CHAPTER II. DEVELOPMENT OF PRIMITIVE, BUDDHISM INTO MAHĀYĀNA BUDDHISMIN the preceding chapter we tried to give very briefly the circumstances under which Buddhism arose in India as well as a concise statement of what may be regarded as the essence of Gautama's teachings. We showed how Buddhism was a tremendous reduction of Brahmanism. Much of the metaphysical speculations about the Brahman, the One All, and the relation of the individual to it was brushed aside as vain mental gymnastics, for such problems, the Buddha held, were beyond the powers of the human mind. And many of the beliefs regarding spirits, gods, and demons innumerable which filled the world of the common people he denounced as mere ignorance and superstition. So far did he go in his opposition to the views generally held by the masses that in some of his sayings he went to the extreme position of apparently denying the reality of the human self and therefore the possibility of a future personal existence. And his attitude towards speculations on metaphysical problems, especially the problem as to the underlying core of all reality, led him to a position which for all practical purposes was one of atheism, or at least an agnostic position, so that he had little or nothing to say about God.
This is the negative side of the Buddha's teachings. The positive side clusters around the Four Noble Truths and the Middle Way or the Noble Eightfold Path. The essence of the teachings in short is this: Life is essentially pain and sorrow. Pain and sorrow have their roots in ignorance and our passionate cravings and desires. The tap-root, as it were, of all our desires and cravings is the desire for self- expression; yea, the blossom and fruit on the tree of ignorance is the belief in the reality of the (empirical) self. Now it is possible to escape from this life of sorrow and pain - not by being saved into an eternal heaven by the gods, or by an almighty God, but by a slow process of (self-)culture and discipline until one attains enlightenment, in which one sees that all the things of our life are mere shadows and illusions and that our very self (at least the empirical self) has no real existence. This state of enlightenment is attained through obedience to the Middle Way, the Noble Eightfold Path of Right Views, Right Aspirations, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Mode of Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Rapture.
We also said that while these teachings about the nonreality of the self and the practical denial of the existence of God were the logical conclusion of Gautama's main position and the truth as held by the Buddhist philosopher, they were never held in that extreme form by the general run of Buddhist believers, and these never gave up entirely the belief in the existence of God, or the gods, and the belief in the reality of the self and a future personal existence.
Now in this chapter we wish to trace very briefly the spread of Buddhism into the neighboring countries and its development into what is known as Mahāyāna Buddhism, which, as we shall see as we go on, is often radically different from Gautama's teachings in its attitude to even the cardinal elements of religion.
A. The Buddhism of Asoka's Day
When the founder of Buddhism died, about the year 480 B.C., the new religion had already won for itself a real place in India's life. It was apparently popular with all classes of society, and the Buddha was in favor with high and low, even kings and noblemen delighting to do him honor and helping further his cause. Just how far the new religion spread during the lifetime of its founder it would be difficult to say. It would seem, however, that the region between the Ganges and the Himālayas, with Patna and Allahabad as the eastern and western limits, is the general field of its early activities.
It must not, however, be supposed that all was plain sailing in the early Buddhist community. Not only were the Brahmins beginning to show active opposition to the new faith, but there were also fightings within the Buddhist ranks. We have already spoken of Devadatta's rebellion during the lifetime of the Buddha. Immediately after the founder's death we hear of the monk Subhadra addressing the grieving disciples with the rebellious words: "Brethren, quit your wailing and mourning. We are fortunate in being free of the great ascetic. He worried us with his saying, 'this is proper and that is not proper.' Now we shall do what we please and whatever does not suit us we shall not do." These words show that the seeds of discord had long been sown and that they would soon spring up and bear fruit. It is not surprising, therefore, to read that when, soon after the founder's death, the first great council of the Buddha's disciples was held at Rajagriha, at which a part of the early canon was fixed (probably a part of the Vinaya and Sūtra pitakas), there were many monks (500 according to one tradition), headed by Purāna, who did not accept the findings of the official body and so held a council of their own. And at a second great council, held at Vaisālī about one hundred years after the first council, we find that Buddhism is already beginning to be hopelessly divided, there being some eighteen or twenty different schools.
With these divisions in the ranks of Buddhism it is not strange that the new religion found it difficult to cope with Brahmanism, which under the stimulus provided by the heretical teachings of the day was showing signs of new life. Then in addition to this a great calamity from the outside befell the home of Buddhism. Northern and central India was overrun by the armies of Alexander the Great; and with war and rumors of war Buddhism found itself more and more circumscribed. Obviously a religion which made all self-expression wrong and regarded even the killing of an insect as an accumulation of evil Karma, would not be very well fitted to help resist the foreign invader. It is true that Alexander's hold on India was not strong and did not last long, for after his death Chandragupta, founder of the Mauryan dynasty, established a strong kingdom of his own, one which also included the kingdom of Magadha, the geographical center of early Buddhism. The significance for Buddhism of the founding of the new kingdom under Chandragupta was the fact that Chandragupta's grandson, King Asoka (i.e. Asoka Priyadarsin, to be distinguished from the King Asoka who lived about a century earlier, known as Kalasoka or the Black Asoka), was a great patron of Buddhism. He is sometimes called the Constantine of Buddhism.
