Page images
PDF
EPUB

dhism was peculiarly subject to such admixture; because its teachers, wishing to avoid any coercive measures for the propagation of their religion, invariably adopted into their system all the deities their proselytes had been accustomed to revere. Thus Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Indra, the Gods of the Mongols, and the Spirits of the Chinese, all found a place in their legends, and were imaged in their temples, though always represented as inferior to Bouddha and his Saints. But though details vary much in different countries, the prominent features of Buddhism are everywbere the same. They all believe in One Invisible Source of Being, sometimes called The Supreme Intelligence, sometimes named The Void. From him emanated all things in the universe, and into him will all things eventually return. Not only this world will be destroyed and renovated, at stated periods, after immense intervals, but even those superior Spheres where happy Spirits dwell, must go through similar revolutions, and all the inhabitants pass into other forms. Whenever this world is created anew, Spirits who have so far wandered from the Supreme as to dwell in the lowest Paradise, will be sent into material bodies, for probationary discipline. Among them will be many who had been previously embodied on the old earth, before it was destroyed. After millions and millions of ages, the time will at last come, when everything in the universe, even the deities themselves, will be merged in the Original Source whence they came. Then new emana. tions will again commence, followed by new worlds, which will be again destroyed. Nothing is exempted from this perpetual, ever-revolving change, except those souls who, through perfect holiness, have become absorbed into the Supreme Being, and have thus become One with Him. Bouddha is said to have appeared four times, in worlds preceding this; and always with the benevolent purpose of withdrawing Spirits from the vortex of illusions, in which they were involved by their immersion in Matter. Into this present world he descended in the form of Bouddha Sakia. Ilis mother was a beautiful and holy virgin, betrothed to a king; and his birth was foretold in a miraculous dream. The object of his mission was to instruct those who were straying from the right path, expiate the sins of mortals by his own sufferings, and procure for them a happy entrance into another existence, by obedience to his precepts and prayers in his name. They always speak of him as one with God from all eternity. They describe him as “one substance, and three images." His most common title is “The Saviour of the World.” As he has repeatedly assumed a human form, to facilitate the reunion of men with his own Universal Soul, so they believe that there always will be incarnations of his Spirit. Chinese Sacred Books predict the coming of a new Fo in the latter days, whose mission it will be to restore the world to order and happiness.

They all believe in the pre-existence of souls. The forms they take are merely transient apparent images; as metal may be moulded into the form of a lion, then dissolved into a mass of metal again, then be remoulded into the form of a man or a god. They never say a man is dead; they always say “ his soul has emigrated.” The connection of the soul with matter they consider an evil and a punishment; therefore enjoyment through the senses is incompatible with holiness, and it is necessary to despise the body and the outward world, in order to become saints. There are regions of Paradise, and regions of torment, where souls are rewarded or punished according to the exact amount of their deserts, before they again enter into some mortal form. These heavens and hells, of various degrees, are painted with great luxury of imagination by theologians. The lower the regions, the more unhappy the inhabitants, the more subject to miserable transmigrations. The higher the celestial abodes, the purer the bliss, and the more extended its duration. But even the highest spheres are not exempted from revolutions, consisting of the destruction of old forms, and the creation of new ones; though this will be after intervals so immense, that they seem like eternity.

The most important moral laws are contained in ten precepts in their Sacred Books; the number ten being considered essential. According to the Hindoo custom of arranging everything in threes, they divide moral duties into three classes; those which relate to actions, to words, and to thoughts. The first three commandments relate to actions, the next four to words, and the last three to thoughts, as follows: 1. “ Thou shalt not kill, even the smallest creature.” 2. “Thou shalt not appropriate to thyself what belongs to another." 3. "Thou shalt not infringe the laws of chastity." 4. " Thou shalt not lie." 5. “Thou shalt not calumniate.” 6. “Thou shalt not speak of injuries.” 7. “Thou shalt not excite quarrels, by repeating the words of others.” 8. “Thou shalt not hate." 9. “Preserve faith in the holy writings.” 10. "Believe in immortality.”

