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THE MAHẬPARINIRVÂŅA SÚTRA.
What we may call the gospel of flat contradiction, the gospel of the later Buddhism, is well illustrated in a Sûtra from Ceylon, which describes the death of Buddha. It is called the Mahâparinirvâņa Sûtra ; and seems an instructive jumble of many epochs of Buddhism.
The Northern Life, the “Twelve Acts of Śâkya,” records that after Buddha's death, at his dying request, his body was cremated with rites in use for secular emperors, and that his ashes were deposited in a chaitya. A proposal was made that they should be divided, but this was refused. The Mahâparinirvana Sûtra has for groundwork precisely the same story.
“What should be done, Lord,” said Ânanda to the dying reformer, “ with the remains of a Tathậgata ?”
As men treat the remains of a king of kings, so, Ânanda, should they treat the remains of a Tathâgata."
“And how, Lord, do they treat the remains of a king of kings?”
Buddha gives explanations about placing the body in a coffin of iron, and the proper mode of cremating it; he then proceeds :
And as they treat the remains of a king of kings, so, Ânanda, should they treat the remains of the Tathâgata. At the four cross-roads a dâgaba [sepulchral mound] should be erected to the Tathậgata, and whosoever shall there place garlands or perfumes or paint, or make salutation there, or become in its presence calm in heart—that shall long be to them for a profit and joy."1 He explains, a sentence or two afterwards, that a "true hearer of the Blessed One, the Arahat Buddha," is to be buried in a similar mound.
Nothing can be more explicit than this. Buddha plainly leaves injunctions that his relics are to be kept in one chaitya, not divided. Great chiefs in India and North Europe had each his solitary mound or haug. The Brahmin Rishi had his solitary haug. All that was mortal of Śâriputra, Buddha's chief Arahat, had already been deposited in a chaitya, and a yearly festival instituted in his honour. A chaitya was also erected to Maudgalyâyana. It is plain that the earliest Cingalese writer, like the Northern one, was well aware of the fact that Buddha's undivided remains had been deposited in a single chaitya. This gives us a date for the earlier tradition.
1 - Buddhist Suttas,” p. 93.
2 As. Res., vol. xx.
On the top of the first narrative is the account of the distribution of the relics clumsily put in; and a later accretion still, I think, is one recommending pilgrimages to four special spots, made holy in connection with Buddha's life. These were the spots where Buddha was born, where he attained the Bodhi, where he first preached Dharma, and where he died." Buddha's special aversion was pilgrimages. He called the Brâhmins Tîrthakas, “men of tank and shrine pilgrimages,” so it must have been a long time before an institution so hateful to him could have crept into his own religion. But Dr. Rhys Davids has given us a rare opportunity of checking the date of a portion of the narrative. In the mouth of the dying Tathagata is put a long disquisition about what spoken teachings are to be considered orthodox and what not. The rule laid down is that the spoken words are to be "put beside the Scripture and compared with the rules of the Order.”2 Now, we know that the Cingalese books were not written down at all earlier than B. C. 104,8 so here we get a valuable date.
1 “Buddhist Suttas,” p. 90.
68. 3 In the reign of King Wattaganini, according to the Mahâwanso (Journ. Beng. As. Soc., vol. vi. p. 506).
Dr. Rhys Davids quoted three speeches from this Sûtra in his “ Hibbert Lectures." I think they are very instructive, as they show us once more how the apostles of the “Carriage that drives to the Great Nowhere" dealt with a well-known Scripture. They did not change it. They simply interpolated it.
“So long as the brethren shall live among the saints in the practice of those virtues . . . which are untarnished by the desire of future life.”
“The mind set round with intelligence is free from the great evils, that is to say from sensuality, from individuality.” 1
“So long as the brethren fall not under the influence of that craving which, springing up within them, would give rise to renewed existence, so long may the brethren be expected not to decline, but to prosper.”
Side by side with these three passages which Dr. Rhys Davids cited to prove his favourite theories, are other passages which flatly contradict them. Thus Buddha, contrasting the fate of the “wrong-doer" and the "well-doer" to give his hearers a strong incentive to do good, announces that the former after death will be reborn in some "unhappy state of suffering.”3 The well-doer, on the contrary, gains good report, the
“Hibbert Lectures,” pp. 178, 179. “ Hibbert Lectures,” p. 175.
8 " Buddhist Suttas,” p. 17.
love of the worthy, and so on. Fourthly, he dies without anxiety; and, lastly, on the dissolution of the body after death he is reborn into some happy state in heaven." 1
This is the second passage : Buddha is explaining why a sepulchral tumulus is put up to the Arahat Buddha :
“At the thought, Ânanda, “This is the Dâgaba of that Blessed One, that Arahat Buddha,' the hearts of many shall be made calm and happy; and since they there had calmed and satisfied their hearts, they will be reborn after death when the body is dissolved in the happy realms of heaven.
Mention is made, too, of a holy woman, Nandâ, who had “become an inheritor of the highest heavens,"s and was never to return to earth, showing that existence was not put an end to even by Mahâparinirvana.
This gives us the secret of the apostles of the “Carriage that drives to the Great Nowhere," when dealing with an ancient Scripture. They put in a speech or two illustrating their own teachings, and relied on being able to mystify a simple disciple by the aid of these. In this they have been but too successful, and their mystifications have even succeeded in learned Europe.
1 - Buddhist Suttas," p. 17.
2 Ibid., p. 94.
3 Ibid., p. 25.