During Asoka's reign, which extended probably over the middle decades of the third century B.C., Buddhism may be said to have been changed from a local cult to a real worldreligion. Asoka had waded through blood to his throne, and then he spent the remainder of his life in spreading a religion of retirement, mercy, and peace. Fortunately for the historian King Asoka carved his imperial edicts upon pillars of stone which are being found to-day all over what was once his extensive kingdom. On at least three different stones and in different parts of India were found the names of five Greek kings written in two different alphabets. These five kings are: Antiochus Theos, who reigned at Antioch from B.C. 262-247; Ptolemy Philadelphus, who reigned at Alexandria from B.C. 285-247; Antigonus Gonatas of Macedon, who reigned from B.C. 287-239; Magas of Cyrene, B.C. 308-258; and Alexander of Epirus, B.C. 272-219. From these inscriptions on Asoka's stone pillars we can fix fairly accurately the date of this royal patron of Buddhism, and his date becomes one of the very few guideposts for a study of the beginnings of this religion. Now during the eighteenth year of Asoka's reign (probably about the year 245 B.C.) he called a great religious council at Pātaliputra. The object of this council was apparently to purify the Buddhist order. Many abuses and great laxity had crept in. In fact, it would seem that for seven years the ordinary confessional had been entirely neglected by the monks, and many called themselves Buddhists who knew little or nothing of the master's teachings. Tradition has it that 60,000 monks were excommunicated as heretics and their representatives were not admitted to this great council, which is usually regarded as the Third Great Council. One thousand monks versed in the doctrine and true to the discipline as handed down constituted the official body. The leader of this third great council was Maudgaliputra, and it was he who at this time is supposed to have composed the famous Kathā-Vatthu which in the Pali version is preserved to this day and which probably gives us the most authentic statement of what orthodox Buddhists in the third century B.C. held to be the true teachings of the founder of their religion. It also gives us a glimpse of what were the main digressions from the orthodox position.
This third great council was of great historic consequences for Buddhism, for the zeal which sought to correct the laxity among the monks was apparently of real vitality and led to a great missionary propaganda. Under the protection of its royal patron the religion of Gautama reached out into the neighboring countries. Asoka claimed that he made Buddhism known not only throughout India but also that he sent missionaries to Cashmere, Kubalistan, the Græco-Bactrian kingdom, Burma, and Ceylon. Particularly successful was his mission to Ceylon; for when later on Buddhism was driven from India proper and Northern Buddhism had developed into something quite different from the religion of the founder, Ceylon Buddhism kept fairly true to the original type. And it is in the Ceylon Chronicles that we find Asoka's claims more or less confirmed. They record that Asoka sent missionaries, not only to Ceylon, but also to Cashmere and the Greek realms. An echo of this mission to the Greek realms may be seen in the statement of Epiphanius, according to which the librarian of King Ptolemy at Alexandria was anxious to translate certain Indian books. At any rate it is safe to say that during Asoka's reign Buddhism spread northward into what at one time was a part of the "Greek realms" of Alexander and his immediate successors.
The glimpse which we get of the Buddhism of Asoka's day - and this is the important thing for our present purpose - would indicate that while Buddhism had undergone some changes since the days of its founder, it had not yet developed into what we now know as Mahāyāna Buddhism. It was, however, beginning to show tendencies along those lines.
We have already stated above that by the time of the great council of Vaisālī eighteen or twenty different schools had developed. These were, of course, minor differences; but in the course of time the more radical of these schools became the core of the liberal wing of Buddhism which developed into Mahāyāna Buddhism; the more conservative wing corresponding roughly to what is meant to-day by the term Hīnayāna Buddhism. The tendencies in Asoka's day towards these two great wings may be seen most clearly from the differences in regard to three main points.
In the first place it seems clear that the old soul-theories rejected by the Buddha and his early followers were getting a stronger hold from year to year. If they did not come back into Buddhism in their exact old forms, the more liberal Buddhists were at least ready to make a compromise with the demands of non-Buddhistic thought that the soul is a permanent reality. In the second place, Gautama, who had robbed the gods of their glory by teaching that they, too, were subject to the law of change and decay, was himself being glorified as God, or at least as the revelation of the Divine. Gradually the legends centering around his birth and ministry increased in their miraculous elements (see Jātaka stories) until Gautama the man was disappearing entirely, and we have a superhuman being far removed from the Gautama of history. Then, in the third place, the ideal of salvation which the Buddha had held out as the highest, namely, Arhatship, which meant primarily enlightenment for self, was giving way in the liberal wing to the more altruistic ideal of the Bodhisattva state, i.e. enlightenment for the benefit of others. The Bodhisattva is willing to be born again and again into this world of sin and suffering in order that through his many incarnations of good works he might help others.
It will be seen that these three great changes are closely connected with one another, and that any one of them really implies the other two. For example, the change from Gautama the Great Teacher, or Super-man, to the divine Buddha implied that the historical personality known as Siddhārtha, or Gautama, had preëxistence. Such goodness and wisdom as were his were far "too perfect to have been wrought out or developed in a single lifetime." Through ages upon ages he had exercised himself in the perfection of wisdom and all virtues and therefore there must have been a real continuity of personality. And especially as the Buddha was said to have been willing to be born again and again for the good of humanity (this is the ideal of the true Bodhisattva) does it seem clear that he must have had a real personal identity from incarnation to incarnation, i.e. an identity other than the old-fashioned Karma identity.
We do not mean to say that in Asoka's day any one of these three characteristics of Mahāyāna Buddhism as distiniguished from Hānayāna Buddhism was fully developed, but even at that early date these tendencies were beginning to manifest themselves. And the third great council of Buddhism convened by King Asoka may be regarded as marking the real parting of the ways; one great school remaining more or less true to original Buddhism, and the other diverging gradually until in many respects, even in things fundamental, it often ran quite counter to the way laid down by Gautama.
