Popular Science Monthly/Volume 44/November 1893/Evolution and Ethics I
|EVOLUTION AND ETHICS.|
THERE is a delightful child's story, known by the title of Jack and the Bean-stalk, with which my contemporaries who are present will be familiar. But so many of our grave and reverend juniors have been brought up on severer intellectual diet, and perhaps have become acquainted with fairyland only through primers of comparative mythology, that it may be needful to give an outline of the tale. It is a legend of a bean-plant, which grows and grows until it reaches the high heavens, and there spreads out into a vast canopy of foliage. The hero, being moved to climb the stalk, discovers that the leafy expanse supports a world, composed of the same elements as that below, but yet strangely new; and his adventures there, on which I may not dwell, must have completely changed his views of the nature of things, though the story, not having been composed by or for philosophers, has nothing to say about views.
My present enterprise has a certain analogy to that of the daring adventurer. I beg you to accompany me in an attempt to reach a world which, to many, is probably strange, by the help of a bean. It is, as you know, a simple, inert-looking thing. Yet, if planted under proper conditions, of which sufficient warmth is one of the most important, it manifests active powers of a very remarkable kind. A small green seedling emerges, rises to the surface of the soil, rapidly increases in size, and at the same time undergoes a series of metamorphoses which do not excite our wonder as much as those which meet us in legendary history, merely because they are to be seen every day, and all day long.
By insensible steps the plant builds itself up into a large and various fabric of root, stem, leaves, flowers, and fruit, every one molded, within and without, in accordance with an extremely complex, but at the same time minutely defined, pattern. In each of these complicated structures, as in their smallest constituents, there is an immanent energy which, in harmony with that resident in all the others, incessantly works toward the maintenance of the whole and the efficient performance of the part which it has to play in the economy of Nature. But no sooner has the edifice, reared with such exact elaboration, attained completeness than it begins to crumble. By degrees the plant withers and disappears from view, leaving behind more or fewer apparently inert and simple bodies, just like the bean from which it sprang, and, like it, endowed with the potentiality of giving rise to a similar cycle of manifestations.
Neither the poetic nor the scientific imagination is put to much strain in the search after analogies with this process of going forth and, as it were, returning to the starting point. It may be likened to the ascent and descent of a slung stone, or to the course of an arrow along its trajectory. Or we may say that the living energy takes first an upward and then a downward road. Or it may seem preferable to compare the expansion of the germ into the full-grown plant to the unfolding of a fan, or to the rolling forth and widening of a stream, and thus arrive at the conception of "development," or "evolution." Here, as elsewhere, names are "noise and smoke"; the important point is to have a clear and adequate conception of the fact signified by a name. And in this case the fact is the Sisyphæan process, in the course of which the living and growing plant passes from the relative simplicity and latent potentiality of the seed to the full epiphany of a highly differentiated type, thence to fall back to simplicity and potentiality.
The value of a strong intellectual grasp of the nature of this process lies in the circumstance that what is true of the bean is true of living things in general. From very low forms up to the highest—in the animal no less than in the vegetable kingdom—the process of life presents the same appearance of cyclical evolution. Nay, we have but to cast our eyes over the rest of the world and cyclical change presents itself on all sides. It meets us in the water that flows to the sea and returns to the springs; in the heavenly bodies that wax and wane, go and return to their places; in the inexorable sequence of the ages of man's life; in that successive rise, apogee, and fall of dynasties and of states which is the most prominent topic of civil history.
As no man, fording a swift stream, can dip his foot twice into the same water, so no man can with exactness affirm of anything in the sensible world that it is. As he utters the words, nay, as he thinks them, the predicate ceases to be applicable; the present
has become the past; the "is" should be "was." And the more we learn of the nature of things, the more evident is it that what we call rest is only unperceived activity; that seeming peace is silent but strenuous battle. In every part, at every moment, the state of the cosmos is the expression of a transitory adjustment of contending forces; a scene of strife, in which all the combatants fall in turn. What is true of each part is true of the whole. Natural knowledge tends more and more to the conclusion that "all the choir of heaven and furniture of the earth" are the transitory forms of parcels of cosmic substance wending along the road of evolution, from nebulous potentiality, through endless growths of sun and planet and satellite; through all varieties of matter; through infinite diversities of life and thought; possibly through modes of being of which we neither have a conception, nor are competent to form any, back to the undefinable latency from which they arose. Thus the most obvious attribute of the cosmos is its impermanence. It assumes the aspect not so much of a permanent entity as of a changeful process, in which naught endures save the flow of energy and the rational order which pervades it.
We have climbed our bean-stalk and have reached a wonderland in which the common and the familiar become things new and strange. In the exploration of the cosmic process thus typified, the highest intelligence of man finds inexhaustible employment; giants are subdued to our service; and the spiritual affections of the contemplative philosopher are engaged by beauties worthy of eternal constancy.
But there is another aspect of the cosmic process, so perfect as a mechanism, so beautiful as a work of art. Where the cosmopoietic energy works through sentient beings, there arises, among its other manifestations, that which we call pain or suffering. This baleful product of evolution increases in quantity and in intensity, with advancing grades of animal organization, until it attains its highest level in man. Further, the consummation is not reached in man, the mere animal; nor in man, the whole or half savage; but only in man, the member of an organized polity. And it is a necessary consequence of his attempt to live in this way; that is, under those conditions which are essential to the full development of his noblest powers.
