CHAPTER I. BUDDHIST ORIGINSTHE main facts of the life of Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, and the chief points of the religion he proclaimed are gradually coming clearer to light from year to year as a result of the patient efforts of a certain group of scholars. Not all that is written on the subject adds to our knowledge; in fact, the majority of the older popular books on Buddhism are often very misleading, especially on the points dealing with the origins of Buddhism. This is largely due to the fact that most of these books do not discriminate sufficiently between early and late sources. Thus we have, e.g., such a book as Sir Edwin Arnold's "The Light of Asia," which, perhaps, has been read more widely than any other book on Buddhism, giving a picture of the Buddha and his religion, not as they were, but rather as they appeared to a devout Buddhist poet who lived several centuries later. What is written about the Buddha and early Buddhism by the great majority of Buddhist writers, especially those of China and Japan, is even more misleading, as they see the founder of their religion largely through the eyes of men who wrote from five hundred to a thousand years after Gautama's day. Not that such pictures are wholly erroneous, but that the careful scholar should seek to construct the picture from the oldest sources available, rather than use the sources indiscriminately, is what we mean. Now it is due, as we said, to the patient efforts of a few careful scholars that gradually a few of the real facts in the case are being brought to the light and cleared from the accretions of the centuries. This does not mean that the students of Buddhism have anywhere near such reliable data for the life of Gautama and early Buddhism as Christian students have for the life of Jesus Christ and early Christianity, but that some of the main points are beginning to assume a fairly definite outline.
This outline, especially of the religion of the Buddha, becomes all the more definite when seen in the light of its historical environment. In fact, our whole conception of early Buddhism has been revolutionized by our growing understanding of the circumstances under which it arose. Let us state briefly the main features of the times that preceded Gautama's day, especially of the religious life of India.
A. Gautama's Environment
When Buddhism sprang into life near the end of the sixth century B.C., India had already passed through several stages of its remarkable religious history. The Aryan conquerors who invaded India from the northwest by gradual stages during the second or third millennium B.C. had already produced the religion of the Vedic hymns. In fact, the Vedic hymns and the religion of which they are an expression already lay in the distant past, and the lofty poetry of the Rig-Veda had been forgotten by the people in general and was known only by the priests. Even these apparently knew these hymns no longer in their purity but rather as broken up into charm-texts, Mantras, by which they exercised authority over evil spirits, and through this gained their power over the people. That is, the Vedic hymns had been replaced by the Brāhmanas, the prose liturgical texts based upon them. The possessors of this "divine knowledge" naturally were looked up to by the common people and this, perhaps more than any other factor, gave them the supreme place in India's social organization and gradually led to the caste system which has been such a determining element in every phase of that country's life ever since.
The Br¯hmanas, which are primarily nothing more than detailed prescriptions for the performance of religious rites, had in turn been enlarged by the addition of commentaries in which are found frequently theological and philosophical discussions centering largely around the cosmogonic problem. These theological and philosophical subjects were then further elaborated and they form the main themes of the Āranyakas, Forest Books, and especially the older Upanishads, which form appendices to the Āranyakas.
Such is the brief outline of the chief religious literature which had been produced in India before the sixth century B.C., and a mere glance at it is enough to show that it represents many centuries of religious development. All this literature is regarded by Indian orthodoxy as alike divinely inspired, and on these books, especially on the Upanishads, all the orthodox systems of metaphysics profess to base their teachings.
It is impossible and unnecessary in such a hurried review to indicate the contents of this literature. It is not only very varied, but the views on the same subject are often quite diverse, as might be expected when it is remembered that these books record in part at least the religious life of a mixed race covering a period of more than a thousand years. We shall give a summary of only a few points which have special bearing on our main theme. These are the God-idea, the soul-theory including the doctrines of transmigration and Karma, salvation and the religious and social structure of the day.
1. The God-idea. - The God-idea is exceedingly varied; not only so when the literature is taken as a whole, but also when one age is taken by itself. Alongside of the highest philosophical speculations, ending sometimes in a semimonotheism and at other times in pantheism, is to be found the lowest form of animism and the most revolting polytheism and demonology. In the later portions of the Rig-Veda collection there are passages which have given credence to the view that the oldest literature of India points to monotheism as the earliest form of the God-idea, but a closer study of the facts will hardly bear this out. There is an elementary pantheism to be found, and sometimes this leans toward monotheism, but, after all, the Vedic gods are many; and as the centuries passed the preëminence of one gave way to that of another. "The flowers of the garlands he wore are withered, his robes of majesty have waxed old and faded, he falls from his high estate, and is reborn into a new life." When we come to the century in which Buddhism arose, many of the Vedic gods, even those who at one time or another had held unique places, had succumbed to this fate. Only a few of them remained, and new gods had taken the places of the old ones. The thing that impresses one is that the keenest thinkers, both in the Vedic age and the centuries which followed, were trying in one way or another to work their way through the animistic and polytheistic maze which surrounded them to the conception that at the origin of all things there must be a unitary ground of existence. This thought in some writers is expressed by singling out one god of the pantheon and ascribing to him all the characteristics of other popular gods as we have, e.g., later in the cases of Vishnu and Siva. Other writers conceive of this unitary ground of existence in terms less personal and regard it rather as a self-existent principle which is the source of all phenomenal existence, the gods included. Especially when we come to the Upanishads do we see the God-idea assume this monistic form. In the Upanishads this principle is usually called Brahman. Brahman is connected by some with the god Brahmā or with Brahmanaspati or Brihaspati, i.e. Brahman manifests itself in a personal god, and so the conception leans toward monotheism; but other thinkers use Brahman in an impersonal sense, i.e. in the sense of a first principle which is the source of all empirical reality. Thus we read, "Brahma, verily, was in the beginning this world. It created the gods and assigned them the rule over these worlds - Agni over this earth, Vāyu over the atmosphere, Sūryā over the heaven, and higher gods than these over the higher worlds." These worlds and gods, the writer says, are manifest, but Brahman itself has "retired to the half beyond." That is, the worlds and the gods that rule over them belong to the realm of empirical reality, whereas Brahman belongs to the invisible world of the Noumenon.
This self-existent Brahman is sometimes spoken of as the Atman, the Self. That is, Brahman is conceived of in terms of the human self; not, however, in the ordinary sense, but rather in the sense of the ideal self, the essential self after the body and the sense-world has been subtracted. The conception is something like Kant's Noumenal Ego as distinguished from his Empirical Ego, though what the nature of such an ego might be remains rather vague. The noumenal ego is not only like the Atman but is identical with it, as the pregnant phrase, "Tat tvam asi," "That art Thou," expresses it. The Brahman-Atman, then, represents the furthest development of the God-idea which Indian thought had reached by the end of the sixth century B.C. It was a monistic conception which had monotheistic affinities, but on the whole it is best classified under the convenient though vague term Pantheism.
The spirit of this pantheism is summed up most pithily in Chhandogya Upanishad, III, sec. 14: "Brahman in sooth is this All. It hath therein its beginning, end, and breath; so one should worship it in stillness.
"Now man in sooth is made of will. As is man's will in this world, so doth he become on going hence. Will shall he frame.