B. The Rise of Mahāyāna Buddhism
The period following Asoka's day and down to the first century B.C. is practically a closed book to the historian. It would seem, however, that Asoka's empire, in spite of its apparent greatness, soon fell to pieces. And with its ruin Buddhism fell on hard days again. The royal patron was gone, and Hinduism rejuvenated had its revenge and began to force Buddhism to the wall. Fortunately the wall was not insurmountable and the misfortunes at home led to prosperity abroad. To the northwest of India, among the Parthians, Yuetchi, and the outer branches of the S'akyans, Buddhism apparently found a welcome, and it is largely in this region that we must look for the further development of that expanded and altered form of Buddhism which later on became the religion of central and northeastern Asia and which to this day largely claims the allegiance of Japan.
What were the factors which worked the profound change from the religion of the founder and of King Asoka's day to the Buddhism which won the hearts of central and northeastern Asia during the first six or seven centuries of our era, remains still a dark problem. Let us indicate a few of these profound changes.
We have already pointed out that, even in Asoka's day, i.e. in the third century B.C., there were evidences of great changes coming over Buddhism. Those tendencies became stronger as time went on and they in turn brought about other changes. Thus we have not only a tendency to deify Gautama, but in such scriptures as the Saddharma-Pundarāka and the Paradise sātras Gautama as a human being seems to have disappeared altogether and is replaced by the Eternal Buddha, or Buddhas. The historical Buddhas are many, each age or cycle having its own, but all these Buddhas are but manifestations of the Eternal Buddha, or Buddhas. Some scriptures speak of five historical Buddhas who preceded Gautama Buddha, others give long lists of names, and still others, without attempting to give their names, say that the Buddhas are millions and trillions; yea, equal in number to the grains of sand on the banks of the sacred Ganges. "The blessed Buddhas equal in number the sand of the Ganga."
Another great change is the change in the conception of the future life. If Gautama placed the subject of the future life of the Arhat among the great Indeterminates, the author, or authors, of the Paradise sātras were of nothing more certain than the future life of the saved. Not only did Buddhists teach positively a doctrine of a future life; they actually filled it with all the pleasures of sense which the imagination of man can conjure up. To quote but one of many descriptions of the Buddhist heaven: "In the land of Highest Happiness there are waters in eight lakes; the water in every lake consists of seven jewels which are soft and yielding. Deriving its source from the King of Jewels that fulfills every wish, the water is divided into fourteen streams; every stream has the colour of seven jewels; its channel is built of gold, the bed of which consists of the sand of variegated diamonds . . . . From the King of Jewels that fulfils every wish, stream forth the golden-coloured rays excessively beautiful, the radiance of which transforms itself into birds possessing the colours of a hundred jewels, which sing out harmonious notes sweet and delicious, ever praising the remembrance of Buddha, the remembrance of the Law, and the remembrance of the Church." (Amitāyur-Dhyāna-sātra, sec. 13.) And so one may read page after page of extravagant description of the beauties of Paradise inhabited by myriads of Buddhas. Surely a great change has come over Buddhist conceptions of the future life. The very things which Gautama had denounced as mere shadows and illusions were set forth in glorious array to allure the heart of man and thus lead him to Paradise. No longer was salvation a mere "escape" from the present evils of existence, but rather the enjoyment of a future good.
The ideal as to what constitutes true enlightenment also changed. In primitive Buddhism, as we have seen, the highest ideal was that of the Arhat, one who seeks enlightenment chiefly for himself and is rather indifferent to the welfare of other beings. But in such Mahāyāna scriptures as the Saddharma-Pundarāka the ideal of the Arhat is not only augmented by that of the Bodhisattva who seeks salvation also for others, but the Arhat ideal is actually condemned, and the condemnation is put into the mouth of Gautama himself. Perhaps this difference between the Arhat and the Bodhisattva has received too great an emphasis by Mahāyāna Buddhists, for it is not quite true that the Arhat seeks salvation only for himself. His seeking salvation for himself was at least an example unto others, and to that extent his efforts were for the good of all. It is true, however, that the older ideal of enlightenment implied that every man must be his own savior, whereas in Mahāyāna Buddhism the Bodhisattva through his own virtues helped save others. That is, his own merit is somehow transferred to others who put their trust in him. This is especially true of the Bodhisattva Dharmakara who finally became the Buddha Amitābha to whose Western Paradise go all those who in simple faith call upon his great name.
This change of ideal as to what constitutes the highest type of enlightenment and true Buddhahood also implied a radical change as to the way of salvation. Gautama had taught that man is bound by the Karma chain to such a degree that every one must work out his own salvation through a long process of self-discipline. No one can really help another; not even the gods, for if there are gods they too are subject to the law of Karma and are bound to the Wheel of Life with its endless revolutions. But in certain books of Mahāyāna Buddhism man is not left to his own strength. He becomes an object of grace, especially the grace of the great Buddha Amitābha who saves by his might all those who believe in him and call upon his name. Amitābha has made the great vow to help all who desire help. "In obtaining Buddhahood I shall not enter into perfect enlightenment until all creatures of the Ten Regions (Universe) who wish sincerely to be born into my country or who practice tenfold meditations, shall have been born there." "My mercy towards all ye heaven- and earth-born creatures is deeper than the love of parents towards their children." And if it is not the Buddha Amitābha who saves man then it is Vairochana or some other great Buddha. In the Saddharma-Pundarāka we read these almost Christian words: "Now are the Three Worlds (the phenomenal world) mine, and all beings in the same are indeed my children. But great and many are their afflictions, and it is I alone who can save them." Thus there is established in Mahāyāna Buddhism the great principle of salvation through the strength of another; and, as we shall see later, salvation through a vicarious savior and through faith in the grace of some Buddha, or the eternal Buddha - all of which seems radically different from the teachings of Gautama.
