The Way to Nirvana, by L. de la Vallée Poussin, , at sacred-texts.com
I. The Path is the eradication of desire. II. A middle way between asceticism and indulgence. III. A threefold training in the Buddhist Truths. IV. A skilful practice of trances. V. Conclusion.
Nirvāṇa is the cessation of rebirth. Desire, with action consequent upon desire, is the cause of rebirth. The path leading to deliverance from rebirth must therefore be a path leading to deliverance from desire. In order to avoid rebirth, it is necessary and sufficient to eradicate desire, desire for pleasure, desire for existence, desire for non-existence or hatred of existence; that is to become a Saint, an Arhat, free from sorrow, hope, and fear.
On this point as on many another, we find in Brahmanism parallel conceptions to the Buddhist doctrine. The Upaniṣads state that Man is reborn in conformity with his desire, his aspiration, his conduct (see above, p. 64); but
what is the destiny of a man who is free from desire?
"When desire ceases, the mortal becomes immortal; he attains Brahman on earth. He who is without desire, who is free from desire, who desires only his own Self which is identical with the universal Self, he obtains the accomplishment of his desire in the possession of his Self. He is the universal Self and goes into the universal Self."
It is not probable that the primitive Buddhists ever heard of these theories: the Self (ātman) which they know and reject is the individual Self and they never mention the Nirvāṇa of the individual Self in the great Self. But their doctrine of the Path may be shortly described as a secularisation of the Upaniṣad teaching: to free oneself from desire, while ignoring the universal Self and denying the human Self.
On the other hand, the Buddhist path is a 'rationalisation' of a number of practices which were common at this time among ascetics of every faith and aspiration.
There were many 'ford-makers,' but Śākyamuni alone has discovered the true 'ford,' or rather has re-discovered it, for the Buddhas of old had discovered it long ago; and he has designed a
pattern of 'religious life' (brahmacarya) which is, has been, and will be, the only means to deliverance.
To give a faithful and complete image of 'the religious life under the rule of Buddha' would be a long affair. Every detail of the monastic institution, every detail of the intellectual and moral training of the monks, ought to be mentioned. Further, in order to appreciate the historical interest of these manifold data, references ought to be made to the rules of the contemporaneous sects and especially to the Brahman institutions. The very word we translate 'religious life,' brahmacarya, meant originally 'life of a young Brahman in the house of his preceptor before his initiation and marriage 1.'
But it will not be difficult to state the general principles of the Buddhist Path. We have only, in the words of the Sanskrit poet, to make a string on which to thread the jewels already pierced by others.
The Path is (1) a middle way between asceticism and laxity, (2) a training in the Buddhist truths, (3) a skilful practice of trances or ecstasies.
Laxity or indulgence means secular married life. Asceticism means, not only, as usually with us, not indulging in morally allowed desire, but inflicting pain, penance.
The origins of asceticism,—in Sanskrit tapas, a word that means heat,—go far back into the past 1. In historic India, asceticism has been turned into a religious and moral institution—a self-torture to please the deity, to wash away the sins one has consciously or unconsciously committed, to avoid sin by mortifying the flesh. While assuming these new aspects, or, to put it more uncompromisingly, while developing in a moral direction, tapas remained and remains an essentially magical affair. In the ritualistic books, it comes to the foreground of speculation as a creative power: Prajāpati, the Lord of the generations, performed penance, became hot and produced the worlds by the power of heat or penance. Prajāpati was a great 'penitent'; ascetics, men who practise the most extravagant penances, just as the modern fakirs, are penitents'
of a smaller size, but nevertheless demiurges in their own guise, autonomous and irrepressible forces, frightful to the gods themselves.
The notion of holiness and wisdom was hopelessly confused with the notion of penance: when the idea of deliverance was discovered, men naturally thought that penitents only could have some chance of reaching deliverance.
