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DISSENT AND PROTEST IN THE ANCIENT INDIAN BUDDHISM
Venerable TRAN DONG NHAT
Thesis submitted to the University of Delhi
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It has been pointed out on the basis of well-documented research that even when the basic needs of human beings are met, they are not able to live in peace with each other. In fact, many scholars believe that the very fundamental and basic principle of progress is dissent, protest, conflict and even war. In other words, all institutions founded by human beings may have progressed and survived only if they permitted dissent and criticism. Even democracy works ideally in a situation where dissent, protest and open criticism are allowed to take place.
This Thesis focuses on the issues of the Dissent and Protest in the Ancient Indian Buddhism. This new reconstructive work of mine proposes to encounter the challenge of the modern western scholars who have been using and interpreting eastern history and philosophy to suit their linguistic terminology. In this process, they have been distorting the true meaning of the textual terms. This challenge will be tackled by the method of elaboration and revision of the materials that is the core of this reconstructive work.
To have a better understanding, it is imperative to be aware of the meaning of these terms: Dissent, Protest and Ancient Indian Buddhism at the very commencement.
Normally speaking, ‘Dissent’ refers to the following main meanings:
1. The difference of opinion on questions of religious doctrine or practice;
2. The state of being separated from a prevailing or established Church;
3. Difference in meaning, character etc...
In this Thesis, ‘Dissent’ means “to withhold assent” or “to differ in opinion” i.e., a religious non-conformity. It also carries the meaning of a person disagreement with the majority decision. For instance, when the Saṁgha decides over many matters in a democratic manner, the monks who were in minority would voice their disagreement with the decision. Being in minority their opinion was not accepted, thus it was only a Dissent. Other aspect of Dissent is a justice’s non-concurrence with a decision of the majority.
It is very essential to note that the Buddhists had a very clear conception of dissidence or Dissent (saṁgharāji) and schism (saṁghabheda). According to the Pāli Vinaya (II, p.204), there is a schism when a group of at least nine bhikkhus, possessed of all the religious privileges, belonging to the same persuasion and living in the same district, knowingly and willingly profess a proposition contrary to the law and discipline and, who after a properly established vote, separate from their colleagues in order to perform the ceremonies of uposatha, pavāranā and other official functions of the community on their own. If the number of dissenters is less than nine, there is no schism, but only dissidence. Here the purpose is to compare and analyze the definition and concept of Dissent and schism.
Meanwhile, the meaning of ‘Protest’ seems to be similar to that of Dissent. Usually there are some meanings of Protest:
1. The expression of strong disagreement with or opposition to something.
2. A statement or an action that shows one’s strong disapproval and disagreement.
3. The expression of social, political, religious and cultural dissent.
4. A public demonstration against a policy or course of action.
These definitions are inter-related. In the context of the Topic, ‘Protest’ means the act of objecting or a gesture of disapproval. It could usually also mean an organized public demonstration of disapproval. Thus, it may be defined as a complaint, objection or display of unwillingness usually to an idea or a course of action.
According to this definition, the term ‘Protest’ is stronger and more in practice than that of Dissent, therefore, the title of this thesis shows that the purpose of the author is to prove the events from the theory in the minor level to practice in the major level that lead the schism into different schools not only in explanations but also in practice from the Buddha’s life time and in the later period.
In the Buddha’s life time, we see some Dissent and Protest against his teachings and the leadership of the Saṁgha by his own disciples: Devedatta and Kosambī (Sanskrit: Kausambī) monks. In later time, Dissent and Protest are considered the cause that leads to organize of the Buddhist Councils. Some works have been done to examine these issues based on the Pāli Suttas, but none of them has taken notice the forces of the society and the elements influenced by the society. So it fails to convince the readers in the field of research work. Due to that, the author would like to bring home the truth discovered by combining the internal factors-the sangha, and external factors-the society, which throws the new light. It is concluded that the dissenters were not the apostasy people and Buddhism was influenced by the social and religious environment around which it developed. In this work I have consulted Pāli Canons including: Dīghanikāya, Majjhimanikāya, Saṁyuttanikāya, Anguttaranikāya and Khuddakanikāya. Mahāvagga and Cūlavagga of the Vinaya-pitaka that has been seen as the major sources of my work. I strongly believe that the Pāli Canon is not only a vast treasure-house of information related to the geography, historical events, the rulers, the life of monks and nuns, the teachings of the Buddha, but also regarding the sources of Jainaism and Brahnanism as well. Moreover, from a time when Indian History emerges from confusion and uncertainties of semi-historical legends and traditions to a more sure and definite historical plane, that is from about the time of the Buddha to about the time of Asoka the Great, the canonical literature of the early Buddhists is certainly the main, if not the only, sources of all historical and geographical information of ancient India.
