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The Faith of the Future

II. LIGHT OUT OF THE EAST.

“I will proclaim accordingly the Way unto the Further Shore”—thus said the Venerable Pingiya—“As He saw it, so He told it: He the Stainless, the Very Wise, the Passionless, the Desireless Lord:—for what reason should he speak falsely?”

Parayanasutta, 8.1

It is to tell some little part of the great Message which our Master left as al the world’s inheritance, that Law of Love and Truth He taught for the deliverance of all mankind, that out new Journal is launched this day upon the Ocean of Existence. Our Lips indeed are dumb to speak it as He told it,—He who knew;—of His Compassion there remains to us but the remembrance, and of His Wisdom but the Written Word: yet still our hearts thrill to the echo of His Voice, and still the Treasure of His Law lies heavy on our hands. Little albeit that we know, surely our Brothers, hearing it, may understand yet more; and, if that boundless Treasure be overweighty for our weakness, surely my others, taking of the Jewels it contains, gain from it even greater benefit than we. That Message has inspired our lives, it has been the solace of our sorrows and the lamp of all our ways; and, in our love and gratitude to Him who taught it, in our hope that others, too, may gain of the Happiness to which it leads, we speed a little further into the world of men the story of the Light He won for all;—not indeed proclaiming “Thus we know, this, Brothers, is the only Truth” but, like the wise of old who wrote that Message in the Books, low faltering only “Thus even have we heard.”

It is written in our Scriptures that when the King of Truth has gained, after long strife and uttermost renunciation to the Supreme Enlightenment of Buddhahood, He deemed the knowledge of the Truth too high for men to gain, the Path too lofty for their feet to tread; and it seemed vain to Him to teach in the hearing of man, yet carried on the floods of passion and of sense, a Law whereof the first great lesson was the abandonment of desire, the renunciation of the self men hold so dear: so that His own long Search seemed vain to Him,—for had He not sought for Truth for the World’s sake alone? And then, we learn, by that supernal power of Insight that comes with knowledge, He penetrated with His Inner Vision into the life of the world and saw that present and the future of mankind unveiled—saw who should then attain the Peace, and who should later gain. And all the Ocean of Existence seemed in His Vision like a shoreless Lake, starred with lotus-buds beyond all numbering:—the waters of that Lake the Four-fold Flood (Passion, and the Cleaving unto Life, False Views and Ignorance). and every bud that floated in that stream the inmost heart, the life of some existent being. Some He beheld as borne aloft upon the waters of the Lake, waiting but the rising of the Sun of Truth, the Light that He had won, to open in that new dawn the scented blossom of their lives; others again, but just below the surface, they who should gain the Light He found after He had passed away; and others yet again, deeply immersed in all the passionate Flood o Life, who must wait long beneath that wave, yet open to the coming of another dawn, the rising of the Buddha that shall be.

And then He knew, that all His search was not in vain,—that, whether in East or West or North or South “there are beings whose eyes are covered but a little by the Mist of Ignorance, who, were the Truth preached to them, would understand;” and, knowing now who first should share with him the Treasure of the Law, He thus proclaimed the beginning of His Mission:—

“Now to Benares Town I go, the Kingdom of the Truth to found;

Bringing its Light to darkened eyes, making its Deathless Voice resound!”2

Those whom He saw in that Universal Vision, whose hearts shall blossom to the Peace in this our latter age,—for these we write our Message,—our Message of the Law He taught,—knowing that these alone will understand in very truth; knowing that, in the hidden workings of the Law of Life, our Message, scattered broadcast, will come to these. Happy are they to whom the day of wakening is nigh! These we salute, who know our Message theirs—on whom the Master’s Vision rested, knowing that, in the futurity which has melted into the Now, His Law should come to them, bringing His Light, His Peace!

What, then, is the message of Buddhism to the world, and what that Law which, were it but followed, would in our estimation make of the earth one paradise this day? To answer that question in all fullness were indeed impossible in one brief article,—to tell as much of it as may be is the object of our Journal itself. Yet we may here give a brief outline of the Truth our Master taught, a general survey of the underlying doctrines of our Faith. We must first premise that to all questions as to the beginnings of things,—as to how this world came into being, or the source of life,—to these Buddhism has no answer, and the Buddha Himself refused to consider them. And this is for a very simple reason. Buddhism is a Religion of Here and Now, it is a practical solution of many of the difficulties of life. Unconcerned with Yesterday or To-morrow, its interest is centered on one question only :—What can we do for the attainment of Happiness? And all these questions as to why and how, these are not only beyond its scope, but also are regarded as actually damaging to the men who propound or seek to solve them. And why? Because they are not soluble, and it is waste of precious time, is the cultivation of a wrong attitude of mind, to attempt to know that which is unknowable. As Sir Edwin Arnold tells us, we should—

