Did Buddha die of eating pork? : with a note on Buddha's image

Waley, Arthur
Melanges Chinois et bouddhiques
vol 1931-1932
Juillet 1932
P.343-354


P.343 Anyone who is known to take an interest in the history of Buddhism is bound to be asked from time to time whether it is true that Buddha died of eating pork. The idea that he should have done so comes as a surprise to most Eurpoeans; for we are in the habit of regarding vegetarianism as an intrinsic part of Buddhism. Enquirers with an iconoclastic bend of mind are anxious to have it confirmed that Buddha was something quite different from the conventional holy man ów something robuster at the same time less pretentious; while those who have treasured the figure of Gautama the Saint, immune from every worldly appetite or desire, are eager to secure authority for a figurative interpretation of the pork-eating passage.(1) The ease with which such a question is answered depends on the extent of the informant's researches. Regarding the passage by itself and merely from the point of view of Pali Buddhism, I think anyone not influenced by romantic preconceptions about Buddha's personality must come to the conclusion(2) that the words suukara-maddava('pig-soft') are to be taken literally. So soon however as one studies the question from a wider aspect and, taking into consideration the equally early(3) Chinese Hiinayaana ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Mahaaparinibbaana-sutta(Diighanikaaya 16). Tran- slated in Dilogues of the Buddha II, 137. 2 As recently the editors of the Pali Text Society's dictionary have done. 3 I know of no reason for regarding the Sanskrit AAgamas (preserved in Chinese) in general as later than the Pali Niikaayas. In some cases they can certainly be shown to be earlier. The same applies to the various Hiinayaana Vinayas (Monastic Rules) preserved in Chinese. P.344 documents, traces the history of the Buddhist attitude towards the eating of meat, the whole question becomes infinitely more complicated, and a confident answer far less easy to give. The story of Buddha's last meal, as told in the Mahaaparinibbaana-sutta ('Book of the Great Decease') is well summed up by E.J.Thomas(1). At Paavaa, Budha stayed in the mango grove of Cunda Thomas(1). At Paavaa, Buddha stayed in the mango grove of Cundathe smith. There Cunda provided a meal with the excellent food, hard and soft, and a large amount of suukaramaddava. Before the meal Buddha said, ((Serve me, Cunda, with the suukaramaddava that you have prepared, and serve the order with the other hard and soft food.)) Cunda did so, and after the meal Buddha told him to throw the remainder of the suukaramaddava into a hole, as he saw no-one in the world who could digest it other than the Tathaagata.(2) The sharp sickness arose, with flow of blood, and violent deadly pains, but Buddha mindful and conscious controlled them...and set out for Kusinaaraa. Tje word suukaramaddava occurs nowhere else(except in discussions of this passage) and the -maddddava part is capable of at least four interpretations. Granting that it comes from the root MRD 'soft', cognate with Latin mollis, it is still ambiguous, for it may either mean 'the soft parts of a pig' or 'pig's sofg-food' i.e. food eaten by pigs.(3) But it may again come from the same root as our word 'mill' and mean'pig-pounded', i.e. 'trampled by pigs'. There is yet another similar root meaning 'to be pleased', and as will be seen below one scholar has supposed the existence of a vegetable called 'pig's-delight'. The question whether Buddha did or did not die of eating pork has naturally presented itself to the lay mind as a theological one. Actually, however, no theological point is involved. Even specialists have very imperfectly realized that till late in the history of Bud- ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 The Life of Buddddha (Kegan Paul. 1927)p.149. 2 No feature in the story is stranger than this apparent touch of irony. 3 If derived from this root maddava may be copmared etymologically to our word 'mallow', the soft plant. P.345 dhism, the eating of flesh was permitted, except under certain exceptional circumstances. The Buddhist monk must refrain from eating meat if he 'knows, hears or infers' that it has been killed specially for him(1). The latitude allowed was very great; for example, it was considered wrong for a monk to go to a house and ask for meat, unless he was ill. But he might ask for it if the householder said to him 'Is there anything else you could fancy?' It was therefore not in the least suprising that in commenting on the Diigha-nikaaya's account of Buddha's last meal, Buddhaghosha (beginning of the 5th century) should have been quite content to take suukara-maddava as meaning pork. But the commentary on the Udaana(3), in dealing with this passage, says: suukara-maddava in the Great Commentary(4) is said to be the flesh of a pig made soft and oily; but some say it