Editorial by Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda waxes eloquent on Gautama Buddha’s inspirational guidance for universal brotherhood.
Buddhism itself is the most interesting of subjects, for it is the first historical outburst of a world religion. There have been great religions before Buddhism arose, in India and elsewhere, but, more or less, they are confined within their own races… With Buddhism begins the phenomenon of religion boldly starting to venture out into the world. Apart from its doctrines, the truths it taught and the message it had to give, we stand face-to-face with one of the tremendous cataclysms of the world. Within a few centuries of its birth, the barefooted, shaven-headed missionaries of Buddha had spread all over the world, from Lapland on the one side to the Philippines Islands on the other…
When Buddha was born, he was so pure that whosoever looked at his face from a distance, immediately gave up the ceremonial religion and became a monk and became saved. So the gods held a meeting.
They said, “We are undone”. Because most of the gods live upon ceremonials. These sacrifices go to the gods and these sacrifices were all gone. The gods were dying of hunger and the reason for it was that their power was gone.
So the gods said: “We must, somehow, put this man down. He is too pure for our life.” And then the gods came and said: “Sir, we come to ask you something. We want to make a great sacrifice and we mean to make a huge fire, and we have been seeking all over the world for a pure spot to light the fire and could not find it, and now we have found it. If you will lie down, on your breast we will make the huge fire.” “Granted,” he says, “go on.”
And the gods built the fire high upon the breast of Buddha, and they thought he was dead, and he was not. And then they went about and said, “We are undone.” And all the gods began to strike him. No good. They could not kill him. From underneath, the voice comes: “Why are you making all these vain attempts?”
The gods say: “Whoever looks upon you becomes purified and is saved, and nobody is going to worship us.” The Buddha replies: “Then, your attempt is in vain, because purity can never be killed.”
This fable was written by his enemies, and yet throughout the fable, the only blame that attaches to Buddha is that he was so great a teacher of purity…He was a great promoter of the brotherhood of humankind: “Aryan or non-Aryan, caste or no caste, and sects or no sects, everyone has the same right to God and to religion and to freedom. Come in, all of you.” But as to other things, he was very agnostic. “Be practical.” There came to him one day, five young men, Brahmin-born, quarrelling over a question.
They came to him to ask him the way to truth. And one said: “My people teach this, and this is the way to the truth.” The other said: “I have been taught this, and this is the only way to truth.” “Which is the right way, sir?” “Well, you say your people taught this is truth and is the way to God?” “Yes.” “But did you see God?” “No, sir.” “Your father?” “No, sir.”
Your grandfather?” “No, sir.” “None of them saw God?” “No” “Well, and your teachers – neither of them saw God?” “No.” And he asked the same to the others. They all declared that none had seen God.
“Well,” said the Buddha, “in a certain village came a young man, weeping and howling and crying: “Oh, I love her so! Oh my, I love her so!” And then the villagers came; and the only thing he said was, he loved her so. “Who is she that you love?” “I do not know.” “Where does she live?” “I do not know” – but he loved her so. “How does she look?” “That I do not know; but oh, I love her so.”
Then asked Buddha: “Young man, what would you call this young man?” “Why, sir, he was a fool!”
And they all declared: “Why, sir, that young man was certainly a fool, to be crying and all that about a woman, to say he loved her so much and he never saw her or knew that she existed or anything?” “Are you not the same? You say that this God your father or your grandfather never saw, and now you are quarrelling upon a thing which neither you nor your ancestors ever knew, and you are trying to cut each other’s throats about it.” Then the young men asked: “What are we to do?” “Now, tell me: did your father ever teach that God is ever angry?” “No, sir.” “Did your father ever teach that God is evil?” “No, sir, He is always pure.” “Well, now, if you are pure and good and all that, do you not think that you will have more chance to come near to that God than by discussing all this and trying to cut each other’s throats? Therefore, say I: be pure and be good; be pure and love everyone.” And that was all.
Abridged from a talk delivered at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California, on February 2, 1900