Friday, July 19, 2013

Iranian Buddhism (1st C. BC)


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Ronald E. Emmerick.....The Encyclopædia Iranica is a comprehensive research tool dedicated to the study of Iranian civilization in the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent......

"...indigenous Buddhism thus seems to have effectively disappeared from the Iranian world shortly after the Islamic conquest....

"Iranians played an important part in the transmission of Buddhism to the east. Among the early translators of Buddhist texts into Chinese were Parthians, Sogdians, and Khotanese. (The earliest known of these translators was An Shih-kao, a Parthian; q.v.). But although these Iranians no doubt had contact with the west and were acquainted with Iranian cultural traditions, it was in Chinese Turkestan that they were active, and it is likely that much of the influence of Iranians on Buddhist thought and culture was actually exerted in Chinese Turkestan. There are grounds for thinking that there was a mutual exchange of ideas between Iranian Buddhists in eastern Iran and those further to the north and east."

"Introduction of Buddhism into Bactria. Exactly when Buddhism became established in Bactria is still much disputed. Some scholars argue in favor of the first century b.c., or even earlier, while others maintain that its spread was due to the Kushans (Staviskij, pp. 201ff.). Kushan influence certainly extended well into China in the first centuries a.d. This is clearly shown by, among other things, the use of the northwest Prākrit written in the Kharoṣṭhī script as the language of administration in the kingdom of Shan-shan, a short distance east of Khotan. These documents have been dated to between a.d. 200 and a.d. 320 (see Brough, esp. pp. 594-604). A Kharoṣṭhī well inscription dating probably from the second half of the second century a.d. was found at Lo­yang in China (Brough). Even in the early years of the third century there were at least two monasteries in Lo­yang, and many foreign translators were active in Lo­yang in the second half of the second century (Zürcher, 1959, pp. 30ff.). By about a.d. 400 Fahsien estimated that there were more than 4,000 monks in Shan-shan (Beal, I, p. xxiv)......

The Muslim conquerors of eastern Iran, Afghanistan, and Transoxania in the mid-8th century found Bud­dhism flourishing in a series of prosperous trading communities along the old caravan routes to India and China. Descriptions of rich monastery complexes have been preserved in the reports of Hsüan Tsang, a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim who traveled west between 629 and 645 (Beal, pp. xviii-xix), passing through Qočō (Kučā), Termeḏ, Balḵ, Bāmīān, Kāpiśī, and number of Gandharan sites on his way to India (ibid., pp. 19-24, 38-39, 43-48, 49-68). Modern excavations have confirmed the existence and wealth of Buddhist communities along the Great Silk Route. Aside from the painted cave complexes in the Tarim basin and Turkestan, Bāmīān, Šotorak, Fondūqestān, and Haḍḍa are among the sites that have yielded the most extensive Buddhist remains (see, e.g., Godard et al.; Hackin, 1933, 1940; Meunié; Barthoux). By the 5th/11th century, however, Buddhism had so thoroughly disappeared from eastern Iran and Afghanistan that Bīrūnī, usually a reliable reporter on religious minorities, was able to pass on only the most confused and fragmentary information: “Before the establishment of their rites and the ap­pearance of Būḏāsaf people were šamanīs, inhabiting the eastern part of the world and worshiping idols. What remains of them now is to be found in India, Ṣīn [China], and Toḡozḡoz [eastern Turkestan]. In Khora­san people call them šamanān, and their monuments, the bahārs [from Sanskrit vihāra; see below] of their idols, and their farḵārs [from Sogdian βṛγʾr, an adap­tation of vihāra, which it also renders in translations of Buddhist texts; Gauthiot, pp. 52-59; Gershevitch, p. 54, par. 362 with refs.; MacKenzie, pt. II, p. 208] can be seen in the border areas between Khorasan and India” (Āṯār, p. 206; cf. Bīrūnī, Āṯār, tr. Sachau, pp. 188-89). Ḵᵛārazmī (4th/10th cent.; Mafātīḥ al-ʿolūm, ed. G. van Vloten, Leiden, n.d. [1895], p. 123) mentions that buhār designates idol houses in India, and farxār idol houses in China and Sogdia.