A final great change which we must mention here as coming over Buddhism is the love for speculation on metaphysical problems. We said in the preceding chapter that Gautama considered the speculations of the Brahmin priests about the Brahman as an idle waste of time, and that he rather hesitated to express himself on metaphysical questions even when pressed by his disciples, but put such problems in his list of the Great Indeterminates. But in the literature of Mahāyāna Buddhism one is almost nauseated with the barren heights of speculations in which the authors love to indulge. In spite of the protest of the founder against such things, his religion has become par excellence a religion which is couched in a metaphysical mold. Even the earlier Hānayāna books contain much idle speculation on the problems of metaphysics, and to that extent are also a great change from what seems to have been Gautama's attitude towards such problems.
Thus while the common ethical teachings as contained in the Noble Eightfold Path, the Ten Commandments and the elaboration of these in various systems of Monk's Rules, may not have changed so seriously as the years went by, the great fundamental doctrines of religion - the God-idea, the doctrine of a future life, the conception as to the real nature of human life, and the way of salvation - all these seem to have undergone rather radical changes. For a fuller discussion of the main doctrines of Mahāyāna Buddhism, especially the Japanese form of it, the reader is referred to the succeeding chapters of this book, especially Chapter V.
Now the question which we asked above and which we now shall try to answer very briefly is as to what were the main factors which brought about this great change from primitive Buddhism to Mahāyāna Buddhism.
Some scholars see in this great change the influence of Western thought, particularly Christian thought. It is, of course, quite possible that when Buddhism spread into the countries northwest of India, it came into contact with and was influenced by the religions of the West; just as it is reasonable to suppose that especially such heresies in Christianity as the Gnostic heresy were in part at least the result of the impact of Buddhism upon Christianity. At any rate, it seems safe to assume that there was a good deal of intercourse between the East and the West after the time of Alexander the Great, if not before. The careful historian will be slow to say what was possible and what not in this matter of intercourse between the nations in ancient times.
The student of Indian archaeology is finding many traces of Western influence; especially is this true of northwestern India. There are a good many relics of pure Greek art dating probably from the first and second centuries B.C.; and still more numerous are the relics which show a blending of Greek and Indian art. Then, further, the results of recent discoveries in the lands northwest of India would go to show that the great religions of the world seem to have come into contact with one another on their march into China. Buddhism, e.g., can be traced in Bactria as early as the second century B.C. Zoroastrianism, of course, had flourished in these regions for many years, and fragments of Zoroastrian scriptures were found recently in Turkestan. The Mithras cult, in particular, during the first and second century A.D., would seem to have had a strong hold not only on the Roman Empire, as Cumont has shown, but also in the lands east of its origin. Then by the third century A.D. Manichæism had come into existence and Mani himself visited both Turkestan and India. The German expedition to Turkestan found fragments of his writings which until then had been regarded as lost. The religion of the O. T. had probably made itself felt in those lands from the time of the Babylonian Captivity, and Christianity itself most likely reached these lands before the end of the first century. And we know positively that by the first half of the seventh century Nestorian Christianity was planted in the midst of Buddhism as far east as Sin-an-fu, China. From all this it will be seen that the lands northwest of India must have been the scene of the mingling of various religious streams, and it seems only natural that no religion could pass through these lands without undergoing some modifications.
But after all this has been taken into account, we are still inclined to hold that the great change from primitive Buddhism to Mahāyāna Buddhism was brought about by influences nearer home. Not that we would deny the influence from the West, but that the chief factor, after all, was Indian in its origin. The real revenge which Hinduism had on Buddhism was not that it ultimately drove it out of India proper, but rather that it forced upon Buddhism step by step a great deal of its own philosophy about those very things against which Gautama had protested so much. And, perhaps, that is why Buddhism finally died out in India proper - it had ceased to justify its existence since it became essentially one with rejuvenated Hinduism. Nothing is more striking than the similarities between the Vedanta philosophy and the speculations of Mahāyāna Buddhism; the one is as characteristically metaphysical in its mold as the other. Perhaps nothing shows the influence of Hinduism on Mahāyāna Buddhism more clearly than the Buddhist cosmology, with its realms upon realms of beings ranging all the way from the lowest hell to the highest heaven, practically all of which was taken bodily from Hinduism. And what is still more striking to the student of Chinese Buddhism is the fact that the Confucian opponents of the new religion were apparently more akin (not historically, of course) to the view of the founder of Buddhism than was Chinese Buddhism itself; for especially after the fourth century A.D. a continual stream of Indian thought poured into China, and this stream brought not so much the Buddhism of Gautama as the wealth and rubbish of Hinduism which gradually swamped the purer Buddhism.
It is only natural that Buddhism gradually took on much from Hinduism and became equally speculative as a system of philosophy and all-inclusive as a religion of the masses. In fighting Hinduism it was forced to use the weapons of its opponent and this led to its becoming like that which it opposed. We have here simply another case of what happened with early Christianity. The Apostle Paul, it will be remembered, regarded the philosophies of his day as vain speculations and some of the Apostolic Fathers looked askance at the wisdom of the Greeks and felt that in the revelation of Christ they had the sum total of all that was worth knowing. But we know what happened with the Ante-Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers - in their attempt to meet the current philosophies they cast Christianity itself into a metaphysical mold and spent much time and energy on those very things which earlier Christians had denounced as vain philosophy. And this we say is what happened to the religion of Gautama in its opposition to Brahmin speculations. It gradually took on those very things which at first it had opposed.
But to be more specific: The names which are held by Mahāyāna Buddhists in special esteem are those of Asvaghosha, Nāgārjuna, and the two brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu. Practically all Chinese and Japanese sects, though they trace in one way or another all branches of Buddhism back to Gautama as the ultimate source, nevertheless look upon Asvaghosha as the specific founder of Mahāyāna Buddhism and upon Nāgārjuna as playing a prominent part in founding many of the leading sects. Asanga and Vasubandhu exercised a great influence in Mahāyāna Buddhism through their numerous writings, and the former in particular seems to have been a great factor in furthering that syncretistic movement through which Buddhism was enabled to absorb the most heterogeneous elements.
