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AN ATTEMPT TO INTERPRET BUDDHA FROM A BUDDHIST STANDPOINT.
AN ESSAY READ TO THE CHANNING CLUB, NORTHAMPTON, MASS., APRIL 8, 1875.
BY DYER D. LUM.
“My law is a law of grace for all,” said Gótama Buddha twenty-four centuries ago; and this law, then first made known to suffering humanity, has led countless millions to rise superior to the pains of existence, and to attain that rest for which we are ever aspiring—Nirwána. This law knows no race, no sex; for it is the language of our higher nature, and commends itself to the artisan and the laborer in every land, as well as to the thinker and the seer; and has received the grateful homage of Aryan, Turanian, and Mongolian races. Believers in the efficacy of this law are flocking to your land, where they find its central truths already widely spread and adopted, and awaiting only recognition as such, offering a bountiful harvest to the missionaries who will yet spread a knowledge of them in the name of their great Expounder.
Professor Max Müller says: “What our great poet once said almost prophetically of languages may also be said of religions—’He who knows only one, knows none.’” But how are religions to be studied? Certainly not in the mere examination of their ceremonial rites and forms of worship, nor in a critical investigation of their doctrinal beliefs; these are but the outward coverings, the dry husks of religion, into the significance of which we can never penetrate, unless we understand the vital principle which they represent, and which animates and endears them to the hearts of their acceptors.
METHOD OF INQUIRY.
In endeavoring to set before you the vital principles of the religious system made known to the world by Gótama, the hermit of the race of Sákya, I have a twofold object in view; to give you an outline of that religious philosophy as held by an intelligent Buddhist, and, in defending it as the true method of salvation, to set forth the reasons why I cannot accept even the “Liberal” form of Christianity which, you so earnestly insist, not only “touches Buddhism at all its good points, in all its truths, but to all this it adds—how much more!” supplementing its highest truths, you claim, with higher incentives to right living and noble action.
The first Buddhist king, in the third century before Christ, had to remind the assembled priests at the great council which met to settle the Buddhist canon that: “What had been said by Buddha, that alone was well said;” and it is still more necessary to-day to recall our attention from the traditions which ecclesiasticism has collected about the person of the great Teacher, and already to discern the central truths which characterized his teachings. That we can, in a measure, distinguish between Buddhism and the personal teachings of its founder as well as between Christianity and the doctrines taught by Christ, is now acknowledged by able Oriental scholars.
Niebuhr has said that, “Unless a boldness of divination, liable as it is to abuse, be permitted, all researches into the earlier history of nations must be abandoned.” How much more important is it, where the origin of a religious system is concerned, skillfully to discriminate between actual occurrences on the one hand, and the artificial setting on the other, in which loving but credulous minds have preserved them, Such investigations, however, will altogether fail of their purpose, if coldly conducted in a purely critical manner. While historical research should certainly be conducted with unimpassioned zeal, yet, to be earnest and effective, the heart must glow with sympathy towards the subject under investigation. To understand Buddha, we must bring to our task a mind fully in sympathy with his central ideas; within our breasts must glow the same sacred flame which, kindled on the altar of his soul, led him to that life of self-sacrificing devotion which stands out alone and unique in the world’s history; we must be capable of grasping the lofty ideal that filled his mind, and actuated him in his life work. Having once firmly grasped these central principles, the words of the Teacher become luminous with new meanings; the ideas of the speaker being known, we are enabled to look through the words, as it were, and detect the very thought they were designed to express.
Whilst this “method of loving sympathy’’ may often enable us to read between the lines, and more fully set forth the cardinal ideas of the teacher, we should carefully guard ourselves from the fatal error of constructing an ideal character into whose sentences we may interpolate the conceptions of a later and more advanced age, or the mistaken notion that we can draw a sharp line of demarcation between the established system of belief and the teachings of its founder, by regarding the organized church and its dogmas as something altogether independent of, and not derived from, the principles as first set forth.
We must not forget that the central ideas of the Teacher may carry with them in their logical development, not only what was not uttered by the speaker, but even what he would not have accepted and yet to him must be accredited these results however repugnant they would have been to his mind if foreseen. Legitimate deductions worked out in dogmas and creeds by succeeding generations, if palpably erroneous, are evidence not of apostasy from, but rather of weakness and error in, the cardinal teachings on which they were founded. In our attempt to compare the Buddhist and Christian religions, at the close of this essay, we shall find occasion to recall this truth. Sympathy, therefore, should never lead us to violate the rules of historical criticism, nor to attempt to supersede them. With these views, you will, I doubt not, heartily concur; and I hasten to present you with a brief sketch of Gótama Buddha and his teachings.
WHO WAS BUDDHA?
I seek to draw your attention to the fundamental principles of Buddhism, to its underling verities, the law made known by Buddha. Dismiss once for all from your minds the senseless charge of idolatry and “Joss-worship,” and examine with me into its claim to present the only method of salvation of any practical value known to man. We must transport ourselves to Central India, where, in the sixth century before Christ, there lived a man whose exalted character and religious utterances have brought comfort and peace to millions of sorrowing hearts, and who to-day is nominally revered by nearly one-third of the inhabitants of the entire globe; whose magnificent protest against Brahminism, uttered in the name of religion, and in the interests of humanity, founded a system unique in the history of human thought, rendering his name as well as his thought imperishable wherever mental liberty is loved. Gótama,—or, as he is sometimes called Sákya Muni the hermit of the race of Sákya,—the prince, philosopher, and saint, the founder of Buddhism has never been surpassed as an original thinker, and his reflections on the secret of existence—man’s destiny—still claim the careful attention of the thoughtful mind.
Brahminism, the religion of the Vedas, had already grown hoary with age and in its logical development had succeeded in crushing out of the heart all feeling of the brotherhood of man by the growth of the caste system. Starting from God, or spirit, as the first cause, there had logically resulted an ultra-spiritualism, or idealism, recognizing nothing but God: matter being but the illusive forms which spirit assumes. Brahminical speculations, therefore, centered entirely on Deity. God was all-in-all, absorption in the Divine the goal to which human destiny tended. Hence, religion consisted in the study of the Infinite, and the relations existing between the Infinite and the finite. From the very nature of their premise, the Brahmins necessarily lost sight of man. They soared in the clouds of metaphysical abstraction, and not only forgot, but ignored, the matter-of-fact duties of life. This being the logical result of their system we are not surprised to find that the laws governing the organization of society received no humane amelioration from religion, but resulted in that rigorous and inflexible system of caste, never elsewhere so fully developed. Receiving no check from the Vedic religion, the influence of caste was supreme when Gótama first sought to interpret the riddle of existence.
What humane impulse could originate in a system of religious belief which declared as fundamental dogmas such views as these:—
“God is concealed in all things.” “He fills the all.” “The Spirit is one and everlasting.” “Divine, without form, is the Spirit, pervading the internal and external of beings; unborn, without breath, shining elevated above the highest and unalterable. Out of him comes the breath of life, the mind, and all senses.” “The man who perceives in his own soul the supreme Soul present in all creatures acquires equanimity towards them all, and shall be absorbed at last in the highest essence, even that of the Almighty himself.”
