Oct 28, 2010

Mahavira and the Buddha

By A. Berriedale Keith
Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies
1932.09, pp. 859-866




p. 859

           In  a  very  interesting  article, (l)  Professor
       Jacobi has arrived  at the conclusion  that, contrary
       to the Buddhist tradition, we must hold that Mahavira
       outlived the Buddha, probably by some seven years. In
       point  of fact, of course, it may seem of very little
       consequence  whether  we accept  this view or that of
       Buddhist  tradition, but  the issue  involves  a very
       important   question  affecting   the  value  of  our
       authorities, and on this point  it seems  to me clear
       that  the  position   adopted  by  Professor   Jacobi
       involves serious difficulties.

           Professor    Jacobi   treats   as   the   assured
       foundations  for his investigations  the dates of the
       Nirvanas  of the Buddha  and of Mahavira, as 484  and
       477 B.C.  But it must  be admitted  that  both  these
       dates rest on very unsatisfactory  and late evidence.
       The question  of the date of the Buddha  has been set
       out, with his usual acumen and precision, recently by
       Professor  de La Vallee  Poussin,(2) and he has shown
       how utterly uncertain is the date 483 or 484 B.C. for
       the Nirvana.  From a very different point of view the
       late Professor Rhys Davids confessed(3) that the date
       was purely conjectural.  We may readily  believe that
       the Buddha died sometime  in the fifth century  B.C.,
       but to lay any stress on the exact date is completely
       impossible  with  the  evidence  available.  What  is
       perfectly clear is that knowledge of the early period
       of Buddhism  was imperfect,(4)  and  the same  remark
       applies  even more  strikingly  to the traditions  of
       Jainism.   In  the  case  of  Mahavira   the  earlier
       tradition--of uncertain date--is emphatic in allowing
       470 years between  his Nirvana  and the beginning  of
       the Vikrama  era, which places the date in 528 or 527
       B.C.  The  later  tradition,  given  in  Hemacandra's
       Paricistaparvan, viii, 339, and somewhat  earlier  in
       Bhadrecvara's  Kahavali, ascribes  155  years  as the
       period   between   the   death   of   Mahavira    and
       Candragupta's  accession  to the  throne  of Magadha,
       which  gives  477  B.C.   as  the  probable  date  of
       Mahavira's  death.  Here  again  we  are  on  utterly
       uncertain ground. We are obliged to treat the earlier
       Jain tradition as of minimal value
       ______________________

       1. SBA. 1930, pp. 557-68.
       2. Indo-europeens et Indo-iraniens, pp.238--48; L'Inde
          aux Temp des Mauryas, p.50
       3. CHI. i, pp. 171, 172.
       4. Keith, Buddhist Philosophy, chap. i.

                              p. 860

       and there seems every  ground  for so doing;  but the
       tradition accepted by Hemacandra  rests equally on no
       assured  foundation.  The  only  possible  conclusion
       regarding  it is that  it cannot  be  trusted  to  be
       accurate  within  a few  years, and  it seems  wholly
       impossible  to base on two dates so acquired the view
       that  we must believe  that  the Buddha.  predeceased
       Mahavira. Nor is it irrelevant to note that Professor
       Jacobi(1)  himself  has  adopted  slightly  different
       dates,   namely   477   and   467   B.C.   in   other
       contributions; but what is more important is that the
       Jaina tradition  contains one certain error which, if
       rectified, destroys  the value  of its testimony  for
       477 B.C.  By that tradition, apparently  accepted  by
       Hemacandra  as well as the rest  of Jain opinion, the
       date of the accession of Candragupta is placed at 255
       years  before  the  Vikrama  era, i.e., in 313 or 312
       B.C. This date is obviously too late; if we take 322,
       as does Professor  Jacobi, as a probable date(2) then
       we must admit a clear error in the Jain tradition  of
       about  ten  years   in  respect   of  this  interval;
       admitting   a  like  error   regarding   the  earlier
       interval, that between  the accession  of Candragupta
       and  the death  of Mahavira, we would  arrive  at 487
       B.C.  for the death  of the  latter, and  this  would
       place that event before  the death of the Buddha, and
       confirm  the Buddhist  tradition.  This shows clearly
       with  what  inadequate  data  we have  to reckon, and
       leaves the conviction  that the supposed dates of the
       deaths of the two great teachers are of too uncertain
       character to afford_any conclusion as to the priority
       of these events.

