Page images
PDF
EPUB

Buddhism of Ceylon, had been described by Catholic missionaries; but no one seems to have surmised the unity of these systems, or to have apprehended the real nature of their morality, before the year 1820, when an English governor of Ceylon and an English resident in Nepaul almost simultaneously gave to the scientific world two collections of Buddhist sacred books, one in Sanskrit, and one in Pali. About the same time, a famous Hungarian orientalist, Csoma de Koros, found in a Thibetan monastery a similar collection which was, for the greater part, a translation from the Hindoo books. In later days translations of the same works have been found in the Mongolian, Chinese, and Japanese languages. With the discovery of these books there arose on the part of many, an exaggerated admiration for the beauties of Buddhism, and the atheistic world gleefully acclaimed the supposed fact of entire nations contradicting the testimony of the human conscience in favor of the existence of a Supreme Being. Referring to this unmeasured enthusiasm for Buddhism, the Abbe de Broglie remarks: “If this religion was so beautiful, so ideal, and nevertheless so contrary to the general sentiments of humanity, how happened it that, until its sacred books were unshelved, such curious and striking characteristics were unknown? If Buddhism was really so different from the gross polytheism with which missionaries and travellers had confounded it, how did the mistake originate ? There are only two ways of explaining this anomaly. Either we must suppose that modern Buddhism has so degenerated, that it in no way resembles the system inculcated in its sacred books, or we must admit that in practice it never accorded with its theoretic doctrine. In either case, the importance of Buddhism is much lessened, and so also is the gravity of the atheistic objections drawn from it."

The legendary and the real Buddha are so confused, that a satisfactory separation is nearly impossible. The life of Sakya Muni is known to us only by means of biographies written many centuries after his death; and much of it is not only legendary, but mythological. Senart demonstrates the existence of solar myths in this legendary life; of myths similar to those found in the story of Krishna, and analogous to the Greek fantasies concerning Hercules. Some authors assign the birth of the Indian reformer to the eighth century B.C.; but De Broglie, following the chronology of Eugene Burnouf, Neve, and Pillon, certainly the most untiring of investigators in this matter, gives the year 557 B.C. as the date. His proper name was Siddhartha, his family name Sakya, and he came of the royal race of the Gautama, sovereigns in central India. The title of Muni, or solitary," was affixed to his name after he entered on the ascetic life. The title of “ Buddha," which in Sanskrit signifies “one who has attained to pefect knowledge, Boddh," was assumed by himself; and it must be remembered that this title was not personal to Sakya Muni, for he bore it in his quality of universal doctor, and in the Buddhist doctrine there are many Buddhas. Strictly speaking, therefore, we should not talk of “ Buddha"; we may say “ a Buddha,” or at most "the Buddha."| In China, the name Buddha became Fo, which signifies, according to the Chinese encyclopedist, Ma-Touan-Lin, "pure intelligence," "absolute knowledge.” In Siam, a Buddha is known as Phot; and in Japan he is called Chaca or Xaca. Following the “Lotus of the Good Law," a Buddhist sutra (discourse of Buddha) translated into French by Burnouf, we shall give a succinct narrative of Sakya's career. A wife of king Suddhodana, by name Maya or Mayadevi (“illusion ”-a name assigned to her because of her ravishing beauty), while still a virgin, gave birth to the new religionist, and died seven days afterward, that she might not be pained by her son's sufferings as a mendicant monk. Before his birth from Maya, the new Buddha had passed through five hundred and fifty existences; he had been an ascetic, a brahmin, a merchant, a king, a parrot, a lion, a monkey, etc. But at his last birth, he immediately took four steps toward the four cardinal points, and cried: "I shall never be born again. I am the greatest of beings." His childhood was passed in study and meditation, and while yet a mere boy his tutors could teach him nothing. Happily married to a worthy girl, and surrounded by a harem of 80,000 others, Siddhartha was always occupied in serious thoughts, of which the following are samples: “ All these worlds--that of the gods, that of the Asuras, and that of mankind—are afflicted by disease, by the miseries of old age, and by the fire of death. mountain torrent, life runs with irresistible swiftness. By the facts

