Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/38

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of thousand years later, that there is nothing good nor bad bnt thinking makes it so. If the cosmos "is just and of our pleasant vices makes instruments to scourge us" it would seem that the only way to escape from our heritage of evil is to destroy that fountain of desire whence our vices flow; to refuse any longer to be the instruments of the evolutionary process and withdraw from the struggle for existence. If the karma is modifiable by self-discipline, if its coarser desires, one after another, can be extinguished, the ultimate fundamental desire of self-assertion, or the desire to be, may also be destroyed.[1] Then the bubble of illusion will burst, and the freed individual "Atman" will lose itself in the universal "Brahma."

Such seems to have been the pre-Buddhistic conception of salvation and of the way to be followed by those who would attain thereto. No more thorough mortification of the flesh has ever been attempted than that achieved by the Indian ascetic anchorite; no later monachism. has so nearly succeeded in reducing the human mind to that condition of impassive quasi-somnambulism which, but for its acknowledged holiness, might run the risk of being confounded with idiocy.

And this salvation, it will be observed, was to be attained through knowledge, and by action based on that knowledge; just as the experimenter, who would obtain a certain physical or chemical result, must have a knowledge of the natural laws involved and the persistent disciplined will adequate to carry out all the various operations required. The supernatural, in our sense of the term, was entirely excluded. There was no external power which could affect the sequence of cause and effect which gives rise to karma; none but the will of the subject of the karma which could put an end to it.

Only one rule of conduct could be based upon the remarkable theory of which I have endeavored to give a reasoned outline. It

  1. "It is interesting to notice that the very point which is the weakness of the theory—the supposed concentration of the effect of the Karma in one new being—presented itself to the early Buddhists themselves as a difficulty. They avoided it, partly by explaining that it was a particular thirst in the creature dying (a craving, Tanhā, which plays otherwise a great part in the Buddhist theory) which actually caused the birth of the new individual who was to inherit the Karma of the former one. But, how this took place, how the craving desire produced this effect, was acknowledged to be a mystery patent only to Buddha." (Rhys Davids, Hibbert Lectures, p. 95.) Among the many parallelisms of Stoicism and Buddhism, it is curious to find one for this Tanhā, "thirst," or "craving desire" for life. Seneca writes (Epist. l.xxvi, 18): "Si enim ullum aliud est bonum quam honestum, sequetur nos aviditas vitæ aviditas rerum vitam instruentium: quod est intolerabile infinitum, vagum," [Besides, was there any other good than what is right and fit, we should be persecuted with the desire of life, and an insatiable hankering after all the requisites thereto, which is intolerable, infinite, vague.—Morell's translation.]