The Wisdom of The Other Bank
Fine mysticism of Buddhism—The man who was born blind—The Tevigga Sutta—The Sinner—The Penitent Thief—”God revealed in the form of mercy—Death of Buddha.
If the Roman Catholics were told that St. Francois de Salis, or St. Jerome, “altogether ignored in nature any spiritual aspirations,” * they would feel a little astonished. This is the view taken of Buddha by the Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford. And yet the word “Buddha” means, he “who has attained the complete spiritual awakening.” And Buddha’s Dharma has for an alternative exponent the words Prajñâ Pâramitâ (the Wisdom of the Other Bank).
There are two states of the soul, say the Buddhists, call them ego and non-ego—the plane of matter and the plane of spirit,—what you will. As long as we live for the ego and its greedy joys, we are feverish, restless, miserable. Happiness consists in the destruction of the ego by the Bodhi, or Gnosis. This is that interior, that high state of the soul, attained by Fenelon and Wesley, by Mirza the Sufi, and Swedenborg, by Spinoza and Amiel.
- “The kingdom of God is within you,” says Christ. “In whom are hid the treasures of sophia and gnosis,” says St. Paul.
- “The enlightened view both worlds,” says Mirza, the Sufi, “but the bat flieth about in the darkness without seeing.”
- “Who speaks and acts with the inner quickening,” says Buddha, “has joy for his accompanying shadow. Who speaks and acts without the inner quickening, him sorrow pursues as the chariot-wheel the horse.”
Let us give here a pretty parable, and let Buddha speak for himself:—
- “Once upon a time there was a man born blind, and he said, ‘I cannot believe in a world of appearances. Colours bright or sombre exist not. There is no sun, no moon, no stars. None have witnessed such things.’ His friends chid him; but he still repeated the same words.
- “In those days there was a Rishi, who had the inner vision; and he detected on the steeps of the lofty Himalayas four simples that had the power to cure the man who was born blind. He culled them, and, mashing them with his teeth, applied them. Instantly the man born blind cried out, ‘I see colours and appearances. I see beautiful trees and flowers. I see the bright sun. No one ever saw like this before.’
- “Then certain holy men came to the man who was born blind and said to him, ‘You are vain and arrogant and nearly as blind as you were before. You see the outside of things, not the inside. One whose supernatural senses are quickened sees the lapis-lazuli fields of the Buddhas of the Past, and hears heavenly conch shells sounded at a distance of five yoganas. Go off to a desert, a forest, a cavern in the mountains, and conquer this mean thirst of earthly things.'”
The man who was born blind obeyed; and the parable ends with the obvious interpretation. Buddha is the old Rishi, and the four simples are the four great truths. He weans mankind from the lower life and opens the eyes of the blind.
I think that Sir Monier-Williams’ fancy, that Buddha ignored the spiritual side of humanity, is due to the fact that by the word “knowledge” he conceives the Buddhists to mean knowledge of material facts. That Buddha’s conceptions are nearer to the ideas of Swedenborg than of Mill is, I think, proved by the Cingalese book, the Samanna Phala Sutta. Buddha details, at considerable length, the practice of the ascetic, and then enlarges upon their exact object. Man has a body composed of the four elements. It is the fruit of the union of his father and mother.
It is nourished on rice and gruel, and may be truncated, crushed, destroyed. In this transitory body his intelligence is enchained. The ascetic, finding himself thus confined, directs his mind to the creation of a freer integument. He represents to himself in thought another body created from this material body—a body with a form, members, and organs. This body, in relation to the material body, is like the sword and the scabbard, or a serpent issuing from a basket in which it is confined. The ascetic, then, purified and perfected, commences to practise supernatural faculties. He find himself able to pass through material obstacles, walls, ramparts, etc.; he is able to throw his phantasmal appearance into many places at once; he is able to walk upon the surface of the water without immersing himself; he can fly through the air like a falcon furnished with large wings; he can leave this world and reach even the heaven of Brahma himself.
