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connects our thoughts and our words with the first thoughts conceived and with the first words uttered by the earliest ancestors of our race. A definition of religion ought therefore to be applicable, not only to what religion is now, but to what religion was in its origin, and in its earliest developments. Religion may change, and it has changed, as we know; but however much it may change, it can never break entirely with its past, it can never be severed from its deepest roots, and it is in these deepest roots that we ought to seek, as it seems to me, the true essence of religion.
But it is not only religion in its origin which the ordinary definitions would fail to comprehend. There are several of the historical developments of religion also which could hardly be brought within their gage.
Is Buddhism a religion ? If you tried, for instance, to bring Buddhism within the compass of any of the definitions hitherto examined, you would find it impossible to do so, and yet, as you know, the largest number of human beings bave trusted to Buddha's teaching as their only means of salvation. Those who define religion as a theory, as a mode of knowledge, must necessarily, as I pointed out before, supply an object that is to be known, whether they call it gods or god, the father, the creator, the Supreme Being, or the Supreme Will. Buddhism, as theoretical, not included under any definition.
But in Buddhism–I mean in Southern Buddhism, which ought to be carefully distinguished from Northern Buddhism or Bodhism—there is no mention of God as a creator or ruler of the world?; on the
? See the account of Brahman as a Creator in Selected Essays, ii. 297.
contrary, a belief in creation is condemned, if not as heresy, at all events as a conceit highly reprimanded by Buddha himself. Gods or Devas are mentioned indeed, but only as subordinate, legendary beings, accepted as part of the traditional phraseology of the times. From a kind of compassion they seem to have been accommodated with a new position as servants and worshippers of the Buddha. Several of the great questions of religion, besides that of the existence of a Deity or Creator, are banished once for all from the discussions, nay from the thoughts of orthodox Buddhists. Some of Buddha's own disciples are introduced as blaming the master for not enlightening them on such questions as whether the world is eternal or had a beginning, whether Buddha and those who, like him, have arrived at perfect knowledge, will live after death or not? Whether the living soul is identical with the body or not?
Malunkya-putta and Buddha After Mâlunkya-putta had expostulated with Buddha for leaving his disciples in uncertainty on such important points, Buddha answers1:
How did I speak to thee formerly, Mâlunkyaputta ? Did I say: Come, and be my disciple, and I will teach thee whether the world is eternal or not, whether the world is finite or infinite, whether the living principle is identical with the body or different from it, whether the perfect man lives after death or does not, whether he lives and does not live at the
1 Mr. Rhys Davids, in his translation of the Milinda-panha (i. 199), calls him the son of the Mâlunkya woman (Màlunkyâ-putta), but he mentions Mâlunka as a various reading. Professor Oldenberg (Buddha. p. 281) gives the name as Mâlukya-putta, or simply Mâlukya.
same time, or whether he neither lives nor does not live.
Mâlunkya-putta replied: Master, you did not say so.
Then Buddha continued : Then, did you say to me, I will become thy disciple, but answer me all these questions ? Mâlunkya-putta confesses that he did not.
After that Buddha proceeds : A man was once wounded by a poisoned arrow. His friends and relations called in an experienced physician. What, if the wounded person had said, I shall not allow my wound to be treated till I know who the man is by whom I was wounded, whether he is a nobleman, or a Brâhmana, or a Vaisya, or a Sûdra. Or what, if he said, I shall not allow my wound to be treated till I know how the man is called by whom I was wounded, to what family he belongs, whether he is tall or short or of middle stature, and what the weapon was like by which I was wounded. What would be the end of it? The man surely would die of his wound.
Buddha then lets Mâluňkya-putta see that when he came to him he was like the wounded man who wished to be healed, and he finishes his lesson by saying: Let what has not been revealed by me remain unrevealed, and let what has been revealed by me remain revealed.
It was natural that the opponents of the Buddhists should make this reticence of Buddha on points of the highest importance a ground of attack. We find the question fully discussed, for instance, in the Milinda-panha?, a theological and philosophical dialogue in which the Yavana King, Milinda (Menandros, about 100 B.C.), exchanges his views on Buddhism with Nâgasena. Here the King says:
| Translated by Mr. Rhys Davids in the Sacred Books of the East.
Venerable Nâgasena, it was said by the Blessed One: “In respect of the truths, Ananda, the Tathâgata has no such thing as the closed fist of a teacher who keeps something back.” But on the other hand, he made no reply to the question put by the son of the Mâlunkya woman. This problem, Nâgasena, will be one of two ends, on one of which it must rest, for he must have refrained from answering either out of ignorance, or out of wish to conceal something. If the first statement be true, it must have been out of ignorance. But if he knew, and still did not reply, then the first statement must be false. This too is a doubled-pointed dilemma. It is now put to you, and you have to solve it.
The Blessed One, O king, made that first statement to Ânanda, and he did not reply to Mâluňkya-putta’s question. But that was neither out of ignorance, nor for the sake of concealing anything. There are four kinds of ways in which a problem may be explained. And which are the four? There is the problem to which an explanation can be given that shall be direct and final. There is the problem which can be answered by going into details. There is the problem which can be answered by asking another. And there is the problem which can be put on one side.
‘And which is the problem which can be put on one side? It is such as this—“Is the universe everlasting ?” “ Is it not everlasting ?” “Has it an end?” “Has it no end ?” “Is it both endless and unending ?” “Is it neither the one nor the other ?”
“ Are the soul and the body the same thing ?” “Is the soul distinct from the body?” “Does a Tathâgata exist after death?” “Does he not exist after death?” “Does he both exist and not exist after death ?” “Does he neither exist nor not exist after death ? "
Now it was on such a question, that ought to be put on one side, that the Blessed One gave no reply to Mâlunkya-putta. And why ought such a question to be put on one side? Because there is no reason or object for answering it. That is why it should be put aside. For the Blessed Buddhas lift not up their voice without a reason and without an object.
• Very good, Nâgasena. Thus is it, and I accept it as you say.
Buddha does not imply that he could not have answered these questions or revealed these mysteries, if he had chosen. He professes the same philosophical abstinence, or énoxń, or agnosticism, as it is now called, as Socrates, and he utters the strongest condemnation of those of his disciples who ventured to give either a positive or a negative answer.
Yamaka, on Life after Death. Thus one of them, called Yamaka, taught openly that a monk, if free from sin, would cease to exist after death. But for this he was found guilty of heresy, and had to be converted to the true view, namely to abstain from expressing any opinion on a subject which is beyond our knowledge 1 Dialogue between the King of Kosala and the nun Khema. The question whether the Buddha himself, the
1 Oldenberg, Buddha, p. 287.