BuddhismBuddhist philosophyWestern Philosophy

Buddhist Conception Of The World | Western Continents | 102

The following article is a continuation from the previous article Buddhist Conception Of The World | 101 users are expected to read the previous article before proceeding further. Jambudvipa is around 10,000 or 7,000 yojanas in extent. It is therefore called Maha or Great. Of the 10,000 yojanas of the Jambudvipa 4,000 are covered by the ocean, 3,000 by the Himalayas, and 3,000 are inhabited by men. Jambudvipa has 500 islands. In the earlier ages there were 199,000 kingdoms in Jambudvipa, in the middle ages at one time 84,000 and at another 63,000, and in more recent ages about a hundred. In the time of Gautama Buddha this continent contained 9,600,000 towns, 9,900,000 sea ports and 56 treasure cities. Malalasekara points out that sometimes in Jambudvipa there are as many as 84,000, cities; this number is sometimes reduced to 60,000, 40,000 or even 20,000, but never to less. In Asoka’s time there were 84,000 cities in each of which he built a monastery. The Digha Nikaya narrates that the Exalted One while relating the Cakkavatti Sihanada Suttanta predicted thus: Jambudvipa will be mighty and prosperous; the villages, towns add royal cities will he so close that a cock would fly from each one to the next. This Jambudvipa, one might think it a “Waveless Deep” — will he pervaded by mankind as a jungle is by reeds and rushes. In this continent of Jambudvipa there will he 84,000 towns with Ketumati (Benares) the royal city, at their head. We learn from the Anguttara Nikaya that in Jambudvipa trifling in number are the pleasant parks, groves, lake etc., more numerous the steep precipitous places, unfordable rivers, inaccessible mountain etc. V. Venkatachellam Iyer in his article “The Seven Dvipas of the Puranas” suggests some plausible etymologies of the name Jambudvipa to which author refers in the following context. We are informed by the Papancasudani that gold is collected from the whole of Jambudvipa. There were seven kinds of jewels here.

Merchants made sea voyages for trade from Jambudvipa. Once a dreadful famine visited this continent. There are five hundred rivers in the Jambudvipa, hut only five or ten among them are to he reckoned. These ten rivers are Ganga, Yamuna, Aciravati, Sarabhu, Mahi, Sindhu, Saraswati, Vettavati, Vitamsa and Candabhaga. Jambudvipa was the kingdom of a king overlord (Cakkavatti). There were 68,000 cities in Jambudvipa. Capital cities like Bhadrasita etc. were rich, prosperous, extensive and populous. Alms were easily obtained there. No taxes, revenues or duties were imposed on goods. The calm and quiet countries were well-developed in agriculture. The villages, market towns, cities, states and capitals were very close to one another. The life span of people here was 44,000 years. Jambudvipa finds mention in the Pali texts as the continent over the whole of which the sovereignty of Dhammasoka prevailed. We are told in the Dipavamsa that when Mahinda was ten years old, his father killed his brothers and he spent four years in ruling Jambudvipa. Jambudvipa was a land of learning. The Milindapanha informs us that in Jambudvipa many arts and sciences were taught, e.g, the Samkhya Yoga, Nyaya and Vaisesika systems of philosophy, arithmetic, music, medicine, the four Vedas, the Puranas, and the ithihasa, astronomy, magic, causation and spells, the art of war, poetry and conveyancing. We learn from the commentary on the Therigatha that there were disputants here well-versed in arts and sciences.

There were heretics and bhikkhus here, and unruliness of the heretics was so very great that the bhikkhus stopped observing the uposatha ceremony in Jambudvipa for seven years. Thus the picture of Jambudvipa in Buddhist literature corresponds very well with our subcontinent of India which has always shown unity in diversity end diversity in unity and rested at the pinnacle of glory in all aspects of culture and civilization in ancient world. The Buddha once declared that the people of Jambudvipa excel those of both Uttarakuru and Tavatimsa in three respects: courage, mindfulness and religious life. Buddhas and Cakkavattis are born only in Jambudvipa. There were four sounds heard throughout Jambudvipa — the shout uttered by Punnaka proclaiming his victory over Dhananjaya Koravya in a game of dice; the bark of Vissakamma when taken about in guise of a dog by Sakka threatening to devour all wicked beings after the decay of Kassapa’s Sasana, the roar of Kusa challenging to battle the seven kings who- sought the land of Pabhavati; and the yell of Alavaka proclaiming his name from the top of Kailasa on hearing that Buddha has visited his abode. For the purpose of Carika the monks divided their tours in Jambudvipa into three circuits or mandalas, viz., the Mahamandala extending over 900 leagues, the Majjhima extending over 600 and the Antima extending over 300 leagues. We are told that there are sixteen Mahajanapadas or Great States in Jambudvipa. They are referred to by name in different texts, e.g., Anga, Magadha, Kasi, Kosala etc. Thus the picture of Jambudvipa as we can restore from the Buddhist literature is blurred in many places by fictitious descriptions and exaggerated figures and accounts; but we have no difficulty in realizing the fact that the Buddhists implied the Indian subcontinent, the undivided India with Pakistan and Bangladesh by the term Jambudvipa. Without exception this term has been used to convey the same connotation throughout the Buddhist literature. As oka, the staunch supporter of Buddhism and the Buddhist kings of the Pal a dynasty too have stuck to this specific nomenclature in their inscriptions. In this way the Buddhist Jambudvipa was narrower in extent than the Brahmanical one and it is difficult to determine who first invented the name. It is probable, however, that both may have borrowed the name from a common source and have used it according to their own concepts.

