Item Code: NAC395
Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd, Delhi
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On being asked to contribute a volume of translations from the Pali Suttas to the important series of which this work forms a part, the contributor has to fare the difficulty of choosing from the stores of a nearly unknown literature— a difficulty arising from the embarrassment, not of poverty, but of wealth. I have endeavoured to make such a choice as would enable me to bring together into one volume a collection of texts which should be as complete a sample as one volume could afford of what the Buddhist scriptures, on the whole, contain. With this object in view I have refrained from confining myself to the most interesting books —those, namely, which deal with the Noble Eightfold Path, the most essential, the most original, and the most attractive part of Gotama’s teaching; and I have chosen accordingly, besides the Sutta of the Foundation of the Kingdom of Righteousness (the Dhamma-kakka –ppavattana-Sutta), which treats of the Noble Path, six others which treat of other sides of the Buddhist system; less interesting perhaps in their subject matter, but of no less historical value.
These are -
1. The Book of the Great Decease (the Mahqparinibbana-Suttanta), which is the Buddhist representative of what, among the Christians, is called a Gospel.
2. The Foundation of the Kingdom of Righteousness (the Dhamma-kakka-ppavattana-Sutta), containing the Four Noble Truths, and the Noble Eightfold Path which ends in Arahatship.
3. The Discussion on Knowledge of the Three Vedas (the Tevigga- Suttanta), which is a controversial dialogue on the right method of attaining to a state of union with Brahma.
4. The Sutta entitled ‘If he should desire—(Akankheyya-Sutta), which shows in the course of a very beautiful argument some curious ides of early Buddhist mysticism and of curiously unjustified belief.
5. The Treatise on Barrenness and Bondage (the Ketoknila-Suttawhich treats of the Buddhist Order of Mendicants, from the moral, as distinguished from the disciplinary, point of view.
6. The Legend of the Great King of Glory (the Maha-sudassana-Suttanta), which is an example of the way in which previously existing legends were dealt with by the early Buddhists.
7. The Sutta entitled ‘All the Asavas’ (the Sabbasava-Sutta), which explains the signification of a constantly recurring technical term, and lays down the essential principles of Buddhist Agnosticism.
The Discipline of the Buddhist Mendicants, the Rules of their Order—probably the most influential, as it is the oldest, in the world—wili be fully described, down to its minutest details, in the translation of the Vinaya Pitaka, which will appropriately form a subsequent part of this Series of Translations of the Sacred Books of the East. There was therefore no need to include any Sutta on this subject in the present volume: hut of the rest of the matters discussed in the Buddhist Sacred Books—of Buddhist legend, gospel, controversial theology, and ethics— the works selected will I trust give a correct and adequate, if necessarily a somewhat fragmentary, idea.
The age of these writings can be fixed, without much uncertainty, at about the latter end of the fourth or the beginning of the third century before the commencement of the Christian era. This is the only hypothesis which seems, at present, to account for the facts known about them. It should not however be looked upon as anything more than a good working hypothesis to be accepted until all the texts of the Buddhist Pali Suttas shall have been properly edited. For it depends only on the fact that one of the texts now translated contains several statements, and one very significant silence, which afford ground for chronological argument. That argument amounts only to probability, no. to certainly; and it might scarcely be worth while to put it forward were it not that the course of the enquiry will be found to raise several questions of very considerable interest.
The significant silence to which I refer occurs in the account of the death of Gotama at, the end of the Mahaparinibbána-Sutta’; and I cannot do better than quote Dr. Oldenberg’s remarks upon it at p. xxvi of the able Introduction to his edition of the text of the Mha-vagga.
‘The Tradition regarding the Councils takes up the thread of the story where the accounts of the life and work of Buddha, given in the Sutta Pitaka, end. Aster the death of the Master—so it is related in the Kulla-vagga—Subhadda, the last disciple converted by Buddha shortly before his death, proclaimed “iews which threatened the dissolution of the community.
“Do not grieve, do not lament,” he is said to have said to the believers, “It L well that we have been relieved of the Great Master’s presence. We were oppressed by him when he said, ‘This is permitted to you, this is not permitted.’ In future we can do as we like, and not do as we do not like.”
‘In opposition to Subhadda,—the tradition goes on to relate,—there came forward one of the most distinguished and oldest of Buddha’s disciples, the great Kassapa, who proposed that five hundred of the most eminent members of the community should assemble at Ragagaha, the royal residence of the ruler of Magadha, in order to collect the Master’s precepts in an authentic form. It has already been said above, how, during the seven months’ sitting of the assembly, Kassapa as president fixed the Vinaya with the assistance of Upali, and the Dhamma with the assistance of Ananda.
