THE HERETICAL DHARMASULTIMATE INFINITE MYTHOLOGY OF HINDUISM
We call Jainism and Buddhism 'heretical' because these two religions, which began to spread
through the area between the Himalayas and the Ganges in the 7th and 6th centuries before our
era, threw off the Vedic traditioa They were far less concerned with giving mankind power over
Nature than in freeing it from what they considered the basis of existence, the law of
transmigration (samsara). Thus they are doctrines of salvation. Their propaganda does not lay
claim to revelation or to some early authority. It limits itself to showing how a great man of
wisdom found the path of deliverance for himself and for others, although he was wholly human.
Consequently, at any rate at first, they contain no dogma, and no rites, but simply a law and an
Their mythology includes no theology, and is limited to a biography and moral exhortation. But
the miraculous very soon crept into these alleged biographies, and the Churches by many popular
legends multiplied their subjects almost to infinity. On the other hand, the moral mission very
soon became involved in metaphysics, which in turn gave rise to unforeseen gods and myths. For
these reasons, although theoretically all mythology is absent from these doctrines, there was an
immense efflorescence of legends sprouting from the stem of both these heresies, especially from
the Buddhist stem.
The Tirthamkaras. The assumption of Jainism, as of Buddhism, is the proposition that a man at
grips with the normal conditions of existence is carried away by a sort of current, in which he will
most likely succumb, and where he will inevitably be the victim of suffering and want. This
strange conception, which their propaganda
soon imposed on all India, including that of the Brahmans, derives from the fact that these
heresies look upon existence as the result of action - every being is what he has made himself, and
will become what he deserves to become according to the kind and quality of his actions. Death
cannot annihilate the individual existence, because after it, retribution for things done - whether in
the shape of reward or punishment - must be endured. This retribution involves fresh actions
which in turn require new destinies, and so ad infinitum. Heavens and hells merely designate
relative and temporary conditions. It would be madness to hope to reach salvation through the
This law of transmigration of souls which brought even orthodox eschatology into confusion,
seemed an endless servitude and pain to Indian consciences, which felt crushed by it. Henceforth
every species of religious ingenuity and metaphysics strove to discover a means whereby the
individual might escape this seemingly inevitable slavery. To escape from ignorance and want -
that is the attainment of nirvana.
Every man who has 'found a ford' across the swirling, catastrophic current of the samsara is called
Such was the Jina, the initiator of Jainism, and such the Buddha, initiator of Buddhism. Both
traversed the current by a clear intuition of the conditions of human misery reached after
practising a stern asceticism.
To what extent the biography of a sage may be transformed by legend and thereby incorporated
into mythology may be learned from M. A. Guerinot's La Religion Djaina, 1926.
Humanity goes through, alternating phases of progress and regression, and had reached an epoch
when human suffering was continually on the increase. The Jina or Mahavira (Great Man) decided
to leave his heavenly abode to save humanity. 'He took the form of an embryo in the womb of
Devananda, wife of the Brahman Rishabhadatta who lived at Kundapura. That night as
Devananda was in bed and half asleep she saw in her dreams fourteen apparitions of favourable
omen - an elephant, a bull, a lion, the goddess Sri, a garland, the moon, the sun, a standard, a
valuable vase, a lake of lotuses, the ocean, a heavenly dwelling, a heap of jewels, and finally a
flame. Rishabhadatta was delighted. He perceived that a son would be born to him who would
become skilled in the learning of the Brahmans.
'Now, Sakra, the king of the gods in heaven.. .thought it would be preferable to transfer the
embryo of Mahavira from Devananda's womb to that of Trisala, the wife of the kshatriya
Siddhartha. . . He called to him the leader of the heavenly infantry, Harinagamesi (the Man-withthe-
antelope's-head) and ordered him to carry out this transposition. . . When Harinagamesi had
completed his mission he left Trisala resting on a magnificent bed in an ornate dwelling filled with
flowers and perfumes. In her turn she dreamed of fourteen unparalleled manifestations. ..
'From that moment Siddhartha found good fortune was his friend. He increased his possession of
gold, silver, land and corn. His army increased in numbers and in power, and his glory shone in
every direction. He decided that when his son was born he should be given then name of
Vardhamana, he-who-grows, he-who-develops.' (We now come to the birth of Mahavira.)'. .. That
night the gods and goddesses came down from heaven to show their joy. The Demons rained
flowers, fruits, gold and silver, pearls, diamonds, nectar, and sandal-wood on Siddhartha's
'For thirty years (the Mahavira) lived a worldly life. He married Yasoda by whom he had a
daughter, Riyadarsana. Then his parents, who followed the doctrines of Parsva, decided to leave
this world. They lay down on a pile of grass and let themselves die of starvation. Vardhamana was
now free from the vow he had made in his mother's womb, and decided to live after the fashion of
wandering monks. He asked the permission of his brother and of the various authorities of the
kingdom. Then he gave his wealth to the poor, and being thus freed from every bond became an
'.. .The gods came down from heaven, approached. . .and did him homage.. .A procession was
formed, made up of men, gods and demons, all shouting: "Victory! Victory!" The sky was as lovely
as a lake covered with open lotus-flowers, while earth and air echoed with melodious
Vardhamana spent twelve years in ascetic practices. Then once upon a time 'he sat down near an
ancient temple under the tree Sala (teak), and remained motionless for two and a half days,
and plunged in the deepest meditation. When he arose on the third day, enlightenment was
complete. Vardhamana now possessed supreme and absolute knowledge; he was kevalin,
omniscient. . .the perfect wise man, one of the blessed, an arhat: in short a Jina, a hero who had
overcome evil and misery.
