The Creed of Buddha, by Edmond Holmes, , at sacred-texts.com
UNABLE to meet its obligations, unable to supply the soul with the ideas that it needs for the due interpretation and evolution of its desires, Western thought can save itself from hopeless insolvency only by borrowing ideas from some other source. If it will condescend to do this, and if, having enriched its treasury with these new ideas, it will put them to a profitable use, by bringing them into harmony with what is true and of lasting value in its own theory of things, it will not only extricate itself from its embarrassments, but will be able in due course to pay back its debt with more than compound interest.
But the ideas that are borrowed must be those which the soul really needs. Now the soul needs, above all things, to be allowed to believe in itself. Belief in oneself is the supreme motive force in Nature, the power which is behind every desire, every enterprise, every effort, to grow, every "instinct to live." What we call the feud between the heart and the head is really the soul's indignant protest, on the plane of instinct and desire, against a theory which satisfies it, for the time being, on the plane of conscious thought,--the theory that
the material world is the whole world, that all phenomena, up to and including the spiritual life of man, admit of being stated and explained in terms of physical force and physical law, and that therefore the soul itself is not a reality but an empty name. In other words, the heart's revolt against the head is the soul's protest against its own disparagement of itself. The first, and in a sense the last, desire of the soul is to be allowed to believe in itself; for all faith, all hope, all joy, all that makes life worth living, is present in embryo in that one belief.
The soul, then, must be allowed to believe in itself; and if this, its fundamental act of faith, is to be really effective, if it is to give the soul the stimulus and the guidance that it needs, if it is to make an end of the intestine strife that tears the soul asunder, it must be free from any suspicion of doubt. This means that no attempt should be made to prove the reality of the soul. For if its reality were provable, it would obviously not be final or complete. Proof implies the unprovable. To prove reality is to build, in the last resort, on the rock of what is unprovably real. How do I know, for example, that the outward and visible world is real, in any sense or degree? Because my senses and my reason assure me (provisionally and within limits) of its reality. But what is the value of this assurance if I, whose reality is unprovable, am other than real? And because my reality is unprovable, it stands to reason that, just so far as the reality of the outward world is provable, it is to that extent provisional and incomplete. It is
my secret doubt as to the intrinsic reality of the outward world, which makes me attempt to prove it; and when the process of proof has reached its conclusion, its very conclusiveness becomes the measure of its failure; for it is only by postulating a higher and more intrinsic reality (in myself) that I am able to prove that the outward world is real in any sense or degree. For most men, indeed, the proof of the reality of the outward world is a process which gives satisfaction long before it has reached its final term,--in other words, long before the appeal to the soul's guarantee has become necessary. From this we may infer, if we please, that the average man's instinctive and sub-conscious belief in the solvency of the guarantor is complete, though he is incapable of the sustained effort of thought which might enable him to realize the significance of this belief, or even to become conscious of its existence. But what distinguishes the soul from all other objects of speculative thought, is that any attempt which may be made to prove its reality is, in the nature of things, foredoomed to miscarry at the very outset. This fact is deeply significant; but it is on its vital rather than its metaphysical significance that I wish to dwell. Belief in its own reality is the very root of the soul's life: to prove or attempt to prove its reality is to undermine and otherwise weaken its roothold; and to weaken its roothold is to retard the process of its growth.
But to allow the soul to believe in itself is to make faith, instead of reason, the basis of one's philosophy of life. The answer to this possible
protest is that the highest function of reason (as the word is understood by those who oppose it to faith) is to prove; and that, inasmuch as proof implies the unprovable, the philosophy that is based on reason hangs in mid-air instead of resting on the solid earth. This means that no philosophy is or can be based on reason, and that every philosophy, including materialism itself, is based on an act of faith. But as every act of faith resolves itself into faith in the source of all faith, the soul (even the materialist's belief in the intrinsic reality of the outward world being resolvable, in the last resort, into belief in his own self as the guarantor of its reality), it seems to follow that the soul's belief in itself is the only belief which is self-sanctioned, and therefore the only philosophical postulate which allows the thinker to proceed at once on his way.
