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Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, [1911], at

§ 9. Buddhism and Buddhas.

Our English guide, than whom no man knows more of Buddhism, gives us a definition: "There can be little doubt but that the doctrines of the Four Noble Truths and of the Noble Eightfold Path, the 'Foundation of the Kingdom of Righteousness,' were not only the teaching of Gotama himself, but were the central and most

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essential part of it." 1 The teachings in question are too well known to need quotation here: they are simply a formal and symmetrical statement of the rules of self-repression by which the Buddhist is to attain the inward peace of Nirvana, or deliverance from blind desires. Let us then assume that these teachings are for Buddhism primordial: what is there to prove that they are the utterances of one Gotama, "the Sakya sage"; and that his proclamation of them set up an "Order" of disciples?

The Order, by all accounts, was one of Mendicants. Either there were, or there were not, such Orders in existence before the Buddhist. If not, we are to suppose that one man, by the simple proclamation of a certain set of quietest principles, calling for self-restraint without any painful self-mortification, induced numbers of men and women, many of them instructed, to take up a new way of life in a country not much given to changes or experiments, and through this host of disciples instituted an Order that was to set a great mark on the history of religion. The unlikeliness of such a sudden growth will be generally granted; and indeed it is fully conceded—though this is rarely mentioned in the more popular accounts of Buddhism—that a Sangha or Society of the kind was no new phenomenon in Buddha's day. 2 There seem to have been many; and the Buddhist Order avowedly copied their practices:—

According to Buddhist tradition—and we see no sufficient reason for doubting the correctness of the account—the monks of other, that is, non-Buddhistic sects, used to meet together at the middle and at the close of every half-month, and were accustomed then to proclaim their new teaching in public. At such times......the different sects found an opportunity of increasing their numbers and their influence. The Buddhists also adopted the custom of these periodical meetings, but confined themselves to meeting twice in each month. 3

Our authorities argue indeed that the penitential practice of the Buddhist meetings "seems 4 to have been an original invention of the Buddhists themselves"; but here we have on the one hand an avowal that the Buddhists "invented" notable usages not prescribed by the traditional Founder, and on the other hand a failure to demonstrate that the Buddhist practice was not pre-Buddhistic. 5 On the face

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of the case, the claim is distinctly improbable, in view of the other data. For the rest, the Jainist movement admittedly dates from the same period; mendicant sages are recognised in the Buddhist books as common phenomena before Buddha; 1 and the same kinds of rules of conduct seem to have been general, save that the Buddhist was not so painfully ascetic as some others.

The Buddhist movement, then, was one on anciently familiar lines. What is more, the title of "the Buddha," which means "the enlightened," so far from making claim to a new departure, was an implicit acknowledgment of continuance in established ideals.

"In the Pâli and Sanskrit texts the word Buddha is always used as a title, not as a name. The historical Buddha is represented to have taught that he was only one of a long series of Buddhas who appear at intervals in the world, and who all teach the same system. After the death of each Buddha his religion flourishes for a time and then decays, till it is at last completely forgotten, and wickedness and violence rule over the earth. Gradually then the world improves; until at last a new Buddha appears who again preaches the lost Dharma or Truth.....The names of twenty-four of these Buddhas who appeared previous to Gotama have been handed down to us.....The Buddhavansa or 'History of the Buddhas' the lives of all the previous Buddhas before commencing the account of Gotama himself; and the Pâli commentary on the Jâtakas gives certain details regarding each of the twenty-four." 2

[paragraph continues] The number and the names may very well be, as our historian argues, late inventions; but there can be no question as to the fact of the belief. An early tradition avows that, after "the" Buddha had made sixty converts in three months, sent them in different directions to preach and teach, and again converted the whole population of Rajagriha, the capital of King Bimbisâra, he encountered a period of hostility, in which his disciples were ridiculed as preachers of a doctrine of depopulation. Appealed to by them for counsel, he advised them "to say that the Buddha was only trying to preach righteousness, as former Buddhas had done." 3 Even in the late Commentary of Buddhaghosa on the Dialogues of Gotama, "the Blessed One" is represented as exhorting his disciples to be earnest, because "hard is it to meet with a Buddha in the world." 4 So in

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the Dhamma-pada we have the text: "A Buddha is not easily found. Wherever such a sage is born, the race prospers." 1 And the name Bhagavâ, "the Blessed One," is equally impersonal, the Buddhist traditions themselves telling of Gotama's discussions with "Bhagavâ, Alâra, and Udraka." 2 Finally, in the fourth century of our era, "there was certainly near to Srâvasti a sect of Buddhists who rejected Gotama, reverencing only the three previous Buddhas, and especially Kâsyapa, whose body they believed to be buried under one of the dâgabas at which they, as well as the orthodox, worshipped, while another was said to be built over the spot where he had died." 3

