Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 49

Buddhism and Christianity, With an Appendix on Nirvana

page break

Buddhism & Christianity.

Free Thought Publishing Company Logo

Free Thought Publishing Company. London 28, Stonecutter Street, E.C. 1882.

page break


The following lecture (the second on the same subject) was delivered on several occasions at Leipsic, four or five years ago, and was favorably received by all cultivated and liberally-minded persons. That this was the case is attested not only by the expressions of approval which the discourse called forth from my numerous audiences, but also by the notices which appeared of it in the local daily press. The orthodox party naturally viewed both lecture and lecturer with the reverse of approbation, and hurled their anathemas upon his devoted head. Some went so far as to denounce him from the pulpit. Victor Von Strauss violently attacked the first lecture, which had meanwhile appeared in print, and I should have published a complete refutation of the scientific part of his criticism—(the wit and persiflage are entirety irrelevant to the subject)—had I not been obliged just at that time to leave Germany and spend a considerable time in travelling, and since then have had occasion to devote myself almost exclusively to other studies. Here I need only say that the explanation I then gave of the Buddhist Nirvana, which explanation Victor Von Strauss believed he had completely refuted, has received complete confirmation during the last few years by the discovery of new inscriptions in Ceylon1, and has been acquiesced in by learned men and Orientalists of standing.2 I am, therefore, more than ever convinced that Nirvana does not signify "the extinction of the flame of existence," as has been thought

1 See a long essay by Dr. Frankfurter in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. xii.

2 See, among others, Rhys Davids' "Buddhism," pp. 110—123, and Edwin Arnold, "The Light of Asia." Further, Professor Max Müller's "Lecture on Buddhist Nihilism," in which the talented author some years ago expressed his conviction that the prevailing conception of Nirvana must bo false. This lecture was unfortunately unknown to me until quite recently.

page 3 by most of the Orientalists of Europe, as well as by Schopenhauer, but that it is "a perception of the mind—the pure, joyful Nirvana, free from ignorance and evil desires."1

With these few words of explanation I venture to lay this second lecture before the public, with the intention, in case of its meeting with a kindly welcome from lovers of truth, of publishing at some future date, when I am less occupied than at present, the entire series of lectures delivered by me in Leipsic and other cities of Europe, upon the so often misunderstood religion and literature of my native country.

1 Seo Appendix.

1 See a long essay by Dr. Frankfurter in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. xii.

2 See, among others, Rhys Davids' "Buddhism," pp. 110—123, and Edwin Arnold, "The Light of Asia." Further, Professor Max Müller's "Lecture on Buddhist Nihilism," in which the talented author some years ago expressed his conviction that the prevailing conception of Nirvana must bo false. This lecture was unfortunately unknown to me until quite recently.

1 Seo Appendix.

page break

Buddhism and Christianity.

Although Buddhism in its original form, as I explained in my first lecture, passes over in silence the dogmas of a supernatural God and a supernatural immortality, it yet contains a doctrine which may be accepted as a substitute for these two dogmas. This is the doctrine of Karma, or of an unavoidable moral responsibility, which holds a very prominent place in the entire Buddhist literature. This doctrine Buddhism repeatedly proclaims with earnestness and positiveness—that every act is inevitably accompanied by its corresponding consequences. What a man does deter-mines at every moment what he must do in future. What a man at one moment thinks, feels, and does, must determine what he is to think, feel, and do in the next moment. There is no power in heaven, on earth, or in hell, throughout the vast immeasurable universe, that can protect a man from the consequences of his own deeds. He must reap what he sows. Neither by tears nor by prayers, neither by hymns and songs of praise, nor by the mournful melody of a Miserere, can a man avoid the just consequences of every wicked deed he has ever committed—much less by the vicarious sufferings or the propitiatory sacrifice of another, even of a perfectly innocent person. In other words, Buddhism believes that the law of moral responsibility is just as inviolable as any of the physical laws; as, for example, the laws of gravitation and of the conservation of energy. Think you that you could violate one of these laws with impunity? Just as little dare you imagine, says Buddhism, that your acts will not be accompanied by the corresponding consequences. Allow me to quote a few sentences bearing upon this point from the Buddhist scriptures :

"The mind is the root, and actions spring from the mind. If a man acts from a pure and lofty mind, then joy follows him as a perpetual shadow."

"The mind is the root, and actions spring from the page 5 mind. If a man acts from a base mind, sorrow will follow him, as the wheel follows the step of the ox that draws the chariot."

"All that we are is the result of what we have thought, all is founded upon our thoughts, all is formed of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts from a wicked mind, sorrow follows him, as the wheel the feet of him who draws the chariot."

"The wrong-doer is consumed in his own deeds, as though devoured by the flames."

"Unthinkingness is the path of death. The unthinking are already dead. The evil deed follows the fool, like the fire glimmering beneath the ashes."

