Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

Click for Detailed notes on McCabe - scroll down for selections from A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (1948).

Here's the full A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (about 1.3 MBytes; Word format; includes notes on some of its limits)

Buddha and Buddhism

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

    Buddha (about 560-480 B.C.). All references to the Hindu moralist Gautama, who came to be called Buddha (Enlightened), as the founder of a religion or sect or as a "great spiritual seer," are directly opposed to the conclusions of the leading authorities. There was in the sixth century B.C. In Asia, a remarkable challenge of religious traditions comparable with that of the nineteenth century in the West. The Ionian thinkers [see] of Asia Minor, and Lao-Tse and Confucius [see] in China, led a revolt against all religious belief, and there was a simultaneous revolt against the cult of Brahma in India. The chief centre of the latter revolt was the Atheistic Sankhya philosophy [see], by which Buddha and the contemporary founder of Jainism were inspired; but while there was also a hedonistic school, as in all such ages, which taught that pleasure was the highest good, Mahavira [see] and Buddha regarded pleasure as one of the evils of life from which men were to be delivered. Mahavira advocated ascetic monasticism as the remedy; Buddha relied upon knowledge. His counsels to the people were the plain social rules of conduct, but there was a mystic tinge in his teaching to the elect. To rhetoric about his spiritual insight we have to oppose the fact that there was no pretence of originality in his successful exhortations of the people; whereas his personal contribution, or what was peculiar to him in his teaching, was responsible for its degeneration into the spurious religion called Buddhism. It was commonly held in India that the idea of transmigration (which gave a man a second or third chance) best reconciled folk to the evils of life, and it is generally agreed that Buddha passively accepted the theory, without - he was far from being an exact thinker - attempting to adjust it to his general theory of life.
    It is stated by all the leading experts that he had no belief in God, soul, or any spiritual realities. The chief authority, Prof. T. Rhys Davids, proves at length in his Buddhism (22nd ed., 1910) - a book published by the S.P.C.K. - that Buddha "denied the existence of any soul" (p. 99), and that a belief in soul was rank heresy to the early Buddhists. In his Buddhism, its Teaching and Literature (lectures delivered at Cornell University) Prof. Davids says that neither. Stoics nor Confucians were "quite so frankly and entirely independent as Buddhism of the two theories of God and the soul" (1926 ed., p. 140). Prof. E. W. Hopkins, another standard authority, explains in his Religions of India (1895) how the revolt against Brahmanism "led to Atheism" (p. 298), and says that Buddha "cast off not only gods but soul" (p. 314), and "no man ever lived so godless yet so godlike" (p. 325); and in his Ethics of India (1924) he says that "there was no God [in Buddhism] till Buddha himself in the eyes of the ordinary worshipper took God's place" (p. 142). Prof. Vincent Smith, our chief authority on Hindu history, insists that Buddha had no idea of founding a religion, and "without denying the existence of a Supreme Deity he ignored it,' (The Oxford Student's History of India, 12th ed., 1929, p. 45.)
    Thus all the leading authorities; yet the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics entrusted its article on Buddha to a Methodist professor and Bible Society writer, the Rev. Dr. Geden, who does not even notice this important issue. The same prejudiced writer, however, in his article on "God: Buddhist," while admitting that Buddha never mentioned God or gods or souls, claims nevertheless that he must have believed in them because he was a man of such profound spiritual insight! In the article "Indian Buddhism," in the same encyclopaedia, Prof. MacDonell (professor of Sanscrit at Oxford University) says that Buddha "denied the existence of a world-soul and of the individual soul." In short, every expert who disentangles the teaching of Buddha from adulterations in the earliest Buddhist literature (which was written long after his death) admits that he never appealed to God or a soul, and that he urged people to waste no time on such matters or on priests or temples. The single argument of those who are reluctant to grant that the greatest of ethical teachers was an Atheist (in the legitimate sense) is that he thought it better not to introduce his belief in God and the soul into his teaching. To this the obvious and decisive answer is that in the whole of history there is no instance of a moralist, particularly one who devoted his whole life to moral preaching to people who did believe in God, having such a belief and rigorously declining to strengthen his appeal with it. The same argument can, we shall see, be used in regard to the Atheism of Confucius.

    Buddhism. The Asiatic religion which has assumed that name is an accretion of myths, superstitions, and rites which grew round the teaching of Buddha as it spread over Asia. The ethic was still pure in the days of Asoka [see], though that king laid far more stress upon transmigration than Buddha had laid, and his munificent endowment of Buddhism, with the best of intentions, accelerated its degeneration. The life of leisure in the great endowed monasteries bred futile discussion and dissension, and decay set in. Modern authorities question the truth of the tradition that the religion, as it had now become, was suppressed in the greater part of India, though its deterioration had enabled the Brahmans to recover ground against it, and sober monarchs, as in China, frowned upon its vast sterile communities. In some of these the same vices were bred as in the monasteries of Europe, though there was never anything like the same widespread corruption. There is in modern times a revival of pure Buddhism, in India and elsewhere - there is a small Buddhist Society in London - but the Buddhist religion, which counts its followers by the hundred million, has no more resemblance to the teaching of Buddha than Roman or English Catholicism has to the teaching attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. Its one distinction is as Rhys Davids says that its annals are nowhere stained by persecution of other religions of the 150,000,000 followers that it claims the majority are not Buddhists In the sense in which men are Christians They lightly profess it or enjoy its services as well as, at the same time, other religions, like Taoism or Shintoism. [See China.]

Return to Joseph McCabe Selection

Home Page

Scanning, HTML Rae West. First upload 2012-04-13