Con người sinh ra trần trụi và chết đi cũng không mang theo được gì. Tất cả những giá trị chân thật mà chúng ta có thể có được luôn nằm ngay trong cách mà chúng ta sử dụng thời gian của đời mình.Tủ sách Rộng Mở Tâm Hồn
Từ bi và độ lượng không phải là dấu hiệu của yếu đuối, mà thực sự là biểu hiện của sức mạnh.Đức Đạt-lai Lạt-ma XIV
Tôi không thể thay đổi hướng gió, nhưng tôi có thể điều chỉnh cánh buồm để luôn đi đến đích. (I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.)Jimmy Dean
Kẻ ngu dầu trọn đời được thân cận bậc hiền trí cũng không hiểu lý pháp, như muỗng với vị canh.Kinh Pháp Cú - Kệ số 64
Người cầu đạo ví như kẻ mặc áo bằng cỏ khô, khi lửa đến gần phải lo tránh. Người học đạo thấy sự tham dục phải lo tránh xa.Kinh Bốn mươi hai chương
Chấm dứt sự giết hại chúng sinh chính là chấm dứt chuỗi khổ đau trong tương lai cho chính mình.Tủ sách Rộng Mở Tâm Hồn
Hạnh phúc là khi những gì bạn suy nghĩ, nói ra và thực hiện đều hòa hợp với nhau. (Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.)Mahatma Gandhi
Chúng ta không có khả năng giúp đỡ tất cả mọi người, nhưng mỗi người trong chúng ta đều có thể giúp đỡ một ai đó. (We can't help everyone, but everyone can help someone.)Ronald Reagan
Nếu quyết tâm đạt đến thành công đủ mạnh, thất bại sẽ không bao giờ đánh gục được tôi. (Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.)Og Mandino
Việc đánh giá một con người qua những câu hỏi của người ấy dễ dàng hơn là qua những câu trả lời người ấy đưa ra. (It is easier to judge the mind of a man by his questions rather than his answers.)Pierre-Marc-Gaston de Lévis

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A Short History of Buddhism

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Lược sử Phật giáo - CHƯƠNG IV: MỘT NGÀN NĂM CUỐI - (TỪ NĂM 1000 ĐẾN NĂM 1978)

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In India itself, Buddhism came to an end about 1200, though in some districts, as in Magadha, Bengal, Orissa and South India, it lingered on for a further 200 or 300 years.

The main cause which precipitated its disappearance was, of course, the Mohammedan invasions. In their fanatical hatred for what seemed to them ‘idolatry’, these ruthless conquerors burned down the flourishing monasteries and universities of Sind and Bengal, and killed the monks, who offered no resistance, partly in obedience to their vows, and partly because they believed that astrological calculations had shown that the Muslims would in any case conquer Hindustan.

On further consideration Muslim savagery cannot, however, be the whole explanation and that for two reasons:

Firstly, Hinduism and Jainism, subjected to the same fury, managed to carry on.

Secondly, in regions which were not touched by the Muslim invasions, as in Nepal and South India, Buddhism also steadily died out, though much more slowly.

Hence the cause of this decline must be sought as much within Buddhism as without it.

As a social force an unworldly religion can only survive if by some accident it is able to enlist the support of some powerful or wealthy section of society. If the Jains alone among the numerous ancient sects of India are still a power in that country, it is because by some accident wealthy merchants are numbered among its adherents, merchants who regard it as an honour to support the ascetics.

Buddhism has generally relied on the support of kings and where that was wanting it has usually been in difficulties.

It has, as we saw, never succeeded in doing very much for the average lay follower, and therefore the monks cannot normally live on their voluntary patronage. The Buddhist laity never formed a corporate social entity, or a homogenous group living apart from the followers of the Brahminical sects, and it had throughout conformed to the Brahminical caste system and followed Brahminical rites in ceremonies at birth, marriage, and death. So any weakening of the monasteries would automatically lead to the absorption of the lay followeres into the closely knit social structure of Brahminism.

The Jains survived because a living community existed between monks and laymen, but the Buddhists were lacking in that. The international character of Buddhism, which had enabled it to conquer Asia, also favoured its extinction in India. The Buddhist religion had always inculcated indifference to the particular country in which the monks were living, and so the surviving monks left the country in which they could no longer practise their monastic rules, and went to Nepal, Tibet, China, etc. Their less flexible and more earth-bound Hindu and Jain brethren stood their ground, and in the end they survived where they were.

As a spiritual force Buddhism had played itself out. There is no reason to believe that after 1,000 the Buddhist monks were any lazier or more corrupt than at any time, and in any case the history of religion knows numerous cases where corruption has been healed by reformation. In fact, when we see the calibre of the men whom the Indian foundations could still send to Tibet, it is difficult to believe in their depravity or degeneracy. But what had ceased was the creative impulse. The Buddhists had nothing new to say any more.

By analogy with what happened in the first and sixth centuries, a new outburst of creative activity was due in the eleventh, and was necessary to the rejuvenation of the religion. It failed to take place.

What had of course happened was that in the course of 1,700 years of co-existence the Hindus had taken over a great deal from the Buddhists and the Buddhists likewise from the Hindus. In consequence the division between them had increasingly diminished and it was no great thing for a Buddhist to be absorbed into the largely Buddhified Hindu fold.

The Buddha and some Buddhist deities were incorporated into the Hindu pantheon. The philosophy of Nagarjuna had been absorbed into the Vedanta by Gaudapada, Sankara’s teacher, just as the Vaishnavas of later times were greatly indebted to the Buddhists. The Buddhist Tantras had provoked their Hindu counterparts, which abound with references to Mahāyāna deities. There had been a constant assimilation in the iconography and mythology of the two religions.

It is a law of history that the co-existence of rival views must lead to some form of eclecticism. This is merely the reproduction of the effects of osmotic pressure in the intellectual field. So it was in the Greco-Roman world with the philosophical systems, and so with the political parties in England in the fifties, their main difficulty being to find something to disagree on. The same happened to Hinduism and Buddhism. The separate existence of Buddhism no longer served a useful purpose. Its disappearance thus was no loss to anyone.

We must also not forget the Buddhist conviction that this is a period of religious decline. In Orissa the Buddhists said that in the inauspicious Kali Yuga the Buddhists must disguise themselves and worship Hari, waiting patiently for the time when the Buddhas will reappear.

Hostile critics generally scrutinize the collapse of Buddhism in India on the assumption that there must have been something wrong with it. “It is always so easy to flog a dead horse”, as one of these historians himself admits, and Darwinian preconceptions about the “survival of the fittest” may mislead when applied to religions.

Everything has its duration, its allotted life-span - trees, animals, nations, social institutions, and religions are no exception. What Buddhism in India died from was just old age, or sheer exhaustion. Nor had it ever believed that it was exempt from the impermanence of all conditioned things which it had preached so often.

In fact, in their wisdom, its teachers had foreseen the coming end. For centuries the fall of the Order had been predicted for a period about 1,500 years after the Buddha’s Nirvāṇa and Yuan-tsang not only recounts many legends current in many places in India in the seventh century which showed an expectation of the coming end, but he himself had, amidst the grandeurs of Nālandā, a dream to the effect that fire would devastate this celebrated centre of learning, and that its halls would one day be deserted. So when the end came it was in no way unexpected and all that was left was to disappear gracefully from the scene.


The Moslem persecutions induced many monks and scholars of Northern India to flee to Nepal, bringing their books and holy images with them. Nepal thus became a repository of Pala Buddhism. Nevertheless even the arrival of the refugees from India failed to infuse new vigour into the Buddhism of Nepal, and after AD 1000 it presents a picture of increasing decay. Royal patronage kept the Sańgha alive for some time, and for a few “centuries the country remained a centre of Buddhist culture.

