THE DAWN AND SPREAD OF BUDDHISM
Ven. B. Ananda Maitreya Thero
Vol. III, No. 3, 1956
Sukho Buddhanam Uppado
(THE APPEARANCE OF THE BUDDHAS IS A BLESSING)
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammasambuddhassa
Our Bodhisatta, the Prince Siddhattha of the noble Sakya race, seeing the sorrows, sufferings and tribulations of the world, was disgusted with worldly life and consequently, leaving behind all his regal pleasures, went forth from home to homelessness. For the purpose of finding a way out of all misery, He wandered from place to place, from teacher to teacher. In His wanderings, He met many ascetic teachers—Bhaggava, Alara, Uddaka and the like. Rut none of them could satisfy him. At last He went to Uruvela, to an abode of ascetics on the bank of the River Neranjara and thereat practised austere asceticism to its very highest extent, which too He gave up, seeing its utter futility. Hut after the investigations and experiences of these six long years, gleams and glimmerings of wisdom dawned on Him and by His own experiences, by His own effort, by using His own reasoning power, not aided by anybody else, He discovered the Path to Perfect Wisdom. He trod this path and ere long, on a Vesak full-moon day in the 35th year from his birth, He attained to the Supreme Enlightenment, the perfect realisation of Truth, the Anuttara Samma-sambodhi. Thereafter, experiencing the Bliss of Emancipation (Vimutti-sukha patisamvedi), He spent seven weeks near about the Assattha Tree. Then, seeing that it was the time for the establishment of the Kingdom of Righteousness (Dhamma-cakkam pavattitum), He wended His way to Isipatana, the Deer Park near Benares. There on the full- moon day of the month of Asalhi (July) He delivered His first sermon to the five ascetics Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama, and Assaji. Thus the Law of Actuality, the Law of Cause and Effect, the incomparable doctrine of four great Truths dawned on the world and the sun of Truth rose up after the millions of years of darkness.
The five ascetics appreciated the Dhamma expounded by the Buddha. They lived up to it and ere long attained Arahatship (Perfect realisation of Truths). Next, a youth named Yasa, the son of a millionaire, tired of worldly pleasures, came to the Buddha, listened to Him and became His disciple. His example was followed by 54 of his friends, who too came and joined the Buddha as His disciples. All of these disciples followed the path expounded by the Buddha and attained to Arahatship. Now, including the Buddha, there were 61 Arahats in the world. At this time, the Buddha called all His 60 disciples together and said, "I am free, O Bhikkhus, and you too are free of all mental intoxicants (Asavas). Go ye now, O Bhikkhus, from place to place for the good of the many, for the benefit of mankind, for the welfare of the world. Expound O Bhikkhus, the Truth glorious in the beginning, glorious in the middle, and glorious in the end. Proclaim to them, O Bhikkhus, a life of Holiness. Two of you should not take the same road. I too will go to Uruvela to expound the Dhamma ". With these words the Buddha started the very first religious mission of the world's history and thus sent out His 60 disciples to different parts of Jambudipa, and He too left for Uruvela. On the way, the Buddha met a picnic party of 30 princes known as Bhaddavaggiyas. All of them appreciated his teachings and became His disciples. Sending them too, out to spread the glad tidings of the appearance of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, the Buddha went alone to Uruvela and there He revealed His teachings to a band of ascetics numbering about 1,500. They were all deeply impressed with His teachings and discarding their previous views and beliefs, joined Him as His disciples.
In this way, the Buddha, for about 45 years, travelled far and wide, preaching the sublime Dhamma and leading mankind on the path of Righteousness. Wherever He went and preached He was honoured and respected. Khattiyas (the members of the ruling class) Brahmins (the members of the priestly class), ascetics, philosophers, millionaires, peasants and even the very poor outcastes followed Him. The very year He began His noble mission, the number of His converts marvelously increased. No other religion in the world spread so fast as the Dhamma of the Buddha during the very lifetime of its promulgator.
