BUDDHISM IN BURMA AND ASSAM
- Origin and history.— the common assertion is that Buddhism was first established in Burma by Buddhaghoṣa from Ceylon about A.D. 450. The delta lands were not even called Burma then, and the Mons or Talaings were the inhabitants, to the complete exclusion of the Burmese proper. The capital of the Burmese was then Pagān. It is supposed that the fighting, which ended in the destruction of Tharekettara (the modern Prome) and the building of Pagān, was carried on by settlers from India, some of whom had come by ship to Prome, which was then on the sea, and others who had come to Northern Burma by way of Manipur. These last were certainly Mahāyānists, who followed the canon drawn up by Kanishka, at the synod held at Jalandhara in the Panjab. The Mon converts, and assumedly the Indian immigrants, were Hīnayānists, who adopted the canon of Aśoka, formulated by him at his synod in 250 B.C., held at Pāṭaliputra. This canon was taken to Ceylon, where it has been followed ever since. Pagān was established about the beginning of our era, and Tharekettara, the site of which is a short distance east of the modern Prome, had been a famous capital for something like five centuries before this.
There is no real history of Burma till the time of Anawrahtā, who succeeded to the throne of Pagān in A.D. 1010, and is renowned as the first Burmese national hero—a sort of Alfred the Great. He began the struggle between Burma proper and Yamanya, between the Burmese and the Mons, which did not end till 1756, when Pagān was captured and Rangoon founded. This was also the struggle between Buddhists of the Northern
canon and Buddhists of the Southern ; between Sanskrit and Magadhi, as the Burmese call Pāli ; between the Mahāyānists and the Hīnayānists, the Great Vehicle and the Little Vehicle. The doctrinal form of the conquered was imposed on the conquerors, but this came about through the personality of the originator of the great struggle.
Serpent-worship had been followed for about a hundred years before the time of Anawrahtā. It was grafted on the Kanishka canon by a usurper king. Saw Yahan, and the ministers of this debased religion were called Ari or Ariya, ‘the Noble.’ They lived in monasteries, but are said to have been of dissolute life. Their robes were blue like those of the lamas of Tibet and China, and they let their hair grow two inches long. Anawrahtā was converted to the purer form of Buddhism by a wandering monk, who is called Arahan, and is therefore practically nameless. The first act the proselyte king was to send a messenger to the Mon king, Manuba of Thaton, asking for a copy of the Tripiṭaka, the three Caskets of the Law. King Manuha refused. Anawrahtā made no second request. He raised an army, marched to Thatōn, levelled the city with the ground, and brought everything—the Books of the Law, the king Manuha, and the people—in a body to Pagan. From this time dates the erection of the temples which make Pagan so remarkable a ruined city, and also the spread of the present form of Buddhism over all the land of Burma.
This is the common story, and it may very well represent the establishment of Buddhism of the Southern school throughout Burma ; but the slow disinterment of buried cities and the study of Chinese and Tai annals seem to show that Buddhaghosa had predecessors as missionaries, and it is
quite certain that there were Buddhists in Burma proper, long before Buddhaghoṣa’s time.
Hitherto the assumption has been that Buddhism firmly established itself in Burma about the time when it was beginning to disappear in India. It may be true that it was then first universally accepted in the form which it retains to the present day. it seems very clear, however, that Buddhism had been introduced long before, perhaps only to struggle with the Animists, who then inhabited the country, but at any rate had been introduced and stayed, and was certainly not merely a tolerated religion.
Buddhaghoṣa landed at, or near, Thatōn with his volume of the Scriptures. Thatōn was then certainly on the sea-coast, but Forchhammer maintained that the apostle landed, not at the modern Thatōn, but at Golanagara, which lies twenty-two miles north-west of it. This is quite possibly the site of the original Thatōn, for the changing of capitals was always a characteristic of the peoples of Burma, whether Burman, Mon, or Tai. There are frequent references to the struggle between Brahmans and Buddhists in the coastwise lands before this, and it seems quite probable that there is some truth in the legend, believed by all Burmans, that king Dhammathawka, as they call Aśoka, sent two missionaries, Thawna and Ottara, to what we call Burma, after the sitting of the third great synod in 241 B.C.
Kanishka, the last and probably the greatest of the three great Buddhist monarchs of Northern India, is commonly called the Constantine of the East. His date is very uncertain, but the best authorities seem to agree that he ascended the throne about A.D. 120. He carried Buddhism to far-away Khotan. He defeated the armies of the emperor of China, and he beat back the attacks of the Parthians. It is possible that it was he who introduced Buddhism into China and Japan.
But the name of the Buddhist monarch best known in Burma is that of Aśoka (Dhammathawka), who was crowned in 269 B.C. and reigned till 231 B.C. He was the grandson of Chandragupta, the petty chief who founded the Maurya dynasty, the great military monarchy that held the whole of India from Patna to the Panjab. Aśoka was the greatest of these Maurya monarchs. He was converted to Buddhism, and made it the State religion of all Northern India. Kanishka is called the Constantine of the East, but Aśoka was both a Paul and a Constantine. Ho sent missionaries over all the world known to him. He ordered the dedication of stūpas to the Buddha in the remotest parts. It is nearly certain that he introduced Buddhism into the Tai kingdom of Nanchao, which had its capital at Tailfin, and remained there till it was overthrown by Kublai Khan.
The Burmese Buddhists know little of Kanishka, but the name of Dhammathawka is well known, and tradition credits him with the foundation of many pagodas with the bones and relics of the Buddha.There are such stūpas at Tavoy, Moulmein, Toungoo, and Thayet in Lower Burma. There are many of these shwemōkthos and shwemōkdaws in the Upper Province, and even farther off still, in the tributary Shan States : at Kyauksè, Sampenago, in the Bhamo District ; at Pwela in the Myelat, round the Inle lake, and in many parts of the hills. They are all implicitly credited to Dhammathawka, and it can hardly be that some of them are not on the list of the 84,000 which he ordered to be built. It is perhaps significant that the Burmese royal history says that a band of kṣatriyas came after the founding of Tagaung (old Pagan) and established a capital which they called Mawriya, in the neighbourhood of the present village of Mweyen.
