India in Primitive Christianity - The Mahayana

India In Primitive Christianity

Arthur Lillie

New gods—All of them S’iva—A Mask of Buddhism on some of them—Dhyâni or Heavenly Buddhas—Dhyâni Bodhisatwas—Conversion of the Relic Cairn of Early Buddhism into S’iva's Lingam Disguised as a Chaitya—Chaitya Worship at Mathura—S’iva Buddhism a Worship of S’iva with "Left-handed" Tântrika Rites—It is to be found in all Buddhist Kingdoms—Rapid survey.

The Mahâyâna movement introduced many new gods.

As a test question let us inquire who, according to the Mahâyâna made the world?

The first answer is—"Îshwara or Âdi Buddha,"—the "Cause of all existence." "From his Dhyâna the universe was produced by him!"*

I copy this from Mr. Hodgson's extracts of the old Sanskrit literature rescued in Nepal when Buddhism was driven from India.

Another name is mentioned by him—"Tathâgata." He also made the world, for he is the same being as Adi Buddha.*

But the matter does not stop here:—

Îshwara being the Absolute, and being imaged as residing in Nirvritti, the awful and untravelled haunts of divine repose, deputed five Dhyâni or heavenly Buddhas to make the World.

Their names are:—

(1) Vairochana.

(2) Akshobhya.

(3) Ratna Sambhava.

(4) Amitâbha.

(5) Amoghasiddha.

But these seem to have passed on the work to five "Heavenly Bodhisatwas."*

(1) Samantabhadra.

(2) Vajra Pâni.

(3) Ratna Pâni.

(4) Padma Pâni.

(5) Viswa Pâni.

Still, the number of divine beings credited with making the earth is by no means exhausted:—

"I salute that Dharma (Durgâ) who is Prajnâ Pâramitâ (the Wisdom of the Other Bank), pointing out the way of perfect tranquility to all mortals, and leading them in the paths of perfect Wisdom; who by the testimony of all the sages produced and created all things."

But even that does not exhaust the whole list.

"For the sake of obtaining Nirvritti I devote myself to the feet of 'Sañgha,' who having assumed the three gunas created the three worlds."

But again the list is still unexhausted, for it appears that Sangha in the work of creation is mixed up with Amitâbha.

But the creation of the world even after all this elucidation is still a puzzle, for we learn that Sangha is another name for Padmapâni, one of the "Bodhisatwas," and that Padmapâni is "Avalokitishwara," and "Maitreya," the coming Buddha.§

S’iva has got a thousand names, and if we concede that the Mahâyâna was his Pantheism we might pass over this absurd and contradictory catalogue of mythological phantoms without much comment. But literal minds, when they discourse about Buddhism, treat all these phantoms as real beings, and make the contradictions doubly contradictory. Resolved into their ultimate these gods are two—Sîva, and Maitreya Buddha or Sîva wearing the mask of Sâkya Muni.

What was S’ivism viewed from the outside? "His worshippers," says Professor Hayman Wilson, "contented themselves with flinging 'water, oil and faded flowers’ on his emblem the Lingam."

What was early Buddhism viewed from the outside? Offerings to the relics of Sâkya Muni, placed under a Tope or Stûpa? (heap).

Now S’iva Buddhism to harmonise these two ideas converted the relic-mound or Chaitya from the curve taken by a heap of stones thrown at random one upon the other to a dome like the lingam.

A rough sketch (Pl. 6) shows how this was done. Above (Fig. 1) is an early cairn, like the Sanchi Tope. Then (Fig. 2) I give the early Lingam, which was a large block of bed-rock, left when excavating a cave-temple. Fig. 3 is a miniature dome-chaitya, the old relic-mound made into S’iva's emblem. In Fig. 4 we get the "Jew's harp," as it is called, the Lingam to be seen in every bazaar.

When Mr. Brian Hodgson went as British Minister to Nepal he was astonished to find an abundance of these lingams. The Chaitya, or relic-mound, had been "metamorphosed into a lingam"; and, as he tells us "its worship may now be seen in numerous instances in Nepal, e.g., at Kâlî's temple, on the roadside near Tundi Khel."* He applied to his teacher, Amirta Nanda Bandhya, who assured him that the borrowing had been on the other way, the Hindus had taken the Buddhist Chaitya and broken off the Chûla mani, or spire, from each, and called it a S’iva lingam, but that is a gloss that we cannot accept.

To build a sepulchral cairn to a dead saint or Buddha, and to honour his relics with offerings and rotatory peregrinations is a conceivable act, especially if, as with the Abbé Paris, strange cures can be effected at his tomb. But to build a sepulchral Tope to a saint who is not yet dead, nor even yet born, is a wild idea. Its object was to banish Sâkya Muni to a Nirvâna of Nothingness, and to change the worship of him and his relic-mounds to a worship of relic-domes despoiled of relics but tenanted by Maitreya, and other Bodhisatwas (monks of high spiritual progress that will one day be Buddhas).

