World's Great Philosophers:
The Early Greeks
Socrates And Plato
Epicurus, Zeno, Pyrrho
Read More Articles About: World's Great Philosophers
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
It is the purpose of this volume to sketch briefly the lives and doctrines of those men who have been most eminent in that field of thought which is described generally by the word philosophy.
There is some difficulty, when the subject is treated historically, in separating philosophy from science on the one hand, and from theology on the other. For in the early growth and development of human knowledge these three instruments of progress are so intertwined and inter-dependent, have such closely related causal connections, and are made one, at least functionally, by nexi which cannot be severed without fatality to all, that we are perforce required to take account of all when examining each.
But while this is without doubt true, it is by no means impossible to follow the stream of speculative thought through the centuries, recognizing its scientific aspects when such aspects are present and not disregarding its theological significance when it seems to disappear in theology. Inasmuch as these sketches shall be biographical mainly, no attempt will be made at an exposition of doctrines in any manner adequate for the purposes of a history of philosophy. That field has been well tilled, if not too well tilled already. There is but one other biographical history of philosophy in the English language and the complaint is made against it that it is dominated by the concepts of one latter day philosopher, whose followers have degenerated into a perfervid emotionality bordering upon the fanaticism of religion. The work referred to is that of the late Mr. Lewes and the philosophy that of Auguste Comte. The present work shall aim not at a critical examination of systems, or at an historical consideration of the evolution of thought, but rather at the disclosure of the personalities of the men whose names are written broad and large upon the record of man's intellectual liberty.
Who, then, are the Philosophers? We may better arrive at a satisfactory answer to this query by in turn asking, What is Philosophy? It would be useless to weary the reader by leading him through the maze of definitions which have been made or attempted by writers almost without number. "By philosophy," says Windel-band, "present usage understands the scientific treatment of the general questions relating to the universe and human life." This definition is weak, or incomplete, in that its exclusion is too narrow. By a little stretching the same definition could be applied to the science of sociology, a fact brought out by recent claims for the universality of social science as the scientia scientiarum. For a detailed list of definitions of philosophy given by philosophers themselves, the reader may be referred to "Ueberweg's History of Philosophy." Windelband's definition obviously suggests that which has been worked out by Mr. Herbert Spencer and it may be well to let the reader see the latter at first hand. "Knowledge of the lowest kind," says the great evolutionist, is ununified knowledge; science is partially unified knowledge; philosophy is completely unified knowledge" a very different matter from "the scientific treatment of general questions relating to the universe and human life."
Philosophy, to make use of a somewhat worn phrase, has ever speculated upon the origin and destiny of the universe, and, inclusively, of man. Theology has dogmatized. Science has investigated. The earliest philosophers were partly scientific men, partly specula-tors. The more remote their time the more general was their thought. The processes of differentiation and specialization went on until inquiry was diverted into as many lines as there were philosophers. And this movement continued until, in our own day, the entire cobweb of metaphysical guesswork was swept away to give place to the generalization, as high as may be, of the facts which Science, working quietly and patiently, had digged in the dark. Metaphysics to-day is a "surmounted category" of the history of human thought. But he would be an unthinking man who did not accord to metaphysics its proper place as an instrument of intellectual progress, while if we look backward we may see in many places the anticipation of living truths at which man has arrived with certainty after centuries of toil and waiting.
Let us, therefore, regard as philosophers such as have earnestly and honestly striven to interpret nature in the light of truth. Any mind that has in any way stimulated the desire for knowing, and knowing rightly, is a mind philosophic, and of such there are many. But the limitations of this work require us to conform, with a few exceptions, to academic traditions, and to treat only of those philosophers that are readily accorded the right to the name.
The earliest philosophers of whom there is record were the men who wrote the Vedas. It is idle to contend that the Brahministic system is a theogony. There is but one bolder and nobler attempt of the human mind to uprear a connected and systematic theory of all things. That at-tempt is to be found in the system of Gautama, the architect of Buddhism. The writers of the Vedas were the first among men to evolve a rational theory of the universe, and some account of what they thought is precisely necessary to any conception at all of the important speculations of the reformer of Brahminism, the prince of the Great Renunciation. Fortunately, science has come to our aid as the "handmaid of philosophy," and the Orientalists have given us glimpses of the thoughts that stirred the Hindu mind in time when the borderland of history melts into the inscrutable haze of antiquity.
To say now that the universe is in process of ceaseless change; to say that all processes of nature are but parts of one universal process; to say that as beginning is inconceivable and end unthinkable, there was no beginning and there can be no end; that rhythms and cycles follow rhythms and cycles sweeping in eternity through infinity to say these things to-day is commonplace and we have an undefined consciousness that in some way modern physical science has so informed us.
