India in Primitive Christianity - King Asoka
King Asoka—Rock inscriptions—Only reliable records of early Buddhism—Not an atheism—Immortality—Dharma Râj—Kingdom of Justice—Helps to expose a portentous fraud—Buddhaghos’a and the Ceylon records—King Wijaya—Date altered by Buddhaghos’a one hundred years—Fictitious "Second Convocation"—Mahindo, Asoka's son, visits Ceylon—Vast literature of S’iva-Buddhism palmed upon him—Brief of modern English missionaries in their attack on Buddha.
In Buddha Gaya, in the year B.C. 520, Buddha sat under a pippala tree dreaming of a Dharma Râj. We have all our visions at times of this Dharma Râj, a bright kingdom of Dreamland where wrong is righted; but who, like Buddha, sees his dream made concrete?
Buddha sat under the renowned Ficus religiosa, B.C. 520. Two hundred and fifty years after this appeared King Asoka and the Dharma Râj.
Asoka, at the age of twenty-four, succeeded to the throne of Patna. His brothers raised troops, and sought to upset him. After a sharp struggle he overcame them, and treated them with the usual mercy of Asiastics towards brothers near the throne. He was the grandson of Sandrocottus, who was placed on the throne by Brahmin intrigue. Asoka was at first a pious Brahmin, and 50,000 Brahmins were fed by him daily. Also he was a capable soldier, for he conquered more Indian territory than Clive, Lake, Wellington, and Napier, if they were to sum up the area of their united conquests.
But after his consecration he had several conversations with a Buddhist monk named Nigrauda. Much interested in Buddha, he received eagerly the details of his life and teaching. Soon the King was converted, and he made Buddhism the State religion.
Shortly before this, according to the calculations of Sir Alexander Cunningham and Professor Max Müller, India received the letters of the alphabet. The gift was happily timed, because the first use made of it was to scratch ideas on rocks and stones. In the year B.C. 251 King Asoka incised his earliest rock edict. He soon issued a great many more. Some idea of the extent of the rule and the spread of Buddhism may be gained from the fact that on the extreme west of India he cut a rock inscription at Girnar on the Gulf of Cutch. On the east coast, at Ganjam, were the Dhauli and Jaugada edicts; and Gandhara, or Peshawur, was reached in the north; and Chola and Pandiya, the extreme southern provinces of India, as I have said before.
It was a fortunate circumstance that the rude expedient was adopted of cutting the edicts on stone, because innovators cannot treat stone edicts like manuscripts on plantain leaves; and we get at once an opportunity of finding out at least what Buddha's disciples thought about God, spirit, and man's future.
KING ASOKA'S IDEAS ABOUT GOD.
"Much longing after the things (of this life) is a disobedience, I again declare; not less so is the laborious ambition of dominion by a prince who would be a propitiator of heaven. Confess and believe in God (Is’ana), who is the worthy object of obedience. For equal to this (belief), I declare unto you, ye shall not find such a means of propitiating heaven. Oh strive ye to obtain this inestimable treasure."*
"Thus spake King Devanampiya Piyadasi: The present moment and the past have departed under the same ardent hopes. How by the conversion of the Royal born may religion be increased? Through the conversion of the lowly born if religion thus increaseth, by how much (more) through the conviction of the high born and their conversion shall religion increase? Among whomsoever the name of God resteth, verily this is religion.
"Thus spake Devanampiya Piyadasi: Wherefore from this very hour I have caused religious discourses to be preached. I have appointed religious observances that mankind, having listened thereto, shall be brought to follow in the right path, and give glory to God."*
"It is well known, sirs, to what lengths have gone my respect for and faith in Buddha, Dharma, Sangha."†
"Whatever words have been spoken by the divine Buddha, they have all been well said."‡
"And he who acts in conformity with this edict shall be united with Sugato."§
"The white elephant whose name is The Bringer of Happiness to the Whole World."+
Is’ana is the name that has been selected by the Sanskrit scholars employed lately in translating "God save the Queen." Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha make up the Buddhist Trinity, which is precisely similar to that of Philo and the Gnostics. Buddha is spirit; Dharma, matter; Sangha, ideal humanity, the Christ. They figure together as three separate beings in the sculptures of Buddha Gaya, one of Asoka's temples. Later on they got also to mean Buddha, his law and his monks.
