The Fo-Sho-Hing-Tsan-King (A Life of Buddha)

by Samuel Beal | 1883 | 108,941 words

This book is called “A Life of Buddha” by Asvaghosha Bodhisattva, in Chinese known as the “Fo-Sho-Hing-Tsan-King”. It was translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Dharmaraksha (or Dharmakshara) A.D. 420. The most reliable of the lives of Buddha known in China is that translated in the present volume, the Buddhacarita-kavya. It was no doubt written...

Northern Buddhism

This term is now well recognised. It is used to denote the Buddhism of Nepal, Thibet, China, Japan, and Mongolia, as distinguished from the Buddhism of Ceylon, Burmah, and Siam. The radical difference between the two schools is this, that Northern Buddhism is the system developed after contact with Northern tribes settled on the Indus, while the Southern school, on the contrary, represents the primitive form of the Buddhist faith as it came (presumably) from the hands of its founder and his immediate successors. We might, without being far wrong, denote the developed school as the Buddhism of the valley of the Indus, whilst the earlier school is the Buddhism of the valley of the Ganges. In China there is a curious mixture of the teaching of both schools. The books of the contemplative sect in Southern China are translations or accommodations from the teaching of men belonging to the South of India, whilst in the North we find the books principally followed are those brought by priests from the countries bordering on the Indus, and therefore representing the developed school of the later complex system.

Northern Buddhism, again, may be divided into two, if not three, distinct periods of development, or epochs. The earliest includes in it the period during which the teaching of the immediate followers of Buddha, who brought their books or traditions northward and there disseminated them, generally prevailed; this is called the teaching of the 'little vehicle' (Hinayāna), or 'imperfect means of conveyance' (across the sea of sense). The second period is that during which the expanded form of belief denoted as the 'great vehicle' (Mahāyāna) was accepted; here the radical idea is that the teaching of Buddha provides 'universal salvation' for the world. Thirdly, the 'indefinitely expanded' form, known as Vaipulya, which is founded on the idea of a universal nature, to which all living things belong, and which, by recovering itself in each case, secures for the subject complete restoration to the one nature from which all living things have wandered. This is evidently a form of pure Pantheism, and denotes the period when the distinctive belief of Buddhism merged into later Brahmanism, if indeed it did not originate it.

We cannot lay down any sharp line of division (either as to time or minute difference of doctrine) between these forms of thought as they are found in the books; but they may be traced back, through the teaching of the sects into which the system became separated, to the great schism of the primitive Buddhist church at Vaiśālī, too years after the Nirvāṇa.

With respect to this schism the statement made in the Dīpavaṃsa[1] is this: 'The wicked Bhikkus, the Vajjiputtakas (i.e. the Vaiśālī Buddhists), who had been excommunicated by the Theras, gained another party; and many people, holding a wrong doctrine, ten thousand, assembled and (also) held a council. Therefore this Dhamma Council is called the Great Council (Mahāsaṅgīti),' (Oldenberg's translation, p. 140.) Turning now to the Mahāsaṅghika version of the Vinaya, which was translated into Chinese by Fa-hien (circ. 420 A.D.), who brought it from Pāṭaliputra (chap. XXXVI), we read (K. 40, fol. 23 b), 'After the Nirvāṇa (Ni-pan, i.e. Nibbāna) of Buddha the Great Kāśyapa, collecting the Vinaya Piṭaka, was the (first) Great Master (Mahāsthavira), and his collection of the Dharmapiṭaka was in 80,000 divisions. After the death (mih to, destruction) of the great Kāśyapa the next master (lord) was Ānanda, who also held the Dharmapiṭaka in 80,000 (divisions). After him the honourable (lord) Mo-yan-tin (Madhyāntika) was chief, and he also held the Dharmapiṭaka in 80,000 (divisions). After him came