"Poison harms not him who has no wound, and for him who does no evil no evil exists."

"More than the sovereignty of the world, more than an ascent to heaven, more than universal power, is the reward for the first step in the path of virtue."

"He who yields to pleasure of sense, who bridles not his inclinations, who knows no moderation in eating, who is slothful and without resistance, will fall as easy a prey to Mara (temptation) as the decaying tree to the wind."

"As the rain penetrates a badly-thatched roof, so passion penetrates the mind where meditation is wanting."

"A man may a thousand times conquer a thousand men in battle, yet another who conquers himself is the greatest victor."

"To conquer one's self is more than to conquer all men; not even a god, a gandharva (fairy), not Mara (the evil one), can turn such a victory into a defeat."

"An evil deed does not change its nature as suddenly as milk; smoking it follows the fool, like fire that glimmers beneath the ashes."

"Let no man despise sin and say : ' It will not overtake me.' The water-pot is filled by falling drops, and the fool becomes full of evil, gathering it little lnlittle."

"If one injures a harmless, pure, and innocent man, the evil recoils on the fool, like light dust thrown against the wind."

"Neither in the air, nor in the depths of the sea, nor in the clefts, is there a place to be found where a man can unburden himself of an evil deed."

page 6

"Let the wise man cleanse his soul from sin, as the refiner gradually purifies the silver from dross."

"The man who foolishly does me wrong, I will repay with my love without resentment; the more evil comes from him, the more good shall go from me; the fragrance of these deeds will return to me, the evil in the slanderer's words returns to him. For like the sound to the drum, the shadow to a body, so in the end evil belongs to the wrong-doer."

"A bad man who abuses a good one is like a man who spits at the sky; he does not pollute the sky thereby, but only soils himself. Again, he is like a man who throws dirt at another; if the wind be against him the dirt falls back upon him who threw it. The virtuous man cannot be injured; the evil that another would do him recoils upon the assailant."

"A man who gives himself up to pleasure, who does not strive after high wisdom, is like a vessel full of dirty water in which are main-beautiful things; so soon as one shakes the water one cannot see the things it contains; thus pleasure and desire cause confusion and disturbances in the heart, and are like sediment in water; they hinder us from recognising the beauty of sublime reason. As soon as we remove the impurities the original form reappears. Thus, too, it is when one kindles fire under a pot and boils the water it contains. He who looks into it will not see his own image; in like manner the three passions that dwell in the heart, and the five 'darknesses' which enclose it, are powerful hindrances to the perception of sublime reason."

And Jesus, I believe, I do not say Christianity, which seems, to me at least, to have a Protean shape (for, in spite of my honest endeavors, I have been unable to define it), lays similar stress upon the inviolability of the moral law, and upon the necessity of first purifying the inner man, or the soul. I call to mind his words : "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law till all things be accomplished; " and in another place, "The very hairs of your head are all numbered." In regard to the other point, the purification of the soul, I need only remind you of his valuable supplementary remarks on the conventional morality of those days, and probably of our days page 7 too; for instance, that we may not even he angry with our brother, that when at the altar we remember that our brother has taught against us, we are first to reconcile ourselves with him and then offer our gift; that is to say, we are rather to neglect a so-called divine duty, and give precedence to a human duty. I beg you to give special attention to such passages, and particularly to this passage, which gives us a better idea of the heart and individuality of the man than anything else. Further, that we are not to cast longing eyes at other men's wives, and are not only not to hate our enemies, but are even to love them. All this shows the importance he attaches to the disposition with which a man does a thing. Consider further what he says regarding prayer and almsgiving, and such passages as these : "The lamp of the body is the eye : if, therefore, thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light; but if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness." And the following passages, which certainly do not begin with a polite phrase : "Ye offspring of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. The good man, out of his treasure, bringeth forth good things; and the evil man, out of his evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things. And I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment." But enough of this before an assembly consisting, or which is supposed to consist, of Christians. You see, therefore, that in this respect Jesus has much resemblance to Gautama. But here the resemblance ends. From the words I have last quoted, as well as from many other passages, it is clear that Jesus believed in a fixed day of judgment, on which moral punishments and rewards would be meted out. This idea he obviously owed to his Jewish descent, as Gautama owes his doctrine of transmigration to the Hindus, who were his ancestors, and whose "child he was in mind and character," as Max Muller says. But what are we to understand by transmigration? This means nothing else than the rebirth of every human being according to his merit or demerit in another form : mineral, vegetable, animal, human, or even cosmical. None but those free from sin escape rebirth; all others page 8 must be reborn again and again, till they have attained "the highest felicity." The form that a being shall assume, the embodiment that falls to its lot, be it that of a stone, a plant, an animal, a man, or even a star, is determined by its present merit or demerit; in other words, by the law of moral responsibility. The literature of the Hindus affords numberless examples of human beings who were transformed into the most varied shapes, and of the reverse of this; and this doctrine owes its origin, as you will have already remarked, to Pantheism, a form of religious belief which belongs essentially to the Hindus. In the very earliest ages the Hindus had realised the sublime truth that this universe is One—that there is no dualism in it, as the current Christian theology teaches—that it is an undivided, indivisible One—the All the phenomenal revelation of an Everlasting Being—an Eternal Soul without beginning and without end. This truth, for which, in the seventeenth century, Spinoza had to suffer so much, had been recognised in ancient times by the Hindus, who sung it in the mild but solemn strains of their Upanishads. Unfortunately, our Upanishads, or Vedantas, are much less known among you than a single episode of the Mahābhārata—I mean our exceedingly popular Bhagavatgītā or "Divine Song," of which your Humboldt, and Schlegel, and others have spoken so highly, and with such enthusiasm. One of your most renowned writers of the present day calls the Bhagavatgîtā "the Gospel of Pantheism." In order just to give you an idea of it, I will read you a short extract.

