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Marketing management is the art and science of choosing target markets and getting, keeping, and growing customers through creating, delivering, and communicating
superior customer value.
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Anatt1 is the last of the ‘three characteristics’ (ti-lakkha7a) which is according to Buddhism the general characteristics (samañña-lakkha7a) of the universe and everything in it. Like the teaching of the four Noble Truths, it is the teaching peculiar to Buddhas (buddh1nam samukkamsik1 desan1: M I 380).
Etymologically, anatt1 consists of the negative prefix an plus att1 (cf. Vedic Sanskrit 1tman). There are two Pali forms of the word, namely, att1 (instr. Attan1) and atta (instr. attena). Neither form seems to be used in the plural in the Tipi5aka.
In the texts and the commentaries the words att1 and atta are used in several senses:
(i) chiefly meaning ’one’s self’ or ’one’s own’ e.g. attahit1ya pa5ipanno no parahit1ya (acting in one’s own interest, not in the interests of others); or attan1 v1 kata9 s1dhu (what is done by one’s own self is good);
(ii) meaning ’one’s own person,’ the personality, including both body and mind, e.g., in attabh1va (life), attapa5il1bha (birth in some form of life);
(iii) self, as a subtle metaphysical entity, ’soul,’ e. g., atthi me att1 (Do I have a ’soul’?), suñña9 ida9 attena v1 attaniyena v1 (this is void of a ’self’ or anything to do with a ’self’) etc.
It is with the third meaning that we are here concerned, the entity that is conceived and sought and made the subject of a certain class of views called in early Buddhist texts attadi55hi att1nudi55hi (self-views or heresy of self) and attag1ha (misconception regarding self).
The Sanskrit word 1tman, of which att1 is the Pali counterpart, is found in the earliest Vedic hymns. Its derivation is rather obscure. It is variously derived from an to breathe; at to move; or v1 to blow. It appears in $g Veda which means breathing or the vital essence. This is eventually taken up as the principle of life and sensation, i.e. the soul. It is that which vivifies the body to be the essential part of the living individual. !tman in the sense of breath is correlated with wind, i.e. the breath of the gods. All the worlds are an emanation of this great universal self. Therefore the word 1tman is sometimes held to have meant ‘breath’ in the sense of ‘life’, or what might be called ‘self’ or ‘soul’ in modern usage.
Such conceptions, coming down from the earliest times, were continued in later systems such as those found in the Upanishads.
Buddhist or non-Buddhist, man has the concept of the nature of man and his destiny centre largely in the belief of soul. In most systems of religion or philosophy this belief is a doctrine which has been variously defined. Some call it the principle of thought and action in man or that which thinks, wills and feels, knows and sees and, also, that which appropriates and owns. It is that which both acts and initiates action.
Generally speaking, it is conceived as a perdurable entity, the permanent unchanging factor within the concrete personality which somehow unites and maintains its successive activities. It is also the subject of conscious spiritual experience. It has, in addition, strong religious associations and various further implications, such as being independent of the body, immaterial and eternal.
The old Indian religion was a kind of pantheism with Brahman (eternal, absolute, etc.) as the first cause of the universe. The manifestation of Brahman was sometimes personified and called Brahm1 (God or the Great Self). Every human being had in him a part of Brahman, called 1tman or the little self, i.e. the embodied self j2v1tman; the dweller in the body (dehin) of a being. It is the innermost essence of an individualized existence known as the individual soul. Brahman and 1tman were one, and of the same ’substance.’ Salvation consisted in the little 1tman entering into unity with Brahman. The 1tman was eternal substance, exempt from the vicissitudes of change and incapable of entering into combination with anything else except itself.
“That desire, that lust, that lure, that craving concerning body, feeling, perception, the activities or consciousness – entangled thereby, fast entangled thereby, therefore is one called a being”.
Beings are a conflux of mind and matter constituted of various mental and material elements. The samussaya (the body; accumulation) is the result of the temporary collocation of the mental and material qualities. They give each living being its outward, visible shape, its individuality. So n1ma-r3pa is termed as the ‘self’ – that which is but the combination of the five groups or aggregates (Skt. pañcaskandha; P. pañcakkhandha). Four of these are psychological (n1manti catt1ro ar3pino khandh1); namely feeling (vedan1), perception (Skt.sa9jñ1, P. saññ1), mental formations (Skt.sa9sk1ra, P.
4. BG. II.21;XIII.20,21 & 23,XV.16
5. S.III.190: r3pe (vedan1ya….saññ1ya….sa}kh1resu…. viññ1ne…. ) yo chando yo r1go y1 nand2 y1 ta7h1 tatra satto tatra visatto tasm1 satto ti vuccati.
6. T.W.Rhys Davids (1977 – b) p.175 fn.1
7. It is so-called because these five aggregates never found singly but only in conglomerations.
8. Spk.I.50 & Mah1niddesa.435
sankh1r1) and consciousness (Skt. vijñ1na; P. viññ17a). The one which is material (r3pa) is made up of the four great elements (r3panti catt1ro ca mah1bh3t1). Those are earth (pathavi-dh1tu) with the quality of extension; water (1po-dh1tu) with the quality of cohesion; fire (tejo-dh1tu) with the quality of caloricity; and air (v1yu-dh1tu) with the quality of vibration. “Dh1tu (element) is a force of Nature which behaves in accordance with the laws of Nature”.
Matter is classified into three categories: (i) that which are visible (sanidassana9) and can be apprehended by the senses (sappa5igha9) – such as colours and shapes. (ii) that which is not visible but reacts to stimuli (such as the five senses) as well as the objects of sense which can come into contact with the appropriate sense organs (excluding the visual objects which fall into the first category). (iii) that which is neither visible to the naked eye nor apprehensible by senses but whose existence can either be inferred or observed by paranormal vision. Such, for example, are the essences (oj1) of edible food (kabalink1r1h1ra), which are absorbed by our bodies and sustain it. They are called proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins etc., but in the Dhammasangani the essence (oj1) of edible food is classified as subtle (sukhuma) matter, which is not directly observed or apprehended by the sense-organs. The subtle matter of ‘the realm of attenuated matter’ (r3pa-dh1tu) would also fall in this last category.
In the earliest texts r3pa in its widest sense of ‘matter’ as including the organic body as well as the external physical world is defined as ‘what undergoes change’ (ruppati) under the impact of temperature (such as heat and cold), atmospheric changes (such as wind and heat), organic affections (such as hunger which is defined as ‘heat inside the belly’ – udaraggisant1pa), thirst and the changes affected by the bite and sting of gnats and snakes etc.
The interpretation of n1ma-r3pa found in the Sa9yutta-nik1ya is “Feeling, perception, volition, contact, attention – this is called mentality. The four primary elements and the material form derived from them – is called materiality. Thus this mentality and this materiality are together called mentality-materiality”. N1mar3pa as a compound term is used in the suttas to signify the psychophysical organism exclusive of consciousness. So when mentality-materiality is correlated with the five aggregates, materiality is identified with the aggregate of material form (r3pa). Likewise, mentality is associated with the three aggregates of feeling (vedan1), perception (sañña), and mental formations (sa}kh1ra). Consciousness serves as the condition of n1ma-r3pa. All of them are
9. Mah1niddesa.435. Cf. D.I.76; M.I.500; S.V.369: “k1yo r3p2 c1tumah1-bh3tiko….”
10. Ten Suttas from D2gha Nik1ya – Long Discourses of the Buddha, p.314,fn.1
11. K.N. Jayatilleke, The Buddhist Conception of Matter & the Material World, (Wheel 162-164) p.69: The
general definition that is adopted in the commentaries is that matter is so called because “it undergoes
change, i.e. becomes subject to modifications under the impact of cold and heat etc. – ruppat2ti s2ta-
u7h1d2hi vik1ra9 1pajjati.
12. S.II.3~4 : Vedan1 saññ1 cetan1 phasso manasik1ro, ida9 vuccati n1ma9. Catt1ro ca mah1bh3t1 cetunnañca mah1bh3t1na9 up1d1ya r3pa9, ida9 vuccati r3pa9. Iti id1ñ ca n1mam idañ ca r3pa9. Ida9 vuccati n1mar3pa9
13. Bhikkhu Bodhi,The Great Discourse of Causation – the Mah1nid1na Sutta and its Commentaries, p.15
mutually dependent (S.II.114).
The components of the mind are classified into four branches, namely (i) feeling or hedonic tone (vedan1), (ii) sense-impressions, images or ideas and concepts (saññ1), (iii) conative activities and their concomitants (sa}kh1r1) and (iv) intellectual activity (viññ17a)
Vedana is the feeling-component, which accompanies our impressions and ideas. They would range from the pleasant to the unpleasant through the neutral. Its source may be physical or psychological. When we cut our finger we feel physical pain. When we hear that a close friend or relative has died suddenly the anguish we experience has a psychological origin. These feelings are classified as six according as they originate in the five senses or in the mind with an idea or concept. Since these may be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, there would be eighteen in all.
As associated with one’s family life or with a life of renunciation, there would be thirty six, and as past, present or future one hundred and eight in all. Likewise, pleasure may be material (amisa) as being associated with the satisfaction of needs or wants, or spiritual (niramisa) as being associated with a life of selflessness, compassion and understanding. The pleasures experienced in the mystical states of consciousness, personal or impersonal (i. e. rupa or arupa jhanas) are classified in an ascending scale each one being “higher and more exquisite” (uttaritaram) than the lower. Nirvana is the “highest happiness” (paramam sukham) but the happiness in it is not conditioned. It is not subject to the presence of any conditioned vedana although the happiness can be positively experienced (vimuttisukha-patisamvedi). (for detailed information refer M.59 & 137 // MLDB fn.616)
The experience of conditioned pleasant, unpleasant and neutral hedonic tone is associated with the impressions and ideas we have as a result of sense-contacts or the conceptual activity of the mind in imagining, remembering, reasoning, listening to others, reading books etc. These impressions, ideas and concepts constitute sañña.
The last on the list of mental factors is viññana which covers knowledge and belief. Knowledge of moral and spiritual matters constitutes pañña. This involves greater depth of understanding regarding the nature of reality. The difference between sañña, viññana and pañña is well illustrated in the Visuddhimagga by the simile of the coin. When a child sees a coin it is only the colour and shape that interests him. A peasant knows its value as a means of exchange. A master of the mint knows its exact value and nature since he can distinguish between a counterfeit coin and a genuine one. There is a wider sense in which the word viññana is used but we shall examine that below.
We have left out the word sankhara, which in a psychological context is used in three senses. Firstly in the sense of volitions, because this is the sense in which it is used in the sentence avijja paccaya sankhara, which means that our volitions are conditioned by our true or false beliefs, which constitute ignorance. We sometimes think rightly and do good, or think wrongly and commit evil. We tread in samsara like a blind man with a stick, who sometimes goes on the right track and sometimes on the wrong track in trying to reach his destination.
In the second sense, sankhara is used to denote our connative or purposive activities. They may be bodily processes and may include reflex actions such as breathing (assasa-passasa) as well as conditioned behaviour such as habits. They may be verbal activities involving cogitative and discursive thinking in waking life or even in dreams. Finally, they may be purposive thinking or ideation involving impressions, ideas or concepts associated with feelings. These are called kaya-sankhara, vaci-sankhara and citta-sankhara respectively.
We may perform these actions or indulge in these activities aware that we are doing so (sampajañña) or unaware that we are doing so (asampajañña). We can walk, aware or unaware that we are walking. We can talk aware that we are talking or as in sleep unaware that we are talking. We can think or have trains of thought aware of what we are doing or unaware of what we are doing. The latter would constitute unconscious mental processes.
Likewise, we perform these activities with varying degrees of control. Normally we have no control over our reflexes but it is said that the yogin who has attained the fourth jhana has them under control. Lastly these activities may be initiated by an internal stimulus (sayam-katam) or an external stimulus (param-katam).
The third sense of sankhara denotes all those factors which accompany conscious volitional activity. If, for example, we are bent on doing a good deed these may be right beliefs (sammaditthi) some degree of awareness (satindriya), a quantum of selflessness etc.
The cultural heritage of India is not only one of the ancient cultures like Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece, but it is most extensive and varied in its nature. Throughout India’s ancient history there were many peopleand races temporally visited the land, many times they permanently settled down within its boarder and mixed with the indigenous people of its land. In due course their intermixture made possible to evolve a distinct and unique culture. India embraced all cultures and let them strive and grow naturally in its own time and space. Different peoples came to India from pre historic times right down to recent centuries and have co-operated in building up a great culture which doesnot seek to exclude anything, but is all inclusive and doesnot take up an attitude which would deny to any people its right of self expression. As a matter of fact, the culture of India a synthesis- a synthesis of not only blood and race, but, also of speech and of ways of thinking as well as of culture-material, intellectual and spiritual-which give ideologies and determine attitudes and action. Thus the cultural heritage of India displays an important role in the history of humanity.
Northern India, like prehistoric Europe experienced ice ages, and it is after second of these, more than 10,000 years B.C. the man left surviving traces in India. These are the Stone Age pebble tools of the Soan Valley Culture, so called after the name of a little river Soan in the Punjab where they have been found in large numbers. No human remains were found in association with the tools.
The Stone Age man was a hunter and food gatherer. They lived in very small nomadic communities. Inthis stage he slowly learnt how to lit fire, to protect his body from rain, heat and cold with skin,bark or leaves. He also tamed the wild dogs that used to hang around their campfire. In India, people lived like this for many centuries as they did all over the world.
