Page images

he has no knowledge. "The vision and the faculty divine," essential to all philsosphy worthy of the name, is not in him. His popularity is an emphatic testimony to the singular unidealism-I had almost written the congenital imbecility-of the English mind in respect of eternal and divine things. I suppose an effort should be made to heal it. But who is sufficient for these things? Exoriare aliquis. Meanwhile, in order to put myself in touch with the national sentiment, I shall point to two practical applications of this doctrine of right upon which I have been insisting; to its bearing upon the questions of political power and private property raised so imperiously by Democracy and Socialism. But I must do that in another paper.-W. S. LILLY, in The Fortnightly Review.


MANY of the more intelligent class of unbelievers refer to the religions of the East, such as Confucianism, Brahmanism, Buddhism, Parseeism, and Mohammedanism, as being so nearly on the same plane with Christianity that it is impossible to accept it to the exclusion of their claims. Without considering here the numerous marks by which the Catholic and divine religion is separated from all systems and creeds merely human, we may arm ourselves against cavils of this kind by a glance at the real character of two of the most vaunted of the great Oriental cults; not, however, condemning them with the hastiness of ignorance, but rather taking them in their most favorable aspect. It must be premised that all of these systems embody portions of the primitive traditions of the race, and are so far true and similar to the Catholic religion; but, on the other hand, they have two great evils, apart from the crowning one of their very existence outside the church's pale: first, the divine traditions are only partially retained, and are often so distorted and corrupted as to be nearly unrecognizable; and, second, their special claims have little or no logical foundation, and utterly vanish under a rigid application of the laws of evidence. We have here to consider the latter of these characteristics, referring only incidentally to the doctrinal features of the religions whose bases we examine.

Both of the names at the head of this article represent reformed religions which branched off from the ancient Brahmanical stock centuries before the birth of Christ. Zoroaster, about twelve centuries B.C., revived a pure monotheism which admitted no rival to the one Supreme Deity, not even Ahriman, who is far from holding the conspicuous place which is given him in the dualistic theology falsely attributed to the Zoroastrian or Parsee religion. Buddha,

seven hundred years later, founded an atheistic philosophy which denied the reality of all things, admitting neither immortality nor a soul to be immortal, neither an actual universe nor a God to create it. So the devas, or gods of the Brahmans, became the divs, or demons of the Parsees, and with the Buddhists degenerated into mere legendary beings or goblins, treated with contempt, and only carried about in puppet-shows as servants to Buddha.

The religion of Zoroaster, which more than once threatened to overspread the globe, is now of small extent. About seven thousand of the Parsees are to be found in the vicinity of Yezd, in their original country, Persia, but the principal part of them, now numbering only from one hundred to one hundred and fifty thousand, inhabit Bombay and a few other places in India. "The descendants of those who remained in Persia have gradually decreased in numbers and sunk in ignorance and poverty, though still preserving a reputation for honesty, chastity, industry, and obedience to law superior to that of the other Persians. The Parsees of India are considered a very superior people, and some of the wealthiest merchants of that country are numbered among them. Their religious tenets, too, are remarkably pure, and, contrary to popular notions, include neither dualism nor the worship of the elements. This then, may be taken as one of the best of Asiatic religions; and, fortunately, we have at band a means of acquiring a very accurate knowledge of it. In addition to the investigations of European scholars we have from the pen of Dadabhai Naaroji, an enlightened Parsee of the priestly caste, two works, written some years ago while he was professor of Guzerati at the University College, London, and treating respectively of the manners and customs and of the religion of his people. All their sacred books and all their prayers are composed in the ancient Zend, and there is not, according to this unexceptionable authority, a single person among them, either priest or layman, who is able to read that language. "The whole religious education of a Parsee child consists in preparing by rote a certain number of prayers in Zend, without understanding a word of them; the knowledge of the doctrines of their religion being left to be picked up from casual conversation." Until about 1835 there was no book from which the doctrines of the Parsee religion could be gathered; but about that time a kind of a catechism was written in Guzerati, the popular language, with the view, it is said, of counteracting the influence of Christian missionaries. From this work we extract the following:

Q. What is our religion?-A. Our religion is the worship of God.

Q. Whence did we receive our religion?-A. God's true prophet-the true Zurthost Ashantamân Anashirwân-brought the religion to us from God.

