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BUDDHIST DOCTRINE, PRIESTS, AND WORSHIP.
"THE world is old, and all things old within it" We plod a trodden path. No truth is new to-day, save only that one which as a mantle covers the face of God, lest we be blinded by the unveiled glory. How many of earth's departed great, buried out of remembrance, might have lived to-day in the love of the wise and just, had theirs but been that perfect quickening which is the breath of his Spirit upon the heart, the gift that "passeth understanding!" The world's helpers must first become borrowers of God. The world's teachers must first learn of him that only wisdom, which cometh not of books nor jealous cloister cells, but out of the heart of man as it opens yearningly to the cry of humanity, — the Wisdom of Love. This alone may challenge a superior mind, prizing truths not merely for their facts, but for their motives, — motives for which individuals or great communities either act or suffer, — to explore with a calm and kindly judgment the spirit of the religion of the Buddhists; and not its spirit only, but its every look and tone and motion as well, being so many complex expressions of the religious character in all its peculiar thoughts and feelings.
"Who, of himself, can interpret the symbol expressed by the wings of the air-sylph forming within the case of the caterpillar? Only he who feels in his own soul the same instinct which impels the horned fly to leave room in its involucrum for antennæ yet to come." Such a man knows and feels that the potential works in him even as the actual works on him. As all the organs of sense are framed for a correspondent world of sense, so all the organs of the spirit are framed for a correspondent world of spirit; and though these latter be not equally developed in us all, yet they surely exist in all; else how is it that even the ignorant, the depraved, and the cruel will contemplate the man of unselfish and exalted goodness with contradictory emotions of pity and respect?
We are prone to ignore or to condemn that which we do not clearly understand; and thus it is, and on no better ground, that we deny that there are influences in the religions of the East to render their followers wiser, nobler, purer. And yet no one of respectable intelligence will question that there have been, in all ages, individual pagans who, by the simplicity of their doctrine and the purity of their practice, have approached very nearly to the perfection of the Christian graces; and that they were, if not so much the better for the religion they had, at least far, far better than if they had had no religion at all.
It is not, however, in human nature to approve and admire any course of life without inquiring into the spirit of the law that regulates it. Nor may it suffice that the spirit is there, if not likewise the letter, — that is to say, the practice. The best doctrine may become the worst, if imperfectly understood, erroneously interpreted, or superstitiously followed.
In Egypt, Palestine, Greece, and India, the metaphysical analysis of Mind had attained its noontide splendor, while as yet experimental research had hardly dawned. Those ancient mystics did much to promote intellectual emancipation, by insisting that Thought should not be imprisoned within the mere outlines of any single dogmatic system; and they likewise availed, in no feeble measure, to keep alive the heart in the head, by demanding an impartial reverence for every attribute of the mind, till, by converting these into symbols to impress the ignorant and stupid, they came at last to deify them. Thus, with the uninitiated, their system degenerated into an ignoble pantheism.
The renascence of Buddhism sought to eliminate from the arrogant and impious pantheisms of Egypt, India, and Greece a simple and pure philosophy, upholding virtue as man's greatest good and highest reward. It taught that the only object worthy of his noblest aspirations was to render the soul (itself an emanation from God) fit to be absorbed back again into the Divine essence from which it sprang. The single aim, therefore, of pure Buddhism seems to have been to rouse men to an inward contemplation of the divinity of their own nature; to fix their thoughts on the spiritual life within as the only real and true life; to teach them to disregard all earthly distinctions, conditions, privileges, enjoyments, privations, sorrows, sufferings; and thus to incite them to continual efforts in the direction of the highest ideals of patience, purity, self-denial.