How is it that Buddhism appealed so much to the majority of people of that time? This is a question one might well ask. India, certainly was not in a degraded condition. There were great thinkers, revered leaders, powerful rulers, and great exponents of the Law. There was freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and all teachers were allowed to set forth their views. Many were the deep thinkers who had renounced the pleasures of the flesh in order to find a way that would lead to emancipation from all kinds of sufferings. That being the case, like mushrooms after rain, there sprang up various religious teachers and philosophers. Summing up all of their views and beliefs, the Buddha delivered on various occasions such discourses as the Brahmajala-sutta, Mahatitthayatana-sutta, Mula-pariyaya-sutta and the like. The ground being thus already prepared, only the seed had to be sown. In such a land and at such a time, the Law of Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta could easily be comprehended by the hearers who paid careful attention and listened without any bias or prejudice.
In those days, throughout the whole of India, caste distinction played an important part in life. The Khattiyas (the members of the ruling class) were proud of their lineage, and thought little of the members of the so-called inferior classes. The same was the case with the Brahmins and others. The Vedas, the religious books of the Brahmins excluded those who were regarded as belonging to the lowest class. The bowls, the cups, the pots and whatever things were used by the Brahmins were not allowed even to be touched by the men of' inferior castes. Men of inferior classes were generally regarded as servants or slaves of the men of higher rank.
In such an age the Buddha's sympathy for the poor and the down-trodden was one thing that moved and won the hearts of the people who had any philanthropic bent of mind. As, for instance, once the Buddha was going round for alms in the city of Kapila-vatthu. His father, King Suddhodana, heard of it and considered it an insult to his Sakya race, and being excited, he hurried to the Buddha and exclaimed, "Why do you, my son, thus shame me? " And the Buddha replied, "It is the custom of my race." Prompt was the King's answer; "How can this be ? You are a descendant of the kings of the highest Sakya race. None of your forefathers ever begged for food ". Thereupon the Buddha said, "But, O great king, My descent is from the Buddhas of old. They, as I do now, lived on alms that were offered on their alms-round." This event indicates the Buddha's attitude towards men. Further, the Buddha never cared for distinctions of rank, family or caste, but preached and helped all alike. He severely attacked the stinking pride which emanated from greatness of caste, and showed them that the distinctions of caste were meaningless and that they only added to the confusion of the world. He welcomed as His disciples even the meanest Candala (outcaste) as well as the prince of' the highest rank. His logical discourses were the strongest blow ever given to the pride of birth of Khattiyas and Brahmins. He pointed out that it was not by caste that a man might become high or noble but by his moral character. When He admonished his hearers to lead a righteous life, He did not merely preach it, but gave living examples from His present and past lives. Hence the Dhamma that He expounded in this most sympathetic and practical way was quickly accepted by His bearers.
The second and the chief cause of the Buddha's success lay in the sublime moral lessons He bad taught them. Sacrifice of animals, prayer and worship to gods for salvation and the practice of austere asceticism were indicated by Him to be utterly useless. He taught that such mean things as killing, stealing, unlawful sexual intercourse, falsehood, slandering, the use of harsh words, gossip, covetousness, malice, wrong belief—these all spoil a man. To shun all evil, to purify one's character by walking along the righteous path and to purge one's mind of all its blemishes— these are the things He always laid much emphasis on. The most striking feature of the Buddha's teachings was that it did not put value upon speculations about" the unknown". He said, "The Tathagata is free from speculations". The starting point of His teachings was the fact of the existence of Suffering (Dukkha) or the unsatisfactoriness of the whole phenomenal universe we experience. His Teachings stand on the firm rock of the four great truths, the existence of suffering, the cause of suffering, the release from suffer sing, and the way that leads to freedom from suffering. Reason is the criterion of truth, He taught. When He visited the village of Kalamas, the villagers came to him and said that some recluses and Brahmins now and then visited their village and preached diverse doctrines, each one putting up his own and disparaging the other's, and that they were therefore very much confused and did not know which to accept and which to reject. Thereupon the Buddha said to them, "Don't believe, O Kalamas, a thing merely because it has been handed down by tradition. Don't believe a mere rumour. Don't believe a thing merely because it is spoken of by many or merely because it is found in one's scriptures,... But if you see its value through your own experience, through your own reasoning, unbiased and unprejudiced, then only accept and follow it". Thus the Buddha wanted every one to inquire, to experience and then to be honestly convinced and then to follow it. All recourse to a Providence, to a divine authority was rejected by him. He drew a clear distinction between the mere belief of a thing and the knowledge of the truth. Further, He did not deal with the problems which had no practical bearing upon one's life. He taught that every man was his own saviour. He expounded to them that the practice of right conduct, the mind culture and the intellectual grasp of truth of Anicca (Impermanence), Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness of all component things) and Anatta (the fact that nowhere is an ego- entity) would make oneself one's saviour. The Buddha, pointing out this path of self-reliance and self-support, included within it all the essentials that would make a man good, serene and free.
