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Hindu Mysticism

By S.N. Dasgupta

Buddhistic Mysticism

THE process of yoga described in the last lecture consists of a threefold course, viz., high moral elevation, physical training of the body for yoga practice, and steady mental concentration associated with the revelation of yoga wisdom, which leads to a knowledge of reality as it is. This system of thought and practice, though not without unique and distinctive features, was largely an adoption from very early times. Thus the heretical school of the Jains, which, like the Buddhistic school, holds to a monastic religion, but which was founded earlier than 500 B. C., the date of the Buddha, also considered yoga as the means of liberation of the soul. For the Jains, the liberated state of the soul is not one of pure, feelingless, non-conceptual, non-intuitional self-illumination, but is a state of supreme happiness in which the liberated self possesses a full perfection of all kinds of knowledge: perceptual, logical, alogical, intuitional and trance cognition. This liberation is attained, they believe, by the performance of yoga. Yoga with them consists mainly of a high elevation of character and complete cessation from the doing of evil, like the yoga of Patanjali described in the last lecture. They lay great emphasis on the principle of non-injury, but they also urge the necessity of the other virtues demanded by the yoga of Patanjali. Here, then, we have a system of thought according to which high moral elevation, by the cessation from all evil-doing and the acquirement of all the positive virtues is supposed to reveal a knowledge of reality as it is, and ultimately to liberate us from the bondage of our deeds and bring us to a state of perfect happiness, perfect knowledge and perfect power. The Jains, like the yogins, also believe that without the control of the mind no one can proceed in the true path. All our acts become controlled when our minds become controlled. It is by attachment and antipathy that man loses his independence. It is thus necessary for the yogin that he should be free from both attachment and antipathy and become independent in the real sense of the term. When a man learns to look upon all beings with an equal eye, he can effect such freedom, in a manner impossible even by the practice of the strictest asceticism through millions of years.1

The Buddha himself, as the legendary account of his life tells us, once went out with his friends for a ride on horseback through the fields outside his capital. There he saw that, as the fields were being ploughed by the peasants, many insects were being mutilated and killed with each drive of the plough; and he saw also the sufferings of the poor beasts that were employed in the field. Extremely affected by these sufferings, he dismounted from his horse and sat on the grassy ground to reflect on the ultimate destiny of all beings. He realized that sufferings, diseases, old age and death are evils to which we are all subject. At that moment he saw a monk who said that, being afraid of births and deaths, he had renounced the world for his eternal salvation. The suggestion affected him very deeply. He therefore decided to renounce the world and seek to discover the way to the extinction of all sorrows, sufferings, diseases, old age and death. After testing many ways followed by other people, the Buddha himself adopted the path of yoga for the attainment of the truth that he ultimately discovered. As he sat with fixed determination he was tempted in various ways by Mara, the Buddhist Satan, but all these temptations failed and the Buddha remained firm in his purpose.2

In the teachings and instructions found in Pali works ascribed to the Buddha, it is said that we are bound, without and within, by the entanglements of desire and that the only way of loosening these is by the practice of right discipline, concentration and wisdom. Right discipline or sila means the desisting from the commission of all sinful deeds. This is the first prerequisite. Thereby one refrains from all actions prompted by bad desires. Concentration or samadhi is a more advanced effort. By it all the roots of the old vicious tendencies and desires are destroyed, and one is led to the more advanced state of a saint. It leads directly to prajna or true wisdom; and by this wisdom one achieves his final emancipation. Here also, as in the yoga of Patanjali, the individual must habituate himself to meditating on the fourfold virtues of universal friendship, universal compassion, happiness in the happiness of all, and indifference to any kind of preferment, whether of himself, his friend, his enemy or a neutral party. By thus rooting out all misery he will eventually become happy; he will avoid thoughts of death and live cheerfully, and will then pass over to the idea that other beings would also fare similarly. He may in this way habituate himself to thinking that his friends, his enemies and all those with whom he is not connected might all become happy. He may fix himself in this meditation to such an extent that he obliterates all differences between the happiness of himself and that of others. He remembers that if he allows himself to be affected by anger he would weaken the self-restraint which he has been carefully practising. If some one has done a vile action by inflicting an injury, that cannot be a reason why he should himself do the same by being angry with others. If he were finding fault with others for being angry, could he himself indulge in anger? A saint who has thus made his sila or right discipline firm enters into a state of concentration which has four stages of gradual advancement. In the fourth or the last stage both happiness and misery vanish and all the roots of attachment and antipathies are destroyed. With the mastery of this stage of concentration there comes the final state of absolute extinction of the mind and of total cessation of all sorrows and sufferings--Nirvana.3