"Made of mind, bodied of breath, revealed in radiance, true of purpose, ethereal of soul, all-working, all-loving, allsmelling, all-tasting, grasping this All, speaking naught, heeding naught, this very Self within my heart is tinier than a rice-corn or a barley-corn or a mustard-seed or a canaryseed or the pulp of a canary-seed. This my Self within my heart is greater than earth, greater than sky, greater than heaven, greater than these worlds.
"All-working, all-loving, all-smelling, all-tasting, grasping this All, speaking naught, heeding naught, this my Self within my heart, this is Brahma, to Him shall I win on going hence. He that hath this thought hath indeed no doubt."
To sum up, then, in a few words the God-idea current in India when Buddhism arose, we may say that as held by the common people it was either animistic or polytheistic; both terms including a very wide range of beings. In the minds of the keener thinkers it is quite likely that the Godidea was polytheistic in their practical life, i.e. the gods were regarded as having real existence and must be taken into account; but in their speculative moods such minds penetrated through this plurality of gods to the conception of a unitary source of all existence, the gods included. This unitary source they conceived of either in terms of their own psychic life, or as an unpicturable First Principle which somehow is the ground of all that the empirical world reveals to us. This latter conception, however, was entirely too abstract to satisfy the religious sense. While the mind demanded a unitary source of all existence, the heart needed more than a mere First Principle. It is in the reconciliation of these two demands of mind and heart that we find the origin of the conception of a supreme personal God which we find in the great currents of Sivaite and Vishnuite thought which have divided India into two great camps from Pre- Buddhistic days down to the present time. The latest and most lofty expression of India's approach to a true monotheistic God-idea is to be found in the writings of men like Rabindranath Tagore; though, of course, this is no longer purely Indian but borrows much from western science and Christian thought.
2. The Soul-theory. - The Soul-theory current in India before the sixth century B.C. was equally varied, for the Godidea and the Soul-theory are most intimately connected. In fact, nothing seems truer than the statement that man makes gods in his own image.
Nothing is more natural to primitive man than the belief in his own soul. He not only believes in the existence of his own soul, but sees a soul in everything else. This is the real heart of animism. Polytheism, too, is really a soultheory. The great objects of nature, or groups of phenomena, behave as they do because they have souls something like the soul that controls the human body. And many gods are nothing but deified ancestors. But Indian thought had advanced far beyond these simple assumptions by the end of the sixth century B.C. It had attempted a critical analysis of what constitutes the real nature of the human soul and speculated as to its destiny. According to one of the oldest Buddhist texts there were current at that time no less than thirty-six different soul-theories, especially theories as to the state of the soul after the death of the body. And there was at least one theory which held that the soul dies with the death of the body. The majority of these theories, especially when seen in the light of early Buddhism which rejected them, impress the modern student of psychology as being rather materialistic. The soul is usually thought of as some refined substance which inhabits the body and at death leaves it.
In the Upanishads, however, we find a conception far more advanced. To show that the soul is not a material substance we are told that it is smaller than a mustard-seed or the pulp of a canary-seed and yet greater than earth, sky and all the worlds; in fact, it is of the same essence with Brahman and even identified with It or Him.
In short we may say, then, that at the end of the sixth century B.C. India believed in the existence of the soul as a reality different from the body and surviving the dissolution of the body through death.
3. Transmigration. - One aspect of the Soul-theory is the doctrine of Transmigration. This doctrine goes at least as far back as the eighth century B.C. In the minds of the uneducated masses this belief assumed a very crude form. All objects were endowed with souls. At death when the soul seemed to depart from the body, it simply changed its abode from one body to another. The nature of the new abode, it was believed, was somewhat determined by the character and conduct of the soul during its occupancy of the body which it was leaving. This phase of the doctrine is the heart of the Karma doctrine, which is closely associated with the theory of Transmigration. Of this we shall speak later, as it is one of the foundation stones of Buddhism. We only wish to add here that the doctrine of Karma, like that of Transmigration, had been the common possession of the people of India for several centuries before Buddhism arose.
By the end of the sixth century B.C. it had already been raised into an ethical conception even in the minds of the masses and explained most satisfactorily to them both the inequalities of man's present life and the rewards and punishments meted out in a future life.
Now just as the Soul-theory was held in both crude and philosophic forms, so the doctrine of Transmigration and its associated doctrine of Karma were also held in higher forms by the better thinkers before the days of Gautama. We read, e.g., in the Upanishads that "Man in sooth is made of Will. As is man's will in this world, so doth he become on going hence." That is, where the masses held the doctrines of Transmigration and Karma in the crude form that the soul at death simply passes over into another body already prepared for it and of the character which the deeds of the soul justly deserve, the higher form held that the soul is essentially Will, and by its own deeds creates its own future environment. In short, man becomes what he desires and strives to be - a doctrine not far removed from some of our modern biological theories regarding the origin of the varied organisms of Life.
The destiny of the soul as held by Pre-Buddhistic thought is already exhibited by the above remarks on the doctrines of Transmigration and Karma. We only add that India believed in a happy lot for the good and in hells for the evil. Either goal is reached through gradual stages by the law of Karma and by means of transmigrating from one body to another. To the masses heaven was a life of endless bliss conceived of in terms of what seemed pleasant in this life, while hell was a place filled with all the horrors that a fertile imagination could conjure up. To the philosopher, and especially to the philosophers of the Upanishads, the life of bliss was union with the great Source of All Being, the "identity of Brahman-Atman." This was not simply to be realized after death, but was regarded as a present possibility. The blessed state was realized the moment that the soul became aware of the great fact that it is essentially the same as the Great Atman. Hell, on the other hand, was to be in ignorance of this great truth. It was real separation from the Great-All through ignorance.
To sum up, then, in a word the Pre-Buddhistic theories regarding the soul and its destiny which were current in India, we may say India believed that the soul had a real existence, that it wandered from body to body, or from state to state, according to the law of Karma which had reached the ethical plane. India believed that the final destiny of the soul was on the one hand a life of happiness with the gods or in union with Brahman, and that on the other hand it was for the evil a life of unhappiness in lower realms of existence and in hell, or a life of separation from Brahman.
4. General Social and Religious Condition. - But however much Indian thought was occupied with the problems as to the nature of the soul and its destiny, and however much people were taught that at the end of the long road which led through many years of ascetic practices there lay the highest heaven in which one can escape from the Wheel of Life, these beliefs were, after all, rather shadowy, and the average Indian preferred to cling to the few pleasures of the present life rather than count upon the promised greater happiness of an uncertain future. "It is not good to leave this world, for who knows whether one shall exist in yonder world or not." And Yajnavalkya, the real founder of Brahmanism, says, "Beyond the grave there is no consciousness." In another place he says, "To be sure a tree cut down sprouts again from the stump; but from what roots will a dead man grow up anew? Do not say, 'from the seed,' for seed is produced only by the living. He who has died shall not be born anew." The religious life of the masses in India before Gautama's day dealt largely with present material blessings or curses rather than with moral achievements that were to determine future conditions. So prayers and sacrifices to the gods centered then, as they do to-day, around the things that will feed and clothe the body, and they were not much concerned with the "garments of righteousness" which alone can make men fit companions of God. The average man lived in fear of demons and spiteful gods, and these he sought to propitiate that they might become friendly to him and give him what he needed for a present life of happiness and prosperity. Even the Brahmin priests, the sole possessors of the "divine knowledge," were apparently more concerned with keeping the people in terror of their power, so that they themselves might live the better by their trade, than with saving men's lives from sin and leading them to a better and higher life. Yea, these guardians of the "divine knowledge" magnified the horrors of hell that their fees for their work of deliverance might be the fatter.
