Doctrines of the Buddha’s six contemporaries
There are references in Buddhist literature to some six senior
contemporaries of the Buddha, for instance, samannaphala-sutta (the
second sutra in the Digha Nikaya). It appears from the context of these
references that Ajatshatru, the king of Magadha, had met a number of
these teachers and asked them each separately to state in clear and
unambiguous terms the result of their ascetic practices.
Buddha’s first followers
At that time, all of them were well known in the country as founders
of religious schools, each having a large following. Their names and the
doctrines they upheld are briefly stated in the samannaphala sutta. It
is interesting to study their views in order to understand correctly as
well to appreciate the views of the Buddha.
Of these six thinkers, Mahavira (also known as Nigantha Nathaputta)
was the founder of Jaina tradition. He was slightly older than Buddha.
His ethical code consisted of five rules: not to kill living things, not
to take articles of use unless they are given, and not to tell a lie,
not to take a wife or to lead a celebrate life and not to have worldly
possessions except basic clothes.
According to Jaina sources, however, Jainism is not a purely ethical
system, but also a philosophy based on the doctrine of many
possibilities, known as Anekanta or Syadvada. The doctrine looks at two
aspects of everything, the eternal and the non-eternal. The soul
undergoes migration according to good or bad deeds. As Jainism regards
the existence of jiva in everything, it enjoys such behaviour as does
not cause injury to any jiva.
The soul becomes impure and is engulfed by samsara if it is subjected
to the influence of sense objects. In order to keep the soul pure from
their contamination, and to secure its release, it is necessary to
practice restraint. To achieve this stage, one must resort to or acquire
right knowledge, faith and conduct.
Buddhist sources do not agree with the Jaina doctrine, particularly
its idea of overcoming sin and its restraint on movements.
The second contemporary of the Buddha was Makkhali Gosala. He
belonged to the select of the Acelakas or naked ones, and, as the as the
first part of his name indicates, carried a stuff of bamboo. It is said
that he was for some time a disciple of Mahavira, but later broke away
from him. Afterwards he probably founded an independent school known as
The doctrine advocated by Gosala is styled samsara visuddhi or the
doctrine of attaining purity only by passing through all kinds of
existence. Gosala did not believe that there was any special cause for
either the misery of human beings or for their deliverance. He did not
believe in human effort, and held that all creatures were helpless
He maintained that all creatures, whether wise or foolish, were
destined to pass through samara, and that their misery would come to an
end at the completion of the cycle. No human efforts would reduce or
lengthen this period. Like a ball of thread, samsara had affixed term,
through which every being must pass.
The other four teachers, who are mentioned as contemporaries of the
Buddha, did not leave their mark on posterity as did Mahavira and to a
lesser degree, Gosala. Of these four, Purana Kassapa held the doctrine
of Akriya or non-action. He maintained that a man did not incur sin
through actions, which were popularly known as bad, e.g., killing,
committing theft, talking another man’s wife, or telling a lie. Even if
a man killed all the creatures on earth and raised a heap of skulls, he
incurred no sin. .
Ajita keshakambalin, the fourth contemporary of the Buddha, did not
believe the utility of gifts, in sacrifice, the fruits of good and bad
acts, the existence of heavenly worlds or persons possessing higher or
supernatural powers. He held that the body consisted of four elements,
into which it dissolved after death. He also held that it was useless to
talk of the next world; that both the wise and ignorant die and have no
further life after death. His doctrine may be styled Ucchedavada.
The doctrine of Pakudha Kaccayana, fifth contempory, may be called
Asasvatavada. According to him, there are seven elements which are
immutable, and do not in any way contribute to pleasure or pain. The
body is ultimately dissolved into these seven eternal elements.
