Buddhist Philosophy and Its European
Philosophy East and West 13, no.1, January
© by The University press of Hawaii.
for philosophical parallels is fraught with pit-falls. Some parallels are fruitful
and significant, others incidental and fortuitous. I now propose to discuss the
European parallels to Buddhist thought in two articles, of which the first is
devoted to the true, and the second to the spurious, parallels.
As for my
interpretation of the basic principles of Buddhism, I have recently given it in
some detail in Buddhist Thought in India.(1) Since my views differ to some extent
from those of my predecessors, I will briefly sum them up so that the reader can
see what kind of "Buddhism" I compare with European philosophy.
basic teaching of the Buddha can be expressed in one sentence: The conditioned
world as it appears to us is fundamentally and irreparably undesirable, and salvation
can be found only through escape to the Unconditioned, also called "Nirvaa.na."
Everything else is elaboration.
All conditioned things are marred by having
three "marks, " i.e., by being impermanent, "ill," and "alien
to our true self."(2) Much thought has gone into determining the full meaning
of those marks. "Ill," for instance, comprises not only pain and suffering,
but also the unease which is nowadays known as "existential anxiety,"(3)
and the mark of "not-self" has given rise to interminable discussions.(4)
Human beings fret against a world which is impermanent, ill, and not-self and
are not content to live in it, because they believe that in the core of their
own being they are eternal, at ease, and in full control of everything.(5) This
alienation of our empirical personality from our true being (i.e., from the "Tathaagata"
within us(6) )is brought about by "craving."(7)
If we want to return
to our original state of purity, we must first regenerate ourselves by developing
five cardinal virtues,(8) of which wisdom is the last and most important. After
these virtues have sufficiently matured, we can slowly attempt a break-through
to the Unconditioned,(9) which, through the three doors of deliverance, i.e.,
Emptiness, the Signless, and the Wishless,(10) leads to Nirvaa.na,(11) which is
a state in which the self has become extinct, in which none of this world is any
longer extant, and which therefore transcends all words and concepts.(12) This
is all quite simple to understand, though at times hard to believe. It is very
much complicated, however, by being combined with an ontological theory of "Dharma"
which requires a tremendous intellectual effort.(13) This theory distinguishes
three levels of reality:  the one and single Dharma, which is the ultimate
and unconditioned reality of Nirvaa.na; a multiplicity of dharmas, or momentary
and impersonal events, which, though illusory compared with the one single Dharma,(14)
are more real than the things around us; and  the things of the common-sense
world, which are mere verbal constructions, in that they are combinations of dharmas
held together by words.(15) The Buddhist "dharma-theory is unique, and has
no exact equivalent anywhere else.(16)
So much for the tenets of what I call
"archaic" Buddhism. They were probably formulated by the time of A'soka.(16a)
Two centuries later the further elaboration of these ideas led to two distinct
schools, i.e., the "scholastic Hiinayaana" and the "Mahaayaana,"
which, contrary to what is often said, did not significantly conflict in their
doctrines but merely diverged in their range of interest. The "scholastic
Hiinayaana" concentrated on the conditioned dharmas, systematized their classification,
defined more precisely their particular attributes and general marks, and worked
out the relations pertaining among them.(18) The creative contributions of the
Mahaayaana, on the other hand, almost exclusively concern the Unconditioned. In
particular, the notion of "Emptiness," which in "archaic"
Buddhism had been one of the avenues to Nirvaa.na, was now immensely enriched.(19)
It was also buttressed by a searching analysis of the traditional concept of the
"own-being" of dharmas(20) and by a type of logic which in Europe we
would call "dialectical."(21) Equally applied to conditioned and unconditioned
dharmas, "emptiness" led to their identification. The result is a "monistic"
ontology which shows many analogies to European metaphysical systems of the same
type,(22) while the descriptions of the bafflement experienced by the intellect
when confronted with this one and unique Absolute resemble the position of the
Greek skeptics in many ways.(23)
Of special interest for the theme of these
articles is the chapter on "Tacit Assumptions,"(24) in which I compare
Buddhist with contemporary mentality, and try to establish that Buddhist thinkers
made a number of tacit assumptions which are explicitly rejected by modern European
philosophers. The first, common to nearly all Indian, as distinct from European,
"scientific," thought treats the experiences of Yoga as the chief raw
material for philosophical reflection. Secondly, all "perennial"(25)
(as against "modern") philosophers, agree on the hierarchical structure
of the universe, as shown in (a) the distinction of a "triple world"
and (b) of degrees of "reality," and (c) in the establishment of a hierarchy
of insights dependent on spiritual maturity. Thirdly, all religious (as against
a-religious) philosophies (a) use "numinous" as distinct from "profane"
terms, and (b) treat revelation as the ultimate source of all valid knowledge.(26)
This is not how everyone sees it, and the doubting reader must be referred
to the arguments of my book.
The cornerstone of my interpretation of Buddhism
is the conviction shared by nearly everyone, that it is essentially a doctrine
of salvation, and that all its philosophical statements are subordinate to its
soteriological purpose. This implies, not only that many philosophical problems
are dismissed as idle speculations,(27) but that each and every proposition must
be considered in reference to its spiritual(28) intention and as a formulation
of meditational experiences acquired in the course of the process of winning salvation.
While I cannot imagine any scholar wishing to challenge this methodological postulate,
I am aware that, next to D. T. Suzuki, I am almost alone in having applied it
Finally, any interpretation of Buddhism which goes beyond the
indiscriminate accumulation of quotations and attempts actual1y to understand
Buddhist thought involves an element of choice, in that one has to decide which
one among the numerous presentations of the Buddha's doctrine should be regarded
as the most authentic. Buston favors the Buddhisn of the Paala period, Frauwallner
the Yogaacaarins, Oldenberg the Palii Canon (minus the Abhidhamma), Stcherbatsky
the scholastic Hiinayaana and the later logicians, D. T. Suzuki the early Mahaayaana
and Zen, some Chinese schools the Saddharmapu.n.dariika, and so on. With Professor
Murti, I regard the Maadhyamikas as representing the central tradition of Buddhism,
and believe that with them Buddhist theorizing reached its full maturity. This
preference colors much of what I have to say.
What, then, is the relation
of these Buddhist teachings to European philosophy? From the outset, I must admit
that I do not believe in a clear-cut distinction between "Eastern" and
"Western" mentality. Until about 1450, as branches of the same "perennial
philosophy, "(29) Indian and European philosophers disagreed less among themselves
than with many of the later developments of European philosophy. The "perennial
philosophy" is in this context defined as a doctrine which holds  that
as far as worth-while knowledge is concerned not all men are equal, but that there
is a hierarchy of persons, some of whom, through what they are, can know much
more than others;  that there is a hierarchy also of the levels of reality,
some of which are more "real," because more exalted than others; and
 that the wise men of old have found a "wisdom" which is true, although
it has no "empirical" basis in observations which can be made by everyone
and everybody; and that in fact there is a rare and unordinary faculty in some
of us by which we can attain direct contact with actual reality--through the praj~naa
(paaramitaa) of the Buddhists, the logos of Parmenides,(30) the sophia of Aristotle(31)
and others, Spinoza's amor dei intellectualis, Hegel's Vernunft, and so on; and
 that true teaching is based on an authority which legitimizes itself by the
exemplary life and charismatic quality of its exponents.
Within the perennial
philosophy Indian thought is marked off by two special features:  the reliance
on yoga as providing the basic raw material of worth-while experience,(32) and
 the implicit belief in karma and rebirth. Yoga, of course, has its counterpart
in the West in the spiritual and ecstatic practices of contemplatives, and belief
in reincarnation is nearly world-wide,(33) though rare among philosophers accorded
Then, after 1450, the East fell asleep and lived on
its inherited capital, until in the end innate lethargy and aggression from the
outside brought it to its present impasse. In the West, a large number of philosophers
discarded the basic presuppositions of the "perennial philosophy," and
developed by contrast what for want of a better term we may call a "sciential"(34)
philosophy. That has the following features:  Natural science, particularly
that dealing with inorganic matter, has a cognitive value, tells us about the
actual structure of the universe, and provides the other branches of knowledge
with an ideal standard in that they are the more "scientific" the more
they are capable of mathematical formulation and the more they rely on repeatable
and publicly verified observations.  Man is the highest of beings known to
science, and his power and convenience should be promoted at all costs.  Spiritual
and magical forces cannot influence events, and life after death may be disregarded,
because it is unproven by scientific methods.  In consequence, "life"
means "man's" life in this world, and the task is to ameliorate this
life by a social "technique" in harmony with the "welfare"
or "will" of "the people." Buddhists must view all these tenets
with the utmost distaste.
