CHRISTIAN LECTURES ON BUDDHISM, AND PLAIN FACTS ABOUT THE SAME, BY BUDDHISTS
[Lucifer. Vol. II, No. 8, April, 1888, pp. 142-149]
“Then spake Jesus . . . saying: The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. . . BUT DO NOT YE AFTER THEIR WORKS, FOR THEY SAY, AND DO NOT. . . but all their works they do for to be seen by men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues . . .
“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men . . . ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. . . Woe unto you . . . for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, YE MAKE HIM TWO-FOLD MORE THE CHILD OF HELL THAN YOURSELVES!” —(Matt., xxiii, 1-6, 13, 24, 15 resp.)
The Scotsman of March 8th, 1888, is high in its praises of some recent lectures on Buddhism, delivered by Sir Monier-Williams, K.C.I.E., D.C.L., of Oxford. Notwithstanding the chairman’s (Lord Polwarth’s) allegation that
On the subject of Buddhism, he thought there was no one more qualified to instruct them than the gentleman who had undertaken the present course [i.e., Sir Monier-Williams],
most of the statements made by the titled lecturer court contradiction and need correction. Plain and unvarnished truths may not elicit the applause certain arbitrary assumptions made by the lecturer called forth in the land of Fingal, but they may help to sweep away a few cobwebs of latent prejudice from the minds of some of your readers—and that’s all a Buddhist cares about.
The learned lecturer premised by saying that:
Buddhism had been alleged to be the religion of the majority of the human race, but happily that was not now true. Christianity now stood, even numerically, at the head of all the creeds of the world. (Applause.)—[Scotsman.]
Is this really so? Applause is no argument in favour of the correctness of a statement. Nor does one know of any special qualification in the Oxford professor that could make him override statistical proofs to the contrary, unless it be that his wish is father to the thought, as usual. The 200 millions of proselytes to the Mussulman faith as against one million of converts of Christianity in this century alone, a fact complained of at the Church Conference by Dr. Taylor, hardly a few weeks ago, would rather clash with this statement. * The Rev. Joseph Edkins, who passed almost all his life in China, studying Buddhism and its growth, says in Chinese Buddhism (1880, p. viii, Preface) that Buddhism is now “one among the world’s religions which has acquired the greatest multitude
* “The faith of Islam is spreading over Africa with giant strides. . . . Christianity is receding before Islam, while attempts to proselytise Mohammedans are notoriously unsuccessful. We not only fail to gain ground, but even fail to hold our own. . . . An African tribe once converted to Islam never returns to Paganism, and never embraces Christianity. . . . When Mohammedanism is embraced by a negro tribe, devil-worship, cannibalism, human sacrifice, witchcraft, and infanticide disappear. Filth is replaced by cleanliness, and they acquire personal dignity and self-respect. Hospitality becomes a religious duty, drunkenness becomes rare, gambling is forbidden. . . . A feeling of humanity, benevolence, and brotherhood is inculcated. . . The strictly-regulated polygamy of Moslem lands is infinitely less degrading to women and less injurious to men than the promiscuous polyandry which is the curse of Christian cities, and which is absolutely unknown in Islam. The polyandrous English are not entitled to cast stones at polygamous Moslems. . . . . . . . . Islam, above all, is the most powerful total abstinence society in the world; whereas the extension of European trade means the extension of drunkenness and vice, and the degradation of the people. Islam introduces a knowledge of reading and writing, decent clothes, personal cleanliness, and self-respect. . . . How little have we to show for the vast sums of money and precious lives lavished upon Africa! Christian converts are reckoned by thousands; Moslem converts by millions . . . (CANON ISAAC TAYLOR, “Christianity and Mohammedanism.”)
[These excerpts are from an address delivered by Canon I. Taylor, of New York, at the Wolverhampton Congress of the Church Missionary Society, in England, in October, 1887. A similar but somewhat different wording can be found in The Rock of October 14, 1887.— Compiler.]
of adherents.” Nor can this learned Chinese scholar, a zealous missionary, be suspected of unfairness to his religion. Nor does the very conservative Standard, when complaining that England is no longer a Christian nation and that a very large percentage of its population no longer accepts the religion embodied in the Bible, bear out Sir Monier-Williams’ optimistic views. Nor yet is this opinion supported by what the whole world knows of modern France, Germany and Italy, eaten to the core with free-thought and Atheism.
