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THE GREAT HUMAN QUESTION.
M. B. L.
in St. Giles's. They are such questions as these What do we worship? A dream, or a real Being? One wholly removed from us, or one related to us? Is He a Preserver, or a Destroyer? Has Death explained its meaning to us, or is it still a horrible riddle? Is it still uncertain whether Life or Death is master of the world, or how has the uncertainty been removed? What is the evil which I find in myself? Is it myself? Must I perish in order that it may perish, or can it be in any wise separated from me? Can I give up myself, and yet live? What are these desires which I feel in myself for something unseen, glorious, and perfect? Are they all phantasy, or can they be realized? If they can, by what means? Has He to whom they point made himself known to me? How am I connected with Him? Must I utterly renounce all the things about me, that I may be absorbed into Him, or is there any way in which I can devote them and myself to Him, and only know Him the better by filling my place among them? These are the great human questions; distance in time and space does not affect them; if we are not concerned with them it is because we have not yet ceased to be savages, or because we are returning, through an extreme civilization, into the state of savages: if they do occupy us, we shall find that there can be but one answer to them for the Englishman and the Hindoo.
PART I. LECTURE III.
Buddhism. Its origin and diffusion. Its various forms. The Lama. Buddhism and its rivals in China.
N my former Lectures I have spoken of two
which have exercised an influence over a large portion of the world-the Mahometan and the Hindoo. The former, we said, could only thrive when it was in action; the proper element of the other was rest. They were brought face to face in Hindostan. The Islamite triumphed, as might have been expected; but there was a passive strength in the Hindoo, which ultimately kept its ground, and enables him to say that his system has endured for three thousand years.
I hinted that it had had struggles with a very different kind of enemy from the Mahometan— with a doctrine in many of its essential peculiarities like its own. That doctrine is the Buddhist, the faith of Thibet, of Siam, of the Burmese Empire, of Cochin China, Japan, Ceylon; the popular, though not the state, faith of China. It is said to number above three hundred millions of people among its disciples; to be, therefore, by far the most prevailing religion which does exist, or ever has existed, in the world. It is, surely then, deserving of earnest investigation; there must be something in it which has given it this wide diffu
sion. It must express some necessities of man's heart, some necessities of our own.
FORMS OF BUDDHISM.
I propose, in the present Lecture, to enquire what these are; to search for the main principle of Buddhism; to consider in what relation it stands to those religions of which we have spoken; lastly, to enquire how it is connected with two other systems which divide with it the Celestial Empire.
A faith which is spread over such a number of countries, many of them very different from each other in outward circumstances, perhaps even in race and early cultivation, must present great varieties, which may seem to make the use of a common name rather a convenient refuge for our ignorance, than a proof that they have really any connexion. Undoubtedly our information respecting the different forms of Buddhism is still very imperfect, and we have not the same means of correcting and enlarging it as in the case of countries which have fallen under our own dominion. Ceylon is, I believe, the only British possession in which pure Buddhism is professed. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the intelligent travellers and residents who have given us accounts of what they have seen or heard in the different countries I have enumerated, or of what they have read in the books which these countries account sacred, have not been mistaken in believing that the fundamental doctrine is the same in all. The opposition between different views of the system, great as it is, admits, I think, of a
tolerably easy explanation; easy, at least, if we do not merely look to find a meaning in the dry records of other people's notions or practices, but compare them with what we have felt and experienced in our own lives. The numerous phases, however, which the system assumes, make it very desirable that we should ascertain from what country it was derived, where we may seek for the first form of it. On this subject there is some, but, I think, now not much, difference of opinion. The external arguments which induced Sir William Jones, and some eminent scholars of the last century, to suppose that its native seat could not have been Hindostan, have given way to later and fuller information. There was a stronger internal argument, arising from a comparison of the Brahminical and Buddhist faith, which is also, it seems to me, untenable; but which is well worth considering, and which at once connects the present subject with that of the last Lecture.
We do not adequately describe the condition of Hindostan, by saying that the priests constitute its leading caste. The whole form of society has a sacerdotal stamp upon it; it has moulded itself in conformity with a religious idea; not, as some have fancied, with a professional or mercantile one. And yet, when we look into the meaning of this system it explains itself, by the doctrine that there is in man a capacity for beholding the Unseen Being, and that there is in man an animal nature which admits of no Divine converse. The
Brahmin is the learned, divine, absorbed man, the end of whose existence is to become one with Brahm. Brahm himself, I observed, was emphatically an Intelligence, a thinking, not a commanding being-One from whose thoughts all the universe has flowed out, not one by whose will it has been created. He is a higher priest, not in any sense a sovereign; herein standing in the most direct contrast to the object of Mahometan worship. Between, then, the God and the worshipper there is the most direct affinity, which may become identity. Intelligence is to be the characteristic of both. The hereditary caste is to preserve this Intelligence; its discipline to prevent it from being debased by mixture with people in whom the lower nature is predominant, or by contact with things which may make it predominant in themselves.
Now that any set of men should arise in a society constituted like that of Hindostan, to deny the existence of a special caste of priests, might not seem surprising; for one might conjecture that there would be popular re-actions against so very strict and exclusive a system. We saw that there had been such popular reactions in Hindostan. They took this form. They demanded a being less abstract than Brahm; not a mere thinking being, but one who should exercise actual influence over the arrangements of Nature and the world-one to whom its good or its evil might be ascribed-one who should not merely cultivate intercourse with an absorbed devotee,