Nancy Wilson Ross on "Buddhism" from her Three Ways of Ancient Wisdom (Simon and Schuster, NY.1966)
BUDDHISM, the religion of reason and meditation and the faith of approximately one fifth of humanity, was founded by the so-called "historic" Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, a unique spiritual genius bom in northeastern India at a date generally accepted as 563B.c. Although in the land of its origin Buddhism was in time reabsorbed into the all-embracing Hinduism from which it sprang, it was destined to become and remain the dominant influence in vast sections of Asia, including Ceylon, Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, as well as Nepal, Sikkim, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea and Japan. In all these countries it has had an almost incalculable effect on art, thought, literature and ways of life.
As happens with all world religions, there have accrued to Buddhism, with the passing of the two and a half millennia since its founding, the usual elaborate deification cults, superstitious rites and even, to some degree, fixed authoritative dogma. These developments bear little relation to the original precepts of the strongly pragmatic, down-to-earth, compassionate yet tough-minded aristocrat who established this religious philosophy almost six centuries before the beginning of the Christian era. During the more than forty years of active ministry that followed Siddhartha Gautama's attainment of Supreme Enlightenment while seated in deep meditation under a sacred fig tree-a scene frequently depicted in Asian art-this gifted teacher took special pains to emphasize to his many devoted followers that none of them was to look upon or rely upon him as a Divine Savior or Intercessor. He had, to be sure, become a "Buddha," but this simply meant an Enlightened or Awakened Being. In his opinion, not he, nor any other great Master or
World Teacher, could do more for those who sought help about attaining salvation than merely to "show the way"; each man must find the path to final peace and knowledge through his own efforts.
Said the Buddha: 'Within this very body, mortal as it is and only six feet in length, I do declare to you are the world and the origin of the world, and the ceasing of the world and the path that leads to cessations
Another of his challenging sayings-"Look within, thou art the Buddha" -clearly indicates his psychological emphasis on humanity as the instrument of its own fate.
The Buddha made very few concessions to his fellow Indians' love of mythmaking or to the common human desire to dwell on the miraculous and the supernatural. The world as it was seemed enou h of a miracle for him, offering, as it did, the one road immediately at hand for attaining the final goal of Nirvana-release from blind appetites and the limiting sense of a "Separate self." Over and over again, with tireless patience, the Buddha-using the repetitive teaching style of the Far East in the days before written literature-expressed his belief that final illumination required only determination and ardent desire, a quickened "awareness" (a favorite Buddhist word) in thought and deed, and a sincere wish to compose human experience after more meaningful, less ego-centered patterns. Although the Buddha went forth personally to teach his doctrine of "mindfulness" as the way to enlightenment, he never failed to stress the necessity for freedom from all sacrosanct religious authority. "Believe nothing," he said to his followers, "just because you have been told it, or it is commonly believed, or because it is traditional or because you yourselves have imagined it. Do not believe what your Teacher tells you merely out Of respect for the Teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings-that doctrine believe and cling to, and take as your guide."
Buddhism is sometimes described as a reform movement within an already calcifying Hinduism-comparable to Lutheranism and the European Christian Reformation many centuries later. Ilis is an oversimplification, but it is possible to agree that millennia before Martin Luther, Siddhartha Gautama was, in effect, promulgating the principle of the "priesthood of all believers."
He took a firm stand against the growing strictures of the Indian caste system and the acceptance of inherent superiority, or inferiority, because of the circumstances of individual birth. Brahmins, he declared, did not deserve their exalted title simply because of hereditary status, but only if they lived lives that were virtuous and exemplary.
"It is not the knotted hair and the sprinkling of ashes that make a Brahmin but the practice of truth and love. . . . Neither abstinence, nor going naked, nor shaving the head, nor a rough garment, neither offerings to priests, nor sacrifices to gods will cleanse a man who is not free from delusions.
