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ART. III.—BUDDHISM: ITS ORIGIN AND RESULTS. Encyclopedie Catholique. Art. Buddha. Buddha et sa Religion. Par GEOFFREY DE ST. IIILAIRE. Paris :
1859. BUDDHISM, originally an offshoot from Brahminism, has for almost twenty-five hundred years been a distinct and even antagonistic system. It is, in its higher development, essentially atheistic. It does not admit any first cause, but regards all worlds and their inhabitants as having been from all eternity in a constant round of arising and perishing.
It is a matter of considerable difficulty to ascertain what were the original tenets of its founder, and what have since been grafted on to the system by Buddhist writers; but the recent translation of the most important theological treatises of the Buddhists into the French and German languages, give facilities not hitherto enjoyed for this purpose.
There have been, according to the Dharmma, many thousands of Buddhas, and will be many thousands more ; but the Buddha Sakyamuni or Gaudama, the present Buddha, is a historio personage, who was nearly cotemporary with Jeremiah, having been born 622 B.C. and died 512 B.C.
The Brahmins, rioting in the power over the inferior castes conferred on them by their sacred books, had become haughty, proud, tyrannical, oppressive, and corrupt. Under their iron heel the subordinate castes had been ground down and crushed in property, liberty, happiness, and life. The degraded Südra might yield uncomplainingly to such oppression; but the hot blood of the Kshattriyas, or warrior caste, drove them to resistance more than once, but generally unsuccessfully. It was one of these protests against the tyranny of the Brahmins, which was headed by Buddha Sakyamuni, which led to the institution of Buddism.
Buddha Sakyamuni was the son of Suddhodana, king of Benares, and both his parents belonged to the Kshattriyas. Possessing talents of a high order, he was early admitted to the esoteric rites of Brahminism, and became familiar with the philosophy of the Vedantic school. IIe was endowed also with remarkable physical powers, and in all the public games won the prizes. For a time the attractions of a life of pleasure seem to have absorbed his attention; he married, and engaged in the frivolities and gayeties of his father's court with great freedom; but soon the purpose, cherished from his earliest years, of being the deliverer of his people from the tyranny of the Brahmins, returned in its highest intensity, and abandoning his home and his pleasures, he secluded himself in the forest, practiced the greatest austerities and the severest penances, and after a pilgrimage to the sacred Banyan-tree of Gaya, professed to have received divine enlightenment, and to have become incarnate to save his people. At Benares, and subsequently at Sravasti, on the north bank of the Ganges, he assumed the office of teacher, propagating his doctrines through his pupils in other countries, and writing some books in defense of his teachings.
Whether he claimed to be the Buddha who was to be the ninth incarnation of Vishnu, is uncertain ; but he was soon denounced by the Brahmins, whom he had offended by his bold exposure of their crimes and corruptions, by his abrogation of caste, and his avowal of the equality of all races and castes of men, in the sight of the Divine Beings.
The cry of “ atheist " was raised against him by his enemies, who were hardly less atheistic than himself in doctrine, and far less virtuous and correct in conduct. This collision of doctrines finally led to civil war, in which the relatives and many of the followers of Sakyamuni were savagely butchered. These wars did not cease with the death of the Buddhist prophet, but were continued for nearly four hundred and fifty years, and resulted in the expulsion of the Buddhists from the peninsula of Hindostan, and their establishment in Ceylon, Burmah, Siam, Pegu, and Cochin China, and subsequently in China, Mongolia, and Japan.
Most of the traditions and legends in regard to Buddha originated, or at least were compiled, subsequent to this date, and it is doubtful whether any portion of the Yatus or sacred books belong to an earlier period. The striking similarity in some of them to the incidents in the life of Christ would indicate the probability that their compilers had been brought into contact with the disciples of St. Thomas, who, according to tradition, visited India in the first century of the Christian era, and whose followers were probably provided with copies of the earlier Gospels. The traditions of the Cingalese, or inhabitants of Ceylon, concerning Buddha are the earliest, but are quite as absurd as those of the Burmese or Siamese. He is represented as determining upon his incarnation while in the fourth heaven; as coming to earth in the form of a white elephant, effecting his miraculous conception by a virgin; as a five colored ray of light, being born, amid wonderful convulsions of nature, from the right side of his mother, and at the instant of birth proclaiming his divine mission; as losing his mother on the seventh day after his birth, and being adopted by her sister, by whom he was named Gautama or Gaudama, (wise master of the world ;) as having, without exertion acquired all human wisdom, and become the victor in all athletic games, and after his marriage as having become an ascetic, and resisted the numerous and extraordinary temptations of Mara, the god of love, sin, and death; as having taken his place on the throne of intelligence at Gaya, where were made present to his mental vision all the events of his past existence, as well as those of all other beings, past, present, and to come; that he then became a teacher or founder of a sect, and performed the most wonderful miracles, healing the sick, raising the dead, restoring sight and hearing, and relieving the wants of the poor; that in the forty-five years of his life as a teacher he underwent five hundred and fifty transformations, and performed innumerable acts of the highest merit, such as, while personating a prince, giving himself to be devoured by a starving tigress and her young; using his own skin for parchment, his blood for ink, and splinters of his bones for a stylus, to record a lost portion of the sacred books, etc., etc. They also narrate some wonderful miracles and convulsions of nature as having occurred at his death, and declare that his body could not be burned until reverence had been done to his feet, and that then fire burst forth spontaneously from his breast and consumed the sacred corpse. Relics of the prophet, reputed to be genuine, are preserved in several of the cities of Ceylon, Burmah, and Siam.
