The Creed of Buddha, by Edmond Holmes, , at sacred-texts.com
THE higher thought of the West is bankrupt, in the sense that it can no longer meet its obligations. When I say this I do not merely mean that its liquid assets are less than its liabilities. It is desirable that the liabilities of thought should at all times far exceed its liquid assets, and it would point to a lamentable lack of speculative enterprise if they did not. What I do mean is that the liabilities which Western thought has incurred are greatly in excess of its resources,--of its realizable as well as its liquid assets.
Let us see how this has come to pass. The function of high thinking is to provide working capital for the speculative enterprises of the soul. The speculative enterprises of the soul take the form of spiritual desires. The working capital which thought provides takes the form of philosophical ideas,--tentative and provisional theories of things. As it seldom happens, in the commercial world, that an enterprise which is thoroughly successful does not ask, from time to time, for fresh capital in order that, without departing from its original aim, it may widen the field of its operations and reach a yet higher level of success,--so
in the inner life of man, whenever the desires of the heart receive genuine satisfaction, the proof of this lies in the fact that, in response to a fresh influx of ideas, new desires arise which are really new developments of the old, or, in other words, that the old desires, stimulated and modified by thought, become deepened, widened, purified, and otherwise transformed.
Sometimes, however, it happens that the "ideals" which thought provides, in response to the demands of spiritual desire, become stereotyped into systems of "dogma," and as such are accepted by the heart as fully and finally true. When this happens the development of spiritual desire ceases, or, in the language of commerce, the soul becomes so unenterprising that its liabilities, now brought within a very narrow compass, are fully met by its liquid assets. In this state of ignoble solvency, the soul, having ceased to grow--for its desires are its growing pains--has begun to degenerate and to turn its face towards death. Then comes the inevitable reaction. The expansive energies of Nature, which triumphant dogmatism had long held in check, force at last a new outlet for themselves, and in doing so stimulate the deeper desires of the heart into new activity and direct them into new channels. In such an epoch the need of the soul for fresh capital--for new ideas--is stronger than it has ever been, but the difficulty of finding it is greater. For as the soul has long since closed its capital account, the sources of supply, which are fed by the very demands that are made upon them, will have long since ceased to flow. The
old stereotyped ideas have satisfied the soul for so many years that the organs of spiritual thought, atrophied by disuse, have at last become incapable of supplying new ideas,--the negative dogmas which man formulates in his season of reaction and revolt being, if anything, narrower and more rigid than the positive dogmas of the churches and sects. What happens, then, when the old order changes, is that the soul, carried by its outburst of speculative enterprise far beyond the limits of the ideas which had so long sufficed for its needs, takes upon itself obligations for which its working capital--its spiritual philosophy--is wholly inadequate. The end of this is that it drifts into a state of insolvency, in which it pays the penalty of having so long been ignobly solvent. Or, rather, it is the thought of the age which goes bankrupt, for thought is under a permanent obligation to supply the soul, in its adventurous moods, with the capital which it needs for its enterprises.
This is what has happened in the West. And if we ask ourselves why this has happened, we can but answer that Western thought has, from the beginning of things, allowed itself to be dominated by the ideas of the "average man." The philosophy of the average man is simplicity itself. He begins, as all men necessarily do, with the apparent antithesis of himself and the outward world. While his philosophy is in its sub-conscious stage, he is content to ascribe reality to both the terms of the antithesis. But when he begins to reflect, in his crude way, on "great matters," his standpoint changes. Utterly incapable of subtle thinking, his
mind instinctively relapses into the vulgar dualism of the existent and the non-existent. The aphorism, "Seeing is believing," dominates his thought; and the naïvely egoistic assumption that what the Universe seems to be to his bodily senses that it is in itself, and that therefore nothing exists, in the order of Nature, except what is perceptible by the bodily senses, becomes the cardinal article of his faith. But the consequences of this materialistic assumption are repugnant to his heart. And so, in response to the demands of his heart, his mind devises a supplementary theory of things,--the conception of a world above Nature in which the higher realities of which his bodily senses can take no cognizance, may find an asylum. Foremost among these higher realities are those towards which his religious instincts direct themselves,--supreme, or, as he calls it, divine goodness, divine wisdom, divine power.