Thus the sublime teachings of the Buddha were sufficiently great and sufficiently broad to suit the needs of the thinkers of those days so that He easily won a large number of followers every day. The third cause of His great success was the greatness of His personality. He had become a Buddha, of good stature, well-grown and beautiful to behold. His eloquence overwhelmed the hearers and made dumb the famous orators and philosophers who came to argue with Him publicly. Even His gesture was an example to those who saw Him. He was, in nature, graceful and gracious, lovable and pleasing. His mere kind, saintly and serene look was quite sufficient to relieve His visitors of their anguishes and distresses. His noble mien and purity of thought and excellent character won for Him the respect even of His enemies. Possessed as He was of such a personal magnetism, attributes of a Buddha, it is no wonder that thousands were drawn to Him every day.
On account of these three main causes, day by day the number of His followers increased. Throughout the greater part of North India, during His very lifetime, His Dhamma was firmly established, and later it spread even beyond the boundaries of that land.
Now we come to the days after the passing away of the Buddha. During the second century after the demise of the Buddha a mighty ruler, Asoka by name, embraced Buddhism. Before he became a Buddhist, he had been a cruel and bloodthirsty tyrant. But after his conversion his cruelty changed into kindness, and he did his best to make his people righteous and happy. Geofry Mortimer, a writer in the West, writes of Asoka thus "Turn to Buddhism, and you will read that Asoka not only preached a lofty morality but exercised the power of kingship in a manner that shames our modern Christian sovereigns. This monarch was not a mere ornamental potentate. He caused the building of hospitals, reclaimed barren lands and planted them with medicinal plants and fruit-bearing trees. Asoka was just and kind to his subject races. He was a humanitarian, an example of religious tolerance, and a wise and charitable man. India has known no worthier ruler
This monarch Asoka realising the value of the Buddha-Sasana, worked earnestly for its spread throughout the lands even beyond India, and at the instruction of the Maha Thera Moggaliputta-tissa, he sent Buddhist missionaries to distant countries. He sent his son, the Thera Mahinda and daughter, the Thera Sanghamitta to Ceylon and two Theras, Sona and Uttara to Suvanna-bhumi. In this manner, he sent many Mahatheras to 14 nations in Asia and to five Greek kings. We can learn this in detail from various sources, from the Samanta-pasadika, the commentary to Vinaya, from the Dipavamsa and the Mahavamsa and also from his rock edicts. In his edicts we read the names of those Greek kings: Antigonus of Macedonia, Antiochus of Syria, Ptolemy of Egypt, Magas of Cyrene and Alexander of Epiros. Thus it was two centuries before Christianity arose that Buddhism had been established and was a living force in Asia-Minor and Egypt. We see that many Buddhist ideas are found among Christians.
Dr. Bunsen, Seydyll, Arthur Lillie and some other western scholars maintain that Christian legends and traditions, forms, institutions and moral precepts are based on Buddhism. It is certain that Buddhist missionaries, sent to the Greek kings, had established and spread Buddhism there and it may be presumed that many of the ideas presented by them were incorporated into the later religion, Christianity. Before and even during the days of Jesus Christ, as History says, there were in Egypt two religious sects called Esseni and Samanaoi. They were, in very many ways, similar to the Buddhists in China of two different sects. The term" Samanaoi" is perhaps a derivation of the Pali word "Samana" which means a recluse. Prof. Petrie, in his work on the religions of Egypt (pp. 92, 93) says that through the missionaries sent by Asoka, Buddhism had been established in Egypt and that the monks of Seraphium illustrated an idea that had been unknown in the West, and that until a monk of Seraphis called Pachiomos in Upper Egypt became a Christian monk in the reign of Constantine, that system continued.
There is a tradition that the missionaries sent by the Emperor Asoka visited not only Palestine, Egypt and Macedonia but also Latvia. Again, during the reign of Mongolian Emperors, Genghis Khan, Oghatai and Kublai Khan, Buddhist missionaries travelled as far as Austria and preached the Buddha Dhamma. Buddhism existed in some forms in parts of those countries until they were attacked by the Knights of the Sword, a German Order of Christian missionaries who mercilessly killed thousands of Buddhists and took the severest measures to suppress them.
