We have observed that the religion of Buddha corresponds to the character of the Mind and the senses of knowledge. In connection with the Mind, the Supreme Purusha should be associated with Prakrti, but its part should be larger than his; while in connection with the senses or knowledge, he should either have a small share in the work of creation, or be a mere spectator of its work. As we have explained, all these points are covered by the religion of Siva too; hence the two systems should be identical; and Buddhism in India was, for that reason, merged into Saivism or Hinduism.
Was Buddha a Historical Person?: Before we go on to examine the life and religion of Buddha in this light, it is necessary to consider whether he is a historical person or merely an expression of an idea or a system of thought. In this connection we might point out that Rama and Krshna, though spoken of as incarnations of Vishnu, are also said to have been historical or semi-historical persons, and believed to have ruled in different parts of India in the past. The same is the case with Buddha, an incarnation of Vishnu, the son of the chief of Kapilavastu, the celebrated founder of Buddhism.
The Meaning of History: In this connection it is necessary to understand the meaning of History itself. Is it the "story" of kings and warriors and their kingdoms and wars, as was believed to be for many years? Or is it rather an account of the growth of civilizations, the progress of science and arts, the origin of institutions, and the conflict of ideas and systems of thought, as we are beginning to understand today? In the opinion of the present writer the ancients understood History in the latter sense, and it is in this light that their heroes and kings are "historical". They personified all the permanent ideas of history under the names of their heroes, so that all that was great in thought and institutions might be really great in the lives of actual men. It is in this sense that Rama and Kia and Buddha are historical persons embodying real ideas which filled the minds of real, living men in historic times ideas which ruled the thoughts and actions and swayed the lives of men over large kingdoms of the world and then the art of the poet and artist has transformed them into real, living heroes and princes of the land. Indeed, the whole country, India itself, thus became a picture of the universe; and its different parts, provinces, cities, rivers, mountains, and lakes, were associated with ideas and institutions like the men themselves. Such association of names of places with ideas and persons is common enough even in our days; and many names in ancient and modern countries owe their origin to this idea. Only its application to India in the past was carried out on a large and comprehensive scale. We shall see how far this view is justified in our explanation of the Story of the Mahabharata.
But there is also another sense in which these heroes and princes and sages may be said to have lived. It would be impossible to deny that great teachers of different systems of thought and religion rose in India in the past, as they have always done throughout the ages of the world; and it is probable that, in course of time, their ordinary workaday life was forgotten, and they were transfigured in the idealized form of their own ideas and teachings. This has happened a number of times in the apotheosis of men in historic times, and might have happened also in the past. But the stories and accounts in the Sacred Books, associated with their names, would relate not so much to their actual life as to the idealized conception of the supreme Deity they personify. This, taken in either of these ways is, as we shall see, the idea of the characters of the Mahabharata; and the idea of the life of Buddha too is the same.
The Story of Buddha's Life: There lived in olden times a clan of the Sakyas whose principal town was Kapilavastu, and the chief of this small republic was Suddhodana of the family of Gotama. He had a wife by name Maya or Mahamaya, and the most excellent of Bodhisatvas (true Buddha), assuming the form of a huge white elephant, suddenly entered at a thought into her womb and so to her was born a son, Siddartha, known as Gautama Buddha. He was married to a princess, Yasodhara, at the age of nineteen, and lived happily with her for some time. But the sight of a sick old man set him to think; and realizing that such was the fate of all, and that life was full of sorrow, misery and death, he parted from his wife and new-born son, and went out into the world as a wanderer in quest of the Truth that would give him and others permanent happiness and peace. After years of struggle, penance and fast, during which he resisted Mara, the great tempter, who tempted him to live and do good works but in vain he received his great illumination while sitting in meditation under the shade of the sacred Fig-tree; and then he set out to preach his new Gospel to the world, in the form of the great truths of the Noble Eightfold Path. He converted his father, wife, and son to his faith, and thousands upon thousands listened to him and followed him. He founded a great Society, a fellowship of seekers after freedom from birth through the Law of Truth, consisting of disciples and mendicants, both men and women; and, at the age of eighty, passed away. This great Brotherhood grew into the famous religion of Buddha which overspread the world.