'.. .The gods were present (thirty years later, after he had spent that time in preaching) when he
entered nirvana and became liberated, mukta, perfect, siddha.'
To sum up - we have a miraculous person vowed from all eternity to the salvation of the world,
more than a god, since like men all the gods are mere supernumeraries compared with him, a
discoverer, and a preacher of universal deliverance, the founder of a community. The Jain
Church,, made up of laymen led by monks and nuns, followed the master in propagating the Law.
The real story was more modest, but with a religious genius of this type legend may be truer than
Other Tirthamkaras. The transposing of a human biography into terms of dogmatic myth is not
solely a matter of adding the supernatural to the personality of the religious founder. It appears in
endless multiplication of his personality into abstract types which mythology strives to make
concrete. There are ten regions of the universe, in each of which arise twenty-four Tirthamkaras in
each of the three ages, past, present and future. Thus we obtain seven hundred and twenty
saviours of the world, of whom seven hundred and nineteen are pale reflections of the Jina.
In this way a stylised convention was formed from the real situation, wherein the Jina was
preceded by the sect of the Nirgranthas, whose master was Parsva, practisers of austerity to the
point of advocating suicide by starvation; but which also provided for a series of patriarchs who
kept alive the tradition of the founder in the community. In the book by Guerinot already quoted
will be found the description of twenty-four Tirthamkaras in that part of the world where India is
situated, during the present epoch. Each one is defined by certain characteristics - such-and-such
proportions of the body, such a colour, such-and-such symbols; such-and-such acolyte in human
form, a yaksha or a yakshini; such-and-such a posture, of special significance from the position of
the hands and legs, etc. To each one a special cult is appropriated.
Everything we have just described in Jainism is to be found under other aspects in Buddhism,
which is indeed Jainism's younger brother. Theoretically the sect should have limited its activity to
moral reform, the institution of a law or dharma, which in humble believers would lead to faith,
and in saints to nirvana. But as a matter of fact, popular superstition and fable immediately
imposed on it an exuberant mythology which completely altered the simplicity of the dogma. Just
as in Europe Christianity followed the pagan cults which were transformed into hagiographies, so
a whole popular religion soaked into the myths of Buddhism - for instance, the traditional
agricultural rites at each season of the year. Such was the myth of Gavampati, the god of drought
and wind, who was immolated to bring rain, of which traces may still be found in most Buddhist
festivals. (See J. Przyluski, Le Candle de Rajagriha, 1926 - 1928).
LEGEND OF BUDDHA
H. Oldenberg has compiled from Pali writings a 'reasonable' -we will not say too 'historical' -
biography of the sage of the Sakyas (Sakyamuni) who was to become the Buddha, the
Enlightened. On the other hand, E. Senart has composed an entirely legendary biography on the
same subject, derived from Sanskrit documents. In the latter the institutor of Buddhism, far from
dwindling to a sage of human essence, turns out to be an aspect of the solar god, Vishnu, who
came down on earth to save our species. In point of fact all the classic episodes of his life are more
or less touched with the miraculous.
Buddha lived between about 563 and 483 B.C. in the north-east of India.
The future Buddha or Bodhisattva had already passed through thousands of existences to prepare
himself for his final transmigration. Before coming down to earth for the last time he visited the
heaven of the Tushitas (abode of the blessed) and preached the Law to the gods. But one day he
perceived that his hour had come and was incarnated in the family of a king of the Sakyas,
Suddhodhana, who reigned in Kapilavastu, on the borders of Nepal.
Birth and Childhood of Buddha. His conception was miraculous. Queen Maya, whose name
literally means 'Illusions', warned by a presentiment, saw in a dream the Bodhisattva enter her
womb in the shape of a lovely little elephant as white as snow. At this moment the whole universe
showed its joy by miracles- musical instruments played without being touched, rivers stopped
flowing to contemplate the Bodhisattva, trees and plants were covered with flowers and the lakes
with lotuses. Next day Queen Maya's dream was interpreted by sixty-four Brahmans, who
predicted the birth of a son destined to become either a universal emperor or a Buddha.
When the time of his birth drew near the queen retired to the garden of Lumbini and there,
standing and holding on to a branch of the tree Sala with her right hand, she gave birth to the
Bodhisattva who came forth from her right side without causing her the least pain. The child was
received by Brahma and the other gods, but he began at once to walk, and a lotus appeared as
soon as his foot touched the earth. He took seven steps in the direction of the seven cardinal
points, and thus took possession of the world. On the very same day were born Yasodhara Devi
who was to be his wife, the horse Kantaka which he was to ride when he deserted his palace to
seek supreme knowledge, his squire Chandaka, his friend and favourite disciple Ananda, and the
Bo-tree beneath which he came to know Enlightenment.
Five days after his birth the young prince received the name Siddhartha. On the seventh day
Queen Maya died of joy, and was re-born among the gods, leaving her sister Mahaprajapati to
take her place beside the young prince. The complete devotion of this adoptive mother has
become legendary. A saintly old man from the Himalayas, the wealthy Asita, predicted the child's
destiny and observed in him the eighty signs which are the pledges of a high religious vocation.
