religious topics: the world of transmigration as well as bondage and liberation are declared non-existent. In reality no soul is in bondage and none is released.[105] Similarly Karma, the Buddha himself, the four truths, Nirvana and the twelve links in the chain of causation are all unreal. This is not a declaration of scepticism. It means that the Buddha as a human or celestial being and Nirvana as a state attainable in this world are conceivable only in connection with this world and therefore, like the world, unreal. No religious idea can enter into the unreal (that is the practical) life of the world unless it is itself unreal. This sounds a topsy turvy argument but it is really the same as the Advaita doctrine. The Vedanta is on the one hand a scheme of salvation for liberating souls which transmigrate unceasingly in a world ruled by a personal God. But when true knowledge is attained, the soul sees that it is identical with the Highest Brahman and that souls which are in bondage and God who rules the world are illusions like the world itself. But the Advaita has at least a verbal superiority over the Madhyamika philosophy, for in its terminology Brahman is the real and the existent contrasted with the world of illusion. The result of giving to what the Advaita calls the real and existent the name of sunyata or void is disconcerting. To say that everything without distinction is non-existent is much the same as saying that everything is existent. It only means that a wrong sense is habitually given to the word exist, as if it meant to be self-contained and without relation to other objects. Unless we can make a verbal contrast and assert that there is something which does exist, it seems futile to insist on the unreality of the world. Yet this mode of thought is not confined to text-books on logic. It invades the scriptures, and appears (for instance) in the Diamond Cutter[106] which is still one of the most venerated books of devotion in China and Japan. In this work the Buddha explains that a Bodhisattva must resolve to deliver all living beings and yet must understand that after he has thus delivered innumerable beings, no one has been delivered. And why? Because no one is to be called a Bodhisattva for whom there exists the idea of a being, or person. Similarly a saint does not think that he is a saint, for if he did so think, he would believe in a self, and a person. There occur continually in this work phrases cast in the following form: "what was preached as a store of merit, that was preached as no store of merit[107] by the Tathagata and therefore it is called a store of merit. If there existed a store of merit, the Tathagata would not have preached a store of merit." That is to say, if I understand this dark language rightly, accumulated merit is part of the world of illusion which we live in and by speaking of it as he did the Buddha implied that it, like everything else in the world, is really non-existent. Did it belong to the sphere of absolute truth, he would not have spoken of it as if it were one of the things commonly but erroneously supposed to exist. Finally we are told of the highest knowledge "Even the smallest thing is not known or perceived there; therefore it is called the highest perfect knowledge." That is to say perfect knowledge transcends all distinctions; it recognises the illusory nature of all individuality and the truth of sameness, the never-changing one behind the ever-changing many. In this sense it is said to perceive nothing and know nothing.

One might expect that a philosophy thus prone to use the language of extreme nihilism would slip into a destructive, or at least negative system. But Mahayanism was pulled equally strongly in the opposite direction by the popular and mythological elements which it contained and was on the whole inclined to theism and even polytheism quite as much as to atheism and acosmism. A modern Japanese writer[108] says that Dharma-kaya "may be considered to be equivalent to the Christian conception of the Godhead." This is excessive as a historical statement of the view current in India during the early centuries of our era, but it does seem true that Dharma-kaya was made the equivalent of the Hindu conception of Param Brahma and also that it is very nearly equivalent to the Chinese Tao.[109]

The work called Awakening of Faith[110] and ascribed to Asvaghosha is not extant in Sanskrit but was translated into Chinese in 553 A.D. Its doctrine is practically that of the Yogacara school and this makes the ascription doubtful, but it is a most important treatise. It is regarded as authoritative in China and Japan at the present day and it illustrates the triple tendency of the Mahayana towards metaphysics, mythology, and devotional piety. It declares that faith has four aspects. Three of these are the three Jewels, or Buddha, the Law and the Church, and cover between them the whole field of religion and morality as generally understood. The exposition is tinged with a fine unselfish emotion and tells the believer that though he should strive not for his own emancipation but for the salvation of others yet he himself receives unselfish and supernatural assistance. He is remembered and guarded by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in all quarters of the Universe who are eternally trying to liberate mankind by various expedients (upaya). By expedient is meant a modified presentment of the truth, which is easier of comprehension and, if not the goal, at least on the road to it, such as the Paradise of Amitabha.[111]

But the remaining aspect of faith, which is the one that the author puts first in his enumeration, and treats at great length, is "to believe in the fundamental truth, that is to think joyfully of suchness." By suchness (in Sanskrit bhuta-tathata, in Chinese Chen ju) is meant absolute truth as contrasted with the relative truth of ordinary experience.[112] The word is not illuminating nor likely to excite religious emotion and the most that can be said for it is that it is less dreary than the void of Nagarjuna. Another and more positive synonym is dharma-dhatu, the all-embracing totality of things. It is only through our ignorance and subjectivity that things appear distinct and individuate. Could we transcend this subjectivity, isolated objects would cease to exist. Things in their fundamental nature cannot be named or explained: they are beyond the range of language and perception: they have no signs of distinction but possess absolute sameness (samata). From this totality of things nothing can be excluded and to it nothing can be added. Yet it is also sunyata, negation or the void, because it cannot be said to possess any of the attributes of the world we live in: neither existence nor non-existence, nor unity nor plurality can be predicted of it. According to the celebrated formula of Nagarjuna known as the eight Nos there is in it "neither production (utpada) nor destruction (uccheda) nor annihilation (nirodha) nor persistence (sasvata) nor unity (ekartha) nor plurality (nanartha) nor coming in (agamana) nor going out (nirgama)." But when we perceive that both subject and object are unreal we also see that suchness is the one reality and from that point of view it may be regarded as the Dharma-kaya of all Buddhas. It is also called Tathagatagarbha, the womb or store-house of the Buddha, from which all individual existences are evolved under the law of causation, but this aspect of it is already affected by ignorance, for in Bhuta-tathata as known in the light of the highest truth there is neither causation nor production. The Yogacara employs the word sunyata (void), though not so much as its sister school, but it makes special use of the term alaya-vijnana, the receptacle or store of consciousness. This in so far as it is superindividual is an aspect of suchness, but when it affirms and particularises itself it becomes citta, that is the human mind, or to be more accurate the substratum of the human mind from which is developed manas, or the principle of will, self-consciousness and self-affirmation. Similarly the Vedanta philosophy, though it has no term corresponding to alaya-vijnana, is familiar with the idea that Brahman is in one aspect immeasurable and all-embracing but in another is infinitesimal and dwells in the human heart: or that Brahman after creating the world entered into it. Again another aspect of suchness is enlightenment (bodhi), that is absolute knowledge free from the limitations of subject and object. This "is the universal Dharma-kaya of the Tathagatas" and on account of this all Tathagatas are spoken of as abiding in enlightenment a priori. This enlightenment may be negative (as sunyata) in the sense that it transcends all relations but it may also be affirmative and then "it transforms and unfolds itself, whenever conditions are favourable, in the form of a Tathagata or some other form in order that all beings may be induced to bring their store of merit to maturity."[113]

It will be seen from the above that the absolute truth of the Mahayanists varies from a severely metaphysical conception, the indescribable thing in itself, to something very like an all-pervading benevolent essence which from time to time takes shape in a Buddha. And here we see how easy is the transition from the old Buddhism to a form of pantheism. For if we admit that the Buddha is a superhuman intelligence appearing from time to time according to a certain law, we add little to this statement by saying that the essence or spirit of the cosmos manifests itself from time to time as a Buddha. Only, such words as essence or spirit are not really correct. The world of individuals is the same as the highest truth, the same as the Dharma-kaya, the same as Nirvana. It is only through ignorance that it appears to be different and particularized. Ignorance, the essence of which consists in believing in the distinction between subject and object, is also called defilement and the highest truth passes through various stages of defilement ending with that where under the influence of egoism and passion the external world of particulars is believed to be everything. But the various stages may influence one another[114] so that under a higher influence the mind which is involved in subjectivity begins to long for Nirvana. Yet Nirvana is not something different from or beyond the world of experience; it does not really involve annihilation of the skandhas. Just as in the Advaita he who has the true knowledge sees that he himself and everything else is Brahman, so for the Mahayanist all things are seen to be Nirvana, to be the Dharma-kaya. It is sometimes[115] said that there are four kinds of Nirvana (a) absolute Nirvana, which is a synonym of the Dharma-kaya and in that sense universally present in all beings, (b) upadhisesha-nirvana, the state of enlightenment which can be attained during life, while the body with its limitations still remains, (c) anupadhisesha-nirvana, a higher degree of the same state attained after death when the hindrances of the body are removed, (d) Nirvana without abode or apratishthita-nirvana. Those who attain to this understand that there is no real antithesis between Samsara and Nirvana:[116] they do not seek for rest or emancipation but devote themselves to beneficent activity and to leading their fellows to salvation. Although these statements that Nirvana and Samsara are the same are not at all in the manner of the older Buddhism, yet this ideal of disinterested activity combined with Nirvana is not inconsistent with the portrait of Gotama preserved in the Pali Canon.