The last among these teachers is Sanjaya Belatthiputta. His doctrine
is known as Viksepavada, or a doctrine, which diverts the mind from the
right track. According to the Samannaphala sutta, he always declined to
give categorical answers to problems facing the human mind. There are a
number of unexplained and unanswered questions that have always
exercised the mind of man and have frequently been mentioned in Buddhist
literature, which Sanjaya never even attempted to answer. According to
the Buddha, his skepticism is derived from both the fear of falling into
error and the ignorance of giving answer to any question put to him for
This extreme skepticism (vicikicchaa), according to the Buddha, is a
mental hindrance, fetter or defilement, which will lead to
non-development towards achievement of its intellectual and spiritual
goal or to non-productivity of mind (cetokhila).
Aajiivikism, like Materialism, is a school of Naturalists. The
well-known founder of this school is Makkhali Gosaala. He believed in
the ultimate reality of matter, on one hand, and admitted the continuity
of human existence after death, on the other. Thus, they differ from
Materialists from the charge of nihilism. The naturalist philosophy of
Aajiivikism is covered in three important concepts, viz., fate (niyati)
species (sangati) and inherent nature (bhaavasvabhaava).
Fate (niyati) is the principle of coming into existence. Species
(sangati) determines species of a being as a human or an animal. And
inherent nature (bhaavasvabhaava) determines characteristics and nature
of that being. The major Buddhist rejection of Aajiivikism is on the
ground that the latter does not believe in human effort on the part of
The Aajiivikism’s rejection of human effort, thus, entails the denial
of the freedom of will. Following this, purification is impossible by
one’s own transformation but through the fixed cycles of existence
(saasaara-suddhi). Thus it falls into the form of past-determination
(pubbekatahetuvaada), a determined theory against moralism through human
effort in the present, and of the theory of external causation
(parakatam). Jainism as systematized by Nigantha Nataputta, is different
from Buddhism in terms of philosophy and ethics.
So far as ethics is concerned, Mahaaviira seems to ignore the
emphasis on the importance of psychological motive (chetana) of the
moral action (karmakiriya), as uniquely does the Buddha. For Mahaviira,
bodily action performed with or without one’s intention will produce
equal consequence. Mahaaviira appears to believe in partially biological
determination and partial human action, when he says “things are
partially determined and partially undetermined”. His ethical theory can
be, thus, grouped under past-determination (pubbekatahetuvaada), a
deterministic theory explaining every human experience is due to past
action, which is condemned by the Buddha as against human cultivation of
ethics. Another ground on which the Buddha rejects Mahavira’s theory of
moral action (kiriyavada) is the latter’s advocating non-doing and
expiating one’s past actions by extreme austerities or
self-mortification (attakilamathaanuyoga) as a means to attain
liberation, which is painful, ignoble and unbeneficial.
If the history of the philosophical thought currents at the time were
surveyed, it would be clear that the Buddha had to face thinkers who
held extreme views of the different types mentioned above and each of
them had their own answer to them. Mahavira answered the problems in
terms of his Anekantavada or Syadvada, while the Buddha’s answer was
based on his paticca-samuppada. While Mahavira clung to the doctrine of
Attakilamatha or self mortification, as against Kassapa, Ajita, Gosala
and Sanjaya, the Buddha preached the Majjhimapatipada or the middle
Life and times of Ashoka
Title: Ashoka the Great
Author: Wytze Kuening
Translated from Dutch:
J Elisabeth Steur
Published: Rup publications
India Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi
Page count: 1060 pages
The publication of Ashoka the Great has a dual historical
significance. First, it resuscitates a Dutch Trilogy written in
Netherlands from 1937 to 1947 during the tumultuous years of the Second
World War by Wytze Keuning, whose voluminous work was not known even to
his family while his other novels were apparently known.
It needed persevering research in her home-town by the translator
until all three volumes could be found. Second, the laborious task of
elaborating the life and times of Ashoka in three volumes reveals the
degree of approbation which the third Mauryan Emperor had received from
Western scholars. As far as Netherlands was concerned, a popular play on
Ashoka and the Kalinga War called Asoca, a Buddhist Play in Four Acts
was published by G. Gonggrip in 1921.
