Sāgara, samudra

Sāgara (Skr. and Pali) and samudra (Skr.) or samudda (Pali) are the two words that early Buddhist writers used when describing huge water surfaces. As of the earliest translations into German, French and English sāgara and samudra have almost exclusively been rendered as ‘ocean’. More recent linguistic and geographical studies show however that during the rainy season rivers running over their floodplains also belonged to the category sāgara and samudra: a person standing on one bank could only imagine the further shore.
As a result of visions of this immensity of samudra[s] (samudda[s]) stories and parables came into existence. We know a story in which the sāgara/samudra is the recipient of anything and everything without showing preferences. It symbolises the epithome of equanimity. There is another story in which even the slightest drop of water eventually dissolves into this ocean — and is thus liberated. Nevertheless, this latter image is basically a Hinduïstic concept, as we shall see below.

“It is like the water flowing from the lake Heatless; by four great river currents it suffices the continent, inexhaustible, ever increasing, benefiting infinite beings, and finally pours into the great ocean: that water from the very beginning is headed for the ocean.”

This short passages is to be found in the Avatámaka sūtra [Garland sūtra], the book The Ten Stages. That is to say, it at least belongs to the second or later Tibetan inspired version translated under the supervision of Shiksha-nanda (652-710). Shikshananda headed the royal translation bureau in the northern Chinese capital of Luoyang. It is possible, and even highly likely that in his translation office there were Tibetans among his scribes who had finished their studies at Nalanda in Northern India but who were not yet prepared to go back to the precarious living conditions in Tibet.

An earlier Avatámaka sūtra translation, this time under the supervision of Buddha-bhadra (359-430), came to be written (and printed) in Xi’an, another former capital of Northern China.
Nalanda as “university” may have existed in Buddhabhadra’s 4th-5th Cent., but as Buddhism entered Tibet (and today’s Bhutan) not before the 6th Cent., it is highly unlikely that Tibetan Buddhist monks were present in Buddhabhadra’s translation office. Hence the shortness of the Buddhabhadra-version as compared to Shikshananda’s manuscript. It lacked at least the versified resumés of the later extended version. We may assume that Shikshananda’s translation received additions and embellishments written by Tibetans who remembered “Lake Heatless”, i.e. Lake Manasarovar with its four great rivers. Manasarovar is also called Anotatta (Pali), Anavatapta or Manasa (Skr.).


To take up the image of ‘heatless’ (Heat, root: ‘tap‘). The Advaita-tradition of Hinduïsm has a saying that runs as follows: “the heatless, smokeless light of the Divine Effulgence, of “Vedanta Incarnate“. Whether the “heatless” in this sentence should rather be compared with the “tapas“, the extreme physical effort of the saintly sadhu, which thus is rejected, is a discussion that we will leave in the capable hands of Hindu scholars.

Dissolving into the ocean. The said Advaita-tradition is all about stressing the concept of non-duality, i.e. the One.
In particular the Buddhist Lankāvatāra sūtra contradicts this concept of Oneness in the Hinduïstic sense of the word. Or rather, becoming One is strongly rejected. The “Lanka” rather stresses a “not-two = not-two; it is not One either”. Chapter III illustrates it in different ways. E.g.:
“There is an exalted state of inner attainment which does not fall into the dualism of oneness and otherness, of bothness and not-bothness; …” (III, 172)

“There is nothing but that which is seen of the Mind itself, the duality too is of the Mind; …” (III, 181, 65)

“… some philosophers … declare this to be Nirvāna: that there is a primary substance, there is a supreme soul, and they are seen differently by each, and that they produce all things from the transformations of the qualities. … All these view … are not in accord with logic, nor are they acceptable to the wise.” (III, 183-184 Tr. D.T. Suzuki)




Michael W. Charney, in his article on Mrauk-U (Journal of Burma Studies, Illinois 1998) speaks of the “rulers of the Early Mrauk-U Dynasty (c.1430-1603)” in their capacity of developers of several trade routes. It must have been these rulers who developed the several Buddhist sites, possibly by building on ancient edifices and vihara that have disappeared under the brickwork of later ages.

Since there is hardly any English language information on the ancient Buddhist site of Mrauk-U in the Myanmarese Arakan state the relevant pages of U Aung Thaw’s book are repeated here, together with the pictures that illustrate the chapter on Mrauk-U in his “Historical sites in Burma”, written and published in 1972.

