(g) It is by such prolonged
self‑culture, by the breaking of ten fetters doubt, sensuality etc.8
that one can at last obtain Nirvana..
says: "There is no suffering for him who has finished his journey and
abandoned grief who has freed himself on all sides and thrown off all fetters.
They depart with their thoughts well collected they are not happy within
abode. Like swans those have left their lake, they leave their house and home.
Tranquil is his thought, tranquil are his words and deeds, who has been freed
by true knowledge, who has become a tranquil man."
It was generally believed that
Nirvana meant final extinction and death, and Prof. Max Muller was the
first to point out, which most scholars have now accepted [viz.] that
Nirvana does not mean death but only the extinction of the sinful
condition of mind, that thirst for life and its pleasure which brings on new
births. Nirvana was not applied to any state after death, it was a term
applied to a certain state of the life here. What Gautama meant by Nirvana
is something attainable in this life, it is the sinless calm state of mind,
the freedom from desires and passions, the perfect peace, goodness and wisdom
which continuous self‑culture can procure for man. As Rhys Davids puts it,
"The Buddhist Heaven is not death and it is not on death but it is on a
virtuous life here and now that the Pitakas lavish those terms of ecstatic
description which they apply to Arhat‑ship as the goal of the excellent way
and to Nirvana as one aspect of it."
(h) But is there no future
bliss, no future heaven beyond the virtuous life here and now for those who
have attained Nirvana? This was a question, which often puzzled
Buddhists and they often pressed their great master for a categorical answer.
Gautama was an agnostic and to all questions about a future life after the
attainment of Nirvana his reply was: "I do not know. It is not given me
Malunkyaputta pressed this
question on Gautama and desired to know definitively if the perfect Buddha did
or did not live beyond the death. Gautama inquired, "Have I said `come
Malunkyaputta and be my disciple, I shall teach thee whether the world is
everlasting or not everlasting?" "That thou last not said, sire", replied
Malunkyaputta. "Then", said Gautama, "do not press the inquiry."
Once king Prasenajit of
Koshala during a journey between his two chief towns' Saketa and Shravasti met
the nun Khema renowned for her wisdom. The king paid his respect to her
and said, " Venderable lady, does and perfect one exist after death?"
She replied, "The Exalted one, O great king, has not declared that the perfect
one exists after death." "Then does the perfect on not exist after death,
Venerable lady?" inquired the king. But Khema still replied, " This also, O
great King, the Exalted one has not declared that the perfect one does not
exist after death."
This shows that Gautam's
religion was a perfect agnosticism, which did not and could not look beyond
Nirvana. We know that according to Gautam's theory there is nothing
permanent in man, that every particle mental, spiritual or physical, perishes
every moment and new aggregates come into existence by reason of the influence
left by the karma or action of the former aggregates. Everything is
momentary, and if a man leads a perfectly holy life he would not collect new
karma which will lead him into new birth; and therefore the aggregates of
which he is composed come to an end without the new aggregates coming into
existence. So although Gautama might not have said in so many words that the
future state after Nirvana is a state of annihilation, still the
natural conclusion is that the state must be that of total annihilation. In an
article in the Lucifer of march 1874, Mr. G. R. Meads tries to save Buddhism
from the charge of propounding a theory of annihilation and quotes a passage
by Col. Olcott sanctioned by the High Priest of Ceylon. He says that although
soul according to Buddhism is impermanent and changeable, still there is in
man the permanent part called spirit. He says, "Buddhism does not deny the
impressible nature of an ultimate spiritual reality in man, of a true
transcendental subject, of an immortal changeless self." Now this self or
transcendental subject has been know in all Indian philosophy by the name of
Atma. With reference to Brahma Gautama has distinctly said in Tevijjia
Sutta that the talk of the Brahmins about that Brahma is foolish talk and that
there existed no such state as Brahma with reference to Brahma, I have already
quoted Gautama as saying that it is heresy to say that there is any such thing
as Brahma Soul and spirit; Atma and Brahama are all identical in Indian
philosophies and an attempt to put into the mouth of Gautama views which he
never maintained is fruitless attempt.
(i) If a man does not attain,
while he is living, the state of Nirvana he is liable to future birth.
