Dr. Ranade has traced five stages of
this development, which he calls the "Ladder of spiritual experience".
The first stage is to mystically apprehending the glory of the Self within us
as though we were distinct from him. At the second stage, we must experience that
we are really the very Self and that we are neither the bodily, or the sensuous,
or the intellectual, or the emotional vestures; that we are in our essential nature
entirely identical with the pure Self. In the third stage of spiritual experience,
we come to realize that this Self is identical with the Absolute - Ayamatma Brahman
(Brih II.5.19). For the fourth stage, let us have a re-look at the second and
third. If I am the Self and the Self is the Absolute, then it follows syllogistically
that I am the Absolute - Aham Brahmasmi (Brih I.4.10). If "I" is identified,
"Thou" also projectively gets identified with Brahman- Tatvamasi (Chh
VI.8.7). This is the significance of the two most famous and most misunderstood
statements of reality. At the final stage, if "I" and "Thou",
that is the subject and the object are the Absolute, it follows that every thing
that we see in this world, Mind and Nature, the Self and the not-Self equally
constitute the Absolute. This leads to the grand synthesis of the Upanisads that
Brahman is very the "All" - Sarvam khalvidam Brahma (Chh III.14.1).
This logical synthesis of the opposites is the highest contribution to thought
from the sages of the Upanisads. In the field of metaphysics this synthesis of
the gross and the subtle is as radical as Einstein's mass-energy equivalence,
e = mc2 , in the field of physics.
It is not possible to do justice to the body of knowledge which the Upanisads contain within the space available in the scheme of this presentation. We will, however, refer to them as we discuss the various systems of philosophy to show their indebtedness to the Upanisads.
The Bhagvadgita is inset in the Mahabharat and is much later in time than the Upanisads. But it has influenced the thinking mind not only in India but beyond its frontiers. "It attempts to reconcile", says Dr. Radhakrishnan, "varied and apparently antithetical forms of the religious consciousness and emphasizes the root conceptions of religion which are neither ancient nor modern but eternal and belong to the very flesh of humanity, past, present and future". It is interesting to read the views of J.W. Hauer, an exponent of the German faith, about Bhagvadgita. He says : "it gives us not only profound insights that are valid for all times and for all religious life, but it contains as well the classical presentation of one of the most significant phases of Indo-Germanic history It shows us the way as regards the essential nature and basal characteristic of Indo-Germanic religion. Here spirit is at work that belongs to our spirit".
Bhagvadgita is not concerned so much with philosophy as the correctness of action. The opening section raises the question of the problem of human action. How can we live in the Highest Self and yet continue to work in the world? It's importance lies in the answer it gives. Bhagvadgita is both, science of reality as well as art of union with that reality. Here we find a comprehensive synthesis of different currents of thought - the Vedic cult of sacrifice, the Upanisad teaching of the transcendent Brahman, the Bhagvat theism and tender piety, the Samkhya dualism and the Yoga meditation. The method adopted is to put them side by side and show how they converge towards the same end.
As regards the goal of perfection or attainment of saving truth or apprehension of ultimate Reality, Bhagvadgita gives us three different ways - by knowledge of Reality (gyan) or adoration of the Supreme Being (Bhakti) or by the subjection of the will to the Divine purpose (karma). These are not mutually exclusive. To borrow a phrase from Dr. Radhakrishnan the distinction is on account of the "distribution of emphasis on the theoretical, emotional and practical aspects". Bhagvadgita's biggest contribution to mankind is its theory of disinterestedness, action without attachment to the fruit thereof. Even mind in success and failure or inner poise leads to the state of Yoga, which is true skill in action.
Jainism is a very old form of un-orthodox or non-Vedic religion. It arose, in all probability , in the later Vedic period and was revised by Vardhmana, styled Mahavira, in the sixth century BC. Vardhamana born in about 540 BC, like his contemporary Buddha, was from a princely family of north Bihar. He is considered as 24th in the line of path-finders or tirthankaras, the first being Rishabhadeva.
Jainism believes in the eternal and independent existence of spirit and matter or "jiva" and "ajiva". But the spirit here is only the individual self and not the supreme self of the Upanisads. Jiva is conceived as an eternal substance or "dravya" of limited but variable magnitude, which is capable of adjusting to the shape and size of the physical body with which it is associated for the time being. Empirical, knowledge in its diverse forms is a manifestation of it under limitations caused by the inanimate nature of a jiva. The ultimate aim of life is conceived as casting off these limitations so that the soul may reveal its true nature of omniscience. At this stage there is a mystic or direct intuition of all things. This full and comprehensive knowledge is termed "Kevala-jnan". Jainism believes in the theory of transmigration and reward and retribution is allotted according to ones "Karma".
