Yaw wliice)avaoyu)barelttall sibtelelaitsenl From Sakyamuni to Early Mahayana Hirakawa Akira SRA Translated and Esited by Paul Groner


Asian Studies at Hawaii, No. 36

A History of Indian Buddhism

From Sakyamuni to Early Mahayana

Hirakawa Akira Translated and Edited by Paul Groner


© 1990 University of Hawaii Press All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America

90 92 93 94 95 96 54321

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Hirakawa, Akira, 1915- [Indo Bukky6 shi. English] A history of Indian Buddhism : from Sakyamuni to Early Mahayana / Hirakawa Akira ; translated and edited by Paul Groner. p. cm. (Asian studies at Hawaii ; no. 36) Translation of: Indo Bukky6 shi. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 0-8248-1203-4 1. Buddhism—India—History. I. Groner, Paul. I. Title. III. Series. DS3.A2A82 no. 36 [BQ336] 950 s—dc20 [294.3’0954] 89-20647 CIP

University of Hawaii Press books are printed on acid-free paper and meet the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Council

on Library Resources.

a a ee ee i Ce ea a ea ee


Translator’s Preface Author’s Preface



Chapter 1. Chapter 2. Chapter 3. Chapter 4. Chapter 5. Chapter 6. Chapter 7.

Chapter 8. Chapter 9. Chapter 10.

Chapter 11.


Indian Religion at the Time of the Buddha

The Life of the Buddha

Early Buddhist Doctrine

The Organization of the Order

The Establishment of the Early Buddhist Canon The Development of the Buddhist Order

The Buddhism of King Asoka


The Development of Nikaya Buddhism Abhidharma Literature

The Organization of the Dharmas in the Abhidharma

Buddhist Cosmology and the Theory of Karma

vii XV XVil

105 127

139 170


Chapter 12. Karma and Avijiiapti-rapa Chapter 13. The Elimination of Defilements and Ss Path to Enlightenment


Chapter 14. The Evolution of the Order after Asoka

Chapter 15. Mahayana Texts Composed during the Kusana Dynasty

Chapter 16. The Origins of Mahayana

Chapter 17. The Contents of Early Mahayana Scriptures

Chapter 18. Theory and Practice in Early Mahayana Buddhism


Bibliographical Essay Bibliography





247 256 275 296

313 323 345 385


THE JAPANESE VERSION of this book, Indo Bukkyoshi, volume 1, was published by Shunjisha of Tokyo in 1974; volume 2, not included here, was published in 1979. When Hirakawa began work on it, he intended to write a handbook for students interested in the development of Bud- dhism across Asia that would serve as a useful guide to the basic issues in Buddhist doctrine, history, and bibliography. Although the project soon became much longer and had a narrower focus than he had origi- nally planned, it benefited in at least two ways from Hirakawa’s origi- nal intention. First, it is an exceptionally comprehensive discussion of Indian Buddhism, treating its history, doctrine, and bibliography with an admirable degree of completeness. Most of the significant topics in Indian Buddhism are discussed in some detail. Second, it is a very clearly written text. Because Hirakawa wrote it with students as the intended audience, he composed it in a style that could be readily understood by students and informed general readers.

The present volume is a translation of the first of Hirakawa’s two- volume history. It covers the period from Sakyamuni Buddha to Early Mahayana just before Nagarjuna and includes the periods on which Hirakawa did most of his own earlier research. From 1960 to 1968, he published three important studies on Buddhist institutions: Ritsuzod no kenkyu (A study of the Vinaya-pitaka), Gensht Bukkyo no kenkyu (A study of Early Buddhism), and Shoki Daijo Bukkyo no kenkyu (Studies in Early Mahayana Buddhism). These studies, all coming out of his interest in the vinaya, demonstrated his mastery of Indian Buddhist institutional history. This research was particularly important in his formulation of a


new theory of the rise of Mahayana. By focusing on the need to identify an institutional base from which Mahayana arose, Hirakawa argued that stipa worship and the formulation of Mahayana sets of precepts provided important evidence for the development of Mahayana Bud- dhism.

Besides these book-length studies, Hirakawa has written over 240 articles on various aspects of Buddhism. These cover a wide variety of issues, such as the usage of fundamental terms or the roles particular figures played in the Indian Buddhist tradition. The ideas advanced in many of these articles and the background research that went into them have been incorporated into this history.