"Descriptions of Buddhist monuments and rites in eastern Iran and Afghanistan are recorded, though not explicitly identified as Buddhist, in early Islamic histor­ical sources. The most famous such monument was the shrine at Balḵ known as Nowbahār (from Sanskrit nava-vihāra “new shrine,” a derivation that has long been recognized). In the 4th/10th century detailed descriptions were provided by Ebn al-Faqīh (pp. 322-­24) and by Yāqūt, who spent many years in Marv (Boldān IV, pp. 817-20), both drawing on a single 2nd/8th-century source. Sir Henry Rawlinson noted in 1872 that the monument described by Yāqūt must have been a Buddhist nava-vihāra (pp. 510-11), which was confirmed by V. V. Barthold (Turkestan3, p. 77; EI2, s.v. “Barāmika”). P. Schwarz pursued some of the implications of this description in 1933 (pp. 439-43). Both Yāqūt and Ebn al-Faqīh sought to explain the monument and the rites performed there as inspired by the Kaʿba and the Islamic pilgrimage; this explanation was clearly suggested by the description of a domed structure around which Buddhist worshipers performed circumambulation (pradakṣiṇa), which would have im­mediately reminded a Muslim observer of the ṭawāf around the Kaʿba. Ebn al-Faqīh added that “the kings of Ṣīn and the Kābolšāh” were Buddhists and “went there on pilgrimage.” Other rites, as well as architectural characteristics, which had no parallel in Islam, were also faithfully noted. The circular arcades (arweqa mostadīra; Ebn al-Faqīh, p. 323, Boldān IV, p. 818) mentioned in both 4th/10th-century texts probably represented the kind of blind arcade (still called rewāq in modern Afghanistan) commonly articulating the dou­ble drums of stupas. In another passage the draping of silks on the shrine and the attachment of banners (aʿlām) to the cupola are recorded (Ebn al-Faqīh, p. 323; Boldān IV, p. 818). Banners were indeed placed on early Buddhist stupas (for contemporary representations in the wall paintings from Kakrak and Bāmīān, see Bussagli, pp. 39, 124; for fragments of such banners excavated at Buddhist sites along the Silk Route, see Stein, II, pp. 840-45 and passim).

Buddhist stūpas at Kushan sites include those at Wardak, thirty miles west of Kabul, those around Kāpiśī (Begram), the Haḍḍa and Bīmarān stūpas in the Jalālābād district, ancient Nagarahāra, and the Tepe Rostam outside Balḵ. On the Soviet side of the Afghan border are the sites of Termez (Dharmamitra) and nearby Airtam, where Russian expeditions have found Buddhist remains of the Kushan period. The most interesting are the Airtam frieze and the cave monastery at Qara Tepe. The huge Buddhist monastery at Qara Tepe in the northwest corner of Termez is thought to have been founded at about the beginning of the second century a.d. (Frumkin, p. 111; Litvinsky, p. 21).

Yāqūt also noted that the worshipers at Balḵ “fixed” idols to the shrine, which agrees with archeological evidence from stupa sites, where large carved buddhas and boddhisattvas and smaller stucco images were attached to the walls. Yāqūt glossed nowbahār as “new bahār,” explaining that it was customary at Balḵ to “crown” important buildings with fragrant plants upon completion. The first plant to appear in the season was chosen. At Balḵ it happened to be the bahār (a plant with yellow flowers that blossoms in the spring, see, e.g., Lane, I, p. 266); hence the name Nowbahār. Other writers left briefer notices or descrip­tions of this monument. In 372/982-83 the usually sober and terse author of Ḥodūd al-ʿālam mentioned “the wonderful works in dilapidated condition called Now­bahār” (ed. Sotūda, p. 99). In the late 15th century Nowbahār still stood, in ruins but with some of its frescoes remaining; it was known locally simply as bahār (Asfezārī, I, p. 155). In early Persian poetry there were frequent metaphorical references to this shrine. On the other hand, there is some evidence that the pre-Islamic meaning of nowbahār as a certain type of shrine was retained until the 5th/11th century; Gorgānī, for example, used the word as a common noun (p. 56). Today no fewer than ten villages in the Mašhad-­Nīšāpūr area are called Nowbahār (Razmārā, Farhang IX, pp. 423-24); in Afghanistan there are two Now­bahārs, one near Andarāb and another near Farāh (Qāmūs-e joḡrāfīāʾī-e Afḡānestān IV, p. 132). According to Jovaynī (ed. Qazvīnī, I, p. 76) the name Bukhara is still another version of bahār, or baḵār.