Thus instead of one Universe the average man must needs have two,--Nature and the Supernatural World; and between these two a great gulf is fixed in his thought, a gulf of nothingness which makes natural intercourse between the two worlds impossible. But, as always happens in a dualism, the intervening gulf of nothingness drains into itself the reality of both worlds; draining away from Nature her inwardness, her spirituality, and, in the last resort, her life; draining away from the world above Nature its substance, its actuality, and all of it that is convincingly real.
The fatal influence of this dualistic cosmology will make itself felt long after the idea of the Supernatural
has lost its hold upon human thought. Meanwhile, the ascendency of the idea is fraught with serious danger to the spiritual development of mankind. It is not enough that a supernatural world should be evolved by thought in response to the demands of the heart. Intercourse with that world must somehow or other be opened up and carried on. And as natural intercourse between the two worlds is impossible, supernatural inter-course must take its place. The gulf cannot be passed by man; but God, who dwells beyond it, can pass it at his own good pleasure and in his own good time. Hence comes the general idea of supernatural revelation, with all its sub-ideas,--the idea of divinely selected peoples, of divinely commissioned teachers, of divinely inspired scriptures, of divinely guided churches, and the rest. We need not follow the idea into all these details, but we shall do well to follow it into some of its inevitable consequences. What is revealed to man from the supernatural world, by whatever means the intercourse between the two worlds may be carried on, is obviously "the Truth." As such, if it is to be made available for man's needs, it must admit of being formulated and. taught. In other words, the dogmatic 1 standpoint and the dogmatic
temper are necessary corollaries to the general idea that the truth of things can be revealed to man by the Supernatural God. Between dogmatism and free-thought there is, in the nature of things, a truceless war. The conception of truth as an un-attainable ideal, the quest of which is "its own exceeding great reward," is wholly incompatible with the dogmatic standpoint. The exercise of speculative thought is indeed permitted by dogmatism, but under conditions which make the concession a mockery. Not only must its enterprises be carried on within narrow and strictly defined limits, but they must also lead it to pre-ordained conclusions. This means that "high thinking," the thought which makes what is defined and accepted the starting-point of its enterprises, is not merely discountenanced by dogmatism, but rigorously repressed. But the repression (or restriction) of speculative thought means the repression (or restriction) of spiritual desire. For thought both indicates the general direction in which desire is to operate, and provides it with the working capital for its bolder ventures. It follows that, when the working capital which thought is allowed to provide is strictly limited in amount, and when that limited amount is accepted by desire as entirely adequate to its needs, desire itself is bringing its speculative operations to a standstill. In other words, dogmatism limits the scope of desire in the very act of limiting the sphere of thought; and so far as it is successful in imposing those limits, it tends to arrest the growth of the soul.
These are general conceptions. Let us return to the history of Western thought. It is to the genius of one small nation that the West owes, for good or for evil, its spiritual standpoint. Jehovah, the God of Israel, is accepted as the Lord Paramount of the Universe by the greater part of the Western World, those who are in rebellion against his authority being unable to find any rival claimant to his throne. Whatever may be one's own attitude towards the ideas which Israel evolved and formulated, one cannot but admire the strenuousness and force of character which enabled a small, remote, and politically feeble nation to force its conception of God and Man and Nature upon the thought and the conscience of the Græco-Roman world. But admiration of Israel's character and achievements must not blind us to the fact that his astonishing success as a propagandist was due to his weakness, not less than to his strength. The genius of Israel was essentially practical. In his seasons of spiritual expansion it became poetical; and his poetry, which reflected the intensity as well as the narrowness of his nature, was (at its highest level), in the fullest sense of the word, sublime. But he easily fell, as we all do, below the level of poetic rapture; and when he began to fall, he dropped to ignominious depths. For he had no philosophy, in the deeper sense of the word, to sustain him. Singularly destitute of "ideas," he was incapable of effective self-criticism (though abundantly capable both of self-exaltation and self-depreciation); and he followed his quasi-commercial conception of religious duty into the most meticulous details of legalism,
fully believing that in doing so he was working the will of God. For intellectual meditation, for sustained and concentrated reflection, for the depths and the subtleties of thought, he had no turn whatever. His philosophy was that of the average man, and his triumph has been, in part at least, the triumph of the average man's ideas. Addressing himself to ordinary people--the people who believe that the visible world is the real world, and yet are unwilling to accept the logical consequences of that belief--he won their whole-hearted support by meeting them on their own intellectual level, by speaking to them in their own language, by expounding to them their own theory of things. His explanation of the Universe, with all its subsidiary conceptions: the conception of a personal and supernatural God, made in the image of Man; of the creation of the visible world by the fiat of God's will; of the disobedience of Man to God's commandments, and his consequent fall from innocence and bliss; of the selection of a certain people as the depository of the truths which God chose to reveal to fallen Man; of the formulation of God's will in a code of law; of the promise of God's favour to those who should obey that law, and of his wrath to those who should disobey it;--all this, as far as it goes, is just such an explanation as the average man, if his curiosity was thoroughly awakened, would, in his attempt to account for the more striking facts of existence and at the same time to give satisfaction to the master desires of his heart, be likely to evolve for himself. What wonder that when, through the magnetic influence of
[paragraph continues] Christ's gracious and commanding personality and through the self-sacrificing devotion of the high-souled Jews who transmitted that influence to the Gentiles, the Jewish scriptures became known far and wide, the Jewish scheme of things--crowned and completed by the conception of Christ as the mediator between God and Man and the redeemer of fallen Humanity, and so made available for all believers, irrespective of race--should have been accepted as an authoritative explanation of all the mysteries of existence?
