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Buddhism has developed with such luxuriance,
and has spread over so large a portion of the East,
that it is only possible for the writer of this pamphlet
to discuss it from that point of view with which he is
more familiar. He worked for five years in Burma
among Europeans, and such time as he could spare
to the study of Buddhism was largely spent in
meeting the special difficulties with regard to it,
which occupied the minds of his European
These difficulties, and those who feel them, seem
to fall into two groups. There are those, in the
first place, who fancy that Christianity was very
largely indebted in early days to Buddhist
influences ; and then there are those who trouble
very little about this first difficulty (and indeed,
there is very little to be said for it) but who do feel
that Buddhism, in whole or in part, offers a very
reasonable attitude towards some of the problems
Our solution of these difficulties must emerge in
the course of the following pages, which are for the
most part compiled from papers written from time
to time in the course of editing the Rangoon Diocesan
Magazine, during the years 1904-8, and were also
published in the Lay Reader in 1911.
I should like to express my indebtedness to
many of my fellow-workers in Burma, but most
of all to the Rev. G. Whitehead, whose great
knowledge of Buddhists and Buddhism underlies
many of its statements.
Before proceeding to discuss the History and
Doctrine of Buddhism, it may be well to face a
question which is very often found troubling the
minds of those who are interested in its origin.
Had Buddhism any influence in shaping the
doctrines and literature of Christianity ?
The influence has been so strenuously denied,
and by such scholars as Oldenburg, Rhys Davids,
Max Mtiller, and Monier Williams, that it seems
hardly worth while to raise the question. But we
so often hear that influence affirmed, that it may
be well to make it our starting point.
Such a starting point has its advantages, for it at
once raises the question of the content of Buddhism,
and of the books in which it is best to study it.
Many people who are attracted by Buddhism,
seem to be under the impression that anything
that is written on the subject, be it poetry or prose,
is equally valuable as a guide to the understanding
,To take a good example how many owe their
knowledge of Buddhism to Sir Edwin Arnold'*
poem, " The Light of Asia." It is a fascinating
poem, but, as a text-book on Buddhism, it is about
as reliable as the so-called Apocryphal Gospels
would be as text-books of Christianity. For " The
Light of Asia " is based on the " Lalita Vistara," a
Sanscrit poem composed from 600 to 1,000 years
after the death of the Buddha, the contents of
which are, in the treatment of the subject, wide as
the poles asunder from early Buddhism. More-
over, to anyone who reads it closely, it is clear that
" The Light of Asia " owes many of its most
beautiful ideas and metaphors to those Christian
Scriptures with which we may suppose Sir Edwin
Arnold to have been well acquainted.
At times, the popular literature on Buddhism
takes on a rather ludicrous shape.
Some may have heard of " The Unknown Life of
Jesus Christ," which a Russian traveller, M.
Notovitch, claimed to have found in the monastery
of Himis in Little Tibet, in 188788. M.
Notovitch's story was this. While travelling he
broke his leg, and was taken in and tenderly nursed
by the monks of Himis. His stay, thus prolonged,
resulted in the discovery among Tibetan MSS. of
a " Life of Jesus of Nazareth," who, he declared,
under the name of " Issa," was well known, and
widely reverenced in Tibet. The life states that
Our Lord had resided in India, and derived much
of His teaching from Buddhism. Unfortunately
for M. Notovitch's find, a well-known Oriental
scholar, Professor Douglas of the Government
College, Agra, proceeded to Himis, obtained
entrance into the monastery, and with the help of a
Tibetan, Stahrmvell Joldan, ex-postmaster of
LaJakh. who acted as interpreter, was able to sift
the story. The Chief Lama declared that no sick
European had ever been nursed in his monastery,
and that in his long life as Lama, at Himis and
elsewhere, he had never heard of " Issa." If those
who are curious in the bye-paths of romance care
to follow up the matter, they will find an exhaustive
statement of it in the Nineteenth Century of
October 1894 and April 1896, where Professors
Douglas and Max Miiller expose M. Notovitch's
lie. The incident aroused much interest at the
time, and the French edition of M. Notovitch's
book ran through eleven editions.