Although the fame and splendor of the structure at Balḵ would account for repeated references to it in Persian literature, the occasional mention of less well­-known monuments leaves no doubt that there was a general, if somewhat confused, awareness of Buddhist structures. In the 11th-century Garšāsb-nāma there is a verse about the “shrine of Sūbahār,” which has “the pleasantness of the spring (bahār)” (as quoted by Enjū Šīrāzī, II, p. 2023; differently Yaḡmāʾī’s por negār “full of paintings,” p. 255). In another reference the author associates the shrine with the bod-parastān (Yaḡmāʾī, p. 245). Two other unusual monuments, the gigantic stone Buddhas carved out of the cliff at Bāmīān, were known to geographers and poets (Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, p. 101; Samʿānī, ed. Margoliouth, II, p. 64; Enjū Šīrāzī, I, p. 1018; II, p. 1808) as sorḵ-bot “red idol” and ḵeng-­bot “white idol.” The exact identity of these images was unknown to medieval writers, however. In dictionaries they are said to represent two lovers, and it is mentioned that they were made before Islam by “polytheists” (mošrekān; Enjū Šīrāzī, I, p. 1019). Popular stories about them became the subject of a treatise by Abū Rayḥān Bīrūnī (Saʿīd Khan, p. 74), and a lost maṯnawī entitled Ḵeng-bot wa Sorḵ-bot (ʿAwfī, Lobāb II, p. 32) by Abu’l-Qāsem Ḥasan ʿOnṣorī Balḵī (d. 431/1039-40). The theme lived on in the works of later poets, such as Ḵāqānī Šervānī and Sūzanī Samarqandī as an image dimly remembered from ancient times.

These lingering memories of Buddhist structures and idols—the word bot is probably derived from buddha­—were paralleled in Persian poetry by an array of clichés celebrating idealized beauty. For example, the bot-e māhrūy (the moon-faced idol) is described as having a face round as the full moon, eyes shaped like almonds below arched brows, and a tiny carnelian mouth; the body is said to be “silvery” (sīm-tan). Asadī Ṭūsī quotes in his dictionary the following line by Abu’l-Maṯal Boḵārī to illustrate the meaning of farḵār or bot-ḵāna “temple of an idol” (Loḡat-e Fors, ed. Horn, p. 122); “My idol (bot) came alive; its monk became inanimate/Here I am a monk to it with my house as its vihāra.” The metaphor presents the beloved one as a beautiful idol into which life has been breathed, while the lover is rendered inanimate as he is overcome with emotion. In an elaborate variation on this theme Manūčehrī celebrates a garden that has become like a monastery (bot-ḵāna-ye farḵār), where the roses are like idols and the birds like monks (šaman), whose soles the roses/idols would seem to be kissing (Biberstein Kazi­mirski, p. 8; Manūčehrī, p. 1). At a fairly early date, however, the word bot came to mean not only an image of the Buddha but also more generally “idol” and to be associated with the theme of the “beautiful Turk” (see bot). The resemblance of Turkic facial types to the idealized moon face with narrow eyes of late Buddhist sculpture may have encouraged the fusion of these poetic metaphors. Often the idol is related to places that literary and archeological evidence prove to have been Buddhist centers, as in bot-e Balḵ “the idol (Buddha) of Balḵ” (Farroḵī, pp. 166-68), bot-e Qandahār “the idol of Gandhara,” bot-e Čīn “the idol of Turkestan,” bot-e Barbar “the idol of Barbar” (the highlands around Ḡazna, where the Hazāras of Jāḡūrī were still called Hazāra-ye Barbarī at the turn of the century; Melikian-Chirvani, 1974, pp. 42, 43, 47). In the 5th/11th-century romance Varqa o Golšāh (ʿAyyūqī, pp. 67, 115), Qandahār is one of two geographical areas associated with the bot, the other being Čīn. Neẓāmī (d. 605/1209) wrote: “He saw in it a bahār as beautiful as the Nowbahār/A worshiping place by name of Qan­dahār” (p. 200). Kashmir is similarly associated with bot in early poetry. Awareness of Buddhist sculpture may also be reflected in references to the idol maker (botgar). In the 6th/12th century the poet Mahsatī wrote, “The image of the idol of tin is shamed by thy breast/The idol maker [himself] could never make thy portrait at Čegel” (Dīvān, p. 55; quoted in Jājarmī, II, p. 1163).