In 1879, Edwin Arnold wrote in his Light of Asia
And where he [the Buddha] passed and what proud emperors
Carved his words up on the rocks and caves.
In 1890, Romesh Dutt of India stated, “No greater prince had ever
reigned in India since the Aryans first colonized and no succeeding
monarch equaled his glory, if we only except Vikramaditya of the 6th
century and Akbar the Great in the 16th century.” Bishop Copleston in
1892 said, “He was not merely Constantine of Buddhism, he was Alexander
with Buddhism for the Hellas, an unselfish Napoleon with ‘mettam’ in
place of ‘gloire.’” Vincent Smith writing a monograph on Asoka
concluded, “He was strong enough to sheath his sword in the ninth year
of his reign, to treat the unruly border tribes with forbearance, to
cover his dominions with splendid buildings and devote his energy to the
diffusion of morality and piety.”
The most eloquent of all was H. G. Wells who in his ‘Outline of
History’ wrote, “Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that
crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousness and
serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Asoka shines,
and shines almost alone, a star.”
Did WytnzeKeuning, a headmaster of a school in Groningen
(incidentally the home-town of the translator), have access to all this
to be inspired and motivated to spend ten years of his life to write
three novels on this Indian emperor of the third century before Christ?
From where did he get the information? Whom could he have consulted at a
time when a deadly war cut communications not only with India but also
the neighbouring countries? Intense work
There is no doubt that he had access to the most reliable data on
Ashoka. As Elisabeth Steur says with reference to my own intense work on
Ashoka, “It was, though, not until I found the last comprehensive study
of Ashoka by Ananda W. P. Guruge (Asoka the Righteous: A Definitive
Biography, 1993) that I discovered that whatever was known about Ashoka
for certain was woven into the stories of the books. Then the last
doubts I may have had were erased. The books had to be translated.”
The trilogy of Keuning dealt with the life of Ashoka in three phases:
1. Ashoka, the Wild Prince
2. Ashoka, the Wise Ruler
3. Ashoka, the World’s Great Teacher
All three now appear in English as “Ashoka the Great.” It is indeed
very thoughtful that they are published together in a single volume.
What baffled me as I read several versions of ElisabethSteur’s
translation of the three novels over a decade or so of our close
association was that Kuening knew not only the literature on Ashoka but
also the voluminous research in Europe, which by the beginning of the
twentieth century, had shed much light on the social conditions of
ancient India. His family found as one of his sources the excellent work
of Radha Kumud Mookerji, published in 1928.
There is no doubt that he had made an in depth study of the
background. He had access to much of the Sanskrit and Pali works on
Ashoka in addition to his inscriptions which Mookerji had included in
his work. For example, he shows great familiarity with the Divyavadana
account that Ashoka was not good-looking (p. 5) as well as his
assignment to quell a rebellion in Taxila to which only the Sanskrit
sources refer. Similarly, Sumana as Ashoka’s elder brother is known from
only Pali sources. Keuning has also portrayed accurately the political,
military and diplomatic relations between the Mauryan Empire and the
Greek Kingdoms to its west as reflected in the Ashokan inscriptions.
There is no doubt about the authenticity of the narrative and the
research leading to his novels had been perfect. The appendices reveal
the depth of his scholarship which covered practically all fields of
Indology known at the time. For example he defines Ataman on 328 pp as
follows: “principle of explanation of the world; World-soul, All-one
(Atman), that unfolds itself in all living beings and so is only to be
known by the human being in his inner-being (atman). Upon this the sutra
of soul being one is founded. ‘Tat tvamasi’, i.e. That Thou Art, express
(sic!) the identity of the world-soul and the human-soul unity of life
and spirit.” Equally fascinating are his notes on Gods (p.329),
Sacrifice (p. 330), Stages of Life (p. 330), the intricacies of the
Indian drama (pp. 880 ff.) and how he weaves the story of the Buddha’s
instructions to Kisagotami on the inevitability of death by sending her
to get a mustard seed from a home that had not experienced death (804
Though he had never set foot in India, he had obtained, through
systematic study of a large volume of scholarly treatises in English,
German, French and Dutch, a fairly comprehensive understanding of the
social and religious environment in which Ashoka operated in India of
the third century before Christ.