"Sciential" philosophy is an ideology
which corresponds to a technological civilization. It arises in its purity only
to the extent that its social substratum has freed itself from all pre-industrial
influences, and in the end it must lead to the elimination of even the last traces
of what could properly be called "philosophy" in the original sense
of "love of wisdom." For centuries it existed only blended with elements
from the traditional "perennial" philosophy. As philosophies, both the
"perennial" and the "sciential" systems possess some degree
of intellectuality, and up to a point they both use reasoning. But considered
in their purity, as ideal types, they differ in that the first is motivated by
man's spiritual(35) needs, and aims at his salvation from the world and its ways,
whereas the second is motivated by his utilitarian needs, aims at his conquest
of the world, and is therefore greatly concerned with the natural and social sciences.
Between the two extremes there are, of course, numerous intermediary stages. They
depend to some extent on the quality of the spirituality behind them, which is
very high, say, in Buddhism, slightly lower in Plato and Aristotle, and still
quite marked in such men as Spinoza, Leibniz, Berkeley, Kant, Goethe, Hegel, and
Bergson. The general trend, however, has been a continuous loss of spiritual substance
between 1450 and 1960, based on an increasing forgetfulness of age-old traditions,
an increasing unawareness of spiritual practices, and an increasing indifference
to the spiritual life by the classes which dominate society.
the relative merits of the "perennial" and the "sciential"
approaches to philosophy, all I want to establish at present is their mutual incompatibility,
which is borne out by their mutual hostility. Our "sciential" philosophers
are well aware of this. We need only peruse the writings of empiricists, logical
positivists, and linguistic analysts, and it will become obvious that the animosity
displayed toward a philosopher is almost a measure of his spirituality.(36) And,
in a way, the moderns are quite right. For "perennial" and "sciential"
philosophies represent two qualitatively different kinds of thinking which have
almost nothing in common, except perhaps for a certain degree of respect for rationality.
Our contemporaries continually assure us that the spiritual philosophers of the
past are not "philosophers" at all, but dreamers, mystics, poets, and
so on. All we can conclude from this is that the word "philosophy" is
being used in two quite disparate senses:  as the pursuit of "wisdom,"
and  as a "rigorous" academic exercise without much ostensible purpose.
The "wisdom" meant here is compounded of knowledge and a "good
life," and to it apply the words of Proverbs: "Blessed is the man who
has found wisdom. Her ways are good ways, and all her paths are peaceful. She
is a tree of life to all that lay hold upon her."(37) It is not easy to how
such words could be used of "philosophy" in the second sense.
stated the general principles on which the comparison of Buddhist and European
thought must be based, I now speak of the only three currents of European philosophy
which can significantly be compared with Buddhism, i.e.,  the Greek Skeptics,
 the wisdom-seeking mystics, and  the monists and dialecticians.
The European system nearest to the Maadhyamikas is that of the Greek Skeptics.
In my Buddhism,(37a) I have shown their close similarity, both in intention and
structure. They also agree in that the history of skepticism exhibits the same
tendency to deviate into a purely theoretical intellectualism which has continually
threatened the integrity of Buddhist thought. Greek Skepticism went through four
stages, which R. G. Bury(38) has called the practical, the critical, the dialectical,
and the empirical. The parallel with Buddhism is closest in the first stage, i.e.,
with Pyrrho (360-275 B.C.).In the last, with Sextus Empiricus (A.D. 160-210),
it is barely perceptible. Indeed, taking the later developments as his norm, Bury
can affirm that Pyrrho "was probably not at all a full-blown Sceptic, but
rather a moralist of an austere and ascetic type who cultivated insensibility
to externals and superiority to environment."(39) It was only in the New
Academy, with Arcesilas (315-241 B.C.), that Skepticism "ceased to be purely
practical and became mainly theoretical."(40) "Thus, while Pyrrho had
renounced and Timon flouted the Dogmatists, Arcesilas started the practice of
refuting them scientifically and systematically, and earned thereby the abuse
of Timon for his lapse from pure Pyrrhonism."(41) In fact, when we read Sextus
Empiricus, we find that, although some of the original message has remained intact,(42)
it has been overlaid by a vast technical apparatus accumulated over five centuries
and by numerous concessions to common sense. The bulk of Sextus' work is parasitical
on the dogmatic philosophers, and seems to be motivated more by disputatiousness
and the desire to score debating points than by a positive interest in mental
repose. In many ways his attitude resembles that of the later Buddhist logicians.
the time of Cicero, halfway between Pyrrho and Sextus Empiricus, this loss of
spiritual earnestness had not gone quite so far. Some of the statements which
Cicero makes in his Academica,(43) on behalf of or in response to the Skeptics,
are indeed strikingly similar to the teachings of the Maadhyamikas and other later
The Skeptics were people who "sanctioned nothing as proved"
(qui nibil probarent(44)). "All those things you talk about are hidden, closely
concealed (occultata) and enfolded in thick clouds of darkness, so that no human
intellect has sufficiently powerful sight to be able to penetrate to heaven and
get inside the earth."(45) Though "it is possibly the case that when
exposed and uncovered they change their character" (quia possit fieri ut
patefacta et detecta mutentur).(46) The Skeptics "have a habit of concealing
(occultandi) their opinion, and do not usually disclose it to any one except those
that had lived with them right up to old age."(47) And the opponent says,
"What pray are those holy secrets (mysteria) of yours, or why should your
school conceal (celatis) its doctrine as something disgraceful?"(48)
is the wise man (sapiens) that we are investigating,"(49) and it is on him
that "all this enquiry turns."(50) He "avoids being taken in and
sees to it that he is nor deceived."(51) They hold that "nothing can
be perceived,"(52) or grasped (comprehendi, anupalabdhi),(53) and the "wise
man will restrain all acts of assent" (adsensus, abhinive'sa).(54) There
is also a reference to the "perversity" (pravitas) of seeing the non-real
as real,(55) and to arguments against the senses, which are said to be "full
of darkness,"(56) and against "everything that is approved in common
experience" (consuetudo = sa^mv.rti).(57) And, as though he had read the
Praj~naapaaramitaa, an opponent points out that "as for wisdom herself, if
she does not know whether she is wisdom or not, how in the first place will she
make good her claim to the name of wisdom? Next, how will she venture with confidence
to plan or execute any undertaking when there will be nothing certain for her
to act upon?"(58)
 Secondly, there is a close similarity with those
ascetic, other-worldly, and "mystical" thinkers who assigned a decisive
importance to "spiritual experience." They are represented by four main
(a) First, there are the Wisdom speculations of the Near East between
200 B.C. and A.D. 300. Their conception of chochma and sophia is closely analogous
to that of praj~naapaaramitaa, and some of the similarities are really quite startling.(59)
(b) Next, the kindred Gnostic and Neo-Platonic modes of thought, especially
the later Neo-Platonists, like Proclus and Damascius,(60) and also their Christian
form in Origenes and in Dionysius Areopagita, who in some passages of his Mystical
Theology(61) gives what may well be called a Christian version of the Heart Suutra.
(c) Thirdly, there are the great mystics of the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries, such as Meister Eckhart,(62) Ruysbroeck, and Suso. Their kinship with
Buddhism has been noted so often that I can be quite brief. Ruysbroeck says of
the "God-seeing man" that "his spirit is undifferentiated and without
distinction, and therefore feels nothing without the unity." Among Western
contemplatives, suunyataa corresponds to the "desert of the Godhead,"
to Ruysbroeck's "idle emptiness," to Eckhart's still wilderness where
no one is at home, to the "naked orison," the "naked intent stretching
unto God," which becomes possible with entire self-surrender, and also to
the fathomless abyss of Ruysbroeck and Tauler.(63) This "abyss" is wholeheartedly
welcomed by those steeped in self-negation and self-naughting, but, later on,
less selfless people like B. Pascal(64) and Ch. Baudelaire(65) felt rather ambivalent
when confronted with it, since they were clearly none too enchanted with the implication
of being "separated from all created things." The Theologia Germanica(66)
(ca, 1425), as is well known, contains many formulations with a distinctly Buddhist
flavor. The most striking similarity lies, of course, in the constant emphasis
on "I-hood and selfhood," on "I, me, and mine" as the source
of all alienation from true reality, and on the need to undo that "blindness
and folly."(67) But this is not all. On re-reading the book I have been astounded
to find how close it is in so many ways to Buddhist mentality, in spite of its
author's "cautious limitation of his speculations to what is compatible with
the Church,"(68) and some minor concessions to theism, especially in the
later parts. Apart from the subject of satkaayad.r.s.ti this is true of what is
said about the Godhead (= Nirvaa.na), the "deified man" (= the bodhisattva),
activated by both "cognition" and a "love" wherein "there
neither is nor can remain any I, Me, Mine, Thou, Thine, and the like, "(69)
non-attainment, (70) the perverted views, (71) self-deception (= avidyaa),(72)
Suchness, (73) faith, (74) the One, (75) emptiness, (76) desire, (77) and so on--in
fact, quite an impressive list.