The invaluable Chinese traveller, Hiouen Thsiang, describes in his "history"* the relic-mound worship at Mathurâ when he visited the city. The early Buddhists, the disciples of the Little Vehicle, paid homage to the relics of Śâriputra, Maudgalyâyana, Ânanda, and other great Buddhist saints, who had each one a handsome stûpa in that city, but the disciples of the Great Vehicle "worshipped the Bodhisattwas" in their topes. Fa Hian bears a similar testimony.

That traveller was nearly lost at sea, but he prayed to "Bodhisatwa Avalokitiswara," and the storm abated. Hiouen Thsiang, on the other hand, was caught by pirates on the Ganges, who proposed to sacrifice him to Durgâ. He prayed to Maitreya Bodhisatwa, the coming Buddha, and likewise escaped.

Now, the forcible intrusion of S’iva and his lingam—and also his left-handed or Tântrika rites is what I call S’iva-Buddhism. Let us make a hasty examination of the chief Buddhist kingdoms, one by one, to see if the change was at all general.


The Tibetans have Tantric rites and human sacrifices, and many writers maintain that these are only outside relics of the earlier, or Bon, religion; but that is against all evidence. The Dalai Lâma claims to be the head of the Buddhist movement. Avalokitishwara (S’iva in person) is said to have brought Buddhism to Tibet.* He is incarnate always in the Dalai Lâma. He is represented like S’iva, with four arms. His wife Avalokitî, as the "White Târâ," is compared by Surgeon-Major Waddell to the Madonna, as regards her benign influence in the community; but she transcends all that has been hitherto imagined of cruel malignity and devilry as "Lha-mo," the "great Maharani." "She is credited with letting loose the demons of disease, and her name is scarcely ever mentioned, and only then with bated breath."

Tibet is also furnished with an army of fiends, the demons of the terrible Kâla-Chakra, as soberly organised as the army of gods and Buddhas. Indeed, they may be described as that army daubed over with Indian ink. Every god of the Brahmans has his counterpart presentment in hell.

These are clothed for the most part in the richest China silks and crapes, and wear pantomime masks, and upon their stomachs human skulls, skulls richly embroidered. And the celestial Buddhas figure as "demoniacal Buddhas," Kâla-Chakra, Heruka, Achala, Vajra-vairabha, etc. The "celestial Bodhisatwas" are also "ferocious and bloodthirsty, and only to be conciliated by constant worship of themselves and their female energies, with offerings and sacrifices, magic circles, special mantras, charms."* The "energies" of these demoniacal Bodhisatwas are the "Dakkini fiendesses." All the Buddhist Lâmas crowd to the festival of the "She-devil Devî," who is worshipped for seven days like Devî, in India, to gain security from disease for the coming year.

Of the vast literature of orthodox Buddhist sorcery I will speak in the next section.


I have already dealt with S’iva worship in Nepal in treating of the Chaitya. Mr. Hodgson found this worship of the Chaitya, or lingam as he supposed it, everywhere. He also was astonished to find the statue of S’iva in every temple, "even in the penetralia."


The Buddhist Dharma, the Sophia of the Gnostics, has for one name "S’iva Sakti," the wife or female energy of S’iva. One of the holy books is called Trikand Sesh (the three-throated Serpent—Sesh, S’iva's emblem). The initiation, or baptism, is given by Mr. Hodgson:—

Several names of S’iva are used in this ritual, Avalokitisvara, Visva Karma, Vajra Pâni, and the postulant vows to devote himself to the worship of the Chaitya. "When the purely Buddhist ritual is exhausted," says Mr. Hodgson, "the Tantric esoteric comes on,—which consists of the worship of the Balis. Flesh, blood and spirits are put into a conch shell. The celebrant wears a mask of Bhairava, and holds his terrible pasá or noose. Nâgas, Yakshas, Râkhsasas, devatas, have all their Balis. Many names are given including the Bali of Mahâ Kâla himself—(S’iva as "great Time").

If the foulest Tantrik rites form the chief part of the initiation of a Buddhist postulant, it seems quite plain that they cannot be called mere barnacles on the outside of the ship.

When the Buddhist hierarchy was driven northward from their monastery at Nalanda near Buddha Gaya, Nepal received for safety a large portion of the esoteric Sanskrit literature. A great number of these rituals are called Tântras, or treatises setting forth the worship of the "left-handed" gods. No less than seventy-four of these Tântras are catalogued by Brian Hodgson, including the terrible Kâla Chakra. Great secrecy is maintained concerning these books.