Accordingly when Gautama, the young prince of the Śākya race, abandoned his home to secure his salvation, he first followed the common track and lived for a time—for many years—as a Muni, that is as a solitary penitent: hence his name Śākyamuni. He indulged in the most severe abstinence from food, remaining upright and motionless, hoping for a sudden illumination of mind. Five ascetics were his companions in these austerities. A Greek sculptor, five or six centuries later, produced a realistic and spiritualized representation of his emaciated body, which is one of the masterpieces of Gandhāra art 1. But the illumination did not come, and Śākyamuni felt very weak indeed: he understood that illumination requires strength of mind; he took some food and soon reached the goal for which he had long endeavoured in vain; he became
a Buddha. Intellectual achievements depend on intellectual efforts.
At the moment when Śākyamuni broke his fast, the five ascetics had deserted him, and when Śākyamuni after becoming a Buddha approached them again, they jeered saying: "Here is the one that failed in his austerities." Śākyamuni told them that he had obtained complete enlightenment. "But," they asked, "if you could not succeed in obtaining enlightenment by asceticism, how can we admit that you have succeeded when you live in abundance, when you have given up exertion?" To which Śākyamuni replied that he had not given up exertion—for penance is not the only exertion—and that his life was not a life of abundance; for the path of the men 'who have given up the world' to obtain deliverance is a middle path between the two extremes, asceticism and indulgence. "What are the two extremes? A life addicted to sensual pleasures: this is base, sensual, vulgar, ignoble, pernicious; and a life addicted to mortification: this is painful, ignoble and pernicious 1."
While many ascetics, the Jains for instance, regarded penance as the chief element of spiritual progress 1, Śākyamuni depreciates and even, in some cases, forbids penance. (1) If penance is practised in order to obtain worldly advantages, rebirth in heaven or magical powers, the divine eye, etc., it is a purely mundane affair; born from desire, it produces desire, and is far from leading to salvation. (2) As concerns salvation, penance by itself is of no avail. To hold the contrary is 'heresy,' technically the śīlavrataparāmarśa, 'believing in the efficiency of rites and ascetic practices.'
Śākyamuni does not condemn every penance, far from that. But he thinks that, even when practised by the 'orthodox,' penance presents many drawbacks.
One of them is that it is likely to beget spiritual pride, one of the pitfalls of the monks:
"Whosoever is pure and knows that he is pure, and finds pleasure in knowing that he is pure, becomes impure and dies with an impure thought. Whosoever is impure and knows that he is impure, and makes effort to become pure, dies with a pure thought."
Again some penances—abstinence from food,
for instance, not to mention mutilations—are injurious to body and therefore to mind. Now full strength of mind is necessary to the understanding of the philosophical truths that are really to purify the thought. The body, therefore, must be treated without hatred if without love; the monks have to take care of their body, but it is unjust to say that they love it. As Nāgasena told the king Milinda 1:
"Have you ever at any time been hit in battle by an arrow? "—"Yes, I have."—"And was the wound anointed with ointment, smeared with oil and bandaged with a strip of fine cloth?"—"Yes, it was."—"Did you love your wound?"—"No."—"In exactly the same way, the ascetics do not love their bodies; but, without being attached to them, they take care of their bodies in order to advance in the religious life."
But, if the body is not to be crushed, the desires of the body are to be crushed. Śākyamuni condemns every indulgence; the smallest concession may be disastrous; desire is everywhere, for we are living desire 2:
All things, O monks, are on fire. The eye is on fire, visible forms are on fire, visual cognitions are on fire, impressions received by the eye are on fire, and whatever sensations, pleasant, unpleasant or indifferent, originate in dependence on impressions received by the
eye, these also are on fire. And with what are these on fire? With the fire of lust, with the fire of hatred, with the fire of infatuation.
Ear and sounds, nose and smells, tongue and taste, body—that is the organ of touch—and tangible qualities, mind and ideas are also on fire.
