The Patna Congress and the "Man"

C. A. F. RHYS DAVIDS
The Journal Of The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain And Ireland
1929 01
pp.27-36


. p.27 THE substance of the following was given in an address at the Oxford Congress of Orientalists, 1928. It makes no pretensions to do more than put forward a few suggestions concerning the so-called Third Buddhist Council-suggestions which may help when historians are reconsidering the miserably poor materials, which are all we have to throw light on what was the most momentous crisis and decision in the whole history of Buddhism. "Congress of Patna" (or Paa.taliputta) is a more suitable term than " council ". To picture it, we must recall the factors in our own recent if less momentous ecclesiastical crisis: a council with revisional labours of twenty years, the whole Church of England and the House of Commons. Kern was in error in describing it as a mere " party meeting... after the schism",(1) by which he seems to mean "secession ", of the Mahaasanghikas. If we are to believe Buddhaghosa, this and the other schools or "sects" (aacariyakulaa) had not seceded from the Sangha. They are expressly included in the one Sakya Sangha as distinct from teachers and teaching which were " outside this ".(2) It was the very presence of such schools, notably of Mahaasanghikas (or Vajjiputtiyas) in the Sangha, which contributed to bring about the " Council" and make it so momentous. The Congress took place during the reign of King, or Emperor, Asoka round about the middle of the third century B.C. Our authorities,as to the event are not contemporaneous. They are the Diipava.msa and the Mahaava.msa of Ceylon, and the commentaries on the Vinaya and Kathaavatthu. These appear to have been written, or to have taken written form, _____________________________________________________ (1) Indian Buddhism, p. 110. (2) Kathaavatthuly. p.28 between six and seven centuries later. As records of a great work and a great crisis they are one and all meagre, jejune, all but childish. The Ceylon " epics " were the work of " men of letters " more anxious to interest reader and listeners than to recover the true. Buddhaghosa was earnest, but in him the historical sense is totally absent. Kern's damning the records as " full of glaring untruths " is too fierce a bark, but, albeit he too much mixes up event with "story ", and Patna with Ceylon, he does bring us to this important statement: " the object of the.. (congress) ... was 'to prove that the Vibhajjavadins'... were the real and original sect, i.e. 'the Sangha'." But who were the Vibhajjavaadins, or analysts, and whence the name? The four records deliberately affirm that the founder of the Sakya was " Analyst ", and hence such were all his right followers. Kern sees in the term an invention of the Ceylon (Mahaavihaara) monks. To that I would suggest that at leisure, far from the bustle and stress of the Patna crisis, it is highly improbable that the victorious and hence orthodox majority in the Sangha would have invented such a name. Once victorious, any specific name, serving as a, slogan, was unnecessary. So, at the Council of Nicaea, Athanasian fought Arian and won. Thereafter the name "Athanasian" survived only to distinguish an elaborated fixed wording of a creed; the term Arian, Arianism for a large "sect" lingered on. It was not "orthodox", not "authentic", not the Church. For me this word "the Analysts ", appearing as it does only in the accounts of the Congress, not, I believe, before or after, is a party slogan invented, probably not by the party so named, but by the lay world, interested in a great and long.struggle, into which monarchy itself was drawn. So our own English spoke lately of " Revisionist", " Anti-revisionist ". Our history abounds in such labels, discarded in the case of the winning side. Dr. Walleser, in his recent discussion of the term, submits a possible explanation in the idea, much exploited nowadays, p.29 that there had always been in the Sakya two ways of regarding certain terms: either the conventional, or people's meaning, and the meaning of philosophical intuition. And in considering the chief bone of contention at the time in the Sangha, namely, the reality of the " man " (over and above body and mind), he suggests, that the party who were careful to " distinguish " in which of those two meanings " the man " was taken were known as the Dividers or Vibhajjavaadins. Dr. Walleser does not stress the plausibility of this view, and I do not think it can survive historical sifting. Had the distinction been thought out and named: sammuti-kathaa, paramattha-kathaa-at any time preceding the Congress, we may be quite sure of one thing: it would, as a potent "silencer", have been brought forward by the orthodox debater (the "Our Speaker") in the opening and most important debate in the Kathaa-vatthu, ascribed, as his compilation, to the President Moggaliputta-Tissa. But "Our Speaker" never makes use of it. The first time we meet with it is in the Milindapa~nho, between two and three centuries later. There, anyway, such double meaning in teaching is not fathered on to the Founder. But some three centuries later we find both doctrine and libelled Father,(1) full grown, not, in the text commented upon, where it should have been used, but was not; but in the Commentary, i.e. on the Kathaavatthu. If is set forth as the peroration of the comments on that first and momentous debate. Can historical evidence, short of definite narrative, speak more plainly? It would not, of course, help the " distinction " theory were the Kathaavatthu assigned a more recent date.