Another faculty is now conquered by his force of will, as the fashioner of ivory shapes the tusk of the elephant according to his fancy. He acquires the power of hearing the sounds of the unseen world as distinctly as those of the phenomenal world, more distinctly, in point of fact. Also by the power of Manas he is able to read the most secret thoughts of others, and to tell their characters. He is able to say, “There
is a mind that is governed by passion.” “There is a mind that is enfranchised. This man has noble ends in view. This man has no ends in view.” As a child sees his earrings reflected in the water, and says, “Those are my earrings,” so the purified ascetic recognises the truth. Then comes to him the faculty of “divine vision,” and he sees all that men do on earth and after they die, and when they are again reborn. Then he detects the secrets of the universe, and why men are unhappy, and how they may cease to be so.
I will now quote a conversation between Buddha and some Brahmins, which, I think, throws much light on his teaching. It is given in the Tevigga Sutta.
When Buddha was dwelling at Manasâkata in the mango grove, certain Brahmins, learned in three Vedas, come to consult him on the question of union with the eternal Brahma. They ask if they are in the right pathway towards that union. Buddha replies at great length. He suggests an ideal case. He supposes that a man has fallen in love with the most beautiful woman in the land. Day and night he dreams of her, but has never seen her. He does not know whether she is tall or short, of Brahmin or Sûdra caste, of dark or fair complexion; he does not even know her name.
The Brahmins are asked if the talk of that man about that woman be wise or foolish. They confess that it is “foolish talk.” Buddha then applies the same train of reasoning to them. The Brahmins versed in the three Vedas are made to confess that they have never seen Brahma, that they do not know whether he is tall or short, or anything about him, and that all their talk about union with him is also foolish talk. They are mounting a crooked staircase, and do not know whether it leads to a mansion or a precipice. They are standing on the bank of a river and calling to the other bank to come to them.
Now it seems to me that if Buddha were the uncompromising teacher of atheism that many folks picture him, he has at this point an admirable opportunity of urging his views. The Brahmins, he would of course contend, knew nothing about Brahma, for the simple reason that no such being as Brahma exists.
But this is exactly the line that Buddha does not take. His argument is that the Brahmins knew nothing about Brahma, because Brahma is purely spiritual, and they are purely materialistic.
Five “Veils,” he shows, hide Brahma from mortal ken. These are:—
- The Veil of Lustful Desire.
- The Veil of Malice.
- The Veil of Sloth and Idleness.
- The Veil of Pride and Self-righteousness.
- The Veil of Doubt.
Buddha then goes on with his questionings:—
- “Is Brahma in possession of wives and wealth?”
- “He is not, Gautama!” answers Vâsettha, the Brahmin.
- “Is his mind full or anger, or free from anger?”
- “Free from anger, Gautama!”
- “Is his mind full of malice, or free from malice?”
- “Free from malice, Gautama.”
- “Is his mind depraved or pure?”
- “It is pure, Gautama!”
- “Has he self-mastery, or has he not?”
- “He has, Gautama!”
The Brahmins are then questioned about themselves.
- “Are the Brahmins versed in the three Vedas in possession of wives and wealth, or are they not?”
- “They are, Gautama!”
- “Have they anger in their hearts, or have they not?”
- “They have, Gautama!”
- “Do they bear malice, or do they not?”
- “They do, Gautama.”
- “Are they pure in heart, or are they not?”
- “They are not, Gautama!”
- “Have they self-mastery, or have they not?”
- “They have not, Gautama!”
These replies provoke, of course, the very obvious retort that no point of union can be found between such dissimilar entities. Brahma is free from malice, sinless, self-contained, so, of course, it is only the sinless that can hope to be in harmony with him.
Vâsettha then puts the question:
- “It has been told me, Gautama, that Śramana Gautama knows the way to the state of union with Brahma?”
- “Brahma I know, Vâsettha!” says Buddha in reply, “and the world of Brahma, and the path leading to it!”
- The humbled Brahmins, learned in the three Vedas, then ask Buddha to “show them the way to a state of union with Brahma.”
