The present work is a critical study of Buddhism and its doctrines, originally published in French as Le Bouddha et sa religion in 1866. It gives an outline of the history of Buddhism, the birth of Buddha, his renunciation, his teachings and his death. The Buddhist doctrines as put forth by the canons are carefully expounded in relation to western religion and philosophy, and judged according to their merits and defects.
It also narrates the spread of Bud-dhism beyond its place of origin to Nepal, Tibet, Mangolia, China and Ceylon.
Particular emphasis is given to the state of Buddhism as it existed twelve hundred years after the death of Bud-dha, as is set forth in the Travels and memoirs of Xuanzang. A separate chapter is devoted to Buddhism in Ceylon. Contribution of scholars, like B.H. Hodgson, Alexander Csoma, George Tumour, Eugene Burnouf and Spence Hardy who were pioneers in the study of Buddhism and are responsible for all that we know of Buddhism today is also discussed.
Jules Barthelemy-Saint-Hilaire (1805-1895) was a French politician, journal-ist, and scholar. He wrote in the areas of history, sociology, political economy, and languages. He published a translation of the works of Marcus Aurelius (1876) and wrote several studies of Oriental religions, but he is perhaps best remembered for his monumental 35-volume translation (1833-95) of the works of Aristotle. He studied Sanskrit under Eugene Burnouf. After the death of Burnouf he took his place as a writer on Indian matters in the Journal des Savants. His contribution to indology is also valuable, amongst his publications are: Des Vedas (1854); Du Bouddhisme (1855); Le Bouddha et sa religion (1866) and Linden Auglaize (1887).
AUTHENTICITY OF BUDDHISM
Purpose of this work: the knowledge of Buddhism enables us to judge some of our contemporary systems. General view of the Buddhist doctrine: the absence of God and belief in annihilation. Authenticity of Buddhism. The works of B. II. Hodgson, Csoma of Koros, 7urnour, E. Burnory; and A. Rimusat. Original Sanskrit and Pali writings; Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese, Burmese, and Siamese translations. Piyaa'asi's inscriptions. Evidence of the Greek historians of Alexander's expedition. Division of the work.
IN publishing this work on Buddhism, I have but one purpose in view: that of bringing out in striking contrast the beneficial truths and the greatness of our spiritualistic beliefs. Nurtured in an admirable philosophy and religion, we do not seek to know their value, and we remain ignorant of the great debt we owe to them. We are satisfied to possess them, while, at the same time, we are often indifferent and even ungrateful towards them. Although civilization is incessant in its progress, and we reap its benefits, we never think of inquiring whence come the welfare, the security and the comparative enlightenment which civilization brings with it; while we see around us a multitude of other races, which from the beginning of time have remained in asemi-barbarous condition, incapable of forming any tolerable social conditions or governments. I believe that the study of Buddhism in its more general outlines, will give us the secret of this enigma. It will show how a religion which has at the present day more adherents than any other on the surface of the globe, has contributed so little to the happiness of mankind ; and we shall find in the strange and deplorable doctrines which it professes, the explanation of its powerless-ness for good. By an easy retrospect we shall be able more thoroughly to appreciate the moral inheritance which has been transmitted to 'us since the time of Socrates and Plato, and to guard it with all the more care and gratitude.
Buddhism greatly modified and altered, it is true, dates from the seventh century before our own era; and prevails at the present day in Kashmir, Nepal, Tibet, Tartary, Mongolia, and Japan, a great part of China, the kingdom of Anam, Burmah, and the Island of Ceylon. The Buddha was born in the year 622 B.C., and died in 543 at eighty years of age, after having taught his doctrine in Magadha (actually Behar), a region of Central India, in the neighborhood of Benares, on the right bank of the Ganges. Buddhism was an attempt to reform the religion of Brahma, in the midst of which it arose, and by which it was finally expelled from India after centuries of somewhat contemptuous tolerance. But the doctrines which had but momentarily triumphed in the countries that had seen their birth, spread over the neighboring countries, with a success that still continues and seems likely to last.
