The joy that he brought to the hearts of others, Buddha first tasted himself. He found that the pleasures of the eye, the ear, the taste, touch and smell are fleeting and deceptive: he who gives value to them brings only disappointment and bitter sorrow upon himself. The social differences between men he found were equally arbitrary and illusive; caste bred hatred and selfishness; riches strife, envy and malice. So in founding his Faith he laid the bottom of its foundation-stones upon all this worldly dirt, and its dome in the clear serene of the world of Spirit. He who can mount to a clear conception of Nirvana will find his thought far away above the common joys and sorrows of petty men. As to one who ascends to the top of Chimborazo or the Himalayan crags, and sees men on the earth's surface crawling to and fro like ants, so equally small do bigots and sectarians a
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Title: The Life of Buddha and Its Lessons
Author: H.S. Olcott
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The Life of Buddha and Its
H. S. OLCOTT
THEOSOPHICAL PUBLISHING HOUSE
Adyar, Madras, India
First Edition: May 1912
Second Edition: Sept. 1919
The Life of Buddha and Its Lessons
The thoughtful student, in scanning the religious history of the race, has one fact continually forced upon his notice, viz., that there is an invariable tendency to deify whomsoever shows himself superior to the weakness of our common humanity. Look where we will, we find the saint-like man exalted into a divine personage and worshipped for a god. Though perhaps misunderstood, reviled and even persecuted while living, the apotheosis is almost sure to come after death: and the victim of yesterday's mob, raised to the state of an Intercessor in Heaven, is besought with prayer and tears, and placatory penances, to mediate with God for the pardon of human sin. This is a mean and vile trait of human nature, the proof of ignorance, selfishness, brutal cowardice, and a superstitious materialism. It shows the base instinct to put down and destroy whatever or whoever makes men feel their own imperfections; with the alternative of ignoring and denying these very imperfections by turning into gods men who have merely spiritualised their natures, so that it may be supposed that they were heavenly incarnations and not mortal like other men.
This process of euhemerisation, as it is called, or the making of men into gods and gods into men, sometimes, though more rarely, begins during the life of the hero, but usually after death. The true history of his life is gradually amplified and decorated with fanciful incidents, to fit it to the new character which has been posthumously given him. Omens and portents are now made to attend his earthly avaṭāra: his precocity is described as superhuman: as a babe or lisping child he silences the wisest logicians by his divine knowledge: miracles he produces as other boys do soap-bubbles: the terrible energies of nature are his playthings: the gods, angels, and demons are his habitual attendants: the sun, moon, and all the starry host wheel around his cradle in joyful measures, and the earth thrills with joy at having borne such a prodigy: and at his last hour of mortal life the whole universe shakes with conflicting emotions.
Why need I use the few moments at my disposal to marshal before you the various personages of whom these fables have been written? Let it suffice to recall the interesting fact to your notice, and invite you to compare the respective biographies of the Brāhmaṇical Kṛṣhṇa, the Persian Zoroaster, the Egyptian Hermes, the Indian Gauṭama, and the canonical, especially the apocryphal, Jesus. Taking Kṛṣhṇa or Zoroaster, as you please, as the most ancient, and coming down the chronological line of descent, you will find them all made after the same pattern. The real personage is all covered up and concealed under the embroidered veils of the romancer and the enthusiastic historiographer. What is surprising to me is that this tendency to exaggeration and hyperbole is not more commonly allowed for by those who in our days attempt to discuss and compare religions. We are constantly and painfully reminded that the prejudice of inimical critics, on the one hand, and the furious bigotry of devotees, on the other, blind men to fact and probability, and lead to gross injustice. Let me take as an example the mythical biographies of Jesus. At the time when the Council of Nicea was convened for settling the quarrels of certain bishops, and for the purpose of examining into the canonicity of the three hundred more or less apocryphal gospels that were being read in the Christian churches as inspired writings, the history of the life of Christ had reached the height of absurd myth. We may see some specimens in the extant books of the apocryphal New Testament, but most of them are now lost. What have been retained in the present Canon may doubtless be regarded as the least objectionable. And yet we must not hastily adopt even this conclusion, for you know that Sabina, Bishop of Heracha, himself speaking of the Council of Nicea, affirms that "except Constantine and Sabinus, Bishop of Pamphilus, these bishops were a set of illiterate, simple creatures that understood nothing"; which is as though he had said they were a pack of fools. And Pappus, in his Synodicon to that Council of Nicea, lets us into the secret that the Canon was not decided by a careful comparison of several gospels before them, but by a lottery. Having, he tells us, "promiscuously put all the books that were referred to the Council for determination under a Communion table in a church, they (the bishops) besought the Lord that the inspired writings might get up on the table, while the spurious writings remained underneath, and it happened accordingly".
