(A Lecture delivered at the Bengal National Medical College, Calcutta in February 1911.)
BEFORE the appearance of the Buddha, Sakya Muni, as the Universal Teacher of mankind, a religion founded on universal pity, kindness, and non-sectarian ethics was not known. Religions were formulated by leaders of tribes for the especial use of such tribes over whom they held sway. When we study the old testament of the Jews, what do we see, except that Moses, as leader made the laws to suit the wandering nomads, who were going to find a home in Canaan? Laws were made to keep the rebellious tribes under control during their march through the desert. A religion for a settled people and a religion for a wandering nomadic tribe should not he the same. In a settled community like the great body of people of India, religion is a necessity. The religion of a conquering people is soon accepted, under certain conditions, when it is offered to them. Persecution makes people to accept a religion, even against their will. But, succeeding generations forget the ancient national traditions, and may even become quite iconoclastic in their turn. Christianity was at first the religion of helots and the poorer class of people who lived in various parts of Greece, Asia Minor and Rome. It was a comforting doctrine to the poor to be told that they will get the reward in the next birth in heaven. There was unity in the indigent community. The early Christians were poor but united, and this helped them. The expansion of Christianity was not due to any philosophical teaching, but to the exigencies of the situation. The Roman Empire was in a decadent state at the time of Constantine, and the Roman army was full of poorer class of people, and they had come to look upon Christianity as the special religion intended for the poor. Slaves were many at that time and they had all accepted Christianity. Augustine was converted to Christianity not by argument, but by a vision from heaven. It might have been a case of hallucination. Whatever it may be, Constantine did not become penitent and followed the principles of righteousness, thus showing that he had not changed his evil life to become good. On the contrary he did the most inhuman acts which neither a father no a husband ought certainly to do. His was merely a political conversion, but the leaders of the Church the bishops, found the opportunity to achieve their ambitions. The religion that taught non-resistance, poverty, meekness, by an irony of fate gave birth to the most voluptuous, gorgeous, and inquisitorial and persecuting ecclesiastical organization in the world.
In ancient India Brahmanical priesthood was exacting, and made laws to suit a specialized class, who kept the non-Brahman communities in a state of stagnation. Religion of the higher class was not to be given to the servant class. Caste became a stereotyped institution, and class hatred was born. But the servile class had no way to rebel. They were reduced to impotency by the cruel laws enacted by the law-givers. The Veda was not to be read by the non-Brahman, and to the latter category was brought even the Kshatriyas. The hostility shown by the Brahmans to the Kshatriyas is recorded in the Puranas.
When the Buddha appeared 2500 years ago, the Brahmans were divided into two camps, one party, who took the philosophical attitude of maintaining the more righteous principle of good character above mere birth, trying to convince the other that mere birth was nothing if one had not learning and good character. The Brahmans were making every effort to show that they were the most superior, having been born out of the mouth of Brahma, while the other classes were taught to believe that they came from more degenerate limbs of the same creator. The old generation of Brahmans had to be convinced of the foolishness of the aristocratic theory, and it was evident that among them were some of the noblest, who were ready to accept Truth above the mere assertion of a community that they were superior, and only a great personality was needed to storm the fortress. The younger generation of Brahmans who followed the older were also divided: the aristocratic party treating the Kshatriyas with perfect contempt : and the righteousness-supreme party, who held that greatness consists in noble character. India was then isolated, no Alexander had come from the West to show his power, and Europe was then sunk in darkness. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were not born, Mahommad, Jesus, and other later day prophets had not yet made their appearance. The Buddha appeared and preached the Gospel of Universal Brotherhood, Unity, Love, Mercy and the potentiality of the individual, who, whatever his gotra and jati, had the qualification to understand, and the health to persevere in the path of Truth. In the Pali it is called Khanasampatti, availing of the opportunity to climb high to reach the summits of freedom from the four kinds of bias, showing favouritism, doing injustice through hatred, doing injustice through fear of authority, doing that which is not in accordance with Truth through ignorance of the wisdom which can only be gained by a knowledge of scientific analysis.
To understand the great mission that the Tathagata had accomplished, it is necessary that one should make a study of the different aspects of Religion and social organizations, especially of India, and if possible of the world. The expansion of the intellect by a wider study of human laws will help to discover Truth. We must not lose sight of the fact that however good the article may be, if it is not well advertised, some one else would enter the arena, and by extensive advertising may get his inferior article accepted. The majority of the people are half insane and easily imposed upon by charlatans. We all know that intoxicants are injurious to health, but look at the methods adopted by the different Whisky dealers to advertise their own special whisky. The things that perish, and are impermanent and ignoble receive a royal reception, while the more exalted, which is associated with the Mind and which is more permanent, is neglected.