The Mahayanist Buddhism of the Far East makes free use of such phrases as the Buddha in the heart, the Buddha mind and the Buddha nature. These seem to represent such Sanskrit terms as Buddhatva and Bodhicitta which can receive either an ethical or a metaphysical emphasis. The former line of thought is well shown in Santideva[117] who treats Bodhicitta as the initial impulse and motive power of the religious life, combining intellectual illumination and unselfish devotion to the good of others. Thus regarded it is a guiding and stimulating principle somewhat analogous to the Holy Spirit in Christianity. But the Bodhicitta is also the essential quality of a Buddha (and the Holy Spirit too is a member of the Trinity) and in so far as a man has the Bodhicitta he is one with all Buddhas.

This conception is perhaps secondary in Buddhism but it is also as old as the Upanishads and only another form of the doctrine that the spirit in every man (antaryamin) is identical with the Supreme Spirit. It is developed in many works still popular in the Far East[118] and was the fundamental thesis of Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen school. But the practical character of the Chinese and Japanese has led them to attach more importance to the moral and intellectual side of this doctrine than to the metaphysical and pantheistic side.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 100: E.g. in Mahaparinib. Sut. IV. 57, the Buddha says "There has been laid up by Cunda the smith (who had given him his last meal) a karma, redounding to length of life, to good fortune, to good fame, to the inheritance of heaven, and of sovereign power."]

[Footnote 101: Strictly speaking Madhyamaka is the name of the school Madhyamika of its adherents. Both forms are used, e.g. Madhyamakakarikas and Madhyamikasutra.]

[Footnote 102: Nagarjuna says Sunyam iti na vaktavyam asunyam iti va bhavet Ubhayam nobhayam ceti prajnaptyartham tu kathyate, "It cannot be called void or not void or both or neither but in order to somehow indicate it, it is called Sunyata."]

[Footnote 103: Sam. Nik. XXII. 90. 16.]

[Footnote 104: Gotama, the founder of the Nyaya philosophy, also admitted the force of the arguments against the existence of present time but regarded them as a reductio ad absurdum. Shadworth Hodgson in his Philosophy of Reflection, vol. I. p. 253 also treats of the question.]

[Footnote 105: The Sankhya philosophy makes a similar statement, though for different reasons.]

[Footnote 106: Vajracchedika. See S.B.E. vol. XLIX. It was translated into Chinese by Kumarajiva (384-417 A.D.).]

[Footnote 107: Or in other repetitions of the same formula, beings, ideas, good things, signs, etc., etc.]

[Footnote 108: Soyen Shaku, Sermons of a Buddhist Abbot, p. 47.]

[Footnote 109: See for a simple and persuasive statement of these abstruse doctrines a charming little book called Wu-Wei by H. Borel.]

[Footnote 110: Translated from the Chinese by Teitaro Suzuki, 1900. The translation must be used with care, as its frequent use of the word soul may lead to misunderstanding.]

[Footnote 111: Asanga's work Mahayana-sutralankara (edited and translated by S. Levi) which covers much of the same ground is extant in Sanskrit as well as in Chinese and Tibetan translations. It is a lucid and authoritative treatise but does not appear to have ever been popular, or to be read now in the Far East. For Yogacara see also Museon, 1904, p. 370.]

[Footnote 112: The discussion of tathata in Kathavatthu, XIX. 5 seems to record an early phase of these speculations.]

[Footnote 113: Awakening of Faith, Teitaro Suzuki, pp. 62 and 70.]

[Footnote 114: The process is generally called Vasana or perfuming.]

[Footnote 115: Vijnanamatra Sastra. Chinese version quoted by Teitaro Suzuki, Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism, p. 343. Apparently both upadhi and upadhi are used in Buddhist Sanskrit. Upadi is the Pali form.]

[Footnote 116: So the Madhyamika Sastra (XXV. 19) states that there is no difference between Samsara and Nirvana. Cf. Rabindranath Tagore, Sadhana, pp. 160-164.]

[Footnote 117: E.g. Bodhicaryavatara, chap. I, called praise of the Bodhicitta.]

[Footnote 118: E.g. the Pu-ti-hsin-li-hsiang-lun (Nanjio, 1304), translated from Nagarjuna, and the Ta-Ch'eng-fa-chieh-wu-cha-pieh-lun, translated from Sthiramati (Nanjio, 1258).]



CHAPTER XX

MAHAYANIST SCRIPTURES

In a previous chapter I have discussed the Pali Canon and I shall subsequently have something to say about the Chinese and Tibetan Canons, which are libraries of religious and edifying works rather than sacred books similar to the Vedas or the Bible. My present object is to speak of the Sanskrit literature, chiefly sutras, which appeared contemporaneously with the rise of Mahayanism in India.

The Mahayanist scriptures are the largest body of sacred writings extant in the world, but it is not easy either to define the limits of the Canon or to say when it was put together. According to a common tradition Kanishka played for the Church of the Great Vehicle much the same part as Asoka for the Theravadins and summoned a Council which wrote commentaries on the Tripitaka. This may be reasonably held to include a recension of the text commented on but we do not know what that text was, and the brief and perplexing accounts of the Council which we possess indicate not that it gave its imprimatur to Mahayanist sutras but that it was specially concerned with the Abhidharma works of the Sarvastivadin school.

In any case no Canon formed in the time of Kanishka can have been equivalent to the collections of writings accepted to-day in China and Tibet, for they contain works later than any date which can be assigned to his reign, as do also the nine sacred books revered in Nepal. It was agreed among Indian Buddhists that the scriptures were divided among the three Pitakas or baskets, but we may surmise that there was no unanimity as to the precise contents of each basket. In India the need for unanimity in such matters is not felt. The Brahmans always recognized that the most holy and most jealously preserved scriptures could exist in various recensions and the Mahabharata shows how generations of respectful and uncritical hearers may allow adventitious matter of all sorts to be incorporated in a work. Something of the same kind happened with the Pitakas. We know that the Pali recension which we possess was not the only one, for fragments of a Sanskrit version have been discovered.

There was probably a large floating literature of sutras, often presenting several recensions of the same document worked up in different ways. Just as additions were made to the list of Upanishads up to the middle ages, although the character of the later works was different from that of the earlier, so new sutras, modern in date and in tone, were received in the capacious basket. And just as the Puranas were accepted as sacred books without undermining the authority of the Vedas, so new Buddhist scriptures superseded without condemning the old ones. Various Mahayanist schools had their own versions of the Vinaya which apparently contain the same rules as the Pali text but also much additional narrative, and Asanga quotes from works corresponding to the Pali Nikayas, though his doctrine belongs to another age.[119] The Abhidharma section of the Pali Canon seems however to have been peculiar to the Theravada school. The Sarvastivadin Pitaka of the same name was entirely different and, judging from the Chinese Canon, the Mahayanists gave the title to philosophic works by such authors as Asanga and Vasubandhu, some of which were described as revelations from Maitreya.