Man, the animal, in fact, has worked his way to the headship of the sentient world, and has become the superb animal which he is, in virtue of his success in the struggle for existence. The conditions having been of a certain order, man's organization has adjusted itself to them better than that of his competitors in the cosmic strife. In the case of mankind, the self-assertion, the unscrupulous seizing upon all that can be grasped, the tenacious holding of all that can be kept, which constitute the essence of the struggle for existence, have answered. For his successful progress, as far as the savage state, man has been largely indebted to those qualities which he shares with the ape and the tiger: his exceptional physical organization; his cunning, his sociability, his curiosity and his imitativeness; his ruthless and ferocious destructiveness when his anger is roused by opposition.
But, in proportion as men have passed from anarchy to social organization and in proportion as civilization has grown in worth, these deeply ingrained serviceable qualities have become defects. After the manner of successful persons, civilized man would gladly kick down the ladder by which he has climbed. He would be only too pleased to see "the ape and the tiger die." But they decline to suit his convenience; and the unwelcome intrusion of these boon companions of his hot youth into the ranged existence of civil life adds pains and griefs, innumerable and immeasurably great, to those which the cosmic process necessarily brings on the mere animal. In fact, civilized man brands all these ape and tiger promptings with the name of sins; he punishes many of the acts which flow from them as crimes; and, in extreme cases, he does his best to put an end to the survival of the fittest of former days by axe and rope.
I have said that civilized man has reached this point; the assertion is perhaps too broad and general; I had better put it that ethical man has attained thereto. The science of ethics professes to furnish us with a reasoned rule of life; to tell us what is right action and why it is so. Whatever difference of opinion may exist among experts, there is a general consensus that the ape and tiger methods of the struggle for existence are not reconcilable with sound ethical principles.
The hero of our story descended the bean-stalk, and came back to the common world, where fare and work were alike hard; where ugly competitors were much commoner than beautiful princesses; and where the everlasting battle with self was much less sure to be crowned with victory than a turn-to with a giant. We have done the like. Thousands upon thousands of our fellows, thousands of years ago, have preceded us in finding themselves face to face with the same dread problem of evil. They also have seen that the cosmic process is evolution; that it is full of wonder, full of beauty, and, at the same time, full of pain. They have sought to discover the bearing of these great facts on ethics; to find out whether there is, or is not, a sanction for morality in the ways of the cosmos.
Theories of the universe, in which the conception of evolution plays a leading part, were extant at least six centuries before our era. Certain knowledge of them, in the fifth century, reaches us from localities as distant as the valley of the Ganges and the Asiatic coasts of the Ægean. To the early philosophers of Hindustan, no less than to those of Ionia, the salient and characteristic feature of the phenomenal world was its changefulness; the unresting flow of all things, through birth to visible being and thence to not being, in which they could discern no sign of a beginning and for which they saw no prospect of an ending. It was no less plain to some of these antique forerunners of modern philosophy that suffering is the badge of all the tribe of sentient things; that it is no accidental accompaniment, but an essential constituent of the cosmic process. The energetic Greek might find fierce joys in a world in which "strife is father and king"; but the old Aryan spirit was subdued to quietism in the Indian sage; the mist of suffering which spread over humanity hid everything else from his view; to him life was one with suffering and suffering with life.
In Hindustan, as in Ionia, a period of relatively high and tolerably stable civilization had succeeded long ages of semi-barbarism and struggle. Out of wealth and security had come leisure and refinement, and, close at their heels, had followed the malady of thought. To the struggle for bare existence, which never ends, though it may be alleviated and partially disguised for a fortunate few, succeeded the struggle to make existence intelligible and to bring the order of things into harmony with the moral sense of man, which also never ends, but, for the thinking few, becomes keener with every increase of knowledge and with every step toward the realization of a worthy ideal of life.
Two thousand five hundred years ago, the value of civilization was as apparent as it is now; then, as now, it was obvious that only in the garden of an orderly polity can the finest fruits humanity is capable of bearing be produced. But it had also become evident that the blessings of culture were not unmixed. The garden was apt to turn into a hothouse. The stimulation of the senses, the pampering of the emotions, endlessly multiplied the sources of pleasure. The constant widening of the intellectual field indefinitely extended the range of that especially human faculty of looking before and after, which adds to the fleeting present those old and new worlds of the past and the future, wherein men dwell the more the higher their culture. But that very sharpening of the sense and that subtle refinement of emotion which brought such a wealth of pleasures, were fatally attended by a proportional enlargement of the capacity for suffering; and the divine faculty of imagination, while it created new heavens and new earths, provided them with the corresponding hells of futile regret for the past and morbid anxiety for the future. Finally, the inevitable penalty of overstimulation, exhaustion, opened the gates of civilization to its great enemy, ennui; the stale and flat weariness when man delights not, nor woman neither—when all things are vanity and vexation, and life seems not worth living except to escape the bore of dying.
