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The Dating of the Historical Buddha: A Review Article

L. S. COUSINS

[Contents]


5 Bechert's arguments

These two volumes contain around 66 pages of editorial material and substantial contributions from Bechert; so his views are quite well represented. A part of his argument is simply to make the point that the former general acceptance of the (revised) long chronology is a thing of the past. This is clearly the case.

In a different area, however, it seems to me that his position is more debatable. He writes:

I am also convinced that the ``short chronology'' represents the earliest Buddhist chronology found in our sources. This does not, however, imply that it represents reliable chronological information. (Symp. IV,1,8)

On the face of it this seems much more doubtful. Lewis Lancaster in his contribution points out that short chronology sources appear in Chinese translation from A.D. 306, while long chronology appears first in a text translated between 265-317. (Symp. IV,I, 455f.) Short chronology sources are more numerous, but since this simply reflects Sarvastivadin influence it does not take us much further.

The primary reason for Bechert's belief does appear to be his acceptance of the claim that there is evidence for the presence of the short chronology in ancient Ceylon, specifically in the Dipavamsa. I have elsewhere [note] argued that this is mistaken and must refer the reader there for the full arguments. In brief there are two passages which can be taken as supporting the short chronology (and many that do not.) The second of these (Dip V 55-9) concerns the prophecy of the arising of Moggaliputta Tissa ``in the future, in 118 years''. Bechert, and several predecessors, take the prophecy as by the Buddha. However, he does not take account of the parallel passages (Dhs-a 3-4; 6; Sp 35ff.) which make it clear that it is a prophecy given by the Elders of the Second Council. Indeed the fact that immediately after the prophecy the Dipavamsaitself refers to the death of those elders (V 60) makes it sufficiently certain that it is recounting the same story. The problem is perhaps a result of the insertion of a section on the history of the eighteen schools at the beginning of chapter five (i.e. vv. 1-54) immediately before the prophecy. This has separated verse 55 from the description of the second council at the end of chapter four.

Bechert is clearly mistaken in this case, but his second example is little more plausible. In a prophecy of the Buddha concerning the Third Council and the advent of Mahinda we meet the same figure of 118 years immediately after a mention of the First Council (Dip I 54-5). Most scholars have taken the view that there is a lacuna of some sort here and lines referring to the Second Council have dropped out. [note] This seems likely to be the case, since there is specific reference to the third council (tatiyo samgaho) - it does not seem very probably that anyone argued that the Third Council was only eighteen years after the Second which is traditionally dated to 100 B.C. or slightly later.

In any case, even if the text is taken as it stands, it would not prove Bechert's contention in the sense intended. He suggests that the passage in question could then derive from Sarvastivadin sources i.e. it would not be evidence of an independent Sinhala version of the short chronology.



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