The Buddhist Catechism, by Henry S. Olcott

106. Q. What is the meaning of the word Buddha?

A. The enlightened, or he who has the perfect wisdom.

107. Q. You have said that there were other Buddhas: before this one.

A. Yes; our belief is that, under the operation of eternal causation, a Buddha takes birth at intervals, when mankind have become plunged into misery through ignorance and need the wisdom which it is the function of a Buddha to teach (See also Q. 11).

108. Q. How is a Buddha developed?

A. A person, hearing and seeing one of the Buddhas on earth, becomes seized with the determination to so live that at some future time, when he shall become-fitted for it, he also will be a Buddha for the guiding-of mankind out of the cycle of re-birth.

109. Q. How does he proceed?

A. Throughout that birth and every succeeding one, he strives to subdue his passions, to gain wisdom by experience, and to develop his higher faculties. He thus grows by degrees wiser, nobler in character, and stronger in virtue, until, finally, after numberless rebirths he reaches the state when he can become Perfected, Enlightened, All-wise, the ideal Teacher of the human race.

110. Q. While this gradual development is going on throughout all these births, by what name do we call him?

A. Bodhisat, or Bodhisattva, Thus the Prince Siddhârtha Gautama was a Bodhisattva up to the moment when, under the blessed Bodhi tree at Gaya, he became Buddha.

111. Q. Have we any account of his various rebirths as a Bodhisattva?

A. In the Jâtakatthakathâ, a book containing stories of the Bodhisattva’s re-incarnations, there are several hundred tales of that kind.

113. Q. What lesson do these stories teach?

A. That a man can carry, throughout a long series of re-incarnations, one great, good purpose which enables him to conquer bad tendencies and develop virtuous ones.

113 Q. Can we fix the number of re-incarnations through which a Bodhisattva must pass before he can become a Buddha?

A. Of course not: that depends upon his natural character, the state of development to which he has arrived when he forms the resolution to become a. Buddha, and other things.

114. Q. Have we a way of classifying Bodhisattvas? If so, explain it.

A. Bodhisattvas—the future Buddhas—are divided into three classes.

115. Q. Proceed. How are these three kinds of Bodhisats called?

A. Pannâdhika, or Udghatitagnya—”he who attains least quickly;” Saddhâdhika, or Vipachitagnya—”he who attains less quickly;” and Vîriyâdhika, or Gneyya—”he who attains quickly.” The Pannâdhika Bodhisats take the course of Intelligence; the Saddhâdhika take the course of Faith; the Vîryâdhika take the course of energetic action. The first is guided by Intelligence and does not hasten; the second is full of Faith, and does not care to take the guidance of Wisdom; and the third never delays to do what is good. Regardless of the consequences to himself, he does it when he sees that it is best that it should be done.

116. Q. When our Bodhisattva became Buddha, what did he see was the cause of human misery? Tell me in one word.

A. Ignorance (Avidyâ).

117. Q. Can you tell me the remedy?

A To dispel Ignorance and become wise (Prajña).

118. Q. Why does ignorance cause suffering?

A. Because it makes us prize what is not worth prizing, grieve for what we should not grieve, consider real what is not real but only illusionary, and pass our lives in the pursuit of worthless objects, neglecting what is in reality most valuable.

119. Q. And what is that which is most valuable?

A. To know the whole secret of man’s existence and destiny, so that we may estimate at no more than their actual value this life and its relations; and so that we may live in a way to ensure the greatest happiness and the least suffering for our fellowmen and ourselves.

120. Q. What is the light that can dispel this ignorance of ours and remove all sorrows?

A. The knowledge of the “Four Noble Truths,” as Buddha called them.

121. Q. Name these Four Noble Truths.

A.

1. The miseries of evolutionary existence resulting in births and deaths, life after life.

2. The cause productive of misery, which is the selfish desire, ever renewed, of satisfying one’s self, without being able ever to secure that end.

3. The destruction of that desire, or the estranging of one’s self from it.

4, The means of obtaining this destruction of desire.

122. Q. Tell me some things that cause sorrow.

A. Birth, decay, illness, death, separation from objects we love, association with those who are repugnant, craving for what cannot be obtained.

123. Q. Do these differ with each individual?

A. Yes: but all men suffer from them in degree.

124. Q. How can we escape the sufferings which result from unsatisfied desires and ignorant cravings?

A. By complete conquest over, and destruction of, this eager thirst for life and its pleasures, which causes sorrow.

125. Q. How may we gain such a conquest?

A. By following in the Noble Eight-fold Path which Buddha discovered and pointed out.

126. Q. What do you mean by that word: what is this Noble Eight fold Path? (For Pâlî name see Q. 78).

A. The eight parts of this path are called aṅgas they are:

1. Right Belief (as to the law of Causation, or Karma);

2. Right Thought;

3. Right Speech;

4. Right Action;

5. Right Means of Livelihood;

6. Right Exertion;

7. Right Remembrance and Self-discipline;

8. Right Concentration of Thought.

The man who keeps these aligns in mind and follows them will be free from sorrow and ultimately reach salvation.

