Mahaparinibbana-sutta and Cullavagga

Finot, Louis
The Indian Historical Qutlrterly

p.241 Mahaparinibbana-sutta and Cullavagga The Cullavagga (henceforth abbreviated as Cv.) of the Vinaya- pitaka consists of two parts differing vastly in length, matter and form: the first part (chaps. I-X) being a code of disciplinary regulations, and the second (chaps. XI-XII) a history of the two councils, one of which assembled at Rajagaha directly after the Parinibbana of Buddha, and the other at Vesali, a century later. No link, no transition connects the two parts together. While chap. X (leaving aside the usual mnemonic summary) closes with a rule concerning the bath of the nuns, chap. XI opens abruptly with the words: "Then the venerable Maha-Kassapa said to the Bhikkhus: 'Once I was travelling along the road from Pava to Kusinara....'' Where, when, and under what circumstances was this discourse held, who were the bhikkhus thus addressed, nobody knows. The record has no historical introduction (nidana), thus lacking a regular feature of the Buddhist canonical texts; also, if its first word "then" (atha) implies that it is the sequel of something else, we have just seen that it could not be the sequel of chap. X. Here are two anomalies bound to strike the reader, and we must acknowledge that, as they now stand preserved in chaps. XI-XII, these Acta Conciliorum appear as a be- headed trunk, the head of which has to be sought elsewhere. p.242 It has been observed long ago by several scholars(1) that the events contained in Cv. XI follow chronologically those which form the subject- matter of the Mahaparinibbana-sutta (henceforth abbreviated as MPS.), a remark from which none apparently seems to have drawn its most natural conclusion, viz., that MPS. and Cv. XI-XII were originally parts of a whole. Such an inference, reasonable in itself, is further strengthened by the fact that, besides the unbroken sequence of the events which they relate, the two sections share a peculiar character Suggestive of a common origin, that is their historical, annalistic garb. Indeed, MPS. looks in the Sutta-pitaka quite as strange and heterogeneous as Cv. XI-XII in the Vinaya-pitaka, whilst if removed from their respective surroundings and joined together, the two give a perfectly coherent "Chronicle" of the last journey of the Buddha, of his death, his obsequies, and of the first two councils. The existence of such a work being provisionally admitted, it ensues that the present place in the Canon of those historical records must be the result of some later interference. As to their former setting, we are driven to mere conjectures; yet the sacred books of other schools may offer us some helpful analogies: for instance, the Vinaya of the Mula-Sarvastivadins contains, under the title of Samyukta-vastu (Nanjio, No. 1121), an account of both Parinirvana and Councils, which answers exactly to the kind of "Chronicle" presupposed by our hypothesis. Why should not the Theravadins have had among their sacred books an his- torical record of the same description? What was then the motive which induced the Diaskeuasts to dismember that work? Many explanations to such a step might be found. Let us proffer here one which seems plausible enough. Since it extended over a long time after the death of the Tathagata, the subject-matter of the "Chronicle" could not be styled as the Word of the Buddha (Buddhavacanam);it was necessarily extra-canonical. Still, it preserved utterances of the Master which were not only most beautiful and pathetic, but highly important for the doctrine, and which the com- ---------------------- 1 E.g. Oldenberg, Vinaya, I, xxv1: "The tradition of the councils takes up the thread of the story where the accounts of the life and work of Buddha, given in the Suttapitaka, end". Id., Buddhistische Studien, in ZDMG., xxii, 615 "Die Erzahlung des Cullavagga, die sich genau an die des MPS., anschliesst..." p.243 pilers of the Canon ould have been loath to discard. It was therefore perfectly natural that they should wish to introduce them into the Basket of Discourses, a thing easily achieved by setting apart the section relative to Parinibbana and inserting it into the Sutta-pitaka. As to the remnant being chiefly concerned with disciplinary questions, it occurred to them that it might he conveniently annexed to the Vinaya-pitaka as a kind of Appendix or Parisista. Here we are confronted with the so-called discrepancy, which Oldenberg thought that he detected between MPS. and Cv. XI, with the consequence that, in hiS opinion, the First Council, so fully narrated in the latter, was totally ignored by the former. The alleged contradiction is supposed to lie in the way in which the Subhadda incident is related by both. In MPS., Maha-Kassapa, on hearing the subversive prattle of that bad monk, confines himself to several banal remarks on Impermanence; while in Cv. XI, he reacts earnestly by proposing the convocation of a council to crush the growing heretical tendencies. This would lead the reader to infer that the two accounts could not have proceeded from the same hand. Such a conclusion would however be founded on a misapprehension of the facts: the two accounts do not stand on the same plane. In MPS., Maha-Kassapa and his disciples, while on their way from Pava to Kusinara, hear the tidings of the Master's decease, whereupon Subhadda hails cynically the future freedom of the monks. At that moment, Maha-Kassapa says nothing about an eventual council: very properly too, his only companions, his pupils, not having the least qualification to consider such an important scheme, much less to decide upon it. On the contrary, the Cv. introduces Maha-Kassapa relating the Subhadda incident in presence of the general Samgha, headed by the great theras Ananda, Anuruddha, etc. Speaking before the leading authorities of the Buddhist Church, fully