Anyone from a king to a barber who wished to listen to the Buddha's teachings, or follow him in his missionary wanderings, or join the Sangha, the formal fellowship of Buddhist disciples, was free to do so. Even women -after some hesitation-were admitted to the Sangha, whose establishment is often counted as one of the Buddha's most practical achievements, in large measure responsible for the eventual spread and continuity of Buddhist doctrine in the Asian world. The founding of an Order appears also to illustrate still further the Buddha's psychological acumen, for although he taught that each human being must tread the path to "awakening" or "deliverance" alone, he also realized what sustainment there could be in daily association with others working toward a common goal. Of the establishment of the Buddhist Sangha, Arnold Toynbee has said that it was a greater social achievement then the founding of the Platonist academy in Greece.
There are many stories illustrating the human warmth and loving-kindness of the radiant personality whose sculptured image-usually in a pose of meditation-is to the Eastern world what the Christ figure is to the Western. The Buddha's compassion was accompanied, however, by an unflinching realism whenever he addressed himself to the laws that govern earthly life. He once said, "I teach only two things, 0 disciples, the fact of suffering and the possibility of escape from suffering." How could one deny the first of these "truths," as he called them? Did not suffering begin with the very agony of birth itself, and continue through all the unavoidable complexities of human life: illness, disappointments, decrepitude, decay, death? Even love and happiness carried the dark shadow, for separation from or loss of what one loved brought suffering, as did the inability to get what one desired. There was just one escape from the meaningless maze. One must learn to conquer tanha (in Sanskrit, trishna, literally "thirst"), the ego's craving for satisfactions that could only lead to frustration, anxiety, sorrow, in face of the further indisputable truth that "impermanence is the law of all existence." Since change and flux are a universal part of nature, does it not behoove human beings to take their emphasis off having, holding, possessing, even being this or that, and to concentrate instead on "extinguishing" the troublemaking greedy ego?
The Buddha went so far as to declare that an individual's seeming individuality, his self, was not "real" in any fixed sense, but was actually only a succession of instants of consciousness. As he lay dying peacefully in his eightieth year, fully aware that his end was near, he did not alter this uncompromising viewpoint. He was, he stated calmly to those gathered about him, soon to disappear. Ananda, his favorite and grieving disciple, must wipe away his tears and accept this irrevocable fact. The members of the Sangha were not to mourn his passing but just get on with the work of spreading knowledge about the cause and cure of suffering and the attainment of enlightenment. The obligations of personal effort and self-reliance sbine through these deathbed exhortations: "Therefore, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Betake yourselves to no external refuge. Look not for refuge to anyone beside yourselves. Hold fast to the Truth as a lamp." His final words are quite in character: "Decay is inherent in all compound things" and "Work out your own salvation with diligence."
So saying, there passed from the earthly scene a transcendent human being who, though bom to an existence of ease and luxury, had spent half of his lifetime wandering the Indian roads, preaching a doctrine about a Middle Way of knowledge that all were welcome to follow who would, or could regardless of past experiences or present status in society.
Immediately after the Great Demise, according to Buddhist history, a First Great Council of five hundred leading monks was held, at which the entire teaching was recited aloud, the most venerable monk repeating the rules of discipline, another giving the sermons, a third dealing with what could be called the psychology and philosophy of the Buddha's doctrine. This was the first authoritative formulation by Buddhist elders of the Great Teaching, a procedure some Buddhists have averred the Buddha himself might have deplored as apt to lead to profitless dogmatizing and to the very binding traditionalism he had criticized in Hinduism.
One hundred years after his death a Second Great Council was held in an attempt to settle certain doctrinal and interpretational differences that had grown up in the brotherhood. The third of the Great Councils was called by the most worldly and powerful early Buddhist convert, the Indian Emperor Ashoka, who ruled almost the whole of the vast Indian subcontinent during forty years of the third century b.c. This Third Council, tradition tells us, was held to "purify" the teaching and exclude certain fanciful theories that had been introduced by adherents improperly versed in the original tenets. At this Council, one thousand monks recited the entire canon during a period of nine months, and from this restating of basic principles there was laid the foundation for intensified missionary effort following one of the Buddha's injunctions to his disciples: "Fare ye forth, brethren, on the mission that is for the good of the many, the happiness of the many; to take compassion to the world; to work for the profit and the good and happiness of . . . men."
