Buddhism 3: Buddhist Scriptures

Buddhist Scriptures Buddha’s preaching collected and classified into three volumes, collectively called as pitakas. The three volumes are like these, Sutta-pitaka It is a collection of Buddha’s preaching in dialogue form, which is mainly made for common people. It has five nikayas, in which the stories of Buddha’s rebirth (the jatakas) are collected in the fifth nikaya. Vinaya pitaka: It is a collection of rules and codes of conduct for Buddhist monks and nuns. Abhi-dhamma-pitaka: It is a collection of Buddha’s philosophical thoughts in the form of Question & answers. It is mainly meant for scholars of Buddhism. 

Dharmaparishadas: The Grand Assemblies After the mahaparinirvana of Buddha, Buddhism witnessed the crowd of various versions of Buddha’s preaching. Hence, to remove such discrepancy and reach to unanimous platform, a need was felt to rearrange and compile Buddha’s original preaching and codify them. For this purpose, grand assemblies of Buddhist followers are organized from time to time. Immediately after the death of Buddha, around 483 BC, during the reign of Ajatshatru of Haryanka dynasty, the first grand assembly was organized in the caves of Saptaparni, close to Rajgriha. It was presided over by Mahakashyapa. The assembly came up with a collection of Buddha’s preaching in pitakas. Under the supervision of Upali, Vinaya Pitaka compiled whereas Sutta-pitaka compiled under the supervision of Ananda. Then during the reign of Kalashoka of Shishunaga dynasty, in 387 BC, a second grand assembly was organized at Vaishali. In this, monks of Pataliputra and Vaishali introduced some rules, however, debated by monks of Avanti and Kaushambi. The debate did not reach any conclusion; hence, Buddhism witnessed its first major division under the names of Mahasanghika and Sthavirvadis. The Mahasanghik supported new rules whereas the Sthavirvadi decided to stick to the rules, compiled under Vinaya pitaka. During the reign of Ashoka of Maurya dynasty, in 251 BC, a third grand assembly was organized at Pataliputra, presided by Moggaliputta Tisya. The assembly came up with the collection of Buddha’s philosophy under the volume called Abhidhammapitaka. The assembly also drove away 60000 monks who were not following Buddha’s rules. In the background of waves of new thinking, Kanishka of the Kushana dynasty called the fourth grand assembly at Kundalvana (Kashmir). The assembly came up with the collection of treaties on three pitakas. However, due to the debates between new thinking and traditional scholars, the earlier division was dissolved and united under the name of Hinayana, whereas the new thinkers were known as Mahayana. 