5. Signs of a Better Day. - There was, however, in the sixth century B.C. a growing class of men and women who were exceedingly serious and sincere in their religious life. These were the so-called Wanderers and Hermits. There may have been some impostors among them, but on the whole they seem to have been held in high regard by the people because of their holiness and wisdom. The Wanderers were holy, wise men wandering up and down India talking informally with any one who cared for religious and philosophical things. They came largely from the ranks of the people, though it would seem that there were also some Brahmins among them. Their appearance may be said to have heralded and helped cause the change that was about to come over the religious life of India, for these peripatetic philosophers prepared the way for the greatest of these wandering teachers, namely, the Buddha Gautama. The Hermits who lived in the tangled forests and barren caves were less numerous than the Wanderers, but still in their silent haunts of self-mortification and meditation they, too, had a definite share in bringing in the religion of the "World- Honored-One" who was soon to appear.
With these few words as to the environment in which Buddhism arose we pass on to a brief sketch of Gautama's life and the essentials of his religious views.
B. The Buddha's Life and Teachings
The Buddha or Siddhārtha - to call him by his personal name - was born at Lumbini near Kapilavastu about 560B.C.
B.C. and died at Kusināgarā about 480 2 B.C. His father Suddhodana, Pure Rice, was not a king as is often said, but probably a noble landed proprietor of the Gautama branch of the S'akya clan. Thus the Buddha is sometimes called Gautama and sometimes S'akyamuni, Teacher of the S'akyans. The S'akyan clan at that time occupied a district a few thousand square miles in area lying partly on the slopes of the Nepalese foothills and partly on the plains to the south. The capital was Kapilavastu, situated about a hundred miles due north of Benares. The clan was no longer independent, but had come under the suzerainty of the adjoining kingdom of Kosala, to the east of which lay the rival kingdom of Magadha, whose ruler Bimbisāra became the Buddha's first royal patron. The young Siddhārtha lost his mother when he was only a few days old and was brought up by his mother's sister, whom his father married. His bringing up was probably like that of most young men of his class, being trained more in manly sports and the arts of the chase and war than in the learning of the priests or the wisdom of the Wanderers and the Hermits. In due time he was married and became the father of one son, Rāhula, who became in the course of time a member of the Buddhist order.
Soon after the birth of his son, at the age of twenty-nine, Siddhārtha abandoned his young wife and child and wandered forth "to seek after what was right," like hundreds of others were doing at that time. Many writers, ancient and modern, have given us beautiful pictures of the "great renunciation" of the Buddha and his struggle with the tempter who tried to make him give up his quest; but, of course, such pictures should not be taken too literally. Relying upon the oldest sources available it would seem, however, that the cause that led to this step on Siddhārtha's part was his growing realization that to be "carnally minded is death," and that the pleasures of the life of the senses are extremely fleeting and can never satisfy the heart; yea, that life as a whole seems to have more shadows than sunlight.
Legend gives us several instances in which this truth was brought graphically to the attention of the young man. Thus one day while attending a plowing festival he saw an earthworm cut in two by the plow. Soon after this, while passing through the city he met in rapid succession a beggar, an old man, a sick man, and a corpse being carried through the streets. One of the oldest authoritative texts puts the following words in the Buddha mouth, "An ordinary unscholared man though himself subject to old age, not escaped beyond its power, when he beholds another man old is hurt, ashamed, disgusted, overlooking the while his own condition. Thinking that that would be unsuitable to me the infatuation of a youth and his youth departed utterly from me." That is, youth, health and the pleasures of life end in old age, sickness and sorrow; and therefore these transitory things can never give permanent satisfaction. And because they cannot give real satisfaction it is better to abandon them lest they become too deep-rooted. Let man seek "that which is right," for this alone can give permanent satisfaction.
This, in short, seems to have been the thought in young Siddhārtha's mind when he went forth from his home and became a Wanderer in search of salvation. At first he seems to have attached himself to two teachers skilled in the art of cultivating trance states; but finding that this led to nothing permanent, he turned to a life of selfmortification in which he showed such zeal that five disciples attached themselves to him. He followed this path of hardships until it brought him to the very verge of death, without, however, leading him to what he really sought. If a life of luxury and sensual enjoyment leads to pain and death, the other extreme of fasting and self-mortification also seems to lead nowhere but to a miserable death. Siddhārtha therefore abandoned the life of the ordinary ascetic, realizing that physical impoverishment is not of itself spiritual enrichment. His five companions in misery forsook him when he departed from what they regarded as the only true path of holiness. Siddhārtha, however, continued his quest until finally, after six or seven years from the time he first went forth, the hour of his Enlightenment dawned upon him and he understood for the first time the cause of the world's miseries and saw the way of escape from earth's sorrows. He had attained Buddhahood and was now prepared to become the teacher of the Way which was to bring salvation to Asia's millions.What is it that Siddhārtha, or rather the Buddha, the Enlightened One, saw in that hour of enlightenment? for to know this is to know the heart of his religion. And to know the heart of early Buddhism is to have a norm by which to judge the development of early Buddhism into Mahāyāna Buddhism and the evolution of this into the Buddhism of Japan, which is the furthest development of Mahāyāna Buddhism and constitutes the real subject of this book.It may be difficult to answer this question accurately, but the general outline, after all, seems fairly clear. It is most succinctly stated in what is called the Three Conceptions (Trividyā) or the Three Law Seals, the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. These are not three entirely different things, but they more or less overlap. The Three Conceptions, or Law Seals, may be said to represent the general philosophical presuppositions of Gautama's religion; whereas the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path represent his specific insight into man's needs and the way of salvation.1. The Three Conceptions. - The Three Conceptions, or the general philosophical presuppositions underlying the Buddha's religion, may be summarized under the following three heads:
- The Impermanence of All Individual Existence.
- The Universality of Suffering Inherent in Individuality.
- The Non-reality of an Ego-principle.
"The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, And all that beauty, all that wealth e're gave, Await alike the inevitable hour. The path of glory leads but to the grave."Change and decay is not alone the fate of man and his immediate environment, but this seems to be the lot of the universe as a whole. Suns, moons, and stars, of all it may be said "Our little systems have their day, they have their day and cease to be." Worlds are formed and dissolved, and periods of organization and life are succeeded by periods of chaos and death. Not even the gods that inhabited the higher realms did Gautama exempt from the law of change. They, too, are bound to the great Wheel of Life, and its eternal revolutions will some day bring their happy lot to an end. Nothing, absolutely nothing in the realm of individual existence is exempt. The one word Impermanence must be written across them all.