The national consciousness has to be educated if a nation is to become great. Teachers by the thousands should be trained to bring up children, and parents taught the principles of development and decline. Parents, teachers, spiritual and secular, should be examples of the highest virtue, so that they will be able to influence the future generations. The more the. teachers show the spirit of self sacrifice, associated with the spirit of compassion like the mother that takes every care of herself for the love of her unborn child, still in the womb, the better it will be for the development of the future generation.
We shall not enter into a polemical discussion as to which religion is best in these days of competition, when religions are advertised like "Pears Soap", "Dewar's Whisky", "Beecham's Pills", "Zambuk", "Sanatogan", and "Eno' s Fruit Salt" : We know how easily people are led to accept error on the strength of a book. People are by nature superstitious, and are imbued with the instinct of credulity. Astrology, occultism, ghostology, palmistry are the vulgar sciences that require no investigation. Thousands of the credulous are swindled by men and women who pose themselves as the chosen of god. The real saviour of man is he who saves ignorant people from the hands of immoral occultists, whisky dealers, and opium sellers. The occultists dabbling in mystery and esotericism bring down the human understanding into animalism. They are enemies of human development and of the science of wisdom. And this is especially so in India, the land of insane mysticism and animalising sciences. A few occultists by their degenerate tendencies can help the stagnation of a community. Science never conceals her fruits, and the life-giving Sun does not hide his light : and the Buddha enunciated the God Law and declared that He hides nothing from the people. "Inquire, investigate, analyse, and do not accept anyone's dictum without thorough deliberate investigation, and do not believe the magician, the occultist, a revealed book, or the logical disputant" - this the Great Teacher's advice to the people of India. The common people should not be transformed into donkeys and bullocks : they must be elevated and enlightened, and helped to become men. Wise parents train their children to become good citizens, and enlightened teachers educate their pupils to be courteous and gentle, and learned in arts and sciences. The holy Bhikkhus and Brahmans by their virtuous and noble life show the wisdom of following the law of Renunciation. . Those who spend their time in hedonistic pleasures can never become the best examples of a people. And the holy teacher is he who obtains from the pleasures that the householder enjoys. If the householder does not see in the spiritual teacher virtue, why should he pay him homage ? He must he an example of self-abnegation, cultivating the higher life to receive the homage of the householder. A spiritual teacher can abandon the religious life. and adopt the life of a politician, and keep the people down in a state of vassalage and medievalism, as was the case with the European peoples, under the political supremacy of the Roman Church. A small class will of course be benefited by following this selfish and undemocratic source. But it is not wise to keep the people in a state of ignorance, and slavery for unexpected cataclysms occur, and the power of the elect swept off, as was the case with the priesthood of the Roman church, in France, Italy and Portugal. The decline of Indian freedom began with the degeneration of the people, who were brought under the priestly law of caste, and allowed to remain in utter ignorance. Missions were neglected and allowed to shift themselves in the so-called depressed classes, which number about 140 millions. Man instead of being elevated, became a degenerate, intellectually feeble-minded, and physically a slave to do the work of a beast. The result we see in India in the battalions of coolies struggling for existence. Such a sight as is to be seen in Indian railway stations, at the arrival of passenger trains, when these men are seen actually engaged in hand to hand fight, to get the luggage of the passengers is seen nowhere else. This kind of life reacts upon the nation, and a way must be found to make the burden of the poor easy.
What is the cause that India should suffer in this frightful way? Why should not means be found to make the life of the poor easy ? India in the ancient days was considered to be the richest in the world and the traditional Pagoda tree was then flourishing. What made the people to decline, after having reached such a high degree of civilization?
It is only when you examine the peasant Indian villager, that you realize how much understanding he has? He is the most simple looking individual, contented with a little sattu or fried gram and water. He remains the same while the whole world is moving? Look at the Chinese shoe-maker and compare him with the Indian shoe-maker. Look at the Japanese artizan and the Hindu; what a difference there is in the general intelligence of the one compared to the other. Why should not the Indian artizan get that amount of happiness and enjoyment in India, which his brother gets in Japan. China, or in the United States? This is a great work, a noble work, and much depends on the kind of religion which the householder professes.