was not pig's flesh but the sprout of a plant trodden by pigs; other that it was a mushroom growing in a place trodden by pigs; other again have taken it in the sense of a flavouring substance. One's first impression on reading these 'vegetarian' explanations is that they are pure sophistry, dating from a time when the idea of Buddha's eating flesh was so unacceptable that the commentators felt obliged at all costs to twist the passage into another meaning. If no other vegetable names of similar formation existed, it would indeed seem almost certain that the 'mushroom' explanation was a mere flight of fancy. But Neumann(5) has shown that in Narahari's Raajanigha.n.tu, among the names of medical plants, there occurs a whole series of compound words having 'pig' as their first element; thus suukara-kanda, 'pig-bulb': suukara-paadika, 'pig's ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Majjhima Nikaaya (Jiivaka Sutta) 55. There is, I think, no corresponding suutra in the Chinese aagamas; but the same permission is given in the Chinese Hinayaana Vinayas, e.g. Ss í╝ F^en L í╝, 58 (Taishoo Tripi.taka xxii, 998b). 2 Exposition of the Muulasarvaastivaadin Vinaya. Taishoo Tripitaka, xxiv, 588. 3 i, 399; Steinthal's edition of the Udaana, p. 81 seq. 4 Now lost. For this passage, see Edward Thomas, loc. cit. 5 Preface to the Majjhima Nikaaya, p.xx. P.346 foot', sukaresh.ta ('sought-out by pigs'). On the analogy of the last, Neumann takes suukaramaddava to mean 'pig's delight', and assumes that it is the name of some kind of truffles. It seems to me that philologically Neumann's view has much to be said for it and has not been sufficiently taken into account. It is perfectly conceivable that the commentators who have been suspected of 'explaining away' the expression 'pork' were in reality better informed than Buddhaghosha. Plant names tend to be local and dialectical. It is quite likely that if such an expression as suukara-maddava meant 'truffles' in Maghada, it might, in the more western and southern centres where Pali Buddhism came into existence, have been entirely unknown and consequently misunderstood. Unfortunately the term, so far as is known, occurs only in this passage and in discussions of it. In Sanskrit no corresponding expression seems to exist at all. The Chinese Hiinayaana documents. The account of Buddha's Decease occurs in the sec- ond book of the Diirghaagama(1). This version was translated in 412-413 and is therefore contemporary with Buddhaghosha. It supports the 'vegetarian' theory. Cunda makes 'a separate stew of ears of the sandal-wood tree, which the world esteems as a great dainty'. 'Treeear' is still the current Chinese for a fungus growing on a tree. Fragments of the Sanskrit Diirghaagama exist, but unfortunately not his passage. Presumably the Sanskrit phrase in front of the Chinese translator was Candana ahicchatraka, candanachattra or the like. There are four other versions of the Hiinayaana Great Decease. (1) Nanjio 552,translated in 290-306 by Po Fa-tsu. (2) Nanjio 119,translator unknown. (3) Nanjio 118,falsely attributed to Fa-hsien. (4) A long passage(2) in the Kshuraka-vaastu of the Muula-sar-vaastivaada Vinaya (translated in 710). ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Taishoo Tripi.taka, i, 18b. 2 ibid. xxiv, 382 seq. P.347 In none of these works is the nature of the food offered by Cunda specified. The passage is quoted in the Milinda Questions (í▒ 175); but in a section that is lacking in the Chinese versions. The idea then that Buddha died of eating pork is wholly absent from the Chinese Canon, and can never have entered the head of any Far Eastern Buddhist till the Pali scriptures began to be studied at the end of the 19th century. There was indeed another occasion (1) when Buddha accepted a similar offering. The householder Ugga brought him some suukarama.msa. Here again the Chinese Canon fails us, for this sutta does not exist in the Ekottaraagama or elsewhere. No-one,I think, has ever suggested that suukara-ma.msa('pig's flesh') does not mean pork. All that has been said so far applies only to the Hiinayaana. From the Mahaayaana standpoint not merely a philological but a moral issue is involved; for as is well known many of the principal Mahaayaana scriptures forbid the eating of flesh altogether. The earliest work to contain such a prohibition (2) is the Mahaaparinirvaa.na Suutra, a Mahaayaana remodelling of the old Suutra of the Great Decease. When Fa-hsien visited India early in the 5th century, he found that in the whole of the Middle Country (Madhyade'sa i.e. Magadha and the surrounding parts) 'the people abstain from taking life. They drink no wine nor do they eat onions or garlic...they do not breed pigs or poultry or sell any animal food'(3). ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 See A^nguttara Nikaaya, Vol. III, 49, (Manaapad- aayii). 