The Divinity speaks :—

"I am the cause of the whole universe;
Through me it is created and dissolved;
On me all things within it hang suspended,
Like pearls upon a string. I am the light
In sun and moon, far, far beyond the darkness;
I am the brilliancy in flame, the radiance
In all that's radiant, and the light of lights,
The sound in ether, fragrance in the earth,
The seed eternal of existing things,
The life in all, the father, mother, husband, Forefather, and sustainer of the world,
Its friend and Lord. I am its way and refuge,
page 9 Its habitation and receptacle,
I am its witness. I am Victory
And Energy; I watch the universe
With eyes and face in all directions turned.
I dwell, as Wisdom, in the heart of all,
I am the Goodness of the good, I am
Beginning, Middle, End, eternal Time,
The Birth, the Death of all. I am the symbol A
Among the characters. I have created all
Out of one portion of myself."

(Prof. Monier Williams' translation)

This is indeed a wonderful intuition for those days! For do not all the results of our modern science, our theory of organic development, of the conservation of energy and the transmutation of force—do not all these confirm by the inductive method the insight of our forefathers ?

What, now, are the two chief results at which we have gradually arrived? Without doubt, the unity of life (biological), and the unity of force (physical). If then life, force, or soul is one, so all phenomena—all beings, say the Hindus—are merely the modifications of one and the same soul, the modi of the same substance, as Spinoza would say, or as our modern physicists would express it, the transmutation of the same force, which sustains and permeates all things. When a force disappears here it reappears elsewhere, say our physicists; when a creature dies or perishes here it must reappear or be reborn in another form, say the Hindus. There is no such thing as extinction, no annihilation in the true sense of the word. The life of the universe, as a whole, is always complete. Starting from this idea of life and of the unity of the soul, the Hindu built up his cosmos entirely of moral elements, just as modern science builds up hers of atoms and atomic forces. Why does the world of phenomena, which we call the universe, exist? Because, says the Hindu, a balance yet remains to be closed out in the moral account books of the universe—because there is an Eternal Justice, which must, under all circumstances, be satisfied. The whole world, from the monad to the largest planet, exists because somewhere sin or injustice is to be found. If all were without sin, or as I said if all attained, like Buddha, "the highest page 10 felicity," or Nirvana, the world must cease; as the Hindus say, a mahakalpa or age of complete dissolution would begin, and the universe would return to the Eternal Soul from which it proceeded. I beg you to notice the grandeur of this conception.

Thus the doctrine of transmigration was principally borrowed from the Hindu religion, and Gautama accepted it, as Jesus accepted the idea of a final judgment.

The views regarding this doctrine which at this day prevail among educated people, or educated orthodox people, are childish and absurd; but beneath these absurdities there lies the recognition of a sublime truth which cannot fail to strike us: that there is in the universe an Eternal Justice, which rewards good and punishes evil, according to moral desert.

And if you meditate upon this matter you will find that the explanation offered by the doctrine of transmigration is, on the whole, more scientific, more reasonable, and more in agreement with the general facts and with the laws of nature, than the widely-spread notions of a local heaven and a local hell, such as are believed in by the Christians. It was impossible for Buddha to entertain ideas of that kind. He was born among a people with whom philosophy was a passion, and who displayed in it an acuteness of mental perception which excites the admiration of the keenest thinkers of Europe. Kapila, the founder of our Sānkhya system, and one of the readiest and deepest thinkers who have ever lived, had preceded him.1 In his youth—in that "period of storm and stress," when his giant mind was unfolding its mighty powers on all sides—when, with the passion of a lover and the devotion of a martyr, he was yearning after the light of truth, Buddha had studied with especial earnestness the great Hindu rationalists : a fact which sufficiently explains the indifference with which he persistently regarded certain theological questions which form the corner-stone of Christianity. What must have had still greater influence, however, than all his dialectical and philosophical studies, is the fact that he was born among a people who had long cultivated astronomy, a science the progress of which puts clearly out of ques

