But all the efforts of Brahmanism could not arrest the natural development of the system. It passed on into polytheism and idolatry. The worship of India for many centuries has been divided into a multitude of sects. While the majority of the Brahmans still profess to recognize the equal divinity of Brahma, Vischnu, and Siva, the mass of the people worship Krishna, Rama, the Lingam, and many other gods and idols. There are Hindoo atheists who revile the Vedas; there are the Kabirs, who are a sort of Hindoo Quakers, and oppose all worship; the Ramanujas, an ancient sect of Vischnu worshippers; the Ramavats, living in monasteries; the Panthis, who oppose all austerities; the Maharajas, whose religion consists with great licentiousness. Most of these are worshippers of Vischnu or of Siva, for Brahma-worship has wholly disappeared.
Sec. 8. The Epics, the Puranas, and modern Hindoo Worship.
The Hindoos have two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, each of immense length, and very popular with the people. Mr. Talboys Wheeler has recently incorporated both epics (of course much abridged) into his History of India, and we must refer our readers to his work for a knowledge of these remarkable poems. The whole life of ancient India appears in them, and certainly they are not unworthy products of the genius of that great nation.
According to Lassen, the period to which the great Indian epics refer follows directly on the Vedic age. Yet they contain passages inserted at a much later epoch, probably, indeed, as long after as the war which ended in the expulsion of the Buddhists from India. Mr. Talboys Wheeler considers the war of Rama and the Monkeys against Ravana to refer to this conflict, and so makes the Ramayana later than the Mahabharata. The majority of writers, however, differ from him on this point. The writers of the Mahabharata were evidently Brahmans, educated under the laws of Manu. But it is very difficult to fix the date of either poem with any approach to accuracy. Lassen has proved that the greater part of the Mahabharata was written before the political establishment of Buddhism. These epics were originally transmitted by oral tradition. They must have been brought to their present forms by Brahmans, for their doctrine is that of this priesthood. Now if such poems had been composed after the time of Asoka, when Buddhism became a state religion in India, it must have been often referred to. No such references appear in these epics, except in some solitary passages, which are evidently modern additions. Hence the epics must have been composed before the time of Buddhism. This argument of Lassen's is thought by Max Mueller to be conclusive, and if so it disproves Mr. Talboys Wheeler's view of the purpose of the Ramayana.
Few Hindoos now read the Vedas. The Puranas and the two great epics constitute their sacred books. The Ramayana contains about fifty thousand lines, and is held in great veneration by the Hindoos. It describes the youth of Rama, who is an incarnation of Vischnu, his banishment and residence in Central India, and his war with the giants and demons of the South, to recover his wife, Sita. It probably is founded on some real war between the early Aryan invaders of Hindostan and the indigenous inhabitants.
The Mahabharata, which is probably of later date, contains about two hundred and twenty thousand lines, and is divided into eighteen books, each of which would make a large volume. It is supposed to have been collected by Vyasa, who also collected the Vedas and Puranas. These legends are very old, and seem to refer to the early history of India. There appear to have been two Aryan dynasties in ancient India,—the Solar and Lunar. Rama belonged to the first and Bharata to the second. Pandu, a descendant of the last, has five brave sons, who are the heroes of this book. One of them, Arjuna, is especially distinguished. One of the episodes is the famous Bhagavat-gita. Another is called the Brahman's Lament. Another describes the deluge, showing the tradition of a flood existing in India many centuries before Christ. Another gives the story of Savitri and Satyavan. These episodes occupy three fourths of the poem, and from them are derived most of the legends of the Puranas. A supplement, which is itself a longer poem than the Iliad and Odyssey combined (which together contain about thirty thousand lines), is the source of the modern worship of Krishna. The whole poem represents the multilateral character of Hinduism. It indicates a higher degree of civilization than that of the Homeric poems, and describes a vast variety of fruits and flowers existing under culture. The characters are nobler and purer than those of Homer. The pictures of domestic and social life are very touching; children are dutiful to their parents, parents careful of their children; wives are loyal and obedient, yet independent in their opinions; and peace reigns in the domestic circle.
The different works known as the Puranas are derived from the same religious system as the two epics. They repeat the cosmogony of the poems, and they relate more fully their mythological legends. Siva and Vischnu are almost the sole objects of worship in the Puranas. There is a sectarian element in their devotion to these deities which shows their partiality, and prevents them from being authorities for Hindoo belief as a whole.
The Puranas, in their original form, belong to a period, says Mr. Wilson, a century before the Christian era. They grew out of the conflict between Buddhism and Brahmanism. The latter system had offered no personal gods to the people and given them no outward worship, and the masses had been uninterested in the abstract view of Deity held by the Brahmans.
According to Mr. Wilson, there are eighteen Puranas which are now read by the common people. They are read a great deal by women. Some are very ancient, or at least contain fragments of more ancient Puranas. The very word signifies "antiquity." Most of them are devoted to the worship of Vischnu. According to the Bhagavat Purana, the only reasonable object of life is to meditate on Vischnu. Brahma, who is called in one place "the cause of causes," proclaims Vischnu to be the only pure absolute essence, of which the universe is the manifestation. In the Vischnu Purana, Brahma, at the head of the gods, adores Vischnu as the Supreme Being whom he himself cannot understand.
The power of ascetic penances is highly extolled in the Puranas, as also in the epics. In the Bhagavat it is said that Brahma, by a penitence of sixteen thousand years, created the universe. It is even told in the Ramayana, that a sage of a lower caste became a Brahman by dint of austerities, in spite of the gods who considered such a confusion of castes a breach of Hindoo etiquette. To prevent him from continuing his devotions, they sent a beautiful nymph to tempt him, and their daughter was the famous Sakuntala. But in the end, the obstinate old ascetic conquered the gods, and when they still refused to Brahmanize him, he began to create new heavens and new gods, and had already made a few stars, when the deities thought it prudent to yield, and allowed him to become a Brahman. It is also mentioned that the Ganges, the sacred river, in the course of her wanderings, overflowed the sacrificial ground of another powerful ascetic, who incontinently drank up, in his anger, all its waters, but was finally induced by the persuasions of the gods to set the river free again by discharging it from his ears. Such were the freaks of sages in the times of the Puranas.
Never was there a more complete example of piety divorced from morality than in these theories. The most wicked demons acquire power over gods and men, by devout asceticism. This principle is already fully developed in the epic poems. The plot of the Ramayana turns around this idea. A Rajah, Ravana, had become so powerful by sacrifice and devotion, that he oppressed the gods; compelled Yama (or Death) to retire from his dominions; compelled the sun to shine there all the year, and the moon to be always full above his Raj. Agni (Fire) must not burn in his presence; the Maruts (Winds) must blow only as he wishes. He cannot be hurt by gods or demons. So Vischnu becomes incarnate as Rama and the gods become incarnate as Monkeys, in order to destroy him. Such vast power was supposed to be attained by piety without morality.