Even purely intellectual progress brings about its revenges. Problems settled in a rough-and-ready way by rude men, absorbed in action, demand renewed attention and show themselves to be still unread riddles when men have time to think. The beneficent demon, doubt, whose name is Legion and who dwells among the tombs of old faiths, enters into mankind and thenceforth refuses to be cast out. Sacred customs, venerable dooms of ancestral wisdom, hallowed by tradition and professing to hold good for all time, are put to the question. Cultured reflection asks for their credentials; judges them by its own standards; finally, gathers those of which it approves into ethical systems, in which the reasoning is rarely much more than a decent pretext for the adoption of foregone conclusions.
One of the oldest and most important elements in such systems is the conception of justice. Society is impossible unless those who are associated agree to observe certain rules of conduct toward one another; its stability depends on the steadiness with which they abide by that agreement; and, so far as they waver, that mutual trust which is the bond of society is weakened or destroyed. Wolves could not hunt in packs except for the real, though unexpressed, understanding that they should not attack one another during the chase. The most rudimentary polity is a pack of men living under the like tacit, or expressed, understanding; and having made the very important advance upon wolf society, that they agree to use the force of the whole body against individuals who violate it and in favor of those who observe it. This observance of a common understanding, with the consequent distribution of punishments and rewards according to accepted rules, received the name of justice, while the contrary was called injustice. Early ethics did not take much note of the animus of the violator of the rules. But civilization could not advance far without the establishment of a capital distinction between the case of involuntary and that of willful misdeed—between a merely wrong action and a guilty one. And, with increasing refinement of moral appreciation, the problem of desert, which arises out of this distinction, acquired more and more theoretical and practical importance. If life must be given for life, yet it was recognized that the unintentional slayer did not altogether deserve death; and, by a sort of compromise between the public and the private conception of justice, a sanctuary was provided in which he might take refuge from the avenger of blood.
The idea of justice thus underwent a gradual sublimation from punishment and reward according to acts, to punishment and reward according to desert; or, in other words, according to motive. Righteousness—that is, action from right motive—not only became synonymous with justice, but the positive constituent of innocence and the very heart of goodness.
Now when the ancient sage, whether Indian or Greek, who had attained to this conception of goodness, looked the world, and especially human life, in the face, he found it as hard as we do to bring the course of evolution into harmony with even the elementary requirements of the ethical ideal of the just and the good.
If there is one thing plainer than another, it is that neither the pleasures nor the pains of life in the merely animal world are distributed according to desert, for it is admittedly impossible for the lower orders of sentient beings to deserve either the one or the other. If there is a generalization from the facts of human life, which has the assent of thoughtful men in every age and country, it is that the violator of ethical rules constantly escapes the punishment which he deserves; that the wicked flourishes like a green bay tree, while the righteous begs his bread; that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children; that in the realm of Nature ignorance is punished just as severely as willful wrong; and that thousands upon thousands of innocent beings suffer for the crime or the unintentional trespass of one.
Greek and Semite and Indian are agreed upon this subject. The book of Job is at one with the "Works and Days" and the Buddhist Sutras; the Psalmist and the Preacher of Israel with the tragic poets of Greece. What is a more common motive of the ancient tragedy, in fact, than the unfathomable injustice of the nature of things? What is more deeply felt to be true than its presentation of the destruction of the blameless by the work of his own hands, or by the fatal operation of the sins of others? Surely Œdipus was pure of heart; it was the natural sequence of events—the cosmic process—which drove him, in all innocence, to slay his father and become the husband of his mother, to the desolation of his people and his own headlong ruin. Or, to step for a moment beyond the chronological limits I have set myself, what constitutes the sempiternal attraction of Hamlet but the appeal to deepest experience of that history of a no less blameless dreamer, dragged, in spite of himself, into a world out of joint; involved in a tangle of crime and misery, created by one of the prime agents of the cosmic process as it works in and through man?
Thus, brought before the tribunal of ethics, the cosmos might well seem to stand condemned. The conscience of man revolted against the moral indifference of Nature and the microcosmic atomshave found the illimitable macrocosm guilty. But few, or none, ventured to record that verdict.
In the great Semitic trial of this issue. Job takes refuge in silence and submission; the Indian and the Greek, less wise perhaps, attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable and plead for the defendant. To this end, the Greeks invented Theodicies; while the Indians devised what, in its ultimate form, must rather be termed a Cosmodicy. For, though Buddhism recognizes gods many and lords many, they are products of the cosmic process; and transitory, however long enduring, manifestations of its eternal activity. In the doctrine of transmigration, whatever its origin, Brahmanical and Buddhist speculation found, ready to hand, the means of constructing a plausible vindication of the ways of the cosmos to man. If this world is full of pain and sorrow; if grief and evil fall, like the rain, upon both the just and the unjust; it is because, like the rain, they are links in the endless chain of natural causation by which past, present, and future are indissolubly connected; and there is no more injustice in the one case than in the other. Every sentient being is reaping as it has sown; if not in this life, then in one or other of the infinite series of antecedent existences of which it is the latest term. The present distribution of good and evil is, therefore, the algebraical sum of accumulated positive and negative deserts; or rather, it depends on the floating balance of the account. For it was not thought necessary that a complete settlement should ever take place. Arrears might stand over as a sort of "hanging gale"; a period of celestial happiness just earned might be succeeded by ages of torment in a hideous nether world, the balance still overdue for some remote ancestral error.