1 Colebrook & I., 229.

page 11 tion the possibility of a local heaven or a local hell. In a lecture which I delivered a few months ago I spoke of the astronomical studies of the Hindus; to-day I can only say—and it is enough for our purpose—that our ancestors had at an early date arrived at the conclusion that this universe has neither beginning nor end, that the deep azure which fills us with wonder and reverence when we regard it in the solemn stillness of a summer midnight, is peopled not with angelic hosts who guard the boundaries of a heaven in which the Almighty sits upon a throne of gold, but with innumerable systems of worlds, each of which may be likened to our solar system, and in comparison to which our tiny earth sinks not only into complete insignificance, but rather to absolute nothingness, so to speak, to an atom of atoms.1 This conception of the infiniteness of the Cosmos, to which Europe has gradually been led by the labors of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, the Herschels (father and son), Kant, Laplace, and Leverrier, seems, at least in its chief features, to have dawned in the minds of the old Hindus. How, then, could the childish conceptions of a local heaven or a local hell find a place with them, when the entire firmament was dissolved into myriads of shining worlds?
The doctrine of transmigration contains, further, the presentiment of an important truth at which we have at length arrived through our biological studies, I mean the law of heredity. Those who are acquainted with the wonderful investigations of Darwin on this subject—or of Galton and Ribaut with special reference to our species—can scarcely refuse to draw the logical conclusions therefrom. Every organism, say they, is the total product of all the factors which have worked in former generations. Does not this sound like the Buddhist doctrine of transmigration? Both teachings point to a deep conviction of the immutability of law, a conception which Christianity rejects, or which she would fain deny. There is, however, this difference to be noticed, that while the Buddhist religion lays chief, or perhaps exclusive, stress upon moral elements, the modern biological law gives too much weight to the physical elements; and, secondly, while the latter

1 See Lassen, "Indian Antiquities," and Whitney, "Süryasiddhant"xs

page 12 points to the previous generations, or to our ancestors, as necessarily different from us, Buddhism understands by "earlier forms of life" those periods of existence through which we ourselves are presumed to have passed. We are what our ancestors have made us, say the biologists. We are what we have made ourselves in former births, say the Buddhists. And if we consider the matter more closely, may we not say in a certain sense, that we ourselves were present in our ancestors in a process of formation, so to speak, and are, therefore, logically responsible for what we have now become? Should I be what I am had not all my forefathers been exactly what they were, had not each of them inherited this or that peculiarity which has gradually been concentrated in my individual organism? In a certain sense, then, I was really present in an ancestor who lived three thousand years ago—as concerns myself personally, perhaps in a Vedic lyrist, who, bathing at early morn in the Sarasvat sang hymns to the praise of Usha (the Dawn)—even if not that which I now am. But what is this I that I now am? Am I what I was five years ago, or five days ago, or even five hours ago? But I fear you will say the Brahman is losing himself in his Sankliya subtleties.

This doctrine of transmigration is not exclusively a Buddhist or Hindu doctrine. It had its adherents among the Greek philosophers, and, strangely enough, in both its serious and ridiculous forms. Simonides of Amorgos (not of Cos) who is said to have lived 640 years B.C., in a satirical poem upon women, ascribes the different characters of the fair sex to the various pre-existences of women. For example, he says that the cunning woman is descended from the fox, the talkative woman from the dog, the uncleanly woman from an animal I need scarcely name, from the pig, etc., Pythagoras, the well-known philosopher of Samos, was the advocate of the serious side of this question. Xenophanes, the founder of the Eclectic school and a contemporary of Pythagoras, relates that the latter, on seeing a man beating a dog, interfered in its favor, saying: "In this animal there dwells the soul of one of my friends, whom I recognise by his voice." He also believed that his own soul had formerly inhabited the body the Trojan Euphorbus, the son of Panthous, page 13 slain by Menelaus, and stated, in proof of his assertion, that he had at once recognised the shield of Euphorbus, which had been deposited in the temple of Juno at Argos, and dedicated to the goddess by Menelaus.1 Strangely enough, similar things are related of Buddha in the legends. According to one of these he passed through five hundred forms of life. He had been a bird, a stag, an elephant, etc., before he came in the flesh as son of Suddhodana. Other legends say that he had passed through every form of existence in earth, sea, and air, and that he had fulfilled all the conditions of all the ages. For this reason it was easy for him to win the sympathy of all creatures and of all the worlds, for whose salvation he was to offer himself. This transmigration through various in-carnations is another idea borrowed from the Hindus. The ten Avatars or incarnations of the Hindus are well-known. How near all this comes to the modern scientific theory of the gradual evolution of the entire organic world, which is now causing so much disturbance in our mental atmosphere, and whose most thorough-going speculative adherents maintain that the greatest man—let us say a Plato or a Goethe—is nothing but the gradual development of a moner, a plastidule, or, if you like, of a monad or an atom.

