Original Buddhism and Am.rta

Rhys Davids, Caroline A.F.
Melanges chinois et bouddhiques
vol. 1938-1939
Juillet 1939
P.371-382


P.371 In the words he uses for that More which he wills life to bring him, man expresses this as what he may become, may come to be. It is then for him a vision of highest worth. It is a New that he is seeking. When it is a Less that he seeks, he will word the More as what he may come to have. Now this is the story of Am.rta. It is that of a Becoming in the New, reduced to a coming-to-have. Religions, at various periods, with varying fre- quency and with varying fervour, have made vocal man's yearning for a world which he need never leave just because he has to "die." In or of such a world, he feels he is not only, and no longer in, a More; he will have attained, that is, he will have become, the Most, Highest, Best. And by this he means he will be ever Man-in-the-New, because he has no longer about him, or of him anything that is, or can be, worn out, old, unfit, to be discarded. This feature is not a monopoly of later scripture. Nowhere for me does it find utterance with such zest and eloquence as in the Vedic hymns. Does any of you know those lines to the sacred juice Soma ów divine milkpunch, as Bloomfield with quaint scurrility calls it ów in the IXth. book of the Rigveda, where Soma is addressed as Pavamaana, the Winnowing One, or Purifying Motor?(I quote Griffith's translation.) O Pavamaana, place me in that deathless undecaying world wherein the light of heaven is set, and everlasting lustre shines! P.372 Make me immortal in that realm...where is heaven's secret shrine, where are those waters young and fresh! Make me immortal where men move even as they list, In inmost heaven's third sphere,where lucid worlds are full of light! Make me immortal in that realm of eager wish and strong desire! Make me immortal in that realm where happiness and bliss, Joy and felicity combine, and longing wishes are fulfilled! Here is no mere realm of added conditions of rest and peace ów heaven of the old and weary; here is the ever-surging life of eternal adolescence, the winning, the ever creating the New ! With language fitted almost exclusively for the needs and concepts of life in the actual, life in the More, we think and think rightly, of the Most as ineffable. We can only rightly name that which we know. As the Buddhist poem words it, with a reticence that is characteristic, but in no way sceptical: There is no measuring a man gone hence; that whereby to word him, that for him is not; in matters that to end are brought, the ways to tell to end are brought, yea, everyone!(1) The youthful courage of the Veda hymn is not so reticent, yet does this vision of fervent aspiration appeal to me as does no tombstone-vista of rest and peace. There is perhaps only one thing in the lovely lines wherein they are for me defective, and that is the irrationality of the prayer: "make me immortal!"(2) The man who is praying is immortal here and now. But he has about him the mortal. And he is praying for a becoming, wherein and whereby he may be rid for ever of his mortal appanage, his mortal instruments necessary to him for life in this or that world, i.e. a body and mind-ways of using body. But in Vedic India man was held to be only conditionally immortal. Survival of the dying of his last body was held to depend upon fit sacrifice, fit prayer ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Sutta-Nipaata, ver. 1076. 2 Maam am.rta.m k.r.dhi. P.373 by son, by priest. And the early Upani.sads, though they reveal a great religious advance, still contain such a prayer as May I,O God,become bearer of the immortal !(1) A deeper vision would have prayed for a man's becoming perfectly well. AArogya, not am.rta, should have been the word. For the man who is perfectly well, immortality follows as result; he has no further need of instruments that wear out, needful though these be for his long apprenticeship, his long wayfaring in the worlds. In leaving our Pavamaana prayer I would remind you that it is not typical of Vedic aspiration. I have found less than a dozen contexts in them on am.rta and am.rtattva. Nor are there a greater number in the Braahm.nas. But in the relatively short compass of the 13 Upani.sads reckoned earliest, the words immortal, immortality occur about 100 times. Only in the short Maa.n.duukya is no mention of them. For them, the other 12, am.rta is a keyword. Man's right aspiration is declared to be towards a state, the state of the worthy in other worlds, the deva which is void of old age, illness and death. And since death was the most serious of the three, the word representing all three was "the deathless", the imperishable. Am.rta was thus a term much in the thoughts, on the lips of teachers in the years preceding and accompanying the birth of Buddhism. Nor was it yet reduced to a merely poetic term of supramundane sentimentality. It had gained new force new intensity. For in a teaching of Immanence, then newly accepted in Indian culture, am.rta was now no longer an attribute of the great Devas only, or of a supreme world or heaven. In a dim way it was being felt that the very self, the very man, as immanent deity, potentially deity, is here and now immortal. It was man himself who was the pura, the city of the actual Immortal. And with the banishment of all that makes the man or aatmaa