The right means to extinguish this fire is not the surgical method—neither vow of silence, in order to avoid sins and desires of the voice: for if that be the case, mute animals would be Saints; nor absence of thought; nor craziness, real or simulated folly (unmattaka), nor other stupid and stupefying devices, such as living as a cow or a dog, nor mutilations and self-torture, nor suicide, this ultima ratio of the Jain ascetics. Suicide is clearly an action commanded by desire or by disgust: one commits suicide to be better elsewhere or to avoid pain 1. The Buddhist must wait his time, without longing for life, without longing for death.
The right means to extinguish the fire is the intellectual method which we shall outline presently, coupled with a moderate asceticism.
1. There were, in the primitive Brotherhood, men of penitential tendencies,—former adherents of penitential orders, for instance Mahākāśyapa
and his followers, who had realized the superiority of Śākyamuni's teaching, who had recognized in Śākyamuni the Omniscient One and the leader of spiritual life. Śākyamuni did not provide for them a new rule: he condemned the most morbid exaggerations of asceticism and the indecent practices, nakedness and so on; but he permitted a number of mortifications (dhūtaguṇa) which were not in themselves objectionable.
The 'hermits' (āraṇyaka), the 'men of cemeteries' (śmāśānika) form, throughout the history of the church, a special class of monks, dangerously like the non-Buddhist ascetics. They were holy men, ecstatics and poets 1, but in some respects they were 'heretics' as well 2.
2. The conception of the truly Buddhist religious life is to be found in the Vinaya which contains the rules established by Śākyamuni and the first generation of Elders for the monks and the nuns of common observance. The more we study the Vinaya 3, the more we wonder at the common sense that is visible in the general principles and in many details.
The monks of common observance have been
by far the most numerous and the most important in the history of Buddhism. Absolute continence, no private property; a very strict régime which affords little or no scope for concupiscence or for individual fancy, which seems very favourable to moral mortification while avoiding any corporeal pain; the life of a wandering mendicant during the dry season, and, during rains, a cenobitic life with all the mutual concessions and admonitions this life implies. On the whole an aristocratic form of asceticism, very much resembling the asceticism of the Brahmans.
But Brahmans and Buddhists diverge on one point which is very important 1.
The Brahmans are strong on the mos majorum. They say: "Win only the knowledge of the Self and leave alone everything else 2"; but they nevertheless continue to sacrifice to the gods, because the gods exist κατὰ δόξαν. They believe that every sensible man has to try to obtain eternal deliverance, and that a meditative, semi-penitential life is necessary in order to reach this lofty aim. But they cannot admit that it
can be right to forsake the duties of caste; and, like their Āryan ancestors, they cling to the theory of the four debts. Man pays his debt to the gods by sacrifice, to the Veda by study, to the dead by the birth of a son, to men by hospitality. When he has paid this fourfold debt, then only may the Brahman abandon everything and take up his abode in the forest in order to meditate, to save himself, to die as a holy man.
As usual, the Brahmanic point of view is forcibly expressed in the Mahābhārata. We are told that an anchorite, who had 'left the world' before marrying, came to a terrible place, which was in fact the pit of hell. There he recognized his father, his grandfather, the long series of all his ancestors, suspended one below another on the open mouth of the abyss. The rope which prevented them from falling was slowly and surely being gnawed by a mouse, a figure of Time. And so many voices, some well known, reminding him of accents heard when a child, some unknown yet appealing to a profound and hidden instinct, so many voices cried: "Save us! save us!" The only hope of welfare for the long series of the ancestors is the son to be born of their descendant. The anchorite understood the lesson, married, and was able to save himself without remorse, having saved his ancestors. (See Paramatthajotikā, ii, i, p. 317.)
The Buddhists are more consistent. Laymen, however faithful, generous and virtuous they may be, even if they practise the fortnightly abstinence and continence of the Upavāsa,
cannot reach Nirvāṇa. The only Buddhist, in the proper meaning of the word, is the monk who has broken all the ties of society; and the sooner one becomes a monk, the better. Why delay in getting rid of occasions of greed and of carnal desire? Therefore children are admitted, not to religious vows, but to the apprenticeship of the vows, when they are seven years old and big enough to drive away the rooks.
