Saṇgha Life in Transition
FROM a founder's inspired teachings to a system of doctrinal interpretations made by disciples and followers seems to be a law of the historical development of a religion. When the religion has been reduced to a system, the system itself launches on its own career of development. The history of Buddhism is no exception and here it was not one system that developed but two--the earlier Hīnayāna and the later Mahāyāna.
Both systems were traditionalist, built on Buddhavacana (Words of the Buddha), though approached by two different ways.1 In respect of Saṇgha life, the outstanding difference between the two systems lay in the relative importance assigned to Ordination-- entering the Order and observance of Vinaya. In the Mahāyānist view, the potentiality exists in all men and women for attainment of the sommum bonum, Buddahood. It is attainable by all, whether monks or lay men, who cultivate the Bodhicitta (Direction of the heart towards Bodhi) and everyone who does so is a 'potential Buddha' (Bodhisattva). Hence monkhood to the Mahāyānist is not a necessary pre-condition for the spiritual career, but only an aid.
The older system was called Dhamma-vinaya by its adherents;2 the new system was designated Mahāyāna (Great Vehicle) by its followers who later invented for the older system (Dhamma-vinaya) the disparaging correlative name Hīnayāna (Small Vehicle).
The origin of the Mahāyāna is obscure; it must have been in the making for two or three centuries Bc, but emerged, individuated as a system, only in the first or second century AD. In the after-history of the Saṇgha in India, there were both Hīnayānist and Mahāyānist monks in its fold, though even in the seventh century AD, when Hsüan-tsang was in India, the former considerably outnumbered the latter.3
So far as the general character and constitution of Saṇgha life was concerned, the existence of Mahāyānist monks in the Saṇgha--____________________