Early Indian Mahayana Buddhism

Early Indian Mahayana Buddhism

(14 December 1979)


The background of Buddhism in India is very important, because Buddhism never left that background. It was always on sort of a platform of Hinduism, didn’t break away. Rather like the very early Christian Church, when the brother of Jesus had a position in the temple. Paul went to the temple to purify himself. Then after the fall of Jerusalem, there was a break. Socially in India, there wasn’t that complete break.

The Aryans are supposed to have invaded India, 1500 to 1000 BC. There’s no actual evidence of this, but it’s been put together from a lot of evidence mainly from the language and the content of some of the hymns. There is no Book of Exodus, which you’d expect if there’d been a tremendous migration. In the Vedas, there isn’t an account of a great migration, though there is an account of the capture of some cities.

The Aryans met the inhabitants, the previous inhabitants of India who are referred to in the Vedas. They worshipped goddesses, snakes, sex organs, and rocks and rivers. The Aryans looked down on them, but there are certain beliefs which are believed, by our scholars, to have been taken up by the Aryans from what was already there. Among those beliefs are reincarnation, yoga, the worship of snakes, goddesses, vegetarianism, and abstention from alcohol.

The early Aryans, according to some of the Upanishads, ate meat, but now the Brahmins don’t. In the hot circumstances of India, it’s probably a good idea not to eat meat, so there was a rationality. The Aryan mind, if we can use these generalizations, is scientific. Now, as an example, there’s a grammar of the Sanskrit language of about 400 BC, in which Pāṇini elaborated the rules. In about 3,000 sutras, he elaborated the grammatical rules of the language.  He fixed the language, so that we can today read what was written over 2,000 years ago, and it’s the same as the Sanskrit taught today.  He analysed the language very scientifically. It isn’t improved on even today, the analysis of the vowels and the consonants, for instance. The physiological presentation of the pronouncement of the vowels is accurate.

Now, in comparison, the Greeks had no grammar. It never occurred to them. The first grammar they produced was to teach foreigners.  They had rhetoric and no doubt they corrected mistakes, but they didn’t have a formal grammar. This tells us something about the Aryan precision, their respect for intellectual achievement, and that went on into Buddhism. To be accepted in India, something has got to have a satisfactory theoretical background, an intellectually satisfying theoretical background. This isn’t obvious at all.  When Christianity went to Japan, the first question they asked was, “Have the Chinese taken it up?” That’s an entirely different attitude. It means, “Does it work? Has an intelligent people adopted it and made it work?” The Indians would tend to examine it to see whether it was satisfactory intellectually first.

Now, the Aryans came in and they brought something of their social structure, and that structure developed still more.  The Brahmin was in charge of the sacrifices, which were held to determine success or failure. Then next was the warrior who ruled, and of course, he had these tremendous responsibilities. The Vaishya was the merchant and the man who practiced agriculture. Then lastly, there was the class of labourer, whose duty and impulse was to serve. It wasn’t always as rigid, people did change their class. Some of the Aryans sunk to the lowest class, and it’s known that some of the original inhabitants became at least, warriors.

There was a tribe near where the Buddha was born, known both in the Buddhist and Jain literature to have been non-Aryan. They had specific customs and dress. There’s also a speculation that the Buddha himself may not have been an Aryan. He was born in a small tribe, possibly a sort of constitutional monarchy near the eastern end of the Himalayas.

The important thing is [the cultural differences between Brahmanism and Buddhism.  They overlapped of course, but there are references to the heartland of Brahmanism, under the heartland of Buddhism.

The Buddha was born in an area where minerals had been discovered, like iron in about 800 BC, and technology led the advance.  It was a brash, energetic, free-thinking area. Buddhism was a religion of the cities, booming cities. Jainism also began at the same time there – a new sect, very highly disciplined, but free thinking with their own scriptures and their own doctrines. This area was rich, but somehow uncultivated, with people who weren’t cultured, not traditional, who spoke with an accent, not speaking terribly well.

Brahmanism was religion of the villages This was traditional culture, precision. It was the tradition handed down in the villages, where each householder recited some of the sacred texts every day with the fire and kept a strict morality going. One of the Hindu law books says, “The men of the cities don’t obtain liberation.” This culture was traditional, purist, finicky about details, with very strong-willed believers in keeping up the tradition.]