The Puranas are derived from the same system as the epic poems, and carry out further the same ideas. Siva and Vischnu are almost the only gods who are worshipped, and they are worshipped with a sectarian zeal unknown to the epics. Most of the Puranas contain these five topics,—Creation, Destruction and Renovation, the Genealogy of the gods, Reigns of the Manus, and History of the Solar and Lunar races. Their philosophy of creation is derived from the Sanknya philosophy. Pantheism is one of their invariable characteristics, as they always identify God and Nature; and herein they differ from the system of Kapila. The form of the Puranas is always that of a dialogue. The Puranas are eighteen in number, and the contents of the whole are stated to be one million six hundred thousand lines.
The religion of the Hindoos at the present time is very different from that of the Vedas or Manu. Idolatry is universal, and every month has its special worship,—April, October, and January being most sacred. April begins the Hindoo year. During this sacred month bands of singers go from house to house, early in the morning, singing hymns to the gods. On the 1st of April Hindoos of all castes dedicate pitchers to the shades of their ancestors. The girls bring flowers with which to worship little ponds of water dedicated to Siva. Women adore the river Ganges, bathing in it and offering it flowers. They also walk in procession round the banyan or sacred tree. Then they worship the cow, pouring water on her feet and putting oil on her forehead. Sometimes they take a vow to feed some particular Brahman luxuriously during the whole month. They bathe their idols with religious care every day and offer them food. This lasts during April and then stops.
In May the women of India worship a goddess friendly to little babies, named Shus-ty. They bring the infants to be blessed by some venerable woman before the image of the goddess, whose messenger is a cat. Social parties are also given on these occasions, although the lower castes are kept distinct at four separate tables. The women also, not being allowed to meet with the men at such times, have a separate entertainment by themselves.
The month of June is devoted to the bath of Jugger-naut, who was one of the incarnations of Vischnu. The name, Jugger-naut, means Lord of the Universe. His worship is comparatively recent. His idols are extremely ugly. But the most remarkable thing perhaps about this worship is that it destroys, for the time, the distinction of castes. While within the walls which surround the temple Hindoos of every caste eat together from the same dish. But as soon as they leave the temple this equality disappears. The ceremony of the bath originated in this legend. The idol Jugger-naut, desiring to bathe in the Ganges, came in the form of a boy to the river, and then gave one of his golden ornaments to a confectioner for something to eat. Next day the ornament was missing, and the priests could find it nowhere. But that night in a dream the god revealed to a priest that he had given it to a certain confectioner to pay for his lunch; and it being found so, a festival was established on the spot, at which the idol is annually bathed.
The other festival of this month is the worship of the Ganges, the sacred river of India. Here the people come to bathe and to offer sacrifices, which consist of flowers, incense, and clothes. The most sacred spot is where the river enters the sea. Before plunging into the water each one confesses his sins to the goddess. On the surface of this river castes are also abolished, the holiness of the river making the low-caste man also holy.
In the month of July is celebrated the famous ceremony of the car of Jugger-naut, instituted to commemorate the departure of Krishna from his native land. These cars are in the form of a pyramid, built several stories high, and some are even fifty feet in height. They are found in every part of India, the offerings of wealthy people, and some contain costly statues. They are drawn by hundreds of men, it being their faith that each one who pulls the rope will certainly go to the heaven of Krishna when he dies. Multitudes, therefore, crowd around the rope in order to pull, and in the excitement they sometimes fall under the wheels and are crushed. But this is accidental, for Krishna does not desire the suffering of his worshippers. He is a mild divinity, and not like the fierce Siva, who loves self-torture.
In the month of August is celebrated the nativity of Krishna, the story of whose birth resembles that in the Gospel in this, that the tyrant whom he came to destroy sought to kill him, but a heavenly voice told the father to fly with the child across the Jumna, and the tyrant, like Herod, killed the infants in the village. In this month also is a feast upon which no fire must be kindled or food cooked, and on which the cactus-tree and serpents are worshipped..
In September is the great festival of the worship of Doorga, wife of Siva. It commences on the seventh day of the full moon and lasts three days. It commemorates a visit made by the goddess to her parents. The idol has three eyes and ten hands. The ceremony, which is costly, can only be celebrated by the rich people, who also give presents on this occasion to the poor. The image is placed in the middle of the hall of the rich man's house. One Brahman sits before the image with flowers, holy water, incense. Trays laden with rice, fruit, and other kinds of food are placed near the image, and given to the Brahmans. Goats and sheep are then sacrificed to the idol on an altar in the yard of the house. When the head of the victim falls the people shout, "Victory to thee, O mother!" Then the bells ring, the trumpets sound, and the people shout for joy. The lamps are waved before the idol, and a Brahman reads aloud from the Scripture. Then comes a dinner on each of the three days, to which the poor and the low-caste people are also invited and are served by the Brahmans. The people visit from house to house, and in the evening there is music, dancing, and public shows. So that the worship of the Hindoos is by no means all of it ascetic, but much is social and joyful, especially in Bengal.
In October, November, and December there are fewer ceremonies. January is a month devoted to religious bathing. Also, in January, the religious Hindoos invite Brahmans to read and expound the sacred books in their houses, which are open to all hearers. In February there are festivals to Krishna.
The month of March is devoted to ascetic exercises, especially to the famous one of swinging suspended by hooks. It is a festival in honor of Siva. A procession goes through the streets and enlists followers by putting a thread round their necks. Every man thus enlisted must join the party and go about with it till the end of the ceremony under pain of losing caste. On the day before the swinging, men thrust iron or bamboo sticks through their arms or tongues. On the next day they march in procession to the swinging tree, where the men are suspended by hooks and whirled round the tree four or five times.
It is considered a pious act in India to build temples, dig tanks, or plant trees by the roadside. Rich people have idols in their houses for daily worship, and pay a priest who comes every morning to wake up the idols, wash and dress them, and offer them their food. In the evening he comes again, gives them their supper and puts them to bed.
Mr. Gangooly, in his book, from which most of the above facts are drawn, denies emphatically the statement so commonly made that Hindoo mothers throw their infants into the Ganges. He justly says that the maternal instinct is as strong with them as with others; and in addition to that, their religion teaches them to offer sacrifices for the life and health of their children.
Sec. 9. Relation of Brahmanism to Christianity.
Having thus attempted, in the space we can here use, to give an account of Brahmanism, we close by showing its special relation as a system of thought to Christianity.