(d) Toward the end of the seventeenth century,
shortly after Galileo, European mysticism of this type lost its intellectual distinction,
and faded away into the "Quietism" of Molinos and Mme Guyon. In the
aftermath of the French revolution, many of the basic laws of the spiritual life
were rediscovered by great poets who were also fine thinkers, such as Blake, Shelley,
Wordsworth, and Coleridge in England. Though often vitiated by a fatal rift between
theory and practice, their thought offers many parallels to Buddhist thinking.
To this generation of rebels against the Goddess of Reason belonged Arthur Schopenhauer,
whose thought, partly under Indian influence, exhibits numerous, and almost miraculous,
coincidences with the basic tenets of Buddhist philosophy.(78) The term "parallel"
implies that two lines run parallel at more than one point, and the degree of
affinity existing between Schopenhauer and Buddhism will give us a standard by
which to judge other alleged "parallels."
As he himself said, Schopenhauer
continued the triple tradition of "quietism, i.e. the giving up of all willing,
asceticism, i.e. intentional mortification of one's own will, and mysticism, i.e.
consciousness of the identity of one's own inner being with that of all beings,
or with the kernel of the world."(79) He shows that life in the world is
meaningless, essentially suffering, and bound to disappoint the hope that our
desires might be fulfilled. He attributes this suffering to "the will to
live," which is the equivalent of t.r.s.naa, and which "involves us
in a delusion." He looks for salvation from this world by way of a "denial
of the will to live," which is a "consequence of the dawning of better
knowledge,"(80) and by an asceticism and self-renunciation exemplified in
"the lives of saints, penitents, sama.nas, sannyaasins, and so on."(81)
We may add his atheism, his denial of an immaterial, substantially unchanging,
soul, his belief in reincarnation, his stress on compassion as the basis of morality,
his indifference to the "achievements" or "rhythm" of human
history,(82) as well as his insight into impermanence(83) and into the reasons
why Nirvaa.na can be described only negatively, and yet it is not nothing.(84)
It is only on two points that he differs from Buddhism.
(A) He fails to
appreciate the importance of disciplined meditation. Educated non-Catholic Germans
of the nineteenth century were quite unfamiliar with the tradition of spiritual
contemplation. On the other hand, for relaxation they habitually visited art galleries
and went for walks in the countryside. It is no wonder, therefore, that Schopenhauer
sees the foretaste of "the exalted peace" of Nirvaa.na, not in trances
(dhyaana), but in "pure esthetic contemplation." Although the contemplation
of beauty has some analogy to the conditions prevailing in trance, it is on the
whole an undisciplined faculty, and its results are rather fleeting and have little
power to transmute the personality. In this respect, the German bourgeois town-dweller
was a lesser man than the Indian man in the forest.
(B) Secondly, Schopenhauer
teaches that the Will is the Thing-in-itself, whereas in Buddhism "craving"
operates within the conditioned and phenomenal world, and the unconditioned noumenon
lies in Nirvaa.na, which is quite calm as the result of the abolition of craving.
Unacquainted with the practice of yoga, Schopenhauer did not know that at the
bottom of every mind there is a calm quietude which is the prototype of Nirvaa.na.
His central metaphysical thesis is, however, incompatible, not only with Buddhism,
but also with his own soteriological aspirations. It is, indeed, not only hard
to see how any cognitive act can ever reach the Thing-in-itself, but it also remains
incomprehensible how thought can ever have the strength to stand up against the
Will, and, what is more, how as a part of the purely illusory phenomenal world
it can possibly overcome and effectively "deny" it.(85) This was early
recognized by Nietzsche(86) and J. Bahnsen(87) (1881), Schopenhauer's immediate
successors, and led them, respectively, into nihilism and a pessimism unrelieved
by the hope of escape.
(C) Furthermore, Buddhism has a distinct affinity with
the "monistic" traditions of European thought. The Eleatic emphasis
on the One(88) implied devaluation, depreciation, and at times even rejection
of the plural and multiple world. However they may phrase it, all monistic systems
are in tune with the feeling which Shelley formulated in the famous verse:
like a dome of many-coloured glass
Stains the white radiance of eternity
death tramples it to fragments.(89)
Parmenides (ca. 480 B.C., nearly the Buddha's
contemporary) and his successors assume a radical difference between appearance
and reality, between surface and depth, between what we see (phainomena) and what
we can only think (noumena), between opinion and truth. For Parmenides, opinion
(d.r.s.ti) is derived from the senses, which are deceptive and the basis of false
information. Truth is derived from the logos, which has for its object Being (that
which is and has no other attributes but to be). Being is, non-being is not; and
that which Is can never not be, either now or later (as in change). Nothing that
Is can either arise or perish.(90)
All monistic systems are remarkably uniform,
and they are all equally beset by at least four unavoidable difficulties. They
must, first of all, try to guard against the misunderstanding that the One might
be a datum within the world, or a part of the conglomeration. Both East and West
acutely felt the difficulties of finding an adequate verbal expression for the
essentially transcendent and elusive reality of the One, and both made many attempts
to circumvent them by the use of paradoxes, absurdities, contradictions, tautologies,
riddles, negations, and other devices. Secondly, the monists must attempt to maintain
the simplicity of the One by redefining the meaning of predication in regard to
it. In this context, scholastic philosophers explained that God is each of his
predicates, whereas creatures have them, and that the predicates of God are not
different from one another, since otherwise he would not be simple. "The
absolute essence is not in one respect different from what it is in another; what
it is, it is in the totality of its being."(91) Everything plural is itself
and in addition something else, and only the completely free can be itself pure
A third problem concerns the relation between the One and Being.
The old Eleatic school, which flourished between 540 and 300 B.C.,(92) identifies
the two. One must bear in mind, however, that in doing so it uses a special archaic,
pre-Atistotelian type of logic(93) which, among other things, employs "the
principle of unlimited predication." This means that a predicate is either
predicated without limitation of the subject or it is not valid at all. This logic
only knows statements of the type "All A are all B," which predicate
the entire P of the entire S, without any qualification as to time, part, or respect,
without any distinction being made between total and partial identity of S and
P, or between their partial and total difference. The Eleatics also "assumed
that one speaks only in one sense (monachos) of 'one' and 'being.'"(94) The
victory of Aristotelian logic changed all that. Plotinus describes the One expressly
as "beyond being"; for Meister Eckhart, who said that "in the Kingdom
of Heaven all is in all, all is one, and all is ours," Pure Being, as the
most general, becomes the richest of all terms;(95) and Hegel, again, treats "being"
as the initial and minimal definition of the Absolute, which is later enriched
by many further "attributes." The Theologia Germanica(96) says that
"he who finds satisfaction in God, his satisfaction is the One, and is all
in the One. And he to whom the One is not all and all not the One, and to Whom
something and nothing are not one and the same, cannot find satisfaction in God."
The Buddhist non-dual One was in the same way by many devices transferred beyond
all logical categories.
And, fourthly, monists must come to some decision
on the status of appearance. It may well be that not all of them have, like most
Buddhists, regarded appearance as a mere illusion, and it is probably true that'
"there is never any suggestion in Plotinus that all things except the One
are illusions or fleeting appearances."(97) But this is a distinction without
much of a difference, because also in the Plotinian system the sensory and material
world has an extremely low degree of reality, and is afflicted by a great loss
of the original reality, near its point of extinction. In the same way, in the
Hegelian system the natural world is a state of estrangement from the Absolute
Spirit. In Eckhart, "all creatures, insofar as they are creatures, as they
are in themselves (quod sunt in et per se), are not even an illusion, but they
are a pure nothing."(98) And, for Spinoza, "a temporal existence insofar
as it is purely temporal is the same as non-existence, and is perishing in proportion
to its fragmentariness and exclusiveness; existence in every range insofar as
it gains content move already towards an ideal of perfection which is one with
The background of all "monistic" views(100)
is a religious contempt for the world of ordinary experience, for that which is
not One or not He who Is. That world is held to be unsatisfactory---partly emotionally
as a source of suffering, and partly logically as self-contradictory, and as therefore
either non-existing(101) or unable to abide in the state in which it is. In this
way monism is apt to beget the dialectics out of itself, as in Zeno, Hegel, and
Bradley, to name only a few. In the case of Zeno of Elea (ca. 460 B.C.), whom
Aristotle called the founder of the dialectics, the "paradoxes" (aporiai)
he devised aimed at defending by indirect proofs the view of Parmenides, which
held local movement to be impossible in the ultimate reality of the true world
of being. All Zeno did was to show that, on assuming movement, the consequences
which follow are contradictory and untenable,(102) and that, therefore, the information
derived from sense-data is patently false, since selfcontradictions are the marks
of false appearance.
