|The Story of Mankind|
|by Hendrik Willem Van Loon|
|Relates the story of western civilization from earliest times through the beginning of the twentieth century, with special emphasis on the people and events that changed the course of history. Portrays in vivid prose the achievements of mankind in the areas of art and discovery, as well as the political forces leading to the modern nation-states. Richly illustrated with drawings by the author. Winner of the first Newbery Award in 1922, The Story of Mankind has introduced generations of children to the pageant of world history. Ages 10-14 |
BUDDHA AND CONFUCIUS
CONCERNING BUDDHA AND CONFUCIUS
 THE discoveries of the Portuguese and the Spaniards had
brought the Christians of western Europe into close contact
with the people of India and of China. They knew of course
that Christianity was not the only religion on this earth. There
were the Mohammedans and the heathenish tribes of northern
Africa who worshipped sticks and stones and dead trees. But
in India and in China the Christian conquerors found new
millions who had never heard of Christ and who did not want
to hear of Him, because they thought their own religion, which
was thousands of years old, much better than that of the West.
As this is a story of mankind and not an exclusive history of
the people of Europe and our western hemisphere, you ought
to know something of two men whose teaching and whose
example continue to influence the actions and the thoughts
of the majority of our fellow-travellers on this earth.
THE THREE GREAT RELIGIONS
In India, Buddha was recognised as the great religious
teacher. His history is an interesting one. He was born in
the Sixth Century before the birth of Christ, within sight of the
mighty Himalaya Mountains, where four hundred years before
Zarathustra (or Zoroaster), the first of the great leaders of
the Aryan race (the name which the Eastern branch of the
Indo-European race had given to itself), had taught his people
to regard life as a continuous struggle between Ahriman,
and Ormuzd, the Gods of Evil and Good. Buddha's
 father was Suddhodana, a mighty chief among the tribe of the
Sakiyas. His mother, Maha Maya, was the daughter of a
neighbouring king. She had been married when she was a very
young girl. But many moons had passed beyond the distant
ridge of hills and still her husband was without an heir who
should rule his lands after him. At last, when she was fifty
years old, her day came and she went forth that she might be
among her own people when her baby should come into this
It was a long trip to the land of the Koliyans, where Maha
Maya had spent her earliest years. One night she was resting
among the cool trees of the garden of Lumbini. There her son
was born. He was given the name of Siddhartha, but we know
him as Buddha, which means the Enlightened One.
In due time, Siddhartha grew up to be a handsome young
prince and when he was nineteen years old, he was married to
his cousin Yasodhara. During the next ten years he lived
far away from all pain and all suffering, behind the protecting
walls of the royal palace, awaiting the day when he should
succeed his father as King of the Sakiyas.
But it happened that when he was thirty years old, he drove
outside of the palace gates and saw a man who was old and
worn out with labour and whose weak limbs could hardly carry
the burden of life. Siddhartha pointed him out to his coachman,
Channa, but Channa answered that there were lots of
poor people in this world and that one more or less did not
matter. The young prince was very sad but he did not say
anything and went back to live with his wife and his father
and his mother and tried to be happy. A little while later he
left the palace a second time. His carriage met a man who
suffered from a terrible disease. Siddhartha asked Channa
what had been the cause of this man's suffering, but the coachman
answered that there were many sick people in this world
and that such things could not be helped and did not matter
very much. The young prince was very sad when he heard this
but again he returned to his people.
A few weeks passed. One evening Siddhartha ordered his
 carriage in order to go to the river and bathe. Suddenly his
horses were frightened by the sight of a dead man whose rotting
body lay sprawling in the ditch beside the road. The young
prince, who had never been allowed to see such things, was
frightened, but Channa told him not to mind such trifles. The
world was full of dead people. It was the rule of life that all
things must come to an end. Nothing was eternal. The grave
awaited us all and there was no escape.
That evening, when Siddhartha returned to his home, he
was received with music. While he was away his wife had
given birth to a son. The people were delighted because now
they knew that there was an heir to the throne and they
celebrated the event by the beating of many drums. Siddhartha,
however, did not share their joy. The curtain of life had been
lifted and he had learned the horror of man's existence. The
sight of death and suffering followed him like a terrible dream.
That night the moon was shining brightly. Siddhartha
woke up and began to think of many things. Never again
could he be happy until he should have found a solution to the
riddle of existence. He decided to find it far away from all
those whom he loved. Softly he went into the room where
Yasodhara was sleeping with her baby. Then he called for
his faithful Channa and told him to follow.
