Buddha and His Message

  • By Swami Vivekananda
  • September 2012

I had gone to the Ramakrishna Mission book shop to buy the seven volumes of the Cultural History of India when saw the book Buddha and his Message. I had read Swamiji’s views on Baudh Dharam and Buddha earlier so bought immediately.

We reproduce broad outline of book and brief excerpts. The book is published by Swami Bodhasarananda, Adhyaksha, Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, Champawat, Uttarakhand. Courtesy and copyright lie with the publishers.

Publisher’s note (excerpts)

The present book is a compilation of the recorded lectures and statements of Swami Vivekananda on Buddha and Buddhism. Swamiji’s interest in Buddha and his message began quiet early in his youth. It is recorded in his biography that sometime before he met his Master, Sri Ramakrishna, he had vision of Buddha which left a lasting impression on him. During the last illness of his Master, he left for Bodh Gaya with two of his fellow disciples and spent a few days meditating under the Bodhi-tree. After the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, when the disciples formed the first monastery at Baranagore, Buddhism was a favourite topic of study and meditation for the young monks. Swami Vivekananda in particular was full of the spirit of Buddha.

Swamiji’s attitude towards Buddha was not of the nature of intellectual understanding, like that of a modern scholar. He rather felt a deep emotional and spiritual kinship with Buddha. In fact, none of the founder of world religions attracted and influenced Swamiji more than Buddha. The life of Buddha, especially his renunciation, boundless compassion, fearless quest for Truth, and utter independence provided tremendous inspiration for Swamiji. It is clear that Swamiji saw his own self-image in Buddha. This was perhaps what he meant when he said, ‘Buddha is my Ishta’. Furthermore, Swamiji saw in Buddha the perfect embodiment of India’s ancient wisdom and virtues, and so he repeatedly presented Buddha to western audiences as the shining example of India’s spiritual ideal.

Next to the personality of Buddha what fascinated Swami Vivekananda most was the way Buddhism spread over the major part of the civilized world. With his vast knowledge of history and keen insight, Swamiji could identify the historical forces that brought about this phenomenon. And he never lost an opportunity to point out how different was the way some of the other religions spread in the world.

Out of the many lectures on Buddha and Buddhism that Swami Vivekananda delivered in the West, only two have come down to us more or less in their entirety. Fragments or reports of another six or seven lectures are given in the The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. These lectures, with certain portions omitted for the sake of clarity and harmony constitute the First part of the present book.

Apart from the lectures he delivered specifically on Buddha and Buddhism, Swamiji also referred to these topics in very many of his other lectures and writings. These scattered observations have been brought together in the Second Part of the present book.

What this book provides is a fascinating picture of the illumined mind of a great modern prophet. No one read this book without being struck by the power, range, depth and beauty of Swami Vivekananda’s thoughts.

Buddha Purnima PUBLISHER

16 May 1992

Part 1 of book has following chapters. Buddha’s Message to the World, Buddhistic India, Buddhism the Fulfillment of Hinduism, Buddhism, the Religion of the Light of Asia, Buddha, the Greatest karma Yogin, The Religion of Buddha, True Buddhism, Buddhism and Vedanta.

Part 2 of book has extracts from Swamiji’s lectures on Buddha and Buddhism.

I have randomly selected Swamiji words from the book and reproduced verbatim.

“At the time Buddha was born, India was in the need of a spiritual leader, a prophet. There was already a most powerful body of priests. A time came when the free spirit of development that had at first actuated the Brahmins disappeared. Buddha cut through all these excrescences. He taught the very gist of the philosophy of the Vedas to one and all without distinction. Buddha said, ‘These ceremonials are all wrong. Destroy all delusions, what is true will remain. The more you approach your real Self, the more this delusion vanishes. Buddha said, ‘Let there be no false bondage, no dependence on me, no false glorification of this passing personality. The Buddha is not a person, he is a realization’.

And the other thing that was new: he took forty of his disciples and sent them all over the world, saying, ‘Go ye; mix with all races and nations and preach the excellent gospel for the good of all, for the benefit of all’. These are the memorable words of Buddha: ‘Believe not because an old book is produced as an authority. Believe not because your father said (you should) believe the same. Believe not because other people like you believe it. Test everything, try everything, and then believe it, and if you find it for the good of many, give it to all’. And with these words, the Master passed away.

All this paraphernalia went on multiplying with this organization. Then these monasteries became rich. The real cause of the downfall is here. Monasticism is very good for a few, but when you find over the whole India monasteries, some containing 1,00,000 monks, sometime 20,000 monks in one building and, of course, centres of learning, and all that – who were left to procreate progeny, to continue the race? Only the weaklings. All the strong and vigorous minds went out. And then came national decay by the sheer loss of vigour.

The cause of evil is our desire to be superior to others and our selfishness. The moment that the world becomes unselfish all evil will vanish.

Swamiji said in part: ‘The Hindoo occupies a unique position towards Buddhism, Like Christ, who antagonized the Jews, Buddha antagonized the prevailing religion of India; but while Christ was rejected by his countrymen, Buddha was accepted as God incarnate. He denounced the priestcraft at the very doors of their temples, yet today he is worshipped by them.’

The Vedanta philosophy is the foundation of Buddhism and everything else in India; but what we call the Advaita philosophy of the modern school has a great many conclusions of the Buddhists. Of course, the Hindus will not admit that – that is the orthodox Hindus, because to them the Buddhist are heretics. The Vedanata has no quarrel with Buddhism. The idea of Vedanta is to harmonise all.

Buddha came to whip us into practice. Be good, destroy your passions. Then you will know for yourself whether Dvaita or Advaita philosophy is true – whether there is one or there are more than one. Ibid, 1991, Vol VI, p.116

My belief, however, is, is that it was since the time of Buddha that the monastic vow was preached more thoroughly all over India, and renunciation, the giving up of sense-enjoyment, was recognized as the highest aim of religious life---. Never was a great man of such renunciation born in this world as Buddha. Ibid p.507.

But Buddha would have been worshipped as God in his own lifetime, all over Asia, for a moment’s compromise. And his reply was only: ‘Buddhahood is an achievement, not a person! Verily was He the only man in the world, who was ever quite sane, the only sane man ever born! – Ibid, Vol VIII, pp 271-72.

Now this Buddhism went as the first missionary religion to the world, penetrated the whole of the civilized world as it existed at that time, and never was a drop of blood shed for that religion. We read how in China the Buddhist missionaries were persecuted, and thousands were massacred by two or three successive emperors, but after that, fortune favored the Buddhists, and one of the emperors offered to take vengeance on the persecutors, but the missionaries refused.”

End of excerpts. Personally speaking what I learnt is do good, be good.

You can buy this in an E book format or normal book format http://www.advaitaashrama.org/Book/Detail/339

Also read
Audio of Swami Vivekananda speech at Parliament of Religions, Chicago 1893
Pictures of Bodh Gaya where Swamiji meditated
Etymology of Samantabhadri, Prajaparamita, Palden Lahmo and Taras names and parallel Hindu Goddesses
Gautama Buddha points to the weakness of human nature
Harmonious blend of Hinduism, Buddhism and Shinto strains in Japan

Compiled by Sanjeev Nayyar. In Gratitude to Advaita Ashrama www.advaitaashrama.org

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