Colonel Henry Steel Olcott [1832-1907] was the first western Buddhist convert, probably since antiquity. He co-founded the Theosophical Society and was its first president. The only contributor to the 19th century southern Buddhist revival who was born a Protestant, Olcott was able to promote Eastern ideas to western society.
The Buddhist Catechism was Olcott’s attempt to elucidate the basic doctrines of Buddhism in an ecumenical way. This book is still in use today in Sri Lanka. Olcott is fondly remembered in Sri Lanka and by Theosophists world-wide.
The following text of the Fourteen items of belief which have been accepted as fundamental principles in both the Southern and Northern sections of Buddhism, by authoritative committees to whom they were submitted by me personally, have so much historical importance that they are added to the present Edition of the Buddhist Catechism as an Appendix. It has very recently been reported to me by H. E. Prince Ouchtomsky, the learned Russian Orientalist, that having had the document translated to them, the Chief Lamas of the great Mongolian Buddhist monasteries declared to him that they accept every one of the propositions as drafted, with the one exception that the date of the Buddha is by them believed to have been some thousands of years earlier than the one given by me. This surprising fact had not hitherto come to my knowledge. Can it be that the Mongolian Sangha confuse the real epoch of Sâkya Muni with that of his alleged next predecessor? Be this as it may, it is a most encouraging fact that the whole Buddhistic world may now be said to have united to the extent at least of these Fourteen Propositions.
H. S. O.
FUNDAMENTAL BUDDHISTIC BELIEFS.
I. Buddhists are taught to show the same tolerance, forbearance, and brotherly love to all men, without distinction; and an unswerving kindness. towards the members of the animal kingdom.
II. The universe was evolved, not created; and it functions according to law, not according to the caprice of any God.
III. The truths upon which Buddhism is founded are natural. They have, we believe, been taught in successive kalpas, or world periods, by certain illuminated beings called BUDDHAS, the name BUDDHA meaning “Enlightened.”
IV. The fourth Teacher in the present Kalpa was Sâkya Muni, or Gautama Buddha, who was born in a royal family in India about 2,500 years ago. He is an historical personage and his name was Siddârtha Gautama.
V. Sâkya Muni taught that ignorance produces desire, unsatisfied desire is the cause of rebirth, arid rebirth, the cause of sorrow. To get rid of sorrow, therefore, it is necessary to escape rebirth; to escape rebirth, it is necessary to extinguish desire; and to extinguish desire, it is necessary to destroy ignorance.
VI. Ignorance fosters the belief that rebirth is a necessary thing. When ignorance is destroyed the worthlessness of every such rebirth, considered as an end in itself, is perceived, as well as the paramount need of adopting a course of life by which the necessity for such repeated rebirths can be abolished. Ignorance also begets the illusive and illogical idea that there is only one existence for man, and the other illusion that this one life is followed by states of unchangeable pleasure or torment.
VII. The dispersion of all this ignorance can be attained by the persevering practice of an all-embracing altruism in conduct, development of intelligence, wisdom in thought, and destruction of desire for the lower personal pleasures.
VIII. The desire to live being the cause of rebirth, when that is extinguished rebirths cease and the perfected individual attains by meditation that highest state of peace called Nirvâṇa.
IX. Sâkya Muni taught that ignorance can be dispelled and sorrow removed by the knowledge of the four Noble Truths, viz.:—
1. The miseries of existence;
2. The cause productive of misery, which is the desire ever renewed of satisfying oneself without being able ever to secure that end;
3. The destruction of that desire, or the estranging of oneself from it;
4. The means of obtaining this destruction of desire. The means which he pointed out is called the noble eight-fold Path, viz.; Right Belief; Right Thought; Right Speech; Right Action; Right Means of Livelihood; Right Exertion; Right Remembrance; Right Meditation.
X. Right Meditation leads to spiritual enlightenment, or the development of that Buddha-like faculty which is latent in every man.
XI. The essence of Buddhism, as summed up by the Tathâgata (Buddha) himself, is—
To cease from all sin,
To get virtue,
To purify the heart.
