The Kinship of All Life
The Buddha's message, like that of Christianity, was for all mankind, without distinction. None was excluded, and members of all the Hindu castes were received into the Order. Thus at one time we hear of a queen (the wife of King Bimbisara) becoming a nun, at another it is a rope-dancer who exchanges her gay clothes and tinkling bells for the yellow robes of the Buddhist Sisterhood. Among the monks were some who had been royal princes, while one, renowned for his piety and learning, had been the King's barber at Kapilavatthu.
The Brahmins believe a man born in the Brahmin caste to be superior to other men; but the Buddha held that no man could be born to merit, which must depend on his own efforts alone. In fact, the name Brahmin, or Brahmana, was used by the Buddha to denote one who treads the higher paths of virtue and wisdom. "A man does not become a Brahmana by his plaited hair, by his family, or by birth; in whom there is truth and righteousness, he is blessed, he is a Brahmana." And again the Buddha says, "Him I call indeed a Brahmana whose knowledge is deep, who possesses wisdom, who knows the right way and the wrong, and has attained the highest end."
There is a story about a proud young Brahmin who came to visit the Buddha, which teaches a lesson in courtesy and good manners. The Blessed One was staying in a grove near Savatthi. One day some of the disciples were walking up and down in the open park near the wood, when a learned young Brahmin arrived, saying he was come to call on the Teacher of whom he had heard so much. "Where shall I find the venerable Gotama?" he asked. "There is his dwelling," replied one of the disciples; "go quietly into the porch, give a slight cough, and knock on the cross-bar; the Blessed One will open the door." The young Brahmin did as he was bid, and was admitted into the Buddha's dwelling. It was the custom of the times to show respect to elders by standing while they remained standing, sitting when they were seated, or reclining if they reclined. But the young Brahmin, disregarding all the rules of politeness, bore himself haughtily in the Buddha's presence, and boasted of his high descent.
"Is that the way you speak with your elders?" said the Buddha reprovingly.
"Certainly not," replied the young man. "I know how to behave when I am conversing with a Brahmin, but when I am speaking with beggars, inferior monks, or black fellows, I address them as I do you."
"But are you not wanting something?" asked the Buddha; "think rather of the object of your visit. This young Brahmin is ill-bred," he added, "but it is not so much his own fault as that of his teacher, who should have taught him good manners."
The young Brahmin resented being thought rude, and gave way to his anger by calling the Sakyas rough-mannered folk and quick at taking offence. "There are four degrees of men," he continued, "the Brahmins, the nobles, the traders, and the workpeople; of these, the three last are but attendants of the Brahmins."
The Buddha rebuked the young man for his pride by proving to him that the Sakyas had as much right as himself to boast of their descent. "But those who walk in the highest path of wisdom and righteousness," continued the Buddha, "are not concerned with such questions as birth, or the pride which compares one man's position with that of another." As he discoursed on the beauty of the perfect life, the young Brahmin, who had been so full of arrogance and self-importance, confessed that the Teacher was indeed a Buddha—one of those great ones who come but rarely to bring salvation to mankind.
Wonderful it was that so many should have chosen to follow the Buddha along the rough path of duty and self-sacrifice, when so little was said of future reward and no wonders were worked to convince the wavering. Indeed, when the Buddha heard that one of his disciples had performed a miracle, he expressly forbade the use of any wonder-working powers, for it was not thus that the Doctrine should be preached. But though miracles have no place in the Buddha's teaching, it was but natural that his followers should surround the doings of their beloved Master with a halo of more than earthly glory. And thus it was that many beautiful legends grew in time to be a part of their belief. One of these describes the Buddha's ascent to heaven to preach the Doctrine to his mother, who had died seven days after his birth. During three months the disciples could not find their Master—far and wide they sought him, but no one could tell them whither he was gone. And the legend relates that Gotama ascended to the abode of happy spirits to tell his mother, who had left this earth before he began his ministry, that he had found the Truth. The Buddhists imagine heaven to be a place where the righteous are reborn to enjoy an age of bliss—but an age which has an ending, for the glories of heaven, like those of earth, must fade and pass away, and nought but the Peace of Nirvana shall remain. With all the beauty and vividness of Eastern imagination, the disciples pictured their Master in the abode of blessed spirits. Seated on a shining throne in the midst of a celestial grove, he taught his mother the ever-lasting Truths of the Doctrine, while myriads of listening angels and spirits rejoiced to hear the message of salvation. When the Buddha descended to earth he trod upon a jewelled stairway, glistening, like the rainbow, with hues of precious gems.