Yet this thought is the pivot upon which the Brahmin philosophy swings. The Brahmin system is a philosophy so all-inclusive as to transcend human understanding. In whatsoever manner we state it, analysis will lead us to the conviction that the words have only a symbolic value, and the seeming ideas involved in the statement are not true ideas, but, in Spencer's way of saying, are merely symbols of ideas. The world was not made by God, but comes out of God emanates from God. Matter is everywhere permeated with spirit, and matter and spirit are God. There can be but one God, because He is all that is. The spirit of the universe moves the matter of the universe, but there is here no question of duality; there is only unity. There are cycles within cycles, activities within activities. But periods of activity imply periods of inactivity the Hindu observation of the law of motion that action and reaction are equal and opposite. If there be a beginning at all it is only the beginning of a period of activity or the beginning of a period of rest. The familiar phenomena of everyday life found in sleeping and waking, day and night, summer and winter, the Brahmins extended to the universe: infinite matter and spirit, the one and the all, functioning in the macrocosm as in the microcosm, only on an inconceivably large scale. The universe manifests itself to itself ; rests for an eternity, is roused for an eternity. Such ideas, when subjected to analysis, seem to be pseud-ideas. But what must we say of the "heathen" minds that evolved them?
Briefly stated, the Hindu cosmogony, if we call this daring attempt to map out eternity a cosmogony at all, is this : The universe has no beginning and no end. It is ruled by a rhythm of activity and of rest. Brahm, in the active state, is in the state we now see. Cycles, infinite in number, correlative to eternity in duration, swing forward and back, gaining always a little toward the relative end. During the active state every atom of matter throbs, every atom changes. The substance remains, the form is never the same. The Future is beginning just as the Past is ending. There is only the Present. Energy at work everywhere, at all times, builds up the cosmos and breaks it down. At last all energy wanes, consistency crumbles, growth lapses into decay and the universe sinks back into God. The day of Brahm has changed into night his waking into sleeping; his activity into rest. The period of rest is the equal in time of the period of activity. God sleeps. He sleeps until He is refreshed, until the tired universe is restored, and then He awakes to another period of activity, another cycle of ceaseless change, another day of transformation, manifestation, and sentiency. The period of activity is called Manvantara; the period of rest, Pralaya. To this action and reaction there has been no beginning, there will be no end. Such is the speculation of the Brahmin.
Through whatever avenues of thought the Hindu intellect reached these startling conclusions, it must be confessed that the scheme is one which makes the mind recoil upon itself and forces it almost to expel from consciousness the feeling generated. But it is interesting to know that the greatest generalizer of science has been led to the same end by methods that are unquestionably as scientific as the most exacting could desire. The reader may judge for himself how far Herbert Spencer has agreed with the Brahmins in his final conclusion as to these processes that are going on in nature. He says, in summing up his reasoning, based upon facts that have been accumulated by scientific observation :
"We find reason for thinking that after the completion of these various equilibrations which bring to a close all the forms of evolution, we have contemplated there must be an equilibration of a far wider kind. When that integration everywhere in progress throughout our solar system has reached its climax, there will remain to the effected the immeasurably greater integration of our solar system with other such systems. There must then reappear in molecular motion what is lost in the motion of the masses, and the inevitable transformation of this motion of masses into molecular motion can-not take place without reducing the masses to a nebulous form. Thus we are led to the conclusion that the entire process of things as displayed in the aggregate of the visible universe is analogous to the entire process of things as displayed in the smallest aggregates." A conclusion that had been reached thousands of years ago by the philosophers of the Orient. This was the system the writers of the Vedas thought out. It is not credible that men whose fearlessness of mind led them so far could have seriously considered the absurd theogony that is not without warrant laid at the doors of Brahminism, unless we take refuge in the apology, applied nowadays to all sacred writ, that seeming statements of fact must be sprinkled with the salt of allegory. However, with degenerate Brahminism we have nothing to do.
The antiquity of the Brahmin philosophy is very great. Nearly a thousand centuries before the awakenment of thought in Greece, the Hindus speculated with much ingenuity on the source and the destiny of man and the cosmos. As early as 1400 B.C., Vyasa founded the Vedanta School, and even he saw before him an already established school the Mimansa. The Vedanta School produced an incredible quantity of literature. After Vyasa came the logical school, with a system so closely resembling that of Aristotle as to lead many commentators to the belief that Aristotle borrowed from the Aryans a belief justified by the similarity of the Oriental logicians, even in details, to the work of the Greek. Another ancient school, that of Kanade, dealt with a theory of atoms, which centuries later reappears in Greek thought. The school of Kapila departed from the others in that it was atheistic. Lastly there came Patanjali with a philosophy founded on Theism.
These are the six great schools of which so much has been said and so little in any manner that can be called satisfactory. The Orientals were masters of meta-physics. Most of what they have left behind and the quantity is voluminous remains untranslated, although every year brings valuable additions to the stocks now available for those who are not philologists. But even with such as we have the difficulties are very great. The closest study often fails in arriving at a comprehension of the terms used, and fresh obstacles present themselves at every step. It is manifestly impossible to supply the equivalent in any of the modern languages say rather in any of the Occidental language of terms for which no corresponding ideas exist in the Occidental mind. 'With such terms the Indian philosophy is replete. Even the comparatively modern Buddhist term, Dharma, has been a source of perturbation to the translators. It is rendered "the Law," but this is an inadequate translation. It has likewise been used as meaning "righteousness," but this is even a less satisfying term. The best that can be done is to master, in so far as possible, the concept of the philosopher, and then make use of the original symbol itself.
This practice has been followed in the use of the term Karma with good results. Karma is now a Western word, perfect as a vehicle of thought, and quite beyond the power of the interpreter to do into any Western tongue. And the same is true in less degree, of the term Nirvana.
