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The Ethics of Diet - A Catena
by Howard Williams M.A., 1883

Gautama Buddha, 1st century CE, Gandhara

Buddha - extracts

SAKYA MUNI (1). —590-510 (?) B.C. [more recent scholars suggest 563 BCE to 483 BCE but their is no consensus]
(text from the 2nd edition, 1896, scanned by ) - in the 1st edition Article III of the Appendix gave 3 pages of 'Texts from the Buddhist Canon' which was expanded and added to the main text of the 2nd edition.

IN the history of the development of thought—in the revelation whether of moral or of physical truth—few facts are more remarkable than the coincidence of simultaneous announcement by independent and sometimes far-separated thinkers. Whether the philosopher of Samos, or the great religious revolutionist of the East, have the priority of claim to the assertion of the sublime moral truths of Anti-kreophagy may be matter of doubt. But all probability seems to be in favour of the Eastern; since from the (remoter) East—from Persia and Hindustan—in the earlier periods of history, the most influential religious, or semi-religious, ideas always have emanated. In respect to flesh-eating, it is certain that to some extent, and in some degree, before the age of the Buddha, abstinence from animal food formed one of the sacred dogmas of Brahmanism and the Vedas. But the principle rested wholly, on religious or ascetic dogma with that sacerdotal caste-religion (2). It was the great Hindu prophet who first proclaimed it as a great moral truth, and based it upon the sublime doctrine of universal justice and compassion.

Siddhartha, or Sakya Muni, according to the constant traditions of his life, was the only son of the Raja of Kapilavastu, a region of the peninsula lying on the southern slopes of the Himálayas. Educated in all the luxury of an eastern court, the young prince was led to renounce the grandeur and privileges of his order, profoundly moved by the frightful sights of various suffering and misery, on all sides, as he drove or wandered through the streets of the capital. Abandoning, at the age of twenty, his father's palace and his wife—the story of his silent farewell to her, silent from the fear that he might be deterred from his purpose by her entreaties adds much pathos to this great act of renunciation, a frequent theme of the Buddhist sacred Scriptures—he set out as a wanderer, in the miserable dress of a mendicant. He seems to have arrived, on his first pilgrimage, in the district of Magadha on the Ganges, whose king, or raja, he is said to have converted to the New Way. Soon afterwards he retired into meditative and perfect solitude in the jungles of Gayá, where he practised the extremes of austerity and abstinence—imaginary virtues which he had learned from two Brahmin hermits. Here he remained six years with five disciples.

"Instead of gaining peace of mind by self torture he sank into a religious despair, during which the Buddhist Scriptures affirm that the enemy of mankind, Mará, wrestled with him in bodily shape. Torn with doubts whether all his penance availed anything, the haggard hermit fell senseless to the earth. When he recovered the mental agony had passed. He felt that the path to salvation lay not in self-torture in mountain, jungles, or caves, but in teaching a higher life to his fellowmen. He gave up penance. His five disciples, shocked by this, forsook him; and he was left alone in the forest. The Buddhist Scriptures depict him as sitting serene under a fig-tree, while demons whirled round him with flaming weapons. From this temptation in the wilderness he came forth with his doubts for ever laid at rest, seeing his way clear, and henceforth to be known as Buddha, the Enlightened (3)."

He now proceeded to the Holy City, and began as a religious reformer his self-imposed mission, destined to influence a third part of the population of our globe. The deer forest, near to Benares, witnessed his first public preaching to the people—for, unlike that of the Brahmin priesthood, his religion was so far from being narrowly exclusive, that he intended it to embrace the world and the poorest and the most despised without respect of class or caste. He soon attached to himself sixty disciples, whom he commissioned to preach in the neighbouring countries. Amont his earnest followers were women—as significant an innovation upon the established sacedotalism as the breaking down of the barriers of caste. "Princes, merchants, artisans, Brahmins, husbandmen, and serfs, noble ladies, and repentant women were added to those who believed." The field of his labours extended throughout the larger part of Northern Hindustan. Having added largely to the number of his followers of the "Excellent Way," he revisited his father's palace as a preaching mendicant, in dingy yellow robes, and with a shaven head, the well-known characteristic of the Buddhist monks of the present day. His family embraced the faith, and his wife became the first réligieuse, and the most devoted of his adherents.