To say, therefore, as the lecturer did, that he doubts “were a trustworthy census possible” if Buddhism
would give even 150 millions of Buddhists, or rather pseudo-Buddhists, as against 450 millions of Christians in the world’s population, estimated at 1,500 millions [Scotsman.]*
—is rather a risky thing. Let us not talk of “pseudo-Buddhists” in the face of millions of “pseudo-Christians,” nominal and more “Grundy-fearing” than God-fearing; and for this reason still pretending to be called Christians. And if the term pseudo was applied by the lecturer to the teeming millions of China, Japan, and Tibet, who have fallen off from the purity of the primitive church of Buddha, burning low even in Siam, Burma, and Ceylon, and which have split themselves into many sects, then just the same is found in the 300 or so of Protestant sects, which differ so widely and fight for dogmatic differences, and still call themselves Christians. “Were a trustworthy census possible,” and a fair appreciation of truth preferred to self-glorification, then the 2,000,000 of Freethinkers,
* Says Emil Schlagintweit, in his Buddhism in Tibet, pp. 11-12, in comparing the number of Buddhists to that of Christians—“For these regions of Asia [China,Japan, Indo-Chinese Peninsula, etc.], we obtain, therefore, according to these calculations [of Prof. Dieterici], an approximate total of 534 millions of inhabitants. At least two-thirds of this population may be considered to be Buddhist; the remainder includes the followers of Confucius and Lao-tse.” Result, according to Dieterici, 340,000,000 of Buddhists and only 330,000,000 of Christians—all nominal Christians included. [Italics are H.P.B.’s.—Comp.]
and the 11,000,000 of those “of no particular religion,” as specified even in Whitaker’s Almanack, might grow to tenfold their number and produce a salutary check on inaccurate lecturers. This inaccuracy may be better appreciated by throwing a glance at the census-tables of India of 1881. In that country indeed, where missionaries have been labouring for centuries, and where they are now as numerous—and quite as mischievous—as the crows in the land of Manu, the distribution of its religious denominations stands in round numbers as follows:
Hindus (male and female … 188,000,000
Mohammedans ... 50,000,000
Aborigines ... 7,000,000
Buddhists ... 3,050,000
Jains (Buddhists) ... 1,020,000
Christians ... 1,800,000
The 1,800,000 of Christians, note well, include all the Europeans resident in India, the army, the civil servants, the Eurasians and native Christians.
And is it to curry further favour with his Sabbath-worshipping audience and elicit from it further applause, that the knighted lecturer characterised Buddhism as “a false, diseased and moribund system, which had continued [nevertheless?!] for more than two thousand years to attract and delude immense populations”? This, in the teeth of his great Oxford rival, Professor Max Müller, who pronounces the moral code of Buddhism “one of the most perfect the world has ever known.” So do Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire, Klaproth, and other Orientalists, more fair minded than the lecturer under notice.
Says Mr. P. Hordern, the Director of Public Instruction in Burma:—
“The poor heathen is guided in his daily life by precepts older and not less noble than the precepts of Christianity. Centuries before the birth of Christ, men were taught by the life and doctrine of one of the greatest men who ever lived, lessons of pure morality. The child is taught to obey his parents, and to be tender to all animal life, the man to love his neighbour as himself, to be true and just in all his dealings, and to look beyond the
vain shows of the world for true happiness. Every shade of vice is guarded by special precepts. Love in its widest sense of universal charity is declared to be the mother of all the virtues, and even the peculiarly Christian precepts of the forgiveness of injuries, and the meek acceptance of insult were already taught in the farthest East, ages before Christianity.*
Such is “the false and diseased system” of Buddhism which is less “moribund” however, even now, than is in our present age the perverted system of Him whose Sermon on the Mount, grand as it is, yet taught nothing that had not been taught ages before. I will show presently, on the authority of statistics and the Church again, which of the two—Buddhists or Christians—live more nearly according to the grand and the same morality preached by their respective Masters.
