Copyright
Kenneth J. (Kenneth James) Saunders.

Buddhism in the modern world online

. (page 1 of 6)
Online LibraryKenneth J. (Kenneth James) SaundersBuddhism in the modern world → online text (page 1 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


BERTRAND SMITH

"ACRES OF BOOK V

140. PACIFIC AVUNUE

LONG'-6FACh L

CALIFORNIA '



BUDDHISM IN THE
MODERN WORLD



BY

K. J. SAUNDERS

AUTHOR OP
THE STORY OF BUDDHISM," " GOTAMA BUDDHA," ETC.

PROFESSOR OF THE HISTORY OF RELIGION, BERKELEY
AND LECTURER IN THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA



LONDON

SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING
CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE

NEW YORK AND TORONTO : THK HACMILLAN COMPANY
1922



PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY

WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIM1TED|

LONDON AND BECCLES.



PREFACE

are many books on Buddhism, and to
JL produce a new one almost demands an
apology. Yet most of them deal with the dead
past, and Buddhism is a living religion which is
showing remarkable powers of revival and adapta-
tion. This is a movement of so great significance
that I hope this small volume may prove of value,
not only to missionaries but to all sympathetic
students of a religion which has played an immense
part in the world's history, and which is still a
dominant influence in the lives of scores of millions.
During twelve years of somewhat intimate study of
Buddhist countries I have found that while there is
much that is degenerate there is much that is very
noble, and the object of this little book is to esti-
mate the living forces of the religion rather than to
emphasise its weaknesses. It is at once more
scientific and more worth while to look at the strong
than at the weak points of a religion, and there is
an increasing school of missionary thought which
believes in building the Christian Church of Asia
upon the great foundations laid through so many
centuries. Not only is it true that God has not left
Himself without a witness amongst these peoples ; it
is even truer that during the long and on the whole

iii

2022097



iv PREFACE

noble history of the expansion of Buddhism His
Spirit has been at work. I am convinced that any
who really study this remarkable chapter in human
history will come to this conclusion, if they have any
belief whatsoever in a meaning in history and in a
Divine Providence.

The missionary amongst Buddhist peoples should
aim at studying all that is noble and of good repute,
whilst of course he will not shut his eyes to what
is degenerate and unworthy, and inasmuch as
an increasing number of missionary teachers are
doing me the honour to consult me as to the
method of approach to their Buddhist friends, I
venture to dedicate this small volume to them as a
token of hearty sympathy in the noble work that
they are doing in seeking to fulfil the age-long
purposes of God. I think that many of them agree
with me that already a nobler form of Christianity
is being produced on Asiatic soil than that which we
have brought thither, and it may well be in the
providence of God that a new and splendid era of
Church History is opening up as these responsive
and religious peoples of the Orient are captured by
the Gospel of Christ. In spite of the failures of
Christendom and of our divided Christianity the
whole of Asia reverences the historic Jesus, and from
her contact with His Spirit is at once reforming and
revivifying her ancient faiths. This process is of
immense significance and her best spirits, even when
they do not call themselves Christian, are frank to
confess how much they owe to Him and how much
there is in their old faiths which will need to die in
order that they may live again, purified and
deepened. That Asia is increasingly becoming



PREFACE v

Christian in its standards of thought and conduct is
evident to any unbiased observer, and one of the
most remarkable proofs of the authenticity and
originality of our faith is this that it is at once
reforming and fulfilling the ancient faiths of Asia.
What it did with the religions of Rome and Greece
it is already doing with the nobler religions of the
Orient ; and true missionaries of Christ are at work
upon a task of incomparable dignity and significance,

These brief sketches are based upon ten years of
intimate association with Buddhists in Southern
and Eastern Asia.

Inasmuch as I have only been on the borders of
Tibet I have not written here of Tibetan Buddhism.
It is very degenerate and so mixed with Tantric
Hinduism as to demand separate and different
handling: it is very clear that missionary work is
urgently needed to free the people of Tibet from
a tyranny which is unworthy of the great name of
the Buddha.

K. J. S.

BERKELEY,

January, 1922.



