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In developing the more interesting question, involving the character, the value, and the authenticity, of the historical data contained in the Páli buddhistical annals, I must enter into greater detail; and quote with greater explicitness the authorities from which my exposition is derived ;-as it is opposed, in many essential respects, to the views entertained by several eminent orientalists who have hitherto discussed this subject, from records extant in other parts of India.
It is an important point connected with the buddhistical creed, which (as far as I am aware) has not been noticed by any other writer, that the ancient history, as well as the scheme of the religion of the buddhists, are both represented to have been exclusively developed by revelation. Between the manifestation of one Buddho and the advent of his successor, two periods are represented to intervene ; -the first is called the buddhántaro or buddhótpádo, being the interval between the manifestation of one Buddho and the epoch when his religion becomes extinct. The age in which we now live is the buddhótpádo of Gótamo. His religion was destined to endure 5000 years; of which 2380 have now passed away (A. D. 1837) since his death, and 2620 are yet to come. The second is the abuddhótpádo, or the term between the epochs when the religion revealed by one Buddho becomes extinct, and another Buddho appears, and revives, by revelation, the doctrines of the buddhistical faith. It would not be practicable, within the limits which I must here prescribe for myself, to enter into an elucidation of the preposterous term assigned to an abuddhótpádo; or to describe the changes which the creation is stated to undergo, during that term. Suffice it to say, that during that period, not only does the religion of each preceding Buddho become extinct, but the recollection and record of all preceding events are also lost. These subjects are explained in various portions of the Pitakattaya, but in too great detail to admit of my quoting those passages in this place.
By this fortunate fiction, a limitation has been prescribed to the mystification in which the buddhistical creed has involved all the historical data, contained in its literature, anterior to the advent of Gótamo. While in the hindu literature there appears to be no such limitation; in as much as professor Wilson in his analysis of the Puránas, from which (excepting the Rája Taringiní) the hindu historical data are chiefly obtained, proves that those works are, comparatively, of modern date.
The distinguishing characteristics, then, between the hindu and buddhistical historical data appear to consist in these particulars ;-that the mystification of hindu data is protracted to a period so modern that no part of them is authentic, in reference to chronology; and that there fabulous character is exposed by every gleam of light thrown on Asiatic history by the histories of other countries, and more especially by the writers who flourished, respectively, at the periods of, and shortly after, the Macedonian and Mahomedan conquests. While the mystification of the buddhistical data ceased a century at least prior to B. c. 588, when prince Siddhato attained buddhohood, in the character of Gótamo Buddho.
According to the buddhistical creed, therefore, all remote historical data, whether sacred or profane, anterior to Gólamo's advent, are based on his revelation. They are involved in absurdity as unbounded, as the mystification in which hindu literature is enveloped.
For nearly five centuries subsequent to the advent of Gótamo, the age of inspiration and miracle is believed to have endured among the professors of his faith. His last inspired disciple, in Ceylon at least, was Malayadéwo théro, the kinsman of Watagámini, who reigned from B. c. 104 to B. c. 76. It would be inconsistent with the scheme of such a creed, and unreasonable also on our part, to expect that the buddhistical data, comprised in those four and half centuries, should be devoid of glaring absurdities and gross superstitions. These defects, however, in no degree prejudice those data, in as far as they subserve the chronological, biographical, and geographical, ends of history.
Gotamo Buddho, by whom, according to the creed of the buddhists, the whole scheme of their historical data, anterior to his advent, was thus revealed, entered upon his divine mission in B. c. 588, in the fifteenth year of the reign of Bimbisáro, sovereign of Mágadha (who became a convert to buddhism); and died in B. c. 543, in the eighth year of the reign of Ajátasatto, the son of the preceding monarch. These revelations are stated to have been orally pronounced in Páli, and orally perpetuated for upwards of four centuries, until the close of the buddhistical age of inspiration. They compose the "Pitakattaya," or the three Pitakas, which now form (if I may so express myself) the buddhistical scriptures, divided into the Winéyo, Abhidhammo, and Sutto pitako.
At the demise of Gótamo, Mahákassapo was the hierarch of the buddhistical church, in which a schism arose, even before the funeral obsequies of Buddho had terminated. For the suppression of this schism, and for asserting the authenticity of the Pitakattaya, the first "Dhammasangítí," or convocation on religion, was held at Rájagaha, the capital of Ajátasatto, in B. c. 543. The schism was suppressed, and the authenticity of the Pitakattaya in Páli was vindicated and established. Upon that occasion, dissertations, or commentaries, called "Atthakatha" on the Pitakattaya, were also delivered.