Buddhism cannot be clearly defined by its visible results to-day. There are more things in that subtile, mystical enigma called in the Pali Nirwana, in the Birmese Niban, in the Siamese Niphan, than are dreamed of in our philosophy. With the idea of Niphan in his theology, it were absurdly false to say the Buddhist has no God. His Decalogue1 is as plain and imperative as the Christian's: —
I. From the meanest insect up to man thou shalt kill no animal whatsoever.
II. Thou shalt not steal.
III. Thou shalt not violate the wife of another, nor his concubine.
IV. Thou shalt speak no word that is false..
V. Thou shalt not drink wine, nor anything that may intoxicate.
VI. Thou shalt avoid all anger, hatred, and bitter language.
VII. Thou shalt not indulge in idle and vain talk.
VIII. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods.
IX. Thou shalt not harbor envy, nor pride, nor revenge, nor malice, nor the desire of thy neighbor's death or misfortune.
X. Thou shalt not follow the doctrines of false gods.
Whosoever abstains from these forbidden things is said to "observe Silah"; and whosoever shall faithfully observe Silah, in all his successive metempsychoses, shall continually increase in virtue and purity, until at length he shall become worthy to behold God, and hear his voice; and so he shall obtain Niphan. "Be assiduous in bestowing alms, in practising virtue, in observing Silah, in performing Bavana, prayer; and above all in adoring Guadama, the true God. Reverence likewise his laws and his priests."
Many have missed seeing what is true and wise in the doctrine of Buddha because they preferred to observe it from the standpoint and in the attitude of an antagonist, rather than of an inquirer. To understand aright the earnest creed and hope of any man, one must be at least sympathetically en rapport with him, — must be willing to feel, and to confess within one's self, the germs of those errors whose growth seems so rank in him. In the humble spirit of this fellowship of fallibility let us draw as near as we may to the hearts of these devotees and the heart of their mystery.
My interesting pupil, the Lady Tâlâp, had invited me to accompany her to the royal private temple, Watt P'hra Kam, to witness the services held there on the Buddhist Sabâto, or One-thu-sin. Accordingly we repaired together to the temple on the day appointed. The day was young, and the air was cool and fresh; and as we approached the place of worship, the clustered bells of the pagodas made breezy gushes of music aloft. One of the court pages, meeting us, inquired our destination. "The Watt P'hra Këau," I replied. "To see or to hear?" "Both." And we entered.
On a floor diamonded with polished brass sat a throng of women, the élite of Siam. All were robed in pure white, with white silk scarfs drawn from the left shoulder in careful folds across the bust and back, and thrown gracefully over the right. A little apart sat their female slaves, of whom many were inferior to their mistresses only in social consideration and worldly gear, being their half-sisters, — children of the same father by a slave mother.
The women sat in circles, and each displayed her vase of flowers and her lighted taper before her. In front of all were a number of my younger pupils, the royal children, in circles also. Close by the altar, on a low square stool, overlaid with a thin cushion of silk, sat the high-priest, Chow Khoon Sâh. In his hand he held a concave fan, lined with pale green silk, the back richly embroidered, jewelled, and gilt.2 He was draped in a yellow robe, not unlike the Roman toga, a loose and flowing habit, closed below the waist, but open from the throat to the girdle, which was simply a band of yellow cloth, bound tightly. From the shoulders hung two narrow strips, also yellow, descending over the robe to the feet, and resembling the scapular worn by certain orders of the Roman Catholic clergy. At his side was an open watch of gold, the gift of his sovereign. At his feet sat seventeen disciples, shading their faces with fans less richly adorned.
We put off our shoes, — my child and I, — having respect for the ancient prejudice against them;3 feeling not so much reverence for the place as for the hearts that worshipped there, caring to display not so much the love of wisdom as the wisdom of love; and well were we repaid by the grateful smile of recognition that greeted us as we entered.
We sat down cross-legged. No need to hush my boy, — the silence there, so subduing, checked with its mysterious awe even his inquisitive young mind. The venerable high-priest sat with his face jealously covered, lest his eyes should tempt his thoughts to stray. I changed my position to catch a glimpse of his countenance; he drew his fan-veil more closely, giving me a quick but gentle half-glance of remonstrance. Then raising his eyes, with lids nearly closed, he chanted in an infantile, wailing tone.