It is true that, along with his own philosophy, systematized and dramatized for him by Israel, the average man received some fragments of the spiritual teaching of Christ. But he accepted that teaching, not for its own sake, not for the sake of the philosophy that was behind it--of that he knew nothing, and had it been revealed to him he would have shrunk from it with suspicion and alarm--but for the sake and on the authority of Christ. His own interpretation of it was, as might have been expected, at best one-sided and inadequate, at worst literal and mechanical; and so disquieting were its precepts, owing to his inability to enter into their spirit, that an instinctive regard for his own mental balance and sanity led him in nine cases out of ten to ignore them completely. But the fact remains that, in a sense and in a manner, he did receive the spiritual teaching of Christ, and that from then till now the ferment of it has been at work in his heart. As, however, it was through the example rather than the words of his Master that the spiritual ideas which have been the leaven
of his inner life were transmitted to him, it is not to be wondered at that his reception of them has been in the main a subconscious process, and that they have not materially modified the movement of his conscious thought. 1 For many centuries, indeed, his acceptance of his own philosophy was complete. Those who offered to shake his faith in it--Gnostics, Arians, Albigenses, and the like--fared ill at his hands. Through his Agent-General, the Pope, and in the Councils which were dominated by his "collective wisdom," he waged relentless war against heretics and schismatics; and at last things came to such a pass that whoever sent even a faint ripple of doubt over the stagnant lagoon of his (so-called) faith, whoever said or did anything which might conceivably give him the trouble of turning over in his orthodox slumber, was liable to be burned at the stake.
This triumph, in the region of speculative thought, of the average over the exceptional man, was a misfortune for the human race. For it involved the suppression of high-thinking, which is in its very essence a departure from the commonplace and the average; and the suppression of high-thinking involves, in the last resort, the suppression of spiritual desire. Not, indeed, that it is possible for spiritual desire to be finally suppressed. The expansive forces of Nature, the expression of which in man's inner life constitutes his spiritual desire, may be dammed back for centuries, but
sooner or later they will find a new outlet for themselves. This is what happened in the West. The revival of classical learning, the invention of printing, the discoveries of distant lands, and other influences which need not here be considered, all working in unison with the secret leaven of Christ's spiritual teaching, combined to generate a new life in the soul of man. Long heralded and long delayed, the day of liberation dawned at last. In the age (or ages) of the Renascence there was a remarkable lateral expansion of desire. In the age (or ages) of the Reformation there was an equally remarkable purification and elevation of desire. The triumph of the average man had been too complete, and its inevitable Nemesis had duly come. The soul of man, which had long lain in a comatose slumber and which had made many abortive efforts to arouse itself, was now at last alive and awake, and ready for new speculative ventures. Full of energy and enterprise, it turned to thought for the working capital that it needed,--for the help and guidance which large ideas alone can supply.
But there was no response to its appeal.