To fulfill this task, I disapprove the ill-informed arguments pronounced by C.A.F.Rhys Davids, which was supported by scholars like Schayer, Keith, Horner and Hare that the original gospel or mandate of Buddhism was quite different from that of the Pāli Canon. These scholars have not been able to adduce sufficient evidences to prove their assertions. To do so, I do not aim to rewrite the history of Pāli Tipitaka or assume that Pāli sources were written by the Buddha and his disciples in his time.
Beside Pāli Tipitaka, I wield the commentaries of Buddhaghosa and the Ceylonese chronicles: Dīpavaṁsa and Mahāvaṁsa. The information contained in them, is, therefore, almost equally useful and trustworthy. Other sources from which we can gather chips of information are the edicts of the Great King Asoka.
‘Ancient’ is the term which is applied for the period from Buddha’s time to Early Mahāyāna Buddhism. Indian Buddhism is often used today to distinguish it from the Buddhism of other countries.
Here my work focuses not only on the doctrinal differences between Buddha’s teachings and the dissenters but also tries to find out differences in practice of doctrines in day to day life by them. An attempt is made to see how far they differ in their religious goal and the influence of external forces on the growth of these two different views. The progress of the Dissent and Protest in the Buddha’s own lifetime and the attitude of the Buddha and his disciples toward these issues have been analyzed in Chapter Two. The purpose of this analysis is to offer a nuanced reading of Buddhist Dissent and Protest as a normal or the norm of democracy and liberty in the well-organized religious community in the ancient time. The Dissent in the Buddha’s life time merely reflects a Buddhist doctrine a dynamic ensemble and the life of the monk as a true model of liberty and free-chosen will. Here my aim is to avoid the traditional perspective of explanation and consideration of the canonical texts. Here is a suggestion to opt the technique of reading which aspires towards reflexivity in reading and elaborating the historical issues. My aim is not to reconstruct the real history of Buddhism in the ancient time but my interest lies in the understanding of Devadatta’s phenomenal rise in the Saṁgha as an epitome of dissenter and protester in the social context.
Perhaps the most striking example of the variations in the early Saṁgha relates to Devadatta. In the Pāli canon he is remembered as a villain: He urged a rogue elephant to trample the Buddha to death, but Buddha calms the elephant. He set off an avalanche to kill Buddha, but Buddha escapes without serious injury. Devadatta and Buddha also argued over the degree of austerity that monks and nuns should practice. It is said that he asked for extra rules. The first rule he asked for was that it be made compulsory for monks and nuns to be vegetarians. The second rule was that only three robes made of rags should be allowed. The third rule was to be that the only dwelling places were to be at the foot of trees in the forest and there should be no fixed residences. The fourth rule was that only one meal a day should be taken. In the story told in the Pāli canon it is said that these should be optional practices which can be adopted as wished by monks and nuns. It is interesting that all these rules basically relate to the practices now associated with forest monks and are part of a set of ‘difficult practices’ which were adopted by forest monks and nuns especially during the rainy season. The difference between Mahākassapa and Devadatta seems to be that the former represents a forest tradition that accepts that its hard practices should be optional and Devadatta who wants these practices to be made mandatory. The kernel of the dispute between Buddha and Devadatta seems then to be over the issues of asceticism and following the practices of forest traditions similar to those of the Jains.
Whilst he is always depicted as a villain in the Pāli Canons but in the Lotus Sutra of the Mahāyāna Text he is depicted in a favourable light as an exemplar of the ascetic forest of tradition. An external source also throws light on his tradition in that the Chinese pilgrims reported that there were still monasteries of his followers flourishing well into the Christian era in India. This could be said to be an instance of an early division in the Saṁgha.
However, it could equally be regarded as evidence for diversity within the earliest Saṁgha rather than it ever having been a single unified tradition. The ideas of the community having been since the start not a single united tradition but a community containing a diversity of traditions and practices have interesting implications. In particular, it suggests that later on when the origins of the Mahāyāna are considered the question would not have to be how did the Mahāyāna develop from Nikāya Buddhism, but how did some of the Buddhist traditions come to identify themselves as Mahāyāna.