The disciples were rejoiced when they had their Master with them once more, and they followed him to Savatthi, where he taught in the Jeta Garden and made many converts. The Buddha was once travelling through the cultivated country round Rajagaha at harvest time. All the villagers were out in their fields busily working to reap their crops—none were idle, and even the women came out to help their husbands. Near the village where the Buddha was staying was a large farm belonging to a rich Brahmin. Early one morning the Buddha took his begging-bowl and went to the place where food was being distributed to the labourers. The farmer, seeing the monk waiting for a share of the food, looked displeased, and addressed the Buddha roughly: "I have ploughed my fields," he said, "sown the seed, and gathered in the grain; thus by my toil I have earned my bread. But you, O Gotama, have neither ploughed nor sown; you have done no work to earn your bread."
"I too have ploughed and sown, O Brahmin," replied the Buddha, "and thus I too have earned my bread."
"If this be true," said the Brahmin, "then where is your plough? where are the oxen and the yoke?" Then the Buddha spoke this parable: "The seed I sow is Faith, the rain that waters the seed is Repentance, Wisdom is my plough and yoke, the ox that draws the plough is Diligence; with Truth I cut away the weeds of sin and ignorance; my harvest is the Fruit of Immortality."
When the Buddha first visited his home after his Enlightenment, his son, Rahula, then quite a young child, was received into the Brotherhood to be trained as a monk. We do not hear much about Rahula until, at the age of twenty, he was fully ordained in the Jeta Monastery. On this occasion the Buddha addressed his son in a discourse which is still known by the name of the Rahula sermon.
The Buddha's life had been one of toil and hardship, and, when he was about fifty years old and his strength beginning to fail, the disciples wished to appoint one of their number as his constant companion. The choice fell on Gotama's cousin, Ananda. Long before, when Ananda was a boy, a wise man prophesied that he would be the Buddha's attendant. Ananda's father, not wishing his son to become a monk, did all he could to keep the cousins apart; but, as we heard in an earlier chapter, it was no use, and Ananda was converted and entered the Order. Ever since that time he had been the Buddha's intimate friend, and now that he was appointed his special attendant, he waited on him with the tenderest care, and never left him till the hour of his death. It was Ananda's place to carry the Buddha's alms-bowl for him, to spread his mat in the shade of a tree when he was weary and wanted rest, to bring him water when he was thirsty. Ananda, who was of a gentle and lovable nature, was dearly loved by his Master, and there are many conversations recorded between the two. Neither so great nor intellectual as some of the Buddha's other disciples, Ananda is the more attractive because of his very human qualities. His devotion knew no limits, and more than once he stood by the Buddha in moments of danger when all the other disciples forsook him.
Can we wonder at the devotion which the Buddha inspired in the hearts of all who knew him! For his love and compassion extended to all mankind, and more than this, to every living being. Of his kindness to animals many instances are recorded. We are apt to pride ourselves on our societies for the protection of animals from the cruelty of man, regarding our humanity as the outcome of our superior civilization. Yet it was more than 2400 years ago that the Buddha said: "In whom there is no compassion for living beings, let one know him as an outcast "; that he urged on his followers the duty of being kind to all creatures, "both those that are strong, and those that tremble in the world"—the weak and helpless. No creature—not the worm lying by the wayside—was too mean for the Buddha's care and tenderness. All living beings, whether men or animals, are of one brotherhood. So taught the Buddha. Was ever a wider charity preached to mankind?
Gotama was once travelling in the land of Magadha when he came on a deer struggling in a snare. He released the poor animal from the meshes that entangled him and let him go free. Then, seating himself at the foot of a tree, Gotama became so deeply wrapped in thought that he never noticed a man who walked stealthily toward him, bow in hand. The enraged hunter, determined to be revenged on the man who had deprived him of his prey, advanced on Gotama with the intention of killing him. Taking aim, he tried to bend his bow, but some power seemed to forbid. His resolution failed him, and he presently laid his bow aside and came to the place where the Buddha was seated.
Few could come into the presence of the Great Teacher without feeling the influence of his noble nature; it was not long before the hunter's anger was softened, and he was listening patiently to the Buddha's words. Presently he went to fetch his wife and children that they too might hear the words of wisdom. In the end the hunter and all the members of his family were converted, professing themselves believers in the doctrine of the Buddha.
Sacrifices were frequently offered by the Brahmins, or Hindu priests, for they believed that it was necessary to appease the gods, and that this could only be done by the shedding of blood. Now there was a certain Brahmin who had made preparations for a great sacrifice in honour of one of the ancient gods of the Hindus. Whole herds of sheep and goats had been collected together, ready to be slaughtered when the day of sacrifice should arrive. It came to pass that the Buddha visited this Brahmin, and as they sat together, discussing many things, the Buddha spoke of the sacredness of life, whether of men or animals; of the pure heart and upright ways which are of far higher value than a sacrifice necessitating the shedding of blood. For nothing but his own efforts after right-doing can avail a man; he cannot get rid of his sins by making innocent creatures suffer. As the Brahmin listener the Buddha's words sank deep into his soul; he was convinced of their truth and declared himself a believer. Determined to spare the lives of all those animals that had been set apart for the day of sacrifice, the Brahmin ordered that they should be given their freedom. So instead of being slaughtered they were turned loose on the hillside, where they could roam at will, choose their own pasture, drink the clear water of the mountain streams, and scent the cool breezes that blew on the uplands.