Specially characteristic of Mahayanist Buddhism are the Vaipulya[120] sutras, that is sutras of great extension or development. These works, of which the Lotus is an example, follow the same scheme as the older sutras but are of wider scope and on a much larger scale, for they often consist of twenty or more chapters. They usually attempt to give a general exposition of the whole Dharma, or at least of some aspect of it which is extolled as sufficient for the right conduct of life. The chief speaker is usually the Buddha, who is introduced as teaching on the Vulture Peak, or some other well-known locality, and surrounded by a great assemblage many of whom are superhuman beings. The occasion of the discourse is commonly signalized by his sending forth rays of light which illuminate the universe until the scene includes other worlds. As early as the Anguttara Nikaya[121] we find references to the danger of a taste for ornate and poetic sutras and these compositions seem to be the outcome of that taste. The literary ideas and methods which produced them are illustrated by the Sutralankara of Asvaghosha, a collection of edifying tales, many of which use the materials supplied by the Pali Nikayas and Vinaya but present them in a more effective and artistic form. It was thought a pious task to amplify and embellish the simple narratives handed down by tradition.

The Mahayanist scriptures are composed in Sanskrit not in Pali, but it is only rarely—for instance in the works of Asvaghosha—that Buddhist Sanskrit conforms to the rules of the classical language. Usually the words deviate from this standard both in form and meaning and often suggest that the text as we have it is a Sanskritized version of an older work in some popular dialect, brought into partial conformity with literary usage. In the poetical portions, this process of sanskritization encountered greater difficulties than in prose, because metre and prosody often refused to admit the changes required by grammar, so that this poetical dialect cannot be called either Sanskrit, Pali or Magadhi but remains a mixture of learned and popular speech. But Sanskrit did not become a sacred language for the Mahayanists like Latin for Roman Catholics. It is rather Pali which has assumed this position among the Hinayanists, for Burmese and Sinhalese translations of the Pitakas acquired no authority. But in the north the principle[122] that every man might read the Buddha's word in his own vernacular was usually respected: and the populations of Central Asia, the Chinese, the Tibetans, and the Mongols translated the scriptures into their own languages without attaching any superstitious importance to the original words, unless they were Dharanis or spells.

About the time of the Christian era or perhaps rather earlier, greater use began to be made of writing for religious purposes. The old practice of reciting the scriptures was not discontinued but no objection was made to preserving and reading them in written copies. According to tradition, the Pali scriptures were committed to writing in Ceylon during the reign of Vattagamani, that is according to the most recent chronology about 20 B.C., and Kanishka caused to be engraved on copper plates the commentaries composed by the council which he summoned. In Asvaghosha[123] we find the story of a Brahman who casually taking up a book to pass the time lights on a copy of the Sutra of the Twelve Causes and is converted. But though the Buddhists remained on the whole true to the old view that the important thing was to understand and disseminate the substance of the Master's teaching and not merely to preserve the text as if it were a sacred formula, still we see growing up in Mahayanist works ideas about the sanctity and efficacy of scripture which are foreign to the Pali Canon. Many sutras (for instance the Diamond Cutter) extol themselves as all-sufficient for salvation: the Prajna-paramita commences with a salutation addressed not as usual to the Buddha but to the work itself, as if it were a deity, and Hodgson states that the Buddhists of Nepal worship their nine sacred books. Nor was the idea excluded that certain words, especially formulae or spells called Dharani, have in themselves a mysterious efficacy and potency.[124] Some of these are cited and recommended in the Lotus.[125] In so far as the repetition of sacred words or spells is regarded as an integral part of the religious life, the doctrine has no warrant in the earlier teaching. It obviously becomes more and more prominent in later works. But the idea itself is old, for it is clearly the same that produced a belief in the Brahmanic mantras, particularly the mantras of the Atharva Veda, and early Buddhism did not reject mantras in their proper place. Thus[126] the deities present themselves to the Buddha and offer to teach him a formula which will protect his disciples from the attacks of evil spirits. Hsuean Chuang even states that the council which sat at Rajagriha after the Buddha's death compiled five Pitakas, one of which consisted of Dharanis,[127] and it may be that the collection of such texts was begun as early as the collection of discourses and rules. But for many centuries there is no evidence that they were in any way confounded with the Dharma.

The Mahayanist scriptures are so voluminous that not even the clergy were expected to master any considerable part of them.[128] Indeed they make no claim to be a connected whole. The theory was rather that there were many vehicles plying on the road to salvation and many guide books. No traveller thought of taking the whole library but only a few volumes which suited him. Most of the Chinese and Japanese sects avowedly base themselves upon three sutras, selected according to the taste of each school from the hundreds quoted in catalogues. Thus the T'ien-t'ai sect has for its scriptures the Lotus, the Nirvana-sutra and the Prajna-paramita, while the Shin-shu sect admits only the three Amidist sutras.

The following are the names of some of the principal Mahayanist scriptures. Comparatively few of them have been published in Europe and some exist only in Chinese or Japanese translations.

1. Prajna-paramita or transcendental knowledge[129] is a generic name given to a whole literature consisting of treatises on the doctrine of sunyata, which vary greatly in length. They are classed as sutras, being described as discourses delivered by the Buddha on the Vulture Peak. At least ten are known, besides excerpts which are sometimes described as substantive works. The great collection translated into Chinese by Hsuean Chuang is said to consist of 200,000 verses and to comprise sixteen different sutras.[130] The earliest translation of one of these treatises into Chinese (Nanjio, 5) was made about 170 A.D. and everything indicates that portions of the Prajna-paramita are among the earliest Mahayanist works and date from about the first century of our era. Prajna not only means knowledge of the absolute truth, that is to say of sunyata or the void, but is regarded as an ontological principle synonymous with Bodhi and Dharma-kaya. Thus Buddhas not only possess this knowledge in the ordinary sense but they are the knowledge manifest in human form, and Prajna is often personified as a goddess. All these works lay great stress on the doctrine of sunyata, and the non-existence of the world of experience. The longest recension is said to contain a polemic against the Hinayana.

The Diamond Cutter is one of the best known of these transcendental treatises and the two short works called Heart of the Prajna-paramita, which are widely read in Japan, appear to be brief abstracts of the essence of this teaching.

2. The Saddharma-Pundarika, or Lotus of the Good Law,[131] is one of the best known Mahayanist sutras and is highly esteemed in China and Japan. It purports to be a discourse delivered by Sakyamuni on the Vulture Peak to an assemblage of Bodhisattvas. The Lotus clearly affirms the multiplicity of vehicles, or various ways of teaching the law, and also the eternity of the Buddha, but it does not emphasize, although it mentions, the doctrine of sunyata. The work consists of two parts of which the second (chaps. XXI-XXVI) is a later addition. This second part contains spells and many mythological narratives, including one of an ancient Bodhisattva who burnt himself alive in honour of a former Buddha. Portions of the Lotus were translated into Chinese under the Western Tsin Dynasty 265-316 A.D. and it is quoted in the Maha-prajna-paramita-sastra ascribed to Nagarjuna.[132] The first part is probably not later than the first century A.D. The Lotus is unfortunately accessible to English readers only in a most unpoetic translation by the late Professor Kern, but it is a great religious poem which starting from humanity regards religion as cosmic and universal, rather than something mainly concerned with our earth. The discourses of Sakyamuni are accompanied in it by stupendous miracles culminating in a grand cosmic phantasmagoria in which is evoked the stupa containing the body of a departed Buddha, that is a shrine containing the eternal truth.