           On the other hand, we have the clear and distinct
       tradition  of the Buddhist  Canon which asserts  that
       Mahavira, died  before  the Buddha  and does  so, not
       incidentally, but as giving  rise  to allocutions  of
       the  Master  regarding  the tenets  of his  teaching,
       recorded in the Pasadika Suttanta of the Digha Nikaya
       and the Samagama Suttanta of the Majjhima Nikaya, and
       of Sariputta, at the  Master's  bidding, in the  this
       definite  tradition  recorded in canonical  texts?(3)
       That these texts  belong  to the  Period immediately
       after the death of the Buddha.  I confess I do not
       believe, but  they  far  outrank  in age the tradi-
       tions  of the dates of the deaths  of the Buddha and
       Mahavira, and give us
       ______________________

       1. Introduction to Kalpa Sutra, p. 9; Introduction to
          Paricistaparvan, p.6.
       2. In CHI. i, pp. 471-3, 321 is suggested as plausible.
          For other dates see L. de La Vallee Poussin, L'Inde
          aux Temps des mauryas, pp. 51, 52.
       3. The Upali Suttanta clearly asserts an illness, if
          not the death, of Mahavira; Chalmers SBB. v, p. 278,
          n.2.

                              p. 861

       authentic  views  of  the  belief  held  in  Buddhist
       circles  at  some  period  considerably   before  the
       Christian era.  If we are to discredit their account,
       we must be prepared to accept the consequences, which
       involve acceptance of a scepticism as to the value of
       the Buddhist and Indian traditions  in general, which
       is  quite  inconsistent  with  the  faith  placed  by
       Professor  Jacobi in the tradition as to the dates of
       the Nirvanasa or his acceptance  of the view that the
       Kautill;ya  Arthacastra  is the work of a minister of
       the  Emperor  Candragupta.  If we are  on any logical
       ground  to  discredit  the  Buddhist  tradition, very
       strong  arguments  are necessary, and  those  adduced
       seem quite inadequate.

           It  is contended  by Professor  Jacobi  that  the
       evidence of the three Suttantas  is destroyed  by the
       fact that, while all agree in making the occasion  of
       Mahavira's   death  and  consequent   unrest  in  his
       community  the  cause  of the  dissertations  on  the
       Buddhist  tenets,  the  divergence  of  the  form  of
       argument  in the three  Suttas  shows  that  cannot
       represent what the Buddha actually said. This may, of
       course, be conceded  at once by those  who believe(1)
       that we have little or nothing of the ipsissima verba
       of the Master.  The view which seems natural  is that
       the Buddhists  believed that there was difficulty  in
       the Jain community  on the death of their leader, and
       that  this  took  place  before  the Buddha's  death,
       eliciting  from him comments, which were probably not
       preserved  in any authentic form, leaving it open for
       the  composers   of  the  Suttantas  to  present  the
       teachings each in his own way. The essential point is
       really that different  Buddhist authors held the same
       tradition, which  shows  that it was a belief  handed
       down  by tradition  and  widely  spread  in  Buddhist
       circles.

           In the second place, Professor Jacobi argues that
       the account in these Suttantas is contradicted by the
       account  in the Mahaparinibbana  Suttanta, the oldest
       account of the proceedings  of the Buddha's last year
       up to his Nirvana.  This text  does not refer  to any
       special  anxiety  of the Buddha as to the fate of his
       community  after his death as having been elicited by
       the  report  of the dissensions  in the community  of
       Mahavira, whence it is deduced  that this report is a
       later invention.  But this reasoning rests on several
       unproved  assumptions.  (1) That  the Mahaparinibbana
       Suttanta  is older than the other three Suttantas  is
       assumed without any arguments  being adduced, and its
       age certainly is far from obvious. On the contrary,
       ______________________

