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THE BUDDHIST CATECHISM
HENRY S. OLCOTT
First digital edition 2017 by Gianluca Ruffini
CERTIFICATE TO THE FIRST EDITION
PART I.THE LIFE OF THE BUDDHA
PART II. THE DHARMA OR DOCTRINE
PART III. THE SANGHA
PART IV. THE RISE AND SPREAD OF BUDDHISM
PART V. BUDDHISM AND SCIENCE
CERTIFICATE TO THE FIRST EDITION
Colombo, 7th July, 1881.
I hereby certify that I have carefully examined the Sinhalese version of the Catechism prepared by Colonel H. S. Olcott, and that the same is in agreement with the Canon of the Southern Buddhist Church. I recommend the work to teachers in Buddhist schools, mid to all others who may wish to impart information to beginners about the essential features of our religion.
High Priest of Sripada and Galle, and Principal of the Vidyodaya Parivena.
April 7, 1897.
I have gone over the thirty-third (English) edition of the Catechism, with the help of interpreters, and confirm my recommendation for its use in Buddhist schools.
PREFACE TO THE THIRTY-THIRD EDITION
In the working, out of my original plan, I have added more questions and answers in the text of each new English edition of the Catechism, leaving it to its translators to render them into whichever of the other vernaculars they may be working in. The unpretending aim in view is to give so succinct and yet comprehensive a digest of Buddhistic history, ethics and philosophy as to enable beginners to understand and appreciate the noble ideal taught by the Buddha, and thus make it easier for them to follow out the Dharma in its details. In the present edition, a great many new questions and answers have been introduced, while the matter has been grouped within five categories, viz.: (1) The Life of the Buddha; (2) the Doctrine; (3) the Sangha, or monastic order; (4) a brief history of Buddhism, its Councils and propaganda; (5) some reconciliation of Buddhism with science. This, it is believed, will largely increase the value of the little book, and make it even more suitable for use in Buddhist schools, of which, in Ceylon, over one hundred have already been opened by the Sinhalese people under the general supervision of the Theosophical Society. In preparing this edition I have received valuable help from some of my oldest and best qualified Sinhalese colleagues. The original edition was gone over with me word by word, by that eminent scholar and bhikkhu, H. Sumangala, Pradhāna Nāyaka, and the Assistant Principal of his Pālī College at Colombo, Hyeyantuduve Anunayaka Terunnanse; and the High Priest has also kindly scrutinized the present revision and given me invaluable points to embody. It has the merit, therefore, of being a fair presentation of the Buddhism of the “Southern Church,” chiefly derived from first-hand sources. The Catechism has been published in twenty languages, mainly by Buddhists, for Buddhists.
H. S. O.
ADYAR, 17th May, 1897.
PREFACE TO THE THIRTY-SIXTH EDITION
The popularity of this little work seems undiminished, edition after edition being called for. While the present one was in the press a second German edition, re-translated by the learned Dr. Erich Bischoff, was published at Leipzig, by the Griebens Co., and a third translation into French, by my old friend and colleague, Commandant D. A. Courmes, was being got ready at Paris. A fresh version in Sinhalese is also preparing at Colombo. It is very gratifying to a declared Buddhist like myself to read what so ripe a scholar as Mr. G. R. S. Mead, author of Fragments of of a Faith Forgotten, Pistis Sophia, and many other works on Christian origins, thinks of the value of the compilation. He writes in the Theosophical Review: “It has been translated into no less than twenty different languages, and may be said without the faintest risk of contradiction, to have been the busiest instrument of Buddhist propaganda for many a day in the annals of that long somnolent dharma. The least that learned Buddhists of Ceylon can do to repay the debt of gratitude they owe to Colonel Olcott and other members of the Theosophical Society who have worked for them, is to bestir themselves to throw some light on their own origins and doctrines.”
