Humanistic Momentum in the Buddhist Literature


                                                                                                                         By. Dr. Bandana Mukhopadhyay

Research Associate, Gr. II

The Asiatic Society, Calcutta


Buddhist Literature: a core of Humanism


The sayings of Buddha and those of his disciples and followers came under the caption to the Buddhist literature, Traditionally, Ananda is said to have narrated the sayings of Buddha in the First Council of Rajgriha after the demise of Buddha. However, the Buddhist literature has comedown to us in different languages like Pali, Prakrit, Apabhramsa and Sanskrit among the Indian languages and also in Tibetan, Chinese, Sogdian, Uighyur, Mongolian, Korean and Japanese in translation speak about humanism, he Buddhist literature is wide and multi dimensional. But it speaks about that which the human being require. In that respect the Buddhist literature preserves the core of humanism. Here core of humanism suggests no only the material and physical need of the human beings but also their prospective gain.


Humanism, as it is generally understood refers to the activities concerning the human progress in the world. the word 'Humanism 'comes from the Italian phrase 'humanista' or teacher of the studia humanistatis or humanisties. It is a concept derived largelyu from Cicero. 


Humanism is the renaissance literary cult of the so-called 'New learning.' 'New because it is believed that such studies are the higher expression of human values rather that religion. And it becomes a means in developing a responsible human beings It is basically a philosophical outlook centered on the freedom of man as a dignified, rational being, possessing within himself the source of truth and right despite of the broad definition of man is a rational anima. The scope of hu78manism is to discover man's greatest good in this finite existence. Its spirit is secular liberal and tolerant that which leads to the perfection. From this angle Gautama Buddha may be regarded as a humanist of all ages. He took every care with an emphasis an the deeds performed by a human beings. Gautama Buddha teaches how to observe meritorious deed s to attain the effulgent merits in this world and here after.


Care of human problems by Gautama Buddha


The prince Siddhartha had left the princely life of this palace and preferred the life of the recluse with a vow to redress the suffering of human beings. He experimented it in the individual as well as in the social context. He experienced that a human being is but par of nature. A human being is subject to be changed under cause and condition as that occurs in the physical world in every moment. These are the extrovert outlook. Gautama had also the perspective of introversion He could witness that which occurs within self in body, in speech and in the mind. He experienced that the human mind function conditionally with reference to an object which a person grasps. It there suggests three relative factors:

1.       The person who grasps (skt. grahaka)

2.       The object to grasp by a person (skt. grahya); and

3.       The function of grasping in each case (grahana)


He therefore experienced that

a.        Changeablity of the natural phenomena occurs even in the ethereal space.

b.        As the natural phenomena are changeable they have no innate substance or essence (anatta) i.e. they are momentary (Khanika).

c.        As there is no essence it tends to the suffering." (Jati pi dukkham appiyehi sampayogo dukkho, piyehi vippayogo dukkho, Yam p' iccham na labhati tam pi dukkham, Samdhittena.Pance Upadanakkhandhapi dukkha):". Under such circumstances all phenomena and the psychic factors becomes momentary. The Buddhist literature devotes to present the above formula in the context of the time (kala and space (desa). 


The concept of Nagarjuna's (C. 150 A.D.) sunyata which appears to be a raqdia\cal expostion of the essencelessness with its four dimensional variables i.e. existence (bhava), non-existence  (bhavabhava), no existence non existence (Nabhavabhava). this analysis of sunyata or essence-less-ness regarding the individual go and the natural phenomena leads to the subtle exposition about the momentary changeableaness. 


As a result of that sunyata supersedes to the relative knowledge and that is equated with prajna (wisdom). a new turning point in the Buddhist literature arose when the sunyata or essencelessness was interpreted in the context of a person's endeavor to serve for the cause of humanity. It is a concordance with the theory and practice which Sakyamuni experienced. the Buddha is he, who devoted to the service of the world for all times-the past (das-pa) the present (daltawa) and the future (ma ons-pa). He is therefore sarvajna.


According tot he tradition preserved in the Buddhist literature Sakyaputra Gautama instructed his followers: You move by twos for the good and welfare of the human beings and the divine ones.


"caratha bhikkhavae carikam bahujanahitaya bahajana

Sukhaya lokanukampaya atthaya hitaya Sukhaya

devamanussanam.       Maekena dve.



In the context of the present paper the use of divine beings and subsequently the inclusion of innumerable divine deities of Buddhism occasio0nally put forth a confusion. In fact divinity is the imposition of supra-rationality which is beyond the limitation of an ordinary person. the concept. of Gotra from  prthajana (Phal pa) in the ascending order up-to Buddhagotra -(Sans-rgyas-rig-pa) justifies the significance of purusasimha or purisottama.


In the Indian thought the word "Deva" which is derived form the root div suggests a glorified one with high potential. Buddhism appreciate the potential of each and every sentient beings or Bodhiseed (Bodhivija) containing in the bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is the seed of all Buddha meditation. It also beocome the region of being omniscient, so that the Bodhi dharma i.e. Sukladharma sprouts. the siksasamuccaya quotes the Aryagandavyuha sutra as follows.


"Bodhicittam hi kulaputra vijabhutam sarva Buddhadharmana Khetrabhutam sarvagaccshukladharmavirohanataya.    


The graded steps of human perfection with a vow to dedicate for the welfare of other is elaborately explained in the Bodhisattva-Bhumi like the Dasa-bhumika Sutra and Asanga's Yogacarabhumi.


