RHYS DAVIDS: BUDDHIST INDIA

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Chapter IX

Language and Literature
I. General View

IN early times there must have been several systems of literature preserved independently among the followers of different schools. No one of these schools preserved (that is, learnt by heart) the literature of the others. But each knew of the others, talked over the opinions maintained in them, considered in their own Suttas what was preserved in the Suttas of their opponents. We have a fair number of well-established instances of men who had received a long training in one school passing over to another. These men at least had thus acquired a familiarity, more or less complete, with two literatures.

In the forests adjoining the settlements, the disciples of the various schools, living a hermit life, occupied themselves, according to the various tendencies of the schools to which they belonged, either in meditation or in sacrificial rites, or in practices of self-torture, or in repeating over to themselves, [141] and in teaching to their pupils, the Suttas containing the tenets of their school. Much time was spent in gathering fruits and roots for their sustenance, or in going into the village for alms. And there was difference of opinion, and of practice, as to the comparative importance attached to the learning of texts. But the hermitages where the learning, or the repeating, of texts was unknown were the exceptions.

Then, besides the Hermits, there was another body of men, greatly respected throughout the country, quite peculiar to India, and not known even there much before the rise of Buddhism, called the Wanderers (Paribbajaka). They were teachers, or sophists, who spent eight or nine months of every year wandering about precisely with the object of engaging in conversational discussions on matters of ethics and philosophy, nature lore and mysticism. Like the sophists among the Greeks, they differed very much in intelligence, in earnestness, and in honesty. Some are described as "Eel-wrigglers," "Hair-splitters," and not without reason if we may fairly judge from the specimens of their lucubrations preserved by their opponents.[[1] But there must have been many of a very different character, or the high reputation they enjoyed, as a body, would scarcely have been maintained. We hear of halls put up for their accommodation, for the discussion by them of their systems of belief. Such was "The Hall" in Queen Mallika's park at Sāvatthi,[[2] and the "Gabled Pavilion" put up by the Licchavi clan in [142] the Great Wood adjoining their capital of Vesali, and often mentioned in the books as the resort of the Wanderers. Or a special space was set apart for them in the groves adjoining the settlement, -- such were the sweet-smelling Champaka Grove on the borders of the lake dug out by Queen Gaggara at Champa[[3]; the Mora-nivapa, the place where the peacocks were fed, at Rajagaha,[[4] and others.

The Wanderers are often represented as meeting one another at such places, or at the rest-houses (chowltries) which it was a prevalent custom for villagers to put up on the roadside for the common use of travellers. And they were in the habit, on their journeys, of calling on other Wanderers, or on the learned brahmins, or on the Hermits, resident in the neighbourhood of the places where they stopped. So Digha-nakha calls on the Buddha,[[5] the Buddha visits Sakuludayi,[[6] Vekhanassa calls on. the Buddha,[[7] Keniya does the same,[[8] and Potali-putta calls on Samiddhi.[[9] The residents also, both to testify respect and to listen to their talk, used to call on the Wanderers when the latter stayed in or near a village -- evidence both of the popularity of the Wanderers, and of the frequent interchange of opinion.

The Wanderers, some of whom were women, were not ascetics, except so far as they were celibates. The practices of self-mortification are always referred to as carried out by the Hermits in the woods. The Buddha, before he attained Nirvana under the [143] Tree of Wisdom, had been such a self-torturer (tapasa) in the woods on the banks of the Neranjara. Thenceforward he became a Wanderer. It was easy to pass from one career to the other. But they were quite distinct, were spoken of by different names, and in the priestly law-books we find quite different regulations laid down for the Hermits on the one hand, and the Wanderers on the other.[[10]