Whether the cosmic process looks any more moral than at first, after such a vindication, may perhaps be questioned. Yet this plea of justification is not less plausible than others; and none but very hasty thinkers will reject it on the ground of inherent absurdity. Like the doctrine of evolution itself, that of transmigration has its roots in the world of reality; and it may claim such support as the great argument from analogy is capable of supplying.
Every-day experience familiarizes us with the facts which are grouped under the name of heredity. Every one of us bears upon him obvious marks of his parentage, perhaps of remoter relationships. More particularly, the sum of tendencies to act in a certain way, which we call "character," is often to be traced through a long series of progenitors and collaterals. So we may justly say that this "character"—this moral and intellectual essence of a man—does veritably pass over from one fleshly tabernacle to another and does really transmigrate from generation to generation. In the newborn infant, the character of the stock lies latent and the Ego is little more than a bundle of potentialities. But, very early, these become actualities; from childhood to age they manifest themselves in dullness or brightness, weakness or strength, viciousness or uprightness; and with each feature modified by confluence with another character, if by nothing else, the character passes on to its incarnation in new bodies.
The Indian philosophers called character, as thus defined, "karma." It is this karma which passed from life to life and
linked them in the chain of transmigrations; and they held that it is modified in each life, not merely by confluence of parentage, but by its own acts. They were, in fact, strong believers in the theory, so much disputed just at present, of the hereditary transmission of acquired characters. That the manifestation of the tendencies of a character may be greatly facilitated, or impeded, by conditions, of which self-discipline, or the absence of it, are among the most important, is indubitable; but that the character itself is modified in this way is by no means so certain; it is not so sure that the transmitted character of an evil liver is worse, or that of a righteous man better, than that which he received. Indian philosophy, however, did not admit of any doubt on this subject; the belief in the influence of conditions, notably of selfdiscipline, on the karma was not merely a necessary postulate of its theory of retribution, but it presented the only way of escape from the endless round of transmigrations.
The earlier forms of Indian philosophy agreed with those prevalent in our own times, in supposing the existence of a permanent reality, or "substance," beneath the shifting series of phenomena, whether of matter or of mind. The substance of the cosmos was "Brahma," that of the individual man "Atman"; and the latter was separated from the former only, if I may so speak, by its phenomenal envelope, by the casing of sensations, thoughts and desires, pleasures and pains, which make up the illusive phantasmagoria of life. This the ignorant take for reality; their "Atman" therefore remains eternally imprisoned in delusions, bound by the fetters of desire and scourged by the whip of misery. But the man who has attained enlightenment sees that the apparent reality is mere illusion, or, as was said a couple
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. 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 was folly to continue to exist when an overplus of pain was certain, and the probabilities in favor of the increase of misery with the prolongation of existence were so overwhelming. Slaying the body only made matters worse; there was nothing for it but to slay the soul by the voluntary arrest of all its activities. Property, social ties, family affections, common companionship, must be abandoned; the most natural appetites, even that for food, must be suppressed, or at least minimized; until all that remained of a man was the impassive, extenuated, mendicant monk, self-hypnotized into cataleptic trances, which the deluded mystic took for foretastes of the final union with Brahma.
The founder of Buddhism accepted the chief postulates demanded by his predecessors. But he was not satisfied with the practical annihilation involved in merging the individual existence in the unconditioned—the Atman in Brahma. It would seem that the admission of the existence of any substance whatever—even of the tenuity of that which has neither quality nor energy and of which no predicate whatever can be asserted—appeared to him to be a danger and a snare. Though reduced to a hypostatized negation, Brahma was not to be trusted; so long as entity was there, it might conceivably resume the weary round of evolution, with all its train of immeasurable miseries. Gautama got rid of even that shade of a shadow of permanent existence by a metaphysical tour de force of great interest to the student of philosophy, seeing that it supplies the wanting half of Bishop Berkeley's well-known idealistic argument.
Granting the premises, I am not aware of any escape from Berkeley's conclusion, that the "substance" of matter is a metaphysical unknown quantity, of the existence of which there is no proof. What Berkeley does not seem, to have so clearly perceived is that the non-existence of a substance of mind is equally arguable; and that the result of the impartial application of his reasonings is the reduction of the All to coexistences and sequences of phenomena, beneath and beyond which there is nothing cognoscible. It is a remarkable indication of the subtlety of Indian speculation that Gautama should have seen deeper than the greatest of modern idealists; though it must be admitted that, if some of Berkeley's reasonings respecting the nature of spirit are pushed home, they reach pretty much the same conclusion.