I am afraid we shall have to wait long for this help to come from the Buddhist bhikkhus, almost the only learned men of Ceylon; at least I have not been able during an intimate intercourse of twenty-two years, to arouse their zeal. It has always seemed to me incongruous that an American, making no claims at all to scholarship, should be looked to by the Sinhalese to help them teach the dharma to their children; and as I believe I have said in an earlier edition, I only consented to write THE BUDDHIST CATECHISM after I had found that no bhikkhu would undertake it. Whatever its demerits, I can at least say that the work contains the essence of some 15,000 pages of Buddhist teaching that I have read in connexion with my work.
H. S. O.
ADYAR, 7th February, 1903.
PREFACE TO THE FORTIETH EDITION
The popularity of this little work is proved by the constant demand for new editions, in English and other languages. In looking over the matter for the present edition, I have found very little to change or to add, for the work seems to present a very fair idea of the contents of Southern Buddhism; and, as my object is never to write an extended essay on the subject, I resist the temptation to wander off into amplifications of details which, however interesting to the student of comparative religion, are useless in a rational scheme of elementary instruction.
The new Sinhalese version (38th edition) which is being prepared by my respected friend, D. B. Jayatilaka, Principal of Ānanda (Buddhist) College, Colombo, is partly printed, but cannot be completed until he is relieved of some of the pressure upon his time. The Tamil version (41st edition) has been undertaken by the leaders of the Pañchama community of Madras, and will shortly issue from the press. The Spanish version (39th edition) is in the hands of my friend, Señor Xifré, and the French one (37th edition) in those of Commandant Courmes.
So, the work goes on, and by this unpretending agency the teachings of the Buddha Dharma are being carried throughout the world.
H. S. O.
ADYAR, 7th January, 1905.
PREFACE TO THE FORTY-SECOND EDITION
The writer of this Catechism has passed away from earth, but, before he left the body, he had arranged with the High Priest Sumangala to make some small corrections in the text. These are incorporated in the present edition by the High Priest’s wish, expressed to me in Colombo, in November 1907.
I have not altered the numbering of the questions, as it might cause confusion in a class to change the numbers, if some pupils had the older editions and some the new.
ADYAR, (17th February, 1908), ANNIE BESANT
PART I.THE LIFE OF THE BUDDHA
- 1. Question. Of what religion 1 are you?
Answer. The Buddhist.
- 2. Q. What is Buddhism?
- A. It is a body of teachings given out by the great personage known as the Buddha.
- 3. Q. Is “Buddhism” the best name for this teaching?
- A. No; that is only a western term: the best name for it is Buddha Dharma.
- 4. Q. Would you call a person a Buddhist who had merely been born of Buddha parents?
- A. Certainly not. A Buddhist is one who not only professes belief in the Buddha as the noblest of Teachers, in the Doctrine preached by Him, and in the Brotherhood of Arhats, but practises His precepts in daily life.
- 5. Q. What is a male lay Buddhist called?
- A. An Upāsaka.
- 6. Q. What a female?
- A. An Upāsika.
- 7. Q. When was this doctrine first preached?
- A. There is some disagreement as to the actual date, but according to the Sinhalese Scriptures it was in the year 2513 of the (present) Kali-Yuga.
- 8. Q. Give the important dates in the last birth of the Founder?
- A. He was born under the constellation Visā on a Tuesday in May, in the year 2478 (K.Y.); he retired to the jungle in the year 2506; became Buddha in 2513; and, passing out of the round of rebirths, entered Paranirvāna in the year 2558, aged eighty years. Each of these events happened on a day of full moon, so all are conjointly celebrated in the great festival of the full-moon of the month Wesak (Vaisākha), corresponding to the month of May.
- 9. Q. Was the Buddha God?
- A. No. Buddha Dharma teaches no “divine” incarnation.
- 10. Q. Was he a man?
- A. Yes; but the wisest, noblest and most holy being, who had developed himself in the course of countless births far beyond all other beings, the previous BUDDHAS alone excepted.