“Measure not with words

Th’ immeasurable, nor sink the string of thought

Into the fathomless:—who asks doth err,

Who answers errs,—say naught!”3

This consistent attitude of Buddhism is well set forth in the sixty-third Sutta of the Majjhima Nikāya,4 where a Monk of the name of Māluṅkyāputta propounds to the Buddha a number of these questions ‘which tend not to edification.’ And the Buddha answers him that it is as though a man, wounded in battle by a poisoned arrow, were to refuse to have that arrow drawn out ere the poison entered his veins unless he were told first the caste, etc., of the man by whom that arrow had been shot. “That man would die, Māluṅkyāputta, before ever he could learn this.” And in the same case, in the Buddhist view of life, is a man here on earth who seeks for respite from the anguish caused him by the dart of ignorance. To know whence came that dart, or why, or how,—these things are futile ; and the one thing needful, the one thing useful, is to learn how may the shaft be drawn from out our flesh, before ever its poison overcomes us altogether. Whether a man believe the world created or no, whether he believes the Saint exists after death or no—these all are futile questionings, for whatever be the case there still exist that sorrow, that lamentation, that misery, and that despair, for the extinction of which it is the object of the Great Physician to prescribe. All arguments about a ‘First Cause’ are to be regarded by the aspirant after the Life that’s Right as one of the chief obstacles in his path of spiritual progress, they are Micchādiṭṭhi, wrong Viewy-ness, to borrow Mrs. Rhys Davids’ descriptive word ;—mere vain speculations to which there can be no real answer, concerning which there will always be as many false conclusions as there are minds wasted in their contemplation.

The idea of a Supreme Being, again, Buddhism, void of animistic beliefs even in its conception of the nature of man, necessarily rejects in toto;5 and thus avoids the necessity of proclaiming that mystery into which it is not lawful to enquire, common to all the Theistic Creeds :—the mystery, namely, of the Origin of Evil:— the mystery of how an all-wise, all-merciful and all-powerful Deity could possibly have created a world so full of sorrow, evil, and all manner of sin, that man needs the teaching of Religion in order to free himself from its contamination :—the mystery which veils the answer to that terrible question, so fatal to all Theistic ideas,—that question which must sooner or later demand attention from every thoughtful man : —

“How can it be that Brahm

Could make a world, and leave it miserable

Since if, all powerful, he leaves it so

He is not good ; and, if not powerful,

He is not God?”6

With all these speculations and beliefs, then, Buddhism as a Religion has no concern, its interest is fixed only on the life we live:—its search only for the truth about existence, the secret of the attainment of good, the way of coming to a true and lasting happiness. And looking thus upon the world, the Buddhist sees that all existence as he knows it, all existence as he can logically conceive of it, is characterised by its inherent Sorrow, and this is the First of the Four Noble Truths,7 which are the four fundamental theses on which the Buddhist Religion rests. Sorrow, because all life must end in death and death in further life, because it is all only a becoming, a becoming without rest or peace; sorrow, because it brings us into contact with what is painful, because its ceaseless change must separate us from the things we love; sorrow, because it is filled with unsatisfied longings; sorrow, because of illness and old age and death. And surely this is clear and palpable, this Noble Truth of Sorrow,—who indeed is free from it in all the worlds, or who, happy though he be to-day, can say ““Thus shall I be for ever”?

When we search out the hidden springs of Sorrow, deep in our hearts we find the secret cause of all this woe of life; we come to Truth the Second—Sorrow’s Cause;—how all the Ill that is springs, not from our Destiny, the life without, but from our mental attitude towards that life—springs from the heart within, its craving, its desires:—craving of this and that, desire for union with some loved object, desire for separation from the things we hate. And then in turn we come to Truth the Third— that the Cessation of Sorrow, the attainment of true and lasting happiness, is for him alone who from his own being shall eradicate the Cause of Sorrow, shall free his heart from all this grasping at the straws in life’s fierce waters, from all this thirst after its false salt waves. And the way in which this may be done, the way whereby a man may come to Sorrow’s End, may find that utter peace which dwells beyond the vanity of life—that Way is Truth the Fourth, the Noble Eight-fold Path, whereof the stages are:—Right Views—free from the folly of mere speculative theories, and in particular from the belief in an immortal Soul within; Right Aspirations—after a higher life; Right Speech—truthful and full of love; Right Conduct —pure, faithful, loving unto all; Right Life—unharming of the meanest living thing; Right Energy,—the ceaseless effort after good: Right Mindfulness—the constant watching of our thoughts, lest evil creep into our minds all unaware; and, last, Right Rapture—the deep ecstasy of knowledge which shall come to him who ever strives to meditate in wisdom and in love.

Such is the foundation of our Buddhist Faith ; and from this sketch, brief though it be, we may gather that this Religion is founded, not on beliefs and speculations concerning that which we can never know, but rather on a profound and an accurate analysis of existence as we know it. “It is by not knowing and not understanding Four Noble Truths, O Brothers, that we have had to pass through many pain-filled births, both you and I”8—that is the keynote of the Master’s Teaching. By not understanding—by not understanding the inward source of Woe, this Thirst or Craving of born of Ignorance. But to him who seeks the Truth, to him who lives in love and peace to all, training his mind to overcome the vain desires of life:—to him who shall abandon all vain speculation, seeing in himself alone the cause of all his sorrow, seeking in himself alone the Light that shines when all the clouds of Ignorance and of Illusion are swept away:—to him at last comes knowledge of the Truth, the Higher Insight of the emancipated heart; not indeed revealed to him by any God or angel messenger, but known, perceived, and entered into when the mists of Act and Speech and Thought have rolled away.

