« Buddeus, Johannes Franciscus Buddhism Budé, Guillaume »



Life of Buddha (§ 1).

Legendary Additions (§ 2).

Buddha's Teaching (§ 3).

Nirvana (§ 4).

Buddhist Monks (§ 5).

Development after Buddha's Death (§ 6).

Buddhist Sects (§ 7).

The Dhyani Buddhas (§ 8).

Buddhism and Christianity (§ 9).

Buddhism is the religion established in India by Buddha in the sixth, century B.C., and having, according to a conservative estimate, upward of 100,000,000 adherents at the present time, chiefly in Ceylon, Nepal, Tibet, Farther India, China, and Japan. While frequently regarded as a new religion, it is, strictly speaking, only a reformation of Brahmanism, and can not be understood without some knowledge of the conditions preceding it. The religious system of India as outlined in its oldest religious books, the Vedas, had reached in the Brahmanas and Sutras a degree of ritualism such as, perhaps, never existed elsewhere (see Brahmanism). This formalism produced a revolt, and from time to time arose various teachers, philosophers, and reformers, of whom the most influential was Siddhartha, also known as Sakya, Sakyamuni, Gautama, and, most frequently, as Buddha.

1. Life of Buddha.

Buddha, the son of Suddhodana, king of Kapilavastu, a city in the district of Gorakhpur, Oudh, was born in 557 B.C. in the grove of Lumbini, two miles from the capital. He was, therefore, like Mahavira, the founder of the rival system of Jainism, a member of the Kshatriya or warrior caste. The details of the life of the Buddha, or "The Enlightened One," so far as they may be verified historically, are comparatively few. He lost his mother, whom the later texts name Maya, at a very early age, and he married while still young, according to Hindu custom, and had a son called Rahula. At the age of twenty-nine (528 B.C.), he renounced his succession to the throne and became a hermit. Herein there is nothing extraordinary, for Brahmanism divided life into the four stages of student, householder, hermit, and ascetic. Two of these the prince had already performed; two more yet remained for him, and he went forth to win knowledge of the truth by penance and meditation. From the first he gained nothing, nor could his teachers help him, while his five companions abandoned him as unfitted to receive a knowledge of the truth. In his wanderings he came to Uruvela, the modern Buddha Gaya in Bengal. There, in 521 B.C., after seven years of struggle, he received illumination while sitting in meditation beneath the sacred bo-tree (Ficus religiosa or pipul-tree). Thus the Bodhisattva, or potential Buddha, became a true Buddha or Tathagata, "the Perfected One." He now entered upon the fourth and the last stage of life, and became a wandering ascetic and teacher. His earliest followers were the five monks who had turned from him before, and as other converts were made they were sent as apostles of the doctrine. Favor was his in high places also, for Bimbisara, king of Magadha, became an adherent of the faith. Over all ranks and classes Buddha exercised a powerful influence, due, it is very possible, rather to his personal charm of manner than to any essential novelty of the doctrine which he taught. It was undoubtedly in great part the result of his disregard of the fundamental Hindu principle of caste that he won for himself so large a following. Peaceably and calmly the life of Buddha passed, with little opposition, save from his cousin Devadatta, who attempted, from motives of personal ambition, to rouse hostility against his kinsman. At the age of eighty the Buddha felt that his end was drawing near, and for the first time in his life severe illness befell him. At the village of Kusinara, about thirty miles west of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, the master passed away (477 B.C.).