127. Q. Can you give a better word for salvation?

A. Yes, emancipation.

128. Q. Emancipation, then, from what?

A. Emancipation from the miseries of earthly existence and of re-births, all of which are due to. ignorance and impure lusts and cravings.

129. Q. And when this salvation or emancipation is attained, what do we reach?

A. Nirvâṇa.

130. Q. What is Nirvâṇa?

A. A condition of total cessation of changes, of perfect rest; of the absence of desire and illusion and sorrow; of the total obliteration of everything that goes to make up the physical man. Before reaching Nirvâṇa man is constantly being re-born: when he reaches Nirvâṇa he is re-born no more.

131. Q. Where can be found a learned discussion of the word Nirvâṇa, and a list of the other names by which the old Pâlî writers attempted to define it?

A. In the famous Dictionary of the Pâlî Language, by the late Mr. R. C. Childers, is a complete list.

132. Q. But some people imagine that Nirvâṇa is some sort of heavenly place, a Paradise. Does Buddhism teach that?

A. No. When Kûtadanta asked the Buddha “Where is Nirvâṇa,” he replied that it was “Wherever the precepts are obeyed.”

133. Q. What causes us to be re-born?

A. The unsatisfied selfish desire (Sk., trishna; Pâlî, tanha) for things that belong to the state of personal existence in the material world. This unquenched thirst for physical existence (bhâva) is a force, and has a creative power in itself so strong that it draws the being back into mundane life.

134. Q. Are our re-births in any way affected by the nature of our unsatisfied desires?

A. Yes; and by our individual merits or demerits.

135. Q. Does our merit or demerit control the state, condition or form in which we shall be re-born?

A. It does. The broad rule is that if we have an excess of merit we shall be well and happily born the next time; if an excess of demerit, our next birth will be wretched and full of suffering.

136. Q. One chief pillar of Buddhistic doctrine is, then, the idea that every effect is the result of an actual cause, is it not?

A. It is; of a cause either immediate or remote.

137. Q. What do we call this causation?

A. Applied to individuals, it is Karma, that is, action. It means that our own actions or deeds bring upon us whatever of joy or misery we experience.

138. Q. Can a bad man escape from the out-workings of his Karma?

A. The Dhammapada says: “There exists no spot on the earth, or in the sky, or in the sea, neither is there any in the mountain-clefts, where an (evil) deed does not bring trouble (to the doer).”

139. Q. Can a good man escape?

A. As the result of deeds of peculiar merit, a man may attain certain advantages of place, body, environment and teaching in his next stage of progress, which ward off the effects of bad Karma and help his higher evolution.

140.   What are they called?

A. Gati Sampatti, Upâdhi Sampatti, Kâla Sampatti and Payoga Sampatti.

141. Q. Is that consistent or inconsistent with common sense and the teachings of modern science?

A. Perfectly consistent: there can be no doubt of it.

142. Q. May all men become Buddhas?

A. It is not in the nature of every man to become a Buddha; for a Buddha is developed only at long intervals of time, and seemingly, when the state of humanity absolutely requires such a teacher to show it the forgotten Path to Nirvâṇa. But every being may equally reach Nirvâṇa, by conquering Ignorance and: gaining Wisdom.

143. Q. Does Buddhism teach that man is re-born, only upon our earth?

A. As a general rule that would be the case, until he had evolved beyond its level; but the inhabited worlds are numberless. The world upon which a person is to have his next birth, as well as the nature of the re-birth itself, is decided by the preponderance-of the individual’s merit or demerit. In other words, it will be controlled by his attractions, as science would describe it; or by his Karma, as we, Buddhists, would say.

144. Q. Are there worlds more perfect and developed, and others less so than our Earth?

A. Buddhism teaches that there are whole Sakwalas or systems of worlds, of various kinds, higher: and lower, and also that the inhabitants of each world correspond in development with itself.

145. Q. Has not the Buddha summed up his whole doctrine in one gâthâ, or verse?

146 A. Yes.

146. Q. Repeat it.

A.Sabba pâpassa akaranam
Kusalassa upasampadâ
Sachita pariyo dapanam—
Etam Buddhânusâsanam:

“To cease from all evil actions,
To generate all that is good,
To cleanse one’s mind:
This is the constant advice of the Buddhas.”