The Creed of Buddha, by Edmond Holmes, , at sacred-texts.com
I N the Sixth Century before the birth of Christ, India, which had long been seething and fermenting with spiritual thought, gave to the world a great teacher. The son of an Indian chieftain, Gaudama Buddha 1 strove for many years to find that inward illumination on "great matters," which was the cherished dream of every serious thinker in that remarkable era. After having followed, to no purpose, the paths of metaphysical speculation, of mental discipline, and of ascetic rigour, he reaped on one memorable night the fruit of his prolonged spiritual effort, the truth of things being of a sudden so clearly revealed to him that thenceforth he never swerved for a moment
from devotion to his creed and to the mission that it imposed upon him.
What was the creed of Buddha? What did he teach mankind, and what were the dominant ideas on which he based his teaching? It is, I think, at once easier and more difficult to interpret the creed of Buddha than that of Christ. Unquestionably easier, within certain clearly defined limits. Perhaps more difficult, when once those limits have been passed.
That the moral teaching of Buddha was of such and such a character, that the carefully elaborated scheme of life which has always been attributed to him was really his, can scarcely be doubted. On this point it will suffice if I cite the authority of two well-known Buddhist scholars. "When it is recollected," says Dr Rhys Davids, "that Gaudama Buddha did not leave behind him a number of deeply simple sayings, from which his followers subsequently built up a system or systems of their own, but had himself thoroughly elaborated his doctrine, partly as to details, after, but in its fundamental points even before, his mission began; that during his long career as teacher, he had ample time to repeat the principles and the details of the system over and over again to his disciples, and to test their knowledge of it; and finally that his leading disciples were, like himself, accustomed to the subtlest metaphysical distinctions, and trained to that wonderful command of memory which Indian ascetics then possessed; when these facts are recalled to mind, it will be seen that much more reliance may reasonably be placed upon the doctrinal
parts of the Buddhist Scriptures than upon correspondingly late records of other religions." Dr Oldenberg speaks to the same general effect: "On the whole we shall be authorized to refer to Buddha himself the most essential trains of thought which we find recorded in the Sacred Texts, and in many cases it is probably not too much to believe that the very words in which the ascetic of the Sakya house couched his gospel of deliverance, have come down to us as they fell from his lips. We find that throughout the vast complex of ancient Buddhist literature which has been collected, certain mottoes and formulas, the expression of Buddhist convictions upon some of the weightiest problems of religious thought, are expressed over and over again in a standard form adopted once for all. Why may not these be words which have received their currency from the founder of Buddhism, which had been spoken by him hundreds and thousands of times throughout his long life devoted to teaching?" Whatever else Buddha may have been, he was a serious and systematic teacher who was deeply impressed with the belief that it was his mission to lead men into the path of salvation,--a broad path, as he conceived it, but clearly defined; and as his missionary life lasted for forty-five years, and was one of incessant preaching and teaching; we may well believe that he mapped out the path with extreme care and accuracy, and that the chart of life which he thus elaborated was preserved in all its detail by the retentive memory of his listeners and their disciples, and has come down intact to the present day. We way also assume with confidence
that tradition has faithfully preserved that part of his teaching in which he gave reasons for the faith that was in him. It is certain that he urged men to enter and walk in the path in order that, by extinguishing all desire for earthly things, they might win deliverance from the earth-life, with its attendant suffering, and attain to that blessed state of being which he called Nirvâna. It is further certain that he believed in re-incarnation, and took for granted that those who listened to him held the same belief; and that therefore he meant by deliverance from earth deliverance from the "whirlpool of rebirth," deliverance from the cycle of earth-lives which the unenlightened soul is bound to pass through.
This much is practically certain. But when we ask ourselves what Buddha meant by re-incarnation--a question which must be asked, and which obviously gives rise to other questions wider and deeper than itself--we come to the verge of what is obscure and dubious; and the very next step takes us into a region of pure conjecture in which at present there is neither path nor guide.
For this sudden and complete change there are two chief reasons. The first is that, even when a great teacher says much about the ultimate realities of existence (or what he regards as such), it is extremely difficult to make out what he really believes. In the realm of metaphysical speculation, whether we are thinking for ourselves or trying to interpret the ideas of others--the two enterprises are really one--we feel (if we have any qualification for either task) that our thoughts are utterly inadequate to
the solution of our problems, and that our words, besides being of Protean instability, are utterly inadequate to the expression of our thoughts. Who but the novice at speculative thinking would venture to make any statement with confidence when he had to use such words as Soul, Ego, Person, Consciousness, Being, Reality, Universe, God;--words that have different meanings for different minds; words that take new shades of meaning from each new standpoint which the thinker finds it needful to adopt, and even from each new context which the course of his thinking suggests to him; words that stand on guard at the portal of every metaphysical inquiry, and refuse to allow us to pass until we have read the riddle of their meaning and so answered their unanswerable challenge?
The second reason for our uncertainty as to the metaphysical grounds on which Buddha based his ethical teaching, is that he himself was so far from dogmatizing about what is ultimate as to preserve a deep and consistent silence with regard to it. The meaning and the significance of this silence will presently be considered. Meanwhile I can but say, with Dr Oldenberg, that in the Buddhist philosophy (as it is presented to us in the Sacred Scriptures) "we have a fragment of a circle, to, complete which and to find the centre of which, is forbidden, for it would involve an inquiry after things which do not contribute to deliverance and happiness."