That was the opening prayer. At once the whole congregation raised themselves on their knees and, all together, prostrated themselves thrice profoundly, thrice touching the polished brass floor with their foreheads; and then, with heads bowed and palms folded and eyes closed, they delivered the responses after the priest, much in the manner of the English liturgy, first the priest, then the people, and finally all together. There was no singing, no standing up and sitting down, no changing of robes or places, no turning the face to the altar, nor north, nor south, nor east, nor west. All knelt still, with hands folded straight before them, and eyes strictly, tightly closed. Indeed, there were faces there that expressed devotion and piety, the humblest and the purest, as the lips murmured: "O Thou Eternal One, Thou perfection of Time, Thou truest Truth, Thou immutable essence of all Change, Thou most excellent radiance of Mercy, Thou infinite Compassion, Thou Pity, Thou Charity!"
I lost some of the responses in the simultaneous repetition, and did but imperfectly comprehend the exhortation that followed, in which was inculcated the strictest practice of charity in a manner so pathetic and so gentle as might be wisely imitated by the most orthodox of Christian priests.
There was majesty in the humility of those pagan worshippers, and in their shame of self they were sublime. I leave both the truth and the error to Him who alone can soar to the bright heights of the one and sound the dark depths of the other, and take to myself the lesson, to be read in the shrinking forms and hidden faces of those patient waiters for a far-off glimmering Light, — the lesson wherefrom I learn, in thanking God for the light of Christianity, to thank him for its shadow too, which is Buddhism.
Around the porches and vestibules of the temple lounged the Amazonian guard, intent only on irreverent amusement, even in the form of a grotesque and grim flirtation here and there with the custodians of the temple, who have charge of the sacred fire that burns before the altar. About eighty-five years ago this fire went out. It was a calamity of direful presage, and thereupon all Siam went into a consternation of mourning. All public spectacles were forbidden until the crime could be expiated by the appropriate punishment of the wretch to whose sacrilegious carelessness it was due; nor was the sacred flame rekindled until the reign of P'hra-Pooti-Yaut-Fa, grandfather of his late Majesty, when the royal Hall of Audience was destroyed by lightning. From that fire of heaven it was relighted with joyful thanksgiving, and so has burned on to this day.
The lofty throne, on which the priceless P'hra Kau (the Emerald Idol) blazed in its glory of gold and gems, shone resplendent in the forenoon light. Everything above, around it, — even the vases of flowers and the perfumed tapers on the floor, — was reflected as if by magic in its kaleidoscopic surface, now pensive, pale, and silvery as with moonlight, now flashing, fantastic, with the party-colored splendors of a thousand lamps.
The ceiling was wholly covered with hieroglyphic devices, — luminous circles and triangles, globes, rings, stars, flowers, figures of animals, even parts of the human body, — mystic symbols, to be deciphered only by the initiated. Ah! could I but have read them as in a book, construing all their allegorical significance, how near might I not have come to the distracting secret of this people! Gazing upon them, my thought flew back a thousand years, and my feeble, foolish conjectures, like butterflies at sea, were lost in mists of old myth.
Not that Buddhism has escaped the guessing and conceits of a multitude of writers, most trustworthy of whom are the early Christian Fathers, who, to the end that they might arouse the attention of the sleeping nations, yielded a reluctant, but impartial and graceful, tribute to the long-forgotten creeds of Chaldea, Phenicia, Assyria, and Egypt. Nevertheless, they would never have appealed to the doctrine of Buddha as being most like to Christianity in its rejection of the claims of race, had they not found in its simple ritual another and a stronger bond of brotherhood. Like Christianity, too, it was a religion catholic and apostolic, for the truth of which many faithful witnesses had laid down their lives. It was, besides, the creed of an ancient race; and the mystery that shrouded it had a charm to pique the vanity even of self-sufficient Greeks, and stir up curiosity even in Roman arrogance and indifference. The doctrines of Buddha were eminently fitted to elucidate the doctrines of Christ, and therefore worthy to engage the interest of Christian writers; accordingly, among the earliest of these mention is made of the Buddha or Phthah, though there were as yet few or none to appreciate all the religious significance of his teachings. Terebinthus declared there was "nothing in the pagan world to be compared with his (Buddha's) P'hra-ti-moksha, or Code of Discipline, which in some respects resembled the rules that governed the lives of the monks of Christendom; Marco Polo says of Buddha, "Si fuisset Christianus, fuisset apud Deum maximus factus"; and later, Malcolm, the devoted missionary, said of his doctrine, "In almost every respect it seems to be the best religion which man has ever invented." Mark the "invented" of the wary Christian.