Buddhism and Jainism, although they are religions of renunciation, they were connected with the cities.  They were originally wanderers with no home. Quite soon, monasteries were established in which the monks lived. Originally, those monasteries were only for the rainy season, when you can’t travel in India.  The rest of the time, they were supposed to wander, sleeping under trees or in caves. It requires great will to do this and great courage, but for the rainy retreat they would stay in one place.

Admirers began to build huts for them, and then some of them stayed on a little bit longer instead of resuming the wandering. Finally, in the Buddha’s lifetime, a monastic system was already approved by him. He was attracted to cities. If we look at the places where he spent his rainy retreats, in 45 years of his teaching, twenty-six years were at Shravasti, one of the big cities, five at Rajagriha and two at Vaishali.

All these were great commercial centres in which there were many rich admiring disciples. He was a warrior. I’m not going to try and run over all the things that you already know by heart, in some of the Buddhist literature and the Jain literature too, the warriors are placed above the Brahmin. Nevertheless, he’s not such a totally outspoken opponent of the so-called caste system. Of course, as a renunciate, he didn’t believe in it, but then the Hindu renunciate didn’t either. When the Hindu became a renunciate he’d tear up his sacred thread. The king above men. Of all men, the king listened to the Gita, one of the great classics of Hinduism. This tradition of a sort of greatness, a spiritual greatness, and enlightenment among the warriors was already known in Hinduism.

In the history of Buddhism, there’s an enormous amount of patronage by the royal families and by rich men. It gets a bit wearing at times. You must make up your own mind, but there does seem to be an implication in the scriptures that the more money is given, the greater the virtue. Poor people share in the virtue sometimes by just carrying the presents given by rich men.  You rather long for the widow’s might of Christ, where he said she gave all she had, and this is worth more than the gifts of the rich.  There are one or two Buddhist stories on it – [Punda], she was poor, and she gave her own meal sometimes.

In general, you can say Buddhism, unlike Christianity and Islam, went in at the top and then came down. In the countries it’s gone to, it hasn’t been preached in the streets, but the royal families often and the wealthy have been converted and then they have supported the order – because one of the great means of acquiring virtue is to make gifts, and especially gifts to the Buddhist order. This is the social background of Buddhism. It’s important to realize that the Buddhists didn’t form groups socially apart from the Hindus. They didn’t form Buddhist towns or Buddhist villages, but there could be Hindus and Buddhists together.  Just you could have a conservative and a liberal, and other people belonging to different parties, together. Their convictions would be different, but socially they’d mix.

Their social customs would be very much the same. As far as we know, the Buddhists for their weddings, for their so-called rites of passage, the naming of the child and so on, still kept to the Hindu ceremony with the names of the Hindu gods, and the Buddha himself allowed this. This has nothing to do with transcendence. Buddhism was on Hinduism, and it’s rather important for Buddhists to know this; just as it’s important for Christians to know that Christianity came out of Judaism. Now, Buddhists tend to think that what the Buddha said was entirely new and rocked the whole world of thought right back; just as Christians always think that the Lord’s prayer, for instance, was something new which Jesus gave, which was unknown before.

Just to give you an example and I hope it’ll be a little bit of a surprise. Christ said, “Our father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Bring us not to the ordeal. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” Now in the Kaddish Jewish prayers, which were older than the time of Jesus, these things are exactly paralleled. “Hallowed be your name” – in the Kaddish: “Exalted and hallowed his great name.” “Your kingdom come”: “May he establish his kingdom.” “Your will be done on earth”: “May it be your will here.” “Bring us not to the ordeal”: in the Jewish prayer, “Bring me not into situations too hard for me.” “Forgive us our sins”: “Forgive my sin, Oh Lord.” These are parallels.

If we don’t know that, we don’t see the original things which were put in the Lord’s Prayer, namely, at the beginning, “Father.” This was quite unknown in the Jewish prayers.  The child’s word for father is ‘Ab’, so Christ began his prayers with this word. The second one, “Forgive us our sins” in the Jewish prayers is, “Forgive my sin, oh, Lord.”  But Christ added, “As we forgive those who have sinned against us.” He made a condition. This is original and it’s because we know that the rest of the prayer is exactly parallel, that these two original points stand out very strongly.