To reduce Buddhism to its essential elements, the following is a short summary of its aims, philosophical and religious.
Taking but a one-sided view of man's condition upon earth, looking chiefly at his miseries and sufferings, the Buddha does not try to revert to his origin, and to derive it from a higher source.
His beliefs carry him no further than to suppose that the present life is a continuation of past existences, of which man is now bearing the fatal penalty. He believes in transmigration: herein lie his first dogma and his first error. It is necessary then that man should at any cost be delivered from the cycle of perpetual births to which he is condemned; and the Buddha takes upon himself to point out the path which leads to deliverance and frees him from this terrible bondage. Filled with mercy and compassion, he gives to mankind that he came to redeem, a moral code, and he promises eternal salvation to those who follow it. What then is eternal salvation, according to the Buddhist faith? And how can man be delivered from the law of transmigration? Only in one way—by attaining Nirvana, that is annihilation.
When man, thanks to the practice of the austerities and virtues that the Buddha taught, has once reached annihilation, he is well assured that he will never, under any form, be reborn into the odious cycle of successive existences; and when all the elements of which he is composed, both material and spiritual, are completely destroyed, he need no longer fear transmigration; and the blind fatality which rules all things in the universe has power over him no more.
This seems indeed a hideous system; but it is a perfectly consistent one. In the whole of Buddhism, from beginning to end, there is not a trace of the idea of God. Man, completely isolated, is thrown upon his own resources. Cast into a world he does not understand without Providence and without support, staggering under the weight of human infirmity, he has but one hope—that of escaping from his earthly suffering. Wandering in utter darkness, he yet does not seek for light by aspirations towards something higher. His horizon limited to what his senses bear witness, and his knowledge of self as limited and inaccurate as the phenomena amid which he drags out his existence, his intelligence is not sufficiently developed to attain the source from which he himself, as well as the world, has emanated.
Begun from nothing, it is natural that he should end in nothingness, and Buddhism must inevitably lead to this conclusion—a conclusion so terrible for us, but so consoling for the Buddhist. Born without God, living without God, what wonder that he should not find God after death?—that he returns willingly to the nothingness whence he came, which is the only refuge that he knows?
Such, in a few words, is Buddhism, and this is the system of faith which it presents, with the usual accompaniments of legend and superstition.
The religion of the Buddha, however irrational it may be in principle, is not without certain grandeur, and, more-over, has not been without results. In India, from whence it sprang, it took no root. But, strange as it may seem, this doctrine, which seems calculated to shock the most natural and the strongest instincts of humanity, led to real progress in the races that accepted it; and, in submitting to it, they became less ignorant and less degraded. This is hardly, perhaps, a sufficient apology for Buddhism; but we are compelled to render it justice, and it contains so much that is erroneous, that it may well be credited with this secondary merit, which legitimately belongs to it.
I must unhesitatingly add, that with the sole exception of the Christ, there does not exist among all the founders of religions a purer and more touching figure than that of the Buddha. In his pure and spotless life he acts up to his convictions; and if the theory he propounds is false, the personal example which he gives is irreproachable. He is the perfect type of all the virtues he extols; his self-abnega-tion, his charity, his unalterable mildness are unfailing ; at the age of twenty-nine he leaves his father's court to become a religious mendicant ; he prepares himself to preach his doctrine during six years of retreat and meditation ; he propagates it by the sole power of his word and persuasion for more than half a century; and when he dies in the arms of his disciples it is with the serenity of a sage who has practiced good all his life and who is certain that he has found truth. The nations who have received his faith have not worshipped him as a God, for the idea of a God was as foreign to them as it was to him. But they have made of the Buddha an ideal they have striven to imitate; and Buddhism has formed, as we shall show, some great spirits well worthy to figure among those who are the most revered and admired by mankind.