If the soul is to believe in itself, it must break away, finally and completely, from Western standards of reality, or rather--for the Western mind does not think in the category of the real and the unreal 1--from Western criteria of existence. While it is engaged in freeing itself from these fetters, its conception of Nature will undergo a profound and far-reaching change. Vast possibilities will begin to dawn upon its vision. No longer bound by the crude assumption that the palpable is the real and the impalpable the non-
existent, it will begin to use its long-pinioned wings; and as it ascends from height to height, and discovers horizon beyond horizon, it will begin to suspect that, after all, the normal limits of human vision may not be the limits of the Universe. It will begin to wonder whether there may not, after all, be other worlds than that which the bodily senses reveal to us; other planes of being than the physical; other senses in man than those which he shares with the lower animals; other forces than those of material Nature. In the light of this dawning conception, the postulate of a supernatural order of things, which has done so much to narrow and debase man's conception of Nature, will become finally discredited by being justified and explained. The idea of the Supernatural cannot be wholly illusory. However erroneous, however mischievous may be its mode of expressing itself, we must needs believe that at the bottom of an idea which has ruled the lives and swayed the hearts of men in many lands and many ages, there is a real experience and a real desire. The supernatural world is the impalpable side of Nature, including all that is "inward and spiritual," expressed in a semi-materialistic notation. It follows that, when the soul is allowed to believe in itself, the supernatural world will be re-absorbed into Nature by a quasi-spontaneous process, for the inward side of Nature will then be seen to be the real side,--the substance of which the outward world is the shadow, the vital essence of which the outward world is the expression and the form. Nor is it only the soul's conception of Nature which will expand indefinitely
when the conventional criterion of existence becomes discredited. It is also the soul's conception of itself. Allow the soul to believe in itself, and it will try to discover what its self really is. This means that it will wander far and wide, wander to the uttermost ends of the world, in quest of its own boundaries; and as these will never be discovered, it will not rest till it has absorbed all things into itself. In other words, it will not rest till it has spiritualized Nature,--spiritualized her so completely that the very things which it once regarded as the only substantial realities will begin to pass before it as moving shadows, and the material world, which it once regarded as the Alpha and Omega of Nature, will begin to melt into a dream.
Two things, then, will happen when the soul has learned to believe in itself. Its conception of Nature, freed from the limits which the popular criterion of existence imposed upon it, will be raised to an infinite power. So will its conception of itself. And these two parallel conceptions, meeting at last "at infinity," will become one.
Thus the first idea that the soul needs, if it is to be restored to a state of spiritual solvency--the idea that the soul itself is real--will give an immense stimulus to its flagging vitality, will rekindle the flame and widen beyond measure the range of its desire, will revive its dormant spirit of enterprise, will dispose it for new and daring ad-ventures. But if these adventures are to be properly equipped and directed, further ideas will be needed; and these, too, must be provided by thought. The general idea of the soul's intrinsic
reality must be supplemented by speculative ideas of large import,--ideas as to the law of' the soul's life, as to its inward standard of reality, as to its origin and its destiny, as to the relation between its individual and its universal self. In evolving these ideas, thought will half lead and half follow desire, and will thus both guide and stimulate it. But if the ideas are to be effective, they must remain ideas, and not be allowed to degenerate into formulæ. To go far into detail, to map out a complete chart for the soul on the eve of its voyage of discovery, would stultify its spirit of enterprise; and to stultify its spirit of enterprise is to damp down the very flame of its life. If the chart which thought provides is both complete and correct in all its details, it must needs be that the far-off world of mystery which draws to itself the soul's desires has already been fully explored and surveyed, and that there is nothing left in it to discover. It is by desire, even more than by thought, that the blighting influence of dogmatism makes itself felt; and desire is the soul's instinctive effort to grow. The very basis of dogmatism is the false assumption that ultimate truth is communicable from without--as "theological information"--instead of being the inmost life of the soul, a life which the soul must win--or rather, evolve--in and for itself. When the soul realizes that it is real--and, if real at all, then supremely real--it will also realize that truth, which is the subjective counterpart of reality, is intimately its own; and it will instinctively reject all teaching which does, or pretends to do, for it what it ought to do and must do for itself.
[paragraph continues] Thus the primary idea that the soul is real will automatically protect the soul from the cramping and warping pressure of dogmatism, and, while disposing it to welcome all sub-ideas which give it stimulus and guidance, will strengthen it to reject the teaching that is merely formal, and that does not reveal to it what is and has ever been its own.
This leads me to say again that, whatever spiritual ideas the thought of the West may borrow from whatever quarter, it must be able to assimilate these, if they are to rescue it from its present state of insolvency, and make them its own. I mean by this, first, that it must learn at last to recognize them as belonging to that inner life of the soul which it is the function of thought to interpret; and, next, that as they come to it--nominally from without, but really from within--it must meet them along its own line of approach, and give them the particular expression which is in keeping with its own criticism of life. For just as the individual soul, in the course of its development, should prove its individuality by universalizing itself in its own particular way, so if the soul of the West is to make the ideas which it borrows really productive, it must transform them by processes of its own till it has made them available, first for the special needs of the West, and then for the more general needs of Humanity. In this, and in no other way, will it be able to pay them back in due season, enriched and expanded by the use that it has made of them.
