The most important event in India in this third period is the emergence of the Tantra. In addition we will have to say a few words about the Pāla synthesis of Mahayana thought, the development of logic, and the doings of the Hinaydnists.
The Tantra is the third, and last, creative achievement of Indian Buddhist thought. It went through roughly three phases.
The first may be called Mantraydna. It began in the fourth century, gained momentum after AD 500, and what it did was to enrich Buddhism by the appurtenances of magical tradition, utilizing them for the purpose of facilitating the search for enlightenment. In this way many mantras, mudras, mandalas and new deities were more or less unsystematically introduced into Buddhism.
This was, after 750, followed by a systematization, called the Vajrayana, which co-ordinated all previous teachings with a group of Five Tathagatas. In the course of time, further trends and systems made their appearance. Noteworthy among them is the Sahajaydna, which, like the Chinese Ch’an school, stressed meditational practices and the cultivation of intuition, taught by riddles, paradoxes and concrete images, and avoided the fate of turning into a dead scholasticism by holding on to no rigidly defined tenets.
Towards the end of our period, in the tenth century, we have the Kalacakra, “Wheel of Time”, which is marked by the extent of its syncretism and by its emphasis on astrology.
This new movement arose in the South and the North-West of India. Non-Indian influences, from China, Central Asia and the border lands round India, played a great part in shaping it.
There was also much absorption of ideas from aboriginal tribes within India itself. The Tantra endeavoured to assign an honoured, though subordinate, role to all the spirits, sprites, fairies, fiends, demons, ogres and ghosts which had haunted the popular imagination, as well as to the magical practices so dear to all nomadic and agricultural populations. This further step in popularizing the religion aimed at providing it with a more solid foundation in society. But as far as the elite was concerned, there was the important difference that non-Buddhists use magic to acquire power, whereas the Buddhists do so to free themselves from the powers alien to their own true being.
The Tantra departed from the early Mahāyāna in its definition of the goal and of the ideal type of person and also in its method of teaching. The aim is still Buddhahood, though no longer at a distant future, aeons and aeons hence, but Buddha-hood right now, “in this very body”, “in the course of one single thought”, achieved miraculously by means of a new, quick and easy way. The ideal saint is now the Siddha, or magician, who has, however, some resemblance to a Bodhisattva as he was said to be after the eighth stage, with his wonder-working powers fully developed.
As for the method of teaching, the Mahāyāna had stated its doctrines in Sutras and Sastras which were public documents, available to anyone sufficiently interested to procure, and sufficiently intelligent to understand them. In their stead we now witness the composition of a new vast canonical literature of Tantras, which are secret documents destined only for a chosen few who are properly initiated by a guru, or teacher, and which are phrased in a deliberately mysterious and ambiguous language, meaningless in itself without the oral explanations of a teacher who had been properly initiated into its secrets. The secret has been well kept, and although thousands of Tantras are still extant, modern scholars seldom have a clue to their meaning, partly because, hypnotized by the “scientific” assumptions of their own age, they have little sympathy with magical modes of thinking.
The general principles of Tantric teaching can be inferred with some certainty, but the concrete detail, which is bound up with actual yogic practices and constituted the real message, eludes our grasp. Unlike the early Mahayanists, the Tantric authors no longer link their scriptures with Sakymuni, but frankly assign them to some mythical Buddha Who is said to have preached them at some remote and distant past.
The foundations for these new literary conventions were laid already in the Yogacara school. That school systematizes the experiences gained in the course of an excessively introverted transic meditation, and the Yogins were convinced that the visions they had in trance had much greater reality than what we call “facts”, than dates or localities, than individuals, their names and biographies. In consequence they tell us that certain works are due to the inspiration of, say, “Maitreya” and forget to mention the individual name of the human author who took down the inspiration. They thus cause great difficulties to modern historical research, though in their own view they tell us all that is essential and needful.
The Yogacarins had also for a long time shown a keen interest in the more secretive modes of conveying information, and Asanga’s Mahdydnasamgraha contains a fine classification of the permissible ways by which a “hidden meaning” may be conveyed, when one says something different from what one really wants to say. It was in fact from the Yogacara branch of the Mahāyāna that the Tantric ideas and practices originated.
The new trend was bound to weaken the monastic system. By fostering the development of small conventicles of disciples who owed absolute submission to their guru it favoured the dispersal of the Sańgha into self-sufficient bands of Yogins, many of whom believed that they were spiritually so developed as not to need the restraint of the monastic rules any longer, while others by their unconventional behaviour liked to cock a snook at the sheltered lives of the ordinary monks.
The mantrayanic development was originally a natural reaction against the increasingly adverse historical trends which threatened to suffocate Indian Buddhism. In their defence and for their protection its adherents now more and more mobilized magical and occult powers and invoked the help of more and more mythological beings, whose actual reality was attested to them in the practice of transic meditation.
Among these great attention was paid to the “wrathful” deities, like the “Protectors of the Dharma”, also called vidydrājd, “kings of the sacred lore”, who are inherently well-meaning, but assume a terrifying appearance to protect the faithful.
It is also interesting to note that in their search for security the Buddhists of that time more and more relied on feminine deities. Already about AD 400 Tara and Prajnaparamita had been adored as celestial Bodhisattvas. They were soon joined by the “Five Protectresses”, with Mahamayuri, “the great Pea Hen”, at their head.
Later on the practitioners of advanced mystical meditation evolved a whole pantheon of feminine deities, like Cunda, Vasudhara, Usnisavijaya, Vajravarahi, Buddhalocana, and others; the practitioners of the magical arts were especially devoted to the “Queens of the sacred Lore” and to the dakinis, or “sky walkers”; and the general population was encouraged to turn for their own specific interests to goddesses who gave children, protected from the smallpox and so on.
After 700 the so-called “left-handed” Tantra added consorts of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. These were called Vidyās of Prajñā, corresponding literally to the Ennoias and Sophias of the Gnostics. A seemingly erotic ritual often accompanied the cult of the vidyas, and this aspect of the Tantra has greatly bemused the more unsophisticated European enquirers. Nothing need be said about it here, because the actual facts of this ritual are totally unknown to us.