‘This is the story as it has come down to us. What we have here before is not history, but pure invention; and, moreover, an invention of no very recent date. Apart from internal reasons that might be adduced to support this, we are able to prove it by comparing another text which is older than this story, and the author of which cannot yet have known it. I allude to the highly important Sutta, which gives an account of the death of Buddha, and the Pali text of which has recently been printed by Professor word for word the same as in the Kulla-vagga- of the irreverent conduct of Subhadda, which Kassapa opposes by briefly pointing to the true consolation that should support the disciples in their separation from the Master. Their follow the account of the burning of Buddha’s corpse and cities, and of the festivals which were instituted in honour of these relics. Everything that the legend of the First Council alleges as a motive for, and as the background to, the story about Kassapa’s proposal for holding the Council, is found here altogether, except that there is no allusion to the proposal itself, or to the Council. We here of those speeches of Subhadda, which, according to the later tradition, led Kassapa to make his proposal, but we do not here anything of the proposal itself. We hear of the great assembly that meets for the distribution of Buddha’s relics, in which-according to the later tradition – Kassapa’s proposal was agreed to, but we do not hear anything of these transactions. It may be added that we hear in this same Sutta of the precepts which Buddha delivered to his follows shortly before his death, concerning doubts and differences of opinion that might arise, among the members of the community, with regard to the Dhamma and the Vinaya, and with regard to the treatment of such cases when he should no longer be with them. If anywhere, we should certainly have expected to find here some allusion to the great authentic depositions of Dhamma and Vinaya after Buddha’s death, which, according to the general belief of Buddhists, established a firm standard according to which differences could be judged and have bee1i judged through many centuries. There is not the slightest trace of any such allusion to the Council. This silence is as valuable as the most direct testimony. It shows that the author of the Mahaparinibbana-Sutta did not know anything of the First Council.’
The only objection which it seems to me possible to raise against this argument is that the conclusion is worded somewhat too absolutely; and that it is rather a begging of the question to state, in the very first words referring to the Mahaparinibbana-Sutta, that it is older than the story in the Kulla-vagga, and that its author could not have known that work. But no one will venture to dispute the accuracy of Dr. Oldenberg’s representation of the facts on which he bases his conclusion; and the conclusion that he draws is, at least, the easiest and readiest vary of explaining the very real discrepancy that he has pointed out. We shall be quite safe if we only say that we have certain facts which lend strong probability to the hypothesis that the author of the Mahaparinibbana-Sutta did not know that account of the First Council which we find in the Kulla-vagga.
We do not know for certain the time at which that part of the Kulla-vagga, in which that account occurs, was composed. I think it quite possible that it was as late as the Council of Patna (B. C. 250), though Dr. Oldenberg places it somewhat earlier’. But even if we put the conclusion of the Kulla-vagga as late as the year I have mentioned, it is still in the highest degree improbable that the Mahaparinibbana-Sutta, supposing it to be an older work, can have been composed very much later than lie fourth century B. c.—a provisional date sufficient at present for practical purposes.
This conclusion, however, is only almost, and not quite certain. It is just possible that the author of the Book of the Great Decease omitted all mention of the First Council at Ragagaha, not because he did not know of it, but because he considered it unnecessary to mention an event which nad no bearing on the subject of his work. He was describing the death of the Buddha and no the history of the Canon or of the Order.
I must confess however that I only mention this as a possibility from a desire rather to understate than to overstate my case. For, firstly, it should be remembered that the writer does not merely omit to mention an occurrence subsequent to and unconnected with the Great Decease. He does more: he gives an account of the Subhadda incident which is inconsistent and irreconcilable with the legend or narrative of the Ragagaha Council as related in the Kulla-vagga. Had that narrative, as we now have it, been received in his time among the Brethren, he would scarcely have done this.
And, secondly, he does not after all, close his book, ac he might well have done, with the Great Decease itself. It will be seen from the translation below’ that there was a point in his narrative, the exclamations of sorrow at the death of the Buddha, which would have formed, had he desired to omit all unnecessary details, a very fitting conclusion to his narrative. The Book of the Great King of Glory, the Maha-sudassana-Sutta, closes with the very exclamation our author puts, at this point, into the mouth of Sakka. The Maha-parinibana was then over, and the Mata-parinibbana-Sutta might have then been closed. But he goes on and describes in detail the cremation, the distribution of the relics, and the feasts celebrated in their honour. It is not necessary for my point to show that it was in the least degree unnatural to do so. It is sufficient to be able to point out that the author having done so,— having gone on to the arrival of Kassapa, who was afterwards (in the Kulla-vagga) said to have held the Council; having mentioned the very incident which, according to the other narrative, gave rise to the holding of the Council and having referred to events which took place after the Council,—it is scarcely a tenable argument to say that he, knowing of it, did not refer, even incidentally and in half a sentence, to so important an event, simply because it did not come, necessarily, within the subject of his work. And when we find that in other works on the death of the Buddha, referred to below, the account of the Council of Ragagaha has, in fact, been included in the story, it is difficult to withhold our assent to the very great probable of the hypothesis, that it would have beet1 included also in the Pali Book of the Great Decease had the belief in the tradition of the Council been commonly held at the time when that book was put into its present shape. At the same time we must hold ourselves quite prepared to learn that some other explanation may turn out to be possible. The argument, if it applied to writers of the nineteenth century, would be conclusive. But we knew too little about the mode in which the Pali Pitakas were composed to presume at present to be quite certain.