Brahmanism teaches the truth of the reality of spirit, and that spirit is infinite, absolute, perfect, one; that it is the substance underlying all existence. Brahmanism glows through and through with this spirituality. Its literature, no less than its theology, teaches it. It is in the dramas of Calidasa, as well as in the sublime strains of the Bhagavat-gita. Something divine is present in all nature and all life,—
"Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean and the living air."
Now, with this Christianity is in fullest agreement. We have such passages in the Scripture as these: "God is a Spirit"; "God is love; whoso dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him"; "In him we live, and move, and have our being"; "He is above all, and through all, and in us all." But beside these texts, which strike the key-note of the music which was to come after, there are divine strains of spiritualism, of God all in all, which come through a long chain of teachers of the Church, sounding on in the Confessions of Augustine, the prayers of Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, Bonaventura, St. Bernard, through the Latin hymns of the Middle Ages, and develop themselves at last in what is called romantic art and romantic song. A Gothic cathedral like Antwerp or Strasburg,—what is it but a striving upward of the soul to lose itself in God? A symphony of Beethoven,—what is it but the same unbounded longing and striving toward the Infinite and Eternal? The poetry of Wordsworth, of Goethe, Schiller, Dante, Byron, Victor Hugo, Manzoni, all partake of the same element. It is opposed to classic art and classic poetry in this, that instead of limits, it seeks the unlimited; that is, it believes in spirit, which alone is the unlimited; the infinite, that which is, not that which appears; the essence of things, not their existence or outwardness.
Thus Christianity meets and accepts the truth of Brahmanism. But how does it fulfil Brahmanism? The deficiencies of Brahmanism are these,—that holding to eternity, it omits time, and so loses history. It therefore is incapable of progress, for progress takes place in time. Believing in spirit, or infinite unlimited substance, it loses person, or definite substance, whether infinite or finite. The Christian God is the infinite, definite substance, self-limited or defined by his essential nature. He is good and not bad, righteous and not the opposite, perfect love, not perfect self-love. Christianity, therefore, gives us God as a person, and man also as a person, and so makes it possible to consider the universe as order, kosmos, method, beauty, and providence. For, unless we can conceive the Infinite Substance as definite, and not undefined; that is, as a person with positive characters; there is no difference between good and bad, right and wrong, to-day and to-morrow, this and that, but all is one immense chaos of indefinite spirit. The moment that creation begins, that the spirit of the Lord moves on the face of the waters, and says, "Let there be light," and so divides light from darkness, God becomes a person, and man can also be a person. Things then become "separate and divisible" which before were "huddled and lumped."
Christianity, therefore, fulfils Brahmanism by adding to eternity time, to the infinite the finite, to God as spirit God as nature and providence. God in himself is the unlimited, unknown, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; hidden, not by darkness, but by light. But God, as turned toward us in nature and providence, is the infinite definite substance, that is, having certain defined characters, though these have no bounds as regards extent. This last view of God Christianity shares with other religions, which differ from Brahmanism in the opposite direction. For example, the religion of Greece and of the Greek philosophers never loses the definite God, however high it may soar. While Brahmanism, seeing eternity and infinity, loses time and the finite, the Greek religion, dwelling in time, often loses the eternal and the spiritual. Christianity is the mediator, able to mediate, not by standing between both, but by standing beside both. It can lead the Hindoos to an Infinite Friend, a perfect Father, a Divine Providence, and so make the possibility for them of a new progress, and give to that ancient and highly endowed race another chance in history. What they want is evidently moral power, for they have all intellectual ability. The effeminate quality which has made them slaves of tyrants during two thousand years will be taken out of them, and a virile strength substituted, when they come to see God as law and love,—perfect law and perfect love,—and to see that communion with him comes, not from absorption, contemplation, and inaction, but from active obedience, moral growth, and personal development. For Christianity certainly teaches that we unite ourselves with God, not by sinking into and losing our personality, in him, but by developing it, so that we may be able to serve and love him.
Buddhism, or the Protestantism of the East.
Sec. 1. Buddhism, in its Forms, resembles Romanism; in its Spirit, Protestantism. Sec. 2. Extent of Buddhism. Its Scriptures. Sec. 3. Sakyamuni, the Founder of Buddhism. Sec. 4. Leading Doctrines of Buddhism. Sec. 5. The Spirit of Buddhism Rational and Humane. Sec. 6. Buddhism as a Religion. Sec. 7. Karma and Nirvana. Sec. 8. Good and Evil of Buddhism. Sec. 9. Relation of Buddhism to Christianity.
Sec. 1. Buddhism, in its Forms, resembles Romanism; in its Spirit, Protestantism.
On first becoming acquainted with the mighty and ancient religion of Buddha, one may be tempted to deny the correctness of this title, "The Protestantism of the East." One might say, "Why not rather the Romanism of the East?" For so numerous are the resemblances between the customs of this system and those of the Romish Church, that the first Catholic missionaries who encountered the priests of Buddha were confounded, and thought that Satan had been mocking their sacred rites. Father Bury, a Portuguese missionary, when he beheld the Chinese bonzes tonsured, using rosaries, praying in an unknown tongue, and kneeling before images, exclaimed in astonishment: "There is not a piece of dress, not a sacerdotal function, not a ceremony of the court of Rome, which the Devil has not copied in this country." Mr. Davis (Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, II. 491) speaks of "the celibacy of the Buddhist clergy, and the monastic life of the societies of both sexes; to which might be added their strings of beads, their manner of chanting prayers, their incense, and their candles." Mr. Medhurst ("China," London, 1857) mentions the image of a virgin, called the "queen of heaven," having an infant in her arms, and holding a cross. Confession of sins is regularly practised. Father Huc, in his "Recollections of a Journey in Tartary, Thibet, and China," (Hazlitt's translation), says: "The cross, the mitre, the dalmatica, the cope, which the grand lamas wear on their journeys, or when they are performing some ceremony out of the temple,—the service with double choirs, the psalmody, the exorcisms, the censer suspended from five chains, and which you can open or close at pleasure,—the benedictions given by the lamas by extending the right hand over the heads of the faithful,—the chaplet, ecclesiastical celibacy, religious retirement, the worship of the saints, the fasts, the processions, the litanies, the holy water,—all these are analogies between the Buddhists and ourselves." And in Thibet there is also a Dalai Lama, who is a sort of Buddhist pope. Such numerous and striking analogies are difficult to explain. After the simple theory "que le diable y etait pour beaucoup" was abandoned, the next opinion held by the Jesuit missionaries was that the Buddhists had copied these customs from Nestorian missionaries, who are known to have penetrated early even as far as China. But a serious objection to this theory is that Buddhism is at least five hundred years older than Christianity, and that many of these striking resemblances belong to its earliest period. Thus Wilson (Hindu Drama) has translated plays written before the Christian era, in which Buddhist monks appear as mendicants. The worship of relics is quite as ancient. Fergusson describes topes, or shrines for relics, of very great antiquity, existing in India, Ceylon, Birmah, and Java. Many of them belong to the age of Asoka, the great Buddhist emperor, who ruled all India B.C. 250, and in whose reign Buddhism became the religion of the state, and held its third Oecumenical Council.