(2) Such a hypothesis overlooks the old "Asokan" Pali in the first debate of the book, where ke stands for ko, and vattabbe for vattabbo, vattabba.m, archaisms in Buddhaghosa's time, and corrected by him (Comm., pp. 9, 20). We come then to what I venture to suggest is a sounder _____________________________________________________ (1) He repudiated a dual way of teaching. (2) Cf. Die Sekten des alten Buddhismus, by M. Walleser, 1927. p.30 view of the sort of "hustings" term I think Vibhajjavaadin was. Let us glance at the situation. The Founder's message: The Way (through the worlds) for Everyman, Everyman walking as self-guided by inner "dhamma" --a' message cruelly "edited" as for the " recluse " only--was not the founding of a church of recluses over against a layworld. Hence he made no arrangements to secure church authority or church doctrine with reference to that world. He and his followers formed themselves (first as teachers) into such a dual body of religieux and laymen. But, there being no hierarchy and at first only a moral code, while the laity looked on, criticized, and supported, the monkworld began very industriously to disagree with itself, from the Founder's day onward. With the rise of the Mauryan hegemony, a new broader conception of unity must have stared the now preponderant Sakyan community in the face, at Patna and elsewhere. To this political development they presented a glaring contrast. They were in a fairly chaotic state of disunity. Their ablest divines, if Tissa be not a unique case, had retired from the city monastery in disgust to hillside viharas. But to win over the patronage of the busy, sagacious king to their support was of great moment. A good shopfront, paying him the compliment of imitating the new political unity, was necessary. The Congress was summoned, and like Cincinnatus or Venizelos, Tissa was induced to come back and preside over the work of unity. The records of the Congress make three statements, which from their obvious improbability call for criticism. A small highly efficient executive could alone cope with the gigantic task of revision, and of testing members of the Sangha by its results. We are told that the executive numbered a thousand, that the work of " dhamma-sangaha.m"(1) took nine months, and that the expulsions of the monks, not holding views then pronounced unorthodox, preceded the revision by which alone _____________________________________________________ (1) So Mhv. Buddhaghosa uses this and the traditional term " reciting ": sangiiti. p.31 their orthodoxy could be tested. I would suggest as a truer account that, albeit, as with the League of Nations Council, the full personnel of each general meeting was large, the actual revisers and judges may well have been, according to precedent, only eight.(1) The work of revision to be carefully done must have lasted years. With plenty of books and writing and typing materials, our own little Prayer Book Revision took twenty years. With plenty of MSS. around, the output of the gentlemen, now compiling an "authentic" version of the Mahaabhaarata at Poona, is one fasciculus per annum. But at Patna there were not even written MSS., nor any but few and awkward writing materials. There will have been repeaters, bhaanakas, from different viharas eminent as living-recordviharas: I suggest the six repositories referred to, with a distinctive opening to certain Suttas, in the Sa.myutta Nikaaya, to which I have drawn attention(2) : Saavatthi, Kapilavatthu, . Benares, Saaketa, Raajagaha, and Patna itself. And these: bhaanakas will have come in sections before the judges, according as they were Diighabhaanakas, and so forth, and have repeated, one at a time, some " bhaanavaara, " or portion of one, something like a Welsh Eisteddfodd. Where they were all in verbal agreement, if this ever was the case, the judges may not have dared to revise, had they wished to. Where there were variant versions, one had to be selected as the standard version; the rest would be either ruled out, or committed to those miscellanies we find in the third and fourth Nikaayas. Thus the Magga will have been finally entered up as "eightfold"; not because there was any inherent necessity for eight, as either logical or exhaustive, or as the one and only version, but because, down the ages, teachers and so, repeaters had elaborated the probably original " thought, word, and deed " of the really ancient tradition into variants of these, and finally, of these, eight were selected; the tenfold Way, for instance, being relegated to miscellaneous collections.