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, Bhler, Burnouf, Childers, Alexander Csoma, Rhys Davids, Dutoit, Eitel, Fausbll, Foucaux, Francke, Edmund Hardy, Spence Hardy, Hodgson, Charles R. Lanman, F. Max Mller, Karl Eugen Neumann, Oldenberg, Pischel, Schiefner, Senart, Seidenstcker, Bhikkhu Nynatiloka, D.M. Strong, Henry Clarke Warren, Wassiljew, 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[Pg vi] 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 main principles.
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. Ohara 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 Millou, the curator of the Muse 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 eastern India.[Pg vii]
Inasmuch as twelve editions of the Gospel of Buddha have been exhausted and the plates are worn out, the publishers have decided to bring out an dition de luxe and have engaged Miss Olga Kopetzky, of Munich, to supply illustrations. The artist has undertaken the task methodically and with great zeal. She has studied in the Ajanta caves the Buddhist paintings and sculptures and other monuments of Gandhra. Thus the drawings faithfully reflect the spirit of the classical period of Buddhist art.
For those who want to trace the Buddhism of this book to its fountainhead, a table of reference has been added, which indicates as briefly as possible the main sources of the various chapters and points out the parallelisms with Western thought, especially in the Christian Gospels.
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[Pg viii] 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 from 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 enthusiasm.
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 tman which can be and has been understood, even in 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 tman, in the sense of a kind of soul-monad which by some schools was supposed to reside behind or within man's bodily and psychical activity[Pg ix] 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 does not consist of two things, of an tman (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 there is no tman, no additional and separate "self" besides. Accordingly, the translation of tman by "soul", which would imply that the Buddha denied the existence of the soul, is extremely misleading.
Representative Buddhists, of different schools and of various countries, acknowledge 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 tman, as taught in Buddhism. So far as we have examined the question of tman ourselves from the works of the Southern canon, the view taken by Dr. Paul Cams is accurate, and we venture to think that it is not opposed to the doctrine of Northern Buddhism."[Pg x]