BUDDHISM UNDER THE SUNGAS:
During the period with which we are concerned, Buddhism was far from encountering the royal favours which it had enjoyed under the Maurya emperors, in particular from its official benefactor Asoka. It lost as much as it gained. Its most important losses were the persecution by Pusyamitra and the dangers incurred by the religion from the monotheism of the Bhagavatas; to its advantage, however, were the development of Buddhist centres throughout the sub-continent, the formation of the Central Indian school of sculpture, the "orthodoxy" of popular piety, finally and above all, the efflorescence of schools and sects. This last point is of such great importance that a special chapter will be devoted to it. The other points will be dealt with here in brief.
THE PERSECUTION BY PUSYAMITRA:
As we saw earlier, the founder of the Sunga dynasty, Pusyamitra (187 B.C.E -151 B.C.E), was of brahmin origin. Commander-in-chief of the last Maurya, Brhadratha, he assassinated his master and seized the power.
He had to subdue Yajnasena, the king of Vidarbha, who had remained faithful to the former ruling family; and a double Greek invasion almost caused him to lose the throne. Freed from external danger by the dissensions among his enemies, he considered his successes sufficient to warrant two celebrations of the horse sacrifice. Once peace had returned, he re-established the old Vedic ritual, and governed with the support of the brahmins.
It is certain that he showed no favour to the Buddhists, but it is not certain that he persecuted them. Nevertheless, according to a persistent Buddhist tradition which was shared by all schools, Pusyamitra is held to be enemy number one of the sons of the Sakya and the most cruel persecutor of the religion. The following is a chronological list of the documents which the Buddhists placed in his file :
1. The Vibhasa (T 1545, ch. 125, p. 6556-c), a work by Kasmirian Arhats of the second century A.D., represents the views of the Sarvisti-vadin-Vaibhasika school. It claims that after the bloody persecution, Pusyamitra met his death at the hands of a deity under the Bodhi tree :
"Formerly, there was a Brahmin king Pu sha yu (Pusyamitra) who detested the Law of the .Buddha : he set fire to Satras, destroyed Stupas, razed Samgharamas and massacred Bhiksus. In the frontier-country ( pratyantajanpada ) of the kingdom of Chia shi mi lo (Kasmira), he destroyed 500 Samgharamas and, in other places, even more. The wicked Mara cunningly sent him Kumbhandas, Yaksas and Asuras to support his power in secret, so much so that nowhere was anyone able to resist him. Gradually destroying the Law of the Buddha, he reached the Bodhi tree. The deity of that tree, named Ti yu (Satyavak) thought : 'Here is this foolish and cruel king who wishes to destroy the place where the Bhagavat Buddhas, as numerous as the sands of the Ganges, vanquished Mara the wicked and won marvellous Enlightenment'. Immediately, this divinity manifested, by transformation, a female body of great beauty and prostrated herself before the king. On seeing this, the king was seized with desire, but as soon as the good Law-protecting deity had obtained his favours, she killed him and slew his army, as well as the troop of Asuras; none escaped her blows".
Hence, according to this narration, the brahmin Holophernes met his death from the blows of a Buddhist Judith at the foot of the Bodhi tree in Bodh-Gaya.
2. The Legend of Asoka (Divya, pp. 433-4; T 2042, ch. 3, p. I1 la 28- b 26; T 2043, ch. 5, p. 149a 15-b 17; T 99, ch. 25, pp. 1816 19-182c 2) presents a different and more elaborate version of the same event, but here again it is a work of Sarvastivadin origin.
"Pusyamitra, deliberating with his ministers, said to them : 'How can I spread my name in the world? Then there was a counsellor who replied : 'In the past your predecessor, King Asoka, erected 84,000 Stupas in Jambudvipa and gave away one hundred koti of gold. As long as the Law of the Buddha is followed and it remains in the world, his name will continue to endure. You can, O king, follow his example and erect 84,000 Stupas, then your name will remain in this world for a long time'. Pusyamitra answered : 'In the past my predecessor was powerful enough to achieve things. But as for myself, how could I carry out such work? Is there yet another means of equalling Asoka?.
