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THE SUBJECT COMPLETED.
Has the Indian message of life now reached its consummation? It has proclaimed in its second stage that the world, which originally seemed a scene of perfection, is a scene unfitted to man - a scene which man ought to get rid of. Is this the last word on the subject ? Does life rise into moral heights in proportion as it rises beyond the seen and temporal ? India herself must furnish the answer, and her answer is an emphatic negative. Perhaps the votaries of Brahmanism are at once the most religious and the most immoral of all sects. They are pervaded with a sense of the nothingness of time, and their whole idea is directed to rising above this nothingness. But this negative relation towards the world is far from being favourable to morality. It may have the advantage of leading a man not to fret, but it leads him at the same time not to act. If time is but a vision of the night, if the forms of earth are but the images in a dream, there is nothing good any more than bad in the world; there is simply illusion. To abstain from righteous living is to abstain from vanity; to engage in unrighteous living is to do something which is not real, and if not real, then not really harmful. Accordingly the creed of Brahmanism is consistent with itself in its very inconsistency. It tells men to be sacrificial, and to realise their own nothingness. It tells them to look with contempt upon the things of space and the events of time. Yet it bases its precept upon the fact that they are things of space, and that they are events of time. The contempt is thus poured not only on acts of vice, but on all acts whatsoever. Every work, whether virtuous or vicious, is but a gesture in a dream. The virtuous act can do no good, and the vicious act can do no harm; they are both unrealities. Is it inconsistent in the Brahman to hold lightly the requirements of conscience? Is it strange that, with a creed which reduces everything to indifference, his own life should exhibit side by side the depths of self-surrender and the heights of selfindulgence? Is it peculiar that at one and the same moment we should find him prostrating himself in abject reverence before the altar, and putting forth his hand to defraud his brother man ? 1
i The moral tendency of Brahmanism is finely described by Pro. fessor Wilson, 'Essays and Lectures, chiefly on the Religion of the Hindoos,' ii. 75. Edit. London.
We have not, then, reached the final word of the Indian message. There is a stage yet to come in the development of Indian life, because there is a stage yet to come in the development of universal life. There is a time in the life of every man in which the primitive vision of this world's glory vanishes, and in which the cry of the human spirit is only to get free. It is the period of man's asceticism, the period in which his whole desire is to be emancipated from the present order of things, and to be ushered into a life in which time shall be no more. · It is a period highly favourable to what is popularly
called religion, but highly unfavourable to what is universally known as morality. The world is dwarfed to the view, but for that very reason its interests dwindle. .. If there vanishes the temptation to do wrong, there goes out with it also the incentive to do right. If the world is contemplated merely as a thing which passes away, we shall have as little respect for the virtues as for the lusts of it. Accordingly, for the universal life of man, as for the particular life of India, there is wanted a completing stage. He has realised the fact that the world is a scene of care, and he has sought to get rid of care by getting rid of the world. This is equivalent to ending the pains of life by an act of suicide. Is there any other mode of getting rid of the pains of life? There is, and it is one which has been tried by all nations. It is the method of life's afternoon, as distinguished from either its morning or its midday. In its morning its individual hopes are high, and it sees a world whose streets are paved with gold. In its mid-day its individual cares are deep, and it beholds a world only worthy to vanish away. But with its afternoon there comes a thought different from either the one or the other, unlike the morning and unlike the mid-day. There breaks upon it the conviction that there is a possibility of escaping individual care without leaving the world, without leaving care itself. Is it not possible to get rid of my burden by taking on another's burden, to drop the weight of the individual life by lifting the weight of the universe ? Such is the question that sooner or later is asked by every developed man; such was the question that was now about to be asked by India. She had tried the wings of a dove by which to fly away from the world, but she had found that this power of flight had not exalted her. Was there no other escape for herself than by flying away? Might she not stand in the midst of the world and be unworldly, in the midst of care and be free? Was there not a method of life remaining by which the spirit of man might enter into rest here and now, and in the very heart of the busy crowd might experience that peace which passeth understanding ?
The answer to this question was the birth of one of the greatest religious systems which have ever dominated the mind of man — a system which at the present moment numbers amongst its votaries a large proportion of the earth's population, and which ranks in moral intensity second to Christianity alone. I allude of course to Buddhism—the third great movement of the Indian mind, and one of the mightiest movements in the mind of the world. Let us try to mark distinctly the precise point of contrast between the old faith and the new, between the creed called Brahmanism and this new conception of the life of man. On one point they were agreed: both recognised the fact that this world was a state of nothingness. Where they differed was in the conclusion they derived from this position. Brahmanism said, “This world is a state of nothingness, therefore look up; turn away your eyes towards the things which are unseen and eternal.” Buddhism said, “ This world is a state of nothingness, therefore look down; when you are oppressed with a sense of your individual woe, try to contemplate the fact that this woe is not yours alone, but something which belongs to life as life. In your hour of sorrow and care, instead of turning away from the world, endeavour to contemplate the world more closely. Look beneath the surface, and you will find that the sorrows and cares which you experience are but fragments of a vast weight of suffering which