3. The Lalita-vistara[133] is a life of Sakyamuni up to the commencement of his mission. Though the setting of the story is miraculous and Buddhas and Bodhisattvas innumerable are freely spoken of, yet the work does not enunciate the characteristic Mahayanist doctrines so definitely as the other treatises here enumerated. It is said to have originally belonged to the school of the Sarvastivadins and to have been subsequently accepted by the Mahayanists, and though it is not an epic but a collection of ballads and legends, yet it often reads as if it were a preliminary study for Asvaghosha's Buddhacarita. It contains Sanskrit versions of old legends, which are almost verbal renderings of the Pali text, but also new material and seems to be conscious of relating novelties which may arouse scepticism for it interrupts the narrative to anathematize those who do not believe in the miracles of the Nativity and to extol the merits of faith (sraddha not bhakti). It is probably coeval with the earlier Gandharan art but there are no facts to fix its date.[134]

4. The Lankavatara[135] gives an account of the revelation of the good Law by Sakyamuni when visiting Lanka. It is presumably subsequent to the period when Ceylon had become a centre of Buddhism, but the story is pure fancy and unconnected with history or with older legends. It relates how the Buddha alighted on Mt. Malaya in Lanka. Ravana came to pay his respects and asked for definitions of virtue and vice which were given. The Bodhisattva Mahamati (apparently Manjusri) proceeded to propound a series of more abstruse questions which are answered at considerable length. The Lankavatara represents a mature phase of speculation and not only criticizes the Sankhya, Pasupata and other Hindu schools, but is conscious of the growing resemblance of Mahayanism to Brahmanic philosophy and tries to explain it. It contains a prophecy about Nagarjuna and another which mentions the Guptas, and it appears to allude to the domination of the Huns. This allusion would make its date as late as the sixth century but a translation into Chinese which is said to correspond with the Sanskrit text was made in 513. If so the barbarians referred to cannot be the Huns. An earlier translation made in 443 does not agree with our Sanskrit text and perhaps the work existed in several recensions.

5. The Suvarna-prabhasa or Glitter of Gold[136] is a Vaipulya sutra in many ways resembling the Lotus. It insists on the supernatural character of the Buddha. He was never really born nor entered into Nirvana but is the Dharma-kaya. The scene is laid at Rajagriha and many Brahmanic deities are among the interlocutors. It was translated into Chinese about 420 A.D. and fragments of a translation into Uigur have been discovered in Turkestan.[137] The contents comprise philosophy, legends and spells.

6. Ganda-vyuha[138] or the Structure of the World, which is compared to a bubble. The name is not found in the catalogue of the Chinese Tripitaka but the work is said to be the same as the Avatamsaka sutra which is popular in the Far East under the name of Hua-yen in China or Ke-gon in Japan. The identity of the two books could not have been guessed from the extracts and analyses which have been published but is guaranteed by high authorities.[139] It is possible however that the Ganda-vyuha is only a portion of the larger work called Avatamsaka. So far as can be judged from the extracts, this text preaches in a fully developed form, the doctrines of Sunyata, Dharma-kaya, the omnipresence of the Buddha and the redemption of the world by the exertions of Bodhisattvas. Yet it seems to be early, for a portion of it was translated into Chinese about 170 A.D. (Nanjio, 102) and about 405 Kumarajiva translated a commentary on it ascribed to Nagarjuna (Nanjio, 1180).

7. Tathagata-guhyaka. This work is known by the analysis of Rajendralala Mitra from which it appears to be a Tantra of the worst class and probably late. Its proper title is said to be Sriguhyasamaja. Watanabe states that the work catalogued by Nanjio under No. 1027 and translated into Chinese about 1000 A.D. is an expurgated version of it. The Sikshasamuccaya cites the Tathagata-guhya-sutra several times. The relations of these works to one another are not quite clear.

8. Samadhiraja[140] is a Vyakarana or narrative describing different forms of meditation of which the Samadhiraja is the greatest and best. The scene is laid on the Vulture's Peak and the principal interlocutors are Sakyamuni and Candraprabha, a rich man of Rajagriha. It appears to be the same as the Candrapradipa-sutra and is a complete and copious treatise, which not only expounds the topic from which it takes its name but incidentally enumerates the chief principles of Mahayanism. Watanabe[141] states that it is the Yueeh-teng-san-mei-ching (Nanjio, 191) translated about 450 and again in 557 A.D.

9. Dasabhumisvara.[142] An account of the ten stages in the career of a Bodhisattva before he can attain to Buddhahood. The scene is laid in the paradise of Indra where Sakyamuni was temporarily sojourning and the principal interlocutor is a Bodhisattva named Vajragarbha. It is said to be the same as the Dasabhumika-sutra first translated into Chinese about 300 A.D. (Nanjio, 105 and 110) but this work appears to be merely a portion of the Ganda-vyuha or Avatamsaka mentioned above.

These nine works are all extant in Sanskrit and are known in Nepal as the nine Dharmas, the word Dharma being an abbreviation for Dharmaparyaya, revolution or exposition of the law, a term frequently used in the works themselves to describe a comprehensive discourse delivered by the Buddha. They are all quoted in the Sikshasamuccaya, supposed to have been written about 650 A.D. No similar collection of nine seems to be known in Tibet or the Far East and the origin of the selection is obscure. As however the list does not include the Svayambhu Purana, the principal indigenous scripture of Nepal, it may go back to an Indian source and represent an old tradition.

Besides the nine Dharmas, numerous other sutras exist in Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan and the languages of Central Asia. Few have been edited or translated and even when something is known of their character detailed information as to their contents is usually wanting. Among the better known are the following.

10. One of the sutras most read in China and admired because its style has a literary quality unusual in Buddhist works is commonly known as the Leng-yen-ching. The full title is Shou-leng-yen-san-mei-ching which is the Chinese transliteration of Surangama Samadhi.[143] This sutra is quoted by name in the Sikshasamuccaya and fragments of the Sanskrit text have been found in Turkestan.[144] The Surangama-Samadhi Sutra has been conjectured to be the same as the Samadhiraja, but the accounts of Rajendralala Mitra and Beal do not support this theory. Beal's translation leaves the impression that it resembles a Pali sutta. The scene is laid in the Jetavana with few miraculous accessories. The Buddha discusses with Ananda the location of the soul and after confuting his theories expounds the doctrine of the Dharma-kaya. The fragments found in Turkestan recommend a particular form of meditation.

11. Taranatha informs us that among the many Mahayanist works which appeared in the reign of Kanishka's son was the Ratnakuta-dharma-paryaya in 1000 sections and the Ratnakuta is cited not only by the Sikshasamuccaya but by Asanga.[145] The Tibetan and Chinese canons contain sections with this name comprising forty-eight or forty-nine items among which are the three important treatises about Amitabha's paradise and many dialogues called Paripriccha, that is, questions put by some personage, human or superhuman, and furnished with appropriate replies.[146] The Chinese Ratnakuta is said to have been compiled by Bodhiruchi (693-713 A.D.) but of course he is responsible only for the selection not for the composition of the works included. Section 14 of this Ratnakuta is said to be identical with chapters 11 and 12 of the Mulasarvastivadin Vinaya.[147]

12. The Guna-karanda-vyuha and Karanda-vyuha are said to be two recensions of the same work, the first in verse the second in prose. Both are devoted to the praise of Avalokita who is represented as the presiding deity of the universe. He has refused to enter Buddhahood himself until all living creatures attain to true knowledge and is specially occupied in procuring the release of those who suffer in hell. The Guna-karanda-vyuha contains a remarkable account of the origin of the world which is said to be absent from the prose version. The primeval Buddha spirit, Adi-Buddha or Svayambhu, produces Avalokita by meditation, and Avalokita produces the material world and the gods of Hinduism from his body, Siva from his forehead, Narayana from his heart and so on. As such doctrines are not known to have appeared in Indian Buddhism before the tenth century it seems probable that the versified edition is late. But a work with the title Ratna-karandaka-vyuha-sutra was translated into Chinese in 270 and the Karanda-vyuha is said to have been the first work translated into Tibetan.[148]

13. The Karunaa-pundarika[149] or Lotus of Compassion is mainly occupied with the description of an imaginary continent called Padmadhatu, its Buddha and its many splendours. It exists in Sanskrit and was translated into Chinese about 400 A.D. (Nanjio, No. 142).

14. The Mahavairocanabhisambhodhi called in Chinese Ta-jih-ching or Great Sun sutra should perhaps be mentioned as it is the principal scripture of the Chen-yen (Japanese Shingon) school. It is a late work of unknown origin. It was translated into Chinese in 724 A.D. but the Sanskrit text has not been found.

There are a great number of other sutras which are important for the history of literature, although little attention is paid to them by Buddhists at the present day. Such are the Mahayanist version of the Mahaparinirvana recounting the death and burial of the Buddha and the Mahasannipata-sutra, which apparently includes the Suryagarbha and Candragarbha sutras. All these works were translated into Chinese about 420 A.D. and must therefore be of respectable antiquity.

