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after the death of the Buddha, according to tradition, his monks assembled together at the Council of Rājagaha in order to fix the various Discourses and sayings that had been handed down. Thus was laid the ground-plan of the Pāli Canon which contains the collected discourses and sayings of the Buddha, including those of his leading disciples. Later on the Canon was further completed, particularly at the second Council of Vesali which was held about a hundred years after the First Council, and in its main features was brought to a formal close at the Third Council under King Asoka (264-227. B. C.). Still later, the material was sorted out into different collections, altogether, into three collections called the Pitakas, Baskets, namely, the Sutta Pitaka, the Basket of Instructive Discourses, the Vinaya Pitaka, the Basket of the Regulations concerning monkish discipline, and the Abhidhamma Pitaka, consisting for the most part of expositions of a scholastic nature, of the two first Pitakas, which expositions were only conceived a considerable time. after the death of the Buddha. The total varied content of these three Baskets was then called the Ti-pitaka, the Three Baskets.
But in this form also the sayings and discourses of the Buddha were handed down to posterity only orally, in accordance with the ancient, venerated usage upon which was based the transmission of the Vedas. The fixing of the Tipitaka in writing followed only a few decades before the beginning of our era under King Vattagamini in Ceylon, to which Island the Canon had been brought by Mahinda the son of King Asoka. This definitive fixing of the Pali Canon, accordingly, only took place about four hundred years after the Buddha's death.
With this, it cannot at all be determined whether the Pāli in which the Canon has come down to us was also the actual speech of the Buddha himself, or whether his
words were only translated from his native language into the Pali idiom. From all which it is evident without further words that one cannot speak in any positive manner of a verbal authenticity of the Pali Canon in the sense that all contained within it can be guaranteed to come from the Buddha and from his immediate chief disciples. One part of the Canon, and indeed a very extensive part, has not merely been collected only at a considerable time after the death of the Buddha, but in general only conceived by third parties, on the basis of the original texts which they themselves knew only at second-hand; this is especially true of the greater part of the Abhidhamma.
These portions of the Canon, precisely on this account, and indeed quite self-evidently, must be left entirely out of the reckoning in the attempt to determine the original contents of the Buddha's teaching. For thus far one can, at most, only reasonably establish from them how the later editors of these portions of the Canon on their part understood the original texts which had merely been handed down to them by others. To draw upon their expositions in the determining of the Buddha's teaching would be exactly the same as if one should seek to determine authentically the views of Jesus from the writings of the Patres Ecclesiae, the Church Fathers who lived in the first centuries after him. Every one who has only taken even the merest glance into their writings knows to what results such an undertaking perforce would lead. At most these writings can only serve to show how the teachings of Jesus, with the lapse of time, were deformed and transformed. Even the Apostolic Fathers, who were so called, because, rightly or wrongly, they passed for having been immediate disciples of the twelve apostles, can no longer be held as authorities. For the Law of Epigony is borne out precisely, and more than anywhere else, in the domain of the ideas of the giants of the mind, inasmuch
as their ideas, so soon as their promulgation and interpretation are no longer under their own control, in an incredibly short time, become vulgarised, when they are not actually mutilated and defaced, or, indeed, twisted into their direct opposite. One need only imagine, for example, what would be the result if some one sought authentically to establish what was the philosophy of Spinoza or Berkeley, instead of from the original works themselves, from expositions by third parties, thus, after their passage through the heads of these third parties; and sought to lend, as it were thereby, a special character to this determining of their philosophy, by assuring us that these third parties had lived not so very long after Spinoza or Berkeley!
At bottom, all such expositions are only attempts at interpretation, thus mere commentaries. And so, all the later conceptions also of the Pāli Canon, precisely the same as the post-canonical Milindapañha and the actual commentarial literature, are only similar commentaries on the Buddha's teaching. More especially are Indian commentators quite particularly dangerous for the determining of the system commented upon, as Deussen points out in the following passage:
"It consists with that complete lack of historical sense which is characteristic of the Indian, that the Indian expositor does not so much place himself at the standpoint of his texts in order with loving devotion to make these clear, as rather only utilise the words of the author to be explained in order in them to develop and make good his own progressed standpoint. Every philosophical commentary is to be looked upon as the expression of a particular, further developed standpoint, which, as such, demands, and also often merits, special treatment. Much confusion has arisen in European expositions of Indian philosophy through the scraping together of everything that could possibly be got at for the
building of a system; and thereby there has often been given a confused, incoherent picture of the teaching concerned which, philosophically, has been simply unthinkable.” Of these sins, however, it is not European scholars alone who have made themselves guilty. Much greater sinners in this direction as regards the determining of the original Buddha-doctrine have been, for many centuries, nay, actually for two milenniums, the Buddhist monks of Asia; and sinners in this direction particularly, they still are to-day. Among them the Abhidhamma, indeed, the Milindapañba, and the yet later actual Commentaries are worshipped as the acme of the highest wisdom, with such a reverence, nay, with such an inexhaustible enthusiasm, that, in the end, one might easily quite forget that in addition to the authors of this exegetical literature there also once lived a Buddha. And so, in this inversion of the proper relationship, in accordance with which latter the surrogate must always yield place when one can get at the original itself, there also resides, at bottom, a serious crime against the majesty of the Buddha. For at the very least, by such an attitude it is imputed to the Buddha that he did not in his discourses express himself clearly enough, or at any rate, not so clearly as the gentlemen of the Abhidhamma, and the rest of the exegetical gentlemen would have known how to do!
What an enormity such an accusation is, will be clear without further words if one reflects that a perfect Buddha knows how to cast the highest truth in such a form that even a robber chief along with his band, even a leper, "a poor, wretched, unfortunate man," even a cow-herd, yea, even a seven-year-old boy-Bhadda in the Theragatha, v. 479-can comprehend its meaning without anything more added, and also immediately realise it. Why then do you need an Abhidhamma? Why a Buddhaghosa? Why all the other commentators when you could have the Buddha
word in the original? Does not the Buddha suffice you? Would you have it otherwise, or would
you have more? Do you not see that of you also these words of the Master hold good: "And the Exalted One, perceiving in mind the thoughts of that monk, turned to the monks and said: 'It may well be, monks, that some vain man, out of ignorance, plunged in ignorance, overpowered in mind with thirst, thinks himself bound to go beyond the message of the Master'"? Were it not more fitting that at least towards these products of late epigones of the Buddha, also in so far as they have been incorporated into the Canon, that you should take up the position already adopted by Purana towards the reports of a third party concerning the discourses of the Master himself, as told of in the Cullavagga, 11, 1, Purana comes to Rajagaha where, after the death of the Buddha, his disciples have gathered together. He is called upon to take part in the Council, but courteously declines the invitation since he prefers to hold fast to what he himself has learned from the lips of the Master.
And finally, to come to the test of facts: When did the great Saints of Buddhism live? After the rise of Abhidhamma, or already before its rise? What, thus, has produced them,the Abhidhamma, with its, for most people, impenetrable desert of learnedness, or the Master's Discourses in their genial simplicity? Has the Abhidhamma yet begotten any saints at all? Yea, truly, it was only during a brief and splendid noontide that the Buddha-dharma shone out in full splendour, visible to all. Incredibly, nay, uncannily soon broke in upon it the long, pale night of mere scholastic learnedness, and added to that, a learnedness no longer on a level in any wise with the Dharma.
To-day, Southern Budhism has fallen so low that it expressly forbids its monks to try to lay hold of the teaching of the Buddha by the exercise of their own powers of