But errors, that in time crept in, corrupted the pure doctrine, and disciples, ignorant or stupid, perverted its meaning and intent, and blind or treacherous guides led the simple astray, till at last the true and plain philosophy of Buddha became entangled with the Egyptian mythology.
Over the portal on the eastern facade of the Watt P'hra Kau is a bass-relief representing the Last Judgment, in which are figures of a devil with a pig's head dragging the wicked to hell, and an angel weighing mankind in a pair of scales. Now we know that in the mythology of ancient Egypt the Pig was the emblem of the Evil Spirit, and this bass-relief of the Siamese watt could hardly fail to remind the Egyptologist of kindred compositions in old sculptures wherein the good and bad deeds of the dead are weighed by Anubis (the Siamese Anuman or Hanuman), and the souls of the wicked carried off by a pig.
In the city of Arsinœ in Upper Egypt (formerly Crocodilopolis, now Medinet-el-Fayum), the crocodile is worshipped; and a sacred crocodile, kept in a pond, is perfectly tame and familiar with the priests. He is called Suchus, and they feed him with meat and corn and wine, the contributions of strangers. One of the Egyptian divinities, apparently that to whom the beast was consecrated, is invariably pictured with the head of a crocodile; and in hieroglyphic inscriptions is represented by that animal with the tail turned under the body. A similar figure is common in the temples of Siam; and a sacred crocodile, kept in a pond in the manner of the ancient Egyptians, is fed by Siamese priests, at whose call it comes to the surface to receive the rice, fruit, and wine that are brought to it daily.
The Beetle, an insect peculiarly sacred to the Buddhists, was the Egyptian sign of Phthah, the Father of Gods; and in the hieroglyphics it stands for the name of that deity, whose head is either surmounted by a beetle, or is itself in the form of a beetle. Elsewhere in the hieroglyphics, where it does not represent Buddha, it evidently appears as the symbol of generation or reproduction, the meaning most anciently attached to it; whence Dr. Young, in his "Hieroglyphical Researches," inferred its relation to Buddha. Mrs. Hamilton Gray, in her work on the Sepulchres of Etruria, observes: "As scarabæi existed long before we had any account of idols, I do not doubt that they were originally the invention of some really devout mind; and they speak to us in strong language of the danger of making material symbols of immaterial things. First, the symbol came to be trusted in, instead of the being of whom it was the sign. Then came the bodily conception and manifestation of that being, or his attributes, in the form of idols. Next, the representation of all that belongs to spirits, good and bad. And finally, the deification of every imagination of the heart of man, — a written and accredited system of polytheism, and a monstrous and hydra-headed idolatry."
Such is the religious history of the scarabæus, a creature that so early attracted the notice of man by its ingenious and industrious habits, that it was selected by him to symbolize the Creator; and cutting stones to represent it,4 he wore them in token of his belief in a creator of all things, and in recognition of the Divine Presence, probably attaching to them at first no more mysterious import or virtue. There is sound reason for believing that in this form the symbol existed before Abraham, and that its fundamental signification of creation or generation was gradually overbuilt with arbitrary speculations and fantastic notions. In theory it degenerated into a crude egoism, a vaunting and hyper-stoic hostility to nature, which, though intellectually godless, was not without that universal instinct for divinity which, by countless ways, seeks with an ever-present and importunate longing for the one sublimated and eternal source from which it sprang.