Sad as it may be, it is a study worth making, and I shall not regret my task if I can attain the purpose I have set myself. The nobler sides of Buddhism may delude us, if we remain satisfied with imperfect information; those I shall set forth will, I believe, be sufficient to prevent any serious-minded reader from falling into such errors.
This work may possibly possess another advantage, for I regret to say it is to a certain degree opportune. For some time past the doctrines which form the basis of Buddhism have found favour amongst us, a favour of which they are most unworthy. We see systems arise in which metempsychosis and transmigration are lauded, and, after the manner of the Buddha, the world and mankind are explained without any reference to Providence or God; systems in which man is denied all hope of an immortal life, in which the immortality of the soul is replaced by the immortality of good works, and God is dethroned by man—the only being, it is averred, through whom the Infinite develops conscious-ness of itself. Sometimes it is in the name of science, sometimes in that of history or philology, or even meta-physics, that these theories are propounded—theories which are neither novel nor original, and which are calculated to be extremely hurtful to any weak or vacillating mind. This is not the place to examine these theories, and their authors are at once too sincere and too learned for them to be summarily discussed and condemned. But it is as well that they should be warned by the example of Buddhism, of which hitherto so little has been known, what is the fate of man when he relies only on self; and when his meditations, led astray by a pride of which he is often unconscious, lead him to the abyss in which the Buddha has lost himself.
Moreover, I am well aware of the great differences that exist: I do not indiscriminately confound their systems with Buddhism, although I condemn them also. I am ready to recognize that their merits have some value ; but philosophical systems must always be judged by their conclusions, whatever road may have been pursued to attain them ; and these conclusions, although they may have been reached by different paths, do not thereby become any the better. It is now two thousand five hundred years since the Buddha taught his doctrine; he proclaimed and practiced it with an energy that has never been equaled nor surpassed; he displayed an ingenuous dauntlessness that will never be exceeded; and it is improbable that any of the systems of the present day will ever exercise such a powerful influence over the human mind. It might, however, be somewhat useful for the authors of these systems to cast a glance on the theory and destiny of Buddhism. It is not philosophy in the sense we give to that great word ; neither is it religion as understood by ancient Paganism, or Christianity, or Mohammedanism ; but it is something of all this, added to a perfectly independent doctrine which sees only man in the universe, and stubbornly refuses to see anything but man, who is confounded with the whole of Nature. Hence the aberrations and errors of Buddhism, which might act as a warning to us if only we had wisdom to understand it.
Unfortunately we seldom learn by our own mistakes, and still more rarely do we profit by those of others. Now as the accusations I make against Buddhism are serious, it may be, as well to set forth in order how the sources of the Buddhist religion have been discovered, and on what authentic basis our knowledge of the subject is founded.
It is hardly thirty years 1 since it has been properly studied, but circumstances have so favored research, that at the present day our knowledge of the origins of Buddhism is more thorough than that of most religions, including our own. We are acquainted with the life of the Buddha down to the most trifling details, and we possess all the canonical writings which contain his doctrine, as collected and settled by the three successive councils. These books, primarily written in Sanskrit, or in a dialect of Sanskrit, have been translated into the ordinary language of all the races amongst whom the Buddhist faith has spread: Senegalese, Tibetan, Tartar, Mongolian, Chinese, Japanese, Burman, &c. We possess these translations, and they are a perfectly reliable check on the original authorities, several of which have already been reproduced in different languages.
And besides these proofs there is other evidence no less unimpeachable : monuments of all kinds, the ruins of which still lie scattered all over India, numerous and conclusive inscriptions, journeying of pious pilgrims who have at different periods visited the places made sacred by the memory of the Buddha. In one word, nothing is lacking' at the present day to confirm our opinion; fresh discoveries may be made, but they will not change those which we already possess, and to which we owe so many curious revelations.
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