The Pre-Buddhists gave to mankind a lofty conception of the universe. They even went to the extreme of dividing their periods of universal activity and rest into subordinate cycles, with specific lengths in time measured by terrestrial years. But the most useful end served by them was the preparation of the way for the founder of Buddhism.
The life of Gautama is second in thrilling interest only to the life and work of Jesus, who came centuries after him. Both were Orientals the one Aryan, the other Semite. Both strove with an earnestness that is not less than pathetic to show the way of salvation to men. Both despised the goods of the world and lived in personal poverty, subsisting on the gifts of those who listened, enraptured, to their words. Both were preceptors and maximists. Both built anew on the religion which they found ready at hand among their own people. They spoke in parables, drawing their illustrations from the simple things around them, using the birds of the air, the flowers of the field, the harvest, the housewife, the mustard seed, the fig tree to inculcate some great ethical lesson. The parallel between the two, so far as their personal lives and their presentations of ethical doctrine are concerned, is perfect. But here the lines diverge. Gautama left a system; Jesus none. The metaphysics of the Aryan sage is the refinement of the contemplation of highest things. It exhausts the possibilities of speculation. It leaps at conclusions to which the metaphysicians of the West have not arrived thousands of years later. And it is only, one may say, in the present day we have learned to know that Gautama's theory of consciousness anticipates by nearly 30 centuries the highest results of modern scientific psychology. But more of this hereafter.
Gautama was born about 500 years before Christ. It is interesting to note that what is considered the most valuable archaeological discovery of the year 1898 has left without doubt the accuracy of the history in which is pre-served the records of his life. The books agree in saying that Gautama was born at Kapilavastu, a town about one hundred miles east and north of the sacred City of Benares. Kapilavastu is now a mass of brick ruins, over-grown and buried in part with thick jungle. The city was destroyed even in the lifetime of the Great Teacher. It was a mere ruin in the jungle when the first Chinese pilgrim visited the place in 410 A.D. But there has been found there a pillar erected and inscribed in the Third Century B.C., which sets at rest all questions as to the precise place where and date when Gautama was born. At the present time excavations, being pushed forward as rapidly as possible, disclose buildings of greater antiquity than have been found as yet in India. It is even believed that the ashes of India's most illustrious son will be found in the place where they were laid 2,400 years ago.
Gautama sprang from the tribe of the Sakyas, Aryans who had settled in the pleasant valley of the River Rohini in the shadows of the great Himalayas on the borderland of Nepaul. His father was Suddhodana, the Raja of the Sakyas, and his mother the daughter of the Raja of the Koliyans, a cousin tribe of the Sakyas who dwelt on the other side of the river. The sister of Gautama's mother was also the wife of Suddhodana, and when the mother died, seven days after parturition, the babe was cared for tenderly by his aunt and foster mother.
Various names are indiscriminately and unwisely applied to the founder of Buddhism, and he is not exceptional in respect of this. The parallel here is again perfect between Jesus and the Indian philosopher. His own true name was Gautama. He is called "Sakya-Muni," or, in the way of English pronunciation, "Chakia-Mooni," which means simply "the sage of the Sakyas ;" he is called "Sattha, the teacher;" "Bhagava, the Blessed;" "LokaNatha, the Prince of the World" (a title assumed by Jesus) ; "Sakya-Sinha, the lion of the Sakyas;" "Dharma-Raja, the king of the law," and many others which disclose the wealth and exuberance of the Oriental imagination. But the title by which he is most widely known is that of Buddha, "the enlightened One." This title he chose for himself as Jesus chose "Christ," or "Immanuel," "the Annointed," and by the names "Buddhists" and "Christians" are their followers known to-day. The Buddha is frequently called Siddhartha, but this is a mere title, meaning "he that bath accomplished his purpose."
It is not unnatural that the pious and zealous biographers of Gautama should have indulged in extravagant stories of the childhood of their beloved teacher, and there are legends in which are recounted the miracles and marvels that preceded and accompanied his birth, which, by the way, is said to have been a miracle of itself in as much as the child was heaven-descended.
The son of a king, Gautama was reared in all the manly arts that befitted his station in life. We are told that he surpassed all his fellows in athletic feats, in skill with the bow, and in those physical accomplishments so dear to the ambition of healthy young manhood. In a tournament to which he invited all the youth of equal age in his tribe, he excelled them all, and the chroniclers have been at pains to leave details of these events so minute as to be absurd. It is not improbable, however, that Gautama, in youth, was well trained, for he passed through much fasting, trial, and self-inflicted punishment to live to the extreme of old age and to have been possessed of every faculty to the very last. Apart from the story of his performances in the lists of the time, and his marriage at the age of nineteen with his cousin, Yasodhaha, the record of Gautama's youth is bare. The books leave him there for the reason that the writers who came after his death and at a time when his influence began to be really and widely felt, were lacking in data. There are no apocryphal gospels in Buddhism and the student of the Buddhist books is spared the pain of beholding a noble character marred and made grotesque by the childish hand of superstition. The legends and miracles of Buddha are all tempered with dignity, and it would be strange indeed had not the warm color of the Orient been thrown around the life of the strong and loving heart.