The Fourth Council, in the first century A.D.,was held on the island of Ceylon off the southern tip of India indicating the spread of the doctrine southward. At this momentous Fourth Council the memorized scriptures handed down for centuries by word of mouth in the classic teaching tradition of Asia-were first recorded in writing. This record, in the Pali tongue, constitutes to this day the orthodox Buddhist canon. The Fifth Council was not held until almost two thousand years later in Mandalay, Burma, in the year 1871, at which time these same Pali texts were inscribed on seven hundred and twenty-nine marble slabs placed at the foot of Mandalay Hill. The last council, mentioned further on, was held in the 1950's in Rangoon, Burma.
In addition to the Pali Canon, other sources of Buddhist doctrine lie in writings from ancient Sanskrit, the tongue of the intellectuals of early Buddhism. Some southern Buddhists, however, claim that the Pali Canon should alone be considered authoritative. They contend that the Buddha spoke in a language approximating Pali, and they even go so far as to declare that he deliberately avoided the use of Sanskrit in preaching or teaching as he "wished to use the speech of the people." These claims and views concern the average Buddhist as little as scholarly disputations about the relative accuracy and merit of Aramaic, Hebrew or Greek in translations of early Biblical literature concern the average Christian. The point is that the Pali Canon and other accepted scriptures represent to Buddhists a record of whatthe earliest disciples and later followers of the Great Teacher first remembered and, in due course, recorded, just as the disciples of Jesus left accounts-by no means similar in all respects-of their Savior's life and sayings in the Christian Bible.
Almost from the beginning of Buddhist history there have been two main schools of Buddhist teaching. One branch, the Theravada, or School of the Elders (less correctly known as the Hinayana or Small Vehicle of Buddhism), is the Buddhism of such countries as Ceylon, Burma, Thailand and Cambodia. The other, the Mahayana, or Large Vehicle-which became, down the centuries, the majority sect-spread to the north and east, finally reaching China, Korea and Japan. The words "large" and "small" have reference to the respective latitudes or restrictions of doctrinal approach and the interpretations and practice of Buddhist principles. The Mahayana does not object to its designation as Large Vehicle, but the Hinayana Buddhists consider it preferable to refer to themselves as the Theravada School, or School of the Elders. In general, and briefly, the authoritarian Theravada School inclines toward a strict, even austere, personal adherence to established rules and doctrines, while the Mahayana holds that a more flexible and permissive attitude comes nearer the Buddha's true aims. As a consequence, the countries in which Mahayana Buddhism has flourished have created a far wider diversity in ways of Buddhist worship and art. Buddhism's diversity, however, rests on a basic unity comparable to the underlying unifying principles of Christianity that exist in spite of many denominational differences in interpretation and practice.
The personal life story of the world-shaking "sage of the Shakya clan" or Sbakyamuni (another of the Buddha's several titles), when presented in straightforward biographical terms, has not only the ring of veracity, it also serves to shed significant light on some of the social roots of a dynamic religious philosophy that rose in the sixth century B.C. to challenge an already entrenched Hinduism. On the other hand, when told with the inevitable overlay of poetic and legendary embellishment-which mankind seems unable to omit from its religious chronicles-the Buddha saga also provides valuable insights into the workings of man's myth-making mind, something we have already seen lavishly illustrated in the chapter on Hinduism.
Legendary accounts of the Buddha begin with the usual miraculous birth common to all world heroes, especially spiritual ones. The Buddha's mother, Lady Maya, was impregnated "immaculately" by a sacred white elephant who, visiting her in a dream, touched her left side with a white lotus. Court soothsayers predicted a divine event. At the birth of her son (from his mother's right side as she stood in a garden under a sal tree), the entire world of nature gave evidence of the arrival of a supreme being. The child at once talked, declared himself a future Buddha, and took seven steps in each of the four directions. Wherever he stopped, lotus blooms appeared beneath his footprints.