There was a counsellor with perverse views who said : 'Whether one does right or wrong, in both cases one equally wins renown. Because the earlier king had been able to erect 84,000 Stupas, his glory will last for a long time. If you destroy them, your name will also be transmitted to future generations'. Pusyamitra assembled the four army units and advanced as far as the Kukkutarama monastery [in Pataliputra] with the intention of breaking open the doors bf that monastery. At that moment, the roaring of a lion was heard at the door of the monastery, and this frightened the king greatly. He did not dare enter the monastery and went away. Three times he thus returned without being able to enter. Finally, he summoned the bhiksus and said to them : 'I wish to destroy the Law of the Buddha. Do you prefer, O bhiksus, to preserve the stupa or the dwelling of the Samgha?'. The bhiksus answered : 'We wish to preserve the stupa'. There upon Pusyamitra slew the monks and destroyed the dwelling of the samgha. Applying these measures progressively as far as the kingdom of Sakala [in the eastern Punjab] he published the following edict : 'Whoever brings me the head of a Sramana will be rewarded with a gold piece'.
In that country, in a great stupa [var. in the monastery of the 'King of the Dharma'], lived an Arhat. By his supernormal powers, he produced several myriad heads of Sramanas and he told the inhabitants to have them borne to the king. The king heard about that and wanted to slay that Arhat. However, the latter entered the attainment of cessation (nirodhasamapatti), and it was impossible to kill him.
Then the king set out and went to the kingdom of Sthulakosthaka [in Uddiyana] with the intention of destroying the Law of the Buddha. Within the territory of that kingdom there was a Yak- [Damstranivasin] who protected the Doctrine of the Buddha. He made this remark : I have received and I maintain the precepts of the Buddha; I cannot harm anyone at all. How can I protect and uphold the Law of the Buddha? Formerly, the Yaksa Krmisa asked me for my daughter, I refused his request because he misbehaved. Now I must give him my daughter for the sake of the Law of the Buddha'. There was, however, an extremely sturdy Yaksa who ceaselessly protected King Pusyamitra and, because of his power, no one could harm the king. However, the Yaksa Damstanivasin [var. the guardian spirits of Bodhi] lured the Yaksa who protected Pusyamitra to the Southern Ocean. Then the Yaksa Krmisa seized an enormous mountain and crushed King Pusyamitra as well as his army. That is why that mountain is called Sunihita. King Pusyamitra was put to death and the great dynasty of the Mauryas was extinguished'
According to that version, Pusyamitra, presented as the last of the Mauryas, destroyed the Kukkutarama monastery in Pataliputra (identified with the Asokarama) and massacred all its monks. Continuing his extortions, he arrived in Sakala in the Eastern Punjab. There an Arhat who is not named but who, judging from other sources, we presume to be Kundopadhaniya, succeeded in exhausting the king's treasury. Since the latter had put a price on the heads of the bhiksus, the Arhat magically produced several myriad heads of Sramanas and, as the king had committed himself to buy them, his reserves of gold were rapidly used up. Pusyamitra then went to the kingdom of Sthulakosthaka in Uddiyana. There a Buddhist Yaksa, the official protector of the Dharmarajika stupa containing one of the Buddha's teeth, and who for this reason was named Damstranivasin, undertook to end the persecution. However, since his lay vows prevented him from fighting Pusyamitra himself, he gave his daughter in marriage to Krmisa, a foreign Yaksa who was not bound by the same scruples. Krimisa lured Pusyamitra and his army to the Southern Ocean and crushed them under a mountain.
P.C. Bagchi has identified the two victorious Yaksas with Indo-Greek kings of the second century : according to him the Buddhist Damstranivasin was none other than Menander, and his ally Krmisa, the Euthydemid Demetrius. However, this identification produces difficulties of a chronological nature if, as we believe, Demetrius disappeared from the political scene in 167 B.C.E, well before the death of Pusyamitra fixed according to the calculation adopted here in 151 B.C.E
3. The Sariputrapariprccha (T 1465, p. 800a-b) is a work of Mahasamghika origin translated into Chinese between the years 317 C.E and 420 C.E. It contains, in a more developed and even more marvellous form, an account of the persecution and death of Pusyamitra, of which this is a translation :
"After Upagupta, there was the Mauryan king Asoka; he disseminated the Sutra and Vinaya in the world. His grandson named Fu sha mi to lo (Pusyarnitra) succeeded him to the throne. One day, he asked his ministers 'What can I do to make my name live on?'. A minister said to him : 'There are only two means : to build 84,000 stupas as did the former king [Asoka], renounce the assets of the kingdom and present them to the Three Jewels : such is the first means. The second is to do everything to the contrary : destroy the stupas, abolish the Law, persecute and exterminate the fourfold Samgha : such is the second means. Thus, good or bad, your name will live on'. The king said : 'I have neither the power nor the virtues of the former king; I will therefore adopt the second line of conduct to make a name for myself.”
