The Gospel of Buddha
Compiled from ancient records
by Paul Carus, 1894
This booklet needs no preface for those who are familiar with
the sacred books of Buddhism, which have been made accessible
to the Western world by the indefatigable zeal and industry of
scholars like Beal, Bigandet, Buehler, Burnouf, Childers,
Alexander Csoma, Rhys Davids, Dutoit, Eitel, Fausboell,
Foucaux, Francke, Edmund Hardy, Spence Hardy, Hodgson,
Charles R. Lanmann, F. Max Mueller, Karl Eugen Neumann,
Oldenberg, Pischel, Schiefner, Senart, Seidenstuecker,
Bhikkhu Nyanatiloka, D. M. Strong, Henry Clarke Warren,
Wasselijew, Weber, Windisch, Winternitz & c.
To those not familiar with the subject it may be stated
that the bulk of its contents is derived from the old Buddhist canon.
Many passages, and indeed the most important ones, are
literally copied in translations from the original texts.
Some are rendered rather freely in order to make them intelligible
to the present generation; others have been rearranged;
and still others are abbreviated. Besides the three
introductory and the three concluding chapters there
are only a few purely original additions, which, however,
are neither mere literary embellishments nor deviations
from Buddhist doctrines. Wherever the compiler has
admitted modernization he has done so with due consideration
and always in the spirit of a legitimate development.
Additions and modifications contain nothing but ideas for which
prototypes can be found somewhere among the traditions of
Buddhism, and have been introduced as elucidations of its
The best evidence that this book characterizes
the spirit of Buddhism correctly can be found in the
welcome it has received throughout the entire Buddhist world.
It has even been officially introduced in Buddhist schools and temples
of Japan and Ceylon. Soon after the appearance of the first edition
of 1894 the Right Rev. Shaku Soyen, a prominent Buddhist abbot of
Kamakura, Japan, had a Japanese translation made by Teitaro Suzuki,
and soon afterwards a Chinese version was made by Mr. O'Hara of
Otzu, the talented editor of a Buddhist periodical, who in the
meantime has unfortunately met with a premature death. In 1895
the Open Court Publishing Company brought out a German edition by
E. F. L. Gauss, and Dr. L. de Milloue, the curator of the
Musee Guimet, of Paris, followed with a French translation.
Dr. Federigo Rodriguez has translated the book into Spanish and
Felix Orth into Dutch. The privilege of translating the book into
Russian, Czechic, Italian, also into Siamese and other Oriental
tongues has been granted, but of these latter the publishers have
received only a version in the Urdu language, a dialect of
Buddhism, like Christianity, is split up into
innumerable sects, and these sects not infrequently cling to their
sectarian tenets as being the main and most indispensable features
of their religion. The present book follows none of the sectarian
doctrines, but takes an ideal position upon which all true Buddhists
may stand as upon common ground. Thus the arrangement into a harmonious
and systematic form is the main original feature of this Gospel of Buddha.
Considering the bulk of the various details of the Buddhist canon,
however, it must be regarded as a mere compilation, and the aim of
the compiler has been to treat his material in about the same way
as he thinks that the author of the Fourth Gospel of the New Testament
utilized the accounts of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. He has ventured
to present the data of the Buddha's life in the light of their
religio-philosophical importance; he has cut out most of their
apocryphal adornments, especially those in which the Northern traditions
abound, yet he did not deem it wise to shrink form preserving the
marvellous that appears in the old records, whenever its moral seemed
to justify its mention; he only pruned away the exuberance of
wonder which delights in relating the most incredible things,
apparently put on to impress while in fact they can only tire.
Miracles have ceased to be a religious test; yet the belief in
the miraculous powers of the Master still bears witness to
the holy awe of the first disciples and reflects their religious
Lest the fundamental idea of the Buddha's
doctrines be misunderstood, the reader is warned to take the
term "self" in the sense in which the Buddha uses it.
The "self" of man translates the word atman which can be and
has been understood, even the Buddhist canon, in a sense to
which the Buddha would never have made any objection.
The Buddha denies the existence of a "self" as it was commonly
understood in his time; he does not deny man's mentality, his spiritual
constitution, the importance of his personality, in a word, his soul.