The pictures of artifacts and monuments  were taken before serious restauration activities began. Some smaller items may have disappeared, some monuments may have collapsed.

Some English language information on the ancient site of Bagan (Pagan) can be found on the site www.buddha-dharma.eu/Birma-boeddhisme.html#item3. Scroll for the history of the Pyu to page 4 of this blog.



HISTORICAL SITES IN BURMA is written by Aung Thaw, Director of Archeaeology. The Mrauk-U chapter: pp. 117-125

  • Mrohaung = Mrauk-U
  • Arakan, also Rakhine
  • Dinnyawadi, also Arakan / Rakhine
  • Mahāyānism: one of two main strands of Buddhism
  • Hinayana, also Theravāda; the other main strand of Buddhism
  • Bengal = the undivided West-Bengal (India) and (Bangladesh) before the separation of India and Pakistan
  • Pagan, also Bagan
  • naga = mythical snake or dragon
  • kinnara = mythical bird
  • Játaka = Birth story; legends about Buddhas former existences
  • stūpa, see http://www.ancient.eu/stupa/





According to local chronicles Arakan (Dinnyawadi) has a long history as an independent state from very early times before the Christian era. But we learn form an number of inscriptions and antuarian remains that a Hindu of Hinduised dynasty was ruling ar Vaisali (Wethali) [north of Mrohaung/Mrauk-U] about the 2nd century B.C. It was succeeded by the Candra dynasty in the middle of the 4th century. There were 16 kings in this line and the total regnal years was given as 230. Dven Candra ([Birmese:] Taing Sandra) was the first king and the 16th and last was Dhrti Candra. After some years of interregnum there succeeded a third dynasty which lasted from the end of the 6th century to the beginning of the 8th century. Anánda-candra, the last king of that dynasty, recorded the genealogical list of his predecessors in his Sanskrit inscription on a four-faced stone pillar originally set up in Vaisali. Centuries later it was removed to the Shitthaung pagoda at Mrohaung where it is now preserved. The chroniclas give a much later date for the Candra dynasty but the inscriptions are corroborated by the coins of those kings. These early kings professed Mahāyānism.


The Arakanese established themselves about the middle of the 10th century and soon after moved successively to the new capitals of Pyinsa, Parin, Hkrit and Launggyet. Their religion became more Hinayanist and by the 11th century Arakan became feudatory to Pagan. The Kings of Ava tried to reassert their suzerainty and invaded Arakan in 1404. Minsawmun left Launggyet and took refuge in Bengal which was already under Moslem rule. When Nazi-ud-din became Sultan of Bengal in 1426 Minsawmun prevailed upon him to restore him to the throne of Arakan as his tributary, and after many years of exile he was ultimately re-installed in 1430. It remained the seat of the Arakanese rulers until 1785 when Arakan was invaded by Bodawpaya. The Arakanese kings of Mrohaung, though Buddhists, saw it fit to use Mohammedan names in addition to their own names and even struck medallions bearing the Mohammedan confession of faith in Persian script.


Mrohaung lies on the rocky plain or watershed between the Lemro and Kaladan rivers intersected by ranges of hills and numerous canals. The hills provided natural defense and rendered the city the most secure spot of the capital of Arakan. The openings in the hills surrounding the town also contain remains of defense. The ruins of the fort are still [1972] in existence: they consist of three square enclosures, one within the other, surrounded by masonry walls of very considerable thickness, built of hewn stone and brick set in mortar. As each successive enclosure is higher than the preceding one the topmost is about 50 feet above the level of the lowest platform. Of the old palace itself only traces of the walls remain.

As in old Burmese capitals the architectural activity was the outcome of strong religious fervour. The monuments which dotted the plain and capped the ranges of hills mostly date from the 15th and 16th centuries. Their interest lies in the fact that some of them are unlike in style to anything met with in the rest of Burma: they were temples as well as forts ate the same time. Most of them are of stone and brick, but those entirely built of stone are generally the best preserved monuments at Mrohaung.