It is easy to see that this system of yoga is very much akin to Patanjali's yoga; and it is not improbable that both Patanjali and Buddha but followed a practice which had been in existence from much earlier times, so that neither of them may be credited with its discovery. But there is one point in which there is at least a good deal of theoretical difference between Buddha's system and that of Patanjali. The ultimate goal of all concentration and its highest perfection with the Buddha is absolute extinction, while with Patanjali it is liberation of the spirit as self-illumination.4

It is indeed very difficult to describe satisfactorily the ultimate mystical stage of Buddhistic Nirvana. For in one sense it is absolutely contentless. It is the state of deliverance from all sorrow and from all happiness. Yet, as the ultimate ideal of all our highest strivings and the goal of all our moral perfection and concentration, it was an ideal which was in the highest degree attractive to the Buddhists. Had it been conceived as pure and simple extinction or annihilation, it could not have had the attraction for the Buddhists that it did. In many passages it is actually described as blissful. In other passages it is held to be like the extinction of a flame. Some European scholars have considered the descriptions of Nirvana by the Buddhists to be incoherent or inconsistent. It is not surprising that European scholars, who are temperamentally often very different from the Buddhists of India, should fall into error in trying to comprehend the mystical state of Nirvana. Whether we read the teachings of the Upanishads or of the yoga of Patanjali, the ultimate state representing the goal of all the spiritual quest and spiritual strivings of the sages is set forth as absolutely contentless and non-conceptual. It is the self no doubt, but this self is entirely different from the self with which we are familiar in all our ordinary worldly concerns. It is the extinction of all our sorrows and pleasures and all our worldly experiences as much as is Nirvana. It is a state of absolute dissolution of all world-process. Though a blissful state, there is no distinction here between the bliss and the enjoyer of the bliss. But still it is just such a non-logical ultimate state that could stimulate the highest strivings of the best men of India. To call it blissful is not to understand bliss in an ordinary way. For this mystical bliss is incomprehensible by the intellect.5

Nirvana was conceived as a state similar to that just described. If it was compared to the extinction of a flame, this was quite proper. For is it not a state in which all worldly experiences entirely and absolutely cease to exist? Yet it is blissful in the sense that it can stimulate our spiritual cravings and spiritual strivings to the highest degree. The Hindus thought that at this state there is only the self-luminous self. The Buddhists, however, could not say what exists at this state for they denied the existence of the self. But the teaching of the Hindus is scarcely more comprehensible, except for the fact that at least from the grammatical and literary point of view we have in "the self-luminous self" a positive expression. But this self is as indescribable as is the state of Nirvana, except by the negative method of "not this," "not that." But still this state was rightfully called immortal and blissful because it was looked upon by the Buddhists as the end of all their sufferings, the goal of all their spiritual strivings, and the culmination of spiritual perfection. What is especially emphasized, from the negative point of view, is that it is absolutely non-logical in its nature. It has no describable essence. The mysticism of the Buddhist consists in a belief in this essenceless state of Nirvana 1 as the state of ultimate perfection and ultimate extinction, to be realized by the complete extinction of desires and the supra-intellectual wisdom of the yoga practice.6