Now in the same way in Buddhism, we have the idea, ‘no-self’; the doctrine of ‘no-self – or was it’? In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, which is much older than the time of Buddha, the Self is described as “Not this. Not this.” There’s a very long passage with no description. Nothing. “Not this. Not long, not short, not great, not small, not here, not there.” All these things are denied. It’s a continuous denial. We think, “Oh, well.”

Another original thing the Buddha did was the silence of the Buddha. He didn’t reply.  There’s a lost Upanishad, we no longer have it, but it’s quoted – one sentence from it is quoted. This is a conversation. A man comes. [Bhashkalin] asks the teacher, “Teach me, Brahman.” Brahman was the word for the absolute. “Teach me, Brahman.” The teacher was silent. He asked him a second time, and the third time. Then the teacher said, “I have said it, but you don’t understand. This Self is silent.” We can see the parallel with the silence of the Buddha. There are a number of these places.

The thoughts, many of them were there, but they were expressed in the Upanishads as a perhaps a protest against the ritualism. The Buddha broke away, but some of the thoughts, many of the thoughts as he expresses them, are not original to him, but he expressed them with a new kind of force. They’re expressed rationally, urbanely. It’s rather like the Greek Socratic dialogues. It’s very civilized and cultivated, rational.

One of the things the Buddha did was to break some of the social prejudices. For instance, Upāli was a barber and he applied for initiation to the Buddha, to give up home, become a renunciate. Three princes of the Shakya tribe applied. The Buddha initiated Upāli the barber first. Then while the others were still princes, he made them prostrate themselves to the barber, on the ground that the barber had become a disciple a few hours earlier than they had. Now that to Indian warrior must have been a very severe test.

One of the features of Buddhism is that the people who joined for a long time were not the people who had everything to gain by giving up their caste, but people who had everything to lose. One would think, as for instance in Christianity or in Islam, there would be many converts of slaves and women, but there were very few. In some of the records of the early sanghas, they kept a note of the converts, either of their former caste, as we call it, or their former profession from which we can deduce the caste. In most of the cases, it’s something like 70% were Brahmins who had everything to lose; then the next 10 to 15% are warriors and it’s only the remaining 15 or 10% or less who are from the two lower castes, who one would have thought had everything to gain by getting out of the caste system.

It may be that the order was so strong, because the early members of this order had made a tremendous sacrifice in joining. It didn’t become, in general, corrupt. It did become rich sometimes but, in general, you can say that it didn’t misuse its political influence. Even its most bitter opponents never said that they were sexually immoral or that they were swindlers or that they were privately enjoying a very good life. A remarkable purity sustained itself in the history of the order.  Of course, there are some exceptions, but in general, they didn’t lead or incite crusades. When they were the most influential power in the state, they didn’t in general, misuse it. Some of the Chinese pilgrims who came in later years – 400-600 AD – they comment, sometimes, that the monasteries are rich while some of the people are starving; but in general, their verdict was very favourable.

Now the heartland of Buddhism, as I explained to you, is this booming centre of new life which finally twice conquered almost all of India. One of the states was Magadha. The King was Bimbisara, a convert to the Buddha, but Bimbisara was imprisoned and then killed by his son.  This became a routine in that dynasty, the son invariably killed the father and took the throne. You would think that after a time, the fathers would…  But they always thought, “Oh, no. This is different.”  However, they seem to have been very able men and the territory expanded and expanded. Magadha – if you look in the law book of Manu in the discussion on caste, he’ll say the product of a Brahmin woman with Vaishya (a trader) is a man of Magadha.

In other words, socially, not very acceptable. Then again, they had this curious accent as they had in Galilee. The Galilean used to drop their Hs. Well, if you were a cultivated man from Jerusalem, the preaching would’ve sounded funny with all the Hs dropped. In the same way, adherents of the new movements, Buddhism and Jainism, were odd.  Somehow it wasn’t traditional, it wasn’t quite right. That was the social feeling against it. Money – they were rich – this was one of the causes of the first great split in Buddhism.

The East, the Buddhism of the East, the heartland of Buddhism, they gradually allowed begging not merely for food, but they were allowed to take money. Now in the West, they were Brahmins. They had been very orthodox Brahmins, keeping to the letter of the rule like Panini in his grammar. They were very against the order ever accepting money. The same thing happened with the Franciscan order here. Francis made a definite decision, the friar must not touch money, but then the order became great. Within 24 years after his death, they had large buildings. The head of the order used to appear always on horseback. Well, naturally they had to keep the principle laid down by the founder, so they used to count the money out with a stick without actually touching it. There are pictures of them doing it.