Shitthaung temple, lying on a hillock to the north of the palace site is more a fortress than a pagoda. The main edifice faces the steep, almost inaccessible hill on the east. The first terrace is reached by a flight of steps on the south. A covered path leads to the upper terrace which rises thrity feet above the lower court. On the west and south sides of the principal platform are stone walls 9 feet thick and originally 12 feet high. On the north and south walls are small brick pagodas, the gaps between them being filled with stone slabs sculptured in bold relief on both sides. Some of these slabs are still intact [in 1972], while other have fallen down and are buried in the debris. The side of the slab facing the inner temple usually represents a Buddha, the outer side an ogre, a naga or mythical birds or beasts. The inner temple court east of the main shrine is occupied by a wooden prayer hall which houses innumerable Buddha images. The shrine itself has a gallery all round the structure and a dark passage which leads to the inner chambers. The sanctum enshrining the main image is accessible through a passage opening from the east. Along the outer wall of the gallery are deposited hundreds of Buddha images of varying sizes.


The interior wall of the vaulted gallery is composed of three horizontal rows of ridges between alternating fillets cut into the stone surface. The ridges as well as the fillets running right round the central structure are decorated with sculptures in high relief. The figures represent kinnaras, birds and animals in the lower rows and seated men holding flowers in the top row. At the corners are large sculptures depicting scenes from the Játakas. The temple is virtually a store house of sculptures exhibiting not only Buddhist, but also, to a lesser degree, Brahmanic influence. The superstructure of the temple is of brick. It is a cylindrical stupa with a square relic chamber between the dome and the finial [which is in accordance with the traditional Indian/Srilankan architecture]. The temple was built by Minbin, also known as Minbagyi (1531-53).


Another fortress-like temple the Htukkhan-thein, built by King Minphalaung (1571-93) lies about 300 feet to the west of the Shitthaung. The structure stands on a hill, 30 feet high. It is reached by stone stairways on the east and south. Built of massive stone walls the basement pierced with small square holes has straight sides on the north, east and south, measuring 106 feet. The west side which is slightly convex is connected to an oblon chamber. The entrance on the east side, close to the south-east corner, leads to a long vaulted passage which spirals round in two tiers till it reaches the central chamber. The superstructure, a bell-shaped dome [i.e. a stupa-like dome] on receding terraces, is similar to that on the Shitthaung, but here a tall opening with square arch is provided on the east face to admit light into the central chamber. At each corner of the basement stands a small stupa. This temple is noted for the stone sculptures in the vaulted passages, especially the figures of seated ladies, with different styles of coiffure, in the attitude of offering lotus buds.


Close to the north of the Shitthaung is the Andaw temple built by King Rajagyi (1593-1612). It is a small structure of stone lying on a hillock. The platform is accessible by flights of stairs on all sides except the west. The main shrine is octogonal in plan and faces east. There are two corridors round the central block which supports the octogonal stupa above. There are scores of seated stone Buddhas within niches cut into the interior walls which are decorated with arch-pediments and jambs finely carved in low relief. On the platform are small ruined stupas ranged along the enclosure walls and the walls of a rectangular prayer hall attached to the east side of the main shrine.

Mrohaung abounds with numerous solid stupas also, largely built of hewn stone. The Ratanabon, built by king Minphalaung (1571-93) lies on a hillock to the north-east of the Shitthaung temple. The plan of its high plinth is octogonal [illustrating the Noble Eightfold Path] with four long sides [illustrating the Four Noble Truths] facing the cardinal points and four smaller sides at the corners. From the east side there projects a long quadrangle. There are no terraces and the bell-shaped body [built after the stupa dome] with three prominent mouldings round it [illustrating Buddha’s bowl, a compilation of four stacked bowls] rises directly from the plinth. The cylindrical dome is also low. It is topped by a short conical spire [illustrating ultimate enlightenment].

Examples of tall attenuated stupas in stone are to be found in the Sakyaman-aung, Ratna-man-aung and Zina-man-aung pagodas. The Sakyaman-aung [Sakyamuni-…] built in 1629 by Thirithu-dhamma-yaza has a unique plan in the form of a sixteen petalled lotus flower, the petals being of three sizes: the largest four face the cardinal points [east, west etc.] while four medium sized petals and eight smaller ones are interspersed betwee them. This design is carried to the fourth terrace from the top of which rises the intermediate base, octogonal on plan [the Noble Eightfold Path]. The bell is also eight-sided. The total height of the pagoda is 117 feet.