When the child was taken by his parents to the temple, the statues of the gods bowed down before
When the young prince was twelve years old the king called a council of Brahmans. They revealed
to him that the prince would devote himself to asceticism if he beheld the spectacle of old age,
sickness and death, and if he afterwards met a hermit. The king preferred that his son should be a
universal sovereign rather than a hermit. The sumptuous palaces with their vast and beautiful
gardens in which the young man was destined to live were therefore surrounded with a triple
wall well-guarded. Mention of the words 'death' and 'grief was forbidden.
Buddha's Marriage. A little later it occurred to the Rajah that the surest way to bind the prince to
his kingdom was marriage. With a view to discovering a princess who would awaken his son's
love the king collected magnificent jewels, and announced that on a given day Siddhartha would
distribute them among the neighbouring princesses. When all the presents had been given out
there arrived the last girl, Yasodhara, daughter of Mahanama, one of the ministers. She asked the
prince if he had nothing for her, and he, having met her glance, took the valuable ring from his
finger and gave it to her. The exchange of glances and the remarkable gift did not escape
A Jain Tirthamkara. This seated, multi-headed figure represents Chandraprabha, the Lord of the
Moon, the eighth Tirthamkara of the present age, who is said to have been born after his mother
swallowed the moon. Each Tirthamkara has his (or, in one case, her) own characteristics and each
is the object of a special cult, the places associated with them being the destination of pious
pilgrimages. They are always depicted nude. Red sandstone.
the king's attention, and he asked for the girl in marriage.
However, the tradition of Sakyas compelled their princesses to take as husband only a true
Kshatriya who could demonstrate his skill in all the accomplishments of his caste. Yasodhara's
father had his doubts about Siddhartha, who had been brought up in the ease of court life. So a
tournament was organised, and the prince came out first in all the competitions of riding, fencing
and wrestling. Moreover, he was the only one who could string and shoot with the sacred bow of
enormous size bequeathed by his ancestors. Princess Yasodhara was therefore married to him.
The Vocation and the Great Departure. But very soon his divine vocation awoke in him. The music
of the different instruments which sounded in his ears, the graceful movements of the girls
dancing for the delight of his eyes, ceased to move his senses, and on the contrary showed him the
vanity and instability of human life. 'The life of the creature passes like the mountain torrent and
like the flash of lightning.'
One day the prince called his equerry - he wanted to visit the town. The king ordered it to be
swept and decorated and that every ugly or depressing sight should be hidden from his son. But
precautions were useless. As he rode through the streets the prince beheld a trembling, wrinkled
old man, breathless with age, and bowed on his staff. With astonishment the young man learned
that decrepitude is the inevitable fate of those who 'live out their lives'. When he got back to the
palace he asked if there is any way of avoiding old age.
Similarly, another day he came on someone with an incurable disease, and then a funeral
procession, and thus came to know of suffering and death.
Finally heaven threw in his way a begging ascetic, who told him that he had abandoned the world
to pass beyond joy and suffering and attain peace of heart.
These experiences and his meditations on them suggested to Siddhartha that he should abandon
his present life and become an ascetic. He spoke of it to his father - 'O king, all things in this world
are changing and transitory. Let me go forth alone, a begging monk.'
The father was overwhelmed with grief at the thought of losing the son in whom lay all the hopes
of his line. The guards round the walls were doubled, and there were continual amusements and
pleasures devised in the palaces and gardens to prevent the young prince from thinking any more
At this time Yasodhara gave birth to the little Rahula. But even this did not hinder Bodhisattva
from his mission.
His decision became final when one sleepless night he beheld the
spectacle of the harem - wan faces, bodies wilted in the involuntary relaxation of sleep and
unconsciousness, an artless abandonment in the midst of disorder. 'Some dribbled, spattered with
saliva; others ground their teeth; some snored and talked in their sleep. Some had their mouths
wide open... It was like a foretaste of the horrors of the grave.'
His mind was made up. But before leaving, Siddhartha wanted to look for the last time on his
beautiful wife, Yasodhara. She was asleep, holding their new-born child in her arms. He wanted to
kiss his son but was afraid he might waken the mother, so left them both, and lifting the curtain
heavy with jewels went out into the fresh night with its countless stars, and mounted his beautiful
horse Kantaka, accompanied by his equerry Chandaka.
The gods in complicity sent sleep on the guards and lifted the horse's hoofs so that the noise of his
shoes should waken nobody. At the gates of the town Siddhartha gave his horse to Chandaka and
took farewell of these two friends urging them to console his father - and in mute farewell the
horse licked his feet.
With one sweep of his sword the prince cut off his hair, and threw it upwards where it was
gathered by the gods. A little later, meeting a hunter, he exchanged his own splendid garments for
the man's rags, and thus transformed made his way to a hermitage where the Brahmans received
him as a disciple.
Henceforth there was no more Siddhartha. He became the monk
Gautama or, as he is still called, Sakyamuni, the ascetic of the Sakyas. He sought for wisdom as a
disciple of the Yogis, living turn by turn in several hermitages, and especially with Arada Kalapa;
but their doctrines did not teach him what he was seeking. He continued to wander, and at last
stopped at Uruvilva on the bank of a very fine river. There he remained six years, practising
dreadful austerities which reduced his body almost to nothing.
But he realised that excessive macerations destroy a man's strength and instead of freeing the
mind make it impotent. He had to get beyond asceticism, as he had got beyond worldly life.
