In 1929, when author Dwight Goddard wrote The Buddha’s Golden Path, he was breaking ground. No American before him had lived the life of a Zen Buddhist monk, and then set out to share what he had learned with his countrymen. The Buddha’s Golden Path is a true classic. It has touched countless lives, and opened the door for future generations in this country to study and embrace the principles of Zen.
Dwight Goddard was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1861, and became a pioneer in the American Zen Buddhist movement. During his life, he authored and edited nine titles
on Buddhism, including A Buddhist Bible.
2. Prince Siddhatha Gautama
Through Restraint of Physical Desire to Emancipation
3. The First Stage—Right Ideas
4. The Second Stage—Right Resolution
5. The Third Stage—Right Speech
6. The Fourth Stage—Right Behavior
7. The Fifth Stage—Right Vocation
8. The Sixth Stage—Right Effort
9. The Seventh Stage—Right Mindfulness
10. The Eighth Stage—Right Concentration
Through Right Mind-Control to Enlightenment
11. Right Ideas
12. Right Resolution
13. Right Use of Words
14. Right Ideals of Conduct
15. Right Environment
16. Right Mental Ideas
17. Right Mindfulness
18. Right Concentration 1
Through Concentration of Spirit to Tranquillization
19. Right Intuition
20. Right Vows
21. Right Radiation
22. Right Spiritual Behavior
23. Right Environment
24. Right Spirit
25. Right Mindfulness
26. Right Concentration
While buddhism has nothing dogmatic to offer, it does ask of the beginner that he free himself from all other dogma and superstitions. He must come to the study and practice of Buddhism with an entirely free mind. This is no easy thing to do by one who has been brought up from childhood in an atmosphere of Christian dogmatics and who, consciously or unconsciously, believes a lot of things as axiomatic which are not at all so. Buddhism is, first of all and last of all, an experience that each must interpret for himself, and to do so rightly one must start with a clear mind. As the Path unfolds it brings enlightenment and an ever-clearing spiritual insight. One must, from the very beginning, think humbly, carefully and truly, lest he deviate from the true path. All that Gautama asked of his disciples was that they be “honest and straightforward men.”
Gautama lived in India at a time when it was filled with abstruse philosophizing on the part of scholars and extreme superstitions on the part of the more ignorant, against both of which he protested. Nevertheless, there were many things that were commonly accepted which Gautama took for granted without necessarily endorsing or asking his hearers to accept without themselves being convinced of their truthfulness. Such things as karma, reincarnation and Nirvana were accepted in India centuries before Gautama’s day; Gautama accepted them, but filled them with a new and richer content of meaning. Other things, such as the being and nature of God, the immortality of the soul and any self-conscious life after the death of the body, he warned his disciples against, because they were unprovable and their discussion tended to dissension and unrest of mind. In general he warned his disciples against accepting any ideas, even from him, that could not be examined and proved by their own observation and experience. He especially warned them to be on their guard against the common habit of logical exclusion: a thing must be either this or that. Gautama was too keen a thinker to be taken in by that. He insisted that there were many ideas that were neither this nor that, or were both this and that.
One of the current conceptions which Gautama accepted in a general way, but which he developed and interpreted (and the great Buddhist philosophers after him still further interpreted), was the cosmological conception of the universe. In Gautama’s day the universe was thought to be divided into more or less separate kingdoms—such as the physical plane in which we consciously dwell, below which was a plane of animal life, below that a plane of vegetable life, below that a realm of demons, and still lower, a realm of “hungry demons.” Above the physical plane was conceived to be a world of “devas,” superhumanly fortunate and happy and free, and above that a world wherein dwelt the gods. Between these different planes there was supposed to be a constant, never-ending transmigration.
Such a naïve cosmology as this, in our more scientific age, is seen to be unconvincing and improbable; and yet it is not entirely false. For our day we must interpret it in a more scientific way that can be tested by our enlightened experience and logic. Our interpretation is this: There is but one universe that in its totality is all-inclusive, harmonious, unlimited, and inscrutable. This Wholeness can be thought of with the Buddhist philosophers as Dharmakaya, the Body of Truth; or with Laotsu as Tao, the Universal Spirit. We cannot see back of it a transcendental personal God, because that is irrational. Let us call it both Mind-essence and Ultimate Principle, because that includes all in a rational and unified sense.
This Ultimate Principle, coming within the range of our observation, is seen to be a synthesis of two lesser principles: a principle of integration that draws and holds things together; and a principle of differentiation that tends toward creative expression in infinite particularity. In Sanskrit words the active part of the Dharmakaya is called Prajna; Prajna is the synthesis of Karuna and Jnana; Karuna, love or compassion, represents the unifying principle; Jnana, intellection, represents the differentiating principle. They are not two separate principles, they never operate alone or separately, their unity is inscrutable; but, discriminated, they are capable of endless permutations and expression. From these two aspects emanate other lesser principles that are each in its own way separative or unifying. This realm of principles, separative in aspects but harmonious in essence, is called the Spiritual Realm. The spiritual principles become further differentiated into mind, thinking and thought, and we have the world of living ideas, the Psychic Realm. These vital ideas tend to express themselves into subject and object, and forms with consciousness, and with perception, and with sensation, and objects with less and less of mind: bacteria, crystals, molecules, atoms, protons and electrons, and ether. This plane we call the World, or, if we discriminate the planes, we may speak of self-conscious humanity, the animal world, the vegetable world, the microscopic world of bacteria, the atomic world of infinitesimal protons and electrons moving in a hypothetical ether. But these knots of electrical energy demand a prior conception of points of space, instants of time, and movement, all of which are primary modes of thinking—that is, they are the ultimate expression of the principle of differentiation or intellection. Given the self-nature of the Ultimate Principle as the perfect synthesis of integration and disintegration, to express itself it must move, and, once moving, we have point-instants, which under the influence of the integrating principle will be drawn endlessly into more and more complex groups that, by action, reaction and interaction, will evolve toward freedom on the physical plane, toward meaning on the psychic plane, and toward identity on the spiritual plane. There are thus two circles of creative activity apparently moving in opposite directions, but inextricably interweaving the ever-changing pattern of actuality, and both emerging from and disappearing into the self-nature of the Dharmakaya.
There can be, however, but one Ultimate Principle, one all-inclusive, harmonious Wholenes that is here and now and always has been and always will be. There may be endless changes, appearances, processes and purposes going on, but they are all within the self-nature of the Dharmakaya expressing itself according to the Ultimate Principle. The whole Dharmakaya is thus on the point of a needle. There is but one reality, this Ultimate Principle, all else is appearance and relativity. Looking backward through our discriminating senses and intellect we see a visible, tangible universe; looking inward we see that all is mind, all is Ultimate Principle. The Golden Path leads us inward to a self-realization of this supreme and ultimate identity.
Perhaps it is unnecessary to speak of this in this introduction, but most of the readers of this book will probably have been brought up in a mental environment of Christian dogmatics in which the ideas of a Divine Creator and law giver and the eternal life of a self-conscious soul are so prevalent that it seems to the writer as almost a necessity to here call it into attention and question. Have faith, then, in your intuitive-mind. The intellectual, discriminative-mind is competent to deal with objective criteria that can be weighed and counted, and is therefore useful for one’s success, health and happiness; but the intuitive-mind, by its ability to identify itself with essence of mind, thereby cognizes a higher reality with which its true self is identified.