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Across India by Oliver Optic

The Buddha began to preach his peculiar salvation


"Rhemba

was born of the sea, and is the Indian Venus; Cama is Cupid; Parvati, whose image you saw at Elephanta, is Ceres; and so on to the end of the chapter. These divinities are represented in the temples, but they are without form or comeliness."

"They are not much like the beautiful statues of the Greeks," added Louis.

"The most prominent Indian sects are the Saivas, or worshippers of Siva; the Vaishnavas, who bow down to Vishnu under his several incarnations, like Krishna, whom you could not greatly respect; and the Jains, allied to the Buddhists, found mostly in the northern sections of India. They occupy important positions, and possess wealth and influence. There are subdivisions into sects among them, and it would be quite impossible to follow them through the mazes of belief to which they adhere. There is a great deal of philosophy among many of the sects."

"But what are the Buddhists?" inquired Dr. Hawkes.

"Buddhism is quite as much a philosophy as a religion. It is not as prevalent in India proper as formerly; though it is still dominant in Ceylon, Napaul, Burma, and in the more northern countries of Asia. Its history is somewhat indefinite. Gautama, of whom a great many pretty stories are told, is sometimes regarded as the founder; though some who have studied the history of the sect, or order, do not believe that the Buddha was a real

person, but an allegorical figure.

"Those who give a personal origin to the system, now said to be the religion of one-third of the human race, begin with Prince Siddhartha, a young man disposed to be an ascetic, and inclined to retire from the world. In order to wean him from his meditative tendency, his father, in order to cure him, and prevent him from forsaking his caste, married him to a beautiful princess, and introduced him to the splendid dissipation of a luxurious court. A dozen years of this life convinced him that 'all was vanity and vexation of spirit,' and he became a sort of hermit, a religious beggar, and spent his time in dwelling upon the miseries of human life.

"He used up years in this manner, and after much reasoning, came to the conclusion that ignorance was misery. He gave himself up to study, and at last came to believe that he had reached the perfection of wisdom. The tree under which he sat when he reached this result was then called _Bodhidruma_, or the tree of intelligence; and the Buddhists believe the spot where it grew to be the centre of the earth. A tree that passes for this one was discovered by a Chinese, still standing twelve hundred years after the death of the Buddha; and the bo-tree of Ceylon is regarded as its legitimate descendant. You have been told something about it.

"In Benares, having ascertained the cause of human misery, and learned the remedy for it, the Buddha began to preach his peculiar salvation. In the phrase of his religion he 'turned the wheel of the law.' One of his titles is _Chakravartin_, which means 'the turner of a wheel.' The doctrines of the Buddha are written out on a wheel, which is set in motion with a crank, though it is sometimes operated by horse-power; and such machines are sometimes seen in front of religious houses in Thibet, and the monks have portable ones."

"I thought the religion of Thibet was the worship of the Grand Lama," suggested Louis.

"That is a form of Buddhism. The most important of the converts of the Buddha was the Rajah of Magadha, or Behar, on the Ganges, which gave him a good start, and it has since made almost incredible progress. It would take too long to state the doctrines in detail of this sect, and you get an idea of what it must be from what I said of its founder. Its leading doctrine is the transmigration of souls, also called by that tough word, metempsychosis, though other Hindu systems adopt this belief. It seems to include the recognition of the immortality of the soul, which at the death of the body passes into another form of existence,--a man, a woman, a lower animal, or even a tree or other plant. The Buddha claims to have been born five hundred and fifty times,--a hermit, a slave, a king, a monkey, an elephant, a fish, a frog, a tree, etc. When he reached his highest condition of perfection, he could recall all these different states of being; and he has written them out.


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