He began his public preaching at the age of thirty-six, and continued it during forty-four years. Foretelling his death, he addressed his disciples in the following solemn words: "Be earnest, be thoughtful, be holy. Keep steadfast watch over your own hearts. He who holds fast to the law and discipline, and faints not, he shall cross the ocean of life and make an end of sorrow. The world is fast bound in fetters, I now give a deliverance, as a physician who brings heavenly medicine. Keep your minds on my teaching; all other things change, this changes not, no more shall I speak to you I desire to depart. I desire eternal rest, Nirvana" His last recorded words were, "Work out your salvation with diligence." His divinely-beneficent life was protracted to an advanced age, and probably ended about the year 500

The original, most characteristic, most important principles of the Excellent Way, or Excellent Law, as Siddhartha entitled his truly revolutionary moral teaching, are (1) the abolition of caste (2) the sacredness of all life, and the obligation of observance of justice and compassion to all beings. (3) The doctrine of Nirvana, or final deliverance and cessation from the sufferings of existence (as generally interpreted) by the merging of the individual vital principle into the universal spirit. In brief, the final rest of the human soul. The dogma of the Metempsychosis he derived and developed from Brahminism. Closely connected with this tenet of the transmigratory soul is that of Karma, as it is called in Hindu language. It teaches the doctrine of Free Will in its practical shape—that each human being must work out his own salvation which, in any particular stage of existence, depends wholly upon the character of his actions in his receding form of life. Necessarily such a belief obviates at once all sacerdotal pretensions. "The secret of Buddha's success was, that he brought spiritual deliverance to the people. He preached that salvation was equally open to all men, that it must be earned, not by propitiating imaginary deities, but by our own conduct. He thus did away with sacrifices, and with the priestly claims of the Brahmins as mediators between God and man. What a man sows that he must reap. As no evil remains without punishment, and no good deed without reward, it follows that neither priest nor god can prevent each act from bringing about its own consequences. Misery or happiness in this life is the unavoidable result of our conduct in a past life, and our actions here will determine our happiness or misery in a life to come. When any creature dies, he is born again in some higher or lower state of existence, according to his merit or demerit. His merit or demerit consists of the sum total of his actions in all previous lives. A system like this in which our whole well-being, past, present, and to come depends on ourselves, leaves little room for a personal God (4)."

The philosophical defect in the creed, morally considered, obviously is that it seems to introduce the principle of vicariousness in a new shape. In no possible sense can a man be said to be responsible for the deeds of an occupant of a wholly foreign body for to affirm the identity of "soul" of a series of various animal forms (human and non-human), or that they would not, of necessity, be influenced by their environment, to the apprehension of the Western mind must appear entirely out of the question. To the subtler and more imaginative intellect of the Hindu or Chinese there would be no such inherent logical difficulty. To the surpassing attractiveness of the personal character, as well as to the high morality of the public teaching of Siddhartha, every competent biographer or inquirer has paid tribute of admiration, which is fairly represented in the following eloquent words of a distinguished authority on Hindu literature and philosophy. "A generation ago, little or nothing was known in Europe of the great faith of Asia, which, nevertheless, had existed during twenty-four centuries, and at this day surpasses in the number of its followers, and the area of its prevalence, any other form of Creed. Four hundred and seventy millions of our race live and die in the tenets of Gautama, and the spiritual dominions of this ancient teacher extend at the present time from Nepaul and Ceylon, over the whole Eastern Peninsula, to China, Japan, Thibet, Central Asia, Siberia and even Swedish Lapland. India itself might fairly be included in this magnificent empire of belief; for though the profession of Buddhism has, for the most part, passed away from the land of its birth, the mark of Gautama's sublime teaching is stamped ineffaceably upon modern Brahminism, and the most characteristic habits and convictions of the Hindus are clearly due to the benign influence of Buddha's precepts. More than a third of mankind, therefore, owe their moral and religious ideas to the illustrious prince whose personality, though imperfectly revealed in the existing sources of information, cannot but appear the highest, gentlest, holiest and most beneficent, with one exception, in the history of thought. Discordant in frequent particulars, much over-laid by corruptions, inventions, and misconceptions the Buddhistic books yet agree in the one point of recording nothing, no single act or word—which mars the perfect purity and tenderness of this Indian teacher, who united the truest princely qualities with the intellect of a sage and the passionate devotion of a martyr. In point of age most other creeds are youthful, compared with this venerable religion, which has in it the eternity of a universal hope, the immortality of a boundless love, an indestructible element of faith in final good, and the proudest assertion ever made of human freedom (5)."

