India in Primitive Christianity - Avalokitishwara

India In Primitive Christianity

Arthur Lillie

The great Monastery of Nalanda—The "High Priest of all the World"—Is he the modern Pontiff of Tibet?—S’iva supposed to be incarnate in each successor—S’iva and Durgâ worshipped in all Buddhist rituals.—Great revolution effected by King Kaniska—Strong remonstrance on the part of the "High Priest of all the World"—He declares that the encroaching cultus is pure S’ivism and Nihilism.

Schlagintweit tells us that Avalokitishwara brought Buddhism to Tibet in the seventh century A. D.*

We have seen that the Dalai Lama claims to be the head of the Buddhist Church with Avalokitishwara for divine guide. Was this a more ancient claim?

Certainly, there was a "High Priest of all the world" as early as the second convocation, according to the Mahâwanso, and this Achârya, as he was also called, was always the pupil of his predecessor, as General Cunningham has pointed out.

Hiouen Thsiang throws some light on the status of the Achârya in his day. He gives him the same title as is given to him in the Mahâwanso. It must be mentioned that India at this time was governed by a powerful monarch, Śîlâditya, whose dominions, according to Dr. Hunter, extended from the Punjab to North-East Bengal—from the Himalayas to the Narbadda River.

But the centre of the Buddhist spiritual power and the centre of the imperial power were many miles apart. The emperor's capital was Kanouj. The Rome of the Buddhists was still in Magadha, and their largest ecclesiastical centre on a mountain at Nalanda (Baragaon). It would seem as if this spot was not in the actual territory ruled by Śîlâditya, for a king named Kumâra, in Eastern India, sent a message to the Mahâthêrô that if he did not send Hiouen Thsiang to him, he would come to Nalanda and make it a heap of ruins. As a nod from King Śîlâditya brought this king fawning along the Ganges in a superb travelling palace to pay his homage, we may presume that Śîlâditya's soldiers were not actually posted at Nalanda. If they had been, King Kumâra would no more have thought of threatening to lay it in ruins than the King of the Belgians would propose to go and burn the palace of the Archbishop of Paris.

Hiouen Thsiang's visit to Nalanda and its convents throws some light on the sunny days of Buddhism. These convents were built by King Śakrâditya and his five successors. There were eight courts surrounded by a long brick wall. Lines of tall towers pierced the sky. Pavilions adorned with coral were surmounted, some with domes, and some with graceful pinnacles, amongst which floated the mountain mists. The houses of the "Men of Pure Life" were four storeyed. The temples had pillars, ornamented with dragons, and rafters shining with rainbow tints. Precious jade adorned the red columns and the richly-carved roof. The pilgrim tells us that Indian architecture was exactly like the Chinese. "Carved balustrades allowed the light to shine through them," says the worthy pilgrim. We can easily conjure up the scene.

Vast tanks outside the convents were spread with the blue lotus. The spot had once been a mango garden, and as such, was given to Buddha by a rich merchant. The fine mango plantations still gave shade to the "Men of Pure Life." Inside, or attached to the convent, when Hiouen Thsiang visited it, were no less than ten thousand monks. Amongst the many convents in India, he adds, were none as rich and as grand as this.*

The Achârya was so respected that "nobody dared even mention his name." He was alluded to as the "Treasury of Dharma (Saddharmakośa)."

Hitherto, in India, kings and monks had always paid their reverence to the Chinese pilgrim. As his adventures are given to us by two of his disciples, this may be a little exaggeration to gratify Chinese susceptibilities. But when Hiouen Thisang was presented to the Achârya in the Nalanda convent, there can be no mistake as to who paid the homage on that occasion. Twenty old monks introduced the pilgrim to Dharmakośa:—

"When he was in the presence of the superior he paid him all the duties of a disciple, and exhausted every token of homage. In obedience to the sacred regulations and the official etiquette, he (the Chinese pilgrim) moved forwards on his knees, supporting himself on his elbows. He struck the ground with his forehead, and made it resound with the tappings of his feet."

The Convocation of Kanouj took place shortly after this, and its details were fixed by the High Priest of all the World.