When the Maurya empire broke up, Buddhism did not cease to be the dominant religion of the north of India. The Questions of Milinda give us the history of the conversion of the Greek Menander and of his disputations with the sage Nāgasena. The Bactrian Greeks, though they were pushed southward and farther south by the Sakya, or Hun tribes of the Scythian steppes, established a great kingdom in the Panjāb, and Menander’s empire was hardly less extensive than that of the warlike Aśoka, and even included for a time the sacred Magadha. The Scythians themselves were not content with driving the Greeks across the Oxus. They pushed on and established the Kushan dynasty, and seized the Middle Land itself, the sacred heart of India. It was then that Kanishka fixed his home in the holy city of Peshāwar, and it was there that he received and befriended Yüan-Ch’ang (Hiuen-Tsiang), the Master of the Law, the great traveller and writer. Kanishka built a great audience-hall for the monks, and a noble relic-tower. It is not impossible that this is the shrine discovered in 1909. Kanishka also convened a great council to examine and codify all the Buddhist writings. The canon which we now have was laboriously drawn up and engraved on copper. It was buried in the relic-chamber of a pagoda, and, since the ashes of the Buddha claim to have been found after more than 2500 years, possibly this canon also will be discovered in the same neighbourhood.
With the death of Kanishka the decay of Buddhism in India began. It seems likely that the growth of Buddhism in Burma began at least then, and probably earlier. At any rate, everything seems to show that the theory that it did not begin till five centuries later is mistaken. All the researches of the very poorly supported Archæological Department in Burma tend to establish the certainty of the early connexion of Burma with India, and indeed to prove that the Burmese race came from the north-west, and not from the north-east ; from the northern slopes of the Thian Shan range, and not from any part of the modern China. The Burmese Chronicle, the Mahāyāzawin, asserts this, and all recent discoveries tend to prove that it is right.
In the year 1908-09, excavations conducted under the direction of Taw Sein Ko at Hmawza have conclusively proved that the Northern school of Buddhism was established at Prome, the ancient Tharekettara. Votive tablets found at the Legu pagoda, and the sculpture there, are in the same style as the familiar Gupta work of Northern India. It seems, therefore, indisputable that there was communication between the kingdom of Tharekettara and Northern India, when the Guptas (A.D. 319-606) rose in Kanauj, and the term ‘Pāli’ began to be used instead of ‘Magadhi.’ Magadhi declined as the Guptas rose, just as Kosali declined when Magadha conquered and annexed Kosala. It may be asserted with some confidence that communications did not begin with the Guptas, and that there was connexion between Burma and India long before, and that Buddhism came much earlier than has been hitherto believed.
Neither the Mahāyānists nor the Hīnayānists use the tongue in which the Buddha Gautama preached, the widely diffused dialect of Kosala, or Koshala, where he was born and brought up. After his death Kosala was conquered, and Magadha took its place. The edicts of Aśoka were issued in Magadhi, though history records that the Sanskrit of the Veda was still in official use at the court of his grandfather, Chandragupta. Kosala was the ancient land of Oudh, and Magadha is the modern Behar. Rhys Davids, however, points out that the official tongue of Magadha differed from the local Magadhi, or Kosali, in many little ways, because it was based on the tongue which Gautama spoke, the dialect which had been the form of speech used by Rama and his race. The literary form of Kosali was known as Pāli, that is to say, ‘canonical,’ because the Pāli, or canon, of the Buddhists was composed in the ancient dialect of Oudh.
The relation of Pāli to Sanskrit may be roughly compared with that which the Romance languages bear to Latin. Because it became the language of the Buddhist canon, Magadhi gradually came to be called Pali, and so identified itself with the reformers. Sanskrit remained the form in which the orthodox Brahmans expressed themselves. It may be noted that the people of Burma and Ceylon still prefer to use the old name ‘ Magadhi instead of ‘ Pali.’ Magadhi, at the time of the missionary journeys of the first Buddhist apostles, was a sort of lingua franca, as Hindustani or Malay is now, and the Sinhalese language is, as a matter of fact, derived from Magadhi. Any one talking Pali could probably make himself understood by the people of Ceylon, just as a Yün-nanese can understand a Peking Chinaman, or a Lao Shan can follow a Siamese on the one side, or a British Tai on the other.
It seems to be proved beyond reasonable doubt that Buddhism was established both in Southern and in Western Burma long before the hitherto accepted dates. Very probably it got no great hold on the country. It is also probable that the Mahāyānist school was much the more strongly represented until the time of Anawrahtā. It can hardly be doubted that some of Asoka’s apostles visited and settled in both Upper and Lower Burma. Probably, however, the missionaries of Kanishka were much more numerous and more successful.
By the time of Kanishka, Indian Buddhism had lost the simple morality and ‘ agnostic idealism,’ as Waddell calls it, of its founder, and had taken in much from the Bhagavad-Gītā and from Śaivism. It had become ‘a speculative theistic system with a mysticism of sophistic nihilism in the background’ (Waddell, Buddhism of Tibet, p. 10).
It is unfortunate that the age of Kanishka is very imperfectly determined. We have so far records varying from the year 3 to the year 18, and the learned are at variance as to whether these are years of reign or years of an era. Fleet holds that they refer to the Samvat era, while others take them to refer to other eras with omitted hundreds. The net result is that Kanishka may be placed anywhere between 56 B.C. and AD. 288 —rather a wide interval for a monarch who made his influence felt from the upper reaches of the Tigris to the Great Wall of China.
