THE SO-CALLED "MAHAPADANA" SUTTANTA AND
THE DATE OF THE PALI CANON
BY L. A. WADDELL
The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of
Great Britain and Ireland
To students of Buddhism and Comparative Religion
desirous of knowing Buddha's own views and teaching
from his own words, it is extremely disconcerting to
find that the Pali Canon can no longer be regarded as
the actual "Word" and Doctrine of Buddha himself. It
has been conclusively established by the researches
of Kern, Minayef, Senart, Feer, Poussin, Lefmann,
Winternitz, R. O. Franke, and others (including the
writer(1) ) that the Pali Canon is a mosaic of
material belonging to different ages and stages in
the development of Buddhism; and that the words and
theories put into the mouth of Buddha therein are
largely the composition of monks who lived several
centuries after Buddha's death, and considerably
later than was estimated by Professor H. Oldenberg.(2)
Embedded thus in this mass of heterogeneous material,
with no outstanding distinctive marks, it seems
almost hopeless to confidently detect and dig out
therefrom the pieces containing unequivocally the
Hitherto no very systematic attempts at
recovering these relics of Buddha's own teaching have
been made, or on a sufficient scale. Yet such a
searching exploration and sifting cannot be delayed
if we would know Buddha's own Buddhism, or try to
trace the origin of that faith bearing his name, and
the factors in its early developments.
Brahmanical Sanskrit literature also depends upon
this question to some extent in respect to its early
1. My "Evolution of the Buddhist Cult": Asiat. Quart.
Rev., 1912, 140, 158 f. " Buddha's Diadem ":
Ostasiatischen Zeitschrift, ii, 1914.
2. Mahavagga, Introd., xv ff.
chronology. The dates of "c. 600 B.C." and "before
500 B.C.", provisionally assigned respectively to the
Atharva Veda(1) and the Ramayana and Mahabharata
epics, depend upon the assumption that these works
are presupposed by certain references in the Pali
Canon,(2) which is also assumed, with the Jatakas as
well,(3) to date bodily back to practically Buddha's
own day (i.e. died +/- 482 B.C.). As this conjecture
for the date of that Canon is no longer justified,
the provisional dates for these Brahmanical works
will now demand reduction by several centuries, with
an equivalent lowering of the "Vedic Period".
For this analytical research, as Professor
Winternitz lately wrote in this Journal,(4) " in the
whole collection [of the Tripitaka] and in every one
collection (for all books of the canon are
collections) we shall have to distinguish several
strata of Buddhist thought and literary activity,
separated from each other probably by several
centuries." By subjecting the well-known Maha
Parinibbana account of the death of Buddha to certain
arbitrary tests, Dr. Winternitz distinguishes in a
rough way at least five strata of literary
development, the lowest of which presumably contains
Buddha's own contributions.
But the great difficulty in separating out with
confidence the elements on this chronological basis
is the want usually of distinctly evident lines of
cleavage or separation in matter, when it is wholly
or in the main purely metaphysical. More promising of
trustworthy results is material of a quasi-historical
character. I venture, therefore, to offer here, as a
contribution to this subject, some results of my
examination of, what is for this critical purpose,
the most important of all the Pall canonical texts.
1. Macdonell, Hist. Sanskrit Lit.,1905, 306-7; Imp.
Gaz. India, 1908, ii, 292.
2. Cf. also Bloomfield, Atharva Veda, Strassburg,
3. Macdonell, op. cit., 306.
4. 1911, 1151.
I. HISTORICAL IMPORTANCE OF THE " MAHAPADANA"
The only books in the Pali Canon which profess to
be historical in character, and thus present some
tangible basis for testing the authenticity of their
contents, appear to be the two contained in the first
division of Buddha's "Discourses" (Suttanta), namely,
those entitled "Mahapadana" and Maha-Parinibbana.
These form books Nos. 14 and 16 of the " Long
Collection" (Digha-Nikaya) . The former discourse
purports to be a systematic account of the life of
Buddha by himself, and it is believed with apparent
reason to be the earliest biography of Buddha extant.
The prime importance which was attached to this
text by the primitive Buddhists is seen by the place
which they accorded it in the Pali Canon. It forms
the first book in "The Great Class" (Maha-vaggo) of
the first "Collection" (Nikaya) Of Buddha's Doctrinal
Discourses, or "Word " (Sutta Pitaka). This highest
position for it, in the primitive system, is
confirmed also by its similar location in the
Sanskrit Canon--a body of the Buddhist scriptures now
admitted by the best authorities to be independent of
the version in Pali (itself a dialect of Southern
India, remote from the scene of Buddha's life),
though derived from a common traditional source, in
the dialect in which Buddha spoke, presumably the
ancient dialect of Mid-Gangetic India, which was the
home of Sanskrit. In the Sanskrit Canon, as preserved
in its Tibetan translation, the text corresponding to
the discourse in question forms the first volume of
Buddha's "Discourses" (Sutranta, in Tibetan
mDo-sde),(1) and it is continued into the second
volume,(2) thus preceding all the other doctrinal
"Discourses " (Sutras), as in the Pali version.