Through twenty-five million six hundred thousand Asongkhies, or metempsychoses, — according to the overpowering computation of his priests, — did Buddha struggle to attain the divine omniscience of Niphan, by virtue of which he remembers every form he ever entered, and beholds with the clear eyes of a god the endless diversities of transmigration in the animal, human, and angelic worlds, throughout the spaceless, timeless, numberless universe of visible and invisible life. According to Heraclides, Pythagoras used to say of himself, that he remembered "not only all the men, but all the animals and all the plants, his soul had passed through." That Pythagoras believed and taught the doctrine of transmigration may hardly be doubted, but that he originated it is very questionable. Herodotus intimates that both Orpheus and Pythagoras derived it from the Egyptians, but propounded it as their own, without acknowledgment.
Nearly every male inhabitant of Siam enters the priesthood at least once in his lifetime. Instead of the more vexatious and scandalous forms of divorce, the party aggrieved may become a priest or a nun, and thus the matrimonial bond is at once dissolved; and with this advantage, that after three or four months of probation they may be reconciled and reunited, to live together in the world again.
Chow Khoon Sâh, or "His Lordship the Lake," whose functions in the Watt P'hra Këau I have described, was the High-Priest of Siam, and in high favor with his Majesty. He had taken holy orders with the double motive of devoting himself to the study of Sanskrit literature, and of escaping the fate, that otherwise awaited him, of becoming the mere thrall of his more fortunate cousin, the king. In the palace it was whispered that he and the late queen consort had been tenderly attached to each other, but that the lady's parents, for prudential considerations, discountenanced the match; "and so," on the eve of her betrothal to his Majesty, her lover had sought seclusion and consolation in a Buddhist monastery. However that may be, it is certain that the king and the high-priest were now fast friends. The latter entertained great respect for his reverend cousin, whose title ("The Lake") described justly, as well as poetically, the graceful serenity and repose of his demeanor.
Chow Khoon Sâh lived at some distance from the palace, at the Watt Brahmanee Waid. As the friendship between the cousins ripened, his Majesty considered that it would be well for him to have the contemplative student, prudent adviser, and able reasoner nearer to him. With this idea, and for a surprise to one to whom all surprises had long since become but vanities and vexations of spirit, he caused to be erected, about forty yards from the Grand Palace, on the eastern side of the Meinam, a temple which he named Rajah-Bah-dit-Sang, or "The King caused me to be built"; and at the same time, as an appendage to the temple, a monastery in mediæval style, — the workmanship in both structures being most substantial and elaborate.
The sculptures and carvings on the pillars and facades — half-fabulous, half-historical figures, conveying ingenious allegories of the triumph of virtue over the passions — constituted a singular tribute to the exemplary fame of the high-priest. The grounds were planted with trees and shrubs, and the walks gravelled, thus inviting the contemplative recluse to tranquil, soothing strolls. These grounds were accessible by four gates, the principal one facing the east, and a private portal opening on the canal.
The laying of the foundation of the temple and monastery of Rajah-Bah-dit-Sang was the occasion of extraordinary festivities, consisting of theatrical spectacles and performances, a carnival of dancing, mass around every corner-stone, banquets to priests, and distributions of clothing, food, and money to the poor. The king presided every morning and evening under a silken canopy; and even those favorites of the harem who were admitted to the royal confidence were provided with tents, whence they could witness the shows, and participate in the rejoicings in the midst of which the good work went on.
After the several services of mass had been performed, and the corner-stones consecrated by the pouring on of oil and water,5 seven tall lamps were lighted to burn above them seven days and nights, and seventy priests in groups of seven, forming a perfect circle, prayed continually, holding in their hands the mystic web of seven threads, that weird circlet of life and death.