Four things, then, are needed if the bankruptcy of Western thought is to come to an end. In the
first place, the idea that the soul is ultimately real--an idea which the heart imperatively needs, but which the head is unable to supply--must be borrowed from some other source. In the second place, the idea must be accepted on its own evidence, and therefore without any shadow of reserve or doubt. This means that the source from which the idea is borrowed must be one in which, having always been regarded as demonstrably indemonstrable, it has the force and authority of an axiom,--not of a mere assumption, still less of a logical conclusion. In the third place, with this master idea the soul must borrow the subsidiary ideas by which it has been interpreted and otherwise supported in the land of its origin; but it must take care that these subsidiary ideas, while giving it stimulus and guidance, do not in any way cramp or deaden its life, or impede the free play of its thought and its desire. In the fourth place, it must make the ideas that it borrows its very own; for until it has done this it will not be able to trade with them to advantage; and it is only by trading with them to advantage that it can hope to pay them back, with the generous interest which is due for so timely a loan.
In asking the West to adopt this heroic remedy, I can appeal to a precedent which Christendom at least will regard as authoritative,--to the example of Christ. Nearly 2000 years ago, when the ideals of Paganism had exhausted their influence, and when, as a consequence of this, the soul of the West was sinking deep into the mire of materialism--a
materialism of thought as well as of desire--Christ renewed its failing strength, and drew it back to firm ground, by borrowing from the Far East the master idea of the soul's intrinsic reality and the derivative ideas that revolve round this central orb, and by making these his own. As regards the source to which he went, the ideas that he borrowed, and the use that he made of them, we who revere Christ as our Lord and Master, shall do well to follow his lead.
To the pious Christian, who believes that Christ brought his ideas--or shall I say, his store of "theological information"?--down to earth from the supernatural Heaven, the suggestion that he borrowed ideas from India, or any other terrestrial land, may possibly seem profane. Yet Theology itself admits, or rather insists, that Christ was (and is) "very man" as well as "very God"; and if he was "very man," if he was open to all human influences, we may surely take for granted that his pure and exalted nature was peculiarly sensitive to the spiritual ideas of his age. That Christ had come under the influence of the spiritual ideas of the Far East is a hypothesis which explains many things, and for which therefore there are many things to be said. To attempt to prove in detail the indebtedness of the "Gospel" to the "Ancient Wisdom" would carry me far beyond the limits which the aim of this work has imposed upon me. But I would ask anyone who can approach the question with a genuinely open mind to make the following simple experiment. Let him first saturate himself with the spiritual thought
of India,--with the speculative philosophy, half metaphysical, half poetical, of the Upanishads, and with the ethical philosophy of Buddha. Let him then study the sayings of Christ, making due allowance for the distorting medium (of Jewish prejudice and Messianic expectation) through which his teaching has been transmitted to us. He will probably end by convincing himself, as I have done, that the spiritual standpoints of the Sages of the Upanishads, of Buddha, and of Christ were, in the very last resort, identical.
With this hypothesis to guide us, let us study some of the more characteristic sayings of Christ. What is the "Sermon on the Mount" but a systematic and strenuous attempt to revolutionize human life by giving men a new ideal and a new standpoint,--by substituting, in accordance with the central trend of Indian thought, an entirely inward for an entirely outward standard of moral worth? The sayings in it which seem to be violent and paradoxical, when we interpret them literally, disclose their meaning and their purpose directly the light of this conception is turned upon them. To say that "every one that looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" is, one would think, to disparage by implication the self-control which arrests lawless desire on the threshold of lawless action; but the words had to be spoken in order that the reality of the inward standard might be emphasized, and the hollowness of formal rules, when divorced from the spiritual principles that are behind them, might be brought home to his hearers. The words,
[paragraph continues] "if thy right eye cause thee to stumble pluck it out and cast it from thee" are, as they stand, a hard saying. But when he spoke them, Christ was but expressing in his own language the profound truth which Indian thought had long insisted upon,--that the outward self (form, sensation, perception and the rest) is unreal and valueless, in comparison with the overwhelming reality and incalculable value of the inward life. His stern and terrible command is in its essence the echo of what Buddha had said, centuries before, in quite other words: "The material form is not the self: the sensations are not the self: the perceptions are not the self: the conformations [predispositions] are not the self: the consciousness is not the self." 1
The "Kingdom of Heaven," which figures so prominently in Christ's discourses, is obviously the kingdom of soul-life;--a kingdom which is ever at hand, ever in the midst of us; which immingles itself with "the world," or kingdom of the surface life, as the eternal immingles itself with the transitory, the real with the phantasmal, truth with illusion, light with darkness; or, again, which waits with divine patience at the heart of "the world," as "perfect peace" waits at the heart of fever and strife. To enter this inward
[paragraph continues] Kingdom is to enter "the Path" into which Buddha led his disciples. To become (in the fullest sense of the words) a naturalized citizen of the Kingdom is to pass into Nirvâna. When Christ says, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust doth consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume and where thieves do not break through nor steal; for where thy treasure is there will thy heart be also," he is but harping on the theme, so familiar to Indian thought, of the impermanence of outward things and the permanence of the inward life. When he likens the kingdom of heaven to the "hidden treasure" or the "pearl of great price," to win which a man will sell all that he has, he is but echoing the teaching of the Indian sages that the Self within the self is alone real, and that all the things which we prize must be surrendered in order that He may be won.
