About the Book:
This book describes the Buddhism of India on the basis of the comparison of all the available original sources in various languages. It falls into three approximately equal parts. The first is a reconstruction of the original Buddhism presupposed by the traditions of the different schools known to us. It uses primarily the established methods of textual criticism, drawing out of the oldest extant texts of the different schools their common Kernel. This Kernel of doctrine is presumably common Buddhism of the period before the great schisms of the fourth and third centuries BC. It may be substantially the Buddhism of the Buddha himself, though this cannot be proved: at any rate it is a Buddhism presupposed by the schools as existing about a hundred years after the Parinirvana of the Buddha, and there is no evidence to suggest that it was formulated by anyone other than the Buddha and his immediate followers.
The second part traces the development of the 'Eighteen Schools' of early Buddhism, showing how they elaborated their doctrines out of the common Kernel. Here we can see to what extent the Sthaviravada, or 'Theravada' of the Pali tradition, among others, added to or modified the original doctrine.
The third part describes the Mahayana movement and the Mantrayana, the way of the bodhisattva and the way of ritual. The relationship of the Mahayana to the early schools is traced in detail, with its probable affiliation to one of them, the Purva Saila, as suggested by the consensus of the evidence.
Particular attention is paid in this book to the social teaching of Buddhism, the part which relates to the 'world' rather than to nirvana and which has been generally neglected in modern writings Buddhism.
(A.K. Warder is Professor Emeritus of Sanskrit in the University of Toronto)
A glance at a few of the countless modern books dealing with 'Buddhism' will soon convince the inquirer that Buddhism is all things to all men. Such a conclusion, though nebulous and not very informative, might even be upheld as now valid. Whether Bud- dhism has always been so nebulous is much more disputable. There are seemingly authoritative books which, taken collectively, make widely divergent and sometimes totally opposed claims about the original teaching of the Buddha, and it is at least clear that by the second century A.D. there were schools of Buddhism in India which differed very. greatly though they all claimed to teach the actual doctrine of the Buddha. In this situation modern writers, especially scholars, have taken sides in the ancient controversy or, in the name of that extreme caution which some suppose to be the hall- mark of the sound academic, have claimed that we do not know what the Buddha taught and cannot now find out.
When so much has been written and is yet so inconclusive it seems vain to offer a solution to the problem of what Buddhism was originally, and in an earlier work' the present writer had practically renounced any such purpose and recommended stick- ing directly to the ancient texts in their original languages. However, people still demand an answer to this question and at the same time it appears tantalisingly possible to discover the answer. This book, then, is an attempt to give an answer and more especially to demonstrate its correctness by applying acceptable methods of deduction to the available evidence. The discussion of methology with which we arethus obliged to burden this volume is as far as possible confined to the Introduction, though it has affected the presentation that follows as well and perhaps made this look more like a marshalling of evidence than a survey of the subject. The reader who is in a hurry to look at the doctrines and willing provisionally to take the solution of problems of authenticity on trust may skip most of the Introduction.
The book is planned in the form of a historical survey of Buddhism as it developed and spread in the land of its origin. The main object is to present the doctrines and elucidate them: the historical background is merely sketched in as part of the elucida- tion, as situations to which Buddhist thinkers were responding and as a framework in which successive ideas may be placed in order (this order is illuminating: when we know who a man's immediate predecessors were we are better able to see what he is getting at). The most extensive historical sketch occurs at the beginning, with a view to presenting India as it had been before the time of the Buddha and leading up to the setting in which Buddhism origi- nated.
The author is deeply indebted to Professor J. W. de Jong and Mr. C. D. C. Priestley for verifying the numerous references to Chinese versions of the Tripitaka texts and assisting in comparing their readings for the most essential terms with the Indian sources. Acknowledgments are also due to Mr. A. Yuyama for information on the discussions of Japanese scholars about the schools to which the Chinese versions of the Agamas belong and to Professor H. V. Guenther for information on some of the Tibetan sources.