Hirakawa has also been aware of the need for improved reference tools for scholars. He is currently supervising the compilation of a Chi- nese-Sanskrit Buddhist dictionary, a tool that will assist scholars in mak- ing better use of Chinese translations of Indian texts. He has also been an advocate of the use of computers in Buddhist studies. One of the ear- liest results of this interest was the publication of a detailed and comput- erized index of the articles in Indogaku Bukkyogaku kenkyu (Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies), one of the leading publications on Bud- dhism in Japan. His interest in reference tools also led to his supervision of a concordance of the Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese versions of Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakosa (Kusharon sakuin). Because the Abhidhar- makosa is one of the most systematic expositions of Buddhist doctrine ever composed, it has been an influential text across Asia, even among those who did not accept many of its positions. The doctrinal exposition of abhidharma thought in Hirakawa’s History of Indian Buddhism is based primarily on the Abhidharmakosa.

This volume thus incorporates Hirakawa’s mature views on subjects that he has studied in depth for several decades. It is published here as an independent work, giving an overall view of the first half of Indian Buddhist history. The second volume of Hirakawa’s history covers Indian Buddhism from Nagarjuna through Tantric Buddhism and the decline of Buddhism in India.

As Hirakawa notes in his preface, the understanding of the history of Indian Buddhism is an ongoing process that must be continually elabo- rated and revised as our knowledge of the subject expands. He thus sees his own work as being improved upon by subsequent histories of Indian Buddhism by both Japanese and Western scholars. Hirakawa’s histori- cal interpretation is representative of Indian Buddhism as it is viewed by many, but certainly not all, Japanese scholars. It also differs from the perspective of many Western authors who have written histories of Indian Buddhism. Three ways in which Hirakawa’s treatment differs


from most of the histories of Indian Buddhism written in English are elaborated below: (1) use of primary sources, (2) secondary scholarship consulted, and (3) comprehensive coverage.

First, English-language surveys of Indian Buddhism have relied pre- dominantly upon Sanskrit and Pali primary source materials, often ignoring important primary source materials available in Chinese and Tibetan translation. In contrast, Hirakawa has utilized materials from Chinese and Tibetan as well as Sanskrit and Pali. For example, English-language surveys have usually depended upon Pali materials for their presentation of Early Buddhism, mainly because these sources have been extensively studied by British, Indian, and Sri Lankan schol- ars as a result of Britain’s historical ties with South Asia. For similar reasons, abhidharma studies in English have usually concentrated on the Theravada tradition. Hirakawa has been able to use Chinese transla- _ tions of early Buddhist texts such as the dgamas and abhidharma texts to better place the Pali material in the context of Indian Buddhism as a whole. For example, in the field of abhidharma, Hirakawa places his emphasis on the development of the Sarvastivada tradition rather than on Theravada, primarily because the Sarvastivada material helps eluci- date later Mahayana developments. However, far from ignoring the Pali material, Hirakawa describes its place in the development of Indian Buddhism and uses it to provide a contrast with the Sarvastivada interpretations. In addition, Hirakawa has used the scant source mate- rial concerning the Mahasanghika and other schools to elucidate the role that these traditions played in the evolution of Indian Buddhism.

Many English-language surveys of Indian Buddhism rely primarily on undated Sansrit materials for much of their presentation of Maha- yana; Hirakawa has used these sources, but also has employed dated Chinese translations of Mahayana sources as well as inscriptions from archeological sites to present a much fuller description of the origin, development, and social setting of Mahayana. His treatment of later Mahayana developments in the second volume has benefited from the increasing use of Tibetan materials by Japanese scholars. ‘The impor- tance of Chinese and Tibetan materials is reflected in the chapters of Hirakawa’s work that discuss sources for the study of each period of Buddhism.

Second, Hirakawa has utilized secondary studies that have been ignored by many scholars who wrote in English. Modern Japanese scholars have published more on Buddhism than the rest of the world combined. A bibliography of journal articles on Buddhism published by Japanese authors between 1970 and 1983 includes almost four thousand entries on Indian Buddhism (Rydakoku daigaku Bukkydgaku kenkyi-


shitsu [ed.], Bukkyogaku kanket zasshi ronbun bunrui mokuroku [Kyoto: Nagata Bunshoéd6, 1986], vol. 4). Unfortunately, few of these studies are known to Western scholars working on Indian Buddhism. Hiraka- wa’s extensive reading of Japanese secondary scholarship is summa- rized in the History of Indian Buddhism. This work thus serves as more than a record of Hirakawa’s own views of Buddhism; along with Naka- mura Hajime’s Indian Buddhism, it introduces the Western audience to the issues that Japanese scholars have considered important and to some of their conclusions.

At times the subjects that attracted Japanese attention have differed from those upon which Western scholars concentrated. For example, topics such as Pure Land, Buddha-nature (tathagatagarbha), and the early development of Esoteric Buddhism receive much more emphasis in Hirakawa’s history than they have in English-language surveys, partly because these traditions played major roles in the development of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism. Western scholars often have under- estimated the importance of these traditions as they focused their atten- tion on the traditions that interested them. The numbers of Chinese translations of tathagatagarbha or Pure Land texts suggest that these top- ics may have played a more significant role in the development of Early Mahayana than some Western scholars have thought. In his discussion of Early Mahayana, Hirakawa traces these and other doctrinal themes back to early sources whenever possible, demonstrating the gradual evolution of many Mahay4ana positions.

