Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/43

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Thus there is no very great practical disagreement between Gautama and his predecessors with respect to the end of action; but it is otherwise as regards the means to that end. With just insight into human nature, Gautama declared extreme ascetic practices to be useless and indeed harmful. The appetites and the passions are not to be abolished by mere mortification of the body; they must, in addition, be attacked on their own ground, and conquered by steady cultivation of the mental habits which oppose them; by universal benevolence; by the return of good for evil; by humility; by abstinence from evil thought; in short, by total renunciation of that self-assertion which is the essence of the cosmic process.

Doubtless it is to these ethical qualities that Buddhism owes its marvelous success.[1] A system which knows no God in the Western sense; which denies a soul to man; which counts the belief in immortality a blunder, and the hope of it a sin; which refuses any efficacy to prayer and sacrifice; which bids men look to nothing but their own efforts for salvation; which in its original purity knew nothing of vows of obedience, abhorred intolerance, and never sought the aid of the secular arm; yet spread over a considerable moiety of the Old World with marvelous rapidity, and is still, with whatever base admixture of foreign superstitions, the dominant creed of a large fraction of mankind.

[To be concluded.]

    his mind directed itself exclusively to this joyful consummation, and personified the negation of all conceivable existence and of all pain into a positive bliss. This was all the more easy, as Gautama refused to give any dogmatic definition of Nirvana. There is something analogous in the way in which people commonly talk of the "happy release" of a man who has been long suffering from mortal disease. According to their own views, it must always be extremely doubtful whether the man will be any happier after the "release" than before. But they do not choose to look at the matter in this light. The popular notion that, with practical if not metaphysical annihilation in view, Buddhism must needs be a sad and gloomy faith, seems to be inconsistent with fact; on the contrary, the prospect of Nirvana fills the true believer, not merely with cheerfulness but with an ecstatic desire to reach it.

  1. The influence of the picture of the personal qualities of Gautama afforded by the legendary anecdotes which rapidly grew into a biography of the Buddha, and by the birth stories, which coalesced with the current folk lore and were intelligible to all the world, doubtless played a large part. Further, although Gautama appears not to have meddled with the caste system, he refused to recognize any distinction save that of perfection in the way of salvation among his followers; and, by such teaching, no less than by the inculcation of love and benevolence to all sentient beings, he practically leveled every social, political, and racial barrier. A third important condition was the organization of the Buddhists into monastic communities for the stricter professors, while the laity were permitted a wide indulgence in practice, and were allowed to hope for accommodation in some of the temporary abodes of bliss. With a few hundred thousand years of immediate paradise in sight, the average man could be content to shut his eyes to what might follow.