ASOKA ON A FUTURE LIFE.
"On the many beings over whom I rule I confer happiness in this world; in the next they may obtain Swarga (paradise)."*
"This is good. With these means let a man seek Swarga. This is to be done. By these means it is to be done, as by them Swarga (paradise) is to be gained."†
"I pray with every variety of prayer for those who differ with me in creed, that they, following after my example, may with me attain unto eternal salvation."‡
"And whoso doeth this is blessed of the inhabitants of this world; and in the next world endless moral merit resulteth from such religious charity."§
"Unto no one can be repentance and peace of mind until he hath obtained supreme knowledge, perfect faith, which surmounteth all obstacles, and perpetual assent."+
"In the tenth year of his anointment, the beloved King Piyadasi obtained the Sambodhi, or complete knowledge."**
"All the heroism that Piyadasi, the beloved of the gods, has exhibited is in view of another life. Earthly glory brings little profit, but, on the contrary, produces a loss of virtue. To toil for heaven is difficult to peasant and to prince, unless by a supreme effort he gives up all."††
"May they (my loving subjects) obtain happiness in this world and in the next."‡‡
"The beloved of the gods speaketh thus: It is more than thirty-two years and a half that I am a hearer of the law, and I did not exert myself strenuously; but it is a year or more that I have entered the community of ascetics, and that I have exerted myself strenuously. Those gods who during this time were considered to he true gods in Jambudvipa have now been abjured A small man who exerts himself somewhat can gain for himself great heavenly bliss, and for this purpose this sermon has been preached. Both great ones and small ones should exert themselves, and should in the end gain (true) knowledge. And this manner of acting should be what? Of long duration! For the spiritual good will grow the growth, and will grow exceedingly; at least it will grow one size and a half.
"This sermon has been preached by the departed."
"Two hundred and fifty years have elapsed since the departure of the teacher."*
Did early Buddhism "relegate mysticism to the region of fairy-tales," as Professor Rhys Davids has asserted?
"There is no such charity as the charity which springeth from virtue (Dharma), which is the intimate knowledge of virtue (Dharma), the inheritance of virtue (Dharma), the close union with virtue (Dharma)."†
"The beloved of the gods, King Piyadasi, honours all forms of religious faith, whether professed by ascetics (pavajitani) or householders (gahthani).‡
"Whatever villages with their inhabitants may be given or maintained for the sake of the worship, the devotees shall receive the same; and for an example unto my people, they shall exercise solitary austerities."*
"And he who acts in conformity with this edict shall be united with Sugato."†
"Dharma" has been translated "the Law," "Virtue," "Thought," "Righteousness," by various scholars. Let the Buddhists give their own translation in their ritual. "I salute that Dharma who is Prajna Paramita (the Wisdom of the Other Bank)."‡
Now, it seems easy for bishops and Boden Professors of Sanskrit to explain away Buddha. Says Sir Monier Williams, "He was an atheist." He "professed to know nothing of spirit as distinct from bodily organism." He had "no religion" (p. 28); "no prayers" (p. 28); no "Idea of original sin" (p. 114). He had no real morality, merely "monk morality" (p. 125). He "could not inculcate piety" (p. 124). All these statements may be and are accepted by many readers, but how are we to explain away Asoka, a king who professed to be specially Buddha's pupil; and who by the aid of a chisel and hard stone has placed beyond a doubt what he thought upon the subject of Buddha's religion. Could Cartouche build up a Fenelon? Could a Wilberforce develop himself prompted chiefly by a robust admiration of the president of the Hell-Fire Club?
It may be confidently affirmed that there is nothing in the world's history like the Dharma Raj of King Asoka. Imagine Napoleon and Fenelon rolled into one. He antedates Wilberforce in the matter of slavery. He antedates Howard in his humanity towards prisoners. He antedates Tolstoi in his desire to turn the sword into a pruning-hook. He antedates Rousseau, St. Martin, Fichte, in their wish to make interior religion the all in all.