Together the two men went into the darkness of the night,
one to find rest for his soul, the other to be a faithful servant
unto a beloved master.
The people of India among whom Siddhartha wandered for
many years were just then in a state of change. Their ancestors,
the native Indians, had been conquered without great difficulty
by the war-like Aryans (our distant cousins) and thereafter
the Aryans had been the rulers and masters of tens of
millions of docile little brown men. To maintain themselves in
the seat of the mighty, they had divided the population into
different classes and gradually a system of "caste" of the most
rigid sort had been enforced upon the natives. The descendants
of the Indo-European conquerors belonged to the highest
"caste," the class of warriors and nobles. Next came the caste
 of the priests. Below these followed the peasants and the
business men. The ancient natives, however, who were called
Pariahs, formed a class of despised and miserable slaves and
never could hope to be anything else.
Even the religion of the people was a matter of caste. The
old Indo-Europeans, during their thousands of years of
wandering, had met with many strange adventures. These had
been collected in a book called the Veda. The language of
this book was called Sanskrit, and it was closely related to the
different languages of the European continent, to Greek and
Latin and Russian and German and two-score others. The
three highest castes were allowed to read these holy scriptures.
The Pariah, however, the despised member of the lowest caste,
was not permitted to know its contents. Woe to the man of
noble or priestly caste who should teach a Pariah to study the
The majority of the Indian people, therefore, lived in
misery. Since this planet offered them very little joy, salvation
from suffering must be found elsewhere. They tried to
derive a little consolation from meditation upon the bliss of
their future existence.
Brahma, the all-creator who was regarded by the Indian
people as the supreme ruler of life and death, was worshipped
as the highest ideal of perfection. To become like Brahma, to
lose all desires for riches and power, was recognised as the most
exalted purpose of existence. Holy thoughts were regarded
as more important than holy deeds, and many people went
into the desert and lived upon the leaves of trees and starved
their bodies that they might feed their souls with the glorious
contemplation of the splendours of Brahma, the Wise, the
Good and the Merciful.
Siddhartha, who had often observed these solitary wanderers
who were seeking the truth far away from the turmoil
of the cities and the villages, decided to follow their example.
He cut his hair. He took his pearls and his rubies and sent
them back to his family with a message of farewell, which the
 ever faithful Channa carried. Without a single follower, the
young prince then moved into the wilderness.
Soon the fame of his holy conduct spread among the mountains.
Five young men came to him and asked that they might
be allowed to listen to his words of wisdom. He agreed to be
their master if they would follow him. They consented, and
he took them into the hills and for six years he taught them
all he knew amidst the lonely peaks of the Vindhya Mountains.
But at the end of this period of study, he felt that he was still
far from perfection. The world that he had left continued to
tempt him. He now asked that his pupils leave him and then
he fasted for forty-nine days and nights, sitting upon the roots
of an old tree. At last he received his reward. In the dusk of
the fiftieth evening, Brahma revealed himself to his faithful
servant. From that moment on, Siddhartha was called Buddha
and he was revered as the Enlightened One who had come to
save men from their unhappy mortal fate.
The last forty-five years of his life, Buddha spent within
the valley of the Ganges River, teaching his simple lesson of
submission and meekness unto all men. In the year 488 before
our era, he died, full of years and beloved by millions of people.
He had not preached his doctrines for the benefit of a single
class. Even the lowest Pariah might call himself his disciple.
BUDDHA GOES INTO THE MOUNTAINS
This, however, did not please the nobles and the priests and
the merchants who did their best to destroy a creed which recognised
the equality of all living creatures and offered men the
hope of a second life (a reincarnation) under happier circumstances.
As soon as they could, they encouraged the people of
India to return to the ancient doctrines of the Brahmin creed
with its fasting and its tortures of the sinful body. But
Buddhism could not be destroyed. Slowly the disciples of the
Enlightened One wandered across the valleys of the Himalayas,
and moved into China. They crossed the Yellow Sea
and preached the wisdom of their master unto the people of
Japan, and they faithfully obeyed the will of their great master,
who had forbidden them to use force. To-day more people
recognise Buddha as their teacher than ever before and their
 number surpasses that of the combined followers of Christ and Mohammed.
