Sins and Sinners

August 19, 2017 | Author: Gediminas Giedraitis | Category: Penance, Lotus Sutra, Sin, Vajrayana, Indian Religions
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Studies in the history of religions...

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Sins and Sinners

Numen Book Series Studies in the History of Religions

Series Editors

Steven Engler (Mount Royal University, Calgary, Canada) Richard King (University of Glasgow, Scotland) Kocku von Stuckrad (University of Groningen, The Netherlands) Gerard Wiegers (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

VOLUME 139

The titles published in this series are listed at brill.nl/nus

Sins and Sinners Perspectives from Asian Religions

Edited by

Phyllis Granoff and Koichi Shinohara

Leiden • boston 2012

Cover illustration: Participant at the Makar Melā bathing in front of the Kṛṣṇa temple, Panautī, Nepal. Photograph taken in January 2010, by Prasant Shrestha. Reproduced with kind permission from the photographer. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Sins and sinners : perspectives from Asian religions / edited by Phyllis Granoff and Koichi Shinohara.   p. cm. — (Numen book series, ISSN 0169-8834 ; v. 139)  Proceedings of a conference held in the fall of 2010 at Yale University.  Includes index.  ISBN 978-90-04-22946-4 (hardback : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-90-04-23200-6 (e-book)  1. Asia—Religions—Congresses. 2. Sin—Congresses. I. Granoff, P. E. (Phyllis Emily), 1947– II. Shinohara, Koichi, 1941–  BL1033.S56 2012  202’.2—dc23

2012017165

This publication has been typeset in the multilingual “Brill” typeface. With over 5,100 characters covering Latin, IPA, Greek, and Cyrillic, this typeface is especially suitable for use in the humanities. For more information, please see www.brill.nl/brill-typeface. ISSN 0169-8834 ISBN 978 90 04 22946 4 (hardback) ISBN 978 90 04 23200 6 (e-book) Copyright 2012 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands. Koninklijke Brill NV incorporates the imprints Brill, Global Oriental, Hotei Publishing, IDC Publishers and Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher. Authorization to photocopy items for internal or personal use is granted by Koninklijke Brill NV provided that the appropriate fees are paid directly to The Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Suite 910, Danvers, MA 01923, USA. Fees are subject to change. This book is printed on acid-free paper.

Contents Acknowledgements ..........................................................................................

vii

Introduction .......................................................................................................

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PART one

SINNING IN ASIAN RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS Social and Soteriological Aspects of Sin and Penance in Medieval Hindu Law ..................................................................................................... David Brick

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Sin and Expiation in Sikh Texts and Contexts: From the Nānak Panth to the Khālsā .................................................................................... Denis Matringe

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“Living Without Sin”: Reflections on the Pre-Buddhist World of Early China .................................................................................................... Michael Nylan

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Sin, Sinification, Sinology: On the Notion of Sin in Buddhism and Chinese Religions ........................................................................................ James Robson

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“The Evil Person is the Primary Recipient of the Buddha’s Compassion” The Akunin Shōki Theme in Shin Buddhism of Japan .......................................................................................................... James C. Dobbins

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The Sin of “Slandering the True Dharma” in Nichiren’s Thought ..... 113 Jacqueline I. Stone Ritual Faults, Sins, and Legal Offences: A Discussion About Two Patterns of Justice in Contemporary India ................................ 153 Daniela Berti

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contents PART two

DEALING WITH SIN After Sinning: Some Thoughts on Remorse, Responsibility, and the Remedies for Sin In Indian Religious Traditions ....................... 175 Phyllis Granoff The Role of Confession in Chinese and Japanese Tiantai/Tendai Bodhisattva Ordinations ........................................................................... 216 Paul Groner Removal of Sins in Esoteric Buddhist Rituals: A Study of the Dafangdeng Dhāraṇī Scripture ................................................................ 243 Koichi Shinohara Redeeming Bugs, Birds, and Really Bad Sinners in Some Medieval Mahāyāna Sūtras and Dhāraṇīs .............................................................. 276 Gregory Schopen Sometimes Love Don’t Feel Like It Should: Redemptive Violence in Tantric Buddhism .................................................................................. 295 Jacob P. Dalton Sin and Flaws in Kerala Astrology ............................................................... 309 Gilles Tarabout Sin and Expiation in Nepal: The Makar Melā Pilgrimage in Panautī ........................................................................................................... 324 Gérard Toffin Sin and Expiation Among Modern Hindus: To Obey One’s Duty or Following Freely Accepted Rules? .................................................... 357 Catherine Clémentin-Ojha Index ..................................................................................................................... 381

AcknowledgEments We would like to thank Rev. Brian Nagata and the Bukkyō Dendōkyōkai for their support of the conference at Yale, where some of these papers were presented. The BDK also provided support for preparing the papers for publication. Additional assistance for the conference was provided by the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation and the Lex Hixon Fund, Department of Religious Studies, Yale University.

introduction The essays in this volume grew out of a conference that was held at Yale University in the fall of 2010. Our choice of topic was guided by our belief that ‘sin’ in its many forms has always been and continues to be a central concern of Asian religious texts and practices. So important is sin that changes in religious practice and doctrine might fruitfully be understood as responses to a compelling need to do something about the frailty of the human condition, our propensity to sin, and to make religion suitable for this degenerate age in which we live and in which sinning is inevitable. It is not only in the primary source material that sin looms so large; debates about the nature and even the very existence of sin in Asian religions continue to enliven the scholarly literature. The complexity of the subject is apparent from the table of contents. This book brings together scholars from very different disciplinary perspectives and presents material from India, Nepal, Tibet, China, and Japan. Some of the essays explore texts that are among the earliest to have been preserved, while others examine modern and contemporary religious practices or contemporary judicial proceedings. Included are essays on pre-Buddhist China, Buddhist China and Japan; classical and contemporary Indian law; the Sikh tradition; Jainism and Hinduism; Tibetan ­Buddhism, and Hinduism in Nepal. Across the diversity of these chapters, certain common themes emerge. Although we did not set out to solve the old conundrum of finding a perfect word to substitute for the imperfect term ‘sin’ with its history of Christian connotations, many of the essays deal either directly or indirectly with the basic question of what we are to understand by ‘sin’ in the religious texts and practices we are studying. Michael Nylan in her essay challenges certain presuppositions about ‘sin’, guilt, and shame, subtly illustrating how inapplicable they are to early China, where there is no omniscient punishing God, and the relationship between internal and external, central to the dichotomy of guilt and shame, is so very differently understood. But this does not imply that there is no understanding of wrongdoing or no moral sense; a belief in human perfectibility goes hand in hand with a recognition of the difficulties of its achievement and the many opportunities for failure. Wrongdoing, moreover, has its consequences, whether or not anyone else is there to witness it. James Robson begins his essay with

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an exploration of Western reluctance to speak about sin in Buddhism. Western scholars, he argues, saw sin as a Buddhist contribution to Chinese religion. Robson challenges this notion and points to early Daoist texts that treat sin and its remedies. Studying a very different context, the South Indian state of Kerala, and not the distant past but the present time, Gilles Tarabout opens his essay on sin and flaws in astrology with brief remarks on the pitfalls of assuming that ‘sin’ in the Christian sense with its concomitant concepts of guilt and repentance is a universal. What is regularly translated as ‘sin’ by astrologers in conversation and in the texts they use has little to do with guilt or repentance and much to do with ritual faults and impurity, and even with attacks by sorcery. David Brick, studying early Indian legal texts, draws a distinction between sins that have consequences in this life, that is, social consequences, and those that have consequences in the next life. With the development of the doctrine of karma, sins can have these two very different and damaging results. Brick’s essay also raises the question of the treatment of sins that are not publicly known and whether it was necessary publicly to confess one’s sin in order to be free of its consequences. The question of social versus karmic consequences can be seen in a very different context in Paul Groner’s paper on medieval Japanese Buddhism, where ‘social’ means the monastery, and various rituals of confession are important in insuring that a monk maintains his good standing in his monastic community. Catherine Clémentin-Ojha focuses on a very public sin and its social consequences in a very different time and place, in a study of Narayan Ganesh Chandavarkar, who violated the prohibition against traveling abroad when he went to London in 1895 as part of a delegation to represent the political demands of Indians at the British Parliament. The contrast between guilt and shame as motivations for not sinning reappears in Phyllis Granoff ’s essay, which draws on material from Pali Buddhist texts, Mahāyāna Buddhist sūtras, Jain texts and India’s great epics. In their essays Denis Matringe, Daniela Berti, and Gérard Toffin all address the different types of wrongdoings that are brought together under the one term, ‘sin’, ritual mistakes and ritual impurity, violations of social rules, and moral failings. Berti’s paper makes clear the staying power of the discourse on sin; she studies contemporary Indian High Court rulings in which crimes are very much also sins. Matringe highlights a major change in the definition of ‘sin’ that occurred when the Sikhs became a militant order and deserting the cause on the battlefield became the most egregious of all sins. This also brought about a change in the understanding of how to deal with sin: only martyrdom could expiate such a sin. The



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example of the transformation of the concept of sin in the Sikh tradition alerts us to the importance of concrete historical circumstances in the most abstract discussions. Another central theme of these essays is what may be done after a sin has been committed. The essays make clear that a wide range of techniques were offered to ward off the consequences of sin. Not all of them required the sinner to do anything except be what he or she is: wicked through and through. Two of the essays address the problem of lowly creatures and those most abject sinners who were not in a position to do virtuous acts and thus might have seemed to be condemned to suffer forever. Gregory Schopen’s paper examines texts that promise salvation even to bugs and birds, even to the most wicked sinners of all, those who commit the five cardinal sins of killing father, mother or an arhat, of causing a schism, or physically harming the Buddha or a stūpa housing the Buddha’s relics. They are all immediately saved when the sounds of a special mantra fall on their ears. Schopen argues further that texts that promote such beliefs were widely circulated in medieval India, and he suggests that they were a response to the success of Buddhist proselytizing efforts and certain doctrinal developments, in particular, the concept of universal salvation. The masses, he surmises, would have wondered how they might in their sinful condition really be saved. A similar awareness of universal sinfulness and a similar concern for abject sinners with their poor prospects for engineering their own spiritual progress underlay the medieval Japanese Buddhist movement that James Dobbins studies. Shinran (1173–1262 ce) taught that the sinner was paradoxically the perfect object for the Buddha’s compassion, which alone could save him or her from the consequences of those sins. For him Buddhism was the ideal religion for his sinful age and offered the promise of salvation to the most reprobate sinners. The Shin school of Buddhism that coalesced around Shinran and successive generations of his followers would come to dominate the Japanese Buddhist scene for many centuries. In her chapter Jacqueline Stone investigates the central role of sin and its expiation in the doctrine of another medieval Japanese Buddhist figure, Nichiren (1222–1282). Nichiren is known for his message of exclusive devotion to the Lotus Sūtra, which he revered as the Buddha’s highest teaching. Now in the degenerate age of the Final Dharma, he maintained, only the Lotus Sūtra leads to the attainment of Buddhahood. For that reason, in Nichiren’s view, the gravest of all sins—“worse than killing one’s parents a thousand times”—is “slander of the Dharma,” which he understood as rejecting the Lotus in favor of “lesser” teachings. To this evil he attributed the collective sufferings besetting Japan in his

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day: famines, epidemics, and the threat of Mongol invasion. To rebuke attachment to other, provisional teachings and assert the unique truth of the Lotus Sūtra thus became for him a form of compassionate practice aimed at rescuing others from the fearful consequences of Dharma slander as well as a mode of expiating one’s own offenses against the Dharma committed in prior lifetimes. In this way, Nichiren gave meaning to the persecution from the authorities that he and his disciples incurred in the course of their proselytizing efforts. A major point of debate that we see through these essays concerns the role of remorse, repentance, and confession. In his paper, Paul Groner argues that confession has been integral to Buddhism since its inception. His discussion focuses on repentance rituals and the practice of confession in Japanese Buddhism, tracing the importance of confession in various types of ordination ceremonies. He also mentions a unique Buddhist answer to the problem of sin: the doctrine of Emptiness. Some of his texts insist that a proper understanding of the insubstantiality of sin is the best means to remove sin. This notion reappears in some of the texts studied by Koichi Shinohara and Phyllis Granoff. Granoff ’s texts reveal mixed responses to the question of whether the sinner needs to feel remorse, repent and confess. While Jain texts stress the importance of repenting and confessing, other texts, including some Mahāyāna Buddhist texts and the Mahābhārata, regarded remorse and repentance as so much wasted effort. Robson treats repentance rituals in Daoism, where disease is considered a mark of sin, and healing rituals center on confession and repentance. Sins can be tabulated and kept track of, making it easier to formulate the appropriate rituals to eliminate them. Several of the essays examine ritual means to ward off the consequences of sin. Schopen’s paper focuses on dhāraṇī texts, which teach spells that ward off sin and have a host of other benefits. Koichi Shinohara traces the evolution of esoteric Buddhist understandings of such dhāraṇī recitation as the means to remove sin. In his detailed exploration of the history of some early dhāraṇī texts preserved in Chinese, Shinohara argues that if mantras initially had very this-worldly goals, they soon came to take on distinctive soteriological goals. The removal of sin becomes a crucial result of practicing dhāraṇī recitations, as a first step towards ultimate salvation. Both Schopen and Shinohara comment on the nature of esoteric dhāraṇī texts, which are often obscure and show several layers of complex development. Shinohara also highlights the importance of visions of the Buddhas to confirm the success of the dhāraṇī rituals. Tibetan Buddhism



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offered a more extreme ritual to free the sinner of his or her sins; this was ritual murder, which Jacob Dalton explores in his paper. There were other rituals to deal with sin. David Brick’s essay deals with penances in the early Hindu law books. Brahmanical penances are at the core of Clémentin-Ojha’s discussion as well. Gérard Toffin focuses on the very important pilgrimage to Panautī in Nepal and the rituals of fasting and bathing, so central in Hindu religious culture. His paper also mentions supernatural confirmations of the efficacy of the rituals undertaken, something highlighted by Shinohara. Clearly, anxiety about sin could extend to anxiety about the efficacy of the rituals offered to ward off its effects. Anxiety over sin dominates another group of rituals and the role of another religious specialist, the astrologer. Gilles Tarabout examines the techniques of astrologers in Kerala today, who must uncover the sins or ritual faults that have resulted in misfortunes for their clients. Theirs is also the responsibility of providing remedies to stop the calamities that are occurring and restore order. Sin, remorse, repentance, confession, mantras, murders, pilgrimage, penances, court judges, astrologers—this collection of essays includes all of this. Yet even this is still only part of the picture. Our hope is that this volume will be a first step in a continuing discussion of sin and its centrality in Asian religious cultures.

part one

Sinning in asian Religious Traditions

Social and Soteriological Aspects of Sin and Penance in Medieval Hindu Law David Brick The scholastic and literary tradition known as Dharmaśāstra, often referred to in English as ‘Hindu law,’ is the branch of Brahmanical scholarship (śāstra) that takes as its subject dharma, a term denoting in this context the rules of right conduct governing virtually all aspects of Brahmanical Hindu life. As such, Dharmaśāstra prescribes sets of specific normative rules for a massive and varied array of topics, including, among other things, statecraft (rājadharma), judicial administration (vyavahāra), pilgrimage (tīrthayātrā), life-cycle rites (saṁskāra), and ­world-renunciation (saṁnyāsa). Moreover, this prodigious tradition spans over two millennia of Indian history from roughly the third century bce to the eighteenth century ce; and during this time, important Dharmaśāstric works were composed in virtually all areas of the subcontinent. Thus, taken in its entirety, Dharmaśāstra literature is incredibly vast, surprisingly so to non-specialists. Broadly speaking, however, it can be divided into two periods. During the first period, which extends from approximately the third century bce to the seventh century ce, authors working within the Dharmaśāstra tradition composed works called ‘Smṛtis,’ which typically present themselves as divine revelations and eventually took on the status of authoritative scriptures. In the second period, which covers more or less the eighth to eighteenth centuries and which scholars loosely refer to as ‘medieval,’ Dharmaśāstric authors composed primarily exegetical works that strive to create a clear, comprehensive, and systematic account of the rules of right conduct (dharma) prescribed in the earlier Smṛtis. Indologists have long recognized that under the rubric of prāyaścitta (‘penance’), Dharmaśāstric texts of this second period present, with unprecedented clarity and detail, perhaps the most well-developed and influential theory of sin and penance in the entire Hindu religious tradition. Nevertheless, remarkably few modern scholarly writings have been devoted to elucidating and interpreting this theory, which as a result remains poorly understood.1 It is the purpose of this paper to help remedy 1 Kane, History of Dharmaśāstra, vol. 4, 1−178, and Gampert, Sühnezeremonien, provide by far the most detailed accounts of Dharmaśāstric ideas regarding sin and penance. Aside

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this situation by providing a useful framework for understanding certain salient Dharmaśāstric ideas pertaining to sin and penance. In particular, I will demonstrate how numerous features of the theory of sin and penance expounded in medieval Dharmaśāstra reflect a pervasive concern with two fundamentally different human activities: (A) the personal quest to avoid an undesirable life after death and (B) the process of excommunicating and readmitting members of a given social community. An examination of the effects of sin theorized in Dharmaśāstra is a natural place to begin the present analysis, because these effects are what link sin to both of the aforementioned activities. Furthermore, since penance is by definition a means of negating sin, sin’s effects also provide the connection between the aforementioned activities and penance. The Mitākṣarā (c. 1075−1125), a celebrated commentary on the Yājñavalkya Smṛti (c. 300−500), contains the following straightforward formulation of how sin works: Sin possesses two powers: that which brings about hell and that which prohibits association.2

Thus, the Mitākṣarā postulates that sin possesses two distinct powers. The first of these is the power to cast one into hell. In other words, a sin is—among other things—an action that produces negative soteriological consequences. And this is, of course, quite close to certain popular Western conceptions of sin. The second power of sin, however, is more distinctively Hindu, for it is the power to prohibit one from social and ritual interaction with other respectable people. That is, in addition to resulting in hell and other unpleasant rebirths, sin can also cause a person to lose his caste-status and, thus, become an outcaste. According to Dharmaśāstra, all sins (pāpa) possess the first of these powers, that is, the power to produce negative otherworldly results; only the most grievous possess the second. These grievous sins, however, are by far the most commonly discussed sins in Dharmaśāstra literature, where they are technically classified as mahāpātakas, pātakas, and upapātakas­ all terms derived from a causative form of the verb root √pat, meaning ‘to

from these sources, very little scholarship has been dedicated exclusively to the topic, although several scholars have recently written insightful comparative analyses of sin/ penance and crime/punishment within Dharmaśāstra (see Lubin, “Punishment and Expiation,” Davis, Spirit of Hindu Law, 128−43, and Olivelle, “Penance and Punishment”). 2 Mitākṣarā 3.226: dve hi pāpasya śaktī narakotpādikā vyavahāranirodhikā ceti |



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fall.’3 The reason for this particular shared derivation is that these sins, unlike all lesser ones, cause a person to fall not only into hell, but also from caste. Thus, the Gautama Dharmasūtra (c. 200−100 bce), one of the earliest works of the Dharmaśāstra tradition, explains the sort of ‘falling’ that certain major sins entail as follows: ‘Falling’ is exclusion from the activities of twice-born (i.e., high-caste) men; and a lack of success in the hereafter. Some call this ‘hell.’4

Hence, Dharmaśāstric theology places effectively equal emphasis on the soteriological and social effects of sin and, thereby, addresses within its system of sin and penance two fundamentally distinct cultural phenomena: the quest for personal salvation and the process of excommunication from and readmission to good society. Although not explicitly stated in the Mitākṣarā and other Dharmaśāstric texts, the logical connection between undesirable rebirths, excommunication, and sin is fairly easy to surmise. The belief that certain acts, which we can appropriately call ‘sins,’ yield negative otherworldly results is essential to the karmic worldview upon which Hinduism and, indeed, all early Indian religions are based. Therefore, sin’s close association with soteriology within Dharmaśāstra is entirely unsurprising. Its association with excommunication, however, is somewhat more remarkable and, consequently, requires special explanation. In this regard, the crucial thing to note is that Brahmanical culture evinces a notoriously strong propensity to identify entities as impure and to prohibit contact with such entities lest one contract their impurity and, thus, suffer horrible calamities.5 Therefore, it makes sense that members of this culture would regard those who have committed sins as impure and, as a result, fastidiously shun them until their impurity is deemed to have departed. And in fact, Dharmaśāstric texts frequently cite purification as the purpose of penance.6 Hence, one can reasonably account for the link between sin

3 Etymologically, a pātaka is something that causes one to fall. The terms mahāpātaka and upapātaka mean ‘great pātaka’ and ‘lesser pātaka’ respectively. 4 Gautama Dharmasūtra 21.4−6: dvijātikarmabhyo hāniḥ patanam | paratra cāsiddhiḥ | tam eke narakam | 5 For a detailed discussion of traditional Brahmanical notions of purity/impurity, see Kane, History of Dharmaśāstra, vol. 4, 267−333. 6 See, for instance, Yājñavalkya Smṛti 3.20a–b: Therefore, he (= a sinner) should perform a penance in this world in order to purify himself. tasmāt teneha kartavyaṁ prāyaścittaṁ viśuddhaye |

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and excommunication within Dharmaśāstra as a result of the Brahmanical preoccupation with purity. Considering the strong negative social and soteriological effects of sin, it is unsurprising that Dharmaśāstra defines a penance (prāyaścitta) as a rite with the specific power to counteract these effects. For example, Mādhava (c. 1340−60), a commentator on the Parāśara Smṛti (c. 500−700), writes: The power of sin is twofold: there is the power to bring about hell and the power to prohibit association. Hence, the power of penance, which negates that (= sin), is also divided in two: there is the power to ward off hell and the power to engender association.7

The author of this passage is clearly familiar with the Mitākṣarā’s earlier statement that sin possesses two powers and, indeed, repeats it nearly verbatim. From this, he explicitly draws the conclusion, implicitly accepted in all Dharmaśāstric commentaries, that since a penance is an act that negates a sin, it must have two potential powers, one to counteract each of sin’s effects. Therefore, a penance must be able to (A) preclude negative otherworldly results and (B) restore caste-status. Although there is nothing unexpected in this description of penance, it is perhaps surprising that in certain circumstances, penances are able to negate only one of sin’s effects, not both. In other words, Dharmaśāstric texts specify conditions under which a penance can negate the loss of caste generated by a sin, but not the negative rebirths and vice versa. The medieval literature discusses this most explicitly in the exegesis surrounding Yājñavalkya Smṛti 3.226: prāyaścittair apaity eno yad ajñānakṛtaṁ bhavet | kāmato [‘]vyavahāryas tu vacanād iha jāyate ||

The first line of this verse is fairly unambiguous and can be reasonably translated as: Sins that are done unintentionally depart through penances.

Thus, by all accounts, it denotes that penances thoroughly expiate sins that a person unwittingly commits. The second line, however, contains a crucial ambiguity, for Sanskrit grammar allows one to analyze the

7 Parāśara-Mādhava 8.1: dvividhā hi pāpasya śaktiḥ narakotpādikā vyavahāravirodhikā ceti | atas tannivartakasya prāyaścittasyāpi śaktir dvidhā bhidyate narakanivārikā vyavahārajananī ceti |



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words kāmato [‘]vyavahāryas as either kāmataḥ vyavahāryaḥ or kāmataḥ avyavahāryaḥ. Readers with a moderate proficiency in the language will immediately recognize the implication of this. A person can justifiably translate the line in one of two diametrically opposed ways, either as: However, if a person sins intentionally, he just becomes fit for association in this world on account of scripture.

Or as: However, if a person sins intentionally, he is still unfit for association in this world on account of scripture.

Consequently, the verse can mean either that (A) penances negate all the effects of unintentional sins, but just the worldly effects of intentional sins or (B) penances negate all the effects of unintentional sins, but just the otherworldly effects of intentional sins. In other words, it allows for two radically contradictory interpretations. Vijñāneśvara, the author of the Mitākṣarā, makes no explicit acknowledgement of this fact. Instead, he simply adopts the interpretation that penances expiate just the worldly effects of intentional sins.8 Mādhava, by contrast, cites both interpretations and, rather than deciding between them, concludes that penances for various sins causing loss of caste can negate either their worldly or their otherworldly effects.9 All exegetes agree, however, not only that sin has distinct social and soteriological effects, but also that these effects, in an important sense, exist independently of one another, for penance has, under certain conditions, the power to negate one of them without affecting the other. Hence, the Dharmaśāstric theory of sin and penance assumes a rather stark separation between worldly and otherworldly concerns, while simultaneously addressing both.

8 It is unclear why Vijñāneśvara takes this position. One plausible reason is his view of penances ending in death (maraṇāntikaprāyaścitta), of which the Smṛtis prescribe a number for especially severe sins (e.g., Yājñavalkya Smṛti 3.247−48). According to him, these lethal penances have the unique ability to expiate the otherworldly effects of very serious intentional sins (see Mitākṣarā 3.226). Thus, if all penances negate merely the otherworldly effects of intentional sins, these lethal penances would have no advantage over non-lethal penances and, therefore, be unacceptably pointless. 9 Parāśara-Mādhava 8.1: “Thus, this is the established position: Penances for intentional mahāpātakas and upapātakas are, indeed, either for the purpose of worldly association or for the purpose of the next world.” tad evam aihikavyavahārāya paralokāya vā kāmakṛtānāṁ mahāpātakānām upapātakānāṁ cāsty eva prāyaścittam iti siddham |

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To this position, universally held within the Dharmaśāstra tradition, that penance can separately destroy the social and soteriological effects of sin, Mādhava raises the hypothetical and humorously worded objection: If this is so, then penance would expel one power of sin, but not the other. The result would be like a woman that is old in only half her body, for nowhere is it ever seen that part of a chicken gets cooked, while another part still lays eggs!10

He then refutes this objection as follows: This is not valid, for on account of scripture even a woman that is old in only half her body must be accepted, because there is the maxim: “What can’t scripture do? No burden is too great for scripture.” Otherwise, via what example, would some self-styled logician construe the power of sin and the power of penance?11

Its amusing qualities aside, this refutation gives a good indication of the reverent view of scripture within medieval Dharmaśāstra. Even more importantly, it also illustrates the indispensable role that scripture plays in determining genuinely efficacious sins and penances, for the tradition holds that however clever a man may be, he cannot ascertain these merely through logical enquiry, but must ultimately rely upon the statements of scripture. Significantly, the fact that sin produces both social and soteriological results has a clearly discernible effect on the forms of penance that Dharmaśāstric texts prescribe. At the most basic level, this effect is evident in the distinction made between prakāśaprāyaścitta (‘public penances’) and rahasyaprāyaścitta (‘secret penances’). This fundamental differentiation between public and secret penances neatly divides all acts of ritual repentance within Dharmaśāstra into two underlying types. Indeed, the topical shift from public to secret penances within Yājñavalkya is deemed important enough by Vijñāneśvara that he introduces it with a verse that he has specially composed and that stands out markedly from his usual

10 Parāśara-Mādhava 8.1: nanv evaṁ sati prāyaścittaṁ pāpasya kāṁcic chaktim apanudati kāṁcin nety ardhajaratīyaṁ prasajyeta | na hi kukkuṭyā eko bhāgaḥ pacyate aparo bhāgaḥ prasavāya kalpate iti kvacid dṛṣṭam | 11 Parāśara-Mādhava 8.1: na | vacanād ardhajaratīyasyāpy aṅgīkāryatvāt | kiṁ hi vacanaṁ na kuryān nāsti vacanasyātibhāra iti nyāyāt | anyathā yauktikaṁmanyaḥ pāpaśaktiṁ prāyaścittaśaktiṁ ca kena dṛṣṭāntena samarthayīta | It is noteworthy that a distinguishing feature of the syllogism within the classical Indian school of logic (nyāya) is the insistence on confirming examples (dṛṣṭānta) (see Matilal, Epistemology, 95−99).



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prose.12 Despite the importance of this distinction, however, it is not the case that these two types of penance are given equal weight within Dharmaśāstra, for Dharmaśāstric texts unambiguously treat public penance as the norm and secret penance as the exception. Thus, for example, Yājñavalkya spends just twelve verses (3.300−11) laying down the rules for secret penances after previously spending fifty-eight verses (3.243−300) discussing the rules for public penances. The commentaries of the medieval period describe the essential differences between these two underlying sorts of penance in rather precise terms. As is often the case, the Mitākṣarā is especially eloquent in this regard. It explains a ‘secret penance’ as follows: A man whose sin is unknown to persons other than the perpetrators of the act should carry out a secret, i.e., non-public, penance. Hence, one should understand, for instance, that because in cases of illicit sex, the woman is also a perpetrator, a man whose sin is unknown to anyone other than her should perform a secret penance. In such an event, if the perpetrator is himself learned in Dharmaśāstra, he should undertake the penance appropriate for what occasioned it (i.e., the sin) without informing anyone else. If, however, he is personally ignorant of the subject, he should carry out the correct secret penance after learning it through some pretext or other, such as saying that somebody has secretly killed a Brahmin and asking what is the secret penance for that.13

Thus, a ‘secret penance’ is a penance that one secretly performs in order to atone for a sin that no one else—or at least no one else uninvolved— knows about. If a person is learned enough to already know the scripturally prescribed penance for his sin, he should simply proceed to perform it. If, however, he does not know the penance prescribed in scripture, he should find it out from someone who does, but in doing so—the Mitākṣarā stipulates—he must take special care not to inform anyone else of his guilt. In other words, he must inquire under some pretext.

12 Mitākṣarā 3.300: Having just explained the many ritual observances that destroy known sins, the sage (= Yājñavalkya) now proclaiming those that remove all sins done in secret . . . vyākhya khyātaduritaśātanīṁ vratasaṁtatim | rahaḥkṛtāghasaṁdohahāriṇīṁ vyāharan muniḥ || 13 Mitākṣarā 3.300c–d: kartṛvyatiriktair anabhikhyāto doṣo yasyāsau rahasyam aprakāśaṁ prāyaścittam anutiṣṭhet | ataḥ strīsaṁbhogādau tasyā api kārakatvāt taditarair avijñātadoṣasya rahasyavratam iti mantavyam | tatra yadi kartā svayaṁ dharmaśāstrakuśalas tadā parasminn avibhāvya svanimittocitaṁ prāyaścittam anutiṣṭhet | yas tu svayam anabhijño ‘sau kenacid raho brahmahatyādikaṁ kṛtaṁ tatra kiṁ rahasyaprāyaścittam ity anyavyājenā­vagamya rahovratam anutiṣṭhet |

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A ‘public penance,’ by contrast, is a penance that one publicly performs to atone for a sin that is publicly known. The Mitākṣarā explains penances of this sort as follows: A man whose sin is apprehended, i.e., known, by people other than those necessary to commit the sin should perform the penance instructed by an assembly of learned Brahmins (parṣad). Even if he is personally adept at ascertaining the meaning of all the scriptures, he must approach such an assembly, ascertain together with it the correct penance, and perform only what it has approved.14

Hence, public penances directly contrast with those of the secret variety in that even if a person knows the scripturally enjoined penance for his sin, he is not permitted to go ahead and perform it. Instead, he must approach a parṣad,15 which is a specially constituted assembly of learned Brahmins, and have it assign him the appropriate penance. From this description, it is clear that rahasyaprāyaścittas (‘secret penances’) must be understood to negate exclusively the soteriological effects of sin and have no connection whatsoever with excommunication from caste, which is the primary social effect of sin, for they are prescribed explicitly for the atonement of sins of which only the sinners are aware. It is, moreover, expressly enjoined that in the case of such secret sins, sinners must take special care not to inform anyone else of their guilt; and, in fact, the penances prescribed for these sins are generally short enough in duration and mild enough in character that one could—conceivably at least—have performed them without attracting anyone else’s suspicion. For instance, Yājñavalkya prescribes the following secret penance for the unintentional killing of a Brahmin, the paradigmatic Dharmaśāstric sin: If he fasts for three nights, chants the Aghamarṣaṇa hymn (Ṛgveda 10.190) while submerged in water, and gives away a milk-cow, a Brahmin-killer is purified.16

14 Mitākṣarā 3.300a–b: yo doṣo yāvatkartṛsaṁpādyas tato ‘nyair vikhyāto vijñāto doṣo yasyāsau parṣadupadiṣṭaṁ vrataṁ kuryāt | yady api svayaṁ sakalaśāstrārthavicāracaturas tathāpi parṣatsamīpam upagamya tayā saha vicārya tadanumatam eva kuryāt | 15 It is noteworthy that certain texts prefer to use the word pariṣad instead of its shortened form parṣad. Throughout this paper, however, in order to avoid the unnecessary proliferation of Sanskrit terms, I will consistently refer to an assembly of learned Brahmins as a parṣad. 16 Yājñavalkya Smṛti 3.301: trirātropoṣito japtvā brahmahā tv aghamarṣaṇam | antarjale viśudhyeta dattvā gāṁ ca payasvinīm ||



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On the topic of such penances, Viśvarūpa (c. 800−1000), an early commentator on Yājñavalkya, specifically adds that “one should perform a secret rite under the pretense of a pious act or the like so that even bystanders do not recognize it.”17 Hence, the public awareness upon which all societal excommunication must depend is decidedly absent in the case of secret penances. These penances must, therefore, be intended merely to negate the negative otherworldly results of sin, if they are to make any sense at all. Beyond this, it is striking how lenient secret penances tend to appear when compared with the public penances enjoined for the same sins. For example, as the standard public penance for unintentionally killing a Brahmin, Yājñavalkya prescribes the following twelve-year rite (dvādaśavārṣikavrata): If he carries a skull, bears one as his banner, consumes only almsfood that he begs while announcing his deed, and eats sparingly for twelve years, a Brahmin-killer attains purification.18

When compared with the previously cited secret penance for this sin, it becomes clear that Yājñavalkya regards the cosmos as much less demanding of sinners than their fellow caste-members. And in this regard, he appears to be highly representative of the Dharmaśāstra tradition in general. Seeming to recognize that the comparative mildness of secret penances might be troubling to some within the Brahmanical community, Viśvarūpa writes: And one should not object to this by asking why the penances for those whose sins are not publically known should be so mild, for scripture should never be called into question. Moreover, since a man who performs them must be learned, he cannot be generally associated with sin; and, thus, Yājñavalkya himself will state later on that “(sins do not touch) a man who delights in reciting the Veda, is forbearing . . .” (3.310). And because they are undertaken essentially to purify oneself, the mildness of such penances is, indeed, proper.19

17 Viśvarūpa 3.296: rahasyaṁ vrataṁ pārśvasthair apy aviditaṁ dharmavyājādinā kartavyam | 18 Yājñavalkya Smṛti 3.243: śiraḥkapālī dhvajavān bhikṣāśī karma vedayan | brahmahā dvādaśābdāni mitabhuk śuddhim āpnuyāt || 19 Viśvarūpa 3.296: na cātraitac codyaṁ kim ity anāviṣkṛtainasām alpaṁ prāyaścittam iti | amīmāṁsyatvāc chāstrasya | vidvattayaiva ca tasyainasā saṁbandhābhāvāt | tathā ca vedābhyāsarataṁ kṣāntam ity ādi vakṣyaty eva | ātmaśuddhipradhānatvāc ca pravṛtter yuktam eva prāyaścittālpatvam |

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Here Viśvarūpa proposes three reasons that secret penances should be so relatively mild. Firstly, he points out that this is the view of scripture and, as such, requires no further support—a position that we have already seen articulated in a different context by Mādhava. Secondly, unlike Vijñāneśvara, Viśvarūpa does not allow those ignorant of the scriptures to learn the appropriate secret penances for their sins via pretext.20 Consequently, he argues that since a person must be quite learned to perform a secret penance, he cannot be generally associated with sinful behavior and can, therefore, reasonably be expected to perform a lighter penance than an ordinary person. Finally—and most revealingly—Viśvarūpa states that the purpose of undertaking a secret penance, unlike a public penance, is simply to purify oneself and not also to regain caste-status. Therefore, it is proper—he argues—that such penances should be rather mild. Here we find both strong support for the thesis that secret penances are intended to negate merely the soteriological effects of sin and an explicit recognition that their mild character is a reflection of this. Another particularly interesting point that logically follows from the Dharmaśāstric treatment of secret penances is that a person who had committed a sin that, if publicly known, would result in loss of caste was under no obligation to bring about his own excommunication. To the contrary, he was encouraged not to do so by keeping silent if circumstances allowed. From this, one can draw two important conclusions. Firstly, despite the fact that public penances require sinners to publicly announce their crimes, medieval Dharmaśāstra lacks a strong belief in the redemptive power of confession per se. Secondly, a person’s becoming an outcaste was not an inherent result of any sin in and of itself. Instead, excommunication was simply a reaction that scripture required of people if they became aware that a member of their own caste had committed

20 Instead, Viśvarūpa (3.296) explains the proper secret penances for such individuals as follows: For the uneducated and the non-twice-born (i.e., non-high-caste) whose sins are unknown, the subsequent verse of Manu (11.228) himself begins the topic: A sinner is freed from his sin by announcing it, through remorse, through austerities, by reciting the Veda, and, during a calamity, by giving a gift. aviduṣām advijātīnāṁ cānāviṣkṛtainasām apy uparitanaḥ ślokārambho mānava eva— khyāpanenānutāpena tapasādhyayanena ca | pāpakṛn mucyate pāpāt tathā dānena cāpadi || iti |



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certain infractions. This again illustrates how separable the two powers of sin theorized in Dharmaśāstra are. Now, let us turn to prakāśaprāyaścittas (‘public penances’). Clearly, what distinguishes these from rahasyaprāyaścittas or ‘secret penances’ is their power to negate the social effects of sin, for they are explicitly prescribed for the expiation of sins that are publicly known. This is not to deny that these penances can also negate sin’s otherworldly effects, only to maintain that their primary distinctive feature is the ability to nullify the negative social consequences of sin; and most importantly, this means the ability to bring about readmission to caste. In fact, when viewed from this perspective, the special ceremony whereby all public penances are issued appears to have been specifically designed to convince members of the sinner’s caste that when correctly performed, the issued penance will truly result in his purification. Moreover, the special ceremony that concludes all such penances appears to be for the specific purpose of convincing the sinner’s fellow caste-members that he is now truly purified and, thus, safe for social interaction. In other words, the rituals marking the beginning and end of all public penances seem intended to generate social consensus on two points: firstly, that a particular rite is the appropriate means for a sinner to expiate his sin and, secondly, that the sinner has successfully performed the rite. The special ceremony with which public penances necessarily begin has already been alluded to in the Mitākṣarā’s statement: Even if the sinner is personally adept at ascertaining the meaning of all the scriptures, he must approach an assembly of learned Brahmins (parṣad), ascertain together with it the correct penance, and perform only what it has approved.21

Hence, as this statement indicates, a person guilty of a publically known sin must have his penance formally issued by a parṣad, that is, a special assembly of learned Brahmins; and it is crucial to note that this rule applies even to a person who already knows the scripturally enjoined penance for his sin. Only by recognizing that public penances aim principally to bring an end to social opprobrium can one understand the reason for 21 Mitākṣarā 3.300a–b: yady api svayaṁ sakalaśāstrārthavicāracaturas tathāpi parṣatsamīpam upagamya tayā saha vicārya tadanumatam eva kuryāt | Note that I have slightly changed my translation of this passage from that given earlier simply to make it more readable in this present context.

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this strict requirement: An individual performing a penance on his own— however knowledgeably—may well be unable to convince many of his fellow caste-members that he has truly and successfully expiated his sin. A properly constituted parṣad, however, is much more likely to have success in this regard. In other words, if an assembly of well-known, revered, and erudite Brahmins proclaims that a particular penance will expiate the sins of a particular sinner and that sinner dutifully performs that penance, members of a caste are likely to agree that the sinner has, indeed, expiated his sins. And social consensus of this sort is absolutely essential if a sinner is to recover his former caste-status. This point becomes especially vital when one notes that Dharmaśāstric texts consistently list association with an outcaste as one of the five mahāpātakas, the greatest of all Brahmanical categories of sin.22 Therefore, readmission to caste without overwhelming consensus or partial readmission to caste creates the strong risk, according to the Dharmaśāstric worldview, that a community will become deeply divided. Considering a parṣad’s responsibility to issue authoritative religious judgments likely to garner widespread approval, it is unsurprising that the precise and legitimate makeup of a parṣad is a subject of much discussion within Dharmaśāstra. In order to establish this, the medieval commentaries cite a number of passages from a variety of Smṛtis, which for most part differ from one another only in minor details. Of these texts, the following passage from the Smṛti of Aṅgiras23 gives probably the fullest description of a parṣad: Knowers of the four Vedas, a deliberator (vikalpin), a master of the ancillary sciences, a scholar of Dharmaśāstra, and inhabitants of the three elder life-stages—these constitute a parṣad with a minimum of ten members. Tradition states that ‘knowers of the four Vedas’ are exemplary Brahmins who have mastered the four Vedas in their proper order even without their ancillary sciences. A ‘deliberator’ is a Brahmin who knows the established authorities pertaining to three things: the law (dharma), learned assemblies (parṣad), and the system of penances. A ‘master of the ancillary sciences’ is a man well-educated in grammar, prosody, the study of ritual, pronunciation, astrology, and etymology. A ‘scholar of Dharmaśāstra’ is said to be

22 See, for instance, Mānava Dharmaśāstra 11.55 and Yājñavalkya Smṛti 3.227. 23 An independent Aṅgiras Smṛti no longer exists, but medieval commentaries and digests contain numerous citations from a work or works ascribed to the mythological sage Aṅgiras.



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a man who has graduated after completing his vow to learn the Vedas, is true to his word, has conquered his sense-organs, and knows numerous Dharmaśāstras. ‘Members of the three elder life-stages’ are members of the life-stages following studentship (i.e., a householder, forest-dweller, and world-renouncer). These people should state for a person the laws (dharma) that I (= Aṅgiras) have proclaimed.24

Thus, according to this Smṛti and the medieval commentators, a parṣad was ideally supposed to comprise at least ten members, which together represented something close to the entirety of Brahmanical orthodoxy. Dharmaśāstric texts universally assume that all members had to be male Brahmins and seldom bother to make the point explicitly.25 Instead, as in the above passage, they focus primarily on the particular kinds of knowledge that these male Brahmins should possess. Broadly speaking, this knowledge is of two kinds. On the one hand is knowledge of the oldest and most sacred texts of Brahmanical Hinduism, i.e., the Vedas and their ancillary scholastic treatises, which would have been of little direct relevance to the issuing of penances, but absolutely essential to any serious claim of religious authority. On the other hand is knowledge of a more practical kind, including specifically knowledge of Dharmaśāstra and the procedural rules of a Brahmin assembly. Thus, given its multiple and diverse members and their combined expertise in all of the pertinent

24 Madana-Pārijāta 776: c[ā]turvidyaṁ kalpanīyam aṅgavid dharmapāṭhakaḥ | trayaś cāśramiṇo vṛddhāḥ parṣad eṣā daśāvarā || caturṇām api vedānāṁ pāragā ye dvijottamāḥ | yathākramaṁ vināpy aṅgaiś cāturvidyam iti smṛtaḥ || dharmasya parṣadaś caiva prāyaścittakramasya tu | trayāṇāṁ yaḥ pramāṇajñaḥ sa vikalpī bhaved dvijaḥ || śabde chandasi kalpe ca śikṣāyāṁ ca suniścitaḥ | jyotiṣām ayane caiva saniruktāṅgavid bhavet || vedavidyāvratasnātaḥ satyasaṁdho jitendriyaḥ | anekadharmaśāstrajñaḥ procyate dharmapāṭhakaḥ || brahmacaryāśramād ūrdhvaṁ vṛddhā āśramiṇas trayaḥ | vadeyus tasya te dharmān ye mayā parikīrtitāḥ || For similar passages, see Mānava Dharmaśāstra 12.111 (cited at Mitākṣarā 3.300a–b and Madana-Pārijāta 774) and Parāśara Smrti 8.27. 25 An exception to this is the following verse cited in the Madana-Pārijāta (772): The wise know that neither a Kṣatriya nor a Vaiśya nor a Śūdra should in any way enjoin a penance. kṣatriyo hy atha vaiśyo vā śūdro vai na kathaṁcana | prāyaścittavidhānaṁ hi kurvīteti vidur budhāḥ ||

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fields, a parṣad—at least an ideal one—would seem to have been capable of issuing judgments on matters of religious practice that a person in medieval India would have been hard-pressed to repudiate. At the same time, however, it does not appear that a parṣad of at least some legitimate variety would have been especially difficult to actually convene, for commentaries quote a number of Smṛtis that permit four, three, or even one properly learned Brahmin to comprise a parṣad.26 After citing these scriptures, the Mitākṣarā argues that the choice between the larger and smaller types of parṣad should depend upon both the practical availability of Brahmins of the prescribed sorts and the seriousness of the sin for which the parṣad is convened.27 Specifically, it concludes that larger parṣads are necessary for more grievous sins. Therefore, in laying down rules for the constitution of a parṣad, Dharmaśāstric works seem to stress the need for authoritativeness, while also accommodating practical concerns in less than ideal circumstances. And this reinforces the view that the unique purpose of a parṣad was to produce actual social consensus with regard to the expiation of sin. In this same vein, Vijñāneśvara adds that the king is likewise supposed to be involved in issuing penances for major sins; and as support for this position, he cites the following verse of the Devala Smṛti:28 Brahmins should by themselves pronounce the expiations for minor sins, but the king and Brahmins should, after careful examination, pronounce the expiations for major ones.29

Although the precise nature of the king’s role in the system of public penances is left unclear in the Mitākṣarā, it is possible to glean important details of this from other Dharmaśāstric texts. For example, the following

26 See, for instance, Mānava Dharmaśāstra 12.112−13 (cited at Mitākṣarā 3.300a–b), Yājñavalkya Smṛti 1.9 (cited at Madana-Pārijāta 773), and Parāśara Smṛti 8.7, 11−14. 27 Mitākṣarā 3.300a–b: “And the choice between these parṣads should depend upon either their feasibility or whether the sin is a mahāpātaka, etc.” āsāṁ ca parṣadāṁ saṁbhavāpekṣayā vyavasthā mahāpātakādyapekṣayā vā | 28 An independent Devala Smṛti is no longer extant. Medieval exegetes, however, cite numerous passages from a work or works ascribed to Devala. 29 Mitākṣarā 3.300a–b: svayaṁ tu brāhmaṇā brūyur alpadoṣeṣu niṣkṛtim | rājā ca brāhmaṇāś caiva mahatsu ca parīkṣitam || Parāśara Smṛti 8.28 expresses a similar notion; and in his commentary on it, Mādhava cites a number of other verses with essentially the same meaning.



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verse, which is also ascribed to Devala, specifies the roles that different persons are to play in such penances: The king causes the penance to be given; the scholar of Dharmaśāstra instructs it; the sinner performs it; and the protector guards the penance.30

Commenting on this verse, the Madana-Pārijāta, a fourteenth-century digest of Smṛti citations, explains that the “protector” (rakṣitṛ) referred to is a “servant of the king who guards the penance by seeing whether or not it is done.”31 This indicates that through his servants, the king was supposed to oversee the performance of penances and act as a guarantor of their genuine completion. Clearly, however, this was not the king’s only role in public penances, for the texts also state that together with the parṣad, he should play a part in issuing such penances for major sins. The following passage from the Parāśara Smṛti sheds considerable light on how Dharmaśāstric authors may have envisioned this to work: A parṣad should issue a penance after waiting upon the king’s approval and not issue one on its own, although it can issue expiations for very minor sins. And if, overstepping those Brahmins, the king wishes to issue a penance on his own, the sin becomes a hundredfold and hounds the king.32

Summarizing the contents of this passage, Mādhava writes, “The author says this, understanding that just as the parṣad should not overstep the king, so the king too should not overstep the parṣad.”33 That is, Mādhava envisions the relationship between the king and parṣad to be complimentary. Specifically, in apparent agreement with the above citation from the Parāśara Smṛti, he believes that the parṣad should be solely responsible for determining penances, but that the king’s approval is required before they can be issued.

30 Madana-Pārijāta 777: kṛcchrāṇāṁ dāpako rājā nirdeṣṭā dharmapāṭhakaḥ | aparādhī prayoktā ca rakṣitā kṛcchrapālakaḥ || 31 Madana-Pārijāta 777: rakṣitā rājapuruṣaḥ kṛtākṛtāvekṣaṇena prāyaścittapālakaḥ | 32 Parāśara Smṛti 8.28−29: rājñaś cānumate sthitvā prāyaścittaṁ vinirdiśet | svayam eva na kartavyaṁ kartavyā svalpaniṣkṛtiḥ || brāhmaṇāṁs tān atikramya rājā kartuṁ yad icchati | tat pāpaṁ śatadhā bhūtvā rājānam anugacchati || 33 Parāśara-Mādhava 8.28: yathā pariṣad rājānaṁ nātikramet tathā rājāpi pariṣadaṁ nātikramed ity āha |

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Having established the proper constitution of a parṣad, the medieval commentaries divide the procedure through which such an assembly publically issues penances into two formal parts. The first of these is called ‘approaching the assembly’ (parṣadupasthāna/parṣadupasatti); the second is referred to in various texts either as the ‘determination of the penance’ (prāyaścittanirṇaya) or as ‘instructing the rite’ (vratādeśana). The major scriptural source for both parts of this procedure is the Smṛti of Aṅgiras.34 According to this frequently cited text, a person who is known to have committed a sin or known to have done something suspected to be а sin should perform a series of preliminary acts quite typical of Brahmanical rites in general. Specifically, he should fast, bathe, don wet clothes, silently approach the assembly, and immediately fall prostrate before its member. Other Smṛtis and numerous commentaries add to this that the sinner or suspected sinner must also present to the assembly a suitable gift, technically referred to as a dakṣiṇā, which is again a standard component of Brahmanical rites.35 Hence, based upon these features, the act of ‘approaching the assembly’ (parṣadupasthāna) seems intended to imbue the proceedings with an air of sacrality. At this point, after the sinner’s approach, the more strictly legalistic or juridical activities of the parṣad begin. According to Aṅgiras, the members of the assembly should respond to the person who has approached them by asking what sin or suspected sin he has done; and he should, in turn, answer them truthfully, leaving nothing out lest his sin increase.36 The parṣad is then supposed to dismiss the sinner or possible sinner to discuss his case in private. In the event of an unambiguous sin, its members must simply determine the correct penance, which is, of course, the penance prescribed for the offense in the Smṛtis. In the event of a possible 34 For citations of the relevant passages of this text, see Mitākṣarā 3.300a–b, ParāśaraMādhava 8.2, 30, and Madana-Pārijāta 775−80. 35 The texts typically allow the size of this dakṣiṇā to vary, sometimes explicitly based upon the financial capabilities of the sinner or the severity of his sin. See, e.g., MadanaPārijāta 776 and Mitākṣarā 3.300a–b. 36 Parāśara-Mādhava 8.2: One who commits a sin should not hide it, for when hidden, it grows. Whether it is small or large, one should announce it to those who know dharma. kṛtvā pāpaṁ na gūheta gūhyamānaṁ vivardhate | svalpaṁ vātha prabhūtaṁ vā dharmavidbhyo nivedayet || The Madana-Pārijāta (775) also cites this verse in a somewhat different form. As an aside, it is crucial to note that commentators clearly cite this verse within the context of public penances and, thus, do not interpret it to mean that one should not conceal secret sins. Instead, it must be taken to indicate that when confessing their publically known sins to a parṣad, sinners must be scrupulously honest.



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sin, they must also first determine whether or not a sin has actually been committed. Beyond this, when properly approached by a petitioner, a parṣad is under three specific obligations that reveal much about the character of the system of public penances. The first of these obligations is that it cannot refuse to issue a penance for a sin if it knows of one.37 The second is that to the greatest extent possible, it must avoid issuing especially harsh penances.38 These obligations suggest that a parṣad was not—at least in theory—simply a committee of staunchly orthodox Brahmins responsible for the vigilant guardianship of their community’s purity. To the contrary, they make a parṣad appear more like a benign institution charged with curbing excessively puritanical tendencies within Brahmanical society, tendencies that may have led simultaneously to a zeal for excommunication and a reticence to readmit even repentant sinners to good society. And this benevolent character of parṣads may well explain why Dharmaśāstric texts sometimes refer to the process of issuing a penance as ‘doing a favor’ (anugrahaṁ kuryāt).39 The third and final obligation of a parṣad is that when formally issuing a penance, it is required to publically quote the actual scriptural passage that justifies its decision. One grounds for this requirement is the following oft-cited Smṛti: They should first cite the words corresponding to the case as they were spoken by the authors of the Dharmaśāstras and, afterwards, do a favor (i.e., issue a penance) to the best of their ability, for due to their knowledge, wise men will be unable to ignore the words of those great men (i.e., the authors of the Dharmaśāstras) and say anything contrary.40 37 Mitākṣarā 3.300a–b, Madana-Pārijāta 779, Parāśara-Mādhava 8.30: When Brahmins who know the correct penances refuse to give them to tormented solicitors, they become the same as them. ārtānāṁ mārgamāṇānāṁ prāyaścittāni ye dvijāḥ | jānanto na prayacchanti te yānti samatāṁ tu taiḥ || 38 Parāśara-Mādhava 8.30: Taking into account concerns of age, time, and mortality in the case of a Brahmin, Brahmin scholars of Dharmaśāstra should issue a penance through which the sinner will attain purification and neither be robbed of life nor experience great torment, for one should never instruct rites of that sort. yathāvayo yathākālaṁ yathāprāṇaṁ ca brāhmaṇe | prāyaścittaṁ pradātavyaṁ brāhmaṇair dharmapāṭhakaiḥ || yena śuddhim avāpnoti na ca prāṇair viyujyate | ārtiṁ vā mahatīṁ yāti na caitad vratam ādiśet || 39 See, e.g., note 40. 40 Parāśara-Mādhava 8.6: vacaḥ pūrvam udāhāryaṁ yathoktaṁ dharmakartṛbhiḥ | paścāt kāryānusāreṇa śaktyā kuryur anugrahaṁ ||

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This obligation to quote explicit scriptural support seems to be yet another means of ensuring confidence in the judgments of a parṣad. Indeed, the above passage appears to make exactly this point. It, therefore, provides further evidence that the primary purpose of such an assembly was to create social consensus with respect to the expiation of sin. Once the parṣad has unanimously agreed upon the appropriate penance, one of its members is supposed to inform the sinner of the assembly’s decision and instruct him in the penance’s details. These details vary greatly from penance to penance and are, thus, too heterogeneous to discuss here. According to the Madana-Pārijāta, the sinner “should receive the rite in the evening on the day before he undertakes it.”41 And it is generally mandatory that he have his head shaved beforehand.42 This brings us to the completion of the public penance. As I have already mentioned, this occasion is marked by a special ceremony that seems specifically designed to convince the sinner’s fellow caste-members that he is now truly purified of sin and, therefore, safe for social and ritual interaction. Hence, it is fitting and should come as no surprise that this concluding ceremony is called the ‘publicizing of purity’ (śuddhiprakāśana). The Parāśara Smṛti, which discusses public penances as a tangent to the issue of cow-killing, describes the ceremony as follows:

na hi teṣām atikramya vacanāni mahātmanām | prajñānair api vidvadbhiḥ śakyam anyat prabhāṣitum || The Madana-Pārijāta (778) also cites the first of these verses in a slightly varied form. 41 Madana-Pārijāta 781: vratagrahaṇaṁ vratānuṣṭhānadivasāt pūrvadine sāyāhne kāryam | 42 The Madana-Pārijāta (782−83), however, allows this exception: Hārīta states the following for those who do not want to shave their heads: A king, prince, or learned Brahmin should perform a penance after shaving his hair, but in order to preserve his hair, he may perform twice the penance instead; and when twice the penance is done, there should be twice the dakṣiṇā. . . . And this giving of twice the dakṣiṇā is for those who do not want to shave their heads in cases of sins other than mahāpātakas, etc. (i.e., in cases of minor sins). yas tu vapanaṁ necchati taṁ prati hārītaḥ— rājā vā rājaputro vā brāhmaṇo vā bahuśrutaḥ | keśānāṁ vapanaṁ kṛtvā prāyaścittaṁ samācaret || keśānāṁ rakṣaṇārthaṁ tu dviguṇaṁ vratam ācaret | dviguṇe vrata ācīrṇe dakṣiṇā dviguṇā bhavet || . . . etac ca dviguṇadakṣiṇādānaṁ mahāpātakādivyatiriktasthale vapanānicchoḥ |



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Thereafter, when the penance is done, he should feed Brahmins and give them a dakṣiṇā (sacrificial gift). A Brahmin should then chant purifying mantras. Having thus fed Brahmins, a cow-killer is undoubtedly purified.43

As the above passage indicates, the central component of this ceremony is the feeding of Brahmins (brāhmaṇabhojana). Apparently assuming the cow-killer in this passage to be a Brahmin, Mādhava specifies that “he should feed all the Brahmins who are related to him in order to announce his own purity.”44 Given the strict dietary rules and limits placed on commensality that characterize Brahmanical culture,45 the purpose of this meal seems obvious: If a man can get Brahmins and his kinsmen to eat his food, it will be hard to deny his purity and caste-status, for to do so would be to impugn all those whom he has fed. That is to say, there can be no greater testimony of a person’s purity than Brahmins’ acquiescence to eating his food. Thus, the feeding of Brahmins constitutes an extremely fitting conclusion to a public penance. We are now in a position to venture some broader characterizations of how the theory of sin and penance expounded in medieval Dharmaśāstra incorporates worldly and otherworldly concerns. To this end, I believe it is useful to adopt a model of Hindu law that envisions the enforcement of normative rules as taking place at roughly three levels.46 The highest of these levels comprises the royal state-run courts of pre-modern India, which Dharmaśāstra literature discusses voluminously, if only theoretically, under the topic of vyavahāra (‘judicial administration’). The lowest level is the individual person who believes in the standards of behavior dictated by both Dharmaśāstra texts and compatible local custom and, as a result, strives on his own to live up to such standards. Between these two levels is a diverse array of more or less organized corporate groups, including villages, castes, merchant guilds, monastic orders, and the like, which each possess their own binding laws and means of enforcement. These 43 Parāśara Smṛti 8.41−42: prāyaścitte tataś cīrṇe kuryād brāhmaṇabhojanam | viprāṇāṁ dakṣiṇāṁ dadyāt pavitrāṇi japed dvijaḥ || brāhmaṇān bhojayitvā tu goghnaḥ śuddho na saṁśayaḥ || 44 Parāśara-Mādhava 8.42: svakīyaviśuddhikhyāpanārthaṁ svabandhūn aśeṣān brāhmaṇān bhojayet | 45 For an excellent discussion of Brahmanical dietary rules in pre-modern India, see Olivelle, Abhakṣya and Abhojya. 46 My conception of these three levels of Hindu law is adopted with considerable modifications from Davis’ analysis of what he terms “intermediate-level corporate groups” (see Davis, “Intermediate Realms”).

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groups are obviously larger than the individual persons that together would have comprised them, but smaller and more local than the royal states in which they would have existed. Dharmaśāstra texts treat the laws of these groups primarily under the title of litigation known either as the ‘non-observance of conventions’ (samayānapākarman) or as the ‘violation of contracts’ (saṁvidvyatikrama).47 It seems to me that one can illuminatingly situate numerous important aspects of the Dharmaśāstric treatment of sin and penance within this three-tiered framework. In particular, sin and penance seem to occupy the two lowest levels, i.e., those of the individual and of the medium-sized corporate group. The royal courts comprising the highest level primarily concern themselves with imposing ‘punishments’ (daṇḍa) upon those found guilty of ‘crimes,’ by which term I refer to the worldly offenses that fall within the standard ‘eighteen titles of litigation’ (aṣṭādaśa vyavahārapada). Such courts play at most a marginal role in issuing ‘penances’ (prāyaścitta) for ‘sins’ (pāpa), although the Mānava Dharmaśāstra (9.236−42) does charge a king with the responsibility to collect fines from persons guilty of grievous sins and to inflict even harsher punishments upon unrepentant grievous sinners. Moreover, certain Smṛtis appear to ascribe salvific qualities to royally imposed punishments,48 thus arguably blurring the conceptual distinction between penance and punishment within Dharmaśāstra.49 Nevertheless, the emic distinction between ‘penance’ (prāyaścitta) and ‘punishment’ (daṇḍa) remains extremely wellintact throughout Dharmaśāstra literature, especially in the medieval period, where they are treated in clearly differentiated sections employing markedly different technical vocabulary. As I have shown, the sections of the medieval commentaries devoted to penance universally place the obligation to determine the correct penance for a secret sin upon the individual sinner, who must perform the penance in order to avoid undesirable otherworldly consequences. Furthermore, these sections invariably place the onus of issuing a penance for a publically known sin upon a parṣad or assembly of learned Brahmins. In such cases, a combination of worldly and otherworldly factors (i.e., the threat 47 See Davis, “Intermediate Realms,” 94−95. 48 The most frequently quoted of these is Mānava Dharmaśāstra 8.314−18. 49 The dominant view amongst scholars has long been that the distinction between penance and punishment within Dharmaśāstra is rather hazy (see, e.g., Hopkins, “Priestly Penance”). Lubin, “Punishment and Expiation,” however, has recently put forth a compelling argument against this view.



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of loss of caste and negative rebirths sometimes supplemented by royal punishment) motivates a sinner to perform the issued penance, which is, nonetheless, theoretically voluntary. From this it should be clear that secret sins and penances operate at the level of the individual believer. It should also be apparent that public sins and penances operate principally at the level of caste, which is a kind of corporate group, for they characteristically entail and negate outcasting. To be more precise, sins and penances of the public variety pertain to communities or castes of what in Sanskrit are called śiṣṭas.50 This loaded cultural term denotes primarily educated, orthodox Brahmins, but may also include a small number of elite non-Brahmins who adhere to the Brahmanical way of life prominently reflected in the Dharmaśāstras. Thus, the theory of sin and penance put forth in medieval Dharmaśāstra consists of two distinct forms of religious law. One of these is the moral code of the Brahmanical Hindu community, which individual members were supposed to internalize and voluntarily live by. The other is the judicial system of this same community, in which a court in the form a parṣad would issue punishments in the form of penances for infractions against the communal law. Readers may already have noticed that this system has two striking peculiarities. The first of these is the fact that it provides no mechanism for the ascertainment of facts. Instead, the sinner or suspected sinner is supposed to voluntarily speak the entire truth of his deeds to the court/parṣad. The second is that the threat of social ostracism or outcasting, rather than physical coercion, constitutes the primary means of enforcing penances. Hence, because Dharmaśāstric theory can maintain that penances are voluntary in nature, the texts are able to portray them not as unpleasant punishments, which in many respects they are, but rather as kind ‘favors’ (anugraha), rescuing one from sin’s undesirable social and soteriological effects.

50 Clear evidence of this comes from Parāśara-Mādhava 8.1, which explains that the kind of social interaction enabled by penances for intentional sins is social interaction with śiṣṭas: “But if the sin was done intentionally, a man only becomes fit for social interaction with śiṣṭas in this world; the sin resulting in hell for him does not depart through his penances.” kāmatas tu kṛtaṁ cet sa pumān śiṣṭair vyavahāryaḥ kevalam iha loke bhavati na tu tasya narakāpādakam enaḥ prāyaścittair apaiti |

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Davis, Donald R., Jr. “Intermediate Realms of Law: Corporate Groups and Rulers in Medieval India.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 48, no. 1 (2005): 92−117. ——. The Spirit of Hindu Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Gampert, Wilhelm. Die Sühnezeremonien in der altindischen Rechtsliteratur. Monografie Archivu Orientálního, vol. 6. Prague: Orientalisches Institut, 1939. Gautama Dharmasūtra [in Dharmasūtras: The Law Codes of Āpastamba, Gautama, Baudhāyana, and Vasiṣṭha]. Edited and translated by Patrick Olivelle. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2000. Hopkins, E. Washburn. “Priestly Penance and Legal Penalty.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 44 (1924): 243−57. Kane, Pandurang V. History of Dharmaśāstra. 5 vols. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1962−75. Lubin, Timothy. “Punishment and Expiation: Overlapping Domains in Brahmanical Law.” Indologica Taurinensia 33 (2007): 93−122. Madanapāla. Madana-Pārijāta. Edited by Madhusūdana Smṛitiratna. Bibliotheca Indica, n.s., vols. 641, 672, 686, 696, 705, 712, 757, 770, 796, 816, 828. Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1893. Mādhava. Parāśara-Mādhava (commentary on the Parāśara Smṛti). Edited by Chandrakānta Tarkālankāra. 3 vols. Bibliotheca Indica, n.s., vols. 487, 505, 529, 547, 567, 649, 678, 717, 720, 727, 759, 761, 766, 793, 814. Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1890−93. Mānava Dharmaśāstra. Edited and translated by Patrick Olivelle. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Matilal, Bimal K. Epistemology, Logic, and Grammar in Indian Philosophical Analysis. Edited by Jonardon Ganeri. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Olivelle, Patrick. “Abhakṣya and Abhojya: An Exploration in Dietary Language.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 122 (2002): 345−54. ——. “Penance and Punishment: Marking the Body in Criminal Law and Social Ideology of Ancient India.” Journal of Hindu Studies 4, no. 1 (2011): 23−41. Vijñānaneśvara. Mitākṣara (commentary on the Yājñavalkya Smṛti). Edited by Nārāyaṇa Rāma Ācārya. Delhi: Nag Publishers, 1985 [reprint]. Viśvarūpa. Bālakrīḍā (commentary on the Yājñavalkya Smṛti). Edited by T. Gaṇapati Sâstrî. 2 vols. Trivandrum Sanskrit Series, vols. 74, 81. Trivandrum: The Government of His Highness the Maharajah of Travancore, 1922−24.

Sin and Expiation in Sikh Texts and Contexts: from the Nānak Panth to the Khālsā Denis Matringe In India, the Sikhs are new comers on the long tormented religious scene of the Panjab, as compared to the Hindus and the Muslims.1 Their Panth (lit. ‘way’, an institutionalized order going back to an historical founder) emerges in the early 16th century within the widely spread north Indian Sant movement. Its charismatic spiritual leader is the saint-poet Nānak (1469–1539), to whom the Sikhs trace the origin of their religion.2 The Sants form the main component of the nirguṇī bhakti tradition of medieval Hinduism. They orient their loving devotion (bhakti) towards a God beyond attributes (guṇa), invisible, unfathomable, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, creator, benevolent and clement, thus distinguishing

1 For a fine and handy history of the Sikhs, see Jaswant Siṅgh Grewal, The Sikhs of the Punjab (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). 2 On Nānak, see W.H. McLeod, Gurū Nānak and the Sikh Religion (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1976). At the head of the Sikhs, Nānak was followed by nine successors, each of them becoming Gurū at the death of his predecessor. Here is their list: Gurū Aṅgad (1504– 1552), Gurū Amar Dās (1479–1574), Gurū Rām Dās (1534–1581), Gurū Arjan (1563–1606), Gurū Har Gobind (1595–1644), Gurū Har Rāi (1630–1661), Gurū Har Krishan (1656–1664), Gurū Tegh Bahādur (1621–1675), and Gurū Gobind (1666–1708).—In the present chapter, the transliteration used is based on that of the Indologists. It is strictly applied for quotations from the sources, for technical terms mentioned between brackets, and for the books’ titles in the bibliography; but, in order to reflect the current pronunciation of the words, for authors’ names, books’ titles and Indian words used within the text, the transliteration tilts towards transcription and does not include all the –a(-) inherent to the Gurumukhī syllabic script used by the Sikhs, nor the final brief vowels marking the cases of consonant names and adjectives in the language of the Ādi Granth. For a description of this language, based on the variety of literary old Hindi called Sant-bhāṣā, see Christopher Shackle, “ ‘South-Western’ Elements in the Language of the Ᾱdi Granth,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 40 no. 1 (1977): 36–50; “The South Western Style in the Guru Granth Sahib,” Journal of Sikh Studies 5 no. 1 (1978a): 69–87; “Approaches to the Persian Loans in the Ᾱdi Granth,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies 41 no. 1 (1978b): 73–96; “The Sahaskritī Poetic Idiom in the Ᾱdi Granth,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies 41 no. 2 (1978c): 297–313; An Introduction to the Sacred Language of the Sikhs (London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1984); and A Gurū Nānak Glossary (New Delhi: Heritage Publishers, 1995). For Indo-Persian names and words used in the text when not taken from Sikh sources in Gurumukhī, the Arabic letters are transliterated as in John T. Platts, A Dictionary of Urdū, Classical Hindī and English (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1884).

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themselves from the advocates of saguṇī traditions who worship Devī, Śiva, Viṣṇu, or an avatar of the latter as an embodied or anthropomorphic deity. The Sants also generally deny any soteriological value to caste. Chanting God’s praises in congregation (saṅgati) as well as repeating His name ( japu) and remembering It (nāma smaraṇa) are their only rituals.3 Nānak, whose religious activity began in the early 16th century, was active when Bābur (1483–1530), the warlord who was to be the first Mughal emperor, launched his initial raids across the Panjab (1505 to 1519) from what was then Khurasan, and then conquered northern India (1525–1526).4 Like all his successors at the head of the Panth, Nānak was from the Khatrī caste, which is quite near the top of Panjab’s urban hierarchy, while his disciples came from various strata of society.5 But very soon, from the days of Gurū Amar Dās, Jāṭ peasants and landholders (zamīndārs) came to form the majority of the Sikhs. These were settled nomadic pastoral groups, who had retained their martial and egalitarian ethos and who were already the dominant caste in Punjabi villages.6 Other important sections of the Panth consisted of Khatrīs and Aroṛās (an urban caste quite close in status to the Khatrīs), and, above all, of members of various, mostly rural, service and artisan castes.7 By the midseventeenth century the Sikhs had a territorial and financial organisation and a book of scriptures—the Ādi Granth, reverently called Gurū Granth Sāhib—compiled in 1604 by their fifth Gurū, Arjan, from his hymns, those of his predecessors at the head of the Panth, and compositions written by Sant poets such as Kabīr (c. 1398–c. 1448), Nāmdev (trad. 1270–1350) and 3 For a quick but illuminating overview of the bhakti currents, see David Lorenzen, “Bhakti,” in The Hindu World, eds. Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby (New York and London: Routlege, 2004), 185–209. On the Sants, see also Karine Schomer, “The Sant tradition in Perspective,” in The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India, eds. Karine Schomer and W.H. McLeod (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 1–17. 4 Khurasan covered parts of modern day Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Ẕahīr al-Dīn Muḥammad Bābur was a Tīmūrid prince from Kabul. On him, see Stephen Frederic Dale The Garden of the Eight Paradises: Bābur and the Culture of Empire in Central Asia, Afghanistan, and India, 1483–1530 (Leiden: Brill, 2004). 5 On the Khatrīs, see Horace Arthur Rose, A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province, vol. 2 (Lahore: S.T. Weston at the Civil and Military Gazette Press, 1914), 501–526. 6 On the notion of “dominant caste”, see notably Louis Dumont, Homo hierarchicus: le système des castes et ses implications (Paris: Gallimard, 1966), 204–208. 7 On the Jāṭs, see Rose, A Glossary of the Tribes, vol. 2, 357–377, and Joyce Pettigrew, Robber Noblemen: A Study of the Political System of the Sikh Jats (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, 1975). On the crucial role of the Jāṭs in the evolution of the Panth, see W.H. McLeod, The Evolution of the Sikh Community (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1975), 9–13. On the Aroṛās, see Rose, A Glossary of the Tribes, vol. 2, 16–21.



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Ravidās (late 15th–early 16th century).8 They also engaged in severe military skirmishes with Mughal forces; the turbulent Jāṭs were harassed for their resistance to revenue taxes. In the early 18th century, the Sikhs were fortified in the Panjab hills, and their tenth and last Gurū, Gobind, after many fierce battles against both Hindu hill rajahs and Mughal forces, was assassinated in 1708 while helping Muʿaẕẕam, the future Mughal emperor Bahādur Shāh (r. 1707–1712), succeed his father, the last great Mughal Aurangzeb (r. 1658–1707). His four sons having been killed before him, he had decreed, according to the Sikh tradition, that after him, the authority of the Gurū would pass jointly to the sacred scriptures and the gathered Panth. A few decades later, the Sikhs fought for supremacy in the Panjab against both the Mughals and the Afghans, and by 1799, they created in the region one of the successor states of the Mughal Empire, which lasted until the annexation of the Panjab to the territories ruled by the British East India Company in 1849.9 Following the independence and partition of India in 1947, the Sikhs managed to have the Indian State of Panjab reshaped in 1966 so that they form the majority of its population. Theology had to follow! In this chapter, I shall first deal with sin and expiation as they were conceived by Gurū Nānak and his eight first successors at the head of the Panth: their theology, as expressed in their Ādi Granth compositions, is very much the same as that of the other Sants.10 I shall then examine the changes introduced in these conceptions by Gurū Gobind, who organised a substantial part of the Sikhs as a militant order at the very end of the 17th century, and I shall concentrate on the construction of cowardice as a major sin and on martyrdom as the proper way to expiate it. I shall then show how, in the chaotic 18th century, new notions of sin and expiation were derived from the new commandments attributed to Gobind and were formulated again and again throughout that period in code-manuals, taking one of them as an archetypical example. I shall conclude with indications of the way the situation has evolved

  8 The Granth was to be finalised in the early 18th century by the tenth Gurū, Gobind, who introduced in it the hymns of his father, Gurū Tegh Bahādur. For a remarkable synthetic presentation of the Ādi Granth, see W.H. McLeod, Sikhism (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1997), 166–176.  9 For a synthetic clarification on the “successor states” of the Mughal Empire, see J.C. Heestermann, “The Social Dynamics of the Mughal Empire: A Brief Introduction,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 47 no. 3 (2004): 292–297. 10 On the Sant basis of early Sikhsim, see W.H. McLeod, Gurū Nānak, and the Sikh Religion (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1976), 151–158.

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until our time, with a landmark being the promulgation of the Sikh Code in 1950. Sin and Expiation in the Early Sikh Writing The Sikh categories of sin and expiation have been constructed both from and in opposition to those of brahmanical Hinduism. The Hindus who became followers of Nānak and his first successors came from a diversified Hindu universe, socially and ritually structured by caste dharma, with rules of conduct (ācāra) pertaining to the orthodox and therefore correct performance of certain social and ritual duties. Infringements of this dharma were often social faults (pāpa) and necessitated codified reparations (prāyaścitta) imposed by a caste council (pañcāyata). Now, for these Hindus, becoming the disciple of Nānak was an individual decision quite akin to leaving a ‘church’ (in the Weberian sense) and entering a theistic ‘sect’ (saṃpradāya), headed by a charismatic mystic, poet and theologian—a ‘virtuoso’, and characterized by a strong gurupupil relation. In such a context, sin, for which there are various terms in the Ādi Granth (pāpu, dokhu, dosu, avagaṇu, aügaṇu, vikāru), meant the internally felt transgression of voluntarily and personally adopted rules of Divine origin, and more precisely of what Nānak and his successors called the Divine Order (hukamu, from Ar. ḥukm). At the heart of this Divine Order was dharma, that is to say, both the rules governing the physical universe and those governing society, and the duties of a religious and moral life.11 In the latter sense, for the Sikh Gurūs, it meant above all meditating on God with love and forsaking all illusions on the nature of both the world and the way to salvation: karaṇaihāru ride mahi dhāru || taji sabhi bharama bhajio pārabrahamu || kahu nānaka aṭala ihu dharamu || 12 Enshrine the Creator within your heart. Renounce all illusions, adore the Supreme Lord. Says Nānak, eternal is this dharma. 11 On Nānak’s theology in general, see McLeod, Gurū Nānak and the Sikh Religion, 148– 226; on hukamu and dharma in particular, see McLeod, Gurū Nānak and the Sikh Religion, 199–203. 12 Nānak, Ādi Granth: Srī Gurū Grantha Sāhiba Daranpaṇa. 10 vols. Chief ed. Sāhib Singh (Jalandhar: Rāj Pabliśarz, 1962–1964), 196. All the editions of the Ādi Granth have the same standard pagination of 1430 pages.



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The human who does not follow the Divine Order sins gravely. In a hymn full of vivid metaphors, Nānak compares him to a wild hunter, a being always on the move to fulfil his lustful desires and, because of that, bogged down in such sins as falsehood, violence, robbery, concupiscence, anger, cheating, and the like. Here are the first couplet and refrain of this hymn: 1. eku suānu dui suānī nāli || bhalake bhaükahi sadā baïāli || kūṛu churā muṭṭhā muradāru || dhāṇaka rūpi rahā karatāra || R. maiṃ pati kī pandi na karaṇī kī kāra || haü bigaṛai rūpi rahā bikarāla || terā eku nāmu tāre sansāru || maiṃ ehā āsa eho ādhāru || 13 1. A dog and a bitch are with me. In the morning they bark and continue till the evening. Falsehood is the dagger, the dead lies robbed. I stay in the form of a wild hunter, O creator! R. I did not follow the Lord’s advice nor did I do what I should have done. My appearance is hideous, I am frightening. Your Name alone gets one across the cycle of births. This is my hope, this is my support.

The situation of the human is all the more complicated in that, for Nānak as in brahmanical Hinduism, sin is the human’s carry-over from his past, for when the soul is joined to the body at birth, the human is loaded with the results of all the good (puṇya) and bad (pāpa) actions of his past lives. This is the doctrine of karma, which combines with the idea of rebirth, the current actions of an individual predicting his future condition or ‘birth’ just as his past actions account for his current state.14 The human guided only by his own false, un-regenerated self, and whom Nānak and his successors call manmukh (whose “face” is oriented towards his own

13 Nānak, Ādi Granth, 24. 14 The doctrine of karma is in fact quite complex and diversified in Indian traditions, as amply demonstrated in Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, ed., Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).

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unregenerate ‘spirit’), is thus in danger of remaining bound to the wheel of transmigration. In the words of Amar Dās: manamukhu bhūlā ṭhaüra na pāe || jo dhuri likhiā su karama kamāe || bikhiā rāte bikhiā khojai mari janamai dukhu tāhā he || 15 The erring manmukh finds no fixed place. The karma he indulges in has been written from all eternity. Drunk with poison, he searches out poison: to him the pain of death and rebirth!

For the Sikhs as for the adepts of bhakti in general, “the motif of personal devotion (bhakti) flows against the current of impersonal karma and the ‘ocean of rebirth’, like a stream of fresh water flowing back out into the ocean”:16 the only escape consists indeed in surrendering oneself to God in total devotion, and in relying on His grace to wipe out the consequences of one’s karma: bahute aügaṇa kūkai koī || jā tisu bhāvai bakhase soī || 17 Loaded with many sins, someone is shrieking; When it pleases Him does He forgive.

This grace is manifested by a voice, called guru in early Sikhism, uttering in the heart of the human the Word (sabadu), which contains the divine Order, both in terms of cosmic ordinance and of injunction to follow the right path. A human hearing God’s voice who wants to engage on that path must first of all become conscious that all sins proceed in the last resort from what Nānak and his eight first successors call the haümaiṃ, the ‘me, I’, that is egotism. This haümaiṃ characterizes the manmukh perpetually bound to transmigration. And why are humans incapable of refraining from sinning? Because they are spiritually blinded by māiā, the world and its snares, the worldly delights apparently real, but actually corrupting: manamukha māiā moha viāpe dūjai bhāi manūā thiru nāhiṃ || 18 Attachment to māiā pervades the manmukhs; pleased by duality, their mind is unsteady.

15 Ādi Granth, 1057. 16 Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, ed., Karma and Rebirth, 36. 17 Nānak, Ādi Granth, 357. 18 Rām Dās, Ādi Granth, 652.



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This is how finally, at the time of death, a manmukh, overwhelmed with pain and anguish, regrets; but it is too late and he goes away: upajai pacai hari būjhai nāhīṃ || anadinu dūjai bhāi phirāhī || manamukha janamu gaiā hai birathā anti gaiā pachutāvaṇiā || 19 He is born, he dissolves, he is not aware of Hari.20 Day after day he wanders, pleased by duality. The birth of a manmukh is useless; in the end, he goes away, regretting.

Expiation, in such a human condition, means basically regenerating one’s soul, and this cannot come from self-inflicted penances or from ritual purifications, which have no power to prevent the manmukh from remaining the slave of his haümaiṃ, nor from consequently staying entangled in the sin which renders impotent both his will and his judgement. Expiation can only take one form: following the discipline of remembering God and repeating His Name. That will allow the manmukh to regenerate his soul and attain salvation (mokṣa) by becoming a gurmukh, a human being guided by God (lit. who has his ‘face’ oriented towards the True ‘Gurū’) who can gradually get away from māiā and one day reach the state of final emancipation from transmigration by uniting with God in perpetual bliss. This mode of expiation and salvation is expressed in a mere five- wordverse by Nānak: suṇiai dūkha pāpa kā nāsu || 21 Listening, pain and sin are erased.

These conceptions about sin and expiation prevailed unchanged throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, as is evident from the compositions of Nānak’s eight first successors who considered themselves as torches bearing the flame that had appeared with Nānak and used to sign their own compositions with his name.22

19 Amar Dās, Ādi Granth, 127. 20 Hari (“yellow, reddish brown, yellow” in Sanskrit, derived for some from the root hr ̥‘to take away’ evil) is, in Hindu contexts, an epithet of Viṣṇu, and so of Kr̥ṣṇa. In the Ādi Granth, it is one of the most common names for God. 21 Nānak, Ādi Granth, 3. 22 Luckily for the historian and the philologist, Arjan, when he compiled the Ādi Granth, carefully distinguished his predecessors and himself by referring to each as a numbered quarter (mahalā, from Ar. maḥalla) of a city: Nānak is thus Mahalā 1, Aṅgad Mahalā 2, and so on. Gobind did the same with his father.

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denis matringe Treason and Martyrdom

In the very late 17th and early 18th century, in a context where the Sikhs, now predominantly Jāṭ, had to fight against Hindu rajahs of the Hills and Mughal forces, radical changes were introduced in the Panth by the tenth and last Guru, Gobind. In 1699, according to the tradition, the Gurū assembled his Sikhs and invited them to partake in an initiation ceremony in a new egalitarian and militant order, the Khālsā, the “Pure Ones”.23 The episode is narrated at length in the most detailed of the two first traditional histories of the Sikhs.24 The Gurū had solemnly summoned his Sikhs on the occasion of their usual spring gathering of the first day of the Hindu month of Vaisākhī. Appearing sword in hand under a large tent, he asked who among them would be ready to sacrifice his life for him. The first man to come forward was Dayā Siṅgh, like the Gurū a Khatrī by caste. The tent was shut and the noise of a sword falling on a wood block was heard. Four more volunteers presented themselves, and the scenario was repeated. The Gurū then opened the tent, revealing that in fact, no one had been slain, and he declared that these ‘five cherished’ (pañj piāre) would form the nucleus of his new order. He then held a ceremony in which the Pañj Piāre were initiated, followed by all the Sikhs ready to observe the discipline of the Khālsā.25

23 In the Sikh context, “according to tradition” means, in fact, according to the first complete accounts of the history of the Sikhs compiled between the 1840s and the 1910s from a wide range of sources: 17th and 18th century hagiographies of Nānak or Janamsākhīs (lit. ‘birth stories’), 18th century heroic poems on the sixth and tenth Gurūs or Gurbilās (lit. ‘pleasure of the Gurū’), and oral tradition. The first of these great narratives, written in Braj-bhāṣā verses by Rattan Siṅgh Bhaṅgū (d. 1846), was issued in 1841 under the title Panth prakāś “Light on the Panth”. For a recent edition see Rattan Siṅgh Bhaṅgū, Srī Gura Pantha Prakāśa, ed. and English trans. Kulwant Singh. 2 vols. (Chandigarh: Institute of Sikh Studies, 2006–2010). A detailed account of the now established version of the creation of the Khālsā is found in the second of these narratives, completed in 1843 by Santokh Siṅgh (1788–1844), written in a mixture of Braj-bhaṣā and Hindi verses, and entitled Gur pratāp sūraj “The Glorious Sun of the Gurūs”. For a recent edition, see: Santokh Siṅgh, Srī Gura Pratāpa Sūraja Grantha, 11 vols., ed. Ajīt Siṅgh Aulakh (Amritsar: Bhāī Catar Siṅgh Jīvan Siṅgh, 2009). The third and last set of major traditional histories of the Sikhs was the work of Giān Siṅgh (1822–1921), whose Panth prakāś (1880), written in Braj-bhāṣā verses, and Tavārīkh Gurū Khālsā, written in Panjabi prose and published in instalments between 1891 and 1919, remain quite influential. For a recent edition of the latter, see Giān Siṅgh, Tavārīkha Gurū Khālasā, 2 vol. (Amrisar: Bhāī Catar Siṅgh Jivan Siṅgh, 2006). 24 Santokh Siṅgh, Srī Gura Pratāpa, vol. 9, 789–814. 25 The initiation ritual was, according to the Sikh tradition, the one that is still used for admission in the Khālsā today (see below, part 4).



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The Gurū also gave the initiated Sikhs a code on that occasion. The men were to be called Siṅgh (Lion) and to wear unmistakable symbols of identification. These symbols, in the list that became canonical, are five in number. The name of each one begins with the Gurumukhī letter called kakkā (k‑), hence their collective designation as the pañj kakke, or five Ks. They consist of uncut hair and beard (kesa), a comb (kaṅghā) in the hair, a dagger (kirapāna), a metallic bracelet (kaṛā) and kind of undershorts (kaccha). As for the women, they were to be called Kaur (Princess). The Sikhs were to abstain from smoking, from eating the meat of animals killed in the Muslim way, and the men from having sexual relations with Muslim women. The Sikh tradition also attributes to Gurū Gobind the composition of the second sacred book of the Sikhs, the Dasam Granth, mostly written in Braj-bhāṣā, the western dialect of Hindi then well established in northern India as the literary idiom of Kr̥ṣṇa bhakti.26 It is now commonly admitted that the bulk of the book was not authored by Gobind; but its major compositions are quite likely to be his or to have been directly inspired by him.27 A particularly striking one is called the Bacītar nāṭak, “The Wonderful Drama”: it is a kind of spiritual and military autobiography, which starts with the celestial existence of Gobind.28 While he is so much absorbed in meditation that he has become one with God, his Lord addresses him. He tells him that all those whom He sent to the earth for revealing His supremacy—‘minor’ Gods such as Brahma and Viṣṇu, and human messengers such as Rāmānanda and Muhammad—forgot Him in their race for being themselves called supreme. Full of egotism, such envoys spread strife and enmity:29 je prabha sākha namita ṭhaharāe || te hiāṃ āi prabhū kahavāe || tā kī bāta bisara jātī bhī || apanī apanī parata sobha bhī || jaba prabha ko na tinai pahicānā || taba hari manuchana ṭhaharānā ||

26 For an overview of this literature and a description of its language, see Rupert Snell, The Hindi Classical Tradition. A Braj Bhāṣā Reader (London: School of Oriental and African Studies University of London, 1991). 27 Like the Ādi Granth, the Dasam Granth has a standard pagination of 1428 pages. For an excellent and concise overview of the Dasam Granth and for a clear presentation of the debates around it, see McLeod, Sikhism, 176–180. 28 Dasam Granth: Srī Gurū Dasama Grantha Sāhiba Jī, 2 vols., (Amritsar: Bhāī Catar Siṅgh Jīvan Siṅgh, 1979), 39–76. 29 Rāmānanda is the name given to a celebrated (but perhaps not historical) 15th century Vaiṣṇava teacher, devotee of Rāma and Sītā, and founder of the Rāmānandī saṃprādaya.

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denis matringe te bhī basi mamatā hui gae ­|| parameśara pāhana ṭhahirae || taba hari siddha sādha ṭhahirāe || tina bhī parama purakhu nahīṃ pāe || jo koī hota bhayo jagi siānā || tina tina apano panthu calānā || parama purakha kinahūṃ naha pāyo || baira bāda haṃkāra baḍhāyo || 30 Those whom the Lord established as His humble witnesses got themselves called ‘Lord’. They forgot their duty, busy as they were each one with his own glory. As they did not recognize their Lord, then Hari installed human beings in their place. They too were overpowered by egotism; they installed stones as supreme lords. Then Hari installed Siddhas and Sādhus;31 they too could not find the Supreme Being. Whosever wisdom was awoken started his own Panth. None could find the Supreme Being; they spread hatred, quarrel, egotism.

God adds that He is now sending him, Gobind, for the propagation of the (true) Panth and for spreading dharma: maiṃ apnā suta tohi nivājā || panthu pracura karabe kahha sājā || jāhi tahāṃ tai dharamu calāi |­­ | kabudhi karana te loka haṭāi || 32 I have fostered you as My son; I have created you for the propagation of the Panth. Go therefore, enforce the dharma, divert the people from evil actions.

Invested with this divine mission, Gobind claims action in two spheres. On the one hand, he teaches the people that behaving like a yogi or an ascetic, reciting the Koran, studying the Purāṇas or wandering in various guises and gathering disciples are māiā, and that they should instead meditate on the Lord.33 Though cast in the mould of something like an avatar-myth, with Gobind being astonishingly presented as the ‘son’ (sutu) of God, this part of the story remains in line with the teachings of the former Gurūs. But almost without transition, Gobind then proceeds to narrate the wars he engaged in against the Mughals and the hill rajahs who 30 Dasam Granth, 55. 31 Siddha is a term applied to fully ‘realized’ members of medieval Tantric traditions; behind this designation is the belief that semi-divine figures, also known as Siddhas, were resident in a heaven which practitioners could reach through the perfection of their body by various means such as tantra, yoga or alchemy.—Sādhu is a common term for a Hindu ascetic. 32 Dasam Granth, 57. 33 The Purāṇas are narratives originally in Sanskrit verse, dating from the 4th century ad onwards and containing mythological versions of the creation, history and destruction of the universe. They also relate the exploits of the different gods.



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helped them. On one occasion, the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb decides to send one of his sons to the Panjab. Several Sikhs, frightened, leave Anandpur, the fortified city of Gobind in the Shivalik hills, for safer villages, without permission from the Gurū: kitaka loka taji saṅgi sidhāre || jāi base giravara jahha bhāre || cita mūzīyana ko adhika ḍarānā || tinai ubāra na apanā jānā ||34 Some people left my company; they went to live in the hills, they sought a place there. These fools were much frightened; they did not know that their safety was with me.

But as if by divine punishment, the Mughal Prince’s officers chase and catch them, shave their heads and urinate on them, strike their foreheads with shoes and bricks, walk them in the villages with a bag of horse excrement tied on their faces, and plunder and destroy their houses. The Gurū comments: gura paga te je bimukha sidhāre || īhāṃ ūhāṃ tina ke mukha kāre || 35 Those who turn their face away from the feet of the Gurū, in this world and the next, their face is blackened.

In contrast, all the people who are known to be disciples of the Gurū are spared, and they are protected from sin and pain: je je gura caranana ratta hvai haiṃ || tina ko kaśaṭi na dekhana pai haiṃ || riddha siddha tina ke griha māhīṃ || pāpa tāpa chvai sakai na chāhīṃ || 36 Those who are in love with the Gurū’s feet, they never see suffering. Prosperity and success abide in their homes, sin and pain cannot touch them.

With this episode, we see a major change in Sikh theology and in the conception of sin. It is now a religious duty for a Sikh to stay by his Gurū, to fight with him for the establishment of the just order of dharma, and as a consequence, cowardice and dissimulating one’s own Sikh identity become major sins, punished by God both in this and the next world. Now, is there a way to expiate this new type of sin? We can find an answer to this question, and a positive one, in an episode inevitably recounted in the traditional narratives of Sikh history, which, from the 34 Dasam Granth, 71. 35 Dasam Granth, 71. 36 Dasam Granth, 72.

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early 1840s onwards, endlessly retell the battles fought by the tenth Gurū and his troops. The story begins in 1704. A Mughal force commanded by Vazīr Khān, governor of Sirhind, with the help of hill-rajahs hostile to Gurū Gobind, besieges Anandpur for several months, bringing the inhabitants and the Sikh army to starvation. Ground down by privation, forty of the Gurū’s followers decide to desert and flee. Informed of their plan, Gurū Gobind summons them and requests them to write a disclaimer by which they declare that they renounce their loyalty to him and that he has no responsibility towards and authority over them anymore. Here is the concise account given by Rattan Siṅgh Bhaṅgū in 1841: tau satigura etī kahī yaha hama jāho likhāi | satigura kahinde thaka gae hama mannī sikkha na kāi || au duī etī dihu tuma likkha | tuma hama gurū na hama tuma sikkha | tau lokana ima hūṃ likha dayo | huto gurū jī jima tho kahayo || 37 Then the True Gurū spoke thus: “Write this to me: ‘The True Gurū orders, but we are tired; we do not consider ourselves as Sikhs anymore.’ Give me also this second written undertaking: ‘You are not our Gurū, we are not your Sikhs.’ ” Then the people gave the written statement that the Gurū had requested.

After this, the deserters leave for the plains. Meanwhile, Gobind and a small garrison manage to escape from the besieged city. After many tribulations, the Gurū succeeds in gathering his scattered forces in the township of Khidrana: a new battle is fought against the Mughals and their allies in December 1705, and this time, the Sikhs are successful. After the battle— I am now following closely Santokh Singh’s account in his 1843 Gur pratāp sūraj—the Guru goes all over the battlefield, rescuing the wounded and blessing the dying. Among the slain are the forty Sikhs who had asked to be relieved of their allegiance to the Gurū: having been shamed by their wives at home, they had felt guilty and decided to join the Gurū again, and had come to take part in the battle. One of them, Mahāṃ Siṅgh, has not yet expired.38 The Gurū sits next to him, cleans his wounds, lets him have the darśan he longs for in his thoughts, and asks him if he has any

37 Rattan Siṅgh Bhangū, Srī Gura Pantha Prakāśa, vol. 1, 112, Santokh Siṅgh, Srī Gura Pratāpa Sūraja Grantha, vol. 11, 155–161, and Gīan Siṅgh, Tavārikha Gurū Khālasā, vol. I, 749–754, who write in great detail about this episode, call the disclaimer by the technical term of Persian origin bedavā. 38 They are two according to Bhangū, Srī Gura Pantha Prakāśa, vol. 1, 162.



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wish to express.39 The man then begs the Gurū to tear into pieces the disclaimer that he and his thirty-nine companions had written before leaving Anandpur. Gobind, who has the letter in his pocket, tears it and bids him farewell with these words: jāhu mahāṃ singha jahiṃ mama loka | basahu sadā kabi nahiṃ tahiṃ śoka || de kari prāna kina upakāra | tisa ko phala tuhi bhayo adhāra’ || 40 Go, Mahāṃ Siṅgh, where my world is. Live there forever; there will be no grief for you there. You have given your life in an act of selfless assistance; for this, you will get an infinite reward.

He then asks for a funeral pyre to be prepared, has the forty martyrs cremated together, and declares during the cremation: makra saṅkarakhaṇa arakī hoi | āna śanānahi je nara koi || manokāmanā prāpati soū | pāpa kare gana baya sabhi khoū || 41 When the sun enters Capricorn, any person coming to bathe (in the pool of this place) Will have his heart’s desires fulfilled; all the sins he committed will be erased.

adding: abi te nām mukatisara hoi | khidarāṇā isa kahai na koi || is thala mukati bhae sikha cālī | je niśapāpa ghāla bahu ghālī || 42 From now on, the name of this place will be Muktsar,43 none will call it Khidrāṇā anymore. On this ground, forty Sikhs were liberated, and all their sins were annihilated.

To this day indeed, these forty Sikh martyrs are remembered as the Cālī Mukte, the Forty Liberated Ones. They are celebrated every year in a major festival held in Muktsar, and they are commemorated in the prayer 39 “Darśana” (a Sanskrit word meaning literally “looking at, viewing”), when referring to the meeting of the devotee’s and the iconic deity’s eyes, is an act of worship in itself, and an essential part of the ritual worship called pūjā. The principle can be diversely expanded, notably to cover the auspicious sight of a holy man,—as is precisely the case here. On darśan, the standard study is Diana Eck, Darshan: Seeing the Divine in India (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998). 40 Santokh Siṅgh, Srī Gura Pratāpa Sūraja Grantha, vol. 11, 462. 41 Santokh Siṅgh, Srī Gura Pratāpa Sūraja Grantha, vol. 11, 463. 42 Santokh Siṅgh, Srī Gura Pratāpa Sūraja Grantha, vol. 11, 463. 43 Meaning “Ocean of Liberation”.

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of the Khālsā known as Ardās, which is recited at the conclusion of most Sikh rituals.44 We now have the answer to our question. The fate of these Forty Liberated Ones illustrates the “expiation” side of the fundamental theological change introduced in Sikhism by Gurū Gobind: refusing to fight with and for the Gurū is a major sin; but that sin can be expiated by martyrdom. And so strong is the sin-destroying power of martyrdom that where it has taken place, its very memory can destroy sin, just as in Islam the baraka of a Saint at the place where he is buried removes sin. The theme of martyrdom became later on quite central in Sikhism and was, as brilliantly and eruditely demonstrated by Lou Fennec, constructed by Sikh reformists of the early twentieth century as an ideal of triumphant glory when the spreading of evil demands a militant response.45 The Codification of Sin and Expiation in the 18th Century Starting from Gurū Gobind and the Dasam Granth, another line, which runs throughout the history of Sikhism, can be followed regarding sin and expiation. We have already seen that in the Bacitar Nāṭak, on one occasion, Sikh renegades had been punished for their desertion by being humiliated by Mughal officers. This episode is clearly linked with the theological renewal brought about by Gurū Gobind, and more specifically with the code which, according the tradition, he enjoined his Sikhs to follow. In fact this code gradually evolved on the basis of the Gurū’s fundamental injunctions, as is evidenced by the six Rahit-nāmās or Code-manuals composed throughout the 18th century. These manuals have been thoroughly studied and translated by W.H. McLeod.46 Claiming to have been prepared at the command of the Gurū and to record his actual words, they contain numerous injunctions pertaining to various domains of life, many of which are not mentioned in the traditional Sikh histories. These injunctions were produced in response to

44 For an English translation of this prayer, with an introduction, see W.H. McLeod, Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), 103–105. 45 See Lou Fennec, Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition. Playing the ‘Game of Love’ (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000), especially pp. 178–225. 46 See W.H. McLeod, The Chaupa Singh Rahit-nama (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 1987) and Sikhs of the Khalsa: A History of the Khalsa Rahit (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003).



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the relentless attacks of the Mughals against the Sikhs in the early 18th century and, perhaps even more, to the campaigns launched in the later part of that century across the Panjab by Afghans, who presented their raids as a jihad. In such a context, the aim of the manuals was to protect the Khālsā and mobilize its members against the enemy, that is, the Muslims. The Khālsā was now a ‘church’ in the Weberian sense, an institutionalized community with its rationalized cult and dogma, and at the same time, it was the mystical body of the Gurū, as is expressed in the following passage of one of the epical poems written in Braj to the glory of Gobind in the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century, and called Gurbilās (pleasure of the Gurū). The Sikhs ask the Gurū which form he will take after he leaves this world: khālasa āpano rūpa batāyo | khālasa hī so hai mama kāmā | 47 The Khālsā is my own form, he said. It is the Khālsā which is my desire.

What is relevant for our purpose in the 18th century code manuals is that along with defining the duties of Khālsā Sikhs, they list the penances which representatives of a particular saṅgat or local Sikh community could impose on one of its members as an expiation rite. We shall take as an example the Rahit-nāmā composed by Dayā Siṅgh, because, besides detailing the religious duties of a Sikh, giving norms regarding his character, his personal attitude, his appearance and his social behaviour within the Panth, it is the Rahit-nāmā that gives the most detailed list of penances.48 The latter are called tanakhāh, a word of Persian origin meaning ‘salary’ and referring, in the eighteenth century Panjab, to the grants of money made by the Mughals to those who assisted them. For the Khālsā Sikhs, the word tanakhāh was used to mean a penance that washed away an offence against the rahit. The Dayā Siṅgh Rahit-nāmā, as shown by W.H. McLeod, is a late eighteenth century work, and nothing is known of its author.49 As presented in this text, the tanakhāhs imposed upon those who violate the rahit and 47 Sainapatī, (first manuscript dated 1711), Srī Gura Sobhā, ed. Gandā Siṅgh, (Patiala: Panjabi University, 1967), 170. 48 Panjabi text in Piārā Siṅgh Padam, ed., Rahitanāme (Amritsar: Siṅgh Brothers, 1974), 68–76; English translation in McLeod, Sikhs of the Khalsa, 2003, 310–325. 49 McLeod, Sikhs of the Khalsa, 67, 71–72. As stated by McLeod, the author cannot be the Dayā Siṅgh who, according to Sikh traditional histories, was, as we have seen, the first to offer his head to Gobind at the inauguration of the Khālsā in 1699.

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are called tanakhāhīās (deserving tanakhāh) generally consist in fines or strokes with a cane; re-initiation in the Khālsā could also be imposed. For instance, a Sikh must pay one and quarter rupee if he wears a sacred thread, if he has sexual relations with a child or if he bathes ritually without having his hair covered by a turban or without wearing a short garment.50 For cutting the hair, the tanakhāh should be death, but it is reduced to 50 strokes with a cane because the Gurū showed compassion to his followers; the sinner should then be re-initiated, read aloud the Rahit-nāmā, and for forty days repeat as many times as possible the Japu-jī, a fundamental composition of Gurū Nānak at the beginning of the Ādi Granth.51 Similarly, if a Sikh smokes the hookah, he should not only pay 25 rupees and receive fifty strokes with a cane; he should also be re-initiated. Then, says the text, “he is pure” (suddha ho):52 this is all the more interesting in that it strongly reminds one of the Hindus who, having fallen in a degraded mode of life, had to go through special rites for being cleansed of pollution and readmitted into their caste. In one case, the penance imposed is death: gurū kī jo nindā kare tāṃ kā sīsa kāṭe, nahīṃ vahāṃ se bhāge | 53 The one who slanders the Gurū, his head must be cut, there is no way out of this.

There are also offences which cannot be expiated and condemn the sinner to a horrible disease: siṅgha hoi kari ṭopī dhāraigā so kuśaṭī hogā | 54 The one who, though being a Sikh, wears a hat, he will become a leper.

50 The sacred thread referred to here is the one borne by Hindus belonging to the three higher classes or varṇas of the brahmanical hierarchy, those who have access to sacred knowledge (Veda): the brāhmaṇas or priests as well as masters and teachers of the Veda, the kṣatriyas, endowed with sovereignty and, as warriors, responsible for the protection of the dominion, and the vaiśyas, traditionally described as commoners engaged in productive labour, in agricultural and pastoral tasks, and in trading. This sacred thread is conferred on them at their initiation to Vedic studentship, which makes them ‘twice born’ (dvija), and it is worn by them throughout their lifetime, normally over the left shoulder and diagonally across the chest to the right hip. It consists of a loop made of three symbolically knotted and twisted strands of cotton cord and is replaced regularly. 51 Ādi Granth, 1–8; for a good English translation with an introduction, see Christopher Shackle and Arvind-pal Siṅgh Mandair, ed. and trans., Teaching of the Sikh Gurus (London and New York: Routledge, 2005), 1–19. 52 Dayā Siṅgh, Rahitanāma, 72. 53 Dayā Siṅgh, Rahitanāma, 71. 54 Dayā Siṅgh, Rahitanāma, 71.



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or to an after-life in hell. This is specifically the case if a Siṅgh of the Khālsā adopts Muslim or Hindu manners: turaka kā māsa khāi au besayā bhogai, so donoṃ naraka maiṃ jāi | turakoṃ kī saṅgata karai, usa kusaṅgata maiṃ na mela kare, anta ko vahi naraka maiṃ jāigā (. . .) | laṅgoṭa dhoti dhavalī kaṭi bāṃdhe au kesa nagana rakhai, so mahāṃ naraka bhogai (. . .) | tilaka dhare, dhāgā dhāre, kaṇṭha meṃ mālā kāṭha kī pahire, apane dharama ko chedegā, ghora naraka meṃ paṛe | 55 The one who eats meat from animals killed in the Muslim way and the one who takes his pleasure with a prostitute, may both go to hell! The one who associates with Muslims, do not keep his company: in the end, he will go to hell (. . .). The one who wears a strip of cloth concealing his private parts (laṅgoṭa), a white loincloth (dhoti) and who keeps his hair uncovered, he will suffer in a terrible hell (. . .). The one who applies a sectarian mark on his forehead, who wears a sacred thread and who has a rosary made of wood destroys his dharma and will fall into a frightful hell.

Regarding the Hindus, this passage refers indeed to those who have been initiated by a spiritual master (guru) in a theistic sect (saṃpradāya). Such initiates, from the day of their initiation (dīkṣā), wear a laṅgoṭa under their loincloth (dhoti) as a symbol of their chastity (the Sikhs, as we have seen, wear underwear shorts called kaccha), they keep their hair uncovered if they are ascetics (the Sikhs wear a turban to protect their uncut hair), they apply on their forehead sectarian marks (tilaka) made from a coloured substance such as ash or sandalwood paste, they have around their neck a rosary of wooden beads, and, if they are of ‘twice born’ origin, they may very well retain their sacred thread.56 Other passages of Dayā Siṅgh’s text complete the list of specific Hindu practices forbidden to the Sikhs on pain of tanakhāhs. Such is the case of the following one, which also alludes to the divisions of the Sikhs: bhādanī kuṛīmāra dhīramallīā masanda rāmarāīā gerū raṅge kasumbhā ke raṅga se baratana kare savā rupayā tanakhāha | 57 The one who indulges in tonsure, girl-killing, association with the Dhīrmalīās, the masands or the Rāmrāīās, who uses colour prepared from red ochre or from safflower, for him a tanakhāh of one rupee and a quarter. 55 Dayā Siṅgh, Rahitanāma, 71. 56 The devotees of Viṣṇu, the Vaiṣṇavas, have a tilaka which is a kind of U figure from the meeting point of the eyebrows, sometimes with a vertical red line between its arms. They wear rosaries whose beads are made of tulsī (sweet basil plant) berries. The devotees of Śiva, the Śaivas, have a tilak consisting of three horizontal lines with or without a central dot or ‘third eye’. They favour rosaries of rudrākṣa (Eloecarpus ganitrus) berries. 57 Dayā Siṅgh, Rahitanāma, 72.