Let us now set forth what is clear and certain in Buddha's teaching, and then advance from this
in the direction of what is dubious and obscure. It is fitting that we should begin, as Buddha himself began, with the Four Sacred Truths. In the Sermon to Five Ascetics at Benares, which tradition gives as the opening act of the ministry of Buddha, the Four-fold Truth is set forth in the following words:
"There are two extremes, O monks, from which he who leads a religious life must abstain. What are those two extremes? One is a life of pleasure, devoted to desire and enjoyment; that is base, ignoble, unspiritual, unworthy, unreal. The other is a life of mortification; it is gloomy, unworthy, unreal. The Perfect One, O monks, is removed from both these extremes and has discovered the way which lies between them, the middle way which enlightens the mind, which leads to rest, to knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nirvâna. And what, O monks, is this middle way, which the Perfect One has discovered, which enlightens the eye and enlightens the spirit, which leads to rest, to knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nirvâna? It is this sacred eightfold path, as it is called: Right Faith, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Living, Right Effort, Right Thought, Right Self-Concentration. This, O monks, is the middle way, which the Perfect One has discovered, which enlightens the eye and enlightens the spirit, which leads to rest, to knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nirvâna.
"This, O monks, is the sacred truth of suffering; birth is suffering, old age is suffering, death
is suffering, to be united with the unloved is suffering, to be separated from the loved is suffering, not to obtain what one desires is suffering, in short the fivefold clinging to the earthly is suffering.
"This, O monks, is the sacred truth of the origin of suffering; it is the thirst for being, which leads from birth to birth, together with lust and desire, which finds gratification here and there: the thirst for pleasures, the thirst for being, the thirst for power.
"This, O monks, is the sacred truth of the extinction of suffering; the extinction of this thirst by complete annihilation of desire, letting it go, expelling it, separating oneself from it, giving it no room.
"This, O monks, is the sacred truth of the path which leads to the extinction of suffering; it is this sacred, eightfold path, to wit, Right Faith, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Living, Right Effort, Right Thought, Right Self-Concentration." 1
This is the Four-fold Truth, on which Buddha's whole scheme of life is hinged. Let us try to set it forth in other and fewer words:
(1) Life on earth is full of suffering.
(2) Suffering is generated by desire.
(3) The extinction of desire involves the extinction of suffering.
(4) The extinction of desire (and therefore of suffering) is the outcome of a righteous life.
There is one link in Buddha's teaching which
seems to be missing. Why does desire generate suffering? The answer to this question is given in a discourse which Buddha is said to have held with the five ascetics shortly after he had expounded to them the Four Sacred Truths.
"'The Exalted One,' so the tradition narrates, "spake to the five monks thus:
'The material form, O monks, is not the self. If material form were the self, O monks, this material form could not be subject to sickness, and a man should be able to say regarding his material form: My body shall be so and so; my body shall not be so and so. But inasmuch, O monks, as material form is not the self, therefore is material form subject to sickness, and a man cannot say as regards his material form: My body shall be so and so.
"'The sensations, O monks, are not the self'"--and then follows in detail regarding the sensations the very same exposition which has been given regarding the body. Then comes the same detailed explanation regarding the remaining three component elements, the perceptions, the conformations, the consciousness, which, in combination with the material form and the sensations, constitute man's sentient state of being. Then Buddha goes on to say:
"How think ye then, O monks, is material form permanent or impermanent?"
"But is that which is impermanent, sorrow or joy?"
"But if a man duly considers that which is impermanent, full of sorrow, subject to change, can he say: that is mine, that is I, that is myself?"
"Sire, he cannot."
Then follows the same exposition in similar terms regarding sensations, perceptions, conformations, and consciousness: after which the discourse proceeds:
"Therefore, O monks, whatever in the way of material form, sensations, perceptions, etc., respectively, has ever been, will be, or is, either in our case, or in the outer world, or strong or weak, or low or high, or far or near, it is not self: this must he in truth perceive, who possesses real knowledge. Whosoever regards things in this light, O monks, being a wise and noble hearer of the word, turns himself from sensation and perception, from conformation and consciousness. When he turns therefrom, he becomes free from desire; by the cessation of desire he obtains deliverance; in the delivered there arises a consciousness of his deliverance; rebirth is extinct, holiness is completed, duty is accomplished; there is no more a return to this world, he knows." 1
We now understand what the desire is that generates suffering, and why it generates it. It is the desire for what does not belong to "self"--the real self 2--that generates suffering; and the
reason why such desire generates suffering is that what does not belong to the real self is impermanent, changeable, perishable, and that impermanence in the object of desire must needs cause disappointment, regret, disillusionment, and other forms of suffering to him who desires. The tendency to identify self with what is material and temporal, and therefore to desire for oneself material and temporal goods and pleasures, is the chief cause of human suffering; for, when such goods and pleasures are desired, success in the pursuit of them is perhaps more hurtful and scarcely less painful than failure. And not only does this tendency, with its derivative desire, cause suffering in the present earth-life, but it also causes suffering to be reproduced for the self in future earth-lives; for it is desire for the goods and pleasures of earth which, acting as a strong magnetic force, draws the self back to earth again and again. Desire in itself is not evil. On this point Buddha's teaching must not be misunderstood. His disciples are expressly told--this is the very sum and substance of his teaching--to desire and strive for enlightenment, deliverance, Nirvâna. Desire for the pleasures, or rather for the joys, that minister to the real self, is wholly good. It is desire for the pleasures that minister to the lower self; it is the desire to affirm the lower self, to live in it, to cling to it, to rest in it; it is the desire to identify oneself with the individual self and the impermanent world which centres in it, instead of with the Universal Self and the eternal world of which it is at once the centre and the circumference;--it is this desire, taking a thousand
forms, which is evil, and which proves itself to be evil by causing ceaseless suffering to mankind. If the self is to be delivered from suffering, desire for what is impermanent, changeable, and unreal must be extinguished; and the gradual extinction of unworthy desire must therefore be the central purpose of one's life.
But how is desire, with the suffering that it generates, to be extinguished? The answer to this question is the Fourth of the Sacred Truths: "This, O monks, is the sacred truth of the path which leads to the extinction of suffering: it is the sacred eightfold path, to wit, Right Faith, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Effort, Right Thought, Right Self-Concentration."