Now, let us switch over to the easternmost continent which has been named Purvavideha or Pubbavideha. It is 7,000 leagues in extent. Sirisa (Acacia) is the principal tree of this continent. It is the first Mahadipa visited by a Cakka-vatti when on tour. The name ‘Purvavideha’ shows a play on the word ‘deha’ (body). The literal meaning of the word is ‘noble body’. It is called so because the human height there is double what it is in our continent, i.e. in the Jambudvipa. It has been described as having resemblance to a crescent moon or half-moon. But curiously enough, four sides are attributed to this half-moon. Three sides are 2,000 leagues (yojanas) long while the fourth is 350 leagues. The perimetre of the continent is, therefore, 6,350 leagues. There are towns and villages in this continent which are inhabited by people. The people of Purvavideha are said to have their own script. The general life span of men here is 250 years. They are eight cubits (hastas) long and their faces, like the continent itself, are shaped like the half-moon. The particular expression ’bhumivasat’ (i.e. because of the influence of the place) has been used to explain the peculiar facial shape of the inhabitants. The identification of the continent is still dispute B.C. law in his “Geographical Essays’ asserts that Purvavideha must certainly be identified with a portion of the Videha country the chief city of which was Mithila. Videha is thought to be identical with the modern Tirhut. But this identification of the continent is doubtful simply because of the fact that the Videha country has been described as a portion of the Jambudvipa. To suggest the identification of Purvavideha with the Videha country in Jambudvipa renders meaningless the distinction between the Purvavideha continent and the continent of Jambudvipa.

Again, it has been said in several texts that the land in Jambudvipa where people coming originally from Purvavideha settled down, was named Videha after them. It proves clearly that Purvavideha has nothing to do with any internal portion of the Jambudvipa. In the Divyavadana also the continent of Purvavideha has been clearly distinguished from that of the Jambudvipa. Mandhata, the king of Jambudvipa is said to have brought under his control also the continents of Purvavideha, Aparagoyina and Uttarakuru. From the Sumangala – vilasini we come to know that when it is noon in Jambudvipa it is sunset in Pubbavideha. It implies that there is a difference of at least 5 to 6 hours between the standard times of the two countries. This difference suggests the location of Pubbavideha at a distance of 90° of longitude to the east of Jambudvipa. It is probable that Pubbavideha may be related with some country to the east of India at a distance of 90 or 100 degrees of longitude. It is interesting to note that the continent of Australia which falls within 115°-150° roughly, at some stretch of imagination, seems to look like a half – moon and has four distinct sides of which the northern/eastern and southern are longer than the western. It will, however, be utter indiscretion to make any attempt at connecting Pubbavideha with Australia in the absence of any positive guiding fact at hand.

The westernmost continent has been variously called Aparagoyana (in Pali), Aparagodaniya, Aparagodanika or even only Godaniya in Sanskrit. In the Dulva it is called Aparagaudani. Yuan Chwang calls it Ku-t’o-ni. The term Aparagodana or Aparagoyana has been often translated as ’Western Pasturage’ which is really the meaning of Its Tibetan version Nub-ba-lain Spyo and sometimes it has been literally translated as Western Oxwain. In the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Goda is said to be a geographical name.