2. Legendary Additions.

About the life here outlined the mythopeic tendencies of the Oriental mind wove a web of legend. In course of time Buddha no longer stands alone. He is the successor of twenty-seven Buddhas and himself received recognition from twenty-four of them, passing through a hundred thousand world cycles and countless reincarnations before he reached the perfection which was requisite for his high mission. When in him all perfection and all knowledge was united, the gods besought him to be born on earth, and in answer to their prayer he entered the womb of Maya in the form of a white elephant, while thirty-two signs of wonder appeared and the ten thousand worlds trembled at the coming of the savior of the world. At the end of ten months, the Buddha was born beneath a sal-tree in the grove of Lumbini, while gods and men did homage unto him. On the fifth day of his life the Brahman Kondanna prophesied to Suddhodana the king that the child was destined to become a Buddha when he should see four signs of evil omen, an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and a monk. By every means within his power the father sought to keep his son from seeing these sights, surrounding him with every luxury, and marrying him in his sixteenth year to his cousin Yasodhara, the daughter of Suprabuddha. It was all in vain, however, for Siddhartha beheld the four signs, realized the misery of life, and abandoned the palace. On the expiration of his seven years of wandering, he realized that he was at last to gain Buddhahood, and amid many marvels he sat down beneath the bo-tree facing the East. Fruitlessly did Mara, the leader of the host of evil, endeavor to terrify the Bodhisattva. The blandishments of his daughters, Desire, Pining, and Lust, and his more subtle temptation that the Buddha should at once enter Nirvana without proclaiming his saving knowledge to mankind, failed ignominiously. From the time of his illumination until his death few myths gather about the Buddha, but when he was 293about to die there were marvels, and the course of nature was again disturbed, until the Tathagata passed to Nirvana.

3. Buddha's Teaching.

The key-note of Buddhism is the transitoriness and vanity of life, which is conditioned by karma, the fruit of deeds done in countless previous lives; nor can existence be ended before the expiration of many reincarnations devoted to works of holiness and spent in unceasing efforts to gain Nirvana. Three elements common to all post-Vedic Hindu thought are at once discernible in this teaching; viz., transmigration, karma, and the dissolution of individuality. In its shortest form Buddha's teaching may be summarized as follows: Birth is sorrow, age is sorrow, sickness is sorrow, death is sorrow, clinging to earthly things is sorrow. Birth and rebirth, the chain of reincarnation, result from the thirst for life together with passion and desire. The only escape from this thirst is to follow the Eightfold Path: Right belief, right resolve, right word, right act, right life, right effort, right thinking, right meditation.

4. Nirvana.

The goal of Buddhism is Nirvana. A definition of this term is almost impossible for the simple reason that Buddha himself gave no clear idea, and in all probability possessed none, of this state. He was indeed asked by more than one of his disciples whether Nirvana was postmundane or postcelestial existence, or whether it was annihilation. To all these questions, however, he refused an answer, for it was characteristic of his teachings that they were practically confined to the present life, and concerned themselves but little either with problems of merely academic philosophy or with the unknowable. Some measure of light, however, may be gained from the orthodox systems of Indian philosophy which are based upon the doctrine of the divine inspiration of the Veda. According to all of these, the summum bonum is release from karma and reincarnation, a goal which is to be attained by knowledge, and which consists in absorption into or reunion with the Over-Soul. This involves the annihilation of individuality, and in this sense Nirvana is nihilism, so that with the tacit ignoring of any real conception of the divine in the teachings of Buddha, Nirvana seems to imply the annihilation of the soul rather than its absorption. It is noteworthy, furthermore, that the word Nirvana etymologically denotes "a blowing out," the extinguishing of the fires of hatred, infatuation, and all passions. Nirvana seems to have been twofold, a secondary condition which may be reached by the righteous in this life, and the blessed state of freedom from rebirth.

Surpassing the teachers who had preceded him, Buddha denied both the authority of the Vedas, whose recognition, however formal, constitutes orthodoxy in India, and the power of sacrifice, while he practically ignored the existence of the divine. He rejected the entire system of caste, thus unconsciously preparing his doctrines to be potentially a world-religion instead of an ethnic faith. In the later Buddhist theology an elaborate cosmology is developed, with thirty-one worlds inhabited by fourteen classes of beings, of which the three highest are the supreme Buddhas, Pratyekabuddhas, and Arhats, the latter being those who are almost ready to attain Nirvana, while the Pratyekabuddha has attained the knowledge necessary to Nirvana but does not preach it. In addition to these must be noted the Bodhisattva, a potential Buddha who will attain to Buddhahood in due time.