The Sources of our Knowledge of Buddhism
The materials at our disposal consist firstly and mainly of a large body of ancient texts, though they are unhappily only a small fraction of the great literature of which they once formed a part. Most of the ancient literature of Buddhism and of India generally was obliterated by the Muslims when they swept through Western, Central and Southern Asia with the sword and especially with fire, the greatest disaster being their conquest of the homeland of Buddhism at the beginning of the thirteenth century A.D. All the great Buddhist libraries of India were sought out and incinerated, so that of Indian Buddhist texts in their original languages we have at our disposal only (a) the 'Canon' of one of the many ancient schools, preserved intact in Ceylon, Burma, Cambodia and Siam, (b) an incomplete canon as recognised in the latest phase of Indian Buddhism, together with a selection of ancillary works, preserved in Nepal, and (c) a few scattered texts in Indian languages preserved elsewhere, for instance in Tibet, in Japan, in certain Jaina libraries in western India or buried in vaults in Central Asia. We have also large collections of translations into non-Indian languag- es, primarily Chinese and Tibetan. These are more complete than the original collections now extant, and represent a greater number of ancient schools of Buddhism, but they are still rather limited as being selections only from the original corpus of texts and as representing primarily only those later schools of Buddhism which became permanently established in East Asia.
Along with these ancient texts we possess a larger body of medieval and modern texts purporting to expound their doctrines, either as direct commentaries or as independent expositions.They are written in many different languages. Of those written in India we have only a part, whether in the original or in translations, and moreover we are worse off in respect of these ancillary works than we are in respect of the ancient canonical texts. The schools which have flourished down to modern times outside India, on the other hand, have produced and preserved comprehensive libraries of ancillary works, moreover they have kept alive oral traditions of interpretation handed on from teacher to student. The living traditions of the meaning of what is written have been the basis of all modern understanding of Buddhist doctrines. From the diverse living schools we have to trace back a way towards the correct understanding of the meaning of the earliest texts as intended by their authors.
Our other important materials are the archaeological sources relating to the history of Buddhism: ancient monuments or their ruins, pagodas and temples, monasteries and universities, sculp- tures and paintings, which to some extent reflect the doctrines of their times. Above all the excavations of ancient sites with contem- porary documentation in the form of inscriptions have served as checks on chronology.
Do the ancient texts available to us contain any of the actual teaching of the Buddha? Many of them purport to do so, but there is a certain amount of conflict among them in matters of doctrine, and in any case we are not prepared to accept them at their face value without checking their authenticity.
According to the unanimous traditions of all the schools of Buddhism, after the death, or rather the parinirvana, of the Buddha his words so far as remembered by his followers were collectively rehearsed. Each dialogue or lecture remembered was endorsed as an accurate account by those who had been present at the event, and the whole body of texts thus established and arranged was thenceforward handed on by oral tradition. After some centuries the texts were written down and preserved by manuscript as well as oral tradition. This body of texts came to be called the Tripitaka, meaning the three traditions of handing down the teaching-since the texts were grouped in three sections. Are we in possession of this Tripitaka as recognised by the early Buddhists, if possible before they split up into schools?
In fact we have several Tripitakas. From 'Ceylon and South East Asia we have the recension of the Sthaviravada school, called Tipitaka in its own, Pali, language. •From China we have a vast Tripitaka in Chinese, consisting primarily of translations of Indian texts. We have a similar Tripitaka from Tibet in the Tibetan language, of which there is also a Mongolian translation. In fact the Chinese and Tibetan Tripitakas have a complex history in several differing and gradually growing recensions, though we need not complicate the present discussion with further details. In either case the translators and compilers believed in the existence of The Tripitaka in India. the texts of which were gradually being collected from India, translated and incorporated in the local recension-a task which remained unfinished even after many centuries of effort.