Educated in this school of religious speculation lived Gótama, the son of an Indian king, a member of the highest caste, surrounded with all the luxuries parental love and kingly power could provide and carefully nurtured in the sciences and manly accomplishments of his age. Married to a young and beautiful princess, formally recognized as heir-apparent, he passed his days to all appearance free from care in honor, luxury, and comfort; yet beneath a quiet exterior great thoughts were agitating his mind. His intercourse with the outward world was not of a character to bring him into contact with vice or misery; yet, through the royal splendor and behind the obsequious lackeys ever surrounding his chariot, penetrating eyes were searching for realities. On one memorable occasion he beheld a wretched and decrepit old man, supporting his tottering, trembling body with a crutch; and it is narrated that “he was deeply moved at the sad sight.”
Again he witnessed what was equally strange to his eyes, a man rolling in agony from a loathsome disease, and a decomposing corpse; “and his heart grew more and more sorrowful.” While pondering on these scenes, he beheld a mendicant monk whose calm and peaceful demeanor was in striking contrast with the hideous forms he had looked upon. The Siamese Life of Buddha relates that, “reflecting on what he saw and heard, he said to himself, ‘No being that is born can escape age, sickness, and death; happiest by far is the lot of a monk.’” This was the only escape from the cares and anxieties of life known to the age. The Hindus were familiar with instances of the power of ascetic penances: but in Gótama’s case the motives to take ascetic vows were markedly different from the spirit of the time. The great problem filling his mind was human suffering, the sorrow incident to age, sickness, and death. Being inevitable, must we tearfully submit, or could we surmount the sorrow thus entailed upon us? Yet to take the final step, to assume the garb of a mendicant monk, would involve the sacrifice of family, wealth, and power,—all that he had been accustomed to hold dear. While this struggle was passing in his mind, his wife gave birth to a son, but even this new tie could not divert his thoughts from the consideration of the four motives to pious reflections described in the memorable scenes which had filled his mind with anguish,—that is, age, disease, death, and religious life.
While the palace was filled with rejoicing, and all had given themselves over to pleasure, Gótama determined to devote himself to religion. Carrying this resolution into speedy execution, he forsook parents, family, rank, and luxury. Leaving a kindly message by promising to return to “wipe away the. tears of my family with the most excellent of kerchiefs—the teachings of the true law,” Gótama fled to distant regions to attempt to solve the problem which had rendered life in idleness and luxury unbearable. For six years, from his twenty-ninth to his thirty-fifth year, he practiced asceticism in accordance with established usage. So severe were the austerities undergone that disciples followed him with pious reverence, happy to minister to his simple wants.
“THE WHEEL OF THE LAW.”
After six years of vain endeavor, Buddha renounced the system of mortification, and sought to regain his health. His disciples forsook him, and again he was alone with his questions unanswered. Were they indeed unanswerable? Awakened from: his fond dream of perfection through penance and bodily mortification, he still sought with undiminished purpose to solve the problem of life; and, starting from a different stand-point, he arrived at definite conclusions. These conclusions, the fundamental dogmas of Buddhism, have been formulated as the “Four Sublime Truths,” and are as follows:—
“1st. That sorrow ever attends existence.
“2d. That the cause of sorrow lies in the passions or desires.
“3d. That cessation of sorrow can be procured by the extinction of desire.
“4th. That desire can be extinguished by holiness (literally, by entry into the paths).”
The method by which this conquest of sorrow is achieved is called the “Eightfold Path,” and consists of—
1. Accuracy in doctrine.
2. Accuracy in thought, ending all doubt.
3. Accuracy in speaking, or use of words.
4. Accuracy in works or conduct.
5. Accuracy in life, free from sin and ambition.
6. Accuracy in application.
7. Accuracy in memory.
8. Accuracy in meditation.
In this “law,” Gótama beheld emancipation from the bonds of sorrow. Be believed that he had penetrated to realities; illusion and doubt disappeared; and he became the Buddha, that is, the enlightened, the awakened, HE WHO KNOWS. Let us examine this “creed,” and endeavor to view it, not as a mere schedule of doctrinal affirmations, but to discover the thought of which they were the expression; to find the spirit which fills them and which has awakened an answering response in so many sorrow-laden hearts.
The promulgation of this law was a protest against the whole system, which Brahminical thought had instituted; for it proclaimed man to be the sole object of thought, human perfection to be the aim of religion. Mr. Hodgson, a long and careful observer, says, “The one infallible diagnostic of Buddhism is a belief in the infinite capacity of the human intellect.” The language of Buddhist writers is: “Man is capable of enlarging his faculties to infinity.” This was the central thought in Buddha’s mind, and herein he took a radical departure from the Brahmanic system; for that, in affirming the metaphysical belief that the Infinite is all, had failed to realize the presence of the finite. Buddha, recognizing the finite as alone solvable, affirmed man as the sole object of thought. The first grand fact of existence he proclaimed to be sorrow; that is, discontent, unsatisfied aspirations. All existence is subject to change and decay. The laws of Nature are alone inflexible; to know these laws, and to place ourselves in unison with them, would lead to emancipation.
Buddha recognized two orders of existence, the phenomenal and its underlying reality, the material and what is termed the spiritual. How far could he penetrate toward their essence? The material he proclaimed to be illusory, impermanent; containing naught of permanency but the unknown force of which it is a manifestation. Man, being conditioned in finite existence, can know nothing of final causes, can form no conception of the underlying element of phenomenal existence. Huxley, in declaring that “every form is force visible,” but restated the affirmation of Buddha that all existence was phenomenal. Matter is more illusory than a passing dream, ever shifting and changing. Nought is invariable in Nature but that which underlies all phenomena. That which perdures is eternal and immutable and while our knowledge of Nature is only of the phenomenal, it necessarily remains beyond the grasp of our faculties. Physical Nature, then, failing to reveal to us a knowledge of the real, shall we look for it in mind?
This led to the query, What is mind? What is that by which we realize the impermanency of material existence? Anticipating the results of modern research, he declared mind to be another form of manifestation of force. The substratum, or underlying element, of mind, is force mental action but - its phenomenal manifestation in finite existence. Mind cannot create ideas; it can merely combine, or transpose simple ideas, thereby forming complex conceptions. We deceive ourselves in fancying that we have an intuitive perception of outlying goodness lore, or virtue. “As far as language is concerned,” says Max Müller “an abstract word is nothing but an adjective raised into a substantive, but, in thought, the conception of a quality as a subject is a matter of extreme difficulty, and in strict logical parlance impossible.” Buddha thoroughly analyzed the mental faculties, and saw that in none was the permanent realizable. He saw, to quote in the words of modern text-books, that “consciousness is a succession of changes combined and arranged in special ways.” The real self, however, he declared to be something deeper and fuller than consciousness or personality; but in its essence, like the ground-work of material existence, it must remain unknown. Matter and mind, instead of being two opposite modes of existence, are in reality but two modes of manifestation of force. Mental action, like material existence, is phenomenal. Buddha fully realized the fact that consciousness is persistent, that mind while giving out its own phenomena to all appearance, and consisting in successive states perdures through all. There is something underlying phenomena, and a ground for it, a condition for mental action, not however in any sense peculiar to mind in man alone, but also in animal forms
But, having reached this conclusion, had he authority for asserting that the aggregate of mental functions known as mind is an immortal entity? This power within and underlying all mental phenomena etudes our finite vision, and escapes the closest scrutiny. We behold but the continent of the power, and witness but its phenomenal effect. Attempting to define or to name it, and we annex it to the phenomenal. But does not this which perdures, while silent as to its essence and its origin, become pregnant with meaning when questioned as to its future? “Nothing can extend beyond its limits.” is a trite axiom, but what are the limits to the mind’s craving?