Though Buddhism had totally disappeared from Persia, Afghanistan and Baluchistan there is historical evidence to prove that it lived once in those countries. We read in The Buddhist Records of the Western World, the description of the travels of the famous Chinese pilgrim Yuanchuan, that he saw some Buddhist monasteries in Persia with several hundreds of Buddhist Monks who wee studying Buddhism.
In Afghanistan, the Jalalabad valley was once a seat of Buddhism and was then called "Nava-Vihara" (the nine monasteries). In 1872, Dr. Bellow found a relic with a huge bowl in a stupa some paces away from the ruined city of Gandharan. In those very regions, a number of Buddhist statues and Stupas have been found later and it is believed that they are the works of the days of King Kaniska. Fahien, a Chinese pilgrim of the fifth century has mentioned in his records of his travels that he had seen a number of Buddhist topes in that area, the ruins of which are still to be seen.
Thus it is evident that through the whole of western Asia, Egypt and some parts of eastern Europe, Buddhism was once a living force.
As regards China, it was during the first century G.E. that Buddhism reached there for the first time. One of the Chinese historians says that the Emperor Mingti dreamt in form, his countenance bright as the sun, sitting cross-legged in the sky. And on the next morning, his brother hearing of this dream interpreted it that the person he dreamt of was probably Sakya Muni whose Dhamma was then flourishing in India and central Asia. Then the Emperor, his zeal roused, lost no time in sending an embassy to India. At the request of the Chinese Emperor there came to China, the Maha Theras Kassapa, Matanga, and Subharana. They brought with them relics and images of the Buddha and Buddhist Scriptures. Thus was Buddhism introduced into China during the first century C.E. Then, time after time Indian Bhikkhus went to China and were engaged in teaching and translating the Dhamma into Chinese. There have been now found Chinese translations not only of Mahayana but also of the Tipitakas of the Buddhists. Recently they have found there a Chinese version of Samantapasadika, the Vinaya-commentary of the Thera Buddhaghosa and another called Vimutti-magga.
As regards Tibet, Buddhism was introduced during the reign of King Srong Tsar Gampa, who invited the teachers of Dhamma from India and Nepal, and soon the whole country embraced Buddhism. Then before long, more than one hundred learned monks came to Tibet from India, Ceylon and Nepal, and they were given by the king every possible help and support to translate the Tipitakas into the Tibetan language. Before Buddhism reached Tibet the state religion was a faith called Bon. After some time Buddhism in Tibet became mixed with this Bon religion and the Tantric part of Brahmanism and consequently now we find there a corrupt form of Buddhism in existence.
In the second half of the second century C.E., Buddhism was brought to Korea from China and it soon flourished there. In the third century C.E. in the days of King Ojin, some emigrants from Korea went to Japan and took their Buddhism with them. Then in the middle of the same century, a band of Bhikkhus came to Japan from Korea and worked with zeal to spread Buddhism. Though at first the king and his ministers moved heaven and earth to suppress Buddhism, their efforts were futile. In 593 C.E. Empress Shinko recognised Buddhism and thenceforth, with out any opposition, it spread throughout the whole of Japan.
It was the two Theras Sona and Uttara, sent by King Asoka, who introduced is some evidence of a much earlier introduction. From Burma it was taken to Siam about 639 G.E. by a band of monks headed by Kassapa Maha Thera. Therefrom it reached Cambodia and the Malay Peninsula.
With the dawn of the 20th century, an age of reason, Buddhism has again found its way to almost all the civilised lands. It was in the l9th century that the West began to search for Buddhism. But, unfortunately, what first came within their reach was an impure form mingled with very many superstitious ideas of other faiths such as the Vedanta, Bon religion, Shintoism, Taoism, and Confucianism.
In the middle of the 19th century, the books of the pure Theravada Buddhism were brought to the West and the Dhammapada was the first work translated into a foreign language. It was translated into Latin by Dr. Fausboll in 1888, and then into English, French, German, Italian, and some other European languages.