Accepting the prevalent Brahmanical doctrine that the whole cosmos, celestial, terrestrial, and infernal, with its population of gods and other celestial beings, of sentient animals, of Mara and his devils, is incessantly shifting through recurring cycles of
production and destruction, in each of which every human being has his transmigratory representative, Gautama proceeded to eliminate substance altogether; and to reduce the cosmos to a mere flow of sensations, emotions, volitions, and thoughts, devoid of any substratum. As on the surface of a stream of water we see
ripples and whirlpools, which last for a while and then vanish with the causes that gave rise to them, so what seem individual existences are mere temporary associations of phenomena circling round a center, "like a dog tied to a post." In the whole universe there is nothing permanent, no eternal substance either of mind or of matter. Personality is a metaphysical fancy; and, in very truth, not only we, but all things, in the worlds without end of the cosmic phantasmagoria, are such stuff as dreams are made of.
What then becomes of karma? Karma remains untouched. As the peculiar form of energy we call magnetism may be transmitted from a loadstone to a piece of steel, from the steel to a piece of nickel, as it may be strengthened or weakened by the conditions to which it is subjected while resident in each piece, so it seems to have been conceived that karma might be transmitted from one phenomenal association to another by a sort of induction. However this may be, Gautama doubtless had a better guarantee for the abolition of transmigration, when no wrack of substance, either of Atman or of Brahma, was left behind; when, in short, a man had but to dream that he willed not to dream, to put an end to all dreaming.
This end of life's dream is Nirvana. What Nirvana is the learned do not agree. But, since the best original authorities tell us there is neither desire, nor activity, nor any possibility of phenomenal reappearance for the sage who has entered Nirvana, it may be safely said of this acme of Buddhistic philosophy the rest is silence.*
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. 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.]
- The Romanes Lecture, delivered in the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, May 18, 1893. Reprinted by the kind permission of Macmillan & Co.
- I have been careful to speak of the "appearance" of cyclical evolution presented by living things; for, on critical examination, it will be found that the course of vegetable and of animal life is not exactly represented by the figure of a cycle which returns into itself. What actually happens, in all but the lowest organisms, is that one part of the grow germ (A) gives rise to tissues and organs; while another part (B) remains in its primitive condition, or is but slightly modified. The moiety A becomes the body of the adult and, sooner or later, perishes, while portions of the moiety B are detached and, as offspring, continue the life of the species. Thus, if we trace back an organism along the direct line of descent from its remotest ancestor, B, as a whole, has never suffered death; portions of it only have been cast off and died in each individual offspring. Everybody is familiar with the way in which the "suckers" of a strawberry plant behave. A thin cylinder of living tissue keeps on growing at its free end, until it attains a considerable length. At successive intervals it develops buds, which grow into strawberry plants: and these become independent by the death of the parts of the sucker which connect them. The rest of the sucker, however, may go on living and growing indefinitely, and, circumstances remaining favorable, there is no obvious reason why it should ever die. The living substance B in a manner answers to the sucker. If we could restore the continuity which was once possessed by the portions of B, contained in all the individuals of a direct line of descent, they would form a sucker, or stolon, on which these individuals would be strung, and which would never have wholly died. A species remains unchanged so long as the potentiality of development resident in B remains unaltered; so long, e. g., as the buds of the strawberry sucker tend to become typical strawberry plants. In the case of the progressive evolution of a species, the developmental potentiality of B becomes of a higher and higher order. In retrogressive evolution the contrary would be the case. The phenomena of atavism seem to show that retrogressive evolution—that is, the return of a species to one or other of its earlier forms—is a possibility to be reckoned with. The simplification of structure which is so common in the parasitic members of a group, however, does not properly come under this head. The wormlike, limbless Lernæa has no resemblance to any of the stages of development of the many-limbed active animals of the group to which it belongs.
- Heracleitus says "Ποrαμῷ γὰρ ονκ ἕστι δὶς ὲμβῆναι τῷ αντῷ"; but, to be strictly accurate, the river remains though the water of which it is composed changes just as a man retains his identity though the whole substance of his body is constantly shifting. This is put very well by Seneca (Ep. Iviii, 20, Ed. Ruhkopf): "Corpora nostra rapiuntur fluminum more, quidquid vides currit cum tempore; nihil ex his quæ videmus manet. Ego ipse dum loquor mutari ista, mutatus sum. Hoc est quod ait Heraclitus 'In idem flumen bis non descendimus.' Manet idem fluminis nomen, aqua transmissa est. Hoc in amne manifestius est quam in homine, sed nos quoque non minus velox cursus prætervehit." [Our bodies are carried away as a river: all that you see runs down with time: nothing still remains the same: even while I say these things are changed, I am changed myself. This is what Heraclitus means, when he says, "We go not twice into the same river." The river still keeps its name but the water passeth away. This indeed is more manifest in a river than in man; but yet as swift a course carries us likewise away.—Morell's translation.]
- "Multa bona nostra nobis nocent, timoris enim tormentum memoria reducit, providentia anticipat. Nemo tantum præsentibus miser est." (Seneca, Ep. v, 7.) [Thus many things, really good in themselves, hurt us: for memory recalls and forecast anticipates the torment of fear. No one is wretched from what is present only.—Morell's translation.]
