The Creed of Half Japan, by Arthur Lloyd, , at sacred-texts.com
The Mahāyāna is a form of Buddhism. The word means "the Large Vehicle" or "Conveyance," and is used to distinguish the later and amplified Buddhism from the Hīnayāna or Small Vehicle, which contains the doctrines of that form of Buddhism which is purely Indian. The original language of the Hīnayāna Scriptures is Pali, the language of Magadha in S’akyamuni's lifetime; that of the Mahāyāna books is Sanskrit, the literary tongue of the Brahmans, adopted by Greeks, Parthians, and Scythians as a means of theological expression, when they came in turns to be masters of North-West India and the fertile valleys watered by the Indus and its tributaries, in the Punjaub and in Afghanistan, the language of many a controversy about philosophy human and divine, as Brahman and Buddhist strove in the early centuries of our era for the spiritual supremacy of India.
It would be a mistake to suppose that the Greater Vehicle differs from the Lesser only because it contains in it more of subtle dialectic and daring speculation. The case is not so: the Pali books are every whit as deep and every whit as full of speculation as their Sanskrit
rivals. The Hīnayāna is the Lesser Vehicle only because it is more limited in its area. It draws its inspiration from India and from India only, and had it been possible to confine Buddhism within the limits of the Magadhan kingdom, or even within the limits of As’oka's actual dominions, we may safely infer that it would have continued to be Hīnayāna only, as has been the case in Ceylon, where it has not been obliged to rub shoulders with deeply modifying or disturbing influences. But when once Buddhism stepped outside the limits of India pure and simple, to seek converts amongst Greeks and Parthians, Bactrians, Medes, Turks, Scythians, Chinese, and all the chaos of nations that has made the history of Central Asia so extremely perplexing to the student, immediately its horizon was enlarged by the inclusion of many outside elements of philosophic thought. It was no longer the comfortable family coach in which India might ride to salvation: it was the roomy omnibus intended to accommodate men of all races and nations and to convey them safely to the Perfection of Enlightened Truth. It is true that it never forgot the rock from whence it had been hewn; that it always spoke of itself as a religion intended primarily for the world of India. With a touching shamefacedness, it tried to gloss over the inconsistency of its own missionary zeal. The boundaries of India were supposed to enlarge themselves as the missionaries of Buddhism advanced towards the East. The Hindu Kush and the Himalayas ceased to be the boundaries of the sacred land of Jambudvīpa. In process of time Jambudvīpa included Central Asia, China, and even Japan. 1
The Mahāyāna was probably a matter of slow and, at first, unobserved growth. Among the numerous sects which divided the Hīnayāna at the commencement of the Christian era, some were probably more comprehensive, more advanced, than others, and there must have been some which had almost reached to the expansive fulness of the Mahāyāna itself. Very little indeed is known of the history of Buddhism between the death of As’oka and the dawn of the Christian era—during the period, that is, when the Mahāyāna was in the state of gestation. What we do know is that about the end of the first century of the Christian era, between five and six hundred years after the death of Buddha, the Mahāyāna comes into existence in Kashmir and North-West India and the valley of the Indus; that it enjoys the patronage of the Scythian conquerors of those districts, whose conversion to Buddhism may have been due, in the first place, to a politic desire to stand well with their newly acquired Buddhist subjects; that it was adorned by some great names of saints and doctors; and that it spread from the land of its birth to the most distant regions of Northern and Eastern Asia.
It is not necessary in this work to write a long and elaborate life of S’akyamuni. That subject has been exhaustively treated of by many great scholars, and Japan has very little of new material to contribute towards it. I shall take up the main thread of my story from the time when the Mahāyāna makes its first distinct appearance on the stage of Eastern religious life, that is, during the first century of the Christian era. In doing so, I shall have to touch on the first beginnings of Christianity also, the contemporary faith which, in those early days, converted the West, while failing, comparatively, to win the East for Christ, just as the Mahāyāna seemed to be hindered from
impressing itself on the West, while it has had a free course and a lasting success in the lands of the Far East. In the course of these pages certain considerations will be advanced (with how much of convincing power it must rest with the reader to decide) to show that the two faiths came into actual contact with one another in many points during the first and second centuries of our era, and that each contributed something to the success and failure of the other. It is a most difficult subject to handle, and before setting myself to work at it, I can but pray—a good old-fashioned custom for which I am almost ashamed to feel myself obliged to offer an apology—that nothing I write may offend against that sacred cause of Truth, which should be the only aim of the scientific and Christian scholar.
But, before plunging into my subject proper, it seems but right that I should devote a few short chapters to the consideration of the person of the Founder, and of the extent of As’oka's influence, as shown by the rock inscriptions which that monarch has left behind him. These chapters will enable the reader more accurately to estimate the extent of the acquaintance which we may suppose Europe and India to have had of one another at the time when Christianity and the Mahāyāna sprang simultaneously into life.
2:1 Nichiren, for instance, constantly speaks of ichi em bu dai (which is his way of writing Jambudvīpa) as = India, China, and Japan. It was a protest, by way of adaptation, against the idea that a Buddha could not be born outside of India.