The Grand Lâma of Tibet seems to me to be the representative of the Âchârya of Magadha, who, on the sacking of the great vihâra of Nalanda, took refuge first of all in North India, and on the expulsion of the Buddhists from that quarter, escaped to Tibet. The traditions that we possess, though scanty, seem to point to this conclusion. In 1417, there was already a Grand Lâma in Tibet, one Tsonkhapa, a Buddhist from India. Like the earliest Âchâryas, he appointed his successor to the office, one Dharma Rancha.* It is worthy of remark that the Lâma is recognised as the head of the Buddhist Church by the Chinese and Japanese. M. Abel de Rémusat, in his "Origines de l’Hiérarchie Lamaïque," cites the literature of the latter to show that it was conceived that at the death of Buddha he at once reappeared on earth in Bengal as a "teacher" of kings. That seems to be as the Achârya; and it is stated that Buddha as the Grand Lâma is always on earth. Gengis Khan patronised the Buddhists; and his grandson officially designated the "Master of Doctrine" in Tibet, the "Living God," the "Self-existent Buddha," etc. Intolerant Mussulmans could only have proceeded to such extremities on the supposition that a vast body of Buddhists in their dominions believed that the Grand Lâma was the Achârya, and that it was politic to conciliate them.

The Roman Catholic bishop Bigandet, was much astonished to find amongst "the Burmans, Siamese, Cingalese and Tibetans" a distinct "hierarchy, well-defined, with constitutions and laws," with "postulants," "catechumens," "heads of houses and communities," with a "Provincial" whose jurisdiction extends over the Communities of his district, and with a "Supérieur Général." In fact, he found in Buddhism a hierarchical system very like that of the Roman Catholics, with even a Pontifical Court and a College of Cardinals. He makes a special note of the fact that these hierarchies are so solidly organised that they have everywhere lasted through centuries of change.*

Let us now consider the ritual of the Buddhist Churches to see if there is any trace of S’iva worship there.

This is part of the litany in China:—

"And thou ever-present Kwan-shi-Yin Bodhisatwa who hast perfected wondrous merit, and art ossessed of great mercy, who in virtue of thine infinite power and wisdom art manifested throughout the universe for the defence and protection of all creatures, and who leadest all to the attainment of boundless wisdom."

Professor Beal gives us this as part of a Chinese ritual. He has explained to us before that Kwan-shi yin is Avalokitishwara, that is, "S’iva looking down."

Let us now turn to Nepal.

"I salute that 'Sangha,' who is Avalokitishwara." This is part of the solemn consecration of the novice.

Let us now turn to Tibet.

"We implore thee, Oh, Revered Victorious Bhâgavatî (Durgâ) and Merciful one, to purify us and all other beings of the universe thoroughly from the two evil thoughts, and make us quickly obtain the perfection of Buddhahood. If we cannot obtain this perfection within a few life cycles, then grant us the highest heavenly and earthly happiness and all knowledge, and preserve us from evil spirits, plague, disease, untimely death, etc.

Here is portion of a hymn addressed to Durgâ as the "White Târâ (Star)."

All hail Târâ, hail to thee!
Deliveress sublime,
Avalokita's messenger
Rich in power and thought.

Hail to thee whose hand is decked
With the lotus gold and blue,
Eager soother of our woe
Ever tireless worker thou.”

Surgeon-Major Waddell is here reminded of the Litanies to the Virgin Mary, who is "Stella Maris," like Târâ, also "Rosa mystica," the rose doing duty for the lotus in the west.

The word "Durgâ" also means "Tower," and the Virgin Mary is the "Tower of Ivory." Why Ivory? A curious Indian detail.

Other prayers are not so innocent.

"O Ghosts of heroes! Witches! Demoniacal Defenders of the Faith! The holy guardians of the Commandments! and all those that we invited to this place, I beg you all now to depart!

"O most powerful King of the Angry Deities, Strong Îśwara, and the host of Country Guardian Gods and the others that we invited to this place with all their retinues. I beg you all now to depart."*

It is here confessed that the Yakshas and female demons were "invited to the place;" does that mean summoned by black magic?

Now, if we view these separate Buddhist organisations as a whole what do we find?

(1) That the recognised head of the Buddhist hierarchies chased from India, has taken refuge in Tibet, and that this Pontiff now is believed to be S’iva in person.

(2) Everywhere S’iva, and the worship of the Lingam, has displaced the harmless rites of early Buddhism.

(3) Everywhere the Left-handed Tântrikas, the cultus of S’iva as Bhairava, and Durgâ as the terrible corpse-eating Kâlî, is adopted by each Buddhist hierarchy in cases of sickness and worldly trouble.

(4) Hodgson, giving the ritual of initiation, not of Nepal alone, but of Nalanda, the Buddhist Rome, shows that the postulant is given a little model Lingam with his rosaries and begging bowl and other monkish necessaries, and is thus solemnly conjured:—

"First of all devote yourself to the Worship of the Chaitya,"* the miniature Lingam.

(5) The worship of S’iva has invaded every ritual. "I salute that 'Sangha,' who is Avalokitishwara, etc."

(6) The popular chapel, if we may so call it, of the Buddhist Cathedral, is a chapel for cultus of S’iva.