Among the many wise and weighty aphorisms of the Roman Bacon, few sound the realities of life more deeply than "Multa bona nostra nobis nocent." If there is a soul of good in things evil, it is at least equally true that there is a soul of evil in things good: for things, like men, have "les défants de leurs qualités." It is one of the last lessons one learns from experience, but not the least important, that a heavy tax is levied upon all forms of success, and that failure is one of the commonest disguises assumed by blessings.
- "There is within the body of every man a soul which, at the death of the body, flies away from it like a bird out of a cage, and enters upon a new life. . . either in one of the heavens or one of the hells or on this earth. The only exception is the rare case of a man having in this life acquired a true knowledge of God. According to the pre-Buddhistic theory, the soul of such a man goes along the path of the Gods to God and, being united with him, enters upon an immortal life in which his individuality is not extinguished. In the later theory, his soul is directly absorbed into the Great Soul, is lost in it and has no longer any independent existence. The souls of all other men enter, after the death of the body, upon a new existence in one or other of the many different modes of being. If in heaven or hell, the soul itself becomes a god or demon without entering a body; all superhuman beings save the great gods being looked upon as not eternal, but merely temporary creatures. If the soul returns to earth it may or may not enter a new body; and this either of a human being, an animal, a plant, or even a material object. For all these are possessed of souls, and there is no essential difference between these souls and the souls of men—all being alike mere sparks of the Great Spirit, who is the only real existence." (Rhys Davids, Hibbert Lectures, 1881, p. 83.)
For what I have said about Indian philosophy, I am particularly indebted to the luminous exposition of primitive Buddhism and its relations to earlier Hindu thought, which is given by Prof. Rhys Davids in his remarkable Hibbert Lectures for 1881, and Buddhism," (1890). The only apology I can offer for the freedom with which I have borrowed from him in these notes, is my desire to leave no doubt as to my indebtedness. I have also found Dr. Oldenberg's Buddha (Ed. 2, 1890) very helpful. The origin of the theory of transmigration stated in the above extract is an unsolved problem. That it differs widely from the Egyptian metempsychosis is clear. In fact, since men usually people the other worlds with phantoms of this, the Egyptian doctrine would seem to presuppose the Indian as a more archaic belief.
Prof. Rhys Davids has fully insisted upon the ethical importance of the transmigration theory. "One of the latest speculations now being put forward among ourselves would seek to explain each man's character, and even his outward condition in life, by the character he inherited from his ancestors, a character gradually formed during a practically endless series of past existences, modified only by the conditions into which he was born, those very conditions being also, in like manner, the last result of a practically endless series of past causes. Gotama's speculation might be stated in the same words. But it attempted also to explain, In a way different from that which would be adopted by the exponents of the modern theory, that strange problem which it is also the motive of the wonderful drama of the book of Job to explain the fact that the actual distribution here of good fortune, or misery, is entirely independent of the moral qualities which men call good or bad. We can not wonder that a teacher, whose whole system was so essentially an ethical reformation, should have felt it incumbent upon him to seek an explanation of this apparent injustice. And all the more so, since the belief he had inherited, the theory of the transmigration of souls, had provided a solution perfectly sufficient to any one who could accept that belief." (Hibbert Lectures, p. 93.) I should venture to suggest the substitution of "largely" for "entirely" in the foregoing passage. Whether a ship makes a good or a bad voyage is largely independent of the conduct of the captain, but it is as largely affected by that conduct. Though powerless before a hurricane, he may weather many a bad gale.
- "The outward condition of the soul is, in each new birth, determined by its actions in a previous birth; but by each action in succession and not by the balance struck after the evil has been reckoned off against the good. A good man, who has once uttered a slander, may spend a hundred thousand years as a god, in consequence of his goodness, and, v/hen the power of his good actions is exhausted, may be born as a dumb man on account of his transgression; and a robber who has once done an act of mercy, may come to life in a king's body as a result of his virtue, and then suffer torments for ages in hell or as a ghost without a body, or be reborn many times as a slave or an outcast, in consequence of his evil life.
"There is no escape, according to this theory, from the result of any act; though it is only the consequences of its own acts that each soul has to endure. The force has been set in motion by itself and can never stop; and its effect can never be foretold. If evil, it can never be modified or prevented, for it depends on a cause already completed, that is now forever beyond the soul's control. There is even no continuing consciousness, no memory of the past that could guide the soul to any knowledge of its fate. The only advantage open to it is to add in this life to the sum of its good actions, that it may bear fruit with the rest. And even this can only happen in some future life under essentially the same conditions as the present one; subject, like the present one, to old age, decay, and death; and affording opportunity, like the present one, for the commission of errors, ignorances, or sins, which in their turn must inevitably produce their due effect of sickness, disability, or woe. Thus is the soul tossed about from life to life, from billow to billow, in the great ocean of transmigration. And there is no escape save for the very few who, during their birth as men, attain to a right knowledge of the Great Spirit: and thus enter into immortality, or, as the later philosophers taught, are absorbed into the Divine Essence." (Rhys Davids, Hibbert Lectures, pp. 85, 86.) The state after death, thus imagined by the Hindu philosophers, has a certain analogy to the purgatory of the Roman Church; except that escape from it is dependent not on a divine decree modified, it may be, by sacerdotal or saintly intercession, but by the acts of the individual himself; and that while ultimate emergence into heavenly bliss of the good, or well-prayed for. Catholic is professedly, the chances in favor of the attainment of absorption, or of Nirvana, by any individual Hindu are extremely small.