Then the youngest and fairest virgins of the land brought offerings of corn and wine, milk, honey, and flowers, and poured them on the consecrated stones. And after that, they brought pottery of all kinds, — vases, urns, ewers, goglets, bowls, cups, and dishes, — and, flinging them into the foundations, united with zeal and rejoicing in the "meritorious" work of pounding them into fine dust; and while the instruments of music and the voices of the male and female singers of the court kept time to the measured crash and thud of the wooden clubs in those young and tender hands, the king cast into the foundation coins and ingots of gold and silver.
"Do you understand the word 'charity,' or maitri, as your apostle St. Paul explains it in the thirteenth chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians?" said his Majesty to me one morning, when he had been discussing the religion of Sakyamuni, the Buddha.
"I believe I do, your Majesty," was my reply.
"Then, tell me, what does St. Paul really mean, to what custom does he allude, when he says, 'Even if I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing'?"
"Custom!" said I. "I do not know of any custom. The giving of the body to be burned is by him esteemed the highest act of devotion, the purest sacrifice man can make for man."
"You have said well. It is the highest act of devotion that can be made, or performed, by man for man, — that giving of his body to be burned. But if it is done from a spirit of opposition, for the sake of fame, or popular applause, or for any other such motive, is it still to be regarded as the highest act of sacrifice?"
"That is just what St. Paul means: the motive consecrates the deed."
"But all men are not fortified with the self-control which should fit them to be great exemplars; and of the many who have appeared in that character, if strict inquiry were made, their virtue would be found to proceed from any other than the true and pure spirit. Sometimes it is indolence, sometimes restlessness, sometimes vanity impatient for its gratification, and rushing to assume the part of humility for the purpose of self-delusion."
"Now," said the King, taking several of his long strides in the vestibule of his library, and declaiming with his habitual emphasis, "St Paul, in this chapter, evidently and strongly applies the Buddhist's word maitri, or maikree, as pronounced by some Sanskrit scholars; and explains it through the Buddhist's custom of giving the body to be burned, which was practised centuries before the Christian era, and is found unchanged in parts of China, Ceylon, and Siam to this day. The giving of the body to be burned has ever been considered by devout Buddhists the most exalted act of self-abnegation.
"To give all one's goods to feed the poor is common in this country, with princes and people, — who often keep back nothing (not even one cowree, the thousandth part of a cent) to provide for themselves a handful of rice. But then they stand in no fear of starvation; for death by hunger is unknown where Buddhism is preached and practised.
"I know a man, of royal parentage, and once possessed of untold riches. In his youth he felt such pity for the poor, the old, the sick, and such as were troubled and sorrowful, that he became melancholy, and after spending several years in the continual relief of the needy and helpless, he, in a moment, gave all his goods, — in a word, ALL, — to feed the poor.' This man has never heard of St. Paul or his writings; but he knows, and tries to comprehend in its fulness, the Buddhist word maitri.
"At thirty he became a priest. For five years he had toiled as a gardener; for that was the occupation he preferred, because in the pursuit of it he acquired much useful knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants, and so became a ready physician to those who could not pay for their healing. But he could not rest content with so imperfect a life, while the way to perfect knowledge of excellence, truth, and charity remained open to him; so he became a priest.
"This happened sixty-five years ago. Now he is ninety-five years old; and, I fear, has not yet found the truth and excellence he has been in search of so long. But I know no greater man than he. He is great in the Christian sense, — loving, pitiful, forbearing, pure.
"Once, when he was a gardener, he was robbed of his few poor tools by one whom he had befriended in many ways. Some time after that, the king met him, and inquired of his necessities. He said he needed tools for his gardening. A great abundance of such implements was sent to him; and immediately he shared them with his neighbors, taking care to send the most and best to the man who had robbed him.
"Of the little that remained to him, he gave freely to all who lacked. Not his own, hut another's wants, were his sole argument in asking or bestowing. Now, he is great in the Buddhist sense also, — not loving life nor fearing death, desiring nothing the world can give, beyond the peace of a beatified spirit This man — who is now the High-Priest of Siam — would, without so much as a thought of shrinking, give his body, alive or dead, to be burned, if so he might obtain one glimpse of eternal truth, or save one soul from death or sorrow."