Zeno's dialectics has had many successors. Among them,
Bradley seems nearer to the Maadhyamikas than either Hegel or Marx. Both Hegel
and Marx make two assumptions which must irritate Buddhists. The first is the
insistence on human history, (103) which Buddhists hold to be utterly pointless.
The second is the constant introduction of the tripartite scheme of thesis, antithesis,
and synthesis, which postulates a relentless "progress" from one state
to the other, culminating in the tyranny of the Prussian state or of the U.S.S.R.
On the other hand, Bradley is, next to Schopenhauer, the nearest representative
in modern Europe of at least one side of Buddhist thought. Even the procedure
of Appearance and Reality is the same as that of the Maadhyamikakaarikaa, in that
one currently accepted category after the other is taken up and shown to be self-contradictory
and untenable. Nor can I agree with Professor Murti's(l04) claim that they differ
greatly "in their notion of the Real and its relation to appearance."
In fact, they both treat the Real as ineffable, and "at once transcendent
and immanent."(105) If Bradley takes care not to exclude entirely the appearance
from the Real, and seeks somehow to identify the two,(106) then this is not a
"rather inconsistent contention,"(107) but the exact equivalent of the
Maadhyamika position ("Form is emptiness, " etc.). Both these books
are essentially polemical treatises and their message seems to be identical.
two of this essay: Spurious Parallels to Buddhist Philosophy
Buddhist Thought in India (London: George Alien & Unwin Ltd., 1962). Hereafter
(2) BThl, pp. 34-43.
(3) To be discussed in Section 2b of the second
article, "Spurious Parallels to Buddhist Philosophy," to be published
in the next issue of this Journal.
(4) About its relation to Hume's denial
of a "self," see Section 3 of the second article.
(5) BThl, pp.
(6) It is "A central peace, subsisting at the heart/Of endless
agitation" (W. Wordsworth). See below, p. 18.
(7) See below, p.19.
BThIl, pp. 47-55.
(9) Ibid., pp. 56-58.
(10) Ibid., pp. 59-69.
Ibid., pp. 69-79.
(12) "The teachings of European mystics correspond
to this doctrine in its general tone (see below, pp. 17-18), but only Schopenhauer
matches it in many particulars (see below, pp. 18-20).
(13) BThI, pp. 92-106.
(14) Ibid., pp. 223-225 (see below, p. 22).
(15) Ibid., p. 97n.
See Section 2a of the second article. (16a)274-236 B.C.
(17) BThI, pp. 119-191.
(18) Ibid., pp. 148-158.
(19) Ibid., pp. 242-249.
(20) Ibid., pp. 239-241
(see Section 1 of the second article).
(21) BThI, pp. 261--264; also below,
(22) See below, pp. 20-22.
(23) See below, pp. 15-17.
BThI, pp. 17-30.
(25) For a definition, see below, pp. 12-13.
(27) Sections 1 and 3 of the second article.
(28) For a definition,
see below, p. 14, note 35.
(29) This term. was originally invented by Catholics
to describe the philosophy of St. Thomas and Aristotle. It was then taken over
by Aldous Huxley and others, and my definition is akin to that of Ananda Coomaraswamy.
A. Huxley in his famous book of 1946 'envisaged only the mystical school, whereas
here i include the intellectual and speculative trends, i.e., Plato and Aristotle
as well as the German idealists. The only people before 1450 who are excluded
are those who, like the Lokaayatikas in India, were deliberately antispiritual,
but not necessarily the Epicureans who were anticlerical but no foes of a tranquil
and serene life.
(30) Being for him is "one" kata ton logon (when
seen by reason) , "many" kata t(-+e) aisth(-+e)in (when seen by perception)
. Aristotle, Metaphysics, I.986(b)33-34.
(31) "In his Metaphysics, Aristotle
has taken great pains to describe the subjective counterpart of "being as
being," e.g., in Book I.981(b)-983(a).
(32) "Notre philosophie est
ne de la curiosit? et du besoin de savoir, d'expliquer le monde d'une faon
cohrente. En Inde la philosophie est l'interpretation rationelle de l'exprience
mystique." So Constantin Regamey, on page 251 of what is one of the most
notable contributions so far made to comparative philosophy, i.e., "Tendences
et mthodes de la philosophie indienne compares celles de la philosophie
occidentale, " Revue de Thologie et de Philosophie, IV (1951), 245-262.
Regamey also shows how this difference in the point de dpart leads to a
radical divergence in the criteria of absolute truth. (33) Joseph Head and S.
L. Cranson, eds., Reincarnation: An East-West Anthology (New York: The Julian
Press, Inc., 1961).
(34) The opponents of the perennial philosophy prefer
to describe themselves as "scientific." There can be nothing more unscientific,
however, than the drawing of extravagant and presumptuous conclusions about the
mind, soul, and spirit of man, and about his destiny and the purpose of his life,
from a few observations about the expansion of gases, the distribution of moths,
and the reflections of the celestial bodies in little pieces of glass. If I were
reduced to that part of myself which can be seen in bits of glass, I would certainly
feel that most of my being was omitted. Why should this not be true also of other
things apart from my own dear self?
(35) I have defined the word "spiritual"
in my Buddhism (3rd ed., Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1957) on page 11. The quintessence
of the spiritual life, shorn of its usual accretions, was admirably formulated
by Petrus Damiani in the eleventh century in two exceedingly fine poems which
have recently been reprinted in F. J. E. Raby, ed., The Oxford Book of Medieval
Latin Verse (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959), pp. 185-189. The second has also
been translated into English in Frederick Brittain, ed., The Penguin Book of Latin
Verse (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1962), pp. 176-180.
To mention just two easily accessible sources: In Bertrand Russell's A History
of Western Philorophy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1945) this attitude is expressed
with some urbanity, and in J. O. Urmson, ed., The Concise Encyclopedia of Western
Philosophy (London: Hutchinson, 1960) with blunt rudeness (e.g., the article on
Schopenhauer is sheer personal abuse).
(37) Cf. III:13-18.
(37a) Op. cit.,
(38) R. G. Bury, trans., Sextus Empiricus, 4 vols. Vol. I, Outlines
of Pyrrhonism (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1333),p. xxx.
(39) Ibid., p.
xxx; Cf. also p. xxxi.
(40) Ibid., p. xxxii.
(41) Ibid., p. xxxiii.
E.g., in what the skeptik(-+e) ag(-+o)g(-+e) ("sceptical procedure")
(Book I. Chap. 4) has to say about ataraxia (='samatha) as the end of life (I.
25-30), or about the svabhaava (physis or peri t(-+o)n ex(-+o)then hypokeimen(-+o)n)
(I. 15, 22, 93, 163) , the relativity of everything (I. 135), or on non-assertion
(I. 192-193) , non-determination (I. 197) , and non-apprehension (I. 200).
Cicero, De Natura Deorum; Academica, H. Rackham, ed. and trans. (Cambridge: Harvad
University Press, 1961). (44) Ibid., pp. 488-489; Academica, II (Lucullus). vi.17.
(45) Ibid., pp. 624-625; Academica, II (Lucullus). xxxix.122.
(47) Ibid., pp, 462-463; Academica, fragment No. 21.
(48) Ibid., pp, 542-543;
Academica, II (Lucullus). xviii.60.
(49) Ibid., pp. 550-551; Academica, II
(50) Ibid., pp. 614-615; Academica, II (Lucullus). xxxvi.115.
(51) Ibid., pp. 550-551; Academica, II (Lucullus). xx.66.
pp. 550-551, 554-555, 608-609, 489-490, 542-543. They "do not deny that some
truth exists, but deny that it can be perceived" (qui veri esse aliquid non
negamus, percipi posse negamus). II. xxiii.73.
(53) Ibid., pp. 620-621; Academica,
II (Lucullus). xxxviii.119.
(54) Ibid., pp. 554-555; Academica, II (Lucullus).
(55) Ibid., pp. 566-567; Academica, II (Lucullus). xxv.80.
Ibid., p. 559; Academica, II (Lucullus). xxiii.73.
(57) Ibid., pp. 562-563;
Academica, II (Lucullus). xxiv.75.
(58) Ibid., p. 499; Academica, II (Lucullus).
(59) For some details, see my review of H. Ringgren, Word and Wisdom,
in Oriental Art, I, No. 4 (Spring, 1949), 196-197.