1. Cf. Csoma, "Analysis," Asiatic Researches, xx, 413
f.; also Feer's translation, 250 f.
2. For details see after.
This foremost position for it, suggests to me
that it was probably (in its original form) the first
book of Buddha's discourses compiled by the primitive
Buddhist monks during the lifetime of Buddha or soon
after his death. In favour of this view, is its
compact form and the fact that its contents comprise
an epitome of the central features of Buddha's
doctrine, including a detailed account of the Causal
Nexus (the "Wheel of Life or Becoming") upon which
Buddha specifically based all his teaching.
Yet, notwithstanding its great intrinsic,
historical, and doctrinal importance, this book does
not appear to have attracted any detailed critical
study, although translated into more than one
European language. In venturing to contribute towards
its analysis I have dealt with the topics mainly from
the standpoint gained by long study of the associated
Sanskritic texts and of the Indian mythology with
which the Pali Canon is deeply saturated.
II. ITS PROPER TITLE
The name adopted for this canonical book by the
Pali Text Society's editors,(l) and generally accepted
by leading Pali scholars in Europe, (2) namely
Mahapadana (i.e. Maha-apadana) Suttanta, is, I find,
not really justified. It is not even positively
warranted by the evidence of the MSS. upon which it
is based. Nor is expert Pali knowledge (which I
disclaim) necessary to perceive the obvious fact that
it is neither justified by the sense (which would
merely mean in effect "Tale of the Great Tale ", but
see after) nor by the form of any other known title
of a Suttanta or Apadana.
The proper title I shall show, I hope
conclusively, is Maha-Padhana Suttanta, corresponding
to the Sanskrit
1. Digha Nikaya, 2nd ed., Rhys Davids & J. E.
Carpenter, London, 1903, 1 f.
2. Fausboll, Jataka Index, 1897, 126; K.E. Neumann,
Reden Gotamo Bulddho Langern Sammlung, 1905;
Encyc. Relig. and Ethics, i, 603, 1908; H. C.
Warren, Buddhism in Transls., 1909, 56;
Winternitz, JRAS. 1911, 1146; R. O. Franke, Digha
Nikaya, Gottingen, 1913, 179.
Maha-Pradhana, or " The Supreme One ", a title of the
supreme Brahmanical god, and actually applied
elsewhere to Buddha, as I shall prove. It, moreover,
aptly denotes the contents of this book, in which
Buddha is invested with the supernatural attributes
of the supreme Brahmanical deity Purusa, who, in the
godless, dualistic Sankhya philosophy in which Buddha
is supposed to have been reared, required as its
complement Pradhana or Material Nature. Both title
and contents, we shall see, throw important light
upon the early theistic developments within primitive
Buddhism before the compilation of the Pali Canon.
"Padhana" v. ''Apadana"
Apadana, the second element in the compound
"Mahapadana", is the Pall dialectical form of the
Sanskrit Avadana, (1) meaning "a legend ", "an
achievement, a great or glorious act, heroic
action"(2);but it is not specially applied to Buddha.
On the other hand, Padhana (Sanskrit Pradhana) or
"the supreme one" is the recognized title of the
Supreme God of Brahmanism, and, as will presently be
seen, it is specially applied to Buddha.
As a title "Apadana" is best known as the
designation of one of the books (No. 13) in the
supplementary and somewhat apocryphal section of the
canonical Nikaya, namely the "Minor Collection"
(Khuddaka Nikaya). It comprises "heroic" tales in the
form of legendary biographies and imaginary " former
incarnations" of the Buddhist saints (Arhats), after
the manner of the Jatakatales of Buddha. It is indeed
the analogue of the latter, applied to saints of
lower rank than Buddha, and is obviously modelled
upon it, and its tales are made up to the same
number, namely 550, with some additional tales
devoted to nuns. Its date cannot be before the middle
of the third century B.C., as it refers to the
1. Childers' pali Diet., 47; Winternitz, Gesch. des
Indischer Lit., ii, 128.