Scholars can determine the extent of the decadence by the condition of the Sanskrit manuscripts. These are very good about AD 1200, they become fair in the seventeenth century, and in the nineteenth they become so careless and slovenly that little reliance can be placed on them. Likewise the quality of the art goes steadily down and down.

With the collapse of Buddhism in India the Buddhists of Nepal had to rely on their own strength. Reduced to one small valley, they capitulated to Hinduism within a hundred years or so. In the course of the fourteenth century the monks decided that the monastic rules were too difficult to keep, and they transformed themselves into a Hindu caste, calling themselves the banras (“honourable ones”)- They gave up their celibacy, moved into the vihdras with their families, and have ever since continued to earn their living as metal workers. Deprived of its elite, Nepalese Buddhism could only preserve some of the outward forms of the religion. A number of deities are worshipped in the manner of Hindu gods and for centuries lay Buddhism alone has prevailed in Nepal. The most popular deities are Matsyendranath, “Lord Indra of the Fish”, a deified Yogin, identified with Lokesvara, and also Tara, the “Saviouress”, who, however, as the centuries passed on, has lost ground to the Sivaite Kali.

In the popular cult the dividing lines from Hinduism have become more and more blurred. In some cases the same image does service for both, e.g. the Hindu looks upon Mahakala as Shiva or Vishnu, the Buddhist as Vajrapani; or Hindu pilgrims at Tundiktel worship the guardian deity of Nepal, Buddhists the same image as Padmapani.

Not that all scholarship and intellectual life has been completely extinct. Hodgson, the British Resident, tells us that early in the nineteenth century there were four philosophical schools, called the Svabhavikas, Aisvarikas, Karmikas and Yatnikas. But, like so many other English Proconsuls, he had no taste for philosophy, refused to be drawn into “the interminable absurdities of the Bauddha system”, and his account of their differences gives little sense. Curiously enough, no one since has tried to determine the points in dispute.

The conquest of the country by the Gurkhas in 1768 reduced the Buddhist Newars to the status of a subject race, and that was the final blow which further accelerated the decay which was the inevitable consequence of the disappearance of the Sańgha of homeless monks.

In recent years missionaries from both Ceylon and Tibet have attempted to found a new Sańgha in Nepal, and any revival of the religion will depend on the success of their endeavours.

In Kashmir, the last centuries of Hindu rule were on the whole years of misrule, and the years between 855 and 1338 represent a period of continuous decline and of. political disintegration. Buddhism and Sivaism fused and Buddhists and Sivaites often lived together in the same religious foundations.

After 1000, many Kashmiri scholars and craftsmen went to Tibet, Ladakh, Guge and Spiti, and between 1204-13 Skyasribhadra, “the Great Kashmiri Scholar” was prominent in Tibet.

The year 1339 marked the beginning of Muslim rule. At first that was tolerant to the Buddhists, but about 1400 the persecution began in earnest, images, temples and monasteries were systematically destroyed, religious ceremonies and processions were forbidden, and about 1500 Buddhism came to an end as a distinct faith, not without leaving strong traces on the Hinduism in that region and fainter traces even on the Muslims. For the rest everything was totally wrecked.


In 1160 a council at Anuradhapura terminated the dissensions between the Mahavihara and its rivals by the suppression of the latter. Soon after 1200 there was a collapse, not so much of Buddhism, as of the social system which supported it.

Invasions from India weakened the central power, which could no longer enforce the irrigation works and soon Muslim pirates and even Chinese eunuchs ruled over large stretches of the land. The economic basis of the Sańgha in this way became extremely precarious.

Later on, beginning in the sixteenth century, the Portuguese persecuted Buddhism, claimed to have destroyed the Sacred Tooth, and forced many Ceylonese to become Roman Catholics. Then followed the Dutch, and finally the English (until 1948). The long centuries of European rule did great harm to the Buddhist cause. The Sańgha often died out completely, and monks had to be repeatedly imported from Burma and Siam, in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The revival began about 1880, first stimulated by the Theosophical Society, and then carried out under the impulse of awakening nationalism. Since that time Ceylonese Buddhists have become increasingly active and have done a great deal of valuable scholarly work, though generally within the limits of a rather narrow orthodoxy, and in 1950 they took the lead in trying to bring all Buddhist countries together, and set up the World Fellowship of Buddhists.


At the beginning of this period the Buddhism of Burma changes its character, and draws its inspiration henceforth from Ceylon. In 1057 King Anawrahta of Pagan conquers Thaton to take possession of the Pali Tipitaka and the relics stored there. He then has monks and scriptures brought from Ceylon, and the chronicles assure us that he “drove out” the Ari priests of the Vajrayana. There is, however, much evidence for the persistence of the Mahāyāna after that date.

Archaeology has shown that it was during the suzerainty of the Anawrahta dynasty (1044—1283) that the Mahāyāna flourished most, side by side with the more popular Theravada. Many sculptures of Mahāyāna deities date back to that time, Mahāyāna texts were found in the monasteries up to the fifteenth century, and unmistakably Tantric paintings can still be seen on the walls of temples near Pagan, first in the style of Bengal, and later in that of Nepal.

The Aris were certainly abhorrent to the Therava-dins, because they ate meat, drank spirits, used spells to remove guilt, practised animal sacrifices and indulged in erotic practices, but nevertheless they continued to exist until the end of the eighteenth century.

The patronage of the Court went, however, to the Therava-dins, and Pagan, until its destruction by the Mongols in 1287, was a great centre of Buddhist culture, and witnessed during three centuries one of those outbursts of devotion of which we have seen other examples in China, Korea, and Tibet. For eight miles the land was filled with 9,000 pagodas and temples, among which the most famous is the Ananda temple of the eleventh century. The 547 Jataka stories are here represented on glazed plaques.

After the collapse of the central dynasty Burma was for 500 years divided into warring kingdoms, but the Theravada tradition continued, though less splendidly than before. The end of the fifteenth century saw the final triumph of the Sinhalese school, when king Dhammaceti of Pegu reintroduced a canoni-cally valid monastic succession from Ceylon.

In 1752 Burma was united again, after 1852 the dynasty vigorously patronized the Sańgha and a Council at Mandalay in 1868-71 corrected the text of the Tipitaka, which was then incised on 729 marble slabs.

The coming of the English in 1885 did much harm to the Sańgha by destroying the central ecclesiastical authority. In the struggle for independence the monks played a prominent part. During recent years attempts have been made to combine Buddhism with Marxism, and also a new method of meditation has been advocated which by employing Tantric practices is said to lead to speedier results.

Burmese Buddhism is bent on preserving Theravada orthodoxy and it has made no creative contribution to Buddhist thought. Disputes have always been confined to the externalities of the Vinaya and the extensive literature consists of works on grammar, astrology and medicine, of commentaries and of adaptations of Jatakas. The thirty-seven Nats, or “spirits”, are universally asked for their favours, but the chief means of acquiring merit is to build a pagoda, with the result that the country is covered with them.

The Sańgha is not estranged from the people, monasteries and shrines are placed near the centres of habitation, so as to be easily accessible to laymen, every layman becomes a novice for a time, and receives some education in the monasteries. The population, 85 per cent Buddhist, has been distinguished by its high degree of literacy for a long time. Buddhism has been a great civilizing force in the life of Burma, has helped to tone down racial rivalries, fostered a democratic social life by minimizing the importance of wealth and caste, brought much beauty and knowledge with it, and above all, it has created a singularly cheerful, polite and likeable people.