2 Fa-hsien's translation (Nanjio, 120), Taishoo Tripi.taka, xii,868c.The wording in the Dharmakshema version (Thaishoo Tripi.taka xii, 386b) is identical. The so-called Southern Version (Nanjio 114) is merely a transcript of Nanjio 113 with a division of chapters imitated from Nanjio 118 and a few verb alalterations. [On peut signaler ici les Suutras de Maitreya resumes par P.Demieville, BEFEO. 1920, 4, p.165-167: ((L'ermite fait voeu de ne jamais manger de viande, ainsi que l'ordonnent les suutras de misericorde de tous les buddhas...AAnanda fait remarquer combien est ((etrange et particuliere)) cette prescription de s'abstenir de viande.)) ów Morale bouddhique, 63-64.] 3 Taishoo Tripi.taka, i, 859b. P.348 Had Fa-hsien enquired what scriptural authority there was for this absolute prohibition of meat, no doubt the Mahaaparinirvaa.na Suutra would have been pointed to. And it is certain that Fa-hsien took a particular interest in this suutra, for he acquired a copy of it in Paa.taliputra, and it was this version that he translated into Chinese in 417 A.D. What was the origin of this new view about meat-eating, which seems to have sprung up somewhere about the 3rd century? An explanation that at once occurs to me is as follows: The Gupta kings, who at this period ruled over the Middle Country, though they tolerated Buddhism and sometimes even supported it, were themselves worshippers of Vish.nu. Now the Vaishnavite ascetic 'must abstain from animal food of any kind'(1), and it must naturally have occurred to Buddhists to say 'If even the misguided Hindus abstain from meat, how much the less ought we...' or something of that kind. Such an hypothesis finds complete confirmation in the La^nkaavataara Suutra (2) , a work somewhat later than the Mahaaparinirvaa.na: 'If even the infidels in their heretical treatises and the Lokaayatikas in their worldy teachings and those who fall into the error of regarding (the dharmas) either as permanent or as without duration, as existent or as non-existent, even such people forbid the eating of meat...' Again(3): 'Even secular magicians abstain from meat, knowing that upon this depends the success of their performance; how much the more must my disciples in pursuit of the Tathaagata's supreme way of spiritual release..' etc. The La^nkaavataara has indeed a special chapter(4) (Ma.msabhaksha.na) dealing with the prohibition of meat. To justify this prohibition it refers to five suutras(5): the A^nguli- ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Vish.nu Sm.rti, 51,72 (Sacred Books of the East, vii, 171). 2 Bodhiruci's translation.Taishoo Tripi.taka, xvi, 561a. 3 Taishoo Tripi.taka, xvi, 562b. 4 Gu.nabhadra's translation ( 443 A. D. ), Taishoo Tripi.taka, xvi, 513c. 5 Gu.nabhadra's translation (514b) adds the Mahaa- nirvaa.na, and substitutes the 'Sriimaalaa for the A^ngulimaala. P.349 maataa,the Mahaanegha, the 'Sriimaalaa, the Hastika- kshya and the Mahaa-parinirvaa.na. The first is a well-known Hiinayaana sutta and in its early form(1) of course contains no such prohibition. It exists however in an expanded Mahaayaana form, and in one passage(2) says that the 'Buddhas do not eat flesh'. The second (translated 414-421) contains only a very indefinite reference(3) to the question. The third contains no reference to the subject at all, and is obviously quoted by mistake for the A^ngulimaala. The fourth(4) merely says that the efficacy of the spell at the end of the suutra depends on abstinence from flesh. It is evident that at the time when the La^nkaavataara was composed, the Mahaaparinirvaa.na was the only scripture that definitely forbade the eating of meat. When therefore the Mahaayaana set itself to produce its own set of monastic rules, it had but the slenderest authority for enforcing complete vegetarianism. And indeed in the Fan-wang Ching(5), which Far Eastern Buddhists regard as the foundation of their Monastic Rules, flesh-eating does not rank as a major sin, but merely as one of the forty-eight 'light defilements'. It is thus regarded as less serious than, for example, losing one's temper. But to return to the question of Buddha's last meal ówwe have seen that philologically there is no reason why suukara-maddava ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Majjhima-nikaaya 86. Sa^myuktaagama 1077. Taisnoo Tripi.taka ii, 281. 2 Ibid, ii, 540. 3 Ibid, xii, 1099c. 4 Ibid, xvii, 787a. Translated in 424-441. 