b. The Universality of Suffering Inherent in Individuality. - The second great underlying thought of all the Buddha's teachings and the one of which the Four Great Truths are really a fuller exposition is the thought that all individual existence is inherently an existence of suffering. In fact, the very condition of individuality, i.e. the effort to remain an individual means suffering. There is an elemental force at work which ultimately destroys every individual, as is announced in the doctrine of Impermanence, and therefore any effort on the part of an individual to oppose this elemental force must result in pain. Individuality implies limitation, limitation leads to ignorance, ignorance leads to sorrow and suffering. This is especially true of man. Being an individual, his first instinct is self-preservation. Self-preservation leads him to make an effort against the forces that oppose him, and so the fight that never can win has begun; for even though man gains what he seeks, his desires far outrun his achievements, and even his achievements soon crumble to dust and compel him to be separated from all that he has won or sought to win. This second truth, the Buddha's contemporaries, too, recognized in a measure, but they held it in no such absolute form, for the Brahmin philosopher held that as the individual is really identical with the Brahman, the One-All, absolute loss is impossible. And the common people of India believed that though this is a life of suffering and sorrow, and death robs man of all his worldly possession, there is nevertheless the future life of happiness as a compensation.
c. The Non-reality of an Ego-principle. - The third great underlying thought of Gautama's religion is the denial of an ego-principle, or the self. Individuals are real, of course, in a relative sense; but since all things are impermanent, the self (at least the empirical self), too, must be impermanent. The effort of man to make provision for his soul in a future life is of all efforts the most vain. It is as if a rain-drop sought to retain within itself the rainbow colors caused by the rays of the sun failing on it for a moment or two. The rain-drop inevitably falls to the ground and then, united with others, it flows down the stream into the ocean, there to be lost in the eternal depths of Oneness; and what has become of the drop as a drop or the rainbow colors it hoped to treasure up for all eternity? That Gautama did not deny a certain sort of continuity beyond death is seen from the doctrine of Karma which he accepted, but of this we shall speak later.
These three doctrines, then, namely, the doctrine of the impermanency of all individual existence, the doctrine of suffering inherent in individuality, and the non-reality of any abiding ego-principle, or the self, constitute the underlying presuppositions of all of the Buddha's teachings. And we may say that these are not denied by the Buddhists of any school, though, as we shall see in succeeding chapters, many of the sects of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism proclaim teachings that seem practically the opposites of these.
2. The Four Noble Truths , and the Noble Eightfold Path. - We come now to the Four Noble or Great Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path which we said constitute the Buddha's more specific insight into man's real condition and the way of salvation from this condition. We have a comparatively short statement of this core of the Buddha's religion in the sermon of Benares, entitled "The Foundation of the Kingdom of Righteousness."
"There are two extremes which he who has gone forth ought not to follow - habitual devotion on the one hand to the passions, to the pleasures of sensual things, a low pagan way (of seeking satisfaction), ignoble, unprofitable, fit only for the worldly-minded; and habitual devotion, on the other hand, to self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, un- profitable. There is a Middle Path discovered by the Tathāgata - a path which opens the eyes, and bestows understanding, which leads to peace, to insight, to the higher Wisdom, to Nirvāna. Verily! it is the Aryan Eightfold Path; that is to say, Right Views, Right Aspirations, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Mode of Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Rapture."
"a. Now this is the Noble Truth as to suffering. Birth is attended with pain, decay is painful, disease is painful, death is painful. Union with the unpleasant is painful, painful is separation from the pleasant; and any craving unsatisfied, that, too, is painful. In brief, the five aggregates of clinging (that is, the conditions of individuality) are painful.
"b. Now this is the Noble Truth as to the origin of suffering. Verily I it is the craving thirst that causes the renewal of becomings, that is accompanied by sensual delights, and seeks satisfaction, now here now there - that is to say, the craving for the gratification of the senses, or the craving for a future life, or the craving for prosperity.
"c. Now this is the Noble Truth as to the passing away of pain. Verily! it is the passing away so that no passion remains, the giving up, the getting rid of, the emancipation from, the harboring no longer of this craving thirst.
"d. Now this is the Noble Truth as to the way that leads to the passing away of pain. Verily! it is this Aryan Eightfold Path, that is to say, Right Views, Right Aspirations, Right Speech, Conduct and Mode of Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Rapture."
An explanation of the fuller meaning of this Aryan (Noble) Eightfold Path may be seen in the following as given by Rhys- Davids in his "Buddhism."
"Right Views (free from superstitions or delusions).
"Right Aspirations (high and worthy of the intelligent, worthy man).
"Right Speech (kindly, open, truthful).
"Right Conduct (peaceful, honest, pure).
"Right Livelihood (bringing hurt or danger to no living thing).
"Right Effort (in self-training and in self-culture).
"Right Mindfulness (the active, watchful mind).
"Right Rapture (in deep meditation on the realities of life)."
Now there is a ring of sincerity and practicality about these words of the Buddha which one misses in the speculative systems of many religious teachers. The Buddha speaks from experience, and while we may not agree with his interpretation of life and his way of salvation, we cannot help but feel that he was dead in earnest in his quest and honest in his solution of Life's problem which he offered to the people of India. The two extremes which man is to avoid, he knew from his own bitter experience. They are extremes into which not only the people of ancient India had fallen, but they are present with us to this day. Life, indeed, is an art; and, after all, very few can strike the happy balance between using the things of sense without abusing them, the happy balance of living in the world without sinking to the level of the world. This discovery of the Buddha is a commonplace truth to us moderns, though the actual walking in the Middle Path of sane moderation seems almost as difficult to-day as it did to the ancients.
When we come to the specific content of The Four Noble Truths proclaimed by the Buddha, the Western mind and heart parts company with him, though much that is implied in these Truths, few would hesitate to accept. That life has much in it of sorrow and suffering, every man who knows life at all must have experienced, but it is not all that can be said about life. Though not blind to pain and evil, the Western mind has ever held to a divine optimism which refuses to give a whole-hearted allegiance to the statement of the first Noble Truth that life is essentially sorrow and pain. And the deep-rooted belief in the goodness of a Personal God known through Christ as the Heavenly Father, will always make the Buddha's solution of life's problems seem quite inadequate and too gloomy. Even in non-christian circles there is in the West a sort of belief that life is good. If we are beaten in the struggle and "the cards seem stacked," we at least enjoy the game of life and want to play it to the end.
Gautama began his quest as many others had begun before him. Like others he had found that life as lived by the ordinary man, namely, the life of the senses and physical enjoyment, was fleeting and ended in old age, sickness and death. If there are pleasures, they are impermanent and seem to be overbalanced by sorrow and suffering. Thus he was brought to formulate his first Noble Truth, that human life is suffering and vanity. This, as we have said above, is not exactly a new truth with Gautama, but it must be admitted that perhaps no one had ever held it with quite such universal application, seeing that he applied it to all individual existence, the gods of the highest heavens included.
Now in the second of the Noble Truths, we have what seems to have been an original conception with the Buddha, namely, his explanation of the cause of human suffering. The seat of all suffering, he said, is to be found in man's desires, especially in that craving thirst which seeks satisfaction through the gratification of the senses. That is, man as he is constituted in his ignorance has a thirst for things which really do not satisfy. This thirst keeps him ever seeking satisfaction without finding it. Some seek happiness in a life of luxury, others seek it in what seem nobler ways; and still others, foregoing all earthly pleasures, seek happiness in a life of bliss with the gods in the world to come. But all such seeking can never satisfy nor lead to anything permanent, for the simple reason that it is all a sort of self- seeking, i.e. it is based on the belief that the self is a permanent reality, which, according to the Buddha, is the greatest of all follies, seeing that no individual existence is permanent as such, but is subject to the great law of change.