Here are two passages from his edicts that go beyond anything to be seen in any modern State:—
"Piyadasi, the friend of the Devas, attaches less importance to alms and outside rites than to his desire to witness the spread of interior religion."*
"Progress in Dharma may be obtained in two manners—by formal rules, and by the feelings that they help to arouse in the heart. In this double influence the first has a very inferior value, the inner quickening is what is really important."†
This is what he would have said at the Czar's Peace Congress:—
"Piyadasi, the friend of the Devas, values alone the harvest of the next world. For this alone has this inscription been chiselled, that our sons and our grandsons should make no new conquests. Let them not think that conquests by the sword merit the name of conquests. Let them see there ruin, confusion, and violence. True conquests alone are the conquests of Dharma."‡
"Formerly, in the great refectory and temple of King Piyadasi, the friend of the Devas, many hundred thousand animals were daily sacrificed for the sake of food meat, . . . but now the joyful chorus resounds again and again that henceforward not a single animal shall be put to death."§
"If a man is subject to slavery and ill-treatment, from this moment he shall be delivered by the King from this and other captivity. Many men in this country suffer in captivity, therefore the Stûpa containing the commands of the King has been a great want."*
But King Asoka's Edicts throw a strong light upon one very important point indeed—the date of the rise of monks in the sense of housed sedentary idlers. This point I myself have overlooked in my early examination of these inscriptions.
Asoka's word for the Buddhist monks is Pavajitani. This means houseless ascetics. The Sanskrit word for a monastery is Sangharâma, the Garden of the Monks. In point of fact, in the earliest days the monastery was a forest.
"Everywhere the heaven-beloved Râja Piyadasi's double system of medical aid is established, both medical aid for men and medical aid for animals. . . . And wherever there is not such provision, in all such places it is to be prepared and planted, both root drugs and herbs. Wheresoever there is not a provision of them, in all such places shall they be deposited and planted. And in the public highways wells are to be dug and trees to be planted for the accommodation of men and animals."
Here is another inscription:—
"Whenever devotees shall abide around (or circumambulate) the holy fig-tree for the performance of pious acts, the benefit and pleasure of the country and its inhabitants shall be in making offerings, and according to their generosity or otherwise they shall enjoy prosperity or adversity; and they shall give thanks for the coming of the faith. Whatever villages with their inhabitants may be given or maintained for the sake of the worship, the devotees shall receive the same, and for the example of my people they shall exercise solitary austerities. And likewise whatever blessings they shall pronounce, by these shall my devotees accumulate for the worship. Furthermore, the people in the night shall attend the great myrobalan-tree and the holy fig-tree. My people shall accumulate the great myrobalan-tree."
But as regards our present inquiry the King's Rock Edicts are quite priceless. They enable us to expose one of the most shameless frauds in all religious history.
About the beginning of the fourth century A.D., there came to Magadha a young Brahmin who excelled in religious disputation. Near the bo-tree there was a convent where the youth obtained shelter. And thanks to the good-natured toleration of the Buddhists, he was allowed day after day to rehearse his fiery speeches, "clasp his hands," and otherwise get up his logic and gestures. He attracted the attention of the Mahâthêrô, who by-and-by converted him.
The eloquence of the new convert soon became more renowned than ever. He was called "Buddhaghosa," the "Voice of Buddha," because he was as "eloquent as Buddha himself." These details are from the Mahâwanso, and so are the significant passages that follow.
One day the head of the Buddhist Church, one Rewato, came to the young man, and said:—
"In the island of Ceylon is a commentary on the Buddhist holy books. It is called the Aṭṭhakathâ, and was written in the Cingalese language by Mahindo, the son of Asoka. Outside Ceylon this commentary does not exist. Go thither and translate this commentary into Pâli."
Buddhaghosa repaired to Ceylon, to the convent at Anuradhapura, and commenced his task. A miracle authenticated his qualifications. The Aṭṭhakathâ in its present form contains more than one life of Buddha, lives of the six previous Buddhas, and long-winded commentaries on all the Cingalese Scriptures. These in turn were "recompiled" by the young convert. The Buddhist Scriptures of Ceylon, "if translated into English," says Dr. Rhys Davids, "would be about four times as long as our Bible."* Yet when this colossal task was completed, the spirits (devas) conjured away the manuscript, and the painstaking convert went to work a second time. Again his completed work was spirited away, and again he finished it. The mischievous spirits then restored the two previous translations, and to and behold, in the three great compilations, not a "verse," a "meaning of a word," a "letter," or a transposition differed. By this miracle Buddhaghosa proved his powers. "Of a truth," said the monks of Ceylon, "this is the coming Buddha Maitreyo!"