mortal, with ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Am.rtasya deva dhaaranii bhuuyaasa.m. Tait : 1,4,1. P.374 the taking into the very man of Deity, fear was banished. Thus we find no-fear(abhaya) a co-attribute with the immortal. The Chaandogya calls man "Brahman, immortal, fearless." The Ka.tha says: "the self, undecaying, undying, immortal, fearless (amaro am.rto abhayas) is Brahman". All devas were called immortal: "as immortal deva he becomes immortal". ów so Kau.siitakii. We can see that the term, though in form negative, is as to its content positve. Undying, or not-dying means actually "more-living". In Kau.siitakii Indra is made to say: "I am praa.na (breath of life); I am aatmaa (living spirit); as such, reverence me as life-duration(aayus), as immortality, for so one reaches fll term here, and in the next world one obtains immortality, imperishableness (ak.siiti). Our own traditional religious teaching is not free from the teaching in that last clause: in the next world.. We are told we awake to immortality at death ów a teaching for me as mistaken as to say: man is mortal, but by rite, prayer or faith can be made immortal. It is only when Buddhism lifts its earlier voice, that we see clearer notions about the long way of man, immortal but in mortal conditions. In the Iti-vuttaka we have a Sutta, I believe unique, on the dying in the next world of a deva, as a phenomenon no less inevitable than it is here. The deva on dying is expected to be returning to earth. That he might be worthy to be reborn parentless in the worthier Brahmaa-world is nowhere told; ów it is a curious lacuna. But the Sayer was only interested in the dying deva's having possibly the luck to catch a Buddha teaching on earth. But it is clear that the deva would not attain amata just by being deva. The attha or End which he sought ów this was the pre-Nirvaa.na summum bonum ów as not yet this. Attha, as we know, became depreciated, to mean, in later Buddhism "meaning" or literary "spirit" as against "letter"; in later Sanskrit to mean " business, affairs." But not when Buddhism began! P.375 Had this depreciation not taken place, we should have found the word amata linked, not as it came to be, with nirvaa.na, but with attha. Usually the linking with nirvaa.na is the explaining of amata by nirvaa.na, showing that the term nirvaa.na as summum bonum was later.(I say "usually", for I have found amata in a list of 26 synonyms for nirvaa.na.) Let us now come to the birth of Buddhism.This took effect with the word amata as a very trumpet-call to the New Word, or, to cite the Paali metaphor, as the beating of the drum that brought news. It is odd how we have overlooked this! Look at the accounts in the Paali Canon of the hesitating man Gotama, being inspired to teach and ów if we translate rightly ów what to teach. The vision has come to him, to whom, as very psychic, visions were no novelty. The man of a worthier world is begging him to teach, and it is in these terms: "Do thou now open the gate of the immortal! Teach men now perishing, and they will not perish; they will grow." There flashed upon Gotama, as he watches the water-lilies, insight into man's nature as a perpetual becoming, and he responds to the vision : "Wide open is the gate of the immortal! They who have ears to hear, let them send forth faith to meet it!" And soon after, when accosted by Upaka about his radiant mien, he ends with: "To found the kingdom of the true... I will beat the drum of the immortal in a world grown blind." I see no reason to doubt, that in this ecstatic language we have, not the enthusiasm of the metre-making editor only, but that, in great exaltation after weary doubt Gotama did utter words like these. Had the editor (as was too often the case) Had the fashioning of them, we should have found, not the immortal, but nirvaa.na. But before nirvaa.na came into the religious idiom of Buddhism, as the summum bonum, we can see, that what the earnest seeker had in mind as his quest was, not nirvaa.na, but amata, the Buddhist seeker as well as the Brahmin. The early Upani.sads, I repeat, show this over and over again. Thus P.376 Chaandogya: "This Brahman who is "in" the pura of man's heart : this should be searched for; this surely is what one should desire to know...this does not grow old; it is ageless, deathless. (8,1,4.) And Kena: "with knowledge one finds the immortal". And B.rhadaara~nyaka: "Were the whole world mine, should I be thereby immortal?" ów a woman's question. And so on. Turn now to the Paali Monks' Anthology : we find men described as seeking after amata, not after nirvaa.na: Uttiya "left the life in the world on the quest of amata" (1). And Ajjuna of Saavatthi "joined the new Jain Order thinking among them to win to amata"(2) (I cite the Commentary, which took final shape much later, but the two citations are in the story of the exegesis, and have all the appearance at least of belonging to the traditional account handed down about the two men.) But the most noted cases of search for amata are in the Canon itself, the Vinaya. These, as is known, introduce us to two famous figures, leading men of Gotama's disciples, Saariputta and Moggallaana, men who would have exerted a marked influence on the youth of the Order's history, had they not predeceased the Founder. I linger a minute over this, because it is a striking instance of the