THE HIGHER BUDDHISM
Philosphical Buddhism requires some brief consideration in this place, - for two reasons. The first is that misapprehension or ignorance of the subject has rendered possible the charge of atheism against the intellectual classes of Japan. The second reason is that some persons imagine the Japanese common people - that is to say, the greater part of the nation - believers in the doctrine of Nirvana as extinction (though, as a matter of fact, even the meaning of the word is unknown to the masses), and quite resigned to vanish from the face of the earth, because of that incapacity for struggle which the doctrine is supposed to create. A little serious thinking ought to convince any intelligent man that no such creed could ever have been the religion of either a savage or a civilized people. But myriads of Western minds are ready at all times to accept statements of impossibility without taking the trouble to think about them; and if I can show some of my readers how far beyond popular comprehension the doctrines of the higher Buddhism really are, something will have been accomplished for the cause of truth and common-sense. And besides the reasons already given for dwelling upon the subject, there is this third and special reason, - that it is one of extraordinary interest to the student of modern philosophy.
Before going further, I must remind you that the metaphysics of Buddhism can be studied anywhere else quite as well as in Japan, since the more important sutras have been translated into various European languages, and most of the untranslated texts edited and published. The texts of Japanese Buddhism are Chinese; and only Chinese scholars are competent to throw light upon the minor special phases of the subject. Even to read the Chinese Buddhist canon of 7000 volumes is commonly regarded as an impossible feat, - though it has certainly been accomplished in Japan. Then there are the commentaries, the varied interpretations of different sects, the multiplications of later doctrine, to heap confusion upon confusion. The complexities of Japanese Buddhism are incalculable; and those who try to unravel them soon become, as a general rule, hopelessly lost in the maze of detail. All this has nothing to do with my present purpose, I shall have very little to say about Japanese Buddhism as distinguished from other Buddhism, and nothing at all to say about sect-differences. I shall keep to general facts as regards the higher doctrine, - selecting from among such facts only those most suitable for the illustration of that doctrine. And I shall not take up the subject of Nirvana, in spite of its great importance, - having treated it as fully as I was able in my _Gleanings in Buddha-Fields_, - but confine myself to the topic of certain analogies between the conclusions of Buddhist metaphysics and the conclusions of contemporary Western thought.
In the best single volume yet produced in English on the subject of Buddhism,* the late Mr. Henry Clarke Warren observed: "A large part of the pleasure that I have experienced in the study of Buddhism has arisen from what I may call the strangeness of the intellectual landscape. [*Buddhism in Translations, by Henry Clarke Warren (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1896). Published by Harvard University.] All the ideas, the modes of argument, even the postulates assumed and not argued about, have always seemed so strange, so different from anything to which I have been accustomed, that I felt all the time as though walking in Fairyland. Much of the charm that the Oriental thoughts and ideas have for me appears to be because they so seldom fit into Western categories." ... The serious attraction of Buddhist philosophy could not be better suggested: it is indeed "the strangeness of the intellectual landscape," as of a world inside-out and upside-down, that has chiefly interested Western thinkers heretofore. Yet after all, there is a class of Buddhist concepts which can be fitted, or very nearly fitted, into Western categories. The higher Buddhism is a kind of Monism; and it includes doctrines that accord, in the most surprising manner, with the scientific theories of the German and the English monists. To my thinking, the most curious part of the subject, and its main interest, is represented just by these accordances, - particularly in view of the fact that the Buddhist conclusions have been reached through mental processes unknown to Western thinking, and unaided by any knowledge of science.... I venture to call myself a student of Herbert Spencer; and it was because of my acquaintance with the Synthetic Philosophy that I came to find in Buddhist philosophy a more than romantic interest. For Buddhism is also a theory of evolution, though the great central idea of our scientific evolution (the law of progress from homogeneity to heterogeneity) is not correspondingly implied by Buddhist doctrine as regards the life of this world. The course of evolution as we conceive it, according to Professor Huxley, "must describe a trajectory like that of a ball fired from a mortar; and the sinking half of that course is as much a part of the general process of evolution as the rising." The highest point of the trajectory would represent what Mr. Spencer calls Equilibration, - the supreme point of development preceding the period of decline; but, in Buddhist evolution, this supreme point vanishes into Nirvana. I can best illustrate the Buddhist position by asking you to imagine the trajectory line upside-down, - a course descending out of the infinite, touching ground, and ascending again to mystery.... Nevertheless, some Buddhist ideas do offer the most startling analogy with the evolutional ideas of our own time; and even those Buddhist concepts most remote from Western thought can be best interpreted by the help of illustrations and of language borrowed from modern science.