chapter  6
Studies of the Four Noble Truths in Europe and the United States
Pages 44

Led by curiosity, or invited by the allurements of science, Europeans have, during the past half-century, devoted not a little of their time to unlocking the rich stores of Oriental literature. 1

Officials of colonial governments in South Asia, both military and civilian, provided the earliest depictions of Buddhism outside of Asia. Their descriptions were soon followed by accounts written by missionaries and scholars in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma and Tibet that portrayed the religious traditions that were identified as Buddhism. One of the earlier portraits of Buddhism was provided by Captain Mahony, the author of an article on the doctrines of the Buddha that was published in 1801.2 Mahony wrote: 'The religion of Bhooddha, as far as I have had any insight into it, seems to be founded in a mild and simple morality. Bhooddha has taken for his principles, wisdom, justice, and benevolence, from which principles emanate Ten Commandments, held by his followers as the true and only rule of conduct. He places them under three heads, thought, word, and deed.' Mahony provides Sinhalese and Pali translations for these terms: wisdom (buddha), justice (dharma), benevolence (sangha); and thought (manneshet), word (vaca), and deed (kaya).3 The article is devoted to Buddhist cosmology in the main, with a short discussion of the relationship between Buddhism and Hinduism. It was not until the systematic study of Pali and Buddhist texts developed on the Continent that the four noble truths were recognized as one of the Buddha's teachings; it was not until the 1850s that the four noble truths became a familiar part of discussions of Buddhism in Europe and the United States.4