As for Confucius, the wise old man of the Chinese, his
story is a simple one. He was born in the year 550 B.C. He
led a quiet, dignified and uneventful life at a time when China
was without a strong central government and when the Chinese
people were at the mercy of bandits and robber-barons who
went from city to city, pillaging and stealing and murdering
and turning the busy plains of northern and central China into
a wilderness of starving people.
Confucius, who loved his people, tried to save them. He
did not have much faith in the use of violence. He was a very
peaceful person. He did not think that he could make people
over by giving them a lot of new laws. He knew that the only
possible salvation would come from a change of heart, and he
set out upon the seemingly hopeless task of changing the character
of his millions of fellow men who inhabited the wide plains
of eastern Asia. The Chinese had never been much interested
in religion as we understand that word. They believed in
devils and spooks as most primitive people do. But they had
no prophets and recognised no "revealed truth." Confucius
is almost the only one among the great moral leaders who did
not see visions, who did not proclaim himself as the messenger
of a divine power; who did not, at some time or another, claim
that he was inspired by voices from above.
He was just a very sensible and kindly man, rather given
to lonely wanderings and melancholy tunes upon his faithful
flute. He asked for no recognition. He did not demand that
any one should follow him or worship him. He reminds us
of the ancient Greek philosophers, especially those of the Stoic
School, men who believed in right living and righteous thinking
without the hope of a reward but simply for the peace of
the soul that comes with a good conscience.
Confucius was a very tolerant man. He went out of his
way to visit Lao-Tse, the other great Chinese leader and the
founder of a philosophic system called "Taoism," which was
merely an early Chinese version of the Golden Rule.
 Confucius bore no hatred to any one. He taught the virtue
of supreme self-possession. A person of real worth, according
to the teaching of Confucius, did not allow himself to be
ruffled by anger and suffered whatever fate brought him with
the resignation of those sages who understand that everything
which happens, in one way or another, is meant for the best.
THE GREAT MORAL LEADERS
At first he had only a few students. Gradually the number
increased. Before his death, in the year 478 B.C., several of the
kings and the princes of China confessed themselves his disciples.
When Christ was born in Bethlehem, the philosophy of
Confucius had already become a part of the mental make-up
of most Chinamen. It has continued to influence their lives
ever since. Not however in its pure, original form. Most religions
change as time goes on. Christ preached humility and
meekness and absence from worldly ambitions, but fifteen
centuries after Golgotha, the head of the Christian church was
spending millions upon the erection of a building that bore
little relation to the lonely stable of Bethlehem.
Lao-Tse taught the Golden Rule, and in less than three
centuries the ignorant masses had made him into a real and
very cruel God and had buried his wise commandments under
a rubbish-heap of superstition which made the lives of the average
Chinese one long series of frights and fears and horrors.
Confucius had shown his students the beauties of honouring
their Father and their Mother. They soon began to be more
interested in the memory of their departed parents than in the
happiness of their children and their grandchildren. Deliberately
they turned their backs upon the future and tried to
peer into the vast darkness of the past. The worship of the
ancestors became a positive religious system. Rather than
disturb a cemetery situated upon the sunny and fertile side of
a mountain, they would plant their rice and wheat upon the
barren rocks of the other slope where nothing could possibly
grow. And they preferred hunger and famine to the desecration
of the ancestral grave.
At the same time the wise words of Confucius never quite
lost their hold upon the increasing millions of eastern Asia.
 Confucianism, with its profound sayings and shrewd observations,
added a touch of common-sense philosophy to the soul of
every Chinaman and influenced his entire life, whether he was
a simple laundryman in a steaming basement or the ruler of vast
provinces who dwelt behind the high walls of a secluded palace.
In the sixteenth century the enthusiastic but rather uncivilised
Christians of the western world came face to face with
the older creeds of the East. The early Spaniards and Portuguese
looked upon the peaceful statues of Buddha and contemplated
the venerable pictures of Confucius and did not in
the least know what to make of those worthy prophets with
their far-away smile. They came to the easy conclusion that
these strange divinities were just plain devils who represented
something idolatrous and heretical and did not deserve the
respect of the true sons of the Church. Whenever the spirit
of Buddha or Confucius seemed to interfere with the trade in
spices and silks, the Europeans attacked the "evil influence"
with bullets and grape-shot. That system had certain very
definite disadvantages. It has left us an unpleasant heritage
of ill-will which promises little good for the immediate future.
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