Śanavāsa (she-na-po-sa), who also held the Dharmapiṭaka in 80,000 (divisions). After him came Upagupta, of whom the lord of the world (Buddha) predicted that as "a Buddha without marks" (alakṣaṇako Buddhaḥ; see Burnouf, Introd. p. 378, note 1) he should overcome Māra, which is related in the Avadānas (yin ün). This (master) could not hold the 80,000 divisions of the Dharmapiṭaka. After him there were five schools (the school of the Great Assembly" being the first of the five) to which the following names were given: (1) Dharmaguptas, (2) Mahīśāsakas, (3) Kāśyapīyas, (4) Sarvāstivādas. This last is also called the school "that holds the existence of all," because it maintains the distinct nature of (things existing in) past, present, and future time. Each of these schools had its own president and distinctive doctrine. Because of this in the time of Aśokarāja, when the king was in doubt what was right and what was wrong, he consulted the priests as to what should be done to settle the matter. They replied, "The law (dharma) ought to be settled by the majority." The king said, "If it be so, let the matter be put to the vote (by lots or tokens of wood), and so let it be seen who is right (in the majority)." On this they cast lots, and our sect (i.e. the Mahāsaṅghikas) was in great preponderance. Therefore it is called the Mahāsaṅgīti or Great Assembly.'

From this it appears that the Mahāsaṅghikas, on their part, claimed to be the original portion of the Buddhist church, and that they regarded the four sects, whose names are given, to be heretical. The same colophon has a further notice respecting this subject. It states that 'There was in former times in Mid-India a wicked king who ruled the world. From him all the Śramaṇas fled, and the sacred books were scattered far and wide. This wicked king having died, there was a good king who in his turn requested the Śramaṇas to Come back to their country to receive his protection (nurture). At this time in Pāṭaliputra there were 500 priests who wished to decide (matters of faith), but there was no copy of the Vinaya, or teacher who knew the Vinaya, to be found. They therefore sent forthwith to the Jetavana Vihāra to copy out the Vinaya in its original character, as it had been handed down to that period. Fa-hien, when he was in the country of Magadha, in the town of Pāṭaliputra, in the temple of Aśokarāja, in the Vihāra of the Southern Devarāja (Virūdhaka), copied out the Sanskrit (Fan) original and brought it back with him to P’ing cau, and in the twelfth year of the title I-hi (417 A.D.) [416 according to the cyclical characters] and the tenth month, he translated it.' Here we seem to have an obscure allusion to a first and second Aśoka. Is it possible that the reference is to an actual council held at Pāṭaliputra in opposition to the orthodox assembly under Moggaliputta? The 500 priests who were sent to the Jetavana might have represented the popular party, and being without a copy of their version of the Vinaya, they procured one from Śrāvastī. This may or may not be so, and in the absence of further details we cannot give it much weight.