The characteristic of the Buddhist Gospel, which differentiates its promulgator from all other founders of religions, and which undoubtedly, forms its surpassing and compelling charm—compelling even for those who are scarcely conscious of the secret actual influence—is the divine compassion which lay at the foundation of the truly protestant creed of its founder. This unique religious, or rather moral, superiority cannot better be illustrated than in the subjoined passage from the Light of Asia. Siddhartha, in the course of his beneficent mission, comes upon a number of Brahmin priests, with the king of the country, on the point of offering one of their sanguinary, vicarious, sacrifices:

"But Buddha softly said,
Let him not strike, great king and therewith loosed
The victim's bonds, none staying him, so great
His presence was. Then, craving leave, he spake
Of life which all can take but none can give,
Life which all creatures love and strive to keep,
Wonderful, dear, and pleasant unto each,
Even to the meanest: yea, a boon to all
Where pity is; for pity makes the world
Soft to the weak and noble for the strong.
Unto the dumb lips of his flock he lent
Sad, pleading, words, shewing how man, who prays
For mercy to the Gods, is merciless,
Being as God to those : albeit all Life
Is linked and kin; and what we slay have given
Meek tribute of the milk and wool, and set
Fast trust upon the hands that murder them.
  *     *     *     *  
Nor, spake he, shall one wash his spirit clean
By blood: nor gladden Gods, being good, with blood (6).
Nor bribe them, being evil; nay, nor lay
Upon the brow of innocent bound beasts
One hair's weight of that answer all must give
For all things done amiss or wrongfully,
Alone—each for himself—reckoning with that
The fixed arithmic of the universe,
Which meteth good for good, and ill for ill—
Measure for measure unto deeds, thoughts, words.
  *     *     *     *  
While still our Lord went on, teaching how fair
This earth were, if all living things be linked
In friendliness, and common use of foods,
Bloodless and pure—the golden grain, bright fruits,
Sweet herbs, which grow for all, the waters wan,
Sufficient drinks and meats—which when these heard,
The might of gentleness so conquered them,
The priests themselves scattered their altar-flames
And flung away the steel of sacrifice;
And through the land next day passed a decree
Proclaimed by criers, and in this wise graved
On rock and column: thus the king's will is—
There hath been slaughter for the sacrifice,
And slaying for the meat, but henceforth none
Shall spill the blood of life, nor taste of flesh;
Seeing that knowledge grows and life is one,
And mercy cometh to the merciful.'"

We have space only for a few typical precepts of the Great Teacher, which are taken from a meritorious manual (published within recent years) the Imitation of Buddha The passages quoted are to be found in the various Buddhist sacred writings:—

All beings desire happiness, therefore to all extend your benevolence—Because he has pity upon every living being, therefore is a man to be called Holy—Hurt not others with that which pains yourself—Whether any man kill with his own hand, or command any other to kill; or whether he only see with pleasure the act of killing: all is equally forbidden by this Law—He came to remove the sorrows of all living things. I will ask you, if a man in worshipping, sacrifices a sheep and so does well, wherefore not his child…and so do better? Surely…there is no merit in killing a sheep!" [addressed, apparently, to the Sacerdotal order]—Our Scripture saith: 'Be kind and benevolent to every being, and spread peace in the world!—The practice of Religion involves as a first principle, a loving, compassionate heart for all beings—"Hear ye all this maxim, and, having heard it, keep it well: whatsoever is displeasing to yourselves, never do to another—IN this mode of Salvation there are no distinctions of rich and poor, male and female, priests and people. All are equally able to arrive at the blissful state (7)."