It has been authoritatively asserted that the Mahāyānist form of Buddhism was introduced into Burma by Chinese missionaries in the 4th century. If for this we read Tai or Shan missionaries between the 1st and 4th cents., it will probably be much nearer the truth. Hīnayānist Buddhism had probably come in a tentative way with Aśoka’s apostles before this, and, as is clearly established, Mahāyānism penetrated even as far as the Malay Peninsula, not at all impossibly through Burma, at the time when Buddhism is generally credited with being first planted in Burma itself.
The Northern school may certainly be called corrupted in comparison with the first teaching of the Buddha, and it was still further corrupted by the Tantra system. This was founded by Asaṅga, a noted monk of Peshawar in the Panjāb, and is a mixture of magic and witchcraft with Śiva-worship. This was grafted on the already corrupted Buddhism, and has left many traces in Burmese Buddhism. The religion which existed in Pagān before Anawrahtā’s rape of the king and the religious books and the people of Thatōn was a medley of naga- or serpent-woship, Tantrism, and Mahāyānism, with not a few traces of Tibetan lamaism, which came with the 8th cent, and possibly gave the country the word pōngyī, or ‘ monk,’ which may be compared with bōn-gyepa, the Tibetan bon, ‘mendicant.’
The professors of the Northern school of Buddhism, the Ariya of Pagan, were full of superstitions, and they were workers of miracles. Burnouf had little respect for them. ‘ The pen,’ he says,’ refuses to transcribe doctrines as miserable in respect of form as they are odious and degrading in respect of meaning.’ How long they had been found in Pagan there is nothing to show. It is, however, quite certain that the autocrat Anawrahtā effected the fusion of the two schools in the 11th century. He finally put an end to the Ariya, but traces of Mahāyānism have clung to the outward form of Hīnayānism in Burma ever since. If the religion may be said certainly to may belong to the Southern school, it may no less certainly be asserted that it was moulded by the Northern. But Buddhism can hardly be called a religion. In its concrete form it is rather a sort of philosophy practised by a monastic organization like that of the Dominican or Franciscan Orders.
- Buddhist Scriptures and religious works.
The canons of Buddhism may have been the work of an immediate disciple of the Buddha, drawn up at the first council in the year after the benign one’s death, but it is certain that the canon of the canon the Tripiṭaka was really first, settled at the council held under Asoka in the 3rd cent. B.C. From the inscriptions we may rest assured that at that time the most important part of the Buddhist canon existed, as we now have it, divided into five portions.
The miracle-mongering Mahāyānists enlarged the original canon to a huge extent by expanding the texts of the original documents, by adding material of their own, and by entering into compromises with any local form of popular superstition ; but however the individuals may have affected Burmese forms, this canon was never adopted in Burma. The Buddhist of the Southern school may be a scientific freethinker, as Lillie calls him, but he maintained with great tenacity the purity of the early Buddhistic teaching. This exists in the canon of Ceylon, and it is this form which Burmese Buddhism implicitly adopts. The Burmese also recognize only the Pāli, the canon language. This is as distinctively the language of the Hīnayānist school as Sanskrit is of the Mahāyānist. When the natives of India began to use Sanskrit as their literary language, from the 2nd cent. A.D. onwards, the people we call Buddhists gave up writing in Pāli, though they probably understood it. But the books they wrote in Buddhistic Sanskrit were new books. We find that the Buddhistic Sanskrit texts abound in wild, extravagant, and exasperating digressions. Such works as the Lalita Vistara, the Buddha Charita, and some others are based on the old myths of Asia. In these we can detect the common origin of the story of Bacchus, of Krishna, and of many other gods and heroes.
The last census of India showed that out of nearly nine and a half million Buddhists in the Indian Empire, all but about 300,000 are in Burma. Ceylon may be regarded as the holier place by the Buddhist, possibly even by the Burmese Buddhist, but since very shortly after the permanent establishment of Buddhism in Pagān by Anawrahtā, Burma has consistently held a very high place in the interpretation of the authentic Buddhist Scriptures in the language which they language which they call Magadhi, or the Mula-bhasa, and Western scholars call Pāli. This Magadhi, or Pāli, has been to the Burmese what Latin was to the mediaeval scholiasts and scholars of Europe. This has been so much the case that Burmese writings dealing with matters of religion or philosophy are as full of Magadhi terms as European scientific phraseology is filled with classical terminology.
Since the 11th cent, there have been produced in Burma, in the Pāli language, great numbers of religious works, grammatical treatises, and dissertations on philosophy, which have attained a reputation far beyond the limits of Burma. They have been studied in Siam and perhaps not least in Ceylon itself.
The palm-leaf manuscripts spread so much that copies may be found both in Ceylon and in Siam, in any monastery which pretends to a respectable library ; and of later years, when all the more noteworthy works of Burmese authorship have
been printed at the local presses, Burmese treatises have become still more common.
The reputation is well deserved. The Burmese bhikṣus, since the days of the Pagān monarchy, have been noted, ‘not merely for their study of the Abhidhamma, but for scholarly researches in the canons which deal with metaphysics and psychology. For centuries monks from Siam and from Ceylon have come to study in Burmese monasteries, which have always been rich in commentaries and exegeses on the Abhidhamma (q.v.). Only one specimen of this literature is to be read in any Western language. The Dhamma-saṅgaṇi was translated in the first few years of the 20th cent, by Mrs. Rhys Davids under the title of Buddhist Manual of Psychological Ethics. This introduction to Buddhist metaphysics is the shortest of the canonical works, but it is to be followed by a translation of the Saṅgaha by Mrs. Rhys Davids in collaboration with a Burmese scholar, Maung Shwe Zan Aung. A Pāli dictionary is also in process of production to take the place of Childers’ dictionary, which has fallen far short of the knowledge and needs of the Western student of Pāli.