The belief in the occult, in magic and miracles, has at all times been an integral part of Buddhism, though more by way of recognizing an established fact than as a matter of urgent practical importance. But as the spiritual potency of the Dharma waned and as history was felt to become more and more adverse, greater reliance was placed on magic to ward off dangers and secure help.
We find that after AD 300 sporadically mantras of all kinds are slowly incorporated into the holy writings. These were also called dhdranis, from the rooter, because they are intended to “uphold” or “sustain” the religious life. Then, after AD 500, all the customary procedures of magic were resorted to rituals as well as magical circles and diagrams. These were employed to both guard the spiritual life of the elite, and to give to the unspiritual multitude that which it desired. Mudras, or ritual gestures, often reinforced the efficacy of the spells.
Moreover there are the mandalas, the harmonious beauty of which still appeals to our aesthetic sense. Magical circles, which mark off a sacred or ritually pure spot, are, of course, as old as magic and go back well into prehistoric times. The peculiar Buddhist arrangement of mandalas seems, however, to have developed in Central Asia and owes much to the pattern of the Chinese TLV5 mirrors of the Han dynasty. The mandala expresses cosmic and spiritual forces in a mythological, or personified form, representing them by the images of deities, shown either in their visual appearance, or by the syllable which allows us to evoke them and which constitutes their occult principle.
These symbols, properly read, allow us to give expression to deeply hidden fears, primordial impulses and archaic passions. Through them we can chain, dominate and dissolve the forces of the universe, effect a revulsion from all the illusory things of the samsaric world, and achieve reunion with the light of the one absolute Mind.
Mandalas are a special form of age-old diagrams of the cosmos, considered as a vital process which develops from one essential principle and which rotates round one central axis, Mount Sumeru, the axis mundi.
Such diagrams were reproduced not only in mandalas, but also in ritual vases, royal palaces, Stupas and Temples. Owing to the equivalence of macrocosm and microcosm, the drama of the universe is reproduced in each individual, whose mind, as well as whose body, can be regarded as a mandala, as the scene of the quest for enlightenment.
The construction and designing of mandalas, and the evocation of deities, were naturally governed by strict rules and well defined ritual observances.
The creative outburst of the early Tantra led to a complete chaos of assumptions about cosmic and spiritual forces and it was the Vajraydna which imposed order on the vast inchoate mass of traditions which had evolved. It adopted a fivefold division of all cosmic forces, each class being in a sense presided over by one out of five Tathagatas. The names of the Five Tathagatas were Vairocana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi.
A complicated and most intricate system of magical corres-pondences, identifications, transformations and transfigurations then link all the forces and facts of the universe with these five “families”. The body in particular is regarded as a microcosm, which embodies the entire universe and is the medium for realizing the truth, very largely by methods which form a part of what is nowadays known as Hathayoga in India.
We hear much about parallelisms between the visible, the audible and the touchable, and everything is designed to unite the powers of mind, speech and body for the purpose of realizing the final state of completeness, or enlightenment.
The Vajrayana has been well defined as “the art of living which enables us to utilize each activity of body, speech and mind as an aid on the Path to Liberation”, and in this way it is astonishingly akin to the contemporary Ch’an school.
The true meaning of Vajrayana teachings is, however, not always easy to ascertain, because here it has become a convention to clothe the highest into the form of the lowest, to make the most sacred appear as the most ordinary, the most transcendant as the most earthly, and the sanest knowledge is disguised by the most grotesque paradoxes. This is a deliberate shock therapy directed against the over-intellectualization of Buddhism at that time. The abundant sexual imagery in particular was intended to shock monkish prudery. Enlightenment, the result of a combination of wisdom and skill in means, is represented by the union of female and male in the ecstasy of love. Their becoming one in enlightenment is the highest indescribable happiness (mahāsukha).
The further development of Buddhism in Northern India was greatly influenced by the accidents of royal patronage. In the seventh century, King Harshavardhana, a lesser Aśoka, patronized Buddhism, preferring first the Sammitiyas, and then, perhaps as a result of Yuan-tsang’s visit in 630-44, the Mahayana, though Shivaism may have been his own personal religion. It was, however, the Pala dynasty of Bengal (750-1150) who by their support of the great Buddhist universities determined the history of Buddhism for centuries to come. From the sixth to the ninth centuries, Nālandā had been the centre of living thought for the entire Buddhist world.
Under the Pala dynasty new centres were founded in Eastern India, especially Vikramasila, and Odantapuri. These together with Jaggadala and Somarupa were the focal points from which Buddhist culture radiated over Asia during the ninth to twelfth centuries.
I-Tsing, who visited Nālandā about AD 700, said of the sects there that “they rest in their own places, and do not get themselves embroiled with one another”. In fact, the official Buddhism of the period became a mixture of Prajnāpdramitā and Tantra. King Dharmapala (c. 770-810), immediately on ascending the throne, greatly honoured the teacher Haribhadra, a leading authority on Prajnāpdramitā and Abhisamayālankarā, while not at the same time neglecting the interpreters of the Guhyasamdja, a celebrated Tantric text.
The monks of these universities combined metaphysics and magic almost like the Gerbert of Rheims and Albert the Great of mediaeval folklore. Their range of interest is well typified by what Taranatha reports of one of them.
“By constantly looking on the face of the holy Tara he resolved all his doubts. He erected eight religious schools for the Prajnaparamitd, four for the exposition of Guhyasamdja, one each for each one of three kinds of Tantra, and he also established many religious schools with provisions for teaching the Madhyamika logic. He conjured up large quantities of the elixir of life, and distributed it to others, so that old people, 150 years old and more, became young again.”
This Pala synthesis of Mahāyāna thought has shown an astounding vitality. Though destroyed by the Muslims in Bengal, it spread to Java and Nepal, and in Tibet it continued as a living tradition up to recent years.
As the Buddhists preceded the Hindus in the development of Tantras, so also in that of logic.
The social standing, as well as the income, of religious groups in the Indian Middle Ages depended to sorne extent on the showing they could make in the religious disputations which were about as popular at that time as tournaments were in the European Middle Ages.
