Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Early Buddhism in Balkh (563 BC)


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"Further connections between Buddhism and Iran exist (Jorfi 1994). In fact, the Pali legend claims that the historical Buddha had two Iranian disciples. Further, Buddha's physician Jivaka was taught by Iranians at Taxila ("India and Iran: A Dialogue", paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra, cited in Embassy 2005) The Zoroastrian doctrine of the Saviour (Saosyant) probably influenced the idea of the future Buddha, which later became part of the orthodox belief ("The Wonder that was India" by A L Basham, 1967, p 276, cited in Embassy 2005) Likewise, the Buddhist concept of 16 Mahajanapadas (Great States) (viz: Kasi, Kosala, Anga, Magadha, Vajji or Vriji, Malla, Chedi, Vatsa or Vamsa, Kuru, Panchala, Machcha or Matsya, Surasena, Assaka, Avanti, Gandhara, and Kamboja) was probably inspired by the original Zoroastrian concept of 16 Aryan lands of the Videvdad (viz. 1. Airyana Vaego, 2. Sughdha, 3. Mouru or Margiana, 4. Bakhdhi or Bactria, 5. Nisaya, 6. Haroyu, 7. Vaekereta, 8. Urva, 9. Khnenta, 10. Harahvaiti or Arachosia, 11. Haetumant, 12. Ragha, 13. Kakhra or Khurasan ?, 14. Varena, 15. Hapta-Hindawa or Punjab, 16. Rangha). Later, Mani, a scion of the Ashkanian family, founded an original set of beliefs and claimed to be an incarnation of the Buddha."....

Most histories of the Buddha now date his birth as several centuries later: 563 BC is a commonly given date.

"There are two versions of when the Kalachakra was taught by the Buddha. The first maintains that it was taught during the full moon of the fourth month in the year of the Buddha's death at the age of eighty. This is the variant reported by Csoma. Another version claims it was taught by Buddha one year after his enlightenment, at the age of thirty-five, on the Full Moon of Caitra (March-April), the first month of the year according to what would become the Kalachakra calendar. Most Shambhalists now seems to favor this latter interpretation. The current Dalai Lama would also seem to hold to this latter view, although he also avers that it would make more sense that the Kalachakra, being the pinnacle of his teachings (in the opinion of some) it would have been taught at the end of his teaching career and not at the beginning.

"According to a Buddhist legend preserved in Pali (an ancient Prakrit language, derived from Sanskrit, which is the scriptural and liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism), the first instance of Buddhism entering Iran seems to have been during the life of the historical Buddha, Sakyamuni (roughly 5/6th century BCE. The legend speaks of two Merchant brothers from Bactria (modern day Afghanistan) who visited the Buddha in his eighth week of enlightenment, became his disciples and then returned to Balkh (major city of Bactria) to build temples dedicated to him. Whatever the historical validity of this story, there is strong evidence to show that Balkh did become a major Buddhist region and remained so up until the Arab Muslim invasion of the 7th century.

"Trapusa and Bahalika from Balkh in Afghanistan, are attributed to be the first two lay disciples of the Buddha."....

The first account of Trapusa and Bahalika appears in the vinaya section of the Tripiṭaka where they offer the Buddha his first meal after his enlightment, take refuge in the Buddha and Dharma, ( the Sangha still not having been formed) and become the Buddha's first lay disciples.

Huang Tsang says that Buddhism was bought to Central Asia by Trapusa and Bahalika (referring to Balkh) two merchants who offered food to the Buddha shortly after his enlightment.

The era of Trapusa and Bahalika is related to the life period of the Historical Buddha .The time of his(Buddha's) birth and death are uncertain: most early 20th-century historians dated his lifetime as c. 563 BCE to 483 BCE,but more recent opinion dates his death to between 486 and 483 BCE or, according to some, between 411 and 400 BCE.

Huang Tsang recounts, having become his first disciples Trapusa and Bahalika wished his leave to return home, they asked the Buddha for something by which they could remember and honour him in his absence. The Buddha gave them eight of his hairs as relics. They made golden caskets for the relics and took them to their own city (Balkh) where they enshrined them in a stupa by the city gate. Huang Tsang recounts that theirs was the first ever Buddhist Stupa to be made and that the Buddha had first to instruct them how to erect it by folding his three robes into squares piling them up and then topping them off with his inverted bowl....John S. Strong draws attention to the important tradition that brings together several firsts ; first lay disciples of the Buddha to take refuge in him and his teachings; first meritorious food offering to the Buddha after his enlightenment; first Buddhist's monk's bowl; first words of Dharma given by the blessed one; first relics of Gautama after his attainment of Buddhahood; the first Stupa of the Buddha here on earth.