The ancient Buddhist architecture is very singular, and often very beautiful. It consists of topes, rock-cut temples, and monasteries. Some of the topes are monolithic columns, more than forty feet high, with ornamented capitals. Some are immense domes of brick and stone, containing sacred relics. The tooth of Buddha was once preserved in a magnificent shrine in India, but was conveyed to Ceyion A.D. 311, where it still remains an object of universal reverence. It is a piece of ivory or bone two inches long, and is kept in six cases, the largest of which, of solid silver, is five feet high. The other cases are inlaid with rubies and precious stones. Besides this, Ceylon possesses the "left collar-bone relic," contained in a bell-shaped tope, fifty feet high, and the thorax bone, which was placed in a tope built by a Hindoo Raja, B.C. 250, beside which two others were subsequently erected, the last being eighty cubits high. The Sanchi tope, the finest in India, is a solid dome of stone, one hundred and six feet in diameter and forty-two feet high, with a basement and terrace, having a colonnade, now fallen, of sixty pillars, with richly carved stone railing and gateway.
The rock-cut temples of the Buddhists are very ancient, and are numerous in India. Mr. Fergusson, who has made a special personal study of these monuments, believes that more than nine hundred still remain, most of them within the Bombay presidency. Of these, many date back two centuries before our era. In form they singularly resemble the earliest Roman Catholic churches. Excavated out of the solid rock, they have a nave and side aisles, terminating in an apse or semi-dome, round which the aisle is carried. One at Karli, built in this manner, is one hundred and twenty-six feet long and forty-five wide, with fifteen richly carved columns on each side, separating the nave from the aisles. The facade of this temple is also richly ornamented, and has a great open window for lighting the interior, beneath an elegant gallery or rood-loft.
The Buddhist rock-cut monasteries in India are also numerous, though long since deserted. Between seven and eight hundred are known to exist, most of them having been excavated between B.C. 200 and A.D. 500. Buddhist monks, then as now, took the same three vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience, which are taken by the members of all the Catholic orders. In addition to this, all the Buddhist priests are mendicants. They shave their heads, wear a friar's robe tied round the waist with a rope, and beg from house to house, carrying their wooden bowl in which to receive boiled rice. The old monasteries of India contain chapels and cells for the monks. The largest, however, had accommodation for only thirty or forty; while at the present time a single monastery in Thibet, visited by MM. Huc and Gabet (the lamasery of Kounboum), is occupied by four thousand lamas. The structure of these monasteries shows clearly that the monkish system of the Buddhists is far too ancient to have been copied from the Christians.
Is, then, the reverse true? Did the Catholic Christians derive their monastic institutions, their bells, their rosary, their tonsure, their incense, their mitre and cope, their worship of relics, their custom of confession, etc., from the Buddhists? Such is the opinion of Mr. Prinsep (Thibet, Tartary, and Mongolia, 1852) and of Lassen (Indische Alterthumskunde). But, in reply to this view, Mr. Hardwicke objects that we do not find in history any trace of such an influence. Possibly, therefore, the resemblances may be the result of common human tendencies working out, independently, the same results. If, however, it is necessary to assume that either religion copied from the other, the Buddhists may claim originality, on the ground of antiquity.
But, however this may he, the question returns, Why call Buddhism the Protestantism of the East, when all its external features so much resemble those of the Roman Catholic Church?
We answer: Because deeper and more essential relations connect Brahmanism with the Romish Church, and the Buddhist system with Protestantism. The human mind in Asia went through the same course of experience, afterward repeated in Europe. It protested, in the interest of humanity, against the oppression of a priestly caste. Brahmanism, like the Church of Rome, established a system of sacramental salvation in the hands of a sacred order. Buddhism, like Protestantism, revolted, and established a doctrine of individual salvation based on personal character. Brahmanism, like the Church of Rome, teaches an exclusive spiritualism, glorifying penances and martyrdom, and considers the body the enemy of the soul. But Buddhism and Protestantism accept nature and its laws, and make a religion of humanity as well as of devotion. To such broad statements numerous exceptions may doubtless be always found, but these are the large lines of distinction.
The Roman Catholic Church and Brahmanism place the essence of religion in sacrifices. Each is eminently a sacrificial system. The daily sacrifice of the mass is the central feature of the Romish Church. So Brahmanism is a system of sacrifices. But Protestantism and Buddhism save the soul by teaching. In the Church of Rome the sermon is subordinate to the mass; in Protestantism and in Buddhism sermons are the main instruments by which souls are saved. Brahmanism is a system of inflexible castes; the priestly caste is made distinct and supreme; and in Romanism the priesthood almost constitutes the church. In Buddhism and Protestantism the laity regain their rights. Therefore, notwithstanding the external resemblance of Buddhist rites and ceremonies to those of the Roman Catholic Church, the internal resemblance is to Protestantism. Buddhism in Asia, like Protestantism in Europe, is a revolt of nature against spirit, of humanity against caste, of individual freedom against the despotism of an order, of salvation by faith against salvation by sacraments. And as all revolts are apt to go too far, so it has been with Buddhism. In asserting the rights of nature against the tyranny of spirit, Buddhism has lost God. There is in Buddhism neither creation nor Creator. Its tracts say: "The rising of the world is a natural case." "Its rising and perishing are by nature itself." "It is natural that the world should rise and perish." While in Brahmanism absolute spirit is the only reality, and this world is an illusion, the Buddhists know only this world, and the eternal world is so entirely unknown as to be equivalent to nullity. But yet, as no revolt, however radical, gives up all its antecedents, so Buddhism has the same aim as Brahmanism, namely, to escape from the vicissitudes of time into the absolute rest of eternity. They agree as to the object of existence; they differ as to the method of reaching it. The Brahman and the Roman Catholic think that eternal rest is to be obtained by intellectual submission, by passive reception of what is taught us and done for us by others: the Buddhist and Protestant believe it must be accomplished by an intelligent and free obedience to Divine laws. Mr. Hodgson, who has long studied the features of this religion in Nepaul, says: "The one infallible diagnostic of Buddhism is a belief in the infinite capacity of the human intellect." The name of Buddha means the Intelligent One, or the one who is wide awake. And herein also is another resemblance to Protestantism, which emphasizes so strongly the value of free thought and the seeking after truth. In Judaism we find two spiritual powers,—the prophet and the priest. The priest is the organ of the pardoning and saving love of God; the prophet, of his inspiring truth. In the European Reformation, the prophet revolting against the priest founded Protestantism; in the Asiatic Reformation he founded Buddhism. Finally, Brahmanism and the Roman Catholic Church are more religious; Buddhism and Protestant Christianity, more moral. Such, sketched in broad outline, is the justification for the title of this chapter; but we shall be more convinced of its accuracy after looking more closely into the resemblances above indicated between the religious ceremonies of the East and West.