In this context, a knowledge of the rules by which valid can be distinguished from invalid inferences would be a definite advantage. Just as the disputes of the Greek sophists led to the logical systems of the Socratic schools, so disputes of the Indian religious sects led to the formulation of logical and epistemological theories among the Buddhists.
This new trend goes back to Nagarjuna, but the first Buddhist to teach an articulate system of logic was Dinnaga (c. 450), a pupil of Asanga. He also initiated systematic epistemological studies among the Buddhists, discussing the sources of knowledge, the validity of perception and inference, as well as the object of knowledge, and the reality of the external world.
In the course of this third period these logical studies reached great maturity with Dharmakfrti (c. 600-50) and Dharmottara (c. 850), who dealt with many of the problems which have occupied modern European philosophy, such as the problem of solipsism and the existence of other minds. This interest continues right to the end of Buddhism in India, and it was from there carried to Tibet and to a lesser extent to China and Japan.
The logical studies of the Yogacarins developed quite naturally from some of the questions which the Vaibhashikas had asked themselves and they kept Buddhist philosophical thinking abreast, and often ahead, of the time.
In India itself the Mahayanists appear to have remained numerically a minority. In AD 640, for instance, out of 250,000 monks counted by Yuan-tsang, only 70,000 to 100,000 belonged to the Mahāyāna. It must seem definitely unfair therefore that I can find nothing to say about the Hinayanists, and that all the space is given to their Mahāyāna rivals.
This disproportion is perhaps due to a fault in perspective which affects most historical works. The continuing tradition, however praiseworthy, is taken for granted and passed over without comment. The life sprouting out at the growing points gets all the limelight. By way of correction it is sometimes good to remember that at any given time the majority of Buddhists were virtuous people who just carried on in the old ways, and who have no news value, just as virtuous women are said to have none.
2. NEPAL AND KASHMIR
The Buddhism of Nepal continued to flourish as an offshoot of that of Northern India, and Patan became a replica of one of the Pala universities. Between the seventh and ninth centuries close ties were developing with Tibet, and many Tibetans came to Nepal to learn about the Buddhism of India. It was in Nepal that Santaraksita encountered Padmasambhava when he conveyed to him the invitation of the king of Tibet. At the beginning of this period, the Sańgha of Kashmir suffered a serious setback from the invasions of the Huns, who under Mihirkula (c. 515) devastated the country and persecuted the monks. After their departure Meghavahana, a Buddhist ruler, forbade all slaughter of animals, while compensating butchers and fishermen for the resulting loss. This king erected many religious buildings and his successors continued to patronize the Church. Yuan-tsang remained for two years in Kashmir. He found about 5,000 monks, but noted that “at the present time this kingdom is not much given to the faith”. New prosperity began in the seventh and eighth centuries with the Karkota rulers. The faith revived again, though in a form which brought it nearer to Hindu cults. This shows itself in Sarvaj-namitra, and his Hymns in praise of Tara. Sorcery and miracle-working spread and the monks practised how to make or stop rain, how to check the flow of flooded rivers, etc. The spread of Tantrism and Devotionalism brought Buddhism nearer to Sivaism, which in its turn in the ninth and tenth centuries developed, with Vasugupta and others, firm philosophical foundations. About 1,000 we have Kshemendra, who wrote Avadanas, Buddhist legends resembling Brahminic Mahatmyas. In the ninth century many Kashmiri monks went to Tibet.
At this time the Theravadin sect managed to expand beyond Ceylon itself on the route between Ceylon and the places of pilgrimage in Magadha, and many were found in Southern India and in the region of the two ports through which they went, i.e. the Ganges delta (Tamralipti) in the East and Bharukaccha in the West. In Ceylon itself the Abhidhamma was greatly honoured, but at the same time magical practices began to be encouraged. About 660 we hear for the first time of the chanting ofParitta as a ceremony, which became a regular feature of later Buddhism in Ceylon.
For a time the Mahāyāna was fairly strong, and both Praj-naparamita and Tantra had their centres in the island. The Indikutasaya Copper Plates have preserved for us parts of one of the large Prajnaparamita Sutras in Sinhalese script of the eighth or ninth century. The Abhayagiri continued to import many Mahāyāna features and its relations to the Mahavihara remained unfriendly. About 620 the members of the Mahavihara refused the king’s request that they should hold the uposatha -ceremony together with those of the Abhayagiri, and about 650 the Mahavihara were so incensed with the king for the favours he bestowed on the Abhayagiri that they applied to him the “turning down of the alms-bowl”, an act equivalent to the excommunication of a layman.
In 536 a book called Dharmadhdtu was brought to Ceylon, which probably dealt with the Three Bodies of the Bhudda and this book was greatly honoured by the king and became an object of ritual worship. In the ninth century Vajrayana tenets were spread by an Indian monk residing in Abhayagiri and the king was greatly attracted to the teaching. In the words of the Chronicle, “it also became prevalent among the foolish and ignorant people of this country” and led to the formation of a special order of monks clad in dark blue robes. During the seventh century an ascetic reaction against the generally comfortable life of the monks made itself felt at the Abhayagiri. Those who strove to revive the rigours of old separated themselves in the ninth century and as Pam-sukulikas they were prominent for centuries, deriving their name from the ancient practice of wearing robes made from rags collected on rubbish heaps. In the Polonnaruva period, from the end of the eighth century onwards, Hindu influences on Buddhist practices began to come in.
4. CENTRAL ASIA
Under the T’ang dynasty, Central Asia once more became an intermediary between China and India, for between 692 and c. 800 it was again part of the Chinese empire. The Tibetans held sway for some time and many valuable Tibetan documents from Tun-huang, etc., dating from the seventh to tenth centuries, have been recovered in recent years. The empire of the Uigurs, at its height between 744 and 840, is also of some importance for the history of Buddhism. Defeated in 840 by the Kirghiz, the Uigurs then founded a new kingdom in the region of Turf an, Bechbaliq, Karachar and Kucha, which persisted in Turfan and some other areas until the fourteenth century. The Uigurs, from the eighth century onwards Manichaeans, were in the ninth century converted to Buddhism and an abundance of Buddhist works was translated into Uigur from the Sanskrit, Kuchean, Khotanese and Chinese. Generally speaking, however, after 900 Turkish Islamic populations displaced the Buddhist Indo-Europeans in Central Asia.