In the third Noble Truth the Buddha announced his gospel, namely, that there is a way of escape from this life of suffering. The way of self-seeking, in whatever form it may be held, leads only to a fool's paradise. Especially is trust in the popular gods of Brahmanism a vain thing, for how can they save man when they, too, belong to this world of change and are bound to the Wheel of Life? But there is a way of salvation discovered by the Enlightened One. This way is declared in what constitutes the fourth Noble Truth. It is none other than the Noble Eightfold Path which leads man finally into true salvation, into an enlightenment in which he sees things as they are.
And when man is enlightened and sees things as they really are, what does he see? He sees that all things are impermanent and that all individual existence is inherently an existence of suffering, that in order to escape from this life of suffering the truly wise must give up all desires for individuality and the things that go to make up such a life. That is, the Enlightened One sees that what we ordinarily call the self is the greatest of all illusions, and hence to know this is to get free from the bondages of individual existence. Freedom from the bondages of individuality is what constitutes real salvation.
Now this denial of the reality of the self seems very strange, at least to the average Western mind; for at once the thought suggests itself that if the belief in the reality of the self is an illusion, it must be an illusion to something, or some one; and what is that "something, or some one"? And still further, if the Enlightened One knows that the belief in the existence of the ego is an illusion, then what, or who, is it that knows this?
Such questions make it clear that the Buddha either did not think the problem through, or that, after all, he must have believed in the existence of a "something" that knows. We are rather inclined to believe that both these alternates are true, i.e. the Buddha neither thought his position clear through nor did he deny absolutely that there was a "something" that knew, which we have a perfect right to call the true or higher self.
The Buddha himself apparently admitted that he did not think his position clear through, for it seems more and more evident that he had no special fondness for metaphysical problems, and that he rather side-stepped them when he could. What he was primarily interested in was the deliverance of suffering humanity from the bondages of sin and passion. Where others were theorizing about the cosmogonic problem, the nature of the soul and its relation to the Brahman, he was preaching the Noble Eightfold Path of practical ethical conduct which was to free man from suffering. What lay at the end of the road of redemption from suffering, he was not so much concerned with; in fact, he felt that speculations on this subject only kept men from obtaining deliverance. Thus we read in one of the oldest and most authentic passages on the subject as follows:
"Unwisely does one consider, 'Have I existed in ages past, . . . shall I exist in ages to be, do I exist at all, am I, how am I? This is a being, whence is it come, whither will it go?' Considerations such as these is walking in the jungle of delusions. These are the things one should consider: 'This is suffering, this is the origin of suffering, this is the cessation of suffering, this is the way that leads to the cessation of suffering.' From him that considers thus his fetters fall away."One thing only the Buddha was certain lay at the end of the road of suffering, and that was freedom and perfect peace. Whether it was the freedom and peace of annihilation or whether it was the freedom and peace of a positive existence, he did not state clearly. In fact, his answer to such questions usually was a list of the Great Indeterminates, chief of which are the following:
(1 and 2). Whether the world in its real substance is eternal or not.
(3 and 4). Whether the world is infinite or not.
(5 and 6). Whether the soul is the same as the body or different from it.
(7 and 8). Whether a man exists in any way or not after death.
"The jungle, the desert, the puppet-show, the writhing, the entanglements of such speculations is accompanied by sorrow, wrangling resentment, the fever of excitement. It conduces neither to detachment of heart nor to freedom from lusts, nor to tranquillity, nor to peace, nor to wisdom, nor to the insight of the higher stages of the path, nor to Nirvāna."
Thus while it is true in general that the Buddha seemed to base his teachings on certain philosophical presuppositions, the chief of which we have given above, it seems equally true that he had not thought himself through to a clear position on even those points which his main teachings seem to imply; or if he did think himself through, he did not follow up his conclusions very consistently or positively.
3. Karma and Self. - Now while the Buddha was not positive as to the continuation of the Enlightened One (the Arhat) beyond this life, and while he apparently denied the reality of the self and placed such problems among the Great Indeterminates, he nevertheless did assert positively that for the unenlightened man there was a "something" which continued beyond death. This "something" was a man's Karma. In fact, his very plan of salvation was primarily a way by which Karma should be destroyed, or exhausted, so that it would not again build up an individual being and cause suffering.
But what is meant by Karma and how does it differ from the self? This is a question to which no really satisfactory answer can be given, and illustrates what we said above, namely, that the Buddha did not think his position clear through, or at least that he did not explain just what it was.
The doctrine of Karma, as we said above, is one that was common to India long before the days of the Buddha. It was closely associated with that other great doctrine of Indian thought, the doctrine of the Transmigration of the soul. Gautama apparently denied the latter but not the former. He held to a transmigration from one existence to another so that a man's present misfortunes may be the effect of the sins committed in a former existence, but the identity of the present man with the man of the former existence was not a personal identity, but only a Karma identity. That is, the soul, or the self, does not pass from one body to another, as was held by most of the thinkers of Gautama's day, but only Karma passed over. There is no memory or consciousness of a self; there is only Karma that endures. Therefore if one is to understand the Buddha's position one must understand the meaning of the baffling conception expressed by the word Karma.
The word Karma expresses in general the doctrine of the universal reign of the law of Cause and Effect. Of all doctrines none is more axiomatic than this causal-nexus axiom, and so the Buddha, like every true Indian of his day, accepted it with all its accustomed rigor. Though he refused to go back step by step through the causal-nexus to the First Great Cause, he nevertheless held with others that everything that exists has a cause, and every effect in turn becomes the cause of future effects. That is the meaning of the most famous of all Buddhist stanzas which one finds engraved on thousands of votive gifts to Buddhist shrines in India, and which reads:
"Of all the phenomena sprung from a cause The Buddha the cause hath told, And he tells, too, how each shall come to its end, Such alone is the word of the Sage."Now this causal-nexus axiom when applied to the human individual means nothing else than that a man is at any one moment just what his deeds and desires of the past have made him; and in the future he will become just what his deeds and desires of the past and the present are making him. The words of the poet have for the Buddhist a literal meaning when he says:
"Our deeds follow us from afar, And what we have been makes us what we are."Good deeds will produce a good result; and evil deeds, an evil result; or to use the Indian mode of thought, a man's good Karma will tend to make a good individual, and his evil Karma will tend to make an evil individual. The resultant is the combination of the two. Now at death the individual falls apart into the component elements of individuality, namely, the five Aggregates, Skandhas (bodiliness, sensation, perception, predisposition and consciousness), but the Karma, or the Tendency-energy, of the present life remains; and in the future it will collect other Skandhas which will function as an individual in harmony with the Karma, or Tendency-energy, which creates them. There is, then, no memory or consciousness which passes over from one birth to another, but there is this mysterious energy which is other than the body and the functioning of the empirical ego that does pass over from one individual to another, or rather, that builds up a new individual again when the old individual is dissolved in death.
