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The Faith of the Future

III. THE VALUE OF BUDDHISM.

“To set aside each sin of old,

To leave no noble deed undone,

To cleanse the heart:—in these behold

The teachin of the Awakened One!”12

In order to accurately estimate the value to Humanity of any particular religious system, it is necessary at the outset to assume the critical attitude of mind, and to judge it, not by its own claims to be regarded as the only Truth, not by its promises or threats concerning the Hereafter, not even by selections from its Sacred Books—for herein much depends upon the selector’s views—but by the effect it has had in the past on the lives of its adherents and by the extent to which its adoption would meet the needs of modern progress and of modern thought. The questions which must be considered in this relation are these:—to what extent has the Religion we are discussing served to promote human solidarity in the past; to what extent has it tended to overcome the evil passions, the blind prejudices and the innate savagery of mankind, and brought peace and happiness on earth; to what extent is it capable of rendering practical answer to the great problems of our latter age?

If these tests are applied to the Buddhist Religion we believe that it will be found that, alike in its civilising value in the past, as revealed by the history of two thousand five hundred years, and in its possibilities for promoting peace, progress and the general happiness of the modern world in the future; Buddhism stands unrivalled, nay, unapproached, amongst the great Religions of to-day. But before proceeding to the discussion of these questions, it will be necessary to first point out some few widespread misconceptions regarding the nature of Buddhism, for it is only after the removal of these misconceptions that a fair judgment concerning this much misunderstood Religion can be arrived at. These misconceptions may be summed up as follows:—Firstly, that Buddhism is a ‘heathen’ doctrine, whose adherents worship idols and pray to stone and wood; Secondly, that it is a mysterious sort of affair, connected with miracle-mongering and ‘esotericism’; and, Thirdly, that it is a backboneless, apathetic, pessimistic manner of philosophy, with annihilation as its goal and aim, tending to the subversion of all useful activities, well enough for ‘the dreamy peoples of the Orient,’—as those who know them least delight in calling them,—but totally unsuited to the more active and energetic nations of the West.

The reason of the first of these misconceptions is very simple. Travellers from Western Lands come to Eastern Countries, and visiting Buddhist Temples, they see there images of the Buddha, they see the shrine before the image thronged betimes with kneeling and adoring crowds, murmuring sentences in an unknown language, offering lights and flowers before the Master’s shrine. And they at once jump at conclusions. These people, think they, are idolators, these images of the Buddha are their god, the murmured words their prayers to their divinity, these flowers and scents and lights, offerings they think acceptable to the thing of stone or wood before which they bow. The facts are true,—but nothing could be further from the truth than these deductions. For, in the first place, Buddhists do not believe in any God (in the Occidental acceptation of a Supreme Being who can hear and answer prayers) at all; the images before which they kneel are representations only of One whom, for His love for all mankind, and because He found the Way to Peace, they worship in gratitude:—a man, long since passed ‘into that utter passing away which leaves nothing whatever behind’. They are not praying—seeing that in their conception there is no one to pray to, Buddhists do not pray at all;—and the offerings they make are but a symbol of their reverence for the Great Teacher, and a means of concentrating their minds on the meaning and the truth of the words they are saying. Just as we love to see the portrait of one dear to us when death or distance has deprived us of their presence, so do Buddhists love to have before them the representation of the Master; because, more than aught else in the world, this representation brings them to think upon the incomparable Life He lived, the love He had, the Law He taught—and that is all. The words they say are meditations, and not prayers:—Buddhists think that the more they contemplate the life of the Master, the Truth He taught, the Order of those who are striving to obey His precepts to the uttermost ; the better, the truer, the nobler will their own minds become—and that is their great ideal in life. And so they recite to themselves the Virtues of the Master, His Law, and His Order,—knowing that thinking of things holy always exalts and elevates the mind—hoping thus to bring a little of those virtues to manifest in their own lives. The things they offer as they kneel are object-lessons in the Truth that they are trying to realise, and, offering, they are murmuring, not prayer, but meditation on the lesson that those oblations teach. One of these meditations—that used in the Offering of Flowers—we will give, that our readers may gain an idea of the thoughts in the minds of these kneeling crowds:—

“These flowers I offer in memory of Him the Lord, the Holy One, the Supremely-enlightened Buddha, even as the Enlightened Ones in ages past, the Saints and Holy of all times have offered. Now are these flowers fair of form, glorious in colour, sweet of scent. Yet soon will all have passed away—withered this fair form, faded the bright hues, and foul the flowers’ scent Thus even is it with all component things:—Impermanent, and full of Sorrow and Unreal :—Realising this may we attain unto that Peace which is beyond all life!”