Buddha replies at considerable length, drawing a sharp contrast between the lower Brahminism and the higher Brahminism, the “householder,” and the “houseless one.” The householder Brahmins are gross, sensual, avaricious, insincere. They practise for lucre, black magic, fortune-telling, cozenage. They gain the ear of kings, breed wars, predict victories, sacrifice life, spoil the poor. As a foil to this he paints the recluse, who has renounced all worldly things and is pure, self-possessed and happy.
To teach this “higher life,” a Tathâgatha, “from time to time is born into the world, blessed and worthy, abounding in wisdom, a guide to erring mortals.” He sees the universe face to face, the spirit world of Brahma and that of Mâra, the tempter. He makes his knowledge known to others.
The houseless one, instructed by him, “lets his mind pervade one quarter of the world with thoughts of pity, sympathy, and equanimity; 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 pity, sympathy and equanimity, far-reaching, grown great, and beyond measure.”
“Verily this, Vâsettha, is the way to a state of union with Brahma,” and he proceeds to announce that the Bhikshu, or Buddhist beggar, “who is free from anger, free from malice, pure in mind, master of himself, will after death, when the body is dissolved, become united with Brahma.” The Brahmins at once see the full force of this teaching. It is as a conservative in their eyes that Buddha figures, and not an innovator. He takes the side of the ancient spiritual religion of the country against rapacious innovators.
“Thou hast set up what was thrown down,” they say to him. In the Burmese life he is described more than once as one who has set the overturned chalice once more upon its base.
The word Dharma means much in Buddhism.
Obey the eternal law of the heavens. Who keeps this law lives happily in this world and in the next.
“For the enfranchised soul human suffering no longer exists.”
“In the darkness of this world few men see clearly. Very few soar heavenwards like a bird freed from a net.”
No doubt the discipline of extasia was expected to give vitality to this inner quickening. When actual visions of the Buddhas of the ten regions were before the eyes of the fasting visionary, it was judged that he would have a more practical belief in their lapis-lazuli domains. The heart of the eastern nations has been truer to its great teacher than their learned metaphysicians have been. The epoch of Buddha is called the “Era when the Milken Race (immortality) came into the world.” * This certainty of a heavenly kingdom was not to be confined, as in the orthodox Brahminism, to a priestly caste. A king had become a beggar that he might preach to beggars. In the Chinese Dhammapada there is a pretty story of a very beautiful Magdalen, who heard of Buddha, and who started off to hear him preach. On the way, however, she saw her beautiful face in a fountain near which she stopped to drink, and she was unable to carry out her good resolution.
As she was returning she was overtaken by a courtesan still more beautiful than herself, and they journeyed together. Resting for a while at another fountain. the beautiful stranger was overcome with sleep, and placed her head on her fellow-traveller’s lap. Suddenly the beautiful face became livid as a corpse, loathsome, a prey to hateful insects. The stranger was the great Buddha himself, who had put on this appearance to redeem poor Pundarî. “There is a loveliness that is like a beautiful jar full of filth, a beauty that belongs to eyes, nose, mouth, body. It is this womanly beauty that causes sorrow, divides families, kills children.”
The penitent thief, too, is to be heard of in Buddhism. Buddha confronts a cruel bandit in his mountain retreat and converts him. ‡ All great movements, said St. Simon, must begin by working on the emotion of the masses.
Another originality of the teaching of Buddha was the necessity of individual effort.
Ceremonial, sacrifice, the exertions of others, could have no possible effect on any but themselves. Against the bloody sacrifice of the Brahmins he was specially remorseless.
“How can the system which requires the infliction of misery on others be called a religious system? . . How having a body defiled with blood will the shedding of blood restore it to purity? To seek a good by doing an evil is surely no safe plan!”
Even a Buddha could only show the sinner the right path. “Tathâgatas are only preachers. You yourself must make the effort.”