Then, perhaps between 10000 and 6000 B.C. man became more skillful in many ways than his Stone Age predecessors. He learnt how to grow food crops, to tame domestic animals, to make pots and to weave garments. Before discovering the use of metals, he taught himself to make well-polished stone implements much advanced than the Stone Age ones.
Developed agriculture and permanent villages probably began in the 7th millennium B.C. in the Middle East. In India the earliest remains of settled cultures are of little agricultural villages in Baluchistan and lower Sind, perhaps dating from the end of the 4thmillennium.
One cannot overlook the influence of geography in the process of making a human culture. Geographical elements and features of a country can contribute a great deal in the making and shaping of its culture. Geography plays an important role in the lives and activities of the people, hence in their thoughts and literature. India is no exception to this rule. The Himalayan ranges of northern India, the extensivealluvial plain in the north, theplateauof the south, the two coasts of the peninsula and the warmth and rainfall all of which directly or indirectly connected with the evolution of Indian cultural heritage.
One might think the great Himalayan ranges extended from the east and the west are important as far as they separate India from the rest of the Asia and to certain extent from the world, and thus provide isolation and safety. The barrier was never been an obstacles for the settles, traders or invaders to find different routes to enter India. On the other hand Indians also carried their commerce and culture beyond her boundaries by the land or by sea.
The importance of the Himalayan ranges lieon the fact, as they are the source of two most vital rivers of the north India. These two rivers areSindhu and Ganga, the cradle of the two great civilizations of ancient India, the Indus Valley Civilization and the Aryan or Vedic Civilization.
Sindhu is the Sanskrit name of the river Indus. Whereas the Ganga is the Sanskrit name for Ganges. The name Sindhu was pronounced by the Persians as Hindu. From Persia it passed to Greece and the western world, as the whole of India came to know by this river. Again, the Muslims called the country “Hindustan” andthe people and who followed the old religion as“Hindus”. The river Indus now mainly in Pakistan gave its name to India.
The Indus Valley Civilization (IVC)
The antecedents of the IVC were the village sites of the Baluchistan hills, the Makran coast to the west of the Indus delta and some rural areas along the rivers in Rajasthan and Punjab. The village sites of Baluchistan and Sindh have produced a large number of terracotta female figurines which are generally classified as the representations of goddesses. The IVC was marked by extraordinary cultural uniformity both in time and space.
According to the archaeological evidence, civilization appears in India about 3000 B.C. on the fertile plain of Punjab watered by the five tributaries of the Indus, namely, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. The slow cultural evolution in India flourished into the magnificent IVC also known as Harappa Culture, from the modern name of the site one of its two great cities, on the left bank of the river Ravi in the Punjab. Mohenjodaro, the second city, is on the bank of the Indus, some 250 miles from its mouth. Recently, excavations have been carried out in the old valley of the river Sarasvati (now almost dried out) in Kalibanganear the boarder of India and west Pakistan. The newly revealed third city is as big as the two earlier ones and has the same characteristics. The IVC includes these cities, a few smaller towns and a large number of village sites, from Rupar on the upper Sutlej to Lothal in Gujrat. The area covered by the Harappa culture therefore extended from north to south for some 950 miles. The pattern of its civilization was so remarkably uniform that even the bricks were same in size and shape from one end of it to the other.
We do not know a great deal about the IVC comparing to the likewise simultaneous civilizations on the valleys of Nile and Euphrates (Civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia), for they have left for us written records which have been satisfactorily deciphered. Many hundreds of inscriptions were found but unfortunately they were not yet satisfactorily deciphered. Hence our knowledge of IVC is inadequate.
Who were the authors of this civilization in terms of races is not yet identified and their language is not known. The Indo-European family,Indo-Iranian family or the Dravidians from the South of India were the originators of this civilization are some of the theories put forward which are open for discussion.We can certainly say, in a generally cultural sense that they were Indians living on the valley for several centuries. Equally we cannot ascribe a precise date for the beginning of this civilization. We can although say with certainty that IVC was much prior to the Vedic Civilization. The Vedic culture saw its culmination in the age of the Buddha. And the radio-carbon method conclusively provedthat the date of IVC from its early period 3200 to late Harappan period belongs to post 2100 B.C.
Excavations at Harappa and the discoveries at MohenjoDaro have shown that each city had a well-fortified citadel perhaps used for both governmental and religious purposes. Throughout the area of the Harappa culture the strict uniformity in such features as weights and measures, the size of the bricks, the planning of the streets and even the lay out of the cities, suggest rather a single centralized state than a number of loose communities.
The discovery of nine strata building at MohenjoDaroreveals theculture’s moststriking feature of conservatism. From periodic flooding of the Indus as the level of the earth rose, new houses were built exactly on the site of the old, keeping the same street plan, with only minor variations in the ground plan. And this method they carried out for nearly a millennium at least. The script of the Indus valley people also remained same throughout their history.
In neither of the two great cities any stone building was found. Standardized good burnt bricks were the building materials for both dwelling houses and public buildings. The houses had bathrooms with drains, which flows into sewers under the main street. The sewers were covered with large brick slabs. The sewer system was the most impressive achievements of the Indus valley people. No other ancient civilization until that of the Romans had so efficient a system of drains.
The Great Bath in the citadel area at MohenjoDaro is the most striking building. Constructed with beautiful brickwork this oblong bathing pool 39×23 feet in area and 8 feet deep. It could be drained by an opening in one corner and was surrounded by a cloister, on to which opened a number of small rooms. Probably it had a religious purpose like a “tank” of the Hindu temple and the cells may have been the homes of the priests. They had the notion of hygiene well advanced than other cultures and they might have also the strong belief in purification in connection with water like that of later Hindus.
The great granary is worth mentioning that has been discovered to the north of citadel of Harappa. Raised on a platform of some 150×200 fleet in area to protect it from floods, and divided into storage blocks which were used to store up corns that they collected as land tax from the peasants. The main food crops were wheat, barley, peas, and sesamum – the seeds of which provide edible oil. The Harappan people did not know cultivation of rice but they grew and used cotton. They tamed most of the domestic animals known to modern India. Humped and humpless cattle’s, buffaloes, goats, sheep’s, pigs, Asses, dogs and domestic fowl. The Harappan people may have known of the horse as in small amount horse teeth have been found, but they must have been very rare animals and their usage were not wide spread. The bullock was probably the usual beast of burden.
On the basis of this thriving agricultural economy the Harappa civilization was a comfortable one. The people had pleasant houses even the workmen used to enjoy the luxury of two room cottages. A well organized commerce made these things possible. The cities traded with the village cultures of those areas where outposts of the Harappa cultures have been found but their metals and semi precious stones came from much longer distances.
Religion of the IVC
With the discovery of IVC, the perspective of the religious history of India has changed. There has been suggestions that some of the fundamental religious ideas of Hinduism and some of the heterodox believes and observances can be trace back to this pre Aryan-pre Vedic culture. They were the worshippers of many gods both in anthropomorphic (ascribing human behavior to animals) and aniconic (not human or not animal) forms. There are questions about their pantheon whether it was female oriented or male?
The discoveries of many terracotta female figurines in many sites and the seals depicting various scenes related with the cult of mother goddesses, suggest that they were the worshippers of mother goddesses. In interesting oblong terracotta seal found at Harappa, depicting a nude female figure upside down with legs apart and a plant issuing from her womb. A probable depiction of a tree goddess on another seal is found. The tree has been identified as the Ashvattha, the tree of enlightenment, the most sacred tree of Buddhism. Scholars have suggested the famous bronze statue of a slender dancing girl as a prototype “yogini” of late Tantrism.Several seals with swastika signs have been found in the IVC sites.
On the other hand, the presence of a great male god is very much controversial. A great many seals have his representations. The famous seal from MohenjoDaro shows him seated on a low throne flanked by antelopes (deer throne) in a Yogic posture, eyes half closed, arms outstretched and resting on his knees. He is surrounded by many animals like elephant, tiger rhinoceros and buffalo. He has an elaborate headdress, which is decorated by two horns in a shape of a fan. He has been identified differently by different scholars as Pashupati, Agni(the fire god), a Jainaarahant, a proto-type Siddha (an esoteric adept) Rudra or a proto-type Shiva.
The discoveries of linga or phallic and many ring stones suggested to be the representations of yoni, the female organ of generation, the depiction of the birth of plant from the womb of the deity all these rightly suggest the Indus valley cults were related to regeneration and fertility. From other phenomenon like ablutions of the great birth, priesthood suggested by sculptures, use of horned head dresses, the icons of man-tiger, tree-goddess- all show the existing of a complexed myths and rites associated with IVC are still unknown to us.
Decline of the IVC
1.Theory of natural disaster and climate change
This theory suggests that the collapse of IVC due to severe flood. We have some evidences of IV cities suffered from flooding. Land became less fertile, shortage of food and resources, which caused people to migrate.
2. Invasion of the Aryans.
The Indus Valley Civilization perished through the violence of insurgent Aryans. The composers of the Rg Veda, the earliest Indian literary source, were invading people. The Rgvedic references of the destructions of “pur”s have been taken to be references to the wall- cities and forts of the Indus valley people. The fight of Indra with “dasyus”is interpreted as the battle between Aryans and the non Aryans. There is no doubt of the existence of a highly civilized non Aryan people in India at the time of the Aryan invasion but there is not enough evidence to prove the point. It is probable that the fall of this great civilization was an episode in the widespread migratory movements of charioteeringpeopleswhich changed the face of the whole civilized world in the 2nd millennium B.C.
Whatever may be the cause of the end of the Indus Valley cities, its religion and culture never died out completely. We find the traces of this religion in the later Vedic age and in the subsequent religious traditions of India. The contributions of Indus Valley religion to the Indian religious history is marked by the emergence of image or iconic worship which was not the practice of Vedic India. Similarly the gods and goddesses were worshipped in their symbolic representetions. The worship of gods in the form of “linga” or “yoni” common to Hinduism, also another contribution. In Vedic religion goddesses in no means had a dominant place. In later Indian religious history the female deities hold an equally important role like their male counter parts. The concept of Mother-Goddess in the post Vedic and even as late as Tantric India, perhaps were the impact of the Indus religion. There are suggestions that the system of Yoga and some of the heterodox schools of Indian religion were directly or indirectly associated with the Indus valley Culture. We will examine them in their right context.
Now, I don’t think I have to tell you- most of you are familiar with Buddhism and the Buddhist usage. A lot of people use A.D. rather than the nomination C.E., which is the abbreviation of the word Common Era; we don’t use the A.D., which you find in other tradition. A. D. stands
for Latin word Anno Domini which means the year of the lord. And by the same token B.C.E. is used in the Buddhist context, which stands for Before Common Era, instead of B.C. meaning Before Christ. The Thais still continue to use the Buddhist year. For example the millennium, the 2000C.E. was the Buddhist year 2543.
The fourth council took place probably in 100 C.E. We dated it at that point of time, because it was held under the auspice of the King by the name of Kanishka who was a central Asian King. He was a Kushana King, one of the central Asian people that ruled over the western
India of Afghanistan and Kandahar. These were all Buddhist countries.They were part of the Buddhist world in the 1st cen. C.E.Unfortunately they didn’t stay that way. Kanishka ruled over this region of North-west of India.
We also have an interesting coincidence. It would appear that great Buddhist poet Ashvaghosa. Here, I am talking about the Sanskrit Buddhist literature and Mahāyāna Buddhism, belonged to this period. Ashvaghosa was the author of the Buddhacarita, the life of the Buddha. This text was roughly translated by Edwin Arnold in the famous poem called ‘The light of Asia’, which was based on Ashvaghosa’s Buddhacarita. That poem had a great influence upon the spread of
Buddhism, in the interest of Buddhism in the west. Anyway Ashvaghosa was the author of that
text and several others including one beautiful text praising the Buddha. It seemed that Ashvaghosa was invited to attend the council by Kanishka. But he declined because of his advance age. He was too old to travel so far to attend the council. Instead he wrote a letter to the King, the text called the Kanishkalekha. It is one of the whole classes of the Buddhist texts. We find Nagarjuna writing a letter to a King (Goutamiputra Satakarni) in Suhrillekha. Later still, we find Buddhist scholar Atisha writing letters to various kings. We also find Chos -gyal –phags- pa, a learned Buddhist monk writes a letter to Kublai Khan. Perhaps this is the beginning of the letter writing to the kings. These were not the ordinary letters. They contained teachings.
Kanishkalekha is very beautiful. It contains many important dharma teachings and specially Ashvaghosa trying to persuade the King to give up hunting. He talks about how the king, the deer and so forth that he hunts are basically the same, they both love life and both fear death.
He talks about how the eyes of the deer look when the king is about to shoot them, and how the king should generate pity on them instead of taking their lives. Anyway it helps to determine the date of Ashvaghosa and Kanishka and to put the council sometime at the end of the 1st. cen. CE.
This council was different from other councils in couple of ways. First of all determining the location of this council is a difficult issue. We are not hundred percent sure where the council took place? It certainly took place in the Northwestern part of India, may have been in Jalandhar in Punjab or may be in Kandahar or may be in some part of Pakistan. As you would expect, the Northwestern part of India become the strong hold of Sarvāstivāda. The principal participants at
the councils were Sarvāstivādins and by that time we had a couple of schools of the Sarvāstivāda. We have Mula-Sarvāstivāda, the Root Sarvāstivāda and the Kashmiri Sarvāstivāda/Vaibhāṣika, with minor differences between the schools. In any case in the fourth council we had the domination of the Sarvāstivādins.