TABLE OF CONTENTS

PACK

PREFACE iii

I. BUDDHISM IN SOUTHERN ASIA
I. BUDDHISM IN BURMA

1. AT THE GREAT PAGODA IN RANGOON ... ... i

(a) A Monastic School ... ... ... ... I

(b) Its Moral Teaching ... ... ... ... I

(c) Its Religious Instruction ... ... ... ... 2

(d) The Importance of the Monks as a Class ... ... 3

(e) Women at Worship ... ... ... ... 5

2. THE RELIGIOUS VALUES OF EVERYDAY BUDDHISM ... 5

(a) What Buddhism means for Burmese Women ... 5

(b) What it means for Burmese Men ... ... ... 7

(c) What it means for Burmese Children ... ... 8

(d) The Attitude of Burmese Students ... ... 9

(e) The Better Side of Burmese Buddhism ... ... 10

3. CHRISTIANITY'S OPPORTUNITY IN BURMA ... ... n

(a) The Burmese are truly Religious in Temperament ... n

(b) They tend to view Gotama as a Saviour ... ... 12

(c) The Christian Heaven is more attractive than NibUana 12

(d) Moral Conditions demand a Vital Christianity ... 13

(e) Loving Social Service finds its own Way to the Heart 14

(f) Christianity can dispel the Fear of the Demon World 15



viii TABLE OF CONTENTS



II. BUDDHISM IN CEYLON

PAGE

1. ON A HILLSIDE NEAR KANDY ... .. ... 15

(a) The Dullness and Superstition of Village Life in

Southern Ceylon ... ... ... ... 15

(b) The Themes of the Hillside Preacher ... ... 16

(c) The Stolidity of his Audience ... ... ... 16

2. THE HOLD OF BUDDHISM UPON THE SINGHALESE ... 17

(a) The Appeal of its Traditions ... ... ... 17

(b) Its Work of Reformation ... ... ... 18

(c) Its Leadership of Public Opinion ... ... ... 19

(d) Yet Ceylon needs Christianity ... ... ... 19

3. Two SHARPLY MARKED ATTITUDES AMONG MODERN

BUDDHISTS ... ... ... ... ... 19

III. BUDDHISM IN SIAM

1. SIAM A BUDDHIST KINGDOM ... ... ... 21

2. THE THOT KRATHIN FESTIVAL ... ... ... 21

3. THE KING AND PALI LEARNING ... ... ... 22

4. BUDDHIST EDUCATION ... ... ... ... 23

5. THE TEMPLES OR WATS ... ... ... ... 24

IV. CONTRASTED TYPES OF BUDDHIST
RELIGIOUS LIFE IN SOUTHERN ASIA

1. THE CREMATION OF A SINGHALESE ABBOT ... ... 25

2. THE FUNERAL RITES OF A BURMESE MONK ... ... 25

3. THOSE OF A SIAMESE PRINCE ... ... ... 27

4. THE SECRET OF BUDDHISM'S INFLUENCE ... ... 28



TABLE OF CONTENTS ix



V. BUDDHISM AS A LIVING WORLD RELIGION

PAGE

1. IT ATTRACTS THOSE WHOSE FAITH IN CHRISTIANITY

HAS CEASED ... . ... ... ... 3O

2. IT DEALS WITH HUMAN SUFFERING ... ... 3 1

3. IT OFFERS A WAY OF ESCAPE FROM PESSIMISM ... 32

4. ITS GREAT FOUNDER CALLED HIMSELF A " PHYSICIAN

OF SICK SOULS" ... ... ... ... 33

5. IT CULTIVATES A SENSE OF THE WORTHLESSNESS OF

TEMPORAL THINGS ... ... ... ... 35

6. ITS CONCEPTION OF BLISS is REALISABLE IN THIS LIFE 35
7- IT is A RELIGION OF ANALYSIS ... ... ... 36

8. IT HAS FINE ETHICAL TEACHINGS, e.g.

(a) The Four Noble Truths ... ... ... 37

(b) The Eight-fold Path 38

9. IT NOW PRACTISES PRAYER ... ... ... 38

10. YET IT TEACHES STOICAL SELF-MASTERY RATHER THAN

DEPENDENCE ON GOD ... ... ... ... 39

11. IT HAS Two STANDARDS OF MORALITY: ONE FOR

MONKS, ANOTHER FOR LAY FOLK ... ... 40

12. IT GIVES WOMEN A LOWER PLACE THAN MEN ... 40

13. SUMMARY ... ... ... ... ... ... 41



VI. THE MISSIONARY APPROACH TO MODERN
BUDDHISM IN SOUTHERN ASIA

1. MODERN BUDDHISM DIFFERS FROM THE THEORETICAL

BUDDHISM OF GOTAMA ... ... ... ... 42

2. THE CENTRAL EMPHASIS OF BUDDHISM VARIES IN THK

