Book details

“The Gospel of Buddha, Compiled from Ancient Records”

Author - Paul Carus

Publisher - The Open Court Publishing Company, Chicago and London, 1915

Copyright by The Open Court Publishing Co.,

1894 in United States, 1915 in Great Britain

These copyrights have since expired


Date of transcription: May 1994

No copyright for transcription has been claimed by Cris A.Fugate at the time of lodgement of this electronic text with the Coombspapers Archive.
Changes made in transcription

The transcription does not include a pronunciation chart The transcription does not include table of reference The transcription does not include “Remarks on the Illustrations of the Gospel of Buddha” Page numbers in glossary and index are converted to chapter numbers.



This booklet needs no preface for those who are familiar with  the sacred  books  of Buddhism,  which have been made  accessible  to  the Western world by the indefatigable zeal and industry of scholars  like Beal,  Bigandet,  Buehler,  Burnouf,  Childers,  Alexander Csoma, Rhys Davids,  Dutoit,  Eitel,  Fausboell,  Foucaux,  Francke, Edmund Hardy, Spence Hardy,  Hodgson, Charles R. Lanmann, F. Max Mueller, Karl Eugen Neumann,   Oldenberg,   Pischel,  Schiefner,  Senart,  Seidenstuecker, Bhikkhu Nyanatiloka,  D.  M.  Strong, Henry Clarke Warren, Wasselijew, Weber,  Windisch,  Winternitz  & c.   To those not familiar  with  the subject it may be stated that the bulk of its contents is  derivedfrom the old Buddhist canon.   Many passages, and indeed the most important ones,  are  literally copied in translations from the original  texts.

Some are rendered rather freely in order to make them intelligible  to the present generation;  others have been rearranged; and still others are  abbreviated.   Besides  the  three  introductory  and  the  three concluding  chapters there are only a few purely  original  additions, which,   however,   are  neither  mere  literary  embellishments   nor deviations  from  Buddhist  doctrines.    Wherever  the  compiler  has admitted  modernization  he  has done so with  due  consideration  and always  in  the spirit of a  legitimate  development.   Additions  and modifications  contain nothing but ideas for which prototypes  can  be found  somewhere  among  the traditions of  Buddhism,  and  have  been introduced as elucidations of its main principles.

The  best  evidence that this book  characterizes  the  spirit  of Buddhism  coorectly  can  be  found in the  welcome  it  has  received throughout  the entire Buddhist world.   It has even  been  officially introduced in Buddhist schools and temples of Japan and Ceylon.   Soon after the appearance of the first edition of 1894 the Right Rev. Shaku Soyen,  a prominent Buddhist abbot of Kamakura,  Japan, had a Japanese translation  made  by Teitaro Suzuki,  and soon afterwards  a  Chinese version  was  made by Mr.  O’Hara of Otzu,  the talented editor  of  a Buddhist periodical,  who in the meantime has unfortunately met with a premature  death.   In 1895 the Open Court Publishing Company  brought out a German edition by E.  F.  L.  Gauss,  and Dr. L. de Milloue, the curator  of  the  Musee Guimet,  of  Paris,  followed  with  a  French translation.   Dr.  Federigo  Rodriguez has translated the  book  into Spanish and Felix Orth into Dutch.   The privilege of translating  the book  into Russian,  Czechic,  Italian,  also into Siamese  and  other Oriental tongues has been granted,  but of these latter the publishers have  received  only  a version in the Urdu  language,  a  dialect  of eastern India.

Buddhism,  like Christianity,  is split up into innumerable  sects, and  these sects not infrequently cling to their sectarian  tenets  as being  the  main and tmost indispensable features of  their  religion.  The present book follows none of the sectarian doctrines, but takes an ideal position upon which all true Buddhists may stand as upon  common ground.  Thus the arrangement into a harmonious and systematic form is the main original feature of this Gospel of Buddha.   Considering  tje bulk of the various details of the Buddhist canon, however, it must be regarded as a mere compilation,  and the aim of the compiler has  been to  treat  his material in about the same way as he  thinks  that  the author of the Fourth Gospel of the New Testament utilized the accounts of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  He has ventured to present the data of  the  Buddha’s  life in the light  of  their  religio-philosophical importance;  he  has  cut  out most of  their  apocryphal  adornments, especially  those in which the Northern traditions aboud,  yet he  did not deem it wise to shrink form preserving the marvellous that appears in the old records,  whenever its moral seemed to justify its mention; he  only  pruned  away  the exuberance of  wonder  which  delights  in relating  the  most incredible things,  apparently put on  to  impress while  in  fact  they can only tire.   Miracles have ceased  to  be  a religious test;  yet the belief in the miraculous powers of the Master still  bears  witness  to  the holy awe of  the  first  disciples  and reflects their religious enthusiasm.