(60) Some useful material
has been collected by R. Gnoli in La Parola del passato, I (1961), fasc. LXXVII,
153-159. See also J. Rahder's suggestions on 'suunyataa in Indogaku Bukky(-+o)gaku
Kenkyuu (Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies). IX, No. 2 (1961), 754. On the
other hand, I can see no merit in E. Benz's attempt to establish a direct link
by claiming that Plotinus' teacher, Ammonios "Sakkas," was either a
member of the Indian dynasty of the "Saki," or a "Sakya" (Sakiya,
Sakka), i.e., a Buddhist monk. Orientalia Romana, I (1958), 18-20 (Instituto Italiano
per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente. Serie Orientale Roma, XVII).
(61) I.e., 1.2,
II.1, III.1, chaps. 4 and 5. The translations are apt to obscure the parallel,
which becomes strikingly obvious as soon as the Greek text is consulted.
Cf. Daisetz T. Suzuki, "Meister Eckhart and Buddhism," in Mysticism,
Christian and Buddhist (London: George Alien & Unwin Ltd., 1957), pp. 7-35.
(63) For a good description, see Tauler, "Sermon on St. John the Baptist,"
in The Inner Wary: 36 Sermons for Festivals. New translation, edited with Introduction
by Arthur Wollaston Hutton (London: Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1901), pp. 97-99.
Cf. St. John of the Cross, Noche Oscura, Vol. I, Book 2, chap. 17.
L. Brunschvicg, ed., Penses (14th ed., Paris: Hachette, 1927), p. 350.
It is quite interesting to note, when reading Les Fleurs du Mal, the varying and
conflicting connotations of such key terms as gouffre, abime, and vide.
New York: Pantheon Books, Inc., 1949. London: Gollancz, 1950. This is the translation
of S. Winkworth, revised by W. Trask, on the basis of J. Bernhart's translation
into modern German: Theologia Germanica (New York: Pantheon Books, 1949).
Chaps. 1-5, 20, 22, 24, 32, 34, 40, 44, 49, 51.
(68) Bernhart, op. cit., p.
(69) Ibid., pp. 191-192, 197.
(70) Ibid., pp. 167, 180, 183.
Ibid., pp. 119, 186.
(72) Ibid., p. 200.
(73) Ibid., pp. 206, 240.
Ibid., p. 207.
(75) Ibid., pp. 197, 204-206, 218-219.
(76) Ibid., pp.
(77) Ibid., p. 115, liebheyt.
(78) Cf. R. Fussell, The Nature
and Purpose of the Ascetic Ideal (Kandy, Ceylon: Buddhist Publication Society,
1960). H. v. Glasenapp, Die Philosophie der Inder (Stuttgart: Alfre Kroener Verlag,
1958), pp. 428-429.
(79) E. F. J. Payne, trans., The World as Will and Representation
(WWR), 2 vols. (Indian Hills, Colorado: The Falcon's Wing Press, 1958), p. 613.
(80) WWR, Vol. II, p. 608.
(81) Quoted in Fussell, op. cit.,
p. 1. Sama.nas = recluses; sannyaasins = ascetics.
(82) WWR. Vol. II chap.
(83) WWR, Bk. I, par. 3; Bk. III, par. 33.
(84) WWR, Vol. II, pp.
(85) For an exceedingly clear and lucid survey of the many inconsistencies
in Schopenhauer': philosophy, I must refer to H. M. Wolf, Arthur Schopenhauer.
Hundert Jahre Sp"ter (Bern and Muenchen: Francke Verlag, 1960).
H. M. Wolf, op. tit., pp. 36, 70, 106-107.
(87) About his "miserabilism,"
see E. Conze, "The Objective Validity of the Principle o: Contradiction,"
Philozophy, X (1935), 216.
(88) But the panta ch(-+o)rei of Herakleitos fits
none too well, because not everything flows Nirvaa.na, the most important thing
of all, being excepted.
(89) Good parallels can be found in P. Damiani, "The
Glories of Paradise," referred to above note 35.
(90) "It never
was, and it never will be, since it Is, all of it together, only present in the
Now, one and indivisible." (Diels-Kranz. Fr. 8 [Simpl. Phys. 145.I.3-6].)
Plotinus, Enneads, VI.viii.10.
(92) Also the Megarics and Antisthenes belonged
to it. Pyrrho appears to have started with the Megaric position.
(93) S. Ranulf,
Der eleatische Satz vom Widerpruch (Kopenhagen: Gyldendal, 1924). The archaic
character of Parmenides' thinking is also shown in his belief that Being is a
mass which,.as a well-rounded sphere, fills space. Also the well-known works of
Prant1, Apelt, Maier, E. Hoffmann (Die Sprache und die archaisthe Logik [Tubingen:
J. C. B. Mohr, 1925]), and Cornford are helpful in this connection.
Physics, 185(b)33. In many passages (Metaphysics, Gamma 2, 4, E 1, Z 1, K 3),
Aristotle points out that Being is said pollach(-+o)s (in many senses).
See R. Otto, Mysticism East and West (London: Marmillan and Company, 1932), pp.
(96) Pp. 204-205. Italics mine.
(97) A. H. Armstrong, Plotinus (London:
G. Alien & Unwin Ltd., 1953), p. 41. For the ambiguities in Plotinus' own
thought, compare Armstrong p. 21 with p. 29.
(98) For useful quotations see
11. Otto, op. cit., pp. 91-96.
(99) According to Harold F. Hallett, Aeternitas
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930), p. 45.
(100) It may be objected that the
comparison of all this with Buddhism applies more to the "monistic"
Mahaayaana than to the "pluralistic" Hiinayaana theories. But the difference
should not be overstressed. As the Theravaada had a latent idealism and an implicit
bias toward a mentalistic interpretation of physical reality (%tienne Lamotte,
L'enseignement de Vimalakiirti. Bibliothque du Muson, Vol. 51 [Louvain:
Institut Orientaliste, Universite Catholique de Louvain, 1962], pp. 52-60), so
it teaches also the one Dhamma side by side with the multiple dhammas (see Buddhaghosa
on ekam hi saccam, na dutiiyam atthi, in Visuddhimagga of Buddhaghosaacariya,
H. C. Warren, ed; rev. by Dh. Kosambi, Harvard Oriental Series, Vol. 41 (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1950), pp. 422, 421.
(101) A purely intellectual
contradiction reduces thought to nothing. It results in nonsense. He who thinks
a contradiction thinks nothing at all.
(102) Or, in other words, that his Pythagorean
opponents cannot assert the reality of movement without coming into conflict with
their own premises. These opponents assumed that a line consists of indivisible
points in juxtaposition, and the counter-arguments of Hobbes ( Works, I. 110),
Bergson, and Aristotle take no notice of the historical situation. The contradictions
involved can be seen succinctly in Hegel, History of Philosophy, Haldane, trans.,
1892, I. 273-274; cf. Logic, I. 191-193, II. 143 sq.; F. Engels, Herrn Eugen D?hrings
Umw"lzung der Wissenschaft, 3rd ed. (Stuttgart: J. H. W. Dietz, 1894), 120;
E. Conze, Philosophy (see note 87), p. 21).
(103) Hegel said that "comprehended
history forms both the memorial and the calvary of the absolute Spirit--that without
which it would be Lifeless (!) Solitude." He seems to have a strange view
of "life," as composed of a long series of senseless oppressions and
massacres perpetrated in the name of some fatuous "ideal" or other.
The Central Philosophy of Buddhism (London: George Alien & Unwin Ltd., 1955),
(105) Murti, ibid,, p. 310.
(106) Appearance and Reality: A Metaphysical
Study (9th impression, corrected, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1930),p. 404.
(107) Murti, op. cit., p. 309.
Parallels to Buddhist Philosophy
Philosophy East and
West 13, no.2, January 1963.
© by The University press of Hawaii.
an examination of the genuine parallels between European and Buddhist philosophy,
we shall now consider a few of the more widely advocated spurious parallels. They
often originate from a wish to find affinities with philosophers recognized and
admired by the exponents of current academic philosophy, and intend to make Buddhist
thinkers interesting and respectable by current Western standards. Since this
approach is not only objectively unsound,(1) but has also failed in its purpose
to interest Western philosophers in the philosophies of the East, the time has
now come to abandon it. Modern academic philosophers normally have no interest
in what Buddhists care for, and vice versa.
A philosophical doctrine can be
viewed from at least four points of view:  as the formulation of certain propositions,
 in terms of the motiva- tion which induced their author to believe them to
be true, his motives connected with the purpose he had in mind,  in terms of
the argumentation through which he tries to establish their truth--the reasons
which he adduces being rarely those which actually impelled him, and  in terms
of the context in which the statements are made, a context which is determined
by the philosopher's predecessors and contemporaries, and by his social, cultural,
and religious background. When we compare Buddhist and European thought, it happens
quite often that the formulations agree, whereas considerations of their context,
of the motives behind them, and of the conclusions drawn from them suggest wide
discrepancies. Verbal coincidences frequently mask fundamental divergences in
the concepts underlying them. For pages upon pages Shintan Shonin and Martin Luther
in almost the same words expound the primacy of "faith," and yet in
fact their two systems disagree in almost every other respect.(2) Berkeley' denial
of matter seems to re-state literally the absolute idealism of the Yogaacaarins,
(3) but, nevertheless, (a) his immaterialism sets out to deny a conception of
matter derived from Locke, etc., and unknown in India; (b) his idea of Mind agrees
none too well with that of the Vij~naanavaadins; (C) his uncritical acceptance
of sense-data conflicts with the dharma theory; and (d) his idea of "God"
would not commend itself to Buddhists.