Even the words which Christ is reported to have used about his own kinship to and oneness with "the Father"--words on which all the fantastic structures of Christian theology have been based--are but the expression, in a new notation, of the sublime Indian doctrine that "He is the true self of every creature,"--that "Brahma and the self are one."
Lastly, the great question in which the whole of Christ's spiritual teaching is summed up and typified--"What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul; or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
with its implicit assumption that the soul is greater and more precious than "the whole world," is the very question which India had again and again asked herself, and in which all her meditations on great matters had centred.
The ideas which dominated Christ's teaching, and which, according to my hypothesis, had come to him from the Far East, were not wholly new to the Græco-Roman world of his day. Xenophanes, Parmenides, Pythagoras and (above all) Plato had expounded them, each from his own point of view and in his own language, to esoteric circles of disciples. But no popular exposition of them had been attempted in the West till Christ came ender their influence and was captivated by their truth and beauty. Whether they were consciously or unconsciously adopted by Christ matters little. The broad fact confronts us that the ideas which he expounded coincide, at every vital point, with ideas which were current in India many centuries before the Christian era. Had India, through all those centuries, been entirely walled off from Western Asia and Southeastern Europe, the coincidences between the teaching of Christ and the teaching of Buddha and his forerunners might conceivably be regarded as purely fortuitous. But never, before the establishment of British rule in India, had the opportunities for intercourse between East and West been so numerous or so favourable as in the centuries which immediately preceded the birth of Christ. For during a part, at least, of that period a chain of partially Hellenized kingdoms stretched from India to the Mediterranean, forming
a broad highway along which the spiritual ideas of India travelled, slowly but surely; Westward. We need not lay much stress on the inscription which records the intention of the Buddhist Emperor, Asoka, to send missionaries from India to Syria, Egypt, and other Hellenized lands, in order to preach the gospel of deliverance; for we have no evidence that those missionaries were ever sent. But the migration of a spiritual idea is not dependent, wholly or even mainly, on the labours of its accredited agents. The decadence of religion and philosophy in the Græco-Roman world during the centuries which intervened between the death of Alexander and the birth of Christ, had created a spiritual vacuum which was waiting to be filled; and the westward set of the current of Indian ideas was as natural a movement as that of the Trade Winds or the Gulf Stream.
But if we may not say that Christ originated the ideas which he expounded, we may--and must--say that he was grandly original in the use that he made of them. The inspired teacher is not he who invents new ideas--for great ideas are never invented--but he who having received them, from whatever quarter, is able to assimilate them and make them his own. It is because he did this to the largest and most luminous ideas that have yet dawned upon the human spirit, that Christ must take rank with Buddha as one of the foremost teachers of mankind. What Buddha had done to the ideas of the Upanishads, Christ did to the same ideas when they had come to him, as they probably did, through the medium of Buddha's ethical
teaching, he made them available for the daily needs of ordinary men.
