Religion and philosophy that developed from the teachings of the Buddha Gautama (or Gotama), who lived as early as the 6th century BC. Spreading from India to Central and Southeast Asia, China, Korea, and Japan, Buddhism has played a central role in the spiritual, cultural, and social life of the Eastern world and during the 20th century has spread to the West. This article surveys Buddhism from its origins to its elaboration in various schools, sects, and regional developments.
Ancient Buddhist scripture and doctrine developed primarily in two closely related literary languages of ancient India, Pali and Sanskrit. In this article, Pali and Sanskrit words that have gained some currency in English are treated as English words and are rendered in the form in which they appear in English-language dictionaries. Exceptions occur in special circumstances--as, for example, in the case of the Sanskrit term dharma (Pali: dhamma), which has meanings that are not usually associated with the English "dharma." Pali forms are given in the sections that deal with Buddhists whose primary sacred language was Pali (including discussions of the teaching of the Buddha, which are reconstructed on the basis of Pali texts). Sanskrit forms are given in the sections that deal with Buddhists whose primary focus was on Sanskritic traditions.
The foundations of Buddhism
The cultural context
Buddhism came into being in northeastern India during the period from the late 6th century to the early 4th century BC, a period of great social change and intense religious activity. There is disagreement among scholars about the dates of the Buddha's birth and death. Most scholars in Europe, the United States, and India believe that the historical Buddha lived from about 563 to about 483 BC. Many others, especially in Japan, believe that he lived about 100 years later (from about 448 to 368 BC).
At this time in India, many were no longer content with the external formalities of Brahmanic (Hindu high-caste) sacrifice and ritual. In northwestern India there were ascetics who tried to go beyond the Vedas (Hindu sacred scriptures). In the literature that grew out of this movement, the Upanishads, a new emphasis on renunciation and transcendental knowledge can be found. But northeastern India, which was less influenced by the Aryans who had developed the main tenets and practices of the Vedic Hindu faith, became the breeding ground of many heterodox sects. Society in this area was troubled by the breakdown of tribal unity and the expansion of several petty kingdoms. Religiously, this was a time of doubt, turmoil, and experimentation.
A proto-Samkhya sect (a Hindu school founded by Kapila) was already well-established in the area. New sects abounded, including various kinds of skeptics (e.g., Sañjaya Belatthiputta), atomists (e.g., Pakudha Kaccayana), materialists (e.g., Ajita Kesakambali), and antinomians (i.e., those against rules or laws; e.g., Purana Kassapa). Among the most important sects to arise at the time of the Buddha were the Ajivikas (Ajivakas), who emphasized the rule of fate (niyati), and the Jainas, an ascetic movement stressing the need to free the soul from matter. Though the Jainas, like the Buddhists, have often been regarded as atheists, their beliefs are actually more complicated. Unlike early Buddhists, both the Ajivikas and Jainas believed in the permanence of the elements that constitute the universe, as well as the existence of the soul.
Despite the bewildering variety of religious communities, many shared the same vocabulary--nirvana (transcendent freedom), atman ("self," or "soul"), yoga ("union"), karma ("causality"), Tathagata ("Thus-Gone," or "He Who Has Thus Attained"), buddha ("enlightened one"), samsara ("eternal recurrence," "becoming"), and dhamma ("rule," or "law")--and most were based on the practice of yoga. According to tradition, the Buddha himself was a yogi--that is, a miracle-working ascetic.
Buddhism, like many of the sects that developed in northeastern India at the time, was constituted by the presence of a charismatic teacher, by the teachings this leader promulgated, and by a community of adherents that was often made up of renunciant members and lay supporters. In the case of Buddhism this pattern became the basis for the Triratna--the "Three Jewels" of Buddha (the teacher), dharma (the teaching), and sangha (the community)--in which Buddhists have traditionally taken refuge.
In the centuries following the founder's death, Buddhism developed in two directions. One, usually called Theravada by its present-day adherents, remained relatively faithful to what it considered to be the true tradition of the Buddha's teachings. The other is called Mahayana, "the means of salvation available to a larger number of people," by its followers, who call the first Hinayana, "the means of salvation restricted to a smaller number of people" (or simply the greater and lesser vehicles).
In its spread, Buddhism influenced the currents of thought and religion in other countries. In response to the diverse religious aspirations of the various Buddhist communities, the strict law of karma was modified to accommodate new emphases on the efficacy of ritual actions and various forms of devotional practice. Finally there developed in India a movement called Vajrayana, or Esoteric Buddhism, the aim of which was to obtain liberation more speedily. This movement was influenced by gnostic and magical currents pervasive at that time.
For all the discussion on the two paths of salvation--the gradual and the instant--and the various ways of interpreting the key Mahayana concepts of the "void" and the mind-element, the ethics remain fundamentally the same. The monastic organizations suffered the influence of diverse historical situations, but the basic structure remains intact. The Buddha, the original teacher, is always recognized as the revealer of Buddhist truth. In the later doctrines, his preaching is not just that given to his first disciples: he multiplies himself in numberless epiphanies--all manifestations of a single immutable reality--and he emphasizes the certainty of the void and the relativity of all appearances.
In spite of these vicissitudes, Buddhism did not negate its basic principles. Instead they were reinterpreted, rethought, and reformulated, bringing to life an immense literature. This literature includes the Pali Tipitaka ("Three Baskets"; three collections of the Buddha's teaching) and the commentaries on it; these were preserved by adherents of the Theravada tradition. It also includes many sutras and tantras that have been recognized by the followers of the Mahayana and Tantric Buddhist traditions as Buddhavacana, "the word of the Buddha," along with commentaries on these texts. Consequently, from the first sermon of the Buddha at Sarnath to the most recent derivations, there is an indisputable continuity--a development or metamorphosis around a central nucleus--by virtue of which Buddhism is differentiated from other religions. (Gi.T.) (J.M.K.) (F.E.R.)
The Buddha's message
The teaching attributed to the Buddha was transmitted orally by his disciples, prefaced by the phrase "evam me sutam" ("thus have I heard"); therefore, it is difficult to say whether his discourses were related as they were spoken. They usually allude, however, to the place, time, and community where he preached; and there is concordance between various versions. An attempt was made by Buddhist councils in the first centuries after the Buddha's death to establish his true and original teachings.
Suffering, impermanence, and no-self
It may be said that the Buddha based his entire teaching on the fact of human suffering. Existence is painful. The conditions that make an individual are precisely those that also give rise to suffering. Individuality implies limitation; limitation gives rise to desire; and, inevitably, desire causes suffering, since what is desired is transitory, changing, and perishing. It is the impermanence of the object of craving that causes disappointment and sorrow. By following the "path" taught by the Buddha, the individual can dispel the "ignorance" that perpetuates this suffering. The Buddha's doctrine was not one of despair. Living amid the impermanence of everything and being themselves impermanent, human beings search for the way of deliverance, for that which shines beyond the transitoriness of human existence--in short, for enlightenment.
According to the Buddha, reality, whether of external things or the psychophysical totality of human individuals, consists in a succession and concatenation of microseconds called dhammas (these "components" of reality are not to be confused with dhamma meaning "law" or "teaching"). The Buddha departed from the main lines of traditional Indian thought in not asserting an essential or ultimate reality in things.
Moreover, contrary to the theories of the Upanishads, the Buddha did not want to assume the existence of the soul as a metaphysical substance, but he admitted the existence of the self as the subject of action in a practical and moral sense. Life is a stream of becoming, a series of manifestations and extinctions. The concept of the individual ego is a popular delusion; the objects with which people identify themselves--fortune, social position, family, body, and even mind--are not their true selves. There is nothing permanent, and, if only the permanent deserved to be called the self, or atman, then nothing is self. There can be no individuality without a putting together of components. This is becoming different, and there can be no way of becoming different without a dissolution, a passing away.
To make clear the concept of no-self (anatman), Buddhists set forth the theory of the five aggregates or constituents (khandhas) of human existence: (1) corporeality or physical forms (rupa), (2) feelings or sensations (vedana), (3) ideations (sañña), (4) mental formations or dispositions (sankhara), and (5) consciousness (viññana). Human existence is only a composite of the five aggregates, none of which is the self or soul. A person is in a process of continuous change, with no fixed underlying entity.
The belief in rebirth, or samsara, as a potentially endless series of worldly existences in which every being is caught up was already associated with the doctrine of karma (Sanskrit: karman; literally "act," or "deed") in pre-Buddhist India, and it was generally accepted by both the Theravada and the Mahayana traditions. According to the doctrine of karma, good conduct brings a pleasant and happy result and creates a tendency toward similar good acts, while bad conduct brings an evil result and creates a tendency toward repeated evil actions. This furnishes the basic context for the moral life of the individual.
Some karmas bear fruit in the same life in which they are committed, others in the immediately succeeding one, and others in future lives that are more remote.
The acceptance by Buddhists of the belief in karma and rebirth while holding to the doctrine of no-self gave rise to a difficult problem: how can rebirth take place without a permanent subject to be reborn? Indian non-Buddhist philosophers attacked this vulnerable point in Buddhist thought, and many modern scholars have also considered it to be an insoluble question. The relation between existences in rebirth has been explained by the analogy of fire, which maintains itself unchanged in appearance and yet is different in every moment--what may be called the continuity of an ever-changing identity.
The Four Noble Truths
Awareness of these fundamental realities led the Buddha to formulate the Four Noble Truths: the truth of misery, the truth that misery originates within us from the craving for pleasure and for being or nonbeing, the truth that this craving can be eliminated, and the truth that this elimination is the result of a methodical way or path that must be followed. Thus, there must be an understanding of the mechanism by which a human being's psychophysical being evolves; otherwise, human beings would remain indefinitely in samsara, in the continual flow of transitory existence.
The law of dependent origination
Hence, the Buddha formulated the law of dependent origination (paticca-samuppada), whereby one condition arises out of another, which in turn arises out of prior conditions. Every mode of being presupposes another immediately preceding mode from which the subsequent mode derives, in a chain of causes. According to the classical rendering, the 12 links in the chain are ignorance (avijja), karmic predispositions (sankharas), consciousness (viññana), form and body (nama-rupa), the five sense organs and the mind (salayatana), contact (phassa), feeling-response (vedana), craving (tanha), grasping for an object (upadana), action toward life (bhava), birth (jati), and old age and death (jaramarana). Thus, the misery that is bound up with all sensate existence is accounted for by a methodical chain of causation.
The law of dependent origination of the various aspects of becoming remains invariable and fundamental in all schools of Buddhism. There are, however, diverse interpretations.
The Eightfold Path
Given the awareness of this law, the question arises as to how one may escape the continually renewed cycle of birth, suffering, and death. Here ethical conduct enters in. It is not enough to know that misery pervades all existence and to know the way in which life evolves; there must also be a purification that leads to the overcoming of this process. Such a liberating purification is effected by following the Noble Eightfold Path constituted by right views, right aspirations, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditational attainment. The term right (true or correct) is used to distinguish sharply between the precepts of the Buddha and other teachings.
The aim of religious practice is to be rid of the delusion of ego, thus freeing oneself from the fetters of this mundane world. One who is successful in doing so is said to have overcome the round of rebirths and to have achieved enlightenment. This is the final goal--not a paradise or a heavenly world.
The living process is likened to a fire burning. Its remedy is the extinction of the fire of illusion, passions, and cravings. The Buddha, the Enlightened One, is one who is no longer kindled or enflamed. Many poetic terms are used to describe the state of the enlightened human being--the harbour of refuge, the cool cave, the place of bliss, the farther shore. The term that has become famous in the West is nirvana, translated as dying out--that is, the dying out in the heart of the fierce fires of lust, anger, and delusion. But nirvana is not extinction, and indeed the craving for annihilation or nonexistence was expressly repudiated by the Buddha. Buddhists search not for mere cessation but for salvation. Though nirvana is often presented negatively as "release from suffering," it is more accurate to describe it in a more positive fashion: as an ultimate goal to be sought and cherished.
The Buddha left indeterminate questions regarding the destiny of persons who have reached this ultimate goal. He even refused to speculate as to whether such purified saints, after death, continued to exist or ceased to exist. Such questions, he maintained, were not relevant to the practice of the path and could not in any event be answered from within the confines of ordinary human existence.
Though it is true that the Buddha avoided discussion of the ultimate condition that lay beyond the categories of the phenomenal world, he often affirmed the reality of the religious goal. For example, he is reported to have said: "There is an unborn, an unoriginated, an unmade, an uncompounded; were there not, there would be no escape from the world of the born, the originated, the made, and the compounded."
In his teaching, the Buddha strongly asserted that the ontological status and character of the unconditioned nirvana cannot be delineated in a way that does not distort or misrepresent it. But what is more important is that he asserted with even more insistence that nirvana can be experienced--and experienced in this present existence--by those who, knowing the Buddhist truth, practice the Buddhist path. (Gi.T.) (H.Na.) (F.E.R.)
Expansion of Buddhism
The Buddha was a charismatic leader who discovered and proclaimed a religious message and founded a distinctive religious community. Some of the members of that community were, like the Buddha himself, wandering ascetics. Others were laypersons who venerated the Buddha, followed those aspects of his teachings that were relevant to them, and provided the wandering ascetics with the material support that they required.
During the first several centuries after the Buddha's death, the story of his life was remembered and embellished, his teachings were preserved and developed, and the community that he had established became a significant religious force. Many of the followers of the Buddha who were wandering ascetics began to settle in permanent monastic establishments and to develop the procedures needed to maintain large monastic institutions. At the same time, the Buddhist laity came to include important members of the economic and political elite.
During the first century of its existence Buddhism spread from its place of origin in Magadha and Kosala throughout much of northern India, including the areas of Mathura and Ujjayani in the west. According to the Buddhist tradition, invitations to the Council of Vesali (Sanskrit: Vaisali), held just over a century after the Buddha's death, were sent to monks living in many distant places throughout northern and central India. By the middle of the 3rd century BC, Buddhism had gained the favour of a Mauryan king who had established an empire that extended from the Himalayas in the north almost as far south as Sri Lanka.