2. Cf. Sanskrit lexicons; also Childers' Dict., 47.
(a work ascribed to Tissa, i.e. Upagupta, Asoka's
highpriest(1)), and it extends the previous mythical
Buddhas to thirty-five in number.(2)
Similarly, under its Sanskrit equivalent of
"Avadana", the chief collections of tales bearing
that title are the Mahavastu-avadana a Hinayana work
of about the second century B.C.,(3) the Divyavadana,
The Hundred Avadanas (A.-Sataka).(4) The Nepalese and
Tibetan translations of the Sanskrit canon also
contain many such tales under this appellation."
Thus, although the name "Apadana" manifestly
belongs to the later Buddhist period, and is not
usually applied to tales of Buddha himself, it is
sometimes so applied, and therefore it might possibly
be employed to designate this Digha-Nikaya book
describing the life of Sakya Muni, leading up to his
most "glorious achievement", the attainment of
Against this view, which is now generally
accepted by Indianists, (6) I venture to adduce,
however, the following evidence:
1. The Apadana, along with the rest of the
Khuddaka-Nikaya, was not included in the Suttanta
division at all, but belonged to the Abhidhamma,
according to the Commentary of Buddhaghosa (Childers'
Dict., 282),(7)and thus such a title as "Mahapadana
Suttanta" is improbable, if not a misnomer.
2. The class of books termed "Avadana" (i.e. the
pali "Apadana") is technically distinct from the
1. Cf. my article, JASB., pt. i, 1897, 76 ff., and
Proceedings, 1899, June.
2. E. Muller, Proc. Or. Congress, 1894, 167 f.
3. Macdonell, Imp. Gaz. Ind., ii, 60, 1908.
4. Many of these tales have been translated or
summarized by Burnouf, Introd. Bud. Ind., 64 f.;
Mitra, Nepalese Buddhist Lit., 318 f.; Schiefner's
Tibet Tales, trs. Ralston, 1893.
5. Mitra,op. cit.,318-98; Feer,Analyse du Kandjour,
Mus. Guimet, 557.
6. See former note, p. 664.
7. In the Nepalese Sanskrit version they are stated
by Burnouf to represent the Vinaya. Introd. B.I.,
2nd ed., 207.
"Suttanta" class, and forms a different category(1);
and, although they are interspersed throughout the
Suttanta section of the Tibetan canon, I am not
aware of any instance of an individual Avadana (i.e.
Apadana) Bearing also the title of Suttanta or
Sutranta. The work is either an Avadana or a Sutra;
it is never both; the two terms being in practice
3. A tautological vague title like Maha-apadana
Suttanta, which is practically "Tale of the Great
Tale", is not in keeping with the usual method of
naming the books in the Digha-Nikaya. This title is
translated in the " Sacred Books of the Buddhists"
as "The Sublime Story", (2) though it would more
precisely read "Discourse on the Great Legend " But
the titles in the D.N. are descriptive, expressly
specifying the subject-contents, as seen in the next
three following books, namely: Maha-Nidana S. =
"Discourse on the great Nidana (Causal Nexus)";
Maha-parinibbana S. ="D. on the great Pari-nirvana
(Passing Away)"; Maha-Sudassana S.= "D. on the great
Sudarsana (Beautiful Vision, a fairy scene) ". Hence
presumably the Maha-padhana S. means "Discourse on
the great Padhana (Supreme One) "--the exact
application of which will be discussed below.
4. The word "Avadana" is invariably the last
element in the title of the tales, e.g. Divyavadana,
Asoka-avadana, etc.(3); but in the one question it is
5. The compound in question, Maha-apadana, does
not appear to be known elsewhere in Buddhist
literature; nor is "apadana" itself specially
associated with Buddha. Whereas both Maha-padhana and
pradhana we shall see are expressly and intimately so.
1. Feer, op. cit., 557-8.
2. Vol. iii, pp. 4 f.
3. See numerous examples in Mitra, op. cit., 318-19;
also Csoma, Asiatic Researches, xx, 481 f.
Burnouf, Introd., 2nd ed., 424f. The "Avadana
Kalpalata" is not really an exception.
Moreover, the texts used for the preparation of
the Pail Text Society's edition of this book do not
warrant the use of "apadana" decidedly, as adopted by
the editors. In the preparation of that edition five
MSS. were used,(1) all of them presumably modern
copies of other more or less modern MSS., and
exhibiting misspellings by the blundering of the
copyists on every page, as indicated in the
footnotes. Of these MSS., one (a Singhalese document,
Sd) is noted to have wrongly given to the book the
title of the next following discourse, and thus is
excluded. Of the remaining four, two (St and K., i.e.