This incompleteness was not entirely the fault of the Chinese or the Tibetans, or the Indian scholars who helped make the trans- lations. Even as they worked, the Indian Buddhists were producing new texts which purported to be authentic, or at least which later on were taken as authentic words of the Buddha. Moreover older texts sometimes had additions made to them, so that eventually new translations seemed called for: in a number of cases we have several successive translations of what is supposed to be the same text, of gradually increasing length. Indian Buddhism was still growing and changing, and new schools found room in their recensions of the Tripuaka for texts giving authority to their new ideas. There was no centralised control to prevent this, on the contrary the organisation of Buddhism was always polycentric, in fact democratic: each local group was autonomous.
In this situation we need not despair. The Buddhists in India and elsewhere recorded their history and we have a number of ancient and medieval texts extant to guide us.' They are unanimous that after the original collective rehearsal of the Tripitaka the Buddhists remained united for about a century but later disagreed irrecon- cilably and gradually split up into separate schools. There are supposed to have been eighteen of these early schools by about the first century B.C., each with its own recension of the Tripitaka. Of the recensions of these schools we now possess only one complete, but we have substantial sections of half a dozen others.' In addition we have various references to the content of these 'canons'. For example the philosopher Nagarjuna (second century A.D.) quotes a text and his commentator Candrakirti (c. A.D. 600) informs us that it was to be found in the canons of all the schools."
Though all our sources agree on the eighteen schools having a Tripitaka in varying recensions, some of our sources maintain the authenticity of certain other texts not found in the canons of these schools. These texts are those held genuine by the later school, not one of the eighteen, which arrogated to itself the title of Mahayana, 'Great Vehicle'. According to the Mahayana historians these texts were admittedly unknown to the early schools of Buddhists. How- ever, they had all been promulgated by the Buddha. His followers on earth, the srduakas ('pupils'), had not been sufficiently advanced to understand them, and hence were not given them to remember, but they were taught to various supernatural beings and then preserved in such places as the Dragon World (under the earth) or among the gods. Early in the second century A.D. (i.e. sometime after the reign of the emperor Kaniska) numerous teachers ap- peared in India who were capable of in terpreting these special texts, which accordingly were brought out from their hiding places and made known on earth."
With the best will in the world we cannot accept this or similar accounts as historical facts. Even if we admit the possibility of a secret transmission of doctrine and texts it is a curious aspersion on the powers of the Buddha that he failed to do what others were able to accomplish 600 years later. To clinch the matter we have the fact that linguistically and stylistically the Mahayana texts belong to a later stratum of Indian literature than the Tripitaka known to the early schools. Everything about early Buddhism, and even the Mahayana itself (with the exception of the Mantrayana), suggests that it was a teaching not meant to be kept secret but intended to be published to all the world, to spread enlightenment, and we are on safe ground only with those texts the authenticity of which is admitted by all schools of Buddhism (including the Mahayana, who admit the authenticity of the early canons as well as their own texts), not with texts accepted only by certain schools. Mahayana Buddhism will be examined in its proper historical context below. We shall find that it in fact developed gradually out of one, or a group, of the eighteen early schools, and that originally it took its st.and not primarily on any new texts but on its own interpretations of the universally recognised Tripitaka. In our own study of the doctrines of that Tripitaka we may certainly give due weight to those interpreta- tions along with others.
When we examine the Tripitakas of the eighteen schools, so far as they are extant, we find an agreement which is substantial, though not complete. Even the most conservative of the early schools seem to have added new texts to their collections. However, there is a central body of sutras (dialogues), in four groups, which is so similar in all known versions that we must accept these as so many recensions of the same original texts. These make up the greater part of the Sutra Pitaka, one of the three sections or traditions which make up the Tripitaka. Since it is the sutras which are recognised as the primary source for the doctrine of Buddhism, we shall proceed below to take the text which might be critically edited by comparing their different recensions as the basis of our exposition of the doctrine as it evidently existed before the schisms which divided the schools. It may be noted here that whatever textual discrepancies are found hardly affect the doctrine.'
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