Putting miracles aside, Siddhartha Gautama (also spelled Gotama), the Buddha-to-be, was the son of a rajah who reigned in a minor but rich principality on the southern border of present-day Nepal during the sixth century B.C. Gautama belonged to the second of the four major Indian castes, the princely or ruling subdivision known as the Kshatriya, which occupied a strategic position between the priestly and merchant classes. When the local astrologers cast the newborn baby's horoscope-today still a common practice over much of Asia-his father was given a somewhat disturbing prophecy about this eagerly awaited son. The court seers announced that a choice between two very different destinies lay before the rajah's heir. He could become the greatest of sovereigns or an equally famed ascetic.
This latter possibility made little appeal to the young prince's worldly father. Fear of such an end to his fond hopes of succession, coupled with love for his beautiful and brilliant son, determined the rajah to prevent Siddhartha at all costs from coming in contact with misery or unhappiness in any form. No shadows were to fall on his carefree and gracious existence - shadows that might lead to awkward questions or to painful speculations on life's inequities.
Young Siddhartha, however, possessed of an eager spirit and inquiring mind, found it impossible to remain forever confined within the palace grounds. After he reached adolescence he secretly disobeyed his father's loving but firm injunctions and, accompanied by his faithful servant, Channa, went forth into the nearby villages to see for himself what life was like beyond the palace compound.
On these several fateful journeys he came in turn upon four sights which forever altered the pattern of his thinking. These four sights, known in the literature of Buddhism as the Four Signs, were an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and a mendicant holy man, a sadhu.
When Siddhartha first looked upon old age, with its attendant physical deterioration, caught his first glimpse of hopeless disease, saw a lifeless body surrounded by weeping mourners, he turned in consternation to his servant Channa, who could only reply sadly to his shocked questionings, "Yes, my prince, these things must come to all men." How then, Siddhartha wondered, did human beings endure their fate, inextricably bound up as it was with physical decay and mental wretchedness for so many, with inescapable deterioration and death for all? This was his initial perception of humanity's dukkha, that dislocation and suffering to whose diagnosis and cure the Buddha subsequently devoted his lifetime, following methods that have led Western writers to refer to him as a great spiritual physician who first discovered the cause of man's obvious sickness and then offered a possible, though rigorous, cure. More than two millennia ago this perceptive analyst bad indeed looked unflinchingly at certain mysterious psychophysical conditions common to all men. In describing these "psychic injuries" sustained by every human being on his way through life, Gerald Heard has used, to illuminating effect, a contemporary vocabulary. What the Buddha, as a young man, first perceived in an intuitional flash, sought later to clarify through years of metaphysical search and finally found deliverance from were: "the trauma of birth, the pathology of sickness, the morbidity of decrepitude and the phobia of death."
Siddhartha's first perception of life's grim realities-so clearly to be seen on every side when once he traveled away from the sheltered palace compound of his father-left the sensitive prince miserable and puzzled. What, be asked himself, was life's possible meaning? What reason was there to be born at all? While wandering one day, reflecting on these and other seemingly unanswerable conundrums, he chanced to look into the face of a passing holy man, one who had chosen, so Channa told him, to "wander homeless." In the serene face and calm eyes of this recluse Siddhartha thought he saw the only hope for his growing pain and bewilderment.
At last Siddhartha's inner turmoil became so great that he was impelled to abandon forever his sheltered, luxurious life, to leave his beautiful young wife and first-born son and go forth alone on a desperate quest for truth. Not daring to bid farewell to any member of the household, not even his wife and child, lest they influence him to stay, he stole away in the middle of the night knowing that he could have no rest until he found for himself the cause and cure of man's suffering, wrongdoings and mortality. This silent leave-taking from a beloved family is known in Buddhist lore as the Great Renunciation. As a part of the several episodes of the Great Departure it is a favorite theme in Buddhist art, depicted in many charming scenes, such as the arrival on the fateful night of supernatural beings who bore aloft on the palms of their bands the hoofs of the future Buddha's horse so that no sound would be made until he and the faithful Channa had reached the outer gates where other divinities waited to make it possible for them to depart undetected by the watchmen. Once well away, Siddhartha took leave of the weeping Channa after making the sacrificial gesture of cutting off his long aristocratic locks and flinging them into the air. He was soon able to exchange his princely robes for a poor man's garments and thus attired set off alone on the first stage of his long search for truth.