Singhalese and Kambojan) read "Mahapadana", but an
equal number read "Mahapadhana", namely MSS. Sed and
Bm, i.e. Singhalese and Burmese, and the Burmese,
other things being equal, may be accepted as better
authority than Kambojan. For the definite settlement
of this point on a statistical basis the collation of
additional MSS., as ancient documents as possible, is
therefore required. I have been unable to find any
further texts in England.(2) On a critical point of
this kind the printed vernacular editions are of
course of little value,(3) and even a few additional
modern MSS., carelessly copied as they are, cannot
upset the solid argument which I adduce from other
"Maha-padhana" as the proper title of the Suttanta
In favour of the form Maha-padhana as the title
of this Suttanta, in addition to the evidence of the
pali MSS. themselves, and the above presumptions
against apadana, I would point to the use of the
style Maha-padhana by Max Muller and Professor H.
Oldenberg. The former
1. Op. cit., 54.
2. The British Museum unfortunately does not possess
a single manuscript copy.
3. The Burmese printed edition of 1900-8 spells the
word padana, Dr. Barnett kindly informs me, but
this may have been influenced by the Pali Text
Society's edition, which was previously published.
scholar employs it at p.53 of his conjoint edition of
the Dharma Samgraha in 1885, and the latter in his
Buddha (English translation of 1882, p. 418), and
these scholars presumably found it so written in
manuscript. Respecting the latter citation, the pali
Text Society's edition notes that it is "referring to
Jataka I, 59, which has Mahapadana". This, however,
is somewhat ambiguous, as it is not in the Jataka
book itself, but in the prefixed commentary booklet,
the "Nidana-Katha" of Fausboll's text, which it is
now desirable should be collated with other MSS. in
respect to this word; though, as that commentary is a
relatively late composition and merely incidentally
refers once to this zcttccnta, it is less likely to
preserve intact the proper spelling than the actual
book in question itself.
Besides, Maha-padhana, unlike Maha-apadana, is a
recognized pali term of the first rank in early
Buddhism, where it is also specially applied in the
canonical Dhammapada(1) to Buddha himself in
connexion with his attainment of Arhatship, the ideal
of Primitive Buddhism.
"Pradhana " and "Maha-Pradhana" in Buddhism
Of such evident prominence in early Buddhism,
though now mostly dropped out of use, these terms are
historically interesting in themselves and of
critical importance in our present inquiry.
Pradhana, the Sanskrit equivalent of the pali
padhana, is given in the lexicons the primary meaning
of " chief or prominent one", literally " the
foremost or supreme one ", from pra, " before or
preceding " + dha, " to hold or have." Hence,
, secondarily, it is in Brahmanic and Sankhya
terminology respectively an ordinary epithet for
"the Supreme God " or " the First Great Cause ", and
" Nature" or the Material World.(2)
1. Cf. Childers' Dict., 314. For details see later,
2. Wilson, Sansk. Dict., 562; Apte, do., 563; St.
Petersb. Lexicon (Greater), 4, 1026.
In Buddhism it has retained this original sense
of chief, foremost, or supreme, even in Pali
literature to some extent admittedly, (l) if not
really invariably, as I shall indicate later. As a
technical term also it is enumerated in this sense in
the Sanskrit Buddhist list, the Mahavyutpatti in the
category of "the chief series" (Anuttaraparyaya).(2)
In later Buddhism, when it fell out of orthodox use,
Pradhana was discussed as a Sankhya term by the
mystic monk Vasubandhu (fifth century A.D.) a the
Brahmanical designation of Primordial Matter in
association with Purusa as Spirit(3)--a collocation
of the terms which we will find in the title and
contents of the ancient book now in question, In this
heterodox sense it is also discussed at great length
in the Yoga work the Bodhicaryavatara.(4)
On the other hand, Ceylon Buddhists ascribe to
the term Padhana (i.e. Pradhana) the special meaning
of "exertion" and "striving''--Childers stating that
"Padhana in pali as a technical term means only
Exertion"(5); and they interpret in this sense all
its numerous applications to Buddha in the Dhammapada
and elsewhere, both in its simple form and as
Maha-pradhana.(6) Thus padhanam anuyunja khippam
hohisi anasavo is rendered by Childers (rather
freely) "strive earnestly and thou shalt quickly
attain Arhatship"; and Gotama, spending six years in
achieving Buddhahood, referred to in the Dhammapada
118 as chabbassani maha-padhanam padahitva, is
rendered as " haring spent six years in strenuous
efforts".(7) So also the attainment of Arhatship,
which is divided
1. Childers, Dict., 314, first part of definition of
Padhanam; also Padhano and Samma-Padhanam.
2. St. Petersb. ed., 1911, 39; also 63.
3. Abhidharma-kosa, cf. Burnouf, Introd., 2nd ed, 510.
4. Tibetan transl. in Tan-gyur, Mdo-Val S (27),
India Off. ed., ff. 214, etc. Translated from the
Sanskrit by Atisa (eleventh century A.D. ) and
others. Cf. also Poussin, Etudes, 1898, 127 f.,
for commentary on same; also Raj, L. Mitra, Nepal.