In B. c. 443, at the lapse of a century from Gótamo's death, the second Dhammasangítí was held, in the tenth year of the reign of Kálásóko, at Wésáli, for the suppression of a heresy raised by certain priests natives of Wajji, resident in that city. The hierarch was the venerable Sabbakami; and under his direction, Réwato conducted the convocation. The authority of the Pitakattaya was again vindicated; and the Atthakatha, delivered on that occasion, serve to develope the history of buddhism for the interval which had elapsed since the last convocation.
In B. c. 309, in the eighteenth year of the reign of Dhammasóko, the supreme sovereign of India, who was then a convert to buddhism, the third convocation was held at Pátilipura; Moggaliputtatisso being then the hierarch.
In the ensuing analysis of the Mahawanso, will be found references to the portions of the Pitakattaya and Atthakatha, in which detailed accounts of these convocations may be found.
In B. c. 307, the théro Mahindo, the son of the emperor Dhammásóko, embarked on his mission for the conversion of Ceylon. The reigning sovereign of this island, Déwánanpiyatisso, was converted to buddhism, and several members of his family were ordained priests. Many wiháros were founded by this monarch in this island, of which the Maháwiharo at Anuradhapura, was the principal. His minister Dighasandano built the pariwéno, or college, called after himself, Dighasanda-sénЯpoti-pariwéno, which, as well as the royal incumbencies, were bestowed on Mahindo.
Under the control of that high priest of Ceylon, fraternities were formed for all these religious establishments. The successions to which, regulated by certain laws of sacerdotal inheritance, still prevalent in the island, were uninterruptedly kept up, as will be seen by the ensuing pages.
The Pitakattaya, as well as Atthakatha propounded up to the period of the third convocation in India, were brought to Ceylon by Mahindo, who promulgated them, orally, here;-the Pitakattaya in Pali, and the Atthakatha in Singhalese, together with additional Atthakatha of his own. His inspired disciples, and his successors, continued to propound them, also orally, till the age of inspiration passed away ; which took place in this island (as already stated) in the reign of Wattagamini, between B. c. 104 and B. c. 76. They were then embodied into books; the text in the Páli, and the commentaries in the Singhalese language. The event is thus recorded in the thirty third chapter of the Mahawanso p. 207.
The profoundly wise (inspired) priests had theretofore orally perpetuated the text of the Pitakattaya and their Attha katha. At this period, these priests, foreseeing the perdition of the people (from the perversions of the true doctrines) assembled; and in order that religion might endure for ages, recorded the same in books.
In the reign of the rája Mahanámo, between A. D. 410 and 432, Buddhaghóso transposed the Singhalese Atthakathá also, into Páli. The circumstance is narrated in detail in the thirty seventh chapter of the Mahawanso, p. 250.
This Páli version of the Pitakattaya and of the Atthakatha, is that which is extant now in Ceylon; and it is identically the same with the Siamese and Burmese versions. In the appendix will be seen a statement of the divisions, and subdivisions, contained in the Pitakattaya. A few of these subdivisions are not now to be obtained complete in the chief temples of Kandy, and are only to be found perfect, among those fraternities in the maritime districts, who have of late years derived their power of conferring ordination from the Burmese empire; and they are written in the Burmese character.
The identity of the buddhistical scriptures of Ceylon with those of the eastern peninsula is readily accounted for, independently of the consideration that the missions for the conversion of the two countries to buddhism, originally proceeded to these parts at the same time, and from the same source; viz. at the close of the third convocation, as stated in the twelfth chapter of the Mahawanso: for Buddhaghósó took his Páli version of those scriptures, after leaving Ceylon, to the eastern peninsula. This circumstance is noticed even in the "essai sur le páli par Messieurs Burnouf and Lassen;" though, at the same time, those gentlemen have drawn two erroneous inferences; first, that buddhism was originally introduced by Buddhaghósó into Pegu; and, secondly, that his resort to the eastern peninsula was the consequence of his expulsion from India under the persecutions of the bráhmans.
Passons maintenant dans la presqú île au-delà du Gange, et cherchons-y le date de l'etablissement du bouddhisme, et, avec lui, du páli et de l'ecriture. Nous n'avons plus ici l'avantage de nous appuyer sur un texte original, comme pour l'histoire cingalaise. Car, bien que les Barmans possédent, dit-on, des livres historiques fort étendus, nul, que nous sachions, n'a encore été traduit dans aucune langue d'Europe; nous sommes donc réduits aux témoignages souvent contradictoires des voyageurs. Suivant le P. Carpanus, l'histoire des Bramans appelée Mahárazoen (mot sans doute derivé du sanskrit Maharadja), rapporte que les livres et l'écriture palis furent apportes de Ceylan au Pegu, par un brahmane nommé Bouddhaghosa (voix de Bouddha) l'an 940 de leur ére sacrée, c'est-a dire, l'an 397 de la notre. Cette date nous donne pour le commencement de l'ère sacrée des Barmans, l'an 543 avant J.-C., l'année même de la mort de Bouddha, suivant la chronologie cingalaise.