(7) All the Lâmas take part in the great Festival of the New Year in honour of "She Devil Devî." And I will show by and by that the Cingalese honoured Pattinee and her son with a similar festival, the Perahar. Each lasted seven days, and was in fact the Durgâ Pûjah.

(8) The Bible of S’iva Buddhism is the Yoga S’âstra, the Bible of the deistic followers of S’iva.

(9) The philosophy of S’iva Buddhism goes completely on the lines of the controversy between the two forms of the Sankhya philosophy—that which proclaims and that which denies a God.

Now this is no case of mere barnacles outside a ship. The barnacles have boarded the vessel and a "barnacle" commands.

Many Orientalists have almost confessed this, but they will not consider each Buddhist organisation as a portion of a harmonious and carefully organised whole. Professor Rhys Davids believes the Adi Buddha came into existence in the tenth century, A.D.; and Hindus only half converted, "whose minds were still steeped in Brahmin mythology and philosophy," craved after their old gods and restored the ancient rites.* Surgeon-Major Waddell believes that "Tantrism" came into Buddhism in the seventh century A.D., and that the Buddhists of India brought in the worship of Durgâ in order to secure the support of the semi-origines, but, if so, why did they wait twelve hundred years for this desired assistance. In point of fact, the Buddhists had that support all along, for Buddhism was practically the religion of the yellow races and Pariahs, who were forbidden by the white-faced Aryas to cultivate the spiritual life, or even to look into the holy books under penalty of death.

And there is a crucial reason why S’iva-Buddhism cannot be attributed to piecemeal and independent influences acting from time to time from the outside. The change must have been from the centre outwards, for a hierarchy in each Buddhist kingdom had to be moved, and a hierarchy is established to suffocate novel ideas, not to propagate them. Bishop Bigandet, as we have seen, informs us that the Buddhist hierarchies mock time and its changes They calmly watch the rise and fall of creeds and monarchies, and governments from beyond the seas. In their presence even the Vatican is a mushroom.

Now it seems to me that unusually strong leverage must have been put in motion to simultaneously push all the hierarchies then in existence to radical change. And since the days of Asoka no other monarch had appeared in history who seemed as well qualified as Kaniska for the gigantic task. With threats and wiles, Nalanda and the Buddhist pope would have to be converted. The hierarchies must have worked from the centre outwards.

Of course, the great change was almost unthinkable. It was a Makara swallowing an elephant like the Capricorn of the Indian Zodiac. I was at first as sceptical as the rest of the world; although, knowing nothing of the theories of Mr. Beal, I myself had already accepted about half of it, and put it forward in my "Popular Life of Buddha" in the year 1883. I believed that the worshippers of S’iva had changed the philosophy of early Buddhism, but I never guessed that they had forced on the rising creed a new God, new rites, new architecture, new biography.

I will quote a passage:—

"We see from the writings of Hiouen Thsiang that from its political side the movement was aimed against the authority of the Âchârya of Magadha, the Rome of the Buddhists. Kaniśka, a powerful Kashmîri, had conquered vast territories that included Hindû Kush, Kabul, Yarkand, Khokan, Kashmir, and Ladâk,—the plains of the Upper Ganges as far as Agra,—the Punjâb, Râjputâna, Guzerat, Scinde. Such a large Buddhist empire would require a strengthened discipline amongst the great army of monks. Magadha was not included in this empire, and the two leading monks of Kaniśka, Pârśvika, and Vasubandhu may have wished to establish an ecclesiastical authority independent of the 'High Priest of all the World,' as the Âchârya of Magadha is called in the Mahâwanso. Perhaps the authority of the latter was ill-defined, and perhaps it had become weakened, now that Magadha was no longer the head quarters of a large empire. The leader of the religious movement was a monk of the convent of Ayodhyâ—a visionary, one Asangha, who was transported one night to the heaven Tuśita, and received the Yoga S’âstra, the principal scripture from Maitreya himself. He indited many of the chief S’âstras of the innovating Buddhism. He presided at the Convocation summoned by King Kaniska to introduce it. The King wanted to hold the Convocation at Magadha.

"He wished to repair to Râjagriha," says Hiouen Thsiang, the Chinese pilgrim, "to the stone palace where Kaśyapa had formed the collection of sacred books. But the Honourable Pârśvika (his senior monk) said to him:—'Take care, in that city are many heretics. Many conflicting opinions will be expressed, and we shall not have time to answer and refute them. Why compose S’âstras? The whole convocation is attached to this kingdom. Your realms are defended on all sides by high mountains under the guardianship of Yakshas.'*

"It is plain from this that the new creed was established in the teeth of the High Priest of Magadha in his head-quarters at Nalanda, but Magadha afterwards took it up."