Besides the sutras, there are many compositions styled Avadanas or pious legends.[150] These, though recognized by Mahayanists, do not as a rule contain expositions of the Sunyata and Dharma-kaya and are not sharply distinguished from the more imaginative of the Hinayanist scriptures.[151] But they introduce a multiplicity of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and represent Sakyamuni as a superhuman worker of miracles.

They correspond in many respects to the Pali Vinaya but teach right conduct not so much by precept as by edifying stories and, like most Mahayanist works they lay less stress upon monastic discipline than on unselfish virtue exercised throughout successive existences. There are a dozen or more collections of Avadanas of which the most important are the Mahavastu and the Divyavadana. The former[152] is an encyclopaedic work which contains inter alia a life of Sakyamuni. It describes itself as belonging to the Lokottaravadins, a section of the Aryamaha-sanghikas. The Lokottaravadins were an ancient sect, precursors of the Mahayana rather than a branch of it, and much of the Mahavastu is parallel to the Pali Canon and may have been composed a century or two before our era. But other parts seem to belong to the Gandharan period and the mention of Chinese and Hunnish writing points to a much later date.[153] If it was originally a Vinaya treatise, it has been distended out of all recognition by the addition of legends and anecdotes but it still retains a certain amount of matter found also in the Pali and Tibetan Vinayas. There were probably several recensions in which successive additions were made to the original nucleus. One interpolation is the lengthy and important section called Dasabhumika, describing the career of a Bodhisattva. It is the only part of the Mahavastu which can be called definitely Mahayanist. The rest of the work marks a transitional stage in doctrine, just as its language is neither Prakrit or Sanskrit but some ancient vernacular brought into partial conformity with Sanskrit grammar. No Chinese translation is known.

The Divyavadana[154] is a collection of legends, part of which is known as the Asokavadana and gives an edifying life of that pious monarch. This portion was translated into Chinese A.D. 317-420 and the work probably dates from the third century of our era. It is loosely constructed: considerable portions of it seem to be identical with the Vinaya of the Sarvastivadins and others with passages in the works of Asvaghosha.

The Avadanas lie on the borderland between scripture and pious literature which uses human argument and refers to scripture for its authority. Of this literature the Mahayanist church has a goodly collection and the works ascribed to such doctors as Asvaghosha, Nagarjuna, Asanga and Vasubandhu hold a high place in general esteem. The Chinese Canon places many of them in the Pitakas (especially in the Abhidharma Pitaka) and not among the works of miscellaneous writers.

The Mahayanist scriptures are still a living force. In Nepal the nine Dharmas receive superstitious homage rather than intelligent study, but in Tibet and the Far East the Prajna-paramita, the Lotus and the sutras about Amitabha are in daily use for public worship and private reading. I have heard the first-named work as well as the Leng-yen-ching expounded, that is, read aloud with an extempore paraphrase, to lay congregations in China, and the section of it called the Diamond Cutter is the book which is most commonly in the hands of religious Tibetans. The Lotus is the special scripture of the Nichiren sect in Japan but is universally respected. The twenty-fourth chapter which contains the praises of Avalokita is often printed separately. The Amitabha sutras take the place of the New Testament for the Jodo and Shin sects and copies of them may also be found in almost every monastery throughout China and Annam. The Suvarna-prabhasa is said to be specially popular among the Mongols. I know Chinese Buddhists who read the Hua-yen (Avatamsaka) every day. Modern Japanese writers quote frequently from the Lankavatara and Kasyapa-parivarta but I have not met with any instance of these works being in popular use.

I have mentioned already the obscurity surrounding the history of the Mahayanist Canon in India and it may seem to throw doubt on the authenticity of these scriptures. Unauthentic they certainly are in the sense that European criticism is not likely to accept as historical the discourses which they attribute to the Buddha and others, but there is no reason to doubt that they are treatises composed in India early in our era and representing the doctrines then prevalent. The religious public of India has never felt any difficulty in accepting works of merit—and often only very moderate merit—as revelations, whether called Upanishads, Puranas, Sutras or what not. Only rarely have such works received any formal approbation, such as recognition by a council. Indeed it is rather in Ceylon, Burma, Tibet and China than in India itself that authoritative lists of scriptures have been compiled. The natural instinct of the Hindus was not to close the Canon but to leave it open for any additions which might be vouchsafed.

Two sketches of an elastic Mahayanist Canon of this kind are preserved, one in the Sikshasamuccaya[155] attributed to Santideva, who probably flourished in the seventh century, and the other in a little work called the Duration of the Law, reporting a discourse by an otherwise unknown Nandimitra, said to have lived in Ceylon 800 years after the Buddha's death.[156] The former is a compendium of doctrine illustrated by quotations from what the author regarded as scripture. He cites about a hundred Mahayanist sutras, refers to the Vinaya and Divyavadana but not apparently to the Abhidharma. He mentions no Tantras[157] and not many Dharanis.

The second work was translated by Hsuean Chuang and was therefore probably written before 600 A.D.[158] Otherwise there is no external evidence for fixing its date. It represents Nandimitra as explaining on his deathbed the steps taken by the Buddha to protect the True Law and in what works that Law is to be found. Like the Chinese Tripitaka it recognizes both Mahayanist and Hinayanist works, but evidently prefers the former and styles them collectively Bodhisattva-Pitaka. It enumerates about fifty sutras by name, beginning with the Prajna-paramita, the Lotus and other well-known texts. Then comes a list of works with titles ending in Samadhi, followed by others called Paripriccha[159] or questions. A new category seems to be formed by the Buddhavatamsaka-sutra with which the sutras about Amitabha's Paradise are associated. Then comes the Mahasannipata-sutra associated with works which may correspond to the Ratnakuta division of the Chinese Canon.[160] The writer adds that there are "hundreds of myriads of similar sutras classified in groups and categories." He mentions the Vinaya and Abhidharma without further particulars, whereas in describing the Hinayanist versions of these two Pitakas he gives many details.

The importance of this list lies in the fact that it is Indian rather than in its date, for the earliest catalogue of the Chinese Tripitaka compiled about[161] 510 is perhaps older and certainly ampler. But if the catalogue stood alone, it might be hard to say how far the selection of works in it was due to Chinese taste. But taking the Indian and Chinese evidence together, it is clear that in the sixth century Indian Mahayanists (a) tolerated Hinayanist scriptures while preferring their own, (b) made little use of the Vinaya or Abhidharma for argument or edification, though the former was very important as a code, (c) recognized extremely numerous sutras, grouped in various classes such as Mahasannipata and Buddhavatamsaka, (d) and did not use works called Tantras. Probably much the same is true of the fourth century and even earlier, for Asanga in one work[162] quotes both Maha-and Hinayanist scriptures and among the former cites by name seventeen sutras, including one called Paripriccha or questions.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 119: In the Mahayana-sutralankara he quotes frequently from the Samyukta and Ekottara Agamas, corresponding to the Samyutta and Anguttara Nikayas of the Pali.]

[Footnote 120: A reading Vaitulya has also been found in some manuscripts of the Lotus discovered at Kashgar and it is suggested that the word may refer to the sect of Vetullas or Vetulyakas mentioned in the Commentary on the Kathavatthu as holding that the Buddha really remained in the Tushita heaven and sent a phantom to represent him in the world and that it was Ananda, not the Buddha, who preached the law. See Kern, Vers. en Med. der K. Ak. v. Wetenschappen, Letterk., R. 4 D. VIII. pp. 312-9, Amsterdam, 1907, and De la Vallee Poussin's notice of this article in J.R.A.S. 1907, pp. 434-6. But this interpretation does not seem very probable.]

[Footnote 121: IV. 160. 5.]

[Footnote 122: See Cullavagga, V. 33. The meaning evidently is that the Buddha's words are not to be enshrined in an artificial literary form which will prevent them from being popular.]

[Footnote 123: Sutralankara, I. 2.]

[Footnote 124: See Waddell, "The Dharani cult" in Ostasiat. Ztsft. 1912, pp. 155 ff.]

[Footnote 125: Chap. XXI, which is however a later addition.]

[Footnote 126: Dig. Nik. 32.]