- "That part of the then prevalent transmigration theory which could not be proved false seemed to meet a deeply felt necessity, seemed to supply a moral cause which would explain the unequal distribution here of happiness or woe, so utterly inconsistent with the present characters of men." Gautama "still therefore talked of men's previous existence, but by no means in the way that he is generally represented to have done." What he taught was "the transmigration of character." "Gotama held that after the death of any being, whether human or not, there survived nothing at all but that being's 'Karma,' the result, that is, of its mental and bodily actions. Every individual, whether human or divine, was the last inheritor and the last result of the Karma of a long series of past individuals—a series so long that its beginning is beyond the reach of calculation, and its end will be coincident with the destruction of the world." (Rhys Davids, Hibbert Lectures, p. 92.) In the theory of evolution, the tendency of a germ to develop according to a certain specific type, e. g., of the kidney-bean seed to grow into a plant having all the characters of Phaseolus vulgaris, is its "Karma." It is the "last inheritor and the last result" of all the conditions that have affected a line of ancestry which goes back for many millions of years to the time when life first appeared on the earth. The moiety B of the substance of the bean plant (see note, p. 20), is the last link in a once continuous chain extending from the primitive living substance; and the characters of the successive species to which it has given rise are the manifestations of its gradually modified Karma. As Prof. Rhys Davids aptly says, the snowdrop "is a snowdrop and not an oak, and just that kind of snowdrop, because it is the outcome of the Karma of an endless series of past existences." (Hibbert Lectures, p. 114.)
- "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.]
- "The distinguishing characteristic of Buddhism was that it started a new line, that it looked upon the deepest questions men have to solve from an entirely different standpoint. It swept away from the field of its vision the whole of the great soul-theory which had hitherto so completely filled and dominated the minds of the superstitious and the thoughtful alike. For the first time in the history of the world, it proclaimed a salvation which each man could gain for himself and by himself, in this world, during this life, without any the least reference to God, or to gods, either great or small. Like the Upanishads, it placed the first importance on knowledge; but it was no longer a knowledge of God, it was a clear perception of the real nature, as they supposed it to be, of men and things. And it added to the necessity of knowledge, the necessity of purity, of courtesy, of uprightness, of peace, and of a universal love far reaching, grown great and beyond measure." (Rhys Davids, Hibbert Lectures, p. 29.)
The contemporary Greek philosophy takes an analogous direction. According to Heracleitus, the universe was made neither by gods nor men; but, from all eternity has been, and to all eternity will be, immortal fire, glowing and fading in due measure. (Mullach, Heracliti Fragmenta, 27.) And the part assigned by his successors the Stoics, to the knowledge and the volition of the "wise man" made their Divinity (for logical thinkers) a subject for compliments, rather than a power to be reckoned with. In Hindu speculation the "Arahat," still more the "Buddha," becomes the superior of Brahma: the stoical "wise man" is, at least, the equal of Zeus.
Berkeley affirms over and over again that no idea can be formed of a soul or spirit: "If any man shall doubt of the truth of what is here delivered, let him but reflect and try if he can form any idea of power or active being; and whether he hath ideas of two principal powers marked by the names of will and understanding distinct from each other, as well as from a third idea of substance or being in general, with a relative notion of its supporting or being the subject of the aforesaid power, which is signified by the name soul or spirit. This is what some hold: but, so far as I can see, the words will, soul, spirit, do not stand for different ideas, or in truth for any idea at all, but for something which is very different from ideas, and which, being an agent, can not be like unto or represented by any idea whatever [though it must be owned at the same time, that we have some notion of soul, spirit, and the operations of the mind, such as willing, loving, hating, inasmuch as we know or understand the meaning of these words"]. (The Principles of Human Knowledge, lxxvi. See also lxxxix, cxxxv, cxlv.)
It is open to discussion, I think, whether it is possible to have "some notion" of that of which we can form no "idea."