....did the Buddha in his lifetime actually teach the Kalachakra to the King of Shambhala, and did the teachings remain in Shambhala until they were introduced into India centuries later, as many traditionalists, including the current Dalai Lama, maintain

"There is also a tradition that Dzogchen,and Padmasambhava, come from a place called Oddiyana in Shamballa. Texts from this same Tun huang site identify Oddiyana as "Shamis en Balkh" in modern day Balkh, Afghanistan where many ruins, Buddhist stupas and monasteries exist. This is the town oft associated with Padmasambhava, and Rabia and Rumi as well. Although Padmasambhava is usually thought to be Indian, it is possible that he is from the Afghanistan region also associated with his name.

Elevated/raised is Persian bala and sham is Persian candle. ...CANDLE (Pers.-Ar. šamʿ). The Arabic word (Ar. also šamaʿ) literally means “beeswax” (Ebn Manẓūr; Dehḵodā), for which Persian uses mūm (Dehḵodā, Moʾīn, s.v.).

The chinese pilgrim Hsuan-tsang reported that Buddhism was widely practiced by the Huns rulers of Balkh who claimed descent from Indian royalties.

In literature, Balkh has been described as Balhika, Valhika or Bahlika. Balkh town became popular to other Buddhist countries because of two great Buddhist monks of Afghanistan....Tapassu and Bhallika, the first two disciples of Buddha. There are two stupas over their relics. As per a popular legend, Buddhism was introduced in Balkh by Bhallika, disciple of Buddha and the city derives its name from him. He was a merchant of the region and had come to Bodhgaya. First Vihara at Balkh was built for Bhallika when he returned home after becoming a Buddhist monk. Xuanzang visited Balkh in 630 when it was a flourishing centre of Hinayana Buddhism. People called the city ‘Little Rajagriha’ since it housed many sacred relics.

According to Memoirs of Xuanzang, there were about a hundred Buddhist convents in the city or its vicinity at the time of his visit there in the 7th century. There were 30,000 monks and a large number of stupas and other religious monuments. The most remarkable stupa was the Navbahara (Sanskrit, Now Vihara: New Monastery), which possessed a very grand statue of Buddha. Shortly before the Arabic conquest, the monastery became a Zoroastrian fire-temple. A curious notice of this building is found in the writings of Arabian geographer Ibn Hawqal, an Arabian traveler of the 10th century, who describes Balkh as built of clay, with ramparts and six gates, and extending half a parasang. He also mentions a castle and a mosque.

Padmasambhava reawakened a particular fusion of Manichaeism and Buddhism in the 8th century in Tibet. This revived synthesis became known as Vajrayana or Thunderbolt. The highest vehicle of Buddhism, also known as the Third Vehicle, is Vajrayana....

It is believed by some that the Prophet Mani was the source of the Dzogchen teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. Others are of the opinion that Padmasambhava is the source of the Buddhist Dzogchen teachings in Tibet. In either case, it is evident that Dzogchen was introduced to Tibet by way of Central Asia. The Dzogchen teachings are the heart of the Nyingma tradition of Buddhism, with which they are primarily associated. There is also a tradition that Dzogchen, and Padmasambhava, come from a place called Oddiyana in Shamballa. Texts from the archeological site in Dunhuang identify Oddiyana as Shamis en Balkh in modern day Balkh, Afghanistan where many ruins, Buddhist stupas and monasteries exist.

Navbahar, the main monastery at Balkh became the center of higher Buddhist study for all of Central Asia. The Tokharian monk Ghoshaka was one of the compilers of the Vaibhashaka (a sub-division of the Sarvastivada School of Hinayana) commentaries on abhidharma and established the Western Vaibhashika (Balhika) School. Navbahar emphasized the study of primarily of the Vaibhashika (Tibetan: bye-brag smra-ba) abhidharma, admitting only monks who had already composed texts of the topic. Navbahar also housed a tooth relic of the Buddha, making it one of the main centers of Buddhist pilgrimage along the Silk Route from China to India.

The word Navbehar (or its variants) appears in several locations of present-day Iran, a sign of the extent of Buddhist impact in ancient times. The Arch of Nawbahar can still be seen today near Balkh.