(3) _____________________________________________________ (1) As at the second " Council ". (2) Kindred Sayings, iv, Introduction. (3) Diigha Summaries, M. ii. 29, S. and A.V. p.32 And as to the inverted order in time of revision and expulsions, this may have arisen from a preliminary expulsion of those ascetics, who, to get material support, "without entering,the Sangha... donned the yellow robes" and frequented the viharas. Lacking a duly attested ordination, these intruders could be summarily dealt with. To this extent I judge the order of events in the records correct; but no further. The drastic expulsion of ordained monks can only have been carried through when a unified, standardized, authoritative (' Word " had emerged as sanction. It was the one traditional sanction handed down in the Sakya as accredited to the Founder's own injunction: " The disciples' Teacher was to be Dhamma and Vinaya."(1) The Founder, did he actually say so, will have meant " your inward monitor (conscience) and your outer code of rules". But Dhamma had come to mean verbalized sets of teachings. And with Dhamma, and Vinaya now edited, revised, reworded in a Revised Version, it only remained to get rid of those whose views did not run on all fours with those of the revising committee. On what did disparity in views chiefly hinge? Let us compare the test-questions put to monks with the contents of the book Kathaavatthu. In the book, any acquaintance with it, as well as with its commentary, will leave no doubt as to the paramount importance, of the opening debate: "Is the 'man' got at(2)(' caught', Hume would have said) in the true and supreme-meaning sense? " Yet not nearly enough significance has been attached to this signpost of the past. It can only mean that the question of the man's real nature, either as a being using the body-mind khandhas, or as only those khandhas, was the chief question at issue in the fight for unity of teaching. Is our teaching to be of man as attan, with all that the venerable word implies in ancient Indo- _____________________________________________________ (1) Mahaaparinibbaana Sta. (2) Upalabbhati. Comy.: "known." p.33 Aryan tradition, or an-attan? Divorced from their early mentor, the Saankhyaa, first analyser of "mind" as distinguishable from the " man ", the majority in the Sangha had plumped for anatta, and had carried out the revision so as to make this appear as authoritative as repeaters' versions made possible. But they could not well put the damning test-questions save in terms sanctioned by oldest, most revered tradition, to wit, terms which were already used for wrong views in the Brahmajaala Suttanta, chanted as far back as the First Council. The views, there condemned, which were selected as tests do refer to the nature of the " man ", but not as to whether " got at " or unget-at-able. They turn on whether he survives death: that mighty test yesterday, to-day, and for ever. If the "man" survived death-not this death only, of course; the Indian mind was more logical than ours--then he was divine, i.e.imperishable, unchanging, not-dukkha. If he did not survive, this was the despised nihilism (uccheda). These ancient wordings sufficed for the expelling. Either view was inadmissible, let alone the other subterfuge views of the Suttanta.(1) But there remained a third alternative view, by which it had come to be held, a monk's orthodoxy might be passed. This had come, during the Congress, to be popularly known as that of the Vibhajjavaadins. Having respect to the great preoccupation about the "man", we may conclude the nickname was because of their view about just that. If only the compiler of the "Man-talk" in the Kathaavatthu had been as clear in positive statement of " Our" view, as he was in negativing the "Man"-speaker's arguments, we should not now be groping. But if we may conclude positively for him, we may say that his "Analysis" of man's nature had brought him curiously near, save in space and time, to David Hume. Namely, he does not deny that the man exists in some way. That came later; in the Milinda, _____________________________________________________ (1) "Some only survive, " and " we don't know anyway" ("Eelwrigglera"), etc. p.34 and in the commentaries, notably in that on the Kathaavatthu. But, analysing the concrete individual, he only finds the very "man" in the mind. And mind, as his Suttas entitled him to say, is "multiple, manykinded, manifold,"(1) not a unity. And there he left him. All attempts to explain survival by physical analogies in terms of result belong to later thought. The Vibhajjavaadin, following his Abhidhamma as was the vogue, pulled his "man" to pieces as so many dhammas, mental phenomena. Process in dhammas belongs to post-Patna Abhidhamma. This, then, I suggest, is how the historian of Buddhism may rightly interpret this curious name for the new orthodoxy: Vibhajjavaadin. I suggest it