THREE SOUTHERN COUNTRIES ... ... ... 43



TABLE OF CONTENTS



PAGE



3. SOME QUALITIES DESIRABLE IN MISSIONARIES TO

BUDDHISTS ... ... ... ... ... 44

(a) A Genuine Sympathy . ... ... ... 44

(b) A Sense of Beauty and of Humour ... ... 44

(c) Strong Christian Convictions ... ... ... 45

(d) A Desire to appreciate Fresh Truth' ... ... 45

4. A GREAT OPPORTUNITY ... ... ... ... 45

II. BUDDHISM IN EASTERN ASIA
I. BUDDHISM IN JAPAN

KOYA SAN ... ... ... ... ... ... 54

HlEISAN AND ITS SECTS... ... ... ... ... 55

A SHINSHU TEMPLE ... ... ... ... ... 56

A REVIVAL OF BUDDHISM ... ... ... ... 60

CHRISTIAN INFLUENCE ... ... ... ... ... 62

II. BUDDHISM IN CHINA

A CHINESE TEMPLE ... ... ... ... ... 66

APPENDIX I. ... ... ... ... ... ... 71

APPENDIX II. ... ... ... ... ... ... 7g



BUDDHISM IN THE
MODERN WORLD

I. BUDDHISM IN SOUTHERN ASIA
I. BUDDHISM IN BURMA

1. At the great Pagoda in Rangoon.

LET us visit the great Shwe Dagon pagoda in
Rangoon, one of the living centres of the
Buddhist world, where amidst a splendid grove of
palms and forest trees the golden spire rises high
above a vast platform crowded with shrines and
images of the Buddha. Far below is the teeming
city bathed in golden light, and humming with
life ; here all is still save for the rustle of leaves
and the tinkling of innumerable bells upon the
great pagoda pinnacle, and the shouting of a class
of boys in the monastery school near by.

(a) A Monastic School. Some two score of
them are seated round a kindly old monk in his
faded yellow robe. And all are shouting at the
top of their voices repeating in unison certain words,
of whose meaning they do not seem to think !

(b) Its Moral Teaching. As we draw near we
realise that these are phrases from a popular Bud-
dhist book known as Mingala Thot, a summary of



2 BUDDHISM IN THE MODERN WORLD

the Buddhist beatitudes, which describe the happy
life of the Buddhist layman. First they shout a
word of Pali* and then a word of Burmese, and
lastly the whole phrase. There are twelve verses,
of which the following is typical :

" Tend parents, cherish wife and child,
Pursue a blameless life and mild :
Do good, shun ill and still beware
Of the red wine's insidious snare ;
Be humble, with thy lot content,
Grateful and ever reverent."

Many times must these phrases be droned through
before they are learned by heart, but gradually
their meanings sink in and simple explanations
and grammatical notes by the teacher help his
class to understand as well as to learn. These
moral maxims still exert a powerful influence for
good.

(c) Its Religious Instruction. Another favourite
lesson is a short summary of the excellent qualities
of the " Three Jewels " of Buddhism the Buddha,
his Order of Monks, and his Law or teaching ; and
another celebrates eight victories of the Buddha over
enemies temporal and spiritual. Having mastered
these preliminary books, the boys will learn the
chief Jdtakas, a strange medley oi folklore dressed
up in Buddhist guise, and purporting to be stories
of the various sacrificial existences of the founder
of Buddhism, Sakyamuni, before he became a

* The ancient and still the classic language of S. Bud-
dhism in which its scriptures are preserved. It is used
religiously, much as Latin is used in the Roman Catholic
services.