Theravada Buddhism during our period likewise took over in Thailand and Indo-China. The Thais brought from their home in China some form of Buddhism, but in the fourteenth century the Ceylonese Theravada was established. The capitals - first Ayuthia (1330-1767) and then Bangkok (after 1770) - are large, magnificent Buddhist cities with immense religious edifices and great Buddhas.

Buddhism is the state religion, all indigenous culture is bound up with it and the king is the “Protector of Dhamma” not only in word but also in deed. Tradition is strictly followed and the rhythmical recitation of Pali texts is greatly stressed. Petitions, as in Burma, are not directed to the Buddha but to local genii and tree spirits.

Whereas in the eleventh century the Tantrayana still flourished in Cambodia, after 1300 the Theravada as a result of the Thai pressure slowly replaced it and in the fifteenth century the Ceylonese orthodoxy was imported. Also here the education is in the hands of the monks and Buddhism has proved itself an elevating and ennobling influence, and has produced a mild, kindly and helpful people. The Neaca-ta, or spirits of the land, also play their part and there is some blending of influences from China (e.g. the presence of Mi-lei-fo in the temples) and from India (e.g. the Nagas, Garudas and four-faced Sivas found in architecture).

The history of Buddhism in Laos is shrouded in legend. It seems to have been introduced in the fourteenth century by Khmer immigrants, and at present is of the Siamese type, with greater emphasis on the Nagas.

Vietnam finally, independent since 1000, is culturally a part of China, and the Mahāyāna has existed there for a long time.

In Indonesia Tantric Buddhism persisted until it was suppressed by Islam, in Sumatra at the end of the fourteenth century, in Java from the fifteenth century onwards. Its final collapse was preceded by a slow decline in the Hindu impact on the culture and a re-assertion of the more indigenous elements. The Tantrism prevalent in this period was an extremist form, which enjoined the practice of the five makaras, “free from all sensualities”, and regarded Vairocana as the primordial Buddha. It syncretized the Kalacakra with the devotion to Shiva Bhairava into a cult of Shiva-buddha and, in keeping with the native Indonesian tradition, it was chiefly devoted to the redemption of the souls of the dead. Some of the loveliest pieces of Buddhist sculpture were made in Java under the dynasty of Singhasari (1222-92), which represented its kings on statues as Amoghapasa, Aksobhya, etc., and its queens as Prajnaparamita, etc.


Although the Sung emperors were on the whole well disposed towards Buddhism, its vigour declined during this period.

After about AD 1000 two schools ousted all the others, the Amidism of Faith, and the meditational school of Ch’an. Within Ch’an, five lines of transmission, called the “Five Houses”, had taken shape. All Ch’an Buddhists alike believe that one’s own heart is the Buddha, but there are obviously great differences in the hearts of men and these must inevitably reflect themselves in different methods and approaches. What therefore differentiated the “Five Houses” were less differences in doctrine than differences in style. Three of the five, the Wei-yang-tsung, the Yun-men-tsung and the Fa-yen-tsung, died out already by the middle of the Sung period.

Characteristic of the Wei-yang sect was a special method of teaching by drawing various circles in the air or on the ground; the Yiin-men sect generally resembled the Lin-chi, but one of its special devices was the reply to questions with one single word of one syllable; the Fa-yen was more favourable to the study of the Sutras than the other Ch’an sects and the influence on it of the Hua-yen doctrines was particularly marked.

The two schools which have survived to the present day are the Ts’ao-tung-tsung, founded by Tung-shan Liang-chieh (807-69), and the Lin-chi-tsung, which goes back to his contemporary Lin-chi-I-hsuan (died 867).

The differences between these two, which had been just distinctive tendencies so far, hardened into different sects in the proper sense of the term only about 1150.

The Ts’ao-tung was always characterized by quietism and Hung-chih Cheng-chueh (died 1157) gave it the special name of Mo-chao ch’an “silent-illumination Ch’an”. This indicated that the school stressed the quiet sitting still in silent meditation, by or in which enlightenment, or spiritual insight into absolute emptiness, is attained.

The founder of this sect was mild and gentle in his methods. He also bequeathed to his school a special doctrine concerning the “Five Ranks”, which distinguishes five stages of the movement towards enlightenment in a thoroughly Chinese manner which was greatly indebted to the Book of Changes, and the stages were represented by white and black circles.

Four doctrines are mentioned as characteristic of the Ts’ao-tung:

(1) All beings have the Buddha-nature at birth and consequently are essentially enlightened;

(2) They can enjoy fully the Bliss of the Buddha-nature while in a state of quiet meditation;

(3) Practice and knowledge must always complement one another;

(4) The strict observance of religious ritual must be carried over into our daily lives.

The founder of the Lin-chi sect by contrast favoured the use of rudeness and abruptness and the “shout and the stick” played a great part in the practices of this school. It was the most hostile of them all to rationalization and the most emphatic in stressing the suddenness and directness of Ch’an experience.

During the Sung the Ch’an school became a cultural factor of great importance. Many Ch’an monks were found among the painters of the period, and its influence on art was considerable. Even the Neo-Confucian Renaissance of Chu-hsi and others owed much to Ch’an Buddhism, just as the Vedantic Renaissance of Sankara had been greatly indebted to Mahāyāna Buddhism. The practice oftso-ch’an, quiet contemplation, so important in Ch’an, found its way into the practices of Confucianism as ching-tso, or “quiet-sitting”.

This outward success brought its dangers and led to a deep crisis within Ch’an. The T’ang masters had always avoided the capital, but now the Ch’an monasteries maintained excellent relations with the Court and meddled much in politics. Magnificent Ch’an monasteries arose throughout the country and became focal points of social and cultural life. Many concessions were made to intellectualism and to the study of the Sutras, and within the Ch’an camp a vigorous controversy arose about their importance.

Most radical in its rejection of the authority of the Sutras was the Lin-chi, which countered the impending decadence by evolving the kung-an system.

The word Kung-an consists of two characters, for “government” and “legal case” and denotes a precedent or authoritative model. In practice a kung-an is a riddle, usually connected with a saying or action of one of the T’ang masters.

Collections of such kung-ans were now published and to each was added an explanation which deliberately never explained anything at all.

The first example of this new literary genre was a collection of 100 riddles, called the Pi-yen-lu, which appeared in 1125. The other famous collection is the “Gateless Gate”, or Wu-men-kuan, comprising 48 cases, and which appeared more than a century later.

In opposition to the quietism advocated by the Ts’ao-tung, the Lin-chi advocated ceaseless activity on the chosen kung-an which must be carried on until sudden enlightenment supervenes. As Ta-hui tsung-kao (1089-1163) put it: “Just steadily go on with your kung-an every moment of your life! Whether walking or sitting, let your attention be fixed upon it without interruption. When you begin to find it entirely devoid of flavour, the final moment is approaching: do not let it slip out of your grasp! When all of a sudden something flashes out in your mind, its light will illuminate the entire universe, and you will see the spiritual land of the Enlightened Ones fully revealed at the point of a single hair and the wheel of the Dharma revolving in a single grain of dust.”

In Sung times systematic method thus replaced the individualistic spontaneity of the T’ang masters. But it was this systematization and to some extent mechanization which assured the survival of Ch’an.