Before the Western mind could begin to think, it had to vindicate its right to think. In other words, it had to fight for freedom. That fight is still in progress, and the end of it is not yet in sight. Meanwhile, the speculative achievements of Western thought have been, in the nature of things, inconsiderable. Of its triumphant success in the sphere of physical science I need not speak. Physical science is not philosophy. Nor need I pause to consider that metaphysical movement
which is supposed to have been initiated by Descartes. The successive idealistic ventures which have been one of the distinguishing features of that movement, have all been "apparent failures." The truth is that high-thinking had been so long and so rigorously suppressed that, even in the efforts which the Western mind has made to free itself from bondage to the average man's ideas, it has shown at every turn the baneful effect of his ascendency. It is a mistake to suppose that the struggle for freedom which has been in progress for five centuries has been wholly, or even in large measure, conducted by men of exceptional mental gifts. It was pre-ordained, one might almost say, that the average man should himself take a leading part in it. Whenever the average man is allowed, as he has been in the West, to control the larger movements of thought, however carefully his philosophy may be formulated by the theologians and guarded by the Churches, the day will surely come when, in his individual capacity, he will rise in revolt against himself in his corporate capacity, and range himself, in his attempt to vindicate the right of private judgment, by the side of the exceptional men whom, in his corporate capacity, he is only too ready to burn. But, in entering into this anomalous alliance, he illogically claims, and half-unconsciously exercises, the right to impose the fundamental assumption of his philosophy on the minds of his allies. And though he is at one with them in their demand for freedom of conscience, he leaves them, and leaves himself, but little room for the exercise of that sacred right.
This is one among many reasons why the average man's fundamental assumption--that the physical plane is the whole of Nature--still dominates Western thought. In the deadly shade of that assumption his spiritual ideas wither almost as soon as they are born. In his own philosophy materialism is still modified by supernaturalism. But, in rejecting the old theologies which formulated and systematized his belief in the Supernatural, and the old organizations which guarded it from criticism, he has exposed it to the danger of being undermined by speculative thought. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the one solid achievement of critical thought in the West, in recent years, has been to undermine the belief in the Supernatural and to discredit the whole theory of things which was built on that insecure foundation. The immediate consequences of this achievement have been and will long be disastrous. Take away from the philosophy of the average man the conception of the Supernatural,--and materialism, pure and simple, remains. 1
It is sometimes said that in the present age there
is a feud, with regard to "great matters," between the "heart" and the "head." The feud is also, though less correctly, spoken of as one between Religion and Science. Strictly speaking, the parties to the quarrel are two rival theories of things--Supernaturalism, which seems, for the time being, to satisfy the "heart," and Materialism, which seems, for the time being, to satisfy the "head." To identify religion with supernaturalism is as unfair as to hold science responsible for materialism. The religious instinct invented supernaturalism, as an antidote to the materialism of popular thought; and the spread of scientific habits of thought discredited supernaturalism, and so re-habilitated materialism as the philosophy of the average man in his seasons of "free-thought."
[paragraph continues] But the hypothesis of a world above Nature is as little of the essence of religion, as is the materialistic degradation of Nature of the essence of science.
That there is, in the present age, a feud between the "head" and the "heart"--between "reason" and "faith"--is, I think, undeniable. The churches and sects denounce "rationalism" as vehemently as the Free-thinkers and Agnostics (to give them the titles which they have appropriated, but to which they have no claim) denounce "superstition." The very platform on which the head and the heart meet in their controversy, is the tacit assumption that their respective philosophies are the only possible solutions of the problem of the Universe. "Quit the fold of the Church," says the votary of "faith," "and you will sink deeper and deeper into the quagmire of materialism, till you end by denying God, denying the soul, denying the life beyond the grave." "Cease to believe in God," says the "Free-thinker," "cease to believe in the soul, cease to dream of a life beyond the grave, or you will find yourself committed to all the assumptions of supernaturalism, and, sinking deeper and deeper into the quagmire of superstition, you will end by surrendering your conscience to the casuist and your freedom to the priest." It is a significant fact that in France, where the average man is more logical and clear-headed than in any other country, there are (when all is said and done) two parties and two only,--Catholics and "Free-thinkers." Between these two there is a deep-seated and far-reaching feud. It might almost be
said that every Frenchman is bound to range himself on one side or the other in that deadly quarrel, bound to subscribe to all the positive dogmas of Catholic theology or, failing that, to all the negative dogmas of what miscalls itself "Free-thought,"--a creed which centres in the dogmatic denunciation of "the deplorable superstition of a life after death." Between ecclesiastical supernaturalism and secularistic materialism there seems to be no middle term. But if in France every man is either a Catholic or a "Free-thinker," in other countries, where men are less logical, it not unfrequently happens that the same person passes and re-passes between the two hostile camps. Again and again one sees the young man who has been nurtured in the ancient faith, reject supernaturalism as an irrational hypothesis, and go forth, exulting in his freedom, in quest of a truer and deeper philosophy; and sometimes one sees the same man, weary of a creed which authoritatively tells him, while the shadows are lengthening on his path, that death is the end of life, creep back in his old age to the fold which he had quitted in his youth, and justify himself for his second apostacy by arguing that, as an interpreter of the deeper mysteries of existence, the heart is, in all probability, more to be trusted than the head.