In this part of the world, at the time Siddhartha came to manhood, metaphysical speculation was flourishing with an almost tropical exuberance. It was, indeed, a time of intellectual ferment over the face of the known world-a curiously yeasty period that gave birth to such geniuses as Confucius and Lao-tzu in China, Zoroaster in Persia, to Pythagoras and other noted thinkers in Greece, and, in India, to the future Buddha. There were any number of famous Hindu teachers to whom the restless young nobleman could turn for the services of a guru. But nothing of what he was taught seemed to fill his needs, for he found too much metaphysical speculation and philosophic hairsplitting, too many elaborate rites, too great a reliance on one viewpoint or another. It has been suggested by no less an authority than Ananda Coomaraswamy that had the most noted of Siddhartha's several gurus, a teacher named Alara, been equal to the eager reach of this young man's deeply probing inquiries, the sect called Buddhism might never have been founded; Gautama would merely have become another of the great individual teachers, or even avatars, of Hinduism-which, as a matter of fact, many Hindus do today consider him. This particular opinion is, however, debatable, and, as the record stands, Siddhartha, dissatisfied with his various teachers, went forth once more on his own.
In spite of the Buddha's dissent from certain methods of religious practice and pedagogy common at the time, it should be home in mind that there are rooted in Buddhism a number of ancient Indian beliefs expressed in terms like karma, Nirvana, dharma (the law), samsara (the endless round of existences), maya-and others. The Buddha took some of these immemorial Indian doctrines and reassayed them, seeking to give them a more direct relevance and new dynamism. Here Buddhism presents an interesting comparison with Christianity, which drew first on native roots-Judaism- and later, though losing out in the land of its origin, went forth to conquer the Western world just as Buddhism conquered the Eastern.
When, after some years of search, Siddhartha had decided that no guru could provide him with the answers he sought, that his earnest efforts appeared only to be stifling his hope of reaching living truth, he determined to take up the life of a solitary ascetic. For seven more years he lived alone as a forest hermit, practicing the most extreme yoga disciplines. He succeeded in subduing physical appetites and in acquiring a stricter control over his mind, yet he seemed no nearer the final enlightenment that he believed must lie within a man's reach. Finally he came to the very depth of personal discouragement and weakness. From prolonged austerities and virtual starvation-self-imposed-he lay at death's door. At this point, when all seemed hopeless, he had a most remarkable illumination, one that was to prove of particular significance in the later history of Buddhism, setting it apart from many of the most traditional and revered Hindu spiritual procedures. The human body, Gautama saw, was the one instrument man had through which to attain enlightenment. Why, then, was he subjecting his once excellent physical instrument to abnormal and extreme self-mortification? In this moment of blinding insight, the emaciated hermit, who had by now reached the age of thirty-five, at once decided to return to a more natural life.
His first symbolic act after this momentous decision was to accept a dish of fresh curds from a village maiden, brought to him on the Full Moon Day of the month of May-subsequently the greatest of all Buddhist festive days. At the startling sight of acceptance of food by their noted fellow ascetic, whose incomparable self-denial had become a local legend, the five hermits who dwelt nearby left the neighborhood in shocked dismay. As for Siddhartha, he quietly finished his meal and, when he had done so, placed the empty bowl in a nearby river, where-again a symbolic occurrence-it floated upstream against the current to the hidden dwelling of a Serpent King, a personification of nature's wisdom. Siddhartha then bathed, changed his garments and, greatly refreshed in body and spirit and with a new insight and determination, took up once more the familiar cross-legged lotus posture of meditation, under a nearby fig tree destined to become the Bodhi Tree (Tree of Wisdom or Enlightenment). This sacred spot is today a pilgrimage center for many devout Buddhists. It lies near the city of Gaya, and the original tree that sheltered the Buddha is also said still to survive here.