But the method by which Christ worked was entirely his own. To graft the spiritual idealism of India on the stem of Hebrew poetry, and so to bring it home to the heart, rather than to the mind or the conscience, was the work of his life. Leaving it to thinkers, like Plato, to develop the idea of soul-growth through the medium of abstract thought,--leaving it to moralists, like Buddha, to develop it through the medium of a scheme of life,--Christ was content to develop it through the medium of poetic emotion. Out of the rival conceptions of God which were symbolized by Brahma and Jehovah respectively, he devised a third--the "resultant" of their respective forces--the idea of the All-Father who loves and is loved by his children, men. Setting before men, as Plato and Buddha had done, the finding of the soul or true self as the goal of their life's endeavour, he neither gave them reasons for pursuing that goal (as Plato had done) nor directions for pursuing it (as Buddha had done), but he gave them instead of these a motive for pursuing it--of all motives the strongest and the purest--the quasi-personal love of the All-loving God. Where Plato and where Buddha were strong, each in his own way, Christ was by comparison weak; but he had a strength which was all his own. Plato reasoned about God. Buddha kept silence about God. Christ made him the theme of his poetry. Each of these modes of dealing with the idea of the Divine has its own merits and its own defects. The defects of Christ's treatment
of the idea are obvious. The teacher who tries to popularize spiritual truth by formulating it in terms of poetry, may almost be said to invite men to literalize and despiritualize his teaching. Christ took this risk and paid the penalty of his daring. But though the penalty was a heavy one, yet when he had paid it in full there was a substantial balance in his favour. As a speculative thinker he does not compete with Plato. As a systematic teacher he does not compete with Buddha. But as a source of spiritual inspiration he has no rival.
With Christ's example before us, we need not hesitate to go for spiritual ideas to the only land in which they have ever (as far as we know) been indigenous,--to Ancient India. In the India which gave birth to the Upanishads, belief in the soul grew on its own stock and sprang from its own roots. No attempt was made to prove the reality of the soul, or to apologize for the belief in it. So far as any reason was given for the "soul-theory," it was a reason which proved--if I may be allowed the paradox--that the reality of the soul is unprovable.
The idealistic ventures of the West have all suffered shipwreck on the rock of the average man's "common-sense,"--an euphemistic title for his spiritual indolence, his lack of imagination, and his
inability to think clearly or coherently. But the spiritual thought of India, in the days when her soul was awake and active, was, at its highest level, strictly esoteric. In the teaching of Buddha we have the nearest approach to popularizing it that was ever made; but what Buddha submitted to the average man were, not the conclusions of Indian idealism, not the reasons for those conclusions, but their practical consequences. That the average man was deeply interested in the soundness of Buddha's scheme of life, was no reason (so its author seems to have thought) for allowing him to examine the philosophical conceptions that underlay it. The average man is deeply interested in the stability of the Forth Bridge; but had the engineers of that structure invited him to handle the profound mathematical problems which had to be solved before their designs could be completed, they would justly have been deemed insane. Not less insane would it have seemed to the Master Thinkers of India to allow the average man to handle the problem of reality, or any kindred problem.
It is true that to ignore the average man in the region of high thinking is a loss to the life of a nation as well as a gain; and that India has paid heavily for having ignored him. But the gain to her thought, while her spiritual life was at or near its zenith, was immense. Serenely indifferent to the verdict of the market place, Indian idealism never explains itself, never gives account of itself, never even for a moment distrusts itself. This means that under its ægis the soul's belief in itself
is complete. And this again means that the soul is not curious about itself, or about .the worlds of which it is at once the centre and the circumference; that it is content with ideas and impatient of formulæ; that high thinking is neither the master nor the servant of spiritual desire, but its peer and its other self; that the head is ready to give the heart the guidance that it really needs,--the guidance that stimulates to fresh endeavour, not the guidance that blinds the vision and paralyzes the will.
It is to India then--the India of the Upanishads and of Buddha--that the West must go for the ideas, both central and subordinate, which shall rescue it from its embarrassments and restore it to a state of spiritual solvency. The central idea for which it is waiting is that of the reality of the soul. Of the sub-ideas to which this idea is central it must select those which it will find most easy to assimilate. For if it is to put the ideas that it borrows to a profitable use, it must make them its own; it must, in a manner, re-create them by bringing them into harmony with the highest achievements of its own thought. Now the highest achievements of the Western mind are and have long been scientific. It is in the sphere of physical science that its most successful work has been done, and that its most characteristic qualities have been developed. There are obvious reasons--in the West, where for centuries men have been authoritatively taught to identify the impalpable with the supernatural, there are special reasons--why the physical or palpable side of Nature should have
been the first for Science to explore. But there is no reason why Science should confine her operations to that particular sphere. To be immersed in physical matter is not of the essence of Science. What is of her essence is the secret faith which is the mainspring of all her energies,--the faith of the soul of man in the intrinsic unity of Nature, its latent belief that the Universe is "not an aggregate but a whole." The aim of science--an aim which is not the less real because it is seldom consciously realized--is to discover one all-pervading substance, one all-controlling force, one all-regulating law. Subordinate to, but vitally connected with, the belief in the unity of Nature is the belief in law,--the belief of the soul in the veracity of Nature, in the stability and self-identity of the Universe. These two beliefs (if we are to call them two) constitute the true creed of Science. They are beliefs, be it observed, not disbeliefs. Each of them has its counterpart in what I may call a cosmic desire,--in the instinctive response of the soul to a message from the heart of the Universe. What passes in certain quarters for the creed of Science is a series of dogmatic negations or disbeliefs. But the true creed is a faith, a hope, and an aspiration; and, sooner or later, it will find expression for itself in action, in conduct, in life.