- Religious education.—While the Buddhist monks of Burma have long been noted for their scholarship, the Buddhist people of Burma have been no less noted for their education. The percentage of literates among the men is almost as high as it is in Ireland, and is higher than the proportion in Italy. Burma has less than a third of the population of the Madras Presidency, yet the number of literate persons is very nearly the same. The census figures of 1901 are not nearly so favourable as those of 1891, because at the latter census a much higher proportion of hill peoples were enumerated, and, besides this,- the number of natives of India in the country had largely increased. Still, even on this less favourable estimate it appears that, on an average, of every five persons in Burma one individual would have been found who could read and write. The proportion of literates is much higher in the rural districts, and especially in Upper Burma, than in the delta, where the number of illiterate immigrants from India is very considerable.
The credit for the superiority of the Burman is entirely due to the monastic schools. These have existed for centuries, much as they may be seen now in country places. If the śrāmanas had done nothing else, they would deserve honour for the way in which they instruct the boys of the country. The theory of Buddhism is essentially selfish, or at any rate it encourages selfishness.(?) Each individual must work out his own salvation, and no one else can help him, except by example, just as the Buddha is a model not only for the people, but for the bhikṣu himself. There are no regular services held by the mendicants ; no preaching of sermons at stated times ; no assembling of congregations ; no religious forms for burials, or births, least of all for marriages. Some energetic and zealous monks do read homilies and deliver sermons, but there is no need for them to do so, and there is no summoning of the religious to attend. The one religious ceremony is the admission of the novice to the Order, when the postulant has completed his studies, has decided to put off the world and join the company of the samanera, and this is really a continuation of the teaching of the youth of the country. It enables the creature to become a human being, for no Burman can claim to have attained humanity until he has put on the yellow robe, and the ceremony of initiation is intended merely to provide that no one defective mentally or physically shall
enter the Noble Order.
At the age of eight or nine every Burman boy goes to the
monastery school, except in the towns, where the people are degenerate, and, as often as not, are half-Chinese, half Muhammadan, half-Hindu, or half-English, and go to the Government or Mission schools. In the country villages – and the Burman is not a lover of towns, but essentially a tiller of the soil—it may be taken for certain that every one sends his boys to the monastery. There they begin by learning the alphabet, shouting out the letters at the top of their voices, and copying them out with steatite pencils from the roughly made black wooden board on which the teacher-monk has written them.
As soon as the boy has learnt his alphabet thoroughly he is started on his first text. This is practically always the Mangala-thut (Mangala Sutta), which may be translated, ‘ the Buddhist Beatitudes.* It is made up of twelve Pāli versicles, with a short introductory preface. In the version given to the schoolboy each Pali word has its Burmese equivalent. This is learnt ploddingly word by word, and verse by verse, and the pupil is not considered to have mastered it till he can repeat the text and its translation without blundering or hesitation of any kind. After this the meaning is taken up word by word and stanza by stanza, and the whole is explained in simple language. The choice of this poem is a most admirable one, for the Pāli is exceedingly simple, and the sentiments are of the most elevating kind. After the text and its meaning have been thoroughly learned, the easiest rules of grammar in connexion with the Mangala-thut are explained. Time is of no object to the monk or the boy, or to the Burman of any age or position ; and the study of” ‘ the Beatitudes ‘ in many cases takes a year, more or less, according to the application and the intelligence of the pupil. But when he does know the text, he knows it thoroughly.
The second text taken up is generally the Nāma-kāra of Buddhaghosa, which is a short lyric, composed in a moment of inspiration by that apostle. A small treatise giving a list and description of the most excellent things is often studied instead of the Nāma-kāra. These are : the Nine Excellences of the Buddha the Six Excellences of the Law; and the Nine Excellences of the Assembly of the Perfect. This also is in verse, as indeed is the case with by far the greater part of the literature not merely of Burma, but of the rest of Indo-China and of India. By the time the monastery schoolboy has got through the Mangala-thut the Nāma-kāra and the Book of the Excellent Characteristics of the Church and its Founder, he has acquired considerable proficiency in both reading and writing, and he is able to go on to the study of the works of Shin Silavamsa, Shin Ratthasara, and others of the poetical composers of the Burmese classics. These are the most noted writers, and it is only after he has mastered them that the young Burman student begins to read the Ten Great Zats, the descriptions of the avatāras of the Buddha, which are in prose. It is with these prose works that the Western student usually begins his Pāli reading.
But the monastic scholar does not merely read these easier poetical works. Step by step he continues his grammatical studies with them, and the meaning of the text, and its applications to the Buddhist religion, are exhaustively explained to him by his bedesman teacher. From the very beginning the boy is taught, with many illustrative examples and stories from
the Scriptures and from the Commentaries, to shun evil in thought as much as in deed, because it is an obstacle to progress towards a higher form of life, and final emancipation from the sorrow of earthly existence. He is taught to be upright and pure, not in the hope of escaping punishment, but because of the peace of mind which rewards him. He is taught in reverence of parents, wife, children, and teachers ; and, above all, the duties which every Buddhist owes to the Lord, the Law, and the Assembly are impressed upon him. He is in fact educated in everything that a proper citizen owes to his country, to society, and to himself. The theory is excellent, and the education of the monasteries far surpasses the instruction of the Anglo-vernacular schools from every point of view, except that of immediate success in life and the obtaining of a post under Government. At the time when the boy is at his most impressionable stage, his mind is built up, instead of being buried in a mass of ill-digested information ; and his heart is being trained instead of being ignored.