I trust that I have now give you a tolerably clear notion of what karma, or the principle of moral responsibility, means in Buddhism, and of the doctrine of transmigration with which it is connected. Indeed, karma seems to occupy the same place in this religion that God and Immortality have taken in the Christian religion. Permit me to cite here what the Siamese priest says upon this point: "There is no God who judges actions and dispenses reward and punishment, but reward and punishment are simply the inevitable consequence of karma, which works of itself."

In other words, Buddhism is a religion in the sense in which your noble philosopher, Fichte, once said : "The existence of moral sentiments and relations, that is, the moral order of the universe, is God." It was this religion which filled with bliss the heart of Immanuel

1 See W. Smith's "History of Greece," chap, xiii., p. 137, and Ovid's "Metamorphoses."

page 14 Kant, as he penned the concluding lines of his "Critique of Practical Reason :"—

"Two things fill the mind with new and ever-increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and the more un-interruptedly it is employed in meditating upon them : the starry heaven above me, and the moral law in me. I may not seek after or merely conjecture either, as being veiled in obscurity, or in the transcendent, beyond my sphere of vision; I see them before me, and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence. The first begins at that place which I occupy in the outer world of the senses, and extends the connexion in which I stand into the immeasurably vast, with worlds upon worlds and systems upon systems, and, besides this, into the boundless times of their periodical motion, its beginning and continuance. The second begins at my invisible Self, my personality, and places me in a world which has true infinitude, but is only perceptible to the understanding, and with which (but thereby also at the same time with all those visible worlds) I recognise that I stand in a general and necessary connexion, and not, as before, in a merely casual connexion. The first prospect, of a countless throng of worlds, destroys my importance as an animal creature, which must give back the matter of which it is formed to the planet (a mere point in the universe) after being a short time (one knows not how) endowed with vital powers. The second, on the other hand, raises my worth as an intelligence, infinite through my personality, in which the moral law reveals to me a life independent of the animal world, and even of the entire world of the senses."

It was this religion which was in the mind of another philosopher of your country when he wrote the following words:—

"Forget not for a single instant that thou art a man, and not a mere natural being; not for a single instant that others are likewise men, that is to say, with all their individual differences, are the same as thou, with the same necessities and claims as thou—this is the sum of all morality.

"Forget not for a single instant that thou and all that thou perceivest in thee and around thee, all that happens to thee and others, is no unconnected fragment, no wild chaos of atoms and accidents, but that it all page 15 proceeds according to eternal laws from the one fountain of all life, all reason and all goodness—this is the sum of religion."1

I need not name him; I am almost afraid to do so, for his name is still very unpopular in many circles. He is cried down as an Atheist, not only by the orthodox party, which were easy to understand and to forgive, but also by the so-called Freethinkers, who deem that he goes much too far. But the hated optician of Amsterdam—the wretched man—as Leibnitz called him, on whose forehead all men of that epoch read the unmistakable mark of damnation, became, in a later century, a "God-intoxicated man," as Novalis calls him, and no less a man than Schleiermacher pronounced him sainted, "whose love was the Infinite, his beginning and his end." So wonderful, ofttimes, are the changes which take place in this world, and yet foolish humanity scarcely seems to have become wiser by all this experience.

Allow me to add a few words respecting the charge of Atheism which is so frequently brought against Buddhism. Atheism is one of those words which it is difficult, and I might say, almost impossible to define. I cannot help wondering that in our days of the most surprising readiness with the pen, no one has set himself the task of writing a History of Atheism, and of showing that there is probably not a single great man, not a single moral or religious reformer, not a single eminent philosophical thinker, who has not suffered more or less under this accusation—how from Kapila and Anaxagoras, to Renan and Stuart Mill, the churches have never wearied of hurling their anathemas against such men. Even Jesus was, as you know, called a blasphemer. Alexander Von Humboldt is in many circles to this day an Atheist, yet everyone who reads his "Cosmos" must feel himself elevated and inspired by the reverential piety (there is no more fitting word for it), which finds expression in this wonderful book, and which permeates it from one end to the other. The Hindus (that is to say, the strictly orthodox among them) regard those who do not believe in their thirty-three million gods, and especially in their Trimurti, or Trinity, as blasphemous infidels, and,

1 Strauss, "The Old Faith and the New."

page 16 as you well know, their Christian brethren in Europe do not act far otherwise. The Africans of Loango and Ujiji would promptly condemn both Christians and Hindus as Atheists of the first water, since they would refuse adoration to the negroes' fetishes. The Fijians are, without doubt (or were till lately), the cruellest, most bloodthirsty, and most inhuman cannibals on the face of the globe. "Adulterer," "woman-stealer," "brain-eater," are among them titles of honor. Their gods are said to resemble them exactly, and to commit similar deeds. These gods live, besides, on the nicely-broiled souls (for with them the "souls" are material), of those whom their worshippers have eaten. Their neighbors, the Samoans, are, according to all accounts, far more humane, far more virtuous, in a word, far more human, than they, and are yet much less religious. How, then, do the pious Fijians regard their godless neighbors? Sir John Lubbock, in his well-known work "Pre-historic Times," says, p. 357: "The Fijians looked upon the Samoans with horror, because they had no religion nor belief in any such deities as the Fijian, nor any of the sanguinary rites which prevailed in other islands."