The sacred books (Yatus) are divided into three sections. They are, I. The DHARMMA, which comprises the cosmology
and cosmography, the revelations, dogmas, and precepts of the Buddhist faith. II. The VINAYA, which contains the ceremonial law or ritual of the priests, and has also some religious instruction in regard to the conduct of laymen. III. The ABHIDHARMMA, or system of Buddhist metaphysics. The last, which in its subtle distinctions, and its false, though ingenious logical principles, bears a strong resemblance to the Hindoo metaphysical systems from which it sprung, would not interest our readers, and we shall therefore content ourselves with a brief account of the two former.
The DHARMMA recognizes no Supreme Being. There was no beginning, there will be no end; and from the not-beginning there has ever been and will ever be a ceaseless round of arising and perishing worlds. Of the vast number or duration of these worlds, the intellect can have no knowledge and can form no idea. “Four things," says the DHARMMA, “are unmeasurable: the science of Buddha, space, the number of breathing beings, and the number of worlds.” The Buddhist writers frequently speak of three thousand great chiliocosms, by which they mean three thousand billions of worlds, a number, one would think, sufficiently large to satisfy even the most ambitious cosmogonist; but this vast number bears so small a proportion to the whole, that according to those writers, its loss from the system of the universe would not be observable.
In the number of their places of reward and punishment they are less profuse. There are four chief heavens, which, in all the convulsions which affect the other worlds or heavens, remain undisturbed. These are occupied by Buddhas and the highest order of saints. Below these are twenty-eight inferior heavens, the abodes of those who have attained merit; at the end of a kulpu or kalpa (an æon of incalculable duration) these will be destroyed and replaced by others. These are all above the earth. To the earth, or some other of the innumerable worlds on the same plane, will return after death in human shape, or in the form of some animal, the great bulk of those who die, for transmigration has been retained from the Hindoo theology in their system. Below the earth are, first, the world of snakes, for the punishment of those whose offenses, though not the most aggravated, are too great to permit their immediate transmigration even in animal form. Next in order of downward progression are one hundred and twenty hells of comparatively mild torments, and twelve, or according to the Burmese version, sixteen chief hells in which the tortures are the severest which an oriental imagination can describe.
Klisa, or the commission of sin in a former existence, is the fountain of all evil. This sin can only be extinguished by deeds of merit, and one or several lives of good deeds may not be sufficient to atone for a previous life of crime. Hence the individual is bound to live a pure life, not only from the dread of hell and the suffering he must endure, but from the fear of inflicting upon a future self, in another state of existence, the penalty of his sinfulness in this life.
But there is, besides this Klesa, another source of evil and suffering. Mundane existence, (sansara,) far from being a boon and a blessing, is a curse, a fundamental evil, from which flow out four poisonous streams, birth, age, disease, and death. To be freed from this condition of woe, and also from the sinfulness of a former life, is the highest of aims. To attain to this freedom is nirvāna, or more properly nirvvāna, a state in which the original sin is conquered, the desires subdued, the passions tamed, pain, emotion, disease, age, death, and transmigration banished, and, in its highest degree, the consciousness of existence swallowed up in a profound repose. Many writers have represented this condition of nirvvāna as annihilation; but the Buddhists themselves will not admit that the idea of physical annihilation is included in it.
To attain to this beatific state meritorious deeds are requisite, but above all, profound and long-continued meditation. This opens the gates of heaven, and if persisted in will lead to omniscience and omnipotence.
The Buddhist doctrine is often called in the DHARMMA the way of the four truths, in allusion to the four propositions of Buddha, which are posted in the pagodas, and widely scattered among the people. They are as follows:
1. Pain is truth, age, disease, death, the meeting with what one dislikes, the separation from what one loves, the failure to obtain what one strives for.
2. The causes of pain are desires, lusts, passions. 3. These can be overcome. 4. The way of overcoming (nirvvāna) has eight parts: right