Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Ananda meets Madhyantika - Buddhism in Kashmir - 1


I have almost reached the end of studying Buddhist history of Kashmir. Before, I start giving out the finding, in this post I am sharing something from the beginning of the beginning.

Background

The story of Buddhism in Kashmir starts with Ananda, a cousin of Buddha, and perhaps his last attendant. After the death of Buddha, the first Buddhist council was held to formalize the teachings of Buddha. This council was headed by Mahakashyapa, the oldest and most senior follower of Buddha. Ananda, being the youngest and closest to Buddha, was asked to recall all the sayings of the monk who himself just wanted each man to fend for himself and strive for his own Nirvana.

Ananda was the man who sent Madhyantika to Kashmir and Gandhara for spreading the message of Buddha. Ananda had been foretold about coming of Madhyantika by Buddha.

It was Madhyantika who converted Nagas and introduced Saffron cultivation to Kashmir. It was also Madhyantika who introduced "householders" from outside to Kashmir.

This much and more we know from various to Buddhist sources.


The Images

In 1851, the British archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham, who previously in 1848 had already dug up much history in Kashmir,  went excavating at the 3rd century BCE Asokan Buddhist complex in Sanchi - the place now known simply as Sanchi Stupa. He published his finding in 1854 as "The Bhilsa topes; or, Buddhist monuments of central India" [here] For the first time, using archaeological evidence of inscriptions, the Buddhist texts were vindicated. There were inscriptions naming Mahakashyapa, Ananda, Madhyantika and many more. The inscriptions of Sanchi had earlier helped decipher the Brahmi script in 1837 by James Princep. The still biggest surprise from Sanchi proved to be the discovery of urns containing the bones of these men. He found the bones of the man who introduced Buddha to Kashmir, and to the rest of the world.*

Cunningham also gave a brief description of carvings on the gates to the Stupa.

On South Gate, he found something interesting in a scene depicting a king venerating a relic casket:

"In the back ground two male figures and one female figure with a round cap similar to those worn by the Kashmiri women of the present day."


We can't say anything definitive about Cunningham's observation here except for that his time in Kashmir must have made him notice Kashmir in this image. Albeit. the ear-rings on the woman with the round cap do look even more Kashmirian.

However, there is another image which I believe he completely misread and consequently has been overlooked by experts[1].

On the left pillar of Easter gate he noticed what he called the "Boat Scene".



He interpreted the scene as:

"Sakya's Nirvana. — A boat is represented on the ocean ; containing- three persons ; one rower, one steersman, and one passenger, all of whom are clad in the costume of the higher ranks of Buddhist ascetics. In the right and left upper corners there are trees ; and scattered about in the waters there are lotus flowers, alligators, ducks, and shells. On the shore below are represented four figures also in a religious garb ; one with dishevelled hair and uplifted arms; and the others, who wear caps, with hands clasped together in attitudes of devotion. In the right hand corner below is a tree with an altar. This scene I have already described in my account of Sakya's death. The passenger is, I think, Sakya Muni, who is represented, after the attainment of Nirvana, or freedom from transmigration, as being- wafted over the waters which are said to surround this transitory world. The figures on the shore are a Bhikshu of the lower grade, bewailing- the departure of Sakya with dishevelled hair and uplifted arms, which, from the accounts given in the Pali  annals would seem to have been the customary manner of expressing- grief at that period. The other figures are Bhikshus who had attained the higher grade of Arahat, and who comforted themselves with the reflection that "all transitory things are perishable." The difference of rank is known by the bare head of the mourner, and the capped heads of the others; a distinction which still prevails in Tibet, where the lower grades Ge-thsul and Chhos-pa invariably go bare-headed, whilst all the Lamas (or higher grades), including the Grand Lama himself, have their heads covered."
I believe he got the description all right but interpreted it all wrong. I believe the figure is not Sakyamuni. It's not ocean, but a river, not any river, but the Ganga with lotus and alligators (animal always associated with Ganga). That's the key to the scene, that and the piece of "land" floating in the river, in between the boatmen and the men on the shore. This is the exact scene narrated in various Buddhist texts dealing with the meeting of Ananda with Madhyantika.

It is said that when his end was near Ananda got on a boat in Ganges river, ready to leave his body. He got in a boat because he was worried that once he dies, people would fight over his remains. King Ajatashatru wanted the remains and so did his rivals Lichchhavis, the clan of Vaishali. Just as he was about to leave the body, a Rishi arrived at shore along with his 500 followers and asked to be ordained. Ananda had been foretold about this event by Buddha. Ananda accepted and through his spiritual power materialized a patch of land in middle of the river**. The Rishi and his followers were thus brought into the Sangh and came to be known as Madhyantika, which literally translates to "mid-day~mid-river".  Then Ananda told their leader about Buddha's prophecy  about Kashmir. Anand dies and his ash remains are peacefully divided. Madhyantika heads for the Kashmir with his follower and comes to be known as the preacher of Sarvastivada "the theory of all exists" Buddhism.**


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1. French scholar Alfred Foucher assumed it depicted conversion of Kashypa Brothers. 

*
Even though believed to have been lost, sunk at sea, the remains were later traced down to V&A Museum in Britain. Some were brought back to India by Nehru in 1950s [Mahāmaudgalyāyana's remains are in Sanchi ]. But, the remains of Madhyantika remain in Britain.

** Possibly Mount Ahogariga of Buddhist legends, somewhere in Upper Ganga, possibly Mathura.

***A parallel story coming from other Buddhist sources, repeated by Hiuen Tsang tells us about a sect of presumably Sarvastivada saints of Mathura who were going to be drowned in Ganga by Ashoka for teaching a deviant theory of Buddhism. The monks magically fly away to Kashmir before they are killed. The King is repentant, wants them to come back. They refuse. The King then supports their missionary activities in Kashmir.


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