In 1881 the Pali Text Society was founded by Dr. Rhys Davids, and the translation of Pali books was started. Though some Christian missionaries had misled the West with their incorrect translations of some portions of Pali books and wilful misinterpretations of Buddhism, the seekers after the Dhamma of the Omniscient Buddha increased in number year by year. The West yearned for Buddhism, and its attractive power was so strong that some even came to Burma and Ceylon to learn Pali with a view to obtain a first hand knowledge of the Dhamma. Many of these seekers even became Buddhist monks later on. Some of their names, I believe, are familiar to most of you. I may here mention some of them ; Venerable Nanatiloka, Venerable Punna, Venerable Dhammanusari, the late Venerable Subhadra, Venerable Vappa the late venerable Nyana Bruhana (Dr. Bruno), all of them Germans the Venerable Sunnananda, a Dutch Bhikkhu, the late Venerable Ananda Metteya. an English Bhikkhu and the late Bhikkhu Silacara, a Scotchman.
In the year 1908 the Buddhist Society of Great Britain and Ireland was founded by the late Ven. Ananda Metteya (Allan Bennet), and among its members were the Rt. Hon. The Earl of Maxborough, The Hon. Eric. C.F. Collier, Or. Edmond, A.J. Mills— all of them were good Buddhists—and many other distinguished scholars. In that very year, a European scholar entered the Buddhist Order under the name Visuddhacara. It was in this same year that a Buddhist monthly was begun at Leipzig in Germany.
At the end of 1908, a Christian missionary, Rev. E. G. Stevenson, in the course of his mission work, came to Burma and studied Buddhism. Subsequently he became a Buddhist monk and was known as the Ven. Sasanadhaja. Later he joined the Ven. Ananda Metteya in his Buddhist propaganda work. In 1909 the membership of the Buddhist Society of Great Britain and Ireland increased to 300, anda quarterly journal "The Buddhist Review" was started. During these days, Mr. M.A. Stephen, an archaeologist, after three years' investigation, discovered a large number of manuscripts in Central Asia, in Khotan, which contained the history of Buddhism up to the 50th year of the Buddhist era and about 4,000 Buddhist manuscripts that lay hidden in a cave.
In the same year a Christian missionary, Spurgen Medhurst, who was preaching Christianity in China, studied Buddhism and became a convert. He too subsequently became a Buddhist monk, and came to Ceylon and gave many lectures in various places. In one of his lectures he explained how he had become a Buddhist, and said "I came to teach Asia, but they taught me ". Here we see the prophecy of Schopenhauer, the German philosopher, fulfilled, who, warning the Christian missionaries that departed from the Christian West for the Buddhist East, had said, " Now you go as teachers to teach them, but will return home, being taught ".
Thenceforth Buddhism was quicker than before on its path of progress and a number of Buddhist leaders and propagandists appeared in the West. Among them Sylvan Levi in France, Dr. Paul Dahlke, and Dr. Grimm in Germany, Carl E. Neumann in Austria, Mr. F.J. Payne, Capt. Rolleston and many others in England. Some time later there arose two Buddhist societies in England—one the Maha Bodhi Society founded by the late Anagarika Dhammapala and the other the Buddhist Lodge founded by Mr. Humphreys, both having monthly magazines " The British Buddhist" and "Buddhism in England" respectively. Later " The British Buddhist" was discontinued. The latter one however, under a different name" The Middle Way" took a new course and still continues.
Thanks to the workers in the field of Buddhist propaganda today, there have now arisen in many countries various Buddhist centres, which are successfully doing service for the spread of Buddha-Sasana very earnestly.
Now, it seems, in every Buddhist country, there is a new awakening for the propagation of the Dhamma. It is a pleasure to hear that the Buddha-Sasana Council has taken new steps to train a good number of Bhikkhus as Buddhist missionaries to be sent to foreign countries. Immediately after the Third Sangayana the Emperor Dhammasoka, at the instruction of Arahant Moggaliputta, sent out Buddhist missionaries to various countries to propagate Buddhism. In exactly the same way, not long after this Sixth Sangayana, I hope, this Buddha-Sasana Council may send out to other countries a number of learned Theras to enlighten the world with the light of the sublime Dhamma.
I hope the year 2500 B.E. is a junction at which Buddhism will make a new start to rise up and spread all over the world, and before long, it will take the whole world under its banner of peace and universal love.
Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!
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