There is no part of Buddha's teaching in which his wisdom shines out more clearly than in this. At first one might feel disposed to think that Right Action was everything. Buddha does not think so. Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Living may perhaps be grouped together under the general head of Right Conduct; but there are other elements of Righteousness which Buddha seems to regard as not less important than these, to wit, Right Faith, Right Resolve, Right Effort, Right Thought, Right Self-Concentration. In other words, Buddha lays as much stress on the inward as on the outward side of morality; and he would have us realize that conduct, when divorced from faith and thought and purpose, is worth nothing. Under the Jewish Law--at any rate in the later developments of legalism--correct action was regarded
as the one thing needful. The consequences of this assumption were disastrous in the extreme. A mechanical and quasi-material conception of life and duty was introduced into the very heart of religion and morality; and spiritual freedom was crushed out by an ever-growing burden of narrow, rigid, and despotic rules. Buddha, like other moral teachers, found it necessary to give men rules for the conduct of life; but not only did he make his rules as few, as simple, and as comprehensive as possible, but by associating faith, thought, and purpose with speech and action, by impressing on his disciples that the inward side of conduct counts for at least as much as the outward, he provided against that miserable pullulation of trivial rules, which is sure to arise whenever correct action is regarded as an end in itself; and in doing so he shielded spiritual freedom from the most oppressive and most deadly form of constraint.
Nevertheless, when we have once realized that the inward side of action--the inward approaches to it and the inward consequences of it--is to the full as real and as significant as the outward, we may safely affirm, what Buddha would not have denied, that Right Conduct is the aspect of Righteousness which concerns us most. What we do, besides being the outward and visible sign of our inward and spiritual state, reacts, naturally and necessarily, on what we are, and so moulds our character and controls our destiny--for "character is destiny"--both in this and in future earth-lives. That being so, and conduct being the aspect of a man's general bearing for which directions are
at once most needed and most easy to give, it is not to be wondered at that Buddha should have thought it necessary to formulate moral rules for the guidance of his followers,--men who were presumably ignorant and unenlightened (for his message was addressed to all men) and therefore in need of some measure of ethical direction.
In framing his moral code, Buddha, according to his wont, departed widely from precedent, and showed that, as regards his outlook on life, he was far in advance of his age. The ethical legislators of antiquity addressed themselves to a comparatively narrow audience,--a city, a tribe, or a people; they went fully into detail, their rules being many and minute; and they went far beyond the limits of ethics proper, nine-tenths of their rules being civil or ceremonial rather than ethical (in the stricter, and yet broader and more spiritual sense of the word). Buddha, on the contrary, addressed himself to the widest of all audiences,--to the whole human race: he carefully abstained from going into detail, his rules being few, simple, and comprehensive; and he kept entirely within the limits of ethics proper, limits which he may almost be said--so original and so formative was his teaching--to have been the first to define.
Here is his Code of Moral Law.
The believer is required
1. To kill no living thing.
2. Not to lay hands on another's property.
3. Not to touch another's wife.
4. Not to speak what is untrue.
5. Not to drink intoxicating drinks.
A simple code this, but as profound as it is simple. To begin with, its extreme simplicity means that its authority is in the main self-evident; in other words, that it makes a direct appeal to a man's latent moral sense, and, in appealing to it, trains it and helps it to grow. In the next place, the fact that the rules are all prohibitions means that the believer is, first and foremost, to exercise self-control. The reason why he is to exercise self-control is that deliverance from suffering is to be won by the suppression of unworthy desires, and that without the exercise of self-control desire cannot be suppressed. The five rules indicate five arterial directions in which his self-control is to be exercised. Thus the first rule calls upon him to control the passion of anger; the second, the desire for material possessions; the third, the lusts of the flesh; the fourth, cowardice and malevolence (the chief causes of untruthfulness); the fifth, the craving for unwholesome excitement. It is to be noted that the desires and passions which the believer is called upon to suppress, are those which are most hurtful to his own inner life, most productive of suffering to himself, and most productive of suffering to his fellow men. By learning self-control with regard to these, he not only brings happiness to himself and to others, but he also strengthens himself for the more general work of suppressing unworthy desires of every sort and kind. But the five rules are something more than mere prohibitions. Self-control necessarily prepares the way for the development of the more positive and active virtues. When the baser
tendencies of man's nature are kept under such strict control that at least they lose their baseness and cease to obstruct the outgrowth of the nobler tendencies, the latter must needs begin to germinate. Thus the control of anger will prepare the way for the outgrowth of gentleness and compassion; the control of covetousness, for the outgrowth of charitableness and generosity; the control of lust, for the outgrowth of purity and unselfish love; and so forth. "How does a monk become a partaker of uprightness?" asks Buddha. The answer is, "A monk abstains from killing living creatures; he refrains from causing the death of living creatures; he lays down the stick; he lays down weapons. He is compassionate and tender-hearted; he seeks with friendly spirit the welfare of all living things. This is part of his uprightness." Let a man abstain from unkindness to his fellow men and other "living creatures,"--and the germs of kindness, gentleness, and compassion which are lying dormant in his nature will begin to make spontaneous growth. And so with the other rules.