[Footnote 127: Watters, Yuean Chwang, II. p. 160.]

[Footnote 128: The Mahavyutpatti (65) gives a list of 105 sutras.]

[Footnote 129: The word param-ita means as an adjective gone to the further shore or transcendent. As a feminine substantive it means a transcendent virtue or perfection.]

[Footnote 130: See Walleser, Prajna-paramita in Quellen der Religionsgeschichte, pp. 15 ff. S.B.E. XLIX. Nanjio, Catalogue Nos. 1-20 and Rajendralala Mitra's Nepalese Buddhist Literature, pp. 177 ff. Versions are mentioned consisting of 125,000 verses, 100,000 verses, 25,000 verses, 10,000 verses and 8,000 verses respectively. (Similarly at the beginning of the Mahabharata we are told that the Epic consists of 8,800 verses, of 24,000 and of 100,000.) Of these the last or Ashtasahasrika has been published in the Bibliotheca Indica and the second or Satasahasrika is in process of publication. It is in prose, so that the expression "verses" appears not to mean that the works are Gathas. A Khotanese version of the Vajracchedika is edited in Hoernle's Manuscript Remains by Sten Konow. The Sanskrit text was edited by Max Mueller in Anecdota Oxoniensia.]

[Footnote 131: The Sanskrit text has been edited by Kern and Nanjio in Bibliotheca Buddhica; translated by Burnouf (Le Lotus de la bonne Loi), 1852 and by Kern (Saddharma-Pundarika) in S.B.E. vol. XXI.]

[Footnote 132: There appears to have been an earlier Chinese version of 255 A.D. but it has been lost. See Nanjio, p. 390. One of the later Chinese versions alludes to the existence of two recensions (Nanjio, No. 139). See B.E.F.E.O. 1911, p. 453. Fragments of a shorter and apparently earlier recension of the Lotus have been discovered in E. Turkestan. See J.R.A.S. 1916, pp. 269-277.]

[Footnote 133: Edited by Rajendralala Mitra in the Bibliotheca Indica and partially translated in the same series. A later critical edition by Lefmann, 1902-8.]

[Footnote 134: The early Chinese translations seem doubtful. One said to have been made under the later Han has been lost. See Nanjio, No. 159.]

[Footnote 135: See Burnouf, Introduction, pp. 458 ff. and J.R.A.S. 1905, pp. 831 ff. Rajendralala Mitra, Nepalese Buddhist Literature, p. 113. A brief analysis is given in J.A.S.B. June, 1905 according to which the sutra professes to be the work of a human author, Jina of the clan of Katyayana born at Campa. An edition of the Sanskrit text published by the Buddhist Text Society is cited but I have not seen it. Chinese translations were made in 443 and 515 but the first is incomplete and does not correspond with our Sanskrit text.]

[Footnote 136: Abstract by Rajendralala Mitra, Nepalese Buddhist Lit. p. 241.]

[Footnote 137: See Nanjio, No. 127 and F.W.K. Muller in Abhandl. der K. Preuss. Akad. der Wissenschaften, 1908. The Uigur text is published in Bibliotheca Buddhica, 1914. Fragments of the Sanskrit text have also been found in Turkestan.]

[Footnote 138: Abstract by Raj. Mitra, Nepalese Buddhist Lit. pp. 90 ff. The Sikshasamuccaya cites the Ganda-vyuha several times and does not mention the Avatamsaka.]

[Footnote 139: The statement was first made on the authority of Takakusu quoted by Winternitz in Ges. Ind. Lit. II. i. p. 242. Watanabe in J.R.A.S. 1911, 663 makes an equally definite statement as to the identity of the two works. The identity is confirmed by Pelliot in J.A. 1914, II. pp. 118-121.]

[Footnote 140: Abstract by Raj. Mitra, Nepalese Buddhist Lit. pp. 81 ff. Quoted in Santideva's Bodhicaryavatara, VIII. 106.]

[Footnote 141: See J.R.A.S. 1911, 663.]

[Footnote 142: Abstract by Raj. Mitra, Nepalese Buddhist Lit. pp. 81 ff.]

[Footnote 143: Translated in part by Beal, Catena of Buddhist Scriptures, pp. 286-369. See also Teitaro Suzuki, Outlines of Mahayana, p. 157. For notices of the text see Nanjio, Nos. 399, 446, 1588. Fa-Hsien, Chap. XXIX. For the equivalence of Shou-leng-yen and Surangama see Nanjio's note to No. 399 and Julien, Methode, 1007 and Vasilief, p. 175.]

[Footnote 144: See Sikshas, ed. Bendall, pp. 8,91 and Hoernle, Manuscript remains, I. pp. 125 ff.]

[Footnote 145: Mahayana-sutralankara, XIX. 29.]

[Footnote 146: E.g. the Rashtra-pala-paripriccha edited in Sanskrit by Finot, Biblioth. Buddhica, 1901. The Sanskrit text seems to agree with the Chinese version. The real number of sutras in the Ratnakuta seems to be 48, two being practically the same but represented as uttered on different occasions.]

[Footnote 147: There is another somewhat similar collection of sutras in the Chinese Canon called Ta Tsi or Mahasannipata but unlike the Ratnakuta it seems to contain few well-known or popular works.]

[Footnote 148: I know of these works only by Raj. Mitra's abstracts, Nepal. Bud. Lit. pp. 95 and 101. The prose text is said to have been published in Sanskrit at Calcutta, 1873.]

[Footnote 149: Raj. Mitra, Nepalese Buddhist Lit. pp. 285 ff. The Sanskrit text was published for the Buddhist Text Society, Calcutta, 1898.]

[Footnote 150: Avadana is primarily a great and glorious act: hence an account of such an act.]

[Footnote 151: The Avadana-sataka (Feer, Annales du Musee Guimet, XVIII) seems to be entirely Hinayanist.]

[Footnote 152: Edited by Senart, 3 vols. 1882-1897. Windisch, Die Komposition des Mahavastu, 1909. Article "Mahavastu" in E.R.E.]

[Footnote 153: So too do the words Horapathaka (astrologer), Ujjhebhaka (? Uzbek), Peliyaksha (? Felix). The word Yogacara (I. 120) may refer simply to the practice of Yoga and not to the school which bore this name.]

[Footnote 154: Edited by Cowell and Neil, 1886. See Nanjio, 1344.]

[Footnote 155: Edited by Bendall in Bibl. Buddhica.]

[Footnote 156: Nanjio, No. 1466. For a learned discussion of this work see Levi and Chavannes in J.A. 1916, Nos. I and II.]

[Footnote 157: It is not likely that the Tathagata-guhya-sutra which it quotes is the same as the Tantra with a similar name analysed by Rajendralal Mitra.]

[Footnote 158: Watters, J.R.A.S. 1898, p. 331 says there seems to have been an earlier translation.]

[Footnote 159: Many works with this title will be found in Nanjio.]

[Footnote 160: But the Chinese title seems rather to represent Ratnarasi.]

[Footnote 161: See Nanjio, pp. xiii-xvii.]

[Footnote 162: Mahayana-sutralankara. See Levi's introduction, p. 14. The "Questions" sutra is Brahma-paripriccha.]



CHAPTER XXI

CHRONOLOGY OF THE MAHAYANA

In the previous chapters I have enumerated some features of Mahayanism, such as the worship of Bodhisattvas leading to mythology, the deification of Buddhas, entailing a theology as complicated as the Christian creeds, the combination of metaphysics with religion, and the rise of new scriptures consecrating all these innovations. I will now essay the more difficult task of arranging these phenomena in some sort of chronological setting.

The voluminous Chinese literature concerning Buddhism offers valuable assistance, for the Chinese, unlike the Hindus, have a natural disposition to write simple narratives recording facts and dates. But they are diarists and chroniclers rather than historians. The Chinese pilgrims to India give a good account of their itinerary and experiences, but they have little idea of investigating and arranging past events and merely recount traditions connected with the places which they visited. In spite of this their statements have considerable historical value and on the whole harmonize with the literary and archaelogical data furnished by India.

