The Buddhist Millennium in India
Buddhism, Northern, Southern, Japan, Eastern, Called
Let us now look at the life of the Founder. Day after day, the pure-souled teacher attracted new disciples while he with alms-bowl went around as mendicant and teacher. Salvation merely by self-control, and love without any rites, ceremonies, charms, priestly powers, gods or miracles, formed the burden of his teachings. "Thousands of people left their homes, embraced the holy order and became monks, ignoring caste, and relinquishing all worldly goods except the bare necessaries of life, which they possessed and enjoyed in common." Probably the first monastic system of the world, was that of the Indian Buddhists.
The Buddha preached the good news during forty-five years. After his death, five hundred of his followers assembled at Rajagriha and chanted together the teachings of Gautama, to fix them in memory. A hundred years later, in 377 B.C., came the great schism among the Buddhists, out of which grew the divisions known as Northern and Southern Buddhism. There was disagreement on ten points. A second council was therefore called, and the disputed points determined to the satisfaction of one side. Thereupon the seceders went away in large numbers, and the differences were never healed; on the contrary, they have widened in the course of ages.
The separatists began what may be called the Northern Buddhisms of Nepal, Tibet, China, Korea and Japan. The orthodox or Southern Buddhists are those of Ceylon, Burma and Siam. The original canon of Southern Buddhism is in Pali; that of Northern Buddhism is in Sanskrit. The one is comparatively small and simple; the other amazingly varied and voluminous. The canon of Southern scripture is called the Hinayana, the Little or Smaller Vehicle; the canon of Northern Buddhism is named the Mahayana or Great Vehicle. Possibly, also, besides the Southern and Northern Buddhisms, the Buddhism of Japan may be treated by itself and named Eastern Buddhism.
In the great council called in 242 B.C., by King Asoka, who may be termed the Constantine of Buddhism, the sacred texts were again chanted. It was not until the year 88 B.C. in Ceylon, six hundred years after Gautama, that the three Pitakas, Boxes or Baskets, were committed to writing in the Pali language. In a word, Buddhism knows nothing of sacred documents or a canon of scripture contemporary with its first disciples.
The splendid Buddhist age of India lasted nearly a thousand years, and was one of superb triumphs in civilization. It was an age of spiritual emancipation, of freedom from idol worship, of nobler humanity and of peace.12 It was followed by the Puranic epoch and the dark ages. Then Buddhism was, as some say, "driven out" from the land of its birth, finding new expansion in Eastern and Northern Asia, and again, a still more surprising development in the ultima-Thule of the Asiatic continent, Japan. There is now no Buddhism in India proper, the faith being represented only in Ceylon and possibly also on the main land, by the sect of the Jains, and peradventure in Persia by Babism which contains elements from three religions.13 Like Christianity, Buddhism was "driven out" of its old home to bless other nations of the world. It is probably far nearer the truth to say that Buddhism was never expelled from India, but rather that it died by disintegration and relapse.14 It had become Brahmanism again. The old gods and the old idol-worship came back. It is in Japan that the ends of the earth, eastern and western civilization, and the freest and fullest or at least the latest developments of Christianity and of Buddhism, have met.
In its transfer to distant lands and its developments throughout Eastern Asia, the faith which had originated in India suffered many changes. Dividing into two great branches, it became a notably different religion according as it moved along the southern, the northern, or the eastern channel. By the vehicle of the Pali language it was carried to Ceylon, Siam, Burma, Cambodia and the islands of the south; that is, to southern or peninsular and insular Asia. Here there is little evidence of any striking departure from the doctrines of the Pali Pitakas; and, as Southern Buddhism does not greatly concern us in speaking of the religions of Japan, we may pass it by. For although the books and writings belonging to Southern Buddhism, and comprehended under the formula of the Hinayana or Smaller Vehicle, have been studied in China, Korea and Japan, yet they have had comparatively little influence upon doctrinal, ritualistic, or missionary development in Chinese Asia.
Astonishingly different has been the case with the Northern Buddhisms which are those of Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, Manchuria, China, Korea and Japan. As luxuriant as the evolutions of political and dogmatic Christianity and as radical in their departures from the primitive simplicity of the faith, have been these forms of Buddhist doctrine, ritual and organization. We cannot now dwell upon the wonderful details of the vast and complicated system, differing so much in various countries. We pass by, or only glance at, the philosophy of the Punjaub; the metaphysics of Nepal—with its developments into what some writers consider to be a close approach to monotheism, and others, indeed, monotheism itself; the system of Lamaism in Tibet, which has paralleled so closely the development of the papal hierarchy; the possibly two thousand years' growth and decay of Chinese Buddhism; the varieties of the Buddhism of Mongolia—almost swamped in the Shamanistic superstitions of these dwellers on the plains; the astonishing success, quick ripening, decay, and almost utter annihilation, among the learned and governing classes, of Korean Buddhism;15 and study in detail only Eastern or Japanese Buddhism.
We shall in this lecture attempt but two things:
I. A summary of the process of thought by which the chief features of the Northern Buddhisms came into view.
II. An outline of the story of Japanese Buddhism during the first three centuries of its existence.
|Written By William Elliot Griffis|
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