Gautama disappears, then, in the records, for a time. How he lived, what he did, what were his boyish joys and sorrows, the influences that fashioned his mind and pre-pared him for his future, we do not know. He reappears in his thirtieth year as a teacher and savior of men. His precocious, all-embracing love for his fellows must have been ill assorted with the scenes of idleness and luxury he saw about the court of his father. He was puzzled with questions thrust upon him by the observation of things around him. Why was he a Prince, his fellow a paralytic ? Why was the scheme of life wrought out by torture; men born in pain only to die in fear; love but the prelude to death; plant, animal, man, reproducing themselves only to grow that they might decay, and through it all running the fire of desire, consuming but never consummated? We can imagine such questions as these perturbing the supersensitive brain of the young Aryan until sick with the pearls and the gold and the fine fabrics of royalty he flung these aside and went out from them into a world that was throbbing with pain. In that world, close to that woe, lay his mission.
It is related that thus to prepare himself for his minis-try Gautama sought the placid peace of solitude and gave himself up to meditation that he might learn the secret of the sorrows of humanity, and learning the cause, so pro-vide the cure. Such delusions as this spring up only in emotional natures, but there is rarely found in such natures the combination of the largeness of sympathy with the keenness of intellect that we find in Gautama. An obstacle of great gravity presents itself in the birth of a son, but Gautama, having consecrated himself to the one purpose, resignedly relinquishes the joys of fatherhood, and, after a visit to Kapilavasta, steals away in the night, while Yasodhara sleeps and returns to his caves with Chauna, his charioteer, as his only companion.
Passing by the legend in which is related how the Devil, Mara, tempts him and how he triumphs over the powers of evil, we find Gautama sitting at the feet of certain Brahmin sages, specifically, Udraka and Alara, imbibing all that these masters knew of the complex theories of the Hindus, only to rise unsatisfied and unconsoled. He retired to the jungle and for six years subjected himself to the most severe punishment of his body. In this way he attracted numerous followers and admirers who, though well fed themselves, attended the "holy man" and paid heed to his words in the custom of the time. One day Gautama, faint from lack of nourishment, fell unconscious to the ground where his followers, believing him dead, left him. Recovering, the Prince rose and slowly made his way out of the jungle into the village. His fasts and his vigils and his penances had been to no purpose. Weak and tottering, he approached a woman of the village, who readily gave him his morning meal.
Gautama, taking the food, sat down beneath the shade of a great tree and ate. As he ate the horror of the past sank back behind him. Under the shadow of the great tree he sat, for a time in despair, swayed now by the temptation to return to home and wife and child, now by the deep desire to struggle on through the darkness to the light; and so arose the tradition of the sacred Bo-tree which has been likened to the sacred symbol of the cross. All day in Gautama's brain the battle raged between doubt, despair, and hope. As the sun sank great peace came upon him. He saw at last the truth. He knew the cause of sorrow. He became Buddha, the enlightened, and already was begun the growth of his system, the most rational religio-philosophical system evolved by the intellect of man.
Freed now from the fasts, the penances, the Buddha went forth joyfully to bring peace into the world. But his former followers regarded his change of mind obliquely. One, to whom he announced his freshly acquired knowledge, turned about abruptly and left him with bitter words in his mouth. Gautama ate as his hunger required. His gaunt frame filled. His haggard, sunken cheeks rounded. Nutrition and new made blood brought the brilliance of health to his eyes. His face shone. Doubt was behind him. Fear was conquered. Death, and life, too, were vanquished. The system, nascent under the Bo-Tree, was now growing and was rapidly matured. This was the hour in which he became the reformer. The utter emptiness of ritual, hymn, and sacrifice was clear as the peaks that stood out against the blue sky before him. Through the medium of the new revelation the robe of the priest, to his eye, was less than the beggar's garb; to his ear, the sound of the mantra hollow and vain. Bent on his mission, he went to Benares, in which city some of his old pupils lived. The marked change in his appearance excited their suspicions. Why was he so beautiful, he who should be thin, and severe as befits the ascetic ? He was a Prince and a Brahmin of the high caste, and in so much he was shown the respect that was accorded his rank by custom and tradition, yet it will be observed that his old pupils addressed him simply as Gautama, his human name, stripped of all title.
But Gautama was not discouraged. In answer to the question how had it come about that he who had failed to learn the truth in the approved method, i. e., by fasting and penance, could have become enlightened, as he informed them, by pure thought, he replied with the first sermon of his ministry. As he spake, the gods, the angels, the powers of the air and the underworlds came to listen. His discourse was made in Pali, but each listener heard it in his own tongue. In this first sermon Gautama outlines his theory of the causes of sin and woe, and points the avenue of escape. He preached in a pleasant park, without Benares, and for some time remained there expounding his doctrines to all who would listen. He could not but realize the vast distance that separated him from those around him. Great or exceptional knowledge has ever paid the penalty of loneliness. To know and understand that which is beyond the comprehension of immediate associates has a tendency to make the nescient one sad and self-centered. For the natural inclination of man is to share with others, with all, the fruits of his intellectual labor. Guatama felt the solitude of his station among the multitude. He taught, but few could learn. The same was true of Jesus; they heard but they did not understand.
