Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Buddhism, the religion, or system of philosophy, that has been elaborated out of the views taught and held by Buddha, and about which many conflicting opinions have been and are held, some considering it a relic of primeval worship, and others thinking it a more or less conscious imitation of Christianity. But whatever its origin, it is the religion of nearly a quarter of the inhabitants of the globe, and though it has nearly lost its hold in India, except among some races of the north, it prevails in Ceylon, in great part of China, in the Indo-Chinese peninsula, in Thibet, Central Asia, and part of Siberia, and among the Tartar tribes generally.

Taking its rise in Northern India in the fifth century B.C., Buddhism was patronised by some powerful princes, and though animated by no persecuting spirit, proved itself of great missionary capability. In the third century B.C. it was prevailing in Ceylon, in Burmah in the fifth century of our era, and in Siam in the 7th, while it had penetrated to China in 217 B.C., and in the first century A.D. the reigning emperor decreed it the third state religion in importance. That it had made considerable progress to the north of the Himalayas is shown by the fact that a Chinese general in 120 B.C. brought back from an expedition into the Desert of Gobi a golden statue of Buddha.

The Chinese always considered India their Holy Land, and it is from Chinese pilgrims that is obtained the knowdedge of the state of Buddhism in India, since there is little to be found about it in native literature; and undoubtedly it met with persecution in India, especially in what is now the presidency of Bombay, since of the 900 cave temples in which Buddhism was forced to take refuge, nearly all are in that region. It was Mohammedanism that finally killed Buddhism in India. As Buddha, like Socrates and other great teachers, left no writings, three councils of his followers, soon after his death, settled the doctrines and discipline of the young church. The first was just after Buddha's death; 100 years later came a second council against innovators and heretics, and the third in 244 B.C. - during the reign and under the auspices of a King Asoka of Northern India, who was a great advancer of Buddhism - fixed the canon, which was committed to writing 150 years later. The triple basket, as it has been called, of the canonical writings consists of the Sutras for the laity, the Vinaya, or discipline for the order, and the Abhidharma or metaphysical principles. Of these the first seems the germ from which the rest of the system has probably been evolved, while the existence of a set of metaphysical principles will not appear strange to students of Greek philosophy.

The doctrines are in some points similar to those of Brahmanism. Buddhism holds the doctrine of the transmigration of souls, or the continuance of personal identity; that is, that man passes through successive stages of existence, sometimes higher sometimes lower, the past and present ever having its influence on the future, till at last he reaches the perfect state of Nirwana, as to the nature of which there is some doubt whether it means perfect annihilation or absorption into the general vital or informing principle of the universe. For Buddhism there is no God, but a kind of impersonal Pantheism. It seems to say with the poet:

"What if all of animated nature
Be but organic harps diversely framed.
That tremble into thought as o'er them sweeps
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,
At once the soul of each and God of all?"

This hankering after a union of past and future existence seems innate in the race, and men often think they can catch gleams of reminiscence from a brighter world.

The second fundamental point of Buddhism is a thorough-going Pessimism, which regards existence as nothing but misery, and future happiness at the best as only problematical, and even then little more than an escape from existence to annihilation or something very like it. There are four "sublime truths": First, pain exists; second, the cause of pain is desire or attachment partly necessitated by former existence; third, the Nirwana ends pain; fourth, the truth that leads to the Nirwana.

The road to the Nirwana consists of eight things: Right views, feelings, words, behaviour, exertion, obedience, memory, meditation. And to aid in attaining to rightness in these eight essentials, there are ten commandments, five of them of universal obligation, not to kill, steal, commit adultery, lie or drink; and five others of obligation for those who aim at making decided progress towards the Nirwana. These relate to indulgence in food, amusements, personal ornament and gratification, luxury and wealth; and for fully professed monks the rules are still more severe.

Buddhism inculcates the practice of alms-giving, benevolence, purity, patience, courage, contemplation, and knowledge. Of these, benevolence towards all nature is particularly binding. Buddha himself, in one of his transmigrations, offered himself, out of kindness, as food to a starving tigress. Humility, and other virtues commonly called Christian, are prescribed, not excluding the duties of confession and penance.

The perfect Nirwana is only attainable after death, but a kind of Nirwana may be obtained, which is a sort of ecstasy or trance, in which there are neither ideas nor their absence. It is difficult to see how this differs from a dreamless sleep, or from the unconsciousness which follows a stunning blow.

It naturally follows, from the nature of Buddhism, that there is little worship. In the temples are altars or shrines, and before these are offered flowers and fruits and incense, processions are made and hymns are sung; but these seem acts of commemoration, not of prayer, and are not wholly unlike the services prescribed by Positivism.

There are not wanting signs in present society of a hankering after the delights of esoteric Buddhism, but it is not universally admitted that its disciples are yet seated in the seat of intelligence.