Who were these men and when and where did they live? The answer to these questions is largely the crux of the whole problem as to the real sources of Mahāyāna Buddhism; particularly is this true of the answer to the question about Asvaghosha.
To begin with, it would seem that there were several Asvaghoshas, so that the writings which appear under this name may have been the products of different minds and written at different times and places. The date of Asvaghosha (or the dates of these Asvaghoshas) is uncertain because the date of the Indo-Scythian king with whom tradition connects him is still a matter of dispute, being placed all the way from the beginning of the first century B.C. to the beginning of the third century A.D. Most accounts, however, agree that there was an Asvaghosha who was a Brahmin by birth and who wandered up and down India seeking for knowledge until he finally settled at Benares, where he became famous as a great scholar and clever reasoner. He was a light in Brahmanism until he was converted to Buddhism, and as a Buddhist monk he became known far and wide for his sanctity.
It was during his life as a Buddhist monk at Benares, tradition says, that the Indo-Scythian king Kanishka appeared before the walls of this Buddhist center; perhaps about the year 90 A.D. The king agreed to spare the city if it would turn over to him Gautama's begging bowl and the great sage Asvaghosha. The ruler of Benares, it is said, was loath to surrender these two great treasures and was bent on rather sacrificing the city than these, when the sage Asvaghosha reproached him with these words, "The teaching of Buddha is for the salvation of all living beings and it is a mistake to think that it is only for the benefit of one country." The king thereupon complied with the demands of the besieging king, and Asvaghosha was taken to the north, where he spent his life in spreading Buddhism. By northern Buddhists Kanishka is held in high honor much the same way as Asoka is by southern Buddhists. He, too, exerted himself for the extension of the religion and convened the fourth (third according to northern Buddhists) great council of Buddhism, at which it is claimed the religion was purified and the canon was more clearly defined.
Asvaghosha "Life of Buddha" (Buddha-Karita) and especially his "Awakening of Faith" (Kishinron) have exerted a tremendous influence on Northern Buddhism, and the latter writing is regarded by many as the real foundation of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Now we said that practically all traditions agree that Asvaghosha was originally a Brahmin scholar converted later to Buddhism. What is more natural than that this converted Brahmin scholar should bring into Buddhism a great deal of his earlier training and especially that he should give back to Buddhism those very fundamentals of religion which the heart of man demands, namely, the belief in a Supreme Being and a future life for the individual? Not that Asvaghosha brought these as something new; for it would seem that the common man even in the Buddha's day had never given up his faith in some sort of a god and his faith in a future life. And we have also seen that even as early as Asoka's day Gautama was being raised to the place of a god. But the contribution which Asvaghosha made was that he gave these great beliefs a philosophical formulation and embodied them in the doctrines of the religion, and through his writings he handed them down to succeeding generations as the orthodox teachings of Buddhism.
Asvaghosha's work was ably supplemented by the work of that second great saint of Mahāyāna Buddhism, Nāgārjuna, who, too, was a Brahmin converted to Buddhism. He lived probably in the second century A.D. and, as we have said above, laid the foundations for a number of the leading sects of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism. Nāgārjuna was followed by Asanga and Vasubandhu, who lived in the fifth century; and these two scholars, like their great predecessors, were steeped in the thought of India and the speculations of Brahmanism. It is only natural that they should bring to their adopted religion much from the religion in which they had been trained. They added to the ever growing complexity of the Mahāyāna school until it contained in its capacious womb not only what was in original Buddhism, but also everything which the founder of Buddhism had opposed. Especially must Asanga be regarded as the master par excellence in matters of religious compromise. Through his influence Mahāyāna Buddhism, which was already rather all-inclusive, assumed more and more that compromising attitude towards other religions which has ever since been its strength and weakness. On the one hand it enabled Buddhism to adapt itself to any local condition it happened to meet. Not only were the leading Sivaite and Vishnuite gods of India admitted to the Buddhist Pantheon, but the gods of all nations found ready access, for it was simple to regard these as so many Buddhist Bodhisattvas or as the various manifestations of the Eternal Buddha, or Buddhas. Asanga did not stop with the enrichment of the Buddhist Pantheon, he is also credited with incorporating into the newer Buddhism a great deal of the mystic Tantric doctrine from the prevalent animism, which to this day plays a leading part in the Lamaism of Tibet and the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. This latter move enabled Buddhism to make proselytes of many half civilized tribes who knew nothing of the Four Great Truths or the Noble Eightfold Path. The weakness of this compromising attitude lay in the fact that it filled the Buddhist household with all sorts of rubbish which is utterly unworthy of the religion proclaimed by Gautama. In its triumphant march across Asia Buddhism gathered up into itself everything that came into its way. Victory through compromise becomes the ruling principle, and this has remained the chief characteristic of Mahāyāna Buddhism to this day It is justified by the Buddhist scholar on the ground that truth must accommodate itself to the varied needs of humanity. But of this guiding principle of Mahāyāna Buddhism we shall speak more fully in a later chapter.