"Q. What religion has our prophet brought us from God?-A. The disciples of our prophet have recorded in several books that religion, Many of these books were

destroyed during Alexander's conquest; the remainder of the books were preserved with great care and respect by the Sassanian kings. Of these again the greater portion were destroyed at the Mohammedan conquest by Khalif Omar, so that we have now very few books remaining-viz., the Vandidad, the Yazashné, the Visparad, the Khardeh Avesta, the Vistasp Nusk, and a few Pehlevi books. Resting our faith upon these few books, we now remain devoted to our good Mazdiashna religion. We consider these books as heavenly books, because God sent the tidings of these books to us through the holy Zurthost.'

It will be seen from this that the Parsee religion depends solely upon the interpretation of a few books, written in a language which is intelligible only to a handful of European scholars who have deciphered it, after incalculable labor, during the present centuryderiving their authority from their presumed conformity to the teachings of Zurdosht, or Zoroaster, who, as Max Müller observes, is considered, not a divine being nor even a son of God, but "simply a wise man, a prophet favored by God, and admitted into God's immediate presence; but all this on his own showing only, and without any supernatural credentials, except some few miracles recorded of him in books of doubtful authority."

Buddhism, though originating in India, has in that country, as well as in China, Tartary, and elsewhere, been greatly corrupted, and, in the course of its long and, in India itself, unsuccessful struggle with Brahmanism and other cults, has been in some cases badly confused with them and impregnated with their doctrines. It must be judged, however, by its own proper tenets, and by its state in Thibet and Ceylon, the northern and southern centres of the pure and ancient teaching. We need not give any special consideration to the paradoxical nihilism of its metaphysics, and it is also necessary to exclude the esoteric philosophy known to the initiated, which rests upon a different basis, and has a significance too profound and an affiliation too startling for it to be here unmasked. Even as an exoteric religion Buddhism has a special interest, on account of its aggressive character, and the fact that numbers of highly intelligent Americans and Europeans have recently given in their adhesion to it. It is possible that it may spread to an alarming extent in the near future.

"Various agencies-among them conspicuously the wide circulation of Mr. Edwin Arnold's beautiful poem, The Light of Asia-have created a sentiment in favor of Buddhistic philosophy which constantly gains strength. It seems to commend itself especially to free-thinkers of every shade of opinion. Three French gentlemen of high position, who recently visited Ceylon and made public profession of Buddhism by taking the Three Refuges' at Colombo and Galle temples, told the high-priest that the whole school of French Positivists were practically Buddhists and would not hesitate to follow the example set by themselves. And it is reported to the author [of Olcott's Buddhist Catechism, whose preface we are quoting] by a Singhalese gentleman of high birth that the eminent Prof. Ernst Haeckel, in a conversation which occurred during his recent visit to Ceylon, told him that, so far as explained to him, the Buddhistic theory of the eternity of matter and force, and other particulars, were identical with the latest inductions of science." Col. Olcott adds: "This good opinion of Buddhism

must increase in strength among scientific men as its corruptions are cleared away, and the veritable teaching of the Lord Buddha is discovered."

Passing over the absurdity of speaking of the eternity of matter as an induction of science, and not stopping to reconcile this with the Buddhist metaphysics, these extracts show that the main strength of the system is in its general agreement with the rationalistic schools of European thought, to whose soul-starved votaries it offers a means of satisfying their innate spiritual cravings without conforming their lives to an inflexible code of morals, or bowing their intellects to the yoke of divine faith. There is, however, an absence of guarantees for its objective truth almost as complete as we have already noticed in the case of Parseeism. It is not said that any divine revelation was made to its founder; indeed, Buddhism knows no Supreme Being from whom to expect such a revelation.