So, though, for academic and philosophical discussions, the essenceless state of the vacuity of Nirvana is absolutely different from the pure self of yoga liberation, yet from the point of view of mystical experience both are too deep and unfathomable for ordinary comprehension. Both are transcendent, unworldly, and contentless in their nature; and the methods of their realization are also largely similar.7

In digressing, I shall now turn your attention to other forms of mysticism inviting a belief in non-logical methods of achieving one's highest goal of power, happiness, wisdom or emancipation, and shall speak of Indian asceticism. The Taittiriya Brahmana, which was composed probably as early as 700 B. C. (if not even earlier) speaks of Brahmacharya in the sense of studying the Vedas with due self-control. We find there the story of Bharadvaja who practised Brahmacharya for one whole life which was as long as three lives. Indra approached him and, finding him decayed and old, said, "Bharadvaja, if I were to give you a fourth life, what would you do with it?" He answered, "I would use it in practising Brahmacharya." The word tapas etymologically means heat, and in the Atharva Veda (XVII. 1. 24) is actually used in the sense of the heat of the sun. But by an extension of meaning the word was used to denote also the exertion of mental energy for the performance of an action and for the endurance of privations of all kinds, of heat, cold, and the like. It was regarded as a great force which could achieve extraordinary results. Thus it is said in the Taittiriya Upanishad that the Great Being performed tapas and having done so created all the world. In Rig Veda (X. 167. 1) Indra is said to have gained Heaven by tapas. Tapas was thus probably understood from very early times as some kind of austere discipline, the exact nature of which, however, was rather vague, changeable and undefined.8

In Ashvaghosha's Buddhacharita, which was written probably during the first century of the Christian era, we find that the Buddha was told by an ascetic in the forest how different ascetics lived like birds, by picking up grains left in the fields; others ate grass like animals; some lived with snakes; some sat still, like ant-hills, with nests of birds in the tangles of their long hair and snakes playing on their bodies; some lived in water, with tortoises eating parts of their bodies, thinking that misery itself is virtue and that the highest happiness in Heaven can be achieved by under-going sufferings of all kinds. Even in recent times Indian ascetics have inflicted on themselves various kinds of self-mortifications for the merits that are supposed to be derived from them. Thus a Brahmin ascetic at Benares is known to have lived for thirty-five years on a flat board studded with iron nails or spikes on which he sits and lies down at full length and which he never leaves night or day. Another common form of self-torture is to raise one or both arms above the head, and to hold them there until they become stiff and atrophied. Some ascetics are known to live with four fires burning very near them on their four sides and with the sun shining over their heads. Others undertake prolonged fastings and take vows of silence for years.9

We read in the Puranas that self-mortification by itself was believed to generate a force. By virtue of the force, power or energy of these self-mortifications, an ascetic who performed them could exact from the god he worshipped, any boon that he wanted and the god could not refuse to grant him the boon even though he knew that the effect of granting it would be seriously mischievous. In the Ramayana, the greatest epic of India, the story is told of Ravana, the great demon who carried away Sita, the wife of Rama. Ravana had won the boon from Prajapati that he could not be killed by gods or demons, and it was by virtue of this boon that he could conquer all the gods, though he was ultimately killed by Rama, a man. A story is told of a demon who had a boon from the god Shiva that the person on whose head he would put his hands would he reduced to ashes. When the boon was granted, the demon wanted to test its truth by putting his hands on the head of the god Shiva himself. Shiva was very much afraid and started to fly away with the demon pursuing him in hot haste. But the god Shiva had no power of taking away the favor that he had granted, for it was earned by the force of the tapas of the demon. Vishnu, who came to rescue the god Shiva, played a trick upon the demon. The latter was asked to test the truth of the boon about which he was sceptical on his own head and thus he was reduced to ashes. This tapas is often described as a fire. Unless the boon is granted and the ascetic desists from his tapas, it is believed that the fire of his tapas might even burn the whole world as it were. The force of these stories is that there was a belief that self-mortification is itself a source of great power and that by it one could gain any desire, be it an immortal life in Heaven, the conquest of all the worlds, or any other fanciful desire--even the liberation from all bondage. We thus find that, just as in the Vedic school sacrifice was conceived as a power which could produce any beneficial results that the sacrificer wanted, so in this Puranic school there was the belief that tapas as self-mortification could give an individual anything he craved. It was a power by itself. These tapas performances were apparently carried out to please certain gods, just as oblations were offered to the Vedic gods in sacrifices; yet the god with reference to whom the tapas was performed had no power to refuse the boon. The boons were exacted from the gods by the power of tapas, whether or not the gods willed to grant them of their own free volition, just as the effects of sacrifice did not in any way depend on the good will of the gods to whom offerings were made at those sacrifices.10