5. SOUTH-EAST ASIA
Buddhism reached South-East Asia as the result of the colonizing activities of Hindus, who not only founded trading stations, but also brought their cults and culture with them. From the third century onwards the area, also known as “Further India”, was increasingly ruled by dynasties which could either claim Indian descent, or which were at least motivated by the ideals of Hindu civilization.
By the fifth and sixth century both Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna Buddhism had filtered into Burma. At first it came from the Pallava country of Southern India (Magadha) and the Sarvastivadins may well have established themselves for a time. From the ninth century onwards, Pala Buddhism was imported from Bihar and Bengal. It led in Burma to the formation of a powerful organization of monks who called themselves “Aris” (from ārya, “noble”)- We have no information about their metaphysical teachings, but we know that they worshipped the Mahāyāna pantheon, were addicted to Tantric practices, justified doctrinal innovations by occasionally discovering some “hidden scripture” and absorbed many local customs, for instance the jus primae noctis, which they considered as an act of religious worship.
Turning to Indo-China, we find that in Cambodia about AD 400 already the reigning house, the nobility and the priesthood are Hindus. We also find a mixture of Sivaism and Mahāyāna first in Fu-nan, and then, after 540, in the Khmer kingdom, of which Angkor became the capital in 802. The Khmers erected many huge buildings, some of which were devoted to Mahāyāna deities, among whom Lokesvara and Bhaisajyaguru were specially popular. Up to about AD 1000 the syncretism of Sivaism and Mahāyāna also dominated the Champa kingdom, although the Mahāyāna element was less strong there, and also the Sammitivas and Sarvastivadins were represented. The influence of Srivijaya greatly strengthened the Mahāyāna during the ninth century also in Indo-China.
Indonesia was likewise ruled by Indian emigrants, and a Buddhism imported from South-East India is attested there from the fifth century onwards. The imperial power of Srivijaya after 675 replaces by Buddhism the Brahminism prevalent until then. In Sumatra the Sarvastivadins were strong in the seventh century. Later on the Vajrayana was brought in from the Pala Universities. The same happened in Central Java under the Sailendra dynasty from the eighth century onwards, although Sivaism always remained fairly strong. The Sailendras filled the Kedu plain with beautiful temples, adorned with exceptionally fine sculptures. The most famous of these is the gigantic Borobudur, a Stupa built in the sixth century, which is a mandala in stone, and symbolizes the cosmos as well as the way to salvation. Those who walk mpradaksind through its galleries will thereby ritually undergo the process of moving out of Samsara into Nirvāṇa, ascending through the three levels of the triple world to the supramundane transcendental realm. Some of the great Mahāyāna texts are here illustrated on bas-reliefs, i.e. the Jātakamāid, Lalitavistara, Gandavyuha and Karmavibhanga.
6. CHINA AND KOREA
The three centuries between 500 and 800 were the most prosperous and creative years for Chinese Buddhism. The religion was now assimilated, and became an integral part of national life. Eight indigenous schools arose during this period. They were:
(1) the Lu-tsung, founded by Tao-Hsuan (595-667);
(2) the San-lun, founded by Chi-tsang (549-623);
(3) the Weih-shih, founded by Yuan-tsang (596-664);
(4) the Mi-tsung, founded by Amoghavajra (705-74);
(5) the Hua-yen tsung, founded by Tu-shun (557-640);
(6) the T’ien-t’ai, founded by Chih-k’ai (538-597);
(7) the Ching-t’u, founded by Shan-tao (613-81); and
(8) the Gh’an school, said to have been founded by Bodhidharma about 520.
The first school, or Vinaya sect, had no doctrinal significance, its purpose being to work for a stricter observance of the Vinaya rules, particularly as regards ordination and the begging of food. The school had some success in raising the standards of monastic strictness, but it soon passed to the periphery of the Buddhist world.
The next three schools are Indian scholastic systems, which remained more or less foreign bodies in Chinese Buddhism and did not endure for more than a few centuries. TheSan-lun is the Chinese form of the Madhyamikas. It is based, as the name says, on “three treatises”, one by Nagarjuna and two by Aryadeva, and continues the work done by Kumarajiva about 400. Chi-tsang, its founder, was a most prolific writer of books, chiefly commentaries and encyclopaedias. The general purpose of the school is to discard all views, so that emptiness may prevail.
The Weih-Shih is the Chinese form of the Yogacarins and its basic textbook is the Ch’eng Weih-shih Lun, “The Completion of the Doctrine of mere ideation”. The great pilgrim Yuan-tsang had brought with him from Nālandā ten commentaries to Vasubandhu’s “Thirty Stanzas”, and he combined them into one work, generally giving preference to the interpretations of Dharmapala (sixth century). It is the purpose of this school to discard all objects, to see that they all “are mental representations dependent upon the evolutions of consciousness”, and to merge into the one Mind in which everything is mere ideation. Its tenets and attitudes were, however, not in harmony with the general tendencies of Chinese mentality. In K’uei-chi (632-82), Yuan-tsang’s leading disciple, this school attracted another first-class mind, but soon it degenerated into scholastic disputes about the “seventh”, “eighth” and “ninth” consciousness, which generally did nothing but reflect divergent Indian traditions, not always clearly understood.
The Mi-tsung, or “School of the Mysteries”, is the Chinese form of the Tantra. It is also known as Chen-yen, the school of the “Mantras”. In the eighth century, three Indians, Subhakarasimha (637-735), Vajrabodhi (670-741) and Amoghavajra (705-74), imported into China Tantric systems of the non-Shaktic type, and won great influence at the Court of the T’ang emperors. They there established a great variety of rites, partly designed to avert catastrophes from the Empire, and partly to favourably influence the fate of people after their death. The school lasted not much longer than a century, and in later times the Tantric tradition in China fell into the hands of Lama monks from Tibet.