But he does deny the mysterious ego-entity, the atman, in the
sense of a kind of soul-nomad which by some schools was supposed
to reside behind or within man's bodily and psychical activity
as a distinct being, a kind of thing-in-itself, and a metaphysical
agent assumed to be the soul.
Buddhism is monistic. It claims that
man's soul dies not consist of two things, of an atman (self) and of
a manas (mind or thoughts), but that there is one reality, our thoughts,
our mind or manas, and this manas constitutes the soul. Man's thoughts,
if anything, are his self, and these is no atman, no additional
and separate "self" besides. Accordingly, the translation of atman
by "soul", which would imply that the Buddha denied the exitstence of the
soul, is extremely misleading. Representative Buddhists, of different
schools and of various countries, acknoledge the correctness of the
view here taken, and we emphasize especially the assent of Southern
Buddhists because they have preserved the tradition most faithfully and
are very punctilious in the statement of doctrinal points.
"The Buddhist, the Organ of the Southern Church of Buddhism," writes
in a review of The Gospel of Buddha:
"The eminent feature of the work is its grasp of the difficult
subject and the clear enunciation of the doctrine of the most puzzling
problem of atman, as taught in Buddhism. So far as we have examined
the question of atman ourselves from the works of the Southern canon,
the view taken by Dr. Paul Carus is accurate, and we venture to think
that it is not opposed to the doctrine of Northern Buddhism."
This atman-superstition, so common not only in India, but all over the
world, corresponds to man's habitual egotism in practical life. Both
are illusions growing out of the same root, which is the vanity of
worldliness, inducing man to believe that the purpose of his life lies
in his self. The Buddha puroposes to cut off entirely all thought
of self, so that it will no longer bear fruit. Thus Nirvana is an
ideal state, in which man's soul, after being cleansed from all selfishness,
hatred and lust, has become a habitation of the truth, teaching him to
distrust the allurements of pleasure and to confine all his energies to
attending to the duties of life.
The Buddha's doctrine is not negativism.
An investigation of the nature of man's soul shows that, while there is
no atman or ego-entity, the very being of man consists in his karma,
his deeds, and his karma remains untouched by death and continues to live.
Thus, by denying the existence of that which appears to be our soul and for
the destruction of which in death we tremble, the Buddha actually opens
(as he expresses it himself) the door of immortality to mankind; and here
lies the corner-stone of his ethics and also of the comfort as well as the
enthusiasm which his religion imparts. Any one who does not see the
positive aspect of Buddhism, will be unable to understand how it could
exercise such a powerful influence upon millions and millions of people.
The present volume is not designed to contribute to the solution
of historical problems. The compiler has studied his subject as well
as he could under the circumstances, but he does not intend here to offer
a scientific production. Nor it this book an attempt at popularizing the
Buddhist religious writings, nor at presenting them in a poetic shape.
If this Gospel of Buddha helps people to comprehend Buddhism better,
and if in its simple style it impresses the reader with the poetic
grandeur of the Buddha's personality, these effects must be counted
as incidental; its main purpose lies deeper still. The present
book has been written to set the reader thinking on the religious
problems of to-day. It sketches the picture of a religious leader of
the remote past with the view of making it bear upon the living present
and become a factor in the formation of the future.
It is a remarkable
fact that the two greatest religions of the world, Christianity and
Buddhism, present so many striking coincidences in the
philosophical basis as well as in the ethical applications of their
faith, while their modes of systematizing them in dogmas are radically
different; and it is difficult to understand why these agreements
should have caused animostity, instead of creating sentiments
of friendship and good-will. Why should not Christians say with
Prof. F. Max Mueller:
"If I do find in certain Buddhist works doctrines
identically the same as in Christianity, so far from being frightened,
I feel delighted, for surely truth is not the less true because it is
believed by the majority of the human race."