No man can explain "enlightenment" to another, and the Buddha was no exception. But whatever he experienced during his time under the Bodhi Tree was, for him, a final and unarguable clarification of all his wonderings and searches. The fetters that had bound him to the unrealities of human existence were severed forever, and he gave voice to a triumphant song of victory-a song built on the theme of reincarnation, that pattern of tietemal recurrence" that the new Buddha had now overcome through his attainment of a higher, truer consciousness than that of his limited personal ego.
Many a house of life
Hath held me-seeking ever him who wrought
These prisons of the senses. . . .
Sore was my ceaseless strife!
Thou builder of this dwelling-Thou!
I know Thee! Never shall thou build again
These walls of pain. . . .
Broken Thy house is, and the ridge-pole split. . . .
There are various versions of the length of time and the kind of experiences that came to the Buddha immediately following his enlightenment. Some of the books tell of the various types and degrees of contemplation, his recollection, in detail, of all his former lives, his review of the essential points of his future teaching as be moved seven times, for periods of seven days each (making forty-nine days in all), from various, trees and even to and from a "God-wrought pavilion," savoring the sweetness of the attainment of Nirvana and perfecting the doctrine he was soon going forth to share with his fellow men. During this period, Mara the Tempter (who had frequently come to trouble Siddhartha as Satan troubled Jesus in the wilderness) made his last desperate attempts to divert the Buddha from his path-offering, in one version, the distraction of his most beautiful daughters. Also at one point during this post-enlightenment period, the meditating Buddha was assailed by wild storms during which he was protected by a serpent king, Mucalinda, for in Buddhism, as in Hinduism, unlike Christianity, mythological serpents play kindly, not evil, roles. Mucalinda issued forth from the roots of the tree where the new World Savior was seated, wound his coils seven times under the meditating figure, raised his cobra bead protectively over the Great Teacher and so remained for seven days until the raging floods subsided.
This scene of the Buddha and the protective serpent, "Lord of the Earth, is a favorite theme in Buddhist sculpture. Sometimes the Buddha is shown seated on the coils of a serpent genie as if on a throne, the cobra's hood hovering over him like an imperial canopy. In all this part of Buddhist iconography there may be sensed a profound symbolic meaning: the recognition and acceptance of the instinctive world of nature yet also the triumph over it by way of a higher development of man's mind, will and spirit as exemplified in the meditating figure of the fully enlightened Buddha.
Now that the Buddha had attained Nirvana, or freedom from all earthly ties, he might-by virtue of this supreme detachment-have left the physical plane altogether. He chose not to do so, and this choice became the nexus of certain developments of "responsibility to others" in later Buddhist teaching. The decision the Buddha made is not presented as altogether an easy one. Indeed, certain Buddhist paintings from China and Japan show him "descending" into the world again with the look of a man who has had his struggles, struggles that have taught him how far from simple it will be to teach others the true way to self-discovery and release. No matter how great his effort, would his endeavors not prove in vain? He hesitated, and the very earth, we are told, "trembled" as it waited on the fateful answer to his troubled question: Could he possibly communicate the marvel of his discovery, a truth "going against the stream, deep, intimate, delicate, hidden, not to be reached only by mere reasoning"? In the end, "the great Buddha heart of infinite compassion" prevailed. (Some Hindus assert that the Buddha became a World Teacher at the behest of none other than "Highest Brahma" himself.) The newly All-Enlightened took pity on the plight of mankind. Declaring,"I will beat the drum of the Immortal in the darkness of the world," he arose from his seat under the Tree of Wisdom and went forth on the initial stage of a long and selfless ministry.
Arnold Toynbee, who has been quoted on his opinion of the social significance of the founding of the first Order of Buddhist monks, the Sangba, has said of the Buddha's return to the world-which was in "logical contradiction" to his basic doctrine and against his personal inclinationthat it marked a high point in humanity's development. It symbolized the personal sacrifice of a sentient being who, although he has attained salvation, or Nirvana, for himself, turns back from "the open door" in order to help his fellow creatures reach the point to which he, by unflagging effort, has already come on their common path.
