China in the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Centuries
- It is very difficult for the mind to frame for itself a distinct picture of China from the middle of the third century A.D. to that of the sixth.
The three kingdoms of the Wei, the Wu, and the Shu, of which I have spoken in a previous chapter, came to an end in A.D. 265, when Szuma I. established himself as the first ruler of the Tsin dynasty on the ruins of the Wu and the Shu, which he annexed to the Wei.
There were many semi-independent principalities, which were extremely reluctant to acknowledge the supremacy of the Dragon Throne, and the unification of the empire was not carried out without considerable difficulty.
Many of these border principalities were Buddhist, and it was from them, more even than from India, that came that overwhelming flood of Buddhist books and translators which has served to make the history of Buddhism in China such a hopeless chaos.
There were other principalities of the same sort. How small was the intercourse with India proper may be inferred from the fact that, during the years 317–439, out of thirty-six translators mentioned by Nanjo, twelve came from the western regions (including Khotan), eight from Kubhâ (Kabul), ten from various parts of China proper, two from Turkestan and Bokhāra, and only four from India.
He encouraged travel (we read of a Chinese scholar, Tsushi, or the "Red Teacher," being sent to India), and in the year 284 he received at his capital (more probably at Nanking) an embassy from a Roman emperor.
The country was immediately a blaze of rebellion from one end to another, and the Tartars on the frontier set up a rival kingdom in Shansi, with a pretender on the throne who claimed descent from the great family of the Han.
The Han had not yet been forgotten, and the great Wu-ti had after all only been a successful usurper.
The "Bibliothecal catastrophe," or "burning of the books," instituted by Hweiti in A.D. 306, must have been directed against the Buddhists and their importations, and appears to have been well deserved. It also possibly affected the Taoists.
About the year A.D. 240, Taoist sectaries began to live as Buddhist monks in bamboo-groves and caves, and to cultivate the philosophy of the Void, as did many of the Buddhists: nay, even the Confucianists were tempted to follow suit by erecting images of "the Five Rulers" in the Temples of the God of Heaven.
The literati saved Confucianism from this stupid imitation of the Five Dhyāni Buddhas; shortly after Hweiti's "bibliothecal catastrophe," the votaries of the Void were forcibly put down, on the ground that their doctrines and practices were subversive of public order. But it is evident that these measures were limited to the dominions of Hweiti and his Tsin successors.
The Chow were Huns, 1 in touch with the main body of their tribe, whose vanguards, driven from their homes by the same process of desiccation which had sent the Chow against China, were now on their way to Europe.
Cave temples, after the manner of the celebrated holy places of India, were established in this kingdom about A.D. 370, and it was from the kingdom of the Anterior Thsin also that, in A.D. 372, the first Buddhist missionary was sent to the Korean kingdom of Koma.
How suitable those weird books must have seemed for reconciling the occupants of the Dragon-throne to the faith of the great Sea-dragon! In the year 381 Hiao-wu-ti, Emperor of the Anterior Thsin was the first ruler of China openly to profess the Buddhist faith. 1
Communications with India were restored. The peninsula was now under the sway of the later Gupta sovereigns. Samudragupta (326–375) ruled over an empire larger than any that had acknowledged a purely Indian sovereign since the days of As’oka. He was paramount in the peninsula, and his alliances extended from Ceylon to the Oxus, where he came in touch with the Thsin.
What wonder is it that, the way being once more open to the Holy Land of Buddhism, devout Chinese pilgrims should have flocked to visit the places associated with the birth, life, and death of S’akyamuni?
And what wonder that the net result of the journeys of these pilgrims was to give them, and, through them, their countrymen, a juster appreciation of the religion of the Master? Much strange matter had come into China by all manner of by-paths and highways. True it all claimed to be Buddhist, but it was not all such as Pataliputra, or even Peshawur, would have recognized.
The first of these pilgrims was Fah-hian, who started in 399 and returned by way of the sea in 414, four years after Alaric had sacked Rome, and the year after the accession of Kumaragupta I., whose reign was likewise to be disturbed by the inroads of the dreaded Huns.
At Pataliputra he found two monasteries, one for the followers of each Vehicle, but many of the holy places connected with the life of S’akyamuni—S’ravasti, Kapilavastu, Kus’inagara, and even the Bodh Gaya itself—were in decay.
Men did not trouble themselves about the historical Buddha; they were too much occupied with his deified aspects.