The religion of the Buddha was intended for all castes. He made no distinction between the Brahman and the Sudra. To all He gave the ambrosia of the eternal Dhamma. As we see today, the first query which a man has to answer when he is confronted with another native of India, is about his jati, and on that depend the treatment he is expected to get. The same question was put to the Great Teacher by the Brahmans 2500 years ago. What is your caste? And the Buddha in reply said, "Do not ask my caste, ask about my conduct", and the Buddha by His all-embracing Doctrine of Love taught that a man whatever his caste, can become great, provided he follows the laws of eugenics and morality. He was not the teacher of a special darsana, like the system of nyaya, or yoga or sankhaya, and He did not wish to keep one class of men above, and another class below, teaching them to hate each other. He extolled Truth, and set Karma, Vidya and Dharma above wealth and high birth. Karma is good deeds bearing good fruits : Vidya is science of trade, agriculture, industrialism and navigation : Dharma is righteousness. To make all happy contented, loving and to practise the virtue of mercy was His object, and in fulfilment of this great mission, He set to work, and succeeded in discovering a Path which is safe, and a path in which all can travel. He founded a Religion with the lesser and greater precepts. One for the Householder, the Agarika, and another for the Ascetic (Anagarika) who renounced the life of the householder. The former was intended for those who wished to enjoy a life of pleasure, engaged in arts, trade, agriculture, to produce wealth. The Anagarika saw a burden in the family life, he therefore wished to be free from the cares and anxieties of the family man. It was the life of absolute freedom, fearing none, and showing patience, forgiveness, love, and devoting himself for the welfare of others. The householder was the sower, and the religious man was the fertile field, and good deeds were the seeds that the householder sowed.
The twice-born class had his Bible, and he had also the Brahman priest to officiate at his altar and propitiate the family god, but the non-Brahman of the Sudra class, was debarred by the law-givers from reading the Veda, and taking part in the Brahman rituals. What was he to do? To be a perpetual slave does not tend to elevate life, and the Buddha in opening the gates of immortality, welcomed to the Bhikkhu life, men of all castes, trained in the Tathagata Vinaya, the Discipline of the Tathagata, and they were sent among the people to preach and teach. The Bhikkhu settled in the village opened his school, got the village children together, taught them morality, science and religion. The vihara school became the centre of the village, and once in a week men, women, and children assembled in the village Dharmasala, to listen to the teachings of Buddha's Law of Love. It was a comprehensive morality. Once in a fortnight the village folk, dressed in white, spend twenty-four hours in the village vihara, in devoting themselves to the good law, and abstained themselves from all householder's duties, to lead the celibate life. Every village in Buddhist lands has the beautiful vihara, with the small cheti, the courtyard, where the branch of a sacred Bo tree flourished giving cool shade to those who sat under it to meditate.
The first principle of the Religion of the Buddha was prevention of cruelty to animals, followed by the five principles to be observed daily by every householder, viz., to abstain from killing, from taking illegally things which belong to another, from violating women who were under guardianship of their own kith and kin, from lying and slander, and from taking intoxicating liquor and drugs. This was the ordinary code of social morality which the Buddha emphasised, which every householder who wishes to be born after death in heaven, should observe.
In the Sevitabbasevitabba Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya the Tathagata taught the Dhamma of association and non-association, which included the five precepts as well as the laws of friendly speech, which when cultivated developed love, unity, concord, pleasantness, and a desire to know more of the higher laws of Truth. Hatred, covetousness, superstitious worship ceased, because the mind was trained to follow the ethics of a higher life, and love dawned and universal kindness reigned. The doctrine of Karma was taught which enunciated the principle that by doing good karma you enjoy good fruits; by doing evil deeds, you suffer. Along with the law of Karma the householders were taught to believe that the life of man did not cease to exist here but that according to the Karma, it was born again.