competent to take any neces- sary measure for the maintenance of the Dhammavinaya, he seizes quite naturally the proffered opportunity to suggest the calling of a general meeting. Personally, we cannot detect in that the shadow of a discrepancy. This fictitious difficulty being removed, it seems that nothing really withstands the working hypothesis of a later redistribution of the texts p.244 as stated above. We even thus get rid of several perplexing singularities, such as, for example, those connected with the question of lesser and minor precepts. According to the tradition of the Theravadins, the First Council begins with the expounding of the Vinaya by Upali and its rehearsal by the whole Assembly. One of the rules so recited (Pacittiya,72) runs as follows: "Whatsoever Bhikkhu, when the Patimokkhs is being recited, shall speak thus: 'What comes of these lesser and minor precepts being here recited,save only that they tenet to misgiving, and worry, and perplexity?', there is Pacittiya in thus throwing contempt on the precepts." The rule is admitted without any reservation, Ananda silently assenting. But when the said Ananda, having in his turn taken the chair to settle the question of the wording of the Suttas, proceeds to recite the Mahaparinibbana-sutta, he quotes the following words of the Buddha (MPS., VI, 3.): "When I am gone, Ananda, let the Order, if it should so wish, abolish all the lesser and minor precepts." Now this amounts to no less than allowing the removal of those very regulations which, as it had been recalled, it was strictly. forbidden even to criticise. Nor is it all The rehearsal of the Dhamma being completed, Ananda goes on and says: "The Blessed One, Sirs, at the time of his passing away, spake thus to me: 'When I am gone, Ananda, let the Samgha, if it should so wish, abolish all the lesser and minor precep- ts", thus seeming to impart to the Samgha, as a fresh piece of news, an information which he had already given them before. In its present state the text is manifestly incoherent: our suggestion that What is now known to us as the MPS. on one hand, and the Cv. XI-XII on the other, primitively united in one work, was later on arbitrarily divided and awkwardly thrown into the Pitakas without hardly any attempt at making it fit with its new setting, would account for such inconsistencies in the result. p.245 A closer examination of the text even brought us to the conclusion that the lost or at least the dismembered work must have been a good deal older than the recension of the Canon into which it was inserted. Any- how what has come over to us in its present mnutilated form still bears witness to a previous state of the Dhamma as well as of the language. The episode of Channa's punishment and that of Yasa's quarrel with the bhikkhus of Vesali will serve to illustrate our point. Before passing away, the Buddha ordered that the brahmadanda penalty be inflicted upon the bhikkhu Channa. Ananda who, curiously enough, ignores what the brahmadanda is, asks for a definition, which is given to him. As this penalty is not mentioned anywhere, except in the two parallel passages of the MPS., VI, 4, and Cv. XI, 1, 12-15, one can hardly escape from coming to the conclusion that the rule concerning the brahmadanda belonged to an older stage of the Buddhist Vinaya. The twelfth and last chapter of the Cullavagga has also given rise to manifold discussions. It is, however, practically certain that the sharp dissension which arose, a century after the Parinibbana, between Western and Eastern monks, who advocated respectively a more or less rigid discipline, takes us back to a period when the monastic rule were not yet so strictly defined as in the existing Vinaya-pitaka. The case opens with a dispute between the thera Yasa and the bhikkhus of Vesali about the latter's practice of accepting gold and silver from lay disciples. Such a contest is hardly conceivable in face of the rule Nissaggiya XVIII: "Whatsoever bhikkhu shall receive gold or silver......that is a Pacittiya offence involving gotgriyutr." the bhikkhus indulging in that lax habit deem themselves justified, not only in persisting in it, but even in censuring their censor. Yasa is called upon to defend his point of view before the laymen, a thing which he does by quoting three texts: (a) a sutta of a general character, upon the four upakkilesa, A., II, 53; (b) a sutta-not to be found in the Sutta-pitaka--in which the Buddha, speaking to Maniculaka, confirms the interdiction of receiving either gold or silver; (c) finally, the only pertinent and decisive text, viz., Sutta-vibhanga on Nissaggiya XVIII; yet, while the first two are quoted in extenso, the last one is merely referred to, which makes it look like a posterior addition. p.246 The contested point on the acceptation of gold and silver is but one of the ten indulgences claimed by the monks of Vesali and which were condemned by the Council held in order to consider their case.It has been shown(2) that the list of the Ten Points was primitively drawn up in a Prakrit no longer perfectly understood at the time of the redaction of the Second Council, the bulk of which is still preserved in Cullavagga XII, and enlarged with some additions, such as the minutes of the session, composed evidently after the same pattern as those of the First Council. In short, the several data gathered above entitle us to suppose that the account of the councils of Rajagaha and Vesali once formed the latter part of a Iarger historical work, which, at the time of the compulation of the Tripitaka, was severed into two sections, the former being converted into the Maha-parinibbana-sutta and the latter annexed as capitula extravagantia to the tenth Khandhaka of the Cullavagga. LOUIS FINOT ---------------------- 2 Sylvain Levi, Observations sur une langue prrcanonique du bouddhisme. (JA., Nov.-Dec. 1912, p.508).