In a recent issue of the China Mail appears an account of the destruction of the “Temple of Longevity,” one of the richest and most famous Buddhist Viharas at Canton, China, by an infuriated mob of Buddhist laymen. For some time past complaints have been made of the immoral lives of the priests of this temple, but they appear to have neglected paying attention even to warnings from the Nam-hoi, Chief Magistrate. At last three women were seen to enter the building, an outcry was made, the populace rushed in, but the women had escaped by the back door. The mob, however, found “ladies’ toilet-boxes, ornaments and embroidered shoes,” and thereupon beat and drove out the priests, and tore the ancient building stone from stone until not a vestige remained. Even this did not satisfy their outraged sense of propriety, for, the Mail tells us, they set fire to the ruins and consumed the last stick of its roof timbers that lay in the wreck. It is said that the (Abbot) Chief Priest fell upon his knees before the Nam-hoi, and implored his help, but was made to feel the force of his Worship’s toe after being reminded that “timely warnings had been disregarded.” The Magistrate, on the 15th November last, issued an official proclamation beginning as follows:
“Whereas the priests of the Ch’eung-Shau monastery have disobeyed the official proclamation by allowing women to enter the temple and detaining them there, and the people of the neighbourhood have suddenly surrounded and set fire to the building, the superior authorities have now ordered a detachment of over a thousand soldiers to be stationed along the streets to extinguish what fire there be still remaining,” etc.
The proclamation contains not one word in censure of the act of retribution; from which it is to be inferred that it met with official approval.
Turning to Bishop Bigandet’s excellent work on Burmese Buddhism, The Life, or Legend, of Gautama, etc.”, we find (pp. 290, 291) that:—
“Popular opinion [in Burma] is inflexible and inexorable on the point of celibacy, which is considered as essential to every one that has a pretension to be called a Rahan [in Ceylon termed Rahat, or Arahat]. The people can never be brought to look upon any person as a priest or minister of religion unless he lives in that state. Any infringement of this most essential regulation on the part of a Talapoin, is visited with an immediate punishment. The people of the place assemble at the Kiaong [Vihara, temple] of the offender, sometimes driving him out with stones. He is stripped of his clothes—and often public punishment, even that of death, is inflicted upon him by order of Government. The poor wretch is looked upon as an outcast, and the woman whom he has seduced shares in his shame, confusion, and disgrace. Such an extraordinary opinion, so deeply rooted in the mind of a people rather noted for the licentiousness of their manners, certainly deserves the attention of every diligent observer of human nature.”
The sociologist will be struck with the stern regard here seen to be felt both among the Chinese and Burmese Buddhists for the reputation of their priests. The same feeling prevails in Tibet, where one who is included in the sacerdotal order, whether as lama or ordained priest, is punished with death for breach of the rule of chastity. He and the woman are either bound together with ropes and flung into the nearest stream or pond to drown, or buried to the chin in the ground and left to die by inches. The lavish honour shown to the Buddhist priesthood in all Buddhistic countries, is the popular tribute to the supposed high moral excellence of a class of men who profess to imitate the character, and follow the precepts of Lord Buddha. And candour will compel every fair man to say with the Romish Bishop of Rangoon, that their moral characters are, as a rule, blameless. Lazy they are beyond doubt and too often selfish and ignorant; but the cases of sexual indulgence among members of the Sangha are comparatively very rare. Col. Olcott’s experience, in Ceylon, tallies with Bishop Bigandet’s, in Burma. The vengeance taken upon recreant priests in China and Burma is the more impressive since we can recall no instance among Christians of religious houses having been demolished by mobs, because of the immoralities of clergymen or priests. And yet there has been provocation of that sort often enough given, unless rumour has belied some world-famous Reverends and some thousands more of their profession in Europe and America.