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The communities mentioned in this enumeration are numbered among the Pañj Mel, the five reprobate groups which members of the Khālsā must swear to spurn, following an injunction of Gurū Gobind at the time of the creation of the new order.58 The list has never been quite fixed. The masands (from Ar. masnad: ‘throne’ or ‘the one who sits on a throne’) were instituted by Gurū Rām Dās as a regular category of surrogates to the Gurū with extended responsibilities such as preaching, supervising the local communities and collecting the offerings made to the Gurū. Since with the passage of time, many of them had become independent and corrupt, Gobind abolished them when he founded the Khālsā. They are always included in the list of the Pañj Mel. The Dhīrmalīās and the Rāmrāīās are also generally included in that list. The Dhīrmalīās go back to the partisans of Dhīrmal (1627–?), who was already hostile to orthodox Sikhs at the time of his grandfather Gurū Hargobind and whose opposition increased when he was passed over as Gurū Hargobind’s successor. The antagonism of the Dhīrmalīās contributed to Gurū Teġ Bahādur and his faithful having to leave the plains and seek a safer abode in the Shivalik Hills. The Rāmrāīās are the heirs of the partisans of Rām Rāī (1646–1687). The latter, elder son of Gurū Har Rāī, had been taken as a hostage at the court of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb because his father had helped the future emperor’s brother Dārā Shukoh (1615–1659) in the customary war of succession at the end of Shāh Jahān’s (r. 1627–1658) reign. At the Mughal court, Rām Rāī had been turned into a supporter of Aurangzeb, who granted him revenue free land. Rejected by his father, he had gathered a schismatic group of Sikhs around him. Those who observe the head-shaving custom (bhandanī) of certain Hindu ascetic renouncers and those who kill baby-girls (kuṛī-mār) as was common in pre-colonial days among certain Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims of the Panjab (as elsewhere), are also often listed among the Pañj Mel.59

58 On the Pañj Mel, the masands, the Dhirmalīās and the Rāmrāīās, see W.H. McLeod, Historical Dictionary of Sikhism (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995), s.v. 59 The reason for female infanticide was the high expenditures generated by a wedding and dowry (the same cause is still behind abortion of female foetuses today). It could also be, in the Bedī sub-caste of the Khatrī caste, a result of the fact that it was impossible for its members to marry their daughter in a higher sub-caste (gota, from Skt. gotra), as required by the caste dharma, for they were ranking first in their caste (zāt, from Skt. jāti). After much discussion, female infanticide was finally prohibited by the colonial power through the 1870 Female Infanticide Act. The whole process is still quite debated, in particular by feminist scholars; see, among many others, Malavika Kasturi, “Law and Crime in India: British Policy and the Female Infanticide Act of 1870,” Indian Journal of Gender ­Studies 1



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The 18th century Rahit-nāmās are thus a unique testimony of the way the Siṅghs sought to build up and affirm their Khālsā identity by strongly distinguishing themselves from both Muslims and, something that has not been underlined in scholarly studies, Hindus, at a time when they were fighting to establish their supremacy in the Panjab. Sin and Expiation, Sect and Caste: The 20th Century Sikh Code In the early 20th century, Sikh reformers of the so-called Tat Khālsā (‘true Khālsā’) current of the Siṅgh Sabhā (the reformist ‘Society of the Lions’), affirmed that Sikhism was radically distinct from Hinduism. Like many religious reform movements of colonial times, they aimed at restoring their religion to its reconstructed pristine purity and wanted to make each Sikh individually a ‘good Sikh’. Towards this end they undertook to prepare a new comprehensive version of the Sikh code.60 After decades of debates and slow progress, this code was finally formalized in 1950—the same year as the Indian Constitution!—in the form a booklet in Panjabi entitled Sikh Rahit Maryādā (lit. ‘correct behaviour (for) the Sikh mode of living’), which remains to this day the definitive statement of the Khālsā code.61 It was prepared by the Central Gurdawara (Sikh Temples) Management Committee (SGPC), an elected body. The history of the SGPC goes back to what has been called ‘the third Sikh war’ (the first two being those of the British against the Sikhs in 1846 and 1849, when they conquered the Panjab). This ‘third war’ was fought by Tat Khālsā Sikhs to take the management of the gurdvārās of the Panjab away from the mahants (lit. ‘superiors’), who had been their hereditary custodians since the turmoil of the 18th century.62 These mahants were in fact Śaivaite renouncers of the Udāsī Saṃpradāya, which claimed to go back to the followers of Gurū Nānak’s celibate and ascetic son Śrī Cand (trad. 1494–1629). They were seen as hinduizing the gurdvārās by the Central Sikh League (CSL), a political party created in 1919 on Tat Khālsā (1994): 169–193, and Satadru Sen “The Savage Family: Colonialism and Female Infanticide in Nineteenth-Century India,” Journal of Women’s History 14, no. 3 (2002): 53–79. 60 On the Siṅgh Sabhā reform movement and its internal debates, see Harjot Oberoi, The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994), 305–377 and 401–417. 61 Śromaṇī Gurduārā Prabadhak Kameṭī, Sikkha Rahita Maryādā (Amritsar: Śromaṇī Gurduārā Prabandhak Kametī, 1950); English translation in McLeod, Sikhs of the Khalsa, 377–401. 62 In Hinduism, a mahant is the superior of a monastery.

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lines, but they were supported by the British, who did not trust those they called the “neo-Sikhs”.63 In 1920, the CSL formed the SGPC for liberating the gurdvārās from the mahants. This was followed, the same year, by the formation of the Akālī Dal (Army of the Eternal), a body based on a military model. The Akālī Dal confronted the colonial government, occupied gurdvārās and finally won: the Sikh Gurdwara Act of 1925 signalled its victory and provided for a committee elected by Sikhs to manage the gurdvārās: Sikh leaders conferred this responsibility on the SGPC.64 The Sikh Rahit Maryādā was prepared over the years by special committees established from 1931 on by the SGPC. In its final 1950 version it contains two sections. The first one is by far the longest and deals with personal discipline. It covers such religious topics as how to behave in a gurdvārā and how to read the Ādi Granth, and deals at length with the rituals of birth, naming, wedding and funerals. The second brief part deals with Panthic discipline and is almost exclusively dedicated to the initiation in the Khālsā. This ceremony is performed by five Siṅghs representing the Pañj Piāre of the founding of the Khālsā. Amidst various recitations, sanctified sugared water stirred with a double-edged sword and called ammrit (nectar of ‘immortality’) is poured five times into the candidate’s cupped hands and drunk by her or him, five times it is sprinkled on her or his eyes, and five times over his hair. This rite, reminiscent of the saṃskāras punctuating the life the Hindus with the dual purpose of removing impurities and generating new qualities, is called pahul.65 After having been thus baptised, the initiate is said to be an Ammrit-dhārī. One of the Pañj Piāre then expounds the rahit to her or him. When he comes to sins, he explains that there are four major ones (kurahitāṃ):66 1. kesāṃ dī beadabī; 2. kuṭṭhā khāṇā; 3. para-isatrī jāṃ para-puruṣa dā gaman (bhogaṇā); 4. tamākū dā varataṇā | 1. showing disrespect to one’s hair [by cutting it]; 2. eating meat from animals killed according to Muslim law; 3. having sexual intercourse with any person other than one’s spouse; 4. using tobacco.

63 See D. Petrie, “Secret C.I.D. Memorandum on Recent Developments in Sikh Politics, 1911”, Punjab Past and Present 4 no. 2 (1970): 302–379. 64 On this third SIkh “war”, see Richard G. Fox, Lions of the Punjab: Culture in the Making (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985). 65 Etymologically, this word means “stirring”; see Ralph Turner, A Comparative Dictionary of the Indo-Aryan Languages, vol. 1, (1966), entry no. 8487. 66 Śromaṇī Gurduārā Prabandhak Kameṭī, Sikkha Rahita Maryādādā, 35; McLeod, Sikhs of the Khalsa, 399.



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Anyone who commits one of these four cardinal sins becomes a patita (fallen). This Sanskrit participle built on the root pat- ‘to fall’ is the word used in classical brahmanical literature to designate a Hindu who has committed such a violation of the dharma that he is excluded from his caste. As for a Khālsā Sikh committing one of the cardinal sins and thus becoming a patita, she or he is liable to excommunication: she or he may be ejected from the Panth by the SGPC or one of its local branches. But a person who confesses his or her errors may expiate the sin by performing humiliating punishment and be re-admitted to the Panth after having been duly initiated again. The second part of the Sikh Rahit Maryādā also contains four small paragraphs on the ways to expiate any other “breach of the rahit” (rahit dī koī bhull), and specifies that: saṅgata nūṃ bakhaśaṇa vele haṭha nahīṃ karadā cāhīdā. nā hī tanakhāha luāṇa vāle nūṃ daṇḍa bharana vica aṛī karanī cāhīdī hai. tanakhāha kise kisama dī sevā, khāsa kara ke jo hatthāṃ nāla kītī jā sake, lāuṇī cāhīe | 67 The saṅgat should not use compulsion when imposing a penance and the offender should not question its verdict. The penance should take the form of service to the saṅgat, particularly the kind that requires manual labour.

These penances are imposed by SGPC or by its local branches. There have been famous cases. For instance, in 1961, one of the leading political figures of the time, Master Tārā Siṅgh (1885–1967), went on a fast to death in support of the creation of a separate Panjabi speaking state in India, but he was persuaded to end his fast after forty-eight days, and the Government appointed a commission to look into the question of Sikh grievances. Nevertheless, a duly appointed committee investigated the circumstances that led to the abandonment of the fast and pronounced Master Tara Singh guilty of having gone back on his plighted word and of having blemished thereby the Sikh tradition of religious steadfastness and sacrifice. Various penances “requiring manual labour” were imposed on Master Tārā Siṅgh, such as scrubbing dishes in the Golden Temple refectory and cleaning the shoes of the faithful at its entrance.68 The Sikh Rahit Maryādā, which defines the true Sikh as the Khālsā Sikh is of course not admitted by the whole Panth, which includes many Sahaj-dhārīs: this word, meaning “those who are in ‘the bliss of union’ 67 Śromaṇī Gurduārā Prabandhak Kameṭī, Sikkha Rahita Maryādā, 37; McLeod, Sikhs of the Khalsa, 401. 68 See Grewal, The Sikhs of the Punjab, 196–206.

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(sahaj) with God” designates the non-Khālsā Sikhs, but is interpreted by Khālsā Sikhs as signifying “slow adopters” and referring to the Sikhs who are on their way to Khālsā initiation. The situation is all the more complicated in that all non-Sahaj-dhārīs are not Ammrit-dhārīs. Certain Sikhs indeed observe some or all the injunctions of the Rahit, always including the uncut hair, but do not take initiation: they are called Kes-dhārīs (keeping their hair uncut), and are usually regarded as members of the Khālsā, although they are not Ammrit-dhārīs. Thus, all Ammrit-dhārīs are Kes-dhārīs, but only a minority of Kes-dhārīs are in fact Ammrit-dhārīs. There are also Sikhs who belong to Khālsā families, but cut their hair: they are derogatively called monās (shaven) by the Ammrit-dhārīs, and are consequently categorized as patita. Now, in terms of caste, all the Jāṭs of the Panjab, who form two thirds of the Sikhs in the region, are Kes-dhārīs, and a significant minority of them are Ammrit-dhārīs, while all the Sahaj-dhārīs are members of the urban Khatrī, Aroṛā and Ahlūvāliā castes, which also include many nonSikh members.69 This means that for the Panjabi Jāṭs, in socio-religious terms, the ‘caste’ and the ‘sect’ have become co-extensive, whereas for the other castes, Sikhism remains a matter of personal choice,—though until recently it was customary for the Khatrī, the Aroṛā and the Ahlūvāliā families of the Panjab to have systematically one son initiated into the Khālsā.70 Nevertheless, it is clear that even for the Ammrit-dhārī Jāṭs, the Sikh Rahit Maryādā does not provide guidance for all the aspects of life. Similarly, it does not mention all the faults and crimes that could rightly be considered as sins, such as murder, to take only one example. The corollary is that the caste remains the regulating social milieu, sometimes—as is usual for the Hindus belonging to a sect—at the cost of an insurmountable tension. For instance, regarding marriage, the Sikh Rahit Maryādā does have detailed prescriptions, with the following basic rule:

69 The Ahlūvāliās present an interesting case of social ascension. Originally named Kalāls, and brewers of country liquors, they adopted the name of a prominent mid-18th century military leader from their caste, Jassā Siṅgh Ahlūvāliā. They concomitantly followed a lifestyle higher than was required for their very low caste. They were so successful that today their status is comparable to that of the Khatrīs. See McLeod, Historical Dictionary, 25–26. 70 On the dialectics of caste and sect, see the papers gathered in Marie-Louise Reiniche and Henri Stern, eds., Les ruses du salut: religion et politiques dans le monde Indien (Paris: EHESS, 1995), especially the essay by Catherine Clémentin-Ojha, “L’inégalité des śudra: convictions smārta, dilemme vishnuite. Un débat interne à l’hindouisme”, 88–91.



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sikkha sikkhaṇī dā viāha, bināṃ zāta-pāta, gota vicāre de hoṇā cāhīe | 71 Marriages between Sikhs should take no account of caste or sub-caste.

But in the real life of Indian society, where marriages remain arranged by families, Ammrit-dhārī Jāṭ parents, like all other Sikhs, almost always choose for their children partners belonging to the same caste and to another sub-caste, in strict conformity with the basic injunctions of the very caste-system that is rejected by the Rahit. Conclusions In this brief survey, we have seen that for the Sikhs of the time of the nine first Gurūs, in the 16th and 17th centuries, when nascent Sikhism was essentially a path of salvation, all sins were considered as rooted in one’s own ego and its evil impulses and desires, and they could only be expiated by meditating on God and seeking union with him. Of course, the sources do not say anything of other forms of expiation (or punishment) that the sinner (the offender) might have to undergo in the society to which he belonged. The Hindus who joined the Nānak Panth remained socially members of their caste and of their society at large. Consequently, some of their faults could be held to go against the caste dharma and to be liable to penances imposed by the pañcāyat, while others would be held as offences or crimes coming within the competence of the local qāẓī, the Muslim judge appointed by the Sultan or in his name. When their growing conflict with the Mughals led the Sikhs to turn from a peaceful devotional community to a militant order, important changes were introduced in these conceptions by the tenth Gurū. On the one hand, deserting the battlefield became a major offence, which could be expiated only by readiness for martyrdom. On the other hand, a code was issued by the Gurū for his Khālsā, and was later worked upon again and again for two centuries. Its 18th century versions sought to provide each Sikh of the Khālsā with a detailed list of his duties in terms of religious, personal and social life. Infringing the code meant to sin, and the code contained graded penances for various types of offenses. The worst of the redeemable sins necessitated, after due tanakhāh, a re-initiation into the Khālsā, while unredeemable ones condemned the sinner either to

71 Śromaṇī Gurduārā Prabandhak Kameṭī, Sikkha Rahita Maryādā, 25; McLeod, Sikhs of the Khaksa, 399.

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deadly disease or hell, or to capital punishment. All these are clear indications that the Khālsā aimed at constituting itself as a separate social body, as a theocratic polity in which sin and offence or crime were one and the same, and fell under the same jurisdiction. But this vision remained a Utopia, for when Raṇjīt Siṅgh became the Maharajah of the Panjab, he kept intact the judicial system of the Mughals, appointing himself the judges of the criminal courts, and keeping up the courts of the qāẓīs and the caste pañcāyats for matters pertaining to personal law.72 The mid-20th century version of the code is marked by the Tat Khālsā reformist ideals, and the story has now come full circle. The main emphasis is indeed clearly on the individual again, and on the various ways in which he must behave to be personally a good, non-sinning Sikh. Expiation is summarily dealt with, and must take the form of service (sevā) to the community, except in the case of the four major sins, which necessitate reinitiation. But we have also seen that in a way that is typical of Hindu society, severe tensions persist for initiated individuals between their adhesion to the Sikh code and their unavoidable submission to caste dharma. Bibliography Primary Sources Ādi Granth: Srī Gurū Grantha Sāhiba Darapaṇa, Chief ed. Sāhib Siṅgh. 10 vols. Jalandhar: Rāj Pabliśarz, 1962–1964. Bhaṅgū, Rattan Siṅgh. (first ed. 1841) Srī Gura Pantha Prakāśa. Edited and translated by Kulwant Singh. 2 vols. Chandigarh: Institute of Sikh Studies, 2006–2010. Dasam Granth: Srī Gurū Dasama Grantha Sāhiba Jī, 2 vols. Amritsar: Bhāī Catar Siṅgh Jīvan Siṅgh, 1979. Padam, Piārā Siṅgh, ed. Rahitanāme. Amritsar: Singh Brothers, 1974. Saināpatī. (first manuscript 1711). Srī Gura Sobhā. Edited by Gaṇḍā Siṅgh. Patiala: Panjabi University, 1967. Siṅgh, Dayā. Rahitanāmā. In Padam 1974, 68–76. Siṅgh, Giān. Tavārīkha Gurū Khālasā. 2 vols. Amritsar: Bhāī Catar Siṅgh Jīvan Siṅgh, 2009. Siṅgh, Santokh. (first ed. 1843) Srī Gura Pratāpa Sūraja Grantha. Edited by Ajīt Siṅgh Aulakh. 11 vols. Amritsar: Bhāī Catar Siṅgh Jīvan Siṅgh, 2006. Śromaṇī Gurduārā Prabandhak Kameṭī. Sikkha Rahita Maryādā. Amritsar: Śromaṇī Gurduārā Prabandhak Kameṭī, 1950. Secondary Sources Clémentin-Ojha, Catherine. “L’inégalité des śudra: convictions smārta, dilemme vishnuite. Un débat interne à l’hindouisme.” In Les ruses du salut: religion et politiques dans le

72 Grewal, The Sikhs of the Punjab, 107.



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monde indien, edited by Marie-Louise Reiniche and Henri Stern. Paris: EHESS, 1995, 87–109. Dale, Stephen Frederic. The Garden of the Eight Paradises: Bābur and the Culture of Empire in Central Asia, Afghanistan and India (1483–1530). Leiden: Brill, 2004. Dumont, Louis. Homo hierarchicus: le système des castes et ses implications. Paris: Gallimard, 1966. Eck, Diana. Darshan: Seeing the Divine in India, 3rd ed. (first two editions 1981 and 1985). New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. Fennec, Lou. Martyrdom in the Sikh Tradition. Playing the ‘Game of Love’. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000. Fox, Richard G. Lions of the Punjab: Culture in the Making. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1885. Grewal, Jaswant Siṅgh. The Sikhs of the Punjab. 2nd. ed. (first ed. 1990). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Heestermann, J.C. “The Social Dynamics of the Mughal Empire: A Brief Introduction.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 47 no. 3 (2004): 292–297. Kasturi, Malavika. “Law and Crime in India: British Policy and the Female Infanticide Act of 1870”. Indian Journal of Gender Studies 1 (1994): 169–193. Lorenzen, David. 2004. “Bhakti.” In The Hindu World, edited by Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby. New York and London: Routledge, 185–209. McLeod, W.H. The Evolution of the Sikh Community. New Delhi: Oxford University Press 1975. ——. Gurū Nānak and the Sikh Religion. 2nd ed. (first ed. 1968). Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1976. ——. Textual Sources for the Study of Sikhism. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984. ——. The Chaupa Singh Rahit-nama. Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 1987. ——. Historical Dictionary of Sikhism. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995. ——. Sikhism. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1997. ——. Sikhs of the Khalsa: A History of the Khalsa Rahit. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003. Oberoi, Harjot. The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994. O’Flahery, Wendy Doniger, ed. Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980. Petrie, D. “Secret C.I.D. Memorandum on Recent Developments in Sikh Politics, 1911.” Panjab Past and Present 4 no. 2 (1970): 302–379. Pettigrew, Joyce. Robber Noblemen: A Study of the Political System of the Sikh Jats. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1975. Platts, John T. A Dictionary of Urdū, Classical Hindī and English. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1884. Reiniche, Marie-Louise, and Henri Stern, eds. Les ruses du salut: religion et politiques dans le monde indien. Paris: EHESS, 1995. Rose, Horace Arthur. A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province. 3 vols., vol. 1 Lahore: Superintendent, Govt. Printing, Punjab, 1919; vols. 2. and 3 Lahore: S.T. Weston at the Civil and Military Gazette Press, 1911–1914. Schomer, Karine. “The Sant Tradition in Perspective”. In The Sants: Studies in a Devotional Tradition of India, edited by Karine Schomer and W.H. McLeod. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. 1–17. Sen, Satadru. “The Savage Family: Colonialism and Female Infanticide in NineteenthCentury India”, Journal of Women’s History 14 no. 3 (2002): 53–79. Shackle, Christopher. “ ‘South-Western’ Elements in the Language of the Ādi Granth”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 40 no. 1 (1977): 36–50. ——. “The South Western Style in the Guru Granth Sahib”, Journal of Sikh Studies 5 no. 1 (1978a): 69–87.

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——. “Approaches to the Persian Loans in the Ādi Granth”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 41 no. 1 (1978b): 73–96. ——. “The Sahaskritī Poetic Idiom in the Ādi Granth”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 41 no. 2 (1978c): 297–313. ——. An Introduction to the Sacred Language of the Sikhs. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1984. ——. A Gurū Nānak Glossary. 2nd ed. extended to the non-sanskritic vocabulary of the other Gurūs (1st ed. 1983). New Delhi: Heritage Publishers, 1995. Shackle, Christopher, and Arvind-pal Singh Mandair, ed. and transl. Teachings of the Sikh Gurus. London and New York: Routledge, 2005. Snell, Rupert. The Hindi Classical Tradition. A Braj Bhāṣā Reader. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1991. Turner, Ralph. A Comparative Dictionary of the Indo-Aryan Languages. 4 vols. Vols. 1–3 London: Oxford University Press, 1966–1971; vol. 4 (Addenda et Corrigenda) London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1985.

“Living Without Sin”: Reflections on the Pre-Buddhist world in Early China Michael Nylan Throughout the twentieth century, most students of early China have characterized China as a ‘shame culture,’ rather than a ‘guilt culture,’ while contending that sin is more closely allied with guilt than with shame.1 The claims that China is a ‘shame culture’ tend to presume that guilt is the superior motivation, morally speaking, since guilt is internally motivated and operative, even if no outsider becomes aware of any wrongdoing. Hegel, of course, famously insisted that the Chinese are amoral, if not pre-moral, insofar as their ethical sensibilities were tied to external laws (‘compulsion’), as opposed to conscience, seen as the internalized rules of behavior associated with a more highly developed Absolute Knowledge, if not transcendent godhood itself.2 Building upon this line of reasoning, most anthropological, psychological, and sociological studies of the twentieth century conclude that a focus on internality is a precondition not only for moral autonomy, but also for the development of the conscience and modern (i.e., progressive) self-consciousness or self-reflexivity. Nicolas Standaert is one of several prominent China scholars to consider the probable fall-out from work by Sigmund Freud and Paul Ricouer identifying guilt as the beginning of modern self-awareness.3

1 Frederick Robert Tennant, “Recent Reconstruction of the Conception of Sin,” The Journal of Religion 5:1 ( Jan., 1925), 37–51, could therefore complain, “its [sin’s] correlation with responsibility and guilt were left vague and undetermined” (p. 37), despite sin’s definition as “responsibility in the sight of God” (p. 38), since the “social law or standard is conceived, both by the social environment and by individual subject, as possessing ultimately a divine authority” (ibid.). 2 This argument appears in Hegel’s Philosophy of History (New York: Dover Press, 1956), pp. 111–12. 3 Nicolas Standaert 鍾鳴但, “Zui, Zuigan, yu Zhongguo wenhua” 罪, 罪感, 與中國文 化 (“Sin, Guilt, and “Chinese Culture”), Shenxue lunji 神學論集 (Collectanea Theological Universitatis Fujen) 97 (Fall, 1993), 352–63. For Freud’s views, see Civilization and its Discontents or On the Genealogy of Morality, which give essentially the same picture of guilt as the symptom of a bad conscience, which represents the internalization and moralization of external authority figures’ views. Increasingly, psychologists have questioned Freud’s views. See N. Eisenberg, “Emotion, Regulation, and Moral Development,” Annual Review of Psychology 51 (2000), 665–97; also J.D. Velleman, “Don’t Worry, Feel Guilty,” in

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That there is little call in the early Confucian texts for extended internal dialogues is a point made long ago with utter clarity by Herbert ­Fingarette.4 Confronted with that view, admirers of China (especially proponents of early Confucian ethics) in the last quarter of the twentieth century began to try to refute the long-prevailing linkages between shame and outward orientation, chiefly by arguing that shame in early China involves the internalization of social moral codes.5 Proponents of China could draw aid and comfort from the work of Gerhart Piers, a psychologist, and Milton Singer, an anthropologist, who rejected the common application of the adjectival pair ‘internal-external’ to guilt and shame.6 Of course, this is hardly the only way for proponents of Chinese thought or Confucian ethics to try to counter or upend the conventional calculations attaching higher ethical value to interiority. One historian of philosophy focusing on early China, Jane Geaney, has argued that the construction of the person in early China did not depend upon strong inner-outer contrasts, so any talk about the “internalization of external moral codes” is itself anachronistic for the classical era. Geaney meanwhile directs our attention to the complete absence of any talk of shame in many foundational texts of early China, including the Laozi, the Mozi, and the Zhuangzi.7 According to Geaney, only texts ascribed to Confucian masters seem to dwell on a complex notion of shame, and those texts, like others within the early A. ­Hatzimoysis, ed. Philosophy and the Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 235–48, for example. 4 Herbert Fingarette, Confucius: the Secular as Sacred (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), passim. 5 There is quite a literature devoted to this effort, including Bryan W. Van Norden, “The Emotion of Shame and the Virtue of Righteousness in Mencius,” Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 1 (2002); Kwong-loi Shun, “Self and Self-Cultivation in Early Confucian Thought,” in Bo Mou, ed., Two Roads to Wisdom? Chinese and Analytic Philosophical Traditions (Peru: Open Court, 2001); Heiner Roetz, Confucian Ethics of the Axial Age (Albany: SUNY Press, 1993); Paolo Santangelo, “Human Conscience and Responsibility in Ming-Qing China,” East Asian History 4 (1992); Margaret Ng, “Internal Shame as Moral Sanction,” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 8 (1981); Wolfram Eberhard, Guilt and Sin in Traditional China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967). Eberhard, Santangelo, Roetz, and Ng all speak explicitly of early Confucian shame as “internal shame.” Van Norden opts to speak of “ethical shame” and “conventional shame.” 6 See their Shame and Guilt: a psychoanalytic and a cultural study (Springfield, Ill.: Thomas, 1983). Piers and Singer argued for the superiority of shame (defined by them as a potentially positive response to the disappointment of not achieving a loving parental ideal) over guilt (defined by them as “responses to aggressive impulses against punitive parents” and begrudging submission to social norms). Painful experiences of either guilt or shame can motivate people to change their behavior. 7 Eberhard, p. 13, comments that “shame today, or in the nineteenth century, played an even stronger role than in earlier times.”



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received and excavated literature, simultaneously posit a person whose body, heart, and mind seem to “lack a core or firm delineation,” being “porous and open” and continually preoccupied by complex exchanges uniting parts of the body and the world beyond.8 If Geaney is correct, and the early Chinese moralizing texts place surprisingly little emphasis on either ‘inner’ or ‘outer’ acts, in large part because of their distinctive notions of qi flows within the body and between the person and external objects of sensory perception (see below), then the common wisdom that sees China as a generally outer-directed ‘shame’ culture, in sharp contrast to the supposedly more inner-directed guilt cultures of Europe and America, misses the point entirely, whether or not such misplaced theories persist in the Sinological community here and abroad. Comparatively little effort has gone into trying to fully unpack the complex of notions attached to ‘sin’ and ‘guilt’ within specific moral frameworks, East or West. While everyone agrees that shame differs from guilt in being primarily a social feeling or emotion, no consensus exists about how to describe the experience that constitutes guilt or shame, rather than being typical of it, nor do people agree on the precise connection(s) between shame or guilt and (a) personal and societal ideals; (b) prohibitions; and (c) the nature, degree, and duration of the effect of the experience on the person or others.9 Moreover, two scholars writing in the Journal of Moral Philosophy, have noted that the terms guilt and shame thread through four logically separable discourses in ethics: those about pro-social behavior, responsibility or free will, autonomy vs. heteronomy, and social reputation.10 Rawls has suggested, for instance, a distinction between moral and natural shame, where “natural shame” applies only to non-voluntary attributes (e.g., a missing tooth, say, or the dramatic failure   8 See Nylan, “Boundaries of the Body and Body Politic in Early Confucian Thought,” Boundaries and Justice, ed. David Miller and Sohail Hashmi (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), pp. 112–35; also Jane Geaney, “Guarding Moral Boundaries: Shame in Early Confucianism,” Philosophy East and West 2004, 114–42.  9 For instance, does belief in an essentially ‘sinful world’ tend to weaken the person’s will to resist immortality or improve the world? Or, in relation to Buddhism, does belief in karmic retribution somehow reduce the responsibility that a person has over her deeds in this present lifespan? 10 Fabrice Teroni and Otto Bruun, “Shame, Guilt, and Morality,” Journal of Moral Philosophy 8 (2011), 223–45, which defines moral behavior as “pro-social behavior,” insofar as it strengthens cooperative interactions between members as a group. By “pro-social,” the authors mean how the emotions or experiences typically “promote or hinder specific kinds of behavior.” That the authors connect shame to hiding and guilt to making amends already demonstrates the problem, for the identification of proper amends for wrongdoing would vary according to the experience of guilt or shame.

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of a bathing suit strap to hold as one emerges from the water) and moral shame, as defined by Rawls, applies to a failure to sustain the moral excellence required to “desire to do what is right and just.”11 Bernard Williams, in his Shame and Necessity, has argued the utility in moral reasoning of shame, if shame implies sensitivity towards the opinions of others we may not share.12 In trying to think about ‘sin’ in the pre-Buddhist world in China, these were but the first ideas to come flooding into my mind. However, to sort out the issue of ‘sin’ in early China, and what appears at first glance to be a stunning absence of any concept analogous to sin, it probably makes sense to begin with three simple observations about definitions before working out from those. My first observation bemoans the unfortunate translation of the word ‘sin’ as ‘crime’ in Chinese;13 the second insists on the radical incommensurability of modern Western predications of ‘internal’ guilt and ‘external’ shame, versus constructions of the body and soul, form and heart (xing xin 形心) in early China; and the third queries the usual presupposition that ‘suprahuman sanctions’ function as the single root and referent of ‘sin.’14 Only consideration of these three definitional problems permits a more careful assessment of the question whether early China had a concept similar to that of sin, not to mention the larger question of what role such a concept would have played in society and politics. At the end of this essay, I turn briefly to the topic of Buddhism, and its dramatic alterations to the conceptual architecture of early China. As I am no scholar of Buddhism, I will invoke in my defense the Nietzschean principle that profound problems are like cold baths: one should ‘be quick in [and] quick out.’ Put another way, either sin is a helpful construction to impute to early China or it is not. Good historians know that they can never prove a ubiquity or an absence; not being metaphysicians, historians can at best puzzle out local patterns of convergences.15 In offering the following short summation to a sophisticated readership, I presume 11 John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), p. 290. 12 Bernard Williams, Shame and Necessity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). 13 Some Buddhist texts used another word, hui 秽, which means “filthy,” but zui 罪 is much more common. 14 Is there not a possibility for “sins” to be occasioned by lapses or failures in interpersonal relationships, comparable to George DeVos’ description of Japan as a “guilt culture”? 15 Paul Veyne, Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths: an essay on the constitutive imagination, Paul Wissing, trans. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1988), esp. p. 33; Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History, Thesis 6” (1968), argues that historians do not



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that I need not spell out the usual caveats for early China, chief among them that the extant sources record only the public pronouncements of members of the governing elite, and overwhelmingly, the most successful members of the capital elite at that. Understandably, then, the texts I have reviewed to prepare this essay register little in the way of status, class, regional, or chronological distinctions, though formidable, overlapping barriers existed in all these areas during the early empires under review. The standard translation for ‘sin’ in China is ‘zui’ 罪, which had two prior meanings: those of (1) crime and (2) punishment for a crime. ‘Original sin’ in the standard translation is yuan zui 原罪 (‘primordial crime’).16 By definition, crimes in early China are (a) legally culpable (b) acts against society or the immediate community; (c) serious in nature; (d) requiring punishment; and (e) not exactly equal to ‘immorality.’17 In addition, in early China, many crimes merited collective, rather than individual punishment.18 For several reasons, then, ‘crime’ is a very poor rendering for ‘sin,’ though alternative translations are not appreciably better. After all, ‘sins’ may be lesser or venial;19 not all sins are illegal; not all sins are acts committed against one’s fellow man;20 and not a single sin, at least in the New Testament, calls for collective, rather than individual punishment, though today’s ‘fire and brimstone’ preachers regularly overlook this fine theological point. For all of the foregoing reasons, studies have shown that modern Chinese, at least, express considerable confusion when the terminology of zui (‘crime’) is applied to their misdeeds. Law-abiding citizens typically resist the notion that they have committed crimes, even when they readily admit that they have acted ill. Indeed, one of the reasons that Li Zehou 李澤厚 (b. 1930), the eminent philosopher of aesthetics, applies phrases like ‘one world’ orientation (referring solely to this world of the living) and ‘a culture alive to pleasure’ (le gan wenhua 樂感文化) to early Confucian teachings (which Li then identifies as the general ­Zeitgeist “recognize “the way it really was,” but rather “seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.” 16 Benzui 本罪 (“root sin”) means “actual sin,” in late imperial and modern terms. 17 This last point is made abundantly clear by the casebooks of Zhangjiashan, which clearly distinguish immoral from illegal acts, as early as 186 bc. 18 Interestingly, the language of crimes makes the crime, but not the criminal ‘deserving of punishment’; the language of sin, by contrast, focuses more on the individual who has sinned than the sin. For the case of early China, see A.F.P. Hulsewé, Remnants of Ch’in Law (Leiden: Brill, 1985), p. 5. 19 Other vocabulary is used in Chinese for inadvertent mistakes (guo 過 or shi 失). 20 Since all crimes are social crimes in early China, one can’t ‘sin against oneself or by oneself ’ ” erasing a whole class of supposed sins (e.g., masturbation, selfish thoughts).

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prior to Buddhism and Song-Ming Neo-Confucianism) “is that this sort of teachings don’t look for abject contrition” from the wrongdoer.21 This, plus the fact that no special vocabulary was ever devised to account for acts that correspond to ‘sins’ in the Western sense of ‘a violation of rules belonging to a moral code set up and guarded by the supernatural, by personal deities, or by supra-human but impersonal powers,’ would seem to suggest that no precise counterpart to the concept of sin ever existed in early China. That wrongdoing in early Confucian texts was frequently conflated with ‘lapses in ritual’ (shi li 失禮) is significant, as is the propensity of those same texts to deem wrongdoing ‘ugly’ (e 惡) yet still liable to radical improvement, rather than evil and substantially, even irremediably flawed. Marshall Sahlins’ The Western Illusion of Human Nature22 equates the term “universal human nature” with a “radical and sustained contempt for humanity” stretching from Thucydides to St. Augustine to Machiavelli to the Federalist papers. By Sahlins’ lively account, this contempt for humanity emphasizes the extreme vulnerability of human souls and human institutions to corrupting influences, even in Paradise. (“Hence the manifold temptations that death alone can cure.”)23 By contrast, in early China wrongdoing is bad simply because it undermines the laudable efforts devoted to self-fashioning, cooperative ventures, and exemplary displays by nobles and the noble in spirit. This observation leads me ineluctably to another: while the chief question posed by thinkers in classical Greece and Rome was ‘How am I to know a thing to be true?,’ the chief question posed by thinkers in early China was, ‘Recognizing the right course of action in a given situation, how can a person ever learn to summon the will to act upon that knowledge?’ In his elegant little book entitled Self-Deception, Herbert Fingarette remarks that Western moral thinking has been hard put to describe any plausible connection between consciousness and perception, on the

21 See Li Zehou, Lunyu jindu 論語今讀 (Hong Kong: Tiandi tushu, 1998), p. 134. Li throughout this work seems to try to distinguish Chinese culture from both Christian ‘guilt’ and Japanese ‘shame.’ He argues that the Chinese privilege “practical reason” (shiyong lixing 實用理性), as theirs is “a culture alive to pleasure” (legan wenhua 樂感文化). See ibid., p. 21f. 22 Marshall D. Sahlins, The Western Illusion of Human Nature: with reflections on the long history of hierarchy, equality, and the sublimation of anarchy in the West, and comparative notes on other conceptions of the human condition (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2008). 23 See Tennant, p. 44, who presumes this view of human nature.



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one hand, and volition and action, on the other.24 Yet early masters in China, especially Xunzi, to my mind, outline a coherent picture of physiological processes whereby the mature xin (‘the heart’), in response to outside stimuli and to a complex of inborn desires, may learn to carve such strong cognitive and behavioral pathways that the mature thinking person reliably undertakes moral action, without reference to either higher powers or sustained introspection. Analects 3/21 goes so far as to say, “One does not blame whatever is past,” lest the very process of continually revisiting one’s past mistakes actually impede progress in the Way for any one of several reasons.25 An accurate summary of the near-consensus position reached in early Chinese writings would be the following: The early Chinese thinkers begin with the notion of an inborn nature (xing), insisting that all humans, regardless of class, status, or gender, are endowed at birth with the same basic range of senses and desires, which they will seek to gratify, unless the urge for gratification is overridden by some more powerful drive or forestalled by some institution. As Xunxi put it, all humans are equipped with several sensory organs (including the skin, the site of tactile organs) built to react to the externals with which they come in contact on two logically distinct but simultaneously communicated levels. Each organ reacts to the perceptible qualities inherent in the material (e.g., ‘black or white,’ ‘sour or salt’), while the organ, working in tandem with the powers of discrimination located in the xin or heart/mind, makes an assessment of value of the object or person contacted (e.g., ‘beautiful or ugly,’ ‘shrill or sonorous’), aided in this by memory and experience, as well as by analogical reasoning. Identifying an object as beautiful or sonorous implies a desire to preserve contact with that object through the sensory equipment. So fact, value, and desire are inextricably intertwined always, according to the early Chinese view. Needless to say, since any interaction between the senses, the xin, and the external entity involves successive acts of coordination, correlation, and categorization, appropriate gratification of the senses becomes a complicated thing, liable to get easily out of whack. At the same time, the sensory percepts, just like the desires and pleasures, are conceived as contacts that require qi flows or even floods out 24 Herbert Fingarette, Self-Deception (London, Routledge & K. Paul, 1969), chap. 1, passim. 25 These reasons include (1) that continual self-berating harms one’s qi and one’s spirit; and (2) that continual introspection may lead one to get stuck in the past.

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of one’s own person to make contact with the qi of external phenomena. To establish contact of any kind between parts of the body or parts of the world, the qi must penetrate either through the skin or through the organ systems of the body, sometimes visibly (e.g., pulse patterns, fine sweat, bulging eyes) but sometimes in barely visible or invisible ways. Inevitably, repeated movements (dong 動) out from the body’s core threaten to deplete the body’s generally closed system of regularly circulating systems of blood and qi (blood being but yet another form of qi), and early medical texts are quick to identify leakage of the jing 精, the most potent and enlivening form of qi 氣, as the chief cause of illness and death, aside from contagion or attacks by vengeful ghosts and spirits (more on that later). Each occurrence of leakage represents a loss of a finite amount of the vital spirit allotted to a person. Once spent, that measure of vital spirit is difficult, if not impossible to restore,26 which explains why successive depletions lead inexorably to debility and finally death.27 Obviously enough, some forms of flow and even outflow are necessary to the body’s survival or equilibrium, as when a person seeks food to prevent starvation or has sex to quell the body’s craving for it.28 While no deed is inherently wrong, absent its precise social and cosmic context,29 nonessential forms of arousal—anything from the desire to read a specific text to a yen for a concubine or bear’s paws for dinner—create special problems when the instances of arousal offer few or no compensatory gains in the form of sustaining social relations. Art and ritual imbue the procurement of the simplest of human desires and pleasures with an added potential to build communities, but neither art nor ritual—nor any cultural forms, for that matter—guarantees ipso facto that an act of striving to realize one’s desires will not harm one’s physical person.30 26 There are elaborate recipes for the production of elixirs of life, either through the ingestion of plants, minerals, or special foods, or etc.) or by means of internal disciplines, but not much faith is put in such recipes in the Zhanguo and Han texts. NB: By an analogy to leakages from the body, ruinous outlays and expenditures are said to weaken the realm. 27 Note that alterations within the person’s body necessitate further adjustments to the outside world, and vice versa. 28 “The nature of human beings is inclined to equilibrium, but wants and desires harm it.” See, for example, Huainanzi ji jie, chap. 11. 29 All dispositions and deeds are morally neutral until such time as they are attached to good or bad actions and persons; a response to a specific situation takes on a precise ethical charge primarily from its personal, familial, and social consequences. 30 Hence, the Analects’ injunction against wen zhang 文章 (here “elaboration of cultural forms”), unless those forms be used in the service of a well-identified and worthy aim.



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Then, too, if the conventional objects of desire are to be thoroughly enjoyed, the person must feel that neither possession nor enjoyment of these objects threaten his person, his livelihood, or his community, now or within the foreseeable future. The Zhanguo and Han treatises mention three obvious ways to increase one’s safety in gratification, none of them particularly easy or quick: The first is to change one’s own attitudes with a view to reducing both the number of desires and the degree of dependence upon others for their satisfaction, thereby radically decreasing the chances of being harmed by the pulls exerted by a multitude of seductions and allurements. The second way is to not so much to reduce as to refine one’s desires, developing a taste for the ‘higher’ (and not coincidentally fewer) sorts of pleasures associated with connoisseurship in a field of endeavor or interest. If that can be done, the person may still have to depend upon others for the attainment of his desires (if, for instance, he looks for an appointment to high office), yet he will doubtless narrow his sights, and thereby achieve greater single-mindedness of purpose, which means, in turn, that he will be more likely to attain his goal or goals while building a stronger sense of his own worth, a sense that is pleasing in itself and meanwhile frees him from the herd mentality. The third suggested method by which to secure one’s pleasures—perhaps the hardest of the three—is to make the enjoyment of that pleasure available to others, as ‘shared’ or ‘commensal’ pleasures mitigate others’ envy and malice. The idea is, any pleasures shared by those in power with the less fortunate strengthens bonds within the community, and will be doubly repaid by the increased sense of security that reflects reduced tensions and enhanced harmony within the immediate community. As the excavated Mawangdui “Wu xing pian” 五行篇 (terminus ad quem 168 bc) puts it, “An insecure person does not [tend to] experience pleasure; and if he does not experience pleasure, then he does not [tend to] act virtuously.” The foregoing summary wreaks havoc with any contempt for human nature that feeds on a concept of sin, as well as with a purportedly ‘universal’ scenario where man is said to be “conscious before he is self-conscious, appetitive before he is volitional, and volitional before he is moralized.”31 In the Chinese view, higher levels of moral understanding and moral action do not aim to abolish the appetites, emotions, and desires from human existence. Rather, the alternate ways of seeing people as social beings generating inflows, outflows, and the possible balances between them are 31 Tennant, p. 412.

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very old in China, and they can be found in all sorts of texts, including the Analects ascribed to Confucius and his circle, which says, “The person of superior cultivation guards against three things: when young, the blood and qi are not yet settled, so he guards against lust; when mature, the blood and qi are vigorous, so he guards against combativeness; and when old, the blood and qi are declining. so he guards against covetousness.”32 Here the Master inveighs against harmful passions (envisioned as unrewarding outward flows) likely to undermine the person’s security and well-being. Notably, this basic rationale describing human activities within the body and the body politic lays no particular stress on inner vs. outer; instead, it posits flows and exchanges among body parts, as among things and people in phenomenal existence. Equally notably, this account of human activity steadfastly refuses to label any single act as inherently wrong, before the complex calculation of long-term and short-term consequences of the act has been done.33 Again, we find that not much looks like sin here, though it is certain that some people in early China, without being found out by others, experienced great sorrow when contemplating their own misdeeds and the effects of those deeds upon others.34 My third point brings me to violations of extra-human laws laid down by the gods or by the impersonal powers ordering the cosmos. As someone has opined, “It is the essence of sin-talk . . . that it should function as a theological language, which cannot be reduced to other languages” employed in treatments of the pathological in psychology or ethics.35 The early Chinese texts occasionally speak of gods, including the High Lord, or the apotheosized dead anthropomorphically. They also concede that violations against the Lord’s will or the cosmic order do occur, and some thinkers allege that such violations are invariably punished, to the degree 32 Eberhard, p. 14, notes that personal spirits that live within the person (i.e., the ‘soul’) are posited from early on; he could have cited the Introduction to Arthur Waley’s translation of The Way and its Power for further details. Daoist and Buddhist texts place even more emphasis on the “personal spirits residing inside the human body” (also on the stove god making reports). 33 The foregoing synopsis is extracted from the Introduction of my forthcoming book on pleasure theory in early China, parts of which have appeared in print already. Citations in that introduction are drawn from a wide variety of texts, including medical, legal, and philosophical works. 34 This is a point stressed by Standaert (op. cit.). 35 See Alistair McFadyen, Bound to Sin: abuse, Holocaust, and the Christian doctrine of sin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000; 2005); p. 5. Catholic theologians understand sin as “disruption of a proper relation to God” which constitutes “moral culpability.” But one obvious question is, are individual sinful acts more or less important than a person’s dispositions and intentions?



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that they come to the attention of conscious higher powers. What we do not find in early Chinese texts, in other words, is a presumption of perfect omniscience ascribed to the gods or any forces inhabiting an extra-human world. The distinctive Mohist vision whereby a conscious high Heaven functions as efficient deus ex machina, raining punishments down on all those who violate Mohist precepts—this was perhaps the one and only Mohist device to fail to elicit widespread interest in the classical era in China. (The Mohist treatise entitled “Heaven’s Will” veers quickly away from talk of a heaven that discerns each and every crime committed.) Far more persuasive was Xunzi’s view and variants on it: that a person goes through life responding to conjunctions of events, many not of his own choosing, and much of life that is good and meaningful need not be lived in the entirely conscious way that some modern thinkers apparently demand of moral agents. A great many Chinese texts—Xunzi, Yang Xiong, and Legalist thinkers being major exceptions—admit the potential for vengeful ancestors and ghosts to visit their anger upon the living, causing illness and even death, unless the living placate them through gifts or deeds or still higher powers frustrate their destructive impulses. As the gods and ancestors themselves could sometimes act in unruly or irrational fashions, disasters may befall the innocent among the living, even if the cosmic order is considered fundamentally good and beneficent.36 In consequence, attempts by certain Sinologists to contrast the ‘sin culture’ of the West with a ‘pleasure culture’ dominant in early China seem onesided at best, and dishonest at worst, though talk of an aesthetic culture “alive to pleasure,” for instance, by Li Zehou, allows for greater nuance and thoughtfulness. As the early medical, historical, and philosophical treatises show, elite writers in pre-Buddhist China gave such varying accounts of specific human contacts with the social and extra-social realms, despite accepting the same basic phenomenological analysis, that it is hard to justify singling out any one narrative that can then be dubbed either “radically [more] optimistic” or “less despairing” than the narratives drawn from other classical era civilizations.37 The taboos listed in the excavated rishu 36 Unruly Gods: divinity and society in China, eds. Meir Shahar and Robert P. Weller (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1996). 37 Contra David Keightley’s characterization of Shang and Zhou cultures in important articles such as “Clean Hands and Shining Helmets: Heroic Action in Early Chinese and Greek Culture,” Religion and Authority, ed. Tobin Siebers (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993), 13–51; “Early Civilization in China: reflections on how it became Chinese,” Heritage of China: Contemporary Perspectives on Chinese Civilization, ed. Paul S. Ropp (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 15–54. Cf. Wang Weifan 汪維藩,

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日書 (daybooks, almanacs) testify to the prevailing anxieties of Zhanguo and Han, however, as do most other texts from the period.38 I promised to mention briefly the profound changes wrought by the introduction, in the first century ad, of Buddhism, a religion with close affinities with Mediterranean religions,39 and its gradual penetration outside the sangha into elite culture from the fourth century ad. In relation to the topic of sin, clearly the most significant new concept brought by Buddhism is that of karma, in which the punishment for misdeeds continues to afflict the person over the course of many cycles, through multiple reincarnations, long after any individual lifespan has ended. Consideration of this single theological doctrine set off ripple effects—on the order of tsunamis—throughout the ranks of the medieval governing elites. Whereas the early Chinese thinkers had uniformly prescribed the duty to sacrifice in order to maintain contacts between the living and the dead, without insisting on a single ‘correct’ account of those transactions,40 the Buddhists propagated orthodox narratives describing a range of unseen interactions. Meanwhile, Buddhism insisted on individual responsibility and salvation over collective responsibility and community salvation, as well as on the inherent evil of desire—all of which flies in the face of Xunzi’s powerful insight that the multiple and competing desires in human nature represent important tools in the toolbox the thinking person wields to transform herself for the better, forging a ‘second nature’ (also xing 性). The new Buddhist emphasis on asceticism as a route to detachment would have struck earlier thinkers in China as extreme,

“­ Destruction, Reflection and Rebirth,” in Peter Lee, ed., Confucian-Christian Encounters in Historical and Contemporary Perspective (Lewiston: E. Mellen, 1992), pp. 147–49; and Liu Xiaofeng 劉小枫, “Joy in China, Sin in Christianity? a comparison” (G. Evers trans.), China Study Journal 7:3 (1992), 17–25. While many Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant sects emphasized original sin, we should also remember that Europe and America produced thinkers like Jean Jacques Rousseau who insisted that human nature is originally good. 38 Nylan, “The Power of Highway Networks during China’s Classical Era: Regulations, Metaphors, Rituals, and Deities,” in Highways and Byways, eds. Susan Alcock, John Bodell, and Richard Talbert (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), and, more importantly, Poo Muchou, In Search of Personal Welfare: a view of ancient Chinese religion (Albany: SUNY Press, 1998). 39 We should remember that what is now northern India was at the time of the Buddha under Persian rule; it should not surprise us, then, that Buddhism shows close affinities with Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and other Mediterranean religions that emphasize asceticism as a good, and the superiority of mind over body. 40 These were never theologically coherent.



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bizarre, muddle-headed, and contrary to all social norms and values,41 insofar that it conceives of a sinful world, as well as sinful people. In the wake of the acceptance of these new Buddhist ideas in China, as Nicolas Standaert notes, come the invention of new ceremonies designed to remove guilt and staunch desire, after which we may plausibly refer to a “Chinese sense of guilt” and sin,42 adding a layer to the highly articulate Confucian expositions of shame. (We are not certain whether early Daoist confession of sins and purification ceremonies in faith-healing cults show influence from Buddhism or not.) One piece composed by the historian Shen Yue 沈悅 (441–513) is a good illustration of the propensity over time to extend the practices of the sangha to the ranks of the Buddhist laity. Shen’s text, which opens with a formal salutation to the Buddha and all saints,43 proceeds to describe his own gluttony as a child, after which the text ends with the closing statement, “I entrust my destiny to the Great Buddha.” In other words, Shen’s confession of sins consists of a deposition intended for presentation to a higher order or Being.44 That said, my signal lack of qualifications prevents me from writing more about the early history of Buddhism, when recent work devoted to the early history of Buddhism in China is so much better informed.45 Conclusion No text that I have read from early China makes statements like the following: “The deities are aware of every violation and punish it.”46 (Although the Mohist chapter entitled “Heaven’s Will” comes close to making such a statement, the chapter careens wildly between views of tian 天 as ­anthropomorphic god and as beneficent yet unconscious 41 See, e.g., Li Zehou, The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, trans. Maija Bell Samei (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2010), p. 10. Li specifically argues that Chinese aesthetics is “non-Dionysian” (p. 26). 42 Standaert, p. 346. 43 Guang Hong ming ji (SBBY) 36/1a–12a. 44 Wu Pei-yi, “Self-examination and Confessions of Sins in Traditional China,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 39 (1979), 5–38, esp. p. 12. 45 I cite but two pieces from the voluminous literature that I have found helpful: Timothy Barrett, “Religious Changes under Eastern Han and its Successors,” China’s Early Empires: A Reappraisal, supplement to the Cambridge History of China, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 430–48; Robert DeCaroli, Haunting the Buddha: Indian popular religion and the formation of Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). 46 This is how Eberhard characterizes the moralizing texts from late imperial and modern China.

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cosmic operations.)47 In place of references to an omniscient God or gods or a perfect transcendent order ruling an imperfect world of the living, three notions seem to thread through nearly all the early texts: (1) a fear that some measure of integrity—the vital wholeness needed for mental, physical and spiritual health—will be lost as a result of wrongdoing, which loss may occur whether or not others witness or learn of the wrongdoing;48 (2) a fear that extra-human agents may hand down punishments of various types, typically in the form of illness, contagion, or loss of status, sometimes to punish misdeeds but sometimes for no good reason whatsoever; and (3) a tendency to envision a distinctive form of socialization that posits the human potential to become more ‘divine’ (meaning, more perspicacious and single-minded) than some of the gods themselves. To posit of all humans the potential to acquire the capacious second natures that facilitate insights into some of the important regularities of the social and cosmic orders is powerful theory, undeniably. But such claims would lack any semblance of reality were they not combined, as they invariably are in the pre-Han and Han writings, with ready acknowledgments that even the best of people must work and worry, since they confront the unexpected and the incomprehensible (including mortality) in their quotidian lives. Much of my work has circled around these subjects in the last two decades.49 I hasten to add, lest the conscious and unconscious inheritors of Freud and company misconstrue the tenor of my prose, that I do not find the pre-Buddhist construction of the person, personal morality, and personal culpability to be any less compelling than theories offered by the twentieth-century Western thinkers cited above. To the contrary. In avoiding any Apollonian vs. Dionysian trap while more plausibly binding sensory percepts to desires, motivations, and actions in ways consonant with neuroscientific talk about carving neural pathways and attention ‘tagging’ (nano-second assignments of relative value to the objects of percepts), those early Chinese thinkers present us with a 47 In the end, tian 天 becomes for Mozi merely the source of the single standard of benevolent rule. 48 Note that I see little, if any stress, on ritual purity; ritual fasts are to remove oneself from the world, not because the world is tainted, but because one needs to focus one’s energies on communication with the ancestors or the gods. I am not alone in saying that fasts in the pre-Buddhist world are not to remove ritual uncleanness. Arthur Waley, The Analects of Confucius (New York: Vintage, 1938), p. 63, insists on this point as well. 49 Unfortunately, Michael Puett’s work on this subject in To Become a God (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2002) generally fails to explain the context for such statements, and thus the limitations of the discourse.



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stunning view of humanity, whose merits academic attempts to recast the early Chinese in our image would diminish or deny. Bibliography Barrett, Timothy, “Religious Changes under Eastern Han and its Successors,” China’s Early Empires: A Reappraisal, supplement to the Cambridge History of China, vol. 1, eds. Michael Nylan and Michael Loewe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp 430–48. DeCaroli, Robert, Haunting the Buddha: Indian popular religion and the formation of Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). Eberhard, Wolfram, Guilt and Sin in Traditional China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967). Eisenberg, N., “Emotion, Regulation, and Moral Development,” Annual Review of Psychology 51 (2000), 665–97. Fingarette, Herbert, Confucius: the Secular as Sacred (New York: Harper & Row, 1972). ——. Self-Deception (London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1969). Freud, Sigmund, Civilization and its Discontents (c1930; New York: W.W. Norton, 1961). ——. On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Walter Kaufmann (c1887; rpt., New York: Random House, 1974). Geaney, Jane, “Guarding Moral Boundaries: Shame in Early Confucianism,” Philosophy East and West 2004, 114–42. Guang Hong ming ji 廣弘明集 (Sibu beiyao ed.). Hegel, G.W.F., Philosophy of History (New York: Dover Press, 1956). Huainanzi 淮南子, by Liu An 劉安 (tradit.). Ref. to Liu Wendian 劉文典, Huainan honglie jijie 淮南鴻烈集解. Shanghai: Shangwu yinshu guan, 1923; rpt., Beijing: Zhonghua shuju 1989. Keightley, David, “Clean Hands and Shining Helmets: Heroic Action in Early Chinese and Greek Culture,” Religion and Authority, ed. Tobin Siebers (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993), 13–51. ——. Early Civilization in China: Reflections on How It Became Chinese,” Heritage of China: Contemporary Perspectives on Chinese Civilization, ed. Paul S. Ropp (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 15–54. Li Zehou 李澤厚, Lunyu jindu 論語今讀 (Hong Kong: Tiandi tushu, 1998). ——. The Chinese Aesthetic Tradition, trans. by Maija Bell Samei (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2010), p. 10. Liu Xiaofeng 劉小枫, “Joy in China, Sin in Christianity? a comparison” (G. Evers trans.), China Study Journal 7:3 (1992), 17–25. McFadyen, Alistair, Bound to Sin: abuse, Holocaust, and the Christian doctrine of sin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000; 2005). Ng, Margaret, “Internal Shame as Moral Sanction,” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 8 (1981), 75–88. Norden, Bryan W. Van, “The Emotion of Shame and the Virtue of Righteousness in Mencius,” Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy 1 (Winter, 2002), 45–77. Nylan, Michael, “Boundaries of the Body and Body Politic in Early Confucian Thought,” Boundaries and Justice, ed. David Miller and Sohail Hashmi (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), pp. 112–35. ——. “The Power of Highway Networks during China’s Classical Era: Regulations, Metaphors, Rituals, and Deities," in Highways and Byways, eds. Susan Alcock, John Bodell, and Richard Talbert (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). Poo Mu-chou, In Search of Personal Welfare: a view of ancient Chinese religion (Albany: SUNY Press, 1998).

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Puett, Michael, To Become a God (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2002). Roetz, Heiner, Confucian Ethics of the Axial Age (Albany: SUNY Press, 1993). Sahlins, Marshall D., The Western Illusion of Human Nature: with reflections on the long history of hierarchy, equality, and the sublimation of anarchy in the West, and comparative notes on other conceptions of the human condition (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2008). Santangelo, Paolo, “Human Conscience and Responsibility in Ming-Qing China,” East Asian History 4 (1992), 31–80. Shun Kwong-loi, “Self and Self-Cultivation in Early Confucian Thought,” Two Roads to Wisdom? Chinese and Analytic Philosophical Traditions, Bo Mou, ed. (Peru, Ill.: Open Court, 2001), 229–44. Standaert, Nicolas 鍾鳴但, “Zui, Zuigan, yu Zhongguo wenhua” 罪, 罪感, 與中國文化 (“Sin, Guilt, and “Chinese Culture”), Shenxue lunji 神學論集 (Collectanea Theological Universitatis Fujen) 97 (Fall, 1993), 352–63. Tennant, Frederick Robert, “Recent Reconstruction of the Conception of Sin,” The Journal of Religion 5:1 ( Jan., 1925), 37–51. Unruly Gods: divinity and society in China, eds. Meir Shahar and Robert P. Weller (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1996). Velleman, J.D., “Don’t Worry, Feel Guilty,” in A. Hatzimoysis, ed. Philosophy and the Emotions (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 235–48. Waley, Arthur. The Analects of Confucius (New York: Vintage, 1938). Wang Weifan 汪維藩, “Destruction, Reflection and Rebirth,” in Peter Lee, ed., Confucian-Christian Encounters in Historical and Contemporary Perspective (Lewiston, N.Y.: E. Mellon Press, 1992), pp. 147–49. Wu Pei-yi, “Self-examination and Confessions of Sins in Traditional China,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 39 (1979), 5–38.

Sin, Sinification, Sinology: On the Notion of Sin in Buddhism and Chinese Religions James Robson When I die I’d go to heaven for the weather and hell for the company.—Mark Twain

If recent publishing history can be taken as being in some sense representative of current scholarly interests, then it is safe to say that sin is back in fashion. It is not that evil doing has increased dramatically in recent years—indeed a recent book argues that over the centuries human violence has been decreasing in tandem with the increase in human reason— but conceptions of what counts as sin have received new attention.1 In John Portman’s A History of Sin: Its Evolution to Today and Beyond, he argues that there has been a strong resurgence of sin.2 Although the definition of ‘sin’ has evolved over time, it is probably a truism—though I suspect that is one of the reasons for bringing together the essays that are collected in this volume for consideration—that conceptions of sin are just one part of being human. Humans have always set limits on behaviors and actions, even if in some cases what counted as a sin in the past is considered commonplace today (think of usury, or the loaning of money for interest) or what was commonplace in the past is now considered a sin (think of slavery and polygamy).3 It may also be the case that some concept of sin—here understood in the broad sense of the willful violation of a moral rule (or rules) imposed on us by a higher being (or beings) or that form part of a religious community or larger cosmic order—is present in all major religions, despite the claims by some that “no civilization had ever attached as much importance to guilt and shame as did the Western world from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries.”4 Notions

1 Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking, 2011). 2 John Portman, A History of Sin: Its Evolution to Today and Beyond (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007). 3 This is one of the main topics of Portman’s A History of Sin. 4 Jean Delumeau, Sin and Fear: The Emergence of a Western Guilt Culture 13th–18th Centuries (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990), p. 3.

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of sin also tend to be packaged along with desires for and techniques to ­eliminate (or escape the consequences of ) the effects of having sinned, usually through some form of purification, confession, and repentance. In much contemporary writing on Buddhism, however, it has generally been regarded as a sin itself to discuss the concept of sin in relation to Buddhism. This antipathy to considerations of sin in Buddhism hit the front pages of the popular media in 2010, when the Associated Press ran a story about the salacious tales of Tiger Woods’ misdeeds and his public turn to Buddhism for redemption. That article discussed how the Fox News analyst Brit Hume suggested that Tiger Woods should instead turn to Jesus and the Christian tradition to deal with his sins, saying: “I don’t think that [Buddhism] offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith . . . So my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.’ ” In a later interview Hume continued: “My sense about Tiger is that he needs something that Christianity, especially, provides and gives and offers. And that is redemption and forgiveness.” The upshot of these comments were that Buddhism was perceived to be an inadequate resource to turn to in order to atone for one’s sins. As will become apparent in the discussion below, however, this contemporary viewpoint is nothing new and can be understood as extending a particular understanding of sin and redemption within Buddhism that was inaugurated by Christian missionaries and carried forward by some 19th and 20th century scholars. It may not be that surprising for readers to learn that the general comments encountered in contemporary Western media about Buddhism and sin resonate in striking ways with the viewpoints of some contemporary Buddhist sympathizers in the West, who tend to be loathe to accept notions of sin within the Buddhist tradition. Yet, it is equally noteworthy that similar perspectives can be found in early academic works on Buddhism. If we turn our attention initially to the Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics we find a rather full treatment of the term/concept ‘sin’ within entries on Buddhism (written by Thomas William Rhys Davids and his wife Caroline Augusta Foley Rhys Davids) and Chinese Buddhism (written by Dyer Ball). Under the entry for ‘Sin: Buddhist,’ Rhys Davids comments that the doctrine of Sin, as held in Europe, is a complex idea of many strands. One or two of those strands may be more or less parallel to statements found in the earliest Buddhist texts or to ideas expressed in Indian pre-Buddhistic



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texts. But the doctrine as a whole, in any one of its various forms, is antagonistic to the Indian, and especially to the Buddhist, view of life.5

Therefore, it is natural that Rhys Davids’ discussion of the conceptual problems that arise when Buddhist karmic causality is factored into a consideration of sin and doctrines of redemption, turned to issues of terminology and suggested that what some might be inclined to call ‘sin’ should in fact be rendered in the Buddhist context as “evil, wrong, bad, demeritorious, or corrupt (pāpa, michchhā, akusala, apuñña, sankiliṭṭha).” In order to justify his claims about the antagonism between notions of sin and redemption, Rhys Davids also turned his attention to the precise nature of karma. The nature of karmic causality dictates that the effect of karma is something one must experience in order to expiate it. Rhys Davids makes the even stronger claim that no one holding the doctrine of karma, in any one of its various forms, could accept the doctrine of sin. . . . there can’t be, in this view, any forgiveness of sin, it must work out to the bitter end, and of itself, its own fruit.

Rhys Davids’s views would seem to accord with his European scholarly forebears who wrestled with similar questions when they came into contact with Buddhism. What is at issue here does not merely hinge on the problem of applying a loaded Western religious term to Buddhist materials. To be sure, other scholars have tried to point to the limitations of using the word ‘sin’ in relation to Buddhism due to its connections with Western conceptions of ‘original sin.’ On page three of Walpola Rahula’s popular book What the Buddha Taught, which appeared in 1959, for example, Rahula claims that “in fact there is no sin in Buddhism, as sin is understood in some religions.”6 What Rahula seems to mean by this claim, though he does not explicitly state it, is that within Buddhism there is no notion of Christian sin, which brings with it the related notion of original sin. Within Buddhism, Rahula claims, the root of all evil is ignorance and false views, not sin. In a more recent work on Buddhist ethics, Peter Harvey also notes that “ ‘sin” is a word loaded with Christian theological connotations. It alludes to an evil action as not only morally wrong, but as against the will of God, and setting up a gap between the perpetrator and God. While

5 James Hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958), vol. 11, p. 533. 6 Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught (New York: Grove Press, 1959), p. 3.

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it is inappropriate as a translation in Theravāda Buddhism, it does not seem too inappropriate here [in the case of Mahāyāna Buddhism], where an action is seen, in effect, as against the will of the buddhas.”7 These more restrictive definitions, therefore, tie the term ‘sin’ to conceptions of original sin—particularly as that notion was elaborated in Augustine’s fifth century theology—that are connected with the Fall of Adam and Eve.8 In this view, it is the desire between a man and a woman that brings them together in sexual union, which “passes the original sin on to each new generation; each child is born stained. Unless the sin is washed away in baptism, a person’s soul cannot attain heaven.”9 Yet, as Gary A. Anderson shows in his Sin: A History, even within the biblical tradition conceptions of sin (and forgiveness) were constantly evolving, making it difficult to decide on any overly precise definition of the term.10 Harvey’s definition, which asserts an offence against God, accords with the Oxford English Dictionary, but the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition) gives as the first entry a more general conception of ‘sin’: “an offense against religious or moral law.”11 These kinds of terminological problems—especially with religious terminologies taken from one culture and applied to material in another— have already been discussed at length in relation to such loaded terms as ‘magic,’ but nowadays it seems to be generally considered acceptable to deploy such terms as long as one stipulates their definition and range from the outset in order to avoid misunderstandings and unintended pejorative associations.12 Nonetheless, even if the problem was not merely limited to terminology, the disavowal of any equation between ‘sin’ and ‘Buddhism’ became a rather widespread and widely accepted scholarly opinion and it remains influential to the present day. Indeed, there is only passing reference to notions of Buddhist sin—where it is treated briefly under the heading of “Confession of Sins”—in the Encyclopedia of Religion, and there   7 Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics: Foundations, Values, and Issues (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 27, note 9.  8 See Portman, A History of Sin, pp. xiv–xv.  9 See Portman, A History of Sin, p. xv.  10 Gary A. Anderson, Sin: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009) and see also the very useful discussions of conceptions of sin within a variety of religious traditions of the ancient world in Sarah Iles Johnston, ed., Religions of the Ancient World: A Guide (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), pp. 496–513.  11 Frederick C. Mish, ed., Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2005), p. 1162. 12 See the useful discussion in Sarah Iles Johnston, “Review Article: Describing the Undefinable: New Books on Magic and Old Problems of Definition” in History of Religions, Vol. 43, No. 1 (August 2003): 50–54.



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is no entry on anything like “Sin: Buddhist” in J.Z. Smith’s Harper Collins Dictionary of Religion.13 What has been of particular interest to me in tracking popular and scholarly orientations to the relationship between sin and Buddhism is that there is a parallel, yet rather different, discourse on this topic within the literature of Sinological studies. It is curious to note, for instance, how scholars of Chinese Buddhism have made explicit claims that it was only with the arrival of Buddhism in China in the first century ce that the concepts of sin—in Chinese designated with the term zui 罪—and the punishment of sin were introduced into China. In a well-known and widely cited book entitled Guilt and Sin in Traditional China, Wolfram Eberhard baldly claimed that Buddhism spread in China at the latest from the 1st century ce on. It brought a whole set of new concepts. We are interested here, not in philosophical Buddhism, but rather in folk Buddhism, a simplified form which even the uneducated could understand. It seems that folk Buddhism almost immediately brought to China the concept of sin and of punishment of sin.14

Sin, in his reckoning, did not exist in China prior to the arrival of Buddhism, and therefore we might say the doctrine of ‘Sinification’ was indeed one of ‘Sin-ification.’ How, then, are we to square the opinion that Buddhism does not have a conception of sin with the competing claim that it was in fact Buddhism that spread a concept of sin into China? We are clearly presented with a paradox. That is to say, despite the reluctance by some (primarily Western Buddhists) to acknowledge that there is such a thing as sin in Buddhism, other scholars have noted that it was Buddhism that introduced sin into China and left an indelible stamp on its religious and cultural character. If we bracket, provisionally at least, the claim that Buddhism introduced a concept of sin into China and assay the place of sin in the history of Buddhism, there is no question that we find a rich literature about sin, confession and repentance. Regardless of the nomenclature that one prefers (or prefers to avoid), notions of sin— or transgressions—and repentance can be found in mainstream Buddhist teachings as well as in later Mahāyāna developments.

13 Jonathan Z. Smith, ed. HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion (San Francisco: Harper­ Collins, 1995). 14 Wolfram Eberhard, Guilt and Sin in Traditional China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), p. 17.

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Within the Buddhist Vinaya and scholastic traditions there are specific acts that are identified as sins or transgressions, which vary in terms of severity, and detailed discussions about what should be done when they have been committed. Étienne Lamotte, Sukumar Dutt, and many others, have discussed, how on the “8th and 14th (or 15th), at the time of the full and new moon, the monks who resided in the same parish (sīmā), as well as visiting monks, were obliged to assemble and together celebrate the uposatha (Skt. poṣadha, poṣatha): a day of fasting and of particularly strict respect of the observances. The Buddhists borrowed this custom from heretical sects. Every alternate celebration of the uposatha concluded in a public confession between the monks. In torchlight, the monks took their places on low seats which had been reserved for them in the assembly area. The senior monk chanted an opening formula and invited his brethren to acknowledge their faults: “Whoever has committed an offence may he confess it; whoever is free of offences, may he remain silent.”15 The uposatha ceremony includes a full recitation of the 250 rules governing the community. While some offenses are rather minor, and can be requited through an expression of regret or some act of penance, other acts were considered so grave (pārājika) as to lead to permanent excommunication (asaṃvāsa). There was also a special class of acts that have come to be referred to as the “five sins of immediate retribution,” which included murdering one’s mother or father, murdering an arhat, drawing the blood of a buddha, and creating a schism in the monastic community.16

Yet, as Jonathan Silk notes, the ‘five sins of immediate retribution,’ however horrible the fate for having committed them, do not condemn one to eternal damnation, but will also eventually be expiated. Some time ago Melford E. Spiro already discussed the relationship between Buddhist sin and Christian sin, and he drew similar conclusions to those discussed in Silk’s more recent work. He noted that unlike some salvation religions (Christianity, for example), in which sin is the primary concern, the primary concern of Buddhism is not with sin, but with suffering. This is not (as some people claim) because sin does not exist for Buddhism. Lying, stealing, killing, and so on—all these and many more

15 Étienne Lamotte, History of Indian Buddhism: From the Origins to the Śaka Era, trans. by Sara Webb-Boin (Louvain-La-Neuve: Peeters Press, 1988), pp. 59–60 and Sukumar Dutt, Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India (London: Allen and Unwin, 1962), pp. 71–74. 16 On these five ‘sins’ see Jonathan A. Silk, “Good and Evil in Indian Buddhism: The Five Sins of Immediate Retribution,” in Journal of Indian Philosophy 35 (2007): 253–286.



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are Buddhist sins; in the Buddhist lexicon they are acts of demerit (akusala). The difference is that, although Buddhism recognizes the existence of sin, unlike Christianity it does not see it as inevitable. All human beings have the capacity to become saints (arahant), and thus sinless. For Buddhism, it is not sin but suffering that is inevitable.17

Thus, for Spiro, it is not the use of the term “sin” that is problematic, but the emphasis on “sin” over “suffering” does cause problems. Gananath Obeyesekere, has also commented on the notion of sin within Buddhism, but his focus turned to a comparison between it and the indeterminacy of karma theory. He noted how in a religion like Christianity we are all born with a constant load of original sin; any sin or meritorious action I commit is something I am for the most part conscious of. The effect of sin is psychologically determinate, and I can do something about it through what the religion has made available to me: faith, sacraments, confessionals, and the like. Not so with karma theory; not only is the load of sin or merit that I am born with different from everyone else’s, but I do not know what the load is.18

Obeyesekere argues that this karmic indeterminacy can only be addressed in two ways, attain sufficient knowledge to know the past that has caused one’s present circumstances, or “go outside Buddhist doctrine to resolve it.”19 For Obeyesekere going “outside Buddhist doctrine” refers to taking recourse in astrology. While these approaches to the topic of sin may fit well with certain Buddhist traditions, with the development of the Mahāyāna tradition the status of sin and repentance changed rather ­dramatically. Within the Mahāyāna tradition there is a pronounced emphasis on the soteriological potential of acknowledging the evil actions one has committed. One of the clearest expressions of the need to repent one’s sins and engage in good acts is, for example, found in Śāntideva’s Śikṣāsamuccaya. The Śikṣāsamuccaya is filled with precise accounts of what qualifies as sin and attests that if one expresses regret for sinful actions one can become

17 Melford E. Spiro, Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and Its Burmese Vicissitudes (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), pp. 38–39. 18 Gananath Obeyesekere, Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Ameridian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), pp. 132–133. 19 Obeyesekere, Imagining Karma, p. 133. See also Gananath Obeyesekere, “Theodicy, Sin, and Salvation in a Sociology of Buddhism,” in Edmund R. Leach, ed., Dialectic in Practical Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), pp. 7–40 and the related discussion in Peter N. Gregory, “The Problem of Theodicy in the Awakening of Faith,” in Religious Studies, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Mar., 1986), pp. 63–78.

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purified of the effects of those actions. In a chapter on the purification of sins, the Śikṣāsamuccaya quotes a section of the Suvarṇaprabhāsottama Sūtra, which says: May the Buddhas take notice of me, their hearts full of pity and compassion, and all the best of men that stand in the ten regions of the earth. Whatever deeds I have done before, sinful and cruel, all I will now disclose standing in the presence of the Daśabala: whatever sin I have done through not knowing my parents, through not knowing the Buddhas, through not knowing the Good; all the sins I have done mad and intoxicate [sic] with superhuman power . . . For all the sins that I have done in hundreds of ages, I am heartily sorry, I am to be pitied, I am troubled with fear; I am always distressed in mind for my deeds, wherever I go I am weak as water. May all the pitiful Buddhas, who take away fear in the world, understand my fault and free me from fear. May the Tathāgatas annul the fruit of my evil deeds for me; may the Buddhas wash me clean in the flowing waters of mercy. I now declare all the sins I have done before, and all the sin I have now, I now declare. For the future I undertake to cease all my evil deeds; I do not conceal the sin that I may have done.20

The Śikṣāsamuccaya then proceeds to enumerate a variety of antidotes to sin that will lead to the purification of the perpetrator. The Tathāgatabimbaparivarta, which is also cited in the Śikṣāsamuccaya, says as a man smeared with urine would take a good wash and perfume himself, and that evil smell would be dispersed and gone; so disperses the sin of one who has done the five unpardonable sins. And he who is versed in the ten paths of evil, resting his faith on the Tathāgata, would present the image of the Tathāgata, and that sin also is not discerned, especially when he is possessed of the thought of enlightenment, especially if he has left the worldly life and lives in virtue.21

When properly repented, even the heaviest of sins can be erased. Jan Nattier has also discussed, for example, how the different versions of the Ugraparipṛcchā contain a ritual known as the triskandhaka, or “three sections,” which in all of the different recensions include a directive related to confessing and repenting the evil one has committed in this and former lives.22

20 Śāntideva, Śikṣāsamuccaya: A Compendium of Buddhist Doctrine, translated by Cecil Bendall and W.H.D. Rouse (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1922), pp. 159–160. 21 Śāntideva, Śikṣāsamuccaya, p. 169. 22 Jan Nattier, A Few Good Men: The Bodhisattva Path According to The Inquiry of Ugra (Ugraparipṛcchā) (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2003), pp. 117–121.



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These Mahāyāna examples represent one perspective on the importance of repenting one’s sins. We can also avail ourselves of a different perspective offered by ritual texts focused on confession and repentance that are preserved in Chinese. Those texts provide us with a more complete view of the extent to which those practices extended from the closed domain of Buddhist monasteries out into the world of the laity and the ways that confession and repentance practices changed and developed in the new Chinese environment.23 We now have at our disposal a rich body of disparate publications on various aspects of practices related to sin, confession, and repentance in Chinese Buddhism.24 As Erik Zürcher has aptly noted, the confession of sins or transgressions is very common in Chinese Buddhism. It forms part of many different rituals, such as the formulary of ordination of the lay Buddhist (the Triple Refuge, san gui 三歸, and the acceptance of the Five Vows, wu jie 五戒); the daily services held in Pure Land Monasteries, and the most extensive Buddhist ritual, the Water-andLand Plenary Mass (shuilu dahui 水路大會), that is celebrated during seven days and nights for the liberation of all suffering souls.25

Zürcher’s summary of the various domains of Chinese Buddhist ritual practice related to the confession of sins demonstrates how ubiquitous they were throughout the length and breadth of Chinese Buddhist history. It is not possible within the confines of this essay to discuss all of the

23 As Zürcher has already noted the compound “chanhui” is “a hybrid compound, the first syllable of which is a garbled transcription of the Sanskrit kṣamā, ‘expression of remorse,’ combined with hui, ‘repentance’.” (Erik Zürcher, “Buddhist Chanhui and Christian Confession in Seventeenth-Century China,” in Nicolas Standaert and Ad Dudink, eds., Forgive us our Sins: Confession in Late Ming and Early Qing China (Sankt Augustin: Institut Monumenta Serica, 2006), p. 106. 24 Pei-Yi Wu, “Self-Examination and Confession of Sins in Traditional China,” in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 39:1 (1979): 5–38, Daniel B. Stevenson, “The Four Kinds of Samādhi in Early Tien-t’ai Buddhism.” In Traditions of Meditation in Chinese Buddhism, ed. Peter Gregory (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1986), 45–98, Daniel B. Stevenson, “Protocols of Power: Tz’u-yün Tsun-shih (964–1032) and T’ien-t’ai Lay Buddhist Ritual in the Sung.” In Buddhism in Sung Dynasty China, edited by Peter N. Gregory and Daniel A. Getz, Jr., (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999), pp. 340–408, Daniel B Stevenson, “The T’ien-t’ai Four Forms of Samādhi and Late North-South Dynasties, Sui, and Early T’ang Buddhist Devotionalism.” 2 vols. Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1987, Kuo Li-ying, Confession et contrition dans le bouddhisme chinois du ve au xe siècle (Paris: EFEO, 1994), Zürcher, “Buddhist Chanhui and Christian Confession,” pp. 103–127, and David W. Chappell, “The Precious Scroll of the Liang Emperor: Buddhist and Daoist Repentance to Save the Dead,” in William M. Bodiford, ed., Going Forth: Visions of Buddhist Vinaya (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005), 40–67. 25 Zürcher, “Buddhist Chanhui and Christian Confession,” pp. 107–108.

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confession rites mentioned by Zürcher, so we will have to limit our discussion to just a few exemplary cases. Kuo Li-ying has provided a useful comprehensive study of the early Chinese confession and repentance materials, dating primarily from the fifth to tenth century, within which she surveyed the various practices detailed in the scholastic texts of Daoxuan 道宣 (596–667), Zhiyi 智顗 (538–598), Guanding 灌頂 (561–632) and Zongmi 宗密 (780–841). Among those thinkers the key distinction that developed was one between ‘phenomenal confession’ (shichan 事懺) and ‘noumenal confession’ (lichan 理懺). “Phenomenal confession” referred to the types of practices found in mainstream Indian Buddhism and other Mahāyāna rites that involved the recitation of names of the Buddha. By reciting the Buddha’s names, with lists of upwards of 11,000 names, one could be cleansed of the karmic consequences incurred from having sinned. What is particularly striking about the Chinese texts is the extent to which they demonstrate the earnestness of the perpetrators emotional plea for mercy. Daniel Stevenson, in his discussion of Tiantai repentance rituals, for example, describes a sliding scale of severity in the demonstration of one’s emotional fervor. Some accounts describe the devotee with “tears of grief streaming down his face” and one particularly interesting text details how superior confession is performed with such intensity that blood seeps from the eyes and pores. When confession is of the middling degree the body becomes hot. Sweat pours from the pores; blood oozes from the eyes. The lowest degree of confessional fervor is attended by heat and tears.26

‘Noumenal confession,’ which carries a more positive valence, was based on the application of a more radical Mahāyāna philosophy to sin. In this rite the practitioner is called on to realize the fundamental emptiness of the concepts of sin and merit. Dan Stevenson, whose work covers some of the same types of materials dealt with by Kuo, has also expatiated on the distinction between ‘phenomenal confession’ and ‘noumenal confession’ as elaborated in Zhiyi’s explication of the fangdeng repentance. For Zhiyi, repentance “performed solely on the basis of phenomenal activities can at best remove the two obstructions of endowment and deed; it cannot remove the root obstruction of vexation. This means that it may eliminate sins that obstruct the path and help to reinstate a practitioner to the Buddhist teachings and precepts, or it may change the individual’s karmic 26 Daniel B Stevenson, “The T’ien-t’ai Four Forms of Samādhi,” pp. 410–411, cited in Chappell, “The Precious Scroll of the Liang Emperor,” pp. 46–47.



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fortune, cure illness, remove impairment of the senses or physique, and so forth. Since this approach is weak in meditative discernment, however, it alone cannot liberate one from birth and death. Only when the fangdeng repentance is performed in accord with Principle does it become capable of uprooting the obstruction of vexation together with all the forms of deluded existence that evolve from it.”27 In addition to the particular monastic and scholastic approaches to sin, the apocryphal Sūtra of Brahamā’s Net [Fanwang jing 梵網經] describes a different form of confession that is related to Mahāyāna “Bodhisattva Vows” [pusa jie 菩薩戒]. Those practices became influential in China and spread out into the domain of lay Buddhist practice. In this form of practice the individual is supposed to confess their sins in front of images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas over a seven day period.28 What is particularly intriguing, however, is that in order to make sure that he is indeed purged of his sins, he has then to wait for the manifestation of some lucky sign that confirms the absolution—an interesting feature that is greatly elaborated in later scholastic treatises.29

In Zhiyi’s works, for example, we read that if the devotee’s repentance is sincere, then his sins will be purged when he sees “Samantabhadra and all the Buddhas of the ten directions [appear before him], massage the crown of his head, and preach Dharma for him” and they may sense the touch of the Buddha on their head or the perception of a strange smell, or sight of auspicious flowers.30 We are also fortunate to have preserved in Daoxuan’s Guang Hongming ji 廣弘明集 a record of the confessions of sins by the prominent Buddhist patron and historian Shen Yue 沈約 (441–513) that is classified as a “confession and repentance text” (chanhui wen 懺悔文). Most of the extant confessions by prominent literati tend to be rather formulaic and general, but Shen Yue’s record is exceedingly specific.31 After beginning 27 Stevenson, “The Four Kinds of Samādhi in Early Tien-t’ai Buddhism,” p. 66. 28 On Bodhisattva precepts, see Funayama Toru, “Rikuchō jidai no okeru bosatsukai no juyō katei—Ryū Sō•Nanseiki o chūshin ni “六朝時代における菩薩戒の受容過程―― 劉宋・南斉期を中心に, Tōhō gakuhō 東方学報 67 (1995): 1–135. 29 Erik Zürcher, Review of “Kuo Li-Ying, Confession et contrition dans le bouddhisme chinois du ve au xe siècle (Paris: EFEO, 1994)” in T’oung Pao 83 (1997): 207–212. 30 See Stevenson, “The Four Kinds of Samādhi in Early Tien-t’ai Buddhism,” p. 71 and Zürcher, “Buddhist Chanhui and Christian Confession in Seventeenth-Century China,” p. 119. 31 Guang Hongming ji 廣弘明集 [T.52.331b.16–331c.26]. This record is mentioned briefly in Kuo, Confession et contrition, p. 113, but is discussed at length in Pei-Yi Wu,

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with a general claim that he must have committed countless sins in all his former lives, he then shifts to the particular and confesses that even as a child he was given to gluttony. My voraciousness knew no compassion, nor did my appetite understand retribution. In my mind I consigned all scaly, furry, and feathery creatures to the kitchen, excluding them from my sympathy on account of their not being human. From morning to night and from season to season I devoured them, never satisfied with a vegetable meal.32

He goes on to mention how as a child he wantonly killed birds and beasts; each summer he destroyed thousands of flies and mosquitos; in hunting and fishing he killed more living beings; he allowed his underlings to loot farms and orchards so he could have the spoils; his love of rare books led him to acquire two hundred volumes by unlawful means; in his youth he indulged in many amorous escapades with both girls and boys; he was frequently given to buffooneries and angry outbursts.33

Shen Yue ends his itemized list with the following resolution for the repentance of his sins: In the presence of the Buddhas of the Ten Directions and Three Worlds, before this assembly of monks and laity, I take an oath to subjugate myself. I reproach myself and deeply repent my past transgressions. Examining all my bad habits, I clean and wash my present mind. I shall entrust my destiny to the Great Buddha.34

To be sure, Shen Yue’s confession of specific acts stands out as something unique among confession and repentance texts, which tend to be far less specific. While Shen Yue’s text may be the exception that proves the rule about how general Chinese confession texts became, it does, however, bear some resemblance to the specificity of karmic accounting that is found in later “Ledgers of Merit and Demerit” [gongguo ge 功過格] texts, which

“­ Self-Examination and Confession of Sins in Traditional China,” pp. 11–12, and my discussion here has benefitted greatly from his article. 32 T.52.331b.19–22, translation here from Pei-Yi Wu, “Self-Examination and Confession of Sins in Traditional China,” p. 11. 33 This summary of the contents of the Guang Hongming ji passage is from Pei-Yi Wu, “Self-Examination and Confession of Sins in Traditional China,” p. 11. 34 T.52.331c.13–14, translation here from Pei-Yi Wu, “Self-Examination and Confession of Sins in Traditional China,” p. 11.



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became popular during the Ming dynasty.35 It is in this body of material that we find the notion of sin as something that is quantifiable and possible to keep track of on a day to day basis. The “Ledgers of Merit and Demerit,” which serve as a form of karmic accountancy, contain lists of sins and good deeds. In that body of work then we find the process linked to the individual and to very specific sinful acts. In the late Ming monk Zhuhong’s 祩宏 (1535–1615) Zizhi lu 自知錄 “Record of Self Knowledge” we are also provided with 280 entries listing the precise merit and demerit gained for good and evil acts. “1. Serve parents with the utmost respect and loving attention; one day, one merit.” “190. For every pronouncement that is in conflict with the truth, count ten demerits.” and “247. If one drinks wine while discussing bad things, for every sheng [pint] consumed, count six demerits.”36 Zhuhong was as much concerned with his own transgressions as he was with the revival of the uposatha as a part of the monastic regime. There must have been something in the air of late 16th and early 17th century China, since it was also at this time that Pei-yi Wu noted an increased concern for sin and guilt among Confucians who began to repent and confess their sins in strikingly direct ways. Clearly there is much more that could be said here about the development of sin, confession and repentance within Chinese history, but what has been presented already should demonstrate that the issue of sin has remained an important preoccupation among Chinese Buddhists, and there is an abundance of material on rituals of confession and repentance related to the goal of attaining absolution from sin. Perhaps it is best to now return to the main problematic raised at the outset of our discussion: if Buddhism had a notion of sin (as we have demonstrated), then did Buddhism unleash this concept in China upon its arrival as Eberhard claimed? In a study that situates Chinese Buddhist confession and repentance rites within the larger context of Chinese cultural practices, David Chappell has suggested that Chinese Buddhist repentance rites differed from those in India due to the way that they began to incorporate pleas for universal salvation—including one’s dead relatives and potentially harmful ghosts.37 35 On this body of texts see Cynthia J. Brokaw, The Ledgers of Merit and Demerit: Social Change and Moral Order in Late Imperial China (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1991) and Chün-fang Yü, The Renewal of Buddhism in China: Chu-hung and the Late Ming Synthesis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), which includes a study of Zhuhong’s Zizhi lu 自知錄 “Record of Self Knowledge.” 36 Chün-fang Yü, The Renewal of Buddhism in China, pp. 233–259. 37 Chappell, “The Precious Scroll of the Liang Emperor.

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A sixth century repentance ritual text, the Repentance Ritual of the Great Compassion [Cibei daochang chanfa 慈悲道場懺法, also referred to as the Precious Scroll of the Liang Emperor (Lianghuang baochan 梁皇寶懺)], attributed to Emperor Wu of the Liang (r. 502–549), captures this new concern in particularly evocative language. Now today in this sanctuary, this great congregation with the same karma (tongye 同業), just like that described in the scriptures, has a great likelihood of experiencing these dreadful things. We may already have done these crimes, or [in the future] delusions may return without our knowing. In this way we will commit wrongs that are endless and boundless and will receive painful retribution in future places. Now today with the most sincere heart and with our five limbs touching the ground [in prostration] we bow our heads and implore you, with utmost shame and repentance for the wrongs we have already committed, we confess and reject and eliminate them. For the wrongs that we have not yet done, from now on we will be pure and make this vow to all the Buddhas of the ten directions: Namo Maitreya Buddha . . . Śākyamuni . . . Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva. Namo Buddha, Namo Dharma, Namo Sangha. Great Compassionate and Great Merciful Ones, save, protect, and lift us up, cause all living beings to immediately attain liberation, cause all living beings to have their hellish, ghostly, and animal karma extinguished, cause all beings to never again receive evil retribution, cause all beings to abandon suffering of the three lower rebirths, and all attain the ground of wisdom, and cause them to attain the place of peace and ultimate happiness. (T.45.934b.9–c.2)38

Chappell links the explicit concern for universal mercy found in this text to the Chinese legal tradition and the governmental practice of issuing general amnesty for criminals, which dates back to the Han dynasty (206 bce– 220 ce). One of the main problems that compromises Eberhard’s claims about the Buddhist introduction of sin to China—based on the arrival of Buddhist texts that contain notions of sin—is the fact that he based his dating of those texts on the attributions and dates given by the editors of the Taishō canon. The texts that Eberhard cited were all attributed to An Shigao 安世高 (fl. 148–170) and dated accordingly to the Later Han dynasty. Yet, as Jan Nattier has recently demonstrated, the attribution of authorship of Buddhist texts to An Shigao increased over time and became increasingly

38 Translation here from Chappell, “The Precious Scroll of the Liang Emperor,” p. 45.



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problematic. Therefore, the dating and provenance of these texts remains largely unclear and impossible to pin down with any certainty. In a groundbreaking, but often over-looked, study by Pei-Yi Wu we are provided with some important material for beginning to address the existence and place of sin in pre-Buddhist China. Based on his foundational work, coupled with some more recent work in Daoist studies, such as the work of Ōfuchi Ninji and Tsuchiya Masaaki, it seems certain that already by the late Han dynasty there is solid evidence for the existence of notions of sin and its requital. Most of that evidence derives from Daoist communities, such as the Heavenly Masters movement that developed in Sichuan in the second century ce, and the Yellow Turbans movement that rose up as an important millenarian movement in Eastern China in the late second century ce. In a commentary to Zhang Lu’s 張魯 biography in the Sanguo zhi 三國志 (Record of Three Kingdoms), for instance, the author quotes a text known as the Dianlüe 典略 (Scriptural Abstracts), which compares the practice of confessing sins in the Celestial Master’s community with the practice found in the Yellow Turban movement, lead by Zhang Jue 張角. In the Way of Great Peace, the leader wrote talismans and wove spells, holding on to a bamboo staff or nine sections. He told the sick people to knock their heads to the ground and remember their sins, then gave them a talisman, burned and dissolved in water, to drink. Those who got gradually better and were healed by this treatment were called good believers in the Dao. Those who showed no improvement were considered faithless. The methods of Zhang Xiu 張脩 were by and large the same as those of Zhang Jue. In addition, he established a so-called chamber of tranquility or oratory, where the sick would retreat to reflect on their wrong-doings . . . Also, he appointed so-called demon soldiers who were in charge of the prayers for the sick. To perform these prayers, they would write down the sick person’s name while formally reciting his intention to expiate sins. This would be done three times: the first version was offered to Heaven by being exposed on a mountain; the second was offered to Earth by being buried in the earth; and the third was offered to Water by being thrown into a stream. Together they were known as “petitions to the Three Bureaus.”39

39 Sanguo zhi 8.264. Translated and quoted in Tsuchiya Masaaki, “Confession of Sins and Awareness of Self in the Taiping jing,” in Livia Kohn and Harold D. Roth ed., Daoist Identity: History, Lineage, and Ritual (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2002), p. 39.

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The Sanguo zhi account can be profitably compared to a passage in the Hanshu [Official Han History], that states that Zhang Jue of Zhulu styled himself the Great Sage and Good Teacher. He followed the way of Huangdi and Laozi, collecting around himself a number of disciples. They were taught by him to practice healing. The patients were asked to kneel, make obeisance, and confess their offences. This procedure, together with Chang’s spells, holy water, and incantations cured a great number of the sick.40

The practice of writing down one’s sins is also found in a Shenxian zhuan biography of Zhang [Dao]ling. That biography states that Zhang Ling wanted to rule the people by means of honesty and shame and avoiding punishments. So, once he had set up administrative sectors, whenever people in any sector became ill, he had them compose an account of all the infractions they had committed since their birth; then, having signed this document, they were to cast it into a body of water, thereby establishing a covenant with the spirits that they would not violate the regulations again, pledging their own deaths as surety.41

The confession of sins was not only a characteristic practice of the early Celestial Masters community in the West, but is also found in texts related to Kou Qianzhi’s 寇謙之 (365–448) community in the North. In the Laojun yinsong jiejing 老君音誦誡經 (Scripture of the Recited Precepts of Lord Lao) [HY 783], for example, we find a rule that stipulates that if among the people of the Way there is sickness or illness, let it be announced to every home. The Master (shi 師) shall first command the people to light the incense fire. Then the Master from inside the Calm Chamber ( jing 靖), and the people on the outside, facing toward the west with their hair unbound, striking their heads on the ground, shall confess and unburden their sins and transgressions. The Master shall command them to tell all—nothing is to be hidden of concealed—and to beg for clemency and pardon.42

We could go on citing texts from early Daoist movements, including for example Lu Xiujing’s 陸修靜 (406–477) Daomen kelüe 道門科略 (Abridged Codes for the Daoist Community), to adumbrate the claim that

40 Pei-Yi Wu, “Self-Examination and Confession of Sins in Traditional China,” p. 6. 41 Robert Ford Campany, To Live as Long as Heaven and Earth: A Translation and Study of Ge Hong’s Traditions of Divine Transcendents (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), p. 351. 42 Richard B. Mather, “K’ou Ch’ien-chih and the Taoist Theocracy at the Northern Wei Court, 425–451,” in Holmes Welch and Anna Seidel, eds., Facets of Taoism: Essays in Chinese Religions (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), p. 117.



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within early Daoist movements conceptions of sin and their confession were an important part of ritual healing, but I think the point has been well established. What might be more useful at this stage of the discussion is a citation of Ōfuchi Ninji’s summary of the six main points connected with early Daoist sin confession rites, which he sees as evincing no Buddhist influence at all.43 1. Confession was directly related to sickness, which was thought to be caused by sins. 2. This view in turn was based on the notion that human behavior was supervised and evaluated according to its good and bad qualities by a supernatural administration of gods and spirits; this concept was significantly different from that held commonly in pre-Qin times and documented in texts like the Mozi. 3. Confessions also contained a traditional Confucian element in that penitents had to kowtow to the gods and beg for the forgiveness of their sins. 4. The formalities took place in a separate meditation hut or other isolated place, like the chamber of tranquility, or oratory. 5. Confessing sins in order to heal diseases had the effect of lightening the penitent’s burdens and making them feel lighter; this was completed by the religious purification of ‘talisman water’ (fushui), which enhanced the psychological effect of the confession. 6. Other religions, especially Christianity and Buddhism, have similar practices of formal confession. Compared with these, the Daoist ones appear less based on a deep inner feeling of guilt; they are, it seems, a more utilitarian and this-worldly measure of concrete, practical relief.

There is still much work that could, and should, be done on issues related to notions of sin in China. There could, for example, be some interesting comparative work done on the idea that sin began as something that could leave a physical mark on the perpetrator (such as sickness in the early Daoist communities), but transformed into a quantifiable entity. Given the ways that sin was conceptualized and calculated in its later elaborations in the Ming and Qing dynasties (in the later “Legers of Merit and Demerit” for example), one wonders if the precise working out of ratio’s of merit and demerit found in those sources may reflect wider socioeconomic developments similar to those discussed by Jacques Le Goff in regard to the “accountancy of the hereafter” that was developed

43 This list is derived from Ōfuchi Ninji 大淵忍爾, Shoki no dōkyō 初期の道教 (Tokyo: Sōbunsha, 1991), pp. 87, 92–93, 163 and translated and cited in Tsuchiya Masaaki, “Confession of Sins and Awareness of Self in the Taiping jing,” p. 41.

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during the thirteenth century in Europe; a time known as the “century of calculation”?44 Or, it might be worthwhile to brood over this change from sin being considered as a mark or stain to being something associated with a credit or debit to one’s karmic account by bringing it into conversation with the similar material presented in Gary Andersen’s recent book on sin, which tracks a distinctive shift from early views of sin as something material, like a stain on the hands, into the Biblical picture of sin as a debt owed.45 Scholars of Chinese religions might also do well to explore the full range of responses to various deployments of ‘fear’ and the concomitant notions of ‘introspection,’ ‘guilt,’ and ‘anxiety’ along the lines of the discussion in Jean Delumeau’s Sin and Fear on how sin became the prominent fear within Western civilization.46 Those are all questions for another venue, but we can conclude this initial foray into the question of sin in Buddhism and Chinese religions by noting that in the face of all of the evidence from early Daoist sources— and until further research is done on the precise history of the arrival and spread of the Buddhist uposatha in China—it seems particularly difficult to countenance the thesis forwarded by Eberhard that Buddhism introduced notions of sin into China. In the complex process of adapting Buddhism to China, Buddhist practices related to sin and confession were transformed at the same time that they impacted Chinese beliefs and practice by introducing new notions of sin and their requital. Thus, rather than witnessing a Buddhist sin-ification of China, it may best be understood the other way around, such that we also witness the Chinese sin-ification of Buddhism. Bibliography Anderson, Gary A. Sin: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009). Bendall, Cecil and W.H.D. Rouse, translators, Śikṣāsamuccaya: A Compendium of Buddhist Doctrine, translated (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1922). Brokaw, Cynthia J. The Ledgers of Merit and Demerit: Social Change and Moral Order in Late Imperial China (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1991).

44 Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986), p. 140. 45 Anderson, Sin: A History. 46 Delumeau, Sin and Fear.



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Campany, Robert Ford. To Live as Long as Heaven and Earth: A Translation and Study of Ge Hong’s Traditions of Divine Transcendents (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002). Chappell, Robert Ford. “The Precious Scroll of the Liang Emperor: Buddhist and Daoist Repentance to Save the Dead,” in William M. Bodiford, ed., Going Forth: Visions of Buddhist Vinaya (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005), 40–67. Delumeau, Jean. Sin and Fear: The Emergence of a Western Guilt Culture 13th-18th Centuries (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990). Dutt, Sukumar. Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India (London: Allen and Unwin, 1962). Eberhard Wolfram. Guilt and Sin in Traditional China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967). Funayama, Toru. “Rikuchō jidai no okeru bosatsukai no juyō katei—Ryū Sō•Nanseiki o chūshin ni” 六朝時代における菩薩戒の受容過程――劉宋・南斉期を中心に, Tōhō gakuhō 東方学報 67 (1995): 1–135. Gregory, Peter N. “The Problem of Theodicy in the Awakening of Faith,” in Religious Studies, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Mar., 1986), pp. 63–78. Guang hongming ji 廣弘明集 (An expansion of the Hongming ji [Collection of documents to glorify and illuminate [Buddhism]). By Daoxuan 道宣 (596–667). T. 52, #2103. Harvey, Peter. An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics: Foundations, Values, and Issues (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). Hastings, James, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958). Johnston, Sarah Iles. “Review Article: Describing the Undefinable: New Books on Magic and Old Problems of Definition” in History of Religions, Vol. 43, No. 1 (August 2003): 50–54. ——. ed., Religions of the Ancient World: A Guide (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004). Lamotte, Étienne. History of Indian Buddhism: From the Origins to the Śaka Era, trans. by Sara Webb-Boin (Louvain-La-Neuve: Peeters Press, 1988). Le Goff, Jacques. The Birth of Purgatory (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986). Li-ying, Kuo. Confession et contrition dans le bouddhisme chinois du ve au xe siècle (Paris: EFEO, 1994). Masaaki, Tsuchiya. “Confession of Sins and Awareness of Self in the Taiping jing,” in Livia Kohn and Harold D. Roth ed., Daoist Identity: History, Lineage, and Ritual (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2002), pp. 39–57. Mather, Richard B. “K’ou Ch’ien-chih and the Taoist Theocracy at the Northern Wei Court, 425–451,” in Holmes Welch and Anna Seidel, eds., Facets of Taoism: Essays in Chinese Religions (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), pp. 103–122. Mish, Frederick C., ed., Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2005). Nattier, Jan A Few Good Men: The Bodhisattva Path According to The Inquiry of Ugra (Ugraparipṛcchā) (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2003). Ninji, Ōfuchi 大淵忍爾, Shoki no dōkyō 初期の道教 (Tokyo: Sōbunsha, 1991). Obeyesekere, Gananath, Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Ameridian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002). ——. “Theodicy, Sin, and Salvation in a Sociology of Buddhism,” in Edmund R. Leach, ed., Dialectic in Practical Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), pp. 7–40. Pinker, Steven. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking, 2011). Portman, John. A History of Sin: Its Evolution to Today and Beyond (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007). Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught (New York: Grove Press, 1959).

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Silk, Jonathan A. “Good and Evil in Indian Buddhism: The Five Sins of Immediate Retribution,” in Journal of Indian Philosophy 35 (2007): 253–286. Smith, Jonathan Z. ed., HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1995). Spiro, Melford E. Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and Its Burmese Vicissitudes (New York: Harper and Row, 1970). Stevenson, Daniel B. “Protocols of Power: Tz’u-yün Tsun-shih (964–1032) and ­T’ien-t’ai Lay Buddhist Ritual in the Sung.” In Buddhism in Sung Dynasty China, edited by Peter N. Gregory and Daniel A. Getz, Jr., (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999), pp. 340–408. ——. “The T’ien-t’ai Four Forms of Samādhi and Late North-South Dynasties, Sui, and Early T’ang Buddhist Devotionalism.” 2 vols. Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1987. ——. “The Four Kinds of Samādhi in Early Tien-t’ai Buddhism.” In Traditions of Meditation in Chinese Buddhism, ed. Peter Gregory (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1986), 45–98. Wu, Pei-Yi. “Self-Examination and Confession of Sins in. Traditional China,” in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 39:1 (1979): 5–38. Yü, Chün-fang. The Renewal of Buddhism in China: Chu-hung and the Late Ming Synthesis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981). Zürcher, Erik. “Buddhist Chanhui and Christian Confession in Seventeenth-Century China,” in Nicolas Standaert and Ad Dudink, eds., Forgive us our Sins: Confession in Late Ming and Early Qing China (Sankt Augustin: Institut Monumenta Serica, 2006), pp. 103–127. ——. Review of “Kuo Li-Ying, Conf 1994)” in T’oung Pao 83 (1997): 207–212.ession et contrition dans le bouddhisme chinois du ve au xe siècle (Paris: EFEO, 1994) in T’oung Pao 83 (1997): 207–212.

“The evil person is the primary recipient of the Buddha’s compassion” The Akunin Shōki Theme in Shin Buddhism of Japan James C. Dobbins Among the various forms of Buddhism, Jōdo Shinshū 浄土真宗, or Shin Buddhism, in Japan has perhaps the most striking and unconventional doctrinal perspective on evil and wrongdoing. Instead of emphasizing the attainment of enlightenment through individual effort and self-perfection, it recognized the great difficulty humans have in following such a path because of their propensity to commit evil deeds. Founded by Shinran 親鸞 (1173–1262) in the thirteenth century, Shin Buddhism emphasized the compassionate workings of Amida 阿弥陀 Buddha to bring all living beings to enlightenment, rather than reliance on human effort to achieve enlightenment. In order to drive this message home, Shinran made a startling claim in his teachings, one that inverts Buddhism’s traditional recognition of the virtuous person over the evil one. In his akunin shōki 悪人正機 doctrine, Shinran identified the evil person as the primary target of the Buddha’s efforts to deliver all livings beings to enlightenment and as a more likely candidate than the virtuous person to develop true faith (shin 信), which leads to enlightenment in Amida’s Pure Land. This paper will analyze and explicate the akunin shōki theme in Shin Buddhism and explore its significance in Japanese Buddhist history.1 Before I take up the akunin shōki concept itself, I would like to make a comment on the word “sin” as applied to this topic. As in the case of other forms of Buddhism, sin may be an inexact term to use to explain this idea of wrongdoing and evil. The reason is that Shin Buddhism recognized karmic cause and effect as the matrix out of which wrongdoings arise and within which they must be negotiated. Actions—whether good, bad, or neutral and whether physical, verbal, or mental—arise from, produce, and disappear as a result of causes and conditions. Human beings are thus considered the authors, beneficiaries, and victims of their own actions, since every act has an outcome, great or small, in this life or in 1 For a survey of Shin Buddhist history, see James C. Dobbins, Jōdo Shinshū: Shin Buddhism in Medieval Japan (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2002).

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future ones. Of course, in the context of Mahāyāna Buddhism in East Asia, there could be interventions on behalf of sentient beings by compassionate buddhas and bodhisattvas, but their efficacy was predicated on their immense store of karmic virtue and their transference of karmic merit to others, all within the framework of karmic cause and effect. Hence, if we use the word sin to refer to evil or wrongdoing in the Buddhist context, we must be careful to uncouple it from notions of original sin and forgiveness of sin in Western religions. There are other reasons too why sin is a problematic term to use in this case. Shin Buddhism, more than other types of Buddhism, has been likened to Christianity throughout the modern period. Amida Buddha is compared to God, Pure Land to heaven, Amida’s compassion to God’s forgiveness, Shin faith to Christian faith, and Shin wrongdoing to Christian sin. Sometimes it is difficult for Westerners to conceptualize the themes and ideas of Shin Buddhism within their original Mahāyāna framework when the concept of sin is invoked. For that reason, I have opted to use such terms as evil and wrongdoing here instead of sin. Antecedents to Shinran: Evil as Seen in Earlier Buddhist Texts I would like to review cursorily the stock of Buddhist tropes, images, and themes that Shinran and Shin Buddhism inherited from earlier texts, which they used to formulate their ideas about the evil person. Evil, while not as pivotal a concept in Buddhism as sin is in Christianity, has nonetheless been a frequent and persistent topic in Buddhist literature. In his writings Shinran drew from a wide array of Buddhist sūtras and treatises as proof texts of his ideas. Without digressing too broadly, I would like to highlight at least a few items from the three Pure Land sūtras and from the Mahāyāna version of the Nirvāṇa Sūtra that served as starting points for Shinran’s thinking. Because the primary concern from the Shin Buddhist perspective was with habitual or entrenched wrongdoing, Shinran tended to invoke the most radical examples of evil in Buddhist lore. Thus, we find an array of terms cited from the sūtras that represent Buddhism’s extreme notions of wrongdoing, and also accounts of the greatest villains in Buddhist history and legend. The most common expressions indicating wrongdoing or evil that Shinran borrowed from Buddhist texts were the ten evil acts ( jūaku 十悪), the five grave offenses (gogyaku 五逆), and the denigration of the Dharma



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(hōbō 謗法 or hihō shōbō 誹謗正法).2 All three expressions appear in the Pure Land sūtras and are found widely in Mahāyāna literature. The ten evil acts is a trope for the standard list of wrongdoings denounced by Buddhism: killing, stealing, illicit sex, lying, deception, duplicity, malicious talk, greed, anger, and ignorance. The five grave offenses consist of killing one’s father, killing one’s mother, killing an arhat, causing discord in the sangha, and injuring the Buddha. And denigration of the Dharma refers to the disparagement and deprecation of the true teachings of the Buddha. For all these acts a person would incur dire karmic consequences, and for the worst ones—the five grave offenses and the denigration of the Dharma—one would suffer long-term confinement in the avīci hell (mugen jigoku 無限地獄) where there would be no respite from torments and tortures. Hence, whenever Shinran used the term akunin 悪人, evil person, he inevitably associated it with these tropes for evil in Buddhist literature. One other term that Shinran cited frequently—not from the three Pure Land sūtras, but from other texts including the Nirvāṇa Sūtra—is icchāntika (issendai 一闡提 or simply sendai 闡提), referring to sentient beings who lack any karmic capacity to do good, who are predisposed to all the forms of evil, and who are thus obstructed from attaining enlightenment.3 Such hyperbolic concepts were the ones Shinran culled from texts to construct his image of the evil person. We also find in Shinran’s writings references to several arch-villains in the Buddhist tradition—specifically, to Devadatta (Daibadatta 提婆達多), the belligerent apostate disciple of Śākyamuni Buddha, and to the evil king Ajātaśatru (Ajase 阿闍世), who killed his virtuous father, king Bimbisāra (Binbashara 頻婆沙羅), in order to seize the throne. Devadatta was well known for provoking discord in the Buddhist order and for drawing the blood of the Buddha during an attempt to kill him with a boulder, both acts included in the five grave offenses. Ajātaśatru—who figured even more prominently in Shinran’s writings, since he was a major figure in both the Pure Land Meditation Sūtra (Kanmuryōjukyō 観無量寿経) and the Nirvāṇa Sūtra—imprisoned his father the king and starved him to death so that he could ascend the throne, an act also included in the five

2 Kyōgyōshinshō 教行信証, in Shinshū shōgyō zensho 真宗聖教全書, 5 vols., ed. Shinshū Shōgyō Zensho Hensanjo 真宗聖教全書編纂所 (Kyoto: Kōkyō Shoin, 1940– 1941), 2:97–101. Hereafter, Shinshū shōgyō zensho is cited as SSZ. 3 Kyōgyōshinshō, SSZ, 2:1, 39.