The Ratna-man-aung built by Sandathu-dhamma-yaza in 1652 is 180 feet high. The base of this pagoda is also octogonal. The Zina-man-aung, 135 feet high, has a similar plan but the terraces have angular corners and there is a circular shrine within it, to which access is made by a long narrow passage opening to the east.

On the hills surrounding the town are countless square temples enshrining fairly large images of Buddha in stone. No proper excavation has yet [in 1972] been done at Mrohaung nor at the earlier site of Wesali just a few miles north of it. But a large collection of ancient sculptures and inscriptions has already been made. Among the exhibits in the site museum may be seen a stone relief of [the Hindu god] Súrya riding a chariot drawn by seven horses. This rare sculpture belonging to the 8th century was discovered on the hill of Shin nge-det-taung at Mrohaung. Other Brahmanical images are that of Vishnu and goddess Ganga with two dwarfs [both belonging to the the Hindu lore]. From Teja-rama monastery was found a square stone pillar three sides of which are ornately carved with standing figures of gods and goddesses in low relief. Several inscriptions in Sanskrit and Burmese and a few in Persian or Arabic are also preserved in the museum, the most important among them being the epigraphs in mixed Sanskrit and Pali in North-eastern Nágari script of the 6th century dedicated by Niti Candra and Vira Candra.


There are a vast number of books and articles that deal with the Japanese taboo on the class of people that are tanners (burakumin).

A recent article (January 2016) mentioned that with the introduction of Buddhism in Japan this taboo came to be reinforced as a result of Buddhism’s stance on not killing animals, and hence on not taking up the profession of being a slaughterer and/or tanner.

With the exception of the word “taboo” this opinion could hold, as long as one makes a distinction between the rules that Buddhist monastics have to live by and the Buddhist laity that knows no rules but advice. Advice is free; advice may be compelling, but it’s free, and a Buddhist who sees no other way out of poverty than by taking up the profession of e.g. tanner finds himself in a rotten position but is not a bad person, a bad Buddhist, or a non-Buddhist. Only when he forgoes the opportunity to leave his tanner profession beind may he be called a stupid blockhead, but even then, he’s still not bad or evil, just simply blindly ignorant and a prey for his co-Buddhists who will not rest until he sees matters clearly.

Neither the Pali language, nor Sanskrit know a literal translation of the word taboo. At least in Buddhism the word taboo is taboo.

However, as per Pali text the Buddhist monastic, not the layman, receives the following advice (source: Khúddaka nikáye; Thera padánapali ; 1. Buddhavaggo 214):

Rajaka pesakara ca, cammakara ca nhapita;
Pasannacitta sumana, pugadhammam akamsu te.

(Not to be) a dyer (rajaka), a servant (pesakara) and, moreover (nhapita), not being a tanner (cammakara)
(but to) direct one’s mind (pasannacitta) towards a joyful disposition (sumana), towards the superior dhamma (pugadhamma), and towards the state of mind that is (joyfully, “su”) undisturbed (akamsu).

This however is not all there is to it. A Buddhist monks rule on not being a dyer (foul smelling dyes) and not being a tanner (equally foul smelling hides) can only be understood against the cultural background of a region where one eats without forks and spoons, all dipping one’s fingers in the same pot. Such was and is the case in India. And here is the root of casteism and the concepts of high (non-smelling) and low (foul-smelling) occupations, classes and/or castes. This aspect of Indian culture was introduced to Japan, on the back of the Buddhist elephant so to speak, and together with the above-mentioned advice to monks it slightly adapted itself to society. Japan was lead to the opinion that Buddhism knows taboos, in this case the taboo that used to be associated with the occupation of burakumin. Much is done to dispense with this taboo, not least by the burakumin themselves.

Cremation and sarīra

The Hindu Brahmin’s disgust of the impure is illustrated by the taboo on obtaining bodily relics after a cremation. A foul smelling corpse is more or less cleansed by the pyre’s fire, but whatever remains is certainly not kept as a holy relic, a sarīra, as Buddhists do by placing these remains of a holy man inside a stūpa. Hence it stands to reason that those Bramins who enter the Buddhist monkhood, or those who become lay followers of Buddhism will never make an offering of a bodily relic to be placed in a stūpa, but rather offer precious stones.