To the rulers of the kingdoms and republics arising in northeastern India, the patronage of heteroprax sects (those with differing practices) was one way of counterbalancing the enormous political power enjoyed by Brahmans (high-caste Hindus) in the affairs of state. The first Mauryan emperor, Candra Gupta (c. 321-c. 297 BC), patronized Jainism and finally became a Jaina monk. His grandson, Asoka, who ruled over the greater part of the subcontinent from about 270 to 230 BC, became the archetypal Buddhist king. Asoka attempted to establish in his realm a "true dhamma" based on the virtues of self-control, impartiality, cheerfulness, truthfulness, and goodness. Though he did not found a state church, he did attempt to forge a Buddhist-oriented religiopolitical culture that would include Hindu, Jaina, Ajivika (Aiivaka), and Buddhist alike. His aim was to create a religious and social milieu that would enable all "children of the king" to live happily and attain heaven in the next life. Thus, he created a "welfare state" by setting up medical assistance for men and beasts, maintaining reservoirs and canals, and promoting trade. A system of dhamma officers (dhamma-mahamattas) was set up to provide for the empire magistrates, district attorneys, preachers, bureaucrats, social workers, and spies. The lay ethic preached by the king of the dhamma (dhamma-raja) and his officers was focused on the layman's obligations in this world. Though Asoka created a new ideal of kingship that would have powerful repercussions throughout the later Buddhist world, the various problems posed by a state of such vast dimensions in India proved greater than he could solve. Soon after Asoka's death, the Mauryan empire began to crumble.
Although Buddhists seem to have suffered some persecutions during the subsequent Sunga-Kanva period (185-28 BC), Buddhism succeeded in maintaining and even expanding its influence. Buddhist monastic centres and magnificent Buddhist monuments such as the great stupas at Bharhut and Sañchi were established throughout the subcontinent, and these institutions often received royal patronage. In the early centuries of the Common era, Buddhism was especially flourishing in northwestern India, and from there it spread rapidly into Central Asia and China.
Buddhism under the Guptas and Palas
By the time of the Gupta dynasty (c. AD 320-c. 600), Buddhism in India was being affected by the revival of Brahmanic religion and the rising tide of bhakti (a devotional movement that emphasized the intense love of a devotee for a personal god). During this period, for example, some Hindus were practicing devotion to the Buddha, whom they regarded as an avatar (incarnation) of the Hindu deity Vishnu.
During the Gupta period some monasteries joined together to form monastic centres (mahaviharas) that functioned as universities. The most famous of these, located at Nalanda, had a curriculum that went far beyond the bounds of traditional Buddhism. Nalanda soon became the leading centre for the study of Mahayana, which was rapidly becoming the dominant Buddhist tradition in India.
Though Buddhist institutions seemed to be faring well under the Guptas, various Chinese pilgrims visiting India between AD 400 and 700 could discern an internal decline in the Buddhist community and the beginning of the reabsorption of Indian Buddhism by Hinduism. Among these pilgrims were Fa-hsien, Sung Yün, Hui-sheng, Hsüan-tsang, and I-ching.
The accounts of these Chinese travelers provide invaluable information about Asian cultures from the Sasanian (Persian) empire in the west to Sumatra and Java in the east, and from Turfan in Central Asia to Kañchi in the south of India. In 399 Fa-hsien left China, crossed the Gobi (Desert), and visited various holy places in India. He then returned to China via Sri Lanka and Java, taking with him numerous Buddhist scriptures and statues. The most famous of the Chinese travelers was the 7th-century monk Hsüan-tsang. When he arrived in northwestern India, he found "millions of monasteries" reduced to ruins by the Huns, a nomadic Central Asian people. Many of the remaining Buddhists were developing their own form of Tantrism, an esoteric psychic-physical system of belief and practice. In the northeast, Hsüan-tsang visited various holy places and studied Yogacara, a Mahayana system, and Indian philosophy at Nalanda. After visiting Assam and southern India he returned to China with some 600 sutras.
After the destruction of numerous Buddhist monasteries in the 6th century AD by the Huns, Buddhism revived, especially in the northeast, where it flourished for a time under the Buddhist Pala kings (8th-12th century AD). These kings continued to protect the great monastic establishments (mahaviharas), building such new centres as Odantapuri, near Nalanda, and establishing a system of supervision for all such institutions. Under the Palas, Tantric Buddhism (i.e., Vajrayana) became the dominant sect. Adepts of this sect, called siddhas, identified nirvana with the passions, maintaining that one could "touch the deathless element with his body." Though some of its practices seemed excessive, scholars of this school sought to revalorize some of the most archaic elements in Indian religion. During this period, the university of Nalanda became a centre for the study of Tantric Buddhism and the practice of Tantric magic and rituals. Under the Pala kings, contacts with China decreased as Indians began to turn their attention to Tibet and Southeast Asia.
The decline of Buddhism in India
With the collapse of the Pala dynasty in the 12th century, Buddhism suffered another defeat, and this time it did not recover. Though some pockets of Buddhist influence remained, the Buddhist presence in India became so negligible that it could hardly be noticed.
Scholars do not know all the factors that contributed to the demise of Buddhism in its original homeland. Some have maintained that Buddhism was so tolerant of other faiths that it was simply reabsorbed by a revitalized Hindu tradition. This did occur, although Indian Mahayanists occasionally displayed a hostile attitude toward bhakti and toward Hinduism in general. However, there was another factor that was very important as well: Buddhism in India, having become mainly a monastic movement, probably paid little heed to the laity. Some monasteries became wealthy enough to have slaves and hired labourers to care for the monks and tend the lands they owned. Thus, after the Muslim invaders sacked the Indian monasteries in the 12th century AD, Buddhists had little basis for recovery. After the destruction of the monasteries, the Buddhist laity showed little interest in restoring the "Way."
At the beginning of the 20th century Buddhism was virtually extinct in India. Since the early 1900s, however, a significant Buddhist presence has been reestablished. In the early decades of the 20th century a number of Buddhist societies were organized by Indian intellectuals who found in Buddhism an alternative to a Hindu tradition that they could no longer accept; an alternative that was, in addition, part of the cultural heritage of India. Following the Chinese conquest of Tibet in the late 1950s, there was an influx of Tibetan Buddhists who established a highly visible Buddhist community in northern India. In addition, the incorporation of Sikkim in 1975 into the Republic of India has brought into the modern Indian nation a small Himalayan society that has a strong Buddhist tradition related to the Vajrayana Buddhism of Tibet.
The major component in the 20th-century resurgence of Buddhism in India has, however, been the mass conversion of large numbers of people from the so-called scheduled castes (formerly called Untouchables). This conversion movement, originally led by Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, began in the 1950s. In October 1956 Ambedkar and several hundred thousand of his followers converted to Buddhism, and--although accurate figures are difficult to determine--the group has continued to grow. Some estimates indicate that the number of converts is as high as four million. This group, which in the past has tended to favour the Theravada version of Buddhism, is developing its own distinctive patterns of Buddhist teaching and practice.
Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia
The first clear evidence of the spread of Buddhism outside India dates from the reign of King Asoka (3rd century BC). According to his inscriptions, Asoka sent Buddhist emissaries not only to many different regions of the subcontinent but also into certain border areas as well. It is certain that Asokan emissaries were sent to Sri Lanka and to an area called Suvarnabhumi that many modern scholars have identified with the Mon country in southern Myanmar (Burma) and central Thailand.
According to the Sinhalese tradition, Buddhism took root in Sri Lanka with the arrival of Asoka's son Mahinda and his six companions. Sent as missionaries by the Mauryan emperor, these travelers converted King Devanampiya Tissa and many of the nobility. Under King Tissa, the Mahavihara monastery was built, an institution that was to become the centre of Sinhalese orthodoxy. After Tissa's death (c. 207 BC) Sri Lanka fell into the hands of the South Indians until the time of Dutthagamani (101-77 BC), a descendant of Tissa, who overthrew King Elara. During this time, as a reaction to the threat posed by the South Indians, Buddhism and Sri Lankan political formations became closely intertwined. Again, it was probably because of this danger that the Pali canon was first written down under King Vattagamani Abhaya in the 1st century BC. This king also built the Abhayagiri monastery, the main centre of the various Mahayana movements in Sri Lanka. These heterodox tendencies were openly supported by King Mahasena (AD 276-303). Under Mahasena's son, Sri Meghavanna, the "Tooth of the Buddha" was brought to Abhayagiri and made the national palladium.
During the 1st millennium AD in Sri Lanka, the ancient Theravada tradition coexisted with various forms of Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Buddhist Tantrism. Beginning in the 10th century--as Buddhism was declining in India--Sri Lanka became a major locus of a Theravada Buddhist revival. As a result of this revival, Sri Lanka became a Theravada kingdom, with a sangha that was unified under Theravada auspices and a monarch who legitimated his rule in Theravada terms. The new Theravada tradition that was established spread from Sri Lanka into Southeast Asia, where it exerted a powerful influence.
In modern times Sri Lanka fell prey to the Western colonial powers (to the Portuguese in 1505-1658, the Dutch in 1658-1796, and finally the British in 1796-1947). Under King Kittisiri Rajasiha (1747-81) the ordination lineage was once again renewed, this time by monks recruited from Thailand.
The monastic community in Sri Lanka is now divided into three major bodies: (1) the Siam Nikaya, founded in the 18th century, a conservative and wealthy sect that admits only members of the Goyigama, the highest Sinhalese caste, (2) the Amarapura sect, founded in the 19th century, which has opened its ranks to members of lower castes, and (3) the reformed splinter group from the Siam Nikaya called the Ramanya sect. Among the laity several reform groups have been established. Among these the Sarvodaya community headed by A.T. Ariyaratne is especially important. This group has established religious, economic, and social development programs that have had a significant impact on Sinhalese village life.
Since Sri Lanka attained its independence from the British in 1947, the country has been increasingly drawn into a conflict between the Sinhalese Buddhist majority and the Tamil Hindu minority. Many Sinhalese Buddhists, including some monks, have closely associated their religion with the political agenda of the more militant Sinhalese nationalists. A few Buddhist leaders have, however, tried to adopt a more moderate position and to encourage a negotiated solution, the traditional basis for Sri Lankan political formation.
The peoples of Southeast Asia have not been mere satellites of the more powerful Indian and Chinese civilizations. On the contrary, the cultures that arose in these three vast areas might better be thought of as alternative developments that occurred within a greater Austroasiatic civilization, sometimes called "Asia of the monsoons." Therefore, the transmission of Buddhism and Hinduism to Southeast Asia can be regarded as the spread of the religious symbols of the more "advanced" elements within this Austroasiatic cluster to peoples sharing some of the basic religious presuppositions and traditions.
In Southeast Asia the Buddhist impact has been made in very different ways in three different regions. In two of these (the region of Malaysia/Indonesia and the region on the mainland extending from Myanmar to southern Vietnam), the main connections have been via trade routes with India and Sri Lanka. In Vietnam the main connections have been with China.
Malaysia and Indonesia
Though some scholars locate the Suvarnabhumi ("Land of Gold"), to which Asokan missionaries were supposedly sent, somewhere on the Malay Peninsula or in Indonesia, this is probably not accurate. It is, however, quite certain that Buddhism reached these areas by the beginning centuries of the 1st millennium AD.
With the help of Indian missionaries such as the monk Gunavarman, Buddhism had gained a firm foothold on Java well before the 5th century AD. Buddhism was also introduced at about this time in Sumatra, and, by the 7th century, the king of Srivijaya on the island of Sumatra was a Buddhist. When the Chinese traveler I-ching visited this kingdom in the 7th century, he noted that Hinayana was dominant in the area but that there were also a few Mahayanists. It was also in the 7th century that the great scholar Dharmapala from Nalanda visited Indonesia.
The Sailendra dynasty, which ruled over the Malay Peninsula and a large section of Indonesia from the 7th to the 9th century, promoted the Mahayana and Tantric forms of Buddhism. During this period major Buddhist monuments were erected in Java, among them the marvelous Borobudur, which is perhaps the most magnificent of all Buddhist stupas. From the 7th century onward, Vajrayana Buddhism spread rapidly throughout the area. King Kertanagara of Java (reigned 1268-92) was especially devoted to Tantric practice.
In the Malay Peninsula and Indonesia, as in India, Buddhism gradually lost its hold during the first half of the 2nd millennium AD. In many areas Buddhism was assimilated to Hinduism, forming a Hindu-oriented amalgam that in some places (for example in Bali) has persisted to the present. In most of Malaysia and Indonesia, however, both Hinduism and Buddhism were replaced by Islam, which remains the dominant religion in the area. (In modern Indonesia and Malaysia, Buddhism exists as a living religion only among the Chinese minority, but there is a growing community of converts, with its greatest strength in the vicinity of Borobudur.)
From Myanmar to the Mekong delta
A second pattern of Buddhist expansion in Southeast Asia developed in the mainland area that extends from Myanmar in the north and west to the Mekong delta in the south and east. According to the local Mon/Burman traditions, this is the area of Suvarnabhumi that was visited by missionaries from the Asokan court. It is known that, by the early centuries of the 1st millennium AD, Buddhist kingdoms were beginning to appear in this region. In Myanmar and Thailand--despite the presence of Hindu, Mahayana, and Vajrayana elements--the more conservative Hinayana forms of Buddhism were especially prominent throughout the 1st millennium AD. Farther to the east and south, in what is now Kampuchea (Cambodia) and southern Vietnam, various combinations of Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Vajrayana Buddhism became dominant. Throughout much of the history of Angkor, the great imperial centre that dominated Kampuchea and much of the surrounding areas for many centuries, Hinduism seems to have been the preferred tradition, at least among the elite. In the late 12th and early 13th centuries, however, the Buddhist King Jayavarman VII built a new capital called Angkor Thom that was dominated by Mahayana/Vajrayana monuments; these monuments represent one of the high points of Buddhist architectural achievement.
In mainland Southeast Asia, as in Sri Lanka, a Theravada reform movement began to develop in the 11th century. Drawing heavily on the Theravada heritage that had been preserved among the Mon in southern Myanmar, as well as on the new reform tradition that was developing in Sri Lanka, this revival soon established the Theravada tradition as the most dynamic tradition in Myanmar, where the Burmans had conquered the Mon. By the late 13th century the reform movement had spread to Thailand, where the Thai were gradually displacing the Mon as the dominant population. Within another two centuries the Theravada reformers had spread their tradition to Kampuchea and Laos.
The Theravada preeminence that was thus established remained basically intact throughout the area during the remainder of the premodern period. The arrival of the Western powers in the 19th century, however, brought important changes. In Thailand, which retained its independence, a process of gradual reform and modernization took place. During the 19th century leadership in the reform and modernization process was taken by a new Buddhist sect, the Thammayut Nikaya, which was established and supported by the reigning Chakri dynasty. More recently, the reform and modernization process has become more diversified and has affected virtually all segments of the Thai Buddhist community.
Two Buddhist groups, Santi Asoke (founded 1975) and Dharmakaya, are especially interesting. Because of their hard-line demands for religious and moral reforms, both groups are at odds with the established ecclesiastical hierarchy. But, despite pressures from the government, they have acquired a large popular following.
