1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Buddha
BUDDHA. According to the Buddhist theory (see Buddhism), a “Buddha” appears from time to time in the world and preaches the true doctrine. After a certain lapse of time this teaching is corrupted and lost, and is not restored till a new Buddha appears. In Europe, Buddha is used to designate the last historical Buddha, whose family name was Gotama, and who was the son of Suddhōdana, one of the chiefs of the tribe of the Sākiyas, one of the republican clans then still existent in India.
We are accustomed to find the legendary and the miraculous gathering, like a halo, around the early history of religious leaders, until the sober truth runs the risk of being altogether neglected for the glittering and edifying falsehood. The Buddha has not escaped the fate which has befallen the founders of other religions; and as late as the year 1854 Professor Wilson of Oxford read a paper before the Royal Asiatic Society of London in which he maintained that the supposed life of Buddha was a myth, and “Buddha himself merely an imaginary being.” No one, however, would now support this view; and it is admitted that, under the mass of miraculous tales which have been handed down regarding him, there is a basis of truth already sufficiently clear to render possible an intelligent history.
The circumstances under which the future Buddha was born were somewhat as follows. In the 6th century B.C. the Āryan tribes had long been settled far down the valley of the Ganges. The old child-like joy in life so manifest in the Vedas had died away; the worship of nature had developed or degenerated into the worship of new and less pure divinities; and the Vedic songs themselves, whose freedom was little compatible with the spirit of the age, had faded into an obscurity which did not lessen their value to the priests. The country was politically split up into little principalities, most of them governed by some petty despot, whose interests were not often the same as those of the community. There were still, however, about a dozen free republics, most of them with aristocratic government, and it was in these that reforming movements met with most approval and support. A convenient belief in the doctrine of the transmigration of souls satisfied the unfortunate that their woes were the natural result of their own deeds in a former birth, and, though unavoidable now, might be escaped in a future state of existence by present good conduct. While hoping for a better fate in their next birth, the poor turned for succour and advice in this to the aid of astrology, witchcraft and animism—a belief in which seems to underlie all religions, and still survives even in England. The inspiriting wars against the enemies of the Āryan people, the infidel deniers of the Āryan gods, had given place to a succession of internecine feuds between the chiefs of neighbouring clans. In literature an age of poets had long since made way for an age of commentators and grammarians, who thought that the old poems must have been the work of gods. But the darkest period was succeeded by the dawn of a reformation; travelling logicians were willing to maintain these against all the world; whilst here and there ascetics strove to raise themselves above the gods, and hermits earnestly sought for some satisfactory solution of the mysteries of life. These were the teachers whom the people chiefly delighted to honour. Though the ranks of the priesthood were for ever firmly closed against intruders, a man of lay birth, a Kshatriya or Vaisya, whose mind revolted against the orthodox creed, and whose heart was stirred by mingled zeal and ambition, might find through these irregular orders an entrance to the career of a religious teacher and reformer.
The Sākiya clan was then seated in a tract of country probably two or three thousand square miles in extent, the chief town of which was Kapilavastu, situate about 27° 37′ N. by 83° 11′ E., some days’ journey north of Benares. Their territory stretched up into the lower slopes of the mountains, and was mostly in what is now Nepal, but it included territory now on the British side of the frontier. It is in this part of the Sākiya country that the interesting discovery was made of the monument they erected to their famous clansman. From their well-watered rice-fields, the main source of their wealth, they could see the giant Himālayas looming up against the clear blue of the Indian sky. Their supplies of water were drawn from the river Rohini, the modern Kohāna; and though the use of the river was in times of drought the cause of disputes between the Sākiyas and the neighbouring Koliyans, the two clans were then at peace; and two daughters of a chieftain of Koli, which was only 11 m. east of Kapilavastu, were the principal wives of Suddhōdana. Both were childless, and great was the rejoicing when, in about the forty-fifth year of her age, the elder sister, Mahā Māyā, promised her husband a son. In due time she started with the intention of being confined at her parents’ home, but the party halting on the way under the shade of some lofty satin-trees, in a pleasant garden called Lumbini on the river-side, her son, the future Buddha, was there unexpectedly born. The exact site of this garden has been recently rediscovered, marked by an inscribed pillar put up by Asoka (see J.R.A.S., 1898).