These resemblances are chiefly between the Buddhists and the monastic orders of the Church of Rome. Now it is a fact, but one which has never been sufficiently noticed, that the whole monastic system of Rome is based on a principle foreign to the essential ideas of that church. The fundamental doctrine of Rome is that of salvation by sacraments. This alone justifies its maxim, that "out of communion with the Church there is no salvation." The sacrament of Baptism regenerates the soul; the sacrament of Penance purifies it from mortal sin; the sacrament of the Eucharist renews its life; and that of Holy Orders qualifies the priest for administering these and the other sacraments. But if the soul is saved by sacraments, duly administered and received, why go into a religious order to save the soul? Why seek by special acts of piety, self-denial, and separation from the world that which comes sufficiently through the usual sacraments of the church? The more we examine this subject, the more we shall see that the whole monastic system of the Church of Rome is an included Protestantism, or a Protestantism within the church.
Many of the reformers before the Reformation were monks. Savonarola, St. Bernard, Luther himself, were monks. From the monasteries came many of the leaders of the Reformation. The Protestant element in the Romish Church was shut up in monasteries during many centuries, and remained there as a foreign substance, an alien element included in the vast body. When a bullet, or other foreign substance, is lodged in the flesh, the vital powers go to work and build up a little wall around it, and shut it in. So when Catholics came who were not satisfied with a merely sacramental salvation, and longed for a higher life, the sagacity of the Church put them together in convents, and kept them by themselves, where they could do no harm. One of the curious homologons of history is this repetition in Europe of the course of events in Asia. Buddhism was, for many centuries, tolerated in India in the same way. It took the form of a monasticism included in Brahmanism, and remained a part of the Hindoo religion. And so, when the crisis came and the conflict began, this Hindoo Protestantism maintained itself for a long time in India, as Lutheranism continued for a century in Italy, Spain, and Austria. But it was at last driven out of its birthplace, as Protestantism was driven from Italy and Spain; and now only the ruins of its topes, its temples, and its monasteries remain to show how extensive was its former influence in the midst of Brahmanism.
Sec. 2. Extent of Buddhism. Its Scriptures.
Yet, though expelled from India, and unable to maintain its control over any Aryan race, it has exhibited a powerful propagandist element, and so has converted to its creed the majority of the Mongol nations. It embraces nearly or quite (for statistics here are only guesswork) three hundred millions of human beings. It is the popular religion of China; the state religion of Thibet, and of the Birman Empire; it is the religion of Japan, Siam, Anam, Assam, Nepaul, Ceylon, in short, of nearly the whole of Eastern Asia.
Concerning this vast religion we have had, until recently, very few means of information. But, during the last quarter of a century, so many sources have been opened, that at present we can easily study it in its original features and its subsequent development. The sacred books of this religion have been preserved independently, in Ceylon, Nepaul, China, and Thibet. Mr. G. Turnour, Mr. Georgely, and Mr. R. Spence Hardy are our chief authorities in regard to the Pitikas, or the Scriptures in the Pali language, preserved in Ceylon. Mr. Hodgson has collected and studied the Sanskrit Scriptures, found in Nepaul. In 1825 he transmitted to the Asiatic Society in Bengal sixty works in Sanskrit, and two hundred and fifty in the language of Thibet. M. Csoma, an Hungarian physician, discovered in the Buddhist monasteries of Thibet an immense collection of sacred books, which had been translated from the Sanskrit works previously studied by Mr. Hodgson. In 1829 M. Schmidt found the same works in the Mongolian. M. Stanislas Julien, an eminent student of the Chinese, has also translated works on Buddhism from that language, which ascend to the year 76 of our era. More recently inscriptions cut upon rocks, columns, and other monuments in Northern India, have been transcribed and translated. Mr. James Prinsep deciphered these inscriptions, and found them to be in the ancient language of the province of Magadha where Buddhism first appeared. They contain the decrees of a king, or raja, named Pyadasi, whom Mr. Turnour has shown to be the same as the famous Asoka, before alluded to. This king appears to have come to the throne somewhere between B.C. 319 and B.C. 260. Similar inscriptions have been discovered throughout India, proving to the satisfaction of such scholars as Burnouf, Prinsep, Turnour, Lassen, Weber, Max Muller, and Saint-Hilaire, that Buddhism had become almost the state religion of India, in the fourth century before Christ.
Sec. 3. Sakya-muni, the Founder of Buddhism.
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 Siddartha, 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 Siddartha 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.
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.
The missionary spirit displayed by Buddhism distinguishes it from all other religions which preceded Christianity. The religion of Confucius never attempted to make converts outside of China. Brahmanism never went beyond India. The system of Zoroaster was a Persian religion; that of Egypt was confined to the Valley of the Nile; that of Greece to the Hellenic race. But Buddhism was inflamed with the desire of bringing all mankind to a knowledge of its truths. Its ardent and successful missionaries converted multitudes in Nepaul, Thibet, Birmah, Ceylon, China, Siam, Japan; and in all these states its monasteries are to-day the chief sources of knowledge and centres of instruction to the people. It is idle to class such a religion as this with the superstitions which debase mankind. Its power lay in the strength of conviction which inspired its teachers; and that, again, must have come from the sight of truth, not the belief in error.
Sec. 4. Leading Doctrines of Buddhism.
What, then, are the doctrines of Buddhism? What are the essential teachings of the Buddha and his disciples? Is it a system, as we are so often told, which denies God and immortality? Has atheism such a power over human hearts in the East? Is the Asiatic mind thus in love with eternal death? Let us try to discover.
The hermit of Sakya, as we have seen, took his departure from two profound convictions,—the evil of perpetual change, and the possibility of something permanent. He might have used the language of the Book of Ecclesiastes, and cried, "Vanity of vanities! all is vanity!" The profound gloom of that wonderful book is based on the same course of thought as that of the Buddha, namely, that everything goes round and round in a circle; that nothing moves forward; that there is no new thing under the sun; that the sun rises and sets, and rises again; that the wind blows north and south, and east and west, and then returns according to its circuits. Where can rest be found? where peace? where any certainty? Siddartha was young; but he saw age approaching. He was in health; but he knew that sickness and death were lying in wait for him. He could not escape from the sight of this perpetual round of growth and decay, life and death, joy and woe. He cried out, from the depths of his soul, for something stable, permanent, real.
