Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Buddha

1. He was the son of a king.

2. He lived between six and seven centuries before Christ.

3. He resigned his royal state and went to live in the jungle, and among the lowest and most unhappy classes, so as to learn the secret of human pain and misery by personal experience: tested every known austerity of the Hinḍū ascetics and excelled them all in his power of endurance: sounded every depth of woe in search of the means to alleviate it: and at last came out victorious, and showed the world the way to salvation.

4. What he taught may be summed up in a few words, as the perfume of many roses may be distilled into a few drops of attar: Everything in the world of Matter is unreal; the only reality is in the world of Spirit. Emancipate yourselves from the tyranny of the former; strive to attain the latter. The Rev. Samuel Beal, in his Catena of Buḍḍhist Scriptures from the Chinese puts it differently. "The idea underlying the Buddhist religious system is," he says, "simply this: 'all is vanity'. Earth is a show, and Heaven is a vain reward." Primitive Buḍḍhism was engrossed, absorbed, by one thought—the vanity of finite existence, the priceless value of the one condition of Eternal Rest.

Basic Bhuddhism: The Buddha's Life

North of Central India and of the kingdom of Oude, near the borders of Nepaul, there reigned, at the end of the seventh century before Christ, a wise and good king, in his capital city, Kapilavastu. He was one of the last of the great Solar race, celebrated in the ancient epics of India. His wife, named Maya because of her great beauty, became the mother of a prince, who was named Siddârtha, and afterward known as the Buddha. She died seven days after his birth, and the child was brought up by his maternal aunt. The young prince distinguished himself by his personal and intellectual qualities, but still more by his early piety. It appears from the laws of Manu that it was not unusual, in the earliest periods of Brahmanism, for those seeking a superior piety to turn hermits, and to live alone in the forest, engaged in acts of prayer, meditation, abstinence, and the study of the Vedas. This practice, however, seems to have been confined to the Brahmans. It was, therefore, a grief to the king, when his son, in the flower of his youth and highly accomplished in every kingly faculty of body and mind, began to turn his thoughts toward the life of an anchorite. In fact, the young Siddârtha seems to have gone through that deep experience out of which the great prophets of mankind have always been born. The evils of the world pressed on his heart and brain; the very air seemed full of mortality; all things were passing away. Was anything permanent? anything stable? Nothing but truth; only the absolute, eternal law of things. "Let me see that," said he, "and I can give lasting peace to mankind. Then shall I become their deliverer." So, in opposition to the strong entreaties of his father, wife, and friends, he left the palace one night, and exchanged the position of a prince for that of a mendicant. "I will never return to the palace," said he, "till I have attained to the sight of the divine law, and so become Buddha."

He first visited the Brahmans, and listened to their doctrines, but found no satisfaction therein. The wisest among them could not teach him true peace,—that profound inward rest, which was already called Nirvana. He was twenty-nine years old. Although disapproving of the Brahmanic austerities as an end, he practised them during six years, in order to subdue the senses. He then became satisfied that the path to perfection did not lie that way. He therefore resumed his former diet and a more comfortable mode of life, and so lost many disciples who had been attracted by his amazing austerity. Alone in his hermitage, he came at last to that solid conviction, that KNOWLEDGE never to be shaken, of the laws of things, which had seemed to him the only foundation of a truly free life. The spot where, after a week of constant meditation, he at last arrived at this beatific vision, became one of the most sacred places in India. He was seated under a tree, his face to the east, not having moved for a day and night, when he attained the triple science, which was to rescue mankind from its woes. Twelve hundred years after the death of the Buddha, a Chinese pilgrim was shown what then passed for the sacred tree. It was surrounded by high brick walls, with an opening to the east, and near it stood many topes and monasteries. In the opinion of M. Saint-Hilaire, these ruins, and the locality of the tree, may yet be rediscovered. The spot deserves to be sought for, since there began a movement which has, on the whole, been a source of happiness and improvement to immense multitudes of human beings, during twenty-four centuries.

Having attained this inward certainty of vision, he decided to teach the world his truth. He knew well what it would bring him,—what opposition, insult, neglect, scorn. But he thought of three classes of men: those who were already on the way to the truth, and did not need him; those who were fixed in error, and whom he could not help; and the poor doubters, uncertain of their way. It was to help these last, the doubters, that the Buddha went forth to preach. On his way to the holy city of India, Benares, a serious difficulty arrested him at the Ganges, namely, his having no money to pay the boatman for his passage. At Benares he made his first converts, "turning the wheel of the law" for the first time. His discourses are contained in the sacred books of the Buddhists. He converted great numbers, his father among the rest, but met with fierce opposition from the Hindoo Scribes and Pharisees, the leading Brahmans. So he lived and taught, and died at the age of eighty years.