But letting all this pass and looking only to what is contained in the present Canon, we see the same tendency to compel all nature to attest the divinity of the writer's hero. At the nativity a star leaves its orbit and leads the Persian astrologers to the divine child, and angels come and converse with shepherds, and a whole train of like celestial phenomena occurs at various stages of his earthly career, which closes amid earthquakes, a pall of darkness over the whole scene, a supernatural war of the elements, the opening of graves and the walking about of their tenants, and other appalling wonders. Now, if the candid Buḍḍhist concedes that the real history of Gauṭama is embellished by like absurd exaggerations, and if we can find their duplicates in the biographies of Zoroaster, Shaṅkarāchārya and other real personages of antiquity, have we not the right to conclude that the true history of the Founder of Christianity, if at this late date it were possible to write it, would be very different from the narratives that pass current? We must not forget that Jerusalem was at that time a Roman dependency, just as Ceylon is now a British, and that the silence of contemporary Roman historians about any such violent disturbances of the equilibrium of nature is deeply significant.
I have cited this example for the sole and simple purpose of bringing home to the non-Buḍḍhistic portion of my present audience the conviction that, in considering the life of Sākya Muni and the lessons it teaches, they must not make his followers of to-day responsible for any extravagant exuberances of past biographers. The doctrine of Buḍḍha and its effects are to be judged quite apart from the man, just as the doctrine ascribed to Jesus and its effects are to be considered quite irrespectively of his personal history. And—as I hope I have shown—the actual doings and sayings of every founder of a Faith or a school of philosophy must be sought for under a heap of tinsel and rubbish contributed by successive generations of followers.
Approaching the question of the hour in this spirit of precaution, what do we find are the probabilities respecting the life of Sākya Muni? Who was he? When did he live? How did he live? What did he teach? A most careful comparison of authorities and analysis of evidence establishes, I think, the following data:
1. He was the son of a king.
2. He lived between six and seven centuries before Christ.
3. He resigned his royal state and went to live in the jungle, and among the lowest and most unhappy classes, so as to learn the secret of human pain and misery by personal experience: tested every known austerity of the Hinḍū ascetics and excelled them all in his power of endurance: sounded every depth of woe in search of the means to alleviate it: and at last came out victorious, and showed the world the way to salvation.
4. What he taught may be summed up in a few words, as the perfume of many roses may be distilled into a few drops of attar: Everything in the world of Matter is unreal; the only reality is in the world of Spirit. Emancipate yourselves from the tyranny of the former; strive to attain the latter. The Rev. Samuel Beal, in his Catena of Buḍḍhist Scriptures from the Chinese puts it differently. "The idea underlying the Buddhist religious system is," he says, "simply this: 'all is vanity'. Earth is a show, and Heaven is a vain reward." Primitive Buḍḍhism was engrossed, absorbed, by one thought—the vanity of finite existence, the priceless value of the one condition of Eternal Rest.
If I have the temerity to prefer my own definition of the spirit of Buḍḍha's doctrine, it is because I think that all the misconceptions of it have arisen from a failure to understand his idea of what is real and what is unreal, what worth longing and striving for and what not. From this misconception have come all the unfounded charges that Buḍḍhism is an "atheistical," that is to say, a grossly materialistic, a nihilistic, a negative, a vice-breeding religion. Buḍḍhism denies the existence of a personal God —true: therefore—well, therefore, and notwithstanding all this, its teaching is neither what may be called properly atheistical, nihilistic, negative, nor provocative of vice. I will try to make my meaning clear, and the advancement of modern scientific research helps in this direction. Science divides the universe for us into two elements—matter and force; accounting for their phenomena by their combinations, and making both eternal and obedient to eternal and immutable law. The speculations of men of science have carried them to the outermost verge of the physical universe. Behind them lie not only a thousand brilliant triumphs by which a part of Nature's secrets have been wrung from her, but also more thousands of failures to fathom her deep mysteries. They have proved thought material, since it is the evolution of the gray tissue of the brain, and a recent German experimentalist, Professor Dr. Jäger, claims to have proved that man's soul is "a volatile odoriferous principle, capable of solution in glycerine". Psychogen is the name he gives to it, and his experiments show that it is present not merely in the body as a whole, but in every individual cell, in the ovum, and even in the ultimate elements of protoplasm. I need hardly say to so intelligent an audience as this, that these highly interesting experiments of Dr. Jäger are corroborated by many facts, both physiological and psychological, that have been always noticed among all nations; facts which are woven into popular proverbs, legends, folk-lore fables, mythologies and theologies, the world over. Now, if thought is matter and soul is matter, then Buḍḍha, in recognising the impermanence of sensual enjoyment or experience of any kind, and the instability of every material form, the human soul included, uttered a profound and scientific truth, And since the very idea of gratification or suffering is inseparable from that of material being—absolute Spirit alone being regarded by common consent as perfect, changeless and Eternal—therefore, in teaching the doctrine that conquest of the material self, with all its lusts, desires, loves, hopes, ambitions and hates, frees one from pain, and leads to Nirvāṇa, the state of Perfect Rest, he preached the rest of an untinged, untainted existence in the