Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India: Their History and Their Contribution to Indian Culture

By Sukumar Dutt | Go to book overview
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2
THE BHIKKHU-SANGHA as a Sect among the Wanderers

THE Bhikṣu, the wandering almsman, appears in the Upaniṣads against no human background and in no social relation. We see him in the abstract as it were--an idealized and isolated figure, type and representative of a doctrine and institution.

Paul Deussen's theory of the origin of the almsman's institution in the teachings of the upaniṣads1 is hardly borne out by the later evidence of Buddhist and Jaina legends. The upaniṣads were esoteric learning among the elect and the initiate, but the legends point to almsmanship as something customary among the people-resorted to by those who wanted to renounce household and all social ties. It seems probable that the philosophy of the upaniṣads idealized a condition of life that already existed and was in practice, filling it with a spiritual content and idealistic purpose.

As we bring down our vision from the upaniṣads to the Buddhist legends, posterior by a whole age to their more ancient texts, we see the wandering almsman emerge as an intelligible human figure: he descends, as it were, from the rarefied heights of Upaniṣadic philosophy to the common earth and the human plane.

As we can see in these legends, world-forsaking does not mean for the world-forsaker a stepping out into solitude or lapse into a social vacuum: in its pragmatical consequence it is a change-over from one condition of life to another--as it is put in the scriptural phrase, 'going from home into homelessness' (agārasmā anagātiyaḿ pabbajati). But the 'homelessness' does not necessarily mean a state of aloofness or companionlessness: such a condition for the world-forsaker is optional, as pointed out in Vanapattha Sutta2 where it is said that the almsman 'may dwell in a forest or quit it, or dwell anywhere in a village, a township or a country, according as such dwelling is conducive to his spiritual cultivation or not'.

In the legends themselves, we sight him mostly in the company of

____________________
1
See Deussen The Philosophy of the Upanishads, pp. 411-412; Early Buddhist Monachism. p. 49, fn. 3. The institutions of Yoga and Sannyāsa, according to Deussen, were the consequence of 'the clothing of the Doctrine of Emancipation in empirical forms . . . as though it were an event in an empirical sense, from the point of view of causality, as an effect that might be brought about or accelerated by appropriate means'.
2
In the Majjhima Nikāya, No. 17.

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