The teachings of Buddha are indeed his life, his very self. In the house of a potter the venerable Vakkali lay nigh unto death.〖Samyutta-Nikāya, xxii, 87 (3.119).〗 The Exalted One (Buddha) came to his pillow and made kindest inquiries. “Long have I wished to go to the Exalted One to see him, but there was not enough strength in my body to go.” “Peace, Vakkali! what should it profit thee to see this my corrupt body? Whoso, O Vakkali, seeth my teachings, he seeth me.” Here the Teacher identifies himself with his teachings no less completely than does Jesus when he declares unto Thomas, “I am the way.” And yet, despite Buddha’s merging of his personality in his doctrine, it is of utmost importance to remember two things: First that Buddha most explicitly disclaims acceptance of his teachings on the score of authority; and secondly that it was, after all, their intrinsic excellence which (whether we take it as the fruit of a transcendental illumination or as the outcome of his personality) has maintained them as a mighty world power for five and twenty centuries.

First then his position as to authority. The Exalted One, when making a tour through Kosala, once stopped at Kesaputta, a town of the Kālāmans. They asked him: “Master, so many teachers come to us with their doctrines. Who of them is right and who is wrong?” “Not because it is tradition,” he answers, “not because it has been handed down from one to another, not because ye think ‘Our teacher is one to whom great deference is due,’ should ye accept a doctrine. When, O Kālāmans, when ye of yourselves recognize that such and such things are bad and conduce to evil and sorrow, then do ye reject them.”〖Auguttara-Nikāya, iii, 65 (1.189).〗 And again, “When a man’s conviction of a truth is dependent on no one but himself, this, O Kaccāna, is what constitutes Right Belief.”〖H. C., xlv, 661.〗 It is hard for us of the twentieth century to estimate aright the significance of Buddha’s attitude. He lived in a land and age when deference to authority was well-nigh universal. To break with it as he did, implies an intelligence far beyond the common and a lofty courage.

Secondly as to the intrinsic excellence of Buddha’s teaching. That teaching is well characterized by a few brief phrases which occur as a commonplace in the canonical texts and are used as one of the forty subjects of meditation or “businesses” by devout Buddhists: “Well taught by the Exalted One is the doctrine. It avails even in the present life, is immediate in its blessed results, is inviting, is conducive to salvation, and may be mastered by any intelligent man for himself.”〖H. C., xlv, 749.〗 Frankly disclaiming knowledge of what happens after death, Buddha addressed himself to the problem of sorrow as we have it here and now, and sought to relieve it by leading men into the path of righteousness and good-will and freedom from lust. A would-be disciple once asked him to answer certain dogmatic questions about life after death. Buddha parried them all as irrelevances in the dialogue which Warren gives〖H. C., xlv, 647-652.〗 and which is one of the finest presentations of Religion versus Dogma to be found in antiquity. The holy life, he says, does not depend upon the answers to any of these questions.

If a physician of forty years ago had been asked to foretell the then presumable advances of medical science, his guesses might well have included the discovery of new specifics, such as quinine for malaria; for medicine was then the healing art, its aim was to cure. True, we had heard from our childhood that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But how was the ounce of prevention to be had? Doubtless by finding out the cause of disease. And this is on the whole the most significant achievement of modern medicine. Now it was precisely this problem in the world of the spirit that Buddha claimed to solve, the ætiology of man’s misery. His solution he publicly announced in his first sermon, the gist of which was destined to become known to untold millions, the sermon of the Deerpark of Benares.

His most important point is the cause of human suffering,〖Buddha’s Four Eminent Truths concern suffering, its cause, its surcease, and the way thereto. They coincide with those of the Yoga system and are indeed the four cardinal subjects of Hindu medical science applied to spiritual healing—a fact which famous ancient Hindu writers have themselves not failed to observe.〗 and that he finds in the craving for existence (no matter how noble that existence) and for pleasure. If you can only master these cravings, you are on the road to salvation, to Nirvana. This, so far as the present life is concerned, means the going out of the fires of lust and ill will and delusion, and further a getting rid thereby of the round of rebirth.

All Directories