Keuning has crafted his novels well as a tool for sharing his
understanding of the emperor as well as the history and culture of
India. He had purposely highlighted the prevailing religious dissensions
of the time which required Ashoka to issue an edict on interfaith
harmony and understanding in Rock Edict XII and another prohibiting
animal sacrifice (RE I).
How he handled Ashoka’s contribution to Buddhism clearly shows his
familiarity with the remarks made by early Indian Ashokan scholars, who
for an unknown reason found it necessary to ignore and even spitefully
denigrate the Sri Lankan Pali sources without which they would have not
even identified who Asoka was. While giving Ashoka credit for the purge
of the Sangha which is mentioned in three of his Minor Pillar Edicts,
Keuning leaves the thousand-member Third Buddhist Council and the
Buddhist missions – which are not referred to in any inscription found
so far – as activities of the Buddhist Sangha (p. 794).
Interestingly, Keuning narrated the account of the mission of
Mahindra to Lankan very much in the way it was dealt within the Sri
Lankan chronicles – the Dipavamsa and the Mahavamsa. (p. 759 ff. and 823
ff). Of course, he did add his own explanation on why Mahindra as the
first-born did not become the heir to the throne and how the mission to
Lanka was negotiated between Ashoka and Devanamapiya Tissa of Sri Lanka.
The reader will be pleasantly surprised by Keuning’s skill in
generating suspense through which his interest is sustained in the
account of the tragedy of blinding Kunala and the execution of its
perpetrator, Queen Tissarakshita, by fire that brings the story to a
close. The reader, who is not fully conversant with the life and career
of Ashoka as a truly exceptional monarch, would find Keuning’s novels
very instructive. They are both educational and entertaining. The
trilogy as a whole is a masterpiece.
A review of this magnificent trilogy cannot end without noting the
tenacity of its translator, Elisabeth Steur, who toiled under most
trying circumstances to have it translated into English and published.
That she tried to do it in India and succeeded is to her credit. Few
people would have had the patience, perseverance and firmness of
determination to overcome the many obstacles.
As a dedicated student of the manifold contributions of Ashoka to
humanity, I salute Wytze Keuning for giving us his own view of this
eminent monarch in his original Trilogy and Elisabeth Steur for bringing
it to our attention after nearly seven decades. Their joint effort must
be gratefully appreciated.
Dr Ananda W P Guruge
Meditation for daily life:
Strengthening concentration power
That is why we must do it throughout the day in a balanced manner.
Otherwise we will be spending the major portion of the day in a manner
in which the sins do not get worn off.
If we practise a meditation throughout the day we do so in a manner
in which sins get worn off. Therefore do not waste time. Even an
individual practicing Samadhi should do the same. If he thinks “I now
have the Samadhi” and neglects to meditate the pleasure he gets from the
Samadhi may get weakened. After sometime even the Samadhi might leave
him and he will lose the comfort he was receiving.
leads to a peaceful mind
Therefore what the person with the Samadhi should do is thinking of
practicing the Samadhi in the morning, daytime and night in a balanced
manner in order to maintain the Samadhi well and to generate other
merits which can be attained from Samadhi. The more one practises
Samadhi, the more he develops Samadhi, the more will be the comfort that
Now let us think of an Arahant. He has annihilated all Raga, Dosa and
Moha. He can achieve a lot of happiness from Samadhi. When one remains
in Samadhi he is in immense comfort. When the Arahant gets back from the
Samadi his face is said to be very pleasant. If it is so with regard to
Arahants there is nothing to talk about ordinary people. If the person
who has annihilated Raga, Dosa, Moha enjoys immense joy when in Samadhi,
how much happiness will an individual with Raga, Dosa and Moha enjoy
when in a Samadhi?