Such being, in its essence, the creed or secret faith of Science, it is a shock to the scientific thought of the West, when it asks philosophy to give it the ground plan of the Universe, to find itself face to face with the dualism of popular thought. The very raison d'être of Science is to prove that the
[paragraph continues] Universe is an organic whole; and it is therefore an insult and a mockery to the mind which has long been living in an atmosphere of scientific effort and achievement, to be told that there are two worlds or spheres of being in the Universe, not one; that these two worlds are parted by an unfathomable abyss of nothingness which makes natural intercourse between them impossible; and that the Supreme Power which is supposed to have fashioned the world of Nature, and which now dwells apart from it in the supernatural Heaven, reveals itself at its own good pleasure to the dwellers in Nature by suspending the laws which are (one must believe) the expression of its own being,--in other words, by stultifying its own work and thwarting its own will. What wonder that the Western mind, in the violence of its re-action from so irrational a philosophy, should surrender itself to a theory of things which it regards as the only possible alternative for dualism,--to a materialistic monism in which unity is achieved by suppressing the impalpable, and therefore by despiritualizing and devitalizing the Universe? And what wonder that it should be unable to realize, owing to the poison of dualism being still in its veins, that a monism which is based on a comprehensive negation is not an alternative for dualism, but a new version of it;--the attempt to escape from dualism, by suppressing one of the terms of a given antithesis, leading one of logical necessity into the toils of a deadlier fallacy,--the fundamental dualism of the existent and the non-existent?
If the "advanced" thought of the West desires,
in general, to convince itself of the unity of the Universe, it desires, more particularly, to bring the life of the soul--to bring the moral and spiritual worlds in which the life of the soul expresses itself--under the reign of natural law. This desire, which is 'both legitimate and salutary, is systematically thwarted by the dogmatic teaching of those who pose as the champions of the soul. For twenty centuries the "soul-theory" has been presented to the consciousness of the West in the notation of the Supernatural. As so presented, it outrages at every turn man's sense of law and his cognate (and virtually identical) sense of justice. To teach man that sin entered the world because his "first parents" violated an arbitrary command of the supernatural God; that because of this one original act of disobedience the whole human race stands condemned to eternal death; that the death of Christ on the cross has made it possible for men to escape from the terrible consequences of Adam's sin; that this one brief earth-life decides for all time the destiny of each individual soul; that either eternal salvation or eternal damnation awaits the departed spirit; that grace (the higher life of the soul) is a supernaturally communicated gift, a water of healing which (as some contend) is "laid on" at every priest-served altar, or (as others contend) takes possession of the "elect" in a sudden and irresistible stream,--to teach man such things as these is to make open mockery of his sense of law and order and justice, and to warn him at the outset that there can be no science of the inner life. To this mockery and this warning the scientific
thought of the West has begun to reply with open defiance. Forbidden by supernaturalism to bring the life of the soul under the sway of natural law, it is being led by the secret logic of its faith (for it cannot but cling to its intuitive conviction that the realm of natural law is co-terminous with the Universe) to disbelieve in the life of the soul, to ask for proofs of its existence, and at last to relegate the whole "soul-theory" to the limbo of exploded superstitions. In thus abandoning the "soul-theory," the advanced thinkers of the West imagine that they are undoing the demoralizing work of supernaturalism. But in this matter, as in their treatment of the general problem of dualism, the remedy that they offer is worse than the disease. The West has never realized--so faulty has been its ethical training--that the inward consequences of moral action are regulated by one of Nature's most just and most inexorable laws; and the normal attitude of the average man towards the problem of moral responsibility is that, apart from legal and social considerations, it matters little how one acts. He still feels, however, that it matters some-thing; for the general idea that moral goodness makes for the well-being of the soul has always been formally countenanced by supernaturalism, and is still, in some degree, a restraining, if not an inspiring, influence in his life. But let him be fully convinced that he has no inward life, and that therefore his conduct can have no inward consequences,--and it will not be long before he feels his way to the logical conclusion that (again apart from legal and social considerations) it matters nothing how one acts.