If by chance, and despite the theory, a layman obtains Sanctity, he is miraculously turned into a monk; he suddenly appears shaved, garbed in the yellow robe, alms bowl in hand, like, in all his demeanour, to a monk who has fifty years of profession.
The moderate asceticism 1 we have described is not, to speak exactly, a part of the Path leading to the eradication of desire; it is rather only a preparation to the Path: getting away from the occasions of desire. The Path is essentially a training in the Buddhist truths.
Desire depends on the organs of sense and the exterior objects. Whereas we are not allowed to destroy the organs, since suicide, mutilations,
fasting are objectionable, the pleasant exterior objects are too many to be suppressed. In the same way, it is impossible to avoid every occasion of anger; solitary life does not realize perfect loneliness; suffering, disgust and anger follow the monk even in the 'empty room' (śūnyāgāra) where he sits to meditate.
It is said 1:
There is not leather enough to cover the surface of the earth in order to make it smooth. But put on shoes, and the whole earth will be smooth.
In order—not to avoid lust (rāga) and anger or disgust (dveṣa), a mere palliative—but to eradicate them, the only method is to cure one's self, to eradicate the delusion (moha) that originates lust and anger. We exert no mastery over Nature or over the body, but we can master our own mind and destroy the four mistakes (viparyāsa): looking at what really is unpleasant, impure, transitory, and unsubstantial, as if it were pleasant, pure, permanent, and substantial. We must learn to see things as they really are; technically, we must possess the Four Truths: every existence is a state of suffering or turns to suffering; existence originates in desire; cessation of rebirth—Nirvāṇa—is perfect bliss; the way
thither is cessation of desire. First and last, we must realize the true nature of this intricate, deceiving, and most dear compound that men style ‘I.’
The possession of the Truths brings about a complete renovation of the mind 1. Desire cannot germinate in a mind which is enlightened by true wisdom, as a plant cannot germinate in salt. The agreeable and the disagreeable exist only because we believe them to be lovable or hateful: they are creations of the mind. Pain disappears as soon as we cease thinking ‘I.’ and ‘mine.’ It is said:
In the same way as a man resents the bad conduct of his wife while he still loves her, and no longer; even so the pain of the body is no longer resented when a man ceases to consider the body his own.
The possession of the Truths depends on three conditions, Faith (śraddhā), Sight (darśana), Cultivation (bhāvanā).
1. Śākyamuni alone has discovered the Truths; there is no hope of salvation for a man who does not take refuge in the Buddha and in the Truths revealed by him 2.
In some cases, it is possible to ascertain that the Buddha's word is trustworthy; in others, one must say: "I admit that because I believe in Buddha's word"; "Buddha knows and I do not know." The general principle is as follows 1: "One must meditate on and understand the points of doctrine that are intelligible to an ordinary man. For the others, one must willingly admit them, saying: That belongs to Buddha's domain of vision." It is said 2:
When Buddha, this lion of men, roars his lion's roar in the assemblies, if anybody ventures to say that Buddha does not possess superhuman virtues, that he does not know the absolute truth, that his teaching is made up of dialectic, is accompanied by research, experience, individual intuition,—if a man ventures to think or to speak in this way and does not regret his thought or his word, he will be precipitated into hell.
2. But faith is not sufficient. Truths accepted on the authority of others do not really belong to us; they remain, as it were, extraneous and precarious possessions; they are not turned into our flesh and blood, en sang et nourriture. The Buddhist truths are to be understood and realized; the Saint is the man who has become,
like Śākyamuni himself, but under the guidance of Śākyamuni, an 'enlightened' one.
