Page images

A fundamental doctrine of Sakya Muni was that of metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls-a doctrine taught not only by the Brahmins, but by Empedocles, Pythagoras and Plato, by many of the ancient Egyptian philosophers, and probably held by the Jewish Pharisees and the more modern Cabalists. According to both Brahmanism and Buddhism, this transmigration is effected not only from one human body to another, but to the body of a brute, or even to a plant. A fatal and inexorable law compels all beings to a new birth, again and again, that they inay expiate the faults committed in their previous existences. The Buddha did not make this law; he cannot interfere with it. But Sakya Muni was privileged to understand this law better than any other human being, and to show men how they could be freed from suffering. According to him, and, to a certain extent, according to Brahmanism, every existence is an evil ; even the life of the demi-gods, who inhabit the heavens, is an evil. And why is existence an evil ? Because it must terminate. Happiness ensues only after deliverance from existence, and that deliverance is the Nirvana —the most obscure, as it is the most important, point of Sakya's doctrine.

What is the Nirvana? The Buddha does not tell us. Buddhist philosophers represent it under the figure of a lamp which gives no light, because of want of oil. It is certain that the Buddhist scriptures, if not all Buddhist hearts, dwelling more on the evil than on the bright side of life, are filled with a passionate hatred for all mundane existence. When, under the fig-tree, Sakya attained sovereign wisdom, he cried: “ Principle of human life, constructor of this tabernacle of the human body, I have sought thee during my many existences. It is a terrible thing to be ever reborn. Now I have found thee, and I have conquered thee. Thy chains are broken, and thou canst not cause me to be born again."! And when dying, the reformer insisted that every changeable thing is destined to destruction, and he urged his disciples to therefore "struggle bravely”; that is, he taught that men cannot escape that universal law of death which is above gods and men, but they

[ocr errors]

preserves, under the style of devas, the gods of the Indian Pantheon, Brahma has mul. tiplied himself, and is replaced by a number of beings having the same name, whose chief is the Great Brahma, Maha-Brahma. And in addition to these gods, we find a hierarchy of supernatural beings, good and evil, angels and demons, having forms of birds or of serpents, and living on earth, in the air, or in the ocean. All these beings, even the greatest, are inferior to the Buddha; they form his court, hearken to him, and are converted to his doctrine. Some have not yet entered on the road to perfection; some become arhats ; some arrive at once at the Nirvana. Their position as inferiors to the Buddha does not deprive them of their natural power, and men may worship them and invoke them.”

1 Dhammapada, ch. XI. (Collection of Max Muller, Sacred Books of the East).


can escape, by virtue, that other law according to which death must be followed by another birth. What, then, is this Nirvana which Buddhism promises as man's recompense hereafter, and on which it erects its moral edifice here below? Those who regard pure Buddhism as atheistic, tell us that the Nirvana is absolute nothingness. They derive the word from nır, a euphonic form of the negative particle nis, and va, "a breath," and insist that its meaning is "extinction." But cannot the Nirvana be an absolute, simple and permanent existence, ending the painful and indefinite metempsychosis? Can it not be, as Obry, Foucaux and Colebrooke interpret it, very similar to that eternal repose which the Catholic Church begs for her children in her funeral prayers ? Nirvana, contends Le Noir, is not, as Pillon asserts, an almost meaningless word. Nir is the negative particle; va means "a wind," and therefore the term signifies “no wind," or an absence of tempest-in fine, a calm. Calm is not annihilation. The Nirvana is something. It is a deliverance from torment; it is a non-torment, which