Believing, as he does, in the universal dominance of the Law of Righteousness, it would indeed seem to the Buddhist to be not merely futile, but even wrong to ‘pray’ for this or that:—he realises that his circumstances are the outcome of certain Laws, and would no more think of praying to these than a physicist would pray to gravitation not to act upon a stone.

The second misapprehension—that Buddhism is a Religion of the mysterious and of the occult,—had its rise in the fact that the Western world Þrst came in contact with this Religion through translations from the voluminous Sanskrit works which sprang into existence during the period of the decadence of Buddhism in India—when the animistic superstitions of the people were recrudescing on every hand:—a period about eight hundred to a thousand or more years after the Great Decease of the Founder of Buddhism. These works consist in part of translations from the original Pāli Scriptures and chiefly of original works foisted on the Buddha or His great Disciples, but shewing clearly, both by their style and matter, that they could not possibly have sprung from the same source as the Pāli Scriptures. Later on, these latter were discovered by Europeans in Burma, Ceylon and Siam; and as in many essential features the Pāli and Sanskrit works are widely different, it became a problem to ascertain which were the original and authentic Teachings of the Buddha. Historical criticism, in the hands of Dr. Rhys Davids and other eminent scholars, has now laid this problem at rest for ever:—it has been shewn that the Pāli Scriptures are the representatives of the earlier and original teachings, and that the later Sanskrit works bear about the same relation to these as the Latin monkish works of the Middle Ages might do to the Christianity of Christ.13 We shall hope in a future issue to be able to lay before our readers the collected evidence for this conclusion, from the pen of one most competent to deal with the matter; as this evidence has, so far as our knowledge goes, been nowhere collected together yet, but is scattered through many various works. One another thing has tended to enhance the conception of Buddhism as a mystic Religion, namely, the fact that the founders of a widely-spread mystical movement called Theosophy used—and some of their followers still use,—many Buddhist technical terms in their works;—one of the earlier of these, indeed, being termed ‘Esoteric Buddhism’; and containing as one of its fundamental teachings that very doctrine of the existence of an immortal soul (Sansk. Ātman) in man which the Buddha so constantly denied. In the early days of the Theosophical movement, when the real Buddhist Scriptures were accessible only to a few scholars of Pāli it was a very natural mistake; but it has had the unfortunate effect of widely spreading the belief that Buddhism is concerned with those very animistic conceptions which it alone, amongst the Religions of the world, had utterly rejected. To represent the Buddha as having taught the existence of the Ātman in man, as is done in many of these Theosophical works, in face of the fact that in almost every division of the voluminous Scriptures of Buddhism the opposite doctrine is inculcated with unwearying reiteration, is about on a par with an endeavour to represent the Founder of Christianity as maintaining the nonexistence of a Father in Heaven,—when in the Christian Scriptures scarcely an utterance of the Christ is recorded which does not contain the assertion of that Father’s existence. And, just as devoted Christians would be inexpressibly shocked were anyone to write of their Master as having taught the non-existence of the Heavenly Father—in defiance of the Christian Scriptures themselves,—so are we Buddhists filled with grief when we find attributed to our Master that very doctrine which He again and again denounced as the chief stumbling-block to the Religious Life;—as the first of the Fetters of the Mind which must be cast off before a single step can be taken on the Path of spiritual progress. We think that if our friends the Theosophists were to take the trouble to study our Scriptures, and if they understood how deeply Buddhists feel on this point, that they would surely cease from thus misrepresenting One for whom they also profess the profoundest veneration. lithe Buddha indeed preached the doctrine of the Existence of the Soul in man, then He, judged by His own Teaching, had not won the lowest of the Paths, the State of Sotāpanna, which can be attained alone by him who has cast off the first Three Fetters of the Mind:—Sakkāyadiṭṭhi, the Theory of Individuality; Vicikicchā, Perplexity or Doubtfulness; and Silabbatpārasāsa, or the Belief in the efficacy of Ritual and Rule.14 But whilst we naturally resent the misuse by Theosophists of. Buddhist terminology, their assumption to know more of our Religion than we ourselves, and the attribution to our Lord of the very doctrine which was in His eyes the most profound delusion to which man is subject; we cannot but be too deeply grateful to them for the immense service they have done in enlarging the religious horizon of the Western world—a service without which our own efforts would fail of their effect. We regard, indeed, the Theosophical movement as the necessary forerunner of true Buddhist ‘reaching, for had the doctrine of Anatta, (the non-existence of any immortal principle in man), been mooted generally in the West twenty-five years ago, it would have aroused a hostility so considerable as to make the spread of the Religion hopeless. In conclusion we wish to state, with what authority long study of the Master’s Teaching, and the Yellow Robe can give us, that there is nothing whatever of an esoteric nature about Buddhism—it is all open to the light of day, and we are too proud of it to deem some part of it necessary for concealment; that the Buddha forbade His followers to perform miracles in public; and that, when about to pass away He declared to His best-loved disciple:—“I have preached the Truth without making any distinction between exoteric and doctrine: for in respect of the Truths, Ānanda, the Tathāgata has no such thing as the closed fist of a teacher who keeps some things back.”15

