The Creed of Buddha, by Edmond Holmes, , at sacred-texts.com
AS I do not know a word of Pâli or any other Eastern 1 language, I owe a debt of gratitude to those distinguished scholars whose translations of the Buddhist scriptures and expositions of the teaching of Buddhism have made it possible for me to attempt to interpret the creed of Buddha. If I have found their treatises less helpful and less illuminative than their translations, the reason is, no doubt, that the qualities which make a man a successful scholar differ widely from those which might enable him to enter, with subtle sympathy and imaginative insight, into the thoughts of a great Teacher. That the task of expounding Buddhism to the Western world has devolved upon a small group of linguistic experts is due partly to the obvious fact that these experts had early access to, and for a time a practical monopoly of, the available materials; partly to that singular lack of interest in the spiritual life and thought of ancient India which is characteristic of Western culture, and which predisposes even the more thoughtful and enlightened minds to accept with indolent acquiescence the ideas of others about Indian religion and philosophy, instead of trying to evolve ideas for themselves. There was a time
when ignorance of the Pâli language was a final disqualification for the task of studying the philosophy of Buddha. But it is so no longer. For the disinterested labours of the scholar have provided the "lay" student with a mass of materials of which he may be able to make a profitable use; and one who feels impelled, as I have done, to fathom the deeper meaning of Buddha's wonderful scheme of life, and to guess the secret of his mysterious silence, has now as good a right as any Orientalist to attempt the solution of that fascinating problem.
That the problem has not yet been even approximately solved is my sincere conviction. I have read many treatises on Buddhism; but I have yet to find the writer who, when expounding the philosophy (as distinguished from the ethical system) of Buddha, teaches "as one having authority and not as the Scribes." The indisputable fact that Buddha himself kept silence with regard to the ultimate realities and ultimate issues of life, shows that the task of interpreting his creed is one for "criticism" (in the widest and deepest sense of the word) rather than for "scholarship,"--for judgment, the judgment that enables a man to make use of the learning of others, rather than for learning as such. One of my objects in writing this book has been to vindicate the right of the "layman" to explore a region which the linguistic expert has hitherto been allowed to regard as his private preserve. Should any other "layman" feel disposed to follow my example, he may start on his enterprise with the full assurance that the field before him is as open as it is wide.
One or two words of warning I may perhaps be allowed to offer him. He will do well to suggest to himself at the outset that the Western way of looking at things may not be the only way which is compatible with sanity, that the Western standard of reality may not be the final standard, that the world which is encircled by the horizon of Western thought may not be the whole Universe. The student of Buddhism who is bound, hand and foot, by the quasi-philosophical prejudices of the Western mind, will be unable to survey his subject from any Eastern standpoint, or to approach it along the line of Eastern thought. This fundamental disability will be fatal to his enterprise. There is a special reason why the student of Buddhism should be able (on occasion) to look at things from Eastern standpoints, and to enter with sympathy into Eastern modes and habits of thought. The teaching of Buddha can in no wise be dissociated from the master current of ancient Indian thought. The dominant philosophy of ancient India was a spiritual idealism of a singularly pure and exalted type, which found its truest expression in those Vedic treatises known as the Upanishads. The great teacher is always a reformer as well as an innovator; and his work is, in part at least, an attempt to return to a high level which had been won and then lost. Whether Buddha did or did not lead men back (by a path of his own) from the comparatively low levels of ceremonialism and asceticism to the sublimely high level of thought and aspiration which had been reached in the Upanishads is, perhaps, an open question. But
that he had been deeply influenced by the ideas of the ancient seers can scarcely be doubted; and the serious and sympathetic study of their teaching should therefore be the first stage in the attempt to lift the veil of his silence and interpret his unformulated creed. The student who has gone through this preliminary process of initiation will find that he has begun to fit himself for other tasks than that of communing with the soul of Buddha: and he will also find that those other tasks will in due season claim his devotion. When he has solved the problem of the indebtedness of Buddha to the philosophy of the Upanishads, he will be confronted by another problem which for us of the West is of even greater importance, the problem of the indebtedness of Western thought--of Pythagoras, of Xenophanes and Parmenides, of Plato, of Plotinus, of Christ himself and those who caught the spirit of his teaching--to the same sacred source. That problem, too, will have to be grappled with, if the West is ever to discover the secret of its own hidden strength, and if Christendom is ever to understand Christianity.
v:1 Whenever I use the word "East" or "Eastern," I am thinking of the Far East, i.e. of Eastern Asia.