5. Buddhist Monks.

Even in his lifetime Buddha established an order, thus forming the "triple jewel," Buddha, Dhamma (the law), and Sangha (the congregation). In this order were gathered the followers of the teacher, who were bound by the ten vows: neither to kill nor to steal, to abstain from impurity, falsehood, and intoxicating drinks, not to eat at forbidden times, to abstain from the folly of dancing, singing, music, and the theater, to use no manner of adornment, not to sleep in a high or a broad bed, and to receive neither gold nor silver. The monks, who were bound to celibacy and poverty, and were called, in old Hindu fashion, bhikkus, or beggars, might be received as novices at the age of seven or eight, although they could not be ordained before their twentieth year. Twice a month the monks of each monastery assembled for the confession of sins, and annually in the rainy season a retreat was held both for rest from the pilgrimages of the preceding year and to gain new strength for the coming season. Even in the lifetime of Buddha women were admitted to the order and nunneries were built for their accommodation.

6. Development after Buddha's Death.

The history of Buddhism is a curious bit of irony; the founder who had ignored the existence of a god himself became a god. In Southern India, however, the religion remained relatively pure, although some heretical doctrines crept in at an early period and a number of councils were held to maintain the faith in its integrity. The first of these took place at Rajagaha in the year of Buddha's death, the second at Vaisali about a century later, the third, a sectarian meeting, at Pataliputra about 246 B.C., and the fourth at Jalandhara under the Indo-Scythian king Kanishka in 78 A.D. The religion gained royal approval at an early date, its great kingly adherent being Asoka, who was crowned at Pataliputra in Madagha about 259 B.C. and reigned thirty-seven years. Not only did he spread the faith throughout his dominions, but his son Mahendra carried the new creed to Ceylon. In the second century B.C. the Indo-Scythian kings of Cabul and Bactria established Buddhism in their lands, whence it was promulgated in Northwestern India. Thus the faith spread by degrees over all the country north of the Vindhyas, existing side by side with Brahmanism and Jainism in harmony and peace. Its downfall in the land of its birth was due to two causes, the conflict of the sects which arose within itself and the Mohammedan invasion of India, but there was no persecution by the other Hindu sects. In Ceylon, on the other hand, Buddhism still exists, especially in the southern part of the island, and it is there that the purest Buddhism is found.


7. Buddhist Sects.

It was but natural that divergent opinions should arise within the faith itself. These remained comparatively unimportant, however, until the schism into the Mahayana and Hinayana, or the "Great Vehicle" and "Little Vehicle." The latter still adhered strictly in the main to the original tenets of Buddhism, although it was subdivided into the Vaibhashikas and the Sautrantikas, the former laying special stress on the "Abhidhammapitaka" or metaphysical section of the sacred books of the religion, and the latter on the "Suttapitaka " or discourses of the Buddha. The Mahayanists, on the contrary, who form by far the larger sect, devoted themselves to all manner of speculation, being influenced not only by Hinduism but at a later period by Shamanism as well. The Mahayana postulates the existence of a thousand Buddhas with a supreme god, the Adibuddha, and prefers beneficent activity to the passivity of the Buddha's own doctrines, although both the principal subdivisions of this sect, the Yogacaras and the Madhyamikas, are strictly idealistic, and in so far are orthodox Hindus.

8. The Dhyani-Buddhas.

Buddhism was introduced into Tibet about the seventh century A.D., when it was already permeated by Saivaite and Tantric Hinduism and by Mahayanism, while under the influence of Mongolian Shamanism it departed still more from its original ideal. Here is evolved the concept of the Dhyani-Buddhas, the celestial types of the Buddhas which appear on earth as men (Manushi-Buddhas). These Dhayani-Buddhas, who are five in number, watch over the welfare of the world between the incarnations of the Manushi-Buddhas, although they themselves never become incarnate. Three of them correspond to the three Buddhas who preceded Gautama in the present age of the world; one, Amitabha, to the historical Buddha, whose earthly reincarnation is the lesser Lama of Tibet; and the fifth is the Dhyani-Bodhisatva Padmapani or Avalokitesvara, who is represented on earth by the Dalai-Lama at Lhassa, and is the type of the Bodhisatva Maitreya, the future earthly Buddha and the savior of the world. See Lamaism.