Whenever philosophical schools coexist for any length of time, the result will be an increasing syncretism between them. In many ways Ch’an was combined with Huayen and T’ien-t’ai, and the practice of the Nembutsu was often brought in to strengthen the Ch’an meditation. During the Yuan and Ming dynasties a fairly complete fusion of the different trends of Chinese Buddhism actually took place. The Ming and Manchus favoured Confucianism, but tolerated, and occasionally encouraged Buddhism.

Two emperors, Yung-cheng (1723-35) and Ch’ien-lung (1736-95), tried to create a type of Buddhism which combined Chinese Buddhist (Fo-ist) and Lamaist elements, thus appealing to Chinese on the one hand, and Tibetans and Mongols on the other. The Yung-ho-kung, the Lamaist Cathedral in Peking, is a visible monument to these endeavours and in it the deities proper to these two types of Buddhist cult are carefully blended. Even Kuan Ti, the Chinese War God, and Confucius are there enlisted among the Bodhisattvas.

The prosperity of the monasteries has never recovered from the Taiping rebellion of the “long-haired Christians”, who for fifteen years (1850-65) devasted sixteen provinces, destroyed 600 cities, and thousands of temples and monasteries. Nevertheless, until the present day Buddhism has remained a by no means negligible factor in the cultural and religious life of China.

In Korea, Buddhism reached the height of its power under the Koryo dynasty, particularly between 1140 and 1390. The founder of the dynasty was a pious Buddhist, who attributed his success to the Buddha’s protection. His successors never wavered in their support of the religion. Each king chose a bonze as his “preceptor”, or advisor. The holy scriptures were carried in front of the kings when they travelled. Fine editions of the Canon were printed at the expense of the state, one of them comprising 81,258 leaves. For long stretches of time the government was entirely in the hands of the bonzes.

Up to the twelfth century the aristocracy had been the main support of Buddhism, but now it became the religion of the common people as well. Strong magical elements entered into Buddhism, as has happened to this religion wherever it became really popular. Many bonzes became experts in prolonging life, in working miracles, evoking spirits, distinguishing between auspicious and inauspicious times and places, and so on.

In 1036 an edict abolished the death penalty and decreed that out of four sons one must become a monk. The Koryo dynasty expended much wealth on magnificent religious ceremonies and buildings, and innumerable works of art were created under it.

During the Yuan dynasty, especially after 1258, Lamaism exerted a considerable influence. In the fourteenth century the Buddhists dominated Korea almost completely. In 1310 it was decreed that the monks need not salute anyone whereas everyone else must show respect to them. Those who had chosen the religious life were exempt from all material cares.

The excessively privileged position of the church came to an abrupt end with the change of the dynasty in 1392. Confucianism now gained the upper hand, the monks were deprived of official support and a share in political life, their lands were confiscated, they were forbidden to pray at funerals, the twenty-three convents existing in Seoul were closed, and Buddhism was generally discouraged.

As a religion of the masses it nevertheless persisted, away from the cities, in the rather inaccessible Diamond Mountains.

Doctrinally, this Buddhism was the usual Chinese mixture of Ch’an, Amidism and local superstitions.

Between 1910 and 1945 the Japanese fostered Buddhism, but it remained in a rather debilitated condition. In 1947, about 7,000 monks were counted in Korea.


During this period a second flowering of Buddhism took place in Japan. Between 1160 and 1260 new sects arose which entirely changed its character, and Japanese Buddhism now reached the height of its originality and creative power. In the Kamakura period (1192-1335) the Amida schools and Zen came into the foreground, just as they did in China after AD 1000.

The first Amida sect, known as the Yuzu Nembutsu, was founded already in 1124 by Ryonin, who saw the way to salvation in the constant recitation of the “Nembutsu”, i.e. of the formula Namu Amida Butsu, up to 60,000 times a day. He also taught that this invocation was infinitely more meritorious if repeated on behalf of others than for one’s own selfish ends. His sect, though still in existence, never commanded a large following.

Far more influential was the Jodo, or “Pure Land”, school, founded by Honen (1133-1212), an exceptionally learned and gentle priest. In 1175, at the age of 43, Shan-tao’s works led him to the conclusion that the traditional Buddhist moral and mental disciplines were no longer effective in this age of decay. Whatever in such an age we may do by our own efforts (jiriki) is of no avail. Peace can only be found through the strength of another (tariki), in self-surrender and in reliance on a higher power, that of the Buddha Amitabha. Honen therefore abandoned all other religious practices, and devoted himself exclusively to the recitation of Amida’s name. All that matters is to “repeat the name of Amida with all your heart - whether walking or standing still, whether sitting or lying, never cease to practise it for even a moment!” In these evil days the only way to obtain salvation is to strive to be reborn in Amida’s “Western Paradise” (Jo-do), and the “holy path” (sho-do), consisting of good works and religious exercises, no longer works. A simple faith in Amida is all that is needed. It will carry even the greatest sinner into Amida’s Blessed Land.

Honen drew, however, no antinomian inferences from this assertion and enjoined his followers to avoid sin, to observe the monastic regulations, and also to show no disrespect to the other Buddhas and to the Sutras. His teaching had an instantaneous success at the Court, among the aristocracy, the Samurai and the clergy, and the new movement maintained itself easily against the hostility of the older sects.

The Jodo school has continued to the present day without much modification. But in the fourteenth century the seventh patriarch Ryoyo Shogei made an interesting and influential re-interpretation. Rebirth in the Pure Land, so he said, does not mean that one is transported into another region, but the Pure Land is everywhere, and to go there is a change of mind and condition, and not of place. This is very much in agreement with the tradition of Mahāyāna.

A further simplification of Amidism was effected by Shinran (born 1173), one of Honen’s disciples, and the founder of the Shin sect, the word shin being an abbreviation of Jodo Shinshu, “the True Jodo Sect”. Shinran broke with the monastic traditions, got married and advised his followers to do likewise. He regarded the constant repetition of the Nembutsu as unnecessary, and asserted that to call on Amida once only with a believing mind was sufficient to secure birth in His Paradise. The faith in Amida is, however, Amida’s own free gift. As to the problem of morality, Shinran maintained that a wicked man is more likely to get into Amida’s Land than a good man, because he is less likely to trust in his own strength and merits. The clergy of this sect disclaimed all learning, but as the teachings lend themselves to misunderstanding, great theological subtleties were evolved in the course of time. The devotional practices of this and other Amida schools led to the multiplication of images of Amida, to whom also hymns (wasan) in Japanese were written. Shinran aimed at breaking down the barriers between religion and the common people, and in fact the Shinshu became one of the most popular sects and has remained so to the present day.

Less successful was the third Amidist sect, founded by Ippen in 1276, and called the Ji, or “the Time”, to indicate that it was the proper religion for these degenerate times. In the tradition of the Ryobu-Shinto he identified a number of Shinto deities with Amida, but as for the Nembutsu Ippen even regarded faith as unnecessary, for is it not an activity of the corrupt human mind? The recitation of Amida’s name is effective as a result of the sound alone, ex opere operate, as it were.

The fourth devotionalist sect, founded in 1253 by Nichiren, the son of a fisherman, differs from all other Buddhist schools by its nationalistic, pugnacious and intolerant attitude and it is somewhat doubtful whether it belongs to the history of Buddhism at all. The patriotic fervour of Nichiren is accounted for by the fact that nationalist sentiments had at that time been greatly inflamed by the long-standing threat of Mongol invasion, which was finally dispelled by the repulsion of Khubilai’s armadas in 1274 and 1281. Nichiren replaced the Nembutsu with the formula Namu Mydhd Renge-kyo, “Homage to the Sutra of the Lotus of the Good Law!”, and declared that this phrase alone was suitable for this, the last period of Buddhism, which is that of mappo, “the destruction of the Law”, and which according to him began about AD 1050. Nichiren always spoke with the vehemence of a Hebrew prophet and demanded the suppression of all sects except his own. “For the Nembutsu is hell; the Zen are devils; Shingon is a national ruin, and the Risshu are traitors to the country.” On this occasion Buddhism had evolved its very antithesis out of itself.