is no invention of later records, for it is incredible that the Sangha would have called itself by a name without lofty traditional sanction. It does not occur in the (contemporary) Kathaavatthu, but, then, no party names of any kind do occur, so we can disregard that. It was left to the commentary to supply these, and that on the " Five Books " (Abhidhamma, iii-vii) makes no claim to derive from early sources as do those on the Five Nikaayas. Suddenly the name appears and as suddenly disappears. I have suggested why. While the little " Council " had been pursuing its long arduous labours with the coming and going of summoned bhaanakas, companies of monks from the corresponding viharas and others will have been mustering at Patna, and, as our young people would say, no end of a hoo-ha was going on in waves of discussion, culminating in a great crescendo as it became known that the revision was nearing completion and the day of the Congress elections drew nigh. So viewed, it is not strange that a catchword or slogan should have arisen, maybe among the populace, maybe among the king's men (police, army, court), maybe among monks themselves, for the formidable party, now at last become corporate and articulate as such: the party, who saw; in "the man ", one who could actually, when analysed, _____________________________________________________ (1) Majjhima ii, 26. p.35 only be traced, beyond his bodily factor, in the manifold of the mind. Rather would it be strange had some such name not been lit upon. " Man is not to be valued save in terms of body and mind," and as such comes under the category "an-atta":--this, I suggest, is the milestone in Buddhist thought attained at the Patna Congress, and not to be confounded with the further milestone reached in the Milinda questions, or with the yet further milestone revealed in Buddhadatta and Buddhaghosa. The position at Patna was not one of sudden growth. It may be seen at work in the Pi.takas. But how much of what we find in these was work of earlier growth, how much was done at the Patna revisings: here is for us a problem at present insoluble. For instance, to which of the two agencies do we owe the substitution of " mind " for the more natural " man " in many passages in the Nikaayas?(1) Or the timid omission of the "man ", the attan, the satta, in the parable of the Jetavana wood?: Surely to compare body and mind to faggots being gathered and borne to burning (as at death) from the wood, and then leave the inference: " the wood remains to blossom afresh, but 'you', 'tumhe', you do not remain, for you are not, save in the faggots " is a funny, a sorry jumble unworthy of the august speaker! Is it odd that we writers on Buddhism have so slurred over all this growing divergence from the time of the Founder's caveat, that the "man " was not his body or his mind (spoken when to have denied the " man's " reality had been the teaching of a mad man) to Asoka's day? Is it odd that we feel no jolt as we pass over the intrusions and gaps in the documented. teachings, so strangely un-Aryan as to be losing sight, in their chequered history, of the truth that, whatever factors the "man " may be vibhajja-ed into, he is, before all, " he ", the user of them? the analyser in every analysis? " Jolt," indeed? Have we not rather felt a _____________________________________________________ (1) E.g. Majjhima i, 295; Sa.myutta v, 218; iii, 2. p.36 smoother going in our exploring the Pi.takas, as we noted this "mind " (manas, citta, vi~n~naa.na) functioning where, and as, other old documents would have made the " man ", the self, functioning? We have commended " Buddhist psychology" as akin to our own, at least to that of yesterday. "Akin to our own"-that's why we've slurred, that's why there was no jolt. The Analysts at Patna put the very "man"--I don't like "soul"--may I say the "man-in-man "? --behind a curtain as " unget-at-able ". But we have done the same. Our new psychology has, not so long ago, weaned itself from its mother philosophy, has analysed mind, that is, minding; and has thrown the minder, or must I say the metempirical self, back into the mother's lap. And there it leaves him. Early Buddhism, that is, Sakya was caught by the Saankhyaa vogue, in which the "man" was, as a new experiment, distinguished from" mind ", and mind analysed. And it " went one better " (or worse), adapting the Saankhyan formula: "This I am not," etc., but negating, where the Saankhyaa only accented difference. It is we who have quite unawares, but as the outcome of a somewhat similar cause, followed the Sakya. We, too, have lost sight of the wood for the faggots-ay, our philosophers do not always see it. " I grant your 'man ', if you see him as a complex: of events "... so runs a letter to me from one of them. The Founder of the Sakya told inquirers they could see themselves, if they would, in a mirror. Perhaps if we can see an episode of our own history of ideas in this Buddhist mirror, the way of a new and wiser psychology of our human nature may not be far off.