We see, then, that the advanced thought of the West has, unknown to itself, a true and deep philosophy of its own,--a philosophy which centres in recognition of the essential unity of Nature and of the all-pervading supremacy of natural law. In virtue of this unformulated philosophy, it is the sworn enemy of dualism in general and of supernaturalism in particular; but it cannot yet realize what its hostility to dualism means, or where it is to find the remedy for the evil which it dimly discerns. The remedy for dualism is not the monism (if one must call it so) which suppresses one of the terms of a world-embracing antithesis, but the higher monism which recognizes that each term is the complement and correlate of the other; nay, that there is a reciprocal relation between the two in virtue of which each in turn owes to the other its meaning, its purpose, and (in the last resort) its very right to exist;--which recognizes, for example, that silence "implies sound," that failure is "a triumph's evidence," that the supernatural world is at the heart of Nature, that form is as truly the expression of spirit, as spirit is the soul and life of form. 1
Such a monism was once taught in the Far East. The Indian doctrine of the fundamental identity of the individual and the universal life, and, more especially, of the ideal identity of the individual with the Universal Soul, makes an end, once and
for all, of the false dualism of the human and the Divine, 1 and provides for the return of the Lord and Giver of Life from his exile in the supernatural dreamland to his home at the heart of Nature. If Western thought will accept this doctrine as a provisional theory of things, and try to master its meaning, it will be able to extend the conception of natural law to the inner life of man and to all the worlds--moral, æsthetic, poetic, religious, and the rest--which the ferment of that life has generated; it will be able, in due course, to take in hand the task for which its special bent and special training are even now equipping it, the task of building up the science of the soul.
When it takes that task in hand, it will find that Buddha has anticipated it, to the extent of indicating the main lines on which it will have to work. An attempt has been made by some of the Western exponents of Buddhism to show that the teaching of Buddha falls into line with the anti-idealistic theories of the dominant school of Western thought. The attempt has not been successful; for it can be shown, I think, that Buddha based his scheme of life, not on rejection of the "soul-theory," but on whole-hearted acceptance of it. But those who contend that Buddha's philosophy is modern and Western, have come within a little of stumbling
upon an important truth. Though he belonged to a far-off age and a far-off land, the founder of Buddhism was akin to us in the scientific bent of his mind, in his grasp of the idea of law. His teaching does not fall into line with our thought, for in truth he was far more "advanced" than we are; but it is possible that our thought, as it develops, will come into line with his teaching.
The scientific achievements of the West, so far as they have any philosophical significance, fall under two main heads, the discovery (if I may use the word), on the physical plane, that the Kingdom of Nature is under the reign of law (a conception of Nature which Science must have unconsciously brought with her to her work of investigation, and which has made that work possible); and the further discovery that all laws of Nature are subordinate to the master law of development or growth. 1 Both these discoveries were anticipated by Buddha; but they were made by him--or by the thinkers who sowed what he reaped--not on the physical plane, but on the spiritual, on the plane of man's inner life. Buddha realized, as no man before (or since) had ever done, that the soul is a living thing, and that, as such, it comes under the all-pervading, all-controlling law of growth. And he realized the practical bearing of this conception.
Physical science says to the husbandman, "Do such and such things, and your crops (taking one
season with another) will be abundant: neglect to do them, and your crops will be poor;" or, in other words, "Bring your husbandry into harmony with certain laws of physical Nature, and you will fare well. Disregard those laws, and you will fare ill." What the science of the West is doing for the growth (and the development) of wheat and barley, Buddha did for the growth of the soul. He taught men that, if they would bring their lives into harmony with certain fundamental laws of Nature, their souls would grow--as well-tended crops grow--vigorously and healthily; and that the sense of well-being which accompanies successful growth, and which, when consciously realized, is true happiness, would be theirs. He taught them this; and, in teaching it, he made that appeal to their will-power which is his chief contribution to the edification, as distinguished from the instruction, of the soul. The husbandman must take thought for his plants if their lives are to be brought into harmony with the appropriate laws of Nature; but the plant which we call the soul must take thought for itself. Penetrated with the conviction that what a man does re-acts, naturally and necessarily, on what he is, and so affects for all time the growth of the soul and its consequent well-being; penetrated with the conviction that conduct moulds character, and that character is destiny,--Buddha called upon each man in turn to take his life into his own hands, and himself to direct the process of his growth.