Entering the Fraternity at the age of seven, he was sent for his education to Kubhā (Kabul), where he was put under the charge of a famous Hīnayānist priest, who was cousin to the king of that country. At the age of twelve, i.e. in 352, he returned to Kharachar, where he remained until 383, spending the thirty years of his sojourn there in the prosecution of his theological studies.
He was admirably suited for the work of an interpreter. An Indian by descent and by education, he was familiar with all the twists and turns of Sanskrit; in Kharachar he had been forced to familiarize himself with Chinese and one or more Turkish dialects.
In 383 the town of Kharachar was attacked and destroyed by Chinese from Thsin, and Kumarajīva, still in the prime of life, was taken prisoner, and carried, first to Liancheu, and thence, in 401, to Singanfu, where he was attached to the court of Yao Hing, second ruler of the Posterior Thsin.
His fame as a scholar had preceded him; he had established his reputation as a Saint by a very successful resistance to a fleshly temptation thrown in his way by his Chinese captors, and was received by the Thsin court with much honour.
His opinion was at once asked with regard to the numerous translations of Buddhist Scriptures with which the country was flooded.
Travellers to India had already brought back stories of how the Buddhism being introduced into China differed from that of India; it was certain that the translations into Chinese offended the literary tastes of the educated classes. What guarantee was there that they were even accurate translations?
Kumarajīva's verdict was that the translations made hitherto were neither accurate nor elegant, and that he had better be set to the task of revision.
This work occupied him for the rest of his lifetime, and was the joy and pride of his declining years. The proper conversion of China had been laid upon him as a charge by his teachers both in Kabul and in Kharachar, and he was glad to be able to set himself to the task.
So his disciples knew that his written words were true and correct.
Among Kumarajīva's most notable translations were the Smaller Sukhāvati-vyūha, 1 the Saddharmapundarika, and the three S’āstras 2 which form the basal teaching of the Sanron sect. These last he had studied under Suryasoma in Kharachar, and it was to the expounding of them that he devoted the greater part of his energy.
The result of his labours was the formation of a sect—the so-called Sanron—the first definite sect in Chinese Buddhism, a sect which was brought to Japan in A.D. 625 by Ekwan, where it flourished for some time before being finally merged into other schools.
Eon is not reckoned among the patriarchs of the Amitābha sects in Japan, but he is surely deserving of such honour, for he was the first to gather into a distinct body a band of monks and laymen combined for the sole invocation of Amida's name.
We have seen the faith in Amida with As’vaghosha in the first century A.D., with Nāgārjuna, Anshikao, Lokaraksha, and other Han missionaries in the second. In the third there was Sanghavarman (252), whose translation of the larger Sukhāvatî Vyūha is still much used.
A certain very conceited Indian monk entered into conversation with him. "I am Shūsakushi," said the Indian (I give the Japanese equivalent for his name); "I am well known within the four seas." "Oh, are you?" said Dō-an.
He does not seem to have troubled himself very much about the Amida Scriptures (of which only one was accessible to him in a Chinese dress), but to have led a monastic life constantly devoted to the worship of Amida.
His writings had a great influence on the Amidaist Patriarch Zendō. It has been said that he was a Manichæan: the [paragraph continues] White Lotus Society still exists in China, I am told, and its members sing hymns which it is hard to distinguish from Christian ones. 1
The Master, on the Vulture Peak, awakes from his trance to show his auditors that, though men may think there are three forms of saving doctrine, there is really only one, the apparent differences arising from the fact that the One Truth has to be adapted and modified to suit the needs of those to whom it is delivered.
And to know everything is the same thing as to know nothing.
His knowledge is so great that even the Buddhas made Perfect in the past are anxious to hear his Wisdom, and he proposes himself, made one with a great Buddha of previous times, for the adoration of the congregation.
It will really be He that preaches, and not they. Every one of their countless myriads of converts has been somewhere at some time his personal disciple.
He gives them rules for their conduct in preaching.
At the head of the bands of those that shall believe are four great Bodhisattvas.
Nichiren claimed that he himself was one of the Four.
We know Bodhidharma's date, A.D. 520; if we place Nāgārjuna about A.D. 120, we shall find that a halfway date will place Vasubandhu about A.D. 300, which fits in better with what one can judge of the effects of his work. Vasubandhu, like Nāgārjuna, is claimed by many sects.
A story is told of him which throws an interesting light on the superstitions of his day. He was delivering a course of lectures in a preaching-place in Ayodhya, his place of residence. The lectures were not his own.
With an incredulity which would have done honour to a class of Japanese students his auditors refused to believe him.