We know that tapas as the power of endurance of physical privations and troubles was an indispensable accessory of both the Buddhist yoga and Patanjali's yoga. The gradual abandonment of desires until their ultimate extinction could be effected, was essential both to yoga and to Buddhism. It is true that the Upanishads do not speak of the extinction of desires, but they certainly praise self-control as an indispensable desideratum. There is indeed the law of karma which requires that every person reap the fruits of his actions, whether good or bad, and that if the life of the present birth is not sufficient for the experience of the sufferings or the joys which are put to his account in accordance with the measure of his vice or virtue, he will enjoy or suffer the fruits of his deeds in another birth. So, in an endless chain of births and rebirths, moves on the cyclic destiny of man. All his rebirths are due to the fact that he is filled with desires, and for their fulfillment he performs actions out of attachments, passions, antipathies, etc. By the law of karma (which acts automatically according to some, and is controlled by the will of God according to others) he enjoys or suffers the fruits of his actions in this or in subsequent births. So if the successive chain of births is to be terminated, the accretion of the fruits of karma must be stopped, and if the accretion of karma is to be stopped, desire must be rooted out. I shall not enter into the subtle question as to whether the place of superior importance belongs to karma or to the extinction of desires in the Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina schemes of life. Whichever of the two may be considered the more important in each particular Hindu or Buddhist system of thought, they are nevertheless indissolubly connected. For out of desires come the actions and their fruits, and out of actions and the enjoyment or suffering of their fruits of pleasures or sorrows come further desires, and so on. However, if one looks at the matter psychologically, the extinction of desires may be considered the more important, since it is for Indian philosophy the indispensable ethical desideratum for all spiritual achievement. If the ultimate freedom of the spirit and the cessation of the cycle of births and rebirths be the ultimate ethical and spiritual goal, this can only be attained by the extinction of desires and the termination of the accretion of the fruits of our deeds. The development of the ideal of tapas is a direct result of this ideal of the extinction of desires. It was probably thought in some circles that control of desires implies on its positive side the idea of self-mortification. Logically it certainly does not. But the mistaken transition is easy. So there grew up a system of practice in which people thought that self-mortifications are of the highest merit and are capable of giving anything that might be desired. Soon degeneration set in. Self-mortifications were probably introduced as supplementary to the control of desires. They then came to be practiced for the indulgence of desires for attaining heaven or superior power, and thus began to perform functions similar to those that were ascribed to sacrifices in Vedic circles.11