A boy whose parents can permit him to stay on in the monastery, and are willing that he should learn (the literature of his country, instead of the science and wisdom of the western nations now passes on to the Parittam, the Lawkaniti , the Dhammaniti, and the Rajaniti . The Parittam, or book of Protection, is a collection of excerpts in prose and verse from the Tripiṭaka, each of which is supposed to be a safeguard against some calamity or danger; against evil spirits, plague, pestilence, and famine, fire, battle, and murder, snake-bite, and even against poison. The Lawkaniti teaches him worldly wisdom; the Dhammaniti gives further moral instruction; and the Rajaniti is a work like The Prince of Macchiavelli, compiled, to suit , Oriental ethics, by the sage Chanakva.
Many pupils stop far short of this. In the old days all parents who could afford to keep their son idle let him proceed as far as this if he had the necessary intelligence and industry. At this point, however, ordinary teaching ended. If the pupil continued his studies, it was usually as a sāmaṇera, or novice. The boy was dressed up in princely robes to recall Siddartha’s renunciation of the world. He made the tour of the town or village in jubilant procession, with troops of gaily dressed maidens. He bade farewell to parents, relatives, and friends, entered the monastery, and went through the customary examination before the head of the community. Then his head was shaved. He was robed in the yellow monkish garments, had the begging bowl hung round his neck, and fell in among the body of the mendicants. He received his religious name, which he kept for the rest of his life if he remained in the Order, and remembered only as an incident he went back to secular life.
Tlhe old-fashioned rule was that every youth should spend three Lents (roughly from July to October) in the monastery and conform to all its rules, including fasting after noontide and going on the almsround in the morning. One Lent was for the father, one for the mother, and one for the sāmaṇera himself. To spend less than one entire Lent was considered hardly decent. Western influences, however, have taught many that life is not long enough for this, and the Lent is often cut down to a month, a week, or even a few days. Three days is considered the shortest period that is respectable. The novices, of course, go on with their studies. The code of the often cut down to a month, A week, or even a few days. Three days is considered the shortest period that is respectable. The novices, of course, go on with their studies. The code of the Vinaya, the Buddhist Discipline, the doctrine taught in the Dīgha Nikāya, and, finally, the psychological ethics of the Abhidhamma, are as much as the most apt are able to study before they are qualified for formal admission to the Order.
The Southern school of Buddhism has never recognized a hierarchy. There is nothing like the system of Tibet, which is so surprisingly like that of the Church of Rome, even to the practice of the confessional and the recognition of purgatory. The need for unity and the requirements of church discipline, however, call for some sort of grading, and a system of classes is recognized, which is very much the same as existed in the time of the Buddha himself.
There is, firstly, the shin, the novice, or samanera, who is not a professed member of the Order; secondly, the upasin, who, after the prescribed time, has been formally admitted to the Order, and becomes a Sramana or bhikṣu ; and thirdly, the pōngyī, or ‘great glory,’ who, by virtue of not less than ten years’ stay in the monastery, has proved his steadfastness, and becomes a thera. In actual practice there is a slightly extended system of grades: first, the shin, or postulant; second, the pyitshin, the full member of the Order ; third, the saya, the head of the monastery, who never has fewer than ten Lents ; fourth, the gaingōk, whose control extends over groups of monasteries ; and fifth, the sadaw, who might be compared to a vicar-general. The thathanapaing, or Grand Superior of the Order, in the time of the Burmese monarchy, was appointed from among the sadaws, and had a council, called the thudhamma, varying in number from eight to twelve. In 1904 the British Government recognized in formal darbar a thathanapaing, chosen by the sadaws, and gave him a formal patent, and it is probable that this course will be followed in the future.
Notwithstanding these ranks, however, the religion is eminently republican in character. The monasteries are open to all,—to the peasant and to the highest dignitary,—and the longest stayer has the greatest honour. Rank counts by number of Lents spent in the monastery, no matter whether the bhikṣu is a provincial or merely a wandering friar, .and individual dignity releases no one from the duty of the daily begging round. Nothing except the frailty of age excuses the most learned and famous sadaw from the morning round. The bedesman’s robes are the same for the postulant and the member of the thudhamma. The monk has no obligation to bestir himself on behalf of his fellow-monks or the laity. He is not called upon to convert the unbeliever or to reassure the doubter. All he has to do is to work out his own salvation. But he teaches the youth of the country, and this binds the entire population to his support. He not merely teaches them letters, but forms their mind and character. The nightly vespers, when the lauds are chanted and all bow three times before the figure of the Buddha, and three times before the head of the monastery, are more impressive than the most eloquent sermon would be.
- Schism.—There is very little non-conformity, to say nothing of heresies, among the Burmese Buddhists. For years there were bitter disputes as to ordination, after Anawrahtā had established Hīnayānism in Pagān. Chapada, the monk, had received the upasampada ordination from the theras of the Mahāvihara in Ceylon, and he loftily denied the validity of the orders conferred on the Burmese religions of the old school, called the Mavamma-saṃgha, not less than those of Purima Bhikkhu-Saṃgha, who claimed apostolic sanction from Sona and Uttara, said to have been sent forth by King Asoka. These bickerings ended only with the destruction of Pagan itself, and they have never since been revived.
The sects of modern times have mostly risen out of revolt against excessive austerity, or as a protest against reprehensible laxity. There are a few communities, called Sawtis or Muns, who are anti-clericals. They neither reverence the mendicants nor support the monasteries, and some do not even worship before the Pagodas, but recite their prayers in the open fields instead. The doxologies which they use are the same as those repeated by the they use are the same as those repeated by the ordinary orthodox Buddhists, and the schism is unimportant. The disputes between the Mahāgandis and the Sulagandis are simply the sempiternal quarrel between the ascetic and the weak of flesh, between the High Churchman and the Low, the Catholic and the Puritan, the emotional and the austere. These differences have some dignity imparted to them by the assertion of the Mahāgandis that man is endowed with free will. This the Sulagandis deny, claiming that a man’s whole life is controlled entirely by kan (karma), the influence of past good and evil deeds on existences to come. The Sulagandis attribute all importance to the intention ; the Mahāgandis think that action is sufficient and the intention immaterial.