Third, Hirakawa’s history maintains a better balance and is more comprehensive than many English-language histories. Earlier surveys of Indian Buddhism have generally emphasized either one aspect of Buddhism, such as Theravada, or one approach, such as Buddhist phi- losophy. Hirakawa’s history includes three types of discussions: histori- cal, bibliographical, and doctrinal. It also gives ample space to a num- ber of subjects that have not been adequately treated in most earlier surveys, particularly in the areas of abhidharma traditions other than Theravada and Sarvastivada, Mahayana devotionalism, and Esoteric Buddhist elements in Early Mahayana. Balance and comprehensive- ness are especially important in a survey because the author should dis- cuss connections between events and ideas that might be ignored i in nar- rower, more specialized studies. Hirakawa examines, the relations between movements in Buddhism, often tracing developments back to their origins in Early Buddhism.

In the past decade, English-language scholarship on Indian Bud- dhism has been evolving in ways that will remedy many of the problems indicated above. The study of Tibetan sources and the use of inscrip-


tions from archeological sites appear in increasing numbers of scholarly articles. Younger scholars are using Chinese and Tibetan primary sources, as well as French and Japanese secondary scholarship. The recent publizacon of an English translation of Etienne Lamotte’s His- toire du Bouddhisme Indien des origines a l’ére Saka will add immensely to the information available in English. If this translation of Hirakawa’s his- tory is useful in the evolution of Buddhist studies in the West, it will have served its purpose. oe a ee

Finally, a few comments about the translation are necessary. This translation follows Hirakawa’s text closely with several minor devia- tions. Hirakawa’s introduction has been adapted to fit the needs of a Western audience. The first two chapters have been combined, and sev- eral minor changes in the text have been made after discussions with Hirakawa.

Since Hirakawa’s history was originally intended as a general refer- ence for Japanese students, it is: not as heavily . annotated as the Western all of which have been included in a notes section i following the text, text, generally refer to secondary studies in Japanese. Occasionally a note has been added to clarify some aspect of the translation or to refer to a significant Japanese discussion of an issue. The text references refer to primary sources. Because Hirakawa included few references to primary sources in his original text, I have augmented these so that sources for direct quotations or references to specific passages have been indicated to make the text conform to Western styles of scholarship. Many of the added references have been included after consulting Hirakawa’s other writings and the studies to which he refers.

I have elected not to add extensive editorial notes discussing variant views on such s subjects as the biography of the Buddha, the rise of Mahayana, or the role that tathagatagarbha teachings played in Early Mahayana. Because the translation was intended to present Hirakawa’s writing a new book. However, to help the reader find discussions of some of these problems in Western languages, bibliographical notes for each chapter have been included in a bibliographical essay preceding the bibliography at the end of the book.

Hirakawa included a full bibliography of Japanese secondary works and mentioned a number of works in Western languages in the Japa- nese version of this book. I have translated the titles of the Japanese works in the Japanese bibliography at the end of the book. The number of Western-language works in the bibliography of related readings has been substantially augmented. I have also added to the bibliographical


essay short bibliographical comments for each chapter consisting of notes about both primary and secondary sources the reader might con- sult for additional information or other views. For additional refer- ences, the reader should refer to Frank Reynolds’ Guide to the Buddhist Religion for English-language sources or to Nakamura Hajime’s Indian Buddhism: A Survey with Bibliographical Notes for Japanese sources.

The titles of primary source texts have generally been given in both their Chinese and Sanskrit pronunciation at their first appearance; this choice was made to emphasize the importance of Chinese sources in the history. However, after the first occurrence, I have usually only given the Sanskrit title to keep the text from becoming too cumbersome. I have also added the Taishé number, a reference to the Chinese canon, to texts available in Chinese to aid the reader in identifying the text and as a reminder that many of the texts are available in dated Chinese trans- lations. Because the Sanskrit titles of works preserved in Chinese are sometimes problematic, I have adopted the convention used in the Hobogirin: Répertoire du Canon bouddhique sino-japonaise of placing an aster- isk (*) after the Sanskrit title if it is based on a Sanskrit or Pali work, a number sign (#) if it is based on a reconstruction from Tibetan, and a question mark (?) if the reconstruction is doubtful. When a Sanskrit or Pali work is being referred to, no annotation is given after the title.