A. Note on the Chinese Sects.
Many of them were extremely superstitious and corrupt; but few professed much real reverence for the teachings of S’akyamuni, and in none, except in the Jōdo, do we find any of the enthusiasm that uplifts its followers.
It seems to have prospered until about A.D. 440. 1 have found no traces of it in Japan.
2. Jōjitsu, based on Harivarman's "Satyasiddhis’āstra" (Nanjo, No. 1274), and brought to Singanfu by Kumarajīva in 401. It was opposed to the doctrines of the Sarvāstivādins. It prospered in China until the beginning of the Tang period, when it was absorbed by the Tendai.
It appeared in Japan only to disappear again.
It was one of the first sects to construct a "Harmony" of the numerous miscellaneous Sūtras. It divided Shaka's life into five periods, and considered the Sūtra of the Great Decease (Nehangyō) as representing the highest and final teachings of the Master.
The Saddharmapundarika and the most of the Amida books had not yet come to the fore in China when this sect was started. It was absorbed under the Tang by the Tendai sect, and reached Japan under that name.
5. Jiron, based on the Das’abhūmika, with Vasubandhu's (not Nāgārjuna's) commentary. Introduced by Bodhiruci A.D. 508, it flourished under the Northern Wei (386–534). It was eventually absorbed by Kegon.
His writings contain some wonderfully striking echoes of Scriptural phrases, e.g. "the turning of the hearts of the children to the Fathers, and vice versâ"," and the warning against adding to or taking from the words of his book.
It is based on the Saddharmapundarika, and is one of the harmonizing sects.
This sect sets out to be all embracing.
The three books are—
The translation most in use now is that made by Sanghavarman in A.D. 252. "This Sūtra gives a history of the Tathāgata Amitābha, from the first spiritual impulses which led him to the attainment of Buddhahood in remote Kalpas down to the present time when he dwells in the Western world called Sukhāvati (Goku-raku), where he receives all living beings from every direction, helping them to turn away from confusion and to become enlightened" (Nanjo).
"It is taught in this Sūtra that if a man keeps in his memory the name of Buddha Amitābha one day or seven days, the Buddha together with Bodhisattvas will come and meet him at the moment of his death in order to let him be born in the Pure Land Sukhāvatī; and that this matter has equally been approved by all the other Buddhas of the Universe."
These are (i) worldly goodness, e.g. filial piety, loyalty, respect for parents, etc.; (ii) morality, of that internal and unworldly kind which is the first foundation of the religious life; and (iii) the goodness of practice, which includes the practical application to life of the Four Great Truths and the Six Pārāmitas or Cardinal Virtues.
A good seed produces good fruit in abundance.
The latter applied for help to the Emperor Valens, and it was on this occasion that they brought into prominence the bishops, priests, nuns, etc., whom they had according to their ancient rites. See the quotation from Eunapius at the end of the preceding chapter.
156:1 China Review, vol. xi. p. 308.
156:2 Mentioned by Cosmas Indicopleustes.
159:2 The three S’astras are (i) "the Madhyamika-s’āstra, or "Book of the Mean" (Chūron); (ii) the S’ata sātra, or "Collection of one hundred Essays" (Hyaku-ron) and (iii) Dvādas’anikāya s’āstra, or "Book of the Twelve Gates" (Jūni mon ron).
They accepted the Kegon, the Âgamas, the Saddharmapundarika as three periods in S’akyamuni's ministerial career, and placed the Saddharmapundarika last as being the crown of Buddha's personal teachings.
I leave these questions for discussion in a later volume.
161:1 I have had no opportunities of verifying this statement, nor have I been able to find any account of the White Lotus Society in any publication accessible to me.
166:1 With regard to the earliest extant Chinese translation of this work, the one made by Lokaraksha in A.D. 147, it is worthy of notice that Hōzō Biku, the earthly phase of Amida, there makes his vow before not the last, but the first of his eighty-one predecessors, and that the Name of that Being is Lokeśvararāja, "the King, the Lord of the World."
In the description of his Vow, the conditions of salvation are faith and obedience, not faith only, and the obedience required embraces the ordinary morality, which is largely common to all religions.
In Sanghavarman's translation the twenty-four paragraphs of the original vow have been expanded to forty-eight; the chief stress being laid by subsequent teachers on the paragraphs which accentuate the importance of Faith alone as a means of salvation.
But even in the earliest version it is laid down most distinctly that, though there are many Buddhas (as there are gods many and lords many), yet they all are summed up in Amitābha, the Buddha of Infinite Purity, whose vow was made countless ages ago in the presence of the Buddha whose name is "the King, the Lord of the World."