The mind is compelled by its own nature to be ever struggling, aspiring, striving for a higher condition, yet always conscious of its chains and limitations. How can sorrow be overcome, this ungratified craving be realized, while the mind remains subject to change and limitation? Sorrow, or this insatiable yearning of the mind, we recognize as an inheritance of existence; and escape from it, therefore, must be deliverance from the bonds of existence. What do the intuitions of the mind indicate? What is the lesson taught by the aspirations of the soul,—if we may so designate the unknown element? To the Brahmin this inherent discontent was evidence of our deific nature, the soul thereby proclaiming its divine origin in it. efforts to be freed from a debasing connection. To the Christian, these aspirations, this ever-repeated struggle and ceaseless longings, are the glorious token of immortality, and the promise of an ever-upward flight in an endless duration, ever receiving and ever craving additional knowledge. But to Buddha aspiration did not stand out alone and unique in the universe, a promise never to be fulfilled, but always to be infinitely short of realization; a goad to be forever driving us on and on through the vistas of eternity toward Illusory allurements of rest, peace, and knowledge.
These aspirations toward the Infinite, we are constantly assured by Christian divines, are peculiar to man. We are often reminded that it is a well understood law of Nature that, for every form possessing life, there are natural provisions for the complete expression of that life; that its highest possible expression will be attained. In obedience to this law, the farmer sows his seed, believing that its life will find full expression and reach its ultimate in the ripened grain. Of all the beasts of the field we find none where the highest requirements of their being are not complied with. We are assured that they remain the same as in the past; that they come and go, generation after generation, and that this sameness, this perpetual level, results from the fact that their highest aspirations are met, that the requirements of their being are fulfilled; but that in man alone have those deep aspirations overreached all earthly possibilities, and overleaped all earthly forms; and deduce from this they the conclusion that we are immortal. Poetically expressed:—
“Are there not aspirations in each heart
- After a better, brighter world than this?
Longings for beings nobler in each part,
- Things more exalted, steeped in deeper bliss?
Who gave us this? What are they? Soul, in thee
The bud is budding now for immortality!”
Such is the argument; but does an endless conscious existence meet the requirement? Our inherent aspirations are not for “worlds,” or “beings,” or “things,” but for that of which we know not; and we have no right thus to confuse these aspirations with our imperfect and comparative definitions of them. Are they to receive complete expression in an infinite prolongation of the struggle? Buddha saw in the soul no will-o’-the-wisp, no mere ignis fatuus. The soul, or that algebraic X, the unknown factor expressing the basis of mind, was no huge interrogation point, still more to complicate the riddle of existence. He saw in these longings but another form of sorrow. Struggle, discontent, is the soul’s inheritance; rest, peace, knowledge, is the soul’s requirement, the triune necessity of its nature. Necessarily antagonistic, we never see them harmoniously blended. How, then, obtain relief? Only by the attainment of that which the soul ever craves, the realization of its aspirations,—“the infinite perfectibility of man.” To attain this, recognized by each mind as its highest ambition, even aspiration must be overcome. But aspiration is the result of limitation, and limitation is the definition of conscious existence. To offer us an endless personality in immortal existence, however soothing and soporific to some minds the belief may be, does not meet the requirements of the case; as an answer to the problem it is merely an evasion, for it leaves the soul’s requirements unfulfilled. To meet the demand is to extinguish aspiration. If the affirmations of the soul are to be trusted, the demand must be met. Buddha, with firm reliance on “these glorious instincts,” declared that it would be met, that it was an imperative necessity from which there was no escape; consequently involving freedom from the circle of finite existence, that the “wheel” of personal existence must be broken.
While other races have feared death, the downtrodden people of the East feared life. To live was want, privation, struggle. Reflection convinced Buddha that this was the expression of mental life, independent of all circumstances. To live was unsatisfied desire, and denial of the soul’s aspiration. To live was to confine the mind, to limit its powers. To live, though it were in a fabled Paradise under the approving smile of a God, would still be subjection to sorrow—the grand fact and inherent curse of existence.
The road to deliverance was not through outward observances or sacrificial offerings, but by obeying the laws hedging in the soul. Knowledge alone was the gate to rest, to complete emancipation, for the assertion of the poet that—
“Knowledge is but sorrow’s spy”—
is not only baseless, but a gross blasphemy. To understand himself, the laws of his being in order to conform therewith, the nature of existence, and the true road to soul-rest—these were the chief objects of human thought. But how attained? How bring the demands of our nature in consonance with the laws of the universe, that, by obedience to and harmony with these methods or laws of Nature, the soul might attain its goal?
Obviously by moral training, a pure life, the subjection of the passions by asserting and maintaining the authority of the real over the transient. As ignorance is the chief cause of sorrow, so in knowledge we find its cure; for knowledge is not a mere intellectual process, but moral culture, the perfection of our whole nature.
Buddha taught that every one’s merit and demerit, called by Buddhists “Karma,” is the shaper of his destiny. Of soul we know nothing; to Buddhists it is an empty word devoid of meaning; yet, whatever it may be, we may confidently assert that moral worth alone can benefit it. Karma is the law of consequences, every act carrying with it its own compensation, entailing results from which there is no escape. In the metaphysical system of modern Buddhism the doctrine of transmigration is based on Karma. Buddha is traditionally reported to have said: “Karma is the most essential property of all beings; It is Inherited from previous births, it is the cause of all good and evil, and the reason why some are mean and some exalted when they come into the world. It is like the shadow which always accompanies the body.”
In this, however, we behold a very familiar truth; modern science is equally explicit in affirming the same idea. Past Karma, premerit, heredity, is the mighty power that antecedently moulds our characters, “and which,” to use the language of a living scientist, “not only assigns to individuals their position in the surrounding world, but also helps them to attain it.” Not, however, as fate, but in strict accordance with the moral responsibility of man. While by our own acts we may largely direct the development of our minds, it still remains true that what we are on entering life Is the result of Karma Inherited from the past.
As science, in the discovery of the law of selection, “has finally broken with the notion of design, which hitherto invested the organic world with perfection externally bestowed, and even In the province of intelligence and morality, where it is said with Schiller,
‘So grows the Man as grows his greater aims,’
has secured admittance for the uniform method of natural science,” so in Buddhism we find the same general conclusion reached by an opposite method. In the opening verses of the Dhammapàda, containing the moral precepts of Buddha, it is said:—
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought; it is founded on our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of him who draws the carriage.