Yet Buddha was wise to limit his formulated law to negative commandments. If a positive commandment is to move men to well-doing, it must be in some sort a counsel of perfection; and there are few men who can receive a counsel of perfection in the spirit in which it is, or ought to be, given to them. Some natures are over-wrought by it, and lose their spiritual balance. Others interpret it literally, and so make nonsense of its transcendent sense. Others again (the majority)
listen to it, but pay no heed to it. For ordinary men it is best that the active, positive side of virtue should be approached--gradually and naturally--from the side of self-control. Also, it must be remembered that the formulation of a positive moral law tends, especially in an age of ceremonialism, to arrest the development of conscience,--the very faculty which, in the Buddhist scheme of life, there is most need for men to cultivate. When a man does kind and compassionate deeds (let us say), not because his better nature, acting through his moral sense, prompts him to do them, but because he is authoritatively commanded to do them, there is a danger lest the man's moral sense, finding that there was little or no work for it to do, either as a prompter or as a guide, should gradually cease to energize, and the man should at last become entirely dependent for moral guidance on formulated rules and their professional exponents. Obedience to a negative commandment--provided that the commandment is sufficiently broad and simple for the spirit of it to appeal to one--can do no harm to him who obeys, and may do much good, for the discipline of self-control is one of the best of moral tonics. But when the self-control has done its work, when the soul, braced and disciplined, is ready to walk in the path of active virtue, it is in the highest degree desirable that it should be allowed to walk by itself (or with no more guidance than is implicit in the prohibitions which it has obeyed), and that nothing should be done to impair its insight or weaken its will.
There were weighty reasons, then, why Buddha's
ethical teaching should have been mainly negative. There is, however, one positive virtue which is inculcated in all the Buddhist Scriptures--the virtue in which, in its embryonic stage, all other virtues are present in embryo--the virtue in which, in its ideal stage, all other virtues are crowned and consummated--love. Not the impersonal passion of universal love--that would come at the end of the Path, not at the beginning--but the impersonal sentiment of sympathy, with all that it involves,--kindness, gentleness, unselfishness, compassion. That this should have found a prominent place in the Buddhist scheme of life was inevitable, for, when egoism has been subdued, the self is constrained, by the expansive stress of its own inward nature, to find channels for the overflow of its abounding life; and the safest and most accessible channel of overflow is that of sympathy, first with other men and then with every living thing. But the process which is thus initiated--a process of self-realization through self-expansion--will not cease until sympathy has transformed itself into the passion of spiritual love, and the individual life has at once lost and found itself in the Universal Life, which is and has always been its own true self.
When a teacher tries to bring salvation within the reach of all men, he is confronted by the difficulty that men are in various stages of spiritual development, and that rules of life which are sufficient for the many may prove to be too elementary for the few. Not that the few are to ignore those rules or neglect to observe them. That they
observe them fully and faithfully, and would never dream of breaking them, is taken for granted. But the simpler rules of life need to be supplemented, in these exceptional cases, by others which are at once more elevating and more exacting. When the foothills of life have been surmounted, the more difficult and dangerous mountain heights will come in view, and directions for climbing these will be needed and will have to be given.
In the Eight-fold Path there are Four Stages, each of which is marked by the breaking of some of the "Fetters"--ten in all--which bind man to earth and to self.
In the First Stage, the stage of "Conversion" or "entering upon the stream," three fetters are broken:
(1) The delusion of self; the delusive belief that the individual self is real and self-existent. This fetter is rightly placed at the head of the list; for the clinging to individuality, the desire to affirm the apparent or actual self instead of looking forward to its expansion into the real or universal self, has its ethical counterpart in egoism, and egoism is the beginning and end of sin.
(2) Doubt: doubt as to the wisdom of the teacher and the efficacy of the prescribed Path.
(3) Belief in the efficacy of good works and ceremonies. The disciple must free himself, first from the general delusion that correct outward action will ensure a man's salvation, and then from the particular delusion that religious rites and ceremonies have intrinsic value.
Having broken these fetters, the disciple enters
the Second Stage, "the path of those who will return only once to earth." In this, and in the Third Stage, "the path of those who will never return to earth," two more fetters are broken:
(4) The fetter of sensuality or fleshly lust. The belief that fleshly lusts war against the soul is not peculiar to Buddhism. The difficulty for most religions, and indeed for most men, is to hit the man between rigorous asceticism and moral laxity. Buddha, who regarded the "life of mortification" as "unreal" and "unworthy," carefully abstained from overstraining human nature in that particular direction. It was only in the case of the "monk," or "religious devotee," that complete renunciation of the pleasures of the flesh was enjoined. But in the third stage, "the path, of those who will return to earth no more," every one is in a sense a religious devotee; and there can be little doubt, I think, that in that stage the final extinction of lust was contemplated. If so, that achievement would be the consummation of a long course--perhaps pursued through many lives--of continence and self-control.
(5) The fetter of ill-will. The disciple has to subdue all the feelings of anger, resentment, envy, jealousy, hatred, and the like, which spring from his sense of separateness from the rest of mankind, or rather from the rest of living things, and from his subsequent reluctance to identify himself with the Universal Life. In other to get rid of those feelings, a spiritual exercise was prescribed by the early Buddhists, which is eminently characteristic of the general spirit of Buddhism.
"He [the disciple] lets his mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of love, and so the second, and so the third, and so the fourth. And thus the whole wide world, above, below, around and everywhere, does he continue to pervade with heart of love, far-reaching, grown great, and beyond measure. Just as a mighty trumpeter makes himself heard and without difficulty towards all the four directions, even so of all things that have shape or form, there is not one that he passes or leaves aside, but regards them all with mind set free and deep-felt love." The exercise is then repeated, substituting each time for love, first pity, then sympathy, then equanimity. By this means the strength of the fifth fetter is gradually weakened, and at last destroyed. 1
The whole of the Second and Third Stages is occupied with the struggle against the many enemies of the higher life who fight under the banners of sensuality and ill-will. When all of these have been finally conquered, the disciple enters the Fourth Stage, "the path of the Holy Ones, or Arahats." There he breaks, one by one, the five remaining fetters, to wit:
(6) The desire for life--for separate life--in the worlds of form.
(7) The desire for life--for separate life--in the formless worlds.