The Tibetan Lama Taranatha who completed his History of Indian Buddhism[163] in 1608 is a less satisfactory authority. He merits attention but also scepticism and caution. His work is a compilation but is not to be despised on that ground, for the Tibetan translations of Sanskrit works offer a rich mine of information about the history of the Mahayana. Unfortunately few of these works take the historical point of view and Taranatha's own method is as uncritical as his materials. Dire confusion prevails as to chronology and even as to names,[164] so that the work is almost useless as a connected account, though it contains many interesting details.

Two epochs are of special importance for the development of later Indian Buddhism, that of Kanishka and that of Vasubandhu and his brother Asanga. The reader may expect me to discuss at length the date of Kanishka's accession, but I do not propose to do so for it may be hoped that in the next few years archaelogical research in India or Central Asia will fix the chronology of the Kushans and meanwhile it is waste of time to argue about probabilities or at any rate it can be done profitably only in special articles. At present the majority of scholars place his accession at about 78 A.D., others put it back to 58 B.C. and arrange the Kushan kings in a different order,[165] while still others[166] think that he did not come to the throne until the second century was well advanced. The evidence of art, particularly of numismatics, indicates that Kanishka reigned towards the end of his dynasty rather than at the beginning, but the use of Greek on his coins and his traditional connection with the beginnings of the Mahayana are arguments against a very late date. If the date 78 A.D. is accepted, the conversion of the Yueeh-chih to Buddhism and its diffusion in Central Asia cannot have been the work of Kanishka, for Buddhism began to reach China by land about the time of the Christian era.[167] There is however no reason to assume that they were his work. Kanishka, like Constantine, probably favoured a winning cause, and Buddhism may have been gradually making its way among the Kushans and their neighbours for a couple of centuries before his time. In any case, however important his reign may have been for the Buddhist Church, I do not think that the history of the Mahayana should be made to depend on his date. Chinese translations, supported by other evidence, indicate that the Mahayanist movement had begun about the time of our era. If it is proved that Kanishka lived considerably later, we should not argue that Mahayanism is later than was supposed but rather that his relation towards it has been misunderstood.[168]

The date of Vasubandhu has also been much discussed and scholars have generally placed him in the fourth or fifth century but Peri[169] appears to have proved that he lived from about 280 to 360 A.D. and I shall adopt this view. This chronology makes a reasonable setting for the development of Buddhism. If Kanishka reigned from about 78 to 123 A.D. or even later, there is no difficulty in supposing that Asvaghosha flourished in his reign and was followed by Nagarjuna. The collapse of the Kushan Empire was probably accompanied by raids from Iranian tribes, for Persian influence appears to have been strong in India during the confused interval between the Kushans and Guptas (225-320). The latter inaugurated the revival of Hinduism but still showed favour to individual Buddhists, and we know from Fa-Hsien that Buddhism was fairly flourishing during his visit to India (399-415). There is nothing improbable in supposing that Vasubandhu, who is stated to have lived at Court, was patronized by the early Guptas. The blank in Buddhist history which follows his career can be explained first by the progress of Hinduism at the expense of Buddhism and secondly by the invasions of the Huns. The Chinese pilgrim Sung-Yuen has left us an account of India in this distressful period and for the seventh century the works of Hsuean Chuang and I-Ching give copious information.

In investigating the beginnings of the Mahayana we may start from the epoch of Asoka, who is regarded by tradition as the patron and consolidator of the Hinayanist Church. And the tradition seems on the whole correct: the united evidence of texts and inscriptions goes to show that the Buddhists of Asoka's time held the chief doctrines subsequently professed by the Sinhalese Church and did not hold the other set of doctrines known as Mahayanist. That these latter are posterior in time is practically admitted by the books that teach them, for they are constantly described as the crown and completion of a progressive revelation. Thus the Lotus[170] illustrates the evolution of doctrine by a story which curiously resembles the parable of the prodigal son except that the returned penitent does not recognize his father, who proceeds to reveal gradually his name and position, keeping back the full truth to the last. Similarly it is held in the Far East that there were five periods in Sakyamuni's teaching which after passing through the stage of the Hinayana culminated in the Prajna-paramita and Amitabha sutras shortly before his death. Such statements admit the historical priority of the Hinayana: it is rudimentary (that is early) truth which needs completion and expansion. Many critics demur to the assumption that primitive Buddhism was a system of ethics purged of superstition and mythology. And in a way they are right. Could we get hold of a primitive Buddhist, we should probably find that miracles, magic, and superhuman beings played a large part in his mind and that the Buddha did not appear to him as what we call a human teacher. In that sense the germs of the Mahayana existed in the life-time of Gotama. But the difference between early and later Buddhism lies in this, that the deities who surround the Buddha in the Pali Pitakas are mere accessories: his teaching would not be affected if they were all removed. But the Bodhisattvas in the Lotus or the Sutra of the Happy Land have a doctrinal significance.

Though in India old ideas persist with unusual vitality, still even there they can live only if they either develop or gather round them new accretions. As one of the religions of India, Buddhism was sensitive to the general movement of Indian thought, or rather it was a part of that movement. We see as clearly in Buddhist as in non-Buddhist India that there was a tendency to construct philosophic systems and another tendency to create deities satisfying to the emotions as well as to the intellect and yet another tendency to compose new scriptures. But apart from this parallel development, it becomes clear after the Christian era that Buddhism is becoming surrounded by Hinduism. The influence is not indeed one-sided: there is interdependence and interpenetration but the net result is that the general Indian features of each religious period overpower the specially Buddhist features and in the end we find that while Hinduism has only been profoundly modified Buddhism has vanished.

If we examine the Pali Pitakas, including the heresies mentioned in the Kathavatthu, we find that they contain the germs of many Mahayanist ideas. Thus side by side with the human portrait of the Buddha there is the doctrine that he is one in a series of supernatural teachers, each with the same life-history, and this life is connected with the whole course of nature, as is shown by the sympathetic earthquakes which mark its crises. His birth is supernatural and had he willed it he could have lived until the end of the present Kalpa.[171] So, too, the nature of a Buddha when he is released from form, that is after death, is deep and unfathomable as the ocean.[172] The Kathavatthu condemns the ideas (thus showing that they existed) that Buddhas are born in all quarters of the universe, that the Buddha was superhuman in the ordinary affairs of life, that he was not really born in the world of men and that he did not preach the Law himself. These last two heresies are attributed by the commentary to the Vetulyakas who are said to have believed that he remained in the Tushita heaven and sent a phantom to preach on earth. Here we have the rudiments of the doctrine afterwards systematized under the name of the three bodies of Buddha. Similarly though Nirvana is regarded as primarily an ethical state, the Pali Canon contains the expression Nirvanadhatu and the idea[173] that Nirvana is a sphere or realm (ayatanam) which transcends the transitory world and in which such antitheses are coming and going, birth and death, cease to exist. This foreshadows the doctrine of Bhuta-tathata and we seem to hear a prelude to the dialectic of Nagarjuna when the Kathavatthu discusses whether Sunnata or the void is predicable of the Skandhas and when it condemns the views that anything now existing existed in the past: and that knowledge of the present is possible (whereas the moment anything is known it is really past). The Kathavatthu also condemns the proposition that a Bodhisattva can be reborn in realms of woe or fall into error, and this proposition hints that the career of a Bodhisattva was considered of general interest.

The Mahayana grows out of the Hinayana and in many respects the Hinayana passes into it and is preserved unchanged. It is true that in reading the Lotus we wonder how this marvellous cosmic vision can represent itself as the teaching of Gotama, but the Buddhacarita of Asvaghosha, though embellished with literary mythology, hardly advances in doctrine beyond the Pali sutras describing the marvels of the Buddha's nativity[174] and the greater part of Nagarjuna's Friendly Epistle, which purports to contain an epitome of the faith, is in phraseology as well as thought perfectly in harmony with the Pali Canon. Whence comes this difference of tone in works accepted by the same school? One difficulty of the historian who essays to account for the later phases of Buddhism is to apportion duly the influence of Indian and foreign elements. On the one hand, the Mahayana, whether we call it a development or perversion, is a product of Indian thought. To explain its trinities, its saviours, its doctrine of self sacrifice it is not necessary to seek abroad. New schools, anxious to claim continuity and antiquity, gladly retained as much of the old doctrine as they could. But on the other hand, Indian Buddhism came into contact with foreign, especially Iranian, ideas and undoubtedly assimilated some of them. From time to time I have drawn attention to such cases in this work, but as a rule the foreign ideas are so thoroughly mastered and indianized that they cease to be obvious. They merely open up to Indian thought a new path wherein it can move in its own way.