On examining the copy of the Vinaya alluded to by Fa-hien, viz. that belonging to the Mahāsaṅghikas, we find ample reason for adhering to the statement of the Dīpavaṃsa, viz. 'that the members of the great congregation proclaimed a doctrine against the faith' (p. 139 op. cit.) The sections illustrating the Parājika and other rules are of a gross and offensive character. The rules are illustrated by an abundance of tales or jātakas introduced in the text (this seems to favour the presence of a Northern element in the redaction). The account of the two councils differs from that found in the other copies of the Vinaya, and in the history of the second council at Vaiśālī there is mention made only of one of the sins of the 'Vajjiputtakas,' viz. receiving money; but the council itself is called, according to this account, for the purpose of revising the canon. Now this seems to show that the Mahāsaṅghika school took its rise at this time, and that a redaction of the canon was prepared by that school distinct from that in common use. According to the statement found in the Dīpavaṃsa, 'they composed other Suttas and another Vinaya' (p. 141, § 36). This is confirmed by an account which we have given us in a work belonging to the Vinaya class in the Chinese Tripiṭaka, called 'The Questions of Śāriputra' (Catalogue, case 48, miscellaneous). I thought this might be the work referred to in the edict of Aśoka as the Questions of Upatissa,' but on examination it appears to be a production of the Mahāsaṅghika school, and not exclusively bearing on questions of the Vinaya. Perhaps it was written and named in opposition to the orthodox text alluded to in the edict. To exhibit the teaching of the school to which it belongs I will briefly allude to the earlier portion of this Sūtra. The scene is laid in Rājagṛha, the question proposed by Śāriputra is, 'Who is the true disciple of Buddha, and who not?' Buddha replies, 'The true disciple is one who attends to and obeys the precepts, as the Bhikṣu Pao-sse, i.e. precious thing (Yasa), who hearing the statement of Buddha that all things (saṃskārā) were impermanent, immediately perceived the whole truth. The disciple who attends to the tradition of the church is also a true one, as the Bhikṣu who attended to Śāriputra's statement respecting Kāludāyi's drinking wine. Those, on the other hand, who neglect either the direct instruction of Buddha, or that of his successors—these are not true disciples.' Śāriputra then proceeds to ask what are the permissions and what the prohibitions made by Buddha in the rules of the Vinaya, especially in respect of food, as, for example, where Buddha forbids an early meal at the invitation of a villager, or where he permits the use of fish and other condiments. Buddha replies that these things must depend on circumstances, and that the rule of the true disciple is to follow the directions of the president of the church. For instance, after my Nirvāṇa (he proceeds) the great Kāśyapa will have authority equal to mine; after Kāśyapa, Ānanda; after Amanda, Madhyāntika; after Madhyāntika, Śanakavāsa; after Śanakavāsa, Upagupta; after Upagupta there will be a Maurya (king) Cu-ko (Aśoka), who will rule the world and extend the Scriptures (Dharmavinaya). His grandson will be called Puṣyamitra (Fu-sha-mih-to-lo), who will succeed to the empire of the righteous king (or who will succeed directly to the empire of the king, or the royal estate). This one will ask his ministers what he must do to gain an undying fame; and being told he must either patronise religion as his predecessor or persecute it, he will adopt the latter course, overthrow the pagodas (dāgobas), destroy the Scriptures, murder the people. Five hundred Arhats, however, will escape the persecution. Meantime the Scriptures being taken up to Maitreya, he will preserve them. At last the king and his army being destroyed (by a mountain cast on them), this line of kings will perish. Afterwards a righteous king will succeed, and Maitreya will send down 300 youths, born apparitionally among men, who will recover the law from the 500 Arhats, and go amongst men instructing them, so that once more the Scriptures, which had been taken to heaven by Maitreya, will be disseminated in the world. At this time the king of the country will divide the Dharmavinaya into many parts; and will build a strong-hold in which to preserve them, and so make it difficult for those wishing to consult them, to do so. Then an old Bhikṣu of good repute will write a remonstrance, and selecting such passages of the Vinaya as are in accordance with Kāśyapa's council, and known as the Vinaya of the 'Great Congregation' (will make them known); the other party will, on their part, include with these the false additions that have been since made. Thus will begin the contention and wrangling. At length the king will order the two schools to assemble, and the matter to be put to the vote, in this way,—taking a number of slips of wood, some black, the others white, he will say, 'let the adherents of the old school take the black slips, and the new school the white slips.' Then those taking the black slips will be myriads in number, those taking the white only hundreds. Thus there will be a separation. The old school will be called 'the Mahāsaṅghikas,' the new 'the school of the elders,' and hence also named 'the Ta-pi-lo' (Sthāvira (school)).

This obscure account tends at any rate to show that the original separation of the church, from which resulted the later schisms, began at the time of the Great Assembly at Vaiśālī. Whether we are to gather that a second and final separation took place afterwards when the good king was reigning (Dharma-Aśoka?) is not certain, but it seems to be implied in this and the former record, and is in every respect probable. This would therefore account for the silence of the Northern school respecting the Council at Pāṭaliputra, and would fully explain why the Sthāvira school insists on that council as the charter, so to speak, of their orthodoxy.

Footnotes and references:


The Dīpavaṃsa, an early historical record of Buddhism compiled in Ceylon between the beginning of the fourth and the first third of the fifth century A.D.

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