Texts which recommend or rather enjoin personal inquiry and criticism compare in strength and number with the texts which praise faith. Śākyamuni does not demand a blind adhesion; he does not, as a rule, perform miracles to convert his opponent. The real miracle is the 'miracle of the teaching.' Śākyamuni's teaching is 'accompanied by proofs'; "it must not be accepted out of respect; on the contrary, it must be criticized, as gold is proved in the fire 1."
Now, O monks, are you going to say: We respect the Master and out of respect for the Master, we believe this and that?—We will not say so.—Is not what you will say to be true, that exactly which you have by yourselves seen, known, apprehended?—Exactly so 2.
This point, as many another, has been very well illustrated by Oldenberg. Buddhas do not liberate their fellow creatures. A Buddha is only a preacher, and he teaches men how to liberate themselves. Disciples accept his preaching, not only because it comes from a man who is visibly a saint, a vītarāga, that is 'a man free from passion,' and who therefore, according to the
[paragraph continues] Indian opinion, is likely to be omniscient (sarvajña)—but because his preaching proves accurate, because, as says Oldenberg, "aroused by his word, a personal knowledge arises in their mind 1."
Pascal says the same thing and he points out the deep reason of the prestige of the great spiritual leaders:
On trouve dans soi-même la vérité de ce qu’on entend, laquelle on ne savait pas qu’elle y fût, en sorte qu’on est porté à aimer celui qui nous le fait sentir.
Buddhists are introduced into the realm of truth by Faith; they possess truth only by Sight. They walk by sight and not by faith.
It may be remarked that the position of the Brahman philosopher towards the Veda—more exactly, towards the Vedānta, the Upaniṣads—is almost the same. No human being would have discovered the great axiom of the Upaniṣads of the identity of the Self with the universal Self; but the truth of this axiom, once by faith it has been admitted, is proved beyond doubt by personal intuition.
3. Sight must be followed by bhāvanā, that is cultivation, exercise, meditation; pondering again and again, impressing.
As far as we can see, Cultivation does not bring an increase of knowledge, a more accurate or more extended intelligence of unpleasantness, impurity, impermanence, unreality. But it confers a firmer knowledge which enables the ascetic to look always at things as they are, without being ever deceived by their apparent pleasantness, purity, permanence, reality.
To be accurate and technical, darśana destroys six of the ten passions or errors (anuśaya) and turns an 'ordinary' man (pṛthagjana) into a 'converted' man (srotaāpanna); bhāvanā destroys the four remaining anuśayas (pratigha, rāga, māna, avidyā) in so far as they are concerned with Kāmadhātu, and turns the srotaāpanna first into a sakṛdāgāmin (by the destruction of the first six degrees of these anuśayas), then into an anāgāmin (by the destruction of the remaining three degrees); bhāvanā again destroys rāga, māna and avidyā which are concerned with the Rūpadhātu and the Ārūpyadhātu, and turns the anāgāmin into an Arhat. There is no pratigha above the Kāmadhātu.
One of the simplest and most important of the 'meditations' is the 'meditation on loathsomeness' (aśubhabhāvanā). We should like to describe it shortly, not to bring disgrace on Buddhism, but in order to give a more exact idea of the so-called 'spiritual training,' in order to portray more faithfully the physiognomy of the ascetic. There are in Buddhism so many
lofty feelings, and also so modern an effort towards 'rationalism,' that the student—the compiler as well as the reader of a Manual—is likely to forget its Hindu features.
Visits to cemeteries, where unburied bodies are left to decay, are a duty of a monk, and there are in the Buddhist brotherhood ascetics who choose to live in cemeteries—the śmāśānikas, men of the cemeteries—in order to meditate uninterruptedly on the impermanence and the impurity of the body. The meditation takes on rather physical and emotional characters 1.
Ten 'cemeteries,' that is ten aspects of the dead body, are to be realized in turn,—to begin with the body one day dead, or two days or three days dead, swollen, black—to continue with an older corpse eaten by crows, with the corpse which has become 'this I know not what, something that has no name in any language,' but which the Buddhists are fond of describing at great length—to end with the bones rotting and crumbling into dust, as they have been washed by the rains of years.
