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by four, of whom Gautama or Gaudama, whose doctrines now prevail in Ceylon, Ava, and some other places where the religion of Buddha is acknowledged, is the fourth. A fifth, Maitree Buddha, is yet to come.
From the contradictory jargon of the Buddhas respecting the objects of their worship, it may be collected, that they were men (although their worshippers say they were first gods) of surpassing piety and virtue, who by their holiness raised themselves to a state of beatitude; obtaining, in the first instance, admission into one of the lower heavens, from whence, after a stated period, they again, in accordance with the Buddha doctrines of transmigration, manifested themselves upon earth, and by increasing piety obtained a title to a higher step on the ladder of celestial bliss, and so on through various births and successive elevations, until they arrived at the highest heaven, or absorption into the divine essence, at which all the supremely good will eventually arrive. The personage who last governed the universe (such as he may be, divine or human), and who is now worshipped, they say is dead; and that a sort of interregnum will prevail till the appearance of Maitree Buddha, during which the governing power is in the hands of a servant of Gaudama, Maha Brahma, who is consequently (though not a Buddha, which he may become hereafter) the regent of the universe, and at present superior over all the gods. His reign or regency will last many ages longer, when that and the present universe will terminate together. He will then ascend from the ninth heaven in which he now resides, through the seventeen superior heavens, till he arrives at the highest, when he will become a Buddha, and be worshipped in his turn. How many may be now on the road before him it may be difficult to ascertain ; but in respect of the universe, a new one will, some how or other, be formed, or will form itself, over which another vicegerent will preside : and so matters will go on till worlds shall be no more, if such a thing can, according to the belief of the Buddhas, happen.
With these extraordinary and complicated ideas of infinity, the Buddhas may well challenge the Brahmans on the score of antiquity. Fortunately, however, for the latter, the claims of the Buddhas are veiled by as much mystery as their own ; so that, as neither of them are sufficiently lucid to
be comprehended by a dispassionate party, they are likely to have full scope, both for themselves and their respective advocates and champions in the west, to argue the point to the end of the present calpi ; unless some extraordinary and unexpected manifestation should, in the mean time, take
As in most cases where much obscurity prevails, conjecture is correspondingly active, numerous arguments have been adduced by European writers in support of the claims of those two sects. By some it has been urged, in favour of the Buddhas, that, as man in a primitive state of society would be more likely to entertain a belief that the universe was the effect of chance, or of some natural operation, rather than the creation of a divine power, it will follow, that such being the creed of the Buddhas, that of the people of India who had adopted the Brahminical faith must have done so, and have departed from an earlier belief, in consequence of an advance of knowledge among them, which other parts of the same country did not experience; and that, therefore, while the Brahmans, who first among them acknowledged and worshipped a supreme Being, were departing afterwards from that unity of worship, and erecting idols as symbols of his power and attributes, the Buddhas remained stedfast in their disbelief of a first divine cause, and in their adoration only of virtue and goodness, as exemplified by their learned and pious sages, whom they in consequence raised to a state of heatitude and worshipped. The religion of Buddha must then, they say, be the most ancient. Others, adopting an opposite reasoning, have argued that the Brahmans, when they arrived in India from some other country, found the worship of Buddha to be then established, and, in compliance with the feelings of the aboriginal inhabitants, engrafted it on their own polytheism. · Others again, the advocates of the priority of the Brahmans, either urge the ninth avatar of Vishnu, or allege that the sect of Buddha has been founded by good and virtuous men, who were disgusted at, and dissatisfied with the idol worship of the Brahmans, and who, running into contrary extremes, introduced, in opposition thereto, and to its attendant sanguinary sacrifices, as a summum bonum of earthly consideration, a love and adoration
of virtue and justice, and a benevolent regard towards the most minute of sentient animals. The major part of these learned theorists have, however, concurred in making Egypt the fountain-head from which one of these sectarial streams first issued, but they have not agreed on the main pointwhich of them had that honour; as it is by one given to the Buddha atheist, and by the other to the Brahminical polytheist.