The Professor is more lenient though to the Founder than to the system. He would not, he said:
Be far wrong in asserting that intense individuality, fervid earnestness, severe simplicity of character, combined with singular beauty of countenance, calm dignity of bearing, and almost super-human persuasiveness of speech, were conspicuous in the great teacher. —[Scotsman.]
Forthwith, however, and fearing he had said too much, the Professor hastened to throw a gloomy shadow on the bright picture drawn. To quote from the Scotsman once more:
Alluding to the first sermon of the Buddha, the lecturer remarked that, however unfavourably it might compare with the first discourse of Christ—a discourse, not addressed to a few monks, but to suffering sinners—it was of great interest, because it embodied the first teaching of one who, if not worthy to be called the “Light of Asia” and certainly unworthy of comparison with the “Light of the World,” was at least one of the world’s most successful teachers.
To this charitable Christian criticism, ever forgetful of the wise Shakespeare’s remark that “comparisons are odorous,” † a Buddhist, who only defends his faith, is amply
* Quoted in Chinese Buddhism, by Rev. J. Edkins, page 201.
† [Much Ado About Nothing, Act III, Sc. v, line 18.]
justified in replying as follows: However much the worthiness of our Lord Buddha to be called by the appellation of the “Light of Asia” may be contested by religious intolerance, this title is, at any rate, addressed to an historical personage. The actual existence of Gautama Buddha cannot be called in question; neither Materialist nor Christian, Jew nor Gentile, can ever presume to call him a myth. On the other hand, (a) the “Light of the World,” having failed to illumine the whole of Humanity—as even on the lecturer’s admission only 400 out of 1,500 millions of the world population are Christians—the title is a misnomer most evidently, and (b) the very personal existence of the Founder of Christianity—mostly on account of the supernatural character claimed for it, but also because no valid, real, historical evidence can be brought forward to prove it—is now denied by millions of not only Free-thinkers and Materialists, but even of intellectual Christians and critical Bible-scholars.
Nor are the remarks of Sir Monier-Williams concerning the death of Buddha “said to have been caused by eating too much pork, or dried boar’s flesh,” any happier. That fact alone that one, who claims to be regarded as a great Orientalist, and yet observes that: “As this statement was somewhat derogatory to his [Buddha’s] dignity, it was less likely to have been fabricated,” shows in a “Sanskrit scholar” a pitiable ignorance of Hindu symbolism, as well as a wonderful lack of intuition.
How one who is acquainted with the primitive and original teachings of Buddha, as recorded by his personal disciples, can think for a moment that the great Asiatic Reformer ate flesh, passes comprehension! Leaving aside every dogmatic and certainly later exoteric ecclesiastical reason fathered on Buddha for sparing the life of animals on the ground of metempsychosis,* one has but to read the Buddhist metaphysical treatises upon Karma, to see all the
* Neither in China nor Tibet, says the Rev. J. Edkins, do the Buddhist monks (the real literati of the nations) accept the exoteric teaching that the souls of men can migrate into animals. It is simply allegorical.
absurdity of such a statement. The great doctrine delivered by Gautama a few days before he entered Nirvana to Maha Kaśyapa, contains among other prohibitions that of eating animal food. The “Great Development School refers it to this period,” says the same authority upon Chinese Buddhism, and no lover of it, the Rev. J. Edkins; and the Bodhisattwas are even more strictly prohibited than even monks. In “The Book of Heaven through keeping the Ten prohibitions” a Deva informs Buddha that he was born in Indra Sakra’s heaven “for keeping them; for not inflicting death, or stealing, or committing adultery . . . or drinking wine, or eating flesh,” etc.