The ignorant among the Buddhists, as among the Hindoos, attach inherent virtue to the mere words of their Sacred Books. A thief, who concealed himself in the imperial palace, was discovered and seized by the officers. When they stripped him of his clothes, they found every inch of his body covered with texts from the Sacred Books of Fo. He had an idea that no harm could possibly come to him while he was thus covered with holy words.

William von Humboldt says of Buddhism: “What was once a philosophical doctrine and an enlightened benevolent reform of the corruptions of Braminism, has degenerated into a mass of unmeaning practices and empty formulas, or lost itself in a wholly unintelligible mysticism.” It must be remembered, however, that in all ages, and among all nations, there are some minds which save themselves, by an inward process, from the lifelessness of the forms they inherit.

Little is known, and still less understood, concerning theological controversies in those distant countries. European activity of mind is not at work there, to unsettle established opinions, but they doubtless bear a general resemblance to the rest of mankind, in diversity of ideas concerning spiritual problems puzzling to us all. Though firm believers in unalterable necessity, they strive to reconcile it with the free will of man. Some of them rely chiefly on meditation and faith, the inward operations of the mind; others attach more importance to meritorious works and outward ceremonies. In Thibet are two prominent sects, distinguished by their head-dresses. Those who consider it allowable for the religious to marry, wear red caps. The advocates of strict celibacy, who are much more numerous, wear yellow caps. On what other points their opinions differ is not well understood by foreigners. From time to time, they have been troubled with heretical sects, whose teachers assumed the yellow robe of the priesthood without the sanction of ecclesiastical authorities; and Councils have been called to purify orthodox Buddhism from their alleged impieties.

Buddhists of all sects have always abominated bloody sacrifices, and they carry tenderness toward animals to an extreme degree. Their doctrines likewise induce a charitable disposition toward men. Believing transmigrations of the soul to be regulated by laws of inherent necessity, the religious among them feel for sinners more compassion than contempt or hatred; for they consider moral evil as much a misfortune as a crime. One of their common maxims is that “the preceding births, and the actions committed in those previous existences, are destiny.” This tendency to fatality checks all energy and enterprise, and does much to produce the drowsy apathy which characterizes Asiatic countries.

European writers have brought against Buddhists the general charge of atheism. This apparently arises from the fact that their founder named the Source of Being the Infinite Void; from extreme unwillingness to ascribe any form, or any passions, to the Deity. When dying, he is said to have declared to his disciples, as a secret doctrine, unsuited to the populace, that, in the course of revolving ages, all things in the universe, even the gods themselves, would return into The Void, to be reproduced again in new

forms. This repetition of the astronomical theory of the ancient Bramins has led to the idea that he and his followers were atheists. There is said to be a sect among them called Karnikas, who ascribe consciousness and moral activity to the First Principle, and believe that creation resulted from the exercise of his will, not from laws of inherent necessity.

There is much contradiction among writers concerning the date of the Buddhist religion. This confusion arises from the fact that there are several Bouddhas, objects of worship; because the word is not a name, but a title, signifying an extraordinary degree of holiness. Those who have examined the subject most deeply have generally agreed that Bouddha Sakia, from whom the religion takes its name, must have been a real historical personage, who appeared more than a thousand years before Christ. There are many things to confirm this supposition. In some portions of India, his religion appears to have flourished for a long time side by side with that of the Bramins. This is shown by the existence of many ancient temples, some of them cut in subterranean rock, with an immensity of labour, which it must have required a long period to accomplish. In those old temples, his statues represent him with hair knotted all over his head, which was a very ancient custom with the anchorites of Hindostan, before the practice of shaving the head was introduced among their devotees. His religion is also mentioned in one of the very ancient epic poems of India. The severity of the persecution indicates that their numbers and influence had become formidable to the Bramins, who had everything to fear from a sect which abolished hereditary priesthood, and allowed the holy of all castes to become teachers.

Buddhism spread through foreign countries with such rapidity, that it came to be generally designated as “the religion of the Vanquisher," although it was uniformly peaceful in its progress. For the same reason, the Banyan Tree, of rapid and interminable growth, was chosen as its emblem. Marvellous stories are told of the Banyan Tree under which Bouddha Sakia, as a holy anchorite, attained

« PreviousContinue »