At the head of four army units, the king attacked the monastery of Chi chueh (Kukkutarama) in [Pataliputra ]. The monastery had two stone lions which roared and made the earth quake. Greatly afraid, the king beat a retreat and returned to the town. The inhabitants watched him shouting and weeping, and blocked the way. The king's anger increased and, not daring to return, he forced his officers to slaughter the inhabitants without warning. Then by means of a decree, he summoned the seven assemblies; bhiksus, bhiksunis, Sramaneras and Sramaneris, Siksamanas, Sramanas and Sramanis assembled. The king asked them : 'Which do you prefer me to destroy, the stupa or the samgharama?. They all answered : 'We would like nothing to be destroyed, but if that is impossible, destroy the samgharama'. The infuriated king cried : 'Why should I not do it?. So, he put them all to death, great and small indiscriminately. Blood flowed in streams. The king destroyed more than eight hundred samgharamas and stupas.
Lay people prompted by perfect faith raised their voices, uttered loud cries, lamented and became angry. The king seized and imprisoned them and had them whipped. Five hundred Arhats went up to Nan shan (Dakshinagiri) where they took refuge, and since the mountains and valleys [in that place] were deserted and steep, the army could not reach them. That is why the king, fearing that they would not be annihilated, proposed rewards and appealed to all the kingdoms, saying : 'If I obtain a head [of a religious], I will give three thousand pieces of gold as a reward'. The Arhat Chun t'u po t'an (Kundopadhaniya) and the people who, through the Buddha's mission, were responsible for the dissemination [of the Law], produced through transformation innumerable men who brought innumerable heads of bhiksus and bhiksunis and all of them received the [promised] gold, [so that] the king's coffers were completely empty. The king's anger increased. Kundopadhaniya manifested his body and entered the attainment of cessation (nirodhasamapatti ). The king became even more terrible, for the Arhat, protected by the power of the attainment, was invulnerable. The king set fire to 'Sutra Towers' (suktakutagara ), but as the fire began to burn and swirling flames were about to reach the sutras, the bodhisattva Maitreya, by means of his supernormal power (rddyabhijna). secured my (sic) Sutra and Vinaya and ascended to the Tusita heaven again.
Pusyamitra then went to the Ya ch'ih t'a 'Stupa of the Tooth' (Damstrastupa?). The Yaksa of that stupa said : 'There is a Yaksa Ch'ung hsing (Krmisa); formerly he had asked for the hand of my daughter, but I had refused him disdainfully. Today, when I have sworn to protect the Law, I will give him my daughter so that he will become my friend'. The Yaksa Krmisa rejoiced and, grasping a huge mountain in his hand, crushed the king and his four army units with it, and they all died in an instant. Then the family of the king and his posterity were completely extinguished.
After that, there was a king whose nature was excellent. The bodhisattva Maitreya created through transformation three hundred young men (kumara ) who descended among mankind in order to seek Bodhi. They consulted the five hundred Arhats [of the Daksinagiri ? ] and received instruction in the Law. In that land, boys and girls together left the world (pravrajita), and so the bhiksus and bhiksunis regained their prosperity. The Arhats ascended to the [Tusita] heaven and recovered the Sutras and Vinayas which they brought back among mankind.
This version agrees with the preceding one in giving the Arhat Kundopadhaniya and the two yaksas Damstra[nivasin] and Krmisa as Pusyamitra's adversaries, but it locates the persecution and military operations which ensued in Magadhan territory around the Kukkutarama of Pataliputra and in the mountains of Daksinagiri, to the south of Rajagrha. We are indeed concerned with a "Stupa of the Tooth", but this is not to be found in the kingdom of Sthulakosthaka in the Swat valley. No mention is made of the "Southern Ocean" where Pusyamitra supposedly met his death. Finally, in the quelling of the persecution, the Bodhisattva Maitreya intervenes here for the first time.