This proliferation of the schools, which began with the first eighteen schools but then they went on. The Buddhist schools tend to divide and sub-divide. This has been a characteristic of Buddhism. In fact it is still the characteristic of Buddhism, Buddhist school or Buddhist center in the modern context as well.
§ 1. Sarvāstivāda
Now, I should tell you little bit about the evolution of the Sarvāstivāda, because Sarvāstivāda was a very important school. (This is why) I said earlier the origin of the Mahāyāna was not a straight forwards, narrow and one directional evolution. Different schools contributed in their own way to the evolution of the Mahāyāna. Now if you look at the Sarvāstivāda School from their philosophical point of view, they were very Pluralistic and Realistic school. Sarvāstivāda
multiplied and enforced the idea of the self-existing dharma, the self-existing factors. From that point of view they were Ābhidharmika School par excellence. They were most extreme Ābhidharmika School. Because of this tendency to regard factors as real, as having svabhāva (self-existence, the term we will talk about a lot when we talk about the development of Emptiness doctrine in Mahāyāna) they got into trouble in the third council. They believed in the existence of all dharmas. That is how they got their name Sarvāstivāda, i.e., ‘sarvam asti’, all dharmas exist. Among the dharmas that existed, were the past and the future. So for the Sarvāstivāda, past existed and the future also existed just like the present. For the Vibhajyavāda only present existed. The fact is both positions are rather serious. It is argued in what sense past exists if it does not exist in the same sense as present. Then again how does the present
exists without the past? If you don’t have past and future, what is present? There is no present without past and future also. You only imagine present in relation to past and future.
Sarvāstivāda also guaranteed something to account for the preservation of Karma. It elaborates that what causes us to be reborn in certain condition, in certain circumstances. In Buddhism it is believed that we are born in a particular situation because of our Karma. But how that happens since we are just a bunch of processes, just a collection of aggregates? That heap perish at the point of death. Then what is that and how that is combined with Karma? Where I do get that Karma? (There are different answers to this. I am sure you know some of the answers. I know some of the answers. We don’t have to know all the answers now). But the Sarvāstivādins came up with a convenient solution. Everybody come with past factors, the factors, which are real factors, that exist, that have real nature. That factor is called ‘prapti’ which means attribution or ownership. It is like a promissory note or like a report card. When you die and according to the report card you are born as a dog or a king in whatever state you are going to be born. So they took this what we call in philosophical term Realism. They took this at quite extreme length. Everything is real. Everything has its own independent existence. Although they are inter-related,
all the factors were also real. They have their own nature, their own svabhāva. This is their philosophical aspect. This is just about as far as you can go, as far as you can get away from the Mahāyāna view of dharma, which is ‘dharmanaitatmya’- non-self, the insubstantiality of the factors. Sarvāstivāda view is just about that, it is opposed to the Mahāyāna view with regard to the description of reality, the description of what actually exist.
§ 2. Sarvāstivāda and Mahāyāna Tendencies
So they were very far from that account but in other way they were very Mahayanists. In other way they had very strong Mahāyāna tendencies. How?
2.1. Close relation with laity
First of all, they had very close and continuous relation with the laity. The Sarvāstivāda centers, the temples and the monasteries- most of them were in the cities, in urban areas. They had walkways where the population, the ordinary people can come and circumambulate the
temple. The monks were living in the borders; they would carry out their monastic duties. But the lay people use to come in the monasteries, circumambulate the temples and shrines. The monasteries were located in the cities in the urban centers. The monks had continuous contact
with the lay people. This is again the characteristic of the Mahāyāna to have the close connection with the lay people. Now, of course, they also exist in the Theravāda countries, but in those days it was the characteristics of the Sarvāstivāda. For example, in Taxila, the great Buddhist center in the Northwestern sub continent of India the monastery was situated in the city.
2.2. Promote the Jataka and develop perfections of the Bodhisattva career
The other point, which is more important, the Sarvāstivādins became extremely interested in the previous lives of the Buddha. They focused on the Jataka stories, on the various portrayals of the Jataka stories. They fostered and promoted the cult of the Jataka. They were fascinated by the previous lives of the Shakyamuni. Then they began to talk about the Three Vehicle and the legitimacy and the acceptability of the three vehicles. So these are the Mahāyāna characteristics,
which were noticeable in the Sarvāstivāda. Finally, they began to promote the idea that their great teacher, for example one of the head of the Sarvāstivāda School, the monk by the name of Sanghamitra was a Bodhisattva and he would become a future Buddha. So by the 1st cen. CE
Sarvāstivāda had a conception whereby a whole row, a whole queue of their teachers lined up behind Maitreya wait to become future Buddha. Of course the first was Maitreya, then Sanghamitra then so and so forth. This is also very Mahayanic conception.
So on one hand, philosophically, they were very conservative, a typical Hīnayāna school, having Realistic and Pluralistic view of reality. On the other hand, on the practical and the ethical side,
they promoted close relationship with the laity. They foster and develop the cult of Jataka based on the previous lives of the Buddha and they developed the conception of a long line of future Buddha, the long line of Bodhisattvas, the long line of the masters who were Bodhisattvas who would in course of time become Buddha. Thus they had a lot to contribute to the Mahāyāna.
The Mahāsaṅghikās concentrated on their conception of the Buddha emphasizing supramundane or super natural qualities of the Buddha.They did not talk a lot about the Bodhisattva Path or future Buddha and so forth. Sarvāstivādins, on the other hand did not talk much about the Buddha’s qualities but they did cultivate and develop perfections of the Bodhisattva career to become the Buddha.
The formative influences, which made up the Mahāyāna, came from various forces not only from Mahāsaṅghikās. Even the Vātsīputrīyas, according to the text, had contributed to the Mahāyāna. I will talk about it later. But the various schools- they all had something to
contribute to the Mahāyāna conception. Mahāyāna conception was a product of multiple influences coming out of various schools that developed after the second council.
It is also not merely accidental or coincidental that Sarvāstivādins used Sanskrit as their medium of instruction or as their medium of their texts. We know that the Mahāyāna language is Sanskrit. So the formation and the development of Mahāyāna also depends upon Sarvāstivāda contribution. It is also indebted to the contribution of Sarvāstivāda.
§ 3. Sautrantika
The interesting issue that rose at the fourth council is that, by the fourth council, we have another school. There were two schools, which were most important schools; they debated on the orthodoxy, on the authenticity of their teachings at the fourth council. One was the
Sarvāstivāda that we were talking about; the other one is a relatively new, relatively ill-defined school. This school is called Sautrantika. The Sautrantika were the school that began to be critical of the Realism, Pluralism of the Sarvāstivāda. So many of the factors that
Sarvāstivāda regarded as real, Sautrantika regarded them as mentally created. They say those factors are product of mind or imagination (vikalpa). They are just mental formation and not as real independent object. The meaning of the name Sautrantika comes from the term ’Sūtra’, that is, those who adhere to Sūtra. When you look into the textbooks on the evolution of the Buddhist schools, the principal division is noticed between the Sautrantika and the Sarvāstivāda.
Sarvāstivāda are also called Vaibhāṣika, the followers of the Vibhāṣā or Commentaries.
The principle differences according to the most of the traditional text books is that, the Sarvāstivādins believed that the Abhidharma was the word of the Buddha whereas the Sautrantikas did not accept that. Sautrantikas say that they have to go back to the Sūtras; they
have to go back to the words of the Buddha. Abhidharma is not the words of the Buddha. Abhidharma is the commentary. This is the textual differences between the Sautrantika, which was kind of upstart school, the reactive school. The Sautrantika School that burst in reaction in
respond to the ultra pluralism, realism and multiplication of factors (dharmas) of the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma. This is a very interesting area of study. Recently we have books published on Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma translated from Chinese, the originals are being lost in
Sanskrit. These are few pieces of puzzle that came into the hand of scholars; they are putting some kind of picture together of what happened during the five hundred years, from the time of Buddha until the 1stcentury CE. So the Sautrantikas rejected the Abhidharma.
This is also very interesting because they became very anti Mahāyāna because when the Theravāda or Hinayanists 1 said to the Mahayanists, ‘O look, we don’t accept your scriptures, we don’t accept the Mahāyāna Sūtras’. The proponent of the Mahāyāna could always come back and say, ‘you people also don’t agree upon the Sūtras, you also don’t agree upon the text’, because the Sautrantikas do not accept the Abhidharma while the Vaibhāṣikas do.
So this is one of the issues that rose at the fourth council. Is or is not the Abhidharma the word of the Buddha? I don’t want to try to answer this question in the context of this course. Very briefly, I think, today most scholars agree that Abhidharma is not word-to-word ‘buddhavacana’. On the other hand, most scholars agree that Abhidharmao a large extent was inspired by the Buddha. In fact, we have discourses in the Sutta Pitaka are Ābhidharmika in their character.
Anyway, at this council the Vaibhāṣikas, the Sarvāstivādins, they were victorious, they won the debate at the council and the Sautrantikas were disgraced.
Again, the Sautrantikas did not go away and disappear. The Sautrantikas in a sense disappeared but they remained very important because of their critical attitude, because they became to some extent anti-realistic. I want to make sure you understand what I mean by saying ‘realistic’ school as opposed to one that is ‘critical’. It is a very basic division in philosophy. What it means is that a Realistic school believe that things exist in their own right. They exist by themselves. 1 I don’t like to use the word Hīnayāna. It is a polemical term that was evolved, according to some, as a result of the division in the second council, the Sthavira, the elders called the dissenting party(those who carried the salt in the horn and so forth), ‘papa bhikkhus’, the sinful monks. The sinful monks retaliated by calling the elders the followers of Hīnayāna, i.e. Lesser Vehicle. I am not sure about the truth of the story, but it is the story that has come down to us for centuries.
‘Critical’ school tend to think whether it really exist or it is just imagination. In other words, it is just a product of mind. It is just something that exists by combination of circumstances. So this
critical quality of Sautrantika became extremely important and became one of the major characteristics of Mahāyāna, particularly of the Madhyamaka School. Even of the Yogacara School of the Mind Only School, where everything becomes mind. So in that sense, Sautrantika
who were the losers at the fourth council nonetheless their idea also filtered through in the Mahāyāna doctrine and remained important because of that. Although the Sarvāstivāda School actually from that point did not disappear, but it never really gain much more importance.
The council composed a number of commentaries on the Abhidharma called Vibhāṣā. These were inscribed on the copper sheets. We have some literary production as the result of the views of the Kashmiri Vaibhāṣikas, the Vaibhāṣikas that were at the council. We have for example
Abhidharmakosha of Vasubandhu, which convey the point of view of the Vaibhāṣikas. This was the peak of the Sarvāstivāda contribution to the evolution of the Buddhist thought. On one hand, they had very elaborate treatment of the dharmas, very realistic Abhidharma(incidentally, more realistic even than the Theravāda Abhidharma) on the other hand they advocated the notion of Bodhisattva, the future Buddha and the cult of the Jatakas, the former lives of the Buddha. These were the contributions of the Sarvāstivāda. After that, they continued to remain for several hundred years but they never really made any important philosophical contribution. So we have come to the end of the stories of the councils. I tried to highlight some aspects that were important or significant for understanding the origin of the Mahāyāna.
4. Mahāyāna at Early Stage
Now, let us look at the Mahāyāna per se, the Mahāyāna itself. The first point I want to make that what is historical and factual. The fact is by the 1st cen. CE, the Mahāyāna was in existence all over India. It was taught in the west, it was taught in the area of Nalanda and it was taught in the south. All of a sudden Mahāyāna became a reality. Mahāyāna existed; it prospered all over India. There were popular Mahāyāna centers in most parts of India.
The councils never really addressed the issues of Mahāyāna. They never directly confronted the Mahāyāna. The councils were like meetings of several monks, something of that nature. They had their own strategies, their own point of view. They were the meetings of the Hīnayāna schools belonging to the Abhidharma schools. They really did not address the issues or the challenges of the Mahāyāna. But, all of a sudden by the 1st. cen. CE we find the Mahāyāna became very popular. have been taught and established all over. They had followers throughout India and throughout the newly Buddhist countries of central Asia.
§ 1. Where did the Mahāyāna texts come from?
Now, where did the Mahāyāna texts come from? Where did the major Mahāyāna scriptures and the teachings come from? This is a very difficult issue. I struggled myself with this issue for a long time, because the Theravāda tradition gives us a very realistic, natural and a very normal account of the origin of the Theravāda texts, the Pali texts. They say, Ānanda remembered what the Buddha taught. The Arhats got together at the death of the Buddha. They collected what Ānanda had remembered and recalled of the teachings of the Buddha and all the teachings were
compiled. Thus we have Theravāda canon. Then of course Abhidharma was added later but there are various reservations now regarding the tradition of the Abhidharma and so forth.
But, for the Mahāyāna, it is more difficult. It is more difficult because what does the Mahāyāna tell about their texts. We just have very brief reference of Mahāsaṅghikā making selection of their own texts. None of the Mahāyāna tradition paid too much attention to that. All of a sudden we have Mahāyāna texts appearing here, there and
1.1. The legend
And if you look at the accounts of the Mahāyāna itself, what the writers, historians of the Mahāyāna say about the origin of the Mahāyāna texts? They say, that the texts came from Maitreya, the future Buddha. The future Buddha gave a bunch of Mahāyāna texts to Asaṅga. Mañjuśrī, another Mahāyāna Bodhisattva came down from heaven to give some other texts. Nāgārjuna happen to notice, while giving a lecture one day outdoor, three young men disappeared beneath the ground. Next time again when he was giving a talk, he noticed the
three young men. Nāgārjuna approached them and asked them who they were? They said that they were Nāgas. They took Nāgārjuna to the Naga world and gave him the Prajñāpāramitā
Sūtra (the Perfection of Wisdom Discourse). Nāgārjuna get the Perfection of Wisdom Discourse from the Nāgas.