The Rev. Samuel Beal has told us that the divine being "Quan Yin," was there sometimes worshipped as a female and sometimes worshipped as a male. He has told us, too, that Quan Yin in Chinese is the same as the Sanskrit word Avalokitisvara, or "S’iva looking down." Quan Yin dominates the rituals.

And China, too, has the Kâla Chakra and all the Tântras or esoteric works; and practises all the sorceries. These superstitions are put down to local "Dragon worship" and "Taoism"; but a great religion like Buddhism of old, which has an imposing ecclesiastical centre, and many branch churches which have each in its most secret penetralia some seventy-four cherished spell books and grimoires, expounding secret esoteric rites to, let us say, seventy-four different yakshas—such a church cannot be called a mere prey to paltry local superstitions.


A god with a white elephant at his feet is a popular print in Ceylon. There are several in Mr. Upham's book. He tells us that this god is Samana Deva Râjah, so called from Samane Galle (Adam's Peak), "where he is now living with his deities with power over Ceylon." The white elephant is Buddha in a Nirvâṇa of uselessness. I give a rough sketch of one of these from my sketch book. A strange, spoon-shaped aureole or cadre surmounts all the principal gods and demons in Ceylon prints, and each stands on a stone,—aureole, god and stone making up the outline of a columnar Lingam. Buddha is reported to have handed over this stone, the Minne Phalange, or Stone of Supremacy, at the date of his death to Samane Deva Râjah.

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Sagittarius in the Indian Zodiac is called the Bow of S’iva.

Ceylon took a very prominent part in the present strange revival of interest in the West of the Buddhist movement. Great credit is due to the missionaries, who studied the language for their own purposes. And in the records of the island they found it asserted that the Buddhism of Ceylon was the earliest and genuine Buddhism. But since the travels of the Chinese pilgrim Hiouen Tsiang have been disinterred, that idea is no longer tenable.* The great revolution called the Mahâyâna (Great Vehicle) included Ceylon in its vortex. Indeed, one prominent Oriental scholar, Horace Hayman Wilson, thought that the fusion of strict Buddhism with the Indian religions came from Ceylon.

Samana Deva Râjah, as his name implies, is Deva or S’iva, and the Kappooism, or devil-dancing in Ceylon, is pretty well known. The amount of devils to be conciliated is large, if according to Mr. Moncure Conway, eighty-four thousand charms are required for the purpose. It is urged that this sorcery is a reminiscence of the Naga worship that prevailed in the island before it was converted to Buddhism. Again we have the defence set up that these devils are mere barnacles on the outside of the ship.

Much has been made of the fact that the names of some of the Mahâyâna gods mentioned at the beginning of this chapter are not known in Ceylon. From this it is argued that Ceylon knows nothing of the Mahâyâna movement, but the names Tathâgatha, Sañgha as a god, Purusá, Maitreya, are in all the rituals and holy hooks, and these are Mahâyâna gods. The test name is "Maitreya," who according to Professor Rhys Davids under the name of Nâth has his statue in almost all the Wiharas.* In the Mahâwanso it is announced that the Cingalese King Dhatuseno, built a fine temple to Bodhisatto Mettêyyo and "invested his image with every regal ornament." Guards to the distance of one yogana specially protected this temple. Was this Mettêyyo an ordinary Bodhisattwa, i.e., a yokel ignorant as yet of all spiritual illumination? If so, how did Dhatuseno know that he was to be the next Buddha, and that his name was "Nâth." If, on the other hand, this Maitreya was the clumsy subterfuge by the aid of which the Mahâyâna sought to depose the worship of Śâkya Muni, it is plain that King Dhatuseno was not altogether ignorant of Mahâyâna teachings.


If a Burmese is knocked down suddenly in the street, he cries out, "Phra Kaiba" ("God help me"), but he does not believe in any God at all. This is what we learn from Bishop Bigandet, who goes on to say that the "God" thus involuntarily invoked cannot be Buddha, for folks there openly maintain that Buddha never interferes in human affairs. For Tantrik rites, the Burmese are well furnished with spirits called "Nats." Major Waddell believes that this word is the Sanskrit "Nâth" (Lord), also applied to the Spirits of the left-handed Tântrika. Major Phaire combats this, and says it is an old local word for local demons. The Burmese priests advise the laity to have recourse to the devil dancers when they get ill. A wigwam is built up for the offerings, then the dancer commences to dance softly, working up bit by bit to corybantic frenzy. When she (for a woman is preferred) falls down exhausted and half dead, she is consulted by the sorcerer about the malady, and the Nat that is causing it.

This theory of a Buddha still intelligent, but no longer interested in the cares of humanity, is plainly a version of the teaching of the Seśvara Sankhya, which says the same thing of S’iva.