The first converts he made were the five hermits, his recent neighbors in the forest solitude, who had so deplored his fall from fanatical asceticism. They had gone to Benares, the holy Indian city, and taken up residence in the Deer Park on the city's outskirts (now Sarnath). The Buddha followed them there, and when they saw him approaching, they realized from his appearance that he had, during their absence, attained some remarkable glorification. They bowed before him in awe and respect and gladly sat down to listen with attention to the words of his first revolutionary sermon on the Wheel of the Law. The wheel (chakra) is an ancient Indian symbol. Originally probably a sun sign, and later one of the identifying marks of the Hindu god, Vishnu, it denotes in yoga a "center" of physical and psychic energy. Today it appears on India's national Hag, where it also symbolizes the "return to the spinning wheel" that played such a vital part in Gandhi's program of economic independence for his countrymen. The Buddha, drawing the wheel on the ground in a pattern of rice grains, employed this old, already familiar Indian symbol to exemplify the eternal karmic round of existence (samsara) kept going by man's unceasing desires, his tanha, or thirst, for ego satisfactions.
From the outset of his ministry the Buddha emphasized a Middle Way of conduct lying between self-indulgence on one hand and extremes of asceticism on the other. His doctrine was based on the incontrovertible, undeniable truth about humanity's suffering, a truth that he embodied in a formula of four parts to which he gave the adjective "noble." These Four Noble Truths, constituting what might be termed the Buddba's diagnosis of humanity's sickness, took a simple form: I) No one can deny that existence involves a great deal of suffering for all human creatures. 2) This suffering and general dissatisfaction come to human beings because they are possessive, greedy and, above all, self-centered. 3) Egocentricism, possessiveness and greed can, however, be understood, overcome and rooted out. 4) This rooting out can be brought about by following a rational Eightfold Path of behavior in thought, word and deed that will create a salutary change in viewpoint.
This Eightfold Path is the Buddha's basic formula for deliverance from the kind of crippling invalidism that comes with having a "body-identified mind," as Gerald Heard has described mankind's general state. The eight requirements that will eliminate suffering by correcting false values and giving true knowledge of life's meaning have been summed up as follows: "(I) First, you must see clearly what is wrong. (II) Next decide to be cured.
(III) You must act and (IV) speak so as to aim at being cured. (V) Yourlivelihood must not conflict with your therapy. (VI) That therapy must go forward at the 'staying speed,' the critical velocity that can be sustained. (VII) You must think about it incessantly, and (VIII) learn how to contemplate with the deep mind."
This same procedure for the cure, or relief, of mankind's obvious unhappiness, his dislocation (dukkha) can also be presented more succinctly in a simple list of eight steps:
Right views (or understanding)
Right purpose (or aspiration)
Right means of livelihood (or vocation)
Right kind of awareness or mind control
Right concentration or meditation
Even a novice could, in the Buddha's opinion, practice the first six steps. He could learn to think and speak with care and truthfulness, abide by basic moral laws, earn his living in ways that were not deleterious to himself or others, and maintain consistently the pursuit of the goal indicated in the last two steps. With the achievement of awareness and mind control, through ever deeper contemplative practices, there was bound to come a calm freedom from the unpredictable vagaries of ego drives and willful appetites. When ultimate freedom from every kind of egocentric thought and wish bad been gained, the aspirant would also, inevitably, be through with the endless wheel of "becoming." Nirvana, the supreme goal, the selfless "peace that passeth all understanding," would then be within his reach.
Apart from the major precepts involved in following the Eightfold Path. the Buddha took scant interest in precise rules for his adherents. When asked on one occasion whether a true disciple should not live a hermit's existence, he simply replied, "Whoever wishes may dwell in the forest an ' d whoever wishes may dwell in a village." What mattered was not where an aspirant chose to live but how well he could concentrate on the search for truth. Even on his deathbed, the Buddha gave his disciples permission to alter the lesser precepts of the Order if they saw fit, for it was not organizational regulations but individual effort that truly counted. He also warned members of the Sangba against setting up the fundamentals of his teaching with any undue or excessive authority. Buddhist doctrines were to be considered merely as a means to an end. Imagine, he said, a man who has used a raft to cross a river. Would anyone consider him wise if he then went on carrying the raft of his passage around with him? The raft is not the important thing. The real aim is to get across the river. Although there are any number of examples that indicate the Buddha's freedom from canonical authority, today almost all Buddhists to some extent or other make use of scriptures, differing only from country to country and sect to sect as to which are considered the most reliable sources of original doctrine.
It has been said that ignorance is to Buddhism what original sin is to Christianity. By ignorance, the Buddha did not mean merely absence of knowledge, but an erroneous point 'of view. He particularly urged a new approach to the question of the nature of the self. To the Buddha the idea of a separate self was a mere intellectual invention, corresponding to no reality at all. The self, he argued, was plainly "a process in time," not a single solid "thing" or "fact." One of the homely examples which he used to clarify his ideas on this difficult subject was that of a chariot. The word "chariot" is merely a descriptive term for a number of constituent parts placed in a certain relation to each other, and just as no part of this aggregate can be separated off and called "the chariot," so no part of the human creature can be separated into something called "I." The term "I" is merely a convenience for designating an ever-changing combination, or bundle, of attributes known in Buddhism as skandhas. Skandhas consist of the body, sensations, perceptions, mental formulations (ideas, wishes, dreams) and consciousness. There is a constant interplay and interconnection among the skandhas, which may give a sense of personal continuity and identity but which, in truth, preclude the possibility of a definite "I" existing by itself, totally independent of and unconnected with the constantly shifting relation between physical and psychic forces.
The teaching of the principle of non-ego is known in Hinayana Buddhist terms as anatta (in the Sanskrit of Mahayana sources as anatman). In speaking of this basic Buddhist teaching that life is "nothing but a series of manifestations of becomings and extinctions," Hajime Nakamura, writing in Kenneth W. Morgan's The Path of Buddhism, has this to say:
"It is quite wrong to think that there is no self at all according to Buddhism. The Buddha was not a mere materialist. As body is a name for a system of qualities, even so soul is a name for the sum of the states which constitute our mental existence. The Buddha did not deny the soul, but was silent concerning it. . . . The Buddha did not want to assume the existence of souls as metaphysical substances, but be admitted the existence of the self as the subject of action in a practical and moral sense."
Christian emphasis on the "redemption of souls" and general Western emphasis on individuality and the cult of the personality have made Buddhism's repudiation of the idea of specific definite egos perhaps the hardest of all its concepts to grasp. Yet many Western philosophers have reached similar conclusions, among them William James, Bertrand Russell, Schopenhauer and David Hume, the father of Western empiricism. Abraham Kaplan, in his chapter on Buddhism in The New World of Philosophy, has quoted Hume as expressing true Buddhist doctrine when he wrote: "For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or sbade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception and never can observe anything but the perception." Hume's conclusion was, therefore: "What we call the mind is nothing but a heap or bundle of different perceptions united together by certain relations."
Between certain Western thinkers and the philosophers of Buddhism there may exist a number of interesting similarities, but there is also a significant difference worthy of mention. In the West, a philosopher's theories and beliefs can be accepted as valid even though they remain entirely unrelated to his personal way of life. In Buddhist opinion, mere theoretical notions are considered useless, representing only sterile mental exercises. A man must act and live by what he has discovered to be true. Said the Buddha: "The man who talks much of his teaching but does not practice it himself is like a cowman counting another's cattle." And: "Like beautiful flowers full of color but without scent are the well-chosen words of the man who does not act accordingly."
Although the charge of atheism has often been laid at the door of Buddhism, the Buddba's doctrine is actually no more atheistic than it is theistic or pantheistic. To be sure, in Buddhism salvation is in no way dependent on some supermundane Deity sitting in inexorable judgment, doling out rewards and punishments even beyond the grave. The Buddha would have found it impossible, from his intellectual position, to conceive of a God in terms of a human image or "personality," yet it is hardly fair to accuse of atheism a teacher who could state about an inconceivable Power well beyond human imagination or speculation: "There is an unborn, an unoriginated, an unmade, an uncompounded; were there not, 0 mendicants, there would be no escape from the world of the born, the originated, the made and the compounded."