Cittā’s gātā


A recent article about a Japanese scroll in the Museum of Fine Art in Boston mentiones how this scroll is considered to be the first in which an actual landscape is depicted, not a Japanese landscape, but an Indian one: Vulture Peak near the city of Rajgir in the state of Bihar. Vulture Peak is one of those places that frequently occur in Buddhist canonical texts, both the Southern and the Northern manuscripts.

One of Buddha’s contemporaries, the bhikkhuni (senior female monk) Cittā, daughter of a king or chieftain and over 80 years old climbed the slopes of Vulture Peak and had an enlightening experience. Her gātā (song, poem) occurs in the so-called Therīgātā, the “songs of the senior nuns (therī)”.
Following the absolute correct transliteration of Hermann Oldenberg and Richard Pischel (“Therī-gāthā”, PTS, London 1883, p. 126, 28-30) the second half of the gātā runs as follows:

Having laid down my upper robe (samghāti), having put down my almsbowl (patta),
leaning against a hard rock (amhi selamhi) the liberation of my heart overwhelmed me.

These two sentences are followed by a thanksgiving at the address of the Buddha’s Teaching (buddhassa sāsanam).

nikkhipitvāna samghātim pattakam ca nikkujjiya/

nissannā(1) c’amhi selamhi atha(2) cittam vimucci me(3)/

tisso vijjā anuppattā katam buddhassa sāsanam.

1: Skr.: nissah – overwhelming, powerful. We cannot overlook the fact that “pure Pali” does not exist. Cittā had learnt the Vedic lore written in Classical Sanskrit (either in Brahmi or in Devanagari script). She adopted the regional language Pali but couldn’t help inserting a Sanskritic word such as a declination of nissah: nissannā.

2: Atha is an indeclinable copulative and is used in enumerations: and, and, and: ánd I laid down my robe, ánd I put down my patta, ánd I leaned against a rock, ánd I was overwhelmed.
3. cittam vimucci me: my heart/mind/thinking (root: cit) became liberated (vimucci). Compare the “… akuppā me cetovimutti” in Buddha’s First Teaching (Dhammacakkappavattanasutta) : the liberation (vimutti) of my heart (ceto) is undeniable and final (akuppā). (“Me” is pronounced as in “case”.)

Two individuals published their translation of this verse of Cittā’s online.
In “First Buddhist Women: Poems and Stories of Awakening” (Berkeley, 1991) we find :

Robe thrown down,
bowl turned over,
leaned on a rock,
then great darkness opened.

One instance in the Therā-/Therīgātā (Th 1, 1034) has a passage containing ‘darkness’. It has andhakāra, being (mental and fysical) blindness, and also darkness, dullness, bewilderment.
Generally the root tam or tim, dark(ness), is used. Nor a declination of andhakāra or one of tam/tim occurs in the original transliteration.

Another online source, Sutta Central-site, allowed a translation into German language. It closely follows (if not copies) the above translation with one exception: the mention of ‘SELBST’ (written in capitals! — ‘self’):

Die Robe hab ich abgelegt,
die Bettelschale umgestülpt,—
im Fels ich stützte da das SELBST:
Die Dunkelmasse ich durchdrang.

As stated, the editors blindly followed the above-mentioned “great darkness”, and added the Self to the mix.
Speculating on what could have caused these editors to use ‘self’ (Pali: atta, Skr. atman) is useless and would amount to the category of wrong speech. Suffice it to say that the root cit (as in ceto…) cannot be translated as ‘self’. Nor committed Oldenberg and Pischel an orthographical error in writing atha instead of atta. Both the Brahmi and the devanagari alphabets give the sounds th(a) and tt(a) as two very distinct characters; no transliteration mistake is possible. Besides, a sentence with atta instead of atha would have become unintelligable.

Nibbuta and upekkhā/upekshā

What enlightenment is, is the most foolish question one can ask. Only the enlightened could say and s/he’s not talkative, at least not the Buddhist one.
Nevertheless, as a result of recent publications about a Tibetan master who emerged from his solitary retreat, a master who since can’t stop smiling, the question popped up again, and the concept of “being extinguished” and its accoutrements needs to be addressed.
I’m not going to analyse the master’s state of mind. That would be disrespectful. Instead I will delve a little bit in a couple of enlightenment-related words that are etymologically nearly identical in Buddhism and Hinduïsm, but cover very different contents in each of these philosophies.