The Buddha himself, as the legendary account of Ashvaghosha's Buddhacharita relates, directs the same criticisms as the above against the practice of self-mortification. He deplores the fact that, after leaving all worldly comforts, relatives and friends, men should with all these self-mortifications called tapas, desire only the satisfaction of desires. People are afraid of death, but when they seek the satisfaction of desires this leads to births, and thus they again face death of which they are afraid. If self-mortification is by itself productive of virtue, then the enjoyment of pleasures must be vicious. But if it is believed that virtue produces pleasures or happiness, and if pleasures are vices, then virtue produces vice, which is self-contradictory. It is strange, however, that the Buddha himself, when he wanted to attain to the highest wisdom or philosophy, undertook for six years the most rigorous asceticism and with all his limbs emaciated was almost on the point of death. He did not, of course, aim at the fruition of any ordinary desires, but at the discovery of the wisdom by which birth and death and all the sufferings associated with them could be stopped. All the same, he at first followed the custom then prevalent among ascetics and underwent the most austere discipline. But at the end of six years he realized that the performance of asceticism was unnecessary and without value for the attainment of the higher wisdom. He then bethought himself as to how he might regain his former strength and physique.

He thought that by hunger, thirst and fatigue the mind loses its ease, and that if the mind is not at ease one cannot by its use attain the highest wisdom. It is by the due satisfaction of the senses that the mind comes to its ease, and it is the easy, peaceful, and healthy mind in a healthy body that can attain the wisdom of yoga concentration. So the Buddha gave up his old forms of hard ascetic practice and tried to regain his health by proper food, bathing, etc. His associates, however, who probably knew only the old forms of practice, and were therefore shocked over his abandonment of them, left him. It was only after he had thus recovered his health that he could resist all the temptations of Mara, the Buddhistic Satan, and attain by concentration, highest wisdom. The wisdom that the Buddha attained seems to have been more of the nature of logical thought, but the goal that was to be attained by such wisdom was the mystical, inexpressible, essenceless Nirvana; and the direct means by which this could be attained was not logical thought or reasoning or scriptural or other kinds of learning, but the extinction of all desires (trishna-kshaya).12

The principal virtues of universal friendship, universal compassion, etc., to which reference has already been made, were appreciated early in Buddhism and also in the yoga of Patanjali. But it may well be argued that there was scarcely any place for the active manifestation of universal friendship or universal compassion in a scheme of life which was decidedly individualistic. No one who sought the absolute freedom of his own self, or the extinction of his whole personality like the extinguishing of a flame, and who sought the cessation of his own rebirths and sorrow as the only goal and the only ambition to be realized, could have much scope for any active manifestation of universal friendship. The altruistic ideal can therefore at best be merely a disposition, and can manifest itself merely in a negative way, e.g., in non-injury to any being. But a person who holds such an individualistic notion of salvation cannot, in his scheme of life, have any leisure or opportunity for the doing of active good to others.13

In the Hindu Puranas or religio-mythological works, written in poetry, we sometimes come across tales of wonderful self-sacrifice for the good of the gods or even for the good of animals who sought protection. But tales of self-sacrifice from the motive of universal friendship are very rare, and they do not seem to fit in with the Hindu ideal of personal and individual liberation. A story is told that when the gods were in great trouble in their war with Vritra, a demon, they approached the sage Dadhichi. For it was decreed by fate that the demon could be killed with a weapon made of Dadhichi's bones but with nothing else. Dadhichi, in response to the request of the gods, willingly gave up his life, in order that the gods, with a weapon made of his bones, might destroy the demon. A story is also told of King Shibi, who was tested by the gods Indra and Agni. Agni took the form of a pigeon, and Indra that of a pursuing hawk. The pigeon took shelter with King Shibi. The latter would not give it over to the hawk because the pigeon had taken shelter with him and under these circumstances he would rather give up his own life than allow the pigeon to be killed. At last the hawk said that he would be satisfied if King Shibi would give from his own body flesh of the same weight as that of the pigeon, and the king cut the flesh of his thigh with his own sword. This, however, is a case of the kshatriya's virtue of giving shelter to those who seek it, even at the sacrifice of one's own life. It does not exemplify self-sacrifice for the good of beings in general, out of pure motives of universal friendship. The tale is a Brahmanic adaptation of a Buddhist story called Shibijataka, in which King Shibi is said to have torn out his eyes and made a gift of them out of motives of pure charity alone. In another story in the Mahabharata, Shibi is said to have cut up his own son as food for a Brahmin who desired the son's flesh for dinner; and to please the Brahmin Shibi was prepared to join in eating the dinner consisting of his own son's flesh. The motive here was the supreme duty of pleasing the Brahmins and giving them whatever they wanted.14