To tackle this thorny issue, I shall use the historical methodology based on the annals, the chronicle to affirm the life and the time of the Buddha’s death. Therefore, the author will briefly review the life of the Buddha in this Chapter. This review, I believe, will make the reader enable to appreciate how some later scholars created ill-informed vision on the historical Buddha. The author’s purpose in the Second Chapter is to map out some of the shifting groundless views claimed by the later scholars. Since this Chapter focuses on the Dissent and Protest in the Buddha’s lifetime, it emphasizes the events of the monks in Kosambī and Devadatta; the former was quickly reabsorbed, but the later culminated in the creation of a dissident order. It will be successful if the reader gets a glimpse of how the dissenters were formulating its identity and interfering in the Buddhist mission. The next step in reading may be suggested to expand is how it effected to the later schism. However, such a suggestion lies outside the scope of this Chapter. Perhaps it will be discussed in the Chapter Four and in the Conclusion Chapter.
In Chapter Three the author will focus on the First Council as he believes that there are some motives behind this Council with the appearances of Dissent and Protest. He will analyze the motive behind these issues.
Some theoretical problems are worth considering. First and the foremost was that The Buddha did not appoint a direct successor. It is a famous saying that He told his followers to be ‘A Lamp unto themselves’.
It is also said that He had permitted to change minor rules in the code for monastic conduct. But, nobody could decide what a minor rule was and so the code remained unchanged since then. Although there are variations in interpretation and clearly in practice amongst different Buddhist communities and in some places changes have been introduced. For instance the Japanese government has allowed the monks to marry by amending the code through legislation. However, such major changes are very rare indeed.
The third issue is that after the death of Buddha the question of what he had actually said that was addressed in the First Council. It is said that in the first rainy season after his death, five hundred Arahats gathered at Rājagaha and decided what the authoritative canon of Buddha’s teachings was. The number five hundred signifies probably just a large number rather than exactly five hundred and the cave in which the Council was said to have been held seems hardly large enough to accommodate five hundred people. However, there is no good reason to doubt that such a Council was held and some sorts of recitation of the remembered Texts were made. The general consensus of all Buddhist traditions on the Council held supports this view as does the evidently oral nature of the texts.
It is said that two parts of the canon, the Sūtta Pitaka and the Vinaya Pitaka were compiled. It is possible that the word Pitaka which means ‘basket’ or ‘winnowing fan’ may be a later term as it seems to be a reference to a container for manuscripts rather than having anything to do with oral recitation. It should be born in mind that what we are speaking of here is an oral rehearsal of the Canon, not it being compiled in written form. Despite reference to writing in the Canon it does not seem that it was written down until after the time of Asoka. The third part of the modern canon, the Abhidhamma Pitaka was not compiled until later, perhaps at around the same time as the texts were being written down. There is also a text of the canon which is regarded as a fairly late composition which is called the Cariyā Pitaka ‘The basket of Conduct’ which may date from around the time of the writing down of the Texts as it includes the term Pitaka in its title. In other words not everything in the modern Pāli Canon dates from the First Council. So it can be said that everything in the Cannon is not direct words of Buddha.
The recitation of the Texts at the Council was made in order to fix the authentic version of the Canon. There must have been some process by which different people recited the Texts and a consensus was reached on what was the correct version of a particular teaching. Perhaps some parts or versions were accepted and some were rejected or amended.
The question must be raised here of why such a Council needed to be held. There was evidently concern over this or the council would not have been held. Perhaps in part this is due to the presence of many Suttas which are not actually the words of Buddha. There are Suttas which it is said that Buddha had requested his disciples to deliver and then He had approved of them. Or Suttas which Buddha recited, but He was repeating the utterances of other people, such as elements of the Jātaka tales which were evidently traditional. There are also materials which were said by others at other times, and are then reported to Buddha and He then said that He approved of them. There is also a fourth category Suttas which Buddha had predicted would be said and gave prior approval to. So clearly the concept of the speech of Buddha, Buddhavacana, which was adopted at the First Council was not simply what Buddha had said, but that which accorded with the teachings of Buddha. There are references in the Pāli Canon itself where there are references to Suttas learnt by heart. There is a Sutta in the Udānavagga where Buddha asks a young follower to recite some dhamma that he has learnt and the follower recites ‘The section of Eights’ which is a part of the Sutta-nipāta. From this it is clear that parts were compiled during the life of Buddha. However, the descriptions of what happened after the death of Buddha can in no sense be taken as the utterance of Buddha. There are also aspects which reflect the spectrum of Buddhist Texts from lay to monastic traditions.
Specially, the author will turn to how the European and Indian scholars have interpreted and evaluated the historical materials related to the First Council. Here the viewpoints of I.P. Minayeff, Louis De La Valle Poussin, Hermann Oldenberg, V.A. Smith, M. Suzuki, Jean Przylusky, R.C. Majumdar, Rhys Davids, W. Geiger, Louis Finot, E. Obermiller, M. Hofinger, Paul Demieville, Andre Bareau, Erich Frauwallner, Nalinaksha Dutt, Charles S.Prebish and other scholars will be reviewed as much as possible. In this review, the author will not focus on the arguments echoed by later scholars which found already in other texts.
The Third Chapter is not only to focus on Dissent and Protest in the First Council but also offers a critical vision of the former scholarly works which have proved to be the most widely used and enduring label for the identification of Buddhist Councils. This will be guided by the analysis methodology based on the primary sources and the Cūlavagga and Mahāparinibbānasutta play a decisive role in providing the information of this Council. It is very imperative to discuss some aspects of the controversies of the two above mentioned sources. There are some contradictory statements for the information of Buddhist Councils recorded in Cūlavagga by some eminent scholars. D.P. Minayeff, the Russian scholar, refused to accept the events of chanting the Dhamma and Vinaya recorded in Chapter XI in Cūlavagga due to the illegal traditions of early origin. Louis De La Valle Poussin in his work The Buddhist Council rejected Minayeff’s statements as qouted: Minayeff puts aside as apocryphal or tendentious the history of the council in its official convocation and in its literary labours. But he retains as historic or semi-historic the episodes of Subhadda, the Khuddānukhudda-kāni sikkhāpadāni, faults of Ānanda, etc. Minayeff comes to this conclusion for he thinks that the account of chanting of dhamma and vinaya suffers from both incoherence and contradiction. He finds it incoherent when the Cūlavagga speaks of the suggestion of Kassapa to the monks to chant together and next records that the monks request Kassapa to choose competent monks for chanting the Dhamma and Vinaya; or when the Cūlavagga first puts the decision of the monks to hold the council at Rājagaha and then proceeds to record the same as an official resolution proposed by Kassapa and accepted by the Saṁgha. On the other hand, Minayeff finds contradiction between the drawing up of a complete canon and the episodes of Khuddānukhuddakāni sikkhūpadāni, faults of Ānanda, etc. It is also clear that the legendary account of the chanting of Dhamma and Vinaya is of much later origin while the different episodes which are of historical nature, belong to an earlier tradition. Some scholars doubt the contents of Cūavagga XI and consider it as a duplicate of Mahāparinibbānasutta. T.W.Rhys Davids in Dialogues of The Buddha after making the two columns in comparison in his work points out that a glance at the above columns shows that the two Texts are identical except in two particulars. The Dīgha gives the episode in narrative form, whereas the Vinaya puts it into the mouth of Kassapa himself. And secondly, whereas the Dīgha puts Kassapa speech after the outburst of Subhadda, the Vinaya puts it before-that is, the last paragraphs in the Dīgha are transposed in the Vinaya. As opposed Oldenberg's statements that the Mahāparinibbānasutta maintains utter silence concerning the First Council, Finot offers the following arguments. He points out that the chapters XI and XII of the Cūavagga which contain the accounts of the two Councils, have such an abrupt beginning unlike the other chapters of the Cūlavagga that they could not have been originally a part of this work. He further points out that the Mahāparinibbānasutta also differs from the other Suttas of the Dīgha Nikāya in the nature of its contents, being more historical in character, and that the Mahāparinibbānasutta and the two chapters (XI, XII) of the Cūlavagga are so similar in nature that they must have been originally parts of one and the same work. Dr. Obermiller corroborates Finot's contention and gives us in detail the contents of the Vinaya-khuddakapātha which roughly corresponds to the Cūlavagga, and shows that it not only contains the account of the two Councils but also the Mahāparinibbānasutta. He further points out that the story of the Councils begins just on the same line in which the narrative of the burial of the Buddha finishes, without any indication whatsoever. These disputed arguments will be solved in this chapter as the author plans to use information recorded in Cūlavagga and Mahāparinibbānasutta for his purpose.
In the Fourth Chapter, I shall not only focus on Dissent and Protest, but also identify some of significant events in the Second Councils, that seems to be conflict in a few aspects of the major Buddhist schools. Another fundamental question that needs to be addressed is why should we presume that there was ever such a thing like single undivided Buddhist tradition? There is after all evidence in the Pāli Canon of dissension and diversity within the tradition even during the life of the Buddha. There are accounts of monks whose practices varied in different locations. In addition his followers appear to have distinctive characters. Many of his main disciples typify different aspects of the tradition. Sāriputta is depicted as having great stability in the practice, but no supernatural powers. Moggallāna is the archetype of a disciple with immense supernatural powers. Mahākassapa is always shown as the embodiment of how a forest monk should live. There is already a depiction here of the distinction into forest monks who practice meditation and austerities and ‘urban’ monks who live in association with lay communities.