Berkeley attaches several predicates to the "perceiving active being mind, spirit, soul, or myself" (Part I, II). It is said, for example, to be "indivisible, incorporeal, unextended, and incorruptible." The predicate Indivisible, though negative in form, has highly positive consequences. For, if "perceiving active being" is strictly indivisible, man's soul must be one with the Divine spirit; which is good Hindu or Stoical doctrine, but hardly orthodox Christian philosophy. If, on the other hand, the "substance" of active perceiving "being" is actually divided into the one Divine and innumerable human entities, how can the predicate "indivisible" be rigorously applicable to it? Taking the words cited, as they stand, they amount to the denial of the possibility of any knowledge of substance. "Matter" having been resolved into mere affections of "spirit," "spirit" melts away into an admittedly inconceivable and unknowable hypostasis of thought and power consequently the existence of anything in the universe beyond a flow of phenomena is a purely hypothetical assumption. Indeed, a pyrrhonist might raise the objection that if "esse" is "percipi" spirit itself can have no existence except as a perception, hypostatized into a "self" or as a perception of some other spirit. In the former case, objective reality vanishes; in the latter, there would seem to be the need of an infinite series of spirits each perceiving the others. It is curious to observe how very closely the phraseology of Berkeley sometimes approaches that of the Stoics: thus (cxlviii): "It seems to be a general pretense of the unthinking herd that they can not see God.. . . But, alas! we need only open our eyes to see the Sovereign Lord of all things with a more full and clear view than we do any of our fellow-creatures; . . . we do at all times and in all places perceive manifest tokens of the Divinity: everything we see, hear, feel, or any wise perceive by sense, being a sign or effect of the power of God.". . . cxlix. "It is therefore plain, that nothing can be more evident to any one that is capable of the least reflection, than the existence of God, or a spirit who ispresent to our minds producing in them all that variety of ideas or sensations, which continually affect us, on whom we have an absolute and entire dependence, in short, in whom we live and move and have our being." cl. "But you will say hath Nature no share in the production of natural things and must they be all ascribed to the immediate and sole operation of God?. . . if by Nature is meant some being distinct from God, as well as from the laws of Nature and things perceived by sense, I must confess that word is to me an empty sound, without any intelligent meaning annexed to it.] Nature in this acceptation is a vain Chimæra introduced by those heathens who had not just notions of the omnipresence and infinite perfection of God." (Compare Seneca, De Beneficiis, iv, 1.) "Natura, inquit, hæc mihi præstat. Non intelligis te, quum hoc dicis, mutare Nomen Deo? Quid enim est aliud Natura, quam Deus, et divina ratio, toti mundo et partibus ejus inserta? Quoties voles, tibi licet aliter hune auctorem rerum nostrarum compellare, et Jovem illum optimum et maximum rite dices, et tonantem, et statorem: qui non, ut historici tradiderunt, ex eo quod post votum susceptum acies Romanorum fugientum stetit, sed quod stant beneficio ejus omnia, stator, stabilitorque est: hunc eundem et fatum si dixeris, non mentieris, nam quum fatum nihil aliud est, quam series implexa causarum, ille est prima omnium causa, ea qua cæteræ pendent." ["Nature," says my opponent, "gives me all this." Do you not perceive when you say this that you merely speak of God under another name, for what is Nature but God and divine reason, which pervades the universe and all its parts? You may address the author of our world by as many different titles as you please; you may rightly call him Jupiter, Best and Greatest, and the Thunderer, or the Stayer, so called, not because, as the historians tell us, he stayed the flight of the Roman army in answer to the prayer of Romulus, but because all things continue in their stay through his goodness. If you were to call this same personage Fate, you would not lie; for since fate is nothing more than a connected chain of causes, he is the first cause of all, upon which all the rest depend.—Bohn's translation.] It would appear, therefore, that the good bishop is somewhat hard upon the "heathen," of whose words his own might be a paraphrase. There is yet another direction in which Berkeley's philosophy, I will not say agrees with Gautama's, but at any rate helps to make a fundamental dogma of Buddhism intelligible. "I find I can excite ideas in my mind at pleasure, and vary and shift the scene as often as I think fit. It is no more than willing, and straightway this or that idea arises in my fancy: and by the same power, it is obliterated, and makes way for another. This making and unmaking of ideas doth very properly denominate the mind active. Thus much is certain and grounded on experience. . . ." (Principles, xxviii.) A good many of us, I fancy, have reason to think that experience tells them very much the contrary; and are painfully familiar with the obsession of the mind by ideas which can not be obliterated by any effort of the will and steadily refuse to make way for any others. But what I desire to point out is that if Gautama was equally confident that he could "make and unmake" ideas—then, since he had resolved self into a group of ideal phantoms—the possibility of abolishing self by volition naturally followed.
- According to Buddhism, the relation of one life to the next is merely that borne by the flame of one lamp to the flame of another lamp which is set alight by it. To the "Arahat" or adept "no outward form, no compound thing, no creature, no creator, no existence of any kind, must appear to be other than a temporary collocation of its component parts fated inevitably to be dissolved." (Rhys Davids, Hibbert Lectures, p. 211.)
The self is nothing but a group of phenomena held together by the desire of life; when that desire shall have ceased "the Karma of that particular chain of lives will cease to influence any longer any distinct individual, and there will be no more birth; for birth, decay, and death, grief, lamentation, and despair will have come, so far as regards that chain of lives, forever to an end."
The state of mind of the Arahat in which the desire of life has ceased is Nirvana. Dr. Oldenberg has very acutely and patiently considered the various interpretations which have been attached to "Nirvana" in the work to which I have referred (p. 285 et seq.). The result of his and other discussions of the question may, I think, be briefly stated thus:
1. Logical deduction from the predicates attached to the term "Nirvana" strips it of all reality, conceivability, or perceivability, whether by gods or men. For all practical purposes, therefore, it comes to exactly the same thing as annihilation.
2. But it is not annihilation in the ordinary sense, inasmuch as it could take place in the living Arahat or Buddha.
8. And, since, for the faithful Buddhist, that which was abolished in the Arahat was the possibility of further pain, sorrow, or sin; and that which was attained was perfect peace; 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.
- 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.