In the other Theravaha countries in Southeast Asia, Buddhism has had a much more difficult time. In Myanmar, which endured an extended period of British rule, the sangha and the structures of Buddhist society have been seriously disrupted. Under the military regime of General Ne Win, established in 1962, reform and modernization were limited in all areas of national life, including religion. In Laos and Kampuchea, both of which suffered an extended period of French rule followed by the devastation of the Vietnam War and the violent imposition of communist rule, the Buddhist community has been severely crippled. During the late 20th century, however, many signs of a Buddhist revival began to appear.
There are some indications that Vietnam was involved in the early sea trade between India, Southeast Asia, and China and that Buddhism reached the country around the beginning of the 1st millennium AD, brought by missionaries traveling between India and the Chinese empire. The northern part of what is now Vietnam had been conquered by the Chinese empire in 111 BC; it remained under Chinese rule until AD 939. In the south there were two Indianized states, Funan (founded during the 1st century AD) and Champa (founded AD 192). In these areas both Hinayana and Mahayana traditions were represented. The traditions that most affected the long-term development of Buddhism in Vietnam, however, were Zen and Pure Land traditions introduced from China into the northern and central sections of the country beginning in the 6th century AD.
The first dhyana (Zen; Vietnamese: thiên), or "meditation," school was introduced by Vinitaruci, an Indian monk who had come to Vietnam from China in the 6th century. In the 9th century a school of "wall meditation" was introduced by the Chinese monk Vo Ngon Thong. A third major Zen school was established in the 11th century by the Chinese monk Thao Durong. From 1414 to 1428 Buddhism in Vietnam was persecuted by the Chinese, who had again conquered the country. Tantrism, Taoism, and Confucianism were also filtering into Vietnam at this time. Even after the Chinese had been driven back, a Chinese-like bureaucracy closely supervised the Vietnamese monasteries. The clergy was divided between the highborn and Sinicized (Chinese-influenced), on the one hand, and those in the lower ranks who often were active in peasant uprisings.
During the modern period these Mahayana traditions centred in northern and central Vietnam have coexisted with Theravada traditions that have spilled over from Kampuchea in the south. Rather loosely joined together, the Vietnamese Buddhists managed to preserve their traditions through the period of French colonial rule in the 19th and 20th centuries. During the struggle between North and South Vietnam in the 1960s and early '70s, many Buddhists worked to achieve peace and reconciliation, but they met with little success. Under the communist regime that completed its victory in Vietnam in the early 1970s, conditions have been difficult, but Buddhism has persisted. Reports in the late 1980s and early '90s indicated that new signs of vitality were beginning to appear.
Central Asia and China
The spread of Buddhism into Central Asia is still not completely understood by historians. But, however murky the details may be, it is clear that the trade routes that ran from northwestern India to northern China facilitated both the introduction of Buddhism and the maintenance, for many centuries, of a flourishing Buddhist culture.
By the beginning of the Common era, Buddhism had probably been introduced into eastern Turkistan. According to tradition, a son of Asoka founded the kingdom of Khotan around 240 BC. The grandson of this king supposedly introduced Buddhism to Khotan, where it became the state religion. On more secure historical grounds, it is clear that the support given by the Indo-Scythian king Kaniska of the Kushan (Kusana) dynasty, which ruled in northern India, Afghanistan, and parts of Central Asia in the 1st to 2nd century AD, encouraged the spread of Buddhism into Central Asia. Kaniska purportedly called an important Buddhist council; he patronized the Gandhara school of Buddhist art, which introduced Greek and Persian elements into Buddhist iconography; and he supported Buddhist expansion within a vast region that extended far into the Central Asian heartland. In the northern part of Chinese Turkistan, Buddhism spread from Kucha (K'u-ch'e) to the kingdoms of Agnidesa (Karashahr), Kao-ch'ang (Turfan), and Bharuka (Aksu). According to Chinese travelers who visited Central Asia, the Hinayanists (at least at the time of their visits) were strongest in Turfan, Shanshan, Kashgar, and Kucha, while Mahayana strongholds were located in Yarkand and Khotan.
In Central Asia there was a confusing welter of languages, religions, and cultures, and, as Buddhism interacted with these various traditions, it changed and developed. Shamanism, Zoroastrianism, Nestorian Christianity, and Islam all penetrated these lands and coexisted with Buddhism. For example, some of the Mahayana bodhisattvas, such as Amitabha, may have been inspired, in part, by Zoroastrian influence. There is also evidence of some degree of syncretism between Buddhism and Manichaeism, an Iranian dualistic religion that was founded in the 3rd century AD.
Buddhism continued to flourish in parts of Central Asia until the 11th century, particularly under the patronage of the Uighur Turks. With the increasingly successful incursions of Islam (beginning in the 7th century AD) and the decline of the T'ang dynasty (618-907) in China, however, Central Asia ceased to be the important crossroads of Indian and Chinese culture that it once had been. Buddhism in the area gradually became a thing of the past.
Although there are reports of Buddhists in China as early as the 3rd century BC, Buddhism was not actively propagated in that country until the early centuries of the Common era. Tradition has it that Buddhism was introduced after the Han emperor Ming Ti (reigned AD 57/58-75/76) had a dream of a flying golden deity that was interpreted as a vision of the Buddha. Accordingly, the emperor dispatched emissaries to India who subsequently returned to China with the Sutra in Forty-two Sections, which was deposited in a temple outside the capital of Lo-yang. In actuality, Buddhism entered China gradually, first primarily through Central Asia and, later, by way of the trade routes around and through Southeast Asia.
The early centuries
The Buddhism that first became popular in China during the Han dynasty was deeply coloured with magical practices, making it compatible with popular Chinese Taoism (a combination of folk beliefs and practices and philosophy). Instead of the doctrine of no-self, early Chinese Buddhists taught the indestructibility of the soul. Nirvana became a kind of immortality. They also taught the theory of karma, the values of charity and compassion, and the need to suppress the passions. Until the end of the Han dynasty, there was a virtual symbiosis between Taoism and Buddhism and a common propagation of the means for attaining immortality through various ascetic practices. It was widely believed that Lao-tzu, the founder of Taoism, had been reborn in India as the Buddha. Many Chinese emperors worshiped Lao-tzu and the Buddha on the same altar. The first translations of Buddhist sutras into Chinese--namely those dealing with such topics as breath control and mystical concentration--utilized a Taoist vocabulary to make the Buddhist faith intelligible to the Chinese.
After the Han period, in the north of China, Buddhist monks were often used by non-Chinese emperors for their political-military counsel as well as for their skill in magic. At the same time, in the south, Buddhism began to penetrate the philosophical and literary circles of the gentry. One of the most important contributions to the growth of Buddhism in China during this period was the work of translation. The most important of the early translators was the learned monk Kumarajiva, who, before he was brought to the Chinese court in AD 401, had studied the Hindu Vedas, the occult sciences, and astronomy, as well as the Hinayana and Mahayana sutras.
During the 5th and 6th centuries AD Buddhist schools from India became established, and new, specifically Chinese schools began to form. Buddhism was becoming a powerful intellectual force in China, monastic establishments were proliferating, and Buddhism was becoming well-established among the peasantry. Thus, it is not surprising that, when the Sui dynasty (581-618) established its rule over a reunified China, Buddhism flourished as a state religion.
Developments during the T'ang dynasty (618-907)
The golden age of Buddhism in China occurred during the T'ang dynasty. Though the T'ang emperors were usually Taoists themselves, they tended to favour Buddhism, which had become extremely popular. Under the T'ang the government extended its control over the monasteries and the ordination and legal status of monks. From this time forward, the Chinese monk styled himself simply ch'en, or "a subject."
During this period several Chinese schools developed their own distinctive approaches. Some of them produced comprehensive systematizations of the vast body of Buddhist texts and teachings. There was a great expansion in the number of Buddhist monasteries and the amount of land they owned. It was also during this period that many scholars made pilgrimages to India, heroic journeys that greatly enriched Buddhism in China, both by the texts that were acquired and by the intellectual and spiritual inspiration that was brought from India. Buddhism was never able to replace its Taoist and Confucian rivals, however, and in 845 the emperor Wu-tsung began a major persecution. According to records, 4,600 Buddhist temples and 40,000 shrines were destroyed, and 260,500 monks and nuns were forced to return to lay life.
Buddhism after the T'ang
Buddhism in China never recovered completely from the great persecution of 845. It did maintain much of its heritage, however, and it continued to play a significant role in the religious life of China. On the one hand, Buddhism retained its identity as Buddhism and generated new forms through which it was expressed. These included texts such as the yü lu, or "recorded sayings," of famous teachers that were oriented primarily toward monks, as well as more literary creations such as the Journey to the West (written in the 16th century) and The Dream of the Red Chamber (18th century). On the other hand, Buddhism coalesced with the Confucian-Neo-Confucian and Taoist traditions to form a complex multi-religious ethos within which all three traditions were more or less comfortably encompassed.
Among the various schools the two that retained the greatest vitality were the Ch'an school (better known in the West by its Japanese name, Zen) which was noted for its emphasis on meditation, and the Pure Land tradition, which emphasized Buddhist devotion. The former school exerted the greatest influence among the cultured elite. It did so through various media, including the arts. For example, Ch'an artists during the Sung dynasty (960-1279) had a decisive impact on Chinese landscape painting. Artists used images of flowers, rivers, and trees, executed with sudden, deft strokes, to evoke an insight into the flux and emptiness of all reality. The Pure Land tradition exerted a greater influence on the population as a whole and was sometimes associated with secret societies and peasant uprisings. But the two seemingly disparate traditions were often very closely linked. In addition, they were mixed with other Buddhist elements such as the so-called "masses for the dead" that had originally been popularized by the practitioners of Esoteric Buddhism.
During the early decades of the 20th century, China experienced a Buddhist reform movement aimed at revitalizing the Chinese Buddhist tradition and adapting Buddhist teachings and institutions to modern conditions. However, the disruptions caused by the Sino-Japanese War and the subsequent establishment of a communist government have not been helpful to the Buddhist cause. The Buddhist community was the victim of severe repression during the Cultural Revolution (1966-69). Since 1976 the Chinese government has pursued a more tolerant policy, but the extent of continuing Buddhist vitality is difficult to determine.
Korea and Japan
Buddhism was first introduced into the Korean region when it was divided into the three kingdoms of Paekche, Koguryo, and Silla. After Buddhism was brought to the northern kingdom of Koguryo from China in the 4th century, it gradually spread throughout the other Korean kingdoms. As often happened, the new faith was first accepted by the court and then extended to the people. After the unification of the country by the kingdom of Silla in the 660s, Buddhism began to flourish throughout Korea. The monk Wonhyo (617-686) was one of the most impressive scholars and reformers of his day. He was married and taught an "ecumenical" version of Buddhism that included all branches and sects. He tried to use music, literature, and dance to express the meaning of Buddhism. Another scholar of the Silla era was Ui-sang (625-702), who went to China and returned to spread the Hwaom (Hua-yen in Chinese) sect in Korea. The Chinese Ch'an sect (Zen) was introduced in the 8th century and, by absorbing the Korean versions of Hua-yen, T'ien-t'ai, and Pure Land, gradually became the dominant school of Buddhism in Korea, as it did in Vietnam.
Early Korean Buddhism was characterized by a this-worldly attitude. It emphasized the pragmatic, nationalistic, and aristocratic aspects of the faith. Still, an indigenous tradition of shamanism influenced the development of popular Buddhism throughout the centuries. Buddhist monks danced, sang, and performed the rituals of shamans.
During the Koryo period (935-1392), Korean Buddhism reached its zenith. During the first part of this period the Korean Buddhist community was active in the publication of the Tripitaka Koreana, one of the most inclusive editions of the Buddhist sutras up to that time. After 25 years of research, a monk by the name of Uich'on (1055-1101) published an outstanding three-volume bibliography of Buddhist literature. Uich'on also sponsored the growth of the T'ien-t'ai sect in Korea. He emphasized the need for cooperation between Ch'an and the other "Teaching" schools of Korean Buddhism.
Toward the end of the Koryo period, Buddhism began to suffer from internal corruption and external persecution, especially that promoted by the Neo-Confucians. The government began to put limits on the privileges of the monks, and Confucianism replaced Buddhism as the religion of the state. Though the Yi dynasty (1392-1910) continued these restrictions, Buddhist monks and laymen fought bravely against the invasion of the Japanese armies under Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-98) in 1592 and 1597. In the decade before the annexation of Korea by Japan (1910), some effort was made to unify Korean Buddhism. These efforts, as well as the subsequent efforts of Buddhist "missionaries" from Japan, were largely in vain.
Since the end of World War II, Buddhism in Korea has been hampered by communist rule in North Korea and by the great vitality of Christianity in South Korea. Despite these challenges, Buddhists, particularly in South Korea, have preserved the old traditions and initiated new movements.
Introduction of Buddhism to Japan
While Buddhism in China sent its roots down into the subsoil of the family system, in Japan it found anchorage in the nation itself. The Buddhism that was initially introduced into Japan in the 6th century from Korea was regarded as a talisman (charm) for the protection of the country. The new religion was accepted by the powerful Soga clan but was rejected by others, thus causing controversies that resembled the divisions caused by the introduction of Buddhism in Tibet. In both countries, some believed that the introduction of Buddhist statues had been an insult to the native deities, resulting in plagues and natural disasters. Only gradually were such feelings overcome. Though the Buddhism of the Soga clan was largely magical, under the influence of Prince Shotoku, who became regent of the nation in 593, other aspects of Buddhism were emphasized. Shotoku lectured on various scriptures that emphasized the ideals of the layman and monarch, and he composed a "Seventeen-Article Constitution" in which Buddhism was adroitly mixed with Confucianism as the spiritual foundation of the state. In later times he was widely regarded as an incarnation of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.
Nara and Heian periods
During the Nara period (710-784), Buddhism became the state religion of Japan. Emperor Shomu actively propagated the faith, making the imperial capital, Nara--with its "Great Buddha" statue (Daibutsu)--the national cult centre. Buddhist schools imported from China became established in Nara, and state-subsidized provincial temples (kokubunji) made the system effective at the local level.
After the capital was moved to Heian-kyo (modern Kyoto) in 794, Buddhism continued to prosper. Chinese influence continued to play an important role, particularly through the introduction of new Chinese schools that became dominant at the royal court. Mount Hiei and Mount Koya became the centres for the new T'ien-tai (Tendai) and Esoteric (Shingon) schools of Buddhism, which were characterized by highly sophisticated philosophies and complex and refined liturgies. Moreover, Buddhism interacted with the indigenous Shinto and local tradition, and various distinctively Japanese patterns of Buddhist-oriented folk religion became very popular.