The next three schools attained a greater degree of assimilation. First among these is the Hua-yen-tsung, literally the “Wreath” school, which represents the link between Yogacara and Tantra, in that it gives a cosmic interpretation to the ontological ideas of the Yogacarins. It is derived from a study of the Indian Avatamsaka Sutra. Here the sameness, or identity, of everything is interpreted as the interpenetration of every element in the world with every other element. The one principle of the cosmos is present in all beings and in all things, in the sense that everything harmonizes with everything else. Each particle of dust contains all the Buddha-lands, and each thought refers to all that was, is and will be. The sensory universe is a reflex of the eternal and the mysteries of the truth can be beheld everywhere. Unlike the Tantra this school did not aim at the manipulation and control of cosmic forces by magical means, but was content with the contemplation and aesthetic appreciation of the interplay of these forces. This doctrine greatly influenced the attitude to nature in the Far East, and also inspired many artists in China and later on in Japan. The Hua Yen school, founded about 630, lasted until about AD 1000.
One of its greatest teachers was Fa-tsang (643-712), the descendant of a Sogdian family and originally a disciple of Yuan-tsang, who wrote an important work called “Meditation which extinguishes false imaginations, and by which one returns to the source”. With the Yogacarins he speaks of one mind which makes possible the world of particulars. But then he goes beyond the Yogacarin doctrine by claiming that everything has the following three marks, or characteristics:
1. Existentially, each particular object, each “particle of dust”, contains in itself the whole realm of reality (dharmadhatu) in its entirety;
2. Creationally it can generate all possible kinds of virtue, and any object may therefore reveal the secrets of the entire world;
3. In each particle the emptiness of true reality is perceivable.
Six kinds of contemplation are recommended to the disciple:
1 To look into the serenity of Mind to which all things return;
2 To realize that the world of particulars exists because of the One Mind;
3 To observe the perfect and mysterious interpenetration of all things;
4 To observe that there is nothing but Suchness;
5 To observe that the mirror of Sameness reflects the images of all things, which thereby do not obstruct each other;
6 To observe that, when one particular object is picked up, all the others are picked up with it.
The T’ien-t’ai school is so called because its founder, Chili-k’ai, lived and taught in the T’ien-t’ai mountains in Chekiang. It is also known as the Fa-ma, or “Lotus” school, because it took the Saddharmapundarika as its basic text. Chih-k’ai wrote some extremely valuable treatises on the art of meditation. In its doctrines the T’ien-t’ai aimed at a syncretism of all the different Mahāyāna schools and in its general policy it tended to promote social order in collaboration with the secular authorities. Its mentality is akin to that of the Yellow Church of Tibet, although Chinese conditions produced constant checks on its political influence. In its profound and complicated philosophical teachings the T’ien-t’ai shows strong traces of the influence not only of the Weih-shih and Hua-yen schools, but also of the Awakening of Faith in the Mahay ana, a work falsely ascribed to Asvaghosha, which may very well have originated in China.
The T’ien-t’ai had a strong preference for calling the Absolute “true or genuine Suchness” or also the “Womb of the Tathagata”, which contains within itself all the pure and impure potentialities and is thus capable of generating both this-worldly and other-worldly things. This dualistic theory is special to the T’ien’t’ai school. All things and events of the phenomenal world are “harmoniously integrated”, and there is no barrier between one thing and another. The T’ien-t’ai tend to ascribe a greater degree of reality to the phenomenal world than the Indian schools would allow. In their concern with social activity they emphasized that Nirvāṇa eliminates all ills, but not likewise “the great functioning” of the universe. According to them even the Buddhas can work and stay within the circle of birth and death, because even after enlightenment they retain their impure potentialities, which cannot ever be destroyed and therefore they may, like ordinary people, be engaged in impure or mundane acts. And because every single thing contains the absolute Mind in its totality, not only, as Tao-sheng had said, all sentient beings have the Buddha-nature in them, but also, as Chan-jan (711-82), the ninth patriarch of the T’ien-t’ai explained, “even inanimate things possess the Buddha-nature”, “and why should exception be made of even a tiny particle of dust?”
In the Ching-t’u (“Pure Land”) school Amidism, which had for centuries existed as a popular trend, became more strictly organized. This school was founded by Tao-ch’o (562-645), and consolidated by Shan-tao (613-81). These two were followed by a few more outstanding figures, called “patriarchs”, the last of whom, Shao-k’ang, died in 805.
After the ninth century Amidism ceases to have a separate corporate existence as a sect and becomes an influence which pervades all forms of Buddhism in China.
Amidism taught that the power inherent in the name of the Buddha Amitabha can remove all obstacles to salvation and that the mere utterance of His name (O-mi-to-fo) can assure rebirth in His kingdom. The legend of Amitabha is based chiefly on the Sukhavativyuha, a Sanskrit text of the first century AD. It tells us that inconceivable aeons ago the Bodhisattva Dharmakara made forty-eight vows, among them the promise that all who call on his name shall be saved; that later on he became the Buddha Amitabha; and that finally, ten aeons ago, in accordance with his vows, he established the Pure Land or Western Paradise which lies one million billion Buddha-lands away. This sect honoured Amitabha by multiplying copies of His statues as well as of the Sutras which deal with Him, and also by paintings which depict and by hymns which sing the splendours of the Pure Land. A study of the dated inscriptions at Long-men shows that the cult of Amitabha flourished there particularly between 647 and 715. The Amidists also worshipped Kuan-yin, the Indian Avalokitesvara, who in the course of time changed his sex in China, and became a feminine deity.
The strength of Amidism lies in its democratic spirit. The intellectualism of religious aristocrats who retire into solitary mountain places is quite beyond the reach of the common people who must live in the bustle of ordinary life. A religion which appeals to the masses must above all aim at extreme simplification, and the great merit of the Ching-t’u teaching, according to its propounders, is that it is simple and easy to follow. All that is required by way of virtue is just faith, and the Ching-t’u authors seem to assume that that is more commonly found than the capacity for trance or wisdom.