But the garrulous Chinese pilgrim lets in a great deal more light. He tells us what the early Buddhists said of the change:—

"They said that the doctrine of the Great Vehicle did not come from Buddha at all." It "differed in nothing from the teachings of the Kâpâlikas." It was the "Carriage that drives to Nothingness" (Śunyapushpa).

It is difficult to condense the controversy more lucidly than this. The word Śunyapushpa describes the great Bible of the new creed, the Rakshâ Bhâgavatî, a philosophy called justly by Brian Hodgson blank "Pyrrhonism." It was urged that man was nothing, the outside world was nothing, he came from nothingness, and to nothingness would return. Rajendra Lala Mitra, the great native Orientalist, said that this school, the Śunya Vâdis, was a well-known school of Hindu philosophers—plainly S’iva worshippers. The Kâpâlika is the naked S’iva mendicant, who, smeared with cow dung and ashes, haunts tombs and eats offal.

The pilgrim announces that the leader of the great change was a Buddhist monk of the monastery of Ayodhyâ, a visionary named Asangha, who was miraculously transported one night to the Heaven Tuśita to the presence of Maitreya, the coming Buddha. From his sacred hand he received the Bible of the new creed, the Yoga S’âstra.* Now this volume, of course, had been the Bible of the followers of S’iva for hundreds of years, a fact that Asangha did not seem to know. Its alternative title is "Sesvara Sankyha" (The Treatise of S’iva, the Serpent Sesh), and one of the two chief schools of the innovating Buddhism that of the Aiśwarikas, or followers of Ishwara (S’iva) plainly modelled all their ideas on this volume. Of them more hereafter.


In a chapter about Avalokitishwara, there is one other point of great importance. A stray passage in Crawfurd's "History of the Indian Archipelago" seems to me to throw much light upon him. Mr. Crawfurd says that S’iva worship in these regions has quite displaced the worship of Sâkya Muni, and he mentions a very curious fact. In the temples he saw often a monstrous head without a lower jaw. He asked the Munis what this meant, and he was told that it represented S’îva. Now the word "Avalokitiswara" means "S’iva looking down." At once I jumped to the conclusion that the single head without the jaw was a simple expedient to accentuate his all-seeing eyes. I was soon able to collect ample evidence that this surmise was correct. I made some sketches, which I reproduce.

No. 1 and No. 2 I drew from idols in the India Museum, South Kensington. No. 3 comes from Tibet. I took it from Major Waddell's book. No. 4 shows the goggle eyes in profile.

The central design on the same page is from the "Essay on the Architecture of the Hindus" by Râm Râz, a native gentleman, published in the year 1834. He calls this design a specimen of the "Ornaments at the top of a Vimâna." His work gives numerous drawings of temples and gateways (gopuras), and this strange head with the black goggle eyes, and T may add, this strange arch, dominates almost every one. It is plain that it means S’iva in his character of Avalokitiswara, S’iva who looks down on all things; and the absence of the lower jaw is a homely way of accentuating the importance of this special divine function. It is to be observed that this head of Down-looking S’iva is not always without a lower jaw. Major Moor's Hindu Pantheon has many specimens of this divinity, some with lower jaws, some without. It came to Greece as the head of Pan. It was also the Gorgon, as S’iva and Durgâ are one.

Another thing it certainly does, it gives us a touchstone which enables us to detach the symbolism of S’iva-Buddhism from the symbolism of the earlier cultus.

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119:* Schlagintweit, "Buddhism in Tibet," p. 63.

119:† "Mahâwanso," p. 21.

119:‡ "Bhilsa Topes," p. 72.

121:* "Hiouen Thsiang," Vol. I., pp. 150, 151.

121:† See p. 144.

121:‡ "Hiouen Thsang, "Vol. I., p. 144.

122:* Schlagintweit, "Buddhism in Tibet," p. 153.

122:† See pp. 24, 25

122:‡ See pp. 27,28, 29.

123:* Bigandet "Legende de Gaudama," p. 499.

123:† Hodgson "Buddhism in Nepal," p. 142.

123:‡ Waddell, "Buddhism of Tibet," p. 438.

124:* Waddell, "Buddhism in Tibet," p. 443.

125:* Major Waddell cites the ritual at length and bears witness to its general application.

126:* "Buddhism," p. 206.

126:† Waddell, "Buddhism in Tibet," p. 27-129.

128:* Hiouen Thsiang "Memoirs" (Vol. I., p. 174), translated by Stanislaus Julien.

128:† Lillie's "Popular Life of Buddha," pp. 175, 176.

129:* Hiouen Thsiang, "Histoire," translated by Stanislaus Julien, p. 514 et seq.