New schools of the Kamakura period
The 12th and 13th centuries marked a turning point in Japanese history and in the history of Japanese Buddhism in particular. Late in the 12th century the imperial regime with its centre at Heian collapsed, and a new feudal government, or shogunate, established its headquarters at Kamakura. As a part of the same process, a number of new Buddhist leaders emerged and established schools of Japanese Buddhism. These reformers included proponents of the Zen traditions such as Eisai and Dogen; Pure Land advocates such as Honen, Shinran, and Ippen; and Nichiren, the founder of a new school that gained considerable popularity. The distinctively Japanese traditions these creative reformers and founders established became--along with many very diverse synthetic expressions of Buddhist-Shinto piety--integral components of a Buddhist-oriented ethos that structured Japanese religious life into the 19th century. Also during this period many Buddhist groups allowed their clergy to marry, with the result that temples often fell under the control of particular families.
The premodern period to the present
Under the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1867), Buddhism became an arm of the government. Temples were used for registering the populace; this was one way of preventing the spread of Christianity, which the feudal government regarded as a political menace. This association with the Tokugawa regime made Buddhism quite unpopular at the beginning of the Meiji period (1868-1912), at least among the elite. At that time, in order to set up Shinto as the new state religion, it was necessary for Japan's new ruling oligarchy to separate Shinto from Buddhism. This led to the confiscation of temple lands and the defrocking of many Buddhist priests.
During the period of ultranationalism (c. 1930-45), Buddhist thinkers called for uniting the East in one great "Buddhaland" under the tutelage of Japan. After the war, however, Buddhist groups, new and old alike, began to emphasize Buddhism as a religion of peace and brotherhood. During the postwar period the greatest visible activity among Buddhists has been among the "New Religions" such as Soka-gakkai ("Value Creation Society") and Rissho-Kosei-kai ("Society for Establishing Righteousness and Friendly Relations"). During this period, Soka-gakkai entered politics with the same vigour it had traditionally shown in the conversion of individuals. Because of its highly ambiguous but conservative ideology, the Soka-gakkai-based political party (the Komeito) is regarded with suspicion and fear by many Japanese.
Tibet, Mongolia, and the Himalayan kingdoms
Buddhism, according to the Tibetan tradition, was first given recognition in Tibet during the reign of Srong-brtsan-sgam-po (c. 627-c. 650). This king had two queens who were early patrons of the religion and were later regarded in popular tradition as incarnations of the Buddhist saviouress Tara. The religion received active encouragement from Khri-srong-lde-btsan, during whose reign (c. 755-797) the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet was built at Bsam-yas (Samye), the first seven monks were ordained, and the celebrated Indian Tantric master Padmasambhava was invited to Tibet. A great deal of legend surrounds Padmasambhava, who was a mahasiddha ("master of miraculous powers"); he is credited with subduing the Bon spirits and demons (the spirits and demons associated with the indigenous religion of Tibet) and with subjugating them to the service of Buddhism. At the time, influences from Chinese Buddhism were strong, but it is recorded that at the Council of Bsam-yas (792-794) it was decided that the Indian tradition should prevail.
Following a period of suppression that lasted almost two centuries (from the early 800s to the early 1000s), Buddhism in Tibet enjoyed a revival. During the 11th and 12th centuries many Tibetans traveled to India to acquire and translate Buddhist texts and to receive training in Buddhist doctrine and practice. With the assistance of the renowned Indian master Atisa, who arrived in Tibet in 1042, Buddhism became established as the dominant religion. From this point forward Buddhism was the primary culture of the elite, was a powerful force in the affairs of state, and penetrated deeply into all aspects of Tibetan life.
One of the great achievements of the Buddhist community in Tibet was the translation into Tibetan of a vast corpus of Buddhist literature, including the Bka'-'gyur ("Translation of the Buddha Word") and Bstan-'gyur ("Translation of Teachings") collections. The Bka'-'gyur contains six sections: (1) Tantra, (2) Prajñaparamita, (3) Ratnakuta, a collection of small Mahayana texts, (4) Avatamsaka, (5) Sutra (mostly Mahayana sutras, but some Hinayana texts are included), and (6) Vinaya. The Bstan-'gyur contains 224 volumes with 3,626 texts, divided into three major groups: (1) stotras (hymns of praise) in one volume, including 64 texts, (2) commentaries on tantras in 86 volumes, including 3,055 texts, and (3) commentaries on sutras in 137 volumes, including 567 texts.
A major development in the history of Tibetan Buddhism occurred in the late 14th or early 15th century when a great Buddhist reformer named Tsong-kha-pa established the Dge-lugs-pa school, known more popularly as the Yellow Hats. In 1578, representatives of this school succeeded in converting the Mongol Altan Khan, and, under the Khan's sponsorship, their leader (the so-called third Dalai Lama) gained considerable monastic power. In the middle of the 17th century the Mongol overlords established the fifth Dalai Lama as the theocratic ruler of Tibet. The succeeding Dalai lamas, who were regarded as successive incarnations of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, held this position during much of the remainder of the premodern period, ruling from the capital, Lhasa.
The fifth Dalai Lama instituted the high office of Panchen Lama for the abbot of the Tashilhunpo monastery, located to the west of Lhasa. The Panchen lamas were regarded as successive incarnations of the buddha Amitabha. Unlike the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama has usually been recognized only as a spiritual ruler.
Throughout much of Tibetan history many of the great monasteries were controlled by aristocratic abbots who were able to marry and pass along their monastic possessions to their sons. Monks were often warriors, and monasteries became armed fortresses. The Manchus in the 18th century and subsequently the British, the Nationalist Chinese, and the Chinese communists have all tried to exploit the division of power between the Panchen and the Dalai lamas for their own ends. In 1959, after the Dalai Lama fled to India, the Chinese communists took over his temporal powers.
Under Chinese rule, Tibetan Buddhists have suffered periods of persecution, some of them severe. Not surprisingly, this has strengthened the bond between Buddhism and nationalist resistance.
The distinctive form of Buddhism that developed in Tibet has exerted a strong influence on neighbouring areas and peoples. Most important in this regard was the conversion of the Mongol tribes to the north and east of Tibet. There are some indications that Buddhism was present among the Mongols as early as the 4th century, but the sources are scarce. It is clear, however, that during the 13th century close relationships developed between the Mongol court in China and some of the leaders of Tibetan Buddhism. Kublai Khan himself became a supporter of the Tibetan form of Buddhism. Kublai Khan's Tibetan advisers helped to develop a block script for the Mongolian language, and many Buddhist texts were translated from Tibetan into Mongolian. In general, however, the religion failed to gain widespread popular support during this period.
In 1578 a new situation developed when the Altan Khan accepted the Dge-lugs-pa version of the Tibetan tradition and supported its spread among his followers at all levels of Mongol society. Over the centuries the Mongols developed their own very rich Buddhist traditions. Mongolian scholars translated a large corpus of texts from Tibetan, and they produced their own sophisticated original texts. The Mongols based their Buddhist doctrine, practice, and communal organization on Tibetan models, but they developed and adapted them in a distinctive way.
Between 1280 and 1368 China was part of the Mongol empire, and the Mongols established their variant of Tibetan Buddhism in China. When they no longer held power in China, they continued to maintain the traditions they had developed in their homeland in the Central Asian steppes. During the 20th century, however, Mongolian Buddhism has been undermined by the communist regimes that have ruled in the Mongol areas of the Soviet Union, Mongolia, and China.
The Himalayan kingdoms
Tibetan Buddhism has also exerted a considerable influence in the Himalayan kingdoms situated along Tibet's southern border. In Nepal Buddhism has been influenced by both India and Tibet. Though the Buddha was born in the southern part of the area that is now Nepal, at Lumbini, about 15 miles (24 kilometres) from Kapilavatthu (Kapilavastu), the Buddhist religion seems to have been actively propagated only later, probably under Asoka. By the 8th century Nepal had fallen into the cultural orbit of Tibet. A few centuries later, as a result of the Muslim invasions of India, both Hindus (such as the Brahmanic Gurkha aristocracy) and Buddhists took refuge in the country. In modern times Buddhist prayer wheels and flags are reminders of the direct influence of Tibetan Buddhism. The Indian heritage is especially evident in the caste system that embraces Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.
In Bhutan a Tibetan lama introduced Buddhism and a Tibetan style of hierarchical theocracy in the 17th century AD. The Buddhism practiced in Bhutan has been influenced by the Tibetan Bka'-brgyud-pa sect, which has stressed the magical benefits of living in caves and has not enforced on its clergy the discipline of celibacy. Buddhism in Bhutan, like Buddhism in Nepal, is coming into increasing contact with modernizing forces that are beginning to undermine many of its traditional practices.
Buddhism in the West
During the long course of Buddhist history, Buddhist influences have from time to time reached the Western world. Though the evidence is weak, some scholars have suggested that, about the beginning of the Christian era, Buddhist monks and teachings had reached as far as Egypt. There are occasional references to what seem to be Buddhist traditions in the writings of the Church Fathers. In addition, a version of the biography of the Buddha, known as the story of Barlaam and Josaphat, had a considerable dissemination in medieval Europe. In fact, the Buddha-figure in the story came to be recognized as a Christian saint.
Not until the modern period, however, is there evidence for a serious Buddhist presence in the Western world. The movement of Buddhism from Asia to the West that took place in the 19th and 20th centuries had two aspects. Beginning in the mid-19th century, Buddhism was introduced into the United States and other Western countries by large numbers of immigrants, first from China and Japan but more recently from other countries, especially countries of Southeast Asia. Buddhism gained a foothold among a significant number of Western intellectuals and--particularly during the 1960s and early '70s--among young people seeking new forms of religious experience and expression. The interest of Westerners in Buddhism has been increased by the work of Buddhist missionaries such as the Japanese scholar D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966) and a number of Tibetan Buddhist teachers who have come to the West since the Chinese conquest of their homeland in the late 1950s. (J.M.K.) (Gi.T.) (F.E.R.)
The Japanese View of the Hereafter
Religion has two aspects: doctrine and ritual. While both elements are present in every religion, their relationship varies greatly. In Shintô, which has no established scriptures to speak of, the element of ritual predominates. In essence, Shintô is a complex of religious rituals centered upon matsuri--acts of worship, especially religious festivals addressed to a deity. Thus, to understand the ideas embraced by Shintô, one must carefully examine the rituals centered upon matsuri and analyze the ideas implicit in them.
JAPAN'S "FUNERAL BUDDHISM"
Buddhism, unlike Shintô, is quite strong on doctrine. Each sect of Japanese Buddhism has its sutras, said to transmit the word of Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha, as well as a collection of commentaries written by the sect's founder. In the quality and quantity of scriptures and canonical commentaries, Buddhism is in no way inferior to Christianity. In the case of Japanese Buddhism, however, there is a striking gap between a given sect's official doctrine and its ritual and ceremonial practices. To put the matter starkly, a sect's religious practice has very little connection with its doctrine. Moreover, what actually links these sects to the vast majority of Japanese, and what therefore sustains their economic and spiritual base, is not their doctrines but the religious rites they perform, funeral rites in particular. Broadly speaking, it is the funerals, memorial services, and services performed for the ancestors at the equinoxes and the summer Bon festival that have bound the Japanese people to Buddhism.
Buddhist priests are responsible for presiding over these rites and services, and as far as most Japanese are concerned, the clergy's competence at this task is of the essence; wisdom, eloquence, and moral or spiritual qualities, though desirable, are strictly secondary.
Last year I attended a wedding at which Takada Kôin, chief priest of the venerable Yakushiji temple, was one of the guests. In his speech toasting the bride and groom he remarked, "It's a little embarrassing for a black-robed fellow like me to appear as a guest of honor on so happy an occasion, but actually, priests of the six Nara sects don't do funerals at all.1 When one of us dies, a Jôdo [Pure Land] priest comes and takes care of the rites. So you see, there's no need to view my coming here and making a speech as inauspicious."
His words drove home to me how inextricably Japanese Buddhism is tied up with funerals--so much so that a priest looks out of place appearing as a guest of honor at a wedding. Takada, obviously sensitive to this, felt obliged to put in a word to justify himself. His remarks also reminded me that funerals were not performed by the earliest Buddhist sects in Japan--those that most faithfully preserved the practices of Indian Buddhism. As more Japanized sects arose, however, funeral rites gradually came to be associated with Buddhism, and vice versa. At one time, reformist priests from the Jôdo Shinshû temple of Higashi Honganji, led by the religious reformer Kiyozawa Manshi (1863-1903), spearheaded a new religious movement, calling for emancipation from "funeral Buddhism." They inevitably ended up undermining the foundation of their own livelihood.
It seems evident that "funeral Buddhism" represents the true nature and destiny of Japanese Buddhism. Why did a religion that originally had no connection whatever with funerals take on this aspect after it reached Japan? The question goes to the very heart of Japanese religion.
A funeral is a rite for sending the deceased off to the next world. The litanies read at Japanese funerals often include such passages as "Step forth now into the other world [ano yo] and wait there for us," "Please watch over us from the other world," or "Sleep in peace in the other world." Thus even now the Japanese, at least at funerals, evince a strong faith in the world beyond the grave. What is this "other world" of which they speak?
PROTOTYPICAL CONCEPTS OF THE AFTERWORLD
One way to illuminate the Japanese concept of the hereafter is to examine the religious ideas of those groups that seem to have preserved intact the culture of pre-Buddhist times. It will shed considerable light on the subject if we can establish a prototypical Japanese concept of the other world that has continued to make itself felt despite Buddhist influence.
In my studies I have found it extremely useful to consider Japanese culture in terms of the interplay between the hunting and gathering culture of Jômon civilization (ca. 10,000-ca. 300 B.C.) and the wet-rice culture of Yayoi civilization (ca. 300 B.C.-ca. A.D. 300). Hitherto understanding of Japan and Japanese culture has assumed that Japanese culture is unitary and based above all on agriculture. However, my own research has led me to question this interpretation. In my view the unchanging elements of Japanese culture--religion and mores--still bear the imprint of Jômon times, whereas those elements most subject to change--technology and political organization--are largely Yayoi in character. According to my theory, the Ainu culture of Hokkaidô to the north and the Ryûkyû culture of Okinawa to the south have preserved the Jômon strain in its purest form. If this is the case, their religions should help point the way to a prototypical Japanese concept of the other world.
My studies have shown me that the Ainu and Ryûkyû concepts of the other world are remarkably similar. What can account for the similarity between the religious attitudes and ideas of two peoples that have had virtually no cultural contact since the beginning of the Yayoi period? All I can make of it is that, although widely separated, both cultures preserve in a relatively pure form the notion of the afterworld that prevailed in Japan before the arrival of Buddhism and probably even before the Yayoi period.