Well, something similar happened in India. The currency economy became general and money was allowed.  Anyway, there was a considerable fuss, and one of the Western leaders of the Buddhist Sangha happened to be in the East. He found in the East, they were accepting money. He protested, they censured him for not accepting the decision of the Sangha. He appealed and they had a great council. There were a lot of other rules which were the subject of dispute. For instance, you’re not supposed to eat after midday. Now, one of the points of dispute it seems was whether you could eat when the sun’s shadow had gone two fingers beyond midday.

It’s rather hard to think that that was a major source of dispute. Although with the pernickety grammarians of Western India believing in keeping to the letter of everything, it might have been a factor, but the main thing undoubtedly was the question of money. Then there was a split. Well, you know something of the history of it. It wasn’t the same as the splits which Christianity has had, where the immediate reaction is to burn the people who don’t agree with you. One of the embarrassments of translating Buddhist texts is that the word which we translate as heretic, simply means somebody on the outer path. It doesn’t say he’s not on a path, but it does say he’s on an outer path; but the word heretic immediately has these associations for us. It’s difficult to find words which don’t have this furious association. Even in the disputes in India, in general, there was a tolerance and a civilization about it.

Now, something about the language – the Buddha spoke a dialect, which can be partially reconstructed. The difference between that and the Sanskrit isn’t great. We can understand it if we think of our own speech and then think of a teacher dictating. A teacher in school giving dictation who says, “A soldier said, ‘I do not know.'” Well, that’s for the children to write down, every syllable is very clear and correct. But we actually say, “A soldier [‘soljer’] said, ‘I do not know.’”  Pāli and the Buddha’s dialect bear the same relation to Sanskrit.  Something like the same. They’re comprehensible, they’re understandable – but it’s not very refined. If you wrote ‘soldier’ as pronounced, S-O-L-J-E-R, it would give an impression somehow of a lack of education somewhere, although it will be comprehensible.

Two of the disciples of the Buddha suggested to him that it was rather inappropriate that the holy teachings should be put out in dialect, and wouldn’t it be better to have them put out always in Sanskrit. The Buddha gave a ruling on this, “No, it is to be given in the dialect or the language of the hearers.” Now, this ruling which seems so sensible, like many of these things, had unexpected consequences. When the Buddhism went to the heartland of Brahmanism, the people there spoke a dialect which is similar to what we now call Pāli. Well, that was the dialect of the people, but with their precision and their desire to have things straight, they then froze the scriptures. It was the West of India that made the great missionary journeys to the North and the South, and they took the teaching in Pāli.  It was taught in Pāli, and it was frozen. Now you can see that this meant that it gradually became incomprehensible, or less comprehensible, and it would have done better if it had stayed in Sanskrit.

Exactly the same thing happened with Zen in China. The Zen teachers of the Tang Dynasty used the colloquialisms of the time. They were, of course, more readily understandable then, but now the meaning is completely lost in many of them. We don’t know what they meant. Whereas if it had been in classical Chinese, we would know what they meant.

Well, some of the lines of Buddhism changed the Buddha’s ruling and wrote and spoke in Sanskrit. Quite a lot of that went to the Northwest with the Sanskrit line and it perished when Buddhism perished, or largely perished, in India. It survives in Chinese translation; perhaps four-fifths of it remains only in the Chinese. That’s the so-called Northern tradition. The Southern tradition remains in Sri Lanka in Pali, and that’s the one that’s well known to us. The Northern tradition in the Chinese text is now coming to light and being extensively studied and it can be compared.

I only want to just give you one little example of the conflict between these traditions, not to prove anything or upset anybody. Only it’s worth knowing that things one’s always accepted as so, because there’s only been one piece of evidence, can be upset or may have to be modified when new evidence turns up. I’ll read you just a little passage. This is a well-known incident of the Emperor Ashoka sending out the missionaries.  At the Great Council he decided, with the advice of his spiritual director, to send missionaries. He’s supposed to have sent his own son to Sri Lanka, and the missionaries went in nine different directions.