Have such stories still a vogue for amateur
students of Buddhism ? It would seem they must
have, for I have before me a "Buddhist
Catechism " which has something very much like
it. It is written by " Subhadra Bhik^hu," one of
many Europeans who have donned the yellow robe
of the monk in Ceylon and Burma, and on page 58
is the following note :
"It is very probable that Jesus of Nazareth, whose
teachings in some respects contain much intrinsic agreement
with those of Buddhism, was a pupil of Buddhist monks from
his twelfth to his thirtieth year, of which time the gospel*
have nothing to report about Him. He then returned to
His home to promulgate the doctrine to His people. Thif
doctrine of Jesus was subsequently mutilated and mixed with
passages from the law books of the Jews."
Those who embark on the serious study of
Buddhism, however, soon discover that a Higher
Criticism has been at work among the Buddhist as
well as among the Christian Scriptures. They soon
learn to distinguish between the many writers on
Buddhism, between those who, like De Bunsen and
Professor Seydel, have a very particular axe to
grind, and unbiassed scholars like Prof. Rhys
Davids and Dr. Oldenburg. They soon learn to
distinguish between what is conveniently called
Southern and Northern Buddhism, and find that
while the supposed resemblances to Christianity
are found almost entirely in the Northern Buddhism,
this Northern Buddhism developed so late that it
is as reasonable to postulate a Christian influence
upon Buddhism as a Buddhist influence on
Christianity. The researches of the late Professor
Lloyd, of Tokio, seem very clearly to show that
this was indeed the case.
But it is also quite possible that the student of
Buddhism will be content to avoid a tortuous bye-
path, and will be satisfied that all serious students
have categorically denied any influence of Buddhism
on Christianity. It will be sufficient to quote from
Professor Rhys Davids' Hibbert Lectures on the
" Origin and Growth of Religions." The derivation
of Christian ideas by Christian writers from Indian
sources has, he says, been often affirmed but, " more
often in popular lectures and in magazine articles
than in independent books, and more often by
those who are glad to throw discredit on
Christianity than by serious scholars." He goes
on to say that he has carefully sifted the evidence
but can find " no evidence whatever of any actual
and direct communication of any of the ideas from
the East to the West. Where the Gospel narratives
resemble the Buddhist ones, they seem to me to
have been independently developed on the shores of
the Mediterranean and in the valley of the Ganges,
and strikingly similar as they are at first sight, the
slightest comparison is sufficient to show that they
rest throughout on a basis of doctrine funda-
And so we pass to consider (a) the History, and
(b) the Doctrine of Buddhism.
(a) First as to the History.
We glean the story of the origin of Buddhism,
just as we shall have to glean the substance of its
doctrine, from the Pitakas, the sacred scriptures of
the Buddhists. They were composed and handed
down, not in Sanscrit, the sacred tongue of India,
but in the Prakrit, the language of everyday life, for
Buddhism ignored caste and made its appeal to all.
In the third century, B.C., Buddhism was carried
over into Ceylon, and it is in Ceylon and in Pali,
which would seem to have been the Prakrit of the
Deccan, that the Buddhist scriptures have been
preserved to us in their purest form.
But though writing was used in commerce, it was
as yet little valued in the schools of religion and
philosophy ; the memory was regarded as the more
reliable vehicle, and the teachings of the Buddha
bear evident traces of the mnemonic system by
which they were handed down. It was not till the
last century B.C. in the reign of Vattagamini of
Ceylon that the scriptures were first committed to
writing. Moreover in these Buddhist scriptures
there is no life of the Buddha in the same way that
there is a life of Christ. There is no Buddhist
"gospel." It was the teaching, and not the
'person" of the Buddha that early Buddhists were
most concerned in transmitting, and the particulars
of the life which can be gleaned from the ancient
texts are scanty in the extreme. This is the
opinion of the most eminent writers on Buddhism.