He was in after years more generally known by his family name of Gotama, but his individual name was Siddhattha. When he was nineteen years old he was married to his cousin Yasodharā, daughter of a Koliyan chief, and gave himself up to a life of luxury. This is the solitary record of his youth; we hear nothing more till, in his twenty-ninth year, it is related that, driving to his pleasure-grounds one day, he was struck by the sight of a man utterly broken down by age, on another occasion by the sight of a man suffering from a loathsome disease, and some months after by the horrible sight of a decomposing corpse. Each time his charioteer, whose name was Channa, told him that such was the fate of all living beings. Soon after he saw an ascetic walking in a calm and dignified manner, and asking who that was, was told by his charioteer the character and aims of the Wanderers, the travelling teachers, who played so great a part in the intellectual life of the time. The different accounts of these visions vary so much as to cast great doubts on their accuracy; and the oldest one of all (Anguttara, i. 145) speaks of ideas only, not of actual visions. It is, however, clear from what follows, that about this time the mind of the young Räjput must, from some cause or other, have been deeply stirred. Many an earnest heart full of disappointment or enthusiasm has gone through a similar struggle, has learnt to look upon all earthly gains and hopes as worse than vanity, has envied the calm life of the cloister, troubled by none of these things, and has longed for an opportunity of entire self-surrender to abstinence and meditation.
Subjectively, though not objectively, these visions may be supposed to have appeared to Gotama. After seeing the last of them, he is said, in the later accounts, to have spent the afternoon in his pleasure-grounds by the river-side; and having bathed, to have entered his chariot in order to return home. Just then a messenger arrived with the news that his wife Yasodhara had given birth to a son, his only child. “This,” said Gotama quietly, “is a new and strong tie I shall have to break.” But the people of Kapilavastu were greatly delighted at the birth of the young heir, the raja’s only grandson. Gotama’s return became an ovation; musicians preceded and followed his chariot, while shouts of joy and triumph fell on his ear. Among these sounds one especially attracted his attention. It was the voice of a young girl, his cousin, who sang a stanza, saying, “Happy the father, happy the mother, happy the wife of such a son and husband.” In the word “happy” lay a double meaning; it meant also freed from the chains of rebirth, delivered, saved. Grateful to one who, at such a time, reminded him of his highest hopes, Gotama, to whom such things had no longer any value, took off his collar of pearls and sent it to her. She imagined that this was the beginning of a courtship, and began to build daydreams about becoming his principal wife, but he took no further notice of her and passed on. That evening the dancing-girls came to go through the Natch dances, then as now so common on festive occasions in many parts of India; but he paid them no attention, and gradually fell into an uneasy slumber. At midnight he awoke; the dancing-girls were lying in the ante-room; an overpowering loathing filled his soul. He arose instantly with a mind fully made up—“roused into activity,” says the Sinhalese chronicle, “like a man who is told that his house is on fire.” He called out to know who was on guard, and finding it was his charioteer Channa, he told him to saddle his horse. While Channa was gone Siddhattha gently opened the door of the room where Yasodhara was sleeping, surrounded by flowers, with one hand on the head of their child. He had hoped to take the babe in his arms for the last time before he went, but now he stood for a few moments irresolute on the threshold looking at them. At last the fear of awakening Yasodhara prevailed; he tore himself away, promising himself to return to them as soon as his mind had become clear, as soon as he had become a Buddha,—i.e. Enlightened,—and then he could return to them not only as husband and father, but as teacher and saviour. It is said to have been broad moonlight on the full moon of the month of July, when the young chief, with Channa as his sole companion, leaving his father’s home, his wealth and social position, his wife and child behind him, went out into the wilderness to become a penniless and despised student, and a homeless wanderer. This is the circumstance which has given its name to a Sanskrit work, the Mahabhinishkramana Sutra, or Sutra of the Great Renunciation.
Next is related an event in which we may again see a subjective experience given under the form of an objective reality. Mara, the great tempter, appears in the sky, and urges Gotama to stop, promising him, in seven days, a universal kingdom over the four great continents if he will but give up his enterprise. When his words fail to have any effect, the tempter consoles himself by the confident hope that he will still overcome his enemy, saying, “Sooner or later some lustful or malicious or angry thought must arise in his mind; in that moment I shall be his master”; and from that hour, adds the legend, “as a shadow always follows the body, so he too from that day always followed the Blessed One, striving to throw every obstacle in his way towards the Buddhahood.” Gotama rides a long distance that night, only stopping at the banks of the Anoma beyond the Koliyan territory. There, on the sandy bank of the river, at a spot where later piety erected a dagaba (a solid dome-shaped relic shrine), he cuts off with his sword his long flowing locks, and, taking off his ornaments, sends them and the horse back in charge of the unwilling Channa to Kapilavastu. The next seven days were spent alone in a grove of mango trees near by, whence the recluse walks on to Rajagriha, the capital of Magadha, and residence of Bimbisara, one of the then most powerful rulers in the valley of the Ganges. He was favourably received by the raja; but though asked to do so, he would not as yet assume the responsibilities of a teacher. He attached himself first to a brahmin sophist named Alara, and afterwards to another named Udraka, from whom he learnt all that Indian philosophy had then to teach. Still unsatisfied, he next retired to the jungle of Uruvela, on the most northerly spur of the Vindhya range of mountains, and there for six years, attended by five faithful disciples, he gave himself up to the severest penance and self-torture, till his fame as an ascetic spread in all the country round about “like the sound,” says the Burmese chronicle, “of a great bell hung in the canopy of the skies.” At last one day, when he was walking in a much enfeebled state, he felt on a sudden an extreme weakness, like that caused by dire starvation, and unable to stand any longer he fell to the ground. Some thought he was dead, but he recovered, and from that time took regular food and gave up his severe penance, so much so that his five disciples soon ceased to respect him, and leaving him went to Benares.