We have the names of a considerable number of the individuals in both of these classes. And not only the personal names. In those cases when a number of Individuals acknowledged the leadership of one teacher, or adhered to the same set of opinions (whether attributed to one teacher or not), they had also corporate names. Thus the members of that Order which we call the Buddhist Order were called Sakyaputtiya Samanas. Each order was called a Sangha. The members of the Sangha which we call the Jain Order were called the Nigaṇṭhas, "The Unfettered." There was an Order the members of which were called the Ajivakta, the "Men of the Livelihood." Both of these orders were older than the Buddhist. The Jains have remained as an organised community all through the history of India from before the rise of Buddhism down to today, The Ājīvakās still existed as an organised community down to the time of Asoka's grandson Dasaratha, who gave them, as we learn from the inscriptions on the caves, certain cave-hermitages. They have long ago died out. And with the dis- [144] appearance of the Order, the Suttas containing their ideas have vanished also. For during a long period they existed only in the memories of the members of the Order; and even after writing was applied to the preservation of such literary works, it was only the members of the Order or lay adherents of the school who would copy them. There are many references[[11] in Jain and Buddhist books to this Order, and to the opinions they professed. And it will be possible, when these have been fully compared and summarised, to arrive at a more or less complete and accurate view of their tenets.

The names of other orders, of which we know little more than the names, have been preserved in the Anguttara.[[12] And the existence of at least two or three others can be inferred from incidental references. There is still in existence a Vaikhanasa Satra, of about the third century A.D., which purports to contain the rules of an Order founded by one Vikhanas. It has just been mentioned that a certain Vekhanassa, a Wanderer, called on the Buddha. It is not improbable that he belonged to that Order. In a note on Pāṇini, iv. 3. 110, there are mentioned two brahmin orders, the Karmandinas and the Pārasāriyas. Now in the Majjhima (3. 298) the opinions of a certain Pārasāriya, a brahmin teacher, are discussed by the Buddha. It is very probable that he was either the founder or an adherent of the second of these schools. In any case the Order still existed at the time when the note [145] to Pāṇini was made; and it is probably referred to in an inscription mentioned by Cunningham.[[13]

Of the other schools or corporate bodies of Wanderers, or of Hermits, only the names are known. But as even the names throw light on the movement they may here be mentioned.[[14] They are:

1. Muṇḍa-savakā. — "The disciples of the Shaveling."

2. Jaṭilakā. — "Those who wear their hair in braids." To do so was the rule for those of the Hermits who were brahmins, and perhaps other hermits also did so. In that case they cannot have formed one corporate body.

3. Magaṇdikā. — This name is probably derived from the name of the founder of a corporate body. But all their records have perished, and we know nothing of them otherwise.

4. Tedandikā. — "The bearers of the triple staff." This is probably the name given, in the Buddhist community, to those of the Wanderers (not Hermits) who were brahmins. They were not allowed, by their rules, to wear their hair in braids, but must either have their heads shaved entirely, or so shaved as to leave a forelock only.

5. Aviruddhakā. — "The friends." We know as yet nothing otherwise about them.

6. Gotamakā. — "The followers of Gotama." These are almost certainly the followers of Devadatta, the Buddha's cousin, who founded an Order in opposition to the Buddhist Order, on the ground that the [146] latter was too easy-going in its regulations as to food, and did not favour asceticism.

7. Devadhammikā. — "Those who follow the religion of the gods" or perhaps "of the god." On neither interpretation do we know the exact meaning of the term.

We find in this curious list several names, used technically as the designation of particular orders, or bodies of religieux, but in meaning applicable quite as much to most of the others. They all claimed to be pure as regards means of livelihood (like the Ājīvakās); to be unfettered (like the Nigaṇṭhas); to be friends (like the Aviruddhakās); they were all, except the Jaṭilakās, Wanderers, they were all mendicants (Bhikshus). The names can only gradually have come to have the special meaning of the member of one division or order, only. We find a similar state of things in the names of Christian sects in England today. And a considerable time must have elapsed before the names could thus have become specialised.

All this is very suggestive from more than one point of view. And as some of these points are of the first importance for a right understanding of the questions of language and literature, I may be allowed to enlarge a little on one or two of them. It is clear, in the first place, that there was no obstacle, arising from diversity of language, to intercourse and that not merely as regards ordinary conversation about the ordinary necessities of daily life, but as regards philosophical and religious discussions of a subtle and earnest kind. The common language [147] thus widely understood — used from the land of the Kurus in the west to Magadha in the east, northwards at Sāvatthi and Kusinara in the Nepal hills, and southwards in one direction as far as Ujjen — could not have been Sanskrit. Classical Sanskrit was not yet in existence; and the language used in the Brahmanas was neither sufficiently known outside the widely scattered schools of the brahmins, nor of a nature to lend itself easily to such discussions. The very last thing one would say of it would be to call it a conversational idiom. Neither (is it probable that each one could have spoken in the dialect of the peasantry of his own place of origin. It would have been impossible to use such a dialect for the discussion of such subjects as are described as the matter of these dialogues.