The monk, for days and months, lives with the idea: "Verily, my body also has this nature, this destiny, and is not exempt."
Such is one of the forms of the meditation on loathsomeness. When it has been practised long enough, it is not enough to say that the beauty and the form of a woman have lost their natural attractiveness: they are no longer perceived. The ascetic sees the skeleton only and the forthcoming putrefaction.
Despite its 'romantic' adjuncts, bhāvanā is an intellectual affair, the third degree of the realization of a truth.
To be taught impermanence, to be told that "Life ends in death" is one thing. Young men, 'infatuated by the pride of youth,' may agree to this statement: "Life ends in death," but they do not understand its true import. That is Faith, adhesion to the word of the Master. To ascertain this statement by personal inquiry, is what is called Sight. Finally, to ponder over it, until it becomes not only familiar, but actually always present to the mind, that is Cultivation.
The path to deliverance would have been very reasonable—we mean, would be thoroughly intelligible to us—if the Buddhists had been satisfied
with the realization of the Truths, positive statements to be believed, 'seen' or understood, 'cultivated' or pondered over; but the words Sight and Cultivation, explained as above, do not convey the true import of the Buddhist darśana and bhāvanā. A factor, a practically almost necessary factor of darśana and bhāvanā, is what is called concentration (samādhi), trance (dhyāna), attainment (samāpatti)—a non-intellectual element.
The history of trance is a long and obscure one. Trance has been traced in the semi-civilized civilisations. Just as penance is a common practice among the medicine-men, the sorcerers of old, even so trance is an archaic device. It was admitted that Man obtains, in semi-hypnotic states, a magical power. The name of a thing is supposed to be either the thing itself or a sort of double of the thing: to master, during trance, the name, is to master the thing.
Just as penance, trance became a means to spiritual aims.
That is the case with Brahmanism. Trance is the necessary path to the merging of the individual Self into the universal Self. To speak more accurately, there is only one Self, which
is immanent in Man. For a time, the knowledge of our essential identity with this Self was looked upon as sufficient. But the actual feeling of identity was soon considered as necessary. Such feeling is impossible in ordinary consciousness; therefore it must be realized in trances, trances to be induced by hypnotic devices, the same as were practised by the sorcerers, protracted rigidity of body, fixity of look, mental repetition of strange sets of formulae, suppression of breath. Further, the immanence of the Self is a very materialistic one: it has its seat in the heart, where it is felt stirring and from which it directs the animal spirits; it makes its way along the arteries. . . Psycho-physical exercises are necessary to concentrate all the vital energies in the heart, that is to withdraw the Self from the not Self 1. Hence the intricate discipline known as Yoga, with trance as an essential element.
It is only fair to state that the position of trance is, in Buddhism, a quite different one. Trance, like asceticism, is not an essential part of the Path, even if it were admitted that it is practically necessary, d’une nécessité de moyen, to use a phrase of the Catechism.
Buddhism teaches in so many words that not every trance is good. A trance which is not aimed at the right end, eradication of desire, is a mundane (laukika) affair. When undertaken with desire, in order to obtain either advantages in this life, namely magical powers, or some special kind of rebirth, trances cannot confer any spiritual advantage. Of course, if they are correctly managed, they succeed, as any other human contrivance would succeed: a monk or any man who devotes himself to the concentration called 'of the realm of the infinity of space,' in order to live for centuries in the realm of the 'gods meditating on the infinity of space,' will be reborn in this realm, provided he has not to pay some old debts in hell or elsewhere; he will live there for centuries, as he hoped for; but he will die there some day and continue migrating.
But, on the other hand, it is an ascertained fact that Śākyamuni obtained 'enlightenment' by the practice of trances, and accordingly every monk has to practise trances if he is to make any progress. The more Buddhism discourages 'mundane' trance, the more it extols 'supramundane' (lokottara) trance, that is trance entered into, in order to cut off desire, by a monk who endeavours to get possession of the
[paragraph continues] Truths. The intention of the ascetic and his moral preparation make all the difference between mundane and supramundane trance.