Far too often "soteriological"
are confused with "philosophical" concepts, and the Buddhist "Void"(4)
is thus regarded as being on the same level with the Aristotelian or Plotinian
idea of "matter," or with the "pure potentiality", of the
Timaeus, which is empty of all distinctions and full of infinite possi bilities.
Not must it be forgotten that spiritual sickness is apt to ape or counterfeit
(prativar.nika, pratiruupaka) the language of spiritual health. If the words alone
are considered, the emptiness doctrine may be mistaken for one of the forms of
European post-Nietzschean nihilism,(5) and the self- naughting of saints is to
some extent mimicked by the self-destructive tendencies of German Romantics, like
Schlegel, Tieck, Novalis, and so on.(6) Likewise, we could in recent years observe
in the Anglo-Saxon countries' certain of D. T. Suzuki's followers using the Master's
sayings to justify a way of life diametrically opposed to the one envisaged by
him.(7) These examples might be multiplied almost indefinitely. In this article
I will confine myself to three kinds of false parallels.  Some, like Kant,
are not "parallel" at all, but tangential.  Others, such as Bergson
and the existentialists, are preliminary.  Others, again, like Hume, are merely;
(1) Professor T. R. V. Murti(8) has found between Kant and the
Maadhyamikas close similarities, which Jacques May(9) has rejected as "perfide,
" or treacherous." In judging this issue, we must first of all bear
in mind that it is the whole purpose of Kant's philosophy to show that morality
and religion, as understood by the German Protestantism of East Prussia, can survive,
even though Newtonian physics be true and Hume's skepticism significant. So great
had the pressure of natural science become by his time that he is a man divided
against himself. On the one hand, he longs to preserve the decencies of the perennial
philosophy. It seemed vital to him to confine the intellect, conceived as the
progenitor of natural science and therefore the foe of all human values, to the
phenomenal world. In consequence, he resembles the perennial philosophers insofar
as he maintains that true reality cannot be known though sense-data or concepts,
but must be contacted by a pure spiritual intent--in his case, a completely disinterested
act of the will. On the other hand, he takes the assertions of natural science
very seriously, and is concerned as much to find reasons for their universal validity
as to define their limits.(10)
Kant's great specific contribution to philosophy
stems from his insight into the problems posed by the tension between traditional
values and the implications natural science, and in his having found a solution
acceptable to many for a long time. This tension was quite unknown in India. Since
he answers a question no pre-Macaulayan Indian could ever ask, his answer can
have no real correspondences in Indian thought, which never underwent the onslaught
of the "mechanical" method. Therefore, all those modern thinkers who
either accept the ideal of "mechanical" knowledge or give it great weight
cannot have much affinity with Buddhist thought. Kant's position in regard to
Buddhist philosophy is the exact reverse of Schopenhauer's. There the analogies
were essential, and the discrepancies fortuitous, whereas here the similarities
are incidental and the differences vital.
To begin with, it is wrong to describe
Naagaarjuna's position as epistemological, since it is clearly ontological.(11)
For perennial philosophers everywhere, philosophy is a way of life based on an
understanding of reality as reality, of being as being. They all agree with Aristotle's
famous remark according to which "The question which was raised long ago,
is still and always will be, and which always baffles us--'What is Being?'--is
in other words 'What is substance?'"(12) The whole theme of Naagaarjuna's
work is the search for the own-being (svabhaava) of dharmas.(13) Epistemology,
by contrast, is a branch of "sciential" philosophy, and became an object
of inquiry only in modern times. Following the hints of the nominalists, Descartes
tore apart thought and being, and then decided that we are more immediately aware
of our thoughts about things than of the things themselves, that the data of inner
experience are more immediate and clear to us than the experience of outward things.(14)
Kant succinctly expressed the shift from the ontological to the epistemological
approach in his famous remark about the "Copernican Revolution," which
Murti has surely misunderstood.(15) Kant says(16) that "hitherto it has been
assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects," whereas he himself
prefers "to suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge." This
assertion of the primacy of the subjective over the objective assumes a separation
between subject and object which is alien to Indian thinking. In the Maadhyamika
system, on the highest level, i.e., on that of the fully realized perfect wisdom,
they are one and identical. On the lower levels, they are occasionally distinguished,
but never with the rigidity of post-Cartesian philosophy. The division between
subjective and objective facts is always incidental and never fundamental. Their
basic unity lies in their all being dharmic facts. Just as truth (sat-ya) does
not describe a particular kind of knowledge, but a state of being, so all cognitive
acts are viewed as factors in the interplay of objective facts (dharma) which
bring about, not just a false view of the world, but the origination (samudaya)
of a false world alienated from true reality. There is no room here to show the
existential character of avidyaa (ignorance), d.r.s.ti (false views), prapa~nca
(idle speculations), etc., but the reader should always bear in mind that false
views are not merely wrong knowledge, but wrong. knowledge on the part of a viewer
who is in a false position and surrounded by distorted objects.
reasoning has the one single purpose of enabling transcendental wisdom to function
freely. In his remarks about "intellectual intuition," Kant questions
the possibility of such a faculty, and, in addition, he could not possibly formulate
a spiritual discipline which could lead to it,(17) because no man can be much
wiser than his age. The essence of Buddhism concerns the one true reality (Dharma),
which can be realized only in the discipline of a traditional system of meditation,
of which the Christian counterparts vanished from sight in Northern Europe soon
after the Reformation.
There remains the apparent analogy between Kant's antinomies
and the Buddhist treatment of speculative questions (avyaak.rtavastuuni). They
agree in a few details, i.e., in that they are both concerned with whether the
world is finite or infinite, etc., and in that they are both left undecided. The
difference, however, is the following: The antinomies are insoluble because one
can argue convincingly on both sides, and so no decision is possible. The deadlock
of reason indicates that it has overstepped its boundaries. The argument concerning
the "indeterminate topics" is totally different. They are not explained,
set aside and ignored," because they are not conducive to salvation. There
are answers to them, and the Tathaagata knows them, but he does not reveal them
because they are of no use to us.(18) In the one case, these questions fall outside
the scope of scientific, in the other of salutary, experience. The similarity
is purely formal, and quite trivial when the formulations are viewed in their
(2) We now come to those who go but part of the way.
Bergson and the existentialists, among others, agree with the Buddhists in their
revulsion from the nightmare of a sinister and useless world, but cannot follow
them into the transcendental world, just for lack of expertise and because of
their unfamiliarity with any definite spiritual tradition--whereas Kant had still
stood squarely in the Protestant tradition, however impoverished that may have
been by his time.
(2a) Bergson, like Kant, strives hard to show that spiritual
values can co-exist with the findings of science. He does this by contrasting
the largely false world of common sense and science (in which he, nevertheless,
takes a keen interest) with the true world of intuition. He is perfectly lucid
and even superb so long as he demonstrates that both the intellect and our practical
preoccupations manifestly distort the world view both of everyday experience and
of mechanical science. But, when he comes to the way out, to his dure relle
and his "intuition," vagueness envelops all and everything. His positive
views have therefore been rightly described as "tantalising," for "as
soon as one reaches out to grasp his body of thought it seems to disappear within
a teasing ambiguity."(19) Mature and accomplished spiritual knowledge can
be had only within a living tradition. But how could a Polish Jew, transplanted
to Paris, find such a tradition in the corridors of the Collge de France
or in the salons of the 16th arrondissement? It is the tragedy of our time that
so many of those who thirst for spiritual wisdom are forced to think it out for
themselves--always in vain. There is no such thing as a pure spirituality in the
abstract. There are only separate lineages handed down traditionally from the
past. If any proof were needed, Bergson, a first-class intellect, would provide
it. His views on religion are a mixture of vague adumbrations and jumbled reminiscences
which catch some of the general principles of spirituality but miss its concrete
manifestations. Tradition furnished at least two worlds composed of objects of
pure disinterested contemplation--the Buddhist world of dharmas and the Platonic
ideas in their pagan, Christian, or Jewish form. Here Bergson would have had an
opportunity to "go beyond intellectual analysis and to recapture by an act
of intuitive sympathy the being and the existence in their original quality."(20)
But for various reasons he could not accept either of these traditions. Like Schopenhauer,
he regarded art as one of the avenues to the truth,(21) but, otherwise, his "intuition,"
this "ecstatic identification with the object,"(22) this "spiritual
sympathy by which one places oneself within an object in order to coincide with
what is unique in it, and consequently inexpressible, "(23) is never explained
as a disciplined faculty.