Gautama did not believe in the existence of the soul, but nevertheless the
theory of transmigration of souls was too deeply implanted in the Hindu mind
to be eradicated and Gautama therefore adhered to the theory of transmigration
without accepting the theory of soul! But if there is no soul, what is it that
undergoes transmigration? The reply is given in the Buddhist doctrine of
karma, which in its result corresponds to the Jaina and Hindu doctrines of
Karma but in its foundation is entirely different from them. The
doctrine is that karma or the doing of a man cannot die but must
necessarily lead to its legitimate result. And when a sentient being dies a
new being is produced according to the karma of the being that is dead.
The cause which produces the new being is Trishna (thirst) or upadan
(grasping). Sensation originates in the contact of the organs of sense with
the exterior world; from sensations springs a desire to satisfy a felt want, a
yearning, a thirst. From thirst results a grasping after objects to satisfy
that desire, that grasping stage of mind causes a new being not, of course, a
new soul, but a new set of skandh, a new body with mental tendencies
and capabilities). The karma of the previous set of skandh or
sentient being then determines the locality, nature and future of the new set
of skandh or the new sentient being. Gautama said that in his
philosophy four things are incomprehensible. The first is the effects of
karma. And from what I have said just it is plain that the doctrine of
karma as propounded by Gautama is an incomprehensible mystery.
(j) But the theory of
transmigration was not the only theory, which Gautama accepted from the
ancient religion and adopted, in a modified form into his own religion. The
whole of the Hindu pantheon of the day was similarly accepted and similarly
modified to suit his cardinal idea, the supreme efficacy of a holy life. The
innumerable Gods of Rig‑Veda were recognized but they were not supreme.
Brahma, the supreme deity of the Upanishads, was recognized but was not
supreme. Holy life alone was supreme and in preaching that doctrine. Buddha
did an immense good; he raised goodness attainable by man above the gods and
nature powers of Brahmins.
(k) How did Gautama deal with
the caste system of the Brahmins? He respected a Brahman or Shramana.,
but he respected him for his virtue and learning, not for his caste which he
altogether ignored. When two Brahmin youths, Vasishtha and Bharadwaja, began
(j) But the theory of
transmigration was not the only theory, which Gautam accepted from the ancient
religion and adopted, in a modified form into his own religion. The whole of
the Hindu pantheon of the day was similarly accepted and similarly modified to
suit his cardinal idea, the supreme efficacy of holy life. The innumerable
gods of Rig‑Veda were recognized but they were not supreme. Brahma, the
supreme deity of the Upanishads, was recognized but was not supreme. Holy life
alone was supreme and in preaching that doctrine Buddha did an immense good;
he raised goodness attainable by man above the Gods and nature-powers of
(k) How did Gautama deal with
the caste system of the Brahmins? He respected a Brahman, Sherman or Arhat,
but he respected him for his virtue and learning, not for his caste, which he
altogether ignored. When two Brahmin youths, Vasishtha and Bharadwaja, began
to quarrel on the question "How does one become a Brahmin?" and came to
Gautama for his virtue and learning, not for his caste which he altogether
ignored. When two Brahmin youths, Vasishtha and Bharadwaja, began to quarrel
on the question "How does one become a Brahmin?" and came to Gautama for his
opinion Gautama delivered to them a discourse in which he emphatically ignored
caste and held that a man's distinguishing mark was his work, not his birth.
(I) Gautama not only expressed
his pronounced disapprobation against the Hindu case system he also exclaimed
against the Vedic rites, which were practiced according to the injections of
the ceremonial works. In place of such rites he enjoined a benevolent life and
conquest of all passions and desires, and he recommended a retirement from the
world as the most efficacious means for securing this end. The recommendation
was followed and led to the Buddhist monastic system.
(m) And lastly, although
Gautama himself disapproved of philosophical discussion, a system of Buddhist
philosophy soon arose on the lines laid down by him; it ignored the existence
of soul and maintained living creatures to be only assemblages of skandhas
or aggregates; it knew of no state of future existence for those who attained
(n) What was it then that the
Buddhists worshipped? What was the concrete form which Gautam's religion took
in its early career before vast monasteries and an unwieldy priesthood
replaced the primitive faith? What was the actual form of worship, which drew
and engaged the multitude, which could not all have practiced or worshipped
the abstract idea of a holy life? The reply is simple. For centuries, the
people worshipped holiness and virtue as typified in the life of Gautama. They
revered the memories of the great Teacher, they worshipped his invisible
presence. The sculptures at Sanchi, at Amaravati, Barhut and other places
represent homage paid to tree, to serpent, to the wheel or to the umbrella,
but in every case the object represents the presence of Buddha.