Lest   the  fundamental  idea  of  the  Buddha’s   doctrines   be misunderstood,  the  reader is warned to take the term “self”  in  the sense in which the Buddha uses it.   The “self” of man translates  the word  atman which can be and has been understood,  even  the  Buddhist canon,  in  a  sense  to which the Buddha would never  have  made  any objection.   The  Buddha  denies the existence of a “self” as  it  was commonly understood in his time; he does not deny man’s mentality, his spritiual constitution,  the importance of his personality, in a word, his soul.   But he does deny the mysterious ego-entity,  the atman, in the  sense of a kind of soul-nomad which by some schools was  supposed to  reside behind or within man’s bodily and psychical activity  as  a distinct being,  a kind of thing-in-itself,  and a metaphysical  agent assumed to be the soul.

Buddhism is monistic.   It claims that man’s soul dies not  consist of two things,  of an atman (self) and of a manas (mind or  thoughts), but that there is one reality,  our thoughts,  our mind or manas,  and this manas constitutes the soul.  Man’s thoughts, if anything, are his self,  and  these  is  no atman,  no additional  and  separate  “self” besides.  Accordingly, the translation of atman by “soul”, which would imply that the Buddha denied the exitstence of the soul,  is extremely misleading.

Representative  Buddhists,  of different schools  and  of  various countries,  acknoledge the correctness of the view here taken,  and we emphasize  especially  the assent of Southern Buddhists  because  they have preserved the tradition most faithfully and are very  punctilious in the statement of doctrinal points.

“The  Buddhist,  the Organ of the Southern  Church  of  Buddhism,” writes in a review of The Gospel of Buddha:

“The  eminent feature of the work is its grasp  of  the  difficult subject and the clear enunciation of the doctrine of the most puzzling problem of atman,  as taught in Buddhism.   So far as we have examined the question of atman ourselves from the works of the Southern  canon, the view taken by Dr.  Paul Carus is accurate, and we venture to think that it is not opposed to the doctrine of Northern Buddhism.”

This atman-superstitiion, so common not only in India, but all over the  world,  corresponds to man’s habitual egotism in practical  life.  Both are illusions growing out of the same root,  which is the  vanity of worldliness,  inducing man to beleive that the purpose of his  life lies  in  his  self.   The Buddha puroposes to cut  off  entirely  all thought of self,  so that it will no longer bear fruit.   Thus Nirvana is an ideal state, in which man’s soul, after being cleasnsed from all selfishness,  hatred and lust,  has become a habitation of the  truth, teaching  him to distrust the allurements of pleasure and  to  confine all his energies to attending to the duties of life.

The Buddha’s doctrine is not negativism.   An investigation of  the nature  of  man’s soul shows that,  whicle there is no atman  or  ego-entity,  the very being of man consists in his karma,  his deeds,  and his karma remains untouched by death and continues to live.   Thus, by denying the existence of that which appears to be our soul and for the destruction  of which in death we tremble,  the Buddha actually  opens (as he expresses it himself) the door of immortality to  mankind;  and here  lies the corner-stone of his ehtics and also of the  comfort  as well as the enthusiasm which his religion imparts.   Any one who  does not see the positive aspect of Buddhism,  will be unable to understand how  it  could exercise such a powerful influence  upon  millions  and millions of people.

The present volume is not design to contribute to the solution  of historical problems.   The compiler has studied his subject as well as he could under the circumstances, but he dies not intend here to offer a scientific production.   Nor it this book an attempt at popularizing the  Buddhist religious writings,  nor at presenting them in a  poetic shape.   If this Gospel of Buddha helps people to comprehend  Buddhism better,  and  if in its simple style it impresses the reader with  the poetic  grandeur of the Buddha’s personality,  these effects  must  be counted  as  incidental;  its main purpose  lies  deeper  still.   The present  book  has  been written to set the  reader  thinking  on  the religious problems of to-day.   It sketches the picture of a religious leader  of  the remote past with the view of making it bear  upon  the living present and become a factor in the formation of the future.

It  is a remarkable fact that the two greatest  religions  of  the world,   Christianity   and  Buddhism,   present  so   many   striking coincidences  in  the philosophical basis as well as  in  the  ethical applications of their faith,  while their modes of systematizing  them in dogmas are radically different;  and it is difficult to  understand why  these  agreements  should  have  caused  animostity,  instead  of creating  sentiments  of friendship and  good-will.   Why  should  not Christians say with Prof.  F.  Max Mueller:  “If I do find in  certain Buddhist works doctrines identically the same as in  Christianity,  so far from being frightened,  I feel delighted,  for surely truth is not the  less  true because it is believed by the majority  of  the  human race.”