Again, he was assured that this emancipation from change and decay was to be found in knowledge. But by knowledge he did not intend the perception and recollection of outward facts,—not learning. Nor did he mean speculative knowledge, or the power of reasoning. He meant intuitive knowledge, the sight of eternal truth, the perception of the unchanging laws of the universe. This was a knowledge which was not to be attained by any merely intellectual process, but by moral training, by purity of heart and lite. Therefore he renounced the world, and went into the forest, and became an anchorite.
But just at this point he separated himself from the Brahmans. They also were, and are, believers in the value of mortification, abnegation, penance. They had their hermits in his day. But they believed in the value of penance as accumulating merit. They practised self-denial for its own sake. The Buddha practised it as a means to a higher end,—emancipation, purification, intuition. And this end he believed that he had at last attained. At last he saw the truth. He became "wide awake." Illusions disappeared; the reality was before him. He was the Buddha,—the MAN WHO KNEW.
Still he was a man, not a God. And here again is another point of departure from Brahmanism. In that system, the final result of devotion was to become absorbed in God. The doctrine of the Brahmans is divine absorption; that of the Buddhists, human development. In the Brahmanical system, God is everything and man nothing. In the Buddhist, man is everything and God nothing. Here is its atheism, that it makes so much of man as to forget God. It is perhaps "without God in the world," but it does not deny him. It accepts the doctrine of the three worlds,—the eternal world of absolute being; the celestial world of the gods, Brahma, Indra, Vischnu, Siva; and the finite world, consisting of individual souls and the laws of nature. Only it says, of the world of absolute being, Nirvana, we know nothing. That is our aim and end; but it is the direct opposite to all we know. It is, therefore, to us as nothing. The celestial world, that of the gods, is even of less moment to us. What we know are the everlasting laws of nature, by obedience to which we rise, disobeying which we fall, by perfect obedience to which we shall at last obtain Nirvana, and rest forever.
To the mind of the Buddha, therefore, the world consisted of two orders of existence,—souls and laws. He saw an infinite multitude of souls,—in insects, animals, men,—and saw that they were surrounded by inflexible laws,—the laws of nature. To know these and to obey them,—this was emancipation.
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.
Then follow the eight steps of this way, namely:—
1. Right belief, or the correct faith.
2. Right judgment, 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.
After this system of doctrine follow 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.
All these doctrines and precepts have been the subject of innumerable commentaries and expositions. Everything has been commented, explained, and elucidated. Systems of casuistry as voluminous as those of the Fathers of the Company of Jesus, systems of theology as full of minute analysis as the great Summa Totius Theologiae of St. Thomas, are to be found in the libraries of the monasteries of Thibet and Ceylon. The monks have their Golden Legends, their Lives of Saints, full of miracles and marvels. On this simple basis of a few rules and convictions has arisen a vast fabric of metaphysics. Much of this literature is instructive and entertaining. Some of it is profound. Baur, who had made a special study of the intricate speculations of the Gnostics, compares them with "the vast abstractions of Buddhism."
Sec. 5. The Spirit of Buddhism Rational and Humane.
Ultimately, two facts appear, as we contemplate this system,—first, its rationalism; second, its humanity.
It is a system of rationalism. It appeals throughout to human reason. It proposes to save man, not from a future but a present hell, and to save him by teaching. Its great means of influence is the sermon. The Buddha preached innumerable sermons; his missionaries went abroad preaching. Buddhism has made all its conquests honorably, by a process of rational appeal to the human mind. It was never propagated by force, even when it had the power of imperial rajas to support it. Certainly, it is a very encouraging fact in the history of man, that the two religions which have made more converts than any other, Buddhism and Christianity, have not depended for their success on the sword of the conqueror or the frauds of priestcraft, but have gained their victories in the fair conflict of reason with reason. We grant that Buddhism has not been without its superstitions and its errors; but it has not deceived, and it has not persecuted. In this respect it can teach Christians a lesson. Buddhism has no prejudices against those who confess another faith. The Buddhists have founded no Inquisition; they have combined the zeal which converted kingdoms with a toleration almost inexplicable to our Western experience. Only one religious war has darkened their peaceful history during twenty-three centuries,—that which took place in Thibet, but of which we know little. A Siamese told Crawford that he believed all the religions of the world to be branches of the true religion. A Buddhist in Ceylon sent his son to a Christian school, and told the astonished missionary, "I respect Christianity as much as Buddhism, for I regard it as a help to Buddhism." MM. Hue and Gabet converted no Buddhist in Tartary and Thibet, but they partially converted one, bringing him so far as to say that he considered himself at the same time a good Christian and a good Buddhist.
Buddhism is also a religion of humanity. Because it lays such stress on reason, it respects all men, since all possess this same gift. In its origin it broke down all castes. All men, of whatever rank, can enter its priesthood. It has an unbounded charity for all souls, and holds it a duty to make sacrifices for all. One legend tells us that the Buddha gave his body for food to a starved tigress, who could not nurse her young through weakness. An incident singularly like that in the fourth chapter of John is recorded of the hermit, who asked a woman of low caste for water, and when she expressed surprise said, "Give me drink, and I will give you truth." The unconditional command, "Thou shalt not kill," which applies to all living creatures, has had great influence in softening the manners of the Mongols. This command is connected with the doctrine of transmigration of souls, which is one of the essential doctrines of this system as well as of Brahmanism. But Buddhism has abolished human sacrifices, and indeed all bloody offerings, and its innocent altars are only crowned with flowers and leaves. It also inculcates a positive humanity, consisting of good actions. All its priests are supported by daily alms. It is a duty of the Buddhist to be hospitable to strangers, to establish hospitals for the sick and poor, and even for sick animals, to plant shade-trees, and erect houses for travellers. Mr. Malcom, the Baptist missionary, says that he was resting one day in a zayat in a small village in Birmah, and was scarcely seated when a woman brought a nice mat for him to lie on. Another brought cool water, and a man went and picked for him half a dozen good oranges. None sought or expected, he says, the least reward, but disappeared, and left him to his repose. He adds: "None can ascend the river without being struck with the hardihood, skill, energy, and good-humor of the Birmese boatmen. In point of temper and morality they are infinitely superior to the boatmen on our Western waters. In my various trips, I have seen no quarrel nor heard a hard word."
Mr. Malcom goes on thus: "Many of these people have never seen a white man before, but I am constantly struck with their politeness. They desist from anything on the slightest intimation; never crowd around to be troublesome; and if on my showing them my watch or pencil-case, or anything which particularly attracts them, there are more than can get a sight, the outer ones stand aloof and wait till their turn comes....