Now it is easy for a Western objective historian to accept the
traditional Theravāda account of the origin of their Canon, as it is fairly straightforward. It is quite straightforward, something we all can understand. In making allowances for the fact that the Theravāda Canon existed as the oral tradition and was not written down until five hundred years after the Parinirvāṇa of the Buddha, it leaves room for quite a few slips. It leaves room for quite a few discrepancies in the sense that we all can admit that the monks had fantastically good
memories, but even so, the oral tradition that goes on for five hundred years; we have to wonder if there weren’t some slippage, some change and some diversion from the original story? Still the process is within our normal range of experience, something that happens all
the time. Change can take place. Of course there can be discrepancies.
In those days there weren’t any photocopies. In those days they didn’t have written texts. They had oral tradition. I am not saying oral tradition is not reliable. Surely it is. People used to rely on oral tradition those days. We now rely on our notes. That’s why we can’t remember anything.
But Mahāyāna story is more difficult to swallow. It had the Bodhisattvas, the future Buddhas came down to give texts and so and so forth. I was thinking about this problem. It was different probably in the 1st cen. CE. Nowadays if you tell someone that this text came down from Maitreya or the Bodhisattva, you tend to be skeptical and don’t believe that but in the 1st. century CE it was different. They would consider it was really important and special teaching. I think it was a matter of prestige and importance in ascribing the origin of Mahāyāna Sūtras to the celestial beings, to the extra ordinary beings, to the future Buddha, to the Bodhisattva Maitreya and to the Nāgas in the 1st cen. CE. It was not something that made people skeptical. It
was something that people believed, because in those days people believed.
Unfortunately, it is our own loss that we don’t believe. We should believe more. We have become too scientific; we have become too objective. I am not against science, but in fact, we have narrowed our capacities, understanding and our ability to appreciate by demanding
The fact is that accept or not the major Mahāyāna texts, the major Mahāyāna texts were in existent in the 1st. cen. CE. Where did they come from? Did they come from Maitreya? Were they preserved in the memories of other schools? People like Purana, the people who were sort of outsider of the mainstream and who had other memories? This is quite possible.
§ 2. The Written Texts of Mahāyāna and Theravāda
Let us just put aside all these for a moment. I don’t think any school of Buddhism actually deny for a little bit of faith. Historical fact about the major Mahāyāna texts was in existent by the 1st cen. CE. This is the final point I want to make about the canon. The traditional wisdom is that the Theravāda texts were earlier and the Mahāyāna texts were later. But again, I can quote objective and scientific method to address this issue. If you look the question objectively and scientifically, there is very little to divide Theravāda texts from the Mahāyāna texts, in the sense that the Theravāda texts were written down in about 50 BCE five hundred years after the time of the Buddha in the middle of the 1st cen. BCE. The major Mahāyāna texts we know were already in existent in the 1st cen. CE. So in strictly historical terms, in terms of texts (when I say text, I mean the physical doctrine, the written text, the canon, not the tradition) we see there is hardly hundred years of separation of the Theravāda texts from the Mahāyāna texts. Maybe not that much even, because some of the major Mahāyāna Sūtras like Lotus Sūtra and the
Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra could very well have been written down in the 1st cen. BCE. So what I am saying that the idea that the Theravāda texts were factually, historically and objectively earlier than the Mahāyāna Sūtras/Scriptures cannot be sustained satisfactorily. It
cannot be proven. There is no hard evidence that the Theravāda texts or the Theravāda canon as written down were substantially older than the Mahāyāna canon or the Mahāyāna scripture.
If we are talking about oral tradition, then again, it is an open question because, just as the Theravāda texts could have survived in oral tradition, Mahāyāna texts could also have existed in oral tradition.
If we talk about document, talking about written text, the date is so close together, it is hard to make any judgment about priority and decide which one is earlier and which is later. The question of earlier and later is very shaky one. It is difficult to maintain and difficult to defend in objective, historical and scientific terms. So my point is, you cannot discard the Mahāyāna scriptures by saying that they were mere invention.
It is also true that in terms of written document, actual physical document. Not too many years ago the British Library came upon in quite a mysterious circumstances a set of texts from eastern
Afghanistan, they were written in kharoṣṭhī and were dated from 1st – 2nd cen. CE. They were probably the oldest documents that existed. They happened to be the Hīnayāna not the Mahāyāna document. They contained the Discourse of Rhinoceros and so forth. But apart from
that, you know the oldest Buddhist printed text about which the most scholarship agree, is the Cutting of the Diamond Sūtra, the Vajracchedikā Sūtra which dated from 868 CE that is six hundred years before Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. This is the oldest printed document. So if we are talking about document, we don’t have any real evidence upon which to make a statement about whether Theravāda teaching or Mahāyāna teaching was earlier or older or first.
§ 3. The Popularity of Mahāyāna
Now, let this question about the antiquity of canon put aside and talk about the psychology and sociology of Buddhism during this period, the period of five hundred years after the time of the Buddha. During this period you had, at best I can tell, three groups who were representing
different inclinations and different interests within the Buddhist community. You had the Sthaviras, the elder monks, you had the junior monks and you had the laity or the lay people. These three groups reflex different degrees of inclinations. The elders, the Sthaviras were very conservatives. Their interests were always in preservation. They would say, ‘keep all the precepts, don’t throw out even the most minor precept and hold fast to the doctrine as it was formulated during the first council’. Their philosophy and attitude were for conservation.
◌ Then you have junior monks, who were more liberal. They were interested in other ideas and open to other interpretations. They were willing in practice not in letters but to relax in some of the precepts.
◌ And finally you have the lay people who had their own interest. They their own agenda. They wanted a Buddhism that meant something to them in their everyday life. They wanted the Sarvāstivāda monasteries right in the middle of the city. They all were not in a position to
ride on the elephant and visit the learned monks in their monasteries in the forest. They wanted to be close to the Buddhist community, to their masters and to the monks.
So the elders, the juniors and the laity- they all had their own priorities and their own inclinations. The story of the rise and popularity of the Mahāyāna is really the story of how these three groups played off against each other and how they adopted, how they developed or made their choices, how they interpreted the teachings of the Buddha and how they interpreted Buddhism. The principal choice they had to make between the two ideals of the religious life.
Here we have to talk about the Arhat and the Buddha or alternatively the Arhat and the Bodhisattva. The junior monks and the lay people –they were given choice. They could be Buddhist, follow the Buddhist path and have in mind the ideal of the Arhat, the ideal of the
Individual liberation, the idea of entering into Parinirvāṇa. This is one choice they can make given by the elders, the conservatives. On the other hand, the younger liberal monks of the Mahāyāna tradition offered them another choice. They say, “follow the example of the
Buddha, be a Bodhisattva”. Here you have liberal interpretation of the discipline (the monastic codes) you have many life-times to develop perfections, develop the quality and the end of the day you can become a Buddha with all the qualities, with all the attributes that the Buddha possesses.
So when the people of the 1st cen. CE were presented with the choice to become an Arhat to follow the way of the Elders to become an Arhat and disappear into Nirvāṇa or to become a Buddha, to follow the way of the Bodhisattva all the way to Mahāyāna, practice the Bodhisattva
path, although it is long and difficult yet you will have a lot of interesting experiences on the way, and eventually you will become a Buddha. And after all, this was the founder of the tradition; the Buddha followed the same path. So why not follow the Mahāyāna path?
Why not follow the Bodhisattva path? Why not take your ideal as the ideal Bodhisattva rather than the ideal of an Arhat? And I think that it was this choice that carry even today, for instance, that is why the Mahāyāna became so popular throughout India, throughout Central Asia. That is why there was attraction of Mahāyāna in Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. In most cases the Mahāyāna was eventually eliminated from these countries because of political and other reasons but the Mahāyāna gained great popularity because of this ideal of Bodhisattva. It was very appealing and no matter in what condition you ascribe it to. (And in fact, I hesitate to say this in front of many members of the Saṅgha,) I believe there
are many members of the Theravāda Saṅgha who pursue the Bodhisattva path, who aspire to become Bodhisattva. There was a very famous teacher from Sri Lanka who visited Singapore often, Ven. Mahathera Narada, who said openly that he was a follower of Bodhisattva path; he aspired to become a Buddha. So, I think, even in the Theravāda tradition you will find many practitioners, and it is possible as I told you earlier that Theravāda did not reject the Bodhisattva path. It did not reject the goal of Buddhahood. What it said that it is very difficult. It is a long road, so may as well strive to become an Arhat. But I think personally that Mahāyāna can be accounted for by its appeal, the attraction that the choice of Bodhisattva path it had.
In addition to that Mahāyāna had all other elements, we might call it “marketing technique” nowadays. It had all other things, like the figures of the Bodhisattvas, the glorious figures with all their supernatural qualities. Mahāyāna had all these what came to be called, skillful means, skillful devices the way whereby the pupil is led by stages so that if he cannot do this practice, he can do another practice. You have choices; you don’t have only one or two practices. There are many different practices (according to your inclination and ability). Then you have great compassion of the Mahāyāna. The fact the Mahāyāna is always ready to hear, have compassion. If you make a mistake there is always another chance. “Alright, you made a mistake,
you may not got it quite right this time, never mind, try again, it will be alright.”
This sort of attitude of the Mahāyāna won over the laity and that’s why Mahāyāna was able to achieve such great popularity throughout and as the result of this it became an important tradition within Buddhism and it spread through Central Asia, China and so forth.
3.1. The five hundred years between the lifetime of the Buddha
and the emergence of the full-fledged Mahāyāna in the 1st cen. CE Before I move to the next topic – Mahāyāna element within the Pali sources, I like to make a last point. The point is what about the five hundred years between the lifetime of the Buddha and the emergence of the full-fledged Mahāyāna in the 1st cen. CE. The scholars have agreed now that the full-fledged Mahāyāna emerged by the 1st cen. CE. So the point I want to make is, what about these five hundred years between the life of the Buddha and the 1st cen. CE which distinct the Theravāda /Sthaviravada tradition on the one hand and Mahāyāna tradition which was already popular and widespread on the other.
I want to point out that now we fancy and imagine that we know quite a lot of this period but the fact is we still know precious little about this period. I give an example how little we know. It is true that now we know more than hundred years ago, but that does not mean we know everything. We don’t know enough to make a complete picture about what happened during that five hundred years. This period is still very obscure and clouded and no wonder, it was two hundred years ago. And there were very few historical records. I will give you just one example, which will illustrate how little we knew about that period.
One hundred or so years ago there has always been existed in the Buddhist countries, in the Theravāda Buddhist countries particularly (but even in the Mahāyāna Buddhist countries) a legend about a great Buddhist Emperor called Ashoka who was converted to Buddhism and who
spread and promoted Buddhism. This was a legend. This legend was regarded by the western scholars as a Buddhist myth. Then when the British begun to excavate various parts around India, they begun to come across these rock inscriptions, pillar inscriptions and so forth
all over India. There were many of them. There were 32 major rock edicts and 18 minor edicts. So they began to find one by one these rock inscriptions. The British archaeologists who were working on this project became very much puzzled, because these inscriptions all referred to one “Piyadasi.” They all wondered about the identity of this ‘Piyadasi’. They wondered who was this great king who went around inscribed on the stone with Buddhist Sutta? It took them quite a long time to put two together and realize that the Ashoka of the Buddhist legend and the Piyadasi of the rock and pillar inscriptions are the same person. It took them a long time to come around that conclusion. For long time they wondered who was the Piyadasi. Incidentally there were earlier Indologists who doubted the Buddha ever existed. So you see when we try to put things together of the early period, the first five hundred years after the time of the Buddha, we have very limited materials to work with. We have very little hard evidence. Now it is
getting better. A lot of materials are coming right now not from that period but from the post Common Era period. They are throwing some light in the evolution of the schools within that five hundred years in question. It is still a period, which is very much shrouded and covered by the time. I tend to be a little bit practical in this respect, from my point of view, and it does not matter too much. We have the Mahāyāna, we have the Theravāda and we have the teachings. If we are primarily interested in practice then really it doesn’t matter too much. It may be helpful to know all these to write a dissertation for a Ph. D. degree but not in liberation. So we really don’t need to be worry about which school of the Mahāsaṅghikas tells which view because all
the schools are now dust-all the schools that contributed to the Buddhism that existed later, developed later. In some degree it is academic “exercise.” We don’t have to worry too much about that.
5. Mahāyāna Elements in the Theravāda Tradition
Now I find it actually more interesting than the historical discussion of the evolution of the schools and here I want to talk about the elements of Mahāyāna that are found in the Theravāda tradition. I began this course by referring to the fact that we need to look at the life, the career and the teachings of the Buddha to find the fundamental and the essential model for the Mahāyāna path/for the Mahāyāna tradition. I want to be more specific. I want to be textual.
I want to look at the Pali canon. I want to look for the evidence in the Pali canon for the important Mahāyāna doctrine. And there are lots. The lots do not mean in terms of quantity but the evidences of the Mahāyāna that are found in the Theravāda sources are very weighty
and are very convincing. It carries a lot of importance.