Basic Buddhism: The Buddha's Death

Naturally, as soon as the prophet was dead he became very precious in all eyes. His body was burned with much pomp, and great contention arose for the unconsumed fragments of bone. At last they were divided into eight parts, and a tope was erected, by each of the eight fortunate possessors, over such relics as had fallen to him. The ancient books of the North and South agree as to the places where the topes were built, and no Roman Catholic relics are so well authenticated. The Buddha, who believed with Jesus that "the flesh profiteth nothing," and that "the word is spirit and life," would probably have been the first to condemn this idolatry. But fetich-worship lingers in the purest religions.

The time of the death of Sakya-muni, like most Oriental dates, is uncertain. The Northern Buddhists, in Thibet, Nepaul, etc., vary greatly among themselves. The Chinese Buddhists are not more certain. Lassen, therefore, with most of the scholars, accepts as authentic the period upon which all the authorities of the South, especially of Ceylon, agree, which is B.C. 543. Lately Westergaard has written a monograph on the subject, in which, by a labored argument, he places the date about two hundred years later. Whether he will convince his brother savans remains to be seen.

Immediately after the death of Sakya-muni a general council of his most eminent disciples was called, to fix the doctrine and discipline of the church. The legend runs that three of the disciples were selected to recite from memory what the sage had taught. The first was appointed to repeat his teaching upon discipline; "for discipline," said they, "is the soul of the law." Whereupon Upali, mounting the pulpit, repeated all of the precepts concerning morals and the ritual. Then Ananda was chosen to give his master's discourses concerning faith or doctrine. Finally, Kasyapa announced the philosophy and metaphysics of the system. The council sat during seven months, and the threefold division of the sacred Scriptures of Buddhism was the result of their work; for Sakya-muni wrote nothing himself. He taught by conversation only.

The second general council was called to correct certain abuses which had begun to creep in. It was held about a hundred years after the teacher's death. A great fraternity of monks proposed to relax the conventual discipline, by allowing greater liberty in taking food, in drinking intoxicating liquor, and taking gold and silver if offered in alms. The schismatic monks were degraded, to the number of ten thousand, but formed a new sect. The third council, held during the reign of the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka, was called on account of heretics, who, to the number of sixty thousand, were degraded and expelled. After this, missionaries were despatched to preach the word in different lands. The names and success of these missionaries are recorded in the Mahawanso, or Sacred History, translated by Mr. George Turnour from the Singhalese. But what is remarkable is, that the relics of some of them have been recently found in the Sanchi topes, and in other sacred buildings, contained in caskets, with their names inscribed on them. These inscribed names correspond with those given to the same missionaries in the historical books of Ceylon. For example, according to the Mahawanso, two missionaries, one named Kassapo (or Kasyapa), and the other called Majjhima (or Madhyama), went to preach in the region of the Himalayan Mountains. They journeyed, preached, suffered, and toiled, side by side, so the ancient history informs us,—a history composed in Ceylon in the fifth century of our era, with the aid of works still more ancient; and now, when the second Sanchi tope was opened in 1851, by Major Cunningham, the relics of these very missionaries were discovered. The tope was perfect in 1819, when visited by Captain Fell,—"not a stone fallen." And though afterward injured, in 1822, by some amateur relic-hunters, its contents remained intact. It is a solid hemisphere, built of rough stones without mortar, thirty-nine feet in diameter; it has a basement six feet high, projecting all around five feet, and so making a terrace. It is surrounded by a stone railing, with carved figures. In the centre of this tope was found a small chamber, made of six stones, containing the relic-box of white sandstone, about ten inches square. Inside this were four caskets of steatite (a sacred stone among the Buddhists), each containing small portions of burnt human bone. On the outside lid of one of these boxes was this inscription: "Relics of the emancipated Kasyapa Gotra, missionary to the whole Hemawanta." And on the inside of the lid was carved: "Relics of the emancipated Madhyama." These relics, with those of eight other leading men of the Buddhist Church, had rested in this monument since the age of Asoka, and cannot have been placed there later than B.C. 220.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Moral Commands

The Buddhist doctrine follows certain moral commands and prohibitions, namely, five, which apply to all men, and five others which apply only to the novices or the monks.