- Spirit-worship.—But doctrinal schisms are insignificant compared with the undoubted fact that all Burmese Buddhism is tainted with spirit-worship. The Southern form of the faith triumphed, but the Northern belief in magic and devil-worship has left lasting traces on the religion of Burma, and still more on the Buddhism of the Shan States.It is not merely that they recognize the Twelve Guardian Spirits, whom they have borrowed from the Hindus. The nats, the spirits of the air, the flood, and the fell, are much more present influences to the Burman than the calm, philosophic model of the Buddha. The nats are constantly consulted and propitiated. The Buddha is, as a rule, directly addressed only on worship days. .Spirit-trees sometimes intrude into the limits of the monastic grounds, and spirit-shrines are to be seen in the shallow of the pagoda, and have as many offerings as the relic-shrine. .-And the spirits, as always, are malignant, and have to be propitiated. The World-Renowned One is long-suffering and benign. Moreover, he is only a model. The spirits are everywhere, and they are malicious, and constantly active. So the Burman does his best to serve both, and has the greater bias towards the spirits.
There is a pagoda at, or near, every village in the country, and probably also a monastery, but there is a spirit-shrine in every house, and the spirits are consulted before houses are built, marriages made, bargains struck, or journeys begun. In the times of native rule, spirit-feasts were formally recognized by the State, and the ritual was very carefully set forth in lengthy treatises. Moreover, there is a precise list of ‘The Thirty-seven Nats (spirits) of Burma,’ with forms of the odes to be sung to them, the dances to be performed before them, the vestments to be worn on the occasion, and the life histories of these anthropomorphic deities.All this is written at length in the Mahāgīta Medani, and presentments ot the Thirty-seven Nats are to be seen in the curtilage and enclosure of the Shwezigon Pagoda at Pagān. Further details of spirit-worship are to be found in the Deitton, of which a summary is given in Father Sangermano’s Burmese Empire (1833).
Notwithstanding all this, the Burman would be greatly offended if he were called a spirit-worshipper, and genuinely believes himself to be a most orthodox Buddhist.
The census of 1901 showed that there were 15,371 monasteries in Burma. This gives an average of over two for each village and town in each province, and implies one monastery for every ninety-three houses. In these religious houses there were 46,278 fully ordained monks and probationers, and 45,369 acolytes, wearing the yellow robe. There were thus more than 91,500 wearing the bedesman’s robes, and this represents 2.5 per cent of the male population of Burma. Perhaps Burma is not so conspicuously the centre of Buddhist religious life and learning in Indo-China as it was in the time of the Pagan dynasty, from the 10th to the 13th century. In those days fraternities came to Pagan from Ceylon, then called Sihaldīpa ; from the conquered Haṁsavatī (Pegu) ; from Ayutthaya (Siam) ; from Kampoja (the Shan States) from Nepāl, and from China ; and each sect or fraternity had separate quarters given in which it could live. But even now, notwithstanding the spirit-worshipping taint, Burma can claim to maintain Buddhism in a form nearer that of the Buddha’s teaching than any other country.
- Buddhist architecture.—(a) Monasteries.—The Burmese monastery never varies in design. Some few may be built of bricks ; most are of timber. In very poor neighbourhoods, they may be of bamboo, but the ground plan is always the same. The pōngyī–kyaung so strongly resembles the wooden temples of Nepal that it can hardly be doubted that the model came from there, or that both have a common origin. The whole building stands on poles, and there are technically only two rooms (if they can be called rooms). In some cases there may be partitions, but there are never any doors, so that the whole interior is practically one hall. A staircase, generally of brick and stucco, frequently embellished with dragons, leads up to the verandah. The verandah, called zingyan, is open to the sky, and runs round three sides of the building, and from this there is free entrance on all three sides to the main body of the monastery, which is really one big chamber. The flooring rises in steps. There is one grade from the verandah to the outer chamber, where lay visitors find their place ; another step up marks the entrance to the inner chamber, where the monks sit ; and a third rises to the structure, always on the eastern side of the building, where the image of Gautama Buddha is enthroned. Over this is built the tiered spire, called the pyathat, shooting up in regularly diminishing, super-imposed roofs to the hti, or umbrella, which is placed on the top. Both the
spire and the umbrella are marks of sanctity, and
the spire has three, live, or seven roofs, according to the dignity of the pōngyī–kyaung, or rather of its head. The wood for a monastery is always chosen from the best and most seasoned logs available, or within the means of the pious founder. Sometimes these are excessively large. At the south-west corner there is a chamber, which is used as a store-room. On the west side there is another, which the younger members of the community use as a dormitory. The head of the house, whether sadaw, gaingōk, or plain pōngyī, sleeps at the south-east corner of the building, that is to say in the part closest to the hpaya-kyaung, where the image of the Buddha is. The north-eastern part is used as the schoolroom and for the reception of visitors, and has the appearance of a separate room, but is not really so.
Outwardly the monastery looks as if it had several storeys, but this is never the case. The national, and still more the religious, feeling against having any one’s feet above the indweller’s head is very strong. The outside line is broken up into apparent pavilions, with a profusion of gabled roofs, culminating in the eastern spire, all adorned with carvings, lavished on gables, ridges, eaves, finials, and balustrades, greater or less, according to the wealth of the founder. No monk, it may be remarked, can build a monastery for himself, nor can he ask to have one built for his accommodation. The monasteries are the only national buildings, now that there is no palace, which make any attempt at ornamentation.