As to the last of these misconceptions, that the Goal of Buddhism is annihilation, that it is a Pessimism which has no further hope than death, and that its teaching undermines the energy of its adherents, rendering them undiligent and apathetic; we may say at once that nothing can be further from the truth. Buddhism indeed admits the existence, nay, the vast preponderance, of sorrow and of evil in the life we live; but it is the whole teaching of the Religion to shew how that sorrow and that evil can be eliminated, and a happiness beyond our dreaming gained; and the whole practice of Righteousness and Meditation that that teaching inculcates is but a means to this end. To admit the existence of sorrow and of evil is surely but to admit an undoubted fact:—whilst, as we understand it, Pessimism is not only the admission of the preponderance of III but the belief that Ill cannot be remedied:—which is precisely the very idea that Buddhism most strenuously denies. In its assertion of the power of culture over evil, of nurture over nature, Buddhism is surely no Pessimism, but rather the proudest Optimism ever declared to man in the guise of a Philosophy or a Religion. To say, again, that Buddhism aims at final extinction is not true—the Goal of Buddhism is not in the hereafter, but here in the life we live—its Goal is a life made glorious by self-conquest and exalted by boundless love and wisdom, and that Perplexity to which we have referred as one of the first three of the ten Fetters of the Mind which must be broken before that ideal life can be attained includes all such speculations as “Shall I exist or not after my death?” As this question of the nature of the Goal of Buddhism is dealt with in a separate article in this issue, it is unnecessary to further refer to it here. Finally, as regards the charge of apathy, this again has been made by those who have not understood the meaning and the purpose of Buddhism, and the falsity of the belief that this Religion tends to subvert the will and to paralyse the useful activities of man, is well set forth in an essay by Mrs. C. A. F. Rhys Davids, a reprint of which will be found amongst our Publications. The whole practise of Buddhism is one long training in strenuous effort, known to us as the Great Fourfold Struggle:—the struggle to suppress old evil states of mind, to prevent new evil states arising; to cultivate to their fruition good states already existent, and to induce new good to rise; and to do this necessitates an unceasing effort of will, a constant attitude of alertness and watchfulness of mind. ‘Strenuousness’ we are taught ‘Strenuousness is the Immortal Path,—sloth is the way of death. The Strenuous live always,—the slothful are already as the dead;’16 and this teaching is echoed throughout the whole of the Buddhist Scriptures. “Impermanent are the Tendencies—therefore do ye deliver yourselves by Strenuousness”17—this was the last charge of the Buddha to his followers,—a charge repeated by the Buddhist Monk each time he recites the Five Precepts to the people. A Religion which thus places the necessity for earnest effort, for ‘non-procrastination’ (Pāli, Apparnāda) so much in the foreground:—which regards it, indeed, as one of the essentials of all true progress, can hardly be justly held to conduce to atrophy of mind and will.