The scholar who knows that the first Avatar of Brahmâ was in the shape of a boar, and who is aware, (a) that the Brahmins have ever identified themselves with the God from whom they claim descent; and (b) know the bitter opposition they offered to the “World’s Honoured One,” Gautama Buddha, trying to take more than once his life, will readily comprehend the allusion in the allegory. It is an esoteric tradition, and is no longer extant in writing, any more than is the explanation of many other allegories. Yet the inconsistency alone of the charge ought to have suggested to the mind of any less prejudiced scholar the suspicion that the legend of Tsonda’s meal of rice and pork was some esoteric allegory. No wonder if even Bishop Bigandet remarks that “a thick veil wraps in complete obscurity this curious episode of Buddha’s life.” It is “the obscurity” of ignorance.
It is quite true that Buddhists lay no claim to “supernatural inspiration” for their sacred scriptures, and it is in this that lies a portion of their success. The word “priest,” the audience was told, could not be applied to Buddhist monks “because they have no divine revelation.” At this rate there never were any priests before the Jews and Christians as no “divine revelation” is allowed to any nation outside these two? Further the lecturer elicited a great laugh and applause by telling his audience the following anecdote:
Gautama Buddha also instituted an order of nuns, and the monks once asked Gautama, it was said, what they should do when they saw
women. The Buddha replied, “Do not see them.” They then asked, “But if we do see them?” He replied, “Then don’t speak to them.” “But,” they asked, “if they speak to us?” And the Buddha answered, “Then do not answer them; let your thoughts be fixed in profound meditation.” (Laughter.)—[Scotsman.]
Verses 27 and 28 in Chapter v of Matthew, lend themselves as easily to satirical remarks. The injunction by Buddha, “let your thoughts be fixed in profound meditation,” is virtually implied in that other injunction, “Ye have heard. . . Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
Were the Christians to follow this command of their noble Master as faithfully as Buddhists do the orders of their Lord—there would be no need for the establishment in England of a “Vigilance Society” for the protection of female children and girls; nor would the editor of the Pall Mall have got three months’ imprisonment for telling the truth and speaking against a crying and horrid evil, unheard-of in Buddhist communities.
Further, the lecturer remarked, that “Gautama never tolerated priestcraft.” Nor has Jesus, and I maintain it; His denunciations of sacerdotalism and the Rabbis who teach the Law of Moses and lay heavy burdens on men’s shoulders which “they themselves will not move with one of their fingers,” (Matt., xxiii, 4); His prohibition to make a parade of prayers in synagogues and command to enter into one’s closet to pray (Matt., v, 27-28); as also the absence of any injunction from him to establish a dogmatic church—prove it. Therefore Sir M. Williams’ accusation that Buddha’s “followers in other countries became entangled in a network of sacerdotalism more enslaving than that from which he had rescued them,” applies to Christianity with far greater force than to Buddhism. And if “the precept enjoining celibacy sufficiently accounted for the fact that Buddhism never gained any stability or permanency in India,” how is it that the Roman Catholics, whose religion enjoins the same precept for priests and monks, show such tremendous odds against
Protestantism? And if celibacy be “a transgression of the laws of nature,” as the lecturer says—and so say the Brahmins, for even Gautama Buddha was married and had a son before he became an ascetic—why should Jesus have never married and advised celibacy, to his disciples? For it is celibacy at best, which is enjoined to those who are able to receive it in verses 10, 11 and 12, of Matthew xix, the literal term implying still worse . . . . “and there are eunuchs, which made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”
So that monastic Buddhism, it seems, is called idiotic by the lecturer only for doing that which Jesus Christ himself advised his disciples to do, if they can. A very curious way of glorifying one’s God!
As to the respective merits of Buddhism and Christianity, as a Buddhist who may be suspected of partiality, I shall leave the burden of establishing the comparison to the Christians themselves. This is what one reads in the Tablet, the leading organ of Roman Catholic Englishmen, about Creeds and Criminality. I underline the most remarkable statements.