Working on this assumption, I will first describe the notion of the afterworld found in Ainu and Ryûkyû religion. I will then develop my hypothesis that this concept represents the prototypical Japanese view of the hereafter. Finally, I will examine other Japanese concepts of the world beyond in the light of this model.
As I see it, the Ainu and Ryûkyû conceptions of the other world display the following four essential features:
(1) The other world is almost a mirror image of this one. It is not divided into heaven and hell, and there is no judgment of the dead.
That the other world is a mirror image of this one does not mean that values there are topsy-turvy; only space and time are reversed. Right in this world is left in the other, and down is up. The Ainu believe that people in the other world walk with their feet upward. Summer in this world is winter in the other, day is night, and so forth.
If the values of the next world are essentially the same as those of this world, then there can be no distinction between heaven and hell. And if no such distinction exists, then there is no judgment after death. This is utterly different from the concept of the hereafter embraced by either Buddhism or Christianity.
(2) When a person dies, the soul leaves the body, passes to the other world, and there becomes a kami, or divine spirit. Most people go to the other world directly after death and live there with their ancestors, who have been expecting them. People who have committed some terrible sin or harbor deep rancor against someone or something of this world cannot go directly to the world beyond. However, if surviving relatives call in a shaman and have the proper rites performed, the deceased can ultimately pass over.
Since there is no distinction between heaven and hell and no judgment of the dead, it follows that everyone can eventually pass to the other world. In Ainu and Ryûkyû religion, the soul leaves the body at death and then sets off for the other world.
In the other world, as in this one, the basic unit of social life is the family. Each soul that goes to the afterworld is greeted by its own ancestors. The soul of an extremely bad person, however, may be rejected by those in the other world, and in this case the shaman's words at the funeral are of the greatest importance. The shaman has to persuade the ancestors that the person about to be sent to them is not that bad after all.
Similarly, if the soul is unable to pass to the other side because of some profound attachment to or lingering grudge against this world, the shaman must persuade the deceased not to cling to the world of the living. Souls with a strong attachment to this world will sometimes return here in the form of birds. The shaman must recognize them immediately and speak to them firmly.
(3) Not only human beings but all living creatures have souls that leave the body after death and pass to the other world. Living creatures that are of special importance to human beings must be sent off to the other world with care.
The best illustration of this feature is the Ainu bear ceremony--kuma okuri, or "sending off the bear." According to the Ainu, the bear is a visitor from the other world that appears to offer its flesh as a gift to humans. Although the Ainu were traditionally hunters, their daily fare consisted of nuts, berries, wild greens, and fish; meat was only for special occasions, feast days, and festivals. In both quantity and quality, the meat of a bear provided the greatest feast. Thus the bear, who brings the gift of his superior flesh, was for the Ainu the most welcome of visitors. They were entitled to receive this gift in accordance with the bear's own wish, but after receiving it, they were obligated to thank the bear and send it back to the other world laden with gifts from the human realm.
In the kuma okuri rite, the Ainu consumed the bear's meat, drank its blood, declared themselves one with its spirit, and sent it back to the other world. This was done in the early evening, which would correspond to early morning in the other world--the appropriate time to set out on a journey. Loaded with gifts of wine, fish, and grain, the bear's soul would return to the sky. After arriving, it would summon all its fellow bears and let them feast on the food and drink it had received. Listening as the new arrival told its story, the other bears would marvel at the wonders of the human world, where a bear is treated so kindly and lavished with such gifts, and would want to visit as well. In this way, the rite assured that there would be plenty of bears to capture the following year.
(4) After dwelling a while in the other world, the soul returns to this one. Birth is simply the reentry of a soul from the other world. All living creatures repeat an endless cycle of death and rebirth.
Eventually every soul returns to this world again. When a child is conceived, the ancestors in the other world discuss whom to send back. When they have made their decision and someone has been designated to return, that soul enters the expectant mother's womb and is born. Thus the ancestors are reborn as their descendants. Both this world and the other are thus temporary abodes between which the soul commutes eternally.
This belief helps explain why funerals are the most important of all religious ceremonies for the Ainu and the Okinawans. The purpose of sending the soul off with scrupulous care to the other world is to make sure that it returns to this world again. For the soul to return safely to this world, it must first arrive safely in the other. Thus, at the end of the bear ceremony, the Ainu say, "Come again!" These two words surely express the underlying meaning of the entire ceremony.
I believe that these four Ainu and Ryûkyû concepts reflect the Jômon view of the other world. The question is whether this view survived through the Yayoi period and the subsequent introduction of Buddhism and continues to influence the thinking of the average Japanese today. Naturally, I do not claim that the concepts just described persist in their original form. I do believe, however, that the prototypical view of the afterlife expressed in those concepts dwells in the hearts and minds of the Japanese people to this day.
PERSISTENCE OF THE JÔMON VIEW
The "mirror image" concept of the other world has certainly survived into modern times. As a child, I often did things "backwards"--for example, folding the right side of my kimono over the left instead of the reverse, as is proper. My mother would scold me sharply each time I did such things, saying, "That's the way dead people do it." Even now the Japanese dress the dead with the right side of the kimono over the left. They also break rice bowls and similar objects presented to the dead, the idea being that that which is imperfect in this world is perfect in the other and vice versa. Moreover, wakes are always held early in the evening, an apparent holdover from the ancient practice of performing the funeral rites themselves in the early evening to allow the soul to reach its destination in the afterworld's daylight hours.
The belief that after death everyone passes to the other world and becomes a kami also survives, as is clear from the custom of referring to the departed as hotoke, or buddha. In Indian and early Japanese Buddhism, a person could become a buddha only after reaching enlightenment through arduous spiritual training. But the Japanese believe that everyone becomes a buddha after death. Although expressed in Buddhist terms, this view has less in common with Buddhism than with the Ainu and Ryûkyû concepts introduced above. The hotoke is clearly not a buddha in the original sense of the word but a spirit dwelling in a realm much like ours. At the New Year's and Bon festivals, the soul returns to visit its own descendants and joins in the feasting.
The practice of sending off the souls of creatures other than human beings has also persisted through the centuries. Evidence from prehistoric shell mounds found throughout Japan indicate that the Japanese performed such rites from the earliest times. Many of these mounds seem to have been funerary in function and contain the remains of animals and fish along with human bones.
The custom of sending off the souls of living creatures human beings are obliged to kill survives today in special "memorial rites," performed most often by people whose livelihood depends on such animals. Two examples are the unagi kuyô, a service for eels killed and eaten by humans, and the fugu kuyô, a similar rite for blowfish. The practice even extends to such inanimate objects as used sewing needles and worn-out dolls. When a tool breaks, the Japanese say that it has become oshaka, from Sakyamuni. This casual use of the Buddha's name says a great deal about the Japanese attitude toward Buddhism. It also points to the notion that the souls of tools pass to the other world, returning as new tools. In order to make new tools, one must first send off the souls of the old ones.
This principle of rebirth is essential to the myths of the eighth-century Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and Nihon shoki (Chronicle of Japan), Japan's earliest surviving chronicles. The heart of these myths is the retreat of the sun goddess Amaterasu Ômikami, the imperial progenetrix, into the celestial rock cave and her subsequent reemergence. This episode relates to the ceremony known as the Daijôsai, in which the spirit of Amaterasu, formerly residing in the deceased emperor, is "reborn" in the person of the new monarch. The idea of rebirth is also manifest in the ritual rebuilding of Ise Shrine, which is dedicated to Amaterasu, once every 20 years.
These observations strongly suggest that the Ainu and Ryûkyû concepts of the other world represent a prototypical indigenous view that reaches back to Jômon culture and that continues to shape Japanese attitudes even today.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF JAPANESE BUDDHISM
While scholarly opinion is divided on the precise date that Buddhism was introduced to Japan, the Nihon shoki states that the event occurred in the year 552, and I see no particular reason to doubt this record. Prince Shôtoku (574-622) seems to have played a decisive role in ensuring the religion's acceptance. As regent for the Empress Suiko, Prince Shôtoku wielded authority equal to that of the empress herself. He understood Buddhism thoroughly and became its greatest patron.
The doctrinal foundations of Japanese Buddhism, however, were laid by Saichô (767-822) and Kûkai (774-835). Saichô established the Tendai sect at Enryakuji temple on Mount Hiei, while Kûkai established Shingon Buddhism at Kongôbuji on Mount Kôya. These two sects exerted a powerful influence on later Japanese Buddhism.
Be that as it may, the sects that predominate today all belong to the "new Buddhism" that developed and spread in the Kamakura period (1185-1333). The Jôdo doctrine, based on the notion of a Western Paradise in which all believers could be reborn, was disseminated by Hônen (1133-1212) and modified by Shinran (1173-1263) and Ippen (1239-89). Meanwhile, Eisai (1141-1215) and Dôgen (1200-1253) imported Zen from China, founding the Rinzai and Sôtô schools, respectively. Nichiren (1222-82), lamenting the new sects' neglect of the sutras, disseminated a cult of the Lotus Sutra. Buddhism in its most characteristically Japanese form thus emerged in the early Kamakura period, and few movements of major significance have arisen since.
There is, however, a later phenomenon that should be kept in mind in any consideration of Japanese Buddhism. That is the danka, or parishioner, system established in the Edo period (1600-1868), which required every Japanese household to be affiliated with a Buddhist temple. This fostered a linkage between Buddhism and household ancestor worship and hastened the development of "funeral Buddhism."
Another trend in Japanese Buddhism over the course of its history is the gradual abandonment of the monastic precepts. Ever since Saichô, Japanese Buddhism has been notably lax compared with Indian and Chinese Buddhism in the observance of the traditional rules. Shinran even approved of monks' eating meat and marrying; his teachings, embodied in the Jôdo Shinshû (True Pure Land) sect, appear, in fact, to dispense with precepts entirely. Today almost all the major sects allow their monks and priests to marry and to eat meat.
THE RESPONSE OF SHINTÔ
A similar survey of Shintô allows us to divide its development into four phases.
Shintô is based ultimately on native religious beliefs and practices traceable to Jômon culture, but it underwent a major transition in the early eighth century with the development of the Chinese-inspired system of codes known as the ritsuryô system. For the first time Shintô took on the aspect of a systematic theology centered upon purification, as codified in the Kojiki and later in the early tenth-century Engi Shiki (Procedures of the Engi Era).
In the Heian period (794-1185), the teachings of Saichô and Kûkai encouraged a syncretism that allowed the Shintô pantheon to be absorbed into that of Buddhism. This gave rise to a new form of Buddhist-influenced Shintô typified by Shugendô, or mountain asceticism.
From the Kamakura period on, however, Buddhism increasingly rejected the syncretic notions of the Heian period and asserted its independence from Shintô. Shintô seems to have taken its cue from this development, for the fourteenth century saw the rise of sects like Ise Shintô, which stressed the purity of the native religion as a faith distinct from Buddhism.
In the Edo period, after the danka system had made Buddhism a mere appurtenance of daily life, a nationalistic brand of Shintô influenced by Confucianism began to assert itself. This trend came to fruition in the Restoration Shintô of Hirata Atsutane (1776-1843), whose ideology exerted a profound influence on Japanese society after the Meiji Restoration, when Shintô was adopted as the state religion.
Comparing the development of Buddhist and Shintô thought, one arrives at the interesting discovery that each new stage in Shintô follows upon a development in Buddhism. In other words, the changes in Shintô thought took place either in response to or in reaction against Buddhist influence. Shintô was also heavily colored by such imported ideas as Taoism in the case of Ritsuryô Shintô, Sung Neo-Confucianism in the case of the "pure Shintô" of the fourteenth century, and Neo-Confucianism, together with earlier Confucian thought, in the case of Restoration Shintô. This suggests that the commonly held view of Shintô as a purely indigenous religion may require rethinking.
JÔDO SHINSHÛ AS THE TYPICAL JAPANESE RELIGION
If we are to draw any meaningful conclusions from the foregoing survey, we would do well to focus on the most characteristic phase within this long chain of development. What should we select as the most typical manifestation of Japanese religion?
To my mind, the strongest candidate is the Jôdo Shinshû doctrine of Shinran. To begin with, Jôdo Shinshû has the most temples and the most followers of any religious group in Japan, and Shinran remains the most popular religious leader in Japanese history. Moreover, Shinran's Buddhism, together with that of Nichiren, was neither a direct import like the Nara sects nor a modification of a Chinese import like early Jôdo but an original Japanese creation.
It seems reasonable to suggest, then, that the Jôdo Shinshû doctrine of Shinran represents the very heart of Japanese Buddhism. If this is the case, then a careful examination of Shinran's Buddhism should help us isolate the special characteristics of Japanese Buddhism and even of Japanese religion as a whole.
Three basic areas to consider when discussing the ideas of Shinran are his concepts of the buddha nature, the precepts, and the Pure Land. I will treat each in turn.
The buddha nature The issue of the buddha nature concerns the question of what kinds of beings can attain buddhahood. Can only a select group of human beings become buddhas, or can all humans do so? Is buddhahood restricted to human beings or open to all living creatures without exception?
In Nara Buddhism, buddhahood is restricted to a few privileged beings. There are human beings for whom buddhahood is impossible and others for whom it is unlikely, a view that can be traced back to Indian Buddhism. Saichô, in contrast, upheld the Buddhism of the Lotus Sutra, which stresses that all human beings are equal, and consequently believed that everyone can become a buddha.
Later, under the influence of Shingon, Tendai steadily broadened its concept of the buddha nature to embrace a wide range of living creatures. The central buddha of Kûkai's Shingon esotericism is Dainichi Nyorai (Sanskrit: Mahavairocana), who is not an anthropomorphic figure but an abstract deity embracing all the phenomena of the universe. In Shingon, accordingly, buddhahood has never been limited to human beings. All of nature is a manifestation of Dainichi, and Dainichi exists within each one of us. Through spiritual training we can become one with Dainichi and realize buddhahood in the flesh: this is the cardinal principle of Shingon esotericism. Tendai after Saichô took this concept a step further, insisting that all sentient beings, along with trees, plants, and even mountains and rivers, are manifestations of Dainichi Nyorai, and thus inherently buddhas, a teaching known as the hongaku doctrine.
I think it fair to say that Tendai's hongaku doctrine was the starting point for all the Kamakura Buddhist sects. Tendai tells us that all human beings are endowed with a buddha nature and can therefore become buddhas. But what is the surest way to realize one's buddha nature? Hônen proposed the nenbutsu, a standard invocation of the Buddha of the Western Paradise, Amida (Skt: Amitabha); Nichiren claimed one could attain salvation by invoking the name of the Lotus Sutra; and Eisai believed the answer lay in Zen meditation.