Il n'est pas etonnant que les habitans de la presqu'île s'accordent en ce point avec les cingalaise, puisque c'est d'eux qu'ils disent avoir reçu leur culte. Il est cependant permis de remarquer que leur temoignage sert encore de confirmation à la date de la mort de Bouddha (543 ans avant J. C.) que nous avons choisie entre toutes celles que nous offraient les diverses autorités. Celle de l'introduction du bouddhisme au Pegu, l'an 397 de notre ère, s'accorde egalement avec les dates qui ont été exposées et discutées plus haut. On a vu, en effet que les livres bouddiques écrits en páli, existaient a Ceylan, vers 407 de J. C., ce qui ne dit pas que cette langue n'ait puy être connue antérieurement. Le páli a donc pu rigoureusement être portê de là dans la presqu'ile au-delà du Gange, l'an 397 de notre ère. D'ailleurs, le voyage de Bouddhaghosa se rattache a l'histoire generale de culte, de Bouddha dans l'Inde; car à l'époque où il a eu lieu la lutte du brahmanisme contre le bouddhisme s'achevait par la defaite de celui-ci, et nous avons vu le dernier patriarche du culte proscrit quitter alors l'Inde pour toujours. It will be observed, that the date mentioned here, does not accurately accord with that of the Mahawanso. Mahanámo, the sovereign of Ceylon at the time of Buddhaghóso's visit, came to the throne a. D. 410, and he reigned twenty two years. The precise extent, however, of this trifling discrepance cannot be ascertained, as the date is not specified of either Buddhaghóso's arrival at, or departure from, this island.
The subsequent portions of the Maháwanso contain ample evidence of the frequent intercourse kept up, chiefly by means of religious missions, between the two countries, to the close of the work. A very
valuable collection of Pali books was brought to Ceylon, by the present chief of the cinnamon department, George Nadoris, modliar, so recently as 1812. He was then a buddhist priest, and had proceeded to Siam for the purpose of obtaining from the monarch of that buddhist country, the power (which a Christian government could not give him) of conferring ordination on other castes than the wellála; to whom the Kandyan monarchs, in their intolerant observance of the distinctions of caste, had confined the privilege of entering into the priesthood.
The contents of these Pitakattaya and Atthakatha, divested of their buddhistical inspired character, may be classed under four heads.
1. The unconnected and desultory references to that undefined and undefinable period of antiquity, which preceded the advent of the last twenty four Buddhos.
2. The history of the last twenty four Buddhos, who appeared during the last twelve buddhistical regenerations of the world.
3. The history from the last creation of the world, containing the genealogy of the kings of India, and terminating in B. c. 543.
4. The history from B. c. 543 to the age of Buddhaghósó, between a. D. 410 and 432.
With these ample and recently revised annals, and while the Singhalese Atthakatha of the Pitakattaya, and various Singhalese historical works, were still extant, Mahanámo théro composed the first part of the Mahawanso. It extends to the thirty seventh chapter, and occupies 119 pages of the talipot leaves of which the book is formed. He composed also a Tíká, or abridged commentary on his work. It occupies 329 pages. The copy I possess of the Tíká in the Singhalese character, is full of inaccuracies; while a Burmese version, recently lent to me by Nadoris modliar, is almost free from these imperfections.
The historian does not perplex his readers with any allusion to the first division of buddhistical history. In the second, he only mentions the names of the twenty four Buddhos, though they are farther noticed in the Tíká. In the third and fourth, his narrative is full, instructive, and interesting.
He opens his work with the usual invocation to Buddho, to the explanation of which he devotes no less than twenty five pages of the Tíká. Without stopping to examine these comments, I proceed to his notes on the word "Mahawanso."
"Mahawanso" is the abbreviatio of “ Mahantanan wanso;" the genealogy of the great. It signifies both pedigree, and inheritance from generation to generation; being itself of high import, either on that account, or because it also bears the two above significations; hence "Mahawanso."