a implies a comparison with the preceding torment, and is therefore a joy, and is experienced by a conscious being. Perhaps the meaning of this term may be illustrated by a consideration of the words sometimes used by nearly all sects of Indian origin when they wish to indicate man's final happiness. According to Colebrooke, nearly all those sects, Buddhism included, use the term mukti or moksha, with some differences of interpretation, such as emancipation, deliverance from evil, a riddance of earthly things, exemption from subsequent transmigration, etc. There are certain synonyms of mukti, e.g , apavargya, completion; niksreyasa, perfection; kaivalya, solitude; ananda, imperturbable apathy; none of which imply annihilation. We are led, therefore, to believe that a discontinuance of individuality is not a condition of entrance into the Nirvana, and that this state is one of incessant apathy. And how can one be happy unless he is? “A child," says Le Noir,“would not be guilty of such a contradiction, and we are told that Sakya Muni, who was one of the greatest geniuses who ever exercised a religious influence in the world, fell into it; and that after his death, two hundred and fifty millions did the same. If primitive Buddhism was what our positivists say it was, if Sakya Muni taught an atheistic doctrine which assigned nothingness as the only hope of man, how is it that we find a precisely contrary doctrine professed by all the Buddhists of our day, who cherish all the superstitions naturally following a teaching which has God and the soul's inmortality for a basis, when it is not upheld by a force more powerful than man's passionate nature ? Certainly the average Buddhist of our time has no conception of a Nirvana such as the positivists imagine. His future abode is in one of the many



heavens placed one over the other, in which he will live for ages in the enjoyment of both intellectual and sensual pleasure.

Touching the moral doctrine of Buddhism, we must first observe that the mendicant monk, the Bhikhus, was the principal object of Sakyas' prescriptions, for the monk alone can become an arhat, that is, he alone can arrive at the perfection which leads to the Nirvana. In reality, the monkish assembly is the Buddhist church. In Christianity the ascetic life is an exception; in Buddhism monasticism is the rule. The Buddhist religious is vowed to celibacy, and his perseverance is aided by public opinion, which, in all Buddhist countries, is very severe on this point. Like our friars, the Buddhist monk can possess nothing; he lives on alms. But in one matter the Buddhist religious differs from the Catholic monk, especially from the ideal of that monk, as conceived and concretized by St. Benedict. The Buddhist monk does not work. No Buddhist Montalembert would ever find, among the ascetics of his religion, material for such a glorification of the monastic system as the French publicist gave us in his “Monks of the West.” The Buddhist religious passes his life in meditating on the nothingness of the world ; that is, in a species of laziness. The monks, however, do not form the totality of the Buddhist community. The hearers, or Upasakas, receive precepts of pure morality, such as not to steal, not to commit adultery, not to drink intoxicating beverages, not to kill any animal. The last prescription, founded on the doctrine of metempsychosis, is not observed to the letter, but it has produced a state of things in all Buddhist lands which would encourage the late Mr. Bergh. The principal duty of the Upasaka is to support the monk and nun; but no matter how well he fulfils it, he never can become an arhat. Nevertheless, after a number of new existences, the masculine Upasaka may enter the Nirvana; as for the women, not even nuns can attain this happiness, until they have gone through at least one more life in the masculine sex. As to the positive side of Buddhist morality, what we call charity, there would seem to be little of it, for the Buddhist appears, at first sight, to be profoundly egotistic, desiring even the Nirvana only as a means of escape from suffering. However, the system proposes the good of our fellows as a motive of action, and Sakya Muni set the example. He had been an arhat during many centuries, and could have entered the Nirvana long before he did enter it ; but he preferred to go through many painful existences, in order to enlighten mankind. This charity, how

, ever, is very different from that of Christianity. “The language of Buddhism," says Oldenberg,“ has no word to express the poetry of Christian love, of that charity described by St. Paul. The realities in which that poetry has been actuated in the Christian world,

have no counterpart in the world of Buddhism." This system produces no hospitals (unless for animals), no orphanages, etc.; the only alms inculcated is that given to the monks.