Gautama resembled Jesus, in this respect, more than any of the world's philosophers of later times. His prodigious love of the human race prompted him to preach to all alike. There were no initiates, no favored neophytes. He scattered the seeds of .his thought broadcast on all kinds of soil. Old and young, rich and poor, men and women were welcomed with more warmth than even the Brahmin students of the books. Gautama's success lay in two elements : his personal beauty and amiability, and the absolute equality of all men in his system. It is easy for us to picture to ourselves the man and the scene. In the youthful face of the Buddha was seen the great peace of his mind as a clear pool draws down into its heart the infinite blue sky. From his eyes came the light of perfect and pure satisfaction. Those who saw and heard him could not but be impressed with this truth at least, that he himself had found a certitude that could not be shaken. He did not ask men to lean upon him or to look to him for any help beyond the knowledge of the "noble eightfold path." Insisting that each individual must work out his own salvation, with no hope of vicarious responsibility, with no prospect of escape from the effects of conduct right or wrong; teaching that, in the law, the Brahmin and the Sudra, the prince and the mendicant, were equal, it is not surprising that he recruited his disciples from among the poor.
After Guatama had preached for half a year in the deer park he had attached to himself sixty chosen disciples. It is not to be presumed these sixty were drawn, as were the apostles of Jesus, from the ranks of the ignorant. For Gautama, in giving them his final orders, admits that these men have understood him and have succeeded in slaying within themselves the five great passions that obscure the perception of truth. He plans a great missionary movement whereby the doctrines are to spread everywhere. "Go ye now," he orders, "and preach the most excellent Law, expounding every point thereof, and unfolding it with care and attention in all its bearings and particulars. Explain the beginning, the middle, and the end of the Law to all men without exception. Let everything respecting it be made known in public and brought to the light of day." These instructions imply that Guatama was satisfied that his disciples were competent to expound at least the ethical bearing of the system on its metaphysics. In Bigandet's translation Gautama closes his parting ad-vice to his disciples in these words : "For my part I will direct my course to the village of Sena, situate in the vicinity of the solitude of Uruwela."
Thereafter Gautama traveled from place to place spreading his doctrine of the Law. His propaganda was conceived in very practical fashion. For eight months of the year he traversed the country and preached to all who cared to hear, and these were many. During these same months his disciples likewise traveled, and taught the people. But when the rainy season set in, about the first of June, Gautama took up a station in one place where he remained until the rain ceased. To this retreat the disciples repaired to receive further exposition of the Law. And it occurs to us that while Gautama thought sufficiently well of the sixty to send them out to preach, it is by all means probable that the disciples were yet lacking in finish.
One of the earliest and most important conversions to the doctrine of the Law was that of three brothers who lived in the lonely places near Uruwela. The name of these brothers was Kachiapa. They were hermits and teachers, with a doctrine made up of a strange mixture of fire worship, with some independent theory of their own. These teachers and Gautama were brought together. The Kachiapas were completely won over by the doctrine of the young Buddha. The eldest brother was the first to surrender and the others soon followed his example. The brothers at once assumed an important function in the propaganda of Buddhism and added their followers to the body of its believers.
Gautama, with the skill of a genius, used the fire worship of the converts as a text and preached a metaphysical sermon, which is, in reality, an epitome of the system, a rapid and brief summarization of the action and reaction of Karma. The travels and the work of Gautama and of the eldest Kachiapa are of vast interest. Gautama, while seemingly treating the former fire worshiper as an equal, really uses him as an instrument to exemplify the Law. he two teachers, with their combined followings, made a short journey down the Valley of the Ganges to the city of a great Raja. The arrival of two such distinguished leaders naturally aroused the town and many came for-ward to listen and to learn. The account of Gautama's association with the brothers may be found in Spence Hardy's "Manual of Buddhism," in Beal's translation of "The Romantic Legend of the Burmese Buddha," and in Bishop Bigandet's work.
The people of the city were in doubt as to which of the two great men was the greater. Kachiapa's fire worshiping was well known. Gautama readily disposed of the question by appealing to Kachiapa to say why he had recently foregone the offering of sacrifices to Agni, the Hindu fire god. The convert having well learned his lesson in the metaphorical sermon on fire, recites it to perfection. Why sacrifice to gods when the only way to Nirvana lies along the path of inward purification and the realization that the passions serve but to obscure the light ? Then Gautama, with an adroitness that provokes our unbounded admiration, naïvely assuming immense superiority over the fire worshipers, explains to the people that Kachiapa in a former life was a most righteous man, and for that reason was now reaping his rewards by contact with the truth. The multitude was deeply impressed, a fact of which Gautama seems to have taken immediate advantage, for he straightway began an exposition of the four noble truths. Many converts were made here. Even the Raja was gravely disturbed in his mind and at last became himself a convert to the new doctrine of the Law. He favored Gautama with his prestige and his power and presented him with a site for teaching in a pleasant grove where the Buddha sat for many months and instructed the people.
By this time Gautama's Order of preachers was well established. The requisites for membership as defined by the founder himself, were these: "To cease from all sin, to get virtue, to cleanse one's own heart, this is the religion of the Buddhas." It may be imagined that Gautama's family in the valley of the Rohini had not remained ignorant of his fame and his mode of life. His son had now grown up to young manhood and at his father's invitation Gautama visited Kapilavastu, where the household of the palace assembled to meet him. Gautama had gone out a young Prince in royal robes and flashing jewels. He re-turned with smooth face and shaven head, clothed in the yellow of the mendicant, with his bowl in his hand.