The only reasonable and probable explanation is that the Wanderers talked in a language common among the cultured laity (officials, nobles, merchants, and others), which bore to the local dialects much the same relation as the English of London, in Shakespeare's time, bore to the various dialects spoken in Somersetshire, Yorkshire, and Essex. The growth of such a language had only just then become possible. It was greatly promoted by (if not, indeed, the immediate result of) the growth of the great kingdom of Kosala. This included, just before the rise of Buddhism, all, and more than all, of the present United Provinces. And it gave occasion and security for peaceful intercourse, both of a commercial and of an official kind, from one end to the other of its extensive territory. It was [148] precisely these political conditions which favoured also the rapid growth of the institution or custom of the Wanderers, of whom we have no evidence prior to the establishment of the Kosalan power, and who doubtless contributed much to the cultivation of the more intellectual side of the common language which was enabled to grow up under the protective shield of the Kosalan peace.

The question has been much complicated and obscured by the impressions derived from the Sanskrit dramas which early in the history of our acquaintance with Indian literature became known to Europeans. In them the men of any social standing speak Sanskrit, except occasionally when addressing women. And even the women, especially those of higher rank, are supposed to understand, and occasionally, mostly when verses are put into their mouths, to speak it. Otherwise in the dramas the characters talk, not the vernacular, but the literary Prakrits.[[15]

It is probable, even at the time when the dramas were written, that as a matter of fact everyone, in ordinary daily life, spoke neither Sanskrit nor Prakrit, but simply the vernaculars. It is only the authors, when addressing a cultured public at a date when Sanskrit had become the paramount literary language, who thought it proper, in their dramas, to divide up the speeches between Sanskrit and the equally unreal literary Prakrits. But however that may be, even if Sanskrit were then used [149] by ordinary people in their daily intercourse,which seems to me. quite incredible, — that is still of no value at all as evidence of the condition of things twelve centuries before, in a much more simple and natural state of society.

Another point is that though brahmins take part in the religious and philosophical conversations of those early times, and in the accounts of them are always referred to with respect, and treated with the same courtesy that they always themselves (with one or two instructive exceptions) extended also to others, yet they hold no predominant position. The majority of the Wanderers, and the most influential individuals among them, are not brahmins. And the general impression conveyed by the texts is that the Wanderers and other nonpriestly teachers were quite as much, if not more esteemed than the brahmins by the whole people — kings, nobles, officials, merchants, artisans, and peasantry.

"But that is only a matter of course," will be the obvious objection. "The books you quote, if not the work of bitter opponents, were at least composed under rajput influence, and are prejudiced against the brahmins. The law-books and the epics represent the brahmins as the centre round which everything in India turns; and that not only because of the sacredness of their persons, but because of their marked intellectual superiority to the rest of the people. Or take the European books on Indian literature and religion. They treat these subjects as practically identical with literature and [150] religion as shown in brahmin books. Surely, then, the brahmins must have been predominant in the intellectual life of the period you are considering."

"These are not two independent testimonies," one would reply. "The European writers would be perfectly willing to consider other texts, if they only had them. They have been perfectly right in using the material before them. And in editing texts they naturally chose first those nearest at hand. But even so, with practically only priestly books to judge by, they are by no means unanimous in accepting the views of those texts as to the exclusive supremacy of the brahmins in early times."