Assuming that there is a feud between the head and the heart, let us ask ourselves how the feud has originated, what it indicates, and how it is to be healed. We mean by the "heart" the headquarters of desire,--by the "head" the headquarters of thought. The function of the head is
to supply the heart with the working-capital that it needs for its speculative enterprises, in other words, with the "ideas" that it needs for the due evolution of its spiritual desires. It sometimes happens that the heart goes to the head for ideas, and is sent empty away. But these are exceptional cases. As a rule, when there is a complete dearth of ideas, the reason is that there has been no demand for them, the soul having become so un-enterprising that the unexpended balance of its original capital proves to be more than sufficient for its needs. But Nemesis waits, as we have seen, on this ignoble solvency. Sooner or later the soul will awake from its orthodox slumber, and make itself ready for new speculative ventures. Then there will be an immense expansion of desire, and a corresponding need for new ideas. For a time, indeed, that need will not be acutely felt. A sustained attempt will be made to pour the new wine into the old bottles, to finance the new enterprises with the old capital. But after a time the inadequacy of the old ideas will be realized; and the heart will go to the head for the new ideas that its expanding desires imperatively demand. But the head, having had no call made upon it, will have long since ceased to enlarge its own capital; and when the heart goes to it, it must either confess itself insolvent, or try to dissuade the heart from committing itself to enterprises which it (the head) is unable to finance. In self-defence it will take the latter course. It will say to the heart: "These enterprises for which you ask financial help are mad and impossible, and will end in your utter
ruin. Abandon them, one and all, and limit your desires to what is measurable and attainable. For that I will provide you with the limited amount of capital that you will need, but on one condition,--that I am allowed to become a partner in your business."
How will the heart receive this advice? The new desires for which it needs working capital are not revolutionary ventures, but natural and necessary developments of its old desires. To tell it that these new desires are mad and impossible enterprises is to tell it, by implication, that the whole of its business is unsound. Both the head and the heart will feel instinctively that the former's response to the latter's demand for ideas amounts to this. Were it possible for the head to say, in response to the heart's appeal: "Your business has contracted and otherwise deteriorated owing to your having, through indolence and timidity, neglected to expand it: but the business itself--the fundamental desires which you seek to exploit--is sound enough; all that is needed is that you should enlarge your capital and develop your business in new directions and on a bolder scale":--were it possible for this stimulating answer to be given to the expectant heart, the inner life of man would be quickened into new activity, and a new season of soul-growth would be begun. But it is not possible. Were the head to tell the heart that what the latter needs, above all things, is fresh capital, it would thereby make open confession of the emptiness of its own coffers. What it will find itself driven to do is to discountenance the enterprises
of the heart,--not its new ventures only, but the spirit of enterprise which is and has ever been the breath of its life; to tell the heart that spiritual desire--the desire which directs itself towards the far-off and mysterious--is in the nature of things a vanity and a delusion; in fine, to invite it to wind up the business which it lives to transact, and to embark on a new career which bears the same relation to the old that the till of a village grocer bears to the counting-house of a merchant prince. What will happen when the heart, in its hour of expansive energy, receives this chilling rebuff? Who shall blame it if it resolves hence-forth to forswear its alliance with the head; if it abandons its dream of finding new ideas to match the new desires that had begun to renew its life; if it recoils from the new desires, as from phantoms which are luring it to destruction; if it goes back at last to the old discredited ideas and the old devitalized desires, determined at whatever cost to patch up its dwindling business and carry it on as best it may?