Now, I’ll just read this very rapidly for you. “The elder Moggalipputatisa, was a man of Western India,” (the West), “and he became the teacher of the Emperor Ashoka. At his urging, the emperor built 84,000 stupas. He gave ordination to the emperor’s son, Prince Mahinda, and to his daughter, Princess Sanghamitta, and appointed them successes of the Dharma. At this time, many heretical,” (well, anyway), “extremists had found entry into the Sangha at the Kukkutarama, the cockerel park of Pataliputra,” (the capital), “and the teaching of the Dharma was perishing. He called together a thousand bhikshus and they expelled the heresies, restoring the true Dharma.” This was the Third Council. It is said to have produced the Kathāvatthu, that’s one of the accounts. “Moggaliputta having thus restored the true Dharma, suggested to the emperor to send out missionaries to the nine regions.” They went as follows. To Kashmir in the Northwest India, to [Mahesarata], to [Vanavasa], to Aparantaka (in that case, the missionary was a Greek), to [Yonaloka], to the Himalayan regions, and so on. Finally, to Sri Lanka, went Mahinda. Now this is the traditional account of it. The names of the missionaries are known and the directions they went to.

But recent research has pressed for a reappraisal.  In the Northern tradition, there is a record that the emperor built the stupas, but there it is said that it was at the instigation of [Yashas] and Upagupta, and not even the name of Moggalipputatisa appears. There is no Third Council. Mahinda and Sanghamitta are no relations of the emperor. This may well be connected with the fact that this Northern tradition went up into Kashmir. By and large, however, there is in the Northern account no mention of the sending out of missionaries.

So you can see there’s a tremendous difference between the two traditions. Without wanting to make anything special about this, it shows that with the study of the Northern tradition, some of the things which have been accepted purely on the basis of the Southern tradition will be amended. The conclusions are now that the propagation of Buddhism was a long-term affair by Western India, by the Sangha of Western India with no connection with the Emperor Ashoka, and that it went on over a long period, especially to the West and the South.

Another point, for instance, is the date of the Buddhist birth. In the Southern tradition, it’s 563 BC. In the Northern tradition, 100 years different, 463. The missionaries went from Western India. It’s an interesting fact that the Buddha told his missionaries to go out singly. Christ told the missionaries to go out in pairs.  One of the reasons may be the fact that missionaries, especially in the middle east, were liable to be attacked. In India, there was a tradition of tolerance. They went out singly. Purana was one of the great disciples. He asked to go to the land of his birth, again in Western India, where the people were known to be very aggressive and rough.

The Buddha said, “They may slander you there. It’s new.”  He said, “Well, if they slander me, I’ll think them kind for not punching me.” The Buddha said, “They may punch you.” He said, “Well, then I shall think them kind for not beating me. If they beat me, I shall think them kind for not killing me. If they kill me, well, I shall think them kind for sending me to Nirvana.”

They were men of very strong character, and as far as we know, they succeeded in impressing the people they met, spiritually. They went with nothing, they appeared and quite often people were impressed by their bearing. They were given a courteous hearing, it’s almost universal, through the intervention of wealthy people. Of course, it may be that the wealthy disciples were the ones who were recorded, but just the same, it’s quite striking how, socially, it went in at the top.

Southern India was becoming enormously rich with wealthy traders. The ports on the South and the West coast of India were trading, for instance, with the Roman empire. There was a remark by Pliny that 200 million gold pieces were going out of Rome every year, mostly to India. It’s thought that’s an exaggeration, but anyway, they’ve been found in hoards on a large scale in the diggings around the ports of Western and Southern India. There’s no question, the region was very rich.

It was a people of mercantile ability and as always, the mercantile spirit comes in. One of the things that it’s thought Buddhism took over from Hinduism, was the idea of reincarnation and what you might call instant Karma. Reincarnation and Karma are connected, as you know. If you die owing a debt to someone, which you haven’t really tried to repay, you’ll be born as an ox and you will work in that man’s house, grinding the corn for him until the amount of the debt is paid off and you will then drop dead and you will have a better birth. It was quite a system of double entry bookkeeping.

You’ve got the idea of instant Karma. If something went wrong, if you were ill or in some difficulty somewhere, you made a donation to the Sangha. Very often you put your name on a pillar, in a new monastery; you put your name, just in case the law of Karma should happen to forget or slip up. Your name would be there as having donated a pillar, so that it became a trading. It’s a curious fact that Buddhism, a religion of renunciation and abandonment of desire, attracted what you might call ‘skilful operators’ financially, who quite soon began to apply their own principles to the principles of Buddhism.