The main trouble arises from a wrong conception  of  Christianity.  There  are  many Christians who assume that Christianity alone  is  in possession of truth and that men could not,  in the natural way of his moral  evolution,  have obtained that nobler conception of life  which enjoins the practice of a universal good-will towards both friends and enemies.   This  narrow  view of Christianity is refuted by  the  mere existence of Buddhism.

Must  we add that the lamentable exclusivesness that  prevails  in many Christian churches,  is not based upon Scriptural teachings,  but upon a wrong metaphysics?

All  the essential moral truths of  Christianity,  especially  the principle of a universal love,  of the eradication of hatred,  are  in our opinion deeply rooted in the nature of things,  and do not,  as is often  assumed,  stand  in contradiction to the cosmic  order  of  the world.   Further, some doctrines of the constitution of existence have been  formulated  by the church in certain symbols,  and  since  these symbols contain contradictions and come in conflict with science,  the educated  classes are estranged from religion.   Now,  Buddhism  is  a religion  which  knows of no supernatural  revelation,  and  proclaims doctrines that require no other argument that the “come and see.”  The Buddha bases his religion solely upon man’s knowledge of the nature of things,  upon  provable truth.  Thus,  we trust that a  comparison  of Christianity with Buddhism will be a great help to distinguish in both religions  the  essential from the accidental,  the eternal  from  the transient,  the  truth  fromt he allegory in which it  has  found  its symbolic  expression.   We  are  anxious to  press  the  necessity  of discriminating between the symbol and its meaning,  between dogma  and religion,  between  metaphysical  theories  and  statements  of  fact, between man-made formulas and eternal truth.   And this is the  spirit in  which we offer this book to the public,  cherishing the hope  that its will help to develop in Christianity not less than in Buddhism the cosmic religion of truth.

The strength as well as the weakness of original Buddhism lies  in its  philosophical character,  which enabled a thinker,  but  not  the masses,  to understand the dispensation of the moral law that pervades the  world.   As  such,  the  original Buddhism  has  been  called  by Buddhists  the  little vessel of salvation,  or Hinayana;  for  it  is comparable  to  a small boat on which a man may cross  the  stream  of worldliness,  so  as  to reach the shore of  Nirvana.   Following  the spirit of a missionary propaganda, so naturla to religious men who are earnest in their convictions, later Buddhists popularized the Buddha’s doctrines and made them accessible to the multitudes.  It is true that they  admitted  many mythical and even  fantastic  notions,  but  they succeeded nevertheless in bringing its moral truths home to the people who  could  but incompletely grasp the philosophical  meaning  of  the Buddha’s  religion.   They constructed,  as they called  it,  a  large vessel of salvation,  the Mahayana, in which the multitudes would find room  and  could  be  safely  carried  over.   Although  the  Mahayana unquestionably has its shortcomings, it must not be condemned offhand, for it serves its purpose.  Without regarding it as the final stage of the religious development of the nations among which it  prevails,  we must  concede that it resulted from an adaptation to  their  condition and  has accomplished much to educate them.   The Mahayana is  a  step forward  in  so far as it changes a philosophy into  a  religion,  and attempts  to  preach  doctrines that  were  negatively  expressed,  in positive propositions.

Far  from  rejecting the religious zeal which  gave  rise  to  the Mahayana  in  Buddhism,  we  can still less join  those  who  denounce Christianity   on   account  of  its  dogmatology   and   mythological ingredients.   Christianity  has certainly had and still has  a  great mission in the evolution of mankind.  It has succeeded in imbuing with the  religion  of charity and mercy the most powerful nations  of  the world,  to whose spiritual needs it is especially adapted.  It extends the blessings of universal good-will with the least possible amount of antagonism to the natural selfishness that is no stronly developed  in the  Western races.   Christianity is the religion of love made  easy.  This is its advantage.  which,  however, is not without its drawbacks.  Christianity teaches charity without dispelling the ego-illusion;  and in this sense it surpasses even the Mahayana; it is still more adapted to  the needs of multitudes than a large vessel fitted to  carry  over those  who  embark  on it;  it is comparable  to  a  grand  bridge,  a Mahasetu,  on  which  a child who has no comprehension as yet  of  the nature of self can cross the stream of self-hood and worldly vanity.

A comparison of the many striking agreements between  christianity and  Buddhism  may  prove fatal to  sectarian  conceptions  of  either religion, but will in the end help to mature our insight into the true significance of both.   It will bring out a nobler faith which aspires to be the cosmic religion of universal truth.

Let us hope that this Gospel of Buddha will serve  both  Buddhists and Christians as a help to penetrate further into the spirit of their faith, so as to see its full height, length and breadth.

Above  any Hinayana,  Mahayana,  and Mahasetu is the  Religion  of Truth.