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grave offences. Shinran’s account of Ajātaśatru indicated that he was so filled with evil that his body broke out in foul-smelling sores all over.4 But Shinran made special note of a passage in the Nirvāṇa Sūtra, which seems to foreshadow his own teaching about the evil person, in which Śākyamuni Buddha declared that he had appeared and remained in the world for the sake of evil figures like Ajātaśatru, not for those who already perceive buddha-nature (busshō 仏性) and abide in Nirvāṇa.5 The fate of the evil person was described in different ways in the texts that Shinran cited. For instance, in the Larger Pure Land Sūtra (Muryōjukyō 無量寿経) the last sentence of Amida Buddha’s crucial eighteenth vow declared that those who commit the five grave offenses and denigrate the Dharma would be excluded from the host of sentient beings born in Amida’s Pure Land.6 This exclusionary clause was moderated in China by the Buddhist master Shandao 善導 (613–681) who argued that the clause was a deterrent (okushimon 抑止門) to wrongdoing rather than an exclusion of the wrongdoer, an exegetical tradition that Shinran inherited.7 The Pure Land Meditation Sūtra, on the other hand, assigned those who commit the ten evil acts and the five grave offences to the “lowest of the low” category (gebongeshō 下品下生) of sentient beings born in the Pure Land. It indicated that, if such persons were prompted on their deathbed to think on the Buddha and to intone his name, then they could be born at the lowest rank in the Pure Land, since the Buddha’s name can nullify the effect of eight billion eon’s of karmic wrongdoing.8 These texts were thus interpreted as a confirmation that the evil person can attain enlightenment in Amida’s Pure Land, though through some special mechanism other than the natural operation of karmic cause and effect. Besides the sūtra literature, Shinran was also influenced by other concepts and themes circulating in Japan at the time. An important one was the idea of mappō 末法, the belief that Buddhism passes through historical stages whereby the efficacy of its teachings and the ability of sentient beings to actualize them steadily decline. In that final degenerate age of mappō, humans become corrupt and evil flourishes.9 Shinran was also 4 Kyōgyōshinshō, SSZ, 2:81. 5 Kyōgyōshinshō, SSZ, 2:87. 6 Muryōjukyō 無量寿経, SSZ, 1:9. 7 Guanjingshu 観経疏, SSZ, 1:555. 8 Kanmuryōjukyō 観無量寿経, SSZ, 1:65. 9 For example, see the long quotation from the Mappō tōmyōki 末法燈明記 in the Kyōgyōshinshō, SSZ, 2:168–174.



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directly and heavily influenced by the teaching of his master Hōnen 法然 (1133–1212). He is best known for advocating the nembutsu 念仏, intoning the name of Amida Buddha, as the true and exclusive practice leading all sentient beings to enlightenment in the Pure Land during the desperate age of mappō. He declared it to be an unfailing practice for people in all states and conditions—whether one is male or female, high or low, rich or poor, knowledgeable or ignorant, observant of the clerical precepts or not.10 Hōnen is frequently quoted as saying that even the evil person can attain birth in the Pure Land, so how much more so the good person.11 Some scholars argue convincingly that he sometimes highlighted the evil person as primary even over the good person, thereby inspiring the akunin shōki doctrine that Shinran went on to champion.12 Shinran’s Doctrine of Akunin Shōki Akunin shōki is the idea that the evil person is neither excluded from the Pure Land nor grudgingly granted birth at its lowest level, but in fact represents the prime target of Amida Buddha’s vow to lead all sentient beings to enlightenment. This idea has been celebrated by some scholars as Shinran’s most important and original contribution to Japanese Buddhism.13 Other scholars have protested that the idea originated with Hōnen, though Shinran has received all the credit for it.14 Without entering into the internecine debate over its origin, we can observe that the idea became a prominent motif in Shinran’s tradition of Shin Buddhism, more than in Hōnen’s Pure Land tradition. Moreover, there is a major text in Shin Buddhism, the Tannishō 歎異抄 (“Notes Lamenting Deviations”) that presents this idea as its central theme. This text admittedly has a complex history in Shin Buddhism. It is a collection of sayings attributed

10 Senchaku hongan nembutsushū 選擇本願念仏集, SSZ, 1:944–945; or in Shōwa shinshū Hōnen Shōnin zenshū 昭和新修法然上人全集, ed. Ishii Kyōdō 石井教道 (1955; rpt. Kyoto: Heirakuji Shoten, 1974), 368–369. 11 Kajimura Noboru 梶村昇, Akunin shōki setsu 悪人正機説 (Tokyo: Daitō Shuppansha, 1992), 156, lists six instances where this idea is found in Hōnen’s teachings, drawn primarily from the scholarship of Ienaga Saburō. 12 The main argument of Kajimura Noboru’s Akunin shōki setsu, 49–59, 172–187, is that Hōnen was the originator of the akunin shōki doctrine. 13 Ienaga Saburō 家永三郎, Chūsei Bukkyō shisōshi kenkyū 中世仏教思想史研究 (Kyoto: Hōzōkan, 1955), 2–43. 14 Kajimura Noboru, Akunin shōki setsu, 1–6.

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to Shinran, but not an actual work by him. Moreover, it became popular and widely read mostly in the modern period, not in medieval times. Furthermore, the exact words akunin shōki do not actually appear in the text nor in any of Shinran’s writings, but represent a neologism formulated to convey this idea.15 Notwithstanding these problems, it is fair to say that the Tannishō is universally accepted as an authentic account of Shinran’s ideas and that the concept of akunin shōki, if not the expression itself, appears in Shinran’s teachings explicitly in the sayings of the Tannishō and implicitly in accounts to the evil king Ajātaśatru and other references in his own writings. The most salient passage in the Tannishō articulating the akunin shōki theme is the third section of the text, containing the following quotation attributed to Shinran: Even the good person can be born in the Pure Land. How much more so the evil person! But what ordinary people usually say is: “Even the evil person can be born in the Pure Land. How much more so the good person!” At first glance this expression seems to make sense, but it [actually] goes against the intent of [Amida Buddha’s] principal vow, “other-power” (tariki 他力). The reason is that people who perform good deeds through their own efforts ( jiriki sazen 自力作善) lack a sense of relying exclusively on the [Buddha’s] “other-power.” Therefore, it is not Amida’s principal vow [at work]. But if we overturn this sense of self-effort and rely on “other-power,” then we will attain birth in the true Pure Land of fulfillment. We who are overwhelmed by evil inclinations (bonnō gusoku 煩惱具足) are unable to extricate ourselves from Saṃsāra by any religious practice of our own. Out of compassion for us, [Amida] has established his vow. The primary intention behind it is for the evil person to achieve Buddhahood (akunin jōbutsu 悪人成仏). Hence, the evil person who relies on “other-power” embodies, more than anyone else, the true cause of birth in the Pure Land (ōjō no shōin 往生の正因). For that reason it is said, “Even the good person can be born in the Pure Land. How much more so the evil person!”16

Another quotation from the first section of the text elaborates further on this issue: In Amida’s principal vow there is no distinction between young and old or good and evil persons. We should realize that faith alone is necessary. His vow there­fore is aimed at aiding sentient beings who are steeped in wrongdoings (zaiaku jinjū 罪悪深重) and blazing with evil inclinations (bonnō

15 Sueki Fumihiko 末木文美士, Nihon Bukkyō shisōshi ronkō 日本仏教思想史論考 (Tokyo: Daizō Shuppan, 1993), 431–438, outlines some of these issues. 16 Tannishō 歎異抄, SSZ, 2:775 (section 3).



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shijō 煩悩熾盛). Consequently, if one has faith in the principal vow, no other good is necessary, since there is nothing so good that it can surpass the nembutsu. Nor should one fear evil, since there is nothing so evil that it can obstruct Amida’s principal vow.17

The standard Shin Buddhist exegesis of these passages generalizes evil into a universal human condition. It does not treat it, however, as an inborn state as the Christian doctrine of original sin might, but rather as an existential fate in the degenerate age of mappō. Shin Buddhism thus urges humans to recognize the inescapable nature of their present condition and, instead of striving to perfect themselves in a disobliging and deteriorating world, to rely totally on the power of Amida Buddha. This, then, is a religion of faith (shinjin 信心), but this faith is not construed as a choice or a volitional stance, but rather as the relinquishing all volition and the acquiescence to the mysterious workings of the Buddha, inaugurated in his principal vow to bring sentient beings to enlightenment in his Pure Land. In this state the nembutsu, intoning the Buddha’s name, is not treated as an act of virtue aimed at meriting the Buddha’s compassion, but as the miraculous instantiation of Amida in the world and as a person’s natural response to the compassion that the Buddha has already extended. Hence, faith, Amida’s principal vow, and the nembutsu are seen as multiple facets of a single religious process, all originating with the Buddha. The evil person—that is, those who recognize their own deepseated human failings—are in the best position to cede their religious fate to Amida. In orthodox Shin Buddhist doctrine, this is how akunin shōki is interpreted. The evil person is the primary target of the Buddha’s compassion because the evil person is best situated to comprehend and surrender to it. In elucidating the akunin shōki concept, the Tannishō is particularly critical of forms of Buddhism that emphasize virtuous acts and upright behavior to attain enlightenment or birth in the Pure Land. It treats people who have confidence in their own religious abilities as not yet cognizant of the futility of human effort in the age of mappō. Certainly among Pure Land Buddhists of Shinran’s day, there were many who advocated a broad range of conventional Buddhist practices considered crucial for attaining birth in Amida’s Pure Land: studying sūtras and sacred texts, performing acts of virtue, not falling into anger, repenting and reestablishing one’s faith whenever one has committed a wrongdoing, and of course 17 Tannishō, SSZ, 2:773 (section 1).

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frequent and extended intonation the nembutsu, since it was thought to offset unfortunate karmic deeds. Such an emphasis on good works was known in Pure Land circles as kenzen shōjin 賢善精進, cultivation and advancement of wise and virtuous action. The Tannishō, however, treats it as a misguided understanding of the Pure Land path, the diametric opposite of the akunin shōki doctrine. Far from assisting people in their religious development, the encouragement of good deeds only perpetuates the cycle of frustration and failure. Hence, the Tannishō proclaims the suspension of jiriki, self-effort, and the reliance on tariki, the miraculous power of Amida Buddha, to be the true portal to enlightenment in the Pure Land.18 These ideas in the Tannishō and in Shinran’s teachings in general are predicated on a complex understanding of karmic cause and effect visà-vis the path to enlightenment. This, as much as his akunin shōki doctrine, helps distinguish Shinran’s ideas from other Buddhist teachings. In a sense Shinran considered the functioning of karma to be a separate mechanism from the operation of Amida’s vow and the nembutsu. Whereas other Pure Land proponents perceived the nembutsu as a special and powerful karmic act neutralizing all manner of unfortunate karmic residue, Shinran declared the nembutsu to be neither a religious practice (higyō 非行) nor an act of good (hizen 非善).19 What he meant by this is that for the person of faith the true nembutsu does not operate within the framework of karmic merit or demerit. It is not intoned to achieve birth in the Pure Land, but rather it occurs as part of the mysterious workings of the Buddha. This does not mean that Shinran repudiated the idea of karmic cause and effect. On the contrary, he believed that it is precisely because of the consequence of karma that people are locked in a selfperpetuating cycle of wrongdoing. That is what makes them akunin, the evil person. Over and above the dynamics of karma, though, Amida’s power and compassion operate in a separate dimension. They do not nullify the worldly consequences of action, whether good or bad, but they vouchsafe the enlightenment of the person of faith apart from those actions. Shinran in fact observed that the person of faith may not even show signs of faith—for instance, joy and anticipation of enlightenment in the Pure Land. But he acknowledged this behavior—and even unseemly behavior such as boasting to others that Amida’s vow assures one of birth in the

18 Tannishō, SSZ, 2:783–785 (section 13). 19 Tannishō, SSZ, 2:777 (section 8).



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Pure Land ­(hongan bokori 本願誇り)—as simply an unfortunate product of past karma.20 In short, Shinran considered karmic good and evil, as well as reward and punishment, to be the worldly environment in which humans operate, but he considered Amida’s vow, the nembutsu, and faith to function unfettered by such structures. Thus, Shinran declared the person of karmic evil to be the primary target of the Buddha’s compassion. The Problem of Licensed Evil In Shin Buddhism the akunin shōki theme is usually analyzed at the level of abstract doctrine, but historically it was imbedded in a culture of controversial religious activity. For people who advocated conventional Buddhist morality, akunin shōki was often lumped together with the idea of “licensed evil” (zōaku muge 造悪無碍), the antinomian belief that people should do whatever they please no matter how wrong or immoral it might be, since Amida Buddha would always come to their aid. Shinran himself differentiated his teachings from this belief, for he considered licensed evil to be a willful manipulation of Pure Land ideas by people who had no true sense of their own condition of evil. But Shinran’s view was only one amid a kaleidoscope of perspectives on wrongdoing and the Pure Land path. These perspectives were expressed variously in doctrinal hairsplitting on the one hand and in a wide range of social behavior on the other—from conformity to iconoclasm. Some historians, especially those who follow a Marxist or Foucaultian type of historiography, argue that the term akunin, evil person, had a more targeted significance in the Japanese medieval context than the generalized meaning given to it in Buddhist doctrine. Specifically, it referred to lowly and disruptive elements in society who did not submissively conform to communal norms and the established social order. They acted provocatively and attempted to undermine the social, political, economic, and religious structures that kept their status low and prevented them from sharing in the benefits of society. In modern parlance, they would be described as an exploited or subaltern group of individuals. Hence, the special recognition of the evil person in Shinran’s and Hōnen’s teachings provided them with an alternative rhetoric to counter the dominant Buddhist ideology that kept them marginalized. Shinran and Hōnen may

20 Tannishō, SSZ, 2:777–778, 782–783 (sections 9 and 13).

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not have explicitly condoned or encouraged such provocative behavior, though they did object to certain aspects of orthodox Buddhist dogma. But their teachings on the evil person obviously rang a resonant chord with such anti-establishment groups and were deployed by them for purposes that Shinran and Hōnen may not have intended.21 The type of provocative actions committed by these groups is exemplified in a document known at the “Seven Article Pledge” (Shichikajō kishōmon 七箇条起請文) of 1204 that Hōnen required his disciples to sign. It listed a variety of activities and misdeeds that his followers were accused of and which he enjoined them to refrain from. Included among them were: denigration of other buddhas and bodhisattvas besides Amida; attacking the teachings of mainstream traditions of Buddhism such as Tendai 天台 and Shingon 真言; ridiculing adherents of other forms of Buddhism; rejecting the practice of the clerical precepts (kaigyō 戒行) and encouraging sexual indulgences, liquor-drinking, and meat-eating; provoking disputes with others; misleading the ignorant; and propounding heretical ideas.22 These activities suggest that some Pure Land adherents were brash in their behavior, inflammatory in their claims, and confrontational in their interactions with others. Such deeds could all be subsumed under the category of licensed evil. Secular and religious authorities no doubt reacted with alarm to these activities, for they feared that they would erode social values and corrupt the clergy. Hence, Hōnen and other Pure Land advocates suffered suppression numerous times in the thirteenth century. Hōnen himself was placed in a difficult position. On the one hand, he taught that the evil person is fully embraced by Amida never to be forsaken (sesshu fusha 摂取不捨). But on the other, he sought to restrain and moderate the behavior of his most rebellious followers. As Hōnen’s movement attracted more extreme elements—especially late in his life—Hōnen himself seemed to become more conservative and admonishing in his teachings.

21 For examples of scholarship presenting this kind of argument, see Taira Masayuki 平雅行, Nihon chūsei no shakai to Bukkyō 日本中世の社会と仏教 (Tokyo: Hanawa Shobō, 1992), 157–265; and Fabio Rambelli, “ ‘Just Behave as You Like; Prohibitions and Impurities Are Not a Problem.’ Radical Amida Cults and Popular Religiosity in Premodern Japan,” in Approaching the Land of Bliss: Religious Praxis in the Cult of Amitābha, ed. Richard K. Payne and Kenneth K. Tanaka (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004), 169–201. 22 Shichikajō kishōmon 七箇条起請文, in Shōwa shinshū Hōnen Shōnin zenshū, ed. Ishii Kyōdō, 787–790.



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Among Hōnen’s disciples, a few were characterized as proponents of the so-called “single nembutsu doctrine” (ichinengi 一念義), which was frequently associated with licensed evil. The most notorious figures in this group were Kōsai 幸西 (1163–1247) and Gyōkū 行空. The basic argument of the single nembutsu doctrine is as follows: if people intone Amida’s name once, it is a reflection of their faith in the Buddha and in his vow to deliver them into the Pure Land. In that single nembutsu, their faith is melded with the wisdom of the Buddha. But if people intone Amida’s name repeatedly, it is an indication that they do not have faith in the Buddha’s vow. As a result, they are not assured of birth in the Pure Land. Licensed evil could function as a corollary to this argument by contending that, if intoning the nembutsu just once is an expression of faith, then committing various wrongdoings is an even greater demonstration of faith. These claims represented the faith extreme among Pure Land proponents, those who abjured any type of religious practice, even the standard practice of the nembutsu. It stood in contrast to the practice extreme among Pure Land adherents, which was associated with the so-called “repeated nembutsu doctrine” (tanengi 多念義)—those who maintained that, if intoning the nembutsu once is good, then chanting it repeatedly and constantly is better, and cultivating wise and virtuous actions (kenzen shōjin 賢善精進) alongside it is best. Because the practice extreme had more in common with the conventional Buddhist traditions, it was the faction of Hōnen’s followers that was tolerated more. The faith extreme, by contrast, aroused the suspicion of religious and secular authorities and underwent suppression periodically.23 Shinran, like Hōnen, never sided with the single or the repeated nembutsu extremes, but recognized the validity of the nembutsu however one might practice it. But, comparatively speaking, his teachings tended toward the faith end of the spectrum more than the practice end. Moreover, he was vulnerable to accusations of licensed evil because of his claim that the evil person is the primary object of Amida’s vow. As in the case of Hōnen, though roughly a half century later, Shinran confronted provocative, anti-social elements in his own following, and he likewise criticized them, though using his own line of argument. Among his followers in the Kantō 関東 region, there were some who proclaimed: 23 For an in-depth exposition of this issue, see James C. Dobbins, “The Single and the Repeated Nembutsu Extremes,” in Jōdokyō no kenkyū 淨土教の研究, ed. Ishida Mitsuyuki Hakase Koki Kinen Ronbunshū Kankōkai 石田充之博士古希記念論文集刊行会 (Kyoto: Nagata Bunshōdō, 1982), 85–100.

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james c. dobbins Because evil is the common state of all unenlightened beings and because evil is their nature, people should delight in those things which should not be thought, and should do those things which should not be done, and should say those things which should not be said.24

The expression Shinran used to refer to this type of attitude is hōitsu muzan 放逸無慚, “unbridled indulgence without remorse.”25 This attitude reflected a defiance of social and religious norms, and probably inspired offenses like those listed in Hōnen’s “Seven Article Pledge.” From Shinran’s letters we know specifically that some of his followers were accused of denigrating buddhas and bodhisattvas other than Amida and of ridiculing the native kami deities, actions that were an affront to the established religion of his day.26 Shinran did not condone such behavior, though at the same time he did not regard veneration of other buddhas, bodhisattvas, and kami as necessary for enlightenment in Amida’s Pure Land. His objection to licensed evil was not over evil action per se, for he believed that no action was so evil that it could obstruct Amida’s vow, but rather over willful indulgence in evil without true awareness of one’s hopeless state. He likened licensed evil to “encouraging people to drink more liquor before they have sobered, or to take more poison before [a dose] has worn off. ‘We have the antidote, so enjoy the poison!’ ”27 Shinran disavowed such a claim, and saw no similarity between it and his own doctrine of akunin shōki, even if other mainstream Buddhists did. There was one other type of licensed evil that was widely debated in Shinran’s time: hakai muzan 破戒無慚, or “violating the clerical precepts without remorse.” What was at stake in this controversy was the value of the clerical lifestyle in the path to enlightenment. Among radical Pure Land proponents, some actively encouraged priests and nuns to break their vows. They declared that eating meat or fish, drinking liquor, and indulging in sex, all violations of the clerical precepts, would in no way obstruct them from birth in Amida’s Pure Land. Hōnen specifically admonished his disciples against inciting such behavior in his “Seven Article Pledge.”28 His position, however, was complex. On the one hand, Hōnen too believed that Amida’s nembutsu made it possible for those who had broken the clerical vows to attain enlightenment in the Pure Land. Certainly, in Japan

24 Goshōsokushū 御消息集, SSZ, 2:703–704. 25 Mattōshō 末燈鈔, SSZ, 2:682. 26 Goshōsokushū, SSZ, 2:700–701. 27 Mattōshō, SSZ, 2:691. 28 Shichikajō kishōmon, in Shōwa shinshū Hōnen Shōnin zenshū, ed. Ishii Kyōdō, 788.



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at this time there was a burgeoning contingent of clerics who disregarded the precepts. On the other hand, Hōnen considered the clerical lifestyle perfectly compatible with Pure Land practice. He himself seemed to be a paragon of clerical virtue and nembutsu practice. Hence, he opposed those who campaigned against the clerical precepts in Pure Land Buddhism, treating them as misguided and untrustworthy. Shinran, by contrast, had a more pessimistic view of the clerical precepts than Hōnen did. In all his criticisms of licensed evil and other aberrant Pure Land interpretations he never included violation of the precepts. The reason is that he believed they were no longer efficacious in the degenerate age of mappō. Priests and nuns could be considered clerics in name or appearance only, but nothing in their lifestyle could contribute to their enlightenment in the Pure Land.29 Shinran himself was a prime example of a lapsed priest. Though he shaved his head and wore clerical robes as a Buddhist priest would, he openly ate fish and meat,30 and he married and had a family. From the standpoint of the Buddhist establishment, Shinran may have personified licensed evil. But in his own mind he considered himself the proverbial evil person, who is the primary object of Amida’s compassion. Shinran never attempted to hide his violation of the precepts, and as a result he unwittingly provided a model for a married clergy in Shin Buddhism as it developed in subsequent centuries. Contextualizing the Evil Person Shinran’s idea of akunin shōki represents a powerful, counter-intuitive religious proposition in Buddhism that has stimulated doctrinal reflection and elaboration over the centuries. Some scholars consider it Shinran’s trademark teaching and his greatest contribution to Japanese religious thought. But as the example of licensed evil indicates, it was difficult to translate this idea into religious practice or a structured religious lifestyle. In the two centuries after Shinran’s death, as his following took on the characteristics of an organized religion, the akunin shōki doctrine continued to be an important tenet in Shin Buddhism, though it was reinterpreted and contextualized in ways that Shinran may not have anticipated or chose not to address. Within the Honganji 本願寺 tradition of Shin 29 This was the primary message that Shinran took from the Mappō tōmyōki, quoted in the Kyōgyōshinshō, SSZ, 2:168–174. 30 Concerning Shinran’s eating of fish, see Kudenshō 口伝鈔, SSZ, 3:12–14.

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Buddhism, the most prominent interpreters of Shinran’s teachings were Kakunyo 覚如 (1270–1351), Zonkaku 存覚 (1290–1373), and Rennyo 蓮如 (1415–1499), all of whom were descendents of Shinran and the architects of Shin Buddhism as a major religious movement in Japan. Kakunyo transformed Shinran’s gravesite chapel into the Honganji temple, which eventually emerged as the most influential institution in Shin Buddhism. Zonkaku, though estranged from his father Kakunyo, formulated important interpretations that helped shape and define Shin Buddhism. And Rennyo articulated the teachings further and consolidated it as the largest and most powerful religious movement in medieval Japan. Each of these three inherited the akunin shōki doctrine, but tailored it to fit the broader contours of an established religion. In some ways they tempered its most dangerous aspects by proposing a structured paradigm of religious behavior to counterbalance radical tendencies. I would like to offer a few examples of how this doctrine was reshaped and modified by these three figures. Neither Kakunyo nor Zonkaku nor Rennyo presented the akunin shōki concept with nearly as much power and poignancy as the Tannishō did. And yet they were instrumental in assuring that the Tannishō’s message endured as a theme in Shin Buddhism. The earliest surviving manuscript of the text was written by Rennyo himself around 1479, almost two centuries after the work was supposedly compiled. Despite this late date, the Tannishō is considered an authentic representation of Shinran’s teachings because passages in it are similar to ones found in Kakunyo’s works composed a century and a half earlier. Hence, Kakunyo and Rennyo were pivotal figures in the authentication and preservation of the Tannishō as a Shin Buddhist text. Among the writings of these three figures, those of Kakunyo—particularly, his Kudenshō 口伝鈔 (“Notes of Oral Transmissions”) and Shūjishō 執持鈔 (“Notes on Holding Fast”)—bear the greatest resemblance to passages in the Tannishō. Those of Zonkaku and Rennyo do not address the concept of akunin shōki as directly, but present themes and ideas that are consistent with it or ancillary to it. The first thing to note is that the terminology for evil and the evil person used by these three figures overlaps to a certain extent with that used by Shinran. For instance, in Rennyo’s “pastoral letters” (Ofumi 御文 or Gobunshō 御文章) we find references to the ten evil acts ( jūaku 十悪), the five grave offenses (gogyaku 五逆), the denigration of the Dharma (hōbō 謗法), and the incorrigibly corrupt icchantika (sendai 闡提), terms used to impress upon people the gravity of their condition in the age of



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mappō.31 This language echoes Shinran’s use of these terms. In addition, we find almost identical sentences in Kakunyo’s Kudenshō to ones in the Tannishō—for example, “Hence, there was the adage [of Shinran’s] that one should say, ‘Even the good person is born in the Pure Land, how much more so the evil person!’ ”32 Besides these close links, there are also places in the writings of these three where the akunin shōki theme was framed in different terminology and associated with different concepts. The most prominent one, found in Kakunyo’s writings, is the idea that the Buddha’s vow is intended for the “unenlightened person” (bonbu 凡夫) rather than the “enlightened person” (shōnin 聖人). This dyad, bonbu vs. shōnin, parallels the dyad of akunin (“evil person”) vs. zennin (“good person”). Certainly the term bonbu can be found extensively in Shinran’s writings also, though it does not appear explicitly as a structural parallel to akunin. Kakunyo went on to refine these categories by interweaving the two dyads, subdividing unenlightened people into two groups, those who are good, zen bonbu 善凡夫, and those who are evil, aku bonbu 悪凡夫. He, of course, identified the evil unenlightened person as the primary object (shōki 正機) of Amida’s compassion, and the good unenlightened person as the secondary object (bōki 傍機).33 Kakunyo’s adoption of the term bonbu may bring Shinran’s akunin shōki doctrine into closer alignment with traditional Buddhist soteriology, but it does not necessarily capture the sense of radical evil that Shinran sought to convey with the term akunin. Another interesting adaptation of the akunin shōki doctrine, found in the writings of Zonkaku and Rennyo specifically, is the conflation of women (nyonin 女人) with the category of the evil person (akunin 悪人). The identity and status of women in Pure Land Buddhism is a complex topic that cannot be explored in depth here, but suffice it to say that they were assigned an inferior role and rank to men. That is, women were considered burdened with a greater accumulation of karmic misfortune and ill-equipped to attain enlightenment. As a result, Zonkaku argued: 31 Yata Ryōshō 矢田了章, “Rennyo ni okeru akunin shōki setsu no tenkai” 蓮如に おける悪人正機説の展開, in Rennyo taikei 蓮如体系, vol. 2, ed. Kakehashi Jitsuen 梯實圓 et al. (Kyoto: Hōzōkan, 1996), 109–110. 32 Kudenshō, SSZ, 3:32. 33 Kudenshō, SSZ, 3:31–32; and Yata Ryōshō, “Kakunyo ni okeru akunin shōki setsu no tenkai” 覚如における悪人正機説の展開, in Shinran kyōgaku no shomondai 親鸞教 学の諸問題, ed. Ryūkoku Daigaku Shinshū Gakkai 龍谷大学真宗学会 (Kyoto: Nagata Bunshōdō, 1987), 190, 194–200.

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james c. dobbins Though the compassion of the Tathāgata is bestowed on all sentient beings in general, he considers women especially to be first. And though the karmic capacity (kien 機縁) for [birth in] the Pure Land is extended to all categories of beings in the ten directions [of the universe], he regards women alone as primary.34

Rennyo in his treatment of this topic in a short doctrinal treatise spoke of women and wrongdoers interchangeably, both of them as the object of the Buddha’s vow: Amida, when he was known as Hōzō Biku 法蔵比丘, revealed an easy Dharma after [long] reflection. He made a vow to lead to birth in the Pure Land both wrongdoers (zainin 罪人) [who commit] the ten evil acts and the five grave offenses and also women [who are constrained by] the five obstructions (goshō 五障) and the three subjugations (sanjū 三從) without omitting any of them.35

A similar association of women with evildoers can be found in Rennyo’s pastoral letters as well. Though he did not go to the extent of articulating a new dyad of women vs. men to apply to the akunin shōki concept, he clearly linked women to the evil person within this doctrinal framework. There were complex ramifications of this depiction of women, both negative and positive. On the one hand, women were portrayed as the lowest and most unworthy candidates for enlightenment. According to classical Pure Land doctrine as extrapolated from Amida’s thirty-fifth vow in the Larger Pure Land Sūtra, women could not be born in the Pure Land as women, but would have to undergo male transformation first (henjō nanshi 変成男子).36 Shinran himself recognized this claim, and all three figures surveyed here were also aware of it. It is noteworthy, though, that in the passages where Rennyo paired women with wrongdoers, he did not focus on the necessity of being transformed into men, but rather emphasized that Amida’s vow is aimed at women especially and delivers them into the Pure Land without fail. What is missing in Rennyo’s argument, however, is the full application of the akunin shōki theme. If Rennyo had pursued it to its logical conclusion, he would have portrayed women as the prime example of those embraced by Amida and never forsaken—in

34 Nyonin ōjō kikigaki 女人往生聞書, SSZ, 3:117; and Yata Ryōshō, “Zonkaku ni okeru akunin shōki setsu no tenkai” 存如における悪人正機説の展開, Shinshūgaku 真宗学 77 (February 1988): 12–13. 35 Shōshinge taii 正信偈大意, SSZ, 3:387; and Yata Ryōshō, “Rennyo ni okeru akunin shōki setsu no tenkai,” 108. 36 Muryōjukyō, SSZ, 1:12.



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short, a nyonin shōki 女人正機 doctrine—and thus as the paragon for Shin Buddhist faith. Though Rennyo stopped short of this dramatic declaration, his association of women with the evil person may have provoked such an assumption subliminally among Shin adherents. In Rennyo’s teachings we find the articulation of a paradigm of religious piety and conduct that came to be standard in Shin Buddhism. This paradigm evolved over a long period of time as followers of Shinran’s teachings formulated ritual practices, codes of conduct, and religious communities. Such structure worked to dampen and attenuate the volatility inspired by the rhetoric of the evil person. We can see this in the Okite 掟, or rules of conduct, that Rennyo issued for Shin adherents to follow. They contain some of the standard moral injunctions that were prevalent among Pure Land believers and Buddhists in general: not to denigrate other buddhas and bodhisattvas; not to disparage the teachings of other forms of Buddhism; not to eat fish or fowl and not to drink liquor on days of nembutsu services; not to gamble; not to criticize civil authorities; and to observe taboos (monoimi 物忌) before authorities and the public, even though Shin Buddhists did not believe in them.37 Rennyo was not the originator of such rules, for they had been under steady and continuous development from the time of the earliest religious communities of Shinran’s followers.38 The Tannishō was in fact critical of such regulations,39 though they were obviously well established and widely accepted among believers. Rennyo’s own justification for a code of behavior was that Shin adherents should appear upright to those outside their community so as to avoid censure, even while maintaining their own beliefs and practices within the community.40 In short, these rules represented expedient measures for the stability and perpetuation of the community. It was in this communal environment that the akunin shōki teaching was preserved. Notwithstanding the structured and controlled setting in which the akunin shōki discourse operated, it would be wrong to think that the potency and volatility of its message disappeared or that Shin Buddhism simply reverted to the conventions of Buddhism that existed before Shinran’s time. On the contrary, certain patterns of behavior, which had been 37 “Ofumi” 御文, no. 38 (1473, 11th month), in Rennyo Shōnin ibun 蓮如上人遺文, ed. Inaba Masamaru 稲葉昌丸 (1937; rpt. Kyoto: Hōzōkan, 1972), 132–133. 38 Chiba Jōryū 千葉乗隆, Shinshū kyōdan no soshiki to seido 真宗教団の組織と制度 (Kyoto: Dōbōsha, 1978), 108–109. 39 Tannishō, SSZ, 2:784 (section 13). 40 “Ofumi,” no. 64 (1474.7.3), in Rennyo Shōnin ibun, ed. Inaba Masamaru, 199. See also Gobunshō 御文章, SSZ, 3:444–445.

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considered acts of wrongdoing before, were accepted and institutionalized as part of the Shin Buddhist lifestyle. The most prominent among these were the eating of meat and fish, the drinking of liquor, and the marriage of clergy. A reflection of this new mindset can be found in Zonkaku’s defense of Shin Buddhist groups in the fourteenth century who had been maliciously accused of consuming fish and fowl at nembutsu ceremonies and of having sex with each other’s spouses in front of the Buddhist altar in their places of worship. Zonkaku responded that there was absolutely no reason for them to commit such acts because meat-eating and sex were not forbidden to them in ordinary life.41 This line of argument is an indication that Shin adherents accepted the fact that they could not live up to Buddhism’s strictest tenets of morality. But without advocating more wrongdoing or boasting of their shortcomings, they went about their lives confident that Amida Buddha would assure their birth in the Pure Land. The akunin shōki concept lay at the heart of this outlook. Concluding Thoughts The akunin shōki doctrine might have been a mere curiosity, or even a footnote, in Japanese Buddhist thought had it not been for the fact that Shin Buddhism coalesced around it. It is difficult to overstate the significance and impact of Shin Buddhism as a historical movement. From the fifteenth to the twentieth century it dwarfed every other religious movement in Japan. It dominated the peasant and commoner class in the countryside, but also made inroads among merchants and ruling elites in urban areas. Throughout its ascendance Shin Buddhism preserved and extolled the idea of the evil person as the primary target of the Buddha’s compassion. Inspired in part by this, it also developed a tradition of clerical marriage which, though originally treated as an aberration in Buddhism, eventually emerged as the norm in Japan. To that extent, the identity and contours of Japanese Buddhism have been shaped as much by Shin Buddhism as by any other tradition. Did the akunin shōki doctrine inspire this movement, or was it just carried along with it by historical accident? That is, could the movement have coalesced around other powerful Buddhist themes than this one? Certainly there have been other compelling concepts in Buddhism that

41 Haja kenshōshō 破邪顕正鈔, SSZ, 3:178–179.



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have used counter-intuitive logic or rhetorical inversion just as the akunin shōki doctrine did. It might be a false distinction, though, to ask whether akunin shōki caused this shift in Japanese Buddhism or was merely coincidental to it. Rather, it may be more accurate to say that the akunin shōki discourse was so interwoven with it that it emerged as a symbol of this change. Other Buddhist themes might be cleverer or more entertaining— for example, the triumph of the lay person over the enlightened monk in the Vimalakīrti Sūtra or the identification of form and emptiness in the Heart Sūtra—but for whatever reason akunin shōki was the one attached to this revolutionary movement and expressive of it. That is why akunin shōki is historically important. Bibliography Chiba Jōryū 千葉乗隆. Shinshū kyōdan no soshiki to seido 真宗教団の組織と制度. Kyoto: Dōbōsha, 1978. Dobbins, James C. Jōdo Shinshū: Shin Buddhism in Medieval Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2002. “The Single and the Repeated Nembutsu Extremes.” In Jōdokyō no kenkyū 淨土教の研究, ed. Ishida Mitsuyuki Hakase Koki Kinen Ronbunshū Kankōkai 石田充之博士古希記念 論文集刊行会. Kyoto: Nagata Bunshōdō, 1982. Fujimura Kenshi 藤村研之. “Shinran ni kan suru ‘zōaku muge’ kenkyū no hensen” 親鸞 に関する「造悪無碍」研究の変遷. In Chūsei no jiin taisei to shakai 中世の寺院体 制と社会, ed. Nakao Takashi 中尾尭. Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kōbunkan, 2002. Ienaga Saburō 家永三郎. Chūsei Bukkyō shisōshi kenkyū 中世仏教思想史研究. Kyoto: Hōzōkan, 1955. Inaba Masamaru 稲葉昌丸, ed. Rennyo Shōnin ibun 蓮如上人遺文. 1937; rpt. Kyoto: Hōzōkan, 1972. Ishii Kyōdō 石井教道, ed. Shōwa shinshū Hōnen Shōnin zenshū 昭和新修法然上人全集. 1955; rpt. Kyoto: Heirakuji Shoten, 1974. Kajimura Noboru 梶村昇. Akunin shōki setsu 悪人正機説. Tokyo: Daitō Shuppansha, 1992. Kumada Junshō 熊田順正. “Shinran shokan ni mieru zōaku muge ni tsuite—Tōgoku ni okeru Tendai Shingon no tenkai o haikei ni” 親鸞書簡にみえる造悪無碍について ー東国における天台・真言の展開を背景に. Indogaku Bukkyōgaku kenkyū 印度 学仏教学研究 52.1 (December 2003): 55–57. Matsuno Junkō 松野純孝. “Zōaku muge sha to Shinran” 造悪無碍者と親鸞. Shinshū kenkyū 真宗研究 3 (October 1957): 103–115. Rambelli, Fabio. “ ‘Just Behave as You Like; Prohibitions and Impurities Are Not a Problem.’ Radical Amida Cults and Popular Religiosity in Premodern Japan.” In Approaching the Land of Bliss: Religious Praxis in the Cult of Amitābha, ed. Richard K. Payne and Kenneth K. Tanaka. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004. Shinshū Shōgyō Zensho Hensanjo 真宗聖教全書編纂所, ed. Shinshū shōgyō zensho 真宗聖教全書. 5 vols. Kyoto: Kōkyō Shoin, 1940–1941. Sueki Fumihiko 末木文美士. Nihon Bukkyō shisōshi ronkō 日本仏教思想史論考. Tokyo: Daizō Shuppan, 1993. Taira Masayuki 平雅行. Nihon chūsei no shakai to Bukkyō 日本中世の社会と仏教. Tokyo: Hanawa Shobō, 1992.

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Takase Taisen 高瀬大宣. “Shinran no Ajase kan” 親鸞の阿闍世観. Indogaku Bukkyōgaku kenkyū 印度学仏教学研究 52.1 (December 2003): 68–70. Yata Ryōshō 矢田了章. “Kakunyo ni okeru akunin shōki setsu no tenkai” 覚如における悪 人正機説の展開. In Shinran kyōgaku no shomondai 親鸞教学の諸問題, ed. Ryūkoku Daigaku Shinshū Gakkai 龍谷大学真宗学会. Kyoto: Nagata Bunshōdō, 1987. “Rennyo ni okeru akunin shōki setsu no tenkai” 蓮如における悪人正機説の展開. In Rennyo taikei 蓮如体系, vol. 2., ed. Kakehashi Jitsuen 梯實圓 et al. Kyoto: Hōzōkan, 1996. “Zonkaku ni okeru akunin shōki setsu no tenkai” 存如における悪人正機説の展開. Shinshūgaku 真宗学 77 (February 1988): 12–13.

The Sin of “Slandering the True Dharma” in Nichiren’s Thought Jacqueline I. Stone In considering the category of “sin” in comparative perspective, certain acts, such as murder and theft, appear with some local variation to be proscribed across traditions. Other offenses, while perhaps not deemed such by the researcher’s own culture, nonetheless fall into recognizable categories of moral and ritual transgression, such as failures of filial piety or violations of purity taboos. Some acts characterized as wrongdoing, however, are so specific to a particular historical or cognitive context as to require an active exercise of imagination on the scholar’s part to reconstruct the hermeneutical framework within which they have been abhorred and condemned. Such is the case with the medieval Japanese Buddhist figure Nichiren 日蓮 (1222–1282) and his fierce opposition to the sin of “slandering the True Dharma” (hihō shōbō 誹謗正法, or simply hōbō 謗法). Originally trained in the Tendai school 天台宗 of Buddhism and the initiator of the Nichiren sect that came to bear his name, Nichiren taught a doctrine of exclusive devotion to the Lotus Sūtra and promoted the practice of chanting the sūtra’s daimoku 題目 or title in the formula Namu-myōhō-renge-kyō 南無妙法蓮華經, which, he said, contained the entirety of all Buddhist truth within itself and enabled the direct realization of Buddhahood. The Lotus Sūtra was widely revered in Nichiren’s day as the Buddha’s ultimate teaching, and in his eyes, it was the only teaching that could lead all persons to liberation now in the degenerate Final Dharma age (mappō 末法). Based on this conviction, Nichiren harshly criticized other forms of Buddhist practice as no longer soteriologically efficacious. And because, he argued, only faith in the Lotus Sūtra leads to Buddhahood, to reject the Lotus in favor of other, “inferior” teachings was in effect to slander the True Dharma and led inexorably to rebirth in the Avīci Hell. To the evil of “slandering the Dharma” he attributed all the calamities facing Japan in his day: famine, epidemics, earthquakes, outbreaks of civil unrest, and the threat of invasion by the Mongols. Nichiren is by no means the only Buddhist teacher to have leveled charges of “Dharma slander” against his rivals. But he is unusual in the extent to which he built this idea into the structure of his message,

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making it the basis of his lifelong preaching career. A perceived need to counter slander of the Dharma runs throughout his corpus, from his earliest known essay, written at age twenty, to his very last writings some forty years later. It prompted his denunciations of prominent religious leaders and of government officials for supporting them, which in turn brought down on him the wrath of the authorities; he was repeatedly attacked, twice arrested and sent into exile, and once very nearly executed. Opposing slander of the Dharma was for Nichiren a form of Buddhist practice in its own right and a debt owed to the Buddha, to be discharged even at the cost of his life. Yet, despite its formative role in his doctrine, this concept has rarely been explored in studies of Nichiren, even among Nichiren sectarian scholars.1 Neglect of “Dharma slander” as a category integral to his thought may owe to its lack of resonance, or more properly, outright conflict with modernist religious sensibilities as well as a desire to defuse widespread perceptions of Nichiren as “intolerant.” This essay attempts to clarify Nichiren’s idea of Dharma slander as the worst imaginable of all sins. Rather than tracing his development of this concept in a strictly chronological way, I will address recurring themes in his treatment of it. “Nenbutsu Leads to the Avīci Hell” The term “slander of the Dharma” did not originate with Nichiren but appears in Buddhist canonical sources. In the broadest sense, it means disparaging any of the three jewels—the Buddha, his teaching, or his order. But the term occurs most frequently in the Mahāyāna sūtras, where it often carries the specific meaning of speaking ill of the Great Vehicle scriptures and was evidently intended to deflect criticism from the Buddhist mainstream that the Mahāyāna was not the Buddha’s teaching.2 A warning against the horrific karmic retribution awaiting those guilty of this offense occurs, for example, in the verse section of the “Parable” chapter of the Lotus Sūtra, which represents the Buddha as saying:

1 The most detailed study of this topic to date is Watanabe Hōyō, “Nichiren Shōnin no shūkyō ni okeru ‘hōbō’ no igi.” 2 BD 5:4327c–28c. Sanskrit terms for ‘slander of the True Dharma’ include saddharmapratikṣepa, saddharma-pratikṣipta, saddharmâpavādaka, saddharma-pratikṣepâvaraṇa-kṛta, and others (Digital Dictionary of Buddhism, accessed May 8, 2012, http://www.buddhismdict.net/cgi-bin/xpr-ddb.pl?8a.xml+id(‘b8ab9-8b17-6b63-6cd5’)).



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If someone, not believing,/maligns this scripture,/then he cuts off the seeds of Buddhahood in all the worlds. . . . /Such persons, at life’s end,/shall enter the Avīci Hell,/where they shall fulfill one kalpa./When the kalpa is ended, they shall be reborn there,/in this way, spinning around,/for kalpas without number.3

The passage continues for numerous verses, detailing how such wretched offenders, at last emerging from the Avīci Hell, will be born as wild dogs, scabrous and emaciated, or as monstrous snakes, “deaf, stupid, and legless”; at last ascending to the human realm, they will repeatedly be born poor, deformed, and afflicted with disease, never to hear the Dharma for kalpas numberless as the sands of the Ganges River. Even this, the Buddha declares, is a mere summary, for the evil recompense incurred by those who malign the Lotus could never be explained in full, not even over the course of a kalpa.4 For a number of Japan’s leading scholar-monks around the turn of the thirteenth century, the offense of “slandering the Dharma” was no abstract scriptural category but an evil that had seemingly appeared before their eyes, in the form of the exclusive nenbutsu doctrine (senju nenbutsu 専修念佛) of Genku-bō Hōnen 源空房法然 (1133–1212). Originally a Tendai monk, Hōnen is known as the first of the teachers of the socalled “new Buddhist” movements of Japan’s Kamakura period (1185–1333) and the founder of the Jōdoshū 浄土宗 or independent Pure Land sect. Hōnen taught that now in the period of the Final Dharma age, human religious capacity has declined to a point where most people are no longer capable of achieving liberation through traditional practices such as precept observance, meditation, or doctrinal study. Only by chanting the nenbutsu, the name of Amida Buddha (“Namu Amida-butsu” 南無阿彌 陀佛), and relying upon that Buddha’s aid could people in this evil age escape the miserable round of deluded rebirth and be born in Amida’s Pure Land, where their enlightenment would then be assured. Hōnen advanced this claim in his Senchaku hongan nenbutsu shū 選擇本願念佛集 (Passages singling out the nenbutsu of the original vow; hereafter Senchakushū). Birth in the Pure Land (ōjō 往生) was a common soteriological goal, and the chanted nenbutsu was practiced across lineage and sectarian lines, by monastics and lay devotees of all social levels. But most people believed that the merit of any religious practice could be directed 3 Miaofa lianhua jing 妙法蓮華經, T no. 262, 9:15b22–c1; Leon Hurvitz, trans., Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma, 77, slightly modified. 4 Miaofa lianhua jing, T 9:15c1–16a9; Hurvitz, Scripture of the Lotus, 77–80.

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to achieving birth in the Pure Land, and many who chanted the nenbutsu also conducted esoteric rites or engaged in sūtra copying and recitation as well as other practices. In his Senschakushū, however, Hōnen urged that all practices other than the nenbutsu, and all sūtras other than the three major Pure Land sūtras upon which his school was based, should be set aside as no longer leading to liberation in this age.5 This assertion outraged clerics of the Buddhist mainstream, who perceived it as a direct attack on their religious disciplines and institutions, and they demanded the suppression of Hōnen’s teaching. Monks of Mt. Hiei, where the Tendai school was headquartered, seized and burned the woodblocks used to print the Senchakushū, and Hōnen and his leading disciples were sent into exile.6 By 1233, when Nichiren as a boy entered the monastic order at the temple Kiyosumidera 清澄寺 in Awa province in eastern Japan, more than a generation had passed since Hōnen’s death, and the exclusive nenbutsu teaching had begun to gain considerable ground. Nichiren’s own teacher at Kiyosumidera, Dōzen-bō 道善房, was a nenbutsu devotee; Nichiren would also have encountered the exclusive nenbutsu during an early period of study in nearby Kamakura, where a few decades earlier the Bakufu or military government had established its base. By his own account Nichiren himself chanted the nenbutsu in his youth.7 Early on, however, he became critical of this practice, as seen in his very first extant essay, Kaitai sokushin jōbutsu gi 戒體即身成佛義 (The meaning of the precept essence and the realization of Buddhahood with this very body). In this work, based on Tendai Lotus and esoteric teachings of nonduality and the interpenetration of the dharmas, Nichiren attacked Hōnen’s doctrine for teaching aspiration to a pure land apart from one’s own body and mind, a position he saw as contravening both Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna sūtras. “Its teacher is a devil and his disciples, the devil’s people,” he asserted.8 Nichiren’s objections were reinforced during his studies at 5 Hōnen designates the “three Pure Land sūtras” in chap. 1 of his Senchakushū (T no. 2608, 83:2a4–7). 6 On the persecution of Hōnen and his disciples, see James C. Dobbins, Jōdo Shinshū, 11–20. For Buddhist mainstream opposition to Hōnen’s exclusive nenbutsu, see James L. Ford, Jōkei and Buddhist Devotion in Early Medieval Japan, 159–84, and Christoph Kleine, Hōnen Buddhismus des Reinen Landes. Nichiren’s Nenbutsusha tsuihō senjōji 念佛者追放宣状事 (Teihon 3:2258–72) reproduces a number of petitions and edicts against Hōnen’s teaching. 7 See for example “Sado gosho” 佐渡御書, Teihon 1:615; “Myōhō bikuni-ama gohenji” 妙法比丘尼御返事, 2:1553. 8 Teihon 1:11.



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Mt. Hiei and other temples in the region of the imperial capital (presentday Kyoto). Tradition holds that, on Mt. Hiei, Nichiren studied with the Tendai scholar-monk Shunpan 俊範 (fl. mid-thirteenth century), then the master of instruction on the mountain, who was known for his opposition to the exclusive nenbutsu. While a master-disciple connection between Shunpan and Nichiren has not been definitively established, quotations and extracts in Nichiren’s early writings show that he had access to a collection of petitions to both the court and Bakufu protesting Hōnen’s teaching as well as edicts banning its dissemination—documents that he could well have received from Shunpan.9 By 1253, Nichiren returned from the capital to Kiyosumidera, where his growing opposition to the exclusive nenbutsu placed him at odds with the local Bakufu-appointed steward ( jitō 地頭). Forced eventually to leave the temple, Nichiren went to Kamakura to launch his preaching career. There he again encountered disciples of Hōnen, who were beginning to build a patronage base among Bakufu warriors. These Pure Land followers were Nichiren’s first polemical opponents, and his early teachings were in no small measure formulated in opposition to them.10 Several of Nichiren’s early writings, up until his first exile in 1261, focus on why, in his view, the Senchakushū amounted to a work of Dharma slander. He was well aware of earlier criticisms of this work, such as Zaijarin 摧邪輪 (Wheel to smash heresy) by Myōe 明恵 (1173–1232), or the famous Kōfukuji petition (興福寺奏状), in which Jōkei 貞慶 (1155– 1213), on behalf of the monks of the prominent Nara temple, Kōfukuji, petitioned the court to take action against the exclusive nenbutsu. But in Nichiren’s estimation, these earlier rebuttals were inadequate, like a little rain falling in a time of severe drought, which leaves trees and grasses more parched than ever, or a weak force dispatched against a powerful enemy, who is only emboldened thereby.11

9 This has been suggested by Taira Masayuki (Nihon chūsei no shakai to bukkyō, 358). Shunpan is mentioned in Nichiren’s Nenbutsusha tsuihō senjōji (Teihon 3:2261) and Jōdo kuhon no koto 浄土九品之事 (3:2310), both times in connection with his opposition to Hōnen’s exclusive nenbutsu. 10 On Nichiren’s polemics against Pure Land teachers, see Kawazoe Shōji, “Nichiren no shūkyō keisei ni okeru nenbutsu haigeki no igi,” and Nakao Takashi, “Nichiren Shōnin no Jōdoshū hihan to sono igi.” 11 Shugo kokka ron 守護國家論, Teihon 1:90; see also “Nenbutsu mugen jigoku shō” 念佛無間地獄鈔, 1:39.

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They did not go to the heart of Hōnen’s error. In pursuing this issue, Nichiren’s turned against Hōnen a major hermeneutical strategy that Hōnen himself had relied on in establishing his claim for the sole efficacy of the nenbutsu now in the Final Dharma age: use of a comparative classification of the Buddhist teachings. Projects of comparative doctrinal classification (Ch. panjiao 判教 or jiaopan 教判; Jpn. kyōhan) developed to a high degree in Chinese Buddhist scholasticism and represent attempts to systematize the vast body of Buddhist texts introduced to China from India and Central Asia. Such schemas presupposed that the sūtras were all expounded by a single enlightened figure, Śākyamuni Buddha, and that discrepancies among them were therefore only apparent, not fundamental, and could be resolved by uncovering their proper relation. Peter Gregory has noted that kyōhan systems served three kinds of aims: hermeneutical, sectarian, and soteriological. Hermeneutically, they attempted to establish an underlying principle that would order the mass of diverse, even contradictory, Buddhist teachings within a unifying framework. Often that framework took the form of a hierarchy or graded sequence of teachings and thus served a sectarian aim by enabling particular schools to claim their teaching as the highest. And soteriologically, classification schemes functioned as models of the path, in which successive stages of teaching corresponded to individual practitioners’ varying levels of capacity or attainment.12 Hōnen could claim legitimacy for the Pure Land school in part because he had established a new kyōhan to support his argument for the sole efficacy of the chanted nenbutsu in the evil latter age. Hōnen’s doctrinal classification system drew together the claims of earlier, Chinese Pure Land masters for the superior accessibility of Pure Land practices. Daochuo 道綽 (562–645) had distinguished between the teachings of the Path of the Sages (shōdōmon 聖道門), which stress pursuit of liberation through personal efforts in religious cultivation, and the Pure Land teachings ( jōdomon 浄土門), which encourage reliance on the Buddha Amida’s compassionate vow that all who place faith in him will achieve birth in his Pure Land. Tanluan 曇鸞 (476–542) had drawn a similar distinction, labeling these two kinds of teachings respectively the ways of “difficult practice” (nangyō 難行) and of “easy practice” (igyō 易行) by which

12 Tsung-mi and the Sinification of Buddhism, 115; see also 93–114.



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bodhisattvas in training might attain the stage of non-retrogression.13 And Shandao 善導 (613–681) had divided practices leading to birth in Amida’s Pure Land into “main practices” (shōgyō 正行), or those based on the Pure Land sūtras, such as reciting those sūtras, contemplating Amida’s land, or chanting his name, and “sundry practices” (zōgyō 雑行), or those not directly connected to Amida; among the “main practices,” he gave the chanted nenbutsu special prominence. Uniting these distinctions into a schema of progressive selection and rejection, Hōnen argued that Amida himself had singled out the chanted nenbutsu as the sole practice according with his original vow, and that it should replace all teachings of the Path of the Sages, difficult practice, and sundry practice categories.14 Hōnen legitimated this radical move by invoking the concepts of time and human capacity. While acknowledging that teachings of the Path of the Sages had greater doctrinal sophistication, he argued that because people living now in the benighted mappō era lacked the spiritual ability to practice them, they were in effect soteriologically useless.15 Only the nenbutsu would remain efficacious throughout the Final Dharma age and save even the most ignorant and evil. Hōnen was by no means the first teacher to argue that the chanted nenbutsu was particularly suited to sinful persons of the latter age, but he was the first to explicitly urge that all other teachings be rejected in its favor. Nichiren countered with the same weapon of doctrinal classification, drawing upon the far older and better established kyōhan of the Tendai school, in which both he and Hōnen had been trained. According to this classification system, the Buddha had for forty-two years preached provisional teachings (gonkyō 權教) in accordance with his listeners’ varying capacities, revealing only partial or expedient truths; only in the last eight years of his life did he preach the true teaching ( jikkyō 實教) of the

13 These term derive from the “Easy Practices” chapter of the Ten Stages Treatise attributed to Nāgārjuna, which famously recommends birth in a pure land as an “easy” path of achieving the stage of non-retrogression by chanting the names of the various buddhas and relying on the power of their vows, as opposed to relying solely upon self-cultivation through personal effort (Shizhu piposha lun 十住毘婆沙論, T no. 1521, 26:41a13–b6). Tanluan assimilates these terms specifically to practice for achieving birth in Amida’s Pure Land. 14 Senchaku hongan nenbutsu shū, especially the first three chapters (T 83:1b6–6c9.). In English, see Senchakushū English Translation Project, ed. and trans., Hōnen’s Senchakushū, esp. 56–81. 15 Hōnen uses the phrase, often quoted by his followers, “The principle is profound but [human] understanding is shallow” (rijin gemi 理深解微). This expression is taken from Daochuo’s Anle ji 安楽集 (T no. 1958, 47:13c8, quoted in Senchakushū, T 83:1b12–13, 2a22).

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Lotus Sūtra, perfectly unifying all partial truths within itself and opening the possibility of Buddhahood to all beings.16 The Lotus was the sūtra of which the Buddha himself had said, “In these forty years and more [before preaching this sūtra], I have not yet revealed the truth,” and, “Frankly discarding expedient means, I will preach only the unsurpassed Way.”17 This schema assigned the Pure Land sūtras to a lesser category of provisional Mahāyāna, and provisional teachings, Nichiren asserted, did not represent the Buddha’s true intent. The nenbutsu practice set forth in these sūtras was only a temporary expedient, like the scaffolding erected in building a stūpa; once the stūpa—that is, the Lotus Sūtra—had been completed, the scaffolding (the nenbutsu) should be dismantled and discarded.18 Hōnen, Nichiren charged, had “taken the 637 scriptures in 2,883 fascicles of the Lotus Sūtra, the esoteric teachings (shingon 眞言), and all the other Mahāyāna teachings preached by the Buddha in his lifetime, as well as all buddhas, bodhisattvas, and deities of the world, and relegated them to the Path of the Sages, difficult practice, and sundry practice categories, urging people to ‘discard, close, put aside, and abandon’ them. With these four injunctions, he has led everyone astray.”19 In insisting that all of these teachings of the Buddha, including the Lotus, were to be rejected, Hōnen 16 For the complex Tiantai/Tendai doctrinal classification system, known in its entirety as the “five periods and eight teachings” (goji hakkyō 五時八教), see David W. Chappell, ed., T’ien-t’ai Buddhism. The division of the Buddha’s teaching into five periods (55–82) is particularly relevant here, especially the discussion of the Lotus and Nirvāṇa sūtras, which constitute the fifth and final period (62–67). Nichiren would eventually expand the stages of comparison in the traditional Tendai doctrinal classification in clarifying his own interpretation of the Lotus Sūtra and the daimoku (see Stone, Original Enlightenment, 265). But the distinction between true and provisional teachings, already established in the Tendai kyōhan, remained fundamental to his criticism of other schools. 17 Wuliangyi jing 無量義經, T no. 276, 9:386b1–2; Miaofa lianhua jing, T 9:10a19. The Wuliangyi jing, in which the first passage appears, has traditionally been considered a prefatory scripture to the Lotus. For scholarly debate over its provenance, see Mitomo Ken’yō, “Muryōgikyō Indo senjutsu-setsu.” 18 “Nenbutsu mugen jigoku shō,” Teihon 1:35. Nichiren uses the same analogy of scaffolding in writings spanning the course of his career, for example, “Hōmon mōsarubekiyō no koto” 法門可被申様之事, 1:447; Yorimoto chinjō 頼基陳状, 2:1357; and “Ueno-dono haha ama gozen gohenji” 上野殿母尼御前御返事, 2:1812. 19 Risshō ankoku ron, Teihon 1:216; Selected Writings, 24, slightly modified. Hōnen uses the verbs “discard” (sha 捨), “close” (hei 閉), “put aside” (kaku 閣), and “abandon” (hō 抛) in different passages of the Senchakushū to express the exclusion of other practices in favor of the nenbutsu. The use of these four injunctions as an abbreviated expression of Hōnen’s “Dharma slander” appears in a number of Nichiren’s writings, of which “Nenbutsu mugen jigoku shō” appears to be the earliest (Teihon 1:39). Ironically, scholars within the Pure Land school would later appropriate the phrase “discard, close, put aside, and abandon” in a positive sense as an expression of Hōnen’s mature thought (Mark L. Blum, “Kōsai and the Paradox of Ichinengi,” 68–69).



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himself had in effect maligned the Dharma, Nichiren said. He repeatedly drew attention to the text of Amida Buddha’s original vow in the Larger Sūtra, which promises birth in his Pure Land to all who place faith in him—“except those who commit the five heinous offenses or slander the True Dharma.”20 Hōnen, he insisted, had violated the teaching of one of his own sacred texts. Nichiren argued that, in slandering the Lotus Sūtra by consigning it to a category of teachings that are to be set aside, Hōnen himself must have been abandoned by the very Amida Buddha to whom he looked for salvation and must even now be languishing in the Avīci Hell.21 Over time Nichiren would put forth a number of criticisms of the exclusive nenbutsu. Based on traditional Tendai interpretations of emptiness, nonduality, and the interpenetration of the dharmas, he rejected the notion of a pure land apart from one’s present reality. “The originally enlightened Buddha of the perfect teaching abides in this world,” he wrote. If one abandons this land, toward what other land would one aspire?. . . . For people of our day, who have not yet formed a bond with the Lotus Sūtra, to aspire to Amida’s Pure Land is to aspire to a land of rubble.22

Alternatively, he insisted that people of this world have no karmic connection to Amida, the Buddha of another realm. Only Śākyamuni Buddha possesses the virtues of sovereign, teacher, and parent with respect to the beings of the present, Sahā world. Thus to give one’s allegiance to Amida, the Buddha of another land, is to be disloyal and unfilial.23 All these criticisms, however, were ultimately rooted in the traditional Tendai kyōhan and its distinction between true and provisional teachings. For Nichiren, the Lotus Sūtra, representing the true or perfect teaching, sets forth the mutual inclusion of the Buddha realm and the nine realms of ordinary unenlightened beings ( jikkai gogu 十界互具), thus clarifying the ontological basis upon which all persons can achieve Buddhahood, while the provisional teachings reveal only partial aspects of this truth.24 Hōnen had stressed the issue of human capacity: because the teachings of the Path of the Sages were too profound for people in the mappō era, he had 20 Wuliangshou jing 無量壽經, T no. 360, 12:268a27–28, emphasis added. 21 “Rokurō Sanenaga goshōsoku” 六郎恆長御消息 Teihon 1:441; “Shijō Kingo-dono gohenji” 四條金吾殿御返事 1:663; Yorimoto chinjō 2:1348. 22 Shugo kokka ron, Teihon 1:129, 130. See also Kaitai sokushin jōbutsu gi, 1:11. 23 E.g., “Nenbutsu mugen jigoku shō,” Teihon 1:34–35; “Shu shi shin gosho” 主師親御書 1:45–46; “Myōhō bikuni-ama gohenji,” 2:1557–58. 24 See Stone, Original Enlightenment, 266.

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argued, those attempting to practice them were bound to fail and would therefore fall after death into the evil realms. Only the chanted nenbutsu, accessible to all, could save people in this latter age. For Nichiren, however, the key issue was the distinction between true and provisional; only the Lotus embodied the Buddha’s real intent, which was to lead all others to become buddhas like himself. Precisely because the Lotus is profound, Nichiren insisted, it can save even the most evil and ignorant.25 Well before Nichiren’s time, in promoting the exclusive nenbutsu, Hōnen’s followers appear to have singled out the Lotus Sūtra for particular criticism. According to the Kōfukuji petition, some among them claimed that persons who embraced the Lotus Sūtra would fall into hell, or that those who recited it in hopes of achieving birth in Amida’s Pure Land—an extremely common practice—were guilty of slandering the Mahāyāna.26 Not only was the Lotus Sūtra widely revered across sectarian boundaries and honored in particular in the Tendai school as the teaching integrating all doctrines and practices in the one Buddha vehicle, but, before Hōnen, its recitation had been closely linked to Pure Land aspirations. The mainstream of Japanese Pure Land thought during the Heian period (794–1185) had developed chiefly within Tendai circles, and all three of Mt. Hiei’s pagoda precincts had halls for both Lotus recitation and nenbutsu chanting. The two practices were often combined in temple ritual programs and in the personal practice of both monastics and lay people.27 Because of this close association, pointed rejection of the Lotus Sūtra in particular may have appeared to some among Hōnen’s followers as a necessary step in establishing the nenbutsu as an exclusive teaching. Such criticisms were evidently still current in Nichiren’s day. He himself mentions exclusive nenbutsu practitioners of his own time who mocked Lotus devotees for attempting to practice a teaching beyond their capacity, like a small boy trying to wear his grandfather’s shoes, or who advised others to discard the Lotus Sūtra on the grounds that forming a karmic connection with it would obstruct one’s birth in the Pure Land.28

25 For example, Shugo kokka ron, Teihon 1:109. 26 Kōfukuji sōjō, article 4, in Kamata Shigeo and Tanaka Hisao, eds., Kamakura kyū bukkyō, 34. Mujū 無住 (1226–1312) mentions nenbutsu devotees who threw copies of the Lotus Sūtra into the river or asserted that persons who recited the Lotus would fall into hell (Watanabe Tsunaya, ed., Shasekishū 1:10, 86–87; trans. Robert Morrell, Sand and Pebbles, 101–102). 27 Shioda Gisen, “Asa daimoku to yū nenbutsu”; Kiuchi Gyōō, “Asa daimoku yū nenbutsu.” 28 Kaitai sokushin jōbutsu gi, Teihon 1:12; Shugo kokka ron, 1:117.



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By Nichiren’s account, these nenbutsu practitioners often denied that remarks of this kind amounted to slander of the Lotus Sūtra. Their point, they said—invoking Hōnen’s argument against the Path of the Sages more generally—was simply that the Lotus Sūtra was too profound for persons of the present, benighted Final Dharma age; if they attempted to practice it, far from attaining Buddhahood, they would only fail in their efforts and fall into the lower realms. Thus one would be far better advised to set aside the Lotus Sūtra in this life and instead chant the nenbutsu in order to achieve birth after death in Amida’s Pure Land, where conditions are more favorable for attaining insight; then one could gain the enlightenment of the Lotus Sūtra there.29 In Nichiren’s view, however, discouraging people from practicing the Lotus Sūtra as too profound for their capacity was a sin far greater than direct verbal abuse of the sūtra, as it functioned to drive the Lotus into obscurity, closing off the one teaching able to rescue persons of this age from their grave soteriological hindrances. It was in opposition to arguments of this kind from Hōnen’s disciples that he first expanded the definition of Dharma slander to include not only verbal disparagement, as the term suggests, but the mental act of rejection or disbelief. “To be born in a country where the Lotus Sūtra has spread and neither to have faith in it nor practice it, is Dharma slander,” he wrote.30 This understanding of “Dharma slander” appears in his earliest known writing and would remain constant throughout his life. In promoting faith in the Lotus Sūtra, Nichiren went beyond simply reasserting the traditional Tendai distinction between true and provisional teachings and began to develop his own message of devotion to the Lotus as an exclusive practice. Many Tendai scholar-monks of his time maintained that, because the perfect teaching of the Lotus Sūtra integrates all others within itself, any form of practice—whether esoteric ritual, sūtra copying, or nenbutsu chanting—in effect becomes the practice of the Lotus Sūtra when carried out with this understanding. This interpretative stance supported the widespread participation of both monastics and lay people in multiple forms of religious devotion. For Nichiren, however, the integration of all teachings into the Lotus Sūtra meant that they lose their separate identity, just as the many rivers, emptying into the ocean,

29 Ichidai shōgyō taii 一代聖教大意, Teihon 1:75; Shugo kokka ron, 1:133; “Jisshō shō” 十章鈔 1:490. 30 Kaitai sokushin jōbutsu gi, Teihon 1:12.

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assume the same salty flavor and lose their original names.31 He also began to promote the particular practice of chanting the daimoku or title of the Lotus Sūtra, which in later times would become associated almost exclusively with his following. Scholars have long pointed out the similarity between Nichiren’s daimoku and Hōnen’s exclusive nenbutsu; both are simple invocations, accessible even to the unlettered, said to be uniquely suited to human capacity in the Final Dharma age and able to save even the most sinful persons.32 Some caution is in order here, as it would be an oversimplification to think that Nichiren put forth the daimoku solely as a counter to Hōnen’s nenbutsu: The practice of chanting the title of the Lotus Sūtra predates Nichiren,33 and the Lotus Sūtra, by virtue of its internal references to an evil time after the Buddha’s nirvāṇa, was already associated with notions of the Final Dharma age. More importantly, the doctrinal basis in which Nichiren grounded the daimoku—the interpenetration of the dharmas and the realization of Buddhahood in one’s present body—also differs markedly from Hōnen’s teaching of aspiring to birth in the Pure Land solely by relying on Amida’s vow. Yet his emphasis on a single, universally accessible practice that alone suits the capacities of all persons in the Final Dharma age does indeed appear to be a structure that Nichiren absorbed at least in part from Hōnen’s teaching, even as he opposed its content. More precisely, one might say that he appropriated Hōnen’s logic of exclusive practice and assimilated it to a Lotus-specific mode. The earlier unity of Lotus and Pure Land teachings had been broken by Hōnen’s declaration of the exclusive nenbutsu and reinforced by his disciples’ criticism of devotion to the Lotus Sūtra. Nichiren’s teaching of exclusive Lotus devotion, reinforced by his accusations of Dharma slander leveled against Hōnen’s followers, now brought the two teachings into mutual opposition. As Nichiren summed up the matter, “The nenbutsu

31 Shoshū mondō shō 諸宗問答鈔, Teihon 1:25. These two positions represent opposing poles of interpretation of the notion of kaie 開会, the opening and integration of all other teachings into the one vehicle of the Lotus Sūtra. From an absolute standpoint, once all teachings are “opened and integrated” into the Lotus, the distinction between “true” and “provisional” dissolves, and all practices become expressions of the one vehicle. But from a relative standpoint, the distinction between true and provisional is maintained; for Nichiren, who held the latter position, the opening and integration of all other teachings into the Lotus Sūtra meant that they were no longer to be practiced independently. See Stone, Original Enlightenment, 15, 169–70, 308, and the Japanese sources cited there. 32 E.g., Ienaga Saburō, Chūsei bukkyō shisōshi kenkyū, 71–81. 33 On the antecedents of Nichiren’s daimoku practice, see Lucia Dolce, “Esoteric Patterns in Nichiren’s Interpretation of the Lotus Sutra,” 294–315, and Jacqueline I. Stone, “Chanting the August Title of the Lotus Sūtra.”



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is the karmic cause for falling into the Avīci Hell. The Lotus Sūtra is the direct path of realizing Buddhahood and attaining the Way. One should quickly abandon the Pure Land sect and embrace the Lotus Sūtra, free oneself from birth and death, and attain awakening (bodhi).”34 Nichiren’s opposition to the exclusive nenbutsu not only provided him with the conceptual framework within which he began developing his teaching of Lotus exclusivism but also committed him to an adversarial path of rebuking “slander of the Dharma” that would shape his later thought and conduct, leading him in time to expand his criticisms to include other Buddhist forms as well. Eventually his opposition to perceived Dharma slander would pit him against the entire religious establishment and the government that patronized it and provoke the repeated persecutions that marked his tumultuous career. A Nation of Dharma Slanderers In 1256 a massive earthquake devastated the town of Kamakura, where Nichiren was living. The earthquake was the latest in series of recent calamities, including drought, famine, and epidemics. Prayer rites and government relief efforts brought no help. By his own account, Nichiren turned to the Buddhist sūtras to clarify the cause of these repeated troubles. There he found multiple passages predicting various disasters that will occur in a realm whose ruler fails to protect the True Dharma and instead allows it to be neglected or maligned. These scriptural predictions, Nichiren observed, were materializing in Japan at present. “When prayers are offered for the peace of the land and still the three disasters occur within the country, then one should know that it is because an evil teaching has spread,” he wrote.35 In a group of essays written between 1259 and 1260, Nichiren attributed these disasters and the grief they caused to the spread of Hōnen’s exclusive nenbutsu teaching. The most famous of these essays is his Risshō ankoku ron 立正安國論 (On bringing peace to the land by establishing the True Dharma), submitted as a memorial to the Bakufu in 1260. Here Nichiren argued that the offense of slandering the Dharma not only carries fearsome soteriological consequences for the perpetrator but has repercussions for society at large. Because the Lotus Sūtra and the esoteric teachings had been set aside in favor of the 34 “Nenbutsu mugen jigoku shō,” Teihon 1:34. 35 Shugo kokka ron, Teihon 1:116.

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nenbutsu, he said, the protective deities, no longer able to taste the sweet nectar of the Dharma, had abandoned the country, enabling demons to enter in their stead and bring destruction to the people. Passages from Nichiren’s Risshō ankoku ron and other writings suggest that, by this time, the exclusive nenbutsu was not only gaining ground but had begun to displace other practices. For example, he wrote, people were cutting off the fingers of statues of Śākyamuni Buddha and reshaping them to form the mudrā of Amida, thus changing the identity of those images. Halls dedicated to the Buddha Yakushi Nyorai 薬師如来 had been converted to Amida halls. On Mt. Hiei, the ritual copying of the Lotus Sūtra, carried out for more than four hundred years, had been replaced by the copying of the three Pure Land sūtras, and the annual lectures on the teachings of the Chinese Tiantai (Jpn. Tendai) founder Zhiyi 智顗 (538–597) had been supplanted by lectures on the works of the Pure Land master Shandao, whom Hōnen had claimed as a patriarch of his Pure Land school. Chapels dedicated to the Japanese Tendai founder Saichō 最澄 (766/767–822) and other Tendai patriarchs were allowed to fall into disrepair, and lands once designated for their support had been confiscated and offered to halls newly erected for nenbutsu practice.36 The spread of the Senchakushū’s message, in Nichiren’s eyes, had in effect turned Japan into a nation of Dharma slanderers. “The world as a whole has turned its back upon the right; people give themselves entirely to evil,” he wrote. “Rather than offering up those myriad prayers [for relief ], it would be better to ban this one iniquity!”37 Japan’s dire situation, as Nichiren saw it, was the fault not only of Hōnen’s followers but of government officials for supporting them. For that reason, he submitted the Risshō ankoku ron specifically to Hōjō Tokiyori 北條時頼 (1227–1263), the former regent to the shogun. Although formally retired from office, Toikyori was at the time the most powerful figure in the Bakufu. Nichiren seems to have envisioned a return to the classic Buddhist ideal of state-saṅgha relations, in which monks advise the ruler and the ruler protects the saṅgha—if necessary, by purifying it of undesirable elements. To drive home both the gravity of the sin of slandering the Dharma and the ruler’s responsibility to hold it in check, he cites in his Risshō ankoku ron a provocative episode from the Nirvāṇa

36 Risshō ankoku ron, Teihon 1:223; Kaitai sokushin jōbutsu gi, 1:12; “Nanjō Hyōe Shichirōdono gosho” 南條兵衛七郎殿御書, 1:322–23. 37 Risshō ankoku ron, Teihon 1:209, 217.



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Sūtra in which the Buddha recalls a prior lifetime when, as a powerful king, he once put to death a number of Brahmans who were maligning the Mahāyāna sūtras. “As a result of that act,” the Buddha says, “I never thereafter fell into hell.”38 Nichiren quickly proceeds to clarify that he is not advocating killing anyone; slanderers of the Dharma can be effectively suppressed by the simple expedient of denying them material support. “Restraining persons who slander the Dharma and valuing monks who follow the correct way will assure stability within the country and bring peace to the world at large,” he urges, and adds, “Now with all speed you must simply revise your faith and at once devote it to the single good of the true vehicle. Then the threefold world will all become the Buddha land, and how could a Buddha land decline?”39 This last passage represents an early articulation of the causal relationship that Nichiren posited between the spread of faith in the Lotus Sūtra and the peace of the realm, which was to inform his mature vision of a Buddha land to be established in the present world. The Risshō ankoku ron sounds a note of urgency in calling for the suppression of Dharma slander. Nichiren pointed out that already violent storms, crop failure, starvation, disease, and ominous celestial portents had occurred, just as the sūtras foretell. If the situation was not promptly rectified, then, judging by these scriptural predictions, two further disasters might be expected: internal revolt and foreign invasion. Both would surely occur, he warned, if the exclusive nenbutsu continued to spread unchecked.40 As noted above, Nichiren’s Risshō ankoku ron was by no means the first work composed in rebuttal to Hōnen’s Senchakushū. Nichiren’s claim that the exclusive nenbutsu had caused protective deities to abandon the country, leaving it vulnerable to demons, had, for example, already been advanced by Myōe in his 1212 Zaijarin.41 But by Nichiren’s time, exclusive nenbutsu followers had gained considerable influence in Kamakura and evidently pressured their patrons in the Bakufu to silence Nichiren’s objections. Nichiren writes that, not long after submitting the Risshō ankoku ron, he defeated in debate two leading Pure Land clerics in Kamakura, Nōan 能安 and Dōamidabutsu 道阿彌陀佛 (a.k.a. Dōkyō-bō Nenkū

38 Da banniepan jing (Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra) 大般涅槃經, T no. 374, 12:434c20; quoted in Risshō ankoku ron, Teihon 1:220–21. 39 Teihon 1:220, 226. 40 Teihon 1:225. 41 Kamata and Tanaka, Kamakura kyū bukkyō, 47.

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道教房念空, d. 1287), whose lay supporters then spread malicious rumors about him to local authorities. A mob attacked his residence, forcing him to leave Kamakura for a time. On his return, in 1261, he was exiled to the Izu peninsula, where he remained until 1263.42 Nichiren’s writings from the Izu period increasingly emphasize the Lotus Sūtra as the sole vehicle of liberation in the Final Dharma age. This was when he explicitly formulated his “five principles” (gogi 五義), or five interrelated perspectives from which he argued the exclusive validity of the Lotus Sūtra: the teaching, human capacity, the time, the country, and the sequence of propagation. The first four together develop the claim that the Lotus Sūtra represents the complete and perfect teaching that alone guarantees the Buddhahood of all and suits the capacities of everyone living in the present time (mappō) and place ( Japan). The fifth principle expresses Nichiren’s conviction that to propagate in any particular country a teaching inferior to those that have already spread contravenes the Buddha’s intent. Since the true teaching of the Lotus Sūtra had been established in Japan by the Tendai founder Saichō, Nichiren maintained, to spread provisional teachings such as the nenbutsu was an offense against the Dharma.43 Along with his growing emphasis on exclusive devotion to the Lotus Sūtra, Nichiren also worked to clarify more fully the offense of Dharma slander, which obstructs that devotion. His 1262 Ken hōbō shō 顕謗法鈔 (A clarification of Dharma slander) argues that “slander of the Dharma” entails failing to abandon an inferior teaching in favor of a superior one, or holding a lower teaching to be equal or even superior to a higher one. Definitions of “superior” versus “inferior” doctrines in Nichiren’s view represented, not a historically contingent human evaluation, but a metaphysical principle that informed the sequence of the Buddha’s preaching as set forth in the traditional Tendai kyōhan. Following the text of the Lotus itself, he insisted that “all buddhas of the three time periods [of past, present and future] observe the same order in expounding their teachings,” first giving provisional teachings to cultivate their auditors’ understanding and only at the end revealing the true and complete teaching that alone leads to Buddhahood for all.44 One may 42 “Rondan tekitai gosho” 論談敵對御書, Teihon 1:274; Shimoyama goshōsoku 下山御消息, 2:1330. 43 On Nichiren’s five principles, see Stone, Original Enlightenment, 252–55. 44 Ken hōbō shō, Teihon 1:259. Nichiren refers to the Lotus Sūtra passage: “Frankly discarding expedient means/ . . . Like all buddhas of the three time periods/in their order of Dharma preaching,/now I too in the same way/preach the Dharma without discriminations” (Miaofa lianhua jing, T 9:10a19, 22–23).



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know the superiority of the Lotus, Nichiren said, by the Buddha’s words in its introductory scripture, “In these forty years and more, I have not yet revealed the truth.”45 Since, for Nichiren, only the Lotus Sūtra represented the true and perfect teaching, appropriate to the present time and place, within the context of Japan in his day only the Lotus could become the object of Dharma slander. For exponents of the provisional teachings represented by the Kegon, Sanron, Hossō, Shingon, Zen, or Pure Land schools to criticize one another’s doctrines in order to promote their own, he said, does not amount to slander of the Dharma. But to assert that any of these teachings equals or surpasses the Lotus Sūtra most definitely does.46 Nichiren also sought to convey the gravity of this sin. It is, he says, like the five heinous offenses (gogyakuzai 五逆罪)—killing one’s father, mother, or an arhat; causing the body of the Buddha to bleed; or fomenting disunity in the saṅgha—in that it leads to the Avīci Hell, or the Hell without Respite (mugen jigoku 無間地獄)—a place so terrible that the Buddha refrained from describing it in detail, because ordinary persons, on merely hearing of its sufferings, would vomit blood and die. But because the sin of Dharma slander works to block the path of Buddhahood for all living beings, it is a thousand times worse than the five heinous offenses. Moreover, the five heinous offenses, in Nichiren’s opinion, were characteristic of the Buddha’s age rather than his own. At present, he wrote, there is no Buddha in the world, so one cannot injure his person; there is no unity in the saṅgha, so one cannot disrupt it; and there are no arhats, so one cannot kill them. Of these five grave sins, only killing one’s parents remains possible, and this offense is constrained by the sanctions of secular law. Today, he asserted, it is not for wrongdoings such as these but for the error of rejecting the Lotus Sūtra that people fall into the Avīci Hell.47 Concern with the sin of Dharma slander and the perceived need to counter it also informed Nichiren’s growing self-identification, during his banishment to Izu, with specific passages in the Lotus Sūtra that seemed to speak directly to his own situation in describing the difficulties of upholding the sūtra in a future evil age. The “Dharma Preacher” chapter of the Lotus says, “Hatred and jealousy toward this sūtra abound even

45 Wuliangyi jing, T 9:386b1–2. 46 Ken hōbō shō. See especially Teihon 1:256–72 passim. 47 Ibid., 253–56. Nichiren does, however, acknowledge sins current in his own day that “resemble the five heinous offenses,” such as destroying buddha images or votive stūpas, appropriating temple lands, or killing wise persons; those who commit these sins, he says, are born in one or another of Avīci’s sixteen ancillary hells (254).

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during the Buddha’s lifetime; how much more so after his nirvāṇa!”48 And the “Fortitude” chapter speaks of eminent monks, revered by the world at large, who will revile, persecute, and oust Lotus devotees and induce the authorities to take action against them. These passages may have reflected experience on the part of the sūtra’s redactors, as followers of the minority Mahāyāna movement, in being ostracized by the Buddhist mainstream. But the sūtra casts these passages in the form of predictions, and Nichiren saw them as foretelling the slander of the Lotus Sūtra that had spread in Japan in his own time and the hostility that he himself encountered in rebuking it. At this point he began referring to himself as the gyōja 行者—practitioner or votary—of the Lotus Sūtra, one who, in opposing slander of the Dharma, incurs the very persecutions that the sūtra describes and thus confirms the truth of its words. Nichiren now claimed that he was reading the sūtra with his body (shikidoku 色読), not merely verbally reciting its words or mentally contemplating its teachings but actually living them in his conduct and experience. Nichiren’s concept of “bodily reading” of the Lotus Sūtra was in effect a circular or mirror hermeneutic in which the Lotus Sūtra legitimized his own actions and his actions fulfilled the sūtra’s predictions, sūtra and practitioner simultaneously reflecting, validating, and bearing witness to each other.49 Pardoned in 1263, Nichiren return to Kamakura where he resumed his preaching activities. As his emphasis on the exclusive efficacy of the Lotus Sūtra increased, his polemical targets expanded. By now they were beginning to include not merely the exclusive nenbutsu but also the emergent Risshū 律宗 or precept revival movement as well as the Zen 禅 and Shingon schools. All these forms of Buddhism fell within his understanding of “Dharma slander” as the rejection of a higher teaching in favor of a lower one. Like Saichō before him, Nichiren repudiated the full complement of the shibunritsu 四分律 or Dharmaguptaka-vinaya monastic precepts as “Hīnayāna”; since the Mahāyāna ordination platform and the “perfect precepts” (enkai 圓戒) of the Lotus Sūtra had already been established on Mt. Hiei, to return to full observance of the vinaya rules as the Risshū revivalists urged amounted in his eyes to the offense of discarding the superior for the inferior. Zen teachers also maligned the Dharma, in his view, by rejecting the sūtras altogether as no more than “a finger pointing at the moon.” The esoteric teachings too were only provisional Mahāyāna,

48 Miaofa lianhua jing, T 9:31b20–21. 49 Ruben L. F. Habito, “Bodily Reading of the Lotus Sūtra, 198–99.



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and yet Kūkai 空海 (774–835), founder of the Shingon school, had explicitly ranked them above the Lotus Sūtra. Indeed, embracing any form of Buddhist devotion, other than to the Lotus alone, represented “slander of the true Dharma.” Nichiren’s rejection of the other Buddhist schools was summed up by his later followers in sloganized form as the so-called “four admonitions” (shika kakugen 四箇格言), drawn from various passages in his work: “Nenbutsu leads to the Avīci Hell, Zen is a devil, Shingon will destroy the nation, and Ritsu is a traitor.”50 By 1269, he would write that “all people of the entire country of Japan, high and low, without a single exception are guilty of slandering the Dharma.”51 Nichiren now pressed this point with mounting urgency. Several years earlier, in the Risshō ankoku ron, he had predicted that foreign invasion would ensue if people persisted in their slander of the Dharma. Now that prophecy appeared to be coming true. Word had reached Japan of the Mongol conquests that had toppled the Song dynasty in China and subjugated the Korean peninsula. In 1268, envoys from Kubhilai Khan arrived demanding that Japan, too, submit to Mongol overlordship. These developments, according as they did with the scriptural predictions of calamities that would befall a country where the True Dharma is slighted, underscored for Nichiren the righteousness of his message. While the country readied its defenses against the threat of Mongol attack, he intensified his preaching, and his message of the unique salvific power of the Lotus Sūtra became increasingly intertwined with rebukes against the sin of Dharma slander. As both court and Bakufu began to sponsor esoteric prayer rites to repel the enemy, Nichiren’s criticisms focused increasingly on shingon, by which term he designated the esoteric teachings and practices of both Shingon and Tendai schools. Esoteric rites, being based on provisional teachings, could only bring about still worse calamities, he asserted.52 He also insisted that the Buddhist tutelary deities, Brahmā and Indra, as well as Hachiman 八幡, the Sun Goddess Amaterasu Ōmikami 天照大神, and the other kami of Japan could not be relied on for protection; rather, these

50 For the textual sources of the four admonitions and the reasoning behind Nichiren’s criticism of these schools, see Asai Endō, “Shika kakugen.” Nichiren’s later work also expands his criticisms to include Pure Land teachers before Hōnen, such as Shandao and Genshin 源信 (942–1017), as well as the Tendai Buddhism of his day. 51 “Hōmon mōsarubekiyō no koto,” Teihon 1:454. 52 See for example Senji shō 撰時抄, Teihon 2:1053. Nichiren faulted teachers of Tendai esoteric Buddhism for ranking the esoteric scriptures as equal or even superior to the Lotus Sūtra.

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deities had deliberately instigated the Mongol attacks in order to reprove Japan’s slander of the Lotus Sūtra. “The whole country,” he wrote: has now become the enemy of buddhas and kami. . . . China and Korea, following the example of India, became Buddhist countries. But because they embraced the Zen and nenbutsu teachings, they were destroyed by the Mongols. Japan is a disciple to those two countries. If they have been destroyed, how can our country remain at peace?. . . . All the people in Japan will fall into the Avīci Hell.53

These themes continue throughout Nichiren’s second exile (1271–1274), to Sado Island in the Japan Sea, and his subsequent period of reclusion at Mt. Minobu in Kai Province, up through the end of his life. Failing to convince the authorities of his views, he at last reluctantly concluded that only a disaster on the scale of foreign invasion could rouse his contemporaries from their error; compared to the long-term karmic retribution that results from slander of the Dharma, even Mongol conquest would, after all, be the lesser evil. “The destruction of our country would be grievous,” he wrote. But if [the invasion] fails to materialize, the people of Japan will disparage the Lotus Sūtra more and more, and they will all fall into the Avīci Hell. Should the enemy prove more powerful, the country may be destroyed, but slander of the Dharma will all but vanish.54

The Choice of Shakubuku In a letter written to his followers from Sado Island in 1272, Nichiren makes reference to disciples who had begun to doubt him or even parted ways with him when he was arrested and sent into exile under criminal sentence. He reports them as saying, “Nichiren is our teacher, but he is too obstinate. We will spread the Lotus Sūtra in a gentler manner.”55 One can well imagine that Nichiren’s disciples might have urged him to moderate his attacks on other forms of Buddhism, if only for the purely pragmatic consideration of avoiding government suppression. Some indeed may have felt that he had brought his hardships on himself. Nichiren, however, saw his uncompromising stance as mandated by canonical references to proper discrimination between two methods of Dharma teaching: shōju 53 “Hōmon mōsarubekiyō no koto,” Teihon 1:454–55. 54 Itai dōshin no koto” 異體同心事, Teihon 1:830. 55 “Sado gosho,” Teihon 1:618.



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摂受, or leading others gradually without criticizing their present stance, and shakubuku 折伏, or assertively rebuking attachment to false views.56 For him, the exigencies of his own time and place demanded the “harsh” method of teaching by shakubuku, over the more accommodating shōju approach: When one must face enemies, one needs a sword, a staff, or a bow and arrows. When one has no enemies, however, such weapons are of no use at all. In this age, the provisional teachings have turned into enemies of the true teaching. When the time is right to propagate the teaching of the one vehicle, the provisional teachings become enemies. When they are a source of confusion, one must refute them from the standpoint of the true teaching. Of the two types of practice, this is shakubuku, the practice of the Lotus Sūtra. With good reason, Tiantai [Zhiyi] said, “The shakubuku of the Lotus Sūtra is to refute the doctrines and principles of the provisional teachings.”57

Nichiren did allow that, even in mappō, the accommodative, shōju approach could be appropriate in a country where people are merely ignorant of the Dharma, but in a country where the true Dharma is actively maligned, only shakubuku would serve. Japan, in his view, clearly fell into the latter category.58 Nichiren’s choice of the shakubuku method meant that, for him, promoting faith in the Lotus Sūtra would of necessity entail rebuking “Dharma slander,” or attachment to other teachings. And inevitably, his criticisms of other Buddhist schools invited punitive measures from the authorities. Banished to the bleak northern island of Sado, Nichiren represented his exile as something he had foreseen in the light of predictions in the Lotus and other sūtras and deliberately chosen with full knowledge of the consequences. He alone, he believed, had come to see clearly how people are deceived into abandoning the Lotus Sūtra in favor of provisional teachings and fall in consequence into the evil paths.

56 While often associated with Nichiren, the word “shakubuku” is by no means his invention. A cursory search of the SAT Daizōkyō Text Database yields 1170 occurrences of the term shakubuku and 90 occurrences of shakubuku and shōju paired (accessed May 6, 2012, http://21dzk.l.u-tokyo.ac.jp/SAT/index.html). Nichiren seems to have drawn particularly on the Śrīmālā-devī-sūtra, which describes these two methods as “enabling the Dharma to long endure” (Shengman jing 勝鬘經, T no. 353, 12:217c13), as well as the works of the Chinese Tiantai patriarchs Zhiyi and Zhanran 湛然 (711-782) (see “Shakubuku” in NJ, 172b–173a). 57 Nyosetsu shugyō shō 如説修行鈔, Teihon 1:735–36; Letters, 68, slightly modified. The quote from Zhiyi is at Miofa lianhua jing xuanyi 妙法蓮華經玄義, T no. 1716, 33:792b17. 58 Kaimoku shō 開目抄, Teihon 1:606.

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jacqueline i. stone But if I utter so much as a word concerning it, then parents, brothers, and teachers will surely criticize me, and the government authorities will take steps against me. On the other hand, I am fully aware that if I do not speak out, I will be lacking in compassion. . . . If I remain silent, I may escape harm in this lifetime, but in my next life I will most certainly fall into the Avīci Hell. . . . But of these two courses, surely the latter is the one to choose.59

On one hand, shakubuku was for Nichiren an act of bodhisattva-like compassion, carried out for others’ sake. To rebuke another’s slander of the Dharma was, potentially, to save that person from rebirth in the Avīci Hell. He explained: If a bad son who is insane with drink is threatening to kill his father and mother, shouldn’t you try to stop him? . . . If your only child is gravely ill, shouldn’t you try to cure him with moxibustion treatment? To fail to do so is to act like those people who see but do not try to put a stop to the Zen and nenbutsu followers in Japan. As [Zhiyi’s disciple] Guanding 潅頂 writes, “If one befriends another but lacks the compassion to correct him, one is in fact that person’s enemy.”60

At the same time, meeting persecution for opposing enemies of the Lotus Sūtra embodied for Nichiren the bodhisattva’s resolve to give up his life if necessary in defense of the Dharma. The sūtras tell of bodhisattvas of old who sacrificed eyes, limbs, even life itself for the Dharma’s sake. For Nichiren, to rebuke slander of the Lotus Sūtra and endure the great trials that resulted was to follow in their footsteps.61 In addition to such lofty self-negating motives, Nichiren frankly acknowledged more interested reasons for his commitment to shakubuku. In his understanding, no matter how earnestly one might recite the Lotus Sūtra or how learned in its doctrines and meditative practices one might become, to seek Buddhahood without speaking out against Dharma slander was not only a futile undertaking but a betrayal of the buddhas and patriarchs. This reprehensible omission would in effect negate the merit of one’s own practice and cause one to fall into the Avīci Hell together with those slanderers of the Dharma whom one had failed to rebuke.62

59 Ibid., 1:556–57; Selected Writings, 79, slightly modified. 60 Kaimoku shō, 1:608; Selected Writings, 146, slightly modified. Guanding’s statement is at Da banniepan jing shu 大般涅槃經疏, T no. 1767, 38:80b1. 61 See Jacqueline I. Stone, “Giving One’s Life for the Lotus Sūtra in Nichiren’s Thought.” 62 For example, “Gassui gosho” 月水御書, Teihon 1:289–90; Shōgu mondō shō 聖愚問 答鈔 1:385; “Sōya-dono gohenji” 曾谷殿御返事, 2:1254–55.



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Nichiren illustrated this by analogy to the situation of a court official who serves with dedication for ten or twenty years but knowingly fails to report an enemy of the ruler; his lapse supersedes the merit of his long service, and in addition, he becomes guilty of a crime.63 No threat of persecution, in Nichiren’s view, could excuse failure to admonish Dharma slander: When the Buddha himself has declared that the Lotus Sūtra is foremost, if one learns of a person who ranks it second or third, and fails to speak out because of fear of others or of the government authorities, then, [as Guanding says,] “One is in fact that person’s enemy” and a terrible enemy to all living beings. . . . To speak out without fear of others, without flinching before society, is precisely what the [Lotus] Sūtra means when it says, “We do not cherish bodily life. We value only the supreme way.” . . . Because I wish to avoid the offense of complicity in slander of the Dharma, because I fear the Buddha’s reproach, and because I understand my obligations and wish to repay the debt I owe my country, I have made all this known to the ruler and to the people.64

Nichiren’s stated reasons for adopting the shakubuku method thus unite compassion for others, concern for one’s own karmic destiny, and response to the demands of loyalty and gratitude—both to the Buddha and the Dharma and, in a more worldly sense, to one’s ruler and country. Nichiren also addressed a different, soteriological objection to his preaching methods: namely, that assertively preaching the Lotus Sūtra to persons who are instead attracted to the nenbutsu or other teachings would simply cause them to denigrate the Lotus all the more and thus form the karmic cause for future bad rebirths. According to the sūtra itself, the Buddha himself had not preached the Lotus from the outset because living beings, mired in delusion, would fail to take faith in the sūtra and instead revile it, and in consequence would fall into the evil paths. Precisely because of the horrific retribution awaiting those who malign the Lotus, the Buddha admonishes, “I say to you, Śāriptura,/ . . . [When you are] in the midst of ignorant men,/Do not preach this scripture.”65 This raised the question: Wouldn’t one do better to lead people gradually through provisional teachings as Śākyamuni Buddha himself had done, rather than insisting on immediately preaching the Lotus Sūtra to persons whose minds are not open to it? For Nichiren, however, the scriptural warning

63 “Nanjō Hyōe Shichirō-dono gosho,” Teihon 1:321–22. 64 “Akimoto gosho” 秋元御書, Teihon 2:1734, 1735; Writings 1:1017, 1019, modified. The quotation from Guanding is cited in n. 60 above. The sūtra passage is at T 9:36c18. 65 Miaofa lianhua jing, T 9:16a8–10; Hurvitz, Sūtra of the Lotus Blossom, 80–81.

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against preaching the Lotus Sūtra to the ignorant applied only to the Buddha’s lifetime and to the subsequent two thousand years of the True and Semblance Dharma ages (shōbō 正法, zōbō 像法), when people still had the capacity to achieve Buddhahood through provisional teachings. Now in the Final Dharma Age, he argued, no one can realize liberation through such incomplete doctrines; therefore the Buddha had permitted ordinary teachers such as himself to preach the Lotus Sūtra directly, so that people could establish a karmic connection with it, “whether by acceptance or rejection.” Here Nichiren invoked the logic of “reverse connection” (gyakuen 逆縁), the idea that even a negative relationship to the Dharma, formed by rejecting or maligning it, will nonetheless eventually lead one to liberation. Persons who have formed no karmic connection to the Dharma may perhaps avoid rebirth in the hells but lack the condition for attaining Buddhahood, while those who slander the Dharma nevertheless form a bond with it. Though they must suffer the terrible consequences of their slander, after expiating that offense, they will be able to encounter the Lotus Sūtra again and achieve Buddhahood by virtue of the very karmic connection to the sūtra that they formed by slandering it. Now in the Final Dharma age, Nichiren argued, most persons are so burdened by delusive attachments that they are already bound for unfortunate rebirths. If they must fall into the evil paths in any event, it would be far better that they do so for maligning the Lotus Sūtra than for any worldly offense. . . . Even if one slanders the Lotus Sūtra and thereby falls into hell, [by the relationship to the Lotus Sūtra that one has formed,] one will acquire a hundred, thousand, ten thousand times more merit than if one had made offerings to and taken refuge in Śākyamuni, Amida, and as many other buddhas as there are sands in the Ganges River.66

Thus in this age, Nichiren maintained, one should persist in urging people to embrace the Lotus Sūtra, regardless of their response, for the Lotus alone can implant in them the seed or cause that enables one to become a buddha.67 Nichiren’s choice of the assertive shakubuku method thus arose from his perception of Japan and his own era as a place and time when people as a whole rejected the only teaching that could lead to Buddhahood. 66 Ken hōbō shō, Teihon 1:260–61. See also the discussion of this issue in Hokke shōshin jōbutsu shō 法華初心成佛鈔, 2:1424–26. 67 On Nichiren’s idea of the daimoku as the seed of Buddhahood, see Stone, Original Enlightenment, 270–71, and the Japanese sources cited there.



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When considered in terms of karmic causality operating across present and future, the right course, he believed, could only be to preach this message without compromise, regardless of short-term consequences. Even if others might slander the Lotus Sūtra as a result of one’s preaching, they would thereby form the karmic connection for attaining Buddhahood in the future. And even if the practice of shakubuku were to cost one’s life, it would free one from the sin of complicity in others’ acts of Dharma slander and prevent one’s own fall into the Avīci Hell. In addition, as Nichiren frequently pointed out in his later writings, opposition of the kind that he incurred was predicted in the Lotus Sūtra itself, which describes the hostility that its votaries will encounter in the evil age after the Buddha’s passing. “Look around you in the world today,” he wrote. Are there monks other than myself who are cursed and vilified, or attacked with swords and staves, for the Lotus Sūtra’s sake? Were it not for me, the prophecy made in this verse of the sūtra would have been sheer falsehood!68

That his rebukes of Dharma slander invited persecution was not, in Nichiren’s eyes, a reason to abandon the shakubuku method, but rather a sign that he had made the right choice in adopting it. Rebuking Dharma Slander and Expiating Sin Nichiren’s second exile, to Sado, proved a far worse ordeal than his earlier banishment to Izu, and initially he suffered terribly from cold, hunger, and the hostility of the locals. He also worried about his followers, many of whom had been arrested in his absence. His writings from the Sado period take an introspective turn and show him wrestling with the question of why, when the Lotus Sūtra promises its devotees “peace and security in the present life,” he should have to encounter such hardships. In general, he said, people meet with contempt because they slighted others in the past, in accordance with the ordinary law of karmic causality. However, Nichiren concluded that his own past sins must have been of an altogether different magnitude and that he himself, in prior lifetimes, must have committed the very act of disparaging the Dharma that he now so implacably opposed. 68 Kaimoku shō, Teihon 1:559; Selected Writings, 83, slightly modified. Nichiren alludes to a passage in the verse section of chap. 13 of the Lotus Sūtra, which describes the trials that those who spread the sūtra will encounter in an evil age after the Buddha’s nirvāṇa (Miaofa lianhua jing, T 9:36b21–37a1; Hurvitz, Scripture of the Lotus, 204–7).

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Ordinarily, he said, the karmic retribution for such offenses would torment a person over the course of innumerable lifetimes. But thanks to his efforts in denouncing slander of the Dharma, that retribution was being summoned into the present so that it might be eradicated in his present life: When iron is heated, if it is not strenuously forged, the impurities in it will not become apparent. Only when it is subjected to the tempering process again and again will the flaws appear. . . . It must be that my actions in defending the Dharma in this present life are calling forth retributions for the grave offenses of my past.70

From this perspective, Nichiren’s rebuking of slander of the Dharma was not only an act of compassion, to save others from the consequences of their present offense, but also an act of repentance, to expiate that very same offense on his own part in the past. Toward the end of his period of exile on Sado, Nichiren even began to represent himself as having deliberately courted his ordeals as an act of expiation: Now if I, insignificant person that I am, were to go here and there throughout the country of Japan denouncing [slanders of the Dharma], . . . the ruler, allying himself with those monks who disparage the Dharma, would come to hate me and try to have me beheaded or order me into exile. And if this sort of thing were to occur again and again, then the grave offenses that I have accumulated over countless kalpas could be wiped out within the space of a single lifetime. Such, then, was the great plan that I conceived; and it is now proceeding without the slightest deviation. So when I find myself thus sentenced to exile, I can only feel that my wishes are being fulfilled.71

Banished and despised, Nichiren was in this way able to conceive of and represent himself, rather than his tormenters, as the agent of his trials. In the same vein, he even expressed gratitude toward the eminent clerics

69 Kaimoku shō, Teihon 1:602; Selected Writings, 139, slightly modified. See also Sado gosho, 1:616–17. 70 Kaimoku shō, Teihon 1:602–3; Selected Writings, 139, slightly modified. 71 “Kashaku hōbō metsuzai shō” 呵責謗法滅罪鈔, Teihon 1:781; Letters, 285, slightly modified.



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and government officials who had persecuted him, calling them his “best allies” in attaining Buddhahood.72 Nichiren’s Sado writings also show a growing identification with two specific bodhisattva figures who appear in the Lotus Sūtra. In that he strove to disseminate faith in the Lotus Sūtra in the mappō era, Nichiren saw himself as a forerunner of Bodhisattva Superior Conduct (Skt. Viśiṣṭacāritra, Jpn. Jōgyō 上行), leader of a vast throng of bodhisattvas who, in chapter 15 of the Lotus, emerge from beneath the earth and receive Śākyamuni Buddha’s mandate to spread the sūtra in an evil age after his nirvāṇa. But in that he saw himself as expiating his own past offenses against the Dharma by enduring persecution, Nichiren identified with Bodhisattva Never Disparaging (Sadāparibhūta, Jōfukyō 常不軽) described in chapter 20 of the Lotus, who had persevered despite opposition in spreading the Dharma. This bodhisattva (eventually revealed as the Buddha Śākyamuni in a prior life) was dubbed “Never Disparaging” because he bowed to everyone he met, saying, “I respect you all deeply. I would never dare disparage you. Why? Because you will all practice the bodhisattva path and succeed in becoming buddhas!” People mocked and reviled the bodhisattva, beat him with staves, and pelted him with stones. Nonetheless, as a result of his practice, he was able to encounter the Lotus Sūtra and acquire the great supernatural penetrations. Those who mocked him suffered for a thousand kalpas in the Avīci Hell, but after expiating this sin, they were again able to meet Never Disparaging and were led by him to attain supreme enlightenment.73 Nichiren read the story of Never Disparaging in a way that reflected— or perhaps even prompted—his understanding of his own ordeals as expiation of past acts against the Dharma. In his reading, Never Disparaging, like Nichiren himself, had spread by means of shakubuku a teaching embodying the essence of the Lotus Sūtra and encountered hostility as a result. Those who harassed the bodhisattva fell into hell for many kalpas for having persecuted a practitioner of the Lotus, a fate that Nichiren certainly believed awaited his own enemies. In the Lotus Sūtra text, the phrase “after expiating this sin” clearly refers to those who maligned and attacked Never Disparaging and who, after expiating the grave offense of their Dharma slander, were able to reencounter him and achieve supreme awakening through the Lotus Sūtra. But even while accepting this reading,

72 Shuju onfurumai gosho 種種御振舞御書, Teihon 2:973. 73 Miaofa lianhua jing, T 9:50c16–51b1; Hurvitz, Scripture of the Lotus, 280–82.

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Nichiren offered another, in which the grammatical subject of “after expiating this sin” was not those who persecuted Never Disparaging but the bodhisattva himself. “Bodhisattva Never Disparaging was not abused and vilified, stoned and beaten with staves without reason,” Nichiren wrote. “He had probably slandered the True Dharma in the past. The phrase ‘after expiating this sin’ means that because he met persecution, he was able to eradicate his sins from prior lifetimes.”74 In this way, Nichiren interpreted the scriptural account of Never Disparaging in terms of his understanding of his own experience of persecution as a form of atonement for his past offenses against the Dharma and as a guarantee of his future Buddhahood. He wrote: The past events described in the “Never Disparaging” chapter I am now experiencing, as predicted in the “Fortitude” chapter; thus the present foretold in the “Fortitude” chapter corresponds to the past of the “Never Disparaging” chapter. The “Fortitude” chapter of the present will be the “Never Disparaging” chapter of the future, and at that time I, Nichiren, will be its Bodhisattva Never Disparaging.”75

The “Never Disparaging” chapter tells of a Lotus practitioner who met great trials in spreading the sūtra in the past, while the “Fortitude” chapter predicts the trials of practitioners who will spread it in the future. Based on his reading of these two chapters, Nichiren saw himself and his opponents as linked together via the Lotus Sūtra in a vast soteriological drama of sin, repentance, and the realization of Buddhahood. Those who malign a practitioner of the Lotus Sūtra must undergo repeated rebirth in the Avīci Hell for countless kalpas. But because they have formed a “reverse connection” to the sūtra by slandering it, after expiating their offense, they will eventually be able to encounter the Lotus again and attain Buddhahood. By a similar logic, the practitioner who suffers their harassment must encounter this ordeal precisely because he himself maligned the Lotus Sūtra in the past. But because of his efforts to protect the Lotus by opposing Dharma slander in the present, his own past offenses will be wiped out, and he too will attain Buddhahood. In short, whether by embracing or opposing it, all who encounter the Lotus Sūtra eventually “succeed in becoming buddhas.”

74 “Tenjū kyōju hōmon” 轉重輕受法門, Teihon 1:507; Letters, 161, slightly modified. 75 “Teradomari gosho” 寺泊御書, Teihon 1:515; Letters, 170, slightly modified.



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Eliminating Dharma Slander in One’s Personal Practice In keeping with his understanding that he himself had slandered the Dharma in the past, Nichiren often cautioned his followers that this offense had to be countered not only in others but also in oneself. Like a number of other Buddhist teachers of his time, Nichiren did not accord morality a central role in his soteriology. He accepted as a given the traditional Buddhist ethic with its prohibitions on killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and false speech, but he did not stress observance of the moral precepts as a condition for liberation. He seems to have believed that persons of genuine faith would not do evil gratuitously (“One who chants [the daimoku] as the sūtra teaches will not have a crooked mind”);76 he also maintained that ordinary, unavoidable wrongdoings would be outweighed by the merits of embracing the Lotus and would not pull the practitioner down into the evil realms.77 “Whether or not evil persons of this latter age attain Buddhahood does not depend upon whether their sins are heavy or slight but rests solely upon whether or not they have faith in this sūtra,” he wrote.78 This assurance, however, assumed that practitioners had fully eliminated any slander of the Dharma on their own part. Traces of this offense might remain even in the actions of committed devotees, and, if unchecked, could obscure the merits of their practice and topple them into the evil realms in lifetimes to come. Nichiren likened this to a leak sinking even a seaworthy ship or a small ant hole eroding the embankments between rice fields, and urged followers to “bail out the water of Dharma slander and disbelief, and reinforce the embankments of faith” in their personal practice.79 Nichiren’s letters to his followers suggest multiple ways in which a Lotus devotee might still be implicated in Dharma slander. One obvious way was by engaging in other practices. Nichiren was highly critical of “the kind of the Lotus practitioner who chants Namu-myōhō-renge-kyō at one moment and Namu-Amida-butsu at the next,” an act he likened to adulterating rice with excrement.80 Even after becoming Nichiren’s followers, some individuals evidently continued to repeat the nenbutsu

76 “Myōmitsu Shōnin goshōsoku” 妙密上人御消息, Teihon 2:1166. 77 For example, Shugo kokka ron, Teihon 1:128. See also Stone, Original Enlightenment, 297–98. 78 “Hakii Saburō-dono gohenji” 波木井三郎殿御返事, Teihon 1:749. 79 “Abutsu-bō-ama gozen gohenji” 阿佛房尼御前御返事, Teihon 2:1110. 80 “Akimoto gosho,” Teihon 2:1730.

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together with the daimoku. Viewed in light of the mainstream religious culture of the day, this was unexceptional behavior; engaging in multiple practices was the norm, and all religious acts were viewed as meritorious deeds that would further one’s eventual enlightenment. Movements such as Hōnen’s and Nichiren’s, demanding exclusive commitment to a single religious form, were minority exceptions, and one imagines that some among Nichiren’s followers simply failed either to grasp his exclusivist message or to embrace it wholeheartedly. Fears about social consequences also made some reluctant to declare themselves openly as Nichiren’s followers, and he worried about the karmic retribution they would have to face. “There are many such cases even among my disciples and lay followers,” he once confided in a personal letter. You have surely heard about the lay monk Ichinosawa 一谷入道. Privately he is my follower, but outwardly he remains a nenbutsu devotee. What can be done about his next life? Nonetheless, I have [copied out and] given him the Lotus Sūtra in ten fascicles.81

A Lotus devotee could also become implicated in the sin of Dharma slander by tolerating, overlooking, or declining to admonish this offense on the part of others. Many of Nichiren’s followers, both monastics and lay believers, had family members or other associates who did not share their faith. In Nichiren’s view, even if one did not slander the Lotus Sūtra oneself, one participated in that offense simply by belonging to a family or even a country whose members disparage the Dharma and making no effort to correct them. He appears to have urged such individuals to make at least one decisive attempt to convert family or associates who did not embrace the Lotus. For example, to one lay follower, he wrote, If you wish to escape the offense of belonging to a house of Dharma slanderers, then speak to your parents and your brothers about this matter. They may oppose you, but then again, you may persuade them to take faith.82

And to another: Although your heart is one with mine, your person is in service elsewhere [i.e., to a vassal of the ruler, who opposes Nichiren.] Thus it would seem difficult for you to escape the offense of complicity [in slander of the Dharma]. 81 “Abutsu-bō-ama gozen gohenji,” Teihon 2:1109. Ichinosawa evidently never became a fully committed devotee, and Nichiren continued to express concern for his postmortem fate after Ichinosawa’s death (“Sennichi-ama gozen gohenji” 千日尼御前御返事, 2:1547). 82 “Akimoto gosho,” Teihon 2:1738.



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How admirable that you have nonetheless informed your lord about this teaching! Even though he may not accept it now, you yourself have escaped offense. But from now on, you had better be circumspect in what you say.83

The “offense of complicity” ( yodōzai 与同罪) was a term found in the legal codes and warrior house rules of the day. It designated those cases when, although not personally guilty of the crime, someone has knowledge of treasonous or other criminal behavior but fails to speak out or to inform the authorities.84 Nichiren imported this term into a Buddhist context to describe Lotus devotees who kept faith themselves but failed to admonish the Dharma slander of those around them. It appears in letters to his warrior followers, who were probably already familiar with this concept it in its legal sense. The requirement that one speak out against others’ disbelief posed a particular hardship for those devotees whose social superiors—parents or feudal lords—actively opposed their faith. Followers in this position found themselves caught between their commitment to the Lotus Sūtra and a social ethos of filial devotion and loyalty, which demanded obedience to parents and rulers. A few such cases are known to us from Nichiren’s letters. The father of the warrior Ikegami Munenaka 池上宗仲 disowned him for his allegiance to Nichiren, forcing Munenaka’s younger brother Munenaga 宗長, also a Lotus devotee, to choose between upholding his faith in solidarity with his brother or abandoning it in order to seize the unexpected opportunity to supplant Munenaka as his father’s heir. Another follower, Shijō Kingo 四條金吾, incurred the displeasure of his lord, Ema Chikatoki 江間親時, who confiscated part of Shijō Kingo’s landholdings and came close to ousting him from his service altogether on account of his association with Nichiren.85 The husband of a woman known as the lay nun Myōichi-ama 妙一尼 had his small landholding confiscated for the same reason.86 Nichiren was keenly aware of the emotional and social costs to those who followed him against the wishes of superiors, and his surviving letters show the pains he took in guiding disciples who confronted such situations. In general he counseled them that, while abandoning one’s practice of the Lotus Sūtra in conformity to social

83 “Shukun ni nyū shi hōmon men yodōzai ji” 主君耳入此法門免与同罪事, Teihon 1:834. 84 See NJ, 413c–d, 740c–d. 85 For more on these two cases, see Takagi Yutaka, Nichiren to sono montei, 221–53, and Jacqueline I. Stone, “When Disobedience is Filial and Resistance is Loyal,” 267–74. 86 “Myōichi-ama gozen goshōsoku” 妙一尼御前御消息, Teihon 2:1001.

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dictates about the obedience owed to superiors might seem prudent from a short-range view, that course would only confirm those superiors in their present error and amount to slander of the Dharma on one’s own part, causing all parties involved to fall into the Avīci Hell. True loyalty or filial piety, Nichiren insisted, was to maintain one’s faith without compromise and declare it to lords or parents who opposed it. In so doing, one would free oneself from complicity in Dharma slander and be able to eradicate the karmic consequences of one’s own slanders against the Dharma committed in prior lifetimes. At the same time, efforts to convert one’s persecutors—even if their immediate response should be hostile— would establish a karmic connection between them and the Lotus Sūtra, enabling them to attain Buddhahood at some future point. Thus Nichiren appropriated to his Lotus exclusivism the values of filial piety and loyalty in a way that could in some cases legitimate, or even mandate, an individual’s defiance of those values in their more conventional sense of obedience to parents and rulers. His stance on this issue in effect empowered devotees in a weaker or subordinate position by identifying their agency—expressed in the act of “rebuking Dharma slander”—as enabling the eventual Buddhahood of the social superiors who opposed them. Nichiren also stressed to his followers, as he had to himself, the importance of recognizing present suffering as both the consequence of past slander of the Dharma and also as an opportunity to eradicate it. To the Ikegami brothers, urging them to stand fast in the face of their father’s opposition, he wrote, “Never doubt but that you slandered the Dharma in past lifetimes. If you doubt it, you will not be able to withstand even the minor sufferings of this life. . . .”87 He also applied this principle to personal tribulations that that did not stem from external pressures. To his follower Ōta Jōmyō 太田乗明, a warrior turned lay monk who was suffering from painful skin lesions, he wrote: Although you were not in the direct lineage [of the Shingon school], you were still a retainer to a patron of that teaching. For many years you lived in a house devoted to a false doctrine, and month after month your mind was influenced by false teachers. . . . Perhaps the relatively light affliction of this skin disease has occurred so that you may expiate [your past offenses] and thus be spared worse suffering in the future . . . These lesions have arisen from the sole offense of slandering the Dharma. [But] the wonderful Dharma that you now embrace surpasses the moon-praising samādhi (gatsuai zanmai 月愛三昧) [by which the Buddha cured King Ajātaśatru of 87 “Kyōdai shō” 兄弟鈔, Teihon 1:924–25.



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the vile sores resulting from his sins]. How could your disease not be cured and your life extended?88

In this way, Nichiren stressed that present trials are not only retribution for past slander of the Lotus Sūtra but also an opportunity to eradicate this offense in toto, receiving its karmic consequences far more lightly and over a much shorter period of time than would otherwise be the case. Like the doctrine of karmic causality more broadly, this perspective ultimately attributes suffering—illness, in Ōta Jōmyō’s case—to the sufferer’s own prior deeds. However, in linking the cause of affliction to slandering the Lotus Sūtra and its eradication, to upholding the sūtra, Nichiren invested the concept of karmic causality with a specifically Lotus-centered soteriological meaning, one thus directly connected to his followers’ immediate practice. This may have encouraged them not only to persevere in their own faith despite personal hardships and afflictions but to redouble their commitment in spreading it to others. Lastly, eliminating Dharma slander in oneself seems, in Nichiren’s view, to have entailed treating fellow practitioners with respect. Stressing the sūtra’s admonition that speaking a single word against its devotees is worse than abusing Śākyamuni Buddha to his face for an entire kalpa, he admonished: Remember that those who uphold the Lotus Sūtra should never abuse one another. Those who uphold the Lotus Sūtra are all certainly buddhas, and in slandering a buddha one becomes guilty of a grave offense.89

Conclusion Among the complaints leveled against him by his contemporaries, Nichiren once wrote, was that he overemphasized doctrinal categories (kyōmon 教門)—presumably, at the expense of meditative practice (kanjin 觀心).90 Taken collectively, his extant writings do indeed devote considerably more space to clarifying the distinction between true and provisional teachings than to explicating the practice of chanting the 88 “Ōta Nyūdō-dono gohenji” 太田入道殿御返事, Teihon 2:1117–18. The “moon-praising samādhi” by which the Buddha healed King Ajātaśatru appears in the Da banniepan jing, T 12:480c27–481b15. 89 “Matsuno-dono gohenji” 松野殿御返事, Teihon 2:1266. The sūtra passage to which Nichiren refers is at Miaofa lianhua jing, T 9:30c29–31a3. 90 “Teradomari gosho,” Teihon 1:514.

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daimoku, the form of meditative practice that he advocated—although within his community, the latter may have been conveyed primarily through oral instruction. Nichiren’s emphasis on “doctrinal categories” both reflected and informed his conviction, reached early on, that only the Lotus Sūtra leads to Buddhahood now in the Final Dharma age. Because it is the true and perfect teaching, encompassing all the Buddha’s virtues within itself, the merit of embracing it overrides all lesser, worldly offenses and blocks the path to rebirth in the lower realms. But for that very same reason, Nichiren asserted, to set aside the Lotus in favor of some lesser teaching amounts to “slander of the Dharma.” This was not in his view an ordinary sin such as taking another’s life or property but an infinitely more terrible act that cut off the possibility of Buddhahood both for oneself and others and led to countless rebirths in the Avīci Hell. So appalling was this evil in his eyes that he could convey its magnitude only by analogy to exaggerated forms of the most reprehensible worldly offenses; slandering the Lotus Sūtra, he said, was worse than killing everyone in all the provinces of China and Japan or murdering one’s parents a hundred million times.91 Thus in his understanding, asserting the unique truth of the Lotus Sūtra and denouncing slander of the Dharma were inseparable aspects of correct Buddhist practice. Nichiren’s admonition to remonstrate against Dharma slander worked both to maintain devotion to the Lotus Sūtra in an exclusive mode and to encourage its propagation. Had he not taken this stance, pitting himself against all other Buddhist forms and urging his disciples to do likewise, in all probability his following would not have long survived him, let alone emerged as an independent sectarian tradition, but would have been reabsorbed into the larger religious culture. Devotion to the Lotus alone and the accompanying mandate to counter “slander of the Dharma” were central to the self-definition of the Hokkeshū 法華宗, as the medieval Nichiren tradition was known. We see this vividly in the hagiographic accounts of those Hokkeshū monks who, following Nichiren’s example, carried out the practice of “admonishing the state” (kokka kangyō 國家諫曉) by petitioning the emperor, the shogun, or lesser officials to cease patronage of other Buddhist schools and to support faith in the Lotus alone. Such acts of remonstration were often occasioned by natural disasters or other crises, which Nichiren’s followers, like their teacher before them, perceived as collective retribution for the sin of slighting the 91 Kaimoku shō, Teihon 1:604: “Kyōdai shō,” 1:920.



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true Dharma. Yet, like Nichiren’s Lotus exclusivism itself, a thoroughgoing opposition to “slander of the Dharma” proved difficult to institutionalize. As the Hokkeshū became firmly established in medieval Japanese society, compromises were often made with the shrines and temples of other schools and with local religious practice in order to win patronage and avoid persecution. Still, a purist “Lotus only” stance and the rejection of “Dharma slander” remained official ideology and were periodically revived by Hokkeshū leaders eager to launch reformist movements within the tradition or to legitimize newly founded lineages. Such figures sometimes leveled charges of “Dharma slander” not only at other Buddhist schools but at rival branches within the Nichiren tradition, thus bolstering their own claims to superior orthodoxy and fidelity to Nichiren’s example.92 Aggressive shakubuku was discouraged by government religious policy during the early modern period (1603–1868) but resurfaced with vigor in the late nineteenth century. And in Japan’s modern and contemporary periods as well, one finds examples of Nichiren Buddhist followers committed to rebuking “slander of the Dharma.” No doubt the best known example is the postwar Sōka Gakkai 創価学会, which began as a lay organization of the Nichiren Shōshū 日蓮正宗 sect of Nichiren temple Buddhism before a schism separated the two in 1991. In the immediate aftermath of the Pacific War, Sōka Gakkai leadership attributed the human misery brought about by militant imperialism and Japan’s defeat to karmic retribution for widespread slander of the Lotus Sūtra, and embarked on an aggressive proselytization campaign. Sōka Gakkai youth division members sometimes challenged Buddhist priests of other sects and the leaders of other religious movements to confrontational public debates, and, in the name of “clearing away Dharma slander” (hōbō barai 謗法払い), new converts were required to remove from their homes all religious appurtenances belonging to other traditions.93 Since the 1970s, however, Sōka Gakkai has gradually adopted a more moderate stance and today even engages in interfaith dialogue. At the same time, another former Nichiren Shōshu affiliate and rival movement, Kenshōkai 顕正会, has emerged as representative of the hardline Nichirenist position, promoting a rigorous Lotus exclusivism and the elimination of “Dharma slander” for the welfare of Japan and the world. Kenshōkai now numbers among the fastest

92 On the practice of “admonishing the state,” see Watanabe Hōyō, Nichirenshū shingyōron no kenkyū, 135–57, and Stone, “Rebuking the Enemies of the Lotus,” 237–40. 93 Kiyoaki Murata, Japan’s New Buddhism, 99, 105–6.

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growing religious movements in Japan, a fact that should give pause to anyone tempted to assume that exclusivistic religious orientations could have but little appeal in the contemporary developed world.94 Still, when one takes into account the more than forty temple organizations, lay societies, and new religious movements within Nichiren Buddhism today, moderates appear to predominate; the majority of Nichiren Buddhist adherents do not engage in confrontational shakubuku or publicly denounce other forms of Buddhism as “Dharma slander.” But the decision to set aside a literal reading of Nichiren’s mandate to rebuke adherence to other teachings—whether made as the result of conscious deliberation or not—is informed by factors other than the chiefly prudential considerations that led many pre- and early modern devotees to relax or even abandon Nichiren’s exclusive truth claim. One such factor is the modernist ethos of religious tolerance, along with the accompanying conviction that faith is a matter of personal choice in which others should not interfere. Another is the humanistic turn, rooted in Enlightenment perspectives, that sees religion as grounded, less in cosmology and metaphysics than in culture and history. Yet another is the influence of the text-critical study of sacred scriptures. Modern Buddhological scholarship has shed light on the processes of scriptural compilation, calling into question the status of the sūtras in general and the Mahāyāna in particular as a direct record of the Buddha’s preaching. Doctrinal classification schemas that purport to uncover a comprehensive design or graded sequence in the Buddhist teachings have been shown to represent, not historical realities, but retrospective constructions. Those embracing modernist perspectives of this kind find it hard to sympathize with, let alone embrace, the idea that one form of religious devotion alone could be valid and all others lead to hell—a place they are unlikely to believe in, except perhaps in metaphorical terms. The question of how contemporary Nichiren Buddhist practitioners with modernist commitments reinterpret their tradition is an intriguing one, but addressing it properly would demand a serious ethnographic investigation; here I can offer only cursory impressions. Some individuals occasionally call for a reinterpretation of Dharma slander according with

94 Little scholarly research on Kenshōkai has been conducted as yet. For introductory information, see the group’s website http://www.kenshokai.or.jp and the two informational pamphlets provided for download by the Nichirenshū Gendai Shūkyō Kenkyūjo 日蓮宗現代宗教研究所 http://www.genshu.gr.jp/DPJ/booklet/booklet.htm (both accessed May 6, 2012).



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contemporary outlooks, and a few have even attempted to offer doctrinal justifications for so doing, for example, by invoking Nichiren’s assertion that the choice between shōju or shakubuku must depend upon the times.95 For the most part, however, such re-rereadings proceed in an unofficial, non-explicit fashion within the practice of ordinary devotees, who, like followers of any religion, tend to minimize or ignore uncongenial elements of their received tradition and stress those that for them are most relevant—such as the value of Nichiren Buddhism as their family religion, the efficacy of the daimoku as a practice for self-cultivation, or Nichiren’s aim, variously interpreted, of realizing an ideal Buddha land here in this world. There may also be some reluctance to tamper in any official way with a teaching that has been formative of traditional Nichiren sectarian identity. At the same time, informal conversations with priests and lay believers of multiple Nichiren Buddhist groups suggest to me that at least some practitioners privately consider the mandate to oppose “slander of the Dharma” to be a major obstacle to the wider recognition of Nichiren’s teaching as a legitimate form of Buddhism—a tradition often represented in modernist readings as an especially “tolerant” religion. The condemnation of all Buddhist forms except devotion to the Lotus Sūtra as “Dharma slander” alienates outsiders, who see it as dogmatic self-righteousness, while insiders with more fundamentalist leanings tend to view the external criticisms that it provokes, not as a reason to reconsider their adversarial stance, but rather as a validation of it, in that such criticism seems to bear out scriptural prophecy that those who spread the Lotus Sūtra in the latter age will meet hostility. It is ironic that Nichiren’s implacable opposition to the “sin of Dharma slander,” which in no small measure enabled his small following to take shape and develop as an independent school, should become a hindrance in contemporary times. But it is not an isolated case; the thorny hermeneutical problems of reinterpreting an exclusive truth claim in light of the modernist ethos touched upon above are by no means limited to Nichiren Buddhists. The frequent characterization of Nichiren as “intolerant” in both scholarly and popular literature stems from precisely that ethos. Purely as a descriptor, the term is accurate enough; to use the contemporary expression, Nichiren had “zero tolerance” for the practice of other teachings.

95 For an example of a re-reading of Nichiren’s four admonitions by a North American Nichiren Buddhist minister, see http://fraughtwithperil.com/ryuei/2011/09/27/the-fouradmonitions/ (accessed May 6, 2012).

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But the category of “intolerance” is grounded in a particular set of normative modernist assumptions about religion that did not exist in medieval Japan; criticisms leveled again Nichiren by his contemporaries were based on very different grounds. Dismissing Nichiren as intolerant thus obscures the interpretive context within which he understood slander of the Lotus Sūtra to be the most frightful of sins. This aspect of his thought, which I have attempted to retrieve in this essay, is difficult to grasp—not because it is doctrinally complex, but because it is embedded in a view of reality so different from that which dominates intellectual discourse today. Nonetheless, the modernist stance is far from universal, and religious convictions such as Nichiren’s, that embracing any but one particular teaching is an appalling evil to be opposed at all cost, have neither vanished from the world nor ceased to bring about far-reaching consequences. Beyond the narrower desire of the historian of Japanese Buddhism to “get Nichiren right,” that fact alone makes his concept of “slander of the True Dharma” as the worst of sins worth making an effort to understand. Bibliography Abbreviations BD Letters NJ Selected Writings T Teihon Writings

Mochizuki Bukkyō daijiten Burton Watson and others, trans., Letters of Nichiren Nichirenshū jiten Burton Watson and others, trans., Selected Writings of Nichiren Taishō shinshū daizōkyō Shōwa teihon Nichiren Shōnin ibun Gosho Translation Committee, Writings of Nichiren Daishonin

Collections and Reference Works Mochizuki Bukkyō daijiten 望月佛教大辞典. 10 vols. Mochizuki Shinkō 望月信亨. Expanded by Tsukamoto Zenryū 塚本善隆. Tokyo: Sekai Seiten Kankō Kyōkai, 1954– 1963. Nichirenshū jiten 日蓮宗事典. Edited by Nichirenshū Jiten Kankō Iinkai 日蓮宗事典刊 行委員会. Tōkyō: Nichirenshū Shūmuin, 1981. Shōwa teihon Nichiren Shōnin ibun 昭和定本日蓮聖人遺文. Edited by Risshō Daigaku Nichiren Kyōgaku Kenkyūjo 立正大学日蓮教学硏究所. 4 vols. Minobu-chō, Yamanashi Prefecture: Minobusan Kuonji, 1952–59; revised 1988. Taishō shinshū daizōkyō 大正新修大藏經. 85 vols. Edited by Takakusu Junjirō 高楠順 次郎 and Watanabe Kaigyoku 渡邊海旭 et al. Tokyo: Taishō Issaikyō Kankōkai, 1924– 1934. Secondary Sources Asai Endō 浅井円道. “Shika kakugen” 四箇格言. Nichirenshū jiten, 143d–145c. Blum, Mark. “Kōsai and the Paradox of Ichinengi: Be Careful of What You Preach.” Pacific World, third series, no. 6 (2004): 57–87.



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Chappell, David W., ed. T’ien-t’ai Buddhism: An Outline of the Fourfold Teachings. Recorded by the Korean Buddhist monk Chegwan 諦觀 (?–970). Translated by The Buddhist Translation Seminar of Hawaii. Compiled by Masao Ichishima. Tokyo: Daiichi Shobō, 1983. Dobbins, James C. Jōdo Shinshū: Shin Buddhism in Medieval Japan. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1989. Reprint Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2002. Dolce, Lucia Dora. “Esoteric Patterns in Nichiren’s Interpretation of the Lotus Sutra.” Ph.D. diss., University of Leiden, 2002. Ford, James L. Jōkei and Buddhist Devotion in Early Medieval Japan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Gosho Translation Committee. The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin. 2 vols. Tokyo: Soka Gakkai, 1999–2006. Gregory, Peter N. Tsung-mi and the Sinification of Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991. Habito, Ruben L. F. “Bodily Reading of the Lotus Sūtra.” In Readings of the Lotus Sūtra, edited by Stephen F. Teiser and Jacqueline I. Stone, 186–208. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Hurvitz, Leon, trans. Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma (the Lotus Sūtra). New York: Columbia University Press, 1976. Ienaga Saburō 家永三郎. Chūsei bukkyō shisōshi kenkyū 中世仏教思想史研究. Kyoto: Hōzōkan, 1947; revised edition 1990. Kamata Shigeo 鎌田茂雄 and Tanaka Hisao 田中久夫, eds. Kamakura kyū bukkyō 鎌倉𦾔𦾔佛教. Nihon shisō taikei 日本思想大系 15. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1971. Kawazoe Shōji 川添昭二. “Nichiren no shūkyō keisei ni okeru nenbutsu haigeki no igi” 日蓮の宗教形成に於ける念仏排撃の意義 (1) and (2), Bukkyo shigaku 仏教史学 4, nos. 3–4 (1955): 59–71, and 5, no. 1 (1956): 45–57. Kiuchi Gyōō 木内尭央. “Asa daimoku yū nenbutsu” 朝題目夕念佛. Nihon bukkyō gakkai nenpō 日本仏教学会年報 43 (1978): 233–44. Kleine, Cristoph. Hōnens Buddhismus des Reinen Landes: Reform, Reformation oder Häresie? Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1996. Mitomo Ken’yō 三友健容. “Muryōgikyō Indo senjutsu-setsu” 『無量義経』インド撰述説. In Nichiren kyōdan no shomondai 日蓮教団の諸問題, edited by Miyazaki Eishū Sensei Koki Kinen Ronbunshū Kankōkai 宮崎英修先生古稀記念論文集刊行会, 1119–45. Kyoto: Heirakuji Shoten, 1983. Morrell, Robert E., trans. Sand and Pebbles (Shasekishū): The Tales of Mujū Ichien, A Voice for Pluralism in Kamakura Buddhism. New York: State University of New York Press, 1985. Murata, Kiyoaki. Japan’s New Buddhism: An Objective Account of Soka Gakkai. New York: Weatherhill, 1969. Nakao Takashi 中尾尭. “Nichiren Shōnin no Jōdoshū hihan to sono igi” 日蓮聖人の浄 土宗批判とその意義. In Nichiren kyōgaku no shomondai 日蓮教学の諸問題, edited by Motai Kyōkō Sensei Koki Kinen Ronbunshū Kankōkai 茂田井教亨先生古稀記念 論文集刊行会, 225–44. Kyoto: Heirakuji Shoten, 1974. Senchakushū English Translation Project, ed. and trans. Hōnen’s Senchakushū: Passages on the Selection of the Nembutsu in the Original Vow (Senchaku hongan nembutsu shū). Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press and Tokyo: Sōgō Bukkyō Kenkyūjo, Taishō University, 1998. Shioda Gisen 塩田義遜. “Asa daimoku to yū nenbutsu” 朝題目と夕念仏. Ōsaki gakuhō 大崎学報 103 (1955): 64–68. Stone, Jacqueline I. “Chanting the August Title of the Lotus Sutra: Daimoku Practices in Classical and Medieval Japan.” In Re-Visioning “Kamakura” Buddhism, edited by Richard K. Payne, 116–66. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1998. ——. “Giving One’s Life for the Lotus Sūtra in Nichiren’s Thought.” Hokke bunka kenkyū 法華文化研究 33 (2007): 51–70.

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——. Original Enlightenment and the Transformation of Medieval Japanese Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1999. ——. “Rebuking the Enemies of the Lotus: Nichirenist Exclusivism in Historical Perspective.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 21, nos. 2–3 (Sept. 1994): 231–59. ——. “When Disobedience is Filial and Resistance is Loyal: The Lotus Sūtra and Social Obligations in the Medieval Nichiren Tradition.” In A Buddhist Kaleidoscope: Essays on the Lotus Sutra, edited by Gene Reeves, 261–81. Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Co., 2002. Taira Masayuki 平雅行. Nihon chūsei no shakai to bukkyō 日本中世の社会と仏教. Tokyo: Hanawa Shobō, 1992. Takagi Yutaka 高木豊. Nichiren to sono montei: Shūkyō shakaishiteki kenkyū 日蓮とその 門弟―宗教社会史的研究. Tokyo: Kōbundō, 1965. Watanabe Hōyō 渡辺宝陽. “Nichiren Shōnin no shūkyō ni okeru ‘hōbō’ no igi” 日蓮聖人 の宗教における「謗法」の意義. In Nichiren Shōnin kenkyū 日蓮聖人研究, edited by Miyazaki Eishū 宮崎英修 and Motai Kyōkō 茂田井敎享, 87–115. Kyoto: Heirakuji Shoten, 1972. ——. Nichirenshū shingyōron no kenkyū 日蓮宗信行論の研究. Kyoto: Heirakuji Shoten, 1976. Watanabe Tsunaya 渡邊綱也, ed. Shasekishū 沙石集. Nihon koten bungaku taikei 日本古 典文学大系 85. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1966; reprint 1973. Watson, Burton and others, trans. Letters of Nichiren. Edited by Philip B. Yampolsky. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. ——. Selected Writings of Nichiren. Edited with an introduction by Philip B. Yampolsky. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.

Ritual Faults, Sins, and Legal Offences: A Discussion about Two Patterns of Justice in Contemporary India Daniela Berti1 Legal scholars have shown how the history of contemporary criminal procedures in the West is bound to religious history and in particular to medieval Christianity. They argue, for example, that the jury trial is a consequence of the decline in practices based on God’s judgment as revealed through the procedure of the ordeal. Once the judge, and not the deity, had to make the final decision regarding the guilt or innocence of the accused, the jury trial was introduced as a way of sparing the judge the full responsibility of passing judgment and of allowing him to share this responsibility with the jurors.2 In his work on the theological roots of the criminal trial James Q. Whitman goes even further, arguing that one of the crucial legal rules of contemporary criminal procedure, “reasonable doubt”, is to be seen as a vestige of a very widespread pre-modern anxiety about judging and punishing.3 The author shows how the original function of reasonable doubt was not, as it is today, to protect the accused, but to protect jurors against the potential mortal sin of convicting an innocent defendant. The rule of reasonable doubt was, he argues, a “technique of moral comfort”, aimed at protecting the judge from damnation.4 In India the religious dangers attendant upon judging had been mentioned in Sanskrit texts since the early centuries of the common era. Phyllis Granoff has shown, for example, that while certain texts warned the king that he must punish the guilty lest he take on himself the offender’s sin, other texts warned him that in punishing the innocent, he would

1 This work is part of the ANR (Agence Nationale de la Recherche, France) programme, “Justice and Governance in India and South Asia,” http://just-India.net. 2 J. Fitzjames Stephen, A History of the Criminal Law of England (London: Routledge, 1996). On this topic see also Robert Jacob, “Le serment des juges,” in Le Serment, ed. Raymond Verdier (Paris: CNRS, 1991). 3 James Q. Whitman. The Origins of Reasonable Doubt. Theological Roots of the Criminal Trial. (Yale: Yale University Press, 2008). 4 Whitman, The Origins of Reasonable Doubt.

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go to hell.5 Although, as her paper shows, a certain anxiety about judging may be seen in Sanskrit literature, when Western criminal procedures were introduced during the colonial period, they were in no way associated with these medieval religious concerns and were perceived as completely secularized techniques. Some of the practices adopted during colonial times, such as the jury trial, were even abolished soon after Independence, and the absence of the jury trial seems not to have generated any particular religious anxiety about the judge’s salvation in the next life. The procedure followed in India during a trial thus no longer has any obvious link with Christian or Brahmanical religious concerns, and violations of rules or offences are not sanctioned according to religious precepts but according to sections of the Civil or Penal code. The secular character of the official courts is often evoked in India in discussions on modernization, globalization and the rule of law.6 This is particularly true when courts of law are compared to another context of litigation, arbitration, and judgment, which is quite widespread throughout India, especially but not exclusively at rural level, and which is based on the authority of local gods. I refer here to temple consultations where a medium (or oracle), institutionally linked to a village temple and speaking on behalf of the deity, interprets people’s problem, arbitrates conflicts and identifies culprits. The outcome of people’s wrongdoings is not evaluated here according to legal codes but according to a social, ritual and “moral” order in which the deity intervenes. In the context of these consultations people appear to be responsible for the misfortunes they suffer, which are just as much divine punishment as human errors. In this chapter I show how, though temple mediums and judges may appear to have nothing in common, they share some similarities: they both arbitrate cases, interpret or establish “facts” and “truth”, and they pronounce judgments and verdicts. In one case the arbiter is a god’s medium, who speaks on behalf of a village deity; in the other it is a professional judge who speaks on behalf of a State court. Most importantly, from our perspective here, both the mediums and the judges, especially those from Higher courts, make reference to the notion of sin in order to interpret the evidence that has to be judged. In fact, as I demonstrate in the following pages, although Indian courts appear to be secularized contexts 5 Phyllis Granoff, “Justice and Anxiety: False Accusations in Indian Literature”, Rivista di Studi Sudasiatica LXXXIII, (2010): 377–399. 6 Marc Galanter, “Hinduism, Secularism, and the Indian Judiciary,” Philosophy East and West 21, 4 (1971).



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of judgment and of decision-making as far as the trial proceedings are concerned, a religious or moral understanding of sin emerges, particularly in judicial rulings. It is in these rulings that High court and Supreme Court judges have to argue the reasons for their decision to dismiss or allow an appeal. However, contrary to the mediums of the deity, Indian judges are not directly concerned with the idea of divine displeasure (at least this is not considered to be an argument for the court); nor do they expose the alleged wrongdoer to public reproach for his errors in the same way as the mediums do during a temple consultation. And yet there emerges in these well-argued written decisions a clear notion of sin, used by the judge to bestow a moral tone on his argumentation. The notion of sin in these judgments relies on the ancient Sanskrit texts, which are used here alongside codes of law or legal precedents as legitimate sources of the judicial reasoning. I begin with an examination of the judgment of the village medium, which not unexpectedly is all about “sin” or wrongdoing. This is followed by a discussion of judicial pronouncements, which, surprisingly may also be very much about sin. At the Devtā’s Court The institution of divine mediumship is quite widespread throughout India and represents an alternative way of dealing with people’s problems to what is provided by the purohit (the Brahman priest), who can nonetheless be consulted simultaneously.7 Unlike the purohit, who treats his client’s problem by relying on astrological calculations and sophisticated ritual procedures, the temple’s medium allows people to question the deities directly, and personally to dialogue with them. In the region of Himachal Pradesh, in Northern India, divine mediumship is highly institutionalized. Each main village deity has his official medium, who is ritually selected from among members of various castes. Village deities are considered to rule over specified territories, the largest of which includes the territories of subordinate gods. Those who live within a deity’s jurisdiction feel themselves bound to the deity not only as a devotee to a god, but also as a tenant to a landlord. In fact, village deities hold properties and land rights, which may be used by villagers 7 Jackie Assayag and Gilles Tarabout, La Possession en Asie du Sud: parole, corps, territoire. (Paris: EHESS, 1999).

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in exchange for rent payable to the temple, or for a service to the temple (officiating as a priest, serving as a medium or temple musician). PostIndependence land reforms have caused a considerable drop in wealth for these landowning deities. Nonetheless, village deities still exercise their influence over their former territories, within which they are supposed to grant happiness or misfortune, depending on the behaviour of their subjects. In the event of misfortune or natural disaster, people consult their village deity to find out the reason for what has gone wrong and to seek a remedy. A temple consultation then takes place, in the form of a darbār or royal audience, where the king listens to his subject’s complaints.8 The medium often talks during the consultation, speaking out as if he were the deity: “You have come to my court”, or “I am the Delhi Emperor”, or else “The court is mine, justice is mine.” What the deity says during the consultation is considered to be a final ruling. The deity may be strongly critical of his subjects’ behaviour. The villagers are judged responsible for the misfortunes that befall them, including “natural “ disasters such as drought, floods or poor crop yields, all of which are regarded as divine punishment for human errors. Human errors may be ritual mistakes, a lack of devotion, any form of misconduct, and violation of established rules. Unlike purohit consultations, which are usually held privately and which do not subject the client to public scrutiny of his behavior, the deity’s medium is consulted at the village temple and may publically denounce the wrongdoing not only of a single person but of the entire community as well. I will now go into further details of consultations with deities in order to show how sin or errors are defined within this ritual context. The data analyzed here were collected during my fieldwork in 1995 in Kullu district in Himachal Pradesh They are mostly taken from the medium at the temple of the goddess Śravanī, who is a member of a low caste quite well known in the region as the medium of a powerful goddess. What follows is a passage from the bhartha (goddess’s story) recited by the medium in the first person as if the deity, immediately after having ritually received the goddess within himself.9 The deity’s presence or influence (prabhāv) over the medium is visible through a slight trembling of his legs and arms which may vary in intensity throughout the seance. What the medium 8 Daniela Berti, “Gestes, paroles et combats. Pluralite rituelle et modalite d’action en Himalaya indien”, Annales de la Fondation Fyssen 16 (2001): 29. 9 Daniela Berti, La Parole des dieux. Rituels de possession en Himalaya Indien (Paris: CNRS Editions, 2001).



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says when in this state is considered by villagers to be the deity’s actual words.10 At the beginning of the consultation, the goddess talks of today’s degenerate times by using the concepts of kaliyuga, the degenerate age, and satyuga, the bygone golden age.11 Reference is made here to the social order and to some collective, general form of misbehavior. At this initial stage of the consultation both the goddess’s sentences and the people’s replies are very formal and strictly regulated.12 Goddess: Oh my subjects! These are the words of the sat yuga. I destroyed a basket of incense, just as I destroyed a basket of jaṛībūṭi (medicinal plants). For eight days I made rain, for eight days I made the sky blue. I made the dry ground green. You had the truth, I had the power. Public: Oh Mahārājā! You have the same power even today. Goddess: In satyuga times, one person spoke, and ten listened. I spoke forth and people gathered like bees. Today these are kal yuga times. You have lost the truth, we have lost power! Things that shouldn’t have happened have happened. Brides have become co-brides. Sons and father quarrel with each other. Two women work together but they think bad of one another. Public: Yes, this is happening today. Goddess: The mud of the mountains has moved to the plains, the mud of the plains has moved to the mountains. The shepherd himself tells lies. Crows and roosters fight each other and the cow eats dirt. There are no longer any gods, nor any dharma. At the place where Aṭhāra Karḍū (name of a group of local gods) live, those who sat outside have come inside and those who sat inside have gone outside. The son has given up his father’s work and has many problems to face. There has been a lot of misfortune and problems. Will I be able to put an end to it or not? Attendants: Why should you not be able to put an end to it, Mahārājā? Goddess: Go then! I will put your mind at rest. You will hear [about misfortune] but you will not see [it]. I will wash the black and spread the salutary red. If I give you good news, acknowledge me! Otherwise no! Why did you call me?

10 I have thus chosen here to speak of “goddess” instead of “medium” in order to reproduce the local perception, though in some cases the medium may be accused by villagers of speaking on his own. 11 These concepts are commonly used in other rural areas of India by members of different castes. Ann Grodzins Gold, “Spirit Possession Perceived and Performed in Rural Rajasthan,” Contributions to Indian Sociology 22 (1988) 41. 12 For the same village deity the bhartha does not change from one consultation to another. By contrast each village deity has his or her own bhartha and a specific way to tell it during the ritual.

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This is a rather general, codified, anonymous way of speaking about the lack of good behavior; although there is the idea that people today are doing wrong, the deity is not addressing anyone in particular and the wrongdoings referred to are rather vague. The focus here is on the fact that the goddess’s special power to regulate the weather and to protect villagers from misfortunes has been weakened due to people’s misbehavior. People’s misconduct is also presented by the deity as a violation of sat yuga rules: the practice of polygamy; the reciprocal negative influence people from the plains have on people from the mountains; the loss of innocence attributed to the shepherd; quarrelling between those who used to ignore each other (“crows and roosters”) in the past; people’s negligence in failing to keep cows pure; disrespect for caste rules (“those who sat outside have come inside . . .”) and a lack of respect regarding the handing down of inherited jobs through the generations. These changes are presented as being the cause of people’s misfortunes and diseases. After portraying this degradation, the bhartha ends on a reassuring note: people will hear about misfortune and disease but they will not be affected by it directly. Then, when the consultation proper starts, the definition of wrongdoing is adapted to the particular case of the person consulting. At the beginning this may be done by using formulas which evoke the problem in an indirect way. For example, if the medium, on behalf of the deity, wants to say that the cause of the problem is due to a dispute over money, he says: “Greed [will come] from greed and the end of the world [will come] from sin”. Or if he wants to say that the person does not respect the traditions he says: “No rules, no fathers, no gods!” Some of these formulas are alliterations such as “pāp pāp dharma dharma sāc sāc jhūṭha jhūṭha”—“sin [comes] from sin, dharma from dharma, truth from truth, impurity from impurity”. These formulas are sometimes used as a hypothetical interpretation proposed by the deity in order to test the reaction of the person. They are part of the consultation technique. For example, the deity may say “you did something wrong” (galat kām)”, without saying what the person had done actually wrong and then wait for the person to react. After some interactions and using certain divination techniques, the deity may start to discuss the problem further. A temple consultation may last between five and thirty minutes, but it may even be longer if many people are involved in the case. On occasion, a consultation that starts with the deity merely being asked to send down or to stop the rain, ends with the goddess/medium going over the various misdoings committed by people in her area. This happened, for example, in in Shuru village where, during a period of drought, villagers



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consulted the goddess to ask for rain. The goddess promised to send down rain over the next few days, but only on condition that the men of eight neighboring villages, who had been arguing for a year, agreed to meet at her temple and reach a compromise. During the various consultations on the same issue subsequent to this demand, the goddess also accused some village women of having made the temple impure by entering it during their menses, and therefore she ordered a purification ritual to be performed. She also demanded that work be stopped on a building that some villagers had started, as it was on a site that was considered to be used by her brother’s neighboring god, Takṣak Nāg, for meditation. All these facts, which were perceived by people as unrelated to each other, were presented by the goddess as multiple causes of the same problem: the lack of rain. During the consultation the words pāp or galat kām are alternatively used by the medium to define the wrongdoings committed by a person, by a group of people or even to talk more generally about mankind’s degeneracy. A concept close to that of pāp is doṣ, which indicates both the fault committed by the person and the punishment by a deity for this action.13 Doṣ in the sense of punishment may also be considered to come from a bhūt (ghost or mischievous power) sent by a sorcerer or a witch to attack an enemy. In these usages the notion of doṣ does not include a moral dimension. It is also in the sense of punishment that the term is used to indicate the effect of a ritual performed by a ṭāṇagī (tantrik specialist, here a sorcerer) to affect someone. This is defined as a ṭāṇagī kā doṣ instead of a devtā kā doṣ. The expression ṭāṇagī kā doṣ is used to underline its opposition with the deity’s punishment, particularly in the context of a temple consultation. For example, the deity may say: ‘Let’s see if it is my doṣ or if it is the doṣ of a ṭāṇagī.’ In this sense, the term can be assimilated to that of vighna, an obstacle, a sign that there is something wrong. The action that provoked the doṣ may have been done by the person without realizing it, or even by one of his ancestors. This was the case, for example, of a family whose members were the traditional goldsmiths of the goddess Gāyitrī in Jagatsūkh village. A member of this family had health problems and went to consult the goddess Śravaṇī, whose temple is close to Gāyitrī’s. The goddess Śravaṇī told them that there was an object in their house that they had taken from the goddess Gāyitrī 13 See also Tarabout in this volume.

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and had not given back. They had to find this object, give it back to the goddess and make ritual reparation in order to eliminate her doṣ. What follows are some passages from the consultation by the goddess Śravaṇī at the family’s house. Goddess, to the family members: Come on then, quickly. Take this object out of the house! [addressing a woman in the family] Oh woman! This object comes neither from a ceṭu nor from a bhūt.14 It’s an object and it belongs to the goddess Gāyitrī. A family member: Oh! Then we have to give it back immediately! Goddess: Who did work for goddess Gāyitrī in the past? It is like this! It is a pot for cooking rice. You exchanged it! Woman: Eh! . . . what is that? How could we know that? Goddess: It’s like this! When you repaired some of Gāyitrī’s utensils you exchanged this pot for one of your own and you inherited it. Woman: How could we know this Mahārājā? Man: Only our ancestors can know this. Goddess: Three generations have passed! Woman: So then! Don’t punish us! Goddess: This object has come from sharing [the heritage] Woman: I don’t remember! But I’m ready to give it back this very day! Goddess: You have to give it back. I’m telling you.

In other cases, the cause of the deity’s doṣ may be the violation of the rules of purity, or negligence vis-à-vis the goddess. The doṣ may be seen as the cause of physical disease or obstacles, conflicts, failures, but also of weather conditions such as drought or excessive rain. If the error has been made by several community members, the punishment may take the form of a drought or a flood. In order to eliminate a doṣ, the ritual requested by the deity may be either a yāg or sacrifice performed by a purohit or a chidra (ritual of “cutting”) performed by the medium. A chidra includes the sacrifice of an animal (usually a lamb), whose leg is tied to a thin ritual cord the ends of which are held by the parties involved in the doṣ. The deity’s medium performs the operations for the chidra without entering a state of possession. Once the preparation is over, he has to pronounce various sentences that announce the end of the problem in question. After each sentence all the participants in the ritual have to repeat together “chidra” and throw some grains of barleycorn and oats onto the animal’s leg. After the final sentence the cord is cut by the medium, which indicates the end of the doṣ brought about by the goddess. The chidra 14  Ceṭu and bhūt are sometimes synonymous, but the term ceṭu refers more particularly to a bhūt sent by a witch. Berti, 2001.



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is also performed in cases where the deity’s doṣ is caused by a family or village dispute. In this case, the two parties must be reconciled by performing a chidra together with the deity. Reaching a compromise through a chidra is much more compulsory than finding a compromise through the village assembly (pañcāyat). What needs to be solved through the chidra is in fact not only the dispute but also the consequence of the deity’s doṣ, which otherwise would continue to affect the parties. Though the parties may be forced by the deity to reconcile, the ritual cutting of the cord does not entail any moral obligation for them, the aim of the chidra being more to remove the obstacle (vighna) provoked by the deity’s doṣ (punishment). This system of divine justice and its underlying values are sometimes at odds with the judiciary system located in town. Courts are in fact another context where villagers (the same villagers as those who consult the deities) are called upon from time to time and where facts and acts are again judged and punished. Mediums themselves, speaking on behalf of the deity, sometimes refer to courts of law at the time of consultations, especially when those consulting the deity are involved in an ongoing court case.15 They may sometimes even enter a form of competition with the court. For example, in 1995 in the village of Shuru, the temple administrator was accused of having misused the temple money. During a period of drought villagers asked the goddess Śravaṇī to send them rain. The goddess started by saying that she could see a lot of sin, and in the end she announced angrily that she

15 The existence of different institutions of judging is attested also in ancient times. Indeed, in Indian legal history practices related to a god’s judgment such as ordeals, are often found integrated in or articulated to more secular judicial proceedings. Sanskrit texts describe how the king, though being at the head of the judiciary, was assisted or replaced by a judicial assembly composed of Brahmans and some assessors. They had to decide about the guilt or innocence of the accused by making recourse either to witnesses and written documents or, in the case where human evidence failed to lead to a clear decision, to different kinds of ordeals. (Sukla Das, Crime and Punishment in Ancient India (New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1977), 93–127. In these texts crimes and ritual transgressions were overlapping and a penal sentence did not exclude a ritual expiation. (Louis Renou, L’Inde fondamentale (Paris: Hermann, 1978). Ethnographic researches have shown how ordeals and other institutions of god’s mediation continued to coexist at a local level parallel to and sometimes in collaboration with more secular institutions such as an elected village council (pañcāyat) or informal assemblies formed by members of the dominant lineage, who are also linked with the main village temple. See Jean-Claude Galey, “Souveraineté et justice dans le Haut-Gange. La fonction royale au-delà des écoles juridiques et du droit coutumier,” in Différences, valeurs et hiérarchies. Textes offerts à Louis Dumont, ed. Jean-Claude Galey (Paris: EHESS, 1994) and Berti Daniela, La parole des dieux.

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would indeed have sent them rain if they had reached a compromise with the temple administrator. This is what she said: Goddess: You have courts [courts of law] but my decision will be taken here [at the temple]. Reach a compromise with the administrator and your prestige will be my prestige. I have the rain and I will give it to you! Villagers: Oh Mahārājā! The reply isn’t here, it’s in court! The case is still ongoing. Goddess, in a provocative way: All right! The rain is also in court then! Go and look for the rain in court!

While the villagers were trying to separate a conflict issue (in this case a civil suit) from what they perceived as a deity issue (control over the rain), the goddess presented the problems as being related to each other. By tracing the cause of people’s problems to their social or family conflicts, which is the preferred technique used by mediums to arbitrate these conflicts, they prompt the parties to reach a compromise. In fact, as we have seen, a compromise between the parties is presented by the deity as a way for the wrongdoer to avoid god’s punishment. Village gods present themselves as “the gods of all compromises” and during a consultation they repeatedly say to people “You did wrong! Make a compromise!” This valorization of compromise encouraged by mediums at temple consultations may sometimes clash with the way a case is judged in a court of law when the same case is also registered at the district court. Nonetheless, a compromise solution may not be a problem for the court in civil matters. In fact, even at the court level, seeking a compromise between the parties may be welcomed by the judge. But in the case of criminal offences a compromise is less likely to be accepted by the court. In fact, many criminal offences are “non-compoundable”, which means that they cannot be compromised by the parties in an out-of-court negotiation. Criminal offences in such cases are considered offences against the law and require State action. The defendant has to be tried in court and will be acquitted or convicted on the basis of the rules of evidence alone. Courts of Law, Sin, and Sanskrit Texts Contrary to temple consultations where wrongdoings are defined by the deity by referring to a disruption both of the religious and social order, in courts of law the definition of offences merely relies on sections of legal codes without explicitly involving any religious dimension. Moreover,



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though witnesses may be asked by the judge to speak the truth in the name of dharma or in the name of God, the trial proceedings do not especially aim to lay moral blame on the accused. As in other common law countries, Indian courts focus on facts and contradictions without being very concerned, at least in principle, with morally judging the person. This is different, for example, from what happens in French criminal procedure where the defendant’s rapport de personnalité—i.e. the defendant’s personal story, his family life, his general character—becomes an important part of the file prepared by the investigative judge and on which both the defendant and the psychologist are asked to express their opinion during the trial. More particularly, the prosecutor’s “plaidoirie” may be very stinging for the defendant since, as the French say regarding legal matters, what is judged in France is “the man, not the facts”.16 Indian trials are also different from what Yanrong Chang17 writes about Chinese criminal courts where, as the author notes, the main aim of the prosecutor’s questioning is to invoke Chinese cultural notions of shame and morality, which are used to extract a confession and remorse from defendants. Nothing of this kind happens in an Indian court, where both the prosecutor and the defense lawyer base their “arguments” (the equivalent of the “plaidoirie” in civil law countries) only on legal reasoning and on rules of non- contradiction. Another reason that the court in India does not appear as place for passing moral judgment is that in most criminal cases before the trial is even held (often a long time before), the parties have already reached a compromise at the village or family level. As a consequence of this “culture of compromise” as Pratiksha Baxi18 calls it, criminal cases in India are most often hindered from the very beginning by the fact that all the witnesses who, having told the police during the investigation that the accused had done something wrong, subsequently deny all their previous statements before the court. They are all declared “hostile witnesses” by the prosecutor, and the accused then insists that he or she is

16 Bron McKillop, “Anatomy of a French Murder Case,” The American Journal of Comparative Law (45, 3, 1997): 579. 17 Yanrong Chang, “Courtroom questioning as a culturally situated persuasive genre of talk”, Discourse & Society 15, 6 (2004): 710. 18 Pratiksha Baxi, “Justice is a secret: Compromise in rape trials,” Contributions to Indian Sociology October 44 (2010): 208.

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completely innocent and that the case is a false case, which has been totally fabricated either by the police or by their enemies.19 With the defense insisting on the false nature of the case and the prosecutor having no more witnesses to support the accusations, there is no room for blaming the defendants during trial interactions. In fact, throughout the trial the defendant is never addressed and has no right to speak. He is asked to stand at the back of the courtroom with nobody looking at him. Even at the end of recording the evidence, when, under section 313 he is given the right to personally explain to the judge “any circumstances appearing in the evidence against him” (the so-called “statement of the accused”), the interactions are very formalized and there is no real space for a moral reprimand. The questions that the judge asks the accused are prepared in advance and to each of questions the accused systematically replies, “it is incorrect” or “it is not true”. When a case proves to be a very weak case for the prosecutor, the statement of the accused may even be directly recorded in English by the typist under supervision of the prosecutor and the defense lawyer, without the defendant even being asked any of these questions in Hindi. No reference to sin, repentance or moral conduct is therefore made in the courtroom. At the end of the trial the crime with which the accused is charged will be judged through a 15–20 page report written in English, hence on most occasions, completely incomprehensible to the accused. The text of the judgment is passed to the defense lawyer in the courtroom, sometimes with no additional comment or with the judge merely pronouncing the word “convicted” or “acquitted”. Even the texts of judgments at trial court level do not take into account any moral or religious considerations. The judge is mainly concerned with providing the different versions of facts that have emerged during the hearings and with finding out errors in investigations or witnesses’ contradictions. At this level, court proceedings appear indeed to be secularized. It is therefore surprising that references to religious or moral notions are quite often used in the rulings that the High Court and Supreme Court judges write (all in English) at the end of an appeal, when they have to argue their final decision. Here High Court and Supreme Court judges are very much concerned with the notion of sin, both in a moral sense and in a

19 Daniela Berti, “Hostile witnesses, judicial interactions and out-of-court narratives in a north Indian district court,” Contributions to Indian Sociology 44, 3 ( 2010).



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more specifically religious sense, since they refer for this discussion to the śāstras and other Sanskrit texts. The judicial use of Sanskrit texts has already been discussed by Christopher Fuller20 in relation to some Indian Supreme court judgments regarding religious issues such as temple endowments, the appointment of temple priests, or temple entry rights, especially in Tamil Nadu. The author shows how Sanskrit texts such as the Āgama are not only treated as sources of law by the courts but also, in many cases, are reinterpreted by the judges in order to make them congruent with modern values and constitutional principles, a practice regularly adopted in India, both by commentaries and by reformists with the aim of “recovering” the original truths lost by subsequent misinterpretations.21 Reference to Sanskrit religious texts is made by judges not only in cases related to religious institutions or temple practices. Religious texts may also be cited in cases concerning criminal offences or family law. Examples will be given below. Although it is difficult to compare criminal and civil cases, my intent here is only to examine how judges make use of religious or moral notions of sin in their judicial reasoning. In a judgment at a Bombay High court in 1986, the judge had to decide a case related to an attempted suicide under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, where the act is punishable by up to one year imprisonment. After presenting the various points of view regarding suicide in different religions such as Buddhism or Jainism, the judge moved on to the Dharmaśāstras, noting that they condemn suicide or attempted suicide as a great sin, “whoever kills himself becomes abhisasta and his ‘sapindas’ (consanguine) must not perform any death rites for him”.22 We may note however, that the way judges refer to these Sanskrit texts in order to define what is sinful and what is not has changed over time. This is the result of the amendment of old laws and the passage of new laws, making more complicated the recourse to Sanskrit texts. For example, after the enactment of various sections regarding the dowry issue, such as section 306, abetment to suicide, or 498a “subject women to

20 Christopher Fuller, “Hinduism and Scriptural Authority in Modern Indian Law,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 30, 2 (1988). See also Ronojoy Sen, Articles of Faith. Religion, Secularism, and the Indian Supreme Court (New Delhi: OUP, 2010). 21 Chistopher Fuller, “Hinduism and Scriptural Authority”, 240. 22 Maruti Shripati Dubal vs State Of Maharashtra, Bombay High Court, 25 September 1986.

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cruelty” (the so-called “dowry death”),23 judges are now confronted with cases where the woman who commits suicide is considered as a victim of the husband’s maltreatment or of harassment by her in-laws. Now judges do not actually judge the act of suicide, especially in cases of women committing suicide. Instead, they try to find out whether the reason that pushed the woman to commit suicide was harassment by her husband or her in-laws. Therefore, a case will be registered against the husband or the in-laws, not against the woman. There may be judges who still refer in such cases to the notion of sin, though in a different way. We find, for example, in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, in 2000, a judge who writes that “it is not a sin on the part of the wife to file a complaint under Sections 406/498-A 1PC . . . when she has been neglected and maltreated by her husband and his other family members”.24 A comparison can be made between the judgment mentioned above, which was passed after these post-dowry prohibition acts, and a judgment passed by the High Court of Madras in 1940, therefore prior to the amendment to the first Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961. The judge had to decide whether the jewels of a woman who had died without leaving any children were to be inherited by her father or by her husband (in this case, a civil suit). The judge wrote that this depended on whether the marriage had been contracted according to the “asura form” (where the bride’s parents receive something from the groom’s parents, which is considered “sinful”) or to the “Brahma” form (where the bride’s parents give a dowry to the groom’s parents and which is prescribed). Then he moved on by quoting the Dharmaśāstra and concluding that Manu, verse 54, “indicates that the acceptance of a dowry from the bridegroom does not turn the marriage into a sale. . . . It is only honoring (arhanam) the bride and is totally free from sin”.25 Another issue where judges may refer to a scriptural definition of sin concerns caste discrimination and the rules of purity/impurity as regulating caste and ritual relationships. This discrimination is now criminalized under the Scheduled Caste Prevention of Atrocity Act of 1989, but prior 23 These two sections are part of the measures taken in India to prevent so-called ‘dowry deaths’, i.e. deaths of married women who have been harassed by their husbands or in-laws by incessant demands for dowry. As a consequence of these measures, whenever a young married woman commits suicide, her husband and in-laws are immediately suspected and, upon the slightest accusation, taken into custody. 24 Harpal Kaur Vs. Balbir Singh, High Court of Punjab and Haryana, 23 April 2001. 25 V.S. Velayutha Pandaram vs S. Suryamurthi Pillai, High Court of Madras, 6 December 1940.



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to this act it was taken as legitimate by judges on the grounds of Sanskrit texts. Here is an example of a judgment written in 1912 at the Bombay High Court where the judge had to decide whether a man from the śūdra caste who had married a Brahmin widow and with whom he had many children, had the obligation to maintain his wife financially after having thrown her out of his house. The judge referred to different Sanskrit texts (especially the Manusmŗti, the Mitākṣara, the Yājñyavalkya Smṛti) to argue that since the marriage was between a Brahman widow and a śūdra man, the marriage had to be considered illegal and void according to Hindu Law. The judge referred to a text cited by Madhvācārya in his commentary on the Parāśara Smṛti which, as he notes in his judgment, is regarded by Hindus as an authority of special force in these degenerate times called kaliyuga. He wrote the following passage, where he also evokes the notion of kaliyuga: Further, Yajnyavalkya says that a son begotten by a Shudra with a Brahman woman becomes a Chandala, the most degraded of human beings, and therefore “outcaste to all religions.” That is to say, he regards the progeny as something worse than illegitimate; and that can only be because they are the offspring of a relation which is sinful.26

The idea of a degradation of the present times, which has also been noted in the context of temple consultations, is expressed by the Supreme Court of India in the following judgment decided on 2008, with regards to the case of a man who was accused of having raped his daughter: The father is supposed to protect the dignity and honour of his daughter. . . . If the protector becomes the violator, . . . the sanctity of the father and daughter relationship becomes polluted. It becomes an unpardonable act. It is not only a loathsome sin, but also abhorrent. The case at hand is a sad reflection on present-day society where a most platonic relationship has been soiled by the perverted and degrading act of the father.27

The importance that a religious notion of a sinful relationship assumes for judiciary decisions may be noted not only in cases related to Hindu personal law but also in cases related to Muslim Personal Law, as the following passage from a High Court of Allahabad shows: Under this mode of Talaq, the husband utters divorce thrice and the moment the Talaq is pronounced a third time during one Tuhr or one sitting the

26 Bai Kashi vs Jamnadas Mansukh Raichand, Bombay High Court, 5 March 1912. 27 Siriya @ Shri Lal Vs. State of Madhya Pradesh, 13 March 2008.

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The references made by judges to Sanskrit or Islamic texts in cases concerning marriage, inheritance or charitable endowments are the consequence of the existence in India of different codes concerning personal law according to religion. Even before the modern legislation, the attitude followed both by the Mughals and the British in India was to consider local practices as legally valid in civil cases. However, as we have seen, religious notions are also used by judges in criminal cases, and sometimes sin is used as a synonym for crime or offence. Thus in an appeal for a case of rape filed at the Kerala High Court the judge wrote that “rape and murder are undoubtedly brutal and diabolic sins constituting the worst forms of criminal incursions on the human body”.29 Similarly, in a murder case for which an appeal was filed at the Orissa High Court, the judge wrote that “on a careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case and also considering the evidence from all angles, we find that the prosecution has signally failed to prove motive or mens rea against the appellant for committing the sinful act of murdering his own daughter”. In another case of murder, in Uttar Pradesh, where the accused demanded a reduction of the punishment with the argument of being of unsound mind the judge wrote that Kulwinder Singh (the accused) “had put us in a piquant dilemma on the quantum of punishment especially when the sin protruding out of the crime for which he has been found guilty, protests against any mercy”.30 Sometimes, the quotation of a Sanskrit text is not taken by judges directly from the original source but, like precedents, from a previous judgment which may concern a completely different case. In an appeal filed in the High Court of Gujarat on a case of food adulteration by a Company of sweet production under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, the judge referred to a Supreme Court judgment concerning a well-famous case related to Hindu-Muslim riots, where the judge quoted a Sanskrit passage in order to underline the errors committed by the prosecutor, for example, for not cross-examining an important witness who 28 Rahmat Ullah And Khatoon Nisa vs State Of Uttar Pradesh And Ors. High Court of Allahabad (Lucknow Bench), 15 April, 1994. 29 State Of Kerala vs Poothala Aboobacker @ Babu, High Court of Kerala at Ernakulam, 24 August, 2006. 30 The State Of Punjab vs Kulwinder Singh on 5 July, 2005.



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had turned hostile.31 The High Court judge, after entering into the detail of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act and of the witness statements recorded by the trial court, used the quotation of a passage from the Manu Saṁhitā already reported in the Supreme Court judgment: Where in the presence of Judges “dharma” is overcome by “adharma” and “truth” by “unfounded falsehood”, at that place they (the Judges) are destroyed by sin.32

By contrast with the previous examples, reference to the notion of sin is made here by the judge in a different way. The idea that the (trial) judge would commit a sin if he could not prevent the violation of justice, though it may evoke the religious anxiety about judging mentioned at the beginning of this chapter,33 is taken by the Supreme Court judge as a way to ask the trial judge to be more involved in the interactions during the hearings and not to limit himself to the role of a mere “supervisor” that Common Law traditionally assigns to him.34 The attitude of being a passive protagonist of the trial is often criticized by judges from the Higher Courts, though not necessarily by referring to the notion of sin as in the case mentioned above. An example of this attitude may be given here by quoting what a Shimla judge once told me with a tone of resignation after the hearings of a case where all the witnesses had turned hostile: “We can do nothing, we are silent spectators. We can’t go beyond the law”. 31 Zahira Habibullah Sheikh & Anr vs State Of Gujarat & Ors, Supreme Court of India, 8 March, 2006. 32 State of Gujarat Vs. Sailendrabhai Damodarbhai Shah and 2 Ors., High Court of Gujarat at Ahmedabad, 28 October 2009. 33 The expression “by sin” does not appear in the Sanskrit text and it has been added in the English translation either by the judge (if he quotes directly from the Sanskrit) or by the author of the English translation of the text. The original sentence, which has been taken from chapter 8 (stanza 14) of the Manu Samhitā, does not contain the expression “by sin”. The sentence has been translated by George Bühler as follows: “Where justice is destroyed by injustice, or truth by falsehood, while the judges look on, there they shall also be destroyed”. Bühler in another part of the chapter uses the word ‘sinful’ to translate the term kilbiṣa. “The Laws of Manu translated by George Bühler,” last modified August 9, 2011, http://oaks.nvg.org/pv6bk4.html. I thank Gérard Colas for his comment on this point. 34 This is a point often put forward in High Court judgments. As one High Court judge of Patna wrote: The Judge Magistrate should not be a silent spectator and should not allow the things to go on as they are going, but he has to apply his mind and take an initiative and steps for dispensation of justice by resorting to provisions of law in exercise of power by enforcing the attendance of a witness, who is failing and defaulting for no valid and cogent reason. Shyam Narayan Singh and Ors. Vs.State of Bihar, High Court of Judicature at Patna 1 August, 2011 State of Gujarat Vs. Sailendrabhai Damodarbhai Shah and 2 Ors., High Court of Gujarat at Ahmedabad, 28 October 2009.

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This discourse of being bound to evidence and procedure is commonly put forward by trial judges, and may be one of the reasons why District Court judges do not make any reference in their written judgments to moral or religious considerations. As a matter of fact, trial judges are very much focused on discussing facts by exposing different narratives and on quoting precedents, trying not to deviate from a purely legal reasoning. This contrasts with the attitude of some High Court and Supreme Court judges, who support their arguments by means of much more eclectic sources and whose pronouncements, as in the cases considered here, speak the religious language of sin and quote from religious texts. Concluding Remarks At the village level we have seen how the medium uses the notion of sin either in a general way, to speak of an increasing disregard for dharmic rules, or as an etiological category to identify the cause of a particular problem that may involve an individual, whole families, a village or even an entire territory. In fact, what is distinctive about a consultation is that in many cases the consequence of the deity’s punishment affects not only the person(s) who is (or are) directly responsible for the wrongdoing, but the whole village or area. Here people’s wrongdoings are defined by the deity in reference to a specific territory and in relation to a specific community. We have seen, for example, how the impurity affecting the temple due to a private construction work, or to a dispute related to the temple’s money, was presented as the cause of a drought or of too much rain, thus affecting the whole village or an entire area. Though this “joint responsibility” or joint punishment may be felt as unfair by villagers, it is also a way for the medium to involve the whole village in putting pressure on the individual or those responsible, who are asked to put a stop to their wrongdoings (the construction work or the dispute with the administrator). In all these cases, we may say that the idea of committing sin is not so much taken to be a problem of an individual, as it is to a notion used to negotiate social relationships or even to manage village politics. Paradoxically, something closer to a religious discussion about sin is more apparent in the judgments written by the High judiciary, where the definition of a sinful action is sought by some judges in religious and Sanskrit prescriptions, which are then put forward by them as pan-Indian sources of authority. Here the consequence of a wrong action, at least in criminal cases, exclusively concerns the person who is responsible for it.



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Whether a judge refers to Sanskrit texts is something of a personal choice; some judges are very concerned with Sanskrit or Islamic literature, while others consider it irrelevant to their reasoning. The use of religious texts is particularly evident in cases regarding personal law (thus for civil matters), where the judges’ decision relies on what the texts say, for example, whether a marriage is sinful, which they conclude also makes it illegal. The definition of sin differs in the case of Muslim, Hindu or Christian personal law. References to Sanskrit texts are also important in criminal cases, though in such cases they are not considered as determining the decision, since the crime is defined according to codes and acts of law. Nonetheless, in criminal cases judges may still use Sanskrit scriptures as a way to reinforce or to attenuate the punishment, although they do not rely on these texts for their actual decisions. What it is important to underline here is that, both in civil and criminal cases, High Court and Supreme Court judges often try to combine a legal definition of offence and crime with a religious definition of sin. They cite Sanskrit sources to give more authority to the judicial decision, thus somehow combining the role of a court judge with the role of a traditional paṇḍit. In this way religious notions of sin may color judicial pronouncements, even in this secular court system. Bibliography Assayag, Jackie and Gilles Tarabout. La Possession en Asie du Sud: parole, corps, territoire. Paris: EHESS, 1999. Baxi, Pratiksha. “Justice is a secret: Compromise in rape trials.” Contributions to Indian Sociology October 44, 3 (2010): 207–233. Berti, Daniela. “Gestes, paroles et combats. Pluralité rituelle et modalité d’action en Himalaya indien.” Annales de la Fondation Fyssen 16 (2001): 11–30. ——. La Parole des dieux. Rituels de possession en Himalaya indien. Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2001. ——. “Hostile witnesses, judicial interactions and out-of-court narratives in a north Indian district court.” Contributions to Indian Sociology 44, 3 ( 2010): 235–263. Chang, Yanrong. “Courtroom questioning as a culturally situated persuasive genre of talk.” Discourse & Society 15, 6 (2004): 705–722. Das, Sukla. Crime and Punishment in Ancient India. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1977. Fuller, Christopher. “Hinduism and Scriptural Authority in Modern Indian Law.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 30, 2 (1988): 225–248. Galanter, Marc. “Hinduism, Secularism, and the Indian Judiciary.” Philosophy East and West 21, 4 (1971): 467–487. Symposium on Law and Morality: East and West. Galey, Jean-Claude. “Souveraineté et justice dans le Haut-Gange. La fonction royale audelà des écoles juridiques et du droit coutumier.” In Différences, valeurs et hiérarchies. Textes offerts à Louis Dumont, edited by Jean-Claude Galey, 371–417. Paris: EHESS, 1994.

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Gold, Ann Grodzins. “Spirit Possession Perceived and Performed in Rural Rajasthan.” Contributions to Indian Sociology 22 (1988): 35–63. Google “The Laws of Manu translated by George Bühler,” last modified August 9, 2011, http://oaks.nvg.org/pv6bk4.html. Granoff, Phyllis. “Justice and Anxiety: False Accusations in Indian Fiction.” Rivista di Studi Sudasiatici LXXXIII, (2010): 377–399. Jacob, Robert. “Le serment des juges.” In Le Serment, edited by Raymond Verdier, 439–457. Paris: CNRS, 1991, 2 vols. McKillop, Bron. “Anathomy of a French Murder Case.” The American Journal of Comparative Law (45, 3, 1997): 527–583. Renou, Louis. L’Inde fondamentale. Edited by Charles Malamoud. Paris: Hermann, 1978. Sen, Ronojoy. Articles of Faith. Religion, Secularism, and the Indian Supreme Court. New Delhi: OUP, 2010. Stephen, J. Fitzjames. A History of the Criminal Law of England. London: Routledge, 1996. Originally published in 1883. Whitman, Q. James. The Origins of Reasonable Doubt. Theological Roots of the Criminal Trial. Yale: Yale University Press, 2008. Court Judgements Bai Kashi vs Jamnadas Mansukh Raichand. Bombay High Court 5 March, 1912. Harpal Kaur vs Balbir Singh. High Court of Punjab and Haryana, 23 April 2001. Maruti Shripati Dubal vs State Of Maharashtra. Bombay High Court, 25 September 1986. Rahmat Ullah And Khatoon Nisa vs State Of Uttar Pradesh. And Ors. High Court of Allahabad (Lucknow Bench) 15 April, 1994. Shyam Narayan Singh and Ors. vs State of Bihar. High Court of Judicature at Patna 1 August, 2011. Siriya @ Shri Lal vs State of Madhya Pradesh. Supreme Court 13 March 2008. State of Gujarat vs Sailendrabhai Damodarbhai Shah and 2 Ors. High Court of Gujarat at Ahmedabad, 28 October 2009. The State Of Punjab vs Kulwinder Singh. Punjab-Haryana High Court 5 July, 2005. State Of Kerala vs Poothala Aboobacker @ Babu. High Court of Kerala at Ernakulam 24 August, 2006. V.S. Velayutha Pandaram vs S. Suryamurthi Pillai. High Court of Madras, 6 December 1940. Zahira Habibullah Sheikh & Anr vs State Of Gujarat & Ors. Supreme Court of India, 8 March, 2006.

Part two

Dealing with sin

After Sinning: Some Thoughts on Remorse, Responsibility, and the Remedies for Sin in Indian Religious Traditions Phyllis Granoff Introduction: Sinners All In many Indian texts sin is depicted as an unavoidable consequence of being human. It hangs about us all as our distinctively unpleasant human odor, something that we bring with us when we are born and that distinguishes us from those more virtuous beings who have been reborn as gods.1 The focus of this paper will be a detailed discussion of two early texts, the Mahābhārata, and the Buddhist Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra. This introduction reviews attitudes towards sin in a wide range of literary and religious texts of all of India’s classical religions, composed over across a wide expanse of time. Sin, its nature and its consequences, were central issues for the earliest of Indian religions and remained so well into the modern period, when a new religion, Christianity, sought to challenge traditional Indian beliefs. While an exhaustive discussion of sin in India’s three classical religions, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, is not possible, this broad survey is intended to highlight some of the more important issues that sin raised. I begin with a well-known section of the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, which belongs to the early stratum of Brahmanic literature. It is about the birth of Rudra, “the Cry-Baby”. Rudra explains to the God Prajāpati that he is crying because he has been born with sin. He asks Prajāpati to give him a name, and the author of the text explains that this is why people in fact give all newborn babies a name, to remove their sins.2 We shall see that the situation is not always so simple; named or not named, humans continue throughout their lives to sin. Sin comes in many forms; it may be a ritual infraction or a moral failure.3 It affects equally those who attempt to 1 I have argued this in the paper I first prepared for the conference, “The Stench of Sin: Reflections from Jain and Buddhist Texts”, Etudes Asiatiques, 65, no. 1 (2011): 45–65. 2 Śatapatha Brāhamaṇa, vol. 3 (Delhi: Gian Publishing House, 1987), 1432. 3 See for example Wilhelm Gampert, Die Sühnezeremonien in der Altindischen Rechtsliteratur (Prag: Orientalisches Institut, 1939) and Jan Gonda, “Prajāpati and Prāyaścitta”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Institute 1 (1983): 32–54. There is considerable discussion in

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be scrupulous in observing their religious and social duties and common criminals, whose minds are directed towards less lofty pursuits. In one of the most famous plays in Sanskrit literature, Bhavabhūti’s Uttararāmacarita, “The Later History of Rāma”, we meet no less a noble sinner than the celebrated hero of the Rāmāyaṇa, King Rāma. As the play opens, we find Rāma attempting to console his grieving wife Sītā, whose father is about to depart for his own kingdom. The scene prefigures the more momentous loss and the utter despair that she will soon experience. It also tells us something about the inevitability of sin, even in the lives of the great. Sītā is filled with sorrow at the departure of her father King Janaka, who is returning home after a short visit. Rāma reminds Sītā that her father has his duties to perform; the high-caste householder is not free to do as he pleases. His day is taken up with the many rites that he must carry out and he must do them all and do them properly or some ritual infraction, some sin will result. His is a narrow path, with sins pressing in on it from every side.4 Rāma, of course, could well be speaking of himself. As every reader of the Rāmāyaṇa knows, Rāma abandons the innocent and pregnant Sītā, and in this play Rāma will be consumed both by his grief at losing her and his consciousness that in abandoning her he has done a grave wrong. Some of his subjects did not believe that Sītā had remained chaste when she was the captive of the evil Rāvaṇa. To them she was not fit to be their queen. Rāma understood that it was his kingly duty to please all his subjects (I.42). All the previous kings in his lineage had been universally loved and respected by the people, and now this hateful rumor about Sītā is threatening for the first time to destroy that unique harmony between ruler and subjects (1.45). In an effort to carry out what he understood to be his kingly duties, Rāma abandons Sītā. Throughout the play Rāma castigates himself for this heartless act; he calls himself a sinner, a vile outcaste, an evil person devoid of any trace of compassion.5 The specific self-accusation, that he has committed an act unworthy of himself, an act that even a low-caste cāṇḍāla would commit, helps us the scholarly literature on the appropriateness of the use of the term “sin” in the Indian context. In a recent letter to me Professor Wezler reminded me of the many articles by H.W. Bodewitz on the subject, published in the Indo-Iranian Journal, for example, “Sins and vices: their enumerations and specifications in the Veda”, Indo-Iranian Journal 50, no. 4 (2007): 317–339. I have dealt with this question in the introduction, and several chapters in this volume return to it. 4 Bhavabhūti, Uttararāmacarita, ed. G.K. Bhat (Surat: The Popular Publishing House, 1965). kimtv anuṣṭhānanityavaṃ svātantryam apakarṣati/saṃkaṭā hyāhitāgnīnāṃ pratyavāyair gṛhasthatā. 1.8. 5 1.48–49; 2.10; 2.28; 6.42.



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to understand the framework within which the play understands Rāma’s sin. We shall see below that some texts describe two emotional states that were intended to prevent a person from sinning: shame, which includes the unwillingness to do an act unworthy of one’s caste or station, and fear of adverse consequences, which includes fear of public censure. In this play, Rāma is caught between these two. He acts out of fear of public censure, and thereby avoids the one sin, but this forces him to commit an act that he feels is unworthy of himself, and he thus commits a different sin. It is almost as if in banishing Sītā, Rāma has demonstrated the truth of his earlier words: the householder who would strive to carry out his duties is threatened by sin on every side. There is no easy way to avoid it. Nonetheless the play ends happily, and we can conclude that there are means to deal with the consequences of sin, even if it takes a miracle, as it does in the final moments of this drama.6 If in this play Rāma is the high born and high-minded wrongdoer, whose story teaches us something about the universality of sinning, the Jain tradition does the same through the example of a very different type of character, a comic low-life figure. This is the thief Rauhiṇeya, who is ultimately made to admit publicly what we already know: that he, like the rest of us, cannot escape sin. The 13th century Prabuddharauhiṇeya is a farce with a serious message.7 It describes the antics of this thief Rauhiṇeya, who is so wicked that he grabs absolutely everything that he desires for himself, jewels, money, and even women. The setting is the city Rājagṛha, where the righteous king Śreṇika, a follower of the Jina Mahāvīra, reigns. Rauhiṇeya’s only contact with the Jain doctrine has been to hear a few words of a sermon by Mahāvīra. His father had warned him against listening to the Jina preach, and until one fateful moment he had followed

6 The strategy that the play employs to deal with Rāma’s sin is one that we shall meet again. It denies in general the meaningfulness of human agency, stressing in its place the role of fate and the random turns of fortune that are the essence of human life (1.41; 1.45; 3.20; 3.32). The role of human agency is one of the key issues of early Indian religious texts, particularly the Mahābhārata. In its later form the discussion is enlarged to include the question of divine responsibility for otherwise incomprehensible tragedies. See Phyllis Granoff, “The Mausala Parvan, Between Story and Theology”, Études Asiatiques 62, no. 2 (2008): 545–562, and “Karma, Curse or Divine Illusion: The Destruction of the Buddha’s Clan and the Slaughter of the Yadavas,” in Epic and Argument in Sanskrit Literary History: Essays in Honor of Robert P. Goldman, ed. Sheldon Pollock (Delhi: Manohar, 2010), 75–91. 7 Like many Jain stories, this story had a long history and was told and retold many times. For an earlier version see Ācārya Nemicandra, Ākhyānikamaṇikośa with its 12th century commentary of Āmradeva, ed. Muni Shri Punyavijayaji (Varanasi: Prakrit Text Society, 1962), 127–129, where the story is told to illustrate the benefits of hearing the Jain teaching.

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his father’s advice. But one day, as Mahāvīra was preaching, Rauhiṇeya chanced to come upon the Jina and his assembly. He desperately tried to plug his ears with his fingers as he walked by the group. As luck would have it, in his hurry he failed to notice a thorn in his path and stepped on it. He knew it was dangerous for him to unstop his ears, so first he tried to extract the thorn with his teeth. When this failed, there was nothing left for him to do but to take his fingers out of his ears just long enough to pull out the thorn. In those few seconds he caught a few lines of Mahāvīra’s teachings. One would have thought that the teaching he received was not particularly enlightening or useful; he heard Mahāvīra describe the appearance of the gods. But these few words will save the thief. As the play progresses, Rauhiṇeya is caught, but although the king wants to sentence him to death, his son Abhayakumāra reminds him that this would be breaking the law. A thief can only be sentenced if he is caught redhanded with the stolen goods or if he confesses. Abhayakumāra was celebrated in Jain story literature for his cleverness, and now he devises a ruse to make the thief admit his guilt. He gets Rauhiṇeya drunk and surrounds him with beautiful women and song and dance to make him think that he is in heaven. He then has someone instruct Rauhiṇeya about the rules of this heaven. A new arrival must give a full account of his good and bad deeds. His mind clouded with drink, Rauhiṇeya still has enough of his wits about him to realize that a scoundrel like himself would not be very likely to have ended up in heaven, and then he recalls the words of Mahāvīra. The dancers and musicians around him, he concludes, look nothing like the gods as Mahāvīra described them. Their garlands are withering and their feet touch the ground. He realizes that he has been tricked. When he is asked again by the king’s officer to recite all his good and bad deeds, he insists that he has done only pious acts. The officer replies that it is simply not possible for a person never to sin. By their very nature human beings all share this much: from their previous births they bring with them deeply ingrained propensities for wrong doing that eventually will manifest themselves in the commission of sinful acts. In other words, to be human is to have the mental makeup that guarantees that we will at some time do wrong. In the end Rauhiṇeya is granted immunity and confesses. He takes refuge in the Jina. As the play concludes, the king praises Rauhiṇeya, congratulating him for the fact that in finding his way to faith in the Jina, he has washed away all his sins.8 Rauhiṇeya has shown us both 8 Prabuddharauhiṇeyam, ed. Muni Punyavijaya (Bhavanagar: Ātmānanda Sabhā, 1917), act 6.20, bhavābhyāsonmīlatkaluṣapaṭalacchannamanasāṃ svabhāvenaikena vrajati nṛṇām



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that he is human and therefore not without sin, and that there is a way out of this universal human predicament. If these two disparate examples may be taken as a guide, we may conclude indeed that sinning is part of being human. But there are constraints that should help us not to sin, as well as things that we can do if those constraints fail. We might take the comments in the Buddhist Devadhammajātaka, alluded to above, as a typical description of the kind of internal constraints that were supposed to operate to prevent a person from sinning. The Jātaka contains a verse praising those “who shrink from sin out of a sense of disgust and a fear of bad consequences”. The term for “shrinking from sin out of a sense of disgust” is hiri, or hrī, while the term I have translated as fear of retribution is ottappa or avatāpa.9 The sub-commentary explains that hiri can be defined as lajjā, “embarrassment” or “shame”, while ottappa is to be understood as fear of adverse consequences. Together these two emotions should prevent a person from sinning. The text further explains “hiri” with a graphic analogy: just as a decently brought up person, while urinating or defecating, might see the urine or feces and feel disgusted, so should a person look on sin. The following simile then is given: imagine two iron balls; one is cold and smeared with excrement, while the other is glowing hot. A wise person would feel disgust at the sight of the cold shit-covered ball and would not touch it. He would not touch the hot ball for fear of being burned. This sense of disgust is what is meant by hiri, while fear of adverse consequences is like the fear of getting burned by the hot iron ball. In a further elaboration we learn that hiri involves a sense that an action is unworthy of oneself, and this can be for a number of reasons. Thus a person might think to himself, “Such a deed is unworthy of a person like myself, born in a high caste. It is something that a low caste person, like a fisherman might do.” In this way, realizing that such an act is beneath him, a person abstains from sins like taking life. Or a person might think to himself, “This is something a child might do, not an adult, something a coward might do, not a person of valor; something a fool might do, not a wise person.”10 Thoughts such as these give rise to hiri, and hiri in turn prevents a person from sinning. Hiri is described as an emotional state that has the self as its cause, and I would suggest that it is something close to what we janmani tataḥ parastrīsaṅgānyadraviṇaharaṇadyūtakaraṇaprābhṛtyācīrṇam yatkucaritam api svaṃ kathaya tat. 9 The Jātaka Together with Its Commentary, ed. V. Fausboll, vol. 1 (Oxford: Pali Text Society, 1990), 129. 10 Jātaka, 130.

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might call a sense of self-respect. On the other hand, ottappa has to do with fear, which is here described as a fear of censure from the community. The two things that prevent a person from sinning, then, are a sense of self-respect, knowing that an act is unworthy of oneself and shrinking from it with a sense of disgust, and secondly, fear of losing the respect of others.11 The examples of fear in the sub-commentary to the Devadhammajātaka focus on fear of the social consequences of doing wrong. The wrong-doer is a monk, and he fears that his wrong doing will invite the scorn of the leaders of society or even the gods, who may see him sin. We are reminded of the Vinaya literature and its concern to protect the monastic community from criticism.12 In other texts fear is something more universally applicable; it is fear of a bad rebirth, of the karmic consequences of sin. Fear of bad rebirths is universal in Indian religions. The Śvetāmbara Jain Vipāka Sūtra and the Buddhist Petavatthu, to name just one text from each of these traditions, illustrate the terrible consequences of sin by describing in graphic detail the horrific rebirths that result. Similarly, the Mahābhārata contains numerous verses on fear in all its dimensions as the single-most important factor in keeping people from sinning: Some refrain from sinning out of fear of being punished by the king; others out of fear of being punished by Yama, the lord of Death; still others refrain from sin out fear of what will be in the next world, and even from fear of each other (12.15.5–6).13

11 Jātaka, 129–131. I have explored the use of shit as a metaphor for sin in “The Stench of Sin”, (see note 1). This passage from the Devadhammajātaka caught the attention of early interpreters of Buddhism. Reginald Stephen Copleston, Buddhism, Primitive and Present in Magadha and in Ceylon (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1892), 359–362, discussed it in some detail. I believe he missed the sense of the analogy; he interpreted the term “something to feel disgusted by”, urine and feces in my paraphrase, as “A person towards whom modesty is due”. In other words, the person urinating or defecating has been caught in the act. He also described the person unwilling to take the cold ball covered in shit as doing so out of a “sense of modesty towards one’s self ”. This strikes me as missing the point. There is abundant evidence in the texts that sin is like shit, something from which one should turn away in disgust. 12 The same concern is apparent in the Jain monastic rules, for example the Bṛhatkal­ pasūtra and its commentaries. See my paper, “Protecting the Faith: Exploring the Concerns of Jain Monastic Rules,” Journal of Jain Studies (forthcoming). 13 12,015.005a rājadaṇḍabhayād eke pāpāḥ pāpaṃ na kurvate 12,015.005c yamadaṇḍabhayād eke paralokabhayād api 12,015.006a parasparabhayād eke pāpāḥ pāpaṃ na kurvate On fear in general as the motivation for religious acts see Jonathan Geen, “Knowledge of Brahman as a Solution to Fear in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa/Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad,” Journal of Indian Philosophy 35 (2007): 33–102.



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In contrast to this general agreement about what might prevent us from sinning, there was a tremendous range of opinion in Indian religious texts about what happens to a sinner after the sin has been committed, and what, if anything, the sinner should feel and do.14 Neither across religious boundaries nor within a given tradition is it possible to find a consensus about what should happen internally, in the mind of the sinner. Should the sinner feel remorse for his or her sin? Is awareness of sin a necessary part of the process of expiation? There is also no agreement about remedies to mitigate the consequences of a sin. Should the sinner perform a penance? Should a sinner undertake a particular vow? Should the sinner go on a pilgrimage? Give gifts to the Brahmins? Renounce the world and become a monk or nun? Or must karma work itself out, inexorably leading to the torments of hell and undesirable rebirth? Indeed, I would argue that the question of sin and what to do about it was one of the central questions if not the central question in medieval Indian religions. It was so important that new religious developments could present themselves as superior to existing beliefs and practices simply on the grounds that they provided the best (or the only) means to eradicate sin. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa, chapter 6.1, illustrates this point. It tells the story of the sinful Brahmin Ajāmila.15 Ajāmila has fallen for a prostitute, and in his lust for her he has abandoned every semblance of decency. Like many sinners in Indian religious texts, his sinfulness is total; he stops at nothing. He even turns to gambling and thieving. The only vestige of his former life that never deserts him is his love for his youngest son. He constantly thinks of this child with love. It is Ajāmila’s good fortune that the name of this son happens to be Nārāyaṇa, which is also the name of Viṣṇu or Kṛṣṇa, the supreme God of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. Ajāmila is so besotted with his mistress that he does not even notice that his death is near. One day, as he focuses his thoughts on his beloved son Nārāyaṇa, he beholds three terrifying figures, noose in hand, coming to get him. In a loud voice he calls out to his son, who is playing somewhere else, “Nārāyaṇa!” And that one act alone is enough to save him from the messengers of Death 14 There is a general consensus that something can be done about sin, although there are exceptions to this statement. In Buddhism and Jainism the icchāntikas and abhavyas sometimes seem beyond redemption, and there are indications in Hindu texts that some sinners are simply born evil and remain evil. In the Oriya Rāmāyaṇa of Balarāma Dāsa, for example, Rāvaṇa has been born under an evil star and to a demon mother. His nature is thoroughly evil and he cannot do anything other than evil. The Uttarakāṇḍa deals with Rāvaṇa’s birth and his evil acts. 15 The Bhāgavatamahāpurāṇam, vol. 2 (Delhi: Nag Publishers, 1987).

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who had come to take him to hell. At once he sees heavenly figures, all attired in golden robes, wearing crowns; each one is four-armed, an exact look-alike of the God Nārāyaṇa, whose servants they are and who has sent them to bring Ajāmila to heaven. The story of Ajāmila is told to illustrate that the only religious act that can eradicate sin with its root cause, ignorance, is the act that is promoted by the Bhāgavata purāṇa: calling out the name of God. The story is prefaced in the text by a series of questions and answers about sin and its consequences. The discussion opens with King Parīkṣit asking the sage Śuka how a person can avoid going to hell if he has sinned. Śuka first replies with a viewpoint that we will meet again in the Mahābhārata and that was standard in the law books or Dharmaśāstras: it is necessary to perform a ritual of atonement (prāyaścitta) for a sin before one dies. Just as a doctor examines the cause of a disease and then prescribes a remedy, so must a person examine the gravity of his or her sin and then proceed to perform the appropriate ritual of expiation for it (6.1.8). The king is not entirely satisfied with this answer. It seems to him that ritual expiation is useless; we are constantly sinning in our daily lives, and as soon as we expiate one sin, we commit another. Expiation, he says, is like the proverbial bath of an elephant—a waste of time. The elephant gets out of the water only to smatter itself with mud all over again (6.1.10)! Śuka agrees; ritual means to remove sin are only temporary expedients. They cannot remove Sin writ large, but only this or that sin that we have committed. This is because the root cause of sin, ignorance, remains, and the only remedy for ignorance is knowledge (6.1.11). Nonetheless, Śuka goes on to suggest that various practices that are associated with ascetics, such as control over the senses, celibacy, and austerities, on the one hand, and certain rituals that are associated with householders, such as observing the rules of purity, and gift-giving to the Brahmins, on the other hand, can lead to the eradication of even major sins, just as fire can rip through a bamboo grove (6.1.14). But they, too, are limited in their efficacy. There is only one means to be rid of sin, all sin, forever. Śuka tells Parīkṣit that there are a lucky few in this world who can get rid of their sin entirely and permanently, along with its root cause. They are the ones who are devoted to Kṛṣṇa, and it is their faith in Kṛṣna that destroys their sins, just as the sun completely dispels a foggy mist (6.1.15). Śuka’s point is clear: the religion of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is ultimately superior to all other religious practices and doctrines because it offers the only way to get rid of sin forever. It is superior to the religion of the



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Law Books, with their penances; it is superior to ascetic practices and to the purāṇic rituals of expiatory gifts. The way to measure a religion, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa tells us, is in its ability to deal with sin. The logic of this passage reminds us of the strategy that an early Indian philosophical school employed to prove its own superiority over other doctrines and techniques to eradicate suffering. The Sāmkhya kārikā opens with a statement of why the doctrine that it will describe is needed: it is the only means to eradicate suffering completely. Other remedies may exist, but like the remedies for sin that Śuka has rejected, they are only partial remedies. They may remove one experience of suffering, but another will inevitably occur.16 The Bhāgavata Purāṇa uses the language of sin rather than suffering, but it too is talking about suffering, for it was the fear of the painful consequences of sin, hell and bad rebirths, that had prompted the discussion of sin to begin with. The goal of liberation from suffering, the ultimate religious goal, has here become defined as the total eradication of the sins that cause suffering. There could be no clearer statement of the importance of sin in Indian religious discourse. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa is not alone in advertising its practices as the true means to eradicate sin. It is a common theme in Indian religions texts that a specific ritual or a visit to a specific holy place will be praised as the sole means to eradicate sin. In the Rāmāyaṇa Uttarakāṇḍa Rāma wants to hold a major sacrifice. What first comes to his mind is the royal sacrifice, the rājasūya. But he is persuaded instead to hold the aśvamedha, which he is told is the best of all rituals because it has the ability to purify the sacrificer from even the most heinous of sins. In the past it had purified the god Indra of the sin of killing a Brahmin, when he had slain Vṛtra, who was troubling the gods.17 All the purāṇic Māhātmyas glorifying pilgrimage sites present their site as the place where the pilgrim is freed from sin. On the Buddhist side, to take only one example, the Mahāyāna Guṇakāraṇdavyūha Sūtra describes the hearing of the text and the practice of the poṣadha vow that it advocates as the means to eradicate even the most heinous of sins.18 The measure of the superiority of a ritual, a text, or a doctrine lies in its ability to deal with sin.

16 Sāmkhyatattvakaumudī, ed. M.M. Patkar, Har Dutt Sharma, with English translation of Ganganath Jha (Poona: Oriental Book Agency, 1965), Kārikā 1. 17 Rāmāyaṇa, Uttarakāṇḍa, (Mumbai: Gujarati Printing Press, 1920), chapters 84–86. 18 Guṇakāraṇdavyūhasūtra text on GRETIL based on the edition by Lokesh Chandra (New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1999), 62.

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The Bhāgavata Purāṇa story of Ajāmila tells us something else about its view of the means to deal with sin and the fear of hell. Recognition of oneself as a sinner and remorse for sins committed are irrelevant. But this is only one view; there were as many opinions about the nature and role of remorse as there were about the types and usefulness of external acts that could be done to ward off the karmic consequences of sin. If we begin with Buddhism, we see that the Bodhicaryāvatāra in its formulas for confession of sins describes the sinner as stricken with remorse, paścāttāpena tāpitaḥ. 2.29. While “remorse” seems a natural translation for paścāttāpa, in his commentary Prajñākaramati chooses to explain this as occasioned by the fact that the person in question knows well that there are consequences of sin, for example, the painful torments a sinner must endure when he or she is reborn in hell.19 Remorse, here, is surely a form of emotional suffering, as the verb tāpita makes clear, but we might also think of it as inseparable from a state of intense fear or even terror in the face of the retribution that is to come. In some cases, fear alone seems to dominate the emotions of the sinner. The eighth chapter of the Śikṣāsamuccaya deals with the purification of sin. It mentions the Sukārikāvadāna, “The Story of the Sow”, which is story number 14 in the Divyāvadāna.20 As the story opens, we see a god rolling on the ground and piteously lamenting. He has seen the signs that his merit is exhausted and he knows that now his sojourn in heaven is ending and he must be reborn elsewhere as a consequence of the ripening of his previous sins. Indra asks him why he is so distressed, and he replies that seven days hence he will be reborn in the womb of a sow.21 The god is terrified of being reborn in such a repulsive animal birth and terrified ye śrutvedaṃ mahāyānasūtrarājaṃ subhāṣitam / triratnaśaraṇaṃ gatvā caranti poṣadhaṃ vratam // teṣāṃ sarvāṇi pāpāni paṃcānantaryakānyapi / niḥśeṣaṃ parinaṣṭāni bhaviṣyanti sadā bhave // 19 paścāttāpeneti akuśalakarmaṇo narakādau duḥkhavipākaśravaṇāt // Text on GRETIL from the edition of P.L. Vaidya (Darbhanga: Mithila Institute, 1960, Buddhist Sanskrit Texts 12). More literally, “because it is taught in the texts that bad deeds result in painful consequences that are endured in rebirths like those in hell, etc.” 20 Śikṣāsamuccaya, ed. Cecil Bendall (‘S-Gravenhage: Mouton& Co., 1957), 177. Divyāva­ dāna, ed. P.L. Vaidya (Darbhanga: Mithila Institute, 1959), 120–122. 21 It is not impossible that this little humorous story is making another, sharper point. One of the famous early incarnations or avatāras of Viṣṇu is as the boar. While the incarnation is more often called a varāha, it is also called a sūkara or pig. Perhaps we should read this brief avadāna as a sarcastic jibe at the Vaiṣṇava doctrine of incarnations. This might help explain its longevity and the importance it is accorded in a text like the Śikṣāsamuccaya.



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of dying. Indra instructs him to take refuge in the Buddha, the Buddhist doctrine and the community of renunciants. He does so and is reborn in Tuṣita Heaven. There is no mention of remorse, only of fear. Buddhaghosa, the 6th century commentator on many of the Buddhist texts preserved in Pali, describes a similar reaction to his impending fall from heaven on the part of a far more famous god in his commentary to the Sakkapanhasutta, “Questions of the God Indra”, in the Dīghanikāya, II.8. The Sutta opens with a statement that the God Indra was extremely anxious to see the Buddha. Buddhaghosa raises the question why Indra should suddenly feel such an intense need to be with the Buddha. After all, he is described in so many texts as being in the Buddha’s presence that he must have had countless opportunities to hear the teaching. Why all of a sudden in this text is he so anxious to find the Buddha? The answer is that Indra was so eager to see the Buddha and receive religious instruction because he realized that his stay in heaven was coming to an end. Aware that the merit he had accumulated in the past was small, he was seized with fear, with abject terror at his unknown future rebirth. He realized that only the Buddha would be able to remove the thorn of sorrow from his heart and thus was eager to find the Buddha. Here the “thorn” in his heart is his grief at having to give up the pleasures of heaven and reap the consequences of his sins; there is no question of remorse, only fear.22 While these two stories emphasize fear, a blend of remorse and fear is also to be found in a wide range of Indian religious texts. For example, in one biography of the Jina Pārśvanātha, when the Jina’s adversary Kaṭha fails in his attacks against him, it is fear that motivates him to throw himself on the mercy of the Jina. He is terrified of an immediate consequence, namely that the supernatural protector of the Jina will attack him, and of the more remote karmic consequences of his acts. As he begs Pārśvanātha to protect him, Kaṭha describes himself as “frightened of falling into hell”, pātaśaṅkita (9.3.293 ). Then, we are told, filled with remorse, “sānutāpa,” he retreats from the scene (9.3.294). It is difficult to separate out the penitent’s feelings of guilt from his feelings of fear in such a description.23 As we shall see below, Yudhiṣṭhira in the Mahābhārata suffers from remorse over the slaughter of his relatives in the great war, and his remorse is also

22 The text and commentary are on line Tipitika.org. The passage in the commentary is section 344. 23 Hemacandra, Triṣaṣtiśalākāpuruṣacaritam, Navamaparvan, ed. by Munirāja Śrīcaraṇa­ vijayajī Mahārāja (Ahmedabad: Kalikālasarvajña ŚrīHemacandrācārya Navama Janmaśatābdi Smṛti Saṃskāra Śikṣaṇanidhi, 2006,) 9.3.291–294, page 189.

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inseparable from the terrible fear of going to hell that grips him. And we shall see that the Buddhist king Ajātaśatru similarly suffers from a combination of terror and remorse.24 Remorse alone may be highly valued in some religious texts. In some Buddhist stories it was even said to lead directly to Enlightenment. The Pānīya Jātaka, 459, begins with the story of two farmers who have gone to their fields, taking with them their water pots. They put their pots down and went about their work. Thirsty, one of the two decided to save up his own water and so he drank stealthily from his friend’s pot. But then he was horrified by his deed. In the words of the story, “He thought to himself, ‘This thirst, if it is allowed to grow, will cause me to fall into a bad rebirth. I must put an end to this sin.’ And taking his drinking of the water by theft as the object of his meditation, he perfected his concentration and achieved the Enlightenment of a Pratyekabuddha.”25 Other examples of sinners follow, and in every case they experience remorse for what they have done and achieve Enlightenment. The sins are various, from lusting after another man’s wife to a ruler’s allowing his subjects to carry out blood sacrifices to a goddess. The text in some cases tells us explicitly that the sinner was stricken with remorse, kaukṛtya. In the summary verses, each sinner expresses disgust for his sin and the resolve never to sin again. Here, remorse (kaukṛtya) and disgust (vijigucchiṃ) in the wake of a sin committed lead to the achievement of the Supreme Knowledge of a Pratyekabuddha.26 It is noteworthy that these sinners do not experience any retribution for their sins in this story; to the contrary, the very remorse that the sins occasion becomes the means for the sinner

24 Indian religious literature is not unique in linking remorse and fear. A text that missionaries would later translate into many Indian languages, Pilgrim’s Progress, emphasizes that an awareness of sin is accompanied by “fears and doubts”. Pilgrim’s Progress, ed. Roger Pooley (London: Penguin Books, 2008), 18. The close combination of remorse and fear torments many a Western literary heroine. Gwendolen, the heroine of George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, is as much stricken with remorse over the fact that she has violated her promise to her husband’s former lover and married him nonetheless, as she is gripped by an irrational fear that her husband will discover her communications with the woman. The Angst that Stefan Zweig’s heroine feels after her brief act of adultery in the novelette of that name is as much a fear of being discovered as it is a sense of guilt. 25 That is, he did not rely on the assistance of a teacher but achieved liberating insight on his own. 26 Jātaka, 459, 4.11.6, Pali Tipika, http://www.tipitika.org. kukkuccaṃ katvā vātapānaṃ nissāya ṭhitakova vipassanaṃ vaḍḍhetvā paccekabodhiñāṇaṃ nibbattetvā sa kevalaṃ pāpakarmā yaḥ paścāttāpaparo na bhavet.ākāse ṭhito mahājanassa dhammaṃ desetvā nandamūlaka­pabbhārameva gato tena pacchā vijigucchiṃ, taṃ pāpaṃ pakataṃ mayā; mā puna akaraṃ pāpaṃ, tasmā pabbajito ahaṃ.



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to achieve release. The commentary to the Bodhicaryāvatāra has a long quote from the Caturdharmaka Sūtra, which lists remorse and confession together as the first of four means to conquer sin.27 This suggests that the view of the Pānīya Jātaka was widespread. Jain didactic story collections often place a high value on repentance.28 The Ākhyānikamaṇikośa, which was composed by Śrī Nemicandrasūri between 1073–1083 ce, makes brief references to stories that are then told in full in the commentary of Āmradevasūri, written in 1134 ce. There is a section of stories on the merits of confession, which leads to the achievement of Omniscience. Conversely, another group of stories teaches the dire consequences of not confessing wrong doings.29 The importance of repentance and formal confession is only one of the themes of the Ākhyānikamaṇikośa, but the Kuvalayamālā, a Prakrit poem written in the 8th century by Uddyotanasūri, may be read in its entirety as an exploration into the nature of sin and a demonstration of the salvific value of repentance. It too places a high value on remorse. In the poem we meet a group of sinners who all ultimately feel remorse for their sins and seek a way to expiate them. They become Jain monks. In the course of their stories we learn that the various means to eradicate sin that other religious groups propose are of no use. The penances that the Brahmins prescribe are said to be worthless. Some of the sinners in despair even attempt to commit suicide, but they are prevented from doing so. All the sinners are fortunate in the end to find a Jain monk who enlightens them. They learn that the means to eradicate sin is through remorse and then renunciation.30 When, even after they have become monks, the sinners

27 Bodhicaryāvatāra, commentary on 5.98, caturbhirmaitreya dharmaiḥ samanvāgato bodhisattvo mahāsattvaḥ kṛtopacitaṃ pāpamabhibhavati/katamaiścaturbhiḥ? yaduta vidūṣaṇāsamudācāreṇa. 28 Repentance becomes such an important ritual for lay Jains that its proper performance later became the focus of intense sectarian conflict. See Paul Dundas, “Textual Authority in Ritual Procedure: The Śvetāmbara Jain Controversy over Īryāpathikīpratikramaṇa”, Journal of Indian Philosophy (forthcoming) and Colette Caillat, Atonements in the Ancient Ritual of the Jaina Monks, (Ahmedabad: L.D. Instititute, 1975). 29 Ākhyānikamaṇikośa, sections 16 and 29. 30 The well-known Jain story of Kālakācārya also proposes that becoming a Jain monk is the means to eradicate sin. Kālaka proposes to the wicked king, who has abducted a Jain nun, that the king renounce the world, take the Jiṇadikkhā. See Sarabhai Nawab, Śrī Kālaka Kathāsaṃgraha (Ahmedabad: Sarabhai Nawab, 1949), 29. The language of these texts is not uninteresting in light of Jain opposition to Śaivites, in particular to their assertion that the consecration ritual, dīkṣā, removes all sin. On this see the story of Rudradatta’s beloved from the Bṛhatkathākośa of Hariṣeṇa, translated by Phyllis Granoff in The Forest of Thieves and the Magic Garden (Delhi: Penguin, 2006), 257.

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remain troubled by having done wrong in their lives, in the words of the 13th century Sanskrit prose rendition of the text they are told, “The only true sinner is the one who has no remorse for his sin.”31 The references could be multiplied; the idea that confession removes sin was to have a long history and can be found in texts from all the religious traditions. A 15th century monk-poet in his biography of the Jina Neminātha describes how the God Indra became angry when his throne shook at the birth of the Jina. Realizing that the Lord had been born, Indra confessed his wrongdoing, for, the poet explains, “A living being is freed from sin by confession to the guru.”32 The major role that confession of sins plays in both Jain lay and monastic life is further evidence of the emphasis that was placed on developing a consciousness of sin and cultivating feelings of remorse in Jainism, something that is true even among contemporary Jains.33 We have seen the importance of confession in the Buddhist Pānīya jātaka. We shall encounter similar statements in the Mahāyāna Buddhist Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, and the importance of confession in Buddhist monastic rules is well known. Perhaps as a response to the centrality of remorse in the heterodox teachings of Buddhism and Jainism, even Manu in a section that stresses external ritual penance includes a statement that public confession and remorse purify the sinner.34 But remorse, either alone or in combination with fear of karmic consequences, was not always seen to have soteriological value in Indian religious literature. In Buddhism, for example, despite the existence of stories like the Pānīya jātaka, not all sinners are depicted as expressing remorse. Aśoka in the Aśokāvadāna does not decide to abandon his violent path because he is consumed by remorse. He turns to Buddhism when he sees the miracles that the monk he has imprisoned performs. The monk flies up to the sky and performs the double miracle of shooting water from one part of his body and fire from the other. A reader of the Aśokāvadāna, who is familiar with the Aśokan edict in which the ruler expresses remorse for the slaughter he had occasioned in the conquest of Kalinga, can only

31 Uddyotanasūri, Kuvalayamālā, ed. A.N. Upadhye (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1970,) 39, sa kevalaṃ pāpakarmā yaḥ paścāttāpaparo na bhavet. 32 Kīrtiratnasūri, Nemināthamahākāvyam, ed. Dr Satyavrata (Calcutta: Agaracand Nahta, 1975 ), 5.16. In the same poem we are also told that praising the Jina removes sin, just as the sun removes darkness (6.29); sin is also eradicated by bathing the Jina (6.64). 33 John Cort, Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 122–124. 34 Mānavadharmaśāstram, ed. Viśvanātha Maṇḍalika (Mumbai: Ganapatakrsnaji, 1886), 11.227.



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be surprised by Aśoka’s conversion in the story literature.35 But Aśoka is not alone. Aṅgulimāla, one of the most famous Buddhist sinners, also has no remorse but is converted by the awesome power of the Buddha’s presence and the simple verse he utters. Remorse plays no role in his change of heart.36 The Abhidharmakośabhāṣya (2.28) regarded remorse, kaukṛtya, as essentially neutral or aniyata. When it is regret over a good action that was not done or a bad action that was done, then regret is a good thing. On the other hand, when one regrets that he has not done something wrong or regrets that he has done something good, then that regret is bad.37 More surprisingly, perhaps, in some Buddhist texts all remorse was regarded as downright wrong-headed. In the Ajātaśatrukaukṛtyavinodanā, for example, the parricide Ajātaśatru is stricken with remorse after killing his father; his remorse, even for such a grave sin, is seen by the text to be based on ignorance, on a total misunderstanding of the nature of reality. The whole point of the text is to help Ajātaśatru get over this useless response.38 The Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra also takes up the case of Ajātaśatru and argues both that he need not have any remorse over the killing of his father, and that remorse has the power to mitigate the consequences of sin. The text cites many arguments against Ajātaśatru’s need for remorse, not all of which it accepts, and some of which we shall 35 John S. Strong, The Legend of King Aśoka (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983), 216–17. Text on GRETIL A-av 51. For a translation of the edict, see S. Dhammika, The Edicts of Asoka (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1993) 10. 36 Aṅgulimāla sutta, Pali Tipitika, Majjhima nikāya, Majjhima pannāsa, rājavagga, http://www.tipitaka.org. 37 Abhidharmakośabhāṣya, ed. Swami Dwarikadas Shastri (Varanasi: Bauddha Bharati, 1970), 169–170. Nonetheless in 5.58 the text also makes clear that kaukṛtya is a hindrance to meditation because it prevents the mind from being calm. The term kaukṛtya itself deserves a full study. It can also mean improperly gesticulating with the hands or inappropriately moving the legs. This is its only meaning in Prakrit. In Pali and Sanskrit it can mean regret or remorse over something done; in the vinaya literature in both languages in can also mean something more like doubt, when a monk is unsure if what he has done is a transgression or not. Compare, for example, this monk who is unsure if he has committed a pārājika offense after having sex with a monkey, 67, “At one time a monk had sex with a she-monkey. He was in doubt, ‘The Blessed One has proclaimed the rules. Now, have I committed a pārājika offense or not?’ The Blessed One announced, ‘O monk, you surely have committed an offense, a pārājika offence.’. Tena kho pana samayena aññataro bhikkhu makkaṭiyā methunaṃ dhammaṃ paṭisevi. Tassa kukkuccaṃ ahosi—‘‘bhagavatā sikkhāpadaṃ paññattaṃ, kacci nu kho ahaṃ pārājikaṃ āpattiṃ āpanno’’ti? Bhagavato etamatthaṃ ārocesi. ‘‘Āpattiṃ tvaṃ, bhikkhu, āpanno pārājika’’ nti. Text from Pali Tipitika, http://www.tipitika.org. 38 Ajātaśatrukaukṛtyavinodanāsūtra, eds. Paul Harrison and Jens-Uwe Hartmann in Manuscripts in the Schoyen Collection, ed. Jens Braarvig (Oslo, 2000), 1. 167–218.

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see recall the arguments used to persuade another famous royal sinner, Yudhiṣṭhira in the Mahābhārata, that his remorse was out of place.39 A lengthy section of the twelfth book of the Mahābhārata centers around convincing Yudhiṣṭhira, who is also called Ajātaśatru, that he need feel no remorse over the killing of his cousins, the Kauravas, and their allies. The remorse of Yudhiṣṭhira and Ajātaśatru will be the focus of the remainder of this chapter. It is not impossible that the very idea that in some circumstances a person, particularly a king, should not have any remorse for killing may have originated with the Mahābhārata. This is suggested by a comparison of a sub-story from the great epic with two Buddhist versions of the same story in the Saṃghabhedavastu of the Mūlasarvāstivāda vinaya and the Mahāvastu.40 In this story, to which I now turn, the Mahābhārata unambiguously celebrates what it regards as the necessary violence of kingship, while in the Buddhist versions the king’s actions are regarded as problematic and bring about negative consequences for him in the future. Having suggested in the second section of this essay that the discussion of the king’s innocence is more at home in the Mahābhārata than in the Buddhist sources, in the third section I turn to the treatment of Yudhiṣṭhira’s remorse in the Mahābhārata. This is followed by a discussion of the treatment of Ajātaśatru in the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra in section four. In my conclusions I circle back to some of the themes touched upon in this introduction and point to some avenues for future research. The Story of Likhita and Śaṅkha A story of two brothers Likhita and Śaṅkha, both ascetics, is told in book twelve of the Mahābhārata.41 This book, the long Śāntiparvan, is one of the most important sources for early Indian thought on philosophy, state-

39 The Bhāratamañjarī, a later poetic rendering of the epic, lists remorse as one of many ways to get rid of sin (13.176) although like the epic itself, it seems to prefer the performance of penance as the most effective means. In one verse (13.180) the text tells us that a person should not regret not having done good deeds or having done bad deeds; he should simply carry out the appropriate penance. Satkarmaṇām akaraṇān ninditānāṃ ca sevanāt/paścāttāpam anāsādya prāyaścittaṃ naro ‘rhati//180. 40 It was later told in the Skandapurāṇa Nagarakhaṇḍa, a text composed to glorify a particular holy place in Gujarat, but I will not discuss that version here. 41 Śaṅkha and Likhita are also known as the joint authors of one of the Dharmaśāstras, now lost. On this see P.V. Kane, History of Dharmaśāstra, vol. 1 pt. 1 (Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 1968), 136–142.



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craft, and rules of behavior. As the Śāntiparvan opens we see the victorious king Yudhiṣṭhira so stricken with grief and remorse at the slaughter of his relatives in which he has taken part that he is unable to assume the duties of the kingship that he has won through the epic battle. We shall have occasion to review many of the arguments that various people put forward to convince Yudhiṣṭhira that his remorse is both unnecessary and unproductive. It is in the course of these arguments that the story of Śaṅkha and Likhita is told and its message is clear: It is the duty of kings to punish wrong doers and no sin can come from carrying out one’s duty. The story is meant to convince Yudhiṣṭhira, who is often called in these chapters by his epithet, Ajātaśatru, “The One Whose Enemy has not yet been Born”, did not sin when he caused the death of his cousins. He acted righteously in fulfilling his kingly obligations. The sage Vyāsa tells Yudhiṣṭhira that the earth swallows up a king who does not fight his enemies, just as a snake devours creatures in its hole (23.15.). He further tells him that King Sudyumna achieved the highest state by punishing wrongdoers (23.16). This leads into the story of Likhita and Śaṅkha, in which King Sudyumna appears. Likhita and Śaṅkha are exemplary ascetics. They live separately in hermitages near the river Bāhudā. One day Likhita arrives at Śaṅkha’s hermitage, only to find that Śaṅkha is not there. He plucks some ripe fruits and eats them. Śaṅkha returns and finds him contentedly munching away. He asks him where he has found the fruits and what he is doing eating them. Not thinking much of the question, Likhita smiles and greets his elder brother and then explains how he has helped himself to the fruits. Śaṅkha is furious and accuses his brother of being a thief, since he has taken the fruits without permission. He insists that Likhita go to the king and confess his sin. Likhita does just that; he appears at the king’s palace and proclaims himself to be a thief. He asks that the king punish him. When the king hears that the ascetic Likhita has come, in a gesture of utmost respect he goes on foot to meet him. Likhita explains that he had eaten some fruits that his brother had not given to him and again demands an immediate punishment. The king tells Likhita that just as the king has the authority to punish, so he has the authority to forgive. He forgives Likhita and tells him to return to his hermitage purified of sin, obedient to his ascetic vows. He then asks Likhita what boons he might offer him. Likhita insists that the only thing he wants from the king is the punishment that a thief deserves. And so the king has Likhita’s hands cut off and Likhita returns to his hermitage. In pain, he asks his brother for forgiveness. Śaṅkha replies that he is not angry and that Likhita has not

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offended him, but that they come from a stainless family and that wrong doing demands punishment. He tells Likhita to go to the river Bāhudā and make offerings to the gods, ancient sages, and ancestors. Likhita is never again even to contemplate doing wrong. He adds that these are the greatest of sins: killing a Brahmin, drinking alcohol, stealing, sleeping with the guru’s wife, and keeping company with someone who does any one of these things. Of these, he says, stealing is the worst, equal even to the sin of killing a Brahmin. The punishment for all of these must be corporal punishment. But, he says, once punished by a king, sinners are made pure and go to heaven, just like those who have done meritorious deeds.42 Śaṅkha tells Likhita that their lineage has been saved by his punishment. Likhita then goes to the river, and as soon as he plunges into its waters, his hands reappear. Amazed, he shows them to his brother, who takes credit for the miracle and says that this is the result of his ascetic powers. Likhita asks the obvious; if his brother had the power to purify him of his sin, why didn’t he do it in the first place? Why did Likhita have to go to the king and suffer the horrible punishment of having his hands cut off ? Śaṅkha replies that it is not his responsibility to punish; that is the duty of the king. As the story ends, Likhita is purified of his sin and restored to wholeness and the king is also purified in fulfilling his kingly duty. The story is retold by Kṣemendra in his Bhāratamañjarī verses 98–106. Kṣemendra has a happy Likhita return to his brother after his punishment, and the dip in the river not only restores his hands, but also stills the fire of his remorse.43 The king, a repository of glory, having exercised his lawful function, attains to those worlds that ascetics reach through their austerities. This little story tells us a number of things about sin, punishment, and in its later version, even remorse. It tells us first of all that sins must be punished and that punishment purifies a person of all sin. It also draws a clear line between two groups in society, ascetics and kings. Śaṅkha, the ascetic, in theory had the power to purify his brother of the sin of theft, but he did not have the right to do so. It is the right and the obligation of the king to do that, and in doing so both king and thief are made pure. Kṣemendra adds that the emotional consequences of a sin, the fire

42 Neither seems to be familiar with the statement that Rāma makes to the dying Vālin, that a thief is purified of his sin either by being punished by the king or by being pardoned by the king, śāsanād vāpi mokṣād vā stenaḥ pāpāt pramucyate, Rāmāyaṇa, Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa, 1.32 (Bombay: Gujarati Printing Press, 1884). 43 13.105, praśāntānuśayajvaraḥ.



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of remorse, are also removed by punishment. The moral of the story for Yudhiṣṭhira is simple: as a king, in punishing the evil Kauravas by killing them on the battlefield, he was carrying out his duty as a king and his act was not sinful, but glorious. He need have no remorse for what he did, nor should he fear any disastrous consequences. He, like Sudyumna in the story, can expect to go to heaven for his deeds.44 The same story of two brothers, ascetics, one of whom steals from the other, was also told in Buddhist sources. In the Saṃghabhedavastu of the Mūlasarvāstivāda vinaya, they are named Śaṅkha and Likhita, as they are in the Mahābhārata, while in the Mahāvastu they are called Sūrya and Candra.45 Both stories are told to explain why the Buddha’s son Rāhula had to stay in his mother’s womb for six long years. In the Saṃghabhedavastu, Likhita drinks water from his elder brother’s water pot while Śaṅkha is away from the hermitage collecting fruits and flowers. He comes back thirsty and sees that there is almost no water left in his pot. In the words of the story, Angry, he asks, “What thief stole my water?” Likhita replies, “I am the thief. Punish me.” He says, “You are my brother and my pupil. If you drank the water, well, then you are welcome to it.” He says, “Teacher, I cannot get over my feeling of remorse. Give me the same harsh punishment that would be given to any thief.” At this the sage Śaṅkha grows angry. He says, “I will not punish you. If you are so in need of punishment, go to the king.” He goes to the king, who had just set out for the hunt. He praises the king and blesses him, saying may you live long and be victorious, and then he utters this verse: “O great king, I am a thief, who drank water that had not been given to me. Give me that harsh punishment that is meted out to thieves”.46 The king replies, “There is no such thing as theft when it comes to water. Whose water did you drink anyway?” He tells him everything that happened.

44 The story reappears in the last book of the Skanda Purāṇa, where it explains the name of the river Bāhudā, “Giver of arms”, and the name of a holy site called Śaṅkha tīrtha, famous for its healing properties. There Śaṅkha is the younger brother and Likhita the older one. Śaṅkha eats the fruits in the hermitage of Likhita, who cuts off his hands. They are restored by Śiva, whom he worships. He asks that the holy place where Śiva appeared to him bear his name. Śiva says that the river will destroy sin and cure diseases (6.11). Skandapurāṇa (Delhi: Nag Publishers 1986), 12–13. 45 Śaṅkha and Likhita also appear as two sages who sages engaged in a dispute, who settle their differences in a clever way. They are reborn as the Buddha’s disciples Śāriputra and Maudgalyāyana. Their story is summarized by Kṣemendra, Avadānakalpalatā, Daśakarmaplutyavadāna 50, (Darbhanga: Mithila Institute of Post-Graduate Studies and Research in Sanskrit Learning, 1959), vol. 2, 306. 46 This verse and second verse about remorse also appear in the Mahāvastu, although the grammar is slightly different and conforms to the language of the Mahāvastu, text on GRETIL, from the edition of Émile Senart (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1882–1897), 3.172.

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phyllis granoff The king replies, “He is your brother and your teacher. Go home. You don’t deserve to be punished.” He says, “Lord, I cannot get rid of this feeling of remorse. Give me that strict punishment that is given to a thief.”

In his anger the king tells him to stand right where he is until he returns. Preoccupied with the hunt, the king leaves the sage standing there for six days. The king was Rāhula in a past birth, and as recompense for the act of making the stage stand there waiting for six days, he must stay in the womb for six years.47 The version in the Mahāvastu similarly explains Rāhula’s unnatural sojourn in the womb. Sūrya and Candra are both princes; both want to renounce the world. Candra insists that as the elder brother Sūrya must become king. He does so, but then immediately uses his authority to order Candra to assume the throne so that he can renounce the world. Sūrya makes a vow never to drink even a drop of water that has not been given to him, but one day in a moment of forgetfulness he drinks from a jar that belongs to another ascetic. He is stricken with remorse even though the other ascetics assure him that water is something that cannot be stolen. He insists he has committed a sin, though, because he had vowed never to drink water that had not been explicitly given to him. He demands that his fellow ascetics punish him as a thief. They send him to the king, his brother Candra. Candra’s son urges the king to punish his uncle, if only so that he might be free of his feelings of remorse. He keeps Sūrya confined in a grove of Aśoka trees, provided with a soft couch and delicious food. The only way he can think of to release him is to proclaim a general amnesty for all prisoners, and this he does. Sūrya, freed from his feelings of remorse (niṣkaukṛtya), returns to his hermitage. In these Buddhist versions the wrongdoer is tormented with remorse and insists on punishment. The Mahāvastu seems to recognize that a person ought not to be punished for drinking water, even water that is not in his own pot, and so the story has the ascetic take a special vow never to drink water that he has not expressly been given. This strengthens our impression that Likhita’s behavior in the Saṃghabheda is obsessive and the punishment not quite right; it also hints that the remorse for such an act was not necessary. Given that it is the remorse that must be removed by the punishment, we might even conclude that it was the sin. In any

47 The text of the Saṃghabhedavastu is on GRETIL from the edition of R. Gnoli, (Roma: Instituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, Serie Orientale Roma 49, 1977–78), part II, SBV II. 43–44.



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case, in both stories, far from being praised, something about the king’s actions is considered problematic. Particularly telling is the Mahāvastu account, in which it is the very punishment that the king metes out that leads to his later suffering, when he is reborn as Rāhula in a later birth and is confined to the womb of his mother for an unnaturally long time. If we think of the ways in which the sojourn of the fetus in the womb is described in Indian texts, as a hellish imprisonment in a stinking dark cesspool, we can understand that the king’s punishment of the sage had terrible consequences for him and was indeed seen in a very negative light.48 We have in these stories of the brothers Śaṇkha and Likhita from the Mahābhārata and the Buddhist texts two very different verdicts about the behavior of kings, the redemptive value of punishment, and the role of remorse. For the Mahābhārata the king must punish wrongdoers, and in punishing a criminal he purifies the criminal and himself. Sin is not a universal; what is a sin for one person can be a virtuous act for another. Vyāsa uses this story to demonstrate to Yudhiṣṭhira that in killing his relatives he has purified them and himself from sin. There is also no room here for remorse. If killing is a sin for others, for the king it is a religious duty. The Mahāvastu, on the other hand, makes it clear that it was wrong for the king to confine the sage, even in a pseudo-punishment of his “theft” of water. For this act, in a future rebirth the king suffers a punishment that is very much like being reborn in hell. Wielding punishment does not purify the king. It also does not purify the ‘sinner’, since the stories seem to indicate that the sinner has not really sinned at all. Even more telling is the inescapable conclusion that his sin was in fact his crippling remorse. I have spent so much time on these stories precisely because their message is so different, despite the fact that they are clearly variants of the same story. The story of Likhita and Śaṇkha presents in a condensed form the terms of some of the major debates about sin and its remedies in Indian religious texts. That a king must even kill will be central to the Mahābhārata’s treatment of Yudhiṣṭhira’s remorse. Despite the fact that the Mahāvastu version of the story clearly rejects the notion that the king is free from sin in punishing wrongdoers, this contention will appear in full force in the Mahāparnirvāṇa Sūtra’s arguments put forward to assuage Ajātaśatru’s guilty conscience. A reading of the Buddhist and the Mahābhārata versions side by side first suggested to me that the 48 For references see Granoff, “The Stench of Sin”.

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predominance of the doctrine that the king is free from sin in both texts might not have been due to coincidence; perhaps there is a real link between the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra and the Mahābhārata. In the next section I examine in detail some of the arguments in the Śāntiparvan of the Mahābhārata that are given to convince Yudhiṣṭhira that he has not sinned. My discussion of the Śāntiparvan is followed by a summary of the very similar arguments in the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra. I hope in what follows to establish that there was indeed a close connection between these two texts. At the very least, these parallels should show that debates about a concept as central as sin crossed sectarian boundaries to form part of a larger common discourse in Indian religious texts. Yudhiṣṭhira Overcomes His Remorse As the Śāntiparvan opens, the great sages come to congratulate Yudhiṣṭhira, who is now the supreme ruler over the entire world. Yudhiṣṭhira acknowledges his victory, which he says he achieved with the help of Kṛṣṇa, through the support of the Brahmins, and the skill in arms of Bhīma and Arjuna (12.1.13). But he has no pleasure in his victory. A great sorrow has entered his heart, for he has caused the destruction of his relatives in his unseemly thirst for power (12.1.14). Again and again we are told that the righteous Yudhiṣṭhira is in pain and suffering as he reflects on those who have died (12.7.1–2). Indeed, Yudhiṣṭhira curses the life of the warrior and yearns for the quiet life of the sage, who practices forbearance, self control, truth and non-violence, and who is without any feelings of hostility towards others (12.7.5–6). He fears that he will go to a terrible rebirth, having caused so much destruction (12.7.20). Yudhiṣṭhira’s desire to renounce the world in atonement for his sin is not unique. The Bṛhatkathāślokasaṃgraha, a summary of an early collection stories, begins with the account of a King Gopāla. His story is part of the cycle of stories of one of the most famous kings in early India, King Udayana.49 In his old age, Gopāla’s father Mahāsena becomes an oppressive ruler. To avoid a revolt and win over the populace to the young Gopāla, when the king dies of disease, his ministers spread the rumor that Gopāla has imprisoned his father and the king has died in jail. Suppos49 For different versions of the Udayana stories see Niti Adaval, The story of King Udayana as gleaned from Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit Sources, (Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 1970).



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edly a good act done for the sake of the subjects, this deed initially does win over the populace to Gopāla. But Gopāla comes to learn that some of his subjects take a different view and are accusing him of his father’s murder. False though it is, the accusation is too much for him to bear; he renounces the throne and becomes an ascetic to atone for the sin. Even a suspected parricide cannot rule a kingdom. The sin must be expiated.50 Yudhiṣṭhira, who has in fact killed his relatives, not unexpectedly, then, wants to renounce in expiation of his sin. He reveals this to Arjuna, (12.7.36), who is appalled, and there begins a long and concerted effort by Arjuna, Yudhiṣṭhira’s other brothers, his wife Draupadī, and the sage Vyāsa to help Yudhiṣṭhira understand that he has done nothing for which he should feel remorseful. This will continue for the next thirty chapters. There are many facets to the arguments, not all of which are always easy to understand as they have come down to us. They might be divided into two categories, which for want of better terms I call social and philosophical. The “social” arguments focus on the responsibility of Yudhiṣṭhira as a king and the very separate roles and life styles of Brahmins and Kṣatriyas, an issue with which the Mahābhārata is often concerned. Many of the arguments will be general arguments against the life style of the renouncer and in favor of the householder’s religion of sacrifice and service to the Brahmins. In this category we might also place Yudhiṣṭhira’s family responsibilities as a householder and the oldest brother. He has led his siblings into battle and now must not abandon them. There is also the question of his responsibility to his wife, whom his enemies had abused and publicly insulted. The philosophical arguments are varied and range, as we shall see, from a total denial of personal responsibility in a universe governed by fate, by karma or by God, to arguments about the imperishability of the soul. Some of the arguments use the random nature of contacts in a beginningless cycle of rebirths to deny any importance at all to specific family ties. We are all traveling willy-nilly through countless rebirths and meet each other by chance, only to go our separate ways in the next birth. It makes no sense to fret over the loss of one brother or a mother; family relationships are accidents and unstable. In what follows I consider some of the specifics of both categories of arguments. I follow the order in which they appear in the various chapters, which mingle what I have called the social and philosophical arguments.

50 Buddhasvāmin, Bṛhatkathāślokasaṃgraha, verses 1.15–84. Text on GRETIL from the edition of Félix Lacote, (Paris: E Leroux, 1908).

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Arjuna begins the effort to shake Yudhiṣṭhira from his resolve to give up the kingship and renounce the world in chapter 8, where he makes a case against the voluntary poverty of the renunciant and champions the way of the householder, who pursues wealth in order to perform sacrifices and give gifts (12.8). In chapter 12 Bhīma takes a different approach and hammers at what is one of the strongest arguments in the text. It will reappear many times in the coming chapters. Bhīma makes a valiant effort to persuade Yudhiṣṭhira that it is not a sin for a king to kill in battle. He reminds him of all the kings in the past who killed their enemies and then went to heaven. How could their acts have been sinful if they led to heaven? In the past kings always killed their enemies, for the welfare of their subjects and for their own good. If that was a sin, then why did they go to heaven and not to hell, enveloped in all their evil deeds (12.12.39–41)?51 Bhīma also reminds Yudhiṣṭhira of the lessons of the Bhagavdgītā: righteousness consists of doing one’s appointed task. Warriors are supposed to fight and die in battle, and by doing so they attain a position in heaven (12.12.35–36). In the next chapter, Sahadeva, one of the youngest brothers, strikes a more philosophical note, again reminiscent of the teachings of the Gītā. Either the soul is permanent or impermanent. If it is permanent, then nothing can destroy it and Yudhiṣṭhira has not “killed” anyone. If it is in the very nature of the soul to perish, then it perishes on its own. The warriors who died, then, died because they are impermanent and not because Yudhiṣṭhira “killed” them. In either alternative there is no possibility that one person can serve as the cause of destruction of another person. O Bhārata, if it is true that the soul of all living beings can never be destroyed, then there can be no such as “killing.” Or if it is the case that the destruction of the soul is ordained as soon as it comes into being, then when the body is destroyed, the soul too would naturally be destroyed; there is no place here either for any action (12.13.6–7).52

51 From the critical edition on GRETIL 12,[email protected]_0038 pātitāḥ śatravaḥ pūrvaṃ sarvatra vasudhādhipaiḥ 12,[email protected]_0039 prajānāṃ hitakāmaiś ca ātmanaś ca hitaiṣibhiḥ 12,[email protected]_0040 yadi tatra bhavet pāpaṃ kathaṃ te svargam āsthitāḥ 12,[email protected]_0041 na prāptā narakaṃ rājan veṣṭitāḥ pāpakarmabhiḥ 52 12,013.006a avināśo ‘sya sattvasya niyato yadi bhārata 12,013. 006c bhittvā śarīraṃ bhūtānāṃ na hiṃsā pratipatsyate 12,013.007a athāpi ca sahotpattiḥ sattvasya pralayas tathā 12,013.007c naṣṭe śarīre naṣṭaṃ syād vṛthā ca syāt kriyāpathaḥ I have taken some liberties with the translation to make the argument clearer.



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Draupadī reminds her husband of what Bhīma had said: it is the duty of kings to punish wrongdoers. “No one admires the king who will not punish wrongdoers. Such a king does not attain wealth. O Bhārata, the subjects of a king who will not punish wrongdoers do not live in peace” (12.14.13). “It is punishment that controls the subjects; it is punishment alone that protects them” (12.14.50).53

She goes on to list all the terrible things that happen if the king does not exercise his right to punish the wicked. Sacrifices, which are at the root of maintaining the world order, are destroyed; the crows eat the sacrificial cakes and dogs lick the offerings (12.14.14). In the absence of fear of punishment, the castes would mix and all the rules that govern social interactions would be abandoned (12.14.56). Punishment destroys sin (14.14 58). The king who punishes those who deserve to be punished goes to heaven (12.14.61). Yudhiṣṭhira, she says, has killed the wicked sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra and there is no sin in that, even if he had used deceitful means to accomplish his ends: O king, you killed the wicked evil-doing sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra and their followers, who had fallen away from righteousness. In slaying them you committed not even the slightest sin, O lord of the world, whether you killed them by deceit, treachery or according to the rules of war (12.14.81–84).54

Draupadī makes several points in her arguments. Yudhiṣṭhira is plagued by remorse not just because he killed his relatives, but because he killed some of them, at least, deceitfully. One of the most famous episodes in the Mahābhārata is the death of Droṇa, the preceptor. Yudhiṣṭhira tells a halflie to Droṇa, when he declares that Aśvatthāman is dead. Aśvatthāman is both the name of an elephant and the name of Droṇa’s beloved son. It is the elephant that has been slain, but Droṇa takes it to be his son, which Yudhiṣṭhira assumed he would. In his grief Droṇa lays down his arms and is easily slain. In these verses Draupadī assures Yudhiṣṭhira that it does not matter how he killed his enemies. They were wicked and it was his responsibility as king to kill them in any way he could. Yudhiṣṭhira has 53 12,014.014a nādaṇḍaḥ kṣatriyo bhāti nādaṇḍo bhūtim aśnute 12,014.014c nādaṇḍasya prajā rājñaḥ sukham edhanti bhārata 12,[email protected]_0044 daṇḍaḥ śāsti prajāḥ sarvā daṇḍa evābhirakṣati 54 12,[email protected]_0081 dharmād vicalitā rājan dhārtarāṣṭrā nipātitāḥ 12,[email protected]_0082 adhārmikā durācārāḥ sasainyā vinipātitāḥ 12,[email protected]_0083 tān nihatya na doṣas te svalpo ‘pi jagatīpate 12,[email protected]_0084 chalena māyayā vātha kṣatradharmeṇa vā nṛpa

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done no wrong. The emphasis on the wickedness of the slain enemy is an important point. We shall see that the Buddhists also had a story told to Ajātaśatru about the wickedness of Bimbisāra, his father, in an effort to ease Ajātaśatru’s conscience over the murder of an innocent man. The discussion continues with further verses on the need for punishment; Arjuna adds that it is simply the way of the world for creatures to devour each other (12.15.20). The argument then returns to the notion that the soul is eternal and cannot be slain; there is no such thing as murder (12.15.56). As a man might enter one new room and then another, so the soul enters one body after another. Leaving off one body, it takes a new one. This is what the wise call death (12.15. 57–58).55

In the next chapter, in a slightly obscure discussion, Bhīma speaks of two kinds of sickness, mental and physical, the first one born of the mind and the other born from the body. Bodily sickness can be cured by reestablishing the balance of the humors; mental sickness is to be treated by controlling one’s thoughts. They always appear together; bodily sickness causes mental illness and mental illness causes physical distress. Bhīma advises Yudhiṣṭhira to fight this new battle, a battle against his depression in which there is no need for arrows, and in which friends and relatives can offer no aid. This is a battle he must fight alone. And he must win. If he does not conquer his mind now, Bhīma warns him, then he will continue to be troubled in the next birth. He will only have put off the inevitable struggle. And so Bhīma concludes, Yudhiṣṭhira must cure himself of his mental sickness right away. Having done so, he must then follow the path of his forebears by assuming the kingship and offering sacrifices (12.16.8–26). Arjuna speaks up again and repeats some of the earlier statements, that it is the role of warriors to kill and be killed (12.22.1–6). He also highlights the difference in the life styles of the warrior and Brahmin. A warrior is not supposed to practice austerities or live off the largesse of others 55 2,015.056a avadhyaḥ sarvabhūtānām antarātmā na saṃśayaḥ 12,015.056c avadhye cātmani kathaṃ vadhyo bhavati kena cit 12,015.057a yathā hi puruṣaḥ śālāṃ punaḥ saṃpraviśen navām 12,015.057c evaṃ jīvaḥ śarīrāṇi tāni tāni prapadyate 12,015.058a dehān purāṇān utsṛjya navān saṃpratipadyate 12,015.058c evaṃ mṛtyumukhaṃ prāhur ye janās tattvadarśinaḥ



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(12.22 6–7); he is supposed to fight. The example is given of Indra, who killed hosts of his own relatives, all of whom were wicked (12.22.11), and was praised for his deeds (12.22.12). In fact, it was through this that he became king of the gods (12.22.12). And so Arjuna begs Yudhiṣṭhira to be like Indra; having killed his relatives in a glorious show of might, he should now assume the kingship and perform sacrifices. Arjuna also suggests that what happened could not have been otherwise; it was fated, bhavitavyam, and what is ordained, diṣṭam, cannot be otherwise (12.22.15). The argument that fate governs what a person does is only one of many arguments that the text uses to deny moral responsibility and agency. Vyāsa continues the argument that humans have no control over events; everything happens through the power of kāla, or time or fate (12.26.5–12). Furthermore, he insists, people wrongly think that they kill another, but really no one kills anyone else. The birth and death of all living beings are fixed by their very nature (12.26.17). Yudhiṣṭhira should not grieve over the loss of his loved ones. Joys and sorrows come to all living beings in turn, in the natural course of events (12.26.31). There follows a famous passage that explains how all living beings must come together and part from each other, like bubbles in water that appear and then burst. Wealth perishes and the mighty fall. Union must end in separation; life ends inevitably in death (12.27.28–30). Nothing can save a person from death; living beings come together in the same way as two floating logs come together and then drift apart (12.28.34–37). It is wrong to think that someone is your mother or father or brother; in this vast time span through which we transmigrate, we are everything to each other and nothing to each other. We have had thousands of mothers and fathers, thousands of wives and children. How can we say that this one is my mother or my father, my brother or my son (12.28.34–41)? Vyāsa hopes by this to assuage Yudhiṣṭhira’s guilt at having killed his own relatives. There is really no such thing as a relative; the person who was your brother today was someone else’s brother in another birth. It is wrong to privilege social relationships in any given lifetime. Despite all of these arguments, Yudhiṣṭhira remains anguished by having been responsible for the deaths of so many innocent people (12.32.10). Vyāsa then takes another path. He suggests that we are not really agents of our actions in the way in which we imagine ourselves to be. Perhaps it is God who is the agent; perhaps everything happens as a result of karma (12.32.11). Vyāsa explains: O king, impelled by God, human beings do good deeds and bad. The fruit of that action belongs not to the human being, but to God.

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phyllis granoff It is like this. A person might cut down a tree in the forest, using an axe. The sin belongs to the person who cuts the tree and not to the instrument, the axe (12.32.11).56

Vyāsa then continues, arguing that if you do not believe in the controlling power of God but believe that everything is the result of karma, even then, the fact that someone dies in battle has nothing to do with the person who kills him, and everything to do with the karma of the one who has died. And the same conclusion results if you consider that the world is controlled by an impersonal force (12.32.19). Through these arguments Vyāsa attempts to convince Yudhiṣṭhira that he bears no moral responsibility for the death of the warriors he has killed in battle. Human beings have no agency, no matter how you look at the world. If they are forced to act by God, then they are simply tools in God’s hands the way that an axe is a tool in the woodcutter’s hands. If everything results from an individual’s karma, then the person who dies in battle is responsible for his own death; the warrior who kills him is still just a tool. And if everything is simply fate, then it is obvious that there is no room for human agency. Vyāsa adds something important at the conclusion of his argument. In case Yudhiṣṭhira remains unconvinced by the arguments that show that he has not sinned, Vyāsa tells Yudhiṣṭhira that there exist ways to remove sin. There are penances or prāyaścittas, and there then follows a long section that describes various penances for different infractions. In fact, Vyāsa has guessed right; Yudhiṣṭhira still fears that he has committed grave sins, for which he will go to hell (2.33.11). The argument that humans have no real moral agency must be resumed in chapter 34. Humans are like puppets, under the control of karma. Just as a puppet made by an artisan moves under the control of the puppeteer, so the world is made to whirl about by the force of karma, impelled by Time (12.34.10).57

Yudhiṣḥira is eventually persuaded to return to the palace. It is not clear that any specific argument has won the day, but the god Kṛṣna has had the final word. He assures Yudhiṣṭhira that the Brahmins and all his brothers 56 12,032.012a īśvareṇa niyuktā hi sādhv asādhu ca pārthiva 12,032.012c kurvanti puruṣāḥ karmaphalam īśvaragāmi tat 12,032.013a yathā hi puruṣaś chindyād vṛkṣaṃ paraśunā vane 12,032.013c chettur eva bhavet pāpaṃ paraśor na kathaṃ cana 57 12,034.010a tvaṣṭreva vihitaṃ yantraṃ yathā sthāpayitur vaśe 12,034.010c karmaṇā kālayuktena tathedaṃ bhrāmyate jagat



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eagerly await him, as eagerly as people suffering from the heat await the coming of the rainy season, and tells him to accept the kingship for the welfare of the world (12.38.20–26). There is a strange incident in the next chapter, in which a Cārvāka, disguised as a Brahmin, accosts Yudhiṣṭhira and accuses him of the very sins that he had feared he had committed. Cārvākas, or “Materialists”, are usually described as denying that there is a soul and that there exist rebirths. They deny that good or bad deeds have future consequences, and in their rejection of the doctrine of karma they are regarded as standing outside the accepted or orthodox system of beliefs. Here the Cārvāka’s rejection of orthodoxy is slightly different. It lies in refusing to allow that Yudhiṣṭhira has not committed a sin. The Cārvāka rejects the notion that there are different standards of morality and behavior for Brahmins and Ksatriyas and that killing is not a sin for a king; he rejects the proposition that there are ways to mitigate even the gravest of sins, through the performance of penances, sacrifices and gifts to the Brahmins. The Cārvāka curses Yudhiṣṭhira, saying that as a murderer of his relatives he is better off dead (12.39.26–30). Yudhiṣṭhira begs forgiveness of the assembled Brahmins and throws himself on their mercy. They assure him that the Cārvāka is an agent of his enemies and that they do not judge Yudhiṣṭhira to be guilty of any sin (12.39.30–34). Thus ends this long section of the Śāntiparvan. One might summarize the arguments as follows. It is the duty of a king to kill, even to kill his immediate relatives, if they are wicked; the paths of kings and that of renunciants are totally different from each other, and the ethical norms of one are not valid for the other; humans have no moral agency; what happens to us is in the hands of God; is the result of fate; is the result of our own karma. Killing is not possible because the soul can never die; because the soul is by nature perishable. Despite the sheer weight of these arguments, which have gone on for so many chapters, the dissenting voice of the Cārvāka, who would restore agency and therefore sin to Yudhiṣṭhira, remains strangely disquieting. We shall see as we turn to the remorse of that other Ajātaśatru that these very same arguments resurface, in a context to which they sometimes seem less well suited, while the echo of the voice of the Cārvāka may still be heard. The Remorse of Ajātaśatru in the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra Ajātaśatru is a curious figure in the Buddhist story tradition. He is both vilified, as the ultimate sinner who killed his father and conspired against the Buddha, and glorified as the greatest devotee of the Buddha, whose

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faith in the Buddha was so extraordinary that his ministers had to prevent him from dying with grief on hearing the news of the Buddha’s death. Ajātaśatru in the Śrī Lankan tradition becomes the protector of the Buddha’s relics; he buries them in a single stūpa so that King Aśoka might find them in the future and distribute them throughout his realm. But before Ajātaśatru could become the perfect Buddhist, something had to be done about his sins.58 Here I explore one treatment of Ajātaśatru in the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra. This is a complex text and there is considerable scholarship on the history of its composition.59 In the translation by Dharmakṣema (422 ce, Taisho vol. 12, 374) the chapter on Ajātaśatru is chapter 19.60 It would seem to be part of the “new material” 58 The story of Ajātaśatru is told in the Dīghanikāya aṭṭhakathā on the Mahāparinibbāna sutta, section 236 ff., Pali Tipitaka, http://www.tipitaka.org. 59 The standard work on the text is Shimoda Masahiro, Nehangyō no Kenkyū, (Tokyo: Shunhusha, 1997). See also Stephen Hodge, “Textual History of the Mahāyāna Parinirvāna sūtra”, http://www.nirvanasutra.net/historicalbackground.htm. 60 Chapter 24 in the English translation of Kosho Yamamoto, http://bodhimarga.org/ docs/Mahaparinirvana_Sutra_Yamamoto_Page_2007.pdf. The English translation is in fact a translation from the Japanese of Daitō Shimazu. See the comments of Yuyama, Akira, Sanskrit Fragments of the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra, I. Koyasan Manuscript (Tokyo: Reiyukai Library, 1981), 14. The section on Ajātaśatru has been translated into Japanese by Sadakata, Ajase no Sukui, 13–101. In my explorations of Ajātaśatru I have benefitted enormously from two small books by Sadakata Akira, Ajase no Sukui: Bukkyō ni okeru tsumi to Kyūzai, (Kyoto: Jinbun Shoin, 1984) and Ajase no Satori: Hotoke to Monju no Kū no Oshie, (Kyoto: Jinbun Shoin, 1989). Jonathan Silk has written on Ajātaśatru, Jonathan A. Silk, “The Composition of the Guan Wuliangshoufo-jing: Some Buddhist and Jaina Parallels to its Narrative Frame,” Journal of Indian Philosophy 25, no. 2 (1997), 181–256. The book by Michael Radich, How Ajātaśatru was Reformed: The Domestication of Ajase and Stories in Buddhist History, (Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies, 2011) came to my attention after I had completed this paper. In chapter two Radich provides the most comprehensive overview of the Ajātaśatru story in Indian sources. Chapter 3 deals with the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa sūtra. He notes the unusual nature of the heretical views expressed there, but does not connect them with the Mahābhārata or any other source. Mark Blum is currently in the process of translating the text from the Chinese. I did not discuss the Ajātaśatrukauṛtyavinodanā, which may be one of the earliest texts to grapple with Ajātaśatru’s remorse, which it regards as the result of his profound ignorance. This text argues from the standpoint of a radical doctrine of emptiness. The doctrine of the Ajātaśatrukaukṛtyavinodanā is distinctive and distinctively Buddhist; there is little in the text that would resonate with listeners who were not adherents of the doctrine of Emptiness. It has an unusual conclusion; Ajātaśatru still goes to hell as he feared he might, although he feels no pain. The text predicts his ultimate Buddhahood, and if nothing else in the text reminded us of the Mahābhārata, this conclusion might. Yudhiṣṭhira, too, we have seen, will go briefly to hell and then to reap his final reward in heaven. The Ajātaśatrukaukṛtyavinodanā is not unique in seeing the realization of Emptiness as the remedy for sin. The Tathāgatakoṣa sūtra that is cited in the later Śikṣāsamuccaya similarly proclaims that purification of sin comes from a realization of the doctrine of Emptiness. Śikṣāsamuccaya, 171, śūnyatādhimuktyāpi pāpaśuddhir bhavati. A similar view is expressed in a quote from the Karmāvaraṇaviśuddhisūtra. If anything, we



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that cannot be found in the earlier translation of Faxian or in the extant Sanskrit fragments. The assumption has been that this new material was most likely added in Central Asia. The parallels to the Mahābhārata that I point out here might on the contrary suggest an Indian origin, at least for this expanded treatment of the Ajātaśatru story. The chapter on Ajātaśatru is itself a composite text. It builds on the description of the views of the six heretics known from the Sāmaññaphala sutta and the Saṃghabhedavastu of the Mūlasarvāstivāda vinaya, although it places all of this material in a different context. In the Sāmaññaphala sutta and the Saṃghabhedavastu, the setting for the review of the doctrines of the six heretics is Ajātaśatru’s visit to the Buddha. The Buddha explains the benefits of the ascetic life and asks Ajātaśatru if he had ever asked anyone else about the benefits of the ascetic life. Ajātaśatru replies with a description of what the six heretical teachers had each told him. Ajātaśatru’s visit to the Buddha has nothing to do with Ajātaśatru’s crime, which is not mentioned until the very end of the story. As these texts open, Ajātaśatru is simply enjoying a moonlit night and wondering what he should do on such a lovely evening. Various suggestions are offered, including visits to the well-known heretical teachers, when Jīvaka, the Buddha’s personal physician, suggests to the king that he visit the Buddha. There is no mention of any disquiet on the part of Ajātaśatru because he has killed his father until the very end. After the Buddha explains the merits of being a Buddhist ascetic, Ajātaśatru is struck with remorse. He confesses his sin to the Buddha, proclaiming that he has killed his righteous father. In the Mūlasarvāstivāda vinaya, he adds that he has done this after falling under the influence of a wicked person. This wicked person is none other than the Buddha’s cousin and arch-enemy Devadatta, and the text has given a long account of how he tricked Ajātaśatru into believing in him. We may be reminded here of the assertion in the Mahābhārata that Yudhiṣṭhira’s killing of his cousins was all occasioned by the machinations of his arch-enemy, Duryodhana (12.34.25). By contrast, in the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra the accounts of the heretical doctrines are placed in the context of efforts to relieve Ajātaśatru of his remorse over having killed his father. As the chapter opens we are at once introduced to Ajātaśatru as a great sinner (Taisho 474a). The retribution for the sin of killing his father has already begun; he is tormented in mind

might see the Mahāparinirvāṇa sūtra as more conservative and eclectic; it offers a number of arguments, not all of which are based on Emptiness.

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and body. Indeed, his body stinks so horribly that no one can even get near him.61 The minister Candrayaśas approaches the king and asks why he looks so terrible; is he mentally or physically sick (474b)? Ajātaśatru replies he is both. This recalls the conversation that Yudhiṣṭhira had with Bhīma, in Mahābhārata 12.16, in which Bhīma explained to Yudhiṣṭhira how mental and physical sickness go together and in which he proposed to Yudhiṣṭhira a means to cure himself: control of his mind. Like Yudhiṣṭhira, Ajātaśatru is afraid of going to hell for the sin of killing his closest kin. The minister Candrayaśas recommends that the king go to see the teacher Pūraṇa who, he says, can cure the king’s bodily and mental sickness. He summarizes the doctrine of Pūraṇa, which is basically a denial that there is any such thing as virtue or sin. Another minister then steps forward, as the king continues to lament that he has sinned in killing his father and will go to hell. The structure of the text recalls the opening of the Śāntiparvan, in which, as we have seen, one after another Yudhiṣṭhira’s brothers, his wife, and the sage Vyāsa attempt to assuage his guilt. This minister offers that there are two ways of life, that of the renunciant and that of the king (474c). It is not a sin for a king to kill his father. This too should remind us of the repeated insistence in the Mahābhārata that there are two paths, that of kings and that of Brahmins or renunciants. The distinction was particularly relevant in the Mahābhārata, where Yudhiṣṭhira was on the verge of giving up the kingship and renouncing the world. His brothers repeatedly insisted to Yudhiṣṭhira that it is not a sin for a king to kill his close relatives, and we even heard how Indra had become king of the gods precisely by killing his brothers. There follows now in the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra a brief description of the doctrine of Maskarī Gośālīputra, which corresponds to that of Ajita Keśakambala in the Samghabhedavastu and Pakudha Kaccāyana in the Sāmañnaphala Sutta. This is the strange doctrine of the seven permanent entities, intended to show that it is logically impossible for one person to cause another harm. Yet another minister comes forward and repeats that it is not a sin for a king to kill in the process of governing his country (475a). This seems less appropriate in the case of Ajātaśatru than it was in the case of Yudhiṣṭhira. Ajātaśatru, was, after all, not ruling the country when he killed his father. Nonetheless, it reflects closely the arguments of the Mahābhārata that a ruling monarch must fight and kill. He adds that all living beings have 61 See Granoff, “The Stench of Sin”.



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their own karma, and that this is what brings about their death (475a). We have seen the same argument in the Mahābhārata (12.34.10), and Ajātaśatru is no more persuaded by it than was Yudhiṣṭhira. The next teacher who is introduced is Sañjayī Vairaṭṭīputra; the description of his doctrine mixes notions about karma being responsible with an insistence that the king cannot sin. The king is like fire, to which the categories of pure and impure do not obtain (475b). The next minister who attempts to help Ajātaśatru begins by providing him with a long list of kings who killed their fathers (475c). The list begins with Rāma and includes figures from epic and purāṇic mythology, and specifically Buddhist figures like Viḍudabha, whose actions resulted in the destruction of the Śākya clan. None of these patricides, he says, is in hell or even experienced rebirth in a lower realm. It is difficult to identify all the names precisely or locate their stories, but we are reminded of the list of kings who killed their relatives that Bhīma rattles off to Yudhiṣṭhira in the Mahābhārata 12.12. Bhīma assures Yudhiṣṭhira that these kings are all in heaven. The minister then summarizes the doctrines of Ajita Keśakambala, whose doctrine here is simply to deny the existence of the distinction between meritorious and sinful deeds, similar to what the Saṃghabhedavastu offers as the doctrine of Sañjayī. The king remains unmoved and the next minister offers more philosophical arguments, similar again to those found in the Mahābhārata. He suggests that if there is a soul, then it must be permanent and therefore cannot be killed. If, on the other hand, the soul is not eternal, then it must perish on its own, and there can be no such thing as taking the life of another person. All things simply perish naturally, as part of a natural process (476b). The minister then uses an analogy that we have met before (Mahābhārata, 12.32.11–15). It is, he says, like the case of an axe that is used to cut a tree. No sin accrues to the axe. Or a scythe that one uses to cut the grass. The scythe has not sinned. Or poison that kills a man, or the sword that kills a man. These analogies seem out of place in this context; they appear immediately after the statement that if there is nothing permanent and the soul simply perishes on its own, then there can be no such thing as one person’s killing another. In the Mahābhārata the analogy of the axe is clear. The passage is about God as the real agent of all actions. We are all tools in God’s hands and as tools we have no more sin than has the axe that we use to chop a tree. It is not impossible to make sense of the analogy in the Mahāparinirvāna Sūtra. We might argue that if things perish on their own, then we must assume that the person who kills another is merely an instrumental cause of his death just

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as the axe (scythe, sword, poison, etc.) is the instrumental cause of striking down the tree (grass, man, etc.). In the case of the dead person or cut tree, the real cause of destruction was impermanence. What makes this interpretation less likely and increases the suspicion that these analogies are better read along the lines of the Mahābhārata, however, is the series of accompanying phrases that deny sentience to the tools. Thus the text tells us that the sword used to kill a man cannot have sin because it is not human; the poison cannot have any sin, because it is not human. The issue is not impermanence, but sentience and will. This only makes sense in the context in which the analogy appears in the Mahābhārata, where it is a question of whose is the conscious will that leads to an action: does it belong to God or to the individual. The minister then recommends that the king seek out Kakuda Katyāyana, another one of the heretical teachers in the Sāmaññaphala sutta and the Saṃghabhedavastu, but the doctrine attributed to him here again recalls more closely the Mahābhārata than the doctrine of the heretical teachers in the Buddhist texts. Kakuda is said to espouse a belief in a supreme God. When individuals commit good and bad deeds, it is really God who acts (476.b). This could almost be a direct translation from the Mahābhārata 12.32.12. The text continues with an analogy we have met before. A craftsman might make a wooden puppet that could walk, lie down, sit, but cannot speak; human beings are like that puppet and God is the craftsman. How could humans have sin (476 b–c)? The next minister repeats the argument that it is never a sin for a king to kill in the exercise of kingship. Finally Jīvaka steps in and there begins a praise of the Buddha. Jīvaka takes Ajātaśatru to the Buddha and the Buddha begins a long and complicated discourse, some of which, in particular the arguments that deny agency, had been anticipated in the rejected arguments of the various ministers and may be found in the Mahābhārata. The Buddha’s sermon includes teachings on no-self, karma, impermanence, and emptiness. The Buddha also explains to Ajātaśatru that Bimbisāra had committed wrong deeds in a past life, and thus his death at the hands of Ajātaśatru should be seen as retribution for his own past deeds (483c). The Buddha adds that because Bimbisāra had felt great remorse over his killing of a sage in his past life, the karmic consequences of his deed were less than they might otherwise have been (483c). Even in its proclamation of emptiness, this chapter twelve argues for the centrality of remorse (484b), a point to which I return in my conclusions. The chapter ends with a statement echoed in other texts that the cultivation of the mind



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of Enlightenment, bodhicitta, removes all sin.62 Ajātaśatru, the text tells us, having conceived a desire for Enlightenment, was able to see his grave sins reduced to minor sins. Here, too, we may be reminded of Yudhiṣṭhira, whose sins were reduced by the sacrifice he has returned to perform, but who will still go to hell for a brief time to expiate their slight residue (484c). There is, however, another element in the story of Ajātaśatru that makes the treatment of this royal sinner distinctive from the treatment of the kingly sinner of the Mahābhārata. The Mahābhārata in its discussion is more explicitly focused on the one particular sinner, Yudhiṣṭhira, and on the necessity of violence as part of kingship, although there is no question that many of its arguments could well extend to sin of any kind and to all sinners. But the universal applicability of its teachings is far clearer in the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, which pointedly extends its salvific message well beyond the one king and his sin. In fact in chapter eleven Jīvaka provides a long list of abject sinners whose sins had been alleviated by encountering the Buddha, one of his disciples, or the Buddhist doctrine. Among the group are well-known sinners like the murderous Aṅgulimāla, and less well-known characters like Ajita, who slept with his mother, killed his father, murdered an arhat, burned down a monastery, and still became a Buddhist monk and was able to reduce the gravity of his sins (478c and 479a). This long catalogue of sinners, their sins and their ultimate absolution implies what is made explicit at the opening of chapter twelve: Ajātaśatru is not simply the one king who committed a violent act, but is Everyman, Every Sinner, for whose sake the Buddha postpones his own final Liberation and for whom he teaches the Buddhist doctrine (480b–c). As chapter eleven concludes, Ajātaśatru is overcome by consciousness of sin. His father appears to him and tells him to disregard the false teachings of the ministers, who have set before him the doctrines of the six heretical teachings, and follow Jīvaka’s advice and listen to the Buddha. He writhes on the ground in pain as his sin begins to bear fruition; his body emits that terrible stench of sin (480b). As chapter twelve opens, the Buddha, lying between the pair of Sāla trees, the place of his final nirvāṇa, proclaims to those assembled there that he will in fact not enter nirvāṇa, but will stay and preach for the sake of Ajātaśatru. This occasions a question from Kaśyapa; the Buddha 62 Śikṣāsamuccaya, 177 quoting the Āryamaitreyavimokṣa.

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is supposed to save everyone; why does he say that he will remain to rescue Ajātaśatru alone? The Buddha answers that Ajātaśatru is not just one man; Ajātaśatru is just the name that he calls everyone and anyone who has sinned. “Ajātaśatru” is everyone in the long catalogue of sinners in chapter 11 and more. The Buddha’s discourse that follows is no longer meant just for Ajātaśatru the patricide, as the discourse of the Mahābhārata was for the one Yudhiṣṭhira. The Buddhist text not only rejects the arguments of the six heretics, which are so close to the arguments in the Mahābhārata; it also dramatically widens the discussion of Ajātaśatru’s sin to embrace all sin and not just the violence of kingship, and all sinners and not just the king as sinner. Conclusions: The Debate Continues In the introduction to this paper I proposed that questions about sin and its aftermath should be considered among the central questions if not the central question of Indian religions. In the discussions about what sinners can do to help themselves one issue that evoked starkly different responses was the role of remorse in the process of mitigating sin. I examined in some detail the treatment of two famous remorseful sinners, who bore the same name and had committed similar crimes: Ajātaśatru or Yudhiṣṭhira, as he is better known, in the Mahābhārata, and the Buddhist king Ajātaśatru, whose remorse was the subject of two chapters in the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra as well as several other texts. I have argued for a possible connection between the stories of these two repentant sinners, both of whom killed their close kin. The parallels between them can offer us invaluable insights into the intricate links that existed in India across religious boundaries. As I conclude I would like to suggest several areas for continued discussion. I would like to return for a moment to the question of remorse and look again at the two terms with which I began this essay, hiri or hrī and ottappa or avatāpa. In the Pali texts that I cited these are feelings that are thought to prevent a person from sinning. We are supposed to consider our acts before we do them and not do anything that is unworthy of us or anything that might bring us censure from others or entail other bad consequences. Interestingly, these very terms also appear in the Mahāparinirvāna Sūtra but with a very different meaning (477c). Jīvaka tells Ajātaśatru that the Buddha has taught that there are two pure dharmas that can save living



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beings. These are hrī and avatāpa, but now they include in their broad meanings both remorse and public confession. Jīvaka praises Ajātaśatru for feeling remorse; this is what, he says, makes us quintessentially human and distinguishes us from animals. Earlier in the text, the Buddha had taught Kaśyapa Bodhisattva about the dangers of a lack of remorse and the failure to acknowledge one’s sins; concealing sin only causes the sin to grow (387a). In a conversation with the Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī the Buddha had urged Ajātaśatru to repent and thereby purify himself of his grave sin (426c). The new meaning given to these terms suggests a new emphasis on remorse and public confession. A detailed history of the complex attitudes towards remorse in Indian religions remains to be written. The Buddhist discussions of Ajātaśatru’s remorse by themselves clearly illustrate the complexity of the issue. The one sinner, Ajātaśatru, in his remorse occasioned two opposite conclusions: remorse is wrong-headed, the result of ignorance, or remorse is essential if a sinner is to get beyond the sin. Both these viewpoints are clearly expressed in a wide range of texts throughout history and across religious boundaries. Thus we have seen that the Mahābhārata, in the sections on Yudhiṣṭhira’s remorse that were reviewed here, does not see any positive value for Yudhiṣṭhira in remorse, while a later retelling, the Bhāratamañjarī of Kṣemendra made a place for remorse as a means to eradicate sin. But there is also the view of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, for which awareness of sin and remorse are simply not required in order to transcend sin. At the other end of the spectrum, the Jain texts considered here all emphasized the singular importance of remorse, which, they showed, leads to renunciation, the practice of austerities and therefore to Liberation. Together these texts indicate that there was no single answer to the question of the role that remorse might play in removing sin. I have tried to show that the debates about sin were not conducted in a vacuum; texts engaged each other in complex ways. A study of remorse would do much to illuminate the complex interactions between different religious groups. But this is only one of the many future projects that this excursion into the plight of the two famous Ajātaśatrus suggests. We have seen that the stories of the two Ajātaśatrus raised fundamental questions for their respective audiences about the nature of sin and its origins, as well as its remedies. They even raised the startling question, is there such a thing as sin? All these questions about sin would remain central in the debate that Indian religions would continue to have not only with each other, but also with that ultimate “Other”, Christianity. The enduring importance

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of the debate about sin is highlighted by the central role it would play in the meeting between proponents of various Indian religions and Christian missionaries centuries later.63 I give here only one example. Nidhi Levi Farwell was the first Assamese convert to Christianity and the first Assamese preacher. Some of his sermons and essays appeared in the monthly Aruṇodai, (Orunodoi) which was published from the Baptist Mission in Sibsagar from 1846–1879. In the April 1852 issue of the magazine, Nidhi described an encounter he had with a Bengali Brahmin. He had been explaining to an informal group that had gathered under a tree near the police station in Sibsagar how the avatāra Jesus Christ in his death had performed an expiatory sacrifice that was capable of ridding all humankind of their sins. The Bengali Brahmin stepped in and objected. His argument is one that we have met in the Mahābhārata and the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra. The Bengali presents the theistic argument against agency. It is not possible for human beings to be sinners because whatever humans do, they do because God makes them do it. The Bengali further refined his argument, bringing it close to the doctrine of the Bhagavadgītā of the sanctity of caste duty and the Mahābhārata insistence that a king does not sin when he kills because it is the duty of kings to kill and to punish the wicked. The Brahmin phrased his argument slightly differently. Nidhi records that he proposed that God made people of such a nature that they were inclined to sin in order to get what they needed to survive. Humans, in doing what they are compelled to do by the very the nature that God gave them, far from sinning, serve God.64 I will save Nidhi’s replies for a future investigation and say only that the debate over sin and its remedies that we see in the Mahābhārata and the Mahāparinirvāna Sūtra was to have a remarkably long life. Indeed, Nidhi and his mentors may be seen to have followed the strategy of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, in seeking to win adherents to the new religion by presenting it as the one true means to be rid of sin. But there the comparison ends. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa was successful in winning followers, particularly in Nidhi’s homeland of Assam, where Śaṅkaradeva in the 16th century translated the text into Assamese and promulgated its doctrine of 63 James Robson’s chapter in this book illustrates that it was not only in India that the treatment of sin loomed so large in the arguments of Christian missionaries. 64 742. This is a re-edition of the original. For an overview of Baptist missionaries in Assam and the Orunodoi see Jayeeta Sharma, “Missionaries and Print culture in Nineteenth-Century Assam: the Orunodoi Periodical of the American Baptist Mission”, in Christians and Missionaries in India: Cross-cultural Communication Since 1500, ed. Robert J. Frykenberg (London: Routledge, 2003), 256–274.



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reciting the name of God as the means to be free of sin. The missionaries who converted Nidhi were remarkably unsuccessful in garnering converts, although their work was to have a different but lasting impact on Assamese literature and society. Bibliography Primary Sources Abhidharmakośabhāṣya. Edited by Swami Dwarikadas Shastri. Varanasi: Bauddha Bharati, 1970. Ajātaśatrukaukṛtyavinodanāsūtra. Edited by Paul Harrison and Jens-Uwe Hartmann, in Manuscripts in the Schoyen Collection, edited by Jens Braarvig. Oslo, Hermes Pub., 2000. Aṅgulimālasutta. Majjhima nikāya, Majjhima pannāsa, rājavagga. Pali Tipitika website. http://www.tipitaka.org. Aśokāvadāna. Text on GRETIL from the edition of Sujitkumar Mukhopadhyay. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1963. Bhāgavatamahāpurāṇa. Delhi: Nag Publishers, 1987. Bhavabhūti, Uttararāmacarita. Edited by G.K. Bhat. Surat: The Popular Publishing House, 1965. Buddhasvāmin, Bṛhatkathāślokasaṃgraha. Text on GRETIL from the edition of Felix Lacote. Paris: E Leroux, 1908. Divyāvadāna. Edited by P.L. Vaidya. Darbhanga: Mithila Institute, 1959. Guṇakāraṇdavyūhasūtra. Text on GRETIL from the edition by Lokesh Chandra. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1999. Hemacandra, Triṣaṣtiśalākāpuruṣacaritam, Navamaparvan. Edited by Munirāja Śrīcaraṇa­ vijayajī Mahārāja. Ahmedabad: Kalikālasarvajña ŚrīHemacandrācārya Navama Janmaśa­ tābdi Smṛti Saṃskāra Śikṣaṇanidhi, 2006. The Jātaka Together with Its Commentary. Edited by V. Fausboll. Oxford: Pali Text Society, 1990. Kīrtiratnasūri, Nemināthamahākāvyam. Edited by Dr Satyavrata. Calcutta: Agaracand Nahta, 1975. Kṣemendra, Bhāratamañjarī. Edited by Mahamopadhyāya Paṇḍita Śivadatta and Kāśīnātha Pāṇḍurāṅg. Bombay: Nirnayasagara Press, 1898. Mahābhārata. Text on GRETIL from the Critical Edition. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Institute. 1933–1966. Mahāparinibannasutta, Dīghanikāya and Atthakathā. Pali Tipitika website. http://www .tipitaka.org. Mahāparinirvāṇa sūtra. Translated from the Chinese of Dharmakṣema, Taisho 374 by Kosho Yamamoto. http://bodhimarga.org/docs/Mahaparinirvana_Sutra_Yamamoto_Page_2007 .pdf. Mahāvastu. Text on GRETIL from the edition of Émile Senart. Paris: Impremerie Nationale, 1882–1897. Translated by J.J. Jones. London: Luzac and Company, 1956. Mānavadharmaśāstram. Edited by Viśvanātha Maṇḍalika. Mumbai: Ganapatakrsnaji, 1886. Nemicandra, Ākhyānikamaṇikośa. Edited by Muni Shri Punyavijaji. Varanasi: Prakrit Text Society, 1962. The Orunodoi 1846–1854. Edited by Maheshwar Neog. Gauhati: Assam Prakasan Parisad, 1983. Prabuddharauhiṇeyam. Edited by Muni Puṇyavijaya. Bhavanagar: Ātmānanda Sabhā, 1917.

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Rāmāyaṇa, Uttarakāṇḍa. (1st edition 1884), Mumbai: Gujarati Printing Press, 1920. Samghabhedavastu. Text on GRETIL from the edition of R. Gnoli with the assistance of T. Venkatacharya, The Gilgit Manuscript of the Sanghabhedavastu, Being the 17th and Last Section of the Vinaya of the Mūlasarvāstivādin. Roma: Instituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, Serie Orientale Roma 49, 1977–1978. Sāṃkhyatattvakaumudī. Edited by M.M. Patkar, Har Dutt Sharma, with English translation of Ganganath Jha. Poona: Oriental Book Agency, 1965. Śāntideva, Bodhicaryāvatāra. Text on GRETIL from the edition of P.L. Vaidya. Darbhanga: Mithila Institute, 1960. Śatapatha Brāhamaṇa. Delhi: Gian Publishing House, 1987. Śikṣāsamuccaya. Edited by Cecil Bendall, ‘S-Gravenhage: Mouton& Co., 1957. Skandapurāṇa. Delhi: Nag Publishers, 1986. Śrī Kālaka Kathāsaṃgraha. Edited by Sarabhai Nawab. Ahmedabad: Sarabhai Nawab, 1949. Uddyotanasūri, Kuvayalamālā. Edited by A.N Upadhye. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1970. Secondary Sources Adaval, Niti. The story of King Udayana as gleaned from Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit Sources. Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 1970. Bodewitz, H.W. “Sins and vices: their enumerations and specifications in the Veda.” IndoIranian Journal 50, no. 4 (2007): 317–339. Bunyan, Paul. Pilgrim’s Progress. Edited by Roger Pooley. London: Penguin Books, 2008. Caillat, Colette. Atonements in the Ancient Ritual of the Jaina Monks. Ahmedabad: L.D. Institute, 1975. Copleston, Reginald Stephen. Buddhism, Primitive and Present in Magadha and in Ceylon. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1892. Cort, John. Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Dhammika, S. The Edicts of Asoka, Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1993. Dundas, Paul. “Textual Authority in Ritual Procedure: The Śvetāmbara Jain Controversy over Īryāpathikīpratikramaṇa.” Journal of Indian Philosophy (forthcoming). Gampert, Wilhelm. Die Sühnezeremonien in der Altindischen Rechtsliteratur. Prag: Orientalisches Institut, 1939. Geen, Jonathan. “Knowledge of Brahman as a Solution to Fear in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa/ Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 35 (2007): 33–102. Gonda, Jan. “Prajāpati and Prāyaścitta”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Institute 1 (1983): 32–54. Granoff, Phyllis. The Forest of Thieves and the Magic Garden. Delhi: Penguin, 2006. ——. “The Mausala Parvan, Between Story and Theology.” Etudes Asiatiques 62, no. 2 (2008): 545–562. ——. “Karma, Curse or Divine Illusion: The Destruction of the Buddha’s Clan and the Slaughter of the Yadavas.” In Epic and Argument in Sanskrit Literary History: Essays in Honor of Robert P. Goldman, edited by Sheldon Pollock, 75–91. Delhi: Manohar, 2010. ——. “The Stench of Sin: Reflections from Jain and Buddhist Texts”, Etudes Asiatiques 65, no. 1 (2011): 45–65. ——. “Protecting the Faith: Exploring the Concerns of Jain Monastic Rules”. Journal of Jain Studies (forthcoming). Hodge, Stephen, “Textual History of the Mahāyāna Parinirvāna sūtra”, http://www.nirvana sutra.net/historicalbackground.htm. Radich, Michael. How Ajātaśatru was Reformed: The Domestication of Ajase and Stories in Buddhist History. Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhist Studies, 2011. Sadakata, Akira. Ajase no Sukui: Bukkyō ni okeru tsumi to Kyūza, Kyoto: Jinbun Shoin, 1984. ——. Ajase no Satori: Hotoke to Monju no Kū no Oshi. Kyoto: Jinbun Shoin, 1989.



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Sharma, Jayeeta. “Missionaries and Print culture in Nineteenth-Century Assam: the Orunodoi Periodical of the American Baptist Mission”. In Christians and Missionaries in India: Cross-cultural Communication Since 1500, edited by Robert J. Frykenberg, 256–274. London: Routledge, 2003. Shimoda Masahiro. Nehangyō no Kenkyū. Tokyo: Shunhusha, 1997. Silk, Jonathan A. “The Composition of the Guan Wuliangshoufo-jing: Some Buddhist and Jaina Parallels to its Narrative Frame”, Journal of Indian Philosophy 25, no. 2 (1997): 181–256. Strong, John S. The Legend of King Aśoka. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983. Yuyama, Akira. Sanskrit Fragments of the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra, I. Koyasan Manuscript. Tokyo: Reiyukai Library, 1981.

The Role of Confession in Chinese and Japanese Tiantai/Tendai Bodhisattva Ordinations Paul Groner Introduction Confessions have been an integral part of Buddhist practice since its inception. Confession before other practitioners was used to expiate violations of the precepts. However, confession was not a part of the traditional full ordination depicted in the vinaya. The full ordination was essentially a ritual designed to allow the order to consider whether a candidate should be inducted as a full-member of the Buddhist saṅgha. The candidate was asked a series of questions to determine whether he or she was qualified for induction. Some of the criteria might bar one permanently; others might bar one from ordination temporarily until they were remedied, but no need existed for the candidate to confess as an integral part of the ceremony.1 Rather than being part of the full ordination ceremony itself, confessions were an integral part of subsequent monastic life.2 Monks and nuns were required to attend fortnightly assemblies; before one attended, reflection or confession in front of various numbers of practitioners was required, so that one could appear at the assembly purified of wrongdoing. For more serious wrongdoings, suspension or lifelong expulsion from the order was imposed. For a suspended monk or nun to be admitted back to the order, confession in front of twenty other practitioners was required. Even confession could not obviate lifelong expulsion, with the significant exception of sexual wrongdoing. In such a case, a monk or nun who seriously repented of their wrongdoing might be allowed to associate with the order as a novice. Confessions thus insured the purity of the order. They did not necessarily excuse one from the karmic consequences 1 For detailed charts concerning the full ordinations of both monks and nuns according to the Chinese translations and the Pāli vinayas, see Tsuchihashi Shūkō, “Jukai reigi no hensen,” in Kairitsu no kenkyū, ed. Tsuchihashi Shūkō (Kyoto: Nagata bunshōdō, 1980), 293–306. 2 Mohan Wijayaratna, Buddhist Monastic Life: according to the texts of the Theravāda tradition (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 143–150.



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of wrongdoing. One might well undergo karmic recompense in his or her current life or in the future. The instructions in the vinaya for initiating novices or administering the lay precepts were much less detailed than the directions for ordaining monks and nuns, probably because these were often an agreement between a devotee and a teacher. This does not imply that no rules at all applied; a monk was expected to have sufficient seniority (ten years) to be able to train disciples and to report to the order that he had initiated a novice. However, because the ceremony itself was loosely defined, these ceremonies did vary and change over time. In China, initiation ceremonies developed in new ways; confession services were often added to the ceremonies for novices and laymen.3 This is particularly clear in the case of the conferral of the eight precepts on lay believers for a single day and night. The basic structure of the ceremony is found in the Dazhidulun, in a passage in which confession for physical, verbal and mental wrongdoing follow the recitation of the three refuges; the eight precepts are conferred and then a confession ceremony along the lines of a fortnightly assembly is performed.4 In several Dunhuang manuscripts concerning the administration of the eight precepts, confession is placed before the recitation of the three jewels. Confession thus comes to purify the practitioner before he recites the three refuges, an action that is frequently related to the receipt of the eight precepts that come from his or her own mind. The contents of the confession preceding the conferral of the eight precepts change during the Six Dynasties. In the beginning, a recitation of violations of the ten good precepts, categorized into physical, verbal and mental wrongdoing was used. With Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty’s advocacy of the Nirvāṇa Sūtra, confession ceremonies associated with the eight precepts became more detailed and included such items as eating meat, drinking alcohol, eating the five pungent vegetables, and transgressions of filial piety.5 Such rituals reflected the popularity of confession ceremonies in Six Dynasties China and were incorporated into many different ceremonies. In contrast, the full ordination of a monk or nun was specified in detail in 3 Tsuchihashi Shūkō, “Jukai reigi no hensen,” in Bukkyō kyōdan no kenkyū, ed. Yoshimura Shuki (Kyoto, Hyakkaen, 1968), 276–78; and Tsuchihashi Shūkō, “Juhachisaikaigi no hensen,” in Iwai Hakushi koki kinen; Tenseki ronshū (Shizuoka-ken, Hamamatsu-shi: Kaimeidō, 1963), 379–400. 4 T 25: 159b18–c12. 5 Sakamoto Dōshō, “Juhakkaigi ni okeru sangehō ni tsuite: Tonkō shahon wo chūshin ni,” Indo tetsugaku Bukkyōgaku 25 (2010): 114–127.

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the vinaya and required the agreement of the order. As a result, this highly structured ceremony was not as subject to change.6 However, by the Tang dynasty some strict monasteries were holding confession ceremonies before the full ordination.7 During the twentieth-century in China, some monasteries had ordinands perform a night of penance before initiation as novice, full ordination, and receipt of the bodhisattva precepts. The sense of purification was strengthened by following it with ritual bathing and cleaning.8 Confession before images of the Buddha appeared early in Mahāyāna texts with the object of removing bad karma.9 Moreover, confession was a key part of certain types of ordinations, particularly self-ordinations using the bodhisattva precepts. Around the time Buddhism was transmitted to China, confession of wrongdoing was becoming an integral part of Chinese religious practice, and certainly played a key role in Daoist rites of the Celestial Masters.10 In Buddhism, it was used to improve one’s karma with the hope that it would result in this-worldly benefits, such as curing illnesses, or improving one’s subsequent lives. In Zhiyi’s Tiantai texts, practices such as the Lotus repentance are one of the central practices; in fact, the Lotus repentance is said to have been the occasion of Zhiyi’s enlightenment. Repentance thus became a key part of the path to Buddhahood. In this paper, I focus on one type of confession: its use in bodhisattva ordinations in the Tiantai tradition in China and the Tendai tradition in Japan. Several issues are considered. First, confession was not a traditional part of ordinations. After all, if one had not yet received precepts, one did not need to repent violations of the precepts. Yet, it became an integral part of many bodhisattva ordinations, sometimes occupying a larger part of ordination manuals than any other section. How did this come about?

6 For a brief survey of the development of full ordinations, see Wijayaratna, Buddhist Monastic Life, 118–122. 7 A Confession Hall was built at the Huichangsi 会昌寺 monastery for this purpose (Yoshikawa Tadao, Chūgokujin no shūkyō ishiki [Tokyo: Sōbunsha, 1998], 108–9). 8 Holmes Welch, The Practice of Chinese Buddhism 1900–1950 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), 291. J. Prip-Møller, (Chinese Buddhist Monasteries [Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1967], 309–310, 313, 316, 370) includes a description of the confession ceremony, which lasts about two hours. It is said to have been based on the Daily Liturgy of the Meditation School 禅門日誦. 9 Hirakawa Akira, Shoki daijō Bukkyō no kenkyū (Tokyo: Shunjūsha, 1968), 515–520. 10 Yoshikawa Tadao has devoted much of his book, Chūgokujin no shūkyō ishiki, to this theme.



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Second, what was the content of confession in these ceremonies? Was it the recitation of a set liturgy? Or was it more individualistic? Did meditation play a role? Did it end with a meditation on emptiness, similar to the formulae found in Zhiyi’s confession rituals? How was it associated with the receipt of a sign from the buddhas indicating that they had recognized the practitioner’s efforts? Third, bodhisattva ordinations sometimes played different roles in China and Japan. In China, they were used to top off the full ordinations of monks and nuns, giving the ordination a ‘Mahāyāna’ feeling. For lay believers, they might indicate initiation into a religious group, perhaps one following Pure Land practices. In Japan, because the Tendai School replaced the vinaya with the bodhisattva precepts of the Fanwang jing 梵網経, bodhisattva ordinations frequently serve as a ritual inducting one into a monastic order. Or they might serve as a merit-making device for lay believers seeking a cure for illness. Did these different functions lead to different interpretations of confession in the bodhisattva ordination? Did differing practices or doctrinal stances result in different roles or emphases for the confessions in bodhisattva ordinations? Did shifts in doctrinal stances or the social statuses of the recipients affect the inclusion or the format of the confessions? Because the numbers of documents that would have to be surveyed in a full discussion of these issues would require too much space, I focus only on some of the most important sources. Confessions as Part of Bodhisattva Precept Ordinations Confessions were not always part of bodhisattva ordinations, particularly those that were granted by a qualified teacher (congta shoujie 従他受戒). For example, one of the earliest descriptions, included in the Pusa dichi jing 菩薩地持経 (T 1582, Bodhisattvabhūmi), which eventually provided the pattern for most of the ordinations from a qualified teacher performed in China, did not include confession. It consisted of the following steps: 1. The candidate must develop the aspiration to realize enlightenment 2. The candidate asks an able and qualified teacher to confer the precepts upon him. 3. The candidate pays homage to the buddhas and tenth-land bodhisattvas in the three time periods and ten directions. He then kneels in front of his teacher and in front of an image of the Buddha and requests the precepts. His mind is purified by these actions.

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4. The teacher asks the candidate whether he is a bodhisattva and whether he desires to realize enlightenment. The candidate replies affirmatively. 5. The teacher asks the candidate three times if he will adhere to the three collections of pure precepts and to the rules adhered to by bodhisat­tvas of the three time periods.11 The candidate replies affirmatively each time. 6. The teacher states that the precepts have been conferred and promises that he will serve as witness. He repeats this three times. In addition, the buddhas and bodhisattvas are asked to serve as witnesses. 7. A sign of approval from the buddhas and bodhisattvas is perceived.12 8. The buddhas and bodhisattvas encourage the newly-ordained bodhi­ sattva. 9. The newly-ordained bodhisattva and his teacher bow to the buddhas and bodhisattvas and depart.13 Note that the candidate for ordination is purified by kneeling in front of his teacher and an image of the Buddha and requesting the precepts, but this does not require confession. Self ordinations (zishi shoujie 自誓受戒), however, were a different matter. When a qualified teacher could not be found, then one might appeal to the Buddha and take the precepts for himself. Brief descriptions of a self-ordination are found in several Yogācāra texts. For example, according to the Pusa dichi jing, one should simply go before an image of the Buddha and ask for the bodhisattva precepts three times; the rest of the ritual is the same as the ordination from a qualified teacher.14 The ceremony is essentially designed to admit a person into the order of bodhisattvas. One of the fuller descriptions is found in the Shanjiejing 善戒経; it is outlined below. 1. In a quiet place, the candidate pays obeisance to the buddhas of the ten directions, faces east towards a buddha image and folds his hands in homage. 11  The three collections of pure precepts are those which prevent evil, promote good, and benefit sentient beings. The three time periods are past, present, and future. 12 The reference to a sign in the Pusa dichi jing (T 30: 912c18) is vague; in the Shanjiejing it is said to be a cool wind that blows everywhere (T 30: 1014b25). 13 Based the Pusa dichi jing, T 30:912b18–13a. Also see Shanjiejing, T 30: 1014a–c; Yuqielun, T 30:514b–515a. 14 T 30:917a20–27.



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2. The candidate states that he or she has already received the precepts for a lay devotee, novice, and a monk (or nun). 3. The recipient meditates on the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions, visualizing (guan 観) them in his own mind, and perceiving them conferring the precepts. 4. The candidate announces that the precepts have been conferred. 5. The candidate receives a sign from the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions. 6. The candidate announces to the assembly that the precepts have been received and that he or she is a follower of the Dharma ( fadi 法弟). 7. He again pays obeisance to the buddhas and bodhisattvas.15 The text differs from those found in such sources as the Pusa dichi jing and Yuqie lun 瑜伽論 in several significant ways. It specifically requires that the recipients already have received the full precepts for a monk or nun before a self-ordination is performed; the other sources mention precepts for both lay and monastic practitioners. The Shanjie jing asks for a meditation on the buddhas and bodhisattvas; but the details of this practice are not specified. None of the texts associated with the Yogācāra tradition require a confession for the self-ordination. According to the Yuqie lun, self-ordinations could not be employed to confer full monastic ordinations because they would not involve the external institutional strictures on monastic conduct, leading to various abuses.16 However, as shall be discussed below, early Japanese monks were able to find a rationale in Yogācāra texts for using bodhisattva ordinations conferred by qualified teachers as full ordinations. Confession comes to play an important role in self-ordinations described in apocryphal texts on the bodhisattva precepts. The possibility of using self-ordinations to ordain monks is found in the Chanzha shan’e yebao jing 占察善悪業報経 (T no. 839, Divination of the recompense and rewards of good and evil sūtra), an apocryphal text. Although the extent of its use in Nara period Japan is not clearly known, it is worth citing because it clearly stated that it could be used to ordain monks and nuns. Moreover, it is explicitly mentioned along with the Yuqie lun

15 Shanjiejing (one-fascicle version) T 30: 1014a5–21. Also see Yuqielun, T 40: 521 b. I have benefitted from the summary of the steps of the ordination found in Tsuchihashi, “Jukai girei no hensen,” 241. 16 Yuqie lun, T 30: 589c22–28; Satō Tatsugen, Chūgoku Bukkyō ni okeru kairitsu no kenkyū, 348–49.

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瑜伽論.17 Although the use of self-ordination in initiating monks and nuns was not permitted in the Yuqie lun, the text stated that the three collections of pure precepts were conferred when a qualified teacher conducted bodhisattva ordinations. The precepts that prevented evil were said to include all of the various precepts in the vinaya. After Jianzhen (Jp. Ganjin) 鑑真 (688–763) arrival in Japan in 753 with enough monks to conduct orthodox full ordinations, this type of ordination declined, but Japan would still have a variety of Buddhist practitioners with ordinations that did not fit the strict vinaya requirements. Before Jianzhen, Japanese monks might well have used the Chanzha jing, the Yuqielun for full ordinations, or both ignoring the restrictions on such practices according to Yogācāra texts.18 In addition, we have no way of knowing what precepts were conferred in these early ordinations. For the purposes of this paper, the key issue is that bodhisattva ordinations were used to initiate monks early in Japanese history. When Saichō 最澄 (767–822), the founder of the Japanese Tendai School, rejected the vinaya as a Hīnayāna text in favor of the Mahāyāna Fanwangjing, he noted that Gyōki 行基 (668–749) was an example of a monk who had established the purely Mahāyāna temples that Saichō advocated. According to the Chanzha jing: If a one wishes to practice Mahāyāna, then one should receive the basic major precepts of the bodhisattva 菩薩根本重戒, as well as all the precepts for both householders and monastics. That person should comprehensively receive (sōju 総受) the precepts that prevent evil, the precepts that promote good, and the precepts that benefit others. If one cannot find a good teacher of the precepts who has exhaustively studied the bodhisattva teachings, then one should make offerings in the temple with utmost seriousness and ask the various buddhas and bodhisattvas to serve as teachers and witnesses. One should fervently make vows and ask for a sign (from the buddhas that his practices are acceptable). First, the ten major basic precepts should be recited and then the three collections of precepts. In the future, both those who wish to become monastics and those who are already monastics, if they cannot find a good teacher and a pure order of monastics . . ., they should study how to develop the highest aspiration to enlightenment and make sure their body, mouth and mind are pure. Those

17 The passage concerning this was found in Jianzhen’s disciple Situo 思託 collection of biographies, the Enryaku sōroku 延暦僧錄. Although it is not extant, it is extensively quoted in the Nihon kōsōden yōbunshō 日本高僧伝要文抄 (Suzuki Research Foundation [ed.], Dainihon Bukkyō zensho [Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1982]) 62: 52. 18 Ishida Mizumaro, Nihon Bukkyō shisō kenkyū: Kairitsu no kenkyū (Kyoto: Hōzōkan, 1986) 1: 32–40.



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who are not yet monastics should shave their heads and put on robes and vow to receive the three collections of pure precepts as above. This is said to be the receipt of the prātimokṣa of the fully ordained. A person who has received it is called a biku or bikuni. . . . A person who becomes a monastic but is not yet a full twenty years should take vows to follow the basic ten precepts and the separate precepts for a male or female novice. . . . If a female novice has turned eighteen years of age, then she can take vows by herself to receive the six rules of the vinaya. She should study the rules for nuns and when she turns twenty years old, vow to comprehensively accept 総受 the three collections of pure precepts of the bodhisattva. . . . If these people confess, but do not do so with utmost seriousness and do not receive a sign from the buddha, then even though they have outwardly received the precepts, they cannot be said to have actually acquired them. . . .19

This passage is particularly significant because it specifically states that a self-ordination could be used to fully ordain a person as a monk or nun if the required practitioners were unavailable. Other sources for selfordinations do not clearly state that self-ordinations could be used for full ordinations. A confession ritual is described in the text that could take between a day and one-thousand days until the practitioner obtained a sign from the Buddha that his efforts were accepted.20 Thus, Saichō’s follower Ennin 円仁 (794–864) would cite the Chanzha jing passage in his Ken’yō daikairon 顕揚大戒論.21 Enchin 円珍 (814–889) cited this passage in his note on the Tendai ordination to provide scriptural support for the Tendai full ordination.22 At the same time, the term ‘comprehensive ordination’ is a synonym with the term ‘universal ordination’ (tsūju 通受) and indicates that a single ordination procedure included all three of the sets of pure precepts and could be used for both monastic and lay participants.23 The resultant use of this ritual probably contributed to the presence of privately ordained monks (shidosō 私度僧) in Japan. As a number of setsuwa tales in Japanese literature demonstrate, it enabled Japanese practitioners considerable latitude in their practice. These apocryphal texts were composed around the same time that confession rituals

19 T 17: 904c5–a3. 20 T 904a13–28. 21 T 74: 681b5–82a1. 22 Hieizan senshuin fuzoku Eizan gakuin 比叡山專修院附属叡山学院, (ed.), Dengyō Daishi zenshū 傳教大師全集 (hereafter cited as DZ) (Tokyo, Sekai seiten kankō kyōkai, 1975) DZ 1: 319. 23 Tokuda Myōhon, Risshū gairon (Kyoto: Hyakkaen, 1969), 52–54, 74–75.

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were becoming popular in China.24 During the same period, four vinayas were translated into Chinese as well as several texts on bodhisattva precepts. The result was considerable concern about how Buddhists should be ordained and practice, issues that must have contributed to the rising interest in similar problems during the Nara period. The inclusion of confession that purified one and the requirement of experiencing a sign from the Buddha indicating that the Buddha had granted the precepts must have contributed to the allure of the self-ordination. The text that would come to play a crucial role in Tendai was the Fanwang jing, an apocryphal work composed sometime in the fifth century. An ordination from qualified teachers is mentioned in the forty-first minor precept of the Fanwang jing: When one teaches and converts a person, causing a mind of faith to arise in that person, then the bodhisattva should teach and admonish people, acting as a dharma-master. When he sees someone who wishes to receive the precepts, he should instruct that person to invite two teachers: a preceptor and a teacher. The two should ask, ‘Have you committed any of the seven heinous sins during your current lifetime?’ If the [candidate for ordination] has done so, the teacher may not confer the precepts. If the candidate has not committed any of the seven heinous sins, then he or she may receive the precepts. If the candidate has violated any of the ten [major] precepts, then the teacher should instruct the candidate about how to confess. The candidate should go before an image of a buddha or bodhisattva and chant the ten major and forty-eight minor precepts for the six periods of day and night. When the candidate pays obeisance to the three-thousand buddhas of the past, present and future, he or she will perceive a sign. Whether it takes one, two or three weeks, or even a year, the candidate must receive a sign. Among the signs are buddhas coming and touching them on the head, seeing lights or seeing flowers. [When the candidate experiences such a sign,] his or her sins have been eliminated. If there is no sign, then even though confession has been performed, it has been ineffective. The candidate may receive the precepts anew. In this case, if he or she has violated any of the ten major or forty-eight minor precepts, then the transgressions may be eliminated by confessing in front of another practitioner. This is not the case with the seven heinous sins. The teacher who instructs and admonishes should explain each of these.25

24 For a thorough discussion of this topic, see Williams, “Mea maxima vikalpa.” Also note the role of confession in the discussion of Six Dynasties ritual in Daniel Stevenson, “The T’ien-t’ai Four Forms of Samādhi and Late North-South Dynasties, Sui, T’ang Devotional Buddhist Devotionalism” (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1987), 328–344. 25 T 24: l008c9–21.



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Two uses of confession in the context of ordinations are described in this passage. If a person is undergoing a self-ordination, then intense confession followed by a sign indicating the Buddha’s approval is required if the candidate has violated any of the ten major precepts. This type of confession differs from that of a person who had violated the precepts after ordination. The object is not so much to purify a member of an order, but rather to purify the practitioner by vanquishing the karmic effects of wrongdoing so that he or she can receive the precepts from the Buddha. The practitioner is required to persevere until a sign from the Buddha has been perceived, perhaps a vision of the Buddha himself. Instead of using the ordination as a ceremony marking entry into the religious life, the requirement of a sign marks an advanced accomplishment. However, for those unable to receive a sign, re-ordination preceded by a simple confession is possible. In such a case, practice does not mark an advanced stage of practice. The passage from the Fanwang jing reveals two very different aspects of bodhisattva precepts ordinations: admission to an order and the attainment of an advanced stage of practice. Both self-ordinations and ordinations by a qualified teacher are described in the twenty-third minor precept of the Fanwang jing: O’ sons of the Buddha. If after the Buddha’s death, you have a mind to do good and desire to take the bodhisattva precepts, you may confer the precepts upon yourself by taking vows (zishi shoujie 自誓受戒) in front of an image of a buddha or bodhisattva. For seven days, you should confess in front of the Buddha (image); if you see a sign (haoxiang 好相), then you have acquired the precepts (dejie 得戒). If you do not see a sign, you should (practice) for two weeks, three weeks, or even a year; by that time should surely receive a sign. After receiving a sign, you acquire the precepts in front of an image of a buddha or bodhisattva. If you have not received a sign, then even if you take the precepts, you have not actually acquired them. If you acquire the precepts directly from a teacher who has, in turn, [properly] acquired the precepts, then it is not necessary to receive a sign. Why? Because the precepts have already been transmitted through a succession of teachers, a sign is not necessary. You should be solemn and obtain the precepts. If no teacher capable of granting the precepts can be found within onethousand Ii, you should go before an image of the Buddha or bodhisattva to acquire the precepts. You must receive a sign [from the Buddha in this case].26

26 T 24: l006c.

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In this ritual, confession is not necessarily used to remedy violations of the precepts; one has not yet received precepts that might be violated. Instead, confession purifies the recipient so that he or she can receive the precepts directly from the Buddha. The length of the ritual varies; one is expected to perform confession until he or she receives a sign from the Buddha, even if this takes a year. However, when the precepts are conferred by a qualified teacher, then confession and the receipt of a sign from the Buddha are not required. In such cases, confession need not be so strenuous. Once again, two models of ordination seem to be present: one marking an advanced state of practice and one marking the entry into a religious group. The Yingluo jing 瓔珞経 is an apocryphal text closely associated with the Fanwang jing. It listed three types of ordinations in a ranked order from the highest to the lowest: 1) receiving the precepts from the Buddha; 2) receiving the precepts from a qualified teacher, and 3) receiving precepts through a self-ordination by going before an image of Buddha.27 The self-ordination was ranked as the lowest of the three, perhaps because it opened the door to new interpretations of the precepts and the possibility of undermining established institutions. The ranking reveals a basic tension in how a bodhisattva ordination might be viewed. Directly receiving the precepts and a sign from the Buddha would seem like the best type of outcome, but it undermines the role of an ordination as admitting one into a group. The self-ordination is described in the Yingluo jing as follows: 1. The candidate pays homage to the buddhas of the past, present, and future. The formula is repeated three times and then applied to the Dharma and the order. 2. The candidate affirms his belief in the four indestructible objects of faith [the three refuges and the precepts] and declares that he will rely on the four supports. (Recited three times.) 3. He confesses any physical, verbal or mental violations of the ten wrongdoings committed in the past, present or future. “When the confession is completed, the three actions [physical, verbal, and mental] are pure, like lapis lazuli, shining both within and without.” 4. The ten inexhaustible precepts (十無盡戒) are conferred. 5. He pledges to observe the ten major precepts [of the Fanwang jing].28 27 T 24: 1020c4–12. 28 Yingluo jing, T 24: 1020c10–1021b1. The term “ten inexhaustible precepts” is also found in the Fanwang jing (T 24: 1009c10); hence most commentators identify them with the ten major precepts of the Fanwang jing.



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How long did confession take? To some extent, this would depend on the religious faculties of a person undergoing self-ordination by him or herself. However, if a person were undergoing ordination with a group, then the group would go through it at a set rate. A classic story of undergoing a self-ordination with utmost seriousness is found in Dharmakṣema’s biography in the Gaosengzhuan: When Dharmakṣema (Tanwuchen 曇無讖, 385–433) was in Guzang 姑臧, Daojin29 道進 (d. 444), a monk from Zhangya 張掖 [in Gansu], wished to receive the bodhisattva precepts from him. Dharmakṣema told him to practice confession for seven days and nights in complete sincerity. On the eighth day, Daojin went to Dharmakṣema to receive the precepts, Dharmakṣema suddenly became very angry. Daojin thought to himself, ‘I must still have karmic obstacles.’ He gathered his strength and practiced meditation and confession for three years until he saw Śākyamuni and bodhisattvas gather to confer the precepts on him. That night, more than ten monks staying at the same place as Daojin all dreamt that they saw [Daojin receiving the precepts]. When Daojin went to tell Dharmakṣema about it, Dharmakṣema suddenly arose from his seat before Daojin had reached him and exclaimed, ‘Wonderful! Wonderful! You have already received the precepts. I will be a witness to this. Let us go before an image of the Buddha so that I can explain the precepts to you.’30

Dharmakṣema was the translator of the Pusa dichi jing 菩薩地持経 (T 1581, Bodhisattvabhūmi), a text closely associated with the bodhisattva precepts; however, the self-ordination described in that text did not specify the necessity of a confession; the emphasis is on the ceremony as admitting one to an order of those who hold the bodhisattva precepts. Daojin’s self-ordination with its stress on his strenuous practice turns the ordination into recognition of his spiritual achievement. Any sense of entry into a religious order would seem to be limited to a group of very advanced bodhisattvas. The story of Daojin demonstrates the central role that confession could play in the ritual. All other parts of the ceremony were conducted by reading a script. At times confessions are performed in the same fashion, but they may also be performed in ways that potentially demand an

29 Daojin is also known for offering his own flesh to starving people (James Benn, Burning for the Buddha: Self-immolation in Chinese Buddhism (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007), 28–30. 30 Gaoseng zhuan, T 50: 0336c19–27. The story is cited in numerous other sources as a classic tale of the connections between confession and ordination, such as Zhiyi, Pusajie yishu, T 40: 568c07–13; Saichō, Ju bosatsukai gi, DZ 1:309; Annen, Futsūju bosatsukai kōshaku, T 74: 757c11–18.

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ever-increasing expenditure of time and seriousness of purpose. When the necessity of experiencing a supernatural sign from the Buddha is specified, then the confession ceremony is given a specific goal. In Daojin’s case, this required three years, but it could have been shorter or longer. The Tiantai patriarch Zhanran 湛然 (711–782) combined the two types of bodhisattva ordinations in his influential manual, the Shou pusajie yi 授菩薩戒儀 (X no. 1086), which consisted of the following twelve divisions:31 1. Preparation 2. Three Refuges 3. Invitation to teachers 4. Confession 5. Aspiration to enlightenment 6. Questions about obstacles to ordination 7. Conferral of precepts 8. Witnessing by buddhas 9. Manifestation of a sign 10. Explanation of ten major precepts 11. Dedication of merits 12. Exhortation Certain sections of the ceremony reflect aspects more commonly, but not exclusively, found in self-ordination ceremonies, particularly the invitation to ‘unseen’ teachers (buddhas and bodhisattvas), confession, and the manifestation of the sign. Others more commonly suggest an ordination performed by a qualified teacher, particularly the explanation of the precepts and the exhortation. The manifestation of a sign is not nearly as dramatic as in Daojin’s biography and would seem to be optional. By combining the two types of ordinations, Zhanran compiled a manual that was performed by a qualified teacher while it contained the most impressive aspects of a self-ordination and admitted one to an order of buddhas and bodhisattvas as well as an order of ordinary practitioners. In some bodhisattva ordination manuals, confession occurred earlier in the ceremony. For example, in the Dunhuang document Chujiaren shou pusajie fa 出家人受菩薩戒法, confession is part of the second section of a nine (or ten) part manual, and is combined with preparing a platform. 31 X no. 1086.



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The candidate spends from one to seven days evaluating whether he or she is ready to receive the precepts, confessing any wrongdoings from the past, and cultivating the aspiration to enlightenment. In other manuals, these might occupy two sections of the ceremony.32 The Contents of Confessions What sort of formulae might be recited in confessions? A short recitation might simply enumerate violations of the ten good precepts. Such a formula is found in the ordination manual attributed to Huisi 慧思 (515–577). Even though the ordination manual is for conferring the Fanwang precepts, the ten good precepts may have been listed because they were so thoroughly identified with good and bad karma. If wrongdoing is not extinguished, the precepts will not emerge; if the precepts do not emerge, salvation cannot be expected. . . . I, from the beginningless past to the present, have physical actions that are not good, including killing, stealing and illicit sexual activity. My verbal actions have not been good and include lying, flattery, duplicitous speech, and slander. My mental actions have not been good and include lust, anger and wrong views. In this way, I have committed many wrongdoings, either performing them myself or teaching others; they are innumerable. Today, I am ashamed and embarrassed, and so reveal them and confess. I vow to destroy my wrongdoings and create good fortune, to see the Buddha and hear the Dharma, and to develop the aspiration to enlightenment. (To be repeated three times.)33

The list of violations of the ten good precepts is typical of these formulae. The language is usually vague and does not require the practitioner to confess specific offenses unique to him or her. In some other texts, they might list the most serious offenses: the four pārājikas or the five (or seven) heinous sins. Another approach that is often found lists wrongdoings classified according to the six senses; this was found in some Tiantai sources. Confession was then viewed as a ritual that would purify the six senses.34 Bruce Williams noted that such confessions differed from those found in the vinaya. A violation of a precept would be confessed to other monks because the violation had affected the purity of the order. But in bodhisattva ordinations, the confession was directed towards the 32 Tsuchihashi Shūkō, “Perio-hon Shukkejin ju bosatsukai hō ni tsuite, in Kairitsu no kenkyū, ed. Tsuchihashi Shūkō (Kyoto: Nagata bunshōdō, 1980), 834–35. 33 X 59: 351c21–352a5. 34 Williams, “Mea maxima vikalpa,” 37.

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Buddha, who would then signify his acceptance by giving the practitioner a sign. What was the role of the Buddha in such confessions? He is clearly asked to function as both a preceptor and a witness in the ordination. Issuing a sign indicates that he is also a guarantor of the efficacy of the confession. The most problematic aspect of the Buddha’s role is, to use Bruce Williams’ term, as an “expediter.” In other words, he seems to remove the karmic effects of wrongdoing. However, virtually no speculation as how he might do this is found in early Chinese repentance texts.35 The pattern for both bodhisattva precept ordinations in China during the mid-Tang and in Japan during the early Heian was based on the manual by Zhanran; in Japan it was slightly revised by Saichō. In Saichō’s revision (sometimes called the Wakokubon 和国本), the discussion on confession occupied one third of the manual and was by far the most detailed section.36 The bulk of it consisted of two sets of ten steps: one showed how the practitioner progressed towards greater ignorance and wrongdoing; the other showed how he or she progressed towards salvation. The key stages in the passage concerning one’s descent into evildoing follows: 1. Because of man’s basic ignorance, he mistakenly believes he has a soul . . . Because he wrongly discriminates, desire, anger, and ignorance arise. Because of ignorance, he [constantly] creates karma. Because of karma, he is caught in the cycles of birth and death. 2. [At this stage] a person is already imbued with defilements. Now he meets malicious friends who incite him to perform evil acts and encourage him to become increasingly self-centered. 3. [In this stage] a person already has evil [inclinations and friends]. Now good thoughts and good actions are extinguished. Moreover, he does not even appreciate the good deeds performed by other people. 4. His physical, verbal, and mental actions are motivated by selfishness. There is no evil that he will not do. 5. Although his [evil] actions are not yet pervasive, his bad thoughts extend everywhere. 6. His evil thoughts continue day and night without cease. 7. He conceals his evil deeds so that others will not know of them.

35 Williams, “Mea maxima vikalpa,” 27. 36 DZ 1: 307–319.



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8. Out of ignorance and stupidity, he no longer fears [the consequences of his deeds]. 9. He no longer has a conscience or is ashamed of his actions before others. 10. He is oblivious to any thought of cause and effect and has become an icchantika.37 The path to salvation reverses this process and is described in more detail. 1. The practitioner must firmly believe in the inevitability of cause and effect, but one’s determination is weak. Karmic seeds are long-lasting and are not readily destroyed. The karmic consequences of a person’s actions are not received by another. Thus one should know what is good and what is evil. One must not have doubts about this. Through deep faith (in cause and effect) he can rid himself of the state of mind of an icchantika. 2. One should feel ashamed before others and firmly criticize himself. [Only] the most depraved criminal knows no shame and behaves like an animal. [Only such a person] discards the purest feeling of shame . . . Heaven sees the wrongs a person tries to conceal; thus one should be ashamed before Heaven. A person’s wrongs may be revealed so that others will become aware of them; thus he should be ashamed in front of others. This attitude will vanquish the lack of a conscience and shamelessness. 3. A person should fear the consequences of his misdeeds. People’s lifespans are short and uncertain. If one fails to draw a breath, one’s life ends. The way to hell is long and there are no provisions for the journey. The sea of suffering is deep, but a serious practitioner can easily cross it with a boat or raft. The worthies and sages warn us that there is nothing upon which we can depend. Time passes and the knifelike wind does not dull. How can a person calmly sit and wait for its searing pain? One should be like the jackal that lost its ears, tail, and teeth. This jackal pretended to be dead hoping to escape, but upon hearing that someone was about to cut off its head, it became very frightened.38

37 DZ 1: 311. 38 A jackal entered a village in search of food, but fell asleep. He was discovered by villagers the next day, but pretended to be dead, hoping to find a way to escape. People came to cut off his ears and tail and to pull his teeth, but he endured the pain without giving any indication that he was alive. Finally, when someone was about to cut off his head, he was terrified and jumped up and escaped. Humans are similar insofar as they endure birth,

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Even if birth, old age and sickness do not seem to be urgent matters, death certainly is. How can one not be frightened of it? When a man fears death, he acts as if he had just stepped in boiling water or a fire. He has no time for the five sense objects or the six desires. He should be like King Aśoka’s [younger brother] who heard the caṇḍāla ring the bell and announce, “One day has passed; in six more days you shall die.”39 Even though he could have enjoyed the pleasures of the five senses, he did not desire them for even a single moment. Thus a Buddhist practitioner should be fearful and perform his confessions with utmost seriousness. He should not be sparing of his body or life. Thus he should be like the jackal when his head was about to be cut off. He should be free of [extraneous] thoughts like King Aśoka’s frightened [brother]. Thus he will come to fear the consequences of his evil deeds. 4. A person should reveal his wrongdoings and not hide his flaws. Bandits’ poisons and weeds must be quickly removed. If the roots are exposed, the branches with wither. If the source dries up, the flow will also dry up. If a man hides his errors, he is not a good person. Thus Mahākāśyapa made [Ānanda] reveal his errors in front of the order.40 According to Mahāyāna teachings, transgressors usually face another person to confess. But for lesser wrongdoings, a transgressor should reflect on his misdeeds while facing an image of the Buddha and try to rectify them. In a similar way, if a person covered a carbuncle and did not treat it, he might die. This attitude will enable a person to cease hiding his wrongdoings. 5. People should overcome habitual wrongdoing. If a person has great resolve, he can put an end to deep-rooted bad habits and not develop new ones. This can be done though confession. When a person sins after confession, it is as if he had broken a secular law and been

sickness and old age without turning to Buddhist practices. Only when they are faced with death, do they become frightened enough to practice (Dazhidulun, T 25: 162c–163a). 39 King Aśoka’s younger brother Tissa did not understand how Buddhist monks could refrain from indulging in worldly pleasure when they were supplied with monasteries and food. In order to teach him a lesson, Aśoka told Tissa that he could rule in Aśoka’s place for seven days, but must die at the end of his rule. When the seven days has passed, Aśoka asked Tissa whether he had enjoyed the opportunity to rule and have access to all the worldly pleasures given the king. Tissa replied that he had not enjoyed them at all because he had been obsessed with his impending death. Aśoka then told Tissa that in the same manner monks did not enjoy their monasteries (Dazhidulun, T 25: 211a15–21). 40 Dazhidulun, T 25: 68a–b.



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pardoned, but nevertheless had broken the law again. The second offense would be very serious. When one first enters the hall [to confess], one can easily put an end to wrongdoings. But if the offense is repeated, then it becomes increasingly difficult to correct. How can one eat [food] that one has already vomited? [Through serious confession] a person can overcome the habit of constantly thinking of evil. 6. People should develop the aspiration to realize enlightenment. If a person had previously threatened everyone for his own selfish ends and caused those around him to suffer, he should now try to save everyone and benefit others all over the world. Using this technique, one can overcome the state of mind in which bad intentions surface everywhere. 7. People should perform meritorious deeds and rectify their wrongdoings. If one’s previous actions, words, and thoughts have led to incalculable wrongdoings, one should now strive tirelessly to correct bad actions, words and thoughts . . . Thus one can rectify the self-centered state of mind that motivated his actions, words, and thoughts. 8. People should uphold true teachings. If one previously had extinguished one’s [good] inclinations, as well as those of others, and took no pleasure in the good deeds of oneself or others, that person should now foster all types of the good and use expedient teachings to increase good and insure that it does not vanish. The Shengman jing 勝鬘経 states that “Upholding the true teaching and transmitting it is the most [excellent act in the world].”41 A person can thus vanquish the state of mind in which he did not appreciate the good deeds of other. 9. People should contemplate the buddhas of the ten directions. If a person had previously associated with people who had bad intentions and believed their words, he should now contemplate the buddhas of the ten directions. One should reflect on their unobstructed compassion and make them one’s “uninvited friends,” recalling their unhindered knowledge and considering them to be teachers. Thus the state of mind that led to the enjoyment of wrongdoers will be vanquished. 10. One should contemplate the nonsubstantiality of wrongdoing. One should thoroughly understand that the mind of desire, anger and ignorance is quiescent. How is this so? When desire or anger arise, on what are they based? One knows that desire and anger are based on deluded thought . . . The view that one has a soul has no basis. Even 41 Paraphrase of the text’s discussion of the three great vows, T 12: 218a.

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if one thoroughly searches in the ten directions, one will not find a soul. The mind is nonsubstantial; there is no [real] self that undergoes punishments and receives rewards. When a person has thoroughly penetrated the nature of reward and punishment, he understands everything in the ten directions . . . Thus he can vanquish ignorance and confusion.42 The descriptions of the path downward and upward suggest the seriousness with which both Zhanran and Saichō approached confession, but they seem verbose when the ordinations of groups are considered. An individual who was sequestered until a sign from the Buddha was received might embark on such prolonged reflection.43 To explain this issue, three types of confession are described. There are three types of confession. In superior confessions, one’s whole body is thrown on the ground, like a great mountain crumbling, and blood flows from the hair follicles. Middling confessions are the revealing of one’s transgressions with wailing and tears. The lowest level confessions are the recitations following one’s teacher’s instructions concerning transgressions committed previously. Although we perform the lowest level, we invite the buddhas and bodhisattvas to be our witnesses.44

A short passage that describes the variety of wrongdoings, many of them grave, that sentient beings have committed follows the descriptions of the ten stages of practice in the manuals by Zhanran, Mingguang, and Saichō. This was probably recited while the long section on the ten types of mind was for contemplation. The confession section of these manuals seems to have a dual purpose. On the one hand they describe a ritual that could be used for a group of practitioners; while Chinese Tiantai might use the ritual to confer the bodhisattva precepts on lay believers and monastics, they never used it when a person moved from lay believer to monastic. In contrast, Japanese Tendai did use it that way. In both China and Japan, the awkwardness of having too much included in the confession ceremony would be alleviated by revising or eliminating confessions in ordinations.

42 DZ 1: 312–315. 43 Zhanran (X 59: 355a8) and Saichō (DZ 1: 309) both mention Dharmakṣema’s confession practice as taking three years. This is undoubtedly a reference to the story of Daojin’s practice, which appears in Dharmakṣema’s biography (cited above). 44 DZ 1: 310; virtually the same passage is found in Zhanran’s Shou pusajie yi, (X 59: 355a19) and in Zhanran’s student Mingguang’s Tiantai pusajie shu (T 40: 582b25–c1).



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Annen’s 安然 (b. 841) Futsūju bosatsukai kōshaku 普通授菩薩戒広釈 (Detailed explanation of the universal bodhisattva ordination) is one of the most influential texts for Tendai views of the precepts. It follows the twelve-part organization found in the manuals by Zhanran and Saichō, but the contents differ in a variety of ways. For example, it emphasizes the efficacy of the ordination as equivalent to realization of Buddhahood with this very body (sokushin jōbutsu 即身成仏), as is apparent when the role of confession is examined. The section on confession consists primarily of quotations from the two texts: the Contemplation on the mind-ground sūtra (Xindi guan jing 心地観経) and the Contemplation on Samantabhadra sūtra (Guan Puxian jing 観普賢経). The Contemplation on the mind-ground sūtra is a late Mahāyāna text displaying a variety of influences from earlier texts, including the Lotus Sūtra and Yogācāra works. The lengthy citation from the Mind-ground sūtra explains the value of confession, classifies confession into two categories—detailing the actual wrongdoings that have been done in various lifetimes ( ji 亊 or phenomenon) and confession in principle (ri 理), namely looking at wrongdoing as being inherently non-substantial. Confession based on wrongdoings is then divided into three levels. To give a sense of the text, I cite just a small portion of the sūtra found in Annen’s manual: If one confesses in accord with the Dharma, then he should rely on two forms of contemplation. The first is contemplating the actual wrongdoings; the second is contemplating principle to eliminate the [wrongdoing]. Three types of contemplation of the actual wrongdoing exist: superior, middling, and inferior. If one has superior religious faculties and seeks the pure precepts, then with great effort he will not backslide. He cries tears of blood, and blood emerges from every pore of his body 45 (T 74: 770b5–8; T 3: 303c10–14).

The identification of two types of confession, one based on actual wrongdoing and the other on discerning the emptiness of wrongdoing, merit, and karma are hallmarks of Zhiyi’s use of these practices in the four types of samādhi.46 The noteworthy part of incorporating this type of 45 T 74: 770b5–8; T 3: 303c10–14. The quoted passage from the sūtra has been rearranged at a few points, but generally follows the text from the Taishō. 46 A number of studies of confession in Tiantai exist; among the best are Shioiri Ryōdō, Chūgoku Bukkyō no senbō no seiritsu (Tokyo: Taishō daigaku Tendaigaku kenkyūshitsu, 2007), 516–582; and the discussions found in the context of meditations in Neil Donner and Daniel Stevenson, The Great Calming and Contemplation: A Study and Annotated Translation of the First Chapter of Chih-I’s Mo-Ho Chih-Kuan (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993).

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confession in principle in an ordination ritual is mixing a ritual that requires considerable focus and an advanced level of practice with an initiation ceremony for new practitioners, both lay and monastic. The Contemplation on Samantabhadra sūtra is the capping sūtra for the Lotus Sūtra and played an important role in the ordination manuals of Zhanran and Saichō by being the basis of a section in which Śākyamuni is invited to serve as preceptor, Mañjuśrī as the instructor who reads the liturgy, Maitreya as the instructor for the bodhisattva precepts, the various buddhas as witnesses, and the bodhisattvas as fellow practitioners.47 In Annen’s work, it is identified with confession based on the principle of nonsubstantiality. Thus all karmic obstacles can be swept away. After the quotation, Annen comments: Through this confession, each is able to realize Buddhahood. After the Buddha has entered nirvāṇa, if his disciples wish to speedily realize supreme enlightenment, they should think of the ultimate meaning of nonsubstantiality. In the time it takes to snap one’s fingers, the wrongdoings of myriads of eons of saṃsāra are vanquished. One is called a holder of the full bodhisattva precepts. Even if one does not perform the ritual, one naturally attains this.48

Annen’s interpretation could lead to at least two developments that led to the lax interpretation of the precepts that typified much, but not all of later Tendai. First, the emphasis on the realization of a contemplative principle as vanquishing eons of bad karma is repeated in many hongaku texts; observance of the precepts is not particularly important. Second, equating the receipt of the precepts or the performance of confession with the realization of Buddhahood collapsed traditional path structure. The ordination was sometimes interpreted as realization of Buddhahood. Thus, the earlier tension over whether confession in ordinations was for advanced practitioners or for beginners was resolved. Later Shifts in the Presence of Confession in the Bodhisattva Precepts Ordination Because the confession ceremony was not specified in the Fanwang jing as a part of the ordination ceremony when it was conferred by a qualified teacher, not all later Tiantai monks used it. If confession could no longer 47 T 9: 393c22–23. 48 T 74: 771a11–15.



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be performed with the sincerity found in the story of Daojin because it was a period of decline of the Dharma, perhaps it should be eliminated from the ceremony. If successful confession was to result in a sign from the Buddha, how could this be required of groups of people? Could they have all simultaneously received such a sign? Such concerns might have been behind the decision of some to de-emphasize or drop it from their ritual manuals. Even so, Zhanran’s manual was so popular and wellorganized that the majority of bodhisattva ordinations followed it. Below I survey several examples in both China and Japan where confession is either dropped or is attenuated. Zunshi 遵式 (964–1032), a Tiantai monk noted for his insistence on the repentance ritual as a part of his Tiantai and Pure Land practice, did not mention confession in his manual for the bodhisattva precepts ordination, which had the following elements: 1. Instructions on developing a mind of faith 2. Requesting the protection of the deities 3. Three refuges 4. Inviting the five sagely teachers 5. [The precepts master] descends from his seat, going before the Buddha and asking for the precepts 6. Taking the four bodhisattva vows 7. Questions concerning whether the recipient has temporary or permanent obstacles that prevent the receipt of the precepts 8. The threefold rite of receiving the precepts 9. Asking the buddhas to serve as witnesses 10. Explaining the contents of the precepts.49 Note that experiencing a sign from the Buddha is also not present. The structure of the ritual is similar to Zhanran’s rite, but with the sections most closely associated with the self-ordination excised. However Zunshi was not completely uninterested in combining confession rituals with ordinations. In the next section of the Jinyuanji, he outlined a lay ordination that conferred the five precepts, basing the ritual on passages from Daoxuan’s words and the Youposai jie jing 優婆塞戒経 (Lay precepts

49 Jinyuanji 金薗集, X 57: 1a9–14.

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sūtra).50 The second of ten sections was a confession ceremony. Later in the text, he describes a ritual that combined confession and ninafo.51 The case of Jitsudō Ninkū 実導仁空 (1309–1388) in Japan provides another example of de-emphasis of confession. Ninkū was the leading Tendai thinker of his day; he was also one of the figures who established the Seizan-ha 西山派 lineage of the Jōdoshū. He had his monks ordained on Mount Hiei where they followed the format of Zhanran’s ordination manual, but he radically re-interpreted the ritual. The actual conferral of the precepts came when the ordinand took the three refuges, not when the candidate was asked whether he would receive the precepts; thus the precepts were received at the second part of the twelvefold ordination before the confession and conferral of the precepts by asking the candidate whether he would observe them.52 Thus the confession lost much of its rationale because it no longer served as a means to purify the ordinand for receiving the precepts from the Buddha. In his remarks on the confession, Ninkū notes that as worldlings during the final period of the Buddha’s dharma, everyone commits wrongdoing, so confession is important, but few do it. Who is capable of performing a penance in which one cries blood and prostrates on the ground? Who is capable of performing the confessions based on principle recommended by Zhiyi that all conclude with a meditation on emptiness? All that is left for most of us is receiving the Fanwang precepts from Vairocana because they are appropriate for the worldlings of this age of decline and to recite the verses on repentance of Samantabhadra following the lead of their teacher.53 The de-emphasis of the role of confession in the ordination led to a shift in the importance of receiving a sign from the Buddha. Instead of emphasizing a sign in the current life, the light from the Pure Land pervading the universe is mentioned. The expectation of a post-mortem reward is stressed. Similar tendencies can be seen in the ordination manual frequently referred to as the Kurodani-hon 黒谷本, a manual based on Zhanran’s twelve-part ordination, that may have been used by Hōnen 法然 and certainly was used by the Chinzei 鎮西 branch of the Jōdoshū. Although later sectarian 50 X 57: 4b8–19. 51 X 57: 5c22–a9. 52 I have described Ninkū’s view of the ordination at greater length in “Jitsudō Ninkū on Ordinations.” Japan Review 15 (2003): 51–75. As is noted earlier in this essay, identifying the conferral of the precepts with the recitation of the three refuges was found in ordinations conferring the eight precepts on lay practitioners. 53 Endon kaigi hi kikigaki 円頓戒儀秘聞書, in Seizan zenshū kankōkai (ed.), Seizan zensho (Kyoto: Bun’eidō shoten, 1975), bekkan 3: 608a–b.



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emphases in Japanese Buddhism stress the distinction between Tendai and Jōdoshū, most of the Tendai ordination lineages run through Hōnen; as a result, the similarities between some Tendai and Jōdoshū ordinations is not surprising. This manual was used in the Jōdoshū until the Tokugawa period when it was superceded by the Shinpon kaigi 新本戒儀.54 The confession is abbreviated with only a very short verse being taught to the recipient: I confess with utmost sincerity. I and others have committed unlimited wrongdoings from the beginningless past. I repent all of these before the Buddha. Having repented them, I shall not commit them again. The bad karma that I incurred was all due to beginningless desire, hatred and ignorance. I repent all [of these] that arose from my body, words, and intentions.”55

The recitation of these verses is said to purify the body and mind. However, in comparison with some of the heartfelt confession texts in other sources, it seems formulaic and dry. Finally, another ordination manual that may be related to the Tiantai tradition does not include confession. The author of the Shou pusajie yi 受菩薩戒儀 is identified in the text as Nanyue Huisi 南嶽慧思.56 Traditionally the author is said to have been Zhiyi’s teacher Huisi, making it the earliest Tiantai ordination manual. A manual by Huisi is mentioned in the bibliography of texts that Saichō carried back from China.57 However, stylistic elements, such as the mention of a number of Chinese deities, suggest that it comes from a later period.58 The structure of the ritual is as follows: Invitation to a monk who can transmit the precepts (denju kaishi 伝授­ 戒師) Explanation of the precepts

54 Jōdoshū daijiten hensan iinkai (ed.), Jōdoshū daijiten (Tokyo: Sankibō Busshorin, 1975) 2:214c–215a. 55 Ju bosatsukai gi, Jōdoshū zensho (Tokyo: Sankibō Busshorin, 1972), Zoku 12: 2. 56 X 59: 350a5. 57 T 55: 1056c10. 58 Tajima Tokuon (s.v. “Ju bosatsukai gi”, Bussho kaisetsu daijiten. Ed. Ono Genmyō. 5: 102c–103a) suggests a Song or Yuan dynasty date. Daniel Getz suggests late Tang (“Popular Religion and Pure Land in Song-Dynasty Tiantai Bodhisattva Precept Ordination Ceremonies,” in Going Forth: Visions of Buddhist Vinaya, ed. William Bodiford [Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press 2005], pp. 167–170). Taira Ryōshō (“Den-Eshi hon ‘Jubosatsukaigi nit suite,’ ” Taishō daigaku kenkyū kiyō: Bukkyō gakubu bungakubu 40 [1955]: 1–36) has argued that the text was written by the fourth Tiantai patriarch Huiwei 慧威. Although I accepted this position when I wrote my doctoral dissertation, I believe that the arguments for a later date are much stronger.

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paul groner Eight superior qualities of the bodhisattva precepts Five meditations on sentient beings Three vows Four bodhisattva vows Invitation to buddhas and bodhisattvas as precept teachers Veneration of buddhas as preceptor monks (kai kashō 戒和尚) Three refuges Questions about difficulties in receiving the precepts Conferral of precepts Witnessing by buddhas Transfer of merits Exhortation to practice

No section labeled ‘Confession’ is found in the manual, but a short confession based on the ten good actions is found in the questions concerning obstacles, which is included above. It ends with the following statement by a master of ceremonies: The master of ceremonies should announce” “Your confession is complete, the three types of action are purified, just like lapis lazuli. You are able to receive the bodhisattva precepts.”59

Conclusion The use of confession ceremonies in bodhisattva precept ordinations probably had its origins in the conferral of the eight lay precepts on lay practitioners. When confessions were used in bodhisattva precept ordinations several issues became evident. First, confessions frequently served to purify the candidate for ordination so that he or she could go before buddhas and bodhisattvas and directly receive the precepts. Receiving a sign from the Buddha that one’s efforts had been recognized suggested that one was an advanced practitioner. Such a practice might take several years. In some Japanese texts, such as the manual by Annen, receiving the precepts from the Buddha was tantamount to the realization of Buddhahood. According to the Fanwang jing, receiving the precepts from a qualified teacher did not require a sign, but confession and the receipt of a sign were introduced into bodhisattva precept ordination conducted by a qualified teacher.

59 X 59: 352a2–6.



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Second, when a self-ordination was performed by an individual, that person might spend as much time as necessary in confession. The story of Daojin is cited repeatedly in manuals to illustrate this point. The sūtras, particularly the apocryphal texts mentioned above, instruct the practitioner to persevere even if it takes years to receive a sign from the Buddha that the confession has been accepted. However, when the ordination was used to initiate a number of people into an order, as was the case in Japanese Tendai and some Tiantai groups during the Song dynasty, a schedule had to be kept. Confession frequently became a matter of reciting a liturgy. The manuals by Zhanran and Saichō use both approaches, including a long passage from Zhiyi’s Mohe zhiguan on the ten stages of a mind undergoing confession as well as a short liturgy. Later manuals would omit the description of the ten stages because it was too long for use in a ceremony. Third, the perception of Buddhist history also played a part in these developments. If one lived during a period when the realization of high states on the path or Buddhahood was feasible, then confession might be prolonged. If it were the period of the final decline of the Dharma (mappō 末法), then confession might be virtually impossible and the only salvation available was post-mortem birth in the Pure Land. In such cases the confession was very simple. Bibliography Abbreviations DZ see Hieizan senshuin fuzoku Eizan gakuin, ed. Dengyō Daishi zenshū. JZ see Jōdoshū kaishū happyakunen kinen kyōsan junbikyoku, Jōdoshū zensho. T see Takakusu Junjirō and Watanabe Kaigyoku, Taishō shinshū daizokyō. X see Xinwenfeng bianjibu (ed.), Wan Xuzangjing. Sources Benn, James. Burning for the Buddha: Self-immolation in Chinese Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007. Donner, Neil and Daniel Stevenson. The Great Calming and Contemplation: A Study and Annotated Translation of the First Chapter of Chih-I’s Mo-Ho Chih-Kuan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993. Getz, Daniel. “Popular Religion and Pure Land in Song-Dynasty Tiantai Bodhisattva Precept Ordination Ceremonies.” In Going Forth: Visions of Buddhist Vinaya, edited by William Bodiford, 161–184. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005. Groner, Paul. “Jitsudō Ninkū on Ordinations.” Japan Review 15 (2003): 51–75. Hieizan senshuin fuzoku Eizan gakuin 比叡山專修院附属叡山学院, ed. Dengyō Daishi zenshū 傳教大師全集. Tokyo, Sekai seiten kankō kyōkai, 1975. Hirakawa Akira 平川彰. Shoki daijō Bukkyō no kenkyū 初期大乗仏教の研究. Tokyo: Shunjūsha, 1968.

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Ishida Mizumaro 石田瑞麿. Nihon Bukkyō shisō kenkyū: Kairitsu no kenkyū日本仏教思 想研究:戒律の研究. Kyoto: Hōzōkan, 1986. Jōdoshū daijiten hensan iinkai 浄土宗大辞典編纂委員会, ed. Jōdoshū daijiten 淨土宗 大辭典. Tokyo: Sankibō Busshorin, 1974–82. Jōdoshū kaishū happyakunen kinen kyōsan junbikyoku 浄土宗開宗八百年記念慶讃準 備局, ed. Jōdoshū zensho 浄土宗全書. Tokyo: Sankibō Busshorin, 1970. Ono Genmyō 小野 玄妙. Bussho kaisetsu daijiten 仏書解説大辞典. Tokyo: Daitō shuppansha, 1979. Prip-Møller, Johannes. Chinese Buddhist Monasteries: their plan and its function as a setting for Buddhist monastic life. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1967. Sakamoto Dōshō 坂本道生. “Juhakkaigi ni okeru sangehō ni tsuite: Tonkō shahon wo chūshin ni” 受八戒儀における懺悔法について:敦煌写本を中心に. Indo tetsugaku Bukkyōgaku 25 (2010): 114–127. Satō Tatsugen 佐藤達玄. Chūgoku Bukkyō ni okeru kairitsu no kenkyū 中国仏教における 戒律の研究. Tokyo: Mokujisha, 1986. Seizan zenshū kankōkai 西山全集刊行会, ed. Seizan zensho 西山全書. Kyoto: Bun’eidō shoten, 1975. Shioiri Ryōdō 塩入良道. Chūgoku Bukkyō no senbō no seiritsu 中国仏教の懺法の成立. Tokyo: Taishō daigaku Tendaigaku kenkyūshitsu, 2007. Stevenson, Daniel. “The T’ien-t’ai Four Forms of Samādhi and Late North-South Dynasties, Sui, T’ang Devotional Buddhist Devotionalism.” Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1987. Suzuki Research Foundation, ed. Dainihon Bukkyō zensho 大日本仏教全書. Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1970–76. Taira Ryōshō 平了照. “Den-Eshi hon ‘Jubosatsukaigi’ ni tsuite 伝慧思本「受菩薩 戒儀」について.” Taishō daigaku kenkyū kiyō: Bukkyō gakubu bungakubu 40 (1955): 1–36. Edited by Takakusu Junjirō 高楠順次郎 and Watanabe Kaigyoku 渡辺海旭. Taishō shinshū daizokyō 大正新修大蔵経. Tokyo: Taishō Issaikyō Kankōkai, 1924–1932. Tokuda Myōhon 徳田明本. Risshū gairon 律宗概論. Kyoto: Hyakkaen, 1969. Tsuchihashi Shūkō 土橋 秀高. “Jukai girei no hensen 授戒儀礼の変遷.” In Kairitsu no kenkyū 戒律の研究, edited by Tsuchihashi Shūkō, 281–363. Kyoto: Nagata bunshōdō, 1980. ——. “Perio-hon Shukkejin ju bosatsukai hō ni tsuite ペリオ本「出家人受菩薩 戒法」について. In Kairitsu no kenkyū 戒律の研究, edited by Tsuchihashi Shūkō, 832–886. Kyoto: Nagata bunshōdō, 1980. ——. “Jukai girei no hensen” 授戒儀礼の変遷. In Bukkyō kyōdan no kenkyū 仏教教団の 研究, edited by Yoshimura Shuki 芳村修基, 205–282. Kyoto, Hyakkaen, 1968. ——. “Juhachisaikaigi no hensen: Sutain-hon wo chūshin ni 受八齋戒儀の変遷:スタイ ン本を中心に.” In Iwai Hakushi koki kinen; Tenseki ronshū 岩井博士古稀紀念典籍 論集, pp. 379–400. Shizuoka-ken, Hamamatsu-shi: Kaimeidō, 1963. Welch, Holmes. The Practice of Chinese Buddhism 1900–1950. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967. Wijayaratna, Mohan. Buddhist Monastic Life: according to the texts of the Theravāda tradition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Williams, “Mea maxima vikalpa: Repentance, Meditation and the Dynamics of Liberation in Medieval Chinese Buddhism.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 2002. Xinwenfeng bianjibu 新文豐編審部, ed. Wan xuzangjing 卍續藏經. Taipei: Xinwenfeng chuban, 1983. Yoshikawa Tadao 吉川 忠夫. Chūgokujin no shūkyō ishiki 中国人の宗教意識. Tokyo: Sōbunsha, 1998.

Removal of Sins in Esoteric Buddhist Rituals: A Study of the Dafangdeng Dhāraṇī Scripture Koichi Shinohara In this paper I discuss a distinctive approach to the removal of sins that appears in the stream of Buddhism we call ‘Esoteric’ Buddhism. The idea that the recitation of spells, typically called dhāraṇīs, results in the removal of sins is mentioned frequently in Esoteric Buddhist scriptures. Sins in this context are understood as the karmic residue of evil deeds committed in the course of an innumerable number of past lives. Recitation of dhāraṇīs is at the heart of Esoteric Buddhist rituals, but the removal of sins was not always the goal of such practices. In its initial stages spell-recitation centered on worldly benefits. Nonetheless, the removal of sin became a fairly constant theme relatively early in the evolution of these Esoteric rituals, as can be seen from the fact that it occupies a very conspicuous place in many early dhāraṇī texts. My hypothesis is that as dhāraṇī recitation gained popularity, it began to be seen as the means to achieve not only worldly benefits but also soteriological goals, for which the removal of sins was thought to have been essential. I offer here a case study of the challenges that resulted when dhāraṇī recitation came to take the place of other normative Buddhist practices as the means to eradicate sin and achieve salvation. I focus on one scripture in detail, the Dafangdeng tuoluoni jing大方等陀羅尼經. This dhāraṇī scripture was translated by a Northern Liang monk Fazhong 法眾 at Gaochang 高昌, near Turfan, during the Yong’an period 402–413 ad In this text we can clearly see the efforts that were made to secure a place for dhāraṇī recitation within the larger framework of Buddhist doctrine and monastic practice. I will argue that the sometimes uneasy relationship between dhāraṇī recitation and removal of sin that we see here is also the key to understanding this complicated and often obscure sūtra. The basic scenario for removal of sins through dhāraṇī practice is that as a person recites the dhāraṇī over and over, a vision occurs in which the practitioner sees the deities, in many cases all the Buddhas from their Buddhalands in all the (‘ten’) directions. The Buddhas extend their arms and rub the head of the practitioner. This visionary contact with the Buddhas removes the sins from an innumerable number of past aeons or kalpas;

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it nullifies their karmic effects, and in many cases allows the practitioner to achieve attainments of various kinds, such as supernatural knowledge or the ‘fruits’ along the path to the ultimate attainment of Buddhahood. Sometimes specific samādhis or visions are also named. This is a distinctly soteriological scenario. In early accounts such soteriological scenarios appear alongside rituals in which the recitation of the dhāraṇī brings about what we would consider to be more this-worldly goals, such as cures from sickness and the defeat of enemies. We need also to keep in mind that Esoteric sources often present the soteriological scenario of dhāraṇī practice as a distinctive and competing path, separate from, and even more efficacious (‘quicker’) than the conventional path of observing monastic precepts and engaging in other practices that result in enlightenment, such as meditation. In what follows I begin with a review of early sources on dhāraṇī practice that are preserved in Chinese translation. The specific scenario for removal of sins just described appears repeatedly in these sources. These early accounts often describe the outcome of the repeated recitation of dhāraṇīs in terms of this-worldly goals. My general assumption is that this was the earlier and simpler understanding and the basic ritual. Rituals that focused on less tangible soteriological goals would have appeared later. It is not possible to determine the date of this development. The scriptures that I examine no doubt co-existed before they were translated and the order of translation may not reflect the order of their original composition. Different types of practices also co-existed throughout the history of the Esoteric Buddhist tradition. An early date of a translation can only confirm that the particular practices described in that scripture existed by that date. For example, the earliest datable source, Zhi Qian’s Wuliangmen weimi chi jing 無量門微密持經, T. 1012, in the first half of the third century, focuses on the soteriological scenario exclusively and does not mention any this-worldly benefits. In contrast, the soteriological scenario appears to be absent in the Dajiyi shenzhou jing 大吉義神呪經 T. 1335, translated in 462. In the Tuolinnipo jing 陀隣尼鉢經, T. 1352 dhāraṇī practice is largely directed to this-worldly goals, though the soteriological concern that goes beyond this world or this life, also appears to surface in one important detail. The practice produces the supernatural knowledge of past lives. The Qifo bapusa suoshuo da tuoluoni shenzhou jing 七佛八菩薩所說大陀羅尼神咒經 T. 1332, from the Eastern Jin period (317–420 ad) offers examples in which both tangible this-worldly goals and more developed accounts of soteriological goals appear side by side.



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In many cases a careful reading of a scripture enables us to reconstruct its gradual evolution. In some cases different scenarios are more prominent in different layers of the evolution of the scripture. For example, the Qing Guanshiyin pusa xiaofu duhan tuoluoni zhou jing 請觀世音菩薩消 伏毒害陀羅尼呪經,T. 1043 may be read as a scripture that grew over time; this-worldly concerns are more prominent in the opening section, while distinctly soteriological themes are addressed more openly in subsequent sections. In the second and main part of the paper I will turn to one important Esoteric scripture, the Dafangdeng tuoluoni jing大方等陀羅尼經, T. 1339 and examine it closely. I will construct a reading of this very complex and often puzzling work by reconstructing its gradual evolution. As noted above, in this scripture we see how its authors struggled to incorporate the distinctive and in many ways alien practice of dhāraṇī scriptures within more conventional Buddhist discourse, the Mahāyāna teaching of skill-in-means and emptiness, and the Main Stream Buddhist instruction on precepts and repentance. The Teaching on Sin and its Removal in Early Dhāraṇī Scriptures The Qifo bapusa suoshuo da tuoluoni shenzhou jing, or Scripture of the Divine Spells the Great Dhāraṇīs Taught by the Seven Buddhas and Eight Bodhisattvas A carefully constructed account of the basic recitation practice appears in this early Chinese collection of dhāraṇī practices.1 The collection opens with a section for each of the seven past Buddhas of this world age. In each section the Buddha in question is said to have taught a spell. The spell is then presented in Chinese transcription and the practice associated with the spell is described briefly. The remarkable effects of this practice are listed in some detail. In many cases the dhāraṇīs are said to have been taught by innumerable Buddhas in past world ages. The collection continues with similarly framed entries for the eight bodhisattvas and other deities.

1 I discussed this and closely related Miscellaneous Dhāraṇī Collection, T. 1336 in more detail Koichi Shinohara, Spells, Images, and Maṇḍala: Tracing the Evoltution of Esoteric Buddhist Rituals, Chapter 1, (forthcoming).

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A variety of benefits are mentioned in the instruction of spells in the Scripture of the Seven Buddhas and Eight bodhisattvas. Here I will confine my attention to the first part of the collection, the spells attributed to the Seven Buddhas and Eight Bodhisattvas themselves. The benefits of these spells may be grouped either as ‘royal or communal’ or as ‘personal’. Threatened by neighboring powers, the king and his ministers are to recite the spell on a tall building; a rain of swords will fall, and dark wind will blind the enemy soldiers and demons will suck their vitality, causing them to retreat and scatter (T. 1332: 21.537bc; see also 539c1–9; 541a1–6; 541c15– 23). The king may also pray for rain at the time of a drought (540c224–27; 541c17–20). The spells can cure contagious diseases (540c27–29). The benefits of these practices are communal, although they are realized through the agency of the king. In contrast, other kinds of cures of illness appear to be more ‘personal’ (539b25–28; c25–8; 542b1–4; c18, 22, 543a1). Yet, among the most conspicuous and consistent benefits to appear in the instructions attributed to these deities is the removal of sins (536c15; 17–18; 537a5–8; 18; c21–22; 538b4; 24–26; c1; 21–22; 539b3–4; c28–540a1; 542a10–11). Perhaps as a consequence of the eradication of sin, it is said that the practitioner of the spell will not be reborn in the three inferior realms (537a11; c21–22; 538b21). Certain specific visions or samādhis that result from the recitation are named (537b7, 25; 538a21). Rebirths in Buddha lands (537a11) and the Tuṣita heaven (538a17–18; 540c4) are mentioned. Also conspicuous are the repeated references to the Four Fruits of the path as they are described in Main Stream Buddhism (538a24; b7l c24; 539a22; b7–8; 540a6, 14–15; b4), namely becoming a ‘stream winner,’ ‘once-returner,’ ‘non-returner,’ or an arhat. Supernatural knowledge of previous reincarnations (538c17; 540b9) and the ‘third meditative state’ (538b6) are also mentioned. As a bodhisattva, one will progress through the ten Bodhisattva stages until one reaches the stage of the Buddha (539a17–20). One may receive the prediction to achieve Buddhahood faceto-face with the Buddhas of the Ten Directions (540a5–6, 12). The emphasis on these benefits suggests that in this collection dhāraṇī practice is seen as an important practice for those who follow the Buddhist path toward liberation. These benefits are thus ‘soteriological.’ In the accounts of the efficacy of dhāraṇī practice in the Seven Buddhas and Eight Bodhisattvas scripture, both types of benefits, some this-worldly and others soteriological, are mentioned side-by-side without any comment on the relationship between them.



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The Qing Guanshiyin pusa xiaofu duhan tuoluoni zhou jing, or Dhāraṇī Spell Scripture of Requesting Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara to Dissolve and Overcome Poisons and Harms Zhu Nanti 竺難提, or Nandi translated this scripture in 419 ad (T. 2154: 55. 509a13).2 Visions of deities and removal of sins appear prominently in it. The scripture tells the story that at one time while the Buddha was staying at the lecture hall in the Āmra garden in Vaiśālī, a great epidemic raged in the city.3 The eyes of the sick became blood red, pus oozed from both their ears, blood flowed from their noses, their tongues became tied and they could not speak; whatever an afflicted person ate tasted bitter. With all the sense organs blocked, the sick seemed to be inebriated. Five demonic yakṣas, ink-black, each with five eyes and teeth that stuck out like a dog’s incisors, sucked the life fluids from people. An elder named Yuegai 月蓋, accompanied by five hundred elders, came to the Buddha, asking for help. The Buddha [Śākyamuni] then spoke to them about the Buddha Amtāyus or Wuliangshou 無量壽 who resides in the western direction, and the two attending bodhisattvas Avalokiteśvara or Guanshiyin 觀世音 and Mahāsthāmaprāpta or Dashizhi 大勢至. These deities are always compassionate. They take pity on all beings and come to rescue them from suffering. The Buddha instructed the elders to pay respect to these deities by burning incense, scattering flowers, and meditating with the mind concentrated. The elders were told to request help from the Buddha Amitāyus and the two bodhisattvas. When the Buddha [Śākyamuni] spoke these words, the Buddha Amitāyus and the two bodhisattvas were seen inside Śākymuni’s halo, and these deities arrived at the gate of the city of Vaiśālī. People of the city called the name of the Three Jewels and the name of bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara three times and asked for help.

2 Tiantai Zhiyi (539–98) discusses the ritual of this scripture in the Mohe zhiguan 摩訶止觀, Donner, The Great Calming and Contemplation, 275–286. An entry also appears in the Guoqing bolu 國清百錄, T. 1934: 46.795b16–796a3. The commentary on this scripture is attributed to Tiantai Zhiyi (539–98), Qing Guanyinjing shu 請觀音經疏, T. 1800, appears to be a much later work. Tetsuei Satō 佐藤哲英, Tendai Daishi No Kenkyū, 496–517. 3 The story of the epidemic in Vaiśālī appears in a variety of scriptural sources, for example, Pusa benxing jing 菩薩本行經, 116c7–8. The Mahāvastu, I, 208–214. Further references appear in Indo Bukkyō Koyū Meishi Jiten 印度佛教固有名詞辞典, 75–758. Throughout this paper I will provide detailed summaries of the text passages under discussion as I do here.

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Avalokiteśvara then described to the Buddha the dhāraṇī and the mudrā of Great Compassion of the Past, Present, and Future Buddhas of the Ten Directions, concluding that if one recited or mediated [on the dhāraṇī ], the Buddhas would surely appear (T. 1043: 20. 35a4). Avalokiteśvara then presented the spell of the Buddhas of the Ten Directions Rescuing Sentient Beings, and reciting this spell, he restored order to Vaiśālī (35a19).4 The instruction of Avalokiteśvara continued. The Buddha requested the bodhisattva to teach the dhāraṇī that Destroys the Evil Obstructions and Dissolves and Overcomes Poisons and Harms (35a22–23). The instruction on this spell that appears to have given the scripture its name led to the introduction of yet another spell, called the Divine Spell of the Six Syllable Verse that Rescues from Suffering (36a6–7). This time it is the Buddha [Śākymanuni] who presents the spell (36a13). This spell appears to have had a separate identity.5 The instruction in T. 1043 concluded with the Buddha again presenting yet another spell, called the Auspicious Dhāraṇī of Consecration (abhiṣeka) (37c18). This somewhat irregular outline suggests that this scripture evolved over time, as new material was appended to it. In the first part it is Avalokiteśvara who confers the spell on the citizens of Vaiśālī, who are suffering from an epidemic and in distress, but in the subsequent parts of the scripture it is the Buddha himself who introduces the spells. The first instruction given by Avalokiteśvara in the first part of the scripture is directed firmly to the overcoming of practical this-worldly difficulties, though this instruction is framed by a story in which the Buddha predicts miraculous visions of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. As the instruction in the scripture unfolds the description of the benefits of reciting spells expands in scope. Avalokiteśvara’s instruction on the dhāraṇī that Destroys the Evil Obstructions and Dissolves and Overcomes Poisons and Harms speaks of removal of sins, the vision of the Buddha, and being reborn in the presence of the Buddha (35b10–13; c6–7). If one hears the six-syllable verse taught by the Buddha and recites Avalokiteśvara’s name, all sins are removed. The practitioner thus gets to 4 In the version of this scripture reproduced in the Taishō collection, interlinear notes inserted in the transcribed dhāraṇī explain the meaning of each phrase in Chinese terms (35a6–15; 35a28–b8; 36a8–12; 37c24). With a limited number of exceptions, most of the phrases are explained as names of demons. 5 The Taisho collection reproduces three versions of the scripture of the “Six syllable king of spells”, T. 1044 and T. 1045 (in two versions). The six syllable spell that appears in T. 1043 (36a8–12) does not agree with the spell in T. 1044 and 1045 (20.38b2–8, 39c17–24 and 41c11–17).



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see eighty koṭis (units of large number) of Buddhas, who place their hands [on the crown of the person’s head?] (36b9–11). Avalokiteśvara leads sentient beings out of the realm of rebirths to the Pure Land and ultimately to the shore of great nirvāṇa (36b26–27). By hearing Avalokiteśvara’s name and the six-syllable spell, meditating and following the instruction of pure practice, all evil karmas accumulated in the course of innumerable past world ages will be removed and one gets to see immediately in one’s lifetime the innumerable Buddhas and to hear their teaching whenever one wants. Such a person gives rise to the mind of seeking the ultimate enlightenment, the first step on the Bodhisattva path. Those individuals with exceptionally negative karmas in their past lives or who have committed the gravest of sins in this lifetime will see Avalokiteśvara in a dream, and they will then be liberated from those sins. The sins disappear, just as heavy clouds vanish in the path of a powerful wind. Even these evil ones will be reborn in the presence of the Buddhas (37a226–b25; also, ref., 38a2–10). The meditative state that brings about this overcoming of past sins is called samādhi, specifically “śūraṃgama samādhi” or “the samādhi ocean of viewing the Buddhas” (38a7, 12).6 The scripture concludes by promising rebirth in Pure Lands (38a17). The increasing emphasis on the removal of past sins and negative karma and rebirth in the Pure Land in the later parts of the scripture suggests that as the scripture evolved, incorporating the new material that was appended at its end, the focus shifted from specific this-worldly goals, such as putting an end to epidemics, to more distinctly religious and Buddhist goals. The Wuliangmen weimi chi jing The Taishō collection reproduces seven translations of this scripture under a variety of titles (T. 1009, 1012–1018). The oldest among them, Wuliangmen weimichi jing, T. 1011, is attributed to Zhi Qian 支謙, whose translations were produced for the most part in Jianye between 229–252.7 In spite of its early date the scripture in this translation explains the benefits

6 These names of samāadhi appear as titles in well-known scriptures, T. 642 and 643. 7 Jan Nattier, A Guide to the Earliest Chinese Buddhist Translations, Texts from the Eastern Han and Three Kingdoms Period (Tokyo: International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Socka University, 2006), 116–117.

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exclusively in soteriological terms and does not mention this-worldly benefits of dhāraṇī practice.8 The title of this scripture marks its subject as the dhāraṇī called “Unlimited Gate.” The Buddha was teaching at the two-story building in the Great Forest (Mahāvana) Monastery in Vaiśālī and a special gathering was to take place. The Buddha told Maudgalyāyana to travel through the entire universe and tell all the monks, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas to gather at the monastery. Maudgalyāyana went to the top of Mt. Sumeru and with his miraculous powers announced the Buddha’s invitation throughout the universe. The Buddha also told several bodhisattvas to visit all the Buddha lands and call bodhisattvas of different attainments to the meeting (T. 1011: 19. 682bc).9 The Buddha’s instruction is presented as a series of exchanges between the Buddha and Śāriputra. Seeing the assembly gathered there, Śāriputra formulated a complex question. After mapping the path of the bodhisattva as ultimately leading to the highest enlightenment (zuizhengjue 最正覺), he then further elaborated on the path with three sets of four characterizations, the last of which described four aspects of dhāraṇī teaching (680b17–c2). The Buddha then praised Śāriputra for thinking of the dhāraṇī practice that leads bodhisattvas quickly into the ‘Unlimited Gate (teaching)’ wuliangmen 無量門 (680c5) and allows them to obtain ‘the secret dhāraṇī’, weimichi 微密持. The text of the spell appears here to be translated (680c5–12; ref., 682c26–683aa6; 685c15–24) and an abstract

8 This translation is said to have had another name, Chengdao xiangmo deyiqiezhi 成道 降魔得一切智 (“Enlightenment, conquering Māra, and attaining omniscience”). This title again calls attention to the soteriological emphasis of the scripture. 9 In Buddhabhadra’s translation this gathering occurred after the Buddha had declared his intention to enter parinirvāṇa in three months. The Buddha was surrounded by 40,000 great monks. Having decided that he would enter parinirvāṇa after three months, the Buddha told elder Maugalyātyana to announce this throughout the universe and gather together śrāvakas, monks, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas at the two-storied building of the Great Forest Monastery. Maudgalyāyana goes to the top of Mt. Sumeru and enters into a samādhi and announces the summons to the entire universe. Elder Śāriputra also enters into a samādhi and invites the monks in Jambudvīpa to gather. The Buddha also instructs several bodhisattvas, including Mañjuśrī, Avalokiteśvara and Maitreya, to go to numerous Buddha worlds and tell various categories of bodhisattvas to come to the two-story building at the Great Forest Monastery (682bc). Later translations followed this formulation.



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doctrinal discussion follows (680c11–24).10 The convention of transcribing dhāraṇīs rather than translating them was not yet known at this point. 11 The central message of the scripture is presented succinctly in an extended verse section. Following the familiar format of Mahāyāna scriptures, this verse section appears to recapitulate and expand on the Buddha’s instruction in the immediately preceding prose section (682c11– 683a25). The verse begins by stating the familiar message of emptiness: emptiness cannot be ‘obtained’ and one cannot ‘practice’ it as one wishes, assuming that these practices are real. The approach of single-mindedly honoring the scripture and reciting the dhāraṇī is offered as an alternative. Through the latter path of wisdom one attains enlightenment (chengdao 成道). If a bodhisattva receives this dhāraṇī and practices it diligently, that bodhisattva hears the teachings of the Buddhas of the Ten Directions. If one accepts and does not forget all these teachings, one will understand their meaning as if it were illumined by the sun; one can engage in the subtle and marvelous practice as one wishes and attain the ultimate goal (enlightenment). The person who practices this path is a prince of the dharma. Such a one will protect the dharma. Deeply loving the scripture, such a practitioner will be valued by bodhisattvas and loved by the Buddhas of the Ten Directions. This practitioner will enjoy a reputation that spreads everywhere in the world. If one practices this path, one will see an infinite number of Buddhas appear at the moment of death. These Buddhas will extend their hands and receive the dying person. For others, the evil deeds committed over the past one thousand kalpas will be removed in the short space of one month. Simply by guarding this scripture and reciting the dhāraṇī a person can attain the same amount of merits that bodhisattvas accumulate over koṭis of kalpas. By reflecting on the dhāraṇī, and turning to the source of all merits, a person can achieve enlightenment

10 As noted by Nattier, A Guide to the Earliest Chinese Buddhist Translations, 141–142. 11 The idea that dhāraṇī practice was supposed to bring about visions of innumerable Buddhas and resulted in the removal of the effects of existed in the original Indic scripture that Zhi Qian in the third century translated as well as in other versions translated in the fifth to eighth centuries. Yet Chinese translators were initially unfamiliar with the idea of such a dhāraṇī as a spell, a fixed formula, and the teaching was understood as a doctrinal discourse. Thus they translated the dhāraṇī, as if what was important about it was what it said rather than how it said it. It was only in the fifth century translation by Gongdezhi and Xuanchang (T. 1014, dated 642) that the more familiar practice of transliterating the dhāraṇī appeared, retaining at least approximately, the sound of the spell.

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without fail. Even if everyone in the Three Realms were all to turn into evil Māras, they could not harm this practitioner. The Buddha then describes his own experience with the dhāraṇī. When he had received the prediction for attaining Buddhahood from Dīpaṃkara, he saw Buddhas as many as the sands of the Ganges. As he heard their teachings he understood them. This is why a person should simply practice the teaching of this scripture. If someone wishes to decorate the Buddha land and join the group of haloed disciples there, if he or she wishes to be counted among their family, all this can be accomplished through this scripture. If one removes uncontrollable thoughts and concentrates, eight koṭis of Buddhas will appear and together confer this dhāraṇī. The dhāraṇī is a meaning ( yi 意) that cannot be attained by thought or nonthought. If one gets this meaning without the concept of thought, then one attains the dhāraṇī. One should reflect deeply on this scripture, not forget the right path, and take hold of this dhāraṇī as if it were a treasure in the middle of the ocean. A person should not work for wealth. If one brings peace to all gods and men, he or she will easily get everything wished for. This is how the path is realized. One should simply practice the correct path (680c15–681b8). In this dhāraṇi scripture the efficacy of the dhāraṇī is thus described exclusively in soteriological terms. The recitation of the dhāraṇī removes all bad karmas (sins) and leads one to enlightenment. The crucial moment is a vision in which innumerable Buddhas appear and teach the scripture. These Buddhas also appear at the moment of death, presumably to ensure good rebirths. Integrating Dhāraṇī Practice into the Buddhist Discourse of Mahāyāna Scriptures and Monastic Codes (Vinayas) As the soteriological scenario of sin and its removal emerged as a prominent part of dhāraṇī practice, it became an alternative and potential competitor to more conventional Buddhist practices. The relationship between these alternatives had to be negotiated and spelled out. In what follows I propose to examine this development by looking closely at one scripture, the Dafandeng tuoluoni jing, or Dafangdeng Dhāraṇī Scripture. A large part of this scripture may be read as a deliberate effort to harmonize the discourse on sin and its removal in dhāraṇī practice with the more familiar Buddhist approaches to sin and repentance, and ultimately to present the dhāraṇī practice as superior. In some passages the idea of sin is deconstructed, partly as a form of the familiar Buddhist teaching



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technique of skill-in-means in which fictitious, illusory, or false accounts are given for the ultimate purpose of leading ignorant beings along the right path toward salvation. In other passages the language of monastic precepts is introduced to demonstrate the extraordinary power of dhāraṇīs. The Dafangdeng Dhāraṇī Scripture in the form in which it is known to us is very complex and often opaque. I believe that it is a scripture that evolved over time as new material, sometimes not entirely harmonious with the earlier parts, was added in several stages. The significance of this scripture’s views on sin and its removal becomes clearer when these layers are isolated from each other. Introducing the Dafangdeng Tuoluoni Jing This dhāraṇī scripture was translated during the Yong’an period 402– 413 ad, as noted above. This date suggests that it appeared not much later than the Seven Buddhas and Eight Bodhisattvas collection. Yet, the Dafangdeng Dhāraṇī Scripture offers a much more elaborate and complex instruction on dhāraṇī practice.12 The Dafangdeng tuoluoni jing, in four fascicles, is organized into five sections ( fen 分): section 1, Introduction or chu fen 初分 (fascicle 1 and beginning portion of fascicle 2); section 2, Predictions of Attaining Buddha­hood or shouji fen 授記分 (vyākaraṇa) (remaining portion of fascicle 2); section 3, Dream Practice or mengxing fen 夢行分 (fascicle 3); section 4, Guarding Precepts or hujie fen 護戒分 (first half of fascicle 4); section 5, Miraculous Lotus Flower, or busiyilianhua fen 不思議蓮華分 (second half of fascicle 4). I believe that this version of the scripture, T. 1339, has a long history of evolution behind it. My hypothesis is that the existing four fascicle scripture evolved in at least two recognizable stages out of the relatively short story that appears early in the first fascicle. The core story told of monk Leiyin 雷音, an evil or Māra deity, and a bodhisattva called Huaju 華聚, and introduced a dhāraṇī called Mohe Tanchi tuoluoni zhangju 摩訶袒持 陀羅尼章句 (Mahātantra Dhāraṇī Verse).13 12 Tiantai Zhiyi based his discussion of ‘Vaipulya repentance’ on this scripture. Neal Arvid Donner and Daniel B. Stevenson, The Great Calming and Contemplation: A Study and Annotated Translation of the First Chapter of Chih-I’s Mo-Ho Chih-Kuan, Classics in East Asian Buddhism. (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993), 249–261. Zhiyi’s two other manuals are mentioned in footnote 140 on p. 249. 13 This name has been rendered as “Mahā tantra dhāraṇī” in Tokunō Oda 織田得能, Bukkyō Daijiten 佛敎大辭典. Ref., Fanyi mingyi ji 翻譯名義集, T. 2131: 54.1112b29 cites a

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This story, which appears near the beginning of section 1, fascicle 1, then evolved into a scripture that was modeled after other Mahāyāna sūtras, and that now is what we find as the entire section 1. A new introduction was added. The scripture began as an exchange between Mañjuśrī and the Buddha and concluded with the Buddha entrusting the scripture to Ānanda. In this scripture version the dhāraṇī was renamed as Dafangdeng 大方等 Dhāraṇī, a recognizably Mahāyāna term (T. 1339: 21. 643a3–4).14 ‘Dafangdeng’ and ‘dafangguang 大方廣,’ both as translations for vaipulya, appear frequently in titles of Mahāyāna scriptures. The name Dafangdeng Dhāraṇī does not appear in the core Leiyin story.15 Among the newly incorporated material was the story about a hell-being named Vasu 婆萸 and the instruction that the teacher Shangshou 上首 had given to monk Gaṅga (Hengjia恒伽) in the distant past. In the third stage of evolution this new scripture grew further into the four-fascicle scripture. Much of the newly introduced material (Sections 2 to 5 in the present version) was framed as exchanges between the Buddha, Mañjuśrī and Ānanda. It elaborated extensively on certain key themes that had appeared in earlier parts of the scripture. I will now turn to the reading of the scripture itself, summarizing its contents on the basis of this hypothetical reconstruction. The four-fascicle five-section scripture begins following the familiar format of Mahāyāna scriptures. The Buddha was teaching at Jetavana forest in Śrāvastī, and the audience is described in some detail. Mañjuśrī rose and praised dhāraṇī teachings. By entering dhāraṇī gates, sentient beings can contemplate the world as the Buddha sees it (guan fojingjie 觀佛 境界, 641b8). The dhāraṇī gate here appears to mean a vision, a samādhi, though this term does not appear. Mañjuśrī then asked the Buddha to expound on the names of dhāraṇīs. The Buddha gave the name of a variety of dhāraṇīs, and Mañjuśrī and his retinue attained the wisdom of the

passage in the Mohe zhiguan where Mahātantra Dhāraṇī 摩訶袒持陀羅尼 is translated as Damiyao she’e chishan 大祕要遮惡持善, T. 1911: 46.13b23. 14 Another example is found in a passage where the two names appear side by side referring to one dhāraṇī, 651b13–15. Leiyin appears again in 644c6, where the earlier account of his entry into samādhi at Jetavana forest is recalled (ref., 641c17) and this monk and bodhisattva Huaju are said then to have gone to Śākyamuni. The Buddha then told them a new long story about Shangshou and Gaṅga (645a–647a). The dhāraṇī is called Dafangdeng in the passage in this story, 647a19. 15 The editor of the larger scripture naturally knew both names and the name Mahātantra Dhāraṇī also appears outside of the Leiyin story, for example, in the account of the seven-day ceremony in fascicle 3, 652c2.



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Non-Generation of All Dharmas, while others in the audience also miraculously acquired different degrees of attainments. The Buddha then entered into a dhāraṇī gate, presumably a samādhi, and emitted light. Other beings arrived and also entered into the dhāraṇī gate. It is at this point that monk Leiyin appears for the first time. This monk is then said to have entered a meditative samādhi (chan sanmei 禪三昧 641c18). An elaborate story about monk Leiyin and bodhisattva Huaju begins at this point. As noted above, I believe that it is this story that formed the original core of the scripture. This core Leiyin-Huaju story that introduces the Mahātantra Dhāraṇī appears originally to have existed independently of the narrative of the Mahāyāna sūtra, which as we have seen, consists of exchanges between the Buddha, Maṇjuśrī and Ānanda. The larger scripture in four fascicles and five sections is framed in the main as a series of exchanges among the Buddha, Maṇjuśrī, and Ānanda. The Buddha is speaking to Mañjuśrī at the beginning of fascicle 2 (652a, which forms the last part of section 2), fascicle 3 (or section 3, 652c), and fascicle 4 (or section 4, 656a). In section 5 (658a), as in section 1, Mañjuśrī is the first person who rises from his seat and addresses the Buddha (658a19; ref., 641b4). In the latter part of the larger scripture Ānanda also appears as the interlocutor, particularly in the extended discussion on the transmission of the scripture (647a–648b). Yet, neither Maṇjuśrī nor Ānanda appears in the core Leiyin Huaju story. As also noted above, I believe that the recasting of the core story into a larger scripture unfolded in two recognizable steps. I will first summarize the core story and then trace how other parts of the scripture were constructed around it. The Core Dhāraṇī Story A recognizable scenario of dhāraṇī practice can be detected in this story. It is a story of defeating and gaining control over demonic beings. Here the demonic beings are called Māras. When monk Leiyin 雷音 was about to enter a samādhi, a Māra king called Tantra 袒荼羅 was alarmed. He was afraid that the monk would attain the Ultimate Enlightenment (anuttarasamyaksaṃbodhi, 641c22– 23). The Māra king, accompanied by his retinue, came to the Jeta forest to ‘cover up’ the monk’s good karmas, presumably to prevent him from attaining enlightenment. Monk Leiyin called for help and the Buddhas in all directions asked each other aloud how to rescue the monk (642a1). The Buddha Jewel King asked whether anyone in his assembly could save

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him. Bodhisattva Huaju 華聚 rose from his seat (642a3) and asked the Buddha how this Māra king could be brought under control, and the Buddha answered that he would do so with the secret dhāraṇī teaching of the Buddhas. The Buddha offered to teach this secret teaching and Huaju expressed his wish to hear it. The Buddha then instructed Huaji not to spread it indiscriminately. Only when someone secured the miraculous sign of the “twelve dream kings,” or powerful dreams, should Huaju teach him. Then the Buddha is said to have taught the dhāraṇī, and the transcribed text of the dhāraṇī is given. This dhāraṇī consists of three parts, and is presented in transcription in parts and as a whole in four separate places: 9642a, b, c, 645b.16 As noted above, in these passages the name of the dhāraṇī appears to be Mahātantra Dhāraṇī Verse 摩訶袒持陀羅尼 章句 (21.642a08), though it is frequently abbreviated as Dhāraṇī Verse, 陀羅尼章句 (for example, 642b21–22, 645b15). What follows is the story of how Huaju brought the Māra king and his retinue under control. After the dhāraṇī was given, Huaju praised the Buddha and then disappeared from where he was, that is, from in front of the Buddha Jewel King, and reappeared in the sahā world (our ordinary world) at the Jetavana forest, where monk Leiyin was ‘covered’ by 92 koṭis of wicked Māra deities. When the second part of the dhāraṇī was spoken the Māras screamed in pain, and Huaju told them that they could be released from pain if they gave rise to the mind of seeking enlightenment, and they obeyed. The Māra kings then uttered the third part of the dhāraṇī. Huaju praised them and told them that they were now capable of upholding the Mahātantra Dhāraṇī. They presented their robes as an offering to Huaju. At this point the Māras identified themselves as the Twelve Great Kings 十二大王 (642c117–18) who uphold the Mahātantra Dhāraṇī Verses and declared that those who make rich offerings and uphold the scripture should call the names of the Twelve Māra Kings when they are in difficulties. Though not stated explicitly, the message here must be that they will come to their rescue.

16 The three parts appear separately in 642b23–24 (part 1), 642b29–c2 (part 2) and 642c11–4 (part 3). Here bodhisattva Huaju pronounces the first two dhāraṇīs, but the third dhāraṇī is pronounced by the Māra kings. They called this dhāraṇī a “pledge” (zishi 自誓) and wanted to pronounce it after the first dhāraṇī was uttered. The first two parts are given together in 642a15–19; in 645c14–21 all three parts appear together, though here the sequence between part 1 and part 2 is reversed.



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These Twelve Māra Kings must refer to the twelve dream kings mentioned earlier. Later, in fascicle 3, a separate section lists the names of these kings and identifies them with twelve different kinds of dreams (652a). The Mahātantra Dhāraṇī in this story is a powerful spell that conquers evil beings. In this story monk Leiyin was liberated from the Māra kings with this dhāraṇī, and presumably was able to practice meditation and achieve enlightenment. The familiar scenario in which demons are converted to the Buddhist path with a dhāraṇī appears here.17 I am struck, however, that here the dhāraṇī itself is not described as bringing about either the removal of sins or enlightenment. A somewhat indirect reference to a vision, or dream, appears in the instruction that the dhāraṇī should be taught only to those who have had a dream (a miraculous sign of the twelve kings of dream). The promise from the Twelve Māra Kings that they would appear and rescue the practitioner may also imply some kind of vision. The Buddha’s Instruction to Mañjuśrī and Ānanda The story of Leiyin and Huaju continues. But, as noted above, the dhāraṇī is given a new name at this point, as Dafandeng Tuoluoni (643a3–4), and I suspect that what follows may have been an integral part of the development in which the core story of Leiyin and Huaju was expanded and incorporated into a larger scripture. The newly added part in the expanded scripture is framed as a narrative about Leiyin and Huaju then coming to the place where the Buddha was teaching in Jetavana. Leiyin told Huaju of Śākyamuni Buddha’s teaching, and accompanied by numerous deities they arrived at that gathering in Jetavana, (643a8–20).18 17 This scenario appears, for example, in the description of healing in the Vajra deities section in the Collected Dhāraṇī Scriptures, T. 901: 18.844a10–13. 18 This story thus places Leiyin and Huaju first in a location other than the Jetavana, where Śākyamuni was preaching, and apparently at a time earlier than the time of Śākyamuni’s teaching. A certain discrepancy appears to have been introduced. In the earlier part of the scripture, Leiyin was placed at the Jetavana among the audience of Śākyamuni’s teaching (zhongzhong 眾中 641c17), and Huaju was explicitly said to have come to Jetavana (642b7). The story of Huaju coming to help Leiyin in Jetavana, and the story of these two coming to Śākyamuni in Jetavana may have had separate origins. As will be reviewed in more detail below, the second story itself introduces two largely unrelated stories; first the story of Vasu, the leader of hell beings, and then an elaborate cosmic history and the teaching of bodhisattva Shangshou and a monk Gaṅga which concludes with the discussion of the 24 precepts (645a–647a).

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Śākyamuni heard the heavenly music of gods from far away. He came out of meditation and told Ānanda to go outside and find the source of the sound. Ānanda saw the two, Leiyin and Huaju, surrounded by a large crowd, approaching Jetavana. They looked like golden mountains and emitted bright light like the sun. Ānanda told the Buddha this, but before he finished speaking, Huaju emitted a bright light that illumined everywhere in the universe, and everyone who saw this light was liberated. When Huaju wondered what proof existed that they were liberated, someone named Vasu arrived from hell, leading 92 koṭis of sinners from there. In all other universes in the Ten Directions sinners were liberated from hell in the same way and arrived at their sahā worlds (that is, their ordinary worlds). The innumerably large crowd that arrived at Jetavana saw Śākyamuni Buddha flanked by the two great figures of Leiyin and Huaju (643b4–5). The frame narrative that follows is organized around a distinction that can be easily missed. The first section describes the reaction of the audience at Jetavana to the appearance of Leiyin and Huaju (643b5–644c6). Beyond making an appearance in this way, Leiyin is not a part of this story. The second section presents the account of the exchange between the Buddha and Leiyin himself, who had just arrived (644c6–647a23). Separate sets of stories and instructions appear in these two sections. The story about the hell being Vasu is told in the first section. At the sight of Śākyamuni flanked by Leiyin and Huaju, questions arose in the minds of those who were attending the Buddha’s teaching, and Śāriputra asked the Buddha where the bodhisattvas, heavenly beings, Māra kings and hell beings, who had never been seen before, had come from. Mañjuśrī answers Śāriputra’s question, identifying Huaju as a bodhisattva from the east, heavenly beings as those from Tuṣita heaven, Māras as from the present world, and telling how bodhisattva Huaju had brought Vasu, the first among beings in hell, from the Avīci hell to this gathering. The issue becomes focused on this Vasu, as Śāriputra asks how Vasu, long known as someone who had committed evil deeds and was sent to hell, could leave hell and come to meet the Buddha. This exchange unfolds further as the Buddha himself begins to answer Śāriputra’s question (643b28). A thoroughgoing deconstruction of both ‘Vasu’ and his ‘sins’ appears here. The focus of the Buddha’s teaching now shifts to the overcoming of sin. First, the idea of sin and rebirth in hell are deconstructed through an elaborate unpacking of the name of Vasu. The Buddha separates the two syllables, and in Chinese, the two characters that make up his name, and



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in a series of glosses on each character explains the meaning as representing positive values, ‘heavenly’ and ‘wisdom,’ ‘broad’ and ‘penetrating,’ ‘high’ and ‘subtle,’ and so on (643a13–644a4). The message here appears to be that this hell being was not a sinner as we generally think of sinners, but a positive figure. Then the Buddha tells an elaborate story about the previous life of Vasu (644a15). In this elaborate story Vasu is said to have used his power to cause an illusory course of events to take place (644a25, 26; b24). Again, Vasu is shown not really to have been a sinner. In the past the Buddha was in Tuṣita heaven and Vasu in this Jambudvīpa continent. He was a leader of 6,200,000 merchants. These merchants travelled in ships seeking treasures and encountered four kinds of great difficulties; they ran into a giant makara fish, terrible waves, powerful winds, and a demonic being or yakṣa. At these encounters each merchant promised the god Maheśvara to sacrifice a live animal. After returning home each of them brought a sheep to the temple to sacrifice as promised. Vasu reflected on the evil of this practice and decided to stage a plot to save the lives of the sheep. Vasu produced two illusory teachers, one a Brahman, who promoted animal sacrifice, and the other a monk, who rejected it. A dispute arose between the monk and the Brahman regarding animal sacrifice, and they agreed to seek the judgment of a great holy man. The monk asked whether animal sacrifice led to rebirth in heaven or in hell. The holy man called the monk an idiot and rejected the monk’s claim that sacrificing an animal results in falling into hell. The monk asked again, and the holy man, now identified as Vasu (644b13), insisted that one does not fall into hell. At this point the monk said, “If one does not fall into hell, you should demonstrate (chengzhi 證知) this yourself,” and Vasu is said to have immediately fallen into Avīci hell. All saw this, recanted and released the sheep. The message of the story appears to be that Vasu, who did not commit the sin of offering animal sacrifice but rather deplored it, staged his own fall into hell as a teaching technique (i.e., skill-in-means). He went to hell to save sentient beings suffering there. The merchants went into the mountain, looking for holy men and received their instructions. After 21 years they all died and were reborn in the Jambudvīpa continent (where we live and the events of the main story are taking place). At that time the Buddha had left the Tuṣita heaven and had also been born in Jambudvīpa in the family of king Śuddhodana. The 6,200,000 merchants were reborn as human beings in the kingdom of Śrāvastī. At this point the Buddha reminded Śāriputra that when he first

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came to Śrāvastī he converted 6,200,000 people. They were none other than these merchants (644b21–23). The Buddha now explains that in this way the holy man Vasu, by means of his extraordinary power, produced the illusion of these people all coming to where the Buddha was teaching. Vasu (or these people as well?) is not really a hell-being, properly speaking (644b25). The arrival of Vasu and his retinue is described as a ‘transformation’ (or illusion, hua 化). Having fallen into hell, Vasu taught the sentient beings undergoing extreme suffering (again hua, but in the sense of transforming them by teaching), made them give rise to the thought of seeking enlightenment and caused them to come out of hell. It was at this point that bodhisattva Huaju had come from the east to this sahā world and emitted light. Looking for the source of this light, the sinners in hell, too, came to this sahā world, where they met the Buddha himself. Hearing this, Mañjuśrī praised Vasu and his great skill-in-means (i.e., skillful teaching). The questions that had arisen in the minds of the five hundred disciples who were present at Śākyamuni’s teaching were resolved (644c4). Śāriputra’s question mentioned earlier is now answered with a story set in the past. In this elaboration of the core dhāraṇī story the effect of the practice is understood exclusively as liberation from sin and its consequences. And it is interesting to note that here liberation from sin, as represented by the figure of the hell-being Vasu and his retinue, is accomplished by insisting that the sin or the sinner is only a matter of illusory appearance. Liberation from sin appears to be reduced to the realization of this ultimate truth. The narrative of hell is an example of teaching with skill-in-means. I propose that though the story is told as a continuing narrative, a fundamentally different conception of sin has now been introduced. The ‘covering’ of Māras in the Mahātantra Dhāraṇī story is real, and the dhāraṇī has the power to remove it by converting these demonic beings to the path of seeking enlightenment. In contrast, the sin of Vasu, and seemingly of his retinue as well, was illusory and it is the realization of this truth that liberates one from sin. I suggest that it is this shift that is reflected in the new and recognizably Mahāyāna name Dafangdeng given to the dhāraṇī. Shangshou’s Instruction to Gaṅga As noted above, the story of Vasu is framed as the Buddha’s response to the questions that arose in the minds of Śāriputra, five hundred great disciples and others in the audience when they saw Leiyin and Huaju at the side of the Buddha (643b4–6). After the uncertainty on the part of



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the five hundred great disciples was resolved through the story of Vasu, Leiyin rose from his seat and spoke to the Buddha (644c6). Then follows the exchange between Leiyin, who had just arrived, and the Buddha. An elaborate story about the past is told and the dhāraṇī teaching is translated into a new discourse on precepts. Leiyin first recapitulated the story of meditating at Jetavana, being ‘covered’ by Māra kings, bodhisattva Huaju’s arrival and the conquest of the Māras. In a vision Leiyin saw Huaju standing before him, and then he saw the Buddhas of the Ten Directions, on seven-jewel lotus seats in the sky; he also saw Māra kings surrounding Huaju. A voice was heard telling Leiyin to offer flowers to those deities, and Leiyin rose and paid respect to them. Leiyin also saw heavenly kings in the sky to whom flowers had been offered. The deities also presented flowers to Leiyin (644c). Leiyin spoke to Huaju of Śākyamuni in Jetavana and thus the two made their way to the Jetavana. Following this recapitulation, Leiyin posed his question to the Buddha. Leiyin asked why, due to what causes and conditions (he yinyuan 何因緣), the bodhisattva, namely Huaju, had come and why he rescued him (644c27–28). In Buddhist sources such a question is typically answered by telling a story of the distant past and then identifying the characters in that story with those who are present at the time of the Buddha’s teaching. In the present context the Buddha’s response begins with a long story from the distant past about the instruction given by someone named Shangshou 上首 to monk Gaṅga (644c20–646b24), and then unfolds further into a story from the yet more distant past that this Shangshou in turn tells Gaṅga (646c3–647a20). The answer to Leiyin’s question appears only in this second story. In the first story the instruction on dhāraṇī practice is connected to the familiar themes of Mahāyānā teaching, such as emptiness and the six perfections. Then an extended discussion on precepts follows. Since neither the issue of emptiness nor of precepts is a part of the original Leiyin story, this section seems to be a later insertion intended to situate the dhāraṇī teaching within the larger context of Buddhist doctrines and monastic practice. The first story that the Buddha told Leiyin is also set in the distant past, at the time of the Sandalwood Flower (zhantanhua 栴檀華) Buddha. Bodhisattva Shangshou had assumed the form of a beggar and was begging for food in the city. Monk Gaṅga asked the beggar where he had come from, and the beggar responded that he had come from the True Reality (zhenshi 真實; 645a11). A doctrinal discussion of this True Reality ensued. This is a version of the familiar discourse on emptiness

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(‘All is empty,’ 645a16). Shangshou explains that all dharmas are real because they are empty, and that one seeks the truth (shifa 實法) by practicing the six perfections, of generosity, good conduct, patient acceptance, vigor, meditation, and wisdom (645a22–24). When Shangshou finished the discourse, Gaṇga, delighted, paid respect to him and asked what food he could offer him. Shangshou said that the food of the gods (sudhā) should be offered. A complex story follows. The monk Gaṇga went around the city, offering to sell his body to whoever needed it.19 When a layman called Binulü 毘奴律 bought him for five coins, Gaṅga asked him to show him the location of his house, promising him to return there after seven days. Gaṅga returned to the city, and seeing Shangshou still begging, bought a variety of food and other offerings and presented them to him. Shangshou then said to Gaṇga that it was now the right time to teach him the teaching of truth (shifa) that he had received from all the Buddhas (645b11–12). Shangshou then taught the Dhāraṇī Verse (tuoluoni zhangju). Thus the core of Shangshou’s instruction turns out to be the same dhāraṇī that was earlier called Mahātantra and Dafangdeng. The text of the dhāraṇī in transcription appears again, though the first and second of the three parts of the dhāraṇī are now reversed in order from the earlier presentation (645b). What is given here, then, is an earlier history of this same dhāraṇī. Shangshou then told Gaṅga that when someone wishes to hear the dhāraṇī, Gaṅga should appear in front of the person in a dream. If that person sees him in a dream, Gaṅga should teach him or her this teaching of truth (shifa), namely the dhāraṇī practice (645b23–25). This restriction corresponds to the earlier instruction to Huaju that he could teach the dhāraṇī only to a person who had seen the twelve dream kings (642a11– 13). Shangshou also described a seven-day practice (645b26–c2). One 19 This story of a bodhisattva selling his body in the city is modeled after the story of Sadāprarudita in the Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines (Aṣṭādaśasāhasrikāp rajñāpāramitā), The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines & Its Verse Summary, trans. Edward Conze (Bolinas, CA: Four Seasons Foundation, 1973), XXX, 277–290. The chapter on this bodhisattva appears in Kumārajīva’s translation Xiaopin baruo boluonijing 小品般若波羅蜜經 as chapter 27, T. 227: 8.580a–584a. The name of the Buddha in whose presence Sadāprarudita is said to lead the holy life, Bhismagarjitanirghoṣasvara appears as Leiyin weiwang fo 雷音威王佛 in Kumārajīva’s translation. The Dafangdeng tuoluni jing mentions the Buddha of the past Leiyin wang 過去雷音王佛 in the list of the Buddhas in section 2 (T. 1339: 21. 650c5). These parallels suggest that the authors and editors of the Dafangdeng tuoluoni jing were familiar with the Sadāprarudita chapter of the Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines scripture.



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bathes and puts on fresh clothes three times each day, places in a special spot a Buddha image with a five-colored umbrella over it, and recites the Dhāraṇī Verse 120 times while circumambulating the image 120 times. Then one sits and reflects. After that one again recites the Dhāraṇī Verse. This is to be done for seven days.20 The message of Shangshou’s instruction so far appears to be that the truth of emptiness, more conventionally sought through the laborious practice of the six perfections, is now realized through reciting the dhāraṇī in front of an image. But Shangshou’s instruction then takes an unexpected turn (starting at 645c2). At the point where dhāraṇī instructions typically begin to describe the benefits of the spell in other sources, a list of offences appears and in each case it is emphatically noted that one will be spared the consequences of the particular offence, presumably by reciting the dhāraṇī in the way specified here. The idea that the recitation of a dhāraṇī results in the removal of sin is here translated into the more legalistic language of the monastic codes or vinayas and the monastic precepts. The familiar formula of Five Grave Offences, along with other lists of offences and precepts is mentioned, and it is noted over and over that if one singlemindedly repents these offences, the sin is removed. At this point Shangshou describes the 24 major (‘grave’) precepts (ershisi zongjie 二十四重戒). The 24 bodhisattva precepts mentioned earlier (645c5) are now discussed one by one and the ceremony of receiving them in front of 24 or more images is described (646b13–24).21 These ‘grave’ bodhisattva precepts appear to be intended for lay people. The first grave precept, for example, is violated when someone refuses to accommodate the wishes of hungry ghosts and other sentient beings who seek food, drink and bedding (645c9–10). If someone criticizes monks who keep wives and have children, this is an offence against the third precept (645c11–13). This more detailed explanation of the 24 precepts appears immediately after the passage in which the recitation of the Dhāraṇī Verse is said to serve as the unfailing remedy for violations of different types of precepts. The 24 bodhisattva precepts are mentioned in this preceding passage (654c5), suggesting that the dhāraṇī may be employed against any of the 24 grave violations of the precepts described in detail here.

20 The eighth and the fifteenth of the month are mentioned, possibly marking the beginning and the end of the period (645c1–2). 21 Those who uphold the precepts will be reborn [in the Buddha land] (suiyi wangsheng 隨意往生)(646b23).

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Shangshou’s instruction continues into fascicle 2. At the beginning of fascicle 2 the scene again briefly shifts back to the Buddha, who is speaking to Leiyin. The Buddha observed that Leiyin still did not understand the matter and proposed to tell a story (“the original cause and conditions of the past,” wangxi yinyuan benshi 往昔因緣本事, 646c3–4). In fact, as noted above, so far the Buddha had only described how Shangshou had given the dhāraṇī to Gaṅga and explained its efficacy in removing the consequences of the violation of the precepts (including those of the distinctive set of 24 precepts). The Buddha had still not answered the question Leiyin had posed to him at the outset of their exchange, namely why had Huaju come to Leiyin’s rescue. Here the Buddha resumes the discussion of ‘causes and conditions’ more directly. The Buddha does this by following Shangshou’s instruction further and telling a new story. The topic of the story is the ‘wonderful precepts’ (miaojie 妙戒), which appears to refer to the 24 precepts described at the end of fascicle 1. What is offered here appears to be an earlier history of these 24 precepts.22 It is now Shangshou who speaks of the Buddha Sandalwood Flower as belonging to the past (646c5; ref., 645a7).23 The king of the land in which this Buddha taught, called Jewel Sandalwood (baozhantan 寶栴檀), had a brother called Linguo 林果. The king and the brother thought that they would uphold the wonderful precepts that they had received from past Buddhas, as many as the number of sands in 92 koṭis of Ganges rivers, and that they would have their princes also follow these precepts. At the moment they entertained this thought a miraculous vision occurred. An infinite number of Buddhas appeared and praised the king and his brother. The king and his brother rose, and paying respect to the feet of the Buddhas, called in the princes one by one. The king and the brother asked the princes whether they wished to accept the wonderful precepts that the king and the brother had received from an infinite number of Buddhas, and the princes were delighted and agreed to accept the precepts. At this point the king and his brother used their supernatural powers and made the princes see an infinite number of the Buddhas in the sky. The princes paid respect to them and sought to receive the marvelous

22 Elements of this complex narrative may have had separate histories of their own and may well not have been related with each other originally. I am attempting a coherent reading of the text of the present scripture in which these elements are placed side by side, presumably as the design imposed by the editor of the existing scripture. 23 There appears to be some confusion, since earlier it is said that it was at the time of this Buddha that the exchange between Shangshou and Gaṅga took place (645a7, 9).



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precepts. The Buddhas approved in silence, and the princes repeated the request a second and third time. The princes performed self-immolation and after eighty-four thousand world ages of serving the Buddhas they reappeared from the ground (probably from the ground where they had been buried), looked up to the Buddhas and requested that they be allowed to receive the precepts. It was then that the Buddhas are said to have conferred the wonderful precepts on them. In this way, the story of Shangshou’s instruction to Gaṅga about the dhāraṇī that had been given earlier concludes with a story about ordination, that is, receiving the precepts.24 At this point Shangshou (‘leader’) explained that he had been the leader (‘shangshou’) among those princes (who received the precepts) (647a4). Gaṅga was the second among the princes. After summarizing Shangshou’s instruction to Gaṅga, the Buddha explained that Shangshou at that time was today’s Huaju and Gaṅga then was Leiyin (647a). The Sandalwood Flower Buddha then was the Jewel King Buddha to the east. Linguo was the Buddha Śākyamuni (647a14). The princes then (646c7) were the one thousand Buddhas of the World Age of the Wise. The 92 koṭis of heavenly beings then became the 92 koṭis of Māras (747a16, ref., 641c25). They ‘covered’ Leiyin, so that the Buddha would tell this story of the past (‘causes and conditions’), and teach the Dafangdeng Dhāraṇī Scripture (647a18–19). In this elaborate story the Dafangdeng Dhāraṇī practice is intimately connected with the correct observance of the distinctive set of 24 bodhisattva precepts. I read this story as an attempt to explain the efficacy of this dhāraṇī in terms of the more familiar Buddhist teaching of precepts. If the precepts that monks normally receive upon ordination enable them to progress on the path toward salvation, then the unusual precepts that the princes received through the king Jewel Sandalwood and his brother Linguo could have the same and perhaps an even more powerful effect. But the relevance of the dhāraṇī teaching has changed. It is now linked to the practice of the precepts in such a way that it has the potential to supplant them, since it guarantees freedom from the consequences of violating them. In theory it now should be possible not to observe the precepts at all and just to practice the dhāraṇī, which removes all sin. We shall see that in the later discussion of precepts in section 4, ordination is

24 The ritual of receiving the 24 precepts in front of 24 images is described in some detail in (646b12–24).

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no longer mentioned and the use of dhāraṇīs in repentance is highlighted once more. The explanation that Huaju was bodhisattva Shangshou and was the first among the princes who received the precepts, and that Leiyin was the monk Gaṅga whom he instructed and was also the second prince must also have been intended as the answer to Leiyin’s original question (“why did Huaju come to rescue Leiyin?”). Huaju came to rescue Leiyin as Shangshou had taught Gaṅga; they also had received the same set of precepts from king Jewel Sandalwood and his brother. They thus had a profound karmic connection from the past. The last part of section 1 of this scripture describes the transmission of the scripture itself, as we often see in Mahāyāna scriptures. This part of the four-fascicle scripture, covering fascicle 1 and the first part of fascicle 2, is thus constructed as a complete Mahāyāna scripture in itself. The Buddha entrusted this scripture to Ānanda (647a24).25 Section 5: The New Conclusion The present Dafangdeng tuoluoni jing consists of five sections. My hypothesis is that section 1 (641a–648a), discussed above, existed independently as an earlier form of this scripture. The extended account of entrusting this scripture to Ānanda toward the end of this section (647b–648a) marked the end of this earlier dhāraṇī scripture. Section 5 of the four-fascicle scripture, designated Miraculous Lotus Flower, begins with an extended story about a miraculous lotus flower that appears from the ground, but this story is framed within the larger story of the entrusting of the dhāraṇī scripture to Ānanda. This story thus overlaps the earlier story of entrusting the text to Ānanda that is found at the end of the first section. At the core of this new instruction is the explanation that the Buddha taught the dhāraṇī scripture three times, first to address the suffering of sentient beings, secondly to protect the Buddha’s teaching against the evil ones (Māras), and thirdly to bring all sentient beings to nirvāṇa. The same teaching is taught three times as a form of skill-in-means to save sentient beings (659c26–660a3). The author of this explanation in section 5

25 Ānanda had been mentioned earlier, at 643a21, when he was attending upon the Buddha when Huaju and Leiyin came to the Buddha. Ānanda is not mentioned in the opening section describing the audience of the Buddha’s teaching.



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thus appears to have been aware of the earlier passage on entrusting the scripture to Ānanda (at the end of section 1) and here is attempting to explain away the apparent incongruity that a scripture that concluded once with the instruction on entrusting the scripture to Ānanda is continued further and is now concluding with another instruction to entrust the scripture to Ānanda! I suggest that with the assistance of these incongruities we can recover the crucial steps of the evolution of this somewhat messy text. The core story, in which the dhāraṇī was called Mahātantra Dhāraṇī, was first expanded into a Mahāyāna scripture, which renamed the dhāraṇī as Dafangdeng dhāraṇī (present section 1). That scripture was then further enlarged as certain themes in it were elaborated and other themes were introduced. I turn now to some of these other themes that I have not yet discussed. These include the prediction of future Buddhahood (section 2), the twelve dreams and the seven-day rituals associated with them (section 3), and the use of the dhāraṇī in connection with the precepts (section 4). The new concluding section summarized here (section 5) would have turned all this added material into a newer expanded scripture.26 Section 2: The Predictions This section is titled Prediction of Attaining Buddhahood, and the first part of this section is devoted to stories of the predictions that the Buddha gives to different groups of beings. The Buddha’s instruction begins first by predicting Buddhahood for Leiyin (648a28–b10), the five hundred disciples (648b10–18), and the heavenly deities in the four directions and above and below (648b18–c14). In the immediately preceding passage on the entrusting of the dhāraṇī to Ānanda, the dhāraṇī was praised as bringing about liberation and the destruction of sin for all sentient beings (647a26–27). But the language of the prediction of future Buddhahood did not appear in this earlier discussion, and I suggest that in section 2 this earlier characterization of the fruit of the dhāraṇī, as liberation and removal of sins, is deliberately expanded by introducing this new distinctly Mahāyāna discourse of the prediction of future Buddhahood. The discussion in section 2 continues. Hungry ghosts and asuras (demons) arrive and receive the Buddha’s teaching, give rise to the thought 26 The last part of section 5 makes the claim that this dhāraṇī should not be used for this-worldly purposes such as healing. The dhāraṇī is to be used for the soteriological purpose of liberation from the suffering of the Three Worlds (660c19–20).

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of seeking Ultimate Enlightenment, and become monks (649a6–9). The Buddha then teaches them the Mahātantra Dhāraṇī and these monks attain arhatship and supernatural knowledge and powers as well as the meditative states of something called the Eight Liberations. A discourse on the extraordinary merits of the dhāraṇī follows (649a13–b24).27 This long passage thus spells out the efficacy of the dhāraṇī explicitly as the future attainment of Buddhahood and other attainments along the way to that ultimate goal. At this point, a new distinctly Mahāyāna discourse on the meaning of prediction appears. Mañjuśrī is said to have asked the Buddha about the ultimate message (“meaning”) of the Dafangdeng Dhāraṇī Scripture (649b27). As Mañjuśrī posed the question about the prediction of enlightenment (shouji) to the Buddha, Śāriputra rephrased the question as a question to Mañjuśrī and then Mañjuśrī responded to Śāriputra’s question in the familiar manner of the Perfection of Wisdom discourse on emptiness. Mañjuśrī challenged Śāriputra’s assumption that the prediction of enlightenment in the future is something that one can ‘get’ de 得 (649c19). Since the prediction transcends form, language, distinctions, etc., it is impossible to get it, as it is impossible for a dead tree to sprout leaves, etc. This prediction is like empty space, colorless, shapeless; it is like floating cloud without a core, or wind that has no body, and so on. The exchange on the ‘emptiness of dharma nature’ (649c29) continues in increasingly abstract terms (650a). I propose to read this exchange on emptiness as a gloss on the term dafangdeng (mahāvaipulya), a term closely affiliated with Mahāyāna teaching. After this renaming, a recognizable dhāraṇī teaching, which was already understood as producing saving knowledge or enlightenment, can now be reconfigured into a discourse on emptiness. This is an example of the way in which this text endeavors to make a place for both dhāraṇī practice and normative discourse and practice. We have already seen in section 1 on the precepts that dhāraṇī practice had the potential to subvert normative teaching. Section 2 tries to give that normative teaching the upper hand; the ultimate meaning of the dhāraṇī scripture is doctrinal.

27 A seven-day practice at a monastery is mentioned in this passage.



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Sections 2 and 3: Dream Rituals and Lay Practice Early in section 1, in the first fascicle, the Jewel King Buddha to the East instructed bodhisattva Huaju that he could teach the dhāraṇī only to those who had seen the “twelve dream kings” (642a10–13), and though here dream kings appear to refer to specific types of dreams, a list of Twelve Māra Kings also appeared later (642c21–24). Section 3 is specifically designated as a section on dreams and practices. It begins with a list of twelve types of dreams, identifying the specific dream king affiliated with each dream (652a). The names of these kings in section 3 match those that have appeared in section 1. In the opening paragraph in section 3, those who had seen these dream kings are instructed to perform a seven-day ceremony. A detailed description of the seven-day ritual appears in section 3 immediately after the section on the twelve dream kings.28 On each day as one makes offerings to the Mahātantra Dhāraṇī and recites it, visions of different deities appear at the ritual space: bodhisattva Huaju and Avalokiteśvara on the first day, Tathāgata Jewel King and Śākyamuni on the second day, Vipaśyin Buddha, the first of the past seven Buddhas, and bodhisattva Ākāśagarbha on the third day, Śikhin Buddha, the second of the past seven, on the fourth day, Viśvabhū, the third of the seven, on the fifth day, Konāgama Buddha, the fifth of the seven, and the Seven Buddhas on the sixth day, and all the Buddhas in all Ten Directions, each accompanied by Buddhas as many as the sands of the Ganges on the seventh day. This part of section 3 appears to have been carefully constructed providing details that the compiler felt were missing, or had not been adequately developed, in the earlier treatment in section 1. Avalokiteśvara and the past seven Buddhas appear and play important roles in the elaborate description of the ritual of reciting the Mahātantra Dhāraṇī that appeared in the last part of section 2, following the discussion of the prediction of future Buddhahood and merits of the dhāraṇī summarized above (650b1–651b16). These deities, along with Amitāyus and other Buddhas are said to appear in visions (650c3–4 and 651a10). I suspect that this last part of section 2 and the opening part of section 3, now broken up into two sections, had formed a coherent and more

28 In the second origin story of the dhāraṇī given as a part of the instruction by Shangshou to monk Gaṅga, the practice of the dhāraṇī is described as a seven-day ritual (645bc).

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obviously continuous unit at an earlier stage in the development of this scripture.29 As it now stands, section 3 is distinguished from the new discussion in section 2 that begins abruptly after the exchange on the prediction of the future attainment of Buddhahood. The five hundred great disciples tell the Buddha that the Evil Ones (Māras) would come to destroy the good karma of the person who carries out the Buddha’s instructions (650b1–3). The Buddha describes the attack of Māra’s army vividly and then says that one should mentally recite the Mahātantra Dhāraṇī, and call out to Śākyamuni Buddha, dharma princes Mañjuśrī, Ākāśagarbha, Avalokiteśvara and others. These deities will then come to protect the person. At this point Ānanda asks the Buddha how to make offerings to, or worship, these deities when they arrive (650b18–19). In the Buddha’s answer Avalokiteśvara is said to arrive taking on different forms, and furthermore, he tells how those who put the scripture to practice will see the following Buddhas: Amitāyus, Śākyamuni, the past six Buddhas individually named, the Buddha King Leiyin, and the Buddha Storehouse of Secret Teachings (650c3–5). If they repent sincerely in front of these Buddhas, they will be free of all the sins they committed in the course of 92 koṭis of previous lives (650c6). If they repent further and make offerings to the Buddhas, they will see the lands of bliss in the Ten Directions (650c9). The vision is to be kept secret (650c10). The Buddha’s instruction to Ānanda on the dhāraṇī practice continues. A distinct interpretation of the monastic path is presented. When one wishes to renounce the householder’s life he must ask his parents for permission, saying that he wishes to practice the dhāraṇīs (650c15–16). If his parents do not grant permission, and reject his request three times, the young man can recite the spell in his own residence. Women may arrive at the place where he is reciting and even touch his clothing, but it will not matter. The important thing is for him to remain free from attachment 29 Section 2 concludes with a discussion of the reviling of the scripture, which is to take place either while “I (the Buddha) am still in the world or after I have left the world” (651b17). This expression again appears at the beginning of section 3 (652a3), suggesting again that the last part of section 2 and the opening part of section 3 are closely related with each other. Later, in section 3, the instruction for the second day’s ritual is qualified explicitly as a teaching for the time after the Buddha had left the world (652c7, 9–10). As we noted above, the Seven Past Buddhas and Avalokiteśvara play prominent roles in other dhāraṇī scriptures. Their somewhat abrupt introduction into the Dafangdeng Dhāraṇī Scripture at this point suggests that popular themes in other dhāraṇī scriptures were somewhat artificially synthesized with the core dhāraṇī instruction in the earlier part of the scripture (section 1).



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to women (651a8). He does not have to shave his head, and in the discussion of his three robes (651a18–24), only one of these is called the robe of a renouncer, while the other two are called lay-people’s clothing. One of these two is to be worn on the way to the place of practice and the other is to be worn at the place of practice. Though clothed in the language of the monastic path, the text is clearly here talking about a practice for laymen. Visions are mentioned at different points in this instruction. If the person practices following the procedure outlined here, within seven days, Avalokiteśvara will appear either in his dream or when the practitioner is awake and will teach him (651a10–11). When Ānanda asked for confirmation of the truth of the Buddha’s teaching, the seven past Buddhas appeared and told him that all the Buddhas in the past, present, and future attain their enlightenment through this teaching. He then disappeared (651b2–5). The significance of this section is unmistakable. Here dhāraṇī practice is offered as an alternative to becoming a monk. Traditionally, a son cannot renounce without the permission of his parents. In this section of the text, the parents of a would-be renouncer refuse to allow their son to renounce. Instead he remains a lay person, observing special practices. He does not shave his head, but he wears distinctive clothing. He does not separate himself from secular society and may even come into contact with women. Nonetheless, he recites the dhāraṇī faithfully and is granted a vision of Avalokiteśvara and the promise of achieving enlightenment, the ultimate goal of Buddhist monastic practice. As it expands, this text is challenging and undermining existing monastic practice while at the same time it promotes the alternative of dhāraṇī recitation. Section 4: Precepts Again This section is titled Guarding Precepts, and begins with a question that Mañjuśrī poses to the Buddha (656b1–4). This passage overlaps with the passage in section 1 where bodhisattva Shangshou had explained to monk Gaṅga that the consequences of grave offences and violations of precepts could be nullified by proper ritual recitation of the dhāraṇī (645c2–7). In Shangshou’s instruction in section 1 this comment was followed by presenting twenty-four bodhisattva precepts. In section 4 Mañjuśrī begins with a similar list of offences, and then asks the Buddha how such grave sins can be removed after the Buddha has left the world (656b4). The Buddha observes that after he has left the world, evil monks who have violated

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the Four Grave Prohibitions will be reborn in hell and suffer. The Buddha then offers something called the “good medicine.” This medicine is a dhāraṇī and is presented as the teaching of innumerable numbers of the past seven Buddhas. Extended instructions for carrying out repentance, first for violating the Four Grave Prohibitions (namely, the eight pārājikas for monks) and then the Eight Great Prohibitions (the eight pārājikas for nuns) follow. The guiding principle in this discussion appears to be, as in the section on precepts in section 1, that the appropriate recitation of the dhāraṇī can cancel the sins produced by violating these rules (656b). The last part of the Buddha’s instruction to Mañjuśrī in section 4 lists seven sets of five prohibitions, intended only for lay people (657bc). Those who have renounced the world are not bound by these prohibitions (657c20). The Buddha compares them to mother’s protective care over children. The Buddha concludes his instruction in this section with a discourse on skill-in-means (658a5). The message here appears to be that the prohibitions listed, and by extension, the precepts in general, are to be understood as examples of the Buddha’s exercise of skill-in-means. The implication of this is that they are not absolutely binding, but are a tool that can be set aside. The focus has moved away from the monastic teaching of precepts, around which the conventional discourse on sin and repentance was focused, to a distinctive presentation of rules for the laity. The text then relativized even these rules by describing them as skillin-means. We noted earlier that in section 1, the 24 precepts that were spelled out in some detail also appeared to be intended for lay practitioners, but in that context the discussion of precepts had unfolded into a story about the ordination of the many princes. Ordination and the monastic life were still important. If we read the discussion in section 4 as a further elaboration of the treatment of precepts that had occurred in section 1, then we might well conclude that in this new discussion the precepts and ordination have further receded in importance. Assimilated to rules for lay followers, called mere skill-in-means, connected to dhāraṇī practice that nullifies the effects of any violation, the monastic precepts have now entirely lost their former centrality to the Buddhist path. This is consistent with what we observed in section 3. Conclusions I began this paper with a brief review of dhāraṇīs as spells for worldly gain and as soteriological tools, noting that the language of sin and



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repentance had appeared early in the ritual texts that teach dhāranī recitations. I then turned to one puzzling and complicated text, the Dafang tuoluni jing, in an effort to uncover some of the profound ramifications that the connection between spell recitation and the removal of sin was to have. As understood in the hypothetical reconstruction proposed here, several important shifts occurred as this text developed. Most obviously the view of the dhāraṇī’s power underwent major changes. In the core narrative the dhāraṇī was understood simply as a tool or weapon that overcame evil beings and converted them to the Buddha’s teaching. But as the core teaching came to be framed as a Mahāyāna scripture, the dhāraṇī’s power to remove sin became a major theme. This power was explained partly by deconstructing sin as ultimately illusory, but also by repeatedly highlighting the dhāraṇī’s power to remove the gravest of sins by giving the sinner the opportunity to repent in front of the Buddhas who appear in visions. A second major change is in the connection that is made between the dhāraṇī, as a means to eradicate sin, and the monastic precepts. There were well-established rituals of confession and repentance within Buddhist monasteries.30 This text offers dhāraṇī recitation as an alternative to these well-established rituals. It claims that the offences against the rules, and particularly offenses of the most grave kind, could be expiated through dhāraṇī practice. The idea that recitation of dhāraṇīs brings about visions of the Buddhas and that these visions removed all the sins accumulated through numerous past rebirths had appeared in early dhāraṇī scriptures. Now these sins include violations of the monastic rules and dhāraṇī practice is offered as a replacement for conventional rituals of repentance. There is a third important change in the text that further undermines the integrity of the monastery and its rules. We have seen that the text offers rules for lay people and even permits a lay person who is unable to renounce to follow the dhāraṇī practice and achieve the goals once reserved for renunciants. Perhaps nothing makes clearer the subversive potential of dhāraṇi practice than these changes. The Dafang tuoluni jing is not the only text in which more conventional rituals of repentance were replaced by dhāraṇī recitation. In later Esoteric texts other rituals, of initiation, for example, came to have the

30 A brief summary based on the Pāli vinaya is found in Wijayaratna, Buddhist Monastic Life, According to the Texts of the Theravāda Tradition (Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 143–152.

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same effects.31 But the story began with dhāraṇī rituals and the eradication of sin, and it was a complex story, as the case of the Dafang tuoluni jing amply indicates. Bibliography Primary Source Anantuo muqu niheli tuolinni jing 阿難陀目佉尼呵離陀鄰尼經 (anantamukha nihāra dhāran sūtra). T. 1015. Anantuo muqu niheli tuo jing 阿難陀目佉尼呵離陀經. T. 1013. Bukong juansuo shenbian zhenyan jing 不空罥索神變真言經. T. 1092. Chusheng wubiangmen chi jing 出生無量門持經. T. 1012. Chusheng wubianmen tuoluoni jing 出生無邊門陀羅尼經. T. 1018. Chusheng wubianmen tuoluoni jing 出生無邊門陀羅尼經. T. 1009. Dajiyi shenzhou jing 大吉義神呪經. T. 1335. Guanfo sanmeihai jing 觀佛三昧海經. T. 643. Guoqing bolu 國清百錄, compiled by Guanding 灌頂撰. T. 1934. Liuzi shenzhouwang jing 六字神咒王經. T. 1045a Liuzi shenzhouwang jing 六字神咒王經. T. 1045b. Liuzi zhouwang jing 六字咒王經, T. 1044. The Mahāvastu. vols. 16, 18, 19. Sacred books of the Buddhists. London: Pali Text Society, 1949. Mohe zhiguan 摩訶止觀, dictated by Zhiyi and recorded by Guanding 隋天台智者大師 說門人灌頂記. T. 1912. The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines & Its Verse Summary. Translated by Edward Conze. Bolinas, CA.: Four Seasons Foundation, 1973. Pusa benxing jing菩薩本行經. T. 155. Qifo bapusa suoshuo datuoluoni shenzhou jing 七佛八菩薩所説大陀羅尼神咒經 (The Divine Spells of the Great Dhāraṇīs Taught by Seven Buddhas and Eight Bodhisattvas). T. 1332. Qing Guanyinjing shu 請觀音經疏, dictated by Zhiyi and recorded by Guanding 智顗説 灌頂記. T. 1800. Shelifu tuoluoni jing 舍利弗陀羅尼經. T. 1016. Wuliangmen weimichi jing 無量門微密持經(一名成道降魔得一切智). T. 1011. Xiaopin baruo boluoni jing 小品般若波羅蜜經. T. 227. Yixiang chusheng pusa jing 一向出生菩薩經. T. 1017. Secondary Sources Abe, Ryūichi. The Weaving of Mantra: Kūkai and the Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Discourse. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. Donner, Neal Arvid and Stevenson, Daniel B. The Great Calming and Contemplation: A Study and Annotated Translation of the First Chapter of Chih-I’s Mo-Ho Chih-Kuan. Classics in East Asian Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993. Indo Bukkyō Koyū Meishi Jiten 印度佛教固有名詞辞典. Kyoto: Hōzōkan, 1967.

31 For example, in the large scripture for Amoghapāśa, Bukong juansuo shenbian zhenyan jing 不空罥索神變真言經, fascicle 9, T. 1092: 20.272a.



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Nattier, Jan. A Guide to the Earliest Chinese Buddhist Translations: Texts from the Eastern Han and Three Kingdoms Periods. Tokyo: International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology, Soka University, 2006. Oda Tokunō 織田得能. Bukkyō Daijiten 佛敎大辭典. Tokyo: Ōkura Shoten, 1928. Satō, Tetsuei 佐藤哲英. Tendai Daishi No Kenkyū: Chigi No Chosaku Ni Kansuru Kisoteki Kenkyū 天台大師の硏究: 智顗の著作に關する基礎的硏究. Kyoto: Hyakkaen, 1979. Strickmann, Michel. “The Consecration Sūtra: A Buddhist Book of Spells.” In Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha, 75–118. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990. Wijayaratna, Môhan. Buddhist Monastic Life: According to the Texts of the Theravāda Tradition. Cambridge (England): Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Redeeming Bugs, Birds, and Really Bad Sinners in Some Medieval Mahāyāna Sūtras and Dhāraṇīs Gregory Schopen Although the mass of medieval Mahāyāna sūtras and dhāraṇīs have been shamefully understudied, it is already clear from both manuscript material and inscriptions that some of these texts were widely known, and actually used in the medieval Buddhist world of South and Central Asia.1 And although the contents and characteristics of these texts have been largely ignored, if not carefully avoided, it is already clear that they have much in common in terms of their “linguistic shape,” and that certain themes are repeated over and over again. One such theme, it seems, is the redemption of those unfortunates who have been reborn as bugs or birds, or those who deserve to go to hell. The following passage may serve as a first and particularly startling example. athāryyāvalokiteśvaro bodhisatvo mahāsatvas tasmāt siṃhaladvīpād avatīryya vārāṇasyām mahānagaryyām uccāraprasrāvasthāne gato yatrānekāni kṛmikulaśatashasrāṇi prativasanti // tatrāvalokiteśvaro bodhisatvo mahāsatva upasaṃkramya tatra sa tāni prāṇiśatasahasrāṇi dṛṣṭvātmānaṃ bhramararūpam abhinirmmāya ghuneghuṇāyamānaṃ tad-e[s]āṃ śabdan niścārayati // namo buddhāya namo dharmmāya namaḥ saṃghāya iti // tac chrutvā te ca sarvve prāṇikā namo buddhāya namo dharmmāya namaḥ saṃghāyeti nāmam anuścārayaṃti // te ca sarvve buddhānāmasmaraṇamātreṇa viṃśatiśikharasamudgataṃ saṃskāyadṛṣṭiśailaṃ jñānavajreṇa bhitvā sarve te sukhāvatyāṃ lokadhātāv upapannāḥ sugandhamukhā nāma bodhisatvā babhūvuḥ sarvve te bhagavato

1 For some welcome recent exceptions to the general neglect of these kinds of sources see Gergely Hidas, “Remarks on the Use of the Dhāraṇīs and Mantras of the MahāpratisarāMahāvidyārājñī,” in Indian Languages and Texts through the Ages. Essays of Hungarian Indologists in Honour of Prof. Csaba Töttössy, ed. Csaba Dezsö (New Delhi: Manohar, 2007), 185–207; Ingo Strauch, “Two Stamps with The Bodhigarbhālaṃkāralakṣa Dhāraṇī from Afghanistan and Some Further Remarks on the Classification of Objects with the ye dharmā Formula,” in Prajñādhara. Essays on Asian Art, History, Epigraphy and Culture in Honour of Gouriswar Bhattacharya, ed. Gerd J.R. Mevissen and Arundhati Banerji (New Delhi: Kaveri Books, 2009), 1: 36–56; for East Asia and a richness not (yet) within reach for India see Richard McBride, “Dhāraṇī and Spells in Medieval Sinitic Buddhism,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 28, No. 1 (2005): 85–114; Paul Copp, “Altar, Amulet, Icon: Transformations in Dhāraṇī Amulet Culture, 740–980,” Cahiers d’ ExtrêmeAsie 17 (2008): 239–64.



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mitābhasya tathāgatasyāntikād idaṃ kāraṇḍavyūhaṃ mahāyānaṃ śrutvānumodya ca nānadigbhyo {{daka}} vyākaraṇa pratilabdhāni //2

Those who read Sanskrit—being a rather fussy bunch—will probably first notice here the many irregular or “incorrect” spellings and numerous other infelicities in the text of this single relatively good manuscript. But in spite of the fact that they would probably set Pāṇini’s teeth on edge this is the shape in which such texts circulated and were presumably used, and this is one of their characteristics. These features, however important, become completely invisible in any translation.3 Then the Noble Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva, the Mahāsattva, having arrived from that Siṃhaladvīpa went into a privy in the great city of Vārāṇasī in which several hundreds of thousands of swarms of bugs lived. When Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva, the Mahāsattva, had approached and had seen there those hundreds of thousands of living things he transformed himself into a buzzing bee,4 and for them he emitted the sounds “Homage to the Buddha! Homage to the Dharma! Homage to the Saṃgha!” When those bugs heard that they all imitated it: “Homage to the Buddha! Homage to the Dharma! Homage to the Saṃgha!” And they all, by merely calling to mind the name “Buddha,” having smashed with the thunderbolt of knowledge the mountain of the view of real individuality, which has twenty peaks, were all reborn in the world-sphere Sukhāvatī as bodhisattvas named Very Nice Smelling Breath. When they all had heard there in the presence of the Buddha Amitābha, the Tathāgata, this Kāraṇḍavyūha, the Mahāyāna, and had rejoiced in it, they received predictions from the various directions.

This passage, as was probably obvious from its reference to itself, comes from the Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra, a text which was known already at Gilgit in at least two manuscripts,5 and was, to judge by the number of surviving manuscripts from the 14th to the 19th century, much copied, and 2 The Sanskrit text here is cited from the careful transliteration of a 17th century Nepalese manuscript in Adelheid Mette, Hg. Die Gilgitfragmente des Kāraṇḍavyūha (Swisttal-Odendorf: Indica et Tibetica Verlag, 1997), 41. 3 It is worth repeating here that a sophisticated knowledge of Sanskrit would not have been required to write or read the vast majority of medieval Mahāyāna sūtras and dhāraṇīs, and may have been an impediment. Cf. John Newman, “Buddhist Sanskrit in the Kālacakra Tantra,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 11, No. 1 (1988): 123–40, for some examples of how the commentarial tradition tried to account for the “ungrammatical” language of the Kālacakra Tantra. 4 Although bhramara certainly means “bee,” bees, especially in India, are not usually associated with outhouses, (see Klaus Karttunen, “Bhramarotpītādharaḥ: Bees in Classical India,” Studia Orientalia 107 (2009): 89–133), and something more like fly may have been intended. A reader of Indian literature might well have found the image incongruous. 5 See Mette, Die Gilgitfragmente des Kāraṇḍavyūha, 11, based on the identification of the second manuscript by Oskar von Hinüber. Although only a single leaf of the second

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in at least in that sense used, in the late medieval South Asian Buddhist world. It was also, according to one account, the first text to arrive—quite unexpectedly—in Tibet: It was in a casket with some other things that fell from the sky onto the then palace. Although details of the damage this might have done to the building have not survived, Rolf Stein reports that “These gifts from heaven were preserved as treasure without being understood.”6 Even before the more than 120 manuscripts of the text catalogued by the German Nepal Manuscript Preservation Project were known it was already clear that the Kāraṇḍavyūha was—from our point of view—a mess: textually, linguistically, and compositionally. Constantin Regamey, after working for more than twenty years with only a comparatively small number of manuscripts, arrived only at what he called “exasperating results,” and was not able to force his material into the shape of what we call a ‘critical edition’.7 He noted, for example, that “all the Nepalese manuscripts . . . present divergences nearly at every phrase,” that “the language in which the text is redacted is extremely incorrect”—others have called it “horrible Sanskrit,” or suggested that “the author or compiler of the text lacked full command of Sanskrit”8—and finally he said: “The composition of the Kāraṇḍavyūha is very incoherent.” Regamey laments the presence of these features when in fact they may provide us with very valuable socio-linguistic evidence bearing on the nature or character of medieval South Asian Buddhist communities that used the text, evidence that would also be concealed in any so-called ‘critical edition’.9 He also might leave the impression that the Kāraṇḍavyūha is unique in having these features, when in fact it may only be a typical example of this genre of medieval Buddhist literature. Certainly the characteristics of another widely used medieval Mahāyāna sūtra would seem to suggest this. manuscript seems to have survived, it is enough to show that the text was already circulating at Gilgit in two versions that did not have the same linguistic shape. 6 Rolf A. Stein, La civilisation tibétaine. Édition définitive (Paris: L’Asiathèque, 1987), 24. 7 Constantin Regamey, “Motifs vichnouites et śivaïtes dans le Kāraṇḍavyūha,” in Études tibétaines dédiées à la mémoire de Marcelle Lalou (Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve, 1971), 418. 8 For both—the first quoted from P.L. Vaidya—see Adelheid Mette, “Remarks on the Tradition of the Kāraṇḍavyūha,” in Aspects of Buddhist Sanskrit, ed. Kameshwar Nath Mishra (Sarnath: The Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, 1993), 513, 519, who quotes many of the same remarks from Regamey as are quoted here. 9 Characteristically, Regamey had already clearly recognized this: “Une édition arbitrairement corrigée aurait faussé l’original présumé” (Regamey, “Motifs vichnouites et śivaïtes,” 418).



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Seven manuscripts containing Sanskrit texts of the Saṃghāṭa Sūtra were discovered at Gilgit, and an eighth has turned up that may also be from there or perhaps Bamiyan—no other text at Gilgit is represented by so many manuscripts. Fragments of at least twenty-seven different manuscripts of the Khotanese translation of the Saṃghāṭa—which Canevascini thinks was done already in the first half of the 5th century—have survived.10 Six fragmentary manuscripts of a Sogdian version of the Saṃghāṭa are known and there is no “other Buddhist Sogdian text for which so many copies would be available.”11 The Saṃghāṭa then, like the Kāraṇḍavyūha, would appear to have been a text that was widely copied and used in the medieval Buddhist world, but the two share a number of other features as well. If—as Regamey says—“the composition of the Kāraṇḍavyūha is very incoherent,” that of the Saṃghāṭa is very much more so. Its narrative structure very often makes no sense, and Canevascini’s notes show him struggling valiantly to account for its abrupt and unmarked transitions, arbitrary changes in speakers, and the lack of a discernable connection between one part and another. If the manuscripts of the Kāraṇḍavyūha “present divergences nearly at every phrase,” much the same is true of the Sanskrit manuscripts of the Saṃghāṭa, and these are much older manuscripts. This absence of fixed wording is also found in another text of this genre, the Bhaiṣajyaguru Sūtra, that has also come down to us in at least seven early manuscripts from Gilgit and Bamiyan, suggesting that texts widely used in the medieval Buddhist world did not circulate in, or have, a fixed form.12 Their contents too have created problems. In speaking of the Saṃghāṭa, for example, Canevascini has said, “the doctrinal portions of the text are almost non-existant,” and “the short doctrinal portions themselves . . . seem at times quite confused”; Yakubovich and Yoshida said: “The most striking feature of [the] Saṃghāṭa Sūtra is

10 For both the Sanskrit and Khotanese manuscript material see Giotto Canevascini, The Khotanese Saṅghāṭasūtra. A Critical Edition (Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 1993), xii–xv. The eighth Sanskrit manuscript of the Saṃghāṭa is now in the Miho Museum. 11 Ilya Yakubovich and Yutaka Yoshida, “The Sogdian Fragments of Saṃghāṭasūtra in the German Turfan Collection,” in Languages of Iran: Past and Present. Iranian Studies in memoriam David Neil Mackenzie, ed. Dieter Weber, (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005), 239. 12 The linguistic shape of the Bhaiṣajyaguru in these early manuscripts is treated in some detail in Gregory Schopen, “On the Absence of Urtexts and Otiose Ācāryas: Buildings, Books, and Lay Buddhist Ritual at Gilgit,” in Écrire et transmettre en Inde classique, ed. Gérard Colas et Gerdi Gerschheimer, (Paris: École française d’Extrême-Orient, 2009), 189–219.

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the absence of any doctrinal content.”13 What these scholars might consider ‘doctrine’ is, of course, hard to know, but what their remarks may have been trying to suggest is the all too obvious fact that the contents of the Saṃghāṭa Sūtra—and indeed a large group of Mahāyāna texts that we know were widely and often actually used in the medieval Buddhist world—correspond badly or not at all with what is presented in scholastic doxographies or in our textbooks as Buddhist ‘doctrine’. It may not be, however, that they have no doctrine, but rather that they have too much, that doctrines are juxtaposed and delivered in such a way as to make a shambles of our neat and tidy categories. The Kāraṇḍavyūha, and our initial passage, is a good example of this. The Kāraṇḍavyūha is, first of all, a sūtra that looks in part like a tantra—in fact, some of the texts in this group are found twice in some kanjurs, once in the sūtra section and once in the tantra section.14 The Kāraṇḍavyūha is certainly a Buddhist text, but contains clearly visible Vaishnavite and Shaivite “motifs,” to use Regamey’s term, and he already long ago identified a quotation from the Skanda Purāna in it.15 More narrowly, the short passage from the Kāraṇḍavyūha we started with juxtaposes a whole series of Buddhist doctrinal elements that we may think have no connection. We do not normally associate the great Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara with outhouses, but there he is. We do not normally associate the scholastic doctrine of the twenty varieties of satkāyadṛṣṭi or the “view of real individuality” with devotional acts of homage, but here it is. In mainstream sources, “smashing” these views results in the achievement of the state of “one who has entered the stream” (srota-āpanna), but here it results in rebirth in Sukhāvatī and not having halitosis.16 We normally do not think that Amitābha teaches the Kāraṇḍavyūha in his Pure Land,

13 Canevascini, The Khotanese Saṅghāṭasūtra, xii; Yakubovich and Yoshida, “The Sogdian Fragments of Saṃghāṭasūtra,” 239. 14 See for example the Ṣaṇmukhī Dhāraṇī, and several of the texts found at Gilgit: The Sarvadharmaguṇavyūharāja Sūtra, the Sarvatathāgatādhiṣṭhānasattvāvalokanabuddhakṣetrasandarśanavyūha Sūtra, the Śrīmahādevīvyākaraṇa, and the Bhaiṣajyaguru Sūtra. See also the remarks at Ferdinand D. Lessing and Alex Wayman, Mkhas Grub Rje’s Fundamentals of the Buddhist Tantras (The Hague: Mouton, 1968), 109–11. 15 Regamey, “Motifs vichnouites et śivaïtes,” 431. 16 For the satkāyadṛṣṭis see Alex Wayman, “The Twenty Reifying Views (sakkāyadiṭṭhi),” in Studies in Pali and Buddhism. A Memorial Volume in Honor of Bhikkhu Jagdish Kashyap, ed. A.K. Narain (Delhi: B. R. Publishing, 1979), 375–79; for dozens of occurrences of the phrase viṃśatiśikharasamudgataṃ satkāyadṛṣṭiśailaṃ jñānavajreṇa bhittvā in the stenciled description of becoming a “stream winner” in the Mūlasarvāstivāda vinaya and related literature see Hiraoka Satoshi, Setsuwa no kōkogaku: Indo Bukkyō setsuwa ni himerareta shishō (Tokyo: Daizō Shuppan, 2002), 183–84.



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nor that by merely rejoicing in it one will receive his prediction, and we do not seem to like the idea that “by merely calling to mind the name of the Buddha” one can move from being a bug to being a bodhisattva in one fell swoop, but all of that happens here.17 And things like it happen repeatedly in our group of texts. We will limit ourselves to a sample of those dealing with bugs, birds, and very bad sinners. As in the case of the Kāraṇḍavyūha, there are very large numbers of surviving Sanskrit manuscripts of the Aparimitāyuḥ Sūtra—they probably run into the hundreds. There are also several surviving manuscripts of a Khotanese version of the text, and many hundreds—perhaps more than a thousand—copies of the Tibetan translation found at Dunhuang.18 Konow, one of its first editors, characterizes the Aparimitāyuḥ both as a work that “has . . . enjoyed great fame in the Buddhist world,” and as “this dull text.” But like the Kāraṇḍavyūha—although without its narrative verve the Aparimitāyuḥ also makes explicit provision for the redemption of those unfortunate sinners who have been reborn as bugs, birds, and animals. It promises that yeṣāṃ tiryagyonigatānāṃ mṛgapakṣiṇāṃ karṇapuṭe nipatiṣyati te sarve anuttarāyāṃ samyaksaṃbodhāv abhisaṃbodhim abhisambhotsyante. On the ears of whatever creature, wild animal or bird the Aparimitāyuḥ will fall, they all will fully and completely awaken to utmost perfect awakening.19

Here of course it is not said when this will happen, but the move from bird to Buddha appears to be entirely too abrupt. That move, moreover, 17 That we are not the only ones uncomfortable with the results or effects that these texts attribute to merely hearing the name would seem to be suggested by the fact that some of these same texts refer to those who were not convinced. The Bhaiṣajyaguru Sūtra, for example, says: kiṃ tu bhadanta bhagavan santi sattvāḥ śraddhendriyavikalāḥ idaṃ buddhagocaraṃ śrutvā evaṃ vakṣyanti / katham etan nāmadheyasmaraṇamātreṇa tasya tathāgatasya tāvanto guṇānuśaṃsā bhavanti / te na śraddadhati na pattīyanti pratikṣipanti / (Nalinaksha Dutt, ed. Gilgit Manuscripts Vol. 1 (Srinagar: Calcutta Oriental Press, 1939) 21.9): “But, Reverend Blessed One, there are individuals deficient in faculties of devotion. When they have heard about this range of activities of an Awakened One they will speak in this way: ‘How can there be so many good qualities and blessings through merely recalling the name of that Tathāgata?’ They do not believe. They do not trust. They reject it.” 18 See for example Louis de la Vallée Poussin, Catalogue of the Tibetan Manuscripts from Tun-huang in the India Office Library (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962) especially nos. 308–310. The Sanskrit manuscripts in various collections have never yet been actually counted. 19 The Sanskrit text is cited from Sten Konow, “The Aparimitāyuḥ Sūtra. The Old Khotanese Version together with the Sanskrit Text and the Tibetan Translation,” in Manuscript Remains of Buddhist Literature Found in Eastern Turkestan, ed. A.F. Rudolf Hoernle (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1916), 317. For his characterization of the text already quoted see pp. 288, 294.

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requires no action on the part of the bird or beast—they appear as entirely passive. They do not need even to listen actively to the text—the sound simply has to fall on their ears. The redemptive action is not something the redeemed does, but is something that is done to him, and this marked passivity is found in a variety of forms in a large number of other medieval Mahāyāna sūtras and dhāraṇīs. Both manuscripts and inscriptions make it clear that more or less variant versions of the Uṣṇīṣavijaya Dhāraṇī were used and circulated very widely in the medieval Buddhist world. Even the great Vasubandhu, according to some, used it for at least two purposes: to remove the great demerit he had accumulated by disparaging the Mahāyāna before his “conversion,” and— since one of its effects was to lengthen life—he recited the Uṣṇīṣavijaya backwards to end his own.20 An early—c. 7th century—manuscript of one version entitled Sarvadurgatipariśodhanī-uṣṇīṣavijaya, probably from Gilgit, has recently come to light. It is of interest for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that—like a significant number of other examples of such texts—the manuscript and the text it carries have been personalized, that is to say that where in a generic version of the text the dhāraṇī says, using a pronoun, “May there be the purification/cleansing of my body!”, the personalized text uses not just the pronoun but inserts the name of an actual person and says, as in our example: “May there be the purification of my, Doyagaṣṭa’s body!”21 More specific to our present concerns, however, this text explicitly says: tha na dud ‘gro’i skye gnas su song ba’i srog chags bya’i rna lam du ‘ang gzungs ‘di’i sgra bsgrags par bya ste / des na de’i ngan ‘gro’i tha ma yin par rig par bya’o / The sound of this dhāraṇī should also be made to fall on the ears of birds, of living things who have been reborn among animals. If so, on account of that, this is to be known as their last unfortunate state of rebirth.22

20 See E. Obermiller, trans. History of Buddhism (Chos-hbyung) by Bu-ston (Heidelberg: Harrassowitz, 1932), 2:144–45; Lama Chimpa and Alaka Chattopadhyaya, Tāranātha’s History of Buddhism in India (Simla: Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, 1970), 170, 174; Alexander W. Macdonald et Dvags-po Rin-po-che, “Un guide peu lu des lieux-saints du Népal. lIe Partie,” in Tantric and Taoist Studies in Honor of R.A. Sten. Mélanges chinois et bouddhiques, vol. 20–22, ed. Michel Strickmann (Bruxelles: Institut Belge des Hautes Études Chinoises, 1981), 1:264–65. 21 For some recent discussion of the practice of inserting personal names into dhāraṇīs see Schopen, “On the Absence of Urtexts and Otiose Ācāryas”, 201–03. 22 Sarvadurgatipariśodhanī-uṣṇīṣayavijaya Dhāraṇī, Derge, Rgyud ‘bum Pha 247a.6— For all Tibetan texts I have used the reprint of the Derge printing in The Tibetan Tripitaka.



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In the Sarvakarmāvaraṇaviśodhanī Dhāraṇī—another example of the genre—we find: rtag tu bzlas brjod byas na las gcig nas gcig tu brgyud pa thams cad rnam par dag par ‘gyur ro / . . . lus la ‘chang ngam glegs bam la bris nas mgul du thogs te ‘chang na de la dus ma yin par ‘chi ba rnams gtan du ‘byung bar mi ‘gyur ro / If one recites the dhāraṇī constantly the whole series of his past acts would be purified/cleansed . . . If one carries it on his person or if, having written it in a book and tying it around his neck, he wears it, for him the untimely deaths would never occur.23

And then: gang zhig snying rjes non te ri dags dang bya dang mi dang mi ma yin pa rnams kyang rung ste / ‘chi ba’i rna khung du brjod na de ngan song du ‘gro bar mi ‘gyur ro / If someone, being overcome by compassion, at the moment of death— whether of an animal or bird or human or non-human—were to recite this dhāraṇī in their ear, that one (in whose ear it is recited) would not go to an unfortunate destiny.24

Yet another text of our type, the Samantamukhapraveśaraśmivimaloṣṇīṣaprabhāsasarvatathāgatahṛdayasamayavilokita Dhāraṇī, circulated at Gilgit and was almost certainly used there to protect or extend the life of the local king Navasurendra—numerous copies of its dhāraṇī, written on separate strips of birch bark, with the king’s name inserted into it, were found there inside a stūpa, exactly as the text indicates they should have been. The dhāraṇī has also been found on seals or sealings or inscriptions

Taipei Edition, ed. A.W. Barber, (Taipei: SMC Publishing, 1991). The Sanskrit Manuscript— which I am now editing—is only partially preserved here. 23 Sarvakarmāvaraṇaviśodhanī Dhāraṇī, Derge, Rgyud ‘bum Tsha 236a.4. Notice here the reference to writing the dhāraṇī in a book (glegs bam = pustaka) and tying it around the neck. Whether this refers to the dhāraṇī alone (which takes up less than a single line), or the whole text (which takes up less than both sides of a single folio), this means that here too the term pustaka, “book,” refers to a single folio or sheet, and to something much more like an amulet than a volume; see also Gregory Schopen, “The Book as a Sacred Object in Private Homes in Early or Medieval India,” in Medieval and Early Modern Devotional Objects in Global Perspective, ed. Elizabeth Robertson and Jennifer Jahner (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010), 45–46. I might also take the opportunity here to point out that the remarks in the paper (p. 51) on the lay character of the dharmabhāṇaka in the Sarvadharmaguṇavyūharāja Sūtra need to be modified. When Oliver von Criegern was kind enough to send me his edition of the Sanskrit text from Gilgit it became clear that I had misread the Tibetan. 24 Sarvakarmāvaraṇaviśodhanī Dhāraṇī, Derge, Rgyud ‘bum Tsha 236a.6.

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at Bodhgaya, Nalanda, Paharpur, and Udayagiri, and as far afield as the Great Wall in China.25 The Samantamukha not once, but three times makes provision for the redemption of bugs, birds, and creepy-crawlers. It says, for example, in Chavannes translation of the Chinese version: Si le son de la récitation descend jusqu’ aux êtres inférieurs et atteint les êtres ailés ou les êtres à quatre pattes, à deux pattes, à plusieurs pattes, sans pattes et toutes les espèces d’insectes et d’êtres animés, toute leur conduite passée ils en seront entièrement débarrasés.26

The corresponding passage in the Tibetan version goes in the same direction although its wording is in part considerably more specific: dud ‘gro’i skye gnas su song ba la smras na yang dud ‘gro’i skye gnas su gtogs pa thams cad las yongs su thar bar ‘gyur ro / bya’i tshogs thams cad la smras na yang bya’i tshogs thams cad yongs su ‘grol bar ‘gyur ro / tha na khyi dang / rus sbal dang / sbrul dang / byi la dang / sre mo dang / srog chags sna tshogs la smras na yang thams cad yongs su grol bar ‘gyur ro / Even if it is spoken for those who have been reborn in an animal state, all those included in the state of an animal will be freed. Even if it is spoken for all categories of birds, all categories of birds will be liberated. If it is even spoken for dogs and tortoises and snakes and cats and weasels and all sorts of creatures, they all will be liberated.27

Some final examples of very much the same thing can be cited from the Raśmivimalaviśuddhaprabha Dhāraṇī, a text that has all the characteristics of our type and which refers at least four times to ways by which birds and bees or bugs can be released from their sorry state. Like many of these sūtra-dhāraṇīs, the Raśmivimala indicates that its dhāraṇī should be placed inside old repaired stūpas, or specially made ones, or miniature stūpas made of clay. Once so empowered such stūpas have some pretty impressive effects on birds and bugs. The Raśmivimala says, for example: tha na bya dang sbrang ma la sogs pa mchod rten de’i grib mas phog na yang de bzhin gshegs pas mkhyen cing rjes su dgongs par mdzad do / bla na med pa yang dag par rdzogs pa’i byang chub ‘thob cing phyir mi ldog pa’i sa la gnas par yang ‘gyur ro /

25 See Gregory Schopen, Figments and Fragments of Mahāyāna Buddhism in India. More Collected Papers (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005), 332–36. 26 E. Chavannes, “Le sūtra de la paroi occidentale de l’inscription de Kiu-yong koan,” in Mélanges Charles de Harlez (Leyde: E. J. Brill, 1896), 79. 27 Samantamukhapraveśaraśmivimaloṣṇīṣa, Derge, Rgyud ‘bum Pha 258b.3; see also 258b.6, 259a.6.



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Even if the shadow of that stūpa falls upon birds and bees or bugs and so forth the Tathāgata will know them and bring them to mind. They will also obtain unequalled complete awakening and dwell on the irreversible stage.

And: . . . bya dang / sbrang ma dang / tha na grog sbur yan chad kyis mthong ba dang / thos pa dang / reg pa dang / de la phog pa’i sa dang / rdul dang / rlung dang / grib mas phog na yang byol song dang / yi dags dang / ngan song log par ltung ba sems can dmyal bar skye bar ‘gyur ba’i sdig pa thams cad dang bral zhing / ‘chi ba’i dus byas nas bde ‘gro mtho ris lha rnams kyi nang du skye bar ‘gyur te . . . . . . If birds and flies—even up to ants—see it or hear it or touch it, or if dirt or dust or wind that has come into contact with it, or its shadow, falls on them, they will be freed from all the ‘sin’ which results in rebirth among brutes and animals and the unfortunate destinies and hells, and having died they will be reborn among the gods in the happy state of heaven . . .28

To this point, then, two things might be clear enough. First, in these texts, which are little known to modern discussions but were widely used in the medieval Buddhist world, there is a marked concern for bugs and birds. Their salvation had become a problem and means for their redemption are repeatedly referred to. What has been presented here is simply a small sample. Second, this redemption does not result from anything that the birds and bugs do—they are not actors, but the objects of action. Except for the passage in the Kāraṇḍavyūha where the bugs or flies imitate the sound of “homage to the Buddha,” and call to mind his name, the birds or bugs in our texts are entirely passive: sound falls on their ears, they do not listen; shadows fall on them, or—at most—they might see or touch something without intention or directed effort. They never go to see or touch. All of this seems curious, but before any explanation can be attempted, one further thing needs to be noted. Although I would not want to claim any deep knowledge of bugs and birds in mainstream Buddhist sources, it is certainly safe to suggest that very different attitudes towards such creatures are found there. It is of course true, for example, that Buddhist monastic codes require that their monks undertake the rain-retreat and cease to wander during this period when movement would necessarily entail the destruction of little bugs and insects. But it is equally clear from their own accounts of how this

28 Raśmivimalaviśuddhaprabha Dhāraṇī, Derge, Rgyud ‘bum Na 12b.3, 17b.5; see also 11b.4, 16b.6.

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practice came to be that it was implemented not so much out of concern for the bugs, but in imitation of other religious groups—probably the Jains—and as a direct result of lay criticism. Certainly there is no sign of any intention to save, in a religious sense, or redeem the creatures.29 It is also true that Buddhist monks were supposed to use water-strainers, but this too—although not specifically stated—was probably imitative, and, in any case, may have been designed not so much to protect the bugs from death, but to protect the monks from committing murder and reaping the consequences.30 More typically, perhaps, birds and bugs are in Buddhist monastic sources—as they frequently are elsewhere—a damn nuisance, and often downright disgusting. A robe fouled by a dying monk is described as “full of bugs” and must be cleaned without regard for its residents; when monks wash their bowls just anywhere in the Jetavana, laymen see it as “filled with flies” and as unsightly, and accuse the monks of using the whole place as a toilet.31 During much of the year, apart from the rainy season, monasteries appear to have been little used and as a consequence “crows, sparrows, and pigeons made their nest on the empty terraces”; so too did flies and horseflies. The Buddha therefore orders that at the start of the rain retreat a monk is to be specially appointed to inspect the nests of both bug and bird and—if they do not contain eggs—to unceremoniously throw them out.32 When birds, crows, and the like sit on a stūpa and shit on it, the Buddha orders that a protective covering be put over the stūpa to keep the things off.33 These mainstream monastic sources exhibit, then, a very different attitude towards the creatures that medieval sūtra and dhāraṇī sources seem to want to save. Rather than make available to bugs and birds some means of coming into contact with the sacred—monastic robes, monasteries, stūpas—mainstream sources seem intent on driving them away and keeping them at a great distance. The same marked difference in 29 Although the accounts of the institution of the rain-retreat in the various Vinayas need to be studied carefully, see for the Mūlasarvāstivādin account Masanori Shōno, “A Re-edited Text of the Varṣāvastu in the Vinayavastu and a Tentative Re-edited text of the Vārṣikavastu in the Vinayasūtra,” Acta Tibetica et Buddhica 3 (2010): 21–22. (Tibetan only since the first leaf of the Gilgit manuscript is missing. For the Pāli see the translation in I.B. Horner, trans. The Book of the Discipline (London: Luzac and Co., 1951). 4:183. 30 Kṣudrakavastu, Derge, ‘dul ba Tha 49b.2–51a.6. 31 Cīvaravastu, Nalinaksha Dutt, ed. Gilgit Manuscripts, Vol. 3, Part 2 (Srinagar: Calcutta Oriental Press, 1942), 122–23; Uttaragrantha, Derge ‘dul ba Pa 96b.5. 32 Shōno, “A Re-edited Text of the Varṣāvastu,” 31–32 (1.3.3). 33 Uttaragrantha, Derge, ‘dul ba Pa 120b.3.



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attitude seems, moreover, to be expressed in the fact that mainstream texts that are similar to our genre—for example the Upasena Sūtra—are not meant to redeem bugs, birds, and snakes, but again to keep them at bay, not meant to ameliorate their condition, but to protect humans from them.34 But how, then, is one to account for this striking difference? Time is certainly a factor: our sūtra/dhāraṇī sources could be as much as four or five centuries later than our mainstream sources. The development in the meantime of the hopelessly impractical ideal of the enlightenment of all living beings must be another important factor, and this ideal does not appear to have been widespread outside of texts until the 4th/5th centuries,35 the same period to which the appearance of our sūtra/ dhāraṇīs seems to belong. But this ideal almost certainly collided with a third and even more important factor, a factor that has been referred to before but is worth rehearsing.36 There is a reasonably good chance that between our mainstream sources and our sūtra/dhāraṇīs Buddhist proselytism may have had at least some success, and that at least some core Buddhist doctrines may have become well-known and even understood outside of texts. When, however, the implications of one of these core doctrines—the doctrine of karma— gradually came to be understood it became clear that it had disastrous consequences for birds, bugs, and really bad sinners, that is to say a very large portion of all living beings: They were left without any means of redemption, and in effect condemned to an all but eternal existence in a lowly and disgusting form of life. There was virtually no way out, and this would have become clear enough with only a little reflection on the paintings of the wheel of saṃsāra that were supposed to be painted on monastery porches,37 or a piece of Buddhist homiletics that everybody knows 34 For the Upasena Sūtra see Ernst Waldschmidt, Von Ceylon bis Turfan. Schriften zur Geschichte, Literatur, Religion und Kunst des indischen Kulturraumes (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1967), 329–46, and the discussion of it in Lambert Schmithausen, Maitrī and Magic: Aspects of the Buddhist Attitude toward the Dangerous in Nature (Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1997). For a nonBuddhist example see J. Varenne, “The Garuḍa Upaniṣad,” in India Maior. Congratulatory Volume Presented to J. Gonda, ed. J. Ensink and P. Gaeffke (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972), 222–31. 35 See Gregory Schopen, “Mahāyāna,” in Encyclopedia of Buddhism, ed. Robert E. Buswell Jr. (New York: Thomson Gale, 2004), 2:493–94; Schopen, Figments and Fragments of Mahāyāna Buddhism, 108; 223–46. 36 For an earlier version of part of what follows here see Schopen, Figments and Fragments of Mahāyāna Buddhism, 213–15. 37 In the Vibhaṅga of the Mūlasarvāstivāda-vinaya when an ordinary boy visits the Veṇuvana and sees the wheel of rebirth painted on the porch he asks the attending

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but probably has not thought very much about: the famous simile of the blind turtle and the yoke, a simile which is found in a variety of forms in a very wide range of both mainstream and Mahāyāna literary sources.38 Suppose, Monks, that a man were to throw a yoke with one hole into the ocean and it would be blown around in all directions by the wind. Suppose, too, there were a blind turtle who came to the surface once every hundred years. What do you think, Monks? Would that blind turtle ever manage to stick his neck through the hole in that yoke? If at all, Oh Blessed One, it could happen only once in an extremely long while. Sooner or later, that blind turtle might manage to push his neck through that hole. But, Monks, I say that it is even more difficult than that for a fool who has fallen into an unfortunate birth again to obtain rebirth as a human (. . . ato dullabhatarāhaṃ bhikkhave manussattaṃ vadāmi sakiṃ vinipātagatena balena). And why is that? Because there (in those unfortunate rebirths) there is no practice of the Dharma, no right practice, there is no doing of good or making of merit; there, Monks, there is only mutual devouring and preying on the weak (na h’ettha bhikkhave atthi dhammacariyā samacariyā kuśalakiriyā puññakiriyā, aññamaññakhādikā ettha bhikkhave vattati dubbalamārikā)’.39

A bleaker future could probably not be promised—birds and bugs were all but stuck, and so were those born in hell: they could do nothing to redeem themselves, they could not practice dharma, do good, make merit. De la Vallée Poussin noted long ago that “the damned, for example, are incapable of a good thought, and their transgression is only made to increase by

monk about each of the states of rebirth that are represented in it. The monk characterizes the state of an animal primarily as one in which living beings eat one another (anyonyabhakṣana), an activity which only gets them into deeper trouble—see for convenience the Sanskrit version of the text anthologized in Edward B. Cowell and Robert A. Neil, eds. The Divyāvadāna. A Collection of Early Buddhist Legends (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1886), 301; for the Tibetan translation see Vibhaṅga, Derge, ‘dul ba Ja 113b.3–122a.7. 38 Already a long time ago Shackleton Bailey pointed out that this simile “was common property among Buddhist writers” and “became proverbial.” He notes its appearance in the Majjhima-nikāya, Therīgāthā, the Kalpanāmaṇḍitika, the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka, the Śatapañcāśatka, the Suhṛlleka, the Subhāṣitaratnakaraṇḍakathā, and in a number of other places; D.R. Shackleton Bailey, The Śatapañcāśatka of Mātṛceṭa (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1951), 12–13. To this impressive array may at least be added its occurrence in the second topic taken up in the early (?) Mahāyāna anthology attributed to Nāgārjuna, the Sūtrasamuccaya—see for convenience Georges Driessens, Le livre de la chance (Paris: Èditions du Seuil, 2003), 15–16; it is quoted here from a Saṃyuktāgama. 39 This free and condensed translation of the simile as it occurs in the Pāli Majjhima is quoted from Schopen, Figments and Fragments of Mahāyāna Buddhism, 214 and n. 57.



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their own efforts.”40 That, in fact, it is primarily this dysfunctional aspect of karma that lays behind what is found in medieval sūtras/dhāraṇīs may be confirmed in a way by noting that they provide means not only for the redemption of bugs and birds, but also for other categories of the otherwise all but irredeemable, the most notorious of which are the really bad sinners, those who commit the five ānantaryas. These “five acts/sins with immediate retribution” are killing one’s mother, one’s father, or an arhat, causing a division in the order, and causing a Buddha to bleed/or destroying a stūpa.41 Once committed, these acts should send the individual straight to hell, and once in the hells there was, strictly speaking, no way for them to get out for an almost unimaginably long time.42 But our medieval Mahāyāna sūtras and dhāraṇīs over and over again offer means to avoid this, as just a few examples will make clear. The Sarvakarmāvaraṇaviśodhanī Dhāraṇī says: msthams med pa lnga byed pa ‘am / dam pa’i chos spong ba ‘am / ‘phags pa la skur pa btab pa yang rung ste ‘chi kar rtsig pa la gzungs sngags ‘di bris pa mthong na / de’i las kyi sgrib pa thams cad zad par ‘gyur na / ‘don pa dang bzlas brjod byed pa lta ci smos te / de bzhin gshegs [mi ‘khrugs pa] de nyid byon nas ‘di skad du rigs kyi bu tshur nga’i gan du shog ces kyang gsung bar ‘gyur ro / Since if when even one who had committed the five ‘sins’ with immediate retribution, or one who had rejected the Good Law, or one who had abused a Noble One, saw at the moment of death this dhāraṇī written on a wall all his obstructions from past acts would be exhausted, how much more so would this be so for one who would recite or repeat it—the Tathāgata [Akṣobhya], having appeared to just that one, would moreover say, “O son of good family, come hither to me!”43

40 Louis de la Vallée Poussin, “Dogmatique bouddhique II. Nouvelles recherches sur la doctrine de l’acte,” Journal Asiatique (1903), 371n. Technically “damned” is, of course, too strong since even rebirth in hell is not eternal. It only lasts an unimaginably long period of time; see the tongue-in-cheek remark about the length of a kalpa in Johannes Bronkhorst, Greater Magadha. Studies in the Culture of Early India (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 69–70. 41 For the five ānantaryas, and an additional list of five more called upānantarya, “presque immédiats,” see for example Louis de la Vallée Poussin, L’Abhidharmakośa de Vasubandhu (Paris: Paul Geuthner, 1923–31), 3: 201–20. 42 See for example the account of the fate of Devadatta, who had committed more than one of the ānantaryas, in Raniero Gnoli, ed. The Gilgit Manuscript of the Saṅghabhedavastu (Rome: Instituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1977–1978), 2: 262–63; but also the odd and anomalous account of the matricide monk in the Pravrajyāvastu, Nalinaksha Dutt, ed. Gilgit Manuscripts, Vol. 3, Part 4 (Calcutta: Calcutta Oriental Press, 1950), 53–61. 43 Sarvakarmāvaraṇaviśodhanī Dhāraṇī, Derge, Rgyud ‘bum Tsha 236b.8.

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And this is the second such reference in a very short text—it had already been said: “If one were to repeat it three times even the five ‘sins’ with immediate retribution would be purified.”44 In the Aparimitāyuḥ Sūtra it is not seeing or reciting the text that results in the destruction of the effects of having committed the five “sins” with retribution, but copying it: ya idam aparimitāyuḥ Sūtraṃ likhiṣyati likhāpayiṣyati tasya pañcānantaryāṇi karmāvaraṇāni parikṣayaṃ gacchanti / Whoever will copy, will have copied this Aparimitāyuḥ Sūtra, his obstructions of karma connected with the five ‘sins’ with immediate retribution come to be exhausted.45

In the Saṃghāṭa Sūtra the same result follows from hearing the text, and this is repeated six times: yaḥ kaścit sarvaśūremaṃ saṃghāṭaṃ dharmaparyāyaṃ śroṣyati tasya paṃcānantaryāṇi karmāṇi parikṣayaṃ yāsyanti avaivartikāś ca bhaviṣyanty anuttarāyā samyaksaṃbodheḥ /46 Whosoever, Sarvaśūra, will hear this religious discourse, the Saṃghāṭa, his karma connected with the five ‘sins’ with immediate retribution will come to be exhausted, and he will be irreversible from utmost, perfect and complete awakening.

In fact, the promise found in all these passages is, in one form or another, repeated over and over again in medieval Mahāyāna sūtras and dhāraṇī texts: it occurs twice more in the Samantamukhapraveśa, three times in the Sarvatathāgatādhiṣṭhānasattvāvalokanabuddhakṣetrasandarśanavyūha Sūtra found at Gilgit, and at least seven times in the Raśmivimalaviśuddhiprabha Dhāraṇī.47 Although this would still only represent a tiny sample of texts and occurrences, the numbers here are impressive, as they are in regard to birds and bugs. What we have been able to see in all of our passages in this necessarily very limited survey dealing with several categories of what might be called—using a modern politically correct phrasing—the karmically disadvantaged, is in fact at

44 Sarvakarmāvaraṇaviśodhanī Dhāraṇī, Derge, Rgyud ‘bum Tsha 236a.4. 45 Konow, “The Aparimitāyuḥ Sūtra,” 311 [20]. 46 Canevascini, The Khotanese Saṅghāṭasūtra, 6 [§13/14.2–3]; see also 6 [§10.4], 42 [§95.2–3], 49 [§105.3], 50 [§108.2], and 51 [§109.2]. 47 Chavannes, “Le sūtra de la paroi occidentale,” 76, 79; Dutt, Gilgit Manuscripts, Vol. 1, 70.16, 73.9, 77.11; Raśmivimalaviśuddhaprabha Dhāraṇī, Derge, Rgyud ‘bum Na 10a.2, 11b.5, 12b.5, 14b.6, 16b.5, 17b.1, 18a.2.



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least suggestive and allows some timorous observations with which we must end. With the appearance of medieval Mahāyāna sūtras and dhāraṇī texts there seems to be a marked proliferation of ways and means of redeeming those who otherwise would appear to be all but karmically trapped—our bugs, birds, and really bad sinners. Moreover, there is very little in earlier Buddhist sources quite like this. Although, then, these constant references to the plight of birds, bugs, and really bad sinners would seem to represent a real concern of both the authors and the audiences of these medieval texts—it is otherwise hard to account for their massive presence—it would appear to be essentially a new concern, and one which points not to the decline or degeneration of Buddhist doctrine—which the presence of especially dhāraṇīs is still sometimes taken to signal—but rather to its success in penetrating and taking root in the world of the ordinary people, both monastic and lay, who used these medieval texts and paid to have them copied. It is at least possible to suggest, it seems, that the emergence of this concern was an almost necessary and concrete consequence of, firstly, the gradual acceptance and internalization of the strict and strong version of the law of karma found throughout Buddhist literary sources. When, for example, Buddhist authors insisted that “the consequences of acts do not disappear even after a hundred million aeons, but having arrived at completion and the right time they bear fruit . . .”—and they did so very often48—and when this doctrine moved from books to ordinary people and became a part of their world, it was almost inevitable that other Buddhist authors would over time have to devise some means and provide mechanisms for those ordinary people to, in effect, get around it.49

48 This verse—it is a verse in the original—is found often and in a very wide range of Buddhist literary sources, see for example Étienne Lamotte, “Le traité de l’acte de Vasubandhu. Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa,” Mélanges chinois et bouddhiques 4 (1935–1936): 226 and n. 48, and L’Enseignement de Vimalakīrti (Louvain: Université de Louvain Institut Orientaliste, 1962), 106 and n. 48. 49 It is of course never explained in our texts how exactly dhāraṇīs actually work, how it is that they could possibly nullify—“pacify,” “purify,” “exhaust,” a whole range of verbs is used—karma or past acts. Indeed that there was some uneasiness on this point seems to be suggested by the fact that occasionally—but only very occasionally—a curious condition is said to restrict the power of activities in regard to dhāraṇīs. They are said to work always “except for,” or when, there are obstructions from past actions, sthāpya paurāṇaṃ karmāvaraṇaṃ (Chandrabhal Tripathi, “Gilgit-Blätter der Mekhalā-dhāraṇī,” Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik 7 (1981): 158 = Derge, rgyud ‘bum Wa 109b.3: sngon gyi las kyi rnaṃ par smin pa ma gtogs so / ), or they always work “except when” past actions are maturing, sthāpya paurāṇāṃ karma vipacyate (Ekādaśamukha, Dutt, Gilgit Manuscripts, Vol. 1, 36.4 = Derge, rgyud ‘bum Tsa 140a.5; see also Sarvāntarāyikaviśodhanī Dhāraṇī, Derge, rgyud

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Likewise, when Buddhist authors promulgated the ideal of the ‘enlightenment’ of all living beings, since this would necessarily include our birds, bugs, and really bad sinners, they would also have to have provided concrete means that would have made this possible, even if this meant transforming the great Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara into a buzzing bee or fly who frequented outhouses. But if these suggestions are to be accepted they would seem to show that far from being devoid of ‘doctrine,’ our medieval Mahāyāna sūtras and dhāraṇīs were deeply involved in doctrinal developments, and the problems such developments might have given rise to. They would seem to show once again that, doctrinally too, if you want to dance you have to pay the fiddler! Bibliography Bailey, D.R. Shackleton. The Śatapañcāśatka of Mātṛceṭa. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1951. The Book of the Discipline. Translated by I.B. Horner. London: Luzac and Co., 1951. Bronkhorst, Johannes. Greater Magadha. Studies in the Culture of Early India. Leiden: Brill, 2007. Canevascini, Giotto. The Khotanese Saṅghāṭasūtra. A Critical Edition.Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 1993. Chavannes, E. “Le sūtra de la paroi occidentale de l’inscription de Kiu-yong koan,” in Mélanges Charles de Harlez. Leyden: E. J. Brill (1896): 60–81. Chimpa, Lama and Alaka Chattopadhyaya. Tāranātha’s History of Buddhism in India. Simla: Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, 1970. Copp, Paul. “Altar, Amulet, Icon: Transformations in Dhāraṇī Amulet Culture, 740–980.” Cahiers d’ Extrême-Asie 17 (2008): 239–64. Derge. The Tibetan Tripitaka. Taipei Edition. Edited by A.W. Barber. Taipei: SMC Publishing, 1991. The Divyāvadāna. A Collection of Early Buddhist Legends. Edited by Edward B. Cowell and Robert A. Neil. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1886. Driessens, Georges. Le livre de la chance. Paris: Èditions du Seuil, 2003. Gilgit Manuscripts. Vol. 1. Edited by Nalinaksha Dutt. Srinagar: Calcutta Oriental Press, 1939. ——. Vol. 3, Part 2. Edited by Nalinaksha Dutt. Srinagar: Calcutta Oriental Press, 1942. ——. Vol. 3, Part 4. Edited by Nalinaksha Dutt. Calcutta: Calcutta Oriental Press, 1950. The Gilgit Manuscript of the Saṅghabhedavastu. Edited by Gnoli, Raniero. Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1977–1978. Hidas, Gergely. “Remarks on the Use of the Dhāraṇīs and Mantras of the MahāpratisarāMahāvidyārājñī,” in Indian Languages and Texts through the Ages. Essays of Hungar-

‘bum Ba 41b.1). The occasional addition of such qualifications can be read as attempts to preserve a strict law of karma, but in effect have it both ways. For a scholastic attempt at explanation see the appendix “Bhāvaviveka on Dhāraṇī” in Matthew T. Kapstein, Reason’s Traces. Identity and Interpretation in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist Thought (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001), 246–51.



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ian Indologists in Honour of Prof. Csaba Töttössy. Edited by Csaba Dezsö. New Delhi: Manohar, 2007: 185–207. Hiraoka, Satoshi. Setsuwa no kōkogaku: Indo Bukkyō setsuwa ni himerareta shishō. Tokyo: Daizō Shuppan, 2002. Kapstein, Matthew T. Reason’s Traces. Identity and Interpretation in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist Thought (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001). Karttunen, Klaus. “Bhramarotpītādharaḥ: Bees in Classical India,” Studia Orientalia 107 (2009): 89–133. Konow, Sten. “The Aparimitāyuḥ Sūtra. The Old Khotanese Version together with the Sanskrit Text and the Tibetan Translation,” in Manuscript Remains of Buddhist Literature Found in Eastern Turkestan. Edited by A.F. Rudolf Hoernle. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1916: 289–329. Lamotte, Étienne. “Le traité de l’acte de Vasubandhu. Karmasiddhiprakaraṇa,” Mélanges chinois et bouddhiques 4 (1935–1936): 151–82. ——. L’Enseignement de Vimalakīrti. Louvain: Université de Louvain Institut Orientaliste, 1962. Lessing, Ferdinand D. and Alex Wayman, Mkhas Grub Rje’s Fundamentals of the Buddhist Tantras (The Hague: Mouton, 1968). Macdonald, Alexander W. and Dvags-po Rin-po-che, “Un guide peu lu des lieux-saints du Népal. lIe Partie,” in Tantric and Taoist Studies in Honor of R.A. Stein. Edited by Michel Strickmann. Mélanges chinois et bouddhiques, 20– 22 (1981): 1:237–73. McBride, Richard. “Dhāraṇī and Spells in Medieval Sinitic Buddhism,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 28, No. 1 (2005): 85–114. Mette, Adelheid. “Remarks on the Tradition of the Kāraṇḍavyūha,” in Aspects of Buddhist Sanskrit. Edited by Kameshwar Nath Mishra (Sarnath: The Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, 1993): 510–519. ——, Hg. Die Gilgitfragmente des Kāraṇḍavyūha (Swisttal-Odendorf: Indica et Tibetica Verlag, 1997. Newman, John. “Buddhist Sanskrit in the Kālacakra Tantra,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 11, No. 1 (1988): 123–40. Obermiller, E., trans. History of Buddhism (Chos-hbyung) by Bu-ston. Heidelberg: Harrassowitz, 1932. Poussin, Louis de la Vallée. “Dogmatique bouddhique II. Nouvelles recherches sur la doctrine de l’acte,” Journal Asiatique (1903): 357–450. ——. L’Abhidharmakośa de Vasubandhu. Paris: Paul Geuthner, 1923–31. ——. Catalogue of the Tibetan Manuscripts from Tun-huang in the India Office Library. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962. Régamey, Constantin. “Motifs vichnouites et śivaïtes dans le Kāraṇḍavyūha,” in Études tibétaines dédiées à la mémoire de Marcelle Lalou. (Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve, 1971: 411–32. Schmithausen, Lambert. Maitrī and Magic: Aspects of the Buddhist Attitude toward the Dangerous in Nature. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1997. Schopen, Gregory. “Mahāyāna,” in Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Edited by Robert E. Buswell Jr. New York: Thomson Gale, 2004: 2:493–94. ——. Figments and Fragments of Mahāyāna Buddhism in India. More Collected Papers. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005. ——. “On the Absence of Urtexts and Otiose Ācāryas: Buildings, Books, and Lay Buddhist Ritual at Gilgit,” in Écrire et transmettre en Inde classique. Edited by Gérard Colas et Gerdi Gerschheimer. Paris: École française d’Extrême-Orient, 2009: 189–219. ——. “The Book as a Sacred Object in Private Homes in Early or Medieval India,” in Medieval and Early Modern Devotional Objects in Global Perspective. Edited by Elizabeth Robertson and Jennifer Jahner. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010: 37–60. Shōno, Masanori. “A Re-edited Text of the Varṣāvastu in the Vinayavastu and a Tentative Re-edited text of the Vārṣikavastu in the Vinayasūtra,” Acta Tibetica et Buddhica 3 (2010): 1–128.

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Stein, Rolf A. La civilisation tibétaine. Édition définitive. Paris: L’Asiathèque, 1987. Strauch, Ingo. “Two Stamps with The Bodhigarbhālaṃkāralakṣa Dhāraṇī from Afghanistan and Some Further Remarks on the Classification of Objects with the ye dharmā Formula,” in Prajñādhara. Essays on Asian Art, History, Epigraphy and Culture in Honour of Gouriswar Bhattacharya. Edited by Gerd J.R. Mevissen and Arundhati Banerji. New Delhi: Kaveri Books, 2009: 1: 36–56. Varenne, J. “The Garuḍa Upaniṣad,” in India Maior. Congratulatory Volume Presented to J. Gonda, ed. J. Ensink and P. Gaeffke (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972): 222–31. Waldschmidt, Ernst. Von Ceylon bis Turfan. Schriften zur Geschichte, Literatur, Religion und Kunst des indischen Kulturraumes. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1967: 329–46. Wayman, Alex. “The Twenty Reifying Views (sakkāyadiṭṭhi),” in Studies in Pali and Buddhism. A Memorial Volume in Honor of Bhikkhu Jagdish Kashyap. Edited by A.K. Narain. Delhi: B. R. Publishing, 1979: 375–79. Yakubovich, Ilya and Yutaka Yoshida, “The Sogdian Fragments of Saṃghāṭasūtra in the German Turfan Collection,” in Languages of Iran: Past and Present. Iranian Studies in memoriam David Neil Mackenzie. Edited by Dieter Weber. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005: 239–68.

Sometimes Love Don’t Feel Like It Should: Redemptive Violence in Tantric Buddhism Jacob P. Dalton Introduction The tantras offer many techniques for expiating sins, but probably most infamous are their rites of redemptive violence. Violent abhicāra rites can be useful for disposing of one’s enemies, but far more importantly— as Buddhist commentators repeatedly emphasize—they represent an extraordinarily effective means for purifying the sins of those most obstinately sinful. Precedents for redemptive violence may be found in pretantric Buddhism, of course, most famously in Mahāyāna stories such as that of the bodhisattva ship captain, who kills a murderous thief, thereby saving him from the evil karma of his dastardly plan to slaughter everyone on board and steal their gold. With such stories in mind, Asaṅga, in his Bodhisattvabhūmi, even went so far as to formulate the doctrinal justifications for such compassionate violence. But the tantras took things a step further, by describing the ritual procedures behind the bodhisattva’s violent methods.1 It was one thing to theorize about how the ideal bodhisattva might engage in compassionate violence; it was quite another to provide precise instructions on how exactly to enact such violence. In any case, tantric commentators from the eighth century to the present day unanimously insist that Buddhist abhicāra properly performed is bodhisattvic and primarily about expiating its victim’s sins. But how exactly are these rites held to accomplish this worthy purpose? How are the extreme methods of tantric violence so very cleansing? This paper explores two possible answers to this question, answers that are represented in two different, yet complementary, genres of tantric literature, that is, in tantric ritual manuals and in mythic narrative. I will be relying on two texts in particular that I have been working on for some time now: A Tibetan Dunhuang ritual text on how to perform the

1 For a review of the Buddhist justifications for compassionate violence, see Jacob P. Dalton, The Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), 23–43.

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notorious “liberation rite” (sgrol ba) for ritual killing, and an elaborate retelling of the Rudra-taming myth, in which the buddhas kill the demon Rudra and convert him to Buddhism. Both texts are preserved in Tibetan, but both reflect Indic tantric traditions from around the ninth century.2 To some extent, the Dunhuang liberation rite and the Rudra myth embody two different approaches to redemptive violence and its ability to expiate sin. On the one hand, the Dunhuang manual describes ritual forms that seem to emphasize more the automatically salvific power of tantric ritual properly performed. On the other hand, the Rudra narrative highlights more the significance of the demonic disciple’s subjective, perhaps even psychological, state. Between these two perspectives—one ritual and the other psychological—reverberate debates over ritual’s ability to affect an individual’s karma that haunted tantric Buddhists of the period. The tantras offered revolutionary new techniques that promised enlightenment in an instant, but in doing so they threatened the Buddhist laws of karma and the plodding course of cause and effect. Tantric myth, as we shall see, was one place where such tensions could be addressed head-on. Ritual: Liberation as Initiation The Buddhist liberation rite was by no means an entirely new development in Indian religion. Its roots may be traced all the way back to the Vedas, where the abhicāra-homa is one of several classes of fire sacrifice

2 The Dunhuang manuscript in question, which is now divided between Pelliot tibétain 36, IOL Tib J 419, and Pelliot tibétain 42, likely dates from the tenth century. We may suggest this on the basis of both paleographic trends and the fact that the vast majority of the Mahāyoga materials from Dunhuang date from the tenth century. Nonetheless, the ritual forms preserved in these materials appears to reflect tantric practice in India as it stood around the end of the eighth century. So for example, only the first two of the four standard tantric initiations appear; no mention is made of the early ninth-century Jñānapāda and Ārya schools of Guhyasamāja exegesis; nor do we see any discussions of the Cakrasaṃvara and Hevajra tantras, the two principal “Yoginī” tantras of the later tantric period. In terms of dating the myth in question, the Compendium of Intentions Sūtra (Dgongs pa ’dus pa’i mdo) likely dates from the mid-ninth century. It seems to demonstrate an awareness of the standard series of four tantric initiations that developed around the early ninth century, and its earliest commentary, the Armor against Darkness (Mun pa’i go cha) by Gnubs chen sangs rgyas ye shes was probably written in the fourth quarter of the ninth century; see Jacob P. Dalton, Uses of the Dgongs pa ’dus pa’i mdo in the Development of the Rnying-ma School of Tibetan Buddhism (PhD diss.: University of Michigan: 2002).



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available to the Vedic priest.3 Early Buddhists were highly critical of Vedic sacrifice in general, particular when it involved the killing of animals, and the abhicāra-homa, which was performed specifically in order to harm or kill one’s enemies, must have been particularly anathema. Buddhists continued to criticize Vedic practice throughout their history, but from at least the fourth century ce on, some began to appropriate the homa rite as a legitimate Buddhist practice.4 By the time the so-called Kriyā tantras emerged in the seventh century, even the violent abhicāra-homa had become a central feature of Mahāyāna Buddhist practice. Early tantric works instruct their readers on how to fashion an effigy of their enemy and immolate it alongside other oblations of a generally impure nature: blood, dirt from the soles of one’s feet, feces, thorns, and the like. The next stage came with the advent of the transgressive Mahāyoga tantras in the eighth century. Now new forms of Buddhist ritual killing emerged, rites that often dispensed with the homa fire altogether, to focus instead on the direct destruction of an effigy with sharp weapons. Such violent rites were termed, rather euphemistically, “liberation rites,” a name that was meant to emphasize the rites’ extraordinary compassion. Salvific violence was certainly not a new idea in India. Already in the Ṛgveda, blood sacrifice was supposed to benefit the victim by delivering his or her soul up to heaven. And āgamic Śaiva rites were similarly understood.5 But Buddhists claimed that only their violent rites were truly compassionate; only the true bodhisattva could perform such rituals with the karmic welfare of her victims foremost in her mind.6 And so we come to the liberation rite described in the Dunhuang manuscripts. IOL Tib J 419 and Pelliot tibétain 42 provide some particularly detailed insights into how a Mahāyoga liberation rite may have been performed in early medieval India and tenth-century Tibet. Elsewhere I have translated and discussed the rite in question in some detail.7 Here I want to suggest that close analysis of the Dunhuang version of the rite reveals what is 3 See Hans-Georg Turstig, “The Indian Sorcery Called Abhicāra,” Wiener Zeitschrift fur die Kunde Südasiens 29 (1985): 69–117. 4 David Gray lists some of the relevant secondary sources on the early Buddhist appropriation of the homa rite; see David Gray, “Eating the Heart of the Brahmin: Representations of Alterity and the Formation of Identity in Tantric Buddhist Discourse,” History of Religions 45, no. 1 (2005): 57 n. 48. 5 See Dalton, Taming of the Demons, 91–92. 6 See David Germano, “Architecture and Absencein the Secret Tantric History of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen),” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 17, no. 2 (1994): 224 n. 56. 7 Dalton, Taming of the Demons, 77–94.

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essentially a violent interpretation of a standard tantric initiation ritual. Having demonstrated how the liberation rite functions as a kind of initiation, we may gain a better sense of how some early tantric Buddhists might have conceived of its salvific efficacy. Following some preliminary comments on how to select an appropriate victim (read an appropriate “initiate”), the rite opens with the officiating master generating himself as the main deity, just as any initiation might begin. Next the victim is brought in and placed at the center of a maṇḍala. Within this maṇḍala, the victim is purified (as the initiate often was) with waters and ritually anointed (nyāsa) at key points on his body. One might object that the initiate is normally led into the maṇḍala later in the ritual, at the moment of the initiation proper, but certain early initiation rites did in fact include two or more maṇḍalas. The Mahāvairocanābhisaṃbodhi, for instance, describes a “root” mūla-maṇḍala in (or in front of ) which the initiate is cleansed and purified, and an abhiṣeka-maṇḍala into which the initiate is subsequently introduced.8 Here at the beginning of the liberation rite, when the victim is first placed in a maṇḍala and ritually purified, we may see a parallel ritual narrative. At this point the liberation rite veers off script, as the victim (or an effigy of the victim) is beheaded. But then, as the victim’s consciousness emerges from the corpse, it is carefully led into the maṇḍala. This crucial moment is accompanied by what appears to be a flinging of the severed head onto the maṇḍala platform, in what can only be a macabre rendering of the flower-tossing ceremony characteristic of many initiation rites. And, as with the flower ceremony, the position in which the head comes to rest is then interpreted to determine the success of the rite, that is, how well the victim received the initiation and where he or she next will take rebirth. Finally, the liberation rite closes with a celebratory feast, as do many initiation rites. This idea, that the liberation rite was essentially a transgressive interpretation of tantric initiation, is lent further credence by the Rudra-taming myth. There, Rudra is first killed, then resuscitated in order to be initiated into the maṇḍala by means of a standard initiation ceremony. Just so, the ritual victim in the Dunhuang rite is first beheaded, and then has his consciousness led into the maṇḍala for the initiation.

8 For an English translation of the relevant passages, see Stephen Hodge, The Mahāvairocana-abhisaṃbodhi Tantra, with Buddhaguhya’s Commentary (London: Routledge Curzon, 2003), 140–145.



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Once reframed as an initiation, the liberation rite’s redemptive power starts to appear more clearly, for initiation across the tantric traditions of India was widely understood to be a powerful purificatory ritual. Unfortunately, however, the expiatory capacity of tantric initiation raises as many problems for Buddhism as it solves. For many early tantric Buddhists, the much-acclaimed power of tantric initiation threatened the laws of karma, and thus the very fabric of the universe. Alexis Sanderson and others have traced the roots of tantric initiation back to pre-tantric Śaiva groups such as the Lākulas and the Pāñcārthika Pāśupatas, who were active in India from the fourth century ce, if not earlier. Initiation (dīkṣā), for these early proto-tantric Pāśupatas, was restricted to Brahmins only, and it functioned primarily as a rite of passage; it maintained the group’s social order. By the seventh century and the advent of full-blown Āgamic Śaivism, however, initiation had become a ritual that offered complete liberation.9 The fully initiated Śaiva tāntrika was, for all intents and purposes, forever freed from sin and—assuming he maintained his daily practices—guaranteed enlightenment upon his death. For many tantric Buddhists, however, such extraordinary claims presented a problem, for from time immemorial the Buddhist teachings depended on the inexorable operations of karma. The idea of a completely liberative initiation rite threatened to undermine everything.10 The magnitude of this problem in the eyes of early tantric Buddhists is clear from the eleventh-century Abhiṣekhanirukti, which opens its authoritative discussion of tantric initiation by insisting that it would be a terrible mistake to take the realization gained through initiation to be the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice. “This is wrong,” it explains, “because it would mean that [complete] liberation would follow immediately from initiation.”11 The rest of the text then proceeds from this crucial point, into its detailed explorations of just what Buddhist initiation does accomplish. Tantric initiation’s short-circuiting of karma (and thus its immediate expiation of sin) was a problem Buddhists already had encountered in 9 Alexis Sanderson, “The Lākulas: New Evidence of a System Intermediate between Pāñcārthika Pāśupatism and Āgamic Śaivism,” Indian Philosophical Annual 24 (2006): 187. 10 On this crucial difference between tantric initiation in the Śaiva and Buddhist religions, see Harunaga Isaacson, “Observations on the Development of the Ritual of Initiation (abhiṣeka) in the Higher Buddhist Tantric Systems,” in Hindu and Buddhist Initiations in India and Nepal, ed. Astrid Zotter, et al. (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010): 263. 11 Translated by Isabella Onians, in Tantric Buddhist Apologetics or Antinomianism as a Norm (PhD diss., Oxford University, 2001), 351. tan na yuktaṃ tu sekānantaramuktitaḥ.

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other arenas. In his sixth-century Tarkajvālā, for example, Bhāvaviveka had refuted those Śrāvakas who had criticized the Mahāyāna for its faith in the a-karmic power of the bodhisattva vow, as well as that of dhāraṇīs and mantras for that matter. He presents his opponents’ criticisms as follows: [Some Śrāvakas claim that] the dhāraṇī-mantras, secret mantras, vidyāmantras, and the like are taught within the Mahāyāna to have many benefits, despite their syllables and meanings being unintelligible. Such teachings deceive the foolish. They are like the Vedas of our opponents. They involve no practice, so they cannot expiate even the slightest of faults. For one who has accumulated the defilements and within whom the [karmic] roots of those [defilements] are still present, how can sin be expiated? Dhāraṇīmantras cannot pacify sin, because they do not counteract its causes.12

Thus even as tantric ritual offered Buddhists an arsenal of powerful new technologies for expiating their sins, for some they were too powerful for Buddhism’s own good. For these more conservative Buddhists, karma and the mental state of the sinner had to remain central to the path, and any new-fangled ritual techniques had to be carefully balanced against this one prime concern. Simply claiming that initiation magically ensured the initiate’s karmic purity was insufficient. If the violence of liberation was going to be effective, it had to be accompanied by the right kind of subjective attitude on the part of the victim. This disjunction, between the liberation rite’s outward ritual efficacy and the victim’s inner mental state, was precisely what the authors of the Rudra myth worked to address. Myth: How Violence Engenders Repentance Ritual manuals are prescriptive by their very nature; they instruct their readers on what to do. They may prescribe certain thoughts to think, or sometimes even feelings that should be felt at particular points in the 12 Madhyamakahṛdayavṛtti-tarkajvāla (Toh. 3856), in Bstan ’gyur (sde dge), 213 vols., ed. Shuchen Tsultrim Rinchen (Delhi, India: Delhi Karmapae Chodhey Gyalwae Sungrab Partun Khang, 1982–1985), 183a.6–184b.1. theg pa chen po las yi ge dang don shes par mi rung ba’i gzungs sngags dang/ gsang sngags dang/ rig sngags la sogs pa phan yon mang po can byis pa’i skye bo slu bar byed pa bstan pa de rnams ni gzhan gyi rig byed dang ’dra’o/ bsgom pa med pa ni skyon phrar ba tsam yang zad par byed nus pa ma yin te/ nyon mongs pa bsags pa dang de’i rtsa ba yod na sdig pa zad pa ga la ’byung bar ’gyur/ gzungs sngags kyis kyang sdig pa zhi bar byed pa ma yin te/ de’i rgyu dang mi ’gal ba nyid kyi phyir. For an English translation of the entire section, see Malcolm David Eckel, Bhāvaviveka and his Buddhist Opponents (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 179–82.



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ritual, but overall, mythic narrative works in a more descriptive mode; it can more easily describe how the original practitioner of a given rite supposedly felt. Of course, such mythic descriptions also communicate prescriptive messages about how the reader should feel, but on the surface at least, mythic narrative can recount how its characters felt and what they thought. In the case of the Rudra-taming myth, Rudra’s great confessional moment occurs in the context of his request for initiation. Desperate remorse, it seems, is the ideal mental state of the Buddhist initiate.13 And closer examination of the narrative reveals that Rudra’s repentance (Tib. ’gyod pa; Skt. kaukṛtya) is produced in him specifically by the violent death he undergoes at the hands of the Buddha. Thus at the myth’s climax, the Buddha plunges his trident into Rudra’s chest, tears him apart, devours him, and then purifies him inside the maṇḍala palace of his belly. Rudra is in this way confronted with his past. Inside the Buddha’s stomach, we read, “[Rudra] remembered all that he had done, how he had taken on so many different bodies, and been reborn for limitless aeons.”14 Expelled once more from the Buddha’s anus and reconstituted in his old form at the Buddha’s feet, the now-purified Rudra weeps with remorse (gnong tshul) and pleads for the Buddha to finish the job of leading him into enlightenment.15 Here the Buddha’s killing and devouring of Rudra produces remorse in the offending demon. According to this myth, at least, it seems that tantric violence is effective precisely in its violence, the pain that it inflicts. Only such violence can get through to those who are otherwise beyond repair. Only the extreme sufferings produced by the liberation rite can penetrate the hearts of those most stubbornly sinful of beings. And Rudra represents 13 In requesting their own initations, Rudra’s followers too confess and express regret at their sins; see Dgongs pa ’dus pa’i mdo, in Mtshams brag Edition of the Rnying ma’i rgyud ’bum, 46 vols, ed. Rdo rje thogs med (Thimphu, Bhutan: National Library, Royal Government of Bhutan, 1982), vol. 16, 223–227 (translated in Dalton, Taming of the Demons, 198–200). 14 Dgongs pa ’dus pa’i mdo, 208.4. skye ba dus mtha’ med rnyed du/ lus bangs las ni ci spyad dran. 15 Note that gnong ba usually means “remorse” or “guilt” in Tibetan, but it was also used the translate the Sanskrit term, durmaṅku, meaning something more like “obstinacy.” Mkhan po Nus ldan seems to read the term as “remorse,” but obstinacy may also make sense here, as Rudra is portrayed as still blaming the Buddha, now for expelling him from the blissful space of his stomach; see Mkhan po Nus ldan rdo rje, Dpal spyi mdo dgongs pa ’dus pa’i ’gel pa rnal ’byor nyi ma gsal bar byed pa’i legs bshad gzi ldan ’char kha’i ’od snang, in Rnying ma bka’ ma rgyas pa, 56 vols., ed. Bdud ’joms ’jigs bral ye shes rdo rje (Kalimpong, India: Dubjang Lama, 1982), vol. 53, 808.

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the ultimate model of such an unreachable soul. Indeed, he is so obstinate that earlier in the myth, Rudra’s ignorance survives even the apocalyptic conflagrations at the end of the previous aeon: “Finally the aeons at the destruction of the universe came—the aeons of famine, of plague, and of war—and [the future Rudra] took rebirth throughout those. The devastations of those aeons emptied the worlds of everything. Yet even when all others had been destroyed, [Rudra] continued to take rebirth.”16 Even these intensely painful agonies, we are told, could do nothing to snap Rudra out of his benighted state. Only the extraordinary violence of the buddhas’ liberation rite would suffice for such an obstinately ignorant being. The notion that intense suffering and death can produce remorse is seen in other tantric myths too. In the Sarvadurgatipariśodhana’s central narrative, for example, a prince named Unpleasant Body (Lus mi sdug pa) kills his father and usurps the throne.17 Sometime later, while walking in his royal gardens, the patricidal prince comes upon an old hermit named Needless Love (Dgos pa med par byams pa) who wears bark for clothes and eats nothing but roots. The hermit teaches the prince about the workings of karma, and in particular about the fast ripening of the sins of immediate retribution, one of which is to kill one’s father. As the full karmic significance of his deeds begins to dawn on the prince, “his mind became tormented with piercing anguish, whereupon he passed away, like a candle [snuffed out] by wind.”18 The Dunhuang version of the myth adds further details: “Because of his extreme regret, he started to vomit forth disease-ridden blood and quickly died.”19 As he dies, the tortured prince finally sees the dharma. He comes to understand karma, and a powerful remorse overcomes him. This moment of remorse is so strong that it frees him—temporarily at least—from the law of immediate retribution, and his punishments in hell are postponed for one lifetime, during which he is reborn as a devaputra in heaven. Here then, in the 16 Dgongs pa ’dus pa’i mdo, 159.3–4. gang ’jig pa’i bskal pa’i mu ge dang/ nad dang/ mtshon gang du ’byung ba de dang der skye bar byed do/ ’jig pa de dag gis de dag gang stongs na yang/ gzhang dag gang ’jig pa’i dus su yang der skye ba len par ’gyur ro. 17 The account that follows combines elements from both the canonical version of the story, found at Sarvadurgatipariśodhana-tantra, 73a.5–74b.1, and the Dunhuang version, found at IOL Tib J 712, 2v.1–4r.4. 18 Sarvadurgatipariśodhana-tantra (Toh. 483), in The Sde-dge Mtshal-par Bka’-’gyur, 103 vols., ed. 16th Rgyal-dbaṅ Karma-pa (Delhi, India: Delhi Karmapae Chodhey Gyalwae Sungrab Partun Khang, 1976–1979), rgyud ’bum, vol. ta, 74a.4. thos nas mya ngan zug rngu yis/ rang gi yid la gdungs pa na/ ji ltar rlung gis mar me bzhin/ de nyid du ni dus las ‘das. 19 IOL Tib J 712, 3v.5. ’gyod pa drag pos/ nad khrad du skyugs te/ ’das par gyur to.



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Sarvadurgatipariśodhana as in the Rudra myth, violent agonies and death produce and reinforce the liberating power of repentance. In both myths too, agonizing remorse leads the protagonists to remember their past sins and, more broadly, to comprehend the workings of karma. If the Buddhist expiation of one’s sins requires remorse, then it also entails a review of one’s past actions through the lens of karma. Three pages later after his having been killed, ripped apart, eaten, and defecated back into the world, Rudra relates to his horde of demonic attendants what happened to him at that pivotal moment within the Buddha’s belly: Inside there, I saw in an instant the palace of great unchanging bliss. Just as a woman suffering the pains of pregnancy might think to herself, “This is the suffering that comes before giving birth, and all of it is the direct result of all those times I had sex,” in the same way, I too ascertained that [the pains wrought by the Buddha] were nothing but my own karma. Through the force of my intense regret, which was unstoppable by anyone, like a boulder rolling down from the peak of a steep mountain, I saw and was overwhelmed with anguish. My followers, you too must consider your own karma! May the force of your anguish roll like that boulder!” And then, weeping and wailing at all the unnecessary violence, he recited this expression of complete anguish . . .20

Remembering one’s past lives, of course, is an ancient and familiar Buddhist trope. Even at the height of the tantras’ violence, then, at their most transgressive moment, the Rudra myths tells us that the victim is cleansed of his sins in strict accordance with early Buddhist doctrine. Even such highly tantric moments as this—when Rudra is killed, eaten, and purified within—even such moments mirror closely the classic account of Śākyamuni’s own enlightenment beneath the bodhi tree, when the Buddha remembered all of his own past lives and comprehended all of karma. In this way, the Rudra myth works to bring the ritual procedures of liberation and tantric initiation back into the fold of normative Buddhist doctrine.

20 Dgongs pa ’dus pa’i mdo, 211.1–3. gang skad cig mar bde ba chen po’i g.yung drung gi pho brang mthong nas/ gang ’di ltar bud med dag sbrum ma’i sdug bsngal gyis nyen par gyur pas na/ ’di snyam du sdug bsngal ’di ni sngon du skyes pa bsten cing/ mang du dpyad pa’i las ’ba’ zhig kho na’o snyam du yid la byed pa’i bzhin/ kho bo yang las ’ba’ zhig la kho thag chad nas/ ji ltar ri gzar rtse nas rbab ’gril ba gang gis mi zlog pa bzhin du/ gdung chen po’i shugs kyis ’thon pas shing tu gdungs pa yin te.

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One major question remains unanswered: What is it that is so unique about the liberation rite’s particular kind of suffering that makes it so extraordinarily redemptive? If extreme suffering produces remorse in its victim, why doesn’t this happen all the time? In fact, the Rudra myth offers an answer to this question as well, and once again, it calls upon a familiar element of earlier Buddhist narrative literature. The Rudra myth opens with its own backstory, with the original event that first set Rudra on his dark path to demonhood. In a past aeon, we are told, Rudra-to-be was a prince named Black Deliverance. Black Deliverance and his servant, Denpak, were both students under a great tantric master named Invincible Youth. Soon, however, the prince mistook his master’s teachings on tantric transgression and the ultimate purity of all action. He came to believe these teachings meant he could do whatever he wanted. And when his teacher corrected him, Black Deliverance flew into a rage and banished the master from his kingdom, thereby breaking his crucial tantric samaya. From this point forward, the myth traces Black Deliverance’s path downward, through thousands of ever-viler lifetimes, down into the deepest of hells. Throughout of all these lifetimes, Black Deliverance continues to accumulate ever more negative karma—by repeatedly killing others, sucking blood, and so on—all karmic causes for his eventual rebirth as the demon Rudra. There is one moment, however, after he has descended into the deepest of Avīci hells, when Rudra turns the karmic corner, as it were, a moment when he stops accumulating further karmic causes and begins to experience their karmic effects. “He dwelt for 80,000 lifetimes in Avīci Hell,” we read, and: The extent of his suffering in that hell is not suitable to be discussed. Why? Because if it were discussed in front of others, whoever might hear it would faint. At that time, [however,] there came to pass a brief instant when that hell-being wondered, “Oh! Why is this happening [to me]?!” And at that, the Dharmarāja Vajrasattva, Lord of the Conquerors, revealed to him the dharma that it was all due to his own karma. And because of this, [the hellbeing] reflected [for a moment] upon karma and, understanding fully, he felt regret. And just because of that brief instant of remorse, he was transported out of that realm.21

21 Dgongs pa ’dus pa’i mdo, 158.3–6. mnar med pa’i gnas rdo rje’i dmyal ba zhes bya bar de nyid kyi tshe’i tshad brgyad khri’i bar du gnas te/ dmyal ba de’i sdug bsngal gyi tshad ni brjod du mi rung ngo/ de ci’i phyir zhe na/ gang gi mdun du sdug bsngal gyi tshad de brjod



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Unfortunately for the demon, he continued to suffer countless more lifetimes in still other hells, but this crucial moment marks the turning point in his karmic history. From here on, he begins his gradual climb back up to our world and his final rebirth as Rudra. Why did this happen? How, in the midst of such extraordinary suffering in the very lowest of hells, was he able to reflect and experience such a liberative moment of remorse? Because, explains the myth’s commentary, Rudra’s teacher of old, “the monk Invincible Youth, had in the meantime gained enlightenment as Vajrasattva.”22 In other words, the future Rudra’s ability to reflect and experience remorse was due to the karmic connection he had made in his past life as Black Deliverance to his master Invincible Youth. It is well known that many early Buddhist narratives end with Śākyamuni identifying who in his stories was who in the present. The stories thereby reveal the karmic teleology of events; they exemplify the “connective threads” (karmaploti) that shape the protagonists’ karma. Here in the tantric context, the Rudra myth calls upon this same well-worn narrative strategy, and the same karmaploti threads, to explain Vajrasattva’s power to intervene in Rudra’s karma. This same strategy applies again later in the myth, to the Buddha’s violent liberation of Rudra, for there too, it is the master Invincible Youth and Rudra’s servant of old, Denpak, now as Vajrasattva and Vajrapāṇi, respectively, who oversee and enact his liberation. Later Rudra explains just this to his still-ignorant followers: O excellent followers, do not think like that. In a previous life I made a karmic connection with an excellent attendant who is now this same spiritual friend to all with whom I have met [i.e. Vajrapāṇi]. Therefore I finally understand my karma. I understand how I took [so many] rebirths. I have seen my karma and seen my rebirths. My karma and rebirths having become evident, I wished for some escape.23

na gang gis thos pa de brgyal bar ’gyur ro/ de’i tshe de’i dus na dmyal ba des/ e ma ’o ’di ci nges zhes smras pa’i skad cig gcig phyin par gyur to/ rdo rje sems dpa’ thub pa’i dbang po chos kyi rgyal po des/ kho na nyid kyi las yin gyis zhes chos bstan pa las/ las yid la byas pas yongs su shes te ’gyod par gyur to/ ’gyod pa tsam gyis gnas de nas ’phod. 22 Nus ldan rdo rje, Dpal spyi mdo dgongs pa ’dus pa’i ’grel pa, vol. 53, 642.6. 23 Dgongs pa ’dus pa’i mdo, 210.6–7. kye nye gnas dam pa rnams/ gang de ltar ma rtogs shig/ sngon gyi kho bo’i las kyi ’phro dang ’brel ba’i nye gnas dam pa kun gyi bshes gnyen de dang phrad pa las shes so/ skye bshes so/ las mthong ngo/ skye ba mthong ngo/ las mngon du gyur to/ skye ba mngon du gyur nas/ rang gi las la rang thag khos par gyur.

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Early Tibetan biographers likewise may have seen karmaploti as key to the efficacy of tantric violence. The ninth and early-tenth-century Tibetan master, Nupchen Sangye Yeshe, is famous for having defended tantric Buddhism against its enemies during Tibet’s so-called age of fragmentation that followed the collapse of the Tibetan empire. He is also, perhaps not coincidentally, the main commentator to the Rudra myth I have been discussing here. According to his biography, Nupchen wielded the liberation rite against his Tibetan persecutors, in order to protect the dharma. In performing the rite, the biography tells us, he called upon the worldly gods whom he had bound by vow to help him. But they cannot help him, they explain: “Our strength and powers are such that we can lift up mountains. We can gulp down oceans. Our strength and powers are like this, but these [present problems] are the overflowing karmic results of your very own previous lives, master. We were not your companions on those earlier occasions, so how can we destroy the [order of the] universe now?”24 Redemptive violence, these demons explain, is only effective when the laws of karma allow it. Without the ties of karmaploti, the tantric expiation of sin is impossible; indeed, the very nature of universe stands in its way. Here again, we see tantric narrative literature (here in the form of biography) carefully delimiting the power of tantric ritual. Tantric practice may be potent, it says, and its violence may seem to slice effortlessly through the webs of karma, but it will always remain bound by other, unseen ties. It is able to save only when the victim’s karma allows. Conclusions The tantric liberation rite’s power to expiate the sins of its victims was therefore rooted in normative Buddhist doctrine. Without the necessary karmic connection between officiant and victim, the rite would be ineffectual, not to mention ethicially harmful. With the proper connection, however, an opening for karmic intervention could be found, through

24 Sangs rgyas ye shes rin po che’i lo rgyus gnubs kyi bka’ shog chen mo, in Bka’ ma shin tu rgyas pa, 120 vols. (Chengdu, China: Kaḥ thog mkhan po ’Jam dbyangs, 1999), 735.5–736.1. bdag cag rnams kyi mthu rtsal ’di ’dra ste/ ri bo spang gis ’gegs nus rgya mtsho’i hub ’debs nus/ de lta bu yi mthu dang rtsal bdog kyang/ ’di ni slob dpon nyid kyi tshe rabs snga ma yi/ las kyi rnam par smin pa’i tshan brdol nas/ sngon chad bdag cag rnams kyis grogs ma bgyis/ da ni ’jig rten rlag par bgyi ’am ji ltar bgyi.



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which the righteous bodhisattva could cut the victim’s karmic continuum and redirect it toward enlightenment. This begs the question: Why, if the proper karmic connections are in place, are the liberation rite’s ritual forms necessary at all? Why does the bodhisattva not simply kill the offending sinner in a straightforward manner? Ultimately, most tantric Buddhists would agree that a combination of correct ritual performance and karmic connection is necessary, but unresolved tensions remain, between ritual power and the mental state of the sinner. Perhaps here we may detect too echoes of more recent debates that have haunted the modern academic study of religion. Throughout the twentieth-century, western theories on sin and repentance fell largely into two general camps. On the one hand, there were what might be called the Durkheimian approaches of Social Anthropology that focused more on ritual performance and saw maintenance of the social order as the primary purpose of sin and its expiation. On the other hand, there were the Freudian approaches that focused instead on the more mental or subjective aspects of repentance, on how confession—be it to God, one’s priest, or one’s therapist—can liberate the subject from his or her feelings of guilt. Whether these two functions—the Durkheimian and the Freudian—are always so different from one another is a significant question, one that Michel Foucault, for example, highlighted well in his History of Sexuality, vol. 1, which in many ways was an exposé of the social and political functions concealed within Freudian confession and psychoanalytic “liberation.” Nonetheless the two trends persisted and have shaped much of the modern academic discourse around sin and its expiation. Perhaps in the ancient ritual and mythic treatments of Buddhist redemptive violence examined here, there may be some parallels. Bibliography Primary Sources Dgongs pa ’dus pa’i mdo. Full title: De bzhin gshegs pa thams cad kyi thugs gsang ba’i ye shes; don gyi snying po rdo rje bkod pa’i rgyud; rnal ‘byor grub pa’i lung; kun ‘dus rig pa’i mdo; theg pa chen po mngon par rtogs pa; chos kyi rnam grangs rnam par bkod pa zhes bya ba’i mdo. In the Mtshams brag Edition of the Rnying ma’i rgyud ’bum, 46 vols., edited by Rdo rje thogs med. Thimphu, Bhutan: National Library, Royal Government of Bhutan, 1982, vol. 16, 2–617. Dunhuang mss. cited: IOL Tib J 419, IOL Tib J 439, IOL Tib J 712, Pelliot tibétain 36, Pelliot tibétain 42.

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Madhyamakahṛdayavṛtti-tarkajvāla (Toh. 3856). Asc. Bhāvaviveka. In Bstan ’gyur (sde dge), 213 vols., edited by Shuchen Tsultrim Rinchen. Delhi, India: Delhi Karmapae Chodhey Gyalwae Sungrab Partun Khang, 1982–1985, dbu ma, vol. dza, 40b.7–329b.4. Nus ldan rdo rje, Mkhan po. Dpal spyi mdo dgongs pa ’dus pa’i ’grel pa rnal ’byor nyi ma gsal bar byed pa’i legs bshad gzi ldan ’char kha’i ’od snang. In Rnying ma bka’ ma rgyas pa, 56 vols., edited by Bdud ’joms ’jigs bral ye shes rdo rje. Kalimpong, India: Dubjang Lama, 1982, vols. 53–56. Sangs rgyas ye shes rin po che’i lo rgyus gnubs kyi bka’ shog chen mo. Asc. Gnubs chen Sangs rgyas ye shes. In Bka’ ma shin tu rgyas pa, 120 vols., Chengdu: Kaḥ thog mkhan po ’Jam dbyangs, 1999, vol. 42: 693–746. Sarvadurgatipariśodhana-tantra (Toh. 483). Full title: Sarvadurgatipariśodhana-tejorājasya Tathāgatasya Arhato Samyaksambuddhasya kalpa-nāma. In The Sde-dge Mtshal-par Bka’-’gyur, rgyud ’bum, 103 vols., edited by 16th Rgyal-dbaṅ Karma-pa. Delhi, India: Delhi Karmapae Chodhey Gyalwae Sungrab Partun Khang, 1976–1979, vol. ta, 58b.1–96a.3. Secondary Sources Dalton, Jacob. The Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011. ——. The Uses of the Dgongs pa ’dus pa’i mdo in the Development of the Rnying-ma School of Tibetan Buddhism. PhD diss., University of Michigan, 2002. Eckel, Malcolm David. Bhāvaviveka and his Buddhist Opponents. Harvard Oriental Series 70. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008. Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, vol. 1. Translated by Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1978. Germano, David. “Architecture and Absence,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 17. no. 2 (1994): 203–335. Gray, David B. “Eating the Heart of the Brahmin: Representations of Alterity and the Formation of Identity in Tantric Buddhist Discourse,” History of Religions 45.1 (2005): 45–69. Hodge, Stephen. The Mahā-vairocana-abhisaṃbodhi Tantra, with Buddhaguhya’s Commentary. London: Routledge Curzon, 2003. Isaacson, Harunaga. “Observations on the Development of the Ritual of Initiation (abhiṣeka) in the Higher Buddhist Tantric Systems.” In Hindu and Buddhist Initiations in India and Nepal. Edited by Astrid Zotter and Christof Zotter. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010, 261–279. Onians, Isabella. Tantric Buddhist Apologetics or Antinomianism as a Norm. PhD diss., Oxford University: 2001. Sanderson, Alexis. “The Lākulas: New Evidence of a System Intermediate between Pāñcārthika Pāśupatism and Āgamic Śaivism.” Indian Philosophical Annual 24 (2006): 143–217. Türstig, Hans-Georg. “The Indian Sorcery Called Abhicāra.” Wiener Zeitschrift fur die Kunde Südasiens 29 (1985): 69–117.

Sin and Flaws in Kerala Astrology Gilles Tarabout In the popular imagination the Christian notion of sin as a transgression against divine law is intimately linked with personal responsibility. Ideally, sin should provoke a sense of guilt, for personal morality depends on this inner experience. If a sin has been committed, sincere repentance and expiation may help the sinner obtain forgiveness and even a lesser punishment.1 That such a view is highly cultural specific is clear from the reaction to the foundations of Christian morality that we find in Hindu interlocutors in Kerala (on the south-western coast of India), who pointed out to me that confessing sins, as is the practice in different Churches of the region, is nothing but an easy way to escape the potentially dreadful consequences of transgressions. In their minds repentance and the forgiveness it engendered encouraged immorality. Scholars attempting cross-cultural comparisons in this domain are at the risk of reproducing cultural prejudices. A quantitative study published some ten years ago, for instance, advanced the hypothesis (not discussed here as such) that, in many societies, religion and morality are not linked. When there is a link, it is contingent “on images of gods as conscious, morally-concerned beings”, that is, in an explicitly evolutionistic perspective, it is linked with the idea of God in the Abrahamic religions.2 Another cross-cultural study about “the sense of sin” was more cautious in its conclusion and pointed out the historical connection between societies with “a messianic idea of a savior conquering sin” and the fact that “the individual’s attitude to sin has assumed a central role in religious thinking. For it is believed that salvation can only be attained by eschewing sin, or at least by wiping out the stain of sin through penance and meritorious works”.3

1 This of course is hardly an accurate presentation of the historically diverse and constantly evolving notion of ‘sin’ in Christianity. 2 Rodney Stark, “Gods, Rituals, and the Moral Order,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 40, no. 4 (2001): 621. India seemed at first to contradict the hypothesis because of “the general impression among westerners that Hinduism is polytheistic”; in reality, the author claims, Hindus worship only one god—and the theory is safe. 3 Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf, “The Sense of Sin in Cross-Cultural Perspective,” Man, n. s. 9, no. 4 (1974): 555.

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One difficulty with projects such as these is that they often proceed from an asymmetry in the comparison: why for instance look for ‘sin’ around the world, finding therefore some societies somewhat defective in this respect, and not for concepts such as ‘dharma’, ‘karma’, etc.? Arguably, the process by which the English language and, to a lesser extent, other western languages have become the standard languages for international scholarship, has increased such an asymmetry by establishing concepts proper to these languages as referents. Scholarship about India will regularly use English terms such as ‘sin’ or ‘expiation’ for translating concepts which do not necessarily share the connotations they have in Christianity. While such a pitfall is probably unavoidable, and has often been remarked, the self-evident quality of such translations is problematic. It leads to discarding important aspects of the interpreted culture, and instead of fostering understanding may merely add sanction to a western-centered vision of morality. Indian concepts for which the terms ‘sin’ and ‘expiation’ are regularly given are respectively pāpa and prāyaścitta (Skt.). They are often associated with the notion of karma: briefly said, the misfortune which one experiences may be explained as being the consequence of one’s own acts committed in a previous life and those past actions are termed ‘sinful’ in English translations. A ‘sinner’ may however alleviate to some extent the consequences of his ‘sins’ by practicing ‘expiations’. Put into English in this vocabulary, things look familiar, perhaps a bit too much. There are at least two main difficulties. The first is that there is no uniform conception of karma (or pāpa or prāyaścitta) throughout India: on the one hand, these notions have been the subject of debates and controversies since early times; on the other hand, there exists considerable variation in the understanding and the contextual invocation of these notions in practice. Various studies suggest the diversity in the conceptions and use of karma: for many people, karma is seen as ‘transferable’, and one may have to endure sufferings as the result of the actions done by others (usually parents) in past lives, as well as in the present one. In other words, one may not have to suffer from his or her own ‘sins’, but from those of others. In that case, past ‘sinful’ acts may still legitimate an overall moral order: but this order does not involve a direct link between one’s deeds and one’s own suffering. The second difficulty is that each notion occurs in association with other ones, defining semantic associations that may considerably differ from the ones of their supposed English equivalents. ‘Sin’, pāpa, is



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transferable through religious gift, dāna.4 The term is also used for fever or illness and is the name of a specific illness for which the Indian medical tradition of Āyurveda offers certain medicated oils or ghees (clarified butter) as a remedy.5 Moreover, people might refer in some contexts to karma and pāpa as the cause for present-day misfortune, while favoring in other contexts other explanations: the wrath of deities, affliction by ghosts, or sorcery instigated by enemies. These two sets of explanations usually complement each other and may be seen as two different registers of causality. In this respect, many anthropologists have followed the distinction proposed by D. Mandelbaum between “transcendental” and “pragmatic” aspects of religion.6 Paul Hiebert, for instance, working in a Tamil village, distinguished between upper “Hindu explanation traditions” which invoke karma and fate and entail a moral opposition between good and evil, where the notion of ‘sin’ is significant, on the one hand, and what he called a “middle level explanation tradition” on the other hand.7 According to Hiebert, the latter is characterized by the action of village goddesses, of spirits, of magic, and by the recourse to astrology for identifying causes of misfortune; notions of good or evil and of ‘sin’ are less relevant than notions of ritual faults, impurity, or of being the innocent victim of ghosts or enemies. My aim is not to elaborate in general terms on ‘sin’ or karma in India, and there is ample scholarship on these points.8 Rather, I propose to reflect on the contrast established by Hiebert (and others) by looking at what 4 See Jonathan Parry, “The Gift, the Indian Gift and the ‘Indian Gift’ ” Man, n. s. 21, no. 3 (1986). 5 Francis Zimmermann, Le discours des remèdes au pays des épices (Paris: Payot, 1989), 126. 6 David Mandelbaum, “Transcendental and Pragmatic Aspects of Religion”, American Anthropologist 68 (1966). 7 The author establishes a further contrast with another, third level, the ‘folk’ one. See Paul G. Hiebert, 1983, “Karma and Other Explanation Traditions in a South Indian Village”, in Karma. An Anthropological Enquiry, edited by Charles F. Keyes and E. Valentine Daniel (Berkeley and Los Angeles: California University Press, 1983), 121, 129. 8 See for instance François Chenet, “Karma and Astrology: An Unrecognized Aspect of Indian Anthropology,” Diogenes 33 (1985); Othmar Gächter, “Evil and Suffering in Hinduism,” Anthropos 93, 4/6 (1998); Robert P. Goldman, “Karma, Guilt, and Buried Memories: Public Fantasy and Private Reality in Traditional India,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 105, no. 3 (1985); Charles F. Keyes and E. Valentine Daniel, eds. Karma. An Anthropological Inquiry (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983); Charles W. Nuckolls, “Interpretation of the Concept of Karma in a Telugu Fishing Village,” The Eastern Anthropologist 34, no. 2 (1971); Charles W. Nuckolls, “Culture and Causal Thinking: Diagnosis and Prediction in a South Indian Fishing Village.” Ethos 19, no. 1 (1991);

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astrology has to say on the matter and by focusing on the use in astrological contexts of terms translated into English as ‘sin’ and ‘expiation’. My argument is that in the context of astrology, what is rendered as ‘sin’ or ‘expiation’ corresponds to a more ambivalent conception of wrong deeds, of their consequences, and of the solutions they call for, than what may be found in Christian-inspired cultures. This suggests in turn that the contrast drawn between ‘Hindu explanation traditions’ and ‘middle level’ ones, or between the ‘transcendental’ and the ‘practical’ aspects of religion, may not be a very fruitful one. The material I use concerns astrology as it is practiced in Kerala. Of its three main branches, birth horoscope ( jātakam—I will use henceforth the Malayalam transliteration for terms), determination of favorable moments (muhurttam) and the resolution of problems (praśnam), it is the latter with which I am concerned here. The main reference text in Kerala in this domain is the Praśnamārggam (Mal.), The Path of the Questions, a Sanskrit treatise compiled and written around 1650 in Kerala, with a later Malayalam commentary by Sārabōdhinī.9 This work, without its commentary, has been rendered into English by B.V. Raman.10 I will also rely on the ethnography of some astrological consultations and on personal discussions with astrologers and ritual specialists, made during separate fieldwork trips in 1991, 1994 and 1999.11 Sin and Afflictions in the Praśnamārggam The Praśnamārggam (hereafter P.M.) extends over 2500 stanzas arranged in 32 chapters. Four chapters directly bear on the present topic: chapter XII (86 stanzas), chapter XIII (39 stanzas) and chapter XXIII Charles W. Nuckolls, “Divergent Ontologies of Suffering in South Asia,” Ethnology 31, no. 1 (1992); Ursula Sharma, “Theodicy and the Doctrine of Karma,” Man, n. s. 8, no. 3 (1973). 9 Krishnalayam M.K. Govindan, ed., Praśnamārggam (pūrvvārdham) enna sārabōdhini vyākhyānattōṭukūṭi (Kottayam: National Book Stall, 1987). 10 Bangalore Venkata Raman, ed. and trans., Prasna Marga, Part I (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1996); Prasna Marga, Part II (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1992). 11 I have elsewhere presented Kerala’s astrological practice for solving the problems of temples. See Gilles Tarabout, “Les corps et les choses. Résonances et métaphores corporelles dans l’astrologie appliquée aux temples (Kérala),” in Images du corps dans le monde hindou, edited by V. Bouillier and G. Tarabout (Paris: CNRS Editions, 2002); “La réparation des fautes. Le contrôle astrologique de la transformation des rites et des temples au Kérala,” in Rites hindous: transferts et transformations, edited by G. Colas and G. Tarabout (Paris, EHESS, 2006); “Authoritative Statements in Kerala Temple Astrology,” Rivista di Studi Sudasiatici, 2 (2007).



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(41 stanzas) deal more specifically with diseases (vyādhi, Skt.; rōgam in the Malayalam commentary), while chapter XV (230/234 stanzas, depending on the edition) is concerned with various afflictions (pīḍam). Regarding diseases, the term pāpam, used in chapters XII, XIII and XXIII, is translated by B.V. Raman as ‘sin’ and is invoked both as a general and rather abstract cause for all diseases and misfortunes, and as the direct reason for specific diseases, whose nature is ascertainable through an examination of planetary positions and relationships. Significantly, the English rendition of stanza XIII.29 by B.V. Raman is “Diseases are the resultant of sins done in our past births [. . .]” where the text, more literally says “pāpam done in a previous life finds rebirth in the shape of disease”—with a more complex understanding of pāpam than ‘sin’.12 While published commentaries both in English and in Malayalam make clear that what is meant by pāpam here is one’s own deeds, oral explanations by astrologers about this very verse point to the possibility of deeds done by the ancestors as well. The P.M. then goes on to explain the mechanics of the relationship between pāpam and diseases. Whatever be the immediate causes one can think of, all diseases originate from one’s own ‘sins’ (pāpam) [XIII. 30], which provoke the wrong position of planets and, ultimately, the agitation of the three humors of the body (tridōṣa): this agitation is the disease [XIII. 31]. Therefore, all diseases have two causes, one which is ‘seen’ (dṛṣṭa), and one which is ‘unseen’ (adṛṣṭa). This entails the necessity to combines medicines (for the visible causes) with prāyascittam (for the unseen causes) [XIII. 26]. Consumption is given as an example. Its root cause is the willful murder of a Brahmin in a preceding life; the appropriate remedy is prāyaścittam, which B.V. Raman translates here as ‘due repentance’ and the gift of clothes to Brahmins [XIII. 33]. This kind of diagnosis and remedy is specifically elaborated in chapter XXIII, mostly a rendition of another text, the Karmavipāka. This chapter enumerates various diseases, always resulting from deeds done in one’s own previous births. The appropriate measures consist in the repetition of mantras, the performance of offerings in the fire (hōmam), and the donation of various items, depending on the disease. These are familiar rituals. Donation appears to be a major ‘moral’ therapy, but the panacea for any type of

12 Janmāntara kṛtam pāpam vyādhi rūpēṇa jāyatē (S.). There is a similar statement in XII.30, and the full chapter XXIII (a compilation of Sāyana’s Karmavipāka) is dedicated to enumerating the diseases one suffers from past ‘sins’.

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disease is the performance of the Mṛityuñjaya hōmam (XIII. 36–39], offerings into a ritual fire accompanied by the repetition of the Mṛityuñjaya mantra (here, 8000 times is suggested) Mṛtyuñjaya is the name of Śiva who conquered Death itself. The ritual includes feeding and making donations to Brahmans. The P.M. is thus working within the framework of a ‘Hindu explanation tradition’ of a ‘transcendental’ level; it prescribes the corresponding ritual measures that are usual in such circumstances.13 However, sufferings to which such transcendental explanations are applied are diseases, and ritual measures are used in complement to the administration of medicines. The goal is quite immediate and practical. Moreover, the kinds of hōmam indicated are sometimes presented as forms of atonement, but they are also, and perhaps mostly, valued for their sheer power to deal with adversity. They maintain all the ambivalence and potentialities of the fire sacrifice. The tone of chapter XV, concerning afflictions, is rather different. One and a half times the length of chapters XII, XIII and XXIII together, chapter XV describes afflictions either in terms of obstruction and torment (bādha—usually understood as spirit affliction or possession in Kerala) or of curses (śāpa), by gods, family gods, serpents, parents and ancestors, gurus, brahmins, prētam (ghosts), evil visions,14 “food-poisoning”, and witchcraft. Without entering into the details of the indications and the prescriptions set out in this chapter,15 a few salient points may be underlined. The word pāpam is only used in this chapter in a technical sense: pāpagraha, rendered as ‘malefic planet’ (here, Mars, Saturn, Rāhu);16 and pāpayōgam (Mal.; pāpayuktē, S.), ‘malefic (astral) conjunction’. In both usages the moral connotation of ‘sin’ seems absent. It does not mean that the chapter does not recognize the effect of past mistakes, such as neglecting the worship of a god or a goddess, or destroying (even unknowingly) serpents’ eggs, etc., all of which result in an affliction. However, the focus here is on the divine anger, which results from such faults, or on the curse 13 This strongly reminds one of the Prēta (or Dharma) khaṇḍa of the Garuḍa purāṇa, which describes major sins and their punishments, as well as the appropriate rituals for avoiding such fates. 14 Evil vision (dṛṣṭi) and not evil-eye, as it is commonly translated. 15 For a more detailed presentation, with a focus on sorcery, see Gilles Tarabout, “Magical Violence and Non-Violence. Witchcraft in Kerala,” in Violence / Non Violence. Some Hindu Perspectives, ed. by D. Vidal, G. Tarabout, and E. Meyer (Delhi: Manohar, 2003). 16 Kētu is not mentioned in the PM.



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itself. The specific source of misfortune must be discovered by the astrologer by examining the position of the planets. The text frequently mentions ‘Divine-anger-signifying-planets’. This chapter provides answers as to the causes of present-day afflictions, distinguished from diseases, without dwelling on the question of responsibility. Efforts are deployed in order precisely to identify prētam, gods, enemies, etc., who are the causes of the torment; the actions deemed to be at the origin of their displeasure are scarcely attended to, except in the case of enemies. Such a focus is perceptible in the vocabulary used; in the Malayalam commentary, for instance, the most frequent words are bādha (obstacle, torment) and kōpam (anger, here of elders, deities, spirits). Remedial measures are termed śamanam (quietening, pleasing), parihāram or pratividhi (remedy, atonement), or oḻivu (cessation). In line with these preoccupations, many remedial measures consist of offerings of food, sacrifices (bali), performance of worship or pūjā, and hōmam. The whole emphasis is put on the personal agency of other beings for causing afflictions; these beings have to be placated, counteracted, or eliminated. The possible moral dimension of the fault at the origin of a supernatural being’s wrath is not elaborated: it is just not relevant. At this stage, my enquiry concurs with the studies noted above that have concluded that there coexist two perspectives on the causality of human sufferings, with only one of them actually involving the notion of pāpam. The astrological tradition exemplified in the text of the P.M. combines explanations of both kinds and is not restricted to a ‘middle level’ approach of causality, though it is undoubtedly aiming at practical results. Furthermore, the translation of pāpam as ‘sin’ does not do justice to the nuanced usages of the word. This may become more apparent by looking at how, exactly, astrologers actually proceed. Sin and Flaws in Kerala Astrological Practice There exist differences between the letter of the text of the P.M. and the way it is understood and used in practice. As noted above, the very verse stipulating that a disease is the consequence of one’s own deeds in a previous birth was explicitly interpreted by a Kerala astrologer as opening the possibility that it could also result from the deeds of the sick person’s ancestors: What enables the astrologer to conclude whether the diseases in the present life are the consequences of the wicked deeds of the person concerned in

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gilles tarabout his previous birth, or done by his father and his paternal ancestors, or done by his mother and his maternal parents, is the position of the stars. [. . .] The deeds of an ancestor can therefore ruin the life of a person.17

To make things clearer, the astrologer gave as an illustration the case of a patient’s chronic gas trouble, which was found to be the consequence of spirit possession by the prētam of one of his dead ancestors: “it may sometimes be found that the cause of the ailment is the wicked deeds of the person’s father or grandfather. It is to be inferred then that the impure spirit of a dead ancestor has entered the body of the person”. Here, the patient’s own past deeds are not evoked, and are not the direct cause for his suffering. Rather, deeds of an ancestor turned the latter into a prētam, who then afflicts and possesses the patient. It is still a ‘moral’ explanation of suffering, but centered on the prētam, while the patient is not seen as having any personal responsibility for his present state. Moreover, contrary to the text of the P.M. there is no distinction here between a ‘disease’ and an ‘affliction’. As a matter of fact, the manner in which the case is described identified the problem as an instance of what in astrological and ordinary parlance is called a dōṣam (flaw)—here a prētadōṣam.18 This shift in the interpretation of responsibility, it could be argued, could be connected to the fact that the astrologer who was interviewed belongs to a specialized caste of formerly untouchable status, with restricted exposure to Sanskrit culture (though he knew some texts). There are other traditional astrologers in Kerala who belong to higher status castes and have a more intensive knowledge of the philosophical and normative textual traditions. However, as a matter of fact, their astrological advice does not deliver much more about ‘sin’ to their clients. The consultation of a Tamil Brahman astrologer by a male client will serve as an illustration of the kind of semantic associations and reasoning that are used.19 The man (who was already known to the astrologer) did

17 Interview with Shri K.N.B. Asan, Thiruvananthapuram, March 10th, 1991. The recorded interview was then kindly transcribed by M. Sivasankaran Nayar, who also prepared a preliminary English translation. 18 The term is the same as that used in Āyurveda for ‘humor’, but here it has the meaning of an affliction caused by a supernatural being; it is more or less synonymous with pīḍam (affliction) and may replace bādha (obstacle) in most of its occurrences, with an additional nuance of impurity and a rather ‘sticky’ quality. 19 Consultation of Shri Dharmaraja Iyer, Thiruvananthapuram, April 1st, 1999. Because of my presence, most of the consultation was held in English (which the client understood perfectly), with some Malayalam. I took notes during the initial phase of the meeting and then obtained permission to record it.



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not disclose his motivations at once; it became clear after some time that he wanted to marry a non-eligible girl but feared his own parents’ opposition. However, asking the advice of an astrologer is by itself the proof of an existing problem, which has to be elucidated by looking at the planetary positions. In this case, the astrologer first checked the astrological chart of the moment when the client came asking for an appointment, a few days before the actual meeting: The lunar mansion (nakṣatram, lit. ‘star’) is not good, except for marriage. The lunar day is bad except for learning. Some disease is there, prosperity is lacking. The lunar mansion is not completely good, not free from previous faults in previous births. There is some wrong somewhere, most probably dissatisfaction. He [the client] will not change his job, planets are showing stability. The problem is more a feeling of dissatisfaction against which he has to react. This is the illness (rōgam), the feeling that his job does not correspond to his possibilities. [. . .] rōgam means, you know, something against tradition. [. . .] It all goes by certain rules. Then, when there is something wrong somewhere, we call it a disease. So something is wrong somewhere. So he wants to break the rules, go or act against. [. . .] An aspect of Mars is cast on Saturn, he must be having some desire to move out from the present situation because of a tendency to dissatisfaction . . . He is totally dissatisfied with whatever he sees. That is actually what is called a disease.

The reference to the client’s own past faults provides a general cause for the actual planetary chart. However the astrologer doesn’t elaborate further on the matter, except in terms of the resulting disease, the man’s dissatisfaction. Past deeds may frame the understanding of the overall situation, but will not end up in the prescription of specific remedial measures. The astrologer now considers a second chart, corresponding to the consultation proper: Today we are getting slightly more. Clarity is thrown on this picture, with today’s ascendant Libra . . . One thing is certain. Venus is in the 7th [house], Lord of the ascendant is in the 7th, and the Lord of the 7th is in the ascendant . . . Clearly, there is an exchange of signs between Venus and Mars. And Saturn [is with Venus]. He’s having somebody in mind for marriage. How to put this to the parents, that is the problem he is facing.

The man confirms this, and the astrologer just asks him if the girl is of the same caste—she is. The astrologer then goes on: Fortunate. Because Saturn has not worked its way. It is the Lord of the 5th. [. . .] The problem is this. There is Saturn, there is difficulty. The Sun is in 6th (called the “house of bādha”, of obstacles, enmity), the Sun is bādha. Sun represents the father also. [. . .] Father is not going to agree for this. Though

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gilles tarabout the mother may agree. [. . .] but father may not agree. That happens to be the bādha for this.

As mentioned before, the term bādha is frequently understood in Kerala as pointing to an affliction by a spirit. Indeed, this is what the astrologer finds as being the source of the observed bādha: So Guḷikan [a malefic “sub-planet”, upagraham, involved in the diagnostic and resolution of problems in Kerala] is in the 8th [house], Guḷikan represent dead persons; Saturn also is there. So the Lord of the house-of-Guḷikan is Venus and Venus is afflicted by Mars and Saturn. Now the sign also, the sign occupied by Guḷikan is aspected by Mars. So it should be really a bādha arisen from a prētam [ghost] . . . See, peculiarly, the navaṃṣa [ninth portion of a sign] sign of Guḷikan is Cancer, and the Lord of Cancer is occupying an unfavorable position. Venus is in an unfavorable position. Guḷikan himself is in an unfavorable position. And both are feminine signs. So a lady prētam is there.

The astrologer tries unsuccessfully, with the help of the client, to put a name to the prētam, and concludes it must be somebody who was at one time connected to the family. He also explores the possibility of sorcery, but there is none that may be deduced from the chart. He eventually concludes, “this ghostly affliction (prētadōṣam) is the only one”, and he prescribes the necessary rituals for pacifying and sending away the prētam, much like funerary rituals. The line of reasoning may be summarized in this way. There is an overall weakness (disease) of the client that results from faults done in his past life. Concerning his actual projects, the planets show that his father will oppose them (especially because the girl, though from the same caste, is not from an appropriate sub-group), he is an “obstacle”. This hindrance results from a ghostly affliction (a prētadōṣam); the client’s family has no particular responsibility in this. Taking care of this ghost through rituals is required, as well as—the astrologer also suggested with commendable pragmatism—breaking the news to the parents in such a way that they would be forced “to accept everything”. It is thus not the case that pāpam is not taken into account, but it provides only the general context. The actual problem, expressed in terms of obstacle, is the “flaw” (dōṣam) caused by a ghost. The ritual measures, called prayaścittam, accomplish a transformation of the prētam into a pacified, good spirit, enabling it to leave this world and join the world of good ancestors: it is a separation process. Notions of responsibility or guilt are absent, and there is no ‘expiation’ for the deeds of the client or of his family.



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Sin and Flaws in Temple Astrology Similar consultations for temples are called dēva praśnam. Questions are put to an astrologer by representatives of a temple committee, either for improving the temple or for resolving some problems. It is usually an occasion when a long list of flaws, dōṣam, is established, and elaborate remedial measures prescribed. As if looking through a magnifying glass, it provides a peculiarly rich astrological context for understanding what is meant by dōṣam and ritual reparation. I will take the written report, established and signed (as is the practice) by a team of astrologers at the end of the consultation of the Thalakottukara temple (chart dated July 6th, 1998) dedicated to Goddess Bhagavati.20 The text starts with a few verses in praise of deities. It exposes the astrological chart and the exact longitudes of the planets at the time of the praśnam, after which it enumerates a list of dōṣam: As an indication of the above said dōṣam, (we see) pollution, breaking of the idol’s cement [. . .], the destruction of the divine presence of the goddess, dōṣam from ghosts of Brahmins, from prētam, from the pollution caused by them: all these dōṣam are seen as existing. As a result, people connected with the temple or living nearby suffer from untimely deaths, accidental deaths, etc., mental diseases, monetary loss, etc. The result of these dōṣam continues to exist. If reparation (parihāram) is not done, there is indication (in the chart) that there will be an increase of dōṣam in the future. [. . .] If the remedial measures are done with devotion and care, there is full indication for prosperity in future.

In this context, dōṣam can designate any kind of flaw resulting from the action of human or supernatural beings, and it is strongly associated with the notion of impurity: the pollution of the temple’s well is another instance of dōṣam found in the present case. These flaws have their own causes, and they are themselves the reasons why the temple is not faring well and why people suffer in the locality (a repeated conclusion in such temple consultations). An important aspect of the astrological process is to identify one by one each dōṣam and its cause, and to determine accordingly appropriate remedial measures. These measures are grouped at the end of the written report under the general heading oḻivu, ‘cessation, purge’. In the present case there is 20 Thalakkothukkara temple is situated in Trichur district. I am indebted to my regretted friend L.S. Rajagopalan for providing me with a copy of the report, and for preparing a first translation.

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a long list of them: performing worship in various neighboring temples; changing the ritual routine for some subordinate deities; rectifying architectural defaults; developing festivals, etc. A special emphasis is put on the removal of the dōṣam caused by numerous prētam. The latter are detailed and, whenever possible, identified by their name: a couple of rakṣassu (‘ogre’), a Brahman gored by a bull, a temple servant who died hanging by a rope, a woman servant who died in a fire, two women living nearby who died during pregnancy, etc. Their spirits are to be invoked in effigies made with a silver leaf (pratimā, ‘likeness, image’), to which the kind of funerary rituals already mentioned for the private consultation are performed: People known and unknown; children and aged ones; rakṣassu and prētam: without omission, invoke them in the images (pratimā) [. . .] together with the afflictions and misery of the place. Once their presence has been transferred to the images, do hōmam with appropriate Vedic sūkta for each misery linked to a bad death. [. . .] Get all the sub-tormentors (there is an additional list of 10 supernatural beings associated with the various ghosts) released with 3000 Mahāsudarśana mantras (it refers to the discus-shaped weapon of Vishnu), 9000 Sadākṣara sudarśana mantras, do 12000 times Sudarśana hōmam. After that, do 24000 Gayatri mantras, and 8000 times each Gīta, Triṣṭup, Aṣṭākṣaram, Sadākṣara sudarśanam, as well as 48000 sesame hōmam, 16 Puruṣa sūkta hōmam [. . .]. Getting the curse and the dōṣam removed, do sāyūjya (“oneness with the supreme being”) pūjā. The images are to be taken to a holy river; perform kṣētra piṇḍha kriya and cast away the images (in the river).

The ritual transforms ghosts into good ancestors so that they may leave our world and stop harassing human beings. The impressive, and costly, accumulation of mantras and hōmam at the core of this part of the remedial measures is called indifferently in the report parihāram, pratividhi, or prayaścittam. It presents no evidence whatsoever of repentance. Rather the rituals pertain to the complex world of the sacrifice, able to subdue spirits, satisfy the gods, and procure happiness for the patron of the sacrifice. It is a reordering of the world, an act of propitiation, not an act of contrition. Even what may outwardly resemble an expression of repentance has to be understood in its context. For instance the removal of the dōṣam of the curse from Brahmins requires someone “to wash the feet and feed many Brahmins, [. . .] and to prostrate before them.” Or the dōṣam of the curse by good women requires a person “to invite and bring a Brahmin couple, do pūjā to the couple and get their blessings so that the dōṣam is removed.” The ritual enacts the proper relationship one has to have toward Brahmins, or the worshipping of an idealized married couple; it is an expression of subordination to social classes and values, an act



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of submission, placing oneself under the protection of a superior power; but it does not correspond to a sense of guilt. This is also, I argue, how we should consider a last example of a remedial measure, from the same report: If some speech or deeds not liked by the Goddess have been done, knowingly or unknowingly, in order to remove these dōṣam pray, make a boat of silver, put money in it without counting, and on top keep one tāli (gold leaf mounted on a string and put as a necklace to the wife at the time of marriage) of gold wrapped in silk, speak out repentance (begging pardon publicly) and submit to the Goddess. The tantri (superior ritual authority of the temple) should do a special pūjā to the Goddess. At the end of the worship, adorn the silk and the tāli on the Goddess. As a representative of the Goddess, the tantri is to bless all those connected so that the dōṣam is removed. Present special ritual honorarium, cloth and betel to the tantri.

The expression ‘speak out repentance’ (begging pardon publicly) is the translation which my friend provided for aparādham ēr ̠r ̠u colli, (‘speaking the offense while standing’); for the same expression used in another report, he proposed “speak out admitting the offense committed and submit to the deity”. This is the closest to an expression of ‘repentance’ which I could find. In my view, the core concern is to express publicly the existence of an offense (not necessarily committed by the ones who are ‘speaking out’), and to reaffirm the submissive stance of devotees. It need not involve the experience of any remorse for ‘sins’ committed. It is also to be noted that all these rituals, often called prayaścittam and which are performed in this case for removing flaws, are of the very same nature as the prayaścittam prescribed as remedies for the diseases provoked by pāpam. Concluding Remarks The above observations allow for a rough mapping of the main understandings of suffering and responsibility according to Kerala astrology. In the P.M., misfortune is treated under two different categories, with overlaps: diseases and afflictions. On the one hand, diseases are explained in terms of pāpam: it is a human deed, the effect of which, besides ‘taking rebirth’ in the shape of specific diseases, determines the general condition of the client at a given time. The sick person need not be the one who committed the pāpam that caused the disease. On the other hand, afflictions are dōṣam, flaws, which are often of a polluting nature and result from the anger of some entity. A dōṣam, contrary to a pāpam, is not a deed

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but a situation. Though the text of the P.M. separates dōṣam from disease, in practice diseases are actually interpreted in terms of dōṣam. The contrast sometimes drawn between ‘transcendental’ and ‘pragmatic’ aspects of religion seems therefore of limited interest in the case of Kerala astrology. It appears largely artificial as far as remedial measures are concerned. Diseases, according to the P.M., need to be treated by combining prāyaścittam, often translated as ‘expiations’, and medicines. Afflictions, following an apparently different regime of causality, nevertheless also require the performance of prāyaścittam. Rather than ‘expiations’, such rituals are ‘removers’ or ‘destroyers’ of the obstacles resulting from pāpam or dōṣam. Their very nature, involving repetition of mantras and oblations into a fire, suggests that what people are looking for is to mobilize religious power to overcome diseases and afflictions. There is little sense of feeling guilty and doing penance on that account.21 The discourse on moral responsibility which is present in astrology is therefore not a discourse on guiltiness and forgiveness, but a discourse about the laws of the world and the effects of their transgressions. These have to be ‘purged’ by means of purification and sacrificial ceremonies, so that prosperity and good health may be restored in an ideal ordering of the world. The ‘purge’ (oḻivu) section in the report of the Thalakottukkara temple ends thus: If things are done as mentioned above, will the dōṣam be removed? And will the divine presence of the Goddess increase? And will there be prosperity and will the people connected with the temple prosper? Is there any sign for it? To know that, praying for the blessings of Jupiter, when it was 4.30 p.m. the 24th in the month of Gemini, 1173 (Malayalam era), the oḻivu was seen in Cancer: so it is seen that it is good. May good things happen!

21 On the interrelations between prayaścitta, penance, ascetic tapas, and sacrifice, see for instance Louis Renou, “Le brahmanisme. Les formes religieuses,” in L’Inde classique. Manuel des études indiennes, vol. I, 606sqq. (Paris: Maisonneuve, 1985); Louis Renou, Vedic India, 111sqq. (Delhi, Varanasi: Indological Book House, 1971); Furer-Haimendorf, “Sense of Guilt”, 549–550; Walter O. Kaelber, “Tapas and Purification in Early Hinduism,” Numen, 26, no. 2 (1979).



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Bibliography Chenet, François. “Karma and Astrology: An Unrecognized Aspect of Indian Anthropology.” Diogenes 33 (1985): 101–126. Fürer-Haimendorf, Christoph von. “The Sense of Sin in Cross-Cultural Perspective.” Man, n. s., 9, no. 4. 1974: 539–556. Gächter, Othmar. “Evil and Suffering in Hinduism.” Anthropos, Bd. 93, H. 4./6 (1998): 393– 403. Goldman, Robert P. “Karma, Guilt, and Buried Memories: Public Fantasy and Private Reality in Traditional India.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 105, no. 3, Indological Studies Dedicated to Daniel H.H. Ingalls. 1985: 413–425. Govindan, Krishnalayam M.K., editor. Praśnamārggam (pūrvvārdham) enna sārabōdhini vyākhyānattōṭukūṭi. Kottayam: National Book Stall, 1987. Hiebert, Paul G. “Karma and Other Explanation Traditions in a South Indian Village.” In Karma. An Anthropological Inquiry, edited by Charles F. Keyes, and E. Valentine Daniel, 119–130. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983. Kaelber, Walter O. “Tapas and Purification in Early Hinduism.” Numen, 26, fasc. 2, 1979: 192–214. Keyes, Charles F., and E. Valentine Daniel, eds. Karma. An Anthropological Inquiry. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983. Mandelbaum, David G. “Transcendental and Pragmatic Aspects of Religion.” American Anthropologist, n. s., 68, no. 5. 1966: 1174–1191. Nuckolls, Charles W. “Interpretation of the Concept of Karma in a Telugu Fishing Village.” The Eastern Anthropologist, 34, no. 2, 1971: 95–106. ——. “Culture and Causal Thinking: Diagnosis and Prediction in a South Indian Fishing Village.” Ethos, 19, no. 1, 1991: 3–51. ——. “Divergent Ontologies of Suffering in South Asia.” Ethnology, 31, no. 1, 1992: 57–74. Parry, Jonathan. “The Gift, the Indian Gift and the ‘Indian Gift’.” Man, n. s., 21, no. 3,1986: 453–473. Raman, Bangalore Venkata, trans. Prasna Marga, Part I. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1996 (First edition Bangalore, 1980). ——, trans. Prasna Marga, Part II. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1992 (First edition, 1985). Renou, Louis. “Le brahmanisme. Les formes religieuses.” In L’Inde classique. Manuel des études indiennes, vol. I, edited by Louis Renou, and Jean Filliozat, 480–620. Paris: Maisonneuve, 1985. Originally published Paris: Payot, 1947. ——. Vedic India. Translated from the French by Philip Spratt. Delhi, Varanasi: Indological Book House, 1971. Sharma, Ursula. “Theodicy and the Doctrine of Karma.” Man, n. s., 8, no. 3, 1973: 347–364. Stark, Rodney. “Gods, Rituals, and the Moral Order.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 40, no. 4, 2001: 619–636. Tarabout, Gilles. “Les corps et les choses. Résonances et métaphores corporelles dans l’astrologie appliquée aux temples (Kérala).” In Images du corps dans le monde hindou, edited by V. Bouillier and G. Tarabout, 135–159. Paris: CNRS Editions, 2002. ——.  “Magical Violence and Non-Violence. Witchcraft in Kerala.” In Violence / Non Violence. Some Hindu Perspectives, edited by D. Vidal, G. Tarabout, and E. Meyer, 219–254. Delhi: Manohar, 2003 (transl. from the French Violence et non-violence en Inde, Paris: EHESS, 1994). ——. “La réparation des fautes. Le contrôle astrologique de la transformation des rites et des temples au Kérala.” In Rites hindous: transferts et transformations, edited by G. Colas and G. Tarabout, 463–493. Paris, EHESS (coll. Purusartha, n°25), 2006. ——. “Authoritative Statements in Kerala Temple Astrology”, Rivista di Studi Sudasiatici, 2, 2007: 85–120. Zimmermann, Francis. Le discours des remèdes au pays des épices. Paris: Payot, 1989.