Buddha’s theology made another great advance on other creeds, a step which our century is only now attempting to overtake. He strongly emphasised the remorseless logic of cause and effect in the deteriorating influences of evil actions on the individual character. The Judas of Buddhism, Devadetta, repents and is forgiven. But Buddha cannot annul the causation of his evil deeds. These will have to be dealt with by slow degrees in the purgatorial stages of the hereafter. He knows no theory of a dull bigot on his deathbed suddenly waking up with all the broad sympathies and large knowledge of the angel Gabriel. Unless in the next life a being takes up his intellectual and moral condition exactly at the stage he left it in this, it is plain that logically his individuality is lost. This teaching of Buddha has been whimsically enforced by some of his followers. His own words are trenchant and clear: “A fault once committed is like milk, which grows not sour all at once. Patiently and silently, like a smothered ember, shall it inch by inch devour the fool.”
“Both a good action and an evil action must ripen and bear their inevitable fruit.”
This teaching has been powerfully inculcated in one or two fine parables in which the consequences of sin are imaged as an iron city of torment and the sins themselves figure as beautiful women luring man to his ruin. On the surface all is as bewitching as a scene of the “Arabian Nights.” The palm trees of a soft island rustle gently and in a delicious palace the mean seeker of gold, the bad son, is fanned by women of a beauty unknown to earth. He has sought the unworthy prizes of the Kâmaloca, and he enjoys them for a time, because with Buddha the full basket and store of the Brahmin and the old Jew are not deemed the rewards of heaven, but of quite another region. From island to island the wanderer goes, each island being more delicious than the preceding one, but each being nearer to the iron-walled city of expiation. But the furies are cause and effect, and not an eternal Ahriman. There is no devil that Buddha cannot soften.
This suggests another great advance made by Buddha. In his day the beneficent God was deemed the god of a nation, a tribe; and all the gods of other nations were deemed evil demons. This creed is the real “agnosticism” and “atheism,” because its main postulate implies that the reason and conscience of humanity for thousands and thousands of years have been unable to discover God, and that if He has been found at all, it is to accident alone that the discovery is due; even if the discovered god should not upon examination be found to be composed of very poor clay. But the missionaries of Tathâgata were sent to every nation, and he proclaimed that even in the hell Avîchi was no recess sheltered from Tathâgata’s all-pervading love.
But the crowning legacy to humanity of this priceless benefactor was his boundless compassion. “Buddha,” says his disciples, “was God revealed in the form of Mercy.” The theory that Buddha was a myth seems to break down here, for some such character must have existed, that ideas so far in advance even of modern days could have been conceived. His majestic gentleness never varies. He converts the Very Wicked One. He speaks gently to the Daughters of Sin. He clears out even the lowest of hells when he visits earth, and makes devils as well as good men happy. A fool outrages and insults him. “My son,” he replies, “outrage addressed to heaven is like spittle aimed into the skies: it returns upon the author of the outrage.” * And he explained to his disciples that Tathâgata could never be made angry by foul actions and invectives. Such can only make him redouble his mercy and love. † When we reflect that the principle of retaliation was the rude policy of the day in which he lived, and that aggregations of men were obliged to foster a love of revenge, war, plunder, and bloodshed in their midst, prompted by the mere instinct of self-preservation, such great sentences as the following of Buddha are indeed noteworthy:—
- “By love alone can we conquer wrath. By good alone can we conquer evil. The whole world dreads violence. All men tremble in the presence of death. Do to others that which ye would have them do to you. Kill not. Cause no death.”
- “Say no harsh words to thy neighbour. He will reply to thee in the same tone.”
- “I am injured and provoked, I have been beaten and plundered! They who speak thus will never cease to hate.”
- “That which can cause hate to cease in the world is not hate, but the absence of hate.”
- “If, like a trumpet trodden on in battle, thou corn-plainest not, thou hast attained Nirvâna.”
- “Silently shall I endure abuse, as the war-elephant receives the shaft of the bowman.”
- “The awakened man goes not on revenge, but rewards with kindness the very being who has injured him, as the sandal-tree scents the axe of the woodman who fells it.”
I will now copy down a few miscellaneous sayings of Buddha:—
- “The swans go on the path of the sun. They go through the air by means of their miraculous power. The wise are led out of this world when they have conquered Mara and his train.”
- “A man is not a Śramana by outward acts.”
- “Not by tonsure does an undisciplined man became a Śramana.”
- “There is no satisfying of lusts with a shower of gold pieces.”