Ought not the eighth and ninth fetters to have been broken long ago? Perhaps they ought; but Buddha knew that even in the last stage of the upward Path the shadow of egoism may fall on one's thought. The man who can say to himself: "It is I who have walked in the Path. It is I who have scaled these heights. It is I who have suppressed egoism. It is I who have won deliverance: "is still the victim of delusions. There are still fetters for him to break.
(10) Ignorance. The last fetter, like the first, is ignorance. As the Path begins with enlightenment, so it ends with it. It begins with potential enlightenment. It ends with actual enlightenment. It begins with partial enlightenment. It ends with perfect enlightenment. It is for the sake of knowledge--real, final, absolute knowledge--that the Path has been followed. To know that the Universal Self is one's own real self,--to know this truth, not as a theory, not as a conclusion, not as a poetic idea, not as a sudden revelation, but as the central fact of one's own inmost life,--to know this truth (in the most intimate sense of the word know) by living it, by being it,--is the final end of all spiritual effort. The expansion of the Self, which is the outcome of spiritual effort, carries with it the expansion of consciousness; and when consciousness has become all-embracing, the fetter of ignorance has been finally broken, and the delusion of self is dead.
When the last fetter has been broken, the disciple--the "Arahat" or "Holy One" as he is now called--has reached his goal; in other words, he
has attained to a state of perfect 1 knowledge, perfect love, perfect peace, perfect bliss.
There is something esoteric, one feels inclined to say, in this Path of the Four Stages. One finds some difficulty in identifying it with the Eightfold Path of the Fourth Sacred Truth. From Buddha's day down to our own, there has never been an age in which the number of men who could really break even the first of the Ten Fetters was not exceedingly small. What of the rest of mankind? Was no provision made for them in Buddha's scheme of life? Was that scheme meant for recluses and "adepts"--or would-be "adepts"--only? Were ordinary men to be left to their own devices until the time came for them to be "converted" (by what miracle we cannot well conjecture), and to realize what is so hard for even the best of us to realize,--the unreality of the individual life?
Surely not. "Conversion" has been happily defined as the "effective realization of admitted
truth." The process that leads up to "conversion" is carried on, for the most part, in silence and obscurity. There is always a long period of ante-natal growth before the new idea, the new way of looking at things, can come to the birth. The authorities on Buddhism whom I have consulted do not make it clear whether the First Fetter was to be broken at the entrance to the First Stage of the Path, or whether it was the first delusion to be got rid of after the soul had entered that stage. In the latter case the difficulty of identifying the Path of the Four Stages with the Eight-fold Path vanishes; for it is quite conceivable that the soul should linger long in the First Stage, should even pass, during its sojourn in it, through a sequence of earth-lives, before it could realize that its sense of separateness was illusory. In the former case we must adopt another hypothesis. We must assume that, before the first of the Four Stages can be entered, there must be for most men a long preliminary stage of preparation, during which they follow, perhaps through a sequence of lives, the rules of Right Conduct--the simple rules of kindness, honesty, continence, truthfulness, temperance--until at last the reaction of Right Conduct on character, and the consequent expansion of the Self and enlargement of the field of its consciousness, makes it possible for them to enter the Path proper,--the Path which will lead them in the fullness of time to the goal of conscious union with the Living Whole. In either case we may take for granted that, before the First Fetter can be broken and flung aside, the soul must set itself to acquire the
strength which will enable it to perform that initiatory act of renunciation, and that it is only by a course of "Right Conduct"--by the consistent exercise of self-control, and culture of sympathy--that it can acquire the strength which it needs.
In any case we are free to regard the Fourfold Truth as a message to the rank and file of mankind. Men might accept that message, and even begin, in their feeble, faltering way, to walk by it, before they were fit to advance into the more esoteric stages of the Path of Life. But those stages must be passed through--on this Buddha would have insisted with all the weight of his authority--before the goal can be reached. Miracles, in the supernatural sense of the word, are not to be looked for in the moral, any more than in the physical world. It is conceivable that my neighbour, whose spiritual development is far in advance of mine, may complete the Path in 50 years, whereas my sojourn in it may last for 50,000; but by him as by me, and by me as by him, every stage must be passed through and every fetter must be broken, if the promised prize is to be won. It is sometimes said that for ordinary men the path of spiritual ascent is spiral, whereas for men of exceptional spiritual development it is direct. This may be so; or it may be that for all men the path is spiral up to a certain point, and beyond that point direct. But be it spiral or direct or both, it is certain that it must free us from every delusion that separates us from the Real Self, if it is to lead us to our goal.
Whatever view we may take of Buddha's teaching, we must admit that in its essence it belongs
to no one nation and no one age. Moses legislated for the Jews, Lycurgus for the Spartans, Zoroaster for the Persians, Confucius for the Chinese, Buddha for all men who have ears to hear. Man, as Buddha conceived of him, is not a citizen but a "living soul." The life which the scheme prescribed, though compatible with good citizenship and even conducive to it, is quite independent of it. It is also quite independent of caste, of social gradation, of distinctions such as that between priest and layman, between the learned and the ignorant, between gentle and simple, between rich and poor. Dr Oldenberg's contention that Buddha had no message for the poor and lowly, is scarcely tenable. The inward and spiritual life can be lived by the poorest of day-labourers not less than by the richest of millionaires. If anything, it is easier for the poor than for the rich to enter "the Kingdom of Heaven," for there are fewer earth-ties for the former to break. When Dr Oldenberg quotes the saying "to the wise belongeth the law, not to the foolish," and argues from it that "for children and those who are like children the arms of Buddha are not opened," he is playing on the word "wise." The wisdom which Buddha magnified was not the wisdom of the intellectual, the learned, the cultured, but the wisdom of those who have taught themselves, by walking in the Path of Life, to distinguish between shadows and realities. The simplicity Of Buddha's ethical code brings it within the reach of the simplest natures. It is surely open to those "who are like children" to be kind to their fellow-men, to abstain from envy and covetousness, to
control the lusts of the flesh, to be truthful in word and deed. If there are heights to be climbed beyond those which the "child-like" can dream of, the soul will not be asked to attempt these until, by the practice of the life of simple goodness, it has grown strong enough for the more arduous task. The greatness of Buddha as a teacher is proved by the fact that his scheme of life, so simple and yet so complex, so obviously and yet so profoundly true, so modest in its aims and yet so daringly ambitious, so moderate and yet so extravagant in the demands that it makes on our spiritual resources,--provides for the needs of all men, in all stages of development, of all moulds of character, of all types of mind.