The official statement as to the moral and material progress of India, which has recently been published, supplies a very interesting contribution to the controversy on the missionary question. It appears from these figures that while we effect a very marked moral deterioration in the natives by converting them to our creed, THEIR NATURAL STANDARD OF MORALITY IS SO HIGH that, however much we Christianize them, we cannot succeed in making them altogether as bad as ourselves. The figures representing the proportions of criminality in the several classes, are as follows:—
EUROPEANS . . . . 1 in 274
Eurasians * . . . . 1 in 509
Native Christians . . . . 1 in 799
Mahomedans . . . . 1 in 856
Hindoos . . . . 1 in 1,361
BUDDHISTS . . . . 1 in 3,787
* The fruits of European chastity and moral virtue, and of the obedience of Christians to the commands of Jesus.
The last item, [says the Tablet] is a magnificent tribute to the exalted purity of Buddhism, but the statistics are instructive throughout, and enforce with resistless power the conclusion that, as a mere matter of social polity, we should do much better if we devoted our superfluous cash and zeal, for a generation or two, to the ethical improvement of our own countrymen, instead of trying to upset the morality, together with the theology, of people WHO MIGHT REASONABLY SEND OUT MISSIONS TO CONVERT US.
No better answer than this could a Buddhist find as a reply to the uncharitable and incorrect comparisons between the two creeds instituted by Sir Monier-Williams. He should remember, however, the words of his Master, “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”
To this rejoinder by a Buddhist to the Oxford Professor we may append a few more interesting facts from Buddhists, in this connection. They are very suggestive, inasmuch as firstly they show how religious bigotry and intolerance make people entirely blind and deaf to every fact and reason; and secondly how we, Europeans, understand fairness and justice. The extracts that follow are taken from a Singhalese newspaper, the organ of the Ceylon Buddhists and edited by Buddhist Theosophists. It is called The Sarasavisandaresa. The two editorials, written in English, of the 14th and the 27th of February of the present year, contain two complaints; the first of which is against the very notorious editor of the Colombo Observer. This personage, than whom no more slanderous or wicked bigot ever walked the earth, as shown by his being perpetually brought to justice for defamation by Christians and natives—is a deep-water Baptist, without one spark of Christian ethics in him. His sledge-hammer-like charges against Buddhism, will appear curious after the fair confession of the Tablet just quoted. But we shall let our Brother editor—a Buddhist Theosophist—speak for his countrymen. For unless their grievances are brought to the notice of at least a portion of the English readers in Lucifer, there is little chance indeed that the outside
world should ever hear of them from other papers or magazines. Says the editorial on “Crime in Ceylon”:—
We notice a paragraph in our contemporary the Observer referring to an atrocious crime recently committed in the neighbourhood of Ratnapura. According to the account given one man murdered another, and “then, standing over him, committed an offence which cannot even be mentioned.” While we have no idea what this can mean, we have no doubt that some horrible atrocity is intended, and we sincerely hope that the fullest justice will be meted out to the abominable villain who committed it. But of course the insane bigotry of our contemporary would not allow him to be satisfied with merely giving the dreadful news; no, he must add a comment which is itself, in the eyes of all right-thinking men, an atrocity of the blackest description. We regret to give the publicity of our wider circulation to so scandalous a remark; yet we feel it our duty to let our countrymen see to what despicable shifts the missionary organ is reduced in its futile efforts to find some ground to vilify our faith. “Is there any country under the sun,” it asks,—“any people save Buddhists—where and by whom such awful atrocities could be perpetrated?” Unhesitatingly we answer “Yes; whatever the crime may have been, its horror is more than equalled— it is surpassed—by the diabolical outrages committed in Christian England in this nineteenth century.”
Follow several noted facts of crimes recently committed in England. But, pertinently remarks the editor:—
Does our contemporary wish that Christianity as a system should be held responsible for the ghastly crimes daily committed in its very strongholds? Such a course would be obviously unfair, yet his sense of honour permits him to treat Buddhism in the same manner.
Observe that there is no evidence at all that the criminal professes Buddhism; we know nothing of the facts of the case, but arguing from experience the presumption would be against such a supposition. At the present moment there are three prisoners under sentence of death in Welikada Jail, all of whom are Christians; and there are also two Christians (one of them a church official) convicted of murder at Kurunagala.
. . . . . . . .
The proportion of crime among Christians is about fifteen times as great as among Buddhists; and it is considered a truism in India to say that every person perverted to Christianity from some other religion adds one more to the suspected list of the police.
