As this is the final volume of my Message series, it completes a work, which I first set myself to do twenty-five years ago. That work had two objectives, one general, the other special. The former was to carry on a Comparative Study of the great religions of the world by winnowing out their leading ideas and tenets and presenting them in a form and language immediately applicable to our times and surrounding. The special objective was to create, as far as I could, a Spiritual Unity in my native land of India, replacing the clash of religious differences prevailing there. I realized even then that if ever there was to be peace and harmony, and mutual understanding of each other's feelings and sentiments, in the 'warring world of Hindustan,' it would be, not by vociferously proclaiming Hindu-Muslim Unity, but by systematically carrying on a comparative study of the great religions of the world, and increasingly proving (as I attempt to do in my Messages) that, in spite of manifest divergences in creed and in modes of worship, there is yet a basic and a demonstrable unity of thought and ideals among the various faiths which at present sway the mind and guide the impulse of the antagonistic nationalists of India.
Taking up the present Message, as in the other five volumes of the series, this work is designed to bring together in a compact form the leading ideas and tenets of Buddhism, interpreting them in the light of the fundamental principles of human life as well as of the latest research in the science of human mind. Apart from this psychological aspect, much of the material the book contains will be found in the works of scholars and exegetists who have made a name for themselves in the Buddhist world of letters. consequently, my work lays claim to no originality of research, to no finality of judgment, not even to any special form of scholarship, despite frequent references to Pali and Sanskrit writings. So vast has been the mass of material brought together in the last fifty years by the lifelong labours and disinterested researches of distinguished Buddhist scholars that for a long time to come the task before a new interpreter of Buddha's Creed lies, I believe, in a discerning survey, at once critical and sympathetic, of the gathered spiritual harvest rather than in an indiscriminate piling up of fresh material. At all events, I am tempted to speak of my Message of Buddha in the spirit and language of that most eminent of the later Mahayana poets, Shanti Deva. In introducing his great Bodhicaryavatara the poet says:
Strictly speaking, I ought to have named this book-The Message of the Buddha, just as I should have more correctly called my work on Christianity - The Message of the Christ, as 'Buddha' and 'Christ' are both titles and ought in consequence to be preceded by the definite article. But as it happens that in each case the title has gradually acquired the force and significance of a personal name, so Jesus the Christ or Anointed in commonly spoken of as 'Christ'; likewise, one may without any ambiguity or impropriety speak of Gautama the Buddha or Enlightened simply as 'Buddha.'
At the very outset let me say that the Buddhism I am attempting to interpret in the following pages is the Buddhism of Buddha himself. With the Buddhism of the Buddhist world, with the special creed of this or that Buddhist Church-with, for instance, the mysticism and idealities of the Northern Mahayana School or the occultism and ethicalities of the Southern Himayana School, I am not concerned except in so far as they help to elucidate the original, untainted teaching of the Master himself. As in Christianity, it is not in the doctrine of any church, high or low, so likewise in Buddhism, it is not in any sect or school of thought, north or south, that the spirit of the Master's teaching is preserved in all it pristine purity, unvitiated by the denominational prejudices and unencumbered by the excrescences inevitable in Time.
As in the pursuit of Truth, so in an inquiry pertaining to a problem in religion or philosophy, we must enter upon it, under what Bacon calls 'Dry light' -that is, with a perfectly open mind, free from all prejudice, never accepting as article of faith, cherished though it be universally and hallowed though it be by centuries of undoubting acceptance, without first challenging its truth and reality, even though such a challenge may appear on the face of it superfluous and even presumptuous. If I am to writer on Buddhism in this spirit of a pure pursuit of Truth, it is evident that I cannot promise a Buddhist reader of my Message an affirmation of certain beliefs about his religion, which he has long cherished and dearly garnered in his heart. On the contrary, it is incumbent on me that I should prepare him beforehand for statements in the following pages which, unless his mind is made of sturdier stuff, may jar harshly against his deeply rooted mental habits, and at the same time I may warn him that my disagreement with certain tacitly-accepted Buddhistic Dogmas, which he will find expressed herein, is no mere vague skepticism, perfunctorily developed and casually manifested, but a held and deeply revered Buddhist concepts and ideals.
From the above it follows that if we wish to commune with the soul of a prophet in order to renew in our own souls the springs of his spiritual life, we must not only leave far behind, and go far beyond, the settled rites and ritual, the long-accepted forms and formularies of the religion that goes under his name, but must also strive in the first place to be perfectly open-minded so as to throw back our vision and create before our mind's eye a truly-proportioned picture of the physical environment of the age in which the prophet lived, moved, and had his being, and then by an effort of our imagination saturate ourselves in the spiritual atmosphere and mental aura of the prophet's own unique personality. Rightly does Pratt in his Pilgrimage of Buddhism say: 'To give the feeling of an alien religion it is necessary to do more than expound it concept and describe its history. One must catch its emotional undertone, enter sympathetically into its sentiments, feel one's way into its symbols, its cult, its art, and then seek to impart these things not merely by scientific exposition but in all sorts of indirect ways.' Even such was my own endeavour in my previous Messages, and must again be in this completing volume.
Another thing the reader must equally bear in mind before commencing to read this book is that Gautama was born and brought up-nay more, lived and died-a Hindu. Buddha's creed and scheme of life, far-reaching and original though they undoubtedly were and subversive, in fact, of the religion of the day, were yet of truly Hindu origin, just as Christ's were of truly Hebrew origin. In other words, the teaching of Buddha can in nowise be dissociated from the master-currents of ancient Hindu Thought and Belief, any more than Christ's can be from those of ancient Hebrew Thought and Belief. But for the vast intellectual research work of his own Hindu predecessors, Buddha's own contribution to the religious lore of the world, however original and monumental, would not and could not have been made possible. Long before Buddha's time, spiritual idealism of a singularly pure and exalted type, that found it truest expression in the Upanishads which, consequently, formed at once the vastseed-beds and prolific breeding-ground of every philosophical system of India of later times. And Buddha's work is, in part at least, an attempt to return to the high level, which had been completely won in ages before his and as completely lost in his own times. Here Buddha may once more be compared with Christ, for, like him, Buddha might with equal justification say: 'Think not that I am come to destroy the law, but to fulfil.' But that both Christ and Buddha had been deeply influenced and primarily inspired by the seers and sages, who preceded them, can scarcely be questioned. And, to carry the comparison a step further, as Jesus, before he became the Christ, was the greatest and wisest and possessed the most original mind among the Jews of his age, so was Gautama the greatest and wisest and possessed a singularly original mind among the Hindus of his age before he became the Buddha and delivered his immortal Message.
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