I had many opportunities of conversing with Captain Pfoundes, a gentleman who spent more than eight years of his life in a Japanese temple. He tells me that the statue of Amitâbha is everywhere in Japan, under the title of Amida Butz, and that this is quite distinct from Shaky Muni, and much more reverenced by them. Under the title Niorai, a loftier and more abstract divinity, still is known to the Japanese. Here we get Ishwara, also his five activities for Amitâbha is one of the five Dhyâni Buddhas. And the Tantrik rites can, of course, be credited to the Shinto exorcists.

Professor Knox tells us that Shaka Muny is completely obliterated by Amitâbha; also that the demons of the Islands fought a great battle with the demons of Buddhism on its arrival, but the magical powers of the latter were deemed superior. Then Shinto was pacified on being told that their demons were incarnations of Buddha.*


The Siamese believe that there is no God, only causation (Karma), which word perhaps ought to be rendered "Destiny."

An old scripture, the "Traiphoom" describes the making, and also the periodical destruction of worlds, and the conversion through long stretches of time of devils into angels, and of angels back again into devils.

In Crawford's "Embassy to Siam" is an account of a funeral procession in honour of a dead king. Sixty or seventy giants and masked figures, gods, Balis, and Yakshas. followed the corpse. The left-handed gods of Buddhism are said to be gigantic.


Mr. Crawford, treating of Java, declares that the fact most worthy of attention in respect to the images of Buddha is that they never appear in any of the great central temples as the primary object of worship, but in the smaller surrounding ones.

He instances the fact that the lingam is everywhere and also palpable images of S’iva as the Yogi, or with Ganga in his topknot. His view is that "genuine Buddhism was S’ivism;" and that in Java Buddha is not worshipped at all. It is through him that I can shortly give some valuable information about a head without a jaw, which betrays all the attempts of the Buddhists to appropriate S’ivan temples. Mr. Crawford was before his time.

And what was the philosophy of these Buddhist organisations?

The Buddhists of the S’iva Buddha movement were divided broadly into two great schools,—the Swabhavikas and the Aishwarikas.

Mr. Brian Hodgson thus speaks of these two sects:—

"The Swabhavikas deny the existence of immateriality. They assert that matter is the sole substance, and they give it two modes called Pravritti and Nirvritti, or action and rest, concretion and abstraction. Matter itself, they say, is eternal (however infinitesimally attenuated in Nirvritti); and so are the powers of matter, which powers possess not only activity, but intelligence."*

On the other hand, as Hodgson tells us, the Aishwarika sect "admits of immaterial essence, and of a supreme, infinite, self-existent Deity, Adi Buddha (or, as their name suggests, Ishwara S’iva), but they deny that he interferes with the affairs of men."

These schools are plainly echoes of the two ancient Yoga treatises of S’iva's ascetics, the Karika of Kapila, and the Yoga Śâstra of Patanjali.

Launched in the West by the Buddhist missionaries, these two tractates have strongly affected the Gnostics, the Christians, the Moslem, the secret societies of the Middle Ages. And now, thanks to Spinoza, it is their quaint destiny to be the Bibles of the great modern controversy.

Büchner, the High Priest of the Scientists, has declared that the Sankhya's inert, unknowable Ishwara is the God of modern science, whereas, thanks to Spiritualists like Boehme, and to the Kabbala, S’ivism has had immense influence with the secret mystical societies.

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107:* Hodgson, "Religion of Nepal," p. 77.

108:* Hodgson, "Religion of Nepal."

108:† Ibid, p. 142.

108:‡ Ibid, p. 88.

108:§ Hodgson, p. 142.

109:* Hodgson, "Religion of Nepal," p. 139.

110:* Hiouen Thsiang, "Histoire," p. 104.

110:† Fa Hian, "Pilgrimage," p. 101.

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

111:† Waddell, "Buddhism of Tibet," p. 364.

112:* Waddell, "Buddhism of Tibet," p. 131.

112:† Ibid. p, 365.

114:* See Monier Williams, "Buddhism," p. 162. Major Waddell, "Buddhism in Tibet," p. 123. See also my "Buddha and Early Buddhism" which deals with the dishonesty of the Cingalese records.

114:† See Emerson Tennant, "Ceylon," Vol. L., p. 379.

115:* Rhys Davids, "Buddhism," p. 201.

115:† Turnour, "The Mahâwanso," p. 258.

115:‡ Bigandef," 183.

117:* Knox, "Religion of Japan," p. 88.

117:† Alabaster, "The Modern Buddhist," p. 17.

118:* Hodgson, "Religion of Tibet," p. 23.

118:† Hodgson, "Religion of Nepal," p. 25.