This message was his legacy to the ages. It is for Western thought to take it up and repeat it,
developing in its own way the mighty ideas that are behind it. Dr Rhys Davids seems to think that it is "unmanly" 1 to take thought for one's soul; and it is possible that care for the soul has at times taken forms which are open to this reproach. But when the idea of soul-growth is interpreted in the light of the idea of inexorable law, it loses the sickly savour which clings, in some slight measure, to the ideal of saintliness, and one begins to realize that to take oneself in hand and to make one's soul grow, by the constant exercise of initiative and self-control, is to rise to an even loftier level than that of manliness (which, after all, is but the virtue of a sex), to the level of true manhood. The scheme of life in which Buddha embodied his science of the soul is in the highest degree bracing and stimulating; and one of the chief sources of its tonic influence is the sternness with which it insists on the merciless majesty of Nature's laws. Just as physical science warns us that, if we drink polluted water (let us say), our health will suffer, and the elimination of the poison from our bodies will be a long and painful process, so Buddha warns men that wrong-doing is not less certain to work itself out of the soul as sorrow and suffering than is right-doing to work itself into the soul as health, and therefore as happiness and peace. That nothing can come between conduct and its inward consequences--between what we do and what we are and shall be--is the conviction
on which the whole of his teaching is hinged. The ideas about God and Man and the Universe which have made possible the Christian belief in the forgiveness of sins, belong to a quarter of thought in which his mind never moved. Unlike Jehovah, who is angry and then repents and forgives, the power which is at the heart of Nature
[paragraph continues] If we sow the seed of wheat we shall reap wheat, and reap it, if we have been wise husbandmen, in abundant measure. But if we sow the seed of thistles, we must know for certain that our crop will be thistles, not wheat.
These ideas are eminently congenial to the scientific tone of Western thought; and the day will come (I venture to predict) when the conception of life which they embody will be accepted in the West as the sanest and truest conception that the mind of man has yet devised, and as the only stable foundation on which to build--what will surely be the fittest monument to Buddha's greatness--the science of the soul. The task of building that monument, of interpreting in the light of modern experiences and adapting to modern needs the spiritual ideas of ancient India, will probably devolve upon the West (which is unconsciously preparing itself for the task by its arduous work in the field of physical science), rather than upon the East. Should that be so, and should the West rise to the level of its opportunity, it would at last find itself in a position to pay back the loan that had saved its credit; for
it would have traded with its borrowed ideas to the best advantage, and would have duly enriched them with its own thought, its own labour, and its own life.
Before these things can come to pass one practical difficulty will have to be overcome. It is possible that the sentimental thought of the West will offer as strong an opposition to the idea of the life and destiny of the soul being regulated by inexorable law, as is now offered by the intellectual thought of the West to the root-idea of soul-life. But the advanced thinker of that distant day will be able to re-assure his weaker brethren. For he will remind them that the Universal Soul, which is the true self of each of us, and which the process of soul-growth will therefore enable each of us to realize, is the same for all men; and he will ask them to infer from this that the most inexorable of all Nature's laws is the law to which even the master law of growth is in a sense subordinate,--the law which makes the Universe one living whole, the law of centripetal tendency, the law of Love.
234:1 Its favourite category is a hybrid one,--that of the real and the not-existent. But by the real it obviously means the existent. The idea that there are degrees of reality lies beyond the horizon of its thought.
242:1 Compare Sâriputta's words in his dialogue with Yamaka: "As regards all form . . . all sensation . . . all perception . . . all predispositions . . . all consciousness . . . the correct view in the light of the highest knowledge, is as follows: 'This is not mine: this am I not: this is not my Ego.'" Can it be that the beautiful story of Kunâla [the son of the great Buddhist Emperor, Asoka], whose eyes were "plucked out" by order of his wicked stepmother, had made its way to Galilee?
247:1 "The Secret of Death," by Sir Edwin Arnold.
254:1 The initial mistake of modern materialism is to assume that there can be no form except what is discernible, directly or indirectly, by man's bodily senses,--a naïvely egotistic assumption which has nothing to say for itself except that it seems a truism to a certain type of mind.
255:1 I am sometimes told that, if I do not believe in the supernatural Divinity of Christ, I have no choice but to regard him as a "mere man." What is a "mere man"? I have not the faintest conception. What is "mere" Nature? What is "mere" beauty? What is "mere" life? When a noun has an unfathomable depth of meaning, "mere," in the limiting sense of the word, is surely the last adjective to apply to it.
256:1 We speak of the growth of an individual organism; of the development of a type. As the soul is both individual and universal, either term may be applied to it.
258:1 "The ancient Aryans were far too manly and free to be troubled much about their own souls, either before or after the death of the body."--"American Lectures on Buddha," p.17.