Sin and Expiation in Nepal: the Makar Melā Pilgrimage in Panautī Gérard Toffin Il peccato non è un’azione piuttosto che un’altra, ma tutta un’esistenza mal congegnata. C’è chi pecca e chi no. Le stesse cose (odiare, fottere, oziare, maltrattare, umiliarsi, insuperbirsi) in uno sono peccati, in altri no. 5 Maggio 1936 È peccato ciò che infligge rimorso.13 Luglio 1938 Cesare Pavese, Il mestiere di vivere, Diario 1935–1950.1

I have come across the question of sin repeatedly during my four decades of research in Nepal. The concept of sin covers an extensive web of ideas, pervading the daily lives of both Hindus and Buddhists in Nepal. Sins may be moral lapses, ritual infractions or violations of the numerous social rules that govern life within the family, the household, or the village.2 Strategies for coping with such sins are also many. The topic of 1 “Sin is not one action rather than another, but a whole maladjusted way of life. What is a sin for one, is not for another. The same things—hatred, making a fool of some-one, ill-treating them, humbling oneself or being arrogant—are sins for some men, not for others”, 5th May 1936. “A sin is something that inflicts remorse.” 13th July 1938. Cesare Pavese, The Business of Living. Diaries 1935–1950. Trans. John Taylor (New Jersey: Transactions Publishers, 2009). 2 While as we shall see the stories that explain the origin of Panautī focus on the sexual sins of adultery and incest, the concept of sin or pāp covers a wide range of behaviors. Offences against gods and supernatural beings may be treated as sins, for example desecration of a sacred site or image. Some sins are caste-bound transgressions, gambling, stealing, telling lies and eating meat are sins for vegetarian high castes. Thus among Newar and Parbatiyā members of the Hindu sect of Kriṣṇa Praṇāmī, eating meat, smoking tobacco, telling lies, taking drugs, are identified as sins. The non-respect of social rules, apparently devoid of moral implications, is also generally considered a pāp. For instance, among Newars, hācāngāyegu (New.), to cross an older person in the stairs, to step over the leg of a person, even someone younger, or to step over a fire-place, bhutū, in a house, are viewed as sins. That is why Newars shout while going up and down a staircase to signal to others that they should wait. If a person crosses the path of elders, the person has to bow down, bhāgiyāgu, to free himself of that pāp. The sin will be wiped away. Many other deeds and actions fall within this kind of offence: to enter a Tantric temple if you have not undergone dīkṣā/dekhā initiation, to eat with your left hand, to marry an agnatic relative, phuki, or another close kin, to enter a stage or a ritual space wearing leather shoes when a religious dance or ceremony is being performed, to offer blood to a vegetarian deity (Buddha or Śiva for instance), to enter a Śreṣṭha/Śākya house (and that of other



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this paper is one particular strategy. Sins may be expiated at fixed times, during religious festivals. Here I examine one such festival, the Makar Melā that takes place in Panautī city, Kābhrepalāncok District, a locality where I carried out a detailed study in the seventies and eighties, and where I returned recently. The festival takes place every twelve years. Bathing at this holy site during the festival is said to wash away the sins of any mortal. Such a claim is not unique to Panautī; it is made of other rivers and rituals as well, but few festivals in Nepal are as celebrated as the one at Panautī. The origin of the holy place at Panautī, the tīrtha, is linked to the austerities performed at this very place by an extremely sinful deity, Indra, who had sexual intercourse with Ahalyā, the wife of the sage Gautama. In other words, sin and repentance are the raison d’être for both the holy site and its festival. Sin and repentance in this way are widely infused in the religious geography of the Kathmandu Valley. The whole local territory in which people live and travel is replete with tales about holy places, rivers and hills that came into being as a result of some sin and that offer a means for its expiation. Pilgrims regularly travel this religious map and experience these ideas whenever they visit a holy place, reinforcing the notion that sins are many and that their expiation requires ritual remedies. Panautī thus may serve as one striking example of these beliefs.3

upper-caste persons) if you are an untouchable, to have sexual intercourse with one’s wife when she is menstruating, to share the meal of a person of lower caste or to take leftover food from other adult persons—all of these fall under the broad category of pāp. Some particular social conditions are closely associated with sin. For instance, widows (Nepali bidhuvā) (Newari. bhāta madumha misā) are known to be pāpi persons. They are sinners because they are thought to be responsible in some way for their husband’s death. This belief is shared equally by Hindu and Buddhist Newars. It is particularly difficult to disentangle the idea of sin from other concepts, which are closely associated with it. One is faced here with a network of intersecting and overlapping notions within which the Nepalese and Newars circulate freely. For example, there is a close link between sin and inauspiciousness. Sin is also closely related to impurity and one often implies the other. Sin may also stand in opposition to merit, and as this paper demonstrates, it is difficult to dissociate rituals or performances acted out to obtain puṇya (merit) from those acted out to wash sins. For instance, a person may build a Buddhist religious caitya (New. cibāḥ) or a shelter, phalcā (New.), to exhibit Hindu/Buddhist deities at the time of festivals mainly in the hope of obtaining puṇya. Yet, the notion of removing sin may also be present in these dedications. 3 I studied Panautī (its social structure, religion, architecture) in the 1970s, partly in association with three French architects: Vincent Barré, Patrick Berger and Laurence Feveile. For the main findings of this research, see Vincent, Barré, Patrick Berger and Laurence Feveile and Gérard Toffin, Panauti, un ville au Nepal (Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1981), and Gérard Toffin “Les rites funéraires des hautes castes néwar” in Les hommes et la mort, ed. Jean Guiart (Paris: Le Sycomore/Objets et Mondes, 1979) 242–252; “Analyse structurale

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gérard toffin Panautī City and Panautī Tīrtha

Panautī�̄ (New.4 Pantī, Palāntī�̄, old names: Panāvatī�̄, Padmāvatī�̄, Puṇyavatī�̄, Pūrṇamatī�̄-deśa) is a small historic Newar city located 32 kilometres southeast of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. The locality lies outside the Kathmandu Valley proper, the centre of Newar civilization, and is part of the adjacent valley of Banepā. It is mainly populated by Hindu Newars. According to local chronicles, the city was founded by Ā nanda Malla at the end of thirteenth century, together with six other neighboring localities, including Banepā and Nālā.5 During brief periods (in the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries), it was attached to the chiefdom of Banepā. However, most of the time it fell under the Malla kingdom of the nearby Hindu city of Bhaktapur. It is sometimes said that Panautī and its region were given as a dowry, kvasaḥ, (New.), by king Bhūpatīndra Malla to his daughter, yet there is no historical evidence for this. Despite the ruins of a place called lāyk (‘palace’) in the centre of the settlement and a small adjoining temple dedicated to the royal goddess Taleju, it does not seem that Panautī�̄ was ever the seat of an independent kingdom, even for a short period of time. Nevertheless, since its very beginning, it has been an important centre for trade, ḍhukuṭi, lying between the hills, the Kathmandu Valley and the Indian plains. In the 1970s, the local population of the city amounted to 2,900 persons. This figure reached 5,500 in 2010. Since the 1990s, the settlement has been transformed into an urban municipality, nagar-pālikā. Ninety-five per cent of its inhabitants are Newars.

d’une fête communale néwar: le deś jātrā de Panauti”, L’Homme 22, no. 3 (1981): 57–89; Société et religion chez les Néwar du Nepal (Paris: Éditions du CNRS, 1984). In the 1980s and 1990s, the French government undertook a programme to restore the main religious monuments in the small city in association with the Archaeological Department (erstwhile HMG). Likewise, several schools have been built and some other development programmes have been completed thanks to French funding. The present study is based on this old material as well as on my more recent visit to Panautī in February 2010, at the time of the 2066 B.S. Makar Melā, and in August 2010. A certain amount of new data, especially legends, was collected on that occasion. I owe my thanks to Laxmi Shova Shakya, Prasant Shrestha, Ramesh Jangam, Ananta Madhikarmi and his entire family. Without the help of these friends, it would not have been possible to complete my complementary field study in 2010. All my gratitude goes also to Bernadette Sellers who has corrected my English and to Phyllis Granoff for her editing. 4 New.: Newari, Nep.: Nepali, Skt.: Sanskrit. 5 B.J. Hasrat, History of Nepal, as told by its Own and Contemporary Chroniclers (Hoshiarpur, V.V. Research Institute Book Agency, 1971), 49.



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Panautī lies at the confluence of two rivers: the Puṇyamātī to the north and the Rośī Kholā to the south.6 The Puṇyamātī originates in Nala Dāṃḍā to the west, not far from Nagarkot, and the Rośī in the Phulcokī mountains to the south. The religious names for these two rivers are Padmāvatī and Līlāvati,̄ respectively. In Newari, Puṇyamātī Kholā is called Bhvãta Khusi (from Bhvãta: Banepā, the nearby city) and Rośī Kholā: Byā Khusi. Indeed Panautī is a sacred site of major importance, for it is believed that a third subterranean, invisible river (named Rudrāvatī or Guptāvatī) meets there, thus forming a triveṇī, a confluence, saṅgam, of three rivers, pointing to the east. This third hidden river flows from the north and emerges from beneath the adjoining Dalincok hill (or Gorakhnātha Dāṃḍā, or Kuṇjagiri Dāṃḍā) which dominates Panautī to the northwest and at the top of which a temple dedicated to the saint Gorakhnāth is to be found.7 It is considered to be particularly holy, the synonym of ambrosia, amṛt, so it is said—a theme which recalls the origins of the great Kumbha Melā pilgrimage of India performed every three years in four different holy places. It is widely believed that the drops of milk offered to Gorakhnāth temple will remerge 150 metres below at the confluence of the rivers, right next to the local temple of Brahmāyaṇī. The city has a clear triangular shape (trikoṇātmak) and is said to be in the form of a fish. The settlement contains important temples, in particular the Indreśvār Mahādev, originally built in the thirteenth century ad, and renovated at a later date. According to the Gopālarājavaṃśāvalī, this monument was consecrated by a Banepā princess, Viramadevī, in ad 1294.8 This threestory temple is run by a Jangam priest, belonging to the Liṅgāyat order.9 It shelters a four-faced liṅga (caturmukhaliṅga) associated, as we will see, with the mythical origin of the city. The area near the confluence is 6 The waters of the Rośī-Kholā are said to flow furiously. Its name comes from here (Nepali roṣ, Sanskrit roṣa). The river is famous far and wide for the abundance of fish. 7 A story about the Rāmāyaṇa is quoted in connection with this. According to legend, while fighting with Rāvaṇa in the Tretra Yuga, Lakṣmaṇ fainted one day. Rām sent Hanumān to look for a special medicinal herb (Nep. jaḍi-buḍi) called sañjīvanī to revive his brother. Hanumān set off in search of this, but as he was not able to identify the plant he brought back a whole hillside in his hand instead. A piece of this hill accidentally fell to the ground near Panautī. This, so it is said, is the origin of Dalincok Parbat (or Dioṇācal Parbat). This hill is considered to be Panautī’s Kailāsa. In the past, an old fort or royal palace was supposedly built on top of this hill. 8 M. Slusser, “Indreśvara Mahādeva, a Thirteenth-century Nepalese Shrine,” Artibus Asiae 41, no. 2/3 (1979): 187. 9 On these Nepalese Jangams, see Véronique Bouillier “Les Jangam du Népal, caste de prêtres ou renonçants ?”, Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient 72 (1986): 81–148.

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full of temples, including the Kṛṣṇanārāyaṇ-mandir, Brahmāyaṇī-mandir, Badrināth-mandir, Kedārnāth-mandir, Rāmcandra-mandir, Bhimsensthān, to name a few, and sattals, religious buildings with covered platforms, where religious music is played. It is the focus of permanent religious activity and is called Khvãre in Newari. In 2001 ad, the city acquired the status of saṃkṣit smārakṣetra, (‘preserved cultural site’), which was granted by the government authorities, in spite of anarchic building developments and the pressure of economic change. In fact, the whole territory of the city (kṣetra) is not only said to be full of history (saṃskṛti), it is known to be religious and holy, dhārmik and pavitra. Reflecting the myths associated with the site, the confluence of Panautī is known as Śacī Tīrtha, from the name of the wife of Indra10 Dead bodies from neighbouring villages are cremated there. People who dirty the water are considered to be sinners, pāpī in Nepali (skt. pāpātman, pāpācāra).11 In the local vaṃśāvalīs or chronicles, Panautī Tīrtha is called the Prayāga Tīrtha (or Uttar Prayāg) of Nepal, the equivalent of the sacred site of Prayāg (Allāhabād) in the current Indian State of Uttar Pradesh, where the Gaṅgā, Yamunā and the underground river Sarasvatī meet. This implies that Panautī is as important for Nepal as Prayāg is for India (Bhārat ko Prayāg, Nepāl ko Panautī). In all probability, this pilgrimage site is of some antiquity. Panautī Tīrtha is mentioned among a list of 166 sacred places in the Nepāl Māhātmya, the noted pilgrimage book of the Valley of Nepal, a Sanskrit religious text which is supposed to have been written around the fifteen-sixteenth centuries ad.12 A specific section of the Nepāl Māhātmya, named Catuḥṣaṣṭi śiva-liṅga, includes Indreśvar Mahādev as the ninth in the list of 64 tīrthas,13 each corresponding to a particular śiva-liṅga of Śiva. This set is in turn linked to the story of the dismembered body of Satī (Śiva’s wife), who immolated herself in the sacrificial fire, koṭi homa, of her father, Dakṣa, because he had not invited her husband, Śiva, to the sacrifice. Dakṣa had also disparaged the great God Śiva. Each śiva-liṅga corresponds

10 Ram Candra. “Panautī, ek sãskriti janko duśtimā,” in Sva Tantra Viśva, (Kathmandu: Bikās Press, 1975), 26–34. 11  In Nepali, to commit a sin is said: pāp lagsa; in Newari: pāp lāi, pāp lāt. 12 According to my friend, the Nepalese historian Mahes Raj, the Nepāl Māhātmya was written at the time of Yakṣa Malla (1428–1482), the king of Bhaktapur. Personal communication (2010). However, Panauti Tīrtha is not mentioned in the other māhātmya of Kathmandu Valley, the Luntikeśvara Purāṇa, centred on Viṣṇumati River. 13 See Kāsínāth Tāmot, Nepālmaṇḍala (Yela: Nepālmaṇḍala Anusandhān Guthi, 2005), 33.



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to a part of Satī’s body . Altogether ten million, a crore, of fragments are said to have fallen from the sky. It is worthwhile noting that Dakṣa is considered to have been responsible for the death of his daughter and that he committed the sin of disparaging the God Śiva. The 64 śiva-liṅgas are thus indirectly related to the sin committed by Dakṣa.14 The name of Panautī Tīrtha can also be found in the Rānī Pokharī inscription (in the Nepali language) in a pond located in Kathmandu city and dated in the time of King Pratāp Malla 790 N.S. (1669 ad). Panautī Tīrtha occurs here along with some other major pilgrimage sites in Nepal and India.15 It is even said that Pratāp Malla collected water from Panautī Tīrtha, as well as from all the other sacred sites mentioned, to fill the Rāni Pokhari pond. Panautī was supposedly built on a large foundational stone, called deś lvohã in Newari, covering the entire locality. This stone is believed to be a form of the God Bhailah-dyah (Bhairava). It protects the settlement and is worshipped in one place along the Rosī Kholā, on the southern side of the city. It is generally said that Bhairava protected Panautī during the great 1934 ad earthquake that devastated the Kathmandu Valley. The presence of Bhairava is also the reason for an unusual prohibition. It is forbidden to use mortar and pestle, ugaḥ and lusi, (Newari) to beat rice in the city. A machine for husking rice which thrashes the earth violently and the handmill called jāṃto are also forbidden for the same reason. All these devices might hurt Bhairava, a dangerous deity, as well as Vāsuki, the snake deity who comes to reside here occasionally. Furthermore, Panautī is encircled by eight temples devoted to the mother goddesses or Mātṛkās, each built facing one of the cardinal or intermediate directions of the compass. This set of eight deities gives the small city added status, since it recalls the arrangement of the religious structures of the former Bhaktapur royal capital.16

14 See also Anne Feldhaus, Connected Places. Region, Pilgrimage and Geographical Imagination in India (New York/Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995), 177 for the Maharashtra in India. 15 Dilli Raman Regmi, Medieval Nepal (Calcutta: Firma K.L. Mukhopadyay, 1966), 617–621. 16 Niels Gutschow and Bernhard Kölver, Bhaktapur: Ordered Space Concepts and Functions in a Town in Nepal (Weisbaden: Nepal Research Institute, 1975).

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The main pilgrimage associated with the Panautī confluence takes place once every twelve years in the solar month of Māgha (January–February) (fig. 1). The event, called Makar Melā (from makara: Capricorn), or bāhravarṣa makar-mel ,17 or triveṇī-mel ,18 is one of the leading pilgrimages in Nepal. The melā is a month-long fair. It starts on the Māgh Saṅkrānti or Makar Saṅkrānti,19 the winter solstice, a very auspicious (New. bhiṃgu, nakhaḥtyā)20 day which is widely known in Hindu culture for its numerous religious observances. This is a day for fairs (melā); bathing/dip (snān) in rivers and ponds; worshipping the sun-God Sūrya, when bathing in the water, one’s hands joined in front of one’s chest in a sign of devotion;21 salutations to the cardinal points while muttering mantras, pūjā pātha; reading religious texts such as Rāmāyaṇa; fasting (varta basne in Nepali, apasã cvanegu and dhalã danegu in Newari); giving gifts (dān) offered up for deceased relatives; alms giving to ascetics, poor and lowcaste people, and so forth.22 Makar Melā is one of the very rare Hindu festivals based on the solar calendar. Among many other things, this day marks the first day of the solar month of Māgh,23 the passage of the sun

17 A twelve-year cycle is widely used in the Kathmandu Valley to determine a number of fairs, pilgrimages and above all for performing sacred theatre (New. dyaḥ pyākhã huigu). As in India, it is based on the movement of the sun and Jupiter through the zodiac. 18 Panautī’s Makar Melā is also sometimes called Kumbha Melā. 19 Makar Saṅkrānti comes from makara: Capricorn, and saṅkrānti: the first day of the solar month. In the Indian system, Capricorn is represented by a crocodile, makara. Among Newars, saṅkrānti is called sãnlhu, and the Makar Saṅkrānti is specifically named ghyaḥ cāku sãnlhu. On that day, after bathing early in the morning, “every [Newar] member of the family is offered by the chief lady of the household a piece of solidified ghee, jaggery and a sweet-ball of til”, G.S. Nepali, The Newars: an ethnosociological Study of an Himalayan Community (Bombay: United Asia Publications, 1965) 387. Cāku means molasses; ghyaḥ, clarified butter. Offering yam, tarul, to gods and goddesses is especially recommended. In the Newar calendar, each month the sãnlhu (saṅkrānti) is a particularly auspicious day. On that day Newar Buddhists, for example, worship Rāto Matsyendranāth. 20 Strictly speaking, nakhaḥtyā means ‘feast at a nakhaḥ’, ‘festival celebrated by each family’, Ulrike Kölver and Iswarananda Shresthacarya, A Dictionary of Contemporary Newari. Newari-English (Bonn: VGH Wissenchaftsverlag, 1994), 181. 21 Religious persons worship Sūrya every morning while bathing in various rivers. 22 Makar Saṅkrānti, considered as auspicious, is opposed to Sāun Saṅkrānti (summer solstice), six months later, known for its inauspiciousness. The whole of Māgh is dharmik, ‘religiously right’; it is a good month to die. Among Newars, even during Māgh, a person has to cut their hair on the 7th day of their father/mother’s death. Makar Melā is also an important festival among Tharus (māgh parva). 23 In Nepali, the days of the solar month are called gate, the ones of the lunar month tithī. The Western calendar days are called tārīkh.



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Fig. 1. The confluence of Panautī at the time of the Makar Melā fair, 2010. In the background, in the middle, the three-storey temple of Indreśvār Mahādev (courtesy of Prasant Shrestha).

from the Kumbha zodiac sign (rāśi) to Makar rāśi (Capricorn zodiac sign) and the return of the sun to the northern hemisphere, which is an auspicious direction. From then on the sun follows its course northwards, uttarāyaṇa, for a period of six months as opposed to the other six months of the year starting on the Sāun Saṅkrānti and during which the sun moves to the south, dakṣiṇāyana. From the Makar Saṅkrānti day onwards, the days get brighter and longer. It is therefore an important and very positive moment in the calendar, a fresh start after a long winter.24 By extension, the whole month of Māgh is sacred. In popular belief, bathing in a tīrtha or holy place during the month of Māgh (māgh snān) will remove distress and adversity, all sorts of bipati (Nep.) misfortune and disaster. It will 24 One sādhu explains: “[from Makar Saṅkrānti day onwards] our souls have the opportunity to move from the south (the direction of death) toward the north (the direction of creation), and from darkness into light, or a heightened state of knowledge”: Sondra L. Hausner, Wandering with Ascetics in the Hindu Himalayas (Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007), 141. According to Chiara Letizia, Bhīṣma, the hero of the Mahābhārata, dies on the day of Makar Saṅkrānti: “Le Confluence Sacre dei Fiumi in Nepal” (PhD Diss. University of Rome “La Sapienza”, 2003), 118–124. On the death of Bhīṣma, see Alf Hiltebeitel, The Ritual of Battle Krishna in the Mahābarāta (New York: State University of New York Press, 1990), 244–250.

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bring happiness (saubhāgya), good luck, prosperity, beauty (rūpa), health (ārogya), protection against sickness, and long-life (āyus). Makar Saṅkrānti is thus a very auspicious day. In Nepal, Hindus bathe in the waters of several famous tīrtha rivers: Devghāṭ (confluence of Kālī Gaṇḍakī and Triśul Gaṇḍakī), Dolālghāṭ (confluence of Sun Kośī and Indrāvatī), Varāhakṣetra (confluence of Sapta Kośī and Kokā), Riḍī (confluence of Kālī Gaṇḍakī and Riḍī Kholā), Śaṅkhamūl, Kankāi (confluence of Jog and Deo Mai in Ilam District), to name a few.25 It is believed that taking a holy bath in Panautī’s Triveṇī Ghāṭ during the yearly Makar Saṅkrānti is a particularly efficacious religious act. And, every twelve years, at the time of the Makar Melā, bathing (snān) in Panautī’s Tribenī is highly rewarded and ensures special blessings for devotees (Nep. ṭhūlo puṇya). It will wash away all the sins a person has ever committed (in Nepali and Newari: pāp mocan, pāp phakhālne), a power commonly attributed to rivers in India. Anne Feldhaus reports a legend from a Mahārasthra local source according to which, to do away with evils committed by the gods, Śiva secreted a drop of the moon’s nectar (candrāmṛt) from his body. At the spot where it touched the earth, a beautiful young woman was born. She became the Narmadā River. The river was the answer to the problem of sin.26 Bathing in the Triveṇī Ghāṭ at the time of the Makar Melā, has other additional virtues: it prepares devotees for liberation, mokṣa (i.e. they will reach Kailāsa Parvat after death) and it enables pilgrims to obtain merit. In short, it is a puṇya bhūmi, a place where one gains merit of all sorts. Furthermore, these waters at this particular time of the year have special healing powers: they cure skin disease.27 All these notions are intermingled; diseases are often a sign of sin, pāp; sins may also be the obstacles to liberation. The Makar Melā actually lasts for the whole solar month of Māgh. It ends only on the last day of that month (Nep. and New. māsānta). Bathing on Makar Saṅkrānti (mūl snān) and māsānta is especially rewarding. Devotees from Panautī used to bathe at least three times: on the first and last day of the month, as well as a third time any other day of Māgh. Bathing every day is highly recommended. Gifts, dāna, offered to Brahmans during this event are said to be particularly meritorious. A handful of salt is worth a handful of gold. It procures a great deal of puṇya, merit. 25 See Letizia, La Confluenze, 115–118. 26 Feldhaus, Connected Places, 174. 27 Similarly, a number of Indian folk traditions mentions the power of holy waters to cure skin disease. Feldhaus, Connected Places, 85.



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It is widely believed that the level of the third secret and invisible river, the Rudrāvatī, rises at this time once every twelve years. Two small holes in front of the Brahmāyaṇī image in the Goddess’ temple near the confluence are usually filled with water during this period. It is even said that a person blessed with the 32 divine marks, battis lakṣaṇa, can see some milk in one of these holes.28 This person is said to be particularly meritorious or devout, dharmātmā. Whatever the case may be, this third river is thought to flow at this time and pilgrims are able to bathe at the distinctive confluence of the three waterways. It is also widely believed that throughout the Makar Melā, oil poured into the holy water will sink to the bottom. This is to be taken as an indication of the force, the strength of the water; it is so powerful that it absorbs everything- even the heaviest of sins. The assertion has also been made that 33 crores, 330 million, i.e. 330,333,000 (tẽttis karoḍ or koṭi),29 Hindu deities of the pantheon descend from the cosmic world to Panautī on the occasion of the Makar Melā. This number corresponds to the total number of Hindu gods. In other words, at the time of Makar Melā, Panautī Triveṇī houses all the gods. The deities are supposed to stay there for the whole month of Māgh. Some contend that the same number of gods descends to Hardvār [Haridvār] during Kumbha Melā, but that Panautī, in the shape of a fish, is the ṭāuko, the head, whereas Hardvār is the tail or lower part, pucchar. Even if they have all the gods, Panautī still exceeds Hardvār in its power. Finally, it is believed that the king of the snake gods or Nāgas, Vāsuki, visits Panautī during the event. According to a local myth, this deity originally resided in Panautī, but he was tricked into being caught by a Buddhist Vajrācārya tāntrika priest and settled in Buṃgamatī (New. Buṃga) (Lalitpur district). Vāsuki Nāg is a leading figure in Panautī and of the Makar Melā, and he is closely related to Indreśvar Mahādev. The snake God symbolizes the water itself. He is represented by a black stone located near the confluence on the right bank of the Puṇyamātī River within the Khvãre religious complex. During Makar Melā, a brass crown, mukuṭ, normally kept within Indreśvar-mandir, is specially placed on the polished stone for the whole month of Māgh. The offerings made to Vāsuki by the pilgrims are taken by Dyaḥlā (Poḍe) fishermen/sweepers, one of the lowest castes in Newar society (fig. 2). The Dyaḥlā are in fact the official 28 The primeval ocean from which the universe was created was a milk sea. For associations between sacred rivers and bovine products in India, see Feldhaus, Connected Places, 46–47 (idem: 47). 29 koṭi: a crore, ten millions.

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Fig. 2. The Vāsuki Nāg stone is guarded by a man belonging to the Poḍe fisherman caste, 2010. In the background, the Brahmāyaṇī temple (courtesy of Prasant Shrestha).



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g­ uardians (New. dyaḥ pālā) of the Nāg deity. Throughout the day, they stand near the stone that incarnates Vāsuki. Every year this mukuṭ is also placed by Poḍe fishermen on Vāsuki’s stone during the main festival, mūl jātrā, which falls on the full moon of Jyeṣṭha (May–June), called Jyāḥpunhī in Newari.30 On both occasions, the metal cover indicates the presence of Vāsuki in the Panautī community. Interestingly enough, according to tradition, Panautī was considered to be a forbidden place for Shah Kings, especially during Makar Melā.31 A visit there by the royal family was considered to bring them misfortune. One of the reasons, it is asserted, is that there is already a king at that time in Panautī: Vāsuki. Two kings occupying the same space at the same time can be dangerous. It is also widely reported that some cracks on the stone on which the city of Panautī stands appeared at the time of the Shah conquest of the Kathmandu Valley. After that, Shah rulers were reluctant to visit Panautī.32 Moreover, it is widely believed that a kind of mystical connection exists between the royal family and this tīrtha. For instance, on the day of king Mahendra’s death, 31st January 1972 ad, a person inhabiting Panautī and bearing the 32 lakṣaṇa (auspicious) signs on his body saw the Puṇyamātī fill with blood. Legends Regarding the Holy Site: Sin and Expiation Legends explaining the origin of the sacred tīrtha of Panautī and its triveṇī confluence are directly related to sins committed by gods and other sacred figures of the Hindu pantheon. Three tales in particular are told in connection with Panautī.33 The first two derive with slight variations from

30 Jyeṣṭha purnimā is said to be the longest day of the year. 31 Historically, Panautī was annexed by Prithivī Nārāyaṇ Shah in 1763 ad (1820 B.S.) at the same time as Banepā and six “other villages”, some years before Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. 32 It is also sometimes said that Panautī had been in the hands of the Nepalese Congress Party since the early twentieth century, and that is why the Shah royal family members were reluctant to come to visit this tīrtha. 33 All the following legends have been recorded orally. Some details are taken from the various booklets mentioned in the references, especially Sūryaprasād Lākoju, Panautī (Panautī, Panautī Press, 2009) and Sūryaprasād Lākoju, “Bāhravarṣa Makarmelā” in Akīkṛt Panautī, no editor listed, (Panautī: Panautī Printing Press, 2010); Prakāsh Sāpkotā and K.C. Pradip, Panautī Makarmelā, Jānkārīmulak Hāte Pūsak (Panautī: Panautī Paryaṭan Vikās Kendra, 2010); Madan Krishna Joshi, Panautī ko Aitihāsik Bārhabarṣa Makar (n.p., 2010) and Sumanrāj Tamrakar, Panautīkā cāḍparvaharū makarmelā (Dhulikhel: Nyu Dhulikhel Printing Press, 2010).

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Indian Purāṇic [Paurāṇic] literature. They link the local sacred geography of the Kathmandu and Banepā valleys to that of India as a whole. The third story seems to be purely local and belongs to Newar folk literature. The Sin of Indra and the Creation of a Third River Once upon a time, Brahmā created a beautiful woman named Ahalyā, his daughter. He gave her in marriage to the virtuous sage Gautama Ṛṣi.34 All the gods marveled at Ahalyā’s beauty. Everybody was attracted to her, including Indra, the king of the pantheon who happened to see her while she was walking in the forest. He desired her immediately. He invented a trick to fulfill his desire. One night, he asked the moon Candradev to shine like the sun. Consequently, it was as light like as at sunrise. Gautama ṛṣi woke up all of a sudden ‘This night passed by very quickly’. He took his dhoti and went to bathe. Taking on the physical features of the riṣi Indra (Devrāj) then visited Ahalyā and seduced her. Unfortunately for him and Ahalyā, the riṣi came back at that very moment to get his water-pot (kamaṇḍalu), which he has forgotten to take with him. He caught Devrāj red-handed. Gautama became furious and he cursed Indra (Nep. sarāp, malediction): ‘As an outward sign of your sin (pāp ko pratik), your body will be covered with female sex organs, yoni’. He also transformed Ahalyā into a stone for having had illicit relations with another man. Śacī (or Indraṇī), the wife of Indra, implored Brihaspati, the preceptor (guru) of the gods. The guru advised both Indra and Śacī, to go to the confluence of the Padmavatī and Līlāvatī River in Panautī, at the foot of Kuṇja Parbat hill. He instructed them to practice penance there and to pray everyday to Śiva and Pārvatī. Śacī and Indra spent twelve years at the confluence, each one devoted to one god. Śacī to Pārvatī, and Indra to Śiva. Time went by. Śiva and Pārvatī appeared before the couple and gave the king of the gods a blessing (vardān). Śiva created a river out of the body of his wife Pārvatī, the Rudrāvatī, to make this place a confluence of three rivers [In another version, the third river is created by the power of the third eye, cakṣu, of Pārvatī]. He then asked Indra to bathe there. All the yoni disappeared except for the one on his forehead. Śiva covered this last yoni with ashes, bibhūti, with his right thumb. All the other yonis covering his body were washed away by the water. Ahalyā was also washed of her alleged sin and obtained liberation, mokṣa. Then Indra set up a liṅga there and founded the temple of Indreśvar Mahādev to protect the image of Śiva.35

34 In some variants of this widespread legend, Ahalyā was given in marriage to Brihaspati in exchange, nāso. 35 Many different versions of this story exist. According to some variants, it is Śiva himself who, happy with Indra’s penance, sets up Indreśvar Mahādev temple. Another tale relates that Indreśvar Mahādev was once chased by 64 Yoginis running after him. Indreśvar jumped in the triveṇī to escape them and he hid in the third invisible river, the



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This story is an age-old tale, widespread in India and in Purāṇic literature. It can be found in the Mahābhārata and in Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa.36 The legend about Indra having sexual intercourse with Ahalyā is also narrated in the Nepāl Māhātmya, in connection with Śacī Tīrtha.37 Indra is nearly always presented as a sinner, a seducer, ready to transgress moral rules to satisfy his sexual desires.38 More importantly for our subject, the legend clearly shows that there is a prominent link between sex and evil or sin. Interestingly enough, Gautama curses both his wife and Indra. The question about the guilt of Ahalyā, who was abused by Indra disguised as Gautama and who did not betray her husband intentionally, is not raised at all. Sin may occur regardless of the will of the sinner. The intentionality of the offence is totally disregarded. From Gautama’s point of view, Ahalyā is guilty since his own power and status depend not only on his own virtue but also on the chastity of his wife. She has to become a rock. Indra’s purification is no simple matter. His sin cannot easily be destroyed by fire or water. He has to perform penitence and austerities for a long period of time, twelve years, and in some versions even longer. Reflecting this legend, Panautī is often called tapobhūmi (from tapas, ‘penance’, ‘austerities’), the place for practicing tapasyā, austerities. The third river, which transforms the natural confluence into a holy site, is said to have originated from the body of Pārvatī, attesting to the widespread association made between rivers and goddesses in India. In Nepal, as in India, Māhātmya religious literature is full of sins committed by gods. Divine beings perform acts of the worst kind. Not only do they violate the rules governing sexual relations, committing adultery and incest; they also behave extremely violently. Thus stories are told of how

Guptāvatī. One epithet used in relation to Indra is ‘thousand-eyed’ (Sahasrākṣa), which makes reference to the yonis on his body. 36 Mhb. XII, 329.14.1, XIII. 41.12–23, quoted by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Shiva (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), 85); Vālmīki, Le Rāmāyaṇa de Vālmīki, (1.47.27–28) eds. M. Biardeau et M.C. Porcher, Paris, Gallimard, 1999. 37 Nepāl Māhātmya, V, 14–18; Helga Uebach, Das Nepālamāhātmyam des Skandapurāṇam. Legenden um die Hinduistischen Heilgtümer Nepals (München: Wilheim Fink Verlag, 1970), 34–35 and 77–78. 38 For the various pāp of Indra, cf. Georges Dumézil Heur et malheur du guerrier (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1969) and Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, (first edition 1976) The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology of Shiva (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1980). Indra, for instance, is guilty of Brahminicide, of giving the ascetics to the jackals, of quarrelling with Brihaspati, killing the Brahmin demon Vritra, or Viśvarūpa, etc.

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Śiva beheaded the fifth head of Brahmā,39 Bṛhaspati killed a cow, Brahmā lusted after his own daughter, Candra (the Moon) abducted and/or raped Tārā (‘Star’), the wife of the gods’ guru Bṛhaspati, to name but a few of the more egregious and more famous sinners. Even killing demons, which gods are meant to do, generates sins. Expiating these sins, like Indra’s sin of adultery, requires bathing in a river. The river may be specially created for that purpose as it is here, or an existing river may be sanctified because it removed the heinous sins of a god or sage. Thus Rāma expiated the sin of having killed the Brahman Rāvaṇa in Hatyāharan Kuṇḍa, Uttar Pradesh. Today this place is still considered a sacred site.40 Panautī is linked to Indra and his sin, but also to another sinner. Virūpākṣa and the Sin of Incest A second legend is widely narrated, linking Panautī Tīrtha to another pāp: Once upon a time, Virūpākṣa [a kind of rākṣasa who emerged from the earth in the Kali yuga and destroyed everything] had sexual relations with his own mother by mistake. He realized his error after sexual intercourse had taken place. To expiate his sin, he went from one holy place to another. He then met the famous sage Nemuni, the eponymous sage of the Nepal Valley, and he asked him how to wash away his error. Nemuni told him: ‘You have committed a great sin. The only way to remove it is to bathe at the confluence of Līlāvatī, Padmāvatī and Rudrāvatī, at the confluence of Panautī’. Virūpākṣa ran to the triveṇī dhām at that place and regularly bathed there, as Nemuni had instructed him. He was freed from his pāpa. Pilgrimages to Panautī confluence therefore became very popular in the Hindu world. All those who have caused moral offence unwittingly and have committed a sin unknowingly will be absolved only after bathing in the holy confluence every twelve years during Makar Melā.

Mother-son incest (skt. mātṛgamana)—as well as, to a lesser degree, father-daughter incest—is a recurrent motif in the Māhātmyas. In most cases, this is done by mistake.41 Both this and the previous story link sin

39 The Kapālmocan Tīrtha in Vārāṇasī, where Brahmā’s head which was stuck to Śiva’s hand finally fell, liberating Śiva from his sin, is equated in the Kathmandu Valley with Kālmocan Tīrtha, located in Tripureśvar, on the banks of the Bāgmatī River. This kind of replication between India and Nepal is at work everywhere in the Kathmandu Valley. It contributes to enhancing the sanctity of local Nepalese holy places. 40 Richard Burghart, The Conditions of Listening: Essays on Religion, History and Politics in South Asia, eds. C.J. Fuller and Jonathon Spencer (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996), 129. 41 Feldhaus, Connected Places, 174.



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and sexual misconduct; both deny the role of intentionality and offer the possibility of bathing at a holy place at a specific time of the year as a means for complete eradication of the sin. Phulcokī Māī Goddess and the Division of the Rosī Kholā One last legend, purely local, does not refer directly to any sin or repentance. However, it is linked to drought, another form of evil that affects a whole territory and community and that is itself the result of sin. Long ago, King Satyavar ruled over Lalitpur (some versions speak of Kathmandu or the Kathmandu Valley), while Panautī was ruled by King Dīrgharath. There was a time when both these kingdoms suffered from a drought. For the sake of their people, both kings prayed to Phulcokī Māī [Durgā Bhavānī] the goddess of the Phulcokī range to the south of the Kathmandu Valley.42 They completed a grueling meditation session. Impressed by their sincere devotion, Phulcokī Māī offered to grant them a favour. Hearing these words uttered by Mātā (Goddess), both Kings were overjoyed, bowed and said, ‘Oh Mātā, we are in great trouble! Our kingdom is faced with a drought and you must help us by making a river flow through each kingdom.’ In reply, Mātā said, ‘Dear rājan, I’m pleased with both of you, but I cannot grant you both a favour, so whoever presents me with a gold and silver flower, shall have a river flow through his kingdom.’On hearing this, King Satyavar from Lalitpur was delighted since his kingdom was well known for various crafts and it possessed many goldsmiths. However, King Dīrgharath was saddened, since there were no smiths in his kingdom, and he became heavy-hearted. Late that night in Panautī, on seeing the state of mind the King was in, the Queen wondered what was tormenting him. King Dīrgharath gave her a detailed account of the incident. The Queen tried to console the King and told him not to worry. She would help him. In response the King said, ‘What can you do when I myself am not able to find a way of offering the Mātā a gold and silver flower?’ She went on to try and calm the King and helped him get to sleep. Next morning the Queen presented the King with a radish flower and a mustard flower and said, ‘Mātā is like our mother; she does not want a gold or silver flower but a sincere offering that you can give her in all earnest. We are farmers, therefore as farmers we can offer her the things that we ourselves grow, and for our work we need water. So we are the ones who really deserve a river.’ At his wife’s words the King felt very happy. After taking the advice of his royal priest, he hurried to see Mātā with the radish flower and mustard flower that looked like a silver and gold flower respectively. Delighted with him, Mātā blessed (vardān)

42 There are numerous variants of this myth in the booklets published on Makar Melā. Godāvarī and Panautī are situated in the south and the north-east of the Phulcokī range respectively.

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gérard toffin him with a river called Līlāvatī where a melā, named Makar Melā, takes place every twelve years When King Satyavar arrived six months later with splendid ornaments ordered from local craftsmen, he was told that King Dīrgharath had already been granted the favour. When he looked at Mātā, he saw a dried plant on her head and said, ‘Mātā, you have been tricked. The king of Panautī has given you a mustard and radish flower instead of a real one.’ Mātā was embarrassed. She decided to divide the river into two, the Godāvarī and the Rosī Kholā, one flowing through Panautī, the other to Godāvarī, on both sides of the mountain. She also created two bāhravarṣa melās, held at these two places, at a six-year interval. Another version says that Phulcokī Māī became angry with the king of Panautī. She took back the favour and instead granted King Satyavar the river Godāvarī where the melā, named Kumbha Melā, happens to take place once every twelve years.43 From that day on, so it is said, Makar Melā and Kumbha Melā are performed every twelve years, with a six-year interval between them both.

In the Hindu religious system, a drought is usually the result of a general disorder, often due to some sin committed by a leading figure, usually the king. Its only remedy is to expiate that sin. Drought is also the source of multiple evils: eating meat, violence between human beings, theft, etc.44 Nothing is said about rainfall in the story, but the problem posed by the drought ends up being resolved because the new river makes water readily available, and we might add, offers a means to expiate sin by bathing in the river at the time of the Melās. Here also, as in the tale about Indra, it is a feminine supernatural force (Phulcokī Māī) that causes the river to flow and consequently sins to be washed away at regular intervals. This legend also reveals a link between mountains and rivers and recalls the importance of the mountains encircling the Kathmandu Valley in the myths narrated about its origin and the foundation of its first kingdom. The 2066 Bikram Sambat Makar Melā (2010 ad) and the Pilgrim Circuit In 2066 Bikram Sambat (thereafter B.S.), the Makar Melā was celebrated from 15th January till 12th February 2010. That year, the 15th January was a Friday and fell on the new moon, aūsī (āmāy in Newari) of the lunar

43 It is not clear whether this Godāvarī melā designates the Kumbha Melā of Nāsik in India where the Godāvarī river flows or the Godāvarī village on the southern side of mount Phulcokī, in the Kathmandu Valley, where another river named Godāvarī flows. As a matter of fact, in mythology, the two rivers in question are equated. 44 O’Flaherty, The Origins of Evil, 154.



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month of Māgh.45 It is worth noting that in Nepal, Makar Saṅkrānti falls generally on the 15th January, in contrast to India where it falls the day before, 14th January. Such divergence between India and Nepal is common for melās celebrated at pilgrimage sites. In 2010, since the solar month of Māgh had only 29 days, the last day of the solar month (Nep. and New. māsānta) fell on 12th February, the day of the Śivarātri or Mahāśivarātri. In 2066 B.S., a solar eclipse, sūrya grahaṇ, exceptionally fell on the first day of the solar month of Māgh. Normally, a solar eclipse is an inauspicious event, during which fasting is compulsory to avoid the negative effect of the eclipse. The food served or prepared on that occasion is impure, aśuddha, and is in many ways spoilt (in Newari it is called gaḥana lhaḥgu ‘affected by the eclipse’, from skt. grahaṇa). Very religious persons in Nepal bathe three times during such an event, once at the beginning of the eclipse, once at the end, and once in the middle. They even wear a ring made of kuśa grass (Poa cynasuroides) to purify themselves and the various objects they happen to touch. The household kitchen has to be cleaned before and after this event. Other practices are to ward off the evil effects of the eclipse are observed on that day. For instance, pregnant women do not touch their stomachs at that time or their children will born with marks on their bodies. The fact that Makar Melā coincided with a solar eclipse was felt to be problematical by most Panautī inhabitants. People say that this conjunction calls for more purification ceremonies and more ritual work to be performed. In spite of this, the almanac’s (pāñchāṅg) national committee, which sets the pātro religious calendar every year for the whole country, did not see any major contradiction between the two events.46 According to the Indreśvar Mahādev priest, it was even an additional auspicious event that enhanced the special sanctity of the 2066 B.S. Makar Melā. As a matter of fact, this Makar Melā was really exceptional (mahā saṃyog) in that not only was the Makar Saṅkrānti combined that year with a sūrya grahaṇ, as well as with a new-moon day, aūsī, In this year the most important festival to the God Śiva, the Śivarātri was held on the māsānta day, the end of the month and last night of the Melā. Normally, Śivarātri falls in Phālgun (February–March), not in Māgh.

45 That year, the Khvapa (Bhaktapur) Samyak also fell on 15th January, the day of Makar Saṅkrānti. 46 This committee’s headquarters are located in Lalitpur, Dhalācā, in front of Nāg Bāhāḥ Buddhist monastery. It is still active today despite the fall of royalty.

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Since the level of Puṇyamātī River is rather low at this period of the year and its water highly polluted, the organizing committee blocked the Rośī Kholā River upstream and caused it to flow into a permanent short canal built at the confluence. Likewise, the festival management committee set up separate areas for men and women to bathe in the holy waters at the confluence of Padmāvatī and Līlāvatī by building square enclosures from bamboo. These individual bathing areas also prevent accidental drowning. A dam made of sandbags stopped the polluted Padmāvatī River (Puṇyamatī) from flowing into the small enclosures. A two-inch pipe supplied them with water to ensure that there was enough water for devotees to bathe in. A dozen artificial basins were thus created. People of the two sexes were invited to bathe in different basins: women on the left bank, men on the right bank of the Puṇyamātī River. The Makar Melā was inaugurated by the President of Nepal, Dr. Rām Baraṇ Yādav, on 15th January 2010. Dr. Yādav himself did not bathe; he merely sprinkled water from the confluence over his mouth, face and body. Some groups of Maoists (māobādī), mostly from Kābhrepalāncok district, were present and brandished black flags at the arrival of the President in Panautī to express their disapproval.47 Despite the ban on a visit by a Shah king to Panautī during Makar Melā, the former king Gyanendra visited Triveṇī ghāṭ on 8th February 2010 under the protection of a few bodyguards. Unaccompanied by the former queen, the former king was greeted in the sacred area by a group of five pāñcakanyā, five virgins, dressed in ceremonial attire, from Panautī—a typical Hindu welcome ceremony performed for dignitaries. He then splashed himself with water taken from the Triveṇī Ghāṭ, and he called in at the temples of Indreśvār Mahādev, Brahmāyaṇī, Mukteśvār, and Vāsukināth. He received prāsād from the Jangam priest of the Indreśvar temple and he donated 2 lākhs (200,000) of Nepalese rupees to a charitable cause. He was cheered by a group of royalists who chanted pro-royalists slogans. Finally, the day before the end of the festival, the Prime Minister Mādhav Kumār Nepāl himself visited Panautī�̄. Thus, the two highest political authorities of the new Republic of Nepal, the President and the Prime Minister, plus the former king, paid a visit to Panautī during the 2066 B.S. Makar Melā to mark the event. To celebrate the auspicious event, the Jala pyākhã, a religious play performed by a group from Harasiddhi [Harisiddhi] village was performed

47 Since President Yādav refused to sign new appointments to high-ranking army posts in 2009, the Maoists found themselves in an overt conflict with him.



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in Panautī from 9th April till 12th April. This event takes place theoretically every twelve years. However, in 2010 it had been 60 years since such a performance had taken place.48 That year, about a hundred persons from Harasiddhi village came to Panautī. Each dancer was accompanied by two attendants who helped him on various occasions, for instance to parade through the streets. Dancers and actors from the company performed dances on their way to the triveṇī ghāṭ and in the central area of the locality on a brick stage specifically known as Jala dabū. A special committee was formed in Panautī to organize the event and to send invitations to Harasiddhi. As in other Newar settlements visited by the Jala pyākhã group, Panautī has a shelter, a pāṭi, called Harasiddhi pāṭi, which is specially designed for this religious performance. In theory, the dancers and their helpers/guides can stay and store their gear there. Though no reliable register exists, it is estimated that one million pilgrims attended the 2066 B.S. Makar Melā.49 The pilgrimage mostly gathers high Parbatiyā castes (Bāhun and Chetrī), Newar Hindu castes [Śākyas and Udās Newar Buddhist castes also attend, but in small numbers], and Tamang and Magar ethnic groups. Women predominate, but men also flock there in large numbers. Pilgrims come from all over Nepal, though the majority of them come from the Kathmandu Valley and Kābhrepalāncok district. As other mel s performed at the confluence of Nepalese rivers, the Makar Melā of Panautī attracts a number of ascetics, but fewer than at Paśupatināth temple during Śivarātri. After bathing in the confluence and visiting the temples, devotees climbed the hillock facing north to perform darśan and pūjā to Gorakhnāth. It is particularly meritorious to climb the hill with a handful (aṇjulī) of water from triveṇī to offer it to Gorakhnāth. The most zealous devotees try to ascend the hill carrying a drop of holy water from the confluence in the little hollow (called harṭhuṅgo or nāḍī kopilṭo in Nepali, nāḍī: ‘wrist’, ‘canal’, ‘tube’) that some persons have between the thumb and the forefinger of their right hand (fig. 3). If a person manages to offer this drop of water to Gorakhnāth, all their wishes (Nep. icchā) are fulfilled. Lastly, pilgrims worshipped the liṅga of Indreśvar in his temple.

48 The last time a Jala pyākhã was performed in Panautī was in 1950 ad (2006 B.S.). 49 By comparison, it is worthwhile noting that about 250,000 pilgrims visit Paśupatināth temple on the Bāgmati River every year during Śivarātri (sillā caḥray in Newari), in February–March. In 2066 B.S. (2010), the number of pilgrims expected at Paśupatināth for that event amounted to about 500,000.

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Fig. 3. Pilgrims carry a drop of holy water from the confluence in the hollow at the base of the thumb to the top of Dalincok hill, 2010 (courtesy of Prasant Shrestha).



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The causaṭṭhī śiva-liṅga section of the Nepāl Māhātmya text describes the sacred geography of Banepā Valley and its neighbouring territories. The list of śiva-liṅga includes Indreśvar Mahādev (Śacī Tīrtha), Bhāleśvar (Gandharva Tīrtha), Dhāneśvar (Ugra Tīrtha), Caṇḍeśvar Mahādev (Ugra Tīrtha) and Vikteśvar Mahādev (Puṣpa Tīrtha). Theoretically, pilgrims should visit Caṇḍeśvar Mahādev on the 5th day of Māgh, the dark half of the month, kṛṣṇa pakṣa, Dhānesv́ ar Mahādev on the 6th day of Māgh, kṛṣṇa pakṣa, Śacī Tīrtha (Panautī) on the 7th day of Māgh, kṛṣṇa pakṣa, and Bhaktapur on the 9th day of Māgh, the same dark fortnight.50 All these temples are interconnected and give special coherence to the area where they are situated. In fact, very few pilgrims visit these Shaivite temples around Panautī. For the most part, the only temple near Indreśvar Mahādev that is visited is Dhāneśvar. A festival organizing committee, samiti, representing the main political and moral leaders of the city, had been set up two years before the event. The Ministry of Culture and Communication granted a subsidy through the local Nagar Pālikā administration for the organization of the pilgrimage festival. The funds were used to set up a car park two kilometres from Panautī, on the 6-km road leading to Banepā. All vehicles, buses and cars, were parked there. Pilgrims had to continue on foot. The organizing committee also set up a health post within a short distance of the confluence. Similarly, it promoted the planting of a series of trees on Dalincok hilltop and on the banks of the Puṇyamātī River. Finally, an exhibition of photographs of Panautī historical monuments taken by a young local photographer, Prasant Shrestha, was set up in the streets of the city leading to the triveṇī. The preservation of ‘culture’ (saṃskṛti) is seen as one of the important functions of the religious performance, a means of asserting the locality’s own identity and history in spite of the fact that most pilgrims and people involved in organising the melā come from elsewhere. An on-the-spot catering service offering coffee, soft drinks and tea was available along the main route to the religious complex. Special kinds of bread and sweets were also served: round bread, sale, cooked in oil, mālpā breads, circular-shaped pastries ( jilebī) cooked in oil and dipped in syrup. They are eaten with flattened rice and potato curry. Pilgrims however complain about the high price of the foodstuffs sold at these makeshift canvas structures. Some petty traders attracted by easy money also sold religious items to be offered to deities. Five main items were available: 50 Toffin, Société et religion, 548.

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flowers, vermillion powder, rice, incense sticks, and ready-to-light butter lamps. According to Hindu Tantric tradition, these five items represent the five elements: water, air, light, earth (food) and the mind. Related Religious Activities: Śrāddha, Svasthānī Vrata, Mādhav Nārāyaṇ Jātrā As during most pilgrimages centered on tīrtha or holy places, devotees from outside (especially from the periphery, the surrounding area, varipari, of Panautī) as well as from Panautī itself perform śrāddha ceremonies in memory of their deceased relatives during Makar Melā. Each family comes with its own Brahman priest. The person who organizes the ritual has his hair shaved for the occasion. Rituals are performed along the river, on the Rośī Kholā as well as on the Puṇyamātī River, wherever there is a space amidst the crowd. People usually choose either a Saturday, either the tenth or eleventh day of the lunar month to carry out the ceremony. The mourners belong to Parbatiyā high Hindu castes, as well as to the Newar community. They usually offer special food to the priest, such as flattened rice, oil, banana, ginger, salt and uncooked rice. This gift, intended for the deceased, is specifically called sidh or sirh in Nepali and Newari (from siddha, ‘finished’, ‘perfect’, ‘completed’). It may sometimes be offered to a Brahman priest without even performing a śrāddha ceremony. In addition, some families organize satya nārāyaṇ pūj on Makar Saṅkrānti day on behalf of their dead relatives.51 During the whole lunar month of Māgh, from Paush pūrṇim until Māgh pūrnim , a number of Nepalese women belonging to Newar and Parbatiyā Hindu castes fast in imitation of goddess Pārvatī, who is said to have abstained from food and practised all sorts of austerities in order to get Śiva as her husband. They take only one meal a day, at nighttime, and they do not wear shoes. Unmarried women fast in order to find a good husband, while married ones fast to guarantee long lives to their husbands. These women also attend recitations of Svasthānī vrata kathā, a religious book written both in Nepali and in Newari52 relating 51 People even say that Makar Saṅkrānti is the festival celebrated to welcome Sūrya Nārāyaṇ, because of the solar reference to Nārāyaṇ’s name. 52 It seems that the Newari version of Svasthānī vrata kathā is older than Nepali one. See Jessica Birkenholtz, Translating Tradition, Creating Culture: A Reconstruction of the History and Development of the Svasthani Vrata Katha of Nepal, Himalaya, 25, no. 1–2 (2005): 41.



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Fig. 4. Women performing Svasthānī vrata rituals take holy water from the confluence to offer to the gods, 2010 (courtesy of Prasant Shrestha).

the love story of Pārvatī and Śiva, as well as bhajan hymn singing sessions. The Svasthānī vrata kathā, well known among Nepali-speaking communities, can be considered one of the most widely celebrated texts, especially among women. Svasthānī is the name of the Goddess who appears in the text. She is also called Svasthānī Mātā. This religious observance, called svasthānī vrata, is particularly associated with the Śālinadī River in the Newar settlement of Sāṃkhu, in the northeast of the Kathmandu Valley. Interestingly enough, there is a close link between these rituals and Panautī: women observing this fast and rituals in Sāṃkhu come barefooted to Panautī on the 12th day of Māgh, the bright fortnight, and they bathe in the triveṇī at the time of the Makar Melā as well as other years (fig. 4). On this occasion they are all dressed in red saris and petticoats. In relation to this ceremonial visit and bath, the following story is told: Once upon a time, a sādhu [ascetic] was wandering round trying to find a holy place on earth. He went on a pilgrimage to Panautī at the time of the Makar Melā and he planted a dry bamboo on a polished stone situated in the middle of the confluence. The sādhu then visited different holy places for the next twelve years. On his return to Panautī after this period of time, he was very surprised to see that the dry bamboo planted long ago was still alive. He therefore assumed that such a place was the holiest of all places on earth. Since then, women observing Svasthānī vrata in Sāṃkhu during

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gérard toffin the month of Māgh come to bathe in Panautī triveṇī during the Makar Melā [in other years as well]. Similarly, people from Sāṃkhu celebrating Madhāv Nārāyaṇ pūjā visit Panautī during the Makar Melā. Bathing in triveṇī ghāṭ will procure them special merit, puṇya, for their future life. It is from this legend that the etymology of Panautī is often derived. The locality’s name is thought to have originally come from pã-lvahã-ti (pã: bamboo, lvahã: stone, ti: tīrtha).53

Another ritual that takes place during the Makar Melā at Panautī revolves around an image of the God Viṣṇu. Every year a statue of Mādhav Nārāyaṇ is brought from Sāṃkhu to visit Panautī triveṇī during the month of Māgh. The gilded bronze statue, 30 cm in height and weighing 2 kg is said to have originally come from Pharping. A group of Śreṣṭha families who come from Sāṃkhu carries it in turn. The male members belong to a particular association of persons (seven families), called sābā, who have special duties to fulfill towards Mādhav Nārāyaṇ during the yearly religious calendar. The person carrying the statue has white gauze over his mouth (fig. 5). “This is to prevent him from speaking because he is not allowed to talk while he carries the God.”54 The statue arrived in Panautī in the evening of the third day of the Newari month of Sillā, triodasī śukla pakṣa. The Śreṣṭha people accompanying Mādhav Nārāyaṇ (they are called vratalu or vratalī, devotees) bathed the statue in the Panautī confluence. They stayed overnight in Panautī, in a house put at their disposal. The next day, they marched in procession in Panautī and then go back to Sāṃkhu. The purpose of the journey is so that Mādhav Nārāyaṇ may visit Vāsuki Nāgrājā. Mādhav Nārāyaṇ himself carries a Vāsukināg as one of his ornaments. During this lunar month, the statue is carried to different places: to Vajrayoginī, Paśupati, Pharping and Panautī. All the processions visit Vāsukīnāg. According to a Rājopādhyāya priest, Vajrayoginī, Paśupati, Pharping, Panautī and Cāṃgu, possess important Vāsukināg shrines. The procession is linked to the Mādhavanarāyaṇ Jātrā (dhalã danegu) of Sāṃkhu that is held every year.55 It starts at the Milāpuhni full moon 53 This etymology is mentioned in several booklets published in Nepali on the occasion of the 2066 B.S. Makar Melā. Satya Mohan Joshi also quoted this tale to explain to me the etymology of the name Panautī. According to another popular etymology, the name Panautī derives from the ‘p’ of the Padmāvatī River, the ‘ā’ of Līlāvatī River, and the ‘ti’ of Rudravatī. It was Indra, so it is said, who gave the name to the recently founded city based on the three rivers. 54 B.G. Shrestha, The Ritual Composition of Sankhu. The Socio-Religious Anthropology of a Newar Town in Nepal (Leiden: Ridderprint, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, 2002), 28. 55 See Shrestha, The Ritual Composition of Sankhu.



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Fig. 5. A Śreṣṭha boy carries an image of Mādhav Nārāyaṇ through the streets of Panautī during Malar Melā fair, 2010. His mouth is covered by gauze (courtesy of Prasant Shrestha).

and lasts for one month. People gather on the banks of the river Śālinadī, where a Mādhavnārāyaṇ temple is erected, and they fast, vrata cvanegu or dhalã danegu in Newari. These rituals are not clearly differentiated from the observance of Svasthānī56 They are interconnected, yet the Mādhavnārāyaṇ rituals are mostly Vaishnavite, while the other is mostly Shaivite. Their ritual texts also are different. In Panautī itself Nārāyaṇ/Viṣṇu is worshipped daily during the month of Māgh, from the 1st day of the lunar month to the full-moon of the very same month. Old people from the city, irrespective of their caste, gather near the triveṇī and sing devotional hymns (bhajan) in honour of this God. The same group of people goes to Sāṃkhu to worship Mādhav Nārāyaṇ on Māgh, śukla saptamī, the seventh day of the bright fortnight of the month. They worship him at Banepā on the fourth day of Māgh, śukla cauthī. This religious observance is called mādha hālegu (New. hālegu, to sing). Similarly, during the month of Makar Melā, various Hindu

56 There has been some confusion about these two celebrations. See Linda Iltis, The Swasthani Vrata: Newar Women and Ritual in Nepal, PhD Dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1985.

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religious activities, mainly bhajan hymn singing sessions and prāvacan religious sermons about various Purāṇas are performed at the confluence Khwãre near the Kṛṣṇa-mandir. People from Iskcon sampradāya (Hare Krishna sect) in particular come here to organize cultural programmes and religious instructions. Throughout the month, a sacred fire, dhuni, is maintained there and various mahāyajña fire-sacrifices are celebrated by Parbatiyā Brahmans. Despite this, the main pūjārī of Indreśvar Mahādev complained that, when compared to former melās, the 2066 B.S. Makar Melā attracted people more for entertainment and business than for religious purposes. According to him, there were fewer religious sermonperformances prāvacan than before. Panautī Makar Melā and Godāvarī�̄ Siṃha Melā, the Go-Hatyā Sin The pilgrimage held in Panautī every twelve years is closely associated with another major holy place in Nepal: Godāvarī, which is located in the southern part of the Kathmandu Valley, at the foot of Phulcokī mountain. There is no confluence on this site, just a small kuṇḍa, a pond of water supplied by a spring, and a rocky altar in a corner dedicated to a form of Śiva known as Siddheśvar Mahādev. This spring is thought to be Godāvarī’s, a river that flows from south to north and merges with the Bāgmatī. In the same manner as in Panautī, this Shaivite site is linked to the Purāṇic legend according to which Mahādev once carried the dismembered body of Satī Devī, his wife, on his shoulder through the sky. Like the temple of Indreśvar Mahādev in Panautī, the Siddheśvar Mahādev sanctuary is run by a family of Shaiva ascetics. Here the pūjārī belongs to a Puri lineage whose members belong to the Daśnāmī Sannyāsī group. Like most Puris of Nepal, these priests are married and retain only a few elements of their ascetic origin.57 This Puri family is said to have long been linked to Godāvarī kuṇḍa, in fact since the origin of the pond itself. This pilgrimage site is of particular interest because, like Panautī triveṇī, it is closely related to sin and repentance. The waters emerging from Godāvarī pond are supposed to be extremely pure and powerful. Some say they flow directly from Gosāĩkuṇḍa, a well-known Śaivite pilgrimage place situated in the mountains (himāl), a three-day walk

57 Puris, like other Daśnāmī Sannyāsīs, are buried in a sitting position in special cemeteries outside the locality proper. Liṅgas are erected over the tomb.



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from Triśulī, to the north of the Kathmandu Valley.58 The temperature of the Govādarī pond, which is allegedly extremely cold, is mentioned as evidence of this imaginary link. The local Puri priest also tells another story, clearly derived from Indian sources ( just as is Panautī’s Indreśvar Mahādev tale). This legend can be considered as the main myth of origin of the place. It explicitly links the Kathmandu Valley’s Godāvarī to the Indian river of the same name. Once upon a time, a rṣi named Gautama Ṛṣi59 established his hermitage, kuti, near the spot occupied today by the Godāvarī kuṇḍa. He meditated and he lived from the products of his cows. One day, while he was grazing his cattle, one of the cows fell down a precipice and died.60 Instantly, the ṛṣi felt guilty. He had not been careful enough and he could now be accused of the sin of go-hatyā, the murder of a cow, one of the most abominable offences in Hindu culture. He then decided to expiate his sin by going to Nāsik in Mahārashtra, a well-known place in the sacral geography of India, one of the four cities where the Kumbha Melā is celebrated according to a twelve-year cycle. He bathed daily in the local Godāvarī River, also called Dakṣiṇā Gaṅgā, the Gaṅgā of the South.61 After seven/eight years, Gaṅgā Mahārānī appeared before him. She told Gautama: ‘Please, do not repent any more or bathe. Leave me your water pot and your shoes, and go back to Nepal. I will send you the sacred water of Nāsik’. Gautama Ṛṣi returned to Nepal’s Godāvarī. Surprisingly enough, he saw a source of water flowing on the spot where now there is the kuṇḍa, along with his water pot and his shoes. His sin or his alleged sin was washed away and the Godāvarī kuṇḍa was established.

Sin and expiation are once more at the centre and at the origin of the holy place. Since its mythical foundation, every twelve years, an important pilgrimage, nearly as important as Panautī Makar Melā, takes place in the locality. The celebration is performed in the solar month of Bhādra (Bhādau), July–August, from the first saṅkrānti day till the last māsānta day. It is held every twelve years, bāhravarṣa melā, and alternates every six years with the one in Panautī, as reported in the myth recounted in

58 Gosāĩkuṇḍa lake is also said to have some mystical connection with the Kumbheśvar temple pond in Lalitpur. 59 The title of this ṛṣi is sometimes given as māhātmya. 60 In another version, Gautam Ṛṣi is accused by other malevolent ascetics of having wilfully killed a cow. 61 The Indian Godāvarī River takes its source in Nāsik, Mahārashtra. Then it flows southeast through the State of Andhra Pradesh and merges into the sea in the Bay of Bengal. According to legend, it is said to be a gift of the Trimūrti to make up for a major sin committed by Gautama, who killed a cow. The origin of the Nepalese myth mentioned above clearly derives from this Indian source.

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Panautī about Phulcokī range.62 The religious fair is called Godāvarī Melā or more precisely Siṃha Melā. It is sometimes also known as Kumbha Melā. Its beginning is marked by the sun Sūrya leaving Bṛhaspati rāśi, and entering the Siṃha rāśi zodiac sign. The conjunction of these three astral signs characterises the Siṃha Melā. Moreover, local people assert that a lion and a cow come to the kuṇḍa secretly on the first day of the fair. Surprisingly enough, the lion does not kill the cow. The peaceful presence of this pair of animals is one unique feature, so it is said, of the pilgrimage festival. On this occasion, people from all over the Kathmandu Valley come to bathe in the pond and worship Siddheśvar Mahādev. This God is said to grant power derived from his penance, tapasyā. During the whole month, the water of the pool is said to be especially powerful. Just as in Panautī, if oil is poured into the pond, it sinks to the bottom of the water. Godāvarī’s pūjārī reported that he himself had seen this phenomenon when King Mahendra came here long ago with his wife Ratna for the 1967 ad [2024 B.S.] bāhravarṣa melā. Bathing in the Godāvarī pond at this auspicious period is supposed to wash away all sins and cure all sorts of diseases (rog). It is also said to fulfill all wishes (Nep. icchā). Conclusions As legends about Panautī make clear, the very existence of this site is linked to sin and repentance. We have also seen that the diverse ritual activities during the Makar Melā share this preoccupation. Indra, in the founding legend, practiced austerities there. Austerities undertaken at holy places are often described as done to avoid the consequences of sin (fig. 6). The Śiva-Purāṇa states (5,12, 45): “One who drinks wine or makes love to the wife of another man or kills a Brahmin or seduces his guru’s wife is released from all sins by tapas”63 Fasting is a form of austerity, and several observances, for example the Svasthānī vrata, involve fasting. Other rituals, like the śrāddha offerings for the deceased, or the procession of the image of the God Viṣṇu, may seem less directly tied to sin,

62 Interestingly enough, the legend quoted in Panautī about the division of the Rośī Kholā by Phulcokī Māī is not known in Godāvarī. However, most local people claim some sort of connection with the Rośī Kholā which flows on the other side of the mountain. The water from both sides of the Phulcokī range are said to come from the same source. 63 Quoted by Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf, “The Sense of Sin in Cross Cultural Perspective.” Man, n. s., 9, no. 4 (1974): 549.



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Fig. 6. Men prostrate themselves all around Vāsuki Nāg stone, near the confluence, 2010 (courtesy of Prasant Shrestha). This photo was taken during the Svasthānī vrata celebration day, at the time of the Makar Melā fair. Prostration (skt. vandana or daṇḍavat,, New. mha dāyagu) is a form of austerity and expiation.

and suggest the richness of the ritual life of the festival. Nonetheless, the close link of the site and its festival to sin and repentance is manifest in both stories and practice. In Nepal as in India, the elimination of evil and sin takes place at specific places, at particular times of the year or according to a twelve-year cycle. The Makar Melā is one of the most important of these occasions. Although it is a Hindu festival, Śākya and Vajrācārya Newar Buddhists, who share most of the conceptions about sin and repentance that underlie the festival, attend Panautī Makar Melā and bathe regularly in the sacred rivers of the Kathmandu Valley. They also take part in Godāvarī Melā every twelve years and take the sacred water from there for ritual use in their homes. However, there are no set rules for performing offerings, pūj s, in these two settlements. Moreover, Śākyas do not practice the Svasthānī vrata fast and bākhã khanegu storeytelling (from Svasthānī vrata text): these religious observances are specific to Hindus. In concluding, I would like to mention another method of expiating sins which is widespread in the Himalayan range and further north on the Tibetan plateau. A number of caves in these regions contain a narrow

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passage at their entrance or further inside the cave, through which visitors attempt to pass.64 The sins of those who succeed in crawling through will be washed away, whereas those who are unable to go any further are too sinful for this simple expiatory and mechanical device. These caves are often called pāp dvār, dharma dvār, from (Nep.) dvār: ‘door, entrance, threshold’, or pāpi brewa, dharma brewa in Tamang language. In the Kathmandu Valley, I know at least of two such sites: Biśaṅkhu Nārāyaṇ Sthān, in the southwest of the Valley, and Sāṃkhu, close to the Tantric shrine of Vajrayoginī located at the top of a hill. At the latter, the cave where you can prove that you are either virtuous or a sinner lies a few yards from the shrine. A low doorway surmounted by an inscription in huge Tibetan characters leads to a dark chamber where an image of Nīl Sarasvatī (or Blue Tārā) stands carrying a sword. This chamber has a tiny window: if you are physically slight and reasonably agile, you can get through it, thus proving your virtue. If you get stuck, you are a sinner, but your existence may be facilitated by making a suitable offering to Nīl Sarasvatī.65 This cave is called dharma-pāp. Like others, it is used as a test to find out whether you are a great sinner or not, as well as serving as a means to purify yourself of evil deeds. The underlying metaphor seems to allude to a new birth, through the womb of the mother and the ritual is reminiscent of the various procedures of regressus ad uterum characteristic of initiations throughout the world. The person who succeeds in this endeavor is like a newborn, coming into the world free of sin. These beliefs attest to the importance of sin and expiation as a motivating force for religious acts in the Himalayan region. Acknowledgements I would like to thank Mahes Raj Pant, Prasant Shrestha and Raju Shakya for help with the proofs. Bibliography Barré, Vincent, Patrick Berger, Laurence Feveile, and Gérard Toffin. Panautī, une ville au Nepal. Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1981. Birkenholtz, Jessica. “Translating Tradition, Creating Culture: A Reconstruction of the History and Development of the Svasthani Vrata Katha of Nepal”. Himalaya 25, no. 1–2 (2005): 41–42. 64 Rolf Alfred Stein, Grottes-matrices et lieux saints de la déesse en Asie Orientale (Paris: École d’Extrême-Orient, 1988). 65 M. Slusser, Kathmandu. A Collection of articles (Kirtipur: University Press, 1974), 22–23.



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Bouillier, Véronique. “Les Jangam du Népal, caste de prêtres ou renonçants?”. Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient 72 (1986): 81–148. Burghart, Richard. The Conditions of Listening: Essays on Religion, History and Politics in South Asia. Edited by C.J. Fuller and Spencer Jonathan. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996. Dumézil, Georges. Heur et malheur du guerrier. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1969. Feldhaus, Anne. Water and Womanhood. Religious Meanings of Rivers in Maharashtra. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. ——. Connected Places. Region, Pilgrimage, and Geographical Imagination in India. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Fürer-Haimendorf. Christoph von. “The Sense of Sin in Cross-Cultural Perspective”. Man, n.s. 9, no. 4 (1974): 539–556. Granoff, Phyllis; Koichi Shinohara, eds. Pilgrims, Patrons, and Place. Localizing Sanctity in Asian religion. Vancouver, B.C.: University of British Columbia Press, 2003. Gutschow, Niels and Bernhard Kölver. Bhaktapur: Ordered Space Concepts and Functions in a Town of Nepal. Wiesbaden: Nepal Research Centre Publications, 1975. Hasrat, B.J. History of Nepal, as told by its Own and Contemporary Chroniclers. Hoshiarpur: V.V. Research Institute Book Agency, 1970. Hausner, Sondra, L. Wandering with Ascetics. Ascetics in the Hindu Himalayas. Bloomington/ Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007. Hiltebeitel, Alf. The Ritual of Battle. Krishna in the Mahābhārata. New York: State University of New York Press, 1990. Iltis, Linda. “The Swasthani Vrata: Newar Women and Ritual in Nepal”, 2 vols., PhD diss., University of Wisconsin, 1985. Joshi, Madan Krishna, Panautīko Aitihāsik Bāhravarṣa Makar Melā. (n.p., 2010). Kölver, Ulrike and Iswarananda Shresthacarya. A Dictionary of Contemporary Newari. Newari-English, Bonn: VGH Wissenschaftsverlag, 1994. Lākoju, Sūryaprasād. Panautī. Panautī: Panautī Press, 2009. ——. Panautī Bāhravarṣa Makarmelā. Panautī, Panautī Printing Press, 2010. ——. “Bāhravarṣa Makarmelā”, in Akīkṛt Panautī, Panauti: Panauti Upatyakā Ekikrit Vikās Samāj (2010) 15–16. Letizia, Chiara. “Le Confluenze Sacre dei Fiumi in Nepal”. PhD diss., Università di Roma “La Sapienza”, 2003. Nepali, G.S. The Newars: an ethnosociological Study of an Himalayan Community. Bombay: United Asia Publications, 1965. O’Flaherty, Wendy Doninger. Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Shiva. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973. ——. (first edition 1976). The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980. Pavese, Cesare. The Business of Living. Diaries 1935–1950. Translated by John Taylor. New Jersey: Transactions Publishers, 2009. Ram Candra. “Panautī, ek sãskriti jñako dṛṣṭima,” In Svatantra Viśva. Kathmandu: Bikās Press, 1975. 26–34. Regmi, Dilli Raman. Medieval Nepal, 2. Calcutta: Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay. 1964. Sāpkotā, Prakāś and K.C. Pradip. Panautī Makarmelā. Jānkārimulak Hāte Pustak. Panautī: Panautī Paryaṭan Vikās Kendra., 2010. Shrestha, Bal Gopal. The Ritual Composition of Sankhu. The Socio-Religious Anthropology of a Newar Tow in Nepal. Leiden: Ridderprint (Koninklijke Bibliotheek), 2002. Slusser, M. Kathmandu. A Collection of articles. Kirtipur: University Press, 1974. ——, “Indreśvara Mahādeva, a Thirteenth-century Nepalese Shrine”, Artibus Asiae, 41, no. 2/3 (1979): 185–225. Stein, Rolf Alfred. Grottes-matrices et lieux-saints de la déesse en Asie orientale. Paris: École d’Extrême-Orient, 1988. Tāmot, Kāśināth. Nepālmaṇḍala. Yela: Nepālmaṇḍala Anusandhān Guthi, 2005.

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Tāmrakār, Sumanrāj. Panautīkā cāḍparvaharū ra makarmelā. Dhulikhel: Nyu Dhulikhel Printing Press, 2010. Toffin, Gérard. “Les rites funéraires des hautes castes néwar”, Les hommes et la mort. Edited by Jean Guirat, Le Sycomore/Objets et Mondes (1979): 242–252. ——. “Analyse structurale d’une fête communale néwar: le deś jātrā de Panauti,” L’Homme, 22, no. 3 (1981): 57–89. ——. Société et religion chez les Néwar du Népal. Paris: Éditions du CNRS, 1984. Uebach, Helga. Das Nepālamāhātmyam des Skandapurāṇam. Legenden um die Hinduistischen Heiligtümer Nepals. München: Wilheim Fink Verlag, 1970. Wright, Daniel. History of Nepal. (first ed. 1877). Calcutta: Ranjan Gupta, 1966.

Sin and Expiation among Modern Hindus: Obeying One’s Duty or Following Freely Accepted Rules? Catherine Clémentin-Ojha Subjective ethics is an advance over objective ethics, because virtues are superior to duties. Whereas duty is other-directed; virtue is inner-directed. Duty represents tribalistic morality; virtue represents individual morality. Duties are related to experiences of prohibition and fear, but virtues arise from feelings of preference and self-respect. Duty is ad hoc and specific, with reference to particular commandments, codes, and customs; virtue is generic and is expressive of fundamental orientations in life, such as the Golden Rule. [. . .] You may continue to follow the old rule, but now it is because you must, not because you ought.1

During the last quarter of the 19th century travelling overseas became a social issue in India as debated among Hindu reformers as widow remarriage or conversion. Among Brahmans and other high caste Hindus it was a breach of dharmic conduct of such gravity that it could not be done without incurring severe social sanction: many returnees were excommunicated from their caste.2 It raised the issues of pollution and sin. Of pollution, because travelling overseas meant breaking the rules of one’s own caste in two major ways: eating forbidden food and having contact with non Hindus (mleccha samparka), both major sources of impurity.3 It raised the issue of sin because it entailed shirking one’s own prescribed duty (disregard for dharma). The problem was not the travel as such but its consequences, like having to eat impure foods and being in close contact with impure substances and persons. Deemed impure, the returnees suffered a social boycott: none in their caste would dine with them and 1 Crawford S. Cromwell, Hindu Bioethics for the Twenty-first Century (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2003). 2 See Lucy Carroll, “The Seavoyage Controversy and the Kayasthas of North India, 1901– 1909,” Modern Asian Studies 13, no. 2 (1979); Susmita Arp, Kalapani: Zum Streit über die Zulässigkeit von Seereisen im kolonialzeitlichen Indien (Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag, 2000). 3 Samudrāyana (“travelling by sea”) was the term used to designate the religious transgression implied by such journeys; another term with equally sinister socioreligious implications was kālāpāni “black water”.

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the prospect of marriage for them and their children became dim. In most cases, they were admitted back in their endogamous group ( jāti) after they had undergone rites of expiation (prāyaścitta) prescribed by their Caste Council (pañcāyat) or by other such instances which regulated the internal affairs of their caste. In the case of Narayan Ganesh Chandavarkar (1855–1923), the well-known judge, social reformer and political activist of Bombay, this instance was the sectarian monastery to which his caste (Sarasvata brāhmaṇa, hereafter Saraswat Brahman) was affiliated. To sin is to fall short of one’s society standards of rightful moral conduct; it is to transgress religious or moral law. Looking for an “objective definition of sin” large enough to apply to all social or cultural contexts, the French anthropologist Robert Hertz (1881–1915) observed that sin not only consists in a transgression of a moral order but also corresponds to a new state which subsists once the initial cause has disappeared: the perpetrator of a sin has become a sinner.4 He further noted that this new state does not cease by itself but requires external intervention: expiation takes place “when certain ritual actions are able to re-establish the state of things prior to the transgression, abolishing it without crushing the transgressor”.5 In Hindu society the notions that the sinner is personally transformed by his transgression and can be purified and restored to his pre-sin state are familiar. Anthropologists have shown that Hindus understand sin (pāpa) as a transgression of the sanctioned rules of dharma, that is to say as a breach of their caste’s codes, which presupposes a close connection

4 Robert Hertz, Le péché et l’expiation dans les sociétés primitives (Paris: Éditions JeanMichel Place, 1988), 51–52: “le péché est une transgression d’un ordre moral, qui est considérée comme entraînant par sa vertu propre des conséquences funestes pour son auteur et qui concerne exclusivement la société religieuse. L’état de péché enveloppe pour le fidèle des peines et des dangers redoutables: il le prive de la situation, de la capacité, des droits qu’il avait dans l’Église, en particulier du droit de communier; il implique la menace d’afflictions temporelles qui peuvent atteindre le pécheur soit dans sa personne, soit dans ses biens, soit dans ses proches ou ses descendants; surtout, il décide virtuellement du sort de l’âme dans l’au-delà et la condamne à une mort éternelle, c’est-à-dire à des souffrances sans fin et à une exclusion définitive du séjour céleste. Cet état, qui succède inéluctablement à l’acte mauvais, ne cesse pas de lui-même: ou bien par le concours de Dieu, de l’Église et du pécheur, il est aboli par une intervention sacramentaire, spécialement destinée à la délivrance du pénitent; ou bien il se prolonge jusqu’à la mort du pécheur endurci pour produire ensuite ses conséquences effroyables et désormais irréparables.” Robert Hertz died in 1915 before he could complete his research, which was then published posthumously by Marcel Mauss in 1922. 5 Hertz, Le péché et l’expiation, 55.



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between sin and pollution.6 Some of them also acknowledge that pollution has a moral dimension among Hindus. Thus Fuller writes: “[. . .] pollution is a concept whose religious significance is not exhausted by its social significance”, in other words, purity is not only a prerequisite to maintain one’s social status, one’s position in the caste social order, it has also moral significance.7 Specialists of Sanskrit normative literature too have drawn attention to such a connection.8 Renou writes that “if in ancient times evil resides in error, for classical Hinduism its seat is rather in impurity”.9 According to him there is in the theory of expiation (prāyaścitta) an underlying logic which shows the connection between pollution and sin: it not only concerns “socioreligious faults” ( fautes religieuses) leading to the loss of caste but also “ethical faults” ( fautes contre l’éthique). In Hindu society then, dharma being both a matter of moral order and purity, the violation of expected or prescribed conduct is both a breach in the moral order—a sin—and a breach in the purity order of the caste— pollution. Sin brings about impurity. Polluted, the sinner is also potentially polluting and must be kept apart until purified. This explains why the foreign-returned Narayan Ganesh Chandavarkar was excommunicated for having travelled to England in 1885. However, as we are going to see, he did not think he had committed any sin and he took the consistent decision to refuse to expiate his sin. Whether this should be seen as an indication that he had decided that the source of ethical guidance was to be found in his own self is the question that will occupy me in this paper. The Suez Canal was opened in November 1869, and from the 1880s the number of high caste Hindus undertaking the sea-voyage to England increased rapidly as more and more educated young men aspired to receive an adequate education to exercise one of the new lucrative

6 To perform religious rites while being ritually impure is a sin. Harper notes that among the Haviks Brahmans of Karnataka “disregard [of ritual pollution observances] is phrased as sin (pāpa)”, Edward B. Harper, “Ritual Pollution as an Integrator of Caste and Religion,” Journal of Asian Studies, 23 (1964): 176. Similar findings in Veena Das, Structure and Cognition: aspects of Hindu Caste and Ritual (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1973), 130, and Christopher Fuller, “Gods, Priests and Purity: on the Relation between Hinduism and the Caste System,” Man, n.s., 14 (1979). 7 Fuller, “Gods, Priests and Purity,” 473. 8 O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. The Origin of Evil in Hindu Mythology (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1976), 165–168. 9 Louis Renou, L’hindouisme (Paris: PUF, 1974), 78–79. “Si le mal à date ancienne réside dans l’erreur, pour l’hindouisme classique il a son siège plutôt dans l’impureté.”

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professions generated by the colonial regime.10 A man like Narayan Ganesh Chandavarkar thought that such journeys were also good for moral reasons. To stay two years in England, he would say, developed “pluck, enterprise and moral courage”.11 As we are going to see, moral courage was important for Chandavarkar, a complex product of Brahmanical and English education.12 Chandavarkar had gone to London in September 1885, as part of a three member delegation sent by the Bombay Presidency Association to represent the political demands of the Indians to the British Parliament and, more generally, to inform the colonial power of the situation in India at a time when Britain was holding its general elections.13 This is an unmistakable sign that at 30, Chandavarkar was not only a leading member of his community but was also seriously participating in the first organized efforts at political representation. He had indeed distinguished himself early by being the first Saraswat Brahman of Karnataka to obtain a BA from the University of Bombay. In 1878, at 22, he became the editor of the English pages of the very influential progressive Anglo-Marathi weekly Indu Prakash, where he soon proved himself to be a nationalist who had a keen intellect and an original contribution to make in the fields of social reform and of politics. He rapidly established close personal contact with two like-minded prominent public figures of the Bombay Presidency, Kashinath Trimbak Telang (1850–1892) and Mahadev Govind Ranade (1842–1901), both judges of repute, whose moderation in politics

10 See Shompa Lahiri, Indians in Britain: Anglo-Indian Encounters, Race and Identity 1880–1930 (London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2000), 1–18. 11 Frank Conlon, A Caste in a Changing World. The Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmans 1700– 1935 (New Delhi: Thomson Press (Indian) Limited, 1977), 154. 12 I am relying on A Wrestling Soul, a biography of N.G. Chandavarkar by his nephew, who also gives large extracts from his published speeches and from his private note-books in English, and on Conlon, who introduces Chandavarkar in his important 1977 study of the Saraswat Brahmans of Karnataka. See Ganesh L. Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, Story of the life of Sir Narayan Chandavarkar (Bombay: Popular Book Depot, 1955) and Conlon, A Caste in a Changing world. 13 Conlon, A Caste in a Changing World, 153; Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 45–46. N.G. Chandavarkar represented the Bombay Presidency, Savalai Ramaswami Mudaliar (1840–1911) the Madras Presidency and Mun Mohan Ghosh (1844–1896) the Bengal Presidency. Though at the time there was a growing interest in Indian affairs, the delegates had but scant success in arousing interest in India’s aspirations, and their well-wishers, all Liberals, were defeated in the general elections. Yet all these efforts were not in vain, as at the end of the same year, the Indian National Congress was founded in Bombay. Chandavarkar was associated with the organization right from the start, attending its first meeting on December 28 1885, on the very day he returned from England (according to Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 106).



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he shared. Like them, he was a loyal supporter of British rule, and justified its policy of social reform by legislation. In 1881, following in the footsteps of his father and maternal uncle, Chandavarkar entered the legal profession as a lawyer. That year he also joined the Prarthana Samaj,14 fighting against the evils of child marriages, interdiction of widow remarriage and untouchability from within this organization, which is well-known for the role it played in the development of social consciousness among the Hindu elites of western India.15 He was no less active in the religious activities of the Samaj, preaching regularly at its pulpit. There, as his diaries full of soul searching and self-examination show, he drew great spiritual and moral inspiration from the company of Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar (1837–1925). It is therefore not surprising that Chandavarkar’s immediate circle welcomed him back home with enthusiasm, thinking that by journeying to England he had accomplished something highly significant for the nation. Not that there was no sign at all of displeasure at his obvious breach of dharmic conduct, but it was of no consequence, as he himself recalled in 1901: When I visited England sixteen years ago, of course there was an agitation about my doing so. But nothing was done and I was received by my caste and in my family. I was treated as if I had never violated any of the rules of the caste.16

But in 1894, nine years after his return, the matter grew serious: he was excommunicated and cut off from the rest of his caste along with his family. The decision came from Svāmī Pandurangashram (r. 1864–1915), the abbot of the smārta monastery of Chitrapur (Bombay Presidency, today Karnataka).17 Chandavarkar’s caste was affiliated to this monastery.18 Within that system, well described by Conlon, the abbot had the responsibility to regulate the internal affairs of the caste and to chastise any inappropriate behaviour which came to his knowledge. In 1894, he thus decreed that all Saraswats were to avoid contact (samparka) with those who had returned from England until the nature of their lapse had 14 See Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 61, 181, 186. 15 He founded the Depressed Classes Mission Society in 1906; see Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 99–100. 16 Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 87. 17 Smārta (i.e. who follows the smṛti) implies that the monastic lineage of Chitrapur traces its ancestry to Śaṅkara, the 8th century theologian, follows the philosophy of advaitavedānta or pure monism which he taught, and adheres strictly to the Brahmanical rules and regulations prescribed in the codes of Hindu law, dharmaśāstra or smṛti. 18 Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 87.

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been determined. Upon this the Saraswats collectively decided that normal contacts could be resumed with those who had gone abroad if they underwent an expiation.19 A very humiliating public event, prāyaścitta was the last resort, but still preferable to being definitely turned out of one’s caste. Several foreign-returned Saraswats complied, thereby implicitly admitting that they had strayed from proper conduct. Chandavarkar was not one of them. At the same time several Saraswats started questioning their caste-guru’s decision and soon their community was sharply divided on the issue, between those who were opposed to sea-journeys and those who admitted them, a division that overlapped with the division between town-dwellers and country-side dwellers. In December 1896 the divide became even sharper with the abbot of Chitrapur declaring that those who had gone abroad were excommunicated once and for all and those who had been in contact with them (that is, had shared publicly a meal with them) had to undergo an expiation.20 In March 1898 the abbot celebrated in the town of Mangalore a mass expiation ceremony which lasted twelve hours, an indication that many of his followers yielded to his injunctions. But Chandavarkar was not alone in resisting them, as is shown by the fact that in July 1898 he was able to celebrate the marriage of his daughter with all due show. In the words of a correspondent of the Indian Social Reformer: In spite of the fulminations of this great Shankaracharya [the title of the abbot], interdining between the sinners and the saved goes on . . . to an extent which causes very little inconvenience to the former, especially in the larger towns. If orthodox priests do not officiate at ceremonies, there are wiser men to profit by their aloofness, for where there is money, there are priests.21

Though in 1911 the British officer in charge of the census operation noted that the Saraswats were divided between “Londonwalas” and “nonLondonwalas”, there were by that time so many shows of resistance to his reprimands that the abbot of Chitrapur threatened to end his monastic line once and for all.22 In 1913 he observed bitterly:

19 Conlon, A Caste in a Changing World, 155. 20 Conlon, A Caste in a Changing World, 158. 21 Conlon, A Caste in a Changing World, 159. 22 Conlon, A Caste in a Changing World, 162.



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In every town, that which is against jāti, paṅkti, dharma, and maṭha is growing.23 Nobody made any efforts with heart and soul to rectify this, none is doing it, and it does not seem that they will do it in the future. All our aspirations that the people will be good are completely vain. Well, I don’t care.24

However, in June 1915, a few days before his death, the abbot appointed a boy of 12 years to succeed him on the monastic seat. Under his guidance, the Saraswat Brahmans of Chitrapur would redefine their discipline of caste on new bases. By that time the lawyer Narayan Ganesh Chandavarkar had embarked on a very successful public career. In 1900, he presided over the annual session of the Indian National Congress in Lahore.25 On being appointed judge in 1901 in the Bombay High Court, replacing M.G. Ranade, who had died that year, a position which imposed on him political discretion, he withdrew from the Indian National Congress to take the leadership of the Indian National Social Conference. This was the forum for discussing social issues of the day; it ran parallel to the meetings of the INC. On several issues Chandavarkar showed his commitment to social reform, notably in the realm of Hindu law, of which he was a recognized expert. In 1909, he was appointed Chief Justice. In 1910, he was knighted. After retiring from the High Court in 1913, he resumed his political activities among the moderates of the Indian National Congress, of which he was one of the main leaders. The Saraswat Brahman community of Chitrapur would not have known such difficulties had it not been cornered into redefining its interaction with the world outside. But the spread of western education and the adoption of new professions transformed the modes and conditions of life of its members and induced them to settle in the large colonial urban centres of Madras and Bombay. In effect the abbot’s injunctions had been more particularly directed at those Saraswats living in these urban centers, as they were more likely than others to transgress dharmic conduct. Residing and working in large towns they enjoyed a certain degree of freedom from the discipline of caste, whereas those who continued to live in their ancestral home were under greater social pressure to respect traditional norms. The

23 Jāti refers to the endogamous group of the Saraswat Brahmans of Chitrapur; paṅkti to the row [of dinners who can eat together without polluting each other because they have the same ritual status]; maṭha to the monastic institution whose abbot is the caste-guru. 24 Conlon, A Caste in a Changing World, 166. 25 Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 106. See note 13.

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social and moral implications of a person’s place of residence comes out clearly in what a caste-fellow and member of Chandavarkar’s ancestral village had to say when asked to comment upon the warm welcome that Chandavarkar had received when he returned from England. He observed that it would have been different if instead of Bombay Chandavarkar had returned to his ancestral home. To the question whether Chandavarkar had been readmitted in his caste, the same man replied cautiously: “He has never been to this part of the country”. When asked whether excommunication would have in any way disturbed Chandavarkar: “Not unless he came to this part of the country”.26 These remarks suggest that what was a sin of the severest nature at home (in the village), was not a sin in Bombay. It has been observed that in the 19th century social control was of a highly localised character; it was restricted to a given endogamous group ( jāti) and did not affect those outside.27 Thus, whereas journeying abroad was a serious offence for the smārta Saraswats of Chitrapur, it had little consequence for the neighbouring community of the smārta Saraswats of Kavale, because their caste guru, Atmananda Sarasvati (1870–1898), was not so strict on the matter. It shows that the judgment on whether a given action constituted a sin varied more according to the social setting and opinion of the entourage of the perpetrator than on his inner consciousness.28 But the boundaries were not only social in nature. They were both social and spatial. What we have with the testimony of Chandavarkar’s caste-fellow just mentioned is precisely the admission that the social control of the endogamous group was also spatially determined and that it was weaker on those who had gone outside its boundaries. Such conditions help to explain why what was a sin in the village was not a sin in Bombay. Chandavarkar was not disturbed by the debate over foreign journeys that divided his community because he had made his living far away from its base. A quarter of a century before Chandavarkar, in the very same town of Bombay, the well-known Gujarati social reformer Karsondas Mulji

26 Conlon, A Caste in a Changing World, 154. 27 Carroll, “The Seavoyage Controversy,” 267. 28 A point also made by O’Hanlon for the end of the 18th century in Maharashtra: “[. . .] offenders were often driven to seek purification not so much by inner consciousness of the transgression itself, but only when news of it began to leak out and neighbours and caste-fellows started to point accusing fingers” (Rosalind O’Hanlon, “Narratives of Penance and Purification, c. 1650–1850,” The Journal of Hindu Studies 2 [2003]: 61).



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(1832–1871), of the Bombay Libel Case fame (1862),29 had had a similar experience when he decided to put himself and his close family members at a safe distance from the main bulk of his caste. Except that in his case it was Bombay that he had had to flee because it was there that the Kapole Baniya resided. Karsondas, who was one of the earliest Gujarati merchants (baniyā) to travel to England, had been excommunicated upon his return in 1865 and thereafter ostracized by most members of the upper strata of the Bombay Gujarati society to which he belonged. Servants, too, boycotted him.30 Added to social pressure, there was domestic pressure for, according to his biographer, his wife could not endure the situation, making his life all the more miserable. This is why he resolved to go to Kathiawar: After his excommunication, he thought it advisable to go to moffusil;31 and this step of his was a wise one. [. . .] At this places [notably at Rajkot], there was no caste trouble. There Karsondas and his family were admitted in the community without any hitch; and hence Karsondas’s wife remained in a much more peaceful mood and allowed Karsondas mental peace and rest to carry out his ideas of reform.32

Significantly this return to normalcy was translated socially by exchange of hospitality, notably by exchange of food: [At Rajkot] Karsondas was invited to dine both at individual Baniyas’ houses and at caste gatherings. Karsondas, on his part too, used to invite some of these Baniyas for dinners at his own place.33

Because of the fast changing conditions of life, the social cost of the sin incurred by leaving India was minimal for those who had built a strong position and a solid reputation than none could challenge. The fact that Chandavarkar was less disturbed than Karsondas Mulji is an indication of his greater social standing and influence. But the emotional cost in the domestic arena was of some consequence for him, too. It is important to

29 In 1861 Karsondas Mulji had exposed in his paper, Satya Prakash (The Light on Truth), what he called the immoralities of the gurus of the sect of the Maharajas (Vallabha sampradāya). Sued by one of the gurus, he won the case, which created a sensation in Bombay and the whole of British India; see History of the Sect of Maharajas, (London: Trubner, 1866) This book was published by Karsondas Mulji anonymously. 30 B.N. Motivala, Karsondas Mulji. A Biographical Study (Bombay: The Karsondas Muiji Centenary Celebration Committee, 1935), 43. 31  Mufassal means province in opposition to town. 32 Motivala, Karsondas Mulji, 202. 33 Motivala, Karsondas Mulji, 204.

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take seriously the fact that given the predominant influence that caste still exercised among all classes at the end of the 19th century, going to England was a dramatic choice. In most cases it caused serious concern for spouses. As keepers of the identity of the home, they had a sense of sin that was not only predicated on issues of wider social reputation but also on issues of daily management of the household life and maintenance of family relationships. Right in the middle of large cities, they still felt the village-type constraints of social control and ostracism. Both Karsondas and his junior of twenty years Chandavarkar advocated female education, and fought against child marriages and the ban on widow remarriage.34 Throughout his judicial career Chandavarkar incessantly defended women’s rights, more particularly widows’ right of maintenance. Quite early in his public life during the tumultuous controversy of the Rakmabai case (March 1884 to July 1888), he had denounced in the Indu Prakash the decision of the (British) judges to send Rukmabai back to her husband, despite her refusal to recognize their marriage. Rukmabai had been married off by her father while she was still a child and when she refused to live with her husband, he sued to enforce his conjugal rights. Chandavarkar criticized the judges in particular for relying on certain provisions of the Hindu law which were opposed to the very rights of women that they claimed to protect.35 As a judge well aware of the personal law of the various Hindu communities, he kept thinking of corrective measures to bring about social amelioration.36

34 Their defence of widow remarriage was confined to child-widows, in other words to young girls whose husband had died before the consummation of marriage (see Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 97). Marrying a widow who had lost her virginity appeared hideous to most high caste Hindus in those days. 35 Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 42. On the Rukmabai case, see Sudhir Chandra, Enslaved Daughters: Colonialism, Law and Women’s Rights (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998). 36 What he wrote in 1886 gives an idea of his type of undertaking: “Our Civil Courts of Justice occupy a position which in several respects enables them to introduce changes of a progressive character into the Hindoo community. Like the Legislatures, they too are bound to decide all questions before them in accordance with the usages and customs of the community. Their authority is also limited, but they possess an advantage, which the legislative does not, in that the Hindoo Law is not codified and the ancient Hindoo law-givers, whose books are the accepted authorities of the land, are so many and among themselves differ on so many points that the British judge in India finds himself the master of a pretty large field where he can occasionally pick and choose in accordance with his own enlightened instincts. It may not be in all, or even in the majority of cases, that he is able to do so, but that he is able to do so at all counts for a great deal in this matter. To his credit be it said, he has exercised his discretion most carefully. That he has felt his way cautiously and acted with due regard to the prejudices of the people with whom



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In the private sphere too, he was known to be sensitive to his wife’s welfare. His diary testifies that he was proud of her and was crushed by her death.37 Yet he still perpetuated the paradigmatic submission of the Hindu wife as the sign of the good femininity when he wrote in 1911: “The woman soul is the soul of patient suffering, quiet endurance, of submission and selflessness”.38 It is highly symptomatic of the gulf between the social circle that was sending him to England and his domestic circle that Chandavarkar had left for London in 1885 without informing his wife and that at the time “none in the house had the remotest idea of his departure”.39 Equally symptomatic is the fact that after his return there were two kitchens in the family home. What exactly had led Chandavarkar to modify his food habits and mode of life is not known. His nephew and biographer does not fully explain this situation, but he clearly alludes to some domestic

he has to deal is evident from the fact that those people have the highest confidence in our courts and regard them as the best defenders of their liberties and rights . . . He is working quietly . . . but none the less he is working effectively.” (Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 23–24). At the same time, though he favoured state legislation, and therefore colonial interference, in matters of social reform, Chandavarkar did not accept all the changes introduced by the British in the administration of the said law. Or rather, as Rocher has argued, he was among those influential Indian judges who claimed as an integral part of the original Hindu law all foreign elements introduced by the British (Ludo Rocher, “Indian Response to Anglo-Hindu Law”, Journal of the American Oriental Society 92, no. 3 [1972 ]: 421). In this respect, one of his judgments is telling. It is also one of his most often quoted legal analysis: “That law is a jurisprudence by itself and contains within its limits all the principles necessary for application to any given case. It is doing scant justice to Hindu law as a science to suppose that, because there is no express text providing for a concrete point arising for adjudication, therefore, there is nothing in it to guide a Judge in deciding that point and he must import analogies from foreign laws to help him. The Hindu lawgivers have not indeed laid down a rule in express terms on every conceivable point. But having provided texts for such cases as had arisen before or in their time, they left others to be determined either with reference to certain general principles laid down by them in clear terms or by the analogy of similar cases governed by express texts. Had the Subordinate Judge (a Hindu) gone into the question in this case a little deeper and considered the authorities on Hindu law a little more carefully than he seems to have done, he would have found that there was no need of Romanising the Hindu law for the purposes of his decision.” (see Kalgavda Tavanappa v. Somappa (1909) 30 Bom. 669, 680, quoted from the internet version on http://www.indiankanoon.org/doc/682888/. 37 Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 169, 171, 177, 204. 38 Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 63. The patriarchal attitude of most social reformers has often been noted. 39 Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 46. Though she had not received much education, Chandavarkar’s wife did her best to adapt to the social circles he frequented, even picking up a little English, see Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 168, 169.

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tension when, as if in passing, he informs his reader that his aunt refused to take any food from his uncle’s Christian cook.40 This was a rather out of the ordinary arrangement in a Saraswat Brahman household of those days, where a strong socioreligious symbolism was attached to all food matters, the purity of food being central to all ritual practices and eating perceived as the main potential source of pollution. To employ a Christian cook would have been enough for Chandavarkar to be ostracized in his village even if he had not gone to England.41 For Karsondas Mulji and Ganesh Narayan Chandavarkar, then, leaving Indian shores and going to far away England had resulted in yet another displacement: in order to live without the accusation of sin, they had to remove themselves from the tight control of their caste. Their wives had no such opportunity. Confined in their role of guardian of the identity and reputation of the family, they could only continue to perceive transgressions of the domestic norms as serious breaches of dharmic conduct and suffer for the sins of their husbands. But neither Karsondas Mulji nor Chandavarkar thought they had sinned by crossing the sea. This is the reason why they rejected the idea of expiation.42 As Chandavarkar wrote to a friend around 1895: Of what use is a prayaschitta if, instead of leading to sincere penitence and preventing the commission, it only becomes a promoter and abetter of sin?43

40 Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 94. 41 The biographer of Karsondas is equally insensible to the feelings and needs of his hero’s wife when he calls her a “handicap” (Motivala, Karsondas Mulji, 200), adding: “[. . .] Karsondas was unhappy because he had not the good fortune of having an accomplished wife. His wife was a drag on all his public activities [. . .]” (Motivala, Karsondas Mulji, 201). These remarks take a particularly poignant dimension when one reads under the pen of the same author the following: “At the time of Karsondas’ death, his wife was only twentysix years old. After a year and a half after Karsondas’s death, through the hard efforts of Sheth Bengali and Sheth Dosabhai Framji Karka, Karsondas’s wife, her four sons and her daughter were re-admitted to the Kapole Baniya caste after paying a fine and after performing the penitentiary (‘prayschitta’ [ prāyaścitta]) ceremony at Nasik.” (Motivala, Karsondas Mulji, 53). Karsondas’s own attitude towards his wife is not known. It has been argued by Thakkar that during the Bombay Libel Case, which took place three years before his England journey, he failed to take into account real persons when defending the cause of women. He could at the same time denounce the sexual exploitations of their female disciples by the Vallabhi gurus and not pay any attention to what the persons concerned thought of the matter; see Usha Thakkar “Puppets on the Periphery: Women and Social Reform in the 19th Century Gujarati,” Economic and Political Weekly 32, no. ½ (1997): 46. 42 The biographer of Karsondas mentions the fact but does not give any direct evidence (Motivala, Karsondas Mulji, 43). 43 Quoted by Conlon, A Caste in a Changing World, 156. See also Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 88.



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And when it was pointed to him that, unlike him, Telang and Ranade, two of the men he admired most, had yielded to their family’s demand that they comply with their caste customs, he retorted: You cite the example of Justice Ranade and Justice Telang. Well, if your argument is sound, it follows we are to imitate even the weaknesses and lapses of great men! [. . .] it is wrong doing to his [Telang’s] memory to say that his example in the matter of his want of moral courage should be imitated, for he himself had to confess his weakness and praise those who showed moral courage. He even wept for his weakness.44

And about Ranade, Chandavarkar commented that “the idea of displeasing anybody was too much for him, and he wanted to unite and work together”.45 It is an inescapable conclusion that compared to Ranade’s, Chandavarkar’s stand on moral principle was not only theoretical. Like most reformers of his day, he held that old institutions and practices of society needed to be changed if India was to cope with the modern world, and lifting the ban on foreign journeys was one of the reforms most urgently needed. But unlike many others, Chandavarkar lived up his reformist commitments. Obedience to conscience was paramount 44 Quoted by Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 89. Telang, though reluctantly, had given his consent to his infant daughter’s marriage. He seems to have shown a great sensitivity to the tension that his public activities generated in his domestic sphere if one is to judge by a speech he gave in 1886. Telang was then answering to the British objection that “slavery at home is incompatible with political liberty”. He said: “It is not, as if often represented, a case of male tyrants and female slaves to any notable extent . . . As regards all these burning questions which just now trouble us in connection with social reform—as regards enforced widowhood, infant marriage, voyages to England, and so forth—the persons who are supposed to be our slaves are really in many respects our masters. [. . .] They protest against an interference with and desecration of their ancient and venerable tradition, which from their point of view is involved in the course of enfranchisement. [. . .] It is these so-called slaves within our households who form our great difficulty. And in these circumstances, I venture to say that the sort of ‘household slavery’ that in truth prevails among us is by no means incompatible with political liberty. The position is fact is this. Here we have what may, for convenience, be treated as two spheres for our reformist activities. There is slavery on one side and there is slavery on the other, and we are endeavouring to shake off that slavery in the one sphere as well as in the other.”(K.T. Telang, “Must Social Reform Precede Political Reform in India?” Speech delivered before the student’s Literary and Scientific Society, 22 February 1886, quoted by Amiya P. Sen, Social and Religious Reform. The Hindus in British India [New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002], 94.) 45 Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 89. Ranade, though an active member of the Widow Remarriage Association, celebrated his second marriage in 1873 with an eleven year old illiterate girl; later, in 1890, he took prāyaścitta for having drunk tea served by European missionaries at the Panch Haud Mission School in Poona (on this famous scandal that led to the excommunication of several public figures of Maharashtra, see Aravind Ganagachari, “The Panch Haud Mission Episode (1892–3): An Index of Social Tension in Maharashtra,” Nationalism and Social Reform in Colonial Situation, ed. Aravind Ganagachari (Delhi: Kalpaz Publications, 2005), 225–232.

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over all other considerations. For him the responsibility to effect social changes lay with the individual, cost what may. This he called “reform from within”: ‘Private repentance’, individual moral energy, deep personal faith in some great conception of duty or religion are the prerequisites and causes of all social amelioration. Swamis and shastris are wedded to old and worn out ideals, and it is expecting too much of them to give up beliefs in which centuries of customs and tradition have nurtured them. [. . .] The past is too strong in the present, and it has tremendous energy to take care of itself; what is needed is force to mould it and that can come from ‘reform from within’. And ‘reform from within’ is impossible as long as the enlightened and educated individuals will sit still and in the hope that something may turn up and that they will then help in the regeneration of their kind. Persecution there will be, and they must be prepared for it.46

In 1904, at the annual session of the Indian National Social Conference (Madras), he declared that what was needed was: the reform of the heart and the mind which can only come from the intelligent consciousness that a healthy society is that the units of which are taught that everyone of them is a responsible being, that everyone of them is and ought to be a hopeful being, that everyone of them has rights with its attendants responsibilities, and that the neglect or suffering of any unit must tell on the whole.47

On sin and repentance, Chandavarkar shared the point of view of the abbot of Chitrapur, his caste-guru, in all matters but one: he refused to qualify sea-voyage as a sin. But the implication of this single difference was enormous. It meant the guru’s injunctions were not binding on him. What the abbot of Chitrapur thought of his attitude is not known. But there is an indication that within the orthodox milieu not everyone was

46 “The Mandlik School and the ‘reform within’ ”, quoted by Amiya P. Sen, Social and Religious Reform, 93. The speech is not dated and was delivered after Mandlik’s death. V.N. Mandlik (1833–1889) advocated reform on the basis of the scriptures and with the help of the religious authorities, such as svāmīs (monastic heads) and śāstris (interpreters of Hindu codes); this he called “reform from within”. Chandavarkar kept the expression but transformed its meaning. 47 Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 81. To those who advised him to be cautious and “move with the times”, he replied: “Time is no agent! It is men and not time that are the moving springs of society. Society has naturally a tendency to cast its members in the iron mould of custom and superstition, and it is only those who are educated who can give the propelling force. To move with it is to move in the old ways; it is only by moving ahead of it and showing it the way onwards that you can get it to move on.” (Chandavarkar, A Wrestling Soul, 78).



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insensible to his position. A renowned pandit like Mahamahopadhyaya Bhimacharya Zalkikar (also Jhalakikar), an authority on the dharmaśāstra,48 was obviously aware that his class could do little to resist the ongoing sweeping social and psychological changes. As yet another debate was going on over whether or not to rehabilitate a young educated man who had been excommunicated after a sojourn in England, the pandit told Chandavarkar: We shastris know the tide is against us and it is no use opposing. You people should not consult us, but go your own way, and do the thing you think right and we shall not come in your way. But if you ask us and want us to twist the shastras to your purpose and go with you, we must speak plainly and we will oppose.49

Chandavarkar, despite what his caste-guru or caste-fellows thought of the matter, steadfastly maintained he had committed no sin by going to England. Not because he did not believe in sin. Not because he did not believe in expiation rites. He took them seriously. He held that sin had to be expiated through relevant rites. He also held that expiation was not valid without repentance, a position conforming to the dharmaśāstra that could be expected from an expert in Hindu law like himself.50 If expiation was to be of any “use”, it had to lead to “sincere penitence”; it was meant to prevent “the commission of sin”. What Chandavarkar denounced was the hypocritical attitude of those Saraswat Brahmans who resorted to expiation simply to be readmitted into the caste. Whereas they chose expediency, he advised obeying one’s own conscience. Having a well-informed knowledge of what a dharmic breach was, he disputed the right of his caste-guru to sit in a judgment over his action; he knew in conscience that he had not sinned.