There now ensued a second struggle in Gotama’s mind, described with all the wealth of poetry and imagination of which the Indian mind is master. The crisis culminated on a day, each event of which is surrounded in the Buddhist accounts with the wildest legends, on which the very thoughts passing through the mind of Buddha appear in gorgeous descriptions as angels of darkness or of light. To us, now taught by the experiences of centuries how weak such exaggerations are compared with the effect of a plain unvarnished tale, these legends may appear childish or absurd, but they have a depth of meaning to those who strive to read between the lines of such rude and inarticulate attempts to describe the indescribable. That which (the previous and subsequent career of the teacher being borne in mind) seems to be possible and even probable, appears to be somewhat as follows.
Disenchanted and dissatisfied, Gotama had given up all that most men value, to seek peace in secluded study and self-denial. Failing to attain his object by learning the wisdom of others, and living the simple life of a student, he had devoted himself to that intense meditation and penance which all philosophers then said would raise men above the gods. Still unsatisfied, longing always for a certainty that seemed ever just beyond his grasp, he had added vigil to vigil, and penance to penance, until at last, when to the wondering view of others he had become more than a saint, his bodily strength and his indomitable resolution and faith had together suddenly and completely broken down. Then, when the sympathy of others would have been most welcome, he found his friends falling away from him, and his disciples leaving him for other teachers. Soon after, if not on the very day when his followers had left him, he wandered out towards the banks of the Neranjara, receiving his morning meal from the hands of Sujata, the daughter of a neighbouring villager, and set himself down to eat it under the shade of a large tree (a Ficus religiosa), to be known from that time as the sacred Bo tree or tree of wisdom. There he remained through the long hours of that day debating with himself what next to do. All his old temptations came back upon him with renewed force. For years he had looked at all earthly good through the medium of a philosophy which taught him that it, without exception, contained within itself the seeds of bitterness, and was altogether worthless and impermanent; but now to his wavering faith the sweet delights of home and love, the charms of wealth and power, began to show themselves in a different light, and glow again with attractive colours. He doubted, and agonized in his doubt; but as the sun set, the religious side of his nature had won the victory, and seems to have come out even purified from the struggle. He had attained to Nirvana, had become clear in his mind, a Buddha, an Enlightened One. From that night he not only did not claim any merit on account of his self-mortification, but took every opportunity of declaring that from such penances no advantage at all would be derived. All that night he is said to have remained in deep meditation under the Bo tree; and the orthodox Buddhists believe that for seven times seven nights and days he continued fasting near the spot, when the archangel Brahmā came and ministered to him. As for himself, his heart was now fixed,—his mind was made up,—but he realized more than he had ever done before the power of temptation, and the difficulty, the almost impossibility, of understanding and holding to the truth. For others subject to the same temptations, but without that earnestness and insight which he felt himself to possess, faith might be quite impossible, and it would only be waste of time and trouble to try to show to them “the only path of peace.” To one in his position this thought would be so very natural, that we need not hesitate to accept the fact of its occurrence as related in the oldest records. It is quite consistent with his whole career that it was love and pity for others—otherwise, as it seemed to him, helplessly doomed and lost—-which at last overcame every other consideration, and made Gotama resolve to announce his doctrine to the world.