From what we have said, then, it seems rather clear that Mahāyāna Buddhism has its sources primarily in Indian thought, though we do not wish to deny that it has received some influences from the West. The point we wish to make is that there is little in the fundamentals of Mahāyāna Buddhism which cannot be accounted for by a natural evolution and a mingling of Buddhism with Brahmanism and other Indian streams, modified further by the native beliefs and practices of the northern peoples among whom Mahāyāna Buddhism had its fuller development. The student of comparative religions has long since learned that similarities between different religions does not necessarily prove interdependence; and so if we find in Mahāyāna Buddhism much which reminds one of Western thought and Christianity, it does not necessarily follow that there has been a historical connection or that one has borrowed from the other. Our medieval missionaries to China, Huc and Garbe, saw in the striking similarities between Catholicism and Mahāyāna Buddhism a clear piece of the devil's work who had thus made a cheap counterfeit of Christianity in order to deceive the very elect. We smile at this theory to-day but it is not much more absurd than the theory of some of our modern students who see in all parallelisms of religions a necessary historical connection and interdependence.
There is, however, one great point in Mahāyāna Buddhism which seems to be more than a mere parallelism and which bears on the face of it traces of influence other than Indian. We refer to the doctrine of salvation through the strength and grace of another. In India the doctrine of Karma was all but universal, and this doctrine, as we saw in the last chapter, was the causal-nexus principle applied with rigor to the psychic life of the individual. Man is what his thoughts and deeds of the past have made him, and his future is conditioned by the present. "Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap," and no one can sow or reap for another - either good or bad. This is the doctrine of early Buddhism as well as that of all other Indian systems of thought. The first glimpse, it would seem, which we get in Buddhism of the opposite great principle, namely, the principle which recognizes the fact that one life can help another and that one can be saved through the strength of another, is the story in one of the three Paradise sutras (Amitayūr-Dhyāna-sūtra) about the Buddha's conversation with Vaidehī, the queen of Bimbisara. The story is in substance as follows:
The queen had suffered hardships at the hand of her own son, and in her distress she turned to the Buddha for consolation. She asked him why it was that she must suffer such things at the hands of her son. The Buddha replied in the manner consonant with the Indian doctrine of Karma, namely, that the queen was simply suffering for her own sins - sins committed either in her present life or in some previous existence. Then in her despair the queen cried out and said, "Is there no escape from this dreadful chain of Karma?" "Not in India," replied the Buddha, "but there is a Western Buddha Field where one does not have to atone for all one's sins." Whether this is a true story or not, it remains true that it is an old story and that the doctrine of the forgiveness of sin was known rather early in Buddhism, but known as belonging to the Western Buddha Field.
If the Buddha himself uttered these words it is possible, as Professor Lloyd has suggested, that he knew something about the religion of the O. T. through the prophets of the Exile. If it is a later story, then it is possible that this doctrine entered Buddhism after the conquest of Alexander the Great. And if we put it as late as the first century A.D. (for which there is good reason), then it may be connected with Christian influences. If it is neither Jewish nor Christian in origin there still remains the possibility of its coming from the near West, namely from Persia, particularly from the Mithras cult. We realize, of course, that the doctrine of salvation by divine grace is found also in the popular Vishnu and Siva schools of Hinduism, but whether it was in these before it entered Buddhism, and if so, whether it was Indian in origin, remains still a problem.
Whatever were the origins of this doctrine of divine grace, it would seem safe to say that it did not reach any degree of real vitality in Buddhism until after the formation of the great Pure Land sects in China and Japan which make this their central teaching, proclaiming as they do the possibility of salvation for all sinners who rely upon the strength of Amitābha. But these sects regard as their greatest teacher a man by the name of Shan-tao (Japanese, Zendō) whom we know to have been contemporary with the Nestorian missionaries of the seventh century at Sin-an-fu, China. Thus it would seem that if this doctrine did not come originally from Christianity, it was strengthened by the influences of Nestorian Christianity and made a real live doctrine in Mahāyāna Buddhism. We shall speak of this again in a later chapter.
C. The Spread of Buddhism through China
Eitel claims that Buddhist missionaries accompanied the caravans of traders into China as early as the days of King Asoka, i.e. in the middle of the third century B.C. Others claim that the first century B.C. saw the first Buddhist efforts in that land, but even that seems quite doubtful. It is, however, safe to say that Buddhism did reach China during the first century A.D. We are told that in the year 61 A.D. the Emperor Ming-ti had a dream. Several nights in succession he had a vision of a man standing before him in golden raiment, holding in his hands a bow and arrows and pointing to the West. The emperor was much moved by the vision, and so sent eighteen men to the West to seek for the True Man whom he had seen in his dream. The messengers, we are told, got as far as the land of the Getæ bordering on India when they met two monks coming through the mountain pass, leading a white horse laden with scriptures and images. The messengers returned to the court with these two monks, where the strangers were well received and given lodgment in a monastery which exists to this day, namely, the celebrated Pomash, White Horse Monastery. The two monks died a few years later and the only memorial they left behind, it would seem, was the famous scripture of the Forty-Two Sections, which has remained to this day one of the most popular writings of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism.
There are scholars who have suggested that these two monks were not Buddhists at all, but Christians, namely, disciples of St. Thomas in India or from the lands north of India and west of China. The legend that St. Thomas reached India is not altogether without foundation; and further is it true that the Jews of the Diaspora seem to have had as their easternmost settlement a colony at Kaifong-fu in Honan, China, at this time. (This colony of Jews has survived to our day and is only now disappearing.) Thus it was quite possible that the Emperor Ming-ti should have known something about the True Man who had appeared in Palestine. But, of course, the mere possibility of such an acquaintance is a very slender thread on which to hang any claim that Christianity reached China as early as the seventh decade of the Christian era. And the further claim that the sūtra of the Forty-Two Sections has Christian elements is equally weak, as all advanced religions have a great many things in common, so that similarity, as we said before, does not prove dependence.