In the long and elaborate article in the "Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal," from which I have been quoting,† Turnour makes patent a wholesale falsification of the ancient Cingalese chronicles by Buddhaghosa.
The main objects of this, in his view, were:—
(1) To show that Wijayo, who figures in these chronicles as the first King of Ceylon, was a disciple of Buddha; that he was sent by Buddha to Ceylon; that he arrived there at Buddha's death (B.C. 593 in the annals of Ceylon). As the historical Wijayo, according to Turnour, did not appear on the page of history until about one hundred years later, the lives of some of the kings who ruled in Ceylon prior to Asoka have to be spread out like niggard butter on abundant bread to make up these one hundred years. One dies over a hundred years of age. Another "commences a turbulent reign" at ninety. A third seems to have been 147 years of age.‡ The two dates that can be checked by Western chronology, the date of Alexander's expedition and that of Megasthenes to King Chandragupta at Patna, are both dislodged by these changed dates. Alexander, according to the Ceylon chronology, must have visited India in the days of Asoka, and not "during the commotions which preceded the usurpation of the Indian empire by his grandfather, Sandrocottus."* And the embassy of Megasthenes to Patna would have to be set down in Asoka's reign likewise.
2) To fill up the same gap, preposterous ages have to be given also to the monks, who take part in the three convocations that Buddhaghosa describes.
We must examine more closely these changes of date, but as a preliminary I must point out that both Rewato, the head of the monastery at Magadha, and Buddhaghosa were strong partisans of the Mahayana teaching. The Chinese traveller, Fa Hian, visited this monastery fourteen years before Buddhaghosa came on the scene and he calls the monastery "the very lofty and very beautiful Great Vehicle Monastery."†
Another point is this, the India Office employed recently the eminent Chinese scholar, Bunyiu Nanjio, a Japanese, to officially classify the Buddhist literature from the ancient Chinese lists. He marks down the Brahmajâla Sûtra, and many other works that are prominent in Buddhaghosa's Annhakathâ as Mahayana treatises.
Bearing this in mind one fact certainly emerges. Buddhaghosa had a strong interest to represent the literature of his day as dating from the earliest times. He records that a Convocation was held at Rajagriha by King Ajatasatto, of Magadha, at the date of Buddha's death, namely B.C. 543.
"At this Convocation," says Mr. Turnour, "the orthodox version of the Pitakattayan ('Baskets’ of Buddhist teaching) was defined and authenticated with a degree of precision which fixed even the number of syllables of which it should consist. The 'Commentaries' made or delivered on that occasion acquired the designation of Annhakathâ."*
But Buddhaghosa plainly attached more significance to another point, hence his frantic falsification of the date of King Wijayo. He wanted to show that that monarch was an envoy sent specially by the kingdom of heaven to fuse together the civil and religious government of Ceylon, for he announces that Wijayo was sent there as monarch by Buddha himself, as we have shown. Inferentially the king would thus also be held to have brought with him the earliest Buddhist teaching.
All this is intelligible, but now come the difficulties. Asoka comes upon the scene B.C. 260, and converts India. He holds a Convocation, the Council of Patna, which "reaffirmed" the "Baskets" and Commentaries, a literature that according to Professor Rhys Davids is in bulk four times as voluminous as the Christian's Bible.†
A son of Asoka, Mahindo, was to have started for Ceylon carrying this great mass of Buddhist teachings immediately after the Convocation. He was delayed a year. Then he reached Ceylon in safety, and had the "Baskets" and Commentary translated into the language of the country, the Singhalese Prâkrit. It is to this translation that the Mahâthêrô Rewato alluded when speaking to Buddhaghosa. He talks as if it were only a Commentary, but the important point was the "Baskets," which he was about to fill with treatises of Mahayana teaching.
The reader may have observed that I have avoided such words as "Scriptures," "Literature," "Documents," in speaking of these baskets. In point of fact Buddhist teaching was retained exclusively by the memory of the monks and nuns until the date of King Wittaganini (B.C. 104 to 76).
From this it will be judged that the feat of Mahindo was rather a noteworthy one. Imagine twenty Oxford Professors getting by heart the Bible, the Apocrypha, and the Library of Antenicene Fathers, and proceeding to Ceylon and helping twenty natives of the Island to translate all this, and become letter perfect with the translation, without the least aid of any writing or printing. Taking Buddhaghosa's story as he gives it, is it a plausible one? His main idea escapes. If he intended to saturate the old scriptures with the strong curry powder of the Mahâyâna, his adversaries would at once detect the addition, but he could plead that he was falling back on the real teaching of Mahindo, which fortunately was still extant, if dormant, in the Cingalese tongue.