1 Essai sur la Légende de Bouddha,

Like a

1 Certain sanctuaries possess relics of Buddhas who were anterior to Sakya Muni. These Buddhas came at unequal intervals, the later ones having a duration of 2000 or 3000 years. The next Buddha, called Maytreya, is now in the heaven of Toocita, and he will descend 5000 years after the Nirvana of the present one. In the Buddhist books a Buddha is osten variously designated. A Tathagata is one who has run his religious course, after the manner of preceding Buddhas. The title of Bag. havat or Happy One" is given not only to a Buddha, but to him who is about to become one. Bodhisattva signifies “one who has the essence of Bodhi or omniscience”; a Bodhisattva is an incipient Buddha, and a Buddha is a persected Bodki. sattva. To become a Buddha, a Bodhisattva must apply his intelligence to the salva. tion of men. Arhat means “ venerable,” and the Buddhist monks of a superior grade are so called. When given to a Buddha, this title signifies “the venerable one of the

age.

[ocr errors]

of existence, of desire, and of ignorance, all creatures, whether in the home of the gods or in that of men, are subject to the three evils. Desire, always accompanied by fear and misery, is a source of grief. Every composite thing is perishable; it is by turns effect and cause; every being comes from another, and hence the apparent perpetuity of substance. But the wise man is not deceived; he perceives that every composite, every aggregate, is merely a void. Everything revealed by our senses is a void, within and without.” Under the influence of such reflections, Siddhartha, at the age of twenty-nine, took to the woods, and commenced an ascetic life. Now and then he frequented the Brahmanic schools, but they did not show him “the way which leads to indifference for things of earth, to freedom from passion, to the Nirvana." That he might find this way, he retired from human society for six years, and at last, having conquered the temptations of the demon Mara, he went to a place called Bodhimanda, “ the seat of knowledge,” and seating himself under the fig-tree where preceding Buddhas had rested, he vowed that he would not arise until he had acquired supreme knowledge. After he had spent a day and a night without any movement, he found the “absolute," and was a perfect Buddha. The great heart of Sakya Muni would not allow him to reserve the possession of truth to himself: Whether or not I teach the law, it will not be learned by those who now are involved in error; they will know it, who are following the truth; but as for those who are in doubt, they will embrace it if I teach it, and if I do not, they will never know it.” Therefore pity for the doubting decided the mission of the new Buddha, and he resolved to inculcate the "four sublime truths"-grief, its cause, its destruction, and the Nirvana-all of which were connected with the then dominant doctrine of the transmigration of souls. "My law," said he, “is a law of grace for all;" for kings and subjects, for brahmins and the ignorant, for friends and strangers, for men and-with some modifications—for women. A unity of duties must ignore all Brahmanic prescriptions of caste; there must be no barriers of class, race, or nation. And although the new law subverted the very foundations of Brahmanic power, its simplicity -so different from the difficulties met by the student of the Vedas -attracted many of the brahmins, as well as many kings and princes who were glad to escape from the yoke of a tyrannous priesthood. But it was among the lower classes that Sakya Muni had the most pronounced success, for they regarded him as their liberator. He suffered some persecutions, but he died a natural death, and one which gave the brahmins an opportunity of charging him with gluttony. One of his disciples brought him a large mess of pork and rice, and a fatal attack of indigestion ensued-a

VOL. XIII. -30

very prosaic exit for a Buddha. Sakya Muni is now in the Nirvana, and is the object of a certain kind of love on the part of Buddhists. But this love is very different from that which Christians feel for Jesus. The Christian's love for his Saviour is an efficacious sentiment, and it manifests itself in sacrifice; but no Buddhist would dream of any act of renunciation for the Buddha's sake. And why should he? Even before his death, Sakya had attained to the Nirvana of the passions, to an absence of all feeling; and now, if not annihilated, as many hold, he is in the very "perfection” of indifference toward everything in the universe.

