Fundamental Beliefs of Buddhism

 Henry Steel Olcott

Theosophy HSO 2 Olcott in 1884


[written at Adyar, India, January 8, 1891]

Buddhists are taught to show the same tolerance, forbearance, and brotherly love to all men, without distinction; and an unswerving kindness toward the members of the animal kingdom.

The Universe was evolved, not created. It functions according to law, not according to the caprice of any God.

The truths upon which Buddhism is founded are natural. They have, we believe, been taught in successive kalpas, or world-periods, by certain illuminated beings called Buddhas, the name Buddha meaning "Enlightened."

The fourth Teacher in the present Kalpa was Shakyamuni, or Gautama-Buddha, who was born in a royal family in India about 2,500 years ago. He is a historical personage and his name was Siddhartha Gautama.

Shakyamuni taught that ignorance produces desire, unsatisfied desire is the cause of rebirth, and rebirth, the cause of sorrow. To get rid of sorrow, therefore, it is necessary to escape rebirth; to escape rebirth, it is necessary to extinguish desire; and to extinguish desire, it is necessary to destroy ignorance.

Ignorance fosters the belief that rebirth is a necessary thing. When ignorance is destroyed the worthlessness of every such rebirth, considered as an end in itself, is perceived, as well as the paramount need of adopting a course of life by which the necessity for such repeated rebirths can be abolished. Ignorance also begets the illusive and illogical idea that there is only one existence for man, and the other illusion that this one life is followed by states of unchangeable pleasure or torment.

The dispersion of all this ignorance can be attained by the persevering practice of an all-embracing altruism in conduct, development of intelligence, wisdom in thought, and destruction of desire for the lower personal pleasures.

The desire to live being the cause of rebirth, when that is extinguished rebirths cease and the perfected individual attains by meditation that highest state of peace called Nirvana.

Shakyamuni taught that ignorance can be dispelled and sorrow removed by the knowledge of the four Noble Truths, namely: (1) The miseries of existence; (2) The cause productive of misery, which is the desire ever renewed of satisfying oneself without being able ever to secure that end; (3) The destruction of that desire, or the estranging of oneself from it; (4) The means of obtaining this destruction of desire. The means which he pointed out is called the Noble Eightfold Path, viz., Right Belief; Right Thought; Right Speech; Right Action; Right Means of Livelihood; Right Exertion; Right Remembrance; Right Meditation.

Right Meditation leads to spiritual enlightenment, or the development of that Buddha-like faculty which is latent in every man.

The essence of Buddhism, as summed up by the Tathagatha (Buddha) himself, is: "To cease from all sin, To get virtue, To purify the heart."

The universe is subject to a natural causation known as "karma." The merits and demerits of a being in past existences determine his condition in the present one. Each man, therefore, has prepared the causes of the effects which he now experiences.

The obstacles to the attainment of good karma may be removed by the observance of the following precepts, are embraced in the moral code of Buddhism, namely: (1) Kill not; (2) Steal not; (3) Indulge in no forbidden sexual pleasure; (4) Lie not; (5) Take no intoxicating or stupefying drug or liquor. Five other precepts which need not be here enumerated should be observed by those who would attain, more quickly than the average layman, the release from misery and rebirth.

Buddhism discourages superstitious credulity. Gautama-Buddha taught it to be the duty of a parent to have his child educated in science and literature. He also taught that no one should believe what is spoken by any sage, written in any book, or affirmed by tradition, unless it accords with reason.

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