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought; it is founded on our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.”
Ignoring final causes as beyond our ken, recognizing with modern science the limits of thought to lie in the “impossibility of comprehending the nature of matter and force,” we find in Karma the supreme controller of destiny, no less obvious in the realm of moral relations than in the physical world. Moral power exists in will alone; but here we must not be misled into fancying that the word “will,” the several processes of which we may analyze, affords us in its totality any explanation of the incomprehensible. Thought, under the guidance of will, not only can shape our destiny, but tell with untold effect upon succeeding generations. Merit and demerit, or Karma, in Buddhistic thought, is of far wider application than to human actions alone; it pervades Nature, of which we are a part. In Karma, therefore, we recognize the supreme controlling power of the universe, giving us a moral government of the world, without a personal governor. This is not unintelligible to occidental forms of thought, for we find essentially the same idea in the words of the German Fichte: “The arrangement of moral sentiments and relations, that is, the moral order of the universe, is God.”
But its value to us does not lie in its supposed definition of the moral order of the universe, but in its incentives to moral action. While its metaphysical side may be most justly expressed in the above words of Fichte, its practical worth is clearly given in these words of Emerson:—
“Fear not, then, thou child infirm,
There’s no god dare wrong a worm.
Laurel crowns cleave to deserts,
And power to him who power exerts.”
We cannot move but by the laws of our nature. The moral laws are channels of force as definable as physical laws, and our “innate consciousness of freedom” enables us to move with them, lest we be crushed in resisting them. This is the extent of our consciousness of freedom; it has no other. In a moral sense, “all that we are is the result of what we have thought,” the result of Karma. From this there is but one escape—the emancipation attained only in “Nirwána.”
What is emancipation? Is it mere extinction, annihilation? Buddha termed the goal Nirwána. In the Buddhist Scriptures we find Nirwána characterized as follows:—
“The state that is peaceful, free from body, from passion, and from fear, where birth or death is not, —that Is Nirwána.” “Nirwána puts an end to coming and going, and there is no other happiness.” “It is a calm wherein no wind blows.” “There is no difference in Nirwána.” “It is the annihilation of all the principles of existence.” “Nirwána is the completion and opposite shore of existence, free from decay, tranquil, knowing no restraint, and of great blessedness.” “Nirwána is unmixed satisfaction, entirely free from sorrow.” “Nirwána, like space, is causeless, does not live nor die, and has no locality. It is the abode of those liberated from existence.” “The wind cannot be squeezed in the hand, nor can its color be told. Yet the wind is. Even so Nirwána is, but its properties cannot be told.” “Nirwána is not, except to the being who attains it.”
Etymologlcally, Nir-wána is free from wána, desire or thought. The Brahmins had shown the unreality of matter, and declared all things illusion and vanity, and found reality alone in spirit, Brahma. Buddha accepted the argument, and denied the reality of both, accepting the unreality of matter as the only existence. “NOTHING IS!” Emancipation, though consisting in the attainment of the endless void, is not annihilation. Not, as Baur states, “that all may attain unity with the original empty space, so as to unpeople the worlds,” but the extinction of the transient, the liberation of the real, the complete antithesis of material existence. Nothing, that is no thing; the everlasting real, before which our imperfect tongues are speechless. It is no answer to call the future life spiritual, for spiritual is but an empty word, destitute of meaning. Notwithstanding all the speculations of Christian theologasters carried on through the centuries, speculations conducted under “the glorious light of Christian revelation,” the life to come remains to finite minds—nothing. What grander philosophical truth was ever uttered than that saying of Buddha: “To those who know the concatenation of causes and effects, there is neither being nor nothing.”
We must ever bear in mind that Buddha’s doctrine consisted of affirmations, not denials. We nowhere find him denying the multitudinous future worlds asserted by the Brahmins; he contented himself with asserting the Inherent requirements of the soul. With his eye firmly fixed on its goal, all specnlations on intermediate conditions were of no importance and unworthy of serious thought. Is it not true that aspiration is toward freedom, freedom from limitations hampering growth and entailing sorrow— toward the subjection of transient desires to the in finite realities of soul-life by obedience to the law- of tb« universe? Discontent comes through disobedience and ignorance; obedience to and harmony with law must bring rest. Emerson has said: “The soul knows ouly the soul; the rest of events is only the flowing robe in which all is clothed.” To attain Nirwána is but to give freedom to the soul, to remove the restrictions and limitations of phenomenal environments,—annihilation only of the “flowing robe,” and the absolute liberation of the real and enduring. Life, past, present, and to come, involves personality, and personality is consciousness of limitation. We cannot even say that Nirwána is “impersonal existence,” for these words are mutually contradictory. Pain, suffering, agony, being inseparable from personality, we read in our own natures the glorious promise that even repentance for the past and aspirations for the future will be surmounted, and absolute rest, the soul’s magnet, Nirwána, be attained.
“The soul’s deep longing for sublimer truth;
Its thirst for knowledge of itself beyond
The narrow fact of being; the desire
To grasp the infinite,”—
is not “for man’s illusion given,” but is in itself a pledge of infinite possibilities. We have, then, every reason to gird up our loins in the warfare of life, and geek to aid the soul’s aspiration for truth and virtue, confident that the soul within will respond to the soul without, and rest will be attained. Rest! Not in “the absorption of a drop into the sea, but the dilatation of a drop to the sea; not in submission to Fate, but in conquering Fate, scaling the throne of the Infinite, content with nought less than absolute sovereignty.
“Tossed on the shoreless sea of life,
Where ceaseless roll the waves of strife,
The wearied eye discerns no land;
Yet held by Buddha’s four-fold way,
We calmly watch the billows play,
Nor craven seek a helping hand.
“No more we plead with tearful eyes
Miraculous aid from brazen skies,
Within as lie far higher powers;
Though demons cursed and gods divine
Against us all their arts combine,
We heed them not—the victory’s ours.
“Let weaklings bend the knee and fall
Prostrate in worship to the All;
The human mind, self-centred, free,
Must conquer e’en the Infinite,
And o’er it claim a victor’s right,
Then fade into eternity.”
THE ETHICS OF BUDDHISM.
Such, as I conceive it, was the religious philosophy made known to man by Buddha. With pleasure I now turn to his ethics. What are the moral obligations binding upon man? What have been the effects of Buddhism upon society? What relations exist between the central teachings of Buddha and Christ? These are the questions we have yet to consider.
“Self is the Lord of self,” said Buddha; “who else could be the Lord? With self well subdued, a man finds a Lord such as few can find.” In this brief statement we hare the chief characteristics of the Buddhist religion. It affirms the infinite perfectibility of man’s nature; and upon this affirmation is based the whole moral code. In the language of Tennyson, but with far deeper meaning:—
“Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control,
These three alone lead life to sovereign power.”
It is impossible to quote but a few of Buddha’s moral precepts, and difficult to select from the wealth of material with which we are provided.
“He who would attain Nirwána must not trust to others, but exercise heroically and perseveringly his own judgment. The wagoner who leaves the right path, and enters into the untrodden wilderness, will bring about the destruction of his wagons, and endure much sorrow; so also he who leaves the appointed path and enters upon a course of evil comes to destruction and sorrow.”