The Maha-parinibbana-Sutta was then probably composed before the account if the First Council of Ragagaha in the concluding part of the Kulla-vagga. It was also almost certainly composed after Pataliputta, the modern Patna, had become the capital city of the kingdom of Magadha; after the worship of relics had become common in the Buddhist church; and after the rise of a general belief in the Kakkavatti theory, in the ideal of a sacred king, a supreme overlord in India.
The first of these last three arguments depends on the prophecy placed in Gotama’s mouth as to the future greatness of Pataliputta a prophecy found in the Maha-vagga as well as in the Maha-parinibbana-Sutta. It is true that the guess may actually have been made, and that it required no great boldness to hazard a conjecture so vaguely expressed. The words simply are-
‘And among famous places of residence and haunts of busy men, this will become the chief, the city of Pataliputta, a center for interchange of all kinds of wares. But there will happen three disasters to Pataliputta, one of fir; and one of water, and one of dissension.
But it is, to say the least, improbable that the conjecture would nave been recorded until after the event had proved it to be accurate: and it would scarcely be too hazardous to maintain that the tradition of the guess having been made would not have arisen at all until after the event had occurred.
What was the event referred to may also be questioned, as the words quoted do not, in terms, declare that the city would become the actual capital. But we know, not only from Buddhist, but from Greek historians, that it did, and this is most probably the origin of the prophecy. Now the Malalankaravatthu, a Pali work of modern date, but following very closely the more ancient books, has been translated, through the Burmese, by Bishop Bigandet; and it says,
‘That monarch [Susunaga], not unmindful of his mother’s origin, re-established the city of Vesali, and fixed in it the royal residence. From that time Ragagaha lost her rank of royal city, which she never afterwards recovered. He died in 81? [that is, of the Buddhist era reckoned from the Great Decease] Relying on similar authority Bishop Bigandet afterwards himself says King Kalásoka left Ragagaha, and removed the seat of his empire to Palibothra [the Greek name for Pataliputta], near the place where the modern city of Patna stands,’
It would seem therefore that, according to the tradition followed by this writer, Susunaga first removed the capital to Vesali, and his successor Kalasoka who died, in the opinion of the writer in question, in us after the Great Decease, finally fixed it at Pataliputta.
If we therefore apply this date to the prophecy we must come to the conclusion that the Book of the Great Decease was put into its present form at least 1oo years after the Buddha’s death, and probably a little more. But the authority followed by Bishop Bigandet is very late; and no mention of these occurrences is found either in the Dipavamsa or in the Mahavamsa. I think indeed that the whole account of these two kings, as at present accepted in Ceylon and Birma, is open to grave doubt1 (in which connection it should be noticed that the oldest account of the Council of Vesali, in the Kulla-vagga, Book XII, makes no mention of Kalasoka).
We have next to consider the reference to the relics in the concluding sections of Chapter VI as a possible basis for chronological argument. These sections are almost certainly older than the time when especia1 sanctity was claimed for Buddhist dagabas on the ground: hat they contained particular relics of the Blessed One (such as a tooth, or the bowl, or the neck bone); for if such special relics were accepted as objects of worship when the Book of the Great Decease was put together, they would naturally have been mentioned in the course of Chapter VI.
It is even almost certain that when the sections were put into their present form no Buddhist dagaba was in existence except at the eight places mentioned in them; and the words are quite consistent with the belief that those eight had themselves then teased to have any very widespread and acknowledged sanctity. So in Chapter V, where four places are spoken of ‘which the believing man should visit with feelings of reverence and of awe,’ there is no mention of dagabas at all; and in Chapter V, & 16, it is clearly implied that only one dagaba, or memorial burial mound, should be erected in honour of a Tathagata, just as one memorial mound should be erected in honour of a king of kings.
|General Introduction to the Buddhist Suttas||ix|
|1.||The Book of the Great Decease (Maha-Parinibbana Suttanta)||xxix|
|2.||The Foundation of the Kingdom of Righteousness (Dhamma-Kakka-Ppavattana Sutta)||137|
|3.||On Knowledge of the Vedas (Tevigga Suttanta)||157|
|Translation (The Silas pp. 189-200)||167|
|4.||If the Should Desire (Akankheyya Sutta)||205|
|5.||Barrenness and Bondage (Ketokhila Sutta)||219|
|6.||Legend of the Great King of Glory (Maha-Sudas-sana Suttanta)||235|
|Introduction (Maha-Sudassana Gataka, pp. 238-241)||237|
|7.||All the Asavas (Sabbasava Sutta)||291|
|Transliteration of Oriental Alphabets adopted for the Translations of the Sacred Books of the East||317|