The most important of all Chinese schools is, however, the Ch’an school. It is the fourth and last of the original recreations of the Buddha’s thought, the first three being the Abhidharma, the Mahāyāna and the Tantra. With the Tantra Ch’an is nearly contemporary and the two have much in common. The history of the Ch’an school begins with Hui-neng (638-713), also known as the “sixth Patriarch”. Before Hui-neng we have a kind of pre-history of Ch’an, which is said to begin with Bodhidharma, a more or less legendary Southern Indian who came to China at the beginning of the sixth century and spent nine years in Lo-yang, the capital, in “wall-gazing”. The importance of Bodhidharma lies in providing the Ch’an sect with a concrete link with the Indian tradition, a link which the school in spite of its profound originality greatly cherished. The Buddha Sakyamuni, so we are told, had given the secret doctrine to Mahakasyapa, and from him it was transmitted to one “patriarch” after the other, but “from mind to mind, without the use of written texts”, until it reached Bodhidharma, the twenty-eighth of the line. Between Bodhidharma and Hui-neng we have four more “patriarchs” who taught a Buddhism strongly tinged with Taoism in the tradition of Tao-sheng. Among them the third patriarch, Seng-t’san (died 606), is noteworthy for his superb poem on “Believing in Mind”, which is one of the great classics of Buddhist literature.
These patriarchs had, however, little influence on society in general, because they lived in poverty without a fixed residence and generally made it a rule not to spend more than one night in any one place. History further records that the interpretation of the teachings of these patriarchs led to a rift between a Northern branch, headed by Shen-hsiu (c. 600-706), and a Southern branch, headed by Hui-neng, of Canton, the main point in dispute being the question of “gradual” and “sudden” enlightenment. The Northern followers of “gradual enlightenment”, who assumed that our defilements must be gradually removed by strenuous practice, soon died out. What we call the Ch’an school consists of Hui-neng’s numerous disciples. Organizationally, Ch’an became independent only at the time of Po-chang Huai-hai (720-814). Up to then, most Ch’an monks had lived in monasteries of the Lu-tsung under the regulations of its Vinaya. Now Po-chang made a new set of rules for Ch’an monks, which tried to revive the austerity and simplicity of living conditions in the early Order, and also combined the Buddhist Vinaya with Confucian rules of etiquette. The regulations of all Ch’an monasteries are derived from Po-chang. He introduced an innovation which did much to ensure the survival and social success of his sect.
The monks went on their begging round each morning, but in addition they were expected to work. “A day without work, a day without eating” was Po-chang’s watchword. This was something unheard of so far.
The Ch’an school has had two periods of vigorous development, the first in the T’ang, the second in the Sung period. The second phase belongs to chapter IV, and here we confine ourselves to the first.
It had long been a problem whether learning or practical realization is more important. The Ch’an sect, as against the Ceylonese Dhammakathikas, uncompromisingly decided in favour of practical realization. They found a situation in which the fervour of the faithful had so multiplied the means of salvation, in the form of Sutras, commentaries, philosophical subtleties, images and rites, that the goal itself was apt to be lost sight of; the spiritual life was in danger of being choked by the very things which were designed to foster it.
In their reaction against the overgrown apparatus of piety they advocated a radical simplification of the approach to enlightenment. They never tired of denouncing the misuse of this apparatus, which could so easily have become an end in itself. In particular they set themselves against the excessive worship paid to the scriptural traditions and insisted that salvation could not be found by the study of books. That did not mean that they studied no books at all. On the contrary their own sayings are saturated with references to such works as the Vajracchedikd Sutra, and the Lankdvatdra Sutra, the two favourites of the school in its early days. But they felt strongly that the study of these Sutras should play only quite a subordinate role compared with the demands of meditation (Ch’an means dhydna) and spiritual realization.
The complicated cosmological and psychological theories of the other Buddhist schools are rejected as just so much “rubbish” and “useless furniture”. By way of protest against the excesses of devotion and the current misunderstandings of the Buddha’s role, a famous Ch’an master of the T’ang dynasty, Tan-hsia T’ien-jan, in the eighth century, when he was cold, burned a statue of the Buddha and warmed himself by it. Because a definite fixation of the affections on a definite object might act as a fetter, another Ch’an master coldly informs us that, if you meet the Buddha, you ought to kill Him if He gets in your way. Less drastic are the replies of another Ch’an master Nan-yuan Hui-yung, to the question, “What is the Buddha?” He just said, “What is not the Buddha?”, or “I never knew Him”, or “Wait until there is one, then I will tell you”. All this hardly gives the mind very much to rest upon. Ch’an was intent on restoring Buddhism as a spiritual doctrine. Spiritual things have their own laws, their own dimensions, and their own mode of being. This makes them rather indefinite for mundane perception, and it has been rightly said that the spirit can be apprehended only by the eyes of the Spirit.
The Ch’an school well knew that it represented a quite new departure. Just as the Tantric followers of Padmasambhava regarded him as a second Buddha, equal in authority to Sakyamuni, so in the same spirit the Ch’an Buddhists deliberately called a collection of Hui-neng’s sermons a “Sutra”, a term reserved for the Buddha’s own utterances. Because the Ch’an school abhorred all intellectualization and systematiza-tions, its own literature, insofar as it had any, widely departed from the Indian models.
A few Ch’an monks seem to have composed sermons and didactic hymns, but the great majority of the T’ang masters refused to write down anything at all. They confined themselves to a few brief and cryptic sayings, which at a later age were collected as “Sayings of the Ancient Worthies”. So much did they distrust the distorting effect of words, that they tried to induce enlightenment in their pupils not only by nonsensical remarks, but by beating them at appropriate moments with a stick, pulling their noses, or making rude and inconsequential noises, like Ma-tsu’s famous “Ho”, etc.
Their method of teaching was technically known as “strange words and stranger actions”. Because no written work can contain them, these teachings were held to be something outside the scriptures. They are regarded as instances of the “Buddha-mind” speaking directly to the “Buddha-mind”, and they transmit the “Seal of Mind” directly from teacher to pupil. It is, of course, not easy to distil from such unpromising material a rationally formulated philosophical doctrine. But, attempting the impossible, one may well say that these were the chief tenets of Ch’an.