Gautama noted that with the crowd Yasodhara, his wife, came not. He sought her out in her apartment, cautioning his followers not to interfere should she attempt to embrace him. The meeting is a drama in itself. Yasodhara beheld her transfigured spouse with mingled feelings of veneration, fear, and love. She approached him falteringly, but as she came near, her form trembled. She fell upon the floor at his feet and wept aloud. The Buddha was silent and the discarded wife, now knowing that her husband was indeed the Buddha, rose and moved away to a distance.
When in after years Gautama decided that the Law might be preached by women and Buddhist nunneries were established, Yasodhara joined the order, a convinced believer. Many were the converts likewise recruited from Gautama's own tribe of the Sakyas and from among his cousins, the Koliyans. The caste of some of these converts is an indication of the all-inclusive nature of the Buddhistic scheme. One was a barber, of great intellectual capacity, however, and another was a first cousin of the Prince himself. From the Koliyans came Anuruddha, a brilliant scholar, who was afterwards the most finished of the metaphysicians. This account of Gautama's life, thus far, has been taken mainly from Beal's translations of the "Romantic Legend of Sakya Buddha."
Gautama died at about the age of eighty. He taught and preached to the last. In his dying moments he was tenderly cared for by loving disciples. His body was burned and the ashes preserved. The chroniclers, ushering him into the world with a miracle, could not have been satisfied to let him depart without one. When witnesses are dead and gone who can deny ? And so we learn that when the flame was applied to the funeral pile the wood did not ignite. It was only after honor had been done to the feet of the dead Buddha that the flame caught and the body was reduced to the elements of which it had been composed.
The philosophy of Gautama deserves more attention than can possibly be given it here. Broadly speaking, Gautama did not disagree with the general scheme of cosmogenesis outlined in the Vedic literature. He did not especially turn his attention to details of natural evolution, as did the Brahmins. He touches on cosmical processes rather by way of making application of these general truths to the particular lives of men. It would not be just to say that Man is the pivot of Gautama's system, but humanity is his principal theme.
As to the origin of things he does not seem to have spoken. Once when asked if the universe was eternal he is said to have remained silent. Some have therefore held that he was agnostic, but this is hardly tenable, for he claimed to know all things. He was Buddha. It is far more probable that he was silent because there are implications in his teachings from which we are warranted in drawing the inference that Buddha did not deem it wise to discuss the Absolute beyond the necessities of his doctrine of Nirvana.
The Buddhistic system can be stated with certainty inasmuch as Gautama lived to perfect it, or rather had almost perfected it before he began to teach. He anticipated by nearly 3,000 years the monistic or mechanical theory of the universe. The totality of things is ruled by the inherent and inflexible law of cause and effect. The universe, therefore, is never at rest. All things change and change incessantly. The changes may be rapid or slow, apparent or imperceptible; but they are ever present.
Gautama does not deny the existence of gods and angels and devils, of heavens or of hells, of states of re-ward or punishment. But gods and angels are only beings or orders different from man, and they, together with their habitudes, are subject to the same laws and to the same changes as are man and the visible universe. He teaches the Brahmin doctrine of cycles and rhythms, evolution, and dissolution, and we are warranted in inferring that with this theory must go the tenet of the eternity and ultimate causelessness of being. But difficult of comprehension as is the Brahmin system, the Buddhist system is more so. Gautama, seeing that all things perish, that all materiality is presented to our consciousness as an ever shifting and impermanent panorama, arrives at the conclusion that all things of sense are mere illusion. He goes farther. He holds that the senses themselves, out of which the matter and form of consciousness is built up, are illusory also. Man's body and man's mind are no less impermanent than other things. If the universe of things is illusory and man's perceptions and conceptions of it illusions, too, it is idle, nay, vicious, to fix any hope on any of these. Hells and heavens, gods, angels, devils, and men, matter visible and invisible, mind, virtue, joy, sorrow, pleasures, pain, feeling, hope, hate, love, all shift and change under the pelting forces of infinity, wear out and die.
The mind, being generated in and occasioned by mat-ter, is necessarily under the same necessity of mutation as are its elements, and is therefore never the same for any length of time. Body and mind grow like the plant and decay like the leaf. There is no denying the self-evident truth of these propositions. Modern science has been able to do no better than to reassert the truth of Guatama's premises, urging the basis of observation and experiment for its vindication. But common justice should spur us to credit Gautama with basing his conclusions on observation at least, if not on experiment. If there are gods, argues Gautama, they are not without the Law, for if change is necessary and universal, all beings sentient and insentient must fall within its realm.
This much certain, what, then, is immutable, what permanent? The answer suggests itself. Nothing. And here we are brought sharply to the rock of Buddhism. If all things are impermanent, all things illusory, the unchanging and unchangeable Reality must partake in no way of the properties of things. The reality, therefore, cannot be called a thing. It cannot be called a state, be-cause state implies something in statu. Nor can we escape the difficulty by saying the Reality is Being. Being, Existence, posits something that endures. Now nothing endures, but all things waste. How then may we ex-press the Immutable, the Real, the Permanent ?
To answer this question Gautama leads us to Nirvana, or Niruana. No philosopher has been subjected to more ignorant and more incompetent criticism than the sage of Kapilavastu. The doctrine of Nirvana has been denounced by unthinking, and uninformed persons as annihilation, extinction, nothingness ; not, it is true, in the sense conceived by Gautama, but in a sense that itself illustrates Gautama's principle. Men have generally believed that the soul survives. Now Gautama precisely denies the existence of a soul. Numerous passages in the Tripitakas might be brought forward to prove that Gautama rejected the theory of a soul and made it clear that he did so. "While man's body remains," says Gautama, "he will be seen by gods and men, but after the termination of his life he will be seen by neither gods nor men."