From this it seems clear that the Buddha did not believe in the existence of the soul in the sense in which the ordinary philosophers of his day believed it. And further it seems clear that he did not believe in the existence of the spiritual self in the sense in which we moderns believe when we hold in our doctrine of personal immortality that beyond death there is a continuation of memory and a consciousness of real identity. That mysterious Tendency-energy known as Karma is, then, neither the mere energy resulting from the physical forces that make up the human body; nor is it, in the second place, simply the sum total of the functioning of the five Skandhas, seeing that it is the energy which collects the new Skandhas of the new individual in each successive stage of incarnation. And in the third place, it cannot be said to be like the spiritual self of the modern psychologist, but rather does it seem to be like that mysterious energy which we know in us as Will, especially like the Blind Will, or the Will-to-be of Schopenhauer's system. It is this "blind will-to-be" which is the real cause of all becoming, and as long as it persists it will continue to create for itself new bodies and individuals after the old are dissolved through death. The empirical individual, which is but a composite of the five Skandhas and the seat of all sorrow and pain, ceases to exist when this combination is dissolved at death, but Karma, or that Will-energy, continues and creates the conditions of a new empirical individuality and so continues the life of suffering.
Nearer than this we cannot define what is meant by this baffling conception of Karma and rebirths, and by the Buddha's conception of the empirical ego.
4. The Buddha's Mode of Salvation. - Whatever, then, Karma may mean or may not mean, the aim and purpose of the Buddha's way of salvation is to break the Karmachain so that it will not continue and form another individual and so prolong the life of suffering. The true Arhat is one whose Karma has been completely exhausted and so is assured of deliverance from the Wheel of Life. "Looking for the maker (Karma) of this tabernacle I shall have to run through a course of many births, so long as I do not find; and painful is birth again and again. But now, maker of the tabernacle, thou hast been seen; thou shalt not make up this tabernacle again. All thy rafters are broken, thy ridgepole is sundered, thy mind approaching Nirvāna has attained to extinction of all desires." This is one of the best authenticated passages of early Buddhism and seems to bear out what we have said, namely, that what the Buddha aimed at above everything else was to find deliverance from individual existence.
Another passage which illustrates the way the Buddha expressed himself on this central doctrine reads as follows: "As a flame blown out by the wind goes out and cannot be reckoned as existing; so a sage delivered from name and body disappears and cannot be reckoned as existing." And when his disciple asks him, "But has he only disappeared, or does he not exist, or is he only free from sickness?" the Buddha replies, "For him there is no form and that by which they say he is, exists for him no longer." Whether this may mean that the sage does exist in a higher form though free from the forms of the present life, is a question not easily answered. One thing, however, is certain, namely, that the Buddha did mean that the sage was not to be born again into this life, and this was for him the important consideration; that is what constituted the salvation he offered.
He, then, who would win this salvation let him walk in the Middle Way, the Noble Eightfold Path; for at the end of this path he shall surely find deliverance. He will become a true Arhat who can face the future in perfect peace, for he knows that henceforth there is for him no bondage. This blessed assurance gives the only joy worth having; it alone can satisfy man's desire. The Arhat feels no need of the gods, for he is infinitely superior to them. They are still bound to the Wheel of Life even though they may be on the top side now. The future will certainly bring them to the bottom again, and then they will be no better off than other beings. The Arhat, on the other hand, is neither on the top side nor on the bottom of the Wheel of Life; he is totally free from it.
Now from all that has been said thus far of the kernel of the Buddha's teachings it is clear that he placed the emphasis quite differently from where it was placed by the religious teachers of his day or from where it is usually placed. He agreed with the thought of his day that salvation is primarily "an escape from the evils of existence," and also with much of the thought of his day in the belief that, after all, man must save himself. But he held these two doctrines with a rigor with which few held them; and because of this he differed rather widely both from the thought of his own age and the thought of many minds in all ages in that he left practically no room for the God-idea or for a real future life of the individual - two cardinal doctrines of practically all religions.
It is not true that the Buddha was an out-and-out atheist, as is frequently asserted. Of course, if by an atheist is meant one who does not accept the Christian conception of God or the theistic conception in general, then he was an atheist. And it is also true that he had very little to say either about the Brahman of the philosophers of his day or of the gods of the popular pantheon. But it is not true that he denied either the existence of the former or the relative existence of the latter. The most that can be said is that he regarded the speculations about the Absolute as a waste of time, i.e. he seemed to be an agnostic rather than an out-and-out atheist. And the gods of the common people he regarded as not being worthy of either the fear or the reverence given them. As we said, he did not exactly deny their existence, but rather held that they, too, belonged to the world of change and decay; so that no permanent help could come from them. How could these gods really help mankind? seeing that they could not deliver themselves from the "dread cycle of existence" to which they were still bound. Greater than the gods was he who like himself had attained enlightenment. And the God of Brahmin speculation was too far removed from the real needs of humanity to be of any true help. In view of the impotency of the popular gods and the unknowability of the Brahman, man must work out his own salvation with patience and persistency. Thus, though theoretically the Buddha cannot be regarded as an atheist, practically he lived as one who was without God and with hope only in himself.
It is only natural that the average Indian did not understand the Buddha's conception of Karma or his explanation of the cause of suffering. And it also seems that his early disciples did not all follow to its logical conclusion his general attitude towards the God-idea or the future-life-idea. Since he placed these questions among the Great Indeterminates he could not have been very positive in his teachings on these points, and so it is safe to say that at least the ordinary Buddhist never gave up entirely his trust in the gods nor his hope of a happy future life. Even among the thinkers in the early Buddhist community it would seem that salvation was regarded as more than a mere "escape from the dread cycle of existence," but to this was also added the thought that it was at the same time a happy future existence of real content. The word Nirvāna may mean the peace of annihilation, but it is not the only expression used by the early Buddhists. To be sure, when the Buddhist speaks from the standpoint of the ethical life and the struggle with the lower passions, salvation is conceived of as the "great emancipation," "the end of craving," "the going out," or "extinction"; but there are other expressions which have a positive content. Thus the state of the Arhat is spoken of as a "state of purity," "the supreme," "the transcendent," "the uncreate," "the tranquil," "the unchanging," "the unshaken," "the imperishable." Such expressions as these are a little too positive in content to stand for total annihilation. Therefore it would seem that while the Buddha was himself not especially interested in what lay at the end of the Noble Eightfold Path except that it meant to him deliverance from the bondage of individual existence, his followers put more content into this conception of salvation.
But whether the general run of disciples followed the Buddha in these great questions or not, they could understand his practical ethical teachings, which, after all, was the main purpose of his religion. The Middle Way, the Noble Eightfold Path, was a true way of deliverance from the lower passions and the coarser sins; and to the extent that India walked in this way to that extent it was a better India.
The weakness of Gautama's religion is therefore not so much in what he taught positively, but rather in thinking that religion is possible without having some positive ideas as to the great problems of God, the soul and its eternal destiny. It is not enough to offer mankind a deliverance from a present evil; the heart craves also a present and future good, and fellowship with a power that makes these certain. To be sure, practical ethical teachings and deliverance from the lower passions are more profitable than much idle speculation about metaphysical problems, as was engaged in by Gautama's contemporaries, and this is why his religion gained such a speedy hold on India; but, after all, the heart needs more and demands some answer to these great problems. These questions will not down, and while it may be impossible to give perfectly satisfactory answers to them, the teacher of religion who declines to make an answer, as the Buddha seems to have done as a rule, will find that either his system will soon fade away or that his followers will try to answer these questions for themselves.