Buddhism was introduced into China in its Mahayanistic form by the emperor Mingti in 61 A.D., and despite persecutions, especially under the Tang dynasty (620–907), it has survived there until the present day, although overlaid with superstition and consisting in great part in the worship of pictures and relics. It has gained, however, only a subordinate place in China, being unable to compete either with the popular Taoism or the cultured Confucianism, despite the fact that the three religions exist peaceably side by side. From China Buddhism was carried to Japan, where numerous sects have arisen, although the results have been little more than a further departure from the original faith (see China, I., 3; Japan, I., II., 2).

9. Buddhism and Christianity.

Some scholars would like to derive the gospel narrative from Buddhism, but it is a significant fact that an overwhelming majority of Oriental scholars have decided that the story of Buddha has had no influence on the canonical life of Christ. They reach this conclusion by a comparison of elements of the Buddha legend composed long after the death of the teacher with the Gospels. The Buddhist parallels are drawn, moreover, in the main, from the texts of the Northern school, which are confessedly late and mythopeic to a degree which almost totally obscures the figure of the historic Buddha, while some of the so-called cogent Christian parallels are based upon the apocryphal Gospels. Considering the canonical Gospels on the one hand and the texts of the Southern Buddhism on the other, the parallels between the lives of Jesus and Buddha seem to resolve themselves into those which are natural in the case of great religious teachers. Thus of five parallels mentioned by Seydel, the ablest advocate of the theory of Buddhistic influence on Christianity, the three most important are the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple compared with that of the infant Buddha; the fast of Jesus and that of Buddha; and the preexistence of Jesus and of Buddha in heaven. Of these the presentation of Buddha is found neither in the writings of the Southern school nor in the ancient text of the Northern, while at the time of Jesus it was usual for a pious mother to attend the temple for the redemption of the first-born and her own ritual purification. The account of the fasting and temptation is not entirely harmonious in both accounts. Buddha first over-comes Mara and then fasts forty-nine days, while Jesus fasts forty days and is then tempted by the devil. Not only is the account of the Gospels the more accurate psychologically, but it may be paralleled with similar events in the lives of Moses and Elijah, while the story of the temptation is found not only in Buddhism and Christianity, but also in Zoroastrianism. The third parallel of the pre-existence of Jesus and Buddha is equally discrepant. Jesus existed in heaven from all eternity and is unique in such existence, while Buddha merely shares the history of all other Buddhas and was reincarnated on earth countless times. It must be borne in mind that the spirit of the two religions as of their founders is entirely divergent. The tragedy and the majesty of the Christ is very different from the peacefulness and the sweetness of Buddha. Jesus sought to save the world, not himself. Buddha began by saving himself and then taught the world. The aim of Jesus is faith and individual existence in heaven in the presence of God; the summum bonum of Buddha is knowledge and the annihilation of self in Nirvana. In the face of such essential divergencies, the parallels alleged to exist between Buddha and Jesus seem to be cases of accidental coincidence, and it is almost certain that, despite the travel between Palestine and India, which may have influenced to some degree the apocryphal Gospels on the one hand and late Northern Buddhism on the other, Christianity and Buddhism developed to all intents and purposes independently. For esoteric Buddhism (so called), see Theosophy.

Bibliography: The literature on Buddhism is enormous, and it is possible to cite here only a few out of the many 295 books on the subject, while reference may be made for more complete bibliographies to the works of Kern and Aiken mentioned below.