- “A man is not a Bhikshu simply because he asks others for alms. A man is not a Muni because he observes silence. Not by discipline and vows, not by much spiritual knowledge, not by sleeping alone, not by the gift of holy inspiration, can I earn that release which no worldling can know. The real Śramana is he who has quieted all evil.”
- “If one man conquer in battle a thousand thousand men, and another conquer himself, the last is the greatest conqueror.”
- “Few are there amongst men who arrive at the other shore. Many run up and down the shore.”
- “Let the fool wish for a false reputation, for precedence amongst the Bhikshus, for lordship in the convents, for worship amongst other people.”
- “A supernatural person is not easily found. He is not born everywhere. Wherever such a sage is born that race prospers.”
- “Call not out in this way as if I were the god Brahma” (Chinese parable).
- “Religion is nothing but the faculty of love.”
- “The house of Brahma is that wherein children obey their parents.”
- “The elephant’s cub, if he find not leafless and thorny creepers in the greenwood, becomes thin.”
- “Beauty and riches are like a knife smeared with honey. The child sucks and is wounded.”
The One Thing Needful
Certain subtle questions were proposed to Buddha, such as: What will best conquer the evil passions of man? What is the most savoury gift for the alms-bowl of the mendicant? Where is true happiness to be found? Buddha replied to them all with one word, Dharma (the heavenly life).
Death of Buddha
Some eighty miles due east of Buddha’s birthplace, Kapilavastu, now stands a modest village called Mâthâ Küar (the “Dead Prince”). At the date of the pilgrimage of Hiouen Thsiang, there was a reason for this. Under a splendid temple-canopy reposed in marble a “Dead Prince,” and this circumstance is still remembered by the natives. The ruins of this temple can still be traced. Exactly four hundred and seventy years before Christ the spot was a jangal of Śala-trees, and beneath the shade of two of these lay calm and rigid the gentle teacher whom Indians call the “Best Friend of all the World.” Buddha was journeying from Râjâgriha when he reached this resting place. Its name was Kuśinagara. At Beluva, near Vaiśâlî, he was attacked with a severe illness. Violent pains seized him. He was very nearly dying. Ânanda was disconsolate, but Buddha comforted him.
“What need hath the body of my followers of me now, Ânanda? I have declared the doctrine, and I have made no distinction between within and without. He who says, ‘I will rule over the Sangha!’ or ‘Let the Sangha be subjected to me!’ he, Ânanda, might declare his will in the church. The Tathâgata, however, does not say, ‘I will rule over the church.’ . . . I am now frail, Ânanda; I am aged, I am an old man who has finished his pilgrimage and reached old age. Eighty years old am I.
“Be to yourselves, Ânanda, your own light, your own refuge. Seek no other refuge. Let Dharma be your light and refuge. Seek no other refuge. . . Whosoever now, Ânanda, or after my departure, shall be his own light, his own refuge, and seek no other refuge, will henceforth be my true disciple and walk in the right path.”
Buddha journeyed on until he reached a place called Pâvâ. There he was attacked with a grievous sickness. Weary, the old pilgrim reached a stream, the Kakutthâ (the modern Badhi, according to General Cunningham). Buddha bathed and sipped some of the water; carts were passing and they thickened it with mud. A little farther on, by the side of the river Hâranyavatî (Chota Gandak), was a grove of Śala trees. Between two of these blossoming trees was the Nirvâṇa that the sick and weary pilgrim was sighing for.
Under these two famous trees, with his head lying towards the north, the old man was laid. “Weep not, sorrow not, Ânanda,” he said. “From all that man loves and enjoys he must tear himself.
“My existence is ripening to its close. The end of my life is near. I go hence. Ye remain behind.
“The place of refuge is ready for me.”
Before expiring, the teacher entered into the extasia of Samâdhi; and mighty thunders and earth-rockings announced the passing away of a great Chakravartin. Buddha’s last words were:—
- “Hearken, O disciples, I charge you. All that comes into being passes. Seek your salvation without weariness.”
By Arthur Lillie, India in Primitive Christianity