“A man in the practice of religion, who exercises charity from a feeling of necessary obligation, or from a feeling of partiality, does not obtain much merit.”
“A man who foolishly does me wrong, I will return to him the protection of my ungrudging love; the more evil comes from him, the more good shall go from me; the fragrance of their good actions always redounding to me, the harm of the slanderous words returning to him.”
“Hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love; this is an old rule.”
“Reflection is the path of immortality, thoughtlessness the path to death. Those who reflect do not die. Those who are thoughtless are as if dead already.”
“By rousing himself, by reflection, by restraint and control, the wise man may make for himself an island which no flood can overwhelm.”
“An evil deed does not turn suddenly, like milk; smouldering, it follows the fool, like fire covered by ashes.”
“If one man conquer in battle a thousand times thousand men, and if another conquer himself, he is the greatest of conquerors.”
“Let each man make himself as he teaches others to be; he who is well subdued may subdue (others); one’s own self is difficult to subdue.”
“By oneself the evil is done, by oneself one suffers; by oneself evil is left undone, by oneself one is purified. Purity and impurity belong to oneself; no one can purify another.”
“Not to commit any sins, to do good, and to purify one’s mind, that is the teaching of the Awakened.”
“Let us live happily, then, not hating those who hate us! let us dwell free from hatred, among men who hate!”
“There is no fire like passion; there is no unlucky die like hatred; there is no pain like this body; there is no happiness like rest.”
“He who holds back rising anger like a rolling chariot, him I call a real driver; other people are but holding the reins. Let a man overcome anger by love, let him overcome evil by good; let him overcome the greedy by liberality, the liar by truth.”
“You yourself must make an effort. The Buddhas are only preachers.”
“A man does not become a Brahmana by his platted hair, by his family, or by both; in whom there is truth and righteousness, he is blessed, he is a Brahmana. What is the use of platted hair, O fool! What of the raiment of goats’ skins? Within thee there is ravening, but the outside thou makest clean.”
“He who, after leaving all bondage to men, has risen above all bondage to the gods, who is free from every bondage, him I call indeed a Brahmana.”
These are selections from that wonderful preaching which twenty-four centuries ago rang out in the ears of a priest-ridden people; samples from “heathendom,” pure and undiluted from Christian influences. Though by birth a prince, and with a reputation acquired by severe asceticism, yet, despising both, Buddha Bought to build only on truth and righteousness.
Buddha was no wonder-worker; when asked to perform a miracle, he replied:—
“I direct my disciples not to do wonders; I rather say to them: ‘So live that you conceal your good actions and confess your sins.’“ He declared that there was no distinction between the body of a slave and that of a prince, and admitted women to be ranked as disciples and to the priesthood.
In India, we must continually bear in mind, that the caste system had built a wall of separation between men, permitting no communication whatever with a large portion of the community. Members of the lowest caste were not permitted to live near other people; they were forbidden to eat only from broken plates, and obliged to wear the dress of condemned criminals—not a social distinction alone, but under the solemn sanction of the popular religion, one extending through all eternity. To speak to, or to willingly look at, one of the hated caste involved loss of caste, entailing not social excommunication alone, but rebirth as the vilest insect. Social custom and religion had so hedged man in that we can hardly conceive the possibility of an hereditary prince deliberately abdicating rank, sacrificing wealth and luxury, and renouncing family ties, to assume the yellow robe of mendicancy, and mingle with the lowest caste. All conception of brotherhood had been crushed out; the social order was identified with divine order. In this age, notwithstanding the supposed necessity for “civil rights” enactments, we can form no just conception of the extent of caste influence and its iron grip. One man alone had penetrated to the realities of life, and, rising above all social environments, boldly attacked this despotic requirement. “The virtues do not ask about castes,” said Buddha, thereby striking at the very root of Brahminism. When Ananda, his nephew and beloved disciple, accosted a woman of the lowest caste and requested a drink of water from the vessel she had just filled, she hurriedly told him her caste. Instead of a horrified look, she received a smile, and was told in reply: “My sister, I ask not for thy caste or thy family; I ask only for a draught of water.” For the first time in the world’s history salvation and redemption were freely proclaimed for all!
“All men, without regard to rank, birth, and nation,” says Duncker, “form, according to Buddha’s view, one great suffering association in this earthly vale of tears. Therefore the commandments of love, forbearance, patience, compassion, pity, brotherliness of all men.”
“The people were deeply impressed,” says Dunlap, “by the gentleness and humility which Buddha opposed to the haughtiness and pride of the Brahmins, and by the compassionate commiseration which he exhibited for the distress of the people, for all the wretched and laden. . . . Not one’s own misfortune, but that of our fellow-men, is a ground of sadness.”
The five commandments of Buddhism are: 1. Thou shalt not kill. 2. Thou shalt not steal. 3. Thou shalt not commit adultery, or any impurity. 4. Thou shalt not lie. 5. Thou shalt not intoxicate thyself with drink. “Besides the five great commandments,” says Max Müller, “every shade of vice, hypocrisy, anger, pride, suspicion, greediness, gossiping, cruelty to animals, is guarded against by special precepts. Among the virtues recommended, we find not only reverence for parents, care for children, submission to authority, gratitude, moderation in time of prosperity, submission in time of trial, equanimity at all times, but virtues unknown in any heathen system of morality, such as the duty of forgiving insults, and not rewarding evil with evil. All virtues, we are told, spring from Maitri, and this Maitri can only be translated by charity and love.”
While the key-note of Buddhism is human development, its assertion of Self as the prime fact, beside which all was transitory, cannot be regarded in the light of narrow selfishness. “Cut out the love of self, like an autumn lotus, with thy hand,” said the teacher. “As everyone,” he said, “seeks to lessen for himself life’s sufferings, so shall he also lessen the sorrows of his fellow-men.” Not selfishness, but renunciation through love, is the characteristic feature of Buddhism. A beautiful relation has been preserved admirably illustrating the importance of renunciation and love towards true self-development. A wealthy merchant, named Purna, who had left all to follow Buddha, determined in his enthusiastic devotion to win over a wild tribe to the knowledge of the new truths. Buddha, wishing to test his firmness, said the people were wild, fierce, cruel, and that he would suffer from insults and injuries. Puma answered: “Then I will still hold them for dear, good people, because they neither beat nor cast stones at me.” “When, however, they do even this?” inquired Buddha. “Then I say still the same, for they could indeed wound me with weapons.” “But this also will happen!” “Nay, they are dear, good people, in that they do not rob me of my life.” Once more Buddha questioned him: “But if they kill thee?” Purna replied: “Then I thank their love and goodness that they free me with so little pain from this miserable body.” “Go, Purna,” said Buddha, “thyself redeemed, redeem others; thyself saved and consoled, save and console them. Lead thou, thyself perfected, them to perfection.” As Purna really succeeded by his invincible mildness in converting the tribe, this instance well illustrates the fruits generally reaped by Buddhist missions.