A pōngyī–kyaung is never, at any rate when it is first built, inside a village or a town. Dwellings may spring up around it later, but always at a considerable distance. The monastery always has the best and quietest site, and stands in a spacious compound, fenced in and planted with umbrageous trees and bamboos, and often with fruit trees, flowering shrubs, and rare and curious plants. The monastic library is invariably detached from the main building, to avoid danger from fire. Within a certain limit from the monastery fence, pillars mark out a boundary, inside which the taking of any kind of life is forbidden. All Buddhist visitors take off their shoes or sandals as soon as they enter the hparawaing, as the monastic curtilage is called, and carry them to the foot of the staircase, where they are left until the visit is over. Inside the monastery compound, but perhaps more frequently on a site of its own, is the thein, where monks are admitted to the holy Order. This is seldom more than a spire, rising over a lofty pillared space for the ceremony.
(b) Pagodas. — The characteristic pagoda of Burma is a solid pyramidal relic-shrine, such as is called a tope or a stūpa in India. The masonry temples are almost entirely confined to Pagan. The Arakan temple, the Mahāmyatmuni of the suburbs of Mandalay, is almost the only notable example outside of that ruined city.
Pagoda is almost certainly a metathesis for dagoba. The Burmese name is zedi or hpaya. The Burmese recognize four kinds of zedi : first, dat-daw zedi, containing relics of a Buddha or of a rahanda ; second, paribawga zedi, erected over the clothing or utensils of a Buddha or of a sainted personage third, dhamma zedi. built over sacred books or texts; and fourth, udeiksa zedi, containing images of the Buddha or models of sacred buildings. The last two classes are naturally by far the most numerous.
It is the desire of every Burman Buddhist to be known as the founder of a pagoda, and sacred texts and facsimiles of noted shrines are obviously more easily obtained than relics, or even exact models of relics. The vast majority of zedis are of brick, covered over with stucco, and white-washed at intervals during the founder’s life-time. Very rich men gild either the whole shrine or the spire.
Many of the most famous shrines, notably the Shwedagon in Rangoon, have been cased and re-cased and cased again many times. The original shrine was of quite modest dimensions, and a tunnel, which was driven into the centre of the Rangoon zedi at the tune of the First Burmese War, showed that it had been enlarged in this way seven times. The original pagoda is thought to have been only twenty-seven feet high and to have been erected in 586 B.C, The present spire rises to a height of three hundred and sixty-five feet.
The modern Burmese pagoda is undoubtedly the lineal descendant of the ancient Buddhist stūpas of India, and the development of the type can therefore he traced for a period of over two thousand years. The oldest forms were massive and simple. The modern ones have fined away into slender spires, and have added a great deal, in the way of exterior adornment. They have gained in elegance, but have lost in grandeur.
All the more notable pagodas have palm-leaf thamaings, or chronicles, very often containing much that is of interest in secular history. Like the monasteries, they all stand on a wide open platform, and on this there are built numbers of smaller pagodas, shrines, rest-houses, tazaung pyathats, crowded with tier upon tier of images of the Buddha, altars for offerings, and tagōn-daings, flag-staffs crowned with umbrella htis, metal caps, or figures of heraldic creatures. The approaches to the pagodas in very many cases are along covered ways called saungdan, the sides of which are adorned -with fresco paintings, and the stairways are mostly in groups of steps of uneven numbers, just as, according to immemorial rule, the stair to a monastery must have an odd number of steps.
Pagodas, as far as structure is concerned, are divided into four distinct parts. There is first the terrace. This is square, and is usually of brick or mason work. At the comers are often found the manōtthiha, the curious, human-faced lions, with one head and two bodies, embellished with wings. They inevitably recall the ancient winged lions of Assyria. Upon this terrace stands the plinth, usually of an elaborate polygonal form, and with a boldly moulded, stepped contour. Above this rises the bell-shaped body of the pagoda, divided into an upper and a lower part by an ornamental band. Upon this stands the spire, which is made up of a number of rings : a lotus-leaf belt, with a bead moulding in the centre, and lotus leaves fringing it above and below. The spire ends in a spike-shaped cone, which is finished off with the metal-work crown, or hti. This is usually very graceful in design, made of open metal-work, very commonly gilt, and always hung with bells, sometimes of gold and silver and studded with gems.The Burmese divide important pagodas into twelve parts, most of which are symbolical sub-divisions of the spire portion of the zedi.
The symbolical meaning of the different parts of the pagoda is not universally recognized by the Bumiese, but it is a favourite subject of discourse with many monks, and seems to have come to Burma from the Shan States and perhaps from China. According to this view, the four-sided base is intended to represent the dwellings of the four great world-kings, ‘Chaturlokapalas,’ whose figures are enthroned within the four arched shrines, and who act as (guardian spirits of the world.
The eight-sided centre, called shittaung, is the tuṣita heaven. It is here that Arimadeya or Maitreya, the Buddha of the next world-cycle, dwells, and with him are all the other Bodhisattvas, or Buddhas in embryo, awaiting the season when they will descend to the earth as Buddhas.The upper bell-shaped portion, above the circular moulding, called the kyiwaing, is intended to represent the highest heaven, where the Buddhas go after they have attanied to complete enlightenment and have fulfilled their high mission. This is called the kaung-laungbōn. Another symbolization represents the five diminishing terraces of the base, to stand for Mount Meru in its five-fold division; or a triple basement recalling the three worlds of kāmaloka (sense), rūpaloka (form), and Arūpaloka (shapelessness),the Benign One, called Tilokamahita, being ‘the revered of the three worlds.’