There were probably current, then, at and before the time of Gotama's alleged teaching, any number of teachings credited to "the Buddha" and "the Blessed One"; and these might include many afterwards ascribed to Gotama. Given, then, an absolute absence of evidence for the transcription of any teachings of Gotama in his lifetime, on what grounds are we to believe that they were with knowledge ascribed to a man of that name, whose life answered to the non-supernatural details given in the legends? Nay, seeing that even the name Gautama or Gotama is on the one hand a common one, 4 and on the other hand (as "Gautama of the race of Gotama") full of mythological associations; 5 and seeing further that there was admittedly another Gotama known to the early Buddhists who also founded an Order, 6 what proof is there that sayings and doings of different Gotamas may not have been ascribed to one person? On the view, again, that the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path are the oldest doctrines of the Buddhist movement, and were formulated by one Gotama, what reason is there to believe that the movement either (a) arose or (b) made any progress on the simple basis of those teachings? Baur, believing in the historicity of the Gospel Jesus, yet makes the avowal: "How soon would everything true and important that was taught by Christianity have been relegated to the series of long-faded sayings of the noble humanitarians and thinking sages of antiquity, had not its teachings become words of eternal life in the

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mouth of its Founder?" 1 Similarly may we not ask, How, in much-believing India, could any large organised movement develop on the simple nucleus of a teaching of self-control, which differed from the common practice of Hindu asceticism only in its renunciation of positive self-maceration? Nay, supposing a sage to have framed an eightfold path of "Right Belief, Right Aims, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right means of Livelihood, Right Endeavour, Right Mindfulness, Right Meditation," how should he intelligibly proceed to establish his way by forming an Order of Mendicants? 2 Our guide himself explains that these "classified statements of moral truth" were "addressed to Brahmans skilled in the dialectics of the time"; and they certainly have that aspect. But why should they be offered as a primary code for a new mendicant Order?

It will doubtless be answered that such à priori objection is unwarranted; that we must take the evidence as we find it and recognise as the primary teaching of the founder of Buddhism the doctrines repeatedly ascribed to him in the oldest documents. But when we inquire historically into the oldest documents and their authenticity we learn from our leading instructors that the received tradition of the First Buddhist Council which "collected the sayings of the Master" is proved to be late and untrustworthy by an early Sutta, which gives all the story of the heresy that is historically stated as the motive for the Council, but says nothing of such a Council taking place. "The author of the Mahâparinibhâna-Sutta," says Dr. Oldenberg, "did not know anything of the First Council"; and Professor Rhys Davids agrees. 3 And this very Sutta ("The Book of the Great Decease") is open to suspicion of lateness, inasmuch as it makes the Blessed One figure at the head of a great movement in his lifetime, travelling sometimes with five hundred and sometimes with twelve hundred and fifty disciples. What is more, it represents him as giving forth a kind of teaching hard to reconcile with other doctrine ascribed to him as typical; for in the very first chapter of the Sutta (§ 4) he is made to lay it down as one of the conditions of the permanent prosperity of a certain tribe of Vaggians that they "honour and esteem and revere and support the Vaggian shrines in town or country, and allow not the proper offerings and rites, as formerly given and performed, to fall into

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desuetude." 1 It may well be said of such a teacher that, so far from having opposed Hinduism and "destroyed a system of iniquity and oppression and fraud," he "lived and died a Hindu." 2 But does such doctrine correlate with the denial of the permanence of the Gods, and of the value of prayers and sacrifices, also ascribed to the Buddha by tradition and documents?

The traditional First Council, then, which figures as the first historical authority for the existence of the Buddha's teachings, is later (if it ever took place at all) than a Sutta which ascribes to him a teaching wholly different in spirit and aim from those commonly held to be typical and essential in his doctrine. But indeed Pali scholars are more and more convinced that the First Council is a mere literary myth, to assign to which a historical date is to put a false problem. 3 And if the First Council thus goes by the board, of what value is the late tradition that the Council of Vesâli was held a hundred years after the Buddha's death? Our authorities argue that since the "Ten Points" said to have been there vehemently discussed are not mentioned in the earlier sections of the Mahâvagga, these must be prior to the Council; and that as the Pâtimokkha is visibly older still, the last-named section of the Vinaya must be very old indeed. 4 The answer is (1) that the Council of Vesâli 5 may have been centuries later than the date traditionally assigned to it, and (2) that the Vinaya texts in general, if relatively old, have nothing of the character of an innovating propaganda, nothing of the nature of an appeal which would create a new Order, but rather correspond to the late code of rules framed for monastic orders in Christendom a thousand years after the foundation of the Christian cult. The fact that they are all ascribed to the Founder is but one more evidence of the total lack of the critical or historical sense among the members.


