What was the primitive period of Buddhism like?

发布日期:2019-01-25   字体大小:   


In this period, the Buddha’s disciples generally maintained the facilities and conventions of Sangha life as they were in the Buddha’s lifetime, and practiced the fundamental creeds of the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold path on self-cultivation with little dissention. Thus this period was, in Buddhist terms, the period of harmonious unity. But the “harmonious unity” was merely a general consensus which did not mean there were no differences in thought and opinions. Take the First Buddhist Council for example, which was held at the beginning of this period, in which there were disagreements over what the “lesser and minor precepts” were and whether or not they should be abolished. As a matter of fact, most Bhikkhus were unable to take part in the Samgiti, and even more some of the chief disciples scattered everywhere were unable to attend because of time and distances, and they were sure to have had proposals for additions or revisions to the Dhamma, which resulted from the Council. For example, Purna (P. Punna, one of the ten eminent Disciples) declared, “The Dhamma I had heard from the Buddha in person must be upheld too”, though he had agreed with the Vinaya and the Dhamma recited at the Samgiti. When he discussed the disciples with Maha-kassapa, they differed on eight rules, for example, the precept against “keeping food in a monastic bedroom”. He thought that the rules were enacted by the Buddha first and then were loosened; while the latter thought that the rules were reinstituted after being broken. Eventually each of them followed his own way.

In the Buddhist archives, there were also records about Vappa (one of the first five bhikkhus) holding another Samgiti outside the Cave. These facts show the discrepancy in the unity at that time. The Buddha, during his lifetime, preached different teachings to different people at different times. It is conceivable that his disciples might have had different comprehension owing to the differences of their nature, specialties and methods of self-cultivation.

After the First Council, the Mahatheras (senor monks) led their followers to do missionary in different areas. With the disciples succeeding their own masters, each group eventually formed its own lineage of succession. The Dhamma and Vinaya passed on by each group, thus, had differences as well as similarities. Each tradition naturally gained its own sphere of influence according to geographical divisions, and its own distinctive features relevant to the local circumstances in the course of time. In the area of theory and doctrines, some tended to be liberal and progressive, adopting the general ideas of the Buddha’s teachings and being elastic in observance of disciplines; while some were obstinate and conservative, strictly abiding by dogmas without even slight deviation; and some were between the two. The situation was going on and inevitably led to Nikayas’ schism. (From Essentials of Buddhism: Questions and Answers)