The teacher, now 35 years of age, intended to proclaim his new gospel first to his old teachers Ālāra and Udraka, but finding that they were dead, he determined to address himself to his former five disciples, and accordingly went to the Deer-forest near Benares where they were then living. An old gāthhā, or hymn (translated in Vinaya Texts, i. 90) tells us how the Buddha, rapt with the idea of his great mission, meets an acquaintance, one Upaka, a wandering sophist, on the way. The latter, struck with his expression, asks him whose religion it is that makes him so glad, and yet so calm. The reply is striking. “I am now on my way,” says the Buddha, “to the city of Benares, to beat the drum of the Ambrosia (to set up the light of the doctrine of Nirvana) in the darkness of the world!” and he proclaims himself the Buddha who alone knows, and knows no teacher. Upaka says: “You profess yourself, then, friend, to be an Arahat and a conqueror?” The Buddha says: “Those indeed are conquerors who, as I have now, have conquered the intoxications (the mental intoxication arising from ignorance, sensuality or craving after future life). Evil dispositions have ceased in me; therefore is it that I am conqueror!” His acquaintance rejoins: “In that case, venerable Gotama, your way lies yonder!” and he himself, shaking his head, turns in the opposite direction.
Nothing daunted, the new prophet walked on to Benares, and in the cool of the evening went on to the Deer-forest where the five ascetics were living. Seeing him coming, they resolved not to recognize as a superior one who had broken his vows; to address him by his name, and not as “master” or “teacher”; only, he being a Kshatriya, to offer him a seat. He understands their change of manner, calmly tells them not to mock him by calling him “the venerable Gotama”; that he has found the ambrosia of truth and can lead them to it. They object, naturally enough, from the ascetic point of view, that he had failed before while he was keeping his body under, and how can his mind have won the victory now, when he serves and yields to his body. Buddha replies by explaining to them the principles of his new gospel, in the form of noble truths, and the Noble Eightfold Path (see Buddhism).
It is nearly certain that Buddha had a commanding presence, and one of those deep, rich, thrilling voices which so many of the successful leaders of men have possessed. We know his deep earnestness, and his thorough conviction of the truth of his new gospel. When we further remember the relation which the five students mentioned above had long borne to him, and that they had passed through a similar culture, it is not difficult to understand that his persuasions were successful, and that his old disciples were the first to acknowledge him in his new character. The later books say that they were all converted at once; but, according to the most ancient Pāli record—though their old love and reverence had been so rekindled when the Buddha came near that their cold resolutions quite broke down, and they vied with each other in such acts of personal attention as an Indian disciple loves to pay to his teacher,—yet it was only after the Buddha had for five days talked to them, sometimes separately, sometimes together, that they accepted in its entirety his plan of salvation.
The Buddha then remained at the Deer-forest near Benares until the number of his personal followers was about threescore, and that of the outside believers somewhat greater. The principal among the former was a rich young man named Yasa, who had first come to him at night out of fear of his relations, and afterwards shaved his head, put on the yellow robe, and succeeded in bringing many of his former friends and companions to the teacher, his mother and his wife being the first female disciples, and his father the first lay devotee. It should be noticed in passing that the idea of a priesthood with mystical powers is altogether repugnant to Buddhism; every one’s salvation is entirely dependent on the modification or growth of his own inner nature, resulting from his own exertions. The life of a recluse is held to be the most conducive to that state of sweet serenity at which the most ardent disciples aim; but that of a layman, of a believing householder, is held in high honour; and a believer who does not as yet feel himself able or willing to cast off the ties of home or of business, may yet “enter the paths,” and by a life of rectitude and kindness ensure for himself a rebirth under more favourable conditions for his growth in holiness.
After the rainy season Gotama called together those of his disciples who had devoted themselves to the higher life, and said to them: “I am free from the five hindrances which, like an immense net, hold men and angels in their power; you too (owing to my teaching) are set free. Go ye now, brethren, and wander for the gain and welfare of the many, out of compassion for the world, to the benefit of gods and men. Preach the doctrine, beauteous in inception, beauteous in continuation, beauteous in its end. Proclaim the pure and perfect life. Let no two go together. I also go, brethren, to the General’s village in the wilds of Uruvelā.” Throughout his career, Gotama yearly adopted the same plan, collecting his disciples round him in the rainy season, and after it was over travelling about as an itinerant preacher; but in subsequent years he was always accompanied by some of his most attached disciples.
In the solitudes of Uruvelā there were at this time three brothers, fire-worshippers and hermit philosophers, who had gathered round them a number of scholars, and enjoyed a considerable reputation as teachers. Gotama settled among them, and after a time they became believers in his system,—the elder brother, Kassapa, taking henceforth a principal place among his followers. His first set sermon to his new disciples is called by Bishop Bigandet the Sermon on the Mount. Its subject was a jungle-fire which broke out on the opposite hillside. He warned his hearers against the fires of concupiscence, anger, ignorance, birth, death, decay and anxiety; and taking each of the senses in order he compared all human sensations to a burning flame which seems to be something it is not, which produces pleasure and pain, but passes rapidly away, and ends only in destruction.