Our texts clearly state that several of the Buddhist trances were practised by non-Buddhists, and scholars agree that the Buddhists did actually borrow from the common store of mystical devices.
The actual aim of trance seems to be, in Buddhism, twofold: to strengthen the mind, to empty the mind.
1. By means of trance, the ascetic concentrates the mind, strengthens the power of attention, gets rid of distraction. There are many technical contrivances, among which the ten kṛtsnāyatanas which seem to deserve special notice 1.
The monk makes a disk of light red clay—such as is found in the bed of the Ganges—one span four inches in diameter. He sits at a distance of two and a half cubits from the disk, on a seat of a height fixed by rule: if he were to sit further off, the disk would not appear plainly; if nearer, the imperfections of the disk would be visible; if too high, he would have to bend his neck to look; if too low, his knees would ache. Then the meditation begins: the ecstatic has to look at the disk as long as it is necessary in order to see
it with closed eyes, that is in order to create a mental image of the disk. To realize this aim, he must contemplate the disk sometimes with his eyes open, sometimes with his eyes shut, and thus for a hundred times, or for a thousand times, or even more, until the mental image is secured. All the time he conceives indifference for sensual pleasure; he reflects on the qualities of Buddha; he affirms his confidence in the efficacy of the exercise he is performing.
2. Trances may be defined as efforts towards an actual simplification or emptying of thought; as endeavours to get directly rid of the very ideas of I, mine, being, non-being 1. As it is said:
When being and not being no longer stand before the mind, then thought is definitely appeased.
The method is not a view, either discursive or immediate, of impermanence or unsubstantiality, but a mechanical process.
The mind, once concentrated (samāhita) and strengthened by exercise with the clay disk or any other exercise of the same kind, is successively to abandon its contents and its categories. The ecstatic starts from a state of contemplation coupled with reasoning and reflection; he abandons desire, sin, distractions, discursiveness, joy, hedonic feeling; he goes beyond any notion of matter, of contact, of difference; through the
meditation of void space, of knowledge without object, of nothingness, he passes into the stage where there is neither consciousness nor unconsciousness and finally he realizes the actual disappearance of feeling and notion.
It is a lull in the psychical life which coincides with perfect hypnosis.
At a moment which has been previously determined—modern physicians explain how this is possible—the ecstatic comes back, through the same successive steps, to the world of the living.
Does he come back in exactly the same condition as he was before? Can he practise these 'spiritual' attainments again and again, every afternoon after he has taken his only meal, sitting in an empty room or under the shadow of a tree, without being psychologically and corporeally affected?
The Buddhists believe that the mind remains, as it were, perfumed by the trances. For some hours or for seven days, sensation and cognition have been completely stopped. The ideas of I, mine, being, not-being are likely to present themselves again—as a matter of fact, they present themselves again as soon as mental life begins afresh—but they have lost their inherited
power of arousing desire; they have been 'attenuated': "The mind of a monk who has risen from the trance of the cessation of feeling and notion is inclined to isolation, has a tendency to isolation, is impelled to isolation." Thus says Śākyamuni.
We willingly agree. The professional ecstatic is likely to forget how to see exterior objects: the mental reflexes he has cultivated turn to be more real than the changing appearances; in the same way, the ecstatic hears mysterious sounds. He becomes inaccessible to the desires that are born from the senses, inaccessible to pain, for his nervous sensibility is almost destroyed; he is happy; he is a Saint; he will not be reborn, because he has introduced into the series of his thoughts such a number of blank spaces that the further generation of thought and desire is stopped.