In discussions of Early Buddhism, most authors are faced with the problem of whether to use Pali or Sanskrit terms. Because a completely ‘satisfactory solution was difficult to arrive at, I have adopted the follow- ing convention. Sanskrit has been the preferred language, partly because its use was also applicable to Sarvastivada and Mahayana sources. However, because the Pali sources are so valuable in any dis- cussion of Early Buddhism as well as indispensable for a discussion of Theravada abhidhamma and history, I have used Pali at certain times. The most common occurrences have been either when, a primary source in Pali is being referred to or in discussions of Theravada abhidhamma. In addition, some terms are known primarily in Chinese translation. In particular, some of the terms used in Nikaya Buddhism in schools other than the Theravada and Sarvastivada or in early Mahayana are known only from Chinese translations. A Sanskrit reconstruction of such terms would be difficult and lead to questionable results. In addition, terms. have also been developed within East Asia that: reflect or sum up the Indian situation well. In such cases, the term has been given in Chinese rather than a questionable Sanskrit reconstruction. In all cases where I have rendered Chinese and Japanese terms into Sanskrit, I have striven to use the concordances and reference works for the texts under discus-



This translation could not have been completed without the encour- agement of a number of people, only a few of whom I can mention here. Hirakawa Akira repeatedly answered my questions concerning certain passages or about the Sanskrit equivalents to Chinese terms. Stanley Weinstein of Yale encouraged me to undertake the project and reas- sured me of its value when I felt discouraged. My wife Cindy helped with the style through her careful reading. Patricia Crosby and the edi- torial staff at the University of Hawaii Press have improved the text with their careful editorial questions.

I dedicate the translation to Professor Hirakawa, who read vinaya texts with me and introduced me to the world of Japanese scholarship when I was a graduate student in Tokyo from 1971 to 1974. The clarity of his explanations, his concern for Buddhist scholarship, and his inter-

est in his students have served as a constant inspiration to me.


INDIAN CULTURE is often said to lack historical consciousness. Because virtually no materials with accurate dates for India’s ancient history exist, writing a history of Indian Buddhism may seem like a futile undertaking. However, an accurate historical account of Buddhism in India is vital to our knowledge of the overall development of Buddhism.

During the last century, both Western and Japanese scholars have made great strides in the study of the history of Indian Buddhism. On the basis of their research, books have been published in Japan and the West with titles such as The History of Indian Buddhism or The History of Indian Philosophy. The present volume follows the pattern established by such studies. It reflects the current state of research and follows estab- lished opinions and theories as far as possible. In many cases, however, scholars have not.arrived at.acconsensus. Such basic issues as the date of the historical Buddha’s death, or parinirvana, are still being disputed. According to sources such as the Sri Lankan chronicle Dipavamsa, almost all the schisms of Sectarian (Nikaya or Hinayana) Buddhism had occurred before the reign of King Agoka. In contrast, according to the sources of the Northern Buddhist tradition, the schisms occurred after ASoka’s reign. This issue not only affects our evaluation of Agoka’s rule but our account of the entire development of Early Buddhism and the emergence of Nikaya Buddhism. In this study, a chronology that permits the most reasonable account of the historical development of Buddhism has been adopted, but since this chronology has not yet been proven to be correct, other chronologies and accounts may prove to be more accurate.



Many other scholarly problems remain in Indian Buddhism, making the compilation of a definitive history impossible. Although I could have explained and contrasted the various views of each topic, such an approach would have made the study too cumbersome, Nor has all the evidence for each position been presented. Instead, in most cases only the most reasonable position has been introduced to produce a unified and consistent narrative.

Some of the relevant primary sources for positions are cited in paren- theses within the text. In this volume, sources are usually from either the Taishé shinshu daizokyé (Chinese version of the canon, cited hereafter as T) or Pali texts published by the Pali Text Society. Studies by modern (usually Japanese) scholars analyzing these materials are listed in the endnotes. Research by Westerners is discussed in the bibliographical essay compiled by the translator. The bibliographies are compilations of sources that a student undertaking serious research on Buddhism might consult, rather than exhaustive lists of studies.

When I first began this book, I intended to write a one-volume survey of the development of Buddhism from India to Japan that could be used as a reference. Because Tokyo University was the site of student distur- bances at the time, I found it difficult to allot my time as I had originally intended and eventually had to abandon my original plan for the book. I finally decided to concentrate on the history of Indian Buddhism and to divide the book into two parts. The current translation is the first vol- ume of this project.

In most narratives of Indian Buddhism, a number of gaps and incon- sistencies are evident. I have striven to make this book more accessible to the reader than previous histories by stressing the connections between different periods and types of Indian Buddhism and by eliminating the gaps between periods and varieties of Buddhism. For. this reason, special attention has been paid to such topics as the transi- tion from Early to Sectarian Buddhism, the emergence of Mahayana Buddhism, and the contents of early Mahayana Buddhist scriptures. When several accounts of these topics exist in primary sources, they are compared in detail. I have also striven to clearly describe the doctrinal positions of major forms of Buddhism such as abhidharma in simple lan- guage unencumbered by technical jargon.