Buddhist Lit., 47 f., for abstract.
5. Childers, Dict., 314.
6. Id., 314.
7. Id., 314.
into four padhanas, namely samvara-padhanam, etc.;
and the four stages (padas) for the acquirement of
the supernatual magic power of Iddhi(SKT. .rdhi)
of Arhatship, each of which is based upon a
samadhipadhana or the "padhana meditative trance"; in
each of these padhana is translated as "effort,
exertion, or striving".(1)
But with every deference to this traditional
opinion of Pali scholars in assuming padhana to mean
" striving or exertion", we venture, in view of the
evidence, to ask whether that opinion is really
Pradhana is known to the lexicons in only one
sense exclusively, that of "chief, foremost, supreme",
and different forms of these conceptions, as above
noted. It never means "striving, exertion, or contest".
The word for the latter is pradhana (=padhana), spelt
with short a. and the pali and Sanskrit words in
question are never spelt with the short a. When the
Buddhists adopted Brahmanical words they usually
employed them in the Brahmanical sense, and if they
desired to alter that sense they almost invariably
coined new terms. These considerations lead me to
conclude that the words in the pali texts in question
were probably still used by the primitive Buddhists
in their true original values, and that the word
padhana in these pali texts does not mean "striving",
but designates Buddha himself as "The Supreme One",
or Arhatship as "The Supreme Thing".
This conclusion gains support also from the fact
that all the Pali phrases in which padhana occurs in
its orthodox Buddhist usage appear to lend themselves
to this direct rendering of "The Supreme One", Arhat
or Arhatship. Indeed, Childers in most of his
translations of these sentences is, in fact, forced
to introduce the words "Arhat" and "Arhatship" in
order to make his rendering
1. Childers, Dict., 157;, 312, 314; Hardy's Man.
intelligible!(1) So also, for the acquirement of the
supernatural power or Iddhi of an Arhat or Buddha, in
each of its four stages is specified (see Childers,
157), samadhipadhana sankhara-samana-gatam, the first
part of which, it seems to me, might be literally
rendered "the meditationtrance of the Supreme
One".(2) Another category, also of this kind, is "
The Four Great Objects" to be striven for to attain
Arhatship, Catur-vidha samyak-pradhana. Here the
juxtaposition of the last two words recalls the
familiar form of later Buddhism, samyak-sam-Buddha,
the Supreme Buddha.
The minor technical uses also of the word in the
Pali certainly admit of interpretation in this direct
literal manner. Thus padhana-bhumi, which is
described by Childers as "cloister for monks to walk
when striving for Arhatship", I would render thus
simply: "the ground of the Supreme Ones (i.e. the
Arhats-elect) ." So also in the Mahavamsa (ed.
Wijesinha, 402), padhana-ghara-- described as "a
house for ascetic exercises"--this would be "a house
for the Superior Ones (engaged in Iddhi or Arhat
exercises) ". Similarly Padhaniyangam, defined by
Childers as "Qualities to be striven for " would
read directly " The Means of [attaining] the Supreme
One (or Thing)"; and it appears to have its analogue
The alteration by the Ceylonese of the original
meaning of the word from "The Supreme One" to
"striving" was probably, I suggest, introduced at a
later period, in an attempt to extract sense from the
word after it had been abandoned as a heterodox term,
and the reasons for its
1. See above, also Dict., 157, 314.
2. It is remarkable that Mahayanists (as noted by
Burnouf, Introd. Bud. Ind., 625; Lotus, 310 f.)
have replaced the padhana here by prahana (=
abandonment). Cf. also Mahavyutpatti, St. Pet.
ed., 1911, 16.
3. Cf. Anga-pradhana-Bheda, Katyayana, Srauta-sutrani,
1,2,18 ; 417; also Manu, 9, 121; Panini,1,2,56,
quoted by St. Petersb. Lexicon. Cf. also Pradhana
gunabhuta in Rig Veda, v. 96.
original application in India had become forgotten. But
even under the new meaning of "striving" the whole
phrase suffered little alteration in sense, as the
magical potency inherent in Arhatship and Iddhi preserved
the original signification of supernatural power.