Explanation of Buddha's Life: We have observed that the ancients personified ideas, theories and systems of thought in a most literal sense; and the principal events in the "life-history" of Buddha may be rendered into their original form as follows:
Buddha's father is not a Brahmana or a great King, but a chief of the Sakya tribe: As we have explained, the four great castes correspond to the four manifest energies of life, Buddhi, Mind, the senses of knowledge and the senses of action. The Brahmana corresponds to Buddhi, the Kshatriya to the Mind, the Vaisya to the senses of knowledge, and the Sudra to those of action. Buddha's father, not being a Brahmana, does not, therefore, refer to Buddhi or its corresponding system, Yoga. Nor is he a pure Kshatriya or King; and so he does not refer to pure Mind or its corresponding system, Vaisesika.
He is said to be a chief of the Sakya tribe; and the word Sakya is derived from Saka in Sanskrt; and the Sakas are fabled to have been produced by the Cow of Vaiesika and are said to have been a degraded tribe of partly landowners and partly Kshatriyas.
We have explained that the Cow refers to the senses of knowledge, and the idea of "landowners" or the Vaisya class is the same. As the senses of knowledge are the basis of Nyaya, Buddha may be said to belong to this "tribe". But the Sakas are partly Vaisyas and partly Kshatriyas; and the latter refer to the Mind or the Vaisesika system based on its character. Hence Buddha belongs to the "tribe" of Sakas or Nyaya-Vaisesika.
His father is a ruler of Kapilavastu: Kapila is the celebrated author of the Sankhya system of thought, and "vastu" in Sanskrt means "subject-matter". It also means "abode, dwelling place". "Kapilavastu," therefore, means "the subject-matter or abode of the Sankhya;" and Buddha's father rules over this system. That is, he belongs to the next higher system, or Nyaya-Vaisesika.
He belongs to the Gotama race: Gotama (Go, tama) means "the best of Cows", and we have explained that the Cow refers to the senses of knowledge or the Nyaya system. This implies that Buddha belongs to the family of Nyaya. As the Hinayana school of Buddhism is based on this system, it means that it is this school of thought that is to be emphasized. Hence Buddha is also called Gautama Buddha.
His mother is called Maya or Mahamaya: We have explained that Maya is creative energy, and it may be associated with both Purusha and Prakrti. Here it obviously refers to Prakrti who in the Sacred Books is personified as a Woman. This means that Buddha is born of the idea that Prakrti is characterized by creative energy or Maya. This, as we have explained, is the idea of the principal Sankhya system, and it is in this system that Buddha is born.
We have explained that the union of man and wife or Purusha and Prakrti personifies the idea of the Vaisesika, especially when a child is born. The union of the father and mother of Buddha and the birth of their son implies the idea of the Vaisesika system. This would mean that Buddha is born in the Vaiesika system, while the reference to "Gotama" would associate the Vaisesika with Nyaya.
He marries and has a son: This, as has been pointed out, refers to the Vaisesika, and implies that Buddha belongs to this system or the Mahayana school.
But he separates from his wife, child, and family, and has nothing to do with them: This takes us to the Nyaya or the Hinayana school where Purusha is conceived of as a mere spectator of Prakrti and has no creative contact with her. Thus from Vaiesika we are brought down to Nyaya, and so get Nyaya-Vaisesika as the basis of Buddhism. This indicates that in Buddhism emphasis is to be laid more on the Hinayana than the Mahayana school.
Mara tempts him to do good deeds, but in vain: This is taken from the Jaina Sutras, and Jainism, as we shall see, holds that all actions must be renounced. Buddhism believes that, while necessary actions must be performed unselfishly and as a Sacrifice, the final goal is knowledge and the cessation of karma or action. Hence Buddha cannot agree that the end of life is the performance of deeds, however good. That is why Mara cannot tempt him to do even good deeds. It would otherwise be strange that a person should be tempted to do good deeds and felicitated on his escape.
He teaches the Law of Truth: Knowledge, more than action, is the culmination of this Law, ending in the attainment of Truth.
Thus we see that the principal events of Buddha's life may easily be translated into the idea of the Nyaya and Vaisesika systems of thought. From this we understand that this religion belongs to Nyaya-Vaisesika "tribe" or family; but though it arises out of the Vaisesika or the Mahayana school, it lays even more emphasis on the Nyaya or Hinayana scheme of life. It regards knowledge, more than action, as the final goal, and teaches the Law of Truth which alone can lead to salvation or Nirvana.