First of all, there is the famous teaching that “Buddhahood is achieved through instantaneous enlightenment”. As practical people, the Ch’an Buddhists were not, however, so much interested in theories about enlightenment, as in its practical achievement. The Hinayana had much to say about “enlightenment”, but could no longer produce any fully enlightened people, be they Arhats or Buddhas. Nor was the traditional Mahāyāna in any better position and had to justify its apparent sterility by asserting that any given Bodhisattva would have to still pass through aeons and aeons of preparation before he could become a Buddha. In the seventh and eighth centuries a number of Buddhists became rather impatient with doctrines which deferred the attainment of the goal to an indefinite future and insisted on quicker results. This led to the Tantra devising methods for winning Buddhahood “in this very body”, and to the Ch’an working for enlightenment “in this very life”.
The Ch’an claimed that within their ranks numerous people attained “ enlightenment” all the time, but for this they did not use the traditional term p’u-fi, which corresponds to bodhi, but a new word, wu, “comprehension, awareness”, better known in its Japanese form as satori. Its relation to “enlightenment” in its traditional Indian sense and to the Buddha’s omniscience has never to my knowledge been clarified,,although the Ch’an Patriarchs are referred to as “venerable Buddhas”. This signifies that in the history of Buddhism a new type of “saint” had arisen. After the Arhats, Pratyekabuddhas, Bodhisattvas and Siddhas we now have the Ch’an Roshis as a fifth type.
Secondly, the highest principle is inexpressible. Again, Ch’an was not content to just say so, as many Buddhist philosophers had done before them, but it tried to make the insight into this truth into a concrete experience, by evolving methods of “stating it through non-statement”, by in other words designing some extraordinary and on the face of it quite irrelevant kind of statement which would do justice to it. Like for instance:
In the square pool
there is a turtle-nosed serpent.
Ridiculous indeed when you come to think of it!
Who pulled out the serpent’s head?
Analogously, “cultivation must be carried out by non-cultivation”. Just as a mirror cannot be made by grinding a brick, so a Buddha cannot be made by practising meditations.
This does not mean that all meditation should be discarded, but that it should be carried out without any striving, self-assertion or deliberate purpose, thus exhausting the old karma and creating no new karma. One must be established in “no-thought”, which means “to be in thought yet devoid of thought” and to “stop the mind dashing hither and thither”.
As a result of this kind of cultivation, a man gains enlightenment, he has no more doubts and all his problems are suddenly solved, not because he has found a solution for them, but because they have ceased to be problems for him. And although his new-found knowledge is different from the ignorance of ordinary people, nevertheless, in the last resort, he has gained nothing at all, and the life of the sage is not different from that of ordinary men. As Yi-hsuan (died 867) put it: “Only do ordinary things with no special effort: relieve your bowels, pass water, wear your clothes, eat your food, and, when tired, lie down! Simple fellows will laugh at you, but the wise will understand.”
So “there is really nothing much in the Buddhist teaching”. The secret which the Buddha gave to Mahakasyapa is really an open secret, and there is nothing to it, except that the mass of people fail to understand it. Once enlightened, the sage can without any effort combine a mysterious aloofness with a constant response to the calls of the world. Non-activity has become identical with action, and, as P’ang-yun put it, “spirit-like understanding and divine fuctioning lies in carrying water and chopping wood”. To conclude with a saying of Hai-yun: “To eat all day yet not to swallow a grain of rice; to walk all day yet not tread an inch of ground; to have no distinction during that time between object and subject, and to be inseparable from things all day long, yet not be deluded by them, this is to be the man who is at ease in himself.” Ch’an is a very profound doctrine indeed. Although the cultural background and social conditions of the China of the T’ang differed in almost every way from those of the India of the Buddha Sakyamuni, rarely have Buddhists at any time come as near to the spirit of their Founder as the great masters of the Ch’an school.
So far about the intellectual developments of the period. Outwardly also under the T’ang the Buddhist Church attained a position of greater brilliance, wealth and power than it has probably experienced at any other time during its long history. This success was, however, bought at a heavy price. The prosperity of the monasteries threatened to ruin the economy of the country. The vast monastic establishments were economically unproductive, and had to be maintained by the lay community, i.e. by the Imperial Court, by aristocratic families or by villages; the expensive architectural enterprises deflected huge numbers of the rural population from work in the fields, and finally the metallic reserves of the country were drained away, being used to cast images and other ritual objects. This process led to the great persecution of 845. The Government confiscated the property of the monasteries, forced the monks and nuns to return to secular life, and seized the works of art in order to use the metal for more secular purposes.
Buddhism came to Korea officially in AD 372, and by about 525 it had penetrated the entire country. Between 550 and 664 it became the state religion and steadily grew in power, with the monks periodically dominating the rulers. Kings, princes and princesses often became bonzes and everywhere magnificent temples, statues and other monuments were erected. There were no notable developments in doctrine. Korean Buddhism was chiefly significant by acting as an intermediary between China and Japan. Apart from that it was noteworthy for the fervour with which it was practised, and for centuries all the surplus wealth of the country was expended on religious purposes.
About 550 Buddhism came to Japan from Korea, as one of the constituent elements of Chinese civilization and a great statesman, Shotoku Taishi (523-621), adopted it as a kind of religion. Soon it fused with the indigenous Shinto which had at first fiercely opposed it. At first it was said, as in Tibet of the indigenous deities, that the Shinto gods are the guardians and protectors of Buddhism. Then the pantheon of the two schools was slowly identified and it was taught that they were just the same deities under different names. In the ninth century this amalgamation received the name of Ryobu-Shinto. The Ryobu Shinto is a remarkable achievement not only for the reason that it effectively fused the two religions for the time being, but also because it fused them in such a way that 1,000 years later it was quite easy to separate them again.
This was a period of copying. Before 700 four “sects” were introduced, which were not however corporations pledged to support particular doctrines, but simply philosophical schools which expounded certain textbooks. They were:
- The Jojitsu (625) based on Kumarajiva’s translation of Harivarman’s “Satyasiddhi”;
- The Sawron (625) which studied the three works of Nagarjuna and Aryadeva which were the basis of the Chinese San-lun school;
- The Hosso (654) which has for its textbook the Yuishiki, which expounds the principles of Vijnanavada after Yuan-tsang and K’uei-ki;
- and the Kusha (658) which was devoted to the exposition of Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakosa.
