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Religion virtually Universal. 289
However beclouded with ignorance, sensuousness, and passion his nature may be, certain rays from a higher world reach his soul. However degraded and perverted it may be, there remains a something within it which the material and the sensuous cannot satisfy, and which testifies that God is the true home of the Spirit.1
1 See Appendix XXXII.
In the concluding portion of last lecture I argued that the millions of persons who profess the doctrine of Buddha were not to be summarily described as atheists and denied to have any religious beliefs or aspirations. I did not, however, argue that Buddhism was not logically resolvable into atheism, or maintain that it did not very distinctly involve atheism. In all heathen religions there are atheistical tendencies. In every form of pantheism and of polytheism unbelief is interwoven with faith. But there is probably no religion which comes so near atheism, or which to the same extent involves atheism, as Buddhism. It originated in the essentially atheistical conviction that the existence of the universe is an illusion, and the existence of sentient and rational beings an incalculable evil,—in the settled contempt for nature and life, which was the logical outcome of Brahminical pantheism, and a result at which all Hindu philosophy arrived. The atheism and the pessimism which came to light in Buddhism were latent in Brahminism from the first, and became prominent and conspicuous in various forms in the course of its development. Instead of looking at the phenomena of the world, history, and mind, as manifestations of the power, wisdom, and goodness of an inf1nite Creator and Father, who by means of them discloses Himself to His children, and educates and disciplines them for a good and gracious issue, the thinkers of India, even when pronouncing these phenomena to be intimately connected with the substance of Divinity, the sole existence, irreligiously viewed them as mischievous mockeries, fitted only to deceive and enslave all that was noble in human nature. The atheism and pessimism of Buddhism were the ripened fruits of that root of bitterness.
In quite recent times a system very similar to Buddhism has appeared in Germany, and been advocated by Schopenhauer, Von Hartmann, and numerous other writers. Like Buddhism, it has sprung from a scepticism which was itself the product of pantheism. It is the atheism of pantheism evolved into a rival doctrine. It has already been presented to the German people in various forms, and has acquired a somewhat startling popularity among them. There can be no doubt that many who do not accept it in its entirety largely sympathise with its dogmas as to life, death, and eternity. In all probability it will obtain, before long, literary representatives in this country, who, while finding perhaps few to adopt the fantastic metaphysics of its founders, may be easily able widely to diffuse some of its falsest principles and dreariest conclusions. I entertain not the least hope that it will soon entirely disappear. Those who regard it as a merely transient and superficial fashion of thought, as a touch or shade of speculative disease which will speedily vanish away, cannot perceive what is, however, manifestly the truth, that, with all its defects, it has the great merit of distinctly raising a question of enormous importance, which has been strangely overlooked even by philosophy; and further, that it is neither an inconsistent nor an unreasonable answer to that question, certain widely prevalent principles being presupposed.
The question to which I refer is, What is the worth of life? It is a question which few healthy and busy practical men, especially if moderately successful, ever ask, even in its immediate personal application to their own ambitions and enterprises. It generally needs disappointment, sickness, or grief to raise even momentarily the suspicion that human life may be but a vanity, and its schemes only shadows; and the vast majority of those on whom this suspicion is forced, strive to get rid of it as quickly as they can. In natures with a thirst for happiness too deep to be quenched in the shallow waters of experience, or with a keen perception of the law of good, and an equally keen consciousness of a law in the members warring against it and bringing it into subjection, disappointment with this life, if not counteracted by faith in one which is better, may settle into the conviction that the world is but
In times when society is disorganised, when old faiths and old ideals have lost their charm and power, when culture is widely spread, but corruption is still more diffused, a feeling of life's nothingness may be profound and prevalent, and may express itself in many forms. And, in fact, a vein of pessimism may be traced almost throughout history. Its throbs may be heard in the sad refrains of many a poet—as, for instance, within the present century, in those of a Byron in England, a Heine and Lenau in Germany, a Musset and Ackermann in France, a Leopardi in Italy, and a Campoamor in Spain.
It was reserved, however, for the modern pessimist philosophers of Germany distinctly to recognise that