Consider. for instance, the opinion of Professor Bhandarkar — himself, be it noted, a high-caste brahmin, and not only the most distinguished of native scholars, but so versed in the methods of historical criticism that his opinion is entitled to special weight. In a strikingly suggestive and important paper[[16] he calls attention to the evidence of the inscriptions. In the second century after Christ they begin to record grants of land to brahmins. In the third there are also a few instances. From the fourth century onwards there are quite numerous inscriptions showing a marked rise in brahmin influence. The Gupta kings are then stated to have carried out the most complicated and expensive sacrifices, such as the Horse sacrifice. Each of two inscriptions records the [151] erection of a sacrificial post, another an endowment for lighting lamps in a temple to the sun. There are grants of villages for the performance of sacrificial rites; and numerous grants of land to brahmins, and to the temples in their charge. But for the four centuries before that (that is to say, from 300 B.C. to 100 A.D.) no brahmin, no brahmin temple, no brahmin god, no sacrifice or ritualistic act of any kind is ever, even once, referred to. There is a very large number of gifts recorded as given by kings, princes, and chiefs, by merchants, goldsmiths, artisans, and ordinary householders; but not one of them is given in support of anything — of any opinion or divinity or practice — with which the brahmins had anything to do. And whereas the later inscriptions, favouring the brahmins and their special sacrifices, are in Sanskrit, these earlier ones, in which they ate not mentioned, are in a sort of Pāli — not in the focal vernacular of the place where the inscriptions are found, but in a dialect similar, in many essential respects, to the dialect for common intercourse, based on the vernacular, which, I suggest, the Wanderers must have used, in their discussions, at the time when Buddhism arose.

This marked distinction in the inscriptions of the two periods — both as to the object of the gifts they record, and as to the language in which they are written — leads Professor Bhandarkar to the followIng conclusion:

"The period that we have been speaking of [that is, [152] from the beginning of the second century B.C. to the end of the fourth century after] has left no trace of a building or sculpture devoted to the use of the Brahmin religion. Of course Brahminism existed; and it was probably, during the period, being developed into the form which it assumed in later times. But the religion certainly does not occupy a prominent position, and Buddhism was followed by the large mass of the people from princes down to the humble workman." And he goes on to say that the language of the earlier inscriptions "indicates a greater deference for the people who used it, than for Brahmanic learning."

If this opinion be accepted as accurate for that period (200 B.C.-400 A.D.) — and it certainly seems incontrovertible — then, a fortiori, it must be accepted in yet larger measure for the period four centuries earlier. As Professor Hopkins says[[17]:

"Brahminism has always been an island in a sea. Even in the Brahmanic age there is evidence to show that it was the isolated belief of a comparatively small group of minds. It did not even control all the Aryan population."

With regard to the inscriptions, M. Senart has shown conclusively, by an exhaustive study of the whole subject, that they at no time, either in spelling or in vocabulary, present us with a faithful picture of any vernacular. The degree in which they become more and more nearly allied to Sanskrit is a curious and interesting barometer by which we can gauge the approach of the impending revolution in politics, religion, and literature. And the gradual change in [153] their form, though that form never gives us the real vernacular, is an invaluable assistance in establishing the linguistic history of India. To treat that question at all fully, even in an elementary manner, would demand at least a volume. But the main features may be summarised as follows. We have, in the following order (as to time):

1. The dialects spoken by the Aryan invaders of India, and by the Dravidian and Kolarian inhabitants they found there.

2. Ancient High Indian, the Vedic.

3. The dialects spoken by the Aryans, now often united by marriage and by political union with the Dravidians, in their settlements either along the spurs of the Himalaya range from Kashmir to Nepal, or down the Indus Valley and then across to Avanti, or along the valleys of the Jumna and the Ganges.

4. Second High Indian, Brahmanic, the literary language of the Brahmanas and Upanishads.

5. The vernaculars from Gandhara to Magadha at the time of the rise of Buddhism, not so divergent probably as not to be more or less mutually intelligible.

6. A conversational dialect, based probably on the local dialect of Sāvatthi, the capital of Kosala, and in general use among Kosala officials, among merchants, and among the more cultured classes, not only throughout the Kosala dominions, but east and west from Delhi to Patna, and north and south from Sāvatthi to Avanti.

7. Middle High Indian, Pāli, the literary language [154] based on No.6, probably in the form in which it was spoken in Avanti.

8. The Asoka dialect, founded on No.6, especially as spoken at Patna, but much influenced by the aim at approximation to Nos. 7 and 11.

9. The Ardha-Magadhi, the dialect of the Jain Angas.

10. The Lena[[18] dialect of the cave inscriptions from the second century B.C. onwards, based on No. 8, but approximating more and more to the next, No. 11, until it merges altogether into it.