XII. The universe is subject to a natural causation known as “Karma.” The merits and demerits of a being in past existences determine his condition in the present one. Each man, therefore, has prepared the causes of the effects which he now experiences.
XIII. The obstacles to the attainment of good karma may be removed by the observance of the following precepts, which are embraced in the moral code of Buddhism, viz.: (1) Kill not; (2) Steal not; (3) Indulge in no forbidden sexual pleasure; (4) Lie not; (5) Take no intoxicating or stupefying drug or liquor. Five other precepts which need not be here enumerated should be observed by those who would attain, more quickly than the average layman, the release from misery and rebirth.
XIV. Buddhism discourages superstitious credulity. Gautama Buddha taught it to be the duty of a parent to have his child educated in science and literature. He also taught that no one should believe what is spoken by any sage, written in any book, or affirmed by tradition, unless it accord with reason.
Drafted as a common platform upon which all Buddhists can agree.
H. S. OLCOTT, P. T. S.
Respectfully submitted for the approval of the High Priests of the nations which we severally represent, in the Buddhist Conference held at Adyar, Madras, on the 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th of January 1891 (A. B. 2434).
Japan: Kozen Gunaratana, Chiezo Tokuzawa
Burmah: U. Hmoay Tha Aung
Ceylon: Dhammapala Hevavitarana
The Maghs of Chittagong: Krishna Chandra Chowdry, by his appointed Proxy, Maung Tha Dwe.
Approved on behalf of the Buddhists of Burmah, this 3rd clay of February, 1891 (A. B. 2434):
Tha-tha-na-baing Saydawgyi; Aung Myi Shwebôn Sayadaw; Me-ga-waddy Sayadaw; Hmat-Khaya Sayadaw; Hti-lîn Sayadaw; Myadaung Sayadaw; Hla-Htwe Sayadaw; and sixteen others.
Approved on behalf of the Buddhists of Ceylon this 25th day of February, 1891 (A. B. 2434); Mahanuwara upawsatha puspârâma vihârâdhipati Hippola Dhamma Rakkhita Sobhitâbhidhâna Mahâ Nâyaka Sthavirayan wahanse wamha.
(Hippola Dhamma Rakkhita Sabhitâbhidhàna, High Priest of the Malwalta Vihare at Kandy).
Mahanuwara Asgiri vihârâdhipati Yatawattê Chandajottyâbhidhana Mahâ Nâyaka Sthavirayan wahanse wamha—(Yatawattê Chandajottyâbhidhana, High Priest of Asgiri Vihare at Kandy).
Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Stipâdasthâne saha Kolamba palate pradhana Náyaka Sthavirayo (Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala, High Priest of Adam’s Peak and the District of Colombo).
(Signed) H. Sumangala.
Maligawe Prâchina Pustakâlâyadhyakshaka Suriyagoda Sonuttara Sthavirayo (Suriyagoda Sonuttara, Librarian of the Oriental Library at the Temple of the Tooth Relic at Kandy).
(Signed) S. Sonuttara.
Sugata Sâsanadhaja Vinayâ chariya Dhammalankârâbhidhâna Nayaka Sthavira.
Pawara neruttika chariya Mahâ Vibhavi Subhuti of Waskaduwa.
(Signed) W. Subhuti.
Accepted as included within the body of Northern Buddhism.
|Shaku Genyu||(Shingon Shu)|
|Fukuda Nichiyo||(Nichiren „ )|
|Sanada Seyko||(Zen „ )|
|Ito Quan Shyu||( „ „ )|
|Takehana Hakuyo||(Jodo „ )|
|Kono Rioshin||(Ji-Shu „ )|
|Kira Ki-ko||(Jodo Seizan „ )|
|Harutani Shinsho||(Tendai „ )|
|Manabe Shun-myo||(Shingon „ )|
Accepted for the Buddhists of Chittagong.
Nagawa Parvata Vihârâdhipati
Guna Megu Wini-Lankara,
Harbing, Chittagong, Bengal.