With regard to these facts the great English philosopher, Herbert Spencer, remarks: "The ferocious Fijian doubtless thinks that to devour a human victim in the name of one of his cannibal gods is a meritorious act, while he thinks that his Samoan neighbor, who makes no sacrifice to these cannibal gods, but is just and kind towards his fellows, thereby shows that meanness goes along with his shocking irreligion."1

Jackson, an Englishman who was wicked enough to behave to some of these gods with less than due reverence, was angrily designated by them "the white infidel." A whole series of lectures could indeed be given casting light upon these different forms of Atheism and the causes which lie at the root of them.

Regarded from the standpoint of Christianity, which cannot conceive of a religion without a supernatural god or a supernatural future life, Buddha, then, was really an Atheist; but what eminent thinker or re

1 "The Study of Sociology," p. 294.

page 17 former was, or is not, an Atheist in this sense? But if by Religion we mean that deep, living faith in those eternal ideas which we name Truth, Justice, and Goodness, the firm, unalterable conviction of their triumph among mankind, collectively as well as individually, if religion, I say, means accordingly (in practical life) the firm, enthusiastic resolve, which strives under all circumstances to live, even in our daily occupations, in perfect agreement with these ideas, then Buddhism can never be called Atheism, but rather a Religion in the truest and broadest sense of the word. And that Buddhism or Buddha lays especial and repeated stress upon these ideas—nay, lays the very greatest stress upon them—not even the most irreconcilable foes of this religion have been able to dispute. I will first quote Max Muller, but without accepting the definition of Nirvana which he gives in the first sentence:—

"How a religion which taught the annihilation of all existence, of all thought, of all individuality and personality as the highest object of all endeavors, could have laid hold of the minds of millions of human beings, and how, at the same time, by enforcing the duties of morality, justice, kindness, and self-sacrifice, it could have exercised a decidedly beneficial influence not only on the natives of India, but on the lowest barbarians of Central Asia, is a riddle which no one has been able to solve."1

Again: "That moral code taken by itself, is one of the most perfect which the world has ever known. On this point all testimonies from hostile and from friendly quarters agree."2

In accordance with this declaration, I will now cite a few witnesses, hostile as well as friendly, in order that you may see how Buddha and Buddhism are judged by different critics. Let us first hear Eugène Burnouf, who may be called the founder of Buddhist research in Europe:—
"I do not hesitate to translate by charity the word maitri, which expresses not friendship or the particular sentiment of affection which a man experiences for one or for several of his fellows, but that universal

1 "Chips," vol. i., p. 247.

2 Ibid, vol. i., p. 221.

page 18 sentiment which renders us benevolent to all men in general and ever disposed to succor them."1
I will next let Barthélemy St. Hilaire speak, who, though he seems never to tire of stigmatising Buddhism as "Atheism," "Nihilism," "Materialism," "Fatalism," etc., nevertheless expresses himself thus concerning Buddha:—

"I do not hesitate to say that, Christ alone excepted, there is to be found among founders of religions no figure more pure, more touching than that of Buddha. His life is without fault. His constant heroism equals his conviction, and if the theory he propounds is false, the personal example he gives is irreproachable. He is the perfected model of all the virtues he preaches. His abnegation, his charity, his unruffled sweetness are never laid aside a single instant. At the age of twenty-nine he abandons the court of his royal father to lead a religious life and become a mendicant. He silently prepares his doctrine by six years of retreat and meditation. He propagates it by the sole force of speech and persuasion during more than half a century; and when he dies in the arms of his disciples, it is with the serenity of a sage who has practised the good all his life, and who is assured of having found the true."2

Further, two celebrated English writers on Buddhism speak thus of the Dhammapadam or Gospel of the Buddhists:—

"In the Dhammapadam we have exemplified a code of morality and a list of precepts which for purity, excellence, and wisdom is only second to that of the divine lawgiver himself."3

"A collection might be made from the precepts of this work, that in the purity of its ethics could scarcely be equalled from any other heathen author."4

Lord Amberley, in a clever comparison between Confucius, Buddha, and Christ, makes the following remarks:—
"Of these three men it would, perhaps, be accurate to say that Confucius was the most thoughtful, Sakyamuni the most eminently virtuous, and Christ the most deeply religious. The Hindu, as depicted in his biographies, offers a character of singular beauty, free

1 "Lotus do Bonne Loi," p. 300.

2 "Le Buddha et sa Religion," V.