As for the Zen school, Eisai (1141-1215) introduced the Lin-chi sect into Japan, where it became known as Rinzai, and attained a great success, whereas the Ts’ao-tung, or Soto, was first introduced by Dogen (1200-33), and then organized and popularized by Keizan Jokin (1268-1325). Dogen’s principal work, “The Eye of the True Law”, was written in Japanese, so that all could read it. He insisted that, although his generation clearly belonged to the decline of Buddhism, this was no reason for heroic spirits to aim at less than insight into the highest Truth. Against the intellectualist distortions of Buddhism he maintained that “attainment of the Way can only be achieved with one’s body”. Zazen, or “sitting cross-legged”, is not a set of meditational practices in which one waits for enlightenment to come, but enlightenment is an inherent principle of Zen meditation from the outset, and it should be carried out as an absolutely pure religious exercise from which nothing is sought and nothing is gained. Everything is the Buddha-nature, and that in its turn is nothing more than “the chin of the donkey or the mouth of a horse”.

The Soto sect claims that in Japan it went beyond the developments the parent sect had reached in China, and it gives as an instance of this its belief that, because man is already enlightened from birth, all daily activities should be regarded as post-enlightenment exercises, which should be performed as acts of gratitude to the Buddha (gyojiho-on).

Zen soon spread among the Samurai, particularly in its Rin-zai form, in accordance with the proverbial saying that “Rinzai is for a general, and Soto for a farmer”. In this way Zen led to the cult of Bushido, the “Way of the Warrior”, and this close association with the soldier class is one of the more astonishing transformations of Buddhism.

Zen did much to stimulate the innate Japanese sensitiveness to beauty (mono-no-aware). As Ch’an had done in China, so Zen in Japan from the end of the Kamakura period onwards greatly stimulated not only architecture, sculpture, painting, calligraphy and pottery, but also poetry and music. The close bonds between Zen and the Japanese national character have often been stressed. Buddhist literature was further enriched by two new literary forms, the Noh drama and the so-called “farewell songs”. In a culture dominated by the Samurai, death was an ever-present reality, and to overcome the fear of death became one of the purposes of Zen training.

Under the Ashikaga Shoguns (1335-1573) Zen had the support of the government. Its cultural influence was then at its height and it could spread among society in general because it emphasized concrete action rather than speculative thought. Actions must be simple, and yet have depth, and “simple elegance” (wabi or sabi) became the accepted ideal of conduct.

In the sixteenth century the tea ceremony was systematized by Zen masters. At the same time many artists believed that “Zen and art are one”, Sesshu (1420-1506) being the best-known among them.

After 1500 things were no longer going so well with Japanese Buddhism. Its creative power had waned, and now its political power was broken. Nobunaga destroyed the Tendai stronghold on Hieizan in 1571, and Hideyoshi the great Shingon centre at Negoro,in 1585. Under the Tokugawa( 1603-1867) there was a revival of Confucianism and later on, in the eighteenth century, of militant Shintoism. Buddhism receded into the background, the organization and activities of the monks were carefully supervised by the government, which assured the income of the Church while doing everything to prevent any independent life from developing in it. Buddhism sank into a torpid condition. The traditions of the sects, were, however, maintained.

The Zen sect alone showed some vitality. In the seventeenth century Hakuin introduced new life into the Rinzai sect, which regarded him as its second founder; the poet Basho evolved a new style of poetry; and in 1655 a third Zen sect, the Obaku, was imported from China and has always retained marked Chinese characteristics.

In 1868 Buddhism was to a great extent disendowed and for a short time it seemed that it would die out altogether. After 1890, however, its influence has again increased steadily and in 1950 two-thirds of the population were connected with one or the other of the chief sects. The adaptation to modern life and to the competition with Christianity, has gone further than in any other Buddhist country so far.

In recent years, Japanese Zen has aroused great interest in Europe and America and in D. T. Suzuki it has found a very fine interpreter.


About the year 1000 a revival of Buddhism took place, initiated by a few enthusiasts who lived in the utmost East and West of the country, where the pressure of persecution was least felt. They soon re-established contact with India and Kashmir, which some of them visited themselves, and also Indian teachers were again invited. The most outstanding personality among these revivers was Rin-chen bzang-po (958-1055), who was prominent not only as a translator, but also as a builder of temples and monasteries in Western Tibet. Of decisive importance was also the coming of Atfsa in 1042, who left Vikramasila at the invitation of the king of Western Tibet, and later on established the Pala Mahāyāna also in Central Tibet. The year 1076 saw a great council in mTho-ling, in West Tibet, where lamas from all parts of Tibet met, and this year can be regarded as marking the final establishment of Buddhism in Tibet.

Atisa’s services were not confined to the re-establishment of the religion throughout the length and breadth of the country. He also created a system of chronology which is still used in Tibet, and which defines each year by its position in a cycle of sixty years, which results from combining five elements, viz. earth, iron, water, wood and fire with the twelve animals of the zodiac, i.e. dog, boar, mouse, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, serpent, horse, sheep, monkey and bird.

Without this chronological system the work of the historians, which later on forms one of the glories of Tibetan literature, would have been impossible.

This was not all. It is one of the difficulties of Buddhism as a doctrine that it is so profuse in its teachings and methods, that a guide to them and a classification is desirable. Atlsa provided this in his “Lamp illuminating the road to enlightenment”, in which he distinguishes the practices according to three levels of spiritual development. The lowest are those who seek happiness in this world and consider only their own interest; the second are those who are also intent on their own interest, but more intelligently, by leading a virtuous life, and seeking for purification; the last are those who have the salvation of all at heart. The full fruits of this manual came only 300 years later, with Tsong-kha-pa.

The next four hundred years saw the formation of Tibetan sects, founded by Tibetans themselves and adjusted to their mental and social conditions. Each of them excelled in one of the things which make up the Buddhist spiritual life. The sects differ in their monastic organization, in their dress, in the tutelary deities, in their interpretation of the Adi-Buddha, in the methods of meditation they prefer and so on. But they have interacted on one another, and much mutual borrowing has taken place.

The first of these sects were the Bka-gdam-pa, founded by ‘Brom ston, a pupil of Atlsa, about 1050.

They derived their name from the fact that they followed the “authoritative word” of Atlsa as laid down in his book on the “Road to Enlightenment”. They represent the central tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and form the link between the Indian pandits of the first period and the Yellow Church which dominated Tibet after 1400. They paid great attention to morality and monastic discipline, were strictly celibate, and produced many saintly and learned men.

