Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/551

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
535
CHINESE BUDDHISM.

Among the tenets of the faith is one commonly called "works of merit" similar to and for the same objects as supererogation—that is, doing more good than the present emergencies require—for the purpose of having a balance to one's credit in case of emergency. Priests under such pious inspiration go into the markets and buy squirming eels of fish-mongers and liberate them. Paying for them with money first begged from door to door. The relative merits of buying these eels and giving them to the hungry for food have not occurred to them; but they are not the only people who take the least probable route to gain favor in the sight of their final Judge. Acts of personal torture and self-denial rank high in the line of "merit," and men are not infrequently met with who inflict the most atrocious penalties upon themselves in the vain belief that it will gain them high standing in the eyes of the powers that control their future destinies. The people can not understand disinterested benevolence; hence, when missionaries go among them and apparently put themselves to inconveniences to induce the people to accept their teachings, they are looked upon with a certain respect; but their actions are invariably construed as being "works of merit," and that, instead of their good, it is the future good of the missionary himself which he is looking after.

I knew an English missionary who went into the famine district, twelve years ago, to distribute the relief sent there from England; and the chances were ten to one that he would never return alive. Yet the people admired him as being piously seeking to lay up treasures in heaven to his own credit.

But the leading characteristic of the Buddhist faith, and the one in the light of which all their actions and observances must be judged, is the doctrine of transmigration of souls. In this belief lies whatever of practical good comes from the system, in addition to the rest of mind and contentment which come of one being entirely satisfied with his faith. It is urged by religious people in this country that the disciplinary benefits arising out of the belief in a future state of rewards and punishments are apparent in and essential to good society; that if a belief in this doctrine be annihilated, society would lapse into a state of barbarism and outlawry. Without entering into any discussion of this question, it is sufficient to say that the restraining effects of the belief in transmigration are an equally strong motive for right-doing.

They believe that life is a succession of existences, and that every grade and condition of life are the product of a former career. All animals are equally immortal as men; and, in fact, the souls of all are identical and interchangeable. Hence, to kill an ox or a dog is as much murder as to kill a man. So strong is this belief,