These misapprehensions laid at rest, we can now pass on to the discussion of those vital questions set forth at the beginning of this chapter, viz., what service has Buddhism rendered to the cause of humanity and of civilisation in the past, and to what extent can it offer a solution to the problems of the modern world to-day?

As regards the first of these questions, Buddhism has, in our opinion, done more to promote the true civilisation of the world than any of the great Religions which we know. For the true value of a Religion surely lies in its power to overcome the passions, ignorances and above all the prejudices of mankind, in its power to promote the general happiness and to bring peace on earth. We may, I think, take it for granted that all the great Religions have in some measure tended to make better men of their adherents; but, unfortunately, with the sole exception of Buddhism, the good that they have done their own devotees by such ethical teaching as they inculcate, has been outbalanced by the terrible wrongs that those same adherents have inflicted on innocent outsiders;—fruits of the dark bigotry and cruelty innate in man, for which religious dogmas have proved only too convenient outlets. Whether we consider the brutal persecutions of the Buddhas under Sankarācārya in the name of the three million Gods of the Hindu Pantheon; the oceans of blood shed by the followers of Muhammed in the name of Allah; or the long persecutions of every form of liberty of thought in the name of the Christ; we find that the annals of all have been stained indelibly with the blood of the innocent; and to the extent to which they have fostered bigotry and all manner of cruelty, they have been rather scourges than blessings in the world. Buddhism, on the other hand, albeit it now numbers five hundred millions of adherents, albeit that its dominion extends amongst races so far apart as the nomad dwellers of the steppes of Tartary and the inhabitants of tropical Ceylon, can, alone amongst the great Religions of the world, make the proud boast that its altars have been from the beginning unstained with human blood:—that not one life has ever been sacrificed in the name of Him, who taught love and pity as the chiefest Law of Life. What good Buddhism has done in the world,—and it has been the redemption of the savage tribes of Thibet and Tartary, it has augmented the immemorial civilisation of China, it has ennobled the national life and nature of the great people of Japan,—what good it has done has been good unalloyed; and we think that the fact that its dominion over its adherents has been so great for good that they have never fallen into the dark abyss of intolerance, have never dared employ the Master’s Name as excuse for their own cruelty, is perhaps the best proof of all of the perfection of its ethical teaching, of its true value to humanity, its true power as a civilising agent.

Finally, as to the worth of Buddhism to the modern world, and its capacity for furthering the progress of the modern Civilisation. We maintain that in this respect the adoption of Buddhism would imply an advance in humanity comparable only in its magnitude to the advance in knowledge which the West has made in the past hundred years, and this for the simple reason that it unites in itself, and vivifies with a new meaning, all the great movements for the suppression of ancient barbarisms and the promotion of peace and true prosperity which are being mooted in the West to-day.

The first of the Five Precepts which are binding on every Buddhist is the abstention from the taking of life, and the general adoption of this Precept as a guide in life would mean an immeasurable advance in humanity and in civilisation. It would mean the substitution of rational arbitration for the horrors of warfare, and hence a vast reduction in those armaments that constitute so heavy a drain upon the resources of modern States; it would mean the abolition of capital punishment—a relic of barbarism out of keeping with modern progress; it would extend also to the animal creation the principles of humanity (and surely humane treatment should not be accorded only to those who, like human beings, are capable of self-defence), and abolish not alone the brutalities of the slaughterhouse, but also the necessity for maintaining a class of men in an inhuman profession, in order to pander to the appetites of more civilised classes who would themselves recoil in horror from that slaughtering of animals that they are so careless of delegating to less fortunate men. The adoption of the Fifth Precept,—the abstention from intoxicants—would mean at one stroke a vast reduction in insanity and crime, and the abolition of one of the greatest curses of the age a curse that the threatens to undermine, not only the stamina of those who indulge in it, but to plant in their offspring the seeds of an inevitable decadence, to undermine in future generations that central mental control which alone constitutes the difference between sanity and insanity.