The many Buddhist references in the Persian literature of the period also provide evidence of Islamic–Buddhist cultural contact. Persian poetry, for example, often used the simile for palaces that they were "as beautiful as a Nowbahar (Nava Vihara)." Further, at Navbahar and Bamiyan, Buddha images, particularly of Maitreya, the future Buddha, had 'moon discs' or halo iconographically represented behind or around their heads. This led to the poetic depiction of pure beauty as someone having "the moon-shaped face of a Buddha." Thus, 11th-century Persian poems, such as Varqe and Golshah by Ayyuqi, use the word budh with a positive connotation for "Buddha," not with its second, derogatory meaning as "idol." It implies the ideal of asexual beauty in both men and women. Such references indicate that either Buddhist monasteries and images were present in these Iranian cultural areas at least through the early Mongol period in the 13th century or, at minimum, that a strong Buddhist legacy remained for centuries among the Buddhist converts to Islam.

Relics of the Buddha By John S. Strong

"Under the reign of King Ashoka of the Indian Maurya dynasty (324-187 BCE), Buddhism was helped to spread throughout the surrounding region. After his only conquest of Kalinga, Ashoka was so full of sorrow and remorse that he resolved to refrain from violence, took the vows of an upsaka (lay Buddha) and dedicated the rest of his life to helping spread Buddhism to distant parts of his Kingdom. A great number of Buddhist missionaries were sent to spread the teachings of Buddha, and rock edicts set up by Ashoka state that he sent some to his North-West territories. In 1958, edicts inscribed on rock pillars promulgating the ethical standards of Buddhist teaching were discovered in Qandahar, Afghanistan and in 1962 a long inscription entirely in Greek (later identified as parts of Ashokas edicts) was found in the surrounding area. During the first century Balkh was famous throughout the region for its Buddhist temples and the Greek scholar Alexander Polyhistor mentions Buddhism's relationship with Iran and refers to Balkh and its temples specifically. It is widely agreed that without Ashokas patronage of Buddhism, it would have remained another minor Hindu sect as opposed to the world religion it is today.

Buddhism eventually demised with the Arab Muslim invasion of the 7th century. The Muslims considered Buddhists idol worshipers and did all they could to destroy "heretical" temples and deface artwork. Even one of the most famous testaments to Buddhism in the middle east, the massive Buddha rock carvings at Bamiyan were vandalized, a task that was tragically completed when the Taliban blew up what remained of the statues in 2001 with explosives, tanks, and anti-aircraft weapons. The colossal Buddhas were cut at immeasurable cost (probably in the third and fifth centuries A.D.) into the tall, sandstone cliffs surrounding Bamiyan, an oasis town in the centre of a long valley that separates the mountain chains of Hindu Kush and Koh-i-Baba. The taller of the two statues (about 53 meters or 175 feet) is thought to represent Vairocana, the "Light shining throughout the Universe Buddha" The shorter one (36 meters or 120 feet) probably represents Buddha Sakyamuni, although the local Hazara people believe it depicts a woman.

"....The Pudgalavāda (Sanskrit; Chinese: 補特伽羅論者; pinyin: Bǔtèjiāluō Lùnzhě) or "Personalist" school of Buddhism broke off from the orthodox Sthaviravāda (elders) school around 280 BCE. The Sthaviravādins interpreted the doctrine of anatta to mean that, since there is no true "self", all that we think of as a self (i.e., the subject of sentences, the being that transmigrates) is merely the aggregated skandhas. The Pudgalavādins asserted that, while there is no ātman, there is a pudgala or "person", which is neither the same as nor different from the skandhas. The "person" was their method of accounting for karma, rebirth, and nirvana. Other schools held that the "person" exists only as a label, a nominal reality.....Among the most prominent of the Pudgalavādin schools were the Sammitiya. The distinguished Buddhologist Etienne Lamotte, using the writings of the Chinese traveler Xuanzang, asserted that the Sammitiya were in all likelihood the most populous non-Mahayanist sect in India, comprising double the number of the next largest sect, although scholar L. S. Cousins revised his estimate down to a quarter of all non-Mahayana monks, still the largest overall.They continued to be a presence in India until the end of Indian Buddhism, but, never having gained a foothold elsewhere, did not continue thereafter."....

"Mithra was incorporated as the sole successor of Gautama the World Teacher. Alexander the Great (356–323 BC) brought Greek culture to Central Asia. This gave certain influence upon early Buddhism. Buddhists developed Gandhāra style art, which was a merger of Greek, Syrian, Persian, and Indian arts. This development began during the Parthian Period (50 BC – AD 75). Gandhāra style flourished and achieved its peak during the Kushan period (60 BC-375 AD). It might have affected the rise of Maitreya cult too. Maitreya cult developed during the period from 2nd BC to 2nd AD under the reign of Bactria (265-125 BC) and Kushan (60 BC-375 AD). Sutras called “Maitreya trilogy” 弥勒三部経(Jp: Miroku-sanbukyō) were also formed during this period. The state religion of Bactria was Mithraism. Kushan adopted this policy."......


John Hopkins.....Northern New Mexico….November 2012


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