242:1 Rhys Davids, General Introduction to the Buddhist Suttas, vol. xi of "Sacred Books of the East" series, p. xxi.

242:2 Cp. Kuenen, Hibbert Lectures, p. 248 sq.; Kern, as cited, ii, 1-3; and Prof. Davids’ trans. of Dialogues of the Buddha, 1899, p. 57, p. 61, note, pp. 64, 66, 77, 78, 102, 105, 220-1. It appears that even the Buddhist yellow robe was common to other Orders (Id. pp. 77, 78).

242:3 Rhys Davids and Oldenberg, Introd. to Vinaya Texts, Pt. ii, p. x, proceeding on the Mahâvagga, ii, 1, and ii, 4, 2.

242:4 This modifies Koeppen's "ohne Zweifel" (Die Religion des Buddha, 1857-9, i, 366).

242:5 Koeppen (i, 367, note) says that "Die Beichte trat an die Stelle des bramanischen Opfers." But sacrifice had already been superseded in the teaching of some Brahmanists. Below, p. 248.

243:1 Dialogues of the Buddha, pp. 214-221.

243:2 Davids, Buddhism. pp. 179-180. Cp. Weber, History of Indian Literature, pp. 27, 167, 284-5, as to the Brahmanic connections of the word. A Nepalese list gives eight. Wilson, Essays and Lectures on Relig. of Hindus, 1862, ii, 7.

243:3 Davids, Buddhism, pp. 55, 61-2, 63-4, and refs.

243:4 Id. American Lectures, p. 111; cp. Dialogues of the Buddha, 1899, p. 87.

244:1 Dhamma-pada, xiv, 193 (Max Müller's trans. S. B. E. x). "The awakened" is used in both the singular and the plural throughout the chapter.

244:2 Davids, Buddhism, p. 34, citing Beal, Romantic Legend of Buddha, pp. 152-177.

244:3 Davids, Buddhism, p. 181. Professor Davids avows that the sayings ascribed to Kâsyapa Buddha in the Amagandha Sutta are "quite in the manner and spirit of all the teaching ascribed to Gotama himself."

244:4 Davids, Buddhism, p. 27, note. Cp. Bühler's Introd. to Inst. of Gotama in Sacred Laws of the Aryas (S. B. E. II), Pt. i, 2d ed. pp. l-li. "Siddartha" is admittedly a dubious name. The Nepalese list gives neither that nor Gotama. Wilson, as cited.

244:5 Prof. H. Kern, Histoire du Bouddhisme dans l’Inde, tr. fr. 1901, i, 253-4.

244:6 Dialogues, p. 222.

245:1 Das Christenthum and die christliche Kirche der drei ersten Jahrhunderte, 1853, pp. 35-36. (Eng. tr. i, 38.)

245:2 It may be argued that he was giving the preference to mendicancy as a means of livelihood over the wrong means, such as fortune-telling and astrology, said in the Dialogues of the Buddha (Davids’ trans. 1899, pp. 16-25) to be practised by "some recluses and Brahmans." But on this view the "rightness" is merely negative.

245:3 Introd. to the Buddhist Suttas, S.B.E. xi.

246:1 Last cit. pp. 3-4.

246:2 Davids, Buddhism, p. 83; American Lectures, p. 116. [In the last ed. of his Buddhism Prof. Davids substituted for "Hindu" the phrase "typical Indian," adding: Hinduism had not, in his time, arisen."] See the Buddhism (pp. 138, 149, 165, etc.) for many instances in which the Buddha is made to speak of "the Gods" as a believer in them; and cp. Wilson, Essays and Lectures, as cited, ii, 28.

246:3 Cp. R. Otto Francke, art. on "The Buddhist Councils" in Journal of the Pali Text Society, 1908, pp. 68-74.

246:4 Rhys Davids and Oldenberg, Vinaya Texts, i, Introd. p. xvii. Cp. Buddhism, p. 163.

246:5 As to this cp. Koeppen, Die Religion des Buddha, i, 155-6.

Next: § 10. The Buddhist Cruces