A much closer contact with the life of the people was achieved by the Bka-rgyud-pa. Founded by Mar-pa (1012-97) they became in the course of time the most Tibetan of all the sects. For some time they possessed some worldly power, but always less than the Saskyapa and Gelugpa. They aimed not so much at theoretical knowledge as at its practical realization. They are still one of the strongest “unreformed” sects, and regard marriage as no bar to sanctity. The biographies of their teachers show us no stock saints, but human beings as they actually are, with all their imperfections and foibles. From their ranks came Mila-ras-pa (1040-1123), Tibet’s greatest and most popular saint and poet, a direct disciple of Marpa. Everyone in Tibet has heard some of his famous “One Hundred Thousand” songs, and everyone is familiar with the main events of his life. How he learned the black arts and revenged himself on his family’s enemies by making a house collapse on them, and smashing their fields with a hailstorm. How he soon realized his guilt, feared to be reborn in hell, and sought purification by the “direct methods” of the Vajrayana. How in his 38th year he found Marpa, who for six years tormented him, so as to allow him to work off his evil deeds. How, when he was 44, he was held ripe for initiation, and how he then spent the remaining 39 years of his life as a hermit on the high Himalayas near the Nepalese border, or wandering about and converting people, until he died from drinking poisoned milk, the gift of a jealous lama. Some of the most dramatic scenes of his life took place in the first years after his initiation, when he lived alone in a cave, ate only herbs until he turned green, and never wore more than his thin cotton cloth in the icy cold of the winter. His indifference to property and comfort, as well as his benevolence towards all that lives, never left him.

The rich literature of this sect consists largely of short books aiming at teaching the practice of various kinds of Yoga. In their desire to be practical they have always given special attention to gtum-mo, the art of creating “magical heat”, without which life in the hermitages would be impossible. This is also something which the average person can appreciate, and which can convince him of the truth and effectiveness of Yoga.

A special form of the Prajnaparamita doctrine was confined to a small elite, to the Shi-byed-pa (“The Pacifiers”) founded about 1090, who had a far greater religious than social significance. They were less well organized than the other sects, and consisted of loose groups of Yogins or hermits or mystics, who devoted themselves to solitary meditation.

Their teaching was originally inspired by Pha-dam-pa, an Indian teacher from South India, who in his turn owed much to the doctrines of Aryadeva, the Madhyamika. It is a Tantric adaptation of the essential spiritual message of Buddhism. The spiritual life consists of two stages:

(1) purification, by cutting off the passions, and

(2) pacification, which consists in the removal of all suffering and the attainment of even-mindedness.

For the first they relied on meditational practices which aimed at driving away the evil spirits which tempt us to commit unwholesome thoughts and for the second they relied largely on the repetition of mantras, such as that of the “Heart Sutra” which appeases all ill, or of short sayings such as “illness”, “joy”, “death”, and “pleasure”.

The greater splendours of priestly power should not blind us to the quiet work of these unworldly people.

More worldly were the Sa-skya-pa, who derive their name from the monastery of Saskya which had been founded in 1073. They provided the counterweight to the Bka-gdam-pa and Shi-byed-pa by excelling in social organization. After the destruction of the monarchy, Tibet was without a central authority. The Saskya abbots now took over the reins of government, each one handing the rule to his sons. ‘Phags-pa (1235-80) was one of the most prominent among these new hereditary rulers of the whole of Tibet and his position as such was recognized by the emperor Khubilai. The sect has produced many men of great learning, it is still in existence, but it lost its worldly power long ago.

The power was bought by an increase in worldliness and the monks of the great monasteries, like those of Japan at the same time, formed themselves into great hordes who fought battles among themselves, sacked each others’ monasteries, and behaved in a manner unworthy of their professed teachings.

We are not really sufficiently informed about the very powerful Nying-ma-pa sect, the followers of Padmasambhava, to know how they survived the long persecution. Quite possibly many of them did so in the guise of Bon priests. Nor can we be sure what in their doctrines is actually due to later developments and what to Padmasambhava himself. The organization of the sect seems to go back to 1250, and is the work of Gu-ru Chos dbyang. The Nyingmapas themselves distinguish two stages of their tradition, the sayings (bka’-ma) of the Indian masters, and the “Buried Treasures” (gter-ma), which were scriptures hidden by Padmasambhava or the Adibuddha. Between 1150 and 1550 a considerable number of gtermas were unearthed, and their discovery made it easy to camouflage religious innovation. The biography we have of Padmasambhava was thus “discovered” about 1350. Many of these gtermas do, however, preserve traditions of great antiquity, as is particularly obvious in the famous “Book of the Dead” (bar do thos grol).

The Nyingmapa distinguish six kinds ofbardo, or of experiences which are “intermediary” in the sense that they are somewhere in between this world of ordinary sensory awareness on the one hand, and the purely spiritual realm of Nirvāṇa on the other. The first three occur

(1) in the womb during the months which precede birth,

(2) in certain kinds of controlled dreams, and

(3) during deep trance.

The other three bardos are in addition “intermediary” in the sense that they take place in the interval between death and reconception, which is said to last forty-nine days. During that time the ordinary physical body is replaced by a kind of subtle or “ethereal” body. The “Book of the Dead” graphically describes in some detail the visions which are likely to befall those steeped in the traditions of Lamaism during that period. This work has preserved some of the ancient Stone-age knowledge about life after death and shows surprising similarities to other traditions found in Egyptian, Persian and Christian writings.

Very old is also the ceremony of gCod, about which we know from a description of a fourteenth century author, and which aims at “cutting off all attachment to self by offering one’s body to the greedy demons on a lonely and deserted site.

The Nyingmapa differ from the other sects in that they utilize that which is generally discarded, like anger or lust and also the physical body, which is generally looked upon as a shackle and a source of evil, is used here as a means to further an enriched life of the spirit. On the whole their ideas are in keeping with those of the left-handed Tantra in India.

The order of their practice is

(1) the mental creation of tutelaries (yi-dam) with the help of mantras, visions and the “sky-walkers” (p. 187);

(2) the control of the occult body, with its arteries, semen virile, etc.;

(3) the realization of the true nature of one’s own mind.

Samantabhadra, the celestial Bodhisattva corresponding to Vairocana, is the source of the highest revelation about the third stage. “Suchness, including yourself, is not intrinsically entangled - so why should you try to disentangle yourself? It is not intrinsically deluded - so why should you seek the truth apart from it?” The repression involved in Buddhist morality is thus rejected. A well-rounded personality does not suppress lust, anger, etc., but puts them into their proper place.

In its highest teachings this school has great affinity with the Ch’an sect, in that the highest form of Yoga consists in realizing the true nature of one’s own mind. Like the Ch’an school it also speaks of enlightenment in a somewhat non-Indian sense. The man who has won Nirvāṇa here-and now, and whose actions are free from causation, is able to make his body vanish in a rainbow.

The Nyingmapa concentrated on esoteric teaching and personal realization, and preferred intuitive insight to communicable knowledge. Until about a century ago they had no academic studies in the Gelugpa sense. Then they were in some places introduced in imitation of their rivals.

This sect has continually struggled for power against the others, and although it has several times attempted to gain control of the country, it could never hold it. This was due less to the greater spiritual power of their more virtuous rivals, as to their superior political gifts.

So great is the hold of the Nyingmapa over the people that the other sects must make concessions to them. Many of their magical practices are suspect to the other Buddhists not so much because they regard them as ineffective, but because they seem to show an undue concern for worldly well-being. When the Gelugpas want to foresee the future, they normally do not do so themselves but employ an oracle-priest belonging to the ranks of the “Ancient Ones”.

The Nyingmapas have absorbed many Bon teachings, and it is in their midst that Buddhism and Bon continuously interact. The fact that they go down to the lowest has often been held against them. There is, however, no reason to doubt that in spite, or perhaps because, of that they were as capable of winning the highest as their “purer” colleagues were.

The victory over the Nyingmapa finally went to the Dge-lugs-pa, “The Virtuous Ones”, the sect founded by Tsong-kha-pa (1327-1419), the last great thinker of the Buddhist world. He was a reformer who carried on Atlsa’s work, insisted on the observance of the moral precepts and monastic rules, strictly regulated the daily routine of the monks, reduced the weight of magic by stressing the spiritual side of Buddhism and founded the “Yellow Church”, which ruled Tibet until 1950. He was a very great scholar and in every way he tried to find a position between the extremes, to avoid one-sidedness and to attain an encyclopaedic universality.