Buddhism has two sets, the transcendental level and the worldly level. On the worldly level of marriages, of righteous conduct in the world, it remained largely, it’s thought, on the Hindu lines. The Buddha’s son has confirmed this. He said a city will not be built successfully, a bridge will not be made successfully unless there is an offering to the deity of the place.  He allowed this for people still in the world. The sermon he first gave to the first layman wasn’t a sermon about Nirvana. It was a sermon of doing good and of going to heaven, and from heaven, it would be easy to attain Nirvana. Well, quite soon, that heaven became the Hindu heaven of various delights and it became an ordinary business transaction.

I used to learn that the Mahayana had come from one of the sects that split off at the Second Council, Mahāsāṃghika, but that’s not thought now to be true. It’s thought that the Mahayana originated among layman who worshipped stupas. The stupa, as you know, was originally a building which held ashes of some holy person, the Buddha or a great disciple of the Buddha. The Buddha for forbade the worship of stupa for a bhikshu – that was for layman.  But quite soon, the bhikshus were worshipping stupas.  There was one in every monastery. There are something like 10,000 cave temples in India of which 90% are Buddhist, and there was always one stupa in it, which was used for ceremonies. The need for something to worship became stronger and stronger.

It’s thought that the Mahayana with its emphasis on perfection in lay life, originated from lay groups. There are many riddles still remaining but, quite soon, Buddha images appeared.  Originally in the first carvings, the Buddha is never shown. There’s just a footprint where he has been, or sometimes a lotus that represents the Buddha.  But, perhaps in the second century AD, the desire for something to worship was becoming stronger and stronger, something concrete and definite – and the making of the Buddha images began.

Well, you’ve seen the various images with the Greek influence and the other influences, and how they vary. Gradually the influences from Hinduism came in more and more. For instance, the Bodhisattva figures at Ajanta, the caves, they had the sacred thread of the Brahmin across one shoulder.

We know from the Chinese pilgrims that the Brahmins and the Buddhists together were walking in the procession. We know that Kings who were Hindus, would go to the Buddhist temple to hear the Dharma spoken and they would make gifts. We know that Kings who were Buddhist, even the Emperor Ashoka, would make gifts to other religious sects. There was a great deal of tolerance, but it gradually meant a blurring of the outlines. The Nirvana, instead of being attained in this life as the Buddha expected and as his early disciples attained it, it became postponed. Heaven became the objective to get, so to speak, onto a favourable launching pad and then go to Nirvana. It gradually became more and more remote.

The concept of the Dharma is from a Sanskrit root, meaning to support and it’s that which supports a thing. It’s the true support of a thing, the true quality of a thing.  The Dharma of a diamond is to be hard and to shine.  When Ashoka used the concept of Dharma to unify his vast empire, he wasn’t using it just in the Buddhist sense. It was a concept that could unite all the Indian religions. They all had this idea (except for a small group of the complete sceptics). Its idea is not to force a man to being something that he isn’t and can’t be. The Sufi mystic, Hallaj, says, “God tied his arms behind his back and threw him into the sea saying, ‘Take care not to get wet.'” There’s some feeling of this in Christianity even. Impossible demands are laid down, everybody fails to meet them, so everybody is condemned.

Now Japanese Confucians’ view of the doctrine of Christian missionaries is quite striking on this point. He said, “When you meet them, as men, you can’t help admiring them. They’re wonderful men, but the moment they begin to talk, it’s absolute nonsense. You can imagine. I’m a criminal brought before a judge. Now the judge might look at him and think the law was too strict and let him off or he might think, “Well, this man has a weak character. He’s tried. Let him off.” That the judge should sentence the man and then get his own son to be executed instead of the man…”   And he compares it with the rationality of the Buddhists.

I mentioned this point, because it can be sometimes a surprise to read these things. Dharma is what a man fundamentally is, and in the Buddhism and in Hinduism too, it was thought that the spiritual discipline would bring out something that was in him. They thought that a man who sins is going against something in himself. It’s not that he’s transgressing commands laid down by a judge, but that he’s going against something in himself.