There are many aspects of Buddhism, which are more attractive than the aspect we have been studying. Apart from the religious developments known as Mahāyāna, older Buddhism owes the popularity which it has enjoyed in
[paragraph continues] India and which it enjoys in the West, not to its intricate theories on the soul or on the Path, but to its moral features, to the charming, if enigmatic, personality of the Master, to the mild wisdom of its gnomic poetry, to the legendary literature (Birth Stories) which contains so much folklore, humanity and wit. In fact, we have been busied with the most abstruse side of Buddhism, and, by no means, with the most important from the historical standpoint. But, from the philosophical standpoint, it is useful to make out clearly the reasons why this old query "Is Buddhism, since it is atheist, a religion?" is not a real problem. An inadequate knowledge of the nature of Indian mysticism and of the twofold nature of Buddhism is responsible for the confusion that is implied in such a view. Secondly, Buddhists have been credited with opinions concerning Soul and Nirvāṇa, which are by no means correct. I venture to think that it is worth while to consider anew these important and controverted points, and that, while the last word will never be said, our endeavours towards a more truly Buddhistic interpretation have not been utterly vain. My late friend Cecil Bendall willingly confessed that the only means to a right understanding of a
religion is to believe in this religion. I am not prepared to say that I am a Buddhist, and moreover it is too late to take the pabbajjā under Sāriputta; but I have spared no pains to think and to feel as did the 'yellow-robed monks' who have rendered so eminent services, not to mankind as a whole, but to India, to China, to the Far East.
141:1 Evidences for the meaning 'continence' are old; for instance Śatapathabrāhmaṇa, XI, 3, 3.—Paramatthajotikā, II, i, p. 43.
142:1 On tapas, see Oldenberg, Religion du Véda, tr. V. Henry, p. 345 f. The oldest source on the ecstatic penitent Muni is Rigveda X, 136.—See Hastings, E.R.E. art. 'Religious Orders.'
143:1 Senart, 'Notes d’Épigraphie,' III, Pl. 2 (J. As. 1890).
144:1 Mahāvagga, I, 6, to foll. (S.B.E. XIII, p. 93; E. J. Thomas, Buddhist Scriptures, p. 40). Comp. Milinda, II, p. 60. The history of the first days of Buddhahood is to be read in full. It bears every mark of authenticity; but we must beware that Indians are wonderful story-tellers.
145:1 The Aitareyabrāhmaṇa, VII, 13, is strong against penance.
146:1 Milinda, p. 73 (Warren, p. 423).
146:2 Mahāvagga, I, 21.
147:1 Warren, p. 437.
148:1 The 'Psalms of the Brethren' and the 'Psalms of the Sisters' (tr. by Mrs Rhys Davids) are mostly the work of 'penitents.'
148:2 See my Bouddhisme (Paris, 1909), p. 356 foll.
148:3 S.B.E. vol. XIII, XVII, XX.
149:1 Beside the point we mention here, there are several others equally worthy of notice: the attitude of Buddhism and Brahmanism towards women, towards outcasts and low castes, etc.
149:2 Muṇḍaka, n, 2, 5 (Barth, Religions, p. 81).
151:1 Technically prātimokṣasaṃvara.
152:1 Bodhicaryāvatāra, v, 13; L. D. Barnett, Path of Light.
153:1 The actions concerned with the possession of the Truths form this kind of Karman which destroys Karman (see above, p. 89).
153:2 See my Bouddhisme (Paris, 1909), pp. 130 foll.; above, p. 106.
154:1 Bodhisattvabhūmi, I, xviii; Comp. Sūtrālaṃkāra, i, 12.
154:2 Majjhima, I, p. 71.
155:1 Nyāyabindupūrvapakṣa, Mdo hgrel, CXI.
155:2 Majjhima, I, p. 265.
156:1 Buddha, tr. A. Foucher2, p. 321.
158:1 Warren, p. 360; Yogāvacara Manual, p. 53.
161:1 Barth, Religions of India, p. 71.
163:1 See Warren, p. 293.
164:1 See Mrs Rhys Davids, Psychology (1914), p. 110 foll.