It will be obvious that these, and a variety of corresponding arguments, can be only conjectural; but, in the absence of historical or other positive evidence, there are a few points which may be worthy of consideration. In most of the countries wherein the religion of Buddha now prevails, vestiges of the Brahminical worship are also found, as are the images of Buddha among those of the Brahmans in some of the earliest of the excavated temples of Hindustan. A reference to the article Japan, the islands in the eastern Archipelago, and countries bordering on the China Sea, with plates 37, 38, and 39, will shew that, among the Japanese, the first, second, third, and sixth avatars, with Hanuman and Surya, are clearly distinguished; and yet, according to Kempfer and other later writers, the worship of Buddha is now the prevailing one in that empire. In China, Tonquin China, Tartary, Thibet, and Ceylon, the gods of the Hindu Pantheon are also met with; but, in some places scarcely, and in others not at all acknowledged, while the worship of Buddha is paramount. In Java, the concurrent testimonies of the late Sir Stamford Raffles and Colonel Mackenzie lead to the impression, that the once magnificent temples of that island were, like the early sculptured cavern temples of the Hindus, the works of these sects conjointly, either while they acknowledged the same objects of worship, or while, at least, they simultaneously worshipped their several idols in harmony and mutual toleration. Thus the most, to me, satisfactory conclusion which I can draw from these circumstances is, that the Brahminical is either the most ancient, or the original form of worship of the two sects, or it is not probable that, in countries where that of Buddha now prevails, the idols of the other would be so frequently found, and the worship of them extinct; or that, in other places, the temples of both would be discovered
together, and alike magnificent in their ruins, overturned on the same spot by the ruthless hand of the Mahomedan conqueror.
It therefore appears the more reasonable conjecture, that the religion of Buddha commenced in Majadha, or Bahar, in the early centuries of the Christian era, and had its mythological origin in what is called the ninth avatar of Vishnu, or, in reality, in some wise or holy persons, who instituted, or practised, under the benevolent fiction of the power and sanctity of that deity, a mild and beneficent doctrine, in opposition to the sanguinary practices, and probably oppression, of the Brahmanical priests. The new doctrines may not, in the beginning, have excited any considerable degree of jealousy, or may have been too powerfully protected to be for a time attacked; but when, in the course of years, their extensive effects may have been more sensibly felt by a rapacious priesthood, uncompromising sectarial differences, (under political changes which begat opposing interests that led to attempted independence on one side, and intolerance and persecution on the other), may have arisen. The Brahmans were triumphant in Hindustan; the Buddhas spread their reformed, but atheistical, doctrines in the border and more distant countries, where the power and faith of their opponents were less potent and acknowledged. Persecution having then nothing more to feed upon, may have ceased, although enmity and its accompaniments, occasional wars, may have still remained; till dissensions among the powerful princes of the Hindus themselves may have checked that which the Persian and Tartar conquerors finally put a stop to, the contentions of the rival sects. But even at the present day their hatred still continues ; the Buddhas considering the Brahmans as a set of devils, and the latter returning the compliment, by viewing the Buddhas as a race of vile and abominable heretics, infinitely worse than the Mahomedans.
In hazarding the foregoing conjectures, it must at the same time be acknowledged, that many very strong and sensible arguments have been adduced on the other side of the question. It may be, however, worthy of remark, that the conquests of the Brahmans over the Buddhas, towards the south, appear to have terminated in the island of Ramisaram, one of the chain of rocky islands called Adam's Bridge, lying between the southern extremity of the hither peninsula of India and Ceylon. The island is about two miles from the main. The pagodas or temples of this sacred isle, for such it is considered to be, are extensive, and are visited by pilgrims from very distant countries, whose donations, added to the munificence of the neighbouring rajahs, render unnecessary all kinds of labour in this highly favoured spot. Among the objects of worship, the emblem of Siva is one of the most prominent. According to the late Colonel Mackenzie, a custom prevails in this island, which is not uncommon in the southern parts of the continent of India, by which the territorial chief of the island (a member of a family of Byraages, or devotees, to whom the guardianship of it belongs) is doomed to a life of perpetual celibacy; the succession being carried on by his sisters or collateral relations, who are permitted to marry.
The island of Manaar is separated from the shore of Ceylon, like that of Ramisaram from the main land, by a channel about two miles in width. Here the doctrines of Buddha prevail : so that the narrow channel between these two islands would appear to have opposed an unsuperable barrier to the farther progress of Brahmanical intolerance and persecution. There are, however, the ruins of Hindu temples, and others which once belonged to the Hindus now used for the worship of Buddha, in several parts of Ceylon, so that that religion must have extensively prevailed in the island previous to the contests between the two sects. The emblems of Mahadeo appear to be more common than others. Of these buildings and emblems the Cingalese, at the present day, appear to know but little, as they ascribe them to the agency of evil spirits.
Leaving this doubtful point of antiquity to the judgment of the reader, I will proceed to describe, as briefly as I can, the very extensive sect (perhaps the most extensive that is known) of Buddha, whose doctrines are now acknowledged in Ceylon, some parts of Hindustan, Nepal, Thibet, some of the provinces of Tartary, the empires and their dependencies of China and Japan, the kingdoms of Ava and Siam, and most of the various countries which are situated on the shores of the China Sea.