Ajiva, as the name indicates, includes all that is devoid of consciousness or life. It is five fold : matter, time, space, dharma and adharma. Matter is manifold, the ultimate stage of its being atomic. It is as the aggregate of atoms that it becomes the object of common experience. Time is infinite and all pervasive. All things are in time and all changes take place in it. Space is viewed as extending beyond our world and like time it is also infinite and all pervasive. Dharma and Adharma do not stand for religious merit and demerit. They represent the principles of motion and rest.
Jainism has elaborate theory of knowledge. It is conceived as self-luminous so that it shows to the self not only objects but also itself. It is in two categories : mediate or paroksha and immediate or pratyaksha. In the latter category, keval- jnana is conceived as the highest form of knowledge, which does not depend on the cooperation of any sense. All that it pre-supposes is the self.
The concept of ultimate Reality in Jainism could be summed up in the phrase "Pluralistic Realism". It is multiple in character. It is dynamic in that it keeps changing perpetually yet retaining its identity throughout. There are two aspects to it: general or samanya and, particular or vishesha. The relation between the two is one of identity in difference.
From the above it is obvious that the concept of reality does not exclude contradictory features. It amounts to saying that it is indeterminate in nature. From this follows what is known as the Sapta-bhang or the doctrine of Syadvada i.e. may be. We may state the various steps of the scheme : (1) may be, a thing is; (2) may be, it is not; (3) may be, it is and is not; (4) may be it is inexpressible; (5) may be, a thing is not and is inexpressible; (6) may be, a thing is not and is inexpressible; (7) may be a thing is, is not and is inexpressible. What a variety in skepticism !
As regards the practical part of Jainism, two things stand out. It is pessimistic, though not ultimately so; and it is also severely ascetic. The goal of life, as already remarked, is to restore the soul to its pristine purity so that it may attain omniscience. The discipline recommended for bringing about this consummation is threefold. It is right faith (Samyagdarshan), right knowledge (Samyagjnana) and right conduct (Samyag Charitra). Together these are known as the three jewels (tri-ratna). Dr. M. Hiriyanna writes: "Jainism may deny the existence of a Supreme God, it retains the idea of the divine as representing perfection". Dr. S. Radhakrishnan likens the metaphysics of Jainism to Leibniz's monadism and Bergson's creative evolutionism.
Sidhartha, born in 567 BC, better known as Gautam Buddha, came from a princely family. Much disturbed by the transience and uncertainty of life, he left his royal privileges to wander in search of truth. "Any man with imagination", says Dr. Radhakrishnan, "will be struck with amazement when he finds that six centuries before Christ there lived in India a prince second to none before him or after in spiritual detachment, lofty idealism, nobility of life and love for humanity". It is a miracle of history that his teachings spread far and wide on sheer force of their logic, their simplicity, and their ethical appeal un-backed by the sword, as we find in the case of Christianity as well as Islam. What is it and how it happened? Let us look into this.
Buddhist thought evolved in India over a period of thousand years. Three distinct phases are discernible in its evolution. Early Buddhism, development of canonical literature and acquisition of monastic character and Buddhism as religion.
Early Buddhism is viewed, essentially, as a protest against over-ceremonialism of the time. For most men religion consisted in regular ceremonial prayer and penance, purification and prohibitions applicable to almost all relations of human life. Buddha, through his own sincere experience, felt the hollowness of the most of beliefs which people regarded as articles of faith. "There is no question", observes Dr. Radhakrishnan, "that the system of early Buddhism is one of the most original which the history of philosophy presents. In its fundamental ideas and essential spirit it approximates remarkably to the advanced scientific thought of the nineteenth century". It was free from dogma, priesthood, sacrifice and sacrament and insisted on an inward change of heart and system of self-culture. Hegel compares the man of genius in relation to his age to one who places the last and the locking stone in an arch. Such a master hand was that of Buddha who undoubtedly is one of the greatest thinkers of India. Dr. Radhakrishnan compares Buddha's relations with his predecessors to that of Socrates to the Sophists. He proceeds to observe: "Buddha is not so much creating a new drama as rediscovering an old norm. It is the venerable tradition that is being adapted to meet the special needs of the age. To develop his theory, Buddha had only to rid the Upanisads of their inconsistent compromises with Vedic polytheism and religion, set aside the transcendental aspects as being indemonstable to thought and un-necessary to morals and emphasise the ethical universalism of the Upanisads." It may be noted that the roots of early Budhism are firmly fixed in the soil of India's hoary tradition. Rhys Davids has beautifully summed up his relationship with Hinduism thus : "Gautam was born and brought up and lived and died a Hindu there was not much in the metaphysics and principles of Gautam which cannot be found in one or other of the orthodox systems, and a great deal of his morality could be matched from earlier or later Hindu Books. Such originality as Gautam possessed lay in the way in which he adopted, enlarged, enobled and systematised that which had already been well said by others; in the way in which he carried out to their logical conclusion principles of equity and justice already acknowledged by some of the most prominent Hindu thinkers. The difference between him and other teachers lay chiefly in his deep earnestness and in his broad public spirit of philanthropy."