§ 1. The Buddha’s decision to teach
First of all, I want to refer to the Buddha’s decision to teach. Now someone here raised a question in the morning, if the Buddha was so compassionate and he could have lived for an eon, why did he pass into Parinirvāṇa and abandoned everybody and why Ānanda had to take the blame (for not asking the Buddha to live). Of course it is a very good question and I said that Mahāyāna had the answer. The Lotus Sūtra answers better than I give the answer. There is also similar answer in the Pali canon also. Shortly after the enlightenment of the Buddha,
which is recorded in the Ariyapariyesana Sutta, the Buddha was thinking to himself, This dharma which I have discovered is very deep, very profound. Most people are too much caught up in the passion, in the poisons of this world. They are not going to understand, and
appreciate this deep dharma. If I were to explain the dharma to them and they don’t understand, it will be a nuisance to me, it will be trouble for me. So why should not I just rest. Why shouldn’t I just enjoy the fruit of realization?
Now again, if the Buddha is so compassionate why did he think in that way? But this is said in the Pali text. The Buddha decided to go away. Now what happened? Here you need the intervention of the gods even in the Theravāda tradition to make things happen. Because even according to the Theravāda tradition, the Buddha might never had the power if gods did not make him to see the old man, the sick man, the corpse and the ascetic. So the intervention of gods was very important. The gods made him to see those sights. Here again (after the
enlightenment) the Buddha was thinking retiring into Parinirvāṇa without teaching. There is another text where Mara comes to Buddha and said, “O. K. now yow have become a Buddha, why don’t you go into Parinirvāṇa.” But the Buddha refused.
According to the Ariyapariyasena Sutta when the Buddha reflected in this way (that it would betrouble for me; it would be nuisance for me if I try to teach and the people don’t understand it). Brahma Sahampati comes to the Buddha. He is the highest of the gods. He knows what the Buddha is thinking. He kneels down in front of the Buddha and said, “Lord, please don’t think about retiring. Teach the dharma for the benefit of the world and so forth.” Now here one might say why the Buddha needed Brahma’s intervention? I think again it was for the prestige for the people of that time. It was something significant if the highest of the gods come and requested the Buddha to teach. It also makes the relationship between the Buddha and highest gods of the
Brahmanical religion quite clear. The highest of the Brahmanical gods were the devotees, disciples and the supplicants at the feet of the Buddha. Anyway, Brahma Sahampati comes and said to the Buddha, “O lord, you must teach, otherwise the world would be at lost etc.” The
Buddha reflects and thinks again and says, “Well, in fact there are some people in this world who have little dust in their eyes, they will be able to understand, they are not all close minded just as the some lotuses in the pond.” So he decided to teach. Now to my mind, this is the beginning of the Mahāyāna, right there, when the Buddha decided to teach and not to retire into nirvāṇa. This is the beginning of the Mahāyāna. He decided out of compassion for the benefit of the beings of the world to teach. This is absolutely Mahayanic in its tone, in its character.
§ 2. The Mulapariyaya Sutta
The next point I want to make is that, you need to look in the text, in the Mulapariyaya Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya. It is very difficult text. It is one of the two texts, which are different from the rest of the Pali Suttas. Normally in the Pali Suttas after the Buddha delivered his sermons, at the end everybody is happy, everybody praise the Buddha. But the Mulapariyaya Sutta is one of the exceptions where at the end the discourse monks were not happy; they did not like the discourse. Although the commentary of the Sutta would explain that at the end of the discourse every body praise the Buddha and said how nice the discourse was but the actual text ends with the monks being dissatisfied with the Sutta as it was very difficult to comprehend.
§ 3. The Buddha and the Arhat
But the point that I want to make about the Sutta is that, it distinguishes very clearly the Buddha from the Arhat. According to this Sutta, the Buddha is without any conception, the Buddha is free from all conceptions and the Buddha is free from all relations. The Buddha’s mind, his consciousness is untraceable. So he is different from the Arhat. And he is different from the Arhat, why? Because even when he has precise omniscience of the Buddha, he is referred as an
Arhat but he is also referred as “saṃyak saṃbuddha”, Perfectly Enlightened one (Pali: sammāsambodhi). The achievement of the Buddha is different from the achievement of the Arhat. The Buddha has “anuttara-saṃyak-saṃbodhi”, highest perfect enlightenment, as it is said in the Mahāyāna tradition. And this is the characteristic of the Buddha that distinguishes the Buddha from the Arhat. Nowhere in the Pali texts we have any suggestion that the Buddha and Arhats are equal. The Buddha is always superior to the Arhats.
I will just tell you a story that illustrates this point; the time of the Buddha’s passing away, this is related in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta of the Pali text. The Buddha is passing away and Ānanda is standing near to the Buddha. The Buddha asked Ānanda to stand aside. One of the Arhat thought the Buddha’s rebuke to Ānanda very strange as Ānanda was Buddha’s faithful servant for all these years. Why did the Buddha rebuke him in this way at the point of death? So he asked the Buddha why did he rebuke Ānanda in this way? The Buddha said, there
thousands, millions of devas, yakkhas and other beings crowded all around so tightly that one cannot put a blade or knife between one and the other and they all assembled to see the Tathāgata before he enters into Parinirvāṇa and Ānanda is blocking their view. He is standing
between the Tathāgata and the assembly of the extraterrestrial beings. Here also you can see immediately the difference between the Buddha and the Arhat. The Arhats were not aware of this fact. The Buddha could see all these beings walking together looking at the Tathāgata
at that moment. So the Buddha had incredible power that the Arhats did not share.
§ 4. The Buddha and the Dharma
Then we have various references in the Pali texts, which equate the Buddha with the dharma. The exact reference of this equation in the Pali texts is difficult to find. The equation of the Buddha and the Dharma runs like this, “The monk who sees Interdependent Co-arising
sees the Dharma. He who sees the Dharma sees the Buddha.” I found the first part of it, “The monk who sees Interdependent Co-arising sees the Dharma” in the Mahā-hatthipadopama Sutta, the Great Elephant Footprint Simile Discourse delivered by Sariputta. The last part, the
important part I haven’t found it yet. It does exist in the Mahāyāna Sūtra called Shalistambha Sūtra.
Generally in the Pali texts, “He who sees the dharma sees the Buddha” suggests that the Buddha’s physical form is not that important. What is important is seeing the Dharma, he who sees the Dharma, sees the Buddha. So again, here is the equation between the Buddha and the
Dharma. The reality of the Buddha is not in the physical body; the reality of the Buddha is the Dharma, if you like what it came to be called “dharmakāya”, the dharma body of the Buddha in the Mahāyāna tradition. So we already have a suggestion of the ‘dhammakāya’ in the Pali texts.
§ 5. Is the Buddha an extra ordinary being?
There is a very interesting episode that took place during the lifetime of the Buddha. It is an amazing story. If you think about the story, it gives everybody lot of foods for thought. There was a cowshed belonged to a certain person. The Buddha once wanted a shelter for the night. So he asked the owner of the cowshed whether he could stay in the cowshed for the night? The owner said he didn’t have any objection but there was another ascetic who came earlier and the owner had already given him the permission to stay. So now it is up to the other ascetic. So the Buddha asked the ascetic whether he could share the cowshed for the night. The ascetic agreed to share the space with the Buddha.
Nowadays when you meet someone you usually exchange cards and introduce yourself as who you are and so forth. In those days you did not do that. You answer if you are asked but it wasn’t necessary to introduce yourself. So the Buddha didn’t say who he was. In the morning the Buddha asked the monk where he was going? The monk said he was going to such and such place to meet the Buddha. The Buddha said fine and the Buddha left.
Later the ascetic asked the owner of the cowshed about the identity of the Buddha. The owner said that he was the Buddha. The ascetic didn’t see the Buddha even though he spent the night with him in the same location. He didn’t recognize the Buddha. So even during the time of
the Buddha, even the Buddha was there in flesh and blood and even you spend the night with the Buddha you can miss him if you don’t have the right Karma /don’t have the right purity of mind. The ascetic realized his mistake. The story had a relatively happy ending, although the ascetic got killed but was reborn in one of the heaven. It makes you think, no? The Buddha could be in this room right now. We wouldn’t know. So there is this element of mystery about the Buddha. You see it, you don’t see it, where is the Buddha? Can you see the Buddha? Even in the Pali sources, in the Theravāda tradition the Buddha has always been a super mundane being, not an ordinary being.
I know, it has been very popular in the last century to talk about the humanistic nature of the Buddha, the Buddha being a human. Surely, the Buddha was a man but after becoming a Buddha he was no longer a man in that sense. The Buddha always referred himself as Tathāgata, he would say, Tathāgata would go to Uruvela and so forth. He referred himself
in third person. So according to the Theravāda tradition the Buddha was always a super mundane being. I don’t think in any Theravāda countries the Buddha is considered as an ordinary human being. Some of you are from Thailand. Some of you are coming from Sri
Lanka and other Theravāda countries. You tell me, the Buddhists of Thailand and Sri Lanka and so forth do they regard the Buddha was an ordinary man? Of course not. This has happened, because in some extent, when Buddhism first went to the West hundred years ago or so,
that was the period of rationalism. At that period Buddhism was promoted as rational.
To portray Buddhism as rational, the founder of the religion the Buddha was portrayed as a man, as an ethical teacher. So the picture of the Buddha as human being was got set into the Theravāda tradition. So you get lot of intellectuals in the Theravāda countries following
the descriptions, the conceptions of the Buddha that was promoted in the West at that time. Now that no longer matter if you were to tell in the West the Buddha was an extra ordinary supernormal being, nobody now minds. But hundred years ago it wasn’t possible.
Now, what about the miracles performed by the Buddha? The Buddha had converted the Kassapa brothers. The elder Kassapa brother would not listen to the Buddha at all. He had no interest in listening to the Buddha’s teachings. He admired the Buddha because of his personality
and quality but he won’t listen to the Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha performed all kinds of miracles but the elder Kassapa just ignored them. The Kassapa happen to have a burning chamber where a Nāga supposed to live. So the Buddha asked the permission of the Kassapa
brother, to stay in that chamber. The Kassapa brother said that the Nāga would burn anybody stay in that chamber. But the Buddha insisted to stay in that chamber. The Kassapa brother had to agree. The whole night the chamber burnt brightly giving forth flames. So everybody
thought that the fire engulfed the Buddha. In the morning the Buddha came out of the chamber, perfectly well and serine and in his begging bowl he had a little snake, the Nāga that was difficult to subdue. The Buddha survived staying in that burning chamber throughout the night.
The Buddha performed all kinds of miracles. He performed miracles for the Shakyas and for the opponents. So the westernized version of Buddhism tends to ignore the miracles.
When I was in working on the school project in Singapore, the Government asked us not to put any miracles in the texts books. I don’t know why? Christians have their own miracles, why can’t we have our miracles? In fact, I rewrote that part of the text and put miracles.
Then there are questions of manifestations. What about the manifestations of the Buddha? What about the story of queen Kshema/Khema? She was the queen of King Bimbisara of Magadha during the time of the Buddha. She was very beautiful herself and fond of beautiful things but not interested in the Dharma. The King wanted her to become interested in the Dharma. So one day as a skillful device (upāya kauśalya), the King asked the queen to visit the beautiful
bamboo grove knowing that the Buddha was staying. So she went to see the bamboo grove. When the Buddha saw her coming, the Buddha created magically a figure of a beautiful young woman. As the queen Kshema had some interest in beautiful things, became fascinated by the beauty of that magically created woman. Undoubtedly she thought whether that woman was more beautiful than her or not. So as she was looking at this beautiful woman, within the space of few minutes, the woman became old, her skin became wrinkled, her hair became white, her teeth fell out and collapsed on the ground and reduced to bones. And this was all a show. The Buddha created the form of this beautiful woman for a show. The Buddha did that in order to show queen Kshema the impermanence of beauty and the impermanence of life. And in fact queen Kshema understood the truth of impermanence. Soon she became a nun. In fact she became one of the famous and few nuns who even taught the monks on philosophy, on impermanence and on wisdom.
So the Buddha had immense power. He was not just a man teaching, he had extra- ordinary power. The Buddha went to heaven; the Buddha created dummies of himself, doubles of himself, walking talking projection of himself. The Buddha was able to teach in many languages.
So he had all these attributes. Even in the Theravāda sources, the Buddha by any means was an ordinary person. He was a super human, super mundane. Now we can discuss, we can debate, how super mundane he was? Was he that much super mundane or that much more super mundane? This is the debate between the Mahāyāna and the Theravāda about the
supernatural nature of the Buddha how supernatural was he? Well, in the Theravāda tradition, they have one view, in the Mahāyāna tradition they have another view. There was no real debate that he was super mundane or not. He was certainly super mundane. He was not an ordinary
man. Then how extra- ordinary was he? Well, we will see when we read the Mahāyāna Sūtras. But there is no real argument about even looking at the Theravāda texts that the Buddha was certainly an extra ordinary being.