“Being extinguished”, i.e. being enlightened, or having attained, is in the Pali language, the holy language of the Theravāda or Small Vehicle “aggi nibbuto“. Aggi meaning ‘fire’, nibbuto meaning ‘it is extinguished’. As far as the few texts go that Franklin Edgerton studied, of which he produced a dictionary a similar concept does not appear in Mahāyanistic Hybrid Sanskrit manuscripts. Hence the condition of being enlightened seems to be treated / appraised / analysed differently in both main streams of Buddhism. The Northern enlightened person doesn’t stop smiling – so it seems, his Southern counterpart looks content but doesn’t raise the corners of his lips or shows his teeth.

The classical Sanskrit of the Hindu and pre-Hindu philosophies has the words ‘agni‘, fire, and ‘nibbuta‘, but as far as the Monier-Williams dictionary goes there is no combining of the two, at least not in the sense of ‘being enlightened’, ‘having reached extinction’.

Nibbuta in the Buddhist sense of the word is closely related to another word: upekkhā. This word too appears in Hindu of pre-Hindu scriptures: upekshā.

Roshen Dalal in his “Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide” states that upeksha is “the cultivation [of] indifference to the vices of others.”
The Monier-Williams dictionary has a list of possibilities; upeksha denotes a number of negative states of mind: “overlooking”, “disregarding”, and/or “indifferent”.
The first radio-speaker on Buddhism in England, a Hindu scholar, and those writers and translators who delved into the Buddhist lore used this Monier-Williams Hindu-based translation when speaking about the Buddhist concept of upekkhā. They concluded that the Buddhists too considered life full of suffering (dukkha – Pali / duhkha – Sanskrit). To alleviate this suffering, they went on, the Buddhists longed for a new life and on the way to rebirth (reïncarnation, they used the hinduïstic concept) they cultivated upekkhā, the above-mentioned negative states of mind with regard to everything worldly.

It has taken nearly 100 years before this broken pot was mended and put upright. Upekkhā in the Buddhist sense of the word means, roughly, equanimity, not indifference. Dark Dream (what’s in a name) has a very nice explanation of the constituant parts of upekkhā: “Upekkhā is formed from the prefix upa and the root ikh meaning, “to see.” The prefix upa generally means unto, to, towards, near, with; it has the notion of bringing towards or with.”
Dark Dream’s commentators generally hack his apposition to this other word of apekhha to pieces, but I think he deserves better; those Theravādin can be so harsh and unforgiving.

To give a very nice insight into the intrinsic meaning of the Buddhist upekkhā a passage out of the (Greater) Lion’s Roar (PTS MN  I.12; 79-80), a Theravāda (or Small Vehicle) text in which Buddha reminisces on his path towards enlightenment when he was still on the path of the sadhu, the life-denying ascetic, though already possessed with fully developed loving-kindness (metta) and upekkhā:

“Then I lay down to sleep in a charnel ground (a field of bones where the dead, i.e. the sadhus and the poorest who would/could not be cremated, were abandoned), leaning on a skeleton. A bunch of cows (gomandala) having come up to me, dribbled  on me, splattered their stool on me,  showered me with dust and stuck twigs into my ears. But not by me was an evil heart created against them. This then came to be for me through abiding in upekkhā (even-mindedness, equanimity).”

The timeline

Reading Romila Thapar’s “The Past Before Us” (Harvard 2013, pp. 390-399) we again come across the dogmatised opinions about Buddhism among a fair number of academics, in this case the dogmatised order of events as far as the coming-to-be of the Buddhist Scriptures goes. What is relevant in this case is that here we have two fiels of study that hardly ever meet: the secular academic world that seems to be a closed vessel that turns around on itself, and the world of scholar-monks who try to reach out but whose words fall on deaf ears since they are deemed not “objective”.

The timeline

Here’s the proper timeline as far as the coming-to-be of the Buddhist Canon goes:

Sources that fed Unesco with information about Gáutama, or Gótama, or Sákyamuni Buddha’s year of birth take it that this event took place in the year 623 B.C. There is however no absolute certainty about this year, and despite Ms Thapar’s and others’ research we will probably never discover a source that is absolutely reliable as to Buddha’s year of birth.