Reasons for the spread of Buddhism Within a short span of period, Buddhism spread into distant lands of India and abroad. Some of reasons for such popularity can be summarized as follows: Ideal Personality of Buddha Buddha left his worldly possession and strived in search of truth and solution for human misery. Such a sacrifice was the ideal for the common people. After receiving enlightenment, Buddha shared his knowledge to the common people in their own language and with simple methods. Such a chaste, sacrificial, knowledgeable character of Buddha remains an ideal for the common people. Stress on People’s-language The Vedic knowledge and religion was in Sanskrit language, which was ambiguous to the common person, whereas Buddha preached in people’s language, i.e. Pali. Hence, people could 103 easily understand Buddha’s preaching and codes of conduct. Obviously, they could identify their own religious thirst for Buddhism, more comfortably. Philosophy Due to the complex and ritualistic nature of Vedic religion and ill systems like that of Varna, common man, as also the trader and ruler class remained out of his purview. Against this background, Buddha preached in understandable language and provided simple codes of conduct, largely based on universal moral values. Hence, large crowds gathered around Buddha. Contribution of Sangha The mechanism of Buddhist Sangha provided a framework and constant supply of missionaries to the people. These missionaries were renowned for their scholarship and chastesimple characters. They used to mix with the public and propagate Buddhism in an understandable manner. The people were attracted to this concept and showed respect to the Sangha. Support of economically powerful classes The traders and artisans, although economically superior in society, kept away from Vedic fold. Buddhist gave socio-religious sanctions and legitimization to them. In turn, they supported the Sangha in a generous manner. They provided a large sum of funds to Buddhist religious constructions and propagation. The missionaries traveled with the caravans of traders, hence their journey became secured and fruitful which helped in propagation. The Flavor of Buddhist religion was the religion of mass. Besides, an economically powerful class of traders and artisans were followers of Buddhist religion. Hence, to gain support from the mass and economically prosperous class, the rulers showered favour upon Buddhist religion. Besides, it should be noted that, many of the rulers of contemporary India were not of Kshatriya origin. Hence, they are disrespected by the Vedic religion. Buddhist sanctioned legitimacy to such nonKshatriya Kings. Obviously, rulers favored Buddhism, which caused its growth. In short, due to Buddha’s charismatic personality, his universal philosophy in peoples’ language, simple codes of conduct based on good-behavior, the dedication of Sangha and missionaries and sanctioning of religious legitimacy to prosperous classes and non-Kshatriya kings; Buddhism expanded throughout large areas of world. During the second grand assembly at Vaishali, Buddhism witnessed its major dissensions due to the intense arguments by the monks of Kaushambi and Avanti and those of Pataliputra and Vaishali. They are called as Sthavirvadis (those who stressed on strict observance of Vinaya-rules) and Mahasanghikas (those who wished to introduce new rules and changes), respectively. After the Mauryas, the rulers started favoring Vedic religion rather than Buddhism. Besides, Vedic religion, in reaction to the popularity of Buddhism, started introspecting itself and making improvisation in their philosophical and practical approaches. At this time, foreign rulers and concepts of art were making their way into Indian soil. Besides, to enlarge the mass base, every belief system was adhering to the process of deification and idol-worship. Hence, these systems started considering Sanskrit language for their scriptures to compete Vedic religion. Against this background, a grand assembly was organized at Kundalvana. Many Buddhists thinkers, to enlarge mass base, were inclined to idol-worship and appealing for other drastic changes in Buddhism. To oppose them, the earlier divisions of Sthavirvadis and Mahasanghikas united under Hinayana, whereas, the new thinkers were called Mahayana. By this time, Buddhism was already divided into eighteen important sects but the two most important and major ones were Hinayana or the Lesser Vehicle and the Mahayana the Great Vehicle. The Hinayanists believed in the original teachings of Lord Buddha and did not want any relaxation in them. Whereas Mahayanists accepted many Buddhisattvas who were in the process of 104 obtaining but had yet not obtained Buddhahood. Both the sects agreed that the Buddha had taken birth several times and in several forms as bodhisattvas before the attainment of Buddhahood and would take birth in future also. But both differed with regard to the cause of these births and deaths. According to Hinayanism, the different births were simply different stages of progress of the Buddha till salvation. Thus they believed that Buddha was a man and his birth as Gautama was his last stage in the attainment of Nirvana. But Mahayanism believed that Buddha was an incarnation of God. He took birth several times not to attain Nirvana for himself but to help others in the attainment. Secondly, whereas Hinayansim regarded the salvation of one’s own self as the highest goal, Mahayanism believed that the greatest ideal is to help the society in self elevation. Thirdly, Hinayanism regarded Nirvana as a state of permanent bliss or peace away from the cycle of birth and death while the Mahayanism regarded it as the union of an individual with Adi Buddha,an idea quite simpler to the union with the Brahman of the Upnishadas. Fourthly, Hinayana did not regard the Buddha free from the bond of birth and death while Mahayana regarded the Buddha as God and believed in his different incarnations, all free from the cycle of birth and rebirth. Fifthly, Hinayanism believed in the practice of self-culture and good deeds as the only way to salvation.Mahayanism was based on faith and devotion to various Buddha to attain salvation. Finally, while the religious texts of Hinayanism were written in Pali, those of Mahayanism were written in Sanskrit. Mahayanism remained closer to the concepts of Hinduism with regard to Nirvana, Brahma, incarnations of God, faith, devotion etc. thus forming a bridge between the old Buddhism and modern Hinduism.