In the Iranian world and its periphery the memory of Buddhism thus seems to have been crystallized at the time of the Islamic conquest in the 2nd/8th century, and some writers seem to have been ignorant of the realities behind their references. As would be expected, it was the poets of the Ghaznavid court (ʿOnṣorī, Farroḵī, Manūčehrī, and later Masʿūd-e Saʿd) and the northeastern districts (Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow from Badaḵšān and later Sayf-al-Dīn Esfarangī), the parts of the Iranian world where Buddhism had flourished before the coming of Islam and survived until Bīrūnī’s time (see above), who most frequently used Buddhist imagery. Among the most evocative examples are these lines of ʿOnṣorī (p. 260): “Smiling rose, the bahār dweller [idol] is shamed/For you bring better colors than the bahār [spring] and its roses/The Qandahār image does not have sweet lips/But thou, sweet-lipped one, art a Qandahār image.” As late as the 6th/12th century ʿOṯmān Moḵtārī, a poet from Ḡazna, wrote this line (quoted in Enjū Šīrāzī, II, p. 214, and ʿOṯmān Moḵtārī, p. 8): “As long as the gem owes its splendor and value to light/As long as the world in spring becomes like the idol in the bahār.” In the late 9th/15th century Jāmī still referred to “the Buddhist shrine of Čīn and Čegel” (p. 627).

Although indigenous Buddhism thus seems to have effectively disappeared from the Iranian world shortly after the Islamic conquest, in the late 7th/13th century an imported version flourished briefly under the Mon­gol Il-khanids. Initially, at least, all faiths were tolerated within the Mongol empire (barring such practices as offenses against Mongol customary law), and the “religious classes”—Buddhist lamas, Christian priests and monks, and Islamic qāżīs and ʿolamāʾ—were exempted from the poll-tax, on the understanding that they prayed for the imperial family.....Arḡūn’s son Ḡāzān, who had been reared as a Buddhist on the orders of his grandfather Abaqa, built temples (bot-ḵānahā) at Ḵabūšān while governor of Khorasan on Arḡūn’s behalf (Rašīd-al-Dīn, III, Baku, pp. 295-96, 373-74; Tārīḵ-e ḡāzānī, pp. 78, 166). Nevertheless, it was Ḡāzān who, with all his dignitaries, finally converted to Islam on his accession as il-khan in 695/1295 and began the suppression of Buddhism in Iran. The temples were destroyed and following unsuccessful efforts to impose Islam on the lamas they were allowed to leave the country for their original homes in Tibet, India, and Kashmir."...

"Buddhism in western Iran. As for the westward extension of Buddhism it is still not clear how far to the west Buddhism penetrated. On the basis of archeology it had been inferred that it never flourished west of the line joining Balḵ to Qandahār, the so-called “Foucher line,” named after the famous French archeologist (Foucher, I, pp. 155-57; II, pp. 281-82). After Zoroastrianism had become the official religion of the Sasanians in a.d. 224, other religions, including šamans and brahmans (i.e., Buddhists and Hindus) were not tolerated, as we know from the inscriptions of the priest Kartīr (Back, p. 415). Consequently it is only to be expected that the main expansion of Buddhism should have been eastward rather than westward. Neverthe­less, the Russian discovery of a Buddhist stūpa at Gyaur Kala near Bagram-ʿAlī more than 400 km west of Balḵ in the Marv oasis was thought to have disproved the Foucher hypothesis (Koshelenko). However, even if there were isolated instances of Buddhist communities farther west, the main thesis that Buddhism flourished predominantly in the east seems unassailable. Even in the case of Gyaur Kala, it appears that the building of the stūpa was interrupted in the 3rd century and that it was destroyed in the 5th (Litvinsky, p. 29)."

"Buddhism and Manicheism. The founder of the Manichean religion, Mānī (a.d. 215-74), spent a year in the northwest of India, where he would have had contact with Buddhism (cf. Sundermann, pp. 87-90). But the introduction of Indian Buddhist terms into some of the Manichean Parthian texts makes it likely that they were composed in one of the centers where Manicheism and Buddhism flourished side by side (Sims-Williams). Such a center, indeed the most notable center, was Balḵ from the 3rd to the 8th century. The Sogdian Manichean texts on the other hand all come from the Turfan region in Chinese Turkestan, whither the Manicheans had fled from the Arabs. In this region also Manicheism coexisted with Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Buddhism (cf. Lieu, esp. chaps. VII­-VIII)."


John Hopkins.....Northern New Mexico….July 2013


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