       1. See Winternitz, Geschichte der Indischen Litteratur,
          ii, pp. 360 f.

                              p. 862

       it appears  to be a very sophisticated  and worked up
       account  of the last days  of the Buddha, and in fact
       it is not open to Professor Jacobi to contend for its
       early date.  He himself  shortly  afterwards  (p.562)
       refers to the account given in that text of the plans
       of Ajatacatru  for the  subjection  of the Vrjis, and
       points  out that  the undertaking  was one  demanding
       careful   planning.   He  adds:  "Uber  die  von  ihm
       getroffenen  Massnahmen  enthalt das M.P.S.  Angaben,
       die aber in viel spaterer  Zeit entstanden  und darum
       so gut wie wertlos  sind."  Very  probably  Professor
       Jacobi's  view of the statements  of the Suttanta  is
       correct; but it is quite impossible to hold this view
       of it, and then  to ask us to accept  the silence  of
       the Suttanta  as entitling  us to negate the evidence
       of three Suttantas, two of which at least may well be
       older   than   the  Mahaparinibbana   Suttanta.   (2)
       Moreover, the argument is essentially one ex silentio
       and there is no form of contention more dangerous. It
       would  be necessary, in order  to give  it weight, to
       show that the omission of the episode of the Buddha's
       views on hearing of Mahavira's death is inexplicable,
       if its occurrence  were widely  believed  in Buddhist
       circles.   No  such   proof,  however,  is  possible.
       Professor  Jacobi's  view  appears  to  be  that  the
       episode of the hearing of the death of Mahavira  took
       place during the last journey  of the Buddha en route
       to Kusinara, and that, therefore, any full account of
       his last days must necessarily include the episode in
       question.  If this view  were sound, there  might  be
       something  to  say  for  his  contention, though  the
       argument  would  be far from  conclusive.  But  there
       seems no ground whatever to assume that the Buddhists
       thought that the news of Mahavira's death came to the
       Buddha just before his own

           The Samagama Suttanta has nothing to suggest such
       a conclusion.  On  the  contrary  the  Buddha  is  at
       Samagama  when he hears  of the death of Mahavira  at
       Pava,(l) and equally  in the other two Suttantas  the
       Buddha's  utterances  are not connected  with his own
       last  stay at Pava.(2)  The fact  that  the death  of
       Mahavira evokes the mention Nirvana.
       ______________________

       1. Cunda here appears as a novice, and so also in the
          Pasadika Suttanta, which marks him out from his
          description in the Mahaparinibbana Suttanta. The
          Samgiti  Suttanta  does not use this  term of him,
          and  seems   to  have   been  influenced   by  the
          Mahaparinibbana  in this  point;  compare  Franke,
          Digha Nikaya, p.  229.  Two Cundas  can hardly  be
          admitted, though the Mahaparinibbana  is certainly
          confused.
       2. The Samgiti sets the scene in Pava, but under quite
          other    circumstances    than   those    of   the
          Mahaparinibbana, namely  the  consecration  of the
          new Mote-Hall of the Mallas.  This indicates  that
          the author  had on desire  to connect  the episode
          recorded  with the death of the Buddha  also.  The
          location  at  Samagama  seems  the  more  accurate
          account.  The fact that Cunda of Pava brought  the
          news to Ananda  no doubt encouraged  the idea that
          the declaration of views took place at that town.

                               p. 863

       of the possibility  of the effect on the order of the
       Buddha's  death does not indicate that that death was
       then imminent. It may be noted also that in the Upali
       Suttanta  the Buddha was at Nalanda  when the episode
       of the defection  of Upali  had so evil an effect  on
       Mahavira  that  it  brought  about, according  to the
       tradition followed by Buddhaghosa, his death at Pava.
       At any rate, it is clear  that  we have no reason  to
       assert  that Buddhist  tradition  placed the death of
       Mahavira  close to that of the Buddha, and it is then
       obvious  that  the  silence  of  the  Mahaparinibbana
       Suttanta is inevitable.  If the tradition  placed the
       episode  as  to  Mahavira  before  the  short  period
       covered  by  that  Suttanta, it  could  not  possibly
       include it in its narrative.  So far, therefore, from
       correcting  the version  of the other  Suttantas, the
       Mahaparinibbana  Suttanta  accords  excellently  with
       them.  Nor(3)  can  it be admitted  that  the Buddha,
       according  to  tradition, shows  no concern  for  the
       future  of his  order  after  his  death.  This  runs
       counter to the fact, recorded  in the Mahaparinibbana
       Suttanta  itself, that  he assured  Ananda  that  the
       place  of himself  as teacher  would be taken  by his
       doctrine.   This  assurance  is  significant  of  the
       position.  It accords  exactly with the frame of mind
       asserted   in  the  other  Suttantas   to  have  been
       engendered by the news of the dissensions in the Jain
       community on Mahavira's death. In the three Suttantas
       alike, the result  of the news  is to make the Buddha
       insist that his doctrines  provided a definite system
       which would prevent schisms in the community.  In the
       Mahaparinibbana the Buddha gives the same advice; his
       doctrine is to serve as the norm.  So far, therefore,
       from the Mahaparinibbana  contradicting the testimony
       of the  three  Suttantas, it is perfectly  consistent
       with it, while there is no evidence  whatever that it
       is earlier in date that the other three Suttantas, or
       at least two of them.