In the period following Asoka's death Buddhism suffered a temporary eclipse. Pushyamitra who in 184 B.C. overthrew the Mauryas and established the Sunga dynasty was a patron of the Brahmans. Taranatha describes him[175] as a ferocious persecutor, and the Divyavadana supports the story. But the persecution, if it really occurred, was probably local and did not seriously check the spread of Buddhism, which before the time of Kanishka had extended northwards to Bactria and Kashmir. The latter territory became the special home of the Sarvastivadins. It was in the reign of Pushyamitra that the Graeco-Bactrian king Menander or Milinda invaded India (155-3 B.C.) and there were many other invasions and settlements of tribes coming from the north-west and variously described as Sakas, Pahlavas, Parthians and Yavanas, culminating in the conquests of the Kushans. The whole period was disturbed and confused but some general statements can be made with considerable confidence.

From about 300 B.C. to 100 A.D. we find inscriptions, buildings and statues testifying to the piety of Buddhist and Jain donors but hardly any indications of a similar liberality to Brahmans. In the second and third centuries A.D. grants of land to Brahmans and their temples begin to be recorded and in the fourth century (that is with the rise of the Gupta Dynasty) such grants become frequent. These facts can hardly be interpreted otherwise than as meaning that from 300 B.C. to 100 A.D. the upper classes of India favoured Buddhism and Jainism and did not favour the Brahmans in the same way or to the same extent. But it must be remembered that the religion of the Brahmans continued throughout this period and produced a copious literature, and also that the absence of works of art may be due to the fact that their worship was performed in sacrificial enclosures and that they had not yet begun to use temples and statues. After the first century A.D. we have first a gradual and then a rapid rise in Brahmanic influence. Inscriptions as well as books indicate that a linguistic change occurred in the same period. At first popular dialects were regarded as sufficiently dignified and current to be the medium for both scripture and official records. Sanskrit remained a thing apart—the peculiar possession of the Brahman literati. Then the popular language was Sanskritized, the rules of Sanskrit grammar being accepted as the standard to which it ought to conform, though perfect conformity was impracticable. In much the same way the modern Greeks try to bring Romaic into line with classical Greek. Finally Sanskrit was recognized as the proper language for literature, government and religion. The earliest inscriptions[176] in correct Sanskrit seem to date from the second century A.D. Further, the invaders who entered India from the north-west favoured Buddhism on the whole. Coins indicate that some of them worshipped Siva[177] but the number and beauty of Buddhist monuments erected under their rule can hardly be interpreted except as a sign of their patronage. And their conversion was natural for they had no strong religious convictions of their own and the Brahmans with their pride of caste shrank from foreigners. But Buddhism had no prejudice of race or class: it was animated by a missionary spirit and it was probably the stronger creed at this period. It not only met the invaders on their entry into India but it sent missionaries to them in Bactria and Afghanistan, so that to some extent they brought Buddhism with them. But it was a Buddhism combined with the most varied elements. Hellenic art and religion had made the figures of Apollo, Herakles and Helios familiar in Bactria, and both Bactria and northern India were in touch with Zoroastrians. The mixed cults of these borderlands readily professed allegiance to the Buddha but, not understanding Indian ideas, simply made him into a deity and having done this were not likely to repudiate other Indian deities. Thus in its outward form the Buddhism of the invaders tended to be a compound of Indian, Greek and Persian ideas in which Sun worship played a large part, for not only Indian myths, but Apollo and Helios and the Persian Mithra all entered into it. Persian influence in art is discernible as early as the architecture of Asoka: in doctrine it has something to do with such figures as Vairocana and Amitabha. Graeco-Roman influence also was powerful in art and through art affected religion. In Asoka's time likenesses of the Buddha were unknown and the adoration of images, if not entirely due to the art of Gandhara, was at least encouraged by it.

But though coins and sculpture bring clearly before us a medley of deities corresponding to a medley of human races, they do not help us much in tracing the growth of thought, phases of which are preserved in a literature sufficiently copious though the record sometimes fails at the points of transition where it would be of most interest. It is natural that sacred books should record accepted results rather than tentative innovations and even disguise the latter. But we can fix a few dates which enable us to judge what shape Buddhism was taking about the time of the Christian era. The Tibetan historian Taranatha is not of much help, for his chronology is most confused, but still he definitely connects the appearance of Mahayanist texts with the reign of Kanishka and the period immediately following it[178] and regards them as a new phenomenon. Greater assistance is furnished by the Chinese translators, whose dates are known with some exactitude. Thus the earliest Buddhist work rendered into Chinese is said to be the sutra of forty-two sections, translated by Kasyapa Matanga in 67 A.D. It consists of extracts or resumes of the Buddha's teaching mostly prefaced by the words "The Buddha said," doubtless in imitation of the Confucian Analects where the introductory formula "The master said" plays a similar part. Its ideas and precepts are Hinayanist:[179] the Arhat is held up as the ideal and in a remarkable passage[180] where the degrees of sanctity are graded and compared no mention is made of Bodhisattvas. This first translation was followed by a long series of others, principally from the Sutra-Pitaka, for very little of the Vinaya was translated before the fifth century. A great number of Hinayanist sutras were translated before 300 A.D. but very few after 450. On the other hand portions of the sutra about Amida's Paradise, of the Prajna-paramita, and of the Avatamsaka were translated about 150 A.D. and translations of the Lotus and Lalita-vistara appeared about 300.

Great caution is necessary in using these data and the circumstances of China as well as of India must be taken into account. If translations of the Vinaya and complete collections of sutras are late in appearing, it does not follow that the corresponding Indian texts are late, for the need of the Vinaya was not felt until monasteries began to spring up. Most of the translations made before the fifth century are extracts and of indifferent workmanship. Some are retained in the Chinese Tripitaka but are superseded by later versions. But however inaccurate and incomplete these older translations may be, if any of them can be identified with a part of an extant Sanskrit work it follows that at least that part of the work and the doctrines contained in it were current in India or Central Asia some time before the translation was made. Applying this principle we may conclude that the Hinayana and Mahayana were flourishing side by side in India and Central Asia in the first century A.D. and that the Happy Land sutras and portions of the Prajna-paramita already existed. From that time onwards Mahayanist literature as represented by Chinese translations steadily increases, and after 400 A.D. Hinayanist literature declines, with two exceptions, the Vinaya and the Abhidharma books of the Sarvastivadins. The Vinaya was evidently regarded as a rule of life independent of theology, but it is remarkable that Hsuean Chuang after his return from India in 645 should have thought it worth while to translate the philosophy of the Sarvastivadins.

Other considerations render this chronology probable. Two conspicuous features of the Mahayana are the worship of Bodhisattvas and idealist philosophy. These are obviously parallel to the worship of Siva and Vishnu, and to the rise of the Vedanta. Now the worship of these deities was probably not prevalent before 300 B.C., for they are almost unknown to the Pali Pitakas, and it was fully developed about the time of the Bhagavad-gita which perhaps assumed its present form a little before the Christian era. Not only is the combination of devotion and metaphysics found in this work similar to the tone of many Mahayanist sutras but the manifestation of Krishna in his divine form is like the transformation scenes of the Lotus.[181] The chief moral principle of the Bhagavad-gita is substantially the same as that prescribed for Bodhisattvas. It teaches that action is superior to inaction, but that action should be wholly disinterested and not directed to any selfish object. This is precisely the attitude of the Bodhisattva who avoids the inaction of those who are engrossed in self-culture as much as the pursuit of wealth or pleasure. Both the Gita and Mahayanist treatises lay stress on faith. He who thinks on Krishna when dying goes to Krishna[182] just as he who thinks on Amitabha goes to the Happy Land and the idea is not unknown to the Pali texts, for it finds complete expression in the story of Matthakundali.[183]

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse