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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Buddhist Art of Ancient Arakan ( XIX )


The Evolution of Buddhism in India

Immediately after the parinirvana of the Buddha, a large number of monks led by Mahakassapa gathered at Rajagriha, the capital of Magadha, under the patronage of Ajatasatru, to recite Buddha’s teachings. This was the First Great Buddhist Council. The Vinaya Pitaka, the rules of the order, as prescribed by the Master, was recited by Upali, one of the chief disciples of Buddha, as recollected by him. The Sutta Pitaka, the collection of the Blessed – One’s sermons on the matters of doctrine and ethics were recited by Ananda, the devoted discriple and constant companion of Buddha.

There seemed to have no written records of the teachings at that time and they were handed down from mouth to mouth by reciting and memorizing. Thus the teachings were preserved through memory.

A Second Great Council was held at Vaisali about one hundred years after the parinirvana of Buddha. It was held in the reign of King Kalasoka, a descendant of Ajatasatru. The Venerable Yasa led the Council. This council resulted in a schism among sanghas over ten points of monastic discipline. The orthodox Sthaviravadins (Pali Theravadi) won in this case and the Mahasanghikas seceded from the orthodox sanghas.

The Thirds Great Council was held at Pataliputra under the patronage of the great king Asoka (276 B.C). This council resulted in the expulsion of many heretics and false monks from the sangha community and also in the firm establishment of the Sthaviravada School. Tissa Moggaliputta led the council and succeeded in restoring the original teachings of the Buddha. It was at this council that the Abhidhamma Pitaka was supposed to have been added.

The Fourth Great Buddhist Council was held in Kashmir under the patronage of the great kusan king Kaniska (1st – 2 nd century A.D). The Sarvastivadins, another sect of orthodox Buddhists, were strong in this region and the sect’s doctrines were codified in a summary called the Mahavibhasa. This council made Sanskrit the language of Buddhist scriptures.

New ideas were developed from the Sarvastivadins and the Mahasanghikas which were to form the basis of the division of Buddhism into the Lesser Vehicle (Hinayana) and the Great Vchicle (Mahayana).

These were the Four Great Councils held in different parts of India after the parinirvana of Buddha. Scriptures of Buddhism developed by a long process covering several centuries, and many sects of Buddhism’s which formed in course of time in the evolution of Buddhism, the “Four Noble Truths” and the “Noble Eightfold Paths” (Refer P 76) are accepted by all sects as basic tenets of Buddhism.

The Lesser Vehicle (Hinayana)

The Buddhism of the Lesser Vehicle is a religion without souls and without God. Buddha was a man, not God, a teacher and not a savior. His supreme insight was gained by his own efforts. He was only a guide who had pointed out a way from the world of suffering to a beyond, the undying, and those who follow the path of liberation may also cross to the wisdom beyond.

Buddhists believe in the round of rebirths – Samsara. In page 14 of “The word of the Buddha” by Nyanatiloka, the word is defined as: Samsara the wheel of existence, lit, the ‘Perpetual Wondering’, - is the name given in Pali scriptures to the sea of life ever restlessly heaving up and down, the symbol of this continuous process of ever again and again being born, growing old, suffering, and dying. More precisely put: Samsara is the unbroken sequence of the fivefold Khandha-combinations, which, constantly changing from moment to moment. Of this Samsara, a single life time constitutes only a tiny fraction”.

The goal of every Buddhist is to attain Nirvana, which is a state where one becomes free from sensual passion, freedom the passion of ignorance, free from the passion of existence, free from Samsara.

There are three different ways to attain nirvana. The disciples can attain nirvana through Arahatship. The two other ways are to become Pratyekabuddha or the Supreme Buddha. Pratyekabuddhas attain full enlightenment but do not teach the Dharma to others. The supreme Buddha attain full enlightenment and teach the Dharma to others. In order to become a Pratyekabuddha or a Supreme Buddha one has to request a living Buddha to grant the boon of being allowed to become such a Buddha. These three ways lead different type of beings, with different intellect, to nirvana.

To attain Arahatship there are four stages. Before going to these stages we need to recognize the ten ‘Fatters’ samyojana-by which beings are bound to the wheel of existence. They are (1) Self Ilusion (Sakaya – ditthi), (2) Sceptism (vicikiccha) (3) Attachment to mere Rule and Ritual (silabhataparamasa), (4) Sensual Lust (Karma raga), (5) Ill-will (vyapada), (6) Craving for Fine Material Existence (ruparaga), (7) Craving for Immaterial Existence (arupa-raga), (8) Conceit (mana), (9) Restlessness (Uddhacca) and (10) Ignorance (avijja).

One who is freed from the first three Fetters is called a Sotapan, i.e, one who has entered the stream leading to nirvana. This is the first stage. One who has overcome the fourth and the fifth Fetters in the grosser form, is called a Sakadagam. This is the second stage. One who is freed from the first five Fetters is called an Anagam. This is the third stage. When one is freed from all the ten Fetters he becomes an Arahat, a worthy man. This is the last stage.

The Buddhists of the Lesser Vehicle believed in a cosmological scheme based largely on the prevalent Indian ideas. The universe is cyclic with Buddha cycles and empty cycles. We live in a Buddha cycle of five Buddhas (Bhadrakalpa). Out of the five Buddhas four have already taught in this world, the last one being Gautama Buddha. A fifth is yet to come. The four passed Buddhas were Krekucchanda, Kanakamuni, Kasyapa and Gautama. The future Buddha is Maitreya who is at present passing the life of a Bodhisattva in the Tusita heaven, preparatory to his descent to the earth in human form. He is supposed to come to the earth full 5000 years after the parinirvana of Gautama Buddha for the deliverance of all sentient beings.

The Pali canon of the Sthaviravadins consists of three sections called pitakas. They are known as the Vinaya Pitaka (Rules of the order), Sutta Pitaka (the Teachings or Sermons) and Abhidhamma Pitaka (a complex mixture of metaphysics, psychology and mind development).

The Sutta Pitaka is divided into five “Groups” (Nikaya). One of the Groups, “Khuddaka Nikaya,” contains the Jataka Stories. These stories are usually described as histories of the previous lives of Gautama Buddha as a Bodhisattva. In these stories the Buddha is shown to have done many deeds of kindness and mercy in a long series of rebirths as a Bodhisattva before he achieved the final birth as Gautama Buddha. This collection of myth and legend contributes greatly to the Buddhist art up to the present day. They are also among the most important ethical teachings.
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Arakan Library was founded by a group of Arakan Action Association (AAA) in exile in Thailand from Burma in 2007 doing to voice for the knowledge, the people democratic and human rights.

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