Among the Nikayas, only the Anguttara Nikaya refers to this continent. There the Buddha illustrating the universality of change describes the Cakkavala, the thousandfold world system, as containing thousands of suns, moons etc. and among them thousands of each of the four continents, of which Aparagoyana is mentioned as one. But here the Buddha uses very conventional symbols to illustrate the universal nature of anicca and dukkha. In fact his purpose here is not to assert the literal existence of thousands of continents Aparagoyana by name. So it will not be fruitful for us to accept this description with a spirit of geographical research. In the commentarial literature, however, the notion of Aparagoyana is taken more literally. In the Sutta Nipata commentary it has been described as being surrounded by five hundred islands, and the whole continent there is said to be 7,000 yojanas in extent, a figure calculated by Hardy to be roughly 70,000 miles. Samantapasadika, commentaiy on the Vinaya Pitaka, also gives the extent as 7,000 yojanas. The Buddhist Sanskrit text Lalitavistara, however, gives the extent of this continent as 8,000 yojanas. The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics describes this continent to be round in shape, having three sides measuring 2,500 leagues each. Its perimeter, therefore, is 7,500 leagues.

The description of the continent as found in the Buddhist texts and commentaries, seems rather curious. This island continent is said to be inhabited by men, who have no houses and sleep on the ground. The human life span here is 500 years and the height of people 16 cubits. In the centre of the continent there is a Kadamba tree (nauclea Cadaumba) whose trunk is 15 yojanas in girth, and whose trunk and arms are 50 yojanas in length and which is believed to stand there for a whole kappa. This tree may be compared to the Jambu tree of Jambudvipa. In the Buddhavamsa commentary, the Aparagoyina continent is referred to as being in the orbit of king Yideha along with Jambudvipa. This idea is associated with the conception of a Cakkavattin.

The Divyavadana says that king Mandhata conquered this continent straightaway and the same text describes it as resting on a circle of gold and to be on a level with the ocean. The Jatakas mention a magical jewel which is capable of reflecting among other wonders the four continents Aparagoyana being one of them. The Mahavastu Avadana also speaks of such a jewel. It is believed that some of the inhabitants came with Mandhata from Aparagoyana to Jambudvipa and settled down there. The country they colonized was called Aparanta. Though it is very difficult today to point out a specific identification for the Aparagoyana continent, scholars have suggested different views on this point. R.L. Mitra, following M. Foucaux takes the Godaniya country, referred to in the Lalitavistara to be Gauda or North Bengal. But we cannot accept this view for the simple reason that Aparagodana has been always clearly distinguished from the Jambudvipa in all the Buddhist texts as also here in lalitavistara, and therefore cannot be identified with a place in Jambudvipa or India itself. Again, in that case the migration of people from Aparagoyana to Jambudvipa as stated in the Pali commentaries becomes absolutely meaningless. P.C. Bagchi says that Godana was the name by which Khotan was known in ancient times. In ancient Chinese transcription the name as Yu-t’ien was in early pronunciation (g) iu-den, i.e. Godana.

From a very interesting information about the Aparagoyana continent, supplied by the Sumangalavilasini, we may try to suggest a probable location of this continent. It has been stated that when the sun rises in Jambudvipa, it is the middle watch of the night in Aparagoyana; sunset in Aparagoyana is midnight in Jambudvipa and sunrise is noon in Jambudvipa, sunset in Pubbavideha and midnight in Uttarakuru. If we take this statement a bit seriously, an interesting inference may be drawn about the probable site of the continent in the globe. From the statement it appears that the difference of time between Jambudvipa and Aparagoyana must be at least 5 to 6 hours. As Jambudvipa in Buddhist literature represents the Indian subcontinent, the Aparagoyana should be placed somewhere in the west with a difference of about 90 degrees of longitude from India. As India with its limits at that age fell within longitudes 60°E to 100°E approximately, the difference of 90 degrees of longitude suggests the location of Aparagoyana somewhere between longitudes 10°E and 20°W.

As Aparagoyana is to the northwest of Jambudvipa, we should not take the countries in the south in the same longitude in consideration. Therefore, the countries which we may count are some portions of Europe like Prance, Spain, the British isles etc., and Africa. But at the same time we must keep in mind the vast distance between this portion of the world and India. It is hardly possible that the Indians of that age had a clear knowledge of the far western countries. It seems more reasonable to accept all the descriptions of the Western Island Continent as fictitious and imaginary, and not to stick to the very faint possibilities of obtaining any sober geographical information from them. It is, however, highly probable that people from some western country outside India may have colonized the western seacoast of India and gradually became inhabitants of this subcontinent. The colony probably expanded as to become a separate regional division called Aparanta. The memory of their original homeland gradually grew fainter and fainter, and gave “birth to fictitious descriptions about that distant country in the west.


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