Therefore do not develop laziness. Do not neglect to do it saying
that it is difficult. After a time one gets used. It is true that it is
difficult at the beginning. It is something like this. Many people find
it uncomfortable when wearing a new pair of shoes. Some people develop
shoe cuts. After some time there are no signs of that discomfort. It
becomes very comfortable.
Similarly when starting to practise meditation it is difficult at the
beginning. But after a time one gets used to it and it becomes
comfortable. We practise one meditation and start a new one.
It becomes difficult. It is difficult when starting something new. An
individual used to wearing shoes buys another pair. Then the discomfort
will come again.
Similarly when an individual used to one meditation starts a new one
discomfort arises. Why? Because there is no practice. Along with
practice the discomfort goes off. Sometimes laziness may exist in the
morning. The meditation may not develop. But do not think of it as not
developing. Sleepiness may come. Don’t get overcome by it. Practise with
the feeling “I must get used to this”. As time goes on things become all
right gradually. One gets used.
‘Doing it later’
It is the same in the daytime too. There may be sleepiness. Do not
yield to it. Don’t think. “It is difficult now. I am feeling sleepy”.
You may feel like doing it later. Do not take it that way. Think “I must
practise now” and practise. Later discomforts will go off and comfort
In the night one may feel “Now I am tired. I am feeling sleepy”. Do
not yield to it. Leave it out and practise. In that manner if we
practise systematically during morning, day and night it will be
possible for us to meditate, to attain a Samadhi at any time. Then we
can spend the entire day with a delightful mind. That comes along with
the practicing of Samadhi.
Samadhi is the path to Nibbana. Path to Nibbana is what helps us to
annihilate sins. Do all our sins get annihilated at the time we start
practicing the Dhamma? What have we got to do to annihilate sins? We
should develop the path to Nibbana. Path to Nibbana is Samadhi. Sins get
annihilated by developing Samadhi. Therefore we must develop the ability
to practise the Samadhi, to remain for a long time in the Samadhi. But
it has to be done systematically.
Why? It is the place where sins get worn out. Don’t we feel
comfortable when we wet our body with a little water during the hot
noon? After sometime we feel uncomfortable again. If one stays at a
place where there is water always will the heat be a problem for him?
No. In the same manner if we are always engaged in Dhamma and
meditation, if we practise Samadhi extensively, will the torments
arising from sin come? No. Such torments start getting annihilated.
Worn off sin
Then the sin gradually gets worn off. Why? Because we do not maintain
the sin. What we maintain is the merit. More and more we maintain merit
more and more sin gets worn out. That is why we should practise Samadhi
in the morning, daytime and night systematically. That has to be
remembered and practised. At the start it is difficult to do it for
hours. Don’t even think of doing so.
Don’t even do. Then we will be unsuccessful. Practise little by
little at the beginning. After sometime we will realize that it is
successful. If not we will not be able to reap the immense benefits of
Samadhi. We fail to acquire the merits not achieved so far. Therefore we
hope you will understand the facts indicated in this sermon. We hope you
will make use of them. If we get these facts clarified and adapt to our
lives we will be able to get some solace to our lives. In such a case we
get the opportunity to get that solace at the maximum level.
Think of even getting a maximum solace. We hope that opportunity will
dawn on you. We have the strong wish that you will practise the Dhamma
and mediate and thereby at least suppress the torments experienced due
to the defilements and remain in comfort. We wish that you will get rid
of the discomfort experienced due to Raga, Dosa and Moha. I wish
earnestly that you will get the ability someday to completely annihilate
Raga, Dosa and Moha. Leave aside completely annihilating. We wish that
you will realize the state of remaining with thinned down Raga, Dosa and
(Compiled with instructions given by Ven Nawalapitiye Ariyawansa