80 Years Ago

16 80 YEARS AGO (The following is an extract from the June issue of the Review of Religions, 1910) ‘Buddhism and Christianity, Face to Face’ is the title of a small book which contains a report of a very spirited discussion, in which a Buddhist priest, (Rev. Migettuwatte) bravely met a Christian Minister’ (Rev. Mr. Silva) in a square face to face controversy held at Pantura, Ceylon. The discussion lasted two days, before an almost breathless audience, numbering from five to seven thousand. The report, we are told, was revised by the respective disputants and may, therefore, be taken as giving a correct account of the proceedings. It appears that the Rev. David Silva made some statements adverse to Buddhism in one of a series of sermons which he was then preaching in the Pantura Weslyan Chapel. To these the Buddhist priest took exception and denounced them as untrue and called upon Mr. Silva to establish their accuracy. This led to the great and highly interesting debate which forms the subject of the book under review. The proceedings were opened by Mr. Silva and his first objection against Buddhism was that, according to the teachings of Buddha, man had no soul and the identical man received not the reward of his good or bad actions. In proof of this, he quoted a lot of passages from original Buddhistic writings. The Buddhist priest then commenced his reply and said that the Christian missionary was not competent, owing to his ignorance of Pali, to correctly explain the great Buddha’s abstruse metaphysics. This charge, however, seems to be unjust for the Christian priest appears, from this report of,the debate, to be full of Pali. The Buddhist priest urged that though the being produced at the death of a human being was not the same, it was not a different one. Continuing he said: He would try to make this doctrine yet clearer. The much revered Bible of the Christians was not the original Bible written by Moses and others and in use among the primitive believers of Christ; and yet they could not say it was ‘a different Bible. The substance in both was the same, though it was not the identical book, so it was with Atma. Though at one’s death all those constituents which make up the outward physical man perish, and no portion of them is transferred to another world, yet the conscious being, though produced in consequence, is not a different one. Accordingly it was as incorrect to say that it was a different being who suffered for the-good or evil committed here as to assert that it was the identical doer with all his environments who thus suffered. Atma or soul, said the priest, was not REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 17 an easy subject to explain but because it was so abstruse, it did not follow that its existence was denied. Of course they did not agree with the Christians’ view of the soul; this declared that without any change man’s soul goes to a state of misery or bliss according to its deserts. Again, The great Buddha’s last discourse, in which man’s nature was explained, was not one that.could be comprehended by everybody, and much less by a clergyman of Mr. Silva’s linguistic attainments. Besides the important subject of the soul, many other points of more or less importance were discussed by the learned disputants. The Buddhistic priest attacked Christianity and the Christian clergyman defended it, and similarly Mr. Silva attacked Buddhism and the Buddhist speaker defended it. The latter deals very summarily with the Christian doctrine of atonement. Why should the Christians lay so much stress on the death of Christ, who had been killed by the authorities for attempting to rise in rebellion against the Roman Empire? What else could the ‘powers’ do to a man who had openly advised his followers to sell even their clothes and provide themselves with swords! and whose crime, according to the inscription placed on the cross, was that of styling himself the King of the Jews! a nation then under the Roman Empire. Besides, how unsatisfactory was the evidence as to his bodily resurrection. The first witness they had to testify to this all important event, according to Mark xvi, 9, was Mary Magdalene, who, they would remember, was a woman who had at one time been possessed of seven devils. What weight could be attached to the evidence of such a mad woman? The debate has been stirring throughout. The Buddhist priest is a graceful speaker who knows the art of adapting his discourse to the popular mind. The Christian advocate too is a learned and fluent speaker and is never at loss for words, but he addresses the audience as if each of them was a Max Muller, forgetting that the posers of comprehension in his hearers were limited. The result was that popular opinion declared victory in favour of the Buddhist speaker and some of the Christians also did not feel satisfied with the result.