But though the ideal of universal friendship and compassion does not seem to have been an active creed among the Hindus or among the followers of the Hinayana school of early Buddhism, it assumed a rôle of paramount importance in the Mahayana school of Buddhism. Here universal altruism and universal compassion, and happiness and sorrow in the happiness and sorrow of others, form the dominant principle.

The philosophy of the Mahayana Buddhism was peculiarly idealistic. It taught that matter as such has no existence in any form, and that all things perceived are but creations of the mind, and more like a magic show than reality. Everything, according to it, is essenceless and indescribable, mere phantom creation of the mind. Indeed, mind itself is not ultimately real in any sense, but is as illusory a creation as all other things created by it. It is the realization of this that was called bodhi or perfect knowledge. Those who perceive this truth attain perfect knowledge and, like a flame extinguished, reach Nirvana or the final deliverance from all sorrows and rebirths.15

There is a lower order of saints called arhats, or pratyekabuddhas. These pratyekabuddha saints are said to be of a lower order because they live alone by themselves like the rhinoceros. By their spiritual endeavors, they obtain a logical understanding of the way in which all worldly things originate and pass away; and by meditation on the essencelessness of all things, they attain perfect knowledge and Nirvana. They are not instructed by any one, nor do they teach others to attain the knowledge that they gain. They are accustomed from the beginning to lead a lonely life like the Hindu yogis, and the instruction of others does not interest them. They are therefore regarded as being only Buddhas or enlightened ones of a lower order.

The higher Buddhas are those who aim not only at the vision of truth for destroying their inner notion of self or ego and all desires of existence and non-existence, but also at doing good to all living beings and constantly practicing the great virtues. Their enlightenment includes not only the possession of the truth indispensable to salvation, but also omniscience, universal knowledge of all details of things, and omnipotence. The perfect Buddha attains these powers not only through his prolonged meditations, by which he gets insight into the principles of all things, but also through his infinite merits of constantly performing the great virtues of charity, patience, etc. The man who aims at the attainment of this superior Buddhahood is called a Bodhisattva (one who is on the way to the attainment of perfect knowledge). His superior aim consists in this that, at the cost of personal sufferings, he wishes the temporal happiness of others. He continually desires for others supreme and temporal happiness, and for himself the Buddhahood as a means of realizing this service to others. Even after the saint attains true enlightenment and knows that there is no essence in anything and that nothing exists, he continues to practice the virtues of charity, morality and patience, and to mature the qualities of his supreme enlightenment.16

We sometimes hear very remarkable stories of Buddhist saints, even of actual historical saints, who showed supreme self-control and compassion for others. Thus it is said of Aryadeva, a great Buddhist teacher of the second century, that he once defeated in argument a teacher of non-Buddhistic doctrines. A young disciple of this defeated teacher, greatly enraged over his teacher's defeat, determined to murder Aryadeva and awaited a suitable opportunity. One day Aryadeva was preaching the doctrine of the essencelessness of all things, and was refuting heretical views before his pupils in a solitary forest. After this instruction, while he was taking a walk alone, the enemy stabbed him from ambush, saying, "You conquered my teacher with your knowledge, but I now conquer you with my sword." Aryadeva, holding fast with his hands his stabbed belly, bade the would-be assassin take his three clothes and bowl and escape over the mountains in monk's garb so that others might not capture and punish him. He further told him that he was very sorry for him because of the seeds of sinful deeds that he was sowing. The murderer was deeply moved by the saint's compassion and sympathy, and asked Aryadeva to teach him the doctrine. Even in his wounded condition Aryadeva began to teach him the Buddhist doctrine of the essencelessness of all things. After giving him some instructions Aryadeva fell in a swoon and his assailant escaped. Soon afterwards Aryadeva's pupils came and enquired about the murderer. To them the teacher replied that there was no one who was killed or who killed, no friend and no enemy, no murderer, that everything was a delusion due to ignorance.17

