Contemporary with Lao-tse and Confucius in China, another great teacher of truth arose in India. Gautama Siddhartha was born in the sixth century before Christ in the north Indian province of Nepal. His followers later made it appear that he was the son of a fabulously wealthy ruler, but, in truth, he was the heir apparent to the throne of a petty chieftain who ruled by sufferance over a small and secluded mountain valley in the southern Himalayas.
Gautama formulated those theories which grew into the philosophy of Buddhism after six years of the futile practice of Yoga. Siddhartha made a determined but unavailing fight against the growing caste system. There was a lofty sincerity and a unique unselfishness about this young prophet prince that greatly appealed to the men of those days. He detracted from the practice of seeking individual salvation through physical affliction and personal pain. And he exhorted his followers to carry his gospel to all the world.
Amid the confusion and extreme cult practices of India, the saner and more moderate teachings of Gautama came as a refreshing relief. He denounced gods, priests, and their sacrifices, but he too failed to perceive the personality of the One Universal. Not believing in the existence of individual human souls, Gautama, of course, made a valiant fight against the time-honored belief in transmigration of the soul. He made a noble effort to deliver men from fear, to make them feel at ease and at home in the great universe, but he failed to show them the pathway to that real and supernal home of ascending mortals—Paradise—and to the expanding service of eternal existence.
Gautama was a real prophet, and had he heeded the instruction of the hermit Godad, he might have aroused all India by the inspiration of the revival of the Salem gospel of salvation by faith. Godad was descended through a family that had never lost the traditions of the Melchizedek missionaries.
At Benares Gautama founded his school, and it was during its second year that a pupil, Bautan, imparted to his teacher the traditions of the Salem missionaries about the Melchizedek covenant with Abraham; and while Siddhartha did not have a very clear concept of the Universal Father, he took an advanced stand on salvation through faith—simple belief. He so declared himself before his followers and began sending his students out in groups of sixty to proclaim to the people of India “the glad tidings of free salvation; that all men, high and low, can attain bliss by faith in righteousness and justice.”
Gautama’s wife believed her husband’s gospel and was the founder of an order of nuns. His son became his successor and greatly extended the cult; he grasped the new idea of salvation through faith but in his later years wavered regarding the Salem gospel of divine favor through faith alone, and in his old age his dying words were, “Work out your own salvation.”
When proclaimed at its best, Gautama’s gospel of universal salvation, free from sacrifice, torture, ritual, and priests, was a revolutionary and amazing doctrine for its time. And it came surprisingly near to being a revival of the Salem gospel. It brought succor to millions of despairing souls, and notwithstanding its grotesque perversion during later centuries, it still persists as the hope of millions of human beings.
Siddhartha taught far more truth than has survived in the modern cults bearing his name. Modern Buddhism is no more the teachings of Gautama Siddhartha than is Christianity the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.