The five first commandments are: 1st, do not kill; 2d, do not steal; 3d, do not commit adultery; 4th, do not lie; 5th, do not become intoxicated.

The other five are: 1st, take no solid food after noon; 2d, do not visit dances, singing, or theatrical representations; 3d, use no ornaments or perfumery in dress; 4th, use no luxurious beds; 5th, accept neither gold nor silver.

Basic Buddhism: The Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path of Buddhism is as follows:

1. Right belief, or the correct faith.
2. Right judgement, or wise application of that faith to life.
3. Right utterance, or perfect truth in all that we say and do.
4. Right motives, or proposing always a proper end and aim.
5. Right occupation, or an outward life not involving sin.
6. Right obedience, or faithful observance of duty.
7. Right memory, or a proper recollection of past conduct.
8. Right meditation, or keeping the mind fixed on permanent truth.

The Four Sublime Truths

The fundamental doctrine of Buddhism, taught by its founder and received by all Buddhists without exception, in the North and in the South, in Birmah and Thibet, in Ceylon and China, is the doctrine of the four sublime truths, namely:—

1. All existence is evil, because all existence is subject to change and decay.

2. The source of this evil is the desire for things which are to change and pass away.

3. This desire, and the evil which follows it, are not inevitable; for if we choose we can arrive at Nirvana, when both shall wholly cease.

4. There is a fixed and certain method to adopt, by pursuing which we attain this end, without possibility of failure.

These four truths are the basis of the system. They are: 1st, the evil; 2d, its cause; 3d, its end; 4th, the way of reaching the end.

Buddhism as a Religion

But what is the religious life of Buddhism? Can there be a religion without a God? And if Buddhism has no God, how can it have worship, prayer, devotion? There is no doubt that it has all these. We have seen that its cultus is much like that of the Roman Catholic Church. It differs from this church in having no secular priests, but only regulars; all its clergy are monks, taking the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Their vows, however, are not irrevocable; they can relinquish the yellow robe, and return into the world, if they find they have mistaken their vocation.

The God of Buddhism is the Buddha himself, the deified man, who has become an infinite being by entering Nirvana. To him prayer is addressed, and it is so natural for man to pray, that no theory can prevent him from doing it. In Thibet, prayer-meetings are held even in the streets. Huc says: "There is a very touching custom at Lhassa. In the evening, just before sundown, all the people leave their work, and meet in groups in the public streets and squares. All kneel and begin to chant their prayers in a low and musical tone. The concert of song which rises from all these numerous reunions produces an immense and solemn harmony, which deeply impresses the mind. We could not help sadly comparing this Pagan city, where all the people prayed together, with our European cities, where men would blush to be seen making the sign of the cross."

In Thibet confession was early enjoined. Public worship is there a solemn confession before the assembled priests. It confers entire absolution from sins. It consists in an open confession of sin, and a promise to sin no more. Consecrated water is also used in the service of the Pagodas.

There are thirty-five Buddhas who have preceded Sakya-muni, and are considered the chief powers for taking away sin. These are called the "Thirty-five Buddhas of Confession." Sakya-muni, however, has been included in the number. Some lamas are also joined with them in the sacred pictures, as Tsonkhapa, a lama born in A.D. 1555, and others. The mendicant priests of Buddha are bound to confess twice a month, at the new and full moon.

The Buddhists have also nunneries for women. It is related that Sakya-muni consented to establish them at the earnest request of his aunt and nurse, and of his favorite disciple, Ananda. These nuns take the same vows as the monks. Their rules require them to show reverence even to the youngest monk, and to use no angry or harsh words to a priest. The nun must be willing to be taught; she must go once a fortnight for this purpose to some virtuous teacher; she must not devote more than two weeks at a time to spiritual retirement; she must not go out merely for amusement; after two years' preparation she can be initiated, and she is bound to attend the closing ceremonies of the rainy season.


There has been much discussion among scholars concerning the true meaning of Nirvana, the end of all Buddhist expectation. Is it annihilation? Or is it absorption in God? The weight of authority, no doubt, is in favor of the first view. Burnouf's conclusion is: "For Buddhist theists, it is the absorption of the individual life in God; for atheists, absorption of this individual life in the nothing. But for both, it is deliverance from all evil, it is supreme affranchisement." In the opinion that it is annihilation agree Max Müller, Tumour, Schmidt, and Hardy. And M. Saint-Hilaire, while calling it "a hideous faith," nevertheless assigns it to a third part of the human race.