Buddha passed through the known stages of penance, mortification of the physical self and all that. But finally it was his intense spiritual experience which helped him to discover the well known four noble truths (Arya Satya). These are the existence of suffering, its cause, the possibility of its elimination and finally the way to accomplish it. The system which Budhha enunciated is free from the extremes of self indulgence and self mortification. There are two extremes, habitual devotion to passions, to pleasures of sensual things on the one hand and habitual devotion to self mortification on the other, which is painful, ignoble and unprofitable. The Tathagata suggested the middle path, a path which opens the eyes and bestows understanding, which leads to peace, to insight to higher wisdom, to "nirvana" or final deliverance. This is the Aryan eight fold-path. That is to say : right beliefs, right aspirations, right speech, right conduct, right mode of livelihood, right effort, right mindedness and right rapture.
For an authentic account of early Buddhism we have to depend on "Pitakas" or the baskets of Law. To settle disputes among the folllowers of Buddha about the exact nature of his teachings, a council was called at Rajgriha near Magadha. Kashyapa, the most learned among the disciples stated the metaphysical position contained in Abhidhammapitak. Upali the oldest amongst them, gave the rules of discipline found in Vinayapitaka. Lastly, Anand, Buddha's favourite disciple narrated the stories and parables which find place in Suttapitaka. About this basket of discourses or Suttapitaka as a whole, Rhys Davids says : "In depth of philosophical insight, in the method of Socratic questioning often adopted, in the earnest and elevated tone of the whole, in the evidence they afford of the most cultured thought of the day, these discourses constantly remind the reader of the dialogues of Plato ..It is quite inevitable that as soon as it is properly translated and understood, this collection of the dialogues of Gautam will come to be placed in our schools of philosophy and history, on a level with the dialogues of Plato.
"When we pass from Upanisads to early Buddhism," says Dr. Radhakrishnan, " we pass from a work of many minds to the considered creed of a single individual. In the Upanisads, we have an amazing study of an atmosphere, in Buddhism the concrete embodiment of thought in the life of a man. This unity of thought and life worked wonderfully on the world of the time. The singular personality and life of Buddha had much to do with the success of early Buddhism".
Early Buddhism is essentially a gospel of hope and not of despair. It is positive and constructive. Milind Panha or the questions of Milinda, a work which is standard authority in Ceylon (now Shri Lanka ), is not considered as authoritative as the Pali Pitakas. In it, Nagsena seems to commit Buddha to a negative dogmatism. Dr. Radhakrishnan asserts: "Suspended judgement was Buddha's attitude, reckless repudiation was Nagsena's amendment." The early Buddhism has three distinct characteristics, an ethical earnestness, an absence of any theological tendency and an aversion to fruitless metaphysical speculation. Buddha wished to steer clear of metaphysical discussions, at times responding with silence, which was construed by some as negation. He would not like to pass judgement on insufficient evidence. He felt moral life suffered due to peoples energies getting absorbed in theological discussions and metaphysical subtleties. Buddhism is essentially psychology, logic and ethics and not metaphysics. Whatever metaphysics we have is added to it (abhidhamma) and not "Dhamma" as Buddha propounded.
From psychological point of view, the phenomena of the world are divided into two classes: (1) Rupino, having form, the four elements and their derivatives; (2) arupino, not having form, the four elements and their derivatives. "Nam" and "Rupa" are briefly used for the two categories respectively. The latter involves phases of consciousness i.e. feeling, perception, synthesis and intellect. The scheme shows pretty high development of the power of introspective analysis.