Accompanied by his new disciples, the Buddha walked on to Rājagaha, the capital of King Bimbisāra, who, not unmindful of their former interview, came out to welcome him. Seeing Kassapa, who as the chronicle puts it, was as well known to them as the banner of the city, the people at first doubted who was the teacher and who the disciple, but Kassapa put an end to their hesitation by stating that he had now given up his belief in the efficacy of sacrifices either great or small; that Nirvāna was a state of rest to be attained only by a change of heart; and that he had become a disciple of the Buddha. Gotama then spoke to the king on the miseries of the world which arise from passion, and on the possibility of release by following the way of salvation. The rāja invited him and his disciples to eat their simple mid-day meal at his house on the following morning; and then presented the Buddha with a garden called Veluvana or Bamboo-grove, afterwards celebrated as the place where the Buddha spent many rainy seasons, and preached many of his most complete discourses. There he taught for some time, attracting large numbers of hearers, among whom two, Sāriputta and Moggallāna, who afterwards became conspicuous leaders in the new crusade, then joined the Sangha or Society, as the Buddha’s order of mendicants was called.
Meanwhile the prophet’s father, Suddhōdana, who had anxiously watched his son’s career, heard that he had given up his asceticism, and had appeared as a Wanderer, an itinerant preacher and teacher. He sent therefore to him, urging him to come home, that he might see him once more before he died. The Buddha accordingly started for Kapilavastu, and stopped according to his custom in a grove outside the town. His father and uncles and others came to see him there, but the latter were angry, and would pay him no reverence. It was the custom to invite such teachers and their disciples for the next day’s meal, but they all left without doing so. The next day, therefore, Gotama set out at the usual hour, carrying his bowl to beg for a meal. As he entered the city, he hesitated whether he should not go straight to his father’s house, but determined to adhere to his custom. It soon reached his father’s ears that his son was walking through the streets begging. Startled at such news he rose up, seizing the end of his outer robe, and hastened to the place where Gotama was, exclaiming, “Illustrious Buddha, why do you expose us all to such shame? Is it necessary to go from door to door begging your food? Do you imagine that I am not able to supply the wants of so many mendicants?” “My noble father,” was the reply, “this is the custom of all our race.” “How so?” said his father. “Are you not descended from an illustrious line? no single person of our race has ever acted so indecorously.” “My noble father,” said Gotama, “you and your family may claim the privileges of Kshatriya descent; my descent is from the prophets (Buddhas) of old, and they have always acted so; the customs of the law (Dharma) are good both for this world and the world that is to come. But, my father, when a man has found a treasure, it is his duty to offer the most precious of the jewels to his father first. Do not delay, let me share with you the treasure I have found.” Suddhōdana, abashed, took his son’s bowl and led him to his house.
Eighteen months had now elapsed since the turning-point of Gotama’s career—his great struggle under the Bo tree. Thus far all the accounts follow chronological order. From this time they simply narrate disconnected stories about the Buddha, or the persons with whom he was brought into contact,—the same story being usually found in more than one account, but not often in the same order. It is not as yet possible, except very partially, to arrange chronologically the snatches of biography to be gleaned from these stories. They are mostly told to show the occasion on which some memorable act of the Buddha took place, or some memorable saying was uttered, and are as exact as to place as they are indistinct as to time. It would be impossible within the limits of this article to give any large number of them, but space may be found for one or two.
A merchant from Sūnaparanta having joined the Society was desirous of preaching to his relations, and is said to have asked Gotama’s permission to do so. “The people of Sūnaparanta,” said the teacher, “are exceedingly violent. If they revile you what will you do?” “I will make no reply,” said the mendicant. “And if they strike you?” “I will not strike in return,” was the reply. “And if they try to kill you?” “Death is no evil in itself; many even desire it, to escape from the vanities of life, but I shall take no steps either to hasten or to delay the time of my departure.” These answers were held satisfactory, and the monk started on his mission.
At another time a rich farmer held a harvest home, and the Buddha, wishing to preach to him, is said to have taken his alms-bowl and stood by the side of the field and begged. The farmer, a wealthy brāhmin, said to him, “Why do you come and beg? I plough and sow and earn my food; you should do the same.” “I too, O brahmin,” said the beggar, “plough and sow; and having ploughed and sown I eat.” “You profess only to be a farmer; no one sees your ploughing, what do you mean?” said the brahmin. “For my cultivation,” said the beggar, “faith is the seed, self-combat is the fertilizing rain, the weeds I destroy are the cleaving to existence, wisdom is my plough, and its guiding-shaft is modesty; perseverance draws my plough, and I guide it with the rein of my mind; the field I work is in the law, and the harvest that I reap is the never-dying nectar of Nirvāna, Those who reap this harvest destroy all the weeds of sorrow.”