Whatever these monks were, their influence seems to have been very little as far as establishing either Buddhism or Christianity in China. Between A.D. 76-88 a number of Buddhist books were brought into China from Turkestan, but their influence is also very difficult to trace. Not until 147 A.D. did Buddhism make a real beginning in that land. The Buddhism which won China at first did not come directly from India proper, but largely from the new home of Buddhism among the Scythians and Parthians. (After the fourth century the connection between India and China seems to have been more direct, Indians coming to China in great numbers and Chinese pilgrims visiting the birthplace of their new religion.) Asvaghosha and Nāgārjuna had already done their great work in giving Buddhism a new turn. And their work had been advanced by others, so that ideas which they held only in germ had reached full fruition. For example, as we saw above, these two great scholars seemed to have faith in a Supreme Being whom they knew as Amitābha, but they knew him, as it were, only from afar. On the other hand, the great missionaries to the Chinese, Anshikao (Prince of the Parthians), who gave up his royal position to become a Buddhist missionary, and Lokaraksha, were devout preachers of this great doctrine of Mahāyāna Buddhism. And it was they who seem to have brought the chief scripture of the Amitābha faith, namely, the Larger Sukhāvatī-Vyūha, to China in 147 A.D.
The progress of Buddhism in China was not very rapid at first. The first century and a half or more was a period of importation and translation of scriptures. In fact, China seems to have been flooded with books; so that the Emperor Hweiti in 306 A.D., wishing to free himself of this foreign importation, ordered a great many books to be burned, and for many years the Chinese were forbidden by imperial edict to become Buddhist monks. But after 335 A.D. matters took a turn for the better. The people were allowed to take monastic vows, and many began to give the new religion serious attention. The thing that, perhaps, more than any other won the Chinese to Buddhism was the latter's attitude towards the deep-rooted ancestor worship. Buddhism did not openly antagonize ancestor worship; in fact, it enriched it by a distinct contribution, for it offered the Chinese a way of raising the dead to the exalted position of Buddhas. Ancestors should not only be revered, but they should be worshipped as Buddhas. Then of course Buddhism also satisfied the religious longings better than Confucianism was doing. Especially did the Amitābha faith meet a great need in a land where religion was entirely too much a matter of mere human relationships. Buddhism went, of course, to the other extreme; but even so it filled a great need in the heart of the Chinese people, and from the fourth century on became very popular.
Naturally when Buddhism began to be really rooted in the hearts of the people they became interested in the origins of their adopted religion and in the home of its founder. Many began to turn their steps towards India. The first of these of whom any record is left was the celebrated Fahhian who started for India in 399 A.D. and returned in the year 414 A.D. From his writings we get the best picture we have of India for that period. He found Buddhism in a flourishing condition in the countries northwest of India, but when he reached the cradle of Buddhism he found things in a state of decay. The historical Buddha and the scenes of his activity seem to have been lost sight of; and Buddhists were no longer concerned with him as a man, but only with the deified Buddha. Fah-hian's studies on the field of Buddhism's beginnings soon showed him that the Buddhism which had been introduced into China differed rather widely from the Buddhism of India proper. This would indicate that by this time, i.e. at the beginning of the fifth century A.D., the main features of Mahāyāna Buddhism had been developed and that the seat of its development was not in India proper, but rather in the regions lying north and northwest of India; though, as we have said above, Indian elements were the predominant ones in this development.
Under the Ts'in dynasty in 401 A.D. Kumārajīva was brought from Tibet as a prisoner to Sin-an-fu, China. His great work was the translation of numerous books - many of them of purely Indian origin. From these translations and studies it became increasingly evident that the Buddhism imported into China by the great Anshikao and Lokaraksha in 147 A.D. was not the pure Buddhism of the founder. This discovery gave rise to great discussions and divisions in the ranks of Buddhism and thus weakened the new religion in its conflict with Confucianism and Taoism. But these discussions and divisions, in the long run, led to further developments of the new religion and to the formation of some of the great sects which later were transplanted to Japan, where they are active to this day.
It is from this time on that Chinese Buddhism began to take up many of the elements of Confucianism, Taoism and the minor local cults. From Confucianism Buddhism adopted much which made its ethical teachings more practical and suited to the tastes of the Chinese. And from Taoism it gathered on the one hand some of its philosophical for- mulæ to express its own concepts, converting e.g. the Law of the Buddha into the Laws or Way of the Universe, i.e. the Tao, or Way, of Taoism. On the other hand, Buddhism also took up many of the superstitions of Taoism and local cults as held by the ignorant masses. And, as we have said above, from this time on the connection with India and the countries south of China became close, so that all the wealth and rubbish of these countries kept pouring into China and helped swell the ever growing stream of Mahāyāna Buddhism.
The growing popularity of Buddhism in China during the fifth century led to a bitter religious controversy with the Confucianists and Literati, so that finally the king of the Wei dynasty in the north was induced to issue an edict calling for the destruction of Buddhist books and images. But by 451 A.D. a king of the same dynasty authorized the establishment of one Buddhist temple in every city of his dominion and forty to fifty inhabitants of each place were permitted to become monks or priests. This friendliness on the part of the rulers made China a safe place of refuge for the Buddhists of India, who were being persecuted by their Brahmin rivals. Thus one account has it that at the beginning of the sixth century the number of Indian refuges in China was more than 6000. This in turn helped raise the prestige of Buddhism, as may be seen from the statistics of that period, which give the number of Buddhist temples as upward of 13,000.