And the exhausted Bodhisattva, thin as a skeleton, accepted the bowl of rice offered him by a
village girl, Sujata, who was moved to compassion by the ascetic's weakness. Then he bathed in
the river. The five disciples who had shared his austerities abandoned him, much perturbed by his
The Enlightenment. Siddhartha then started for Bodhi-Gaya and the tree of Wisdom. As he passed
through the forest such light emanated from his body that the kingfishers and other birds were
attracted and flew in circles about him. The peacocks joined other animals of the forest to escort
him. A Naga king and his wife came out of their underground dwelling to worship him. The
devas hung standards from the trees to show him his way.
And now the Bodhisattva reached the sacred fig-tree. It was the decisive hour of his career. He set
a bundle of new-mown hay and sat down, uttering this vow:
'Here, on this seat, may my body dry up, may my skin and flesh waste away if I raise my body
from this seat until! have attained the knowledge it is hard to attain during numerous kalpas!'
And the earth quaked six times.
Mara, the Buddhist demon, was warned of what was happening which would be the ruin of his
power, and decided to interfere. He sent his three delicious daughters to tempt the Bodhisattva
and divert him from his intentions. The girls sang and danced before his eyes. They were skilled in
all the seductions of desire and pleasure, but the Bodhisattva remained as unmoved in his heart as
in his countenance, as calm as a lotus on the smooth waters of a lake,
as unmoved as the roots of the mountains.
Mara's daughters retired defeated. Then the demon tried an attack, with an army of devils,
horrible creatures, some with a thousand mouths, others pot-bellied and deformed, drinking
blood or devouring snakes, uttering inhuman cries, spreading darkness, armed with spears, bows
and maces. They surrounded the tree of Wisdom, threatening the Bodhisattva, but found
themselves paralysed with their arms bound to their sides.
Mara himself then made the supreme attempt. Riding on the clouds he hurled his terrible disk. But
this weapon which could cut a mountain in two was impotent against the Bodhisattva. It was
changed into a garland of flowers and hung suspended above his head.
Before sunset Mara was beaten. And the motionless Bodhisattva remained in meditation under the
sacred tree. Night came, and with it the dawn of the Enlightenment he sought rose slowly on his
heart. First he knew the exact conditions of all living beings, and then the causes of their rebirth.
Throughout the world and in all ages he beheld beings live, die, and transmigrate. He
remembered his own previous existences, and grasped the inevitable links of causes and effects.
As he meditated on human suffering he was enlightened as to its genesis and the means which
allow it to be destroyed.
When daylight appeared the Bodhisattva had attained perfect Enlightenment (bodhi) and had
become a Buddha. The rays of light from his shining body reached the confines of space.
For seven days Buddha remained in meditation, and then stayed near the tree for another four
weeks. In the fifth week a terrible storm arose, but the Naga king, Musilinda, made a seat for him
from the coils of his body and a canopy with his open hood, and so sheltered him from the storm
and the flood.
Henceforward two paths were open to Buddha. He could at once enter nirvana; or, renouncing for
the time being his own deliverance, he could remain on earth to spread the good word. Mara
urged him to leave the world, and Buddha himself realised that the doctrine is profound while
men are not at all given to wisdom. Should he proclaim the Law to those who cannot understand
it? For an instant
third century A.D.
he hesitated. But the gods united to implore him. Brahma in person came to beg him to preach his
Law, and Buddha yielded to his wishes.
The Preaching. To whom was he first to address his preaching? His thoughts turned to the five
disciples who had abandoned him. He went to Benares, and found them again. Seeing him coming
from afar they agreed together: 'Here comes that Sramana Gautama, the dissolute, the glutton,
spoiled by luxury. . . We have nothing in common with him. We must not go to meet him with
respect, nor stand up. . .We must give him no carpet, no prepared drink, nowhere to set his feet.'
But Buddha understood their thoughts, and turned on them the strength of his love. As a leaf is
swept away by a torrent, so the hermits were conquered by his omnipotent goodness, and rose up
to do homage to him whose first disciples they became.
So the first preaching took place at Benares, in the Gazelles' Park. According to the texts, the
Buddha in his first sermon 'set in
motion the wheel of the Law' (Dharmasakrapravartana). The Master's first message indicated at
the outset the tone of primitive Buddhist doctrine - lucidity, moderation, charity.
'There are two extremes, O monks, which must be avoided. One is a life of pleasure, which is base
and ignoble, contrary to the spirit, unworthy, vain. The other is a life of self-maceration, which is
dreary, unworthy, vain. The Perfect, O monks, kept aloof from these two extremes and discovered
the middle path which leads to rest, to knowledge, to enlightenment, and nirvana . . . Here, O
monks, is the truth about pain. Birth, old age, sickness, death, separation from what we love, are
pain. The origin of pain is the thirst for pleasure, the thirst for existence, the thirst for change. And
here is the truth about the suppression of pain - the extinction of that thirst through the
annihilation of desire.'
And again: 'I am come to fill the ignorant with knowledge. Almsgiving, knowledge, and virtue are
goods which cannot be wasted. To do a little good is better than to accomplish difficult works. . .