“In the midst of oppressed peoples,” says Duncker, “he showed how unavoidable evils could be patiently borne, how they could be mitigated by mutual help. It was the evangel of a peaceful life and the hope of a death without resurrection which opened the hearts of the people to Buddha’s teachings.”
THE TEST OF HISTORY.
We have next to consider the effect produced upon society by Buddha’s doctrine. We have seen that the philosophy and the morality of Buddhism were alike based upon the cardinal idea of the perfectibility of man. The philosophy of Buddhism, the basis of its moral code, was the declaration that within and beneath all existence is the real, the being, from which all things spring. All life possesses a common root. Strip from self all that is phenomenal, the result of sentient existence, and that which remains may be called nothing, or the real; either or both. But at this point it takes its departure from the religious mysticism of Christian thought. Mysticism finds this common element, the root of all existence, in God; it seeks to recognize the universal element in individual forms. Buddha, starting from the finite, while asserting a common ground underlying all existence, refused to build theory on inference, lest, instead of infinite and finite, he should have two finites. To this common element he would give no name; the soul, or intellectual substratum, is termed in Buddhist’s Scriptures “the existing know-nothing.” Buddha left it, as he found it, infinite, incomprehensible. While conditioned in Nature, escape could only be accomplished by harmony with Nature.
Mysticism, following the thought of identical essence, attempted to overleap the gulf between infinite and finite, and became lost in the unknowable. Buddha, following the same line of thought with clearer vision, penetrated deeper; exhausting the intuitive method, he found that progress could only result in the opposite direction, the brotherhood of man. The perfection of self required the subjection of passion, desire; consequently the purely selfish feelings were to be eradicated. Self-gratification is the chain which binds us to individuality; this chain must be broken, and but one course lay open, self-renunciation and love for man. This was the seed planted by Gótama Buddha; what are its fruits?
In judging of the effect of this system of religion upon mankind, we have not only to consider the social system it supplanted, but must also bear in mind the caution laid down in our introductory remark, that, while recalling attention to the central ideas of a religious teacher for a correct estimate of the system bearing his name, we must not forget the complemental truth that mankind, in adopting these ideas, may logically deduce consequences or dogmas unforeseen by him who first taught them. It is to history that we must appeal in all such cases to determine the applicability of the ideas to social life; to obtain a correct estimate of the accuracy of the thought upon which we are so confidently assured we alone can build. Applying this test to Buddha’s teachings, what is the verdict?
I have endeavored to show that Buddhism was a catholic rather than an ethnic or race religion, based on the inherent requirements of our nature, or what you would term the spiritual laws of the universe. It sent its missionaries out in every direction, to far-off nations, no matter what their race or language, to make known to human souls through the baptism of renunciation the method of attaining that absolute rest of which they each contained the promise. Two hundred and seventeen years before Christ, Buddhists appeared in China, and sixty-one years after Christ Buddhism was openly recognized. Weber says that Buddhist missionaries must have come into the Persian lands two or three centuries before Christ, and probably penetrated into the west as far as Asia Minor. Dunlap remarks: “It is not probable that Judæa, with its knowledge of Babylon and Persia, could have been even a century without hearing of Buddhistic doctrines taught five hundred years before Christ.” In the third century before Christ it had extended to Cashmere. Nepaul, Thibet, Birmah, Ceylon, Siam, Japan, were all taught Buddha’s law and moral code long before the world had heard the disputes of Christian sectaries. In the seventh century of the Christian era Buddhism was overpowered and its profession prohibited: yet the very edict of exile redounds to its merit. “Let those WHO SLAY NOT be slain: the old man among the Bâuddhas and the babe.”
So markedly beneficial have been the results of Buddhism, that scholars vie with each other in extolling the virtues of this religion. From disinterested, or Christian, writers the strongest testimony can be adduced; and you will pardon me if I call them into the witness stand. Blaproth, a German Professor of Oriental Languages, says, with pious reservation: “Next to Christianity, no religion has contributed more to ennoble the human race than Buddhism.” M. Laboulaye, a member of the French Academy, states: “It is difficult to comprehend how men not assisted by revelation could have soared so high, and approached so near the truth.” Malcom, the Baptist missionary, says it is “the best form of religion invented by man.” St. Hilaire defines the Buddhist morality as one of endurance, patience, submission and abstinence, rather than of action, energy, enterprise. Rev. Spence Hardy admits that a collection might be made from their Scriptures which, in the purity of its ethics, could hardly be equalled from any other heathen author. The Roman Catholic Bishop Bigandet admits that he could not be deemed rash in asserting that most of the moral truths taught by the Gospel are to be met with in the Buddhistic Scriptures. Professor Max Müller tells us: “It has been the peculiar fate of the religion of Buddha, that, among all the so-called false or heathenish religions, it almost alone has been praised by all and everybody for its elevated, pure, and humanizing character. One hardly trusts one’s eyes on seeing Catholic and Protestant missionaries vie with each other in their praises of the Buddha; and even the attention of those who are indifferent to all that concerns religion must be arrested for a moment, when they learn from statistical accounts that no religion, not even the Christian, has exercised so powerful an influence on the diminution of crime as the old, simple doctrine of the Ascetic of Kapilarastu.”
In conclusion, permit me to add yet another to this “cloud of witnesses”—James Freeman Clarke, who thus admirably sums up the effect produced by Buddhism upon the world:—
“Buddhism has made all its conquests honorably, by a process of rational appeal to the human mind. It was never propagated by force, even when it had the power of imperial rajahs to support it. Certainly it is a very encouraging fact in the history of man, that the two religions which have made more converts than any other, Buddhism and Christianity, have not depended for their success on the sword of the conqueror or the frauds of priestcraft, but have gained their victories in the fair conflict of reason with reason. We grant that Buddhism has not been without its superstitions and its errors; but it has not deceived, and it has not persecuted. In this respect it can teach Christians a lesson. Buddhism has no prejudices against those who confess another faith. The Buddhists have founded no Inquisition; they have combined the zeal which converted kingdoms with a toleration almost inexplicable to our Western experience. Only one religious war has darkened their peaceful history during twenty-three centuries,—that which took place in Thibet, but of which we know little. A Siamese told Crawford that he believed all the religions of the world to be branches of the true religion. A Buddhist in Ceylon sent his son to a Christian school, and told the astonished missionary, ‘I respect Christianity as much as Buddhism, for I regard it as a help to Buddhism.’ MM. Huc and Gabet converted no Buddhist in Tartary and Thibet, but they partially converted one, bringing him so far as to say that he considered himself at the same time a good Christian and a good Buddhist.”
BUDDHA OR CHRIST?
Last, we have to consider the statement that Christianity supplements Buddhist truths with grander incentives and a nobler ideal. Applying the same method to Christianity which I have adopted towards Buddhism, the essential differences of the two religions will be clearly shown.