On another occasion he is said to have brought back to her right mind a young mother whom sorrow had for a time deprived of reason. Her name was Kisāgotamī. She had been married early, as is the custom in the East, and had a child when she was still a girl. When the beautiful boy could run alone he died. The young girl in her love for it carried the dead child clasped to her bosom, and went from house to house of her pitying friends asking them to give her medicine for it. But a Buddhist convert thinking “she does not understand,” said to her, “My good girl, I myself have no such medicine as you ask for, but I think I know of one who has.” “Oh, tell me who that is?” said Kisāgotamī. “The Buddha can give you medicine; go to him,” was the answer. She went to Gotama; and doing homage to him said, “Lord and master, do you know any medicine that will be good for my child?” “Yes, I know of some,” said the teacher. Now it was the custom for patients or their friends to provide the herbs which the doctors required; so she asked what herbs he would want. “I want some mustard-seed,” he said; and when the poor girl eagerly promised to bring some of so common a drug, he added, “you must get it from some house where no son, or husband, or parent or slave has died.” “Very good,” she said; and went to ask for it, still carrying her dead child with her. The people said, “Here is mustard-seed, take it”; but when she asked, “In my friend’s house has any son died, or a husband, or a parent or slave?” They answered, “Lady! what is this that you say? the living are few, but the dead are many.” Then she went to other houses, but one said “I have lost a son,” another “We have lost our parents,” another “I have lost my slave.” At last, not being able to find a single house where no one had died, her mind began to clear, and summoning up resolution she left the dead body of her child in a forest, and returning to the Buddha paid him homage. He said to her, “Have you the mustard-seed?” “My lord,” she replied, “I have not; the people tell me that the living are few, but the dead are many.” Then he talked to her on that essential part of his system, the impermanency of all things, till her doubts were cleared away, she accepted her lot, became a disciple, and entered the “first path.”
For forty-five years after entering on his mission Gotama itinerated in the valley of the Ganges, not going farther than about 250 m. from Benares, and always spending the rainy months at one spot—usually at one of the viharas, or homes, which had been given to the society. In the twentieth year his cousin Ānanda became a mendicant, and from that time seems to have attended on the Buddha, being constantly near him, and delighting to render him all the personal service which love and reverence could suggest. Another cousin, Devadatta, the son of the rāja of Koli, also joined the society, but became envious of the teacher, and stirred up Ajatasattu (who, having killed his father Bimbisara, had become king of Rajagaha) to persecute Gotama. The account of the manner in which the Buddha is said to have overcome the wicked devices of this apostate cousin and his parricide protector is quite legendary; but the general fact of Ajatasattu’s opposition to the new sect and of his subsequent conversion may be accepted.
The confused and legendary notices of the journeyings of Gotama are succeeded by tolerably clear accounts of the last few days of his life. On a journey towards Kusinārā, a town about 120 m. north-north-east of Benares, and about 80 m. due east of Kapilavastu, the teacher, being then eighty years of age, had rested for a short time in a grove at Pāwā, presented to the society by a goldsmith of that place named Chunda. Chunda prepared for the mendicants a mid-day meal, and after the meal the Buddha started for Kusinārā. He had not gone far when he was obliged to rest, and soon afterwards he said, “Ānanda, I am thirsty,” and they gave him water to drink. Half-way between the two towns flows the river Kukushtā. There Gotama rested again, and bathed for the last time. Feeling that he was dying, and careful lest Chunda should be reproached by himself or others, he said to Ānanda, “After I am gone tell Chunda that he will receive in a future birth very great reward; for, having eaten of the food he gave me, I am about to die; and if he should still doubt, say that it was from my own mouth that you heard this. There are two gifts which will be blest above all others, namely, Sujātā’s gift before I attained wisdom under the Bo tree, and this gift of Chunda’s before I pass away.” After halting again and again the party at length reached the river Hiranyavati, close by Kusinārā, and there for the last time the teacher rested. Lying down under some Sal trees, with his face towards the south, he talked long and earnestly with Ānanda about his burial, and about certain rules which were to be observed by the society after his death. Towards the end of this conversation, when it was evening, Ānanda broke down and went aside to weep, but the Buddha missed him, and sending for him comforted him with the promise of Nirvāna, and repeated what he had so often said before about the impermanence of all things,—“O Ānanda! do not weep; do not let yourself be troubled. You known what I have said; sooner or later we must part from all we hold most dear. This body of ours contains within itself the power which renews its strength for a time, but also the causes which lead to its destruction. Is there anything put together which shall not dissolve? But you, too, shall be free from this delusion, this world of sense, this law of change. Beloved,” added he, speaking to the rest of the disciples, “Ānanda for long years has served me with devoted affection.” And he spoke to them at some length on the kindness of Ānanda.