    1. Siddhartha is the personal; Sakya-Muni the tribal (conjoined with the distinguishing epithet, "the wise"); Gotama or Gautama the family name; Buddha, the religious or prophetic title, meaning "the Enlightened "—the noblest of distinguishing epithets that can be applied to the religious revolutionist.
    2. In the earlier period of Brahminism (if any deduction may safely be drawn from the utterance of perhaps an exceptionally moral writer, as to the prevailing sentiment or practice) humane and juster ideas seem to have been more conspicuous than in later periods. But it is not always easy to determine what may be genuine and what interpolated in sacred literature. In the Code of Manu, which assumed final shape not before the first century, B.C. , the following text is almost worthy of Buddhism itself. "He who injures animals that are not injurious, from a wish to give himself pleasure, adds nothing to his own happiness living or dead—while he who gives no creature willingly the pain of confinement or death, but seeks the good of all sentient animals, enjoys bliss without end." (Quoted in Sacred Anthology by M. D. Conway, Fifth edition.) In the great Hindu epic—descriptive of social and religious life some twelve hundred years B. C., when evidently the idea of the sacredness of life was unknown—the Mahabhârata, occurs a sentiment of the highest morality—but it scarcely can be other than an interpolation of a later hand:
      . . . . "The constant virtue of the Good is tenderness and love
      . . . . To all that live in earth, air, sea, great, small, below, above.
      . . . . Compassionate of heart, they keep a gentle will to each:
      . . . . Who pities not hath not the faith. Full many a one so lives."
      . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . —III. Story of Savitri.
      The inspiration of the subjoined precept in the Hitopadesa, as quoted by Sir E. Arnold, could not be excelled:
      . . . . True religion—'tis not blindly prating what the Gurus prate,
      . . . . But to love, as God has loved them, all things, be they great or small,
      . . . . And true bliss is when a sane mind doth a healthy body fill—
      . . . . And true knowledge is the knowing waht is good and what is ill."
      See Appendix for further quotation from the Hindu Sacred Scriptures.
    3. History of the Indian Peoples, v. by Sir W. W. Hunter, 1892. Compare the Indian Empire, v., and Preof. Rhys Davids' Buddhism.
    4. History of the Indian Peoples, v. by Sir W. W. Hunter. See also, Prof. Rhys Davids' buffhism, Oldenberg's Buddha Sein Leben, and Senart's Essai sur la Légende du Bouddha.
    5. Preface to The Light of Asia, by Sir E. Arnold, 1878—an elegant versification of the story of the life and doctrine of the Buddha, which has been received with applause in Buddhist countries, no less than in Europe and North America, where numerous editions witness to its popularity.
    6. Compare the similar utterance of the higher morality and feeling of Ovidius, in the celebrated and beautiful passage in the Metamorphoses, in which he presents the Pythagorean creed:
      . . . . Nec satis est quôd tale nefas committitur: ipsos
      . . . . Inscripsêredens sceleri, numenque supernum
      . . . . Cæde laboriferi credunt gaudere juvenci!

      and that other memorable text of another non-Christian poet:
      . . . . "Quभm sis ipse nocens, moritur cur victima pro te?
      . . . . Stultitia est morte alterius sperare salutem."
    7. Quoted from The Imitation of Buddha, compiled by E. M. Bowden (Methuen and Co., London, 1891). An admirable little manual of various Buddhistic Scriptures, Chinese as well as Hindu, which should be in the hands of all who wish to learn how much of high worth is to be found in these sacred books. In all cases, to the quotations are subjoined the authorities from which they are extracted. That the higher morality of all sacred books has always been infinitely less in esteem wi[h religionists than their ceremonial teaching, is a melancholy truth, to which Buddhism is no exception. The characteristic principle of the Founder—that of justice and compassion to the non-human races—it is gravely to be suspected, has long been far less honoured than the ritualistic developments of later times. That contact with European civilisation during the past three centuries, has tended to affect, for the worse, the Hindu tenderness for, and treatment of, the subject species is too certain.

Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet - index