Bhikshu Subhadra.

A Buddhist catechism : an outline of the doctrine of the Buddha Gotama in the form of question and answer ; compiled from the sacred writings of the southern Buddhists for the use of Europeans online

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THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY

OF CALIFORNIA

BEQUEST OF

Alice R. Hilgard



A BUDDHIST CATECHISM



A BUDDHIST CATECHISM

AN OUTLINE OF THE DOCTRINE OF
THE BUDDHA GOT.iMA

^n tje form of ^xu&twn ani Stufitoer

COMPILED FROM THE SACRED WRITINGS OF THE

SOUTHERN BUDDHISTS FOR THE USE OF

EUROPEANS



WITH

EXPLANATORY NOTES



BY

subhAdra bhikshu




NEW YORK

BRENTANO'S

1920



Gin



PKINTED IN THE UNITED STATES



PREFACE

There have appeared of late years, on the subject
of Buddhism, a great many comprehensive and
critical works, none, perhaps it may be said, of
more value than F. W. Rhys David's essay; but
yet no simple exposition, suited to the general in-
telligence, and setting forth the sublime doctrine
of the Buddha Gotama, not as though a system no
longer active, but as a yet living source of pure
truth accessible, still, to all men athirst for spirit-
ual knowledge and abundant to satisfy that
thirst.

Of this sort the Buddhist Catechism of Henry
S. Olcott affords the earliest example. It had
a surprising success. Originally intended only for
the instruction of Singalese children, it was
scarcely suited to the highly educated European
reader. Nevertheless, within a few years, many
thousand copies were sold, a sufficient proof of
the inoreasing interest taken in Buddhism by the
Western world. Hence it becomes incumbent on
the Buddha's disciples to put forth a Catechism
suited to the intelligent appreciation of educated
populations, and containing in a compendious
form the essential doctrine of the Teacher,
stripped of the trappings with which the super-

5

ivi854248



6 PREFACE

stition and childish conceptions of Eastern
peoples had, in the long course of ages, sought
to adorn it.

That is the aim of our little book. It is ad-
dressed to those for whom material progress and
augmented means of luxury do not constitute the
goal of life, and to whom the prevalent cruel strife
for the possession of worldly goods and grandeur,
which the general selfishness makes each day more
pitiless, is abhorrent; who long for that peace of
the heart and satisfaction of the understanding
which alone give life its value, and who fail to find
these things in the soulless dogmas of the various
Churches, or even in the results displayed, with
whatever ostentation, by physical science.

For such this Buddhist Catechism is written;
and if they read it aright and catch its spirit, they
will find in it what they have been seeking: a
doctrine free from dogma and from formalism
in entire harmony with Nature and her laws ; the
grandest truths, satisfying alike to mind and heart,
expressed in simple terms, intelligible to the
humblest capacity, yet of a significance so pro-
found as not to be within easy sounding even by
the philosophic and scientific European, with al5.
his high culture and all his intellectual resources.

One remark, however, is called for here. A
Catechism meant for learners and beginners must
of necessity be restricted in compass, and cannot,
even so far as complete, extend to the exposition
of principles in their last inferences.



PREFACE 7

Let those, then, who aspire to a fuller and com-
pleter knowledge, who not only wish to become
acquainted with the doctrine but to carry it out
in the life, seek to make progress by their own
meditations, and by personal communion with
those already in advance of them upon the way
here pointed out.

May the light of the world-illuminating Truth
which, at this present, from the far East, whence
all light arises, beams upon these Western lands,
spread ever more and more widely for the weal,
the salvation, the redemption of all mankind.

SUBHADRA BhIKSHU.



A BUDDHIST CATECHISM

INTRODUCTION

1. 0/ what religion (^ are you?
Of the Buddhist religion.

2. What is the Buddhist religion?

One who reveres the Buddha as the dispenser
of spiritual light, the supreme guide and teacher
of all living beings; who believes his doctrine,
observes its precepts, and has given public and
solemn testimony to this, by repeating what is
called the "Refuge" formula.

3. What are the words of the formula or declara-

tion so called?
They are as follows:

I take my refuge in the Buddha.
I take my refuge in the doctrine (Dhamma).
I take my refuge in the Brotherhood of the
Elect (Sangha).

4. What is the solemn repetition of this formula

meant to express?
He who utters the formula, publicly affirms by
so doing that he henceforth considers the Buddha
his master and guide, acknowledges the sacred

9



10 A BUDDHIST CATECHISM

doctrine to be the foundation and essence of all
truth and righteousness, and declares the Brother-
hood of the Elect to be the true and faithful fol-
lowers, teachers, and interpreters of this doctrine.

5. Is this formula obligatory on all Buddhists?
On all without exception, whether they belong

to the Buddhist laity or to the Brotherhood of the
Elect, who have embraced the life of a Bhikshu.
He alone who has repeated the formula of Refuge,
before a congregation or its representatives, is
really a member of the Buddhist community.

6. How should this Holy Triad (threefold Safe-

guard), which the Buddhist professes to be
his refuge, be called?
The three guiding stars. For as the stars of
heaven guide the lonely mariner across the dark
and tempestuous sea, so they guide him, who
trusts in them, across the desert ocean of igno-
rance, passion and worldly desire, into the haven
of eternal peace (Nirvana). Therefore the Bud-
dhist, full of trust, of gratitude and veneration,
looks up to these three guiding stars, fervently
repeating:

Reverence to the Blessed One, who has over-
come the world, the self-enlightened
supreme Buddha.
Reverence to the holy, pure, and saving doc-
trine.
Reverence to the Brotherhood of the Elect.



THE BUDDHA

7. Who is the Buddha?

The Founder of the kingdom of righteousness
and truth, the Self -enlightened Blessed One, per-
fect in holiness, wisdom, and mercy.

8. Is the Buddha a God, who has revealed him-

self to mankind?

No.

9. Or one sent by God to come into the world to

bring salvation?

No.

10. Then he was a man?

Yes; but a man far superior to ordinary men,
one of a series of self-enlightened sublime Bud-
dhas, who appear at long intervals in the world,
and are morally and spiritually so superior to err-
ing, suffering mankind, that to the childlike con-
ceptions of the multitude they appear as Gods or
Messiahs.

11. /s Buddha a proper name?

No; Buddha means a mental state or con-
dition.

11



12 A BUDDHIST CATECHISM

12. What is the meaning oj the word Buddha?
It means the Enlightened; it signifies a man

who by his own exertions, has attained supreme
knowledge and moral perfection.

13. What was the Buddha's real name?

At his birth the name of Siddhartha was given
him. His family name was Gotama.

14. Who were his parents?

King Suddhodana and Queen Maya.

15. What people did King Suddhodana reign

over?
He reigned over the Indian tribe of the
Sakyas.(^)

16. When was Prince Siddhartha born?

He was born on a Friday, in the year 623 before
the European era.

17. Was his lojty destiny in any way foretold?
Yes; it was foretold by the Brahmans, who

were the priests and astrologers at King Suddho-
dana's court.

18. What were their predictions?

If Prince Siddhartha continues in the world he
will become a mighty monarch, a king of kings;
but if he renounces the world to lead a contempla-
tive life, he will become a supreme Buddha.

19. Was this the only prediction concerning Prince

Siddhartha' s fu ture ?
No; the holy recluse Kaladevala (^) came down
from the wilds of the Himalaya, prostrated himself



A BUDDHIST CATECHISM 13

before the child, and said: ''Verily this child will
become a supreme Buddha, and will show men the
way to perfection and salvation." And he wept to
think that he should not himself live to see the
day.

20. Was King Suddhodana glad to liear this pre-
diction?

No; on the contrary, he tried by all possible
means to prevent its coming to pass; his utmost
desire was that Prince Siddhartha should become
a mighty monarch.

21. By what means did he try to gain his object?
He kept out of the prince's sight everything that

might have given him an idea of human suffering
and death. He surrounded him with every enjoy-
ment and royal luxury. Meantime the best mas-
ters had to instruct him in all arts and sciences and
princely accomplishments. When Prince Sidd-
hartha was grown up his father gave him three
palaces, one for each of the Indian seasons — the
hot, the cold, and the rainy season. These palaces
were fitted up with every imaginable luxury, and
surrounded with beautiful gardens and groves,
where grottoes, fountains, lakes, all lovely with the
lotus, and beds of fragrant flowers lent enchant-
ment to the scene. In this delightful abode the
prince passed his young life, but he was not
allowed to go beyond the boundaries, and all poor,
sick and aged people were strictly forbidden en-
trance.



14 A BUDDHIST CATECHISM

22. Did Prince Siddhartha live quite by himselj
in these palaces and gardens?

No. A great number of young nobles were in
attendance on him, and when he was sixteen his
father gave him to wife Princess Yasodhara, the
daughter of King Suprabuddha. Many beautiful
maidens, too, trained in the arts of music and
dancing, were always in waiting for his amuse-
ment.

23. How could the idea of leaving the world occur

to the prince amidst all these delights?
During his drives he saw four most impressive
sights which enlightened him as to the real nature
of human life.

24. What were these sights?

A decrepit old man, broken down by infirmity;
a sick man, covered with sores; a decaying body
and a venerable hermit.

25. What impressions did these visions make on
Prince Siddhartha?

They moved him to the heart's core, and showed
him the utter vanity and nothingness of life. Its
deceptive, transitory pleasures, to be followed by
old age, sickness and death, had no longer any
attraction for him. Henceforth he discarded all
amusements, and he came to the conviction that
life is not a gift to be desired, but rather an evil
to be avoided, and that it is unworthy of our
higher nature to seek for sensual enjoyment. All



A BUDDHIST CATECHISM 15

his efforts were now directed towards the attain-
ment of a higher aim.(*)

26. What was the aimf

To find out the cause of suffering, of death, and
of birth-renewal, (^) and to discover the means of
overcoming it. In imitation of the venerable
recluse he had met, he resolved to retire from the
world into the wilderness.

27. Was it a great trial jor him to carry out his
resolution?

Yes; for he had to give up all that is generally
the most prized by men: royalty, riches, power,
honour, delights, and even the companionship of
his beloved wife and his infant son Rahula.

28. Did his father and his wife try to dissuade
him from this purpose?

He kept them in ignorance of his designs and
went away secretly for fear the entreaties of his
aged father and the tears of his wife might make
him swerve from his resolve. (^)

29. How did he effect his escape?

One night, when everybody was asleep, he softly
got up, took a last parting look at his wife and
child, woke up his attendant Channa, ordered him
to saddle his favourite horse Kanthaka, and rode
away. The sentry at the gate did not notice him,
and he hastened off in the darkness as fast as his
horse could carry him.



16 A BUDDHIST CATECHISM

30. How old was Prince Siddhartha when he

retired into the jungle?
He was in his twenty-ninth year.

31. Where did he first go to?

To the river Anoma. There he cut off his
beautiful long hair with his sword, and gave in
charge to the faithful Channa his arms, his jewels,
and his horse, to take them back to Kapilvasthu,
and to tell the king and the princess what had
become of him. After Channa's departure, Sidd-
hartha passed seven days near the banks of the
river Anoma, lost in deep meditation, and rejoicing
to have taken the first and all-important step in
the attainment of knowledge, and to have cast off
the shackles of a worldly life. He then exchanged
clothes with a passing beggar, and proceeded to
Rajagriha, the capital of the kingdom of
Magadha.

32. Why did he go there?

There were two Brahmans living there, Alara
and Uddaka, both reputed to be very wise and
holy men. He became their disciple, under the
name of Gotama.

33. What did theij teach?

They taught that the soul may be purified by
prayer, sacrifices, and various other religious obser-
vances; and may thus, by divine mercy, attain
redemption.



A BUDDHIST CATECHISM 17

34. Did Gotama find what he sought?

No; he learnt all these Brahmans could teach
him, and joined in all their religious exercises
without gaining the knowledge he sought ; and he
became convinced that their teaching could not
ensure him deliverance from suffering, death, and
birth-renewal.

35. What did he do after this failure?

There were other Brahmans, who taught that
deliverance could be attained by a mere process
of self-mortification. Gotama made up his mind
to practise asceticism in its severest form, and for
that purpose he retired into a jungle not far from
Uruvela, where, in utter solitude, he gave himself
up to all kinds of penances and tortures. (0 The
fame of his sanctity soon began to spread, and he
was joined by five other ascetics, who, full of
admiration for his fortitude and perseverance,
remained with him, in the sure conviction that
such a life of self-mortification would lead him
speedily to the attainment of supreme knowledge
and perfection. Then they would become his
disciples.

36. What are the names of these five ascetics?
Kondanya, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama, and

Assaji.

37. How long did Gotama remain in the wilder-

ness near Uruvela?
Upwards of six years. His bodily strength at
last gave way under these continued self-inflic-



18 A BUDDHIST CATECHISM

tions, vigils, and fastings, but he did not relax.
One night, when, lost in deep meditation, he was
pacing up and down, he suddenly fell down,
utterly exhausted, in a fainting fit. His compan-
ions thought he was dying, but he soon revived



38. Did he nevertheless persevere in his ascetic

life?
No. He was now convinced that asceticism,
instead of giving him the peace of mind and the
knowledge he desired, was only a stumbling-block
in the way of truth and moral perfection. (^) He
discontinued his fastings and penances, and was in
consequence deserted by his companions as an
apostate.