This book owes much to the research of other scholars. Because I have been able to read and assimilate only a small part of the vast research on Indian Buddhism, errors may be present in the text. Criti- cisms and suggestions will be gratefully received and used to improve any future editions.


AN Anguttara-nikaya

Ch. Chinese

DN _ Digha-nikaya

IBK = Indogaku Bukkyogaku kenkyu KN Khuddaka-ntkaya

MN Majjhima-nikaya

P. Pali

-PP -Prajnaparamitasitra

S. Sanskrit

SN = Samyutta-nikdya

T Taisho shinsha Daizokyo Tib. ‘Tibetan

VP =~ Vinaya-pitaka

edited Sanskrit version of the text is extant # Sanskrit title based on Tibetan sources

Sanskrit title uncertain


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The Special Characteristics of Indian Buddhism

BrecAusE BUDDHISM originated and developed in India, using the adjective “Indian” to describe it may seem unnecessary. When Bud- dhism spread beyond Southeast Asia, Tibet, China, Japan, and other lands, certain aspects.of Buddhism were emphasized in each locale, generating a wide. variety of interpretations and practices. Bud- dhism was adapted to meet the requirements of the people of each area, resulting in a wide variation of interpretations, Indian Buddhism, too, had unique characteristics not emphasized in other regions. Thus, the term “Indian Buddhism’ is often used today to distinguish it from the Buddhism of other countries.

When Indian Buddhism is compared to Chinese and Japanese Bud- dhism, differences in climate and geography are seen to affect religious, practice: those : adaptations in practice brought about changes in doc- trine. In contrast, the countries where Theravada Buddhism is prac- ticed—such as Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand—have climates and geo- graphies resembling those of India more than those of China and Japan. As a result, Theravada religious practice is much closer to Indian Buddhism than to East Asian Buddhism.

A brief survey of the development and geographical spread of Indian Buddhism reveals much about the universal qualities and the distinctive characteristics of Indian Buddhism, as well as providing an overview of its development. Buddhism was founded in the fifth century B.c.z. by


Sakyamuni, who was born in a region of northern India and Nepal controlled by the Sakya tribe. After he decided to become a religious mendicant, he traveled to the country of Magadha in central India, south of the Ganges River, where he performed religious austerities. When he was approximately thirty-five years old, Sakyamuni realized enlightenment. This experience, central to Buddhism, was described as “being enlightened to the undying” and “discovering the path to free- dom from suffering.” Although | humankind is afflicted by various types of suffering, the fear of death is the most basic, leading Sakyamuni to describe his experience in terms of the “undying.” Although Sakya- muni ceased to exist physically when he was eighty years old, his decla- ration of enlightenment expressed his confidence that his mind had real- ized eternal truths. The suffering present in all human existence has been a constant concern of mankind. Sakyamuni’ s discovery of_an answer to this problem, a path of liberation from suffering, has been the most universally appealing characteristic of Buddhism. More than any other feature, it has enabled Buddhism to survive until the present.

In India, however, Buddhism disappeared. By briefly surveying the history of Indian Buddhism, some of its special characteristics as well as several reasons for its disappearance can be ascertained. At the time of Sakyamuni Buddha’s death in the fifth century B.c.z., the Buddhist order consisted of small groups of mendicants in central India. Through the efforts of Sakyamuni’ s disciples, Buddhism spread to the south and west. In the third century B.c.£., after the conversion of King Asoka, Buddhism was soon promulgated throughout India. With the growth of the order and increases in the numbers of monks, disputes arose over the observance of monastic discipline and the interpretation of doctrine. The early order eventually divided into two schools: the progressive Mahasanghika and the conservative Sthaviravada (P. Theravada). Additional schisms occurred until many schools existed and Buddhism entered its sectarian (Nikaya or Hinayana) period.

The terms “eighteen schools” or “twenty schools” are found in many traditional sources that refer to Sectarian Buddhism, but the names of many more than twenty schools are known from inscriptions. Of these schools, the Theravada, Sarvastivada, Sautrantika, Sammatiya (all of Sthaviravada lineage), and the Mahasanghika schools were the most important. By the beginning of the common era, Mahayana Buddhism had also begun to develop. Mahayana (great vehicle) Buddhists criti- cized the adherents of Nikaya Buddhism by calling them ‘‘Hinayana” (inferior vehicle) Buddhists, a deprecatory term applied especially to Sarvastivadins.