But, on the other hand, scholars of the highest rank deny this view. In particular, Bunsen (Gott in der Geschichte) calls attention to the fact that, in the oldest monuments of this religion, the earliest Sutras, Nirvana is spoken of as a condition attained in the present life. How then can it mean annihilation? It is a state in which all desires cease, all passions die. Bunsen believes that the Buddha never denied or questioned God or immortality.

The following account of NIRVANA is taken from the Pali Sacred Books:—

"Again the king of Ságal said to Nágaséna: 'Is the joy of Nirvana unmixed, or is it associated with sorrow?' The priest replied that it is unmixed satisfaction, entirely free from sorrow.

"Again the king of Ságal said to Nágaséna: 'Is Nirvana in the east, west, south, or north; above or below? Is there such a place as Nirvana? If so, where is it?' Nágaséna: 'Neither in the east, south, west, nor north, neither in the sky above, nor in the earth below, nor in any of the infinite sakwalas, is there such a place as Nirvana.' Milinda: 'Then if Nirvana have no locality, there can be no such thing; and when it is said that any one attains Nirvana, the declaration is false.' Nágaséna: 'There is no such place as Nirvana, and yet it exists; the priest who seeks it in the right manner will attain it.' 'When Nirvana is attained, is there such a place?' Nágaséna: 'When a priest attains Nirvana there is such a place.' Milinda: 'Where is that place?' Nágaséna: 'Wherever the precepts can be observed; it may be anywhere; just as he who has two eyes can see the sky from any or all places; or as all places may have an eastern side.'"

The Buddhist asserts Nirvana as the object of all his hope, yet, if you ask him what it is, may reply, "Nothing." But this cannot mean that the highest good of man is annihilation. No pessimism could be more extreme than such a doctrine. Such a belief is not in accordance with human nature. Tennyson is wiser when he writes:—
"Whatever crazy sorrow saith,
No life that breathes with human breath
Has ever truly longed for death.
"'T is LIFE, whereof our nerves are scant,
O life, not death, for which we pant;
More life, and fuller, that I want."

The Buddhist, when he says that Nirvana is nothing, means simply that it is no thing; that it is nothing to our present conceptions; that it is the opposite of all we know, the contradiction, of what we call life now, a state so sublime, so wholly different from anything we know or can know now, that it is the same thing as nothing to us. All present life is change; that is permanence: all present life is going up and down; that is stability: all present life is the life of sense; that is spirit.

The Buddhist denies God in the same way. He is the unknowable. He is the impossible to be conceived of.
"Who shall name Him
And dare to say,
'I believe in Him'?
Who shall deny Him,
And venture to affirm,
'I believe in Him not?'"106

To the Buddhist, in short, the element of time and the finite is all, as to the Brahman the element of eternity is all. It is the most absolute contradiction of Brahmanism which we can conceive.

It seems impossible for the Eastern mind to hold at the same time the two conceptions of God and nature, the infinite and the finite, eternity and time. The Brahmaus accept the reality of God, the infinite and the eternal, and omit the reality of the finite, of nature, history, time, and the world. The Buddhist accepts the last, and ignores the first.

This question has been fully discussed by Mr. Alger in his very able work, "Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life," and his conclusion is wholly opposed to the view which makes Nirvana equivalent to annihilation.


One of the principal metaphysical doctrines of this system is that which it called Karma. This means the law of consequences, by which every act committed in one life entails results in another. This law operates until one reaches Nirvana. Mr. Hardy goes so far as to suppose that Karma causes the merits or demerits of each soul to result at death in the production of another consciousness, and in fact to result in a new person. But this must be an error. Karma is the law of consequences, by which every act receives its exact recompense in the next world, where the soul is born again. But unless the same soul passes on, such a recompense is impossible.

"Karma" said Buddha, "is the most essential property of all beings; it is inherited from previous births, it is the cause of all good and evil, and the reason why some are mean and some exalted when they come into the world. It is like the shadow which always accompanies the body." Buddha himself obtained all his elevation by means of the Karma obtained in previous states. No one can obtain Karma or merit, but those who hear the discourses of Buddha.