But this suggests two awkward questions. Was this Ceylon version an official Buddhist Scripture, acknowledged by the Buddhists of Ceylon, and as a corollary by the Buddhists of the Monastery of Magadha, which was presided over by the Buddhist Pope. If the answer to this be in the negative there comes up another question, namely—Who took the immense trouble to get by heart Mahindo's enormous "Baskets" and Commentaries, and to persuade other Non-Buddhists to learn them up and pass them on after their death? Certainly for one hundred and fifty years after the advent of Mahindo, the orthodox Buddhist scriptures in the Pâli language were passed on viva voce. No documents existed until the date of King Wittaganini (B.C. 146 to 76).
On the other hand, if there was no secret at all about Mahindo's translation, what was the rationale of Buddhaghosa's astounding feat of penmanship? If the "Baskets" and Commentary were four times as big as our Bible, his MS. must have been twelve times as big. And in the presence of the official Pâli version, it would have had no authority, for the Pâli version claimed to have been ticked off to the very syllable by the Convocation of Râjagriha, and carefully "reaffirmed" by the Convocations of Vaisali and Patna. With one sweep of his chisel Asoka disperses all these air bubbles.
The old history of Ceylon, the Mahâwanso, announces that the King was puzzled with the question: "Of what religion was Sugato?" which word Mr. Turnour renders "the Deity of Happy Advent." In consequence he determined to summon a council of all the monks of Jambudwipa, to be presided over by Moggaliputra. The Ninth Edict talks of "consultations upon matters of religion" (Senart's translation). The Third Edict talks of an Anusam̃yâna (general assembly). The convocation is dated by scholars, B.C. 244. Certainly the following inscription seems to give us its results:—
"It is well-known, sirs, to what lengths have gone my respect for and faith in Buddha, Dharma, Sañgha. All that our Lord Buddha has spoken is well spoken. Wherefore, sirs, it must indeed be regarded as having indisputable authority. So the true faith shall last long. Thus, my lords, I honour with the highest honour those religious works, Vinayasamaka ('Lessons in Discipline'), Aryavasas ('the Supernatural Powers of the Aryas’) Anâgatabhayas, ('the Terrors of the Future'), Munigâtha ('the Metrical Life of Buddha'), Upatisapasina ('the Question of Upatishya'), Moneyasûta ('the Sûtra on the Inner Life'), and the Admonition to Râhula concerning falsehood uttered by our Lord Buddha. These religious works, sir, I would that the Bhikshus and Bhikshunis, for the advancement of their good name, shall uninterruptedly study and remember."*
This is the inscription, and it is difficult to see how any Orientalist, or any non-Orientalist, can undervalue its importance. Would Asoka have had "doubts" and "consultations" as to what Buddha had taught, if a literature four times as copious as the Christian's Bible was already received as canonical? And supposing that the canon was fixed before his time, why should he reject the greater part of it, and only require about one per cent. of the whole to be learnt and chanted out by his monks and nuns? The "Question of Upatishya" has come down to us, and also the "Admonition to Rahûla regarding Falsehood." The two together would be about as long as the Epistle to Philemon in the Bible, and the Life of Buddha was also probably very short.
Dr. Oldenburg holds that the seven tractates mentioned on the Second Bairât Rock are only a portion of the vast literature that Mahinda carried to Ceylon: but as the memory of the monks was the sole vehicle by which Buddhist teaching in those days could be handed down, who committed to memory the remaining literature?—about ninety-nine per cent. of the whole. Aśoka's monks and nuns were ordered all of them to learn up and chant the seven Aśoka tractates only.
I have said that we have two of the seven tractates mentioned on the Second Bairât Rock, the Admonition to Râhula regarding falsehood and the "Question of Upatishya." I will return to this latter by-and-by.
Munigâtha, a third one, means the metrical life of the Muni (Buddha); and very ancient metrical scraps, whether genuine or not, are sprinkled about in the "Lalita Vistara," and in the translation of the Chinese biography by the Rev. Samuel Beal. From the Chinese records he pronounces that the earliest biography was called "Leaving the Palace for a Religious Life." Here is a verse where the Prince sees one of the Four Presaging Tokens, the sick man:—
"The Prince asked the Coachman and said
What man is this enduring such pain?