(c) Temples.—The masonry temples of Pagān are not nearly so characteristic of the country, though they are the pride of Burma. They are absolutely different from the national zedi, and the general details may almost all be traced to Indian art, but at the same time there are notable originalities. The arches and vaults resting on their pilasters, with cornice, capital, and base, are quite foreign to Hindu architecture, and suggest rather the Bactrian Greeks of the time of Milinda. In one sense, therefore, they are Burmese, for nothing like them is to be found anywhere else. Unlike the pagodas, the purpose of these temples is to contain, not relics, but huge images of the Buddha. This naturally affects their plan, and instead of rising in bell-shape they are constructed in gradually diminishing terraces, and are only capped by a spire of the type of the ordinary Hindu śivālaya, or perhaps more like the Jain temples of Northern India. The Thapinyu temple has only one shrine, directly below the sikra, to receive the image, but the Ananda has four, with presentments of all four Buddhas of this world-cycle, fronting to the four cardinal points of the compass. A striking feature is the narrow slit windows, so placed that a shaft of light falls full on the placid features of the Buddha.
Such temples have always been rare in Buddhist countries, and are foreign to the idea of Buddhism, which does not recognize idol-worship. The only example existing in India is that of the Mahābawdi at Bodh Gayā, in the charge of Hindu mahants. A model of it may be seen at Pagan, and the original is believed to date from about A.D. 500, when Mahāyānism was the form of North Indian Buddhism. There is no similarity between the Mahābawdi and any of the Pagān temples. Of late years a fashion has sprung up, especially in the Shan States, of building temples of this kind, on the model of the Mahāmyatmuni in Mandalay—the Arakan pagoda of the tourist, and presumably ‘the old Moulmein Pagoda’ of Rudyard Kipling.
(d) Images.—It seems clearly established that the making of images of the World-Renowned One did not appear in Buddhism until some time after the beginning of the Christian era. They are extraordinarily abundant in Burma now. Only three forms are recognized : seated images, figures standing erect, and recumbent images, called by the Burmese respectively tinbinkwe, mayat-daw, and shinbin thalyaung. They represent the Buddha in the act of meditation under the Bo-tree, where he attained to supreme wisdom ; in the act of preaching ; and after death, when he had attained to the blissful calm of nirvāṇa. The seated form is by far the most common. In the Eastern Shan States, in the Lao country, and in Siam, figures which suggest the worship of Indra are not uncommonly found and suggest Mahāyānism. So also do the images, enthroned in vaults, under the bell –shaped pagodas, which are not uncommon in the Shan States, but are rarely, if ever, found in Burma.
- Assam.—The Buddhism of Assam is fast disappearing. At the time of the census of 1901 there were only 9065 Buddhists in the country, that is to say, no more than 16% of the population. At one time they held the whole, or at any rate the whole of the Brahmaputra area, which is the main portion, of Assam. The rest, even to the present day, is inhabited by hill tribes : Chingpaws, Nagas, Mishmis, and the like. In the early part of the 13th cent, the Tais invaded and occupied the country. They gave themselves, or were given, the name of Āhoms, from which the name Assam is derived. The Shans called it Wehsali-lōng, and the Buddhistical name of the province is Weisali. The invaders were an army sent by Hsö Hkan-hpa, the Tai king, who founded the Möng Mao empire, which may not impossibly have been the ‘ kingdom of Pong.’ They settled on two long islands, formed by branches of the Brahmaputra, and never returned to their Shan homes. Gradually they occupied the whole of the valley, or main part of Assam, and established Buddhism everywhere except in the hills. For four hundred years they maintained themselves and Buddhism, and then in 1611 their ruler Chu-cheng-hpa (an essentially Tai name) was converted to Hinduism, and practically the whole of his subjects followed his example.
At the present day the Kalitas, as the monks of the Āhoms were called, are found in only a few remote recesses of Assam, and it seems probable that even these will disappear before long, and with them Assamese Buddhism. All that will remain will be the Mongolian features which characterize a considerable proportion of the inhabitants of Assam. The Tai language is almost as much changed, where it is used at all, as the religion of the country. The few pagodas, fast crumbling away, are of the same type as the pagodas of Burma and of the Shan States, and none has any special celebrity. The monasteries of the Kalitas seem to be of the immemorial type of the Buddhist monastic buildings, which, some say, reproduce the traditional forms of ancient wooden architecture in India, Assyria, and parts of Central Asia. They may represent to us the wooden palaces of Nineveh, and hint at the architecture of King Solomon’s temple, built of the cedars of Lebanon.
Buddhism has never been a propagandist religion among the Eastern peoples who have adopted it. In quite recent times, however, the faith has been adopted, chiefly in Burma, by Europeans of zeal, education, and energy, who are writing and preaching its merits and beauties. It is possible that they may revive Buddhism in Assam and plant it elsewhere, but it does not seem very probable.
LITERATURE. — Sangermano, Description of the Burmese Empire, Rome, 1833 ; Spearman, British Burma Gazetteer, Rangoon, 1880 ; J. G. Scott, Burma as it was, as it is, and as it will be, London, 18S6 ; Bigandet, Life, or Legend, of Gaudama3, 2 vols., London, 1880; W. R. Winston, Four Years in Upper Burma, London, 1892 C. C. Lewis, Census Report, pt. i., 1901 ; Scott and Hardiman, Gazetteer of Upper Burma and the Shan States, 5 vols. pt. i., 1900; Monier Williams, Buddhism, London, 1889 Kern, Manual of Indian Buddhism, Strassburg, 1896.
AUTHOR: SIR JAMES GEORGE SCOTT. K.C.I.E., M.R.G.S., F.R.G.S., F.S.A., F.Col. Inst. Hon. Member of the Council of the Buddhist Societies of Bangkok, Siam, and of Rangoon, Burma; Superintendent and Political Officer, Southern Shan States, Burma.