Relation of Buddhism to Christianity

The fundamental doctrine and central idea of Buddhism is personal salvation, or the salvation of the soul by personal acts of faith and obedience. This we maintain, notwithstanding the opinion that some schools of Buddhists teach that the soul itself is not a constant element or a special substance, but the mere result of past merit or demerit. For if there be no soul, there can be no transmigration. Now it is certain that the doctrine of transmigration is the very basis of Buddhism, the corner-stone of the system. Thus M. Saint-Hilaire says: "The chief and most immovable fact of Buddhist metaphysics is the doctrine of transmigration." Without a soul to migrate, there can be no migration. Moreover, the whole ethics of the system would fall with its metaphysics, on this theory; for why urge men to right conduct, in order to attain happiness, or Nirvana, hereafter, if they are not to exist hereafter. No, the soul's immortality is a radical doctrine in Buddhism, and this doctrine is one of its points of contact with Christianity.

Another point of contact is its doctrine of reward and punishment,—a doctrine incompatible with the supposition that the soul does not pass on from world to world. But this is the essence of all its ethics, the immutable, inevitable, unalterable consequences of good and evil. In this also it agrees with Christianity, which teaches that "whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap"; that he who turns his pound into five will he set over five cities, he who turns it into ten, over ten cities.

A third point of contact with Christianity, however singular it may at first appear to say so, is the doctrine of Nirvana. Nirvana, to the Buddhist, means the absolute, eternal world, beyond time and space; that which is nothing to us now, but will be everything hereafter. Incapable of cognizing both time and eternity, it makes them absolute negations of each other.

The peculiarity of Plato, according to Mr. Emerson and other Platonists was, that he was able to grasp and hold intellectually both conceptions,—of God and man, the infinite and finite, the eternal and the temporal. The merit of Christianity is, in like manner, that it is able to take up and keep, not primarily as dogma, but as life, both these antagonistic ideas. Christianity recognizes God as the infinite and eternal, but recognizes also the world of time and space as real. Man exists as well as God: we love God, we must love man too. Brahmanism loves God, but not man; it has piety, but not humanity. Buddhism loves man, but not God; it has humanity, but not piety; or if it has piety, it is by a beautiful want of logic, its heart being wiser than its head. That which seems an impossibility in these Eastern systems is a fact of daily life to the Christian child, to the ignorant and simple Christian man or woman, who, amid daily duty and trial, find joy in both heavenly and earthly love.

There is a reason for this in the inmost nature of Christianity as compared with Buddhism. Why is it that Buddhism is a religion without God? Sakya-muni did not ignore God. The object of his life was to attain Nirvana, that is, to attain a union with God, the Infinite Being. He became Buddha by this divine experience. Why, then, is not this religious experience a constituent element in Buddhism, as it is in Christianity? Because in Buddhism man struggles upward to find God, while in Christianity God comes down to find man. To speak in the language of technical theology, Buddhism is a doctrine of works, and Christianity of grace. That which God gives all men may receive, and be united by this community of grace in one fellowship. But the results attained by effort alone, divide men; because some do more and receive more than others. The saint attained Buddha, but that was because of his superhuman efforts and sacrifices; it does not encourage others to hope for the same result.

We see, then, that here, as elsewhere, the superiority of Christianity is to be found in its quantity, in its fulness of life. It touches Buddhism at all its good points, in all its truths. It accepts the Buddhistic doctrine of rewards and punishments, of law, progress, self-denial, self-control, humanity, charity, equality of man with man, and pity for human sorrow; but to all this it adds—how much more! It fills up the dreary void of Buddhism with a living God; with a life of God in man's soul, a heaven here as well as hereafter. It gives us, in addition to the struggle of the soul to find God, a God coming down to find the soul. It gives a divine as real as the human, an infinite as solid as the finite. And this it does, not by a system of thought, but by a fountain and stream of life. If all Christian works, the New Testament included, were destroyed, we should lose a vast deal no doubt; but we should not lose Christianity; for that is not a book, but a life. Out of that stream of life would be again developed the conception of Christianity, as a thought and a belief. We should be like the people living on the banks of the Nile, ignorant for five thousand years of its sources; not knowing whence its beneficent inundations were derived; not knowing by what miracle its great stream could flow on and on amid the intense heats, where no rain falls, and fed during a course of twelve hundred miles by no single affluent, yet not absorbed in the sand, nor evaporated by the ever-burning sun. But though ignorant of its source, they know it has a source, and can enjoy all its benefits and blessings. So Christianity is a full river of life, containing truths apparently the most antagonistic, filling the soul and heart of man and the social state of nations with its impulses and its ideas. We should lose much in losing our positive knowledge of its history; but if all the books were gone, the tablets of the human heart would remain, and on these would be written the everlasting Gospel of Jesus, in living letters which no years could efface and no changes conceal.