Let us appeal to the latest and most reliable authority, and see what this greatest of Oriental cults, which claims to number within its ranks considerably more than a third of the human race, has to say of its own origin. Such an authority we find in the publication quoted above, A Buddhist Catechism, according to the Canon of the Southern Church, by Henry S. Olcott. This work "has been revised and criticised by a committee of 'elders' who are thoroughly orthodox Buddhists," and its correctness is vouched for by H. Sumangala, "High-Priest of the Sripada and Galle, and Principal of the Widyodaya Parwina," of Ceylon, and recommended by him for use in Buddhist schools. Up to the spring of 1885, 17,000 copies of it in Singhalese and 15,000 in Burmese have been distributed through the Buddhist homes and schools of Ceylon and Burmah. It has also been translated into the French, German, Japanese, Siamese, Tamil, and other languages. Being written by a European convert, and intended largely for circulation in Christian countries, it would naturally contain the strongest possible presentation of the case. Referring to the first American, from the fourteenth Singhalese, edition, edited by Prof. Elliott Coues, one of the most learned and talented of American scientists, we find that Gautama, Prince Siddartha, the head of the Sakya tribe, after seeking unsuccessfully through the Brahmans, and afterward by independent experiments, to attain to a knowledge "of the causes of sorrow and the nature of man," finally went one evening to the Bôdhi or Asvattha tree. We then read:

[ocr errors]

Q. 48. What did he do there?-A. He determined not to leave the spot until he attained the Buddhaship.

[ocr errors]

Q. 49. At what side of the tree did he seat himself?-A. The side facing the east. Q. 50. What did he obtain that night?-A. The knowledge of his previous births, of the causes of re-birth, and of the way to extinguish desires. Just before the break of the next day his mind was entirely opened like the full-blown lotus-flower; the light of supreme knowledge, or the Four Truths, poured in upon him; he had become Buddha-the Enlightened, the All-knowing,"

This is supplemented in questions 102 and 103 by the statement that the entire system of Buddhism came to his mind during this great meditation of forty-nine days under the Bô tree. Now, there is in the whole book not a single word of evidence that Gautama Buddha's experience was anything more than a delusion, and there seems to be actually no defence of the system possible, except on purely rational grounds as a body of philosophy, every element in which is to be accepted or rejected on its own merits. This is clearly stated in the Catechism:

"Q. Are there any dogmas in Buddhism which we are required to accept on faith? A. No; we are earnestly enjoined to accept nothing whatever on faith, whether it be written in books, handed down from our ancestors, or taught by the sages. Our Lord Buddha has said that we must not believe a thing said merely because it is said; nor traditions because they have been handed down from antiquity; nor rumors, as such; nor writings by sages because sages wrote them; nor fancies, that we may suspect to have been inspired in us by a deva; nor for inferences drawn from some haphazard assumption we may have made; nor because of what seems an analogical necessity; nor on the mere authority of our teachers or masters. But we are to believe when the writing, doctrine, or saying is corroborated by reason and consciousness.”

Of the Sacred books, the Tripitikas, the answers to questions 94 and 97 show that, though they are revered "as containing all the parts of the Most Excellent Law, by the knowing of which man can save himself [from the miseries of existence and of re-births, Q. 64]," they are not considered to be inspired.

The Four Truths referred to above are the summing-up of the whole system on its practical side. These are enumerated by Col. Olcott, but are more clearly stated by Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire in the following language: "1. Pain is the inevitable heritage of man in life; 2. The cause of pain arises from acts, activity, desires, passions, and faults; 3. Pain for man may cease forever through Nirvana; 4. The way to reach this final end of pain is that taught by Buddha." The same author, who is the foremost of the scientific students of Buddhism, explains, on the authority of the sacred books and the modern priesthood, that "Nirvana had for Buddha no other meaning than nothingness, from which man never returns because he no longer exists." The way taught by Buddha consists in "complete conquest over and destruction of this eager thirst for life and pleasures, which cause sorrow" (Q. 61), and this conquest is attained by following certain prescribed rules of thought and conduct. The whole is based upon what looks very much like what the Lord Buddha calls a "hap-hazard assumption" of the transmigration of souls (or, less incorrectly, metempsychosis), which no Bhuddhist seems to dream of either questioning or attempting to prove, and which is unprovable on account of the admitted fact that there is ordinarily not the slightest recollection of the events of any former passage through earth-life.

One who stands within the temple of Catholic Truth, with its

« PreviousContinue »