11. Standard High Indian, Sanskrit — elaborated, as to form and vocabulary, out of No.4; but greatly enriched by words first taken from Nos. 5 to 7, and then brought back, as to form, into harmony with No.4. For long the literary language only of the priestly schools, it was first used in inscriptions and coins from the second century A.D. onwards; and from the fourth and fifth centuries onwards became the literary lingua franca for all India.

12. The vernaculars of the India of the fifth century A.D. and onwards.

13. Prakrit, the literary form of these vernaculars, and especially of Mahārāshtri. These are derived, not from No.11 (Sanskrit), but from No. 12, the later forms of the sister dialects to No.6.

The technical terms Sanskrit and Prakrit are used strictly, in India, as shown in Nos.11 and 13. Sanskrit is never used for No.2 or No.4. Prakrit is never used for No.7 or No.8. Sanskrit was, and is, [155] written in India in various alphabets, a scribe in the north using that form of the Brahmi alphabet current in the district in which he wrote, and a scribe in the south using the corresponding form of the Dravidian alphabet. The particular one of these many alphabets usually selected for use in Europe is an alphabet from Western India of the ninth century A.D.; and it is, therefore, often called the Sanskrit alphabet.

As appears from the foregoing list, the centre of linguistic predominance has naturally shifted, in India, with political power. At first it was in the Panjab; then in Kosala; then in Magadha; and finally, when Sanskrit had become the lingua franca, it was in Western India that the most important vernacular was found. It is only in Ceylon that we have documents sufficient to follow the continuous development of a vernacular that has been able to hold its own against the depressing influence of the dead language used in the schools. And the relation there between the vernacular, the language of the inscriptions (based on the vernacular, but subject to the constant and increasing influence of a desire to show knowledge of the "higher" languages), the language used in poetry, Elu (the Prakrit of Ceylon), and Pāli, which was there a dead language, used in the schools, is most instructively parallel, throughout, to the history of language in India.

Throughout the long history of Aryan speech Dravidian dialects were also spoken; and in the north, I venture to think, to a much larger ex- [156] tent and much later in time than is usually supposed. Our No.2, Vedic, is largely subject to Dravidian influence, both in phonetics and in vocabulary. The Aryan vernaculars throughout, and all the literary forms of speech, — Pāli, Sanskrit, and Prakrit, — are charged with it in a degree no less than that in which the descent and the blood-relationships of the many peoples of India are charged with non-Aryan elements — and that is saying a great deal.

The fact that south of the Godāvari we find the reverse state of things — Dravidian dialects charged with Aryan elements — shows that the Aryan settlements there were late, and not very important in regard to numbers. And it took a long time, in spite of a fair sprinkling of brahmin colonists, for the brahmin influence, now so supreme, to reach its supremacy in those parts. The mass of the more wealthy classes, and the more cultured people, in the south, were Buddhists and Jain before they were Hindu in faith. As late as the fifth and sixth centuries we have Pāli books written in Kancipura and Tanjur; and as Buddhism deciined Jainism became predominant. It was only after the rise of brahmin influence in Northern India in the fourth and fifth centuries, and after it had become well established there, that it became the chief factor also in the south. But when once it had reached that stage, it developed so strongly as to react with great results on the north, where the final victory was actually won during the period from Kumarila to Sankara (700 to 830 A.D.), both of them born in the [157] south, and one of them, apparently, of half Dravidian blood.

The victory was won. But how far was it a victory? The brahmins had become the sole arbiters in law and social institutions. Their theory of tastes had been admitted, and to their own castes was accorded an unquestioned supremacy. Their claim to the exclusive right to teach was practically acknowledged. Of those rajputs who had disputed their authority, the Buddhists and Jains were both reduced to feeble minorities, and the rest had become mostly subservient. All philosophy, except their own pantheistic theosophy, had been driven out of the field. But Vedic rights and Vedic divinities, the Vedic language and Vedic theology, had also gone under in the struggle. The gods of the people received now the homage of the people. Bloody sacrifices were still occasionally offered, but to new divinities; and brahmins no longer presided over the ritual. Their literature had had to be recast to suit the new worship, to gain the favour and support of those who did not reverence and worship the Vedic gods. And all sense of history had been lost in the necessity of garbling the story of the past so as to make it tally with their own pretensions. It was when they had ceased to depend on their rights as priests of those sacrifices not much used by the people (who preferred the less costly cult of their local gods), when they had become the champions, the literary defenders, the poets, of the popular gods, that they succeeded in their aim. They had probably gained what most of them [158] wanted most. And in deserting the faith of their forefathers to adopt other views it is by no means certain that they were not first really converted, that they gave up anything they themselves still wanted to keep. The most able of them had ceased philosophically to care for any such divinities as the Vedic ones, and it was a matter of indifference to them what gods the people followed. A small and decreasing minority continued to keep alive the flickering lamp of Vedic learning; and to them the Indian peoples will one day look back with especial gratitude and esteem.