There is one feature of Buddha's teaching which demands our special attention because it seems to pervade, like an atmosphere, the whole of his scheme of life. We know from experience that our actions produce far-reaching consequences which we can follow out, both laterally and lineally, to a considerable distance. We know, for example, that our actions affect the material conditions of our own and of other lives; that they produce social consequences which have a wide circle of disturbance; that they affect, for good or for evil, our own characters, and--to a lesser extent--the characters of those with whom we are much in contact. We know also, if we take the trouble to consider the matter, that these consequences are the natural and necessary effects of causes which our action sets in motion; and, if we follow out this
line of thought, we shall probably come to the conclusion that the whole moral world, under both its aspects--the outward and the inward--is, like the physical world, under the dominion of natural law. It was to this aspect of morality that Buddha attached supreme importance. According to the law of Karma, which he was not the first to formulate but which he unreservedly accepted, the consequences of a man's action--foremost among which is its effect on his character--follow him, not merely through life (in the vulgar sense of the word) but also from life to life, until they have exhausted their influence.
[paragraph continues] What we have done has made us what we are. What we are doing is moulding our character and determining the direction of its development. When a man dies, he takes his character away with him. When he returns to earth, he brings his character back with him,--a character which determines the very nature of his material surroundings, for the re-incarnating soul seeks (according to the doctrine of Karma), or has assigned to it, the particular environment which is at once most in keeping with its nature and most suitable for its development.
The idea that pervades the whole of Buddha's teaching is that whatever we sow we must reap; in particular, that nothing can come between our conduct and its inward consequences; that every thought, every word, every deed is either making or marring us; in fine, that our spiritual destiny, which after all is our real destiny, is in our own hands.
With characteristic wisdom Buddha made no attempt to reconcile human freedom with the supremacy of natural law. He probably saw that the opposition of freedom to law is a false antithesis,--one of the fatal by-products of the dualism of ordinary thought. One who looked at things from the standpoint of the philosophy of the Upanishads would know that the free-will riddle, which has tied Western thought into so many desperate tangles, is a mere "Idol of the Cave." He would know that the Real or Highest Self--being, ex hypothesi, universal and eternal, and therefore exempt from all external constraint--is absolutely free. He would know that the Real Self is present in potency in each individual life, and that every "living soul" is, therefore, potentially free. He would know, further, that the development of the soul, in the direction of its own true self, is always marked by the outgrowth of freedom; and he would infer from this that freedom varies, in the degree of its development, from soul to soul, and that, speaking generally, it is lost or won by conduct. But though no man is absolutely free, and though in most men freedom has but a rudimentary existence, he would realize that the best way to foster
its growth is to postulate its existence and appeal to it, as the wise teacher always appeals (though here too he is probably appealing to what has but a rudimentary existence) to a man's better self. In fine, far from teaching that freedom is incompatible with law, he would realize that the law of the growth of freedom--the seemingly paradoxical law that freedom, without which moral action is impossible, is itself generated by moral action--is one of the master laws of human life. Whether Buddha did or did not accept the ideas of the Upanishads, is a question which will presently be considered. Meanwhile, it is enough to know that, with his own practical ends in view, he not only postulated freedom in man, but--by bringing the inward life under the dominion of natural law, and so excluding from it all extraneous influences--he laid a tremendous burden on the human will; for he told men that it rested with them, and with them only, to determine what course the process of their development should take, and how long their pilgrimage on earth (from life to life) should last.
Now the first and last of Nature's laws is that of growth; and the teacher who brings the inner life of man under the dominion of natural law brings it also, by implication, under the dominion of the law of growth. Wherever there is life there is growth; in other words, there is a gradual passage from embryonic existence to maturity, from the seed-state, in which all the potentialities of future perfection are wrapped up, to perfection itself,--the perfection of the particular species or type.
[paragraph continues] This law applies to the self, not less than to the animal or the plant. Indeed, it applies first and foremost to the self, and applies to the living things that surround us because, and just so far as, they too are manifestations of the one self-evolving life. There is, however, a vital difference between the growth of the soul and the growth of any animal or plant. "The lilies of the field . . . toil not, neither do they spin: and yet . . . Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." But if the soul is to be arrayed in glory it must both toil and spin. "Which of you," asks Christ, "by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?" Buddha's teaching bases itself on the assumption that by taking thought we can add to our spiritual stature, that the soul can make itself grow. Buddha would, I think, if we could question him, pass on from can to must. He would say that, when a certain stage in our development has been reached, the soul can make no further growth except what it wills to make, that it is only by the action of the will--itself one of Nature's master "streams of tendency"--that the expansive forces of Nature which are at work in the soul can be co-ordinated and made effective. He would say that the power of the soul to make itself grow is the very fruit of the whole previous process of its growth; that its presence is the proof that the process has (thus far) been successfully accomplished; that if it be wanting, the preliminary process of growth has not been carried far enough; that if, having been won, it has become atrophied through disuse, the growth of the soul has been
arrested and the counter-process of degeneration has begun.