His influence was perpetuated by many pupils, by the foundation of rich and powerful monasteries and by the sixteen volumes of his Collected Works. Among these we must mention two compendia which show the way to salvation, the one through the six Mahayanistic perfections, the other through Tantric practices. The first, “The Steps which lead to Enlightenment”, is modelled on Atisa’s manual but greater attention is accorded to those who are not particularly gifted.

After his death Tsong-kha-pa became the object of a fervent religious cult, and he is believed to reside now in the Tusita heavens, as future Buddhas do.

Apart from the formation of indigenous schools, three great achievements are to the credit of the Tibetan Buddhism of this period.

First there is the codification of the canonical literature in two gigantic collections, the Kanjur (bka-’gyur) for the Sutras in the thirteenth, and the Tanjur (bstan ‘gyur) for the Sastras in the fourteenth century. The Kanjur was printed for the first time in Peking about 1411, and both collections were printed in Tibet for the first time in sNarthang in 1731 and 1742 respectively. Many other editions followed, and the Canon in the comprehensive, accurate, authoritative and easily accessible form which it achieved between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries has formed the backbone of all Buddhist studies in Tibet.

Secondly there is the production of an enormous indigenous literature - of manuals, commentaries, sub-commentaries and so on. In one field of literature the Buddhists of Tibet have excelled all others, and that was the writing of History. This historical interest is connected with the way in which the Tibetans see the development of Buddhism in relation to the historical Buddha. The full import and meaning of the Buddha’s Dharma, so they believe, has revealed itself over many centuries, and the many facets of its infinite richness were grasped by His followers only very slowly, over a period of 1,500 years.

It is a curious fact that it was not an Indian but a Tibetan who wrote the best history of Buddhism in India. Bu-ston’s (1322) “History of Buddhism in India and Tibet” (chos-’byun) is indeed a masterpiece of its kind, comprehensive and marked by deep philosophical understanding. The first volume gives a survey of the Scriptures; the second deals with the “twelve principal events in the life of the Buddha Sakyamuni”, followed by the “three rehearsals of the doctrine”, and so on up to the “prophecies about the disappearance of the doctrine” in India, and its continuation in Tibet; the third volume gives an to the Narthang edition of the Canon, followed by a systematic table of contents.

Many other first-class works deal either with the history of Buddhism in Tibet, or that of the different sects.

Thirdly, the Buddhist Church became firmly rooted in the life of the people. In the course of the fifteenth century the disciples of Tsongkhapa adapted to the needs of social organization the old Buddhist doctrine according to which the Buddhas, saints and Bodhisattvas could conjure up phantom bodies, which to all intents and purposes are indistinguishable from ordinary bodies, and which they use as a kind of puppets to help and convert others. They are in no way “incarnations” of the saint in question, but free creations of his magical power, which he sends out to do his work, while he himself remains uncommitted.

In the fifteenth century the Gelugpas gave a concrete form to this teaching by claiming that certain Bodhisattvas (like Avalokitesvara and Maitreya) and Buddhas (like Amitabha) would send into certain places, such as Lhasa, Urga, and so on, a certain number of phantom bodies (sprul-sku, Tulku, see p. 123) to act as their priestly rulers. In addition they thought it possible to rediscover the phantom body of the deceased ruler in a child conceived forty-nine days after his death.

The rule of the Tulkus, carefully chosen by skilled monks on the basis of rules as elaborate as those which enable the Congregation of Rites to distinguish genuine from spurious miracles, was the distinguishing feature of the Lamaist world during the last 450 years. It brought with it a great measure of social stability and up to 1950 protected Buddhism effectively from the inroads of modern civilization. What is more, Lamaism has proved surprisingly immune against the upsurge of popular cupidity which accompanied the breakdown of the old order in Asia.

In Lamaist Ladakh the loyal tenants of monastic lands in 1953 resisted the expropriation of the monks. The Indian State Government sent a Commission which reported that “it was rather surprising that the tenants who were likely to gain by the operation of the Act (abolishing the big landed estates) on the lands attached to the gumpas have unanimously decided that these lands should remain attached to the gumpas and be free from the operation of the Abolition Act” (pp. 30-1 of the Report of the Wazir Committee).

The Buddhists had often before attempted to combine both secular and spiritual power in their hands. This was the first time they succeeded in doing so. The advantages are obvious. Conditions favourable to a religious life can be assured, militarism reduced to a minimum, animals protected, acquisitiveness discouraged, noise and unrest suppressed.

The undisputed rule of the Lamas was backed up by the universality of their intellectual interests, which can be seen in the programme of studies pursued by the Gelugpas, by a pantheon which was extensive and comprehensive, and by the omnipresence of the objects of faith.

Nevertheless, in spite of this outward success, a religious decline set in after the seventeenth century. The Great Fifth Dalai Lama’s (1617-1715) habitual reliance on violence boded ill for the future. The Lamaist system gradually became fossilised. Up to the eighteenth century foreign influences had been welcomed and encouraged. From then onwards the country was shut off and this measure reflected a certain inward timidity. The decline shows itself clearly in the works of art, which from now on show more mechanical competence than creative genius. Rare, though still discernible, are the traces of the qualities which had marked Tibetan art at its height - with its fire and almost magical fascination, its overpowering compassion and horror, its ethereal lightness and demonic compulsion, and its nearly superhuman skill in the handling of proportions and colours.

For a long time geographical inaccessibility and the rivalry of the powers prevented the country from being conquered. Now modern civilization flows in. Roads, medicine, land reform and the development of natural resources have begun their work, with consequences quite disastrous to religious traditions.


The Mongols were twice converted by the Tibetan hierarchs, first in 1261 by the Saskya ruler Thags-pa, then again in 1577 by the Dalai Lama. In the interval between 1368 and 1577 they had reverted to their native shamanism.

It was the Tibetans’ ability to work magic which most impressed the Mongols. Marco Polo tells us wonderful things about the various magical tricks the Lamas performed at the court of the Great Khan, and later on, when the Dalai Lama journeyed to Altan Chagan, ruler of the Eastern Mongols, he everywhere showed his magical powers, forced rivers to flow uphill, made springs well up in the desert, and the traces of his horse’s hoofs formed the Om mani padme hum.

As a result of the Mongol conversion to Buddhism the Lamas took over many of the magical rites which formerly the shamans had performed. Buddhist respect for life was enforced by legislation forbidding the shamanistic sacrifices of women, slaves and beasts, and restricting hunting.

In consequence of the first conversion, Lamaism shared in the wealth of the Mongol Empire, could establish many monasteries and sanctuaries in China, particularly in Peking, and acquired great power under the Yuan dynasty (1260-1368).

The second conversion was followed by a religious fervour which shows what hold the Buddhist religion can have over the mind of a nation. There seemed to be no limits to the piety of the Mongol people. The holy scriptures were translated into Mongol and many thousands of often splendid monasteries were built, which contained up to 45 per cent of the male population and were not infrequently centres of considerable intellectual activity.

In the thirteenth century the conquest of Iran by the Mongols had led to the establishment of centres of Buddhist culture in Iranian lands for about half a century before the Il-khanid rulers became Muslims in 1295.

After their second conversion the Mongols spread Buddhism to other nomadic populations, like the Buryats and Kalmuks. Urga became a great centre of Lamaism.

