Gautama, prince of the house of Siddhartha, of the Sakya class, was born in northern India in the township of Kapilavastu, in the year 556 B.C., according to the best authorities, as interpreted and reported by Max Muller.
The Japanese tradition agrees with this, practically, stating that O Shaka Sama (signifying one born of wisdom and love) was born as a Kotai Si, crown prince of the Maghada country.
We have the assurance that as a youth, Gautama, like Jesus, exhibited a serious mindedness and an insight into matters spiritual, which astonished and dumbfounded his hearers, and the sages who gave him respectful attention.
Some accounts even go so far as to state that at the very moment of his birth the young prince was able to speak, and that his words ascended “even to the gods of the uppermost Brahma-world.”
Divesting the traditions that surround the birth and early life of the world’s great masters, of much that has been interpolated by a designing priesthood, we may yet conclude that a certain seriousness, and a deep sympathy with the sorrows of their fellowmen, would naturally characterize these inspired ones, even while they were still in their early youth.
It is evident that the young Prince Siddhartha was subject to meditation and that these meditations led at times to complete trance.
It is reported that one day while out riding in all the pomp and accoutrements of the son of a ruling king, he was visited by an angel (a messenger from the gods of Devachan), and told that if he would lessen the sorrows of the world that he must renounce his right to his father’s kingdom and go into the jungle, becoming a hermit, and devoting his life to fasting, prayer and meditation, in order to fit himself for the work of preaching the “way of liberation,” which consisted of, first of all, to take no life; be pure in mind; be as the humblest, which latter admonition found little favor with the world of his personal environment where caste was and still is, a seemingly ineradicable race-thought.
The sorrows of humanity weighed heavily upon his heart, and the superficialities of the wealthy and ostentatious court in which he lived, irked his outspoken and truth-loving spirit.
Surrounded, as he was, by wealth and ease, with time for contemplation and a mind given to philosophic speculation, the young prince found no sense of comfort or permanent satisfaction in his own immunity from want and sorrow. He pondered long upon the way to become freed from the “successive round of births and deaths,” and thus pondering, he sought solitude in which to find his questions answered.
Fasting and penance have ever been the gist of the instruction given to those who would “find the way to God,” and so to this end Gautama fasted and prayed, and practised self-sacrifice.
But the attainment of liberation was not easy, and Siddhartha suffered long and practiced self-mortification assiduously, at length being rewarded; and “there arose within him the eye to perceive the great and noble truths which had been handed down; the knowledge of their nature; the understanding of their cause; the wisdom that lights the true path; the light that expels darkness.”
The terrible struggle which characterized the attainment of cosmic consciousness, by so many of the sages and saviours of history, is, we believe, clue to the fact that no one individual may hope to rise so immeasurably above the plane of the race-consciousness of his day and age, except through intense and overwhelming desire.
Gautama abandoned his heritage, his relatives, his wife to whom he was devoted, and his infant son, as we have previously stated, not because Illumination is purchasable at so terrible a price, but because his desire to know transcended all other desires, and in order to be free from the demands made upon him, he must of necessity, seek solitude.
Few examples of the attainment of cosmic consciousness are as complete and of such fullness, as that attained by Buddha, and no instance which history affords has left so great an effect upon the world.
It is estimated that at least one-third of the human race are Buddhists. This is not saying that any such number of persons are like unto Buddha, nor do we contend that this is any evidence that his message is greater or more fraught with truth than that of other illumined ones.
The intelligent student of occultism in all its phases will arrive, sooner or later, at the inevitable conclusion that all illumined souls have seen and have taught the same fundamental truth.
Buddha was convinced that in The Absolute, or First Cause, there could be no sin and consequently no sorrow, and he persistently sought to inaugurate such systems of conduct and such a standard of morals as would lead the disciple back to godhood, or liberation from the “wheel of causation.”
To keep the mind pure and clean was the burden of his cry, well knowing that the mind is the fertile field wherein illusions of sense consciousness thrive. He says:
“Mind is the root (of evil); actions proceed from the mind. If anyone speak or act from a corrupt mind, suffering will follow, as the dust follows the rolling wheel.”
That we can not expect to escape the result of our thoughts and acts was ever a doctrine of Buddha, albeit, he seems also to have sought to make clear to his disciples, the UNREALITY of sin as a part of the indestructible “First Cause.”
Many Buddhist sects interpret the doctrines of Buddha to deny a belief in a future existence, in at least as far as identity is concerned, but this conception is not consistent with the most reliable reports, neither is it in keeping with the extreme peace and satisfaction which all illumined ones experience.
If extinction of identity were the goal of Illumination, it is inconceivable that the illumined ones should report the attainment of perfect satisfaction and bliss.
Besides, it is clearly stated that Gautama told his disciples that he had already entered Nirvana, while yet in the body.
“My mind is free from passions; is released from the follies of the world.
I have gained the victory,” said Lord Buddha to his disciple Ananda.
It is also asserted that Buddha appeared in his own “glorified body” to his disciples after his physical dissolution, plainly indicating that far from being swallowed up in The Absolute, he had acquired godhood in his present body.
Detailing the advantages of a pure life, Buddha said to his disciples:
“The virtuous man rejoices in this world, and he will rejoice in the next; in both worlds has he joy. He rejoices, he exults, seeing the purity of his deed.”
Again, alluding to a sage (rahan), Buddha is reported to have said:
“He is indeed blest, having conquered all his passions, and attained the state of Nirvana.”
This alluded to the acquisition of Nirvana while still in the physical body. In other words, as we of this century understand the teaching, he had experienced cosmic consciousness.