"I saw no intemperance in Birmah, though an intoxicating liquor is made easily of the juice of a palm....
"A man may travel from one end of the kingdom to the other without money, feeding and lodging as well as the people."
"I have seen thousands together, for hours, on public occasions, rejoicing in all ardor, and no act of violence or case of intoxication....
"During my whole residence in the country I never saw an indecent act or immodest gesture in man or woman.... I have seen hundreds of men and women bathing, and no immodest or careless act....
"Children are treated with great kindness, not only by the mother but the father, who, when unemployed, takes the young child in his arms, and seems pleased to attend to it, while the mother cleans the rice or sits unemployed at his side. I have as often seen fathers caressing female infants as male. A widow with male and female children is more likely to be sought in marriage than if she has none....
"Children are almost as reverent to parents as among the Chinese. The aged are treated with great care and tenderness, and occupy the best places in all assemblies."
According to Saint-Hilaire's opinion, the Buddhist morality is one of endurance, patience, submission, and abstinence, rather than of action, energy, enterprise. Love for all beings is its nucleus, every animal being our possible relative. To love our enemies, to offer our lives for animals, to abstain from even defensive warfare, to govern ourselves, to avoid vices, to pay obedience to superiors, to reverence age, to provide food and shelter for men and animals, to dig wells and plant trees, to despise no religion, show no intolerance, not to persecute, are the virtues of these people. Polygamy is tolerated, but not approved. Monogamy is general in Ceylon, Siam, Birinah; somewhat less so in Thibet and Mongolia. Woman is better treated by Buddhism than by any other Oriental religion.
Sec. 6. 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.
Sec. 7. Karma and Nirvana.
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.
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 Muller, 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 Sagal said to Nagasena: '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 Sagal said to Nagasena: 'Is Nirvana in the east, west, south, or north; above or below? Is there such a place as Nirvana? If so, where is it?' Nagasena: '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.' Nagasena: '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?' Nagasena: 'When a priest attains Nirvana there is such a place.' Milinda: 'Where is that place?' Nagasena: '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?'"
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.
Sec. 8. Good and Evil of Buddhism.
The good and the evil of Buddhism are thus summed up by M. Saint-Hilaire.
He remarks that the first peculiarity of Buddhism is the wholly practical direction taken by its founder. He proposes to himself the salvation of mankind. He abstains from the subtle philosophy of the Brahmans, and takes the most direct and simple way to his end. But he does not offer low and sensual rewards; he does not, like so many lawgivers, promise to his followers riches, pleasures, conquests, power. He invites them to salvation by means of virtue, knowledge, and self-denial. Not in the Vedas, nor the books which proceed from it, do we find such noble appeals, though they too look at the infinite as their end. But the indisputable glory of Buddha is the boundless charity to man with which his soul was filled. He lived to instruct and guide man aright. He says in so many words, "My law is a law of grace for all" (Burnouf, Introduction, etc., p. 198). We may add to M. Saint-Hilaire's statement, that in these words the Buddha plainly aims at what we have called a catholic religion. In his view of man's sorrowful life, all distinctions of rank and class fall away; all are poor and needy together; and here, too, he comes in contact with that Christianity which says, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden." Buddha also wished to cure the sicknesses, not only of the Hindoo life, but of the life of mankind.
M. Saint-Hilaire adds, that, in seeking thus to help man, the means of the Buddha are pure, like his ends. He tries to convince and to persuade: he does not wish to compel. He allows confession, and helps the weak and simple by explanations and parables. He also tries to guard man against evil, by establishing habits of chastity, temperance, and self-control. He goes forward into the Christian graces of patience, humility, and forgiveness of injuries. He has a horror of falsehood, a reverence for truth; he forbids slander and gossip; he teaches respect for parents, family, life, home.
Yet Saint-Hilaire declares that, with all these merits, Buddhism has not been able to found a tolerable social state or a single good government. It failed in India, the land of its birth. Nothing like the progress and the development of Christian civilization appears in Buddhism. Something in the heart of the system makes it sterile, notwithstanding its excellent intentions. What is it?
The fact is, that, notwithstanding its benevolent purposes, its radical thought is a selfish one. It rests on pure individualism,—each man's object is to save his own soul. All the faults of Buddhism, according to M. Saint-Hilaire, spring from this root of egotism in the heart of the system.
No doubt the same idea is found in Christianity. Personal salvation is herein included. But Christianity starts from a very different point: it is the "kingdom of Heaven." "Thy kingdom come: thy will be done on earth." It is not going on away from time to find an unknown eternity. It is God with us, eternity here, eternal life abiding in us now. If some narrow Protestant sects make Christianity to consist essentially in the salvation of our own soul hereafter, they fall into the condemnation of Buddhism. But that is not the Christianity of Christ. Christ accepts the great prophetic idea of a Messiah who brings down God's reign into this life. It is the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven. It is the earth full of the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea. It is all mankind laboring together for this general good.
This solitary preoccupation with one's own salvation causes the religious teachers of Buddhism to live apart, outside of society, and take no interest in it. There is in the Catholic and Protestant world, beside the monk, a secular priesthood, which labors to save other men's bodies and souls. No such priesthood exists in Buddhism.
Moreover, not the idea of salvation from evil,—which keeps before us evil as the object of contemplation,—but the idea of good, is the true motive for the human conscience. This leads us up at once to God; this alone can create love. We can only love by seeing something lovely. God must seem, not terrible, but lovely, in order to be loved. Man must seem, not mean and poor, but noble and beautiful, before we can love him. This idea of the good does not appear in Buddhism, says M. Saint-Hilaire. Not a spark of this divine flame—that which to see and show has given immortal glory to Plato and to Socrates—has descended on Sakya-muni. The notion of rewards, substituted for that of the infinite beauty, has perverted everything in his system.
Duty itself becomes corrupted, as soon as the idea of the good disappears. It becomes then a blind submission to mere law. It is an outward constraint, not an inward inspiration. Scepticism follows. "The world is empty, the heart is dead surely," is its language. Nihilism arrives sooner or later. God is nothing; man is nothing; life is nothing; death is nothing; eternity is nothing. Hence the profound sadness of Buddhism. To its eye all existence is evil, and the only hope is to escape from time into eternity,—or into nothing,—as you may choose to interpret Nirvana. While Buddhism makes God, or the good, and heaven, to be equivalent to nothing, it intensifies and exaggerates evil. Though heaven is a blank, hell is a very solid reality. It is present and future too. Everything in the thousand hells of Buddhism is painted as vividly as in the hell of Dante. God has disappeared from the universe, and in his place is only the inexorable law, which grinds on forever. It punishes and rewards, but has no love in it. It is only dead, cold, hard, cruel, unrelenting law. Yet Buddhists are not atheists, any more than a child who has never heard of God is an atheist. A child is neither deist nor atheist: he has no theology.