Of all the Buddhists who came to China from India during this period there is none whose coming was of such significance for Chinese Buddhism as that of Bodhidharma, the founder of the Contemplative school of Buddhism in China. Bodhidharma was the twenty-eighth patriarch of the Dhyāni school in India, claiming to be in real apostolic succession from Gautama down; and with him we may say the center of this type of Buddhism is shifted from India to China. Whatever may be said about the apostolic succession claim which this school makes, it is certainly true that even to this day it is in many respects nearer the original Buddhism than other Chinese or Japanese sects; especially is it nearer than the sects which make Amitābha the center of their faith. Bodhidharma was a remarkable man and left his impress on a great section of northern Buddhism. The Zen sect in Japan, of which we shall speak in succeeding chapters, is to this day one of the most vital forces in Japanese Buddhism and looks to him as its real founder. The following interview with the Chinese Emperor Liang Wuti, taken from Edkin's "Chinese Buddhism," illustrates what was the temper of the man and the characteristics of his true followers:
When Bodhidharma lived at Nanking the emperor came to him one day and said, "From my accession to the throne, I have been incessantly building temples, transcribing sacred books, and admitting new monks to take the vows. How much merit may I be supposed to have accumulated?" The reply was, "None." The emperor: "And why no merit?" The patriarch: "All this is but the insignificant effect of an imperfect cause not complete in itself. It is the shadow that follows the substance, and is without real existence." The emperor: "Then what is true merit?" The patriarch: "It consists in purity and enlightenment, depth and completeness, and in being wrapped in thought while surrounded by vacancy and stillness. Merit such as this cannot be sought by worldly means." The emperor: "Which is the most important of the holy doctrines?" The patriarch: "Where all is emptiness, nothing can be called 'holy' (sheng)." The emperor: "Who is he that thus replies to me?" The patriarch: "I do not know."
Some time after this interview the emperor became a Buddhist monk, much to the disgust of the Confucianists.
According to the "History of the Wei Dynasty," says Edkins, the number of Buddhist monks and priests about this time reached 2,000,000 and the number of temples was 30,000. This seems to be an exaggeration, but it shows that Buddhism was exceedingly popular. The statistics given in connection with the accounts of the great persecutions of Buddhists during the eighth, ninth and tenth cen- turies show that Buddhism kept increasing at the expense of its rivals. In 714 A.D., e.g., we are told that 12,000 monks and nuns were compelled to return to secular life, and the edict against Buddhists issued by Emperor Wu-tsung in 845 A.D. is said to have led to the destruction of 4,600 monasteries and 40,000 smaller edifices, and more than 260,000 monks and nuns were compelled to return to common employments, the temple property being confiscated and the copper of images and bells being converted into coins. Again in the first half of the tenth century we hear of persecutions which closed 30,000 temples. But none of these and similar oppressions, many of which were purely local, sufficed to check Buddhism in China; for, after all, it satisfied the spiritual needs of the people better than Confucianism and Taoism could do, and so the Buddhists, though frequently oppressed and persecuted, always found their way back to favor and prosperity.
We may say, however, that in these oppressions and persecutions we have an indication of China's chief objection to the religion of the Buddha. We said above that Buddhism did not openly antagonize ancestor worship and that it even enriched it by converting ancestors into Buddhas who are truly worthy to be revered and worshiped. But, after all, the highest life-ideal to the Buddhist is that of the monk or nun who withdraws from active life and so becomes an economic loss, and by their vows of celibacy they cut the very nerve of ancestor worship. The Chinese are too practical and matter-of-fact people to accept the monk and the nun as the highest type of manhood and womanhood, and especially too deeply devoted to the ancestor cult to accept Buddhism without serious questions; for the sin above all other sins in the eyes of a faithful son of China is the sin of having no children. Ancestor worship demands an unbroken line of descendants, and if there are no children by legal marriage "either adoption of a son or polygamy becomes an ethical necessity." And so however much Buddhism may flatter the Chinese by converting ancestors into Buddhas or however much it may satisfy other religious needs, this ideal of celibacy and the lack of emphasis upon the practical problems of life are contrary to the most deeprooted characteristics of Chinese life and customs.
From China as a center Buddhism spread in several directions, mainly, however, in its Mahāyāna form. During the seventh century it reached Tibet and there developed into what is now known as Lamaism. Lamaism, during the time of the great Mongolian conqueror, Kublai Khan, became the religion of Mongolia and also flowed back again into China proper, thus adding one more current to the ever swelling stream of Northern Buddhism. Before this, however, namely, during the latter part of the fourth century, Buddhism had reached Korea. At this time, there was really no Korea as we know it at present, but it was divided into the three small independent kingdoms of Koma (Ko-gur-yu), Kudara (Pakche), and Shiragi (Silla), with some small buffer states between the latter two. In 372 A.D. a priest from Sin-an-fu, China, reached Koma. An Indian priest, Masananda by name, came to Kudara from eastern China in 384 A.D. And Shiragi received its first Buddhist missionary from Koma in 424 A.D. We know very little of the nature of Korean Buddhism of this early day. It would seem, however, that the new religion early won its way among the upper classes and enjoyed the protection of the royal families; for it was the king of Kudara, King Seimei, who in the year 552 A.D. sent Buddhism across the narrow channel which separates Korea from Japan when he sent his Buddhist mission to the emperor of Japan.
With these few scattering remarks we must leave Chinese Buddhism. The point we are to remember, however, is that Chinese Buddhism from the very beginning differed rather widely from the religion of Gautama, and that during its long history in that country and in its conflict with Confucianism, Taoism and minor local cults, and later through the direct influx of Indian thought into China, Buddhism took up more and more elements which were radically different from primitive Buddhism. In short, in China Buddhism became a conglomerate system of beliefs and practices which makes it practically impossible to say just what Chinese Buddhism is. We shall say more on this point when we come to an exposition of Japanese Buddhism in our next chapters, for in many respects Chinese Buddhism is better preserved in Japanese Buddhism than in the existing Chinese sects 5 themselves.