General works and Indian Buddhism: K. Köppen, Die Religion des Buddha, Berlin, 1857–59; Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire, Le Bouddha et sa Religion, Paris, 1860; R. Hardy, Manual of Buddhism in its Modern Development, London, 1860; E. Burnouf Introduction à l’histoire du Bouddhisme Indien, Paris, 1876; H. Oldenberg, Buddha, sein Leben, seine Lehre, seine Gemeinde, Berlin, 1897, Eng. transl. by W. Hoey, London, 1882; E. Senart, Essai sur la légende du Bouddha, Paris, 1882; M. Williams, Buddhism in its Connection with Brahmanism and Hinduism and its Contrast with Christianity, London, 1889; T. W. Rhys Davids, Buddhism, its History and Literature, New York, 1896; idem, Buddhism, London, 1899; H. Kern, Geschiedenis van het Buddhism in Indië, Haarlem, 1884; idem, Manual of Indian Buddhism, Strasburg, 1896; E. Hardy, Der Buddhismus nach ältren Pali-Werken, Münster, 1890; idem, Buddha, Leipsic, 1903; R. Copleston, Buddhism, Primitive and Present, in Magadha and Ceylon, London, 1892; K. Neumann, Buddhistische Anthologie, Berlin, 1892; idem, Die Reden des Gotama Buddhas, Leipsic, 1897; idem, Theragatha and Therigatha, Berlin, 1899; H. Warren, Buddhism in Translation, Cambridge, Mass., 1896; J. Dahlmann, Buddha, Berlin, 1898; and for special topics consult, among other works: S. Hardy, Eastern Monachiam, London; 1860; A. Bastian, Der Buddhismus in seiner Psychologie, Berlin, 1882; idem, Der Buddhismus als religions-philosophisches System, ib. 1893; J. Dahlmann, Nirvana, ib. 1896; W. St. C. Tisdall, The Noble Eightfold Path, London, 1903; A. Menzies, The Religions of India, Brahmanism and Buddhism, ib. 1904.

Exceedingly important for the legendary development of Buddhism is the Jataka: or Stories of the Buddha's Former Births, Pali text edited with its commentary by V. Fausböll, 8 vols., London, 1877–97; translation by various hands edited by E. B. Cowell, vols. i.–v., ib. 1895–1905. Consult also Portfolio of Buddhist Art, Historical and Modern, Chicago, 1908 (a collection of 31 plates).

Extra-Indian Buddhism: H. Alabaster, The Wheel of the Law, London, 1871; P. Bigandet, The Life or Legend of Gaudama, the Buddha of the Burmese, ib. 1880; E. Schlagintweit, Buddhism in Tibet, Leipsic, 1863; W. Rockhill, The Life of the Buddha, London, 1884; L. A. Waddell, The Buddhism of Tibet or Lamaism, ib. 1895 (contains bibliography, pp. 578–583): A. Grünwedel, Mythologie des Buddhismus in Tibet und der Mongolei, Leipsic, 1900; J. Edkins, Chinese Buddhism, London, 1880; S. Beal Buddhism in China, ib. 1884; idem, Si-yu-ki, Buddhist Records of the Western World, from the Chinese, ib. 1906; B. Nanjio, Twelve Japanese Buddhist Sects, Tokyo, 1887; R. Fujishima, Le Bouddhisme Japonais, Paris, 1887.

Buddhism and Christianity: R. Seydel, Das Evangelium von Jesus in seinen Verhältnissen zu Buddha-Sage und Buddha-Lehre, Leipsic, 1882; idem, Die Buddha-Legende und das Leben Jeau, ib. ed. 1897; Rhys Davids, Buddhism and Christianity, London, 1888; R. Falke, Buddha, Mohammed und Christus, Gütersloh, 1900; C. Aiken, The Dhamma of Gotama the Buddha and the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, Boston, 1900; A. Bertholet, Buddhismus und Christentum, Tübingen, 1902.

Reference may also be made to the general works on comparative religion and the religions of India, especially E. Hopkins, Religions of India, Boston, 1895, pp. 298–347; Chantepie de la Saussaye, Lehrbuch der Religionsgeschichte, 3d ed Freiburg, 1905; C. von Orelli, Allgemeine Religionsgeschichte, pp. 448–493, Bonn, 1899, and the bibliographies there given.

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