That we may the better realize the meaning and ulterior bearing of this conception, let us contrast it with the conception which has long dominated the ethical philosophy of the West. Owing to the myopia of the Western mind, the doctrine that the soul can work out its eternal destiny in a single earth-life has been able to win general acceptance. This doctrine is obviously incompatible with the idea that the destiny of the soul is to be achieved by the actual vital process of growth; for it stands to reason that, in the natural order of things, neither utter depravity nor absolute perfection can be achieved in the brief space of a single life. How then is "salvation" to be won? Israel, from whom the Western mind inherited its popular philosophy, persuaded himself that salvation was to be won by obedience to a formal Law. This Law was the work of the supernatural God, by whom it was miraculously delivered to man. There was no reason why all or even many of its commandments should be moral, in the stricter sense of the word. The supernatural God, whose ways are presumably inscrutable, might, for reasons of his own, order man to do things which were apparently trivial or unreasonable. If he did, man must obey. Apart from this, there was a special reason why many of the commandments of the Jewish Law should be non-moral. The frailty of man is such that he is always liable to disobey God. Disobedience is hateful to God, and draws down his wrath upon the sinner. In order to appease God
and avert his wrath, man must offer up something which he himself especially values,--a bullock, a he-goat, or whatever the victim may be. Thus the idea of propitiation through sacrifice is bound up with the idea of salvation through obedience to a divinely formulated Law. Sacrificial observances, being an important part of man's life, must be duly and formally regulated. In other words, ceremonial directions must always form an essential part of a Law which has come to man from a supernatural source. Now it is obvious that in matters of ceremonial punctilio there can be no inward standard of right and wrong. Correctness of outward action is all that is asked for; but absolute correctness is indispensable, and the general idea that action must be outwardly correct if it is to please God easily spreads from the ceremonial to the more strictly moral side of the Law. In the attempt to define correctness with perfect accuracy, rules and sub-rules spring up in rank profusion, until at last the burden of legalism threatens to extinguish spiritual life.
This is what happened to Israel in the days of his national decadence. Christianity inherited his ideas, but rejected the intolerable burden of his Law. It inherited the idea of salvation being won by obedience; but it started, under the stress of Christ's vivifying influence, by assuming that the Law which God wished men to obey was mainly, if not wholly, moral. To obey a moral law is, however, even more difficult than to obey a ceremonial law; and in the one case, as in the other, the penalty of disobedience, when the Law comes
from God, is eternal death. How then was the wrath of God to be averted from disobedient man? "By the Sacrifice of Christ, the Mediator between God and Man," is the answer which Christian theology gave and still gives to this question. In the Catholic Church the sacrifice of Christ is perpetually repeated by the priest. In the Protestant Churches the Sacrifice is supposed to have been performed once and for all; and faith in the efficacy of the Cross opens the door of salvation to the believer. The reappearance--the inevitable reappearance--of the sacrificial idea in the religions of the West tended, for obvious reasons, to discredit morality and to substitute machinery for life. A man might conceivably have climbed to the highest pinnacle of virtue (in the human sense of the word), he might even have climbed to the highest level of holiness (in the inward and spiritual sense of the word), and yet be doomed to eternal perdition, either because he had no faith in the efficacy of the Sacraments of the Church or because he rejected the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Contrariwise, a man might have sinned deeply, basely, and consistently, and yet, having made a late repentance, be forgiven--and therefore "saved"--for Christ's sake. Where such anomalies were possible, there could be no causal connection between conduct and its results. The doctrine of forgiveness of sin has ever tended to demoralize human life, by undermining the idea that virtue is rewarded by virtue, and vice punished by vice. A Heaven in the future is reserved by official Christianity for those who fulfil certain clearly prescribed conditions;
a Hell in the future, for those who neglect to fulfil them. But neither in Heaven nor in Hell does a man reap the actual crop that he has sown. If he did, the false dualism of Heaven and Hell would disappear, and there would be millions of after-states instead of only two. Even when Hell has been fairly earned it may conceivably be evaded, for it is always open to the sinner to fall back on the uncovenanted mercies of God.
From first to last, this theory of things--a theory from which the ideas of natural law and natural growth are conspicuously absent--is wholly foreign to Buddha's scheme of life. Miraculous intervention, whatever form it may take, is beyond the horizon of his thought. The sacrificial system, ceremonialism, sacerdotalism, legalism,--all these he entirely rejects. Correct outward action counts for nothing in his eyes. The inward motive to and the inward consequences of action are all that he regards. Mediators count for nothing. Redeemers count for nothing. Priests count for nothing. Casuists and such like spiritual directors count for nothing. The most that one man can do for other men is to tell them of the Path of Life--the broad Path of self-development through self-surrender--and give them general directions for finding and following it. The true Saviour of men is he who does this. But each man in turn must walk in the Path, by using his own sight, his own strength, his own judgment, his own will.
"Therefore, O Ânanda! be ye lamps unto yourselves. Be ye a refuge to yourselves. Betake yourselves to no external refuge. . . . Look not
for refuge to anyone except yourselves." External rewards are not to be looked for. External penalties are not to be feared.
[paragraph continues] Virtue rewards itself by strengthening the will, by subduing unworthy desire, by generating knowledge of reality, by giving inward peace. Sin punishes itself by weakening the will, by inflaming unworthy desire, by generating delusions, by breeding fever and unrest. For sin to be "forgiven" is as impossible as for virtue to forego its reward. To walk in the Path is its own reward; for the Path is lit by the ever-deepening foreglow of its goal. To depart from the Path is its own punishment; for the erring steps must, at whatever cost, be retraced. Must be retraced,--for all the forces of Nature are making for the growth of the soul, as surely as in springtime all the forces of Nature are making for the outgrowth of flower and leaf. It is Nature 3 herself that, acting through his sense of right and wrong, constrains him who has left the Path to seek to regain it. But the Path is not to be regained, except by a steep and arduous ascent;
and the longer the return to it is delayed, the more steep and arduous will the ascent prove to be.