About midnight Subhadra, a brahmin philosopher of Kusinārā, came to ask some questions of the Buddha, but Ānanda, fearing that this might lead to a longer discussion than the sick teacher could bear, would not admit him. Gotama heard the sound of their talk, and asking what it was, told them to let Subhadra come. The latter began by asking whether the six great teachers knew all laws, or whether there were some that they did not know, or knew only partially. “This is not the time,” was the answer, “for such discussions. To true wisdom there is only one way, the path that is laid down in my system. Many have already followed it, and conquering the lust and pride and anger of their own hearts, have become free from ignorance and doubt and wrong belief, have entered the calm state of universal kindliness, and have reached Nirvāna even in this life. O Subhadra! I do not speak to you of things I have not experienced. Since I was twenty-nine years old till now I have striven after pure and perfect wisdom, and following the good path, have found Nirvāna.” A rule had been made that no follower of a rival system should be admitted to the society without four months’ probation. So deeply did the words or the impressive manner of the dying teacher work upon Subhadra that he asked to be admitted at once, and Gotama granted his request. Then turning to his disciples he said, “When I have passed away and am no longer with you, do not think that the Buddha has left you, and is not still in your midst. You have my words, my explanations of the deep things of truth, the laws I have laid down for the society; let them be your guide; the Buddha has not left you.” Soon afterwards he again spoke to them, urging them to reverence one another, and rebuked one of the disciples who spoke indiscriminately all that occurred to him. Towards the morning he asked whether any one had any doubt about the Buddha, the law or the society; if so, he would clear them up. No one answered, and Ānanda expressed his surprise that amongst so many none should doubt, and all be firmly attached to the law. But the Buddha laid stress on the final perseverance of the saints, saying that even the least among the disciples who had entered the first path only, still had his heart fixed on the way to perfection, and constantly strove after the three higher paths. “No doubt,” he said, “can be found in the mind of a true disciple.” After another pause he said: “Behold now, brethren, this is my exhortation to you. Decay is inherent in all component things. Work out, therefore, your emancipation with diligence!” These were the last words the Buddha spoke; shortly afterwards he became unconscious, and in that state passed away.
Authorities on the Life of the Buddha.—Canonical Pāli (reached their present shape before the 4th century B.C.); episodes only, three of them long: (1) Birth; text in Majjhima Nikāya, ed. Trenckner and Chalmers (London, Pāli Text Society, 1888–1899), vol. iii. pp. 118-124; also in Anguttara Nikāya, ed. Morris and Hardy (Pāli Text Society, 1888–1900), vol. ii. pp. 130-132. (2) Adoration of the babe; old ballad; text in Sutta Nipāta, ed. Fausböll (Pāli Text Society, 1884), pp. 128-131; translation by the same in Sacred Books of the East (Oxford, 1881), vol. x. pp. 124-131. (3) Youth at home; text in Anguttara Nikāya, i. 145. (4) The going forth; old ballad; text in Sutta Nipata, pp. 70-74 (London, 1896), pp. 99-101; prose account in Dīgha Nikāya, ed. Rhys Davids and Carpenter (Pāli Text Society, 1890–1893), vol. i. p. 115, translated by Rhys Davids in Dialogues of the Buddha (Oxford, 1899), pp. 147-149. (5) First long episode; the going forth, years of study and penance, attainment of Nirvāna and Buddhahood, and conversion of first five converts; text in Majjhima, all together at ii. 93; parts repeated at i. 163-175, 240-249; ii. 212; Vinaya, ed. Oldenberg (London, 1879–1883), vol. i. pp. 1-13. (6) Second long episode; from the conversation of the five down to the end of the first year of the teaching; text in Vinaya, i. 13-44, translated by Oldenberg in Vinaya Texts, i. 73-151. (7) Visit to Kapilavastu; text in Vinaya, i. 82; translation by Oldenberg in Vinaya Texts (Oxford, 1881–1885), vol. i. pp. 207-210. (8) Third long episode; the last days; text in Dīgha Nikāya (the Mahāparinibbāna Suttanta), vol. ii. pp. 72-168, translated by Rhys Davids in Buddhist Suttas (Oxford, 1881), pp. 1-136. Buddhist Sanskrit Texts: (i) Mahāvastu (probably 2nd century B.C.); edited by Senart (3 vols., Paris, 1882–1897), summary in French prefixed to each volume; down to the end of first year of the teaching. (2) Lalita Vistara (probably 1st century B.C.); edited by Mitra (Calcutta, 1877); translated into French by Foucaux (Paris, 1884); down to the first sermon. (3) Buddha Carita, by Aśvaghosha, probably 2nd century A.D. edited by Cowell (Oxford, 1892); translated by Cowell (Oxford, 1894, S.B.E. vol. xlix.); an elegant poem; stops just before the attainment of Buddhahood. (These three works reproduce and amplify the above episodes Nos. 1-6; they retain here and there a very old tradition as to arrangement of clauses or turns of expression.) Later Pāli: The commentary on the Jātaka, written probably in the 5th century A.D., gives a consecutive narrative, from the birth to the end of the second year of the teaching, based on the canonical texts, but much altered and amplified; edited by Fausböll in Jātaka, vol. i. (London, 1877), pp. 1-94; translated by Rhys Davids in Buddhist Birth Stories (London, 1880), pp. 1-133. Modern Works: (i) Tibetan; Life of the Buddha; episodes collected and translated by W. Woodville Rockhill (London, 1884), from Tibetan texts of the 9th and 10th centuries A.D. (2) Sinhalese; episodes collected and translated by Spence Hardy from Sinhalese texts of the 12th and later centuries, in Manual of Buddhism (London, 1897, 2nd edition), pp. 138-359. (3) Burmese: The Life or Legend of Gaudama (3rd edition, London, 1880), by the Right Rev. P. Bigandet, translated from a Burmese work of A.D. 1773. (The Burmese is, in its turn, a translation from a Pāli work of unknown date; it gives the whole life, and is the only consecutive biography we have.) (4) Kambojian: Pathama Sambodhian; translated into French by A. Leclère in Livres sacrés du Cambodge (Paris, 1906). (T. W. R. D.)
- Note on the Date of the Buddha.—The now generally accepted date of the Buddha is arrived at by adding together two numbers, one being the date of the accession of Asoka to the throne, the second being the length of the interval between that date and that of the death of the Buddha. The first figure, that of the date of Asoka, is arrived at by the mention in one of his edicts of certain Greek kings, as then living. The dates of these last are approximately known; and arguing from these dates the date of Asoka’s accession has been fixed by various scholars (at dates varying only by a difference of five years more or less) at about 270 B.C. The second figure, the total interval between Asoka’s accession and the Buddha’s death, is given in the Ceylon Chronicles as 218 years. Adding these two together, the date of the Buddha’s death would be 488 B.C., and, as he was eighty years old at the time of his death, the date of his birth would be 568 B.C. The dates for his death and birth accepted in Burma, Siam and Ceylon are about half a century earlier, namely, 543 and 623 B.C., the difference being in the date of Asoka’s accession. It will be seen that the dates as adopted in Europe are approximate only, and liable to correction if better data are obtainable. The details of this chronological question are discussed at length in Professor Rhys Davids’ Ancient Coins and Measures of Ceylon (London, 1877), where the previous discussions are referred to.
- See report of Rex. v. Neuhaus, Clerkenwell Sessions, September 15, 1906.
- The various legends of Mara are the subject of an exhaustive critical analysis in Windsisch’s Mara and Buddha (Leipzig, 1895).
- Bigandet, p. 49; and compare Jataka, p. 67, line 27.
- Vinaya Texts, i. 97-99; cf. Jātaka, vol. i. p. 82, lines 11-19.
- Samyutta, i. 105.
- Cf. Big. p. 99, with Hardy, M.B. p. 191. The Pāli name is aditta-pariyaya: the sermon on the lessons to be drawn from burning. The text is Vinaya, i. 34 = Samyutta, iv. 19. A literal translation will be found in Vinaya Texts, i. 134, 135.
- These were at first simple huts, built for the mendicants in some grove of palm-trees as a retreat during the rainy season; but they gradually increased in splendour and magnificence till the decay of Buddhism set in. See the authorities quoted in Buddhist India, pp. 141, 142.
- The text of the account of this last journey is the Mahāparinibbāna Suttanta, vol. ii. of the Dīgha (ed. Rhys Davids and Carpenter) The translation is in Rhys Davids’ Buddhist Suttas.