This rapid sketch of the general history of language and literature in India is enough to show that there also, precisely as in Europe, a dominant factor in the story is the contest between the temporal and spiritual powers. Guelph and Ghibelin, priest and noble, rajput and brahmin, these are the contending forces. From India we had had hitherto only that version of the long war, of its causes and of its consequences, which has been preserved by the priestly faction. They make out that they were throughout the leading party. Perhaps so. But it is well to consider also the other side; and not to forget the gravity of the error we should commit if we should happen, in reliance on the priestly books, to antedate, by about a thousand years, the victory of the priests; to suppose, in other words, that the condition of things was the same at the beginning of the struggle as it was at the end.

It is difficult to avoid being misunderstood. So I would repeat that the priests were always there, [159] were always militant, were always a power. Many of them were learned. A few of them, seldom the learned ones, were wealthy. All of them, even those neither learned nor wealthy, had a distinct prestige. There was never wanting among them a minority distinguished, and rightly distinguished, for earnestness or for intellectual power, or for both. This minority contributed largely to the influence of forward movements both in philosophy and in ethics. Certain members of it were famous as leaders, not only in the brahmin schools, but also among the Wanderers. Even among the Jains and Buddhists a minority of the most influential men were brahmins. But it is a question of degree. Their own later books persistently exaggerate, misstate, above all (that most successful method of suggestio falsi) omit the other side. They have thus given a completely distorted view of Indian society, and of the place, in it, of the priests. They were not the only learned, or the only intellectual men, any more than they were the only wealthy ones. The religion and the customs recorded in their books were not, at any period, the sole religion, or the only customs, of the many peoples of India. The intellectual movement before the rise of Buddhism was in large measure a lay movement, not a priestly one. During the sub sequent centuries, down to the Christian era, and beyond it, the priests were left high and dry by the vigorous current of the national aims and hopes. Even later than that how different is the colouring of the picture drawn by the Chinese pilgrims from that of the priestly artists. And we shall continue [160] to have but a blurred and confused idea of indian history unless, and until, the priestly views are checked and supplemented throughout by a just and proportionate use of the other views now open to research.


[1]Dialogues of the Buddha, I. 37. 38.

[2]Ibid.. p. 244.

[3]Dialogues of the Buddha, I44.

[4]M. 2. I.

[5]M. I. 497.

[6]M. 2. i. 29.

[7]M. 2. 40.

[8]S. N. p. 99.

[9]M. 3. 207

[10]The references are collected in Dialogues of the Buddha, I. pp. 208-2I2,221.

[11]Collected in Dialogues of the Buddha, I pp. 71, 221.

[12]Ibid. p. 220.

[13]Archaeologjcal Reports. xx. 105.

[14]For references see Dialogues of the Buddha, pp. 220-222.

[15]See the instances collected by Pischel, Grammatik der Prakritsprachen, pp. 31, 32.

[16]Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Soriety for 1901.

[17]Religions of India (1896), p. 548.

[18]This is the name suggestedby Professor Pischel, Grammatik der Prakritsprachen, 1901, p. 5.

 

 

 


Next: Chapter X: Literature II. The Pali Books
Previous: Chapter VIII: Writing — Its Development

[Preface]  [Table of Contents][1. The Kings]  [2. The Clans and Nations]  [3. The Village]  [4. Social Grades]  [5. In the Town]  [6. Economic Conditions]  [7. Writing — The Beginnings]  [8. Writing — It's Development]  [9. Language and Literature. I. General View]  [10. Literature. II. The Pali Books]  [11. The Jataka Book]  [12. Religion — Animism]  [13. The Brahmin Position]  [14. Chandragupta]  [15. Asoka]  [16. Kanishka]  [Appendix]  [Index]

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