Sakya Muni left no writings, but his discourses were collected by his disciples and afterwards rearranged by various Buddhist councils. Immediately after the reformer's death, a council of five hundred members assigned this task to his three most illustrious followers, Ananda, Kasyapa and Upali; a hundred and ten years afterward, in the reign of the famous Asoka Pyiadasi, whose inscriptions are yet preserved for the instruction of orientalists, another council revised the work; and four hundred years after Sakya's death, a third council definitively determined the canon of the Buddhist scriptures, which consist of Sutras, or discourses of the Buddha, of the Vinaya, or books of discipline, and of Adhidharma, or metaphysical theories. According to De Broglie, who follows the opinion of Eugene Burnouf, Pillon," Albrecht Weber," Hardy,' Barthélemy-Saint-Hilaire,' and of many other grave authorities, Buddhism admits no first, fixed and absolute cause in the origin of things: "The prime characteristic of this doctrine is atheism, or, to speak more precisely, an absence of the idea of God. Buddha cares not to know whether there be a first cause; such a question is, for him, a superfluous and insoluble problem. As to this matter, he is in a state of mind like that of those who are called positivists in France and agnostics in England. Hence there is no prayer, no gratitude towards a Supreme Being, no mission from on high, for Sakya. All that he is, he is of himself; and he has acquired it in previous existences. We find no trace of any idea of grace, of divine help, in his doctrine. He does not pretend to be a god, or even an envoy from heaven. He is a man, a sage, and all his knowledge is the result of his own efforts. In his own opinion, Sakya is the first of beings, acknowledging no superior.” De Broglie, therefore, and all the orientalists who call Sakya Muni an atheist, would have us believe that two hundred and fifty millions of Asiatics—the most spiritualistic minds on earth-were led away from a theistic doctrine by a promise of poverty and mortification in this life, and of nothingness—not an absorption into Brahma, but absolute nothingness—in the future. Such a supposition is not acceptable to the Abbé Le Noir, one of the best polemicists of our day. Had the very valuable work of De Broglie appeared before Le Noir prepared his article on Buddhism, the latter author would certainly have tendered it that courteous but uncompromising consideration which he ever manifests toward those from whom he feels obliged to differ. However, De Broglie may find the refutation of his theory already developed in Le Noir's thoughtful pages. In the first place, Le Noir asks Eugene Burnouf, who was the first to charge Sakya Muni with a denial of God and an annihilation of the soul, on what is this accusation based ? Not on the discourses of the Indian reformer, for Burnouf admits that they do not furnish one word in proof of the allegation. And it is certain, insists Le Noir, that brave as Sakya was, he never attempted to interfere with the dogmas of Brahmanism: “If he did not accept the ancient creed of Brahmanism, why did he not attack it? Why did he content himself with a contradiction of the Brahmanic moral system, and utter no word in denial of Brahmanic dogma?” And the adepts of Sakya Muni followed the same course. Had the Buddha found fault with Brahmanic theology, the second Buddhist council, which degraded ten thousand priests on account of heresy, and the third, which degraded sixty thousand for the same cause, would have warned the faithful against that theology. Again, not one Brahmanic work can be cited as condemnatory of any heresy in Sakya's reformation of the ancient system. During the first years of Buddhism, the Brahmins did not disturb its followers. It was only when the pampered priests of Brahma realized that Sakya's notions of future equality and fraternity menaced the social fabric of which they were the head, that they determinedly confronted the new doctrine. Many Brahmanic priests entered the Buddhist priesthood, for Sakya had not abolished the priesthood any more than he had abolished sacrifice-other than that of animals. Finally, the Buddhist scriptures are profoundly theistic. In the GunaKaranda-Vyuka we read : “When no other being as yet existed, Sambhu, who exists of himself, was; and as he preceded all other beings, he is called Adi-Buddha. He wished to be no longer the sole being, and therefore he multiplied himself.” A-se-itas is plainly indicated in this passage, as well as the unity of a first cause and an explanation of creation.'

1 Introduction à l'Histoire du Bouddhisme Indien, 1845. 2 L'Année Philosophique, 2me Année, 1868. 3 Indian Studies—German Review, October, 1858. 4 Manual of Buddhism, 1850. 5 Bouddhisme, 1855–Le Bouddha et sa Religion, 1859.

1 While De Broglie contends that Buddhism is atheistic “ in the sense that it does not admit a Supreme Being,” he avows that " it is polytheistic, inasmuch as it accords divine honors to the Buddhas and the Bodisattvas. And it must be noted that the Buddha's doctrine does not exclude that polytheism which was older than itself. It

« PreviousContinue »