§ 6. Unanswered Questions
Now, we have the whole story of Buddha’s negations. I don’t have the right word for that. We can call it Buddha’s Philosophy. One of the most important Mahāyāna text, the Mulamadhyamakakarika, in fact some people believe that entire MMK which is the great edifice of Nagarjuna was based on the Kaccayanagotta Sutta of the Pali canon. (We will be reading some excerpts from the writing of Nagarjuna’s text). Even though, Nagarjuna is said to have discovered the Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra from the Nāga world, in his text he almost exclusively cites quotations/the statements of the Buddha from the texts of the Pali Canon. So according to some Mulamadhyamakakarika is the commentary of Kaccayanagotta Sutta. What
does the Buddha say to Kaccayana? The discourse is on the right view.The Buddha said the world is refused to rely upon existence and non-existence. You cannot achieve liberation so long you rely on existence and non-existence. You have to go beyond existence and non-existence to achieve liberation. And in this same vein we have the famous silence of the Buddha. Why
did not Buddha reply to those fourteen propositions? Why those fourteen were ‘avyakata’? They are:
◌ whether the world is finite or not (both finite and infinite, neither finite nor infinite), (4)
◌ the world is eternal or not (both eternal and not-eternal, neither eternal nor non-eternal),(4)
◌ is soul identical with the body or not (both, neither). (4)
◌ does Tathāgata lives after death or not. (2)
The Buddha refused to answer any one of these questions. Actually there are four alternatives for the first three questions about the world is finite, infinite, both, neither; the world is eternal, not, both, neither. The Tathāgata lives after death, not, both or neither. These are called “catuṣkoti” or tetralemma in the same formula of the Mahāyāna texts. There are so many of them in the Pali canon. You find them in the Avyakata Sutta (AN 7.51), in the Culamalunkyovada Sutta (MN 63), in the Aggivaccagotta Sutta and in the Tittha Sutta and so on. You findthem again and again in the Pali canon and everywhere the Buddhacrefused to agree with these propositions. Why he refused to agree withcthese propositions? This has been the great perplexity for the scholars. Why did he remain silent? Some people would say probably the
Buddha did not know. Some people would say the Buddha was primarily considered ethics, these are meta-physical questions and the Buddha was not interested in them. These are not satisfactory answers. There are certainly some practical reasons for not accepting, not admitting
these fourteen views. The Buddha more or less disclosed, more or less indicated the reasons by saying that these questions are tend to edification.
In Culamalunkyovada Sutta, he said, “It’s just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.’ … “And why are they undisclosed by me? Because they are not connected with the goal, are not fundamental to the holy life. They do not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calming, direct knowledge, self-awakening, Unbinding. That’s why they are undisclosed by me. “And what is disclosed by me? ‘This is stress,’ is disclosed by me. ‘This is the origination of stress,’ is disclosed by me. ‘This is the cessation of stress,’ is disclosed by me. ‘This is the path of
practice leading to the cessation of stress,’ is disclosed by me. And why are they disclosed by me? Because they are connected with the goal, are fundamental to the holy life. They lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation, calming, direct knowledge, self-awakening, Unbinding. That’s why they are disclosed by me.” (Go there)
Partly the reasons are obvious not about the first question about the world exists infinitely or whether it comes to an end – these are questions about time and space. The world exists or not, whether it is infinite or not, it has an end in space and time, and of course there is a reason not to answer these questions, because if you answer these questions either way or in any way, there is no point to practice. Why practice any way if the world is going to end tomorrow? There is no point to practice. The world is going to end any way. If the world is not going to end, then again there is no point to practice no matter how much you practice you will never get out of it. So they are not answered.
The questions about the Tathāgata after death are also interesting. They are interesting because they could state the idea of Nirvāṇa has extinction. The Buddha explicitly said that Nirvāṇa is not
non-existence. It does not say Tathāgata after death does not exist. This also came in the discourse of Yamaka where Shariputra talked t. Yamaka had this idea that the Tathāgata does not exist after death. Shariputra told Yamaka that one cannot say Tathāgata does or does not exist after death. One cannot say he exists after death. And even more, even now, when Tathāgata is here among us walking here and there, talking to us, even now you cannot say whether he exists or does not exist, never mind after death. Even when Tathāgata is alive
one cannot say whether he exists or does not exist.
Now there is the point about soul or self of living beings, whether it is identical with body or different from body? And again the Buddha refused to answer these questions. Why did he refuse to answer these questions? That is why everybody criticized Vātsīputrīyas and
Sarvāstivādins because they had the doctrine of the existence of ‘pudgala’ and ‘trikaya.’ But the fact is that it is very difficult if you take a radical, an absolute view of ‘not self.’ It is difficult to
explain moral responsibility. It is difficult to explain rebirth and karma. You cannot say ‘not self ‘ as an absolute truth. This I found in the west. In west people are very happy to hear ‘not self’.
They are happy to hear ‘not self’ because, they think, since there is no self, no- one is going to be reborn and one can do whatever one wants.
The thing is the Buddha taught ‘self’ to some people, to the materialists and certainly most of the people are materialists today certainly most people are materialists as in the past. To those people the Buddha taught ‘self’.
He taught ‘not self’ to those who believed in rebirth and karma, who believed in performing good actions and then because he did not want them to be trapped in Saṃsāra forever because of believing in ‘self’. So these fourteen questions are in many ways the heart of Mahāyāna
Philosophy. They are the heart of Madhyamaka view of reality.
§ 7. Emptiness
The Buddha taught also about Emptiness, he talked about not having self-existence (niḥsvabhāva). He said, just as the flame of the oil lamp burn depending upon the wick and the oil, the flame does not exist in the wick, it does not exist in the oil, it does not exist anywhere in between, in the same way all things that exist in dependency. They are without self- existence, without svabhāva, hence are empty. The Buddha said, all phenomena were like foam, like bubble, they had no substance. The Buddha used the parable of raft. He said, “you have to abandon all dharmas, you don’t have to hold even to the good dharma. The dharma is like a raft. Once you cross over the river you don’t carry the raft on your shoulder. You have to let go of it.”
The Buddha talked about the discourse dealing with śūnyatā. He said the monks of the future generation they will be interested in poetic discourses. They will be interested in the discourses adorned with pretty words made by the poets. They won’t be interested in discourses
dealing with śūnyatā that goes beyond the world. This is very interesting thing. It shows that the Buddha regarded discourses dealing with śūnyatā as the highest, loftiest of the teachings.
§ 8. Mind-made
Then the Buddha talked a lot about the importance of the mind as well.
Buddhism is at least 80% about mind. Look at the system of Five Aggregates in which four are mental, only one is physical. Look at the Thirty-seven Bodhipakkhiya Dhammā, thirty-seven factors conducive to enlightenment. (I did just to find a quantitative analysis of the thirty-seven factors). You can see out of thirty-seven factors, something like twenty-eight are mental factors. So the mind has always a central role in Buddhism. And even in the Pali canon the conception
about the nature of the mind being vigilant, pure, shining like a jewel, luminous, beyond water, air, fire and so forth is very much present. Moreover the creative nature of the mind is emphasized.
Everybody knows the first verse of the Dhammapada says, ‘Mind is the forerunner of all dhammas, all dhammas are mind made’. What do we mean by dhamma? The whole question is what we mean by dhamma? It can be interpreted as factors. Some people translated it as mental state. You can also translate it as thing. Among all, certainly mind is ultimately the forerunner of all mental states. But if you say mind is the forerunner of all things and everything is mind-made then you right on the track of the “Mind Only” or the “Yogācāra Philosophy.” The Buddha also taught about certain Asura King by the name of Vepacitta who was bound or freed according to his bad or good nature of his thought. His mind created his reality. His mind conditioned his reality that made him bound or free according to his mental state.
So all of these elements became central and argumentative doctrine of the Mahāyāna. They were suggested in the Pali Canon. It is not that they were absent in the Pali canon. They were there. Just one has to look at there. Professor N. Dutt has done a good job doing that. Other people also have done that. It has become generally quite accepted that there are significant traces of Mahāyāna doctrine even in the Pali Canon. So let us accept that we have an integrated development, an organic evolution of Buddhism, a fundamental link between the Buddha’s teachings as we find in the Theravāda canon and in the Mahāyāna. It seems they are two different spectacles, different objects but the teachings are not essentially different. The question
of difference is on the emphasis. We will explore that in next lectures.
§ 9. Pali Suttas
Thus to trace the origin of the Mahāyāna we don’t have to go too far, not further than the figure of the Buddha, his career and his teachings. They are the good example of the Mahāyāna tradition. In this context we had mentioned some of the Suttas of the Pali canon, which demonstrate the Mahāyāna tendencies. In the first hour we are going to read some Pali Suttas in translation, which we have mentioned in our study where we find the traces of the Mahāyāna doctrines.
9.1. The Ariyapariyesana Sutta
Read: Ariyapariyesana Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 26 translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
(Go to There)
Just after the enlightenment, the Buddha was reluctant to share his experiences with others. He thought his realization was too profound, hard to see, hard to realize and nobody would be able to understand his deep teachings because most of the people of this world are afflicted with all kinds of defilements and for them it would be difficult to see the truth of Interdependent Coarising. Then Brahma Sahampati came and requested the Buddha to teach, as there are some
people who have little dust in their eyes are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There are beings, who will be able to understand the Dhamma. So the Buddha decided to teach. The Buddha decided to teach out of compassion for the humanity who are falling away. They need to hear the Dhamma to come out of suffering of cyclical existence. So here we see the element of compassion that is one of the primary elements in the Mahāyāna, was the main reason for the Buddha’s decision to teach. In this connection we mentioned the Ariyapariyesena Sutta, which relates the whole story. It is important to go through the Suttas because they give you first hand information about the subject you are studying.
9.2. The Kaccayanagotta Sutta
Read: Kaccayanagotta Sutta, Samyutta Nikaya XII.15 translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
(Go to There)
This discourse deals with right view. Kaccayana wanted to know to what extent is there right view? The Buddha said that this world is supported by a polarity, that of existence and nonexistence. Polarity means duality. We think of anything with two sides. When we think
about existence then we also think about non-existence. Likewise about right or wrong, good or bad, white and black. The existence of one thing depends on the existence of the other. They are dependent on each other. We think all in view of duality. Basic view is existence
and nonexistence. In opposition to this view of existence and non-existence, the view of polarity, the Buddha taught the four Noble Truths, Middle Way, which equals to Interdependent Origination.
Interdependent Origination teaches the avoidance of extremes of existence and non-existence. Interdependent Origination leads to the appearance of the world. It has twofold functions, leading to bondage or to freedom. We can imagine it as a chain. It is like a chain in which all the twelve components are linked together. One component leads to the next component like a chain. When that chain is linked together it is bondage. When the chain is broken then there is
liberation. Interdependent Origination is constructive when the chain is linked together which
gives bondage. It is deconstructive when the chain is broken and it gives freedom.
9.3. The Aggi-Vaccagotta Sutta
Read: Aggi-Vaccagotta Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 72 translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
(Go to There)
This discourse is on the fourteen inexpressible propositions. In this discourse the Buddha refused to answer any of the fourteen questions put forward by wander Vaccagotta about the nature of world and Tathāgata. The Buddha refused to answer them as those questions lead
only to distress, despair and suffering and they don’t lead to dispassion, cessation and calm. Moreover, for the same reason the Buddha also did not have any position of his own.
9.4. The Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta
Read: Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 63 translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
(Go to There)
In this discourse Malunkyaputta wanted to know the answers of the fourteen questions pertaining to world and the Tathāgata. He told the Buddha unless he knows all the answers he would return to his previous life as a layperson and leave this holy life. The Buddha with the
simile of a man struck by an arrow demonstrated that, whether he knows the answers or not, the cyclical existence of birth and death would continue. We are all struck by the arrow of suffering. We need to know how to end this suffering. It is more important to find the way out of
it. The wounded man will die before he gets all the answers about the nature of the arrow. These questions are not connected with the goal. They are not fundamental to the holy life. They do not lead to peace and calm and are not helpful to attain liberation. Instead the Buddha
taught the Four Noble Truths.
9.5. The Tittha Sutta
Read: Tittha Sutta, Udana VI.4 translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
(Go to There)
During the lifetime of the Buddha there were many priests, wanderers and ascetics from different sects. They all had their own view about reality and they live arguing, quarreling and disputing regarding th about cosmos and the Tathāgata. They would argue that their view
was right while and others’ were wrong. The Buddha pointed out that those wanderers of the other sects were blind. They didn’t know what is beneficial and what is harmful. They didn’t know what is dhamma and what is non-dhamma.
If a group of blind people who never saw an elephant and they were asked to describe an elephant, the blind man who only felt the head of the elephant would describe the elephant is like a big water jar. Similarly, the blind man who felt the tail of the elephant would say
the elephant is like a broom and so on and so forth. The point is all the blind people had only one view of the elephant and thus they were all wrong. So the views of the wanderers of the different sects were all wrong. Their view of the dharma was one-sided, not complete. All
of them had attachment to their own view, which creates quarrel among themselves.
9.6. The Alagaddupama Sutta
Read: Alagaddupama Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 22 translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
(Go to There)
This is a discourse about clinging to views. Its central message is conveyed in two similes: the simile of the water snake and the simile of the raft. Taken together, these similes focus on the skill needed to grasp right view properly as a means of leading to the cessation of suffering, rather than an object of clinging, and then letting it go when it has done its job. In the water-snake simile, it is stated that Dhamma should be understood in the proper manner. Wrong grasping of the Dhamma leads to long term harm and suffering just as the same way
one tries to get hold of a water snake. If the water snake were caught by the coil or by the tail, it would harm the catcher. But if it is caught with a cleft stick firmly pinned it down, then the watersnake catcher would not come to any suffering. So it is all about how one catches a water snake.