The law of self-development was simplified into a mathematical formula. Hatred quickened the decline of self, and extending love to all expanded self and quickened development. This wonderful doctrine the Buddha enunciated, and enjoined the Bhikkhus to preach it to the Kshatriyas, Brahmans, Vessas, and Sudras. In the Sigala Sutta, Digha Nikaya, He gave a synopsis of the duties of the householder, wherein he was taught how he should live in this world bringing happiness to himself and to the world. His social duties under the all-embracing law of Buddha's love, widened, and from the self it expanded till the whole breathing world became one with self. Buddha was the first Aryan teacher that prohibited the sale of human beings, of weapons used for depriving life, of animals for slaughter, of poisons for killing purposes, of intoxicants that produced disease, making man insane and caused so much domestic misery by reducing him to poverty. He held up the lofty ideals of Buddhahood, and Arahatship above divinity whose consummation depend on the observance of the ten paramitas. Woman and man were equal in the presence of the Good Law, and by evil doing woman and man are both liable to undergo the same kind of suffering in the next world. Nirvana was the appanage not of one sex and of one caste. Women were free to follow their own individual aspirations. The Order of Bhikkhunis was the refuge, and saintly woman found an asylum in the Bhikkhuni viharas were they could, without molestation, live the higher life.
The householder according to his ability to lead the spiritual life, was given the rules to observe. Daily he had to observe the five rules, and also to practise the ten manusya dharma : weekly, or fortnightly he had to observe with his wife, the right rules or silas, enjoining the partial observance of the celibate Brahmachariya life for 24 hours.
The fruits of holiness were for the Bhikkhu and the Upasaka householder. The Arahat stage is only for the Bhikkhu, which is the highest, but the householder had other three stages of holiness, viz., the Sotapatti, Sakadagami, and Anagami. The Sotapatti householder observed the five silas. Even at the risk of his life the Sotapatti Upasaka or (upasika the female devotee) will not violate the five silas. The stage of Sotapatti is the path of the elected one, niyato sambodhiparayano. Men and women remaining as householders are able to reach either of three states of holiness in numerical order, 1st. Sotapatti, 2nd, Sakadagami, 3rd, Anagami. The Anagami, although a householder, yet lives the Brahmachari life permanently. The Arhatship is for the one who abandons the home-life, and men and women were allowed to enter the order of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis after they had received the consent of their parents or guardians.
India was the home of the religion of the householder. According to the Brahmanical laws of social polity, the large mass of people, who were not of the twice-born class, practically were precluded from accepting the higher laws of Brahmachariya, and they were debarred from practising the life of yoga. To this large community the Buddha's law of love, and the Discipline which He had in his mercy inculcated and called the Aryan Discipline were meant. For the first time the teeming millions of India received a Religion, and they were given the chance to go through a Discipline, which helped them to be religious. The sensual life of the householder underwent a change, the rich became more unselfish : his superfluous wealth was given to the social betterment of the poor. The king lived the religious life of the householder on the uposatha days, took part in the holy life, eating the same food with the ordinary upasaka, with the same kind of white dress. On that day, once in a week, or in a fortnight, or in a month, the king and the subject met and listened to the sweet doctrine of the Buddha's love to all.
For full one thousand years India had forgotten to observe the principles of the Law of Love. We see the effect of the neglect when we look back to the glorious period of Aryan culture, which produced emperors and kings of the type of Asoka, Kaniska, Siladitya, and Dharmapala. We see the non-Aryan lands today where the Aryan Dharma of the Buddha is helping the people to be contented, happy and free. Which of two countries afford a pleasant picture, Burma and Buddha's law of Love or Bihar without the law of Buddha's love?
Take up the life of the householder as enjoined by the Buddha, and see whether it is beyond you to accept it. Make the effort and see whether you can follow the principles in your daily life. A little self-denial is all that you need, and you will feel the pleasant delight in being able to realize the majesty of a purified life of contented cheerfulness, without the fear of being hated by those who are wearing the sacrificial thread. Without the Law of Love of Buddha there will he always hatred shown by the twice-born to the non-dvijas, for at the initiation of the Brahman boy when he is given the sacrificial thread, he is taught not to look at the face of the Sudra during three days. Can there be love in the heart of a man who shows such a feeling towards his fellow men?
Study the Buddha's Dharma, and you will see how elevating are His teachings which He gave in all compassion to the millions who stood outside the pale of the elect. Surely the people of India under the Emperor Asoka lived happier and better lives than under the kings of the Mogul period. For full one thousand years India had lived without Buddhism, what have the people to show as a record of triumphant deeds? But looking at the past, when the religion of the land was the Dharma of the Tathagata not one caste but all were happy, contented and free. To the present generation of Indians, I bring the message of Buddha, and I ask them to investigate into the Doctrines that He taught, and follow them if they are good. Without inquiry it is not proper to condemn a code of morality which is so admirably fitted to develop the Aryan consciousness in the path of enlightenment and spiritual freedom.
(Maha Bodhi Journal, Vol. 19)
Giving Dignity to Life by Bhikkhu Bodhi