What Is Christianity? You tell me that it is not a system, but a life; not a creed, but a spirit, “constantly feeding the life of man at its roots by fresh supplies of faith in God and faith in man.” You inform me that the essential elements of Christianity are to be found in the central teachings of Jesus, who contributed to the world a vital impulse toward a truer and more adequate realization of ideal perfection. The central thought of Jesus you assert to consist in his basing religion on the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man; that love of God and love of man is not alone the corner-stone, but the essential fact of Christianity, that which distinguishes it from all previous religions; and that “so all-inclusive Is this ideal that the grandest imagination of the world can only dream along the line of its realization in the ever-advancing perfection of humanity.” Some of you freely admit that Jesus had but an imperfect conception of the grandeur of the thought which he was so ardently endeavoring to impress upon the minds of his countrymen; that he may never have contemplated the applicability of his teachings to men except within the narrow limits which he believed God had clearly defined in the selection of the Jewish race as his peculiar and chosen people; that even his brightest dreams of their realization were indicated by his evident belief in the speedy establishment of his Father’s kingdom in the Holy City, Jerusalem. Nevertheless, In spite of these limitations, the result of human imperfection, the adoption of these principles, and their application to the Gentile world, under the more genial influence of Hellenic thought, in a larger and more catholic sense by that band of believers gathered at Antioch, justly entitled them to the name of Christians.
To this definition, as far as it goes, I yield a ready assent, basing my objection on the ground that the conception of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, resulting in love of God and man, as a basis of religion, is false in theory, evil in tendency, and destructive to religion in its logical development. The peasant rabbi of Galilee was undoubtedly actuated by the purest motives in his mission; yet it is the principles rather than the motives which require examination and criticism. His conception of God as a Father involves all that is included in a parental relation. We are God’s children, subjects of his government; blessedness, rest, peace, the instinctive aspiration of every mind, requires that we as children should recognize the authority of the Father, and bring our minds into a cheerful and willing unison with his will. Christ’s love for man was founded, not so much upon the conception of universal brotherhood in itself, as of sonship; that is, the brotherhood of man resulted from the fact that God was our Father. Christ’s love for man was dictated by his desire to bring man at one with God, to a willing acknowledgment of God as a personal father. The dominant thought, to which all else was secondary, was, God is a loving father who pitieth his children. With this is logically connected the idea of man’s relations to God; but these relations were at no time accurately defined. As far as we can gather from the detached remains of his teachings he conceived that our relation to God was that of loving, trusting obedience, implicitly following his guiding hand; that God was an ever-present help to whom our thirsting souls instinctively turned as the needle to the pole. That he was not alone the author of our physical existence, not an undefined First Cause, but the author of our spiritual natures, and that through our immortal spiritual faculties he is to be apprehended and his will communicated.
We find ample illustration in the foregoing summary that Christianity is “not a system but a spirit of life;” not based so much on thought as on feeling; an emotional rather than an intellectual conception; that is, a dim perception through confused and imperfect thought, involving inconsistencies and delusions. Knowledge must admit of system, or it becomes a medley of inordinate and irreconcilable elements, more generally defined as ignorance. If you admit a system of thought, but insist that Christianity is more, being the life of the system, I must still inquire how is God, the source of this life, apprehended? By sentiment, intuition, a moral faculty? Through the emotions rather than the intellect? What is sentiment, intuition, or whatever may be the name of this mysterious faculty, save an ambiguous expression indicating a form of thought? Modern, science, in declaring that “man and the higher animals have the same senses, intuitions, and sensations—similar passions, affections, and emotions, even the more complex ones,” has thereby struck a blow at the very foundation of Christianity, inasmuch as it dispels the delusion of a special faculty by which the mind apprehends the “loving Father.”
Jesus, unlike Gótama, did not feel the need of any logical process of thought; to his mind, a personal God, exercising parental authority, was the one great fact requiring no proof. It was not the scientific conception of force, nor the probable God of “natural theology,” but a divine presence intuitively perceived by the wondrous “entity,” mind, or by that still more undefinable entity, or faculty, soul. In God alone was life, from whom by some mystical and never defined process the soul receives that divine life by which perfection alone is to be realized. Trustfulness, faith, is therefore man’s highest virtue under Christianity; not so much subjection as a “sweet submission” to the Father. So completely was the Galilean teacher filled with this “fulness of life,” that trust in our Father’s guidance requires of us to take no thought for body or raiment, “for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” Faith was a “central thought” in Christ’s mind, and ever since has been one of the characteristic features of Christianity; taught by Christ, formulated in dogma by the Church, and regarded to-day its chief glory. This essential Christian sentiment is truthfully reflected in these lines:—
“O restful, blissful ignorance! ‘Tis blessed not to know!
It keeps me quiet in those arms which will not let me go,
And hushes my soul to rest on the bosom which loves me so!
“So I go on, not knowing! I would not if I might;
I would rather walk in the dark with God, than go alone in the light;
I would rather walk with him by faith, than walk alone by sight.”
The nature of man’s relation to God having never been logically formulated by Christ, we are not surprised to find that the Church has ever been at war with itself in attempting to define the utterances of its Head. The one inevitable deduction the Church saw was that authority primarily rested in God; how that authority was communicated to man was a question which legitimately fell to the Church to determine. Jesus had asserted himself to be the Saviour foretold by the prophets. In him, the Gospels relate, were fulfilled the ancient predictions. Jesus claimed divine authority, and whatever may be the nature of that authority, his claim logically resulted from his central idea—the fatherhood of God. The Church realizing the folly of attempting to formulate the relations between the infinite and the finite, under the logical development of this central idea, were unable to maintain a distinction between God and his anointed, and very early centered this authority in Christ.
The idea of authority as external (or, if manifested in the mind, still a conferred authority) is necessarily bound up with Christ’s conception of a personal God; and whether this authority be supposed to manifest itself through the organized church, the written revelation, or the individual conscience, to the Buddhist is alike objectionable. It is not the nature of the authority, but the hypothetical source Of authority against which we protest, as an idea containing the twin errors, Faith and Authority, which we regard as the one weak spot in Christ’s teachings; from which, through its logical development, have resulted the terrible stains which disfigure the historic pages of the Christian centuries.
I am told that this faith is the sense of unseen things, a quick and sympathetic consciousness of a Divine Presence, and that failure to understand this state but argues our inability to rise above the perceptions of sense; that the moral sense, by faith, is uplifted so as to render our recognition of the divine presence more vivid and constant. Buddha submitted his intuitions to a rigorous analysis, instead of blindly following them, and saw a distinction between our ability to think that the Infinite is, and the assumption that we may be influenced by, and commune with, the Infinite. Buddha recognized the fact that the Infinite is, and based his whole system on this clear intuition; on the other hand he saw that matter and mind were but phenomenal; that man, conditioned in the finite, could not approach, or be approached by, the Infinite, and sought to reconcile these two propositions by proclaiming the infinite perfectibility of man. Expressed in terms of a later philosopher, “I think, therefore I am.” Whatever it is that constitutes this wondrous Ego, I know not. Like Nirwána, Self is and is not; attempt to define it, to give it attributes, faculties, and you destroy it, for you thereby render it finite, illusory. In terms of speech, it has no existence; yet it is. The apparent contradiction is but the consequence of attempting to define the undefinable. It is not a question of a higher or a lower plane; it is a question of fact. Whether the “loving Father” be an objective reality, or the prolongation of subjective self into objectivity, is a question for the intellect, not the sentiments; calling for the exercise of thought, not of faith.