That I may make my meaning clear, let me trace in outline the history of one of the master desires of the heart,--the desire for immortality. I select this desire for consideration because, of all spiritual desires, it is at once the most popular and the most profound; and I call it a spiritual desire because it unquestionably directs itself towards the far-off and the mysterious. When it was still in its infancy, the crude conceptions of supernaturalism were sufficient for its needs. The pious Christian was
content to believe that on a certain day in a not very distant future his body, which he found it difficult to distinguish from his real self, would rise again from the dead; that he would then appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that if he had lived well while on earth he would be rewarded with eternal happiness; that if he had lived ill he would be punished with eternal misery. This theory of things was provided by the head in response to the demands of the heart; but when once the theory had been accepted and formulated by the Christian Church, the head was forbidden to criticize it, forbidden to modify it except in unessential details, forbidden even to think about it except within the clearly defined limits which Catholic theology had marked out. The consequence was that thought (in the deeper sense of the word) got out of touch with the idea of survival, lost all interest in it, held entirely aloof from it. For a time the desire for immortality was satisfied with the doctrines of a bodily resurrection and a future judgment; but satisfaction is the grave of desire; and as the heart, like the head, was forbidden to speculate (in its own way) about the destiny of the departed spirit, it too lost interest in the problem, and instead of moving onward, as desire should always do, it began to oscillate between two ignoble feelings,--callous indifference and superstitious fear. When the tyranny of dogmatism was relaxed, and some measure of freedom was restored both to the head and to the heart, the former began to criticize the current eschatology and to turn away from it as irrational, while the
latter began to turn away from it as ignoble and inadequate.
So far, so good. Had it then been possible for the head to supply the heart with larger and deeper conceptions of what is vulgarly called "the future life," the heart would have begun to discover new depths and new developments in its desire for immortality; and, in its attempt to interpret these, the head would have begun to discover new depths and new developments in its theory of immortality; and in this way man's whole conception of Nature would have been expanded and enriched. But 1,000 years of forced inaction had atrophied the constructive energies of thought, and its critical power alone remained. Even the critical power of thought, which cannot be dissociated from the constructive, had suffered from the despotism which confined it, so far as any freedom was allowed it, to the study of physical phenomena, and forbade it to meddle with "spiritual things." For criticism, in the truer and deeper sense of the word, it had no capacity. Its growing power of analytical criticism enabled it to under-mine the foundations of supernaturalism. But when it had done this work, it had gone as far as it was possible for it to go. The dreamland of the Supernatural had vanished, and "Nature" remained. But it was the Nature of the average man. The philosophy of the average man, with its central assumption that the outward and visible world is the whole of Nature, was still in the ascendant; and now that the corrective influence of supernaturalism had been withdrawn, the latent
materialism of that commonplace philosophy began to resume its sway. To free itself from that sway was beyond the power of thought. Incapable of constructive criticism, it could do nothing but bow its neck to the yoke of the very assumption which the heart had instinctively rejected as intolerable, and in its effort to free itself from which it had, in conjunction with the head, devised the theory of the Supernatural. To expose the unsoundness of that provisional theory was (and is) within the power of thought. To devise a better theory was (and is) beyond its power and, for the time being, beyond its aim.
What will happen, then, when the heart, no longer able to rest in the old doctrines of Resurrection and Judgment, of Heaven and Hell, but still cherishing the desire for immortality, goes to the head for light and guidance? It will be told that not only are the old ideas about immortality false and hollow, but that there are no ideas which can take their place. It will be told that the desire for immortality is itself a delusion--the primary delusion, of which the fables of the theologians are a fitting interpretation,--and that it must be sur-rendered if the heart is to find peace. And if the head is asked to justify these sweeping negations, it will give reasons for them which strike at the root, not of this desire only but of spiritual desire as such. That it may the better prove how entirely it is under the control of the average man, it will appeal to his primary assumption--that the visible world is the only world--as to a self-evident truth; and if the authority of its favourite axiom is
questioned, it will support it with many arguments, each of which is a mere re-statement of the axiom under a more or less transparent disguise; and, having thus established its authority, it will draw inferences from it which prove, as it contends, that not the idea of immortality only, but the idea of spiritual life, the idea of spiritual freedom, the whole "soul-theory" (as it contemptuously calls it), is baseless as a dream. And that it may the better prove how incapable it is of interpreting a genuinely spiritual desire, such as the longing for immortality, it will take upon itself to scold the heart for cherishing a desire which, besides being demonstrably delusive, is base, selfish, and unmanly,--a "lust for positive happiness," which poisons morality at its fountain-head.
The desire for immortality may or may not be delusive--demonstrably delusive it certainly is not--hut it is the very cant of pseudo-stoicism to say that it is base and selfish. For, after all, what is the desire for immortality? Is it not the desire, which man shares with all other living things, to grow--to continue to grow--to ripen--to move towards the goal of natural perfection?