The modern version of the commandments of Buddha are almost identical with those of the Christian creed, and these commandments are, as we have previously observed, the same that Moses laid down for the guidance of his people. That they were old before Moses was born, is also more than problematical.
It is also more than probable that Buddha did not personally write the ethical code which we now find submitted as the “Commandments of Buddha,” but that Buddha merely emphasized them.
These commandments are not, however, understood, by the intelligent
Buddhist as “sacred,” in the sense that “God spoke unto Buddha.”
Moses doubtless assumed to have been divinely instructed in the law, although that supposition may be erroneous. He may have had in mind the same fundamental idea which all those expressing cosmic consciousness have had, that of being a mouthpiece of a higher power, rather than to attract to themselves any adulation or worship, as being specially divine.
The “Commandments,” therefore, as translated and ascribed to modern Buddhism, are an ethical and moral code for the MORTAL consciousness, rather than a formula for developing cosmic consciousness. These commandments are:
1—Thou shalt kill no animal whatever, from the meanest insect up to man.
2—Thou shalt not steal.
3—Thou shalt not violate the wife of another.
4—Thou shalt speak no word that is false.
5—Thou shalt not drink wine, nor anything that may intoxicate.
6—Thou shalt avoid all anger, hatred and bitter language.
7—Thou shalt not indulge in idle and vain talk, but shall do all for others.
8—Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.
9—Thou shalt not harbor envy, nor pride, nor revenge, nor malice, nor the desire of thy neighbor’s death or misfortune.
10—Thou shalt not follow the doctrines of false gods.
And the devotee is assured, even as in the Christian creed, that “he who keeps these commandments, shall enter Nirvana—the rest of Buddha.” But let it be understood that Gautama, the Lord Buddha, did not formulate these commandments. Neither are they considered as infallible formulæ, by the enlightened Buddhist.
They constitute the ethical and moral code of the undeveloped man in all ages of the world, and among all peoples. They had become traditional long before Buddha came to interpret “the way of the gods.” But Gautama, like Jesus, was an evolutionist, and not a revolutionist. He came “not to destroy, but to fulfill,” and so Buddha paid no attention to the code of morals as it stood, but merely contented himself with emphasizing the importance of unselfishness—purity of heart and mind, because he realized that the mental world is the trap of the soul, even as “the elephant is held tethered by a galucchi creeper.”
Buddha taught the way of emancipation of the soul held in bondage by means of the illusions of maya, even as the elephant is held in captivity by so weak a thing as a galucchi creeper, which could be broken by a single effort.
That many who keep the commandments are yet a long way from cosmic consciousness must be apparent to all. Therefore we are justified in assuming that the mere keeping of the commandments will not bring about mukti. Many a man follows the letter of the law, and escapes prison, but if he does this through fear of punishment, and not because of a desire to maintain peace that his neighbors may be benefited, then he is not keeping the spirit of the law at all, and his reward is a negative one.
According to the most reliable authorities, Buddha died in his eightieth year, having spent about fifty years in preaching, in healing the sick, in conversing with exalted beings in the heavenly worlds, and in leaving at will his physical body and visiting other worlds.
Buddha prophesied his coming dissolution, and expressed to his disciples, a hope that they would realize that he still lived, even when his physical body should have become ashes.
As his last hour approached, Buddha summoned his disciples, and after a moment’s silent meditation, he addressed himself to Ananda, his relative; as well as his favorite disciple, thus:
“When I shall have disappeared from this state of existence, and be no longer with you, do not believe that the Buddha has left you, and ceased to dwell among you. Do not think therefore, nor believe, that the Buddha has disappeared, and is no more with you.”
From these words, it is evident that the state of Nirvana which Buddha assured his followers that he had already attained, did not argue loss of identity, nor translation to another planet.
Nor is there anywhere in the sayings of Buddha, rightly interpreted, any suggestion of expecting or desiring personal worship. This, the great sage particularly avoided, as indeed have all illumined ones.
It is evident that Gautama the Buddha had experienced that divine influx of light and wisdom in which he sought for others the happiness he had gained for himself, and to this end he was eager to leave to his friends and disciples such rules of conduct of life as should aid them in attaining the divine peace that comes from illumination.
But that he founded a religious system of worship of himself, is wholly unbelievable in the light of a study of comparative religions and the wisdom which illumination confers.
To realize that one has attained to immortality, and claimed his birthright of godhood, is not synonymous with the claim to worship as the one eternal source of life.
It is a part of human weakness to insist upon idealizing the personality of a teacher, and this tendency becomes in time merged into actual worship, whereas the teacher, if he or she be truly illumined, seeks only to inculcate the philosophy which will bring his faithful followers into a realization of cosmic consciousness.
The points which characterize the person who has experienced a degree of illumination (entered into cosmic consciousness), were particularly evident in the life and character of Gautama, the Buddha. They may be summed up thus:
A marked seriousness in youth.
A great sympathy and compassion with the sorrows of others.
A deep tenderness for all forms of life.
A realization of the nothingness of caste and pomp and power.
The firm conviction that he was instructed by angels.
The wonderful magnetism and illumination of his person.
The firm conviction of immortality—released from the “wheel of life” as he expressed it.
The knowledge of when and where he was to pass out from the life of the body.
The love of solitude and meditation. The intellectual power maintained even into old age.
The unselfish desire to help others.
Great and never-failing sympathy with suffering, a divine patience, and insight into the hearts of all forms of life, earned for this great soul the name “Buddha—The Compassionate.”