Although a number of schools had arisen and had criticized each


other, all of them were recognized as Buddhist. This toleration for a. wide variety of interpretations was based on the Buddhist emphasis on the importance of the individual’s enlightenment and his freedom to contemplate and interpret doctrine. According to the Wen-shu-shih-li wen ching (T 14:501a-b, Manjusripariprecha?), the schisms within Buddhism resulted from the differing explanations of Sakyamuni’s teaching by twenty of his followers. Each adherent, however, was said to have received and transmitted the Buddha’s true teaching. In the travel diary of I-ching (635-713), a Chinese monk who journeyed through India and Southeast Asia, the Buddha’s teaching was said to be like a golden cane that had been broken into eighteen pieces. Just as each piece of the cane was part of the original staff, so did the essence of the Buddha’s teachings remain unchanged even though the early order had been fragmented into eighteen schools (Nan-hat chi-kuet net-fa chuan, T 54:205c). Similar discussions are found in Buddhist scriptures. Bud- dhist schools could recognize each other as Buddhist because their teachings were not established on blind faith. Although this tolerance. for doctrinal differences is one of Buddhism’s finest features, it permit- ted the appearance of such a variety of differing opinions in the order that it led to a weakening of the doctrinal stances that differentiated Buddhism from the other Indian religions of that time.

The rise of Mahayana Buddhism approximately five hundred years after the Buddha’s death is an example of how Buddhism responded to the demands of a new time. Mahayana Buddhism included many ele- ments not found in early Buddhism. Despite these innovations, the original spirit of the Buddha’s teaching was not lost in early Mahayana. In fact, early Mahaydanists revived the spirit of the Buddha’s teaching by adapting it for a new age. However, these_innovative. elements brought hidden dangers with them. As time passed, many Buddhists became more interested in the new additions than in the original mes- sage of the Buddha.

Magical elements.played an important role in Mahayana Buddhism from the beginning, probably because they were a response to the reli- gious needs of the common people. Perfection of wisdom sitras con- tained claims that the text could protect those who followed it. In addi- tion, perfection of wisdom sutras were sometimes called “great wisdom mantras” (maha-vidya-mantra) or “great mantras” (maha-mantra). Accord- ing to the Fa-hua ching (T 9:56c-58b, Saddharmapundarikasitra), faith in the bodhisattva -Avalokite$vara would protect a person from all disas- ters. Advocacy of the efficacy of dharani (magical incantations) was found in many Mahayana scriptures. Over the centuries, these magical formulas came to play an increasingly important role in Mahayana


Buddhism until, by the sixth century, Esoteric Buddhism had emerged as a distinct movement and begun to develop in India.

Although Esoteric Buddhism clearly belongs within the Buddhist fold, its rituals are virtually indistinguishable from those of Hinduism. Eventually much of the doctrinal basis for Esoteric Buddhism was ignored and only its ritual emphasized, contributing to the eventual absorption of Esoteric Buddhism by Hinduism. In contrast, Chinese, Japanese, and Southeast Asian Buddhism developed in areas and cul- tures that differed from India. As a result, many elements of Indian Buddhism were not easily assimilated by the indigenous cultures. In fact, many of the distinguishing characteristics of Indian Buddhism were: preserved because they were so conspicuous in other countries~- For example, because Buddhist teachings of nonsubstantiality provided the doctrinal basis for the ‘“‘Hindu”’ ceremonies in the Chinese and Jap- anese Esoteric Buddhist traditions, these traditions never lost their Bud- dhist character. In India, however, as Buddhism became more Esoteric, it was increasingly assimilated into Hinduism, until it finally lost its Buddhist character.

Early Mahayana Buddhism was a religion of many facets; it included Amitabha worship, as well as such scriptures as the Prajnaparamita, Lotus (Saddharmapundarika), and Avatamsaka siitras. From the second century of the common era onward, theoretical works. based on these scriptures were composed. The Madhyamika School was based on teachings con- cerning nonsubstantiality. At first, the appellation “Madhyamika” was not used to designate the school because an opposing Mahayana tradi- tion was not present. Only after the Yogacara tradition arose about one century after Madhyamika did the term “‘Madhyamika” come to be used. Yogacara was based on the systematic investigation of ideation- only doctrines. For the next several centuries the two traditions coex- isted.

Even before Yogacara emerged as a distinct tradition, early Maha- yana texts had been compiled concerning ideation-only (vijnaptimatrata) and Buddha-nature (tathagatagarbha, the potential to realize Buddha- hood). Among them were the Jathagatagarbhasutra (T 666-667), Srimala- devisimhanadasitra (T 310.48, 353) and the Mahdparinirvanasitra (T 374- 375). As time passed, the Madhyamika and Yogacara schools developed and influenced each other, as well as Esoteric Buddhism.