What that Mahawanso contains (I proceed to explain). Be it known, that of these (i. e. of the aforesaid great) it illustrates the genealogy, as well of the Buddhos and of their eminently pious disciples, as of the great monarchs commencing with Mahasammato. It is also of deep import, in as much as it narrates the visits of Buddho (to Ceylon). Hence the work is (Maha) great. It contains, likewise, all that was known to, or has been recorded by, the pious men of old, connected with the supreme and well defined history of those unrivalled dynasties (“wanso "). Let (my hearers) listen (to this Mahawanso). Be it understood, that even in the (old) Atthakathá, the words " Dípatthutiya sádhusakkatan" are held as of deep import. They have there (in that work) exclusive reference to the visits of Buddho, and matters connected therewith. On this subject the ancient historians have thus expressed themselves: "I will perspicuously set forth the visits of Buddho to Ceylon; the arrival of the relic and of the bo-tree; the histories of the convocations, and of the schisms of the theros; the introduction of the religion (of Buddho) into the island; and the settlement and pedigree of the sovereign (Wijayo)" It will be evident, from the substance of the quotations here made, that the numerical extent of the dynasties (in my work) is exclusively derived from that source: (it is no invention of mine).
Thus the title "Mahawanso" is adopted in imitation of the history composed by the fraternity of the Mahawiharo (at Anuradhapura). In this work the object aimed at is, setting aside the Singhalese language, in which (the former history) is composed, that I should sign in the Mágadhi. Whatever the matters may be, which were contained in the Atthakatha
without suppressing any part thereof, rejecting the dialect only, I compose my work in the supreme Mágadhi language, which is thoroughly purified from all imperfections. I will brilliantly illustrate, then, the Mahawanso, replete with information on every subject, and comprehending the amplest detail of all important events; like unto a splendid and dazzling garland, strung with every variety of flowers, rich in color, taste, and scent.
The former historians, also, used an analogos simile. They said, "I will celebrate the dynasties ("wanso") perpetuated from generation to generation; illustrious from the commencement, and lauded by many bards: like unto a garland strung with every variety of flowers: do ye all listen with intense interest."
After some further commentaries on other words of the first verse, Mahanámo thus explains his motives for undertaking the compilation of his history, before he touches on the second.
Thus I, the author of the Mahawanso, by having rendered to religion the reverence due thereto, in my first verse, have procured for myself immunity from misfortune. In case it should be asked in this particular place, “Why, while there are Mahawansos composed by ancient authors in the Singhalese language, this author has written this Palapadóru-wanso ?" in refutation of such an unmeaning objection, I thus explain the advantage of composing the Palapadóru-wanso; viz., that in the Mahawanso composed by the ancients, there is the defect, as well of prolixty, as af brevity. There are also (other) inaccuracies deserving of notice. Avoiding these defects, and for the purpose of explaining the principle on which the Palapadóru-wanso I am desirous of compiling, is composed, I proceed to the second verse.
On the twenty four Buddhos, Mahanámo comments at considerable length in his Tíká. In some instances those notes are very detailed, while in others he only refers to the portions of the Pitakattaya and Atthakatha from which he derives his data. It will be sufficient in this condensed sketch, that I should furnish a specification of the main points requisite to identify each Buddho, and to notice in which of the regenerations of the world each was manifested, reckoning back from the present kappo or creation.
The following particulars are extracted from the "Buddhawansadésaná," one of the subdivisions of the Suttapitaká, of the Pitakattaya.
The twelfth kappo, or regeneration of the world, prior to the last one, was a Sáramando kappo," in which four Buddhos appeared. The last of them was the first of the twenty four Buddhos above alluded to: viz.,
1. Dípankaro, born at Rammawatínagara. His parents were Sudhéwo rája and Sumédhaya déwi. He, as well as all the other Buddhos, attained buddhohood at Uruwéláya, now called Buddhaghya. His bo-tree was the "pipphala." Gótamo was then a member of an illustrious bráhman family in Amarawatínagara.
The eleventh regeneration was a "Sárakappo" of one Buddho.
2. Kondanno, born at Rammawatínagara. Parents, Sunanda rája and Sujatadéwi. His bo-tree, the "sálakalyána." Gótamo was then Wijitáwi, a chakkawati raja of Chandawatínagara in Majjhimadésa.
The tenth regeneration was a "Saramando kappo" of four Buddhos.
3. Mangalo, born at Uttaranagara in Majjhimadésa. Parents, Uttararája and Uttaradéwi. His bo-tree, the "nága." Gótamo was then a bráhman named Suruchi, in the village Siribráhmano.
4. Sumano, born at Mékhalánagara. Parents, Sudassano maharája and Sirimádéwi. His bo-tree. the "nága." Gótamo was then a Nága rája named Atulo.
5. Réwato, born at Sudhannawatínagara. Parents, Wipalo maharaja and Wipuladéwi. His bo-tree, the "nága." Gótamo was then a bráhman versed in the three wédos, at Rammawatínagara.
6. Sóbhito, born at Sudhammanagara. His parents bore the name of that capital. His bo-tree, the "nága." Gótamo was then a bráhman named Sujáto, at Rammawatí.