More than eighteen months after the First King of Siam had entertained me with this essentially Buddhistic argument, and its simple and impressive illustration, a party of pages hurried me away with them, just as the setting sun was trailing his last long, lingering shadows through the porches of the palace. His Majesty required my presence; and his Majesty's commands were absolute and instant "Find and fetch!" No delay was to be thought of, no question answered, no explanation afforded, no excuse entertained. So with resignation I followed my guides, who led the way to the monastery of Watt Rajah-Bah-dit-Sang. But having some experience of the moods and humors of his Majesty, my mind was not wholly free from uneasiness. Generally, such impetuous summoning foreboded an interview the reverse of agreeable.
The sun had set in glory below the red horizon when I entered the extensive range of monastic buildings that adjoin the, temple. Wide tracts of waving corn and avenues of oleanders screened from view the distant city, with its pagodas and palaces. The air was fresh and balmy, and seemed to sigh plaintively among the betel and cocoa palms that skirt the monastery.
The pages left me seated on a stone step, and ran to announce my presence to the king. Long after the moon had come out clear and cool, and I had begun to wonder where all this would end, a young man, robed in pure white, and bearing in one hand a small lighted taper and a lily in the other, beckoned me to enter, and follow him; and as we traversed the long, low passages that separate the cells of the priests, the weird sound of voices, chanting the hymns of the Buddhist liturgy, fell upon my ear. The darkness, the loneliness, the measured monotone, distant and dreamy, all was most romantic and exciting, even to a matter-of-fact English woman like myself.
As the page approached the threshold of one of the cells, he whispered to me, in a voice full of entreaty, to put off my shoes; at the same time prostrating himself with a movement and expression of the most abject humility before the door, where he remained, without changing his posture. I stooped involuntarily, and scanned curiously, anxiously, the scene within the cell. There sat the king; and at a sign from him I presently entered, and sat down beside him.
On a rude pallet, about six and a half feet long, and not more than three feet wide, and with a bare block of wood for a pillow, lay a dying priest. A simple garment of faded yellow covered his person; his hands were folded on his breast; his head was bald, and the few blanched hairs that might have remained to fringe his sunken temples had been carefully shorn, — his eyebrows, too, were closely shaven; his feet were bare and exposed; his eyes were fixed, not in the vacant stare of death, but with solemn contemplation or scrutiny, upward. No sign of disquiet was there, no external suggestion of pain or trouble; I was at once startled and puzzled. Was he dying, or acting?
In the attitude of his person, in the expression of his countenance, I beheld sublime reverence, repose, absorption. He seemed to be communing with some spiritual presence.
My entrance and approach made no change in him. At his right side was a dim taper in a gold candlestick; on the left a dainty golden vase, filled with white lilies, freshly gathered: these were offerings from the king. One of the lilies had been laid on his breast, and contrasted touchingly with the dingy, faded yellow of his robe. Just over the region of the heart lay a coil of unspun cotton thread, which, being divided into seventy-seven filaments, was distributed to the hands of the priests, who, closely seated, quite filled the cell, so that none could have moved without difficulty. Before each priest were a lighted taper and a lily, symbols of faith and purity. From time to time one or other of that solemn company raised his voice, and chanted strangely; and all the choir responded in unison. These were the words, as they were afterward translated for me by the king.
First Voice. Sâng-Khâng sârâ nang gâch' châ mi! (Thou Excellence, or Perfection! I take refuge in thee.)
All. Nama Poothô sâng-Khâng sârâ nang gâch' châ mi! (Thou who art named Poot-tho — either God, Buddha, or Mercy, — I take refuge in thee.)
First Voice. Tuti âmpi sâng-Khâng sârâ nang gâch' châ mi! (Thou Holy One! I take refuge in thee.)