Hence, Nirvana is not, as it has been called by some culpably unknowing persons, "the Buddhist Heaven." So far as man's desires, pleasures, happiness, bliss, life, consciousness, or psychic continuity are concerned Nirvana, according to Gautama, is, indeed, extinction. But to say that there is no Reality, which may not be expressed in terms that are not intelligible to man's intellect, is to say that man's intellect is omniscient. The difference between Buddhism and all other religions and religious philosophies is that there is not in Buddhism one single anthropomorphic idea. Perhaps this is true, because Buddhism knows no God. It is the only godless so-called religion that has ever existed, and for that reason it may be incontestibly maintained that this system is not a religion at all, at least if we speak only of Gautama's doctrine undefiled by the corruptions of post-Buddhist degenerates. Nirvana, according to Gautama, is finality. It is the evanishment of change, sentiency, matter, illusion, thought, life, feeling, all that is present in the consciousness of man. To reach Nirvana one must destroy the illusions of sense, must break down the structure of consciousness upreared by all that has gone before, must undo the results of the processes that have made man all that he is. The Relative cannot know the Absolute : the Absolute cannot be ex-pressed in terms of the Relative. When the Relative ceases the Absolute remains, and that is Nirvana.
There will be occasion in a future section of this book to point out the similarity of the doctrines of modern ideal-ism to the doctrines of Gautama. Before leaving the subject here let us glance at the fundamental concepts of Buddhism with relation to these processes by which the finality is reached, pointing out, at the same time, the weakness of the system and the break in the sequence of Gautama's reasoning.
The mechanism, by the operation of which man is carried upward on the way to Nirvana, is explained in the law of Karma and transmigration. The latter process has been described by the word metempsychosis, but the use of the Greek term is inaccurate. In the Buddhist plan there is no soul. Transmigration was not original with Gautama. This doctrine was taught in India long before his time. It is found likewise in Egypt prior to the Sixth Century before Christ. But its relations with Karma are purely Buddhistic. Briefly, the operations of the great law may be described in this way : As all action moves to new action (causation) any given state is the direct effect of the just previously existing state. Man, that is, individual man, is an aggregate of mental and physical qualities which Spence Hardy describes as follows : "The first group, material qualities, are like a mass of foam, that gradually forms and then vanishes. The second group, the sensations, are like a bubble dancing on the face of the water. The third group, the ideas, are like the uncertain mirage that appears in the sunshine. The fourth group, the mental and moral predispositions, are like the plantain stalk, without firmness or solidity. And the last group, the thoughts, are like a specter or magical delusion." Of all these groups, there is none that endures.
Any individual aggregate, i. e., any individual man, is the effect, or the sum of the effects of all the individual aggregates in the chain of transmigration. Karma is the force-product of good and evil doing. It is not that a soul passes from one body into another body the qualities and environment of which have been adjusted to the re-ward or punishment the soul has earned in its former life. This is a totally mistaken concept of Karma. There is no soul. The man in his present life does good or evil. He dies and the effects of his conduct are immediately seen in a new organism generated by that conduct and upon which are concentrated all the forces spent by its predecessor. This new individual has no more in common with the individual that has died than has a child with its parent. It is the inheritor of its predecessor's moral fruits, reward or punishment, but it has no more identity with its predecessor's consciousness than has any animal with the consciousness of its parents. Like will produce like. The being that suffers, suffers because its Karmic progenitor did evil in the world. If it enjoys, this is so because its Karmic progenitor was righteous. Rigorous and in-flexible is the law. There is no escape from reaping in kind that which was sown. Sorrow exists because of wrong doing. Individuals pass down to new individuals not only their own Karma, but the sum of that of all the individuals that have gone before, and which was inherited by them in like manner. Desire, the passions, love of life, but stimulate fresh and frequent births. He that would avoid suffering, let him accumulate good Karma.
But while Gautama counsels virtue and righteousness as a means of escaping suffering and sorrow, he none the less points out the futility of all life, even that most blessed with happiness and joy. The fairest life is, after all, life only, and so long as life clings there must be ever a residue of woe, ever a recurrence of birth. It is true that, at last, in the perfect Pari-Nirvana, there shall be no longer life of any kind, neither joy nor sorrow, love nor hate, pain nor pleasure, but the process may be hastened for the individual, and hence for the race, by right living. The chain of individuals forged by Karma may be broken by ridding one's self of the "thirst" for life. This is done by the Buddhas, those strong men who, losing the lust for life, emerge from the net of circumstance, and making no new Karma, approach or attain to Nirvana even in this world. Such are the Arahats, men who have conquered life and death and have become, in very fact, non-existent so far as human conception of existence can go.