blindness of us inquirers into Buddhism, and of Buddhists, as well as an object-lesson of the way in which a new teaching, quite other than amata, was elbowing the quest for this out of the centre of the young mission's teaching. Saariputta and Moggallaana were the leading pupils of the sceptical sophist Sa~njaya. And one day, as the two were looking on at a big f í╝ te on the hillside, one said to the other: "In less than a hundred years not one of this crowd will be left on earth! " Gravely impressed they consulted their teacher about man's hereafter. He put them off with his "may be," "may not be," and they decided his teaching was a hollow thing, since for the wise man this surely demanded a Yea or Nay. And they promised ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Psalms of the Brethren, p.34, P.T.S. ed. 2 Ib. p. 83. P.377 each other that whichever first found light on the matter would let the other know. Saariputta meets Assaji, one of the first of Gotama's new disciples, and seeing him radiantly happy asks who was his teacher and what had he taught? Assaji replies nervously, as a beginner, Saariputta waxing a little impatient, then he says: "the sama.na Gotama of the Sakyans teaches the universality of causation." That is, I should judge, not with respect to the material world, but the new idea of proto-Saankhya, namely the new analysis of mind, of man's inner world, as no less subject to uniform procedure than were outward visible things. And then we are told, not that Saariputta asked whether the sama.na taught anything about amata, but that he at once got insight not into man as immortal, but into man as able to bring things to an end, namely, by stopping the cause. And more, he informs Moggallaana that he "won to the immortal," and both join Gotama. If we look critically at this odd story, we must surely conclude it is so utterly inconsistent, so irrationally so, that we are, in the documents, up against what geologists call a "fault," that is, e.g. when stratified rock is found broken into by unstratified volcanic rock. The quest for the immortal belonged to the age of the two Brahmin students. It was like a freshly superposed stratum of sand on sand strata. The finding a solution in causation was like a mass of lava pouring over the strata. If we had found Saariputta, a man of high intelligence in the tradition, finding in causation new light on his own quest, and discussing this with Assaji or Gotama, this would have been of surpassing interest. But we do not; and my solution, published a decade ago, is that we have here a mix-up of the teaching of two teachers: Gotama and another who has remained nameless but who became known a exponent of the new mental analysis. My point to-day is, that we see here the outcrop of a new vogue, winning later to the honour once given to amata, thrust by subsequent editors like a stopper into the earlier ideal: the query P.378 namely of the early Upani.sads: kvaayam tadaa puru.so bhavati? "Where does then ów at death ów the man come to be"? (B.rh., 3,2,13.) The editors of the Paali Canon have so shaped their materials as to show, that its teaching was from the first much interested in the idea of causation. But not because it may be shown to be a sheet-anchor of hope in life, namely, that you cannot initiate something new, something better without a corresponding result inevitably following. Their idea is to show that by causation you can know, that if you want to stop anything, you have only to stop the cause of it. And, as we know, a formula which became famous was drawn up ów when we do not know ów giving only this one-sided application of causation. Now we may see, in what is a very precious source of reference: ów the personal poems of monks and nuns in the Anthologies ów how for a time the older interest in amata as a religious ideal was maintained side by side with interest in causation as, if not an ideal, yet a basis in religious attitude. Of the 264 men-poets, only two or three refer at all to causation. E.g. Migajaala : Showing a vision by the light of truth Of things as come to be by way of cause.(v.422.) and Adhimutta : To him who seeth as it really is, The pure and simple causal rise of things, The pure and simple sequel of our acts, To such an one can come no fear, O chief.(v.716). In the 73 nuns' poems I find four references to causation. E.g. Sakulaa : Act speech and thought I saw as not myself, Children of cause, fleeting, impermanent.(v. 101.) Pajaapatii : Now have I understood the cause of ill, And thirst,the cause in me, is dried up.(v.158.) P.379 and Selaa : Neither self-made the human puppet is, nor by another is it fashioned; By reason of a cause it came to be, By reason of a cause it dies away. ( Sa.my. I, 134,P.T.S. ed.) and Sumedhaa: ów here the reference to cause is just an editorial comment at the end of this long, remarkable and I think written poem: Endurance in the truth the Master taught. This was the cause, the source, the root, This the first link in the long causal line. (v.521.) But we can imagine how Sumedhaa would have sent her stylus swiftly scratching many lines about causation, if it had appealed to her as integral to her faith, so much has she to say about that faith. Her very moving peroration is on the contrary all about amata. Listen! Since Amata exists, what are for thee the bitter draughts of sense ? Since Amata