           Thirdly, to strengthen  his view  that the Buddha
       could not have known of strain  in the Jain community
       on Mahavira's  death, Professor  Jacobi insists  that
       there  is no record  in the Jain tradition  of such a
       catastrophe  in the Jain  community  at the death  of
       Mahavira  as is suggested  by the Buddhist tradition.
       No schism, it can be asserted, was occasioned  by the
       death  of Mahavira.  Indeed  sects  among  the  Jains
       developed  relatively late, save  in the case  of the
       division  into Cvetambaras  and Digambaras  which was
       not the result of a single  period  of conflict.  The
       Buddhists, on the  other  hand, knew  of  schisms  in
       their own community, arising  soon after the Master's
       death  and resulting  in the development  of the  new
       religion  of the Mahayana.  They did not realize that
       Mahavira was not the founder

                             p. 864

       of a new religion, but merely the reformer of that of
       Parcva, so that  on Mahavira's  death  no catastrophe
       was possible. The Buddhist account, therefore, in the
       three Suttantas  is based erroneous assumptions  and
       was evoked by dogmatic needs.

           This  interesting  suggestion  rests  on  a  very
       unsound basis. It assumes that the Buddhists believed
       that a formal schism  or a catastrophe  afficted  the
       Jain congregation on the death of Mahavira.  But this
       is much  more  than  we can justly  deduce  from  the
       Buddhist  statements.  All that is said is that there
       arose disputes, division, and a wordy warfare  in the
       community  and that the lay followers  were disgusted
       with  the monks.  Not a suggestion  is made of a real
       schism  or  catastrophe, and  there  seems  no reason
       whatever  to suppose that the Suttantas  intended  to
       assert  that  such  a schism  occurred.  Moreover, it
       seems  hard  to accept  the view  of the paucity  and
       lateness  of  schisms  in  the  Jain  community.  The
       evidence  is that Mahavira  was much troubled  by the
       rivalry  of Gocala, whether we regard him as strictly
       within  the  Jain  community  or not,(l) that  in his
       fourteenth  year  of  power  his  son-in-law, Jamali,
       raised opposition to him, and persisted in opposition
       to his death, while two years after Jamali's  revolt,
       Tisagutta  stood out in opposition.(2)  Moreover, the
       divergence   between  Cvetambara   and  Digambara  is
       fundamental, as is fully recognized  by Jains  at the
       present day,(3) so that it was certainly  unnecessary
       for Buddhists  to go to their own experience  to find
       justification for the belief in divergence within the
       Jain community.  There is, in fact, nothing  whatever
       to suggest  that  Buddhist  tradition  was  wrong  in
       asserting that Mahavira's death caused commotions  in
       the Jain community.  To judge  from  the bitter  feud
       between  Mahavira  and Gocala and from the revolts of
       Jamali and Tisagutta, not to mention the defection of
       Upali, we may take  it as certain  that the community
       was  far from  being  in ideal  unity  of heart.  The
       argument  that there could be no schism, because  (1)
       Mahavira  was the child of parents who were adherents
       of Parcvanatha, as he perhaps  also was, and (2) as a
       Kevalin, Mahavira  was above  all worldly  interests,
       cannot  be accepted.  Apart from the fact that we are
       not told of anything  so serious as a definite schism
       or catastrophe, it is clear that Mahavira was no mere
       follower of Parcvanatha. The Jain tradition
       ______________________

       1. Hoernle, ERE. i, pp. 267 ff., held that the Jain
          division  into  Digambara  and Cvetambara  mav  be
          traced back to the beginning of Jainism, being due
          to  the  antagonism  of Mahavira  and  Gocala, the
          representatives of two hostile sects.
       2. See Chimanlal J. Shah, Jainism in Northern India,
          pp. 60-5.
       3. Chimanlal J. Shah, op. cit., p.78.

                              p. 865

       does not even assert that he was an adherent, but, on
       the contrary, tells us distinctly that he departed in
       an essential  from the doctrines  of his predecessor,
       as  was  long  ago  stressed  by Professor  Jacobi(1)
       himself, who held that  the innovation  postulated  a
       decline  in the  morality  of the  community  between
       Parcva and Mahavira. Moreover, even if, as a Kevalin,
       Mahavira was superior to worldly considerations, what
       has that  to do with the effect  of his death  on the
       community? The disappearance  of a great  teacher  is
       always a time of trial for his adherents, and, so far
       from  doubting  the truth  of the  assertions  of the
       Buddhist texts, we may treat them as representing the
       normal  result as in the case of Purana  Kassapa, and
       common  sense  invites  us to believe  that  what  is
       normal really happens.

           Still   less  satisfactory   is  the  explanation
       offered  by  Professor  Jacobi  of the  cause  of the
       alleged  Buddhist  error.  The  Buddhists, he  holds,
       confused the place of Mahavira's  death, which is now
       identified with a village, Papapuri (Pavapuri) in the
       Bihar  part of the Patna  district, with  the town(2)
       Pava in which the Buddha stayed in the house of Cunda
       on the way to Kusinara.  The correctness  of the Jain
       identification,  Professor  Jacobi  holds, cannot  be
       doubted. This seems a strange assertion, for he holds
       that the three Suttantas  fall in the second or third
       century  after the Nirvana of the Buddha, and he does
       not  give  any  indication  of the  age  of the  Jain
       identification.(3)  To assert an error on the part of
       the Buddhists  demands support by adduction  of proof
       of the early date of the Jain view, which appears  to
       be lacking  and, at any  rate, is urgently  required.
       But, apart from this minor consideration, what ground
       is there for holding that a mistake as to a place was
       sufficient  to cause the invention of an assertion of
       the death of Mahavira  in the lifetime of the Buddha?
       It  is  perfectly  legitimate  to  suppose  that  the
       Buddhists  were  right  in placing  the death  of the
       rival  teacher  before  that  of Buddha, even if they
       confused the two places.  But that they were wrong in
       their identification is so far quite unproved, though
       possible.

           It must  be added  that  the tradition  that  the
       Buddha  died  after  Mahavira,  thus  asserted   with
       particularity  in the Buddhist texts, recorded within
       two or three centuries after his death, according to
       ______________________

       1. IA. ix, p. 160.
       2. Jacobi (p. 561) ascribes Pava to the Cakyas, but it
          is clear that it was a Malla town.
       3. The Kalpa Sutra ascribed to Bhadrabahu is clearly
          not by that author, and is wholly uncertain in date;
          see Winternitz, Geschichte der Indischen Litteratur,
          ii, pp. 309 f.

                             p. 866

       Professor Jacobi's own dating, is not contradicted by
       anything  expressed  in the Jain  tradition, and that
       the  contradiction   rests  on  the  strength   of  a
       deduction from two late and unsatisfactory traditions
       fixing the date of the deaths of the two teachers. If
       the  Jain  tradition  contradicted  the  Buddhist  by
       asserting  that Mahavira  died after  the Buddha, the
       case  for Professor  Jacobi's  view  would  assume  a
       different aspect; but, though the Jains must for many
       centuries  have been aware of the Buddhist assertion,
       there  has  been  adduced  no passage  in which  they
       negatived it. The obvious conclusion is that no doubt
       existed in either comunity on this point.

           Professor Jacobi has endeavoured  on the basis of
       the Jain and Buddhist traditions  to throw some light
       on the political  development  of Magadha in the time
       of  the  great  teachers.  but  it may  seriously  be
       doubted if we can make anything very satisfactory out
       of these confused and obviously biased records. There
       is no independent control available, and combinations
       thus become subjective to the highest degree. But one
       point  with which  he deals  elsewhere(1)  should  be
       noted,  his  belief  that  Parcva   can  be  assigned
       confidently  to a period 250 years before Mahavira, a
       view  which  is utilized  by him as assigning  to the
       early part of the eighth century B.C.  that influence
       of popular  religious  belief  on Indian  philosophy,
       which led to the innovations  of the Yoga and Samkhya
       systems,  involving   (1)  belief   in  the  personal
       immortality  of souls, and  (2)  the  recognition  of
       moral  principles,  and  thus  advancing  beyond  the
       monistic  tendency of the older Upanisads  with their
       intellectual  disdain  for morals.  We really  cannot
       accept, as in any sense  valid, the date assigned  to
       Parcvanatha.   If  Jain   tradition   was  wrong,  as
       Professor Jacobi holds it was.  in dating the Nirvana
       of Mahavira, how can  we trust  its assertions  for a
       period   250  years  earlier?  The  mere  figure   is
       suspicious, and why  should  We give  it any  greater
       credence  than we do to the figures equally  afforded
       by tradition(2)  for the number of his adherents? All
       that we can possibly rescue from the tradition is the
       belief in the existence of Parcva at some time before
       Mahavira;  to claim  more  is misleading.  There  are
       other  objections  to certain  features  of Professor
       Jacobi's most interesting reconstruction of the early
       Yoga,  but  these  must  be  dealt  with  on  another
       occasion.(3)
       ______________________

       1. SBA. 1930, pp. 326, 327.
       2. See Kalpa Sutra, sections 161-4.
       3. It is dubious if the Bhagavati vii, 9, 2, can be
          understood, as by Professor Jacobi (p. 564), as
          meaning that the Mallakis and Licchavis were the
          chief of the Kacis and Kosalas.

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