The Abbot and Monks of Kushan Monastery about 1870.

John Thomson, Monastery, China, Abbot, Monks,  Gushan, Buddhist,

The Abbot and Monks of Kushan Monastery. John Thomson, photographer.

IT is interesting to note how closely the dress of the Buddhist monk resembles the monastic garb of ancient Europe. In both we see a robe long, simple, and ample, falling loosely to the feet; and both carry a cowl for the protection of the head in cold weather, as well as a rosary to aid the wearer in keeping his debtor and creditor account of good and had thoughts, words, and works.

This account the Buddhist devotee must privately balance during his hours of meditation, and at the close of every day, until he has reached that supreme degree of sanctity when the principles of good and evil win have ceased to combat in his heart, when the lusts of the flesh wiII no longer have power to torment, and an the weaknesses of his mortal body are absorbed in that perfect state of comatose ecstasy which is termed in their scriptures “Nirvana.” The similarity between the Buddhist faith and the Roman Catholic churches may be traced even more minutely than this. “Buddhists everywhere have their monasteries and nunneries, their baptism, celibacy and tonsure, their rosaries, chaplets, relics, and charms, their fast-days and processions, their confessions, mass, requiems, and litanies, and, especially in Tibet, even their cardinals, and their pope.”

These resemblances are probably accidental, as this vital distinction still separates the two phases of faith, that Buddhism in its original purity is a practical atheism, to which the Christian doctrine of atonement is absolutely unknown. The Buddhists have ten chief commandments which their great teacher left behind for their guidance. One or two of these I have subjoined:-

  • Thou shalt not kill any living creature. Thou shalt not steal.
  • Thou shalt not drink strong liquors.
  • Thou shalt not eat after the appointed hours.
  • Thou shalt not have in thy private possession either a metal figure (an idol), or gold, or silver, or any valuable thing.

There are also a multitude of minor laws which have an important place in the regulations of the Buddhist priesthood. Thus at meal times:-

  • Every priest before he eats shall repeat five prayers for an the good things which have happened to him up to that day.
  • His heart is to be far from all cupidity and lust.
  • He shall not speak about his dinner, be it good or bad. He shan not smack in eating.
    When cleansing his teeth he shall hold something before his mouth.

In section eleven it is commanded you shan not take any meat with dirty nails. These, and many more such as these, make up the maxims of Buddha, and except he strictly observes them an no mortal can attain to the bliss of final absorption into Nirvana. If this be indeed true, then the disciples of Sakyamuni in China at the present day have, I fear, but slender prospects of happiness in a future state. See No. 45.

Source: Illustrations of China and its people: a series of two hundred photographs, with letterpress descriptive of the places and people represented by John Thomson. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle 1873.


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