The perfect man is nothing if he does not diffuse benefits on creatures, if he does not console the
lonely. . . My doctrine is a doctrine of mercy. . .The way of salvation is open to all. . .Destroy your
passions as an elephant throws down a hut built of reeds, but know that a man deceives himself if
he thinks he can escape his passions by taking refuge in hermitages. The only remedy for evil is
Thus began a wandering mission which lasted forty-four years. Buddha went up and down the
land, followed by his disciples, converting all who heard him. Many episodes of this long
ministration have been popularised in art or in legends. We mention here a few of the principal
THE ANGRY ELEPHANT. Devadatta, Buddha's cousin, became his enemy. He made a royal
elephant drunk, and turned it free in the streets at the moment when Buddha was going round to
give alms. Smitten with terror the inhabitants fled, while the animal trampled on carriages and
passers-by, and overthrew houses. Buddha's disciples implored him to leave, but he calmly kept
on his way. But when a little girl carelessly crossing the road was almost killed by the raging
elephant, Buddha spoke to it: 'Spare that innocent child - you were sent to attack me.' As soon as
the elephant perceived Buddha, its rage was soothed as if by magic, and it came to kneel at the feet
of the Blessed.
THE GREAT MIRACLE OF SRAVASTI. King Prasenajit organised a contest between Buddha and
the members of a heretical sect he wished to convert. Numerous miracles were performed by
Sakyamuni during this battle of miraculous powers. Two remained especially famous. The first is
known as the miracle of water and fire. 'Bhagavat (the Blessed) plunged into meditation so
profound that as soon as his spirit entered into it, he disappeared from the place where he was
seated and shot into the air towards the West, where he appeared in the four postures of decency -
that is to say. he walked, he stood up, he sat down, he lay down. He then rose to the region of
ligh;, and no sooner had he reached it than different lights spread from his body - blue, yellow, red
and white lights.
and others with the loveliest tints of crystal. He performed other miracles. Flames spread from the
lower part of his body, while from the upper part fell a rain of cold water. He repeated in the
South what he had done in the West and again in the four points of space.'
In the second episode Buddha is seen seated on a large golden lotus with a diamond stem formed
by the Naga kings, with Brahma to his right and Indra to his left. Through the prestige of his
omnipotence Buddha filled the whole sky with a countless number of similar lotuses, and in each
of them was a Buddha similar to himself.
CONVERSION OF BUDDHA'S FAMILY. Buddha successively converted to his doctrine his father
king Suddhodhana, his son Rahula, his cousin Ananda (who became his favourite disciple), his
wife, and his adoptive mother, the good Mahaprajapati. Buddha ascended into heaven where he
was greeted by his mother and the gods, who asked him to teach them the Law. At the end of
three months this mission was ended, and the Blessed one returned to the earth by a ladder of
gold and silver, with rungs of coral, ruby and emerald. And the gods escorted him.
The conversion of Nanda. Buddha's half-brother, was more difficult, and introduces a very human
note, both poignant and comic. The young man had just married the prettiest girl in the district.
The Blessed one came to the door. Nanda filled his bowl with alms, but Buddha refused to take it
and go away. Nanda followed him, holding out the bowl, but received not a word or a gesture in
reply. They came to the hermitage, and the mysterious, smiling Buddha caused his brother's head
to be shaved, and forced him to put off his sumptuous clothes and dress in a monk's gown.
Poor Nanda submitted, but he was continually haunted by the charming memory of his young
wife. One day he tried to run away, but mysterious powers prevented his escape. Sakyamuni took
him on to a hill, where they saw a blind old monkey. 'Is your wife as beautiful as that monkey?'
said Buddha to Nanda. Nanda's indignation was not soothed down until the Blessed carried him
to the heaven of the thirty-three gods and into a magnificent palace inhabited by divine nymphs of
incomparable beauty. Obviously his
wife was a mere monkey compared with them. The nymphs revealed to him that after his death
he was destined to become their lord and master.
On their return to the monastery Nanda became the most zealous of disciples, in the hope of being
re-born in the heaven of the thirty-three gods. But a little later Buddha took him to hell, and
showed him a vat of boiling water in which he would fall after his heavenly existence, in order to
expiate his sensual desires. These successive visions led Nanda to meditate the doctrine, and he
became a saint.
THE CHILD'S OFFERING. A little child wanted to make Buddha an offering, but had nothing in
the world. So he collected the dust, and joining his two open hands childishly offered it to the
Blessed. He was touched by this gesture of faith, and smilingly accepted the gift. Later on this
innocent child was re-born in the form of the great Indian emperor, Asoka.
THE MONKEY'S OFFERING. A monkey offered Buddha a bowl of honey. Delighted to see his gift
accepted, the monkey cut a caper, fell, and was killed. He was immediately re-born as the son of a
Buddha's Death. At the age of eighty Buddha felt he had grown old. He visited all the
communities he had founded, set them in order, and prepared for his end. He died at Kusinagara
after eating an indigestible meal with one of his disciples, who was a smith. He died peacefully
beside the river Hiranyavati, in a grove where Ananda had prepared his bed. The trees about him
were covered with flowers. The Gandharvas played heavenly music. The disciples surrounded the
dying man, and some wept despite their Master's exhortations.
'O disciples, everything created must perish. A man must separate from everything he has loved.
Say not, we no longer have a Master . . .When I am gone the doctrine I have preached will be your
Master. Watch and pray without respite.'
After speaking these words, Buddha entered into meditation and then into ecstasy, and finally
passed into nirvana. His body was burned on a funeral pyre which lighted itself, and was
extinguished at the right moment by a miraculous rain. Relics of the Blessed one were preserved
in the 'Stupas' which soon after were raised in India.
This biography which alongside the miraculous contains traits of high morality, not only flowered
on the surface with repeated types of the Buddha in divergent forms, but also as it were in depth -
Sakyamuni having deserved to become Buddha because of all his former lives, which formed part
of his personality.