All. Tè sâtiyâ sâng-Khâng sârâ nang gâch' châ mi (Thou Truth, I take refuge in thee.)
As the sound of the prayer fell on his ear, a flickering smile lit up the pale, sallow countenance of the dying man with a visible mild radiance, as though the charity and humility of his nature, in departing, left the light of their loveliness there. The absorbing rapture of that look, which seemed to overtake the invisible, was almost too holy to gaze upon. Riches, station, honors, kindred, he had resigned them all, more than half a century since, in his love for the poor and his longing after truth. Here was none of the wavering or vagueness or incoherence of a wandering, delirious death. He was going to his clear, eternal calm. With a smile of perfect peace he said: "To your Majesty I commend the poor; and this that remains of me I give to be burned." And that, his last gift, was indeed his all.
I can imagine no spectacle more worthy to excite a compassionate emotion, to impart an abiding impression of reverence, than the tranquil dying of that good old "pagan." Gradually his breathing became more laborious, and presently, turning with a great effort toward the king, he said, Chan cha pi dauni! — "I will go now!" Instantly the priests joined in a loud psalm and chant, "P'hra Arahang sâng-Khâng sârâ pang gâch' châ mi!" (Thou Sacred One, I take refuge in thee.) A few minutes more, and the spirit of the High-Priest of Siam had calmly breathed itself away. The eyes were open and fixed; the hands still clasped; the expression sweetly content. My heart and eyes were full of tears, yet I was comforted. By what hope? I know not, for I dared not question it.
On the afternoon of the next day I was again summoned by his Majesty to witness the burning of that body.
It was carried to the cemetery Watt Sah Kâte; and there men, hired to do such dreadful offices upon the dead, cut off all the flesh and flung it to the hungry dogs that haunt that monstrous garbage-field of Buddhism. The bones, and all that remained upon them, were thoroughly burned; and the ashes, carefully gathered in an earthen pot, were scattered in the little gardens of wretches too poor to buy manure. All that was left now of the venerable devotee was the remembrance of a look.
"This," said the King, as I turned away sickened and sorrowful, "is to give one's body to be burned. This is what your St. Paul had in his mind, — this custom of our Buddhist ancestors, this complete self-abnegation in life and in death, — when he said, ' Even if I give my body to be burned, and have not charity [maitrî], it profiteth me nothing."
PRIESTS AT BREAKFAST.
COMMON MAXIMS OF THE PRIESTS OF SIAM.
Glory not in thyself, but rather in thy neighbor.
Dig not the earth, which is the source of life and the mother of all.
Cause no tree to die.
Kill no beast, nor insect, not even the smallest ant or fly. Eat nothing between meals.
Regard not singers, dancers, nor players on instruments. Use no perfume but sweetness of thoughts.
Neither sit nor sleep in high places.
Be lowly in thy heart, that thou mayst be lowly in thy act.
Hoard neither silver nor gold.
Entertain not thy thoughts with worldly things. Do no work but the work of charity and truth. Give not flowers unto women, but rather prayers. Contract no friendship with the hope of gain.
Borrow nothing, but rather deny thy want.
Lend not unto usury.
Keep neither lance, nor sword, nor any deadly weapon. Judge not thy neighbor.
Bake not, nor burn.
Wink not. Be not familiar nor contemptuous. Labor not for hire, but for charity.
Look not upon women unchastely.
Make no incisions that may draw blood or sap, which . is the life of man and nature.
Give no medicines which contain poison, but study to acquire the true art of healing, which is the highest of all arts, and pertains to the wise and benevolent.
Love all men equally.
Perform not thy meditations in public places.
Make no idols of any kind.
1 Translated from the Pali.
2 The fan is used to cover the face. Jewelled fans are marks of distinction among the priesthood.
4 Six rubies, exquisitely cut in the form of beetles, are worn as studs by the present King of Siam.
5 Oil is the emblem of life and love; water, of parity.