Likewise dharma should be understood properly to obtain long-term welfare and happiness. It all depends how you understand the Dhamma. If you take it in a wrong way you will face all kinds of trouble but if you take it in a right way you can avoid trouble. It is like a knife, the knife by itself is neither good or bad, But when you hold the knife properly, by its handle, it serves its
purpose, it can cut vegetables, for example but if you hold it by its blade then it can cut your finger. In the raft simile, it is stated that the Dhamma should be treated as a raft. It does not say that the Dhamma should be discarded like a raft as some may interpret it. One has to let go the raft once the river is crossed. One has to hold on to the raft properly in order to cross the river. Only when one has reached the further shore safely, one can let it go. So the teaching is the method, a vehicle to cross over any obstacle. One should not hold on to the teachings. They are
the means to an end not an end by themselves.
§ 2. The Second Council
Now the second council took place hundred years after the lifetime (Parinibbana) of the Buddha.
The occasion for the second council was again the disciplinary issues. These issues did not go
away. The first council supposed to settle the disciplinary issues by saying we retain all the
disciplinary rules including the minor ones. The second council was called because the monks
from the Vajjian country were practicing ten breaches of the monastic discipline. They were
guilty of ten breaches. The most important one (among the ten) was handling of gold and silver.
They were guilty of handling gold and silver. The next among the others were quite minor issue,
for example, practice of carrying salt in a hallowed horn. We know even during the lifetime of the Buddha there began to appear relatively settled monastic establishments, for example the
Jetavana monastery that was donated by Anathapindika.
We have the description of the construction of this monastery, of this residence. There were
storerooms in the description of the construction of the monastery. What they did with the storerooms? What they stored in the storerooms, robes, salt, and rice? And yet, hundred years later these monks were charged with the offence of breaking of the monastic rules because they were carrying little bit of salt with them to add into their food. The question of gold and silver it may have been an important question. But there were already a provision during the time of the Buddha, which made it possible for the monastic community to accept gold and silver. It had to be done through a layman acting as an intermediary.
An intermediary would accept gold and silver to buy robes, food and so forth. There was already
that provision. The monks directly accepting gold and silver that was still outlaw. So what has happened today and what would happen for many years? (Acceptance of gold and silver has become not universal but was very wide spread when they say gold and silver, now we can talk about money. What about bank account? Doesn’t that count as gold and silver? Doesn’t that count as money?) So the disciplinary issue that arose at the second council, you might
call them somewhat nick picking.
Theses monks were accused of breaches in the monastic disciplines. The breaches were not extremely serious nonetheless they were censored and criticized at the second council. This is what happened in the second council. This is as far as the official account tells you about the second council. In this level this is a simple matter of imposing monastic discipline. These
monks were found guilty of practicing that infringes the monastic codes and so they were found
guilty. But we all know that the second council did not succeed. It was the occasion for some
kind of schism. Now the traditional reading of the second council is quite, well, I would call
it, oversimplified. As a result it was quite straightforward. The second council blamed and
criticized these monks. So they left the assembly. Most of the junior monks and the lay people
who were the supporters of the dissenters, call themselves Mahāsaṅghikās.
They composed, reformulated their own scriptures/canon and they formed a school which
later became the Mahāyāna. If you look at the most traditional account and most scholarly
traditional treatment of the second council, you will find people stating the origin of the Mahāyāna to the second council. They say there was a schism; the Mahāsaṅghikās emerged from the assembly of the second council. One hand, you have Sthaviras the Elders (Sanskrit – Sthavira, Pali –Thera) and on the other hand you have the Mahāsaṅghikās, the Great Assembly. They went on to become different Sect/different School and they were the progenitors of the Mahāyāna and they were the forefathers of the Mahāyāna.
It seems too simple in the sense that the Mahāsaṅghikās had certain tendencies, which tilted in the Mahāyāna tradition, they had a certain view of the Buddha that came to be incorporated in the Mahāyāna view of the Buddha and they had more liberal view of the monastic discipline which also came to characterize the Mahāyāna. But between the Mahāsaṅghikās and Mahāyāna a lot of other things happened. There were lots of other developments. The origin of the Mahāyāna is not linear. It is not so clear-cut in that sense. I don’t believe that one can say that we have direct development of the Mahāsaṅghikā to the Mahāyāna. For one thing, many followers of the Mahāyāna criticized the Mahāsaṅghikā. Even in the Tibetan tradition(which of course is the Mahāyāna tradition before become the Vajrayāna tradition) they regard the monks who were criticized and censored at the second council as having been in the wrong. They don’t favor the Mahāsaṅghikas.
They don’t take side of thenMahāsaṅghikās in the debate, in the issues that led the course of the
second council. So what extent the Mahāsaṅghikās are the fore founders of the Mahāyāna is
somewhat in question and I repeat that this is the point at which the evolution of the Buddhist
schools became complicated. As I have said, it is still a work in progress; the scholars are still
working on this. (There is a very good set of booklet done by the London Buddhist Vihara which deals with the origin of the Mahāyāna, various schools like Mahāsaṅghikā and Sarvāstivāda etc. and the Mahāyāna Sūtras. I could not trace them in the Internet but I know they exist as I had used them before. So look into those if you come across with them)
2.1. the second council opened the door to the proliferation
Now, I come to the more important point as what the second council did? To this we can attribute the occasion for the schism. What the second council did was it opened the door to the
proliferation. It opened the door to the emergence of many schools of Buddhism. The time
between the second Buddhist council and the time of the third council, which took place during
the time of Ashoka many different sects were emerged. Within this relatively brief period of only
150-200 years we have the emergence of at least 18 different Buddhist schools. By the time of
Ashoka we have in existence at least 18 different schools. So there was an explosion of Buddhist
schools after the second council.
And in that sense the second council was crucial and critical because it opened the way for this proliferation of the Buddhist traditions into many different schools. Now, I want to point out one thing here that it is not an offence in Buddhism to form one’s own school. It is an offence to form one’s own school for selfish purposes, for personal reasons, and for egotistical purposes. Devadatta’s offence was not he wanted to form another school. Devadatta’s offence was he wanted to form another school because he had certain ambition of taking over the Saṅgha. If you form another school in Buddhism because of genuine difference of opinion about doctrine, about discipline, that is not an offence and that is permissible.
So the proliferation of the schools in Buddhism is allowed as long as it is done for sincere reasons, because you have a real, honest difference of opinion with the majority of the community, the community in which you are living. And that point you are expected to
form your own community. But that by itself was not an offence as long as it is based on the basis of sincere and honest opinion. So we have this proliferation of the schools and by
the time of the third council during the time of Ashoka there are at least 18 schools.
§ 3. The Third Council
The story of the third council is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, the third council
was called because of the instances of the people in the community who believed in the some
form of ‘personality’. These people were eventually come to be called in course of time as
Vātsīputrīyas. They believed in the Personality (Pudgala) that was identical with or different from
Skandha. They were considered to be heretical or semi-heretical. Some account also tell us that
the problem arose because of the infiltration of the non-Buddhist into the Buddhist community
during the time of Ashoka because of the patronage that Ashoka bestowed upon the Buddhist
community. This is one of the problems with the official or the royal patronage. There were lots
of people in the community for wrong reason. In any case, the council was supposed to exclude
those who had the views regarding the Personality, those who clung to the idea of a Personality.
(This whole question of Personality of self and not self and so forth is also very interesting topic. Unfortunately we don’t have enough time to explore them).
At the third council, the debate between the principal parties that participated in the debate was
two schools of the Sthaviravāda or Hīnayāna. One of them was known as Vibhajyavadins, the
Distinctionalists or the Analytical school. The other school was Sarvāstivādins. The council
decided in the favor of the Vibhajyavadins. Ashoka sent out missionaries to take the message of the Vibhajyavadins to foreign lands. Among the missionaries that he sent out was his own son or nephew who took the teachings to Sri Lanka. And this is how the Buddhism in Sri Lanka was established. According to the Vibhajyavada teaching, the school of Sthaviravada or Theravāda, the analytical school became the Theravāda of Sri Lanka. The teaching of the Vibhajyavada was taken by the Ashoka’s missionary became the Theravāda teaching of Sri Lanka.
The council decided that the teachings of the Sarvāstivādins were unorthodox and so the Sarvāstivādins migrated to Kashmir. The Sarvāstivādins became very popular there. They were
very well poised there in Kashmir influencing the newly Buddhist countries in Central Asia-
Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan –the whole newly Buddhist countries of Central Asia. So at the third council the Vibhajyavadins were declared orthodox and they won the debate, so to
speak. But the Sarvāstivāda far from disappearing survived and thrived. They went to Kashmir
and they thrived. It is an interesting observation about the council that no school that was
censored and defeated in the councils was ever disappeared. They all went on to prosper and to
become popular. Ironically, it almost tends to mean that being censored at the council
always added to their popularity. Mahāsaṅghikās were criticized and thrown out at the second
council became very popular school. Sarvāstivāda was criticized in the third council and thrown out became very popular school. In fact the schools, of all the schools, and you will see many schools in the history of Buddhism in India, four schools that survived for thousand of years.
◌ Firstly, the Sthaviravada the Indian equivalent of Theravāda,
◌ secondly, the Mahāsaṅghikā, the dissidents of the second council,
◌ thirdly, the Sarvāstivāda the dissidents or the losers of the third
◌ finally the Vātsīputrīyas-these are the four schools that survived
and prosper at least for thousand years.
Even the Chinese pilgrims during the period of 4th – 7th centuries speak of the existence of these four schools. These are the most important Hīnayāna schools, although the Sarvāstivāda developed Mahāyāna tendencies.
We will continue with what we were doing in the last lecture i.e. the third council during the
period of Ashoka. The principal effect of the third council was first of all the drive of the
Sarvāstivādins to the Northwestern part of India, to Kashmir. That was one effect of the council,
not an intentional effect but an accidental and a natural effect. The other important result was the sending of the missionaries sent by king Ashoka to Sri Lanka. His own son or nephew Mahendra and his (Mahendra) sister Saṅghamitra established Buddhism in Sri Lanka. This is one mission of which we have concrete historical evidence. We have the evidence of the outcome of the mission.
The outcome of the mission sent by king Ashoka was the establishment of Sri Lankan Buddhism from this period. We are told that Ashoka’s mission also went to various directions but we don’t know for certain in what extent these missionaries were effectible? We have gather some information that the missionaries were sent as far Egypt, to the eastern India, to the countries that what now border Thailand and Burma, to Central Asia but we don’t have any definite proof that those missionaries had any notable effect. But we do notice by the beginning of the Christian Era, after few hundred years Buddhism had began influencing extensively particularly Central Asia, the western part of the sub-continent what is now Afghanistan, Iran and the countries of Central Asia like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and so forth.
So we have the mission and we also have the exodus, the migration of the Sarvāstivādins to
Kashmir, which it turned up in the development of Buddhism in India. Then we have the composition for the first time what we might call the polemical phase of Buddhism with the compilation of the text Kathavatthu, which came to be the part of the Theravāda Abhidhamma Pitaka. Kathavatthu contains the discussion and the refutation of the views of the various schools that were censored in the third council. Those were the intricate and complicated discussions of the philosophical views of the various Indian Buddhist schools that developed between the time of the second Buddhist council and the time of the third Buddhist council.
§ 4. The Fourth Council
Next, I am going to talk about the fourth Buddhist council. The fourth Buddhist council took place after quite a bit later, probably at the end of the 1st cen. C.E. To be continued next lecture.
2. The Buddhist Councils
Next the most complicated phases of the evolution of Buddhism are the history of the Buddhist
councils. They are very complicated issues regarding the emergence of the Mahāyāna. Actually
we do not know with a degree of certainty how many councils were held. There were at least
three councils and six being the maximum. We normally talk about four councils. The fourth one
is not recognized by the Ceylonese tradition. At the minimum we can talk about three councils.
We are not going to treat the councils in extensively although I will deal here certain aspects of
the councils, which are relevant with this course.
§ 1. The First Council
The first council (saṃgīti) was held just after the passing away of the Buddha. In the first council
Mahākāśyapa presided over the council, in which Sutta and Vinaya were established through the
efforts of Ānanda and Upāli respectively. I want to say with regard to the first council that a
number of events that may appear to be minor in comparison with the account of the whole
proceeding of the council, but which were significant with the origin of the Mahāyāna and
particularly I am referring to two events.
1.1. The lesser precepts
The first has to do with the precepts, with the disciplinary question – the question about the rules
of discipline. At the first council the question rose whether the community should proceed to
abolish the lesser precepts. You might remember that the Buddha told Ānanda in the last days of
his life that the community might be free to abolish the minor precepts if they saw fit. This
question was raised at the first council. Ānanda came under a series of criticism at the first
council. For example he was criticized for advocating the admission of the women in the Saṅgha.
He was criticized for refusing to give Buddha water and there are other points for which he was
criticized. But the two points which are most significant regarding the origin of Mahāyāna, the
whole question of evolution of Buddhist community.
The first point I want to make is the question regarding the lesser precepts. As the Buddha said
to Ānanda that the Saṅgha might abolish the lesser precept if they saw fit, the question of
abolishing the minor precepts arose. But the difficulty was Ānanda did not ask Buddha which
were the minor precepts. On that basis all the precepts were retained because Ānanda was failed
to ask the Buddha which were the minor precepts. Now let’s just think about that. The Buddha
told everyone to work out their deliverance with diligent. They should be refuges and lamps unto
themselves. The Buddha had put the responsibility for liberation upon the individual followers.