The Jatakas. Jatakas is the name given the stories relating to the lives of the Bodhisattva before the
life in which he received the Bodhi, Enlightenment. Innumerable folklore stories have been
incorporated in this literature. Many of the fables already current in India took on a Buddhist
appearance. Moreover the Jatakas have a dogmatic value, since they show at work in reality that
causal connection, which according to Buddhist philosophy forms the structure of things - every
event in the present is to be explained by facts going farther and farther back into the past. This is
the justification of the law of Kharma, by virtue of which every being, and the Bodhisattva in
particular, becomes what he makes himself. Metaphysical dogma and popular belief thus coincide
in the very idea of the Jataka.
Here, for instance, is the tale of The Devotion of the King-Monkey (Mahakapi-Jataka). In those
days the Bodhisattva was a king-monkey. One day when he was disporting himself in an orchard
mangoes along with eighty thousand of his subjects, the archers were ordered to surround the
monkeys and to kill them. The poor creatures could only escape by crossing the Ganges. The kingmonkey
fastened to his waist a bamboo rope and tied the other end to the branch of a tree. He
then crossed the river with one huge jump, but the rope was too short, and he could reach the
bank only by clinging to a tree. On the living bridge thus formed the eighty thousand monkeys
crossed and saved their lives. But Devadatta, Buddha's future cousin, was among the fugitives.
Already the betrayer, he pretended to stumble, fell heavily on the back of the king-monkey and
broke it as he passed. The heroic monkey was succoured by the king of Benares and made an
edifying death, not without bestowing on his host some salutary advice for the government of his
One of the principal Buddhist virtues is endless compassion for all creatures. We find an example
in the story of the king, the dove and the falcon (Sibi-Jataka).
To test the integrity and charity of the king of the Sibis, Indra assumed the form of a falcon
pursuing a dove, which itself is also a form of the metamorphosed god. The harried dove took
refuge in the king's bosom. 'Fear nothing, beautiful bird, whose eyes are like the flowers of the
asoka tree,' said the king. 'I save all living things which come to me for protection, even though I
should lose my kingdom and my life itself.'
But now the falcon spoke: 'This dove is my food. By what right do you deprive me of the prey I
have conquered by my exertions?
I am devoured by hunger. You have no right to intervene in the differences of the birds of the air.
If you mean to protect the dove, think of me and how I shall die of hunger. If you refuse to yield
me this bird you are cherishing, give me an equal weight of the flesh of your own body.'
'You are right,' said the king of the Sibis. 'Bring the scales.' He then cut off some of the flesh of his
thigh and threw it into the scale, having put the dove on the other one. The queens, the ministers,
and the attendants began to utter lamentations which rose up from the palace as the muttering of
thunder from piled-up masses of cloud. The earth itself quaked at this act of integrity.
But the king continued to cut the flesh from his legs, his arms and his breast. The scale was piled
up in vain, for the dove grew heavier and heavier. So much so that the king, now reduced to a
skeleton, decided he must give all himself, and entered the scale.
Then the gods appeared, and heavenly music was heard. A shower of ambrosia drenched the
king's body, and completely healed him. Flowers fell from heaven, the Gandharvas and Apsaras
danced and sang. Indra resumed his divine form, and announced to the king of the Sibis that he
would be re-incarnated in the body of the next Buddha.
Multiplication of Buddhas. The most ancient Buddhism or Little Vehicle admits that since the
Sakyamuni had shown the path to salvation, other sages might in their turn attain bodhi and
nirvana, and thus become Buddhas. It particularly noticed the future Buddha, Maitreya.
Making use of the opportunity to multiply the number of Saviours, the Great Vehicle, which came
into existence about the beginning of the Christian era and dominated Indian philosophy during
the first seven centuries of that era, created the notion of transcendent persons, positive Buddhist
divinities, although they were still called Bodhisattvas or Buddhas.
While the sage of the Sakyas represented the ideal of a slightly Brahman clan in the middle
Ganges valley, the cults of the Great Vehicle came into existence on the borders of Iran in lands
where there had been interpenetration of Hellenic, Persian and Indian influences.
The Graeco-Syrian gnosis, the Iranian religion of light, and Vishnu-ite sectarianism played their
part in it, and perhaps also to some extent the faith of the Semites and Manichaeism. We must not
forget that most of the biographies of the Sakyamuni were composed under the influence of the
Great Vehicle, and that they owe to it the metaphysics which abounds in them.
The Artistic Representation of the Buddha Sakyamuni. A tangible proof of Western influence is
shown by the artistic representation of the Buddha. Native art had always refrained from
depicting the Blessed one's features, and he was symbolised by an empty throne or a solar wheel.
When it was decided to give him plastic form, a Greek type was chosen. The Western sculptors
dwelling in Bactriana represented him as Apollo. A. Foucher has demonstrated the continual
evolution by imperceptible and gradual degrees from the most Hellenic Buddha to the most
The Indian elements of this iconography were imposed by the Master's biography. The Buddha
must be a monk, the Bodhisattva a prince. Here and there the same royal and divine type (the
gods were kings in heaven, the kings gods on earth) appeared, but when the Buddha was to be
represented the type was divested of lay ensigns of power and of worldly wealth. Both have a
lens-shaped mark between the eyebrows, urna, which symbolised a tuft of luminous and radiant
hair, but the Buddha has a protuberance of the skull, ushnisha, which incorporates with his
anatomy the shape of a turban bound round a knot of hair. The attitudes of the body, asanas,
express the kind and quality of his meditation; the position of the hands, mudras, complete this
expression or indicate the action accomplished.
