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IN reading the Pâli Scriptures one is impressed with the strong personal influence exercised by The Buddha over the hearts of his followers. He was regarded, not as a mere formulator of dry metaphysical propositions, but as a very wise and compassionate friend of his fellow-men. He was full of tact, and all his ways were ways of peace. To allay discord he would tell a little story or fable with a moral, and his epithet for one of whom he disapproved was merely "vain man." Anger, in fact, had no place in his character, and the reader of this book will find that it had equally none in his religio-philosophic system.
The term "Buddha" means "Enlightened One," and signifies that the person to whom it is applied has solved the riddle of existence, and discovered the doctrine for the cessation of misery. It was by his attainment of this supreme "Enlightenment" or Wisdom that Gotama became a Buddha. During the thirty-five years of his life previous to that event, and during all previous existences from the time he set out towards the Buddhaship, he was a Bodhisatta,--a term which I have freely translated "Future Buddha," but which is more literally rendered "He whose essence is Wisdom."
The Buddha's given name would appear to have been Siddhattha; but as the word means "Successful in his Objects," it looks as though it might be a simple epithet. The p. 2 Buddha belonged to the Sakya clan. The word "Sakya" means "Powerful;" and the families that bore the name had a reputation for pride and haughtiness. They were of the warrior caste, but cultivated the peaceful arts of agriculture. By his contemporaries The Buddha is usually called Gotama, or, as the word is sometimes Anglicized, the Gotamid. It is not quite clear why he and others of his clan should bear the name of Gotama in addition to that of Sakya. It may be they claimed descent from the ancient sage Gautama (Sanskrit "Gautama" becomes "Gotama" in Pâli), to whom are attributed some of the hymns of the Rig-Veda; or it may be, as Burnouf has suggested, "because Gautama was the sacerdotal family name of the military race of Sakyas, who, being of the warrior caste, had no ancestor or tutelar saint like the Brahmans, but might, as the Hindu law permits, have taken the name of the sage to whose family belonged their spiritual guide."
The Buddha was a Hindu, born not far from the Ganges, and during his long ministry wandered about from place to place in the section of country about Benares, very much as did Christ in Samaria and Judea. And just as Christ once left his native country and went to Egypt, so The Buddha is said by native authorities to have paid a couple of visits to Ceylon; but the statement is, I fear, somewhat mythical.
The date of Gotama Buddha is considered to be the sixth century before Christ. It would appear that he lived to his eightieth year, and the time of his death is given by scholars as about 480 B. C.
The first eight sections of the present chapter are from the general introduction to the Jâtaka ("Book of Birth-Stories"). These Birth-Stories, five hundred and fifty in number, are so called because they are tales of the anterior existences of Gotama Buddha, while he was as yet but a p. 3 Future Buddha. The Jâtaka is an extensive work; five volumes have already been edited by Professor V. Fausböll, of Copenhagen, and more is yet to come. It consists of the Birth-Stories themselves, with a commentary and a long introduction. Examples of these Birth-Stories will be given further on; here we have only to do with the Introduction, the author of which and of the commentary is unknown.
After a few preliminary remarks concerning the inception and plan of his work, the author begins by quoting entire the Story of Sumedha as contained in the metrical work called the Buddha-Vamsa ("History of the Buddhas"). He does not quote it all consecutively, but a few stanzas at a time as authority for his prose statements. In this prose is also some matter of a commentary nature, apparently later glosses and not a part of the original text. In my first translation I give the Story of Sumedha as quoted in this Introduction to the Jâtaka, but I give it consecutively and omit the prose, except that of some of the more interesting and explanatory passages, of the glosses especially, I have made foot-notes.
After the Story of Sumedha our author gives formal descriptions of each of the twenty-four Buddhas that preceded Gotama. These descriptions, however, are tedious, and are not here translated. They mainly concern themselves with such details as the height of each Buddha, his length of life, how many conversions he made, the names of his father, mother, chief disciples, etc. But from the point where my second section begins to the end of the eighth I follow the native text without making any omissions. I have divided one continuous text into seven parts, and then given these divisions titles of my own devising.
The reader is thus brought up to the ministry of The Buddha. This ministry lasted some forty-five years, and an account of part of it is given by the author of the Introduction. p. 4 It is, however, only a part that he gives, just enough to conduct his reader up to the time when The Buddha was presented with Jetavana monastery, the importance of which event to our author will be readily perceived when it is remembered that this was the monastery in which The Buddha is represented as having related the greater part of the Birth-Stories. As our author fails to give us a complete life of The Buddha, and as I know of none in Pâli literature, none is attempted in this book. But in order that the reader may have at an early stage an idea of what the matters were wherein The Buddha considered himself "enlightened," two passages are translated from the Mahâ-Vagga. Then follows a description of the daily routine of The Buddha's ministry, and the last section of this chapter gives the Pâli account of how The Buddha died. It is not because the philosophical ideas expressed and the references to meditation and trance made in these four sections are supposed to be self-explanatory, that I make no comment on them in this chapter; but because the next three chapters, as I have already stated in my General Introduction, are devoted to the Doctrine, and constitute the philosophical and systematic part of this work. It appeared desirable to give the reader a general idea of what the Buddhists consider to be the salient features of their system of religion before beginning its detailed discussion.
Next: § 1. The Story of Sumedha