6. yathavadi Tathakari


The personality of Gautama Buddha is epitheted by this apposition to him Yathavadi tathakari:" He performs that which he speaks; the human mind is pure, calm, clean and transparent-like a crystal. A persona is there fore by nature devout to himself. But a veil (Nivarana or avarana) is gained by attachment (raga). hatred (dvesa) and delusion (Moha). Obviously a person comes under the Law of dependent origination (rten' brel gyurwa). Probably, it is the core of humanism. Self perfection makes a person humanist. Failing that a person becomes a manifestation of hypocrisy of all ages with no responsibility. So Gautama the Buddha succeeds as a humanist.


Multi-dimension of the Buddha Literature


With the above perspective the Buddhist literature is unique of its kinds in which theory and practice have been interwoven in every state of their feasibility. The texture of the Buddhist literature is there by symbolic. as a result of that many sayings of Buddha appears to be mystic to us. However. the World today has been aware to appreciate what Buddha had said. In the ancient India. However, the Buddhists ahas toe face challenges and compete with the followers of the Vedica priests, subsequently the Upanisadic teachers and later on the eminent philosophers like Kunarila Bhatta (620-680 A. D.) Sankaracarya (circa 1st half a room to develop Buddhist literature multi-dimensional. To promote the above cause the Buddhist introduce their specific system of education in contrast on the Kulapati system of the Rsi-culture and those of the Jaina arahants.  


The Buddhist monastic centers of education from Taksasila in the west to Rangamrittika int eh east and from Kantipura (Nepal) in the north to Kanchipuran in the south had once been a glamour of generating Indian wisdom. The basic structure of Buddhist education was based on the Buddhist monastic code of discipline (Vinaya vastu) and the subjects taught there were broadly five-fold:

1)        Language-study (Sabavidya)

2)        Logical study or Reasoning study (Hetuvidya)

3)        Healing science (Vaisajja-vidya),

4)        Crafts and aesthetics (Silpavidya) and lastly,

5)        the study on spiritual development (addhatmavidya)


So the Buddhist literature developed in various ways in different periods when the Buddhist teachers had crossed the boundaries of the land of Buddha.


For instance:


Southeast Asia Srilanka and Burma


Buddhism had entered in Sri Lanka. Burma and South-east Asia as earlier during the reign of Asoka as the Ceylonese chronicle the Dvipavamsa, and Mahavamsa and to the traditional history mentions, It was not a rosy picture almost in all places, the Buddhist monks had to surrender with the local forces. Because those local forces were not non-human, nor tyranic, nor devilish. Those did not always conquer with the sayings of Buddha. But the Buddhist monks  were advanced with the spirit of doing good and welfare of the antagonists.


The gnat worship was prevalent in Burma similarly the devil worship practice had been followed in Sri Lanka prior to the advent of the Buddhist monks like Mohendra an Samghamitra. Similarly in the south east Asian countries several dreadful rituals where observed to appease the hostile forces of the nature. The nature is not always benign, it is cruel, inimical even to a certain extent. Ina dense forest the cactus desires to taste the warmth of the human blood. A nature worshipper prompts to satisfy such talent to save extent devilish behavior by cruel practices which may go against the pratimoksa rules of the vinaya code of discipline. But the Buddhist had to compromise  and to incorporate them for the cause of human being.


Central Asia and Tibet


Buddhism probably went to khotan when Asoka was on ;the throne. Several Avadana stories speak about the adverse situation which the central Asian monks had faced in Khotan, Kasgar and karasar in the Gobi desert. Geographically central Asia includes the Gobi desert consisting of present day upper Mongolia, inner Mongolia and out Mongolia Even some of Jatakas stories leaves some hints about the Kantara deities who had been severe hostile and alien. Shamanism awas prevalent in those area since the olden days. (Ri-Iha) Mountain deities, river deities (chu-Iha) and local inhabitants. as a result of that in the Buddhist pantheon of northern countries like Tibet and Central Asia some many fierce deities are in vogue dpal-Idan-Iha-mo may be cited for instance. In this regard Waikonitz Nebeski had enumerated many deities. Moreover, the Bonpo priests are said to have been experts in occult practice as the Tibetan chronicles mention. Despite that Buddhist speak with a spirit of compromise and give and take attitude to develop the Buddhist culture. The Buddhist literature in Tibetan becomes not only Buddhistic but also of assorted kin in which Bon and pre-Bon elements could enter. The translation literature from the Indian origin and the Chinese translation is there fore praised by Tson-Kha-pa more that those of the Tibetan authors on the ritualistic practice of mantra (shags) China, Japan and Korea.


China, Japan & Korea


In China Buddhism entered in the first century a. d. when thoughts of Confucious and Lao-tse had been predominant. In Japan also Shinto practitioners were predominant when Buddhism entered in the Sixth century A. D. .In Korea, Buddhism have entered earlier than Japan. In Japan, china and Korea several Buddhist teachers have to compromise with the local thoughts and ritual. From Central Asia Several Buddhist Tantra teachers went to Korea, China and Japan. Clark in the two volumes of Lamaistic Pantheon have elaborately shown a large number of Buddhist Icons with the Tantric emanations.


The Tantra in Buddhism in an important chapter of spiritual  enterprise to achieve the goal where the human world becomes close to the cosmos. It would not be an exaggeration to mention that he Tantra in Buddhism has now been and integrating factor to unite the east and  the west. The Tibetan erudities and the practitioners have succeeded to open a new horizon of human Understanding through meditation and spiritual appeasement for the last few decades when the tension in the fast life caused by the technological progress makes the human world uneasy and diseased.  


As a result of that the Buddhist literature achieved a credible success to get the strong foot-hold under adverse circumstances for the last two centuries. Buddhist studies. among the academicians agent a new impetus in exploring its multi-dimensions all over the world.


In brief the Buddhist literature now stands in a glorious momentum of progress for the cause of the universal human interest.



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