Coming now to the principal object of our article, it must be admitted that there are striking resemblances between Buddhism and Christianity. Probably, popular Buddhism has been affected by the missionaries of Nestorianism, which, from the very days of its founder, has exercised an active, though not very successful propaganda in the East. “There is, indeed," remarks De Broglie, a Chinese Buddhist ritual, which seems to have been copied from an Oriental Christian liturgy. Modern atheists insist much on the similarities which they find, and on others which they fancy they discover, in the principal religions. They tell us that Christianity cannot be of Divine origin, for a Divine religion must be entirely different from all others. In Buddhism, as well as in Christianity, we find the idea of a universal religion, and that of a Redeemer of men. In the Buddhist scriptures we read of a counterpart of the penitent Magdalen, in the person of the courtesan converted by Upagupta. The touching conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is reproduced in an interview between Ananda, the favorite disciple of Sakya, and a woman of the despised caste of the Chandalas. Like Jesus, the founder of Buddhism retires to the desert, and there suffers the assaults of the demon. The Buddhists practise confession, and Holy Communion is represented by a participation in the sacrificial victims. From these and many other resemblances agnostics deduce, to their own apparent satisfaction, an equal value and authority for Buddhism and Christianity. But is it true that the true religion must differ entirely from all religions of human origin? As well ask, whether there can be, and are, any similarities between the lives of civilized men and those of barbarians? Heresy may exaggerate the effects of the fall of Adam, and may teach that man's nature is so deeply vitiated as to be capable of no moral good. It may insist that, outside of the household of faith, every action is a sin; that, outside of the true Church, there is no grace; and that God gives means of salvation only to a limited number of predestined souls. It may, therefore, be incapable of understanding how paganism can produce a Marcus Aurelius or a Sakya Muni. But Catholic theology distinguishes the natural from the supernatural order, and it admits that natural good may exist among pagans, for it holds, with St. Paul, that even these unfortunates have the law of God engraved in their hearts. Every man, without faith, can discern good from evil, can believe in future retribution, and can try to conquer his passions. Nay, more; he may attain even to the supernatural good, for God wishes all men to be saved, and His grace may be distributed to all men of good will through channels unknown to us. No wonder, then, that there is a certain resemblance between Christianity and some other religions. All religions are institutions destined, some in a lesser and some in a greater degree, to satisfy certain instincts of human nature. A religion produced by a Divine cause, and another derived from a human one, must necessarily, by the very fact of their being religions, present certain similarities; just as all buildings, whether palaces or huts, destined for the shelter of men, must be somewhat alike. When men are deprived of the benefit of Divine revelation, what happens ? They seek what they need, and, if necessary, in their own imaginations. If a self-styled prophet appears, many care not to examine his credentials, and regarding only their own aspirations, they gladly hearken to his theory of salvation. Then their own emotional nature leads them to establish a ritual. New messiahs, mahdis and prophets are never wanting, and the nineteenth century has welcomed as many as any other. Thus are developed false religions in which all is not imposture; in which there necessarily is some truth. And when God decrees to satisfy the yearnings of the human heart, to reveal Himself to men, to show them the road to heaven, He does in a perfect manner what the impostor pretended to do. He establishes, either directly or by means of His accredited agents, a ritual and other religious institutions; and He satisfies, by real miracles, the instinct for the supernatural which is, and ever has been, manifested by the human race. It is evident, therefore, that there must be much similarity between the true and all false religions. Nevertheless, the hand of God will always be visible in the true religion.

Compare the life of Jesus Christ with that of Sakya Muni. When we investigate the real lives of the world's great men, when we pass from the poetry of fiction to the prose of history, we discover, in every case, a very great difference between the real man and the ideal personage. Indeed, in many instances, history can tell us but little about the real man; thus, we know few of the details of the life of Sakya Muni, and, as to his discourses, all Orientalists agree that they are of dubious authenticity. But concerning Jesus Christ, we have a full historic reality, and that reality is in just accord with the ideal. As to Sakya Muni, if we may trust the Singhalese books, which above all others exalt his virtues, we find the ideal very different from the real Buddha. Take, for instance, the following narrative, furnished by Hardy, in his “Manual of Buddhism.” One day, while Sakya was meditating in a garden, five hundred monks came to interview him, and when they were invited to seat themselves and await his leisure, they

de so much noise when placing their begging-pots on the

« PreviousContinue »