The story does not supply us with any information about the king "whose nature was excellent" and who came "after" Pusyamitra. It might perhaps be the Indo-Greek king Menander whose Buddhist sympathies are well-known; but more probably, one of the Kusana sovereigns who, after the fall of the sungas and Kanvas, supplanted the sakas in North West India, and also showed themselves to be favourable to Buddhism.
4. The Manjusrimulakalpa (w. 530-8), of uncertain date, also gives an account of Pusyamitra's misdeeds and ignominious end, but refers to the sovereign Gomimukhya "Great proprietor of cattle", Gomisanda "Gomin, the ox", in allusion to the Vedic sacrifices which were revived under the Sungas.
"In that inferior age, there will be a king, Gomimukhya, destroyer of my religion (sasanantadhapako mama). Having seized the east (pracim disam) and the gates of Kasmir ? (Kasmire dvaram), that madman of evil intent will destroy viharas and venerable relics (dhatuvara) and will cause the death of monks of good conduct. Having turned northwards (uttaram- disam), he will meet his death : Under the blows of an angry Amanusya, he, his officers and his animal family will be struck by the edge of a mountain, and the wicked one will go to hell ... After him will come a protector of the earth known as an adherent of the Buddha (buddhapaksa) : Mahayaksa the very generous one who will delight in the doctrine of the Buddhas".
5. An echo of the persecution is again found in the seventeenth century in the History of Buddhism by Taranatha (p. 81) :
"The former chaplain of King Nemacandra, Pusyarnitra, king of the brahmins, in agreement with other heretics made war from Madhyadesa to Jalandhara [Kasmir], burned numerous viharas and killed several monks, although most of them succeeded in finding refuge in other lands. Pusyamitra died five years later in the north".
The only point over which the sources concur is the destruction of the Kukkutarma of Pataliputra "in the east". If there was an encounter between Pusyamitra and the yaksas Damstranivasin and Krmisa, it is not known exactly where it took place : at Sthulakosthaka in the Swat valley, at the Daksinavihara on the heights above Rajagrha or in Avanti, at the gates of Kasmir or in Jalandhara. As for the death of Pusyamitra, it is in turn located under the Bodhi tree at Bodh-Gaya, on the shores of the Southern Ocean or somewhere "in the north". To judge from the documents, Pusyamitra must be acquitted through lack of proof. Nevertheless, as was remarked by H. Kern, in view of the varied opinions, it is possible that, in some localities, there may have been pillages of monasteries, perhaps with the tacit permission of the governors.
The reality of the facts matters little. Whether or not they were menaced, the Buddhists at the end of the ancient era, deprived as they were of the royal favours which the Mauryas had bestowed on them and frightened by the clash of Yavana and Saka arms on the very soil of India, believed themselves to be persecuted and behaved accordingly. Further on, we will see the repercussion this state of mind had on the sons of the Sakya.
THE VISNUITE DANGER
Far more than the so-called persecution by Pusyamitra, the successes of the Visnuite propaganda during the last two centuries of the ancient era led the Buddhists into danger, and this was all the more serious in that it was a long time before its threat was assessed.
The rival movement seems to have arisen around Mathura, in Surasena country, among the Yadava-Satvata-Vrsni population which deified its heroes or wise men, Vasudeva-Krsna, Narayana, and ended up by identifying them with the ancient Vedic deity Visnu. Several ruling families included Bhagavatas "Worshippers of the Lord" in their ranks, and it was not without reason that the ninth Sunga took the name of Bhagavata (or Bhaga), and that the first and third Kanvas were respectively called Vasudeva and Narayana. In the neighbouring kingdoms, coinage reveals the existence of a Haridatta among the Almoras, of a Bhagavatamahadeva "Mahadeva, the worshipper of the Lord" among the Audumbaras, of a Visnudeva in Kanauj.
The success of the Visnuite movement in central India, in approximately the second century B.C.E, is attested by a sheaf of concordant evidence. Already under the first Mauryas, the ambassador Megasthenes remarks that "while Dionysus (Siva) is worshipped in the mountain, Heracles (Krsna) is worshipped on the plain, especially by the Surasenoi (Surasena), an Indian people who possess two towns, Methora (Mathura) and Kleisobora (Krsnapura)" (Arrian, Ind., VIII, 4). It is a fact that the region of Mathura has yielded ancient Visnuite images : the Balarama (or Samkarsana)in Lucknow Museum bearing a club in his' right hand and a plough in his left; the Heracles in the Calcutta Museum representing Hercules overwhelming the lion of Nemea (Mathura, pl. 476). On a Gandhiran intaglio there is a representation of a four-armed Visnu receiving the homage of an Indo-Scythian king.