The last Hutuktu died in 1924, and his functions were taken over by the Mongolian Peoples Republic. For three hundred years the devotion of the Mongols to Buddhism had been distinguished by the intensity of its fervour, and because their deep faith had not counted the cost a certain degree of national exhaustion ensued, as in the parallel case of Korea in the fourteenth century. It is only natural that now they should have turned to something else.


During the last century Buddhism had to spend most of its energies in maintaining itself, not without difficulties, against the driving forces of modern history. Nowhere has it had the initiative. In the nineteen-fifties many Asian Buddhists celebrated the 2,500th anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment, which was known as the “Buddha Jayanti”, because it implied His “victory” over Mara, who personifies death, evil and this world. The event was marked by great enthusiasm which did not, however, concern Buddhism as a spiritual but as a social force. More so perhaps even than Europeans, Asians as a mass have at present withdrawn their interests from religious matters. Social and political issues seem to them so much more urgent.

Buddhism is the only factor common to all Asian culture, at least from the Indus and Hindu Rush to Kyoto and Java. All those who dwell in Asia can take pride in a religion which is not only five centuries older than that of the West, but has spread and maintained itself with little recourse to violence and has remained unstained by religious wars, holy inquisitions, sanguinary crusades or the burning of women as witches.

Nationalistic self-assertion is a prime motive at this stage of history and the achievements of the Buddhists are certainly something to be proud of. India cherishes the Buddha as one of her greatest religious teachers and Aśoka, and Buddhist emperor, as one of her most outstanding rulers. Not only in India, but also in China, Japan and Ceylon, the most brilliant periods of history were precisely those in which Buddhism flourished most. Splendid buildings and works of art in profusion, as well as a vast, subtle and often beautiful literature testify to the continuous outpouring of cultural values of a high order. From the Buddhist point of view all these things are, of course, mere trifles, accidental by-products of intense spiritual contemplation. But they are splendid trifles.

Prophecies dating from the beginning of the Christian era have given 2,500 years as the duration of the teaching of the Buddha Sakyamuni. After that even the monks “will be strong only in fighting and reproving” and the holy doctrine will become more and more invisible.

It is also a fact of observation that, like the other traditional religions, Buddhism has suffered severely from the impact of industrial civilization which has nearly completed its work of destruction in the twenty years which have passed since the Buddha Jayanti.

On the credit side what is chiefly to be noted is the considerable work done in recent years, in Burma, Thailand, Japan and Ceylon, to keep alive and to revive the ancient methods of meditation. It is in the seclusion of the meditation centres that the old faith will be recharged, and confer new benefits on the world.

While the strongholds of Buddhism in the East were being destroyed one by one, it was some compensation that the religion has slowly but steadily spread to the capitalist countries of the West. There it has been absorbed on three different levels -the philosophical, the scholarly and the sectarian.

1. The philosophical reception began with Arthur Schopen-hauer in 1819 and has continued at a fairly steady pace since. Although he had access to very few original documents, Schopenhauer reproduced the Buddhist system of thought from Kantian antecedents with such an accuracy that one may well believe that he remembered it from a previous life. He in his turn greatly influenced musicians like Richard Wagner, philosophers like Bergson, and many other creative people in Western Europe. From quite another angle the genius of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky introduced the West to many of the basic teachings of Mahāyāna Buddhism and her Theosophical Society has fostered further research in many ways. In more recent years such divers philosophers as Rickert, Jaspers, Wittgenstein and Heidegger have testified to their having been influenced by Buddhism, and over the last twenty years there has grown up a vast literature on the relationship between various Buddhist thought systems and those of modern European thinkers. It is of such a consistently high quality that it cannot fail to leave its mark on Western, as well as Eastern, philosophical thought.

2. For 150 years the countless documents of Buddhist history, whether literary or artistic, have attracted the attention of many scholars. To some extent this interest was prompted by the administrative needs of imperialist governments who found Buddhists among their newly conquered subjects. In this way the Russians came to study the views of their Siberian Buddhists; puzzled by the Ceylonese attitude to land tenure the English in Ceylon, among them the Rhys Davids, turned to their religious books for an answer; the French did exceptionally fine work through the Ecole Frangaise d’Extreme Orient which was based on Saigon; lately even the Americans had attached to their Army a school of Oriental languages which first trained many of the Orientalists now at work in American universities, whose graduate students live on grants from the N(ational) D(efence) E(xpense) A(ccount), and who are heavily subsidized by CIA, FBI and the large Foundations. But this was not all. Just as Buddhism proved to be the most exportable form of Indian culture, so no form of Asian thinking has evoked more interest in Europe. No other religion has attracted such a galaxy of scholarly talent, not only first-class philologists drawn to the often difficult languages in which the Buddhists expressed themselves, but first-class minds bent on interpreting the subtleties and profundities of Buddhist thought. It took a long time to get to the bottom of Buddhist thinking or to even understand the terminology they employed. At first we were in the position of Egyptologists who, with all the priests dead, have to guess wildly and who have managed to reduce to a farrago of absurdities what to the best Greeks was the highest wisdom. Likewise to the first interpreters - proconsuls, missionaries, military men and financial administrators - the Buddhist religion seemed to be ludicrous nonsense. There were a few exceptions, of course, like R. C. Childers (c. 1870), and, following in his footsteps, after a time the proud conquerors of Asia unbent and tried to learn from Buddhist monks who survived in Japan, Ceylon and Siberia. By the 1930s things began to fall into shape, and we can now be fairly confident to catch the spiritual meaning which the Buddhist authors wished to convey.

3. From the stratospheric heights of philosophy and the mountainous terrain of scholarship we now descend to the low-flying flatlands of popular sectarian Buddhism. Buddhist societies have sprung up for nearly eighty years, chiefly in Protestant countries. There they form one of the smaller Nonconformist sects. They try to outshine active Christian Love with their more non-violent Mettd, to determine the meaning of the Holy Scriptures from often inaccurate English translations without much recourse to the originals, and to add meditation and some exotic glamour to good works, a blameless life and a ceaseless denigration of the intellect. Over the last twenty years these groups and conventicles have rapidly grown in numbers and financial weight. At first they took their inspiration almost exclusively from what they could learn about the Pali scriptures which, as good Protestants, they believed to be the original Gospel, the Buddha-dhamma in its pristine purity; then, in the wake of the magnificent publications of Daisetz Taitaro Suzuki in the thirties, there has been a flood of what describes itself as “Zen”; Conze and others added a fuller knowledge of the Prajnaparamita and other early Mahāyāna texts; and since 1950 there have been many attempts to add also some Tantra to the mixture. In America side by side with the organized Buddhist groups a few gifted individuals, like Alan Watts and Gary Snyder, liberally scattered a variety of unco-ordinated ideas like seed-pods in all directions. In the sixties they had some influence on the “counter culture” which fed on the revulsion against the strains of a technological consumer society and the horrors of the war in Vietnam. Generally speaking, however, sectarian Buddhists keep themselves to themselves and have little impact on the world in general. No one can at present estimate their potentialities. Everything about them is obscure - whether it be their numbers, their financial resources, the social origin of their members, their motivation, their spiritual maturity, their doctrinal stance or the range of their influence. So why pry into the future? Disinterestedness and self-effacement have been the most effective weapons of the Buddhists in the past. They would sadly depart from the outlook of their spiritual forebears if now they were to start worrying about whether Buddhist institutions can maintain a foothold in our present world.

When asked “how a drop of water could be prevented from ever drying up”, the Buddha replied, “by throwing it into the sea”. It is for sayings such as this that he has been revered as the Enlightened One.

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