Buddhistic ethics is a derivative of its elaborate logic and deep psychological analysis. We have seen how the logic of the existence of suffering led to the analysis of its cause and suggested a way out. The essential purpose of Buddha's teaching is redemption from suffering. The goal of moral life is to escape from the pervasive evil of existence. While "nirvana" is the highest goal, all forms of conduct which lead to it positively or bring about an un-doing of rebirth are good and their opposite bad. Buddhism insists on purity of motive and humility in life.
As we examine the development of Buddhism as a religion, we observe two distinct courses becoming discernible rather early. The orthodox party or the Sthaviras initially take precedence over the Progressive Party or the Mahasanghlikas. The question dividing them centres round the attainment of Buddhahood. The Sthaviras held that it is a quality to be acquired by strict observance of the rules of Vinaya. The progressives, on the other hand, maintained that Buddhahood was a quality inborn in every human being, and by adequate development it was capable of raising its possessor to the rank of Tathagata. The orthodox view is said to be the lineal ancestor of Ceylonese Buddhism.
After Ashoka adopted Buddhism two and a half centuries later after Buddha's death the phase of vigorous expansion begins. All over his vast empire extending from the valleys of Kabul to the mouths of the Ganga and from Himalayas to the south of Vindhyas, Buddha's edicts were engraved on stone pillars. He sent missionaries well beyond his empire. The thirteenth edict states that he sent missionaries to Antiochus II of Syria, Ptolemy II of Egypt, Antigonos Gonatos of Macedonia, Magas Cyrene and Aalexander II of Epirus. In the third century B.C. Buddhism entered Kashmir and Ceylone and penetrated slowly in Nepal and Tibet, China, Japan and Mongolia.
It is a miracle of history how a faith by dint of sheer logic and pursuation got such wide acceptance. Of the two main branches Hinayan and Mahayan, it is the latter which had wider appeal. Wherever it prevailed, India, China, Korea, Siam, Burma and Japan the indigenous ideas were tolerated while it took care to teach them new respect for life, kindness to animals and resignation. Dr. Radhakrishan observes: "So long as men conformed to certain ethical rules and respected the order of the monks, Buddhist teachers did not feel called upon to condemn the superstitious usages. It does not matter what gods you worship, so long as you are good. The protean character of Mahayana Buddhism is due to this tendency. In each of the countries where it was adopted it had a separate history and doctrinal development". In this process Buddhism deeply influenced the local faiths and in the process got itself enriched.
It is not necessary to go into the details of the various schools of Buddhism. We may however, mention that these are broadly four, two belong to Hinayana and two to Mahayan. The Hinayana schools are the Vaibhasikas and the Sautrantikas, who are realists believing that there is a self existent universe actual in space and time, where mind holds an equal place with other finite things. The Mahayana Schools are the Yogachara and the Madhyamika. The former contends that thought is self creative and all producing. It is the ultimate principle and even the ultimate type and form of reality. The latter is a negative critical system. The Madhyamikas are considered by some as nihilists.
We will conclude after examining the fall of Buddhism in India and its influence on Indian thought. Dr. Radhakrishnan avers that the vital reason for disappearance of Buddhism from India is the fact that it became ultimately indistinguishable from other flourishing forms of Hinduism. When Brahmanical faith inculcated universal love and devotion to God and proclaimed Buddha to be an avatara or incarnation of Vishnu, the death knell of Buddhism in India was sounded. Buddhism simply passed away by becoming blended in Hinduism. He calls it an invention of the interested to say that fanatic priests fought Buddhism out of existence. It is true that Shankara and Kumrila criticised Buddhistic doctrines but only to creatively improve upon it. "Slow absorption and silent indifference", says Dr. Radhakrishnan, "and not priestly fanaticism and methodical destruction, are the causes of the fall of Buddhism".
When a system absorbs something else out of existence, it is only logical to conclude that it cannot stay wholly its original self. The same is true of Hinduism. Influence of Buddhism on Hindu thought is visible on all sides. Even Shankara was criticised by the conservative thinkers as cripto-Buddhist. The influence of Buddhist ethics is particularly marked. A respect for life, kindness to animals, a sense of responsibility and endeavour after higher life got injected into Hinduism with renewed vigour. The life and teachings of Buddha were such that they left indelible marks not only on Hinduism but the entire oriental thinking. To recall the words of Dr. Radhakrishnan: "His life and teachings will compel the reverence of mankind, give ease to many troubled minds, gladden many simple hearts and answer to many innocent prayers".