That Higher Truth, we must distinctly understand, is not contained in any words, in any system of religion or philosophy:— its attainment is a question of personal endeavour, it is the fruit of the great conquest of self,—and no formulæ of words or written Scriptures can do more for us than indicate the way in which it may be gained. This Truth has to be attained to, thoroughly known, absolutely realised by oneself alone, even as our daily meditation9 teaches us: ‘It (the Dhamma) is to be attained to by the wise, each one for himself.’ And the first step towards that realisation lies in manifesting love to all, and freedom from desire in one’s own daily life:—having an ideal is, from the Buddhist standpoint, little more than useless if that ideal is not carried into practice. And here is the practical nature of Buddhism apparent—that feature which makes of it of all Religions the most eminent in culture-value to mankind;—that it insists on a salvation founded upon works, and not on faith; a deliverance born of self-conquest, the living of a life of good.

And to one who realises the sorrow of all life, to one who longs to labour for the universal happiness, it has one firm and steadfast message:—That if the world seems wrong to you, if it seems full of sorrow, full of sin; if you are inspired by the sublime idea of diminishing that sorrow, of helping to allay that sin, of liberating others or yourself from all the thraldom of not knowing and not understanding which has made earth’s woe; if you aspire to lighten the burden of the world, to bring humanity a little nearer to the Peace it craves:— start right at home, and strive to free, to ennoble, to purify yourself,—your own life, your own heart’s aspirations:—for in all the worlds there is no greater help to render or grander service for the sake of all mankind. And why? Because each man is an integral portion of humanity, because each thought of love, each effort after purity man makes or thinks is gain to all,—because it is but the Illusion blinding us that bids us think “I am one soul, one mind, one life—and these my brothers are without, and separate from me. “All life is one in very truth,—the ant, and man, glory of sun and star, and the vast gulfs of space are one, one and no other, save that the darkness of our vain self-hood hides. We know this true of the material world—how every particle of our bodies came yesterday from another life, will pass to-morrow to form part of yet another being or thing:—surely it is also true of thought as well, and it should be our greatest aim to send forth into the universe each thought that comes to us a little purer, a little grander, a little more potent for the good than when it rose within our minds. If then a man aspires to aid the world, let him first aid himself,—if, like a star in heaven he shall seek to guide his brothers through the trackless Ocean of Existence—first must he gain the Light ‘of Wisdom for himself, must shine in his own heart and life in all the radiance born of inward purity and love and peace. This is the central idea of Buddhist ethics, that not charity alone, but all greater and nobler qualities of heart and mind must needs begin at home and so the first effort of the Buddhist lies, not in in the attempt reform his erring neighbour, but in self-culture and self-reformation. ‘If one man conquer in battle a thousand times a thousand men; and another conquer but himself:—he is the greatest of conquerors:’10—this is the central idea of Buddhist practise, and he is indeed Buddhist at heart who wrote the following lines,11 and in them breathes the spirit of that strength and verity which has extended the dominion of the Buddha over a third of humanity:—

<blockquote>
”If thou would’st right the world,\\
And banish all its evils and its woes
 
Make its wild places bloom\\
And its drear deserts blossom as the rose,—
 
Then right thyself.
 
 
 
”If thou would’st turn the world\\
From its long, lone captivity in sin,
 
Restore all broken hearts\\
Slay grief, and let sweet consolation in,—
 
Then turn thyself.
 
 
 
”If thou would’st wake the world\\
Out of its dream of death and darkening strife;
 
Bring it to Love and Peace,\\
And light and Brightness of immortal Life.—
 
Wake thou thyself!”
</blockquote>

 

1 Translated by Prof. V Fausböll in Sacred Books of the East, Vol. X, p. 210.

2 Mahā Vagga, I.

3 Light of Asia, Book VIII.

4 Translated in full in Warren’s “Buddhism in Translations”. p. 117 et seq. in English, and in K. E. Neuman’s “Die Reden Gotamo Buddho’s”. Vol. 11, p. 144 et seq. in German.

5 For the categorical exposition of the falsity of which belief see Brahmajāla Sutta, translated by Dr. Rhys Davids in the ‘Dialogues of Buddha,’ page 30 et seq; which Sutta also sets forth.—not without an underlying subtle humour,—the various causes which have led men to hold that belief.

6 “Light of Asia,” Book III.

7 For a further elucidation of these Four Truths, see Dr. Rhys Davids’ “Secret of Buddhism” in his ”American Lectures;” and “THe Four Noble Truths,” published by the International Buddhist Society.

8 Mahāparinibbāṅa Sutta, translated by Dr. Rhys Davids in Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XI, page 23.

9 The “Mirror of Truth” a Meditation on the Three Jewels (the Buddha, the Truth and the Order) translated by Dr. Rhys Davids in Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XI, pages 26, 27.

10 Dhammapada v. 103.

11 James Allen, in “From Poverty to Power,” third edition, p. 21.

 

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