Page images
PDF
EPUB

the power which originated the universe ; but can he seriously believe so manifest an absurdity ?

Herr Bahnsen stands alone among pessimists in distinctly denying that even the poor hope of annihilation is legitimate. This vigorous thinker is the most thorough and uncompromising of all the advocates of pessimism. He maintains that the world and life are not only essentially irrational and wretched, but will be eternally so. He holds that his fellow-pessimists have no right to promise that the agony of creation will ever terminate. If his view be correct, the words which Dante read over the gate of hell might be inscribed on the portals of the universe

"Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch' entrate.”

That his view is not correct cannot, I believe, be proved on pessimistic principles. That evil will have an end, if existence is essentially evil, may be believed on the word of Buddha or Schopenhauer or Hartmann, but reason for believing it there can be none. The hope of the extinction of evil in a world essentially evil is an unreasonable hope, and can only be based on blind faith. But notwithstanding this, the latest Buddhists, with the one exception mentioned, like the earliestthose who live on the banks of the Spree and the Main, like those who live beside the Meinam and the Cambodia-look to “nothingness as an asylum

from which there is no return, and in which the soul has no longer anything to fear, nor anything to expect.”

In conclusion, we would ask, What is the path which pessimism advises us to pursue in order to attain the goal which it sets before us? How are we to reach what it represents as our ultimate destination ?

Buddhism finds an answer implied in its doctrine of the series of causes of existence. To break the chain of causes is what is required. This can only be done through discovering the worthlessness of existence, and ceasing from all attachment, all sensuous cleaving, to it in any form. To secure detachment from life, a code of morality is the first thing enjoined. Buddhism is predominantly an ethical doctrine. And it is as such that it is chiefly entitled to praise. It does not fall within the scope of this lecture to dwell on the merits of its moral teaching, but I gladly recognise that they are very great, although not unaccompanied and uncounteracted by serious defects. No other heathen system is pervaded by so elevated and pure an ethical spirit. It shows the most wonderful appreciation of the beauties of such virtues as meekness, patience, forgiveness of injuries, compassion, and charity. It is inspired, like Christianity, with a sense of the glory of selfsacrifice. At first sight it almost seems as if the morality which it preached were essentially evangelical. Yet this is by no means the case. For, as has been justly said, “if our earliest impression is the closeness of the parallel between the morality of Buddhism and the morality of the Cross, our second impression is the wideness of their contrast. In Christianity, self - sacrifice is divine ; in Buddhism, it is purely human, and proposed as the substitute for a religion. In Christianity, self-sacrifice contemplates the amelioration of the world; in Buddhism, it contemplates getting out of the world. In Christianity, self-sacrifice is proclaimed to be the source of the highest ultimate joy; in Buddhism, it is offered as a means of suicide. . . . The morality of Buddhism, beautiful as it is in its outward precepts, is still the product of a root of bitterness, and owes its existence to the despair of all rest.”i Then morality alone cannot lead, according to Buddhism, to Nirvana. It is a help towards freeing the soul from the thraldom of the causes of existence, but it is no more than a help. The direct path to Nirvana is meditation and asceticism. No one who does not traverse this path — no one who does not become a self-mortifying monk or recluse - can hope for more from his obedience to the moral law of Buddhism than to escape the hells and

? Matheson-'Growth of the Spirit of Christianity,' vol. i. pp. 28, 29.

to transmigrate into something better than he has

been.

In entire accordance with this teaching, Schopenhauer maintains that the will to live must be rooted out by fasting, by voluntary poverty, by meek submission to injury, by absolute chastity, and, in a word, by the various exercises of asceticism. His practice did not in the least correspond to this part of his theory, as he was particularly careful of his life, health, and money, had a most exclusive and selfish regard to his own comfort, and was decidedly the reverse of either meek or patient. But his ethical creed was perfectly orthodox in the Buddhistic sense, although his life was heretical. Von Hartmann is much less orthodox even in creed. He admits that it is hopeless to expect men to mortify the flesh and destroy life by ascetic practices, and would have his followers live just as other people do, in the trust that the world, owing to the delusions and disenchantments of history, will gradually, without individuals taking any care about the matter, work out its own salvation—that is, its own destruction. In the East, multitudes of men have earnestly striven to act on their pessimism. In the West, no one has as yet, so far as I am aware, seriously tried to do so.

The theory which we have been considering answers successfully few, if any, of the demands of the reason, the conscience, or the heart. It re

gards the world as irrational, and so, of course, does not explain it. It lays good and evil under the same condemnation. It seeks to empty the soul of the susceptibilities which it cannot satisfy, and to extirpate the desires which it cannot regulate. It tends to arrest all social progress. The rest which it promises is that of the grave. We ought, I think, to carry away from the contemplation of it a deepened gratitude to God for the gift of that Gospel which has shown us the true cause of the world's misery and the true way of salvation. That even in our own day, and in Christian lands, the Gospel should by some have been deliberately rejected in the name of science and philosophy, and the Buddhist theory reproduced as a substitute for it, only shows in a glaring and terrible light that what is esteemed the most modern wisdom may be very ancient folly.?

1 See Appendix XXXIII. 6,63!

« PreviousContinue »