CHINA'S THREE GREAT RELIGIONS AND THEIR TEACHERS
Frank H. Marvin 32°
The three great religions of China are Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, and the three teachers of these were Buddha, Confucius and Lao-tse. These three teachers lived close to the same time. Buddha, whose real name was Siddhartha Gautama, was born in India some time between 560 and 480 B.C. Confucius was born in China about 550 B.C., and Lao-tse was born in the same country about 604 B.C.
Confucius and the old philosopher Lao-tse were contemporaries for about twenty-eight years, and apparently met personally several times. It is reported that Confucius could not understand the teachings of this older Chinese philosopher and was very frank in saying so, using the following words: "I know how birds fly, how fishes swim, how animals run. The bird may be shot, the fish hooked, and the beast snared. But there is the dragon. I cannot tell how he mounts in the air and soars to heaven. Today I have seen the dragon (meaning Lao-tse)."
It is true that the teachings of Buddha did not spread over China from India until about 60 A.D., but it is a very significant fact that the spans of life of Buddha, Confucius and Lao-tse were something like only fifty years apart, and that the teachings of each of these three great men have persisted for something like the square of fifty years, or a total of 2,500 years, and have influenced the lives of countless millions of people during that time.
At this juncture, as a devoted Scottish Rite Mason it seems appropriate to me to mention what our great leader, Albert Pike, has said in his Morals and Dogma (p. 277) about Buddha and Confucius. According to him, Buddha was "the first Masonic Legislator whose memory is preserved to us by history," and he "called to the Priesthood all men, without distinction of caste, who felt themselves inspired by God to instruct men." He declared (pp. 277–278) that this Buddhist Priesthood "recognized the existence of a single uncreated God, in whose bosom everything grows, is developed and transformed," and the "worship of this God reposed upon the obedience of all the beings He created."
According to Albert Pike (p. 616), Confucius "forbade making images or representations of the Deity. He attached no idea of personality to Him; but considered Him as a Power or Principle, pervading all Nature." The doctrine of Confucius, according to Pike (p. 169), was stated in the Chinese Ethics as being "simple, and easy to be understood," consisting "solely in being upright of heart, and loving our neighbour as we love ourself."
The theory of the four sublime verities, or truths, lies at the foundation of Buddhism. They are:
- That pain is inseparable from existence, inasmuch as existence brings old age, sickness and death.
- That pain is the offspring of desire and of faults that desire has made us commit in previous states of existence or in the present state of existence. This verity comprehends the belief in the transmigration of souls; that is, that a soul migrates from one body to another in a whirlpool of rebirths.
- That existence, and therefore the accompanying pain from which it is inseparable, can only cease through Nirvana, which is the arrival of the soul at that state of blissful oblivion, a condition of eternally unconscious repose or the complete annihilation of the thinking principle, or a complete mental blowout.
- That in order to attain Nirvana our desires and passions must be suppressed.
Buddhism differs from Christianity in that the Christian is taught that he alone owns his own soul; that his soul is immortal and the trials and tribulations of the soul after death are affected by the conduct of the individual during human existence. The Buddhist conception of the soul is predicated on gratitude to the possessors of the same soul in the past for their struggles from birth to death, respectively, in trying to suppress and overcome passions which have caused pain, and his aim to serve the successive possessors of the same soul by himself struggling to overcome passions.
From the study which I have made, it appears that Buddhism is like Protestantism in that they both save the soul by teaching moral precepts, in contrast to the Roman Catholic Church, which places the essence of religion on formal and devout sacrificial and sacramental services — the daily sacrifice of the mass being a very vital feature of the latter religion. In both Protestantism and Buddhism, the sermons are the main instruments by which souls are saved, whereas the Church of Rome places more emphasis on the mass than on the sermon. In Romanism, the Priesthood is a very powerful factor, whereas, in both Buddhism and Protestantism, the members of the church who do not belong to the Priesthood are given much greater importance.
It is true, however, that externally there is a resemblance of the Buddhist rites and ceremonies to those of the Roman Catholic Church, in that they both have the monastery, the celibacy or unmarried status of the priests, the similarity in the dress and caps of the priests, the incense, the bells, the rosary of beads, the lighted candles at the altar, the same intonations and services, the same idea of purgatory, the Praying in the unknown tongue, and the offerings to departed spirits in the Temple.
Buddhism, like Protestantism, is a revolt of the rights of nature against the domination of the spirit, of humanity against caste, of individual freedom against the domination of a clergic order, and of salvation by faith against salvation by sacraments.
It may be, however, that with Buddhism this revolt has gone too far, for, in asserting the rights of nature against the domination of the spirit, this religion has lost God — there is in it neither creation nor creator. Its tracts say: "The rising of the world is a natural cause. Its rising and perishing are by nature itself. It is natural that the world should rise and perish." The Buddhist knows only this world and is not interested in the eternal world, his chief aim being to escape from the vicissitudes of time into the absolute rest of Nirvana, as above mentioned.