Says Professor Oldenburg, " a biography of the
Buddha has not come down to us from ancient
times, from the age of the Pali Texts " and, he adds,
" we can safely say, no such biography was in
existence then." Again, " It is later centuries
which have built up a history of Buddhism with
wonders piled on wonders on a scale quite different
from older times and which first devoted them-
selves with special zeal to surrounding the blessed
child with the extravagant creations of a boundless
What may we consider then that we know about
the Buddha's life?
He was born about 560 B.C. at Kapilavastu
on the borders of modern Nepaul about the time
when Cyrus the Great was raising Persia to
supremacy, and the Jewish captivity in Babylon
was drawing to its close. His father was Suddho-
dana, not king, but chief and wealthy landowner of
the clan of the Sakya. His mother, Maya, died
soon after his birth. He may have received the
name of Siddhattha, but it is by his family name of
Gauatma that he is generally known. He was
married early. His wife's name is uncertain, but
there was one child, the boy Rahula.
At the age of 29 or 30 he abandoned his home,
and became a wandering ascetic. Apparently he
wearied of earthly enjoyment, brooded over the
satiety and suffering of life, and, like many another
ascetically minded Indian of his day, went forth to
find the secret of deliverance and peace.
"The ascetic Gautama has gone from home into homeless-
ness, while still young, young in years, in the bloom of
youthful strength, in the first freshness of life. The ascetic
Gautama, although his parents did not wish it, although
they shed tears and wept, has had his hair and beard shaved,
has put on yellow garments, and has gone from his home
into homelessness. "
" Full of hindrance is this household life, the haunt of
passion. Free as the air is the homeless state. Thus he
considered, and went forth."
For many years he sought, and did not find.
He tried many teachers ; he experimented in the
severest self-discipline and asceticism, but found no
peace. At length, under the famous Bo-Tree, close
by where now stands the Temple of Buddha-Gaya,
he attained, as he believed, the enlightenment he
sought ; he became the Buddha, i.e. " the awakened
one." He saw the causes which keep beings
involved in the mazes of Trans-migration, the
causes of this suffering, the way to its extinction.
And though he feared that the truth, as it seemed
to him, would find few ready listeners, he over-
came the temptation to keep his knowledge to
himself, and spent forty gentle years proclaiming
the doctrine, and building up the brotherhood of
monks which was to continue his work. He
passed away, at the age of fourscore years, about
There were other teachers, other sects, in the
India of those days, seeking enlightenment, and
establishing their doctrines by much the same
means which Gautama tried. Such a teacher, such
a system was that of Nataputta, the founder of the
Jains, who still flourish in India ; and for two
centuries it does not appear that Buddhism obtained
any great predominance. Then about 260 B.C., it
conquered the heart of the great Asoka, third of
the Mauryan dynasty, which rose to power after the
invasion of Alexander. Under his patronage
Buddhism became the dominant religion of his
Indian Empire, and "the yellow robes shone over
the land." Missions were sent to neighbouring
lands. Edicts carved on pillars even claim that in
some way, not clearly defined, Greek kingdoms on
the Mediterranean were affected, but Professor
Rhys Davids regards this as very possibly only
royal rhodomontade. Certainly the Buddha is not
even mentioned in western records before iSox.D.,
and then in the pages of a Christian writer,
Clement of Alexandria. There is mention in a
Ceylon chronicle, a century after Asoka's time, of a
large Buddhist community at Alasadda in the
Yona country (i.e. Alexandria in the country of the
Greeks), but scholars almost unanimously regard
it as being one of the many Alexandrias in the
Graeco-Bactrian kingdom which then flourished in
what is now Afghanistan
It was long after Asoka's time, and about the
beginning of the Christian era, that Buddhism
broke asunder into the two great schools, which
are usually known as the Northern and Southern
Buddhism. The Buddhism of Asoka's day, the
Buddhism of the Pali Pitakas, which scholars
regard as the most authentic chronicle of the
history and doctrines of Buddhism, was gradually
confined to the monasteries of Ceylon. To this
Buddhism of the South, which issued centuries later
to become the Buddhism of more modern Burma
and Siam, the Northern Buddhists gave the name fo
"The Hinayana" or "The lesser Curricle." For
themselves, they arrogated the term of the
" Mahayana " or " The great Curricle." A good
deal of mystery hangs round the origin of Mahayanist
Buddhism. Its literature was written not in Pali,
but in Sanscrit, and is widely different in contents
and character from that of the Southern Buddhists.
