The Ideal of Buddhism
Buddha (c 566-486 BC) was not satisfied with the ideas of
his contemporary thinkers. Those who regard this earthly life
as pleasant (optimists) are ignorant of the disappointment
and despair which are to come. Those who regard this life
as a life of suffering (pessimists) may be tolerated as long
as they are simply feeling dissatisfied with this life, but
when they begin to give up this life as hopeless and try to
escape to a better life by practicing austerities (self-mortification),
then they are to be abhorred. The Buddha taught that the extremes
of both hedonism and asceticism are to be avoided and that
the middle course should be followed as the ideal. This does
not mean that one should simply avoid both extremes and take
the middle course as the only remaining course of escape.
Rather, one should transcend not merely escape from, such
The Buddha's doctrine, in fine, rests on the idea of "knowing
and regarding reality as it is." That means one should
know the true facts about this earthly life and look at it
without making excuses, and regulate one's daily conduct of
life according to this knowledge and standpoint.
This idea that there is nothing but hardship in this world-even
pleasures end in hardship-is one of the significant points
of Buddhism. Someone might say that this idea of recognizing
this life as hardship cannot be anything but pessimism. But
that is not right. The idea is this: in this present life
there are both pleasures and hardships. It is shallow to try
to regard it as entirely of pleasure; what one regards as
pleasure will cause suffering when it ceases to exist. In
other words we may call it a kind of hardship which appears
in the guise of pleasure. Therefore this life must be regarded
as consisting entirely of hardship. Yet one must not lament
over it. If one is ignorant of the fact that pleasures can
cause hardships, one will be disappointed when that fact presents
itself. The Buddha teaches that one should regard hardship
as hardship, accepting it as a fact and opposing it. Hence
his emphasis on perseverance, fortitude, and forbearance,
the latter being one of the Six Perfections.
In short, there are both pleasures and hardships in life,
but one must not be discouraged when hardship comes, or lose
oneself in rapture of joy when pleasure comes. Both pleasure
and hardship must be taken alike with caution, and one must
attack them with all one's might. For this reason bravery
and diligence (virya) were included among the Six Perfections.
The middle course does not mean escaping from life but it
invading life, and yet not to become a prisoner of life.
When the Buddha's idea on reality develops further and further
along its path, it becomes the Buddhist philosophy. To realize
in the actual life of living men is the religious side of
Apart from Buddhism, however, there are efforts on the part
of many thinkers to build up their respective thoughts on
optimism and pessimism. Ever since before the time of the
Buddha there had existed both schools of thought. The optimistic
thought has developed into naturalism, hedonism, materialism,
mechanism, etc. During the lifetime of the Buddha there existed
even stronger materialism than that we see today. Pessimism
developed along the line which may be described as more religious.
They reasoned that since our organism (body and mind) is imperfect,
we should overcome it by austerities (self-mortification);
then in the next life we shall attain a perfect heavenly existence.
Thus they invented various methods of self-mortification and
practiced them. The Buddha abhorred this practice.
Because the Buddha's idea on both optimism and pessimism
was very clear, there has never been anyone in Buddhism who
strayed into materialism nor has there been anyone who went
into the practice of self-mortification. In short, the extremes
of both optimism and pessimism were prevented by the moderate
doctrine of Buddhism. In a way Buddhism was a scheme against
the ravages of both materialism and asceticism.
The special community established by the Buddha was called
the Arya-sangha (The Assembly of the Nobles), intended to
be the cradle of noble persons. Since the Brahmanical tradition
had been firmly established, the race distinction was strictly
felt. On that account the Buddha often asserted that in his
own community there would he no distinction between Brahmans
(priests) and warriors or between masters and slaves. Anyone
who joined the Brotherhood would have an equal opportunity
for learning and training.
Against the asserted superiority of the Aryan race and the
appellation of anorya (non-Aryan) given to the aborigines
or some earlier immigrants, the Buddha often argued that the
word 'Arya' meant 'noble' and we ought not call a race noble
or ignoble for there will be some ignoble persons among the
so-called arya and at the same time there will be some noble
persons among the so-called anarya. When we say noble or ignoble
we should be speaking of an individual and not of a race as
a whole. It is a question of knowledge or wisdom but not of
birth or caste. Thus the object of the Buddha was to create
a noble personage (arya-pudgala)-in the sense of a noble life.
The noble community (arya-sangha) was founded for that very
purpose. The noble ideal (arya-dharma) and the noble discipline
(arya-vinaya) were set forth for the aspiring candidates.
The path to be pursued by the noble aspirant is the Noble
Eightfold Path (arya-astangika-marga.) and the truth to be
believed by the noble is the Noble Fourfold Truth (catvari
arya-satyani). The perfections attained by the noble were
the four noble fruitions (arya-phala) and the wealth to be
possessed by the noble was the noble sevenfold wealth (sapta.
arya-dhana), all being spiritual qualifications. The careful
application of the word 'arya' to each of the important points
of his institution must not be overlooked by a student of
Buddhism. The Buddha thus seemed to have endeavored to revive
the original meaning of arya in personality and the daily
life of his religious community.
Whether the Buddha was an Aryan or not we cannot say. Some
consider him to he an Indo-Scythian while others consider
him to be an Indo-Sumerian. The question of race has nothing
to do with him, who in his idea transcends all racial distinctions.