A few Evidences on the Age of the Kathavatthu

Barua, Dwijendra Lal
The Indian Historical Quarterly

p.367 A few Evidences on the Age of the Kathavatthu (i) Tradition We have to depend mainly on the Ceylonese tradition for ascertaining the time of composition of the Kathavatthu, one of the seven treatises of the Abhidhamma Pitaka. The tradition(1) tells us that the controversies embodied in the K. V. took place at the Third Buddhist Council, convened in the 17th regnal year of king Asoka. The compilation of the book too, was, it is said, made at the same time by the Thera Moggaliputta Tissa, and was included in the Canon among the seven Abhidhamma treatises. Buddhaghosa in discussing the authority of the K. V. makes a statement in his Atthasalin(2) to the effect that Buddha himself laid down the table of contents (matika) of the K.V., and while doing it he foresaw that more than 218 years after his demise (mama parinibba- nato atthaasavassadhikanam dvinnam vassasatanam mattkake) Tissa, son of Moggali, being seated in the midst of one thousand bhiksus, would elaborate the K. V. to the extent of the Digha Nikaya, bringing together 500 orthodox and 500 heterodox suttas. The tradition further informs us that Moggaliputta Tissa persuaded king Asoka to despatch Buddhist Missions after the conclusion of the Council.(3) This statement refers, therefore, to a time when the ------------------------- 1 Mnhavamsa, (P.T.S. edition), ch, V, p, 55; also Mahabodhi- vamsa, P. 110. 2 Atthasalini (P.T.S. edition) , p. 8. 3 The Mahabodhivamasa (p. 113) corroborates this tradition and further tells us that soon after the close of the Third Buddhist Council under the presidentship of Moggaliputta Tissa it was found necessary to select those places in the border countries (paccantimesu janapadesu) where the teachings of the Master, if promulgated, were expected to endure long. Tissa, accordingly, selected nine centres to each of which he despatched a leading member of the order to establish the doctrine. The monks who were entrusted with the task were:-- Majjhantika for Kasmira and Gandhara; Mahadeva for Mahimsakamandala; Rakkhita for Vanavasi; Yonakadhammarakkhita for the Aparantaka; Mahadhammarakkhita for the Maharattha; Maharakkhita for the country of the Yonakas; the thera Majjhima p.368 Buddhist Missions were not yet organised under any royal patronage for the dissemination of the truths of Buddbism in regions outside the Middle Country. (ii) Geographical extent of Buddhism Here we shall try to examine whether the above traditional account can be corroborated by any internal evidence. In Book I, the 3rd point of controversy is that there was no holy life among the gods (N'atthi devesu brahmacariyavaso'ti). In course of the controversy the opponent of the orthodox school maintains that among the gods there is no Buddhist mode of holy life, the form of life which is regarded holy by the Buddhist recluses, because it is not till then introduced among the inhabitants, godly or otherwise, in the regions outside the limit of the Middle Country, i.e., in the 'Paccantima-janapadas. He contends that as yet there can be no initiation or Pabbajja in places lying beyond the geographical limits of the Middle-Country (Majjhima-janapada), referring there by to the godly inhabitants of Uttarakuru and the Mlecchas of other places. From this it is evident that Buddhist missionary work was restricted up till the time of the K.V. within the territorial limits of the Middle Country, i.e. to say Buddhism was not yet propagated in India outside the Middle Country as defined in Buddhist literature. (iii) Attempts to check Schism The fact of the disruption of the Buddhist Church into various schools also affords some evidence for ascertaining the time of composition of the K. V. According to the commentator of the K. V. the Buddhist Order in India had been, in course of the 2nd century after Buddha's demise, divided into 18 schools. This is confirmed by both the Ceylonese chronicles, the Dipavamsa(1) and ------------------------ for the regions lying near the Himalayas; and Sona and Uttara for the Suvannabhumi. Not long after Tissa found in Mahinda, the son of Asoka, a young and worthy disciple capable of carrying the doctrine to Lanka. It is interesting to note how each of these succeeded to turn the minds of the people in their respective localities and convert them into Buddhism. 1 Dipavamsa, ch. V, p.369 the Mahavamsa.(1) Prof. Rhys Davids(2) has discussed this matter at some length and is inclined to believe that the number of schools was not eighteen but six or seven on the ground that the Kathavattu Cy. and the inscriptions on Buddhist topes as well as the records of Yuan Chwang furnish us with six or seven names, We cannot dismiss the traditional account as to the number of Buddhist schools prevalent in the 2nd century after Buddha's demise as unreliable on the ground that the K. V. and the Buddhist topes noted above are lacking in mentioning the names of the 18 schools, as it is not a sufficient proof of the non-existence of those schools, It is not strange that Yuan Chwang while giving an account of the 7th century A.C. should state the names of a few Buddhist schools, because the different schools which arose in the course of the 2nd century after Buddha's demise might afterwards have been either swallowed up, one by the other, or some of them disappeared being unable to withstand the opposition from rival schools. So in the absence of any better evidence to prove the contrary, we cannot disbelieve the traditional account of the Ceylonese chronicles. Here our point, however, is to show that though scholars may not agree as to the number of schools, there is no doubt that the Buddhist Church was divided into a few schools during the period under consideration. This fact is corroborated by Asoka's Schism Pillar Edict engraved in his 21st regnal year. The task of the K. V. being mainly to state the various theses put forward by the leading opponents of the Theravada School, and to refute each of them from the view-point of the latter, it is evident that its purpose in view was indirectly the same as that of the Schism Pillar Edict of king Asoka, viz., to put an end to the disruptive elements which threatened the orthodox school at that time. In view of the common object of the two writings, the P. E. and the K.V., it may he said that they were productions of about the same period. (iv) Traces of Mahayanic Influence There are, no doubt, in the K. V. a few topics(e.g., iv,1,7;, xviii, 1-4; xx, 2; xxi, 4-6; xxii, 1-3, etc.), which prove that ---------------------- 1 Mahavamsa (P.T.S, edition), ch. V, p. 29. 2 Buddhism, pp. 195ff. p.370 some of the early Mahayainic doctrines were known to the compiler, This, however, should not lead us to put the date back, because long before the growth of Mahayana, the Mahayanic ideas and doctrines were already current among some of the early Buddhists, especially, the Mahasanghikas and their offshoots. Thus an examination of some of the materials of the K. V. and the Asokan edicts shows that the compilation of the K. V. was made, at least in part, somewhere in the reign of king Asoka.