Its ideals, too, were different, and led to more
imaginative legends, and to the practical deification
of the Buddha in those lands to which it ultimately
spread for a time in Northern India and Burma,
and more permanently in China, Mongolia, and
We cannot follow this part of our subject further.
It will suffice to say this. It is not in the works of
the Southern Buddhism, in the older Pali Rescen-
sion, but in the later Sanscrit works of the Northern
Buddhism, that we find that more elaborate
Buddhism which, by some, is supposed to be so
similar to the teachings of Christianity. Of these
works, the best known is the Lalita Vistara, written
in Nepaul, Rhys Davids thinks, about 200 600 A.D.
It is works of this kind which ascribe to the young
Gautama royal race and virgin birth, and describe
metamorphoses, and visits to heaven and hell,
which may possibly be twisted into resemblances
of our Lord's Transfiguration, Descent into Hell,
and Ascension, only with this notable difference,
that the modesty and restraint of the Christian
Gospels are quite absent from these later Buddhist
works. We may also note, in passing, that while
the documents which assert the Divinity of our
Lord are being by critics, even the unorthodox,
reassigned to the century in which He appeared on
earth, the documents which ascribe divine attributes
to the Buddha are shown to belong to a cycle of
literature which grew into shape five centuries after
the Buddha had passed away.
(b) We turn now to the Doctrines of Buddhism.
In studying Buddhism, we have to distinguish
between those teachings which are peculiar to it,
and those which it was content to take over, with
some modifications, from the older faiths of India ;
for, as behind Christianity there stands the back-
ground of Israel, so Buddhism, as a reforming and
Puritan movement, arises from the midst of the
India of that day.
We find, then, that Buddhism has retained two
older beliefs or ideas Transmigration and Karma.
The idea underlying Transmigration is simplicity
itself. It is that at death the soul passes into other
bodies, men or beasts, or even gods. Possibly it
is a survival of the older animistic creed, which
peopled all things, sun and moon, trees and rocks,
men and beasts, with a soul or spirit.
In India, before the time of Gautama, another
doctrine had come to be associated with Trans-
migration, that of Karma. This had the result of
making Transmigration more ethical, for Karma
means " action," and the Transmigration-Karma
theory taught that a man's position in this life
(whether social or otherwise) was a result of his
actions in some former life, and that, according to
his actions in this life, his position in his next
existence, for weal or woe, was being determined.
If a man was born dumb it was due to misuse of
the tongue in a former life, and if, despite this
warning, he added cruelty to his faults, he might
become a tiger. In all cases the punishment was
supposed to fit the crime.
1 6 BUDDHISM
Such an explanation is purely hypothetical, nor
does it really solve the initial difficulty of the
inequalities in life ; it only throws the difficulty
further back ; but so far it seems simple enough.
Buddhism, however, introduced a further diffi-
culty by denying the Individuality of Man, the
Self or the Sou/,
That this is so, is clear to any one with the
most elementary knowledge of Buddhist literature.