Buddhism, again, is the only great Religion in which the injurious distinctions between the sexes are entirely absent; and where, as in Burma, that Religion is thoroughly practised and lived up to, women are in every respect as free as men:—free in the holding of property, free to claim divorce on the same grounds as men, having an equal claim with men upon their children;—freer by far in all essential points than are their sisters of the Western Nations.

In the direction of education, again, Buddhism—holding as it does that all crime and evil in the world spring but from Ignorance—would in its adoption imply a great and notable advance. For it is not only that instruction in the arts and sciences is set forth in the Buddhist Scriptures as an essential part of the duty of parents to their children;18 but that the mental training which is an essential part of the practise of Buddhism, would supply one of the greatest needs of humanity to-day. It has always seemed strange to us that modern thought, which lays such stress upon the culture of the physical body, which has developed such perfect systems of cultivating every muscle of the human frame, should so far have evolved no analogous system for the exercise and development of the higher faculties of mind:—faculties not less amenable to proper treatment than are the muscles and sinews of the body they control. Of course, in a sense, all modern education is a cultivation of certain of these faculties by use; but it is only some amongst them that are reached by the present methods, whilst others, more important by far to the well-being of mankind, are totally neglected. Buddhism maintains that, in exactly the same way as a muscle can be atrophied by disuse, or cultivated to its full growth and function by a careful systematic use, so can the mental powers be atrophied or enhanced. And for this reason, regarding as it does the principles of solidarity as being the essential of all true culture, it inculcates the exercise of these faculties by a definite system of mental practises. Thus, for example, one of the chief causes of sorrow in this world is anger or hatred,—which causes grief not only to the man who hates or is irritable, but also to all humanity, of which he forms an integral part. And how to overcome that cause of Ill? By cultivating, says Buddhism, the opposite faculty of Love. And the way to do this is very simple we practise thinking thoughts of love concerning all beings:—practise, at some definite time each day, until the strength of the faculty of Love thus gained has banished from our lives the possibility of hate. And so with sympathy, with compassion, with all the higher powers of mind:—there is in Buddhism a definite manner of training these, training them by a regular practise of thinking thoughts that conduce to their development. Is it less important to Humanity at large that we should be able to love, to have sympathy with others’ joy; compassion with their suffering; than that we should be able to solve an algebraical equation? Surely not, if we are to gain in all that is greatest and noblest in our human nature, if we are to come nearer to the realization of Humanity, the fulfilment of the purpose of our race.

And so the introduction of Buddhism would see a new departure in educational methods; a new and higher rendering of the meaning and purport of education itself:—making of it, not alone a means of endowing men with the knowledge essential to progress in life, but also of elevating humanity as a whole, of cultivating those principles of solidarity upon the extension of which a true and lasting progress must always depend. And this, we Buddhists think, should also be the idea underlying the treatment of criminals. The criminal, according to our ideas, is a person who is lacking in that moral control which in the ordinary man inhibits criminal instincts, and to ‘punish’ such a person by the ‘solitary system or by making him break stones or pick oakum, is from our point of view absurd:—more, such a system is itself criminal, when, after degrading the man utterly alike in his own esteem and that of others, after stultifying what little intelligence and higher aspirations he possessed originally by harsh treatment and the compulsory performance of useless tasks, he is turned loose upon the world to breed new offspring, to whom he must necessarily communicate both his inherited mental weakness, and that acquired during his years of treatment as an animal in a modern gaol. It is necessary, of course, to safeguard society from the depredations of such men, but it is folly, and worse than folly, to so treat what is really a disease of the mind as to make that disease doubly worse, and then allow the criminal thus manufactured to return to the world and perpetuate the mental degradation to which the prison system has reduced him in generations of his descendents, who by force of their heredity must tend to go the way he went. The true cure for crime—for that of the habitual criminal, at least—is surely to endeavour to cultivate the missing faculties, the higher mental control (which oakum-picking and the like is hardly likely to effect), and, failing this, to segregate the subject, to prevent him perpetuating his species—without making all his life a hell. The object of civilised punishment should surely be, not to torture the man that has done evil; not to cut off either his nose and ears, as used to be done; nor his remaining mental faculties, as is now the usage; not, most of all, to so ill-use him as to frighten others from committing the same crime, (for apart from its innate injustice, experience has long shewn the folly of ‘deterrent’ legislation);—but to protect society from the criminal, to make of his necessary punishment a means of reform, to convert him from a menace to a useful servant of the State. Nor should such a system of criminal treatment be denounced, as it too often is, as a mere ‘sickly sentimentalism’; for it would strike at the true source—which is but a form of mental disease—of habitual criminality, and in a few generations enormously diminish the proportion of crime in the world; and to effect such diminution is surely the aim and object of all criminal legislation. That object, we know only too well, is not attained by the system at present in vogue:—is the adoption of a method more certain, more scientific, more humane, to be decried merely because of its humanity?