The Coachman replied to the Prince
The four elements ill-adjusted—therefore sickness is produced."
The Sûtra on Vinaya or Discipline, was probably even shorter than the Metrical life.
The early disciples were Bhikshus, or beggars. Their monasteries were trees; their temples were forests; their monks’ cowls, tree bark; their gospel, the human mind.
This comes out in an important set of Buddhist rules—the "Twelve Observances." The "mob of beggars," as Buddha called his followers, are expressly forbidden to have any covering over them except a tree. Their "one seat" is to be mother earth. Their clothes are to be rags from the dustheap, the dung-heap, the graveyard. The tree that covers the beggar must be, if possible, in a graveyard. He is to be called Durkhrodpa ("He who lives in a graveyard").
He is not allowed to sleep twice under the same tree.
Apropos of the early Buddhist ascetic, Dr. Oldenburg cites this from the Cûla Hatthi padopama sûtta:—
"He dwells in a lonely spot, in a grove, at the foot of a tree, on a mountain in a cave, in a mountain grotto, in a burial-place in the wilderness, under an open sky, on a heap of straw." The sculptures of the early Topes represent marble worshippers crouching before a small throne or table placed before a marble tree. On the altar are often two footprints. The recent exhumation of the remains of the Stûpa of Bharhut (B.C. 250) has placed the meaning of these emblems beyond the region of controversy. Such designs have been there discovered, and they are furnished with explanations incised in the Pâli character. One, it is said, is the throne and tree of Kasyapa, another the throne and tree of Kanaka Muni, and so on through the list of the Seven Great Buddhas.
This is the praise of Śâkya Muni:—
"I adore Śâkya Simha the Buddha, the kinsman of the sun, worshipped by men and gods, who was born at the splendid city Kapilapura, of the family of the chief of the Śâkya kings, the life of which best friend to all the world lasted one hundred years.
"Having speedily subdued desire, undoubted wisdom was acquired by him at the foot of the asvatha tree."
Is it making a great jump to suggest that the little work, the "Praise of the Seven Buddhas," represents the Aryavasas (the Supernatural powers of the Aryas) mentioned on the Bairât Rock and that the Vinayasamaka (Lessons in Discipline) was practically the same as the Twelve Observances. The discipline of Wanderers not allowed to stay more than a day in one place, could not have been very elaborate.
An analysis of Buddha's story tells much.
The torso has been hacked about, but it has proved too stout for the pious Harlequins of the second school of Buddhism. Summed up in a word its main thesis is man's terror of Death and of its two grim attendants, Sickness and Old Age. Buddha, like Christ, proposes to find a remedy. What is that remedy? The Amrita.
Professor Rhys Davids declares that this word does not mean Immortality, but its reverse.* It seems to me that he might as well say that the French word "immortalité," also differs completely in meaning from our word "immortality."
"Amrita," "Immortalitas," "Immortalité," "Immortality," are at once four words and one word—the Sanskrit "Mrita," with a privative, changed in Italy into "Mors," with a privative. Asoka's Council has given us a genuine Buddhist parable. Does it teach that annihilation is the supreme desideratum of humanity? It is very short. I will give it.
THE QUESTION OF UPATISITYA.
Upatishya had one supreme fear, the fear of death. One day, in company with Maudgalyayana (they were both seekers of truth), they witnessed a festival from a hilltop. "See," said Upatishya, "in two hundred years all these living beings will be the prey of death. If there is a principle of destruction, can there not also be a principle of life?"
This was the "Question of Upatishya," and he propounded it to many teachers, but none solved it satisfactorily, until he came across Athadzi, a disciple who expounded to him Buddha's Dharma.