This latter fate is what befell Gautama's religion. Even in the Buddha's own lifetime it would seem, as we said, that the average disciple never gave up entirely his allegiance to the popular gods nor his hope of a happier future life. And in the course of the centuries, as we shall see in succeeding chapters, the Buddhist philosophers themselves not only gave answers to these deepest questions of the human heart, but frequently in a way that was quite contrary to the conceptions which the Buddha seems to have held, or at least contrary to what some of his positive teachings seem to imply. All the gods and spirits of the Indian pantheon (and later the gods of the Chinese and Japanese pantheon) came back into Buddhism with a glory they hardly had in pre-Buddhistic days. And the future life for the individual was painted in the most positive and lurid colors which the imagination could picture.
But we are going ahead of our subject, for this belongs to succeeding chapters. We must now resume the narrative of Gautama's life after he became the Buddha, and relate what success he had in bringing his message of salvation outlined above to the people of India.
C. The Success of the Buddha's Ministry
Tradition has it that while Gautama was engaged in his quest of truth and just when he had obtained enlightenment he was harassed with attacks from Māra, the Buddhist tempter, but he did not yield to these temptations. To be sure, he gave up, as we have said, the life of self-mortification, which to some appeared as a return to the lusts of the flesh, but he only gave up one of the extremes of life without falling into the other extreme. He rigidly adhered to the Middle Path of moderation. The great temptation therefore did not lie along this line, though many Buddhist texts have also much to say of how the Buddha overcame these grosser temptations. After the hour of illumination had dawned upon him the subtle temptation came to him that the great truth which he had discovered was too profound for this stupid world and that he had better forthwith enter into Nirvāna, taking the secret with him. But the World-Honored-One also overcame this temptation; and instead of selfishly keeping the secret to himself, he began his great work of instructing the people of India in the secrets of the Four Great Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Buddha's first disciples, it would seem, were the five mendicants who had been his companions in the forests of Uruvelā, but who had forsaken him when he left the way of austerities for the Middle Way of moderation. Naturally they were prejudiced against him after their experience, but so wonderful was his way of salvation that they entered it gladly as soon as he proclaimed it unto them. Beginning with these five, his disciples soon became numerous. They came from all classes, for the Buddha's religion was not a protest against India's caste system, as has been held by some. It was rather above caste and welcomed men from every station in life. To be sure, he attacked the Brahmin priests of his day, but largely because he felt that their false conceit about Vedic learning and ritual observances not only did not save man, but became a real hindrance to salvation. They were blind leaders of the blind and needed to be taught as much as those whom they tried to lead. Let them abandon their false learning and enter the one Way which is for all castes because it is above caste. Apparently a good many Brahmins did leave their own rank and entered the community of the Enlightened One. Some converts came over from rival sects which were just then coming into life. Some came from the general class of Wanderers and Hermits of whom we spoke above and who belonged to no particular sect or system. The majority of the disciples, however, came from the people in general who were as sheep without a shepherd, lost in the desert of the lower passions and sin.
Just what constituted discipleship may be hard to say; but it would seem that rather early in Buddhist history the Triple Confession was set up as the door of entrance to the order, namely, the confession, "I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Doctrine, I take refuge in the Order." Naturally, as was the custom of the day, there were certain simple rules to regulate the daily conduct of those who joined the order. The yellow robe, the shaven head and the begging bowl seem early to have been the outward badge of the monk, though the common believer did not go that far in his outward change of life. Beyond subscribing to the above-mentioned triple confession the common believer probably subscribed to nothing further than the first five of the ten Buddhist commandments which are a prohibition of: (1) the destruction of life, (2) theft, (3) unchastity, (4) falsehood, and (5) the use of intoxicating drinks. Naturally the monks had to observe beyond these the remaining of the ten commandments, which are a prohibition of: (6) eating at forbidden hours, (7) frequenting worldly amusements or spectacles, (8) using perfumes and ornaments, (9) sleeping on a raised couch, and (10) receiving gifts of money. In the course of time these simple rules were elaborated and developed into a rather rigorous code of discipline, though it would seem that this was not done at the Buddha's behest. In fact, it was over contentions as to what constituted the proper discipline that the Buddhist church, even before the death of the Buddha, began to develop the seeds which soon grew up into numerous schisms.
Of the Buddha's mode of life and activity during his long ministry of forty-five years we know very little definitely. It would seem that nine months of the year he spent in wandering up and down the kingdoms of Magadha and Kosala (the modern Bihar and Oudh), proclaiming his way of salvation to whomsoever would listen. The remaining three months, i.e. the rainy season, he spent with his disciples in one or the other of his favorite places such as Rajagriha in Veluvana or Sravāstī in Jetavana, instructing them in the fuller meaning of his doctrines. The latter place seems to have been a particularly favorite spot, as may be seen from the fact that many sutras begin with the formula, "Thus I have heard; once dwelt the Master at Sravāstī in Jetavana, the Park of Anāthapindika." This beautiful spot, like other similar places, was a gift of some admiring wealthy believer and proves indirectly what a hold the Buddha had on the upper classes of society.
These gathering places became the centers from which went forth the Buddhist disciples in ever growing numbers. They went forth not in companies, nor even in pairs as did the disciples of Christ, but singly in order that the teaching might be spread the more rapidly. In the course of time these temporary abodes became permanent places of residence and formed the beginning of that chain of Buddhist monasteries which stretches from Ceylon in the south through central and eastern Asia to the Hokkaidō in northeastern Japan.
Apparently early in the Buddha's ministry, he gained the sympathy of the ruling classes, and King Bimbisara of Magadha in particular seems to have been his patron. But it was not only because he gained the ear of the ruling classes that the Buddha's religion spread so rapidly and without much opposition; rather does it seem that a remarkable spirit of tolerance prevailed in the India of that distant day, so that the Buddha and his disciples could go where they pleased and talk with whomsoever they met. Of course there was some opposition from the Brahmins and the heretical sects which arose simultaneously with Buddhism, but it was the kind of opposition that helps rather than hinders a new teaching.
The most serious obstacle to the new faith came not from without, but from within; the real enemies were those of his own spiritual household. Some sources have it that even as early as the ninth year of his ministry there were quarrels and divisions among his disciples. While it is difficult to distinguish between legend and real history in the early Buddhist records, it would seem that the Buddha had among his inner circle of disciples not only his St. John (Ananda) but also his Judas Iscariot (Devadatta). Devadatta was ambitious to become the head of the order after the Master's death. When he was denied the request to be made the head, he sought to destroy his master by entering into a plot with Ajātasatru, the son of King Bimbisara, who dethroned and imprisoned his own father. But while the latter succeeded in his unholy ambition, Devadatta's success was not so immediate or complete. It would seem, however, that while he did not become the head of the Buddhist order as a whole, he succeeded in gaining a considerable following, and so caused the first serious schism in the Buddhist ranks. As late as the seventh century A.D. there were monks who followed the discipline set up by Devadatta, though some sources say that the rebellion was only of short duration.
Another difficulty that confronted the Buddha was the woman problem. What attitude should the new religion take toward the weaker sex? Buddhism, we said, was above caste, but the sex problem seems to have been more troublesome. As a young man of twenty-nine Siddhārtha, before he became the Buddha, had forsaken his wife and child, for family life was too much a life of earthly fetters for one who wished to walk in the path of holiness. It would seem, however, that afterwards the Buddha returned to his home, not to assume the family relationships, but to proclaim his way of salvation to his wife and child and to his father and other relatives. We also read of women from all classes who heard his message gladly. And how could the Buddha deny salvation to woman when he professed to proclaim a way of salvation for all sentient beings?