We are, as the nun Vajira told Mara the Tempter,
or as the saint Nagasena told the King Milinda, a
mere bundle of sensations ("skandhas") or
changful conformations (" sankhara ") ; just as the
pole and axle and wheels and body make a chariot,
and when torn apart cease to be a chariot, so our
skin and bones, sensations and perceptions, and so
forth, make what we, for the time being, foolishly
imagine to be a person or subject ; but they have
only to break up and fall asunder in death to make
us realise there is none.
But if Buddhism denies the existence of the soul,
where, we ask, does it find the link between the
different lives in the long chain of Transmigration ?
What is it that ties my life on to some other past
life ? The Buddhist answers that it is " Tanha " or
Thirst. In the Buddhist adaptation of the
doctrines of Transmigration and Karma, no soul
or consciousness or memory goes over from one
body to the other. It is the grasping, the craving
still existing at the death of our body that causes
the new set of "Skandhas," that is, the new
body with its mental tendencies and capacities, to
arise, and attaches to them the Karma of the past
We are now in a position to understand the
distinctive doctrine of Buddhism.
To Gautama, the Wanderer, who had left home
and kindred, one thing seemed uppermost, the
suffering of every form of life on earth. Suffering
had marked all the previous existegces through
which the Karma had acted ; it was to mark all
those which should arise in the future. How was
he to break the chain of suffering being, and find
Many were the paths he had followed, even to
the most rigid asceticism. At last, under the Bo-
Tree at Uruvela, comes to him, not by revelation
(for Buddhism knows nothing of divine aid) but by
intuition, the knowledge of four Noble Truths, the
knowledge of which, as the means of release from
sentient life, constitute him the Buddha, or the
Here are Trie Four Noble Truths as they were
promulgated in the Buddha's first sermon at
" Now this is the Noble Truth as to suffering. Birth is
attended with pain, decay is painful, disease is painful.
Death is painful. Union with the unpleasant is painful ;
painful is separation from the pleasant ; and any craving
nsatisfied, that, too, is painful. In brief, the fire aggregates
of clinging (that is, the conditions of individuality) are painfuL
Now this is the Noble Truth as to the origin of suffering.
Verily ! it is the craving thirst that causes the renewal of
becomings, that is accompanied by sensual delights, and seeks
satisfaction, now here, now there that is to say, the craving
for a future life, or the craving for prosperity.
Now this is the Noble Truth as to the passing away of
pain. Verily ! it is the passing away so that no passion
remains, the giving up, the getting rid of it, the emancipatioa
from, the harbouring no longer of this craving thirst.
Now this is the Noble Truth as to the way that leads to
the passing away of pain. Verily ! it is this noble Eightfold
Path, that is to say, Right Views, Right Aspirations,
Conduct and Mode of Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mind-
fulness, and Right Rapture."
The Four Truths are the Creed of Buddhism.
They show us what it is. It does not profess to
enquire into the ultimate ground of things. It
addresses itself to man plunged in sorrow, teaches
him to understand his sorrow, and shows him the
way of escape. It may be summed up in two
words suffering, and release.
" As the vast ocean, O disciples, is impregnated with one
taste, the taste of salt, so also, my disciples, this Law and
Doctrine is impregnated with but one taste, with the taste of
To the Buddha, says Oldenburg, sorrow is not
merely a cloud over human life which will pass
away, but " sorrow and death pertain inseparably to
every state of being," not only to that of men and
animals, but even to that of those gods, or Devas,
who lie at the back alike of the Buddhist and of
the Hindu conceptions of existence.
" What think ye, disciples, whether is more, the water
which is in the four great oceans, or the tears which have
flown from you and have been shed by you, while ye strayed
and v/andered on this long pilgrimage, and sorrowed and
wept, because that was your portion which ye abhorred, and
that which ye loved was not your portion ? A mother's
death, a father's death the loss of relations,
all this ye have experienced through long ages. And
while ye have experienced this through long ages, more tears
have flown from you and have been shed by you ....
than all the water which is in the four great oceans."
But on the Buddha, under the Bo-Tree, there