This is, I think, the most inward conception of life, and the most intrinsic standard of moral worth, that has ever been presented to human thought. When Christ says: "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in Heaven"; when he bids us pray and fast in secret so that we may be rewarded, not by the applause of men, but by "the Father, which seeth in secret"; when the author of the "Imitation"--in some ways the most Christ-like of all Christians--reminds us that "what each man is in Thine eyes, that he is and no more,"--we are taken as far in the direction of pure inwardness and intrinsic reality as it is possible for men to go who worship and have long worshipped a "personal God." That "the Father in Heaven" whom Christ adored coincides, in the last resort, with Brahma--the all-knowing, all-thinking Self, the all-embracing, all-sustaining Life--is more than probable. But though the inspired teacher, whose thoughts are all poems, may be able to purify and spiritualize the conception of a personal God, the average man is quite sure to debase and externalize it. If we could but listen to the prayers that at any moment were being addressed "in secret to the Father which seeth in secret," we should realize how widely popular thought had departed from a really inward conception of life, and from a really intrinsic standard of moral worth. What is unique in Buddha's scheme of life is that every influence
which might conceivably come between conduct and its consequences is rigidly excluded. God himself--if we are to continue to think and speak about God--"knows not wrath nor pardon." But can we continue to think and speak about so impersonal a God? Buddha must, I think, have asked himself this vital question. A great spiritual life-work is always the outcome of a great renunciation; and it is possible that what Buddha renounced was something dearer than wealth or power, dearer even than wife or child. The austere inwardness of his teaching had its counterpart, as we shall presently see, in a deep silence about what is ultimate and innermost, a silence which he must have imposed upon himself at the beginning of his long ministry, and which he never broke. 1
60:1 Gaudama (or Gotama), the Enlightened One. I ought, in strictness, to call this book "The Creed of Gaudama Buddha," just as I ought to have called my study of Christ's ideas "The Creed of Jesus Christ." My reason for speaking of the Founder of Buddhism as Buddha is the same as my reason for speaking of the Founder of Christianity as Christ. It happens that in each case the religion is called after the title rather than the name of its Founder, with the result that the title has gradually acquired the force and the association of a familiar name. As Jesus, the Christ or Anointed One, is commonly spoken of as Christ, so Gaudama, the Buddha or Enlightened One, is commonly spoken of, and may, without impropriety, be spoken of, as Buddha.
66:1 "Buddha," by Herman Oldenberg. Translated by W. Hoey.
68:1 "Buddha," by Herman Oldenberg. Translated by W. Hoey.
68:2 The distinction between the higher and the lower, the real and the apparent self, is at the root of Buddha's moral teaching, as it is of Christ's.
79:1 "Buddhism, Its History and Literature," by T. W. Rhys Davids.
81:1 I use the word perfect, in this and in similar passages, in a relative, not in an absolute sense. (See Footnote to P. 27.) I am thinking, not of absolute perfection, whatever that may be but of the relative perfection which is reached when a process, such as that of soul-growth, has been carried through to its apparent conclusion,--to the conclusion that bounds our prophetic vision, when we look down the vista which the process opens up to us. It is possible that Nirvâna itself is but a resting-place in the soul's journey,--a lake or lagoon in which many streams of soul-life meet and seem to lose themselves, but from which they will issue as a single mighty river, and resume, under new conditions, their journey to the Ocean of conscious life. But as that Ocean lies far beyond the utmost horizon of our forethought, it is but right that we should regard the peace of Nirvâna, as Buddhism has always regarded it, as the final end of our spiritual aspiration and effort.
86:1 "The Light of Asia," by Sir Edwin Arnold.
94:1 The divine Power which is at the heart of the Universe.
94:2 "The Light of Asia," by Sir Edwin Arnold.
94:3 When we name the word Nature we get to the root of the whole matter. To walk in the Path is to ally oneself with the deeper forces of Nature. This is its reward. To depart from the Path is to fight against the deeper forces of Nature. This is its punishment.
96:1 In this brief exposition of the teaching of Buddha I have said nothing about the "Wheel of Life," or "Chain of Causation." I have two reasons for ignoring it. The first is that it is doubtful, to say the least, if it was formulated by Buddha himself. Mr H. C. Warren, in his learned work, "Buddhism in Translation," surmises that "the full formula in its present shape is a piece of patchwork put together of two or more that were current in Buddha's time"; and, for my own part, I find it difficult to believe that a teacher of Buddha's breadth and force of mind could have accepted the formula as a satisfactory explanation of the phenomenon of physical life. The second reason is that the formula does not take us an inch beyond the two truths which Buddha regarded as fundamental,--that man is bound to the "Wheel of Life" (or caught in the "Whirlpool of Rebirth"), and that it is possible for him to free himself from his bonds.
Nor have I said anything about the belief which Buddha is said to have embodied in his teaching,--"that it was possible [for the disciples] by intense self-absorption and mystic meditation to attain to a condition of trance, in which the ordinary conditions of material existence were suspended," and certain p. 97 supernormal powers were acquired. My reason for ignoring this belief is, not that I regard it as intrinsically ridiculous or even as out of keeping with Buddha's philosophy, but that in the attempt to correlate it with his scheme of life I should have to discuss great and burning questions, which could not receive adequate treatment within the limits of this work. To the Western mind, drugged and stupefied with the idea of the Supernatural, the counter idea of the Supernormal in Nature comes with so tremendous a shock as to deprive it for the time being of the power of coherent thought. That being so, it is better that I should ignore what is possibly a vital aspect of Buddha's teaching, even though my interpretation of his creed should suffer from this enforced reticence, than that I should handle a problem which demands for its preliminary consideration an entirely new conception of Nature, and the cursory treatment of which would therefore give rise to perpetual misunderstanding, and would serve no useful purpose.