The main trouble arises
from a wrong conception of Christianity. There are many Christians
who assume that Christianity alone is in possession of truth and that
men could not, in the natural way of his moral evolution, have obtained
that nobler conception of life which enjoins the practice of a universal
good-will towards both friends and enemies. This narrow view of
Christianity is refuted by the mere existence of Buddhism.
add that the lamentable exclusivesness that prevails in many Christian
churches, is not based upon Scriptural teachings, but upon a wrong
All the essential moral truths of Christianity, especially
the principle of a universal love, of the eradication of hatred,
are in our opinion deeply rooted in the nature of things, and do not,
as is often assumed, stand in contradiction to the cosmic order
of the world. Further, some doctrines of the constitution of
existence have been formulated by the church in certain symbols,
and since these symbols contain contradictions and come in conflict
with science, the educated classes are estranged from religion.
Now, Buddhism is a religion which knows of no supernatural
revelation, and proclaims doctrines that require no other argument
that the "come and see." The Buddha bases his religion solely upon
man's knowledge of the nature of things, upon provable truth.
Thus, we trust that a comparison of Christianity with Buddhism will
be a great help to distinguish in both religions the essential from
the accidental, the eternal from the transient, the truth from the
allegory in which it has found its symbolic expression.
We are anxious to press the necessity of discriminating between
the symbol and its meaning, between dogma and religion, between
metaphysical theories and statements of fact, between man-made
formulas and eternal truth. And this is the spirit in which we
offer this book to the public, cherishing the hope that its will
help to develop in Christianity not less than in Buddhism the cosmic
religion of truth.
The strength as well as the weakness of original
Buddhism lies in its philosophical character, which enabled a thinker,
but not the masses, to understand the dispensation of the moral law
that pervades the world. As such, the original Buddhism has been
called by Buddhists the little vessel of salvation, or Hinayana;
for it is comparable to a small boat on which a man may cross the
stream of worldliness, so as to reach the shore of Nirvana.
Following the spirit of a missionary propaganda, so natural to
religious men who are earnest in their convictions, later Buddhists
popularized the Buddha's doctrines and made them accessible to the
multitudes. It is true that they admitted many mythical and even
fantastic notions, but they succeeded nevertheless in bringing its
moral truths home to the people who could but incompletely grasp the
philosophical meaning of the Buddha's religion. They constructed,
as they called it, a large vessel of salvation, the Mahayana, in
which the multitudes would find room and could be safely carried
over. Although the Mahayana unquestionably has its shortcomings, it
must not be condemned offhand, for it serves its purpose. Without
regarding it as the final stage of the religious development of the
nations among which it prevails, we must concede that it resulted
from an adaptation to their condition and has accomplished much to
educate them. The Mahayana is a step forward in so far as it
changes a philosophy into a religion, and attempts to preach
doctrines that were negatively expressed, in positive propositions.
Far from rejecting the religious zeal which gave rise to the
Mahayana in Buddhism, we can still less join those who denounce
Christianity on account of its dogmatology and mythological
ingredients. Christianity has certainly had and still has a great
mission in the evolution of mankind. It has succeeded in imbuing with
the religion of charity and mercy the most powerful nations of the
world, to whose spiritual needs it is especially adapted. It extends
the blessings of universal good-will with the least possible amount of
antagonism to the natural selfishness that is no stronly developed in
the Western races. Christianity is the religion of love made easy.
This is its advantage. which, however, is not without its drawbacks.
Christianity teaches charity without dispelling the ego-illusion; and
in this sense it surpasses even the Mahayana; it is still more adapted
to the needs of multitudes than a large vessel fitted to carry over
those who embark on it; it is comparable to a grand bridge, a
Mahasetu, on which a child who has no comprehension as yet of the
nature of self can cross the stream of self-hood and worldly vanity.
A comparison of the many striking agreements between christianity and
Buddhism may prove fatal to sectarian conceptions of either
religion, but will in the end help to mature our insight into the true
significance of both. It will bring out a nobler faith which aspires
to be the cosmic religion of universal truth. Let us hope that this
Gospel of Buddha will serve both Buddhists and Christians as a help
to penetrate further into the spirit of their faith, so as to see its
full height, length and breadth. Above any Hinayana, Mahayana,
and Mahasetu is the Religion of Truth.
Publisher - The Open Court Publishing Company,
LaSalle, Illinois, United States.