3 Brighton's "History of Ceylon," p. 77.

4 "Hardy," i., p. 169.

page 19 from some of the defects which may be discerned in that of the Jew. . . . All we can affirm is that, assuming the pictures of both prophets to be correctly drawn, there is in Sakyamuni a purity of tone, an absence of violence or rancour, and exemption from personal feeling and from hostile bias, which place him even on a higher level than his Jewish fellow prophet."1
Lastly, Carl Friedrich Kœppen, in his celebrated work, "Die Religion des Buddha:"—

"We could fill many pages were we to collect the honorable testimonies which have been borne to the Buddhist ethics, the pureness of its motives, the spirit of unselfishness, kindness, and meekness which pervades it, from the most diverse sources, from learned investigators, historians, and travellers, even from persons whose impartiality could scarcely have been counted upon, from the missionaries."

I close my quotations with these words of Kœppen, which say exactly what I wanted to say, and refer those who wish to study the matter more fully to the work itself.

Now, gentlemen, when a religion inculcates such sublime virtues, and, according to the testimony of both friend and foe, has had such an ennobling influence upon the races (some of them the savages and most barbarous upon the face of the earth) by whom it has been accepted, it must surely be named divine, and if pure Atheism can produce such fruit, you will certainly be inclined to cry with me, "Hail, O Atheism!"—especially if you are acquainted with the history of the various Theistic and Monotheistic religions, and remember what fearful, unheard-of cruelties the two Semitic religions—Christianity and Mahommedanism—have perpetrated during long centuries in the name of God. I will merely remind you of the persecution of the Albigenses, of the Lollards, and of the Jews in the Middle Ages; of the burning of Arnold of Brescia, Jerome of Prague, John Huss, Giordano Bruno, Campanella, Yanini, Savonarola, and the physician Servetus, condemned and burned by Calvin at Geneva on account of his denial of the Holy Trinity; I would remind you further of the glorious Pope Alexander VI. and of the

1 "Analysis of Religious Beliefs," vol. i., pp. 488—490.

page 20 glorious Borgia family, of which he was a member; of Catherine of Medici and the Massacre of St. Bartholo-mew—enough of horrors 1—and then I ask you: Are all these tokens of the divinity of the religion in question? Llorente, the well-known author of the "History of the Spanish Inquisition," gives us the following figures, which cannot be read without a shudder:—

In the space of eighteen years Torquemada and his hangmen are said to have burned 10,220 persons at the stake, and 6,860 in effigy, and to have otherwise punished 97,321. Further, the Holy Inquisition is said to have punished, between the years 1481 and 1808, in all 340,000 persons, of whom about 32,000 were burned.

These are facts, gentlemen, on which one could write volumes, and on which volumes have been written. And now just consider, that these deeds, or rather crimes, were perpetrated by people who claimed to be in the sole possession—to have a monopoly, so to speak—of the Divinity and the Sanctuary, and who denounced as impious Atheists all religions and sects who would not acknowledge this, and, where the opportunity presented itself, burned or suffered to rot thousands of such Atheists! On the other hand, similar proceedings are never related of Buddhism—not even by the missionaries, who always depreciate Buddhism and Hinduism in order to glorify their own religion. Buddhism seems always to have trodden the diametrically opposite path of kindness and gentleness, and in this manner to have gained its ascendency over a large proportion of the human race (it is well-known that Buddhists outnumber the adherents of any other religion), and to have exercised an altogether elevating influence over them. Of these two pictures, look first upon this and then upon that, and then tell me which is the higher, the more divine; which stands nearer to those eternally unchangeable ideas which Plato has termed divine, and for which his Master laid down his life? If the slaying of Jesus, "The tree is known by its fruit," be correct, what must be our judgment of Buddhism, which has borne such beautiful, such noble fruit? Must it not be that it is the loftiest, the sublimest, the divinest religion of the world, and that he who gave the world such a doctrine from the inmost recesses of his being must have been full of the Highest, page 21 of the Divine, whatever may be the name we may give to the Highest:

"Call it, then, what thou wilt,—
Call it Bliss! Heart! Love! God!
I have no name to give it!
Feeling is all in all!
The Name is sound and smoke,
Obscuring Heaven's clear glow."



Since I have been residing in Europe I have often had occasion to remark, with surprise as well as pleasure, how uncommonly warm is the interest with which the educated classes in England and Germany regard the two religions of my native land, Hinduism and Buddhism. I have been repeatedly asked to give them all the information I can on the subject; and when, in the course of conversation, I took the liberty to impugn the impartiality of some of the views expressed, to repudiate many, and to more or less modify the greater number of the ideas which obtain in these two countries respecting the above religions, I was regarded half with surprise and half with suspicion. This was particularly the case when the subject was one of the vital doctrines of Buddhism, the much-discussed question of Nirvana. The interest which this doctrine has excited is doubtless justified, since it may be said to form the corner-stone of Buddhism, or, as I have more than once mentioned in my public lectures, Nirvana occupies a position in the life and teachings of Buddha corresponding to that held by the "Kingdom of God" in the life and teachings of Christ.