BURMA 3

Buddha. Buddhism is not only a body of moral
teachings, but a religion with an elaborate system
of beliefs, which makes very great demands upon the
faith of its worshippers, and some of these beliefs
are embodied in these stories of the former lives of
the Buddha. Others are conveyed in legends and
hymns, in popular summaries and proverbial
sayings universally known and used by the people.

(d) The Importance of the Monks. This class of
boys around the old monk represents an educational
system which covers all Burma and has unbounded
influence. It is an amazing fact that there are *
almost two monasteries to every village. While
this constitutes an enormous drain upon the resources
of the country, since all the monks retire from its
active industrial life, and live upon the alms of the
laity, it has, on the other hand, made Burma one of
the most literate of all the lands of the East, with a
larger percentage of men who can read and write *
than modern Italy. So great is the power of the
monks that all boys, before they can be regarded as
human beings, must undergo a form of ordination.
It is not strange that some of them are caught
by the lure of the monastic life and the glamour of
the yellow robe: yet most of them, after a short
experience, go back to the world.

The young shin or novice, who chooses to stay
in a monastery, may in due course be admitted to
ordination. At that time, dressed in princely robes,
he celebrates the sacrifice of the founder of Bud-
dhism, Sakyamuni, in leaving his royal state to
become a mendicant. His head is shaved, his gor-
geous clothes are taken away, and henceforward he is
clad only in the yellow robe of the BuddhistJmonks,



an order older, more widespread, and more pic-
turesque than any other religious order in the world.
He has " taken refuge in the Three Jewels," and now
takes up the regular life of the monk. He goes out
daily with a group of others to collect food for the
monastery ; he attends to the various needs of the
older monks and carries on the simple household
tasks assigned to him. A large portion of his time
must be given to studies, until he has a good working
knowledge of the three " Baskets." * i.e. the Disci-
pline, the Narratives or Dialogues, and the Higher
Religion, which make up the Buddhist canon. In
course of time he may himself become a teacher.

Let us turn again to the shrine. The great sun
is going down and the pagoda, splendid in the
sunset as it changes from gold to purple and from
purple to gray, and then to silver as the glorious
moon rises, is thronged with devout worshippers.
The monk prostrates himself before the jewelled
alabaster image of Buddha. He seems unaware
of the people around him, who honour him as a
being of a superior order ; or, if conscious of them,
it is with a sense of his own aloofness. " Sabba
Dukkha " (all is sorrow) he is murmuring : " Sabba
Anatta " (all is without abiding entity). Mechani-
cally the lay-folk repeat with him the words which
have been for twenty-five centuries the Buddhist
challenge to the world, calling it away from the
lure of the senses and the ties of family and home.

* The Tipitaka (Sanskrit, Tripitika) (i) Vinaya ;
(2) Sutta ; (3) Abhidhamma. The Pali scriptures were
originally written on palm leaves and preserved, layer upon
layer, in the three " baskets." This, at least, is one explana-
tion of the use of this term.



BURMA 5

Do the people really believe it ? Let us look at
this group of women before one of the many shrines
on the spacious pagoda platform. Are they intent
on giving up the world or on making the most of
it ? Are they persuaded that it is all sad and tran-
sient ? Here kneels a young wife offering strands of
her hair, and praying that her child may have
hair as long and beautiful. Near by is an unhappy
wife who prays that her husband may become as
pure as the flower which she lays at the feet of the
Buddha. Not far away is one very old and trembling
woman who, after bowing to the impassive image
and lighting her little candle before it, has turned
back to pat a great old tree lest the nat, or spirit,
which lives within, be offended. " The spirits are
always malignant and have to be propitiated. The
world-renowned one, is he not benign ? " She must
not risk offending this tree-spirit, in her desire to
please the Buddha. "The Burman tries to keep
both in mind and to serve them faithfully, for both
may help to make this life pleasant ; but he is
most anxious concerning the demons. Whilst in
every village in the country there is at least one
pagoda and monastery, there is sure to be a spirit-
shrine in every home, where the spirits are con-
sulted and appeased before homes are built, marriages
arranged, purchases made, or journeys undertaken."
It is these things, after all, that make up life for most
of us.