"Pradhana" and "Maha-Pradhana" as a title of Buddha
This recognized epithet for the Supreme
Brahmanical god, namely, Pradhana, "The Foremost or
Supreme One," is, I find, positively employed by the
Buddhists to denote Buddha in both his human and
In the Sanskrit Canon, in its Tibetan
translation, this term occurs as his title several
times. In the twenty-eighth volume of the Sutranta
division, in a book of moral tales entitled
Damamuko,(1) Buddha is termed "The Pradhana of men
(literally the two-footed)".(2) In the same work it is
evidently applied in the sense of "Arhat" to
Sariputra, the right-hand disciple of Buddha, who is
frequently called "a great Arhat "--here he is termed
"The great Pradhana of the Law", Dharma
Maha-Pradhana.(3) Again, in the twenty-first volume
of the Tantra division, in a book which, it seems to
me, is manifestly an echo of the first book of the
Digha-Nikaya, namely, the Brahma-jala, entitled
Vajra-satwa maya-jala, the Supreme God is conceived
as a primordial Buddha-god of the general character
of Brahma, but the form of Buddha,(4) under the title
of Vajra-satwa, or "The Thunderbolt Being ", and he
is styled at the same time both Pradhana and
Now this direct identification of the deified
Buddha with the supreme god under his Brahmanic
1. In Tibetan `Dsans-blun, i.e. "The Wise Man and the
Foolish" Cf. Csoma, Asiatic Researches, xx, 480,
translated by Schmidt, 1843. The Sanskrit for this
Prakrit title is evidently Dharmat-muka.
2. Jaeschke, Tibetan Dict., 434.
3. Id., 434.
4. For his form in Indian Buddhism see my Buddhism of
Tibet, 15, 35--2.
5. Csoma, Asiatic Researches, xx, 549.
"Maha-Purusa" and "Pradhana" exactly preserves the
traditional view held by the compilers of the
Maha-Padhana Suttanta; and it fully explains the
relation of the title to the contents of this Pali
canonical book. The contents represent Buddha's birth
indisputably as the incarnation of a god. He is born
in a supernatural manner with marvellous signs and
portents, and performs as a new-born infant
miraculous deeds, and he displays on his body the
supernatural marks of Maha-Purusa. This latter title
never bears in the ancient literature the mere
etymological meaning of "a great man ", as rendered
by some Western writers(1); but, on the contrary, it
is invariably the title of the supreme Brahmanical
creator conceived anthropomorphically as a cosmic
giant, and a recognized title of Visnu-Narayana, and
latterly Brahma, as the Creator.(2) The context also
altogether testifies unquestionably that the
compilers of this pali canonical book did not regard
Buddha as a mere man.
This conclusion indeed is admitted by the pali
scholar, Sir R. Chalmers, who writes (3) that it
"destroys certain views generally entertained by
scholars. The accepted view is that it is only in the
later commentaries, and not in the very earliest
canonical texts, that the miraculous incidents
attending the conception and birth of Gotama the
Buddha are narrated in the imaginative detail
familiar to readers of the Sanskrit Lalita Vistara...
and that if the Sutta be genuine, fiction was
embroidering historic truth within (perhaps) a
century of his death "
This supreme divinity Purusa, belonging to the
quasimonotheistic phase of the later Vedic
Brahmanism, and of
1. Notably in the translation of this text in the
"Sacred Books of Buddhists", vol. iii, 13 f.
2.For full evidence see my "Buddha's Diadem", loc.
cit. Maha-Purusa is the title of Visnu both in
the Mahabharata (12, 12864) and Ramayana (6, 102).
3. JRAS. 1894, 386, with reference to paragraphs
17-30 of this first part of this Suttanta, which
recur in the Acchariyabhuta Sutta, No. 123 of the
whom Buddha in this discourse is made to declare
himself the human manifestation, became in the
dualistic conception of the Sankhya system (on which
Buddhism is believed more especially to be based)
merely one of two primordial factors in Creation. It
was identified with "Spirit " and required for its
complement Material Nature or Pradhana. It is in the
form of Pradhana-Purusa that it is used in the
Mahabharata as a title of Siva.(1) This obviously, it
seems to me, is the explanation of the introduction
of that title here, in the Suttanta in question. It
was introduced for schematic completeness.
Thus, the term " the great Pradhana"(2) appears
to me to be a vestige of the very earliest period of
Buddhism, dating to a time before the wholesale
invention of newly coined special Buddhistic terms
had begun. That it eventually dropped out of use, and
came to be considered heterodox was doubtless due to
its inveterately Brahmanical character, coupled with
the invention of new terms better adapted to the
Buddhist point of view, and to the new developments
that had arisen in Buddhist theory since Buddha's
day. Its survival in this title, and especially in
the basic formula of Buddhism in the Dhammapada,
etc., above noted, suggests, therefore, that it is a
vestige of the earliest period, when Sankhya terms
were still current within Buddhism.