Even during the period when Mahayana Buddhism was most influ- ential, Nikaya Buddhism was still flourishing. In fact, Nikaya Bud- dhism was always the stronger of the two movements, as is demonstra- ted in the travel diaries of such Chinese pilgrims to India as Fa-hsien (in

India 399-414), Hstian-tsang (602-664), and I-ching (635-713). By I-


ching’s time, the differences between Nikaya and Mahayana Buddhism had become less pronounced and the two traditions had begun to blend together. Esoteric Buddhism subsequently became popular and power- ful, influencing both the Nikaya and Mahayana traditions. Finally, as Hinduism became stronger and the Muslims invaded India, Buddhism... lost much of its vigor. At the end of the twelfth century, the Vikramaégila Monastery was burned by Muslim troops, an event that symbolized the disappearance of Buddhist institutions from most of India. Buddhism did survive, however, in eastern Bengal, where a small number of peo- ple have carried on the Buddhist tradition until the present.

Even after the Muslim invasions, Hinduism remained strong. Jain- ism also managed to survive although with only a small number of adherents; Buddhism, however, disappeared, even though it had once spread across and dominated India. A consideration of several of the reasons for the different destinies of the religions helps elucidate some of the characteristics of Indian Buddhism.

Indian Buddhism did not establish a fixed orthodox doctrinal position__ and then firmly _reject.any deviations from_it as. heterodoxy.. Conse- quently, Buddhist doctrine gradually changed in a variety of ways. One reason for Buddhism’s disappearance from India may lie in its liberal attitude toward different interpretations of doctrine.<‘This argument does not imply that the Buddhist tolerance of doctrinal diversity was mistaken. Because people’s abilities to understand Buddhism differed and historical circumstances changed, it was appropriate that Buddhist doctrine reflect the needs of its audience. However, if Buddhism could evolve freely, then the possibility that Buddhism could disappear also had to be considered. Theories concerning the decline or disappearance of “True” Buddhism circulated very early in Buddhist history. One of the most influential theories in East Asia divided Buddhist history into three periods: True Dharma, Counterfeit Dharma, and the End of the Dharma.

Buddhism is not the only religion that does not stress strict adherence to a certain set of doctrines. Hinduism also adopted this flexible atti- tude. For example, the Bhagavad-gita, one of the best known Hindu vy scriptures, permits a variety of doctrinal positions. The demand for uncompromising fidelity to doctrine is rarely, if ever, found in Hindu- ism. Thus, a liberal attitude toward doctrine by itself cannot explain the disappearance of Buddhism from India.

Buddhism’s rejection of an eternal and substantial Self (atman), a position maintained since Early Buddhism, may have been an impor- tant factor. Buddhism competed with Hinduism, Jainism, and other religious traditions that all argued for the existence of a substantial Self.


In addition, theories advocating the existence of atman were closely tied to teachings about rebirth. Because the belief in rebirth is one of the most important tenets of Indian religion, Buddhists also had to develop theories to explain it. However, rebirth is not a necessary tenet of Sakyamuni’s teachings. Although he did not reject rebirth, Sakyamuni was primarily concerned with liberation from the suffering of existence. If existence consisted of cycles of birth and death, then deliverance from those cycles was his goal. Thus Early Buddhists did not need to dismiss rebirth. Instead, theories concerning rebirth were incorporated into Buddhism, and the ultimate goal of the Buddhist practitioner was interpreted as freedom from the cycles of birth and death.

If rebirth were accepted as a religious teaching, then something must account for continuity from existence to existence. Although Buddhists did not recognize the existence of aiman, they eventually had to recog- nize the existence of some entity or force that passed through the cycles of rebirths and performed at least some of the functions of an atman. The Mahayana concepts of Buddha-nature (tathdgatagarbha) and store-con- sciousness (dlaya-vijnana) were similar in some of their functions to, atman. Within Nikaya Buddhism, the Sarvastivada School developed a systematic and mechanical explanation of human existence to demon- strate that no dGtman existed. However, the Sarvastivada School lost much of its strength. In contrast, the Sammatiya School gained strength in later times, in part because of the appealing quality of their argument that a lasting pudgala (Person) was present in each individual. The travel diaries of both Hstian-tsang and I-ching reveal that by the seventh and eighth centuries the Sammatiya School was more powerful than the Sar- vastivada.

Buddhism arose at a time of much suffering. The teachings of non- substantiality and the nonexistence of a substantial Self were empha- sized by the historical Buddha. As time passed, however, Buddhist teaching changed and doctrines developed that were similar to the views on dtman maintained by other Indian religions. Even as these teachings developed, Buddhism was already losing influence in India. Thus, Bud- dhism’s original rejection of the dtman was probably one of several fac- tors that led to its decline in India.