In about 150 B.C.E, the grammarian Patanjali makes several references to the Visnuite religion in his Mahabhasya : he speaks of Krsna and his companion Samkarsana(1 1,2,24); he mentions a "Janardana, fourth", an allusion to the group formed by Krsna and his peers, Samkarsana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha (VI, 3, 5); he records two musical performances in the temples of Rama (Balarama or Samkarsana) and Keiava or Krsna-Visnu (11, 2, 34); finally, he notes the existence, in his own time, of mimes and plays representing the murder of Kamsa by Vasudeva (111, 1.26).
The inscriptions bear witness to the expansion of the Visnuite cult, not only in Vidisa and Mathura, cradle of the religion, but also on the east coast and in the Deccan.
In the year 14 of the fifth Sunga, King Kasiputra Bhagabhadra (the Bhadraka of the Purana), the Greek Heliodorus, son of Dio lived in Taxila and was named ambassador to the Sunga court by the great king Antalikita (Antialcidas, ca 125-100 B.C.E). As a devout Bhagavata, he erected in Vidisa (Besnagar) a pillar with a Garuda in honour of Visudeva (Visnu), god of gods, and recalled on that occasion the "three immortal principles (trini amutapadini ] which lead to salvation : moderation (dama), generosity (tyaga) and diligence (apramada)" (LUDERS, 669).
In the year 12 of the ninth Sunga, Bhaga or Bhagavata, a certain Bhagavata, son of Gotami, erected a second pillar with a Garuda, still in Vidisa, near the great Temple of the Lord (Vasudeva) (Arch. Surv. Ind.An. Rep. 1913-14, p. 190 sq.).
A little later, in Ghasundi (district of Chitorgarh in Rajputana), a certain Gajayana, son of Parasari, built a Pujasilaprakara, a votive wall for the sacred stone of the Narayanavataka, in honour of Samkarsana and Vasudeva "Invincible lords and supreme sovereigns" (LUDERS 6,).
In the reign of Sodisa the great satrap of Mathura, who is believed to have been a contemporary of Azilises (10 B.C.E-5 C.E.), "the statues of the fives heroes, Lords of the Vrsni family (bhagavatam Vrsininam pamcaviranam pratimah) were installed in a stone temple (Sailadevagrha) in Mora (in the neighbourhood of Mathura) (EI, XXIV, p. 194). These are clearly the Visnuite heroes Baladeva, Akrura, Anadhrsti, Sarana and Viduratha. - At the same time and place, a certain Vasu erected a gateway (torana) and a balustrade (vedike) in the great temple of the Bhagavat Vasudeva, in the hope that the Bhagavat Vasudeva, propitiated by that offering, would show his favour to the great satrap Sodisa (EI, XXIV, p. 208).
At Nanaghat, in Northern Maharastra, Queen Nayanika, the wife of the Lord of the Deccan Sitakarna (ca 27-17 B.C.E), invoked the gods Samkarsana and VAsudeva, as well as the old Vedic deities such as Indra and Varuna (LUDERs 1, 1 12). Her example was to be followed by several of her descendants.
Laconic though these indications are, they show that the grammarian Patanjali and the pious donors were familiar with the moral doctrines of Visnuism and that, for example, the three immortal principles recalled by Heliodorus are in line with the moral homilies of the Mahabharata (V, 43, 22; XI, 7, 23), particularly the Bhagavadgita (XVI, 1-3). The Bhagavatas of the second century B.C.E seem to be fully aware of the doctrine of the vyciha or manifestations of Visnu, as it is formulated in the Mahabharata (XII, 39, 73) : "From the upper form of Visnu, called Vasudeva, would emerge the Samkarsana bound to cosmic matter by the individual soul; from the Samkarsana would spring the Pradyumna which corresponds to the organ of the cosmic mind (manas); from the Pradyumna would come the Aniruddha, cosmic egotism (ahamkara). In the navel of the Aniruddha grew a lotus in which was born Brahma to whom all moving and unmoving beings owe their existence". These vyuha moreover, are the transposition into the cosmic level of genealogical relationships, real or imaginary, in the history of the Yadava-Satvata-Vrsni clans : Vasudeva is Krsna himself, Samkarsana is his eldest brother Balarama, Pradyumna is his son and Aniruddha, his grandson.