39. Did Gotama despair of reaching his end?
No, not for a moment. Left entirely to him-
self and his own devices, he determined to follow
henceforward exclusively his own inner light. He
abandoned all his ascetic practices, and, whilst
restraining worldly thought and desire, was intent
alone on the highest development of his moral
and mental faculties. One night he was apprised,
in prophetic dreams, that he was approaching the
goal. He awoke, bathed in the river Niranjara,
and took some boiled rice, presented to him by
a young maiden named Sujata. He spent the
whole day in deep meditation near the bank of
the river. Towards evening he sat down beneath



A BUDDHIST CATECHISM 19

a mighty Nigrodha-tree,(^) that stood not far off,
and there remained sitting with his face to the
East, firmly resolved not to leave the spot until
he had attained supreme knowledge and under-
standing. Here it was that he won the victory
after a final struggle, the fiercest of all.

40. IT7ia^ struggle?

The struggle against human wishes and desires,
which came back upon him with renewed force,
though he had supposed himself to have gained
already a complete mastery over them: the
struggle against delusions and love of existence,
against that craving, that will to live, which is the
motive power of our being and the chief source
of all our sufferings. The charms of wealth and
power, and honour and glory, the sweet delights of
home and love, and aU the enjoyments which the
world has in store for its favorites, began to glow
again in their most brilliant light. An agonizing
doubt seized upon him. But Gotama never
wavered in his resolve, rather to die than to give
up his high purpose. He wrestled with those
terrible emotions, and was victorious. The last
remnants of human frailty and of worldly desire
were consumed in him. Then the deep peace of
Nirvana entered his heart, and the full light of
truth rose within him. The goal was reached,
the veil rent, all knowledge attained. He had
become a self-enlightened supreme Buddha.



20 A BUDDHIST CATECHISM

41. Had he now discovered the cause of sorrow, of

old age, of death, and of birth-renewal?
Yes; in the words of the holy books, there
opened within him the bright clear eye of ''truth,"
and he found what was the cause of birth and
decay, of sorrow and death and birth-renewal, but
he also found its remedy and the true way to
deliverance, to Nirvana.

42. How long did the Buddha remain under the
Bodhi-treef

He remained there seven days absorbed in
deep meditation. Then he rose and went to the
fig-tree Ajapala. Then Mara the tempter (^^) came
to him and said : 'Tass away now, my Lord, from
existence, satisfied with the blessed truth, which
you have realized and which but very few can
attain. Men are governed by selfish motives
only. Earth is their dwelling-place, and there
only do they find satisfaction. They are unable
to grasp the eternal law of the Universe and of
causation, and they refuse to listen to the great
doctrine of absolute renunciation of the will to
live, of the conquest of earthly wishes and desires,
and of the way to final deliverance. Desist, then,
from the resolve to preach this doctrine and pass
to eternal peace."

43. Did the Buddha listen to the adversary's

words?
No; he spurned him with contempt. ''Get
thee hence, Evil One," he said. "I shall not pass



A BUDDHIST CATECHISM 21

out of existence until this pure doctrine of mine
is firmly implanted in the hearts of my followers,
until I have succeeded in winning a number of
true disciples, who, when I am gone, will, in my
stead, spread abroad the saving truth out of pity
for the multitudes, for the good, for the salvation,
the deliverance of both gods(^^) and men."

Then the tempter left him. The Buddha re-
mained three weeks longer near the fig-tree
Ajapala, enjoying the perfect bliss of his deliver-
ance and absorbed in the definite preparation of
his doctrine. At the end of that time he rose
and said : ''Welcome to all who enter the gates of
salvation. He who has ears to hear, let him hear
and believe."

44. Who were the first people that heard him
preach?

The five ascetics who had stayed with him,
and deserted him when he no longer practised
ascetism.

45. Where did he find them again?

In a grove near Benares, at the hermitage of
Migadya.

46. Did the ascetics lend a willing ear to his dis-

course?
They intended not to do so, as they considered
him to be an apostate; but the majesty of his
appearance and the sublime expression of his



22 A BUDDHIST CATECHISM

countenance made such a deep impression on
their minds, that against their own will they
bowed down before him and listened reverentially
to his words.

47. What is this first preaching of the Buddha

called?
The Establishment of the Moral Order of the
Universe, or the Foundation of the Kingdom of
Righteousness. This sermon contains the funda-
mental truths of the whole doctrine — the four
grand truths.

48. What effect had this sermon on the five

ascetics?

They acknowledged the Buddlia to be the
perfectly Enlightened One, the giver of truth, the
guide to Nirvana, and they desired to become his
disciples.