Thus did the Buddha teach his disciples kindness and gentleness toward their fellow creatures, but, more than this, he taught them to love and forgive their enemies, to "overcome anger by not being angered; overcome evil by good; overcome avarice by liberality; overcome falsehoods by truth." He compares the man who is able to curb his anger in the same way that he would control a fiery horse, to "an accomplished driver," while "the vulgar crowd only hold the reins." There are people who pride themselves on a hasty temper, imagining that a display of anger betokens strength of mind. But the Buddha regarded all loss of self-control as a degrading weakness. "There is nothing better than to master one's anger," he says. "The fool that is angered, and who thinks to triumph by using abusive language, is always vanquished by him whose words are patient." We shall hear how Gotama overcame a famous robber by opposing his fury with gentle words.
Journeying in Kosala, the Buddha was warned not to pass through a certain forest, for here, in the deep recesses of the jungle, was the den of a famous robber chief. Angulimala, as this robber was called, was the terror of the whole country-side, for he lived by plundering unwary travellers, and had committed many murders. He feared no one, and from the very palace of the King the cries of his victims had been heard. All attempts to capture this desperate man had failed, for it was possible to track him in the dense jungles to which he retired. So he continued his ravages unpunished.
The people of Kosala now besought the Buddha not to expose himself to the dangers of the robber's territory. But Gotama knew no fear, neither man nor beast could affright him; and, heedless of all warnings, he made his way straight to the den of the robber. Angulimala, enraged at this boldness, determined to slay the intruder. But when he saw the Buddha, calm and self-possessed, and heard his words of kindness, the robber hesitated; his arm, lifted to kill, hung helpless by his side, and his wrath cooled like the embers of a dying fire. As the Buddha reasoned with him he changed his purpose, and, before long, had confessed his sins and declared his faith in the Doctrine. When the people saw the new disciple following his Master they were amazed, and could scarcely believe that this was the same man who had been the terror of their land for so many years. Angulimala became a monk and was renowned for his holiness. He died not very long after his conversion.
GOTAMA AND THE ROBBER CHIEF.
Though many were thus gained over by the Buddha's kindness and words of wisdom, there were some, even among his own kindred, who were bitterly opposed to Gotama. Yasodhard's father never forgave him for deserting his daughter. That Yasodhard, who might have been a queen, should live a life of poverty, clad in the yellow robes of a nun, her father could not bear to think of; and once, when the Buddha visited his native town, the old Raja went out to meet him, and cursed him before all the people.
But the Buddha's worst enemy was Devadatta. In the days when they were boys together Devadatta had harboured feelings of envy and dislike toward his cousin Siddhattha. You may remember their early quarrel about the wounded goose, whose life Siddhattha saved. As time passed Devadatta's dislike grew into hatred, his ambitious nature could not bear to see another put before himself, and he lost no opportunity of trying to harm Gotama. He even tried to shake Ananda's loyalty to his Master, but Ananda refused to listen to him. Though a convert and a member of the Order, Devadatta did all he could to stir up strife among the brethren, and he so far succeeded that about five hundred monks left Gotama and attached themselves Devadatta.
Being on friendly terms with the son of King Bimbisara, Devadatta settled himself, with his disciples, at Rajagaha. Devadatta, who practised magic, persuaded the young Prince that he could work miracles and do all kinds of wonderful things, and in this way gained great influence over him. In the end he persuaded the Prince to build him a monastery, and supply his monks with food. Every day the Prince sent chariots bearing five hundred bowls of the choicest kinds of food for these disloyal monks. All this time Devadatta was plotting in his heart how he might supplant the Buddha and become head of the Church. "Gotama is getting old," he said; "it wearies him to do so much preaching, and to direct the affairs of the Brotherhood. Why should he not let me have the management? He could then rest from his labours and live in comfort." Still professing himself a follower of the Buddha, Devadatta asked permission to found a new order of monks, and on being refused, he made up his mind to give up Buddhism and start a new religion of his own. He did not, however, live long enough to carry out his plan. A legend tells that the earth opened and swallowed up Devadatta as a punishment for his wickedness. Of the results of his friendship with Ajatasattu, the son of King Bimbisara, we shall hear in the next chapter.