We have, of course, this idea. A Jewish rabbi says, “When I die, God will not say to me, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ He will say, ‘Why were you not Rabbi Lou?'” Why were you not yourself? Well, this doctrine is very often unstated, but it’s fundamental. They had the idea, not that sin is man’s own nature from which he’s got to be punished out of, as we would house-train a dog. The dog’s nature is to make a mess. We train it and then finally it doesn’t make a mess, and then not making a mess is natural to it. They thought of Dharma as something natural to man.

The preaching of Buddhism, again, was done with enormous eloquence and success – this tremendous literature. The Bible is a sizeable book, but the Buddhist canon is a small bookcase. Very few people have read all of it, they say. It was preached with enormous eloquence, but they also had this very strong idea that there were other kinds of preaching – something quite different from the buying and selling of this world, the eloquence and response of this world, the calculating the words so that they would produce that effect. Something entirely different.

One of the disciples of the Buddha, a very strict man, in his youth he was practicing austerities (before he met the Buddha) with a friend who gave up. In a sort of reaction, as can quite often happen, the friend became a criminal. Mahākāśyapa met him, when the criminal had been tried and sentenced, on his way to the execution ground. He recognized him, and he fell in with him and walked with him to the execution row. When they arrived there, the man had completely lost his fear of death. The account says the King was amazed.

This is called the Gift of Courage, it’s the second of the gifts. The first is the material gift, which is lowest. The second is the Gift of Courage and the last is the Gift of Wisdom.  This idea that there’s a direct appeal to something that’s deepest in a man, it’s occasionally stated, but very often it’s an unstated assumption in a lot of the texts – the Dharma of the man.

Just to conclude this, there’s a very old Jain text which has been discovered, which is older than the oldest Buddhist text.  It’s called the ‘Sayings of the Rishis’ – the  Rishis are the inspired sages. In Sanskrit, it would be Rishi [Basha], and in the Jain dialect of Eastern India, it’s the [Ishi bas]. You can see the resemblance.  In that text, some of the Upanishadic Sages are mentioned, and some of the things they said. Some of which are close to what we have in the Upanishads; some of which don’t now exist in any Upanishad which we have. So they’re of great interest.

One of the points here is that the Buddha is mentioned and his name is given as Śāriputra, who was one of the Buddha’s main disciples – an enormously eloquent man. In a lot of the Buddhist texts, Śāriputra preaches on behalf of the Buddha and afterwards, the Buddha confirms what he said.  We can say that Śāriputra, more or less, to outsiders anyway, was known as the Buddha himself. He must have been the man, in that area of India, who was known as the representative of Buddhism: Śāriputra the Buddha. There’s no reference to Gautama. Now he did enormous service to Buddhism, but there’s a contrast. How did Śāriputra come to Buddhism?

Not by eloquence. He was the disciple of a famous sceptic; Sañjaya was his name. He and a friend, Maudgalyāyana, were the head of Sañjaya’s band of disciples, about 200 of them. Now, one day Śāriputra was walking and he saw a man begging in the street silently. He simply saw him walk, and beg, and walk. He was so impressed by the way that man moved and stood, that he followed him. When the man finished and was going back, he stopped him. He said, “May I ask you, what is this which you have?” The man said, “My teacher is on the Vulture Peak.”

Śāriputra then went up and he met the Buddha. He met him and then ran back to his fellow disciples – and all 200 of them came with him and became disciples of the Buddha. The sceptic teacher, it’s said, vomited blood. There were two styles of preaching. One is Śāriputra’s enormous eloquence, which has been preserved for us. The other was this silent man. In the later current of Buddhism, this tradition of silence, of a communication not by the ordinary means, something distinct and different from the cause-and-effect relations of our ordinary life, this tradition was never lost.  You can say, it’s one of the living elements in Buddhism, which has given inspiration to so many people.

As to why Buddhism died out in India, there are many factors – but one is probably that it made so many accommodations to Hinduism that the difference between them, in fact, disappeared. When a politician says, “There are these great principles to which we are all subscribed, but they’re also the facts and we’ve got to do this and this and this…  This was always liable to happen.” To Buddhism in India, it did tend to happen. The means become the end. They made enormous contributions to civilizing the country, and that civilization went with them. They brought not the sacrifice of animals, but worshipped with flowers and incense.



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