5 Ibid, xxiv, 1005b. It purports to be an extract from a long Sanskrit work. But the Chung Ching Mu Lu (Nanjio 1609; compiled in 594 A.D.) dismisses it as a forgery. The Tibetan version, which has no Sanskrit title and merely prefixes a literal rendering of the full Chinese title, is probably translated from the Chinese. It seems likely indeed that the work was originally composed in China some time after 507; for in that year, at a conference convened by the emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty to discuss the question of meat-eating, the Fan-wang Ching is not cited among other relevant scriptures. It is interesting that one of the Vinaya authorities who gave evidence at this enquiry confessed that he was not himself a vegetarian (Taisho, Lii, 299). P.350 should not be the name of a root or fungus. And granted that this was the original meaning, it is quite comprehensible that after the centre of Buddhism shifted westward and southward(1), this original meaning may have been forgotten. Had Hiinayaana Buddhism viewed the eating of flesh with abhorrence, the expounders of the Sutta would then have found themselves in an embarrassing position. Actually, however, they had(as we have seen) no such prejudice and it was quite easy for them to accept the term suukara-maddava in the sense pork. The 'other commentators', who maintained that a vegetable was meant, were on this hypothesis not dishonest theologians, but merely people who happened to come from some part of India where the term suukara-maddddava in a vegetable sense was still current. I know of no argument that could render such an hypothesis untenable. The alternative is to suppose that, although no existing Hiinayaana work contains any general prohibition of uthe eating of meat, the feeling in favour of vegetarianism, then rather generally prevalent in the world(2) , had affected the Hiinayaana as well as the Mahaayaana, with the result that certain commentators were shocked by the idea of Buddha's eating pork, and invented a fanciful inter-pretation of the passage. The same sentiment, it must be supposed, is responsible for the subtitution of fungi for pork in the Chinese version. I think the second theory involves rather larger unproved assumptions than the first. But, in the existing state of our knowledge, either seems to me to be reasonable. The interest of such an enquiry as the above, despite its negative result, lies in the picture it gives of the method by which Buddhism adapted itself to fresh currents of thought and feeling in a method in complete contrast with that of Christianity. Whenever, under the influence of fresh environment or creative individual thought, the Buddhists were attracted ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 After the persecutions of Pushyamitra ( 185-148 B.C.). 2 The Christian gnostics also advocated complete vegetarianism. P.351 by a new point of view, they felt the necessity of investing this point of view with written authority. Thus, so long as the religion was a living organism, its scriptures continually expanded and the Tripi.taka in its Hiinayaana and Mahaayaana forms is in itself a history of Buddhism. Such a method, implying as it does in the faithful a critical capacity so limited that they will be at any moment ready to accept a modern document as the newly-recovered teaching of the Founder, was not possible in the West. Instead, the Christian Church has often been forced to adopt a complicated metaphorical interpretation of its Seriptures, particularly of the Old Testament, but has (since a very early period) scrupulously avoided the policy of expansion and interpolation which produced the riches of the Tripi.taka. Thus, whereas in the West it is to the works of theologians that we must turn if we wish to study the successive phases of Christianity, in Buddhism the whle process of growth lies open before us in the scriptures themselves. The Western method has its advantages. It is easy to regard past theologians as fallible. In Buddhism on the contary the successive stages of doctrine, often irreconcilable with what went before, are expounded in scriptures which all make equal claim to be the actual words of Buddha. The difficulty was met, inadequately enough, by maintaining that the later scriptures had been mysteriously 'held up' till the world was in a fit state to receive them. In a case such as the one I have been discussing, this type of explanation could not be very convincing, and it is not surprising to find the great Buddhist biographer and compiler Tao-hsuan (596-667), who founded a sect which based its teaching on the Vinaya, embarrassed by the fact that in this portion of the Scriptures the eating of flesh (regarded by 7th century Buddhists with horror) was most definitely permitted. Fortunately the difficulty was solved by a vision in which a prpohecy(1) was revealed to him, to the ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 FA Yuan Chu-lin, Ch. 94. Taishoo Tripi.taka Lvii, 980c, quoting Tao-hsuan's lost I-fa Chu-chih Kan-ying Chi: 'Record of Rewards to those who held fast to the remnants of the Law.' P.352 effect that in the degenerate days long after Buddha's death there would be monks who finding support in passages of the Hiinayaana scriptures would misinterpret the meaning of the Vinaya and pretend that Buddha allowed the monks to eat meat. 