The Principles of Buddhism: We might now examine the principles of Buddhism in the light of its Sacred Books. We have observed that it corresponds to the Vaisesika and Nyaya or the character of the Mind and the senses of knowledge, and so it should examine all life in their light. It is based on the fundamental idea that Nature or Prakrti is the chief creator of life; and, in connection with the idea of the Mind, it should hold that God and Nature are joint creators of the universe, but the share of the latter is more than that of God. That should be the idea of the Mahayana school. In the light of Nyaya or the senses of knowledge, it should examine all things in their light and hold that the Mind itself is an organ of sense, and believe that God is either a very minor actor or else a spectator of Prakrti. This should be the theory of the Hinayana school.
Mind Energy in Buddhism; Vaisesika and Dharma: We have explained that the Vaiesika is based on the creative character of the Mind, and the idea of the whole system is explained in terms of Dharma in the Sutras. Corresponding to this we find that Buddhism too emphasizes the idea of Dharma, and Dhammapada, its great sacred book, deals with Dharma in different forms.
We have observed that Buddhism conceives of life in terms of the Mind and the senses of knowledge. It points to the sorrow and suffering of life from which it is our aim to escape; and as Desire is the chief characteristic of the Mind, it explains the cause of it all in terms of desire and sensual delights and so we are told that "Verily it is the craving thirst that causes the renewal of becoming, that is accompanied by sensual delights, and seeks satisfaction, now here, now there that is to say, the craving for gratification of the senses, or the craving for prosperity". Again we are told that "Desire causes suffering, since we desire what is impermanent, changeable and perishable". Then we are told that "the living universe is a reflection of our Mind". Although Buddha himself is said to have been silent about the nature of the individual Soul, his commentators understood it in the light of the Mind, and held that "the idea of the Soul when analysed comes to this, that certain qualities exist together. As body is a name for a system of qualities, even so the Soul is a name for a system of qualities which constitute our mental existence".
Mind and the Senses; Nama and Rupa: We have explained that the religion of Buddha understands all things in the light of the Mind and the senses of knowledge, and these are expressed in terms of Nama and Rupa. Hence we are told that "besides constituent elements, Rupa (the material) and Nama (the mental), we seem to have nothing more". Again, "the elements of individuality are distinguished into two broad divisions, Nama and Rupa. ... Nama answers to the mental and Rupa to the physical factors ... The Buddhists believe in the material or organic nature of Mind or Manas. ... The individuality of man, consisting of both Rupa and Nama, is said to be a congeries of mental states".
The Senses of Knowledge: We have observed that Rupa in Buddhism refers to the senses. Then we are told of the five senses and their objects, and it is said that "when the organ and the object come into contact, sensation arises. As a matter of fact, the flux of consciousness (to which frequent reference is made in Buddhist thought), is only the sequence of Mind caused by the casual impact of sense and object". Indeed, the Mind itself is regarded as a material organ; and that, as we have explained, is also the point of view of Nyaya on which the Hinayana school of Buddhism is based.
Buddhist Theory or Life: It is unnecessary for our purposes to examine the Buddhist theory of life in any detail. We have observed that its creed is partly dualistic and partly agnostic, the first being characteristic of the Mahayana and the second of the Hinayana school. We shall presently deal with these systems, and show that they correspond to this idea. We have observed that the "life-history" of Buddha shows that he inclined in the end to the Nyaya, Hinayana, or the agnostic school; and so we find that he is believed to have refused to answer any questions relating to the Soul. When asked, he remained silent and said nothing. This is obviously agnosticism or inability to state whether a thing exists or not.
Buddhism believes that this world is full of sorrow, suffering and death, and it is the aim of each individual being to escape from this doom. But the cause of sorrow is conceived in terms of Desire or the character of the Mind. Then we are told that the whole universe is in a state of flux or change, that "Nature is one continuous vibration"; and the Mind itself and the living world is but a reflection of the Mind is said to be in a state of flux, and the hard facts of the world are nothing but a series of sensations, which arise out of the contact of the organs of sense with their objects. Then all forms of life may be understood in terms of Nama and Rupa, and we have shown that they refer to the Mind and the senses. In short we see that the whole theory of Buddhist life is conceived in terms of the Mind and the senses of knowledge, the bases of the Vaisesika and Nyaya. Indeed, the idea of Nirvana is also to be understood in the same light. It signifies the release of the Mind, and we are told that "the Mind released is like the extinction of a flame", to which Nirvana is often compared. Nirvana is extinction of false desire characteristic of the Mind. "It is mental repose free from stress and conflict", attained when both Nama and Rupa cease to be. Then vanish all pain, sorrow and birth; actions come to an end; and there is nothing but beatitude.