We now come to a-valuable piece of testimony, that of a Greek visiting India. Seleucus Nicator sent an ambassador, named Megasthenes, to King Chandragupta (B.C. 302-298). He visited that monarch at his capital, Palibothra, or Patna. His account of the India of that day is unfortunately lost; but through Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, Arrian, and Clement of Alexandria, some valuable fragments have come down to us. Patna, it must be remembered, was in the very heart of the Buddhist Holy Land. Clement of Alexandria cites a passage from Megasthenes, on Indian Affairs. On the same page he thus describes the Indian "philosophers":—
"Of these there are two classes, some of them called Sarmanae, and others Brahmins. And those of the Sarmanae who are called Hylobii neither inhabit cities nor have roofs over them, but are clothed in the bark of trees, feed on nuts, and drink water in their hands. Like those called Encratites in the present day, they know not marriage nor begetting of children. Some, too, of the Indians obey the precepts of Buddha, whom, on account of his extraordinary sanctity, they have raised to divine honours."
The importance of this passage is this, that from Strabo we get the description given by Megasthenes of the Indian philosophers, and it is made certain that the earlier part of this passage is from the same source.
Strabo describes the Brahmins and the "Germanes," also called, he says, "Hylobii." He gives the same details as Clement of Alexandria about their feeding on wild fruits and wearing the bark of trees. He, too, draws a distinction between the Germanes and the Brahmins on the subject of continency, the Brahmins being polygamists.
From this it seems certain that Clement of Alexandria was writing the original work of Megasthenes before him. We may therefore, conclude that this passage about Buddha, sandwiched as it is between two genuine citations, was also in Megasthenes. Strabo had handed down to us another statement of Megasthenes about the Hylobii:—
"By their means the kings serve and worship the Deity."
There can be no doubt that the Sarmanes (Sramanae) and Brahmins of Megasthenes were the Brahmins and the Buddhists. To the first, according to Megasthenes, were confided sacrifices and ceremonies, for the dead as well as for the living. They were a caste apart, and none outside this caste could perform their duties. The gods would not accept the sacrifice of such an interloper. Their ideas on life and death were very similar to those of Plato and the Greeks. The Brahmins ate flesh and had many wives. Every new year there was a great synod of them.
The theories about early Buddhism held by many moderns—sceptical philosophers, like Ludwig Büchner as well as the Bishop of Colombo and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge—fade completely away in the presence of these rock chisellings of Asoka. Early Buddhism was "atheism, pessimism, cosmism," says Büchner. Asoka says "Confess and believe in God," and he urged that man's supreme duty was to obtain "union with Sugato." Turnour translates this "the Deity of Happy Advent." And Buddha certainly sought to relieve the Indian mind of the cruel yoke of the Metempsychosis, an idea which plunged him back a thousand times into all the sufferings of old age, disease and death. All who joined his spiritual Sañgha were at once liberated from its woeful entanglements.
Buddhism when it first emerges in the light is Saint-worship. The seven great Buddhas, the seven mortal teachers, instead of residing after death in a Nirvana of Nothingness, were believed still to be interested in human affairs. His houseless monks (Pavajitani) were certainly not the monks of the modern Buddhist convents, contemplative monks are not allowed to speak at all. "The increase of converts is the lustre of religion," says the king in the Twelfth Edict.
"For a very long time there have been no ministers of religion who, intermingling among all unbelievers, may overwhelm them with the inundation of religion, and with the abundance of the sacred doctrines. Through Kamboja, Gândhâra, Surashtra, and Petenica, and elsewhere, finding their way unto the uttermost limits of the barbarian countries, for the benefit and pleasure of all mankind . . . are they appointed. Intermingling equally among the dreaded and among the respected, both in Pataliputra and in foreign places, teaching better things shall they everywhere penetrate."* Edict XII. enjoins that these teachers are to be very gentle and conciliatory with the "unconverted heretics."
"By such and such conciliatory demeanours shall even the unconverted heretics be propitiated, and such conduct increaseth the number of converted heretics."
"Moreover, hear ye the religion of the faithful, and attend thereto, even such as desire the act, the hope of the beloved of the gods, that all unbelievers may be speedily purified and brought into contentment speedily."*
The imaginary descriptions of Buddhaghosa have the local colour of his day; he could not get beyond that. His account of the Convocation at Buddha's death bristles with splendid monasteries—"eighteen great viharas filled with rubbish" furbished up for the occasion with "flowers," "halls," "preaching desks," "ivory fans." He talks of the "enormous wealth" bestowed by the faithful for religious purposes. And in the account of the Second Convocation he describes lazy monks, fat and idle, living in sumptuous monasteries and disputing whether or not they might have fringes to their couches and drink whey. Professor Oldenburgh pronounces this Convocation a fictitious one, as it is not mentioned in the Sanskrit records. Turnour demolishes it by giving an alleged fact which borders on the farcical. It is said that "eight pious priests" attended it who had beheld Buddha. As the Convocation was held exactly one hundred years after Buddha's death, each of these, as Mr. Turnour shows, must have been at least one hundred and seven years old.†
One hundred and fifty years after the alleged Convocation there came a Greek into the same part of the country, namely Megasthenes. Did he discover these splendid monasteries with "preaching halls" and "ivory fans?"‡ On the contrary he describes certain Wanderers, Sarmanæ, Germanes (the Buddhist Sramanas), water-drinking Wanderers, sleeping under trees, clad in bark, feeding on wild fruits and vowed to absolute continence.