exists, what are for thee the fevers of desire ? Amatamhi vijjamaane :ówHow does she not reach back across the centuries, ów perhaps four of them, ów to the day of the "wide open gate" of amata? she goes on: This that doth ne'er grow old, that dieth not, This never ageing, never dying Way, No sorrow cometh there, no enemies, Nor is there any crowd, none faint or fail, No fear cometh, nor aught that doth torment, This the immortal by full many hath been won, And e'en to-day by many may be gained, So there be full surrender; he who striveth not He cannot. (v.v.506, 512-13.) Surely no one has ever got more rapture out of the negative than this Buddhist nun! If we compare her lines with those on the Soma Am.rta, you will be struck with the positive, and therefore the stronger force in the Veda lines. Yet the cloud of the negative is more in the words than in the meaning. P.380 I cannot here and now stay over the other antho- logies. But you may remember in Dhammapada, that interesting collection of the very old and the later, the line Appamaado amatapada.m, (v.21). a saying echoed in a Sutta wherein, in reply to the brahmin's question: how to make the best of this world and the hereafter, the Founder is said to have prescribed appamaado: earnestness (1). Less likely perhaps are you to know the interesting eloquent lines: When now, when then he grasps the rise and fall of many thing, rapture and joy he wins with them who can discern the deathless That. (v.374.) I found myself alone in connecting this amata.m ta.m vijaanata.m with the idiom of the early Upani.sads, but compare Aitareyya: So he knowing That became immortal. And Kau.siitakii : He who knows this having reached That became immortal. And Kena : Knowing That, the wise become immortal. And B.rhadaara~nyaka : That is the Immortal veiled by being. For the Anthologies the real rival concept is not so much causation as nirvaa.na, emerging gradually as not merely a cathartic discipline, but as summum bonum. The monks use it, roughly, as often as amata; the nuns use it far oftener. The case is the same in Dhammapada and Sutta-nipaata. When we look at the prose Suttas, we find the word amata, amatapada.m, tending to be used as a poetical notion. The majjhima calls the Buddha giver of the immortal (amatassa daataa)(2). The Sa.myutta speaks of ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Anguttara, iii, 364. 2 i, iii; 195, 224 (P.T.S. ed.). P.381 The people when they seek to cross the stream Ask for the land of immortality....(1). and so on. The word is still a name to conjure by. But there had come in, possibly from the Vedic association of am.rta with Soma-juice, the fanciful metaphor of amata as a divine liquid, not as of nectar, of ambrosia, to be drunk or eaten, by such as no longer lived by either the one or the other, but as sprinkled, as anointed by wise teaching on a hearer. Thus the aged ailing man Nakulapitar, after listening to the Master, tells a disciple, " the Blessed One by his religious talk has sprinkled me with amata(2)." When finally we come to the Commentaries and scho- lastic books, we see the word amata either stolidly identified with nirvaa.na or else passed by. Further, and this is important, if we look through the latter books, e.g. Buddhaghosa's and Buddhadatta's, we, to go by the ample indexes, find the word almost or quite ignored. It is clear that, for these monks, and their world, the word, the old concept of amata has faded out. Not for them were their pulses quickened by the throbbing of the Founder's drum of the immortal. The mere losing of a venerable term for the relig- ious ideal and substitution of another were less significant, had those monks clear vision about, not the deathless, but death; did they see, in this every time, an opened gate, an apaaruta dvaara to a finer living beyond, or, if already in a world beyond, to an advance in the discipline of opportunity afforded by life again on earth. But for them there is little of this; there is manifest a fear of death ów have you ever read Buddhaghosa's description of it? They seem to have been lacking in what the men of beyond could have told them, had they maintained the right use of Jhaana: ów that death is for all a gentle friend, ridding the dying man ów I mean of course spirit ów of the ailing body well before his last ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Vol i, p.123. 2 Sa.myutta III, I. Cf.Psalms of the Sisters,p.41. P.382 breath in a painless waiting, or if suddenly, also with no pain at all. Fear of death and dread of life beyond death because it meant more bodily life: ów such was the return Buddhism got for letting go its vision of life as a whole. And even in such vision ascribed to its teachers of the next world, where the good deed here found reward there, we only meet with a low picture of physical pleasures and comfort. We find no evidence of good life here finding reward in a higher standard of spiritual values there. You have only to read the Vimaanavatthu anthology, shortly I hope to be published, to see this. How much nearer akin is the resounding drum of the Founder's outburst to the triumphant song of the Hebrews: "Lift up your heads, ye doors, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting gates, and the Man of glory shall come in!" Or even to our own dramatist echoing those words : "Then heaven! set ope thine everlasting gates!"