Human development is the key-note of Buddhism, faith in man is its grand idea; but underlying this and clearly expressed is the claim that “man is capable of enlarging his faculties to infinity.” Consequently we are not surprised to find the charge of atheism freely used by those who have failed to penetrate the sublime depths of Buddha’s thought. The Buddha made no hasty and ill-advised plunge into denial of a Deity. The conception of man’s infinite perfectibility, it is true, logically excludes Deity from that intimate relation with the finite mind asserted by Christ; and herein lies the radical difference between the two religions. After years of profound meditation and anxious thought, the Buddha came to the same conclusion as thousands of other thinking minds have since, that a religion cannot proclaim the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man without inevitably giving an undue predominance to the first, logically resulting in the subordination of the second; that the ability to grasp and hold the conception of God and man, the infinite and finite, the eternal and the temporal, has ever been not alone a failure, but resulting in such complete subordination of the lesser to the greater as to render brotherhood impossible, and tightened the clasp of the chains with which the mind has so long been fettered. The brotherhood of man resulting from sonship has ever been hampered with the dead weight of Divine Authority, resulting in a divided allegiance, recognizing man’s rights so far as they do not conflict with parental requirements; unfllial conduct annulling all rights.
Granting that Christianity is a “spirit of life” and not a system, still the central ideas must become systemized; it is inevitable, a system of thought must result. Christ’s thought, great as you may conceive it to be, can claim no especial exemption from the lot of all Ideas; otherwise there never could have been a Christian church, nor would the influence of Christ’s teachings have extended beyond the generation who heard him. If every attempt to systematize his thought has invariably resulted in destroying it, it is because the thought is in itself contradictory and illogical. If Christianity as a “spirit of life” is manifest in the Individual, and becomes lost when formulated, what does it add to the moral life inculcated by Buddha? If Buddhist life is Christian, wherein does Christianity supplement it? Buddha taught the highest morality without a conscious recognition of a “Divine Presence.” If this Presence is unconsciously felt by the Buddhist, then the supplementary truth of Christianity is its intellectual perception. Christ and the Church agree in asserting that this recognition is essential. Buddha’s analytic mind perceived the logical consequences involved in this claim, and the history of the Christian centuries tends to confirm Buddha’s conclusions. The two conceptions are mutually antagonistic, and repel each other. And it is as true to-day with us, as it was then in India, that they who assume best to understand the workings of the “Infinite Mind,” who through faith have the most vivid and constant recognition of the divine presence, are the least able to understand the needs of the finite mind: and that in inverse ratio with our knowledge of His ways are we enabled to comprehend the lessons of life and profit from them. Tested by appeal to history, we find that the Idea of a personal God has ever thrown a screen between man and his brother, and lifted not a feather from the weight of human misery, which still presses as heavily as ever, except as relieved from purely secular, or Buddhist, motives.
Christianity may be a life, but it is a life based on erroneous foundations, neutralizing the human element contained in Christ’s teachings. This fact has been unconsciously perceived from the days of the Evangelist Luke to the present, and attempts made to offset it by assertions that a future world would reverse the order of this, that the rich and poor would then and there change conditions, and sorrow here be atoned there by becoming the recipient of infinite pity! The art of living a good life? If Christianity be this, it is a failure, for the principles on which it is based contain contradictory elements which inevitably will become manifest. Christianity even as a life, with all its pretensions to “perfect freedom,” must logically exclude those who deny its fundamental ideas, for it is dependent upon Christian thought, based upon the affirmation of the following so-called “active principles of the religious nature of man”:—
“1. Belief in some supernatural being—or beings. “
2. Belief in accountability, or relationship to that being in such measure as for good or evil to come from it.
“3. Belief in immortality, and the continuance of this relation after death.
“4. The instinct of prayer, as a means of establishing relations with this being.
“5. The instinct of worship, including the emotion of veneration and its expression.”
So fundamental are these deemed that to deny them, we are told, is to assert our religious nature a mockery; yet to these principles, each and several, Buddhism protests in the name of religion,—a protest toward which all the lines of scientific thought are rapidly converging in the name of reason,—averring that our high instincts point to different conclusions; conclusions adapted to awaken the noblest faculties of our being, prompting man to look the everlasting reality in its face and defy its mythical power to excite love or fear. To the principles quoted above no Buddhist can yield acquiescence, while no Christian can remain a Christian, however pure his life, if Buddha’s law be accepted. Buddhism and Christianity are irreconcilable, based on radically opposite ideas, and leading to the development of essentially different forms of character in their historical evolution.
Buddhist life culminates in absolute renunciation of self for the interest of others; subordination of self-interest to the general welfare. Christian life tends to a temporary renunciation of self for the glory of God; subordination of self-interest here to be repaid With interest in the future.
Buddhism, as the religion of reason, subordinates the emotions to the intellect; keeping sentiment, or feeling, ever under the dominion of will. Christianity, on the contrary, sacrificing reason on the altar of the passions, and consuming it with carefully fanned Flames.
Desire, passion, weigh down the mind, Buddhism asserts, alluring it by phantom forms from the attainment of its goal, the real, to attachment to the transitory. Desire, passion, maintains Christianity, becomes the wings of the soul, lifting it above the petty concerns of life to forever renew the struggle in other scenes.
Buddhism develops aspiration, Christianity prayer; aspiration being the welling up of an exhaustless fountain, prayer but a means for filling the fountain from an external source. The reservoir of spiritual force being within us, aspiration is its natural overflow, fertilizing human character; in Christian thought prayer constitutes the service pipes by which Christian life is supplied with draughts of heavenly moisture, doled out to it as it may need. Aspiration leads to manly self-reliance, prayer to intellectual enervation; the one calculated to develop the highest civilization that race and climate will permit, the other a clog to all material prosperity, ever thwarting our humanitarian instincts by projecting across the pathway of human life the ominous shadow of a personal will. One gives us humanity, the other piety, as the characteristic feature of its life. In one word, man, according to Christianity, is theosophic, or divinely illuminated, from without instead from within; while, according to Buddhism, he is entheastic, having the energy of God, inherent in his nature.
When modern science shall have cut the connections by which Christian life is fed, in showing the unreality of its affirmed source, driving out the idea by a clearer knowledge of man’s psychological nature, Christian life will wither and die; but the religious nature of man will be left, and in its continued efforts to elevate humanity and remove misery we have left Buddhism notwithstanding.
And if a more accurate knowledge of mind should show a future life of immortal existence to be the fond dream of the imagination misinterpreting a natural instinct, it cannot take from us the great beating heart of humanity; and again we have left Buddhism notwithstanding.
And though all relation between Infinite and finite should become generally accepted as delusion, the aspirations of the mind will remain to hint to us of the limit of all thought; enabling us to fearlessly second all research, and still keep Buddhism notwithstanding.
- Dyer D. Lum, “Buddhism Notwithstanding,” The Index 6, no. 279 (April 29, 1875): 194-196.
- Dyer D. Lum, “Buddhism Notwithstanding,” The Index 6, no. 280 (May 6, 1875): 206-208.