The precepts Unlike Hinayana Buddhism, which stresses the attainment of enlightenment through spiritual discipline and austerities in imitation of Sakyamuni himself, Mahayana stresses the role of merciful bodhisattvas, beings who have deferred buddhahood in order to aid mortals in their struggle toward enlightenment. Despite this difference, most Mahayana sects obliged their monks to follow the 250 precepts of Hinayana. Saichô, however, substituted the simpler Mahayana bodhisattva precepts--10 major and 48 minor ones--in the belief that the monastic rules should be succinct enough to internalize. Saichô's precepts, unlike the fussy prohibitions of the past, were clear-cut and accessible, but he demanded strict compliance. In the event that a precept was broken, heartfelt repentance could mitigate the offense. In this emphasis on the efficacy of faith and repentance, as opposed to formalistic adherence to the letter of the law, Saichô's writings often recall passages in the New Testament.
After Saichô, Japanese Buddhism continued to move gradually in the direction of simplification and internalization of the precepts. With Hônen, however, the shift was decisive.
Hônen held that simply by chanting the nenbutsu, anyone at all, even a person who had committed one of Buddhism's five deadly sins, including matricide, patricide, and shedding the blood of a Buddha, could achieve rebirth in the Pure Land, where he could bask in the presence of Amida. Shinran took Hônen's teaching to its logical extreme by publicly affirming that it was perfectly permissible for a monk like himself to marry and eat meat. Of course, even before Shinran many monks had married surreptitiously. But Shinran chastised such people as hypocrites. Instead he created a new form of Buddhism that at first glance seems to dispense with the precepts altogether. In fact, he was merely continuing the process of simplification and internalization initiated by Saichô. In this way the emergence of Shinran turned Japanese Buddhism decisively from monastic to lay Buddhism.
The Pure Land In his understanding of the Pure Land, Shinran was heir to the thinking of Genshin (942-1017) and Hônen. Let us begin by examining this tradition.
The Tendai priest Genshin envisioned six realms of transmigration: heaven, hell, and the worlds of hungry ghosts, beasts, asuras (demons or Titans), and human beings. To a greater or lesser degree, these are all realms of suffering and are referred to collectively as the Impure Land (edo). All unenlightened beings circulate among these six realms in accordance with their karma.
In addition, however, there are Pure Lands where the Buddhas dwell. Far to the west lies the most blissful Pure Land of all, the realm of Amida Buddha, the lord of boundless light and eternal life. With the necessary effort, it is possible to be reborn in the Western Paradise after death.
To achieve this end Genshin advocated unceasing contemplation of Amida and his paradise. It is this sort of contemplation that was the original meaning of the word nenbutsu. If one practices such nenbutsu faithfully, together with a variety of rites and oblations, at death one will see Amida and his bodhisattvas coming to welcome one into the Pure Land.
Genshin's Ôjôyôshû (The Essentials of Salvation) was widely read and helped disseminate Pure Land thought in Japan. But the appeal of his teachings was limited to the clergy and the aristocracy--the privileged few who could spend their days in contemplation and their money on offerings. It was Hônen who made the Pure Land accessible to the common folk. Hônen diligently studied the writings of the Chinese Pure Land patriarch Shan-tao (613-81) and the various canonical writings on the Pure Land and concluded that the recommended method for attaining rebirth in the Western Paradise was the invocation of Amida Buddha by means of a chant, to which he applied the term nenbutsu. Whether or not his interpretation was correct is debatable. But it did mean that the common people were no longer excluded from the Pure Land of Bliss. Not surprisingly, Hônen's teaching spread rapidly, at the same time fueling controversy and conflict unprecedented in the history of Japanese Buddhism.
Shinran too cited various texts to show that those who recite the nenbutsu will be reborn in Amida's Paradise. But he also sought to demonstrate that after being reborn in the Pure Land and achieving enlightenment one is absolutely bound to return to this world and work for the benefit and edification of others. One becomes a bodhisattva, and bodhisattivas cannot linger indefinitely among the pleasures of the Pure Land but are obliged to repeat forever the cycle of death and rebirth, commuting eternally between this world and the other. Such are Amida's compassion and his unfathomable power.
CONVERGENCE WITH INDIGENOUS RELIGIOUS THOUGHT
The foregoing survey strongly suggests that as the Japanese concept of the Pure Land evolved, it came increasingly to resemble the prototypical indigenous view of the other world.
Let us consider Shinran's Pure Land thought in relation to the features of the Ainu and Ryûkyû view of the afterworld enumerated above. As Hônen developed the teachings of Genshin, Jôdo incorporated the belief that all human souls can pass to the other world, the core concept of feature 2 above. Meanwhile, the Tendai doctrine of original enlightenment proposed that not only human beings but in fact all living creatures are able to attain buddhahood. Influenced by this teaching, Shinran proclaimed that all sentient beings can be reborn in the Pure Land, a tenet corresponding to feature 3. At the same time Shinran brought Pure Land thought into harmony with feature 4 by claiming that those who arrive in the other world are ultimately reborn in this one.
To be sure, Shinran's concept of the Pure Land and the view of the afterworld described earlier differ in at least one important respect. The indigenous Japanese concept regards the family unit as fundamental. When someone dies, the soul passes to the other world, where it is welcomed by the ancestors. After dwelling there a while, it is reborn as a descendant. Shinran, on the other hand, saw rebirth in this world as the sublime duty of the bodhisattva, something that transcended the family unit. It is unclear what sort of social organization Shinran envisioned in the Pure Land, but in his overall scheme the ties of religion supersede those of family, as one might expect of a world religion like Buddhism. Nonetheless, the eternal transmigration between this world and the next is common to both systems.
The most reasonable explanation for this correspondence is that the indigenous Japanese concept of the other world gradually influenced the development of Buddhism, and especially Pure Land thought, ultimately giving rise to doctrines unknown either in India or in China. As is generally the case when a people adopt elements of a foreign culture, the Japanese embraced those aspects that they found congenial, rejected the rest, and ultimately fashioned the import into something very much their own. To begin with the Pure Land faith, which never occupied a central position in India or China, became the dominant strain of Japanese Buddhism. Further, Shinran founded a unique form of Jôdo in which the soul circulates forever between this world and the other.
At the same time, this and other sects became linked to the people through the rites of death. This too, I believe, occurred as a result of indigenous influences. It was probably Pure Land priests who initially incorporated into Buddhism the funeral ceremonies that originally belonged to the indigenous religion. And as Jôdo became the dominant current of Japanese Buddhism, rites for sending off souls to the other world, as well as funeral and memorial rites, came under Buddhist dominion.
This development reflected, I believe, a new religious "division of labor" that emerged as Buddhism and Shintô began to go their separate ways after the syncretism of the Heian period. While Buddhism took over the rites of death, the native religion, which survived in the form of Shintô, kept as its own preserve the rites of rebirth. This breakdown pervails even today. Funerals and memorial services are performed by the Buddhist clergy, while weddings, births, and the rites of passage for children of three, five, and seven years (shichi-go-san) are presided over by Shintô priests.
THE JAPANESE VIEW IN TODAY'S WORLD
Buddhism, like Christianity, is a world religion, and thus can be said to contain a universal message. The indigenous Japanese religion, on the other hand, is highly specific. Could it be that the Japanese, in assimilating Buddhism and injecting into it their own concepts of the afterworld, transformed it from a universal system of belief into something applicable nowhere else in the world? Before jumping to this conclusion, we must answer an important question: How does the Japanese concept of the afterlife stand relative to world religion in general?
Answering this question properly would doubtless involve the concerted labor of many scholars. The best I can do here is to propose a theory for future consideration. The Japanese view of the other world is, in my opinion, an extremely primitive one, probably paleolithic in origin. I believe, moreover, that for a long time this concept was common to all cultures.
As I see it, the Japanese view represents the primordial concept of the afterlife. The indigenous Japanese notion differs most fundamentally from that of the major world religions in that it admits no distinction between heaven and hell and thus lacks such concepts as judgment, karma, and retribution. Surely the differentiation into realms of light and dark and the notion of a moral reckoning were superimposed later, as urban civilization developed and projected its values onto the afterworld.
This would suggest that the prototypical Japanese view of the other world was at one time a universal concept. In most parts of the world, however, it was unable to survive the shift to agricultural and urban civilization. But it persisted in Japan, where hunting and gathering was superseded by wet-rice cultivation at a relatively late date, and where even then many elements of the earlier paleolithic culture were preserved.
Should we conclude, then, that the Japanese concept of the other world is no more than a primitive relic, a hopelessly backward, archaic superstition with no relevance to our modern age? I myself thought so for many years. But my thinking has changed.
I feel it has become essential to interpret civilization from more than one perspective. Structuralism's great contribution consists in opening the way to such a multidimensional view. Today, as humankind gropes for ways to overcome the grave crises it confronts, the unidimensional approach of the past has clearly become inadequate.
The Japanese concept of the other world embraces two essential ideas of undeniable relevance to modern civilization. The first is that all living creatures share the same origin and nature and that the relations among them are vitally important. This is the idea that informs the original Japanese concept of the other world, as well as the Buddhist notion that mountains, rivers, plants, and animals all achieve buddhahood.
Hitherto, scholars of religion have called this mode of thought "animism" and dismissed it as a feature of primitive religion. I question the fairness of this judgment. To be sure, civilization has tended gradually to reject this view. In the early stages of urban civilization, represented by Sumer and ancient Egypt, religion revolved around gods who were part human and part beast. The gods of ancient Greece were endowed with human form but frequently appeared as animals. In time, however, the gods became purely human, or superhuman, in aspect, a trend common to East and West.
From the standpoint of the world's great religions, with their anthropocentric orientation, the notion that humankind is one with the rest of nature may seem backward and childish. Yet does not this view prefigure the scientific principles revealed by modern biologists since Darwin? Over the past century or so it has become clear that living creatures were not created one after another by an anthropomorphic god, as the Old Testament claims, but emerged from one vast evolutionary flow, and furthermore that life is inextricably bound up with the movement of the universe as a whole. Thus, the view inherent in animism--the idea that mountains, rivers, plants, and trees all achieve buddhahood--agrees in essence with the understanding of life arrived at by modern science.
Moreover, the idea of the community of all living beings has surely never been so important as it is today. The indigenous Japanese view recognizes that in order to live, human beings must kill and consume many plants and animals. It is for this very reason that they have deified those plants and animals. This contradiction allows them to coexist harmoniously with the living things that they must sometimes destroy. Such is the profound ecological wisdom of a people that long preserved a hunting and gathering way of life.
The concept of the other world that I have described here embraces another idea of great significance for our time. This is the notion of the cyclic continuity of life. It is predicated on a world view that regards humanity in relation to the movement of the cosmos itself rather than the other way around. If we are to survive, we must abandon the anthropocentric, egocentric perspective we have adopted hitherto and recognize that we are part of the eternal, cyclical movement of all life. By reminding us of our place in the cosmos, the primordial world view manifest in the indigenous Japanese concept of the afterworld can contribute significantly to the spiritual and intellectual development of humankind.