III. ITS PREFIXED BOOK OF "FORMER BUDDHAS"
COMPARED WITH THE SANSKRITIC "BHADRA-KALPA SUTRA"
Ostensibly forming only one book, the
Maha-Padhana S. consists, I find, really of two
distinct discourses, ascribed to different occasions,
and affording a useful chronological test. The first
discourse extends from paragraphs 1 to 12 inclusive,
and treats of the mythical forerunners of Buddha. It
thus corresponds to the first book of the
1. Mahabharata, 13, 939.
2. Maha-Pradhana is probably the Buddhist form, as it
is not found in the greater St. Petersburg
Sanskrit Canon entitled "The auspicious AEon or
Cosmic Age", the Bhadra-Kalpa Sutra.(1) The rest of
the book, forming an independent story of the
legendary birth and life of Gotama, to which the
title "Maha-Pradhana" more properly attaches, is, I
find, the counterpart of the discourse which in
Sanskrit is known as the Lalita Vistara; and is
manifestly derived from a common source, a
relationship which has not hitherto been remarked.
The theory that former human Buddhas preceded
Gotama, although generally accepted as an integral
part of Buddha's Buddhism, seems to me to have been
invented after the Buddha's death. For it is not
essential to that system, but is indeed opposed to
the principle that Sakya Muni achieved Buddhahood
solely on his own initiative, and that his Arhatship
was immeasurably beyond and practically different in
degree from that attainable by his followers, so as
to leave no room for the possibility that two Buddhas
could coexist as contemporaries. Moreover, the
number of these Buddhas continued steadily to expand
in later periods. But strongest of all evidence is
the fact that all these former Buddhas as described
in the text are mere reduplications of the historical
Buddha in every single respect, except in the trivial
points of names for themselves, parents, etc. This
theory therefore, in my opinion, manifestly belongs
to the later period when the monks were systematizing
everything and extending the basis of Buddhism on
cosmic lines, so as to make the advent of a Buddha a
part of the great fixed laws of Nature. This is the
constant refrain by which descriptive paragraphs are
introduced in this pali text, "It is the rule [that]"
(dhammata esa). Thus a series of imaginary Buddhas
were extended back along the fabulous past of the
world, according to Brahmanic notions of
1. Abstracted by Csoma, As. Res., xx, 413-16. It has
nothing to do with the Bhadra-Kalpa Avadana of the
Nepalese, which seems mostly a re-arrangement of
tales from the Asokavadana. Cf. k. L. Mitra, Nep.
Budd. Lit., 42.
cosmic ages or Kalpas, where the duration of single
human lives extended to thousands of years (even to
80,000!). To this period also must belong the epithet
Tathagata or "Gone like [his predecessors] " which
presupposes this theory. If this be so, the
occurrence of the word Tathagata will be a valuable
criterion of age--it does not occur in the very
numerous inscriptions at Bharaut (c. 250 B.C.).
The date of introduction of this theory must have
been before about the third century B.C., as the
theory is already found in the developed form of six
Former "Buddhas" in the Bharaut sculptures of about
250 B.C., "Vipasin" heading the series, and all being
named(1) on separate votive slabs (excepting one, the
second, accidentally missing, see table). This is the
stage also specified in our Pali text in question.(2)
But on comparing this Pali version with the
Bhadra-Kalpa Sutra there is revealed the striking
fact that the Sanskrit text records the theory of the
Former Buddhas in a more primitive and less developed
form than the pali version. The Bhadra-Kalpa Sutra,
although greatly expanded by the inclusion of long
dissertations on the practice of the " Perfect
Virtues " (Paramita) by which Gotama attained
Buddhahood, and forming the basis of the Jataka
tales,(3) knows only three Buddhas anterior to Sakya
Muni, and these are identical with the lowest three
on the Pali list (see table).
1. Cunningham, Stupa Bharhut, pl. 29, 1, 2, 3; 30,
1-3; Inscriptions, liv, 67, liii, 3, c, etc.
Hultzsch, Ind. Ant., 1892, p. 234, Nos. 24, 64,
81, 84, 88.
2. These "seven" Buddhas (i.e. by including the
historical Buddha with the six) are invoked by
Buddha in the Culla Vagga (v. 6) in connexion with
a snake-charm, Buddha being made to say "I revere'
the Blessed One and the Seven Supreme Buddhas"
(Warren, Buddh. in Transls., 1909, 303). It is
incredible that Sakya Muni would invoke himself,
yet Oldenberg places the Culla Vagga to near
Buddha's own day.