2. The Religious Values of Everyday Buddhism.

(a) What Buddhism means for Burmese Women.
It will be interesting to consider what Buddhism
has to offer to such groups of women. Four sorts



6 BUDDHISM IN THE MODERN WORLD

of appeal may be mentioned. In the first place
Buddhism is a great social force, providing many
festivals and giving much colour to everyday life.
In theory it may be sad ; in practice it is very
cheerful. Even in Christian lands some women go
to church to see the latest fashions ; can we wonder
that Burmese Buddhist women delight to gather
on the platform of the beautiful pagoda for friendly
intercourse and gossip ? Again, they think of the
order of monks as giving them the best chance to
gain " merit." They recall that the Master taught
that generous offerings to them are potent in bring-
ing all kinds of benefits in this world, and even
in helping the dead in the dim life of the underworld.
The monks confer a favour by accepting alms ;
it is the donor who says " Thank you."

Another great source of enjoyment and instruc-
tion is the well-known Buddhist stories, told over
and over again, often miraculous, always with a
moral. They also reflect on the lives, which they
know by heart, of certain great Bodhisattvas, or
Buddhas in the making, " buds of the lotus," which
later on burst into full bloom. One of the pictures
in which they delight is that of Gotama * when he
was a hare and jumped into the fire to feed a hungry
Brahmin. Another picture more familiar and more
poignant still, depicts his appearance as Prince
Vessantara, giving away his wife and beloved
children to a hunchback beggar. These stories
exert an immense influence.

And finally, Buddhism influences Burmese women
by appealing to their imagination and their love of

* Gotama is the Pali form (common in S. Asia) of the
Sanskrit Gautama, more familiar to Western readers.



BURMA 7

mystery, with its solemn chanting, its myriad
shrines, with their innumerable candles twinkling
in the dusk, and the sexless sanctity of its monks.
How wise and good they seem to be ! Are they not
custodians of the truth ? Here one little woman
is lif ting a heavy stone weighing forty pounds ;
a monk has told her that if it seems heavy her prayer
will surely be answered. To make assurance doubly
sure, she may go and consult the soothsayer, whose
little booth is near the shrine a cheerful rogue,
not without insight and a sense of humour but she
gives to the monk the supreme place, and pays him
more generously !

A Burman acquaintance of mine, who was con-
verted to Christianity, was asked by an old lady
why he had deserted the " custom " of his people.
" I am sick," he began, " of all this bowing down
to the monks, and of all these offerings." " Stop,
stop ! " she cried, aghast. " You are destroying the
whole religion of our nation ! "

(b) What it means for Burmese Men. Laymen
in Burma are much like men elsewhere. Here is
one who between prostrations before the image of
Buddha keeps his long cheroot alive, and enjoys an
occasional puff. He is like many men one meets,
" making the best of both worlds." Yet to him too
Buddhism makes a strong appeal, primarily because
it is his heritage or, as he says, " the custom of
Burma." The national feeling, which is alive in
Burma as well as in all other parts of the East,
resents Western influences, of which Christianity
seems a part. Moreover, Buddhism strongly appeals
to his habit of mind. He thinks he understands
why there is inequality in human lot, why some are