As we know that identification of conflict is not simply a negative act. It needs to be examined in the field of historical and political process that takes place as an urgent social contest. Buddhism is no exception. My interest in mimicry, mirroring, and religious mimesis provides an opportunity for me to reflect my own knowledge in relation to Buddhism as a Buddhist monk. Since the focus of this dissertation has been directed towards the Dissent and Protest in ancient Indian Buddhism and how to identify the positive side of the Dissent on the way to develop Buddhism in the later centuries and open the way for Buddhism preaching outside India, in this Chapter, I conclude by situating my own knowledge both in philosophy and history of Buddhism in terms of the disciplinary fields of research work, from which and for which this Thesis is written.
So far, there have been many works related to the schism in early Buddhism with the strong arguments to accuse the Ten Points practiced by Vesālī monk and the Five Points of Mahādeva. We cannot deny some serious works done by well-known scholars, at the same time we can recognize the fact that very few works have approached these issues by using the evident sources from Vinaya which, the author believes that, records all information of the different Buddhist sects.
As we all know that the Ten Points practiced by Vesālī monk and the Five Points of Mahādeva and the cause of the Second Buddhist Council are relevant to the Vinaya. One can say that without study from Vinaya, the works concern to the Buddhist schism will be of limited result.
The Fifth Chapter focuses on the role of Vinaya as the fundamental aspect to examine whether the First and the Second Buddhist Councils bring the different rules in Vinaya, or they cause the different rules in Vinaya leading the conclusions, that Mahāyāna Buddhism appears due to these differences.
To testify whether the increased numbers of rules in Vinaya between the Theravāda and Mahāyāna Buddhism influence the establishment of two sects, I focus the way that how to use methodology to define them.
I begin by looking at these materials in the manner of a phenomenologist; I assume that I will assemble a broad range of material in order to see what a kind of recognizable patterns appears. I will take particular interest in themes that occur most open-ended and involves least in its consideration of materials and any selection of texts that is chosen for consideration is by nature provisional.
The author suggests some approaches these issues by the information provided by Vinaya and this is the aim of the Fifth Chapter.
In Chapter Sixth, we conclude all the debated theories in the previous Chapters and suggest some guidance to investigate Buddhism that the reader perhaps recognizes in the following ideas.
Re-thinking the relationship between the negative and positive sides of Dissent and Protest in Buddhism requires reconfiguring these issues within the discipline of Buddhist studies and social identity. This project arises from a felt need to trespass the narrow disciplinary boundaries of Buddhist studies, boundaries that are so carefully policed by the high priests of Buddhist orthodoxy as well as the curators of Buddhism. Many who belong to this discipline too often assume the Dissent and Protest as the rebel of Buddhism while refusing to accept the fact that these issues arise from the internal elements of Buddhism and they are the symbol of democracy and liberty which are the main goal of Buddhism. The author’s goal here is to re-imagine Dissent and Protest in Buddhism which is a social request and as nature of law. The conclusion reached by many scholars of Buddhism today, namely that Dissent and Protest and the different explanations of main Buddhist schools are unorthodox form of Buddhism is a misplaced remark. If we take seriously a vision of Buddhism and its developed schools, theories as mutually constitutive, then the conclusion of this issue needs to be defined differently.
The developed Dissent theories and development schools is important for Buddhist studies for challenging our understanding of what binds Buddhism and what its boundaries are toward the required modern society. It invites serious works in the area.
This Thesis seeks to reconstruct the new imagine by shifting the bias toward the Dissent and Protest in the Ancient Indian Buddhism. This influences the establishment of the later schools, if any, as an unorthodox, or the rebel of Buddhism.
. HIB, Etienne Lamotte, p.518.
. AHIB, Hirakawa Akira. p.13.
. EBW, G.B.Upreti, p.14.
. GEB, Bimala Churn Law, p.xiii.
. GEB, .Ibid.
. I own this idea to EBW, by G.B.Upreti.
. GEB, Bimala Churn Law, p.xiv.
. AHIB, Hirakawa Akira, p.1.
. Vin. III. p.171
. HIB, Etienne Lamotte, p.517.
. BCDB, Sumangal Barua, pp.9-10 cf.
. TBC, Louis De La Valle Poussin. p.10.
. Introduction to the Vinaya, Oldenberg, xxxvi-xxviii; JPTS, London, 1908. pp.8-12
. DB T.W.Rhys Davids. p75.
. IHQ Finot, vol.VII. pp. 241-246.
. IHQ, Obermiller, vol.VIII. pp. 781-784.
Sincere thanks to Venerable Thich Nghiem Quang for giving the digital files (Binh Anson, 02-2009).