Surely, it would not be so difficult for intelligent and learned monks (in the first council the
participants were all believed to be Arhats) to decide for themselves, which were the lesser
precepts or at least identify some precepts, which were obviously lesser.
Since Ānanda failed to ask the Buddha which were the lesser precepts (and even if Ānanda
asked the Buddha which were the lesser precepts, the Buddha more likely would say, ‘work it
out for yourself’). Mahākāśyapa recommended that all the precepts be retained as they did
not know which were the lesser ones. This is interesting, because, to my knowledge from any Vinaya – Sarvāstivāda or Theravāda, no precepts that ever been dropped by any councils. All the precepts were sustained as they were at the first council. We all know that in practice many of the precepts are not followed today and not have been followed for centuries. But all the precepts were left there written in stone. (Correct me if I am wrong) No precept has ever been abolished even in the Tibetan and Chinese traditions where the monks and nuns follow the Sarvāstivāda Vinaya, which is not very different from the Theravāda Vinaya. There, in the cold countries monks eat at night but the precept is still there. Monks wear heavy clothing and shoes but the precept is still there.
There is even a precept that prohibits urinating standing up. How one can follow that in the
Airport lavatory in present time? But the precept is there. No body has said that this precept is
outdated and should be eliminated. So this kind of conservatism regarding most of the
precepts still persists. It is interesting because the question arose already at the first council.
There was another reason, why Ānanda was criticized. It is rather an important point. The Buddha told Ānanda that he could live for an entire eon if he so wished and again Ānanda neglected to request the Buddha to live for an entire eon. The Buddha mentioned this for three times but Ānanda who was upset about the fact that the Buddha was dying failed to ask the Buddha to live for an entire eon.
So Ānanda came under the criticism for this also as why did he fail to ask the Buddha to live on for an eon? But that is not the point. What is interesting is that the Buddha told Ānanda that he could live for an eon- this is according to the Theravāda source not from the Mahāyāna material. Even in the Theravāda tradition the Buddha told Ānanda that he could live for an entire eon. So what happened to the idea that the Buddha can only live a normal life? There seems to be a loophole here. There seems at least a possibility that the Buddha could live for an entire eon if only Ānanda had happened to ask him to do so. This also, one should admit, appears to be little bit artificial, that the whole future of the world, the length of the Buddha’s life span depended on whether Ānanda asked the Buddha to live for an eon or not? In any case, these things occurred. These are some hints or some glimpses of alternative readings and interpretations.
1.2. Teachings heard by others rather Ānanda
Then there is another interesting thing happened during the first council. Again this is also
recorded in the Theravāda Pali account, not according to the Mahāyāna sources. Towards the
end of the first council when the Arhats were preparing to recite the Sutta and the Vinaya, there
turned up a certain monk named Purana with a large followers. The members of the council said
to Purana, “We just compiled the Sutta and the Vinaya, come and join the assembly to recite with us.” Purana said, “Thank you very much, I deeply appreciate your invitation but I would prefer to remember the teaching of the Buddha as I heard by myself from the Buddha himself.” (Astonishing, no?) This is very interesting. Purana must have had great courage and great
conviction; he turned up towards the end of the council, five hundred Arhats and disciples were
about to recite the Sutta and the Vinaya, they invited him to join, but he said, “no, thank you, I
prefer to remember the teaching of the Buddha as I have heard from the Buddha.”
Now what conclusion you can draw from Purana’s attitude that he refused to join the assembly to recite the Sutta and the Vinaya. The only conclusion one can draw from this that there were other traditions. There were other memories. The memories that were recorded in the first council were not totally inclusive. That was not the only memory, the only version of the
teaching of the Buddha that was existed. There were other versions as you can see with Purana. And if Purana had his version then who is to say there weren’t five, ten, twenty or hundred other
disciples of the Buddha who had their own versions and their own memories.I am not trying to discredit the version of the Dhamma and the Vinaya that we have in the first council. What I am trying to say, there is good reason to believe and there is sufficient reason to believe that this is something only version that existed. And that is just after the lifetime of the Buddha, it is not five years later or hundred years later.
So just after the lifetime of the Buddha there was already people like Purana said, “No, thank you, I have my own version, I have my own memory what the Buddha taught. I prefer to retain that.” It indicates clearly that there were alternative memories and interpretations of what the Buddha taught already in the early phase of Buddhism. You need to remember that we are told that Ānanda had a fantastic memory. He recorded all the teachings of the Buddha. Is this entirely credible? The Buddhists have given the permission by the Buddha to think for themselves. Is it credible that Ānanda heard all the teachings of the Buddha? For example, Ānanda was only the Buddha’s attendant for 20-25 years and the Buddha taught for 45 years. Ānanda wasn’t there for 20 years. So what about those teachings for 20 years when Ānanda wasn’t there? What about the teachings that the Buddha gave to the Gods? We know that the Buddha dedicated the middle part of every night to teach the Gods.
Did Ānanda hear all those teachings? It is not plausible to believe that Ānanda heard every single discourse that the Buddha ever gave. It is for that reason, it is possible that Purana heard something, which Ānanda did not hear. There were other discourses heard by the other
disciples that Ānanda did not hear. And it is more likely that the discourses given to the Gods,
those Ānanda did not hear. So there were other traditions, other memories of the teachings of the Buddha already just after the passing away of the Buddha. These are the two points I wanted to make about the first council.
3.3. The Intellectual Climate within the Buddhist Community
The second point I want to talk about the intellectual climate within the Buddhist community
during the lifetime of the Buddha. Actually, this intellectual climate was not limited to the
Buddhist community. It was common to other communities as well in India during 6th cen. B.C.E. This period was very dynamic time in India. It was the time of great intellectual, social, economic and political changes and upheaval. There were new ideas, new social institutions, new economic classes and new political form of organizations. That was a great time of change. A great time of ferment, a very fertile time so far as the ideas and social institutions and so forth were concerned.But particularly there were three factors or characteristics that were typical to Buddhist community during the lifetime of the Buddha.
3.3.1. The Monastic Discipline: pragmatism and flexibility The first aspect I want to mention is the flexibility of the Buddha with regard to the disciplinary codes, i. e., regarding the rules of the monastic discipline. First of all, it is important to know how the rules for the monks and the nuns were formulated during the time of the Buddha. How the Vinaya rules were formulated
originally. The rules were formulated as an event took place, because something happened and
someone came to the Buddha reporting the incident. So the Buddha formulated the rules. The
Buddha did not sit down and gave a discourse and enumerated the rules but he did it on the ad
hoc basis. As the problem arose, he formulated the rules to deal with that problem to avoid that issue might arise again.
But the other important thing to remember about the disciplinary rules (Vinaya) is that the
Buddha was in fact extremely flexible. If one carefully reads the Vinaya rules either from the
Theravāda canon or otherwise, one can see very clearly that for every rule, more or less there is
an exception except for the very basic rules, i.e. the four downfalls (Parajikas: not to kill, not to
steal, not to commit sexual misconduct and not to claim attainments). Apart from those the other rules are quite flexible. For example, regarding eating, there are strict rules but if one is sick, the rule can be relaxed. Similarly, the Buddha allowed the monks who lived in the far countries to wear sandals, because in the far countries the terrain was rough and not very easy to travel bare footed.
The Buddha’s attitude even with the living out in the open or
living under the trees was flexible. Devadatta, a cousin of the Buddha wanted to make some rules obligatory like no one should eat meat and fish, no one should live in dwellings or no one
should receive cloth for robes and so on. He tried to create a schism in the Order by making the
austere practices compulsory rather than being flexible. The Buddha refused to make these rules
obligatory. His attitude was if anybody wants to follow more rigorous practices, he is free to do.
The Buddha’s own attitude was quite flexible. The Buddha’s attitude was, there were certain core
rules (which one should follow);other rules were formulated according to occasions. Those rules can be moderated. There can be exceptions. That was the attitude towards the disciplinary rules
during the time of the Buddha.
3.3.2. Free enquiry with regard to the matters of teachings
With respect to the doctrines, the Buddha’s attitude was to put the responsibility on the disciples.
He put the responsibility on the members of the community to understand the doctrine to best
of their ability. This attitude is reflected in the Buddha’s method of teaching. Although the
Buddha delivered and expounded doctrines of InterdependentOrigination, the Five Aggregates
and so on but in most cases the Buddha taught through dialogue. The disciples asked question,
the Buddha asked some counter question and step-by-step the Buddha led his disciples to their
understanding of the dharma by means of questions and counter questions. He led his disciples
themselves come step-by-step to the correct understanding of the dharma.
The Buddha never dismissed his disciples by giving his own view rather he led his disciples gradually to a correct understanding of the dharma. So again, it was an interactive method of
teaching. And the method of this teaching allowed the disciples to come themselves to
their own conclusion. The most famous Kalama Sutta (AN 3.65), the instruction to the Kalamas is an example that verifies the fact. Kalama Sutta is sometime slightly misrepresented when one
thinks it allows one to do whatever one wants as long as one thinks it is right. It is not quite
that liberal. In general it does put the burden on the disciple to decide themselves what is truth.
It is one’s responsibility to examine and enquire about the truth in the light of their own experience. The Buddha said not to accept anything, which is not verified by one’s experience, not even the words of the Buddha. The truth must be verified on the basis of one’s own experiences and when one knows such and such thing is true, they are wholesome and they lead to happiness and peace, then they come to the right understanding and to the correct view. The Buddha encouraged his disciples to enquire about the truth and verify the truth by
themselves rather than accepting on the basis of blind faith, authority, hearsay and such other criterion.
3.3.3. Consensus and Democracy with regard to the organization of the
Apart from the principle of free enquiry, which was reinforced in the latter part of the Buddha’s
life there were whole questions of the political organization of the Saṅgha- the way the monastic
community was organized. The monastic community was organized on the basis of institutional
democracy. In fact it was not so much democracy, it was consensus, which is even more democratic than democracy. In democracy there is always a defeated minority, but for the
Buddha, democracy was the second best to choose for the monastic organization.
For the early monastic community democracy was an acceptable but not a desirable process. The best process was consensus. The point is, here everyone’s point of view was taken
into consideration. Again there was no authoritarian supreme head. There were always
consultations and discussions. To settle some matter there was always a desire to achieve consensus, that is mutual agreement among the members of the Order. So these are the features that characterize the monastic and to some extent even the lay community during the time of the Buddha. It was a climate in which there was flexibility with regard to the rules of the discipline and there was free enquiry permitted with regard to the doctrine. There was always free exchange of views, free debate, consensus and democracy in the area of the institutional organization.
These are important facts about the early Buddhist community that one should keep in mind.
One need to keep this in mind, because they give us a picture of what they were like? What the
intellectual life was? What the community life was like? It was not a rigid, authoritarian
community. It was not a situation, which was characterized by an authoritarian supremacy. It was a climate in which pragmatism and flexibility with regard to the rules of discipline were
present. There was free enquiry with regard to the matters of teachings, and there were
consensus and democracy with regard to the organization of the community.
3.3.4. The Buddha’s attitude towards the future direction of the Buddhist
I like to point out the Buddha’s attitude towards the future direction of the Buddhist community.
There are several important indications are contained in the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta, which
describes the last days of the Buddha before his passing into Mahāparinibbāna. In this connection we recall the incident, which took place during the last days of the Buddha. The
Buddha told Ananda when asked by the latter that the community (order) is free to abolish the
lesser precepts if the community saw fit. If the community thought it right, they could abolish or
discard the lesser precepts. The Buddha also when asked by the monks(the monastic community) whether he has any instruction or to tell anything further to the community the Buddha said that he had given the Dharma to the Saṅgha and that is sufficient. The Buddha told all the monks, the nuns and the lay people to be lamp unto themselves, to be island unto
themselves, to rely on the teaching, to rely on the dharma.
The Buddha refused to appoint a successor to replace him and be the chief of the Buddhist community. On the other hand he left the responsibility with the community of monks, nuns and lay people. Probably the very last words of the Buddha are most important of all when he asked the community to work out their salvation and deliverance with diligent. Each and every one of the Buddhist community should take responsibility for their own salvation. So right at the end the Buddha told the monks that they should decide about the monastic codes. They should decide about the lesser precepts if they want to abolish them if they saw fit. Regarding the dharma he asked his disciples to be lamp unto them, to be refuge to themselves. He left the Dharma and it is the responsibility of his followers to work out for their salvation with diligence. “You have to do it, you are only responsible.” The responsibility is on the each members of the community. It is up to them to work it out. Of course one can refer to the teachings of the Buddha, one can refer to the masters, but at the end of the day one has to work it out oneself. The Buddha showed the way but one has to tread the path.
And that was the message the Buddha left with the community. He did not try to impose a
precise, narrow and a specific direction on the development and the evolution of the community and the teaching. He left it up to the understanding of the intelligence of his followers. All of these are important because they leave us with an impression of the climate during the
lifetime of the Buddha in the Buddhist community. They leave us with the impression of fluidity, an openness of the tolerance that allowed for further development. Nowadays in the modern
terminology it is called as ‘self empowerment.’ In that sense, the Buddha gave the power and authority to the members of the Saṅgha and the followers of his teachings to work out their own
salvation with diligence and to be lamp unto themselves. They can decide which precept were lesser and necessary to abolish.
So these are some points I wanted to make regarding the climate during the lifetime of the Buddha and they are important element because they help us to explain how is it that we have
such diversity of interpretations of the teachings of the Buddha and how it managed to develop
into different Buddhist schools expounding different interpretations and different traditions
recollecting the life, teachings and the message of the Buddha.