'In those days the monks in their temples will slay living creatures, making the places they live in no better than the homes of hunters or butchers.' Buddha's Image. To illustrate the way in whcih disearded doctrines have left their mark on the Tripi.taka, I will discuss, as an appendix to this essay, an opposite case: one in which a former prohibition was subsequently withdrawn. It is well-known to all students of Indian art that in the earliest Buddhist monuments ów at Saanehii, Baarhut and Bodhgayaa-the figure of Buddha is not represented, but replaced by some symbol, such as the Wheel of the Law, or an empty throne. Modern Buddhists can furnish no explanation of this peculiar fact, and European writers (among them, M.Foucher(1)) have generally been content to accept the Indian view that, if early Buddhist art did not represent the Buddha, it was 'because it was not customary to do so'. I do not think any European scholar(2) has noted the fact that a definite embargo on the representation of Buddha is referred to in the Chinese Tripi.taka. In Chapter 48 of the Vinaya of the Sarvaastivaadins (3) there is a long passage which deals with the decoration of monasteries. Anaathapi.n.dika says to Buddha: 'World-honoured one, if images of yours are not allowed to be made, pray may we not at least make images of Bodhisattvas(4) in attendance upon you?' Buddha then grants this permission. ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 The Beginnings of Buddhist Art, p.7. 2 Attention was briefly called to the passage by Iwasaki Masumi, in a review of M.Foucher's book, Kokkwa, May 1920. 3 The Shih Sung Lu,Taishoo Tripi.taka, xxiii, 352. 4 Though in later Buddhism new ideas centred round the term Boddhisattva, its occurrence does not necessarily imply a late date. Possibly some of the figures identified as Naagas in early Buddhist sculpture would have been regarded by the writer of this passage as Bodhisattvas. P.353 All branches of the Sarvaastivaadin School were however apparently not in agreement on this point, for, in the Vinaya(1) of the Cashmirian branch, the same Anaathapi.n.dika asks if it is permissible to make images of the Buddha's earthly semblance, and is told that there is no objection to doing so. The first work was translated into Chinese in 404. It would I think be generally accepted that the original goes back at least to the 1st century A.D. The occurrence in it of the passage I have quoted suggests that it goes back still further, or, at any rate, that certain elements in it reflect the state of affairs, with regard to the representation of Buddha's figure, that we are familiar with at Saanchi, Baarhut and Bodhgayaa; that is to say, it is in part at least as early as the first century B.C. The second work, the Nidaana, is certainly much later. The cult of images, influenced perhaps in part by Hinduism and in part by contact with the Hellenistic world, seems to have been adopted by Hiinayaana and Mahaayaana Buddhism more or less simultaneously. To justify it, a story was told of how the great kings Udayana and Prasenajit made the first images of Buddha during the Blessed One's absence in the Trayastrim'sa heaven, which he had visited in order to convert his mother. Variants of the story are found both in the Hiinayaana and the Mahaayaana Canon. In the 28th chapter of the Ekottaraagama(2), Udayana makes an image of sandalwood five feet high and Prasenajit follows suit with a golden image. There is no corresponding passage in the A^nguttara Nikaaya(3), nor anywhere in the Pali Canon. The legend makes its appearanc e in other works translated about the same time. Thus in the Kuan Fo San-mei Hai Ching(4) Udayana makes a golden image. More commonly there is only one ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Muulasarvaastivaada-nidaana, Taishoo Tripi.taka, xxiv, 434b.Translated in 170 A.D. 2 Taishoo Tripi.taka,ii,706.Translated in 384- 385. 3 The Pali equivalent to the Ekottaraagama. 4 Taishoo Tripi.taka, xv, 678b, Chapter vi. P.354 image, a wooden one made by Prasenajit. This version of the story was heard in India by the pilgrim Fa-hsien(1) early in the 5th century, and by Hsuan-tsang(2) in the 7th. It is possible that future research will discover passages in the Pali Vinaya which have some bearing on the introduction of the cult of images. But the innovation was one which took place at so early a period in Buddhist history that we should not in any case expect to find much echo of it in the written records, all of which were redacted at a comparatively late period. Indeed, were it not for the existence of early Buddhist sculpture, the passage I have quoted from the Vinaya of the Sarvaastivaadins would be uninteligible. The change in the Buddhist attitude towards flesh-eating took place at a far later date, long after the written redaction of the Hiinayaana Canon, and consequently the whole process lies open before us. The fact that, in Buddhist scriptures, it is possible to trace the evolution of such a change says much for the fidelity with which the Cannon has been transmitted. ówówówówówówówówówówówów 1 Ibid. li, 860b. 2 Ibid. 899b.