First for their kin, then for their sectaries, these heroes, deified and identified with Visnu, are the object of exclusive attachment which was soon to turn to total devotion (bhakti). The bhagavata adherent turns from the external world in order to commune with himself and find the divine presence within himself. This sublime attainment is most often conceived as an equation between the soul and God enabling one to see oneself in all beings and to see all beings within oneself. Personal effort, or yoga, is indispensable for finding that union, but does not constitute the only means of salvation. God, in this case Visnu, aids the devotee with his grace ( prasada); he works continually for the welfare of the world and, in the event of imminent danger, he becomes partially or wholly incarnate in the form of an animal, a man, a hero or a god in order to go to the help of threatened beings. These divine descents, called avatara, are indeterminate in number. Ten main ones are known to us; among them is Krsna of the Yadava tribe, a native of Mathura.
As far as we are concerned, this is the first time that Buddhism was confronted with a living theist doctrine positing in precise terms the problems of God, the soul and their interrelationship. It is not that India had never posited them before, since in the ancient Upanisad all possible and imaginable solutions to philosophical and religious questions are set out in a more or less meaningful form. However, early Buddhism arose in an environment which was alien to those speculations or, if it was aware of some of them, it relegated them immediately to those indeterminate points (avyakrtavastu) about which it is useless, even dangerous, to express an opinion. Throughout the Buddhist canon, there is only a single passage (Anguttara, I, p. 174) in which the problem of the Lord God is considered, and it is resolved merely in the negative : "Those who attribute everything to the creation of the Lord (issaranimmana) have no further desire for action, make no further effort to do this or avoid that". As for the Buddhist attitude regarding the soul, it is - to say the very least - resolutely anti-spiritualist, since all the phenomena of existence are said to be transitory, painful and devoid of substance (anatman).
When Visnuite propaganda put theism and spirituality back in the forefront of actuality, the Buddhists were compelled to reconsider the problem. They began by getting information about the theories of their adversaries, without trying to minimize their importance. To the old list of heretical sects drawn up in the Anguttara (111, p. 276), the canonical commentaries (Mahaniddesa, I, p. 89) were henceforth to add the sectaries of Vasudeva and Baladeva. The great Buddhist scholars were fully informed about the implications, whether Visnuite or Sivaite, of Hindu theism and Brahmanical speculations concerning the Trimurti : Brahma, Visnu and Siva. Here, we will merely give as an example three passages from the Upadesa of Nagarjuna :
"Mahesvara, the Great Lord, has eight arms (astabhuja), three eyes (trinetra) and his mount is the white bull [Nandin]. Visnu, 'Universal Hearing', has four arms; he holds a conch (Sankha) and a disk (cakra), he is mounted on the golden-winged bird [Garuda]. The god Kumara holds a cock (kukkuta) , handbell (ghanta ),a red standard (lohitapataka) and his mount is a peacock (Sikhagata)" (T 1509, ch. 2, p. 73a). - "After the Kalpa's fire, everything is empty; then, through the causal power of beings' merits, winds arrive from the ten regions and, colliding and touching, can uphold the great waters. On the waters, there is a man with a thousand heads, two thousand arms and two thousand feet, named Visnu. From his navel issues a precious lotus with a thousand leaves and golden in colour, the brilliance and rays of which are like the combined light of ten thousand suns. On that lotus, there is a man seated, his legs folded, who in turn possesses infinite light. He is named Brahma, the king of the gods. That Brahma mentally gives birth to eight sons, and those eight sons engender the sky, earth and men. Brahma has completely eliminated all desire and all hatred" (Ibid., ch. 8, p. 116~)-. "There are gods who claim supremacy and who, in their arrogance, assert that they are the creators of the beings and things of heaven and earth. Thus Brahma, the king of the gods, said to the other Brahmanas : 'It is I who created you'. The god Visnu said: 'All the rich, noble and glorious men in the universe are portions of my person. It is I who created the universe and it is I who destroy it (cf. Giti, VII, 6). The creation and destruction of the universe is my work'. By speaking thus, those gods destroy the doctrine of the dependent origination of all phenomena" (Ibid, ch. 10, p. 128a).