[paragraph continues] We feel that the scale of our life and the scope of our work are great beyond measure, and that it would be as reasonable to expect an oak tree to make the full measure of its possible growth in a single season as for the soul to make the full measure of its possible growth in a single life. It is the soul's belief in itself which makes it desire immortality,
just as it is the oak tree's belief in itself which makes it wait expectantly for the warmth and moisture of another spring; but the soul's desire for continued growth is entirely redeemed from selfishness by the fact that, in the higher stages of its development, the soul can continue to grow only by becoming selfless. It is true that in the quasi-concrete forms which the desire takes, in the pictures which man makes for himself of the "future life," he shows the limitations of his undeveloped nature,--the materialism of his unimaginative mind, the selfishness of his unexpanded heart. But the desire itself is unselfish, with all the unselfishness of a cosmic force.
Rebuffed and rebuked by the head, the heart recoils upon itself; and as the head cannot provide it with the illuminating ideas about immortality for which it asks, and as it cannot surrender a desire which is a part of its very life, it has no choice but to revert to the old ideas, to accept these as of Divine authority, and to confine the desire (which had struggled in vain for freedom and expansion) within the narrow channel which they provide. This means that, owing to lack of working capital, its speculative enterprise has failed; and this again means that thought, which is bound by its charter to supply the heart with "ideas," is unable to meet its obligations, and is therefore, in a word, bankrupt..
Neither the head nor the heart is to be blamed for this fiasco. The scale of the catastrophe is so large, and the forces which have combined to produce it are so complex and have been so long in operation, that it is impossible to say where the responsibility for it is to be laid. Also, it may be
admitted that for the heart to be at open feud with the head is better than for the two to work together, as they have sometimes done, in chains. To that extent one may regard the quarrel between them with something of fatalistic complacency. But it is a mistake to say, as is sometimes said, that the quarrel is a necessity of. Nature, and to suggest that there are two kinds of truth--truth for the head and truth for the heart--and that these have nothing in common. Truth, like Nature, is in the last resort one and indivisible. So is the soul. The division of the soul into the head and the heart may be a necessity of thought, so far as thought comes under the control of its instrument, language; but it is not a necessity of Nature. If the distinction between the two is to be maintained, it must be on the understanding that one of the most vital functions of each is to co-operate with the other, and that neither can do its own special work effectively except in alliance with the other.
The heart is like a woman. Its intuitions are sound, but its attempts to justify them are fallacious and inconclusive. "Le cœur," says Pascal, "a ses raisons que le raison ne connaît pas: on le sait en mille choses." This is quite true; but the heart, left to itself, will not only fail to discover its hidden reasons, but will insist on giving other reasons--quite wrong reasons--for its fundamentally right conclusions. For if the heart takes upon itself to interpret some strong and true desire which possesses it, the chances are that it will fall a victim, in its search for an explanation, to the first commonplace theory that comes in its way,
or, failing this, will revert to some old worn-out theory which in its own secret recesses it has already discarded; with the result, in either case, that the evolution of the desire will be arrested, and its pent-up energies put to some baser use. In other words, the right conclusions of the heart, being obscured by wrong reasons, will recede into the background; and the heart will end by substituting for these its own misinterpretations of them,--misinterpretations which are wholly due to its perverse attempt to understand and explain what it sees and feels.
It is true that in the medium of poetry--which never argues, never apologizes, never explains itself--the conclusions which the heart reaches by the divination of instinctive desire, may find a safe retreat. But to sustain life in that fluid medium, in which no problem is ever solved but all reasons and all conclusions are held in solution, is to the full as difficult as to breathe the rarefied air of abstract thought. Reasons for its intuitive conclusions, ideas to justify and direct its spiritual desires, the heart must have: but to discover those reasons, even if they be locked up in the heart itself, to discover the meaning, the function, and the purpose of the heart's desire is, after all, the business of thought; and the home of thought is what we call the head.