From search using the word "Shaka"
Buddhafl. c. 6th-4th century, b. Kapilavastu, Sakya republic, Kosala kingdom [India] d. , Kusinara, Malla republic, Magadha kingdom original name (Sanskrit) GAUTAMA, or (Pali) GOTAMA, also called SIDDHARTHA founder of Buddhism, the predominant religious and philosophical system of much of Asia. The term buddha, literally meaning "awakened one" or "enlightened one," is not a proper name but rather a title, such as messiah (the Christ). Thus, the term should be accompanied by an article, such as "the Buddha" or "a buddha" (because of a belief that there will be innumerable buddhas in the future as there have been in the past). The Buddha who belongs to the present world era was born into the Gotama (in Pali), or Gautama (in Sanskrit), clan and is often referred to as Gotama. When the term the Buddha is used, it is generally assumed that it refers to Gotama the Buddha. According to virtually all Buddhist traditions, the Buddha lived many lives before his birth as Gotama; these previous lives are described in stories called Jatakas that play an important role in Buddhist art and education. Most Buddhists also affirm that the Buddha's life was continued in his teachings and his relics. The following account, however, focuses on the Buddha's "historical" life from his birth as Gotama to his death some 80 years later. The version of the story presented here is based on the Pali Tipitaka, which is recognized by scholars as the earliest extant record of the Buddha's discourses, and on the later Pali commentaries. The style and technique of these ancient texts, followed in this biography, provide a record--sometimes symbolic, sometimes legendary, and always graphic--of the life of the revered Teacher. Just as there has been a vigorous search for the "historical Jesus" by Christian and other Western-oriented scholars, so also among some Western Orientalists there has been a scholarly search for the "historical Buddha," the history of whom the Buddhists themselves never questioned and which had never interested them as a historical problem. This section concentrates on Gotama the Enlightened One as depicted in the Buddhist scriptures and legends that developed about the man, his teachings, and his activities. Birth and early life The Buddha was born in the 6th or 5th century BC in the kingdom of the Sakyas, on the borders of present-day Nepal and India. As the son of Suddhodana, the king, and Mahamaya, the queen, the Buddha thus came from a Khattiya family (i.e., the warrior caste or ruling class). The story of the Buddha's life, however, begins with an account of a dream that his mother Mahamaya had one night before he was born: a beautiful elephant, white as silver, entered her womb through her side. Brahmans (Vedic priests) were asked to interpret the dream, and they foretold the birth of a son who would become either a universal monarch or a buddha. Ten lunar months after the conception, the queen and her retinue left Kapilavatthu, the capital of the Sakya kingdom, on a visit to her parents in Devadaha. She passed through Lumbini, a park that was owned jointly by the people of both cities. There, she gave birth to the Buddha in a curtained enclosure in the park on the full-moon day of the month of Vesakha (May). The purported site of his birth, now called Rummindei, lies within the territory of Nepal. A pillar placed there in commemoration of the event by Asoka, a 3rd-century-BC Buddhist emperor of India, still stands. Immediately upon hearing of the birth of the Buddha, the sage Asita (also called Kala Devala), who was King Suddhodana's teacher and religious adviser, went to see the child. From the auspicious signs on the child's body, Asita recognized that this child would one day become a buddha, and he was overjoyed and smiled. Because he was very old, however, he grew sad and wept, knowing that he would not remain alive to see the child's subsequent Enlightenment. Suddhodana, because of this strange display of alternate emotions, was concerned about possible dangers to the child, but Asita explained why he had first smiled and then wept and reassured the king about the child's future. Both the sage and the king then worshiped the child. On the fifth day after birth, for the name-giving ceremony, 108 Brahmans were invited, among whom eight were specialists in interpreting bodily marks. Of these eight specialists, seven predicted two possibilities: if the child remained at home, he would become a universal monarch; if he left home, he would become a buddha. But Kondañña, the youngest of the eight, predicted that he would definitely become a buddha. Later, this same Kondañña became one of the Buddha's companions and was one of his first five disciples. The child was given the name Siddhattha (Sanskrit: Siddhartha), which means "one whose aim is accomplished." On the seventh day after his birth, his mother died, and the child was brought up by her sister Mahapajapati Gotami, Suddhodana's second consort. A significant incident in the Buddha's boyhood is recorded in ancient Pali commentaries. One day, the little Siddhattha was taken to the state plowing festival, in which the king, with his ministers and the ordinary farmers, took part, according to the custom of the Sakyas. The boy was left with his nurses in a tent under a jambu tree. The nurses, attracted by the festivities, left the prince alone in the tent and went out to enjoy themselves. When they returned, they found the boy seated cross-legged, absorbed in a trance (Pali: jhana; Sanskrit: dhyana). The king was immediately informed and saw his little son in the posture of a yogi (a practitioner of psychological, physiological meditation techniques). Upon seeing his son sitting in this fashion, he worshiped the child a second time. Many years later the Buddha himself, in one of his discourses (the Maha-Saccaka-sutta, "The Great Discourse to Saccaka," of the Pali Majjhima Nikaya, or the "Collection of the Middle Length Sayings of the Buddha"), briefly mentions his attaining to the first jhana under the jambu tree. The young prince was brought up in great luxury, and his father, always worried that his son might leave home to become a wandering ascetic as the Brahmans had predicted, took every care to influence him in favour of a worldly life. According to the Anguttara Nikaya ("Collection of the Gradual Sayings of the Buddha"), the Buddha himself is reported to have said later about his upbringing: Bhikkhus [monks], I was delicately nurtured, exceedingly delicately nurtured, delicately nurtured beyond measure. In my father's residence lotus-ponds were made: one of blue lotuses, one of red and another of white lotuses, just for my sake. . . . Of Kasi cloth was my turban made; of Kasi my jacket, my tunic, and my cloak . . . . I had three palaces: one for winter, one for summer and one for the rainy season. . . . in the rainy season palace, during the four months of the rains, entertained only by female musicians, I did not come down from the palace. At the age of 16, Siddhattha married his cousin, a princess named Yasodhara, also 16 years old. Although Suddhodana tried his utmost to make Siddhattha content by providing him with luxury and comfort, the young prince's thoughts were generally elsewhere, occupied with other concerns. The Four Signs The turning point in the prince Siddhattha's life came when he was 29 years old. One day, while out driving with his charioteer, he saw "an aged man as bent as a roof gable, decrepit, leaning on a staff, tottering as he walked, afflicted and long past his prime." The charioteer, questioned by the prince as to what had happened to the man, explained that he was old and that all men were subject to old age. The prince, greatly perturbed by this sight, went back to the palace and became absorbed in thought. Another day, again driving with his charioteer, he saw "a sick man, suffering and very ill, fallen and weltering in his own excreta." Because Siddhattha was perturbed, the charioteer explained, as before, that this was a sick man and that all men are subject to sickness. On a third occasion the prince saw a dead body and again the charioteer provided the explanation. Finally, Siddhattha saw "a shaven-headed man, a wanderer who has gone forth, wearing the yellow robe." Impressed with the man's peaceful demeanour, the prince decided to leave home and go out into the world to discover the reason for such a display of serenity in the midst of misery. On his way back to the palace after seeing the yellow-robed ascetic, Siddhattha received the news of the birth of his son, whom he named Rahula, meaning "Fetter" or "Bond." The Great Renunciation Upon receiving this news, the prince decided to make what is known as the Great Renunciation: to give up the princely life and become a wandering ascetic. Waking up in the middle of the night, he ordered Channa, his charioteer and companion, to saddle his favourite horse, Kanthaka, and went to the bedchamber to have a last look at his sleeping wife and their son. He did not enter the chamber for fear of awakening his wife, which would be a sure obstacle to his plan. He thought he would one day come to see them again. That night Siddhattha left the city of Kapilavatthu, accompanied by Channa. By dawn he had crossed the Anoma River. He then gave all his ornaments to Channa, assumed the guise of an ascetic, and sent Channa and Kanthaka back to his father. As an ascetic, Gotama went south, where centres of learning and spiritual discipline flourished, and arrived at Rajagaha (modern Rajgir), the capital of the Magadha kingdom. Bimbisara, the king of Magadha, was impressed by the handsome appearance and the serene personality of this strange ascetic and visited him when he was seated at the foot of a hill. The king, after he discovered that the ascetic was a former prince, offered him every comfort and suggested that he should stay with him to share his kingdom. Gotama, however, rejected the king's offer, saying that he had no need of those things that he had renounced and that he was in search of truth. Bimbisara then requested that, when Gotama obtained the Enlightenment, he return to visit Rajagaha again, to which Gotama agreed. The search for the truth Leaving Rajagaha, Gotama went in search of teachers to instruct him in the way of truth. Two of them the Buddha himself mentioned by name in several discourses. He first went to Alara Kalama, a renowned sage, and expressed his wish to follow Alara's system; Alara gladly accepted Gotama as his pupil. Gotama studied and rapidly mastered Alara's whole system and then asked his teacher how far the master himself had realized that teaching. Alara told him that he had attained the "sphere of no-thing." Gotama soon attained the same mystical state himself. Alara admitted that that state was the highest he could teach and declared that Gotama and himself were now equals in every respect--in knowledge, practice, and attainment--and invited the Sakyan ascetic to guide, along with him, the community of his disciples. The Buddha later spoke of this occasion in a sutta: "In this way did Alara Kalama, my teacher, set me, his pupil, on the same level as himself and honoured me with the highest honour." Gotama, however, was not satisfied with attaining the sphere of no-thing, though it was a very high mystical state. He was in quest of absolute truth, nirvana, and thus he left Alara Kalama. He then went to Uddaka Ramaputta, another great teacher, who taught him to attain the "sphere of neither-perception-nor-nonperception," a higher mystical state than the sphere of no-thing. Gotama, however, was not satisfied with this either, and he continued his search for the truth. Traveling through the Magadha country, Gotama arrived at a village called Senanigama, near Uruvela, and, according to his own words, found "a beautiful stretch of land, a lovely woodland grove, and a clear flowing river with a pleasant ford, and a village for support close by." He was joined there by a group of five ascetics, among whom was Kondañña, the Brahman who had predicted at the name-giving ceremony that the child Siddhattha would definitely become a buddha one day. Gotama's real struggle in his search for the truth began in the area around Uruvela, near modern Gaya. Here, for nearly six years, he practiced various severe austerities and extreme self-mortifications. These austerities were vividly described in several discourses attributed to the Buddha himself (e.g., in the Majjhima Nikaya). What he looked like and what happened to him is described in the following words from the ancient text: Because of so little nourishment, all my limbs became like some withered creepers with knotted joints; my buttocks like a buffalo's hoof; my back-bone protruding like a string of balls; my ribs like rafters of a dilapidated shed; the pupils of my eyes appeared sunk deep in their sockets as water appears shining at the bottom of a deep well; my scalp became shriveled and shrunk as a bitter gourd cut unripe becomes shriveled and shrunk by sun and wind; . . . the skin of my belly came to be cleaving to my back-bone; when I wanted to obey the calls of nature, I fell down on my face then and there; when I stroked my limbs with my hand, hairs rotted at the roots fell away from my body. Many later representations of the Buddha portray him in this emaciated state. As a consequence of these severe bodily austerities, Gotama became so weak that he once fainted and was believed by some to be dead. From these experiences, he realized that such mortifications could not lead him to what he sought; he therefore changed his way of life and again began to eat proper amounts of food. His five companions, who had much faith in him, were disappointed at his rejection of extreme asceticism and left him in disgust. Gotama thus remained alone in Uruvela, regained his health and strength, and then followed his own path to Enlightenment. The Great Enlightenment One morning, seated under a banyan tree, Gotama accepted an offering of a bowl of milk rice from Sujata, the daughter of the landowner of the village of Senanigama. This was his last meal before his Enlightenment. He spent the day in a grove of sal trees and in the evening went to the base of a pipal tree (Ficus religiosa), now known as the bodhi, or bo, tree, and sat cross-legged, determined not to rise without attaining Enlightenment. At that point, the greatest of Gotama's struggles began: Mara, the evil one, the tempter who is the lord of the world of passion, determined to defeat him and prevent him from attaining Enlightenment; he approached Gotama with his hideous demonic hordes. Gotama, however, sat unmoved in meditation, supported only by the 10 paramitas ("great virtues") that he had perfected during innumerable past lives as a bodhisattva ("buddha-to-be") in order to attain Enlightenment. (In order to attain buddhahood, all bodhisattvas [i.e., those who aspire to become buddhas] have to perfect, during innumerable lives, these 10 paramitas: charity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, effort, patience, truth, determination, universal love, and equanimity.) Mara was thus vanquished and fled headlong with his armies of evil spirits. The battle with Mara is graphically described in ancient Buddhist texts and depicted in paintings on the walls of Buddhist temples. In the Padhanasutta ("Discourse on the Exertion") of the Pali Suttanipata, one of the earliest texts, the Buddha states that, when he was practicing austerities by the Nerañjara River in Uruvela, Mara approached him, speaking such words as: "You are emaciated, pale, you are near death. Live, Sir, life is better. Do meritorious deeds. What is the use of striving?" After some preliminary words, Gotama replied: Lust is your first army; the second is dislike for higher life; the third is hunger and thirst; the fourth is craving; the fifth is torpor and sloth; the sixth is fear (cowardice); the seventh is doubt; the eighth is hypocrisy and obduracy; the ninth is gains, praise, honour, false glory; the tenth is exalting self and despising others. Mara, these are your armies. No feeble man can conquer them, yet only by conquering them one wins bliss. I challenge you! Shame on my life if defeated! Better for me to die in battle than to live defeated. Mara, overcome with grief, disappeared. Having defeated Mara, Gotama spent the rest of the night in deep meditation under the tree. During the first part of the night he gained the knowledge of his former existences. During the second part of the night he attained the "superhuman divine eye," the power to see the passing away and rebirth of beings. In the last part of the night he directed his mind to the knowledge of the destruction of all cankers and defilements and realized the Four Noble Truths. In words attributed to the Buddha himself: "My mind was emancipated, . . . Ignorance was dispelled, science (knowledge) arose; darkness was dispelled, light arose." Thus Gotama, at the age of 35, attained the Enlightenment, or Awakening, and became a supreme buddha during the night of the full-moon day of the month of Vesakha (May) at a place now called Bodh Gaya (Pali and Sanskrit: Buddhagaya). Contemplation on the truth After his Enlightenment the Buddha spent several weeks (five or seven weeks according to different accounts) in Uruvela, meditating on the various aspects of the dhamma that he had realized, particularly on the most important and difficult doctrine of causal relations, known as the dependent origination or the conditioned genesis (paticca-samuppada). This doctrine views everything as relative and interdependent and teaches that there is no eternal, everlasting, unchanging, permanent, or absolute substance, such as the soul, the self, or the ego, within or without man. Four weeks after his Enlightenment, seated under a banyan tree, the Buddha is reported to have thought to himself: "I have realized this Truth which is deep, difficult to see, difficult to understand . . . comprehensible by the wise. Men who are overpowered by passion and surrounded by a mass of darkness cannot see this Truth which is against the current, which is lofty, deep, subtle and hard to comprehend." With these thoughts in mind, the Buddha hesitated to try to explain to the world the truth that he had just realized. At this point, according to the tradition, the Brahman Sahampati intervened in order to convince the Buddha to accept his vocation as a teacher. This great Brahmanic deity set forth for him an image of a lotus pond: in a lotus pond there are some lotuses still under water; there are others that have risen only up to the water level; and there are still others that stand above water and are untouched by it. In a similar way, in this world there are people of different levels of development. Thus challenged, the Buddha determined to proclaim the insight he had gained. At the outset he faced the problem of choosing those who would be the first to hear him preach the dhamma. He first thought of his two former teachers, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, but they had died by this time. He then thought of the five companions who had left him and were now staying in Isipatana near Baranasi (Benares; now Varanasi) and decided to go there. On meeting the five ascetics, the Buddha told them that now he was an arhat, a "perfected one" (Pali: arahant), a "fully awakened one" (sammasambuddha), that he had realized the "immortal" (amata), and that he wished to instruct and teach them the dhamma. They replied to him: But, Reverend Gotama, even by all that conduct, that practice, that austerity, you did not realize this supreme knowledge, this supreme state. So how can you now realize it when you live in abundance, when you have given up striving and have reverted to a life of abundance? The Buddha denied that he had given up striving and that he had reverted to a life of abundance. He requested again that they listen to him. Again, however, they replied in a similar manner. A third time the Buddha repeated what he had said and asked them to listen to him, and they repeated their remark. The Buddha then asked them a question: "Do you admit that I have never spoken anything like this before?" They were struck by such straightforwardness and knew how sincere and earnest he was. Convinced that he had attained what he claimed to have attained, they no longer addressed the Buddha as "Reverend Gotama" but changed their attitude toward him and answered him: "Lord, you have not." The Buddha then delivered to them his first sermon, known as the Dhammacakkappavattana-sutta ("Sermon on Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth"), at Isipatana, now called Sarnath. An ancient stupa (a building containing a religious relic) still marks the spot where this event supposedly occurred. The substance of this sutta is as follows: a man who has left home and gone forth should not follow two extremes, namely self-indulgence and self-mortification. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata ("He Who Has Thus Attained"--i.e., the Buddha) has discovered the middle path leading to vision, to knowledge, to calmness, to awakening, to nirvana. This middle path is known as the Noble Eightfold Path consisting of right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right mode of living, right endeavour, right mindfulness, and right concentration. The First Noble Truth is that man's existence is dukkha, full of conflict, dissatisfaction, sorrow, and suffering. The Second Noble Truth is that all this is caused by man's selfish desire--i.e., craving or tanha, "thirst." The Third Noble Truth is that there is emancipation, liberation, and freedom for human beings from all this, which is nirvana. The Fourth Noble Truth, the Noble Eightfold Path, is the way to this liberation. The founding of the sangha At the end of the sermon, these five ascetics, the Buddha's first disciples, were admitted by him as bhikkhus (monks) and became the first members of the sangha ("community," or "order"). A few days later, this sermon was followed by the Anattalakkhana-sutta, dealing with the doctrine of no-self, at the conclusion of which all five bhikkhus became arhats ("perfected ones"). The Buddha spent about three months in the Varanasi/Benares region. During this period an important and influential wealthy young man named Yasa became his disciple and entered the order. His father and mother, along with his former wife, also were converted. They were the first lay disciples to take refuge in the "Triple Jewel": the Buddha, the dhamma, and the sangha. Later, four of Yasa's close friends followed his example and entered the order. Enthusiasm for this new movement became so impelling that 50 of their friends also joined them in the sangha. All these became arhats in due course, and the Buddha soon had 60 disciples who were perfected ones. The Buddha addressed this group in the following words and sent them out into the world to spread his message of peace, compassion, and wisdom: Bhikkhus, I am freed from all fetters, both divine and human. You, too, are freed from all fetters, both divine and human. Wander forth, bhikkhus, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world. . . . Let not two of you go by one road [i.e., go in different directions]. Teach the Dhamma which is good at the beginning, good in the middle, and good at the end. . . . There are people who will understand the Dhamma. I, too, will go to Uruvela to teach the Dhamma. The 60 disciples went in various directions to spread the teaching of the Buddha. The Buddha himself set out for Uruvela. On the way he converted 30 young men, who then entered the order. In the region of Uruvela he also converted three leading ascetics along with a large number of their disciples. To these ascetics, formerly known as "those with matted hair" (jatilas), the Buddha delivered the famous "Fire Sermon" (the Adittapariyaya-sutta), which states that all man's existence is burning with the fire of lust, the fire of hate, and the fire of delusion. From Uruvela the Buddha went on to Rajagaha, the capital of Magadha, fulfilling his promise to visit King Bimbisara after his Enlightenment. Many people, including the king, became his lay disciples. The king offered his park, Veluvana, as a monastery site to the Buddha and his order. During this visit a very important event that had far-reaching effects took place: Sariputta and Moggallana, two Brahmanic ascetics who later became the Buddha's two chief disciples, joined the order. Sariputta had first heard of the Buddha and his new teaching from Assaji, one of the original 60 disciples. At the request of his father, the Buddha visited Kapilavatthu with a large number of his disciples. In that city, where as prince he had lived in great splendour and luxury, he went about begging for his food from house to house. His father, King Suddhodana, was grieved and upset by this, but, upon learning that this was the custom of all buddhas, he conducted the Blessed One and his disciples to eat a meal at the palace. All the ladies of the court went to him to offer reverence, except his former wife, Yasodhara. She refused, saying that the Blessed One himself would come to her if he thought she had any virtue in her and that she would then worship him. The Buddha, with his two chief disciples and the king, went to see her in her apartment. She fell at his feet, clasped his ankles with her hands, and put her head on his feet. The Buddha's father, his aunt Mahapajapati, Yasodhara, and large numbers of Sakyans (who were fellow members of the Gotama clan) became his followers. On the following day he ordained his half-brother Nanda and a few days later his son, Rahula. All this troubled the old king so much that he asked the Buddha to lay down a rule that no son should be ordained without the consent of his parents. Accordingly, the rule was formulated, and it continues to be followed by the sangha. Anathapindika, a banker of Savatthi (modern Sravasti), the capital of Kosala kingdom, had met the Buddha at Rajagaha and had become deeply devoted to him. He invited the Blessed One to his city, where he built for him the famous monastery at Jetavana. This monastery in Savatthi became the virtual headquarters of the Buddha's activities. There he spent most of his time and delivered most of his sermons. The Buddha and his new teaching became so popular that monasteries were built for him and his sangha in almost all the important cities in the valley of the Ganges, and the number of his followers among all classes of people increased rapidly. The order of nuns, bhikkhuni-sangha, was instituted after some hesitation. Ananda, the Buddha's cousin and later his chief attendant and constant companion, pleaded with the Master on behalf of women. The Buddha's own aunt Mahapajapati Gotami and her friends were the first women to enter the order. Members of some hostile sects, who became jealous of the Buddha's success and popularity, made several attempts to vilify him. Devadatta, one of the Buddha's cousins, an ambitious man of ability and guile, was his rival from early days. He too joined the order but was never sincerely devoted to the Master. He became popular and influential with some people, however, and, about eight years before the Buddha's death, Devadatta conceived the idea of becoming the Buddha's successor and suggested to him that the leadership of the sangha should be handed over to him in view of the Master's approaching old age. The suggestion, however, was rejected. The Buddha stated that he would not pass on the leadership of the order to anyone, not even to Sariputta or Moggallana. Rather, the sangha was to be run in accordance with democratic principles. Its constitution was to be the vinaya ("discipline"), rules that the Buddha himself had laid down to guide the spiritual and material life of the individual monks and nuns and to regulate the structure and dynamics of monastic life. After being rebuffed in this way, Devadatta vowed vengeance. He made three cleverly designed attempts on the life of the Buddha, all of which failed. Devadatta next tried to bring about a schism in the sangha, taking with him a group of newly ordained monks to establish a separate community. All those who were misled by Devadatta, however, were later persuaded to go back to the Master by Sariputta and Moggallana. After this event Devadatta became seriously ill and died after about nine months of illness. The death of the Buddha After the Buddha had trained learned, well-disciplined followers and his mission was fulfilled, at the age of 80, with a group of monks, he set out on his last journey, from Rajagaha toward the north. As usual, he passed in leisurely fashion through cities, towns, and villages, teaching the people on his way and stopping wherever he wished. In due course he arrived at Vesali, the capital city of the Licchavis. The Buddha spent that rainy season not in the park in Vesali, which had just been donated to him by Ambapali, the celebrated courtesan of that city, but in an adjoining village called Beluva. There the Buddha became seriously ill. He thought, however, that it was not right for him to die without preparing his disciples, who were dear to him. Thus, with courage, determination, and will, he bore all his pains, got the better of his illness, and recovered; but his health was still poor. After the Buddha's recovery, Ananda, his most devoted attendant, went to his beloved Master and said: Lord, I have looked after the health of the Blessed One. I have looked after him in his illness. But at the sight of his illness, the horizon became dim to me, and my faculties were no longer clear. Yet there was one little consolation: I thought the Blessed One would not pass away until he had left instructions concerning the Order of the Sangha. The Buddha, full of compassion and feeling, replied: Ananda, what does the Order of the Sangha expect from me? I have taught the dhamma without making any distinction as to exoteric and esoteric. With regard to the Truth, the Tathagata has nothing like the 'closed fist of a teacher' (acariya-mutthi), who keeps something back. Surely, Ananda, if there is anyone who thinks that he will lead the sangha and that the sangha should depend on him, let him set down his instructions. But the Tathagata has no such idea. Why should he then leave instructions concerning the sangha? I am old now, Ananda . . . eighty years old. As a worn-out cart has to be kept going by repairs, so, it seems to me, the body of the Tathagata can only be kept going by repairs. . . . Therefore, Ananda, dwell by making yourselves your island, making yourselves, not anyone else, your refuge; making the dhamma your island, the dhamma your refuge, nothing else your refuge. Later the Buddha told Ananda that he had decided to die after three months and asked him to assemble in the hall at Mahavana all the monks who were at that time residing in the neighbourhood of Vesali. At this meeting, the Buddha advised the monks to follow what he had taught them and to spread it abroad for the good of the many, out of compassion for the world. He then announced that he had decided to die after three months. Leaving Vesali, the Buddha gazed at the city in which he had stayed on many occasions and said: "This will be the last time, Ananda, that the Tathagata will behold Vesali. Come, Ananda, let us proceed." Stopping at several villages and townships, the Buddha eventually arrived at Pava and stayed in the park of Cunda the goldsmith, who was already one of his devoted followers. At his invitation the Buddha and the monks went to his house for a meal. Cunda had prepared, besides various delicacies, a dish called sukara-maddava. This is interpreted in the ancient Pali commentaries in several ways: (1) as pork (this is generally accepted), (2) as bamboo sprouts trodden by pigs, (3) as a kind of mushroom growing in a spot trodden by pigs, (4) as a rice pudding rich with the essence of milk, or (5) as a special preparation (an elixir?) intended by Cunda to prolong the Buddha's life. Whatever it might have been, the Buddha asked Cunda to serve him with sukara-maddava and to serve the bhikkhus with other dishes. At the end of the meal, the Buddha requested Cunda to bury in a hole whatever was left of the sukara-maddava, saying that only a Tathagata would be able to assimilate it. This was the Buddha's last meal. After it the Buddha became sick and suffered violent pains but bore them without complaint. He set out for Kusinara, accompanied by Ananda and other monks. Explaining that he was tired, he stopped and rested in two places. On the way, the Buddha said to Ananda: Now it may happen, Ananda, that someone should stir up remorse in Cunda by saying that the Tathagata died after eating his meal. Any such remorse in Cunda should be dispelled. Tell him, Ananda, that you heard directly from my mouth that there are two offerings of food which are of equal fruit, of equal profit: the offering of food before the Enlightenment and the offering of food before the Parinibbana (the passing away) of a Tathagata. Tell him that he has done a good deed. In this way Ananda, you should dispel any possible remorse in Cunda. The Buddha arrived at Kusinara (the modern Kasia, known in Sanskrit as Kusinagara) toward evening, and, on a couch between two sal trees in the park Upavattana of the Mallas, he "laid himself down on his right side, with one leg resting on the other, mindful and self-possessed." This was the full-moon day of the month of Vesakha (May). Ananda asked the Buddha what they should do with his remains. He told Ananda they should not occupy themselves with honouring the remains of the Tathagata but should rather be zealous in their own spiritual development. The lay devotees, he said, would busy themselves with the remains. Ananda left the immediate area and cried out: "My Master is about to pass away from me--he who is so kind to me." The Buddha inquired where Ananda was and, on being told that he was weeping, called to him and said: "No, Ananda, don't weep. Haven't I already told you that separation is inevitable from all near and dear to us? Whatever is born, produced, conditioned, contains within itself the nature of its own dissolution. It cannot be otherwise." Then, the Master spoke to the monks in praise of Ananda's wonderful qualities and abilities. The Mallas, in whose realm Kusinara was located, came with their families to pay homage to the Blessed One. A wandering ascetic named Subhadda asked for permission to see the Buddha, but Ananda refused, saying that the Blessed One was tired and that he should not be troubled. The Buddha, overhearing the conversation, called Ananda and asked him to allow Subhadda to see him. After an interview with the Buddha, Subhadda joined the order the same night, thus becoming his last direct disciple. The Buddha then addressed Ananda: It may be, Ananda, that to some of you the thought may come: 'Here we have the Word of the Master who is gone; our Master we have with us no more.' But, Ananda, it should not be considered in this light. What I have taught and laid down, Ananda, as Dhamma (Truth, Doctrine) and as Vinaya (Discipline), this will be your Master when I am gone. . . . If the sangha wish it, Ananda, let them, when I am gone, abolish lesser and minor precepts (rules). The Buddha next addressed the monks and requested them three times to ask him if they had any doubt or question that they wished clarified, but they all remained silent. The Buddha then addressed the monks: "Then, bhikkhus, I address you now: transient are all conditioned things. Try to accomplish your aim with diligence." These were the last words of the Tathagata. A week later, his body was cremated by the Mallas in Kusinara. A dispute over the relics of the Buddha arose between the Mallas and the delegates of rulers of several kingdoms, such as Magadha, Vesali, and Kapilavatthu. It was settled by a venerable old Brahman named Dona on the basis that they should not quarrel over the relics of one who preached peace. With common consent, the relics were then divided into eight portions to the satisfaction of all. Stupas were built over these relics, and feasts were held commemorating the Buddha. Assessment of the personality and character of the Buddha According to the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha was a very handsome man. Canki, a highly respected Brahman leader, is reported to have said that "the recluse Gotama is lovely, good to look upon, charming, possessed of the greatest beauty of complexion, of a sublime colour, a perfect stature, noble of presence." Buddhists came to envision (and later represent) him as one endowed with the 32 bodily characteristics of a mahapurusa ("great person"). He had a unique reputation as a superb teacher. His conversion and taming of Angulimala, a murderer and bandit who was a terror even to Pasenadi, the king of Kosala, is put forward as an example of his great powers and abilities. People who went to see and hear him were fascinated and were so quickly converted to his new teaching that his opponents described him as having some "enticing trick." King Pasenadi is reported to have said that those who went with the idea of confounding the Buddha in debate became his disciples at the end. Full of compassion and wisdom, he is recognized as knowing how and what to teach individual people for their own benefit according to the level of their capabilities. The Buddha, affectionate and devoted to his disciples, was always inquiring after their well-being and progress. When he was staying in a monastery, he paid daily visits to the sick ward. Once, he himself attended a sick monk neglected by others and made the comment that "he who attends on the sick attends on me." The Buddha refused to recognize the religious significance of the caste system that was a long-established and respected institution in India and recognized the religious potential of men and women of all social ranks. He also recognized the connection between economic welfare and moral development. Trying to suppress crime through punishment, he said, was futile. Poverty, according to the Buddha, was a cause of immorality and crime; therefore, the economic condition of people should be improved. He appreciated both natural and physical beauty. On several occasions he was moved aesthetically, as he told Ananda how delightful certain places were to him. At Vesali he told the monks that, if they had not seen the devas (gods) of Tavatimsa (Heaven), they should look at the handsome Licchavis, beautifully and elegantly dressed in different colours. King Pasenadi could not understand how the Buddha maintained such order and discipline in the community of monks, when he, a king, with the power to inflict punishment, could not maintain it as well in his court. The Buddha, however, kept order and discipline on the basis of a mutual love, affection, and respect that exists between teacher and pupil. Many miraculous powers were attributed to the Buddha, and he performed a number of miracles during his ministry. At the same time, however, he did not consider magical powers to be of primary importance. Once, when one of his disciples performed a miracle in public, the Buddha reproached him and laid down a rule that his disciples should not perform miracles before the laity. In his view, the greatest miracle was to explain the truth and to make people recognize its importance. Behind his philosophy and strict ethics, the Buddha had a quiet sense of humour. A conceited Brahman, who was in the habit of denigrating others, questioned him as to the qualities of a true Brahman. In a list of such high qualities as freedom from evil and purity of heart, the Buddha gently included "not denigrating others." The portrait of the Buddha, as can be inferred from the lines of the ancient texts, is thus one of a man of great wisdom and great compassion, one who was moved by the spectacle of human suffering and was determined to teach his fellow human beings how that suffering could be confronted and overcome. (Wa.R.) (F.E.R.)
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