Many similar passages could be quoted in other Buddhist works such as the Mahaparinirvanasutra (T 374, ch. 19, p. 476b), the Madhyamaka- Sastra by Nagarjuna (T 1564, ch. I, p. I b), the Satasastra of Aryadeva (T 1569, ch. 1, p. 168a) as well as his Treatise on the Nirvana of the Heretics (T 1640, p. 157c), the Commentary on the Satasastra by the Parthian Chi tsang (T 1827, ch. 1, p. 244a), etc.
It now remains for us to discover to what degree the Buddhists allowed themselves to be influenced by the rival propaganda. Distinctions need to be made. The great scholars of the Mahayana and the Hinayana, versed as they were in the study of canonical texts, showed themselves to be resolutely unwilling to accept spirituality or creationist theism, whether it was of Visnuite or Sivaite origin. Not content with repeating afresh the refutation of the Atman - see, for example, chapter IX of the Kosa - they did not hesitate to attack the gods of Hinduism and the philosophical concepts which supported them.
The verses cited by Nagarjuna in his Upadesa (T 1509, ch. 2, p. 730) say in substance that the wise man, whatever his particular devotion for the unpretentious minor gods may be, does not believe in God and does not rely on God. The gods of Hinduism, those of painting, sculpture, tradition and hymns, always appeared armed, and that warlike attitude can only be explained by fear and wickedness. In fact, they can do nothing for men : those who revere them do not avoid suffering or death; those who scorn them may well enjoy good fortune on earth. The truth is that in this world the destiny of mankind has no other explanation than action which automatically finds maturation, and gods play no part in that.
The argument developed by Vasubandhu in his Abhidharmakosa (11, pp. 3 1 1-13; V, p. 19) is more philosophical. It can be summarized as follows : To say that things occur through a single cause, or through God, Mahadeva or Vasudeva, is not acceptable for several reasons :
1. If things occurred through a single and immutable cause, they would all occur at the same time, whereas everyone knows that they occur successively. If the order of their occurrence in time depended on causes outside God, God would no longer be the single cause. –
2. God creates for his own satisfaction or for the satisfaction of creatures. If the creates for his own satisfaction, that is because there is something to be gained, and he is not god. If he creates for the satisfaction of others, how is it possible to explain that the latter remain subject to all kinds of suffering?
3. To assert the creative activity of God is gratuitously to posit an invisible and uncontrollable cause, while neglecting the visible causes the efficacy of which can be ascertained at any time.
The clarity of this position adopted on the philosophical level in no way prevented good neighbourliness between the Buddhists and the Vaisnavas. Both religions have many points in common : each gives the same importance to ahimsa, and the doctrine of the Visnuite avatara has its counterpart in the Buddhist concept with regard to the Buddhas of the past which is attested in the canonical texts (cf. Mahapadana Suttanta, Digha, 11, pp. 2-8) and depicted on the ancient sculptures of Bharhut and Sanci. Although they were still very close to the original Buddhism, certain Hinayanist sects, particularly that of the Mahasamghikas whose presence in Mathura is confirmed by the Lion Capital (Konow, p. 48), were to some extent influenced by Visnuite doctrines : the Lokottaravada which proclaims the transcendence of the Buddha was possibly provoked and at any rate favoured by the devotional atmosphere with which the Bhagavatas, in Saurasena country or Avanti, surrounded their chosen deities.
However, it is particularly the Mahayanists who were influenced by Hindu theism; in the Lotus of the Good Law, the Buddha, who impartially displays identical concern for all creatures, is the brother of the Narayana who declares in the Gird (IX, 19) : "I make no difference between all creatures; none do I hate, none do I love", and it is symptomatic that the Lotus so often qualifies the manifestations of the deeds of the Buddhas as vyuha (pp. 117, 146, 209, 219, etc.). A curious Buddhist text which has yet to be edited, the Suklavidarsana does not hesitate to explain certain theories by worldly quotations and to resort to the authority of the Gita. Finally, the great Buddhist scholars such as Aryadeva (T 1640, p. 157c), Chi tsang (T 1827, ch. I, p. 244a), P'u kuang (T 1821, ch. 7, p. 140a) were the first to note the strange resemblance which connects the Mahayanist theory of the Three Bodies of the Buddha with the Visnuite and Sivaite lucubrations on the three bodies of Isvara.