(o) The moral precepts of
Buddha are so well known that we shall pass over them and go at once to the
history of Buddhism after Gautam's death. According to the Pali Scriptures,
Buddha's death took place in 543 B.C. but the European scholars put it in 477
B.C. We are told in Chullavagga that on the death of Gautama, the venerable
Maha Kashyapa proposed, "Let us chant the Dhamma and Vinaya" The
proposal was accepted and 499 Arhat were selected for the purpose and
Ananda, the faithful friend and follower of Gautama, completed the number 500.
And so they went up to Rajagrha to chant together the Dhamma and Vinaya. Upali,
who was barber before, was questioned as the great authority on Vinaya and
Ananda, the friend of Gautama, was questioned as the authority on Dhamma. This
was the Council of Rajagrha held in the year of Gautam's death to settle the
sacred text and fix it on the memory by chanting it together.
A century after the death of
Gautama, a second council of 700 was held at Vaisali to settle disputes
between the more and the less strict followers of Buddhism. It condemned a
system of ten indulgences, which had grown up, but it led to the separation of
the Buddhists into two hostile parties who afterwards split into 18 sects.
During the next 200 years Buddhism spread over northern India. About 257 B.C.
Ashoka, the king of Magadha, became a zealous convert to this faith. He
founded many religious houses and his kingdom is called the land of
1. The earlier draft of the
lecture here says: "The biography of Buddha is so well known that it is not at
al necessary to refer to it." But Gandhi seems to have changed his mind
afterwards. Hence the immediately forthcoming narration of Buddha's
2. What are meant here are
three increasingly advanced stages of spiritual development.
3. That the Buddhist council
allegedly convened by Kanishka owed allegiance to Northern Buddhism is not a
4 The statement is somewhat
obscure. May be Gandhi is here identifying `metaphysics' with ` ontology' and
maintaining that early Buddhism in general and the Abhidhamma
Pitakas in particular attached little importance to ontological
5. Abhidhammathasangaho, a
standard manual of Theravada philosophy, would enumerate these 28 forms of
matter as follows:
Apodhatu, Taijodhatu, Vayodhatu, (collectively known as Bhootrupan.
5‑9 Chakkhu, Sotan, Dhanan,
Jivah, Kayo (collectively known as Godhar
10‑14 Gandho, Rakho,
Photaban (collectively known as Gocharroopan.
Ithitan (collectively known as Bhavroopan.
17 Hridyavathu (i.e.
18 Jeevitindryan (Jeevitroopan)
19 Akasdhatu, (i.e.
20‑21 Kayavinti, Vachivinti
22‑28 Roopas Lahuta, Muduta,
Kambanta (collectively known as Vikarroopan),
(Roopras upcheyo, Santati,
Jarta, Avichta (collectively known as Lakkhan.roopan)
tell us that Phottaban is not a separate form of matter but stands for
the collectivity of Pathvidhatu and Taijodhatu, Vayodhatu. On
the other hand, it enumerates an additional form of matter called
Kavleecharo aharo i.e. Aharroopan ‑ meaning `the food consumed'. Hence the
number of forms remains 28 in both lists.
6. In the language of
abhidhammathasngaho, they will be Atvadupadanan, Kanupadanan, Dithupadanan,
7. In the Abhidhammathasangaho,
these seven `jewels' are described under the title Vodhipakkhiysangho
and as follows
Gandhi's separate enumeration
of these seven also follows that of this text. However, instead of saying "The
five moral powers and five organs of spiritual sense are faith etc." he should
say " The five moral powers, five organs of spiritual sense and seven kinds of
wisdom are faith etc." again, this list beginning with `faith' should contain
9 rather than 8 entries, an English equivalent of Prgya (s.k.t.) coming
after contemplation. The fact is that `faith, energy, thought, contemplation
and Prgya are both the five moral powers and the five organs of
spiritual sense while the seven kinds of wisdom are `energy, thought,
contemplation, investigation, joy, repose, serenity.'
8. In the language of