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

By Sukumar Dutt | Go to book overview

1
Monks of the 'Eastern Tract'

THE Puratthima (Eastern Tract) is a geographical expression that occurs only in the legends of the Pali canon. It does not correspond to any known and delimited political or territorial division of ancient India. It is just possible, however, that it was a variant name for the region indicated by PĀini as 'PrĀcya (Eastern) BhĀratavarṣa'.1

Those who made these legends were Buddhist monks of an early generation; they belonged to a north-eastern corner of the country, and their geographical ken hardly extended beyond the bounds of what to us is known as Northern India. The great peninsular India of the south, known but vaguely yet, was still known by the more ancient name Dakṣiṇāpatha (Way South), a sort of terra incognita.

All the places associated in these early legends with the Founder's career and his missionary tours are traceable along a northwest- slanting tongue of land from Rājagaha (in Bihar) in the south to Kushinagara in the north-west (in the northern extreme of the Uttara Pradesh). This portion of northern India would measure hardly two hundred square miles, an extremely small slice of India--yet, hallowed by the tread of the Holy Feet, supremely holy land to the Buddhist. First appearing here, Buddhism spread beyond the limits of this area, probably within only a few decades of the Founder's decease. The entire region where Buddhism was practised by monks and had influence over the people at the time when the legends were composed--those included in the Mahāvagga and the Cullavagga-- was looked upon by the monks as 'Buddhist land' and named by them Puratthima.

Magadha was the heartland of the Puratthima. It was to Magadha that the Lord had migrated after his 'Great Renunciation', joined the wanderers' community there, and after the 'enlightenment' proceeded from here on his mission. Here the Saṅgha was first planted and here it grew up, spread and burgeoned during the first two centuries of Buddhist history. Emperor Asoka, seeking contact with the monk-community, came to the 'Māgadha Saṅgha' to pay his respects and avow his faith (prasāda) in the Buddha, Dhamma and Saṅgha.2 Magadha had always been under the rule of kings, two of

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1
Pāṇini, 8, 3, 75.
2
The Calcutta-Bairat Rock Edict--Vidite ve bhaḿte āvatake hamā Budhasi dhaḿmasi Saṅghasi ti gālave caḿ prasāde ca (Tr.--It in known to you, Sirs, how great are my reverence for and my faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Saṅgha). See A. C. Sen Asoka's Edicts, p. 135.

-101-

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