The dissemination of such views as these, forming as they do an integral portion of the teachings of the Buddhist Religion, will, together with the exposition of that Religion itself, constitute the platform of our present Review; and we cordially invite the co-operation of all who, whether calling themselves Buddhists or not, are interested in the propagation of these ideas. To aid in the promotion of a better understanding of the Laws of Life, in which knowledge the secret of true happiness lies hid; to help to bring love to dwell in the hearts of men in place of selfishness, pity where cruelty grew; to advance the spreading of such teachings as shall aid the backward and the fallen of our race, and uplift them to their human birthright through the sympathy of the strong; to teach that true humanity is not alone the love of man, but of every weakest and meanest living thing upon the earth; and, last and chiefest of all, to declare in the hearing of mankind that Treasure of the Truth our Master taught, whereof these things are but some solitary gems:—these are the objects of our new Review, the programme of our little portion in the symphony of universal life. We shall rejoice indeed if this our work shall serve to right one atom of the wrong on earth, to bring one gleam of light into one darkened mind, or one pure flower of love to bloom in the arid desert of desire:—it is for this that we have striven in the life we live, for this that we have followed in the Faith the Master taught, for this that we now send some little of His Message unto all the world.

’Truth’—it is written in our Sacred Books—‘Truth verily is Immortal Speech’. Knowing this so, we send forth from the East these echoes of an ancient Faith:—a Faith so old that the great hills have wasted and the galaxies of heaven have changed, since first the Master of Compassion taught it beneath the Himālayan snows, under the watching stars of the still Indian night. Have yet the ages dimmed either the love He taught, shrouded the Wisdom of His Words, or sealed the entrance to the Way of Peace He shewed? Nay, surely,—and whatsoever of that ancient Truth may linger in the tale we tell, whatever of His Teaching yet resounds in this, its faroff echo, that will find place within the hearts of these who wait for it;—that will endure, after our lips are dumb in death. The rest is naught, all other speech is vain:—Truth the Immortal will alone survive; will live on through the ages, shrined in the Temple of Humanity; until the fires of Passion, Hatred and Delusion shall be quenched for ever, and the Veil of Nescience be torn aside:—till all mankind, blent at the last in one fair Brotherhood of Peace, shall own one Law, one Hope, one Faith:—that Faith of Pity and of Wisdom and of Love which shall survive all lesser lights,—fair blossom on the Tree of Human Thought; the Faith of all Humanity, the Faith of the Future!

 

12 Dhammapada v. 183.

13 Dr. Rhys Davids’ ‘Notes on the History of Buddhism,’ in his American lectures; and the Introductions of the translations in ‘Sacred Books of the East’ and the ‘Dialogues of Buddha.’

14 See Dr. Rhys Davis’ ‘American Lectures’ p. 14

15 Ibid; p.211

16 Dhammapada v. 21.

17 Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XI, p. 114.

18 See Singalasuttanta

 

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