The following extract, relating to this important page 22 question, from the Milinda Pracna, a Pali work, may therefore be of interest to the readers of the "Gegenwart." The work in question is supposed to have been written shortly before the Christian era. (See "Eastern Monachism," by Spence Hardy.) From this translation it is evident that Nirvana does not mean "the extinction of the flame of existence," as is commonly maintained, but rather "a perception of the mind; the pure, joyful Nirvana, free from ignorance and evil desire"—that, in truth, it signifies merely that exalted state of mental consciousness of which the poet sings so beautifully and with such deep meaning:—

"The wild desires no longer win us,
The deeds of passion cease to chain;
The love of God revives within us,
The love of Man revives again."

Goethe, "Faust," Part I.

Extract Prom the "Milinda Pracna."1

King Milinda: You speak of Nirvana; but can you show it me, or explain it to me through the color, whether it be blue, yellow, red, or any other color; or by sign, place, length, method, metaphor, causality, or order; through one of these means, or in one of these manners, can you explain it to me?

The Missionary Nagasena: I cannot explain it through one of these attributes or qualities.

Milinda: I really cannot believe that.

Nagasena: There is the great ocean. If anyone should ask you how many measures of water are there, or how many living creatures it contains, what would you say ?

Milinda: I should say that it was not a proper question; for it is one that no one can answer.

page 23

Nagasena: In the same way one cannot give the size, form, color, or the other attributes of Nirvana, although it possesses its peculiar and proper character. A rishi (saint) might be able to answer the question I put; but he could not explain the properties of Nirvana, nor could any deva (god) of the invisible world.

Milinda: It might be true that Nirvana was happiness, and that its outward qualities were indescribable; but could not one portray its excellencies or benefits by any manner of comparison ?

Nagasena: It is like the lotus-flower, freed from its pain, like the lotus-flower freed from the mire in which it originates. It is like water, in that it extinguishes the fire of pain, like the water that refreshes the body; it overpowers the thirst after that which is bad, as water overpowers the natural thirst. It is like a medicine, in that it helps those who suffer from the poison of pain, as medicine those who suffer from diseases; it also removes the pain of repeated existence, as medicine removes disease; further, it renders us immortal, as medicine wards off death. It is like the sea—it is free from the impurity of pain, as the sea from every kind of rottenness; it is unmeasured, infinite, so that countless beings till it not, as the sea is unfathomable and cannot be filled by the waters of all the streams of Indus. It is like space, in that it is not begotten by any outward cause, it dies not, disappears not, is not begotten; it has no locality;. it is the abode of the Arahats (those who occupy the next place to the Buddhas) and of the Buddhas, as space is the abode of the birds; it cannot remain hid, and its extension is endless. It is like the magic jewel, in that it gives all that one can desire. It is like the red sandal-wood, in that it is hard to obtain; its fragrance, too, is incomparable, and it is admired of the wise. It is like the Maháméru (a mountain which plays a very important part in the Indian myths and traditions, like Olympus among the Greeks), in that it is higher than the three worlds, its summit is difficult to attain; and as seed cannot thrive on the surface of a rock, so neither can pain in Nirvana; further, it is free from hatred and from anger.

He says further:—

One cannot say that it is begotten, nor that it is not page 24 begotten; that it is the past, the present, or the future; nor can one say that it is the sight of the eye, or the hearing of the ear, or the smelling of the nose, or the tasting of the tongue, or the feeling of the body.

Milinda: Then you are talking of a thing which does not exist. You merely say that Nirvana is Nirvana; consequently there is no Nirvana.

Nagasena: Great king! Nirvana is; it is a perception of the mind; the pure, joyful, Nirvana, free from ignorance and evil desire; it is perceived by the Arahats, who enjoy the fruits of the paths.

Milinda: If there is any comparison by which one could render comprehensible the nature or the properties of Nirvana, then have the kindness to explain it in this manner.

Nagasena: There is the wind; but could one define its color—could one say that it is in a certain place, or that it is small or great, long or short ?

Milinda: One cannot say that the wind is thus or thus; it cannot be taken in the hand and crushed. And yet the wind is. We perceive it in that it fills our breast, beats against our body, and moves the trees of the forest; but one cannot explain its nature, nor how it really is.

Nagasena: Exactly thus it is with Nirvana, in that it removes the infinite pain of the world, and presents itself as the chief felicity of the world, but its attributes or qualities cannot be explained.

London: Printed By Annie Besant and Charles Bramlaugh, 28, Stonecutter Street, E.C.

1 Milinda, or Menandor, a GraecoBactrian king, who reigned at Sagala in the Punjaub, shortly before the Christian era, and who was converted to Buddhism.