According to scholar-monks who study the Buddhist history, seven days after Buddha’s demise, at the age of 80, the Elder monk Kássapa (Kásyapa in Sanscritic parlance) decided that the teachings needed to be written down. As for the venue, most sources point in the direction of Vebhāra near the city of Rajgir in India (Vebhārapasse sattapanniguhā — Amarnath Thakur, Buddha and Buddhist Synods in India and Abroad, p. 113). Of the Seven Grottoes (Sattapanni [Pali] or Saptaparni [Sanscritic]) only six remain; over the centuries there may have been landslides or earthquakes that changed the landscape.
Much later sources, e.g. the monk Ashva-ghósa (approx. 80 – c. 150 CE) mention Mount Grdhrakūta (Vulture’s Peak) as the venue for what has become known as the First Council. Here the memorised teachings were recited and subsequently written down.
The scribe who wrote down the Mahāparinibbana Sutta (whether or not in a summarised version), i.e. the Teaching concerning Buddha’s Great Demise, remembered Buddha’s words on Vebhāra: “… how pleasant the Sattapanni cave on the slope of Mount Vebhāra; …”
It is highly likely that these words indeed came from Buddha’s mouth.

Already in Buddha’s time monks migrated. They settled down in larger or smaller communities and produced texts that tried to both honour the memorized earliest teachings as well as elaborating on them. These first migrating monks could not yet rely on written sources; what they knew was orally transmitted.
As of a number of years after Buddha’s demise this oral transmission could be replaced by copies of texts produced at Vebhāra, or somewhat later in different vihāra (monasteries) across Northern India.

This endeavour to “export” Buddha’s teachings steadily continued. In the year 67 AD the first Buddhist text, imported from regions West of India proper, was imported. As time went by China would elaborate on imported Buddhist texts by having them translated and commented. Thus several Buddhist sects arose in accordance with the culture encountered.

A number of new Sūtra written in Serindia, , i.e. regions West of India, probably as of the 2nd Cent. BC, prove to be both teachings as well as commentaries and elaborations, apparently catering for an audiance of religionists belonging to different religions.
As to the new texts written in India proper and in Serindia, André Bareau in his “Les sectes bouddhiques du petit véhicule” gives a summary of some 18 pre-mahāyana Buddhists sects of which some sejourned for a longer or shorter period of time in the caves of central and western India (Bhaja, Karle, Kanheri etc.). Some of these sects are pre-third century, others came to be in later centuries, e.g. in the Western regions of todays Pakistan and Afghanistan — although an exception ought to be made for the city of Táxila in Pakistan, the name of a city that appears in early Scriptures as a place of (Vedic) learning.

During the first migration, after Buddha’s demise but prior to the early mahāyanistic period, there have been scribes who rewrote the sections of the early canonical texts they carried along — let’s remember that it is impossible to fold the entire Canon, whether Northern of Southern in a backpack. Sometimes these scribes embellished, or extended, or more or less altered some, or most of the texts they carried along, texts they considered to be the core teachings of Buddha.
For example, merely looking at the pre-3rd century Pali Canon we more than once come across two versions of one and the same teaching, e.g. the Cūla-suññattasutta and the Mahā-suññattasutta (PTS MN 121, 122), or the Mahā-Sakuladáyisutta and the Cūla-Sakuladáyisutta (PTS MN 77, 79) — Cūla = short; Mahā = long.

The 3rd century

Whether or not the Indian king Asoka had a son and a daughter by the name of Mahinda and Sangha-mitta, and whether or not these two brought a set of the Buddhist Canon to Sri Lanka, somewhere during the 3rd cent BC, as stated in the Mahāvamsa (the Great Chronicle) the dissemination of Buddhism in Sri Lanka began in that century. Considering the mere volume of the texts it is highly likely that what is now known as the Pali Canon arrived there in batches, whether or not commissioned (if you go to India, bring us something we don’t have yet).
This dissemination amongst the population led to a “council”, that is, an ironing-out of defects or misconceptions according to the majority sub-sect in the Mahā-vihāra, the Great Monastery. This council was held during the reign of Valagamba (104-77 BC). It formalised and solidified the extant collection of texts. The monks of Alu-vihāre, rock caves in the neighbourhood of Mátale, published — if that is the word — this collection on a fresh set of “ola-leaves“, palm leaves, that to this days are the primary source of the theravāda sect of Buddhism. No alterations to this set of texts have since been made.