The only emancipation from self-love is in the perception of an infinite love. Buddhism, ignoring this infinite love, incapable of communion with God, aiming at morality without religion, at humanity without piety, becomes at last a prey to the sadness of a selfish isolation. We do not say that this is always the case, for in all systems the heart often redeems the errors of the head. But this is the logical drift of the system and its usual outcome.
Sec. 9. Relation of Buddhism to Christianity.
In closing this chapter, let us ask what relation this great system sustains 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.
Zoroaster and the Zend Avesta.
Sec. 1. Ruins of the Palace of Xerxes at Persepolis. Sec. 2. Greek Accounts of Zoroaster. Plutarch's Description of his Religion. Sec. 3. Anquetil du Perron and his Discovery of the Zend Avesta. Sec. 4. Epoch of Zoroaster. What do we know of him? Sec. 5. Spirit of Zoroaster and of his Religion. Sec. 6. Character of the Zend Avesta. Sec. 7. Later Development of the System in the Bundehesch. Sec. 8. Relation of the Religion of the Zend Avesta to that of the Vedas. Sec. 9. Is Monotheism or pure Dualism the Doctrine taught in the Zend Avesta? Sec. 10. Relation of this System to Christianity. The Kingdom of Heaven.
Sec. 1. Ruins of the Palace of Xerxes at Persepolis.
In the southwestern part of Persia is the lovely valley of Schiraz, in the province of Farsistan, which is the ancient Persis. Through the long spring and summer the plains are covered with flowers, the air is laden with perfume, and the melody of birds, winds, and waters fills the ear. The fields are covered with grain, which ripens in May; the grapes, apricots, and peaches are finer than those of Europe. The nightingale (or bulbul) sings more sweetly than elsewhere, and the rose-bush, the national emblem of Persia, grows to the size of a tree, and is weighed down by its luxuriant blossoms. The beauty of this region, and the loveliness of the women of Schiraz awakened the genius of Hafiz and of Saadi, the two great lyric poets of the East, both of whom resided here.
At one extremity of this valley, in the hollow of a crescent formed by rocky hills, thirty miles northwest of Schiraz, stands an immense platform, fifty feet high above the plain, hewn partly out of the mountain itself, and partly built up with gray marble blocks from twenty to sixty feet long, so nicely fitted together that the joints can scarcely be detected. This platform is about fourteen hundred feet long by nine hundred broad, and its faces front the four quarters of the heavens. You rise from the plain by flights of marble steps, so broad and easy that a procession on horseback could ascend them. By these you reach a landing, where stand as sentinels two colossal figures sculptured from great blocks of marble. The one horn in the forehead seems to Heeren to indicate the Unicorn; the mighty limbs, whose muscles are carved with the precision of the Grecian chisel, induced Sir Robert Porter to believe that they represented the sacred bulls of the Magian religion; while the solemn, half-human repose of the features suggests some symbolic and supernatural meaning. Passing these sentinels, who have kept their solitary watch for centuries, you ascend by other flights of steps to the top of the terrace. There stand, lonely and beautiful, a few gigantic columns, whose lofty fluted shafts and elegantly carved capitals belong to an unknown order of architecture. Fifty or sixty feet high, twelve or fifteen feet in circumference, they, with a multitude of others, once supported the roof of cedar, now fallen, whose beams stretched from capital to capital, and which protected the assembled multitudes from the hot sun of Southern Asia. Along the noble upper stairway are carved rows of figures, which seem to be ascending by your side. They represent warriors, courtiers, captives, men of every nation, among whom may be easily distinguished the negro from the centre of Africa. Inscriptions abound, in that strange arrow-headed or wedge-shaped character,—one of the most ancient and difficult of all,—which, after long baffling the learning of Europe, has at last begun yielded to the science and acuteness of the present century. One of the inscriptions copied from these walls was read by Grotefend as follows:—
"Darius the King, King of Kings, son of Hystaspes, successor of the Ruler of the World, Djemchid."
"Xerxes the King, King of Kings, son of Darius the King, successor of the Ruler of the World."
More recently, other inscriptions have been deciphered, one of which is thus given by another German Orientalist, Benfey:—
"Ahura-Mazda (Ormazd) is a mighty God; who has created the earth, the heaven, and men; who has given glory to men; who has made Xerxes king, the ruler of many. I, Xerxes, King of Kings, king of the earth near and far, son of Darius, an Achaemenid. What I have done here, and what I have done elsewhere, I have done by the grace of Ahura-Mazda."
In another place:—
"Artaxerxes the King has declared that this great work is done by me. May Ahura-Mazda and Mithra protect me, my building, and my people."
Here, then, was the palace of Darius and his successors, Xerxes and Artaxerxes, famous for their conquests,—some of which are recorded on these walls,—who carried their victorious arms into India on the east, Syria and Asia Minor on the west, but even more famous for being defeated at Marathon and Thermopylae. By the side of these columns sat the great kings of Persia, giving audience to ambassadors from distant lands. Here, perhaps, sat Cyrus himself, the founder of the Persian monarchy, and issued orders to rebuild Jerusalem. Here the son of Xerxes, the Ahasuerus of Scripture, may have brought from Susa the fair Esther. For this is the famous Persepolis, and on those loftier platforms, where only ruinous heaps of stones now remain, stood that other palace, which Alexander burned in his intoxication three hundred and thirty years before Christ. "Solitary in their situation, peculiar in their character," says Heeren, "these ruins rise above the deluge of years which has overwhelmed all the records of human grandeur around them, and buried all traces of Susa and Babylon. Their venerable antiquity and majestic proportions do not more command our reverence, than the mystery which involves their construction awakens the curiosity of the most unobservant spectator. Pillars which belong to no known order of architecture, inscriptions in an alphabet which continues an enigma, fabulous animals which stand as guards at the entrance, the multiplicity of allegorical figures which decorate the walls,—all conspire to carry us back to ages of the most remote antiquity, over which the traditions of the East shed a doubtful and wavering light."
Diodorus Siculus says that at Persepolis, on the face of the mountain, were the tombs of the kings of Persia, and that the coffins had to be lifted up to them along the wall of rock by cords. And Ctesias tells us that "Darius, the son of Hystaspes, had a tomb prepared for himself in the double mountain during his lifetime, and that his parents were drawn up with cords to see it, but fell and were killed." These very tombs are still to be seen on the face of the mountain behind the ruins. The figures of the kings are carved over them. One stands before an altar on which a fire is burning. A ball representing the sun is above the altar. Over the effigy of the king hangs in the air a winged half-length figure in fainter lines, and resembling him. In other places he is seen contending with a winged animal like a griffin.