But while the new religion was to be a way of salvation for all, it did not mean that all were equally near the kingdom. And woman, just because she is woman, was regarded by the Buddha as being at least one step further removed than man. When the question arose as to whether she was to be admitted to the Buddhist order on equal terms with men, he hesitated and only with great reluctance did he finally yield the point. The following supposed conversation between him and his beloved disciple Ananda illustrates his attitude.
"How shall we behave toward a woman?" asks Ananda. "Avoid the sight of her," replies the Buddha. "But if we see her, Sir, what shall we do then?""Not speak to her, Ananda.""And if she speaks to us, Sir, what then?" "Then be wary, Ananda."
Another passage equally characteristic reads, "O monks, look not upon a woman. If you meet a woman do not look at her and be careful not to speak with her. If you do speak with her say to yourself, 'I am a monk, I must live in this corrupt world like an uncontaminated lotus blossom.' An elderly woman regard as your mother, one a little older than yourself, as an elder sister, and a younger woman as your younger sister." Naturally in going from house to house with his begging bowl, the monk frequently came in contact with women, and so the regulations were rather strict. The monk was to cover his face with his outer garment and with downcast eyes was to receive what was offered him and then take his departure, uttering a blessing but without looking at the fair giver. The scriptures are full of records of temptations overcome, but, alas, also of failures.
While Buddhist nuns have never been as numerous as the monks or played as prominent a part in the history of this religion, it is nevertheless true that woman has had a big share in spreading the teachings of the Buddha, especially through her deeds of mercy and labors of love. In fact, woman has done a good deal more for Buddhism than Buddhism has done for woman; especially does this seem to be the case when compared with what Christianity has done for her. The attitude of the Buddha toward woman was, of course, a very natural attitude for an Indian of that day to take, and it simply shows that he was, after all, very much a product of his own age and environment. The Buddhist apologist may say that it was an accommodation of his teachings to meet the needs of the times, and there is an element of truth in this, but the succeeding centuries in all Buddhist lands have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the religion which came to save all sentient beings and which undoubtedly has done much to exalt gentleness and kindness towards all creatures, has done comparatively little for woman as woman.
The Buddha ended his long ministry of about forty-five years, ripe in age and experience. He had been spending the rainy season near Vaisali when he became seriously ill. He recovered somewhat and went on his way to Kusināgarā. Along the way he stopped to dine with a disciple who gave him fat pork which is said to have brought on the end soon after reaching Kusināgarā. Ananda, his favorite disciple, was at his side and wept bitterly when he saw the last hour approaching. The dying Buddha comforted him with these words: "Let it suffice, O Ananda, grieve not, neither mourn. Have I not told you that man must endure the separation from all that is dear and pleasant. How is it possible, O Ananda, that that which is born, which becomes, which is compounded and subject to change, that this does not end? It must be so. You, O Ananda, have long served the Perfect One with love and care, with benefit and good, without deceit and incessantly, with heart, mouth and hands. You have done good, O Ananda; be diligent, soon you will be free from evil." And again he said, "It may be, O Ananda, that you harbor the thought the doctrine has lost its master, and that there is no longer any master. You should not look at the matter in this way. The Law and the Discipline which I have taught and proclaimed, these are your master after my departure." He then made certain arrangements for the future, asked the monks three times whether any of them had any doubts in regard to the teachings, and when all kept silent he said, "O Disciples: I speak to you. Everything that becomes is transient. Work diligently for your salvation." With these words on his lips he passed away.
The funeral ceremonies are said to have continued for seven days; on the eighth day the remains were cremated and the ashes were divided among the various rulers and nobles who had become adherents of the new faith. A portion was given to the S'akyan clan, who buried the sacred remains and erected on the spot a stūpa. It is probably this stūpa which was discovered in 1898 by W. C. Peppé at Piprava in Tarai. This, when opened, was found to contain an urn inclosing various objects of crystal and gold. Below this urn was found a large sandstone sarcophagus brought evidently from some distance. Within the sarcophagus was an urn with an inscription in the Magadhi language written in the old Brahmi script which reads as follows:
"This vessel containing the relics of the exalted Buddha of the tribe of the S'akyans is the reverent gift of the brothers and sisters with the children and women."Besides this urn the sarcophagus contained another urn and two vases, all of which were half-filled with ornaments of gold, silver, diamonds, crystals of various shapes such as stars, flowers, men, women, birds, elephants, etc., also gold plates with images of lions and the mystical Svastika.
This discovery gives the early Buddhist records and traditions an atmosphere of historical reality which, perhaps, they did not have before; and while we are still a long way from knowing the full facts of the Buddha's life, no one can safely deny any longer the historicity of the personality of Gautama Buddha.
If after what we have said about the kernel of early Buddhism the reader wonders how it was possible that such a doctrine could win such a speedy popularity and success, we might remark that the Buddha was himself often better than his logic; and, after all, it was the practical side of his teachings that appealed to the people of India. As a later Buddhist philosopher put it, "The doctrine in its logical fullness was a teaching only for the wise, not for fools," but practically the Buddha preached the importance of conquering the evil passions, overcoming the five hindrances of sensuality, ill-will, torpor of mind or body, worry, and wavering. "To have faith and good works, to renounce the pomp and vanities of life, to show kindness to every living thing, to seek salvation, to understand and so finally to leave no second self behind to suffer again" in this life of suffering - these were the things which appealed to India, and especially to those who were surfeited with the things of life and were world-weary. And even if salvation and Nirvāna did mean total annihilation to some, we should never forget that life to many in India has never had the fascination and interest that it has for the Westerner, and the highest bliss to many could only be the bliss of nonexistence. It is not merely ceasing to exist in this present bodily life, for then suicide would be the remedy, but ceasing from being bound to the Wheel of Life, "the dread cycle of birth, suffering, and death" on and on without an end. It may be difficult for the Westerner, with his love and passion for life and self-expression, to understand this point of view, but in India with its hot climate, its poverty and suffering, the pessimistic mood which looks upon life as a great evil rather than an achievable good, seems natural. In fact, no matter what system of philosophy or religion holds the field in India, this pessimistic mood seems to run through all of them, and while the Buddha worked some practical reforms and on the whole stood for a loftier ethical life than the systems of his day, in the last analysis his system, too, was of one piece with the others. He, too, saw life as incurably evil and held that the only way of escape from this evil was to cut as much as possible the bonds which tie man to life. Even the bonds of love which tie a husband to his wife and a father to his child had to be cut if freedom is to be gained. So while the Western mind of to-day may marvel at the quick success of Gautama's religion in India, it is not strange when understood in the light of its time and environment.
The Buddha's religion was undoubtedly the best of its day. It delivered men from the fears and superstitions of a gross polytheism and demonology and taught kindness and the way of moderation to all. But even better than his religion was the founder himself. Strange as it may seem, he who apparently denied the existence of a true personality was one of the greatest personalities the world has seen. The unbiased student will have no hesitation in recognizing his essential sincerity in facing life's deepest problems. Such sincerity, linked with real ability, was bound to make a great impression upon the life of India. The Buddha must therefore be classed among the great men of the world, and the religion which he founded five hundred years before Christ is to this day one of the living world-religions with which Christianity has to reckon.
Of its progress in India and its spread into the surrounding countries as well as its change from its primitive form into Mahāyāna Buddhism we shall deal in our next chapter.