Then the Blessed One admitted them as the
first members into the Brotherhood of the Elect
(Sangha), with the following words: "Welcome,
brethren, the truth is clear. Live henceforth in
holiness, and thus put an end to all suffering."

49. Which of the five disciples first realized the

supreme truth?
The aged Kondanya. There opened within
him the clear eye of truth, and he attained the
state of an Arahat.C') The other four disciples
soon followed him.



A BUDDHIST CATECHISM 23

50. Did the Buddha gain any more disciples at

Benares f
Yes. The next convert was Yasa, a young
nobleman. But the common people, as well as
the higher classes, listened to the words of the
sublime teacher; for he made no distinction of
caste or rank or position as the Brahmans do, but
preached the doctrine of salvation to all those
disposed to hear him, and his words were all-
powerful, searching the innermost heart. At the
end of five months the number of his disciples
amounted to sixty, not including any lay ad-
herents. The Buddha then began to send forth
the brethren in various directions.

51. What is meant by the sending forth of the
brethren?

The Buddha called them all together and bade
them go out into the world, each separately by
himself, and preach the doctrine of salvation. (^^)

52. What was the formula he made use off

The Buddha, addressing the brethren, said:
"You are free from all fetters, either human or
divine. Depart, then, and preach the saving truth
to all living beings, out of compassion for suffering
humanity, and for the benefit and welfare of both
gods and men. There are many persons of pure
heart and willing mind, who must perish if they
do not hear the doctrine of redemption. These
will become your supporters and confessors of the
truth."



24 A BUDDHIST CATECHISM

53. Did the Buddha remain alone at Benares f
No; he returned to Uruvela, where a great

number of Brahmans Hved in huts in the wilder-
ness, kept up the sacred fire, and performed the
rehgious rites and ceremonies prescribed in the
Vedas. The Buddha preached to them of the
consuming fire of sensual desires, of passions and
lusts. He converted many and they became his
disciples. He then proceeded to Rajagriha, where
King Bimbisara and a great number of his nobles
professed themselves his adherents. Thus the
doctrine of salvation continued to gain ground.

54. Did not the Buddha return to his former home

at Kapilavasthuf

From Rajagriha he went on to Kapilavasthu,
and the fame of his doings went before him. In
obedience to the rules of the Brotherhood he
stopped in a grove outside the town, instead of
returning to the royal palace. King Suddhodana
and all his male relations came to welcome him,
but when they saw him in the poor dress of a
mendicant (Bhikshu), with shaven hair and
beard, they were scandalized.

Early next morning the Buddha set out, accom-
panied by his disciples, carrying his alms bowl, ('*)
to beg his daily bread from door to door, as is the
custom of the Brotherhood. When his father
heard this, he came in great haste and said re-
proachfully: *'My son, why do you bring such



A BUDDHIST CATECHISM 25

disgrace upon me, asking alms like a common
beggar?"

The Buddha replied: "Great king, this has
been the custom of all my race."

But King Suddhodana did not understand the
meaning of these words, and exclaimed: "We are
descended from a line of kings and nobles, and
none of us has ever fallen so low as to beg for
bread from door to door."

The Buddha said with a smile : "You and yours
are right to claim descent from kings, but my
descent is from the Buddhas of long past cen-
turies, (^^) and they were wont to do as I do."
Then King Suddhodana was silent, took him by
the hand and led him to the palace.

55. Did not the Buddha meet his wife and child
once more?

That same day he went to see the Princess
Yasodhara, accompanied by two of his disci-
ples. (^^) And when Yasodhara saw him in the
garb of a mendicant, she burst into tears, and fall-
ing down before him clasped his knees. The Bud-
dha raised her up, trying to comfort her with
gentle words, and explained the doctrine to her.
His words fell on good ground and took root in her
heart.

After the Buddha had left her, Yasodhara
dressed her son Rahula in his best attire and sent
him to his father to ask for his inheritance. And
when the boy had come into the presence of the



26 A BUDDHIST CATECHISM

Buddha, he said: 'Tather, one day I shall be
king, and rule over the Sakyas. I pray thee,
give me my inheritance."

Then the Blessed One took him by the hand
and led him outside the town to the Nigrodha
grove, where he had taken up his abode with the
disciples, and said: ''My son, thou askest me for
an earthly inheritance, which is perishable and


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Online LibraryBhikshu SubhadraA Buddhist catechism : an outline of the doctrine of the Buddha Gotama in the form of question and answer ; compiled from the sacred writings of the southern Buddhists for the use of Europeans → online text (page 1 of 5)