B



8 BUDDHISM IN THE MODERN WORLD

rich and some poor, some healthy and some diseased.
He explains it as the working out of the law of
Kamma* Men suffer now because they have
sinned in a former birth. Listen to this conversa-
tion : Old U Hpay is telling a neighbour about a
foolish old sister of his who has adopted a calf, and
is petting it because its voice is so like that of her
dead husband ! While the old men chuckle at
this quaint expression of her faith, yet they do
believe that this is the law of life. Should you
kill a mosquito it may be your mother-in-law in a
new body, and still going strong ! But Buddhism
puts forth its greatest appeal at those times when
there comes over its votaries a wistful yearning for
something which this world has not given them.
At these quiet moments, especially in the evening
of life, when they are no longer concerned with
making money or with the raising of a family, the
appeal of Nibbdna f and its peace comes home to
many. They do not feel sure of reaching it, nor do
they fully understand what it means. Some of
their monkish teachers tell them it will be annihila-
tion, while others describe it as the extinction of all
passion or a great calm. In either way Nibbdna f
has its lure, especially to the world-weary. I have
even known a Christian missionary who was tempted
to long for the quiet and relief from the staleness
and hurry of life which annihilation would bring.
But he was weary and needed a holiday ! Mission-
aries often do.

(c) Buddhism and Children. Playing around,
while the old people talk or pray, are always some

* Sanskrit, Karma.
t Sanskrit, Nirvana.



BURMA 9

children. Here a fat, naked baby takes a puff at
his grandfather's cigar ; there a little girl, devoutly
imitating what she sees her parents doing before
the great image of Buddha, also lights her candle
and offers her marigolds. The older children
quickly begin to take their share in the religious
life about them. In some of them is dawning a
hero-worship of the great Buddha who has done so
much for the world. This little girl thinks wistfully
of her brother, so recently her playmate, but now
a Buddhist novice, with shaven head and yellow
robe, as remote from her and aloof as if he belonged
to another world. Not much is taught to her and
her girl-playmates : " they are only girls ! " But
she is learning by what she sees, and she too is
becoming a staunch Buddhist. There are some
stalwart champions of Buddhism amongst the
children, and the girls grow up, less instructed but
not less devout than the boys.

(d) The Attitude of Burmese Students. Every
mother desires that one of her sons shall take and
keep the yellow robe, yet the younger among the
educated Burmese are frank in calling the order of
monks a " yellow peril," not because they are bad
men, for public opinion in Burma rarely tolerates
immorality in these religious leaders, but because
there are so many of them, over seventy-five thousand
in the whole country. To feed such a horde of mendi-
cants is a costly business, and the rebuilding and
gilding of a pagoda may mean that the inheritance
of every one belonging to its village will be decimated.
' The pagoda is built and the village ruined," they
ruefully repeat. Thus there is growing up among
those who are in the government schools in contact



io BUDDHISM IN THE MODERN WORLD

with the liberal thinking of the West a disposition
to question the values of the present religious
system. Possibly not more than ten per cent, of
the students who have Western training can be called
orthodox Buddhists. Thus the old people to whom
Buddhism means so much are anxious, and the young
are restive. Burma, like many other countries,
is going through a period of transition, the outcome
of which is uncertain. Yet undoubtedly it is still
a strongly Buddhist country, and the masses of
its people are not much affected by this spirit of
scepticism. As, however, Western education is
the key to preferment the official classes are apt to
sit loose to much that their fathers held sacred.
And some few are busy re-thinking their faith and
seeking to adapt it to modern needs.

(e) The Better Side of Burmese Buddhism.
Buddhism is often described as a pessimistic religion.
As one sees it in Burma, however, it seems to make
the people happy and contented. Possibly this is
due to their naturally cheerful temperament. What-
ever the reason, there is a remarkable joyousness
about the gay-robed crowds of happy, smiling
people.

Again, while Buddhism does not give to woman-
hood nearly so high a place as does the religion of
Jesus, yet it has granted her a far better standing
than she has in any part of India under Hinduism
or Islam. Woman is the " better half " in Burma
and knows it, even though she may pray to be born
next as a man.

Caste, moreover, the great bane of India, is
almost unknown to Buddhist Burma : it is a cheerful
democratic land. Buddhism believes in the education



BURMA ii

of the masses, and its schools and monasteries are
open to all. It is also very tolerant and kindly.


1 3 4 5 6

Online LibraryKenneth J. (Kenneth James) SaundersBuddhism in the modern world → online text (page 1 of 6)