He who is kind and good and has a great propensity for doing good to others, and who, though incapable of committing a sinful action for himself, may yet be so moved by love for his fellow beings as to commit a wrong action for them, is fit to take the vow of a Bodhisattva who would spend all his future career for the good of others. His enthusiasm is not for the egoistical calm of the saint who is anxious for his own deliverance; he is moved by the most altruistic of all motives, viz., compassion for all creatures. It is such a person who takes the vow of Bodhisattva or one who aspires to the goal of a future Buddha.

But even then it is one thing to take a vow and another thing to fulfil it. Ordinarily one's unconstrained love is given to himself and it is only by reflection that the Bodhisattva learns to care wholly for the welfare of others. At the lower stages, his nature leaves him at the mercy of his inclination; his knowledge of truth is but slight, and the direct penetrating sight of the yoga meditations is entirely lacking to him. But by a continual repetition of his high aspirations, and by a more and more studious practice of the good works which they involve, he gradually comes to the higher stages of progress. As he enters these, wishing to bear the burden of the sins of all human beings in the hells and elsewhere, he becomes free from all fears of evil reputation, rebirth, death, etc. Becoming more and more perfect, he gradually masters the virtues of faith, compassion, affection for all, disinterestedness, reverence for self and for others. All his actions are for the good of others, and his only thought is that he may be serviceable to all beings.18

The person who intends to enter upon the higher career of a Bodhisattva and ultimately to become the perfect Buddha, places himself under the guidance of a religious preceptor, performs the moral or pious works, and undertakes the vow of bodhi. He thinks that it is only by a desire to become a perfect Buddha for the salvation of men, and by dedicating himself to the good of all beings, that the sins of his past lives can he wholly removed. He confesses his own guilt and imperfections and deplores them. He wishes to dedicate all the fruits of his virtuous deeds, merit and piety to the good of all creatures and for the attainment of their Bodhi. He wishes to be the bread for those who are hungry, and the drink for those who are thirsty. He devotes himself by his love to all beings; and in his compassion for their sufferings, he gives all that he is, to all creatures. It is by such determinations that he produces in himself the proper state of mind with which one may start in the high career of a Bodhisattva. He has then to keep a strict vigilance over his thoughts and over the resolutions that he has taken, and keep a continued watchfulness over mind and body. He must also perform the great virtues called paramitas, for thinking, though good in itself, is not enough by itself; it must be continually supplemented by the exercise of the great virtues. He should restrain himself from all evil by continued watchfulness over his mind and body, and by self-control attained in this way. But he must also continually perform the great virtues in order to strengthen his life in progressive good.

One of the most important of these virtues is that of giving due scope to compassion (karuna). The aspirant thinks that his neighbor suffers pain as he suffers his. Why should he be anxious about himself and not about his neighbor? Such a man may even commit a sin if he knows that this will be beneficial to one of his fellow-beings. For the sake of doing good to others he should always be prepared to abandon even his meditations or even his chastity. It is through this universal compassion that he can reconcile all beings to himself--by almsgiving, amiability, obligingness, and sharing the joy and sorrow of others. But he ought also to take care that his tendency to charity do not become so excessive as to stand in the way of his spiritual advancement. For it is only on a high stage of spirituality that he can make himself most genuinely serviceable to others. To give even one's flesh and blood for the good of others is good, but the giving of spiritual food is certainly better. It is not good to sacrifice one's body to satisfy the appetite of a tiger when that body in a sound condition can be utilized for giving spiritual instruction to others.19