The law of Karma is an inscrutable mystery, and it is here that the system of Gautama fails. No clear exposition of the law can be given. The Buddhist psychology is rational enough ; the premises of the system cannot be denied. Nirvana may be interpreted as that reality under-lying phenomena, the Immutable that remains when the mutable, the illusory, has passed away. But the doctrine of the force of Karma leaves us with no corresponding conception. It is an unthinkable mystery, hence has no warrant in reason. We can conceive of like producing like, of the reaper reaping what he has sown, but the point of contact between the reaper and sower in Gautama's law of Karma is wholly left out of the account. It is nigh incredible that he himself was not aware of this ; or it may be possible that like many other philosophers, with a system, he had not that high heroic courage (the most admirable characteristic of the modern scientific investigator) to fearlessly confront himself with the undemonstrated point of his theory, and to abide by the result of the judgment.
It is only of late years that Gautama's system has been criticized with reference to the modern theory of an universal process. Upon his lofty system have been fastened the degrading ceremonials of a creed. The new Buddhist cult in the West is based upon an ignorant and totally inadequate conception of Gautama's philosophy, a conception in its way as superstitious as that of the Hindu who degrades the Buddha by making of him a Deity. His rightful place in the history of philosophy will be accorded to him when the Buddhist books shall have been fully ,translated by competent scholars.
Contemporaneous with Guatama in India there lived Confucius in China. Confucius, or K'ung-fu-Tsze, was born about 550 B.C. Of his life much has been written; of his philosophy little remains. His teachings were political and ethical. Confucianism concerns itself solely about the physical well being of man and the right conduct of man and of the state. The venerated Chinese teacher was, like Gautama, of noble if not royal extraction. His ancestry was very ancient and he was unquestionably patriotic. He began his public ministry at the age of 23; and was impelled to reform the conduct of his countrymen by the observation of the fact that public and political morals had lapsed from their former high state. His maxims are all based on the social necessity of virtue. He sought, and apparently found, to the satisfaction of his followers, a physical basis for ethics. Speculation as to the origin and destiny of things was to him an idle pursuit. Once, when one of his pupils flatly questioned him as to his belief concerning the possibility of immortality, Confucius readily replied : "So long as you cannot comprehend life, how can it be that you can hope to know about death?" The motive contained in these words is clear in all of his teachings.
The corrupt state of the Government drew his attention to politics, but to reform the state he chose the indirect method of first reforming the individual. His system examines the relations of the individual to the state and, although his work, "Ta Hioh," suggests an inquiry into the causes of things, he did not philosophize in that direction, but rather confined himself to maxims and precepts. These are ethical mainly. Confucius is best and most widely known by his world-renowned precept, which was afterward taught by Jesus. The latter used a positive, the former a negative, form of expression. "Do unto others," said Jesus, "as you would have others do unto you." Said Confucius : "Do not do unto others that which you would not have others do unto you." The lesson is precisely the same.
Confucius was made a magistrate and died full of worldly honors at the age of 73. His descendants were given offices of high distinction and his memory has been reverenced by royal monuments. During his ministry the Chinese teacher had a large following, which at one time numbered not less than 3,000.
The attempts of the Persians to explain the origin of the universe are found in the Zend-Avesta, scriptures attributed to Zoroaster. Of the life of Zoroaster little is known. His very existence is in dispute and the date of his time uncertain. By some it is claimed that he lived prior to twenty-three centuries before Christ. Plato, who was by no means uninformed regarding the East, speaks of Persia as having an indefinite antiquity. In the first Alcibiades, treating of the education of Persia's royal sons, he says : "At 14 years of age they who are called the royal preceptors take the boy under their care. Now, these are chosen from those who are deemed most excellent of the Persians, men in the prime of life, four in number, excelling in wisdom, justice, temperance, and fortitude. The first of these instructs the youth in the learning of the Magi, according to Zoroaster, the son of Oromazes, and likewise in the art of kingly government." Dr. Haug, in his "Lecture on an Original Speech of Zoroaster," gives an antiquity to the Persian sage that is startling, and all other authorities do the same.
Dr. Haug, in his lecture (Trübner & Co., London, 1865), quotes Diogenes Laertius, who states that Xanthos, of Lydia, 500 B.C., affirms that Zoroaster lived 6,000 years before the invasion of Greece by Xerxes. Pliny, on the authority of Aristotle, fixes the date at 6,000 years before Plato, and Dr. Haug uses Pliny again to show that Zoroaster preceded Moses by some thousands of years. The historical value of these evidences may be questioned. The point at issue with many of the writers on Zoroastrianism, is the priority of the Zend-Avesta to the cosmogony of Moses. The very recent archaeological discoveries of records on Babylonian bricks leaves no doubt as to the parallel of the Mosaic account with that of the Persians. The speculations of Zoroaster on the origin of things will be familiar to those who are acquainted with the book of Genesis. Dr. Haug has satisfied himself that the founder of Magism preceded the founder of Judaism and comes to this conclusion : "He preached, like Moses, war and destruction to all idolaters and wicked men, and said that he was commissioned by God to spread the religion of Ahura Magda. During his life time and shortly after his death his followers seem to have engaged in incessant wars with their religious antagonists, the Vedic Indians, which struggle is well known in Sanskrit writings, as that between Asuras and Devas. Zoroaster was the first prophet of truth who appeared in the world and kindled a fire which thousands of years could not entirely extinguish."
The philosophy of the East has been seen to be in-separable from religion. In Egypt philosophy entirely disappears in religion. The Greeks are said to have borrowed from the Egyptians. Nevertheless, it is to Greece we must go to find philosophers whose speculations were free from all theological influence.