3. Its bulk is also increased by a list of one
thousand fanciful successors of Maitreya, the
"FORMER" BUDDHAS IN MAHA-PADHANA (Pali text)
(N.B. The serial numbers are introduced for reference
Name of óx Kappa óx Caste or óxLength óx
"Former" óx (cosmicóx tribe óxof humanóx Birthpalce
Buddhas. óx age).óx óxLife in óx
óx óx óxyears. óx
(1) óx (2) óx (3) óx (4) óx (5)
1. Vipassi óx 91st. óx Khattiya óx80,000 óx Bandhumati
2. Sikhi óx 31st óx Khattiya óx70,000 óx Arunavati(1)
3. Vessabhu óx 31st óx Khattiya óx60,000 óx Anopama
4. Kakusandhóx Bhaddaóx Brahman óx40,000 óx Khematvati
5. Konagamanóx Bhaddaóx Brahman óx30,000 óx Sabhavati
6. Kassapa óx Bhaddaóx Brahman óx20,000 óx Baranasi
7. Gotama óx Bhaddaóx Khattiya óx 100 óx Kapilavatthu
"FORMER" BUDDHAS IN BHADRA-KALPA (Sanskrit text)
4. Kakutsanda│ Bhadra │ Sakya │ 40,000 │ Ksemavati
5. Kanaka Muni Bhadra │ Brahman │ 30,000 │ Pancala
6. Kasyapa │ Bhadra │ Brahman │ 20,000 │ Chetana
7. Sakya Muni│ Bhadra │ Ksatriya│ 100 │ Kapilavastu
That the Bhadra-Kalpa Sutra here appears to
preserve an earlier tradition than the Pali is
suggested by the following facts:  Its
descriptions of the place of delivery and in the
details of the attributes of these personages differs
in many circumstantial ways from the Pali version.(2)
 The lesser number of kalpas and all of them
comprised within the Bhadra-Kalpa, i.e. the cosmic
age of the present world, seems more likely to have
been the original stage of the theory than the
extravagantly "incalculable" remote period of 91 of
those ĹĹons(!) as given in the Pali Canon.  The
idea of the Kalpa was borrowed by the Buddhists from
Brahmanism, and I would point to the fact that the
number of divisions in the lower four coincides in
both series; and corresponds exactly with the
orthodox Brahmanic tetrad division, and also (except
to one decimal place) with the duration of
1. Not Pabhavati, in error in " Sacred Books of the
Buddhists", iii, 7. Cf. text, p. 7.
2. Cf. Csoma, xx, 413 f., with "Sacred Books of the
Buddhists", iii, 5-7.
life in the present Kalpa, as found in the
Mahabharata (c. 500 B.C.) .(l) It represents,
therefore, presumably an early stage, complete in
Brahmanic present kalpa. óxBuddhist present Kalpa.
Periods. óx Duration óxBuddhist duration of
óx of human life. óxlife in Bhadra-Kalpa.
1.Krta Yuga óx 4,000 years óx 40,000 years
2.Treta Yuga óx 3,000 years óx 30,000 years
3.Dvapara Yugaóx 2,000 years óx 20,000 years
4.Kali Yuga óx Ordinary, óx 100 years
(present age)óx "not fixed" óx
age) óx óx
On the other hand, the extension far beyond these
four divisions and the orthodox round numbers so as
to embrace three more, as found in the Pali canonical
text, with the still more extravagant extension of
the duration of a single human life to 80,000
years.(!), is in keeping with the well-known absurd
puerile elaborations of the later scholastic stage of
The gradual growth of this myth of "previous"
human Buddhas by direct arithmetical progression
appears thus to be traceable to some extent on a
óxNumber of óx óxBuddha
Approximate date óx "Fomner" óx Texts óxheaded
óx Buddhas óx óx by.
4th century B.C.(?) óx 3 óxBhadra-Kalpa Sutra óxKakutsanda
óx óx(primary version) óx
250 B.C. circa óx 6 óxBhadraut Sculptures óxVipasi
óx óxand Pali Mahapadhanaóx
óx óx S. óx
1st century B.C. óx 24 óxBuddha-vamsa óxDipankara
1st-4th century óx 35 to óxVarious(3) óx
A.D. óx óx óx
1. Dowson, Hind. Mythology, 382-3; Hastings, Encycl.
Religion Ethics, i, 188, 202.
2. Later Pali texts extend number to 125,000(!),
Hardy, Man. Buddhism, 95.
3. Cf. Muller, "Apadana of South," Proc. Orient.
Cong., 1894, 167.
From this it seems evident that the Sanskritic
Sutra, the Bhadra-Kalpa, displays an earlier stage in
the evolution of the theory of Former Buddhas than is
found in this Pali canonical text (also the Culla
Vagga), and presupposes for the original Prakrit
source of the framework of that Sanskritic book a
date earlier than 250 B.C. (circa), whilst the Pali
text is clearly several centuries subsequent to that
In another number I shall hope to compare the
Maha-Pradhana Suttanta with the Lalita Vistara.