From Dipankara to Maitreya the Manushi-Buddhas. The most ancient precursor of Sakyamuni
whose name has been preserved to us is Dipankara. During a former existence our Buddha
presented him with flowers, and in return received from him an announcement, of his own
mission. The legend of the distant predecessor reconciles as best it can the two etymologies of the
name - dvipa an island, or dipa a lamp - by the idea of a luminous manifestation in the
midst of the waters, a divinity protecting sailors, especially in the 'Southern Isles'.
The epoch of the world to which we belong received six Blessed ones before the sage of the Sakyas
- Vipasyin. Sikhin, Visvabhu, Krakuchanda, Kanakamuni, Ksyapa. An eighth is expected,
Maitreya, who is still in the stage of a Bodhisattva. This pseudo-historical succession of Masters,
who are given a role in the evolution of humanity, forms the series of'human' Buddhas, Manushi.
The Dhyani-Buddhas. On the other hand the Buddhas of Meditation, Dhyani, are metaphysical
essences, and yet iconography has much more frequently represented them in the creation of that
section of Buddhism, the Great Vehicle, which conquered Tibet as well as the Far East. There are
five of them: Vairocana, whose colour is white, whose attribute is the disk,
and his steed a dragon. He must derive from some solar hero. He became extremely popular with
the Japanese Shingon sect.
Ratnasambhava is yellow, wears a jewel, and rides a lion. He reigns over the South.
Amitabha, Infinite Light, or Amitayus, Infinite Duration, is red, holds a lotus, and is escorted by a
peacock. He reigns over the West, where he presides over a marvellous paradise, Sukhavati. All
who believe in him will be re-born before final deliverance.
Amoghasiddhi is green, carries a double thunder-bolt, and is borne up by an eagle. His region is
Akshobhya is blue, provided with a thunder-bolt and rides on an elephant. He watches over the
The Dhyani-Bodhisattvas: Avalokitesvara. From the meditation of the Dhyani-Buddhas emanate
the Dhyani-Bodhisattvas: Samantabhadra,
Vajrapani, Ratnapani, Avalokitesvara, Visvapani. Samantabhadra, one of the most
constant intimates of Sakvamuni in the Mahayana texts, has the bearing of a god of action and
symbolises happiness. He is green and rides an elephant. His cult is especially developed at Womeichen
(Setzu-Zan) and in Nepal.
Vajrapani, wieldcr of the thunder-bolt, appears in the Gandharva sculptures sometimes as a Zeus,
sometimes an Eros, even as a Hercules, a Pan or a Dionysus.
The representations show us the history of Vajrapani. He was first a yaksha, a faithful companion,
a replica of Sakyamuni, and then becomes important in the Great Vehicle as a 'Bodhisattva of
benign aspect or furious bearing', the ideal of the faithful and terror of the impious. (Foucher.)
Avalokitesvara, the Lord gifted with complete Enlightenment, remained in this world for the
salvation of creatures, and is at the head of the Merciful. Under the name of Padmapani he holds a
pink lotus, and to show that he derives from Amitabha he bears an effigy of him bound up with
his hair. No person in suffering appeals to him in vain. As he has plenty of work in this world of
misery a 'thousand' arms are not too many for him. The Karunduw uha describes his charitable
wanderings, whether he takes cooling drinks to the damned in hell, or converts the she-ogres
(Rakshasi) of Ceylon, or preaches the Eaw to beings incarnated as insects or worms in the region
of Benares. So although his normal residence is the paradise of Amitabha, his chosen dwelling is
the world of suffering which he prefers to the peace of nirvana.
China has transformed this Bodhisattva in a very curious way. To honour his capacity for love the
Chinese have endowed him with the feminine aspect of the goddess Kuanyin (Kwannon) who, as
she carries a child in her arms, has such a strange resemblance to the Virgin Mary and her divine
son. In contrast to this very concrete image, India imagined this compassionate saviour as a cosmic
being with innumerable forms:
'From his eyes were derived the sun and the moon, from his forehead Mahesvara, from his
shoulders Brahma and other gods, from his heart Narayana, from his thighs Sarasvati, from his
mouth the winds, from his feet the earth, from his belly Varuna. . . He is a lamp to the blind, a
sunshade to those consumed by the heat of the sun, a stream for the thirsty; he takes away all fear
from those who dread a disaster, he is a doctor to the sick, a father and mother to the unhappy
(Karandavyuha, 14 and 18).' Mother! That was the shape in which he conquered the Far East.
Other Bodhisattvas Manjusri, Maitreya, Kshitigarbha. Legend attributes a Chinese origin to the
Bodhisattva Manjusri or Man-jughsha. At least in the time of I-tsing the Hindus considered him as
living in China, and he was especially venerated in the monastery of Ou-tai-Chan (Changsa). His
name is only a translation of the Sanskrit Pancasika or Pancasirsha, the mountain with five peaks,
certainly Indian, where a certain Kumarabhua, whose surname was Manjusri, attained to sanctity.
According to Sylvain Levi, Manju is the Cutch translation of Kumara. The Svayambhuprana
makes this Bodhisattva the patron of grammatical science and wisdom. He is portrayed as yellow,
seated on a blue lion with a red maw, in the posture of teaching, a blue lotus in his hand - often
with a sword, the sword of knowledge, or a book.