We have now to consider what I call the religion of S’iva-Buddhism. Summed up in a word, it was the intrusion of S’iva as Bhairava into the early religion, with his "left-handed" Tântrika rites,—sacrifices to demons as well as to new gods and Buddhas. These could not have taken place in Asoka's day, because, as he tells us he forbade animal sacrifice altogether.
Let us begin with the new gods.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- Hinduism and Christianity, Jesus in India
- The Advaita Vedanta - Non Duality
- Introduction to Hinduism - Prakriti
- The Kapila And The Pâtañjala Samkhya Yoga
- Brahman According to Advaita and Dvaita in Hinduism
- Atheism and Materialism in Ancient India
- Solving the Hindu Caste System
- Emptiness or Sunyavada in Buddhism
- Buddhism - A Discourse on Ignorance
- The Working of Maya or Illusion - A Buddhist Perspective
- Buddhism - The Middle Way or the Middle Path
- What Samsara Means in Buddhism
- The Chaos Theory and Nirvana in Buddhism
- Hinduism and Caste System
- Dealing with Chance, Fate and Acts of God
- Death and Afterlife in Hinduism
- What is Hinduism?
- Hinduism and Diversity
- Hinduism and Judaism
- Hinduism and Same-sex Marriage
- Significance of Happiness in Hinduism
- Redirect - Symbolism Hinduism
- The Meaning and Purpose of Yoga
85:* First Separate Edict. Dhauli, Prinsep.
86:* Edict No. VII., Prinsep.
86:† Second Bairat Rock, Burnouf.
86:‡ Second Bairat Rock, Wilson.
86:§ Delhi Pillar, Prinsep.
86:+ Final Sentence of the Rock Edicts, Kern.
87:* Edict VI., Wilson.
87:† Edict IX., Wilson.
87:‡ Delhi Pillar, Edict VI., Prinsep.
87:§ Edict XI., Prinsep.
87:+ Rock Edict No. VII. Prinsep.
87:** Rock Edict No. VII., Burnouf.
87:†† Rock Edict No. X., Burnouf.
87:‡‡ Second Separate Edict, Burnouf.
88:* Rupnâth Rock, Buhler.
88:† Edict XII., Prinsep.
88:‡ Rock Edict, No. XII., Wilson.
89:* Delhi Pillar, Edict IV., Prinsep.
89:† Delhi Pillar, Prinsep.
89:‡ "Buddhism," p. 28.
90:* Edict XIII., Senart.
90:† Delhi Pillar, Edict VIII., Senart, II. 96.
90:‡ Edict No. XIV., Senart, I. 322.
90:§ Rock Edict, No. I., Prinsep.
91:* Dhauli Edict, No I., Prinsep.
93:* "Buddhism," p. 20.
93:† "Journ. Beng. As. Soc.," Vol. VI., p. 725.
93:‡ "Journ. Beng. As. Soc.," Vol. VI., p. 721.
94:* "Journ. Beng. As. Soc.," Vol. VI., p. 716.
94:† Fa Hian, "Pilgrimage," p. 254. (Stanislaus Julien's Trans.).
95:* Turnour "Journ. As. Soc. Bengal," Vol. VI., p. 505.
95:† Rhys Davids "Buddhism," p. 20.
98:* Second Bairât Rock.
100:* "Stûpa of Bharhut," p. 46.
101:* "Hibbert Lectures," pp. 109 and 137.
104:* Edict IV., Senart.
105:* Edict V., Prinsep.
105:† Turnour, Journ. Bengal As. Soc., Vol. VI., p. 723.
105:‡ The Annhakathâ is the brief used by the missionaries against Buddha.
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