This is a fact, and all who have been in India will hardly deny it.
The other case is a crime of Vandalism, though to desecrate other nations’ sacred relics is considered no crime at all by the Christian officials. It tells eloquently its own tale:
A very unpleasant rumour has reached us from Anuradhapura. It is well known that men have been at work there for a long time under the orders of the Government Agent, professedly restoring the ruined Dagobas. This, so far, is a truly royal work, and one with which we have every sympathy. But now report says that the work of restoration, which consisted chiefly in clearing away the ruins and masses of fallen earth, so that the beautiful carvings and statues might once more be visible in their entirety as at first, has been abandoned in favour of excavations into the Dagobas themselves. We hear that a tunnel has been pierced almost into the centre of the great Abhayagiriya Dagoba in search of treasure, relics, and ancient books, and it is further reported that some important discoveries have already been made, but that whatever has been found has been secretly removed by night. It is said, too, that when the High Priest of the Sacred BO-TREE, to whom the Dagoba belongs, applied for permission to see the articles exhumed, only a very small portion was shown to him.
Now we can scarcely bring ourselves to admit the possibility of all this; it seems quite incredible that a government like that of the English should stain its annals with such an act of vandalism as the desecration of our sacred places, though certainly if it could descend to such an action it would be quite in keeping that the treasure-trove should be removed secretly and guiltily.
No doubt it would be difficult for even the more liberal-minded of our foreign rulers to understand fully the thrill of horror which every true Buddhist would feel on hearing of the disturbance of these time-honoured monuments. It would probably be argued by Christians that whatever may be buried under the Dagobas, whether relics, treasure, or books, is quite useless where it is; whereas if brought to light the books would supply very valuable copies of old Pali texts, the treasures (if any) would be useful to the Government, and the relics would be an interesting acquisition to the shelves of the British Museum. Singhalese Buddhists, however, in spite of centuries of oppression and persecution under Dutch and Portuguese adventurers, have still a deeply-rooted feeling of respect and love for the monuments of the golden age of their religion, and to hear that they are being disturbed by the sacrilegious hand of the foreigner will stir them to their inmost souls. These Dagobas are now objects of veneration to thousands of pilgrims, not only from all parts of Ceylon, but also from other Buddhist countries; but if once the relics buried in them are
removed, they will be no more to us than any other mound of earth. Even if, as has been suggested, the Government intend merely to examine whatever may be discovered, and afterwards replace it, to our ideas the disturbance of the sacred monuments of our religion by alien hands would still be terrible desecration, against which every true-hearted Buddhist ought at once to protest most vigorously by every means in his power. If the sad news be true, Buddhists should at once combine to hold indignation meetings all over the country, and to get up a monster petition to the Governor begging him to prevent the recurrence of such an outrage on their religious feelings. But until confirmation arises we cling to the hope that the rumours may be baseless, and should this prove to be the case none will rejoice more heartily than we. We trust that the Government Agent of the Province, or some responsible official connected with the work, will embrace this opportunity of telling the public what is really being done at Anuradhapura, and thereby relieve the anxiety which must agitate all Buddhist hearts until the question is set at rest.
The Abhayagiriya Dagoba was erected by King Walagambahu in the year B.C. 89, to commemorate the recovery of his throne after the expulsion of the Malabar invaders. When entire, it was the most stupendous Dagoba in Ceylon, being 405 feet high, and standing on about eight acres of ground; but so ruthlessly have the older destroyers done their work that its present height is not much more than 230 feet. At its base are some very fine specimens of stone carving, and various fragments of bold frescoes. The Dagoba is quite encircled with the ruins of buildings large and small, for a larger college of priests was attached to this than to any of the other sacred places at Anuradhapura.
We hope our Singhalese Colleague and Brother will send us further information upon this subject. Every Theosophist and lover of antiquity, whether Christian or of alien faith, would deplore with the Buddhists the loss of such precious relics of a period the editor has so aptly described as “the golden age of their religion.” We hope it may not be true. But alas, we are in Kali Yuga.