Because of this disseverance from a concrete spiritual
practice, Bergson has now no disciples, and his work belongs to the past. As Rai'ssa
Maritain put it so well, "Bergson travelled uncertainly towards God, still
far off, but the light of whom had already reached him."(24) Unable, like
Moses, to reach the promised land, he, nevertheless, cleared the way for the Catholic
revival of the twentieth century, which enabled many French intellectuals to regain
contact with at least one living spiritual tradition. At the same time, he realized
that the inanition of the spiritual impulse slowly deprives life of its savor
among the more finely organized minds of Europe, and he wrote in 1932, "Mankind
lies groaning, half-crushed beneath the weight of its own progress. Men do not
sufficiently realize that their future is in their own hands. Theirs is the task
of determining first whether they want to go on living or not(!)...."(25)
(2b) It is at this point of despondency that the existentialists had, after
World War I, arrived on the scene. By that time the speculative vigor of European
philosophers had declined so much that they got the worst of both worlds. As for
the world of science, they rejected its pretensions with a lordly disdain. As
for the world of the spirit, they did not know where to find it.(26) Their beliefs
reflect to perfection the social position of the post-1918 intelligentsia on the
European Continent. In the provincial perspective of England both logical positivism
and existentialism are often explained as reactions against German idealism. This
is not the case. Logical positivism is descended from the philistinism of the
English commercial middle classes, (27) and, long before the days of Ayer, Wittgenstein,
and Wollheim, the "British school of philosophy" had found its classical
and superbly brilliant expression in Macaulay's essay on Lord Bacon.(28) As for
existentialism, it is derived from the hopeless anxieties of the more intelligent
European intellectuals. Their Sorge and existentielle Angst spring, not from their
reading of Pascal and Kierkegaard, but from their own objective social situation.
Russell was certainly not under the influence of either Pascal or Kierkegaard
when he wrote in 1903 that "only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair,
can the soul's habitation henceforth[!] be safely built."(29) We naturally
ask ourselves what might have happened to "henceforth" necessitate so
much despair. By way of reply we are told that "the world which Science presents
for our belief" is "purposeless" and "void of meaning."(30)
If Russell had realized that the methods of Science, with a capital S, preclude
it from ever recognizing any objective purpose or meaning even if there is one,.
he might have saved himself much unnecessary worry. Millions of people like him
take the conventions and hypotheses of mechanical "Science" for "truths,"(31)and
are plunged into deep gloom forever after. Existentialism, like logical positivism,
arose primarily from social conditions. Secondarily, of course, when these two
movements reached the universities, their followers naturally rubbed themselves
against the professors who were entrenched there and who were then in the habit
of expounding the tenets of German idealism, and they also added a few frills
of their own, such as Moore's characteristically Cambridge "preciousness,"
The existentialist diagnosis of the plight of human existence agrees
with that of the Buddhists. "So human life is nothing but a perpetual illusion.
Man is nothing but disguise, lie and hypocrisy, with respect to himself and with
respect to others,"(32) and so on and so on. In terms of the Four Truths,
the existentialists have only the first, which teaches that everything is ill.
Of the second, which assigns the origin of ill to craving, they have only a very
imperfect grasp. As for the third and fourth, they are quite unheard of. They
just do not believe that "there is, O monks, an Unborn, an Unbecome, an Unmade,
an Unconditioned; for if there were not this Unborn, Unbecome, Unmade, Unconditioned,
no escape from this born, become, made and conditioned would be apparent."(33)
Knowing no way out, they are manufacturers of their own woes. As distinct from
their world weariness, that of the Buddhists is cheered by the hope of ultimate
release and lightened by multifarious meditational experiences which ease the
burden of life. Denied inspiration from the spiritual world, existentialists are
apt to seek it from authoritarian social groups (Nazis, Communists, the Roman
Catholic hierarchy). They are prone to ascribe their disbelief in a spiritual
world to their own "unblinking love of truth." I myself was brought
up among them, and they were clearly the bedraggled victims of a society which
had become oppressive to them through the triple effect of Science, technology,
and social decomposition, and in which no authoritative spiritual teaching could
any longer be encountered, except in some obscure nooks and corners inaccessible
to the metropolitan intelligentsia.
(3) By "deceptive" comparisons
I mean those which concern statements that are negative in either form or content.
A negative proposition derives its true meaning from what it is directed against,
and its message entirely depends, therefore, on its context. In different contexts
two identical negative statements may, therefore, have nothing in common. One
single example must suffice.
Hume's denial of a "self" seems literally
to agree with the anattaa doctrine. Buddhists are certainly at one with him when
he rejects the notion of a permament self-identical substance in favor of a succession
of impermanent states and events.(34) Furthermore, his assertion that out mind
is "nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, (35) united
together by certain relations" would win at least their qualified approval.
The unity of the personality is a fairly loose one for Hume, just as for Democritus
and the Epicureans it was a mere assemblage (concilium) of subtle moving atoms,
and all that Hume did was to substitute "perceptions" for the "atoms"
of the ancient materialists. He understood our personality after the image of
inanimate objects,(36) which also have no "self," or true inwardness,
of any kind. In addition, those inanimate objects, as well as the human personality,
were subjected to the mechanical method, which discarded Aristotle's "substantial
forms" and "intelligible substances," and which, in accordance
with the "law of inertia," allows for no center of inward initiative.
For Hume, only a stream of successive ideas exists, and there is no permanent
self within, nor is any subject of experience needed to hold the ideas together,
or to guide them. The mind, a mere stage for its contents and for their relations
and interactions, is reduced to the drifting passage of an aimless temporality.
All this corresponds well to the picture of Paali Buddhism which British civil
servants gave about eighty years ago. It takes no account, however, of the context
of Hume's statements. When applied to the human personality, the Aristotelian
synthesis used the term "substance" to indicate that some features of
man are more essential to him than others, closer to his true being.(37) For Hume,
on the other hand, all mental contents are of equal value, and for him it makes
no sense to speak of "surface" or "depth," of inwardness"
or "alienation." In consequence, from his point of view, there can be
no sense in the spiritual approach of which Augustine has so well said, "In
te ipszlm redi, in interiore homine habitat veritas.(38) Although Aristotle's
theory of substance may have been a rather clumsy way of providing an ontological
basis for the spiritual life, its rejection by Hume meant that he dropped all
quest for the transcendental, and, appalled by his own nihilism, turned away from
philosophy and occupied himself with re-writing the history of England in the
interest of the Tory Party.
Whereas Hume reduced selfhood to the level of
the sub-personal, the Buddhist doctrine of anattaa invites us to search for the
super-personal. Its whole point lies in that, since everything in this empirical
self is impermanent, unsatisfactory, etc., therefore it constitutes a false self,
and none of it can be mine, me, or myself. In consequence, I must look beyond
the skandhas (heaps) to find my true and abiding transcendental self (which is
the Tathaagata).(39) The Dhammapada says that, if the egolessness of all dharmns
is seen with the eye of wisdom, it will then lead to a turning away from all ill.(40)
Suzuki, commenting on this verse, defines the praj~naa-eye as "a special
kind of intuition enabling us to penetrate right into the bedrock of Reality itself."(41)
To Hume, such a penetration would not have been a particularly meaningful undertaking,
and he would have been still more displeased by Suzuki's sequel, when he says:
"The problem of' the ego must be carried on to the field of metaphysics,
To really understand what Buddha meant by saying that there is no aatman, we must
leave psychology behind." Those who equate Hume and Buddhism on the subject
of the "self" overlook the fact that no passage in the Buddhist scriptures
teaches that there is no self, although the self is often called inconceivable"
and inaccessible to verbalized knowledge, that the whole subject of the existence
and nonexistence of a Self is relegated to the class of the fruitless "indeterminate
topics, "(42) and that the fixed conviction that "there is not for me
a self" is expressly condemned as a false view.(43)
with European philosophers could be continued for many more pages, but enough
has been said to clarify the general principles which in my view a comparative
study of Buddhist and European philosophy must observe.
(1) As explained
in the first article of this two-article series, ibid., pp. 14-15.
H. Butschkus, Luthers Religion and ibre Entsprechung in japanischen AmidaBuddhismus
(Elmsdetten: Verlags-Anstalt Heinr. & L. Lechte, n.d., probably 1950).
See the quotation in my Buddhism (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959), p. 168.
(4) E. Conze, Buddhist Thought in India (London: George Allen & Unwin
Ltd., 1962), pp. 242ff.