Teachings and theories about rebirth played a key role in the develop- ment of Indian Buddhist thought. In contrast, when Indian Buddhism was introduced to China and Japan, although rebirth was accepted as a part of Buddhism, it did not play a central role in the development of East Asian Buddhism. This difference arose because traditional Chi- nese and Japanese beliefs in spirits and souls were not based on rebirth. In conclusion, the following two points are two of the main themes that


can be traced through Indian Buddhism. First, Buddhism’s fundamen- tal aim, the deliverance of people from suffering, was one of its most attractive features. Second, the history of Indian Buddhism is inextrica- bly concerned with the formulation of doctrines that explain the mecha- nisms of rebirth.

The Periods of Indian Buddhism

Indian Buddhism may be divided into the following five periods: (1) Early Buddhism, (2) Nikaya or Sectarian (often called Hinayana) Bud- dhism, (3) early Mahayana Buddhism, (4) later Mahayana Buddhism, and (5) Esoteric Buddhism. Although the five periods are arranged in the chronological order in which the traditions arose, they are also based on a categorization of types of Buddhism as much as historical criteria. This book covers the first three periods.

The discussion of the first period is focused around a clear description of the Buddha’s teaching. The portrait of Early Buddhism is completed with a discussion of the Buddha’s biography and an account of the establishment of the early Buddhist order. The order continued to develop after the Buddha’s death. Although the historical sources for this period are meager, the history of the order through the time of King ASoka is chronicled. ASoka’s view of Buddhism is included in this sec- tion because it was similar in many ways to Early Buddhism.

Approximately one century after the Buddha’s death, the early order split into the Mahasanghika and Sthaviravada schools. Later, further schisms occurred, resulting in a number of additional schools. The sec- ond period of Buddhist history is concerned with the development of. Sectarian (Nikaya) Buddhism. Buddhist doctrine at that time was typi- fied by the development of scholastic abhidharma philosophy. Because the tradition differed from Early Buddhism in many ways, most scholars distinguish between Early and Sectarian Buddhism. Sectarian Bud- dhism was a major force in India for over one thousand years, but most of its important doctrinal development occurred during its first three centuries, between 150 8.c.£. and 150 c.£.

Of the more than twenty sects, the doctrines of only the Sarvastivada and Theravada schools are understood in any detail today. Only a little is known about the doctrines of other schools because of the paucity of information concerning them. The Sautrantika and Sammitiya schools flourished after the beginning of the common era. Although both proba- bly had highly developed systems of doctrine, detailed information about them has not survived. When I-ching departed from Canton for


India in 671, the Theravada, Sarvastivada, Sammatiya, and Maha- sanghika schools were still thriving. Later, they gradually blended with Mahayana Buddhism. In addition, both Sectarian and Mahayana Bud- dhism were influenced by Esoteric Buddhism. Unfortunately, little is known about the later phases of Sectarian Buddhism.

' Mahayana scriptures were. already in existence by the first century | B.C.E., indicating that Mahayana Buddhism must have arisen around. the beginning of the common era while Sectarian Buddhism was still developing. Early Mahayana practitioners were especially interested in teachings on nonsubstantiality or emptiness. Although mentions of nonsubstantiality can be found in Early Buddhist scriptures, Mahaya- nists stressed and developed this theme fay beyond anything found in either Early or Nikaya Buddhism.

Mahayana Buddhists strove to emulate the Buddha, following the same path and achieving the same status as he did by realizing Buddha- hood and saving all sentient beings. Mahayanists denigrated Sectarian Buddhists, claiming that Sectarian Buddhists were content to remain disciples of the Buddha instead of striving to equal his achievement. Mahayana Buddhists referred to Sectarian Buddhism as “Sravakayana”’ (vehicle for disciples or hearers), a term that implied that Sectarian Buddhists were more passive and had lower aspirations than Mahaya- nists. Sectarian Buddhists were criticized as being content to study for their own benefit while Mahaydanists strove to teach others and bring them salvation. Mahayana Buddhists referred to themselves as ‘‘bodhi- sattvas” (beings who aspired to realize supreme enlightenment) and to their teachings as the “bodhisattvayana’’ (vehicle for bodhisattvas). Al- though the term “bodhisattva”’ had been used earlier by Sectarian Bud- dhists to refer to the historical Buddha when he was still practicing to realize enlightenment, the Mahayana usage extended this appellation to many others. Later, the terms “Sravakaydna”’ and “bodhtsattvayana”’ were often replaced by the terms “‘Hinayana”’ (small or inferior vehicle) and “Mahayana” (great vehicle). From approximately 100 B.c.£ 100 c.z., large numbers of Mahayana scriptures were composed by nameless bodhisattvas. ..

In the third part of this study, early Mahayana Buddhism, the origins of Mahayana.and the contents of early Mahayana scriptures are exam- ined.

The last two