- 11. Q. Were there other Buddhas before him?
- A. Yes; as will be explained later on.
- 12. Q. Was Buddha his name?
- A. No. It is the name of a condition or state of mind, of the mind after it has reached the culmination of development.
- 13. Q. What is its meaning?
- A. Enlightened; or, he who has the all-perfect wisdom. The Pālī phrase is Sabbannu, the One of Boundless Knowledge. In Samskrt it is Sarvajña.
- 14. Q. What was the Buddha’s real name then?
- A. SIDDHĀRTHA was his royal name, and GAUTAMA, or GOTAMA, his family name. He was Prince of Kapilavāstu and belonged to the illustrious family of the Okkāka, of the Solar race.
- 15. Q. Who were his father and mother?
- A. King Suddhodana and Queen Māyā, called Mahā Māyā.
- 16. Q. What people did this King reign over?
- A. The Sākyas; an Aryan tribe of Kshattriyas.
- 17. Q. Where was Kapilavāstu?
- A. In India, one hundred miles north-east of the City of Benares, and about forty miles from the Himalaya mountains. It is situated in the Nepāl Terai. The city is now in ruins.
- 18. Q. On what river?
- A. The Rohīnī, now called the Kohana.
- 19. Q. Tell me again when Prince Siddhārtha was born?
- A. Six hundred and twenty-three years before the Christian era.
- 20. Q. Is the exact spot known?
- A. It is now identified beyond question. An archaeologist in the service of the Government of India has discovered in the jungle of the Nepāl Terai a stone pillar erected by the mighty Buddhist sovereign, Asoka, to mark the very spot. The place was known in those times as the Lumbinī Garden.
- 21. Q. Had the Prince luxuries and splendours like other Princes?
- A. He had; his father, the King, built him three magnificent palaces - for the three Indian seasons - the cold, the hot, and the rainy of nine, five, and three stories respectively, and handsomely decorated.
- 22. Q. How were they situated?
- A. Around each palace were gardens of the most beautiful and fragrant flowers, with fountains of spouting water, the trees full of singing birds, and peacocks strutting over the ground.
- 23. Q. Was he living alone?
- A. No; in his sixteenth year, he was married to the Princess Yasodharā, daughter of the King Suprabuddha. Many beautiful maidens, skilled in dancing and music, were also in continual attendance to amuse him.
- 24. Q. How did he get his wife?
- A. In the ancient Kshattriya or warrior fashion, by overcoming all competitors in games and exercises of skill and prowess, and then selecting Yasodharā out of all the young princesses, whose fathers had brought them to the tournament or mela.
- 25. Q. How, amid all this luxury, could a Prince become all-wise?
- A. He had such natural wisdom that when but a child he seemed to understand all arts and sciences almost without study. He had the best teachers, but they could teach him nothing that he did not seem to comprehend immediately.
- 26. Q. Did he become Buddha in his splendid palaces?
- A. No. He left all and went alone into the jungle.
- 27. Q. Why did he do this?
- A. To discover the cause of our sufferings and the way to escape from them.
- 28. Q. Was it not selfishness that made him do this?
- A. No; it was boundless love for all beings that made him devote himself to their good.
- 29. Q. But how did he acquire this boundless love?
- A. Throughout numberless births and aeons of years he had been cultivating this love, with the unfaltering determination to become a Buddha.
- 30. Q. What did he this time relinquish?
- A. His beautiful palaces, his riches, luxuries and pleasures, his soft beds, fine dresses, rich food, and his kingdom; he even left his beloved wife and only son, Rāhula.
- 31. Q. Did any other man ever sacrifice so much for our sake?
- A. Not one in this present world-period: this is why Buddhists so love him, and why good Buddhists try to be like him.
- 32. Q. But have not many men given up all earthly blessings, and even life itself, for the sake of their fellow-men?