Then came the Hua-yen (730), now called Kegon, which lasted for many centuries, and worshipped Vairocana, as Roshana or Birushana; and also the Vinaya sect (753) which was called Risshu tried to introduce stricter rules of ordination, and declined soon.
Much more substantial were the sects introduced during the Heian period (794-1186), which was dominated by the Tendai and Shingon who had their centres on two mountains.
The one was founded by Dengyo Daishi (767-822) who had brought the T’ien-t’ai doctrine from China, the other by Kobo Daishi (774—835) who had learned the mysteries of the Chen-yen in Chang-an. The sacred Tendai mountains of Hieizan near the new capital of Kyoto were soon covered by no fewer than 3,000 temples or halls. The Tendai not only had a great influence on art, but all later sects arose from within it, in the sense that their founders had for a time belonged to this sect. Kobo Daishi on his return from China not only became a great favourite at the imperial court, but he also impressed the popular imagination more than any other Japanese teacher has done. For the people he is the hero of countless legends, for his followers a manifestation of Vairocana not yet dead, but awaiting within his tomb the cdming of the future Buddha.
The centre of the Shingon sect was on the lonely mountain of Koyasan, and the performance of ritual has been its main activity, apart from the execution of paintings and sculptures of Tantric deities.
Not all the monks of Tendai and Shingon resided in monasteries, and there was a strong movement within both schools to revive the ardours of the early Buddhist community, when the monks actually dwelled in the forest. There was a considerable number of Yama-bushi, “those who sleep on mountains”, or Shugenja, “those who practise austerities”, who lived alone or in little groups in the wild mountains and forests. On the whole, both Tendai and Shingon chiefly addressed themselves to the educated classes and their popular appeal was not very strong. To those who desired an easier way they held out the invocation of Amida’s name which would lead to rebirth in the Western Paradise. Both the Nara and Heian sects built special halls for recitation of the Nem-butsu, accompanied by hymns and musical services. At the same time during the tenth century itinerant preachers brought the message of Amida’s saving grace to the masses in a language which they could understand.
Buddhism took on the colouring of the social conditions in whicli it lived. The esteem in which the religion was held was to a large extent a tribute to its beneficial magical effects on the welfare of the nation. Monasteries were by their very presence preserved from the noxious influences which arise out of the earth in certain places, and the recital of the great Mahāyāna Sutras was regularly carried out for the purpose of averting plagues, earthquakes, and other disasters.
The moral precepts, on the other hand, were not always closely observed. In the Heian period there were violent quarrels between the monasteries, who had become huge territorial magnates, and behaved as feudal institutions usually do. Organized bodies of mercenaries commanded by priests burned down each other’s monasteries, and appeared in armed bands in Kyoto to force the hands of the government. Aesthetic culture was the chief note of the age, and much of its wonderful art has survived.
In Tibet Buddhism is said to have begun about 650, but it made real headway only a century later. At first it met with fierce resistance from the shamans of the native Bon religion, who had the support of the greater part of the nobility. The patronage of the king, however, enabled the Buddhists gradually to establish themselves, and under King Ral-pa-can (817-36) they reached the height of their influence. In 787 the first monastery was completed at Bsam Yas and soon after the first monks were ordained by Santarakshita. Everywhere temples were erected, many teachers invited from India, a script was invented and numerous works were translated. Great endeavours were made to ensure the accuracy of the translations and the terminology was standardized about 825 by a commission consisting of Indian pandits and Tibetan Lotsabas, which published the Mahāvyutpatti for the guidance of translators. The Bon rivals seemed defeated, the monks seized the effective rule of the country, but then under Glang-dar-ma (836-42) a persecution wiped out everything that had been gained. For about one century Buddhism once more vanished from Tibet.
The period under review is for Tibet one of reception. In the course of it four principal systems, or lines of thought, were introduced:
1. From the West, from the Swat valley, came the Tantric ideas of Padmasambhava, who himself stayed in Tibet for a short while. Padmasambhava’s mentality had considerable affinities with that of the Bon and he had a striking success in Tibet. He expounded some kind of Vajrayanic system, but we do not know exactly which one. The impression he made on Tibet was chiefly based on his thaumaturgical activities and the legend has quite overgrown the historical facts. The school of the Nyingmapa, or “Ancient Ones”, goes back to Padmasambhava and has persisted continuously up to today.
2. From the South came the Pdla Synthesis of the Mahāyāna, brought by some of the leading scholars of the universities of Magadha. This combination of Prajnaparamita and Tantra has become the central tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and has renewed itself again and again up to the present day. It has always attached a special value to the Abhisamaydlankdra, an Indian work of the fourth century, which arranges the contents of the “Prajnaparamita in 25,000 Slokas” in definite numerical lists, that make it possible to memorize the text as a preliminary step to meditation on it, while at the same time interpreting it in the spirit of the Madhyamikas with some admixture from the more moderate Yogacarin tradition. Frequently commented upon already in India, the Abhisamayalankara now in Tibet became the cornerstone of the more advanced non-Tantric training and innumerable commentaries have been composed on it by the learned men of Tibet.
3. Thirdly, from the South-West the Sarvdstivddins also attempted to gain a foothold in Tibet. Quite early on the king invited them to establish a monastery, but their settlements soon withered away, the surrounding population remaining indifferent to a teaching which lacked in magical practices. Although they could not maintain themselves for long in this world of magic and witchcraft, the Sarvastivadins have nevertheless exerted a considerable influence on the thought of Tibet, because their literature is practically the only version of the older type of Buddhism to find its way into the Canon of translated scriptures.
4. The fourth influence came from the East. Numerous Chinese monks of the Ch’an Sect appeared in Tibet and attempted to convert its inhabitants to their tenets. They soon came into conflict with the Indian pandits of the Pala orthodoxy, and were decisively defeated at the famous Council of Bsam Yas in 793-4. After that they had to leave the country, or go underground, and their influence on later Tibetan history is negligible.