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The Light of Asia.

THE LIGHT OF ASIA; or the Great Renunciation. By Edwin Arnold, M. A. Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1879.

THIS is an extraordinary book. When we sat down to the task of reading it critically, we expected to find in it many merits, and in that expectation we have not been disappointed. As an historical poem, it ranks, of right, among the best of modern times; and it is safe to say that it has commanded more general attention in this country than any other modern poem. The reason of its wide-spread popularity lies in the fact that, like Bailey's Festus, it is a poem with a purpose. The poetic form is simply the skilfully adapted instrument to carry the purpose of the poem into effect. Containing many passages of surpassing beauty, its purpose is not æsthetic. Purely moral, its purpose is not the assertion of a moral. In a word, Mr. Arnold's purpose in "The Light of Asia" is to present such an historical sketch of the life, character, and teaching of Gautama, the Buddha, as to suggest a perfect parallel to the life, character, and teaching of Jesus, the Christ.

It is true that Mr. Arnold nowhere distinctly avows this purpose. It could scarcely be expected that he would tell his



readers, point-blank, that he purposed to elevate Gautama to an equality with Jesus, and thus, in the outset, arm the majority of them against him. It is not, we believe, the practice of poets to announce on their title-page the precise object of their work. They usually leave their reader to infer that by an application of the practical maxim that, "a tree may be known by its fruit." Judged by this rule, there can be no question as to the purpose of the author of "The Light of Asia." The purely legendary stories of the annunciation of Gautama; his miraculous conception; the attendance of angels, and the joy in the heavens at his birth; the homage and gifts of merchantmen who came from afar; a gray-haired saint declaring the child to be the Buddha, the Saviour of all flesh; the extraordinary wisdom of the child displayed at an early age in conversation with learned teachers and doctors of the law; his retirement into a wilderness for preparation for his subsequent work; his temptation by evil spirits and triumph over them; his manifold miracles; his victory over Mara and his hosts just before his death; his translation to the heavens as Lord Buddha; are all adopted by Mr. Arnold, and set forth in blank verse of unusual elegance and sweetness, and in a manner calculated to impress the reader that the Gospel narratives of the life of Jesus must have been borrowed from the earlier Indian narratives of the life of Gautama. Add to this what Mr. Arnold says in his preface touching Gautama, and the certainty of an intended parallel is put beyond question. "This illustrious prince," he says, "whose personality, though imperfectly revealed in the existing sources of information, cannot but appear the highest, holiest, gentlest, and most beneficent, with one exception, in the history of thought." He quotes, moreover, with approval, the words of M. Barthélemy St. Hilaire; who says of Gautama, "His life was without reproach. His constant heroism equalled his conviction; and if his theory was false, his personal example was irreproachable. He was the model of all the virtues he preached. His abnegation, his charity, his unalterable gentleness did not forsake him for an instant.

He prepared his doctrine by six years of silence and meditation; and he propagated it for half a century by the sole power of his word. And when he died in the arms of his disciples, it was with the serenity of a sage who had practiced good all his life, and who was assured he had found the truth." Now add to this the legends aforesaid, and make no question as to their historical verity, and charge everything that is ridiculous, nonsensical, and corrupt in Buddhism to "the inevitable degradation that priesthoods always inflict upon great ideas committed to their charge," as Mr. Arnold does, and the result is we have the Christ of the New Testament masquerading, with slight variations, in the character of the Buddha, and a genuine Saviour of men five hundred years before Christ was born! Stripped of coy poetic environments, this is precisely the result that is reached, and which must be accepted, without deduction, if it be accepted at all. Any deduction from, or modification of this result, would simply lower the Buddha from the high pedestal upon which his followers, and certain of his occidental admirers have placed him, and give the precedence and superiority to another even to Jesus.

The result here involved is quite too serious to be carelessly passed over or ignored. Many intelligent and thoughtful persons, and among them certain clergymen, have had their confidence in the biography of Christ, as told by the evangelists, severely shaken by the story of Gautama, as told in “The Light of Asia." Of course the story of Gautama has been told before, and with the express and avowed purpose of discrediting Christianity, but it has never before had so splendid a setting, so wide a circulation, nor so intelligent a hearing. We propose, therefore, to sift it thoroughly, and ascertain if possible to what period of history it belongs, and what amount of credibility shall be attached to it; and, as a first step to that result, we shall lay before the reader, point by point, the two stories of Jesus and Gautama in contrast. This, we believe, has never before been done. Our authorities will be sundry lives of Gautama, by Bigandet, Alabaster, St.

Hilaire, Schlagintweit, and others; and the Gospel narratives by the evangelists. We shall, for the present, allow the contrast to tell its own story; feeling quite certain of its effect on the mind of the reader.


"When Gautama fixed his desire to become a Buddha, he was a man named Chotiban, a Brahmin of wondrous piety and learning. After he had destroyed the five elements of corporeal being, he was reborn in the Brahma heavens. The Princess Maia was daughter of the king of Panthumawadi, and she offered to that Buddha a stick of sandal wood, and made a prayer: "O Lord, who excellest in the three worlds, let the reward of my offering be that, in an after generation, I may be the mother of a Buddha like thyself." And the Buddha Wipassi assented to the prayer. In the time of the Buddha Kasyappa she was born the daughter of King Kingkisa, and was called Sutharama. Thereafter she was born in the Dewa heavens, and when she left them she was reborn as the daughter of the king of Mathura; and she married the Prince Saiyachai. She was again born in the Dewa heaven, Tushita, and thereafter was again born as daughter of Ankana, king of Dewadaha. She possessed all the sixty-four signs of superiority in women. The chiefs of the Genii guarded her on all sides with their swords. What she desired came miraculously to her hands. Having grown to maidenhood her mind was filled with desire to become the mother of a Buddha.

At this very time King Singhanu sent forth eight Brahmins to seek for a princess worthy to be the wife of his son, Prince Suddhodana. They reported favorably of Maia. Their report was confirmed by a dream. The king dreamt that he saw a magnificent jewelled palace, whose base rested on the world of men, and it embraced ten thousand worlds within its walls. In its midst was a jewelled throne two hundred and fifty miles in height, and fifty miles in width, and on it sat a lion-like man, beside a beautiful lady. The king, therefore, demanded Maia in marriage for his son. The father of Maia graciously assented, and preparations were at once made for the marriage. When that event transpired hosts of angels were in attendance. Indra blew his loud cornch. The earth quaked, the sea heaved in great waves, the hair of all beholders stood on end, and all the angels of all the infinite worlds made offerings of flowers.

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