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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/547

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CHINESE BUDDHISM.

origin, as well as its founder, is so far back, as the annals of history go, as to be shrouded in mystery, and even by many attributed to mythology, yet that it still lives and thrives as the most widely accepted religion none can deny. A reason for this fact must be sought in other directions than the perversity and ignorance of human minds, which incline men to accept absurd beliefs as a substitute for truth, as many assert.

There must be somewhat in a system of religion or philosophy which accords with human experience, and which tends to better the condition of life, and to foster hope, in order that a decade of centuries may pass without witnessing any diminution of its power. It is not sufficient to assume that its being a system of ingeniously woven myths is sufficient to account for its ready acceptance by unintelligent and unscientific Oriental minds. For even New York and London, as well as other centers of intelligence in our own civilization, have their rapidly growing theosophical societies, whose members include men of intelligence. These have formulated, according to their own fancies largely, what they are pleased to call a Buddhist creed; and, while they do not build temples, and ornament them with wooden images of their patron saint, as do their Oriental brethren, yet they none the less ardently declare their belief in the cardinal teachings of the system.

There is a tradition among Chinese scholars that, not far from the beginning of the Christian era, a rumor reached China that a great reformation was going on to the westward, and the emperor sent a committee to investigate the matter and report. The committee went overland through Burmah into India, inquiring at each stage of their journey as to the reports. In this way they encountered the promulgators of the Buddhist faith, who, on learning the object of their visit, informed them that their journey was at an end, and that they had found the true religion. On investigating the subject, the committee returned and made a favorable report; whereupon the emperor announced that the religion of Buddha was good for the people, and adopted it officially as one of the state religions of the empire. From that time the Buddhist missionaries found China a "field already white for the harvest," and it was at once recognized as the chief religion of the people, and has continued such ever since. Some scholars in China believe that it was the founding of Christianity that had reached their country; and that, had the committee continued their journey farther, China would have been among the first nations to adopt the Christian religion, instead of, most probably, the last people now likely to adopt it as a nation. The idea opens the way to much speculative fancy, but it lies outside the purpose of this paper to pursue it.