Careful adherence to morality, consisting of purity of intention, reformation after transgression, and regard for the law of right conduct, is another of the important conditions which a Bodhisattva should strictly meet. Without going into any details, the main principle of morality consists in abstaining from all actions hurtful to others, or the maxim, "Do not do to others what you would not like others to do unto you." But apart from this negative virtue of abstention, he should also acquire the positive virtues of devotion to study, reflection and meditation, reverence to the teacher, nursing the sick, confession of guilt, association with people in their good and useful undertakings and in their difficulties and sicknesses, giving them right teaching, etc.,--in short, doing good to all people in all possible ways.

Another important virtue is patience or control of anger, for anger is the greatest of all sins. He should also practice the virtue of energetically conquering all incapacity of body and mind, all attachment to pleasures and want of firm determination. This he can do by thinking of the evil effects of these traits and by recalling that, unless he can firmly keep himself to the strict path of virtue, he will never be able to cross the ocean of suffering, and that, however low may be his present state, he may by continued exertion raise himself to the highest stage of perfection of the Buddhas. He should also derive additional strength by thinking: first, of his great desire to rid himself and all other beings from all their sins: second, of his great pride over undertaking to bear the burdens of all creatures; third, of his joy in undertaking new tasks as soon as the old ones are finished--his happiness is in action itself, and he seeks in action no other fruit than the pleasure of the action done; fourth, of his self-mastery of attention, and of keeping his mind and body always completely alert. If he for any reason fails once, he must discover the cause and see that he may not fail again.20

Two further virtues are contemplation or concentration and the true wisdom which realizes the nothingness of all things. It is surprising how a metaphysics of extreme idealism, of the nothingness and essencelessness of all things, or of nihilism, could set for the achievement of the highest spiritual perfection a program of life and endeavor which is altruistic in the most extreme degree imaginable. What is required is a state of perfection in which the individual esteems the ultimate state of mystical deliverance--Nirvana or extinction--to be of little consequence, and is prepared to undergo all troubles, and refuse to enter Nirvana, unless and until all beings become good and happy and come to the path of deliverance. Out of the doctrines of self-control and the ideal of the extinction of desires, there has thus come a scheme of life in which desirelessness is attained by magnifying the scope of desires from the individual to the universal, by rejecting personal good for the sake of the good of others. This good is not sought with a view to any selfish aims, for the seer knows that nothing exists and that all forms and names are empty and essenceless. But he takes it upon himself to do this because of his supreme compassion and of his determination to devote himself to the service of his fellow-beings and to bring to them the light of perfection. The milk of human kindness flows through him, and it is this flow of kindness in him which leads him to his highest perfection. With him, as Shantideva (a great authority) says, even contemplation occupies only a lower place. For he attains to his highest only by persisting in the path of compassion.

The two cardinal features of his conduct are a firm conviction of the equality of his self with that of his neighbor and the substitution of his neighbor's self for his self. Each of these features involves a clear insight into the nature of things. If with great strength one can duly exemplify them, he attains all the merits of a Bodhisattva. He understands that our only enemy is our selfish "ego." Thus, he speaks to his own self, "Renounce, O my thought, the foolish hope that I have still a special interest in you. I have given you to my neighbor, thinking nothing of your sufferings. For if I were so foolish as not to give you over to the creatures, there is no doubt that you would deliver me to the demons, the guardians of hell. How often, indeed, have you not handed me over to those wretches, and for what long tortures! I remember your long enmity, and I crush you, O self, the slave of your own interests. If I really love myself, I must not love myself. If I wish to preserve myself, I must not preserve myself." 221

91:1 There are some Buddhist thinkers, the Sthiramati, who hold that the state of Nirvana is a state of subject-objectless, pure, unchangeable consciousness called atayvignana.

109:2 L. de la Vallée Poussin's article "Bodhisattva," Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (edited by James Hastings), Vol. II, p. 753.



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