Around the 6th century

In Northern India the position of Buddhism seems to have become untenable. In the parlance of sportsmen: Saivism, Mimámsa, Nyāya and Vaishésika — some Hinduïstic, some philosophic, some atheïstic — had won the match. One of the earlier Mahāyana Scriptures, the Lankāvatāra Sūtra, possibly dating from the 6th century, testifies to this effect.

As of the 13th century

With the invasion of Turkic-Afghan troops, as of the year 1207, the last vestiges of Buddhism nearly completely disappeared from India’s soil, with the exception of some pockets in remote areas of todays Bengal. Richard M. Eaton, in his “The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier” (1978, Univ. of California Press) quotes geographer, zoologist, and botanist Francis Buchanan (1762 – 1829) who in 1789 travels to Bengal. Further South, writes Eaton, among the jhúm cultivators of Ukhia, he [Buchanan] found a form of Buddhism that he said “differs a good deal from that of the orthodox Burma …. their chief god was Maha Muni …”.
Nor Buchanan nor Eaton knew, or knows as far as Mr Eaton goes, that Mahāmuni, the Great Sage, is another epithet of Buddha. Nor did at least Buchanan know that Buddha is not a ‘god’ in the theistic sense of the word.

After the invasion of the Turkic-Afghan troops that devastated the remainder of the walled-in Buddhist vihāra, thinking that these were military settlements, another migration of Buddhism took place, to the North in the direction of Tibet and China, and to the South in the direction of Sri Lanka and South-East Asia. The northern route led again to new sub-sects of Buddhism with again new texts, i.e. new interpretations; the Southern route stranded on a 3rd century canonised set of teachings that were not to be tampered with.

“Tathāgata Tathāgata”

Many years ago a Taiwanese Bhikshunī (female monk) who taught at the Foguangshan Buddhist highschool in Kaohsiung but lived outside, in her own little temple together with her mother who had equally become a bhiksunī, handed me a version of the Lotus Sūtra. At that time I travelled around, no longer satisfied with the Srilankan-inspired theravāda teachings, but yet insecure about which road to take instead. The text of the Lotus Sūtra struck me like a hammer’s blow though after a short while this hammer turned out to be the thunderbolt that awakened me to the teachings of the Mahāyana.
I never became a true or staunch Lotus Sūtra adept. Nevertheless I wish to think of this bhiksunī, whose name I forgot, as a bodhisattva who wholly fulfilled her bodhisattva vows.

One of these days this memory arose after reading a short sentence in today’s Hindi that runs: “Hindu Hindu ek rahen“. Translated it means: “All Hindus ought to be united”.

Hindu Hindu …” reminded me of a passage in the second chapter of the Lotus Sūtra that to this day constitutes a puzzle to all Sanscrit scholars who study the Buddhist lore.

Bhikshu Kongmu gives us the Chinese redering of the Sūtra’s passage. It reads: “wéi fó yú fó năi néng jiù jìn zhū fă shí xiàng“.
His translation reads: “Only a Buddha together with a Buddha can fully understand the true character of all things.” “Fó yú fó” being the Chinese rendering of “Tathāgata Tathāgata” in the original Sanscritic text that underpins todays translations.

Over the years a number of Lotus Sūtra have been discovered, but the version most used is the complete text once hidden in one of the Mogao-caves in Dunhuang, now Western China.

Long before Bhikshu Kongmu’s solution of the enigma Indologist Kern, who is remembered as the first to translate the Lotus Sūtra into English (and who did not hesitate to incorporate an “amen” into the second chapter) rendered the text as “None but a Tathāgatha can impart to a Tathāgata those laws which the Tathāgata knows.”

Today, given the “Hindu Hindu ek rahen” we might translate the sentence “Tathāgata Tathāgata … etc” with: “Only Buddhas can understand those things“, or “only Buddhas (i.e. only Tathāgata [plural]) can impart Buddha-knowledge.”