(5) In my Der Satz vom Widerspruch (Hamburg: Selbstverlag,
1932) , I have, at no. 300, collected a few characteristic statements of Nieztsche,
for example, "The only reason why we imagine a world other than this one
is that we are motivated by an instinct which makes us calumniate life, belittle
and suspect it." "It is not life which has created the other world,
but the having become weary of life." "It is of the utmost importance
that one should abolish the true world. It is that which has made us doubt the
world in which we are, and has made us diminish its value; it has so far been
the most dangerous assault on life." Whatever this "life" may be,
it is surely not the spiritual life.
(6) See Fritz Br?ggemann, Die Ironie
als entwicklungsgeschichtliches Moment (Jena: E. Diederichs, 1909). Eckart von
Sydow, Die Kultur der Derkadenz (Dresden: Sibyllen Verlag, 1921).
(7) N. M.
Jacobs, in The Times Literary Supplement, May 3, 1963, p. 325, speaks appositely
of "Miller and those Beat writers who abandon practical affairs for the inner
life and selfrealization-or destruction--by means of Zen, Sex or Drugs."
The Central Philosophy of Buddhism (Hereafter, CPB) (London: George Allen &
Unwin Ltd., 1955), pp. 294-301, though with serious reservations. Stcherbatsky,
on the other hand, had seen Kant as closely similar to the later Buddhist logicians,
and had likened the Maadhyamikas to Hegel and Bradley. See Conze, Buddhist Thought
in India, pp. 264-269. (9) (1) "Kant et les Maadhyamika, " Indo-lranian
Journal, III (1959), 102-111. (2) "La philosophie bouddhique de la vacuit,"
Studia Philosophica, XVIII (1958), 131-134. Some valuable comments by J. W. de
Jong are in Indo-lranian Journal, V (1961), 161-163.
(10) This is one reason
why the Kantian "phenomena" cannot be simply equated with the Buddhist
"sa^msaara." From the point of view of the Absolute, both Kantian empirical
and Buddhist conventional knowledge are non-valid. But Kant never questioned the
value of empirical knowledge. In Buddhism, however, the sa^mv.rtisatya (conventional
truth) is a mere error due to nescience (a-vidyaa, a-j~aana), and conventional
knowledge represents no more than a deplorable estrangement from our true destiny.
In its uncompromising monastic form, Buddhism maintains that the empirical world
is not worth exploring, that all one has to know about it is its worthlessness
and inanity; its scientific exploration, as irrelevant to the escape from the
terrors of sa^msaara, is deemed unworthy attention. A second reason why the Kantian
phenomena/noumena cannot be equated with the Maadhyamika sa^msaara/Nirvaa.na that
the latter are identical, whereas the first clearly are not. The one dichotomy,
in any case, is defined by its relation to science, the other by its relation
(11) On this subject, see also the excellent remarks of Jacques
May (1) 104-108,(2) 135-138 (see note 9).
(12) Metaphysics, Z 1, 1028b. H.
Tredennick, trans. (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1933), p.313.
Buddhist Thought in India, pp. 239-241.
(14) This is not a Psychological but
a philosophical statement, because psychologically it is manifestly untrue. The
normal and untutored mind is usually quite at ease among external objects, and,
unable to even understand this doctrine of the "primacy of internal experience,"
is much more immediately aware of a chair than of its awareness of a chair.
CPB, pp. 123-124, 274.
(16) Critique of Pure Reason, N. K. Smith, trans. (London:
Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1961), p. 22. .
(17) Ibid., pp. 268, 270-271. Murti,
CPB, p. 300. May (1) 108: "La dialectique kantienne est le jeu de l'impuissance
de la raison.... Au contraire, la dialectiqlle maadhyamika est vritablement
constitutive de la ralit, elle accomplit en abolisrant." See
(18) This is perfectly clear from Majjhima Nikaaya, No. 63, and the
fuller account of Naagaarjuna, ?tienne Lamotte, trans., Le trait de la grands
vertu de sagesse (Louvain: Bureau du Muson, 1944), Vol. I, pp. 154-158.
Th. Hanna, ed., The Bergsonian Heritage (Hereafter, BH) (New York and London:
Columbia University Press, 1962),p. 1; also pp. 27, 53.
(20) BH, p. 40.
"So art... has no other object than to brush aside the utilitarian symbols,
the conventional and socially accepted generalities, in short, everything that
veils reality from us, in order to bring us face to face with reality itself."
Le Rire, quoted in BH, p. 88.
(22) Ibid., p. 158.
(23) Ibid., p. 87.
Ibid., p. 92 (my italics, but not my translation from the French).
p. 99. If this statement, which goes on to speak of the "universe" as
"a machine for the making of gods," is collated with that which Italo
Svevo (Ettore Schmitz) made in 1924 in his Confessions of Zeno (New York: G. P.
Putnam's Sons), pp. 411-412, it must become clear that we do not owe our present
plight merely to the brilliant achievements of our able technicians. The progressive
decline of spiritual wisdom may well have weakened the will to live and correspondingly
strengthened the death wish. On this subject, refer to Erich Heller, The Disinherited
Mind (London: Penguin Books, 1961), whose conclusions I take for granted throughout.
(26) I speak here only of the "secular" existentialists. The "religious"
existentialists would require separate treatment.
(27) Matthew Arnold, after
dividing the English population of his time into "barbarians, philistines,
and populace," well defined the philistine as "a strong, dogged unenlightened
opponent of the chosen people, of the children of light," in A. C. Ward,
Illustrated History of English Literature (London: Longmans, Green & Co.,
1955), Vol. III, p. 227.
(28) July, 1837. Th. B. Macaulay, Literary Essays
(Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 364-410.
(29) Mysticism and Logic (London:
Penguin Books, 1951),p. 51. The whole essay (pp. 50-59) is worth re-reading because
now, sixty years later, it shows clearly the grotesque irrationalities of a "sciential"
philosophy, which in nearly every sentence blandly went beyond all scientific
observations made even up to the present day. May I explain that my attitude cannot
be called "antiscientific, " because nowhere have I said anything about
"science" as such, either for or against. My strictures concern only
extravagant philosophical conclusions drawn from a few inconclusive scientific
data. Sir Isaac Newton, as is well known, said at the close of his life, when
all his work was done, that he had only played with pebbles on the sea shore,
and that "the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."
This is all I try to say, neither less nor more.
(30) Ibid., p. 51.
Ibid., p. 51.
(32) Blaise Pascal, Penses, no. 100. For a good comparison
in some detail see Constantin Regamey, "Tendances et methodes de la philosophie
celles de la philolsophie occidentale," Revue
de thologie et de philorophie, IV (1910), 258-259.
(33) Udaana, viii,
3: no...nissara.na.m pa~n~naayetha.
(34) So, Murti, CPB, p. 130.
For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble
on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love
or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception,
and never can observe any thing but the perceptions." David Hume, A Treatise
on Human Nature, T.H. Green, ed. (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1874), Vol.
I, p. 534. When I first saw this sentence forty years ago, I thought it unanswerable.
What now strikes me is the immense vagueness of the word "perception."
(36) Ibid., pp. 537-540.
(37) For Aristotle, intelligence (dianotikon)
was a man's true self (E.N., 1116a8) , and, for Porphyry (de abst., I. 29), the
Nous is his ontos auton. The Nous is man's sovereign (kyriotaton) and his better
part (ameinon) (E.N., 1178a2). The connection between man's ousia (essence) and
his proper objective purpose is made particularly clear in Aristotle's Protreptikos.
For the quotations, see E. Conze, Der Satz vom Widerspruch (Hamburg: Selbstverlag,
1932), no. 141.
(38) Approximately: "Enter into yourself, for the truth
dwells in the inmost heart of man." Likewise, in the Far East, Ch'an taught
that "a man could be a Buddha by immediately taking hold of his inmost nature."
D. T. Sutuki, The Essentials of Zen Buddhism, Bernard Phillips, ed., (London:
Rider & Co., 1963), p. 175. Also George Grimm, The Doctrirte of the Buddha
(Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1958),p. 175: "We must retire from the world back
into ourselves, to the 'centre of our vital birth, ' and by persistent introspection
seek to find out how we have come into all this Becoming in which we find ourselves
(39) This side of the anattaa doctrine has been explained
with great subtlety and acumen by Grimm, op. cit., pp. 115-116, 140, 147, 149,
175, 369-372. For my own views, see Buddhist Thought in india, pp. 36-39, 42,
(40) Dhammapada, V. 279: yadaa pa~n~naaya passati, atha
(41) Mysticism, Christian and Buddhist (London: George
Alien & Unwin Ltd., 1957),p. 39.
(42) Grimm, op. cit., p.140n. (43) The
Majjhima Nikaaya, I, p. 8. Edited by V. Trenckner. (London: Pali Text Society,