Maitreya, the Buddha of the future, still dwells in the heaven of Tushita whence the Sakyamuni of
old descended. One of the latter's disciples, Kasyapa, having attained nirvana, dwells on the slope
of mount Kukkutapada waiting for the moment when he will present the future Buddha with the
robe of precedence most carefully preserved. Maitreya, who is represented as the colour of gold, is
related at least by his name to Mitra, the solar god of the Iranians. Texts in Eastern Iranian studied
by Ernest Leumann demonstrate the importance of the messianism of Maitreya in the southern
part of Chinese Turkestan. Perhaps some historical character must be recognised as the origin of
the cult of this bodhisattva - at least, such is the opinion of J. Takasuku and H. Ui, two Japanese
Bud-dhologists' who attribute some famous works of Yogasara inspiration to a certain Maitreya.
Kshitigarbha, very little honoured in India, but with effigies widely spread throughout central
Asia, plays the part of an es-chatological god. He regulates and surveys the six paths (gati) which
are taken by souls after they have been judged - destinies of men, asuras, demons, of gods,
animals, and the starving damned.
The paintings of Yueyen-Kwang show ten kings of hell gravitating about him. Here is reflected the
mythical cosmography of Buddhism, which also appears by the admission of the four guards of
the cardinal points, the Lokapalas, locked in their armour. This judgment, these judicial or police
gods, are utterly in contradiction with the primitive Buddhist conception of Kharma, according to
which every action in itself implied the just and necessary retribution, without any divine
intervention. The development of the myth has carried us as far away from real Buddhism as from
India proper. The overwhelming monotony of these figures is not unintentional. The infinite
number of these effigies, mythically different but metaphysically equivalent, was meant to
reassure the faith of the humble, by showing how numerous the elect were. On the other hand it
reveals to him who can understand, the essential truth of the Great Vehicle - that as the Law does
not differ from nirvana, and as all is emptiness, Buddha is reduced to an empty form. If any life,
denounced of course as illusory, circulates through these abstractions, it was provided by popular
devotion to the extent that it treats the Buddhas as gods.
Buddhistic Hinduism. The popular cults forced their way even into the cold and lofty dogma of
the Great Vehicle - there was a Buddhistic Hinduism as there had been a Brahmanic Hinduism.
Hideous, grimacing, grotesque figures point to an inspiration entirely different from the serenity
of the saints. Yamantaka, the companion of Manjusri, wore a necklace of skulls, like Siva. He
possesses several terrifying faces, and waves a number of arms. Trailokya-vijaya has four heads
and four threatening arms, and tramples on Siva's head. These two monsters demonstrate that a
certain type of Buddhism tried to exceed the horror even of the Siva myths.
Alongside terror we have the ridiculous - the god of wealth, Jambhala, outrageously fat, and
holding a lemon and a mangosteen, an amusing parody of the Brahman god Kuvera.
An unmistakable sign of Hinduism is the reappearance with scarcely any change of the old
Dravidian she-ogres. Like Vishnu and Siva, the Buddhas had their saktis, who furnished mortals
with knowledge, prajna, or compassion, karuna, while their quasi-husbands showed the path of
Tara, the most revered, shared in the cult devoted to Avalokites-vara, at least in Tibetan Tantrism.
She was born from his tears. When she is red, yellow, blue, she threatens; when white or green,
she is gentle and loving - a double character present in Siva's wife.
This sort of Bodhisattva of a feminine nature is among the Vid-yadevis or Matrikadevis, goddesses
of knowledge, or mother-goddesses, among whom may be noted:
Bhrikuti Tara, a special form of the preceding;
Kurukulla, represented as reddish, seated in a cavern, has four arms, of which the upper two
threaten, and the lower two soothe;
Cunda - concerning whom the Tibetan Taranatha relates a fairy tale: 'Lucky for him was it that the
son of the tree nymph and the Kshatriya chose her as patron, for with her help he slew the wicked
queen whose bed every night was a grave for a new king of Bengal.' She has four or sixteen arms.
'Her kindly air contrasts with her threatening attributes. Thunder-bolt, disk, mace, sword, bow,
arrow, axe, trident, etc. - nothing is absent from her arsenal; but for the worshipper who knows
how to look, her first pair of hands is in the position of teaching, another in that of charity, while
others hold the rosary, the golden lotus, and the flask of ambrosia; so that this strange divinity is
as propitious to the good as she is terrible to the wicked' (Foucher, Iconographie bouddhique du II
siecle, 144, 146);
Marici, the ray of dawn, a Buddhist Ushas, with a frontal eye, is sometimes terrible with her three
grimacing faces and ten threatening arms.
Among the saktis of the Manushi-Buddhas is Sarasvati, the wife of Manjusri and goddess of
On the summit of this feminine pantheon reigns Prajna, Knowledge, corresponding to the
supreme masculine abstraction, Adibud-dha, original and fundamental essence of all Buddhas.
As the antithesis to this serenity let us mention Hariti, the mother suckling five hundred demons.
She is associated with Pancika, a genius of opulence - her wealth is her fecundity, probably a relic
of ancient agricultural rites.
This invasion of Buddhism by Tantrist mythology, attested by Tibetan Lamaism, illuminates a big
historical problem with a very
crude light. Let us not be surprised that Buddhism has disappeared from India, with the exception
of Ceylon and Nepal - like the orthodoxy of Vedic tradition it has been absorbed by the sectarian
religions.MYTHOLOGY OF HINDUISM ULTIMATE INFINITE