Here we come to a paradox from which there seems to be no escape. If we ask in what court the case between the head and the heart is to be tried, we can but answer: In the court of reason, the court which is presided over by the head. This shows how fundamentally fallacious--how unreal
and unnatural--is the dispute in question. When the heart takes upon itself to anticipate or reverse the ruling of the head, it violently usurps the function of the latter, and gives a verdict in its own favour in a court whose authority it has refused to recognize. The heart should go into the court of reason, not as a suitor against the head--that feud is, I repeat, fundamentally fallacious--still less as a judge, but as a witness who is deeply interested in a case which is ever on trial, and whose evidence deserves to be received and weighed. When the head refuses to accept the depositions of the heart, and then makes light of the heart's protest, it is, in its judicial capacity, deliberately ignoring evidence which bears directly on the matter in dispute. In thus ceasing to be impartial, it abdicates its judicial functions, and takes a side in the very case which it has undertaken to try. This is equivalent to closing its court; and when the court of reason is closed, a state of chaos ensues, in which there is not even the semblance of order, until might becomes right and cuts the knots which cannot otherwise be loosed.
In the West, then, we have the strange spectacle of the head, which ought to be judicial and impartial, playing in its own court the rôle of a partisan and an advocate; while the heart, which is and ought to be an interested witness, finding that the Presiding Judge refuses to accept its evidence, takes forcible possession of the judicial bench and gives judgment on the case in dispute, using arguments the insufficiency of which it had fully recognized in the very act of entering the court. For it is this, and nothing less than this, which happens
when reason gives judgment against "faith," having from the outset refused to listen to its evidence; and when "faith," in revenge, claims, on rational grounds, the right to reverse the rulings of reason.
The feud between the head and the heart is at once an abiding proof of the ascendency of dualism in Western thought, and a practical example of the working of that fatal fallacy. Spirit or matter, life or machinery, inward or outward, faith or reason, the heart or the head,--again and again we are invited to make our choice between what are supposed to be mutually exclusive alternatives, though they are really aspects--at once antithetical and correlative--of the same fundamental reality. In the order of Nature there is no abiding feud between the head and the heart. When we say that there is such a feud, what we mean is that for the time being the head and the heart--thought and desire--are unable to co-operate, the result of this being that neither is fulfilling its true function, and that the whole machinery of the inner life is deranged. The readiness of the Western mind to accept this state of things as normal, shows how deep-seated is the evil and how urgent is the need for a remedy. It is also equivalent to an admission that the title of this chapter is justified, and that Western thought is no longer solvent. When thought is solvent, when it is able to supply the ideas that desire needs, not for its ignoble satisfaction but for its expansion and development, the head and the heart cease to be enemies, and become what Nature intends them to be,--fellow-workers and friends.
207:1 I mean by dogmatism, not the uncompromising expression of opinion, but the claim to have formulated and expounded supernaturally communicated truth. The formulation of opinion, however uncompromising or even discourteous it may be, does not constitute dogmatism in this--the theological--sense of the word. There is a vital distinction, which the apologists for "dogma" are apt to ignore, between speaking for oneself and speaking in the name of the Supernatural God.
212:1 It is a significant fact that the pious Christian's recognition of the divinity of the Holy Spirit, or, in other words, of the immanence of God in his own life, is, as a rule, a pure formality.
215:1 For eighteen centuries, more or less, the belief that the God of the Jews is the God of the Universe, and that the Jewish Scriptures are the "Word of God," has lain like an incubus on the thought and conscience of the West. The time has come for criticism to say plainly that until this incubus has been finally exorcized, the higher thought of the West will not be able to awake from its long and troubled sleep. The Jewish conception of a God who is at once national and universal, is a remarkable, and, as far as it goes, a valuable contribution to the religious development of Humanity. But, standing as it does midway between a frankly national and a genuinely universal conception of God, it is obviously a resting-place for religious p. 216 thought and aspiration, rather than an abiding home. The Scriptures which record the sayings and doings of this hybrid Deity, hold a place in the esteem and affection of Christendom which makes criticism difficult and praise impertinent. But the time has come to say of them that they have all the defects and limitations of their Deity, and that to call them, in all seriousness, the "Word of God" is to emphasize the narrowness and shallowness of one's own conception of the Divine. What one cannot insist on too forcibly is that the cramping and warping influence of Jewish ideas and ideals makes itself felt by the revolutionary, quite as strongly as by the reactionary, school of thought. The "free-thinkers" who reject supernaturalism are with few exceptions, as narrow-minded, as unimaginative, and as dogmatic as the "orthodox" whom they affect to despise. The best that they can do for us, when we turn to them for help and guidance, is to substitute a negative for a positive dogmatism, secularism for superstition, disbelief for unwarranted belief, despair for illusive hope. Meanwhile, the West, with its old ideals discredited, with its old virtues at a discount, with its old faith slowly dying, devotes itself with feverish energy to the pursuit of riches and pleasure.